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June 2014: SUGAR

Lilla Dent Sweet Nothings
Lilla Dent, Sweet Nothing, oil on canvas, 2013
Lilla Dent is a freelance photographer and studio artist who dabbles in a variety of styles and media. She is widely inspired by her multicultural background and international travel experience, including a 5-year residency in Tokyo, and fuses contrasting themes and motifs from different cultures into her projects. Lilla’s work is an ongoing exploration of the strange or surreal, in particular as relating to self-identity, stories and narratives, and the creation and definition of humour. She currently resides in Chicago and is branching out into printmaking and other mixed media. More here.

~ ~ ~

Nod Ghosh, building the fundamentals

…waited for years multiples of years she waited and tolerated a few more years’ worth of waiting deoxyribose part from you part from me A-T-T-A boy and G-C girl interlocking fingers speak volumes voluminous screaming bird streaming proud a tenement with rich foundations and fimbriations dare to display a deep understanding frame-shift framed photograph Photoshop adjustment. Cry. Real tears. Tenebrous anarchic resentment from the tops of steaming cups with kudos as a mediator quadruplex structures coiling uncoiling a millipede of hair forms on the soft down of her cheek for she has known always known she would come to be a product of you and me occupying the spaces between the history of existence yet always burning burning burning a flammable flatulent burst with occidental isolation. Stop.

Diaphragm lip skin the small portion of brain that is responsible for the pain felt on separation keratin the part of her that determines her likes and dislikes including a distaste of bananas. Day night day night day year decade generation eon. Stop.

– Do you want a coffee?

– I’m not sure yet.

– Did you sleep well?

– Dunno.

– Well, if you don’t know, I can’t think who will… (a smile in your voice as you say this.)

– It’s not often you wake up the morning after someone has asked you to spend the rest of your life with them.

– I’m still waiting for an answer.

-Yes please. Milk. Two sugars.

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.

~ ~ ~

Emily Bertholf, Heirloom

Cat creeps into my kitchen, paws a cupboard door open-shut-open-shut. The splash-crack-crash cascade of porcelain surrendering to linoleum fills me with dread. I rush to the kitchen, hoping to find a fallen glass or plate, but already know what’s there.

Shattered fragments of my hand-painted rose tea set. A mosaic of memory scattered on the floor: Grandma resting her cane against the wall, as she gingerly lifted the set from her china cabinet, saying, “This was a wedding gift from my grandmother, given to her by her grandmother. Someday, it’ll be yours”; when I was ten, my dad receiving it with a note – in case I don’t make it to her wedding; each birthday, Dad lifting the box off the bookcase, my hands unwrapping each cup from its tissue paper like a gift, tracing the flowered JTC Germany mark, imagining Grandma, her grandmother, a line of mothers extending over an ocean to a place once called home.

Cat crouches in the corner. “No use crying over spilt milk,” he brushes past my leg.

I pick up a gilded handle, two halves of the cracked sugar bowl top, sink to my knees. The refrigerator clicks and hums, muffles my cries. I call my dad.

“Your grandma outlived her heirloom. Teapots hold tea, not memories,” he says. “Besides, we’re coffee drinkers.”

I smile and hang up. Cat slithers behind his swaying tail. Sleeps on my yellow sweater.

Emily Bertholf received her BA in English from the University of Iowa. Her poems have been published in vox poetica, Litsnack, Postcard Shorts, 6S and Lyrical Iowa, but mostly live in the dark caverns of old file drawers and dusty notebooks. She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband, three children and a pug.

~ ~ ~

Sian Williams, Breadcrumbs

There was a real gingerbread house in the hotel lobby; together we went inside, were delighted by its authenticity, marvelled at the culinary engineering.

There was also a beautiful tree, dark and voluptuous; smelling of deep resinous forests, of snow, of fairytales. Dressed in white and gold, it shone like salvation.

Surrounded by the memories of childhood Greta seemed younger, more fragile. I worried that people would think us mother and daughter.

As we turned from the tree, the concierge took two Lebkuchen doves from the nearest branch and handed us one each.

In the lift we bit into them: sweet but unexpectedly peppery. Greta’s cardamom eyes widened, “Hot, hot, hot,” she said.

Our room was dark and I opened the drapes to see the Christmas lights in the Schlossgarten. I waited at the window until I felt her standing behind me, naked. She put her hands on my waist and her lips to my ear.

“I am not Gretel, you know. I am not lost in the forest.” She pushed me off-balance, then pulled me back. “And I will not shove you into the oven, old witch.”

I turned to her. She is Stollen, I thought, my Christstollen girl, white as winter, candied and spiced. A sticky-sweet indulgence.

“Are you not afraid I will eat you up?” I said.

She walked to the bed, lay down and trailed one hand along her icing-sugar thigh. Then she looked straight at me.

“Go on,” she said, “Take a bite.”

Sian Williams is a writer and editor living in Kerikeri who edited Flash Frontier for its first two years. Sadly she has never been to Stuttgart, either at Christmas or at any other time.

 

~ ~ ~

Lucy-Jane Walsh, Wait

Everything in the room was white – the walls, floor, table in the middle. A man stood in the corner wearing a white coat.

“Do you like lollies?” He took one out of his pocket, hard as glass, ruby red. “You can have this now if you like, but if you wait till I get back, I’ll give you another.” He placed the lolly on the table, left the room.

Tom stared at the lolly, placed his finger on top and rolled it back and forth. His mouth watered, stomach grumbled. He peeled off the packaging and shoved it in his mouth. Delicious.

“Guess you couldn’t wait,” said the man when he returned. He made a cross on his clipboard.

*

Everything about the house was grey – the paint, door, concrete front steps. A man stood at the threshold wearing a grey coat. He held out a Ziploc bag, one pill at the bottom, ruby red.

“Give us another,” said Tom. “I’m good for it.”

“No loans,” said the man, shutting the door.

Tom hugged his legs to his chest, lay down his throbbing head. He opened the bag and placed the pill under his tongue, swallowed without water. He’d wait there all night if he had to, all the next day – whatever it took to get some more.

Lucy-Jane is a young writer of science fiction. Her stories deal with themes such as infinity, drug use and the manipulation of time. She has had her work published in Takahe and shortlisted in the AUT Short Story Competition and the NZ College Short Story Competition. In 2013, she graduated cum laude from the Hagley Writers’ College.

~ ~ ~

Andrew Stancek, Lopsided

Cracked in the middle with one half perfect and the other a Grand Canyon.

If he cuts it horizontally and slathers chocolate cream to fill the crater and then strawberry icing to camouflage, it’ll pass. Mirko knows she loves him; she must. A collapsed cake can’t break them up. She’ll give him the melting look that buckles his knees.

He sprints home daily in the certainty that at this millisecond one of her bouquet of admirers is buying her diamonds or bedding her. He has no idea why she’s with him. He always fucks up, always.

She’s a Black Forest torte – perfect. Mirko stops breathing at the thought of her furrowed brow. He should bake another, but she’ll be home in thirty-seven minutes. He doesn’t have enough sugar for a new one.

The sparklers from Christmas; do they get stale? The rose-red balloon is deflating. Where’s the cake knife? He remembers using its tip as a screwdriver to fix her alarm clock and then he threw it and the clock out the window. Any knife’ll do, even this paring joke. Enough cream and icing? Didn’t check if the record player’s working. A week’s wages he paid on the black market for the new Beatles Celebration album. Under the bed, with the dust bunnies. Twenty-three minutes.

Vanilla. Pink food colouring. Almost there, swirls, steps on the landing.

“Happy Birthday, Oriešok,” Mirko calls.

Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland. His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance. His work has appeared recently in Tin House online, r.kv.r.y , The Linnet’s Wings, Connotation Press, THIS Literary Magazine, Flash Fiction Chronicles, Istanbul Literary Review and Pure Slush.

~ ~ ~

Joyce Elwood-Smith, Ants

“Sugar?”

“No thanks.”

The queue waiting for coffee was long, she was lost in thought. Had anyone asked what she was thinking about, she may have said, nothing in particular, even though she was actually thinking about ants. They’d turned up one morning, in the pantry, moving in two straight lines, in opposite directions. Climbing up into the blue sugar bowl and staggering down the other side, with a grain of sugar. Their amazing strength of purpose and tenacity had impressed her.

“I’ve got ants too,” she’d told her daughter on the phone, “but they’re not the same as your ants.”

“How, do you do know?”

“Well, these ones have little pearl necklaces. They are definitely Cashmere ants!”

Her daughter, in hippy, alternative Lyttelton, had laughed on the other end of the phone.

“Does that mean Fendalton ants wear their collars up, on their Country Road shirts?”

They had laughed again, just a normal, jokey morning conversation, on a normal day to go to work. It had been a normal line of traffic over the normal looking river, sparkling under the willows. A normal office morning, and then, almost time for a normal lunch. Is sushi normal?

Much later, huddled with neighbours on the grassy slope, in front of their drunken homes, while the dust from collapsed city buildings turned red in the western sky, and while the ground continued to tremble, she had wondered about the ants.

Joyce Ellwood-Smith had her life turned upside down by the Christchurch earthquakes. 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.

~ ~ ~

Iggi Zhou, Sunday morning, 9am

It is morning. Breakfast involves coffee, black and brewed on the stovetop. She doesn’t take sugar; he takes two. She has her toast dry. He spreads his with a thick layer of butter.

It is Sunday. They used to have proper breakfasts on Sundays: eggs and sour grapefruit jelly, just-ripened avocados and Tabasco sauce.

The table has been newly cleared. He sits across from her, sugar bowl between them. She cuts a picture of a solitary figure, pen in her mouth. She frowns.

He leans over and brushes a curl off of her face; she flinches. He drums his fingers on the laminated tabletop, a waltz in triplet time.

She ignores this and returns to the crossword puzzle she had torn from yesterday’s daily, the discarded pages now sit idly in the recycling.

“What are you stuck on?” he asks.

“13 down. Another word for ‘monotony’. 7 letters.”

“Humdrum.”

She scratches the letters one by one into the prescribed squares. She doesn’t look up.

“Ask me another.” He is saccharine but she concedes.

“15 across. Indisposition to motion, exertion or change.”

“Inertia,” he answers.

Silence sits in the air, thick like smoke. She feels like she’s trapped in quicksand, drowning in liquefied tar, molasses invading her nostrils.

Iggi Zhou is an illustrator and a writer of fiction and poetry. She hails from Melbourne, Australia and lives and works in Montreal, Canada. Her work has appeared in Vallum Magazine.

~ ~ ~

Rebecca Simons, No Sugar Coating

She stumbles to the bathroom, prickly haze like an old woollen blanket threatening to block her way. Blind groping finds the bowl. On her knees she lifts the seat before her throat convulses – the sweet bubbles from wine and chocolate rising in thin waves. Sweat scratches at skin. She claws hair back from her forehead and heaves again – the sticky mess catching in the ends. At first it had been a way to cope, to block out pain. Now she is tired – so tired. She grabs a handful of toilet paper and pushes herself back against the vanity. It had been a year since he left – his death leaving her alone. A year since she had smiled. A significant period of time for her to have moved on according to those friends she had left. But she doesn’t know how love can be measured by time. She blows her nose. What she does know is that if she lets this consume her there will be nothing. She pulls her knees in close to her chest and holds on tight. When she wakes it is still – dark – the sound of a sleeping city humming in the distance. Carefully she unwraps stiff limbs and using the vanity pulls herself to her feet. The wad of toilet paper drops to the floor. She picks it up, throws it in the bowl and flushes. Lights still off she reaches for the shower, turns it on till water steams and steps into the heat.

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 languages 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.

~ ~ ~

Peter Adams, Sugar Bum Rush

He arrived after midnight. Even so the club was mostly empty, bar tables and stools in shadows, a dim pool of light on the waiting dance floor. The aroma of fried flying fish wafted in from the shack at the back. By the time a couple of shots had slid down his gullet like liquid fire, the club was filling up. He stood out, the only whitey, tall with blonde flowing hair.

He hoped she’d be there. They’d met earlier in the Museum of Calypso. He was writing an article on the origins of the music. As curator, she’d showed him around and also told him about the Salt and Pepper Club.

The floor was crowded with dark-skinned, swaying bodies. Then he saw her. Dark eyes, black opals, flashed him a look of such intensity that the rum in his gut nearly ignited. His eyes shone back, green. As they took the floor, fingers touching, a frisson of desire shivered through him. Lord Kitchener began, in his sing-song voice,

Audrey, where you get that sugar
Darling there is nothing sweeter

Nor sweeter, for sure, than our gently gyrating hips, he thought.

You make me scream, you make me bawl
You make me feel like ten foot tall…
he crooned.

She whispered back, “All the further to fall. Calypso research can be dangerous – are you ready?”

And the song reached its climax:

Give me the bum-bum, Audrey
Honey the bum-bum, Audrey
Sugar bum, sugar bum-bum.

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.

~ ~ ~

Neil Campbell, The Road to Eccles

I thought when someone was in love that was it. Seems I was wrong. She left me a load of her CDs so maybe that’s why I still love her.

I moved into the first half-decent looking flat I could find. It was fine except for the bellicose lesbians upstairs and the fact that I was on the ground floor. I heard the front door bang every time it closed. Morning and night I was woken by this closing door. I moved the bed to the furthest corner of the room and dragged the wardrobe over to where the bed had been. Then I piled as much stuff as I could into the wardrobe. It made no difference. The door woke me every morning at 6.55, 7.25 and 7.55. Add on ten minutes to each of those and you’ll get the train times into town.

I began to relieve my misery by eating Eccles Cakes. Not Chorley Cakes, Eccles Cakes. I preferred the pastry. They came in packets of four and at first I would only eat the occasional cake in company. Then I started to eat them on my own. Every Friday night I would eat all four, one after the other. I’d drag myself to bed alone and lie there stroking by bloated belly. One morning I woke on the floor with pastry all down my front. The night before I’d made my way through two packets while listening to Ladies of the Canyon.

Neil Campbell is from Manchester, England. He has two collections of short stories, Broken Doll and Pictures from Hopper, published by Salt, and two poetry chapbooks, Birds and Bugsworth Diary, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons. His next chapbook of short fiction, Ekphrasis, is forthcoming from Knives, Forks and Spoons.

~ ~ ~

Helen Moat, The Cherry Orchard

The wicker basket scratched Meike’s leg as the farmer pulled the leather belt tight around her waist. She winced. But Michi felt only the faintest tug, the reeds tickling his skin soft as water. He rammed a loose strand into his flesh and watched the blood trickle down his thigh.

Meike climbed the wooden ladder leaning against the cherry tree. She picked the fruit, the dull thud of cherry on reed satisfying. Michi cocked his head to listen. When the wind dropped, he thought he could hear the fruit tap like raindrops on earth, but wasn’t sure. He slapped his ears.

Meike reached for a wine-red cherry, loving the warm flesh on her tongue; the burst of sweet-sour liquid on the roof of her mouth. Michi ate cherry after cherry, yearning for its taste, sensing a sugar rush.

“Hurry, Michi,” Meike chided him. “A storm’s brewing. Stop eating and fill your basket.” She looked anxiously at the blackening clouds now bruising the meadows below, the silver streak of the River Aare tarnishing grey in the half-light, the Alps dissolving beyond.

Michi, examining the veins of the cherry leaves, didn’t see the orchard on the hillside with the sky overhead – all shattered fragments, contours shifting and merging in the periphery of his eye.

The storm broke. Michi held his face up to the rain, feeling the cold hard water on his cheeks. The thunder drummed his ears. The lightning illuminated his world. For a moment he existed within it.

Helen Moat spent her childhood squished between siblings in her dad’s Morris Minor, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland. She’s still wandering… and writing about it. An established travel writer, she is now exploring the alien world of flash fiction. She likes the fact that she can create her own micro journeys and encounters. Helen uses strange names she finds on Peak District OS maps as a prompt for her pieces, and doubles up with other writers she admires on her website Double Espresso here:
http://helenmoat.wordpress.com/blog.

~ ~ ~

Sushma Seth Bhat, The House of Dreams

It stood on a hill. The house of dreams was for sale. I saw myself on the corner of the balcony dressed in a white chiffon gown. My dress blew so gracefully around me in the gentle breeze. The ocean before me fused into the sky and I into both of them. I became the sweetness which dissolved in them to create the foam and the clouds.

Someone tapped on my shoulder. Why was he yelling? Why was he looking so concerned? He took hold of my shoulder and shook me slightly, “Lady, are you alright?”

He stood in front of the ‘For Sale’ sign obscuring the view of my house on the hill. I wanted to ask him to move and leave me in my dissolved state. Maybe he did not hear me. Maybe I never spoke, for shook me again and shouted, “Lady, where do you live? Can I take you home?”

Stupid man. Loud and stupid man. Could he not see that I was at home and he was disturbing me? Sadly, reluctantly, I was crystallizing into form again.

I looked vaguely into his face and sweetly thanked him for his concern and started walking because I know my way home.

Sushma Seth Bhat, PhD, was born in India and has lived in a number of countries. She made New Zealand her home over twenty years ago. Sushma originally wanted to be a journalist and writer, but instead had a long career in in the business world and academia. She has a couple of books and many academic papers to her credit, but is now returning to her original love – writing fiction.

~ ~ ~

Eileen Merriman, Jam

The table is set for three. Carrie pokes her knife into the jam jar, takes her hand away. She looks at Grandma to see if she has noticed, but she is standing at the bench, her back and neck set into hard, unyielding lines.

Carrie looks back at the jam. It is wriggling, as if in protest at her assault. She peers closer. The seeds are moving.

“Tommy was only sixteen.”

Carrie looks up. Grandpa is framed in the doorway. He is wearing a faded blue blazer with a row of medals across the left breast. Two of the buttons are missing.

“Sit down,” Grandma says. Chop chop chop goes her knife.

“His jaw was gone, but his eyes were still moving.”

Not more war talk, Carrie thinks.

Grandma says, “Not in front of the child.” Chopchopchop.

Grandpa’s watery blue eyes settle on Carrie.

“I should’ve finished him off… but I just couldn’t.”

Carrie takes the jam to Grandma. “There are ants in here.”

“That’s what I would have done if he was a dog.”

Grandma snatches the jam off her, whirls around. The jar explodes against the doorframe. “He. Was. Your. Son.

Grandpa’s lips move through the clots of jam oozing down the side of his face.

“He used my gun.” Glass fragments tinkle onto the linoleum. He blinks. “What’s for lunch?”

Grandma’s hands shake as she turns back to her carrots. Carrie tries to become very small, so they will forget she is there. It seems to work.

Eileen Merriman lives and works on the North Shore in Auckland. She is currently working on a book (fiction) and has recently completed a Creative Hub creative writing course. Her interests include reading, writing, running and the outdoors.

~ ~ ~

D R Jones, What little boys are made of

We’re at Aaron’s place, in his brother’s sleepout, cramped, musty, like a confessional box.

“Father Herlihy knows,” I say.

“Father Curly Pubey, eh?” Aaron flashes a picture from the Hustler he’s thumbing.

“Yeah. Was hoping for an Angelus,” I draw deeply on a Rothmans. “Got slammed with The Rosary,” I say, exhaling. “Grandma again.”

Aaron sighs.

“Found her in the hall. Starkers.”

“Like this,” Aaron jokes, flipping to the centrefold.

“Taking a leak on the floor. I put a pile of shoes outside the toilet. She thinks she can’t step over them. I mean, she should be in Sunnyside.”

Aaron says, “But –”

“Sucks getting old. Bent, limpy,” I say, looking up. “Tits to your tummy.”

“Not like this,” Aaron snickers, showing a topless model.

“She doesn’t remember me any more. Thinks I’m a war veteran.”

Aaron says, “That’s kinda sad, you –”

“Pffft…” I say, “Last week, right, I overfill the sugar bowl so the spoon’s buried. She makes such a mess, shaking, spilling it everywhere.”

Aaron says, “Dude, that’s –”

“Cracked Janey up. I got belted. Worth it though…”

“How is your sister?” Aaron asks, displaying a page. I punch his arm, hard.

“…except now mum and dad are talking shrinks as if I should visit Sunnyside. It’s their fault, her living with us. They think I’m messed up. Father Herlihy just thinks I’m an arsehole.”

“Mike, you are an arsehole,” Aaron says.

“Am not,” I say, flicking the burning butt up the leg of his Stubbies.

D R 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 D R Jones for some time.

~ ~ ~

Angelique Praat, Pause

Rafe had changed in the fifteen years since Emma had last seen him. A wisp of silver hair had conquered his sooty curls and he’d waved away the sugar she’d nudged in his direction; he who had been the staunchest Chelsea supporter the department had ever seen. She watched him bring his coffee to his lips. He paused to inhale. Ah, she remembered that pause. Into those pauses she had spilled the contents of her life: boyfriends, mouldy flats, the torture of clinical training.

Around them conversations flickered and chairs shrieked on the wooden floors while the coffee machine ground into their silence. It was his turn. Silence, she knew, was his preferred tactic, but she’d learned a thing or two.

She smiled.

He raised an eyebrow.

She tilted her head.

He put down his cup.

She linked her hands together on the table and leaned towards him.

“What did you get for Christmas?” he asked.

It was May.

She slumped back into her chair but decided to play along.

“We don’t really do Christmas presents for us – just the kids. No church either. Dad would turn in his grave – heathen grandchildren.”

He smiled and nodded. “I got cancer for Christmas.” He raised his cup, paused.

“Bloody Santa. I’ll be sending him a stern letter,” she said, wincing even as the words left her mouth.

Angelique Praat is a social researcher and business writer based in Wellington. Fiction writing is her not-so-guilty pleasure squeezed into the 26th and 27th hour of the day.

 

~ ~ ~

Carrie Beckwith, See you next trip

Grandma sits in the overhead.

She’s made the journey every year for 20 years. More if you count Pete’s wedding, Uncle Joe’s 80th and Aunt May’s dementia. She’d pull the fluorescent pink suitcase from under the bed: easiest to spot on the carousel!

Grandma divided her life between two places, like she had two homes, either end of the earth. Never said goodbye, just see you next trip – her comings and goings a regular part of our UK family’s lives.

She’d taken me a few times. Me a little scared to leave New Zealand, she supping champagne, down the hatch. Stuffing me with barley sugars to make my ears pop.

I asked her once which was home and she smiled: “As usual you’ve hit the nail on the head!”

We were pretty well tuned Grandma and me, we shared secret jokes. Like with Uncle Shine asking how’s your didgeridoo? – still convinced we lived in Aussie not NZ. And cousin Jamie, wide-eyed as we told tales of earthquakes, bushfires and ski fields that looked down to the Pacific. Grandma would smile and wink my way. Gotcha, Grandma.

No surprises that she left me the pink suitcase and the decision, of course. I knew that she couldn’t choose between one place or the other.

Trust your gut, she’d say.

“Ready for take-off.” I popped another barley.

I’d already farewelled half her ashes. The other half of Grandma is in the overhead. Last trip home.

Carrie Beckwith is from Stratford-upon-Avon and loves to write on the back of envelopes, in traffic jams, in the middle of the night. She’s a student at the Hagley Writers’ Institute and works freelance as a marketing consultant and copywriter. She’s currently working on poems and short stories.

~ ~ ~

Lisa McKenzie, Canes

The mother gathered up the candy lei from graduation and put them in the fridge. The ants would seek them out, otherwise. They would work their way into the sticky folds of the plastic wrap and gorge themselves on the sugar. Everything sweet had to go in the fridge.

She started to peel the breadfruit. The screen door slammed. Her husband and Ana were heading out to the canes. It was their Saturday night ritual. He said the canes needed tending, and his step-daughter should learn how.

Her knife carved wide paths onto the flesh of the breadfruit. The mother tried to make sure that the paths did not overlap, but she wasn’t always successful.

The screen door banged again, much later. She looked up with a smile. The man of the house entered first. She noticed the large moons of sweat under his arms and the moisture on top of his thick upper lip. He smiled.

“She’s a good little worker.”

The mother looked to her daughter. Ana was standing oddly, one arm wrapped around her waist, one holding out her gift. A piece of sugar cane.

“Mum.”

She tried to meet her daughter’s eyes, but she could not find them.

The mother took the offering. She saw that her husband’s machete had hacked off the thick skin at the tip. She chewed on the coarse white fibres and spat them into the sink almost instantly, mangled and dry.

The burst of sweetness had already gone.

Lisa McKenzie lives in Christchurch with her husband and young son. She is a student at the Hagley Writers’ Institute and greatly relishes her free time in the evenings to develop her writing.

~ ~ ~

Cecilia Fitzgerald, Lollipops

Serena waits nervously. Would anyone turn up? She has stuck up all 108 flyers the old-fashioned way: on lampposts, supermarket noticeboards and at the university.

Sugar Addicts Club. Are you addicted to sugar? Want to quit? 4pm, Saturday.

At 3.50 Serena goes to lie down. Soon she hears a call pull up, park. Then another. Doors opening and slamming. The plink of automatic car door locks. More cars. Muffled voices. A nervous giggle. Steps. A knock at the door. Serena holds her breath. Another knock.

Serena counts silently to ten. Then she flies, off the bed, down the hall. She opens the door in a rush.

Seven anxious people stand on the terrace.

“Hello, hello, come in, come in…”

More people arrive… two mothers with embarrassed, resentful-looking daughters.

The eleven people just fit in the lounge. The meeting begins.

There is a flash of colour by the window, coming to the door. A small knock.

“Ah, my lucky number twelve.”

Serena throws open the door with a big smile. On the doorstep stands an exceptionally large woman, naked except for a collection of strategically placed giant lollipops.

A giant lollipop covers her face. It is Sellotaped to her forehead. Two holes have been gouged out for her blood-shot grey-green eyes. The woman sticks out a blubbery hand. A soft voice, in best Queen’s English, muffled by lollipop, says, “Hi, I am Jillian. I really hope I’ve got the right place. Is this the SAC?”

Cecilia Fitzgerald lives in Christchurch, still waiting for earthquake repairs and remembering vividly striding through the Ashburton Domain, not knowing if she would ever be able to live in her home again, if her family would survive, if she could get bread or petrol and a voice booming in her head Alright, alright, alright, I will be a writer.

~ ~ ~

Bruce Costello, Cloud Nine

Arnold scooped out a hollow for his body, fluffed up a cushion for his head and lay back in the cloud with a look of serene unconcern.

He glanced up as a shadow fell across him.

A woman landed, rocking the cloud.

“Sorry,” she said.

“Sweet as. I’m Arnold.”

“I’m Serena, honey.” She folded her wings. “Have you heard the rumours?”

Arnold nodded slowly.

“What do you think?” asked Serena.

“Everything’s laid on here so we don’t have to think and we feel only contentment.”

“They say some here are feeling…other emotions.” Serena smoothed her blond hair. “Like when we were alive.”

“God forbid.”

Serena smiled sweetly at him, and her slender fingers reached out to touch his arm.

He stepped back, but his eyes were on her breasts.

She advanced on him with little sighs, her tongue licking the corners of her mouth.

Unthinkable thoughts arose in Arnold’s mind and forbidden feelings wracked his body.

He took off his wings.

*

Two bodies moving as one, Arnold and Serena fell through the bottom of the cloud and were obliterated on impact with Earth.

“Where the hell am I?”

The cry arose from the last atom of Arnold just before flames engulfed his soul.

Bruce Costello semi-retired from his profession in 2010, retreated from city to seaside village, joined the Waitaki Writers’ Group and took up writing to avoid housework. Since then he has had three dozen short stories published in literary journals and popular magazines in five countries. He still does housework.

~ ~ ~

Celine Gibson, The Taster

Anna places the tray before him, waits. The man clicks his fingers. Anna fishes a cake fork from her apron, slices off a tidbit, puts it into her mouth, chews and swallows.

She regrets the smidgen of cream she cannot savour.

The man pulls out a fob watch. He grows an erection…which soon deflates. The man sighs.

Anna tongs five cubes of sugar into the man’s tea, stirs, then draws a measure up into a dropper to release down her throat.

The man brightens again, licks his lips between eyeing Anna and the ticking minutes. He raises his left buttock; a volley of farts ricochet against leather.

Anna is polite. She doesn’t laugh.

Anna doesn’t die.

A fist is clenched, unclenched. A thumb indicates the door. Anna bows, backs across black marble tiles, vacates his space. She’s marched down corridors by booted minders.

One of the minders says something rude about Anna’s great-grandmother and tells Anna she’s bleeding from her bum. She hears him laughing as he locks her in her room.

She perches on her bed, puzzles over her damp, uncomfortable bottom. She picks up her rag-doll to cuddle. The man whose food she tries every day stares from a photo on the wall. Anna worries about him. She thinks her rag-doll should too.

“Imagine…five sugars in five teas. That’s twenty-five sugars per day, Mitzi! Poor Herr Hitler must spend an awful lot of time at the murder house.”

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.

 

~ ~ ~

Lindsay Woodlocke, Coffee Wins

“Do keep the golden syrup away from the eggs,” I called, as my husband loaded groceries into our car. He assured me all was safe, so I grabbed my elbow-crutches and threaded my arms into them. Once we had the weekly shopping stashed, we’d wobble off to our favourite café.

Suddenly I felt the gaze of a woman approaching on my right. Fiftyish, sleekly coiffured, carefully made-up, wearing high heels and the smartest of designer label clothing. Like so many nameless, faceless women who shopped in this upmarket mall.

“Which hip is it?” demanded the stranger. Bluntly. “Or is it both hips?” She had paused on the path and was studying me inquisitively, head to one side, pencilled eyebrows arching into question marks.

Before I could collect myself to reply, she persisted. “Or is it a knee? Both knees?”

I managed to smile and answered as politely as I could. “It’s neither, actually. It’s a muscle disease.”

Her face fell. She spluttered something foolishly apologetic about needing a hip replacement shortly.

I didn’t wait to hear the details. Standing answering questions has no charm when you’re dependent on crutches.

I needed coffee. Right away. With extra sugar.

Lindsay Woodlocke comes from Dunedin and shares a large suburban garden with resident family and three cats. Recently retired from teaching, Lindsay enjoys the challenge of writing flash fiction and, when not writing, might sometimes be found learning Mandarin, sculpting or taking tap-dancing classes.

 

~ ~ ~

John Richmond, “Yes! Sugar!”

Days after he received a Chemcraft chemistry set for his tenth birthday – and after having done every experiment in the manual – the boy sat there, disappointed, with nothing left to do. Then, he found a chemistry book in the attic.

The book was old; the pages were yellow. But the page that caught his attention was the one about how to make gunpowder.

The only equipment needed was a graduated cylinder. A quick check of the manual revealed that he could order the cylinder.

Next came the ingredients: sulfur, saltpeter and charcoal. He knew that he had bottles of the first two in his set, and his father had charcoal in the garage, but he knew that he’d need more.

Then, one day, he was amazed to discover that the neighborhood drugstore sold sulfur and saltpeter in sizeable quantities. Now, all he had to do was to pulverize the charcoal, which, admittedly, was a slow process.

Yet, the boy persisted and eventually filled a couple of one ounce bottles with gunpowder.

Weeks later – in the chemistry book – he found an appendix that listed substances by their common and scientific names. There were three substances listed as “carbon”. First was charcoal, next came diamonds and finally the third substance was… sugar.

“Yes! Sugar!” he proclaimed, excitedly.

Well, with this breakthrough it only took days for his gunpowder production to go from ounces to gallons, all of which sat on the shelves of his laboratory – in the basement – just waiting.

John Richmond “hangs” with his coonhound buddy, Roma, and most recently has appeared in The Birmingham Arts Journal, Riverbabble, Lalitamba, Poetic Diversity, Marco Polo Arts Magazine, Embodied Effigies, ken*again, Black & White, SNReview, The Round, The Potomac, Syndic Literary Journal, Ygdrasil (Canada), Slow Trains and Forge Journal, and is forthcoming in From The Depths, The Writing Disorder and Kerouac’s Dog Magazine (UK).

~ ~ ~

Jane Swan, Sweet As

Freddie ‘Fingers’ Ferguson took a step forward. “Now listen girls, and listen well.”

He ran a grimy finger under the collar of his shirt – an alien garment reserved for High Days and Holidays. “We only have an inspection once a year and we will get our license renewed.”

He stared at the dwarf hanging upside down from the clothing rack among the spangles, lace and feathers of the dancers’ costumes. “Won’t we, Dolly?”

“Boss,” she grunted, giggled and flipped to her feet.

Chloe, the tattooed stripper – at home in my skin, she always said – smirked and whispered to her tiny friend.

“What’s that?” Freddie shouted.

“Nuthin’.”

The Irish Wolfhound on the sofa yawned.

“And get that mutt outside.”

“This inspector, Fred,” Chloe said, unclipping the tassles from her nipple rings. “What’s he want? Apart from what they all want.”

Freddie ran his hand over his bald head. “Jeez, do I have to spell it out? A clean, tidy dressing room, so scrub that basin. Toilet. Floors. And tidy up this make-up shit. It smells like a friggin’ brothel in here.”

“Hell,” Dolly whined. “The whole bloody city’s either an inland sea or a crevasse since the MegaShock. You’d think they’d ease up on the few of us left hanging by the fingernails.”

“Rules is rules,” said Freddie.

“OK. OK.”

Chloe pulled on the rubber cleaning gloves, not the performance pair. She sighed. “Sweet as.”

Jane Swan’s house and garden run wild because she spends time daydreaming and writing. She is newsletter editor for the Waitaki Writers’ Group. Successes include two Radio New Zealand stories and others published in local and daily newspapers, Alfie Dog Ltd and Essentially Food. She has also been highly commended in the Heartland Short Story Competition and short-listed in the Sunday Star Times competition.

 

~ ~ ~

Angela Atkins, The Bust

The little kid stood screaming in the middle of the park. He was four or five, blonde hair, tiny fists clenched at his side. I had to admire the sense of abandon, to stand red face scrunched, snot bubbling down your chin and just bellow.

I looked around. Couldn’t see any parent-types.

I didn’t know anything about kids. Never really came into contact with them.

But there was no-one else around to help.

So I went over to him. He had a good pair of lungs on him. The noise was all-consuming.

“Hey, stop crying. It’ll be okay,” I tried. No use.

I rummaged through my coat. I had a packet of sugar. It was the only thing approaching appropriate.

“Have you ever had a sugar lion?” I asked, desperate.

He stopped crying, looked up at me and shook his little head. I knelt down.

“Hold out your hands flat”. I tore open the packet and carefully sprinkled out a lion shape on his palms. “Are you going to eat him before he eats you?” I said and growled. The boy laughed and carefully bent to lick it off.

“Get away from him! What drugs are you giving him?” A woman ran across the park, screaming. I backed away and she grabbed the boy’s hands and wiped them. She glared at me, disgust on her face.

As she dragged him away, the little boy looked back over his shoulder at me and roared.

Angela Atkins is the author of two best-selling NZ business books: Management Bites and Employment Bites. She is the General Manager of Elephant Training and HR and has written many HR articles and blogs. Her true passion is writing novels, but she has found flash fiction much quicker! For more about Angela or to get in touch visit www.elephanthr.co.nz.

~ ~ ~

Kay Meyer, Sweetener

“I must have that, I said, didn’t I Hamish?”

“Yes, you –”

“When I saw it in the exhibition. That sweet little chair, just right for the lounge, I said. Took us a week to track you down, though. Hamish had to offer the young man on the front desk a bribe!”

“Incentive, Caroline, they’re called –”

“What’s your price for it? Now that the exhibition’s over.”

“If I sell it this soon, the gallery will blacklist me.”

“How would they find out? Anyway, it wouldn’t be this chair exactly. We want you to make us another one like it.”

“It’s intended to be unique.”

“Of course. It’s very unique. That’s why I want it.”

“I meant: ‘unique’ as in one-off. Like a…an Old Master.”

“A what? Well, I don’t see a problem. We’d like some small changes. Not mahogany. Rosewood, I thought.”

“Ah, what people mean by rosewood –”

“To match our coffee table. And this prettier fabric for the upholstery.”
“Peach wasn’t quite the statement I –”

“Then there’s the design of the, what do you call it, inlay?”

“Marquetry.”

“A bit trendy for us. Something more traditional: scroll-y things, perhaps? Or leaves.”

“Acanthus?”

“Yes, that sounds nice.”

“It might help if you could tell me what you do like about it!”

“Well… its shape. Generally. And we’d want two.”

“Look, I imagine you think you’re making this deal more…palatable, but –”

“Of course we’d expect a discount, wouldn’t we, Hamish? As we’d be ordering a pair.”

Kay Meyer writes and paints by the shores of Wellington harbour. Both her parents were lively raconteurs but she owes her love of fiction to the many stories her father made up for her as a child, stories that, sadly, were never recorded. Kay didn’t set out to write short fiction, but now that she’s doing it, she finds the genre beguiling and challenging. The novel she’s currently working on isn’t the one she had in mind. She intends to stumble on with both short and longer fiction in the hope of further happy accidents.

~ ~ ~

Carol Burrows, The Sugarholic

Coffee swims around the pottery bowl, silver fern fronds floating, frantically clinging to the surface. Squiggles of coloured paper, brown, blue and white, protrude from a white container. Fingering the white one, rubbing it between sweaty fingers. Sugar?

Writing so small my myopic eyes cannot decipher. Salt? A ghastly thought. I pick up the blue. This is too firm, feels like tooth picks. Try the brown. May be a sugar substitute!

I gingerly open the brown. A white substance escapes and I lick my fingers. Ah! Sticky, sweet, debilitating, dangerous sugar. Pour the sweet nectar into my drink disturbing the fern, and stir the liquid.

Home again. Cleanse my spotty face of concealing make-up, lower my obese body into the bath and place my overflowing champagne glass carefully alongside a delicious box of chocolates. Contemplate my ravished body, each mouthful of sugar, cake or sweets appears forever on my hips, testimony to my delightfully, naughty indulgences.

A sugarholic. Time for my daily fix; blood sugar’s dropped alarmingly, hands shake and brow sweats. I stuff my gummy mouth, teeth long ago rotted, with glorious soft peppermint creams and wash them down with champagne.

I satisfy my cravings and the juices flow as I lie here indulging myself, picturing those sexy, sweat-covered men who slash the sugar canes, dodging the snakes and rats, with the blades of their knives. Burn cane burn. Fill the air with sickly, sweet perfume and keep the sugar coming.

Carol Burrows is a 77-year-young-at-heart nana and great-grandmother many times over who has always had a great interest in writing. She lived on the Gold Coast Australia for twelve years, where she belonged to a fantastic writing group and was a member of Writers at the Fair on the Coast. Her work has been published in several anthologies. She is a member of SIWA, the Airing Cupboard Woman’s Poetry group and Toastmasters – helpful when it comes to having to read her work.

~ ~ ~

Janet Pates, Sugar and Spice

She could have gone back to work after her medical appointment, but today she didn’t feel like a career woman. Instead, she went home. Someone had left a bag of apples at the door. She put them on the bench and went to the cold and empty bedroom to change. She was tempted to curl up under the duvet but knew if she did, she’d still be there when John came home. She didn’t want that, wasn’t ready for his sympathy or his pain.

Back in the kitchen, she tipped out the apples. Golden delicious. They would cook beautifully. John was always going on about his mother’s apple pie. Well, how hard could it be?

She set a sheet of frozen pastry to thaw. John wouldn’t know the difference. She peeled and sliced the apples, layered them into the dish, then sprinkled them with sugar and a dusting of cinnamon.

Sugar and spice and all things nice. Or how about slugs and snails and puppy dog’s tails? Savoury instead of sweet. Either would be fine. Just imagine; mix up the ingredients, pop them in the oven, and with a bit of luck…

Soon John would come home to a house warm and fragrant with sugar and spice. They would linger over dinner, finish off with apple pie and cream. Then she would be ready to talk; about hopes and fears, luck and last chances; talk about trying the IVF recipe.

Janet Pates lives in the small town of Tuakau, near the mouth of the Waikato River. She writes for children and for 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. Janet Pates was placed first in the 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition.

 

~ ~ ~

Raewyn Alexander, Quick

Blue and green scrawls dancing in mind, tangles of idea ribbons. But she truly wants a summer walk, each with a strawberry ice cream, and laughter. This seems trite, but she doesn’t care.

Her name’s Charity; however, she gives herself almost no time away from wishing.

Tired, she imagines impossibly striding across the wide ocean between him and her, then opening his door. A trail behind her of water. He’d ask if her tail had just transformed into legs.

They’d laugh.

It appears briefly possible, as easy as ordering a Piña Colada in a bar.

In bed, Charity reads a book the size of two bricks. One day, she tells herself, I’ll stop falling for crazy men. Why do I want this kind of punishment? And why do I think in clichés and band names?

He’s mysterious, probably from insecurity. But also, Charity imagines he’s set up a game she’ll probably lose and he’ll laugh about. A toy for his amusement? It’s wise to get out now, surely?

Their emails, as original as sin, and sometimes as alarming. What happens next? She can’t imagine.

Charity reads, hoping her feelings will disappear between lines, or become a better story. Something never bitter.

She falls asleep and dreams of cane fields, burning.

When she awakens, he’s sent an email. She trembles, bites into honey on toast.

Can’t wait…

Lost in a pile of words, like magnetic poetry fallen off the fridge. Sweet chaos, a rush of energy.

Raewyn Alexander is a novelist, poet, reviewer and short story and non-fiction writer, who works as a lecturer. Her third novel, Glam Rock Boyfriends – An Imaginary Memoir was launched by Brightspark Books in 2014. Follow her second Poetic Tour to America here. Random House feature Alexander in their upcoming 150 Essential New Zealand Poems anthology, and her work is often placed highly in competitions. Read more here and also here.

~ ~ ~

Helen O’Leary, Crumbs

The musty smell of mouse greeted Charmaine as she pushed open the door with her hip. She dumped her lunch on the bench nearest the radiator – mince pie, chips and a coke. Settling on a stool, Charmaine eagerly bit into the pie; a glob of gravy slid down her blazer.

“You know you’re not supposed to be in here at lunchtime.”

Mr Edwards set a cardboard box down on the bench, brushed off some pastry flakes and wiped his hands on his rumpled corduroy trousers.

“Sorry sir, I was just… I needed somewhere to… away from…”

“It’s alright, I like it in here too, when it’s empty.”

Charmaine watched him unpack small packets of powders into a locked cabinet under the mouse cage. Straightening, he pushed back his glasses, stroked his straggling moustache and smiled.

“Well, Charmaine, maybe I’ll see you again tomorrow.”

Mr Edwards was there most days, wiping down the benches, poking at the paper stuffed down the sinks. As he worked he’d tell Charmaine about his childhood, and his mother who’d died last year. He missed her baking, so every Sunday he made one of her favourites.

Over chocolate smothered afghans Mr Edwards asked Charmaine what she wanted to do when she left school.

Sharing chewy anzacs he asked her what she was passionate about.

Licking the icing from the middle of ginger kisses he asked her who she would die for.

As she picked at the crumbs of a moist banana cake, he touched her breast.

Helen O’Leary would rather write than work, is learning to row – and the wind in Wellington drives her to distraction. She believes that meat is murder and that a Lotto win is just around the corner.

 

~ ~ ~

Alex Reece Abbott, Something Sweet to Finish

A story is like life, like a meal – get to the end.

Carefully. Daily. Sweet, sweet mealtimes. Last course. He’s got the sweet teeth.

Cold pudding, he likes.

Always eats the lot. Something sweet to finish.

Bands of dough cling to his stained teeth. “Struck it lucky with you, doll…got some more?” He slaps me on the arse.

Tonight, his man-handling can’t touch me.

Flakes of my golden phyllo pastry fleck his wobbling, crimson jowls. Stabbing his empty plate, he licks the crumbs from his fat fingers.

“This… whaddoyacallit-where-you-come-from, love?”

I shrug. “Special dessert. English…no. Sorry.”

Hard eyes rove my body. Custard oozes like pus from corners of his mouth. “Almond’s got a real kick, dunnit?”

I smile and pray I haven’t been heavy-handed. But still, he believes he’s tasting almond.

He burps loud and long. “’Scuse I. Custard’s gorgeous. Could eat this from here to Kingdom Come.”

No need to tell him he’s a prophet.

He smacks his greasy cinnamon and sugar dusted lips. “Strong almonds tonight, almost bitter.”

“Plenty more.”

I bring a platter. This time each little bougatsa glistens with manuka honey to mask the almond flavour.

He frowns.

“Honey – sweeter for you,” I coax.

“Too kind.” He winks. “You know what I like.”

It should be served warm, but he doesn’t know. I serve it cold. How I like it.

I never came here to be treated like this.

He posts every sugary, creamy parcel into his gaping mouth.

Not long now.

Then, all gone.

A New Zealand-Irish writer, published by the Katherine Mansfield Society and in assorted anthologies like Take Tea with Turing and Journeys & Places. She has been nominated for writing.ie Short Story Awards and was the winner of the Arvon Prize, CWA Debut Dagger Opening Lines and Liars’ League, and short-listed for various prizes, including the Bridport. Her first novel, The Maori House, was shortlisted for several prizes, and Rocking the Boat has been long-listed for 2014 CWA Debut Dagger.

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