82.10 / Hearsay
VOLUME EIGHTY-TWO, HEARSAY. On Dit’s creative writing anthology
ALPHA & OMEGA TATTOO PARLOUR EVERYONE’S GREATEST FEAR AUDITORY PROBLEMS SAFFRONYA THE ODDITY OF MY DREAMS JEREMY’S STORM PEN, PERSP. AND POISON ORANGE JUICE AND JELLY MEDICINES RADIOACTIVE JAPAN THE BONES OF A BIRD 100 WORD STORY IT IS THE PERFORMANCE SILVER LINING WINDOW IN A ROOM CHAPTER SEVEN
4 6 9 10 13 14 16 20 24 26 29 32 35 35 36 40 44
Interwebs: auu.org.au/ondit. ‘Let us cultivate our garden.’ Editors: Sharmonie Cockayne, Daisy Freeburn and Yasmin Martin. Front cover artwork by Alicia Abell. Inside front and back cover artwork by Andy Bui. Inside back cover and contents page artwork by Monty Do-Wyeld. On Dit is a publication of the Adelaide University Union. On Dit is produced and printed on the traditional country of the Kuarna people of the Adelaide Plains. We recognise and respect their cultural heritage, beliefs and relationship with the land. Published 9/9/2014
Drip. Drip. Drip. The incessant dripping of the old Union House pipes rang through the office like a dull tick. Steady and obnoxious, it was interrupted only by the sudden gush of water when someone on a floor above flushed a toilet. Theirs was a basement office, and this office was their home. The three editors sat hunched around a single computer, trying to force an editorial from their dry, tired minds onto the page. They had promised to write their Hearsay editorial together. But there they sat, not writing. Drip. Drip. Drip. ‘How great are Tim Tams?’ asked Sharmonie, smiling brightly. There was only a slight hint of desperation in her eyes. ‘For the last time, we are NOT
writing about food,’ said Daisy through gritted teeth. Yasmin looked up sharply. She recognised the look on Daisy’s face. It was the same expression she’d worn in countless editorial photos taken at three in the morning. It was the same face that Yasmin felt positive Daisy would wear if she ever snapped and killed someone. There would be no more talk of food. Silence fell upon the trio again. Drip. Drip. Drip. It shouldn’t be this hard, Yasmin thought to herself. All we have to do is explain that this edition is a special creative writing edition made up of submissions from students of the Univ – Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock on the door. No wait, not the door – the window. Three curt knocks on the window.
The editors looked at each other a moment. ‘Shotgun not!’ they all cried. Only Sharmonie lagged a second behind the others. She sighed heavily as she rose, walked over to the window, and pushed it upwards. Two strangers peered into the office. ‘Yes?’ Sharmonie asked pointedly. ‘Sorry,’ said one of the strangers. ‘We thought there were animals in here.’ The stranger pointed to the sign on the window. It read: ‘Please be very quiet. The animals are sleeping.’ It had been placed there by the previous editors the year before in an attempt to keep passersby quiet. It hadn’t worked. Daisy stormed up to the window. ‘So you thought it’d be a good idea to knock? Why would you knock if there were animals sleeping in here? Did you miss the part where it says
Hearsay “Please be QUIET”?’ She slammed the window down and turned to her co-workers. ‘We have an editorial to wri–’ She was cut off by a smash, as a boot sailed through the window, shattering the thick glass. The editors sprang backwards, elbows and knees flying in the panic. The strangers climbed through the window one by one, each landing with a crunch on the broken glass. The editors had nowhere to run. They clutched eachother, trembling in the face of this sudden danger. Only Yasmin was brave enough to confront the intruders. She squeezed her co-editors’ hands. She would have to protect her sisters once more. Stealthy as an Amazon warrior, she leapt forward, brandishing a
bluetooth keyboard as a shield, a mouse in the other hand. She directed the infrared laser from her wireless mouse into the eyes of the intruders, blinding them both in an instant. The intruders fell upon themselves. ‘She is too strong! We cannot fight her,’ they cried in unison. ‘O, but she is beautiful!’ And indeed she was. Daisy and Sharmonie stepped forward, joining their brave companion. They clasped hands. Together they spoke. The Power of Three we now decree The Power of Three will set you free The Power of Three will destroy thee Screams filled the office as the intruders burned, their faces twisted in agony for a moment
before they smoldered away. The editors turned to each other and embraced. Together they were invincible, but the magic took its toll. Daisy looked down at the ash piled high on their office floor, nose wrinkled in disgust. ‘We’ll deal with this mess later. We have an editorial to write.’ The editors stepped around the piles of ash, and walked back to their seats, straightening their clothes before sitting back down. They turned their faces to the computer. Silence fell upon the trio once again. Drip. Drip. Drip. Hearsay is a special creative writing edition of On Dit. All the writing in this edition are original creations by students from the University of Adelaide. Special thanks to everyone that submitted their work.
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Alpha & Omega
words by Cody Clementi art by Jack Lowe
am Alpha and she was Omega. We were the beginning and the end. The first and the last generation. We were the children of Eden 17, an underground program charged with the duty of researching utopia. After World War Two, the omnipotent governments of the world considered the possibility that the human race would eventually kill itself. In an attempt to preserve themselves, these governments allowed their most prevailing scientists to test their theories of the ideal society in an isolated system, in the hope that these scientists would solve all of humanityâ€™s flaws. Futile, it seems, but a nice notion. In Eden 17, partnersâ€™ minds were tethered to each other. One man to one woman. The goal was that partners would be inseparable, that if no one was ever alone, there would be no grief and in the absence of grief, no
other negative emotions could arise. The scientists called this process CI, short for collective intelligence. The Joint mind was supposedly flawless. Collective intelligence helped children to evolve, students to learn and adults to work at an accelerated rate. When a toddler learned to walk, their partner could, within moments, begin to walk as well. When one mind learnt a concept, within moments, both minds understood it. Our society was run by an oligarchy. Individuals with the strongest CI such as Omega and myself were granted a position to instruct those with weaker CI. No two minded this system, there was no reason to after all. The society flourished under the rule of partners with strong CI. Partners in the ruling class were given the titles Alpha and Omega. Partners in the lesser classes were referred to as Gammas and Deltas, Sigmas and
Hearsay Myus. Eden 17 was truly blissful. Rested, I woke from my sleep and wallowed in the warmth of my bed. Omega lay next to me, her eyes shut, her face soft and her posture relaxed. I could see her dream; she was dreaming of a concert. She dreamed of a Bach piece. Omega took a deep breath at the climax of the prelude before exhaling it long and gently across the bed as it died down. We shared a collective smile. I threw off the blanket from my half of the bed and rotated my body to rest my feet on the ground. I slid my feet into my slippers, a soft cotton exterior lined with a silk interior. I took a moment to think of the Sigma that might have made them. Omega woke and said into her pillow, ‘I’m sure the Sigmas don’t think about who wears the slippers they make.’ ‘So?’ I asked. So why waste a thought on the Sigma who made them, she thought. I stood up and opened the curtains. The beaming light burst forth into the room through the glass wall. I gazed past the glass and beyond the grass hillside into the city. View to the city was clear, water reflected the light and looked like ice on the tip of the grass. It’s beautiful, now shut the curtains, Omega begged. ‘Not a chance. Now get up. I’m making breakfast.’ I took my bathrobe out of the closet and wrapped it around me. I stepped into the bathroom to take my vitamins. I looked into the mirror and could see the age in my face. I touched my hands to my face and stretched the skin, seeing if it still had a snap to it. ‘Your face is fine! Now make me breakfast!’ Omega shouted from the other room. Something about her saying that my face was fine was comforting. We’re 75 today. I guess I just had a notion we might look different, I thought to Omega. You’re as beautiful as ever. I smiled and chuckled. I made my way into the kitchen. The flick of the switch revealed the white tiled floor and walls. They reflected light just as the grass had. I turned on the stove and cracked open a couple of eggs. I whisked them into a fluffy product. ‘Keep whisking, there’s still a small bit that’s unmixed.’ ‘You’re too picky,’ I teased. She smiled, and looked into my eyes. Maybe you’re not picky enough. There was a pause, it was a standoff. I caved and kept whisking. I poured the eggs into the frying pan and cooked up a big batch of scrambled eggs.
Omega and I spent the next few minutes in conversation, about what a Sigma does and does not think about. I can usually tie my own tie, but today I kept tying it either too long or too short. Omega came up to me, unravelled the mess that was my tie and tied it for me. She left me with a kiss. Omega was a facilitator for farms in some beautiful areas north of the city. I was an overseer factories in the city’s heart. All day, I’d work, instruct and long to see Omega again. Although we could still talk to each other, it wasn’t the same as being near each other. At five P.M. I left work and headed home. I pulled my car into the driveway next to Omega’s. I’m making dinner. And I’m looking forward to dinner. I walked inside, removed my tie and sat down at the table. She brought over two plates of toast and beans and we sat down to eat. ‘You asked a Sigma what they think about most, didn’t you?’ Omega asked me. ‘I did,’ I grinned a grin that stretched from one ear to the other. ‘They said they wonder who wears the shoes they make.’ Liar. My grin broke into a laugh and Omega laughed with me. ‘I’m tired,’ she strained. ‘Me too.’ Bed? Bed. I woke up the next morning and to my surprise, Omega was not dreaming of Bach or Tchaikovsky or Beethoven. In fact, she wasn’t dreaming. I lifted myself from my side of the bed and into my slippers, stood up and opened the curtains. The sun shone brightly through the glass as it had always done. Omega did not respond. She was not dreaming and she did not wake. “Omega,” I beckoned, “Omega?” It was like there was no connectedness between us. I placed my hand on her shoulder and moved my hand from her shoulder to her neck. There was no response. I was scared. I felt like there was no one with me. No one to share my mind with. Omega Wasn’t there. I felt tears run from my eyes, I missed her. I had never had a moment when she wasn’t with me. All I did was cry and I couldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop crying for Omega who I missed. This was the missed stitch in the otherwise perfect tapestry of Eden 17. On the death of a partner, the only thing left for their partner to do was weep. Some lone partners would cry themselves into comas. Other would cry themselves to death. The scientists were right. There was bliss where no one was alone, but after 75 years of never being alone, being alone is Hell.
Tattoo Parlour words by Katharine Ahern art by Carly Harvy
he parlour is quiet. I suppose it’s a Monday afternoon, and normal people are all back at work trying not to weep into the dregs of their office instant coffee. I can’t even remember the last time I woke up before midday. These people don’t look like they do either, all walking around in a mist of aloofness. Their faces are hidden behind piercing collections and perfectly groomed beards. I’m shaking a little, but try to act like I do this every day. Just a side note – I don’t. Most people, at least the kind of people I know, don’t just wake up and decide today is the day that they will finally throw convention out the window and pay someone to jab ink into their skin with a needle. Sterilised, manufactured for this one purpose, this one time. Sitting to the side in a packet somewhere until someone like me walks in and warrants its use. Imagine the buzzing, the very first pinprick and the very first carefully distributed dot. It will stay there. For better or worse, it will stay there. And so will all the thousands of ones after that. The girl behind the desk seems friendly enough. My allocated waiting seat is facing towards her so every now and then our eyes catch, and she smiles politely. I want to ask her what it’s like to work here. I’m itching to, actually. Perhaps if I did she’d give a slightly longer than obligatory answer, and I’d laugh and say Oh Really. Then I’d ask her another question. Then her, me. Soon the sentences would flow into each other and we’d forget whose turn it was to ask the other something new. Like in high school when the teacher rearranged the seating and something inside you fluttered when you picked your new partners
name from a hat. You didn’t know them, but you knew enough. Something about them had always reached out to you through a sea of uniforms. You placed your pencil cases next to each other as equals. There would be no struggle for conversation. Perhaps it would be this way with this receptionist if I said something. But perhaps not. She has lilac hair and a gold nose ring. She has a cooler-than-average job. She probably has a boyfriend, a girlfriend, or at least three adoring lovers that she juggles with some Casanova effortlessness. But this is just speculation, of course. She could be anyone. The only thing I’m sure of is that somehow, somewhere, people must ask her anonymous questions about her life on the internet. And I bet she answers every one. She probably thinks nothing of me, sitting here in a chair that has been occupied by people and people and people before me. Think of the sheer amount! They could form a line that wrapped around blocks. They could fill up choirs and football teams and entire exam halls. Once they sat here like me, and now they’re out in the world again, doing everyday things like tripping over hoses and letting their tea go cold. Only they left this place with something and now they take it with them always. Twenty-something year old men who decided to give up their office career and turn their body into a ‘canvas’. Teenagers piled in next to five of their friends, all with infinity signs on their wrists. Memorial tattoos for the going and gone. Still healing tattoos covered in cling film. Tattoos on butlers. Tattoos on butchers. Tattoos at the bottoms of graves. And I’m not one for snap decisions, but it hit me all of a sudden this morning how nice it would be to be a part of something that never wore away. For that something to be a part of you. It would even stain you with its reassurance. I was halfway through rolling a cigarette, up at a reasonable hour for once. The day was icy, and it cut. I considered my options. I could wander around the streets like a stray, stopping on benches every now and then to write harried little passages that I’d never read again. I could sit right here in the courtyard. Not move. Watch the sun catch my hands like they were made of metal and knew how to glint. Watch the walls catch the sun then let it go, because you can love the elements, but only if you’re careful and distant about it. To be persistent with the sunlight would be dangerous
business. One minute you’re begging it to stay, to gently lap against your neck again if only for a minute. Then you wake up the next morning red as a fresh boiled lobster. You’re all scoured up. You’re too bitter to go near something so potent again for a while. No, better to have a choice in the things that mark you. Better to look down at the map that is your skin and say ‘I knew exactly what I was getting myself into.’ So I’m here, because anything else I could do with my day has the potential to end all a shambles, and I’m trying new things, and I want people to look at me and think, oh wow, she is so sure of who she is that she’s willing to make a lifelong commitment. Imagine being that kind of person. I think this as the receptionist types away on a keyboard in a way that sounds super important but is probably just Facebook chat. She’s super girly but has pastel coloured sleeves, full on designs that look pretty cartoon like. Maybe she got them while she was still a teenager. I’m starting to let my gazes linger now, like an outstretched hand offering conversation. I’m sure she’s very bored. I am bored too, or rather, just extremely nervous. A good thing to do when you’re nervous is pretend you’re just bored. It gets you off the hook of having to be captivating. It fools people into working overtime, because suddenly they feel like their presence might not be enough, and they have to do something quite special to impress you. Lilac girl doesn’t pick up on the very friendly friendship vibes I am broadcasting. She stays quiet and taps her pointy acrylic nails on the desk (a boyfriend then – a tattoo artist boyfriend with stretched ears and a septum piercing!) (His name is Alexander or Joel). I’m so used to hairdressers and nail technicians sweeping me away on an easy wave of conversation the second I enter their premises, but this is different. I wonder what they think of me. I’m wearing a flower hairclip and a white lace skirt, which seemed great together in the flat. I even let myself imagine scenes from The Virgin Suicides as I twirled around in front of the mirror, oh yes, this was the perfect outfit to start my new life as an interesting and daring person in. I was going to sweep in those doors and turn the heads of everyone in there with my otherworldly glow. But everyone in this place is wearing black and next to them, I feel stupid. I’ve only ever seen a tattoo being done up close once before. Sebastian’s neighbour was having a house party and
we went, even though neither of us really knew anyone. I found the socializing pretty easy. Sometimes all you need to do is find a group of girls and tell them how much you like their outfits, and boom, without even trying you’ve made enough friends to survive this thing for the next few hours. They were all a little rougher than what I was used to, but all it took was a little adjusting. That’s why it’s best to stay quiet at first. You become like a sponge, listen to the way they form their words and mimic it silently in your head. Don’t copy it completely or they’ll look at you strangely. It’s best to weave it around your normal vocabulary, strike just the right balance so that you’re strange enough to be interesting but familiar enough to be home. I’ve done this for so long that it’s pretty much automatic now. So that night it didn’t take long before I was dropping my consonants and trying to dull the telltale signs of private education. The more I caught on the more elated I became, and I was in the middle of a very enthusiastic conversation about a club I’d never been to when we heard the laughter from the kitchen. That reckless kinda male laughter. I’d grown up with older brothers, and could pretty much tell from the rising tone of their voices when one of them was about to do something stupid like mix Diet Coke with Mentos or jump off the roof of the shed. I heard their laughter, and knew that this was one of those times. When we walked into the next room, some random drunk dude was lying face down on the kitchen table with his pants pulled down. Dan, the host, had a tattoo gun in his hands. God knows where he got it from. Earlier that night, his girlfriend had revealed to me a sketchy puzzle piece just above her hipbone that looked like it had been designed by a five year old holding half a crayon. ‘Dan and I always wanted puzzle pieces that fit together, and one night when we were smashed we decided to just do it.’ I didn’t press it further because then there was a possibility that I’d have to compliment her on the thing. But I did wonder how it happened. It was too solid for stick and poke, too shitty to be the work of anyone even slightly professional. But apparently, there’s no shortage of things you can buy on the internet and pretend that you know how to use. There were little pots of ink on the table and Dan squinted into them like they were his car keys and he was trying to judge whether it was safe to steer himself home or not. Apparently he decided in the affirmative, because then three sloppy letters were drawn onto random drunk dude’s lower arse cheek. SBC, it said, and all the boys in the room giggled like those cartoon hyenas in The Lion King did, taunting Simba and Nala, prancing around their jungle of bones. ‘What’s that, babe?’ asked the girlfriend.
‘Sneaky Beer Crew!’ he said, then picked up a West End tinnie. ‘Now, come on boys. Who’s gonna do me?’ I’ve been waiting here half an hour now, and every time someone comes out from the back room my entire body does somersaults. My veins are the lattice of a worn down rollercoaster by the sea. My bones are steel, or cornflower. Something either very strong or so wispy that it can’t even hold its own in a mixing bowl. I feel like any word spoken now would shatter the delicate balance of things, and I hope, quietly, that they’ve forgotten my name and won’t be able to call it anymore. Sometimes you get that from people you’ve known for years. It shouldn’t be too hard to ask of these people, who haven’t even known I exist for an hour. Maybe when they call out my name, I’ll stand upright and smile the kind of smile you always wish you could muster when you’re met with unfamiliar eyes. Maybe I’ll pretend I didn’t hear them. Maybe I’ll say ‘yes, that’s me!’ in an elaborate sing song voice that commands attention from everyone in the room. Maybe I’ll finally engage Lilac girl with some friendly, woman-to-woman chatter. We’ll be old pals. I’ll tell her about my day, and mention the names of my best friends the way teachers mention stuff they’re going to test you on later. I’ll say that some people think you can cure cancer with positive thinking. Somehow they learn to love themselves and then, bam, tumors dissolve overnight. These people then sign book deals, and commuters read their stories on the morning train while trying not to spill their coffee everywhere. I’ll say that sometimes I wonder how many hearts I’ve broken without even knowing about it. How secret a pain it is, one that you can carry invisible inside your ribcage. I’ll talk about the weather, because although it’s meant to be a boring topic, I personally don’t think there’s anything even a little bit boring about sunshine. I hope she’ll understand what I mean. Or maybe I’ll just say that I still feel very young, and precarious. Or that sometimes I wonder if there’s a place people go to get all their answers and I just don’t know about it yet. Because it’s a little dusty service station that you stop at on road trips through small country towns. Because it’s a wardrobe in your childhood bedroom. Because it’s a bar thick with smoke and conversation, a silent waiting room, a writing desk set up in the corner by the window. Lilac girl looks up at me now, and I smile in a way that says ‘everything you’ve ever felt has been felt by someone else before’. She holds eye contact for a second then glances away. And somewhere in the next room, a needle starts to whir.
everyone’s greatest fear words by Adam Colquhoun
e couldn’t hold it. He had to let it go. In all the years he had been alive he had made it safely through journeys like this without a problem, until today. Robert was going to fart in an elevator. Sixty seven floors and he was riding all the way to the top. Every attempt to hold it in was failing, his intestines groaned and his stomach stabbed with pain. If he hadn’t gone earlier, he could have sworn he was about to shit himself. A short lady, dressed in a pristine business suit and her dark brown hair tied in a bun, stood in front of him, a little red handbag clutched under her arm. The bag looked oddly out of place with the woman’s dark suit and Robert tried to imagine all the other outfits the woman could wear instead. It was a feeble attempt to take his mind off the chaos brewing inside him. By the doors stood two janitors, their cart blocking any chance of escaping onto a lower floor. Sweat formed on Robert’s brow. The janitors were talking about one of the men’s toilets on the 28th floor; it was torture. The elevator doors slid open on the 34th and the janitors moved back to allow two businessmen to enter. One was Robert’s boss. He couldn’t try and squeeze past now, his boss would know that he had no business getting off this low. His boss was a stout man in his mid-forties, with a constant stern expression and his black hair showing its first signs of grey. He was engaged in a deep conversation with the other man and hadn’t noticed Robert squished into the back of the elevator. Oh god, how could things possibly get any worse? Robert’s cheeks couldn’t be squeezed together any tighter. The fart came with a long high-pitched squeak and everyone in the elevator went rigid. All conversation stopped. Robert backed further into the corner and made himself as small as possible. He prayed to god that it didn’t smell. It did. The woman with the red handbag was the first to react. With a choke, she dropped the bag and grasped at the wall beside her, accidentally knocking the emergency stop button. The elevator shuddered to a halt. Robert’s boss called out in alarm. Suddenly the nearest janitor began to gag, then the man who had entered with
Robert’s boss. The poor woman with the bag had slid to the floor. Maybe that slightly out-of-date milk had been a bad option for breakfast. ‘What have you done?’ gurgled Robert’s boss as he succumbed to the stench. His eyes were bulging and his face was beginning to turn dark-red. ‘You’re fired,’ he managed to gasp before dropping to the floor beside the other businessman. The lady on the floor by Robert’s feet clutched at her throat and looked up at him with pleading eyes. Everyone but the furthest janitor was choking or gagging. Was this a joke? Everything was happening so fast. He was forever going to be remembered as the guy who’d farted in the elevator. Robert’s eyes began to water and his airways began to seize up. Even he couldn’t withstand the smell. Isn’t it common knowledge that everyone doesn’t mind the smell of their own brew? The furthest janitor, a middle aged man with greying eyebrows and a backwards baseball cap, stared wide-eyed at the scene before him. An accident involving a juice-box straw when he was eight had robbed him of his sense of smell. ‘What’s going on?’ he screamed. ‘Help us,’ wheezed Robert as he dropped to his knees. He tried to block the smell out with his sleeve but it didn’t work, ‘get the elevator moving again.’ He managed one final rasp as his vision began to blur. Collapsing against the wall, Robert could barely hear the janitor as he attempted to make his way past the fallen bodies. ‘Oh God! Oh God!’ When the elevator finally restarted and the doors eventually opened on the 67th floor, amongst the five lifeless people on the floor, the fire brigade found a middleaged janitor curled into a ball, his pants freshly soiled. He’d been so scared that he’d shit himself. But no one else believed that. Looking from the bodies, to the whimpering janitor, to the janitor’s pants, the fire chief muttered… ‘… You sick bastard.’
10 Auditory Problems PAGE
WORDS BY ANTHONY NOCERA
I don’t remember much from my childhood. But I do remember that I couldn’t read well and it was because I had hearing difficulties. Auditory problems, they called it. I only remember because my hearing has been going in and out lately and I think I need to go get tested again. The last time I had my hearing tested, I think I was six. ‘Anthony! Let’s start the test. Now I want you to hit the button every time you hear a beep.’ ‘Okay.’
My brother started playing guitar when he turned 16. He taught himself. He used clear picks. He bought a giant box of clear picks with at least a hundred in there, but they all had a funny way of disappearing… almost like they were invisible on purpose, like ghosts. You can only see one if the light hits it the right way. You’ll catch a faint glimmer of it in the corner of your eye and it’ll just grab your attention for that split second, but it’s fleeting and quick and you’ll likely lose sight of it before you realise what it is you saw, but no. No. No, you couldn’t ever help him look for them, you couldn’t ever help him find them because he was a musician, selftaught… yeah, self taught in the sense that he taught himself about 65 ways to fuck up Smoke on the Water. I guess that’s why his picks were clear and not Deep Purple: maybe colour was a measure of talent and clear
was ‘fucking terrible’ out of ten, but then maybe for a second he’d start playing and it would sound good, and it would sound great like he was getting somewhere but he wasn’t, and he hasn’t, and it was fleeting. But he was oh so good at making noise, my brother; riotous, cacophonous noise. Whistling, humming, singing in the shower louder than any radio in the house, slamming doors so hard that they would lock you out of whatever train of thought you were on or thought you were catching. And the screaming, and the moaning at two A.M. because Dom was fucking his girlfriend, fiancé now, so that I would have to sleep with my headphones in, and never mind that I have to get up early for work this morning and oh Anthony stop being so vulgar about her because… well, because she’s part of the family now and now we’re getting married. She said yes and when I found out I was drunk off my tits on free wine at a party where the music was so loud that I had to leave the room. It was like waking up after having my headphones in all night and getting to the end of my playlist where the songs I was ashamed of liking started playing, so I woke up reminded about how shit my taste is. But I was happy that you had an orgasm and that you’re getting married now, it’s really great for you and this song was great in 2007 and don’t worry I’m fine my ear isn’t bleeding. Speaking of bleeding, she better not be pregnant. I don’t want to hear the pitter-patter of little feet on the floorboards and, Anthony do you want kids? No. Why not? Dom you better be wearing protection, it’s not time for that yet… I’m not ready to be a
Hearsay grandmother, but Anthony what do you mean you’re not giving me fucking grandchildren are you kidding, are you a faggot or something?
‘Oh, it is. There’s bandaids, … a needle and thread.’
So the house was full of my brother’s wedding bells and they rang they gonged and their ringing reverberated off of the walls and rattled my bones. But over all of the noise I could still hear him chewing. He would eat a banana and that sticky masticating sound that was so loud, it was like he was holding a megaphone up to your ear and Dom, can you just fuck off please? What are you even doing to that fucking banana, giving it head or something? Bananas are for eating you dumb prick, and anyways how long does that thing take to cum because I have shit to do.
‘Stitches, maybe?’ I said, shrugging. ‘So which one’s yours?’
And then my brother and I would fight, and we’d be stupefied by the violence of it all and we’d walk around shell-shocked for days; silent and tending to our wounds. Making sure all of the blood was sugar-soaped off of the walls because mum painted them white and she hated smudges and marks, though I think smudges demanded more urgency. Smudges would spread if they weren’t dealt with directly, like they were pro-creating. And you could distract yourself with the cleaning, it gave you time to reflect. It gave you time to think about how very real the threat ‘I’ll fucking kill you if you touch my iPod charger cable again!’ was becoming, and I wouldn’t touch a charger again until my phone had been dead for a day so I couldn’t sleep with my headphones in and fuck me, it’s two A.M. again… Jesus Christ, no! But it’s quiet now; he took the noise with him as his roller bag click-clacked out the front door and into his own front door… although he picked the bag up because he’s got wooden floors that scratch easily. It’s quieter now and we can have bananas in the fruit bowl again. But there are still picks scattered around the house and when you see one you can hear his guitar off in the distance and you can hear Smoke on the Water but I think it sounds okay, now… although that might just be because the volume is turned down. I spot a clear pick out of the corner of my eye and I pick it up, just in case it tries to escape again and I hold it up to the light. I look through it and everything looked distorted, twisted in on itself and empty and, all of sudden, it hits me that it’s different now, this place that I’m in. Everything is different now.
‘Hah, yeah! Upon my aunt’s request, I am acquainting myself with the first aid kit, lest their be any accidents today.’ ‘Sounds like serious business.’
‘Which two, you mean.’ ‘Oh, sorry. Which two?’ ‘Skyler and Tyler. I wanted a girl and a boy.’ ‘Oh, Skyler is such a cute little girl an-’ She cut me off, ‘Skyler is the boy. Tyler is the girl.’ The smile disappeared from her face immediately. ‘Oh.’ ‘You know, I’ve copped a lot of flack from fucking everyone about the names I picked. I like them, and I’m not gonna take shit from Sophie’s faggot nephew about it either.’ She stormed off. She turned to give me a filthy look before farewelling her children, ‘Skyler. Tyler. Be good and be nice to the other Tyler and Cooper and Noah and make sure you say happy birthday to Luca! Air kisses!’ As she exited she glared at me for one last time. Cow. Maybe we could use the needle and thread to sew up your vagina, I thought. Maybe then you’ll stop having little rhyming abominations. It hit me that the thing that annoys me most about straight people is that they take so many things for granted, like children. Children are so readily available to them that they don’t even care if they fuck up their names. I mean I didn’t want kids, but I didn’t even have the option. Shitty names… it felt like a hate-crime to me. Like all the heteros are rubbing my inability to breed in my face and saying, ‘Look, I ruined this because I could, pillow-biter!’ There’s something funny about the way kids swim. You could pick which kids were going to be popular or successful or athletic or, in the case of Skyler, virgins for a very long time. Skyler was a slightly chubby six year-old with alabaster skin and red hair and a severe asthma problem. Skyler’s mother gave him the option of on-the-shoulder floaties or a swim ring style floatation device. Skyler went with the latter and spent the whole day wedged into the donut trying desperately to get out. I watched him wriggling and flagellating in the water like that spermatozoa in the year eight sex-ed video that just wasn’t going to make it to the egg… or that now that he had, you probably wouldn’t expect him to be able to do it again. Maybe, I thought,
he over-exerted himself during the ejaculatory phase of his life and he’ll spend the rest of his existence recuperating…. And that’s how he’ll die, I thought, a Viagra overdose.
‘It just really makes you think about things.’
I smiled as I listened to his coughing and his spluttering… his panting and gurgling as he sank. His gasps, they were almost like gasps of pleasure… but God, he sounded so tired. I wondered if his mother realised that he was a failure and that’s why she was so sensitive about it.
Lily shook her head in agreement, ‘be present. That’s a good one, Sara.’
Skyler; I decided that I liked it.
‘I made that shit up today.’
‘Oh, you’re fucken rocking my world with that. It’s great. Be present. Yeah. We need to make some changes.’
My family was shocked when my nonno died. It was sudden, unexpected. He was seventy-three. Right after the funeral, we went back to my nonna’s house and there was coffee and food and I remember there being the distinct sound of my nonna sobbing and the spikey hum of estranged family coming together; the room was filled with people trying to hide how excited they were to see each other, trying to dull excitement down to the pale mauve of feigned grief. I was walking around giving people small continental cakes that we bought from the bakery down the road. It was uncomfortable, uneven to overhear conversations ranging from the frothy to the devastated. I kept saying to everyone, ‘Cake will help’, but nonno had diabetes and I wasn’t sure if I was succeeding at taking their mind off of things. I walked up to a big group of distant cousins, hoping that they’d take all of the cakes so I could be on my own somewhere. Somewhere quiet. ‘You know, when things like this happen, it really makes you take stock, doesn’t it?’ Lily asked. She was always up for a cake. I tried to make my way to her but there were too many people; all I could do was listen to their bullshit.
‘Yeah, take stock. Live in the now. Not in the future, not in the past, but in the now. Be present!’
‘You like that?’ ‘Yeah I do.’
‘We do.’ Sara took another sip, ‘Oh, Anth! Have you got cakes? Can we have one?’ I walked over and presented the tray, she took a coffee éclair. Lily waved me away. Sara looked personally offended, ‘You’re not eating?’ ‘I’m not hungry; I’ve got a bit of a pain in my stomach.’ ‘What do you mean a pain, where?’ Sara shouted, bending at the knees and holding her arms out, like she was preparing for an earthquake to hit. ‘On the right hand side, here.’ Lily said, pointing at torso. Sara’s eyes almost exploded out of her head ‘THE RIGHT? You’ve probably got appendicitis! Or a tumour. You’re going to die, for fuck sake! Cancer. In our family, CANCER!’ ‘Sylv, relax it’s probably jus-’
‘Yeah, yeaaaah, like you always think that the good ones are going to live forever and he… that man,’ her sister, Sara, said, pointing to a photo of my grandfather, ‘he was a good one. He didn’t deserve it.’
‘What’s going to happen to your kids, Lily? Huh, Lilybear? You know that I don’t have the money to look after your kids and mine. That’s fucking four kids, you selfish bitch!’ Sara bolted out of the room, knocking the cakes from my hand. Everyone overheard her sobbing in the hallway.
‘But does anyone?’ said Lily.
‘Nah, well no, but you know?’ ‘It just makes you want to live everyday. Really live it.’ ‘Mmm.’ Sara nodded, sipping her coffee. ‘Because life is short, you know?’ Sara raised her hands to the sky, like she was preaching in a church, ‘YES, life is short, life is short.’
‘Yes, Anthony does have auditory problems,’ the doctor said. My mother nodded and so did I, ‘How much will it affect him?’ ‘Oh it’s not too serious, it depends on what he’s listening to.’
saffronya words by Lur Alghurabi
o reach the point where the Tigris meets the Diyala river, you drive on the Army Express, go into New Baghdad, then past the Military airport (pretending it doesn’t exist, because top secret stuff) until you’re in Saffronya. At the very end of it, a narrow stream of water joins another four times its size and the two become one. You can drive through Saffronya even if you don’t want to get to the meeting point. You can drive through just because you want to. You can spend half your day searching for a house that doesn’t have a palm tree grove for a backyard, and you can fail to find one every time. You can also take off your shoes in your car and walk into one of these groves and I swear to you, every single time, an old man called Ali will bring you an glass of chai within five minutes. You can do it all the groves, and each time Ali will come to you with the chai. Sometimes, it’s not the same man, but they all have the same name. They’re all Ali. While you’re in the grove drinking hot tea with no shoes on, you’ll come across my little boy, Safa. Since he was 12, Safa has been living in Saffronya with my grandparents and my great grandparents. They’ve been taking such good care of him. You’ll love him when you meet him. Sometimes when you go, you’ll see he has some dust on
his forehead and some blood on his shirt, but only when you see him will you believe he still smells like musk. He will tell you all these stories about the palm trees and how they smell like earth in the morning, and how when he’s done playing, Ali gets him his chai and puts some mint leaves in it too. When it’s too hot, he swims where the two rivers meet and everything is washed away, except the blood on his shirt. You can spend your entire afternoon with Safa until it’s dark and he has to go. Ali will you meet you at the gate and tell you that God is with you. If you go at the break of dawn (and this only happens at the break of dawn), you’ll see children about Safa’s age between every other palm tree in Saffronya. They’ll see you drive past, and they’ll giggle and play, but when the sun comes out only Safa will stay for you. You can go to Saffronya every day, and you will always find your chai waiting. But only if you’re on the other side will you ever get mint leaves in it too.
The oddity of my dreams
words by alyse jansons art by carly harvy
eople in life have claimed that I am odd. Perhaps it is because I tell bad jokes and then laugh at the punch line maniacally; perhaps it is because I dance crazily all by myself in public places, or perhaps it is because I tell them that I have an aspiration to one day be a spinster. Spinster. Say the word. Let it roll off of your tongue. The word has a playful hissing in the two ‘s’ sounds. Then if you consider the meaning, and especially the evolution of its meaning, you begin to form a perception of the word. The perception begins to form into what it means to be a spinster, or to want to become one. In modern times, spinster is seen in a negative light, almost as if it is a derogatory word. ‘Why on earth would you aspire to that?’ ‘Oh, no, dear! You’ll find someone! Don’t be such a pessimist!’ People say these sort of things all of the time if I tell them this story. In their minds, the image that connects to the word ‘spinster’ is an old, crinkled woman with yellowing teeth, wearing a ragged shawl, her many cats mewling and pawing at her stockinged-legs which have runs up and down the sides from where the kittens’ claws have snagged on the material.
just because a woman doesn’t have a man in her life she has no soul and is tattered around the edges? Do you think she is completely loopy? A lunatic? Spinster as a term wasn’t always linked to this drab image of a woman. Originally it merely described the profession of spinning wool, which in medieval times marked one of the only ways a woman could earn a wage independent of a man. Is the fact that these women wanted to work independently of a man something to scorn? Not in my opinion, at least. In any case, my story of how I shall become a spinster has been something that I have shaped and moulded in my head. It has been something I have been planning ever since I was at school. One day, in the not too distant future, I will meet a man. He will most likely be Scandinavian, not for any particular reason, but because it seems like an interesting area of the world. Besides, this is my dream and so I do not need to have an explanation for why something is the way that it is. At the moment I do not know the details of why, where, when and how we will meet, only that this will happen. I just know that it will.
Do you imagine her looking a little like this?
Over a matter weeks, months, perhaps a year or two of knowing one another we will form an inseparable bond. Our coming together will be marked by me telling puns, and he will laugh genuinely in response. In public places, I will not be the only one doing the Macarena and the chicken dance. He will be right alongside me.
Honestly? This is what you think? Do you conclude that
At some point, we will become engaged. Again, for the
time being the details here are rather sketchy. You can fill in the blanks if you like. As an engagement present, he will give me a goat. I’ve not yet decided what I will give him, but I will figure it out yet. I have time. One day, my man will announce that he must climb through the frostbite and make the perilous journey through the harsh conditions of the Himalayas, as a way to prove his love for me. Inwardly, I know he does not have to prove it to anyone, least of all me. While the expedition may seem dangerous, and I will fear for him, I know that nothing I say will change his mind. When we part, it will be poignant. He’ll mutter something in his mother tongue and I will cry out: ‘Mia kusenveturilo estas plena da angiloj.’ This is the only thing that leaps to my mind, and I realise only later that telling you in Esperanto that ‘my hovercraft is full of eels’ is probably not the best way to wish you luck on your journey. Maybe this well-wishing gone awry is the reason you never came back to me. Maybe our love wasn’t meant to be. They murmured the word ‘avalanche’ to me, but all my ears heard and all that my brain processed was ‘gone.’
In any case, all that I’ll have left of you is the goat. That one you gave to me as our engagement gift. Not being able to bear the thought that you are gone, I will decide to cook the goat as a delicious curry, my river of tears streaming into the large pot. Water and salt will not need to be added, for I will already have provided all of that already. Then I will eat the goat, piece by piece. I will eat every inch of the creature.
You will understand that I am doing this out of love for you. The goat is a sign of our joined love. By consuming the goat, I will have a part of you within me. It will be a metaphor – in this way you will live on inside me. This absolutely traumatic event will render me incapable of dealing with the world for a time. I know this pain will be something I never want to have to face again – to lose someone as dear as you will be to me. And so I choose spinsterdom over involvement with men. I will still live, have friends, I will not have cats because I don’t want them as pets. I will brush my teeth so that my teeth don’t yellow. My shawls will not be ragged. I may be the one that dances alone, the one that continues to tell mortifyingly terrible jokes. Will I still be odd when I become a spinster? Perhaps. But the title of ‘crazy goat lady’ sounds to be wondrous fun.
Jeremy’s storm WORDS BY justin mcarthur
can barely conceive of a type of Beauty in which there is no Melancholy,’ wrote Baudelaire, once, to comfort me. But he’s a contrarian dandy, so that means little. Baudelaire is very old now, having suffered much, and often. But he still makes the effort to speak to me with his wise gasping breaths. He tells me ‘all will be well’, since I’ve seen Melancholy, and must therefore know Beauty. But that’s no comfort, not really. It’s kind of like those folks that say ‘we need the bad to understand the good’ to a surfer after a shark attack, in a kind of half-assed Nietzsche sort of way. ‘Artifice can lend no charm to ugliness,’ he wrote once, too. Baudelaire, my friend, tells me that he still often sees a crow. Sometimes, back when he used to write, the crow was hunting him. It’s the kind of thing he talks about a bunch – he loves hauntings. He wrote well, though, so maybe the crow was good for him. I have an old TV and Baudelaire used to bring over horror films on tape, obscure crap, flotsam and jetsam. He watched them for the psychological beauties, the flowers that grow in the gap between different kinds of sanities – or at least, so he tried to explain to me once before he realised I thought he was being a wanker. But overall, Baudelaire likes my life, or at least so I think to myself, upon my darker hours. He likes my writing, inspired by velvet cushions and leopard-print rugs and the kitsch cross-stitch Scottish man that now hangs across from my door, in their house. There’s plenty of melancholy in the dusty, scrapheap chaos, let me tell you. The high roof makes me claustrophobic, because the walls seem to be closing in. Baudelaire tells
me that’s normal, that un-sensory sense of closeness. He thinks that kind of claustrophobia is common to most people. Baudelaire once held a book open to me and asked me to smell the pages. He told me that to appreciate a book, you need to take all of it in – the firmness of the cover, the strength of the binding, the smell. He told me this while he sniffed in the pages himself, sliding the book against his smooth cheek, feeling the coolness and the age. I took it from him, but my nose was blocked, so I told him abruptly that I tend to read words, and not books. My friend wasn’t always my friend, dear Baudelaire. He used to just hang around me, back in high school, meandering behind me. I started writing about him, right at the start. Maybe he was my raven, like his own crow. Baudelaire trailed behind like a balloon behind a toddler. He was inflated and black, a sack of nonsense dust, and yet somehow ominous. I liked him because he made me smile widely, like Heath Ledger’s Joker, with orgasmic poise. The Joker is pretty fond of blazers, too. When we were young, Baudelaire and I used to go to the swings at night, those swings down by the beach, and look up at the stars etched up above. I used to have star stickers, in my bedroom, that glowed when it got dark. Sometimes I still go out at night, and walk down there, and swing on the swings. I sigh high into the night and think of melancholy things, for Baudelaire. My friend Baudelaire owns a 1978 Toyota Corolla the colour of a worn-out metal spleen. That’s what I call it, ‘the Spleen’, and it’s held together by rust and the
paintwork. I’ve never seen him drive it, but he’s always crouched under the bonnet, and the yellow taillights wave and flicker sometimes when I approach his house at night. I’ve never really understood cars, myself, and to be honest it doesn’t seem like he does, either; I think he just likes the turn of cogs and the smell of the cold motor oil ticking down. When I visited the other week, Baudelaire was sitting in the back seat of the Spleen, eating crumbed shrimp from a bucket – proper-sized shrimp, not like those baby ones you get in fried rice. He was holding each one up in the air, letting the sun peer inside it; he looked up really close at one, and said ‘you, sir, look very unhealthy’, and chomped. Baudelaire finds eyes attractive, which I think is fair. You’re allowed to compliment someone on having open eyes, or a nice beard, or good hair. But it’s frowned upon to say ‘your nose is gorgeous’ in polite company. I’ve always found that a shame. Sometimes, Baudelaire and I sat in my room, chatting. We sat cross-legged on my bed and talked about my life, always mine, and he illustrated points by pointing to things – the bookshelves, discarded clothes, taekwondo belts. I wondered about him, sometimes, but he always told me very little. I tended to think he was just a pervert, to be honest. Baudelaire’s place is made of red brick and corrugated iron, and I think technically he’s a squatter, but the owner’s never home. I heard that the owner has two houses, and when he married, his wife preferred the other one. That’d explain why the place is a den. There’s a fallen-down tree out the back of Baudelaire’s place. One day it couldn’t hold itself up any more, and just fell. Baudelaire’s getting near that tipping point himself, it’s fair to say. I probably shouldn’t say that to him though. ‘To be modern is to like me,’ he declared once, fleetingly. That’s the kind of ego Baudelaire has about him. But half a romantic can never defeat half a moron. Sometimes he reminds me of an abandoned merry-goround starting up in the night, with all the lights and music blaring, full of sound and fury; other times he just sounds like Dr. Seuss for the clinically depressed, and I wonder why I ever let him in. Sometimes Baudelaire will push aside my hair and tell me that he loves me, and
I’ll hear a train go by. The wind whooshes past me, and I’m a kite. I like it when I am a kite. Baudelaire recently started wearing a square-brimmed baseball cap. It’s grey and green, it took over him; it hides his eyes and it distances me. He paints his fingernails grey, too, and sharpens them into claws. Baudelaire has a lot of lines on his pockmarked, weary face, like the rings of an old tree. His face has a thick brown desert crust, and when he moves his pursed, cracked lips it sends shudders through the clay. I’ve seen him less and less, my Baudelaire, since he grew his hair out. Baudelaire likes to hang around in graveyards wearing sunglasses, like some kind of morbid Blues Brother. I worry that he likes to crouch beside Death, sitting on that bench where the flowers bloom, near the tombstones. Baudelaire tells me that Death wears a wide black cape, and it sweeps behind her when she walks. I worry that he might try to marry her some day, or maybe just look up her skirt. Occasionally, Baudelaire wears a pink blazer that smells flavoured like musk stick candies. I worry about him especially on those days, there’s something misty about him. He wears his hair up then, as well, which is disconcerting. There’s something very French about him then. Baudelaire told me that Death carries a yo-yo instead of a scythe. She likes the swing of the pendulum in the balance. Sometimes she reins it in, but she is always in control, and the hangman’s noose tightens on the ends of her fingers as it swings. One side of the yo-yo is bubblegum purple, and the other is citric orange. I can’t stand things that stop, nor things that continue. They’re both eternities. Baudelaire thinks that sometimes I persecute him, too, he protested one day. His feet were hanging off the side of the bed, kicking up and down as he spoke. He looked particularly clean-shaven that day, I noticed; clean and proper, like wooden sheen, and I wondered if he’d been my crow for too long. I regretted every moment of difference we’d had, then, seeing him look so downtrodden. It’s hard to talk evenly with someone, while imagining your bootprint on their face.
Baudelaire has funny-looking kneecaps, that he used to be able to shift up and down at will. They used to bounce oddly when he used to run at me. One time when he came running, he reminded me of those tacky plastic thermometer-necked birds, that are weighted so that you can pretend they’re drinking your drink; he had this fierce bumping gait, almost pecking, as he ran, and he looked so happy. ‘A butterfly!’ he shouted, and opened up his hands, and a butterfly bumbled out. Sometimes he could be a bit of a kid like that. Baudelaire has tubes that go up into his nose now, delivering oxygen, these days. They run down his chin, and over his shoulder, and across the fake-wood linoleum floors, to a machine that sits in a separate room and beeps at him on occasion. When he does walk about, he wheels the machine on a trolley, but he doesn’t do that often any more. He gets out of breath easily, does my friend Baudelaire. My Baudelaire is one hundred and ninety three years old, mind, so he’s doing well. The other day the two of us celebrated his birthday with a nice, big cake, and he put all of his day’s breath into blowing out five candles. I told him that I didn’t put more on the cake because I didn’t want his oxygen tubes to catch alight, and set his whole body on fire. He laughed like an old man, then, that choking deep laugh that old men have. I think he liked the image of the pyre. One day soon, I will see that pyre alone. Someday soon I’ll be catching a tram, humming its way through the city, and I’ll feel Baudelaire, late, in the cold yellow metal of the framework of the tram. Death will be sitting opposite me, slightly drunk, in a swishy black jacket with a faux fur hood; and we’ll be reminiscing about Baudelaire, the world’s fastest man, his mind sharp as dental work. I’ll remember Baudelaire, that time he told me how society should work, that time he told me that the world is like a jersey caramel. You need a top caramel layer of capitalism and a
bottom layer of inheritance, but the middle is all communism. Sweet, white, sticky communism. Baudelaire rises like a phoenix, dies in ashes. One day Baudelaire asked me to come back with him to his place. We sat in the front seat of the Spleen, and he asked me to drive, and just keep driving. We drove down to the roundabout by the beach, but we turned away before we ended up with waves crashing over us. When we got back, he thanked me, and kissed me on the cheek, and then the lips. He was less clean-cut that day, and his stubble grazed me. He smelt like cut ribbon. One day soon, I’ll finally have to kiss his cheek back, and lay him down to rest. One day soon, Baudelaire will leave me, and the Spleen, and the swing set, and his place, and the world of books, blazers, and velvet cushions. The cheeky devil isn’t mine forever, after all. I can only hope that, before he goes, he finally gets to see up Death’s skirt.
PEN, PERSP. AND POISON WORDS BY TOBY BARNFIELD ART BY JACK LOWE
he barman slid across the counter a printed receipt and a young scholar, dressed in scholarly jeans and learned white tee-shirt, withdrew a pen and signed.
taken, he was to be relegated to the cold gloomy foot of the table, and frowned. He went to drink his drink and, seeing the gross sliver of lime, frowned double. Then he resigned himself to sitting, and the frown trebled.
The pen was a fountain pen and traced the letters of the young scholar’s name in watery cursive. But, as is so often the case in life, the edge of the receipt drew too quickly too near and a final full stop had to be hastily set down, leaving the last name indelibly foreshortened: Thomas W.
A guy called Chapman, not a scholar but not an unsatisfactory individual either, turned to him smiling but quickly stopped. ‘Thomas, what,’ he asked, ‘has happened to your face?’
The barman peered at the signature.
‘I am frowning,’ Thomas said, ‘at three things at the same time.’
‘Thomas W., eh?’ he said. ‘So be it,’ and the receipt was cast into the bin beneath the counter.
‘It doesn’t look especially good for your forehead,’ said Chapman, ‘if I may say so.’
Thomas W., as he now was, watched it disappear as a drink materialised before him.
‘It is extremely painful,’ conceded Thomas, wiping some persp. from his crumpled forehead.
Taking it, he walked back to his table sipping until, lowering the glass, he saw floating on the surface a sliver of lime horribly misshapen, not the customarily elegant crescent shape but a poorly-cut and bloated thing.
‘Might one of these three things be the paper you have due tomorrow at midday?’
Reckoning it hardly worth the loss of a last name, Thomas looked back and reproved the barman with a stern frown. The barman, busy, saw nothing of this, but ‘he knew,’ Thomas assured himself, ‘he knew.’ Emerging on the balcony, Thomas looked across at the municipal State Library, its dome twilit in the distance, and, above it, the moon, lime-shaped, ascending the cool cloudless evening sky. Locating the table, Thomas saw that light fell brightest on an unfamiliar figure who was seated – villainously – astride the chair he had occupied but a few minutes earlier. Approaching, Thomas heard many amusing words spoken to his companions (albeit companions, mostly, in table only), who listened and laughed, ignorant of the wrong done against their fellow tableman. Arrived, Thomas noticed that, all other seats being
Thomas let out a sharp cry of pain and clapped his hands to his forehead. His brow, unable to sustain a fourth frown, had seized-up. With twitching eyebrows, he gave Chapman a cold look. ‘Ah,’ Chapman said, ‘you were frowning at three things other than your paper.’ ‘Quite obviously, Chapman; as you can clearly see my forehead has entered a state of shock as a direct result of you mentioning my paper due, thank you for reminding me, tomorrow at midday.’ ‘Is it not going too well?’ ‘This is how much I have written in fingers,’ and Thomas held up no fingers. Chapman nodded gravely. ‘Well,’ he ventured, ‘mightn’t you be better off at home working on it?’ ‘I am not interested in your admittedly logical advice at this moment, old chap,’ Thomas said. Chapman, rather sensitive about his age, turned away
On Dit to rejoin the others in dialogue with the villain, who sat opposite Thomas at the warm well-lit head of the table. ‘Sorry, Chapman,’ Thomas appealed, but the old chap was unmoved.
With no one to speak to, Thomas finished his drink with one swift swig, and went back to the barman for a second (and then a third and a fourth), debiting, signing, watching his signature devolve from elegant cursive to drunken scribble. Tabling himself again, he found, in his absence, his companions had grown most rumbustious, and seemingly in the absence of further drink orders too. Chapman was swaying and whistling beside him and the others, not well known or very memorably-named, guffawed and wheezed and one of them slept, head resting on the tabletop, pool of spilled drink as pillow. Thomas looked up and encountered the gaze of the villain. Composed, he smiled roguishly and, raising his glass, drank to Thomas’s health. Then he rose and, bowing, disappeared into the busyness. ‘I’m not,’ someone said in Thomas’s ear. He turned and it was, of course, Chapman, who had swung around on his seat and was hammering the table with his fist. ‘I’m nnnnnnot.’ ‘I know you’re not old, Chap,’ Thomas said, adding, hastily, ‘man.’
Chapman threw some ice at him but, poorly-aimed, it glistened for a moment in the dwindling light and disappeared over the balustrade. Thomas put a hand on his shoulder. ‘Chapman,’ he said, bemused. Then, very seriously, ‘who, by the way, is that villain who just left us?’ ‘Gryphon,’ Chapman said. ‘No. Not villain. No. Not Gryphon. Not nnn – ths.’ ‘Griffiths?’ ‘Yeths.’ Thomas laughed. ‘Haha. I’m not drunk enough for this kind of dialogue – I shall get another drink.’ ‘Write,’ Chapman warned. Later later later, Thomas thought, ambulating barward. Having readied his fountain pen he discovered that his debit card, formerly of his wallet, was there no longer. Otherwise penniless, he backtracked to the balcony. Chapman, like the fellow next to him, was resolutely asleep. Though his drink was unspilled. The others had, it seemed, gone. ‘Chapman,’ Thomas said, and prodded him. ‘Remove them, Gryphon,’ Chapman mumbled, ‘remove the clothes.’ Thomas, most unimpressed, searched the table and environs. The tabletop, as yet uncleared, was fruitless but for discarded slivers of lime. On first looking into Chapman’s tumbler, Thomas found not his debit card but an exquisitely cut sliver of lime. He picked it out and, comparing it with the risen moon, concluded that it was indeed a supple ripe green delicious crescent shape. Thomas also noticed a whitish powder sprinkled over it: more unprofessional nepotism. Taking up Chapman’s drink as his own he went to interrogate the barman. Leaning against the counter in drinker’s pose, Thomas’s thoughts turned ineluctably to his paper. ‘Thomas W.?’ He looked, and his left stood the villain Griffiths smiling. Thomas glared. ‘Look, old chap – ’
Hearsay ‘Old Chap is asleep.’ ‘Look, old scholar,’ Griffiths amended, ‘I’d like to apologise for usurping your seat earlier. Rather incommodious of me – I’m very sorry.’ Thomas pondered. ‘May I ask,’ Griffiths continued, ‘by way of compensation,’ and as he spoke he took from out of his pocket a phial filled with off-white powder and emptied it into Thomas’s Chapman’s drink, ‘how your paper is coming along?’ Thomas frowned, not painlessly. ‘I appear,’ he said, ‘to have witnessed you attempting to poison my drink.’ Griffiths nodded. ‘That does appear to be the case.’ ‘So,’ said Thomas, ‘first you steal my comfortable seat, then poison my friend Chapman, and now you’ve attempted to poison me. You realise that you are behaving like a right bastard.’ ‘Would it at all ameliorate things,’ Griffiths queried, ‘if I purchased you an unpoisoned drink?’ And, uncannily, he gestured and the barman delivered. He presented to the barman’s outstretched hand a debit card – Thomas’s. Thomas raised twitching eyebrows. ‘That,’ he said, ‘is my debit card.’ Griffiths grinned. ‘It has my name on it,’ Thomas elaborated. ‘Many thanks,’ Griffiths said, accepting a receipt from the barman. Thomas, fundamentally gentlemanly, offered his pen. But Griffiths waved it away, and from his breast pocket extracted a fountain pen of his own. ‘Now, are you Thomas W.,’ he asked, ‘or am I?’ And he signed on the receipt a perfect Thomas W. Taking the freshly-ordered drink, leaving the debit card, Griffiths doffed, this time, an invisible cap, and slipped away.
‘You Gryphon,’ Thomas said. He tried again: ‘You villain, Griffiths,’ he called. But, Gryphon or Griffiths, the man was gone. Thomas pocketed the debit card and drained the drink in his hand, ice lime and all. Pulling it from his mouth he saw the lime was a perfect crescent shape. He had drained Chapman’s drink, doubly-poisoned.
Thomas reclined in the arc of a giant crescent lime up in the midnight sky, surrounded by off-white clouds that slowly decomposed, their pieces floating earthwards. Smiling, he surveyed the stratosphere: not a gryphon in sight. But abruptly a great barman’s hand reaching as from nowhere plucked the lime from the sky and squeezed, sending Thomas drizzling down to earth, whereupon he became conscious of sitting not in the sky but on a very earthly wooden chair behind a long writing desk in the State Library. Drops, indeed, though not of limejuice but of the old persp., dripped onto the leather tabletop from the tip of his nose. His saliva was bitter and bilious and squinting about he saw books and books and shelves very full and a tall reading lamp bent over the desk that looked, alarmingly, like Chapman. Switched on, it revealed several sheets of paper, lined. Thomas lifted a twitching hand to still twitching forehead and scratched. A long and drunken walk from the bar to where he now sat, possibly via a vendor of notepaper, was probable but unremembered. ‘Write.’ Chapman’s warning was suddenly scribbled across his mind. Thomas nodded slowly, then vigorously. He reached for his fountain pen, feeling, like the unsqueezed fruit of his dreams, ripe with feverish energy. He addressed the lamp: ‘Very well, Chapman: I shall write.’ But having written the date in unsteady cursive, he paused and looked at the lamp askance. ‘I realise,’ he said, ‘that I have spoken to you as if you were human Chapman. Now, you do admittedly look
On Dit very similar to human Chapman, and you may now think that you indeed are human Chapman; but you must not forget that you are ultimately, and I’m sorry to have to put it like this, a lamp. ‘And not,’ he added, ‘a very bright one, either.’
All thoughts of a human existence thus struck from the lamp’s mind, Thomas began to scribble words words words, many words’ worth of words: ‘substantive similitude,’ ‘punitive mechanisms,’ ‘division six corollary nine of the amended legislation,’ ‘the res speaks for itself ’ (some nice Latin in there), and, at one point, ‘remove them, Gryphon,’ but that he struck out. The pages filled rapidly and it was not long before Thomas was, like the metaphysical poet, done. He awoke, having fallen into dreamless sleep slumped uncomfortably in the hard-backed chair, to a shaft of sunlight shining directly into his eyes. He fumbled with uncertain hand and tried to utilise some sheets of paper as a visor. ‘Busy old fool,’ he groaned, ‘unruly sun. Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?’ Baffled by this unwarranted poeticism, Thomas sat woozily upright and found that he had been cradling in his arms the Chapman-like reading lamp, which he pushed gently aside and switched off. The sun, also sensitive about its age, had moved upwards and now bathed Thomas’s forehead. A powerful headache bloomed, drawing more groans, these not especially poetic, from Thomas’s dried throat. Thomas’s eyes, after some remedial rubbing, focused on the many pages before him. He held page one of seven, double-sided, up to the light and observed narrow-eyed line upon line of drunken handwriting, interspersed with splashes of persp. He attempted to read a line aloud but could make no sense of it.He laid his head on the table. Up on the far wall hung like a full moon the Library clock. He made out the hands which pointed out five past eleven— rather later than he had realised but not yet too late, for the municipal University was not far. Breathing heavily, he rose from his seat as from the dead and collected his effects, rolling the papers like sacred scrolls (which in a way they were) and sliding them into an inside pocket, fountain pen following. Swaying, he bade the lamp an uncomfortable farewell and ambled out of the Library into full view of the nearly-midday sun.
The persp. made a quick return as Thomas worked gradually up the footpath, forehead held in hands, mouth agape and breathing raspy. A sudden throbbing of the bladder saw him half-hidden behind a low-hanging tree, offering an off-white libation to the sun which, momentarily appeased, allowed a cloud to pass over it. Unburdened now from above as below, Thomas’s pace improved, though he stopped to watch one of his companions from the night before wander past, glass still in hand. Not long after, he entered the great stone fortress that was the University, and delivered himself, paper in hand, before his professor. ‘Have you ever heard, Mr W.,’ the professor asked, eyes scanning bespectacled over the first few lines, ‘of plagiarism?’ ‘I believe so, sir,’ Thomas, with great effort, said. ‘The paper, after all, is on copyright law.’ ‘Well,’ said the professor, suddenly unspectacled, ‘well well well. Of course it is. And it is an exceptional paper. But it is not your paper is it, Mr W.?’ He opened a drawer and produced another, which he trust at Thomas. It was a faultless facsimile of Thomas’s own, but written by a sober hand in elegant cursive, and signed Griffiths. ‘This,’ the professor expounded, tapping Thomas’s paper, ‘is the work of an amateur forger. Your rushed and uneven handwriting impute that and, look here, splashes of perspiration from the exertion of rushing confirm it –’ ‘Do you mean persp.?’ Thomas inquired. ‘My apologies: drops of persp. from the exertion of rushing confirm it. And would you like to know why you were rushing, Mr W.? Because you stole into your fellow scholar’s quarters and copied his entire paper while he was in the lavatory. ‘If it were still Shakespeare’s time, this,’ and he tore Thomas’s paper into quarters that he let fall to the ground, ‘would be called a bad quarto. And just as William Shakespeare, a vulgar glover’s son, never really wrote those marvellous plays, so too did you, a vulgar golfer’s son never really write this marvellous paper.’ Thomas wished his father had been left out of the affair.
Hearsay ‘I would like,’ he declared through teeth clenched, ‘a re-mark.’
Griffiths span round to face it, fountain pen raised, but promptly softened.
‘Adieu, Thomas W. Your mark is and will remain zero.’
‘Enter: Chapman,’ he said, laughing. ‘Imperfect timing, I’m afraid; young Thomas here has fallen. And you,’ he advanced, raising pen scorpion-like, ‘have unwisely come unarmed.
Thomas, thus dismissed, collected the pieces of his paper from the floor and exited, tired, thirsty, hungry, angry. Dismounting the steps from the professorial office into the courtyard, Thomas stopped. Lounging on a bench on the opposite side, waiting for him, was forging, framing, poisoning, villainous Griffiths. The two met in the courtyard’s centre as the sun, of a mind of its own that day, began its postmeridian descent prematurely. Thomas was trembling, furious, furiously hungover. ‘Thank you for your assistance with the paper, old Thomas,’ Griffiths smiled. ‘Bit of a lengthy walk to the State Library, of course, but worth it it seems.’ ‘You,’ Thomas said, ‘are a villain, Griffiths.’ Griffiths laughed, and Thomas unsheathed his fountain pen. Griffiths became very serious. ‘It is to be a duel, then?’ Thomas nodded. ‘First ink drawn on the torso.’ Griffiths uncapped his pen. ‘Agreed.’ But Griffiths, fundamentally ungentlemanly, swung suddenly and cut open Thomas’s cheek with sharp nib, drawing ink and blood in unison. Thomas recoiled and, light-headed, fell. On his back he appraised a limeless sky until Griffiths imposed himself, wiping bloody-inky pen on a handkerchief. ‘Sorry it had to end like this, Thomas W.,’ he said. Inky blood trickling down his cheek, Thomas watched Griffiths turn to walk away. ‘Gryphon!’ Thomas tilted his head to see the lamp from the State Library leap into the courtyard.
‘But then you wouldn’t even have a fountain pen, would you? You’re not even a scholar,’ he chuckled, ‘are you, old chap?’ Chapman, not, it might be said, in a mood partial to insults, took a swift step forward and swung an unscholarly fist into Griffiths’s smiling countenance. The villain swayed for a moment, smile fading, and fell back without word. ‘Griffiths exits.’ Witty Chapman knelt beside witless Thomas. ‘Chapman,’ Thomas said sleepily, ‘I’m not long for this world.’ Chapman laughed. ‘My paper is in my pocket, Chapman. Take it,’ he pleaded, ‘you must tell the professor the truth, Chapman. Gryphon is the dishonest academic, not I. ‘Thomas – ’ ‘No, Chapman,’ Thomas shut his eyes, ‘no more words. For me the rest is silence.’ ‘Thomas,’ Chapman said, ‘you are not Prince Hamlet nor was meant to be. Get up and I shall escort you home.’ ‘My paper,’ Thomas repeated, ‘Chapman, you must take it – ’ ‘Your paper,’ Chapman chided, ‘is redeemable.’
orange juice & jelly words by yunhe huang art by sarah tynan
wake up in a strange place.
This is a room with one bed, one window and two doors. The bed linen is a faded shade of blue. The window is covered with a gauzy blue curtain. I am lying in the bed. The pillow feels like plastic under my ears. The blanket feels heavy and a bit plastic too. I don’t know where I am right now. But I do have this feeling that I am not supposed to wake up. Not supposed to see the bleak sunlight filtering through those curtains. I search my mind for any clues or vague memories, anything that might justify my current state of existence. I find nothing. Every morning I am led into a room.
I feel a piece of soft plastic squeeze around my arm and a piece of hard plastic poke under my tongue. Then I hear a machine beep eerily. ‘Blood pressure normal.’ Someone smiles and puts tasteless pills on my tongue. I swallow without question. Afterwards I am allowed to leave the room. The motion of swallowing seems to trigger something inside me, a memory perhaps. The prospect of remembering alone makes me feel weak. My arm stings vaguely under layers of clothing. Afterwards I go to another room. This is a room with plates and forks and knives (plastic) and seemingly endless loaves of bread. I smell the scent of butter on fresh toast. After taking two slices and popping them into the toaster, I hear a sound that tells me breakfast is ready. The fridge is always plentiful. It is filled with large cloudy jugs of orange juice and small clear containers of
orange-coloured jelly. I take a small container and watch the translucent mass wobble in my hands, then on my spoon, then feel its plastic sweetness in my mouth before it slips away forever. Every sensation is precious when one has been deprived. Any place can be heaven when there’s orange juice and jelly. With this knowledge I push the mystery of my current location to the back of the mind for a moment. I now enter a room with a large desk and chairs. It reminds me of a classroom. I remembered that I attended school some time ago. No details come to mind. Seated on a cold plastic chair, I am not nervous at all. A person walks in with a clipboard and introduces herself as the psychiatrist. I do not know what a psychiatrist is. She seems nice and I want to trust her. She asks me questions about my history. Her voice is that of a songbird made of candy floss. I open my mouth to answer those mellow questions but no word would come out. She repeats again and again but I still cannot manage anything. Everything is a hazy cloud in my mind. She attempts to smile and leaves the room with her clipboard. I hate myself. But I feel no anger. Free activity happens after the ritual proceedings. This usually means watching films on TV. I sit on the sofa and wait for those pointlessly hysterical figures to make time disappear. Today we are watching Mean Girls. Regina George screams on the tiny screen. I can see everything. I can hear everything. But I can feel nothing. I know I am trapped in a cage, a cage without laughter or tears or excitement or any feelings at all. The word ‘escape’ appears in my head. Nothing else comes to mind. Regina George pauses and goes dark. The TV is turned off and free activity concludes. After the day’s adventures I return to the bedroom. I undress in preparation for a shower before bed.
Staring at my own body, I notice many parallel red lines along my left forearm and wrist. I run my fingers across them very carefully and feel that they are slightly raised and rough. Who put them there? Inside the bathroom, I turn on the shower taps and feel the warm water nurturing my hand. Perfect temperature. I step in and feel the water immerse my body and tend its numbness. I watch as exhaustion drips off like a paint layer and vanishes down the drain. I see the lines on my wrist and try to remove them by scrubbing using my right hand. Strangely they become redder the more I scrub them. After a while they appear to be burned into my skin. No, these lines must have been carved into my skin. Indeed one of them seems quite deep. I wonder who did this. Now I remember everything. I remember how one night, I slashed at my wrist multiple times with a paring knife over the kitchen sink. I remember the droplets of blood gathering into a steady stream as it dripped down my fingertips. I remembered how that wasn’t enough and I decided to take one step further. I remembered how I searched through the medication cabinet and swallowed everything with large gulps of water from a tall glass. I remembered how it was all in an effort to make the pain go away. I can remember all of this without problem. What I can’t remember is how I felt during any of this, the pain I was desperately trying to detach from my soul. My feelings, once tsunami-like and engulfing, have retreated beyond the horizon. All that remains is this wreckage of barren, emotionless sand that stretches forever. I turn up the hot tap and feel the scalding water cleanse my arms. I need to fill this gaping void with sensation. Any sensation will do. I did not ask for this. I asked only for peace. The sun has risen again. I take an extra serve of orange jelly with my cup of orange juice. Perhaps I will be able to answer the psychiatrist’s questions this time.
MEDICINES Words by Casey Tonkins ART BY andy bui
e were walking along, three of us, down a city street. It was night and as dark as a city night should be, with the bare sky above faded by a haze of human light. I had my head down watching my feet as the other two wandered along, chatting and chatting. One foot moved forward, then was left behind while the other caught up. I knew my feet were there, but I could only see my shoes. They were torn, the canvas starting to come apart from the base. One hit the ground. It lifted. It moved forward and placed itself back down again. Again and again and again without any thought, just the process of moving along the dark, chewing-gum stained footpath. ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you?’ said Sam. He was taller and louder than me. ‘All I said was that I don’t think we should be wanting to fight, you know? We should be aiming for harmony and to keep as many lives going as possible, right? What’s the point in killing someone and closing the door to their mind forever when we can learn from who they are in the hope of improving that which we all share?’ Sam and I stopped. Nick took another couple of steps
forward before realising. We looked at him when he turned, then looked to each other. Then laughed. I put my arm around Sam and my shoes (their once white rubber sides specked with dark grit) took me forward. Sam and Nick’s shoes each took them on their way. ‘I love your idealism, Sam, but people will keep killing people. Those who can kill people are the luckiest in the world. They take the light from the eyes of the living and put an end to what once was. There will never be anything more powerful in the human experience than creating and ending life. It’ll keep happening.’ We strolled and strolled. I think we aimed homeward, but I don’t recall where home was. It was forward though, maybe around this corner. So we turned at the corner and moved into a new street full of what fills every street. Only a road in the middle of two footpaths which were loomed over by colourless buildings that held the air above our heads. Not much was said since Sam’s mention of killing. Further down this particular street, Nick took off into an alley. He just darted to the right past a poorly maintained
chain-link gate, the two halves of which stood open and relaxed without any need to hold themselves to their purpose. The chain that once held them together reached to the ground. I’ll never know what led Nick to go through that gate, but he sure had a reason to, and I can’t fault him for following his feet.
hopping over the counter to the back, drawn to the pharmaceuticals. I’d figured this was a pointless exercise, as anyone who’d liberated beauty products and prophylactics from the shelves would surely have cleaned out the more sought-after products. Nick was one to check though, and I couldn’t fault him for that.
Sam and I ran behind, jovially calling out to him. There was no need to panic, Nick was just off on a tear and we knew he’d soon get to where he needed to be, and there would be where we’d catch up, and we’d stand there panting and laughing, catching our breath post-chase.
I jumped the counter with Sam in tow. I think he may have been a bit concerned by now. It’s always a little tough willing yourself into jumping the counter of an empty pharmacy in the middle of a Tuesday night in a part of town with which you’re completely unfamiliar.
Then Nick turned left down another alley, hurling forward to the streetlight at its end. The alley was empty (or as empty as an alley could really be). Sam and I kept at his heels as much as we could, but we knew it mattered not.
Nick was sifting through the libraries of drugs that lined the back of the store, checking labels for something that would catch his eye. Surprisingly, these shelves were well stocked, but looked as though they’d been purposefully rifled through. The floor was speckled with books, which I did think was slightly peculiar at the time, but not odd enough to distract me from the collection of pills, caplets, and syrups that would enter either my stomach or a market I’m sure Nick was planning on setting up from his living room.
We could see him turning onto the street and continued our pursuit. Once the corner had been rounded, we saw it standing there - a pharmacy - resting in between the otherwise formless buildings that lined the street. It was squeezed in, one storey tall with a narrow, pointed roof that screamed up to the roofs around it. Its windows had received recent brick visitors from what I only assumed to be local louts out to fight a system too complex for them or anyone to fully comprehend. ‘Look,’ Nick said absently, as though Sam and were standing beside him with eyes in need of immediate instruction. ‘I see it, Nick.’ We weren’t quite as happy to be back together as I thought we would be. There was no laughing or panting as our breaths needed no catching, since they were drawn back into our throats from the sudden stop. The pharmacy commanded our attention, and its busted windows were all the invitation we needed. Nick went first. Sam and I shared a look before following once again - my shoes leapt forth with excitement. Nick had jumped straight in, but Sam and I peered through the windows first before vaulting over the remaining window shards. It was pretty dark inside, but my eyes widened and adjusted to compensate. Rows of mostly empty shelves lead to an abandoned counter. A few packets of condoms, a bottle or two of shampoo and some cans of deodorant sat expectantly on the shelves. I could see Nick’s figure ahead,
I saw Nick down the row opening a bottle and dropping a couple of pills into his hand. He re-examined the label before popping them in his mouth and swallowing. Then he tossed it my way: Vicodin. Sure, this could be a fun way to end our little stroll. I empty the bottle of two or three before passing it on to Sam, who shook out a couple and dropped them down his throat with a gulp. And then we were each going through those tiny bottles and hurriedly trying to unscrew those damn caps that you have to push down while turning, which was mighty frustrating because we just wanted the drugs and we couldn’t get to them fast enough. ‘YEEAAAH,’ screamed Nick as he poured the contents of a little white bottle down his gaping mouth, stoked by his reward for the effort of child-proof lid opening. Samson was throwing every bottle he could find on the floor and jumping on them, popping the lids open and releasing the little white morsels of goodness out into the world. When he’d crushed enough bottles he got on his knees and shovelled as much as he could into his mouth, crunching and chewing in between swallows. He was like a
hippo with a little lever on his head that snapped his gullet open and closed, collecting and chomping; hungry, hungry for more. We were frantically filling our mouths and screaming and tearing bottles from the shelves and shaking them and twisting and stomping and swallowing and spitting. We gorged ourselves on what we felt we needed, which was just more of what we already had. And then Nick stopped. I could see he’d stopped and looked away from my frustrating game of push-and-pull-and-turn-and-scratch lid just in time to see him fall. I went to move but couldn’t. I looked down at my shoes but they just sat there, motionless. I pleaded with them to let me tend to my friend. MOVE! For Christ’s sake he needs help, please just MOVE! One, then the other. You were doing it before, I SAW YOU! They didn’t budge. Sam yelled at the floor cursing, screaming, pleading with it to move him forward so he could help Nick, but no dice.
So there Sam and I stood, helpless, screaming and crying while Nick lay lifeless ahead of us clutching two bottles, an empty smile drawn from ear to ear. I could smell him. His face slowly grew sores that softly released the stench of roses. I could see the smell rising from him and drawing into my nose. It was heavenly. I felt comfortable and warm and then I too fell smiling, looking toward Nick. Sam’s body collapsed behind me, relieved of the stress of fighting with itself. Our bodies began to soften and we leaked out from abscesses, filling the pharmacy with a botanic haze. Our stomachs opened and rolled our insides outside onto the floor where they lay for a brief moment before congealing. Our outsides started to move back inside and then we each gradually shrank until three brown seeds sat motionless on the pharmacy floor. The morning sun poked through the window above Nick’s seed and crept along to where our bodies once lay. At the touch of the new day’s warmth, our seeds cracked open and fell away releasing tomes of timeless pages stained with lines of lovely prose.
DEATH FROM THE
JAPAN WORDS BY LAUREN FUGE ART BY katie hamilton
housands of particles slash through the dense gas below the glass, sparkling like gold dust in sunlight. At first they look like violent meteors burning across the sky, then they slow to drift like clouds through the night. I watch, transfixed, as I stand under the cloud chamber’s dark curtain in the Ibaraki Museum of Atomic Energy, Japan. Invisible cosmic rays pour down through the atmosphere, through the roof, through my head—and this supersaturated vapour, this ultra-dense gas, slows them down and makes them visible. Cosmic rays are composed of alpha and beta particles, and as they hit the gas, they condensate and form a kind of mist, showing the path they travel beneath the chamber’s glass. A bright lamp under the gas illuminates the trails, which are sometimes long and thin and curved, and sometimes bloom in the shape of thick, golden teardrops: rain from the stars. I take twenty photos in an effort to capture the magic, but each picture is blurred and unfocused as the trails constantly flare up, fade away, and flare up again.
It’s a recurring theme throughout my time in Japan: regeneration and decay. Radiation is especially unavoidable; it’s pervaded both public consciousness and everyday life for the past seventy years. August 1945, Little Boy and Fat Man were dropped by the Allied forces on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—atomic bombs, barely-tested radioactive weapons built from the ground up at Los Alamos, a hushed-up military base that housed the Manhattan Project. Brilliant minds from around the world were brought to the stunning mountains of the New Mexican desert, and in the midst of this vast beauty they built a weapon of terror. Little Boy and Fat Man were the first and only use of nuclear weapons in warfare. They caused instant devastation the likes of which had never been seen before, and the long-term effects of acute radiation exposure were more devastating still. Elements like uranium and plutonium can undergo chain reactions as they decay, releasing huge amounts of energy as a by-product, and the bombs harnessed this energy to create mass destruction. Exposure can cause instant cell death, but can also have more insidious effects, like mutating DNA and increasing the risk of cancer. The true death toll from those two attacks will never be known, but estimates run up to a quarter of a million. In Hiroshima, it was thought nothing would ever grow in the city again. But the following spring, the red petals of the oleander flower bloomed from the ravaged earth. In 2011, nearly seventy years later, an offshore earthquake caused a tsunami that wiped across the eastern coast. It slammed into the waterfront Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and knocked out the power of three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors. They went into meltdown, and by the next day, the plant was issuing copious amounts of radioactive material. Over 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes, and more than 1,000 died in the ensuing conditions. The release of radioactive material and the contamination of water was a materialisation of long-held nightmares for a country that has twice before been irreparably scarred by radiation. Both times, the devastation crashed in from across the Pacific Ocean. It’s strange and sad to me that the Fukushima plant was
operating on the same basic principles as the atomic bomb, harnessing the decay of radioactive elements to produce energy. This energy wasn’t being used to destroy life, and also to sustain it, providing electricity and light. But in the end, it only created fresh wounds.
Back in the Museum of Atomic Energy, our tour guide shows us a room crammed with glass cabinets containing endless ordinary objects—ropes, potatoes, bottles, cigarettes, bananas, non-stick frypans, clothes, seeds, plastic packaging… Each of these things, she explains through our translator, has been irradiated. Radiation is used to sterilise and preserve food by killing germs without harming the goods themselves; to treat fabric to prevent wrinkles or stains; and to keep food from sticking to the surface of metal cookware.
still line along the horizon. A few shiny new buildings sit resolutely on the flattened earth, but they’re the exception; bulldozers rumble across the muddy rubble, scraping up debris from the fateful day three years ago. A week after I return home, I’m channel surfing when I land on a documentary about the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. I can’t look away. It’s March 11, and from up on a mountainside, shaky phone footage shows a 15-metre wall of water descending upon the miniature buildings below. It doesn’t make a sound until it hits— until it roars through the streets and rips houses from their foundations. The wave looks smooth and placid, but below the surface it moves with an incredible, indescribable force. Dotted figures run below—some seem to move slow and unconcerned, deceived by the calm appearance of the water. If anything can drown the thundering wave, it’s the screams of those who have already made it to safety as they watch others be swallowed by the terrible greed of the water below. Before I left for Japan, I had only a vague grasp of the 2011 disaster. I went, I saw the destruction, and yet I hadn’t even begun to understand the scope of what they’ve bounced back from.
The levels of radiation present in these objects is small and well below the legal limit that humans can safely be exposed to. Other countries irradiate their food and goods even more, but it’s not the amount that worries the Japanese government, it’s the fact that there is any at all. We spend most of our time in Ibaraki, a prefecture on the eastern coast, directly adjacent to Tokyo. Everywhere we go, we’re faced with the aftermath of 2011—those kinds of wounds never quite heal. Inside a brand-new fisheries museum, we’re shown a heart-wrenching short film about nearby villages that lost everything. When we step outside, we’re face to face with a bleak landscape. The ocean is grey, a thin,
It feels like such a safe country, even though I constantly meet reminders of its eternal unrest. No matter where I go, from the neon streets of Akihabara to the winding lanes of the rural Daigo town at night, I never feel threatened. With the lowest crime rate in the world, Japan seems polite and cosy, the humidity curling around me like an atmospheric safety blanket. But like the tsunami, the fractured island country is agitated and dynamic beneath the surface. It was wrenched from the mainland about 15 million years ago, cracking open the Sea of Japan. It lies along the seam between two enormous continental plates, on the brink of the Ring of Fire that runs, jagged and volatile, around the edge of the Pacific. An earthquake trembles beneath Ibaraki when I’m there, at one o’clock in the morning. It’s so minor I sleep right through it in the safety of my host family’s house, but the next morning I wake to discussions of the country shaking beneath us—my host family are excited, thrilled, that I experienced one while I’m here. It’s a crack in the guise of safety: a reminder that I’m currently above a huge geological rift in the Earth, in a country that is constantly forming and reforming. All of Earth is changing over eons as tectonic plates inch their way across the planet’s surface, but somehow that immeasurably long process seems more immediate in Japan. As it drifts north-west like an underground tsunami, the Pacific plate thrusts up volcanoes in its
wake, producing molten rock that spews up to coat the world above. We don’t visit any volcanoes during our time in Japan, though Mount Fugi is sometimes visible on Tokyo’s smoggy skyline. But our hotel in Daigo is built on a river rife with hot springs: silken water bubbles up from deep in the crust and fills the onsen baths. There’s nothing like soft, mineralised water on bare skin, nothing like inhaling steam formed by billions of years of raging geological tides. Ironic, that these processes are driven by radioactivity at the Earth’s core. One morning we hike up through the town, along the Koi-filled river and into a tunnel that snakes up the mountainside, the darkness glittering with endless strings of coloured lights. Where daylight splits the end of the tunnel, we step out to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. The water carves a place for itself in the dip between two mountains and pours down over uneven collections of rocks, framed by summer trees. Blossoms are scattered over the mossy wooden viewing platforms, and trees and vines reach up around the decking: it’s built into a landscape that is trying to reclaim it. In the toothed mountains above the ocean-side Hitachi City, we visit a mining museum that has been given, willingly, back to the earth. A sleek new building rises amidst perfectly manicured gardens—from the grave of a defunct copper mine. Inside, I see a photograph of the area when the mine was in operation: dank, empty, the trees felled to a wasteland. But when I look out across the mountains, I see nothing but tall, thick trees. From the moment Tokyo’s buildings drop away, nature rises back up, dominating the land. My host family’s house is squashed up on the hillside of Hitachi City on a winding, narrow road, but its back garden is an unexpected break from the urban sprawl. Dozens of flowers, vegetables and oddly-shaped trees spring up haphazardly from the soft earth; garlic bulbs are strewn around, herbs claw for room, and leaves spill out over the low fence that overlooks the road below. Outside Tokyo, it never seems to me like man-made structures overwhelm the landscape. Sometimes though, they challenge it. We eat at two restaurants built mere metres from the beach—two restaurants that were destroyed in the 2011 tsunami and rebuilt from scratch. Through their front windows, the ocean stretches out, vast and waiting. But the buildings stand firm and open for business, drawing their seafood
directly from the monster that once swallowed them and hoping it doesn’t come again to reclaim it. The bravery in their desperate fragility strikes me hard, and lingers. Perhaps it’s the primal forces beneath them, but Japan and its people seem to constantly be pushed up and up. Like the oleander flower, they rise from devastation like no one would expect. They rebuild. They challenge. They survive. Even knowing the staggering death toll from their dynamic, radioactive past and present, I never feel a sense of death in Japan. Loss, but not death. What I see most of all is a cycle of renewal: decay existing hand in hand with regeneration. Like the blows dealt by cosmic radiation to the cloud chamber, every gash that is ripped open forms a shower of gold, which fades, bursts into light again, and fades once more.
bones of a
words by karolinka dawidziak-pacek art by jack lowe
he world spins today. She twirls around me, a white whirl, never stopping. The bones in her feet are like those of a bird, breathing in and out, ribs fluttering as the bones emerge every time she takes a step. Another step, another twirl; her eyes remain fixated on one spot as the rest of her body moves. I close my eyes, but she still doesn’t go away — instead, she spins closer and closer. Irrational panic throws its claws around me as I see those bones pushing against the thin barrier of skin, trying to break it, trying to devour me. Brrring. The shrill tone echoes, and I peel open my eyelids. Confusion weaves a thick rug through my brain, and my hands wave in the air as I strive to catch those words that disappear as soon as they arrive — shrill tone,
grey, brrring brrring bring, brrrrrrrrrring PHONE! Phone! That’s it! I know what I have to do now. I force my lips to curl back into a — a… smile. They say I have to remember all these emotions — that little boy holding up those cards, waiting patiently, yet I cannot guess a single one. Wait, who? His hair is a raven black, glistening against all that oil. Oh, the oil. And the blood — that cloying iron scent all around me, my feet sinking in decomposing heaps of flesh and feathers and forests, a rusted gun slung over my back, that poor back which weeps from the sores that bubble like volcanoes on the once beautiful skin — Brrring. I shake my head, and the battlefield disappears — here is my room. There are my books. There are my
clothes. I am here. I am no longer there. Brrring. There must not be much time left now. I walk slowly through the room, holding onto the wooden bedframe, then the wall, the cupboard doors, and finally the dresser. There lies the owner of that shrill voice. ‘It’s impolite to yell, you know,’ I say. I pick up the thing, and some reflex tells me to hold it to my ear. My mouth opens to launch a tirade against that meddlesome kid when a young voice sounds: ‘Grandma? Grandma?’ Suddenly, my knees buckle, and I fall back onto the sofa. A damp pant rises from my chest. ‘Grandma?’ ‘Yes, Kora, I’m here.’ ‘You sound hoarse, Grandma. Clear your throat properly.’ ‘Oh my dear, if I could I would! You know that!’ My voice is shrill. Just like that girl — she spun so lightly, her legs like a spider weaving sticky webs that would trap the fly, and then she’d hover above it with awesome beauty, enthralled by the death throes, waiting for the moment to descend and end the light with a swipe of fangs. A sigh comes from the other end. ‘Grandma, I’m coming to pick you up for dinner in around ten minutes. Will you be ready by then?’ ‘Yes, of course.’ I tap my foot against the sofa, and hang up. I get up quickly, and go to the bedroom to check my bag. It is in the same spot as always, behind the chair. After I move the bag to the front of the chair, I take off my dressing gown. My eyes do not stray to the mirror as I undress. I know exactly what to wear today — I open the wardrobe, and reach for the navy blue ensemble. The skirt stops long below my knees, but the pleats make it special. Make me feel special. Now that I am dressed, I pick up my bag and walk to the kitchen, humming softly. The walls glow white, and sunlight streams through the window into the kitchen. The silver surfaces glow with the reflected light. I smile as a beam of warmth lands on my hand, right around one of many liver-coloured spots. A greeting! Thank you, I say in my head, not daring to speak out loud- my daughter tells me so many times not to do it. Apparently, speaking out loud is a sign of madness. Who knew?!
On the shelf to the right of the stove lie my keys. I reach for them, already feeling the smooth, cold metal against my skin — yet fingers grasp at empty space. I pause for a moment, and cautiously reach out again. My fingers bend and come together into a fist, yet nothing lies in their grasp. Oh Mary, Mother of God, save me! The girl spins in the corner of my eye, faster and faster, bones rising up and down and up and down and breathing in and out and in and out. I turn around, eyes wide, hands clutched into fists. Where am I? The walls are a deep yellow — not the curdled lemon tart-kind of yellow, but the colour of piss. Of dreams gone wrong; of a life changed. I take a deep sniff, and my lungs fill with a musty scent that makes my nose wrinkle. The pot plant that sits on the scratched dining table is not even alive, yet dust covers the thick plastic fronds with a layer of grey. My harsh breath echoes in this place, this unfamiliar place. I don’t want to touch anything. I won’t touch anything. But where am I? Sunlight glints off something, and a bright spark reflects in my eyes. I blink, blinded for a moment, and the black spots in front of my vision disappear. I go to the dining table and pick up my keys from beside an orchid plant. ‘Silly, silly Janina,’ I say in a half whisper, ‘You must remember such things!’ The keys safely with me, I pat down the blue scarf that curls snugly around my neck, and go to pick up my bag. A knock on the door. Kora. She knocks so softly, I can barely hear her. I walk towards the white door, slide back the golden chain. How bright everything is today! The door open without a creak, and there stands Kora. A smile hovers around her lips for a brief moment, yet all too soon it reverts back to the usual frown. Her nose wrinkles, but I cannot fathom the cause — the only thing that I can smell is the crisp, rosy fragrance of the air freshener I set out every morning. ‘Grandma, I was knocking for five minutes! What were you doing?’ ‘Ah, the hell you were knocking for five minutes! I just heard you then! But anyway, these damned hearing aids should go to hell! I paid over five thousand dollars for them, and they still don’t work!’ ‘Grandma, they are from the government subsidy! And they were three thousand dollars, not five. And besides, such expensive hearing aids can’t possibly malfunction!’
Her words fly at me like darts, and my hand flaps in the air to intercept them. ‘Bah!’ I say, and close the door behind us. Kora heads straight towards the fridge.
‘Oh Kora, if you want a snack, look in that cupboard over there,’ I point. ‘There’s nothing in the fridge.’ Yet her hand continues to pry inside, like a rat that jumps into the hole of another to steal secrets before scurrying away, thin whiskers twitching. There it was — that beady look in her eye. ‘Grandma, what is this?’ I blink, and the image of the rat fades and blurs into Kora’s face. She holds something in her hand — a shadow? The edges shudder around my vision; I cannot make out the shape. It lies in her hand, just like that piece of wood Dad found when we were scrounging in the ice for scraps of food. Instead we found a chunk of wood, by some miracle not saturated with water. Oh, how precious it is! We all crowd around that piece, wait with bated breath. Our eyes sparkle like fresh dew drops illuminated by the sun as Dad strikes the last match, holds it to the wood. And then the noise- bang bang bang, explosions, screams, an eyeball hanging by a single thread, resting below an exposed cheekbone, the gelatinous mass quivering, run run run, pant, footsteps in the snow, cold! Biting fingers around my shoulder, icicles going through me, sudden, burning pain, Oh God, sav — ‘Grandma, this is dangerous! You should never have chicken unwrapped, even if it’s in the fridge! Other food could come into contact with the raw meat, and then it could be contaminated by dangerous bacteria! Why didn’t you wrap this?’ The forced smile on my face flickers, and fades until there is nothing. Something inside me unwinds, a ball of string that rips apart when exposed to the roaring winds of the storm. The strings flutter, separate from their ball of comfort and go flying in the wind, never to be found. ‘Oh, what nonsense you sprout! Just like your mother! Why can’t you just leave me alone! This meat is perfectly good — I brought it at the supermarket yesterday, and was going to cook it for dinner today! But then you can’t leave me in peace, can you? You have to drag me to eat dinner with your ungrateful mother! I did everything for her when she was a child, supported her through school and moved to this fucking country to take care of you when you were a baby, and now that I am old, what does she do?’ My fingers tremble, and I clasp them to my chest as the words burst forth, a spring dam escaping after being trapped for far too long.
‘She treats me as though I’m insane! I know that I’m a burden for her, I can see it in her eyes!’ My own eyes swarm with tears as I stand beside the fridge, shaking. ‘I may as well go and drown myself! I am no longer of any use to her, too old to cook and clean and take of the house; I have no purpose, and should just go and die!’ Kora stands up and reaches towards me, but I push her away. Tremors run freely through me now, and the tears behind my eyes push against me, wishing to be free. And why not?
I look past Kora, into the mirror that hangs on the yellow wall. For just a moment, I see a fresh, young face unblemished by life, demure chestnut locks hidden beneath a satin hat. And then it vanishes, and I see some old woman. Veins stand out on her forehead, contrasting with brown spots that dot her face. One purple spot squats below her left cheekbone, now sunken. They are nestled in valleys upon valleys of wrinkles, all clustered together. Watery eyes discharge their fluid, yet I can still see their colour — a pale, washed-out blue. ‘I… I don’t know what’s happening to me! I’m going crazy, and I can feel it!’ The words rush out of me in a big breath of air, and suddenly, I have none left. Kora approaches tentatively once more, and this time I lean into her shoulder. She rocks me gently in her arms, and begins to hum the rhyme I recalled falling asleep to countless times in childhood… A, a kotki dwa A, a, there are two little kittens Szare bure obydwa Grey and brown, oh both they are Nic nie będą robiły They don’t have a thing to do Tylko Janinę bawiły They just want to play with Janina
it is the performance
words by ying chuang Ah, the people, the cacophony, the swirl. It woke me up, but what really bothered me was the crush. No, don’t step on me. No, don’t stand there. No, don’t push rudely past! What a flurry, blurry, giddy gathering of bustling. The backstage holding room spilled over with cellos, violins, trumpets, bags, clothes, scores, food, drinks, chairs, books and performers. Even the bellboys were interested in the goings-on of the room. The room itself, high ceilinged and carved with flower decorations, glowed red under the weak yellow light. Footfalls were lost in the soft, red carpet; Bad weather was hidden beyond those gold framed doors; but the noise: the ebb, the swell overwhelmed me. It was too much, too close, too tense. Ah, the excitement. The final preparations before the last rehearsal and then the frenzied nerves before the actual performance: The transformation from rehearsal clothes of jeans and any-old-shirt to suits and dresses, sparkling leather shoes and heels, flattering makeup; tied ties and buttoned buttons, and hair interestingly gelled up. A sweaty, exasperated duckling became a magnificent, grandiose swan. It was wonderful, bewildering, surprising. Running like a cat—softly, stealthily and quickly—I went to the front of the stage to watch the rehearsal. Wide-eyed and amazed, I lapped it all up: the beautiful, the grotesque, the cringe-worthy. Ah, the interval. I skulked around in the milling crowd, getting swept this way and that, looking at the finery, the shoes, the feet. They stank a bit. Unseen and unknown, I watched the people from my angle. I am hungry. I am bored. Yet, surprisingly, I am excited. My heart is still beating furiously. The performers are happy; they mingle, they smile, they hug. It is more claustrophobic than the room. I wonder if the flowers are made of sugar. They look edible. Ah, the finale. The applause resounds; there are cheers and catcalls and whistles. It is finally over; the breath that was held in painfully is let out. The fairy dust still remains. The musicians linger; they sparkle still. They are all reluctant, nostalgic, hesitant. They do not know what to do with themselves. Thank you and see you next year! Now the rush begins again; people are packing up, heading home. It’s time to go. Meow.
100 word story words by ying chuang The bells chimed a specific number to mark the new year. Melancholia’s hollow sound. She paused by a grill, straining her soul; if only she could fly to meet the notes. They hung in the oppressed air. An old breeze joined in. She never knew where the bells were. They sounded through the noise and the silence. The world held its breath to listen. Then the pointless clacking of heels and drink paired with meaningless words swirled by. Screams and grinding mixed with grinding screams. Badoop badoopdopp. She turned her back to it. It was only passing time. Winged; caged.
words by emily palmer
he track stretched out in front of her: red and flat and hard. There would be no getting back up if she came-a-gutsa. Breaking her neck would be the best outcome – the other, unimaginable. Self was the only thing that Flora truly owned; everything else could be taken away in a heartbeat. So she didn’t wear a helmet when she rode because if the end was coming she wanted it to be final. The other had happened to her father’s younger brother during a polocrosse game. Outwardly it had just been a stumble, a light fall, but nothing would be the same for him ever again. Something in his brain had broken – quite common, according to the hoity town doctor, bad head injuries can do that to people. There was no sympathy in his voice, not for these rough dirt-browned folk. It didn’t matter if Jim hadn’t used his head much before the accident because there was no using it at all afterwards. So he’d been sent off to the crazy hospital and everyone had gone on as before. The only difference was that they pretended he had never existed. There had only ever been one Crawley brother. Flora didn’t want to end up like that, wilfully forgotten. Still, she loved to race. The girl sat easily on the stocky grey mare, her bare
brown legs wrapped gently around its barrel. She had the careless arrogance of the natural born horsewoman, her hands quiet on the reins as the mare bounced with excitement beneath her. Her nubile young body was almost indecent, clad only in cut-offs and a sweatstained singlet; she was beginning to become aware of the new, threatening way men looked at her. Two parts desire and one part disgust. From the women, she got only the latter. Good for nothing, the wellto-do matrons whispered, angered by the way their sons admired her. Fast going down her sister’s track; both the Crawley girls good for nothing, except when their legs are either side of a horse. Talented, but trash. Their poor mother. The last was never said with too much pity. Maria Crawley had been equally beautiful when she was young, and equally hated. Flora felt the judgement more than her sister ever had. Jen didn’t care what they said because she believed it was true. I am trash she would say defiantly before heading into town in her too-short skirt and too-tall heels. Red clashed with her pink-toned skin but Flora never said anything. Jen wouldn’t come back until the next morning, with tired black-rimmed eyes and a handful of notes. She would repeat the mantra again, I am trash, but with less defiance and more resignation. Flora wasn’t willing to blindly accept the epithet, to let herself act as expected. Don’t say that, she wanted to scream at her sister, believe that you’re something
better. Believe that you’re trash and that’s all you will ever be. She didn’t ever say the words out loud. By that point, Jen was too far gone. Nothing Flora could have said would have fixed it: at least, that’s what she made herself believe now. Nothing could have saved her sister. Jen was only ever happy on the back of a horse. Cloud had been hers, before. Maria had bought the mare as a scrawny three year old and for Jen, it had been love at first sight. The way she acted, it was like nothing had ever meant anything before that moment. She had never looked at her family the way she looked into those kind brown eyes. ‘Cloud’ she’d named the filly and ‘Silver Linings’ for shows. Shows? Maria had asked, concerned, but Jen had already turned away, her eyes shining with new, unexpected dreams. After that, Maria hadn’t had the heart to stop her, instead scrimping every spare penny until she could afford the entry fees. Show jumping didn’t cost too much, after all; it certainly wasn’t worth more than her daughter’s longing. Flora had been jealous; two years before she had been desperate for dance lessons, and nothing had been done to help her. A farmer’s daughter taking dance lessons? Better off learning how to brand
a cow. She hardly thought show-jumping was any more useful: it was certainly just as elitist. All those pink and scrubbed town brats, sitting high on shining horses. You had to have money to excel: that was just the way of it. But Jen got what she wanted; with those black ringlets and that catching smile, she was hard not to love. However hard Flora loved her, though, she couldn’t help being bitter. Secretly, she wished failure upon her sister. Just once, she wanted her not to succeed. She stopped wishing after the first show. The sight of Jen and Cloud soaring over the fences silenced that bitterness forever. The sharp concentration in both the pricked ears of the mare and the set jaw of her sister was something beautiful, impossible to resent. The green ribbon – third, the result of a knocked rail in the jump off paired with a blisteringly fast time – won smiles from all the family, even though the prize money didn’t cover the entry fee. Together, the mare and girl were entrancing. The thud, thud of hooves against the ground wakened an answering beat in Flora’s heart; she longed for a horse of her own, even though there was no chance she would be bought one. Her mother weakly offered a puppy, but what could Flora do with blind affection? She wanted strength and power. The mare tossed her head impatiently, momentarily jarring Flora back to the present. She patted the
sweat-dampened neck soothingly. Cloud was a quality mare, although her mother couldn’t have known that four years ago. All dapples and quicksilver. And boy, she could jump the moon, keeping pace with the better bred warmbloods. Bareback like this, she felt as broad as a pony, her thick hogged mane standing to attention. Flora’s own charger, ready for battle. Wait, just wait girl. Good mare. Flora whispered softly, feeling the anxious energy swelling around her. Aren’t you a good mare? One metre thirty was the highest competition Jen and Cloud had jumped. Not bad for untrained bush kid, not bad at all. Words like raw talent and superstar were tossed around: her future, it seemed, was bright and their parents were ecstatic. Finally one of the Crawleys, making good. Maybe she could get a position with a professional trainer; maybe they could buy more horses. Perhaps Jen could start a business; could she go to the Olympics one day? Jenna Crawley, they could almost hear the name booming across the arena now, as she bowed her head for the gold. As the competitions got grander, the entrance fees got steeper. Cloud’s tatty leather saddle simply had to be replaced, otherwise Jen would be embarrassed in front of all her peers. She had to have a bright blue saddle-blanket, embroidered with Silver Lining. A bridle with a glittering brow-band. They looked like a million bucks as they charged around the course now, but the Crawleys didn’t have a million bucks. The other show-jumping families did.
What the Crawleys did have was a struggling farm, a handful of cattle and even less pasture. They had relied on Jen leaving school at sixteen to help out with the labour, but with show-jumping in her sights she wanted to stay and graduate from year twelve. She thought she needed an education, to mingle with the rich kids that she competed against. Finally, her father had to put his foot down. No more school. No more show-jumping. No one had offered to take her on as a working pupil and it seemed unlikely anyone would. Trainers wanted money; they preferred money over ability. So Jen learnt that all the raw talent in the world didn’t get you much more than disappointed hopes. I need this, I can’t live without this, she cried at her parents. Don’t stop me. As if it was question of stopping her, instead of sheer practicality. Flora wasn’t a cruel child. She didn’t feel any satisfaction, seeing her sister’s every hope being stripped away, but she equally didn’t try to help her come to terms with it. Flora was still happy; still allowed to attend school for another two years, still allowed to entertain living, breathing dreams while Jen’s were no more than dust and shadows. She noticed the despair in her sister’s eyes far too late, after Jen had begun to visit town night after night, and even then only because of the whispers. Townspeople had started to talk. Flora overheard girls at school sniggering about the town slut and wondered aloud who it could be; her friends, kind at first, wouldn’t tell her. School girls are cruel, though, and it wasn’t long before she learnt that they were talking about
her own sister. She could barely believe it, until Jen all but confirmed it. I am trash, she said when Flora confronted her. I am trash, and who are you to judge me. You’re trash too. She hadn’t listened when Flora begged her to stay home, begged her to stop. Why would you do this to yourself, she pleaded, please, Jenna. The girl on the grey mare stared fixedly down the track, fighting back the tears. Oh Cloud, she said softly, why didn’t I stop her? Why didn’t I save my sister? Jen had started going to shows again, paying for entries from the box of dollars under her bed. She told their parents that she’d found a part-time job, working in town; not exactly a lie but not the truth either. Flora didn’t say anything. She wasn’t sure why; whether she really believed this would make Jen happy again or she simply didn’t care. She hoped desperately it was the former. When Jen began winning again, smiling again, she felt vindicated. Everything would be all right; Jen could stop going to town, someone would offer her a job, perhaps she could even go back to school. Flora closed her legs around the mare. Cloud leapt forward eagerly, straight into a fast canter. She’d been so stupid to think everything was going to be okay. So naïve. Her body settled automatically into the rhythm, until the mare was simply an extension of herself. They were one creature, running for the hell of it, running to escape. The whispers always caught up to them, carried by the wind. Can’t keep her legs closed, that one, what a whore. Been with every man in town, and taken money for it too. Legs for days and such a tight little cunt.
Flora couldn’t block the words out; tears blinded her, and she wound her fingers into Cloud’s spiked mane. The mare went faster and faster, stretching her neck forward into a flat gallop. Her father had kicked Jen out after he heard the rumours. Flora couldn’t imagine how he felt, overhearing men talking in the pub and slowly realising they were discussing his beautiful, precious daughter. Only sixteen, he kept on saying over and over. Only sixteen. Her age should have stopped her from selling herself, but didn’t stop him from taking away her home. He had told her never to come back. Only sixteen. Flora was sixteen now. She had left school willingly. She knew her parents needed her now, more than ever; she also knew that there was no escape. It hurt most because she had got what she wanted. Her sister hadn’t excelled for once; she’d failed. The horse Flora had longed for; it was hers. She had become the desired sister, the one who men’s eyes followed down the street. Those had been the dreams of her fourteen year old self; not any more. Now she just wanted to know Jen was okay. So every day she brought Cloud out to the track, and raced against her memories. Flora knew the price of dreams, she knew there was no silver lining. Dark clouds didn’t pass, they hovered overheard. She did not hope. She did not dream. She could only run.
window in a room
words by june glasgow art by daisy freeburn
he character of this story is not a character at all. He sits in his bed all day and all night without getting off the bed to take a shit or a piss. He sweats between the sheets that are stained and he never leaves. There is no name to this character. He sits in his bed in a home full of carers that come to change his sheets. But they manage to shift him without shifting his geographical position. They use a machine to lift him off the bed and drop him down again. He lives like this every day. There are two other patients that share the room with him. They do not know him even if they know things and do not think they know anything. They look at him blankly and laugh and cry at each other when they are in the right mood. He never pays any attention to them. In a story, these other patients are also characters. But they have no characters to this story. They are here because they live in the same room as the first character who writes. He notes down in a book conversations shared between the carers and the other two patients. He puts them into stories such as this one, and he reads them to himself. Next to his bed, there is a window with curtains that are always closed. His bed is close enough to the window so that he can open the curtains without moving off the bed. Whenever he leaves the curtains open, the carers would come back and close them. They never tell
him not to open them again, but they always close the curtains like he is not meant to look outside. When he does look outside, there is not much to see. There is no setting to this story like in many others. You may imagine whatever you want to see outside this window of a home full of mental patients. It could be a wall. Or it could be a garden of flowers. The characters all see different things when they look outside the window when the curtains are pulled to one side. It is the only window in the room. The room is surrounded by linen-colored walls. No one ever visits any of the characters in this room with one window. The characters have not been outside this room for a long time. The window is the only opening through which the outside world is perceived by them. When there are no conversations between any characters in the room, the first character who writes writes, there are no conversations between anyone in this room or anywhere else in the world. He then opens the curtains and looks outside. This time, he sees a white light that is warmer than the sun. It is the head of a black cat on fire as it walks across the garden lawn full of maple leaves in autumn. The cat twists its neck to look back at him and purrs. He writes, a black cat with a crest of fire cries like a baby in a paradisiacal delirium like my mother used to when I was a baby myself. And if he closes the curtains and opens them again, he
knows he might see something quite different from the first time. This time, he may see a man that resembles an elephant with large floppy ears climb a maple tree, braying like a clumsy donkey being flogged. Writing in his notebook, he is not surprised at what he sees, for this is the usual kind of sceneries that he witnesses when he opens the curtains each time. He writes, I have become an elephant and am walking about the prairie with a long nose and floppy ears, about to climb upon the legs of a young woman, my penis erect, and cry in ecstasy like a dog in heat while the sap-suckers suck upon the delightful maple trees in spring. A carer comes in and brings tea for the characters in a manner that suggests she is not a character in the same story as all the others. She walks like an egret who is no good at walking, her neck strained to make her look taller. She drops a tray with three cups of black tea on a small table in a corner of the room. She comes to the bedside of the character who writes, smiles at him, and shuts the curtains. She serves every character with a smile that is deliberate, drops the tea on their bedside tables without saying anything, and leaves the room smiling deliberately as though she is being filmed. The character writing decides to write, there are no conversations between anyone in this room or anywhere in the worlds that I do not know of, and here is a cup of tea that is made from the nectar of my nurse. He drinks it and falls asleep in the bed before taking a leak in the bed without knowing it. When he wakes up again, the carers have already changed the sheets. They lifted him and dropped him with a machine so quiet he did not even wake in his dreams! He is delighted at the carersâ€™ efficiency and decides to compliment them in his story. He writes, the nurses have long legs and helped me masturbate in my dreams. They imagine I am the greatest masturbator in the world and gives me garlands for ejaculating so fast and accurate. I will paint them if they would buy me some paints and brushes. If I am at all creative, I would paint on the sheets I soil and mix paint with my excrement! As he writes excitingly, one of the other two patients in the room screams, which interrupts his writing
rhythm. He turns up to look at the screaming character and writes, a beast is slain in his bed chained to the rails. Such a beast ultimately deserves as much penetration as the characters that live in the same room as young mental patients. I will give him what he needs if only I can get off this bed without cutting off my legs. The patient continues screaming as the writing character writes and as the writing character concentrates hard, he is no longer disturbed by the screamer. The screams are becoming more prolonged, while the other patient that does not write or scream masturbates under the sheets. The character that writes with a pen on a leather-bound notebook scribbles rapidly, the beast is dead! The beast is long dead! Yet a young man, with a brilliant soul has stumbled upon the carcass. He has not eaten in his room for days and has become skinny like a skeleton. He is overtaken by an appetite unmatched by any lust. He tears the beast open with his teeth that have become sharp like a lionâ€™s and digs in the meat. He is drinking the blood that is lukewarm now. The beast lies as though it is screaming. The brilliant soul of the young man suffocates in the soundless screams. But that is not the end of the story. After consuming most of the carcass, the young man becomes filled with a desire that he does not yet know. It is one of perhaps to leave for a new oasis or a new prison, but nonetheless he cannot move his attention away from the rear of the beast. He feels that the anus of the beast is a door that opens unto a new oasis, a new prism, a new sphere of urgent paradise unseen, unnoticed ever before by any other. So he is taken by this powerful belief and inserts his sex into the doorway. The character that is masturbating in the room shared by all the characters of this story is reaching the climax that he so dislikes. And he stops abruptly and hurries himself to sleep while the writing character writes without paying any attention to him. The character that screams has resorted to howling like a wolf instead of screaming. So he howls like a wolf into the room with one window which is perpetually closed. The room is dark even though it is day
time. The character that writes continues to write, so it turns out the beast is only a female wolf that is dead and not a beast in its true essence. The young man howls as he ejaculates because he realizes he is not at all human, but a wolf that can only howl at the foot of a hill at something as lifeless as a dead she-wolf. The character who always so desires to write stops writing at this moment as he envisions a wolf gray and silver howling at the foot of a hill covered with snow. He closes his eyes, and sees a change of scenery: fish are dancing on ripples of the great sea, which he has never seen except in photographs and paintings. He realizes if he was indeed a character in a story, he would be a terribly boring character, for he has no story to tell. He only records what he experiences in his life that is so everyday. He suddenly feels glad that he will never be a character anywhere in the world and he starts laughing at his stupidity until he falls asleep again. When he is awakened, a different carer has rung a bell and come in with dinner for the three characters in the room. She looks pleased that the curtains are not opened, but she does not say anything. She does not even smile. She serves the trays of food upon each patientâ€™s bedside table and leaves them in solitude. The character without any character writes, there are no conversations between anyone in this room or anywhere in the worlds that I know of, and here is breakfast: carrots, peas, stew on rice and fruits for dessert, served by a nurse who has had the hots for me since the day we met. She is not a female beast or a she-wolf but a male prostitute disguised as a female nurse that works in a circus hostel. I want to tell her I would make it with her if only she could stay here under my sheets which unfortunately are more often soiled than not. But if she doesnâ€™t mind the other characters in the room or the soiled sheets, we could make it right here in this bed. I would ejaculate into
his technically male anus and pretend it is as delightful as a female vagina and scream with him or her, whichever term he or she prefers. But a circus has its rules. I am the star of the circus, which is why I am always kept in this cage, being fed without having to always perform anything to the public. No conversation took place between us, but I believe that a common ground is well understood when we look blandly into each otherâ€™s eyes. In her eyes I see lips that are rare and fleshy. They are perhaps the labium she or he has longed for all these years but could never have. It makes me wonder what she sees within the depths of my eyes. I hope she does not see the wolf that is me or the fur that covers my testicles. As he writes, he realizes he has forgotten to open the curtains when the carer has gone outside. He hears the carer lock the door to his room and opens the curtains with one hand. There is nothing outside, he has led himself to believe. He does not know what to see outside this window which is so desirably placed next to his bed. The lack of setting to this story has frustrated the character deeply. He thinks day and night how he could write a story that has no setting and the main character does not bear any character at all. He does not move the lower half of his body and he touches symmetrically all the fingertips of his hands and pretends to be in deep thoughts. The truth is, he knows he is not meant to see anything outside the window and he is not truly meant to write about such things. He turns to see the other two characters in the room. The one who screamed earlier is now lying face down. He slowly humps the mattress while the bed frame creaks. With his face down, no one can tell whether he is asleep or awake. The other one who masturbated earlier, is now clawing his face with his left hand. Every few minutes, he would alternate hands clawing the other side of his face. He repeats this every evening before the moon rises. From time to time or every
other night, he would mumble as he claws his face. He would mumble something like, ozsssozsssozsssozsssfft in a deep-throated thundering noise, in which case the character that writes would write in his book, my fellow monster is dying in his bed with blood oozing out of his ears and eyeballs, giving me his last dying words, which are always: I sucked your cock in your sleep. Upon writing such sentences in his book, he would proceed to close his book and attempt to suck his own cock under the sheets. But tonight the character that claws his face does not mumble, so the character that writes in his book does not write in his book such sentences and attempt to suck his own cock. Tonight, the moon rises slowly and no one sees outside the window because it is painted black. At first, the character that writes is charmed by how dark the night is and decides to write, the night is black and I am aroused by the unknowability of what remains unknown outside this room and which I long to explore as soon as I break free of the trees and claws that gnaw at me in my sleep deep within this room. But then, he realizes the blackness is eerily surreal. He wants to get closer at it to see how surreal it is. He feels that it is so surreal he can touch it if he breaks the glass. He almost shifts from his original geographic position because he is longing to reach the other side of the window. He cannot decide what to do but slowly and desperately, he shifts towards the panes of glass like an attracted piece of magnet to another attractive piece of magnet that is stronger. When he touches the window, it is stone-cold. He moves to the edge of the bed in order to examine the window more closely. When his legs are half way off the sheets, his face is so near the window his nose touches the cold glass and he lets out a cry of shock. He realizes the window is painted black from the outside! The paint is scantily applied with so little perfection and such lack of craftsmanship that the brushstrokes are
visible just because the moon has risen tonight with some wanton new lights! The character that used to write is put into such a state of despair that he exclaims in silence and falls off the edge of the bed, at which moment, his soul experiences a slippery but sure and slow breakdown and he knows: it has been a mistake to take any action to change his position that breaks the pattern of his everyday inaction because his position as a character without any character is not meant to be changed. Without any noticeable mistakes, he begins the make of a new discovery, which is that the looks of his legs bare against the scanty moonlight coming through the blotchy black paint on the only window in this room are in his distorted views obscenely ugly and diabolically green. Not knowing why or what he is meant to do with this discovery, he decides to follow instincts and starts biting off his foot starting from the yellowing nails of the toes. He decides he will work his way from bottom up and is determined to chew off the whole legs until there are no legs left to his torso which would have turned purple by then from the loss of blood — the color of lilacs he sometimes sees outside the window before it is painted black. And this – the last sentence of the end of all of his stories – will be completely devoid of the paradoxically delirious character that is prescribed by a star of a circus before he dies without writing out his last sentence, he imagines he has written. He does not know this sentence is never written in the book that still sits upon the soiled sheets of his bed. He is lifted off the marble floor by the same quiet machine that never allowed him to change his geographical position and dropped back into the bed before he starts chewing his legs again.
words by michael koenig
She stood motionless in unquestionable awe. Yet another Sunday evening was approaching only this time daylight savings had ended and dusk had come sooner than in weeks previous. The moon, full in all its splendour was on this occasion setting behind her in that odd way it does from time to time. The air was crisp, more crisp than it had been in some time and her entire body, but specifically her inner thighs, had sprouted goose bumps. She could hear the sounds of the local birds crying their goodbyes and goodnights to the setting sun. She’d always thought they’d sounded a bit like morse code contrasted with digital frequencies and in her younger years had spent many an evening trying to decipher their abstract, rhythmic language. ‘If I were a bird, what would I say?’ she’d ask herself, quickly dismissing the question concluding that her high pitched wallow would serve no purpose or likely be misunderstood anyhow by anyone who heard it. Those were the innocent days, the days before the questions started, the days when she trusted people and people trusted her, the days before the torment. They were simpler days but they were gone and she knew that. She knew that just as well as she knew she was running extremely late as she always did on Sundays yet still she stood, motionless and transfixed. Transfixed on what exactly she wasn’t sure, to anyone else what sat in front of her was nothing more than a decrepit picket fence monstrously overgrown with ivy or as she preferred to call it, Hedera Helix. So much so that only fragments of the white fence could be seen through the mounds of endless plant
matter. Still, this seemingly unkempt monstrosity gave her comfort and within it she saw something; something that took her elsewhere. After a few minutes of solace, she shook her self out of her mesmerised state, anxiously tightened the ramshackle bun she’d tied in her hair and continued on her way through the maze of backstreets and alleys she’d learned to navigate through months of practice. There was of course an easier way to get to where she was going, it was a long a busy road that was quite often full with pedestrians and extremely well lit but being her she’d never taken the easy route. It was never an active decision, it was just the way she was: curious, restless, some would say even a little bit naïve…they’d never say it to her face of course but they’d say it nonetheless. The sun had all but disappeared completely now into a sea of violet and orange and the birds whom she loved so dearly had ceased their cries, amplifying the sound of her Doc Marten boots trampling the gravel beneath them. Although she was well aware of
how late she was running she still walked at a gingerly pace, holding out her slightly smashed but still functioning iPhone that gave her barely enough light to see where she was going, but barely enough was all she needed. Through graffiti, dead cars, bikes and piles of chopped wood she zigzagged her way through the bowels of suburbia. Passing through clouds of potent odours so dense they could almost be seen, one minute the scent of a roast dinner with all the trimmings, the next that comforting scent of petrol and car exhaust that always made the right side of her mouth turn up slightly into a sort of half grimace. She could hear a couple fucking relentlessly to her right while a dog was barking to her left in notable rhythm with the groans and grunts of the writhing couple. Inspired by the orchestral din surrounding her she stopped walking for a moment, closed her eyes, lubricated slightly, slipped her left hand down the front of her tights and taking her clitoris between her thumb and forefinger, she began twisting it back and forth as if it were the dial of an old radio, and there were no good stations to be found. Slowly at first, then faster and faster until she was keeping in exact time with the barking of the dog and the groans of the couple
fucking. She began to groan in time as she lowered her tights, bent her knees outwards slightly and slipped one finger into her now fully lubricated cunt. The dog, the couple, her own groans and now the sound of her palm slapping against her moistened vulva were all engaged in a rhythmic symphony no less beautiful to her than the Moonlight Sonata. Her knowledge of classical music wasn’t great, but she definitely had a thing for Beethoven. As her feet began to rise slowly from the gravel beneath them, the tempo of her thrust out sped that of the surrounding noises and dropping her iPhone, she took her right hand and slipping it into the back of her tights, began to tease and tickle the rim of her anus before finally sliding two fingers inside. In a manoeuvre somewhat reminiscent of a sexualised grand pliet she rose higher and higher until she hovered almost a metre above the ground. With both hands now working overtime she arched her neck so that she was facing upwards and, noticing the peppering of stars that now appeared in the evening sky forming the various constellations she had become so reliant on, she climaxed… silently. In unison with the couple, whose escapade did not end quite so politely, and in the presence of a now silent metronomic dog… she came.
As gravity led her softly back to earth she removed both hands from herself, wiped the spots of blood and feces from them on a tissue she’d kept in her jacket pocket and closing her eyes in one last moment of uninhibited bliss, she landed firmly on the ground. She pulled her tights up, straightened her dress, fiddled again with her hair, and realising now how embarrassingly late she was she continued on her way.
the refusal words by claudia iendo We were called upon to prepare for war Against everyone we were taught to shun Then stood in shock at the soldiers we saw: They were all harmless, defenceless and poor. We had travelled with intention to kill But on the border, despite our order, I dropped my gun and yelled, ‘I never will.’ There was no chance for a silence to fill. Ready to die, my heart gave a loud pound, With peaceful closed eyes, awaiting demise, Like a lowering chain came the wrong sound: Carefully, a sea of zinc touched the ground. Eyes still closed, as they rose, I felt their thrill Chanting, ‘We never will... We never will.’
cape tribulation, queensland words by yi gong Canopies, in the most vivid variations of green. A complex web of shape and form, and life. The highway between the rainforest and the reef seems to be endless, As are the stretching sand bars at low tide. The sea, the sky, the beach, all blend together in a fragile harmony, Turquoise, grey, beige, and the off-white of the foam, Rolling in with the lazily breaking waves, The shade that clouds lining heaven’s floor would wear. And it’s a tribute to you, and to me, To all those who travelled here before our steps, And all those who will, after us. We’ll keep on driving or sailing down this road, Or along the ocean current, who will take us home, To our eternal reservoir of hope.
encounters words by Athanasios Lazarou In this midnight city where non-desires mask satellites of black noise. I stand in aetheric splendour seeking various methods of escape, asking permission to disqualify, when I see her stop amongst blurred paths, vectors of human transience, and reframe her face as passage for the first time broken, crying, exalted by fears, endlessly numbed in collections of tears. These hesitations of yesterday Faded in total want and desire and spaces in between such emptiness of sunken eyes (This vacant gaze awaits my everyday). Morning light breaks the trees, I see her once more at the corner of my stare. I swear I did, I saw you there placed outside this absent ecstasy of my abstracted body that walked over, over-signified to hold a finger, and then a hand, and then your body and then mine with a sweetness that only youth can give, ringed by disembodiment. Then gone, adrift and lost again forgotten and burnt with reality these lies play wholly in abstraction, before turned to stone, vanishing, absent, unveiled.
Hearsay: English for on dit. The annual creative writing anthology.