Second: The Lanterns – Anna Granger
Third: Thud-thud-thud – Semira Davis
Flight – Catherine Trundle
The Chef – Jill Varani
YouToo – Catherine Trundle
Bivouac – Andrea Ewing
Ming the other – Anita Arlov
Never Taken Photograph – Semira Davis
Pufferfish – Sue Kingham
The Hollow – Anna Granger
White lies – Vivian Thonger
Selections from the long list:
After you had gone – Rose Collins
Black Cat – Patricia Hanifin
Boxing the fox – Kate Mahony
Can I see? – Bethany Rogers
Country Living – Sarndra Smith
Driving to Pakistan – Maggie Rainey-Smith
Farm Holiday – Gay Buckingham
From His Eyes – Dana Christiansen
Going going gone – Anna Mackenzie
Gulls – Isabelle McNeur
He’ll be one of the ones that makes it home – Liz Breslin
Hooks and sinkers – Becky Manawatu
In the field – Linda Collins
Karajan – Robyn Pickens
Lawrie Shrapnel – Jan FitzGerald
Layers of dust – Gretchen Carroll
Lovely Clear Line – Michael Botur
Magpie – Kim Beatrice
Mine – Anne Hollier Ruddy
Mothers of Miners – Heather McQuillan
Old Friends – Himali McInnes
Short Talk on Cézanne, Switzerland and Lemonade – Michael Harlow
Tea, rice, rubbish bags – Harry Watson
The end of summer – Annette Edwards-Hill
The Tat – Tim Saunders
Uncontainable – Phoebe Wright
NFFD Youth Competition
Interview: Anita Arlov, NFFD 2018 Winner
NFFD 2018 Youth Round Table
Interview: Maud Cahill, Jason Books
Interview: Kay Mercer, Dunedin Public Libraries
Interview: Richard Sewell, Space Academy
He She It They
Anita Arlov, Auckland
Regional Prize, Auckland
He’s graven. She’s gilt. He was glass-bottle-fed. She was weaned a china doll. He cuts loose. She’s unmoored. He picks her Mexican daisies. She reads him Ines de la Cruz. He’s on Cloud Nine. She’s Man in the Moon. He’s finger inlet, bracken, orca, syrup. She’s Matariki, moss, cowrie-shell, Hula Hoop. She sleeps in his spoon. He wakes her toes-first. He fries her tomatoes. She peels in the sun. He books Dunedin. She knits him a scarf. He takes on a greyhound. She collects horseshoes. He plants rosemary. She goes to pottery.
He lets slip a white lie. She grows black moons. He slaps his face. She slaps her mouth. He’s power cut, sleet, cacophony, sludge. She’s burnt toast, high humidity, rent increase, aerosol. He’s more-pork cry. She’s wild rabbit spoor. He flattens a possum. She wouldn’t be caught dead. He’s a slot screw. She’s a Phillips driver. He’s wet towels, velcro, bad breath, block-buster. She’s hair-ball, silverfish, traffic fine, art house. He’s Saturday. She’s Friday. He’s long lost tribe. She’s street barbeque. He’s barbed tomcat. She’s treed queen. He pings a nerve. She’s a live wire. He’s haemochrome. She’s bleached bone.
He’s breast of water. She’s landfall. He’s tin can. She’s can opener. He’s focaccia, nail gun, folk lore, archipelago. She’s manuka honey, neon light, kelp forest, quantum theory. He’s wind gust. She’s window. He’s motu. She’s hopscotch. He’s dinghy. She’s jetty. He’s indigo. She’s Indian Ink. He’s vinyl, rope bridge, home-cooked-meal, equal pay. She’s open fire, green belt, skylight, long weekend. He’s paper-scissors-rock. She’s tic-tac-toe. He’s sober driver. She’s wine on special. He hangs it out. She brings it in. He catches the backbeat. She pours on the slant. He’s Battle of Britain. She’s fly.
Anna Granger, Ruapehu
Regional Prize, Central Districts
Three weeks before he died of a winter cold, Tommy Fan sold his Whanganui River bach to his neighbours, the Percy sisters. On the condition they never cut down the big apple tree.
After the funeral the sisters moved in, and discovered that the tree was a nuisance. It leaned onto the cottage, scraped at the windows, and the gutterings were full of its black rotted leaves. The sisters grimaced at each other, and cursed the tree, but remembered Tommy Fan.
In September fresh green tips appeared on the tree and the sisters were encouraged. Sparrows began nesting. Later, pink tinted blossoms among bright leaves came and the sisters took photos of each other leaning through the lower boughs, before the northwesterlies blew the petals away down the river.
When the red streaked apples arrived they were tough-skinned and sour. By April they still hadn’t ripened. The sisters peeled and sliced them with very sharp knives, and stewed them with bags of sugar but they didn’t soften on the spoon or the tongue. Possums ignored them. Wasps buzzed the windfalls but didn’t linger. The sparrows raised their young among the bitter fruit and flew away.
Frosts came and the tree was naked again except for shaggy blue lichen, and big apples on the top branches, slowly changing to yellow, slowly changing to sweet. In June the bellbirds and tuis arrived. They sang and fluttered among the branches, pecked holes in the fruit and ate the fermenting flesh, leaving only round hollow skins bobbing with the wind.
All through July the low setting sunbeams shone into the apple tree and lit up its crown of gold, pink, purple and red lanterns. And the Percy sisters, sitting on their doorstep, smiled at each other and remembered Tommy Fan.
Semira Davis, Wellington
Regional Prize, Wellington
It could be any old house in New Zealand. A farmhouse or a railway cottage; it’s the type of house that drags your eyes from the passenger seat of a car driving rural and you’re sick of seeing possum guts spread like jam on the road. The weatherboards are blistered, and everywhere the wood has eczema. The windows need elbows to open them, their thick sills jut out and make shadows on the wall. They’re the kind of windows that are vocal; wooden joints groan, pulleys squeal, and the weights bang thud-thud-thud. They’re open, and ripped net curtains hang inside. The roof is rusted red. The grass is overgrown, and mounds of hydrangea bushes are so in flower it is hard to see the leaves (but they are there, sticking up like ears). All the hydrangeas are blue. In the darkness of the house there is a small flame, like the flick of a monarch butterfly wing, lighting a cigarette. Her head is draped with dark hair, chin tilted into the light and white stick of nicotine caught between her lips. She comes to the window, and rests on the sill. Shadows dance across her face like bruises and she flicks her ash melodically into the hydrangeas. Then a frayed cord in the pulley breaks. That is what she tells you.
Catherine Trundle, Wellington
She’ll be tuning her pocket radio, in her pocket kitchen. Lunch will be bubbling and browning, and she’ll be humming. Her youngest son, Simon, will be listening to Piano Sonata No 16 in C major. Mowzdart, he’ll say. And though Simon doesn’t say many words he’ll say that one over and over, to the rhythm of his feet swinging against the chair legs. Her eldest son Philip will walk in, his t-shirt bright white from someone else’s laundering. She’ll wonder whose. His hair will be freshly shaved at the back. And for a second she’ll be mesmerised by this man, ripe and powerful, with perfect glossy skin. He’ll place his hands on his brother’s shoulders, quietening them both for a moment. Then they’ll face each other across that pocket table, returning to perpetual motion, Philip tapping his fingers against a jackhammer thigh, Simon swinging his feet. 787 Dreamliner, Simon will say. Fly, bro, fly, Philip will reply. She’ll cut up the grilled cheese toast to feed two and a half. She is the half and Philip will get most of his brother’s share once Simon has eaten a perfect circle from the middle and peeked through to say, Bat signal. Philip will take the toast and push his lips through the hole and sing, The Batman is a black man, and Simon will mouth along. Then, after wiping down the table and clearing the plates, Philip will bend down to kiss the side of his mother’s forehead, stilling her for a second. And Simon will watch the apartment door close, then run to the window, jimmying it up and whispering, Squeak, squeak. Once he hears the front door release he’ll shout down at the street, Wolverine in skinny jeans, and Philip will holler back up, Later, Peter Parker Pan.
Jill Varani, Auckland
Just consider how it feels to touch that smooth sensitive flesh on the inside of your wrist. Consider the palm reader’s fingerprint across the polished shallow pond of your hand, her quiet musing on the length of your love line. Consider the lover’s stroke, a thumb gliding along the trail of your vein, up toward the crevice of your elbow. How your skin burns with the fire of his fingers skating along the frozen ice, etching his trespass into your blood so that, even ten years later, you can still feel his touch: his right hand clasping your lower left arm as he weighs you down against the bed, his left hand covering your mouth, your feeble struggle against his whisper in your ear, “Shhh, it’s OK,” and the smooth silk of your pain, a barely visible scar.
Now, years later, you dream about the knife. Always a chef’s knife, a single piece of tapered metal ribbon. In the dream you find the knife nestled in the folds of clean linen. When you wake the knife will linger in your mind, glinting in morning sun. Sometimes you will remind yourself that you’re too old to sever the puckered seams of that faded tattoo, and the silver woven scar stays hidden within the web of wrinkles on your wrist. Other times you will wake folded in wet sheets, craving the knife. You’ll imagine the metal wing soaring across your arm, parting pale clouds of skin along the path of blue, a trail of cherry-red blossoming in its wake like the shiver of goosebumps that follow a caress. Perhaps someday you will wake to him once again asleep next to you, his carcass hidden beneath the sheet, only a hand visible. Perhaps you will wake up, a palm reader. Perhaps, a chef.
Catherine Trundle, Wellington
There are three versions of this story although they’re basically all the same but it depends on which piece of furniture you were sitting in so it begins with a drink in a bar beside the Marina Motel but it’s a bad drink a shot too many and some cubes of frozen cigarette smoke and something acidic that strips enamel teeth and paint I suppose you’d call it a cocktail but maybe a Molotov one that bombs your insides and there is a character someone we all call quite a character who has been sitting at the bar for two years waiting for the perfect opportunity and then you walked in. And you know when a bull terrier locks on with its steel trap teeth and those red rimmed eyes that peel back well that was it except the bite was a corny chat up line that made you feel sorry for the guy and those red rimmed eyes were the spectacles he kept tapping on the bar both of which made everyone think he’d be perfect after that boyfriend who always called back a day late until inevitably you’d find him spineless and annoying but thing is he actually had a muscular spine and eyes that could get real peeled back and firm fleshy hands and he was clever the way he stared at you like he couldn’t believe his own luck and it ended up being you who asked shall we get out of here and he followed you like a child except from where I was sitting that last frame I caught of you both walking up the stairs under the red lightbulb was him straightening his spine and sizing up the back of your neck like it was a corn cob, ripe for the picking.
Andrea Ewing, Auckland
When it starts they’re already running. Isabelle snags her skirt in panic; her big brother pulls it free. Then they’re clattering down the gravel driveway – past Mum’s tulips opening gingerly, past the recycling bin bristling with bottles, past his white car on the street.
At the bridge Tom looks both ways, trying to be brave; parts the willow’s curtains, shuffles down the steep dirt slope. Isabelle follows, holding Tom’s hand. The stream is stagnant from dry weather, incandescent pools of oil blotching its sides.
They crouch on the bank. Green light flickers on their arms. Tom’s heart stays curled, foetal; Isabelle rests her frown on her knees, watches petals of shadow bruising the ground. Their questions drift skyward, tremulous as bubbles. Isabelle, perplexed: Why does she always let him back? And Tom, anguished: Maybe we shouldn’t have left?
These dark fronts take days to build. They know how to shelter as the winds rise: staring at their Lego, at their bedroom ceiling. When the sky finally cracks – Go, you two, get out – it rains the worst kind of sadness, the kind that stains for days.
They wait in sussurant calm: the shhhh of leaves kissing, the rush of cars passing, water rustling over rock. But bass minor chords haunt this place. The sound her head makes hitting the wall; the ugly bark of his voice. How it feels, every time, to slam the door on those sounds.
A car passes – or did it stop? Footsteps crunch closer. Isabelle sees Tom clench. But it’s not the white Corolla, it’s Mum: thin, sad Mum, face stiff with shame.
She opens her arms, cautiously, as if they’re jewelled parrots perched on a sixth-floor windowsill. They unfold, slowly stand. Tom clutches Mum’s hand; Isabelle’s jaw sets hard. There is nowhere to go but home.
Ming the other
Anita Arlov, Auckland
She was living in the dining room. Wait! It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Kitchen warmth lingered after her parents had switched off the lights and shut the door to the hall. Nor would it be forever. Mary Potter Hospice was full, and Mr Popplewell’s only child was a single man. So the girl’s mother agreed to take him in, even though the nursing home she ran (annexed to the house) had all its four beds full as well. Her daughter wouldn’t mind giving up her room for a spell.
And the dining table was right there. The girl spent hours bent over it, with pencil case and scrounged paper, crafting miniature 3D pieces of furniture. Net templates were her starting point. Square nets. Oblong nets. She measured, cut them out and folded them. She pasted the connective tabs.
Even with the warmth and the table and it being temporary, the girl didn’t tell her school friends she was living in the dining room.
She decided not to ask for a 13th birthday party.
The question of privacy was answered by her father by screwing two chrome curtain rods into the walls above the divan bed and by her mother by hanging a spare curtain scattered with black stalks that blossomed sideways into full-blown roses: grey her side, ming the other.
Bed and dresser were straightforward to make. The dresser mirror was a disc of tinfoil, shirt-button-sized. Pillows were tiny envelopes puffed with a breath before sealing. Handles, a marker dot. Matchsticks of coloured scraps wove themselves into a paper blanket in her fingers.
For the dresser legs, the girl folded one strip back on itself, like a shadow. She cut out four tiny squares, neatly, to embody negative space.
Mr Popplewell surprised them.
Never Taken Photograph
Semira Davis, Wellington
We see a girl dying her hair black, lens sharpened on her reflection. There is no flare, just a crisp clean image of her speckled skin illuminated by the florescent light above the mirror. This is not a close up but the narrow bathroom brings us intimately close. We notice these details: light and dark browns mixed on a pale canvas creating a moustache of freckles on her upper lip, as if unwashed after drinking cold Milo. Her eyes are the colour of oceans. Gloved fingertips work at her hairline. She’s leaning against the sink – a handful of flat-bristled brushes in a fat jam jar sitting on a Pollock display of spilt toothpaste from tubes squeezed thin for the dregs; clean razors with orange handles; pink razors with black bristles pocking through blades; a thin sliver of soap sitting in its own jelly practically forgotten under a tap so tarnished it reflects nothing.
What we like about this photo is the darkness. Her back takes most of the space, it is all in shadow – curved collar of a dark singlet; roundness of a shoulder; the interruption of her arm holding the thin plastic bottle’s stained nozzle to her scalp. The edges of her hair slicked back. The midnight blue of an almost-night sky. Bunched dry and brittle dirt brown gathered at her crown. Look at her face again. Her parted lips are not the pout of an Instagram model. Below her brows is a sea of sadness.
Turn this photograph and search the patterned logo on the back for thin handwriting that could tell us her story. Do you see? This is the year she dyed her hair black.
Does this spoil it? – to tell you she hopes the guy who kissed her doesn’t like girls in black.
Sue Kingham, Christchurch
Regional Prize, Canterbury
Jess unpacked her new lamp and caressed its smooth base. It was a replacement for the pufferfish lamp which glowed on top of her bookcase, its taut skin cream, fins and mouth black. She unplugged this and carried it outside, surprised by the weight the dark base gave the hollow creature.
Paul had bought her the pufferfish lamp in a Japanese market on their way back to the ship. He said it was to celebrate the fact they’d survived their meal.
“Only the best chefs can prepare pufferfish,” they’d been told by the Captain. “They’re highly toxic.”
The thin strips of flesh, artfully arranged on an oval platter, had tasted sweet, not at all what she’d been expecting.
She nicknamed the lamp Puffer Paul and, as a joke, had kissed its hard mouth. It held attraction and horror in equal measure. Its warm glow beckoned, but the bloated belly repulsed her. Money changed hands before she was allowed to bring it home; Paul had connections in Customs.
She’d only travelled once on the container ship with Paul. On her first day the Deck Officer asked her if she was broad-minded. She’d smiled, thinking she was. Halfway through the trip she’d realised she had a different interpretation for that term. She chose to turn a blind eye the evenings the ship was in port.
Months after returning home she found the photographs on Paul’s laptop. They still glowed in her mind. She wished she could forget his white belly against the children’s tanned skin.
She stood the pufferfish lamp, the last of their shared possessions, on the curb with a sign saying ‘FREE’ poked into its thorny spines. Then she went inside to scrub her hands.
Anna Granger, Ruapehu, Central Districts
Now that it’s almost time, I walk back through the house. My feet make no sound on the cold boards and dusty rugs. All the doors off the hall stand open and everywhere is the smell of the house. Of the people whose wool coats seem to hang on the wall, of cheap jasmine soap on the corner of the bath, of the pineapple sage by the back steps, of a child’s hair, of a sable dog, of somebody’s cigarette, more fragrant than you would believe.
In every room I touch the curtains, careful of the lace that almost crumbles in my fingers, and through the windows I see white flowers, and trees still bearing fruit, even though their season is surely over. The sofa holds the old shapes of sleeping cats, their fur drifting and gathering in the corners.
In the kitchen there is food laid out for me – a loaf of bread, plum jam in a glass dish and tea in a brown pot.
But before I can sit and eat I find myself in my bedroom. On the window shade is a silhouette of the camellia outside, trembling and moving back and forth, back and forth. Below the shade, yellow sun slants across the room onto the bed.
The bed is covered with a pale quilt, and a very old and beautiful toy is on the pillow, where it belongs. I want to lie down here in the soft hollow of the quilt but instead I turn and run. Past the open rooms and the hundreds of old coats on their brass hooks and out the front door, while my feet and the barking dogs and crying children make only a silent echo in the deep and sunlit hollow of the house.
Vivian Thonger, Kerikeri, Northland
Regional Prize, Northland
This morning’s forest stands in a shimmering lake; I glide through warm, silty, salty layers. Muses of the mangroves. They’ll go for that.
My visitors are beach-ready. Gina splashes in after me, dislodges her bikini top, chucks it over a low-hanging branch. Squinting against the slanting sun, Sylvie’s taken off gold sandals, her toenails fluorescent orange. I coach her in.
“Sit on the jetty – now stand on the little mangroves, crush them down and they’ll hold you; just fall forwards – kick your feet out of the mud.”
We swim upstream, pushed by the rising tide as if we’re logs, limbs almost redundant. The house disappears behind trees. Sea-foam swirls with us past eucalyptus, gorse and manuka stands, in a looping meander between oioi fringes. Belles of the beatific.
Gina eyes the froth. “Why’s it brown?”
“Organic stuff, a nutrient-rich environment.”
“Lovely for all the little fish sheltered here. And face packs.” She cups the water.
Sylvie sighs. “This is magique. Lucky you, to swim in pristine nature in your own backyard, to live green. Europe is so polluted.” Divas of dreams.
A kingfisher’s ack-ack-ack crashes the silence. The cold below creeps up our legs.
“Smells like bouillabaisse,” says Sylvie, coughing. “Let’s go back.” As Gina tries to pull a mangrove seedling out of Sylvie’s hair, they laugh and slip downstream, sunlit on the turning tide. I hang back: a gleam nearby draws me between contorted trunks into mottled shade.
Something slick bobs against my outstretched arm: a festered carcass, twisted in fishing-line, severed spine as thick as my wrist, oozing an iridescent trail. A blanket of glossy fat flies rises, brushes across my face. High priestess of putrescence.
I find the others sunbathing on the jetty. “Paradise,” murmurs Gina.
“Sweet as. I’m off to shower,” I say. Queen of clean.
Selections from the long list
After you had gone
Rose Collins, Christchurch
It was still snowing and I was sure I no longer had toes in my boots. I didn’t watch your bus pull away – I’m not sure if you noticed that. The snow couldn’t settle on the black railings in College Green. It kept landing on the iron spikes and attempting to attach there, failing over and over and slipping to the ground where it joined the dirty drifts. I watched it for a while.
I thought about our morning spent trying to find you a new computer cord. We walked around for too long – first Grafton Street and then inside Stephens Green Shopping Centre – and no one had the one you wanted. I stamped my feet. I thought of how you had talked about the tour. You were preoccupied with booking venues. You didn’t ask me if I would make it to Galway.
After a few minutes I went home. The snow was thick and soft and I passed an old man in a cap who said, “Isn’t it cold,” and “We weren’t expecting this.” Back at the flat there was a yowling sound coming from under the floor. There is a broken floorboard in the kitchen if you remember. The neighbours’ cat had got in and was stuck under there. There must be mice. She made a hell of a racket and, though I tried for a bit to free her, in the end I decided she would have to make her own way out. I drank tea. I looked out the window. Despite the cat it was so quiet.
Patricia Hanifin, Auckland
Almost midnight and there’s that black cat again, slinking across the driveway between my place and the neighbours, ears twitching at the noise. Their place is all lit up and downstairs the garage door’s lopsided, grinning on a drunken hinge. The party’s spiking up. Upstairs, framed in the kitchen window, a teenage girl pulls her blouse further off her shoulders and flirts with two men in hoodies – they’re passing round cans of bourbon and coke, and rolling joints – her younger sister, no more than ten, bouncing on her toes with excitement.
The black cat slides under a gap in the fence: too many people, too much thumping gangster rap. The men hustle upstairs and down, marking territory – the house, the garage, the girls, the driveway, my place given half a chance in hell.
Earlier today a sudden storm: hail the size of golf-balls covering the concrete steps, smacking against the wooden slats of the deck. Lightning in the west and great claps of thunder. All over the street cats leaping for shelter. And on the news, reports of dozens of small fires started by lightning strikes.
From one moment to the next who knows what’s going to happen? Hailstorms, fires all over town, that black cat coming and going, whiskers twitching, tail up in the smoky air, spraying and rubbing its musky smell like it owns the place, drop-kicks wanting to be gangsters and the neighbour’s desperate-for-attention daughters, too young to know any better, courting disaster like you wouldn’t believe.
Boxing the fox
Kate Mahony, Wellington
Our mother loved to tell us stories of her childhood, sometimes the same ones again and again. We begged and begged our father to tell us one but he always said he was too busy working the farm. Finally, he gave in.
So, began Dad, he was walking home with his cousin Tom after school in Ireland when he spied small red apples on trees in the garden of an abandoned-looking house. It was quiet. No one was around. Tom, the older of the two, gave the nod. They crept in and pulled off some apples, making a stash on the ground.
Such raiding was known in Ireland as Boxing the Fox, Dad added.
We had no idea what he meant but nodded anyway. We wanted him to keep talking.
Dad bit into an apple. He turned to see a big woman dressed in black, with the lined face of a witch.
She wielded a sharp stick at the boys and herded them toward a windowless shed at the back of the garden. A bolt was drawn across the door.
Tom started sniffling. They were too frightened to call out. The concrete floor was hard. They leaned in to each other to keep warm.
An entire night passed.
Then the door flung open and it was daylight. The woman kicked them with her booted foot and shrieked terrible curses as they ran from her.
When they arrived home, Dad’s mother was reading a book on the porch. “Your afternoon tea’s on the table,” she said. As if no time had passed.
Dad looked at us. We stared back. Perplexed. He sighed and went outside to have a cigarette. Mum told us many stories of her childhood. Dad only one. But it is the one I remember the most.
Can I see?
Bethany Rogers, Queenstown, Otago
The bedroom is semi-dark, a curtain hangs loosely over the window and clouds brew trouble in the skies. It feels like evening, but it’s not. Just a trick of winter.
She holds tightly onto the lid of the shoebox. A box for hiking boots, men’s, size 12. But I know that’s not what is inside.
She shakes her head.
The shoebox is quiet. I’m worried. She’s done this before. It started when they sent her to boarding school, after Mum died. The boarding school sent her back. They were worried.
She scratches the side of the shoebox, an awful grating sound that’s magnified in the silence. I don’t know what to do. Her hair is unwashed and she’s wearing the black hoodie, like always. It smells of sweat ingrained, but the colour doesn’t show the stains. I think she’s killing them, but I can’t be sure. I can’t see blood stains on black fabric.
She buries them. In the shoeboxes. The others say she finds them that way, that she’s just burying them, the way we buried Mum. In a plain, brown box with blue nigella damascene stolen from a neighbour’s garden.
There’s a quiver from the box. It’s alive.
“Can I see?”
She lifts her hand from the lid and the hare springs out. A jack-in-the-box. Its eyes are so big. Big and wide and yellow with a dark brown dash in the middle. One of its black-tipped ears is split, an old war-wound. Glossy, wet fur flashes in the dull light as it dashes around the room in panic. All we do is watch. Like we did once before. We watch while it thrashes and thuds against the walls until it drops.
“We can bury it now, together,” she says.
Sarndra Smith, Dunedin, Otago
In the middle of one night, back when we were giving country living a go, in a farm cottage in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, when we didn’t lock our doors because there was no need, the farmer who lived over the hill woke us up when he came in with a shotgun and a half empty bottle of whiskey and sat on the end of our bed and said he wanted to tell us a story.
We were wide awake in no time. All ears. He told us how his daughter had come out from town that morning and put LSD under the jam on her mother’s scone. Told the wife as soon as she’d downed it then buggered off back to her hippy mates in town. He took a slug of whiskey and fondled the shot gun that lay across his knees.
Then the wife started looking a bit queer, so he took off out the back and didn’t know anything about anything until he came back in for his tea. No tea. No wife. Gone. He stroked the gun and slurred `probly gone bush’ and went quiet and rocked back and forth and stared at a spot on our floor. Then, just when we thought he might nod off and fall off the bed – or onto it – he jerked awake, got a grip on his gun and said `think I’ll go bush meself – might as well – nothin much else to do the way things are round here.’
Next we knew he was gone.
We went back to town to live not long after.
Driving to Pakistan
Maggie Rainey-Smith, Wellington
The bikes are new and electric. Her battery sits on the back. His battery is central mounted. They both wear lime green hi-visibility vests. Her cycle helmet is blue, while his is red. Their tyres are perfect for off-road and a bit of gravel here and there. On the cycle trail, division develops between the have and have nots. Battery power is considered a form of cheating. No one says this, of course. They all meet in the evenings at the local pubs for beers. People exaggerate their late departure, their long lunch, the birds nest that had them captivated for at least thirty minutes – look, here’s a photo of a greenfinch. And oh, did you see the soaring Hawk just past the tunnel. The shut one eye theory is expounded and those who have and those who haven’t… shut one eye… whether it helps with visibility riding through the tunnel. Arriving too soon, because you have a battery, is becoming bad manners.
On the third day, age is taken into consideration along with who has battery powered bikes and who does not. It’s not overt, and tactfully negotiated. One chap talks about driving to Pakistan from Norway in the 70s. It’s easy to do the maths on this and chastening because he doesn’t have a battery powered bicycle. Another couple who seem married reveal they live separately and she is still recovering from a divorce, five years earlier. I’m in no rush, she says. But everyone senses her companion is. The chap who drove to Pakistan has become a hero for cycling without a battery, for driving to Pakistan, for being alive. The couple with the battery powered bikes and matching vests argue into the night about whether it is possible to drive to Pakistan from Norway.
Gay Buckingham, Dunedin, Otago
She heard tragic accident and lonely and her mother say could be what she needs.
Next she was at the Ensors: Todd and Tracey, one year older, and Brad, her age; they wore stained khaki overalls and woollen jerseys, matted, shrunken, lacking buttons.
“Not like yours,” said Mrs Ensor to Maria. “But good enough round the farm. I can’t be hand-washing.”
“My mother does hand-washing,” said Maria.
“That so,” said Mrs Ensor. “Run and play with the children now. That’s what you’re here for.”
She found them. Todd held a slug gun.
“This is what we do,” he said. “We put a dead lamb in the paddock. We hide. When a hawk comes down to eat it, we shoot it.”
“It’s fun. Hawks are dumb. Sometimes it’ll fly up to see the danger and when it can’t see it, come down again and we shoot it again.”
“I told you, stupid. It’s fun.”
Maria went where they went. They put a dead lamb near a macrocarpa hedge, hid and waited. Todd said she must repeat his words.
“Say shit and cock.”
A hawk flew down and Todd shot it. The bird sagged sideways and dragged away from the bait.
“Yeehah!” they yelled and raced over to stand above it. As the bird flapped hopelessly Todd handed the slug gun to Brad who shot it again. And again. They crowed as the blood ran and began to congeal, as the tawny feathers parted and showed soft, creamy down, as they saw the exposed, pointy tongue in its open beak, its half closed, hooding eyes.
Maria turned away.
“We said it was fun,” said Tracey, using the tail feathers to smear clotted blood over Maria’s neat woollen cardigan.
From His Eyes
Dana Christiansen, Lawrence, Otago
I only saw him do it twice. Once when Grandma died. Then again when his gelding Silver had to be put down. With all the other animals, Dad handled this task himself. But with Silver, his hands trembled and he kept blinking. He had to ring our neighbour instead. When the gun fired, Dad and Silver both collapsed.
When I was eleven, Dad told me to check the silos. The higher I climbed, the more petrified I became. I peeked downwards and felt my eyes sting. A real man wouldn’t.
At boarding school, I wanted to. For my mum. For my dog. For my best mate Joey who I was sure I would never see again. I didn’t bother. I tried to blend in with the sticks and stones. I made a point of never.
There was a boy at school with feathery blonde curls. From behind, he almost looked like a girl. I was fascinated by that beautiful hair. I wanted to reach out and touch it. I didn’t.
The sentimental moments never prevailed. Not even when my first girlfriend broke up with me. Dad told me there were more fish in the sea, but I wasn’t sure I had an appetite for fish. This made me want to. Had I forgotten how?
When Trent proposed to me, I rang Dad to tell him I was finally getting married. I couldn’t be sure, but I think he started crying.
Going going gone
Anna Mackenzie, Hastings, Hawkes Bay
My mother, struggling up the hill with a baby on either hip while I tug on her skirt and Dad jollies along the older ones. Leading the married ladies’ novelty race, until the umbrella tangles her legs and her oversize white knickers make school history. Slapping my leg when, in my teen certainty, I tell her not to over-react.
At 51 years old, she scrambled onto one of the lions in Trafalgar Square, while I thought how sweet it was to see old people travelling.
Once we’d all left and the care of us didn’t fill every bone-weary minute she built a garden, lugging stones from the river, growing plants from tender cuttings. It’s a deer paddock now, camellias for stock food.
The day after my wedding – the last finally settled; Dad called it a relief – she collapsed with hepatitis, her skin like a shrivelled apple, the whites of her eyes custard yellow.
At Dad’s funeral she was magnificent, stoic, bereft, the years of tears that followed wearing us as thin as the hair across her fading scalp.
Hard to see dancing, now, in those swollen feet. “Bionic knees!” we said, as the years kicked in, and “You’ll be setting off metal detectors with that hip!” She complained to the doctor that she was ballooning out at the waist and he asked how much height she’d lost, saying it had to go somewhere.
Bone-weary, I drop by with three punnets of soup and sweetpeas from my garden. No time to stop, I tell her. But that night a memory takes me and I phone to ask after her lumpy knuckles, hear about her poetry group and the couple in the unit next door, while I picture the solid heft of her, final bulwark against our own thinning days.
Isabelle McNeur, Wellington
When I remember him, it’s the seagull in his hand that comes back. They were small and pale, hand and bird both. He pressed its hollow bones into place and then held the bird still so I could stroke it. The seagull stared up at him with eyes as big as its brain and never thanked him once. I don’t think he minded. When it came time to set it free, he let me open the cage. We stood back and watched the seagull climb out onto the sand, unsure, before its wings came open.
They’re everywhere now, milling around bus stops and carparks. Sometimes when I’m driving home I’ll zone out and find myself next to the beach. I’ll pull the car over and climb out onto the sand, unsure. There will be streaks of seagulls or clouds of them, depending on the time of day. None of them let me close enough to touch. One might step forwards and cock its head, but when I reach out it will take flight. It’ll escape into the sky or onto the roof of a café and I’ll remember his hand holding the bird steady as I stroked a careful finger over its head.
He never told me, I had to look it up, but seagulls can live to fifteen years old. A few years ago this would have been hopeful. I would watch seagulls perching on traffic lights or sunning themselves on top of cars. I’d close my eyes and imagine that bird stepping from a cage: me undoing the latch, him holding the base.
He’ll be one of the ones that makes it home
Liz Breslin, Dunedin, Otago
The DOC centre has a room like a chapel, with a book full of frozen names. Some that our mouths have been around, some that are legend, some that are no one now.
We are you, me, the Ranger and the other mum and kid who will carry on the climb. Blowing early morning smoke, we follow orange triangles. You’re nine. Tarn swimming, snow scree – it’s all in your growing stride. Four hours of vertical chatterenergy, four walls of wood and socksmell, set ahead of your Top Hope Secret Final Total Goal. The summit. Sir Ed’s first ascent. Mt Ollivier.
It is treacherous. The books say so, the avalanches in our ears wax their bloody booms. The spindle-legged Mueller hut has seen five incarnations. We’re still here.
We learn a new word over sweet, stewed tea. Bergschrund. Profound, beautiful, strong.
We can see the pile of stones that is the summit. We can see it. We can see it. And in front a thick steep snow shunt across a drop-off face. You want that top so bad it’s good it’s there, it’s YES but the Ranger says Full Stop. You take two steps out, hand leaving mine. This is what they don’t teach you at school, this is for you to decide.
Small comfort that you build your own cairn from hidden tears. Big heartwrench that the other two make it across and wave their success from the peak. Is it that you already listen to your feet? Is it because the Ranger said? He says you have reason beyond your years. Hand back in mine, you can’t meet the other kid’s eyes.
Homeward, we break the safer rules, packsled down snowy faces, half of your heart left behind.
Hooks and sinkers
Becky Manawatu, Waimangaroa, Buller
I come from a family of stoic men. Mostly fishermen, who all have gumboots stained with guts, and more than one scar each from spikes, knives, shiny hooks.
I think that’s why I hate that I screamed. That’s why when Dad pulled up beside me, walking down the gravel road – not caring for my bare feet, my forgotten shoes – I just got in the car and said nothing.
She had said: “He was just out of my sight for a minute.”
We said: “Don’t worry, Mrs M, we will help you look.”
She said: “Just a minute.”
We said: “Naughty baby.”
I took off my shoes and we went inside. Mrs M’s hands were splayed.
We giggled when we looked under the bed, we giggled when we said: “Come out, come out wherever you are…”
I saw that the laundry door was open a crack. I pushed it and when I saw legs sticking up from the big bucket I turned to a sand-bag.
I looked away and Mrs M caught my eye and it was then that I screamed. Not right after I found him, but when I saw her find in my face that I had found him.
Found her naughty baby.
I walked off, forgetting my shoes. There was no sound of sirens. Not yet. Not out here in the whops. Dad pulled up though, and I couldn’t tell what had happened. I just got in the back of the car and pretended I’d been barefoot at the beach.
A policeman came to see me and he brought me a stuffed toy lion.
“For being very brave.”
I took it to my room and stood in the doorway listening to him tell my mum: “There was a spoon in the water. A silver spoon.”
In the field
Linda Collins, Kakanui, North Otago
Rows of strawberry pickers bend over. My mum is there. The sun is high in the sky. I can’t see the green and red of the plants, just the shine of the black plastic they grow in. Mum and the other pickers are shadows. They could be a herd advancing towards me. A herd of elephant heads. Their hips are the curves of ears. Their folded torsos are trunks that sway back and forth as they part the leaves and pluck. Sometimes a trunk rises. Human eyes are two dots, like nostrils inhaling. I am supposed to be with the other pickers’ kids in the packing shed. But there are animals in there, too.
Robyn Pickens, Dunedin, Otago
This is Hone Tuwhare rain falling and resting. The metal hinges of stray clothes pegs oxidise on the newly mown lawn outside. I listen to Kirsty Young ask Annie Lennox her eight favourite discs. Annie’s seventh disc is “Winter” from Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. You are there in the credits. You, who cycled with homemade panniers from Motueka to Christchurch on the back roads to start university.
The conductor of “Winter” was Herbert von Karajan. Karajan was the name of your horse. Later, you found a paddock on the outskirts of Christchurch, brought the family caravan down, and made a home for you and Karajan.
You got rid of the saddle. You were always covered in horsehair. There was no gap between the two of you.
I arrive one day to see closeness. You are standing on Karajan. Your feet are bare on Karajan’s back and your arms stretch out wide for balance. In your face I see what it means to melt into another.
Karajan is chestnut or white or dappled. I feel bad that I cannot remember this part of you.
When you moved to Wellington you couldn’t keep Karajan. You lost too much weight, started stripping and kept the money in a box in your wardrobe. You lived in a complex where they housed beneficiaries, the mentally vulnerable and new migrants. One time I visited you, a man in the courtyard below was hitting himself in the face, or had been beaten – I can’t remember which.
You said we made each other sick. We had walked to see Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette but you were weak so we rested every so often. Even though this was the last time I saw you, in my rain mind I see you standing, whole, on Karajan.
Jan FitzGerald, Napier, Hawkes Bay
His name was Lawrie Chapel but people called him Lawrie Shrapnel, because of the plate in his head. It was a garlic bulb head, not an egg like other old men’s.
He lived on the school boundary and we were forbidden to talk to him because he liked to watch us playing. Sometimes when the duty teacher was called inside, the boys would kick
the ball into his property and as he stumbled through blackberry to retrieve it, we’d flock over to the fence to check out that weird head.
Malcom Rowe reckoned the plate inside would look like something from his Meccano set. Sometimes Lawrie Shrapnel would catch up with my friend, Rosemary, and I biking to school. Riding “no hands,” arms extended in classic vaudeville style, he’d belt out the musical hit song “Rose Marie,” to faces red with laughter.
“Most days,” he told the butcher, “I feel like a horse has kicked me in the head. Other times, it’s as if my skull has lifted and I hear this tinkling, like a Tibetan bell, a long way away and the clouds talking to me.”
When the minister asked him if he believed in God he said he believed in Dylan Thomas and the Mekong Delta.
One autumn my friends and I biked into town to watch our fathers in the Anzac Parade. Eventually my dad marched past and winked, and behind him in the next row, we spotted Lawrie Shrapnel, doing little half-skips to keep in step. A swathe of medals like stars and rainbows hung across his chest.
And the funny thing is, none of us actually noticed what he wore on his head.
Layers of dust
Gretchen Carroll , Auckland
“I’m not sure where you’re meant to put it, in an old sock or something? I’ve only got one pair you know.” Dad’s eyes crinkled.
“Very funny. It’s a personal alarm to hang around your neck and if you fall, you press it and help comes.”
Dad waved his hand. “Waste of money.”
He sat on the quilted duvet covering the single bed, and it struck me how small he looked. On the floor were newspapers, books, the odd cup, and on the table, a layer of dust that seemed to grow before my eyes.
“It’s that, or you get live-in help, or go to a retirement village.”
“No need for any of it.” He went to get up; it was a slow process. “Think it’s time for a cuppa.”
We padded down the hallway into the kitchen. He went about locating two china teacups and digging out teabags. I rinsed the unidentifiable dirt from the cups.
“How about a cleaner?”
“What, a woman meddling around? I have you to do that.”
Sighing, I wondered what the options really were. He was mentally okay, but was it responsible to leave someone living like this? What would’ve Mum said?
“I can do what I can, Dad, but at the end of the day…”
“Is nightfall.” He interrupted. “There’s nothing wrong with me, dear, and I like my house how it is.”
I looked outside through the smudged windows. There was a bird sitting on a branch, singing amongst the dead rose bushes and brown grass.
Lovely Clear Line
Michael Botur, Whangarei, Northland
Dad keeps his voice crisp and flat as his starched shirt. The old man could be sweating right now but I can’t see him, cause I’ve vowed never to be in the same room as my father again until he apologises.
I’m still waiting.
“Lovely clear line on the Unidens these days,” he tells me. Doesn’t say sorry about Mum.
I’ve phoned to talk about The Incident but we just make smalltalk about our connection. Christmas Eve, he’d bellowed at my mum to stop being soft on me. I’d grabbed him by the throat. Dad deflated. He’s never hit me. Only Mum. The elders have always told Dad he’s too soft, plus he’s a useless salesman and he ought to take a loooong haaaard look at himself if he wants to measure up to Grandpop.
“Lovely clear line,” my dad tells me instead of all of that. “Anyway: mustn’t linger. Bye, now.”
Days later I’m driving past this Vodafone Father’s Day billboard on the motorway and I have to pull over. The windscreen’s wet. Or maybe my eyes.
You’re trying to tell me the fibre optic cable is an advance on the Uniden-MT series you used to sell, hardly ever home, out degrading yourself begging country preschools to spend money on deluxe cable they didn’t need because if you didn’t fill your quota you got forced to go on Personal Improvement Camp by the elders. You’re trying to say the phone seamlessly carries my voice to a city I’ve vowed I’ll never go back to if you EVER fuck up again, Dad.
You’re unable to tell me you’re gonna treat Mum better, cause your dad never taught you to talk like that.
You’re saying the line is lovely and clear. What you mean is you hear me.
Kim Beatrice, Pahiatua, Central Districts
I’d had enough of this. Got up, went to the door and opened it just far enough to check that the magpie was nowhere to be seen. My neighbour wasn’t anywhere in sight either, but I could see a man on a bike waving his French stick in the air.
I said, “Did you hit it?”
He said, “No.”
I went back inside and closed the door.
Anne Hollier Ruddy, Auckland
I used to call her My oh my because she was the girl who braided her hair with yours, and she was the one that woke up in the morning with grass stains on her ankles and dew on her shoulders.
In high school she came up to me and grabbed me by the arm. We stumbled upstairs and sat on a bench next to the classroom. I looked at the long row of lockers noting how their locks seemed so pleased being together. She pulled up my sleeve and bit me. Then left me a scent of giggles and a note on my skin saying: “Now you’ll remember me.”
I stumped around for five days with a bruise that resembled the backside of a rainbow, inwardly screaming My oh my! How to make her remember me? Our photography teacher reminded the class of our assignment due in a week. Next day I smuggled Dad’s camera into my backpack. Its zoom lens was better than mine.
The trees lining the edge of the school driveway glowed with autumn colour. On the ground lay leaves slowly dying. I watched her saunter to class ahead of me and focussed the camera. Her hair hung unbraided down her back like a curtain. That night I photoshopped the image so that a heap of gold was falling to the ground. A bubble of laughter floated in me at the sight of her bald head.
It didn’t surprise me that my picture was selected for special mention. But I hadn’t expected my surge of pleasure as it was pinned on the wall. There was silence at first, then a wash of laughter. Our classmates drew aside so she could get a closer look. I seemed to stop breathing. Oh my, she exclaimed, delighted.
Mothers of Miners
Heather McQuillan, Christchurch, Canterbury
She remembers him as a boy of about six, his pockets filled with rattling stones. He scoured tracks in the dirt, drove toy cars at speed. The earth and him, they were one. When his legs pounded, the impact formed strong bones. Fibula, tibia, femur. Smudged nose, mud-caked knees. These are things for a child. Now, his mother kneels in the soil, buries her fingers in it, and feels for him. Sometimes she digs deep and her nails clog with dirt. She does not love the earth, scrubs it from her skin, scrubs at the memory of his handhold.
Her son lies idle while overhead costs are counted and instead of sleep, she sharpens a metal pole against the whetstone she keeps in her bedside cabinet. Each dawning, she thrusts the point into the earth to forge a breathing hole for him, drilling down until she reaches rock. Always the rock. A solid wall of those who keep him from her.
The mother walks towards locked gates and at each footstep hears his bones crunch beneath the gravel. She gathers the shards and clasps them to her breast. She has seen the grainy photos. The bodies, clothed and curled, not turned to dust. She has heard the lies thrown before her like crumbs for a simple sparrow to peck at. She dreams a note, scrawled when he realised no one was coming for him. Take me back to the sunlight.
Himali McInnes, Auckland
There is a door. It is heavy and dark, chiselled from ebony. It is set in a verandah with stone pillars and red stone steps.
The door opens onto a parlour with red polished floors, tacky underfoot with wax. Frosted louvres slant tropical sun inwards. The windows are framed by violent red bougainvillea.
There are cane chairs, their mahogany headrests scrolled with florets and Lankan leaf-work.
An old man reclines on one of these chairs, facing the door. He sips whisky, and he waits. There is an open paper on his lap, thickly inked: Black July Pogrom 1983: Thousands of Tamils Killed In Colombo. He breathes deeply and prays for courage.
There is the clacking of a treadle-powered Singer sewing machine. An old woman presses her tongue in concentration as she smocks garments. Flowers and leaves and birds flit around the smocking, brought to life by needle and thread. She is frightened but determined. She keeps her hands busy as she waits.
There is an almirah against the wall, heavy and dark, tall and unmoveable. It is filled with garments the woman has smocked and embroidered and sewn. It smells of mothballs and the carcasses of silverfish.
There is a false back to this almirah. It leads to a cramped secret place behind the wall. The secret place smells of sweat and fear. There are eyes that seep sadness, a mind that sees only fire and blood and screaming. There is a bowl of rice and curry which tastes of the kindness and bravery of old friends. There is a heart that is grateful.
There is banging on the big red gate outside. There are blood-shot eyes and kitchen knives and blind anger.
The old man sits and sips, the woman sews.
Short Talk on Cézanne, Switzerland and Lemonade
Michael Harlow, Alexandra, Otago
What if you aspire to be the kind of painter Cézanne was?
Who said you can’t paint against who you are. Why would you?
I am not painting against nature to make a shout become a show.
I am painting after her. Otherwise, you are dabblers he told
his Parisian crowd, pounding the table, the fierce colour of his
words. La peinture n’est pas le triomphe du Zen instantané, mes amis.
And he threw five fingers a curse into the air.
You ask me and I say, you talk to the mountain and it talks
back to you. What we say to each other, that is the painting.
All mountains are one mountain, the one tree is every tree,
the world tree. The ones you never leave behind, the ones
you take with you everywhere you are.
He once said to his dear friend Zola during their rambling
countryside days: it is like disappearing into the scrum
of your poetry and coming out the other side, a little stunned.
And that day in his studio, when his housekeeper discovered
a touch of intimacy is not always a want of happiness, when she
brushed up against the sleeve of his painting arm with her breast—
and with harsh words he sent her away.
And then he added that kind of afterthought that suddenly
wants to enter the unfinished portrait of his wife. You have seen
that Madame Cézanne is dedicated to hats with flowers flamboyant
in all the weathers of her heart. And when we are visitors, she is
as she says, devoted to nothing but Switzerland and lemonade.
Sometime she is full of laughter. That makes all the difference.
And let us not forget to remember, that no one owns happiness,
Tea, rice, rubbish bags
Harry Watson, Masterton, Wairarapa
When Ma died, the Turnbull Library expressed an interest in her literary effects.
Black and white photos of my father with crocodiles, handwritten poems to Ma from James K Baxter, Ma’s unfinished memoirs, letters containing spontaneous verse, 45 poems and an unpublished novel, ‘Lizard Island’, typed on pink paper.
While two curators went through it all, wearing white cotton gloves, I brought coffee.
Both of them had it black.
Ma had kept a lot. There was a power bill from 1962 and a shopping list written on a ‘clocking on’ ticket, from the time she worked as a proof reader at the ‘Truth’ newspaper, when rubbish bags were made of paper.
Tea, rice, rubbish bags.
I used to scoff at Ma’s handwriting. Over the years, my own handwriting had become nearly identical. Missing from the list, was something she didn’t need reminding about; brandy.
I asked Ma if it would be appropriate for me to write this. “Write it,” she insisted, from wherever she is now.
I kept the list. To me the most precious of all her writing. Tea, rice, rubbish bags.
The end of summer
Annette Edwards-Hill, Wellington
On the third to last day of our holiday I look out the window of our motel unit and see Dad speaking to the manager. He’s using his hand to gesture upwards. I can see his lips move and I imagine what he’s saying: I’ve had it up to here.
What’s Dad doing? I ask Mum.
Ranting she says without moving from the mirror where she dabs cream on her face.
We can’t agree on how to spend the day. I’m tired I say.
You’re always tired says Dad.
I’m a teenager I say.
Dad looks at Mum. She’s using all your psychology bullshit as an excuse to stay in bed he says.
We drive to Bluff and visit a house covered in paua shells. The owner, Fred, tells us he uses toilet cleaner to create the brilliant bright blue of his pond.
Christ it smells like a toilet Dad mutters.
Inside the house I take a photo. The flash doesn’t go off. The paua shells glimmer behind him. Fred’s mouth is open in the darkness.
Later we stand underneath a sign that points in different directions. I’m as uncertain as the sign.
We spend our last day in Goose Bay. Seagulls circle our cabin, crying in the northerly wind. Mum and I walk to the railway line, Dad sleeps.
We board the ferry and drive over a ramp that makes a noise like thunder. The water is narrow, bush drops to the shore. Then the open sea draws up to make a giant seam. Dad stands at the railing watching the waves rise and fall. His face says Wait until we get home.
In the distance I see the broken hillsides, the wind turbines, a field of dandelions. The house will be warm and smell of dust.
Tim Saunders, Palmerston North, Central Districts
Do you want to see my new tat?
We’re down under those macrocarpas by the footy field. It’s out-of-bounds today because Mr O’Leary has let his sheep in to keep the grass down, but we’re a real couple of rebel ninjas.
—Don’t be an egg, Larry, I say. Kids don’t get tats.
—Yeah, well I got one. My dad gave it to me.
We’re both rolling smokes and drinking beers. Actually, we’re not. We’re ripping pages out of a 1B4 and stuffing them with grass. I don’t think the sheep are too impressed.
—Here, he says. He pulls up the sleeve of his grey sweatshirt.
The tat is about the size of a hand, a swirl of purple, black and blue pressed into the flesh just above his elbow.
—Gross, I say. Looks like someone threw up.
He starts to push his sleeve down again.
—Na, wait. What’s it meant to be?
Larry strokes his hand gently across his stained skin.
—Look. This purple swirl. That’s his hair, all fuzzy like he just got up after a big night. These green spots are his ears. The blue is his fat lips. And this dark yellow here is his nose. That’s why it’s all squashed.
—What are these black bits?
Larry traces them with one tender finger.
—They’re his eyes. They reckon you can see someone’s soul through their eyes.
We hear the other kids playing bullrush through the trees.
—Does it hurt? I ask.
—Yeah, he whispers. It hurts a lot.
He wipes his thin wrist across his nose, and I decide to never get a tat of my own. Not ever.