S.V. Plitt

S.V. Plitt is a queer author living and working in Naarm, Melbourne. Son’s writing has been published in Archer magazine, Darebin n-SCRIBE, and won second place in the Odyssey House Short Story Prize 2022. Their manuscript ‘Strange Intersections’ was Highly Commended in the VPLAs Unpublished Manuscript Competition 2022. They also appear on the (Un) Marginalised Season Two Podcast, discussing themes included in their writing, such as gender identity, mental health, religious oppression, and intergenerational trauma. Son draws inspiration from volunteering as a carer and their work in customer service.
 
 
 
A Fairy God Princess

A subversive tale of feminist woes 


There once was a Fairy God Princess.

She kissed a lot of toads looking for her prince.

Not only toads, in fact.

She pranced through the forest kissing lizards and lions and amorous amphibians.

With each slippery kiss, her disappointment grew.

The disappointment grew and grew inside her belly like a bag of snakes in a battle for sovereignty.

Battling for the prize of turning the princess into a lizard, or a lion or an amorous amphibian.

They fought fiercely, keeping the princess up at night.

Whenever she drifted into an exhausted slumber, the lizards or goannas, the toads or the lions would pull the tendon by her tailbone.

Like a puppet, her legs wriggled and squirmed out of bed and tried to run away with her.

To turn the princess into a toad or lion or amorous amphibian.

To make her a bride.

But the princess was also a warrior and worried that if her legs ran away with her,

the battle in her belly would boil and boil, filling her up with a storm for scales and fur.

She begged the moon and the stars and the emptiness in between,

that the lizard prince whose eyes gleamed like black jewels,

the prince that had so chivalrously waited in the forest for a decade,

that he might be the victor, in this battle of bravado that boiled in her belly.

But like all the contestants, his price for saving her from the lions and the toads and the amorous amphibians, was sovereignty. To possess the flesh in which she resided. To grow a lizard in her belly. To grow a king.

The Fairy God Princess, the warrior that worried, knew deep down that the flesh in which she resided, could not be divided. It was hers and hers alone.

No heir, no king, no lizard, no amorous amphibian, no lion, and no toad would chain her to the future. She prayed to the moon and the stars and the emptiness in between.

An answer came. It was a vast and empty silence that spread through her heart, her belly and her mind. She relinquished her title. No more a Fairy God Princess.

She remembered her true identity and became they. They knew the I in them. Their I was in all of the fairies, gods and princesses, in all of the princes, lizards and toads, all of the goannas, the lions and the amorous amphibians. They were all of it and nothing. And belonged to themselves and no one.

And they all lived ever after in a confusing land of grammatically problematic pronouns.

Maja Rose

Maja Rose has returned to her hometown of lutruwita (Tasmania) having lived in London, Brighton, Melbourne, and Sydney. She completed a BA in English Lit/Media (Hons) at La Trobe University, and a Creative Writing residential summer at Oxford University. She has a background in screen production and currently works in the library at Risdon Prison.

 
 
 
 

Movement

My father, Otto, is gutting fish on a makeshift table in the backyard, a thick piece of wood with a surface of dusty splinters laid out on some iron contraption that in hindsight, maybe he keeps just for this.

Skrrth, skrrth.

The edge of his knife flicks scales off the plump bodies in easy, smooth movements of his nut-brown, knobbled wrist. Silver flecks winnow up into the air, caught for a moment by the wind before they fall into the grass. Tiny mirrors, reflecting nothing.

“Have you ever seen a squid beak?” he asks me.

He caught all yellowfin mullet, one calamari squid. I took a photo of the bucket, a mass of shining light in blue plastic before he turned the hose on them and the blood I hadn’t been able to see rose up from the bottom and turned them all muddy.

“I don’t think so,” I say, and come to stand beside him.

He rummages through the squid’s face. An eyeball pops out, and I have to look away before I gag.
Then he pulls out the beak, a little knot of black.

“See?” he says, making it open and close. “Just like a parrot.”
*
My other father, biodad, sends me a message on Whatsapp.

I’m about to board the plane now, darling. I’ll call you when I land in Paris, if you’re still awake.
Sometimes I wonder how we came to this gentle, easy way of talking. There’s a part of me that thinks it’s because I stopped caring. I no longer have expectations, so he can no longer let me down.

The day I saw him in Bangkok and realised that, in 25 years, I had never spent a night alone with him, I came to an understanding.

This is just a man. A man who you are only connected to through blood and semen. What a strange thing. What a pointless reason to be in this airbnb together.

But I don’t feel anger anymore. I don’t think.

Is it worse to feel nothing?

When I see that he’s landed, I don’t open the message. I’ll wait until later. It’s too early to call.

*

When I was very young, a year into Otto’s arrival into my life, we made up a game together. A friend had made a chaircover out of knitted soft toys, little clowns and dolls and bears that held you up as you curled tight and read a book (I had just learned how to read).

On the left arm, there was a tiny little postman, with a hat that you could remove, and a red satchel with a bone button that you could flick open with one finger. The satchel was very small, but big enough to hold a note, if you folded it up very tight.

The postman would carry notes between Otto and I, and I think I believed that the postman was also, perhaps, a fairy. Overcomplicating things for the sake of magic was a common pastime of mine.

Would you like a cup of tea? Otto’s note might say.
Can I call you dad? said mine.

*
I had an argument with dad after I first flew home from living overseas. My grandmother—biodad’s mum—had just died, and I’d scattered her ashes with my cousins on the river. Mum was in a new relationship for the first time in years, and it made me feel uneasy, unsure for the first time where I stood in my relationship to her. I felt like a kid, even though I was 29.

My grandmother dying was a reminder that I was on the outside of that side of the family, both because of my dad’s actions and my own. I had put up boundaries in my teenage years to stop myself from hurting, but it had kept me from connecting with the rest of the family, too. I felt guilty about having been away while she was dying, and guilty about having been away from everyone for longer than the three years in Thailand would account for.

*
Dad has had another daughter. I think she’s so beautiful, the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. I was on the beach on Koh Kradan when he called to tell me.

On the other side of the world, the sky was orange and pink with sunset, and I had taken a photo a few minutes before he called. I’d like to think it was taken as she emerged into the world, and I had felt it and knew I should document it.

When I come back home, dad has too many glasses of red wine and tells me I don’t love him, or any of my family, because otherwise I never would have left.

“Say goodnight,” dad says to my sister, waving her chubby little hand at me. “Say goodnight to your big sister; she’s going to leave you again. And this time she isn’t coming back.”
*
Biodad told me that he’d wanted to marry my mum when he found out she was pregnant with me. He spun a fantasy that I desperately wanted to believe.

When I told mum, stars in my eyes, eighteen and stupid, she laughed so hard she fell to her knees.
“Oh really?” she said, still wheezing on the floor. “And when was he going to propose? Before or after he recorded our phone conversations to give to his lawyer?”
*
Dad holds the squid beak in his hand, clicks and clacks it shut as if it’s speaking. My sister runs up on steady legs, demands to see. Dad smiles at me, sunshine in his leathery face.

“Can you pick her up?” he asks me. “My hands are dirty.”

We stand together, all three of us, the fruit trees’ heavy perfume mixing with the tinny stink of fish guts. Dad nudges me, winks as he makes the squid beak clack in my sister’s face.

I wonder what he would say if I told him I was thinking of moving away again.

Jing Cramb

Born and raised in China, Jing Cramb came to Australia for postgraduate study and is a teacher in Brisbane. Her short stories have received a Highly Commended Award in Peter Cowan competition and have been shortlisted for Deborah Cass Prize.
 
 
 
 

Lisa looked like a Laughing Buddha when she was talking about her son Oliver. It was quite remarkable because Lisa was not Asian, but an Australian redhead. Her eyes squinted into a slit almost disappearing from her face, only leaving her nose, permanently shining with sweat from the heat in the café kitchen. Her face looked happy and content. My grandpa would say with a face like that she ought to have good luck. 

“Oliver got into this prestigious local school”. Her voice was infused with sweet excitement sounding like a chirping bird. I had already heard the news. I was not sure if the word “prestigious” should be used for a public school, even in a good suburb, perhaps I was wrong. English is a difficult language.

 “The kids from the school look…”, she paused searching for the right word and then said “clean”. As if I didn’t understand she stared at me, drew closer, whispered it slowly in her low husky voice “C-leeaann”. 

The word echoed around me.

So, Oliver will become as clean as the other students, who wear freshly laundered and ironed clothes, shiny polished shoes, shower twice a day, rarely have acne on their faces and are all fit because of the healthy food they eat. As opposed to someone who looks “dirty”. 

I looked clean I suppose. Last week, a grey-haired, stern-faced lady told me “You don’t look like a waitress, you are…too clean”, as she examined me making her coffee. Her silver- rimmed glasses seemed to emanate cold air and sent a chill down my spine. I didn’t know what to say. I was embarrassed, trying to work out the meaning behind her comment and being the centre of attention. I looked at her and smiled. She did not smile back. 

The coffee I made her was burnt. 

I might have accidentally fallen into the “clean girl” category, as proven by my pale-yellow skin and the lady with the authoritative look. It should be an honour for a girl like me. I grew up in a heavily polluted industrial city in the north of China. The sky was permanently grey. A big open rubbish dump was a few hundred metres away from the little one-bedroom flat where my grandparents and I lived. Sometimes stray dogs roamed around with unknown items dangling from their mouths, followed by a swarm of flies. The public squat toilet, with window frames but no glass, was always freezing in winter and boiling hot in summer. There were no divisions in the toilet, everyone was on display, everyone was equal. Giant white maggots moved slowly over the cubicle floors. 

My thin, brown, wrinkly no Laughing Buddha-faced grandpa always sat cross-legged on the couch next to the little dining table. At lunch time, he would fling his head back, scull a shot of warm rice wine and smile at me. His teeth were stained with excess alcohol, black tea and low-quality tobacco, a couple of teeth missing. He wished that one day I could go to a university in the capital city, unlike him. He had never been away from his hometown. He and I did not know that a decade later, I would come to this clean country, live in the clean city, breathe in its clean air and become a clean person. Unlike my grandpa, who never had a chance to become, clean. 

Rayan Chakrabarti

Rayan Chakrabarti is a writer from Kolkata, India. His poems have been published in Mulberry Literary, Monograph Magazine and Indian Ruminations. He likes to travel to the hills and play the piano.

 

 

 

Becoming Cyborg

  Now I become Shadow,
     Accept me, Mother
now I shed teeth and penis,
 accept this haunting.    

There is that time, vast oceans of heave, that exists before the discovery. And though the house in the nerves has shifted, and corrugated tin has started to take measure of the tea, the lack of the discovery means that everything is yet equilibrium. In fact, the ants are bubbling away in the sauna of rice, and deep sparrows have risen from the colouring book. A long family of the day will be upon the silverware, polishing off the sun in reflection. 

I have left my body to become a spectator to its contours. Just around my hip, I’ve discovered a new mole to gnaw into, bread it into knead, make it palatable. I’ve locked the door to immerse myself in its expanse. Still, a night has to travel before the morning breaks it open. A half-brewed tearcan melts from ice-cool on the bedpost. 

Midnight has brought with them a new audience. Grains of metal, flying in from a faraway galaxy latch onto my armpit. Some of the blood has found a station there. In the moonlight, when their arrival announces a river, you can only hear the softness of the steel bed.

But who are they, hunting for new territory at this part of the night? Known customers trudge along the margins of my vision, travellers to a fasting star. 

The Almirah, bank of dreams, kneels around my childhood. Monsoon wells in the hippocampus, stinging of death. Mother burned at the stake, for whose sake do we go on living? Perhaps, a summer of longing, last summer with toffee and younging.

The Crow, measurer of blight, gossips around my neck, pecking veins, counting on the quick shine and gloss. For him, it is a step out of routine, but he’s been out for vengeance since I stopped feeding their offspring last year. Feeding them goat’s brain and koyel tails, so they can prey and wring. I too shall become nest and birthing. 

Tree of sorrow, Tree of light, become creeper around me, take my fingers as yours, make me disappear before they break the door down, before the final shock of parenthood, let me become leafvein and telephone pole charging electric through the city. 

      In some stills, the morning is.
Fear not, trees of sheath surround you,
bark of wire and calm. 

Chelsea Harding

Chelsea Harding is a young writer who lives on King Island.

 

 

 
 
Silence

You open your tired eyes, the harsh morning sun glaring back at you with an unknown source of rage. You respond to this mysterious anger by closing your sensitive eyes once more.

The sun burns your face, frigid air nips at your exposed skin and goosebumps run up your body, as if competing in some sort of race. Flowers and shrubbery tickle the sides of your face and arms, dancing with the wind, as you focus on the sounds surrounding the place you now lay.

The sound of water immediately fills your ears, splashing and sploshing and swirling in circles, sending a satisfied smile to your face. It bubbles up, then falls down, stuck in a never-ending pattern. Searching for another sound, your focus switches to the rustling leaves, brushing against one-another. You find these sounds oddly calming, like a cool shower on a hot summer’s day, or the smell of fresh parchment in a new book.

You lay still, listening intently to the flow of the water and soft movements of the trees, their leaves and their branches swaying with the rhythm of the breeze, feeling yourself relax at the noise, until it stopped.

Everything stopped.

You force your sore eyes open, despite the pain your eyes endure in the scorching sun, sitting up in your spot. Everything is moving, you think, so why can’t I hear it?. The longer you think, the more confused you grow, like something was digging deeper and deeper into your brain every time you try to focus.

Silence never seems like it’s such a dreadful thing, like it’s something you could easily ignore, but it’s not. Silence is so undeniably loud, so insanely loud it’s irritating. You can hear your heart hammering in your chest. You can hear your breathing increasing by the second. You just can’t figure out why everything has gone so abruptly quiet.

Confused.

Scared.

Alone.

Tired.

The words seem to ring in your ears, engraving themselves in your brain. You feel your eyes closing, pulling themselves shut with unignorable force. You close your eyes, letting yourself click back into a sleeping state, blacking out and forgetting this ever happened.

Everything stopped.

 
 
Machines

As the cogs began to turn once again, a flicker of light sparked from within. Watching, waiting, anticipating its the first move, the rise of the machine was imminent.

The light shone brighter and brighter until it was almost blinding. The cogs spun and churned, emitting a swirling rainbow circle of light resembling an eye.

It twitched. Once, twice. With each subtle movement the machine’s confidence grew, blooming like a ruby rose in a field.

It stepped forward.

 

T.L

T.L writes fiction, short fiction, poetry, and reviews. Her work has been published in Mascara, Cordite, Southerly, Best Australian Poems 2014, and Griffith Review, among others. In 2016 she won the Josephine Ulrick Prize for Literature. Her second novel, Autumn Leaves, 1922, was released in August 2021 by Pegasus Books USA. She has a Doctorate of Creative Arts from Western Sydney University. She lives on Bidjigal land in Sydney.

 

Butterfly

A butterfly battles across Parramatta Road. It’s big and black, with white eyes on its wingtips. Even so, the wind in this storm-season is strong and each car and truck that rumbles beneath it sends fresh blasts to blow it off course. It tries to reach the other side of the highway, but it keeps falling, struggling up and then falling on to the road and almost smashed. Then it rises again, against the wind, against the traffic’s displaced air. I wait in my car and the radio blasts, a doctor from the children’s hospital in Kyiv, the broadcaster prompts him, the boy was six, he had bullet wounds, yes, in his chest, his abdomen, his head. The trucks are constant, the cars, the noise incessant. It’s not gridlock and the heavy vehicles, dirty after all the rain, barrel down the hill. The radio continues, the doctor’s words are scattergun, the baby had wounds. Yes. Shot wounds. Yes, the baby was shot in the head. They shot the ambulance. The Russian soldiers, yes. The ambulance called me. On the way to the hospital. The baby died. The butterfly crosses at the lights, where I wait, trying to get home before the next onslaught of flooding storm. The butterfly pushes itself up and up, black wings in a grey sky, up and up. The radio drones on, another city, another basement, I’m in Mariupol, still, I can’t get out. I saw them, my neighbours. They are on the road now, a mother and her boy and her girl. Before they were on the road, they went up, higher than the roof of the church, it seemed impossible, they went up and up, they were flying. Up and up, black wings in a grey sky, up and over the truck, over the next truck, it dips and is almost smashed, then it rises, it reaches the other side of the highway and the trees that stand staunch against the heavy, threatening sky. 

 

The Last Choir by Isabelle Quilty

Belle is a non-binary writer from regional NSW, most of their work is based around LGBTQ+ topics and working towards a greener future. They also love a good oat milk iced latte.

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Choir 

There will be little nothings that follow. Moments found between parchment and stone. A leaf, floating in the wind will be a great moment of joy for the world.

Momentous, even.

Because there will be no songs after the last bittersweet verses of a choir. The whales in the deep seas have melted. The moonlight has become lonely without them. There are no strangers to gaze up at the sky and wonder if a better life awaits them over the next hill. 

The last of the symphonies played out long ago where only sand remains now. The bones are bleached, a poppy has sprouted through an eye socket. Congratulations to the skull of the loan shark, who managed to bring some beauty into the world. One hundred years after his death. 

There is no music in the world, for now. But there are germs and seeds still. Enough that one day, there will be birdsong. Crickets in the evening. Cicadas during the summer. 

But no more choirs to mimic them.

Come a gutsa by Zoë Meager 

Zoë Meager is from Aotearoa New Zealand and has a Master of Creative Writing from the University of Auckland. Her work has been published abroad in GrantaLost Balloon, and Overland, and at home in Hue and CryLandfallMayhemNorth & South, Turbine | Kapohau, and anthologised in Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand and two volumes of Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy.

 

 

 

Come a gutsa

The crazy lady has climbed into the orange rafters of the rollercoaster. She clings not to the tracks, with their promise of tick-tick-tick teeter-tease then dive whoosh swoop zoom whee! but just beneath, where deep iron shadows criss-cross her body.

Down on the ground, slight park attendants with brightly-coloured t-shirts and pale voices address the waiting crowd. The crowd has already purchased its tickets, already queued in compliance with the park’s stated queuing code, already eaten the fairy-floss-hotdog-chips, and now it wants the simulated near-death experience it was promised.

The mother koala and the baby koala are curled into a ball and pressed like grey chewing gum into the junction of two orange beams. They are so closethe crazy lady could almost reach out and touch them. The mother koala listens to the crowd below with eyes half closed. She rearranges the baby koala against her, squeezes, rearranges, squeezes. She does not attend to all the railings to bounce off on the way down. She is thinking about the khaki-coloured leaf that is good to eat. She is thinking about drinking, the liquid taste of earth that is chattering cool.

The crowd below stares up with stones for eyes. Pie holes drawl open, half-chewed words spill out: We’ve been in line for bloody ages, we want a go on the ride! Those koalas jumped the queue, they shouldn’t get to zoom! Those bloody koalas should go back to where they came from.

All this quick year, the crazy lady has heard the country fires drawing closer. She has wandered through old banks of trees, heard the fruity thud of desiccated bats as they hit the ground, she has picked them up, said goodbye to their closing eyes. On dusty streets with shouts and sticks she has broken up squabbles between dingoes and domestic dogs. Seen a grassy parakeet snatch an icy pole from a baby’s sausage fingers. Koalas coming in, perching in the public gardens and starving in suburban backyards. Housewives towing their kids to garden centres and pet stores, asking for eucalypt leaves when they have only just put to bed the annual swan plant shortage.

In the orange rafters of the rollercoaster, the mother koala and the baby koala are a fuzzy football, tailless and divine. The crazy lady is trembling as she inches forward beneath them, a jute-strong bag wedged under her reusable shoulder. She is hoping that when the koalas come unstuck, she can catch them.

The crowd below is baking restless, letting off swearwords into the summer-blue sky. All its white faces boiling red, blonde hair in a halo of putrid smoke. The crowd points its arms all up, up, a hundred skewers, It’s her, she’s stopping us riding the coaster! She’s taking away our human rights! 

The baby koala really wants to cling to its mother’s back. It’s at that age. Okay then, says the mother koala, drowsily, letting the baby koala tunnel under her arm and up and onto her back. The baby koala arrives safely on its mother’s back, scrunches its perfect black claws into her rabbity fur and gives out a small dry sigh, and it’s safe there clinging to the hill of her back. Except it doesn’t and it isn’t and it never could, except thirst has left it weak and plummeting, a teddy bear dropped from a pram, headfirst and gone. The crazy lady moves to catch it, the bag snags on the stud of her jeans and she struggles to work it free. The mother koala feels the baby koala’s weight drop away from her and opens her eyes, only to see the shadows of the rollercoaster rafters crossing, double-crossing, double, double. Her nose, a spoon of molasses, she buries into her own soft body. The crazy lady knows it is too late then, and she knows that there is still time.

 

Šime Knežević

Šime Knežević was born in 1985 and lives in Sydney. His debut poetry chapbook, The Hostage, was published by Subbed In. His poetry has appeared in Ambit (UK), Australian Poetry Journal, Cordite Poetry Review, Going Down Swinging, Magma (UK), SAND (Germany), Signal House Edition, The Stockholm Review of Literature, and elsewhere.

Šime was a recipient of the Subbed In Chapbook Prize, an Australia Council grant, and shortlisted for the Philip Parsons Playwright Award. He studied playwriting at the NIDA Playwrights Studio, completed a Master of Arts in creative writing at the University of Technology Sydney, and in 2019 attended the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Summer School in Belfast.

 

Blue Sky

I hear a helicopter. I hear the motor, the rotating hum, of a helicopter, a helicopter motoring across the sky. I am alone on a white rug and I hear a helicopter. I am alone on a white rug in the quiet room. The helicopter is outside, motoring across the sky. I am alone on a white rug, orienting myself toward a blue sky I say, inside orienting myself toward a blue sky, a blue sky I say. Outside a helicopter motors yet I hear it from inside the quiet room. I am alone on a white rug in the quiet room orienting myself toward the phrase blue sky. I try to orient myself toward the phrase blue sky. I say blue sky. I say blue sky to try to orient myself toward the phrase as I say it. I am orienting myself toward the phrase blue sky with the high-hope it being said out-loud will somehow provoke something soothing inside me. In the quite room on the white rug I hear a helicopter in the distance, flying away. I hear how feint the helicopter’s motor has grown. No, I hear how feint the helicopter’s motor has diminished. No, wait. I orient myself toward the phrase blue sky with the high hope it will provoke a soothing reaction, even provoke a memory of a sky the colour blue. I am alone. I am alone on a white rug in the quiet room. The door is closed. I face the white-wall of the quiet room. On the white rug. The helicopter has since flown. I no longer hear the helicopter. I say ‘helicopter’. I say ‘helicopter’. No, I no longer hear the helicopter. Of a sky the colour blue, I say the phrase ‘blue-sky’, I orient myself toward the phrase. I want to connect to this phrase. I am alone on a white rug in the quiet room. Say blue sky. I say blue sky on the white rug in the quiet room. The phrase calms me, it must. Say blue sky. I say it twice. I say it to make it a hymn. Blue sky. Blue sky. On the white rug, I am alone in the quiet room. The door is closed and I face the white-wall. There must be breathing. Why am I not breathing? I breathe. I breathe and orient myself toward the blue sky I say on a white rug to the white-wall. I make it a hymn. Lean toward the phrase. Say it. To my surprise, it’s impossible to visualise a blue skyin my mind. Even though I say those words clearly, as clear as a whole blue sky, I can’t seem to visualise a blue sky. Is there something wrong with me? What exactly did a blue sky look like on its own? In my mind, I could see clouds of different shapes. Suddenly a moon. Some unidentifiable flying birds. I hear piano music, as if played from a Casio keyboard. None of these drew me closer to visualise a blue sky in my mind. There it is. A background element. Is there something wrong with me? It seemed, to my mind, to visualise a blue sky without clouds or moon or birds or piano music, proved impossible. Yes, inaccessible. Just like the whole blue sky itself, it eluded me, I feel unclear. I can’t seem to visualise one thing without another thing. I can’t seem to visualise a blue sky without piano music. One thing must be paired to another thing. Birds must fly in the foreground and the blue sky must be somewhere in the background. On the white rug I face the white-wall, I inhale and exhale. To re-orient myself to the present moment. Yes, to re-orient myself. This is why I’m here. Why am I here in the quiet room? To orient myself, to re-orient myself. I am alone in the quiet room. Why am I here alone in the quiet room? I inhale and exhale, unable to visualise a simple blue sky, orienting, re-orienting myself on the white rug in the quiet room. I got myself to the quiet room to breathe, to understand breathing. To visualise a blue sky and I struggled to do so. I got myself, to gather myself. And its sudden burst into splinters, I gathered myself and I got myself to the quiet room. This is why I’m here. 

 

Transplant by JZ Ting

JZ Ting is an Asian-Australian geek, lawyer, and writer. She has lived on four continents but stays for Sydney’s beaches where she pretends to be a mermaid. Her fiction has appeared in Pencilled In literary magazine and been performed at Subbed In events, and she tweets online @ting_jz.

 

 
 

Transplant

Grandma dies in the best way possible: peacefully, in her garden chair, under sunny Sydney skies. She fell asleep, the nurses say, first to my father who arrives from work, then my mother, then me. She fell asleep and didn’t wake up. The best way to go.
They don’t tell us that she was alone, but we know anyway. She was alone each time we visited, a tiny, white-haired Malaysian-Chinese lady with broken English surrounded by white-haired, white Australians who drink English with their breakfast teas. The landscapes are English too, all roses and neatly trimmed hedges politely perplexed by the papaya my father planted, a poor substitute for the majestic rambutans Grandma left behind. The retirement village website trumpeted gardening as a resident perk. It didn’t mention multicultural staff.
She died in her sleep, my parents say, reaching across oceans to aunts and uncles, cousins and classmates, Grandma’s friends from church. They spin the message into Mandarin and Foochow like silver into gold I cannot touch, though my parents spill enough of it in fights. The coins I scavenged were never enough to spend with Grandma, so instead I bartered: smiles, school marks, my stomach for the fruits and soups she prepared just for me. A few hours every month to pay off my guilt. The funeral will be in Sydney. We hope you can make it, but understand if it’s too far.

Planes converge while Grandma waits in a local morgue. To me her loss is soft and nebulous, an abstraction I try to map out in Sydney streets. They send me home where arguments are silenced, bankrupted by my father’s grief, while my mother rations out affection in rice and steaming bak kuh teh. She tells me how when her grandfather died, the entire family ate fresh durians beside his open coffin which took pride of place in the living room for the village to pay respects. That night, I dream of Grandma’s ghost lost alone in the dark. 

Thank you for coming, we say to people filing past. It’s sad but not unexpected, and she was cared for to the end.

Grandma lies beneath a bouquet of banksias and winter skies. The small congregation sings in English and Mandarin as photos flash, and only now do I begin to know her: family portraits, a bride to the grandfather I never met, a church group sweating in the tropic heat. There’s a photo of her posing with my father, startlingly young, in a tiny Malaysian airport, and another holding infant me. One black-and-white picture of a tall young woman in a floral qipao, her smile proud and bright, hands full of furry rambutans plucked from her trees.

Did she know? When she gave her son a one-way ticket and suitcase of books, did she realise what she was sacrificing? Would it have been kinder for my father to leave her in her village, alone but at home, with family reunions once a year? What is it like to migrate when you’re so old, and die in a foreign land?

I don’t know. I couldn’t afford to ask.

Grandma dies and we say farewell. I hold my father’s shaking hand telling myself that Sydney’s earth is as dark as Malaysia’s earth, that the one sun shines on both, and rain falls all the same. Yet the wind that blows between us is cold, scented with eucalypts fresh as a wound, and sour like regret.