The Metamorphosis (Revisited) – Robert Scotellaro
Brains – Edward O’Dwyer
Hungry Heart – Damhnait Monaghan
The Show at the End of the Pier – Bev Morris
You know you are doing it for real when you buy toilet cleaner – Jude Higgins
Chicken Lickin’ – Deborah Jowitt
How my little brother became vegan – Jenny Woodhouse
IKEA, Perfect for Every Occasion – Sue Kingham
Poetry: Erik Kennedy
Book: Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation
Kōrero: Briar Wood with Vaughan Rapatahana
Interview: Meg Pokrass, co-editor Best Microfiction 2019
Book: NOVEL by Vaughan Rapatahana
Book Launch: Gail Ingram, Contents Under Pressure
Interview: Siobhan Harvey, 2019 NFFD Judge
Interview: NFFD 2019 Youth Judges
Interview: Lloyd Jones, 2019 NFFD Judge
He’d bought a joke book, and memorised its jokes. Throughout their dinner, he reeled these off. She laughed a little; then assumed a forced smile; then, didn’t even pretend to smile. When the evening ended, she shook his hand, said it had been nice to meet him, and left.
Her bio said she enjoyed the theatre. When he began performing his stand-up comedy routines, she looked aghast. Checking her phone, she said that she was sorry, she had to be elsewhere. He asked, imploringly, whether she’d enjoyed the routines. “I’ve never got stand-up,” she said.
So glamorous in her photo! He booked a table at an up-market restaurant. Sitting there, he began pointing out amusing details – a misprint in the menu, muddles by bar staff and wait staff. Natalya hissed, “I used to work here! These people are my friends!” And walked out.
Oh, so pretty. He’d orchestrate a joke involving just the two of them. How she’d laugh! He hid in the café and, when she entered, phoned her and said he was outside, and was she the person standing by the door? When she said yes, he said that he was so sorry, he had to cancel. Then he cried “Gotcha!” and raced towards her, beaming. But she was walking out the door. Crying. Suddenly, he didn’t want to make people laugh anymore; he just didn’t want to make them cry. He yearned to hold her, comfort her, apologise. But she was gone.
The Metamorphosis (Revisited)
He awakes to find he is a thingamajig. Some indeterminable gizmo. There is a cog (of sorts) where his stomach should be. Oddly enough it growls.
“Holy crap!” he says, looking into the dresser mirror. He clinks out to the kitchen where his wife is sipping her coffee and reading the paper. He has a crank and a nondescript lever, a doohickey of some kind with a flexible joint; he points at himself. “Meg,” he says, “What the hell?”
His wife looks up and appraises him. “Hmm,” she says. “I wonder what that Finnegan pin does. This might not be so bad, Fred–depending.”
“Depending?” he screeches. “Depending on what?”
“Well, you never know what might come in handy. It might take some time to figure it all out. But, I think you’ve got a lot of potential here.”
“But I’m a…whatchamacallit.”
She reaches over and presses a button. Something begins turning, a bit squeakily. “A little oil can fix that,” she says. “You know, let’s not be negative. I bet you’ll come in handy in ways you can’t even imagine.”
He sits his thingamabob nondescript form down across from her. “I suppose,” he says. “Actually, I never felt better. Hand me the crossword.” And she slides it over. A long doo-dad reaches out and grabs it.
I’ve been with my girlfriend for six months now and all that time I believed things were going terrifically. She’s a certified genius, so we did have some doubts at the start about whether we’d work out.
“You’re not very smart, but you’re very pretty and have a terrific body,” she’d laughed, before kissing me for the first time. Since then, we’ve hardly been able to be in the same room without tearing each other’s clothes off.
It shocked me when she told me she was seeing someone else. She says it’s not the end of us, and that she just had to be upfront with me about some needs she had that I was incapable of satisfying.
“He and I just talk about the deeper things in life, and I get to use really long words, the ones I can’t ever use when I’m talking to you. It’s you I love, though. I want you to understand that. He doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m only using him for his intellect. That means brains.”
Can you play this song for my honeybun?
Cheryl switched off the radio. She enjoyed Sunday love songs, but not the dedications. Gary just called her Cheryl. In the sudden silence, her hand strayed to the passenger seat to stroke the sleepy piglet riding shotgun.
“Such a good little sugar pie,” she crooned.
Gary had been sceptical of Cheryl’s desire for a pet pig; he’d suggested a kitten. But Google confirmed that pigs were affectionate and loving. Now, with the pink dumpling beside her, Cheryl found herself thinking about bacon. Could she compartmentalise? She eyed the cute tail, coiled like a piece of fusilli. And that porcine bottom looked so delicious. No, not in that way.
Stopping at the next services, Cheryl wondered if the lovey was hungry. But after a soft squeak, his eyes slowly shut. Oh, the darling little sausage, thought Cheryl. After coffee and a muffin, she texted Gary her expected arrival time, finishing with a heart emoji. Gary sent back a thumbs up.
Exiting, Cheryl noticed several people gathered around her car. She imagined their collective swoon at her doughy dish. Then she heard frantic squealing. She pushed through the crowd and peered at the shredded upholstery, and the brown deposit on the passenger seat. When she yanked open the door, the pig leapt through the air, disappearing into a nearby field.
Cheryl draped a serviette over the passenger seat and slid behind the wheel. “Siri,” she said as she hit the motorway, “are hedgehogs affectionate?”
The Show at the End of the Pier
Tragic, really. Two partings in that wispy, grey hair instead of just the one. And that cardigan buttoned up the wrong way. All part of the act, I suppose, along with the dated jokes and tiring clichés.
“There’s an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman – all called Paddy.”
The frayed hem of his trousers is less about his character and more about his limp. The limp he never mentions. Or the useless arm. Or the slurred speech.
“There’s an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman – all called Paddy.”
Or the memory loss.
He jerks sideways, ice cream melting on his hand and his sunhat slipping over his eyes. The eyes that have seen countries and people and animals and fruits and buildings and forests and seashores that I’ll never know. But he can’t even see me sitting in this deckchair.
“There’s an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman – all called…”
Words are shrapnel and out of control in his mouth. He fires again and again, spittle forming on the barrel of his lips and coalescing into a slimy string adorning his chin. Once a joker always a joker, he used to say, back when was famous. Well, that’s what he told me. Maybe he was famous. Maybe the audiences laughed. Maybe they loved him once. That glorious summer season in Cromer, larger than life and twice as ugly, in the show at the end of the pier.
“Dad, it’s getting cold. Let’s go home.”
“There’s an Englishman, an Englishman, an Englishman…”
You know you are doing it for real when you buy toilet cleaner
says the young pimply guy to the other young pimply guy who’s serving him at the corner shop. And only a moment ago, you thought you loathed men. Certainly, that man in his fucking big Shogun, stopping, revving and waiting for you to reverse down the narrow lane in your muddy little Peugeot, him watching your wobbly progress in and out of the verge to the nearest passing spot, staring, face like an oven (uncleaned since the last leg of pork he cooked to stuff his fat face with – correction: got some woman to cook for him and complained to her that the crackling didn’t crackle), then doesn’t even thank you for your efforts but shakes his head as he drives by, to indicate that you (a woman) shouldn’t be on the road if you can’t reverse at top speed in a straight line in less than 30 seconds and have kept him waiting and you think of all the things you could have said if you had got out of your car before he drove on. But you didn’t get out, did you? And in the shop, when you come in and bang the door (not meaning to), there’s lovely Hakim, the owner, showing Aidan (pimply guy one), in a kind and careful way, how to work the cash machine. And you know when Aidan’s made his first sale and bagged the Harpic, pimply guy two will go back home to clean up his own shit.
Fuzzy feathers in the bed were the first clue. My lover insisted it was the duvet, Chinese-made, and therefore bound to fail. I showed him the Fairysleep label, with ‘Made in New Zealand’ printed in black. He insisted it must be a fake. I kept the bedroom windows tightly closed, sure a flock of delinquent eider ducks was on the loose.
Round that time he joined a group called ‘The Birds’ that met regularly at an abandoned poultry farm. Apparently, they spent their time trialing drones designed to mimic bird flight. I was just glad he was so happy, head held high, sharp-eyed, chest expanded as if the air itself was sweet and light.
When long feathers appeared on the carpet between the bed and en-suite (in the bold colours of a cockerel’s brilliant plumage), I started to suspect something else was going on. He’d always been the shy type – PJs on, lights off – which had suited me fine. But now it was time to ask: “Are you man or bird”? I wondered what I’d do if he said, “Cock Robin.”
His response was to unbutton his pyjama top with a playful smile. He breathed deeply as he displayed a dense layer of speckled feathers. I felt myself stirring. Questions were for later. I flinched when he started a weird turkey-like warble, but couldn’t help reaching for his downy chest.
How my little brother became vegan
My father rented an allotment to grow vegetables, soft fruit, even tobacco for his pipe. He soon discovered that his principal enemy in this enterprise was neither rain, nor drought, but slugs.
After the first invasion he put down slug pellets, but the creatures must have become immune to them. Next morning, they were still there. A little languid, not to say sluggish, but recovering.
After that he employed me and my brother as slug pickers. We crawled down the rows of cabbages and lettuces with jam jars of salt water, collecting the moribund creatures. Slain for the second time, they remained dead.
He paid us a penny a slug. Maybe we inflated our tally a little. He wasn’t going to count the corpses.
My brother was a quiet child, given to profound thoughts. Watching our mother preparing a chicken for Sunday lunch he asked, “Is it dead? Like the slugs?”
The answer was obvious. Nobody spoke.
“I don’t like creatures dying,” he said. “I’m only going to eat vegetables.” He was a principled child. “And I’m not going to pick any more slugs,” he added.
I hadn’t the heart to point out that the vegetables only survived because we’d removed the slugs. In any case, my earnings were about to double.
IKEA, Perfect for Every Occasion
Celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in Melbourne’s IKEA, we really made a day of it. Breakfast, croissant (with ham and cheese) was a bargain at only $3. Lunch’s traditional meatballs were good value, and for dinner, we shared a sustainable salmon fillet with roasted vegetables and hollandaise sauce.
“The plating up’s a work of art,” Jim said, forking a flake of the pink flesh, garnished with a sprig of dill, into my mouth.
Between meals, we wandered through the room layouts and reminisced about the five kitchens we’d assembled during our marriage.
“I’ll never forget that first flat-pack,” I said. “We lost the Allen key and you got cross. Do you remember?”
Jim playfully nudged my elbow. “As if you’d let me forget!”
After reading the information sheet for the EKESTAD cabinetry, I whispered, “Do you think anyone actually knows how to pronounce these product names?”
“Nah. That’s why the BILLY bookcase was a best seller.”
Our extended family and some close friends were waiting for us in the outdoor furniture section. Jim’s oldest sister presented us with a STOCKHOLM tray she’d had engraved with Happy 25th Wedding Anniversary. She explained stainless steel is more durable and easier to clean than silver.
After the party, the kids explored the children’s bedroom displays. Molly announced it was time for her to upgrade from her bunk bed desk to a SLÄDT bed frame with under bed storage. I patted her on the head.