Thanks to Designlab of Auckland for the NFFD image and logo.
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My mother kept boarders like other people kept chooks or stray dogs. She liked the refugees best with their stray suitcases, their canvas shoes tied up with string, their boyish faces and willingness to share a bed so that if one woke in the night crying, no shoot, no shoot, the other could turn and blanket their sorrows with their old European ways. My mother said our house was a little window into the 20th century and that the cold war would soon be over. She lit a fire down the backyard and Stefan threw the clothes he had been wearing from the long plane flight into the flames. The fire snatched at his shorts, burnt them into ash that blew soft and blossomy about the yard. His sadness overwhelmed me, his Hungarian breath on the back of my neck, his foreign arms covered in fine, dark hair. But I liked him well enough when he took me riding on the bar of his bike. At night we biked through the streets, the bike lamp whirring against the wheel, light bouncing over the gravel road and Stefan singing all the way. I don’t remember where we were heading but it was away from the busy house and hungry men and mixed up washing and quarrels over whose turn it was to have a bath.
“Your mother wants everything,” Stefan once said. “She wants the whole world.”
Frankie McMillan lives in Christchurch and teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute. Her short story collection The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories was published by Shoal Bay Press. In 2008 and 2009 her work was selected for Best NZ Fiction anthologies. Many of her stories have also been broadcast on radio. Dressing for the Cannibals, a poetry collection, was published in 2009 and in that same year she won the NZ Poetry Society International competition. Recent poetry appears in Turbine, JAAM, Trout, Snorkel, Sport, The London Grip, Shenandoah and Best New Zealand Poems, 2012. She won the 2013 National Flash Fiction Day competition, and, with Mary McCallum, she judged the 2014 NFFD competition. Her flash is also in Flash Fiction International (W.W. Norton, 2015).
~ ~ ~
I went to London, once. I’d never seen snow before and on the first night it came spinning through the light of the streetlamps.
I’d fallen for a guy who ran a bar in Brighton. We’d gone to stay with his Mum. The house was hot and had a pot pourri stink. There was wine after wine. I tried to sit politely, but kept dashing to the window to watch snow thickening on the bushes outside.
I didn’t know where to put my elbows at dinner. I knocked over my glass and pinot noir bounced off the table, splashing his Mum’s pale silk blouse. Oh, don’t worry, my dear, she said, dabbing it with her napkin. Drunk as I was, when she looked at me then I felt the same oily shiver as when I’d glimpsed eels sliding across paddocks back home.
I wasn’t allowed to sleep in Connor’s room so he snuck down three flights of stairs to mine. I woke with him lying on top of me. Snow glinted past the window above his head. Then he crept back to his room.
In the morning, I opened the front door. The air was sharp as champagne. The sun cleared the clouds and the white garden burst into crystals.
I rushed out and made snow angels. I threw snowballs at a tree and stood beneath screaming when ice lumps broke on my head. The snow tasted delicious, metallic and pure, and crunchier than a slushie.
“Bounds about like a dog,” I overheard his Mum grumble as I went back up the steps.
“You’re letting out the heat,” she said.
I turned to close the door and saw a red shape blaze across the snow.
We caught the next train back to Brighton.
He never called again.
Leanne Radojkovich’s stories have been widely published online and in print; and have won or been commended in various competitions including this year’s National Flash Fiction Day NZ contest. She also shares her work on YouTube and SlideShare and posts flash fiction street art in phone booths, shop windows and public spaces. http://www.leanneradojkovich.com.
~ ~ ~
My grandfather said I fell straight as a plumb bob from the tree. For a while he knelt beside my still body, picking off snapped branches and leaves. The sun climbed higher over the hills. When I finally came around Grandfather said he wasn’t sure if it was him or me who was saved. He measured the circumference of my head, traced callipers between my brows, collected my tears. He was pretty sure something had been knocked out of me. Sure enough, it proved to be geography – the maps, the south from north, the east from west, the follow your nose, the straight as the crow flies, the retrace your steps and the sun always sets.
We never spoke of it. When I got lost crossing the street or made the wrong turn going out the kitchen door, the adults just smiled indulgently. But as I got older I began to find little notes stuffed in my school back pack, in the pocket of my jacket, in the zippered compartment of my bag.
Turn left at the gate until you get to a right hand turn. Follow the seaward route. Mark your distance on the grid. And then there was this one, the one I carry when walking the streets of strange cities, the one that keeps me from feeling lost. I can just make out Grandfather’s writing beside the x.
You are here.
See Frankie McMillan’s bio above.
~ ~ ~
One minute I was playing Poohsticks, now I’m suspended in disbelief. Not literally, unfortunately, because gravity is irresistible, and the bridge continues to cartwheel skywards while the riverbed freight-trains towards my back, but I’m hanging in a droplet of treacle time, like an Olympic figure skater caught falling in super-slow motion. I’m using this frozen moment to wonder what happened. My son and I were walking, slowly, and talking. About ageism: I expressed frustration that grey hair and a shrink-wrap of wrinkled skin generated so many coddling assumptions about mental capacity and joie de vivre. About my diagnosis: I hadn’t told anyone else, knowing they’d just say, oh dear, and not see anything tragic in it, because, at my age, it had to be something, sometime. About choice: I said I hoped someone would help, when the time came, because it would be awful to suffer at the end, as his father had.
Then we came to the bridge and I changed the subject. Let’s play Poohsticks, I said. He said, are you sure? Humour me, I said. We started by leaning on the railing, holding our sticks and watching the water pass under the bridge while the sun warmed our backs. Then I said, ready when you are. Bother. That must be when he got hold of the wrong end of it. He said, Mum, are you sure? I said, yes, of course. On the count of three. One. Two. As I let go, he bent his knees, gave me a strange low embrace, and swept me right off my feet. Darling Christopher, so like his father.
Fiona Lincoln lives and works.
~ ~ ~
It was everyone we expected minus those who should’ve really been there. Chattering and chortling continued nevertheless. It was as if the ghosts of the vacant didn’t really fill in space like overgrown traffic islands. My girlfriend toasted and called for everyone to sing Happy Birthday. I think there was cake that no one ate. No one wanted that sacrifice mouthful of ruddy beer ruined by the sweetness of cake.
Taxis were called and one burdened soul was tasked with herding feebleminded drunks into cabs. We converged on a bar named for the illiterate; The Book and Badger, or The Horse and Cart, or Hall and Oats or something. Shots and more beer reigned. The music seemed specifically designed to get people to dance by creating untold anxiety from the knees down. We danced like the junkies and punks we used to be. Then people leaving. People called fond farewells and casual hoorays. A kiss goodbye from my girlfriend. A raft of handshakes. Then you.
You drew your hair back like a pull-start lawnmower and your face sparked with a glimpse of affection. Or was that guilt? Or just your after work drinks finishing too early? It’s too hard to tell in this light.
You slip across the room and lean on the polished wood of the bar. The sleeves of your navy button down are rolled up to the elbow showing off an infinity of gypsy bracelets. I try looking past you at the ghosts we left behind, but you swerve into my line of sight. I feel like I’m playing the piano one handed, but order us drinks anyway. You pick out every angry thought I ever had for you and throw them over your shoulder like salt for good luck.
Hayden Pyke also writes under his initials HP. He lives in Hamilton and works as a Probation Officer. His first short story making the NZ Writers’ College competition short list in 2012. In 2013 he was long-listed in the NFFD competition.
~ ~ ~
My mother never sat down to meals with us, except for Sunday lunch. Monday to Saturday, Dad sat head-of-table, facing the garden; we four kids faced each other and the walls. Mum would bring in the main, later she would bring pudding. Mostly, I loved Mum’s cooking, but sometimes she served tongue. I loathed tongue. Once, she gave us tripe – that was never repeated.
It was hard to gauge how mealtimes would go, but I remember a lot of watching, of Dad and his moods, and of Mum’s back in her kitchen. I don’t know what she ate in there; perhaps she nibbled on saucepan leftovers, or licked traces of dessert from a spoon.
Some nights Dad and my eldest brother would argue – we kept telling him not to rise to Dad’s baiting, but he always did. Their bickering would build to something uglier, then, that momentary quiet, that lull which felt false, as if a bad thing was crouching in the corner, flexing to spring.
One night, Dad threw Mum’s goulash at the ceiling; beef and gravy, chunks of apple and onion stuck in an appliquéd relief before dropping to the floor. I screamed; chairs were thrown. It was a dining room with nobody dining.
Perhaps that’s why Mum never ate with us. Her stomach wasn’t up to it. Mum was very thin; she lived on a diet of Slimryte Rolls and celery sticks. I loved Dad, but sometimes he could be a very difficult man.
The goulash stain was scrubbed away before Mum got back from hospital.
I think the reason Mum sat down with us on Sundays was that on Sundays everyone had to be good.
Céline Gibson currently resides in Oamaru, North Otago, and shares her home with a cat and a bagpiper. Her most preferred genre is stage/screenplay writing followed by flash-fiction then short-story; recreation is naughty limericks. When not engaged on any of the above, Céline dons her other hat as co-producer and co-presenter of Writers’ Block – a Plains FM radio show for writers, about writers. Céline has been published nationally and internationally in both online and paperback form. If the impossible were possible, she would love to read a 21st century flash penned by Oscar Wilde.
~ ~ ~
It is the month of cicadas, a tamed sun, the air clear and forgiving. Somewhere a full tide laps on an under utilised beach.
The old father visits from his furnace in Australia. He is forced to stay at the last moment. No room at any other inn so he buries his hatchet temporarily and struggles up the stairs with his luggage to sleep on a mattress on the floor among the accumulated jumble of the spare room.
You have so much shit he says to his son.
An old seaman in Sears khaki he moves slowly, in pain and talks about how difficult it is living singly on the pension.
He has ritualised ablutions which last a minute and use the minimum of water allowing him to boast of a $30 water bill.
He laughs at her jokes, as an inescapable cost of accommodation. Accordingly she no longer has to agree with everything he says.
He tells her that suicides end up in some Indian level of hell being beaten on the feet with sticks by devils.
He takes a road trip, his son driving a hire car. It goes south with many misdirections to visit the urupa in a remote bay where his grandson lies. Apparently restless spirits have visited him since the murder. He wants rid.
He wants to go to the races but baulks at the $10 entrance fee. So he places a bet at the local TAB. His last trip he won $500 but this time he wins $15.
He says this is his last trip.
He says I do not know if I will see you again
He takes his bag and walks out the open door.
He leaves behind a gutted packet of high dosage painkillers and a rebuking troubling spirit.
Louise Miller currently lives and works in Auckland. She has contributed flash writing to Flash Frontier over the past year and has a blog of very short fiction and creative non-fiction: Life in Hydra.
~ ~ ~
That day they let her into the house. The sisters, children, cousins. It was dank and chilled. Without a presence.
Their faces were taut with grief and shock.
Take anything you like they told her. He loved you – we knew that all along. She knew she puzzled them – was a stranger.
How could she say she wanted his pillow. The one he slept on the night before? Or the discarded socks on the floor by his bed. Or his t shirt to bury her face in?
She wanted his DNA.
It appeared her duty though and she looked around her, helpless.
Save me, she whispered to him. Save me.
The only thing she wanted was him.
His warmth, his smell, his comfort.
They needed a grand gesture though. Something moving and memorable that would satisfy them. They were watching, faces blotched, eyes red, hers too.
She placed her hand on the battered radio beside the bed. She stroked the dust from the top of it.
I’ll have this she said. He listened to it at night when he was alone. She fingered the broken knobs. Blew off more dust. Cradled the poor, damaged thing in her arms feeling its ancient weight. Smiled – and thought ‘it’s a bit like him’.
A pause then one voice: That?
Yes, her cheek was wet against the outdated metal speaker.
Into their stunned silence she spoke, defiant,
A voice, a companion who kept him company, music with strange metallic static which minded him in the lonely hours.
I’ll have this. It’s like him, she said. Like him.
Gill Ward lives and writes in Wellington.
~ ~ ~
“You making any resolutions for New Years?” My daughter’s boyfriend stretched out in my Christmas chair at our campsite. The sea breeze ruffled the newspaper and the dark hair on his legs.
I swirled the tea towels in the suds and wondered how a whole generation had managed to hijack the New Year season and remove its apostrophe.
Warm water slid over my hands and soothed yesterday’s sunburn while the heat on my back forewarned another scorching day. I would’ve washed my knickers too if he hadn’t been sitting under the clothesline.
A roll over of one year to the next had always heralded a public announcement of new resolutions in my family. They never lasted.
My mother habitually pledged daily exercise and usually made a purchase in early January, perhaps a skipping rope or a hula-hoop. Dad examined his alcohol consumption. In hindsight, it was substantial.
Beer came in refillable flagons back then and Dad could demolish one in the short stretch of time that began with The Partridge Family and ended with The High Chaparral.
I pegged up the wrung-out washing and stepped behind the line of tea towels. Cool drips sprinkled my face and I let the damp material cling, soothingly, to my skin. My head was heavy; a familiar pressure dug early-morning-fingers into my skull and I thought about my own substantial consumption.
“You alright?” The boyfriend tipped at a precarious angle to peer at me. “Got any? Resolutions?”
“Mmm, just thinking.” I tipped the water into the spongy beach grass and together, we watched it devour the foam. It soaked in immediately and I thought about my liver — absorbing — or not.
“Resolutions never last,” I said. I could see he was disappointed so I added, “I might buy a skipping rope.”
Mary-Anne Scott lives and writes in the Central Districts.
~ ~ ~
Now they were moving again, back to Christchurch, for the work. In the dark evening Sean loaded the ute and trailer. Ollie watched him from the porch, and hitched the bantam rooster up under her arm.
Sean finished securing the tarpaulin and called “Come on inside now and put that bloody chicken down!” Ollie disappeared through the front door and Sean went around the back to wash up. Dirt from the old job was hard to shift, and when he made the cheese sandwiches for their tea, he saw his nails were still black.
“Did you get rid of that chicken? ” he asked the child, “we can’t take it, I’ve said already.” Ollie blinked through her tangled fringe, and looked away.
Later, Sean opened Ollie’s bedroom door. He saw his daughter asleep under her worn quilt, in the rental bed on the bare floor in the cold room. The rooster was perched on the foot of the bed, a scrap of blanket over its back, tied in front with pink hair ribbon. It stared at Sean with a yellow eye. A jar lid of weetbix crumbs was laid on the floor below. Sean felt the pain start in his throat and move to his chest. Not the anger or the worry, but something else he couldn’t name and didn’t want to. He closed the door.
Early in the frosty morning Sean started the ute. Ollie sat in the passenger seat wrapped in the quilt, a wool beanie over her fringe. The rooster was in a box between them, wearing a knitted dolls cape over its pin feathers. By the time they reached the main road the sun was glittering on the alps far in the distance and the cab was warm and bright.
Anna Granger used to play with an old typewriter in the toybox and has been clicking away at keys ever since. She has worked as a journalist, editor and photographer. Her short stories have won awards, been published in magazines and collections, and broadcast on radio. Originally from Auckland, Anna now lives in the Ruapehu District, where she appreciates the fresh air, rivers, trees and birdlife.
~ ~ ~
She is very attractive, tall and slender with long, long legs.
When she leaves for work in the morning she sometimes wears a short skirt. Those are the best mornings. The maroon skirt is my favourite.
Her hair is slowly changing, she is growing out the blonde and it is turning auburn, like the season slipping into autumn.
Sometimes when she leaves the house she walks barefoot to the car and I can see that her feet are large. I like that about her. When she does wear shoes, they are always flat, sandals never heels. I suppose it is because she is so tall. I would love to see her in heels, watch the effect they have on those long slender calves.
She leaves for work every morning at about 8:15, lunchbox in hand, bag slung casually over her shoulder. Sometimes gym kit. Her arms are slender and the muscles are well defined. Lots of gym work. Only occasionally is she late, more often a little early, but almost never out of the house before eight.
It is part of my ritual, to watch her leave the house each day.
At what point does simply looking turn into spying, and then at what point does spying turn into stalking? Hard to say exactly.
Was it the day I started to take photos of her leaving the house?
Was it when I began to wait hidden behind my curtain, holding the camera at the top of the window to get a clear shot over the wall?
Or was it the day I followed her car into town, watched her walk to work, photographed her over my shoulder as she cut through the car wash?
Yes, it was probably then.
When she first noticed me, saw me watching and looked afraid.
Marcus Hobson is a writer and reviewer who left behind a career in business and finance and a degree in Ancient and Mediaeval History and is now looking for a publisher for his first novel, The Artist’s Model, a tale of art, love and ultimately revenge set in the South of France. He lives in Tauranga with his fiancee and their many daughters.
~ ~ ~
“I want to get rid of him.”
My words hung momentarily in the stale, vanilla-scented air of the consultation room and I had the strange sense they belonged to someone that I didn’t know.
“Him?” asked the technician, confused, a frown trying to escape the confines of her creaseless face.
“Get rid of it, I mean. The tattoo.”
“Let’s have a look,” she said.
I lay face down on the examination table and lowered my trousers slightly, revealing the name and intricate pattern that sat above my left buttock. Pan pipes wailed while she prodded and stretched my skin with a rubber-gloved hand.
“You’ve had it a while?”
“Thought so – you’re older than most of the ladies we get,” she said.
I laughed nervously, like the stupid teenager I had been. There was a sigh and an imperceptible tut, her tongue clicking behind neon white teeth.
“I’ll do my best,” she said. “But that aquamarine will be hard to remove.”
“That’s his favourite colour,” I explained defensively.
I often find myself defending him. Especially to Mother. Even now – though she’s been buried twelve months. She was such a rigid woman, all dressed up in her navy suits and her conservative ways. I had just wanted to prove her wrong: with a tattoo. And two babies. And twenty-two years of marriage. Only once she was dead did I realise how much of it was all about her. And me. But never about him.
“It might leave a slight mark,” the technician said.
That made sense. I never imagined he’d leave without a trace.
“In that case we can start the laser treatment next week.”
I felt a wave of hope.
Perhaps then I’d find the courage to leave him.
Emma Vere-Jones is a journalist who moonlights as an author of fiction. She grew up in Wellington, spent twelve years in the UK and the Netherlands, and three years ago moved to Auckland. Her first children’s book Stan the Van Man appears from Scholastic in August 2015. ‘Gone’ is her first piece of published fiction for adults.
~ ~ ~
When my first pet mouse died, we gave it a formal burial, with a Biro-inked Popsicle stick cross to mark the grave: R.I.P Hot Shot.
I knew he was dead, yet was still appalled by the way he failed to get up and run when the soil slumped over him. As the dirt pressed its dark mask against his eyes and mouth, I was frightened that we were hurting him; that he wouldn’t understand this was what we had to do, when he was dead. I’d never told him about death. Had his mother-doe had time, before he came to us, to explain love, mud, sunrise, weather, house-cats, newspaper nests, years, and how one day, we all turn into terrible stiff trick replicas of ourselves?
One afternoon, my own mother found my younger sister and a little boy from down the road digging up the grave. They were looking for the mouse’s ghost. I thought they were very brave, incredibly mean, and extremely rude. Surely trying to see someone else’s private ghost was like spying on a stranger stripped down to bra and petticoat? There was a wickedness about it. Yet perhaps I was just jealous that I hadn’t been so fiercely original about my own mouse.
For they did see its ghost. It was white, just like Hot Shot, and it had wings. No bigger than a matchbox, it startled up out of the grass to perch on a crab apple tree. It sat still for a moment, tail tucked away, wings held open in supplication like small, pale Jesus hands, before they banged together, blackboard dusters being rid of the chalky clouds of its old, musty life. Then, with a definite air of ‘Bor-ring!’ it flew away. Probably, said my mother, off to greener cabbages.
Emma Neale is a Dunedin-based writer, editor and occasional creative writing tutor. She has had five novels and four collections of poetry published, with another, Tender Machines, due out from OUP this year. ‘Plot’ is her first attempt at flash fiction.
~ ~ ~
The day after Trevor upped and left for Brazil, travel details unknown, his partner Barbara began burning papers in a bonfire at the back of their house. Those who saw the smoke wondered among themselves what Barbara was burning.His business records, the men said.Her diaries, the coffee group women said.
Her old knitting patterns and magazines, the woman who delivered the rural mail said.
A neighbour reported that Barbara had kept the bonfire burning for three days. The smoke had made the woman’s asthma flare up. But when she went over to ask Barbara to put out the bonfire, she wasn’t at home.
A tanker driver ordering a meat pie at the Wing Long bakery and café told someone he’d glanced over the big fence surrounding the house and seen someone who could be Barbara loading suitcases into the back of a taxi.
Someone reported she’d been seen at the airport but they weren’t sure as the person didn’t know her very well. It certainly looked like her, they’d said.
A woman at the Pilates class, now one down without Barbara, remembered that Barbara had family in Australia. She could’ve gone to see them.
But then someone held up the ANZ bank in the high street and the talk in the town all turned to that.
Kate Mahony has an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, Wellington. Her short fiction has been published in Best New Zealand Fiction, Takahe, Blue Fifth Review, Headland Literary Journal, the International Literary Quarterly, Blackmail Press and Litro New York. Her short story ‘The Journey’ was a runner up in this year’s Fish Publishing (Ireland) short story competition and appeared in the Fish 2015 anthology, while ‘Regrets’ was long-listed for the Fish Flash Fiction competition. ‘On the Beach’ was selected for this year’s UK national flash fiction day anthology, Landmarks.
~ ~ ~
I crested the hill and saw the smoke, I could see a figure struggling up the field to the road, stumbling on unseen clods of sun hardened earth, created by his own cows in the last distant wet. The smoke was black but the flames were orange against the red paint. He was shirtless and breathless.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
We both turned as first one big tyre went ‘poof’, then the other. He folded his arms. His wife turned up with a miniature extinguisher, he laughed and after a pause, so did she. The diesel tank started to hiss, then the flames and the gases combined and with a whoosh the whole thing exploded. We all took a step back as a rush of hot acrid air swept up the field towards us, then a pop as first the front left and then pop again as the front right tyre went.
The tractor fell to its knees.
The grass was beginning to catch when the first fire truck arrived, then the second. There were about six cars now, though as the uniforms arrived, we drifted away, superfluous, knowing full well that we’d be moved back, away from the excitement. I turned to look as I pulled my seat belt on. The wife was cradling her husband from behind, rocking him gently, up on tippy-toe, propping her chin on his naked shoulder.
I googled the incident the next day. The fire service say it only takes seventeen minutes for a starling to build a nest.
Pete Carter has published one small book of prose and poems, It’s your dad, and has another coming out in August, working title Not my dad. He is undertaking a rewrite of a children’s book specifically to fulfil a publisher’s request; the book was illustrated by his nephew and will be out in 2016. The novel has yet to be completed and a non-fiction project is underway. Pete is married, has a son who lives in Bristol and a daughter in Sydney. He has an old dog and a young dog and has written about both of them.
~ ~ ~
My uncle had a glass eye. To amuse us kids, he would take it out with a teaspoon and pretend to eat it.“No,no, put it back in,” we shrieked, worried about what it would see as it floated around in his tummy.He pretended to pull it out from behind one of our ears, and we watched fascinated as he slipped it back into the sunken socket and became normal again.
My one eyed uncle and his wife lived on a huge country estate. He was the gamekeeper and she the housekeeper. We visited infrequently and only when the land owner was on holiday. Then we would run through the manicured gardens and swim in the lake, a ragtag trio of town kids with dirty knees and snotty faces, without fear of upsetting the calm and routine of the aged Colonel and his Lady. My uncle and the Colonel had served together.
There were no children in either household. The Colonel’s sons had grown up and were off managing his other estates. No cousins here. You couldn’t have kids if you only had one eye now, could you?
I remember watching a documentary about a blind couple who had a child. The child could see perfectly and I was amazed.
“How did uncle lose his eye?” I asked. “Was he born like that?”
“Shhh, I’ll tell you later,” said my mum. But she never did.
When my uncle died, he was buried in his uniform. His eyes were closed but I knew that the glass one would still be there. An everlasting war memorial.
Eileen Palmer moved with her family to New Zealand ten years ago from Scotland. She lives in North Canterbury with chickens and alpacas and enjoys the rural lifestyle. She works part time and read and writes whenever she can.