Flash Frontier stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine and dedicates this issue to them. And so, we open the THUNDER issue with a micro by one of our editors…
Anywhere on Earth
For the mothers and children of Ukraine
Round as a wave bent over the chair. Round as the egg that started it all. Round as the belly with thin white scars. Round as the pill you could have swallowed. Round as the bald sun bearing down. Round as a bomb that falls. Round as fast as legs along a path. Round as an eye of storm – the gush and swirl of waters. Round as moons on fingers in the dark. Round as a bleat escaped from the mouth. Round as the curl of a midwife’s arms. Round and smooth as a stone on your breast. Boom. Boom. Boom. The Great Round Beast, our mother Earth.
See also our dedication to Keri Hulme, closing this issue
In 2022, we’re coming up 10!
10 years of Flash Frontier and NFFD
10 years of reading and writing
10 years of building this community
10 spotlighted stories!
In a new series this year, we ask the guest editor to weigh in with top selections from the reading file. This month, Amanda Saint chooses her top picks and notes what makes these stories stand out. Added to those are two selections that the editors have chosen to spotlight from emerging writers in our international community of flash.
Welcome to THUNDER! Welcome to 2022!
Guest editor picks
Waiting – Viv Bailey
Disturbances – Margaret Moores
The love affair – Laila Miller
Camping – Amanda Hurley
Storm warning – Epiphany Ferrell
The mixology of storms – Leonard Eusebi
Oxblood – Judy Darley
Cement mixer – Shannon Bowring
Editor picks: Emerging writers
The good family – Adebisi Amori
The thunder to come – Marcelo Medone
She used to do the forecasts – Allen Ashley
The soundtrack – Keith Nunes
After terrible news – Heather McQuillan
Breaking point – Pam Morrison
Merman – Margo McLean
Breakfast – Leanne Comer
Angry vikings beating drums – Mandira Pattnaik
As deceitful as makeup – Nicholas Fairclough
Thor’s day – Koenraad Kuiper
Foothills – Marty Beauchamp
Mark your calendars for Jefferson High’s production of Mary Poppins! – Lynn Mundell
Distance – Susan Luus
Rumbled – Rebecca Dempsey
Thunder? – Shelley Burne-Field
Antlers – Caterina Baldi
A storm of gothic proportions – Steve Charters
Morning in Kaikohe – Piet Nieuwland
Interview: NFFD 2022 Judges Anne Kennedy and Kiri Piahana-Wong
Interview: Jack Remiel Cottrell, NFFD 2022 Youth Judge
The Face of Thunder: Cristina Schumacher on writing and translating
New Book: JERKS by Sara Lippmann
Keri Hulme at Flash Frontier: An interview and a tribute
Guest Editor Amanda Saint, on selecting her top picks
I was delighted to guest edit this edition of Flash Frontier and be transported back to Aotearoa where I lived for three happy years at the start of the millennium. All of the stories were wonderful but the ones that stood out were those that not only told a great story and made me feel something but made excellent use of the way flash allows us to play with form. The breathless one paragraph, circular stories that foreshadow and repeat key images, symbolism and metaphor, stage directions that enhance the emotional impact despite making us feel a sense of distance from the characters. All of the stories that are in my selection lingered in my mind and returned to me again and again after reading them.
Tight ribbons of fear lace Pete’s belly. His mouth is dry, his lips burning. Bugger, he’s out of water. Nine months this tour. Three more to go. Counting.
The ambush is set up in a village. Silver-grey wraiths flit in front of him. Slide in and out of the jungle’s stillness. Armed men.
Screaming mosquitoes dive bomb his head.
Reaching up, he touches the coldness of bone hanging round his neck. Presses it closer. Te Manaia. Remembers Tia winding the pendant around his neck, her soft lips, the taste of peppermint, clean, Max Factor pink. The caress of silky hair, feel of cream muslin against his bare chest, the smell of patchouli. He can hear the thump of blue surf. Te Piha.
Blackness erupts, air explodes. The jungle canopy crashes. A deep rumble, the thunder of detonating claymores, their daisy-chain rows splintering. Bloop, bloop of grenades. A cacophony, reverberating, numbing his ear drums. Repeat. Repeat. Stop.
He snakes into a foetal position, shaking.
Pale light filters through frayed palm. A small, golden-striped honeybee, lightly furred, emerges from under Pete’s leg. His eyes follow. The insect clambers over a hump of rust-red laterite soil. Reaches the top, hesitates for an instant. Rises, hovers. Flies. Away.
My field book has instructions for measuring rainfall, but nothing for reporting how the sound of running water disturbs sleep. An observer should only record actual phenomena: lightning or thunder, the depth of snow, the kind of mist that lies across damp grass at dawn like an abandoned chiffon scarf. When I throw back the duvet and put my feet on the floor, the carpet closest to the bed feels like marshmallow or jelly, but nearer the doorway it seems more like junket that is cooling but nowhere near setting. No splashing, but definitely sodden underfoot. I turn on the light and observe that water is flowing through the wall outside my bedroom as if someone had turned on a hose between the house’s brick exterior and the internal GIBboard. Had I slept through thunder and lightning and a torrential downpour, my unconscious mind attributing this phenomena to headlights in the street, shouts, and doors slamming?
The water is cloudy and smells faintly of silt. I push through the flood toward the kitchen where I keep the field book and pen, and open the back door. Something dark and muscular slides around my ankles. Thunder can be heard some distance from a lightning flash. If a phenomena is not overhead, I can still report it as a disturbance. In the remarks column I write “thunderstorm, flooding”. I consider recording the presence of an eel in the porch, but I do not mention the carpet or use the word catastrophe.
The love affair
In the crystal calm after the lashing rain, they yank gumboots from cupboards and jam them on. Doors bang behind as they cross pathways, avoid dry spots, stamp boggy depressions. Sprawled on grass, they trace purplish-white popcorn clouds that mask the endless blue. Droplets paint cool cheeks.
Yellow umbrellas poke stringybark into softening ground. They scamper slopes, follow glistening trickles that become streams that carry dropped sticks into drains. Pink-clad toes push branches through garden-debris dams. Reservoirs rush to escape.
Wide eyes watch bees struggle, bearing burdens to hives. Chilled fingers raise drooping flower petals. Wet palms pat pools on iron-stained sidewalks.
Tiny thumbs tug at dripping hoods; tyres swoosh. Feet stomp a dance of wishes to splash so big.
Where dried-up lakes fill, small hands excavate channels and sort matching sticks to build palisades that tumble, rise, and collapse again. Long-beaked ibises peck at squirming earthworms in moist, growing grass. Short legs prance in tall, white wellies.
New breezes prickle washed leaves on swaying boughs. Lightning pops; thunder vibrates. Icy water trickles between wiggling toes, up sodden wrists. Hurried, they glance backward, stumbling. A latch clicks. They shed sopping clothes.
Wrapped in blankets, noses pressed to front windows, they watch amid roars and spectacular flashes, until deluges coat glass and blur their sight.
They sleep and wake, earthy smells of mud under fingernails. Barefooted at entryways brushed with dawn, they tug soggy gumboots over pyjamas, and await an open door.
There’s that sinking feeling you get when you’ve just gotten the kids to bed and a low, loud rumble of thunder suddenly rings out over the hills and you start anticipating the downpour that’s destined to come in the middle of the night. If the tent will leak, whether any shoes have been left outside. The stickiness of damp clothes that won’t dry the next day because it keeps drizzling and the kids will be wet and complaining that this is the worst holiday ever and you are doing your best, you really are, and who thought camping would be a good idea without Dave, oh god, sometimes you just want Dave here, just miss him to hell because he would have known what to do, would have helped you span the fly and maybe you would have sat close to him afterwards, enjoying the dying embers of the fire before turning in. That mad dash to the car in the middle of the pouring rain, all giggles and laughter and the kids loving the adventure of it all. The car that feels so far away tonight. You’ll have to make two trips because you can’t carry both children. And you’ll be drenched and your hair will whip in your face, stinging your eyes with tears which, unbidden, are coming now and you’re sitting here in the dark, sobbing on your camping stool, because there was a clap of thunder and Dave’s not here. Dave’s not here.
Entering center stage, a woman with a violin-curved body, smoking a cigarette and blowing rings at the sign telling her not to smoke. Her tiger stride does not change as she approaches the restaurant door. The host opens it, letting her into the damp street, into humidity with texture, under thunderclouds with weight.
Seated, stage right. A man, with an air of waiting. Across from him, an empty chair, displaced as if someone has left the table in a hurry.
Inside the restaurant. The man can’t hear the thunder roll but the red wine in his glass quivers.
The mixology of storms
Jim would pile kraut on sausages he’d grilled to perfection, even when it was a reheated bag of kraut and Mona hadn’t salted the mashed potatoes.
Mona would strike the moment he sat. “Trash still needs taking, Jimmy dear. After you fix my martini.”
I would count Mississippis, waiting for his rumble. One Mississippi: he shovels down greasy fermented delicious heartburn, washes his plate, clanks around shaking out a martini. Two Mississippi: he sets the drink in front of Mona. Five Mississippi: the trash is out. Seven Mississippi: he’s in our game room. Ten Mississippi: crack! Pool balls scatter and thud as he slams them home.
He doesn’t always play pool. The trash doesn’t always need taking. Mona always has a martini. One Wednesday she flashes her teeth and a squeaky pantry door.
Jim crams down a burger, wiping warm pink juice from his chin. One Mississippi: he fixes her drink and her door. Four Mississippi: he’s at his computer. Eight Mississippi: peals of gunfire. Battlefield’s great, he tells me, for G.I. Jane’s reason: “I get to blow stuff up.”
Saturday afternoons sizzle with aperitifs and accompanying tasks: “Grass needs trimming, Jimmy dear.” Mona drapes herself in floral gowns over floral couches.
Only six Mississippis this time. The basement booms with the pum-pum-pah of heavy fists on a heavy bag.
“Bathtub’s clogged.” Four Mississippis. The crunch of cratered plaster.
“No promotion yet?”
Jim cradles her glass. Not a single drop can spill till he upends it over her petunia-draped lap.
We giggled on the edges of dancefloors, making eyes at the boys and swapping lipsticks that tasted of Parma violets. Though I was a year older, Thora was taller and our feet were almost the same size. We had two smart pairs of pumps between us: one navy-blue, the other a racy shade the shopkeeper called oxblood.
One night, Thora nudged me and nodded to the door. The boy standing there smiled with Dirk Bogarde’s deep valleyed mouth. Thora fluttered her lashes his way and his long legs strode towards us. “Buy you a lemonade?”
He brought her one, and then another. When he swayed her across the parquet flooring, she tottered, flush cheeked. As he twirled her round her tumbler slipped from her hand and shattered.
“All right, Thora?” I leaned in and caught a sour tang beneath citrus sweetness. “Let’s get some air.”
The stars were splinters of glass high above. I felt a rumble in my body like a distant storm turning.
Afterwards, the oxblood pumps sat in the wardrobe until one wet morning when Thora snatched them up as thunder roared. The rain smelled of grit and electric fires. Fizzing inside, we ran downstairs and I grabbed the spade by the back door. Thora’s eyes met mine. We buried the shoes under Granny’s roses, petals shivering down redder than blood.
“What’s the difference,” she asks, “between cement and concrete?”
“Cement is an ingredient of concrete,” he says. “You put cement and water together and then you have concrete.”
“One thing to make another.”
“Something like that.”
He’s half-heartedly studying engineering at the college they attend. She’s wholeheartedly studying literature. He misses their hometown. She misses certain things about their hometown, mostly the knowing where everything is.
There have been moments together in her dorm room, late at night. Hurried hands in unseen places. No kissing. Heat and desperation but never any climax. God, he has beautiful fingers. Soft and steady. One night as thunder ripples over the polluted wide-mouthed river, they drink wine coolers and come close. But it’s the wrong fit.
In a couple years, they’ll both be with other people. She’ll still be studying other writer’s words. He’ll be halfway across the world with a gun strapped to his back, watching goat farmers get blown up by bombs dropped by his country. She will think of him often. Worry. Maybe he will think of her sometimes, but if he does, she’ll never know. Eventually he’ll come home and hold his new baby and laugh about the blown-up goat farmers. In a couple more years, he’ll go back over there, and then they’ll never speak at all.
A decade later, she will forget the way his hands felt on her bare skin, but she’ll still remember what he taught her about concrete. How it hardens over time.
Editors’ pick: emerging writer
The good family
Adebisi Amori (Nigeria)
To the outside world, they’re the epitome of a good and successful family.
Their first kid is studying Petroleum Engineering. He’s writing his final exams and he’ll be graduating as the best student in the entire school.
Their second child is studying medicine abroad. He’s in his third year. He’s the best student in his class. He’s always been the best.
And there’s her. The last kid. She’s writing her final secondary school exams. She’s meant to be a lawyer. That’s been the plan before her birth.
Engineer. Doctor. Lawyer. What dad wouldn’t be proud?
Truth is, every career was specially chosen. And here’s the thing: inside the walls of their home, there’s a storm. Third child doesn’t want to be a lawyer. She wants to paint.
But her dad doesn’t care.
Today, the storm is picking up. And there’s thunder.
The father is telling his daughter how much he’s sacrificed for their family. The daughter is telling her dad that she appreciates him, but how she will not study what she hates.
He’s shouting and she’s shouting back.
Then the mother bellows, too, her voice thundering above theirs.
Now everyone’s silent.
The weather is calm. For now.
Editors’ pick: emerging writer
The thunder to come
Marcelo Medone (Argentina)
Once again the blinding flashes appear, pulsating like a thousand fireflies. Immediate thunder. Leaving me deaf and dazed for eight long seconds, until everything is black.
I get up from the cement floor. All my muscles ache. This must be the fifth time this has happened to me this week. I keep track of my fainting spells, like a prisoner who marks the number of days he has been locked up in his cell.
I go to the window and notice that it’s already dark. Before my episode, the sun was still above the horizon. My condition is getting worse.
I open the door and step out into the night. It is cold, but I don’t care: it makes me feel like I’m alive. I walk along the path that leads to the beach, following the sea breeze loaded with salt and moisture.
My bare feet slide across the sand as if dancing. I can already hear the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. It is intoxicating and fascinating music.
The ocean appears in all its magnificence. In the moonless night, the bioluminescent tide mirrors the starry sky.
I stare at the myriad of undulating phosphorescent lights. My neurons echo their rhythm, joyful. I know the thunder will come.
She used to do the forecasts
Thunder is the sound of God and his angels rearranging the heavenly furniture. Especially when not accompanied by lightning or rain. We get a lot of these aural disturbances since The Event. I pause in my daily search for substantial firewood, something better than the brittle twigs littering the parched local fields. Gazing upwards, I wonder what else apart from a marble throne and pearly gates gets shunted around. Tables, chairs? Beds? Pianos?
Science has failed us so the old beliefs are back to prominence. The bitter irony is that my wife Maria has a degree in meteorology and used to do the forecasts on TV, explaining the difference between anticyclones and warm fronts. Now she peels scrawny root vegetables in the gloom, adds berries and fungi to the ever-simmering stew pot. I top this up with acrid water. She hums a line from Keep the Homes Fires Burning. I wish I could find the rest of the song but there’s no electricity, no internet…
“Look at that angry sky,” I tell her. “Listen to that rumble.”
She stays crouched, the wooden spoon connecting her to the bubbling saucepan like a lightning rod.
The sky cracks again. I cover my ears but my eyes widen as I see a huge bench and a giant wardrobe fall from the clouds and crash about a mile to the west. Their landing is an aftershock, thunder’s echo.
“Mary, find some rope. We have been blessed with new fuel and must fetch it.”
Quintana is recording thunder beside the Awatere River in a valley known for its flash flooding.
Her brother KD needs the thunder to build the soundtrack for their short film.
It’s about a young woman who has travelled to meet her father for the first time. He doesn’t know she’s coming; he doesn’t know she exists.
Quintana managed to bring in an experienced actor as the father because he was in between gigs and living nearby.
“A coup!” said KD.
The siblings have their roles, including acting in their films, and while it feels like a democracy, Quintana is comfortable knowing KD drives the projects.
Their last film piqued the interest of director Peter Jackson so this one needs to be a “stand-out,” says KD, as if she needs any motivation.
Recording sound effects and writing their own songs for the films give them a ‘unique personality’ says KD.
The rain is getting heavier up the valley. Quintana keeps a nervous eye on the river.
She sets up as the sky starts bruising, and the thunder produces a spine-tingling echo that bounces off Mānuka Bluff.
She smiles, this is perfect.
Quintana is motionless for a few seconds after the lightning strikes, then seems to shake it off, and stand up.
“Oh,” she says softly.
She leans into the gathering wind and then flops backwards into the Awatere River.
She floats down toward Kaiparoro where KD is shooting the closing sequence for the movie, where the father drowns.
After terrible news
After all the talk and when I am alone, the sky turns heavy and presses me to the warm tile floor. A bruise darkens and spreads through torn tissue clouds while the black hound bays. Its bellows rebound from hill to hill to hill.
After more lies have been told and more people have believed them, the sky shakes. The earth for now remains convincingly still. Electric shocks bind themselves in jagged stitches to the summit road like broken capillaries. I split a foil package, tip a pill into my hand, ache for something that is not likely now, not for a while yet.
Raindrops leap back from overfull gutters and send me scurrying in search of buckets and towels. This house I live in has never been compliant when bad things happen. When the storm slides out to sea it leaves a trail of ash on blue sky and the lanolin scent of steaming sheep.
It’s like they’re loaded up, the way the clouds hang. They bulge like blankets, heavy with soiled linen and threatening to split their seams.
Beneath it, the birds dart about in their thin precarious band of calm, every object luminous as if the park ditched the sun so they can shine.
Under the elm, a shudder of yellow and gold as two sparrows nudge and flick a sticky leaf clump. Another looks, flits, perches on the boney branch above the scuffle.
The woman in the camel duffle coat sees none of this. She is looking down. She’s only just passed through the park’s iron gates but her boots are already caked with the gravel’s sludge from last week’s snow. The slurp of mud, the crunch of stone, nothing slows the trudge of her steps.
When she reaches the bridge, the woman stops. She leans her hips against the splintering wooden railing, curls her upper body over the tumble of water.
A thin wisp of ghost breath. The rush of river. Nothing more. Then close by, a sudden rip of lightening, and her arms are flung wide. The clap turns to boom, on and on, dropping and drumming into the woman on the bridge. Her chest is thunder. Her throat opens and her grief roars.
And so it breaks.
Rain slams the river, dances into the tumult. While on the bridge, softer here, slowing to take up the salt. An endless libation drenching her cheeks, her neck, her sodden darkening coat.
Thunder rolled between ice-covered peaks.
“A giant snoring,” I said.
Two pairs of eyes searched my face.
“… Miles away.”
A young man with black hair and pale skin spread a towel beside us. He put a physics textbook on his folded clothes and gazed at the lake, peppered with bathers escaping the bone-heavy heat. I blew up Sprout’s waterwings as Fish dashed to the water.
“Wait! We’ll go together.”
Sprout and I dog-paddled and Fish splashed to the first pontoon. The platform rocked and clanked, and the chatter of swimmers faded. A shower of drops roused me as Fish leapt back in. She swam and we followed. Sprout’s waterwings deflated, I pushed and coaxed. We were tired when we reached the next platform. Fish was on her belly, head in the water.
“There’s a merman down there,” she said. “Looking up at me.”
“Don’t rush ahead,” I said. “We need to stick together.”
We drifted back to the shallows, in sync at last, relaxed.
A man shouted, a thunderclap shattering a dream. Venez vite, ’y’a un mec là-bas!
The swimmers turned to stone. Lifeguards charged to the pontoon where the man pointed into the water. They pulled a limp body to shore, began pumping.
“He’ll be fine,” I lied.
The towel was still there, the clothes and textbook.
“I saw someone down in the water, before,” said Fish.
Ice trickled through my veins. “That was different,” I said, and took them to get an ice cream.
The waitress delivers the coffee with a cheery smile.
Red saucer, yellow cup. Mum would hate that, you think.
Outside, in the early morning grey of mid-winter, fat raindrops begin to fall and thunder rumbles over the city. The lights of the hospital glow through the gloom.
Lifting the cup to your lips, you take a sip. It’s strong and creamy and almost too hot to drink. Just the way you like it.
You’re the first customer of the day but others soon drift in, folding umbrellas and shaking off damp coats.
The nurse had recommended this place, encouraging you to take a break, eat something.
“They make great omelettes,” she’d said and then, glancing at the frail figure in the bed, “We’ll call you if anything changes.”
You’d been surprised by a sudden rush of hunger as you walked into the café, assailed by the aromas of bacon and coffee.
The omelette is fat and golden brown, neatly folded and garnished with parsley. You sink your teeth into the warm flesh of the mushrooms, enjoying their earthiness and the sweet tang of caramelized onion. You savour every mouthful, trying not to think of what lies ahead.
The rain has petered out, leaving the streets slick and shimmering in the yellow glow of the streetlights. A bus trundles past. The first of the morning commuters off to another day at the office.
You drain the last of the coffee, lukewarm now, the dregs bitter on your tongue.
Angry vikings beating drums
Dayeema sees a flash. She wonders if the Vikings will visit for her golden wedding. At nights, encased in patchworked quilts, she dreams of our angry ancestors, tells us the Vikings are like her husband, always grumbling about something or the other. They’re complaining because they’re dry, thirsty. Water? We haven’t any in miles. So, on her directions, we place nuts and roots instead, foraged from the barely-forest, on the podium near the temple. Megh de, pani de, pani de re, we circle around, tongues like serpents, feet leaping flames to match the rhythm, while Dayeema sits by the bony palms that are waving rickety arms to the skies, abegging. Later, we troop to our straw-and-mud-encampments, and drunk on woes, idle.
On her anniversary, Dayeema shouts orders: Two days of fodder left. Spread them out. We pretend to oblige. She’s hallucinating: our cattle are long gone in the drought.
Towards day’s end, she cries out: They’re here, beating drums, between gleeful shrieks, raises a hand to quieten us. Her face is contorted, ears strain to hear. Maybe if we stay still, long enough, become stones, we’ll hear a faint rumbling too.
As deceitful as makeup
It rains on the Christmas parade. The storm steals the show. A Stuff photographer captures what she can before everyone flees from the downpour. Although the event has been a disaster, she figures she has enough material for her assignment. The float with the foster children acting out the nativity scene. The brass band, piled in the back of a landscaping truck, belting out scratchy carols. An assembly of elves thumping on every percussion instrument known to man. Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Storm Troopers wearing Santa hats. It’s plain to see that Disney and Hollywood still ain’t lost on small town Aotearoa. A vintage tractor, a fire truck, and quad farm bikes – Kiwi Christmas at its finest. A mixture of happy crowd shots.
She snaps the creepy clowns who demonstrate just how vague and shambolic the season has become. She probably won’t use that image, but it’s a backup. Piss, she thinks, I’ve forgotten the sponsors. She scribbles a note for the reporter.
The camera’s flash is a sheet of lightning. It’s a sad photo of a pug wearing festive clothes. To her it’s depressing but people love that shit.
The street cleaning truck rumbles in like thunder as the crowd clears. Youngsters protest adults who pull them away – thank God she can barely hear those annoying little critters. The street sweeping function swallows up debris, lolly wrappers, pamphlets, cigarette butts, and confetti.
She takes a photo of the clean street in the rain. That picture is just for her.
He’s my favourite, you know, the grizzled god with his two-headed hammer in his right hand.
I heard his first heavy splatters on my Akubra as I reached the Seddon Memorial at the top of the Bolton Street Cemetery and unfurled my light blue Blunt umbrella, feeling their freezing impact on the back of my hands. He had come rumbling in from the south which you could no longer see.
With the umbrella up, it seemed sensible to carry on into the Wairarapa over the brightly lit Remutaka tops, while behind me the city seemed to have been obliterated in Thor’s deep, dark blue.
I had a nice lunch in Greytown.
Since the wind direction had not changed, I furled my umbrella and took the train back to Wellington Station.
The train was a quarter hour late because of the headwind, heading towards the now bright, celestial hills of the capital.
We carried day packs with nothing more than a change of clothes, toothbrushes and a ton of water.
Up into the foothills above Pokhara.
Nepalese women cooed quietly at our heels and passed by smiling, huge loads of firewood and canned food crammed into the baskets pressed against their backs. Tiny tots would peer around mum, watch your laborious footfalls as she drew inexorably away.
Late afternoon into the summit village, the light was languid honey with monsoon clouds hovering.
The answer passed slowly back along the line of teenagers crowding the guesthouse doorway.
Three stone walls barely taller than my head, no roof. It clung to the cliff top at the back door. A plastic bucket floated half-submerged in a 44-gallon drum.
Stripped to battered shorts, I threw a first bucket over my head and buckled in two with the cold.
As I scooped a refill, the lights went out, cloud suddenly so dark and low it seeped in at the open window of the outer wall. Lightning sheeted the valley, on, off, over and over, showing snapshots of the instant waterfalls running white streamers down the bare hills and away to Pokhara.
The thunder would roar even before the lightning was done, so loud it would answer itself up and down the valley, hiding the giggles of children peeking around corners at the skinny man with his head thrown back to the rain, no need for the bucket anymore.
Mark your calendars for Jefferson High’s Production of Mary Poppins!
We’re all sitting in the dark, gearing up for the thunderstorm. People don’t realize that the pit band is more than half of any musical. I mean, Izzy Buonchristy and Keith Lee are great as Mary and Bert, especially in costume – ruffled dress, striped suit, huge bonnet. And it’s not easy to sing “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” at warp speed with the choir as Cockneys and two kids from the elementary school.
But the percussion has to conjure a whole thunderstorm. Like God!
It’s time. Susan on the tambourine, Jeff on cymbals, me on the bass drum, Ramona slamming the auditorium door. It’s perfect, a totally believable English storm. The kids in special effects nailed the lightning but are going way too heavy on the rain. We just missed the cue to be back in the park. Izzy and the paper mâché carousel horses are getting hammered. Paint running all over the stage. A dad in the audience yells, ‘Everything okay up there?’
Then Izzy steps out to the edge of the stage and starts singing ‘Let the Sun Shine In’. Nobody knows what’s she’s trying to do but the pit band, because we’ve already been practicing for the spring production of Hair too. So we kick in, then Mr Jackowitz, the choir director. Some of the audience even sing. The water hoses finally stop and I got to say that the pit band saved opening night, probably 75, 80 percent.
“I’ll be dead within a year, if you take me to live in a country town,” she’d said. It was where he could be himself, he’d said.
Through the rain freckled window, she sees a lone kereru on a bowed branch.
Ascent is cumbersome.
Slap and whomp. Slap and whomp.
If you are close enough, you can hear the wings groan.
Her hands in lukewarm soapsuds pick left-overs from the plate. She remembers their first date.
High gloss livery; metallic emerald body,
prismatic purple sheen.
Undercarriage, a pristine white apron.
A bright orange nose cone to direct airflow.
He in maroon blazer, black shirt, and trousers. She in a floral dress – how much care she’d taken with her make-up and hair that evening. Candlelight reflected on the silverware and crystal.
She runs a wine-dipped fingertip around the rim of the glass, it hums. At a certain pitch it will shatter.
On this mission, bulging belly houses
a glut of matai berries, swallowed whole
His dinner waits. She hears the garage door grind up and down. The dog slinks beneath the table, ears flat.
Warheads ready for release.
Wine fumes. Shiraz-stained lips. “What’s for tea?” he slurs. She says nothing. He lifts the foil from the plate and peers at it. “What’s this?”
But this time his aim is off. The window shatters. A distant rumbling.
She knows what comes next.
Key engaged, there’s a spark igniting the process to transform the dead into movement. The engine revs, then surges, tyres biting the bitumen. Speed picks up, and then slows, taking a corner, gears grinding, and then go, go, going. Tread rumbles as surfaces change, smoother then rougher. My heart thunders as I listen to the whoosh and whine of traffic and muffled corrugations in the road. Brakes squeak, car doors thud, there are footfalls on gravel, the crunch of careful walkers in the dark. The car starts again, beeps to reverse. Then the false security of forward momentum; a dream of perpetual motion even with the air resistance. The indicator soft clicks and I turn. Rain splatters the windshield and wipers swoosh, swoosh. Windows slide up and down, cool air rushing in, heavy with ozone and expectation. We’re heading into a storm. I’m a tuning fork, pushed headlong into the low front. More turns, cornering, angles, angles, waiting for changing lights, rattling carriages, the bump, bump of train tracks, and or some indication of crossed lines. I’m listening for direction. I vibrate at the same frequency as the tempest, silently counting seconds between the flash and the grumble. Exhausted, I’m shaking into parts: ripples in a pool flattening out, a faltering repeated refrain. I’m the definition of a diminishing pressure wave, sound reverberating, softer and softer until, like fading thunder signalling the storm’s passage, it dissolves, even as the vehicle continues. At last, I’m the breath, released.
A terrifying thing had materialised and was now sitting on the motel bed. Inky black. Human shaped. Its hand (oh god, its hand!) lay across its lap. Its head (!) tilted. Sharon imagined the jowls of its featureless face dripping towards its chest.
The spirit box app on Sharon’s phone spat out a word that sounded like a million grunts spliced together with spit and a mouthful of teeth.
“Thunder? Did it say, thunder?”
Bobby shrugged and swiped at his blunt fringe.
The room had been toasty just minutes before, but now warm air rushed past Sharon’s boots, over the paisley carpet, and coldly onto the bed, blowing Bobby’s research papers off to the side. The spirit box spoke again, like molars grinding the edge of a rusty horseshoe.
Sharon rubbed her thin upper arms. Jesus, she was freezing. Her skin had desiccated into feathery sheets of rice paper. Flakey. No, she wasn’t fucking flakey!
“Are you getting this?” Her screech lifted her onto her toes.
“Yes, for fuck’s sake.” Bobby hopped from one dirty white sneaker to the other. “Oh, man! My battery’s dead!”
“I got it.”
Sharon wanted to show those non-believer fuck-tards. She inched forward, knees tight, then suddenly, her phone blinked out, and she watched in horror as the inky figure twitched and stood up, reeking like a blue-cheese sausage.
“Bobby!” squeaked Sharon, but it was too late as the creature vomited chunky sick into her face, and then promptly disappeared.
“Oh,” said Bobby. “Not ‘thunder’…”
Each twisting path among the pines looked the same. How would we get home?
“Whoa… look! What do you think it is?”
The carcass was immense. The land around it had receded to make room for the newcomer. Time and soil had swallowed more than half of it, but the head and torso were still visible.
We bent down to peer in.
The flaking ribs hosted small animals and insects. Blades of grass twisted all around, making that transitory den cosy and soft. The entrails, now dry, had wrapped like the mountains around a miniature city. Grey and brown veins drew the contours of a completely new place, where the rules of its inhabitants, microbes and bacteria, changed second by second.
Alfredo grabbed a stick and teased the skull’s hollows, and gasped when a lizard came out in a flash.
A raven had signaled its participation in the banquet with its shiny black feather, stuck in the centre of the entrails, like a flag. Little further down, a crater had formed, perhaps in place of the liver, and young cyclamens had sprouted in there. A ladybird flying over the crest of a hip at that very moment shone like a ruby set in stone.
We had never seen a dead body so close. For us, it was fun, but not for the grown-ups. When we told them at home, they said the wolves would return.
A storm of gothic proportions
It hadn’t woken her, sleep impossible in the circumstances, only jolted her from her agitation back into the dark smothering present. For a split-second she hoped/dreaded his headlights had swept the driveway but its intensity, brief and incandescent, dissuaded her. The stark afterimage imprinted on her retina – armoire, vanity, bureau, lampshade – faded to black and the clock’s green digits glowed…
– one year vanished since their whirlwind courtship
– one night’s dutiful intimacy then separate rooms
– a moment’s recklessness a lifetime of regret…
– it took two to tango: he had someone else. Another man?
– two could play at that game
– two pink lines on the home test kit…
– triangles, threesomes? How would she convince him?
– three wishes, three witches, three caskets, the holy trinity?
– She need never be alone again
– Something evil this way comes…
– four seasons, four directions. Where might she go? What do?
– on all fours, like an animal was how he’d had her. Four times. Who knew!
– four for strong foundations, patience, loyalty and trust
– four strong winds that blow lonely…
She heard it then, a mile off and fast advancing. A lonely wayward wind rising and with it rain, the long low rumble almost a relief. Not God’s bowling alley, nor his coal delivered. Not the upstairs rearrangement of his furniture. But the inexorable wheels of her juggernaut destiny rolling towards her.
Morning in Kaikohe
The house swells with the materials of modern living, now, accumulated things, pottery, bowls, cups, plates, fruit boxes, bean tins, vases flowering, blue striped porcelain, bins of oats, beds, memorabilia, photographs of your children, their drawings and paintings, books, pieces of value, piled, added since last year, the windows more open today, and your reminiscences woven, connected, and lunch, from a heavy iron dish, mixed lentils, potatoes, fresh mung beans, curries and spices, rich brown, healthy, nutritious, like the house, like the garden overflowing with avocado trees, plums dropping ripe fruit, profligate comfrey, grapevines pouring over the shed, kikuyu infiltrating ubiquitous, buckets and barrels filled with waters and teas, layered bricks, timber fabrications, enclosures for hens, the plants all laden with seed, broccoli, garlic, parsley tilted and bent, hidden gems, gotu cola, papaya, passion fruit and tamarillo globes alight, piles of decomposing grasses and leaves, heaped against the fences, tangled vines and webs of beans, harakeke, striking out to the sky, with plumes in red, the soil aching with fertility, crying for one of those thunderous mid-summer afternoon cloud bursts, and you give us hoya, vine cuttings, not one but five different plants, their pentagonal flowers blushed and oozing a delicious sweet nectar whose scent hangs from the map of a morning in Kaikohe.