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March 2012: SHADES OF GREY

Jaypee Belarmino, Flower in Solitude
Jaypee Belarmino is an occasional artist whose desire to express the contradicting and esoteric nature of life has led him to photography. Jaypee’s interests include prose and poetry, photography, abstract painting, mixed media art, and multimedia art. He is a member of New Zealand Poetry Society and the World Poetry International

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Leanne Radojkovich, Cot Death
Six pairs of knickers laid flat.

Six pairs of matched socks.

Bras folded in half and stacked one of top of each other like soft paper cups.

The essentials.

You’re not a woman who does things quickly. Even running away is done in a careful, measured way. You no longer wear make-up or rings or even, some days, remember to brush your hair. You’re gradually losing yourself.

Your man.

Your job.

Your flat.

Gone.

You click shut the suitcase. As usual, you’ve given yourself plenty of time, there’s still a few minutes left. You turn, crossing to the window where the bassinet once sat. Outside, autumn leaves float in the still air, sinking slowly.

Leanne Radojkovich’s stories have featured in various places from Turbine to Radio New Zealand and Renegade House. She’s writing flash fiction stories and posting readings on YouTube while working on a collection of flash – small, complete stories – that can be downloaded and read on one screen.

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Matthew Zela, Moonlight
Moonlight was certain, which we all felt fitted the mood, since the look on his blood-drained face reminded us of cats we’d seen previously at such times of night — all wild and wide-eyed and devoid of colour, as if filmed by some German expressionist auteur; a director of nocturnes who blankly refuses to film during daylight with the aid of special filters when it is obvious that none are fooled by it, but simply hold their disbelief in suspension, as we now supposed the poor young man in front of us was attempting as a way of avoiding the by now obvious and no doubt odious conclusion that not much was about to go his way on this soon-to-be-moonlit night when, as we were discussing, those of the feline persuasion were generally out and about in various states of chromatic bankruptcy yet, by all accounts, rather flushed with thyroxin, which did not give us nearly as much pause as the unintentionality such a pun might suggest and certainly nowhere near the level of circumlocution we quickly found ourselves engaged in, once the unwelcome and unsolicited suggestion arose that cats do not, in point of fact, display nocturnal habits, but something more exotic both in name and explanation, to wit: crepuscularity; which entails, within a whisker of more perfectly unintended wordplay, the tendency towards being more active at dawn and at dusk, but by then all further review was deferred since our man had upped and escaped.

Matthew Zela is a writer of poetry, prose and fiction, currently at work on a final draft of his first novel. Matthew lives in Northland, a gardener by trade.

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Katharine Derrick, Inside Out
I caught a bus from Denver to Kansas City but disembarked hundreds of miles early in the middle of nowhere. The man running the gas station nodded when I asked if there was anywhere nearby to rent. He handed me a key then pointed across the prairie to a speck in the distance.

“Watch out for rattlers,” he said through a mouthful of gum, “ain’t no hospital ’round here.”

I thanked him and stepped out onto the grassland. A crow circled overhead. I shivered. By the time I reached the house the sun had set. I unlocked the door and moonlight followed me in.

The room seemed empty at first but then I noticed a rolled-up poster lying on the floor. It was a Magritte print, The Evening Gown, 1954. A woman stood naked with hair flowing down her back looking out to sea, a sliver of moon above her. It seemed to hold a glimmer of hope and I gripped onto it as if it would save me from drowning. Silent tears slid down my face and flowed into the void of the unknown house. The moon crept higher and at some point I slept.

At dawn I awoke and went outside to watch the moon slip away. I undressed, released my hair and lifted my arms to the rising sun. Not even the cawing of the crow could disturb me.

Katharine Derrick lives in Kerikeri and writes mainly for children and young adults. She once had a 50-word story published in Brian Edwards’ Book of Incredibly Short Stories but most of her published works are with Learning Media. Her latest projects include tidying up a junior fantasy novel and reviewing New Zealand children’s books and interviewing their authors at NZ Children’s Book Reviews.

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Karen Phillips, It was a very good year

“When I was twenty-one it was a very good year,” sings Frank. Me too, thinks Colin. He steps back from his canvas, smiles.

Back then he was a rising meteor in the art world. The sun poured gold on his days; the stars hid deep blue nights of passion.

He turns up the volume on the paint-spattered radio. His hearing is not as good as it was.
“We drove in limousines,” sings Frank. “Not me,” mutters Colin.

His style went out of fashion. People wanted beiges with angular shapes to match their beige and angular houses. “Change your colours,” his wife had suggested as she walked out the door with a painter of beige and angular, a man of fewer years and more money than Colin. Colin continued with bright blues and greens but his drinking made more news than his art.

“…girls who lived up the stairs,” sings Frank. Colin frowns. He can’t remember any girls.

He left town alone. “You have debts. You must paint.” His agent’s voice crackled over the mountains to the distant cottage. Colin tried. The colours glared back, flat and garish.

Seasons passed. “It’s a bit dull. Some red would brighten it,” his visiting agent says hopefully. “Fashions have changed.”

Colin’s canvas glows with the shades of grey and blue of the mountains behind: the colours of a woman, not beautiful but quiet yet strong enough to live in this harsh climate. She is not a shade of red. Colin grins, takes up a fine brush and gently paints her name across the pale ground.

Karen Phillips lives in Ahipara, Northland. She began writing in 2009 and won the Katherine Mansfield Novice Award that year followed by first place in the Heartland Short Story Competition, and has continued to be placed in competitions since then. She is currently working on a collection of short stories.

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Sally Houtman, The sky on that day

Perhaps it was her eyes. Or the late November rain. Or perhaps the sky on that day was a particularly uncommon shade of grey. He couldn’t say. But he went there anyway, forced his shoulder against the wind, felt the pull.

With his head bowed forward he stood on the footpath across the street from her house. There was a quickening of pulse, a catch in his throat. What rippled through him in that moment, you could say, was something like desire.

*

Perhaps it was his mind, his thoughts having ceased their forward motion. Or the edges of his memory buckling from the weight of so much time. Or perhaps the paint on the fence had faded to that uncommon shade of grey. He couldn’t say. But years later he returned.

With the winter in his hair he lingered in the shadows across the street from her house. His hands were in his pockets, his trousers hitched up with a piece of string. There were no curtains on the windows, no footprints in the snow. What rippled through him in that moment, you could say, was something like regret.

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

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Stephen Garside, Horizon

“But how do I choose, Granddad?”

“You’ll know.”

The old man put his hand on his granddaughter’s shoulder. She was all grown up now. Got big.

“But I don’t know, Granddad. I don’t know.”

The girl’s grief was quiet but buffeted her hunched body like a gale. Her shoulders shook as she buried her head in soft-skinned hands.

The old man watched her and tears blurred his sight.

“It’ll be alright, love,” he said. He meant it truly but he didn’t feel it anymore than the girl.

Anne smeared the tears down her cheeks with the palms of those hands.

“He says I have to choose,” she said looking at her grandfather. “Berlin or him. God knows I’ve tried. But I just can’t. I don’t know what to do.”

Anne shook her head and looked toward the ocean. The sky was a litany of wordless grey clouds.

“How do I know what’s right, Granddad?” she asked.

The old man looked to the ocean also. A sliver of blue sky seemed to be emerging at the horizon.

“There is no right, Anne. That’s the hardest thing. There’s only what you do and where it takes you. And that’s a gamble whichever way you look at it.”

The old man looked at his granddaughter again. His hand still rested on her shoulder, and he could sense a calm returning in her flushed cheeks.

They sat without talking.

“I think the weather’s clearing,” she finally said, with a sniff.

The old man nodded.

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

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Vivienne Merrill, Shades

He’s an either or, a neither nor, kind of person. I know that and yet. I watch him now as he paces the floor muttering to himself and it takes all my control not to say anything. Why does it always have to be like this? Why can’t he realise that a decision is simply that. He’s researched the facts, authenticated his sources and written the list of pros and cons.

The dog sighs, his eyes following his master and his ears down. Outside, the wind begins to batter the house. I want something to break into his rhythm of walking, his restrictive pattern of thought but, after five years together, I know better. I know there is no point talking about compromise, about differing points of view. For him, it is all about right or wrong. Or, should I say, rights and wrongs.

I have to move. I stand, stretch and walk to the window. The sky is darkening now and beyond our house, the hills are changing hue. Come close, I want to say, come see how black and white and all colours of the spectrum, fade into grey How soon sky and earth follow. How nothing stays apart in this, the dance of the shades.

Vivienne Merrill lives on the Kapiti Coast where it is all too easy to beachwalk and dream her days away. Sometimes, when she’s lucky, some of these dreams become stories and poems.

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Kathy Sewell, The Blowhole

Silvery, diamante mists spew from the local blowhole. I’m alone except for two Māori women standing ankle-deep in the ocean with skirts tucked into large knickers.

They’re bent at the hip with legs straight and hands expertly shovelling the sand. It looks uncomfortable and I wonder if they’re straining their backs. Their mothers probably gathered kai moana this way for years and these women aren’t young. Their hands shake underwater cleaning sand from pipis, which are then thrown expertly into a flax kete.

One straightens, places a hand on hip and leans backwards. She laughs. A deep belly sound that makes her body change shape like a huge plastic bag filled with water. Grabbing the kete, they head towards me. “Don’t stay,” one rasps. “The kēhua calls tonight.”

The moon patterns a silver-gold path across the sea, like Grandmother’s best seersucker tablecloth. Ripples crawl over sand and lick my toes. It is cold. Greyish shapes, transparent people with gossamer arms, rise from the blowhole ignoring me. I cannot move. My teeth begin clattering a Morse code. The mist turns away.

A lone fisherman baits his hook on the rocks as the mist cascades into the water creating a hungry wave that rises. A huge, drooling mouth. The fisherman is silent as he’s swallowed.

Darkness spills over the scene. My orderly black and white world has turned grey. I’m alone with only the satisfied gurgle of the kēhua.

Kathy Sewell has had a number of stories published and several plays written and performed. She is working on her novel at the moment while completing the last two papers of her B.A. extramurally at Massey University. She lives on a lifestyle block, is a proud grandma and belongs to IWW, NZSA and Tauranga Writers, and she runs the Thames Writers Group.

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Campbell Taylor, At the Line

They appeared just as I was about to wipe down the washing line. It was a crisp morning so the dew had left little circles of dirt all along the line. Crouching with my hands in a bucket of warm water, I had been quite oblivious to the arrival of the two men standing by the apple tree. Naturally, I was startled and perhaps a bit sharp. After all, the machine was about to finish its cycle; if the load sat it would have to go through again. But I was cornered, so I indicated I was busy by putting on a fresh pair of rubber gloves.

I had washed my hands of religion at the age of twelve after failing to dust the organ at the chapel where my father played; he firmly believed cleanliness does not come in degrees.

The two men apologised but did not leave. Instead, they asked if they might say a small prayer for me on my hectic day. I looked at the badges on their ill-fitting suits, trying to ignore the mark of old sweat at the edge of their collars. There was no guile apparent.

I still don’t trust music; it seeks to shade belief in raptures better placed among the everyday.

Halfway through the blessing of my busyness Lucy woke and came outside. As I shushed her to my feet she settled to a low growl answering the sound of the washing machine coming to the end of its cycle.

Campbell Taylor is a phlebotomist and soundman. His short stories have been published in literary journals and on websites in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. Born and raised in Christchurch, he lives in Titahi Bay.

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Sarah Cotter, A Ripple

The ocean looks to me today like it has lost the desire to move another inch. It is still, true, serene even. I know how it feels, I too am tired of traversing the same old ground.

The jester passes by, brushing his teeth while juggling pots and walking on the water in such a way that he creates barely a ripple. At least that’s how it seems to me from where I sit, up on high. My vantage point is obscured up here in this giant kahikatea. It’s one of the last great trees, you know. We often like to sit together and watch the world go by. My friend the kahikatea has been standing sentinel here many hundred years. Long before you all thought this was a choice spot to put down roots.

It is rather precarious, sure, on the edge of the crumbling chalky cliff. A little more falls with every rain. But what a view. All the way to the long strip of grey over the other side where those massive aeroplanes come and go. Man, that is one big whānau you guys must have.

It’s funny, you know, when you think of it, all the grey you people are always creating —  your roads, buildings and driveways, your life plans and your dirty rivers. I guess you just can’t see it my way…. You see, I’m the last of the mighty huia and there ain’t no grey on me, not in any shade.

Sarah Cotter lives in Whenuapai with two children, heavy air traffic and a menagerie of animals. She has been writing poetry for a long time. She read at rhythm & verse in 2011 and will do so again in May 2012. She is embarking on a bachelor of bilingual primary teaching this year.

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Sian Williams, Map Reading

Long ago she lay in the tall grass of a Spanish afternoon while he traced the constellations of freckles on her body with his fingertips. He gave them names; there was Orca — the whale, Xerox — the photocopier, and, down her right leg, Burro — the donkey. Under the gentian sky they laughed, kissed and slept until tapas time. An unfettered sun burned on.

Back then it was easy to love her body, and he did, often. As did the others who came afterwards, although none was ever as attentive, or as observant, as her Spanish cartographer.

Now it was always with the lights out. She’d tried to wear her Caesarean scar with pride: a badge of honour, a war wound. Her husband said he didn’t care, and, after all, he had agreed to get into the trenches of parenthood with her. But the silver tracery of stretch marks that crawled across her softening flesh were harder to accept — ripples left by the receding tide — or the spider veins that intermeshed with them on her cobweb legs. Or the grey hairs.

When she stood contemplating at the mirror, he said he couldn’t see what she was worried about. But then he’d never really looked at her, never read the map of her body — unlike her conquistador all those years ago. Otherwise he would have noticed the new mole in the constellation Burro. The donkey had three ears. She had seen it though and reluctantly acknowledged a dark star rising.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in the Bay of Islands.

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Michelle Elvy, Earl Grey(s)
theirs…
Tell us again, says Samantha.
Yes! giggles Henry.
Our children love the story of how we met.
Mummy and daddy sitting in a tree, whispering poetry and drinking tea…

*
ours…
It was in the library. She sat at a table cluttered with poetry books. I came in out of the rain, took the only empty chair.
Tea? she asked. Like I belonged there, my soggy newspaper flopped between Frost and Frame.
You study poetry?


The F’s this week, she said, pouring a cup for me. Cloves wafted up. We talked an hour. After she left I could only recall the sound of her white plastic raincoat crinkling at her elbows as she collected her things.

Next week, Ginsburg and Goethe. I muttered something feeble about Faust; she repressed a sly smile. I slurped peppermint, recalled a limerick but fuckit the girl from Nantucket did not belong here.
We sat together several more times. Ibsen and Joyce and Keats (black and green and oolong) followed Hughes (citrus).
Then one day, she was there with no poets. Come on. I panted up four flights behind her swishy raincoat, entered her neat apartment speechless and sweaty.
No more tea, she said, rounding on me with surprising fierceness. She swigged from a whisky bottle then opened her mouth, drew me close.
Later, on the couch — after the table and bed and floor – I thought I should ask her name.
Charlotte, she said suddenly. And I drink Earl Grey in the morning.

Michelle Elvy is the founding editor of Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in the Bay of Islands and enjoys poetry and Early Grey. And whisky.

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Please also see this month’s interview with flash fiction writer and editor Gay Degani.

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Coming in April: stories about after the party

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