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August 2012: MIRRORS

Bernard Heise, Twin Doorways
Bernard Heise took this photo in Mazatlán, Mexico.

~ ~ ~

Tim Jones, The Casimir Effect

Every second Friday, Kevin went to Daddy and Carol’s house. Kevin always hoped that Daddy would open the door when Kevin knocked, but Daddy didn’t. It was Carol.

“Your daddy will be home by settling time,” said Carol.

Settling time was the best. Kevin lay in the bed next to his teddy and his bunny with his nightlight on. Daddy sat on the end of the bed and told Kevin all about his job.

“Remember how I told you last week that a mirror moving at relativistic velocities — that’s really, really fast — will start to generate real photons from the virtual particle-antiparticle pairs continually being produced by quantum fluctuations in spacetime?” asked Daddy.

Kevin nodded.

“And we call that the dynamic Casimir Effect?”

“Yes, Daddy,” said Kevin.

“The problem is, we don’t know how to move a mirror that fast. But the Chalmers team found a way to mimic the moving mirror electronically and produce light, and now we’re trying to reproduce their results. Pretty cool, eh?”

“I love you, Daddy,” said Kevin.

On Saturday, Daddy had to go to work. Kevin knew Daddy had a shaving mirror. He found it and went into the hall. Kevin started to run.

Carol was checking proofs when she heard a racket in the hall. “Kevin!” she called.

No response.

Sighing, Carol got up and opened the hall door. She gasped, closed her eyes. The hall was filled with light, and at its centre, a racing Kevin outshone the sun.

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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Ann Webber, My Mother’s Image

During the wait, my father sat close to the bed on a chair he’d dragged in from the dining room. Nana and Grandad, when they arrived, did the same.

In the mornings I gently pulled my mother’s hair from under the pillow and brushed the parallel strands. Nana held the hand mirror over my mother’s face to show her how well I’d done. At lunchtimes, I watched my father watch my mother for signs of change before I slid back out to play. Then, in the late afternoons, when the low sun speared through the venetian blinds creating bars across her bed, Grandad and I sat opposite one another and took turns to read.

The last time I crept in, Nana was leaning over my mother holding the mirror over her slack mouth. I wiggled onto the bed, positioning my face on the pillow next to hers. Under the mirror, I could see us together – same brow line, same eyes, same home – before my breath changed state and radiated across the surface obscuring us both. Now when I pass a mirror at home, at work, in furniture stores, I like to exhale on their surfaces, to watch my existence condensing on the glass until my image is gone and I can see us both.

Ann Webber grew up in regional Victoria, spent most of her adult life in Sydney and moved to Auckland two years ago. Because of her work as a hospital scientist, she can confirm that everything that happens in medical soaps is true. Ann is a member of the Auckland-based writers’ group International Writers’ Workshop and placed Second Runner-Up in the 2012 National Flash Fiction competition.

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Penny Somervaille, Odontophobia

Julia is proud of her teeth. She loves the smile that greets her each morning in the bathroom mirror as she flosses and brushes and rinses. She never eats pork crackling, toasted Vogels with Marmite, Minties or any type of nut. She has too much invested in her mouth to chance anything happening.

“Pearly gleamers,” says her mother. “Such perfect teeth are vulgar.” Julia ignores her. She also tries to ignore memories of children laughing behind her back.

Three years ago she met Lewis in Kuala Lumpur. They were both attending the same clinic. At home in Auckland she tells her friends they met on a Yoga Retreat in Bali. They are planning their wedding for later this year. Her life, like her teeth, is perfect.

She visits her mother and avoids looking at the dentures in the glass by the bed. Toothless, her mother mumbles and sucks on dunked gingernuts. She scrutinises Julia and laughs. Julia does not join in. She doesn’t bring Lewis to meet her mother.

At night curled against Lewis’s golden beauty, she dreams her teeth are falling out, clattering into the pale green glass basin in the en suite – a cascade of gleaming pearls. In her dream her mother’s face is looking out from the mirror mouthing, “B grade movie star.”

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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Kate Mahony, Footsteps of a Dead Man

Politics and horse racing were what Finn, my cousin Charlie and I discussed in the Cosmopolitan Club bar. Not religion – Charlie and I being micks – except for when Finn had said it was all nonsense. Though, he’d added, if one of us made it to the other side we should send back a sure bet in the next race.

I knew Finn through bowls. He could be dark sometimes. Once, he hinted he’d killed a man in a bar brawl in Mexico. I opened a drunken eye and he shut up.

Then he took up with Lois from the club, and they moved away.

When he died, Lois asked us to the funeral.

Charlie and I kept her company at her house the night before, drinking till late. Around 3 am, I awoke to footsteps, and found a presence lingering at the end of the bed. A face framed as if in a mirror, staring at me.

After the graveside service, I watched as the sods were rammed down on the hole. Dead tight.

Back home, I asked a man who’d know what the visitation could mean. Father Pat scratched his head thoughtfully. “There’s some say a lost soul will go in search of prayer.”

Finn? No. Then I thought about the brawl and shuddered.

I slipped him $20. “Say a mass for this one, will you?”

I’d done what I could. Next stop, the TAB to take a look through the day’s racing lists. Just in case.

Kate Mahony has an MA in Creative Writing from the Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University. Her fiction has appeared in Best New Zealand Fiction Vol. 6, Turbine, Takahē, The International Literary Quarterly, Tales for Canterbury and Blue Crow magazine. One of her short stories was a finalist in the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award in 2008. She lives in Wellington.

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Kathryn Jenkins, Reflection of a Duchess

When I was growing up I spent the summer holidays at my grandfather’s bach with my cousins.

“Hello, Duchess,” Grandpa would say, ruffling my hair when I arrived.

I didn’t smile, but I’d stand taller and tilt my head just a little as a duchess would, and my heart glowed at being elevated to such lofty heights.

Every summer Grandpa took the oldest cousins fishing outside the harbour, to that magical place where I imagined fish jumping as the earth swallowed the moon, and the sun rose, gleaming, into a cloudless sky. I couldn’t wait to go flying over silver seas in a tin-can boat, the wind whipping my hair about my face and the sting of salt in my eyes.

The year my turn came he tousled my hair then picked up his bag of bait. My nose crinkled at the smell.

“You don’t want to come,” he said, “it’ll stink of dead fish and the salt will ruin your curls. No place for a duchess.”

My throat seized but a duchess doesn’t cry so I watched them leave while the moon hung heavy in the sky, speckling the tops of the ocean ripples with pinpricks of light. I was still standing there when they returned well after dawn, smiles wide. My grandfather lined them up with their fish, and his camera snapped.

He turned it on me.

“Smile, Duchess.”

I didn’t. Instead I buried my tears and tilted my head, just a little, as a duchess would.

Katharine Derrick writes mostly for children and has had a 50-word story in Brian Edwards’ Book of Incredibly Short Stories, but as Kathryn Jenkins she is venturing into flash fiction for adults. Kathryn Jenkins also has a contemporary novel building in her mind. A blog site compiling her flash fiction is underway.

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Vivienne Merrill, Words

I phone my friend, Marissa, cancel our movie date.

“Ah, the married poet’s in town,” she says.

He likes me in short skirts (but not too short), cleavage (but not too much), makeup (but not slap). Heels – “I’ve a slight fetish in that department,” he says, his head on one side and his smile apologetic.

He’s an artist with words. Though, not at the peak of his passion – at least, not with me. That’s when the dirty talk begins and I shut off, trying instead, to scroll the words of one of his poems through my mind. He’s never written a poem for me – says he writes my beautiful body in other ways.

“Do this,” he says, pulling me on to the hotel bed. “And this… .”

I do what he wants.

“Now, I’ll do this to you…” he whispers, and “do you like?”

“Yes, yes, yes.”

Later, I take a chance. “Do you love me?” I trace around his lips with my finger.

His expression becomes timeworn. “Ah, the ‘L’ word.” He laughs. “But you know you’re my lolly girl.” My skin itches. He reaches for my arm, but I pull away. His voice croons, “My sweet lolly girl.”

I stand, walk to the full-length mirror. He is lying on the pillows, arms behind his head, watching me. Smiling. “See?” he says.

I look at myself.

And, yes, I see.

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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Sally Houtman, Soliloquy

At the director’s cue she crosses the stage and positions herself in the jewelled light. For weeks she’d practised her soliloquy before the mirror, pulling out the stitches of her own identity, wrapping her fingers tightly around the role. She gestures with one hand, palm extended, as rehearsed, lets her chin drop for just a moment and then begins to speak.

Ask me what is love and I will tell you. It is but a brittle canopy of illusion, born of wild stupidity and faith. Speak not to me of love, that chaste and tandem gaf that makes the songbird weep.

Turning her inflection upward she feels her breathing quicken, the iambic beat of her heart. She is surprised by the fire in her tone. As a child she’d dreamed of a fabled world, free of fighting, where she was someone’s princess and even in whispers, she was heard. In character, she is unbound, her words both nimble and precise. She touches her fingertips to her lips and lets the lines fall free.

Speak to me, instead, of desire! Let me hear its faint and jilted wisdom. Let me rest my foot upon its stair.

Centre-stage in medias res, she feels a peace she has rarely known. Later, standing in her dull-hued bathroom, one hand pressed against the sink, she will be playing to a different truth, bowing to an incandescent glow. But for now, in the twinkling, winking light she shines, if only for a little while.

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

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Anonymous_Author©, The greatest show on earth

I feel like the spindly drawings in the corners of pages of books, flicked
through to animate this two dimensional space I inhabit. Here I am
mid-stride. Poised…

My wife! She left me for another! What a Bozo he turned out to be. She
feared no one took her seriously. I cannot change the past. The future’s a
different story, which starts somewhere.

“You’re a clown,” she once whispered, affectionately.

At college, I learned that in summary, the visual joke brings on a quicker
reaction, but the verbal joke is more widely quoted and remembered longer.

I add audio for effect. The punch line is always a fart. An arse-blossom.

An amusing answer blowing in the wind.

“You’re a CLOWN!” She once accused, peeved.

People who suffer from coulrophobia bother me. I’m a sad cliché. Like a dyslexic man who walks into a bra, my life is laughable. A real hoot.

Aoooggahh! Klaxon horns give me tinnitus.

“YOU ARE A CLOWN!” She once screamed, then slapped my creamy white face
red.

Behind this scumbled visage of makeup, which radiates a cartoon sun, are tears. Mirth is infectious, like Ebola. On my deathbed, I think I’ll find that, actually, morphine is the best medicine.

…my oversized plastic clodhopper casts a shadow. Children perch on bleachers, peer under flapping fabric into the murk. They’re desperate for lightness. Ruthless absurdity enriches their lives.

A banana skin. I slip, flip, fall, land, fart. Hilarious.

Later, my fans depart: art distorts life; life funfair-mirrors art.

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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Maureen Sudlow, Another Mirror

When I wake again the light is wavering like the patterns of water at the bottom of a well. My husband is standing by the window. “John,” I say. He turns, and it isn’t John. A stranger smiles at me. I look again and realise that the differences are in the nuances of our familiarity. It’s like looking at a carbon copy. The bedroom has a similar uneasy reality. I try to smile back at John, if that’s who it is, as he pulls back the curtains.

Panic hits. Through the window, instead of the familiar leafy patterns of the bush, there are buildings. They are weird, blurry-edged, as if designed by a drunken architect on wet paper. I want to pull the blankets over my head, but I can’t move, so I shut my eyes instead. When I open them again nothing has changed. The buildings huddle outside.

I see myself in the mirror, big eyes, dark hair tousled, but there’s something else as well. The reflection of the window is distinct, and shows the bright sparkle of wet trees in the morning sun. No buildings, just the cherished view I wake up to every morning. My eyes meet John’s in the mirror, and he is dear, familiar, a white scar above his top lip, eyebrows like hairy caterpillars, a sprinkling of grey at his temples, and I feel relief wash over me. I can reach him! Before they can stop me I lunge for the glass.

Maureen is an associate member of The New Zealand Society of Authors (Northland) and writes mainly poetry and children’s picture books. Her poetry has been published both online and in magazines such as A Fine Line. She has a Diploma in Creative Writing from Whitireia, and was short-listed for this year’s Joy Cowley Award.

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Celine Gibson, Rear View

Bevan hated queues, be they traffic, supermarket, movies, whatever; the period of enforced idleness they demanded infuriated him.

He petulantly switched channels on the radio. Some woman was reading the news — the usual drivel. Seemed half the Kiwi population was either drunk, disorderly or depressed.

The girl in the car ahead primped her hair in her rear-view mirror before applying lipstick.

Bevan sighed, traffic jams were such a bore. Bolero played on his cell phone.

“Hi, Darling.” Maggie, just arrived home. “Don’t forget the dog biscuits from Countdown.”

Bevan nodded, “Anything else?”

“Nothing, just you, Babes.”

Bevan smirked, nudged the car a metre forward, closer to home and to Maggie.

His attention was diverted by a speck crawling across his rear-view mirror. The speck revealed itself to be a person clambering up onto the Tram Road bridge overpass.

The girl ahead stopped fiddling with her face and turned to look over her shoulder.

Bevan reckoned the traffic heading back into the city was moving pretty fast, too fast…

The youth spread-eagled his arms, like a bungy jumper, and fell forward, his hoodie flying back to reveal a glory of copper curls, his mother’s tireless boast.

The ensuing pandemonium of squealing brakes, crunching metal and manic hysteria seemed paltry compared to the rising tide of bile gathering in Bevan’s mouth; a tide he was incapable of stopping.

Celine Gibson shares her home with her husband (a bagpiping fiend) and two cats. Writing is her first love, followed by gardening, baking and painting — when time allows.

~ ~ ~

Rebecca Simons, Conversations with the Night

With each sip he could taste highland air clean and pure, sunshine sweet as the richest honey, a hint of heather. Then it was molten fire trailing down throat and chest to rest in his gut like an irascible beast quick to anger quick to soothe. He drained the glass and automatically reached down for more. Three years had passed since that jerk-off at HQ had decided that thirty-six years of loyalty and knowledge counted for shit. Two weeks’ notice. Nostrils flared, fingers tightened, heat hit the back of his throat to slide down, keep the fire burning. In this age of faceless mandates someone was going to pay, feel direct consequence, no longer remote but real. One more. Liquid splashed. He pulled deeply, drawing the fire into his belly. His heart beat violently, the scent of battle near. He imagined himself astride a large black stallion, sword drawn, head thrown back. His foe would be paralysed with fear, blood turned to ice. He drained the glass and stooped for the bottle to put it away. Contents sloshed forlorn. Pointless. He thought about the terror in the young punk’s face and smiled. Ice. He groped his way into the kitchen, found the freezer. Hand trembling, he filled the glass. Frosty cubes reflected light as amber flowed. He looked up. Streetlights. His image, floating spectral on glass, looked back. The ice clinked, whispered as it twisted and turned. Tomorrow.

Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European language and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.

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Daphne De Jong, Forever

My five-year-old granddaughter kneels on the stool before the Queen Anne dressing table that was once my grandmother’s, as I adjust the mirrors. A triptych of them, and if you angle them the right way you can see yourself going endlessly into the distance, reflected twenty million times into infinity.

She leans forward, enchanted by myriad images of herself. “Look Nana,” she says. “That’s me, and me and me. I go on forever and ever. It’s a magic mirror.”

I think of my grandmother, and my mother, who inherited the dressing table and left it to me.

“One day it will be yours,” I say.

“Forever and ever?”

“Of course,” I say, and she turns from her reflection to give me a hug, warm and soft and sweet-smelling. Too young to know that nothing lasts forever.

Except maybe love.

Daphne Clair de Jong, author of almost 80 romantic and historical novels published worldwide, is a past winner of the Katherine Mansfield BNZ Short Story Award and other awards, has had numerous short stories and articles published in magazines and anthologies, and some poetry in literary magazines. She also tutors writing in nearly all genres and runs the world-famous-in-New Zealand Kara School of Writing and Karaveer Writers’ Retreat at her home in rural Northland. Find out more here.

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Sharon Stratford, The man in the can

He stared at the face reflected in the tin, pressed his fingers against the metal mouth, then touched his own cold, cracked lips. Seven months living on the streets had distanced him from reality. This face was as foreign to him as a beacon warning danger, or calling him home.

In his tortured mind, the light still played in his eyes. His cheekbones were still high and mighty, his lips plump and full of promise. His wife and daughter, the two people who always forgave him his trespasses, still smiled at him when he walked through the door of his memories.

Wet sand ground into the holes in his shoes. He curled his toes around the grains, desperate to hold onto something. His mind searched for the home he once had, the man he’d once been. He launched the can into the air, grunting as the wind caught it and smashed it into the rocks.

A couple strolled past him holding hands. The woman wore the same perfume as his wife and the scent of her caressed him.

He ran, scuttling over the rocks, searching for the man in the can. This time when he found the tin, the mouth was a corroded scream where the rocks had punched it, but the eyes still blinked like a beacon, warning danger, or calling him home.

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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Lesley Marshall, Road Maps

Turn the other cheek, her grandmother had always said. Would she say that if she could see Ria’s left cheek now?

In the mirror, the newest bruise tracked like a blue-black road down from under the early-morning frizz of hair, past one disillusioned eye and across her cheekbone. With familiar care she moved her mouth, relieved to find nothing broken.

The other cheek was still pristine. Did her grandmother want her to offer it up too? But he was right-handed so this wasn’t his natural target.

She compared her two halves. Yin and yang. Young versus old-before-her-time.

Turn the other cheek, her grandmother whispered in her head, and suddenly Ria realised the words could have a different meaning. Offer an alternative road map.

Beyond her half-face reflections he sprawled over the mattress, having usurped most of the bedding. A metaphor for her life with him. His boots, which matched the print on her hip, lay beside a rat hole in the dingy boards.

She picked up one of the boots, then turned back to the mirror.

The two faces shattered simultaneously, shards exploding in a rain of glass and prickling pain on her face and arms.

Behind her the snoring stopped and she turned apprehensively, but he subsided again into comatosed unkemptness. His tats road-mapped the muscles of his arms, blue-black like her face.

She touched her unmarked cheek. Turn… whispered her grandmother.

Ria pulled out her old duffel bag and started to pack.

Lesley Marshall lives in Maungatapere and divides her time between teaching and editing, and answering needy phone calls from various children, both biological and surrogate. It makes for a very interesting life.

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Sian Williams, Somebody’s Mother

She’s escaped into the quiet darkness of the bathroom, where, on her hands and knees, she’s vomiting on the floor.

The soft orange glow of a distant streetlamp drifts down from a skylight but fluorescent light from the delivery ward still probes under the door, glinting off shiny porcelain and chrome pipework.

Another contraction.

Her skin feels itchy, too tight, she wants to pull it off over her head like a prickly jumper. Her vision is magnified, she sees tiny details: cigarette burns on the plastic bin lid, scratches on the mop bucket. The lino floor, which from a distance appears fleshy pink-beige, is actually white with tiny splatters of bright colour, a miniscule Jackson Pollock. Closer and closer, she is being sucked into this lino landscape.

The contraction subsides and she clambers upright. Hanging onto the basin, she’s shocked to see the face in the mirror is a stranger’s. This must be her new self. Her old self is still lying on the floor amongst last night’s dinner. It’s beginning to grow fainter and she wants to grieve for it but someone is knocking on the door. The midwife is shouting now, she sounds pissed off, “You’ll have to come out sometime.”

Then what? They’ll come in and sluice her old life down the drain in the middle of the floor. And in a few hours a new life will be born and she will be a new person; she will be somebody’s mother.

She opens the door.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She believes that any woman who tells you her birthing experience was wonderful is lying.

~ ~ ~

Michelle Elvy, Pretty Picture

Barbie sits in front of her vanity table, oval mirror with pink plastic frame smiling back at her perfectly formed features. “Do you think I’m pretty?” she asks Ken. Ken’s response — “’Course you’re pretty” — comes automatic and a little too quick, as if out of hardened habit.

“Ken, I want a real answer,” says Barbie.

“Why a real answer? This whole life’s plastic. You’re pretty, I’m pretty… big fucking deal!”

*

Miranda wanders past Claudia’s door to find a red-faced Claudia sobbing at her older sister, who’s holding the Ken-doll and scowling with her typical put-out expression.

“What’s going on, girls?”

They answer simultaneously, as siblings do:

“Hilary made Ken say bad words! And she called Ken a fuckhead!”
“Claudia’s being a baby. And what’s the big fucking deal about being pretty?”

Miranda, tired of too many things, finds herself saying, “Ken is a fuckhead. And dinner’s ready.” Which doesn’t resolve anything of course but is exactly how she feels.
At the table the three of them push ham and potatoes around their plates. Miranda hears the same inner monologue about fuckhead-Ken and dimwit-Barbie, only her story includes the much younger Malibu Stacey. She considers calling Jack to spew more expletives but she knows it’ll come to nothing. Instead, she asks her girls if Ken and Barbie will resolve their differences. They answer simultaneously:

“Yes.”
“No.”

“And where did Ken and Barbie learn to talk that way?” she ventures.

Again, a chorus comes back:

“Dad.”
“You.”

Michelle Elvy is founding editor at Flash Frontier. Her children mirror what she says all the time, but they don’t play with Barbie and Ken.

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Please also see this month’s interview with Wellington flash fictioneer and poet Tim Jones.

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Coming in September: stories that turn the page

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