Flash Frontier

July 2013: NATIONAL FLASH FICTION DAY WINNING STORIES

National Flash Fiction Day

Llyvonne Barber. groups of three plus one

Llyvonne Barber. groups of three plus one

 

Llyvonne Barber has an interest in photography and lives in a rural village in the Manawatu. Her work “Jellyfish Lights” was featured in the April 2012 issue, and this image, which first appeared at 52/250: A Year of Flash, has become the symbol for National Flash Fiction Day, with the artist’s generous permission.


2013 WINNERS

 

FIRST PLACE

 

Frankie McMillan, In the nick of time, a deer

Canterbury Regional Prize

 

In the nick of time, a deer

It’s 2am and I’m running in my pyjamas through the snow to the neighbours because that’s what we do in trouble or even for just a cup of flour and I hammer on the glass door, the door with an etched deer in the frosted pane, my father is killing my mother. And I don’t know why it takes Mr Penderhurst so long but then I see his blurred shape appear and he stands real tired, looking at me through the deer’s antlers and I’m looking right back through the deer’s eyes hopping from one cold foot to another and Mr Penderhurst finally shakes his head, his blurry shape moves back down the hallway and I have to run back home to a forest of troubles, our doors swinging wide open to the world. It’s my mother’s fault, she’s borrowed too many things, a needle she never returned, it hangs there still on the kitchen curtains, the red thread hanging loose. She yells at my father to leave her alone but my father doesn’t say anything, just quietly plays his accordion.

That night they start up again. My mother throws the accordion with the pearl buttons through the window. My father roars he’ll have her guts for garters. I get down on my knees to pray, help, my father is killing my mother. Straightaway I hear a terrible crash outside. It comes from the Penderhursts! The deer leaps out of the broken glass door, shards of white fall over his back and litter the steps. His antlers toss away the thin glass trees, tinkle tinkle. The deer bounds over the glistening road. Here he comes, prancing through our front door, his antlers lowered.

Frankie McMillan lives in Christchurch. Her short story collection The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories was published by Shoal Bay Press. In 2008 and 2009 her work was selected for Best NZ Fiction anthologies. Many of her stories have also been broadcast on radio. Dressing for the Cannibals, a poetry collection, was published in 2009 and in that same year she won the NZ Poetry Society International competition. Recent poetry appears in Turbine, JAAM, Trout, Snorkel, Sport, The London Grip, Shenandoah and Best New Zealand Poems, 2012. Frankie currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.


SECOND PLACE

 

Rebecca Styles, Parade

Wellington Regional Prize

 

The cars were big-as n’ slick like Obama would use, eh. We were piled in, cuffed in case we got any funny ideas. The prison was munted so they had to get us out, relocate us up north until they fixed up all the quake damage. The cars were meant for all the dignitaries n’ such and the cops that were down for some drill exercise for the Rugby World Cup in case some shit went down with Al Qaeda. But after the quake and what-not the cars were used to shift us around. Those cars were smooth man, I haven’t felt prouder getting into a vehicle since the day I bought my Ford and she was a beast, man. Up and down the streets I went in her, hole in the exhaust, belting with the sounds of the engine and AC/DC…thun-der, nahnahnahnahnahnahnahnahnah thun-der. Man, I was important behind those cylinders.

Anyway, we rolled down the streets in the flash motors. It was early, eh, but there were these kids out on the road in their pjs and they started waving at all the cars cruising, only doing twenty. Those kids waved at us – hard out man. One kid was jumping up and down. I felt important – like some swanky Santa or something. I waved back, even though I was cuffed and the glass was tinted so they couldn’t see me. I said to the driver, “C’mon man, do a wheelie for the kids”, but he kept staring straight ahead, didn’t even crack a smile, and kept in line with the cars in front. It was hard case man, those kids thought I was important.

Rebecca Styles is a Creative Writing PhD student at Massey University. She completed the MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters in 2011, and has published short stories in local journals and anthologies.


THIRD PLACE

 

Mary McCallum, Dead Space

 

Catch the boy out there standing like a bird with one foot tucked behind a calf looking at the sea. He isn’t at soccer practice. He isn’t on the scout tramp to Chatham Creek. He isn’t playing Dead Space 2 while Bridgie practices her scales. Up and down, up and down. The boy, Jesse, is allergic to scales and allergic to Bridgie who squeaks like a bird when he interrupts her. Dead Space 2. Necromorphs for god’s sake. I need to concentrate.
But she just squeaks and then she squeals and then Mum comes wiping her hands on a tea towel, and she wants to know where he got the damn game from. Then it’s all over red rover, as his dad says, and he’s outside, like his dad usually is, smoking, except Jesse’s not smoking because he’s run out of smokes.

Catch the boy before he leaves. Not the boy leaving. The father leaving. Country Road bag in hand – Bridgie’s bag for sleepovers. He says to the boy, ‘Bye, Jess’, and he says to the boy, ‘Be good for your mum.’

And his dad puts down the stupid bag, and the look on his face is that sort of look he gets when he comes home and it’s his birthday and Mum’s made a special dinner. Hopeful. Or something. He blinks too much, thinks Jesse, his breath smells like shit. When his dad hugs him, Jesse puts his foot down so he won’t topple. The scales have stopped. Jesse thinks of Necromorphs. He smells sweat and smokes. That’s how Necromorphs would smell, he thinks. And they’d blink too fast. His father used to play the piano. He bought the piano for Jesse to play but Jesse didn’t want to play. He just didn’t.

Mary McCallum is an award-winning poet and fiction writer with one novel and a chapbook to her name, and a children’s book on the way. She is also a recent convert to flash fiction which she sees as a terrific hybrid of poetry and fiction. Mary earns her living as a freelance writer and tutor, and has recently started up a niche publisher Makaro Press.


HIGHLY COMMENDED

 

Melanie Dixon, Gone Eeling

 

Me mam says I’ve got to look smart tomorrow. That’s why I’m sitting here having me hair cut. Mam says I have to smile at the camera and hold Claire’s dress so it don’t get mucky dragging along the ground. But, when all eyes are looking at Claire, I’m gonna sneak off round the back of the church down to the river to catch eels with Joey. He’s got a new fishing rod for his birthday, red and shiny. He says he’s been collecting bits of worms, chopping them up into tiny pieces and stashing ’em in his mam’s jewellery box. I said I’ll bring some worms too but me mam would go mental if she caught me with bits ’em, all chopped up small, in those blue velvet trousers she’s gonna make me wear tomorrow. Blue velvet trousers with a red silk shirt. Not my choice. Mam says I’m not to get them dirty. She doesn’t know I’m gonna go eeling.

Joey says he’ll wait for me ’til half past two. If I’m not there he’s gonna go without me. I said I’ll be there alright. Joey caught a big one last week, almost six feet long he said. I’m gonna catch one like that tomorrow. Me and Joey are gonna take it home, all wrapped up in Joey’s dad’s jacket. I’ll set it free in the bath. Mam’ll scream the house down when she sees it lying there all still with its big glassy eyes looking up at her. Gotta be more fun than watching Claire in that big white dress getting married to Simon. Who’d marry Simon anyway? He don’t know the first thing about eeling.

Melanie Dixon is currently studying at Hagley Writers’ Institute. Having spent years working in television and website production, she is now indulging in full-time writing. She has published work for adults and children and is working on her first novel for children. Originally from Wales, Melanie now lives overlooking the beautiful Lyttelton Harbour near Christchurch, with her husband and two energetic children.


HIGHLY COMMENDED

 

Kirsten Le Harivel, Humph

 

Betty is looking after a shaggy dog called Breddy in a two-up two-down in Trentham. One custard morning she wakes to silence. Stumbling down the stairs she finds Breddy curled up in a tight ball. She touches his nose, cold. Hand still damp, she dials the owners. A groggy voice answers, yeeeess. It’s Betty, the housesitter. Oh Betty dear, what’s wrong? Breddy died. Bill, the dog died. Hang on a minute love. Betty, we’ll be home in two days, can you cremate the dog? The centre’s in the book. Over coffee Betty flicks through yellow pages. The pet incinerator is three miles away. Betty hauls a large suitcase over to the body. Squatting down as she learnt in her Pilates class, she grips Breddy by his stiffened haunches and plops him into the suitcase. She runs a passing hand over his malformed ear before zipping up and hauling him away. By the time she reaches the tube, she’s all red and sweaty. At the platform a pock-marked man offers his hand. Geez, what you got in here love? Computer parts. Two stops later, the suitcase is gone.

Kirsten Le Harivel is currently completing an MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her work has been published in Penduline Press, Blackmail Press and the 4th Floor Literary Journal. She is a member of the Conversations Across Borders project.


HIGHLY COMMENDED

 

Jackie Watson, Clatter, clatter

 

Clatter, clatter, clatter. The sheep truck clatter, filled with stock, teetering two storeys of penned caged terrified beasts lurching round the corner to the works. You never forget that. The smell. An acrid pong of piss and crap that got the back of your throat.

Mum would always make a comment, “Look at those poor animals. Rammed in like sardines. The poor things. I hope they don’t know where they’re headed.”

Dad’s hands were strong hands. Gripped round the carving knife, they would slice gently through the Sunday roast. The delicate wafers of pink-tinged pork curling off the joint, often a leg, a big round lump of leg covered with rows of crispy crackling. The rows made by Dad before it went in the oven. Lines cut through the skin, sliced just enough to break the pink pig’s skin and reveal the white fat underneath. Mum rubbed it with salt and into the oven it would go. “One man’s Sunday roast, one woman’s Sunday gone,” she would say.

Dad sharpened the knives. Sharpened them on the big steel, kept hanging inside the pantry door. Next to the strap that regularly found its way to Dad’s hands and round Jim’s legs. Schtick schtick went the knife, as he honed it to a …testing it on the hairs on his arm, gently shaving the golden hairs, feeling the knife edge with his thumb until ready and sharp enough to slice through the steak, ham, pork, mutton or lamb. But never chicken. That was woman’s work.

All our dads worked at the works. For our mums the daily topic of conversation was what delicacy was for tea. The smell of meat in the oven had no link with the smell of the works. Mum never commented on the poor wee animals then.

An English teacher who has always written, Jackie Watson is also a student at Hagley Writers’ Institute and trying to actually finish something. She’d not heard of flash fiction before this year but is enjoying trying to hone a story down to a minimum. She lives in Ohoka near Kaiapoi and is involved in the recovery of the devastated town after the quakes, chairing the Kaiapoi Rubble Rousers, a group intent on brightening empty sites in the town with art. They are colouring Kaiapoi with promise.


HIGHLY COMMENDED

 

Miles Hughes, Burial at Sea

 

The wind had now dropped completely. The silhouette of Mt Manaia stood out against the background light of Whangarei. The only other lights were from Marsden Point and Ruakaka. The rest of the land was a dark mass, with just a pinpoint of light here and there to mark some habitation.

I looked up at the masthead to see it turn full circle against the blaze of stars. Under the starlight, the surface of the sea looked like mercury. The limpid water slapped against the hull, as it rose and fell in the swells, as though the ocean was a living and breathing thing.

I went back down the companionway and stared at her mortal remains. I had wrapped her in a plastic tarpaulin and tied it up with green baling twine. Rigor mortis had set in, making the package hard to move. After several heaves I had manoeuvred her to the base of the steps. I paused, before lifting an end and heaving her up the steps. For a minute, it looked as though she was going to get stuck, and I had to put more effort into getting her up through the hatch. The body landed with a soft thump on the floor of the cockpit. I clambered out after it and dragged her up onto the stern coping, before tying the weights to the twine bindings.

She’d been my companion for twelve years. I muttered the sailor’s hymn before pushing her over the edge. A little splash and then nothing. She was gone. I would never see her again.

I might be able to get another goat from the guy down the road. Anyway, I didn’t fancy digging a grave for her. I’d have had to hire a backhoe!

Miles Hughes is an Auckland fiction writer. In 2009, he graduated with a Master of Creative Writing from AUT and was short-listed in the Graeme Lay Short Story Contest with his story ‘Farewell’. He now has a travel narrative and six novels published on Amazon.com/Kindle. He has also self-published the non-fiction book 150 Years of New Zealand Shipyards 1795-1945. Earlier this year, he was co-producer of the award- winning spoken word event Spit.it.out. He is currently writing a young adult novel. More here.


HIGHLY COMMENDED

 

Frankie McMillan, The ice cream boy

 

Saturdays we were in Wyoming. Yul Brynner galloping on screen to chase the Mexican bandits. Clouds of dust from the horse’s feet so thick you could choke. “Chase those dirty varmints!” Later we wouldn’t care whose side we were on. We clapped each other on the back. “Hilario! Papa! Sotero, my good friend!” Our allegiances shifted as lightly as tumbleweed. One day the ice cream boy was our best friend, the next our enemy. Archie didn’t seem to give a toss, one way or the other. Smiled brightly if we insulted him, only time he got angry was when we said his dad looked like a cockatoo. He had a high quiff of fair hair that gave his face a slightly startled look. Archie picked up a stick and rushed at us. It caught us by surprise, all that anger and spit and thrashing about. Then, at interval, he was back in his ice cream uniform, sauntering down the aisle in a white starched coat and a peaked cap with the Tip Top insignia. “Ice creams! Ice creams!”

Those intervals took forever. You could stare all you liked at the plush red curtains covering the screen but they wouldn’t move. While we waited, us boys developed hair on our chests, our voices broke, we saddled up, lit out of town. Shooting for the moon, we told ourselves. You would never say that about Archie. He stayed at the picture theatre, all his days, his white coat getting smaller, his loyal tray of ice cream cones glistening in the light.

Frankie McMillan lives in Christchurch. Her short story collection The Bag Lady’s Picnic and other stories was published by Shoal Bay Press. In 2008 and 2009 her work was selected for Best NZ Fiction anthologies. Many of her stories have also been broadcast on radio. Dressing for the Cannibals, a poetry collection, was published in 2009 and in that same year she won the NZ Poetry Society International competition. Recent poetry appears in Turbine, JAAM, Trout, Snorkel, Sport, The London Grip, Shenandoah and Best New Zealand Poems, 2012. Frankie currently teaches at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch.


 

Hayden Pyke, Reverse Onus

Hamilton Regional Prize

 

The markets were so busy the day we went before Christmas. Do you remember? There were all those stalls crammed onto the pavement and people kept yelling at us and at others; some were just yelling. The whole place smelled of melted tar and pastry. And we walked up and down holding hands.

There was a stall selling kids’ toys, you know, remote control cars and dolls and bubble mixture. Then there was that girl, what, she can’t have even been ten? She walked headlong into the street with scooters and cars screaming past her and blew bubbles. Bubbles were everywhere. It was as if she thought the bubbles would protect her from the traffic. I guess you spotted her first, because you dropped my hand and bolted into the middle of the road. I couldn’t stop you fast enough. You grabbed that girl at the waist and picked her up like a surf lifesaver rescuing a drowning swimmer. You planted her back on her feet on the side of the road by her stall, but her parents didn’t even notice.

When you crossed back over the road, you hugged me so hard that it hurt a little. Your arms were solid and you were my hero just then. You looked right at me and I saw something completely new in your eyes. That moment I realised, I mean, I could really see that you weren’t strong at all. You were petrified. And you did it anyway. You saved that girl even though you were so scared. And when we separated, it was torture, like Velcro tearing apart. You said, “Let’s go home.” And we did. That’s the moment I want to think of before I leave you. I want the bubbles and traffic and you coming back to me.

Hayden Pyke also writes under his initials HP. He lives in Hamilton and works as a Probation Officer. Writing is a new hobby with his first short story making the NZ Writers’ College Competition Short List in 2012.


 

Brindi Joy, Secondhand Palm

 

Lord, those gangs. New Orleans crawls with ’em. They’re always thieving from me. And what’re they gonna do with my goods? Sell them on the streets? Nah. Who’d pay for ’em? I think they’re giving my goods to their grandmas. Yes, sir. I just want a house with iron balconies and hanging baskets filled with ferns and pretty flowers in baskets on the railing. Orleans style. But those gangs, Lord. The police aren’t bothered. But they’re thieving from me! Pulling the goods right out of my baskets. Roots and all.

I found evidence of the thieving once. Followed a trail of pink impatien petals from the empty baskets on my porch, across the driveway, to the neighbors. That’s where the getaway car parked. That’s where the petals stopped. I got down on my knees to look close to make sure. Could’ve yelled, “Stop! Hooligans!” but they were long since gone.

Even after the storm the thieving didn’t stop. Storm left nothing of my house but rubble and ashes and my one palm tree. And someone came along and stole my one palm tree when I was holed up with my sister in the Quarter. Lost everything else but that tree. Family pictures. Mama’s recipes. Pop’s records. Tree hadn’t been in the ground more than a month and what’s that gang gonna do with a secondhand palm tree? Brighten their grandma’s hurricane-wrecked house? Damn horticulture gangs. The police got bigger things to think about.

They’re busy thieving stuff themselves.

The Canterbury Regional Prize winner of the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day Competition, Brindi Joy lives in Christchurch. She is a travel writer for the backpacker industry who moonlights as a fiction writer, the short story being her favourite form. She has had her travel writing published in multiple issues of Wilderness, Australia & New Zealand Magazine and Hostelling HorizoNZ, and she was editor of the latter. Her fiction has appeared in Takahē.


 

Caroline Crick, The man who kissed his wife

 

The boy who was too drunk to drive (because his girlfriend had left him with a broken heart and a bottle of vodka) drove as if walking a tightrope, scared of falling.

The woman who was running late (because her husband had caught her in the bedroom and kissed the side of her neck) strapped her child into the back of the car and drove hurriedly towards the day-care centre.

The dairy owner who was going bankrupt (thanks to regular visits from seasoned shoplifters) stood on the pavement smoking a cigarette and watching the passing traffic.

The dairy owner saw the boy who was too drunk to drive coming down the road. He recognised the car – one of the criminals, one of the bastards. He got his phone out to take a picture, catch the number plate.

The child of the woman who was running late started to cry as she realised she had left her bunny on the hallway floor. The woman turned to soothe her. The boy who was too drunk swerved to avoid the dairy owner he stole food from, who had stepped off the kerb with the camera phone. The boy felt himself falling from the tightrope into a wide space.

The woman who was running late turned back from soothing her child who had lost her bunny to see the boy who was too drunk cross the centre line. The dairy owner watched with his phone in his hand. The boy, the woman, the child, metal on metal, rubber on tarmac, flesh, bone, metal, rubber, tarmac. Silence. Screaming.

The man who had kissed his wife’s neck and then held her lovingly for two minutes too long sat down at his desk and reached out to touch a photo of his wife and child, smiling.

Caroline Crick lives by the Maitai River in Nelson. She works as a freelance writer and photographer for magazine and commercial clients, and writes creatively in her spare time. Recently she has been short-listed in the 2013 Page and Blackmore short story competition and the North and South magazine Places in the Heart short story competition.


 

Rhonda Bartle, Falling Silent

Central District Regional Prize

 

Emily’s Changing Day began with a cup of tea.
“You put sugar in, Em.”
“Did not,” she said.
Burton’s voice took stairs two at a time and his eyebrows followed after. “There’s sugar in my coffee, Em. You made the coffee; therefore you put the sugar in.”
Emily flattened the tablecloth embroidery before it twisted into a sentence.
“Did not. I watched you stirring it.”
“I was stirring in the milk.” Burton said to the tea pot in a sly way. “See? Told you she was going mad.”
“I am not, Burton. Please stop talking to my china. The only mad one here is you.”
The curtains around the edges rustled that’s true, that’s true, while the carnations in the old wedding vase nodded sagely. Emily picked up the tea towel and hung it over her head.
“And it’s no good being an ostrich, Em. I can still see you.”
“Can’t. Not without your glasses on. Second shelf of the fridge.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Burton said. “Only a mad man would leave them there.”
For the rest of the day, Emily felt sustained by righteousness. At lunch the knife and fork pressed into her palm, warm as allies. She marched her way to the letterbox and goose stepped back. When she spoke to Burton at all – the bill for the rates – her words wore bright shining medals of war and the envelope dropped into his lap like a Bouncing Betty.
That night in bed, the ripples turned her face to the wall, where she lay, so far on the edge of the mattress she felt in danger of falling out, or falling in, but she stayed where she was, eyes on the wallpaper, awaiting further instruction.

Rhonda Bartle lives in New Plymouth in a tall house in a long paddock, no garden. A journalist and writer, she prefers pliable fiction to unwieldy fact. Author of two novels and co-author of one book of non-fiction, she has been widely published in print and radio. In 1999 she won the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Short Story Award. This year (2013) sees her travelling Eastern Europe with a slightly bigger backpack than she should carry.


 

Jonathan Kingston-Smith, Five Fragments; A Love Story

 

(i)
The flat reeks of hash and patchouli. The music is too loud, everyone shouts to be heard. She has cinnamon eyes and cherry-skin lips. She kisses you hard in somebody else’s bedroom. Her fingers twist in your hair. She tastes of cheap wine and salt. Her first kiss lingers on your lips like a promise made.

(ii)
She is so bright it almost hurts to look at her. Confetti and autumn leaves splinter beneath your feet. Vows are spoken, rings are pressed onto fingers. She is now your wife. Everyone cheers. In the distance birds sketch a black shape against the sky.

(iii)
This is your daughter; her red scrawl of a face. You rock her against your chest until she grows quiet. Your wife watches with her cinnamon eyes. Exhausted, she smiles through a mask of sweat and tears. A love so immense it became a whole new person.

(iv)
Your daughter has grown up and gone; an architect off in the city. She sends cards, visits occasionally. It is just the two of you now. Crossword puzzles and daytime TV. Your wife reaches across the table; takes your trembling hand. Her skin feels thin as valentine tissue but her grip is firm. Rain scratches against the window.

(v)
A hospital room. Dead green light crawls over everything; the close scent of piss and ammonia. Her cinnamon eyes are too large for her chalk-bone face. Her cherry-skin lips have faded to bruises. She forgets you sometimes. The machines hum and you hold her until she’s gone. Her last kiss lingers on your lips like a promise kept.

(…)
You remember what she told you once; her face framed in late afternoon light.

“Life is long and who wants to die with a heart that has never been broken.”

Jonathan Kingston-Smith lives in Wellington. He is an outsider/lowbrow craft-artist and occasional writer. He holds a BSc in Psychology and Philosophy. His primary field of interest is genre fiction, specifically horror, urban fantasy and dark fairy-tales. He is currently co-writing a play.


 

Sian Williams, The Kingdom of Air

 

One afternoon, in Andalusia, they set out for the Roman aqueduct behind the town. Trudging up hundreds of worn steps, she was excited by their antiquity, he – as usual – bleated about the heat and the graffiti.

Below were the terracotta roofs of the town, storked and bristling with aerials. Beyond were the soft, olive-clad hills, and in the distance the twinkling of cars on the coast road, and then the shining sea.

While she waited for him to catch up she absorbed the impossible architecture of the bridge: the awful weight and precision of the masonry, the soaring vertiginous arches.

He eventually appeared and stood in the shade of an ancient buttress, wiping the dust from his glasses with a sweaty handkerchief. She kissed his salty neck before starting up the final slope.

When she reached the top she found herself breathless and exalted, lifted up above the peoples of the earth. Standing on the parapet in the hot wind, with the swifts scything around her, she felt she’d entered another realm.

It was then he told her it was over. She sat hunched on the edge with her legs dangling in space: punctured, deflating.

She watched him plodding back down the steps below; she noticed his bald patch was sunburnt.

Soon, she would walk down too, wash her blotchy face and put on her red dress that showed the tattoo he disliked so much. Then she would go to the cafe in the square, order a bottle of bad local wine and let the waiter with the long eyelashes flirt with her.

And all the while her loss and pain would remain up here, circling on the up-draughts and swirling with the screaming swifts, in the kingdom of air.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. Her flash fiction has achieved some success in competitions both in New Zealand and internationally. Besides flash, Sian also writes for children and is published by Learning Media Ltd and in The School Magazine (Aus). She is currently working on a young adult novel based on stories from Greek mythology. Sian lives in the Bay of Islands with her husband and children growing kiwifruit and big juicy oranges.


 

Pete Carter, Let it go

 

Beans straight from the tin. Laughter that grates coming through the wall.

That feeling that grips and holds. It builds and you diminish. Let it go, you say, let it go.

The kitchen smells like an old flat from thirty years ago. The one where you vowed to turn your life around. The landlord never did pay back the bond, but you did turn it around. Made it what it is, what it was.

TV on to absorb everyone else’s sounds. At least this is your noise. You own it.

They threw the bottle out of the white van. It bounced off the bank and in front of the car. Smashed. Saw red. Gripped the wheel, told yourself, let it go, let it go. Gripped harder. Accelerated.

Last straw. Yeah but. Yeah but nothing Jamie. Our kids were one thing, grand kids are different.

Shared bathroom, two bar heater, cracks in the ceiling.

Should have let it go.

Pete Carter is a Wellington writer and photographer, who, like so many others, is attempting a reinvention in what he hates calling middle age. He has completed a first draft of a novel, enjoys writing poetry and has a memoir project bubbling.


 

Cathy Clarke, Jabberwocky

 

Alice rummaged through her shoes in the back of the wardrobe, like a mendicant scrabbling for tossed coins. She’d spent hours hunting for her pearls.
“I knew you wouldn’t be ready.”
Startled, Alice reversed out of the wardrobe. Everything went dark. Alice panicked, gave a muffled squeak, thinking someone had shut her in.
“Who’s there?”
“Oh, for God’s sake, Alice.” Her sister’s exasperation permeated the musty weight of Alice’s navy winter coat that had slipped off the hanger, enveloping Alice like a shroud.
“Help me up please, Carol. I’ve lost my…”
“Marbles,” her sister sighed, pointing to the pearls coiling from the pocket of Alice’s coat, slumped on the floor.
Alice’s stroke had diminished her vocabulary of nouns. She said tiger when she meant lion, sometimes she burbled out completely new words, like spurtle instead of spoon. The doctor had a name for her bewilderment – aphasia – she wrote it down. But it didn’t help Alice, adrift on a sea of linguistic confusion. Instead she consulted her dictionary. Spurtle: a short stick for stirring porridge.
Alice peered into the garden. A furtive shape vanished into the shadow of the trees.
“How curious.”
“What?” Carol said.
“There…dark…Ethiopians,” Alice said. What a triumph, the right word – disgorged, like a pearl.
“Nonsense,” Carol muttered.
“Alice thinks she has Ethiopians at the bottom of her garden,” Carol announced. The other guests smiled, regarding Alice with a mixture of pity and wonder. Alice couldn’t find the words to explain.
“Qat,” barked the bald man sitting opposite. Alice had no idea what he meant.
“Qat,” he repeated, leaning forward. “Your tree is probably Catha edulis, the leaves are an addictive narcotic, used in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen. I’d get it chopped down if I were you.”
Alice beamed at him, fingering her pearls like rosary beads.

Cathy Clarke lives in Wellington, where she works as a medical laboratory scientist. She is researching and writing a novel, set during the 1890s in Australia and New Zealand, where two daredevil sisters risk their lives for fame and fortune in a rather precarious profession.


 

Caoilinn Hughes, Roofers

 

It was the kind of agro sun that would not only boil the egg on your back but’d ask how you want it done. I was on shingles duty, tearing off the dried-up asphalt like caked scabs. The way the sun had got at them was the hard graft gets at the bones. But you can’t pick off bones. Richie was at work on the drip-edge.

Tops off, we were mortared in sunblock but for our backs. We’d done the morning routine: the haka slapping of chests, wiping lotion onto limbs as if it was tarmac finishing plaster. We grunted with the wasted time of it, mostly to cover up the lube sounds; whacking shoulders and currying muscles in case it might look a bit soft cunt. Like we were minding ourselves. Nah cobber, we weren’t doing that. We’d rip our shirts off, buckle our backs, go hard out until the sun’d been put in its place.

But the wife had been gawking at my back the night before, when I turned away from her in bed. She gauged the shade of it against her paint colour card—maroon, burgundy, blood clot. She made a dot-to-dot of the moles on my shoulders. “A renaissance mantlepiece,” she’d found. “Are you sure it’s not a fried egg?”

That morning, I’d had enough of the brick-eyed, groin-jutted tradesmanship. It was nearing thirty degrees. I approached Richie, who was bent over like an old spoon the kids’ve been at the ice-cream with. Sucked in hot air, hoping it would catch.

I held out the greasy bottle of sunscreen.

“Do my back, eh?”

His expression became a long drop. Snorting, he bent back to work. “Put a self-sealant on them shingles when you’re done.”

I reddened.

Next day, I joined the wife’s interior decorating business.

Caoilinn Hughes is an Irish writer living in New Zealand, completing a PhD at Victoria University. Her poetry and fiction have been published widely in magazines and journals in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand in places such as PN Review, Poetry Ireland, The Irish Times, NZ Books, NZ Listener and Landfall. Her first collection of poetry, Gathering Evidence, which won the 2012 Patrick Kavanagh Award, will be published by Carcanet Press (UK) in May 2014.


 

Jac Jenkins, Coffee Date

Northland Regional Prize

 

We shake hands (firm, smooth) and sit at an outside table (smoker). You undo the buttons on your sports jacket (hmm, slightly weightier than suggested), reach into your breast pocket and hand me Dutch liquorice wrapped in tatty foil and lint (thoughtful, yet what were you thinking?). I tuck it into my no. 2 handbag as the sole waitress brings our coffees.

You talk of how the world is winding up to a seismic shift in thinking (ahh, this could be interesting). I sip my coffee from the fine bone china cup, certain that the chocolate sprinkle is leaving its signature on my upper lip. I dab with my serviette.

You talk of diminishing fuel supplies; a burgeoning need for horsemanship and self-sufficiency (Green – sigh). I wonder if my teenage daughter is writhing in sweaty sheets with her boyfriend. Listen, you say, how much use will technology be when the trucks are empty, the trains are empty? (Fervently Green.)

You talk of vegetarianism and smile at my dislike of mustard, assuring me that I would love your mustard lamb (egocentric). You talk of music, your recording studio, and my dislike of jazz, assuring me that I would love your jazz collection (evangelical, even). You talk of your ex-wife. (You talk of your ex-wife.)

I place my empty, chocolate-smeared cup on its matching saucer and ask, did you know that the nipples of the first Barbie dolls were shaved off before they made it to the shop shelves?

Jac Jenkins privately believes that her greatest writing accomplishment was the highly commended award for tidy writing that she won in primary school, as her handwriting is exceptionally poor. Luckily she writes all of her poetry and flash on the laptop these days. In 2012 she was awarded a mentorship through the NZ Society of Authors and worked closely with acclaimed poet Sue Wootton. Jac is a member of the Northland poetry group Take Flight and lives in rural Whangarei with her daughter, five egg-hiding chooks and two cats.


 

Charlotte Simmonds, Guest, Sixth

 

One night a guest, incoherent with intoxication, clambers over the railing of the tiny sixth floor non-smoking smokers’ balcony and falls, miraculously landing on an outcropping ledge. He makes his way backwards and forwards along the ledge, knocking on windows, trying to get in, terrifying the occupants with his blood-streaked face looming from the middle of nowhere in the darkness. After he is retrieved by security and sent to hospital in an ambulance, no memory of anything whatsoever, James, who has had other jobs before this one, says, “That’s not the first time I’ve dealt with people falling off buildings. I’ve dealt with many people falling off buildings before. It’s the first time any of them have survived.”

Charlotte Simmonds writes plays, prose and poetry in her room in Wellington. More of her writing can be read in her book The World’s Fastest Flower which can be found be in the library.


 Congratulations to these writers!

 

Please see the June 2013 interview with NFFD judges Vivienne Plumb and David Lyndon Brown here.

Coming in August: stories about snow

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