Heart Stones – Iona Winter
Promise to meet me at the seventh stream where the waters run away to the sea – Jack Remiel Cottrell
Rejected Endings for Titanic – R. P. Wood
The Book of What If – Patrick Pink
The Shallows – Len Kuntz
Water, water, everywhere – Julia Paillier
Katrina – Keren Dibbens-Wyatt
Jellyfish Girl – Charlotte Hamrick
Making tea – Koenraad Kuiper
The Inish – Ursula Hoult
Water – Elliot Menzies
Zastrugi – Hibah Shabkhez
Michaela’s hat – Evie Jay
The Mistake in the Weave – Michelle Matheson
Aquaphobia – Jeff Taylor
Holding – Rob Walton
The Cloud – Bruce Meyer
Under the Surface – Heather McQuillan
The Stream – Ryan Tuzyk
Safe Hands – Marty Beauchamp
Walking on Water – Pam Laird
Saturday Afternoon – Mike Crowl
As Idle as a Painted Ship Upon a Painted Ocean – Nick Fairclough
Artist Interview: Oliver Jeffers, Measuring Land and Sea
Kōrero: Marino Blank
Interview: Gregory O’Brien, Always a Song in the Water
Book and interview: Eleanor Walsh, Birds with Horse Hearts
Book and interview: Tina Shaw, Ephemera
Interview: Lola Elvy, editor of finger comma toes
Interview and excerpt: Penelope Todd, Island
Interview and story: Jeremy Roberts on character, language and telling a Kiwi story
Interview: Sean Crawley, Dead People Don’t Make Jam
Fiction and reality: Sandra Arnold on writing The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell
Book and interview: Heather McQuillan, On Writing for Children
Interview: NFFD 2020 Judges Sandra Arnold and Helen Heath
At night, I listen to the rise and fall of waves from my bed, and see myself rolling in a full moon tide – released.
In the morning, I am grateful for the way the din of the surf and a kōtare on the power lines keeps everything simple.
It has become easier to watch competing seabirds vie for space in the air, even when their squawks unsettle me. And although the sea foam is often like paru wash suds, the water on my feet absolves me of these things that I carry.
When I am down on the beach, littered with heart stones begging to be picked up, I know that I only need one.
But I cannot forget how your hands revisited my throat. “Take care of me,” you said.
When mildew and salt scratched at my insides, and my back hit the stippled deck, life met decay once again.
I watched over your shoulder as sunrays struck out at the horizon, endeavouring to prise the clouds apart.
Then I wished for a parting to fly through.
Promise to meet me at the seventh stream where the waters run away to the sea
Jack Remiel Cottrell
My nails, cut so short that the tips of my fingers are red-raw, cease trying to lift away the scabbing at my elbow. I know Mother is waiting for me to say it itches, so I keep quiet.
It doesn’t itch, not really. Instead it is a tightness; my skin feels like there is something underneath, trying to get out.
The lake is cold this time of year. It is deep, but very clear — in the right light you can see flashes of silver, just at the point that the water becomes too dark to clearly make out a sinking stone.
I keep trying to reach the bottom, but I haven’t made it yet. I think I am getting closer, though it’s hard to know, with nothing but a watch on the jetty to tell me how long I can hold my breath.
Mother wishes I would stop swimming, because afterwards my skin gets worse. Huge flakes slough away, revealing flesh that is smooth and firm. The cracks disclose a skin which is not really skin — too cold and too sleek.
Mother slathers on moisturiser after my bath, but it doesn’t do anything other than prolong the process. Then she tells me to stop picking as the skin tightens. It falls off anyway, whether I pick or don’t.
I love the water. And I don’t care about my skin. I’m certain I will reach the bottom of the lake soon, and no one has skin down there.
Rejected Endings for Titanic
R. P. Wood
In one of them, Jack sinks beneath the waves, but he meets a mermaid. The mermaid kisses him and the kiss means he can breathe underwater.
The mermaid’s hair and Jack’s hair billows around their heads like halos, and they end up living in one of the Titanic’s fancy staterooms after cleaning all the bodies out.
In another, Jack is perfectly preserved in ice, and floats around the Atlantic for almost a century before scientists discover him and thaw him out.
He regains the use of his limbs and facial muscles, and goes to adult drama classes. Later he stars in a movie about his life under an Italian pseudonym, which gives him an exotic flavour.
Alternatively, Rose doesn’t throw the necklace into the ocean, but sells it, presumably for a large sum of money. She then invests in Amazon and founds a charity called ‘Like a French Girl’, which helps connect underprivileged teenage girls with handsome, floppy-haired boys who then draw their portraits. Afterwards there is always a tour of the vintage automobile museum.
In the last one, the ship doesn’t even hit the iceberg. Rose goes on to marry Billy Zane and have three children, before succumbing to the Spanish flu. Jack lives on the streets of New York City for a few years as a bum, surviving a bout of tuberculosis. In 1917 he is drafted into the US Army, and is eventually shot to death at Cantigny on the Western Front. His body is never found.
The Book of What If
In Pio’s backpack was a slice of cold pepperoni pizza from last night, two Gala apples that still kept their crunch, an eco-bottle of water he refilled in the Z station’s toilet, an extra pair of undies which passed the sniff test and the Book of What If his nan gave him when he turned thirteen. He took to the road when the moon was a thin bowl of darkness, a cup of possibility, Okoro. Blood stirred like rapids. Feet were impatient and eager.
Em came upon him during their dusk run and asked Pio where he was heading with such stride and determination. Pio told them he was filling out his part of the Book of What If and needed to make the far riverbend by dawn when the taniwha, basking in the sliver of moonlight, would finish its dark song. Is there room enough for me in your book, Em said because they secretly liked Pio and Pio secretly liked them so he smiled but quickly acted tough but Em saw through it, punched Pio in the shoulder and together, munching Galas and passing the Z water, they walked the loose metal into the far hills.
The riverbend was just a riverbend. The taniwha was nowhere to be seen. Its song didn’t strum the air. All hope and magic were vanishing night. Nan still had cancer. Pio still was scared. Em held his hand while Pio fingermarked his unwritten page and felt the weight of what if.
I am sucking on the wide mouth of a pistol dad’s the one no one knows about there are bloated fish belly up everything dead and belly up in the aquarium he loves so much water boxed too tight glass too clean and see-through the steady gurgle of it cartoonish almost comical if weren’t for the pistol and my mouth where it is what I’m doing it’s the shudders I can’t stand the hand-on-the-back-of-the-neck pressure I can’t stand but I’m able to see the tank from this angle the eerie garish glow dead water unspooling through a plastic tube fish bobbing like crumpled tissues a lifetime from this moment and the others that are to come the sound of bubbling water will seek to revert return regress what I’ll have remade of myself when I’m older but I’ll search for the water source watch the waves surge and dash behind outcropped rocks I’ll jump in if I have to even in the shallows I’ll swim I’ll swim faster than any fish swim farther than any monster
Water, water, everywhere
I don’t know when it started. I just couldn’t remember when rain lashing glass wasn’t the first sound I heard on waking.
And I noticed things. Fluorescent green moss. That damp, churchy smell. Puddles becoming pools, then mini-lakes.
Grumbling about climate change and government inertia, people carried on, following diversion signs, turning up their TVs, pulling down their blinds. Everyone agreed that sooner or later it had to stop.
“But what if it doesn’t?” I asked.
My husband, hunched over his laptop, raised narrowed eyes.
“What if this is it? End time?”
Smirking, he went back to the screen.
Two weeks later we were carrying stuff upstairs, lifting the sofa on to concrete blocks. Cold, dark water, soupy with floating twigs and takeaway cartons, lapped at the doorstep. A little row of sandbags waited valiantly.
They stood no chance.
Leaning from the bedroom window, I scanned the horizon for a dinghy. A red rag on a pole fluttered from Mr Gerber’s skylight, opposite. The Clark’s bungalow, two doors down, had gone,
“Help will come.” My husband lay propped against pillows. Hand shaking, he lifted our last bottle of mineral water to paper-dry lips.
Beside him were two cans of beans and a half-empty packet of salted crackers.
“I know,” I said. “Go to sleep, sweetheart. It’ll be fine.”
His eyes closed. From above, vengeful grey clouds continued their onslaught.
“And what if it isn’t?” I murmured, though no-one was there to hear. “What then?
I remember wondering what he would have thought about wearing a pink shirt when he died. Some men are wary about these things. They should not like to float down Main Street in a vivacious hue, especially near to Mardi Gras. It says a lot that we think ‘candyfloss’ or ‘shell’ might colour others’ views about our sexuality. And that we might care, even after we have inhaled lungfuls of river.
I hauled him up onto the boat. Made a point not to look at the face, a mistake I’d made too often on the first run. Search the pockets for ID, then bag them up.
The water was ice cold and I was glad of the gloves for protection, and to have something between my skin and that of the dead. I laughed in a hollow way, as so many of us were doing now, on day three, and the woman steering didn’t even look round. I was thinking that some therapists would make a mint out of this in a few months’ time. When we finally let the damp and the dead sink in and realised we had no way to open the sluices.
The river would slink back within its bounds, retake its serpent skin, and flow on. People would swim in it, fish in it, take skiffs out to the bayou. There would be picnics and races. People like me would stand and smile at the calm, beautiful presence, and try to forget.
New Orleans – March 8, 2020
She waits on the levee, her gaze clamped on the bend in the river where the ship first appears. It rounds the turn like a triumphant whale, commanding awe from every other being in the water and on shore. Anticipation rolls through her body like a fever, wetting her armpits and drying her mouth. From this distance, the throng of people on the decks appear to be undulating, keeping time with the roll of the river. She strains her eyes so hard they feel like they could take flight. Closer now, the people look like colorful jellyfish, weaving in and around each other,
tentacles waving – Hello! Hello! Searching, she finds a pocket of stillness.
There! The air shimmers. The light is golden. Small, lacy bubbles outline a figure as it slowly materializes.
The Gulf of Mexico – March 2000
When you read this, I’ll have slipped over the railing into the ocean. The jellyfish
are waiting to rock me in their tender tentacles and I’ll be with all the beings of
my dreams in the soft, salty deep. Don’t be sad, it’s what I want. We’ll see you
again. You’ll know when and where.
Your loving daughter
I made a pot of tea this morning; just ordinary Dilmah tea in the German stainlesssteel teapot with the black handle. (The kettle doesn’t whistle. It has electronic beeps.) Rinse the pot out with boiling water, pour the water out, add two paper sachets of tea and add sufficient boiling water for two cups and let draw. Get two mugs out of the mug drawer (where they are stored in pairs). Add milk to each from the plastic bottle in the fridge and wait for the tea to draw.
(I was once in the Hotel Am Bismarck in Mannheim where, after you selected a tea for breakfast, a timer with a bell was brought to your table and the tea strainer was removed by the waiter when the bell rang.)
So I consulted my iPhone while the tea was drawing in the stainless- steel teapot with the black handle for the required three minutes, as I do every morning. The BBC Online had astonishing news. Boris, Donald, Vladimir and Scott had all been placed in isolation in wards in London, Washington, Moscow and Canberra. They had all tested positive for corona virus at exactly the time that I had started making tea.
I sent an email to Merrill Fernando to thank him.
The clock on the shelf strikes midnight and stops. Each day it loses another minute. And as we fall outside of time together, the land tells me her story.
She tells me that once the waters raged through our farm.
“And will do so again!” interrupt the waves.
I lie in my quilt-covered bed and listen to them both. The waves shout and curse and tell me that our time here will be over soon. The land though, she has loved us.
Between the rivers she is a flat and fertile plain. The sepia-toned couple on the parlour wall were the first to meet her; not long after the great flood. That flood changed the river’s course. It split in two and chained itself into narrow courses that have worn deep over the years. At night it paces its cage, grumbles and clanks its chains. It’s ready to leave again.
The land’s love means my family has done well here, raising children, and sending them away for school. Then welcoming them back to tie them in place until a new crop of young come along to replace them. We have measured those years in generations. For her, it’s been a hug and a peck on the cheek.
But the waves don’t forget, and the waves don’t lie. This is their land. They will free the river and take her back.
My land lies outside time.
Cold. Longing for cold. In the searing, scorching sun. Hoping and praying for this surreal dream. Of cold. Walking. Wishing. Wanting. Cold is how we function. Wandering. Waiting for the cold. Warm. It’s still warm. Waste. When will it turn to night. Wild. Woke. Wonder when it will turn to cold. Wander, searching for cold. Where is it. When is it. Who has it. What is it. Within the night lies the cold. Weeds require cold to survive. And water. Water, which contains the cold. Where is water?. We need it. We want it. We’ll have it. Whether or not we find it. We will have it. Water which contains waves. Waves which contain water. Where is the water?. Weak. Wet. Drenched in the water that doesn’t contain the cold. Wobbly. Withering. Wounded. Worsening. Does water always contain the cold, or do we need the snow …?
The snow fell in swift soft flakes, and the children rejoiced. When morning came the mountain-slopes would be frozen solid, and they would be allowed to go skiing. The wind had other plans, however. All night it raked and tossed the snow, sculpting it into waves across which the dawn rippled red.
The children raced out into the crimson, but wiser hands pulled them back. “Do not trust the zastrugi,” said the elders. “The surface seems steely under the sun, but the still-soft snow lurks underneath, ravening for your blood. Stay inside. Our houses are built strong to withstand the winter’s siege.”
The snow saw the longing in the children’s eyes, and began to squirm under the assaults of the sun, wondering how to prove itself steady enough for the little feet of the children. The eagle of the peak, who had come to scour the farms for cattle or carrion since its natural prey had fallen or flown away, saw this folly and seethed.
The children watched the eagle clawing at the snow, marvelling at the great bird’s cruel strength. Out of the clouds with a mighty thrumming came a creature more ferocious yet, a giant white bird spitting flame.
“It was the snow,” said the people of the plains afterwards. “The zastrugi buckled, sloughing off the houses and casting them into the river.”
“And what did the water do with them?” asked the kin of the people of the mountains.
“Why, what water always does. It bade them welcome.”
My mother gave my daughter a panama hat with green ribbons. Michaela insisted on wearing it everywhere. As we walked home from a playdate, a freak gust of wind blew it into Mrs Cooper’s swimming pool. Michaela burst into tears.
We’d moved here only recently, and I’d seen the glamorous Mrs Cooper only in passing. I took Michaela back to Katie’s, walked up Mrs Cooper’s path and knocked on her front door.
I swear I saw a curtain twitch. Did that sort of thing really happen? I knocked again, waited a few moments, and decided I’d have to get the hat myself. Approaching the pool fence, I heard “Stop!”, and Mrs Cooper raced up. I began, “I’m so sorry, my daughter …”
She shouted, “Did she climb over the fence? It wasn’t my fault! I can’t be watching all the time!”
Realising what she meant, I cried, “No! Michaela’s not in the pool! Her hat blew into the pool!”
Mrs Cooper calmed down, and helped me retrieve Michaela’s hat. We made mutual apologies. Then she added, “It’s just that last time was so unfair. I can’t be watching all the time. And anyway, don’t children have to learn? If they’re little vandals who climb over the fence, don’t you have to let them sink or swim?”
Michaela, thrilled to be reunited with her hat, asked if she could play at Mrs Cooper’s.
The Mistake in the Weave
They/we have been preparing for weeks. Night after night of evening practise, ensuring the choreography is just right. We must move with synchronicity, in harmony absolute.
They/we have met in bars to discuss costumes and music. I have smiled and nodded, nursing my solitary glass of Pinot Gris. Not really caring about the number of sequins or whether magenta is a better choice of lipstick than passion pink. I allow the debate to swirl around me.
I have never been a joiner, but my dead mothers’ voice sang in my head. “You need to get out more, you’re young”. So I responded to the campus notice, spurred on by childhood memories of holding my breath as long as possible. Holding it until my lungs burned and my eyes smarted and my muscles forced me skyward.
They/we ready ourselves. They are all limber limbs and smooth gold tans. Their voices are birdlike. I am there, but separate.
The scent of hairspray surrounds them/me. A protective shell to ensure we do not crack. Someone applies my lipstick; an attempt to freeze my smile in place.
Muscle memory guides me. The music is who I thought I could be, but I care only for the smooth glide of water; for the susurration of my own breath in my ears. I imagine exhaling in slow motion; sinking down, down, down. Would anyone see the gap in the line, the mistake in the weave?
Would anyone notice if there was one less frozen rictus of a smile.
“Come in with me, Daddy? Just for once?”
Jaws, claws, tentacles. Rays with big, stingy things. Swordfish with long, stabby things. Saltwater crocodiles that’ll hold you personally responsible for the handbag and shoe industry
“Sorry. But I can’t, Son.”
“No. I’ll watch you.”
Bodies-suicides, men-overboards, buried-at-seas
“You’re mean, Daddy.”
“Mummy’s just over there too.”
Saltwater Loch Ness monsters. That giant squid from the last Attenborough documentary. Crabs big as trash can lids with pincers like a fireman’s jaws of life. Octopuses that’ll suck and hug you to death. Giant jellyfish that’ll slime and sting you to death. Sharks with chainsaw massacre teeth. Electric eels that’ll light you up so the morays, congeras, and barracudas can find you easier. And they don’t call orcas killer whales for nothing
“Hey, Daddy, I’m body surfing!”
Shells, rocks that can tear your face open when you’re dumped by a big one. Hidden rips like Disneyland adventure rides that’ll take you half way to Australia in a few seconds
“I think I’ll get out now, Daddy.”
Sewerage spills with condoms, diapers, tampons, false teeth
“Maybe when you were small you had a close encounter with something nasty and got bitten on your pecker,” friends suggest helpfully.
He’s now out, safe, and runs up to me. “The sea’s such a wonderful place, Daddy. My teacher says to save the oceans.”
I can’t help myself, and he scuttles over to Her-Outdoors in the beach chair.
“Mummy! Daddy said ‘Fuck the oceans’ again!”
“Steady as she goes!” shouts Hazel.
She turns the tap and listens to the gush travel along the hosepipe.
“Why is it a she?” asks Rex.
He makes sure the end of the hose is in the small pond, nestling at the bottom against the repurposed black liner.
“No reason,” Hazel replies. “Make sure you let me know when it’s full.”
They stand at opposite ends of the new garden, both in dirty cut-off supermarket jeans and worn white t-shirts. The water quickly rises and Hazel expects Rex to tell her to turn off the tap.
Only he doesn’t.
Instead, he says, “This is how much I love you, Hazel.”
He holds his arms wide as the water reaches the top of the pond. He then moves his hands quickly and holds the water as it begins to rise. He puts his left arm up and his right arm down, and stretches them both around the water as it climbs.
It can’t be happening, but it is. The water is above the edge of the pond. Rex is six feet tall and he is holding the water as it reaches his chest.
“It’s up to my heart, Hazel. My heart is full of love. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”
She turns the tap as far as it will go.
Our neighbor is having a rough time of it again. It happens often. He tries to shrug it off, but everyone on the street knows his predicament. It isn’t fair. He’s the target of something we can’t explain. It only rains on his house.
This oddity of local weather has been studied by the Meteorological Service and various university climate programs.
Our basement drains back up a little. Every time it rains, however, only his house floods. It’s like an ocean in there.
The water drains once the pressure of his misfortune lessens and the storm sewer empties the place.
The rest of us, even two doors down, sit in our gardens on warm, sunny days, sip beers, and tilt our heads back to feel the blessing of sunlight on our faces.
Not our neighbor though.
We all know when he is suffering. We can hear him screaming for help, the splashes, the cries to save his wife and children first.
But what can we do? A cloud has hung over him his entire life.
We’d really like to help him, but we don’t know how. It’s hard to watch him suffer. Maybe he’ll just move away. We’ve told him if a house comes on the market, somewhere else in town, we’ll help him load the van.
Under the Surface
Minder warned, “Do not put your heads under!”
Karel made a face. We had watched footage of Mama dive under the ocean and resurface hundreds of times. It had been her premium place –“Warm as a bath”. We begged to know what a bath was but Mama would select a Soothing Sea soundtrack as she slipped the goodnight-sleep-tight needle in and left Minder to worry about us.
We’d badgered Minder into this trip. They cannot rebuff you, Minders. They are programmed to encourage traditional childhood behaviours.
We trained for the trip in a pool of ReducOxy water, guaranteed filtered for your ease of mind. Karel tried to drown me. We have never been a twin-team, having competed for everything from embryonic fluid to the last slice of EntoProtein pizza. So, when Karel popped up out of the real ocean with a seafoam hat on his head, I raced out of the sea to tell on him.
Karel chased me down. We collided and tumbled in the sand. Quartz and calcium carbonate caked our limbs and tight drum bellies – polystyrene beads scattered amongst particles of lead, cadmium, zinc, copper, manganese, mercury, arsenic and barium – silica and lye – dust of sodium hydroxide and phenol glinted on our pale chests, our skin fizzing – prickling– burning. I wiped welts across my belly, while blisters bubbled on my thighs.
“Wash it off!” Minder shrieked.
We fled, snot and tears, back into the foam. Warm as a bath. Around our legs, a swarm of plastic bags.
Broken. Ashen skin milked by too much love. Crowing how pimps could never be lovers in your small print thesis (a ragged sheaf of parchment paper bound by dried mucus & puke). Munching Japanese MADE IN JAPAN candy. Composing love letters to every girl you’ve ever talked to past question/response. Feeling sunlight’s weight.
Walking to the stream.
Sunlight breaks water’s surface in tiny blisters. Slug shells painted in streaks like deep dream art. You graze your fingers through water. Silt under nails sparkling, catching sunbeam like moonrock dust. A tadpole wriggles from its bubbling wake. Pulses of water remain (could be the humming of your heart).
You splash your face. You drown your thesis. The mucus & puke dissolve and the sheets fall apart. The ink bleeds into the stream’s churning spirals, fine as gossamer.
Sometimes dogs frolic here, smashing through the water in novas of foam, chasing useless twigs.
I dropped Dad’s watch in the water.
Every year I would pray I was big enough to help push the boat over the corrugated shallows of the long, long bay to home, but I wasn’t. Again.
I stood at the bow and looked back to him, my uncle, my brother, pushing so that the tiny waves tip, tip, tipped at the fibreglass under my feet.
He came towards me with his brown legs leaving a bow wave of their own, held out his grey singlet bunched in a huge hand, and I took it, and the glint of the wide band caught the sun as the watch fell away.
In a country of quiet men, he was king. He lowered his head so that you could almost see the words others would have roared disappear into the thick hair covering his chest. He blinked once, heavily, raised his head; eyes searching out the trailer waiting on the empty beach. Put his hand back to the heavy boat, pushed.
I was back on the beach once the tide was miles away. Scurrying up and down trying to take in every one of the tiny pools left behind. Mum was up on the dune, hiding, making sure I didn’t swim out to sea when I didn’t find it.
I found it.
It never worked again, but he kept it, still does.
Walking on Water
Mike’s the sort of brother you wish you’d never had. Seventy years ago, okay, but now?
The tap water begins to pong, so I reluctantly suggest he looks at the tank level. You see, Mike has an uncertain record for pouring water into oil reservoirs, dealing to teenagers with BB guns and ladders versus windows.
The empty clanking of the tank with a stick should be warning enough. Even Bandy the spaniel looks doubtful. Next time I see Mike he’s unfurling a tangled bright yellow hose down to the stream at the bottom of the back garden. After impolitely dealing with the whole one hundred metres he returns, glares, wipes his brow and drives away.
My next sighting seems strange but I know better than to ask. He’s wheel-barrowing a machine/engine/pump contrivance, over to the stream where he disappears from view.
Four hours later he reappears thoroughly drenched. “Bought a hydram at MacIntyre’s to fill her up. ‘Reckon she’s right now.”
No surprises there. “Good,” I say. “Water’s smelled ‘off’ for some days. How long will it take?”
“Should fill ’er up overnight.”
At twenty-three minutes past two the dog wakes me with the blood-curdling howl of an unenthusiastic wolf. I’ve never heard Bandy make a noise like that, certainly not in the middle of the night. One glance at his moonlit kennel and I see he’s in big trouble. “Mike,” I yell, ”Get yourself outside, the tank’s over-flowed, and Bandy’s practicing his dog-paddle.”
Mike’s response is totally unacceptable.
“I’m struggling to keep my head above water.”
I sniffed, not a wet sniff, but one of those forceful sniffs that indicate – if the listener is listening – that what she’s just said is a pile of piffle.
She had been listening, and, gathering herself, lumbered offended to her room.
I have no problem offending. I do it with ease. In fact, as just seen, I can do it with a sniff.
The other three inhabitants of our student flat, Water-Down-the-Walls – which lives up to its name at the least sniff of precipitation – glared.
Glenys, screwing up her face in the work of concentrated thought, searched for the most apt feminist response.
George, I realised, wasn’t actually glaring: he was spaced out, internally calculating complex maths.
But Phil was deeply offended. At Enrolment, he’d uploaded all ideologies to his robotic brain – a brain, one day soon, I was likely to disconnect with a screwdriver. A brain that was now preparing for the many tributaries of his condemnation to stream forth in convoluted sentences.
I didn’t wait for the flood. Phil would spout, Glenys would pout and they’d debate each other’s Weltanschauungen for the rest of the afternoon.
Did I mention it was raining? I dredged myself out of the sunken couch, decided to go walking. I have a large golf umbrella. The uni library is half a block away. I’d drench myself in Hydrology, my Master’s, and come home in time for the usual Saturday fish and soggy chips.
As Idle as a Painted Ship Upon a Painted Ocean
The parched rolling hills lie arid and golden in the late afternoon sun. It hasn’t rained for forty-three days straight. The creek’s run dry and it’s been another scorcher. At high tide the inlet is filled with sea water. A brutal tease.
Water, water, everywhere,
The landowners. The orchard workers. The post-office lady. The store persons. All watch on. All sat on the bank in the stiff dry grass twiddling their thumbs. All looking at each other. All thinking the same thing. All dare not mentioning it. Looking at one another with sorry eyes then looking at the view past the estuary, out to the horizon. Oceans and oceans of water. Cloudless. All the salt in the hot air. All the nothing-to-do. Sheltering under the pathetic shade of the apple trees. Withered leaves. Malnourished fruit. Wrinkly like a prune, like an old person’s fleshless and spotted hands. Cracked soil. Exposed roots. Heated wind.
It’s hard to breathe.
Several hours after high tide, and the currents are moving like a river. The plug’s been pulled. Mud crabs come out of their burrows. Dart around remnants. Starfish, shells, seaweed, driftwood laid bare on the muddy sand. From up on hill, looking over the tidal flat there’s a gloss all over the surface. A sheen. Then a shine. A harsh reflection which makes those up there on the land simultaneously squint and look away.
The baroque quartet played on in the garage.
What a garage!
It could sensibly house a horde of demagogues.
Marcus paraded his gauche glam-set, all 20 nails painted by Schroder the former Jesuit who is now designing photo-shoot sets for the cousin of that woman who made money snapping infants.
Lottie is shouting, sitting on the back of a blue-ribbon llama named Machu.
Lottie is saying there is a leak in the top-floor swimming pool and please do not enter the house unless you possess high-quality aquatics.
The chattering crowd fled the property, last seen in a weaving line headed for the movie star’s house up on the ridge.
Lottie and Machu inexplicably went back inside to suture the wounded pool but were washed away in the tsunami spending much of the night cascading down the valley toward the Romanian riviera.
The baroque quartet played on in the garage.
Clang! Clang! Clang! Echoes behind the barn as the old man drove metal posts into dry ground. The sun beat down.
“Take this to him.”
The boy lugged the frosty jug past corralled cows lolling in shade. Clang! Clang! There he labored – shirt drenched, bandana wrapped about his head – wielding the heavy post driver.
He’d walked three miles from town for a day’s work. The boy wondered if he’d walked all the way from Mexico.
One post set, the old man turned to retrieve another – and noticed the boy approaching.
The old man eyed the boy a moment, smiled, took the jug and drank deeply. Then he sighed. “Fría. Gracias.”
Once more he tipped the jug, first to drink, then to pour the rest atop his head. Water streaked down his dusty cheeks.
The boy reached for the jug, but the old man pointed to himself. “Miguel.” Then he pointed at the boy.
“Buddy.” Everyone called him that.
“Muchas gracias, Buddy.” He passed back the jug, looked at the remaining posts the boy’s father expected him to place, then pulled from his pocket something he handed to the boy.
A bent soccer trading card. The boy thanked him and returned home, the clanging resuming at his back.
“How’s the fence coming?”
“He was thirsty. Why’d he have to walk here?”
“Your father was milking.”
“He’s always milking.”
“When the work is finished, we’ll drive him back to town, OK?”
“His name is Miguel,” the boy said.
Kirby Michael Wright
A truck with Oregon plates arrives in San Diego at dusk. When the driver slides open the cargo door, his Christmas trees are coated with lumps of snow and sheets of ice. There’s so much white he imagines an artificial forest smothered in flocking spray.
“How’d this happen?” asks Home Depot man.
The driver tucks his hands in the kangaroo pocket of his sweatshirt. “Forgot to close that damn vent,” he mutters.
The driver climbs on the bumper, grabs a chain hanging from the roof, and swings up. He shakes branches – white tumbles onto the steel bed. He digs in a blade and shovels snow and ice into the parking lot. A mogul forms. Kids gather. Most are boys but there are twin sisters. They grab the cold and shape without gloves. Snowballs sail through the half-light and splatter on asphalt. A few fathers join in. One father under-hands a snowball that bounces off his wife’s head.
“Wanna play rough, eh?” she giggles and retaliates with ice.
The driver enjoys this unexpected winter. A boy leaps over the mogul and others follow. The snow and ice don’t seem to melt. The driver’s happy his vent was open as he churned through the passes north of Eugene. The evergreen smell reminds him of home. He feels like a boy again.
As usual, he’d collected her from the station and they were driving through the countryside on their way to the coast.
“I’m leaving,” she said.
He glanced at her. “Okay. Let’s make the most of today.”
He looked through the windscreen at the white van ahead of them and saw the scroll of shadows that raced across the back of it: a telephone mast and a road sign, the grasping fingers of woodland silhouettes.
When they got there, they walked across the clifftops. They stopped on a headland and looked at the sea. It was blue and the horizon was misted. Rainbows came and went in the spray above the surf. “I wish I could stop the clock,” he said. “I wish I could keep this from slipping away.” A fulmar soared on an overhead up-draught and the song of a skylark bubbled down through the wind.
On their way back, they came to a field-gate and they leaned against it with their forearms on the bar. The hills rolled and the dark woods bristled, and a buzzard circled above a shining green field.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
She moved her fingers across the lashes of her eyes.
And later, when they went to the beach, they looked at the waves from the water’s edge. They gazed as the ocean rippled, as reams reared, and light-points glittered. They gaped as combers galloped and threw back manes of hissing white mist.
He turned. “And you can’t reconsider?”
She looked at the skyline. The decision was made. Then she took his arm and placed her head on his shoulder. The breakers pounded and the world seemed to shake.
‘WATER! That’s the theme for the March issue of Flash Frontier. Send your best 250 words by Feb 29.’
He’d stolen nineteen of their words already. Perhaps it’s because he felt inconclusive, his writing shapeless and meaningless and not saying anything.
But he had nothing to say, and it was important for him to say it. Only paradoxes could help him make sense of his understanding.
Sadly, he didn’t know himself, and that was just the start of all his problems. The absent individual read the submission page,
‘We are looking for variety and originality. Tickle us, haunt us, gobsmack us. Choose your words carefully and leave our readers wanting more. And do it in a small space.’
No, the thought appeared. What’s so bad about bad writing? Bad could be beautiful.
And like water, the thought slipped through his hands and was gone.
And like water, the words slipped through your head and were gone.
They were easily separated. Made distinct, a perception was granted to them so they could see their death directly. Inevitably. Disconcerted, they-
“So why you working with words anyway, hun?” Well, as the submission page says: We do not pay authors for their work.
Helping readers develop critical confusion, he drove off the edge of a cliché.
He thought he knew the taste of water.
And then one day, he drank it.
He thought he knew the taste of water.
But then one day, he drank it.