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April 2016: SLOW

Alchemy Hour 4 by Rae Joyce
Alchemy Hour 4 by Rae Joyce
About Rae Joyce…

Contents


Lento

Heather McQuillan

At the scraping of the gate sparrows lift and fly.

Delphi peers through spaces in the gauze. It’s a Mormon, or Seventh Day Adventist, with creased trousers and a tract. He knocks, and waits with the patience of Job, but the religious go in pairs, two-by-two as if fearing an imminent flood. This stranger is singular. He glances up, gestures that he’ll leave the tract on the doorstep; backs away in obeisance.

He gets into a car with signage, the sort driven by real estate agents. They’d come after darling Jack’s death, with their special offers, suggesting a nice unit close to amenities, no maintenance worries.

Delphi can still manage the stairs but she has to take her time. That was her deal with the children. When I can’t do the stairs, then you get to shove me away.

She feels a sciatica twinge and the reluctance of knees to genuflect as she picks up the folded flyer. With the compliments of the director. Inside are two tickets, gold and blue with that bar-code squiggle that’s stamped on everything these days.

Delphi leaves her fur coat in the wardrobe. Nobody wears fur these days. She decides on oyster silk, apple red and riotous jungle flowers. Delphi fans herself with the programme, its edges curled with age. The overture plays. She kicks off her heels, stands before her bedroom mirror and sings her songs again. Takes them lento.

The sparrows roost beneath the eaves.
About Heather McQuillan…


Expedition to a New World 

Gail Ingram

A boy tramps close behind his mother through the vegetables, as if in thick fog. He brushes past tins of spaghetti. The tendrils on the labels seem to follow him, grasping for his arms and ankles. He stumbles over bags of stalky cereal. Each time he utters a guttural sound, a rumble that might come from the fathoms beneath the floor, shuddering through his body and settling there. 

They zigzag through aisle three, aisle four. He waits while his mother searches the shelves for something they’re looking for. Onwards through aisle five, aisle six. He never lifts his cirrus-cloud eyes until the blocks of white freezers stretch before them like a wall of unnavigable ice. When he reaches for the frozen beans, the mist swirls around his arm, his face turns translucent blue. He catches his mother’s eye, and she’s caught off-guard. Pulled in. They slide down together, a cluster of frost-encrusted legs and fish fingers, slow as glacial sediment.

In the rush for the check-out aisle, a thousand small words tumult across the counter, pelt his unprotected skin like sharp pebbles.
About Gail Ingram…


The Great Race

Rosalie Kempthorne

We lined them up at the starting post, re-positioned them so that at least they were facing the right way. Albie drew a finish line in marker pen a ruler’s length away.

Mine was the one with the red spot on its shell – painted carefully, mindful of the shell’s fragility. Albie painted his striped. And he called it Stewie, though it didn’t need a name.

And they were off. We cheered for them, for every hard won millimetre. We promised them luxury prizes – fast cars, overseas holidays, the affections of beautiful snail-women.

Albie was a head shorter than the rest of us – shortest kid in class. Glasses. Curly hair. A protruding bottom lip. He had this way of staring at people – not really at them but through them, as if he had x-ray vision and could beam it straight for their souls. When he talked at all it was something random, something nobody else got. No wonder then that he had trouble with other kids.

But I liked being his only friend. It made us part of a club that only we belonged to.

“He’s only shy,” my mother said, but I knew there was more she didn’t want to say.

Approaching the finish line, he lifted Stewie up off the racetrack and lay him on my forearm.

“He concedes,” Albie said brightly. “Johnno” – the name he’d given my snail – “reigns victorious.”

He was a weird kid.
About Rosalie Kempthorne…


Night Shift

Jeff Taylor

There are a dozen of them here, and I do the evenings. What a comedown. Six pm to six am. They’ve just been fed for the night when I check in, and my job is to talk, listen and calm where needed. Most of them are medicated to the extreme, which helps.

Geriatrics has many levels. Top is a plush office where you listen and offer help to confused, aged clients and their families. I was up there once, but the health budget dried up, and I’m now in this men’s ward full of senile old codgers, and little more than an orderly.

“Everything okay, Arthur?” I ask. Arthur grunts. Bert, ex-military, gives me a salute which I return. Henry fixes me with a killer look. “Arsehole!” he shouts. So it goes. I get glares, sneers, curses, smiles, waves or nothing. Sometimes I’m spat at. But my ward round is just a prelude to the night’s main event. The tension builds. Rheumy eyes peep over duvet covers. Frightened, expectant eyes that’ll never settle until it’s over.

Finally, it’s time, exactly eight o’clock, and anxious eyeballs swivel as Clarry Watkins climbs stiffly from his bed, straightens painfully, then slowly turns in circles. He thinks he has his little girl on his shoulders. A daughter who died eighty years ago, aged three.

But those jealous eyes can only see a man twirling with his arms in the air. Dancing alone like he’s been told he can go home. 
About Jeff Taylor…


In the Old Slow Water

Sam Averis

Dad lived there, before they flooded the valley. We stopped the boat under the shadow of the dam to fish for bits of his past.

“They chipped a caveman out of a glacier. A million years old, and fresh as the day he died,” he said. “The water preserves things.”

I could see it. How the sunburned runoff, after getting raked across pebbled riverbeds and pulled between salmon in machine-cut canals, would hug the bottom. Hibernate. Hold the past.

I tied a butcher’s hook to heavy sisal rope and tossed it over the side. Behind Dad was the camp. He’d built the toilet block, and planted the Douglas fir I’d grown up with. Things change quick on young, hydroelectric shores. Algae climbs pipes that feed the turbines. Gravel grinds to sand.

When we hooked something, Dad gunned the outboard. Our stern dipped low, straining against the rope. As we picked up speed our catch emerged.

What looked at first like a school of green sprats were leaves. They fluttered, flashing pale undersides. It was an oak, with gnarled and split boughs that ended in webs of twisted branches. A heart was carved into the trunk. It enclosed Dad’s initials, and a pair not my mother’s.

Around us was simple geometry. Fir, mountain, fence line dissolving into the lake’s surface. I could feel the drag of the line. So I cut it, and freed from its weight we launched into a great spinning jump. When we landed we were laughing, together.
About Sam Averis…


Becalmed by DR Jones
Becalmed by DR Jones
About DR Jones…

The Huhu Grub

Himali McInnes

Wiremu’s superpower was being able to read people’s minds. He had to tune in to their frequencies. This could take some time, especially when they held tightly to their secrets.

What people looked like on the outside had little to do with their inside thoughts. The old lady who sat on her peeling porch all day, for instance – he expected her to be thinking of nothing much. But her head was full of shrapnel and loud explosions and people running and crying. Mum said she was from somewhere far away.

Mum’s head was full of slow static, tinged an ocean blue. Wiremu wanted to soothe her static, but he didn’t know how. So he cleaned the house and helped feed his brothers and sisters and did all the dishes. Still her static seeped out of her eyes and her mouth and drenched everything with sadness.

At school, Wiremu’s superpower helped him avoid the school bully. The bully thought in sharp rat-a-tats: I’ll catch that slow fat huhu grub today. Black fury ricocheted out of the bully’s mind and down the school hallways when Wiremu slipped away yet again.

“Class, we have a new girl today. Her name is Liseti. Please make her feel welcome.”

Liseti’s eyes glittered, fierce and bird-like. Her hands clenched and unclenched. Wiremu wondered whether she would like him. Slow, chubby Wiremu, whom no one spoke to.

Liseti looked up sharply and stared straight at him. As if she had heard him.
About Himali McInnes…


My Haunted House

Sue Kingham

My home has a cracked spine. Weatherboards, torn off like pages, lie around our overgrown garden. Since the quake, minutes have dropped dust onto the once polished floorboards, hours have draped webs across the ceilings, and five years of leaks have coated the stairs with sticky slime.

I pick my way over shattered glass and try to ignore diagonal cracks that radiate from every window and doorframe like a scowl.

Yellow and stained, my visitors’ book peeks from beneath the broken dining table. I pull it out, and place it on the kitchen bench. Turning its pages I read entries written in ink – now more purple than blue – remembering all the meals I prepared for cherished guests. The frequent supermarket trips, the puddings proffered, the surplus of snacks hoarded as insurance. While I read, I keep my back turned on a desiccated rat decomposing in the pantry.

A thorny rose scratches against the window, beckoning me outside. I jump. Heart still in my mouth, I re-read the pages, my ear now attuned to these hungry ghosts.
About Sue Kingham…


Fire-making

Maris O’Rourke

I light the fire at four. Crush yesterday’s news. Carefully stack kindling pick-ups from daily garden rounds. Stingray-shaped jacaranda seeds fit in the palm of my hand. Crack-start in heat. Oak tree twigs slow-burn, stolid as the refectory table and benches my mother brought from Scotland. Gum branches flare and die bush-fire quick as my father’s temper. Harakeke stems, cut down to size, click and echo Tititorea – Maori stick games: Ē aue, ka mate au – Alas I will die. Tomorrow, I’ll put the ashes in the compost bin, as I quietly sing E Papā Waiari.
About Maris O’Rourke…


There’s no slowing down at Anne Frank’s house

Frankie McMillan

We hurry up the steep stairs of the canal house. It’s nearly closing time and there are others behind us, a queue that stretches out into the Amsterdam night. You say, “Stay close to me,” and I clutch the back of your jacket as we edge through corridors and up another flight of rickety stairs. And then we’re in Anne Frank’s bedroom, the wallpaper dotted with torn off pictures of film stars and faded royalty but it’s the postcard titled The Chimpanzee’s Tea Party! that makes me stop. I stare at the chimpanzees from the Berlin zoo; they sit at a table, two with paws over their mouths as if about to whisper something. I think of Anne slowly and carefully pasting the back of the postcard, positioning it on the wall next to Ginger Rogers.

Downstairs we hear heavy footfalls on the stairs. “Keep moving,” you urge, as the throng of people pushes us forward into the next room. I tell you I want to slow down. I tell you I want to go back. “Why are we always rushing?” I say.

You frown. You explain as if I’m a child. “Nobody goes back, honey,” you say, “there’s only one way out of here.”
About Frankie McMillan…


The S.L.O.W. March of Time

Deryn Pittar

The church bell tolled through the damp fog, its ponderous voice calling the mourners together. A group of haggling tui rose from the flax flowers in panicked flight, their wing-beats sounding like muffled hand-claps. Nothing to clap about today.

The sea sighed and hissed in the distance. The on-shore breeze carried the ozone smell, seeped in seaweed and dead fish, to swirl around the group of women, huddled together. They leaned inward like poplar trees, except for Jean, a stumpy oak, dressed in an autumn toned floral suit, its seams barely holding together over her rounded rear. Like the tag at the bottom of the letter Q, she anchored the group, a born leader, down-to-earth with a smile for every occasion.

The ‘Seven Ladies of Whitford’ they called themselves; the S.L.O.W. group. Friends for fifty years and now they numbered six. Today they were burying Pansy Potter.

“Come on, girls. Hankies away, let’s go in and sing for Pansy.” Jean turned and led them into the church, a mother hen followed by her chicks. Up the stone steps they trailed, through the arched portal, down the aisle to sit along the front pew as prime mourners for the childless war widow.

“Will we have to change our name?” Emily’s querulous voice split the silence.

“No,” Jean hissed. “At present we’re six, but if you don’t be quiet we could number five by the end of the service.” Emily paled. Jean smiled.

“Five…” somebody whispered. “Then we’d be F.L.O.W.”
About Deryn Pittar…


A Slow Day in Hong Kong by Rob Jones
A Slow Day in Hong Kong by Rob Jones
About Rob Jones…

The Vote

Sally Carroll

Anna wished their round dining table was square. Her thoughts circled the table, around and around, faster and faster, like Sambo’s tigers turning to butter. On her dinner plate, butter oozed off the mashed potatoes into the stewed beef, and brown gravy spread like mud to her fork.

In between mouthfuls of stew her husband campaigned.

Her unspoken words churned nouns and verbs.

He curved his body closer to her, his weight on his left elbow. Eyes focused. “Anna, don’t vote for the new flag, it’s crap.” He pointed his fork at her plate. “The Union Jack’s our history.”

Thick gravy stirred under her fork, and out sprung two miniature horses. The white stallions galloped around the dining room table pulling a golden carriage, and on top, a Union Jack flying high. Running behind was an army of tiny, plastic soldiers waving match-stick swords and screaming in squeaky voices, “Don’t vote for the new flag. We love the Union Jack. We love the Union Jack.” Over this mental cacophony, she pointed her fork at her husband.

He said louder. “And the new flag’s a horrible blue and the fern’s white.”

Gravy dripped off her fork onto the cream tablecloth. Red velvet curtains hung over the dining room window. Like a sword fight on stage, his/her forks went point to point.

And then his sword wavered. “At least the fern should be silver.”

A slow smile came to Anna’s face.

“I’ve voted.”
About Sally Carroll…


The Pole in Room 6

John O’Brien

After his bath there was always a greasy grey ribbon running around the old enamel tub’s surface. A blended tide mark of dead skin, shed hair, and dirt. The Pole would slowly stagger up the old wooden staircase that ascended from the public bar, leaning heavily on the curved balustrade. Then, drunk and lurching, he’d reel down the narrow corridor to his room to collect a battered accordion. We’d hear the gas califont ‘whoosh’ as it ignited, and the water running, and soon he’d be singing songs of his homeland, to the plaintive echo of the accordion. Eventually, as the water cooled, he’d grow maudlin, and even though we didn’t understand the words, the tempo of the music would slow, and the songs would sound so much sadder, until at last the accordion would fall silent. Then we’d hear the occasional slap of the water, and his weeping, until eventually the publican would arrive from downstairs and gently hustle him, childlike and naked to his room, where his sobbing could fall on more deaf ears.
About John O’Brien…


Around the Block

Jane Percival

The kids on their skateboards scoot around me. Even toddlers overtake me with their wheeled shoes flashing green and red. They make me dizzy and the footpath shimmers.

When I was that size you had to be careful not to step on a crack or you’d marry a rat. Today’s youngsters move too fast.
 
We did have wheels, though. Jack would tow me around the block behind his green army Jeep with the silver star on its bonnet. I’d lie on my back on the little wooden trailer that Dad made, my hair trailing on the ground. Watching the sky above, blue with white fluffy clouds, and with Jack pedalling madly, I felt like the wind itself. And the always-summer smells of cut grass and bitter dandelion, crushed under the wheels when we swerved onto the verge.
 
I wasn’t so slow, then. And I had this thing where if I touched a fence post with my left hand, I’d have to reach across and do the same with my right.
 
There’s a white picket fence ahead and I stretch out, touching it ever so lightly. The dizziness comes again. I grasp the point of the picket with my hand but my grip is weak and I feel myself falling.
 
The sky is still blue and the white clouds are still there, scudding across the sky in that slow we’ve got all the time in the world way that they do.
About Jane Percival…


Last Day of the Season at the Mandarin Packing Plant

Tina Cartwright

Two hours and twenty-seven minutes.

Click, tick, clack. Black light outside infiltrates the factory fulgence. Blackness congeals, strung in whispered clusters, high in the corners. Dimness flickers. 
 
Four hours and forty-one minutes.
 
A conscious minute is a long, long time. Pairs of factory eyes glued to the far wall, zombie-like, awaiting a miracle. They might travel there, hit the concrete, become embedded, stare outward, eternal now. The factory falters, clangs against time. Blue machine light battles grey. Grey repulses. The grey lake concrete floor is stagnant, an eerie etching of a dead lake. 
 
Six hours and nine minutes.
 
Lethal clock. The second an eternal beat. Thoughts have long since transmogrified into inane chants. Chicken is the answer. The machine thumps out the question. Click/what/clunk/is/clang/for/din/tick/er/tonk. CHHHHHHRRRRRRR. Worker’s white hand caught, soft, bluish, plump under the thumb, impelled forward, toward gnashing blue packing machine. The red button! Jolt. Stillness. In the nick of time. 
 
Eight hours and two seconds.
 
Mandarin smell mashed into dust and grease.  A wayward stalk half-chewed by machine’s jaws. Stuck again. Poke it with the broom handle. Wading eyes watch. Metal flap creaks, gives. Released, the woody limb plunges into the grey lake below. The green button signals resumption. Eyes flicker, refocus on the long, bare wall. This rhythm prescribes stark monotony. Clink/first/clack/move/clunk /when/dang/home. Shed this skin of labour stained, ingrained with grease and time’s leafy skeleton. 
About Tina Cartwright…


Grey Bark

Adrian McCauley

“I planted this tree on my wedding anniversary, long before your Nana died; it’s like she’s still here with me, and I am sitting next to her in the sun.”

It is summer. I am staying with Granddad and we are picnicking beneath the totara that grows in his back yard.

“Why plant a totara?”

“It is Rangatira; it is tall and strong and will be standing when all other trees have died and rotted.”

I look up the through the branches with their grey and wrinkly bark like Granddad’s skin, and stiff prickly leaves like his stubbly kisses.

“In a hundred years,” he continues, “long after we are gone, this tree will tower like a great chieftain standing over all other trees.”

“But it takes sooo long to grow, Granddad!”

“No, Rawiri, you are wrong; it doesn’t take long at all. The tree looks down at us with our short lives filled with love and sadness and asks itself, why do we grow so fast?”
About Adrian McCauley…


Untitled by Megan Bowers-Vette
Untitled by Megan Bowers-Vette
About Megan Bowers-Vette…

Tai Chi

Patricia Hanifin

Margaret is leading and we are following: we sink and fold, we take our weight on our heels, we move together, we spread our wings, we practice double hand reeling silk. Imagine you’re holding a ball of energy, Margaret says, and in my mind the story of Maui and his brothers, catching the sun with their ropes, slowing the passage of time.
 
I am sinking and folding, stretching and absorbing. I am slowing into silk, reeling to the right and to the left; I thread energy from my core to my fingertips. I focus on softening my hands then lose awareness of my feet. My shape dissolves. I keep breathing.
 
We are moving together, stepping in slow motion. Margaret is fluid; she flows like water, her hands are flowers opening and closing. We practice single whip; we drop our shoulders, sink into our hips; we hold our shape, we breathe.
 
Each movement is a poem, performed – breath of the heart, white crane spreads its wings. I sink and fold. I find the shape, lose it, find it again. We step the four corners, we create circles; we lift the sky, part the clouds, look at the moon through the leaves of our fingers. We gather energy, draw it down, draw it in. We are the world taking our time, breathing together.
 
My heart expands. I am smooth and calm. We bow to finish the class; my wings fold over my body. I am. We are. Time captured. Time released.
About Patricia Hanifin…


Tuesday

Carolyn Cossey

“Slower,” she said.

Such enthusiastic rubbing. When his finger moved inside her, all she could think of was a teaspoon in a mug of soup.

She had no idea how they had got here. She’d been making him a coffee a few minutes ago. It was Tuesday afternoon, not at all a time to be thinking about sex. Maybe after dinner on Saturday?

His probing finger became more languorous. He had been really kind helping with the moving.

“You’re ready,” he whispered.

But she didn’t feel ready, as he opened her legs and entered her.

He pressed deeper; three, four, five. For a moment she relaxed. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. What was the difference between Tuesday afternoon and Saturday night, really?

Six. He buried his face into her shoulder, and made a breathless, strangled noise. His body convulsed, not as a shudder, but as several separate spasms. She moved awkwardly under him, trying to create distance.

He laughed. “I seem to be suffering aftershocks.”

She watched him roll away. When he lifted his arm, all she saw was bone and sinew, no muscle. Like a chicken wing. There was no way he was fifty-one. How soon could she ask him to leave?

She thought about the cake he’d brought, half-eaten on the kitchen bench.
About Carolyn Cossey…


In the dark

Michelle Matheson

Time creeps. Its increments have grown unfamiliar to me. It is marked by strange rituals. The counting of my medication into a plastic cup, the space before someone comes to dress me, the waiting for breakfast to arrive. There is infinity between who I was and who I am becoming.

Time is warped in this place. When the family visits I feel it resume its familiar beat, the cadence of the past. Yet I can see that it is reversed for them. There are pauses in conversation, they fidget and glance surreptitiously at watches. Still, I am glad they come.

In the night, time crawls. I stare sightless into the abyss, hearing the sound of my own body winding down. 

In the dark, time has teeth.
About Michelle Matheson…


Going Places

Kate Mahony

“Your son is slow,” the teacher said, back in the day when educators could be blunt. “He will never go places,” she told his mother, not even trying to keep her voice low so Arnold, playing nearby, wouldn’t hear.

Today, Arnold walks the streets of his town. He wears a black shirt with ‘Repent!’ printed on the back. He acknowledges by a brief nod the vets who gather to chat on the corner outside the community center. He steps past the boy lying drunk on the pavement, urine drifting from his baggy jeans out onto the street. He smiles at the mother forcing her tone-deaf four-year-old to sing a medley of Christmas carols for a dollar or two.

He pushes open the doors of all the shops and each of the banks. Inside he shouts – for good measure – the words: “Jesus loves you.”

Sometimes someone new in town will startle when Arnold’s voice booms in the otherwise empty bank. “What was that?” they might ask.

Most places, though, someone behind the counter like the bank teller with the yellow flower in her dark hair will respond, “Thank you.”

On Sundays, Arnold likes to visit his mother at the cemetery. He tells her about the places he’s been and his plans for expansion of his mission. He has other areas to conquer, outlying suburbs, maybe even New York, merely a short train ride away. “Slowly but surely, Mother,” he says.
About Kate Mahony…


Baby Steps

Melanie Dixon

Living…..with…..you……is……like……living…..in……slow…..motion……the……ultimate…..test……of……endless…..patience…….and…….calm……where…….nothing……happens……faster……than…..it……needs…….to……and……crossing……the……road……can…..take…….all……..day……when……you…..have…..to…..look……at……..every…….single…….twig……and…….flower…….then…….take……a….closer……look……at…..that……stick……pick…….it…….up…….and…….put……it……down…..a…..few…..times…..before……holding…….it…….up…….for…….me…….to……see…..and……you’re…….so……..pleased…….when…….I……take…….it……in……my…….hand……and…….tell……you……that……it’s……beautiful……and……I…….tuck……it……into……the……buggy……and……ask…..you…….if…..you…..want…….to……jump…….in…..too…….but……you…..shake……..your…….head…….and…….say…….no…….and…….I…….know……that……you…….really……..mean……no…..like……your…….little……..life…….depends……on……it…..and……I…….can’t……resist…….the……..charm……of……your…….smile …….or…….the…….touch…….of……your……tiny…….fingers……when……you……hold…….my…….hand…….in…….yours……to……take…..

two……

more……

steps………

then…….stop…….to…….pick…….up……a……stone…….that…….looks……..just…….like……..all……the……other…….stones……but…….to…….you……it……is……an…….object……of…….delight……and…….you……say……look…….so…….I……look……and……I………smile……and…..I…..say……thatsnicenowhurrythefuckupwillyou…….but…….you……..don’t…….hear…….me……or……maybe…….you…….don’t……understand……how…….little…….sleep……I’ve…….had……for……the……last…….two……years……and……how……I……just……want…….to…….go……home……and……collapse……on…….the……..sofa ……in…….front……of…….the…….TV……even…..if…….it…….means…….having…….to……..watch……Thomas……

again.
About Melanie Dixon…


Blue Wildebeest by Jana Heise
Blue Wildebeest by Jana Heise
About Jana Heise…

Mister Twenty-Two Seconds

Elizabeth Farris

The question at the beginning of every rodeo always is, Will I earn winnings or be sent home emptyhanded?

“Cowboy up!”

I mount Cheyanne and position us in the box, lariat and piggin’ string at the ready. The chute springs open, releasing the calf. We burst out, full gallop. I lose my hat. Count off the seconds. Judge the distance. Aim at the back of its neck. Throw my loop. It catches and tightens. A cloud of dust rises. Cheyanne stops. I dismount. She steps backwards to hold the slack while I race over and grab three legs. Tie them with two wraps and a hooey. Throw my hands in the air to mark my time on the arena clock.
     
Dammit.
  
It’s not her fault. It’s never her fault.

We both get a drink, her of water, me of Jack Daniels. I loosen the cinch, brush her down, tie her up to the horse trailer. Open the cab of my pickup and find my tattered right-hand work glove behind the seat. Mosey over to the registration desk.

“Have another go-round?” the man sniggers.

I slip the glove on and flex it, practice my grip around a coil of imaginary rope. “Reckon I’ll try a bull. Y’all know my name.” I grin.
 
I dig my wallet out of my jeans, lay down bills for the entry fee, a gambler forever betting on himself. I knock the dust from my hat and prepare for a long, painful twenty-two second winning ride.    
About Elizabeth Farris…


Slow Day in Skunkworks

Brendon Stanton White

It starts like this: I knock over my thermos and it takes a full hour to hit the ground. The rhizome-like spread of coffee takes another hour. That’s how I know. A slow day.
 
It’s midday before the mess is cleaned. These conditions are unsuitable for thought. I’ve complained. Sent memos. Contacted Adams in Space/Time monitoring. He says the thingy’s broke. An expensive patch is needed. I just have to deal. So I deal. I try and think, but no bubbles reach the surface.
 
Only one thought comes: The food was pureed then rectally infused. I don’t know this thought. It isn’t one of mine. I cannot shake it.
 
Nonetheless, I record it. It’s a struggle. After 45 minutes, my pen hits paper. Another 30 minutes and I’ve crossed the T. It’s beyond silly.
 
A memo comes. I’m behind schedule. Demands unmet. Risking expulsion. I consider replying, but it’s futile. I memo Adams instead. He says he can’t perform repairs. Says I ought to find a solution. I’m the thinking man, aren’t I? Yes, but thought is too slow here. The food was pureed then rectally infused. Doesn’t help. All I’ve got.
 
I spend hours twiddling thumbs, bending paperclips. To no end. One thought like a mantra. Useless. Nonsense. A thoughtless thinking man.
 
All day, no other thoughts, then one comes like a face out of fog. It’s unbearably sad. 
About Brendon Stanton White…


December in Berlin

Eileen Merriman

Here we sit, our crystallised breath mingling in the eggshell air. Your slender body is hidden beneath a multitude of layers, merino and possum-fur, but the warmth of your denimed thigh passes into mine.

Here we sit. You. I. Us.

Touchdown. Thirty-four hours since we met, as the chosen ambassadors for our company. Thirty-four hours since we boarded the plane, and left the Antipodes. We watched the world slide beneath us – Honolulu, Los Angeles, Montreal. Somewhere over the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture zone, you said you’d been married for fifteen years. But when I passed you my glass of champagne, your lips lingered on the thin veneer of the glass.

And now. Our hands curved around steaming glasses of Glühwein and our thighs touching just so. I imagine walking you back to your hotel room and taking off your layers, so I can wrap myself around you and touch you, just so. Instead, I tell you my wife and I sleep in separate beds, as if that renders this inviolate. As if it makes this right.

What is right is the way the Christmas lights dapple over your upturned face, setting you aglow. What is right is the glassy notes of the carollers spiralling around us, and the snow flakes melting in your hair, and the way you are touching me, but not touching me – before we become lovers, before we betray our spouses, before we betray ourselves.

In December. In Berlin.
About Eileen Merriman…


Alchemy Hour

Rae Joyce

This series won the AUT Graphic Fiction Prize in 2014. Suitable for our April theme, we decided to publish the whole of it here. Of this small but powerful contribution, graphic artist Rae Joyce (also featured in our Book Highlight this month), tells us: “‘Alchemy Hour’ is a surfing term that describes perfect conditions after a long flat wait, a transformation. It inspired the imagery and chronological device for my graphic poem, which is beneath the surface about grief. My grandfather taught me to paint when I was eight. He died not long afterwards. I found him.”


About Rae Joyce…