Childhood Surprise by Wanling Liu  

Wanling Liu (born 1989, China) completed her MA in Translation and Transcultural Communication at the University of Adelaide. She is a literary translator and teaches translating and interpreting in Adelaide. She has developed a passion for performance poetry and storytelling events and has won spoken word prizes with her poetry published in local anthologies.

Childhood Surprise

It was nine o’clock at night. I was five and feeling bored at home, scribbling away with colourful pencils in my colouring book. There were never enough colours to choose from. I yelled out to Mum that I wanted to go to Mrs. Han’s to play with Huahua.

Mum glanced at the clock on the wall, “It’s already nine, and you still want to go out? And I don’t know the way to Mrs. Han’s.”

“I know the way! I know how to get there. I know how to get to Mrs. Han’s! You can come with me!” I persisted.

Mum sighed, “Fine, if you must go, let’s go.”

We took the No. 9 bus and after a few stops, I could see that we were almost on Zhongshan Road. “There, there, next stop is Triangle Garden!” I started yelling, “Triangle Garden is where Mrs. Han lives!”

Mum and I got off the bus and walked through the garden paths and a few dim-lit alleys until we reached Unit Block 3. “I remember she’s on Level 3, 303.” I said. Mum and I walked up the stairwell in darkness as the light was not working. When we reached level 3, I couldn’t wait to knock on the door.

The light from the gap between the door and the floor flickered. Someone was coming to get the door. The inner wooden door opened, glaring white light leaking out from inside. Mrs. Han appeared, with only her silhouette visible against the dazzling light. I dashed forward and banged on the door, “Mrs. Han, I am here to visit! Is Huahua home?”

Mrs. Han opened the door fully, and unlocked the screen door from inside. She smiled at me and didn’t seem very surprised. She called out, “Huahua, Dandan is here to visit you.” Mum nodded and smiled apologetically. Mrs. Han, still smiling, said “Hello.”

We walked into the living room. I sat right next to Huahua. On TV a group of kids were singing my favourite tune, “Not as sweet as flowers, not as tall as trees, I’m just a little blade of grass that no one ever sees….” We sat in front of the TV and watched attentively. Mum sat down, and Mrs. Han was busy making tea for us.

Half an hour had passed; I started to feel tired and bored. The songs started to grate on my ears. Mum and Mrs. Han were chatting away. My eyes started to wander: The fluorescent light was still dazzling, but everything in front of me seemed a bit dull.

Huahua offered to show me her picture collection, but realized there were a few pages missing. We started searching in drawers and chests. As we were looking for the missing ones, I noticed a yellow wooden door beside me with a silver door knob on it.

The doorknob lured me. The temptation was simply too great. I put my hand on the door knob and it turned effortlessly. Realizing I could open the door, I walked in. I could see a giant bed, with its edge high up and with a white sheet and a white quilt spread over it. Someone was lying under the quilt.

“Who is that?” I turned to Huahua, whispering, with my eyes still fixated on the person. Suddenly the black hair looked somewhat familiar. I hollered, “Daddy! What is Daddy doing here?” Huahua was silent. Mrs. Han did not utter a sound. My mum did not utter a sound.

After a few seconds, the head turned toward me, looking a bit purplish red, and with squinting eyes on it. The person mumbled, “I’ve drunk a little, I need rest.” Something felt wrong to me. I closed the door, went back to the living room, sat back on the lounge, and did not dare to speak.

Huahua, Mrs. Han, Mum and I just sat in the living room and watched TV for another half an hour. What was on TV did not make sense to me anymore. I felt like I had done something wrong, but I couldn’t figure out what.

Dad came out with his coat later and said, “Let’s go home.” I could not understand how the night got spoiled like this, and I was not ready to put up with this. I quietly whimpered, “I want to play with Huahua a bit longer”. Mum answered, “Then you stay and play with Huahua. I am going home. Your father can take you.”

Dad said, “It’s late, let’s go home.” On the way back, I felt sleepy and upset. No one spoke a word on the way back. Their faces showed no expression.  

I thought Mum would be furious. I thought Mum would teach Dad a lesson. I waited in silence in my bedroom, with my ear to the wall.

After a long while, all that could be heard was the faintest, almost inaudible sound of weeping.

Motive by HC Hsu

HC Hsu is author of the short story collection Love Is Sweeter (Lethe) and essay collection Middle of the Night (Deerbrook), which has been nominated for the Housatonic Award, CALA Award and Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Memoir competition winner and The Best American Essays nominee, he has written for Pif, Big Bridge, Iodine, nthposition, 100 Word Story, China Daily News, Epoch Times, Words Without Borders, and many others. He has served as interpreter for the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, and his translation of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo’s biography Steel Gate to Freedom was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2015.



When she arrived, he was already sitting at the table.

‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I got held up at work.’

‘That’s all right,’ he said, and smiled. It was their usual table, and on it her favorite wine had already been poured, the candle lit, and everything was so familiar and wonderful.

He handed her his napkin, smiling.

She noticed her hair dripping water onto the table, making small wet spots on the white tablecloth.

She took the napkin and patted her hair with it. The waitress already arrived with another napkin.


‘That’s all right.’

He looked gently and lovingly into her eyes. He was always so considerate and forgiving.

She excused herself to go to the restroom. The waitress cast her a glance.

She checked herself in front of the mirror.

Did he know? All of a sudden she became scared.

How could he not know? The constant lateness, the flimsy excuses, the hair still wet from a shower…everything was just as she had planned.

She thought about coming clean, but she had done that already before. He said he appreciated her even more for her honesty, and that he should work to try to rekindle the romance between them, and so they began having weekly dates. How could she leave someone so considerate and forgiving?

She walked back to the table. Her wine was still sitting there, the candle still soft-lit, and he, still smiling.

She took a sip of the wine; for some reason the astringency made her wince this time, as if she were enduring some kind of punishment.

‘I took the liberty of ordering for you this time,’ he said, his smile overflowing exuberantly from his eyes. ‘I hope you don’t mind.’

She began to suspect his motive.



Brianna Bullen

Brianna Bullen is a Deakin University PhD student writing a creative thesis on memory in science fiction. She has had work published in journals including LiNQAurealis, VerandahVoiceworks, and Buzzcuts. She won the 2017 Apollo Bay short story competition and placed second in the 2017 Newcastle Short Story competition.


The Last Giant Panda

Every morning, the worker put on her panda suit to work with the cubs. They did not want human intervention, and yet they asked this of her. The cubs needed to be taught how to be pandas. Every night, she would clock off work at six and shed herself, before getting into a different suit. Her panda body would be a corpse on the floor, before it was strung up on a coat hanger and put away for the next day. Her large head would sit on the upper shelves, staring down at her with large felt eyes, which obscured how small the eye holes and field of vision actually were.

She had the job for two years when talks began for automation; a robot panda would not bare the scent of humans, and would not make them reliant on human contact. She argued a robot would deprive them of spontaneity, the ability to respond to their personalities and play, and would not give them the genuine love and experience that came with touching another living biological organism. There was connection there a machine could not emulate, as much as they would be able to model the appropriate moves and be . The zoo found her list ‘ridiculous, and frankly anthropomorphizing.’

The only problem they foresaw was cost: it was a large immediate investment for long-term gain. Her wages were much less in the short-term. They made a metal bear, and tried it out. It had patches of fur crudely glued on. The cubs ran away as the noise of moving gears was too loud for them. Her co-worker joked they some people ran from cars and construction machines when they were first introduced. It would take time.

The engineers worked to decrease the sound and artificial movements of the machine. They observed footage of pandas moving, coding their rolling lumber into circuitry. Advanced artificial intelligence was programmed in, enabling them to respond to the environment and actions of the cubs to an individual degree. They claimed by the end, none of them could tell the difference between beast and machine. Some even spoke of ending the breeding program all together; it was a waste of time and resources. Pandas could be replaced by machines, and the public would not know the difference.

She told them they were not watching the pandas closely enough.

They decommissioned the program shortly after the zoo’s management overheard these plans. The head engineer was later found hanging in her apartment. These events may or may not have been related.

She got her job back, and her suit.

She saw the bi-color babies through her limited lens. Inside this body, they were her own. She let them crawl on her chest, their heavy fat and muscle compressing down, but she did not complain. They chewed on her fake face. Bat with claws. She’d push them over when they got too rough, and sometimes just for fun, and watch them roll over like giant pom-poms. They were as serene as little Buddha, with tragic black eyes. In their simulated natural environment, bamboo shot up in stratified straight lines. Plush green glass took up all the color of her city, the panda’s black and white making her feel peppermint-flavored peace. She had raised six before the automaton, watched them grow up into sulkier teens, their eye markings taking on the brand of teenage Gothic rebellion. Then she’d get reassigned when they no longer needed her. Her latest two were already starting to grow, nearly matching her sixty kilograms. She was grateful for their remaining time. With any luck, they would not be the last pandas. Her supervisors, however, thought there was something changed about them. Something wrong. They were more curious and adventurous than they should have been. In the wild, this would have been a problem. Thankfully, they were safe inside their glass, little living biology specimens.

The last panda in the wild died on a Saturday. She continued with her work until the Thursday, but something integral and unnamable had been lost. She resigned the following Monday, citing irreconcilable differences with the world.

Three days later, her first cub was introduced to the breeding program. Given a diet of bamboo shoots and panda porn, the zoo was hopeful for success.  


Flood by Michael Adams

Michael Adams is a writer and academic living near Wollongong. His work has been published in Meanjin, The Guardian, and Australian Book Review, as well as numerous academic journals and book chapters. His essay on freediving, loss and mortality, ‘Salt Blood’ won the 2017 Calibre Essay Prize.





He has driven down in tears in the car from the conversations with the psychologist, and the way they run the retreat lays bare his emotions even more (a woman he doesn’t know next to him on the mats is also sobbing). By Sunday first thing he is a mess, and after the early morning meditation session feels shaky and vulnerable. He cannot bear to be with other people, so walks across fields to the river. It has been raining for days, everything is sodden, green, muddy.

But the river is a vision: huge, swollen, patterned, powerfully moving, the great sweep of current surging down. It has swelled over the banks, completely fills the low valley. The sky is unbroken white, rain is hammering down, a percussion of sound – water on leaves, on wood, on mud, on water. The river itself makes no sound, the enormous powerful surge of current totally silent. It is a great block of muted colour with a mobile, patterned, articulated surface.

A bird flies heavily away from low branches, dark in the clouded morning. There is no one here. He strips on the flooded ledge, piles his clothes in the wet fork of a tree, steps naked into the water. The air is warm and humid, the rain cold on his shoulders, his feet grip the sliding mud. He takes another step and dives, swims hard into the middle of the river, strokes strong and precise. The river is cold but he feels encased in his warm body, the cold just flowing over his skin, not reaching his core. When he pauses to orient, the far bank looks like the Amazon, a dense wall of wet green forest coming down to the water’s edge.

In the middle of the swollen current he feels good, his body reliable. The joy and wild beauty of the swim have recalibrated him. The current is pushing fast and he turns upstream to gain some distance. Eyes open, the light glows through brown silty water, eyes closed he is back inside his warm body. Swimming hard and gracefully, there is a sudden massive shock – a split second of realisation, the broken tree trunk swirls past, blood in his eyes, blood in the brown water. He feels his slackening body roll in the dark flood.

The Red Bucket by Cecily Niumeitolu

Cecily Niumeitolu is a PhD candidate researching Beckett’s archives at present. She has had three excursions in Philament, her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, Eclectica, Australian Reader, and she received the Henry Lawson Prize for Prose.

The Red Bucket

Hatching, in a red bucket, all the silence.

At the front of a California bungalow the bucket sat. The bucket was plastic and red. Accounting for the lawn, the lawn is concrete, beaten from within, its decay is visible in the cracks, symptomatic of its weakening aggregates. Beaten from without, fifty years fade white to grey. This could only be aggravated by the position of the house at the bottom of a slope. There is scant irrigation, due to the concrete, due to the brick, so debris has nowhere to go but stain.

The old man built the concrete lawn when his hands were young and tough with muscle. Steel reinforcement, gravel, cement, water. What beauty in the process, a form invisible until the mixing, stirring, pouring, folding the cream, letting it set, slapping his kids over the head when they tried to jump into it, meddle about with their curious paws. He paved a paradise. In the afternoon he would sit with his wife on the front porch and they would watch their children play in his paradise, his concrete paradise. The woman, the wife, approved. She was also Greek. They became an item, the man requested this item sending letters, many letters, to relatives back in Athens, she was a distant cousin, she came by boat and he collected her at the wharf. They went to church for union.

Then the babies came, four, including the loss. The man had his back to the pram getting the boys out of the station wagon. Gravity rode the pram down the slope of road. The car had nowhere to go but forward. The woman, the wife, lost her drive. When he touched her she saw her daughter’s hands.

His boys rarely visited. He didn’t hold it against them. He had constant arthritic trouble in the back, upper, middle, lower. Pain was full-time, scant time between finding ways to position one’s behind and opening cans of dolmades to think of such lapses.

Should have had another daughter. Sons would leave you. So would a wife. It was his own cross. He woke up, and his wife had turned stone. He prodded hard, prodded her right in the middle of the back. Said her name. He loved to watch her pendulous breasts when she had her way with a broom. She made dinner every night at six so they could sit and stare into space in quiet abandon.

The mattress keeps her body’s inlay, a white cave sleeping beside him. Now it was as if he had constantly forgotten something — he would return to a room only to leave again knowing. At times he was too reckless with her. He knew that. Her heart had grown stone of him and then in time, it weakened, then out of habit a kind of garden. Perhaps, now, a paradise in his absence.
The lawn’s entrance swells with succulents, some jutting, some hanging, some snapping atop two white necks of cement cast Corinthian columns. Medusas guarding their yard of stone. The woman tended the succulents as a way to travel to Athens. Now, ten years on there are skeleton weeds that revel in the cracked lawn. The old man cannot bend to tend the concrete. He can give a hand job to her medusas. Their heads at pelvic level. He often forgets, scares him, this. As if she were a different life, husband.

Six months, and the man does not know how the red bucket got there. It was there one day, had been there. It sat on his lawn, plastic and red.

He thinks of the red bucket.

It can take the man five minutes to walk ten metres but with a third leg, a cane donned Constantin, mobility is less vulgar. He tries to think where he went wrong. They are Greek kids, he should live with them, they should visit, that is how it should be. Then his spine delivers a hit to his parietal lobe, and he is back again, back in the present. It was as if it was another life, father.

When it is still dark and the birds crook in song, so the walk begins to morning prayer three blocks south. And then he walks homeward, slow and hooked with the Greek newspaper in one hand, Constantin in the other. In the afternoon he will unfold his homeland, flipping in the Morris chair that forever sentinels the porch, overlooking the concrete lawn. The bucket sat, plastic and red.

There is less certainty, he feels.

It was a member of the Greek congregation that notified the eldest son, telling him the silence was warning. The son found his old man in a room packed as if someone was moving house, wearing a stiff grin that said no and meant yes on the far end of a lumpy double bed. He had starved himself over a period of two or so weeks, the doc said to the son it was will power to cast one’s life that way.

The bedroom remained a high pitch dart of screams, it was, to the son’s great annoyance, mozzies suckling to make room for their young. Nobody understood why the bucket was beside the bed, and the sons could not say what the significance of the red bucket was. It just sat beside the bed, plastic and red.

Settling by Maris Depers

Maris Depers is a Psychologist from Wollongong, NSW. His poetry and short stories have appeared in Kindling III and One Page Literary Magazine.


“Look at that crack!” my wife says with surprise, pointing at a jagged line where the wall once met the cornice.

“Yeah, I know,” I mutter and then, in an exasperated tone I hope she doesn’t pick up, add that it’s been there for months.

I just couldn’t help myself.

At the moment I’m trying. I’m trying in the way my father always told me I can be, so I’m trying to keep my mouth shut at times like this. I’m also trying to understand how she hasn’t noticed the yawning cracks that are appearing everywhere of late. But mostly I’m just trying to keep things together.

Anyone who has dealt with subsidence knows that once those cracks appear the uncertainty and sleepless nights start. And once the process starts its progress is difficult to stop.

I look up at the crack resembling a tear through the crisp white paint we chose five years ago wondering if it was always under there and we just overlooked it when we rubbed the walls back, excited to be in our own home. Whether it had been hiding deep in the walls all along, waiting with the patience of cancer.

“I just don’t come in here that often,” she says, a new found concern painted across her expression.

“It’s because it’s been so dry,” I attempt to explain “Everything’s shifting and moving. It might close up again if it rains”


But who knows when that might be? It’s getting harder and harder to predict the weather these days. Some fragile balance seems to be tipping and nothing seems the same as it was before. Summers are longer, winters drier and the bad storms are more frequent and damaging than ever.

“Is our house falling down?” she asks slowly, her tone moving from concern to fear, causing me to look up from the washing pile.

“I don’t know,” I answer genuinely, “I don’t know”.

On the Roof by Roland Leach

Roland Leach has three collections of poetry, the latest My Father’s Pigs published by Picaro Press. He is the proprietor of Sunline Press, which has published nineteen collections of poetry by Australian poets. His latest venture is Cuttlefish, a new magazine that includes art, poetry, flash fiction and short fiction.


On the Roof

The three sons are on the roof mending the ridge-caps, mortaring the cracks, cleaning the gutters. It is a mother’s day gift. They would like to say it is an act of love long overdue, but they want her to sell.

I have never really noticed the garden till I am on the roof. My mother has a bird bath, a little bird-house for them to rest. It hangs from a hook in the tree like a square uterus, its dark whale eye staring around the yard. She tells me the doves live in the sheoak, she comes out at dawn and feeds them. There are magpies that walk up the backsteps, crows whose whoosh of wings she hears from the kitchen, the occasional kookaburra and lorikeet, where would she go if she couldn’t feed the birds?

On the roof I stare into the jacaranda and see her life of busying herself: years cooking pots of soup or roast dinners, even the shank broths made for her dogs, are no longer needed. It must be lonely at night, till she hears the birds crazy with morning.

We all agree she is getting worse with age, She is half-mad and stubborn. She had been good with small children and animals, things that were helpless and loyal, but now all the grandchildren have grown up, her dogs died years ago and are buried side by side in the backyard. There is nothing left but these stupid birds.

From the roof I look across the hibiscus, the morning glory engulfing the fence, I hear the birds in the old jarrah tree, the doves are speckled along the ground, my mother must have just fed them.

Perhaps the roof will hold, I tell my brothers, as I fill in the cracks, rip out the loose concrete and tuck the mortar, using my fingers for the first time, at last ready to dirty my hands.

Aptitude by Eugen Bacon

bacon-imageEugen M. Bacon, MA, MSc, PhD studied at Maritime Campus, University of Greenwich, less than two minutes’ walk from The Royal Observatory of the Greenwich Meridian. A computer graduate mentally re-engineered into creative writing, Eugen has published over 100 short stories and creative articles, and has recently completed a creative non-fiction book and a literary speculative novel. Her creative work has appeared in Meniscus, TEXT Journal, Mascara Literary Review, Antic Journal, Australasian Review of African Studies (ARAS) and through Routledge in New Writing, The International Journal for the Practice and Theory of Creative Writing.



Five days after Ma yielded to whooping cough, your adolescent self inherited the plough, the yoke, the axe and the winnower. You were cut to be a farmer. You and the soft black earth that crumbled through your fingers and smelled of stone, peat and swamp were one.

Then one dusk Baba tapped you on the elbow. He was wearing his wide-brimmed hat, the high-crowned one, his favourite for travelling. He led you to his beaten up truck, offered no hand to guide your scramble up.

The engine roared.

Headlights came on, and your world lit up like a shooting star.

Baba reversed, rolled the truck to an empty paddock. He showed you to shift the clutch, the gear, pointed at the brakes. He cut the engine, climbed out the truck. Your fingers on the passenger door—

‘Take the wheel.’ Gravel in his voice.

You listened fiercely to your instinct to run, but took the wheel.

He climbed beside you, watched as you turned the ignition.

The engine started and the truck jumped. It trundled forward, juddered, trolled and shuddered. It took your stomach away, but you clung to the steering. And then a clean roll forward. As the truck picked up speed along the dirt, across the grass and over cow poop, Baba pulled his seat and leaned back. He drew the hat over his face and began to snore.

The hush of a turned off engine roused him. He tipped back the hat, looked around. The truck was back in the barn.

‘Cracken hell,’ he said.

Now you drive as though you and the truck are one. It understands your intentions, flows with them. You have only to look in a direction, and the truck trails. You will it to halt and its wheels slowly reel until they lock to the ground, Ma whistling in the wind.

Gun in the Garden by Alice Melike Ülgezer

2013-author-ulgezera-01-headshotAlice Melike Ülgezer is an Australian/Turkish writer. She draws creatively on her mixed cultural heritage. Her first novel The Memory of Salt was published by Giramondo in 2012. Her work has been published in Meanjin, New Internationalist, One World Two, PEN Quarterly, The Review of Australian Fiction, Cordite, Etchings, HEAT, Mozzie, Taralla, Going Down Swinging & Kalimat.

Gun in the Garden

The sky was bruised with autumn. A brusque wind scored as the pigeons whistle-dart and fluted above. The neighbour, a Syrian refugee, had brought them with him across the border when he’d fled. And they cartwheeled now, dipping, diving and gliding, smears of grey, mauve and silver across the mottled Anatolian sky.

Ayșe leant on her hoe a moment where she was working in the garden next door to peer up at the birds when she heard the banging at the door. The street dogs had taken to living in her yard that winter and the barren earth was a mess of coal dust, vegetable scraps and dog shit. She’d found a hoe in the coal store and was trying steadily to clear the yard. But there was that banging on the door again. It startled her as no one knocked like that save for the police or the Jendarma and then only if they wanted someone or something. So she chose to ignore it and hoped that whoever it was would go away. What could she possibly need to know about the world outside anyway? They would tire of knocking and leave and she would continue hoeing the garden and by dinnertime she would have forgotten all about it and the garden would be restored to its tidy, serene state. And if it was something important perhaps, the news would make its way to her husband and she would find out from him when he came home.

But a little voice called as the knocking came thundering again, “Mamma.” She rolled her eyes, her heartbeat slowing all of a sudden with relief.

The refugee children she told herself as she wiped her hands on her apron and picked her way through the garden to the door. She opened it a foot or so and the bell that hung above banged noisily. Three children stood before her and all at once tried to elbow and push their way through the gap in the door.

“Hey, hey!” she startled.

Silah, silah,” the older boy exclaimed. “Gun Gun. Our gun is in your garden!”

“Your what!?” she tried to push the door closed against their little heaving bodies. But the littlest one Husam was stuck trying to crawl between her legs. The middle of the three, a little girl, stood by smirking like a dangerous cat.

Ayșe spat to the side and began to recite the Sura of the Dawn. She knew it was wrong but she didn’t like these children. If she gave to one surely that meant she had to give to all. And she couldn’t possibly do that. Besides, she didn’t like the way they threw stones at the local dogs or hung puppies out of windows from pieces of packing tape tied round their necks or the way they shrieked and sniggered and reprimanded her for eating bread during Ramazan.

“Our gun is in your garden Mamma,” Husam was clawing at her thigh. His head peered jerkily out from between her knees at the garden, his shoulders yet to break through.

“We just want to go and look for it,” enjoined the older boy who was more mature and friendly than the other two and by smiling seemed to apologise for their behaviour. The little girl studied Ayșe’s face as she swung her hips back and forth with one finger planted firmly in her nose, simpering softly. Husam tried to burrow further between her knees but this time she gave a strong shove.

I will have a look,” she said sharply and gathering all her strength, heaved the child out from between her legs and slammed the door, sliding the wooden bolt across to lock it.

Turning back to the garden she glanced quickly at the freshly turned earth. “Those children,” she said aloud “and their fucking guns, telling me I am haram. I’ll show them haram.”

But before she knew it the three of them were scrambling though the grapevine over the back wall.

“Mamma, Mamma!” yelped Husam as he fell into the dirt and dog shit. The little girl slid slyly under the plastic matting that Ayșe and her husband had secured against the wall for privacy and the bigger boy leapt over the stones. Together they tore across the garden under the bare autumn trees looking for their gun.

“I told you I would look for it you little pimps!” she shrieked.

And just then the bigger one picked up a piece of wood that had been nailed crudely with another small bit for a trigger and tied with a piece of string. Utterly unaffected by her cursing, he smiled triumphantly, “This is our gun! This is our gun!” And with that he slung it over his shoulder and began shooting imaginary rounds of machine gun fire round the garden, laughing and shouting, Allahu Akbar! The little girl and Husam both jumped wildly around in the dirt shrieking their pleasure.

Ayșe stood on in horrified silence. If those bullets were real she would most certainly be dead. She shuddered in a sort of shocked confusion a moment before gathering her senses and shouting. “Get out of here you sons of donkeys! Get out of my garden!” Her limbs suddenly coursing with adrenalin she lunged at them with the garden hoe as they leapt jubilantly over the vegetable scraps and coal dust. The little girl managed to dart across to the wooden door and slide the bolt open. The other two scrambled after her and with a bang-clash and clamour of the bell they tore onto the street shrieking and firing as they went.

Ayșe threw the hoe down on the concrete and rushed at the door to bolt it again in case they should return. With trembling hands she slid it across once more and feeling utterly humiliated, yet out of view of the garden wall, sank against the door and wept for the children she would never have.

Pause by Carly Nugent

Photo - Carly NugentCarly Nugent is an Australian short story author and novelist. Carly’s short fiction has featured in numerous print and online publications, including The Bellevue Literary Review and the sixth edition of Award Winning Australian Writing (Melbourne Books). Carly currently lives in Phnom Penh, where she coordinates a bi-weekly writing workshop.



 She had told Aunt Susan she had a summer book report to finish. But the truth was the assignment was already typed and sitting in her school bag. Mae had been at the table for half an hour, holding the novel in front of her like a shield, like a last line of defence between her and what lay in the kitchen.

 She was fifteen, and could count the things she had killed on one hand. A cockroach in fourth grade because she wanted to prove to Tom Kelly that she wasn’t scared; a snail one morning on the footpath after a night of heavy rain; and a bee, though it had really killed itself when it stung her by the rosebush at Nana’s house last spring. And now here she was, a week before her sixteenth birthday, about to slit a chicken’s throat.

 ‘If you’re going to be here all summer you’re going to learn,’ Aunt Susan had said, pulling a knife from the block. It was the largest knife Mae had ever seen. It glinted up at her like a wicked white-toothed smile.

 ‘Finish your homework. I’ll be in the kitchen when you’re done.’

 Mae had sat in the dining room with the book open, reading nothing, listening to the sounds her aunt made. First the backdoor slammed, and Mae pictured Aunt Susan walking out onto the farm. Her boots would be sinking a little in the mud. Mae imagined her entering the chicken coop, the birds scattering at first, then coming back expecting food. Aunt Susan would pluck one from the bunch – the brown and white one; the one Mae thought looked like marble chocolate. She heard the back door open and close again. A cluck. Mae pictured it in the kitchen, in a basket on the bench. For almost half an hour Mae imagined it sitting there – silently – staring out the window at the early dark. She imagined her aunt peeling potatoes, letting the still-dirty skins drop onto the floor like worms. They fell in slow motion.

 Mae wished she could freeze time right here. Even if it meant she would never turn eighteen, never drive a car, never sleep with someone. Even if it meant she would spend the rest of her life at this table, with this book. The moment in the kitchen stood before her like a roadblock, like a hurdle she would have to jump over if she wanted to keep running this race. It seemed easier just to stop running.  

 When Mae finally walked into the kitchen things didn’t look at all the way she had imagined. Her aunt was rolling pastry on the counter, her entire body moving. There was no mud on her boots. Light was still filtering through the back window; it played across her face and she was beautiful. And the chicken – orange and black – was fluttering in the basket. It was pecking at things, clucking like it knew. Mae was surprised, staring at the chicken’s bobbing head, to see things moving at such a normal speed.

 ‘Alright,’ Aunt Susan said. The knife was in Mae’s hand. ‘You’ve seen me do this a dozen times. Off you go.’

 There was a blue bucket on the floor. Aunt Susan lifted the chicken by its legs and held it upside down. Then finally, like she was hitting the play button on a remote control, Mae leaned forward to cut the bird’s throat.