ABOVE WATER CREATIVE WRITING ANTHOLOGY
Endless thanks to Harry Baker, our editorial assistant who went to infinity and beyond in helping us raise this publication above water. Thanks to the judges – Tzeyi, Annabel and Lucy – for giving these works the time and attention they all deserve. Thanks to Clara Cruz Jose for helping us with advertising, and Alf Simpson for helping us proofread this beast. Thanks to Nigel Quirk and Printgraphics for consistent awesomeness in the world of print (and the world in general). Above all, thanks to everybody who submitted. This couldn’t have happened without you.
Editors Alexandra Alvaro Amie Green James Macaronas Sara Laurena Mary Ntalianis Harriet Wallace-Mead Editorial Assistant Harry Baker Judges Tzeyi Koay Annabel Brady-Brown Lucy Adams Advertising Executive Clara Cruz Jose Internal Artwork Ruth Duffton, Veronica Fernando, Rachel Morley, Morgan-Lee Snell, Jasmine Iona Slater Contributors Taylor Carre-Riddell, Megan Cheong, Grace Coppinger, Sebastian Dodds, Alex Epstein, Esther Le Couteur, Harry McLean, Amber Meyer, Lara Navarro, Deborah Peake, Levi Pilcer, Darcy Rankin, Morgan-Lee Snell, Greer Sutherland, Linus Tolliday & Matt Wojczys
ABOVE WATER 2017 EDITION VOLUME 13 Above Water is the annual creative writing anthology published by the Media Office and the Creative Arts Office of the University of Melbourne Student Union. Above Water was launched in 2005 and marks a turning point in the breadth of creative writing published by University of Melbourne students, for University of Melbourne students. Now in its 13th year, Above Water continues to showcase the best art and writing from the breadth of voices that echo out of this University and into the surrounding world with passion and flair.
Written Winner Harry McLean Written Runners up Grace Coppinger & Sebastian Dodds Cover Art & Graphics Winner Yiran Wang
CONTENTS 03 04 12 18 23 30 32 36 40 42 44 50 52 54 56 58 60
Toepads Continuing Newsfeed The Descent of Man Triage Mummymania! White Feminist Two Extra Candles Fashion Week Noble Orphan Pudding Flour Waking Life A Study on Goats In Case Ma Doesnâ€™t Tell You Isaac at the bus stop Cane Toad The Tourist
Taylor Carre-Riddell Megan Cheong Darcy Rankin Lara Navarro Linus Tolliday Esther Le Couteur Morgan-Lee Snell Levi Pilcer Sebastian Dodds Greer Sutherland Grace Coppinger Harry McLean Deborah Peake Amber Meyer Esther Le Couteur Matt Wojczys Alex Epstein
Content Warning: Miscarriage
Words by Taylor Carre-Riddell Artwork by Jasmine Iona Slater Take both sets of lips that I have; soak and tease them well Moon swells, so does belly Cold feet; the thought of Tiny feet from blanket soon My decision made Crimson wailing, sweat Small of my back supported By him, thankfully How many children does she have? She has -1
CONTINUING Words by Megan Cheong Artwork by Morgan-Lee Snell
ninterrupted by furniture or decoration, the white walls captured and filled the room with sunlight of a hard, bright purity. The dust that hung just above her face glittered like something precious. In its first moments, the world struck her as the negative afterimage of her dream. The darkness was absolute. Only her mother’s knees, pressed insistently into her side, convinced her that she was awake, and not still wondering around somewhere inside of herself. Directly beside her ear, her mother’s ridged breathing scraped away the last leavings of that other consciousness and the murmuring of families already awake stretched the close, animal-smelling dark into three dimensions. Clare reached through the blackness and found the back of her mother’s head. Her matted hair was damp with sweat. “You should stay in bed today.” Her mother’s body went hard with consciousness, but before she could respond, a series of violent coughs possessed her, demanding all of her concentration. Clare listened as her mother swallowed the mucus forced up by the coughing fit while breathing heavily through her nose. “I’m coming with you.” Clare closed her eyes. On the other blackness of her eyelids, she saw her mother sitting in the dirt, the thinness of her arms and legs creating the impression of a small child. “Ok.” Clare sat up to feel for the rope that ran down the centre of the dormitory. Once she had it, she waited for her mother to loop her arms around her neck, then slid off the bed, standing slowly to give her mother time to unfold and fit herself to the shape of her back. Gripping the rope with one hand and crossing her free arm beneath her mother’s knee, Clare bore her forwards through the perfect dark. With her chin resting on Clare’s shoulder, her mother whispered eagerly into her ear. “We only got up this early for holidays so it’s still exciting to get up this early.”
When the rope ended, Clare took three blind steps in the darkness, the hand that had previously held the rope stretched out before her, fingers splayed. The coldness of the rock wall at the end of the dormitory against the flat of her palm passed through her as a wave of relief. “I loved waking up to find it was still night and I loved the light blue wash that crept over everything just before I fell asleep.” Feeling her way around the wall, they entered a long, unlit passageway. Clare reached her hand out to touch the rough wall of the tunnel and began to make her way towards the small square of light that floated in the darkness ahead. “Have I told you about when we drove to Stevenson’s Falls? It must have taken hours to drive there because I usually woke when we arrived at wherever we were going. This time, when I woke, we were still driving and the sun was up high over green fields and – god Clare I wish you could have seen it! – it was nothing next to the rainforest itself, it – it…” She faltered as they emerged into the dry heat of the day. They stood on a narrow strip of dirt walled in on one side by the first row of the corn crops and on the other, by a field of pallid, waist-high grass that stretched unvarying towards the flat, yellow horizon. “It wasn’t anything like this,” she mumbled. Clare crouched down low, allowing her mother to slide from her. Her mother landed in a squat, but immediately sat down in the dirt; arms, torso and head curling around her knees. She began to moan softly into herself. Clare felt doubly relieved from the weight of her mother, and to be standing before the pale green corn plants, whose profusion of long, crooked leaves overlapped to form an unbroken wall of greens and shadows. She scanned the exposed plants, but though the stalks extended well past her head now, the corn itself remained entirely hidden in its tightly coiled sheaves. The dried-out tassels atop each stalk flickered in a vague breeze. Crouching down again, Clare gently lifted her mother off the ground and slipped her arms around her, offering privacy for her grief. Like the coughing fit, her sobbing was relatively brief today, ending, as always, with the same, incoherent murmur. Clare nodded, repeating after her, “We are here because we are strong.” *** Clare remembered when her mother was strong. They had spent her childhood walking here and in her memory of that endless walk, her mother’s pace never slackened. When she was too small to keep up, her mother had carried her. The sensation of her mother’s sinewy body moving beneath her still lingered in her dreams. When she had needed to learn to walk and had cried at always being two steps behind, her mother had squatted low on her powerful haunches and looked up at her and made her repeat after her, ‘We are here because we are strong’. When Clare looked up now, she saw her mother standing two steps behind, her arms hanging unused by her sides, her face turned upwards towards the impassive yellow of the sky. *** Clare was squatting, resting her forehead against a milky-green stalk while she gently probed the dirt for the roots of a weed, when she heard her mother groan. She jerked her hands from the earth, feeling several delicate roots snap as she withdrew.
Clare stood and turned in a slow circle, straining her eyes against the tangle of leaves that encased her. Her mother groaned again, a low, creaking sound. Clare began to run towards the sound, the leaves whispering loudly at the disturbance. They appeared suddenly, her mother kneeling by another form, a roundness protruding from the earth. It was the body of a young girl, the white oval of her face somehow smooth and perfect in disturbing contrast to the rest of her. Flat on her back between the closely planted rows of corn, her greying, emaciated arms were bent awkwardly between the stalks. Her belly rose in a full curve as though she were with child, suspending the hem of her short dress to expose thighs barely thicker than her arms. The leaves of a husk were scattered around her head like a message. Her mother groaned once more. “Clare.” Clare went to her mother and squatted beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder. Her mother lowered her trembling hands onto the girl’s round belly. “Clare.” With something like the sensation of falling, Clare realised her mother was speaking to the body. “Clare.” “Mum, I’m here.” Her mother collapsed onto the girl’s body and began to wail, a high pitched keening that cut through the hiss of the hot wind overhead. “Mum.” Clare straightened and grasped her mother beneath the armpits. She came away easily, but continued to whimper. “It’s okay Mum. I’m here.” She cradled her mother in her arms and turned her back on the young girl’s body, heading in the direction of the dormitory. *** In the relative comfort of the organised community here, the edges of her mother’s days had begun to soften and disintegrate. At first, they would be working side by side, turning the earth in preparation for new seeds, when the rhythmic thud of her mother’s spade would stop. Looking up from the ground, Clare would find her mother frozen, her spade suspended above the dirt, her face strange in its emptiness. Later, Clare would find her mother murmuring over a weed, occasionally pausing as if to listen. When she heard Clare approach, she would stop and without turning, continue to work in silence. Eventually, the fragile equilibrium between past and present had tipped and the criticisms and accusations Clare had dreaded as a child returned with the force of demands. The sky was wrong. Everything was the same everywhere they went. Where were the birds? Where was everyone else? Clare was older now, taller than her withering mother, and her mother looked up at her for answers. Clare could never think of nothing to say. *** Back in the humid darkness of the dormitory, her mother was unresponsive to her touch, not asleep exactly, but enclosed in a variety of consciousness that isolated her with memories so forceful they yanked at her elbows and knees in a jerking pantomime of recycled actions.
“What happened to the sky? What happened to the sky? You have to tell me what’s happened to the sky.” Clare felt others gathering in the darkness around their bed. The weight of a hand on her shoulder made her suddenly aware of the ache of fatigue in her shoulders and back. She lay down beside her mother’s jerking form and closed her eyes, layering darkness over darkness. While her mother muttered and twitched beside her, Clare pictured the delicate, thread-like roots of the corn plants extending into the dark, damp earth. *** In bed that night, her mother gripped her upper arm and whispered thick words which dragged her back through the dormitory and the crops and away from the delicate pattern of her days here. “It isn’t supposed to be like this Clare. The sky, the trees. It’s the same everywhere we walk. It isn’t supposed to be like this. It’s wrong.” When Clare’s gaze was still level with the waist high grasses beyond the corn, her mother would grip her arm with one hand, point up at the darkling ochre sky with the other and announce “It’s blue.” Now, her mother’s voice shrivelled. “The sky is burning.” They were on the plains beneath a storm that had come on too fast for them to find shelter. Her mother had lain on top of her, every muscle ossified, muttering into the dirt, but Clare had stayed on her back and watched the sky between the whips of her mother’s dark hair with one eye. Before the dust had risen from the earth and swallowed everything, she had glimpsed the expanses of cloud stirring, and out of the flat, yellow sleep of the sky, some form emerging. Her mother’s grip faded from her arm, leaving behind a voice that expanded and contracted with breath that smelled like the black rot that turned the corn to dark, viscous liquid inside their sheaves. “We have to keep moving. Look at the sky, the trees. The earth will swallow you up if you don’t keep moving. Remember that Clare, we are here because we are strong.” One, two. “Clare,” she called with a force that signalled her sudden presence. “I’m here.” Clare reached through the darkness and stroked the side of her mother’s face, tracing the deep grooves that ran from her nose to her mouth with her thumb. She moved closer to her mother, pressing her quickly disappearing form into her own solidity. Each breath was now layered with a syncopated clicking, the mucus metamorphosed into a handful of tin talismans that she rattled with a grin, which Clare saw with sudden clarity against the pitch black; it was the victorious grin of a full stomach. The colour slowly drained out of the image of her mother’s face, giving way to black. Her mother released a long sigh that stretched out into a gust of wind. Out of the darkness, their hands came looking for her body. She felt them lift it over the top of her, felt it passing swiftly overhead like the shadow of a bird. Then hands on her shoulders, her neck, the small arms of a child around her waist, guided her out of the dorm and through the passageways towards the crops. In the darkness, she felt them moving with the many small movements of one large animal – small, shuffling steps, heads turning, hands reaching for hands and shoulders – and wondered where her mother was. The closeness of their collective body heat opened into a vivid coldness that quickly filled the gaps between their backs and calves. She heard them bite into the soil with spades, the muffled fall of damp
earth, and when they were done, they pushed her to the edge of the hollow in which they had lain her mother, now a curling, pale thing against the black of the dirt. She knelt at the edge of the hole, her knees sinking into the wet earth, and pressed her face into the cold upturned dirt, letting her tears flow into the soil. *** She woke suddenly in the cold and space of their bed. Her bed. Reaching for the rope, she stood easily, her mother’s death a lightness. Standing alone in the dark, she became abruptly aware of not being able to see anything and felt an urgent need for the sky. She stumbled hurriedly out of the dorm towards the crops, scraping her shoulders and knees on the walls of the tunnel in her haste. The inarticulate sound of the Earth swelled up from the mouth of the passageway to greet her – the many-voiced rush of the dust along the narrow strip of dirt between the grass and the crops and the deep, omniscient rumble of the golden sky that commanded her attention without demanding that she understand. She paused and looked out across the undulating grass. She thought of the cold, black dirt pushing her mother’s body deeper into the ground and shied away, passing instead into the mass of leaves that was the crops. For a while, Clare walked slowly along the rows of corn plants, reaching out reflexively to press the ears of corn to check their firmness. The leaves murmured to her as she passed and her heartbeat gradually relaxed into the rhythm of her steps. Eventually, she found herself back where her mother had discovered the girl, the halo of husk leaves curling in the dirt. The green wall of the crops was conspicuous in an otherwise monotonous landscape and new people arrived often. They were always hungry. Sometimes it had been so long since they had eaten properly that their bodies had to be gradually reacquainted with food in small doses. If they arrived in the night and smelled the subtle sweetness of the corn, they inevitably gorged themselves and were found amongst the crops the next morning. To her left, a gleam of yellow amongst the otherwise pale green foliage caught her eye. Clare reached up and snapped the ripening ear off the stalk in a single sharp movement. At the tip of the ear, three or four layers of the husk had peeled back reluctantly to reveal a small section of cream-coloured kernels. Clare traced her thumb over the exposed patch of plump, closely-packed seeds, then slid it beneath the husk to feel the pattern continuing there. She closed her eyes, pressed her nose against the cool surface of the kernels and drew a deep breath of its full, sweet scent.
NEWSFEED Words by Darcy Rankin Artwork by Ruth Duffton There were huge waves up and down the coast today su c k i
up to the boss celebrity scandals cradling small dogs barking @ foreign workers buying up beachfront hot property facing outwards towards new Horizons better outdoor barbeque areas These waves will continue to be breaking over the forward estimates Blowins saunter through hotspots taking snapshots teenagers hope for new stuff from surf shops credit card tapping tdads with a big papers donâ€™t say much Neighbours go past each other like ships in the night through super!markets. and carparks Each birthed new and shiny through Automatic Sliding Doors tall fences divide accurately stake vs. breadwinner and whose swimming pool area is whoâ€™s exactly keep the kitchen island perfectly cleaned off for peace of mind
There will be zero tolerance for Public Transport Upgrades Occasionally I will wander down and wade out in between the red and yellow flags relax and not take things too seriously around here try and keep the sand off my towel as per the citizenship test criteria Heavy rain batters at the windows then stops dead and runs down the panes pools on the balcony. I stand drinking a pod coffee six for twelve dollars looking at the waves my small dog, Scrapmental by my side Battered by another â€œnatural disasterâ€? we watch as the suburb cracks open and slides slowly off the dunes and down into the water a big joke really
Newsfeed Large chunks of concrete jut out on strange angles along the promenade Scrapmental weaves through them Put on your 3d glasses now this is actually real. Cars with escaping families in them are swept into rivers in imax recliners Cheap Kmart toasters and green bags float out to sea and wash up again Bush fires light up piles of rubber tyres that burn up in a black smog that blows inland (nothing much there) People not from “Australia” float around amongst the debris so they don’t; Lose their own lives at sea An announcement from the Prime Minister today: “I met up with a couple of mining magnates yesterday, and. to put it simply; we’ve sorted It.” Up north and you’re in isolation with the other young black kids for yet another week 45 degrees hot concrete no windows sweat stinging your eyes squinting you’re trying to read me but you can’t to focus between the voices in your head and the guards daring you to drink from the toilet I’ll give you a Mars bar kid filming it on his Smartphone and another Inconsequential royal commission Into the efficacy of the royal commission Addressing the matter directly; Graham Wilson lumbers out in the middle of the storm and spraypaints on his own fence. CYCLONE DEBBIE BRING IT ON BARWON IS NOT A PUSSY TOWN DO YOUR BEST YOU GOT.
The Descent of Man
The Descent of Man
THE DESCENT OF MAN Words by Lara Navarro Artwork by Morgan-Lee Snell
1 DARWINIAN FALLACY
e were friends once. Scabby-kneed, blunt claws, home-scissored hair – bred from the same stock, carved from the same bone. We’d speed down the 95, play hide and seek in the desert, fuck in abandoned sun-scorched cars. Rusty was the alpha, charming and snarling and missing a few teeth, the kind of carnivore that played with his prey. We were all enamoured with him and we were all afraid of him and it wasn’t until the boy died that we started to wonder if maybe we’d been the prey all along. After the constable found the body, Ruby-Jean couldn’t stop finding dirt mingled with her blood. Kenneth wouldn’t say the boy’s name out loud, wouldn’t acknowledge that they had grown up together. JJ caught sight of his face in a splintered mirror, and saw the same face he’d always seen. We all made ugly choices. Started stalking each other in the shadows of the chronic summer, exchanging power plays with human-like attentiveness. We used to hunt in a pack. We ran wild in the desert. Threw bowie knives at grasshopper mice. Hit them through the throat each time. But I don’t think we were ever friends. 2 ‘NEXT GAS: 90 MILES.’
“Smouldering remains of a fire,” was the namesake of Embertown, Nevada, and it was fitting – the miners who settled there sixty years earlier must have assumed from the swallowing sky and uninhabited expanses of endless desert that this land must have been the surviving cadaver of some vicious inferno. Children were born wild and hungry, sharing our cardboard cradles with our juvenile mothers, who nursed us only until we could brave the elements alone. The year was 1967, air thick with the sweat of struggle for existence – in an animal kingdom of roughly a thousand identical white, poor, uneducated creatures, the food chain was soldered only by our free-for-all battle for dominance, propagated by the sole resource we had available to us – the hunt. The threat of attack, of the ousting of status, stalked the
The Descent of Man
townspeople like a shadow. It was a never ending Open Season. It was a persistent hunt for opportunities to exhibit one’s own strength. Embertown was one isolated, Godforsaken cesspool of ignorance, depravity bleeding over morals, sex bleeding over love and power bleeding over everything. 3 FAHRENHEIT 109° Hunger like the dried-up basin. Hunger like three pennies short. A broken pump in the gas station, leaking oil in the street. The neon Super 8 sign, the blind man who worked behind the desk. Hunger like our adobe houses, torn mattresses filled with fruit flies and desert rats and snake skins. The two hour bus ride to the county high school. Turning ghost towns into whorehouses. Collecting scrap metal out in the desert, hoping to sell it for something, anything, a penny. Hunger like too many pennies short. Forty-seven names on a dotted line, all followed by Embertown. Teachers fudging their attendance records so the school wouldn’t lose county funding. Praying to the Saint of Mangy Dogs, because even the preacher knew God was never here. Doing unspeakable things in messy trailers to savage, drooling men. Hunger like a coyote ribcage. Hunger like a penny wedged between each bone. Kenneth and I at Hank’s Diner, because it was open at night and had a light on the front porch. Because there was no public lighting of any kind – ‘Embertown - unincorporated’ meant there was nothing public, no sewer system, no water system, no law except for a drunken constable. Kenneth and I out the front of Hank’s Diner with a hunger we didn’t have the influence to do anything about, and Kenneth saying, “I never thought I’d live this long,” and me saying, “But yer only eighteen,” and him saying, “Exactly.” 4 THE ALPHA MALE Every June, Embertown’s only gas station would pour a winter’s supply of oil drippings out onto the gravel path. It would seep into the sand, poison the desert shrubs, collect dust and spread the smell that would last all year long. The air, thick and sticky, always carried the unmistakable stench of gasoline and piss. You could venture out into the desert as far as you liked – and we did, there was nothing else to do – and the smell still lingered, ten miles out of town. It got in our pockets. It got in our hair. But Russell Strickland always smelled of blood. He had chronic nosebleeds, broken his nose and reset it off-kilter ten too many times. Blood would cake on his face, around his jaw and crooked-grin like some perverse birthmark that would crackle and flake off like a rattlesnake shedding its skin. Greyson used to pester him about it – Greyson, who now worked in the post office, Greyson, who had been the leader before Rusty, who Rusty would mouth off about when his back was turned and drag his name through the mud. Greyson, who didn’t look right anymore, not after Rusty took a swing at him with an empty bottle – Greyson used to pester Rusty about his bleeding nose, asked him if he was soft, and Rusty would only grin at him the same way he did now before he smacked one of us for getting caught acting bigger than him. Rusty was crouched on the hood of Paul Rodriguez’s truck, squinting ahead, taking another swig from a bottle of whiskey. There were seven of them – Rusty; Paul Rodriguez, the border bunny who traded his car for a place in the group; Harvey and Christopher, two mucus-like lumps of muscle; JJ, the lone wolf; Kenneth, Rusty’s faithful lapdog; Drew, the runt of the litter. They were out at the gas station, watching for Otis’ ghost as they often did when there was little else to do. Two years prior, Otis got himself drunk on gasoline and then set himself on fire. (“Smart guy,”
The Descent of Man
Drew had told Kenneth bitterly, sitting out on a curb with the bruises any Embertown child with a parent was sure to sport. “Wish I was man enough.”) They’d been searching for his burning ghost ever since. Whenever someone emerged from the thick dust-fog, Rusty would smirk as the others tossed rocks and kicked sand, howling and jeering and marking their territory. “List’n, give us what ya got in that plastic there and we’ll let ya through with no scrapes.” “Awh, c’mon, we’s just havin’ some fun!” “Gimme a little somethin’ and maybe I won’t poke out your baby’s blue blue eyes.” “Ya headed to the bar? Tell me if ya see my old man. Owes me a dollar, he does.” They puffed out their chests. Bared their teeth. Embertown’s pecking order was tenuous, dependent on power and status in a place where violence was the only way to get it. And Rusty and his boys always made sure to assert that they were at the apex. That was what Rusty had promised them: power. If Kenneth, scrawny and malnourished, was walking alone down Main Street, it was certain someone would have him pinned against the ground, looking for a fight to prove themselves. Or Harvey, impulsive and stupid, always ready for attack, no doubt to be caught in a cloud of dust, brawling with a broken glass bottle poised at his throat. But Rusty. If they were with Rusty, no one would bother them. He was only twenty-two but people were afraid of him: his sly grin, the hyena laugh, the wild blue eyes. He was remorseless. He was violent. He understood weakness: if he couldn’t see one in you, he would invent one and use it, twist it, bend you to his will, smack you and kick you and degrade you while everyone else watched. He spent years turning the group against Greyson so that when he had him weak, when he noticed the barely-there limp that Greyson had been sporting for those past few days, he could challenge him, oust him as alpha. Rusty knew how to play the game, and Rusty knew how to win. So they’d be sitting on the hood of Paul’s car looking for ghosts of friends who hadn’t really been friends, or maybe stealing beer from the amenities truck, or maybe do a little drinking and a little screwing back behind Hank’s bar. But everything was done with a backwards glance at Rusty for approval. Kenneth Ledbetter was leaning against the shattered headlight, his growl the deepest, his throw the longest, all intended for exhibition. He’d turn, panting, to his master on the hood of the car, spittle dangling from his mouth, eyes wide and adoring, desperate for reward. Rusty turned to him when the dust-fog failed to produce any more playthings. “You – how’s yer sister?” “Fine,” Kenneth beamed. “I can go fetch her.” The other boys smirked. If there were three things every person in town had in common, it was poverty, drinking and sex. Lord knows there was nothing else to do. And all that the girls were good for was the sex. It didn’t seem to any of Rusty’s boys that they served any other function. Perhaps this was why Embertown was the way it was – a dying town that just would not die, as long as girls kept having babies. They were a nuisance in this sense, replicating themselves and hoping dumbly the ‘father’ would assist. Most of us Embertown kids were fatherless. We all knew Rusty, for one, was responsible for an uncertain number of grimy infants often seen sitting out on the side of the dirt road. The boys tolerated the company of three girls, each of which served her own purpose and was disposed of once she grew boring. Dolly, Kenneth’s older sister, was the beauty; Ginger was the whore; and Ruby-Jean, the bitch. Each played their role as best they could. Dolly embraced the staring, the lolling tongues, made herself available wherever and whenever to Rusty’s whims. Ginger was not a beauty, but she-offered herself readily in exchange for any semblance of affection, a little girl so desperate to be loved sometimes her shoulders shook with it. They kept her on a leash, tied her to a lamp post, and forgot that they’d left her there until they needed her.
The Descent of Man
But Ruby-Jean was something else. She was all hard lines and angles, bony ribs and perfect, pointed teeth. Ruby-Jean was not the fittest, the strongest, the most beautiful, but she was the cruellest, the cleverest. She was harsh like one of Rusty’s boys, but dangled the sexuality of her own girlhood to maintain the upper hand. Rusty didn’t care if we all had a go with Dolly – but Ruby-Jean was untouchable. She’d sunk her claws into Rusty’s back, and it seemed he was always picking bits of her nails from beneath his skin. Seventeen years old, easily the youngest of us all, but she could smell fear better than any blood hound, find weakness even in the godlike mountains of the Nevada desert. She let Rusty claim her in exchange for safety and status, and would dance out of his reach as soon as he grew bored. She allowed herself to be prey; she proclaimed Open Season and let him hunt her down, use her flesh as a trophy. In return, she was his prize – the only girl in Embertown no one dared touch. And when she sensed him growing distracted, arrogant, she instigated the hunt once more. She’d take off into the desert, the tantalizing smell of raw meat in her wake, knowing all too well he’d pick up her scent and track her until she was back like the head of a mule deer on his trailer wall. “Do ya want me to go get Dolly?” Kenneth prodded. He never got a response. Rusty’s attention was diverted at some perceived slight to his own character, squinting at Harvey with barely-veiled irritation. “Kenneth. You and me and… Drew, and… Christopher. Let’s go. Old Jeb reckons he saw a white mule deer in the valley.” Kenneth and the others scrambled off the car desperately, hearts thrumming with the excitement of being chosen. JJ, Paul and Harvey attempted to disregard the blow, but before the other boys had even left the station, the three were bickering amongst themselves, all guttural growls and accusations. That was how Rusty ruled. Thrust weakness upon the others to ensure they were always lower. Beat. Praise. Divide. Conquer. 5 TEETH: A LOVE STORY i. Rusty cracked open a coyote’s ribcage, scooped out the heart, left the corpse to rot in the bathtub. Ruby-Jean would never admit it, but she was afraid of him. ii. The constable found the body in the channel four days later, when the water was filthier than usual. Ruby-Jean inspected a slash in her thigh, watched as dirt bled out from her open wound. Her blood seemed filthier than usual, too. She imagined lying in the bathtub with the dead coyote, Rusty cracking her chest open too and finding her heart all shrivelled and dirty and no good. The thought made her sneer, gnash her perfect teeth. Rusty stumbled into the room, bloody nose and all. He bought a bowie knife, cut into Ruby-Jean’s back to make sure it was good and smeared red on the floorboards. Hours later, he threw it at the wall, hit the door frame each time. Ruby-Jean waited for him like she waited for the end. She didn’t cry. She never did. iii. One day, they went out in Paul’s truck, just the two of them. Ruby-Jean smoked out the window, ashes on her sundress. They sat on that desert boulder and drank until their throats burned like the orange
The Descent of Man
sand. They ripped the heads off lizards until it got dark. iv. The beginning wasn’t any kinder. 5am. Outside Ronald’s General Store by the trailer park. I was waiting by the bus stop, back when we both went to school. Ruby-Jean was fourteen and Rusty was the father of her sister’s baby, smoking on the curb with no shirt on and he was bleeding and he was drunk and his snarl was sharp and silver and Ruby-Jean imagined he was some savage king. He was watching her like a ripe little piece of fruit and a nectarine fell out of her pocket and rolled to him and he picked it up and took a bite, juice dripping from his mouth. “Hey little girl.” v. Rusty liked her bite, her full set of teeth. He liked to gnaw her neck. He liked to choke her, yank her hair, push her down until she speckled with blue, he dreamt of gutting her like he did the coyote. Rusty liked her eyes too. vi. “Ruby-Jean?” “Mm?” “Did… did ya see him?” “Yeah. He was all… broken.” “Yeah.” “What did he say to ya? Just before?” “Some shit ‘bout nothin’. Mumblin’ somethin’ ‘bout Otis and Cindy and the ghosts.” “Oh.” “Better off dead.” “Maybe we all are.” An hour later, he slammed her jaw into the floor, nearly knocked out every single one of her perfect teeth. vii. Rusty had a sun dried, runt coyote in the bathtub, and Ruby-Jean was outside the door soaking in the delicious, rank smell of festering meat. He was skinning the creature, leaving scraps of flesh on the floor, drunk from the heat, drunk from the whiskey, drunk from the power and the blood on his hands.
TRIAGE Words by Linus Tolliday Artwork by Veronica Fernando
hen Rika had a stroke, Lulu’s Stuffed Duck stayed open for another half hour before someone from downstairs came up and found her. People had stopped visiting the shop all that often after the owner, Lulu, passed. People didn’t think too highly of Rika’s gall to leave Lulu’s name in the title. Lulu’s sons, Mac and Billy-Billy, were the least impressed by Rika’s decision. “I thought it was respectful,” she said. “Like a tribute.” But they told her it too-much reminded them of their mother and, by extension, their mother’s untimely passing. “She was younger than you, Rika,” Billy-Billy had said over the phone, their sole line of communication. “She didn’t deserve to go. And now your stupid sign makes it appear like she was your senior and handed it down to you.” “And what’s so wrong about that?” Rika asked. “Only that it’s a total misrepresentation of the truth,” Mac butted in, snatching the phone. Rika imagined them as two dim-witted scheming villains, each pressing one ear to the phone, clutching it between them. But slowly they stopped calling her and the neighbourhood started mowing their lawns and shopping again without the moral burden of being outraged about Lulu’s name still being on the sign. That particular Hadfield Rise drama had boiled away in the pot until it was nothing. Now there was drama about the downstairs butchery and their unethical cooling setup. “It’s just not sustainable!” Rika’s only regular customer, Misty, often complained. “Have they no environmental conscience? It’s bad enough it’s a place specialising in meat. Do you have any idea the environmental footprint the agriculture industry leaves?” “I don’t really pay attention,” Rika said. But Misty did – she wouldn’t make such a fuss if she didn’t. Five years ago she would have had no reservations. “But now,” she said, “it’s disturbing. I still eat your stuffed duck, sure, but at least it’s ethically sourced!” “Uh-huh,” Rika nodded but really had very little interest or knowledge in the world outside that of savoury duck-based cuisine. She couldn’t even hazard a wild guess as to the size of that footprint, but assumed guessing a large shoe size would be the wrong answer. “Hell,” Misty said, “I wouldn’t be caught dead in here if it weren’t someone as conscientious as you running the place.” This trust made it all the more uncomfortable when Misty marched into Rika’s shop upon hearing that the ducks were indeed bred free-range, but not necessarily raised that way. “Do you even know what age they’re slaughtered, Rika?” she shouted. “Do you even know what they do to kill the ducks? They slit their throats, Rika, hang them by the legs and exsanguinate them! That’s draining their damn
blood!” Rika grimaced and huddled in the corner for the whole interaction. When Misty returned half an hour later to continue the tirade on the diets of the animals, she found Rika slumped against the wall like a sack of mail. “Shit!” she cried, and called an ambulance. 2 The hospital didn’t have a bed for Rika but a slab of foam worked fine for her. She’d once couch-surfed for two months straight – a different couch or floor every night – and that was hard. Foam was fine. She was twenty-two then and her spine didn’t feel like it was barbed to her skin. But the experience was comparable all the same. “It’s my fifty-first tomorrow,” said Rika. The doctor grunted. “I didn’t really celebrate my fiftieth,” she continued. “So this one’s important I think – more important than a usual fifty-first. Like a replacement fiftieth.” The doctor tore a page from his notebook and tossed it in the can. He muttered and left the room. Rika could see he was something angry. Frustrated, she guessed. When he came back she told him a story meant to comfort him – this one from when she was a kid. But he left the room before she could finish. It was this one about her family’s radiator and she said that winter only truly began for them each year when the radiator hacked phlegmy grease to the carpet and died. A yearly cycle, oscillating in and out of functionality. Most often though it just wheezed cool air in bursts. Rika’s brother would grin and squeal and run to fetch Mum and Dad at the radiator’s metallic rattle. “It’s not dead!” he would shout and they would shuffle into the room. And then Rika would watch her brother sitting close to the radiator and wait for his verdict – disappointed sighs, usually. The doctor stepped back into the room and a short woman in a suit followed. The doctor stood at a bench and fiddled with bags of clear liquids, taking samples from each one with a needle. “Hello, Rika,” said the woman. “My name is Fippo and I’m the Team Leader for the Healthcare Distribution Board.” “Hello, Fippo,” said Rika. “I’m here to have a little chat with you, if that’s all right,” said Fippo. “Certainly is.” Rika sat up on the foam and rested on her elbows, but Fippo gently pushed her back down. “Sorry,” said Fippo, “but we can’t have you over-exerting yourself.” “Oh,” said Rika. “Of course.” She watched as Fippo tugged a little square notebook from her jacket pocket, with a golden pen clipped to it. The pen had small letters engraved on its side that Rika couldn’t make out. “Now,” said Fippo, “first, I have some questions.” Rika nodded and Fippo proceeded to ask a range of confusing questions, some related to health, but most not. Have you experienced any blood pressure problems in the past year? No. What is your blood type? O negative. When was the last time you had dental work? Two months ago. What was the work?
Two fillings. Are you religious? Yes. With what religion are you affiliated? Not sure. Did you vote in the last federal election? No. If you did vote, which party would you have voted for? Not sure. What do you perceive to be your best quality? Hmm… Politeness. Rika was not accustomed to such – what she considered invasive – questions. In her spare time she had only ever pondered things related to duck cuisine, which she tried to incorporate into her answer when asked about hobbies. But Fippo said that her answers for occupation and hobbies could not overlap. “How could we ever distinguish between work and play otherwise?” she said with a chuckle. “I see,” said Rika, frowning and nodding slowly. “Yes,” said Fippo. “For example, I myself enjoy attending equestrian events in my area. Have you ever been to the horse shows in Templestowe?” “Is that the one next to the glue factory?” “Bingo!” said Fippo. “Although I prefer the term ‘abbatoir’. It’s nicer sounding and French I think. Not that I care much for the French. But just because they’re bastards when it comes to trading doesn’t mean they don’t have a beautiful language. And it makes it sound less like a scary place. Because there’s nothing all that scary about the circle of life – we’re born, we grow, we perform at the equestrian events, so to speak, and then we’re carted off to be mashed into glue and dog food. Now that’s what I call efficiency in location, Rika. No, better, that’s what I call a business plan!” “A business plan?” “Yep,” said Fippo, “you betcha. Boy, what I wouldn’t do to dip a finger in that proverbial pie. Sweet, delicious horse pie.” “Kind of like a duck pie,” said Rika. “No,” said Fippo. “Nothing like a duck pie. Ducks aren’t beautiful. Ducks aren’t graceful. They can’t race, they’re not strong. And God knows if there’s a duck-based glue out there.” “I wouldn’t know,” said Rika. “No. And if there were one, I would be very wary of its adhesiveness. But anyway, my point is this: your hobbies must be separate from your work. How else would one blow off steam?” Rika shrugged and shook her head. Fippo stared blankly, waiting. “Uh,” Fippo hesitated, “so should I put down a ‘No Response’ or that you don’t have any hobbies?” “Does it matter?” “Well,” said Fippo, “all of these questions are equally important and have been carefully selected through a voting process by a democratically appointed jury. Now please, ‘No Response’ or no hobbies? Personally, I would recommend the ‘No Response’, as having no hobbies will not be looked upon favourably.” “Favourably?” “Please,” said Fippo. “This is important. We will be taking statements from your friends, family and colleagues too.” Rika looked across the room and saw the doctor press a code into the door. It buzzed and then the room was soaked by sprinklers.
“Goddammit, Hal!” screamed Fippo. “Out, out, out!” and she ushered a limping Rika into the hall. Rika puffed and wheezed; her vision faded and she collapsed. She heard Fippo squawk, “Shit!” and then she was out. 3 Rika woke strapped to a bed, with pillows elevating her arms. The doctor was standing above her, fitting latex gloves. He saw her eyes widen and jabbed a needle into her neck. She gasped and clenched, and then her body relaxed and she exhaled. A masked figure entered the room, fully clad in blue. Scrubs, Rika had heard them called on the telly. This person was wearing scrubs. Although these scrubs were a lot more blotched with yellows and browns than the telly had ever shown. “Hello,” came Fippo’s voice from behind the mask. “We won’t be a moment.” Rika’s mouth felt heavy. Fippo turned and paced to a desk in the corner. She was rearranging something Rika couldn’t quite see. She looked around the room. “Hal,” said Fippo. “Have you seen the radiator today?” “Yes,” the doctor droned, “it was like that when I got in this morning.” “Oh,” said Fippo. “So it’s been like that all day? Did it just fall off the wall last night?” “I guess so.” Fippo paused and then paced away from the desk and towards the hunk of metal on the floor. She tapped it with her foot and then looked back at the doctor. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice it all day,” she said. The doctor shrugged. “Don’t you think that’s strange?” asked Fippo. “I think it’s strange.” The doctor shrugged again. Fippo tapped it with her foot again and then smirked. “The things that go by me. You see, Rika, I’m a sick woman. No, no, none of that vomiting or runny nose stuff. If only! No, I’m losing my mind, so to speak. I forget things, don’t notice things. But my eyesight’s still sharp as a tack!” Fippo walked back to the desk and resumed fiddling. “So why didn’t I see the radiator? Odd, odd, odd. And right when annual evaluations are being written.” Then she turned to Rika and cleared her throat. “Now,” she started, “tell me: do you prefer Mozart or Elvis? If you can’t speak, blink once for Mozart; twice for The King.” Rika blinked twice. Fippo smiled and slapped the desk. A light strum yawed from the PA speaker system followed by a jangling piano. Fippo strolled to the bed and clapped her hands. “Isn’t this lively,” she said. “Such a tonic!” She mouthed the words as she took Rika’s blood pressure with a thin tube and what looked like a stopwatch. Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising Higher higher, it’s burning through to my soul She explained that these were usually used for gauging the air pressure of tyres but could be used, by a professional, to gauge blood pressure too. Then she jabbed a needle into Rika’s arm and hooked it up to a machine.
“Now, Rika,” Fippo said, “don’t fret; it makes no sense to fret. You see, blood needs to be conserved and allotted to the most valuable members of society. We use many different forms of criteria to measure value in people.” Rika could see blood running from the needle, through a tube and into the machine. “Employment is one scale which you passed with flying colours. Isn’t that exciting!” Fippo smiled and performed a short jig to the music. “Unfortunately, you didn’t score so well on Social Engagement, Political Engagement, Financial Planning or Education.” Fippo cheekily poked Rika in the ribs, “And it’s a damn shame for you that we don’t include Politeness in our criteria! So, now what we’re doing is extracting your blood for improved utility.” “Sorry, what?” Fippo sighed and sat on the bed. She lowered her mask. “I’ll level with you, Rika: we’re draining you.” Fippo noticed Rika’s crinkled brow and gaping mouth. “This may come off as cruel, I understand, and you may feel a bit distressed. But do remember, we have your best interests in mind.” Fippo turned away. The PA speaker system crackled and Elvis’ voice shot out. Ooh, ooh, ooh, I feel my temperature rising Help me, I’m flaming, I must be a hundred and nine Rika started mumbling. “B-but I’m a happy person.” Fippo smiled and stepped back. “Oh, Rika, darling. That’s really not up to you to decide. Your life is so unfulfilling. It’s sad, really. And to think you’ve actually convinced yourself that you’re happy. Oh, Rika. You’re such a deeply sad person.” “Am I?” “Oh, yes,” said Fippo. “Your only source of happiness was that god-awful duck place. Which, by the way, your friend, Misty, has offered to take care of in your absence. In her statement she said not to worry and that the place will run good as always. Like nothing ever changed. She’s even going to update the duck meat-sourcing practices, I hear.” Rika’s head fell back to the mattress and her body lightened. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.” The arthritis in her fingers sunk away and her hipbone sighed relief. “I guess she would know all about that stuff better than me.” Fippo scrunched her nose warmly and Rika faintly started humming along to Elvis Presley’s voice like a tone-deaf seagull. It’s coming closer; the flames are reaching my body Please won’t you help me, I feel like I’m slipping away Rika closed her eyes. “It’s almost like I was never here at all.” “Atta girl, Rika.” Fippo massaged Rika’s arm. “That’s what I like to hear.” Your kisses lift me higher, like a sweet song of a choir And you light my morning sky, with burning love
MUMMYMANIA! Words by Esther Le Couteur Artwork by Morgan-Lee Snell
Mothers of mothers I see you a son unwrapped on a small cushion a baby still a babey o what creates the mirage of a man. He canâ€™t kill chooks with gas or my grandpa â€™s body in the car pressed and ironed into corners when she died she was folding a small towel . A man crying in the British Museum for his sand, dust deep jet bronze faces A boy sleeping on a mattress in the empty shell silence husked gold spent She touches his cheeks with the lightest of ochre indents pressed aside with the stain of his swallow the head removed busted in glass Pebbles holding a flag flat to the ground with every burden exactly the weight of a sleeping child Our arms two parallel lines.
WHITE FEMINIST Words by Morgan-Lee Snell Artwork by Jasmine Iona Slater
All I am is Incubator
Oh, to deny it. To ignore the call for translucence and let the crater go thick with ropey hair, gathering post-shower into sodden lumps. But my razor sits blushing, pointed, on the tiled floor
He clung to my womb, left the ovaries glistening, wet, like two flesh-coloured figs.
and the sharp teeth taunt my stubbly legs until I am a newborn babe; flushed, swathed in cotton candy and taffeta. Oh, to deny it, to let the silver dim and rust. But woman is hairless, woman is clean. Woman is invisible, shaven. Pink.
Iâ€™m weighed down - stomach thick with placenta, stomach filled with toes, with tiny penis. And then he is born, face ruddy as steak, body made slick with yogurt and thick jam. Worthless without him to fill out my gut now just mother, just mother, just mother. I am mute as ever, turning to grey. While he lives like a God, I fade away.
The average woman uses approximately 11,400 tampons in her lifetime. Droplets spill into rayon and cotton, leaking like bloodlines (of all the women in my family before me).
He reaches for me, fingers sliding up my thigh. Here, he finds the snakes.
Ruined a perfectly good pair of underwear walking home.
TWO EXTRA CANDLES Words by Levi Pilcer Artwork by Jasmine Iona Slater
ive years old, and it’s shabbes night at Nana and Zaide’s. Nana stands in the kitchen ladling out steaming bowls of chicken soup. In the dining room Zaide absent-mindedly removes his teeth and lays them on the clean, white table cloth, singing a tune in Yiddish. “Eww, Zaide, that’s gross!” Amanda shrieks. Her accusing finger points at the disembodied dentures. Nana’s head pops through the doorway. “Dovid, laik aran der tzein!” she calls. Zaide shrugs and picks up the teeth, brushing the bread crumbs off them. They slide in with a squelch, and he leans back in his chair, still singing. Mum bounces me up and down on her knee while I survey the scene. “Why are there extra shabbes candles this week?” I ask. My finger points toward the sparkling silver candelabra. The extra candles, short and fat, sit humbly beside it. “Those aren’t shabbes candles, Levi. They’re yarzheit candles, for your Zaide’s family.” “What happened to them?” I ask. Mum’s mouth opens and closes, but no sound emerges. She casts a sideways glance at Zaide, making sure he’s not listening. Finally, she answers. “During the war, the soldiers made him get on a truck. When he came home, his family was gone.” I remember getting lost at Luna Park. How scared I was when I realised I couldn’t see Mum anymore. How safe I felt when she came back through the crowd and scooped me up in her arms. “Oh,” I say, “I hope he found them again.” *** Nine years old, and I am excused from school with a cold. I lie in Nana and Zaide’s bed, watching Scooby Doo, faintly aware of Nana bustling about in the kitchen. Zaide snores loudly next to me, oblivious to aroma of cabbage rolls and borscht wafting through the door. I am glad he’s asleep. Lately he doesn’t seem to remember my name, and that makes me sad. Every now and again he twitches in his sleep, moaning in Yiddish under his breath. Suddenly, his hand shoots out and grips my arm tight. I yelp, more in shock than pain. “Fayge!” he shouts, his voice hoarse. “Fayge!” His eyes are still closed, I realise. He is still asleep. Frightened, I prise his liver-spotted fingers loose, and slide as far away as I can. I turn to see Nana standing in the doorway. Her arms are folded. She is wearing a sad smile on her face. “She was his little sister,” she tells me. “She was his favourite.” She turns and slowly paces back to the
Two Extra Candles
kitchen. I look back at Zaide, now snoring peacefully. “Why can he remember Fayge’s name, but not mine?” *** Twelve years old, and I’m pacing through the cemetery in Springvale. My family forms a morbid train, snaking through the maze of headstones. The rich, earthy smell of wet clay lingers in the cold morning air. Nana leads the procession in silence. Today she has yarzheit for her family, and we’ve come with her to visit them. Tears streak her purple eyeshadow, and her brightly coloured headscarf flaps in the breeze. Occasionally she stoops to pluck a pebble off the floor. Noticing everyone around me is doing the same, I follow suit. Soon I have a handful of pebbles. One is particularly pretty – big and smooth, its white surface is slashed with a brilliant blue that sparkles in the sunshine. Smiling, I slide it into my pocket as I walk. We come to a stop. There are four headstones in a row, with two empty plots beside. Nana pauses at each, bowing her head in silent prayer. As she passes each grave, she lays a pebble on the black marble. At the last, she lays two pebbles. Looking up, I’m surprised to notice that there are two names carved into this headstone. I ask Mum why. “During the war, your Nana’s family lived in the forest to hide from the Nazis. It was Tisha B’Av, and they had fasted the whole day. When night came, they lit a fire to cook and break the fast. But one of the Poles in the village saw the smoke, and turned them in for the reward. The soldiers came and they killed your Nana’s father and uncle. Aunt Chocha,” she waves her hand at the next headstone over, “went back to Poland in the eighties to find the place where they were buried. By that time there were only bones left. She brought them back to Australia in her suitcase. They couldn’t tell whose bones were whose, so they buried them together.” I stand there in stunned silence, not sure what to say. I whisper a prayer at each grave, and place a pebble on each pile. At the last one, I fish out my beautiful white pebble with the blue streak, and place it carefully on top. “Why are they empty?” asks Elisha, pointing at the two vacant plots. “They’re for your Zaide and me,” answers Nana, “so that when our time comes, we can be with our families again.” We stay for a moment, and then turn, heading back toward the carpark.
Two Extra Candles
*** Fifteen years old, and I am about to interview Nana for my heritage project. I usher her into the dining room and cut us each a slice of her famous apple strudel. She watches quietly while I fiddle with the tape recorder and lay out a notepad. Finally ready, I hit record and ask my first question. Her eyes twinkle as she describes the dairy farm she grew up on. She laughs when she tells me how her sister, Mela, fell into a milk vat while playing hide and seek. She tells me of sitting in her Zaide’s lap and playing with his long, white beard, and of ice skating on the lake in winter. And then suddenly, the twinkle is gone. She tells me of seeing planes in the sky and falling bombs. She tells me of her father going grey overnight, and of the day they fled into the forest. As she talks her voice quivers and her eyes well with tears. “We were out in the forest, and we lived like behemas, like wild beasts. We didn’t have what to eat, so we would forage and beg to survive. One day, my father took me with him to the village to beg for food. They felt sorry for me, the Poles, because I was so young. Maybe twelve or thirteen, still a little girl. My father decided we should split up so to cover more ground. I went off and I knocked on doors and begged and pleaded, and soon I had a handful of stale bread to bring for the family. I went back to where I left my father to find him.” “I waited and I waited and still he didn’t come. After a while I started calling out his name. I wandered back and forth, searching. I was terrified that maybe the Germans had caught him. I was so scared. And then I heard someone moaning. Very quiet, just loud enough so I could hear. I followed the sound until I found him. He was lying there in a pool of blood. It wasn’t enough for them not to give him food, they had set their dogs on him too.” Grief etches deep into her lined face. The tears flow freely now. She seems to shrink before my eyes, a frightened little girl taking her place. “I tore off some strips from my dress, which was rags already. I bandaged him up as well as I could, and then I carried him back to the family.” I clasp her wrinkled hands tightly in mine, and together we cry. The tape recorder whirs quietly on the table. The notepad is empty and the strudel forgotten. *** Eighteen years old, and I stand in the square of a small Polish village. Cobblestones pave the ground
Two Extra Candles
underfoot. The church spire looms tall over the quaint little cottages beside it. We have just exited what was once the town synagogue; these days it is used as a public library. An old woman pushes a shopping cart across the square slowly. Her eyes dart toward the Kippah on my head, and she shuffles off as quickly as she can. I wonder if Nana’s home looked like this. I picture her riding into town with her father on market day, and playing with her friends in the square. Quietly, we follow the tour guide out of the square and past a big, still lake. An old man sits on the rickety pier as we pass by, fishing rod in hand. The signs on the path read ‘This Way to Jewish Massacre Site’. As we walk deeper into the forest, I find myself stunned by its beauty. The tree bark is a deep, vibrant red and the leaves the most brilliant shade of green. I wander off by myself and stand alone, eyes closed. I see a mother smoothing her daughter’s hair, telling her everything will be alright. I see jackboots and uniforms and big dogs straining at the leash. I see mangled bodies piled in pits, like cars at a wrecking yard. I hear screaming and crying and volleys of gunfire. I open my eyes and a man in a neon-green Nike top jogs past me, waving good morning. The tour guide calls us over and ushers us towards the mounds that mark the mass graves; they are covered in a blanket of soft, white flowers. Someone hands out prayer books and begins to chant the Kadish. “Yisgadal V’Yiskadash Shme Rabah...” My eyes turn to the English translation, and I begin to read. “Glory and Sanctity be unto the Holy Name, in the world that He has created according to His will...”
FASHION WEEK Words by Sebastian Dodds Artwork by Rachel Morley I have to admit, while the psilocybin fractal dress came as a surprise, what really took my breath away was her decapitated head. I wondered if she’d been born like this, and tonight – an overdue apotheosis. Or maybe they’d just removed it backstage and she’d replace it – hat-like – at the end. And then came all her sisters in a rustling mosaic of psychedelic light. (heads still attached, but hiding their faces) One bent and deliberately tore her culottes – right on! And like a man of faith in the house of ecstatic spirits I leapt for the scrap – to write on!
THE NOBLE ORPHAN Words by Greer Sutherland Artwork by Rachel Morley The Noble Orphan, they call the ship to Saturn VIII the girl crouches in the silver attic looking through a porthole window air conditioning lives like bacteria in the air, pipes and switches and vents hum to themselves she is feeling overhead lights flatten down the hair on her arms static blizzards through her, like she is a specimen framed between the TV screen and its image beyond her eyelashes and a layer of glass she can see no trace of humanity or of earth not even her own reflection nothing to suggest she has not been left alone with the stars, which are too numerous too numinous to wrangle into constellations
The Noble Orphan
the black trembles between residual horizons she traces a planet with her finger it is larger than her eyeball it moves just like a bus she will miss rocks spin past in packs with their thumbprint craters cracks which can be smiles if she squints it all glows radio blue, it is all ringed with pixelated shadow
PUDDING FLOUR Words by Grace Coppinger Artwork by Veronica Fernando
aul was eating potatoes. I was pouring gravy. Mum was sipping red wine, and Dad wasn’t dying. He was cutting up his steak when he announced: “When I die, I want you to cremate my body and launch my ashes through the turbine of a jet engine.” Mouthful of mash, Paul said: “Where the fuck are we going to get a jet?” “I don’t know. That’s not my problem.” “Your body. Your problem.” “It’s not his body, it’s his ashes,” I said. Paul pretended not to hear, but he gripped his knife like he might shove it into my neck. Dad kept cutting. “Ashes. Body. I don’t mind what you call it so long as it ends up going through a turbine. It’s my dying wish. You have to do it.” “That’s fucked, Dad,” Paul said. Mum screwed up her face, and said nothing. She didn’t like it when he swore, but I knew she was enjoying the fact that Paul was home for once, and not just home, but at the table too. She kept flipping him looks like he’d given her some big present. If I had the guts I would have said something about how the only reason he was with us was because you can’t eat steak in bed. Not Dad’s steak anyway, sitting pretty on the burnt side of well-done. You need both elbows and a solid surface beneath you for that shit. But I had exactly zero guts, and Mum just looked so bloody happy. Neither of us were about to do anything to wreck it. Dad though, he pushed his luck. “Doesn’t matter what you think about it,” he said, with his chin out in the way that tends to grip Paul in his fighting place. “It’s what I want.” Partly so Paul didn’t have a chance to say anything stupid, and partly because I was still confused by the whole thing, I asked: “You’re not dying?” No. Dad wasn’t dying. But Mum was. We just hadn’t realised it yet. That night at the table, Mum hadn’t only been sipping red wine and smiling at Paul. She’d been growing a cancer that ended up the size of a doorknob in her brain as well. She’d been growing golf balls of death all over her body actually, but those never get much of a mention because the big one in her head had impressed the doctors so much. Huge as it got, it started out a quiet thing, and like Mum, it must have been at a lot of our family dinners without anyone ever noticing it. Dad, apparently, had already planned for his death, but Mum never once told us what to do with her. Not over dinner. Not in her will. Never. And of course we didn’t ask, because, why would we? Turns out, that was a bit of a pattern with Mum. Us not asking. It wasn’t that we didn’t care, just that we already knew. Every day, Mum plodded round the garden in her rust coloured gumboots, pulling at weeds and shifting compost about until four o’clock. That was
when she busted out a gin and tonic and read whatever the latest copy of Women’s Weekly was. She called her sister on Saturday mornings, and made a fortnight’s worth of dinners to freeze on Sunday. Even when she got really bad, nothing changed. It all got slower and shakier, and sometimes teary, but the routine was always there. Until it wasn’t. Mum died with a look on her face like Dad had just told her a joke that wasn’t funny. It was a Tuesday afternoon so inconsequential you’d have thought she picked it out herself. When we started thinking about it, Paul said that we should drop her body in the middle of the ocean. He said he remembered that when she redecorated the downstairs bathroom, Mum had picked out that boring old painting of the beach especially, and always made a point of saying how much she loved it. None of us knew why, but Paul reckoned it was because she might have wanted to end up in that water somehow. Dad smacked him in the back of the head for that, said something about how much Mum hated seeing people cry, and what did Paul think was going to happen when a bunch of little kids found her rotting beneath a pier? Dad suggested we bury her in the local cemetery. Paul said okay. I did too, but then one night I woke up in a cold sweat, thinking about how Mum never knew anyone who was buried there, and if there was such a thing as ghosts, wouldn’t she be lonely? Cremation was left, so we sent her body away and got an impossibly small box back in return. “What the fuck are we supposed to do with this?” Paul asked when Dad held her out to us for the first time. “Paul, it’s Mum,” I said. “Don’t swear.” “This isn’t Mum. This is what those funeral fucks want you to think is Mum. Do they even really burn the bodies? Whose around to make sure of it, huh? They probably just dump them into landfill somewhere, and then fill these containers up with the dust they collect off all those fancy coffins no one can afford. This isn’t Mum. This is bullshit.” “Paul,” I said. Dad smacked him in the back of the head. Hard. Paul went out the back door and didn’t come back in for two days. He was a shit, but he had a point. What were we supposed to do with Mum? We couldn’t scatter her anywhere. The dog would have licked her up in the backyard, and Mum had never really been anywhere else. For lack of a better option, we ended up sitting her on the mantle piece between a big family photo and the unopened mail. Her box was bulky and wrapped in a floral pillow case. Paul reckoned it was creepy, her being up there. Mum would have called it tacky. I never had the heart to tell Dad either of those things. None of us liked the fact that she was in that box, but I think it made Dad feel better to have her always in sight. I reckon that’s why most nights he ended up sleeping on the couch. He could have kept her on his nightstand, and kept on sleeping in his bed, but that probably would have made it even harder not to feel lonely. Our first Christmas with Mum’s ashes crept up on us with all the subtlety of a tsunami wave. We saw it coming from a hundred kilometres away and couldn’t do a single thing to stop it. I suppose we could have screamed but, then, there was never anything to scream at but each other. On Christmas Eve, I was looking for spare surfaces to display the latest round of greeting cards on. No one forgot to write to us that first year, which was nice, except that we got called ‘The Bray Family’ a lot because no one wanted to not write Mum’s name. A lot of people didn’t just send cards either, but messages offering to have us over for Christmas too. We thought about it, but the three of us decided that it would be better just to ride Christmas out together. Alone. That was a good decision. Elbows deep in the sloppy batter of his first ever Christmas pudding, Dad realised he’d forgotten to buy
lemon essence. The lemon essence, which was the most secret ingredient in Mum’s most traditional recipe. “It’ll be okay,” I said to him. “I’m sure the pudding will be just fine without it.” “No. It’s wrong,” Dad said. The longer he thought about it the redder his cheeks got. All of a sudden he exploded. “Paul! I need you to go into town! Paul!” “What?” Paul came fast down the hall at the sound of Dad’s voice. I would’ve too. He sounded the way a dog sounds when it rips into flesh. “Dad’s forgotten the lemon essence,” I told him. Paul said: “Fuck.” “Don’t you dare swear in front of your mother!” Dad boomed. “I will not have you swearing in front of your mother! It’s Christmas for fuck’s sake!” In his rage, Dad yanked his hands out of the pudding batter. It splattered up the walls. Paul might’ve laughed if he hadn’t been busy yelling back. “Calm down! It’s not a big deal. We won’t even notice. Dad! Relax!” Dad froze, sultanas glued to his forearms, sweat dripping down his temples. The next thing any of us knew, he was at the mantel, Mum suspended over his head, pillow case muddied with pudding gloop. Paul looked like he wanted to say something, but if he had of, Dad would have kicked his head in, so he didn’t, and my brain must have stopped working because all I could think about was Dad’s cholesterol butter and how much I didn’t want him to have a heart attack. “Just like we won’t notice she’s not here, huh?” Dad roared. “Just like this isn’t a big deal?” Dad let the pillow case drop to the ground, and in one swift movement released the latch on the box and ripped the lid right off. Nostrils flaring, he shot one terrible look at Paul, and then dug his hand deep inside. Mum was grittier than I expected her to be, darker too than the white ash I’d imagined. Dad pulled her out in a fistful. She powdered his knuckles and got mixed up with the pudding on his forearms. Without really thinking about how it was his wife in his hand, he hurled her in a powdery arc towards the Christmas tree in the corner of the room. Most of her went wide, but a bit of her settled between the tinsel and someone’s ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ bauble. Paul had sometime dropped into a squat and clasped his hand over his mouth. Dad spun to face him in a whirl of spit and pudding and ash. “Do you notice her now? Do you see her now, Pauly? Well?” Paul didn’t say anything, and Dad didn’t ask again. Like nothing had happened he put the lid back on the box, wrapped it in the pillowcase, and sat Mum back on the mantel. Then, he walked purposefully over to the bowl of pudding batter and shoved his hands right in. Mum dissolved into the mix. I choked a little. Paul had to leave the room. That night no one mentioned the pudding, and our silence continued when Paul and I woke up the next morning to find that, sometime during the night, Dad had properly boiled the thing. We sat the pudding – all cooked and dressed in heavy cream – in Mum’s place setting at the table, and watched it while we ate our Christmas lunch. When we were done eating, Paul went outside and dug a hole beside the roses. I lowered in the pudding. Dad didn’t come with us. Through the window I saw him lying on the couch. Eyes shut. Maybe he was asleep, maybe he wasn’t, but it got harder to tell the longer I watched, so eventually I gave up and turned away. “He’s sad,” I said. Paul patted the last of the dirt over the little grave. “Yeah, well, all I’m saying is that a turbine would have been a lot less fucking work.”
A Study on Goats
A STUDY ON GOATS Words by Deborah Peake Artwork by Veronica Fernando The Happy Goat Prancing in the field, This goat’s never blue, Crapping in the face Of its Catch 22. Never has a worry, Never has a qualm, Living out the good life in The confines of the farm.
A Goat Called Dirk
Oh little goat I’m sorry That I went and broke your neck, But happy or not You’re as tasty as heck.
There once was a goat called Dirk Who had quite a strange little quirk. He ate hand grenades* And threw buns at people And occasionally just went berserk.
The Goats’ Secret Agenda
*Technically he ingurgitated a range of military and commercial grade artillery
Disclaimer: I do not condone the views/ opinions expressed in this work. (in the vernacular) Bleat bleat bleat bleat bleat Bleat bleat bleat bleat bleat bleat bleat Bleat bleat bleat bleat bleat (translation) Goats are really good If anyone disagrees They will be destroyed
In Case Ma Doesn't Tell You
IN CASE MA DOESN'T TELL YOU Words by Amber Meyer Artwork by Jasmine Iona Slater
Take the sun in your mouth: Swallow as though your throat is not on fire. Scale the most stomach-sinking mountain of the landscape: Fall as though flesh can fly. See the mirror as a love letter self-written live: Find poetry in pain as though injuries can rhyme. Bleed bouquets. Two layers of mascara In case the camera uses flash. Take it day by day. Masturbate. Say youâ€™re on your period and The teacher will leave you alone. Seeds you plant in others bloom with the sweetest perfume. Wash your bed Sheets once a month, at least. Gift with Prometheusâ€™ regard: Love as though you can not die from love.
ISAAC AT THE BUS STOP Words by Esther Le Couteur Artwork by Veronica Fernando Ah the beautiful new druggies in the deeplight stovetop night walking Through cars humming like the bars of duct tape on restaurant stairs where you Dropped soup stock on your crotch and they all thought he’s wet himself The light holy in their eyes straight out of a novel set in winter Montreal Halfway Javo under a streetlamp green, green and sad As a november pine forest eating pasta with Marcella butter sauce next to a girl Yelling no one would marry me! No one would marry you says her friend Not that they’re Hugo yet or any of those sad buggers my dad’s mates not The girl in year eight yelling in the art room windows about nine vodka cruisers not The sixteen year olds we were smoked haze and some lady nearby in a gutter on A leash sinewed limbs as we sip our sex on the beaches through red straws and My friend giggles about Descartes’ stupid fucking maths death and I see her on a tram last week and we nod apart like that sly emoticon Not like my father or my mother’s father or my father’s father or my father’s mother or my mother’s sister or any of us really Even just believing in chocolate vb or hormone drugs there’s only one face of Zoloft I lie on the baked concrete and count ants over lexapro
Isaac at the bus stop
I see one of the old guys on the bus with his blown off cheek and he’s yelling at a Ukrainian baby about his plan to kill all dogs on Earth including Mine including Simone’s and David’s everybody’s in a new white wristwatch so today’s not the day to say Hi the one conversation linking all these baby boomers and me is Douglas Adams is Anna Karenina is Jack Irish is god rest ye merry gentlemen let nothing ye dismay Is my friend’s father’s Greek Orthodox funeral and the smell of her mum’s kisses as she knew all our names unwashed hair and baby powder And pears soap like the haze of incense I wash my hands In the tiny sink for my grandma’s twin and the cat looks at me and the board she uses to get out of the polio chair onto the loo looks at me And the foot shaped clear plastic bucket that looks a bit duck a bit map of dropkick Sicily So much a part of the piled detritus of childhood myths a pretty pot in which to piss when she can’t be Bothered so I change the calendar month and swing out snowglobes blowing A choir of children singing in Shanghai dialect and my uncle’s letters from the Bulgaria trip in 1976 those poor! iron children teething in her scrapbook And the duck pinpoked into the outside toilet doorframe ugly Kant on a wall and the roosters in the curlicues of the third empire mirror frame my mum thought would look cool with the tiles And I made her a promise not to turn people into symbols I think I’ll bag that trip for two Pack it up and hovering on the edge between states or places the Spice The beautiful druggies the cumquat liqueur ask me again are you a grown up or a lady
CANE TOAD Words by Matt Wojczys Artwork by Ruth Duffton Square your shoulders, bend your knees and begin at ninety degrees when you swing the club like a pendulum. If performed correctly, the toad should squeal on impact, whistle through the air until it lands galumphing. Or, if you’re feeling handy, simply incise from left to right above the thighs, squeeze its belly like a plush toy to remove its insides. Run a bath of boric acid and let the toad bubble. Let the leather sit until it has some give, let it groan as you fill its mouth with coins. Make sure you pluck its dollish eyes, set them aside. Your new purse will make a fine talking point at parties. But what to do with those eyes, those shimmering candles? Cast them out the window and you’ll see hundreds more – the toads keep vigil and gurgle hymns, their arched brows like temple domes. They are ready for your confession. They secrete holy water that excoriates your hands and you begin to doubt their warty religion. But it’s too late, every creature in the north bears the same burn as your hand. If you drive on lonely back roads at night, every leaf and stone resembles a toad. Over the guttural cry of your four-wheel drive, you can just hear the bush pulse with their hypnotic sermon: Be fruitful and multiply.
THE TOURIST Words by Alex Epstein Artwork by Rachel Morley
t’s kilometres, not miles.” Rain blows through the air with disinterest. The red earth is slowly turning to mud. “Forty kilometres, then we reach the freeway.” I take the map out of Agnes’ hands. “Doesn’t look so bad, Rod,” she says. I look up through the rain-drenched windshield. Parked cars line the main road, but it seems to me like there’s nobody in town. I switch the radio back on, but there’s only static. The car is getting cold. “Nothing for it, then,” she says. She reaches over to my side and points with a short finger at the map. “Says there’s a motel somewhere - should be on the other side, if this is right.” I hadn’t seen one driving in. “Better than the car. In the morning, we’ll get a jump, and then we can head to the airport.” I nod. “Suppose I’ll head out, then.” The rain soaks into my light summer shirt before I can reach the awnings. It’s cold for January. This is supposed to be a hot desert night. I tuck my hands into my pockets as a chill blows through the air. The few small shops are all shuttered. I see the motel after a minute or so, right on the opposite edge of the town. The red-brick office looks warm, at least. Beyond it, flat dirt stretches all the way out to the horizon, where the grey clouds taper off, leaving a sliver of black desert sky. I walk up the gravel path, taking care not to disturb the branches of the small leafless trees on either side. Europeans, they appeared, planted here some time ago, killed by the midday heat. I notice the office door wide open despite the chilling rain, but the light is on. I tap twice on the glass door. For a while I don’t hear anything except the soft roar of rain on the tin roof. For a while I don’t recognise the feeling of being watched. The man at the reception desk looks at me with a smile. “I’d like a room.” Well, of course. “For two, please.” Excellent, sir. “You find the place alright?” Agnes says. I turn. “Yes, I…” I stop. Feel for the key. Number four. I pause. “It’s quite cold outside.” “Colder than home?” she laughs. Yes, it is. She pulls on her jacket. I lock the car. We make our way under the awnings. “Did you see the room?” she asks. I put my hands in my pockets. The rain falls harder. I look back towards the car. The number four is painted in stark white to the side of the room. Agnes slips her jacket off. “Well?” she says. I turn the key in the lock. “Just try to get some rest.” She hangs her jacket on the back of the door. The room is warm, at least. She takes off her jeans and
drapes them over the radiator. “It’s quite nice, actually.” she says. The walls are mahogany and the carpet feels soft under my shoes. “Take them off,” she tells me. She pauses. “Is everything alright?” I feel a knot in my stomach. “Yes.” “Well, let’s go to sleep.” She slides under the covers. “It’s nearly two in the morning. Aren’t you tired?” She looks at me quizzically. I take my shirt off. “I’ll be with you in a second.” I flick the switch, but the bathroom light doesn’t turn on. “Don’t pull this shit again, Rod.” she says. “It’s every time these days.” I turn and feel a flash of anger. “Look,” I start. I dream that my tent is on fire. I sit straight upright, sweaty and panicked. Agnes grunts. Just a second. My heart beats like a snare. “Go back to sleep.” I stand and walk into the bathroom and splash my face. Stare at myself in the mirror. “I knew him,” I say. “The man at the front.” She’s too tired for this. “And I dreamed - ” Dreamed what? “ - my tent was burning.” Well, of course. I turn around. The room is still. Agnes sits up and wipes her mouth. “You should see a doctor,” she says. “When we get back home.” I feel the flash again. She wants to go back to sleep. “I don’t feel alright.” She rubs her eyes. “I’ve been driving all day, Rod.” I know. She emptied the battery. “Do you want to drive tomorrow?” There’s bitterness in her voice. I pull on my clothes and grab my cigarettes. “Don’t,” she says. I step outside. The rain stopped while I was sleeping. I light up and take a drag before I notice him standing at the office door, watching me. “Leave me alone.” It doesn’t work like that. I take another drag. He doesn’t move. Where do you want to go? “I want to go home.” My breath makes fog in the early morning air. The rainclouds are gone, and the sky is getting lighter. The days are long and the summer sun will be up soon. “I don’t understand.” He stares at me. I wake with a heart like ash. Agnes is standing at the window, looking out onto the motel carpark. “How did you sleep?” she asks. I rub my eyes. She has her jacket on already. “I’ve slept better.” She leans over and kisses me on the forehead. “Let’s go.” We grab our clothes and walk outside. It’s almost midday and the sun is beating down on the asphalt. I hand her the car key. “I’ll see you back at the car.” The office is empty when I walk inside. He’s not there. I leave the key on the table and hurry back to the car. The shops are open. Small families are sipping coffee outside modest cafés. “So?” Agnes asks, through the open window.
I open the passenger door. “No problem.” “How about that jump?” she grins. Agnes keeps glancing down at the map. I wish she would keep her eyes on the road. My stomach still feels like a knot. “We should have a few hours in the airport,” she says. “After we return the car, I mean.” I stay silent. “Is anything wrong?” she asks, after a minute. “Just didn’t sleep so well.” “You should see a doctor,” she says. “When we get back home.” I turn to her sharply. “What?” “You haven’t slept right in days, Rod. Could be serious.” The past week seems hazy. “Looks like rain.” The knot tightens. She’s right. “Here,” she says, handing me the map. “How many kilometers?” I look around. I can’t tell where we are. “About - halfway to the freeway.” She nods. “Then it’s sixty to the airport,” she says. The car is silent for a little while more. We pass dead tree after dead tree. A drop of rain lands on the windshield. “That’s the first car I’ve seen since we left that town,” says Agnes. “Looks like he’s in a bloody hurry.” The rain starts falling all at once. I recognise the driver. “Aggie,” I say. She can’t hear you. He swerves across the divider.
Above Water is the creative writing anthology of the University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU), produced by the Media Department and the Creative Arts Department. Above Water is published by the General Secretary of UMSU, Yasmine Luu. The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of UMSU, the printers or the editors. Above Water is printed by Printgraphics, care of Nigel Quirk. All writing and artwork remains the property of the creators. This collection is ÂŠ Above Water and Above Water reserves the right to republish material in any format.
UMSU is located in the city of Melbourne, situated at the heart of Wurundjeri land. A key member of the Kulin Nations, we pass our respects on to the Wurundjeri elders, both past and present and acknowledge the land we are on was never ceded.
2017 UMSU Creative Writing Anthology