Jaypee Belarmino is a Freemason and an award-winning World Poet and visual artist. His poems and art works have been part of several international literary festivals. He is a member of the World Poetry International, the Writers’ International Network and the Axlepin Publishing Organization.
~ ~ ~
When their mother got sick, Shelby and Sarah took turns reading to her.
Shelby always sneaked a look at the last page before she got to the end, which drove Sarah mad. When Sarah wasn’t looking, she’d flip to the back desperate for clues, tantalised by barely glimpsed phrases. Unable to bear it any longer, she eventually took a stand, purposefully creased the spine, and read the last page and a half. No more. No less. What she read often didn’t make sense. There were characters not yet seen, events that had not yet happened. It doesn’t matter if you know how it ends, she said. The interesting part is how you get there.
Sarah, on the other hand, dutifully read each page one after the other, sometimes turning them so slowly Shelby could barely stay in her chair. Taking pleasure in the words she found right in front of her, Sarah wanted to laugh and to suffer as the characters laughed and suffered. Sometimes she thumbed back several chapters to a seemingly inconsequential moment to reflect on it further, glancing slyly at Shelby as she did so. The ending has no meaning if you don’t follow the story as it plays out, she said. The interesting part is getting there.
Their mother loved to hear them both read. When she slipped into a coma, the nurse told them to keep on reading.
But, no matter how they read, the ending remained the same.
Judith Pryor is formerly a cultural critic and historian. She has spent the last eighteen months at home looking after her young daughter and, besides writing short fiction, is now learning the guitar, blogging about motherhood and feminism on smothered and putting the finishing touches on a children’s novel.
~ ~ ~
He draws pictures of houses that people build to live in, has regular clients, an exercise-conscious wife and two blonde children, two years apart, who watch cartoons every Sunday, while he sits with his wife in their allocated seats with tea brewing in her best porcelain pot.
Doubt creeps in, finds crevices between in breath and out, spreads into the space after one page and before the next.
Thick air makes the drawing sluggish. He runs to the park and sees the whole city from the top of the hill. Tenement blocks to the east, glass towers to the south and a broad industrial landscape at his back. Coming down he bumps into a woman he once knew. Smiling, with a dog on a lead, and a hat worn with a cotton scarf knotted behind her long neck. He remembers their Cavendish Street days, kissing her neck in the light stained yellow by a sarong tentatively pinned.
“I’m sick,” she says. “Doctors said last year I was meant to be dead.”
That night he dreamed of dismantling his life, block by block.
“I don’t want tea anymore,” he told her.
Springtime, he moves into a rental terrace. All the angles are skewed and he lies still, post-yoga, making an estimation: ninety-seven degrees in the left corner, eighty-three in the right. The room empty with just a faint vomity smell from the carpet underneath, and two plastic wrapped mattresses stacked.
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.
~ ~ ~
Toby’s in bed. He fights sleep. His memory remains vital, his memories many. He recalls childhood, the episodes and chapters that authored his life, as if yesterday. He recollects the time he listened to Badjelly the Witch on the large-buttoned cassette player. How the “ding-ding” of a triangle heralded an exotic foreign accent which instructed him to “Turn the page…now.” And how Mother, vanilla-perfumed, had cradled him, held the book in front of him and offered “Would you like me to turn the page, dear?”
Toby remembers a fever: he’d hallucinated Sesame Street puppets which crawled out of the television to attack. He remembers, too, he’d not told Mother that earlier he’d swallowed the bottle of banana-flavoured medicine in one delicious swig. And, with ever-present Catholic guilt, he recalls a day he played hide-and-seek. Paralysed with fear of discovery, he’d stayed rooted to the spot and pooed in Mrs Lockhart’s bushes. The stinky mess had smeared warmly, shockingly, down the back of his thighs.
From this bed, which roils senselessly in past and present tense, Toby reviews his edited, now abridged, life. Forty is too abbreviated. Reminiscence narrates reality. Morphine induces horrific visions. Faeces leak disgracefully from his colostomy bag. The triangle-like “ding-ding” of his heart monitor heralds – what? He barely contemplates the book in front of him. A pine-scented nurse places an antiseptic hand on his shoulder, asks “Would you like me to turn the page, dear?”
Anonymous_Author© is the literary voice of unknown writer Derek Jones, 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).
~ ~ ~
They met at a faculty mixer, she the hard-bound historian, he the loose-leaf literary type. He complimented her necklace. She commented on his shoes. In the weeks that followed they sat on the lawn beneath spun-sugar clouds, debated Descartes, read poetry in French. “Free will,” she said, looking up, “is an illusion.” He laughed. “An illusion,” he said, “is just the truth in comfortable shoes.”
They attended the theatre, ate pretentious foods from too-large plates, faced the days headlong without regard for the angle of the sun. She discovered flat-pack furniture, dreamed of colour wheels and designer jeans. He discovered a call for a professorship across the sea, dreamed of a desk that knew the weight of his elbows, a Main Street that turned into the Champs Elysées.
When the letter came he held it tightly. He dimmed the lights, stood at the window to wait. At the news she reared back, an automatic response. “Think of it as an opportunity,” he said. “A new beginning for us both.” “Opportunity,” she said, “is just goodbye in fancy dress.” On the way to the airport he counted pylons. They drove without saying a word.
The cab moved along the Place de la Concord, streetlights passing in a pearled blur. There was electricity in the dry summer air. He eased back, stretched his legs. The rush of passing traffic seemed to whisper on y est presque / on y est presque – nearly there / nearly there.
Sally Houtman is a Wellington writer. She began writing fiction and poetry in 2007 and threatens not to stop.
~ ~ ~
There was moonlight, music, and gifts of chocolate. There were late nights, and later mornings. They travelled together and joy carried them all around the endless loop of the Australian coast, hand in hand, laughing, smiling. Then, in the empty poverty of the western interior, where the boundless desert borderlands sprawl, they finally washed up. On the edge of a pit where the earth bled its industrial lifeblood, their means came out of the hole in the ground, while behind boulder-strewn horizons lived their dreams, without them, for three long years.
“Something has to change. It’s not like it was.” Her eyes, painted the washed-out blue of the desert sky, watched as he drank his beer slowly.
He said, “I am changing. Things will be different.”
He opened another beer and her heart felt desert bleak. In such harsh light, change would have been visible, surely.
He said, “You will like the new me. I will make you like me. We can change together.”
She bristled western-desert thorns in the simmering heat, as the monotonous days and unwashed future welded, seamless.
She found it hard to scry possibilities in the shimmering air, the chaos of dancing stones, the sweated images. Below the indefinite horizon lurked her nightmares, all unknowing and unknowable.
But confronting her was something certain, absolute.
That at night, each stone of the desert is alone, and cold. And there is no chocolate.
Alistair Tulett is a 1960 baby belatedly emerging as a wannabe writer from the obscurity of a professional career (ongoing) and farming goats (a “silent” partner) near Morrinsville in the Waikato. He lives with two of four grown children, an indomesticate cat, various livestock, and gratitude that luck has found him both the inspiration to try as well as encouragement.
~ ~ ~
“The scorpion is predatory… eight legs… pair of grasping claws… .” Turn the page. My eyes are only skimming the text. This assignment isn’t going to be easy. With next to nothing going on in my head, I’m practically braindead. A couple of heads in the library turn briefly, because I said braindead out loud. Apparently. I hope their assignment subjects are even more difficult than writing about a scorpion. I keep typing it on my tablet as scropian. Scropian is legit, so my brain claims (though not Spellchecker). Brain’s on the verge of abandoning me for a quick kip. Maybe I’ll copy something off the Net, use an article out of Wikipedia, change a word here or there, hope Ms I-know-everything-about-flora-and-fauna won’t notice. If she asks me outright if it’s all my own work, I won’t lie. I’ll say: everything’s on the Net these days, so what’s the point of reinventing the wheel? I like that, reinventing the wheel. See? There’s nothing original around, otherwise no one would have come up with that cliché. Pity I couldn’t write a story, instead of an essay. A story about reinventing the wheel would be cool. There’s this gigantic explosion – destroys every wheel on the planet. The hero – he’s a junior scientist – he tries to reinvent the wheel and discovers an even better way to get around.
Yeah, like what?
My brain doesn’t like having its nap interrupted. Turn the page: – “…scropian venom…has been known to kill…a hamun bieng… .”
Mike Crowl is a 66-year-old writer, pianist, composer, and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, and has written his own blogs since 2005. He wrote a weekly column for the Star Midweeker for five years in the 1990s.
~ ~ ~
Since the stroke I‘ve spent six weeks learning to write with my left hand.
You’re lucky, people say. Only your right arm. Not even your speech.
Sorry folks. I can yap as well as ever, and I do it oftener now I can’t type fluently.
I’ve always had the gift (or curse) of words. During the actual stroke, I mislaid them. Deft hands worked over me while voices gabbled in Chinese. Or Inuit. Or Kikuyu. I knew they wanted an answer, but could find nothing but alphabet soup.
I touched my chest with my good hand, asking wordlessly, “Who’s this?”
A rough shape formed: “Me.” Was that the name of the thing I was touching? It didn’t look right.
I went on dredging, and found “roof”, and many tugs later, “Karen” and “ceiling”. None of them looked right.
Aeons later – it was actually an hour – I had my whole dictionary back. I heard the question (now translated), “Who’s the Prime Minister?” I told them, and added my opinion of him gratis.
Today I’m training a voice-activated computer programme to speed things up. I start Hi Viv, and it types, ‘High Verve.’ Amend that, I say. Spell it H-I space V-I-V. Remember that.
At the end of the afternoon it’s still typing ‘High Verve’. When I call it a fucking slow learner it types that perfectly.
I sigh, pick up a clean sheet of paper and handwrite HI VIV in squiggly block capitals.
Karen Peterson Butterworth’s prose and poetry has been published in seven countries and won some prizes. She has not had a stroke but is sometimes subject to aphasic (word-stealing) migraines and currently has a torn right biceps. She couldn’t make her voice-operated programme type this story and bio accurately so she typed them herself with her left hand.
~ ~ ~
Now that Colin has been made redundant from the postal services — “Everyone uses email these days,” his manager said when giving him notice — he has time on his hands. He spends it in the university library, on the computer.
A psychology department advertisement for volunteers for a study into hopelessness gets his attention. He emails with a question of his own.
“I often don’t feel like doing things because so many tasks seem like they will just be a waste of time,” he writes. “Is there a name for this?”
One day later, a response comes from someone called Benjamin Boniface: “There’s not a condition relating exactly to this. However, it does sound like another, where people put off doing things they should do. I have attached a file describing this.”
Colin spends the afternoon filling in an online questionnaire: Are you a genius? He expects this to confirm his private opinion of himself but the computer screen freezes.
At 4.30 pm, he replies to Benjamin Boniface that he won’t be opening the attachment. “It seems like a waste of time.”
An out-of-office notification bounces back.
Colin sends another email: “Unless, of course, there is a cure.”
He receives another out-of-office reply.
Three days later, there is another message from Benjamin Boniface: “You can always come in to see us to discuss this condition, but we charge for consultations.” There is no mention of a cure.
Colin decides against replying. It would be a waste of his time.
Kate Mahony has an MA in Creative Writing from the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. Her fiction has appeared in Best New Zealand Fiction Vol. 6, Turbine, Takahē, International Literary Quarterly, Tales for Canterbury and Blue Crow magazine. One of her short stories was a finalist in the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award in 2008. She lives in Wellington.
~ ~ ~
The house is cold, silent. He misses the laughter of old friends. These days others visit. They bring their version of The Word, these new people who invade his house while he’s away at work. Not his version nor Jenny’s… until now. He looks at the empty drinks cabinet, a reflex from before.
“Alcohol’s evil,” Jenny had said while he watched helplessly as his red wine glowed slippery, smoothly, noiselessly down the plughole.
He attended some meetings, ignoring the emotional abandonment of the devotees to the exhortations of their leader whose motives he suspected. The loudness of the music hurt his ears but he watched Jenny smile and thought, what the hell, it’s only one day a week.
Home from work, he bounds up the stairs. He wants to be with laughter and soft music, to hear the tinkle of liquid falling into glasses even if it is only water. He wants them to smile over a multitude of choices while floating in the fragrance of foreign food. He feels like celebrating only he’s not sure what. That they are still together perhaps?
“Shall we go out for dinner?” he asks.
The slanting sun catches the gilt edges of the small book on Jenny’s lap. She glances at him then down to her book. She turns a page so thin that the light shines through it, and in the whisper of its fall he hears the loud slam of the door on the life that he once knew.
Karen Phillips lives in Ahipara, Northland. She began writing in 2009 and won the Katherine Mansfield Novice Award that year followed by first place in the Heartland Short Story Competition, and has continued to be placed in competitions since then. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.
~ ~ ~
They said that dying was like moving into another room. Her temporal self would be gone but her spirit near. Well rats to them. She’s been zinging about the ether searching for this room and finding only a cushion of thermal to rest on while she tries to figure out where she is. It has to be somewhere between before and forever.
Despite the priest’s assurances at the farewell that she’d be reunited with those who had passed over (as her pious daughter would say) she had not found Nicholas her first husband, nor Charles, nor Samantha her grand-daughter strangled at birth by her own cord and there’d been no sign of Matthew her son killed on his motorbike when he was eighteen. Nor for that matter any of her friends. She’s sceptical that they’ve been reincarnated as her Buddhist friend had suggested years ago in Nepal where they’d all intoned ooooms and rung bells.
The amazing surprise is that she can hear and see again. She’s astonished that stars sing, breezes have colours and panicky clouds cling to Earth afraid they may dissipate in infinity. On the other hand the atmosphere drifts around encompassing her, a pleasant sensation for this weary-of-modern-life nonagenarian.
But what now? Thoughts form, materialise, fade. A memory invades. Let go of the past.
She turns toward the distance and embraces eternity.
Kath Beattie seems to have been writing for ever. Her publishings include adult short stories, (a number broadcast), children’s readers/books and stories in anthologies. She’s had a number of poems published. She would by preference wander the bush and hills but practicality keeps her with her nose to the grindstone.
~ ~ ~
I realised precious little had changed, certainly for me, the day I baulked at changing my father’s sock. I was at his hospital bedside, his gruff voice in my ear, peeling back the sock covering his bloated yellowing foot, when I recalled all the mindless restrictions I had endured as a teenager. He turned away to clear his stomach, and retched. I could only think of the words he had spat out when I was twenty-two, visiting home, foolish enough to think I had claimed some authority over my life: “You make me sick.” Only that time I hadn’t been anxious to please; I had walked out carrying the door handle and heard the tinkle of screws falling on the floor.
I leant over his bed and scratched an itch above his left knee. He took my hand, which was more clammy than warm, and guided it to his right foot. I opened the fresh sock, slid it on, kissed him on the forehead and left.
My father still phones. We chat politely before he passes me to Mum. My youngest, now thirteen, doesn’t talk for long if she answers his call. This morning she dithered about, making us late for her music lesson. When I yelled at her to hurry up she used the F word — not for the first time — gathered her book and hopped in the car.
She’s been in her room all afternoon. Her door is still shut.
Kim Thomas is a bloke — let’s get that clear — although was once asked, in writing, by his doctor’s receptionist to make an appointment for a cervical smear test. Usually most accommodating, he politely declined on that occasion. He recently rekindled a long smouldering interest in creative writing. A growing weariness with his profession — the law — has had something to do with that.
~ ~ ~
He wakes each morning on the beach of consciousness, cast upon the restive sands with the languid waves of sleep lapping at his toes. He springs immediately into action.
She wakes in the benthos: deep in the cold, dark ocean with the anglerfish and the coelacanth. It takes a substantial time for her to rise to the sunlit surface, let alone strike out for the shore. As she swims she drags her dreams behind her like long strands of kelp; they slow her progress through the surf and leave strangely powerful emotions that flavour her days.
She is not a morning person. As she appears in the kitchen, bleary-eyed and dressing-gowned, he says, “So, up at the crack of noon…again.”
She’s tried to explain to him about the deep-sea fishes and the seaweed but she knows that people who eat muesli at 6am don’t have time for analogies.
Today, when she eventually reaches the shores of wakefulness, she finds he’s gone, taking everything he owned, and many things he did not, including her Cruel Sea albums.
She’s hurt, especially when she thinks about all the times she’s sat up in bed, reading by the light of her head-torch, trying to turn the pages ever-so-quietly so as not to disturb the flaccid, flatulent form at her side.
But he has sailed, and now midnight will find her dancing at the water’s edge, alone.
Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She is not a morning person. She frequently reads in bed by the light of her head-torch but hesitates to describe her husband as either flaccid or flatulent.
~ ~ ~
Well what d’you expect?
I’d like to get out.
It’s your choice.
I mean, I read. I know what’s out there…
What did you last read?
The Herald? The Listener?
D’you live under a fucking –
I’ve read George Saunders.
That objectivist American?
He’s not objectivist anymore –
denounced Rand and her neo-cons,
got a half-mill for his anti-consumerist
manifesto. And, for the record, I denounce
Atlas Bloody Shrugged.
Woah. You do read.
How else would I know so much?
Try the library. Try getting out.
What are you waiting for?
Turnips? Radishes? No: carrots!
Just a goddamn carrot.
You’re being obtuse. Let’s
meet some real people.
Don’t know the language.
I’ll teach you. Say ‘Kia ora’.
They speak Spanish here?
Good lord! This ain’t Spain!
Well how should I know?
Jeez, you’re a regular Eliza Doolittle.
I’m a guy, dude.
Same idea: rain in Spain.
Well I never been to Spain…
That’s not the point.
But I kinda like the music…
You’re too alone here.
You’ve never read Saunders, have you?
I got internet, dude.
Come to the library.
Maybe… I am hungry –
could do with some tapas.
This isn’t Spain.
And out there’s not like under here.
Or the internet.
Okay… I’ll try…
Fuck, it’s bright out here!
Oh, look, a daisy!
That’s a daffodil, you idiot.
What does it matter?
What does it matter?
Michelle Elvy is founding editor at Flash Frontier. She has never been an Ayn Rand follower and admits to playing Three Dog Night at maximum volume on the car stereo back in the early 1980s.
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Please also see this month’s interview with award-winning author and 2012 Storylines Margaret Mahy Medal winner Fleur Beale.
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Coming in October: our international issue with stories about flight.