Shanghai journey – Kate Mahony
Night – Jill Chan
Six days in Nelson – Annette Edwards-Hill
The Other Side of the Word – Nick Fairclough
You Have to Tell Her – T O Davis
Keepsakes – Philip Webb Gregg
Dreaming Backwards – Guy Biederman
A Late Lunch – Lita Kurth
Dry Valleys – Justin Hermann
Rubble – Ronnie Smart
The Perils of I-Spy – Linda Irish
Third Wheel – Lynn Mundell
Globe proper – Agnes Marton
Zeno’s train – Matthew Harrison
The Painter’s Garden – Tim Hawkins
Globetrotting Adventures – Katacha Díaz
Dad Smiles – Martin Porter
Rules of the High Wire – Stephanie Hutton
Interview: Guest Editors David Gaffney and Siobhan Harvey
Catherine McNamara – When Artistry Becomes Industry
People in Our Pages: Alvarez, Morton, Radojkovich
Interview: Eileen Merriman on Pieces of You
Interview: Sherrie Flick
All had seemed normal until the godwits amassed on the open spit, faced north-north-west and failed, day by day, to fly. They hunkered down, shuddering as if they’d flown headfirst into a window, slender beaks tucked in grey-washed breasts. The mass of them shuddering echoed the shifting of sand.
The Council fenced them off with orange cones and plastic tape. We offered stale bread but the birds were well-conditioned for the long haul to Alaska via Yalu Jiang, their bellies full of our estuary’s worms, fat-cells loaded, flight feathers trim and strong. Yet they stayed on the ground, stranded.
We considered our own culpability – you know the roll call, the proliferation of cellphone towers, fracking, heated air and melting ice. If so, what were we to do? Should we lift them, one by one, and toss them into the sky? Tell them they have a place but not here, not anymore? Perhaps they lacked the leader who would tell them, now, this is the time. Maybe they’d collectively decided it was no longer worth their effort. Some fault in their genes?
We heard that their shuddering ebbed away. The ones at the edges went first, the ones who bore the brunt of the easterly wind and driving rains. Workers in hazard suits grasped their bent wing bones and tossed the carcasses onto the back of a truck. If only, we said, if only they hadn’t chosen here.
About Heather McQuillan…
We are waiting in a queue of traffic on the crowded three-lane highway when the woman approaches the car. She has a small boy strapped to her back in a papoose. She comes to my window, gazes at me mutely and holds up a music CD for me to look at. Adele, I think.
Hualing says something sharply to her family’s driver who has been tapping his fingers against the idle steering wheel of the seven-seater Buick.
A sudden click and then my window is fully raised.
“I told him to lock them,” Hualing, who is our former exchange student, explains.
The woman stares at me some more, tiredness and resignation on her face. Then she moves away, crossing in front of us. The little boy is now clutching the CD in his hand.
He starts to cry, tears streaming down his face. His bellows float above the other noises in the street. He thrusts out his little arm in the direction of the car.
He tosses the CD in the air and for a second it lands on the sleek grey bonnet of the car before disappearing from view.
The cars in front of us suddenly begin to move, leaving a gap. The driver accelerates and the Buick, air-conditioning on full, surges through.
I turn to look behind us. In the gloom of the twilight other women with babies on their backs weave their way through the moving cars.
About Kate Mahony…
I’ve only known the night as full of stars, of lights, of holes. It has become the day grown old, weary. New days turned dark, all spark gone.
There was a point when I would look at the night and turn into a child, into someone I’d known all my life.
The cost of life is what? The death of light is not darkness but a dimming. Something stays, still.
Where is the dimming? Where is the light dying if not inside us? And is it a silence? Is light finally silent in its work, its dying? Does it work towards dark?
No, I don’t believe this.
Light’s end is never. Night’s end is the awakening of day, of the way to dream.
About Jill Chan…
Six days in Nelson
My father told me that when he was 13 he got on the ferry to Picton with his bike and his best friend Ron and they coasted off at the other end, single speed, all the way to Nelson.
The painter, Colin McCahon, biked through Nelson, I say. The year you were born. There’s a painting, just the bare bones of landscapes, no roads no people. Dad dislikes modern art and he frowns. He sent a letter to the newspaper to complain about a painting once; he said it was a monkey cage around a dying weed.
I tell him that McCahon fell off his bike and his knee bled. A red streak divides the painting, a wound. It was the sacrificial blood of Jesus.
Dad doesn’t have time for Jesus either and says the only blood that was spilt was when he asked his mother if he could cycle to Nelson, just him and a friend. But she let him go, five nights, two boys, saddle bags stuffed with their sleeping bags and packets of biscuits.
McCahon cycled an extra day, like the six days in the creation story, but I’ve lost him.
I see Dad on his bicycle. He takes a journey through an otherwise uninhabited painting; he’s a blur of brush strokes on the flat sections and a dark shadow of a resigned figure that fights the slick of oily paint on the hills. The sky is dark with the threat of rain and then he’s gone.
About Annette Edwards-Hill…
The Other Side of the Word
Keep digging, calls the Boss.
She keeps digging.
How long has she been digging? Weeks? Months?
Surely, she must be getting close.
Keep digging, the Boss instructs.
She continues to dig. She’s been doing this for so long now she no longer feels the pain of all her labour. She has almost become the digging.
On the seventh day she rests.
Get digging, the Boss calls to wake her Monday morning.
Brushing off the dust from her clothes, she has a sip of water, takes her shovel and starts to dig. Just as she has for so many days.
She digs for six days and rests every seventh. This goes on for months. Sometimes, the soil is soft like clay, some days it’s silty, and some days it’s hard as rock and it’s as if there’s no progress. Yet, she perseveres.
One day she hits new soil. It’s strange, very light and a different colour: white. She digs this for about half an hour, until she breaks through to the surface. She climbs out. All she can see is white. There’s no ground, no horizon, no sky. There’s nothing left to dig. The Boss has gone.
She has freed herself from matter, to the Other Side of the Word, where things that are matter, and do matter, no longer are or do.
About Nick Fairclough…
You Have to Tell Her
“I wish I could tell you why I have these adventures,” he said.
The room was not dark because the power strip they left plugged in the living room gave off a bluish light, and Bill could see the ceiling as he said this to his wife, but she was already asleep which is why he knew it was safe to voice this idea. It was not because he was afraid of his wife. But ideas were dangerous. They created islands, and if entertained long enough, they became continents. Eventually he would escape her, but for now he watched the blue light dance across the ceiling.
About T.O. Davis…
Philip Webb Gregg
I am bringing them back, all these waifs and strays, all of the even-ends and odd-beginnings.
I find them on my travels, pick them up from the bottoms of bottles and the peaks of cliffs. Places my work takes me. I have to journey often. It’s part of my contract. Really all I do is go from here to there and there to here, pulling tokens and gifts behind me like shadows. Remembrances of my ways.
And you are almost in despair. Shaking your capacious curls and spilling sighs every time I tell you, yet again: Look, my love. I have something for you.
We put them in the shed, or the storeroom where it’s warm, and you don’t have to look at them. They enjoy plenty of warmth and silence. They are like mushrooms: difficult to tell the poison from the sweet. They have been known to scream, though mostly they only whisper. Their language is as elusive as their meaning.
You will throw them out in the end, I’m sure. You will, tired and annoyed with my ways, tip these secrets out of your window and into the dark, where they belong. It’s a shame, because I feel sure they could have saved you. Could have saved us both.
Still, I suppose they were never really mine to give.
About Philip Webb Gregg…
I’m editing a friend’s 354-page manuscript for the ninth time and still catch 67 mistakes. I’m reading it backwards to keep from understanding anything besides a typo.
Last night when I went to bed, I dreamed backwards. You were in bed with someone else, a large and hairy, very fit man. A Spanish colonel. But I wasn’t jealous or anything. He got out of bed backwards, walked backwards to the bathroom, flushed the toilet did his business, showered, put on a disheveled suit and walked backwards out of the bedroom, down the stairs – pretty impressive.
The door slammed. The car backed out of the driveway and drove down the street in reverse. It started getting lighter. Your eyes were on me. Half hidden by the curtain, I had the feeling we were married or were going to be, but I knew someone was coming. The thing that stayed with me was all that hair on his legs. I’ve never been a hairy guy. But maybe it wasn’t too late.
I awoke this morning older and hairy in places I’ve never been. I looked at the manuscript, at its hidden typos, and retraced my steps to the bathroom, where I flushed first, feeling like I had been here before. That’s the way writing has always worked for me.
About Guy Biederman…
A Late Lunch
She was not the type I envisioned for Tom, not at all. I refused to meet her in my Manhattan home, my son’s inheritance. So we sat across from each other in a ‘nice’ restaurant with a vase of fake pink flowers, and cube glass to keep out the vision of passing cars and buses. She ordered peas, potatoes and a slab of meat. I had water.
I could tell she’d been to the beauty salon. Her hair looked as artificial as human hands could make it. Sequins glittered all over her dress. For lunch! And that gaudy bracelet! I saw it up close when she put her elbows on the table and fiddled with her hair. I lost it then. I stuck my neck forward, and whispered fiercely, “Go ahead. Take Tom! If you don’t mind my cutting him out of the will!”
She barely reacted. “You wouldn’t do that.”
I adjusted the napkin more firmly. “Let me tell you about Jenny, my other child. Know when I saw her last? When she joined a chorus line. My attorney can verify that she is well and truly disinherited.”
She leaned toward me, eyes narrowed. “But I’m having Tom’s baby.”
A sly one.
“Where would you like to raise it? Alone?” I asked. “Not New York.”
Her face broke into a fox-like grin. “California?”
“I can do one train ticket, one little bungalow, and a monthly remittance.” I reached for my checkbook.
She ordered dessert.
About Lita Kurth…
We were directed to bring pee bottles. A helicopter took me and Gina from Station to the Dry Valleys. We flew past Blood Falls, a frozen red waterfall, and landed near a lake so salty it rarely freezes, even in brutal Antarctic temperatures. Our job was to close down an 800-square-foot building for the season. The pilot said he’d be back tomorrow. He pointed past the building to a mountain, said we should walk later.
We scrubbed the stove with chemicals we brought, wiped grit from windowsills and corners, bagged bedding to wash at station, boxed food. Then we walked the direction the pilot said. The gravel felt loose. Each step, a deep impression. We went up the mountain. Before long we found a seal, naturally mummified. Yellow. Then another. This was forty miles from the ocean, over mountains, understand. A mystery.
Later we undressed, swam in that salty lake, a cold felt deep in our bones, something we wanted to feel once. Scars webbed across Gina’s hips, thighs. I tried not to, but looked often, the lake being shallow. Inside, we warmed ourselves with orange pekoe.
When the helicopter returned, we brought everything we could, even our urine.
About Justin Hermann…
The rock and rubble of the Sydenham Heritage Church at the corner of Colombo and Brougham Streets decided it was time to change location.
Very early one morning, without telling anyone, it journeyed into the Red Zone to be free. It travelled from deserted green space to deserted green space, out of sight of all but prowling cats and sleepy taxi drivers.
The residents regarded the enormous pile of weed-covered rubble as an irreplaceable feature of Christchurch. Without the welcoming sight of the debris of the demolished church, the corner was just another empty lot. Without it, drivers often missed their turnoff into Colombo Street, driving into Buchan Street nearby. Without it, the city had lost its spirit.
Children cried, and protest marches were held near the town hall. The city councillors summoned their cohorts to hunt for that fondly remembered pile of rubble.
Where was the rubble hiding? Not in the newly gentrified suburbs or in the new housing developments. According to reports, it was in Aranui. Although the council favoured other parts of the city, they travelled there, sending the Special Forces, the regular army, the student army, the child army, the preschool army, dogs and drones. They found nothing, however, except unattended but now unavoidable issues.
In fact, the rubble of the Sydenham Heritage Church was hiding in Bromley. Ten years later, it was spotted by a developer. The residents, accustomed to the empty corner of Colombo and Brougham, pleaded for the rubble not to return.
About Ronnie Smart…
The Perils of I-Spy
If you spy a piano on the back of a truck, it’s only natural to start tailing it. Accidentally, at first, but soon you can’t imagine doing anything else. Like when you buy a new outfit, for a wedding, say, and suddenly it’s your whole wardrobe.
If the piano tilts and wobbles around a corner, it’s only right that you flash your headlights, swerve in behind it at a lay-by. The truck driver will probably give you thumbs up and tenderly secure its harness, inspect its keys.
You can pretend to eat your sandwiches until it sets off again.
(It’s uncannily like the piano you donated to the village hall, when you knew for certain Holly wasn’t coming home. Sometimes the wind blows Mrs Arnold’s morning practice into your kitchen and you make an extra cup by mistake.)
Suppose you pass a sign for Dover? Your telescoping heart will almost certainly pitch sideways, your eyes full-bloodied with possibilities. What could you say, though? You were following a piano?
Your husband winds his window. “Hear that?” he murmurs. No. You sense only the grumble and grind of the road. But now here are notes, rising, billowing. They gust through your ears and burst like storm clouds inside your chest. Her favourite, from that film. With the piano on the beach.
“Something beginning with…?” You lean into each other and watch the piano toboggan joyfully downhill. Both hoping that the ties are strong enough to hold it safe around all those corners.
About Linda Irish…
They did everything together that summer, fighting boredom like matadors.
They harmonized to “Strange Magic” blaring from the jumbo speakers. Traded funny sunglasses shoplifted from the mini mart. Pooled their change for Coors.
But the carwash was always seven minutes.
All day Randy yelled Put it in neutral to the owners of Pintos-VWs-station wagons. Fred manned the switches from the air-conditioned booth inside: wash-rinse-wax. Cherry in her white short-shorts towel-dried the hubcaps-windows-tail lights, her nipples under the wet T-shirt pressed against windshields like two surprised eyes staring at aroused suburban dads anguished over whether to tip her.
Old people never could figure out how to get their cars on the conveyor track, so Randy got behind the wheel and Cherry started joining him.
Inside the carwash there was just the slap-slap of the giant cloth strips like kelp and the waves of soapy water. In the front seat, they taught one another how to climax in seven-minute cycles, going from dry to wet in no time.
Fred watched from his submarine-like booth. An uneven number. Breasts-buttocks-hands. Loneliness drove through him, over and over, leaving a wound that wasn’t clean.
About Lynn Mundell…
Comments like “You must sleep with maps under your pillow. I bet you’ll never want to stop.” remind me of the expression “Say when.”
When a rug dealer (no typo) grabbed me too close too soon, his idea of a summer romance, and dropped me (too real), he went through my rucksack just in case. I called him köpek, dog.
When I found it beyond me to blurt “Yes, sir,” the captain pulled my hair. Once, twice. The glacier was ready to calve. I swam to the shore to hug the frost, a designated sorescalp.
When a fierce attendant didn’t allow me on board a plane, I said I didn’t think she was a wolf. When she closed the gate, I admitted how wrong I was.
When I asked a waiter in the Philippines what the eraserish hors-d’oeuvre I had had was called, he chuckled, “Grilled swan.”
About Agnes Marton…
“You know Achilles and the tortoise?” asks the man opposite. In the station’s sunlight his hair, parted down the middle, glows like a halo, but his eyes are deep in shadow. A handlebar moustache, checked suit and waistcoat, and leather suitcase complete the picture – a traveller from another age. But this is Alpha Rail, with its ergonomically-designed seats, wi-fi, apps.
“Ye – es,” I say. Is he an actor? Or a plant from Alpha about to jump up and announce that I’ve won Passenger of the Month? I look back through the shafts of sunlight, but there is no one else in the carriage. No audience there.
“The reality – or otherwise – of motion?” he continues.
I grunt. Even the topic is so other-century – two gentlemen philosophising in a railway carriage.
“I contend,” this gentleman persists, “that Zeno was right. Motion happens, but never to oneself. One disconnects from moment to moment. As Heraclitus said, one never bathes in the same river twice.”
“Ah, the Greeks,” I murmur.
I check the app. Yes, the train is about to start. In moments this man will be proved wrong. He has turned to the window, the sun revealing deep hollows around his eyes. Insane – or too sane? Uncertain, I look down.
Now, almost perfectly smoothly, the train starts. Yes! I wait until we are in a tunnel, and then look up to make my point. But the seat opposite is empty. And the tunnel is no tunnel but the darkness of night.
About Matthew Harrison…
The Painter’s Garden
The garden of Doña Maria Flor del Campo verged on sumptuous wastefulness. Black squirrels fell from trees like the mangoes they consumed, sated on fermenting fruit in the hot morning sun. Fallen branches took root and grew in the fertile soil before becoming choked with lianas. The chortle of a stream marked a haphazard frontier with the looming rain forest, which Hector, the gardener, kept at bay with nothing more than machete and fire.
I sought her out on the advice of friends because of recurring nightmares and found the interior of her colonial house similarly overrun – by multitudes of canvasses she had apparently labored over but was unable or unwilling to sell, piled at my feet like the dirty laundry of a lifetime of lovers.
It took several furtive inspections before I noticed incremental layers of dust, and I formed the impression that the piles comprised a chronological life’s work. The entire retrospective might be catalogued by tipping the stacks like dominoes until the final canvas smacked linoleum, emitting an emphatic plume of dust.
“You must learn to practice forgiveness,” she told me. The nightmares ceased and I returned several times for tea, though never quite suggested a journey through her life’s work.
Afterward, Hector told me he had found her on a moonlit night, painting a large canvas in broad swatches of her own blood. I longed for a photo of the garden and at least one of her paintings, but all was consumed by fire and forest.
About Tim Hawkins…
Lola is a globetrotter. Today she joins Professor Hiram Bingham’s expedition in the snowcapped Andes Mountains of Peru. The explorers cut their way through steep hillsides of dense jungle in search of the lost city.
Finally, thirsty and exhausted, they reach the top of the mountain. A young Quechua boy is playing the quena, and the haunting sounds of the cane flute fill the air. The boy takes the travellers to the ancient granite stone ruins in the clouds. Machu Picchu, the mysterious lost city of the Inca, lies hidden by five hundred years of jungle growth — moss, tangled vines and bamboo thickets.
Another day Lola joins hikers in a tropical cloud forest in Costa Rica. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is home to a wide variety of tropical plants and animals. Some can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Lola can’t see any of the tropical animals yet, but hidden eyes are watching her. The loud roar of howler monkeys echoes through the rain forest. Red-eye tree frogs inch up leaves and branches, and tiny insects scurry past air plants growing on trees. Walking along an observation bridge suspended high in the treetops, Lola spots purple orchids, and colorful macaws and toucans flying wild.
Real life in a tiny mountain village in New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment,” can’t begin to compare with Lola’s newfound travel bug. Who knows what new adventures down the road will beckon from the shelves of the world on wheels, Bookmobile?
About Katacha Díaz…
Now I am picking up my suitcases. People like me are milling around, all lost. Dad smiles, says something about leaving the nest. I’ll miss him. He looks sad. It’s that look from long ago.
Once, we drove to my grandparents’ early. Dad said it would give us time to stop and visit Mum on the way. We bought lunch at the post office. We walked uphill to the church. Dad looked so old to me, sitting on a bench, staring straight ahead. He faded into the stonework behind.
So I played hide and seek with the shadows of grey stones. He put his hands on his knees, looked at me and smiled. Then he laughed, got up, chased me around the trees. His laugh sounded like Christmas, something we wanted but was long gone, or not yet come.
I remember I didn’t sleep that night. I dreamed badly. I thought I heard someone crying. It was only a nightmare.
I was ten, between schools.
Now I am eighteen, going to uni.
Dad walks me to my room. He roughs up my hair, smiles, leaves, says something about Mum being proud. She isn’t. She can’t be.
Too late, I say goodbye.
One Christmas, when I was small, I woke up and crept downstairs. Dad was sitting with Grandpa. I thought I heard him say, “Why do all the women I love desert me?” I thought he was weeping. But he couldn’t be – he was my dad.
I was only dreaming.
About Martin Porter…
Rules of the High Wire
Don’t look down. Focus only on your feet. Yes, it is more challenging in high heels and the restrictions of a silk dress. Exhale.
You catch sight of movement beneath you. Free runners, barefoot and shameless. They act as if a straight line doesn’t give direction, backing up on themselves to chatter. Feel nothing towards them; they make their own mistakes.
Face forward. Try not to notice how the clouds around you form themselves into fearsome faces. They are merely raindrops clutching together before a storm. Up ahead, the birds gather. They swoop and circle as one. Do not take the shapes they draw in the sky as a message to you.
Carry that burden on your back as if it’s weightless. Straighten up, don’t show weakness. Counter the weight with a light smile, nothing too showy.
As the skies darken for another long night, keep onwards. Walk the wire that you know is beneath your feet. Don’t become mesmerised by distractions of starlight and the calls of night creatures. They have no purpose, no journey, no glory to come.
Do not think about what happens when you reach the end of the line.
About Stephanie Hutton…