Second: The gulls, or maybe the rats – Mary Francis (with video)
Third: Last call – Tim Saunders (with video)
Back talk – Mary Francis (with video)
Sam’s nana – Caroline Barron (with video)
The hole – Michele Powles (with video)
All aboard – Liz Breslin (with video)
Instructions for lockdown – Himali McInnes (with video)
The westerly – Tim Saunders (with video)
Disentanglement – Abigail Marshall (with video)
Astronauts – Russell Boey (with video)
Carrots – Michele Powles (with video)
Facts about drowning (Some of which are true) – Michelle Matheson
Off-centre – Margaret Moores(with video)
Walnuts – Jenna Heller (with video)
Blossom in deep winter – Vera Dong
A sniper’s memoir – Andrea Ewing
Anzac on Albert St – Donna Young
At the bank – Rebecca Styles
Burning up – Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor
Catch water, hold fire – Claire Beynon
Down – Michele Powles
Home for the funeral – Tim Saunders
Homeless – Trisha Hanifin
I’m looking at my empty city but my empty city isn’t looking back – Anne Perkinson
Lichen, a successful colonizer in hostile environments – Gail Ingram
Like two coats in a station’s waiting room – Norman P. Franke
Losing it – Andrea Ewing
Love in the time of wī – Gail Ingram
No nest for baby bird – Heather McQuillan
Out in the wops – Hayden Pyke
Seeing wrong – Faith Oxenbridge
Shotgun – Mary Francis
This too shall pass – Ravithri de Silva
Wellington bites – Susan Maclean
<-Thread#CripsWestAuks – Hayden Pyke
NFFD awards night: guest readers and musicians
NFFD awards night: winner readings, hosted by Renee Liang
2020 NFFD competition judges’ notes
The Art of Writing Small: A Roundtable with Journal Editors Around the World
Imagination Unbound: Five Women on the Poetic Narrative Form
Youth Voices: Five writers discuss poetry, story and activism through words
Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction: an international reading
Interview: Lola Elvy, editor of finger comma toes
Interview: NFFD 2020 Judges Sandra Arnold and Helen Heath
Flash Frontier YouTube Channel
Jenna Heller, Christchurch
Canterbury Regional Prize
We rode with the wind at our backs. Cut across Mr Sandbird’s yard even as he yelled at us to get off his property. Gave him the finger and laughed and laughed. Then hurried down the dirt track that led straight into the heart of the wetlands. We humped our bikes through the ripe cattails, deep into a world of punks until our tyres sunk into the muck. Then we ditched them, let our sneakers squelch in the swamp water as we made a game of pulling at the cotton fluff exploding from the brown spikes. We busted all we could see, picking at the delicate seedlings, spraying them on the breeze. We chased each other through the marsh, the reeds slicing our arms and legs until we stumbled onto several silk caterpillar tents. We poked them with sticks and watched as the fisted larvae untangled and crawled into the sunlight, stood back as some dropped to the ground, squatted to see them squirm and slowly sink into the mire. We captured grasshoppers, as many as we could fit into our cupped hands. Felt their wings beat against our palms and shook them like dice before casting them as far as we could. We found a water snake and took turns holding it by its tail, swinging it round and round above our heads. But when we found a bird’s nest full of delicate eggs, the air between us turned sour. And when you grabbed one and squeezed it until the gooey guts of a baby bird spilled out, we fought until you had a black eye and I had a bloody nose. And then you grabbed the rest of the eggs in both of your fists, looked me right in the eye, and squeezed until you’d crushed them all.
The gulls, or maybe the rats
Mary Francis, Wellington
Wellington Regional Prize
Aunty takes me out to gather kai moana, climbing over the rocks with our skirts tucked into our knickers. Aunty’s legs are fat and sturdy as she finds the safe places to stand among the seaweed and the rocks that tilt underfoot. I follow her step by step.
There any rats out here, Aunty? I hate rats.
Āe, says Aunty over her shoulder.
The tide’s left mussels clinging to a big rock that looks like a beached whale. Tap, tap. Aunty uses a rock and knocks them loose. We pile them into bags, dripping down our sides as we walk home up the beach.
We sit on the back step with our bare feet on the ground and clean the mussels. We scrub away the grit and pull off their beards, the shells hard and cold in our palms. There’s no other noise except the beach and the bush.
We build a fire to cook over, and when it’s ready Aunty ladles broth and clattering mussel shells into my bowl, the salt and garlic steam puffing up into the dark evening. You don’t want that one, kōtiro. She picks a mussel out with her fingertips. Doesn’t matter they’re hot, fresh from the pot. It’s not open. Means it’s no good. She throws it away. The gulls will get it, or maybe the rats. Shame you can’t tell that easy with people, eh girlie?
Next day we crush up the shells for the garden. They smell like yesterday’s tears.
Tim Saunders, Palmerston North
Central Districts Regional Prize
Let us imagine two birds are feeding on a rotten tree.
Let us imagine the descending cadence of decadent notes as they hook curved beaks into decaying bark, their ivory-tipped tails mimicking slivers of silver light.
Let us imagine my father’s voice occupies the air. Except it is not my father’s voice. My sister presses record on the tape deck again, and I speak his accents and inflections into the microphone as the black ribbon whirs and spools. Its tight black circle is like the stain of a coffee cup ingrained in the table. I have become an expert at imitating my father’s call, snaring his intonations and tempos. We play it back and for a moment I feel my feet swaddled in his large steps, his grey speckled stubble scattered like stars.
Let us imagine it is my father’s words that flutter from the speakers, not just feathers at the window. The crackle of my voice inhabits his.
Let us imagine he is here.
Let us imagine the huia had not climbed to the top of a tree and glided into the distance. For a moment pretend one scratches in the leaves outside your window and calls for its mate, the notes swoop into your room as you pluck them from the air and wrap them in flax leaves. Bury them with the hot rocks of your heart. Let us imagine the only memory of their song is not just a recording of a man whistling.
I clear my throat like native bush, stumble over words as if they are thick roots of harakeke. My father’s waiata is extinct – that is me you hear singing.
That is me you hear singing.
Let us imagine him singing.
Mary Francis, Wellington
He walks out of the farmhouse and the sun is heavy in the sky. The air wavers.
Gina’s gone. Maybe she’ll come back. He’s kept awake by the lack of her weight on the other half of the mattress.
He looks down at the cats dozing on the porch, mounds of uncaring fur. Why don’t you do some work?
The tabby raises her head and looks at him with narrowed eyes. Why don’t you do some work, she says.
He gets a glass of water, drinks half and throws the rest over the cats. Then he goes to the barn to check the hens. They’re bobbling around the scratchy ground, the air thick with dust and odour. They haven’t been laying well in the heat. Come on, girls, he says, and the nearest ones look up at him and say, Come on.
Come on. Come on. They all take up the chorus as he backs out of the barn.
A farmhand is riding out the far gate with the dogs at his horse’s heels, apart from Duchess, the youngest bitch, who’s rolling in the grass. Get outta here, he snaps at her, hurry up. And he runs back to the farmhouse as she barks it back at him. Hurry up. Outta here. When he looks out the window she’s joined the pack and they’re disappearing up the track to the high pasture.
He’s still holding the empty water glass. He sits at the kitchen table and places it dead centre in front of him. He feels it in his hand, its smooth, harmless curve and blunted lip. He watches the last droplets settle in its base.
When he smashes the glass on the floor tiles it scatters everywhere, all sharp edges now, waiting to happen to someone.
Caroline Barron, Auckland
Auckland Regional Prize
She was a good bitch, Sam’s nana. Not that I’d told her that.
It’s the morning of her tangi and my boss from the meat works hoses clouds of blood from the marae driveway. Trays of glistening lamb steaks and loins are being ferried from trestle to kitchen, and inside the wharekai the aunties are up to their elbows in rewana dough and sweet as smelling vats of beef.
“Over here, mate,” he says, pointing to the pink-stained table.
With a grunt I lumber the great white sow from my shoulders, trestle legs nearly buckling. Boss lets out a long low whistle. She was a beauty.
Far out, the kai turning up! Buckets of tohe and tuatua that Sam and her sister had spent hours on hands and knees digging for at the gully streams along Ripiro. Grey mullet –some cold smoked, some fresh from nets. Me? I’d not been able to be around the others.
I’d known by the trampled ferns and hoof marks down by the creek that she was a biggie. Fifty kilos at least, I reckoned. The dogs tore through the water and up the bank, me scrambling up after them. And there she was. Spider and Jet bailing her up, losing their shit.
“Leave her the fuck alone!” I yelled, putting a boot up Spider’s arse.
I lunged, grabbed the sow’s hind legs and flipped her over – they’re fucked on their backs, like crabs. The freaky thing is, she didn’t stop staring at me, not once, even when the knife went in. I held her head until her eyes rolled back. Quiet.
Here at the tangi, I scratch my knife back and forth along the sharpening stone. Pause. Make the first cut. Don’t stop for two days.
You were a good bitch, Nana.
Michele Powles, West Auckland
Finny were dancing like he might dig hisself a path to purgatory when I found him.
“Uncle, did you see me? I were in that. That down there.” He pointed to his feet.
“I were just digging and I looked down and them stars started twinkling.”
“You don’t sound right, boy.” Like he been down the old pits where no one come back from.
I touched the hole. It were wet. Wet and warm and glistening. Hand to my face I sniffed and there weren’t none of the old earthy hum I’d expect from plain dirt. It had a chemical buzz. Not right.
“Think it’s a bit o night got stuck, Uncle?”
He looked funny, did Finny. Got a twitch in him I ain’t seen before, and a patch o black rising up his foot. Alls a’sudden he quietened. Quietened and sparkled.
“Hell, Finny, whats you done now?”
“Nothin’, I ain’t done nothin’. I’m sinking though. I think I’m due back. Think that place there needs me.” He pointed at the blackhole again.
“Don’t be saying that, boy.” I didn’t want them all laughing at Finny again. Not now people think he’s finally come right.
“I tell you it’s calling me.”
“Leave it be.”
I see’d him try. Watched the vein-rope stand out under his skin from the trying. He sagged, his face looking like it only been drawn on.
It’s night when I’s standing alone beside it again. Me with the night above and below. I looks at Finny’s blackhole. And thinks on what he says before he went and left. And I hear it then, the wind-hustle and grass-mumble, all of it coming out that damn black ground.
“What you gone and done now?” I asks, then I shakes me head. Imagine talking to a hole.
Liz Breslin, Dunedin
Otago Regional Prize
They don’t talk about the motion of the boat. The atmospheric pressure high. The smell of forever and ever Amen the same and only dank. At least they are together. Since the day. Edith says the music up top isn’t bad sometimes and wouldn’t it be good to dance but they don’t talk about it after Hala turns her head to the wall because what is there to say? Hala cannot stop her heart escaping again and again from her mouth and so it is better, she thinks, to lie still, pressed into the weave of the sheet. Someone has made this, she thinks. With their hands. Or a machine. This is civilisation. She holds onto it with both her own hands when nothing else seems certain. The rocking never goes away. They don’t talk about the walking. They don’t talk about the camps. Or the waiting. Because what is there to say? When they’re alone, Hala traces Edith’s sharpened cheekbones with the soft back of her index finger. The sea air gives them dry lips. Edith Dutch-plaits Hala’s hair, not too tight. They don’t talk about politics, though they listen to the free thoughts being aired around them, women and children together. It is difficult to know but they agree they’d rather live in a country where the birds are kept safe as a matter of national priority than under the legacy of bullies and fascists and communists and traitors which means not Europe, which is why they’re here. They don’t talk about the days, how many since, how many until. They don’t talk about the ship’s plumber buried at sea. His wife and children unloaded in a sweat at who knows what port. They don’t mark the walls.
Instructions for lockdown
Himali McInnes, Auckland
gather now in your house of bread and stone; fling wide the windows, collect the leaves blown by autumn winds and paste them to your lips; wipe your busy-ness off the table, let your hair tangle like supplejack; who will I become when I am not busy anymore? you will become thinking feeling knowing unimaginable you; stir fresh water into pillowy clouds of flour, watch wild yeast make marshmallowy magic, watch the bubbles rise thick and slow and pop on the surface of your mind; relish the resilience of ancestors that is in your bones and in your blood; grieve for those splayed on mud-sand floors or snared in rust-metal wire, for theirs is the kingdom of filth and decay and easy-spreading disease; do not sequester your compassion, for this is how you kill the lonely, this is how you grow envy, this is how you fester hatred; instead poke your fingers in the crumbled loam and press in your seeds – sweet-peas for sorrow, kale for comfort, leeks for loved ones; scrape contagion off your hands and leave your gift on doorsteps to sow community; let dust bunnies forage in peace – for greater things have wars been fought; but I must read everything at all times because the news is constantly evolving – turn off your lit-blue window to the world, the world is not going anywhere; watch Papatūānuku dance with bellbirds in urban forests; smile at cherry-eyed kererū winging drunkenly through puriri; take your elders a cord of firewood, a pleat of silverbeet leaves, a warm pearl of kindness wrapped inside your palm; but who will return what I have lost? breathe deep, for this air is holy; surely you will find that which you did not know was lost
Tim Saunders, Palmerston North
You speak of your distaste towards atheists and daylight saving, the driving skills of tourists, and long words like metastasis. I order two organic Cuban long blacks, but you say it’s too late to go all vegan now. I make yours a flat white instead.
Turbines crowd the Tararuas like crosses scattered over a military graveyard. Their wide arms crucify the westerly wind as it spreads wild and free up the ranges, on its way to wherever the westerly goes. I wonder idly how it knows when it gets there, or if it has a final resting place in mind. Perhaps the ultimate destiny of the westerly is just to blow, its very existence dictated by the journey and not where it’s heading.
The girl who brings the coffee tells us to have an awesome day, and you laugh as you wrap your diagnosis around your shoulders. You pull it close like a shawl, and then you mention you detest those who confuse drama with trauma, and how you will miss your sister the most. Maybe you’ll miss sunsets too, but not so much.
You inspect the dregs as they spread across the bottom of your cup like moss on the south side of stone angels. You complain that the cleanliness of antiseptic smells like sickness, and how a third round of chemo will kill you.
The westerly catches the scarf on your head, whips it wild and free towards the bare hills. We watch it flutter and twist in the late autumn sun, and consider the gradual shortening of days.
Abigail Marshall, Hamilton
Road threaded into road and I began to recognise the highway trees. Soon the streetlights started. Old urine yellow or popsicle white. I stared out the car window as the end-of-holiday blues washed over us, lapping in first from the streetlights and then seeping through the glass of our corner laundromat as we passed. We talked about not knowing if the turn into our street signalled an unavoidable waking up from a vacation-infused dream, or a steady return to suburban sedation.
We didn’t talk about what happened at the beach. The air there does things to your mind, it wasn’t us. That’s what we’d said.
The car settled down into our driveway, but my chest stayed raised in its seat. It had been like this: him waiting on the sand, me searching the rock pools. I found a gull there, its legs caught in a 6-pack Coke can connector. Floored, he’d laughed, like the rest of the world by sugar and American corporations. Its legs bled as we disentangled them.
When we fought it was in hushed voices. He found a rock, and said I shouldn’t watch if it upset me so much. I ran into the sea and tossed the bird to the air. He yelled that I was cruel. It caught the breeze and fled.
Our cat roused from the doormat. The motion sensor light sputtered on. ‘Safety and convenience’ the man said when he installed it. An engagement gift lay on the doorstep. Light danced over its silver wrapping paper, a bee deciding if a flower is good for landing on.
He got out. Said ‘hurry up’ as he opened the door.
I slid over to the driver’s seat. Hit the curb. I went back, looking for the roads I did not know.
Russell Boey, Christchurch
You leave home at eighteen with eyes like frozen starlight. You say your goodbyes and you cry a little because all deaths deserve a mourning, even those known only to you.
When you were twelve you watched Gravity. It frightened you, the way the astronauts drifted in that directionless place, strung by whims of gravity, punctuated only by intermittent stars. When you watch those strange spacefarers in their bulbous alien costumes you are afraid of being lost out there, all alone, all out of air.
The new city is not unlike a rocket. You live in a little room in the middle of the great unknown and try to orientate yourself, but it never stops spinning, spiralling through some mystery orbit. You meet so many people that their names flee from your mind. You break your own heart and you cram your studies. You dance to resonant bass and you drink and you fuck, and then you stumble home while the city spins wildly around you, fading to vacuous nothing.
Sometimes, when you do your laundry in the basement at 3am, you like to stand still in the middle of the room and let the ceiling lights forget you exist. Machines aligned like prison bars, rows of low blue backlights, whirl the clothes of strangers, and you think that there is nothing lonelier than this. Perhaps you do not mind the loneliness. Perhaps it is the only thing that still feels real. And the clothes spin.
When you lie in bed late at night in a foreign city, you think that we are all astronauts, on this planetary spacecraft, drifting without direction. You wonder if there is any chance of rescue. You think that you are running out of air.
Michele Powles, Auckland
My friends tell me there were signs. She left them tucked into our relationship for me to pull up like carrots. But that is less comfort to me than the bedding I bury myself under each night. I wake, the smile already at my lips as I reach up to touch her face, but I find only a handful of pillow, (soggy) and the damp wool-smell of the blanket.
I dug in deep that first week. Crusted plates in the sink, food limp and sprouting in the fridge, I stood at the door expecting to catch sight of her through the frosted glass. Expecting every glib shadow of the moon to echo the shape of her.
But today, the curtains finally fell from their pole and the morning light made stars of the dust. I cried. Three weeks after she left, I cried for the first time. With the tears came a clearer view of my room, and of my life. In her note she said she was scared that my mess might have consumed her. Taken a bite, licked its lips as it sucked on her shinbone. Perhaps she was right.
I was so long buried, I worried that sunlight might burn me if I didn’t take care to guard myself from it. But today the curtains fell from their pole and I cried, threw out the sprouting carrots and opened the front door to see if the hot white light would burn me into stardust too.
Instead, it slid onto my shoulders like a blanket. The earth bent, right where I stood. The earth’s light, a firmament, bent to all sides of me. And I took a step out into it.
Facts about drowning (Some of which are true)
Michelle Matheson, Auckland
Deep in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, there is a lake where drowning victims are rarely found. The water is so cold, they don’t rot and so never rise. When you swim in it you are swimming above the corpses of those who have gone before.
I didn’t know that when we married. It’s one of many facts you’ve educated me on. Facts like the optimal number of calories to consume in a day. Facts like not interrupting when you speak.
When we were young I was obsessed with your perfect profile. I wanted to trace it with my finger, with my tongue. It took my breath away.
I didn’t know that some people over breathe just before diving into swimming pools and lakes. It causes CO2 to rise in their bloodstream and they become unconscious.
We sit across the room from each other night after night, watching something inane on the telly having barely spoken all day. ‘What’s for tea?’ and ‘Have you done the washing?’ hardly counts.
I want to scream, but it’s impossible to yell when you’re drowning. It’s a biological imperative to seek air before speech.
The words spew out of you like daggers of ice, a thousand tiny shards of ice piercing my internal organs.
Did you know that a few swallows of the Dead Sea is toxic, so dense with salt and chemicals that it causes internal burns.
Drowning was used as a means of execution in the witch trials. I know you want me gone I can see it in your eyes.
Just one more fact. Did you know that some animals seem brow beaten when confronted by a more aggressive species? They use swimming as a defence when cornered. They head into the water but can turn suddenly and drown the oncoming beast.
Margaret Moores, Auckland
My Camera Lucida is disintegrating. Il s’effondre. Pages flutter to the floor when I open it as if autumn had inserted cold fingers into the binding overnight. Loose leaves, speckled with print and the pin prick holes of punctuation, fall behind chairs and curtains for me to gather and hold to the light. Barthes loves the photographer’s finger: linked to the trigger of the lens, the mechanical sound, the abrupt click. A photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.
I pose, I know I am posing, I want you to know that I am posing.
The student announces that she cannot understand the English text therefore she will read it in French or not at all. The lecture theatre fills with sounds like skateboards on paving stones or distant doors opening and closing as everyone snaps shut their laptops and picks up their coffee cups. She wants us all to see how she is posing. What does her body know of photography – the windowpane and the landscape?
Shutting my eyes is to make this image speak in silence. Off-centre detail like the blue inked rose on her ankle, her red lipstick, her Hello Kitty hair-tie. This morning a kererū thudded into my window before veering away. Its swooping flight from the trees in the garden to their reflections in the glass captured in a smear as indistinct as the flowers on Niépce’s dining table. The ectoplasm of ‘what-had-been’.
Note: This flash uses lines derived from Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida.
Jenna Heller, Christchurch
Not long after we agreed to separate and you’d already packed up half your things, we found ourselves stuck because of the lock-down. Remember that? Remember how the wind howled for like two days straight and blew all the walnuts from the trees? How we heard them pelting the fence, pummeling the lawn, cracking on the deck? How we spent the better part of a whole day collecting the stone fruit from the wet lawn and autumn leaves? It took so much longer than we expected. But what else did we have to do?
Secretly, I revelled in the time outdoors, the time to achieve something, the time to do something in concert with you. It felt so different from being cooped up inside where all we seemed to do was sigh and move into separate rooms.
So there we were, the two of us stooped over, sweeping the yard like spoonbills sweep the estuary. Back and forth, filling our hands before filling our buckets. And while our backs were killing us, our hands got a sort of massage from the wrinkled shells swirling in our palms.
After we’d picked them all up, we sat on the deck and each held a couple, moved them around like Chinese medicine balls. Feeling familiar and warm. The rhythm comforting. And we saw each other again. I mean, we really saw each other. For the first time in months. Like when we were young and we could look into each other’s eyes forever without saying a word.
Then you grabbed the mallet and smashed one. Broke the spell. Offered me half.
Blossom in deep winter
Vera Dong, Kerikeri
Northland Regional Prize
Semi-translucent, soft-yellow La-Mei starts to bloom on leafless branches. A thin layer of snow snuggles around the half-opened buds like tender white cotton. La-Mei is Mother’s favourite.
“Xiao Juan, when you grow up, you want to become a La-Mei or a feeble house plant?”
“A La-Mei, Mother: Mei Hua Xiang Zi Ku Han Lai.” I often recited the ancient poem.*
Ever since I was a little girl, Mother only kissed me when she thought I was deeply asleep, worrying that such closeness could weaken her resolve.
While I am staring at those delicate but stubborn-looking petals, Mother is brushing Ru Yi’s soft and shiny hair. Ru Yi is watching her favourite K-pop hip-hopping. Mother’s rigid and wrinkled fingers glide ever so slowly, cautiously through Ru Yi’s tangles. Mother has serious arthritis from working in rice fields in bitter winters when she was a little girl.
“Ru Yi, sit straight up. Don’t you think you should be talking to your grandma rather than glued onto your device?”
Mother smiles, admiring her granddaughter’s smooth hair. “Let her, let her. Little girls need to have fun.” Mother pretends to pinch Ru Yi’s cheek. “Especially my little girl.”
“Don’t you worry that she is being spoiled – by you, Mother?” I ask.
“It’s my privilege to spoil my Ru Yi.” Hugging her, Mother puts her own face next to Ru Yi’s cheek.
“Don’t you worry that she will grow up and become a feeble house plant?” I ask again.
Mother stops, for a few moments. She then looks up to where I am standing. I return my gaze to the La-Mei outside.
“Sit down, Xiao Juan, let me comb your hair for you,” Mother says. Quietly, softly.
*translation: Mei’s fragrance emanates from bitter cold.
A sniper’s memoir
Andrea Ewing, Auckland
Nowadays he drives trucks, thunders bright-lit along dark roads; Tip-Top dairies shuttered, pub carparks barren. Jessie’s messages light his stubbled jaw blue: Dad, drive safe? Every tap of brake jostles the plastic bread-trays, stacked neat as kindling.
Or bodies. The sight swims up, unworn by years: the roller-door closing on blankets, tangled rows of dirty feet.
His aim’s still good. When dogs lope through his headlights, they run on in his rear-view; the chassis barely kisses their trembling ears. He never misses a possum. A problem of vectors: trajectory of the target, pace of the projectile, making the dotted lines meet. On impact he still closes his eyes.
Six floors up the targets were faceless, darting across the boulevard, ducking the black bees seeking their soft tissues. Trams shrieked past, windows long-shattered; UN jeeps crawled pale as sharks. He smoked often, thought little. Kept count. Blood sprayed T-shirts like calligraphy; wrinkled hands dropped black-market shopping, onions bouncing like papery guillotined heads. His cross-hairs panned, found another torso, the stock slamming his shoulder like a seatbelt pulling tight.
“The Bosnian,” Barry rumbles, waddling over with some rabbits: three pairs of bloodied paws, tied like a string of garlic. At Bosnian the bartender’s head snaps up, titillated. She wipes up the wet O his stubbie’s left, seeking his eye. He stares at her polished nails. She wants a sad survival story, his refugee memoir. But war is like a marriage: only those who lived it understand, and when it ends you bury it deep like anything dead.
So he doesn’t tell her about trade-offs: how his steady eye bought his gaunt daughter steady bread, in a city with its bloodflow choked off. Instead he drains his beer, fills her warm hand with shrapnel; walks into too-bright morning, thinking of cool white sheets.
Anzac on Albert St
Donna Young, Dunedin
It was the blue bugler that did it. Him all bright from behind, the sun rising at his back. Haloed like a salvation army angel.
We’d woken them early, too early they said. Soft heads and sleepy breath, mussed hair and superhero pyjamas. Bare feet and soft toys. Step. Step. Step. The wood is cold.
Outside smells like dawn. Like new things and promise and salty air and hope. My skin nips cool and tremulous. And I think of big things. Much bigger than me, than the pyjamaed boys, the coffee gone cold and the to do list undone. How does sunrise look if it’s your last?
Inside, I give them warm Milo and dress them in flannels and thick socks. We’ll listen I say, and remember, and be quiet. They don’t understand, because Sponge Bob might be on telly. I don’t explain and it’s a terrible gap, the not saying, but the words are too much, now when dying is in all the words. Appropriately distanced words of dying and death.
The phone goes, and we must leave because the sun’s coming up but I answer anyway because everything these days might be bad news. I cough hello because all the sorry’s are stuck in my throat. What’s the collective noun for tears – a wash, a gush, a waterfall? But my Mum is asking if I have the virus, and I tell her no for the forty-fourth time.
The door opens in a yawn and we usher them out, down the garden path still fragranced from night dew. At the gate there’s already a gathering. Appropriately distanced. Respectfully quiet. We stand and think of their last morning and that bugler in the blue suit with the sun rising behind him starts to play. And the river flows.
At the bank
Rebecca Styles, Wellington
I’m the only one in the queue. The two tellers are busy. A boy and a girl are running around – they run from the lean-to where you queue, to an empty desk with two chairs.
Their mum is with a teller. She’s wearing a black leather jacket over a beige and black striped tunic, and black trousers and boots. Her blonde hair reaches her shoulders.
There’s something said about the mortgage.
“That’s my desk, and it has two chairs,” the girl says. She’s five or six, and her brother a couple of years older.
“Can I close the joint account?” the mum asks the teller.
“We need both of you for that.”
“I’m down on holiday with the kids, he’s at home.”
“Have you tried calling him?” the teller asks.
The kids are sitting at a desk. The boy is scribbling on a pamphlet of a young couple standing outside a house.
“I’m just a teller. You’d need to make an appointment.”
“I’m sorry, I know it’s not your fault,” the woman says.
The woman has her right foot tucked behind her left, and she leans against the counter, her handbag propped on top, open.
She collects up all her papers, and her children, and leaves the bank. The teller’s eyes are wide and her lips thin.
The teller looks relieved that my transaction is so straightforward, but I can see the concern in her eyes about the mortgage and joint account. She can see the balance of both.
When I walk out of the bank the woman is standing outside on the phone saying, “Pick up the phone, I know you’re there.”
The children are running around her.
Aimee-Jane Anderson-O’Connor, Hamilton
She’s ten and got a good report and so her dad takes her to The Warehouse and says, You can pick any book you want so long as it’s under twenty dollars. Standing there under the fluorescents, she picks the biggest book she can find. 100 Strangest Unexplained Mysteries. Grainy black and white photos. Bigfoot, The Ark of the Covenant, Roswell, Stigmata, the Tomb of Tutankhamen. She reads about Spontaneous Combustion and Alien Abduction and it freaks her out ’cause at any moment God or aliens might decide it’s time for her to go up and no one would even see. And her shoes would be the only thing left. And in Church she learns about The Passover. All the apostles hidden in the dusty dark and those tongues of flame hovering just above their heads. And she thinks about if God lost his attention for even one moment the flames woulda fallen and burnt their heads up whole.
She’s twenty and cooking dinner with her boyfriend under a bare white bulb. The rain hits the glass and swells down, like static. She cuts the cherry tomatoes into seedy quarters and he grates the parmesan into a tiny bowl. She stares at the blade, suddenly dull in the light. Feels her ears burning up. Look at this. Smoke spirals from her fingertips, like a just-snuffed wick. He laughs and then stops. There’s kindling in her chest. Something sciencey he says, surely. Her shins are hot tingles. Yeah, she says, it’ll be the acid. And he turns back to the grater and laughs Always knew you were full of hot air. And she tries to laugh too, but all that comes is a high whistle. Her hollows fill with steam. Her lungs crunch like dry leaves. She crackles and curls.
Catch water, hold fire
Claire Beynon, Dunedin
A small yellow bird vacates its tree to nest in the antlers of a stag.
On this first of seven days away, a woman and man are out walking.
They come to a clearing, scoop dirt, gather wood. She select stones to edge the hollow fonts he fashions in the dry, unyielding earth; one will catch water, the other hold fire. At dusk, they prepare a meal they devour with raw, percussive pleasure. Afterwards, they lie down beside the fire. Neither of them speaks.
When they sleep their fingers touch. Blood-lightning courses back and forth between them.
The man dreams of slow-flowing lava, of times she’d cry out to him when they made love, or when she’d first heard the humpbacks singing. The woman dreams beside him. Manta rays skim her seas in impossibly tight formations.
On their second morning, they give thanks for bark-softening mist – no rain – and for their seven days away.
They gorge on books and berries on their third day. When darkness comes, they drop like falling pinecones in front of the fire.
On the fourth day they hunt for stray songs and on the fifth, write a list of things they might one day require for survival. Or storytelling.
Her eyes are white-hot embers on the sixth day when she offers to recite the Periodic Table of Elements, elaborating for him the fugitive properties of Tellurium.
There are three things, he says on the seventh day, that love requires proximity for – to eat together, walk together, bed together. The word he uses is aggregate. Love aggregates, he says, in blood, muscle, skin and bone.
The small yellow bird listens from its nest in the stag’s antlers.
The man and woman lean against an olive tree.
They cast shadows like long, blue citadels.
Michele Powles, West Auckland
Instead of life there is a vapid whiteness in his eyes.
I ask again. “Am I going the right way?”
“Depends. Where you want to go?” Now that he’s finally spoken, I wish he hadn’t. The voice is blank. No tone, no inflection, no humanity in it.
“I want to get out of here.”
He leans on his mop. “You go down then,” he says and raises a stiff arm to point to an elevator.
The air around me thins so I can smell him now, through the harsh backdrop of disinfectant, hot, like charcoal. I shiver as he catches my eyes. His moon-face, covered in chalk-skin, is done no favours by the greywashed green of his uniform.
He waits, his arm still stretched towards the elevator, his finger pointed like a knobbled stick.
I stumble into the lift, shut my eyes, and I mouth your name into the air; wrap it in a protective mantra shield and let go. You float and shimmer and sit quite happily there with the mantra to entertain you. “You’ll be okay,” I say to the hospital corridor as the doors slide shut.
Down here the darkness is tangible, tasteable. It oozes up my back and drags wetly at my hair. I crouch, there in the hallway, I crouch as if making myself smaller will mean it takes longer for the darkness to get me.
“Help me,” I say to you.
On my tongue, the bitter bloom of fear stacks up layer upon layer.
“Are you going the right way?” A man’s voice.
He stands in front of me as if he’d been there the whole time. In this gloom the chalk-skin seems natural.
“I was trying to get out,” I say.
“Of what?” he says.
Home for the funeral
Tim Saunders, Palmerston North
You return to this fish and chip town, with its battered weatherboards and lightly salted air. Black and white clouds wrap the greasy smudge of a storm around Kāpiti.
The motelier scoops leaves from an impossibly azure pool, water cascades in tiny droplets like rain out at sea. He raises his eyebrows to question why you aren’t staying with family, but gives you a room anyway. Gulls scatter haphazardly like knucklebones on the plastic beach.
You paint yourself under the badly drawn trees of childhood and remember the warmth of summer, cricket with driftwood wickets, bowling underarm because the boys said you could. Comfort in a time of Hadlee.
Your footsteps sink in the sand, a definite line from where you have come. Detritus gathers at your feet, spindrift memories discarded along the hightide mark. Gulls peck at a fistful of chips, scream murder at the westerly. You pick up a shell, its inhabitant long gone. Empty of everything, even the sound of the sea.
The storm creeps with the incoming tide. You swaddle your face in your harsh woollen collar, feel once again his stubble stab your cheek. His vinegar breath, the seep of oil when he said he loved you. The sodden flaking of flesh. And the next morning, his embrace so tender. Mum’s blank stare. The splash of tomato sauce on the crumpled white tablecloth.
You watch from dunes as aunts and uncles, hatless, wear black and let the car slip between flaccid lines. They clutch wind-flapped coats and dream of coffee and half-mast beers on spherical cardboard mats.
And then he is gone.
The ocean pours its roar into the shell. You walk away as the sea claims your steps and leaves the bitter dark spume behind you.
Trisha Hanifin, Auckland
My coat’s wet, heavy from last night’s rain. It crumples on the street like a giant moth. Rain clouds thicken. I run through the western cemetery as the sky darkens. My breath whistles through my teeth. The avenues that house the dead are wide and clean. I keep my head down, scan the ground, looking for entrances to tracks and pathways; plunge through wild grasses, feel them slap against my calves and knees.
Ahead of me a wasteland of swamp, abandoned cars and fields. In the distance, the grey ribbon of a swollen river. Smoke rises from a thousand soggy fires in the camps.
This moment could be anywhere, any time. The barriers between the dead and the living disintegrate. They rise up and join me. My voice is thin and reedy, no louder than a startled bird. Then slowly a stronger sound emerges, something between a wail and a chant. A song that comes from the place itself.
The sharp edges of headstones soften; the branches of the trees drip moisture onto concrete paths. A group of people gathers. They form a protective circle; they move in slow motion; it’s like watching prayer. They’re poor, have no rights, no weapons. If startled, they disappear into the trees and vanish like ghosts. Togetherness eases heartache.
Our dreams shape everything. Like hallowed bells they toll the hours and days. We dream of houses; we dream of home. We dream of firewood and enough to eat. Our dreams are a common language; all we have left.
The siren sounds. It’s after curfew. The road’s dark and slippery. I’m a small shadow moving within a bigger one. I walk in secret. I walk alone. Even the angels are homeless now. And their wings, like us, are chipped and broken.
I’m looking at my empty city but my empty city isn’t looking back
Anne Perkinson, Whangārei
The CCTV camera clicked and caught me. Its beep as I passed beneath it was clear in the acute silence. What will it make of an unaccompanied woman chancing on an intimate gaze at her city’s new centre of nothingness? I appeared to be alone in this strangely empty heart which, without its beat, seemed a little shy, a little self-conscious, even a little ashamed.
My path to the city centre took me alongside the waterfront where boats almost reared up onto the road on a high tide full of hell. A wave of water of indeterminate colour, rippling, reflective and unexpectedly beautiful in the early morning light, but carrying along last week’s, last year’s, last decade’s plastic and polystyrene and today’s sewage and sediment.
Through carparks, filthy and unfamiliar without their coating of cars, past businesses with blackened back alleys not usually obvious, and bad graphics on their glass, now too obvious. Murals marking the beginning and end of something, or nothing, moved me along on pavements which, without pedestrians, needed another layer of security. Past shops with ‘Stay Home Stay Safe’ signs in their windows, and surprisingly clean doorways without the spills and soil of urgency: a sign of a good night out.
I crossed streets barren except for an occasional essential vehicle, my road safety sense in a spasm. Missing the surety of sound, traffic, people, lights and movement, I could easily have stepped forward at the wrong moment and in this stillness, be stilled.
Uneasy with the city’s dejection and rejection I turned for home. His beep as I passed beneath him was clear in the acute silence. A tui, a little shy, a little self-conscious, maybe even a little ashamed to be enjoying his freedom, while my city is indoors fighting for its life.
Lichen, a successful colonizer in hostile environments
Gail Ingram, Christchurch
The days came up hot, and cold, and hot, they built the town on a port, and the town bustled, they formed a path, brushing past, and I remained still, as always, except for my colonizing, and this day, which was hot, John Williams brushed past, like the others, panting, unfit for the climb, his breeches threadbare, the smell of cramped quarters, brine and children’s vomit trickling from his crevices, the Randolf and Charlotte Jane lapping three days in the harbour below, and the town bursting,
John Williams spluttered, like the others, as he passed, how bloody inconvenient and steep this Bridle Path, and muttered of reaching the rim of this ruddy volcano and laying eyes on the Great Plains and Market Place, and the land to be true for building a bakery for Isabella and the bairns, and, oh Lord, may this be a mighty adventure, and not a mistake?
though he’d passed me now, stumbling with fatigue, and I expected his return in a flick, like the others, though not the fall to his knees, his pale fingers scrabbling for the rock I was colonizing, his hand clutching, slipping, his face up close, an apoplectic puce, a last appeal for grip on my coarse surface, no sound escaping from his lips, before he dropped to the cleared ground, where he lay quite still, while
still, I remained, overlooking the fresh scars of the bay, two ships at anchor, the tents, the barrels tucked into the opposite hill, where those light-of-pocket slept, and
there, amidst the street’s bustle, on a makeshift porch Barracks B, Isabella taking a breather while her children chased each other with sticks, and the women nearby lifted their dusty skirts and hauled home the washing at last, starched stiff and clean in the afternoon sun.
Like two coats in a station’s waiting room
Norman P. Franke, Hamilton
I went to visit Victor in Hamilton. Victor wears a bomber jacket and writes novels in a converted tool shed behind his garage. He keeps his study door open to the roses. The kimchi pots of his neighbour’s garden. One of Victor’s novels has been a work in progress for over thirty years.
When Victor and his neighbour Sang greet each other over the fence, both bow a little and converse in broken English. They have a ritual. Every Tuesday morning they share a cuppa. Sometimes I join in. At the end Sang always says:
– Keep going. I want to read this novel.
Sang is a rose breeder. His most delicate rose is called Anna.
Victor’s handwritten poems were confiscated towards the end of the Cold War at the Polish-Czechoslovakian border. Victor was on his way to Vienna, where he had planned to celebrate New Year’s Eve with Anna and me. During the interrogation, the border guards blew cigarillo smoke, intoxicated laughter, and lines from Zbigniew Herbert in Victor’s face. Victor never saw his poems again. He had no back-up. There were no photocopiers or PCs in Poland then.
Whenever there was thunder, Anna trembled. She wore mittens in summer and committed suicide in the autumn.
After the interrogation, Victor waited in a hot crowded station for the early express to Vienna, which arrived ten hours late. He stared at two coats in the waiting room’s corner. There were no cell phones back then. When Victor got on the train, the new year had already begun and Anna had left him.
At our last teatime Victor said:
– Before the book is finished, the readers will have died.
– Keep going. The flash fiction man and I will read. And remember.
Andrea Ewing, Auckland
Her single bed’s too narrow for eight tangled teenage limbs, so they do it on the floor. He doesn’t ask, but when his hand unzips her jeans she shucks them off – inside-out, hobbling herself – and fumbles with his fly, a novice trying to crack a safe.
Her mind’s a hive of bees: was that wheels on the gravel drive / I shoulda worn the red undies / man he’s a sloppy kisser!! He’s forceful, fast-forward: his hands race over her body like he’s searching her for something. His messages were composed, suave, but now he’s nervous.
She was scared she’d be bad, but he asks so little of her: just a crawl-space inside her bones, that she lie rigid as she feels herself tear. She gets used to the burning, new parts of her alight; her tailbone frets against the dry carpet. Outside, the quotidian continues – a lawnmower pants back and forth; birds’ feet claw the metal roof.
He stiffens, melts onto her. His breath moistens her neck: Doritos, Listerine.
Afterwards he stands, the small room forcing a precarious intimacy. She scrubs the carpet with Cussons soap, and pink foam roses bloom; alarming pearly rivulets descend her legs. He watches, awkward as a guest who’s spilled wine.
That was great, he offers knowingly. She nods. When their eyes meet she waits for transcendence, for pupils quick with new-made love; but she’s noticed the dandruff littering his polo-shirt, the way his gaze keep sliding to her acne. His sneakers clomp on the decking, and that’s that.
Her steamed reflection mouths new words: I had sex today. She’s in the club – inducted into womanhood with a handful of stubbled neck, a mouthful of held breath. But she feels nothing like Scarlett Johanssen; just a strange sense of loss. Somehow she’d thought there’d be more for her to say.
Love in the time of wī
Gail Ingram, Christchurch
Whatungarongaro te tangata toitū te whenua – As man disappears from sight, the land remains
Look at her curves – the sway and roll of form over bone – you can’t look away – the wave and curl of her – you’re enthusiastic – you’re hopeful – you follow her – you love her potential – the orange butterflies in her wake spring from your step – hoppers and clippers leap high as your shoulder – she smells of heat and straw – she has tiny flowers in her hair and she gives you snow-water
so you give her fire – you chase magnificent chickens out of the forest for her – she streams down from the mountains for you – flows over those hills – around the sacrificed stumps of blackened trees – you carefully pluck her old-growth eyebrows – and she is your pillow at nights – she burns for you – she returns and returns with her butterflies and her damp eyes – and your stubble face grows paler and fatter as you bring her rabbits for sport and stock for wool – but they’re not really for her but for your own sport and your own wool – and she takes longer to recover after your heat now because of the nibbling away at her – the always-nibbling away – and the predator moving on her with his creeping hands – and your hands are up at your face for you did not see this hawkweed coming – and you shower her with water – but hawkweed keeps on coming – and her hair is no longer thick and flowing – and there are no flowers – and you cry for her – but your tears fall on parched skin – dust rises from your tread – and your hands are in the air – in your own thinning hair – for all you have done – and she doesn’t see you walk away – a hunched figure blinking into the horizon – and all that you leave is the sound of the hollow wind
No nest for baby bird
Heather McQuillan, Christchurch
The couple merge on my doorstep in a glug of mud, bladderwort trailing from their sodden stinking boots. The girl clings around his hips, his torso curves over her like a sapling in wind. Their hands are striped by hook sedge and faces stippled in sandfly bites and acne. They’ve come by way of the mires.
“Is it safe for us – for her?” His voice, young in timbre, is old with distrust.
She is sparrow small. Apple pip eyes peer from beneath her beanie.
“It’s safer than the mires.” I say. “How’d you get through?”
“He carried me at the deepest,” she says.
As they emerge, scrubbed and soap-sweet in hand-me-down clothes, I see she shelters a belly life. I pull the curtains.
When I was childbearing age I signed a pledge, ‘Not until.’ Then there wasn’t the chance, wasn’t the probability, wasn’t the possibility. There’s a billboard at the highway turn-off, peeling and faded, ‘All Children are Wanted Children’. More wanted now. These are desperate times. I keep her hidden.
When the sparrow-girl’s bleeding starts, she squats supported between his sapling legs. The baby emerges, bloody, bent-boned, breathless. A creature, something between the unknown and human, that once would have been placed in a specimen jar.
I ask if they have a name for me to write on a candy-box coffin.
“River Forest Rainbow Ladybug Fly in the Wind Heart of my Heart Baby Bird,” she says.
The boy, who carried her at the deepest, nods.
There isn’t room for all the words they can’t read anyway. I draw pictures for them. We nestle their baby deep between the roots of a pūriri tree.
They leave taking the road. In his pocket, an illicit pamphlet on natural birth control. I hope they’ll figure it out from the diagrams.
Out in the wops
Hayden Pyke, Hamilton
I woke to a fat man sitting on the edge of the bed. I tried to keep my breathing rhythmic as if I were still asleep.
“Do you know what time it is?” he asked.
My game of possum now redundant, I sat up. His voice was ragged; an engine without an oil change. The sticky air piled in on me. I tried to stay calm and remember where I was but felt disorientated.
In the leaking morning light, I caught a flash of metal; a Winchester perhaps, glinting in the corner. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being captive. Maybe it was the tiny room.
He got up and muttered “Breakfast” over his shoulder.
Sleep hung in deep pockets around my eyes and I shoveled cooked eggs into my face. I visited my father out in the bush regularly enough but could never get used to it. No phones, no internet and these heavy breakfasts. He never ate like this when he was a sales rep.
I was probably seven when I discovered my father’s other life. I’d stumbled into the kitchen in the early hours and saw him hunched at the table working at something. He’d turned, inadvertently pointing a gun at me. I can only imagine now what my face must have looked like, but he leapt up and hugged me desperately. My mind arrives at that moment late at night or on long drives.
I’ve been coming out to his shack since mum died but I don’t know if it’s for him or me. He’s not well.
“Better get moving,” he coughed.
I’d come to terms with pig hunting as a way of spending time together without talking. I’d even come to relish the trees and sour light. Still, I can’t tell him I’m a vegan.
Faith Oxenbridge, Otautahi
Today I saw a man with no legs. At least I thought I did. He was on the beach standing behind a flat-headed rock that sliced his knees into stumps. I do this a lot now that I’m cycling – see things wrong. Lumps of driftwood are dogs squatting to shit; couples lying on beach towels reaching over each other for sunscreen are having open-air sex. People pedalling towards me are youthful and tanned but grow old and leathered as they close in.
The cycling is new. I exhumed the bike from the garage where it was buried after the earthquake ripped up the streets, Road-Runner style. I like it better than walking because I’m easily bored, and the world turns faster. There’s no passing etiquette either. No awkward eye-averting or mannered mouth smiling. I just sweep by. I see into houses too, into second stories. See people doing secret second-story things; plucking hairs from chins in bathroom vanities, ironing in their underwear, or just standing at the window waiting for the day to end or begin
The bike takes a good ten years off me. I ride straight-backed, one-handed. I weave and loop on the promenade, flip onto newly-asphalted footpaths and whoop-whoop down hills. Sometimes I sing, even when I pass people because they might have seen or heard me wrong, and because I’m there and gone, and so is everything.
Mary Francis, Wellington
“Back home we call them ‘shotguns’,” he said, standing on the street in Wellington where narrow wooden houses sit an arm’s length apart, the streetlights casting woven shadows of ti kouka leaves across their dozing faces as ruru warbled lullabies.
“Everything’s guns with you people,” I said. The front door of the cottage framed panels of stained glass, liquid-looking red and gold, back-lit by a family’s Friday night. I’d stopped to look because it was so beautiful. “Riding shotgun. Shotgun weddings.”
“The corridor runs front to back,” he said, “to create a breeze. So if you open the doors you can shoot straight through the house.”
“They’re workmen’s cottages,” I corrected him. One storey, one room wide, close to the railway and the port. A little patch of garden out the back. Just enough space for a man, alone, stopping for a few years to make a living, not a life. But the city’s changed and the cottages have been renovated and now they can fit in a mum, dad and kid, living the Kiwi dream. “They’re worth over a million.”
“That’s crazy,” he said. He told me that night about his ticket back to Montgomery. His working visa was expiring. “C’mon, it’s late.”
But I stood longer to look at the glow behind the glass.
This too shall pass
Ravithri de Silva, Wellington
Every spool of thread in the bag reminds her of her mother. From the time when she was small, and every small town had its own department store and each department store had a haberdashery. When it was a thrill to pick up knocked-over pins by rubbing the blades of the good sewing scissors together and waiting for the sharp points to jump to attention. She tried it once as an adult and was completely underwhelmed.
The olive thread (J & P Coats super-sheen 40-twist) is the precise colour of one of her mother’s saris, bought to sew a matching blouse. She loved watching her mother dressing for an occasion. Watching her putting on her Elizabeth Arden lipstick, which was the first lipstick colour she bought too because it was what her mother wore and because it matched her lips exactly. Watching her pick a miniature bottle of perfume from the extravagant Yard of Tweed collection that came in a yard-long box. Her mother had laughed when her father had given it to her for Christmas and said it was nonsense and she would rather have one bottle of something simple.
She was allowed to choose her father’s socks and tie. She always picked the only matching set, the ones with the gold diamonds. Her mother let her fetch the shoe-box that held her fancy-gold-seldom-worn shoes, wrapped in tissue paper. She imagined herself wearing them.
Last year when her mother died, she cleared out her house and found the shoes still in the box. Covetable. Dainty. She tried them on and found her feet were three sizes too big to ever fit them. Like one of the ugly step-sisters.
And now the beautiful thread is jumbled up, and she can’t remember what the shade of lipstick was called.
Susan Maclean, Auckland
Wellington is all bright sunshine, white caps on an azure harbour, pleasing coffee and friendly, bookish people with spiky haircuts.
Until it bites.
It bites without warning when the early evening sucks the light out of Featherston Street, whipping, whirling and whistling, sinking icicle teeth into flesh until it hits bone.
You wonder what just happened, and then you remember: you are in Wellington, and Wellington bites.
You let out an involuntary ‘Oh’ – just like the one your mouth formed when he forced himself into it – and wish you had brought a cardy.
The bite burrows down to the sliver of you that is still 16, sitting frozen but somehow, also shivering, on a burnt orange couch in Tinakori Road. You didn’t say ‘Oh’ that time. You didn’t say anything, because by then, all the words were gone.
Wellington is teeth scraping bone, sawing it into shards and furrowing deep, dangerous grooves into the pure white so long protected beneath skin and fat and muscle and blood and bile and pus and fuck knows what else. You never did pay much attention in biology class.
It bites when you glimpse yourself in a window and realise you are not 16, even though Wellington makes you feel that way, and that you can gently pat (but don’t rub!) all that $700 Chanel combination cream and serum made from the fresh placenta of unborn, sustainably farmed bees or some such onto your face, but it won’t salve the bite, and you’ll still be none the wiser about what serum actually is.
Wellington bites, and it doesn’t stop until the next day when the plane lifts off over waves that are angry and slate-grey. Wellington is not even pretending any more.
Wellington has bitten, and it will sting for a while yet.
Hayden Pyke, Hamilton
4 guys down my st dressed like gangbangers lol. Loud, but they’ll move on. Guess that’s West Auks for you! I’d call the cops but…
Some kids just drove past like they were trying to get to 80mph #NoDeLorean Remember tearing up the west at that age, have a hearty night boyz!
We in th Naybah60d 2nite mfers. Lok ur do0rs
@KSanford replying to @Tlynn762
Slightly neighborhood watch-y I know, but where out west are you? We just had four or five teens dressed in blue fighting in our street. Same, same? We called the police.
Some thugs came parading down our street just now looking to fight. Pathetic. Hope they’re locked up.
@Nipsey_Stan replying to @hateithere
Yusss queen where u? Out wit the boys but its the same shit. Wana kick it?
My mum messaged. Some teens smashed up her letter box and are “hanging around”. Should I go over there? She’s out west, but they’re just kids, right? Send Graham?
I stand on the shoulders of giants but feel so small. Why does my head fall like the night?
Lol, typical, finally get bubs to sleep and the cops roll up full noise. They’ve run some guys off the road. Crips maybe. Needless to say, bubba’s awake. #westisbest
@KSanford replying to @Tlynn762
OMG! Ru ok??
@Nipsey_Stan replying to @hateithere
Yo Queen, am jammed up, probs getting cuffed over some dumb shit. Wish I was with you instead.
Mum called back. Police have arrived promptly and are dealing with the situation. Thanks for the messages of support!
Maybe loneliness is the human condition and all these attempts to solve it are our sins, cos punishment abounds! Found out my new crush got arrested, figures. Guess I’m staying in tonight.