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Fists (Peter Farrar)

24 Nov

Car exhaust unfurls from my neighbour’s garage. I don’t know if they are committing suicide or smoking meat. I roll a cigarette. Have progressed well past a pack a day habit. My cigarettes burn down to wet tobacco and fingernails. If I eat with fingers there is sometimes an aftertaste of tar and smoke.

On Sundays I sit on my front path and read newspapers. The path straight to the west. I see by the setting sun. In the yard opposite a woman plods along and sweats behind a lawnmower. I flap the newspaper so hard the letters and pictures might scatter amongst my cigarette butts.

I turn straight to the classifieds. Russian women are willing to wed gentlemen. Compost can be delivered free. Investment properties are for sale in Norway. In the next section there is a photograph of Liz Taylor. Could her shoulders be that perfect? No freckles, broken capillaries, not even a faint thumb print from someone who refused to let her go just because the dance ended. Real Liz must be mostly bones by now, but her photographic memory is pristine.

My Sofia could sometimes look like Liz in that picture. Frightened and vulnerable her mother called it. That was what she shouted down the phone when I rang to see if Sofia was there. That’s what I had turned her daughter into she yelled. At the time I thought Sofia’s expression meant ignoring me. Not listening. Thinking of someone else. Finding another street like this that only looked different when the wheelie bins wobbled out and lined the nature strip.

I rip out the picture of Liz. I try not to crease her beautiful shoulders. I tear around her slight smile like Sofia’s. Her hands are not in the picture but perhaps they are balled into fists.

 

Candles (Mark William Jackson)

7 Sep

The first candle she lit was for Poppy. She doesn’t remember much about the old man. She remembers a baritone hum and the smell of tobacco. And she remembers being carelessly happy.

The next candle was for Daddy, or more specifically for the kiss he gave her when he said goodbye. She sat by the window for days waiting for him to come home. Once she realised he wasn’t coming back she lay on her bed holding the cheek where he’d kissed her.

There was a candle for the boyfriend. The boyfriend she’d loved, not the same boyfriend who drank too much one night, threw her down, and took what can only be given.

A candle for Mum, found on the couch, the television blaring with some midday pop psychology talk show. She looked peacefully asleep. The empty sheets of zolpidem lay carefully placed on the coffee table, a glass of water lay spilled on the floor.

The last candle lit was for herself. Or rather for who she was.

She stared at the candles, watching the flames flicker, watching the wax liquify and drip.

Closing her eyes as the tears came she drifted into a dreamlike state and whispered a distant memory: ‘happy birthday dear sweetheart, happy birthday to you.’

When she woke she took in a deep breath and blew the candles out.

The Best Ever (Louise Swinn)

24 Jul

My dog Soda had just been coughing up a furball when he put his weight on one side and rested his head on the paw that was up on its elbow. He looked at me with his puppy dog eyes all watery from the coughing.

He didn’t need many sheets because of his fur, so I was a doona hog. Today it was just the two of us there. Just Soda. Just me. Sometimes there would be four or five of us so today I was grateful for a bit of space, and I could tell that Soda was too. We’d both been burning the candle a bit.

Soda’s looking at me was getting distracting so I looked up from my game of noughts and crosses with a raised eyebrow. He had that big droopy face thing going on which could mean any of a number of things, so I said to him, Don’t ask if I’m OK.

He cleared his throat and said, I like the things you never said. I like that you didn’t talk about previous dogs, about your complex relationship with your father, and about religion.

He paused to wipe the sleep out of one eye.

He continued, I like that you never brush your hair, and that you have never minded when I cut my toenails in bed. I like the cheese on toast you made every Sunday night, and I like your collection of Laurel and Hardy figurines.

My face got all wrinkly. I’m not used to Soda being so serious.

I said, Why are you talking in the past tense, Soda? Why did you say you like the things I never said, rather than you like the things I never say?

He rolled slightly more onto his back, typically dramatic. I could see the thinner hairs between his arms. I know just how he likes to be tickled there.

He reached over and picked his packet of cigarettes up, rattled one out and put it in his mouth and lit it, and left it there while I frowned at him.

He said, I said it in past tense because I’ve got to make like a dog and leg it.

I was going to start crying but the tears wouldn’t come. Soda took the cigarette out of his mouth and blew very hard out and then looked at me firm and straight again.

He said, There’s nothing really wrong, and no room to get upset, it’s just that this isn’t the best ever and even though I’m a dog, it would be foolish for me to hang around, knowing that.

When he got off the bed with his cigarette and wearing nothing at all, I saw him for the last time in his barest form. I shuffled into the indentation he had left in the mattress and when I woke up hours later I smelt like dog.

Masdok the Madman in his Fever (Miles Allinson)

3 Jun

 

 

The ground has become sludgy where the river overflowed in March. In gumboots, carrying his wooden hunting rifle, he goes into the forest, with the mud sucking at his feet, to hunt the small birds he eats for dinner. His rifle is made of old oak and was carved by his father. It was Masdok’s tenth birthday present, but it shoots only in his mind. How then does he come back, whistling, with a string of upended birds, swinging at his side? Masdok the madman in his fever, sings to them with his sweet childlike voice, and brings them down around his boots, where, mistaking him for St Francis, they allow themselves to be slaughtered one by one.

 

 

Reading between the lines (Molly Guy)

24 May

Carmel sitting in the dark in an art house cinema having a sub-titled experience.

The Antique (Ben Carmichael)

10 May

Dust. It settles on the old things. It drifts through the air in a thin shroud, a grey curtain across the eyes. Slowly, it settles. On the tables, the chairs, the simple finery of antique cutlery, forming furrows beneath forks, spoons and knives. The tables are laid out with cups and saucers fifty years out of fashion. Price-tags peel. Arranged on an oak dresser is a regiment of tin soldiers, eyes forward and redcoats tarnished.

The owner cannot recall their arrival to her store. She cleans them anyway, even if they do look strange to her, she who once knew every item in her possession with ludicrous detail. She cleans those tin soldiers the way she cleans everything else: slowly, with care, without hurry. She continues to a wall of clocks, no two hands the same, each ticking to former masters’ days. She cannot reach those furthest up the wall, but her movements below dislodge the dust in brief cascades that sift down into her hair, her clothes, the lines of her face.

Every so often she blows quickly over a choice object – maybe an engraved steel plate or marble figurine – a quick jet of air, a short whoosh from her mouth like a sneeze, and in response the dust rises lazily like languid bees. She bends over, blows, bends and blows, blows and bends over again. It is the only sound in the store, these short, desperate breaths, as if she might return to life a mansion under the mausolean dust.

The Cold Drip of Dawn (S. Van Berkel)

7 May

For a while, nothing. And then it comes. Fast, like atoms in a particle collider, atoms of green smashing into your atoms and then you are green as well. Your skin is hot and prickly. You don’t have a rash but you think about raised red dots and they begin to pop, and your green atoms flow out, burning and bubbling. Don’t look down, don’t address it, or you will make it real. Your skin is like bubbling green slime, and it burns you. You are boiling away into nothing but steam. Don’t look. Think about other things and it will disappear. Things do not exist unless you look at them.

You taste the metallic tang of foil.

Time is shuddering. It does not flow. It jumps out at you in bursts and when you don’t pay attention it just stops. There is nothing keeping time going if you’re not there to watch it.

Time is shuddering. Your eyes roll back in your skull and when they flick back and you can see, time has jumped forward. A face is looming in close to yours – flick! – fire is spinning and bursting into leaves in the air. Leaves are falling around you and drift across your naked breasts, leaves stroke your back, leaves tickle your lips. Leaves tug your skirt up.

A hand slips along your thigh – flick! – the moon is swinging endlessly across the sky, centuries passing passing passing without your permission. You follow the moon with your fingers and they stream behind it like comets. The comets crash to earth and beat against your thighs like…

– flick! – you hold a cigarette. You look down at the burning end, and it looks like the innards of a star, boiling and churning. It is big enough to swallow you—your feet your legs your stomach your shoulders your head—your fingers held high are the last to go into the maw of the star. Like slipping into a hot bath. How far from Earth are you? A lump of grief in your gut. A pull in your navel – umbilical cord. Fat black. Tugging you back to Earth. Light years. Dragged through space and time. Back to Earth millions of millions of millions of years. It crushes you and millennia pass and then you are back on Earth again and time has waited for you because time does not pass when you are not looking at it.

Your cigarette has not burnt down at all.

The sickness releases its grip on your gut and your blood slows and your skin is smooth and soft and all is as it should be. The cigarette glows between your fingers and you sink back. Above you the grain-of-sand stars, and beside you a warm body. Night settles on your eyes and time sleeps…

You wake to the stale taste of your dreams – dust, mucus, ash and someone else’s tongue. Your sweat is cold, that sticky sort of cold that, instead of cooling you, only makes your crawling blood seem hotter. Your sweat stinks. Swallowing scrapes skin off the inside of your throat.

The darkness dissolves and you find that you are slumped against a log by a dying bonfire. It has collapsed in on itself and become a pulsating pile of embers. You feel heavy and light at the same time. If you stand, your outsides will sink and your insides will float away. You cannot move. You are exhilarated but exhausted. It is like the feeling you get after intense sex, when you have satisfied an unbounded desire and you are left panting and covered in skin that smells like another’s sweat, when you have given away a vital thing, and then it has been pushed back into you. Your blood has been drained, and then returned to you, drop by drop.

It is a long time before all the blood seems to be back in your body. It is a long time after that before you can bring yourself to stand.

You look around and see the cold drip of dawn.