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May 2012: SPLINTERS

Phyll Holroyd, Inside the Boiler, Whangamumu Whaling Station
Phyll Holroyd, a student of photography, has ancestral links with this whaling station. She says of her experience behind the lens: “My family and I visited the Whangamumu Whaling Station on a beautiful January day, and I spent a couple of hours wandering, camera in hand, amongst concrete foundations and heavy machinery. The photographic possibilities of this boiler caught my eye. I studied it for some time before deciding that the pipes inside the boiler would be an interesting study in perspective.”

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Jac Jenkins, Thin Places

I have a friend as fragile as glass; even her words are splinters. I tweeze them from my skin and dab at the buds of blood. Scars are blooming on my arms – I pull down my sleeves and no one knows.

She hears death in her merlot. She tells me that it makes a slamming sound loud enough to knock the crystal from the shelves. I sweep it out the back door while she sleeps.

On Tuesdays we play pool at the local. The tables are stained and the felt is shiny with use. We put our coin in the slot and retrieve fourteen or fifteen balls. A quick flick of her eyebrows and the barman rushes to open up the table. Most of the time she wins.

Other nights she applies carefully shadowed bruises to her lids, lines her lips with Purple Obsession, and goes out without me.

Sometimes she rocks on her porch swing in the sun, broken, flaring prismatic light. I’m on the slat chair, leaning forward, evangelising The Secret. She spits out her response. Her venom burns.

I don’t know which hurts me most: the bleeding, the sweeping, the losing, the burning. But it’s the gusts of wind at the door that stop me from sleeping.

Jac Jenkins lives rurally near Whangarei with a teenage daughter, two cats and five chickens. She currently works as a librarian, a thousand times removed from her initial career as a veterinarian. She has been writing poetry since she was a teenager and recently completed a poetry-writing course through NorthTec.

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Martin Porter, Splinters

He would pull splinters out of his fingers after chopping the kindling.

Uncared for, he would collect firewood from the river bank that spat hot embers at him while he sought out its warmth.

As a child, he discovered that when you hit a teacup hard enough with a hammer it would shatter with a satisfyingly arousing harmony.

Each time he was beaten he felt his pulse hasten into an irregular rhythm and thought his head would explode.

Each date would leave him incomplete, exhausted and frustrated, as if he had been split into component parts of affection and hatred, peace and disruption.

He watched each battle from his television, collecting sharp pieces of shell from the recorded footage, shrapnel for the future.

He would collect newspaper cuttings about war, Friday night fighting and crimes in dark alleys.

There was something tectonic in his drifting selves causing rift lines, tearing along hidden cracks.

At night he would prowl the black cul-de-sacs, pay his fifty dollars and leave the dead end strewn with broken shards of bones and body.

As an adult, he discovered that if you hit a skull hard enough with a hatchet it would shatter with a satisfyingly arousing melody.

Nobody cared, it was just like finding another fragment of driftwood on the fringes of an angry flood.

It was like pulling splinters out of the skin after chopping wood.

Martin Porter gazes at the sky from the winterless north of New Zealand. A member of writers’ groups in Whangarei and Jersey, he writes mainly poetry and won first prize in the Channel Islands Writers Competition in 2005. Some of his work can be found on the WordPress blogs Take Flight and Poetry Notes and Jottings.

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Vivienne Merrill, In the Playroom

The woodsman should not be trusted. Just because he looks gentle-eyed, his dove voice regularly charming bird-women out of trees; it does not mean he is what he says he is. The children tell their mother this but she does not believe them and shuts them in the playroom with their broken toys.

Melissa is wise beyond her years according to the babysitter who often reads strange books to them. The last one frightened little Billy as it was about someone who didn’t know what was happening to him. “Kafka,” the babysitter said, “was a genius.” The children do not care for geniuses – their mother always says clever-clogs are socially isolated, lead lives of misery and usually die in servitude to some muse or other.

The children don’t tell the babysitter what they know. They have seen the way she peeps through the curtains when the woodsman visits and have heard her sigh.

Of all the toys, Billy wishes someone would mend his rocking horse, which he hasn’t ridden since he was two years old. Melissa is plotting a way to borrow the woodsman’s tools from his vardo. A little knowledge is a dangerous occupation, her mother always warns, but Melissa is well aware of the danger wood holds. The nasty splinters that result from badly-hewn horse’s limbs can kill a child within twenty minutes. This fact will not hold her back as her birthday, in two day’s time, will put her into double digits and therefore, she hopes, render her invulnerable.

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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Judith Pryor, A Present From Paris

When Steven came back from Paris, he brought her a pencil. One of those joke ones. It was long, wide, lime-green, and covered in cartoon Arcs-de-Triomphe. An Eiffel Tower that had seen better days dangled from a gold cord at one end.

Every time she saw it, sitting gleefully by the phone, she got a little bit mad. Who goes all the way to Paris and buys a pencil?

Steven, that’s who.

These days, he gave her different presents. Perfume, and not the cheap kind. Chocolates that weren’t even on special.

When she got to the phone first that Saturday morning, she knew it was her.

‘Steven’s out,’ she lied. ‘Can I take a message?’

‘Um … okay.’

‘Let me get something to write with.’

Searching around by the phone, all she could find was that big, dumb pencil. As the voice tried to find a plausible reason for calling, she pressed so hard that the pencil broke. Lead and wood splintered off in every direction.

‘Ow!’ she yelled, slamming the phone down.

Blood started to pool around a shard driven far down into the base of her thumb. Shaking, she picked up the pencil and ran into the bedroom to see Steven emerging from the shower.

‘What’s up?’ he said.

‘This,’ she said, throwing what was left of the pencil at him and adding pointedly, ‘I’m leaving.’

As she marched away, drops of ruby fell behind her and flakes of lime green fluttered to the ground.

Judith Pryor is formerly a cultural critic and historian. She has spent the last eighteen months at home looking after her young daughter and, besides writing short fiction, is now learning the guitar, blogging about motherhood and feminism on smothered and putting the finishing touches on a children’s novel.

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Sally Houtman, To Dislodge –

1. Brace yourself

Forget about why he left you. Forget the whole last year. It never happened. Hit delete. Forget about your thinning skin and the grey that flecks your hair. Today your divorce is final. Today is the day everything will change. When people ask you how you’re doing, tell them you’re just fine. When your sister asks you out to dinner, don’t make excuses. Take off the silver locket he’d had engraved with your initials. Tie your hair back with a ribbon. Put on some mascara. Go.

2. Hold tight

At dinner, make small talk with the waiter. Comment on the prawn cocktail. Ask about your nephew’s job. When the couple at a nearby table coos and giggles, leaning close, smile quietly to yourself. Remember you got the house and the car and the cat. If you feel a tug of envy, take a sip of water. Think about your ex’s bald spot. Think about his sweat-stained shirts. Picture him with his short-skirted tennis coach, her on top, his beer gut jiggling like unmoulded flan.

3. Pull free

Notice the tall man at the salad bar, between the olives and the tub of baby greens. Ask your sister if he smiled at you. Swear he did. Feel an ache crawl up from your belly and settle between your breasts. Leave your sister at the table. Say you need some air. Step out onto the verandah and lean against the railing. Remember how it feels to breathe.

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

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Matthew Zela, Flesh

The barn that night saw love and music. No candles.

It was a good old stick, served my people well, took a few trees to build. It’s a long time we’ve been here, blood and soil, but none of that will last the year at this rate, with every brother now keen to sell.

When the gabling fell off the loft Tom worried and moaned for weeks, his wallet tightening. Daniel couldn’t be got, outside coverage, no longer of this world. Jack told us he told us he told us so.

And you and I, we went up to see, one golden afternoon. We saw the eggyolk glow of dying sunlight slide across the skeletal timbers. We saw the billow and waft of dust shards and the blue of late shadow set against the purpling, gable-framed sky. A taste of magic and miracles. A finale. A nostos.

We had blankets for warmth.

The stars wheeled within the pie-sliced hole in our barn and we both marvelled, saying that she was even more lovely now that she’d opened up, perhaps to say goodbye.

We agreed, for the first time in years.

You had twins. The barnstormers, I call them, though they’re both calm as dead winter lakes. Funny, ’cause they moved away from winter, a seven-hour drive, straight for the equator.

It’s hard to come home when nothing binds us anymore. No land, no people.

Today they took it down, our barn.

I hope it gave them splinters.

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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Kathryn Jenkins, Banana Cake

The door slams behind him. I jump and grip the edge of the sink. Garage door up. Car engine on. Car reversing. Garage door down. I sag. Only four hours to complete the list he’s left me. It’s impossible and I crumple further before pushing myself away from the sink and starting on the banana cake. I put all the ingredients on the bench but as I reach for the mixer my elbow knocks an egg to the floor. It shatters and panic washes through me. He’ll count them. I scramble for a paper towel… and another egg follows. The puddle widens and creeps towards my toes. My legs shake and a crazy thought blossoms like the bruises now darkening on my wrists. I watch in alarm as my hand edges towards the bag of flour, picks it up and empties it over the broken eggs. My toe explores the very edge of the puddle, gluey with flour and egg. A giggle turns to hiccough and then a sob. Milk flows over the flour, sugar piles on top and over-ripe bananas burst as they hit the floor. I trample the ingredients together, laughing and crying and screaming. I run to the bedroom, trailing banana cake through the carpet. His good shirt is waiting to be ironed. I use it to wipe my feet before slipping on a pair of jandals and grabbing my handbag. The front door stays open, swinging in the breeze as I leave.

Kathryn Jenkins lives in Kerikeri and writes flash fiction for adults. She has a contemporary novel building in her mind and hopes to see that on bookshelves one day. A blog site compiling her flash fiction is also underway.

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Melanie Vezey, Change

She stood in her old tack room, the sight and smell of it like home and hearth. Things left where teenage hands had placed them: oozing pot of hoof treatment, greasy mane comb, bridles sweat-stained and stiff. Traded horses for boys, Mum said with a wink when interest waned, when she still had strength and a sense of humour.

Call in the horses! Your daughter’s failed an exam and she’s going for a ride. Feisty Mum. That seemed long ago. A college degree ago. Wistfully, she wondered if her own child would love to ride.

Images washed over her like seasons compressed. The diagnosis, at first full of promise and hope. The halcyon reunion of mother and daughter, small talk and smiles. The news of the baby, a bittersweet Indian summer.

At last, winter wrapped itself around Mum.

Now Dad was selling the farm. She heard the clatter and clunk of him loading wood. She turned to see him raise one log in the air, bring it down with a muffled crunch on a nest of baby mice.

“What are you doing?” Her voice, sharp and high, startled her like a slap.

“They won’t live,” he said.

“What about the mother, Dad? When she comes back?”

She fled the barn, running from the blow, her heart exploding.

In her childhood bedroom she wept. Inside her, the baby curled tighter.

She vowed to be strong for both of them.

Melanie Vezey lives in the Bay of Islands, taking inspiration from the surrounding natural beauty, her husband and the wild adventures of their two young boys. She is renewed by daily hikes in the bush where story characters call to her from behind every tree. She tries to remember a pen and paper lest the good ones get away.

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Anonymous_Author©, An Aphonic Discourse

Silence screams an awkward glance over its shoulder to someone else who might be listening: the voyeur behind the musty drapes. I smell of those drapes, I smell sadly of their terrifying stories. I look under rugs of matted hair and insects for a trapdoor out of here. If it was a matter of communication it’d be easy, but the more said the less heeded. Skin and bones of sentences wilt lamely where they should stand proudly singing, freed of fat. Conversation is no bird tonight.

Hayley rocks on aching feet, stirs cubed beef into thick sauce, waits for her husband to come home.

Panic sets in. Peristalsis forces words to the surface. They hurt: the difficulty of their conception; their birth. Take them, sculpt them into what you will.

Unseemly custard-yellow foam innards spill through the oven mitt’s floral cotton casing into the pristine kitchen – threaten to overflow into the pot, spoiling the meal.

I imagine a time when my speech is sea and surges with regard for neither sand nor stone. Each lofty crest releases the finest misty nuance, brushes your face with meaning. Flowing from my lips, cold and thinly layered, water on a desert skin.

Unwelcome splinters of images of Brad cause her to flinch.

Your clothes I hate, your scent I hate, everything I hate. Love you? I can never love you.

Hayley vigorously attacks the coagulating mixture with a shallow steel spoon, her blue-black arm stirring in bruised, ever-decreasing, claustrophobic circles.

Anonymous_Author© is the literary voice of unknown writer Derek Jones, who resides near Puhoi. He is an existentialist suffering from an identity crisis and exists only through the benevolence of language. René Descartes categorically stated: “I think therefore I am.” Anonymous_Author© ambiguously offers: “You think you exist.” As well as poetry, flash fiction and short stories, Anonymous_Author© is currently working on his unauthorised autobiography, The Ghostwriter in the Machine. Follow his progress on Twitter (@anonauth).

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Rebecca Simons, Soft Boiled Eggs

They say that’s what happens, when the mind is pushed too far. The brain, or something less tangible like emotion, splinters like the top of your boiled egg.

It used to be my favourite breakfast – two boiled eggs and toast soldiers. Happily I would sit, salt and pepper lined up and waiting. Down with the back of the teaspoon smack on the fragile top of the egg – always the pointy end.

That’s how they explain it to me. That when he left me for another and I lost my home something inside me cracked. All I can see is that egg with its lid peeled back, springy and white, yellow yolk hidden.

For breakfast I get cornflakes, sliced peaches and trim milk, followed by white toast. They used to give me strawberry jam and cut the toast in slices – soldiers covered in blood – they changed to honey.

When I grow up I want to join the circus and travel the world. I bet they don’t have cornflakes with trim milk for breakfast.

Back in my room I look for my bag but can’t find anything. Tomorrow I might ask for poached eggs.

Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European language and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.

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Karen Phillips, Metamorphosis

The first time they were together he said, “I will never leave my kids.”

One Saturday she drove past his house, watched him playing with his son. His wife crossed the lawn, placed her hand on his shoulder. The image froze to the loneliness in her mind.

“I want to have your baby,” she said.

“I have a family already,” he replied and his photos smiled.

Her career flourished while marriages crumpled around her. Other women wore bare fingers and that was okay. She didn’t ring him every day. She never emailed or texted him. When she travelled he could not contact her. She met other men but they wanted more than she had to give.

His children left. There were grandchildren to visit but not too often. His wife’s days were busy – but not with him.

“I’m lonely when you’re away,” he said.

“I was lonely after we first met,” she said quietly.

*

He has a key to her house, her haven with its bright rugs flung across polished floors. Art from her travels floats on pale walls. He’s often there.

From her bed they watch the city lights replace the sunset. He holds her tightly.

“Let me come with you,” he says.

But now he is only a fragment of her life and because she loves him still, she does not remind him that when they met, he laid the path that they walk on.

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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Sian Williams, Bomb

As the plate-glass façade of the university library disintegrated, Miranda looked up from her essay on symbolism in Germanic folk-tale and thought:

it’s true

in an explosion

everything

really

does

happen

in slo-mo.

In the blinding flash, as the Japanese history student near the window was vaporised, the relevance of Hiroshima’s thousand suns was lost upon Miranda.

And as the pressure wave ballooned into the building and that creepy astrophysics guy at the next table was reduced to his constituent particles, the analogy of a new universe created by this Big Bang and now expanding exponentially did not cross her mind.

But as the twinkling blast-front neared, and the light fittings above her desk swayed elegantly in unison and exploded, Miranda thought briefly about Snow White motionless in her glass coffin: sleeping yet not sleeping, alive yet not alive, undead. And Cinderella, the Ash Girl, leaving her glass slipper on the steps and running — running ragged — into the night.

Lastly she thought about The Snow Queen in which the wizard’s magic mirror, when dropped to earth, shivers into a million fragments. Distorting, perverting, corrupting. She was Gerda, barefoot in the snow, bent into the howling ice-storm, searching for the transparent palace where Kay sits alone with shards of glass in his eyes and his heart — and now she was Kay –trying to piece together the puzzle of a shattered frozen lake, to form the word Eternity.

Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. Fortunately she’s never experienced an explosion but, like Miranda, is interested in symbolism and Germanic folk-tales.

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Michelle Elvy, Growing Up

I don’t write things down. Things I write come true. I discovered this in year one. Teacher said, Write about family. I wrote My dad is gone. Simple enough except it wasn’t that simple — it never is, is it — but when I got home I discovered that it was exactly that simple. I didn’t understand the impact of my declarative statements at first, but reality set in when I came home another day to discover We have a pet elephant manifesting itself on our front lawn (that was the moment Rebecca fell in love with me), and then again when I passed a note to my mate Chris saying, Sheri loves you (a reality he’s still trying to shake) and finally when I read the book Everybody Poos and wrote a sequel, on another note to Chris: Everybody Poos Everywhere.

It’s a gift and an affliction.

So here I am now sitting in the cinema with Rebecca, watching the surf movie Splinters and riding the waves on the big screen but unable to get my mind off what she just whispered. If I wrote She’s not it would make it go away, but I’m not sure I want that either. My palms sweat. I finger the pencil in my pocket. Then I take Rebecca’s hand and think of the baby’s first surfboard and pet elephants and love notes and watching my kid giggle like we giggled growing up, me and Rebecca and Chris.

Michelle Elvy is the founding editor of Flash Frontier. She lives and writes in Northland and likes surf stories but has yet to see Splinters.

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Please also see this month’s interview with Berlin writer and fierce flasher Marcus Speh.

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Coming in June: stories about hold my hand

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