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December 2015: MICROS

Pete Carter, Diani Beach, Kenya
Diani Beach, Kenya by Pete Carter
About Pete Carter…

Contents

In the middle of a ball of wool is a vacancy – Heather McQuillan
Pietà – Patrick Pink
The smell of it all – Allan Drew
A Toy Story – Damyanti Biswas
The Season for Persephone – Jonathan Cardew
Blackwell’s – Melanie Dixon
His Wife, the Flier – Digby Beaumont
Three Sisters – Jane Swan
Tapu Uluru – Maris O’Rourke
Long Shadows – Fiona Lincoln
the death of just about everything – Keith Nunes
Bread – Tierney Reardon
cheap2 – Alex Pruteanu
Bones – Carol Reid
Tangaroa – Rachel Smith
Music of the Spheres – Leon Paulin
An act of remembering and forgetting – Helen Moat
Anomaly – Mark Crimmins
After the Neighbours Disappear – Siobhan Harvey
Blizzard – Alex Reece Abbott
In Brief – Bruce Costello
The Failed Graffiti Artist – Jan FitzGerald
Hear No Evil – Jayne Martin
Out of Sight – Sue Kingham
Reflection – Campbell Taylor
The World Needs A Plumber – Michael Botur
Highwaymen – Celine Gibson
Corpse Dress – April Bradley
Exodus – Becca Joyce
The Dusty Room – Sushma Seth Bhat
Storytelling – Kate Mahony
Far from the Hindu Kush – Monique Schoneveld
Beached – S R Charters
Hands – Cara Rogers
When I met the Devil – Jude Higgins
Battle of Waterloo – Jeff Taylor
Pool – Frankie McMillan
December Feature
Jude Higgins and the Bath Flash Fiction Award
People From Our Pages: Nuala O’Connor’s new novel, Miss Emily
People From Our Pages: Trish Nicholson’s Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals
People From Our Pages: Gay Degani, Townsend Walker and Guilie Castillo-Oriard on their newly published stories-turned-novellas
People From Our Pages: Matt Potter on his new book, Hamburgers and Berliners and other courses in between

In the middle of a ball of wool is a vacancy

Heather McQuillan

Elspeth knits to the centre of the last-chance skein. Her needles clack like prayer beads. Curled lambswool, a fine tendril vine in quest of an anchor place, hauls up beside her elbow and dangles, sullen in salt-filled air before slipping midst stitches, mid-row of purl. A final stitch swallows the fraying end.

In the macrocarpas, hag magpies cackle.

Elspeth lifts up the unfinished layette to mock the moon with her blood sacrifice, lays her needles to rest, casts about for something else to fill her days.
About Heather McQuillan…


Pietà

Patrick Pink

I lie, arms out like Jesus, IVs in each and wait for darkness…no soaked sour wine sponge on a hyssop branch…just a simple cocktail…Sodium Pentothal and Pavulon…and if those fail potassium chloride to halt a hated heart…

“Remorse?”  My lawyer proposed.

“No,” I said but the minister bore witness to the vanities of my crosses.

“Last meal?”  The warden inquired.

“Monkey bread,” I said but was gravely disappointed.

…Mama takes it from the oven…sweet…sticky…cinnamony…like manna on my tongue…my baby brother rips off gooey fistfuls and squeals…I wipe a milk moustache from his lip…Mama watches and nods…says my boy.
About Patrick Pink…


The smell of it all

Allan Drew

John sat to finish Paradise Lost with those ulcerated lips, those blind eyes, those pinched, gritted kidneys. Ribs rutted his chest. Food: repulsive. That pelican daughter, the quill in her fingertips stained with ink and blood – the smell of it all, flesh like wet clay. He spoke his poem, already written, already read. It was inked into eternity through that girl’s bone and skin, her tendons, throbs of wet brainwork, nauseating pulp. He read the world into symmetry, his body to poverty, his daughter to death, his poem and name into rock and sky.
About Allan Drew…


carol_reid_goldenhourflower
Golden Hour Flower by Carol Reid
About Carol Reid…


A Toy Story

Damyanti Biswas

His dark eyes blinked when I shook him.

The first time I took off his crown of beads and feathers to wash his silken straight hair that didn’t need washing, I noticed his bald pate. It dipped when I pressed it and stayed that way. I covered it with his hair tied in a thick ponytail.

I told him stories, the stories of his people. He listened, a hard expression on his brown face.

He didn’t reply, only blinked when I shook him, blue veins swollen on my pale hands.
About Damyanti Biswas…


The Season for Persephone

Jonathan Cardew

We called her Persephone – not because she liked pomegranates, but because she always came back. Each spring, she arrived with the rain.

It was not all about the cash. She would count each bill, licking a finger. But she would also help herself to our wine. We followed her as she sized up our belongings, picking portraits, vases and candlesticks. She had immaculate taste.

One spring, she came with a quiet man. He seemed apologetic. They sat at our dining table, laid with cut glass and china. They were wearing our best clothes.

We watched because we had to.
About Jonathan Cardew…


Blackwell’s

Melanie Dixon

We met in the bookshop, somewhere between physiology and psychology. He asked me if I’d join him for a coffee and I said I would. He was buying. We had coffee again. Then wine. Then sex. It seemed natural. Was it love or lust, or something between the two? Whatever you call that thing when you’re twenty and not quite ready. When he left I cried for days. I didn’t leave the flat until I ran out of toilet paper. Then I had to go out. I saw him again in the bookshop, somewhere between history and philosophy.
About Melanie Dixon…


steve_jacobson_open_door
Open Door by Stephen Jacobson
About Stephen Jacobson…

His Wife, the Flier

Digby Beaumont

There’s a swooping sound his wife makes whenever she comes in to land. He keeps hearing the sound, but when he turns, no one is there. On top of Devils Dyke, a thousand feet above sea level, he sits behind the wheel of the lone car. Wind buffets the windscreen. “Tonight I’ll climb to three-thousand feet,” she said, her highest yet, as if it were nothing to write home about. “Don’t fret,” she said. “You know I’ll always fly back to you.” But that was another lifetime ago, and now all he sees is starlight in the clear night sky.
About Digby Beaumont…


Tapu Uluru

Maris O’Rourke

I shouldn’t be here. Spread-eagled like Mangwer-kunger-kunja the creator-lizard on the hot skin-like rock. Cheek-to-cheek, scaly ridges – ochre, orange, umber, red – scrape the length of my body. Sense its breath, thrumming deep within. I press myself, as a baby to the breast, ear close to hear the whispers, palms wide to grasp the messages. Bone-deep language, once known well, melts my body to the rock. Sun Mother, Sky Father assault sweat trolls. Removal of even one pebble will change things.
About Maris O’Rourke…


Tree of Birds, by Steve Jacobson
Tree of Birds by Steve Jacobson
About Stephen Jacobson…

Three Sisters

Jane Swan

You know how it is.
You won’t open your mouth.
You won’t let food in or your voice out.
Your parents say, “Remember the starving in Africa.”

She looks ok.
She eats.
She goes to the hidden place, opens her mouth and lets it out.
She screams, but never the secret.

I study nutrition and exercise.
When I get back from the gym I shall use my new blender which
makes amazing health-giving smoothies.

There is a lost fourth child.
She ate and played, laughed and sometimes cried.

In their own ways the sisters are trying to get her back.
About Jane Swan…


Long Shadows

Fiona Lincoln

So Jody and I were scuffing along in our jandals, towels round our necks, when a car stopped beside us and the driver, a mum-aged woman bawling her eyes out, asked us the way to the cemetery. We sent her up the hill, and from the beach we could see her there, all day, slumped by a praying angel overlooking the bay. It pissed us off. First day of the holidays, all we wanted to do was bask like pumpkins and talk shit, and all we could feel was her shadow.
About Fiona Lincoln…


Featherdance, by Megan Bowers-Vette
Featherdance by Megan Bowers-Vette
About Megan Bowers-Vette…

the death of just about everything

Keith Nunes

The savage lioness eyes weren’t there yesterday. Under a spring sky she was as languid as the blameless lake. Today the unbreakable rain and the loss of her husband have thrust her on to a teetering ledge.

“If you want,” she says to me in the oppressive kitchen, “I could let you burn when I torch this place?”

“Is that necessary?” Brotherly love on standby.

“I’m desperate for everyone to feel my agony, David. Let’s see what happens when I tell you your wife slept with Dad.”

“She what!?”

“Ah, there you go.”
About Keith Nunes…


Bread

Tierney Reardon

Flies punctuate the wallpaper in your grandmother’s kitchen. She’s making bread, her reptilian skin powdered white with flour up to her elbows. Sunlight filters through yellow curtains, painting the room with egg yolks. Your grandmother won’t tell you stories today. She doesn’t approve of your hair, your girlfriend or your music. She hums instead, kneading the dough on the counter with both hands. Watch and learn, she says finally, breaking the silence. You have to force the dough into shape, she tells you, otherwise the loaf won’t rise. She pounds at the bread; you say nothing. The cupboard doors rattle.
About Tierney Reardon…


cheap2

Alex Pruteanu

two eighty-seven
for half calf heads
(half calf/half de-calf)
three of them chopped up
and staggered nose to brain
so they can fit tidily
on the Styrofoam tray
tightly wrapped in plastic;
two eighty-seven
for half calf heads
is nice and cheap
and will yield a week’s worth of
head cheese
for a family
of six
About Alex Pruteanu…


Egrets Picking for Breakfast in Marshland, by Paul Beckman
Egrets Picking for Breakfast in Marshland by Paul Beckman
About Paul Beckman…

Bones

Carol Reid

Stories of human goodness come in odd disguises. A casual lunch with an acquaintance, illuminated by unexpected sun, turns to confessional. Shared food brings out shared secrets, tales of hoarding and near-starvation and mothers who accept only the bones of chickens in view of their well-fed children. In this way is another generation wasted. Even with our mothers gone we feel the breath of guilt across our necks, for never having suffered as they suffered, for daring to have lives beholden to no one. Our sackcloth is flimsy, our ashes still warm.
About Carol Reid…


Tangaroa

Rachel Smith

The harakeke is flowering. Fat stems wait to erupt by the river.
I sit and throw, line after line into shadowy pools. He is down there somewhere. Fat and black and fast. Yesterday he ate all my lunch. He is clever too.
The shadows darkens, a fluid twist as water parts. The line tugs and my sandwich is gone.
I throw again. The sun moves and I wait. Tug and pull. He is there, looking me in the eye, daring me to take him in. I leap into dark water, wrapped in his soft embrace before he leaves.
About Rachel Smith…


Music of the Spheres

Leon Paulin

It occurred to Sylvia it’s those little big things that don’t cost anything but are beyond price: things you can’t describe but feel like the pure notes in a word or song that hit a chord in your heart and alter your mind.

She smiled, as she watched the universe on TV. Are we all tuned to a key?

She didn’t know, but listened to the planets, stars and galaxies.

A vibration tickled her spine, and she sprang out of her chair. “That’s it!’ she cried. Oh mystical symphony. When feeling collides with perception time stands still in harmonic bliss.
About Leon Paulin…


Girl and Light by Megan Bowers-Vette
Girl and Light, by Megan Bowers-Vette
About Megan Bowers-Vette…


An act of remembering and forgetting

Helen Moat

You remember the stag that crossed our path, how we formed a two-headed monster, one armless square body, four legs. And how the creature held our gaze, curious. We were one back then, you said. The world in our grip.

I remember the angry loops of the oystercatcher on the seashore, her eggs a speckled-grey camouflage in the shingle. I’m afraid, I said, afraid of treading on egg-shells.

We both remember the day the fox sidled down the hillside in my footfall and fixed my eyes in amber. Careful, you called, but I wasn’t hearing you. You were already forgotten.
About Helen Moat…


Anomaly

Mark Crimmins

You’re thirteen. Home alone. Listening to Tubular Bells on headphones in your room. You hear an anomalous sound. Assume it’s part of the music. Counterpoint. Another layer. The track ends but the sound continues. You realize it’s the chime of the new doorbell. Walk into your mother’s bedroom. Look down. The ten-year-old from next door, in a frilly blue dress, keeps ringing the bell. Puzzled, you go downstairs. Open the door. Look at her. “It’s me dad,” she says. “He’s dead. He’s killed himself. He’s in the bathtub.”
About Mark Crimmins…


After the Neighbours Disappear

Siobhan Harvey

Like a last snow moon, the neighbours disappear. Homes – ghosted hulks carried aloft Kenworths – vanish to places called elsewhere. Abandoned, the Orphan family peer through thin glass at the sea’s silver halo. The house rocks in late wind as if the Orphans are aboard a boat. Darkness plays out their isolation as a soundtrack: Cole Porter, DeBarge, Corona, Bastille….

Tomorrow, the Orphans will inhabit a future built of auctions and shark-nosed cars hunting their street. But presently, they dance along broken pavements, the kids play across empty land. And each night, they sink towards slumber, the sea creeping closer, closer….
About Siobhan Harvey…


Man with Hat, by Adam Kluger
Man with Hat by Adam Kluger
About Adam Kluger…

Blizzard

Alex Reece Abbott

Back home it never snows. She never even touched snow till she was thirteen on that school trip, and it barely snows where she lives now – like the limpid grey skies can’t summon up the guts to really freeze, making her yearn to immerse herself in the white space, that imposed cocoon, that soft silent embrace. And maybe that explains her avalanche of blizzard envy: on vacation again, so keen for a warming shower that she steps outside their snug campervan and into Yosemite, where a huge bear’s paw print waits outside the door, forensically perfect in the snow.
About Alex Reece Abbott…


In Brief

Bruce Costello

A big bang
begat the universe.
The earth begat Adam or ape. Sex begat families.
Cold begat fire. Fighting bred club, adze, spear and bow and arrow.
Tribes of hunters and gatherers formed nations of thugs and begat empires of oil and gold.
Brains begat world wars, factories, pollution, guns, planes, cars, nukes and the ‘net.
Tricky politicians did dodgy trade deals. Blocs formed. Nations and empires failed.
Migration bred terrorists. Violence bred violence and fear of death led to war.
Rockets flew. Blocs fell apart. Bang followed bang.
Everybody died, and the final
big bang
occurred
unheard.
About Bruce Costello…


The Failed Graffiti Artist

Jan FitzGerald

Maurice Oxford woke with a feeling of impending doom as a concrete cutter made a Saturday morning attack on the kerb. As soon as he’d finished, some goon started revving a leaf blower in the park opposite.

“Fuck off,” Maurice yelled, but no voice came. Bloody flu!

He had only just painted “Fuc…” on the front fence, when a passing patrol car nabbed him. He gestured violently in the back seat.

“Hearing challenged,” said the sergeant.

Meanwhile, wondering where Maurice had disappeared to, his wife rolled her eyes, picked up the paintbrush and carefully finished the sign:

“Fuchsias for sale.”
About Jan FitzGerald…


Hear No Evil

Jayne Martin

I sit on the floor in my pajamas, my nose only inches from the black and white images flickering on the TV screen. My mother says this will ruin my eyes, but it is the sound that draws me close, holds me in its comforting embrace. It doesn’t matter that the television audience is not real, that what I hear is ‘canned’ laughter. Only that it drowns out the angry voices of my parents, the crash of furniture when one stumbles and falls, the shattering of a thrown glass.

My mother needn’t worry about my eyes. They are always closed.
About Jayne Martin…


Spectral Trash by Carlos Franco-Ruiz
Spectral Trash by Carlos Franco-Ruiz
About Carlos Franco-Ruiz…

Out of Sight

Sue Kingham

Laden with shopping bags, three young women stumble upon the People’s Climate Change March and attempt to drown out the protestors’ chants by singing ‘Hotline Bling’. A man wearing a pirate costume with an oversized red plume in his cocked hat juggles five coloured balls – one for each continent. Every few minutes they crash to the ground. The march is streamed live to the World Leaders’ Summit, but the dignitaries are on the lawn having their photograph taken beneath multi-coloured flags.

In the pure palette of the Arctic, the last polar bear’s paw print melts in the unseasonably warm weather.
About Sue Kingham…


Reflection

Campbell Taylor

50,000 years to escape the sun. Seven minutes to make it here. Little longer to cook a dog. In a car. Janine sat listening to the podcast about sunlight, glaring at the mirror. Her tub of ice-cream would be melting but the trapped dog needed help. A young woman approached. Janine had noticed her talking to the man at the checkout. Barefoot. Wearing a bulky ankle bracelet. Straying from home detention. To service needs. Janine watched her pat and feed the dog then run to a shiny 4WD, driven too fast, straight out of the car park.
About Campbell Taylor…


The World Needs A Plumber

Michael Botur

I trudge up apartment stairs and my knees ache. The world doesn’t need ACC refusing to treat me, forcing me to work in agony.

The scared Ethiopian family with the burst boiler have Jesus tacked across all their windows. The world doesn’t need Jesus getting mouldy.

My rate is $95p/h. No one needs that.

Their hot water cupboard’s crammed with boxes of Weet-Bix. Can’t get them wet. Musta been on special, that’s what they’re living on. The world doesn’t need refugees eating prison food.

The world needs a plumber, who’ll do the job for free. Maybe score some complimentary Weet-Bix.
About Michael Botur…


Baby Blue Heron in Shallow Pond Looking for Fish, by Paul Beckman
Baby Blue Heron in Shallow Pond Looking for Fish by Paul Beckman
About Paul Beckman…

Highwaymen

Celine Gibson

The roadie technician mumbled, “Morning.” The drummer nodded, lit a cigarette, stared at the bus. A companionable silence till the roadie said: “So – what’d you have for breakfast?”

The drummer started, thoughts still scrabbling through the previous night’s after-gig antics…the roadie – baring his bum, shit karaoke.

“Banana,” he said, “You?”

The roadie blinked on a memory – the drummer, his drum-stick, that barmaid.

“Pottle of yoghurt.”

The drummer puffed, coughed, spat phlegm. The roadie fumbled for his cellphone – his kid’s birthday today.

The bus engine thrummed. They clambered aboard, another gig closer to home.
About Celine Gibson…


Corpse Dress

April Bradley

My grandmother made my wedding dress. It had Honiton lace and my grandfather’s weed-whacker line to weigh down the tulle. After my divorce, it caused me grief to see it, so I gave it to a friend. She gifted it to a young woman who married her sweetheart, and they died within months of one another. The family buried the young woman in my wedding dress, her wedding dress, the dress my grandmother made. I don’t know if I believe my friend, but I haven’t been able to get over the idea of that dress on a corpse.
About April Bradley…


Exodus

Becca Joyce

I once hid a plastic baby amongst the reeds and rushes of the river Frome, just like Miriam had hidden Moses by the Nile. It was when I was going through my ‘nun stage’.

I would put a tea-towel on my head and stare at myself in the bedroom mirror. Then, I would look pious.

My doll is there still, battered by the elements and years and ducks. I took the kids to see it one time. Jack was impressed and said it was ‘holy-as-hell-Mum’, but Miriam stared in horror before rolling her eyes.
About Becca Joyce…


Sheer Wall, Glacier Bay, by Bernard Heise
Sheer Wall, Glacier Bay by Bernard Heise
About Bernard Heise…

The Dusty Room

Sushma Seth Bhat

The flowers have become a dry arrangement on the ledge. That gorgeous room with artifacts from all over the world. Dust dances happily, caught out by the sunlight entering through the corner window.

He looks in and it’s 1985. The room is full of people, flowers, wine glasses and sophisticated chatter. Now, 1986 and one light only for her and the coffin in the corner. She sits in the overstuffed chair as lost as he is in the coffin. She is buried in that chair.

He closes the door gently and leaves. The dust takes back its ballroom.
About Sushma Seth Bhat…


Storytelling

Kate Mahony

My brother and sisters won’t talk to me anymore. They’ve accused me of taking their lives, stealing their stories and twisting them.

“I never said that,” one said.

“I never said you did,” I volleyed back. “It was my character, not you.”

Even my writer friends have changed towards me.  Francesca and Meredith preface each  conversation with the proviso that anything they tell me – and this means any little morsel of gossip – is their story, not mine. They will write it.

“Fine,” I reply, knowing I’ll have revised it five times before they’ve picked up a pen.
About Kate Mahony…


Far from the Hindu Kush

Monique Schoneveld

I dream of blue skies with clouds sweeping under them, blown by mighty winds funnelling through the Hindu Kush. I draw pictures in the holes of my tarpaulin, patching ragged edges with memories of eagles rising over the Buddhas of Bamiyan. Atoms of dreck drift over me, filling the air with the pungent odour of humanity oppressed. Women wail. Their cries rise and fall like the ropes on the gallows in the Stadium of Kabul. We are not welcome here. Tomorrow we will cross another border. We will walk again and leave footprints that will be wiped away.
About Monique Schoneveld…


Lake Fish, by Felicity Cutten
Fish by Felicity Cutten
About Felicity Cutten…

Beached

S R Charters

Alone on the beach, Mariana rests her eyes on the horizon checking the sun’s advance. Between the straggled selvedge of sea-wrack and the white ridge of spindrift the smooth sands are studded with jellyfish: blue bladders, trailing stingers. They’ll shrivel soon, shrink, be washed away. Like us.

This same beach, same sea, same self – yet different. Time intervenes. Everything changes. Till memories, jettisoned lest we founder, wash up later on the farther shore of life. Another year to come. Soon done with.

She watches the water. Always the ocean’s heartbeat pulsing on the shore – relentlessly reassuring: hush… hush… hush… hush…
About S R Charters…


Hands

Cara Rogers

What hands are these?

Peach fingers of tiered length straighten and bend like a well-oiled machine. Creases line the palms like unique valleys, and prints groove the fingers revealing secret identities. The knobby knuckles are stabilizing and strong, whitening when the fingers close, squeezing tightly with power. Calluses lump over bones built up like sediment over rugged landscapes. Tiny wrinkles etch the skin with apparent age and overuse.

All that I am is here, cradled in these hands.
About Cara Rogers…


When I met the Devil

Jude Higgins

My mother said you should never pick blackberries after the end of October because the Devil spits on them. Not one to listen, I was gathering the last of the berries when he came by – damn sexy on his motorbike – and charmed the pants off me. His personal habits were fine. I never saw him spit.

It was only when I discovered his hellish temper that I gave him the push.

“I told you so,” my mother said, inspecting my bruises.

But you’ll still find me wandering the hedgerows picking the fruit – even when it’s too late.
About Jude Higgins…


Open Winged Cockatoo by Trish Nicholson
Open Winged Cockatoo by Trish Nicholson
About Trish Nicholson…

Battle of Waterloo

Jeff Taylor

It was an unfortunate twist of fate that Ernie Perkins, unemployed actor, and Wilbur Adams, failed student, should chose to join the other still-life statues outside Waterloo Station.

Ernie, as the Duke of Wellington, was always going to do better out of the tourists. Everyone loves a winner after all.

Wilbur, as Napoleon Bonaparte, and tainted with the stigma of defeat, did poorly and resentment festered.

Inevitably, it came to blows.

Blood was spilled and the police were called.

The cops lined up all the other still-life statues as potential witnesses.

“Right,” they said. “Nobody move!”
About Jeff Taylor…


Pool

Frankie McMillan

This word chlorine comes to me. I hold it up to my ear. It’s screaming kids; Bobby Fisher doing breast stroke right over the top of me, floundering arms and legs. Then there’s Moana on the side of the pool. She wears her auntie’s white-petalled bathing cap as if her hair is something to bother about. She presses her body into hot concrete, presses her body into the sweet ache of concrete, her big dozy head on her arm, mouth half open.

Oh, Moana, what are you doing now?
About Frankie McMillan…