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June 2016: STOLEN

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

Haere mai · Bienvenido · Welcome · Bienvenue · Willkommen · Karibu


Contents


Editor’s Note

In this special issue, we asked seven writers to comment on voice, as we’re looking at voice in the international context. What makes a story particularly suited to one geography, one landscape, one people? What makes some stories universal in feel – relatable across borders? Of the 22 stories in the issue, we chose seven that bring something unique to the discussion. Please enjoy the stories that open this month’s issue, along with author commentary that follows each one. And please enjoy the rest, too – there are some very special stories from around the world.

We send out a special thank you to Guest Editors Frankie McMillan (NZ) and Sherrie Flick (US) who gave generously to this issue. We are lucky to work with such fine writers and editors.
-Michelle Elvy


Pueblo mágico

Agnes Marton

In Tepoztlán the strays rule. They gang-eye you while you pass their rubbish kingdom. Don’t you feel small? An intruder? You smell like a cloud, not worth a single bark.
 
I’m not just any dog, I work for the shaman. He rescued me. Rumour has it that he stole me from Miguel, the lollipopper. Who believes this crap.
 
The shaman’s often asked to spit flames or carve figurines of the Virgin of Guadalupe with a chainsaw – but he prefers slow art. Drafts and doodles, accompanied by chants. Scumbling rough bodies.
 
Please don’t call me a thief. It’s him who sends me to collect random items so he could play around with assemblages and the world would make sense. Perfect balance for two minutes. Then there’s always something to adjust.
 
I nick the butcher’s frayed apron, once white, with maps of countries and even continents of misery and blood. A matron’s poncho, heavy with dandruff.
 
I used to be deliciously filthy, but now the shaman shampoos me every week. I should look white and innocent.
 
Some think my name is Chichiton. Silly, it means ‘puppy’ in Nahuatl. Couldn’t sound more different from the Spanish ‘perro’.
 
The shaman says, “Who’s the good boy, chichi, aren’t you a poet and acrobat.”
 
He’s vain like hell so I say, “Rinaldo, you’re not bad either.”
 
“Wait and see, one day I will get you some treat.”
 
Spring again. I’m gulping the foam out of the dirt, proud.

Agnes Marton on Mexico via the voice of a dog
My story is told from the point of view of a dog. Like every human being in this town (in Tepoztlán where you admire Tepoztecatl, the Aztecs’ god of drunkenness and fertility; where you can buy mezcal, pirated DVD’s, Frida Kahlo shoes, then again mezcal), she is traditional (even sacred) in a down-to-earth way; she keeps up appearances but challenges living and dead.Unlike the stray dogs, she’s immediately your friend. I used her half-boasting, half-embarrassed, quirky voice to make the story more visceral, to show the smell and taste and tricks of Mexico in an immediate way.

About Agnes Marton…

 


Soul Etchings

Sandra Arnold

So there I was in my sleeping bag in the paddock with my favourite scents of earth and horse poo, listening to Ginger chomping grass. No light but the stars and me thinking of nothing but next weekend’s horse trek. Happy as.

At first I thought I was looking at a bird until it struck me that I’d never seen a bird zig-zag in and out of clouds, nor one shaped like a triangle. A plane? They don’t move like that. Plus there was no noise. I don’t know whether Ginger got spooked or what, but he knelt down beside me and nudged me to get on his back.

We jumped the hedge easy as and took off down the road at a light canter. I hung on to his mane for a bit, but I knew he could see better than me in the dark so I let go and spread my arms like wings. Oh man! We were flying with the wind.

When Ginger stopped at the top of the hill I could see across the plains to our paddocks and the only light came from that triangle. We stood watching until it vanished.

I slid off Ginger’s back and whispered in his ear that no one would believe us. But when I’m like really old, I’ll leave the world with this night’s memory etched on my soul. I blew my breath into Ginger’s nostrils. He breathed back into mine.

Sandra Arnold on the mystery of the Canterbury night
This story is based on an experience my youngest daughter and her friend had one night while sleeping with their horses in one of our paddocks in North Canterbury, New Zealand when they were nineteen years old. The Canterbury Plains at night is a dark, silent and eerie place with its large sky, indefinable shapes and earthy smells. I wanted to capture the essence of this, the New Zealand vernacular, and the close bond between girl and horse.

About Sandra Arnold…

 


Life

Catherine McNamara

There were dark, earthen children in the school. The war had ended, and the refugees had been swept from one end of the country to the other, and now the sombre faces of these dark children enclosed riotous teeth. At the nursery school they had crept in, and then there were many.
 
He leaned on the school fence, making a small study of their movements in the playground, wondering whether they were hardier or possessing different skills.
 
He was ushered away from the school fence by a woman with a whistle.
 
But he asked her, “Those dark kids, are they any different?”
 
He was a curious man who watched many documentaries, especially about cultural diversity. Perhaps, if he had lived in a peaceful country, he might have earned the money to travel. As a man he would have liked to speak to a dark-skinned man about his life and his wives (he knew that some tribes allowed several) and then shake this man’s hand and know him better.
 
Earlier in his life, the man had raised his two sons after his wife died when her brakes failed on a mountain road. His sons had been active joyful boys. But the war had taken them, and they had not come back.

Catherine McNamara on the voice of ‘one man’
This is a story that unfolded very quickly and naturally for me. It is just a delving into one man’s thoughts, a traditional Eastern European man if you like, who has been raised to expect and wish for certain things in this world, and who has found this world overturned and sharply different from what it was before. I wanted him to express the doubts and questions of many people about the refugee crisis and the differences between men. I also wanted to make him noble and complete, so the tone is slow and pensive and slightly remote — as a parable.

About Catherine McNamara…

 


Bay Area Figurative Revisited David Park 2 by Allen Forrest
Bay Area Figurative Revisited David Park 2 by Allen Forrest
About Allen Forrest…

Charges

Ben Berman

The real crime, we used to say, is what they charge for leather wallets in the first place. At first, we thought it was funny to steal them then drop them in the trashcan outside the store – but then we got this idea to clip the tags, put a couple of dollars in them and drop them by a bench. We’d ride the escalator then watch how passers-by responded. Sometimes we’d even return them to the Info Desk, bills intact, just to hear them thank us profusely for our concern.
 
*
 
Once, after we returned three wallets in a single day, a security guard took us to the back of the mall, asked us a couple of questions, then left us in that dimly lit room for the rest of the afternoon.  We sat there anxiously awaiting the arrival of whoever was in charge. After a couple of hours, we realized that the door to the room was unlocked – which seemed to only confirm our greatest fears.
 
*
 
No calls to our parents, no signs with our faces posted around the mall, no ominous knocks on our bedroom doors. We wanted to be charged with something so petty that we could rail against the system, wanted a judge to take particular interest in why two kids would risk their reputations to steal empty wallets. Instead we were doomed to shuffle through the rest of sophomore year, like everyone else, trying to ignore the emptiness.

Ben Berman on the peculiarity of this particular Americanism
‘Charges’ is part of a linked sequence inspired by the many conversations I have had with my young daughters about words and how they can mean so many different things. I began to wonder what it would be like to write narratives in which each section explored a different sense of the title word.
 
We Americans love many of the meanings of charge: we love buying things on credit and rushing in without thinking, giving orders and readily assigning blame. But we often have a hard time embracing multitudes and tolerating ambiguity. I think that’s what drew me to this form – the characters might struggle to reconcile contradictions, but the language at least felt, as Ezra Pound wrote, charged with meaning to the utmost degree.

About Ben Berman…

 


Storms

Teoti Jardine

Thunder rolls. The night sky lights up with streaks of lightning.
 
They’ll be driving around that coastal road so prone to hazardous slips. I told them, “Don’t come, wait until this storm has passed.”
 
My kids have never listened. Why would I expect them to do so now? All my ‘don’t go there’, ‘be careful’, ‘get home before its dark’. Maybe they saw through my overly protectiveness. Too little and far too late. Especially after what my husband, their father, had done to them.
 
My novel had consumed me back then, back when they were little. Writing into the night, I didn’t notice the light fading from their eyes each morning as I rushed about getting them ready for school. I didn’t see their worlds, their trust, their innocence – all stolen from them.
 
My reflection in the window from another lightning flash: anguish of disbelief and heartbreak. I thought I’d covered them up, but there they are staring back at me.
 
I understand that they’ll never forgive him but it’s time I forgive myself. What’s been stolen can never be replaced. The return of my self-belief can surely help them mend. Hell, I love them, I’ve always loved them.
 
I move the soup to the side of the range to simmer. Fix my hair and wash my tear-stained face. I sit sheltered on the verandah, and wait. It’s a relief to see their lights coming around the bay.
 
This storm has come to give, not steal.

Teoti Jardine on Landscape’s voice in Aotearoa New Zealand
We are islanders. Our weather is very changeable. This gives us a resilience that flows through many aspects of our life, and an appreciation for shelter, warmth, food, and family.

About Teoti Jardine…

 


We know

Celia Coyne

We have been watching you. We know you like Rumi quotes and videos about otters holding hands. We know you like articles about books and flashmobs, left-wing politics and life hacks. Your ‘Lord of the Rings’ character is Galadriel; your pirate name is Moanin’ Angie Belle; your ‘Caddyshack’ character is the gopher.

We know you are single.

We know you are white.

We know you are female.

We know your shoe size, age and sexual preference (that last one we have surmised with 95% accuracy, based on your pattern of ‘likes’).

We know you check your emails at 9am and 10am and again at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, when your inbox is generally empty. We know you go on Facebook in the early evening. You like playing Candy Crush. You have 234 Facebook friends. This is slightly less than average for your demographic.

We know you sometimes weep.

We know you dream.

We can use that.

We know you spend $185 a week on groceries. You like Whittakers, Heinz salad cream and WeightWatcher’s jelly. You buy ‘Hello’ magazine and sometimes, but not every week, ‘The Listener’.

Every night you tap out words into cyberspace, hoping that somebody somewhere will care.

We do. We know you by name, but we call you consumer.
Thank you for the data.

Celia Coyne on the faceless voice
One thing I find fascinating is that social media networks manage to be simultaneously intimate and impersonal. Cyberspace seduces us into baring our souls but we are never entirely sure of who is watching; social media is isolating us and it’s all about selling product. We simply do not know who is using this data and what for. In this story, first person plural gives a sinister feel – shades of ‘Big Brother’. It is the Universal ‘We’ of the Internet – the ‘faceless’ face of social media. 

About Celia Coyne…

 


That Fat Guy

Jeff Taylor

Me, Joe and Tom were just chilling when we saw him. He was lying back on the seat, very still, with his eyes shut. “Hey, that’s that fat guy from the fish and chip shop,” I said.

“Nah,” Joe said. “The fish shop guy had a beard.”

“It’s him, I’m sure,” I said. “He might’ve had a shave.” I gave the guy a prod. “Hey mate, giz a song – Stairway to Heaven?”

“Y’reckon? Why’s he here then, in front of the TAB?” Joe argued. “And not at the fish and chip shop?”

“He’s not dead, is he?” Tom chipped in.

I lifted his hand. It was real cold. “He could be dead,” I said. (Midsomer Murders) “Or just asleep.”

“If he’s dead, he’d be stiff as,” Joe said.

“Nah. It takes ages for that to set in,” I said. (Crime Scene Investigation)

I gave him another prod. “Hey, mate, giz a song – Stand by Me?” Nothing. Then I noticed. “Hey, someone must’ve nicked his guitar.”

“I’ll check his eyes. If you’re dead your eyes roll back,” I explained (Criminal Minds) as I lifted his eyelids. The eyes were way back.

Finally, I tried his wrist. No pulse. (Casualty) “Yep, I think he’s dead all right.”

“No shit,” Tom said.

“Fuck me,” Joe said.
 
“Come on, the pub should be open by now,” I said.

We headed off.

“I reckon it’s definitely that fat guy from the fish and chip shop,” I said.

Jeff Taylor on drongos
There really is a fat guy who busks outside a local fish and chip shop. He’s been doing it there for years and I sometimes see him fast asleep. There are often drongos like my three characters hanging around there so their voices came to me quite easily. I love Monty Python, and I simply imagined I was writing one of their ridiculous skits. And yes, there is a universal message in the story. The voice is that of people who have become so desensitised by constant exposure to death and violence on TV crime dramas that they lose the ability to react normally when confronted with a dead body on the street.

About Jeff Taylor…

 


Condensation on Tart Bakery window in Northampton, Massachusetts reflecting sunrise as I wait for a latte on my way to work by Michael Perusse
Condensation on Tart Bakery window in Northampton, Massachusetts reflecting sunrise as I wait for a latte on my way to work by Michael Perusse
About Michael Perusse…

A Life Lived

Nikki Crutchley

My life has stopped because my sister is dead. I miss her, of course, although that’s a pathetic understatement. It’s as if I’ve lost a limb; someday I may learn to live without it, but its absence will always be felt.

Ever since that day a year ago when Meghan left the house with lies on her lips, I notice Mum doesn’t quite look me in the eye. I realise it’s because every day I look more like her, and instead of being a blessing, it is the cause of my mum’s undoing.

“Mum. I’m going out.” It’s a statement. If I form it as a question, ask for permission, I’ve already lost.

“Where?” Mum asks. Her eyes pool with tears, and I sigh inwardly.
           
“To Kathy’s. We talked about it a couple of weeks ago.” This is a lie. But Mum will just assume she’s zoned out again.

“Who else is going?”

“Just the usual.”

“Will there be drinking?” This is the question.

“Yes, Mum, but I won’t drink,” I say. Another lie.

I wait for an answer. It doesn’t come.

Mum inches away from me, like I’m a snake ready to strike. Avoiding eye contact she shuffles the mail on the bench and takes a step back. She closes the open pantry and takes another step towards the hallway. Turning slightly she adds something to the shopping list on the fridge by the door.

And then she disappears completely.
About Nikki Crutchley…


Grace Note

Jon Sindell

John grew up next door, so of course we were friends. He was slim and graceful and had a confident smile, I was stubby with a simpering smile and a mother who smothered our sorrows with food. One night at dinner, when Mom passed around seconds of her creamy mac-n-cheese, John said no thanks with the smile our English teacher called “So pure!” I thought it showed pity. So I reached into John’s backpack and palmed his phone while grinning in his face – the very technique I’d demonstrated to impress John that day while lifting candy beneath the clerk’s nose. I celebrated my revenge by reading John’s texts – but when John practiced flute, his notes floated blithely into my room.
 
By eighteen John was a flute virtuoso. One Saturday he played in a meadow at Golden Gate Park while girls danced with eyes closed and I beat the bongos John had given me. My chubby fingers played out of time, and John smiled down at my flushing face. It was a reassuring smile, but I thought I saw smugness. So after John finished I nabbed his flute case, and was sliding it into my backpack when John came upon me in the bushes at the edge of the meadow. “Thanks for the demo! I never realized that’s so easy to steal.” If John suspected, it was undetectable in a smile that promised pure love – which I’ve been returning for the last ten years.
About Jon Sindell…


Tamaki Makaurau Auckland is a Cat by Raewyn Alexander
Tamaki Makaurau Auckland is a Cat by Raewyn Alexander
About Raewyn Alexander…

 


Precious

Vivian Thonger

We girls avoided the cat-pissy part of the garden under the overgrown hedge, cackling with magpies, except the day Jody spotted a fledgling blackbird crouching on bare earth, all yellow-rimmed beak and fluffed feathers. We settled it into a hay nest in the corner of a cardboard box. 

We pushed the box under the hedge and crouched next to it, shooing away the cat when she came too close. “Our secret brother,” whispered Jody, stroking the soft feathers. “Dad can’t steal you.”

The hedge above us swayed and a face appeared. I wrapped my arms around the box.

“He’s our precious, he’s not yours,” said Jody.

“What’ve you found?” Dad squatted down and grabbed the chick in one big hand.

The bird struggled, freeing one wing; the other hung at an odd angle. We both screamed.

Dad snorted. “D’you know how to help him?”

We shook our heads. 

He glanced at Jody. “Right, we’ll make a splint out of that.”

I disentangled Jody’s hair clip. She handed it to him slowly: it was her diamante one. We waited while he fumbled to clasp the flexible metal halves over the wing joint, the bird flapping non-stop. 

“Perfect fit,” said Dad, a bit out of breath. The fledgling pecked its immobilised limb. “Time for a beer.”

He went in, and while we were shooing the cat again, Jody saw the magpie fly down and take the glittering clip, new brother and all.
About Vivian Thonger…


The Belltower

Suzanne Verrall

He ridded them of rats. They didn’t pay. He appealed to the High Council but the Good Citizens:
              ran
                          him
                                      out
                                                  of
                                                              town.

No time for wound-licking. He snuck back under the cover of darkness, broke into the church. Child’s play, some would call it.

Under other circumstances.

He climbed the musty stair. Nested for the night. At dawn ate a chocolate bar. Stretched aching joints. Peed straight back down the belltower. Drank thermos coffee, oily and black.

The sun brought warmth to the cold ancient stone. And a 360° view to die for. Churchyard, school house, high street and golden yellow fields as far as the eye could see. Pastoral abundance. Harvest aplenty. Then it was time to hoist the weapon to his shoulder, the red laser dot an obedient jellybean...

Thus begins the tale of the Pied Sniper who, unlike his brother, took the children one by one.

About Suzanne Verrall…
 


The Beeping

Chelsea Ruxer

It’s with bombs in the moment before detonation, words that shouldn’t be said on television, me through the night. It’s a common, inoffensive sound, nothing that should upset anyone.

The beeping started at my crib. It was a stopwatch, maybe. Then a baby monitor, a wall clock, the smoke alarm, anything with batteries I had that squeaked or talked or made some static noise. An uncle slept on our couch late one Christmas Eve, and afterwards they tore apart the back wall of my bedroom looking for it.

They made that room for laundry and threw out all my furniture, but my brother heard it from my new bedroom while we were all sleeping. My old room became his, then, all the way across the house so the beeping wouldn’t wake him.

My mom thought it was a quiet series, when I was a baby, the muffled sound of some lost toy. My brother thought it was Morse code, my uncle a single blip. My first college roommate heard it blaring loud like a siren and would run out into the hall. She was under a lot of stress, though, and transferred after the semester.

The beeping never bothered me, until my husband took it from me. It comes from him, now, muffled through his pillow but always there. He blames the cats and the pipes, the car dealership down the road and his cell phone notification sound. He doesn’t know the dreams it interrupts, and he sleeps easy.  

About Chelsea Ruxer…
 


Santiage Echecs by Sophie Boudet
Santiago échecs by Sophie Boudet
About Sophie Boudet…


Phalangeal

Eileen Merriman

I’ve fallen in love with my sister-in-law’s bones. Sitting around the bonfire in the evenings, I watch the flames move over the ridges of her cheeks, the angle of her jaw, the hollows holding her glittering eyes. There’s no flesh in the darkness, only bones and ash swirling in the breeze.

I’m Joe, the silent one. Born with no words, I speak only with my hands. But in Chloe’s presence they knit together in my lap, keeping my secrets hidden. Don’t betray me, metacarpals. Don’t forsake me, phalanges.

Tonight, she sits next to me, her femur pressing into mine, her gardenia scent washing over me (but I want her bone marrow, her earthly essence, pressing into the roof of my mouth). I want you, she whispers. I want your bones, my hands whisper, under the velvety cover of darkness.

We slip into the grass behind the barn, our pelvises slotting together. Oh, but her thighs are too soft for my liking, her tongue a wild animal in my mouth. All I crave is the glassy planes of her iliac crests against my flaming cheeks. I wrap my hand around the back of her neck, the delicately stacked vertebrae bumping against my fingers.

And I think of fire, and flesh falling off bones, and the clotted scent of bone marrow.
About Eileen Merriman…


Caravan

Jonathan Cardew

The sun went down. All I could hear was the distant drone of the motorway. The wheels, tarmac, engines, and crappy radio stations pressed into one flat noise. 

Where were you? What motorway were you at the end of? 

Dusk was mostly painless. I changed position once or twice, jogging the caravan. I dressed my cuts with cotton wool. That night, I held the picture I had stolen from your purse. 

The caravan was floating and I was floating too. It no longer felt secured to the ground. The wet field, full of nettles and thistles and ancient stones. The sky, now black. 

You would return. But for how long? And at what cost? 

The caravan settled and creaked. The wind tried to pull up some of the plastic panels. 

I would fix this place up in time. 
About Jonathan Cardew…


Grasping

Rachel Smith

It is cold and damp inside the warehouse. Figures circle the rink in unsteady ovals, cling to the barrier with white-knuckled hands.
 
Henry finds his seat. He stretches his ankles, circling in a clockwise direction. An old ache begins at 4 o’clock, moves from his right big toe up to his knee.
 
The zip sticks on the frayed leather of his bag. He runs a palm over a set of smaller wheels, takes out his own boots. Chilled fingers pull laces tight and tug down his woollen hat.
 
Stepping onto the rink Henry begins to move, his wheels humming a leisurely circuit, crossing over through the corners, faster and faster.
 
She tumbles in the far corner, limbs everywhere. No one comes.
 
“Here.” He holds out a hand to pull her up.
 
“I can’t,” she whimpers.
 
“’Course you can – up you get.”
 
She wipes her nose on the back of her sleeve. “OK.”
 
Her hand stays in his as they move, soft and warm as a stolen memory.
 
The girl grins. “One more round?”
 
Henry nods. They circle, again and again.
 
“Hands off, mate.” A blurred face slides past them.
 
Henry lets go and she flies, faster than he had intended, into the barrier. They all come, hands on her and eyes on him.
 
Henry’s mouth opens but no one listens. He flees to the centre of the rink, raises his leg in a perfect arabesque, arms outstretched, grasping at air.
About Rachel Smith…


Lost Cause by Linda Irish
Lost Cause by Linda Irish
About Linda Irish…

Treasure Chest

Rosalie Kempthorne

She keeps them in a shoebox. Little things she’s been able to collect over time. And she takes them out, sometimes, when she needs them. The fancy paper clips she took from an open pencil case; the little bracelet that Tina Carter left in the changing room when her class went swimming; a tiny paperweight from her teacher’s desk. A small doll, curly-blond, peach-cheeked – that one taken from the shelf in K-Mart, her heart pounding so much then, so sure she’d be caught and stopped. Jimmy Tucker’s red-and-white striped shoelace.

She feels sort of safe here, in her spot by the river, where the overgrowth of trees and flowers keeps her hidden from anyone passing along the track. She can sit here, tip her treasures out on the grass, sort through them and feel almost warm inside.

She rubs her arms, where the bruises are, and watches summer insects while they walk on water.
About Rosalie Kempthorne…


Thin Air

Linda Grierson-Irish

You hijacked my aeroplane. “I’m going to be…” you sang, orbiting imaginary passengers above your moon-eyed skywards face. Every day different, an airline pilot, flight engineer, air traffic controller. Then – stunt pilot. I never got my toy back in one piece.

We kept in touch as we grew, corresponded over the airwaves. I sent you one of those balsa wood glider postcards, winging it through the mail with a message courtesy of the NATO phonetic alphabet, “Romeo, Juliet, Whiskey, Hotel?” You said it made you horny.

For a while I spent time waiting on the ground, scratching cracked mugs of tepid tea across a rusting green table, abandoned like scrap on a triangle of shadowy grass which swallowed my hours and days without conscience. Or sometimes I moped in the time-drooling stillness of the clubhouse, peeling my legs off sticky fake leather, as you looped and rolled and ripped the air apart.

A few months of this was all I gave you. I had my own gravity-bound pursuits. I made them my centrepiece, instead of you. I pinned you in my thoughts, suspended in your high-rise circus act, and let my own flights of fancy soar.

I didn’t mind that the sky took you away from me. Your eyes beaconed passion. I’d witnessed the way your unshackled solitude thrilled you and gilded the dreams of your public.

Then one day the sky didn’t give you back. After that I confiscated all our children’s Airfix models.
About Linda Grierson-Irish…


Washed Away

Candida Spillard

Friday: his elbows rested on the windowsill, his chin slumped in his hands. The river had risen again since yesterday. Swollen, brown: a giant, fat slug, devouring the front garden.

Their garden: his parents’ pride and joy. Until last year: his long-suffering, auburn-haired mum had left for Thailand. No goodbye, no address, nothing. 

Monday: the waters receded. Why did his dad have to leave so early for work, not stay to help with the clean-up? 

He went to the garden anyway: to make a start. 

A bony hand stuck up out of the mud. Nearby, a wave of red hair.
About Candida Spillard…


Classics revisited, Boticelli the Birth of Venus by Allan Forrest
Boticelli the Birth of Venus by Allan Forrest
About Allan Forrest…

Lavender and Lemons

Lee Hamblin

She smells of crushed lavender flowers and synthetic lemons. Her skin is icy-cold and oak-tree gnarly – plump veins in a blue that’s too blue bulge from emaciated, slate-grey arms.

Not many tomorrows left for you to endure, I whisper, as I take her hand.

She wakes, seeing me as if for the first time; asks if it’s Tuesday and have I come to do her hair. She calls me dear; asks if I’m married, children.

I answer No, today’s Friday and your hair looks as beautiful as always – and yes, well, I was once, and that I have two children; two girls: Elizabeth and Catherine. Catherine has children of her own now, I tell her.

They’re rather old-fashioned names, she says, and her carefree chuckle changes into a cough: a dry, empty-throated hack that kills me.

I take a tissue and wipe spittle from her chin; then drip-feed room-warm water from a plastic beaker. This, at least, is something I can do.

They are her names: Catherine, and Elizabeth.

She closes her eyes and floats upstream.

She wakes asking about Tom, though it’s a Tom I don’t remember, a Tom before he was my father.

She talks of stolen moments, jive dances, missed curfews, and little white lies.

She talks of sneaked kisses, pencil moustaches, (which makes me smile) and of long goodbyes.

She asks if he’s come back yet – that she’s frightened, all alone.

I tell her, Soon, my dear – he said he wouldn’t be long.
About Lee Hamblin…


The Piano

Annette Edwards-Hill

Peter bought his piano from a friend two days before his twenty-second birthday. The first time he sees the piano it sits in the darkness of a garage. The friend couldn’t tell Peter where the piano came from. He pointed to the German name, and lifted his shoulders. Peter remembers seeing a film where men pushed an upright piano off a balcony and watched it smash on the street below. He gives his friend ten dollars. 

At home with his piano Peter wipes away dust, varnishes wood and grimaces when he touches the keys and a stray jarring note rings out. He has his piano tuned. The tuner suggests the piano is not a worthy recipient of Peter’s time. Peter dismisses him. 

Peter moves his piano to a new house, large enough for a family of four and a piano. He worries about his piano, awash with the sun from mid-morning, the cat gently washing himself on the lid. His wife buys ten metres of yellow velvet and makes the piano a cover. 

Peter sits before his piano; he touches the keys tentatively. His piano is an island, vast and unfamiliar. He looks for the keys that match the notes in his head. He tests his sustain peddle but the sound diminishes.

Peter’s children both lay claim to the piano and both buy apartments in the city. The house is too big for Peter’s wife. She buys a smaller house, with a garage big enough for a piano.
About Annette Edwards-Hill…


Bike by Al McDermin
Bike by Al McDermid
About Al McDermid…

Stolen: an inventory

Jude Higgins

A television set and a stereo. (A whole sash window removed, a door broken down.) That square-set sapphire ring surrounded by diamonds. (Stolen by her mother’s drunken carer.) All the contents of the old cottage – including the pair of nineteenth century rummers, the fat brown teapot with its pattern of tumbling roses, the cookie jar, the red kilim, the gate-legged table, the rocking chair. An old scythe. (Those dodgy neighbours…?) Two mobile phones, one purse, several credit cards. (Various pickpockets in European cities). A bag of clothes from the back of the Citroen. (She should remember to lock up in future.) The car itself complete with groceries. (She should remember to lock up in future.)

None of these losses matter anymore, but what about…

Her heart. (No, it wasn’t locked.) When did that go? At some point in between the burglary at the cottage and the theft of the Citroen. She prefers to think it was purloined, because she has a fondness for Anglo-Norman words, as well as clever men. But the robber wasn’t sneaky. He didn’t mean to take it. In fact, he doesn’t know it’s his. 
About Jude Higgins…


The Tale Of Barefoot Kathie

Ashley Jones

Strange things were about to occur.

“Somebody’s watching,” she said, “And they have eyes under the water.” 

So I looked and sensing a slight uneasiness, leaned out to see a possible intruder. It was two little children – strange, pale, asking if she wanted to come home.

Kathie went.

Then, at the hour between ten and eleven o clock, there on the grass, a bathing suit remained. It was a very distinct feeling, one of missing time. A moment later Kathie returned.

She was the same, but different.
About Ashley Jones…