Blue Heron. Spirit Level. – Amy Paulussen
Cold Marrow – Paula Clare King
Counting on Life – Pam Morrison
Devil Wind – Amanda Barusch
Dunedin – Toni Wi
Finding my husband in the woods – Rose Collins
Friends – Keith Nunes
Gratitude – Tim Saunders
Grit – Tracie Lark
Hollow – Jenna Heller
Honesty – Jo Vernon
Ice cream – Susan Cheer
In his Image – Christine Cloughley
It might be that you watched everything from a long way off – Trisha Hanifin
Jellyfish – Eileen Merriman
Mount Alpha – Jac Jenkins
Shot For The Choc – Michael Botur
Tammy Wynette at the Esplanade Hotel, Devonport – VRL Thonger
Taxing the Nightingales – Norman P. Franke
The Island & The Prairie – Elizabeth Ho
The woman who dreamed she kidnapped children – Trisha Hanifin
Use three-dimensional characters – Jac Jenkins
Walk away, very carefully, in a straight line – Trisha Hanifin
War Child – Heather McQuillan
NFFD Youth Competition
NFFD 2019 Judges’ Report – Adult
Interview: NFFD 2019 Regional Prize Winners
Interview: Jeff Taylor, NFFD 2019 Winner
NFFD 2019 Judges’ Report – Youth
Interview: Hannah Daniell, NFFD 2019 Youth Winner
Interview: Cybella Maffit, NFFD 2019 Youth: 2nd and 3rd
Interview: Simon Brown, NFFD Youth Competition
NFFD Youth: If your story were a colour…
Book: Michelle Elvy’s the everrumble
The Boat People
Jeff Taylor, Hamilton
Regional Prize, Hamilton
All of my children have gone missing. I suspect the boat people next door, who are not refugees, but a bunch of miscellaneous ferals living in a vessel which is big and rotting on blocks. An abandoned project with flies spinning around the portholes and sacks for curtains.
I had about four, if I remember right. Or was it five? Their bedrooms echo like empty coffins, with small beds that have no-one left sleeping in them.
The Boat People squeeze evasive answers to my questions past their soggy roaches. The women have eye makeup as black as death and occasional teeth. Every one of them looks like a shell of the shell of their former lives. There’s also this mangy dog that spends all day chowing down on what looks like a tumour on its paw.
My anxieties have started glowing like they just got new batteries.
Their leader has this one eye that’s leaking bad, as if something in his head exploded, and a loser demeanour like he’s always been the one without a chair when the music stops. I’ve been asked over to share their recreational habits, they have guest syringes, they said. But I might never get to come back.
I thought about reporting to the cops, but they’re gonna want my children’s names, and an exact number. My wife would likely know, but she’s long gone off with what’s-his-name.
There’s a humming, and a vibrating, and a reeking, from that decaying boat in the prevailing wind. In the meantime I need some lines of communication, so I’ve decided to keep sending them messages in the empty bottles that I’ve drunk from.
Over the Fields from Ballyturin House, 1921
Rose Collins, Canterbury
Regional Prize, Canterbury
There is little chance now that I will get to tidy up my son’s hair. There are dogs that wait at home and grieve because they believe he is gone for good. There are such dogs. And the cat is still here – spooking the hedgerows and jostling the bruised gorse flowers. I imagine there are still greyhounds at Ballyturin House, and a pair of wolfhounds under the table.
There are fields that are more stone than pasture. There are fields that have heard the same voices skittering over them for years. Those fields heard the gunshots, craned to see the women get out of the car. The fields hid some of the men. Before the ambush and afterwards men crouched behind tangled bushes and shot their hands into their pockets, sweated and spat.
My Tomás gripped the Winchester and aimed for the windscreen. He thought of being told to dig his own grave – the auxiliary man, his rat-yellow teeth, leaning over him saying, ‘We’ll bury you bastards alive.’
Tomás fired the Winchester and the car’s windscreen shattered into stars.
There are stories I told young Tomás about the swan-children of Lir, and terrible regret, and about the bravery of Oisín, as I flicked my comb and clucked over his terrible matted hair.
The second woman didn’t make it out of the car. Her body was torn through. Three Englishmen too.
There are men that ran from the fields, running home after it happened so fast it was all a shimmer and the memory didn’t stick. Later when the Guards came for them these men were as surprised as anyone that they were already back home. The fields lay in the same places. The men hopped it for home, which was the place to be if you wanted to be found.
T Is For Tiger
Tim Saunders, Palmerston North
Regional Prize, Central Districts
Abort! Abort! The spaceman reaches out a gloved hand to push the big red button. I love this show.
There’s a lot of yelling. My sister’s big hair flying. The staccato clatter of slamming doors, the clutter of words in the hall.
I’m seven when Madonna releases Like A Virgin. I have no idea what a virgin is, but it’s cool. I want to be like one too. There’s a video of her on canal boats. With a lion.
I like lions, but I like tigers more. I have a tiger on my bed. He has red eyes. Then Weird Al Yankovich sings Like A Surgeon, and it’s funny. Cut for the very first time. Ha ha.
Mum screams at my sister. Dad reads the paper, but his hands are shaking. He scrunches it.
I was born on May 20, 1977. The first letter of my name is T. T is the 20th letter in the alphabet. Makes it easy to remember my birthday. T also stands for Taurus.
Taurus people have an eye for beauty.
Mum calls her a slut. There’s a headline on Dad’s newspaper about Roger Douglas. He’s in the news all the time, talking about adopting change, accepting development.
My sister stays in her room. I think she’s beautiful. I have an eye for these things.
T is the second most common letter in the English language. It is the most common consonant. Without it, the spaceman would just say Abor! Abor! Which doesn’t have the same effect.
Mum and Dad whisper in the kitchen. I hear the newspaper rustle in knuckled fists. They want to know who the father is. They talk about virgins, surgeons, adoption, change, can’t keep it, abort, abort.
T is for tiger.
His eyes are red buttons.
The Museum of Curiosities and Natural History
Heather McQuillan, Christchurch
The man with scarred hands spent the whole morning traversing The Curiosities of the Ocean and over the afternoon, while the rain wavered like corrugated iron sheets, he paced between The Bones Room and the ventriloquist dolls that lounge on the landing. When it came time to close, I said he should stay. He laid his mat between the skeletons and was complimentary about the way the dodo’s skull was arranged on its cervical vertebrae. He said it seemed quizzical with a degree of concern.
I read his thank you note, written in copperplate script, while old T.W. smiled benevolently from his oil portrait. He’d not planned on his museum becoming a doss house for the dispossessed but, as I told him, no harm done.
I directed Enya and Flicks to The Hall of Fashionable Knickknacks but they settled in our smallest room, for warmth they said, though I heard them giggling as I locked up. The Room of Ancient Dildos is restricted entry. The trustees had mooted barricading it but T.W’s will was clear. All the rooms. Always open. Tuesday through Sunday.
Enya and Flicks stayed on. We drank tea from ceramic mugs with Keep Calm slogans. I listened to their tales of woe and wisdom and the humour that lay sandwiched between.
The kids – I never got their names straight – guffawed at the dildos. I didn’t deny them entry though I’m sure they weren’t nineteen like they said. They camped with the puffer fish and a skate skeleton that reminded them of some social worker with a pointy head and smug smile.
Georgio lay down in the Mini Menagerie and never woke up.
When it snowed the museum filled to the brim. It had never snowed this far north before. The whole outside world is a curiosity now.
The sound a horse makes when it comes to drink at night
Wanda Barker, Raglan
My bones know the bigger bones of a horse, as it bends, drinks. Swoosh. Four litres, one gulp. The moon full, brooding. Sweet grassy breath. Susan Rothenburg said she wanted to paint the sound of horses drinking. On large canvas, full of texture. Bits of horses running through fog. She tried to pin the wonder of it down until she was warm inside. The thud and clump of horses gathering, drinking at night in the comfort of dark. All of it spilled from her, a tumble of mystery and power.
The horses I knew came through the peat mist to our fall-over fence, snickering. Their gleaming skins free of summer dust. Free of us. No bridles, saddles, shoes.
Nothing hobbled. We waited. Wild, trusting. They came. Sniffed with their long clever noses. Sharp teeth. Stepped back. Forward. Nuzzled. Licked. Pushed sinewy necks over the fence. Took carrots from our flat hands. Swooosh from the trough. Dad said those damn beautiful horses they’ve pushed the fence over again, soon they’ll be on the terrace…oh well, worse things. Riding came later. They stood steady while we swung our wiry legs over them. We ran on wide grass verges with blue cornflowers blooming along the fence. To Pirongia, bare back. Rope bridle. No bit. Into deep green rivers, clear and rocky. Their energy, guiding ours. They never mean to hurt; they can injure us by turning around in urgency to mind their young or the herd. You can’t be cruel. They don’t forget. They win. In the still dark they return night after night to the music of slurping water. We watch the full moon cast its silver along their strong backs.
Anna Granger, Whanganui
Nobody comes out here except the birdwatchers. They have no particular ages or faces and they dress to blend with the beach and the water. Cradling their binoculars like precious babies, they don’t talk or laugh among themselves. But if you ask them about the birds, they will tell you their special names, the desolate and beautiful places they travel from, and the many shades of their feathers and beaks.
The birdwatchers crave the salty smell of the mudflats. Every September they gather on the chalky drifts of dry shells and scan the sky waiting for the first migrants to arrive. They say they never get tired of watching how a flock of waders comes in to rest on the shells after their long flight, all facing the same direction with their heads tucked under their left wings, and how later they rise together in a quivering grey cloud, turn in unison and fly to the shallows to feed.
For many weeks they remain, resting and feeding, unafraid of those watching them, until one morning in late summer the birdwatchers come when the water flickers silver and the whole horizon is a still palette of soft greys. Then they will find the dazzling white shell banks deserted, and only a shimmer of mirage on the shore where the sand meets a strip of glittering water. And later in winter, when even the red-billed gulls have gone, they comb the silent estuary, slowly sifting the beach for the delicate white bones, papery skulls and lost feathers of those left behind.
Leeanne O’Brien, Auckland
Regional Prize, Auckland
He was right to shout at me. It was outrageous to wash from left to right, the cleansed stacked so closely to the fruit bowl at the end of the bench. Because what if the geraniums painted on its ceramic sides had gotten their feet in the water that dripped and dropped from the plates and knives and forks and pots. Why, there might have been flowers before the end of the day, blooms needing a disused jar and a decision on which smooth surface to stand them on.
Of course, it wasn’t that. The possibility of flowers. No. It was the lawlessness. In the cramped oblong of his kitchen, dirty dishes passed from the sink only to the left. No wonder he had to flense the air around my face. Where would it lead were this impertinence ignored. Think four evenings on. Who could say that I might not be out in the carpark telling the traveller packing wares back into the boot of her company car about him ⎯ the man who comes into my room in the night and pushes himself inside me.
So, after wiping his spittle from my face, the bib of my dress, I went outside to weed the vegetable garden. It was the turn of the spring onions. My small soldiers in an almost straight line. I love the way they can’t decide what colour green they really are. At their base, where the oxalis like to cluster and play, they’re not even sure green is for them. But, their tops. The deep emerald of a mighty king’s robe, his foes scattering at a wave of his hand.
Moving To Town
Tim Saunders, Palmerston North
Clouds hang half-mast on the Tararuas today.
We’re taking Dad to town tomorrow to be closer to Mum. My sister says it’s a good thing. I hear her packing her suitcase. She has an afternoon flight and a meeting she just can’t miss.
We’re taking Dad to town tomorrow to be closer to Mum. The cluster of sheds and tractors remain to remind me of shouts like fists to the jaw. I can see the hills from my south-facing window, crammed within parentheses on the horizon. The feathered paint of the sill crumbles under my hand, and I hear magpies and their onomatopoeia, Dad’s cavernous snores, a sheep coughing under the macrocarpas.
We’re taking Dad to town tomorrow to be closer to Mum. Past the For Sale sign they stabbed into the ground yesterday, its pine post pressed into rich silt loam laid down by an ancient river. I breathe fresh mist on the glass and follow the contour of ranges with one finger, a punch-drunk line along quake-raised mountains.
We’re taking Dad to town tomorrow to be closer to Mum. I notice a hawk watching from a totara post in the front paddock. Kahu and his carcass breath, like a silent space between violent words. I hold his blood-preened gaze as I wrap my heart in flax and bury it with rocks for warmth.
We’re taking Dad to town tomorrow to be closer to Mum. I study the undulating line traced on the window and wonder if truth hides in the lie of the land. And if the kinds of sins kids forgive unforgiving fathers for can really be swept to the side and sold to the highest bidder.
Dad’s moving to town tomorrow, to be closer to Mum.
Not a Vegetarian
Elena de Roo, Auckland
Lion on the Loose
the morning papers said
She found it hiding behind the shed
Used to humans
No danger to the public
So she fed it toast with Marmite, thinly spread
and decided to let it rest at the end of her bed
Lion still at large
Grave fears held for its safety
the evening news said
But she was watching Wild Planet instead
while the lion dozed (one eye open)
on her plush leopard print spread
He heard the hooves of antelope thunder across the savannah
felt the rush of sun-caked mud, under his paws
saw the air
fast and sharp
in an arc beneath him
and smelled the iron blood
of a carcass, freshly dead
felt only the caress
of a warm wind
as it breathed
ever so gently
ever so softly
ever so quickly
across her bed
Ms Sweetbread’s up late tonight
The neighbours said, shaking their heads
as they watched her television flicker
on and off
on and off
through the claret red
of her best velvet curtains
she’s always been dead keen on a good wildlife documentary
Lion Found in Empty House
Looking remarkably well fed
the next day’s papers said
Separated from That Which Cannot Be Separated
Craig Foltz, Auckland
Have you ever thought that an object could embody a person? Have you ever worn the head of a chisel around your neck in order to claim the soul of another? Have you ever defended spiritual places with nothing but skinny arms and earthly memories?
Three practitioners attempt to describe your world utilising heirlooms and artefacts.
The first practitioner wears a mask of ribbons meant to function like an arc of feathers. She says, “There is some confusion around the word confusion.” Everyone is in on the overpay and those whose aren’t traffic in the dissolution of meaning. We have nothing but our names. Some might say we don’t even have those.
The second practitioner makes the same mistakes over and over again. He says, “That’s not the only thing I’m good at.” He is the only one among us who can lay claim to the molecules he began with. He is the only one among us who can describe that which is sacred without asking those around him for a pint of blood.
The third practitioner is not a practitioner at all but tends burial gardens with hoops made of gold and asymmetrical sound waves. Genetic engineering. Radio frequencies. Sleepy, isolated villages. She tells us, “Oceans are not for casual wading.”
In the way that warm pieces of bread with butter and honey push time forward, identity politics cannot stay toothless forever. In the way that pairs formalise soft rays of light, shellfish will disintegrate into the irreverent. For instance, a bucket of finely crafted fingers and fake shark teeth.
And so – long, crystalline beaches of sand are formed. In some places, the ones who are pressed into stone will never be matched. In others, it is the stone itself which is treasured.
Blue Heron. Spirit Level.
Amy Paulussen, Christchurch
Her reflection is a grey, watery thing: feathered edges, shadows blue, and her look pierces the glass. She sees the fish beneath the surface tension. Light refracting, the perfect mirror of bird and sky, is nothing to her hungry eyes.
A beautiful killer, hunting to survive, balances on the mantel piece. Graeme said he’d put up a hook. He said she’d better leave it to him, said the nail needed to go in a stud. That was three years ago.
Whenever there are earthquakes, she hopes the Heron will teeter and dive. Shatter glass on the cold tiles, splintering the frame. She will snag in her beak his scaly good intentions, clamp down and hold.
His hammering sounds nothing like an earthquake but shakes the walls like a four-pointer. A shiny hook, yellow not-gold, juts like a mole from the creamy complexion of the living room wall. Spirit level and tape measure sit in the heron’s place.
Graeme holds her high, in his uplifted hands, victorious. And she is caught on his hook.
Paula Clare King, Manawatu
Intense white, why – yes, overproduction, there is something abnormal here. It is immature cells blasting in shouting, Shove over shove over shove over, and forsaking all others like erythrocytes and platelets – the immune travesty of it all in my cold marrow. A bag hangs on a pole, its drip counts the hour – it’s fear that keeps me grounded here.
And I want new jeans – even if I’m going to disintegrate. Denim blues, flesh flashing through, a patch of cells, they’re mine as these jeans, parading around in my new threads – each missing warp makes weft afraid. I am the lost girl who faints near the end of the bed, looking for a way out. That’s me, lost girl in isolation room existing
Lost girl in starched white sheets, bone disobedient to its core. A marrow drips through and feeds – it’s migrating through the tunnels, it’s trying to find a home in here. I live in isolation, white with a dash of red – Our Lady of the highway and Anthony of lost things pray for us now and at the end of our marrow and the cold.
There is a hole in my chest that dangles a tube leading straight to my heart just by my boob. Blood can be pulled, poison can be pushed and so I live – each skin scar a reminder of a different life. Blood stream flows chemicals – it makes me sick to make me… be here… longer. It’s an emptying, a killing off like scrub before the sowing.
My sister is the graft. I am the host. Ours is a communion of sorts. Her marrow takes to me, makes a home in me, obedient – allowing me to leave.
Counting on Life
Pam Morrison, Dunedin
The vacuum is not empty. It is filled with desire.
A bee is humming at the thin slice of open window. Its body is dusted yellow and it could be drunk, the way it bangs gently, insistently, at the inside edge of the wooden frame.
Donor: First used in English language in the mid-15th century, the word donor is adapted from the French word doneur. It stems from Latin donare, meaning to give as a gift. From the brother to the sister to the woman.
There are 23 chromosomes in one sperm, half the number of a single human cell.
A swarm has been ushered through the body’s gateway. These seeds are swimmers, their tails flailing and flicking. They surge like moths towards the moon. The light is irresistible. Hundreds, thousands, millions, one by one, they perish.
In late summer the evenings linger, as if reluctant to surrender to the dark. The brother, his sister and the woman, her long-time love, are lounging in mismatched chairs on a wide wooden deck. A sliver of moon, low-slung, is milky on the horizon. The woman is fingering a tendril from the overgrown wisteria, and the three of them are laughing at something remembered that will soon be forgotten.
The two women unfurl their arms as if one body. Their fingers interlace.
Under the drape of a turquoise cotton shirt, under the tawny summer belly skin, under muscle and ligament, amongst the vascular delta of vein and artery, and beneath the fallopian tube wall, a single sperm is burrowing, bringing 23 chromosomes in perfect match to 23 that are waiting.
A bee tumbles through the gap and loops into the gathering dark. Wisteria blossoms hang like grape clusters, musky and sweet with promise.
Amanda Barusch, Dunedin
Evening shouldn’t be this warm –
Mama squeezes my shoulder and tells about a man who tried to make the wind eagle stop beating her wings. As he climbed towards her nest, her wind stripped his clothes off piece by piece. He lost his hair and eyebrows. Just stood there naked.
Santana means devil in our language. The man on TV said the name is wrong. He said, “The proper name is Santa Ana . . .” Imagine wind named for some Spanish saint and the people too lazy to say the extra a!
The sun comes up dirty when Santana rolls through.
We’re shut inside, Mama and me.
You don’t close drapes against Santana. Better to watch the desert unhinged. Tumbleweeds bounce in gigantic arcs. A rusty slab of corrugated tin makes slow gyrations above the barn. Dust devils pirouette through fields sucking moisture from the crops. An invisible hand rips out the mulberry tree – roots dangling in the desiccated air.
Fire to the west. Smoke blacks out the sun. Santana’s churning. Get ready for a night of howls and whispers. Walls shudder; beams moan. Fingers of dust sneak under doors. A window cracks. A puppy howls.
Morning sun shines clear with colors so sharp they hurt: blue sky, white stones, purple mountains. A faraway chain saw cuts the silence. Mama sleeps on the sofa.
I slip outside down the path to the corral. Trash snuggles in the bottlebrush: plastic bags, baling wire, a Barbie doll with no clothes at all.
It’s time to feed my hungry little mare still hunkered there behind the hay, black tail tight against her rump, her eyes swollen shut, leaking sludge. She smells me and nickers but she still can’t see all those stiff black birds scattered across the field.
Toni Wi, Christchurch
Dunedin is an unfair memory. A place of drunken camaraderie, civil war between North and South, misunderstandings, greater understandings, the base and the profound like two halves of the same coin, wedged underneath a couch cushion on a couch that is on fire. Nowhere else in the country can you feel as safe walking alone at night, so in tune with the aimless motivation of youth. See where the vomit-strewn pavement will take you. Say hello to a man in an animal suit sometime after midnight, re-purpose a discarded supermarket trolley. Tuck away an unknown poem found in a sun-drenched corner library. Carry it around with you for a few years before reading it again in a book by T. S. Eliot. Find poetry, find love. Find shame and guilt and fear and isolation. But find it again and again, so the city wraps you in layers to protect yourself.
Dunedin is a place where you want to be new, but not new, the two worlds colliding on the front page of the Otago Daily Times. You can never escape the burnt coffee smell, or the sharp aftertaste of a cranberry and vodka.
Dunedin is a turn of phrase, an afterthought, a footnote in a thesis. Or it is the Leith in full flood, threatening to burst the banks.
Dunedin is pocket universe. Time doesn’t exist in Dunedin.
You are an unfair memory.
Finding my husband in the woods
Rose Collins, Whakaraupo, Canterbury
It’s as I’m toiling up the long dirt track under dark trees with the dog next to me that I come across you. You’re holding an axe, raising it up over your head and bringing it down with a thunderous thump into the heart of those great rounds of wood – the remains of the yew tree’s limbs, dismembered now and cast about in the undergrowth. The dog bristles.
You’re wearing a knitted woollen hat – forest green – and a plum-coloured jersey, so there is something of the elf about you it has to be said, though there’s nothing elfish about what’s going on with the axe.
Each swing upwards is like the breath held and every time the cutting edge connects with the wood there’s a gruesome exhaled shiver through me, the dog and all the trees nearby. The broken rounds fly out in all directions.
I call out, ‘Hello,’ but all you yell back is, ‘Timber!’ and ‘Get out of the way!’
It is odd how we keep meeting like this.
Keith Nunes, Lake Rotoma
He’s talking to me and I’m watching her talking to them.
She’s always been the woman I wanted to kiss.
And she has always been married to him. He talks enthusiastically about whatever he is talking about which is rarely anything I want to listen to.
I only listen for her to say my name.
Once or twice every visit she says my name. No-one else says it like she does. A sort of humming warmth, a sensual rendering of an ordinary name.
I look at him speaking because she has left the room. It’s then I realize that I haven’t been subtle about watching his wife. I realize that he knows I’m completely in love with her, that he has known for the 10 years we’ve been friends.
My face heats up but my body shivers as though I’m having a mild stroke.
I wonder at his ability to talk about nonsense while stabbing his adversary to death with that look.
I take a step back and feel like defending myself, fighting him off physically.
I turn as she comes back into the room. She stops hard, looks at her husband, then me and comes towards us.
My wife appears, clasps her arms around me and kisses me with something between passion and anger.
When she releases me they’re gone.
Tim Saunders, Palmerston North
This was ages ago, before the Big Tex at Foxton fizzed, before shit floated down the river to the beach.
We waited in the back seat as patiently as we could while Mum went into the office and rang the bell for attention.
You asked how much further it was to Grandpa’s farm, and I said shut up. Then you asked when we would see Dad again, and I said shut up, egg. We watched Mum come out of the office and go around the back of the units. I told you to wait there, and you asked me what vacancy means. I told you it means for the last time shut up.
A couple of gulls fighting over a fistful of chips in the carpark squawked at me like they owned the place. I told them to shut up.
We found the manager out the back, scooping leaves from a pool as blue as the day was dark. Mum asked if there was a unit available, and the man said sure, just one night? And Mum said yes.
The manager said no worries, Unit 3 is nice and tidy, and you won’t even know I’m here, I’ll be as quiet as a mouse. I wondered what he meant, because I’d heard mice scream like bastards when they were trapped. Then he told us about the young kids who had broken the windows in Unit 1 and written rude words on the walls, and how his wife died in December. She’d done all the talking, he just fixed things that needed fixing.
I watched the feathered paint flake like sunburn from battered weatherboards while a black and white sky brought news of a storm at sea.
Not once did he mention Mum’s black eye or try to fix us.
Tracie Lark, Whangarei, Northland
Grit on the classroom floor. Overflowing bin. Usual teacher’s crap everywhere, I stuff it aside to sit. The kids are pretending to work and I’m pretending to care about them being on task – it’s all for show because everyone knows that no one works for the casual teacher.
Kid hovers in front of me, wants to talk about love and its meaning, how people only love the outside of others now, not the inside. I nod in agreement. Kid goes on to tell me he’s tried to kill himself thirteen times then states that his preferred method is by hanging. I’m nodding at him, asking him to step outside while I formulate a crisis plan for this kid so I can cover my ass and save his and he’s telling me about his PTSD and his OCD and his anxiety and his anorexia and I’m nodding to show I’m listening as I sift through the medicine cabinet in my mind looking for the cure I usually dose myself up on for my anxiety, my PSTD, my depression and my contemplation with death and I even think as far back as my uncle who killed himself and that time I found my dad trying to gas himself in the car and I’m still nodding and formulating my action plan that will make the hierarchy take this kid from my hands so I can keep them clean if he does go home tonight and hang himself.
All I want to do is give him the best lesson I’ve ever learned in my life, that there’s no point, because if you kill yourself you don’t kill the problem, it still exists in the world, because the problem ain’t in you, kid, but that kind of lesson isn’t on the curriculum.
Jenna Heller, Christchurch
She runs. Arms stretched like a jet-plane, wind rushing past her ears, weaving between paper birch and pussy willow in full furry bloom. Blue jays squabble at the feeder and a trio of black-capped chickadees flit from limb to limb. Sharp words punch through the pale blue siding in staccato as she circles the perimeter, brushes her fingertips along the chain-link fence until they are numb. The fence that keeps the wild out and her out of the wild.
And as the voices continue to explode through the cladding, she climbs up, swings a leg over and hesitates. A door slams and she startles, accidentally sits on the spires, feels two sharp points poke through her jeans. There’ll be trouble later on. A gust of wind whips the tree tops and she quickly drops to the ground, splitting the denim further, then charges through tangled thickets and thorny brambles. Her cheeks burn beneath the sugar maple and sycamore blazing in full autumn costume. She dodges poison ivy running rampant and hurries all the way to creek, the one that twists like a black snake deep in the cool woodland shade.
Is she far enough away to hear the grasshoppers chirp? The mosquitos sing in her ears? The near-silent swish of coyote loping through dogwood? She scrambles along the water’s edge, follows fox prints all the way to the stone crossing, then holes up in her favourite tree hollow. Dinner is a long way off.
Jo Vernon, Auckland
Her name was Honesty.
She was asked a long time ago, what her values were. ‘Dunno,’ she had replied. In truth she didn’t know what a value was, had heard it talked about, had seen it written in those long and inherently useless self-help books she had collected over the years. A value seemed like some big expansive thing, without boundaries or definition, without any sense of realism. How then, she had come to discover hers is where the telling of truth begins.
She wanted a home, for her and her baby. A fresh start, new beginning. Back with Mum, she said. She didn’t talk about the insults, the threats. That’s not something they asked.
Before that, she wanted work. An income, pride. Pregnant she said, only just, but pregnant all the same. She didn’t talk about her desperation, her fear. That’s not something they asked.
Before that, she wanted community. Companionship, love. I’m OK, together, she said. She didn’t talk about the nightmares, how the drugs helped. That’s not something they asked.
Before that, she wanted education. Knowledge, a future. I’m trying, I can do it, she said. She didn’t talk about her midnight visitor, her shame. That’s not something they asked.
Honesty wanted to forget. Would it help if she could? Moving forward seemed so hard, the stories of her past always a heartbeat away.
See self-help books! This value thing doesn’t work. Honesty doesn’t work.
The glimmer of a thought, the tiniest of seeds. Maybe Honesty wasn’t her only name… maybe she had another – one that needed to be acknowledged. It couldn’t be, she couldn’t be… but maybe, just maybe…
You wouldn’t ask. I would have told you everything.
Hear me now.
My name is Bravery, and this is my story…
How to Grow a Jerusalem Artichoke
Hamish Ansley, Hamilton
I am seven. I sit in a square of sunshine on the classroom floor. Room 16, Mrs Williams. My legs folded pretzel beneath me. The dictionary spreads its wings on the state-school carpet. I lick my thumb and turn the pages, old-testament thin, like ash between the fingertips. I am the fourth tallest in the class, but I can spell more words than anyone. Ichthyology. Tachycardia. Recalcitrant. We learn about the birds that migrate between Alaska and the East Coast and I can name them all by their silhouettes. We cut them out with safety scissors and the teacher staple-guns them to the wall above the whiteboard. Shoots one through the godwit’s beak to hold it flat. We visit the Miranda Shorebird Centre on school camp. We gather like bees in the hexagonal hut while the DOC worker1 in long wool socks and green Timberlands talks to us about the birds. The wrybill. The pied stilt. Does anyone know what pied means, he asks. I raise my hand. Straighten my back like Buddha. It means two colours, I say. Back at camp, so-and-so’s mother says I’m very bright, aren’t I, and serves me extra roast potatoes at dinner. But she doesn’t know that sometimes I cheat. When the teacher asks me to alphabetise my spelling words, I open the dictionary and choose them
1The author wishes to clarify that the Miranda Shorebird Centre is operated by the Pūkorokoro Miranda Naturalists’ Trust, an independent charitable organisation that does not receive funding from the New Zealand government. It is for narrative purposes only that the ‘DOC worker’ is misnamed as such.
Susan Cheer, Christchurch
Do you have a favourite flavour of ice cream? The flavour that reminds you of journeys in beat-up Bedford vans out along the shingle roads to west-coast beaches. It reminds you of running up tussock covered dunes with a pulled-apart cardboard box looking for that perfect ride down to the beach below. The flavour that tastes like salt and brine, that tells of caves to explore, the exoskeletons of dead sea creatures, and the bead-like seaweed that pops when you squeeze it. At the end of the day, you drag your tired body back into the van, pockets filled with shells, happy and worn-out. And on the way home you always stop for ice cream. My favourite flavour was orange chocolate chip.
There were other ice cream moments when I was young, ones that were devoid of treasure. Moments where the sun did not shine through wave-tossed sea-glass. Instead I collected a heart of jagged stones that tugged me beneath the white-capped waves where I pretended that I could breathe water. In that muffled place where screams are lost, I listened to the tired drip of the shower nozzle; it counted his footsteps in the hallway. I dreamed of sun-bleached driftwood, but felt only the naked, undressed oak floorboards pressed rough against my shoulders. They grazed the soft skin at the base of my spine and bruised hard on my wrists where he held me. I wished that they were the sun-baked boards of an old dingy. But they were the land-locked, unforgiving choice to stop fighting. That night tasted of giving up. I never thought that choosing not to fight would taste like the boysenberry ripple ice cream I had eaten for dinner. But it did. That never was my favourite flavour.
Impressions on the Ward
She just goes sky eyes. Barely moves until they all wander in next morning like good fairies, come to kiss and wake up the princess. Is that why she hardly slept. The has age, beauty and presence. They surround her and plump the pillows. They bring her food and help her eat. They talk and laugh around her, heavy with their own way of being, which permeates the ward space like water. I was alone. I needed you then, to make me part of it. I know you cannot handle hospitals.
The young girl is playing a drum solo on the basin, her hands moving fast to her own internal rhythm. I think she is bored. Really doesn’t get why all the fuss maybe. The polisher laps up the floor, growling like a big, hungry dog. The cleaner is Maori too.
She greets the visitors with grace. She opens the windows to let in the fresh air. The nurses promptly shut them again, without comment.
The lady in the other bed has visitors now. Her husband and daughter I think. To be honest, it’s a bit of a relief because they are Pakeha. I think perhaps they will greet me. They do not. They do not fill the space either. They turn their backs to the room, talking in a tight, quiet unit, eloquently saying things without words. They stop short of drawing the curtains.
I lie here writing impressions in my head. Perhaps if my girl was alive, she would come and see me. She might bring pizza and coffee. Certainly she would bring me her words. Are you there, girl? Can you please smoke words into my mind, so they can colonize this blank page, moving about until they weave themselves into our stories.
In his Image
Christine Cloughley, Tauranga
He looks like Jesus.
He looks like the picture of Jesus from her Sunday school days.
He looks like her son unwittingly looking like the picture of Jesus from her Sunday school days.
But without the serenity.
Man child beard, shoulder length hair, gaunt face made of cheekbones, starving frame of bones and lankiness.
He looks like Jesus must have looked with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
She wants to touch him, squeeze him, succour him. She edges closer.
Fuck off he says.
No more the wasp stung gravel grazed broken bone child of youth.
But still in pain.
The damage showing in tissue white skin, hunched bird shoulders, hands gripping jittery thighs, a hoodie covered gaze.
You need to go to hospital.
The only sound a rapid banging as his leg hits the edge of the table.
I’m not going.
She tries again. You’re sick. You need to go to hospital.
I told you fuck off.
You have to go.
Silence as she watches him tear the cuticle from his fingernail. His hands trembling.
Then the sucker punch. She sits for a half beat, the Judas words leaving her mouth as her sense of betrayal threatens to stifle them.
I’ve had you committed.
She sees fight turn to flight. Hunted. She tightens the noose.
The police will come if you don’t go.
It’s the hurt and bewilderment that nearly undoes her.
He doesn’t look like the picture of her Sunday school Jesus any more. He looks just like her little boy.
It might be that you watched everything from a long way off
Trisha Hanifin, Auckland
It’s true that night you walked by yourself along the riverbed, that the moon came out from behind the clouds. It was almost full. You sat on the bank and listened to the water, smelt wild mint and the muddy musk of eels circling between tree roots. It’s true you felt peaceful and fell asleep, and then, when you woke, you were no longer alone.
It might be that you watched everything from a long way off; the view might have been obscured. You might not have seen anything much or, later, remembered who was there. No face, no name. What you do remember is the moon coming and going between the clouds and water rushing over round grey river stones.
A lot of things happen on river banks – people go fishing, families have picnics, kids go swimming in water holes. Couples park up at night. Sometimes there are parties: people get drunk and stoned and sing, mostly out of tune. And sometimes things just get nasty.
Of course you know that bad things happen: you’ve heard stories that won’t leave you alone, seen things that echo in your head – round and round they go, clanging like church bells. There’s that image of bare feet kicking, of someone’s legs shining white in the dark.
It’s also true that you no longer walk alone or go down to the river, or listen to the water, or feel peaceful, even though it’s still possible it might not have happened to you.
Eileen Merriman, Auckland
My boyfriend asks for a selfie of my private parts. I say, but then they won’t be my private parts? He messages back with pleading words, lotus and velvet and I’ll send you a photo of mine. I text, I don’t want a photo of your not-so-private parts. Why don’t you send me a photo of your abs instead? Boyfriend replies with words like objectify and body image and expectations, along with a photo of his penis. The image flashes up when I’m in a meeting with a client, talking about the best way to advertise their new cream, which is meant to take ten years off your face. After telling my client I need a drink, I duck out of the office to send angry words back, like out of control and harassment. Boyfriend messages, how is it harassment when you’ve seen it so many times before? I send him a photo of my middle finger, and get the wrinkled underside of his scrotum in return. My boss, wandering past, says, ‘what’s that, some kind of sea creature?’
I escape into the loo and fire back mortified, OMG and a photo from the Internet of a jellyfish. Boyfriend texts: WTF? Jellyfish isn’t a lotus or a vagina. Jesus. My client texts, are you OK? I reply, getting coffee, do you want one? Then I take a selfie of my bare buttocks and send it to perverted boyfriend.
When I walk back into my office, holding the coffees, my client is squinting at her phone. ‘Somewhat unconventional,’ she says, ‘but why not? Smooth as a twenty-something-year-old’s bottom.’ My phone dings, with what turns out to be the last text ever from disgruntled boyfriend: trust you to talk about coffee during phone sex. Send your jellyfish to someone who cares.
Jac Jenkins, Kohukohu, North Hokianga
The greywacke scree rocks and slides beneath my feet. I am alone above the bushline.
I’m not alone above the bushline; over there sits a scruff-haired man with a scuffed sketchbook. He is engrossed and hasn’t noticed me.
He notices me, looks up, and back to his pad. I have been dismissed; this is unusual. I am considered captivating. I tug off my beanie and toss my locks a little.
I cease tossing my hair, let the wind work its fingers instead. Step closer. He is eulogising eyebright and buttercup in ink.
He stops eulogising eyebright, scratches his nib coarsely across the page, cursing. Takes an old stemwinder from his pocket, consults it myopically. I can’t wear a stemwinder.
I can wear a stemwinder but they always wind time down, one hour taking too long to pass. It’s my magnetic field. My object of attention remains unaware of my magnetism, my tousled hair. He repockets his watch and tucks a heel under each thigh before leaning forward so his shoulders touch his knees.
His shoulders don’t quite touch his knees I see when I move closer still; he is not as yoga-flexible as me. He turns his head, although this is not recommended in his position. “What can I do for you?” he says. I put on my beanie before my thoughts come spilling out.
Shot For The Choc
Michael Botur, Whangarei
Regional Prize, Northland
Safe in my Plexiglas interview booth, I slide through an Ethics Committee-licensed bribe: a Mars bar and a child-sized juice. In exchange, you sign the consent form. Fine print, schmine print. Signed? Mint.
So tell me where you grew up. Tell me bout the morning-after-parents’-party beercan with a cigarette butt that made you throw up. Tell me bout your father, the snarl of his Harley. Tell me bout hidings. Tell me bout hiding from the hidings. The aunty in Ngaruawahia. Sleeping in a skate bowl. Cold concrete. Hot Kronic. The surprised eyes of the dairy owner. Ciggies and liquorice whips. 18 bourbons for breakfast. Brag to me – I’m here to listen! – bout the jawbones cracked with baseball bats. Bail tomorrow, you reckon? Depends what mood the judge is in, heyyyy. Clink your juicebox on the Perspex, cheers. Imaginary beers.
Course you’re gonna be guilty, realistically. You’ll be remanded in custody and couriered to maybe Wiri, Pare or Ngawha, nah, faaaaa, dispatched too far for whanau to drive a dodgy-radiator car, weekly visits, nah G, try once a month for me, no sleep at night, clutch the blanket tight, make a beef bone a bayonet if you wanna survive.
So the form’s done now – eight minutes twenty five. Summed up your life.
Thanks for the data, you’re heaps of help to the university.
‘And shot for the choc,’ you tell me through gooey brown teeth, chirpy, as if we’ve been hanging out. A spark of pleasure in your amygdala, suck the caramel from the cavity between your teeth, momentary morsel of glee.
After the interview, tear off the suit. There’s a mirror in the changing room. It’s hard to look at you.
Tammy Wynette at the Esplanade Hotel, Devonport
VRL Thonger, KeriKeri
On day one, the receptionist warns us girls that the staircase to the Ballroom is out of bounds. Minutes later, the two of us take up the challenge and creep down through heavy doors, our footsteps dust-muffled, into a cavernous, dim space, sheets covering piled chairs. Looming in the darkness, a jukebox.
Our mother spends hours at the back of the hotel’s fusty lounge, on the phone to her ‘slister’. We’re mystified: we have no aunts. She puts her hand over the receiver and frowns if we try to listen in. You and I would never use that tone; we’re a team.
Armed with coins sneaked from our mother’s purse, we plug in the jukebox and pick a song labelled C&W. Syrupy guitars and whiny voices wash over us: we laugh. No one comes to complain. We practise our American accents and play table tennis in semi-darkness – we’ve found folding table, balls, bats. Neither of us thinks of testing the light switches.
Our father finds the hotel, but he’s not allowed in. He opens the car door and calls, voice cracking, Darlings, darlings! I cuddle up and tolerate his smothering kisses – I’ve missed him – but the warmth disappears as soon as he turns to you and says, She left me a note on the kitchen table, nothing else and demands you sit in front to answer his questions. Because you’re older.
Tammy Wynette is on repeat-play; her voice cracks with overblown emotion and we act out every phrase: her pitiful little boy! The tears dripping down her cheek! And the highlight, that bit about ‘custardy’ being a hurting word: we mime custard fights and die laughing.
When we’re out of coins and go back up, our mother’s packing. We’re leaving. Words we can already spell begin to take on meaning.
Taxing the Nightingales
Norman P. Franke, Hamilton
On a New Zealand trip, my granddad learned the word whanau. Since then, he has sent me glossy pamphlets he wrote with old school friends. He calls them his whanau letters.
In a decree from 1351, everyday life in E. was regulated. The decree dictated who could sell country wine and that it was not to be mixed with foreign stock and could only be sold after worship. Meat fattened with pomace had to be hewn behind the Synagogue. Paying wedding guests registered for 16 courses.
Does granddad send this to impress me and my mates from the history workshop?
There’s mention of later attempts to dampen extravagant celebrations in Socialist marriages. For the 32nd anniversary of the GDR a bride and groom drove up to the market square in a Mercedes 770 convertible which had carried Pope Pius XI and Hitler before. A photograph shows an elite athlete of Turbine, Granddad’s team, who with the bride left the registry office under a tunnel of ice hockey sticks.
Granddad sends 100 Euros a year for my hockey equipment.
A police ordinance of 1815 prohibits the trapping of nightingales and decrees that anybody keeping a nightingale had to pay 10 thalers annually, which was to be delivered to the school board according to the payer’s denomination. They hoped for a lively competition between the religions. During Granddad’s childhood, the whole city was still resonant with nightingale song on summer evenings.
I have never heard a nightingale but email back, that’s very poetic.
Enclosed in a letter, Granddad sent two 50 Euro notes when I won a school award for poetry and Te Reo. He wrote his friend Sulamith had a nightingale that refused to sleep in a cage at night. He had not heard from her since 1941.
The Island & The Prairie
Elizabeth Ho, Auckland
Your father: greying, rain-licked high-rise apartments
single yoked lotus paste mooncakes ((black sesame))
night markets overflowing with scooters, smoke, stinky tofu and clouds of black hair
betel nut beauties
bridges that house alley-way butcheries, vegetable stalls, boxes and bins of dried herbs, traditional medicine, spices
the smell of incoming rain, fish, the subtle quiver from an earthquake,
and the blue tarp that fails to catch the blood
from the pale pig carcass as rain washes down the concrete steps and over
Your mother: flat, hard-packed earth
cinnamon speckled pumpkin pie (嬰兒 食物)
malls overflowing with cars, corporations, industrialized food and seas of teens
strip club billboards
roads that intersect, crisscross and divert to empty suburbs, elephantine stores that house everything ever needed, privatized hospitals
the smell of April rain, livestock, the beckoning wave of corn crops,
and a bouquet of bruise-colored hydrangeas from the bush out front
me ((your mother)) wearing an iridescent dress as our words wash over us
The woman who dreamed she kidnapped children by Trisha Hanifin
Trisha Hanifin, Auckland
On the footpath a small boy stands alone, a fringe of blond hair shading his eyes. He holds a bunch of yellow balloons.
‘Hello,’ she says, ‘are you going to a party?’
The boy shakes his head.
‘What’s your name?’
He starts to cry so she takes him home. In the bathroom she washes his face and combs his hair. In the kitchen she gives him a bowl of ice cream. When the bowl’s empty he falls asleep. She puts him to bed in the spare room.
In the school hall, the end-of-year concert and prize-giving. Backstage a man in faded jeans and a cowboy hat runs his tongue across his bottom lip and smiles: tombstone rows of tobacco-stained teeth; eyes the colour of dirty ice. A little girl peeks from behind him and reaches for her hand. She removes a silver ring and gives it to her.
At home the boy’s still asleep. She gets another pillow, puts it at the other end of the bed and tucks the girl in. The children are small; there’s empty space in the center of the bed.
In the park, girls stand on the grass beside a willow tree covered in leaf mold and mud. Tears roll down their cheeks. A man wearing jeans and a cowboy hat watches them from the bridge above the pond.
She raises her hands. Sunlight catches her silver rings, creating a shield of light. The girls move from the shelter of the willow tree. Geese glide across the pond. She scoops up the girls’ tears, carries them home, puts them in a wooden bowl and places it in the space between the sleeping children – all of them hostages and nobody but her to demand a ransom.
Use three-dimensional characters
Jac Jenkins, Kohukohu, Northland
Joe was as two-dimensional as a Picasso linoleum cut – flamboyant certainly, but flat. He folded into creases when he sat. You could do a three-sixty around him and twice in the circuit he’d become a vertical line.
Joe dressed in paper like a paper doll, his clothes tabbed at the shoulders and hips; he was a sharp dresser, but vintage. Unlike Ken he lacked a manly bulge, but made up for it with his trapezoid torso.
Joe spoke in bubbled speech, cutting and dry-witted, erudite but his words lacked depth. You could tear his proposals to pieces, leave them scattered on the floor like litter. His snores spelled purr when he slept.
Joe could slip under a locked door when the gun-packing villain had the only key in his pocket. He was a skilled shadower of suspects. Sadly, he was easy to counterfeit by Xerox. He often flew by origami but preferred planes.
Joe could fold himself in half seven time, become a solid cube – acting out of character but never out of choice and only for a chapter. Joe died by guillotine.
Walk away, very carefully, in a straight line
Trisha Hanifin, Auckland
When you wake, turn over and sit up carefully: keep your head still; wait until the pulsing and ringing in your ears eases; when you want to stand, gently push off from your heels; stay close to the walls and walk in a straight line – the mornings are generally worse.
Even though you feel you have the rolling gait of a sailor on a tall ship, move steadily as if wading through water; keep your head still; resist the urge to bend or stretch; sit quietly; if you wish, press the spot above the bridge of your nose between your eyebrows – your third eye – many people find this helpful.
Move slowly through the world: it’s already spinning at thirty kilometers per second around the sun; if you stand still you can feel it – it’s like the thrumming of a great engine; if you’re mathematical, calculate how many kilometers per hour we’re moving; if you’re literary, remind yourself Jonathon Swift, Emily Dickinson and Philip K Dick were fellow sufferers – as you lurch and sway through the day, not having written a word, you can admire their achievements.
Avoid stress and strong emotions: if you’re experiencing anxiety be comforted, it’s a natural response to sensations of loss of balance; keep your head still and remember to breathe; don’t watch or listen to the news or engage with social media – it will just increase sensations of spinning, swaying and nausea.
Don’t meet with ex-lovers or fair-weather friends: it’s hard to keep your balance when your heart’s sinking; don’t stand there like a stranded whale – your hold on the world’s already tenuous, don’t make it worse; keep your head still; remember to breathe. Walk away, very carefully, in a straight line.
Heather McQuillan, Christchurch
Outside, a pack of wolves: their mouths splinter branches, snap twigs. Their eyes are yellow. I cannot see them from where we hide but I know them from nightmares and schoolyard stories.
“Animals,” my mother snarled but then she did not come back from town. We heard their howls that night, echoing from our hills.
Gamma grasps my arm, rubs rough thumbprints across my skin. “Hush, they are just passing through in search of food.”
But they are not content stealing crops. They tear the fields into shatters, lift up roots, and set our homes afire. They sniff for us as we huddle beneath the floor of the packing shed. I’m sure they can sense the human heat of my belly so I press flat into numb earth. I smell their fetid breath.
Beside me, Gamma whispers words to a God who has abandoned us. Abandoned us, as he did his own son with nailed hands. Abandoned us, as has the rest of the world. ‘Animals will be animals,’ they say. ‘Who are we to interfere with Nature?’
Then I shall be animal too.
When silence sucks all air from our den, I shift particles of dust that shimmy in sunlight, to peer out at the blighted world. I sniff with my wolf cub nose. Their stench lingers. On the back of my neck hackles rise.
Old Gamma is the only one who remains for me to whisper to, even though she no longer hears. I tell her, “Gamma, I will fight. I’ll get them.”
My teeth have grown curved and sharp. My jaw is strong. My belly is rock cold.