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February 2012: HEAT

Anonymous_Author©, Asemic Continuum #11
Anonymous_Author© is the literary voice of unknown writer Derek Jones, who resides near Puhoi. His short fiction is also featured in this month’s issue, below.

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Sally Houtman, Burn

“Mind if I open a window?” I say, still angry from this morning. I wipe sweat from the back of my neck with my hand. You are in bed reading, TV on. There is an argument going on in the flat upstairs. The cat is pacing sentry-style across the hardwood floor.

You turn a page in your book, lift one shoulder. “It’s a free country,” you say.

*

The voices upstairs are louder now, more distinct. On TV a fire up north rages out of control. My throat feels tight, my mouth dry. The cat is on the window ledge, head askew, looking outside. “Can I get you a drink?” I say.

You nod.

*

I go to the fridge and take out a beer. The voices above reach a crescendo, begin to subside. Outside a dog barks once. A car alarm blares. The air inside feels static, close, the way air feels at the end of a summer with very little rain. I feed the cat and fill your glass.

*

I slip beneath the cotton sheet, stretch out beside you, staring up. The ceiling fan turns in lazy circles, but moves no air. The fire up north continues to rage. It is quiet upstairs. You light a cigarette, turn away, inhale. I watch the tip flare, glowing red. I fill my lungs and close my eyes, wondering how you can do it, how you can set things alight and not watch them burn.

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

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Raewyn Alexander, Hot Day

Our father whispered, “This beach can only be reached by boat.” In our tent, I imagined he didn’t want eavesdroppers to know.

Mum packed home-made banana cake, fresh-sliced Christmas ham, fruit, warm white bread, plus a Thermos and juice for our picnic.

Across choppy waves we thumped at speed from Whitianga towards the mysterious bay. Enormous pale cliffs ahead curled around the miraculously white beach, sheltered by islands. Ocean soon smooth, we clearly saw the white seabed beneath.

On a fine beach with various seashells at Cathedral Cove, there were only our footprints and Mum on a blanket under her yellow sun umbrella.

A fresh waterfall tumbled from dense foliage over pale rock to the sand. My brother dashed underneath the sparkling water, he laughed with delight. Many pohutukawa, red and green above massive cliffs, faced the ocean. Then to our right, the magnificent cathedral cut through massive rock. A high, vaulted opening through to another, smaller bay.

Inside the cathedral we gazed up at the pointed apex, almost geometric as if someone purposely sculpted it. Dad explained, “Maui hauled up the North Island, here. Maui’s fish-hook made this angular shape.”

The perfect warm day appears in memory as if it’s a movie, always beautiful.

Streaks of light played in the crystal water, tiny iridescent fish fled from our sun-tanned legs. Blue skies over silvery sand and brilliant ocean, our family’s toothy grins, mad games and hearty appetites played starring roles for the entire time.

Raewyn Alexander is a novelist, poet, short story and non-fiction writer who was placed in the top five for the Landfall Essay Competition, 2011. Her latest book, A Bee Lover’s Poetry Companion, is published through Earl of Seacliff, and she’s going on a Poetic Tour to America in 2012. You can read more about Alexander here.  

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Rachel Fenton, Best Before Browning

I imagine a scrap book; he’s the sepia clipping, excess glue browning his edges.

The way it happens: “They go up instinctively.”

Timo looks at me fly-ways — all eye and no focus. Makes regal with his hand.

“How d’yer know weer?”

I smell earth, heat, “They make these burrows, dirt stacked like bitsy chimneys.”

Timo, close as soil. I taste him, mineral, sharp and cloying the way salt makes slugs slaver and dry up all at once. “Death inherits death.”

“Ay?”

“Nothing.”

“How d’yer know yer hevn’t missed ’em?” He talks fast.

“There’d be little casts, on the fence like.” It occurs he misheard. “They shed their baby skins.” I need to go back further. “When they crawl out, adults trapped inside juvenile bodies, fat little grubs, clawed front legs. They climb the nearest vertical whatever like. The grown-up breaks out.”

“I can’t see a thing.”

I laugh. A cricket sets to fiddling. Timo cocks his head. I resist the urge to pat, ruffle the moon dust round his ears.

“They spend years underground; waiting for the right conditions. Some think it’s the heat like but no one’s sure, not even scientists.”

Timo nods. I stretch out my fingers, feel chimney crumble. He gets up. “Want a Tui?”

I follow him in.

*

I wake: bottles applauding the recycling bin. The fence a battlefield; spent filo armour. Breakfast crucified. Tonight, patience, wait for them to grub up. Before they get hard I’ll boil the lot of them.

This fiction is inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh from which the line “death inherits death” is taken (book five). Rachel J Fenton lives in Auckland, has work in Blackmail Press, Horizon Review, Otoliths and others. Her work was short-listed for the Fish One Page Prize and University of Maine Ultra Short Competition, and long-listed for the Sean O’ Faolain International Short Story Prize and Kathleen Grattan Award. She publishes a daily graphic poetry page about stuttering at Escape Behaviours as Rae Joyce, and blogs at snow like thought

.

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Stephen Garside, Better Than Rain

Mary waited in the long grass that led to the forest. The wind was strong up here: a warm, insistent nor’wester.

Seagulls eddied above her. Drawn by the promise of the landfill, they rode the wind waiting to drop and forage.

It was January and the winds had been blowing fluently for days. The valley to the harbour was a dusty gold. Even the grey water in the distance appeared dusty, like a mirage.

“Come on guys!” she called. It was still twenty minutes to the clearing, and walking was not everyone’s favourite.

The boys came running. Seven-year-old feet scuffing the dusty path as they raced to see who would be first.

Eloise plodded. Heavy, painful steps that showed she was feeling as enthusiastic about the walk as she had been when Mary suggested it at lunch.

“How long Mum?” she asked.

“Ten minutes.”

“It’s too hot,” Eloise complained. “My feet hurt.”

“We’ll be in the pines in a minute. It’s cool in there.”

“But it stinks with the tip.”

“We’ll hurry through. The clearing’s not far after that and we’ll find a shady spot to have afternoon tea.”

Eloise grunted and lumbered past.

Mary checked the boys. They were still racing each other.

Where do they find the energy? Days of wind and upper-twenties temperature had just about sapped her reserves. A month of school-holidays didn’t help either.

But you can’t complain. It’s better than weeks of rain; though a brief shower would be nice.

Eloise stomped on.

Stephen Garside is a Wellington writer who has written full time, in and around three children and a shift-working wife, for two years but will be training to become a primary school teacher in 2012 so is wondering how much sleep he can go without in order to maximize writing hours.

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Mike Crowl, Running and Waiting

The rhododendron, paler than white, leans in the heat towards the path which is sunk below the road. The glistening heat has melted the rhododendron petals off the branches; they settle as browning water lilies in the grass. But the grass doesn’t pour down towards the path because it isn’t water.

The path is a deep dip, so that a child can race with her dog down one side and make it up the other before running out of puff.

The child runs down the path, her knots of knees pumping past faster than the eye can grasp. There is a splash, but this isn’t water. The dog pulls on the lead and drags the child, strains to move forward. The child’s grazed knees bleed in rivulets. She pushes herself upwards, stands, sobs for a moment.

Calls to the dog. Calls the dog names.The dog sits on the hot pavement, indifferent. English is not his first language.

The girl dabs at her knees with a tissue: the heat of the sun is already drying the rivulets of blood. The dog waits, as dogs do. The pavement is warm. Waiting isn’t difficult. Boredom is not in his experience, or vocabulary.

The grazes sting in the heat. The child brushes the stings aside in her mind. Self-pity is not in her experience, or vocabulary.

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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Wendy Williamson, Heat

A wisp of smoke curls skyward from a bright pinpoint of light dancing on a small patch of blackened grass. All around looms the forest: dark, dusty and, after months of drought, tinder-dry. Under a cloudless sky the heat is relentless.

A shadow falls. A deer enters the clearing foraging amongst the sparse vegetation eventually reaching and stepping on the tiny hotspot. With one jerk of a hoof the startled deer snuffs out the seat of the fire.

And a discarded Coke bottle is sent skittering into the perpetual shade of a nearby pine tree.

Wendy Williamson comes from the seismically vibrant city of Christchurch and has been a member of South Island Writers’ Association for about a year. She has recently had some success in their competitions with flash fiction, a poem and a memoir. Wendy also belongs to a critique group which keeps her on her toes and enjoys the challenge of writing flash fiction.

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Maree Bishop, Haere ra, bro 

“Strike the bloody match, Vinnie,” Rangi screamed, hopping from one frozen foot to the other. Vinnie held off; fact was, he was scared shitless. He knew once he put a match to the pile of rubbish the fire would be enormous, the heat overwhelming. The idiots who owned the factory where they sheltered should never have left the boxes of waste paper just sitting there.

That winter had been the worst ever. It was August and still heavy drifts of snow covered much of the city. A couple of the olds had been forced to go in, surrender themselves to the ape authorities. But Vinnie and Rangi had their shit together. Long as they could score a meal and on a good day purloin the odd alco-pop from a sleepy shop owner, they were cool.

The group of homeless vagrants knew they had to move from under the viaduct when the surface became so icy their cardboard bedding slid right off the concrete. In one case both bed and sleeper had ended up on the motorway below.

“What the hell are you waiting for, you silly bugger?” Rangi ranted.

“Yeah,” replied Vinnie, “What if the whole fucking place goes up?”

Next thing Vinnie knew Rangi was on top of him. His unshaven face, ugly with anger, only inches away.

“I don’t give a crap about this place. I just want to feel some heat. I’m bloody freezing.” Rangi grabbed the matches.

The fire extended one city block and took ten appliances to extinguish.

Maree Bishop lives on the Hibiscus Coast. She has written two novels, one of which she recently published online. Both novels are based in the US where she spent several years. Some of Maree’s short stories have appeared in national magazines.

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Dan Ingledew, Illumination

The darkness was so complete and had existed for so long that there wasn’t even a concept of darkness anymore, just the world as it was. There may have been light once; stories that the ancestors passed down told of a world ruled almost exclusively by the sense of sight but now the strongest visual image of the world lived inside the mind, built of the other senses and of the stories and meaning that everyone lived in a different world, even those standing side by side.

And then, one day, the Light came. Light so sudden and intense and more blinding than any lack of light could ever be. The world moved and shook and flew through the air and what was once horizontal suddenly became vertical.

Stillness.

The world remained the wrong way round and there were tremors but all was calm, by comparison, for one last golden moment. A great rasping sound tore through the air, deafening and horrific, and then the world was burning. Smouldering heat and acrid smoke burst to life at one end of the world and rushed headlong, bringing death and ash to the other. Nothing and no one was spared; the heat was devastating and absolute.

*
“What the hell are you doing?!”

Holding his half-burned cigarette up to his ear, close enough almost to brand himself, Michael suddenly looked sheepish. Lowering his hand, he grinned awkwardly and cleared his throat.

“I, ah, thought I heard screaming….”

Daniel Ingledew is a 27-year-old Wellington native. New to writing, he reads a lot and is a keen amateur photographer, having recently branched out into paid photography work and begun a diploma in photography this year.

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Derin Attwood, The Fence 

The view depressed me when I first looked out my large front window. The fences were all grey or brown, imposing and seemingly unfriendly. The houses behind them were faceless, the inhabitants invisible.

I could feel the heat seep through the window even with the air-conditioning on. Outside the effect of the heat showed in everything, the brown threadbare lawns, the burnt flowers, trees and shrubs. A dusty veneer shadowed the sun and intensified as the day progressed. Everything in this new neighbourhood looked overheated and neglected.

With no reduction of heat as the sun touched the horizon, a lone neighbour trudged out of her house and began to clear away the dead and dying hydrangeas along her fence-line. As she pulled the plants and stacked them in a pile, she washed the palings. I watched and wondered – the fence would be as dusty again by mid-day. It seemed such a pointless chore in this heat.

She continued weeding and washing as the sun went down, and later I noticed her still working.

The heat didn’t dissipate through the night, and it became oppressive again as the sun rose. Dreading the drab monotony of my view, I opened the curtains.

My neighbour was still there, and glanced up at the movement. I answered her wave as I saw that every fence paling had been painted a different colour. She smiled. And I smiled back.

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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Matthew Zela, On A Day 

Behold, this august garden, in a wooden window framed. The chair sits by the desk at the window and I sit at all three. It’s warmer as the breeze continually drops; I consider the chance of a rainbow.

Perhaps sprinklers we never installed will erupt, founting support for my wish. Perhaps not. Loss rings hollow with doubt.

So I stay away and bring baseless ruin upon my reputation, which they can keep. Keep it all, the things she left. They tell me I must attend to meetings and papers and putting my mark here, here, and here, but I won’t. We have our summer afternoon.

This was our all-golden. Tritoma, Solidago, a sill box of Myosotis saying life is for getting, the walled Amaranthus, heads lowered in sleep. More than friends of ours.

They will all have words to say, about her deaf remains.

I tend the Abutilon again, and the Wedding Day’s still out. What a show.

Will they come around, after all’s said and done? I told them: only those welcome who come for the walk, in all seasons, no excuses, round we go.

I wait for autumn, her favourite. Summers she swooned from the heat and the last few were hard. Half a mile of net to shade against extinction. In the end she gave up. What a time to leave.

We had rain again. Everything’s green while I sit here, wishing on rainbows and wondering how, on a day like this, she is gone.

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.

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Anonymous_Author©, Potential

A car strobed red through trees in the distance. Plastic bags cartwheeled in its wake. The afternoon was hot. I lay prone on the concrete which warmed my front. The sun browned my back. I closed my eyes and was anywhere. A cocoon. Fiji. Her bed. The concrete softened beneath me with each rise and fall of breath, drawing me into its porous surface. The weight of summer air pressed gently from above. I drifted into blurry sleep. Earlier I’d been diving into Richard’s pool. His sister was likely still there judging by the yells from over the fence. The water had chilled as the sun pushed shadows ahead of itself into walls, over fences onto the pool’s surface. I’d come into the street to warm-up. I heard Simone squeal and an uneven splash and imagined her limbs flailing wildly to break her fall, the water enveloping her, maybe peeling her bikini top down a little. I loved her limbs. I’d written poetry about them. Bad poems with the best intentions. Isn’t that what schoolboys did when they discovered a girl’s limbs had power over them? Concoct private and persuasive expressions of admiration? I hoped so. Simone had limbs of note, and other things besides. The summer had barely begun. The mix of anxious potential it was cooking already made me sick with happiness. Anything might happen. Life moved unstoppably forward. There seemed no purpose to it. It needed none. It was good. It just was.

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. His art is also featured this month.

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Megan Doyle Corcoran, Breach

In August, they went to Maui on holiday and she asked him for a baby. His head on the sand shifted so he could look at her and nod. An overheating summer sun spread its embers on the sand and water, his eyes even, and the droplets of sweat breeding to evaporate on his chest.

The following year, they didn’t have time for a holiday because they’d exhausted themselves with its accounting. Even if she didn’t feel like growing old, her body calculated days and weeks and expressed their passage as precisely, if not as efficiently, as a timepiece. It was the only thing her body did right. It never missed a beat and he could only wait in their bed—prepared and despondent—as her perfect rhythm dismantled familiar harmonies.

Another year. Another anxious sun rose hotly over another August day to spread fire on the salty surface of their skin. Time, not being counted, tread quietly around them. Their silent accord, old enough to stand alone now, bowed to its breach. His arm was heavy on her back like the ocean is heavy on the shore but never too much for it to bear. She watched the gold tips of ocean chop and he watched her.

Megan Doyle Corcoran lives in Wellington where she writes and rides a bicycle. A 2012 student in the MA programme at the International Institute of Modern Letters, she writes short stories that are usually much longer than 250 words. Her work has appeared in online and print journals in the US. She’s originally from California and appreciates that her presence in New Zealand is so graciously tolerated.

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Sian Williams, The Vicarage Garden Party

Finishing her round with the sandwiches Mrs Stanton stood for a moment in the cool shade of the big magnolia. Groups of people dotted the lawn. Flowery dresses, cheap shoes, big hats – the congregation at its most pretentious. Never mind, at least the garden looked lovely. The hydrangeas, in particular, were superb this year. Her husband, the vicar, strolled amongst the frothing bushes, arm in arm with the organist’s unmarried daughter. His hand clasped her golden forearm; he was noticeably flushed. The girl nodded earnestly at something he said.

Mrs Stanton ate the last remaining sandwich on the plate she was carrying. Already curled at the edges, it was unappetising, dry. Looking up, she spotted a dandelion she’d missed in the blue border. How vexing.

She wondered who had done the weeding in the Garden of Eden. She couldn’t imagine Eve getting her pretty knees dirty and breaking her finger nails, with her bare arse waving in the air. And Adam would’ve been much too busy being tempted by Eve. It couldn’t have been the serpent, as snakes have no hands, and anyway Mrs Stanton didn’t believe there was a serpent in the Garden at all; she felt certain Eve had invented it – as an excuse. That would only leave Adam’s wife, in sensible shoes and gardening gloves, to keep things in order. Yes, that sounded about right, she concluded, as she set off for another circuit, with the devilled eggs this time.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She lives in the Bay of Islands and does the weeding in her own Garden of Eden although, fearing the ferocity of the Northland sun, she doesn’t do it naked. Mostly.

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Michelle Elvy, Timpani
Winter
A cold platinum day. The waves at Raglan rolled in like timpani. Surfers dotted the water like seals, eager for the rollick and rush of the next big one. They rode the same wave in, walked up the beach together.He wanted to kiss her shivering lip first time he saw it.

*

Spring
Snapper for tea. She watched him fillet it expertly, the blade slipping under the flesh, his fingers knowing exactly how to move over the meat.

She eyed his snapper hands, felt heat crawl up her neck and race down her thighs.

*

Summer
A hot copper day. The black sand of Muriwai melts in the sun. The wrong flame is fuelled by alcohol, noise: timpani made by years of temper.

She’s content out here alone, a seal in the surf. She comes in from a long set, hears the kids’ tinny voices off in the distance, sees him waiting, bored. Chilly bin of beer, three empties glinting in the sand. Her lip frowns involuntarily.

What?! What do you want, woman?

She longs for those winter days, the wild shores of youth.

She thinks: Platinum. Says: Snapper.

Michelle Elvy is the founding editor of Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in the Bay of Islands and wrote this story on a platinum day. For more about Michelle, visit her at Glow Worm

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Please also see this month’s interview with Auckland writer and conceptual artist Gus Simonovic.

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Coming in March: stories about shades of grey

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