Claire Beynon is an artist, writer and independent researcher based in Dunedin, New Zealand. Drawn increasingly to interdisciplinary work, she has established valued collaborative partnerships with scientists, filmmakers, musicians, fellow artists and writers in her home country and abroad. Her ‘Honeycomb Journal’ is part of a much larger work in progress. Meanwhile, Antarctica has her under its spell and her research there over two summer seasons (in a remote field camp on the edge of the Taylor Dry Valleys) significantly altered her way of seeing and being in the world. We admire Claire’s creativity so much, we open this month’s issue not only with her visual work but also her words, taken from her website:
“Wander wide, allow for poetry of a different kind –
cadence and kerfuffle, the heart’s rising above a familiar chaos
of subjects. On the late afternoon wall, paintings
in the making, canvas acrobats hang on our every word.
Bare feet yield to black water. Beyond the frame, life
is a risky business. Jack-in-the-box. Angel. Thief.
Some days a blackbird at ease with the rhyme and chime
of every unknown thing. Like the signs written in dust
after vultures have flown or the bones a shaman rolls,
clues clatter and scatter; each piece falls to earth
and order, takes its place in the heart’s vast chamber.”
More of Claire’s creative and inspiring output can be found here and at this global arts and peace hub.
~ ~ ~
It was cold for May and Charles had an extra blanket for his last night at home. He lay in bed thinking of the hoar frost, ice crystals forming into spears that would be rising out of the dirt by the morning, the cold journey into Hastings with his father, waiting in the icy air for the train to Trentham.
His uniform hung from the door and the moon rested on the arm of his jacket, casting a shadow across his bed. He closed his eyes, tried to imagine Europe, a world far away from the farm: little cafes, French girls with soft hands and painted nails, sun beating onto pavements, castles and windmills. Then he was awake, his breath in front of him like smoke in the frigid air. He got out of bed, wrapped himself in the blanket and sat on the front porch, looking across the paddock to the homestead. The house was dark. Charles thought of the three Harris boys, one in Turkey, the other two tucked up in bed, one too young, one too blind.
He waited on the porch for morning. He heard the cries of the milk-swollen cows and saw Mr Harris leave the house through the front door. The tops of the hills reddened as the sun started to rise in the sky.
Charles stood up. An adventure, he told himself, four months training and onto a boat, a year without summer, the northern sun low in the sky.
Annette Edwards-Hill lives in Wellington. She completed the Poetry Creative Writing workshop at Victoria University in 1997 and a Masters in Art History at Auckland University in 2000. A strange series of events led her to a career as a business analyst, but she has a preference for writing fiction over project documentation.
~ ~ ~
He was there already, a bundle of black where the sea rested. Stars still pricked the dark sky, and the ground was crunchy underfoot as I walked down the hill.
He gave me a nod, his eyes on the water as my line landed with a soft splash. I took a seat on her rock and leaned the rod against my knee.
“Is she OK?” he asked.
I nodded. Kneeling beside her bed in the darkness I had listened to her soft sleeping breath, seen the outline of a small hand tucked under her cheek.
His line began to thrash; he stood, pulled and wound. A silver shimmer in the early light, it rose twisting and fighting from the water.
“It’s a beauty,” I whispered. She had fought the same, her long hair winding through my fingers as I plucked her from the silent depths.
The fish fell gasping onto the rocks beside me and he stilled it with a quick blow. “For her dinner.”
Rachel Smith enjoys writing short fiction, and more recently flash fiction. Her work has been previously published in JAAM and Takahē and was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition.
~ ~ ~
Tracer bullets tacked the night with red stitches as we struggled into the air with Messerschmitts shitting shells around us.
Within seconds of becoming airborne on his seventeenth mission, Smitty was taken out by shrapnel.
Soaring for altitude, we braved the slipstream of chaos while the earth shrinking below exploded her whole bag of fireworks.
We flew over dark cliffs and malevolent forests, sniper fire like obscene pop guns below us. One pop took off the side of Sandy’s head. He spiralled down like a sycamore seed.
Dawn broke as we turned towards the coast, choking on air thick with fumes from flaming ships.
Barney lost a tail to ack ack fire and plummeted into an ocean slick with oil and mayhem.
Paddy took a bullet to the chest and flew on in searing pain.
Shortie toppled from the sky and crashed onto the beach just as we made the headland.
But over hundreds of miles, days and nights, many of us pigeons survived, the precious capsules strapped to our legs with coded information and coordinates safely delivered.
Gallantry medals were awarded to heroes – including those who made it back to their lofts, rang the bell that signalled a homecoming, then died from exhaustion, mission accomplished.
Jan FitzGerald has been published in mainstream NZ literary journals since the 1970s and in Poetry Australia, The London Magazine, Acumen (UK), Orbis (UK) and others. Her latest poetry book is entitled On a day like this (Steele Roberts, NZ). Jan works in Napier as a full-time artist. For more see her website, Painting Poets.
~ ~ ~
The wind rages, battering the tent as it has done for days. I have not managed to write in my diary lately, but today I feel I must. Nothing to eat, only snow melted on my little stove to quench my thirst. I am the only one left now.
The tent flap lifts. A stumbling figure emerges from a scurry of driven snow.
“Oates! You’ve come back.” Titus had gone outside, rather heroically, some days ago. His old war wound aggravated, he could scarcely keep up even at our miserly pace. “You said you might be some time. I did not expect to see you again.”
Titus grimaces – from the cold, or perhaps he thinks I am a little ungracious. I hear him mutter, “I’ve brought you a decent pony.”
We had argued about the suitability of the Manchurian ponies. Oates said they were crocks and would hinder us from placing caches sufficiently far south to assist our return from the Pole. He warned, darkly, that I would regret not taking his advice to shoot and eat them. But I was having none of it from the old pessimist.
Perhaps I have been wrong about Titus. After all, he’s come back for me, with a pony. I study his shrouded figure. A halo appears around the head and bandages drop from the hands. I can see stigmata. I write in my diary, of my salvation.
When I look up, the figure has vanished.
Peter Adams enjoys trying to capture the essence of things succinctly, which is the heart of flash fiction and poetry. A published historian and sometime diplomat, Peter is fortunate to reside at the edge of Wellington harbour with all its varied beauty, or at the family home in Fiji.
~ ~ ~
On 29 September, a friend of mine purchased model SC-482 from your online catalogue. Delivery was prompt and the colour was the correct shade of red. The fabric had a nice tight weave and a soft feel to it. But upon wearing, he found the cape to be of substandard quality. It merely flapped in the wind and didn’t billow properly as your website promised.
The issue became critical when Lois Lane required rescue from the top of the Auckland Sky Tower. Because of the inferior appearance of your product, my friend was forced to call for a Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Lois appeared on television on the Fair Go programme bellyaching about how she was ignored in her time of need by a man she fancied. Now my friend’s reputation is destroyed and Lois will never allow him to prove that he’s a man of steel.
He has enough trouble finding telephone booths to change in and doesn’t need any more problems. The cell towers mess with his X-ray vision and intensify his Kryptonitephobia. He’s no longer able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
Doctor Kleinhoffer calls it Performance Anxiety. I do NOT need Prozac! I need a replacement for the defective cape you idiots sold me. Send it by rush courier and pray that you don’t need rescuing before it arrives.
And if my name is mentioned ever again on Fair Go, you’ll be hearing from my lawyers.
Elizabeth Farris lives in Waikanae wedged between the bush and the Tasman Sea. Her short stories are published in Australian and American anthologies and her stage plays have been performed in the US. She was short-listed for the Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing in 2009 and was runner-up in the Rodney Writes Competition in 2008.
~ ~ ~
Round and round went the wooden spoon, in a pan so big it could hold half-a-dozen heads, should she ever convert to cannibalism; fortunately, in those years, it was vegetables, fruits and berries.
She lived with a lion and his cubs. And when she wasn’t stirring in the pan, she would throw them meat to stall their prowling.
But sometimes exhaustion claimed her, and the cubs would find her supine on an eiderdown, in a navy and cyclamen patterned bikini, limbs splayed to the sun – baking, burning. The shadow cast by the cubs signalled a return to shackles. She would scramble to her feet, grab her lady’s fork and begin gardening with a ferocious energy.
As temperatures soared, jars sterilised in an oven set to 100 degrees. As weed piles wilted, apricots simmered. Upon the bench, an early morning batch of tomato chutney securely sealed within glass chambers. The cubs counted to eighteen with salivating mouths.
On nights when the lion roared once too often, she would bravely roar back, and the lion, realising her tiredness, would reach a clumsy paw, an apology of sorts.
Come morning, after the lion had departed the compound to hunt in the concrete jungle, and the cubs went gambolling from 9 till 3, the woman would stir her fragrant concoctions, not minding the labours stretching ahead, for beneath her dressing gown was her navy and cyclamen bikini.
Celine Gibson shares her home with her husband (a bagpiping fiend) and two cats. Writing is her first love, followed by gardening, baking and painting — when time allows.
~ ~ ~
It was a two-star hotel. The lift was antique and unreliable. On the morning she left Athens, there was no hot water either. It took several goes to get all her luggage to the foyer. Marble staircases are both attractive and unforgiving. Outside on the busy street, dogs and taxis competed for her attention. It was a short walk to the station according to Lonely Planet. She clutched her laptop bag tightly, wheeled her suitcase and flung her rucksack across her back. The cobbled pavement’s romance dwindled with each precarious footstep. He arrived in a full-length cashmere coat, wearing gloves. His grey hair was groomed and his glance decorous. As her suitcase took off in front of her, she ran as best she could in heels she regretted, torn between terror and relief. Two thoughts fought for supremacy: he was a chivalrous Athenian dazzled by her distress or she might not ever see her suitcase again. By now he was several footsteps ahead and she was several people behind. She found him at the station waiting for her by the ticket counter, ready to interpret. He finally released her suitcase at the platform downstairs where the train departed. She watched him go, his coat in full-flow, a smallish man, now ungloved. Chivalry departed in a glass-fronted elevator. She raised her hand, and he raised his and it was sweeter than some of the best ever kisses.
Maggie Rainey-Smith is the author of two novels, a published poet and a short story writer. She blogs here and is a regular book reviewer on Beattie’s Blog. She won the 2007 Page & Blackmore short story competition and was short-listed in 2004 and 2013 for the Landfall Essay Prize and the 2004 Takahē Cultural Studies essay competition. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Sport, Takahē, The Listener and New Zealand Books, as well as on Radio New Zealand. She was highly commended in the 2014 NFFD competition. More here.
~ ~ ~
The moon rises large and yellow on the day he dies. He paints it in his head, large brushstrokes, as his eyes move in saccades, blink once for no and twice for yes. The world comes to him in rectangles now, encased in the skylight above his coffin-bed.
Every day she comes to see him, smelling of freshly cut grass and sunshine and jasmine. She holds his hand but his hands are ghosts. Blink once for no and twice for yes and three times for let me go. At night he dreams he’s flying but it always ends the same way, his bike and spine twisted around each other metal on bone on metal, his heart still beating its treacherous rhythm.
On the day he dies he tastes her silvery tears on his tongue as she slips the needle into his arm, blink three times for let me go. The moon fills his eyes and the moon is yellow.
Eileen Merriman is a doctor with a serious addiction to writing. She writes novels, short stories and flash fiction. She was short-listed in the 2014 Takahē and Page & Blackmore competitions, was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Competition and won third place in the 2013 Graeme Lay Short Story Competition. Her work has previously appeared in Takahē.
~ ~ ~
Andi Harrow sips a cup of instant, daydreams at morning break. Her truth is the abstraction of her fantasy – there’s nothing so meaningful as the escape it affords. So no, no! Her name’s not Andi Harrow. (She’ll not have reality intrude via her mother and father’s poorly contrived play on words.)
Her name’s Atlanta. She’s all Greek, all heroine, a maverick librarian. A reference-tome-wielding, historical-romance-toting bibliognost. Atlanta puts paid to Dewey Decimal – declassifies books – defiles the sanctity of shelving and silence in the Warkworth public library. She’s paradoxically provocative and particular. Ergo, when her affair with Steve the intern begins, she ensures they consummate where they’ll least likely suffer discovery – between the experimental-flash-fiction and monomythic sections.
There, Atlanta anoints him Hercules, sets him twelve tasks: judge me by my cover, lick my spine, blow my dustjacket, open me, sign my frontispiece, thumb my pages, dog-ear my leaves, bookmark my mid-section, scan my barcode, reissue me, return me via the night slot. Make inn-u-end-o onomatopoeic.
“You’re my hero, Hercules.”
“And you’re mine, Andi Harrow. Oops! Atlanta.”
Andi sighs, rests her cup on the table, cups her chin in her hands. All whimsy, no sense, she thinks. Ought fiction be more serious, significant, less jejune? It matters not, it matters not, she allows herself. The scenes in her head, the words on a page, are more honest than the dull life she daily leads. Closing her eyes, Andi/Atlanta summons Steve/Hercules, in the scent of milk-warm coffee.
D R Jones lives and works near Puhoi, overlooking the Mahurangi Harbour. This pastoral setting seems conducive to his writing novels, short stories and flash fiction. At present, the second instalment of his genre-defying Anonymous_Author© series is well underway.
~ ~ ~
The enigma that was Elsie Egan inhabited my dreams beyond the confines of the woman’s life. Her gelatinous feet oozed out of patent-leather shoes like wicked butter and left their mark in the same way.
A flounce of chiffon, an ounce of perfume. The ungodly scent of rosebuds. Framed pictures of the Royal Family. Elsie names her Loyal Family, one by one. My family. There’s Bachu and David (whose real name she cannot articulate). She reserves the softest space in her heart for the prize-winning metallurgist who is her hero. He wears an Errol Flynn cowlick and marries a princess from the philosophia perennis dynasty.
Elsie is the powder-pink landlady, who bakes cakes on birthdays and anniversaries. The smell of custard fills her capacious house, which stands like a palace in the heart of Bearwood. She has a ceramic atomiser with a rubber bulb. I want to squeeze that bulb even more than I want to slide down the bannisters. I pull daisy heads in her fairy garden. An uncle with metronome eyes tells me there is a horse buried in the back. The garden is peppered with stakes topped with tennis balls that Elsie has painted blue. They hold the 1967 flowers up.
Elsie keeps an envelope within an envelope. It contains the milk teeth of her stepchildren. She soaks her dentures in sherry.
David burns incense and builds a memorial when Elsie passes. She goes like a stone from a kidney. Painful, but with the end in sight.
Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has completed year one of the Hagley Writers’ Institute creative writing course. Nod’s work has been accepted in Catalyst, Penduline, Christchurch Press, Takahē and Express. She was also winner of the Flash Frontier 2014 Winter Writing Award. Nod works as a medical laboratory scientist.
~ ~ ~
David Bowie sang of kings and queens and transient heroes. That had been fifteen years ago when Michael was in kindergarten. In white-stitched cowboy boots and red cowboy hat, he would ask again and she’d sing along with the radio and he’d dance around the kitchen linoleum like the dolphin from the lyrics.
Bedside now, it’s 1992 and Hannah hums her son’s favourite song in time with his slowing breath. She knits a rainbow beanie and baby blue booties. The California sun isn’t strong enough. Before sinking into sleep last week, Michael had always been cold.
On a Greyhound bus, Hannah had made the trip to land’s end and stayed. She had stopped phoning Roger when her husband’s Great Plains silences spanned larger than his sparse Midwest words. Lawrence, young himself, couldn’t deal with the shit and the sarcomas and the sweet scent of decay so he escaped shame-faced into the immunity of the city. Hannah holds no blame towards Michael’s father or boyfriend. She wishes she had that same courage to find distance a balm.
They never talked about what he wanted. After. Hannah can’t imagine him buried so far from her amongst the callous tide of the ocean and the chilly oblivion of the shrouding fog. She thinks cremation because even ash has substance. It’s something she can carry in her hands back where prairie and sky roam forever.
Hannah hums and knits and waits…for one just day.
Patrick Pink grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and lived significant amount of his life in Michigan, Texas and Germany before settling in New Zealand. His story ‘Affirmation’ was highly commended in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition and another of his stories appeared in the September issue of Flash Frontier.
~ ~ ~
Most afternoons, my brother Sam and his friend Mitchell would run past me, out into the paddocks, racing to the end of the farm while I was still on the porch fumbling with my shoelaces. My mother would call me back inside. She’d read me a story while I pictured the big boys climbing trees in the creek, building dens, rafting down the flooding stream, fooling about on the cliff tops above the wild ocean. I wanted to be with them, keeping up, as tough as they.
Mitchell was about to turn eighteen the year he fell from the electricity pylon, falling seemingly effortlessly past Sam. The town mourned its loss; the coroner spoke of high jinks and recklessness.
The next year, Sam entered the seminary. He never came home much after that. He taught at boarding schools around the country, then went over to the Pacific as a missionary. Eventually he returned to Auckland to set up a centre for street kids.
Mum called me home last week. She thrust the newspaper at me. I knew what it said without reading it. I’d been the one who paid for the lawyer. I thought about the huge file I’d seen in the lawyer’s office. The allegations against Sam, each so similar.
I looked past her, out the open door, picturing Mitchell racing Sam through the gate by the cow shed, and Sam throwing a lump of cow shit at him. Then laughing as they disappeared from sight.
Kate Mahony has an MA in Creative Writing (IIML, Victoria University). Her short stories have appeared in numerous publications including Best New Zealand Fiction (Volume 6), the International Literary Quarterly, Blackmail Press, Blue Fifth Review, Takahē, 4th Floor, The Island Review and the anthology Sweet As: Contemporary Short Stories by New Zealanders. She lives in Wellington.
~ ~ ~
I’m no caped crusader. If it’s cold I’ll wear tights but they bunch up around my ankles, making my feet look more swollen than they are. My cape is a wet weather poncho, bought during a rainstorm on Great Barrier Island. Nothing is monogrammed – hasn’t been since Mum sewed labels into my clothes so I could find them in the lost-and-found. But they were second class hand-me-downs; if they ended up there I didn’t bother to retrieve them. And it’s too late for me to hop on a Richard Branson flight into space to fulfil any inter-planetary requirements. I’m no Superman, nor Wonder Woman for that matter, although I did once hold an unlockable toilet door shut against three burly women trying to get in to snatch my purse.
So the day I walked into the dairy and saw the balaclavaed man waving a gun at the owner I hesitated. I swivelled back towards the door but stumbled in my getaway. The gun changed focus. The eyes behind the balaclava darted from me to the owner rummaging in the till and clattering coins into a paper bag.
Indignant outrage surged through me as it had that day in an unlockable cubicle. I grabbed the closest weapon – a bottle of 2013 Montana Chardonnay. I threw it. It landed at his feet and smashed open. The gun went off. As I fell I noticed the scent of peach and apricot filtering through the room.
I’m no caped crusader. Caped crusaders are bulletproof.
Kathryn Jenkins unexpectedly started writing flash fiction as a result of a workshop exercise. She’s still surprised at what turns up on the page and wonders where the ideas come from. Hopefully they will never dry up.
~ ~ ~
Dr Mendicott pushed his blotter a centimetre to the right and placed a fountain pen exactly in the centre. “There’s a psychological component to the disease, Mr Lawrence.”
“Eh? What disease?”
The doctor sighed. Really. These decrepit old farts should be confined to a rest home. What was it? The fifth time this week he’d had to explain to some nutjob.
“Remember? H. E. R. O. E. S.”
Marty Lawrence turned his head to one side like a spaniel with water in its ears. “Speak up.”
Dr Mendicott raised his voice. Not that it was much use. They just didn’t get it. No matter how many kilometres of pounding the pavements, or rowing at the gym, nothing could be done to reverse the decline of eyes, teeth, ears. Waterworks. For heaven’s sake, their joints – now that was an idea. The doctor chuckled. Wouldn’t it be great if he could prescribe marijuana. Weed would calm the buggers down.
“It’s no laughing matter, Doc.”
He snapped back to the task in hand. “HEROES. Herniated Elderly Rampant Overuse Exercise Syndrome. It manifests in a delusion that after retirement one can begin and continue a regime of exercise that would defeat even a younger person. Mainly in the male.”
“I don’t want to hear that psychological twaddle,” said Mr Lawrence. “What I want to know, Doc, is when can I get back on my skateboard!”
Jane Swan’s house and garden run wild because she spends time daydreaming and writing. She is newsletter editor for the Waitaki Writers’ Group. Successes include two Radio New Zealand stories and others published in local and daily newspapers, Alfie Dog Ltd and Essentially Food. She has also been highly commended in the Heartland Short Story Competition and short-listed in the Sunday Star Times competition.
~ ~ ~
On Friday, her assistant taunted, “Coral, remember to update your will!” On Saturday, she went blackwater rafting. Dr Hohaia, Professor of Physics, was usually courageous.Spelunking? That was different.“Never back in my teens,” she said, scrutinizing the initial drop. “Too scary.”
As they abseiled into the cave, she murmured Coldplay’s ’The Scientist’.
I had to find you, tell you I need you
Tell you I set you apart . . .
Questions of science, science and progress
Do not speak as loud as my heart
Below, like ancestral ghosts, the endless black beckoned.
Nobody said it was easy,
No one ever said it would be this hard….
Peering beyond her headlamp, she detected the hues The Pretties, a room with stalactites sparkling, ancient — yet so close.
Hohaia approached reverently, but her sites transfixed on another reflection: a shy, young Coralette in the river below. Her adolescent self stared back. Unlike Narcissus, however, she confronted this beauty: “Where did you go?”
Then, the room went dark.
Naturally, her eyes were drawn to the twinkling glow worms on the ceiling. She smiled inwardly and welcomed the girl stepping out of the water and into her chest.
“I’m not dreaming you,” she asserted. “Come to bother me?”
“Not to bother you. It’s time to come back.”
Their guide ran towards her, frantically, pointing his lamp her way. “You okay?”
“My torch went out, but I’m okay.”
“We found her!” he announced. We have everyone!”
Softly, she replied, “Yes, I’m all here.”
Katerina Patitsas began writing songs and poems as a way to spend quality time with her family and children. Born in the USA to Greek parents, she was raised in a bilingual home. Her grandfather was a poet on a small island in the Dodecanese. Thus, she sees the English language both as an insider and outsider. She was nurtured on the songs and stories of her celebrated ancestry.
~ ~ ~
“Mother, I will hang that for you.” Thirteen-year-old Elijah took the milk bucket from his mother and hung it beneath their small wagon. They would have butter by evening.
Young Elijah was given to leanness like his father. Three months’ hard walking and limited rations on the Oregon Trail made them both gaunt.
Elijah’s mother, Martha, hated to leave Nebraska with baby Isaac barely weaned. Birthing her youngest nearly sent Martha to the Lord. The doctor warned that another pregnancy could mean death. Martha mourned the idea of never suckling another child.
“Wheat grows the height of a man in the Willamette Valley and the climate is temperate. We shall have free land and the young ones will be safe from the Yellow Fever and the pox.” Her husband, Daniel, encouraged her again as they began walking after lunch.
Despite her misgivings, Martha enjoyed the change from the last two barren years on the farm. But now it seemed they had been crossing the same valley for weeks.
Presently the wagon train halted and Young Elijah ran to the lead wagon to see why.
He returned breathless. “A family left a bathtub beside the trail…” Young Elijah looked down at the ground. “Mr Peters said…well, beyond all reason, there was a baby in the bathtub. Mr. Peters thinks it is hungry.”
Martha’s milk now dampened her chemise. “Elijah, watch over Isaac,” she said, hastening toward the lead wagon.
Dr Rita Shelley, educationalist, grew up in New York City and lived and worked in British Columbia and Idaho. She came to New Zealand to visit family, fell in love and lives permanently in Whangarei with her partner. She’s published academic articles, short stories and slice of life pieces. She relishes flash fiction.
~ ~ ~
I set out one day in 1915, to see what an ordinary English girl could accomplish. Nineteen, without credentials or money, I’d long dismissed the usual feminine wartime contributions – manic knitting; charity work; fundraising. Voluntary Aid in France wouldn’t take me and the services – even the munitions factories – were still barring women
My editors laughed like I was loony when I told them I planned to swap the Fleet for the Somme. Guffawing, they pointed out two good reasons why I could not possibly be a war correspondent.
So, like a keen cub reporter sniffing out a good story, I bound those reasons tight to my chest. Casting off petticoats and underwear, I smothered my hourglass figure with a home-made corset, bulked out my shoulders with sacking and cotton-wool. A couple of khaki accomplices smuggled my disguise. Piece by piece my sapper’s uniform arrived. Jacket. Shirt. Puttees. Boots. Cap. Badge. I fought my own war.
Snip. My waist-long chestnut tresses cropped into a regulation hair-cut. Scrape. My cheeks red-raw for a case of razor-rash. Scrub. My English rose complexion sullied to a tan with diluted shoe-polish.
I practised until I could drill and march like any sapper. Fake identity papers completed my transformation, then Dorothy, the only woman Tommy,
reported as Private Denis Smith, 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment.
And secrets kept close to my chest, I passed and covered the fighting first-hand – a freelance war correspondent at the Western Front, for a fortnight at least.
Alex Reece Abbott took her inspiration for this story from the life of journalist Dorothy Lawrence, whose heroic, tragic and largely forgotten story ends in an asylum (1925) and burial in a pauper’s grave (1964). Alex’s work has been published in assorted anthologies, and has won some prizes and been short-listed in even more. Her first crime novel Rocking the Boat was long-listed for 2014 CWA Debut Dagger, and her first novel, The Maori House, was short-listed for several prizes. More here.
~ ~ ~
The old man scratched his coarse, stringy hair with stained nails. People turned away and passed by quickly without acknowledgement.
The frayed ends of the belt around his thin waist waved in the breeze.
He hunched his back against the cold and screwed up his toes inside the worn, unlaced sneakers.
As a passerby dropped a half smoked cigarette on the ground, the old man’s toothless grin widened. He scuttled forward, bent slowly and gripped it between his thumb and index finger. Eyes crinkled in the corners as he took a long, satisfying drag.
Moments later, sensing rain, he reached out with palm turned upwards. A well-dressed lady opened her purse and dropped two dollars into his palm. He stared, scratched his grey-stubbled chin and turned towards the take-away bar with the sign: “Hamburger, drink and chips $2.00….today’s SPECIAL only.”
He chuckled after finishing his meal. “Full belly and a few naughty puffs on a fag without using my EFTPOS. I’m a lucky bugger. Maybe I should wear this costume more often, except I’ll leave my dentures in next time.”
His fingers instinctively touched the tarnished medals in his pocket and thought of those comrades who never made it home all those many years ago. Bad days they were, not like today. He wiped his chin on his sleeve and headed towards the RSA’s fancy dress reunion party.
Kathy Sewell has had a number of stories published and several plays written and performed. She is working on her novel at the moment while completing the last two papers of her BA extramurally at Massey University. She lives on a lifestyle block, is a proud grandma and belongs to IWW, NZSA and Tauranga Writers, and she runs the Thames Writers Group.
~ ~ ~
The scratching of what I hope are frutiverous bats on the wooden roof keeps me in a half-dream. I get up early, tired, but enthusiastic. The heat of the day sits pleasantly on my skin at the shack-like bus stop. Racing round the corner comes the bus. I wave it down, the driver with the strangely shaped head gives me a nod. The bus is a mixture of truck and boat, brightly painted protruding hood and broad body. The wooden interior: cramped seats and wide aisle, the radio blasts out percussion-heavy dance music – I expect to be handed an oar. One song catches my interest, as I sit next to a chook-filled cage. The song is about rain and snow. It never gets cold here. Is winter synonymous with misery and suffering for the people here?
Work day is a hot sauna clock watch.
Later, the cane liquor comes and all is dark – apart from the luminous saliva that oozes from the drinkers’ mouths and the bright, flickering forked tongues of gossip, forever darting around. Yet later, slippery things slither slowly over other things until it is hard to tell whose leg or arm is whose, where one body starts and another stops, who is doing what to whom.
The air is fetid, the heat intense.
The next day, Saturday, I shudder and try to rise. My hero, a poster on the wall, watches transfixed and disgusted.
Frank Beyer is a Tour Manager for educational trips to both Argentina and China. On these tours he tries not to judge places visited on the quality of lunches provided alone. Frank is from New Zealand and when he has the money (not often) he enjoys Java, Sumatra and the North Island of New Zealand for their volcanic beauty.
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When your parents name you Elvis you have to be ready to see a hell of a lot of pelvises thrust in your direction. When your name is Elvis you need to be on the lookout for people ready to take the piss. When your name is loud you need to be quiet. When your name belongs to someone else then you own nothing. When you have a name like Elvis teachers and cops think you’re the one taking the piss.
When you have a name like Elvis then you hunch your shoulders and walk in the shadows, but when your name is Elvis it’s like you’re wearing a dayglo vest.
When you pin on that label at your holiday job at the lighting store you hear derisive snorts so you say, “What were my parents thinking?!” You still hear the snorts though now they’re tinged with pity and when they call your name to walk on stage at graduation and some wit calls out, “You ain’t nothing but a hound dog,” you wish you’d thought to wear blue suede shoes beneath your academic gown to outwit them.
When, with a hangdog expression, you tell a sweet girl that your name is Elvis you assume heartbreak. Then, when she acknowledges your burden with such tender love it is shrugged off. When she thrusts her pelvis she’s not taking the piss. When you have a child you handle him with care and name him James.
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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She tells me this as we sit watching Joan of Arc in muted hues on a small and grainy television screen in her apartment. I ask her how long she has known this.
“As long as I can remember,” she replies, tucking a strand of blonde hair behind her ear.
“So there wasn’t a particular moment when you suddenly realised?”
I know I was not born for heroic deeds. I, too, have known this for as long as I can remember, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t want to do them. I’m just not sure what they will be. I’m scared of many things even though my life at the moment is without any obvious dangers.
Will I be like Don Quixote in Kathy Acker’s novel – completing a series of heroic tasks in the search for love? Will I be the woman who is a knight who gets her prince? Is love the reward for heroism? If it is, I guess it’s a good one. But shouldn’t love be something that is given freely? If the prince doesn’t want me, I don’t want or need the prince. A struggle for love doesn’t seem heroic. Joan, silent yet full of love, does.
I look at her. Her eyes are brimming with tears. I don’t know what she is thinking or what her view of heroism really is, even though she sits there just like Joan, not saying a word.
Andrea Quinlan is a poet and writer based in New Zealand. Her chapbook We Speak Girl was published by Dancing Girl Press (Chicago) in 2012 and The Mysteries of Laura was published by Birds of Lace (Athens, Georgia) in 2013. Other poetry was published or is forthcoming in brief, Gaga Stigmata, Delirious Hem, HAG, Wicked Alice, Finery, Poems in Which and the Best Friends Forever anthology.
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Please also see this month’s feature page — The Mysterious Writing of Andrea Quinlan, plus an introduction to Flash Frontier‘s new editors.
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Coming in December: no regrets, guest edited by Owen Marshall.
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