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July 2012: THE ROAD

Gabriel Ward, Winter Light
Gabriel Ward is a NZ expat currently teaching English in South Korea. He’s always had a passion for the arts, and spends most of his free time reading and taking photos. You can find more of his work here.

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Megan Doyle Corcoran, What I Learned in the Ivy League
Christoffer with two fs and teeth like a madman: the rot at the root of your incisors made me suspicious. That, and the free time you spent waiting for my classes to end. My parents wouldn’t have approved.

But your eyes were bright like spring melt and the things you said as memorable as the beaks of daffodils snuffling through snow. At the old rail bridge over the Connecticut River you said, this, see, look, this is freshet. You plucked early blueberries and let me lick your fingers. I held my breath when your mouth approached mine. I didn’t stop you. When summer came, you bottled fireflies and whispered, I’ll walk you home.

Three thousand miles, I asked.

You looked at a rising moon. Longer if we go that way.

You were harmless as the dentally hygienic and just as inclined to bite more than you could chew. Your mom said you peddled pills, said you got what’s coming.

I had a letter for you at visiting hours but it was too cruel—cruel about fluoride, cruel about getting caught. They didn’t take it like they took my pen and your bent-backed copy of On The Road. Don’t incite the boy, a guard said. Her hands rested on a stiff belt. I didn’t tell you about her or the frisk because it seemed stupid once I saw you. No skin, now, she mumbled before the door sealed behind me. And there you were, in blue, red-eyed and split-lipped.

I flew home.

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. As a short-listed entrant in the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition, Megan is interviewed here.

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Jac Jenkins, Held fast
The clamour inside my head faded to a sigh a while ago. I count to pass the time: the car radio died on the 82nd beat of Billy Joel’s Piano Man; there were fifty-two random clicks of the engine as it cooled down; there are six chips of windscreen glass in front of me; my heart misses one in every twelve or thirteen beats.

My face is pressed to the road. The seal sweats an oily haze that sears the inner lining of my nostrils. Skirting the outer reaches of my sight is a dragonfly. The thrumming of its wings is louder than the pulse in my left ear. Now it hovers close enough to stir my lashes, and the wings are iridescent with refracted light like oily puddles scattering rainbows. It lands beside my heated cheek, close enough for me to interrogate its pixelated eyes. The robotic mouthparts chatter to me for a moment, then the dragonfly raises its wings as if to fly, but the tar holds it fast. One tug at a time the dragonfly begins its juddering dance.

I pass the time, counting the beat.

Jac Jenkins lives rurally near Whangarei with a teenage daughter, two cats and five chickens. She currently works as a librarian, a thousand times removed from her initial career as a veterinarian. She has been writing poetry since she was a teenager and recently completed a poetry-writing course through NorthTec. As a highly commended entrant in the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition and winner of the Northland NZSA Regional Award, Jac is interviewed here.

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Sally Houtman, (Looking for) the underside of white
Thursday and it’s time to leave. It’s not your fault. It’s what I do. Pull an arrow from my quiver and fire away. Another failed attempt to hit the target. One more casualty of Cupid’s misguided aim.

Inside I’ve got this yearning for imbalance, a need to feel dizzy and dumb-footed – my father’s dull-toothed longing for the road. One day I might shake this need to seek the passing of scenery, the safety of a doorway. But not today.

There are things I’ve kept hidden. Fractures in the mortar, damage done by another – secrets snugly held. I am a shutter-shift of forward motion, a thing that scatters when you try to draw it near. Loving me is like trying to find the ghost inside the shadow. Like looking for the underside of white.

If you ask me why today, I couldn’t tell you. There was just something about that womb-dark Wednesday sky – a kind of negative pressure in the void. I lay awake as the hours ticked past, uneasy in the darkness. The whole night and not one single star.

Morning now. I fold your shirts, then tip the blinds and peer outside. The day is still, no clouds only the parallel trails of jets raking an otherwise perfect sky. I do the dishes and let the water run, thinking about the last time you kissed me, the hug that lasted too long.

Thursday and it’s time to leave. It’s not your fault. It’s what I do.

Sally Houtman is a Wellington writer. She began writing fiction and poetry in 2007 and threatens not to stop. As a highly commended entrant in the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition and runner-up of the Wellington NZSA Regional Award, Sally is interviewed here.

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Mike Crowl, Tut, tut
Driving by myself. Driving on auto. Empty road.

Chewing over the poem I’m writing. Ruminating.

A voice says, Tut, tut. The internal censor — prefers to be called the Editor.

Always jumps the gun. Insists my metaphors are overused, hackneyed.

The vivid image I’d just uncovered drops into the cranial abyss.

I’d send him off looking for it, but he doesn’t think it’s his job. Tried it before, unsuccessfully. Doesn’t think of himself as a hunter/gatherer. Likes to stay home, waiting for me to arrive with a wild boar weighing down my shoulders. Seldom has the fire going. Or the spit set up. Or dry wood ready.

He’ll just look at the boar and say, What the hell have you got there? As though he’d never seen one before.

Then he’ll sit back while I strip the hair-filled flesh, tie up the trotters, cut off the head. Throw the entrails to the rabid, Catherine-wheeling dogs.

I’ll get the fire going. Haul the boar up onto the spit. Wait for the beast to singe and sing and ever so slowly cook.

The clan will creep in, one by one. Eyes watering, mouths slavering.

He’ll be ready with the salt, if we’re lucky. Pepper, if he hasn’t run out. Some herbs he’s picked not too far from home. It’s a modest contribution.

Finally, after an eternity of burning, he’ll put his hand out for a tongue-searing pork rib.

Tut, tut, he’ll say.

Mike Crowl is a 67-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 recently presented a new musical he’d composed and co-written, and had excellent feedback.

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Leah McMenamin, Wanderings
We walked it at twilight. That way the day’s heat spun up our legs from the concrete, like a tabby cat threading between our ankles.

When there were no cars we held hands and walked on either side of the median lines. At nights the cats eyes blinked at us, wardens of the dark, and we played hopscotch in the stretches between them, hopping on one leg and then the other.

He liked the way the road prostrated itself before us. “It is both a god and a servant,” he said to me. We watched the road works we passed. The workers laid down the tarmac inch by inch, smoothing and stretching and drying.

We walked past them and it was as if they had never been, as if the road was an organic occurrence. Towns crowded us, but when we walked on those great open roads all was possible.

When our shoes wore down we simply left them in the toetoe that crowded the road edges. Our feet got scratched by stones and cut by broken glass. Once we slept beneath rubbish bags in the rain, and saw a lost cow lumber in front of us. It seemed disgruntled, confused by the intrusion of asphalt where there should be grass.

We dreamed of the road at night, of its endlessness, and felt sad for our own imagined immortality.

Leah McMenamin is a student, knitter, story-lover and writer. Having travelled to far-flung places over the past four years, she now lives in Wellington and finds constant inspiration in this dynamic capital city. You can generally find her at her blog Orange Afternoon Lover.

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Raewyn Alexander, Along the Road to the Hotrod Beach Hop
Before Romata could playfully hit Jake on the arm, a glossy black 1942 Buick with white-wall tyres sailed past like a moving building. Romata shouted, “It’s time travel seeing that car.”

Jake and Romata in a tangle of adolescent arms, legs and giggling. Jake determined he’d go back in time to rewrite essays, get better marks. Romata said, “I’ll be a billionaire. Buy every 1966 Mustang in existence. But I’ll only sell them to cool people.”

Both quiet a while, then Jake said Romata was cool. She smiled, sat with one denim-clad leg draped over his. They both simultaneously shouted, “1953, Datsun Delux Sedan, original paint and rare in this country,” as if they’d rehearsed the line. Spent the next three minutes looking at each other, quite lost for words.

*

Mrs Hall from the Ka Pai Fish and Chip shop watched the teenagers outside her place, briefly. Then she tidied sheets of white paper and read a newspaper behind the counter. Couldn’t see a word. Just thought about how her husband drove one of those cars, a Buick when they were young. Able to take yourself anywhere if you could afford the petrol. So simple, the freedom and the way the wind blew inside the car with the windows open. She tossed her hair as if it were again long, glossy brunette. She smiled and hummed while out the window cars passed by and the teenagers were laughing.

Raewyn Alexander has had thirteen books published, most recently an ebook, What we Talk about when we Talk about Death, Money and Love, (Brightspark Books). The penultimate publication, Family of Artists, is a book and CD recorded with Transistor Davis Jnr on electric guitar. More info here and also here.

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Anonymous_Author©, An irresistible force meets an immovable object
YOU. ARE. SHITTING. ME! The pine trees too?!

Richard’s rising intonation peaked, piqued with indignation.

He was heightened, his brother remained grounded.

“Yep.”

“This hill, the track, the cottage, that hill, the wool shed…” He squatted to batten level, closed one eye and focussed into the distance: “…the hay paddock, and the FUCKING PINE TREES?!”

“Yep,” said James.

Richard leapt, full stretch, like the live wire had given him a jolt.

James was still, forearms resting on a strainer post.

“NO. WAY! Are they going to carpet bomb the place? It’s a massive chunk. Massive. It’ll be gutted. Ruined!”

James regarded Richard. He’d visit what, twice, maybe three times a year? On the way to Matakana (Havelock North’s immature sister, James called it). Now though, as soon as the plans were finalised, he’d been up from Auckland like a shot. ‘Concerned’ for the place. Of course. Funny that. His unspoken but not unknown dreams of a subdivided ticky tacky toy town dealt a significant blow by a competing progress. You’d think gracious resignation would be in order.

But no. One last roll of the dice.

“What about the cows and sheep?”

“Heifers and ewes’ll be temporarily moved. May get to run more stock by way of compensation.”

That was that, then. Richard sped away, perplexed, like he’d lost something he’d never had.

James enjoyed the irony.

The farm was secured a future as a farm. Albeit with a new motorway through its middle.

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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Vivienne Merrill, Home Movie

Most things I remember from when I was about three, or four, take the form of pictures. If I close my eyes, I can see images of my bedroom, the bed with a quilt my grandma made.

My father always left for work before I awoke. My mother delivered me to the crèche on her way to her job at the supermarket. By the time my father arrived home, I’d be in my jim-jams and looking out of the window, waiting for him. All of this, I can access like some old Super 8 movie.

I also have this sequence: a man who is black and wearing overalls, waves to me and goes into the outside laundry. After some time, a man with a scrubbed-pink face, arms and hands comes into the house and throws me up in the air. The smell of him comes back to me now.

My father makes roads, I learn, and each day, returns home covered in tar. One day he does not come home. ‘He’s in heaven,’ my mother tells me.

Fast forward and I have a step-daddy and a new sibling.

Zoom in and see me sitting at the side of a road, picking at the fresh tar — inhaling the scent and then, placing in my mouth, the smell and taste of my father.

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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Martin Porter, A Northland Walk
Ascend by the juniper trees. Feel for the signpost at the gap in the wall, smoother than the gateposts on either side. The road becomes gradually steeper until the smell of wild rosemary becomes imperceptible. Walk for fifteen minutes, listening out for the many tui on this stretch.

The warmth of the tarmac will change at the junction. Do not continue straight, it leads to a dead end where the wind rushes over the cliff. If the surface is smooth and encroached by bush, turn back.

Take the path leftwards. It is rougher at first, with ridges that run across the width before the first corner. Take care not to trip. It initially curves northwards but gradually tends towards the east, near the thyme. The scent of the pasture is distinctive throughout the year but may be disguised by the overpowering mix of herbs, particularly in high summer.

The track now climbs in an energetic gradient. It becomes stony, so wear good shoes with toecaps, I should have mentioned that earlier. Notice the occasional elder blossom in summer.

Be aware of sheep droppings along this stretch, they are slippery, so treacherous, and sometimes hide in the perfumed air.

Enjoy the experience of the summit. The breeze is magnificent, hitting the face on every side. The open air is astringent and unusually wild. Cicada, beetles, bees and wasps abound. The heat from the sun is sensational, and because the plateau is so bare, will seem to come from all directions.

Martin Porter gazes at the sky from the winterless north of New Zealand. A member of writers’ groups in Whangarei and Jersey, he writes mainly poetry and won first prize in the Channel Islands Writers Competition in 2005. Some of his work can be found at Take Flight and Poetry Notes and Jottings.

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Kathryn Jenkins, Leaving
We’d taken three months off work to rebuild, consolidate, perhaps make that baby we said we wanted.

“Let’s drive round Australia,” you said.

It seemed like a good idea, so we flew into Perth and headed for Cervantes. I walked among the limestone pillars and cried, my whole body tingling with the land. You laughed.

“Let’s drive the Gunbarrel Highway,” you said. “You want to go to Ayers Rock, we’ll get there faster.”

“We’ve got three months,” I said, “can’t we take our time.”

“Life’s too short to take our time.”

The next day we turned east and drove to Wiluna, picked up our permits, stocked up on food and water, and swapped our Daihatsu for a Landrover.

We arrived at Uluru five days later in the rain; the earth, full of flavour, its scent tangy and damp. You ran from one photo stop to the next. I wandered, my collar turned up, watching rivulets cascade down the rock face, springing from nowhere and dashing sideways with no apparent cause.

That was yesterday. This morning the rain has gone and I leave you sleeping to watch the sun rise. The sky writes me a story on deep purple velvet; weaves pink threads into lilac clouds; creates a tapestry on the edge of the sky.

You join me, yawning as if you are swallowing the day.

“Let’s go to Alice Springs,” you say.

“I’d like to stay.”

I feel your thoughts churning. You won’t wait for me… and I won’t leave.

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. You can find her flash fiction website here.

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Rebecca Simons, Dusty Sheep and Roses
My brother is so annoying. They don’t understand. He’s sitting next to me now, deliberately taking up more than his half of the arm-rest. I hate him. He’s pushing my arm further and further. I want to scream. He ducks his head so they can’t see in the rear-view mirror and says, “You’re a moron – an ugly, dumb, fat, moron” then screws up his face and pokes out his tongue. I try to scratch his face. The car jerks toward the middle of the road then back. He cries, “She’s hitting me again. I didn’t do anything.” His hands are wrapped tightly around my wrists which feel tingly then numb. Shelley turns, hairbrush in hand, and says, “If you don’t cut it out your Dad will turn the car around and you’ll be left at home. Granny doesn’t want a naughty little girl visiting.” The hairbrush hovers threateningly. My brother sniggers, “Ha-ha, told you so” then looks bored. He gives the skin around my wrists a final twist before letting go. Out the window grassless paddocks full of dusty sheep and stones blur by. Squeezed in the corner I try to remember, but only the smell of roses comes back. Dad says I should call Shelley Mum; I can’t – she isn’t. When I open my eyes, everything is still. Outside my brother is sitting on the back step. He’s bent forward, elbows on knees. Beside him is a large rose bush, all its red flowers lying on the ground.

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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Elaine Souster, Go Bing Go

When he saw a car in the ditch, Bing skidded to a stop, his wheels spraying out gravel. He unfurled his tall frame from the seat. His long hair flicked the shoulders of his leather jacket and his boots scuffed across the damp grass.

“Ron, what happened?” he asked.

“Ran off the road.”

“You goin’ to tow it out?”

“Can’t, there’s a wild cat under the wheel.”

“What are you waiting for, it will die.”

Ron eyed him in horror. “It’s wild, who’d want it?”

“Man, it’s alive isn’t it? You’re all the same, you lot. You can’t stand anything with a mind of its own.”

Bing pushed Ron aside. “I’ll get it out.”

He shrugged off his jacket and the muscles on his tattooed biceps bulged as he ripped the paling off the fence and placed it to secure the wheel. He crawled under the car and scraped earth away till he had dug a small ditch. Slowly he pulled the cat towards him. He stroked along its mangey mane, whispering, “Buddy boy, it’s okay.”

Bing crawled out, wrapped the cat in his jacket, laid it on the passenger’s seat and jumped back in his car.

He held his hand out the window, gave Ron a two-finger gesture and then planted his foot down to the floor. The car roared into life and the wild ones didn’t look back as they took off down the road.

Elaine Souster is an accomplished artist who several years ago discovered a love for creative writing. She is active in various writing groups and supports other writers. She loves to take her view of human nature and turn it into a story.

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Sian Williams, On the Desert Road

Six days of manoeuvres in the bush with no rest. Crazy, man. Coming home the lads were crashed out in the back but I rode up front in case Coxie fell asleep at the wheel.

Sleep deprivation messes with your mind.

First came the horses, flowing by, wild-eyed in the headlights. Riding the last one, looking shit-scared, was a guy wearing a tartan Tam o’Shanter, like in that poem from school. I saw her too, standing beside the road – like it was a river she couldn’t cross – with the mare’s tail in her hand and her shift tight across her tits. “Jeez, that is one hot witch,” I said, but Coxie just grunted and wiped the inside of the windscreen with his sleeve.

It started raining – hosing down – and we were now a raft riding the rapids of the road, faster and faster, a black tohorā, a taniwha, a torpedo.

The rain eased off suddenly and there were soldiers in desert fatigues coming towards us; their helmets and rifles covered with ochre dust. As we got nearer I saw one of them was Coxie, staggering, bleeding, his mouth twisted in pain. And his mate – dragging him along – I knew who he was. As we flashed passed in the night I saw his eyes, my eyes – like bullet holes in a firing-squad wall.

Christ, I was glad to see dawn coming up over the Kaimanawas that morning. When we hit Waiouru I slept fourteen hours straight and never once turned over.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She has never seen herself flash by in the headlights on a deserted road, but if she did she’s pretty sure she wouldn’t stop.

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Michelle Elvy, Going North

When Jean Aaron said yes to the job up north she didn’t know what to expect. She only knew being a missionary wasn’t for her. She accepted the teaching job in a place she’d never heard of, far from home and several days’ journey away. Where you headed? Te Hapua? Never heard of it.

She’d never slept in a country hotel, so she took a room in a Kaitaia boarding house, where gramophone whirs and fleabites kept her awake at night.

She’d never expected to lose her afternoon tea through the hairpin turns of Mangamuka Gorge. She’d not expected a sixty-mile trek in a cream bus over metal and clay roads gouged by rain and traffic down to a rough intolerable path. She’d not expected to see Waihopo’s Dirty Dan, so-called because of his decision (despite being an accountant -– a “real clever chap”) to live up north “among the Maoris and the Dallies”.

She’d never met a native. She vaguely recalled seeing Maori women sitting outside the Waitemata Hotel near Herne Bay, smoking pipes and carrying babies in rugs on their backs. And once a Maori woman had knocked on their Takapuna door selling king fern root but she’d cowered and said no.

But here she was, travelling north. A small Maori boy sat on the back of the cream bus, tipping off the empty cans while the driver drew up neatly beside the cream stands.

Are you here to stay, Miss? he asked.

And Jean Aaron said yes.

Michelle Elvy is founding editor at Flash Frontier. This story was inspired by a diary of Jean Archibald in the Auckland Museum Library (MS 1335) and is part of the collection Michelle is currently writing called Flash Back: A Brief New Zealand History in Short Story Form.

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