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April 2012: AFTER THE PARTY

Llyvonne Barber, ‘Jellyfish Lights’
Llyvonne Barber has an interest in photography and lives in a rural village in the Manawatu. Jellyfish lights came from her first foray into night-time photography.

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Matthew Zela, Table 8

I wait.

Tips included, it’s a living.

Some of the nicest ones never tip. It’s the bastards that cough it up large.

Guess they feel good about feeling bad for you – having to serve bastards and all.

Tonight I doubly loathe Table 8. On a quiet night it’s rarely used, so no one much frets about it. Even on a steady night you might luck out, gaining gloating powers once the shift ends. Until then you cast a worried eye its way.

Table 8, crouched like Leviathan in cheap tuxedo and heels. What a shit.

Tonight Table 8 did not just fill. It spilled. We even moved a pair of small tables and six more chairs around the spiteful, over-polished fucker. Tonight Table 8 wined and dined the hell out of them. It sang operas and serenades. It stood often, toasting masterfully, charming and disarming and romancing and then dancing on adjacent tables.

Its guests, all one-and-twenty, entered sparkling, witty, and sharp. At midnight, once we had closed the bar, Chitterling Omelet began to serve himself. Duck En Croûte demanded my number twice. Lamb À L’Orange had grabbed me in the pocket and Caviar Fritters built a fort, there between the teeming legs of that awful place — the underbelly of Table 8.

Finally, veering sharply from farce to tragedy, the pantomine of pride about who should pay turned bad. Cutlery got broken.

Yup. Table 8. Giant dicks the lot of them.

Left a hundred bucks.

There.

Gloating rights.

Matthew Zela is a writer of poetry, prose and fiction, currently at work on a final draft of his first novel. Matthew lives in Northland, a gardener by trade. He received the Flash Frontier first quarter writing award for his three previously published stories.

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Mike Crowl, Party of the First Part

I was the party of the first part. No one else in the family cared about this. I was just who I was without somehow having made it legal.

Being the party of the first part should have given me status. It gave me none. But then, the family has long since been this way. They don’t like anyone to stand out. It’s not what you’d call the tall poppy syndrome – at least not in our family. It’s more that equality is a thing we strive for, even though in our heart of hearts, we know there isn’t such a thing, not within a family.

My father, when he was alive, always told us: Life isn’t fair. But once he was dead, in the year I turned thirteen, my mother insisted on fairness for everyone.

It was dreadfully difficult at first. We were used to knowing that things wouldn’t be handed out equally to us, that some of us were shorter, some had knobblier knees, some looked like scarecrows however well they dressed (or thought they dressed).

As the oldest I knew Mother was wrong, but at thirteen I wasn’t prepared to confront her. She’d always disagreed on fairness -– or the lack of it — with Father.

Now she too was dead. Father’s dictum had come back into its own. The lawyers had incorporated inequality into the document, and I heard my father saying, I told you so.

Mike Crowl is a 66-year-old writer, pianist, composer, and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, and has written his own blogs since 2005. He wrote a weekly column for the Star Midweeker for five years in the 1990s.

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Elizabeth Farris, Afternoon Tea

Happy Hoppy Bunny has fallen from his seat and lies sprawled across the floorboards. A purple bow round his neck -– formal attire for the occasion -– has come untied. Rag doll Charlotte Anne is slumped over, face down on the table. Her yellow string mop hair is stained from the tea which had spilt from her teacup. Mike the orange monkey barely hangs on. He dangles -– mid-air -– his curly wire-filled tail loops through a slit in the back of his pink plastic chair. One more tremor and he’ll join his rabbit friend on the floor.

The three-year-old hostess had rushed outside without an apology, overturning her little stool. Her mum’s porcelain teapot, decorated with perpetually-cheery yellow daffodils, remains on the floor, smashed into pieces that will never be glued back together.

*

Without a sound, the man makes a notation on his clipboard and leaves the house, carefully locking the door behind him, even though the doorframe is fractured and an adjoining window is shattered. He affixes a red sticker onto the outside.

In the front yard, the Student Volunteer Army battles an invisible enemy that can never be defeated. Once again, their shovels scrape, removing the inert grey silt which has buried the lawn. They fill wheelbarrows full of lifeless liquefaction, and cart it away.

A random cluster of daffodils may emerge from the garden next spring.

Elizabeth Farris lives in Waikanae wedged between the bush and the Tasman Sea. Her short stories are published in Australian and American anthologies and her stage plays have been performed in the US. She was short-listed for the Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing in 2009 and was runner-up in the Rodney Writes Competition in 2008.

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Kath Beattie, Getting It Right

The morning after Gran’s 85th, Candice wears her cocktail dress to breakfast.

What’s that girl wearing? Gran says and Mother says, her party dress, she didn’t wear it yesterday, she wore shorts.

Culottes, mother! And I wouldn’t have worn them if you’d told me the right time.

Mother says, I told you dinner. Tea is tea. Dinner is dinner. It couldn’t be plainer.

What is lunch then? Candice says.

Lunch is when you go to someone else’s place.

Mother! Anyway Gran, what do think of my dress?

Too much skin showing dear. Not suitable for breakfast.

I’m wearing it because Mother said the party’s at dinner.

Grandad tunes up his hearing aid. Why is Candice wearing her nightdress at the table?

It’s my party dress.

Too flimsy Grandad says, why didn’t you wear it yesterday?

Didn’t get a chance. Mother…

Mother interrupts. I said dinner and that’s when we wore our good clothes.

And when was I supposed to wear mine?

At dinner yesterday, Mother says. That’s when. Not at breakfast, me in jandals, Dad and Grandad in their black singlets and Gran in her dressing gown. And if you miss out on more parties because you don’t know when dinnertime is, then don’t bother buying dresses you never wear.

Great Scott! Candice says, if I’m ever as grumpy, someone please put me out of my misery.

Mother waves the bread knife, Dad mutters garden, Grandad switches off and Gran says dinner lunch tea, I loathe Sundays.

A wet-weather writer who lives in Dunedin, Kath has been writing forever with moderate success. She enjoys the outdoors and chases neighbourhood cats off her garden with water pistols.

~ ~ ~

Judith Pryor, A Low Hum

This party is dead, I say, emptying my beer. Long live the party, someone else sniggers.

Looking out the window, I wonder when I can leave.

Outside, a man walks past at a clip. Then a group of youths, an elderly couple. The cold November streets hum.

A clock in the hall sounds ten o’clock. Making my excuses, I grab my coat and leave. The humming comes inside me. I follow.

Outside, I quickly make a left turn, nearly tripping in the waves of people surging past. At the end of the street, linden trees lit up for Christmas, the gate is ablaze. There are people, people, everywhere, lined up ten deep, pushing up against it. I can’t quite see, and push forward half-blind.

A chant starts up. I can’t make out the words. Then people near me start stamping the beat, let us through, let us through, let us through. There’s a collective thrill, a sigh of danger, a scent of fear, but a will, a fierce will, to push on.

Up front, there’s nowhere now to go but through. The guards have exhausted their phone-lists. At a loss, they stand aside and let us pass.

Wedged in next to a burly man, I can’t move freely. But the hum carries me along with it. A champagne cork pops amid the shouts. A flower lands on my face. I finally come to a stop.

In disbelief, I stand here now.

In West Berlin.

Formerly a cultural critic and historian, Judith Pryor has spent the last eighteen months at home looking after her young daughter and, besides writing short fiction, is now learning the guitar, blogging about motherhood and feminism on smothered and putting the finishing touches on a children’s novel.

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Sally Houtman, Do you remember…

Do you remember, Saturday, 6 a.m., waking on some mattress, an elbow digging at your chin. Do you remember ragged breathing, the stale smell of smoke and liquor, your stockinged feet on a black and white tiled floor.

Do you remember showering in a strange apartment, scrubbing hard, the reddened eyes of your reflection. Do you remember gathering clothes peeled off the night before.

Do you remember trying to remember, the stop-motion jerky footage of the evening. Headlights. Streetlights. A squinting, starless sky.

And do you remember slipping through that doorway, the same doorway you knew must have let you in. Do you remember pausing on the footpath, fingertips pressed against your lips, a trembling something just beneath your skin.

Do you remember heading homeward, how you paced your steps – heel to toe, heel to toe – avoiding the cracks, and all the while you were thinking, thinking, thinking that somewhere out there something must be breaking, someone lying to their partner, someone playing a guitar.

And do you remember sitting, knees together, at the bus stop, wondering just when your party ended, when you’d ever started thinking you could connect the scattered dots inside you with the slim salvation of cheap whiskey and strangers’ beds.

And do you remember, once again, asking yourself if it was worth it, when all you have to show for your striving is the hole in your pocket.

And the new bruise rising on your cheek.

Sally Houtman is a Wellington writer. She began writing fiction and poetry in 2007 and threatens not to stop

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Tim Jones, Aftermath

After the party we drove the last guests home down streets already filling with the desperate and dangerous. The return journey was arduous, our new armour plating proving its worth more than once.

Sir Charles, manning the machine-gun nest at the gates, gave us a cheery wave as we swept into the driveway. Our path from the motor pool was lit by the fitfully flaring skies. To our left, the men under Tompkins were taking up the croquet lawn, ready to plant kale, to plant leeks, to plant the seed potatoes long tended in secret by O’Brien. No varietal rights lawyers would trouble him now.

Mother was surprisingly chipper. She gave me a peck on the cheek and sent me upstairs to help with the blackout curtains. “Everything’s going like clockwork,” she said. “Like clockwork.”

Standing watch in the upper gallery was tedious. I will not deny that I had fallen asleep at my post when the first wave of attacks began. We heard the chattering of Sir Charles’ machine-gun; we heard it fall silent. I learned later that only the massed charge of the under-gardeners, who had been concealed in the ha-ha for such an eventuality, repelled the attackers from our gates.

In the morning, we dragged Sir Charles’ body to the petunia border for burial. We stopped for a minute’s silence to mark his passing. Then Mother blew a single, mournful note on a party favour, and we returned to the task of further reinforcing the gates.

Tim Jones writes novels, short stories and poetry. He was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. His latest book is the poetry collection Men Briefly Explained. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook too.

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Anonymous_Author©, Orphans’ Christmas

Orphans. All rounded lips, sibilants and breathy voiceless fricatives. The word has a softness which belies its hard factual edge.

*

My brother and I wondered who’d rung the cops.

When our parents drove south for their eighteenth anniversary, in late December 1988, we held an impromptu party. The lounge, where usually mum knitted as dad commented through newspapers, became a den of iniquity. Friends gathered. Thirty swelled to sixty. We roughly pushed aside the lush fresh-smelling Christmas tree. Music played. Pot was smoked, beer was sculled. Noise control visited, twice. Drunk kids lurched onto the street, hurtled over fences, traipsed through gardens and rolled semi-naked on
front lawns. Neighbours’ tempers frayed. The cops came the next morning – later than anticipated, considering.

I answered the door to a navy blue uniform. From under its severe peaked cap, a deep voice demanded an answer: “Ashley and Paul Adams?”

A silent colleague stood unblinking beneath his own authoritative headgear. Scared, I recalled the night’s illegal activity.

“I’m Ashley,” my brother bravely admitted. His age advantage determined he speak first.

The deep voice delivered a sucker punch. “We regret to inform you… .”

It wasn’t what we’d feared.

*

Now, every Christmas, a decorated tree’s scent evokes extant memories of that night: a former version of itself topples at our party while a larger remote manifestation simultaneously falls unseen across SH5 near Napier, failing to be avoided by my parents’ southbound Holden Commodore.

Christmas. After the party, the word’s joyous sonance belies its truthful dread.

Anonymous_Author© is the literary voice of unknown writer Derek Jones, who resides near Puhoi. He is an existentialist suffering from an identity crisis and exists only through the benevolence of language. René Descartes categorically stated: “I think therefore I am.” Anonymous_Author© ambiguously offers: “You think you exist.” As well as poetry, flash fiction and short stories, Anonymous_Author© is currently working on his unauthorised autobiography, The Ghostwriter in the Machine. Follow his progress on Twitter (@anonauth).

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Kath Wynn, Prelude

The party was getting a glow on. The bonfire was dying to flickering amber. The guys were boozing up and the girls were giggling. The music was playing fortissimo. I sat in the shadows, jigged my feet in time to the beat. I wasn’t in the mood for drinking.

It must have been round midnight when you slid down beside me. You’d been drinking but you weren’t drunk.

“Want some company?” you said.

“Not really.” I used my weighed-down-world-weary voice.

You just grinned and slid your arm around my waist and pulled me to you. I let you hold me. It felt kind of nice.

“There’s a picnic blanket over here,” you said reaching over and dragging it across the sand till it was out of range of the firelight. In the blue and silver night under a canopy of crisp clear stars we lay back, companionable and still.

Our talk at first was random, about music and movies and mates we had in common.

“I like it here,” you said and rolled over and stroked my face and I got an attack of the goosebumps.

And then we talked a bit more and went silent for a bit and I felt myself melting like butter into breakfast toast.

Kath Wynn is a freelance editor, writer and researcher living in Maungatapere. She ghost-writes biographies and reflections mainly for hospice patients and immigrants, writes short stories and poetry, especially for children, and transcribes recordings of meetings, interviews, etc.

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Penny Somervaille, A Reputation

She’s pushing a Countdown shopping trolley up the hill wearing her moth-eaten rabbit fur coat, and thinking of the day when she had been arrested at a protest rally to highlight the plight of minks farmed for their fur.

With her bent spine she can only see her feet in their trainers, but she feels secure in the old coat, which covers her baggy skirt, unevenly buttoned blouse and felted lambswool cardigan. She had been naked under the fur coat at the protest rally.

She laughs and passersby look sideways at her, uneasy about the old woman who talks and laughs to herself.

Other protesters had been completely naked and no one had arrested them. She wonders if the police had been scared to touch their naked flesh. She laughs again.

She still has the photos, newspaper cuttings and letters to the editor expressing disgust at the way she had ‘flaunted’ herself.

Nowadays people see only a bent old woman pushing a supermarket trolley containing sliced white bread, Pam’s margarine, strawberry jam, six cans of gourmet cat food and half a dozen free-range eggs.

She thinks she might ring the local newspaper and ask if they would like to do a story on her. She would wear her coat but at her age she wouldn’t be naked underneath it. She mumbles, amused at the thought.

Even now she could still be a protester.

Penny Somervaille writes poetry and short fiction. She is currently one of four MCs for Poetry Live, the weekly poetry event at the Thirsty Dog in Auckland. She has been published in Sidestream Magazine, Blackmail Press, Live Lines and Pot Roast and has read her poetry at Rhythm & Verse, The Library Bar, The Pah Homestead, The Thirsty Dog and The PumpHouse. She lives in Auckland.

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Vivienne Merrill, The Joker

“Parties bring out the best and the worst in me,” I tell my husband. “On the one hand, I want fun and laughter, on the other; I want nothing more than solitude.”

I don’t need to hear his response. I’m talking with the man who has never turned down a chance to party. The King of the Jokers, we call him. He’s never missed an opportunity to tell some long-winded joke or play a trick – everyone fair game and everyone left laughing.

I load the stereo with our favourite CDs, kick off my shoes and settle back on the couch. “Our daughter’s first birthday party done and dusted,” I say. “All the guests gone, the mess swept away, the highchair scrubbed and our girl fast asleep in her cot.”

“You’ll want the funny moments.” I smile. I tell him about the cake sagging in the middle, the birthday girl screaming when I lit the candle. Her face painted with red and green jelly and chocolate cake. “And that garish clown!” I slap the cushion. “You knew I didn’t want to buy that – I went for the teddy bear. As usual, though, your voice, like a dig in the ribs, egging me on. I didn’t know what to expect when she unwrapped it. I should have guessed – daughter like father!”

The urn lolls, tips sideways. My turn to be the joker. “Be warned,” I say. “Any more of this slovenly behaviour and you’re out the door.” I almost hear him laugh.

Vivienne Merrill lives on the Kapiti Coast where it is all too easy to beachwalk and dream her days away. Sometimes, when she’s lucky, some of these dreams become stories and poems.

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Aaron Robertson, Eurovision 2012

Nikos turned his head again to look at Angie, still asleep under the crumpled duvet and sheets in disarray. Last night, with her loudly-recounted glamourous lifestyle and investments in foreign stock, she’d seemed the perfect meal ticket. So he’d lied to get her into bed, accentuating his swarthy looks with exaggerated finances and non-existent holiday homes. As he’d lain there straddled by her thighs, he’d briefly wondered how she hadn’t seen through his borrowed clothes and cheap cologne. But any doubts were soon forgotten in dreams of an Easy Street without end.

When he woke just after dawn, however, the doubts returned; this time to congeal. Upon reflection, Angie’s life of dividend-funded leisure didn’t quite add up, no matter how many times he did the numbers in his head. Worse still, the unrestrained passion she’d shown just hours before began to contain more than a hint of desperation. For Nikos was all too familiar with the last throw of the dice.

Careful not to disturb the sleeping suspect, he slid from bed in search of proof. He found it close at hand, in her Dior dress flung on the floor that now proudly proclaimed itself ‘made in China’; in her nearby heels scuffed through an only pair’s overuse; and on the dresser her ornate gold earrings, a gift from the head of the Bundesbank, revealed as decidedly costume by the early morning light. And under the weight of such tawdry evidence, Nikos’ stomach slowly began to sink.

Aaron Robertson is a writer and musician living in Hikurangi. Some of his poetry can be found at Take Flight.

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Sharon Stratford, Electric Crimson

Her teeth floated in a glass on the bedside table. Crumbs from her 89th birthday cake were still stuck to them. After the party she had dropped her clothes over the chair and replaced them with the silk pyjamas her granddaughter had given her. Sharp claws punctured the threads as a thin cat pushed its paws into her shoulder and purred.

She nudged the cat off and reached under her bed for the final birthday present. The rainbow wrapping promised fun and she had covered the front of the box with a large yellow bow.

She tore it to pieces so she could get to her gift. They had called them “electric crimson” in the shop. She caressed the thin stiletto heel and tickled her fingers with the puckered pink bow at the back. Her feet merged with the silver lining and the opening at the front allowed the purple polish on her toenails to shine.

She wobbled across to her full-length mirror feeling the thrill of the trapeze artist looking down at the world from a dizzying height. She placed one hand on her hip and then raised the other arm to position it behind her head. The sleeve of her pyjamas slid down and her tattoo whispered to her. From the centre of a wreath of forget-me-nots it said: “Play”. She smiled a wild and toothless grin.

Sharon Stratford is a Wellington writer. She loves spending days at the beach with a good book for company, playing with words and swapping stories with children.

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Derin Attwood, After the Party

Emma shivered in the cold dawn air. The dunes and driftwood were black against the greying sky. A single red coal glowed amongst the ashes of last night’s fire. The remains of last night’s party — bottles, cans and pizza boxes — littered the sand. The dark forms of sleeping people lay around the dying fire.

She picked up her sandals and looked for her bag. Mike was using it for a pillow. She eased it from under his head, and removed the syringe he’d put in it last night; for safekeeping, he’d said, laughing. She stabbed it into a piece of driftwood and carefully pulled the small plastic bag of white powder from his hand.

“For safekeeping,” she mimicked.

Mike grunted and turned away from her, slipping his hand up Joanie’s shirt.

Emma wandered down to the water’s edge. It was now light enough to see the logs rolling in the surf, each push of the waves bringing them closer to the beach. What appeared at first to be three then became two. Two logs, and Ronnie’s body rolling beside them, face down in knee-deep water.

Emma returned to the fire and blew on the coal. It brightened and she dumped the plastic bag and its contents into the glowing flame. Her nose wrinkled at the acrid smell of the plastic melting.

She walked away.

Derin Attwood was short-listed for NZ Writers’ College Short Story Competition 2010 and has had work published by a number of magazines and websites including 52/250. Her new novel, The Caves of Kirym, was published in July 2011.

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Sian Williams, Death or glory — just another story

I met Joe Strummer in a bakery in York. Really, I did. We both had offensive hair, dirty leathers and Chelsea buns. He invited me to the gig they were playing that night — backstage pass, the lot. A connection was made and, for a while, we made lovers’ rock. United by the fierce red wedge of socialism splitting the country apart, we rocked against Thatcher, we rocked for the miners. It didn’t last long, the times they were a-changin’. The Eighties were rolling into town, huge, shiny, unstoppable; suddenly greed was good, and too much was never enough. Joe had too much: too much money, too much coke, too many party girls.

*

Twelve thousand miles and thirty years later my teenage daughter comes home singing “The Guns of Brixton” and I ask her if she’d got some new music.

“It’s really, really old, but I kinda like it,” she says, “London Calling, The Clash.”

I smile wryly, “Ah, a seminal post-punk album.”

She nods knowledgeably and scurries away to look up “seminal” when she thinks I’m not looking.

Later she comes back humming “Four Horsemen” and I say “I met Joe Strummer once—in a pie shop.”

She says “Oh yeah?”, but I can tell she doesn’t believe me.

I look at myself, baking PTA muffins and wearing elastic-waisted trousers, and I don’t blame her. Joe’s dead, there’s nothing left except what’s in my head. I’m not sure now whether I believe it myself.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She met Joe Strummer in a bakery in York. Really, she did. But the rest of this story is fiction, especially the part about elastic-waisted trousers.

~ ~ ~

Michelle Elvy, The Wall: A Love Story, Of Sorts

You remember our first dance? You there, me here: a mismatched pair. You held out your hand. I didn’t know you, but you pulled me up, up, up… and I let go of everything and found myself in the arms of a strangely familiar stranger. We were high, floating on a wild November night. Hot breath, cold sweat, embracing an orgy of frenzy, noise, delight. We marvelled at the night, argued about wrong and right. I drank your Coke, you smoked my F6.

Just like a fucking commercial.

Five years later and we’re making commercials, only this time it’s Vita-Cola-Realpolitik and you keep saying baby, we’re selling what sells. You and me and Ostalgie. Don’t worry that the kid’s crying; Mama and Papa are self-employed. Achtung, baby, you keep saying, like it means something. But you still haven’t learned my language.

And now we don’t fight about wrong and right but the bottom fucking line and Turks living upstairs and bicycles crowding the entryway of our apartment building. I need to get in and out, you say.

I’m sick of the Marlboro Man but I pull long and hard anyway and can’t help but laugh when you come to bed wearing a stiff shit-green VoPo hat you call a relic, a find. But I feel a worry growing in my gut, wonder if our children will be more like us or them, and I realise what I really mean is whether they’ll be more like me or you.

Michelle Elvy is the founding editor of Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in Northland these days. In the 1980s and 1990s, she lived and wrote in Berlin and other German cities on both sides of the border, but she neither drinks Coke nor smokes F6s — not then, not now.

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Please also see this month’s interview with Graham Beattie.

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Coming in May: stories about splinters

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