Botticelli painted Venus naked, surfing on a scallop shell – Anita Arlov
Sensible shoes and sheep – Trish Palmer
Hot Seat – Jordana Connor
Bouquet – Katie Brown
Comes out with the washing – Keith Nunes
Twelve hours in – Claire Hemming
Terminal Romance – Bob Halford
City of Parks – Sue Le Mesurier
Orewa – Kurt Jon Ulmer
In Conversation: Guest Editors Zana Bell and Gill Stewart
Interview: Sheila Brown, Artist
Book: Eileen Merriman, Invisibly Breathing
There, across the pool, he thinks he saw his own reflection.
Across the pool she recognises her destiny. Quivering with desire, she begins to swim slowly forward.
Good heavens – this isn’t my reflection! She’s beautiful, and swimming towards me, or is she? I’ll swim towards her and if she doesn’t pay me any attention I’ll float on by as if I had somewhere else to go.
Now he’s coming closer. I’m going to say hello. “Hello, I’ve never been here before, is this your pool?”
“Oh, um, hello to you too. No, this isn’t my pool and I’ve not been here before either. Shall we swim together for a while?”
What a gentleman. “Thank you, I’d like that very much.”
They swim together around the pool, turning in unison, looking like a couple who have known each other for years. Their swimming, and being in such proximity, leaving them breathless.
“Let’s go over there to that shady spot, it’s getting hot here in the sun,” she says.
He can’t believe his luck. The shady spot is tiny and hidden from the rest of the pool. He nods his head in affirmation, and they are soon out of sight.
Disturbed by cries of “They’ve gone, the sea horses have gone!” they nestle even closer, watching the children with their nets stomp off to find another rock pool.
As the tide rises, they say their goodbyes, and, with his tummy full of eggs, go their separate ways.
Botticelli painted Venus naked, surfing on a scallop shell
Ariella’s head’s a hammering of horses and bells. She’s come downtown to drown it out. Drown Isaac out. The DJ’s oompf-oompfing from the blue-lit corner. A thicket of tight chinos is holding up the bar. Suits in raspberry lips have cornered the leather sofas, their briefcase-bags leaning like patient bulldogs against pumps. She empties her glass quickly for the price, aware of eyes, drinking her in.
David approaches. She smiles. She tells him, she likes the name David. Did he know, David was already a famous person, before Goliath? He could pluck the lyre like a charm, croon orioles from the trees. David dives into her mouth. He pictures her in a flesh silk bikini with ribbons unravelling, tugged by angels. Ariella’s eyes pop Disney-wide. What did he just say? She swims fully-grown through a hole in the air till she comes round to his way of thinking.
“Double whammy!” shouts a beard at the bar. He slaps the counter and the bar rocks and hoots. It’s such an Isaac-y thing. Ariella weighs slipping back into a familiar pool, a sponge falling into water, but David’s shoes are ten to two, so close each toe touches the toes of her bar stool. “The set switches after ten,” he whispers against her cheek. “Sax, piano.”
Ariella squeezes the sides of her seat, knees and ankles intertwined, giving way to a sway of breath on brass, touch on key, sole on pedal. Body and Soul. All of Me. Beyond the Sea. David follows each buttonhole from her scalloped neck to her crinoline hips expanding.
Sensible shoes and sheep
Romance – I wish. How did romance pass me by? Eighty-one, and never received a red rose, a box of chocolates, a Valentine’s card. No one came to serenade me. The only time I’ve been swept off my feet was when I fell in the river. It would be nice to know what breakfast in bed felt like.
My sister gets romanced, even now. She’s hopelessly impractical – can’t even catch her own fish – but she sure can flutter her eyelashes! I lamented to her once about not being romanced, and she burst out laughing, right in my face! She reckoned I scared romance away, with my sensible shoes, clear opinions, and work ethic. It’s true that I can’t be bothered with rubbish. There’s chores to be done; no pointless chatter or frivolity, thank you. What would the sheep care if I wore make-up?
I shouldn’t complain; comfortable home, steady income, freedom to pursue my interests, close friends and family. My life is richly blessed. But oh, a bit of romance would have been nice.
“What are you thinking?” asks Walter, my husband of 60 years. I see the love in his eyes; hear the concern in his voice. Reaching over, I slip my hand into his.
“Did you know that you’re the best thing that ever happened to me?” I respond.
Walter looks startled. “Not like you to be romantic; are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yes, dear.” I smile. Romance, huh! I have love.
I knew instantly she was the one. Elvis and Frank and Whitney appeared, fireworks blanketed the sky, swooping fat babies with frantically flapping wings enthusiastically waved bows and arrows, angels hummed along if they didn’t know the words.
She boarded that bus like a stage on awards night, and the aisle was her catwalk. Goddess! Wide hips and sturdy legs, brown hair in limbo between shoulders and ears. Sublimely forgettable face with some eyes and some freckles and a nose and a mouth. But the sum package! She was living proof positive of a higher power. And by fate’s benevolent hand, the only spare seat on the bus was right next to me.
She wafted closer and I couldn’t breathe. She smiled at me. My heart! She looked down at the seat, and… her eyes narrowed. Horrors! My happy future was stretched out in front of me, but now it wavered and flickered at the edges, threatening to turn tail and run. I followed her steely stare, and there, on the seat next to me, standing between me and lifelong bliss, was a schmear of pink bubblegum. This was a disaster.
Our eyes met and I knew what I had to do. A gesture, so she would know what she meant to me. A harbinger of adoration to come. A promissory note of passion. I. Did. Not. Hesitate. My soulmate must remain unsullied. I slid over, into the gum. And just like that, she was mine.
“The best is yet to come,” she muttered, teeth nervously worrying her lower lip, a tender pain she was accustomed to inflicting on herself.
Tender – his gaze the first time they crossed paths. He, turning from the vegetable bins at the supermarket, broccoli head in hand; she, manoeuvering the impossible-to-steer trolley with the wobbly wheel. She clipped his ankle, he yelped in surprise – broccoli flying from his grasp and landing in her waiting trolley on its side, resting quietly next to her lone bundle of spinach.
An awkward confusion of stammered red-faced apologies followed and then, trembling, she scooped up the head and presented it back to him, proffered in her two hands, looking for all the world like she was handing over a green bridal bouquet. His mouth, and then his face, following the cue, exploded into mirthful laughter, and her eyes, shyly lifting from their downturned embarrassment, danced with his as their hands brushed – two pathways crossing and intercepting for the briefest moment.
“The best is yet to come,” she stated again to herself, looking down at her hands: a little more worn-looking than they’d been back then, the left self-conscious and recently denuded of a sparkling gem that, just for a short while, it had dared to exhibit to the world.
Two strong arms about her waist, chin nuzzled into the crook between her shoulder and jawline in that way that made her spine sing, his gentle voice in her ear: “Eat your greens.”
Comes out with the washing
John’s hanging out the washing and Michelle is questioning his methods.
Doubting his order of hanging, repeating the need to hang the shirts and jeans inside out, insinuating that he really has no idea what he’s doing.
John knows it’s all theory, that she’s never hung washing on a traditional backyard line because she’s been in a wheelchair since childhood.
He reigns in an impulse to snap back. He dislikes himself when he gets angry over trivial things.
They’ve both been snappy lately. There doesn’t seem to be any actual reason for it.
Are they bored with each other? Has the love faded?
He thinks of how he criticizes her about the accounts, about the bill paying. There’s a growing pressure on his chest, anxiety on the rise again.
“Let’s go away this weekend, Shell. Let’s drop everything, eh?” he says, turning to her.
“Away? But there’s … no, I guess there isn’t …” She looks up at him. “Okay? Yes!”
“I enjoyed the new chapter of your book,” he says, returning to hanging clothes. “I admire your talent, I do, I really do.”
“Aww, thanks so much for saying that, honey,” she says. “Sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing. You know?”
He stops hanging the clothes, kneels down in front of her and puts his head on her lap. She strokes his thinning hair.
“Isn’t it great that we love each other?” John says.
“More than great, honey,” she says.
“Much, much more than great.”
Twelve hours in
He noticed her in the departure lounge. She was fighting sleep. Her hand rested against the contours of her face; fronds of her dark hair weaved gently between her fingers. He could imagine cupping her chin, which was slightly more prominent than the rest of her face, and gently kissing her mouth. He could imagine it all. First date, first kiss, the first argument, a montage of romance. He liked to torment himself with options – didn’t everyone?
He had no issue with telling the truth; he had long accepted the parts of himself that others would deride. So, he was honest. He noticed her curves first.
He felt most acquainted with her eyes since he had watched them closing and opening, losing the battle against jet lag. They were twelve hours in, thirteen to go. Her eyes finally found his. She looked away, but then she looked back as if they might know each other. It was another kind of recognition. Gravity. The indescribable pull that exists between two people that know absolutely nothing about each other. Except, perhaps, maybe something unfathomable.
There was a certain heat he started to feel at his core. He wondered if she felt it too because she shifted her weight, pressed her hands against the seat and moved forward. Slightly closer. The call to board the aircraft eventually stopped their unspoken conversation. She was ahead of him as they boarded; she turned to look back three times before she found her seat.
Plate glass isolates the lounge from the chill and din outside. Beyond the runway, I see cows grazing foothills of ancient volcanoes, weather-smoothed and green. A small turbo jet has parked facing the window. White spirals on turbine rotors spin down as I join the crowd waiting at Gate 9, Domestic Arrivals – perfect timing.
I am not excited, not nervous, not anything. This is my fourth attempt… and I feel old… worn down. Past caring. Why am I here?
People disembark… the flow dwindles to a few stragglers. Where is she? There! Is that her, coming through the doorway? She looks older than her photograph. Head down. Bulky leather shoulder bag, slacks, bright casual shirt… nice figure. Hair, coiled and pinned, in that way… Memories surface – sad, treacherous, quickly suppressed.
She sees me, and approaches. frowning. Is she disappointed? As she nears, I reach out to hug, move to kiss her cheek, but she grasps my face in soft warm hands. She gazes up, studying… Time stops… grey, kind eyes… nice nose…. Full lips, still frowning. She holds me like that forever. I can’t break the spell. Then, as if she sees something, something she can love, she smiles. I feel a stirring within. She closes her eyes briefly, sighs, leans into me – lips soft against mine. I catch the scent of her hair, close my eyes as tears form, wetting my cheeks… touching her face.
She pulls me tighter.
City of Parks
Sue Le Mesurier
Time travelling, Sarah and Pierre are in Geneva. An iconic 140-meter Jet d’Eau splashing into the deep alpine Lake, blue as the heavens, where mouettes crisscross to the other side. A leisurely stroll along the quay and they find themselves at Bains des Paquis sheltering from the cold bise, surrounded by cackles of laughter in multitudes of languages.
Pierre remembers Paquis, the red-light district, hot spots and hush hush finds. Forget the chocolate, fondue, watches and cuckoo clocks. He explores Geneva like a local. The non-capital, smallest of big cities, ‘peace capital’ and capital of CERN.
In the diverse, quirky, intriguing quartiers of Carouge, Plainpalais, Grottes, a cobbled labyrinth of crooked alleyways, Sarah finds herself walking backwards in time.
Geneva, that rare bird, a pristine ‘buttoned-down’ place full of diplomats, bankers, bureaucrats and the unbuttoned lovers. Pulsing with life, year-round Geneva is a philanthropic mecca, a multinational hub, home to ‘do-gooders’, symphony of United Nations, Red Cross and multitudes of aid agencies.
Bittersweet Sarah’s and Pierre’s meandering takes them at last to the broken chair – standing tall beside the choreographed fountains. One of the 21st century’s emblematic works of art symbolizing opposition for land mines. Under the shadow of the three-legged chair protestors from around the world listen in silence. Under the shadow Pierre asks for Sarah’s hand.
The lovebirds find themselves spinning backwards, rewriting the stars, remembering white swans on the Quay, with a cluster of history at their back, in the city of parks.
Kurt Jon Ulmer
Very late, first date, arm-in-arm walking. Beach sand, barefoot. Lost track, talking.
She asks, “What’s your mum like?”
“Like… paint-smudges on my lunch apple. Really. Yeah, yuk. Uncontrollable artist. But in fact? She’s brilliant. Dad’s scientific. They’re both totally sane.”
“You said you have a brother. Is he anything like you?”
“Oh, exactly… Approximately. Taller, a couple years younger, more muscular, popular… Want his number?”
She laughs. “Are you best friends?”
“Only until you call him. My turn. Hmm… Your greatest fear? No. Too personal.”
“Being bored for a long time.”
Surprised, he stops. “Really? No hesitation?”
“Can you think of anything worse?” She grimaces, scrunches down, jumps up and lands all twisted, tongue lolling, clutching her hair to her head.
After laughing, he remembers pneumonia. “No, not worse.”
They walk on, her arm in his as before. Finally he says, “Your turn.”
“Gulp. What’s your most romantic memory? Unless it’s too… you know.”
He thinks a little. Romantic… This very moment isn’t quite a memory, though it might qualify otherwise. But in all honesty: “Once, in my hang-glider (so now you know), I flew with three eagles. They left their trees to fly with me! We all circled together, soaring, hills dropping away below… and I swear they winked when they passed me, going up and up and up. I felt… honoured. Is that romantic?”
A few quiet minutes further along, she gently leaves him, wanders slowly away, winks.