Graham Hughes on ‘Buster Brown Meets the Yard’: “Taken using an Anso Buster Brown 2a Brownie 1913-25. Paper negative on expired paper, 5-second exposure, developed in expired Agfa Neutol. Scanned and inverted, contrast slightly tweaked. Otherwise a pretty straight shot. I love this camera.” More here.
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The man in the safety vest pushes the button and we begin our journey. Behind me is a suitcase, its sharp corners digging into my back. In front is a sagging and much-sellotaped cardboard box. Black plastic flaps slap me in the face, then we enter the world of light.
There are faces all around, anxious, impatient, wanting to get their belongings and get the hell out of there. Who wants to hang around a moment longer than they have to?
All around me, faces light up in recognition, hands reach down. I continue unclaimed, around one curve, around another, out into the echoing cold of the loading facility, where more luggage is added to the belt before the plastic flaps can assault me again.
A face looms over me, a voice sounds. “Is this yours?” it asks.
“No,” comes the reply. “That’s nothing like mine. Mine’s got a yellow top.”
“Sorry,” says the first voice, and the face turns away.
“There he is!” A shout, but it is not for me. The carousel goes round. There is less and less luggage. There are fewer and fewer people waiting. In the end, I am quite alone.
The belt stops. I climb off. I have a few coins in my pocket, enough to feed a vending machine. I eat, drink, and find a bench to doze on. When the belt restarts, I hurry back, eager to be claimed.
Tim Jones writes novels, short stories and poetry. He was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. His story “The New Neighbours” appears in The Apex Book of World SF 2. His latest book is poetry collection Men Briefly Explained. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook too.
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We are almost at our journey’s end when he pulls the car over to the side of the road. “Need to check something. Sorry.” His words, his manner, verge on formality. To hide my reaction, I look out of the window and across the paddocks.
There’s an old house near the road, almost subsumed by trees and vines, its windows encrusted and opaque. It seems to cringe back in on itself. I can’t help wondering why I feel my eyes blur with tears. After all, we’ve passed many such unwanted houses and sheds on our way back. Maybe it’s the resolute stance, the way the walls refuse to crumble, just accept the intrusion. Although, here and there, holes are appearing and a few bricks are strewn, fallen from the chimney.
The fault fixed, we finish our journey in silence. Outside my home, he leaves the engine idling and taps his fingers against the steering wheel, looking straight ahead.
I understand that silence and have no wish to search for more words. Like the old house, I think, I am just a storm away from collapse. I hear the car drive away, recalling the huge bougainvillea blazing from the centre of all that fragility. Red, so red. Like a beating heart.
I turn the key.
Vivienne Merrill lives on the Kapiti Coast where it is all too easy to beachwalk and dream her days away. Sometimes, when she’s lucky, some of these dreams become stories and poems. Writing as Vivienne Joseph, she has won several awards for her work, particularly for her children’s books.
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The Land of Fable, it was called. And for a reason. It cycled around his mind; in every direction he walked, he finished here again. Around the clock tower sending the pigeons up in a shower of grey feathers and sparkling glorioles, past the Cathedral de Nuestra Señora where the bell marked the hours as if they really existed and the spire in the tired wind groaned over the hot air. Past the Museum with the courtyard which opened into dark caves he went, and finally under the aqueduct’s ancient, gingerbread stone arches, stuck like Lego structures over the horizon. There he was again.
His eyes floated in waves of golden stone and airless blue sky. Here, the terraces surrounding the plaza stepped down, with their orange tiled roofs uneven and leaning; their whitewashed walls blazed in the sun and their ornate green and gold railings made them seem unreal – a perfect little maquette of an ancient Spanish plaza. One you could set in the palm of your hand. Donkeys dragged their feet around the centre-ring, slow with their burden of colourful children. In the afternoons the donkeys went home and the children too, after siesta the children rushed back with their soccer balls and their dreams. Everything was bathed in soft, golden dust. It sank into his mind too.
He took another swig of the local liquor, yellow stuff, stoppered with a cork. His thoughts bathed in waves of aniseed and old dust. He decided never to return home.
Tina Cartwright is a folk artist concerned with stories and beliefs that people carry in their blood, whether consciously or subconsciously. She has one foot in the south of New Zealand and another in Mexico. She currently lives in Mexico City and is working on poetry and short story collections.
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Strike-a-light! The big red car overtakes. Well over the limit. On that corner! They’ll kill themselves, or worse. Maureen frets, checks for more traffic. Her Corolla rattles along the uneven surface south of Taumaranui. She and David travelled on many roads like this, before he too became riddled with bumps and holes. He was here, then he was not.
A cattle truck looms and threatens in the mirror. Maureen tentatively eases off the pedal. The truck roars by, buffets her tiny car, further frays her nerves. She grips the steering wheel and mentally crosses herself.
David had driven everywhere; they’d seen most of New Zealand.
“Only State Highway 6 left,” he’d exaggerated. “But that can wait.”
She arrives at a country churchyard, exhausted. A placid river caresses its northern boundary. Maureen prises herself from the car. Insects and birds fade to silence in deference to her procession along grass avenues. The engine clicks rudely as it cools. In the distance she hears the wild shush of rubber on abrasive bitumen. Other people rushing off somewhere. A slow week has passed since she was last here. And a week before that. She’ll drive here next week too, despite her anxiety.
They’d been planning their first overseas trip.
“No driving,” he’d proudly announced. “Planes and buses. Chauffeured all the way.”
One day she might… but for now this is as far as she travels. Maureen stoops and pulls a weed from the soil in front of David’s headstone. Overseas can wait.
Anonymous_Author© is a literary voice who resides near Puhoi. He is an existentialist suffering from an identity crisis and exists only through the benevolence of language. René Descartes categorically stated: “I think therefore I am.” Anonymous_Author© ambiguously offers: “You think you exist.” As well as poetry, flash fiction and short stories, Anonymous_Author© is currently working on his unauthorised autobiography, The Ghostwriter in the Machine. Follow his progress on Twitter (@anonauth).
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Today I took an idea for a walk. A yappy little resolve to help others more. Its eyes lit up, it slipped my leash and darted off.
This way, it barked, and led me into a foetid jungle. Don’t be nervous, it admonished – novelty is good for you and ruts are – I can’t express how bad.
I inhaled – and choked on sulphurous fumes thick with black particles. Tank turrets towered around me. In the undergrowth a girl in a grey hijab with a cut-off nose cowered behind a discarded fridge, while a posse of turbaned men searched, prodding plastic bags, bubble-wrap and rotting food with sharp knives. Skeletal hands grabbed at my handbag and clothing and tore them to shreds.
I turned to flee, but my resolve tugged me forward with surprising strength.
Exploring this place is the first step towards helping humanity, it declared. You could never do that from your double-glazed home in your leafy suburb.
But why me? I’ve spent a life-time’s energy surviving in this world. I’ve tithed my income to charities. I’ve earned some relaxation before I leave it.
I have to wake someone up and it might as well be you.You love your species, flaws and all. You’ve seventy-eight years’ experience.You have grandchildren. You qualify.
I could find no answer so I kept on following my idea while we searched for a way out. Common sense. Generosity. Wisdom. Integrity. If only we could find the signposts.
Karen Peterson Butterworth has published seven books. Her poetry and prose has appeared in journals and anthologies in seven countries. She won the 2001 BNZ/Katherine Mansfield Essay Prize with an essay about Otaki, where she lives with her husband Brian. Themes for her writing often come to her while gazing at sunlit leaves stirred by sea breezes.
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Maria left work early with pre-migraine lights playing behind her lids and now sat northbound on the train with thighs sticking to the edge of the vinyl where her skirt had ridden up. A woman across the aisle and facing the same way applied a blunt stub of kohl to already heavily demarcated eyes. Maria gave in to the compulsion to watch. The woman wore a sleeveless shiny leopard blouse and dark soft tonged curls fell over her shoulders. She held the compact mirror attentively. Backing her profile were large glass squares filled with passing buildings, so that it seemed the train might be stationary, and the world slipping by.
The train slowed and stopped. Commuters appeared, separated by insubstantial poles holding the platform’s awning – a businessman, a mother with a pram and teen boys in sets of three and five. The woman was patting her face now, gently but firmly with a flesh-coloured disc, like the skin itself would not adhere. The compact shut, making a muffled click, and when she cleared her throat the note was base.
Three boys entered with excessive long-limbed strides. The tallest flipped the seat to face the other two. Sitting forward, elbows on knees, he clipped the side of the blonde boy’s face and pointed to the woman using only his eyes. The friends leaned in for a punch line. Maria caught the woman’s eye reflecting low afternoon light, and flushed at her own complicity.
Emily Seresin is a costume designer and has clothed other people’s characters for nearly thirty years. Lately she likes to experiment with characters of her own. She particularly likes it when her characters stay on the page and don’t stomp around the wardrobe truck complaining about itchy socks. Emily grew up in Wellington and now lives in Sydney on the Bankstown line.
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When the trip was planned, I’d told myself the nine-hour wait in the transit lounge wouldn’t be a problem. In reality, time, like honey too long in the fridge, stops and threatens never to flow again.
I regret having packed away the anthology that had been such a pleasant companion on my travels – Hone Tuwhare’s Small Holes in the Silence. Poetry, so redolent of home, would be some solace.
Loud speakers muffle my name. A problem? An upgrade? A friend?
The girl behind the desk, fresh out of Standard Four, bows and smiles an airline smile. Her mouth seems too much like an unopened rosebud to allow speech, but she says, “We transfer bag from Amsterdam. Security worry bad thing inside so you come.”
I wait and feel bad thing inside. Security comes in World War Two uniform, baton under arm. No smile, suitcase in custody.
My heart? My mind? My story?
“This the one.”
He points to a rectangular glow on the copy of an X-ray, then taps his baton on the Tuwhare volume carefully wrapped in shining plastic to protect it from three weeks of unwashed clothes.
“Ah,” he says. “Only book. Book no danger.”
We smile and bow. He helps pack away the laundry.
We laugh and repeat, “Book no danger.”
No, no danger to those who think rain is just rain, and sun is just sun, and love is just love.
Tim Heath writes poetry, enjoys some success in the oddity known as Poetry Slams and writes whenever he can grab time from grandchildren, travelling, sailing, growing vegetables and hanging out more washing than he cares to mention.
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Sally was right: Wicked Wigs are amazing. They’re from Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Cali for ni a. Their website’s heaven – glamour with a capital G.
I’ve never been to California, never been anywhere really… Auckland when I was a teenager. So you can imagine my excitement at our proposed trip to Melbourne this summer. Trouble is Aussie’s been having those heat waves and fires – not good. They say excessive temperature fluctuations could kill me, so I’m not taking any chances. My life – what’s left of it – is just too precious.
Nutritious food plus abstinence from fags and alcohol have been my mantra. My body was my temple, but now this forty-seven year old temple’s under attack, and I’m bloody cheesed off.
My cousin from Timaru died of cancer… but she treated her body like a nightclub. Her husband, Barry, posted me her wig. Kev dubbed it my “hideous helmet” and almost wet himself. He’s right though, New Zealand wigs are CRAP. Kev’s so supportive. He stumped up the $195 U.S. for my Wicked Wig straight off. He wanted the “Beach Babe” model, but it’s just not me. I’ve ordered “Yummy Mummy” – sort of Sharon Osbourne meets Rod Stewart.
I’m disappointed about Melbourne, but given a second chance I’d opt for California. Sally jokes I could’ve given my wig its first airing down Rodeo Drive. Never mind, come my next chemo jaunt to Christchurch at least I’ll leave the hospital looking like a star.
Celine Gibson shares her home with her husband (a bagpiping fiend) and two cats. Writing is her first love, followed by gardening, baking and painting -when time allows.
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After six months travelling I lost my suitcase on the journey home. Three weeks later they told me it had probably been stolen. There wasn’t much I missed: my Canon 5D, the authentic Himalayan salt bought from a street vendor in Pakistan and ten pairs of silk panties designed by my ex-boyfriend, Joel. The camera and salt I replaced, although I suspected the latter wasn’t as authentic as the label proclaimed, but my French knickers were irreplaceable.
I first met Joel at a construction site where I was on the engineering team and he worked for Just Like Butter Concrete Cutters. Watching Joel wield his concrete saw made my mouth water and I soon lured him to my bed. In our post-coital glow we’d eat chocolate and watch re-runs of Project Runway.
One day I came home to find him rummaging through my underwear drawer. He held out a pair of Warehouse knickers.
“Where are your pretty panties?” he asked.
“I don’t have any,” I said.
So he set about making me some. After a few unsuccessful attempts he created a pair that could only be described as exquisite. Soon he had numerous designs and an internship with Fashion Central.
When he started sleeping with the models more often than he slept with me I changed the locks and threw his belongings onto the street, except for the deliciously comfortable ten pairs of panties he’d first designed.
Travelling had helped me forget Joel but I sure miss his knickers.
Kathryn Jenkins unexpectedly started writing flash fiction as a result of a workshop exercise and has written at least one a month since. She’s still surprised at what turns up on the page and wonders where the ideas come from. Hopefully they will never dry up.
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Hip tucked into the bench she leaned on an elbow, one foot hooked behind the other, envelopes crumpled in her hand. Most were “windows”, some with threats stamped in large red letters; she tossed those aside to lie amongst crumbs and dead flies. Without raising her eyes she reached forward and plucked a beer bottle from the windowsill to suck warm bubbles. Eyes flicked to the littered sill then back down. Fingers found what they were looking for. She pushed the empty bottle aside and held the envelope. The writing was blue, small tightly looped letters representing home, warmth, Mum. Her own note, asking for help, money, had been scribbled on a scrap of paper. She closed her eyes as her whole body began to shake. The unopened envelope dropped soundlessly to the bench. A voice from behind hissed, “What are you doing?” Her body jerked back. The voice repeated, “I said, what are you doing?” Shoulders bunched as hands busied themselves sweeping the envelope under bills, brushing a dirty knife with the empty bottle into the sink. “Just giving things a quick tidy-up.” Her back remained mute. His breath grew loud in the silence. “Well get a move-on – the boys will be waiting. You can do that shit later.” She half turned, head low, hands hovering, “I’ll be right there.” Keys jangled, his pocket momentarily forming a fist. He left. She snatched the envelope, tucked it in a drawer, and followed.
Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European language and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.
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My grandmother always said the Captain had a girl in every port but I never believed her. I adored him; my grandfather could do no wrong. He taught me to ride a bicycle and to draw — ships naturally: barques, freighters, ketches, yawls at the Tiger Bay docks.
After they died my mother cleared the house and carpentry workshop, no longer shipshape and Bristol fashion.
In the Captain’s sea-chest she found photographs: Sydney Harbour Bridge, South Sea islands, the Statue of Liberty. She brought back an envelope containing three small sepia images. In rich brown tones they showed a Māori woman wearing a straw hat and a confiding expression, a dark-haired toddler playing naked in a rock-pool with a handmade wooden boat and a carving of two tiki flanking the words HAERE RA.
“He visited New Zealand many times,” Mum said. “I wonder where these were taken, and who these people are.”
“Also,” she said, “what does it mean, the wooden sign, do you know?”
“Yes, Mum” I said, “Haere rā means farewell.”
I examined the images, searching for clues. The woman’s eyes looked directly into the camera, transporting me to that distant beach: the intimacy of the moment and the child with his boat – identical to the one sitting on my mantelpiece, the one the Captain had made me and which we’d sailed together on the Taff the summer I turned eight.
Perhaps my grandmother was right.
But he’d left us all now, his girls in foreign ports.
Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. Her grandfather was in the merchant navy and did visit New Zealand many times — but this is a work of fiction.
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They went to the gallery together but when they stepped through the door their hands drifted apart and they meandered down separate corridors. This is how they always went: travelling together but following two paths. In market streets he’d seek gourmet coffees while she’d follow her nose to the smelliest cheeses; underwater, he’d linger near the colourful sunny surface while she’d dive into deeper blues and purples; on hikes he’d look for shady patches while she’d search out the sun.
Lately, he’d been wondering if she’d wander off forever one day. Now he found himself spying on her in the gallery.
The first time he found her, she stood in front of a portrait of an older woman. It was as if he’d intruded on a fierce conversation, so intent were their locked gazes. He dared not speak.
The next time he found her, she was falling into an Escher-like ocean labyrinth. She tumbled down into spirals and space, and he was sure he could not get her back. He dared not move.
The last time he found her roaming off into the rolling hills of a distant landscape, her body so small in front, as if she were disappearing into the milky greens. He dared not breathe.
But when she turned and caught his eye, her smile opened up like the hills and stretched like the treetops and melted like the oceans. And when he asked “Where to now?” she squeezed his hand and said, “Let’s wander home.”
Michelle Elvy is founding editor at Flash Frontier. She believes in wandering fairly far and wide, but she generally finds her way home.
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Please also see this month’s interview with Wellington writer Sally Houtman, whose stories appeared in twelve out of twelve issues of Flash Frontier in 2012.
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Coming in April: the high tide issue.
“Just Like Butter Concrete Cutters” – a great name for a firm!
Another wonderful collection. Wonderful range of styles and voices.
Great read – thanks. And love your story, Michelle.
Thoroughly enjoying all the stories in this issue. Flash Frontier moves from strength to strength.
Michelle, I love the line ‘she was falling into an Escher-like ocean labyrinth.’
Oh, and the cropped Asemic Continuum looks hot as a header – but I would say that, wouldn’t I?
Good stories. I like especially Karen’s Walkies
Thank you for all the comments, readers and writers. Glad you are enjoying the new year at Flash Frontier. See you in April, and please see the submissions page and contact us if you have a ‘high tide’ story to send.