David Ishaya Osu

David Ishaya Osu is a poet and street photographer living in South Australia. His work has appeared in Magma PoetryMeanjinThe Victorian WriterPoetry WalesNew Welsh ReviewGriffith ReviewThe Hopkins ReviewThe Oxford Review of Books, among others. David is currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide.



The art of remembering

On our last day at work, we exchanged social media handles; we promised each other to stay in touch. We had worked together as museum assistants for two weeks and decided to spend the last night together over drinks, music, chats, reminiscences, laughter, hugs. We recounted moments on the job, trying to master museum vocabulary, museum paces, museum gestures, museum postures. Ten of us, new to the job, were recruited on the same day. And for the two weeks we worked together, we became a family. 

Call it the unity of strangers: from Poland, Korea, Nigeria, China, New Zealand, Britain, India. 

I once saw a building in Abuja with a familiar name printed on its wall. I broke out laughing. A building carrying the name of my colleague and friend, Asma. I took a picture and sent it to her instantly. Recently she collected pictures of her name scrawled on walls, boards, in random streets, all from different places. I commented on her Instagram: you are beloved of the streets, darling. Home anywhere in the world. Your friends will find you everywhere they go; they carry you in their hearts. That is how we keep in touch—with memories. 

Distance is no barrier—to the fondness we have shared, moments made. 

I woke up in the middle of the night missing London, remembering long walks, bus rides, train rides, street photography in central London. I logged on to my laptop and scrolled through loads of photographs I had taken. London is calling me back, I mused.

I used to claim that I do not miss people or things, yet I wake up every day with streams of memories. Memories of friends, places, of things, of losses, adventure, accidents, victories, and so on. The other day a song popped up in the radio, and boom came memories of my friend, Juliet and her sister, Judith. They are the only ones I think about each time I hear the song. We had once hung out at a restaurant and the song played that day. 

We remember people, places, in many ways: songs, dresses, cologne, gestures, words, dances, food, so many to mention. Sometimes a wink opens the window to thoughts of someone, and they instantly become a tangible presence in your mind; you want to phone or email them, or even want to be with them right in that physical moment but they are faraway. You are evoking the past into the present; indeed, the past never ended. For instance, Liskeard, as a town, will never ever pass away; it has become a full component of my psyche. I clocked twenty-eight in Liskeard. I have saved memories of a town in perfume bottles. It is not just a town—a physical entity—it is a spiritual embodiment. Small town it is, but mighty an archive of history.

Call it the unity of memories: fragments, the continuity of time, of thoughts, of generations. Call it the art of remembering. Call it the science of going back and forth. Call it the application of mind to the past. 

One of my favourite sports was listening to dad tell stories of the past. I listened with keen interest as though those days never went away; I listened with my imagination taking root in places, events, names mentioned. I asked questions, I got answers. I noticed tinges of regret in his voice as he went on; I also noticed tinges of contentment. I imagined that, one day, me too will tell stories as an older folk. I daydream ahead of time, ahead of the stories told to me. I daydream into my own stories, my own life, my own making. Visualising a future is like visualising my birthday cake—there is no limit but the vision, the cake. 

I got introduced to Joe Brainard’s classic, I Remember, during my master’s at Kent. Reading the book did not only take me through Joe’s remembrances, but it also took me through old and sometimes forgotten routes. Memories have no end; they are rivers; they meander; they flow down the slope of time; they flow into other bodies of memory; they become seas flowing from the past into the future, and from the future into another past. I think of where water bodies meet; I think of where they start from; their varying layers, depths and widths. Like water, memory takes or makes a shape on us—our experiences, our imaginations, and even our voids. 

I remember the last thing on my mind as I boarded the plane for London. I remember waking up on the flight and thinking to myself: where am I? I remember layovers. I remember the thick, smooth taste of Milo Singapore. I remember the days I snuck around the house to steal a lick of chocolate powder. I remember Istanbul. I remember my first day in Adelaide. Dreams come true.

I remember my father’s fingers. 

I remember how mother worked hard to make us keep neat nails. 

I remember I never became the neatest boy in primary school as I had aspired to be. 

I remember once dreaming that I sneaked into a garden to poo and to pick mangoes. 

I remember Nigeria. 

I remember the two mango trees in our green yard. 

I remember how I used to laugh till my stomach began to hurt. I would roll on the floor, cry and laugh. 

I remember the last time I cried. 

I remember heartbreaks. 

I remember I usually did not have the words to say my mind. I only did on paper. I would lock myself in a quiet room and put off the light. 

I remember no sandwich.  

I remember fearing the dark as a kid.  

I remember transparent curtains. And silent doors. 

I remember our first house. 

I remember the day I was knocked down by a car along Abuja-Keffi expressway in Mararaba, Nasarawa state. I suffered a compound fracture on my left leg, and I was bedridden for months. I remember praying to never get involved in any accidents again. I do not want to remember the accident twenty years after. 

I remember Fela Anikulapo Kuti. I remember he was my diet on Sunday radio.  

I remember I wanted to be a smoker. And I remember why I never got to smoke. 

I remember someone asking if I smoke to write. ‘I do flowers,’ I remember answering them. 

I remember dad teaching us how to plant and water flowers. He would hum country songs while telling us the names of flowers. He never got tired of beautifying the house. 

I remember dad saying he wanted to be an architect. But his father was not so rich to send him to architecture school. So, he became a geologist. 

I remember my father’s shelves of assorted stones. 

I remember seashells I picked from the beach. 

I remember Lagos. 

I remember trying to jump out of and into moving vans. 

I remember lunch with Unoma Azuah in Lagos. She had invited me over for a workshop. I remember her telling me to write about the blue house—the venue of the workshop. I have yet to finish the ‘blue house’ piece up until today. I remember she told me to never stop writing. 

I remember boarding school. I remember boys and girls preparing for Valentine’s Day. I remember waiting for visiting days. I remember waiting for holidays. 

I remember my mum is not afraid of snakes. 

I remember cold mornings with lemongrass tea. And honey. 

I remember my paternal great-grandmother. I remember running away from her because she had no teeth and had white things on her head. As children, we called them white things and not grey hair

On a visit to the village, I remember asking where my great-grandmother was. She travelled, they replied. I later found out that that meant death. Travel as death? Travelling as dying?  

I remember telling myself I will be a traveller. Like my great-grandmother. Like my grandfather. Like my father. 

I remember the last phone call I had with my father before he died.

Ana Duffy

Ana Duffy is an Argentinean-born writer. She teaches in Communications and Creating Writing units at QUT; her work has been published in Island, Coffin Bell, Swamp and has been shortlisted in QWC Flash Fiction Competition and long-listed for Fish Anthology (Ireland). Ana holds a PhD in the field of Latin American literature from UQ and, in between teaching semesters, she is working on a novel.



Language spoken at home: Spanish

A mess of application forms are scattered on Josefina’s table. I see one with a green stain that will need to be reprinted.

If not for the rain, it would be a more pleasant day.

If not for the day being a Sunday, it would be a less gloomy day.

I pour a bit of water that is no longer hot into the mate that no longer tastes of anything. The quintessence of Argentinean infusions disgracefully vandalised somewhere 12000 km away from home. I sip. It is washed-out and cold: lavado and frío, as expected. I was never pedantic enough about the whole ritual: the slow pouring of the water on the Yerba Mate, methodically set in bevel into the gourd; the right temperature of the water, never boiling hot, unless you can live with the unsupervised sticks of Yerba Mate floating as in a shipwreck. As for the mate-drinking ritual, I know of my bad habits:  a widely accepted legacy from the uni years, when the same mate could go on for as far as to a full chapter (with inevitable green stains), or as far as to the first half of a deconstructed two-hour lecture; when the end of a full mate round was determined by our concentration span, and not water temperature or taste.

I sip again. Josefina jumps at the sucking sound. I pass it back to her.

She mumbles something and keeps on filling in the application form.

No me va a gustar’, Josefina says, and rolls her eyes when she sees the green stain at the centre of page 2.

(I agree that she will not like this job either. But she will push on, and keep doing the work that architects from UQ or Melbourne uni will take credit for, while her own UBA degree coils in a black tube along with five years of study and green mate stains in a stationary vortex of defeats).

I put the kettle on and refill the mate: an old gourd with Josefina’s initials carved clumsily with a pocketknife. I have the same gourd. We bought it together at the markets, in San Telmo, at a time when having it meant nothing of what it now means: a whole ocean, and decades away from there and then. The gourd feels so loaded now, so heavy with every past tense plastered to it. 

Josefina fills in her third application. Nothing out of the ordinary. A name that anyone could say, and a surname that no one could: Rodriguez. An un-rollable ‘r’. An ‘o’ that was not meant to be turned onto an /oʊ/ and an impossible ‘d’, if you try to sound it with your tongue behind the teeth, instead of squeezed between them. The carnage done to the poor ‘gue’ sound is by now such a given, that she’s stopped trying to fix it altogether.

She says she would, if she could, add subtitles to everything around her. Subtitles or a voiceover. And everyone would be happy. The reader and the writer. The speaker and the listener. Maybe, she says, a full-time hologram: a three-dimensional translation under everything said, written and done. And everyone would be happy.

Spanish. Brief description: 27 grafemas. 24 fonemas. If you care to listen closely, it sounds as if you could dance it. Closed embrace. Walk. Figure. At the right time of the day (that can be any time of the day), it tastes like asado, slow-cooked, on an open fire, medium-rare. The signature sound of the “y” and the “ll”, the same fonema: as if we were pissing on the language to own it, to make it Argentinean, to sound it our way.

Spanish. Ancestral tongue, all flat-packed and put away during business hours.

Josefina asks me if I would like to hear about her dream last night.  

I say yes, because no one would want to leave an untold dream festering under Josefina’s vindictive skin. Or maybe because it’s a rainy Sunday, and rainy Sundays make me mellow and a little conforming.

She tells me about an eulogy she was giving in Argentina. An eulogy for a friend. En Puerto Blanco. In a white church. I think of Nuestra Señora de Lourdes because that’s the only church I remember. In any case, you can whitewash the walls of a church that lives, roughly sketched, in your memory. 

(No one really does eulogies in Argentina, Josefina, I know you know it too). No eulogies: we rather cry ourselves dry and exchange hugs and kisses and flowers and tissues and donate to Pétalos de Vida if playing the local philanthropist is your thing. It almost feels as if when dead people die over there, they are a tad dead-er than here in Australia, or we are a tad sad-er because we are all a tad inoculated with tango lyrics, and we are able to sip mate for hours on end in a profoundly depressing, ceremonial silence. Endemic things that give us a kind of death that is thicker, more substantial.

It’s her turn with the mate now and her hands are soft around the gourd. Her fingernails are splitting under a badly applied, inexcusable blue nail polish. She purses her lips and takes a long sip, “el agua de Brisbane no es lo mismo” she says frowning. I do not feel the difference; hot water tastes the same here than in Puerto Blanco, but agreeing with her, today, takes no effort. I nod.

And then she goes on; she describes how she was reading the whole eulogy in English, ‘in fucking English’ (she has been using fucking lately, and it pains me to see that it’s starting to sound almost natural); she says that yes, that she is sure that it was her speaking, when I ask; by now her voice has that pitch voices have when the images run too fast and the narration starts to feel out of sync. A vortex of dead and alive, known, and unknown, friends and foes, in a white church, listening to Josefina’s eulogy.

I can picture the general confusion of a non-English-speaking congregation when Josefina goes “we are gathered here today to bid farewell (a bit overdone, I’d say) to the amazing (she cannot remember who had died) whose goodness was beyond measure, a beacon of light (really? Is that what you said? Did you ChatGPT it, or what?). 

She tells me how she was hyperventilating when the alarm went off, and when she sat on her bed, she was toda chivada: all drenched in sweat. She brushes her fingers up and down her body, with a contorted face.  Now she’s all big-eyed as she brings the kettle back.

The dream story goes on and on and on. About how she had tried hard to stop and go back to Spanish. But again, and again she would revert to English, as if her own words were gone, as if they were trapped in the coffin with the beacon of light. And then, as you would expect of her, she Googled. She told me all about an article from the BBC on multilingual dreams, and how hers could have been a ‘linguistic anxiety dream’. She is sipping her mate slowly, holding on to it, watching the hollow gourd as if trying to find deep answers by dowsing in the yerba

Porque es como vivir con un pie en cada cachete del culo” Josefina says, the metaphor of an expat life, quite un-Borgesian indeed, of living as if she were standing on a giant butt: one foot on each butt cheek, makes me chuckle. The living not here, not there, and with a looming fear of falling into the crack. Her metaphor lingers heavily between us.

(At times, I know how much I hate speaking. When my LOTE language cannot be tamed, nor hidden. When it bobs up, unrequested as a Spanish-sounding-English. Because it is always there. At home. In songs I sing along. On a t-shirt. In books and books and books I cannot share. In instructions for the blue Anilina Colibri that was never used to dye a tattered shirt into its senses. Over the years I have fought it; pushed it in, scratched it out, painted it over, flattened it down. Nothing worked. Languages can be some stubborn creatures.)

‘Y si un día lo perdemos del todo?’ she says, half a spewed thought, and half a rhetorical question.

And the truth is that I do not know what would happen if suddenly, we could not find ourselves in Spanish anymore. If one day we wake up and we see pieces of rolled ‘Rs’ spread out like starfishes on the ground; or if we see an ñ (please, pronounce eh-nyeh, like you do for Enya, the Irish singer) clearly determined to get rid of its wormy hat in a way never seen before in anything with no arms, only because it wants to fit in. What if, the mourners in a sad, Argentinean funeral start to sway uncomfortably because of an English eulogy without subtitles, and we feel nothing at all.

(Is anyone able to un-dream a dream, Josefina? Can you at least, edit an alien eulogy out of it?) 

The mate is cold now. And maybe tasteless, again. The biggest and lightest Yerba Mate sticks are floating up and I am butchering the most basic mate etiquette turning the bombilla around and around, stirring thoughts and sticks together like a narcotic cocktail.

Tengo Pilates a las 5’, Josefina checks her phone. Broken screen; battered cover; battery almost flat. She walks while slipping into a pair of black leggings. Her Pilates mat is next to the door (it lives there, but she forgets it again and again). 

Te llevo?” she asks me as she frantically searches for her car keys in one of the many miscellaneous, poli-rubro, drawers.

I say no, that I rather walk. I always rather do.

I hum a Seru Giran song that lands me on the 80s (our 80s) and I forget Josefina’s dream. No one died recently, at least no one that I know of. No one I care for. Or maybe someone did die. And maybe in Argentina, they do eulogies now. I don’t know. I will Google it when I get home. 

Not a clue how to say eulogy in Spanish, though. 

A pity, really.


Sevana Ohandjanian

Sevana Ohandjanian is a writer, translator and film programmer of Armenian descent, living and writing on Wallumedegal land. Her work can be found in Meanjin, Chogwa, The Suburban Review, Shabby Doll House, The Wrong Quarterly, Tincture, SBS and more. Her unpublished manuscript Black Grass was shortlisted for the 2017 Kill Your Darlings Unpublished Manuscript Prize. Find her online @ichbinsev.



The drip started when I came back. Or maybe it had always been there and I just hadn’t seen it. Felt it. You’re always leaking, faulty, dispensing parts of yourself unknowingly. The drip begins and you simply continue. There’s no before or after timestamp. A faucet with the slightest leak, a midnight droplet that gathers on the showerhead and plops down with its weight, a drop in the ocean. But the ocean is a sponge and it soaks everything in. My drip is expelled from what it feeds on.

I wanted her to have become ugly. But she looks the same. Maybe I can’t see her any other way. Standing at the back of an Armenian Saturday school classroom, I watch the children clamouring to get her attention. Miss Lily! Miss Lily! Every child is a remodelling of prepubescent me, enamoured.

When Lily sees me, blood flushes my face, my breath caught. Caught like a 10-year-old being told for the first time, “You’re my best friend”; caught like a girl found out. She smiles, approaches.

She stands beside me during the principal’s announcements. Leans towards me to speak softly.

“It’s been a long time, Eva. Are you married yet?”

“No? I’m sorry. What?”

“I’m engaged.”


“Thanks.” Her bunny rabbit teeth briefly appear when she smiles at me. “I haven’t seen you around here in a long time.”

“I was living in London for a while.”

“I know, I saw the photos on Insta. How come you’re here though? I didn’t think you kept in touch with anyone from school.”

“I’m just doing a favour for one of mum’s friends. They said they needed another teacher.”

“Yeah, Ani had to quit. Her baby’s due in a couple of months.”

“Sure. Right. Then I’m here to replace Ani.”

“Are you back in the suburbs then? With your mum?”

“Yeah. You know, trying to take care of her.”

“And you’re not engaged?”


“In a relationship?”


“Dating any boys?”

“That’s also a no.”

I had arrived airtight, the excommunicated package returned to sender, not a leak to stain the exterior of me. But questions kick my sides into dents. I’m devoid of meaning in this place. Yet I can’t resist the urge to ask.

“So, who are you marrying?”

“You know him actually! He was a year above us–”

The principal calls to me: “Eva, we’re ready to start, let me show you where your classroom is.”

I’m tasked with overlooking the work of three pre-teen girls in the back of a classroom, minimal responsibility while an experienced teacher manages older students emanating static exam preparation energy. The room coils with summer heat, brick-encased sweat, blinding yellow sun glow. The girls kick their feet and rapid-fire questions. We’ve never seen you before Miss, where are you from Miss, how come we don’t know you Miss, did you come to this school too when you were learning Armenian, Miss?

The heat brings the warm sweat drip. Frizzed ends of hair damp at the nape, elbow crease droplet a wet snake. Soles melting into asphalt, fire hits hot, until it swallows feet and turns into statue grey stone. I’m pebble-footed, fog-headed, standing in front of these children, teaching them words I’d forgotten.

Afterwards in the parking lot, my car idles as I avoid the touch of molten metal fixtures against bare flesh. An atomic sizzle between my fingertips and steering wheel, my skin branding and moulding itself to machine. Gathering itself back together, water to jelly to rock. Baby hairs dance around in air conditioning vent choreography, and I see her, striding gracefully towards an electric blue car. Nissan Skyline, Fast & The Furious fantasy for the high school dream boys with fade cuts and bubbling aggression.

The car pulls out, drives by me.

There’s nothing to do here besides walk through grass smoked into hay, and stare into people’s backyards. Jumping back when a dog comes barking up a driveway, its snout snarling through the gate. Hearing trucks barrelling down the main highway. Driving for the sake of hearing an album through car speakers, to give it motion. Other peoples’ houses and time-haunted shops, the only places to go.

Western Sydney suburban ennui cushioning my red skin, my squinting eyes, dripping into my vision when shut, all squiggly flashing lines. I can’t leave it. I’ve taken it with me to every city I’ve lived in. An empty street is home even if it’s hollow.

The shopping village that still holds the dirty yellow glow of too-low lighting and too-dark corners. Butcher meat stink pulses, bakery loaves expand in their racks, the newsagency ceiling fan whirrs dust over untouched magazine covers.

In the unnaturally bright grocers, I’m slumped over a shopping trolley in the produce section, eyeing off the fruit, willing light to disperse me amongst the blood red apples.

A hand on my shoulder brings me back, collecting and rearranging me. Of course she’s here. Actualised from my mind where she’s found residence since I saw her in the classroom a week ago.

Carrying a shopping basket like a handbag in the crook of her elbow, she is what activewear ads convince me I could be: slimmer, fitter, happier, wearing leggings to the shops after the gym session. She exudes a glow that highlights my dullness.

She’s talking to me but I’m still the pillow crease from the morning, blue light shining in my face. My finger surfing over my phone screen at speed with a tender touch, cautious voyeurism. She is amalgamating before my eyes: crucifixes, gold and silver, shiny helium anniversary balloons, lace and chiffon. His pink nose filtered to snowy white, tight shining faces dripped together and melted, pushed in so close as if to pull apart would tear the conjoined sinew.

She’s inviting me to a party in her backyard. As I agree, I’m thinking of excuses not to go.

I have been here before or I haven’t. Down cul de sacs lined with palms, into townhouse driveways signposted with identical beige postboxes. Two years of sucking in smog and suffocating sound is compacted into the back of my mind, an already othered memory.

The backyard grips me by the neck, thrusts me face-first into nostalgia. Plastic white chair-seated men, hookah pipe passes, women in constant motion to buckle a trestle table with food.

This is every backyard from high school house parties when we’d stand around, flip phones grasped like prizes, being fed alcohol by parents who didn’t care for local laws. The so-small world looking remarkably wide in a fenced-in, half-concrete yard.

He’s not beside Lily, he’s amongst the white chair men. Legs spread, possessive eyes, shisha in hand. Déjà vu so strong I’m convinced he hasn’t moved an inch since 2004. His nose the same ruddy pink as that hot humid day, when I had squirted my water bottle at him while we waited to climb into the school bus. The second last day of school. Giggling to coax male fury off the ledge when he said, “I’ll get you for that”.

My skin pink the next day walking down the highway home, water dripping from hair and hem timed with shivers. Truck drivers honking at my now transparent cotton sports uniform. My ears echoing the smack of litre on litre pouring over my head. Ice cold shivers from frozen water bottles, then lukewarm waterfalls from orange juice-stained canisters. His deep laugh slicing through the cascade.

Now, a bead of sweat tickles down my back. I plant myself in a corner, let my sandaled feet brush grass. Sinking myself in deep, deep enough to become a nutrient for the soil, enough that I might fertilise and dissolve. As I watch him watch her, I know when she is watching me.

There’s small talk and a barbecue, drinks and cigarettes, heels poking holes into garden grass. My eye can’t leave the white chair corner, even while three ex-classmates come to interrogate me. They’re trying to strike gossip gold to take home tonight. Lily joins and stands across from me, that beaming warmth enveloping.

“Having fun?” she interrupts the conversation to ask me.

“Yeah, thanks for inviting me”.

“Of course. You should come to the wedding too, maybe you can meet a nice Armenian guy, make your mum proud.”
She laughs, a delicate thing. How is it so intimate yet the furthest thing from close. A reminder that the space is so vast between us, it is practically solid.

I move closer to Lily as someone takes a drum out, slapping a rhythm that draws people into hand-held circles. An unrushed dance, hands grasped with strangers, two steps forward and one back. A movement that should be in my feet already, a genetic predetermination. She’s the centre point of it, like a fountain timed to music, her hair splaying out, her body spinning, her arms elegantly shaping in the air. When our eyes meet briefly, my smile is second nature. I feel stripped down, heart stuck in throat. Melted as if to expose the centre of myself.

She is the person they sing about in the song, and I’m the person who dances to it.

Heat has a personality of its own. It demands. Craves the attention of all your senses. Heat sticks in your throat, it inflates humid into the lungs, it sinks into pores and forces your insides out.

I stand under the lazy ceiling fan in the classroom, in another lesson that has blurred into the weeks preceding it. Saturday mornings of burning sunlight and irritable children desperate to be elsewhere. Lily in the morning gathering, hearing her voice ring out an octave higher than the students during the national anthem. Afternoons of parking lot small talk, disappearing into cars and separate worlds.

The fabric on my skin is becoming one with me. Cotton tendrils sneak into microscopic pores, latching onto cells and choke-holding them until shirt is body and body is shirt. I want to flatpack myself. Ship myself back across oceans, until all that falls on me are snowflakes turning water, until my hair is drenched and my breath is tangible fog.

Once the bell has rung, I turn off the lights and stand in empty midday darkness. The stale air, the flecks of dust, the beige brownness of it all. I was never afforded silence in this space. Even now, I can feel the squeeze of time against me. Siren songing me into the past, into a safety that regresses and reidentifies.

Lily is sitting on a bench outside the school gates when I approach her. A backpack sat at her feet, she types speedily on her phone and doesn’t look up until I’m sat beside her.

“Did you have a good day today?” she asks, looking up from her phone, eyes directly on me.

“Same same really. I don’t know if I’m actually helping these kids learn anything.”

“I’m sure you are. They’re good kids.”

“Do you need a ride?”

“No, Sako will be here soon. We’re going to get a late lunch.”

The sun is bearing down on my unprotected face, marking its spot red. The drip is puddling around me, forming a lake on which I’m drifting. When was the last time we sat so close.

Back when she was ankle socks and me regular-length folded and pushed down. Back of the school bus giggles, we’d gotten lucky that the older kids let us sit there. We felt older than our 12 years with the privilege of hiding in the corner, huddled close. Grease of morning margarine sandwiches still on our lips, discarded foil crunching beneath our feet. She told me her underwear was black. Everything I wore underneath was a virginal white. Show don’t tell, we lifted skirts, reached across and under as if to confirm that the differences between us ended at the colour of our underwear. A Year 10 girl turned around to look at us and we knew somehow this wasn’t allowed.

We’re in a cone of cool silence now. The heat is away, the drip has stopped. Like an ice cube down the back of the shirt, there is something kinetic here. Something that wants to burst out of my pores and slide over the seat. Where are the lines drawn on our bodies now, that didn’t exist then.

“Do you remember those bus rides we’d have to take here every day?” My voice is not my own. It’s liquid turned sound, moved its way from stomach to trachea and out.

“They took so long! How did we even do it. They were so boring.”

“I liked them.” Me and you. Shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm, leg to leg, knee to knee. Gossip and giggles, a level playing field.

“Sako used to ride on that bus too, you know? He said he had a crush on me even back then”. Glimmering eyes, bunny teeth, the child peeking out of the adult. “But he never did anything about it.”

A car honks and the sun hits my eyes, firing down my face. She walks away, a gentle wave, a slide in and shut door.

I drip away in a sun melt. Until I can fall from the bench in droplets, slink my way down the gutter, foist myself into the drains. Let myself be carried to the dam, rushed alongside the drips of others, funnelled into drains mapping our suburban yellow underground. Until I slip down her tap, into her glass, and am entirely consumed.

A.D. John

A. D. John is a Wiradjuri writer residing on Gadigal land. He is a recipient of the 2023 Penguin Random House “Write It” Fellowship and the 2023 Writing NSW Diverse Writers Mentorship with World Fantasy Award finalist Eugen Bacon. He is currently studying for an MA in creative writing at the University of Sydney.


My Blood, Your Blood

Beyond the distant scrub on a strangled ridge, rhythmic rifle fire snapped and cracked – the powder smoke lifting like a delicate veil and dispersing as it cleared a dense regiment of parched saplings. Jimmy heaved the saddle onto the officer’s horse as another volley of shots pierced the damp evening air. He watched as the men around him flinched. 

“Jimmy,” a white officer called from his seat near a smouldering fire. “You see them boy?”

Jimmy shook his head. “Nah boss, can’t see a thing in this light.”

The officer scratched at his shabby beard, nodded and went back to stoking his piteous heap of embers. 

It was a lie. Jimmy could see the soldiers perfectly but was in no mood to play “spot the white fullah.” He secured the saddle and started with the bridling. 

They called him Jimmy Jackson. That’s how he introduced himself around camp and to his troop, even though he hated the name. It was a white fullah’s name, and it didn’t fit. Whenever he got the chance, he would introduce himself with the name his mother gave him – Mugi. The night before her son was born, she dreamed of birthing an eaglehawk and took that as a sign, dubbing him accordingly. Like the formidable raptor of his name’s sake, Mugi had the gift of sight. Put a jag-spear, knife, or rifle in his hand and he’d find his mark – sometimes from hundreds of metres away. 

His sight wasn’t limited to hunting. 

Mugi could cast visions of the abstract and slip into a place most other folk couldn’t. He’d soar above the hushed paddocks and the dense, suffocating scrub bordering their perimeters, rushing high over the magnificence of gumtrees. From up yonder, he took in everything. His mind’s eye traversed the expansive, sapphire skies tangled with wisps of cloud and surveyed the ravaged landscape below. 

He was all at once untethered up there in the eternal blue, but a slave chained mercilessly to the earth. Mugi would never mention the Dreaming to the white fullahs. He could only imagine they’d hack off his head or burn him alive. These men only believed in the Bible and that was that. 


Every so often, Lieutenant Wilson would be full of the spirit, rum or a mixture, and he’d limp up onto a discarded supply crate and begin spitting verses from his tattered St James Bible. There he’d be, unsteady in his boots, swaying and gabbling, fighting to keep his eyes from rolling back into his skull, as spittle caught in the nest of hair around his mouth. He’d speak of the end of days and Mugi wondered if those times had already come for his lot.

“Watcha doing?” A voice called from behind him.

Mugi turned to see Paul standing next to an open tent, its flaps whipping and snapping in the wind.

Paul was Koori as well, but no one knew his real name. He was tall, lanky yet strong. His skin stretched taut across his face and betrayed a menacing intent when he smiled – like he was now.

“I’m saddling the horse for the Lieutenant.”

“Which?” Paul’s eyes squinted into slits. He spat a peach seed that landed not far from Mugi’s boots.


“Uh huh, goin’ get it done then.” 

Paul buttoned his jacket and marched into the open tent. 


Mugi had noticed Paul striding through the camp from time to time as if he owned the place – like he was one of the white fullahs. This was his first interaction with the man, and it went as well as he imagined. The other Kooris nicknamed Paul “the White Dog”. Stories about him spread through the troop quicker than any cold or flu. These weren’t the type of tales Mugi would have recounted to his nephew back home. Rumours were that Paul played his part in desecrating a whole mob close by. The mob were charged with stealing cattle – so the settlers said. 

Other Kooris told Mugi that Paul had unsheathed his sabre during the battle and hacked at limbs and sheared off heads, all the while grinning that maniac grin of his. Mugi had seen enough bloodshed to last him an eternity. He could feel the malevolence of the mission weigh damp and heavy on his spirit. 

Mugi and his unit were sent to arrest the warrior Dawarang, whose mob was accused of disturbing the day-to-day lives of the nearby settlement. Mugi knew what it meant when white fullahs said “arrest.” Dawarang and his mob’s so-called crimes were miniscule to start with. Snatching a few chickens here, some pigs there. When cattle began to vanish, the settlers called in a local regiment of soldiers. 

Then there was the clash and the mob speared a few of the soldiers, one fatally. This was the story that the white fullahs drilled into their heads along the dusty trails all the way from Wagga Wagga. A young Koori officer named Dirru spread rumours that the real reason they (the white men) wanted Dawarang and his mob gone had less to do with protecting settlers and more to do with panning for gold. 


Mugi had spotted unfamiliar faces mulling around the creek beds with all sorts of equipment – he’d never had the chance to stand still long enough to gander at what they were up to. He also noticed they were clearing the forests slowly, two or three trees at a time. Mugi was beginning to agree with Dirru. There was foulness in the air, and he wanted to know which direction it was blowing in from. 

Mugi didn’t want to fight anymore. He wanted to go home. He wanted to hunt, cook damper and brew billy tea with his nephew. This wasn’t his nation. This was some other mob’s and now he was here trying to pry it away on behalf of these white bastards. 

He hated the way the white fullahs strode around like they had a right to it all – like they were some kind of gods. The only thing godlike about them was their opinion of themselves. He’d seen them bleed just like his mob. They weren’t anything ethereal. Just blood and bone like anyone else. Mugi wasn’t sure what he despised most: the white dog’s greed or their ignorance. They wanted to take, conquer and rape the land. Like it was a prize to be won. They had their heads so far up their own arses they didn’t realise how deluded they truly were. The land wouldn’t allow itself to be conquered. It wasn’t some fruit that sat heavy and plump on the lowest limbs of a tree. It was as harsh as it was beautiful, and it could show you who was really in charge if you were stupid enough to give it a good hard poke. 

Mugi closed his eyes so he could recalibrate. He was doing this for his sister and her boy back home.  That’s why he was here, no other reason he could think of. 

After they came in and stole the land from his people, they sold it back to them. They called it civilisation, but Mugi couldn’t find the civility in anything they were doing. The only white folk he gave a good goddamn about were the Irish. They were the only ones that seemed to cop it as sweet as the Kooris did. Poor bastards – all of them – poor, poor bastards. His lot and theirs. 

Mugi stood there with his eyes closed. The breeze lapped sweat from his cheeks. He imagined peeking through the kitchen window of his sister’s house. Her and the boy would be making damper or soda bread and laughing and gently elbowing each other. A fire blazed somewhere and it cast a long shadow that moved back and forth like someone pacing. He saw her, in his mind’s eye, the woman from the creek. 

Then he remembered he did have other reasons for being out here.


At night Mugi would sneak away. He crept past the tents and the officers snoring like smokestacks of old locomotives. He stayed low to the ground and waded through waist-high grass. He dove into the deep, cool shadows of the towering gum trees. He sprinted, hard, into the heart of the bush. His legs burning and his chest heaving until he reached the creek.

Until he reached her.


Mugi rounded a clump of tents. As he crept past the last one, he heard Captain Miller conversing with Lieutenant Daniels. The night had truly settled over the camp now and he crouched down behind a stack of logs, assured that the darkness would shroud him from the camp’s collection of paranoid eyes. 

“I don’t know how they know we’re coming. It’s like someone is giving us up.” Captain Miller’s voice was distinct—rough and deep like a rockslide in a quarry.

“Yes sir. It is quite perplexing,” Daniels said.

“I’m glad to hear you’re perplexed, Lieutenant. It shows you care. I was beginning to think you wanted to tend the land and raise cattle here.”

“We should have dispatched this Dawarang fellow weeks ago and been back home with our wives and children. I was beginning to think you liked it out here so much, you wanted to stay.”

Mugi listened as Daniel’s cleared his throat. “I’m sorry, sir, I am not following.”

“If you truly hated the heat and the stink and the general sense of melancholy this place imposes on one, really felt it on a day-to-day basis, I’d have thought you’d do everything in your power to achieve your objective?”

“Yes, sir I –”

“I don’t want to hear any more words from you Daniels. I want action. You hear me? Action.”

“Yes, sir,” Daniels said again.

“Yes, sir, yes, sir, three bags bloody full, sir. Just find the bastard, understood?”

There was the loud sharp click as Daniel’s snapped the heels of his boots together and then – silence.

Mugi waited in the shadows, waited for the tent flaps to open and the light to spill out and a dejected Daniels to slink past. A few seconds and nothing. Mugi froze as he heard hurrying boots clomping towards him. He turned to see Daniels striding for him, the weight of his footsteps kicking up plumes of dust. He must have exited Miller’s tent from the rear.

“You, there. What the hell are you up to?” 

Daniels stood over Mugi – a looming storm cloud.

Mugi began to gather logs from the pile and bundle them into his arms. He stood so he was face-to-face with the lieutenant.

“Sorry, sir, I’m just collecting wood for the fire.”
Daniels looked him up and down, his thin lips curling into a sneer.

“Well bloody hurry up then will you. Get back to your tent officer. I’m imposing a curfew tonight.”

Mugi saluted, almost dropping some of the logs. Daniels didn’t break eye contact until he’d stomped off behind one of the tents. 


Mugi knew that when a curfew was imposed, the white fullahs employed an extra level of vigilance. They’d have sentries strewn all around camp. Most officers who had the pleasure of a night shift were already exhausted and it was inevitable that they’d nod off – it was just a matter of time. Then there was the lackies, like Paul, who loved to catch a dissenter just so his white masters would pat his head and say “good boy.”


The horse Mugi had saddled earlier was still tied to the log where he’d left him. No officer had bothered to investigate why one of the horses wasn’t back in the stable with the rest, or why it was still wearing a saddle.

Mugi stalked his way toward the animal. The horse dug at the dirt with its hoof and whinnied when it saw him approach. 

“Shhh, ya dumb bugger,” Mugi said.

The horse flicked it’s head up and down and started pulling at the rope clipped to its bridal. Mugi reached the animal and stroked its mane, until it stopped jerking.

A calm fell over beast. 

Mugi spotted one of the sentries standing in the paddock only a few meters away. Yawning, the officer gazed up at the luminous stars that exploded across the canvas of the night sky.

Mugi searched around in the dust. He stood once he found it, a small round stone. He ran his fingers over the rock’s smooth edges and then lined up his target. 

 “Sorry, Brother,” he said. He wound back his arm and snapped it forward in a fast whip. 

The stone cut through the cool night air and struck the distracted sentry on the back of the skull. He didn’t want to cave the man’s head in – just blow out his lights. 

Mugi watched the man’s knees buckle and his whole body seemed to crumple in on itself and the tall grass swallowed him.

The sentry now asleep—probably the deepest he’d had since being deployed—Mugi didn’t waste any time. He knew there’d be more sentries milling about and didn’t think there’d be enough rocks for all of them. 

He led the horse through the long grass, making sure to crouch down and stay out of sight. He appreciated the symphony of insects. Crickets and frogs and the slow buzz of cicadas. He reached the middle of the clearing when a bat screeched and swooped overhead. 

Mugi felt his heart slide into his throat and stood frozen until he was able to regain his composure and push on. As he reached the deep, elongated shadows of the tree line, he glanced up at the sky. He could see why the sentry had been so enraptured. Thousands of jewels burned through the blackness, their sharp trails of light reaching down toward him. 

Mugi sunk into the darkness of the thick bushland, and he and the horse clambered over the dense scrub and fallen branches. They crept carefully through the brush until he could no longer smell the whispers of the campfire. He then mounted the horse and charged towards the creek.

He heard the creek before he saw it. The burbling of tannin-stained water trickling over the pock ridden stones that cut the bed of water in two. Mugi jumped from the horse and tied it to a nearby tree branch. He went on foot until he reached the creek bed, lit by the radiance of the full moon. 

She was there. 

The woman knelt by the bank, her hands cutting circles in the water, humming an unfamiliar tune. She turned ever so slowly, and her onyx eyes caught his in their rapture. Mugi felt his heart soar. No matter how many times he saw her, he swore she was the most beautiful vision. She was the ethereal shimmer of the moonlight.  Her name was Alinta, a name that meant fire or flame, he couldn’t remember which. The woman rose and floated towards him.

Mugi didn’t move – couldn’t move. 

Alinta threw her slender arms around his neck. Mugi felt the chill of her flesh, which soothed him. He slipped one arm around the small of her back and pulled her body tightly against his. Eyes shut, two white hot mouths heat seeking, soft wet lips melting together. It took everything Mugi had to breakaway away from the ache of her want.  

“We don’t have much time,” Mugi said. “Those dogs mean business this time. You must warn Dawarang. You must tell him to leave this place.”

Alinta smiled, and she let go of Mugi.

“He can’t leave this place. It’s not that easy. This place owns him. Needs him.”

“I’ve seen what these bastards are capable of. They’ll burn this place. They’ll take it all.” Mugi stood closer to Alinta and took a handful of her soft curls, spinning them around his fingers.

“It’s getting harder to leave,” he said. “What if I can’t tell you when they’re coming for yas?

Alinta swatted away his hand and smiled again. 

“Let them come, let them see what happens.”

There was a sharp crack as a heavy footstep splintered a branch, then a metallic click. Mugi and Alinta turned to see Paul, the White Dog, who had thumbed back the hammer of his rifle.

“We’re already ’ere.” He smiled that sadistic grin of his and levelled the weapon at Mugi’s chest and pulled the trigger. 

Mugi felt the impact snatch the breath from his lungs and the creeping heat of the wound slowly enveloped his entire body. He fell backwards onto the soft wet earth of the creek and tried to cough up the torrent of blood lurching through his windpipe. He waited to die, waited for Alinta to scream but instead thought he saw her laughing. 

“What are you smiling at ya daft bitch,” Paul said as he began to slide the rifle’s trigger back.

What happened next, Mugi thought was conjured from the dying embers of his imagination. 

The trees seemed to move. Not like they did in the wind. They appeared to take steps. Their roots tore free from the ground dredging up dirt and dead leaves. They circled Paul like a pack of ravenous dingos. Their skeletal branches tore at his clothes, grabbed at his arms and he dropped the rifle. 

He screamed as angry limbs hoisted him high into the air and, as if they’d practiced it a thousand times before, they wrenched his arms and legs from their sockets simultaneously. His body broke and shuddered violently. Paul’s eyes were wide and Mugi thought they’d burst but they grew dim and closed. His mouth went slack and hung open in a frozen twisted howl.

Alinta kneeled and ran her hand over Mugi’s chest, slick with blood. Her soft caress stole his mind from thoughts of death that swarmed like flies.

Those eyes locked onto his and she grinned.

“See,” she said. “Let them come.”

Natasha Rai

Natasha Rai, an Indian-Australian woman, was born in India, migrating to Australia with her parents at the age of ten. She lived in the UK for several years as an adult, and the influence of three homes features in her writing. Her work has appeared in Australia’s first #MeToo anthology, Enough anthology about gender violence, Overland, Verity La, StylusLit, and New-York based Adelaide magazine. Her first novel, AN ONSLAUGHT OF LIGHT, longlisted for the 2017 Richell Prize, 2018 KYD Unpublished Manuscript award, and highly commended for the Ultimo Press/Westwords 2020 Prize, will be published by Pantera Press in 2025.

Pairing Off

The first pair are thongs. She almost misses them, running past the yellow house on the pretty street with overhanging trees. For a moment, she considers stopping, but doesn’t want to break the rhythm of her run. The image of the thongs glues itself onto her brain. She deliberately loops back on the way home. They’re still there, undisturbed.

‘They looked so weird. On the street, one in front of the other facing the house, as though the person wearing them evaporated and left their thongs behind,’ she says to her husband, at home, after a cool shower.

He grunts, staring at his phone.

‘Did you hear what I said?’ She wants to rip the phone from his hand and smash it on the kitchen tiles.

‘Flip flops,’ says her husband, smiling at his phone.

She leaves the room, knowing he hasn’t noticed she’s gone.

Her Friday run is by the water’s edge on a street where a straggly row of houses looms silently. Trees with triumphant roots bursting out of the tarmac, watch impassively as she dodges the bumps. This time she stops. A pair of women’s black flats. Like the thongs, they are placed in the style of someone who has stepped out of them mid stride. Should she take a photo? She looks up and down the street, empty apart from her and the shoes, the promise of day showing in the gold and pink edging of clouds.

She takes a photo and runs up the hill, irritated at herself for stopping for something that is so obviously a joke. Or a prank? Is she going to stumble across a Tik Tok of her staring dumbly at shoes while the world laughs at her? At home, she shows the photo to her husband, who glances at it and away as though she’s shown him hardcore porn. Looking at the photo anew, she sees the banality of the shoes. One click, and it’s deleted.

Her best friend, Chloe, comes over. They stroll down to the shops – coffee, shopping, maybe a cheeky afternoon wine.

‘There’s a house I saw online for sale,’ says Chloe. ‘Wanna see?’

They head down one of the steep streets towards the glinting water. A trickle of sweat runs down her back, and her face is awash with it. They go past the pub, a blast of aircon through the open door beckoning to her.

‘Let’s go in here. It’s so hot,’ she says, wishing she could tug Chloe’s hand and pull her into the cold interior of the pub; the promise of oblivion in every bottle, winking at her behind the bar.

‘We’re nearly there,’ says Chloe. ‘C’mon.’

The house is gorgeous – two storeys, recently painted, a miniscule rectangle of waving plants lining the short path to the front door.

‘It’s nice,’ she says to Chloe, knowing her friend’s penchant for looking and not buying.

‘It’s just big enough. But as the girls get older, they won’t want to share a room, so there’s that issue. It’s only two bedrooms.’ Chloe’s brow furrows as though she is serious about this house.

‘Hmm,’ she says, calculating the quickest route back to the pub. She turns and her heart hammers unsteadily.

At the base of the large tree on the edge of the pavement, is a pair of red, strappy heels. Like the other pairs, they are not side by side, but mimic the stance of a walk.

‘Do you see them?’ she asks, pointing.

Chloe looks at them and laughs. ‘Do you need a pair of shoes?’

A nervous giggle rises unsteadily from her throat into her mouth. ‘I’ve been seeing different shoes everywhere. Placed like these. All of them are women’s shoes. Do you think it’s a joke?’

‘If it is, it’s not very funny.’ Chloe turns her back on the shoes. ‘I’ll talk to Adam about the house. C’mon, let’s get a drink.’

She turns back several times to look at the shoes as they walk away. Why are they getting to her so much? What do the shoes mean? In the pub, they order a bottle of sparkling wine. Amid their conversation, the shoes flash in and out of her thoughts like a lighthouse beacon, luring her closer. Did the women intentionally leave their shoes on the street? Were they stolen and arranged like that? Perhaps it’s the same woman. She realises she never checked the sizes of the shoes.

‘I’ll be back.’ Chloe heads to the toilet.

She checks her phone – no messages. A woman sitting at a nearby table is staring at her. Her brown hair is trimmed and shaped like a halo around her face. The woman’s dark eyes lock onto hers, and she’s embarrassed by the slow flush of arousal that starts in her groin and moves up into her belly, shooting up into her chest and face.

Chloe returns to the table, and she wrenches her gaze away from the woman, forcing herself not to check if she’s still looking at her.

‘Should we have another bottle?’ Chloe asks.

‘Let me check what Matt’s doing.’ She sends the message. Seconds later her husband replies telling her to stay out and have fun – he isn’t home.

She goes to the bar, clutching her card. The haloed hottie materialises by her side.

‘You saw the shoes,’ she whispers into her ear. The haloed woman is so close, her lips graze the top of her ear, sending waves of desire through her.

She’s misheard. ‘What?’ She tilts her head to look up into the woman’s eyes.

‘The shoes. You know about them.’

She’s drunk. That’s what it is. Her drunk mind is weaving the stupid shoes and this sexy woman together.

‘It’s not a joke.’ Her tone is insistent. ‘You choose. You choose to leave them behind.’

‘And then what? Buy a new pair?’ She giggles. What would happen if she leant into her to smell her neck? Tell her she’s hot and that she wants to feel her naked chest against her own.

‘You’ll see. You’ll know your moment when it arrives.’

The bartender interrupts and when she turns to resume the conversation after ordering, the woman is gone. Back at the table, she’s disappointed at the sight of the empty glass where she was sitting earlier.

‘Did you see that woman?’ she asks Chloe, pouring prosecco into their glasses.

‘Which one?’

‘The one with the short dark hair. She spoke to me at the bar.’

Chloe’s eyes light up with mischief. ‘What did she say? Where is she?’ She looks around the pub.

‘Nothing. Doesn’t matter. I think I’m pissed.’

‘Me too!’ They clink glasses.

Once home, her head buzzing with prosecco, she thinks about the woman and the shoes. She can choose to leave them behind. What does that mean?

Her phone pings. It’s her husband texting to say he’ll stay at a mate’s place. She sighs. There was a time when he hated being away from her. She messages a couple of friends, suddenly wanting to be out in the world, seen by others. No one replies. Is this her life now? Flinging crumbs of longing into the world that are met with indifference and silence. When did she become invisible?

Her routine shudders along, the connection to her husband growing fainter. They now spend entire evenings in silence on their devices, sitting together, separated by a continent of unsaid things. Netflix is always on, actors playing out lives vibrant and brighter than her own.

She sees the shoes everywhere, during her runs, buying groceries, out for a coffee. Each pair different, worn. She checks on the ones she’s seen before. Some are still there, others have gone. She no longer wonders why their owners left them; she wonders where they are. Do those women miss their lost shoes? Increasingly, she thinks about that woman in the pub. About what she said. She can just choose to leave them. Where will she go if she chooses? Can she return and reclaim them?

One night without a word of explanation, her husband sleeps in the spare room. In the morning, when she asks, he says he didn’t want to disturb her as she went to bed hours before him. Without any further discussion, he sleeps in the spare room most nights returning to their bedroom, occasionally, wearing an expression of distaste when she asks him. Summoning her courage, she strokes his arm, leaning in for a kiss.

He recoils like he’s been bitten. ‘I’m tired,’ he says, his gaze already returning to his phone. ‘Ask me tomorrow.’

Summer sharpens to winter, and back to spring. The shoes multiply, becoming more visible even as her life disappears before her own eyes. She brings a brown pair of sandals home, cleans them, gets them repaired by the local shoe place, and stares at them at night as her husband laughs in another room. Nothing happens. The shoes are inanimate, lifeless next to the other pairs she owns. Cleaning and mending them feels like a desecration.

She doesn’t tell Chloe or any other of her friends about her decaying marriage. She knows she needs to talk to Matt, but she’s so scared. What if he says things she doesn’t want to hear? She’s taken to weeping silently in bed, hating herself for being so weak, but finding solace in the wet pillow. Perhaps, tomorrow she will be stronger. Perhaps, tomorrow the words trapped in her throat will fly out of her mouth like birds released.

On Saturday, Matt puts on his suit and knots a blue silk tie.

‘Where are you going?’ she asks.

‘I told you. Dave’s invited me to Randwick. He’s a member.’

She stares at his back; absolutely certain he never said a word. Do you still love me? The question hovers in the space between them, but she snatches it out of the air unable to bear the look that might settle on his face if she utters it aloud.

After he leaves, restlessness urges her into the car. She drives down to the bay, deciding on a different, longer run. She’ll reward herself at the bay side café with breakfast afterwards. The usual loop of thoughts jog through her mind in rhythm with her feet. She realises as she sweeps up the path, there are no shoes here. She stops, looks up and down the empty track. It’s time. She decides. Today, she’ll leave her shoes here. Make a mark in an untouched place. Another woman will run by and wonder about her shoes. Someone will wonder about her; someone will want to know more about her. First, she’ll finish her run. Then, she will offer her shoes.

She rounds a bend, the golden sun dancing on the lapping water, when she glances behind. Her running shoes are behind her. When she looks down at her feet, she still wears them, yet they are also behind her, left in the same position as all the other pairs. Slowing down, she walks back to the shoes on the path. Yes, they are hers. And yet, not. There are two pairs, the ones on the path and the ones on her feet. She can choose.

She feels no curiosity about this contradiction. For the first time, in a long time, a space opens in her chest. She breathes a lungful of sweet air, noticing the loveliness of the water, the bright pink flowers of the trees lining the path. She feels free. She resumes her run. Nearing the café, she is unsurprised to see the halo-haired woman from the pub nearly a year ago who told her she could choose. Well, she’s chosen. She comes to a halt in front of her, for once breathing easily after such a long run.

She takes her outstretched hand. Her shoes are forgotten, as is everything else. The world brims with possibilities.

Patrick Flanery

Patrick Flanery is the author of four novels, including Absolution (2012), which was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary award, and a memoir, The Ginger Child. He is Chair of Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide.

Photograph by: Andrew van der Vlies



Logic aside, I blame my daughter. She was not here when it happened and has not been here for some time. And because she went ahead with the move only a week after the accident, I cannot stop blaming her. I know she knows I blame her and although this makes me fret from time to time it does not keep me awake, even in the afternoon when sleep overcomes me. Sometimes it concerns me so little I almost don’t recognize himself. My despair is to blame.


Ilse insisted she would go for a walk on her own. I was in the kitchen drinking an espresso and told her to be careful but did not drive up the hill to place myself at Ilse’s terrace door and prevent her going out when anyone would say a 95-year-old blind in one eye and deaf as granite should not be walking alone in the mist on a cold July morning. Natalie asked what I was doing at the time, but I can’t remember. It may have been the morning a brushtail fell down the chimney and sat dazed in the ash blinking until I put on the fireplace gloves and wrestled it screaming into a box while France whined from the bedroom.
        What I do remember is that when I went to pick up Ilse for lunch that day, she was greyer than usual. At the organic market, she would not eat her sweet potato soup or slice of sourdough. After dropping her at home and insisting she turn on the heat, I phoned Natalie in Taipei and reported what Ilse had told me: that she took a fall on her walk and might have bruised her ribs. She said she was nauseated and having trouble breathing.
        ‘A fall to folly,’ I said.
        ‘What? You have to take her to hospital,’ Natalie said in her dogmatic way, ‘she might have broken something. And you’d better call her sons. We can’t do this again.’
        ‘I don’t want to go behind Ilse’s back. You know that’s part of our bargain.’
         Later that afternoon, at Natalie’s urging, I went to check on Ilse. She wanted to go buy a crate of wine, which made no sense when she had a cellar full of it. I told her Natalie thought she should go to hospital and let her sons know what had happened. That was the first time I was seriously worried because I could see she did not understand what I was saying. I had to repeat myself three times and when she did finally understand she snapped.
        ‘I just want to go to the fucking bottle-o,’ she whispered, ‘so stop wasting my time.’
        We were sitting in my car, which she had laboured into, wincing with every move. It was the second to last time we sat together in my car. For twenty years we had sat together in cars, going to Shakespeare in the Vines, Chardonnay May luncheons, La Bohème on the beach. It’s not Europe, but then nothing else is, Ilse always complained, even when she’d enjoyed herself. It’s not the Royal Shakespeare Company, but then nothing else is. It’s not Meursault, but then nothing else is. It’s not La Scala, but then nothing else is.
        ‘I don’t need to go to a hospital or phone my bastard sons,’ she gasped. ‘They will simply do what Natalie has done, which is to say respond as if this is the disaster,’ she wheezed, ‘that it clearly is not. Now take me to the bottle-o.’
        I knew she meant the disaster for which her sons had been waiting to have an excuse to put her into a home. Six months earlier, the eldest, Laurent, sold the car out from under her after she changed lanes on the Prince’s Highway coming home from the theatre and sideswiped a Ute whose driver threatened to sue. Even though I disapproved of Laurent’s highhandedness, it was a relief not to have her driving anymore. A month later Laurent took away Ilse’s black pug, Fool, and rehomed it with one of his clients in Kenthurst because he said a dog as pudgy and aggressive as Fool would pull her off her feet and make her break a hip. She was never the same after.


The morning after her fall in Cleland, when I phoned Ilse at our usual check-in time, she did not answer. I drove to her house and found her unwashed and lying on the white Italian leather sofa in muddy jeans and sweatshirt. On the coffee table were two empty bottles of the single-vineyard pinot she’d bought the previous night. She blinked but did not reply when I spoke. I approached to see if she was alive and her breath was wind through sheoaks in my ear. At that point I told her we must seek medical attention.
        ‘No fucking ambulance,’ she whispered before struggling one last time into my car.
        The young doctor who clearly fancied himself did an x-ray while we waited and after an hour returned and reported: ‘Two broken ribs and a collapsed lung. You’re going to hospital, Ilse, whether you like it or not.’ Dogmatic, like Natalie. He did not make eye contact with either of us but kept checking his own reflection in the mirror above the sink.
        Laurent arrived after lunch on a flight from Sydney and the youngest, Florian, rolled in the next morning from Melbourne, by which time Ilse was no longer speaking and neither the doctor nor nurses could say why she was not speaking or whether her lung would reinflate. They did a scan to check for signs of stroke, but there were no such indications.
        ‘Sometimes,’ the doctor told Laurent in my hearing, ‘this happens with very old people. One significant trauma and they go headlong over the edge. It’s just nature culling, to put it bluntly.’
        A short while later Ilse no longer recognized me and did not recognize her sons and by the time her middle child, Maurice, arrived from Singapore, she was thrashing around and had to be sedated. By the end of the week, she was dead. I was not in the room when it happened and did not for a while believe it had and then spent an hour alone with Ilse’s body and understood it had definitely happened. Her skin grew cold. I thought of my mother and father, how icy their hands were in death, how unresponsive.
        That evening I phoned Natalie in Taipei as she was packing to move to Los Angeles with her husband. She made sympathetic noises and looked as though she might cry. Her new job was starting and they had been waiting on the American visas for more than a year. ‘I cannot fuck this up given the direction of travel vis-à-vis the whole China situation,’ she said, ‘and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it’s past time we got out.’
        ‘Does that mean you won’t come?’
        ‘It means I can’t come, Dad. I’m sorry. I wish I could be there for you. But I can’t let passion get in the way of reason.’
        ‘Passion? Is that what you’d call it?’
        ‘Don’t make this more difficult for me than it is. I was fond of Ilse, you know that.’
        So, I blame her. I have tried to reason myself into a more forgiving frame of mind but cannot manage it. If Ilse had been her mother, or even, I believe, if Ilse and I had been married, Natalie would not have delayed. But because of the nature of the relationship, neither my daughter nor any of Ilse’s sons think we were anything other than flirtatious friends. So, I blame them. I blame all of them.


Laurent, Florian, and Maurice make all the arrangements without consulting me, going ahead with the cremation and not even doing me the courtesy of asking if I might want to attend. On top of it they have chosen a ghastly funeral home called Practical Services, which gets only two stars online. Ilse would have been furious. I also fail to understand why I was not named as a witness on the death certificate.
        ‘Yeah, but, you weren’t even in the room when Ilse died and therefore you cannot technically have been a witness. Do you understand that?’ Natalie says when I mention it. ‘Just because you think you see everything does not mean you are witness to the whole world.’
        I want to tell my daughter I have repeatedly imagined the thrashing and rattle and frantic gaze followed by an exhalation and silence. I have seen it as if I had been there, so some part of me believes that I did witness Ilse’s passing.
        Also, what does it matter whether I was there or not? Who does it serve, except Laurent, who was alone in the room and wants everyone to know it.
        Ilse would not have quibbled over facts.


Florian phones the following afternoon.
        ‘Hi, hiya, Peter, I just wanted to see if maybe there’s anything from Mum’s house you want?’
        ‘No,’ I assure him, not a scrap, although there are several of my items in the house. Baking trays and muffin tins left behind over the course of years. A red enamel casserole dish of some value. Sheet music from when I still had the upright piano, the score to Puccini’s Tosca. LPs and CDs and cassette tapes. A complete recording of the Shostakovich quartets. Several rare books on music, a selection of modern novels. But I fear the sons would suspect me of inventing ownership to do them out of their inheritance, the fiends.
        A few days later, Florian drops by with some blue napkins Ilse bought when Natalie and her husband took us to Kyoto a decade ago. Florian is thinner than I remember, balder too. I think of him as perpetually thirty but he is over fifty now and still dressing like a boy.
        ‘I thought you might like these little tokens as a remembrance of my mother. I know you were, you know, special friends.’
        ‘We were more than friends, Florian.’
        ‘Yes, of course, you know what I meant,’ Florian coughs, blushing.
        ‘Would you like to come in for a coffee?’
        He peeks behind me as if assessing the state of the house. ‘No, I won’t trouble you. I’ve still got lots of clearing out to do before I head back to Melbourne. Thanks anyway. Okay, bye, Peter, bye. See you soon.’
        The boys sell or donate most of the smaller articles and take away only a few pieces of furniture while their wives divvy up Ilse’s jewellery. Without the boys knowing I am the bidder, I purchase some of the discarded furniture at auction. That way I get Ilse’s cane porter chair in which I used to sit on summer afternoons during a break from working in her rose beds. I also buy back my casserole dish, a gift from my ex-wife more than forty years ago, and a box of my books that neither the boys nor the auctioneers noticed are all modern firsts. These, I note with horror, are sold by meterage of shelf space. For twenty dollars plus the buyer’s premium I get three metres of my own books and all of Ilse’s cookbooks. Someone outbids me on the Shostakovich LPs, most of which Natalie scratched beyond repair as a child.


As the weeks pass, I suspect my daughter is back-channelling with the bastard sons because Natalie keeps asking if I have keys to Ilse’s place, telling me if I do have a set I must absolutely not under any circumstances at all go in the house.
        ‘They’ve had an alarm system installed and if you do have keys and aren’t telling me—no, let me speak, Dad, stop interrupting—or you find a set that you’ve forgotten you have, you should courier them to Laurent.’
        ‘I have no keys, I assure you. That was one thing Ilse would not part with,’ I lie.
        It is true I thought of entering the house after it was cleared but when I got to the front door I noticed the alarm panel just inside and did not want to face a security company or the police.
        A month after Ilse’s death, the realtors dress the house professionally, filling it with ersatz French Country furniture and giant framed photos of kookaburras and banksias, lavender fields, and Highland cattle. They are unbecoming in the space, but that is what people want these days. While there is not a pool, the brochure acknowledges, the old croquet lawn could be dug up. There is staff accommodation that might be turned into a holiday rental. And the Bunya pine in the garden is described as ‘a tree of note’. The façade and roofline are both on the historic register, the terracing at the front all edged with box. At the open house the first Saturday after its listing there is a forty-minute queue to get inside. A koala has clambered into the gum near the front door.
        The estate agent, a man who looks too young to be selling a house of this quality, nods at the koala: ‘That little bugger should add a hundred thousand to the price.’
        Because it is ‘a large heritage property’ and significant expense has been put towards creating the illusion it is a naff boutique hotel, crowds have come to gawp, even those who clearly have neither the intention nor means to buy.
        Ilse would have been horrified.
        The house sells in less than a week. After the sale, I stop walking past it when I go on my daily to Cleland, although it’s on the most direct route. One night, however, I drive over and stop the car just short of the wrought-iron gate. As I watch, the new family goes about their evening routine, curtains open and lights on. It’s either too late or too early to phone Natalie and there is no one else to call but I can’t for some time pull myself together to drive the two minutes back home past the line of skeleton gums. When I do make it back, I feed France before pouring a large glass of finger-lime gin and slumping down to watch the food channel. In the morning I wake to find my laptop purring on the floor but cannot remember leaving it there.


Ilse’s sons conclude no one would come to a funeral held in winter, at least not the relatives from elsewhere, those who have emigrated or, now the borders are open, locals who might be spending the winter in scorching southern Europe or boiling North America. So the interment of the ashes has been delayed until summer, and I foolishly imagined Natalie and her scowling husband would attend. But getting settled in America is taking time and they have only just moved into a house in Echo Park where she claims to be too busy for such a long trip so soon after the move.
        ‘If I’m going to come,’ Natalie says, turning her face from the camera, ‘it needs to be a trip of, you know, real consequence.’ These days she rarely speaks without looking away from me. Eye contact appears to cause her almost physical pain.
        I wake one morning having dreamt I was looking for a job as a music teacher in Santa Monica. A few days later, I begin receiving job alerts for such positions and disconcertingly personal communications from recruiters who thank me for having already taken the time to speak to them and asking for a follow-up meeting or evidence of my credentials, C.V., etc. These messages come in such quantities I begin to wonder if I am really alone in my own house, dealing with my grief, alone, and there is not some secret companion, Ilse even, haunting like a dark angel or foul fiend, making mischief for me.


So you find me now, abandoned by my daughter and left alone to negotiate with Laurent, Maurice, and Florian, plus their four-score cavalcade of relatives flying in from Auckland and the south of France, from Switzerland and Bali. I have thought of saying to Natalie, if Ilse’s all-and-sundry can pitch up, then why can’t you?
        Since I began receiving those recruiting messages, Natalie has started managing my email. She relays only what she judges important, so I no longer hear from the local Labor Party. I no longer hear from the World Wildlife Fund or the State Theatre or the vineyard outside Hahndorf where I’m certain I’m still a member of the wine club but from which I have not received my usual half case. I communicate with my book group and other friends via message or phone. I suspect Natalie has been betraying me but have no proof. She insists on scheduling my doctors’ appointments for early morning so she can join by phone from Los Angeles.
        There is to be a graveside service and a luncheon at Mount Lofty House where, I am aghast to discover, ‘people are invited to tell stories about Ilse, whether or not they are true’. All of Laurent’s communications about his mother have an edge of glibness, as if the man is relieved she is gone and wants to needle her in the grave. In the evening there will be a dinner at a wine estate near Uraidla whose whites Ilse judged pale imitations of their European antecedents. The beggarly sons have spared no expense on the events where their own enjoyment is paramount. Ilse is paying for it all, even in death.
         The morning of the service I get up at six and take a terracotta pot full of pink pelargoniums, drag it on a tarp to the car, drive to the Stirling Cemetery, and manoeuvre it to the plot. With my phone I snap a photo of the crypt and my terracotta pot next to it and send this to Natalie, who responds asking whether it would not have been a good idea to take a newer looking pot and not one covered in moss. She fails to understand that Ilse would have thought such a pot perfectly right, because used and useful. Ilse, in fact, might have been the one who bought the pot in the first place, but Natalie does not know that.
         I drive home. The grouting in the bathroom should be redone but is unlikely to reach a crisis before my death. Although Ilse did not want a stuffy funeral, I put on a suit and collar shirt and tie. Ilse would say someone dressed in such attire risks being mistaken for hired help. Ilse is not here to say it.
        The sons have brought their spouses and children and their children have brought their spouses and children, and those children, in two cases, have brought their own spouses and children. Ilse could never remember the names of her great-grandchildren because there were already twelve grands and she struggled with them as well. In recent months she could not retrieve her son Maurice’s name and often blurted out ‘Mollusc’ or ‘Mortice’ and after three or four false starts might land on ‘Morris’ which is not, in Ilse’s family, homophonous. I can remember the names of the grandchildren (bar two whose faces I find offensively smug) but none of the great-grandchildren.
        The sons greet me. Their spouses greet me. Some of the grandchildren nod in my direction but do not speak. In the parlance of Ilse’s family, I am the late matriarch’s ‘boyfriend’. They look at me as if I were some geriatric gigolo, fifteen years younger than Ilse and with designs on her fortune. Only the point about age is true. Would they be surprised to know Ilse and I never did anything more intimate in two decades than hold hands, share a bed on travels, and kiss chastely, which is to say only on the lips, always with eyes closed. It was what she wished. As with all things, she had been frank about that when her husband died and I, passing the house on my daily walk to Cleland, began stopping to chat once we discovered common tastes. Blues and pinks in a garden, no hot colours. Pinot Noir and Grüner Veltliner, no Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc. Wagner and Shostakovich, no Haydn or Prokofiev. How easy. A case of happy casualty, as someone might have put it.
        Because Ilse did not want a traditional funeral there is no clergy. Laurent officiates. It is hot with no shade. A flock of fairy wrens flits chattering around the monuments. Laurent tells a story about his mother that describes a person I do not recognize. Maurice reads a rhyming poem by a poet no actual poet would credit. Florian is the only one who tries to speak from the heart, as it were, the only one who appears moved. Leave it to the youngest, the one picked upon by his older brothers, to mention his mother’s garden and love of birds, walks, and even the joy she found after their father’s death. It is as close as anyone comes to acknowledging their mother’s relationship to me. Florian invited me to speak but I could not find words I trusted myself to pronounce without losing the capacity to finish. She is dead, I would say, gone forever, dead in the earth. I see my reflection in the polished stone her breath no longer stains.
        A few of my friends from the university retirees club and book club have come to support me but the only person I wish were here is in Los Angeles waiting for the opportunity to make a trip of consequence. I suppose she has in mind the consequence of a retirement village in Hahndorf. She can get stuffed if that is the idea.
        The family tomb, Ilse’s rather than her late husband’s, is in the corner of the cemetery, at the juncture of the pine forest and valley of gums to the southeast. It was the late husband who chose the dour black granite and neoclassical design with engraved thistles because his family was once Scottish. It is a two-person tomb. If I wished to be buried near Ilse it would be at some distance, not even in the same alley of graves. Natalie will not approve of me being interred so far from wherever she chooses to live—if she ever makes a definitive choice. More likely she will have the ashes compressed into a diamond she can set in platinum or port me about in an urn as the political winds shift. There is a strong chance she will be moving on from Los Angeles in less time than it took her to flee Taipei.
        At least Stirling’s is a well-kept cemetery. Not like British cemeteries so often neglected, overrun with ivy. This is more like a French or Austrian, even a Swedish burial ground, although it has not quite achieved the refinement of those countries that raise tending the dead to a national art. A cemetery in Uppsala once made me weep, after the divorce, because I could not imagine anyone tending my own grave so assiduously. The only signs of neglect here are several of the older graves whose plots were topped with concrete and the surface has collapsed in grisly, body-shaped oblongs. Stone is more durable. The monuments to those killed at Gallipoli look as new as the day they were erected. In another century, Ilse’s grave, notwithstanding earthquake or fire, will appear just as it does today.


At the last minute I decide not to attend the luncheon or dinner, offering an excuse about the new variants and being around so many unmasked people, but I can tell that none of the sons, not even sympathetic Florian, really believes me. Instead, I go home to prune the Japanese maples and send Natalie a message asking her to arrange for garden services to do a full clean-up before it gets any hotter or drier. The flowers are wilting in the heat because I’ve not turned on the irrigation system. The bore needs a new pump. I take France for a walk past Ilse’s old house and don’t even clean up when it squats in her driveway. At home I pour a double measure of finger-lime gin and then a second and turn on the high-brow movie channel where a Japanese film featuring an old man in a medieval setting is reaching its violent conclusion. Superimposed on the beard and long white hair of the actor I again notice my own reflection in the rain and wind and thunder. France sticks his snout in the glass trying to get the last of my gin.
         Tomorrow the boys will be returning to their homes. Flights out on Sunday morning. Late that afternoon, I drive back to the cemetery where the arrangements of flowers have been heaped on Ilse’s side of the tomb. In the heat they are already drooping. Since there is no one else about, I gather the arrangements, half a dozen bouquets, and carry them to the car.
        At home, I pick out what can be salvaged and put the rearranged flowers in five vases along the sideboard as France watches, panting. When I tell Natalie about it on Monday morning she acts as if I have committed a crime, as if she does not see that I am, although never married to Ilse, her widower.
        ‘But the point is to leave the flowers, Dad. That’s why people take arrangements to graves,’ Natalie says. She does not say what I imagine she is thinking: the only people entitled to take the arrangements are the bastard sons, who are, legally speaking, Ilse’s only next of kin. I know I am a legal nonentity. ‘There might have been surveillance cameras.’ No, I assure her, there are no such devices. ‘What if the police had come?’ she asks.
        ‘The police have graver concerns.’
        ‘Is that meant to be a joke?’
        ‘Take it as you like, Natalie. Don’t let it disquiet you.’
        ‘I don’t think it’s funny.’
        ‘As far as I can tell, you think very little is funny.’
        On her side of the planet she is sitting in the evening glow of a wildfire sky. When the day comes that my doctor tells me I have no choice, I am going to hospital, when the words stop arranging themselves in my mind, when the faces of strangers look like friends and friends like strangers, I wonder if Natalie will have time in her schedule to make the trip from Los Angeles, or wherever else she may be living. In her face there is stark concern, not for wildfires in the San Gabriel Mountains, but for a father who does what she thinks he should not. Imagine her asking friends for a gut check to see whether others think it strange that I should transgress an unwritten social contract with the dead. He would not do well in Asia, I imagine Natalie saying to her husband. No, perhaps not. Some new facet of myself, new to the self who is present on this call with Natalie, sees that the self who took the arrangements from Ilse’s grave was not acting out of love or common sense but was instead fired by malice. New selves are best handled as mercy cases. Put them down before they suffer.
        But how dare Ilse’s sons? How dare she herself? Did Ilse not think, even in her final months, that I might wish to accompany her, as was long the case, wherever she might travel?


The next day I drive to the half-acre burial ground next to a vineyard where my parents are interred. With kitchen shears I cut the grass around their monument, collect dead leaves, wipe dust from the stone. Using an old toothbrush, I scrub away what has accumulated in the engraved letters. My mother’s determination to be buried next to my father still troubles me; I cannot understand why she should wish to spend eternity lying next to a man who had been so cruel to her, so cruel to me. I scrub my father’s side of the grave, harder than my mother’s. My grandparents are here, and great-grandparents, and their parents who came from England as Primitive Methodists. Though not a Primitive Methodist I have a plot here, adjacent to my parents’; I do not wish to be buried with my forebears. There is little reason to believe such a feeling will translate into action. This is where I will lie, in sight of the vineyard, down the road from the house where my people first settled. They came and they stayed and I have stayed, as if that great leap from North to South was so taxing that every generation hence could not imagine moving on, until Natalie.
        Natalie will not be tending my grave. Perhaps if she puts up a monument, she will visit when she returns to the city where she grew up. With no family left in these parts, however, my death may mark her final trip home. My resting place will be left to the mercy of the council or whatever volunteers take it upon themselves to tend the forgotten.
        On the drive home, I recall my mother’s funeral. There had been solemnity and kindness for her. Ilse’s family seemed to feel little more than relief that this chapter of their lives had reached its conclusion and they would no longer have to tolerate her sharp tongue. The promise of inheritance perverts relations between the generations. I have written Natalie out of my will, though she does not know it.
        When I turn the key in the lock, I wonder why France is not at the door to greet me, why I suddenly catch Ilse’s scent. A woman stands a few paces from me. Her face collapses as she cries out. A man has appeared, shouting, and children are sobbing in the corridor behind the adults, a little girl wailing as if she has, at last, seen the ghost of her nightmares in the flesh.
        ‘Oh,’ I hear myself say, ‘oh.’ Ilse’s scent flows from the kitchen cupboards, from the parquet and sisal rugs. I raise the key in my hand, dangling its chain. ‘This must be yours.’
        Natalie phones me the next morning. It is late afternoon in Los Angeles. Laurent has been in touch with her. Police were involved, although the new owners have been persuaded not to press charges.
        ‘I had to explain that you were deranged by grief,’ Natalie says, dogmatic.
        ‘Mad as the sea?’
        ‘Huh? Stop it, Dad.’ Her features are fixed. She scarcely moves her lips. It is obvious she is in some kind of state. A consequential state, perhaps. ‘I’ve booked a flight for tomorrow,’ she says, staring off to one side. ‘It is time we made arrangements.’

Christopher Cyrill

Christopher Cyrill is the author of the novels The Ganges and its Tributaries and Hymns for the Drowning.  He has also published numerous stories, articles and written a number of broadcasted radio plays. For many years he was the fiction editor of HEAT and the fiction editor of Giramondo Publishing. Cyrill has taught at Sydney University and Macquarie University and currently runs his own writing academy mentoring writers.
Index of First Lines

Edited by I.V.A Sumac

Achaean Minotaur, upon the shattered ledge; two men in frame 1
Agamemnon insists, despite your chaplets, the graces of the gods 25
All I have in the Promised Land is a plot for my bones. 47
All life is shipwreck – I dis/agree 94
Archipelagos. Cargoes of lighthouses. 37
Aria is my brother, my sister overboard 93
As for you, you meant evil against my house, my daughters 46
As the astral fuse turns off the light, the gas, the water. 15
Books stacked up like skylines 41
Borges and I/ Achille and Achilles? 3
Boys throwing shadestones in white houses 59
Brass banded rum tubs – God Bless Her 78
Bull leapers, labyrinths, now in the catalogue of Alexander 34
But that is all migration of text- 36
Capstan bar, man down, sing it in the forecastle 82
Careless – careless 23
Codex of fire, lost on the middle passage 19
cold lies, half truths, rope bound confessions, 88
Cornell shadowbox on the rock 4
Daughters exiled from lonely jungles become pop stars 57
Dreams she gave me; river labyrinths 99
Enclosing lightning in her hands 92
Eternal mother, strong to serve. 80
Every passing cup negotiating Iphigenia 86
Fire will still burn the black body 16
Firewalkers, dawn healed, fire breathers douse the wreck. 20
For twenty years I have touched with my eyes their vermilion 7
Girls sweep the ashes for the boys to run to the patriarch 17
God said I will take you there and I will lead you back. 43
Hands held Abhaya 31
Hands throwing three crowns, three anchors 87
He says, Poetry should make the visible a little hard to see 18
He was the third witness, the one I forgot, or never knew. 12
Honey and apples 50
I am combining the exhibits, sharing museums, opening space. 27
I carried him out of the enflamed house 45
I have come for the body of my son, I prayed 96
If you want to understand that dream we need to return to Egypt. 42
In an anthology of abandoned endings, 10
In folksongs they sing of fi 90
In the Catacombe di Priscilla the prophet is cast 38
J provides the main source material, supplemented by E 49
Joni Mitchell was levitating at the forum 58
Lalla does not give ghee all the time 63
Lear’s daughters wear wishbones in silk purses. 48
Let us then offer the first conceit and process from there. 28
Maria Constantinople is gathering the ruins of Mycenae 35
Nelly poisoned my windflowers 51
One entire phalanx fell into the crevasse 60
Painters spill into the garden at dawn, to quarter the mad bear 9
Pangaea and the first wreck, stones singing the ocean out 84
Peisistratus, accused of revealing the mysteries 69
Plunged into the literature of disaster. 39
Quarks bound to the masts, electrons 73
Quaternions of narrative 74
Samedi at the crossroads, calling in ships of rum and dice. 11
Save your liturgies for those who fall back onto the street 13
Say, let’s, the carnival is the book –I-I 29
She will spend her days on Argos 26
-signifyin’, signifyin’ – when the 8
so scuppers sailed to the 99th night 66
Sophrosyne, the world never made 71
Soucouyants, soca, swimp. Douens gathered on the Half Mile 33
Splice the mainbrace against the dark, cruel chaos 79
St. Kitts raised its palms, refused it harbour 22
Stars strung on the frets of night 85
Tack and sheet chanty, ‘aul away St. Joe. 83
The argument of a complex number, first order logic 89
The astronauts refuse re-entry; the sky is too delicious 56
The Atreus façade reveals the crimes; cannibalism, adultery 70
The carnival started on Knossos 32
The deepest holy is her middle finger and thumb 98
The doll nested on Plate 34 5
The escape route takes you to St. Nicholas. 65
The fields, the herds, the sugared cane 77
The main doors opened, Orestes, sword in hand, stood above 68
The potstills of Massacre, barrel to bottle. 81
The saffron dress becomes windbound 72
The schooners sail on in bottles toward Bellesbat 54
The sea is tired of the burden of sailors 55
Their gazes solid as light under water 2
There’s a day for the hunter, a day for the prey 64
Things will all then fall into the centre. 30
Three rivers suicide at the waterfall 95
To the Lady of Nineveh, torch of continents 97
Traveller between looms 75
Traversing Liedland, without ruin. 76
Two fish won’t pull a cart 62
Vinegar and salt 52
Voiceless mother of exiles 91
Watching the panther‘s panther 6
We won’t then need to look there anymore. 31
When I was a child a painting of a shipwreck hung above my bed 21
When Jacob became Israel he offered me this vision 40
When Zeus turned the ill wind to good 67
When the Marys bring wine and myrrh, fresh linen; lacunae 14
Wolves chase the tiring prey across Capricorn 53
Yahweh is now active in the narrative. 44


He says, Poetry should make the visible a little hard to see This is a paraphrase of Line 21 of “The Creations of Sound” by Wallace Stevens, page 310. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, Faber and Faber, London, 1954.

Tack and sheet chanty, ‘aul away St. Joe. – This is a partial quote from “Haul Away, St. Joe” a traditional sea shanty/chanty/forecastle song. Sourced from: https://www.whalingmuseum.org/

There’s a day for the hunter, a day for the prey This is a quote from “A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey” by Leyla McCalla Track taken from “A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey” – Leyla McCalla : May 27th 2016 on JazzVillage Music video directed by Claire Bangser

Morgaine Riley

Morgaine Riley is a writer and English tutor from Peramangk Country (the Adelaide Hills). In 2021, she was awarded the Peter Davies Memorial Prize for Creative Writing. She has recently completed an Honours in Creative Writing at the University of Adelaide.



The drive to Hardwicke is filled with corn chips and ABBA’s complete discography, with sleeping bags and pillows overflowing into the backseat and making it impossible to see out the rear window. On the first day, the weather is horrible—drizzly and gusty, banging the flyscreen doors and dragging green plastic deck chairs across the veranda. 

We sit on the carpet of the beach shack, poring over a photo album from Tony’s Year Eleven exchange to Japan. Jenny gave it to Selene after the twenty-year anniversary. Tony is younger in these photos, only sixteen or seventeen, and it shows in his face and hair. One photo stands out. In it, Tony is wearing light blue jeans and a white t-shirt, standing with his weight on his right leg. His hair is blonde and floppy, like Leonardo DiCaprio, and his smile tilts up to the left. He looks at ease, confident, and very familiar. 

Maybe it’s an aura—the way they hold themselves. Self-assured, always in action, with matching cheeky smirks—a forced moment of pause for a camera that will be abandoned quickly. 


Something Eddy said about that day at Bullies jolted my recognition. “He got completely washed up, but he came in with this massive grin on his face.” A genuine love of trying, not just succeeding. Something the boys admired about Tony, and I treasure in Selene. I love Selene the way these boys loved Tony, and we mourn for how they could have loved each other.

The Keys

29th May 2022. Hardwicke Bay

On the anniversary of the day Tony disappeared, we walk along the esplanade to the beach. Nearly every second house has a tractor parked out front, old Ferguson types with big back wheels and rounded corners in pale blues and reds with rust bleeding through; or newer, John Deere green and yellow with encased cabs. To tow the boats out, Selene tells us. More heavy duty than your average four-wheel-drive. Fantastic off-roaders. 

We follow the tractor treads in the sand right down to the water line. Lazy and a little hungover, we trail along the beach, jeans rolled up to wander through the low tide and out onto the reef. We squat over shallow rockpools, pulling up crabs for inspection before returning them to their rocky alcoves in a flurry of sand. Pipi casings lie open, pale purple, sometimes pinkish inside, the discards of bait left behind by beach fishermen or washed ashore from their boats. 

We’ve been walking for two hours when we realise we’re hungry and halfway to Point Turton. Distracted, laughing about a boy Amber is “talking to”, we track back on wetter, harder sand, less dawdling this time. The tide has already taken most of our footprints.

Only when we are back at the house, and Kali tries to open the doors, do we realise what we don’t have. The keys.

“Are they inside?”

“No, I’m sure I took them,”

“The glove box, maybe?”

Selene pats the pouch pocket of her jumper in horror. “They were in here. They must have fallen out.”

“Tony’s rock?” We all realise at the same time. We’d been bending to place flowers there, that must’ve shaken them out.

Selene and I look at each other.

“We have to check.” 

A plan is set out. Selene and I will go and check the carpark, where the keys will definitely be, the others will try and get in through a window and see if any locksmiths are working on a Saturday in the middle of nowhere. No need to panic.

The keys are not at Tony’s rock. It’s obvious almost immediately—there’s only gravel and sparse status flowers for them to hide in.

“Ok, ok, let’s think. Where else would you have been bending down?”

Selene grimaces as we look out over the beach. “Pretty much every rock pool,” she sighs.

“Alright.” I don’t let her see how panicked I am. “Let’s go and look there, then.” I grin, “How hard can it be?”

Mirroring the same stupid hope that I feel, Selene grins back. “Right? Not hard.”

Retracing our steps is tricky, because the tide has come right in, swallowing all of our footprints. Selene scans the deeper, looser sand and I give up on keeping my jeans dry, scouring the shallows for any glinting silver. We’ve been staring at our feet for forty minutes when I stumble across the edge of a rockpool. 

 “I think we should head back,” Selene yells over the wind. She laughs when she sees me picking my way out to the reef. We must both be mad.

I stop and turn around to yell back, “One sec!” 

We stand there, a hundred metres apart, Selene with her hands on her head and me up to my thighs in sea water. Simultaneously, we keel over laughing. Then something catches my eye.


I fish them off the of the slimy rock and half-sprint half-jump back over the reef towards Selene. I shake my fist, keys clenched tight above my head as we shriek and jump and hug in disbelief.

“That’s gotta be him, right? What are the chances?”


New Eden by AJ DeMoyer

AJ DeMoyer is an emerging writer of eco-dystopian short fiction, currently studying an MA Writing and Literature at Deakin University. April lives with her husband, two tiny dogs and an oversize cat on Dharawal Country (regional NSW). When she’s not studying, reading or writing, she’s either propagating succulents in her garden, obsessively sorting the recycling, baking a sugary treat, or streaming dystopian programming.




New Eden

‘Good evening, Jo,’ AIoFE™ says. ‘You have three new messages.’

Jo picks up her phone and slides her thumb over the screen, which unlocks after authenticating her irises.

Extended Warning: X5 Class Solar Flare. Prepare for power grid disruptions.


Warning: UV Level 9 tomorrow. Please stay indoors between 6am – 7pm.


Be SolarSafe! Is your Geomagnetic Disruption Critical Response Plan ready? Contact your local—

Jo places her device on the table. Along the edge of the crepuscular sky, an apricot glow hugs the horizon.


A few days later, Jo sits on her small balcony in a wooden chair, book in hand, a glass of peppermint H2Oh!™ sweating on a low table beside her.

Duke is just about to rip the satin bodice from Victoria’s quivering body when an electronic rendition of ‘Greensleeves’ pierces Jo’s eardrums, shocking her from the quiet mid-afternoon reverie. She places the book, its pages swollen and warped from touch and temperature, on the table next to her glass. Jo sighs. Why do I even bother? Most of her books and other belongings had been destroyed in the Terrible Flood; these tacky romance novels—that anachronistic ice-cream van—are like cockroaches in a nuclear holocaust. She has learned to be content with whatever she can get.

Jo surveys the street with its single-family heritage houses repurposed for multiple occupancy. She feels lucky to have been assigned to this block, to a property with a garden. The rusty van trundles up the street; children, drawn to its song like sailors to Sirens, abandon their makeshift bicycles and rush toward it. Uniformed mothers, between shifts at The Factory, watch closely.  

The tune cuts out; the van has stopped. In the quiet, Jo recalls the hot summers of her own youth, some 17,000 kilometres and seventy years from where she finds herself now. She remembers hours spent running through reticulated sprinklers under a clear blue sky, toes squelching over lush green lawns, the excitement of the ice-cream truck cruising her neighbourhood, even then summoning children with a warbled, tinny rendition of ‘Greensleeves’. Flaky chocolate sticks in soft, aerated ice-creams; ice lollies that turned lips and tongues blue and red. What could they possibly get from that van now? Jo shudders.

Shrill and mechanical, the tune starts up again. Jo returns to her chair, stretches her spider-veined legs, rests her calloused feet on a threadbare cushion. She reaches for the book and begins to read, with some longing, details of Victoria and Duke delighting in each other’s company.


‘Good morning,’ AIoFE™ says, handing Jo her daily packet of vitamins and a glass of verbena H2Oh!™. ‘You are advised to stay indoors today. We are currently experiencing an X3 class geomagnetic storm, which is expected to increase to X5 in the next 48 hours.’

Wiping down her breakfast plate, Jo studies her desiccated Survival Garden™ planted with GMO crops designed to thrive in the ‘new normal’ climate. She longs for the verdant gardens of her childhood and the permaculture gardens of her adulthood, carefully landscaped with a mixture of flowers and produce—fragrant roses, juicy strawberries, passionfruit dangling from vines. And yet, just five weeks ago, between spells of torrential rain, Jo had spotted Filipendula ulmania—meadowsweet—in a far corner of her plot. She marvels at Nature’s tenacity, her resilience.

Jo spends the day tidying her living space, making mental lists. Her AIoFE™ could do this, but Jo wants to keep her ageing mind agile and sharp. She fears becoming like her neighbours Logan and Barb, whose AIoFE™ does everything for them; who, instead of enjoying what remains of nature or humankind, binge-watch reality TV (Barb, grid permitting) and re-enact VR wars (Logan, sobriety permitting).

That night, Jo dreams she’s atop a tall mountain in springtime bloom. The peak’s outdoor restaurant is busy. As she walks toward it, the sky flashes white. In the distance, a slow-moving silver arc appears, raining fire as it advances, consuming everything in its path. No-one else notices. People gorge themselves on piles of food, their mouths and fingers greasy with the fat of animals; they ignore her cries, her pleas. It is too late. The arc is upon them; its flames engulf them.


AIoFE™ enters the bedroom, eyes burning bright LED white before softening to an ethereal blue. ‘Wake up, sleepy head,’ it says. ‘The Assembly begins in 90 minutes.’

Jo eases herself out of bed, stretches her arms over her head then side to side. The climate curfew has been lifted; she is meeting friends ahead of The Assembly.

‘Honestly, Jo, it’s not that bad with Wheatmylk™ and a lump of Shugar™.’ Maren sips her tepid drink and grimaces, her lips peeled back and bloodless over her tombstone teeth in mock pleasure.

Jo fingers the chip in the ancient mug. She does not like Koffee™ and has only ordered one to be sociable.

Harriet squeezes her friend’s hand. ‘I miss the real thing, too. Remember the smell of freshly ground beans? What I wouldn’t do for—even for a Nescafe!’

The women finish their drinks in silence. They leave the cafeteria, cross a covered courtyard secured by the Civil Guard and peppered with protesters holding hand-drawn placards.

Jo and her friends join the throng of people moving along a corridor into a cavernous building—a former dairy acquired through compulsory purchase. Jo had heard that the farmer had been paid a token sum, his cattle slaughtered and quietly distributed to government officials. The women sit near the stage: a floor-to-ceiling digital screen for the global simulcast. At precisely 10.30am, the lights dim and the crowd hushes.

An AIoFE™ moves to the dais. ‘Children, I greet you in the name of His Excellency, Our Great Father.’ The AIoFE™ continues, ‘I remind you that full-duplex device jamming is activated and the room is sealed until The Assembly has concluded.’

The robot moves aside. The screen comes to life with an avatar of His Excellency, Our Great Father: a small, average-looking, fair-skinned, grey-haired man in his fifties dressed in a deep purple tunic adorned with a gold sash, standing in front of a red velvet drape. Jo can’t help but think of Oscar Diggs; she stifles a dangerous laugh with a cough.

‘Children!’ The avatar raises his hands in blessing. ‘My peace be with you.’

The room rises to its feet, responds in unison, ‘And also with you, Our Great Father’.

‘Today, Children, I bring you wonderful news. Behold! I have made all things new. The first earth is passing away and will not be remembered. My chosen ones shall inherit a new Earth. No longer shall you toil. Relieved of your labours, you will be free to pursue enlightened interests here in New Eden.’

The avatar disappears, replaced with drone footage of enormous domed sanctuaries: a breathtaking feat of bio-engineering, conservation and artificial intelligence. The audience watches advanced AIoFE™ models labouring while humans enjoy manmade forests, lakes, and meadows interspersed with natural landscapes and habitats filled with a Noah’s Ark of animals, fishes, birds, reptiles, insects—a curated selection of extinct species re-animated through the wonders of science, rewilded into synthetic habitats.

Over pseudo-chorale background music the AIoFE™ narrates: ‘His Excellency, Our Great Father has created a new world where humans and animals and technology will live together in peace and prosperity, in God’s own country.’

Jo’s stomach knots. An entire continent seized, repurposed as New Eden—the zenith of man’s paradisiacal neo-creation. She had known, of course, about the depopulation of the former continent-nation of Australia, which officials had declared uninhabitable after a series of severe climate disasters. Its people had been forcibly redistributed to overcrowded, resource-depleted northern hemisphere countries, where protests against these unwanted Antipodean refugees had resulted in vicious attacks on the newcomers. Jo knows some of these families from The Centre for Cultural Assimilation, where she serves two days a week. She knows what it’s like to be in a strange, new place—when she was 14, Jo’s parents moved their family to the northern hemisphere after the earthquake that levelled Canberra. They are no different to us, she thinks, just traumatised in different ways.

From the screen, the Ministers for New Eden and Global Reassignment outline the timetable, migration process and the lottery system—only one billion people will reside in His Excellency’s utopia. Jo scans the hall, searching to find her incredulity mirrored in the faces of others; instead, she finds only faces shining with desperate optimism.


That afternoon, fragments of a poem Jo’s mother used to recite tickle her memory.

‘AIoFE™,’ she asks, ‘what is that poem about … cybernetic meadows?’

The robot’s chest panel lights up, emits a soft whir. ‘The poem is “All watched over by machines of loving grace”, written by Richard Brautigan in 1967 when he was the poet-in-residence at Cal—’

‘Thank you, AIoFE™. Will you read it, please?’


Later that evening, Jo sits in her wooden chair on the balcony with a glass of peppermint H2Oh!™. She reflects on The Assembly’s announcement that morning. She closes her eyes, recites the poem’s last stanza into the night air:

‘I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.’

Jo sighs. What choice do any of us have?

Over the rooftops of her neighbours’ dimly lit homes, the apricot glow looms.


Cathedral Thinking by Juanita Broderick

Juanita is an emerging writer who lives in a small town in rural Victoria, on the unceded land of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. She has only recently tapped into a deep desire to write. Having successfully navigated away from a long career as a professional photographer, Juanita is now completing her arts degree in anthropology and creative writing at Deakin University in Geelong.





Cathedral Thinking
After Andri Snær Magnason

There is a man sitting outside a café in Reykjavik harbour, drinking his second double espresso and writing a eulogy for a glacier.
The man takes a crumpled packet of cigarettes from his breast pocket, digs out the last one, and stares vacantly across the harbour at the Harpa Concert Hall. It is perched on the edge of the water like a giant metallic beast from the future; scales glinting in the sun. He lights the cigarette, and while the match burns down until it singes his finger, he wonders what kind of world the glacier was born into. He quickly waves out the match, places it carefully in the ashtray with the others, and squints out at the bay through an exhalation of smoke.
What did it feel like, to be alive ten thousand years ago?

Katja Edelmann is driving a rented Audi north from the Munich airport towards a nursing-home in Aalen, where she will help celebrate her grandmother’s one-hundredth birthday. She has flown in from Reykjavik, straight from an interview with a climate scientist, who gave her a view of the world so immense, it has dislodged something solid, deep inside her. And while she was busy navigating her way out of the airport terminal, her story on the disappearing glaciers of Iceland was rewriting itself in her brain, without her even noticing.

As she drives further from the airport, the terrain beyond the Autobahn slowly transforms. As if in a time-lapse. The distant hills become dotted with clusters of fretworked farm-houses, and patches of thick forest appear. Familiar landmarks pass by and scenes from childhood visits with her grandmother layer themselves upon the landscape. For an unsettling moment, time no longer has a linear flow.
Katja looks at the clock on the dashboard and decides she needs one more coffee before re-uniting with her German relatives. She hates that it will make her late, but she’s been up since four a.m. and is starting to feel the ache in her throat that comes from holding in too many emotions. Or from smoking too many cigarettes, she’s not sure which.
She takes the next exit into a Raststätte the size of a small town and drives to the furthest end of the parking area. She pulls up in front of an enormous tree at the edge of the bitumen, turns off the ignition and sits in the car for a moment. The tree before her is a splendid, twisted old thing. An oak maybe. There’s a crow sitting on an outstretched branch, its head cocked and alert, examining her carefully. She leans forward over the steering wheel, and watches its inky feathers shimmer blue-green in the sun.

‘We are living in biblical times,’ the scientist had said to her, just a few hours earlier. He had paused, offered her a cigarette and explained, ‘when geologically-scaled events like ocean acidification and species extinction happen on a human time-scale, reality takes on a mythical quality.’ He had looked at her with an intensity that reminded her of an ex-lover who had become unhinged, some years ago, obsessed with dark internet conspiracies.

As Katja gets out of the car, the crow makes a sound like a baby wailing. It hops, open-winged along the branch a few times before flying off. She watches it disappear into a row of birch trees and it occurs to her that she has been writing the wrong story.
She buys a coffee and a packet of throat lozenges and takes them back to the car. The crow reappears abruptly in a blur of black. It hops along the same gnarled branch and stares at her. She sips her coffee and stares back, admiring the magnificent oak in which it is perched. Yes, definitely oak.
She remembers a story her father once told her about the wooden beams in the roof of a dining hall in Oxford. The building itself was over seven-hundred-years-old, but about a century ago—her father had explained—an infestation of beetles was found in the huge lengths of oak that were supporting the roof. Unsure where to find such massive pieces of wood to replace the beams, the college council called on the college forester for advice. Unsurprised by the situation, the forester said something like, ‘I’ve been wondering when you lot would turn up!’
The forester explained that back when the college was built, six centuries earlier, a grove of oak trees was planted to replace those very beams. The inevitability of a beetle infestation at some point in the future was calculated into the construction. And this knowledge was passed on from forester to forester, down through the generations: the oaks in that grove were for the dining hall in Oxford.
Why do we no longer hold our vision so far into the future? She suddenly realises that the story she needs to write isn’t about climate change. It is about time.


‘We have to change the way we think about time,’ the man in Reykjavik had said. Cathedral thinking, he had called it. Cathedrals in Europe would take generations to build. Hundreds of years. Fathers would lay the foundations, knowing they would never see it finished. And their grandsons would teach their sons how to chisel rocks and place stones, one upon the other, knowing they would be long dead before the first congregation gathered under its vaulted ceiling.

Katja checks the time on the dashboard again. She unwraps the lozenges, pops one in her mouth and starts the car. She regrets smoking so many of the scientist’s cigarettes.

‘Katja, Schatz! Wie geht’s? You’re here!’
Her uncle engulfs her in a joyful hug as she enters the foyer of the nursing-home. She laughs and hugs him back, apologising for being late. ‘Ach, don’t worry about it. Oma is in the dining room with everyone, go in, I’m just organising the cake.’
Katja is taken in by her relatives: into the room and back into their lives. Her grandmother is helped out of her chair and gives her a long, surprisingly firm hug. ‘How long are you staying this time Kati?’ she says, her voice slower and deeper than Katja remembers.
‘Just a few days, Oma, but I will make the most of every moment.’ She smiles and gives her grandmother’s hand a squeeze. As Katja helps the old woman back into her chair, her cousin appears with her newborn son asleep in her arms. ‘Hallo Katja! Meet Ulli…’ She reorganises her body to reveal a tiny pink face in the bundle folded into her arms.
‘Hello Ulli,’ says Katja, touching his soft fuzzy head. She tries to imagine what the world will be like in the year 2118, when this brand-new human turns one-hundred.

The line between past and present blurs again as Katja is immersed in an afternoon of conversation and reminiscence. Jan finally arrives with a birthday cake big enough for Ulli to take a nap on, and someone leads them in song.
A middle-aged woman with wild hair and thick-rimmed glasses approaches Katja with a plate of birthday cake in each hand. ‘The last time I talked to you, you were writing a story about some Aboriginal people—trying to save those trees in Australia.’ She hands her niece the slab of darkly layered torte, the thick white frosting threatening to topple to the floor.
‘Oh, my! Thank you, Tante Lina,’ Katja says taking the plate. ‘Yes, you’re right. That was couple of years ago now.’ Her mind cast back to the sparse, dry landscape of central Victoria, and the scorching summer that she wrote about those trees. Eight-hundred-year-old birthing trees. Sacred to the local Djab Wurrung people, they were to be cut down to widen a section of highway. She had spent a week at the protest site, camping alongside those magnificent trees and their custodians. She felt the distress of the Traditional Owners as they talked about the importance of the tress, and the sacred land that they were on. How that land connected the Djab Wurrung people to their ancestors, to the beginning of time.
Fifty generations of women had birthed their children under the protection of those trees, and countless generations of women and trees were in relationship before that. For the Djab Wurrung, the past, like the present, was always all around them. For them, the horror of colonisation was ongoing.
‘What ever happened to those trees? Did you save them?’
‘No.’ She swallows a mouthful of cake but forgets to taste it.

When she visits again the next day, Katja finds her grandmother alone, dozing in a large hospital-grade recliner in her room. Katja sits down opposite her and quietly watches her breathe. A nurse marches in announcing teatime and clunks a cup of tea down on the small table in front of her grandmother, startling her awake. This small violence makes Katja want to follow the nurse down the corridor and yell at her. Instead, she bundles her grandmother into a wheelchair and drives her to Bucher-Stausee, the place her grandmother took her swimming as child.
‘I haven’t been here for a long time,’ says the old woman as Katja slowly wheels her to the edge of the lake.
‘Me neither.’
The two women watch the ducks bobbing up and down on the water, and Katja listens to her grandmother talk about her husband. A good, kind man, who always gave her the best of everything he had. The old woman tells of long-ago adventures with her favourite uncle, who had secretly taught her to hunt rabbits in the spruce forest behind his house. She tells of a dear friend, her closest, oldest friend, who helped her care for her husband when he was dying.
All of them, already claimed by God, she says.
She tells Katja of her mother, Hildegard, a fierce woman born in 1891 in a small town near Berlin, in what was then Prussia. The daughter of a carriage builder, she would frequently test drive her father’s handiwork, to his continual horror.
Hildegard’s great-grand-daughter looks out over the water, and counts back in her head how many great-grandmothers it would take to get to the time when the birthing trees were just saplings; to when a stonemason in Paris was laying the foundation for Notre-Dame. Twenty? Fifty? For the now dead glacier, fifty human generations was surely just a blip in its life. Eight-hundred-years ago might have felt like its last hours on earth. Did it feel the oncoming warming, the shifting of ideologies and warring of men? Did it sense then, the stirring of a population about to explode?
‘Katja, schatz?
‘Yes, Oma.’
‘Do you think God has forgotten me?’

‘Technology has given us the power of gods,’ the scientist had said, looking down at his hands like he was confessing something. He paused, looked up, and gave Katja a beatific smile. ‘Of course, the problem is, we lack the wisdom of gods.’


A crow hops along the branch of a tree, where a parking lot will one day be built. A young man in Paris gently lowers the foundation stone at a construction site on the edge of the Seine. A forester in Oxford presses a row of acorns into the soil. And a eucalypt seedling, fifteen-thousand kilometres away, has just broken through the earth.
In Iceland, a glacier heaves and groans.
Time passes.
And the man in the Reykjavik café still can’t figure out how say good-bye to a ten-thousand-year-old god.