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June 2013: NEW SHOES

Rae Joyce, New Shoes
Rae Joyce, New Shoes
Rae Joyce creates comics from her colourful life, sometimes true. Read more at http://snowlikethought.blogspot.com.

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Jan FitzGerald, Gringo

After a night suffering the incontinence of hedges and wind’s pickpocket fingers, he rides into the market, pots swinging like censers, and stacks his wobbly bicycle against the wall.

In bare feet and string-tied trousers, he strolls to my neighbour’s stall, juggles a handful of apples to admiring glances, takes a bite from a bean and tucks it behind his ear. Leaning back on the table, with his electric hair and overstated glasses, he winks at passersby and asks with an air of Having Once Been Remarkable, “What can I do you for today?”

Picking up an avocado, he rolls it in his palm with tenderness, as if feeling the shape of a former self.

“Keep it, friend,” the stallholder says.

The man raises an imaginary hat and walks backwards, bowing and scraping until stopped by my rows of shoes. He tries on a pair of leather sandals. They fit perfectly. He turns his pockets inside out and sings.

“As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I :
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.”

I say, “Take them.”

Getting back on his bike, he calls a wish the weather will be kind to us, blows a kiss and disappears through the trees. Back to a land of tinkers and travellers and well-spoken Elsewhere men.

Jan FitzGerald has been published in mainstream NZ literary journals since the 1970s and in Poetry Australia, The London Magazine, Acumen (UK), Orbis (UK), and others. Her latest poetry book is entitled On a day like this (Steele Roberts, NZ). Jan works in Napier as a full-time artist. For more see her website, Painting Poets.

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Nod Ghosh, Vacuum Cleaner Man

Savannah is walking hand in hand with the man who sells vacuum cleaners. She has dreamt of this moment. They kick leaves that are glued to the ground with the detritus of summer. A thousand different shapes from trees she cannot name. She’s careful not to scuff the patent leather shoes that encase her feet, which feel like frozen slabs of hoki. She notices a ladder in her stocking.

There’s a chill in the air, and flecks of rain pepper the pavement as the pair walk towards the car. This is the moment she thinks he will kiss her, but he doesn’t.

Later when they are rolling in her double bed, he grasps Savannah’s buttocks and talks to her from behind. The vacuum cleaner man is lost in onanism, as he sucks Savannah’s neck, and tugs at her hair. Things can never be the same after that.

Later she brushes leaves and fluff from the matted locks. The frock is hung on its hanger, and encased in a suit bag. She wipes shit-brown clods of earth from the new shoes, and places them in their box. Savannah discards the soiled tissue into the waste paper basket beside the bed. Soil upon soil.

Savannah’s feet are more comfortable in brown-checkered slippers. The tartan dressing gown keeps her warm as she wipes mascara from drooping lids. She folds the rest of ‘Savannah’ away into a box.

She sees the vacuum cleaner man drive past on Thursday.

They never did get to kiss.

Nod Ghosh lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has completed year one of the Hagley Writers’ Institute creative writing course. Nod’s work has been accepted in Catalyst, Penduline, Christchurch Press, Takahē and Express. Nod works as a medical laboratory scientist.

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Janet Pates, Peaks and Hollows

Blanche had one pair of shoes: black, flat and eminently sensible. Just like her life. She’d moved beyond peaks and hollows but sometimes she missed them.

At the back of the Salvation Army shop, two rows of shoes sat on the floor. On the shelf above, in showcase isolation were a pair of red shoes with pointy toes and heels almost high enough for a cat to walk under. They looked new and were suitably priced at twenty dollars.

Of its own volition Blanche’s hand reached out and picked one up. She checked the size, slipped out of her black flats and put the red shoes on. She still had neat ankles, she didn’t have twenty dollars. But oh, she felt so tall, so elegant, so… entitled.

She glanced down at her old shoes.They looked at home there on the floor with their well-worn brethren. With a pointed toe she shuffled them into line, looked round at the other preoccupied shoppers and strolled out of the store.

Halfway down the street her calf muscles began to ache. A few steps more and her toes caught fire. She took shorter steps. A pair of teenage girls stared at her shoes and hid their laughter behind their hands. Blanche rested a while on the bus stop seat then tottered up the street to the Sally Army shop. She made her way to the back and stared down at the rows of shoes. Hers were not among them.

The winner of the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition, Janet Pates lives in the small town of Tuakau, near the mouth of the Waikato River and writes for children and adults. She writes fiction and non-fiction, the latter with an emphasis on local history. In between times, she is trying to create an interesting memoir out of a singularly ordinary life.

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Celine Gibson, Imbroglio

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”

Father Stanislaus stops fingering his beads, leans closer to the screen. “Yes…?” he encourages.

“Father…I may’ve killed someone. It was an accident.”

Father Stanislaus thinks the voice sounds familiar.

“We argued…a business deal…we got carried away…”

He hears the full confession. The voice says, “Am I forgiven, Father?” Father Stanislaus hesitates before offering a paltry absolution: “God is all merciful.”

The confessional illuminates as the man leaves: dark trousers and a flare of colour below. The tapping of toe plates fades — silence.

While fixing a sandwich, Father Stanislaus listens to the end of a news bulletin. “The victim died from his injuries.” He feels sickened as he switches off the radio.

Later, he pulls up outside a house befitting a successful man. Carlos opens the door.

“I’ve been expecting you, Stan.”

Stan follows Carlos inside. They pass the grand staircase. Stan falters, turns, sighs.

Carlos stops. “What’s wrong?”

Stan points to the shoes placed neatly on the bottom step. “I noticed them as you left the confessional, Carlos. Only you would wear flamingo pink crocodile shoes.”

Carlos shrugs, “I couldn’t resist — bought them Thursday.”

A brief pause, then Stan says, “Aunty Paula always said vanity would be your undoing.”

Carlos smirks, “Yeah? And Mama reckoned you’d stay a cop. She sure got that wrong.”

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.

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Mike Crowl, If the Shoe Fits

“I can never find shoes to fit me.”

“Me neither.”

“The ones I buy are just so uncomfortable, I can’t wear them.”

“Exactly the same.”

A bond was formed.

One was seventy-five, the other still older. I watched them, my cup of tea poised in the air. They were oblivious to the chatting choir members around them. After weeks of a tension known to us all, they were now new lovers breaching the siege of personal space.

Shoes, I thought, sipping, are only made for feet. Feet, in general, are made for standing on or walking. Wondrously functional, but their loss is not life-endangering. People live without them. I read in the paper this morning about a dog with four prosthetic legs. I knew a man who’d lost his big toe under a train. Some achievement, that.

Shoes that enabled two women to leap over a dividing fence were also an achievement. These shoes let them stand, temporarily content, on years of callous husbands, ungrateful children, doddery parents; pets lost and found and finally lost for good; recipes given away and turned into another’s invention; housework done till its tedium drove even the most creative mind into a dank hole in a forgotten corner.

I wriggled my toes inside my snug-fitting shoes. I admired their shape, their colour.

I finished my tea.

The women’s love song continued.

“I’d love a pair of decent shoes.”

“Me too. Ones that fit.”

Mike Crowl is a writer, pianist, composer and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, with most published material these days appearing on one or other of his blogs. Current projects include typing up weekly letters he sent to his family in 1968/9 when he was at the London Opera Centre, and writing a set of songs in which dogs of various shapes and sizes are the focus.

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Elaine Souster, Just One Dance

Cathy stood in the doorway of the dance hall while she waited for Larry. Men walked past and eyed her up and down. Embarrassed, she went to move out of sight but her skirt caught on the door hinge.She bent over to release it and jumped at the sound of a deep voice in her ear.

“Let me help.”

Startled, she swung round; his face was so close she felt the warmth from his breath on her skin.

“Waiting for someone?” he asked.

“A friend,” she replied.

“What’s your name?”

“Cathy.”

He held her hand. “I’m John, and you shouldn’t be here by yourself. Come dance with me.”

“Thanks, I’ll wait.”

The band started to play. Cathy tapped her feet to the beat of the music and her skirt swung to the rhythm in her body. John grasped her hand, pulled her towards him and propelled her through the door onto the dance floor. She twirled, twisted and jived and her face shone with exhilaration. He grinned as he flipped her away then pulled her back into his arms.

The music stopped and she stood trying to catch her breath. She kicked off her new shoes and held them in her hand as she rubbed one foot against the other.

She looked past John towards the door, Larry stood there.

“John, my friend’s here.”

Barefoot, she walked away and a shoe fell from her hand.

John picked it up and knew this was the beginning of a love story.

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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Rachel J Fenton, The Monkey’s Paws

Miss Fielding was usually a right hag, but she put on the voice reserved for new male teachers when she called to Shelly, hugging her when she opened the lav door.

“Don’t worry; you’re a woman now.”

Shelly didn’t want to be a woman, like Miss Fielding, or her mam, or the frigging witch in the play. Shelly wanted to be the girl with the red glitter shoes.

“I’ll give you a lift home,” Miss Fielding said.

A train was at the crossing bisecting Shelly’s street. The barriers were down, the guard was chatting to the signal man who’d come out of his brick look-out tower and was laughing like a fat Rapunzel larking at the witch for having lopped off all her hair. Miss Fielding looked at her watch, sucked her teeth.

“I’ll get out here,” Shelly said.

“Would you?”

“I can walk around the train, change and be back in five minutes.”

“Oh, no, you mustn’t cross the lines,” Miss Fielding said. “I can’t take responsibility for that. But I do have to get back before curtain up.”

“What about my role?”

“You’re only a flying monkey, Shelly.”

Protest was pointless. Shelly watched the car reverse, turn and pull away. With Miss Fielding gone, Shelly uncrossed her legs. Glossy droplets were soaking into her white socks. She looked at the long train, then her paws – the new shoes her mother would want to return to the shop – and pressed her ankles together.

Rachel J Fenton grew up beside a creepy railway in Yorkshire where she read too many horror tales and wondered where rainbows ended. With a nod to the horror by W. W. Jacobs, and those most famous new (to Dorothy) shoes in The Wizard of Oz,”The Monkey’s Paws” is straight from the darkest nostalgia-pit of Rachel’s impressionable mind. Rachel currently lives in Auckland and blogs at Snow Like Thought.

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Derek Jones, Blue Loafer Memoirs

Thomas has been told that if he masturbates warts will grow on his fingers.

“Hairs on your palms too,” Matt compounds.

So, of all the boys in Marist Form 2, Thomas’s hands are the most manicured.

One Friday, an excited Brother Joel tugs the crucifix dangling around his neck and confesses: “Despite the Church’s prior misgivings, sex education will be introduced, although parents may withdraw” – he pauses for comic effect – “their boys from class.” Matt sniggers. Thomas joins in.

“Shame,” the religious man sighs, with sad eyes, when, on Monday, Matt presents his mother’s note. Thomas reckons Matt’s only teacher’s pet because he’s mature and smart and funny and handsome.

On Wednesday, Thomas flinches when Brother Joel eagerly begins the lesson by raising his left foot onto Matt’s vacant desk. “You know shoe size indicates penis length?” he jokes with the class, knee bent, blue leather loafer waggling. His summer cassock billows, exposing an unfettered todger and balls within its shadowy folds. Thomas feels sick. Matt’s innuendo regarding Brother’s covert underskirt nudity is gospel! In Christ he goes commando! But his time, seduced by carnal thoughts of a titillating new subject, he’s lowered his guard (and more besides) in an x-rated genuflection.

Friday afternoon, Thomas walks home and stops outside a shoe shop. He’ll miss Brother Joel; feels guilty for tattling to Father Calhoun. Nose pressed against the window, he peers at the basketball boots on display. The school social with St Mary’s is a week away. Size twelves should do.

Derek Jones is a writer who lives near Puhoi. He has just finished writing the unauthorised autobiography of Anonymous_Author© and has pledged to write using his real name until the fictional literary voice he created has its memoirs published. Patently, judging by the book’s description, he may be submitting as Derek Jones for some time.

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Rebecca Simons, New Shoes

The psychiatrist said I had to wear these flat shoes for a month, that it would help me “transition”. They are so ugly. On the box they are described as “comfortable, practical shoes in a warm chestnut brown”; they look like shit. He doesn’t understand, the psychiatrist, he’s a man. If it were a woman she would. High heels were invented for a reason – to create the illusion of femininity, grace. He said that walking in these flat shoes would help me relate to the world I was walking in, but that’s just it – I’m not sure I want to. I don’t see anyone else wearing them. The street is busy today, lots of people and cars buzzing with purpose. I walk up one side and down the other sometimes brisk, sometimes slow, in high heels. Sometimes I smile at the people passing by, even though my feet are killing me. No one smiles back. Maybe they’re jealous of my long legs and that’s why I should wear those ugly shoes. I wonder why they can’t see me – what a good person I really am. I sit on a bench next to an old woman, take my beautiful shoes off to rub my feet and swap them with the ugly ones from my bag. I notice she’s wearing the same. She smiles and nods. I keep moving, but can’t walk properly, they’re too low. More people smile, one even winks as I turn the corner to head home.

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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Bruce Costello, Once Were Copywriters

A barefoot old wino enters and my ankles quiver. Neil? Not…Neil Monaghan, with his laughing blue eyes and his red shoes (can’t write radio commercials unless I’m wearing ’em) sticking out from under his desk?

*

The office we shared…a lifetime ago…station monitor blaring overhead, announcers bursting in to shout about on-air stuff-ups, phones red-hot with advertisers wanting changes, wastepaper baskets cascading.

Falling in love, hiding it from him.

Neil, holding the phone away from his ear whenever his wife called.

Telling him “Trevor and I are parting company,” and breaking down. Neil, taking my hand, the first time he touched me.

Grieving into space, not for my sod of a husband, but for what might have been. And Neil, quietly taking over my workload.

Learning I was pregnant. Giving up smoking. Neil stopping at the same time…joking he might take up drinking instead.

Leaving radio, returning home to my parents. Neil, on the phone, after the baby came.

“Was it born around 2am?”

“How on earth did you know?”

“I felt your pains.”

Months later, visiting the station to show Neil my baby. Neil, reaching out to touch me for the second time.

*

I fill out the forms, aware of my arthritic ankles trembling against each other under the desk.

“The best we can offer you, Mr Monaghan, is a shoe shop voucher.”

Neil stares hard at me with bloodshot eyes. I burst into tears.

He reaches across to take my hand.

In 2010, Bruce Costello left his day job, retreated to the Otago seaside village of Hampden, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group and began to write. He has three times won the HER Magazine short story contest. Another story features in PINK 2012. Other stories have appeared in Metro Fiction, Turbine, Snorkel, Apocrypha and Abstractions, Fiction 365, NIB, Cyclamens & Swords and Alfie Dog Ltd. He was short-listed in the 2012 Victoria Cancer Art Awards.

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Peter Adams, The Shoebox

They would be red, he muttered. What woman doesn’t like a pair of red shoes and the chance to show off.

He’d sent his wife out to buy his 40th wedding anniversary gift to her – he knew better than to go himself. She’d told him what she wanted and he could hardly afford a ruby. A new pair of shoes was the best he could do.

He watched as, clutching her purse, she got on the downtown bus. He’d always managed the money, and credit was a dirty word. No plastic. Cash only. She should be grateful they’d never been in debt.. And as for taking a chance on Lotto now and then, as her friend had once suggested, words failed him.

That night after a sherry and the special roast lamb dinner she’d cooked for them, he watched her open the gift-wrapped shoebox.

Inside he saw not the pair of red shoes he’d expected but a gift for him: a Lotto ticket and a card, expressing love and her hopes for a brighter future.

His face turned red. How dare she waste his hard-earned gift money on a Lotto ticket! His heart began to race. He slipped sideways and fell to the floor.

As he lost consciousness he thought he saw, under the table, that she was wearing a pair of bright, ruby-coloured shoes.

Peter Adams won the PEN International first book of non-fiction award for Fatal Necessity, his book about the annexation of New Zealand and the Treaty of Waitangi. After a career in international relations, and many bureaucratic documents later, he is trying the challenge of writing short fiction and poetry. Peter lives at the edge of Wellington harbour, which provides plenty of stimulus.

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Kay Luff, Fit for a New Life

Ahmed sits on the wooden bench. The difficult task absorbs him. He struggles to wriggle a foot into his new red shoes. One more twist and the first shoe slides on. Then he ties the laces that took him almost a week to master.

Several other boys run past. They kick the only ball they possess to each other. It has split on one side and doesn’t roll in a straight line anymore. Their footprints leave marks in the dust.

“Come on, Ahmed.” His cousin sends the ball in a gentle arch. It lands a metre from the bench. “Hurry up.”

Another slightly older boy approaches. His shadow falls across Ahmed who grabs at his other shoe. But he isn’t quick enough. Faisyal scoops up both footwear and ball. Ahmed scoots along the bench.

He looks up at the young man he hasn’t seen since they capsized, since the water engulfed them. They’d clung together. Ahmed was snatched. Then smashed and dragged across the rocks. On the beach, on Christmas Island, he’d landed – bleeding, bruised and broken.

In a short sharp action Faisyal grasps the woven band at the top of the prosthetic leg. The material moulds over the stump below Ahmed’s knee. Faisyal tugs it into place. He offers the younger boy his hand and yanks him to his feet.

Ahmed stands. Even the hollow feeling in his stomach can’t wipe away his smile. Or stop him from playing football.

“You can’t catch me,” yells Ahmed.

In her journey as a writer, Kay Luff has had success in the short forms, with poetry published in The Christchurch Press and Blackmail Press. In 2012 she won the Catalyst Flash Fiction Competition with ‘A Walk in the Rain’. As a second year student at Hagley Writers’ Institute, her major project is a young adult novel entitled Sound Reason.

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Joyce Elwood-Smith, A Little Kindness

The doorway is deep and sheltered, but for now, he sits close to the wind-buffeted pavement. Leaves fall like confetti onto his hunkered shoulders and knotted duffle bag. He dozes, barely aware of the late night revellers crossing the road, or the lights winking from the Beehive.

She will come.

It’ll be cosy down at the City Mission, but all those rules stuck to the wall. Rules, rules — he’s sick of rules. Go to WINZ, sign this, fill out that, too bloody nosy. Whichever party’s in government, he hates them.

It’s almost too cold now to even care, when suddenly, the palest of skin, pale eyes and pale hair: ”Is that really you”?

A paper bag is thrust in his hand.

In a voice barely audible: “Thanks, thanks so much.”

But the angel in white sneakers has already gone, in her dark-buttoned coat, bent into the wind, blonde wispy hair flying around. Off down The Terrace and along the quay, past the brightly lit shoe store with the good lay-by scheme — six more weeks of turning out coffees, those shoes will be hers, up to a tiny art student flat, and her little stray cat.

The ciabatta is hard on his gums but the fillings divine, he licks his thumbs and notices the newspaper parcel left at his side. He is unaware that today the Ministry of Food had a not so fresh roll left on its shelf, and a member of parliament bought new shoes for himself.

The Christchurch earthquake turned Joyce Ellwood-Smith’s life upside down. Temporarily based in Wellington, she is occasionally house-sitting in Picton along with her golden retriever. The good thing is that she now has time to write, with blogs published on Happyzine.co.nz and a children’s historical novel in the works. She was also recently commended in the ‘Poems in the Waiting Room’ competition.

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Sian Williams, Duet of the Tui

When Bill didn’t come up for his morning tea Rosemary went out onto the deck and called for him. Half an hour later she struggled into her gum boots, found her stick and, cursing her knees, set off down the path towards the beach.

She found him in the young plantings near the top of the cliff. He was still breathing but unconscious, cold, a trickle of blood at his temple. It was those bloody shoes, she thought. She’d told him they were cheap rubbish made in China, with no decent tread. But he never could resist a bargain.

If their daughter got wind of this latest fall it would all be over – she’d been nagging about a retirement home on the mainland for months now.

Slowly, Rosemary lowered herself down onto the ground beside him.

A tui flew out of the bush and landed in the flax above her head. It called loudly and shook its feathers, shedding opals of dew.

A scrap of song from long ago drifted into Rosemary’s head,

E toro, e toro, ki te pakihaka tirori ma tāua – reach out, stretch out and break off the sweet fruit of the kiekie for us two.

And so it had been, for almost fifty years. Perhaps she could just sit here, with Bill, quietly, amongst their bush and their birds, until the end of all things.

Away in the trees, a second bird whistled, whio-o. The tui cocked its head and flew away on susurrating wings.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She’d like living on an island with someone called Bill but wouldn’t buy cheap shoes. The duet of the tui is taken from Legends of the Maori by the Hon. Sir Maui Pomare and James Cowan, AMS Press, 1977.

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Michelle Elvy, Running

When he runs he thinks of dinosaurs.

He can’t recall past girlfriends’ names (Great to see you, Pete, one said recently but he was too stoned to remember how he knew her, or that she considered them a relationship). He can’t recall the sound of his father’s voice (Great to see you, Pete, he imagines him saying after twenty-two years following one loud slam of the door but he’s not sure he’d have the courage to say anything back, and after all he can’t recall the sound of his father’s voice so how can he imagine him saying anything after all this time?). He can’t recall why he quit his last job either, he just had to walk out, giving his boss the fingers because it was long overdue (Great to see you, Pete, he pictures a new boss greeting him upon arrival in a new job with a new pair of trousers and shirt and haircut, even though that new boss and trousers and shirt and haircut are miles out of reach).

But he remembers the red shoes he got for his sixth birthday, the last present from his mum before she dropped dead on the kitchen floor: shoelaces, because she said she’d teach him to tie them properly, and dinosaurs because what else would his mum get her favourite boy?

So now, even without a job or a girlfriend or a father or a mother, and knowing there’s nowhere to go, he runs and thinks of dinosaurs.

Michelle Elvy is founding editorat Flash Frontier. She’s never had a pair of shoes with dinosaurs on them, but she has a mum still, and she’s grateful for that.

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Please also see this month’s interview with the 2013 National Flash Fiction Day competition judges Vivienne Plumb and David Lyndon Brown.

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Coming in July: a special National Flash Fiction Day issue with winning stories from two years of NFFD flash, 2012 and 2013. 

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