Things Lost by Evie Jay
Fog by Vivienne Merrill
Astronomy by Sam Buckby
That New Years by Rachel Smith
Caravan of love by Keith Nunes
The Return of the Prodigal by Martin Porter
Swiss Army Knife by Jeff Taylor
Obstacle by Louise Miller
Quondam Misdemeanour by DR Jones
Together, we wait for the full moon by Annette Edwards-Hill
On the verge by Alex Reece Abbott
Helicopters by Heather McQuillan
Posthumous by Chelsea Houghton
Ferris Wheel by Jacqui Hammond
Pocket or not by Olivia Dowell
The Card by Gretchen Carroll
New Associate Editor, Gail Ingram
Interview: Bay of Islands Writers
Northland Flash: Treaty
Book Feature: Manifesto
People in Our Pages: Leanne Radojkovich
In My Back Pocket
“He told me he loved me but it’s over,” I say to my mother. “Six years, wasted. What am I going to do?”
“Pop it in your pocket and move on.”
It’s what she always does. On a bad day she’ll turn on me. She’ll regale me in her husky voice borne from a lifetime of smoking a pack of Pall Malls a day. She will speak of real worries, of paying rent and putting food in my belly.
I was born to worry. I can’t help it any more than the sun’s need to rise every morning.
On her better days she will listen to my worries. Exhaling a nicotine and Mentos breath, manicured fingers wrap up that worry, an imaginary box sitting on the kitchen table next to a full ashtray and the dregs of coffee so bitter it burns.
“Come on, pass it over,” she says now, balancing a cigarette between pink frosted lips.
With shaking hands, I push the worry over to her. Her hands, wrinkled, go through the motions of wrapping. She hands it back to me.
“Go on. In your pocket. Out of sight, out of mind.”
And so this one I buried deep in the back pocket of my 501s. I pushed it down, forcing it past insecurities, regrets and lost chances noting that if I wasn’t careful it would soon split open.
About Nikki Crutchley…
Ten days ago, when the clasp broke, she’d slipped the bracelet into her jacket pocket.
Four days ago, seeking to retrieve the bracelet, she’d found it gone.
Two days ago, she’d begun wondering if the bracelet could have been stolen. The jacket had been hanging in the hallway. Someone could have rifled through the pockets. Who’d been here? Emma and the children. Not Emma, no! But the children? They were little, liked shiny things, wouldn’t know they were doing anything wrong. She’d make it clear that she wasn’t angry. She just wanted her bracelet back.
Two hours ago, Emma and the children arrived. Ninety minutes ago, she’d started explaining to Emma, beginning, “You know that silver bracelet your father gave me, the one with the sparkly green owl pendant?” As she’d continued, she’d seen Emma screw her face up in disgust and jump to her feet, calling the children to come along, they were leaving.
Eighty minutes ago, entering the hallway, they’d found Max reaching into the jacket’s pocket. Turning to Emma, she’d let a smirk flash across her face. Seventy-nine minutes ago, she’d realised Max was clutching a green plastic owl and saying that he was giving it to Nana because she’d lost her own green owl.
She’d suddenly remembered, seventy minutes ago, as Emma and the children drove away, that she’d worn a different jacket ten days ago.
Now, holding the bracelet, she sat by the window, wondering when someone would find out how to turn back time.
About Evie Jay…
When she looks out of the window, the glare hurts her eyes. Trees loom, large and dark. The fog, sinuous as a cat, has entwined itself around the house. For a moment, she feels unable to breathe then she turns back to the bed. Part of her is glad to have this task – any task – before the rush of well-meaning people. Their cries, their shock. She picks up his shirt and it unfolds in her hands. Someone has taken care, she thinks. Laying the shirt down, she puts the discreetly rolled underwear aside, pats the empty trouser pockets. Only the jacket remains. The one she bought him for his last birthday. Not realising. She trembles as she lifts it by the sleeves, pulls it around her in some semblance of embrace. Slips her hands into the sleeves and pulls the jacket tight against her body.
Strewn on the bed, are the contents of the brown paper bag the ward sister gave her. His mobile, wristwatch and wallet. She stoops, ungainly, fabric flapping; she has to push her hands free, roll up the sleeves. With care, she opens the soft leather wallet and begins to empty the contents: cash, credit cards, business cards.
There’s a note with her name and birthday. She rubs her fingers over the photograph wedged inside. Two smiling faces. Loving faces. His and hers. She slides it out and something hidden – another photograph – falls on to the quilt. Recent. Explicit.
Outside, the fog thickens.
About Vivienne Merrill…
Astronomers were different in those days. The universes were, too. There were more of them for starters − some wrapped in stars and chaos, others in silence and void. Their study was a delicate and dangerous science.
One astronomer, all those years ago, tried explaining this to a young countess. She was very bright, and very well read, but it all sounded so strange.
“So you’re saying there are…lots of universes?”
The astronomer nodded.
“Universes within others, like − see, this coat has a pocket, and if there were pockets inside the pockets…it’s like that.”
“And this one?”
The astronomer narrowed her eyes. She knew what that was. It was the last thing she wanted to see.
“That’s a universe trying to get out. And unfortunately for us, we’re in its way.”
About Sam Buckby…
That New Years
That New Years − not when we had too many tequila shots but the one after. You promised it was going to be the best yet.
You booked tickets to the Gold Coast and a room in one of those beachfront hotels. The air was stale inside, pink mould blooming on the backs of curtains. Let’s go to the beach, you said. You were already in your bikini. The leopard print one that cut halfway across your arse cheeks.
Down on the beach, sand whipped into our eyes. I watched as you dove through the waves, your slick seal head appearing from beneath the white wash. You dared me to sunbathe topless, surprised us both when I slipped down my top, warmed my chilled nipples in the sun.
New Year’s came conveniently early at dusk. We took Vodka Cruisers down to the beach, joined the crowd gathered around a roped off section of sand. You held my hand, pulled it into your pocket when I tried to slip away. No one gives a shit here, you said. And I knew but still, there was only one kiss to go by, tequila drunk, your lips softer than I expected.
Delicate flowers of light bloomed across the sky, caught on the water before being rolled into pieces. A roar echoed back from the high rises behind us, sound wrapped around our shoulders as the grand finale began. Colour reflected in your eyes, pupils a deep beckoning black.
About Rachel Smith…
Caravan of love
Gary’s holding the overflowing caravan waste container. In his top pocket is a picture of his son’s headstone.
He says to his father, “I want to share the pain.”
His father’s smiling, holds a copy of Mein Kampf. “Rain, no rain today.”
Gary’s sobbing is ridiculous yet frightening for the father.
The father’s smiling is harrowing for Gary.
Then it starts to rain.
Both men are talking but they’re drowned out by the rain on the caravan roof.
Gary drops the container lunging at his father desperate for a hug.
The father slaps him with the book and flees.
Gary chases his father down to the swollen river where they both drown trying to cross.
About Keith Nunes…
The Return of the Prodigal
Almost half of the people in this orchard come from my father’s family, another quarter from my mother’s side. They rest, shaded beneath the canopies and tumbled stones, peacefully, in the curfew of the midday heat.
I arrived in late summer, the returning wanderer. A week ago, I gathered the fruit with my aunts and uncles in the family orchard. I sang with my cousins while my sisters peeled and cored − just another show-off from abroad trying to upstage the locals. Last night, like any eldest son, I stirred the pot in the forge. My father, a fiddler, kept us awake with ancestral songs from the Morbihan, cursed in Breton when the cider ran dry and accused his brothers of sacrilege when they offered him ale from the Black Sheep. He fell asleep just as the cockerel joined the chorus from a perch on the roof.
Anise fumes envelop us, now the black butter is ready. I serve the first batch to my elders for their acceptance and blessing. First, my father’s father, who nearly perished while the island was under enemy occupation. Because of a clerical error he was never sent to the prison camps, being mistaken for a builder when he was actually a Freemason. I pour it over him, then my mother’s mother who never travelled beyond the parish. Each remaining ancestor follows, buried with pockets full of history and pips, among the close-packed apple trees.
About Martin Porter…
Swiss Army Knife
His wife had bought him this Swiss Army pocketknife as a birthday gift.
He was no handyman, but it looked useful. The sort of thing Bear Grylls would take everywhere with him. Together they explored it, exclaiming surprise at each new discovery.
‘Pliers! Screwdriver! Tweezers! Nail file! Bottle opener! Can opener! Corkscrew!’ And so on…
It felt comfortable in his possession, and he made sure to keep it in a dedicated pocket without any coins or other junk to tangle with it. This was in case he had to produce it with a flourish in an emergency. Imagine if he needed to perform, say, an amputation on an accident victim in front of admiring bystanders (none of whom would have a Swiss Army knife), and he whipped out some other inappropriate attachment by mistake. Like the comb.
It went everywhere with him, and within days he had used four of the attachments in proper, designated situations. Pliers to extract a bent nail. Scissors to trim his fingernails. Screwdriver to re-fix a drawer handle, and the corkscrew to celebrate their first wedding anniversary.
Then she found, by accident, the incriminating evidence on his mobile. Somebody called Tania, from his work. Devastated, she seethed, but hid her rage and said nothing. But she knew he slept with the trusty knife-gadget beside his bed. Just in case.
He woke with a start, to find her standing over him.
“Blade!” was the last word he heard.
About Jeff Taylor…
Each time a subliminal chime, then the elegant chink of hooves on the metalled lane, the signature of its advance along the line of summer elms.
The horse is young and has retained the leggy impression of a foal but its neck arches up strongly from a firm polished chest. The rider is almost a child in a black cap and a red vest, perched high in the saddle her knees tucked up almost to her small face.
Each time they pass the narrow culvert dug between the lane and a ditch, the horse pulls up unsettled by this slight source of fear. It dances a measured and fastidious gavotte of retreat between the two trees, but then the rider exerts a delicate force manoeuvring the horse sideways into a slow high step up into air as they appear to climb with great and miraculous beauty into another dimension.
About Louise Miller…
My kleptomania developed in utero. Stole the identities of my parents right from the start. Sentenced Ed to life as an absent father, Peggy to hard labour, impoverished motherhood and an early grave. The second time I nicked something (if you don’t count relocating mail from the neighbour’s letter box to a cupboard in my latest foster home), I stuffed Tanya Miller’s pencil case into my schoolbag. She cried, and I tried to kiss her.
Stephanie Washer witnessed my boldness and smirked. We became partners, in crime – began shoplifting from Kumar’s dairy. I stole kisses from her, too, but she didn’t seem to mind. She kissed me back with pursed lips and scrunched eyes. Kissing Stephanie gave me a sensation not unlike the urge to pee. Once, her dad caught us pashing behind the bus stop, our pockets full of sweets and cigarettes. She cried and actually wet her pants. I kissed her and laughed.
These days, Stephanie is an anorexic photographer, who co-authored a well-known book on domestic violence. I, meanwhile, progressed to car conversion and burglary. Then came the home invasions and more stolen kisses.
I’m trying to get my sentence commuted through the prison literacy programme. What a drag. My cell mate tells me that in the future my name will be used as a slur meaning shameful. I don’t care. I’ll deal to him later. After I’ve copied his story and rewritten my final paragraph to ‘illustrate remorse’ like my tutor asked for.
About DR Jones…
Together, we wait for the full moon
I don’t care what you do with me she said. Throw me in the sea to be eaten by sharks, wrap me in a rubbish bag and leave me for the cats, put me in your pocket and feed the chickens. Then she added, scatter me on the roof and when it rains I’ll fill up the water tank. Think of me every time you have a drink of water, a shower, when you wash the dishes. But whatever you do she said, don’t play bloody Cat Stevens at my funeral.
She wants to go outside, she does this every night. She’s watching the progress of the moon, which with every night shrinks just a little bit more. In a few weeks I know it will be fuller, rounder, but she will be less.
But tonight the sky is overcast. Far away from the residual glow of the city, we stand in the blackness, silent. We have based our nighttime conversations on the changing night sky, but without the waning moon there is nothing to disrupt the weight of what will happen next.
She watches the sky with her good eye and asks if I can see the lights. They’re getting closer she tells me. I look, but there is only the dark.
Later in bed I listen to the rain falling on the roof before it slides off the iron into the drainpipes. My mouth is dry with the taste of imagined ash.
About Annette Edwards-Hill…
On the verge
Alex Reece Abbott
He was so mean, you needed a crowbar to open his wallet.
Short arms and deep pockets – she heard all the jokes when they started going out.
At first, Mere thought he was gifted. Who else could spot something lying on the gravel verge when they were doing eighty up the northwestern motorway? He’d slam on the brakes, reverse into the oncoming traffic, then nab any object. An old monkey wrench. A knackered tyre. A fraying hank of rope.
She thought he was bloody funny. A magpie.
Kerb-side street collection days were his highlight. When everyone else was chucking
junk out, he was gathering it in. Happiest trawling for lost treasure – was it because he was raised frugal in The Depression, or depressed? Or, plain mean – she never worked him out.
Over the years, his waifs and strays landed in the front yard, filled the garage, occupied their house in unending stacks. Everything might come in handy one day. He couldn’t throw anything out.
He swore he was doing the council a favour, recycling for them, but the clutter was doing her head in. Never enough, no space for her. She dreamed she was buried beneath an avalanche of other people’s crap.
This doctor on the TV reckoned it was a proper illness, Hoarder Disorder. Someone acquires an excessive number of items and stores them in a chaotic manner. Disorder making disorder.
Mere waited for her taxi with her suitcase, out on the lush, kikuyu grass verge.
About Alex Reece Abbott…
It has been the season for them. Their blades fling clumps of air at her window. Glass shudders. Their thwump thwump disturbs her reading, drags her from news of a tilted world.
Out on the balcony she turns her face to the source of the droning. This one, this blowfly, lugs bellied bags of debris from the hillside and a house rendered in crumbs and lumps and splintered bones. She follows its path, it’s hover, lift, and pulling tight of ropes and hooks and great white sacs filled with the marrow of where people used to sleep. Beyond its bloated abdomen the sea swells grey, the horizon seeps pink.
As she steps back inside her feet sink deep into cobwebs. She scoops them up, pulls the carpet edges into a sort of pouch, a carryall, and drags it out to the roof’s steep slope. She waves her arms, waves them wildly. Her voice has no heft on the winds. The helicopter becomes a distant buzz, a blot on the skyscape.
She hauls her memories back inside, bundles them under the spare bed, then folds the newspaper, turns off the radio, disconnects from the modem.
The world continues its lopsided loop around the sun. The helicopters will return.
About Heather McQuillan…
Someone had to clear his pocket at preschool.
She knew it would be filled with splotches of paint on newsprint, glittered half hacked greeting cards and gummed muesli boxes that she once would have put straight in a recycling bin.
What were you supposed to do with that stuff?
She was in the habit of sighing at the full pocket on the stand above his bag. It mounded up in the living room and his bedroom as he brought it home each day, not fitting on the noticeboard, frames or even on the refrigerator. You didn’t want to throw it away, but it didn’t go with the décor either. Crafting was obviously his thing at preschool, above the scooters and trains and blocks.
But now his absence was felt. She wished that she’d kept each piece, that she’d pasted the walls with it, that she’d embraced the glitter on the carpet and the fingerprints arranged over each other on cardboard.
She wished she taken the time to sit with him and study him, the concentration as he dipped the yellow brush in the orange paint, as he sucked on his little lip while making lines and dabs and splodges that shaped into something only he could identify. Explaining with fervour his creation through rainbow tinted pointing fingers.
She would claim those paintings, with the tight neat four-letter name in the corner.
About Chelsea Houghton…
The carnival man’s armpits smell of popcorn and petrol and orange peel. We lurch forward. Colin grabs my hand. It flutters inside his hot grip like a butterfly. Was it too early to post our eager news?
“Woah!” I say, laughing, spying the sandalled feet of the couple below, the last to board.
“You okay?” Colin asks.
I’ll have to lose weight, of course, for the photos, the honeymoon. Update my Relationship Status. I grip the sticky handrail, as this excites me in places I cannot politely describe.
At the top, clouds form shapes of leafy trees. Picket fences. I smile.
“That’ll be us one day,” I chirrup, pointing out children astride slow fat ponies.
The sandalled couple shriek, swinging legs in the sun. A sandal plummets. I make a silly, mocking face.
“What?” Colin barks, his face thunderous. I feel strange, foolish. Like I’ve broken something precious of unknown value.
In silence, Colin begins to swing our carriage.
“That’s funny,” I say, clutching the bar. We rock, faster and faster. “Stop it!” I shout. “STOP!”
In the blur, the clouds splinter into shards, skewering scattering leaves.
“I was only joking about the kid thing,” I yell, petrified I’ll vomit.
After we disembark, Colin slings an arm around my shoulders. “Just a bit of fun.”
“Okay,” I reply, voice quivering; hoping it tinkles into laughter. We pass the ponies: dumb, glacial. The children, parasites, like fleas on snails.
I dig my hand into my pocket. My phone throbs. I’m ready.
About Jacqui Hammond…
Pocket or not
I squint as if I have something important to think. Mediation of myself. Pants these days only have fake pockets. The relationship between the squinting and the illusion of pockets is bound in super glue, sort of.
The television is on, so that it might inspire me. The fabrication of dreams through real feelings, lost in the hallways of imagination. Something is lost in knowing and something is found.
I look up, smiling at the thought of it all – the pockets and the hallways. Then I do it again, but my hand won’t fit.
About Olivia Dowell…
The crumpled card on the footpath caught her eye: a painting of the Virgin Mary. She picked it up and turned it over to read.
My deepest thanks…
She looked to see if anyone was watching her. She felt like an eavesdropper on a private conversation, yet she couldn’t stop reading.
I was watching a video of a theologian the other day…
She noticed the torn hole in the corner; had the recipient ripped it off and thrown it away? Or accidentally dropped it? She read it once more.
…love wastefully… with gratefulness…
She considered putting the card back on the ground, leaving it for them or the writer to reclaim.
It is you I have in mind as the reader…
Instead, she put it in her pocket and hurried away.