MIHARO WONDER – Teoti Jardine
Road without end – Alex Reece Abbott
Lacewing – Anika Carpenter
Fig Wasp – Charmaine Crossey
Temporal Lobe – Kenneth Tanemura
Morning Ritual – Jeanette Goode
My Real Mother – Matthew Keeley
Carla Brings Cookies to Her Mother’s Wake – John Brantingham
What the north wind knows – Donna Shanley
Knowing – Rebecca Douglas
An Uncontentious Report – A N Myers
Grotesquery – Jane Mary Curran
Billy found a raccoon – Sadie Scotch
Hands Over Time – Gary Thomson
Garden Walk – Jeffrey D Burd
Rescues – Katie Avagliano
Kicking the Bikinied Girls – Charlotte Hamrick
Project – Dominic Reed
Anton Finds the World in a Drop of Water – Marjory Woodfield
The Early Days of the Oslo Accords – Leonard Kress
Miranda – Sandy Feinstein
Natural Miracles – Judy Darley
The Water’s Edge – Mike Chunn
We All Scream for Ice Cream – Susan York
Two Truths and a Lie – Amber Silverman
A Short History of Wadjemup – Laila Miller
Sharing the Weight – Ariel M. Goldenthal
Disappearing act – Rob Walton
Footloose – Emma Phillips
What Lies Beneath – Edna Heled
Musical Progeny – Matthew Charles Barron
Butterfly House – Chris Griffiths
Elf – Digby Webster
Girl – Irina Novikova
At the still point of the turning world – Claire Beynon
Unaccountable – Keith Nunes
Sand dollar from Port Charles Harbour – Reihana Robinson
Upturned, but not upended – Claire Beynon
Sortir – Nelly Sanchez
Ghosts on the high seas – Digby Webster
One morning – Keith Nunes
Berlin Wall 1985 – Reihana Robinson
Surprise me! – Digby Webster
Heading North – Jeanette Goode
E miharo ana Wondering
Road without end
Alex Reece Abbott
Bees swarm pink and white manuka-kanuka blossoms along the narrow, crumbling goat-track. To your left, Aotea’s jagged wave-cut cliffs are breaking down.
On a bucolic late afternoon, this scenic, coastal short-cut was your teenage bright idea. Sun-scorched, astringent manuka brings weird acuity. Now it’s obvious. This is no short-cut because dense, scratchy scrub runs hip-high to the horizon…and a deep, wide crevice slices inland from the coastline. Below, boiling, crashing sea that strews boulders and angular pebbles along the shore. Battered bull kelp clings to the rocks.
Most islanders live three hours away, around the only wharf. Usually, a good thing, now you’re less sure. Who’ll notice you’re missing? Search? No one knows you’re here. No map. Few supplies, little water. Hiked too far to turn back. Wrong kit for overnight – the temperature drops like a stone with the sun.
He’s frozen beside you, staring at the ravine. Six foot two, fit, young, he can do anything. “I can’t,” says your father, teeth clenched. A pilot…scared of heights.
You’ve never heard him say those words. Show him how, it can be done. If it can be done…jump first. And leave him behind, terrified? And you’ll have to go back to get him. Jump last, then he’ll have to jump first, uncertain…
The role reversal clears, you command your father: You can. Jump.
Years later, you’re still haunted by that long, loose-metalled, winding, boring, familiar road not taken. You still wonder whether that was the best route home, that road without end.
I smear algae-green paint across my face, down my arms, over my breasts; not that I’ll be sharing them with a bunch of five-year-olds. It’s just good knowing they’re that colour, picturing them and recalling the taste of lime jelly and not sex. I squirm into a Lycra catsuit, also green – an emergence in reverse. I tear down every net curtain in my student flat, safety pin them to my sleeves, fashion great lumpen wings from nicotine-stained nylon lousy with artless flowers.
On the doorstep, I tell the parents that my butterfly costume got soiled at a previous party and is in the wash. “You have plenty here anyway,” I say, peering through the door at the flutter itchy with glitter, lacking proboscises. Mostly, the kids who aren’t butterflies are teeny-bopped bumble bees. But not Sandra, the birthday girl. Dressed as a cockroach, shiny as a nut-brown disco ball, she runs at me yelling, “I am indestructible!” “I’m a lacewing.” I say.
The guests want magic tricks, but Sandra’s hungry for stories. So, I begin. “Two-hundred years ago, girls your age made these wings.” I flap for effect. There’s flinching at the unfamiliar, stale smell I’m wafting. “They were slapped if they worked too slowly, had one candle between six of them, and worked such long hours their eyes dried up.” Sandra has her hand up. “Cockroach eyes absorb one photon every 10 seconds,” she says, her smile bright as fresh paint. “They see perfectly even in moonlight.”
In the belly of a fig ripened by my mother, I am born. My brother has ruptured the delicate skin of the gall I lie in and is deflowering me before I take my first breath. I cannot deny him this pleasure as in truth, he is selfless. Once he’s finished, I emerge and he carves me a tunnel to the outside world. This is no mean feat; he’s half my size and blind. I follow behind, my ebony skin doused with pollen. He chews through the thick outer skin of the fig and for a split second the sun warms his hunched wingless husk before he’s devoured by an ant. Loosening iridescent wings, I make my escape.
For forty-eight hours I soar, drinking in the beauty of the verdant forest which is bathed in mist and glistens in the sun. Carried on the wind one-hundred miles through the canopy, I dance to a cacophony – a myriad of birds all singing at once, the rhythmic calls of gibbons as they gorge on figs fattened by my foremothers.
Eventually, instinct calls. Like my mother and brother, I must make my sacrifice. I land on a fig and squeeze myself through its unyielding unripe skin. Wrenching the wings from my body I burrow deep, pollinating as I go. Fervently, I lay eggs as my strength ebbs. Exhausted, I collapse in a cavity now teeming with life.
Fig wasp: life giver, mother of the forest.
The infant’s legs dangle over the car seat’s edge next to a jar of sweet pickles. He has my legs—long, thick, long, like stilts attached to a baby still learning to roll. A song from my youth remastered to sound like the past is the present adds spice to rows of boxed turkey slices. They distort our sense of time to make us buy salt and vinegar, breadcrumbs, roaster pans. The fake autumn maples propped next to oversized white wine glasses are the first true sign of autumn I’ve been blessed to see. If I went apple picking, I would remember most how my hands turned cold to the touch of apple skin.
The orchard is less than the word orchard would suggest. Here in the store, I’m thrown back to the song that was on. High school ski trip, the medial temporal lobe storing away each beat and scrap of lyrics, the face of who was in the room when the song flickered on MTV. The song and the face belonging to Megan Mino saturate the condiments aisle, infiltrate fresh produce, shine a spotlight on the stage formerly the deli foods department where the old dramas are played until the song ends and I store that too, on a playlist on my phone I never listen to.
Irina Novikova, Girl
The ritual of entering a new day begins with the grind, the pungent smell of fresh roasted beans cutting the crisp morning air. There is no grind here, it’s a slow day. The job is done. The house is sold, the rooms empty. It has all gone, except the coffee pot and a jug of cream.
The pot bubbles on the stove, the steam rises.
The mug, a work of art, stands ready to receive. Like this place, it was a gift, a pottery vessel glazed with ash of manuka and kauri, clay, earth and fire, alive with alchemy.
We go outside together to the rock. We call it the coffee rock. It is also alchemy, so ancient my mind can’t bend that far.
This bit of Gondwana sits out over the river, it is the place of morning ritual, rite of passage, summer memories, winter storms.
I share this early morning with the birds heading upriver, the penguins are all sleeping.
Today the river moves without a ripple, blue sky and clouds are suspended in the depths. I wrap my hands tightly around the mug for warmth and raise it slowly, the steam carries the rich smell of coffee. It is a mingling of all things I love. The coffee, the salty smell of the ocean, the earthy damp bush and the sweet smell of the river.
I look to the sky and the hawk, watching me with a golden eye, heads north.
My Real Mother
The first time Veronica found me, I was lying on our wet street at two a.m., eyes up to the clouded moon. I was six.
The second time, seven, in the garden, wishing on stars. After that, she lost count of how often and where.
I’d figured out how to unlock the back door, see. And when she’d hidden the keys, I’d climbed out the window. Her fault for having a conservatory below my bedroom, I reckon.
“From another planet, this one,” she kept saying.
Apparently, most kids try to run away from foster parents. It’s one of the warnings they give. Suppose Veronica thought I was too young to try it when I arrived, although I hadn’t really run away – just wanted to search the sky.
“Glad you stopped that bloody escape routine before high school!” she said yesterday at dinner, laughing and nudging my elbow.
I laughed too and let her believe it.
She trusts me with my own house key now. At night, her snoring’s the perfect signal. I’ve learned which stairs creak and how to shut the front door without it clunking, and I make sure I’m back before her morning alarm buzzes.
My newest spot’s the field at the end of the estate. Kids at school said there was a crop circle there once. Perfect place then, surely? The long grass holds me in its wiry fingers as I stare up. One night, I know it, she’ll come back down for me. My real mother.
Carla Brings Cookies to Her Mother’s Wake
Carla regrets the cookies when she sees Uncle Tim, her father’s brother. She has wonderful childhood memories: when he built her treehouse and when he played Santa Claus and told her how wonderful she was. She also has the night of her father’s funeral. She ate 23 of her mother’s cookies, but he and her mother drank a bottle of Cutty Sark. Later, she listened to them banging and moaning against the bedroom wall. When he left to drive himself home drunk, he saw her at the kitchen table and said, “Sorry.” She wonders if he remembers that moment too.
Claire Beynon, At the still point of the turning world
What the north wind knows
I am born where the air breathes diamonds. I know walrus-wallowing seas, the clattering ribs of ice-bound ships, the broken boots of the mariners. I don’t know waiting.
Her wedding gloves were white lace. Snowflakes in thrall. The sun danced in the brass buttons of his jacket. Before he sailed, he whispered that if he was lost, three things would carry the message to her.
Always, on the day I arrive, she stretches her hands towards me. Then they drop to her lap, her eyes fearful and hopeful. She knows waiting.
I sang the man’s beard white, his lips blue, his stiffening fingers black. It was my nature; I bore no malice. Yet though I bucked and raged, I found myself tethered to his promise.
Three things. I plucked them from the snow and the sky. Through seasons young and old, I carried them in my rumbustious heart. I flung schooners from their courses, toppled oaks; no wall withstood me. But one of those promises almost broke my back.
The skin of her outstretched hands is parchment; the bones fine as birds’ quills. Her eyes will not be lied to.
As frost melts into green future, I lay them at her feet:
a willow leaf, withered to lace,
a tern’s feather,
and the heaviest thing for me to bear, the heaviest thing for her to bear. A brass button.
I wait, feeling their absence. She rises and walks into the house. She has waited long enough.
When the knowing became too much, he would leave her.
She was cellophane, she was glass, shards missing, the wind whistling through.
‘Have a good day at work,’ he said, looking over her shoulder, at his phone, the door, then the world.
The trees held their breath as she passed. Her car coughed to life in embarrassment. She wondered if she would crumble to ash and blow away, pulling out into an endless stream of silver and black blurs. Other cars invaded her lane like she wasn’t there.
At work, peals of laughter echoed. Bodies twitched when she came near. Minds failed to notice. The air-conditioning siphoned darts of poison destined for her lungs only, her chest a nest of rubber bands straining for every gulp.
One day, a black hole would open in her stomach. It would ripple and yawn and fold everything in on itself, the carpet tearing thread by dusty thread, desks tilting and groaning and heaving before exploding in a shower of sawdust and catapulting planks. Co-workers would pirouette towards her on swivel chairs, screaming through red maws. The fluorescent lights would be last, snapping and fizzing to show their displeasure.
The clock ticked on.
Eventually, she dragged herself to her car and drove. Back to him. Idling at the lights, the ticking blinker hypnotised her. Left… Left… Left… Left…
When the knowing became too much he would leave her, but in the meantime, she would pretend to be whole and wait.
An Uncontentious Report
A N Myers
The ArmBranch of the Chrome Conglomerate has completed its scrutiny of this World of Earth and its findings have been uploaded into Central Records. These conclude that Earth is a wonder of systematic governance.
Earth’s policy of deliberately contaminating its environment with manufactured materials is nearing completion. Oceans have been successfully saturated with processed hydrocarbons to their greatest depths, leading to the extermination of vast numbers of (presumably hostile) non-human species. Similarly, the emission of large volumes of other hydrocarbons into the atmosphere has resulted in a significant raising of global temperatures and a commensurate rise in sea levels as ice caps melt. It has been proposed that humans must be happily evolving into an ocean-based species. Regardless, the determination and ambition demonstrated by these operations have led the Conglomerate to conclude that they must be deliberate.
Similarly, many advances have been made socially. Large, mechanised conflagrations, known as‘wars’, have ritualised the euthanisation of unhappy citizens using ingenious and expeditious methods. The ArmBranch also notes that society is highly stratified along racial and caste lines, and that this gives meaning and pleasure to all humans. The less well-resourced (and more numerous) classes pay tribute to their elites, or at least do not rise up against them, suggesting that they are content with their place in the hierarchy.
In short, this World of Earth is designated a First Universal Wonder of harmonious and efficacious policy, which the ArmBranch recommends as a model for all species across our expanding continuum.
Keith Nunes, Unaccountable
Jane Mary Curran
A stuffy July night at the animal emergency hospital. I waited for a vet with my feverish little cat. Around midnight a woman came in, clutching a large brown dog, her face blotched and puffy. My throat tightened. Here was the nightmare. An animal, too sick to stand, brought after work to be handed to strangers, no matter how kind, and euthanized. The story lay written in red on her face. She kissed the dog’s head, again and again, snuggled in its neck. The dog shifted, jerked in her hold. Over her shoulder rabbit feet stuck up on long spindly legs.
I stared, invading the privacy of her grief, unable to un-weave one nightmare and make sense of another. The legs should have ended in dog paws. But they didn’t. The body should have been a large brown dog. But it wasn’t.
The receptionist said under her breath, “Some kind of guinea pig. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
A technician reached to take the creature. The woman said, “He might jump. Don’t let him fall and hurt himself.”
She lay her face against that head on its big brown body and kissed him into his dying. One muscle at a time, she opened her arms and surrendered this strange mix of genes, a helix of ribbons, a singular life.
Billy found a raccoon
Billy here found a raccoon down by the watering hole. It had got itself tangled in some razor wire we use for the chickens, mostly to keep the hens safe from the foxes, but this raccoon had gotten itself snared. I said, “Billy, don’t you go and hurt that raccoon, he didn’t do nothing to those chickens,” but Billy kept right on creeping towards the poor critter. He had on one of his BB guns strapped around his back, that Pa had given him for the season. “Bill-Illeeey,” I shouted, but he just kept on creeping, crawling now, on all fours, towards the endangered animal, caught there, unable to move lest it cut deeper with the wire into its own skin. Just then, a flock of birds flew from the trees overhead, Billy stopped, mesmerized, looking at the birds covering the sky like one black blanket eclipse over our heads. Billy didn’t hurt the raccoon that day. Billy never did hurt another living thing in his life.
Hands Over Time
The child spreads his right hand over the rock face, pinching the charcoal outline of a bison galloping. Light from a stone grease lamp dances over his eager face.
His mother spreads his chubby fingers, smiles her encouragement, just so.
She inhales, then spits a cloud of reddish paint toward the hand.
The boy gasps. Raises his arm. Will the bison trample this displaced part of him?
He clutches toward the rock-bound silhouette. His wary laughter echoes into dark cavern chambers, tumbles into silence.
Resounds twenty thousand years later when two jubilant French archaeologists scan their headlamps over the lucid outline.
Jeffrey D Burd
Here in Julia’s windswept summer garden hang fluttering intimacies no man would otherwise see. The sight of her private items strikes to the unquenched thirst deep in my heart. I again parade down the soft green runway between the parallel lines, stretching my arms out like a war hero returning home with a gleaming Purple Heart. My fingertips brush the soft warm fabrics.
The boy-next-door mythos has yet to register in her lexicon of love: those flowers are lovely, but my allergies… those are lovely chocolates, but I’m counting calories… your guitar sounds lovely, but please don’t play it outside my window at this hour… Thusly, I’m left with these Tuesday morning garden walks.
What we need is a sense of union.
My briefs hanging next to her lovely lacies – my heart on the line when she gathers her secret silks!
I slip them off and am fastening my shorts when she appears in her window. It is the east, and she is the sun! I raise my arms again from my sides. “You are my lady! My love!”
There in her hands, a shotgun. She pumps a handle beneath the barrel. Metallic clicks ring through the air. We could go hunting together. That’d be lovely.
It’s at night when the pit bull whines that I turn into a terrible partner.
The dog climbs over me and snuffles in my girlfriend’s ear. She who carries chicken in her pockets. She who grows plants for a living. She is our favorite person. She rolls out of bed and I curl into a ball like the sleep-sucker I am and pretend not to hear them leave.
She rescued the pit bull a year before we got together. He is anxious, energetic, lunging at dogs on trails. He got lost, once, for thirty-nine hours, and I envisioned my life as endless camping in the woods, waiting by her side as she waited for him to come home. I came into the relationship with a sleek German shepherd with a face like a wolf, so gorgeous he stops traffic. In our family portrait, the pit bull is the problem child. Loved. Misunderstood. The one you meet with the teacher about after school.
A howl outside. I smash the pillow over my ears but the howl wakes my dog. He’s on his feet. Concerned eyebrows in the dark.
It’s full night beyond the creaky farmhouse, even the frogs a-bed. My partner, my gardener, tips her face up to the clouds skittering in front of the moon. I have always been afraid of the dark, but the dogs gambol ahead of me and I lean against the doorframe to watch her watch all our problems contained under the stars.
Reihana Robinson, Sand dollar from Port Charles Harbour
Kicking the Bikinied Girls
The water was a warm languid massage rolling down the length of my body. Small waves peaked before me, glistening smiles urging me on. I was swimming out past the little dive board on my way to the high dive for the first time. I wasn’t a strong swimmer, so I knew I had to pace myself. I wasn’t afraid, swimming alone. It never occurred to me I might not make it.
It was quiet, far from the small sand beach and piers dotted with people splashing, sunning, screaming. Far from the clique of tittering town girls preening for the boys in their bright bikinis, judging my fleshy country girlness. Their voices were a low hum wafting over the water, tickling my retreating toes. I kicked them away. I tuned into my body’s ungrounded buoyancy, drifting like an unmoored planet in a singular orbit. I felt weightless, light as air. When I became tired, I floated. When I felt rested, I swam.
The water was a second skin sluicing acceptance, comfort, calm. I was exhausted when I reached the high dive, loosey-goosey as if all my pent-up anxiety slid right out of me into a deep, deep grave. I was taking control.
Each summer I rebuilt my father. My brother helped, still young enough to find games in labor. For hours we sawed planks and hemmed burlap until he stood smiling before us.
We played together all day. When Mom got back from work, my father kissed her until she purpled with laughter.
At night my father told stories, leaning beers to our lips, and patting us when we choked.
Then somehow things soured like before and Mom, bloodied and trembling, took us out to the yard. We stayed there until the police showed up and unbuilt my father piece by piece.
Anton Finds the World in a Drop of Water
after Anton van Leeuwenhoek, 1632 – 1723
He grinds lenses for a microscope. Looks at a drop of blood. Plaque from his own teeth. Draws the sperm cell of a rabbit. Sees small single celled organisms. Calls them little cockles, each no bigger than a grain of sand. He stares at the delicate wings of a mosquito, legs of lice, mould taken from his winter window ledge, abdomen and stinger of a bee, the whys and wherefores of a spider’s web, scales of a fish. In a drop of pond water he sees teeming life. Colonies of protozoan and diatoms. Names them animalcules. He draws bacteria, describes their little feet. Notes how the predatory hydra glides across a surface while green algae finds its food but never moves.
He writes all this down. The fabric in his draper’s shop gathers dust and outside in the street they point and laugh.
Claire Beynon, Upturned, but not upended
The Early Days of the Oslo Accords
And then I did fall head over heels in love with that woman, Tamar says. “It was pure folly on my part – thirteen years younger than me and zero experience. That we were living in Jerusalem, the most intense city I’ve ever experienced, during the heady days of the early Oslo Accords added to the drama. I have incredible memories of kissing passionately in the mystical mountains of Tsfat, where Rabbi Isaac Luria culled Lurianic Kabbalah out of the Zohar, making love in a youth hostel that was once a crusader castle, kissing on the shores of the Kineret (I cannot call it The Sea of Galilee, although I can imagine Jesus preaching there), piling onto the tourist boat blasting Le Freak, 70s disco and the Macarena while hovering in No Man’s Land between Israel and Syria. We would sit and drink beer and surreptitiously hold hands under the table until we couldn’t take it any longer. And once, before the whole thing ended, we made love in the locker room of a spa, napping afterwards by the mineral baths.
What a great beak you have, I thought. A long, pointy spear. Though I’ve never noticed you strike the small fry floating with the current where you hunker, half-lean toward the shadows of light bouncing on the water. Your head rises as you reposition the catch, then gulp it, your thin neck bulging. I’ve never heard of a bird choking on its prey. Does it happen? Have you seen it?
I know you are watchful. You stare my way, beak forward as if daring me to pass. Have you noticed competing predators? The parent, patience frayed, shake a kid and threaten to feed her to you? Yes, I know, human flesh is distasteful. You do not deign to react. Not even as the child is pushed toward the creek edge below your rocky perch sharp enough to crack bones, break through skin, leaving a blood trail the black vultures sense wherever they huddle.
Ardea. Old World. Did you know you were fed to emperors and kings? In the New World, spirit bird. I think mine when I watch you. Though it is the dead you signify. The child. Maybe the one found the next morning, carried down shore, far from your beauty, your innocence.
I wonder what you see, can’t see.
Is it a blessing to be unable to note the entrails, rot in the water and on shore, to not think about what is alive, what is dead, what you kill without even knowing it? Curiously natural and inhuman anyway.
Nelly Sanchez, Sortir
My son holds a small white snail shell balanced on his palm and asks me: “Why?” His expression is wide open.
“It’s a snail,” I say. I accept the shell and turn it over, meaning to show him the sticky creature inside. But the shell is hollow.
Leo’s waiting for an explanation. I kneel on the lawn and repeat, “Snail.” Lifting my forefingers to my brow, I weave my head from side to side.
His puzzlement switches into laughter, fingers creating a crown of antennae in mimicry of my mimicry.
The shell is extraordinary – a miracle of natural engineering. Its creaminess seems ill-suited to our garden’s earth and grass. I hold it to the light, wondering what strand of DNA slipped sideways from its chromosome to embrace this lack of pigment.
Leo has chromosomes to spare. In each of his cells, 47 reside, while most of us have only 46. I like to think that extra one roots Leo more firmly. While my mind scurries, his thoughts unfurl gradual as new leaves.
Today my mind races because his grandma is coming for lunch. She always thinks we’re missing some trick ‘to help Leo along’.
Leo’s found a shell that does shelter a snail. It glimmers on his palm. My son watches its antennae taste the air. His face glows with wonder.
When he hugs his spiky grandma, he squeezes with all his might. Despite herself, she softens. Despite myself, when Leo lets go, I hug her too.
The Water’s Edge
May stood at the water’s edge with her child on her hip, her fawn jacket flecked with splashes of mud. This simple merging of the two – mother and child – drew the attention of those day-trippers who sought the warm climate and lilting bird calls. For her part, May considered the birds she knew these newcomers sought – how if a whippoorwill was one of them, the serene environment blackened and the other birds in the vicinity flew away.
But if it were the usual scenario, no one saw the whippoorwill. It may not have been there. The sound may well have been an existential adjunct to the brush wire calls of the white bellbird perched with tension in its open branch nest.
Hermione had reached May and her daughter after wading through the reeds and dead branches of the river in its new rapid flow, twisting in its onwards rhythm. And the two women were mesmerised by its forceful reach onwards to the city on the other side of the ranges. As long as it left them alone.
The child was focused on a small group of sheep that had slipped unnoticed out of their fencing. Her still, gazing nature carried on until the sheep lay on the grass and the child put her head on her mother’s shoulder and drifted off to sleep.
We All Scream for Ice Cream
Birds trill delightfully as a flaming sun dips out of the summer sky. Outside the house, one lamppost flickers, denting the encroaching night intermittently. Jonathan hears the fizzing-buzz it makes, sees its inconsistency through his thin curtains.
The now sleeping birds don’t stir at the wonderful tune carried by the night air, but Jonathan does. He parts the curtains, looks down the road. The music belongs to an ice-cream van that has visited many times this summer. Jonathan missed it this afternoon – shouted at his parents, blamed them, sulked. Musical notes become louder as the van turns into the street, parks under the flickering light.
Grabbing his pocket money, Jonathan runs down the stairs. The pavement is cool underfoot as he joins the queue of children wearing pyjamas. They seem insubstantial in the moonlight, briefly flare into life with the on-off motion of the lamppost. It fizzes and dies, casting the street into darkness. Jonathan stands alone in the glow issuing from the van, holds his money out while shadows fight for dominance.
The eyes of the man holding out a Mr Whippy are far darker than any night, but the ice-cream he hands Jonathan is amazing. It spirals high, is covered with nuts, sprinkles and chocolate sauce. Its flavour is sublime and Jonathan marvels as the sweet, silky-smooth coldness dissolves on his tongue.
The man smiles while Jonathan devours his treat. He watches as the boy fades and joins the shadows clustered around the van.
Two Truths and a Lie
I grew up in rural Vermont.
I repeated the 10th grade.
My stepdad was nice to me.
My cousin Mike was my best friend.
I made new friends when he moved to Virginia.
People used to ask if we were twins.
Mike got a job at his dad’s company after high school.
I have a good job too.
I’ve been to jail twice.
Everyone knows Mike did the same shit as me and just never got caught.
Mike came to Vermont for Christmas this year.
He always liked visiting because I could get him anything he wanted.
My mom picked me up this morning with a borrowed suit.
I would have shown up today without her help.
She takes better care of me now than when I was a kid.
I’ve been looking everyone here in the eye.
The makeup they put on Mike makes him look like someone else.
I wish it was me in the coffin.
I’m afraid of going back to jail.
Parole means I can’t make any mistakes.
I called 911 right away and didn’t worry about the cops.
A Short History of Wadjemup
Coral grew up from the limestone. Reef fish found homes, whales migrated, and the spirits spoke to the whales. There was a land bridge. People and quokkas belonged to the land.
The sea rose and the island formed. People and quokkas were separated. The spirits were trapped underwater. The whales brought the spirits back to the island.
Sailors shipwrecked on the reefs. Some sailed through to the island. Sailors wondered about the quokkas and called them rats. The whales and the spirits watched.
Settlers came and cut down the native tea trees, grew crops. The island grew bare. Quokkas died. The whales and the spirits mourned.
The people who belonged to the land became prisoners of the new government. The people built their own prison. Many people joined the spirits. The few remaining quokkas hid. The whales comforted the spirits.
The prisoners were transferred to the mainland. Tourists came. The prison became a hotel. The island became a nature reserve. The government planted tea trees. Tourists fed the quokkas, swam the reefs and shipwrecks. They did not see the spirits, who watched, with the whales.
The tea trees planted on the island have grown back. The government says it is sorry. It closed the hotel, out of respect for the spirits, which it cannot see. Instead of feeding them, the tourists photograph the quokkas. More hotels are built, more trees planted, more reefs swum. More tourists come. The whales and the spirits watch and wait.
Digby Webster, Ghosts on the high seas
Sharing the Weight
Ariel M. Goldenthal
My sisters and I dive into the icy water, watch our lips purple like the setting sun, and gulp equal parts salty air and sea until we are drowned by their weight instead of the heaviness of last winter. We swim through the maze of sharp rocks and sunken glass, holding our breath and each other —all we have left.
Last summer, when seaweed tangled our ankles and pulled us down to the dark where monsters fed on our despair, mom used her last heartbeat to break us free.
Today, we open our eyes and push against the cold, reborn at the surface.
When he’d forgotten to get the kids anything, he pulled Easter bunnies out of a hat.
On Mother’s Day there were flowers from thin air, air so thin you could barely breathe.
He could never decide who to saw in half, so he made them all smaller, by a thousand cuts.
He said one day he’d show them how to escape, how to levitate above it all.
The wedding ring was produced from some or other sleeve.
He changed a rope into some scarves, which became bunting hung across the backyard.
He invited the neighbours to a garden party where he threw himself onto the knock-off gas barbecue.
He went up in a puff of smoke, while his family wondered about magic, and how to change wine into water.
They were easy to find. Sometimes, I was there at the scene, but instead of reuniting owner and footwear, I’d slip my fingers into the still-warm grooves where her toes had been. I only ever took one.
They always had heels or were shiny; I liked to imagine the wearers as butterflies drawn to the boom boom flash flash of bars, where they spread their wings and flew, kicking off their shoes as an encumbrance, the way they had discarded their cocoons. I would never harm a butterfly. Back home, I grew giddy on their perfume, leather and heartache, plastic and blisters, on the cheaper shoes a hint of sweat. Ladies perspire, I know that.
Sometimes, I took samples in the cold light of day, as dew gathered on straps and buckles; I plucked a sandal from the top of a bin, pulled a stiletto from the grass. At times, I had to restore a piece to its former glory; redo the stitching like a surgeon, where the lively ones had danced their shoes apart. I rarely took trainers; their stories were unclear.
I wanted to know where the shoe had been, find the owner’s spark, retrace her footsteps. Hen parties had such rich pickings. I held their exhibits in my hands, like abandoned hopes; all those Cinderellas drunk on harbour lights and fairytales, holding each other’s hair back and staggering about in the dark. They never seemed to feel the cold. They hardly felt me push.
What Lies Beneath
For an entire week the bay out my window was buzzing: kayaks, surfboards, sea motorbikes, herds of binocular-armoured exposed-bellied know-it-all chaps and their exhilarated wives. I watched them going up and down the tide, pointing to the sea, making big gestures, boasting. Spotting became as triumphal as winning a medal in extreme sport.
I didn’t get to see her, but it seems that I was the only one. ‘Whale and Dolphin Watch’ was bombarded with photos shot from neighbouring houses on my street, featuring the magnetic creature circling the cove’s waters. My eyes popped to spot a spout of white foam in the blue vastness, a jet of joyous sprinkle, a whiff from the mystery of the underwater.
How elated we feel when we get a message from the deep. A few glimpses of a tail or a fin are jolts of wonder, access to the realm of Gods. After a few days, I realised that the mere thought of a whale dancing right outside my window was enough to thrill me. Knowing she was there in the viewing range, that maybe tomorrow I’ll get lucky, was all I needed to connect me to the admirable force of nature.
And then, I did see her. A whale indeed, a special whale, a Gray’s beaked whale. ‘Rare to find such a specimen of deep-water species in the shallows,’ reported DOC.
I saw her. She had shark bite marks over her body.
She was washed to the beach at dusk.
Matthew Charles Barron
Flinching at the tap, tap, tap, Fife followed the conductor’s baton as it gathered the attention of the percussion, woodwinds, brass. This was his professional debut: here on the stage of hallowed Hennessey Hall he held his clarinet aloft, ready, its black shine reminiscent of the darkest wine, the vintage his father had boxed for decades on the line.
As a boy, he imagined a life of bottling too, until Pa was laid off and announced no son of his would waste himself at the factory. Around that time, his elementary teacher had declared him a musical progeny – prodigy, he meant – and Pa, elated, yelled at him to practice, practice, practice. Fife understood the stakes and locked himself in his room every night, despite paternal pleadings to come downstairs for a can of ravioli or beans. Pa had saved the pork, his favourite.
Tonight, his solo parent fidgeted somewhere in the hall’s blazing darkness. But it wasn’t self-imposed pressure that prompted Fife to miss his cue. The twenty-something had botched another cadenza – his last, the conductor’s murderous glare suggested – because, while his eye heeded the barlines of the sheet music, his ear strayed to the ceiling. The vaulted architecture rose so miraculously above him that the hall seemed an instrument, as though the concert sat inside a gargantuan guitar. The acoustics amplified the woodwinds around him to such a sonorous high that he stopped blowing, imagining for a moment he was no longer obliged to play.
Keith Nunes, One morning
We enter the butterfly house through a curtain of chain mail. It’s deliciously warm after the snap of chill outside, has a churchy hush. People wander in the fug amongst the cartoonish leaves of tropical plants, faces alive to the blinking colours of hundreds of butterflies drifting by on secret eddies.
One floor up the heat is heavier. I hold out my hand and like magic, a butterfly alights and begins to sip at the sweat in the web between my fingers, its filament of proboscis so delicate – how is it not repelled by the perilous tang of sanitizer and soap, or the cold alien breath of a winter’s day?
Another staircase climbs into overwhelming humidity, but we can look straight down at a red-eared turtle sliding about in the pond below where a goldfish glows like a dropped coin. Leaves twitch as a grouse darts about on the only forest floor it has ever known. A large tawny butterfly with owl-eyes on its wings rests on a palm trunk, I lean in, fascinated to see how tattered it is before it unfolds to reveal deep lapis blue.
Before we leave, we check our bodies for stowaways and swish through the curtain. But outside, cold air hitching at our lungs, a flash of exotic black/red betrays a butterfly rising from my coat and we watch it soar into the leafless trees, its wonder must match our own, undreamed-of winter like the smack of a careless hand.
In dawn’s light, gray as her hair, she walks along the beach. The west coast waves are quiet, exhausted by last night’s storm. The expanse of sand, the salty cold air, and the effort of walking drown out her thoughts. There’s not much left: the kids returned to their faraway lives after the funeral. Their house is empty, hers alone; she hasn’t decided what to do with it yet.
The beach is the same. Out of habit, she counts the birds. Seven gulls circling, two dotterels scurrying, one gannet flying over the surf. The line between the bulky land and the massive sea, shifting with the moon but always here, on the beach.
A black dot against the clouds shakes her from her reverie. Too big for an oystercatcher, the wrong shape for a shag. She stops, her heartbeat accelerating like a swan startled into flight. It is a frigatebird. Though far from its native tropical waters, the elegantly curved wings and long streaming tail are unmistakable.
She is the only witness. It flies closer, and she imagines she sees the red patch at its throat. Its long, hooked bill dips, examining the strange land below it. Seeing her, the frigatebird wheels around and flaps its great wings once, gliding back out to sea. For the first time in months, she feels fortunate to be here.
The beach is the same again, but she too turns for home. She knows what to do now. Above her, the gulls call.
A Practical Guide for Visiting the Temple
Remove your shoes before you enter. Understand how footwear is stained by the world, covering feet that have labored for centuries, toiling in rice paddies that appear to be beautiful, but only from a distance.
Negotiate the maze of assembled congregants, worshippers searching for means and methods to continue through another sweltering day without pity. Join the farmers who have trudged through the muck of survival to kneel on this marble floor, some with socks, some without.
Contemplate the face of Siddhartha at the altar. Trace the smile carved across a golden countenance. Consider whether those gilded lips offer consolation or simply contain an invitation to breathe. Allow yourself to collaborate with the gathered supplicants in a soft chorus of respiration. Do not rise until you have felt it: a breeze awakened in the unmoving air.
Accept that you may need to squint at that first glimpse of light when you cross the threshold back onto the stone porch. Avoid any attempt to make distinctions in the glare. Come to recognize that, in the end, there are no true differences to be found in the pairs of mud-caked sandals stacked against the wall. Choose the ones that fit you best and let them guide you through the pillared gate.
Watch your step.
They traveled in the early winter when the sun didn’t feel like fire on the skin, but before the howling sandstorms blew across those barren wastes and sent rusty scraps harrowing troughs in the cracked earth. In that season of solace, the sky was empty, bleached almost white.
They scoured the ground for rodent burrows to lay traps by. At night, rows of rats hung by their tails and crackled in the fire, smelling like heaven. The elders would tell stories of the land, and how it was ever-green, and the rusted bones around them were once beasts of burden that ran like storms across black stone paths.
Their favorite stories, though, involved the Ruins. Those colossal spires, sunken in the ever-churning ocean, were visible for miles. They seemed unreal, but when they approached to camp on the hills, where steel-threaded stone remained to shelter them from the winter storms, the buildings grew and grew, until they loomed, like shards of a mountain, ribbed with jagged steel teeth and piles of glass glittering in every crevasse. The children would gape and beg for stories about them, then sit and stare, lost in imagining the world that built them. They loved to root around in the nearby junk, finding bright treasures. Some nights, the phosphorescent tides would come and crash against those monstrous relics, visible only as shadows blotting out the stars, and they would dream of that mythic place, and wonder at how it crumbled.
The Night My Stories No Longer Interested Me
Nathan Alling Long
I was at a party, drunk, talking to this beautiful man who wore a black hat and coat. We were standing outside under an oak tree, late summer. I was trying to impress him with stories I’d picked up on my travels.
I told him about the Innuit village that receive a care package with a baseball bat and instruction on playing the game, but no baseball. So they fashioned some out of ice. Only, each strike shattered the ball into a sparkle of ice. It was home-run after home-run, the outfielder nearly dying of boredom.
Then I told him about the daughter of a famous writer who had developed dementia. She had her father write letters to himself as characters from his book. Then she’d mail them to his address, knowing he’d recall who the people were, but not recall who had written them.
I paused and looked at the man. He was silent, seemed unimpressed.
“Go on,” he said, “I’m listening.”
“No,” I said, “Tell me one of yours.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding. “My old neighbors had two children. All winter, they’d play out in the snow. They loved making snowmen. Then spring came, the snow melted. We had torrential storms. Still, I saw them one day, out in the rain, gathered the water from puddles and making rain men in the yard.”
Then the man pulled out a cigarette from his pocket and lit it against a passing firefly.
Reihana Robinson, Berlin Wall 1985
I remember the night I first heard them, those urban birds. Faraway chattering right at the vanishing point of perception, on that threshold of consciousness before sleep prevails. I’d considered with dismay that it must have been near dawn, and I’d not yet been asleep. Or maybe I’d only dreamed it, lightly, lightly, in my muddled sleep-deprived mind. I’d been dreaming some things lately – some unpleasant things.
But the birds were not a dream, I was awake. It was two a.m. Strange though, to hear the birds, their mechanical voices this early. So, I began to wonder. Why were the birds trilling in the dark? Their voices filled the night like peals of ringing bells. Like God? Or were they prophets of doom, warning of, or inciting impending catastrophe?
I stood at my apartment window but couldn’t see them. There were no trees. These two a.m. birds didn’t need them. Theirs was a concrete, steel jungle. Prehistoric in size, they walked in clans on muscular legs, affirming their territories. Puffed out breastbones, powerful pectorals, long feather cloaks. They worshipped the omni-glow of neon light. Big-eyed pre-dawn feeders singing about fast-food convenience. The urban night is full of blood, the earliest bird catches the prize.
The chorus grew louder, overlapping layers of urgent industrial whistling and squealing metal friction, shrill electric wailing. An unmusical sound overpowering the senses.
I returned to bed to wait for the pastel simmer of dawn.
I really have been dreaming the strangest dreams lately.
We’ve been driving for a long time, you and I, through this vast and dreary landscape. Outside our windows the grass is already turning yellow after a rainless summer.
“Aren’t they wonderful,” you say.
You’re referring to the streaks of colour in the fields of grass. But these waves and waves of cosmos flowers are just autumn’s attempt at covering up the ugliness; the last consolation before winter turns everything brown.
I don’t say this. The way you state your questions make it impossible to argue.
“Cosmos is another word for the universe,” I say instead. Stupidly. Of course you know that cosmos is another word for the universe.
You look at me, not unkindly. Your smile reflects the beauty you see in everything, no matter how dry or ugly or dead. The pinks, purples, whites amid the yellowing grasses.
When you speak again, you turn away from me and stare out the side window.
“This is the universe. Not just the stars and galaxies up there. This. You and me, in this car. The creatures living in these fields. For them, ‘cosmos’ has the same meaning.”
We carry on in silence. Soon we’ll arrive. It will be night time, and you will sit inside with a book, happily at home in your small and perfectly ordered universe. I will be outside – alone in the dark, looking up in aching, longing wonder.
Gold and silver
There’s magic in Uncle Tom’s field. The sooty snow furrows in the lane, the clean white expanse, pierced by a few green shoots, have gone.
Dandelions stud the grass, gold amidst green, millions of little suns looking up to the big sun in the sky. I’m out without a coat for the first time this year, in my new blue dress with shoulder of mutton sleeves.
We pick dandelion flowers to make wine, filling our buckets with sunshine, before Uncle Tom lets the cows out after the winter. They come one by one, slowly, blinking in the brightness. They move towards the gate, heads down, sniffing. Then, as they step into the hock-high grass, they speed up, canter, dance, leap. And I know spring has really come.
There’s magic in that field. Walking home along the lane one night, I look up. The sky is dark, blue-black like Grandad’s bottle of ink, sparkling with millions of silver dots. In that moment I am aware of the whole enormous universe. My feet slither to a halt on the gritty lane. I stand, awestruck.
Digby Webster, Surprise me!
The Last Fall
We rushed to the windows, jostled each other to teeter on desks, heels straining for balance, ties arrowing all ways. We pressed palms to glass, look, look, and turned our heads to ask, can we, can we? And our bosses nodded, yes, yes, because who would be that cruel, besides they were already at the doors themselves, so we cluttered and bumped and there was almost a crush, a few did fall but others hoisted them back up, people who’d never even said a good morning before, and outside there were more of us, spilling, swirling out of buildings, asking was it real – not just the artificial stuff used in museums – and we flew out our tongues, dodged dewy-nosed missiles; grew furred and freckled while the earth birthed soft bandages and buried the raw shrivel of our inertia.
What’s it called? somebody asked. We wiggled brows at one another, those few of us ancient enough, who’d seen airbrushed photos, back when light followed dark and we’d had untamed land to spare, but we couldn’t remember. We attempted breathy sounds: soufflé, slow worm, blush? The word wouldn’t come.
Then somebody said ‘joy’. Wasn’t it called joy? We cupped our hands around this joy, sifted it through each other’s fingers, nibbled its edges. Let its fullness in our mouths flurry our insides. And although we knew in our hibernated hearts that the word wasn’t quite right, knew we’d gotten this wrong like so many things, still, somehow, it seemed to fit.