Llyvonne Barber has an interest in photography and lives in a rural village in the Manawatu. This image, which first appeared at 52/250: A Year of Flash, has become the symbol for National Flash Fiction Day, with the artist’s generous permission.
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The neighbourhood I live in is next to the Spicer landfill in Porirua. Twice a day, every day, flocks of crisp seagulls fly all the way down the street from the tip – over my school, past the mall my sister works at, across the skate park and the flyover.
They carry bones, McDonald’s wrappers, tampons and plastic in their cherry beaks and red feet. Sometimes they drop bits on my house.
The bones make a special flat clang against the corrugated iron, like the marrow inside stops them from echoing. Dad runs outside with the hose when he can get out of his chair in time, but the seagulls don’t care about water.
“Useless flying rats,” he says. “It’s a disgrace.”
I think most animals that share spaces with people have a purpose. Cats and dogs are supposed to love us so we take care of them, but sparrows, pigeons, blackbirds and seagulls fit around us without being asked. It’s why I like them – they’re beautiful for no reason.
One day I went out to watch them bring in the dawn, and they never came. I waited until the sun came out and the rubbish from yesterday started to stink.
Over breakfast, Dad said the men at Spicer’s had poisoned them with a narcotic paste and he was sorry. I said it wasn’t fair and my sister said they deserved to be shot, but when Dad saw my face, he told me to get in the car.
At the landfill, hundreds of cool white bodies lay limp across the rubbish. They were so clean, they blocked out everybody’s mess with the weight of their feathers.
Dad put his hand on my shoulder. I put my hands over my eyes and the black light white of the birds was still there.
Sarah Dunn is a journalist who lives in Nelson. She graduated from Victoria University with a B.A. Hons in English Literature and Religious Studies. Aged 25, she has spent May and June this year in Korea on an Asia New Zealand Foundation internship.
~ ~ ~
On Monday night I dream about Charlie Brown. He stands at the window watching Snoopy sleep on top of his kennel. Snoopy’s little tummy moves up and down as he snores and he’s wearing his goggles and scarf, the way he does when he’s playing the Red Baron. In the background Schroeder plays a blues tune on the piano and I have this weight on my chest that makes it hard to breathe.
On Tuesday Gerry gives me an ultimatum. The glasses or him, he says. Twenty-five pairs is twenty-four too many.
What’s brought this on, I say?
A bloody new pair every month for the last two years.
I pay for them out of my own money.
That’s not the point.
What is the point?
It’s crazy, he says. Sick in the head.
My new glasses slide down my nose. Gerry’s a blur on the other side of the kitchen table. I grope towards the bathroom and sit on the toilet seat. The back door slams. I blow my nose, go into the bedroom to find another pair of glasses – tinted, to soften the glare.
A text arrives from Gerry saying he’s at his mother’s.
I spread my glasses out on the bed, pick them up pair by pair. I can’t give them up, can’t be that naked in the world, even for Gerry.
On Wednesday I dream Schroeder plays jazz on the piano and Snoopy dances, his big beagle ears flying out, his feet doing circles on the ground. He’s still wearing his goggles and his smile stretches across his whole face. Charlie Brown reaches out and takes my glasses. He puts them in his pocket; he takes my hand. With our eyes closed, we begin to dance.
Trisha Hanifin has worked in adult education and adult literacy for over 25 years teaching a range of subjects including reading and writing. She has a BA in history and political studies and a Masters in creative writing. She writes short stories and flash fiction, and is currently working on a novel, Ghost Travellers. Her stories have been short-listed in the Sunday Star Times short story competition and the BNZ literary awards. This year her flash fiction has been published in Turbine and previous issues of Flash Frontier.
~ ~ ~
Just Mum’s luck to end up with Mad Rowdy. She reckons she’s cursed when it comes to relationships, not that she believes in God. I do. I was keepin’ out of Rowdy’s way last Saturday, when I saw Jesus. I’d just scored a half-eaten burger from the bin outside of Maccas. I dropped the wrapper and it blowed down the street and got stuck on his leg. He was stood in the Square on a box. The shoppers, all wearing puffer jackets, pushed their hands deep into their pockets and pretended to look in the shop windows when they passed him.
Jesus’ arms stretched out from his sides. His fingers bent up, like he was weighing the clouds. And here’s the best bit: he was starkers, ’cept for a white towel around his privates. Yeh, and he had this kind of spiky ring on his head.
I went for a closer look. He was standing real still. He wasn’t even blinking. His brown eyes were kind of wild and he had big bushy eyebrows. The tin can in front of his box sat on a square of red fabric held down at each corner by rocks. I checked the tin for cash. It was empty.
“Hi Jesus,” I says. “Think it’s going to rain?”
A passing bull terrier pissed against his box. The yellow stream soaked into the cloth and made a stain around his tin. Jesus stared up to Heaven: just his luck.
I got soaked going home, so I copped it big time. I’m going to see Jesus again next Saturday. Need to ask him what I can do about Rowdy.
Since the Canterbury earthquakes shook her love of writing back to the surface, Sue Kingham has never been busier. She is a member of the South Island Writers Association and is a first year student of the Hagley Writers’ Insitute. Married, and mum to two children, she loves to fill her spare time reading.
~ ~ ~
When Cat finally allowed herself to fall for Dean, she did so with eyes open. She gave into the heart thrill and the gut fear and everything in between. At first, both were hesitant, having been hurt one too many times. Prudence cushioned hope. But Dean kept calling or coming around and Cat kept picking up or opening the door. She made him laugh and forget and he made her believe and forget. Together they remembered what it could be like if forgetting became habit.
Of course, that was when kissing had been enough and not a prelude and a busy workday the next morning could curb staying the night. However, recently, hands ran over and reached under and were tempted lower to unbutton and unzip. And, then, Cat would remember and she’d stop and straighten her t-shirt or blouse and was grateful nothing more obvious below had become more obvious below. She knew discovery was inevitable because she wanted Dean as badly as he, her. Which brought it all home again and Cat could not forget because it was as natural and vital to her as breathing. So over dinner at her place – a nice spag bol with Chianti wrapped in wicker – Cat remembered the ashy taste of loneliness and told Dean.
Electric silence charged Cat’s flat like bare soles rubbed across wool carpet. The pasta got cold and the red wine warmer. Cat prepared for the jolt to come.
“I don’t care,” Dean said eventually.
“But you might,” said Cat, astonished but still cautious.
“I might win the lottery. I might go bald. I might get to finish dinner. I might fall even more.”
“This is me,” said Cat.
“And this is us,” Dean said.
And Cat reheated their plates in the microwave while Dean topped their glasses.
Patrick Pink grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and has lived significant amounts of his life in Michigan, Texas and Germany before settling in New Zealand. Patrick has completed the Introductory Fiction course and the 30 Week Fiction course that was offered by the Creative Hub. He has read widely and has always written, starting with crayons then pen and paper, then tapping away on his Grandma’s old Underwood typewriter, moving up to a Brother electric typewriter to now, where he can’t imagine life without his laptop. ‘Affirmation’ is his first published piece.
~ ~ ~
He had a smile for every emotion and a laugh for every occasion. He learned the tourists’ names when they checked into the resort and forgot them when they left. They all had the same flirtations, they left with the same sunburns and promises to return. He implored them to keep their promises but in truth he was always glad to see them go. The things they said were always the same, that’s not a job, that’s a holiday. And his replies, every day is paradise. He drifted between the beaches and the clubs. His smile was a disguise; revelry was an obligation rather than a diversion.
“The scuba gear is in the truck,” he said as she walked through the gate. The words came out flat and lifeless when he didn’t have to feign excitement. They drove west, far from the fabricated sandy beaches that he frequented; this was her territory. Unlike the novice divers he led at the resort, she didn’t have to be supervised in the water. He took advantage of the freedom, enjoying the freefall of descent. He somersaulted backwards slowly, suspended upside-down and weightless in the endless blue for a moment before catching the sandy bottom in his sight.
She’d found an octopus exposed on the sand shoal. It inflated its body and its tentacles swayed back and forth with the currents. Its skin flashed and altered textures, camouflage signalling anxiety rather than an attempt to blend with the sand. It was prickled and green like a cucumber, then gnarled brown like a tree stump, then smooth red and purple like a plum. He looked beyond. All he could see was a changeless expanse of sand. The octopus made no attempt to hide, but he could see nowhere for it to go.
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.
~ ~ ~
God made me wrong. I was cast with clay he clawed from the earth while spitting rain upon his children. Into my flesh God cut his despondency, then he spilled clouds in my skull instead of ribbons of brains. I was born the day he flooded the world with his anger. That’s why I’m damaged. That’s why I ended up here, at the factory that forms the stars.
The factory air curls with dust motes and the machines are older than time; they whinge and creak. The air tastes like old metal in the rain. I’m not in charge of anything, I just sit at the conveyor belt and cut out the stars from the lumps that come. I use an old pair of sewing scissors; they’ve got blades like an old man’s knees. I follow the pattern as best I can and, when a star is ready, I place it in a cardboard box ready for flinging at the sky.
I try my best, but each star I cut is as wrong as the last, like my demented hands are conspiring against me to fill the universe with peculiar mistakes. God throws my stars to the corner of the galaxy so they’ll die before anyone looks at them. He says it’s better that way, that he’s disappointed.
But you know… one by one my stars are expanding the universe, making room for wild creatures and strange ideas. Even though the light from my stars will fade away before it can whisper to the eyes of the living, it matters. Imperfection is where expansion happens. The space my stars create is where beauty slips into the world.
Elysia Rose Jenson is a writer, artist and creative arts journalist who has spent the past two years immersing herself in the creative underbelly of Europe, including the East London street art scene and Berlin fashion. She is also a first year creative writing student at Hagley Community College.
~ ~ ~
Maggie Rainey-Smith is a published novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction, and flash fiction writer. She blogs at A Curious Half Hour. Her website is herehttp://www.maggieraineysmith.com and she is a regular book reviewer on Beattie’s Book Blog.
~ ~ ~
I guess with a title like that you’re expecting a story about a tidal wave. A tsunami or somesuch. So I may as well come clean; there’s nothing that exciting here. Sure, the story’s set by the sea. All the best stories start on the shore.
So there’s the beach, sandy or rocky, you decide, and there’s this shoe that washes up and sits there, all forlorn like. It’s lost its soul mate, lost most of its sole as well. It kinda gapes in the way only an old shoe can. Old shoes and fish. It’s all the same to me.
And here comes the girl. Every good story’s got a good-looking girl. Only this one ain’t too pretty really, you know the type, bit soft round the edges, eyes that don’t always point the way they should. Anyhow, she picks up the shoe and says that whoever the shoe fits she’s gonna marry. She’s a bit mushy in the head, this not-so-pretty girl.
She takes the shoe home, cradled in her arms like it’s some sort of baby and puts it outside her front door for all to see.
Then she waits. Every day. Looking out for a man to try on the stinkin’ sea-shoe. She won’t have nothing to do with me while she waits for Mr Perfect to arrive.
Then, whaddya know? Some loser comes along in the middle of the night and nicks the shoe. Hurls it into the river. Throws stones at it till it’s gone into the murk. Gives it a big wave as it sinks out of sight.
So she never did marry a prince or somesuch. Got stuck with me instead. But she still goes on and on ’bout that stupid shoe. ‘Bout the better-than-me man she was s’posed to marry.
Having worked in television and website production, Melanie Dixon has recently become a full-time writer, juggling writing with parenting two energetic children. She is a graduate of the two-year programme at Hagley Writers’ Institute and has had work published in a number of online literary journals including Penduline Press, The Quick Brown Dog and previous issues of Flash Frontier. Melanie has also been short-listed in several writing competitions including the Royal Society of New Zealand’s Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing and the Christine Cole Cately Award. She enjoys working across a range of genres and is currently working on a novel for children.
~ ~ ~
When they moved into their new house in the country, the first thing they noticed was the tree. It reached up to the sky. They couldn’t see the top.It was a couple of fields over from their place. They went to look at it. It was very thick, as you’d expect. The first branches started forty metres above their heads. High. They stared up through the branches. The tree went on for ever. They knew they were all thinking the same thing – could you climb it?
“You might be able to do it with pitons,” said Don, who’d done a lot of tramping, some of it in very extreme conditions.
Nobody had a better idea, so they decided to get some. A couple of weeks later they were ready for their arboreal expedition.
Don hammered in the first piton. They toasted each other with their water bottles. Then it was time to get roped up. Four of them were making the attempt; the fifth was staying at base camp. Mobile phones were charged and ready. Also to be used in documenting the climb pictorially.
They set off. It was slow going. It took a couple of hours to get to the first branch, but it was wonderful to be there. They could just see their man at base camp far below, an upturned, pale face. They ate a good lunch, then continued.
By nightfall they were more than a hundred metres high. The going was easier, as there were more branches. They stayed roped together; it gave them a feeling of security. They decided to make their bivouac. It didn’t cross anybody’s mind to stop or go down.
They woke the next day feeling fit and energetic, and ready for whatever the day might bring. They continued to climb.
Susan Koster is a Wellington writer. She has spent most of her life to date wanting to write but not feeling able to start until quite recently. Now she’s started she doesn’t intend to stop. She has entered a story in the 2014 BNZ Katherine Mansfield competition and is working on her first novel.
~ ~ ~
I wake to music. A ringtone. Some vaguely familiar classical piece – probably one you played for me once. I lift my head from the white sheet, stiff from the unnatural position. I can’t feel my feet on the floor. A nurse in a pallid smock and hot-pink sneakers is thumbing her phone. She shrugs apologetically, pockets the phone, then adjusts the cannula and leaves us.
Your eyelids are closed, lashes almost lost in the swollen folds. Your once-prominent freckles wane in the sallowness of your skin. I see pain sliding its horsehair bow down the bridge of your jaw, and I place my fingertips lightly on the bone to calm the trill. I am now your luthier.
When the tingling in my feet eases, I stand, pushing the chair backwards with my legs. You open your eyes at the screak. I lean into you and rest my chin in the angle of your neck, pressing my breath into your skin. “Sorry,” I whisper. I feel your heart beating in staccato.
Your fingers pluck at the sheet and I pull away from your suffocating heat to take your hand.
Your eyes are rimed with crusted rheum. Voice dry, you start to tell me about the playlist – Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Iz’s “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and The Band’s “I Shall Be Released”. Each word you speak is a blue note. I am the mute; I dampen you. My lips are gentle on the scoop of your cheek. I take up the bow and play you like you once played “Theme from Schindler’s List”. I play you until my wrist burns and the soaring end note falls.
Jac Jenkins’ 2012 NZSA mentorship with Sue Wootton has been instrumental in her recent writing successes, including winning the 2013 Takahē Poetry Competition and the Northland regional prize of the NFFD competition three years in a row. She has had her work published in the Northern Advocate newspaper, Fast Fibres broadsheet, Takahē and online at National Poetry Day in Northland, NorthWrite 2013 and previous issues of Flash Frontier. Jac is also a member of the Northland poetry group Take Flight.
~ ~ ~
When I pull on Dolly, my whole world turns blonde. Shop assistants are more helpful and the postie winks and smiles. I even had a wolf whistle at the bus-stop the other day – that was a first.
My Dolly Parton wig isn’t as outlandish as the country singer’s hairdo, but it’s curly and voluptuous and definitely platinum. I have two more: the “Catherine Tate” – a thick, sleek mane of titian – and the “Katy Perry” – dead straight locks in an audacious shade of pink. They sit in my closet, perched on their stands like exotic pets, silken and tactile. They’re good listeners. As I brush them out, I tell them how it sucks to be me. They tell me I can be someone else.
Everyone in the office knows about the cancer, the “big C”. No point pretending. I’ve started calling it Colin – that made them laugh. It means we can talk about it without them feeling awkward. We can say “Colin’s a bastard” and “I wish Colin would piss off!”
Dolly’s my favourite. I feel like a real vixen when I put her on. I wear pastel pinks and blues and I get a lot of compliments from men. I like to go to petrol stations, act all “dizzy” and fumble around with the petrol cap. Then I wait for the attendants to gather round.
People open up to me when I wear this wig.
At morning tea I’m sitting there in the coffee room when Jean from accounts comes over and squeezes my hand.
“You’re very brave,” she says. I shrug and slip my hand away.
I take a moment and nip out to the bathroom. I look in the mirror, make a few adjustments and Dolly is sitting perfectly again.
A beautiful mess of curls: blonde and bubbly.
Celia Coyne has been a writer and editor of non-fiction for over twenty years. She has had two non-fiction books published and is a member of the New Zealand Society of Authors. Over the last few years she has been focusing on her fiction writing and graduated from the Hagley Writers’ Institute with honours in both the first and second year of the course. Her stories have appeared in Takahē, Penduline Press and in Fusion, an anthology of speculative fiction. Celia lives in beautiful Christchurch.
~ ~ ~
Jerome gestures towards the rows of shrink-wrapped chicken. “This is not just any chicken,” he says in the seductive tones of a TV advert. “This is battery-farmed chicken. Note the subtle hock burns – it’s our method of rearing that does that!”
He gives me a look, one eyebrow raised. I like the way he wears his beanie indoors, even in the summer. He flicks his biro up into the air so it somersaults but when it comes down he misses and it clatters to the floor. He flashes a glorious smile.
“Fool,” I say, tossing a two-pack of chops into the basket.
In the produce section he points to the plums and reminds me how they have been picked before they are ripe by underpaid farmworkers in Chile. They’ve been loaded on a plane and flown thousands of miles to our store. He holds up a packet of baby spinach leaves and sniffs: “Ahhhh, parfum de chlorine!”
Jerome’s parents own an organic farm. He’s probably going to work there after college.
“The best plums are the ones you eat straight from a market stall in Bordeaux. They have soft skins and are much more juicy than these imported ones.” He gives my bum a squeeze at “juicy”. I slap his hand down.
“We’ll go there next year – on our world tour,” he says.
I pause. “Cool,” I say, trying to sound indifferent.
“We’ll have to plant some trees though,” he continues, “to offset the carbon from the flight.”
Back at my flat I put the shopping away. I make us a brew. We have it with TimTams, sucking the tea up through the biscuits.
“Heaven!” he says. “All those additives!!”
“Will you stop?” I say. Then I kiss him and he tastes of chocolate.
Celia Coyne has the honour of seeing two of her stories long-listed in the NFFD competition. For her biographical sketch, see the previous story, ‘Blondes have more fun, and the bio that follows
~ ~ ~
The older Indian woman tells the young Tongan man in the yellow uniform that she has received complaints from block 5 about the stairs. They have not been mopped.But he mopped them.She has seen the stairs; they have not been mopped, not nice and clean like block 2. Those stairs are really cleaned well and smell nice.Who says the stairs had not been mopped?
The people in block 5. They contacted her; she will have to go and see them.
What do they say about the stairs?
They have not been cleaned. And they wonder why you haven’t a trolley. They ask how are you cleaning if you have no cleaning equipment. You must use the trolley. I got you a new trolley because you complained about not having one and now you do not use it. You must bring it down.
They say I haven’t cleaned the stairs, the stairs not cleaned?
She gets out her smart phone and scrolls through her emails. Hi, Anita, this is just to let you know that the cleaners have not been cleaning the stairs. There have been an old cracker and paper clip on the stairs and Sue and I have walked past it every day for 4 weeks. Also the toilets look like they have not been cleaned daily. Could you pass this on to the supervisor?
He is silent. She rests her case. So tomorrow we must get that glass done first thing in the morning.
The toilets not cleaned, he murmurs, questioning, leaning over the table under the weight of it all.
Yes, yes, they tell me this and I have seen they are not cleaned. Please. Please, Palo, clean the toilets. I will go and check on this paper clip.
Louise Miller lives and works in Auckland. She has a short fiction blog at Life in Hydra.
~ ~ ~
“Everything is a fashion accessory,” Miri says. “And if you don’t understand that, then you are a fashion accessory.
“But don’t think that it makes you fashionable.”
After the break-up, she finds a new boy very quickly.
“I’m going to be Frank with you,” says the boy. “If nothing else, I’m going to be Frank.”
“You don’t have to,” she tells him. “I don’t mind if you’re not Frank, sometimes.”
So he stops being Frank, and starts a regime of little fibs.
Rather I fib, he thinks. Rather I fib, than be Frank.
Later, Miri purchases a shrink-wrap machine. She starts with food: she shrink-wraps everything in the kitchen. Then she does the books and pot plants.
Then she does the dog.
When Not-Frank leaves, Miri shrink-wraps their love-notes and trinkets. Later, she shrink-wraps their house, their friends, and their history.
Lots of plastic. Lots and lots of plastic.
Alex Wolstencroft currently lives on the prose-poetry continuum somewhere in Christchurch. He likes to meet other writers and artists. You too could meet Alex! He too could meet you! He’d like that.
~ ~ ~
There weren’t many out tonight, just his gang working on the wet road.
Nathan turned his back to the rain, and pulled out one of the cigarettes he’d carefully rolled hours earlier.
The paper soaked up drops of water from his hand, and even hunched over out of the wind it was hard to light. He pulled hard until the end began to glow brightly and he could feel the warm smoke running down and through him.
Lights from a car played past and an old car pulled up alongside him. Nathan turned to look, tucking his cigarette behind the shelter of his body.
Her long dark hair was pulled back and impatient fingers played out a tune on the steering wheel. She should have been home in bed not driving through dark streets with the doors unlocked.
He reached out a hand, close enough to touch the car if he leaned just a little, his body hidden in night shadows.
Her mouth opened and she began to sing, tilting the mirror to watch herself – eyes narrowed, lips pouted and body moving against the seat.
The door handle felt cool under his hand.
Her shoulders moved from side to side, and her head swung heavily towards him.
For a stinging second their eyes met.
The light turned green and a horn tooted.
She gathered her face together, flicked him the finger and put her foot down.
Nathan leaned casually back, lifted his cigarette to his mouth and took a drag.
Rachel Smith has been writing short fiction for many years, and more recently flash fiction. She has recently embarked on a new career as a freelance journalist and enjoys writing in all its forms. Her work has been previously published in JAAM and Takahē.
~ ~ ~
Yvette looked at her computer screen.“How can I help you today, Mrs Moon?” Chronological age fifty-five, biological age seventy.“Sorry I’m late,” Mrs Moon wheezed. “The bus –”
Yvette picked up her stethoscope. “Your breathing doesn’t sound so good.” Serves you right for smoking…
“Wee Bruno gave me his cold. I told my daughter not to let him play in the rain but she just said I should mind my own business –” Mrs Moon’s musty breath wafted towards her.
“Do you want to hop up on the bed?” Yvette checked her email while she waited. The breast biopsy result is through…
“She wouldn’t dare talk to me like that if her father was still alive,” Mrs Moon carried on, as Yvette typed: Can I ring you for the result?
Yvette swivelled her chair around. Mrs Moon was hunched over on the steps, her chubby hands on the mattress, her doughy bottom quivering in the air.
“He had cancer.” Mrs Moon pivoted, and collapsed into the pillows.
“Just breathe in.” Yvette planted her stethoscope on Mrs Moon’s chest. Mrs Moon’s voice roared into her ear.
“He was only fifty – it was everywhere.” Snowy flakes of Moon-skin settled on the sleeve of Yvette’s black cardigan.
“Oh dear…” Yvette held her hand up. “I’m just listening to your heart.”
Mrs Moon gave her a sad smile. “Do I have one?”
“I’ll give you some antibiotics. Have you stopped smoking yet?”
“No… it’s my only pleasure now.”
“You should try patches.” Yvette whipped the script off the printer, and opened the door. “Take care, Mrs Moon.”
“Thanks doc.” Mrs Moon shuffled out. Yvette rolled her eyes, and opened her next email.
I’d rather discuss your result face-to-face. I suggest you bring a support person to your appointment. Regards, Dr Bruce Richardson.
Eileen Merriman is a doctor with a serious addiction to writing. Her work has previously been published in Takahē and Flash Frontier. She has recently been short-listed in the Takahē and Page & Blackmore Short Story competitions and is currently working on a novel for young adults.
~ ~ ~
The river glints, the sun glances off the greywacke boulders; a bead of sweat elongates, then trickles down my cheekbone. You don’t expect the pool on the corner, banked by carved, silent rock. I know it’s there: sweet, deep. In my mind’s eye I see a child tip-toeing in, arms raised high, white skinny chest enclosed by the still water.
I saw my father last week before he went to hospital. We stood by the door, hesitant, forty years of not touching between us. With other people I would fall into a hug and surrender to the uncertainty. I don’t know who stepped forward first. He grasped my shoulders, stopped me from falling and we found that place inside shared breath where no one else was. When he left, I wondered at the strength in his skinny arms. It felt no different, I thought, than when he swung me round the dancehall on my wedding night.
On this twinkling day I know if you look down close into the pool, you’ll see the water under the surface moving toward the sea. I have also learned not to poke at the shadows by the silent rock. There’s a chance an eel might come up, black and silver, writhing and thrashing on the end of your spear. The concentrated jolt of muscle runs down the pole right through your arm.
I don’t want to think about hanging on.
Gail Ingram was an inaugural graduate of Hagley Writers’ Institute and is currently the president of South Island Writers (SIWA). Her poetry and short stories have appeared in Takahē, Fineline, NZ Poetry, Cordite Poetry Review and previous issues of Flash Frontier, 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.
~ ~ ~
The pews are hard and I can hear Mrs Clouston breathing heavily behind me. I wait for her to collapse onto the floor and die. William sits next to me, hogging the heater. He smiles his big brother smile and fingers his 10c piece. Aunt Annie sits on my other side, looking beautiful. I like sitting next to her. She has a big black freckle at the corner of her mouth. It twitches when she sings.
Mum isn’t with us today – she is off having a baby. She says that they come from a hole at the top of your legs. I checked the tops of both my legs last night and couldn’t find a hole. Perhaps I can’t have babies. I hope she has a girl. Then we can gang up on William.
I swing my legs and look back at William. He might have the heater, but I still have the swing. His feet sit on the floor now and no matter how far he pushes himself back into the pew, he still can’t do the swing. Mr Piper plays “Onward Christian Soliders” on the organ and my legs follow the beat.
Dad steps into the pulpit. He looks very handsome. I helped him make his white collar this morning – we make them out of ice-cream lids. Dad looks over at me and winks. I wink back. I hope the baby doesn’t take my winks away. William has placed his coin on the heater.
Dad prays for Mrs Clouston. She has emphysema. I scream. A burning coin lies on my hand and the queen stares up at me. Dad stares at me too. I feel ashamed and kick William when Dad isn’t watching.
I rub the red circle on my hand. I hope Mum has a girl.
Monique Schoneveld is a second year student at Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch. She fits her writing in around work and three busy boys. Monique is currently working on a novel set in India. She has thoroughly enjoyed the new challenge of writing flash fiction.
~ ~ ~
It had been a hard day’s night. As he often said, if you’ve never worked a night shift you don’t understand. Walking in through the door and going straight to bed just isn’t an option.
So he sits and reads the paper. At least you got the news before everyone else, even if you didn’t see much of the day. He also has a beer. Having a beer at 6am might turn some people’s stomachs or just plain shock them but if you’ve been up all night working, having a beer is quite a good way to unwind. He likes the way it scrubs the surreal feeling of lack of sleep and knocks him down a few gears. He usually has a second.
When he was younger a group of them would go to the casino straight after the shift and have a few laughs. Now he trawls the Internet or the TV, often ends up watching one of those deep sea-fishing programmes. He’s half asleep as they fight against the elements somewhere north of Anchorage, Alaska.
The Time Bandit is crabbing. Good name, he thinks.
“You’re the worst crew I’ve ever had!” snarls the skipper.
There’s another blizzard in the Bering Sea. Ice forms on and around the boat; the decks fill with snow. They haul two pots for just one crab. And make snow angels to relieve the tension.
“Remember you’re just a deck hand,” squeals the PA from the wheelhouse.
They slave on. Eighteen hours straight working for their families, sleeping soundly 800 miles away from the crab grounds. Weeks at a time away from home. Working in the dark and cold.
He knows how they feel.
Carrie Beckwith is from Stratford-upon-Avon and loves to write on the back of envelopes, in traffic jams, in the middle of the night. She’s a student at the Hagley Writers’ Institute and works freelance as a marketing consultant and copywriter. She’s currently working on poems and short stories.
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“We giggle because of the balloons in our bellies,” said the children and they giggled all the more as the air escaped their bodies and they propelled in jagged arcs across the room and out the open door. He grasped too late for the strings. Red welts scored across the palms of his hands as their sandaled feet, snake-striped by a long summer, skimmed across the roof of the house-next-door. Their laughter pealed out a callous carillon as they saw their childhood home from a new perspective and him so small in their world.
He last saw them lifting away into a bank of clouds filled with thunder as black as tea. The primary colours of their jumpers stood starkly out in contrast and made him think of geraniums and bananas and the sort of hyacinths that his mother would call sailor boys.
He suspects they might have stopped their giggling when the clouds wrapped them in a clammy embrace, the smirks wiped wet from their grubby faces.
He remembers how he’d trusted in his own father when he’d said, “If you eat too many bananas you’ll turn into a banana.” The children at school had mocked him with sniggers and snorts.
He thinks he sees a glimpse of buttercup yellow in the sky but it is gone. Just a card every now and then, a belated birthday or Christmas greeting when they remember.
He’s not laughing now either.
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.
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I do extra – set a good example for the youngsters – if the wind is right I can smell you humans a mile off – sometimes with a west wind I’m trapped – but always escape before it’s too late – have a few war
wounds I could show you – one day this sexy broad turns up – black mesh-net stockings and
garter belt under a scarlet cape – the pro has on these high red platforms – you know the kind – useless
for a walk in the woods – should have more sense – probably a ploy to catch me – I’m a sucker
for a scarlet woman – Scarlet says she’s lost – asks for directions to her grandmother’s –
the old lady’s always kind to us creatures – so show her the way – when we arrive Scarlett
invites me in – hear a groan – a sharp whack – then silence – am about to investigate
when Scarlet pulls a hand-gun out of her basket just as the Wood-Cutter rushes in wearing the old lady’s
nightie – and a Davy Crockett hat – situation so weird – I guffaw – Scarlet presses the trigger – bullet
whizzes past me – hits him in the hip – Scarlet says – sorry Sam – forgot my specs – he doubles
over screaming – yu stupid bitch! – while she’s ripping up the nightie I check the old biddy
in the bed-room – past saving so grab her money under the mattress – leap out the window –
the old dear would’ve been happy knowing her savings will buy back the land – stop the tree felling –
now hopefully you’ll all stop denigrating us poor wolves in your fairy-tales
Ila Selwyn is currently doing her Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Auckland. This piece has been cut down from a long monologue, which she wrote for a play she is working on in conjunction with a poetry collection, both to be completed this year.
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Congratulations to these writers!
Please see the features page with NFFD judges Frankie McMillan and Mary McCallum here, including a sample of flash from each of them.
Here’s looking ahead to 2015’s National Flash Fiction Day.
Coming in September: stories about falling.