December 19, 2017 / mascara / 0 Comments
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.
December 11, 2017 / mascara / 0 Comments
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”.
April 11, 2017 / mascara / 0 Comments
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.
January 8, 2017 / mascara / 0 Comments
Eugen 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.
September 7, 2016 / mascara / 0 Comments
Alice 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.
June 26, 2016 / mascara / 0 Comments
Carly 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.
October 4, 2015 / mascara / 0 Comments
Welsh-born Olivia Rushin lives in Brisbane and is currently studying a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and Arts (Writing) at the University of Queensland. She’s been a bakery assistant for more years than anyone should, but did spend her gap year traveling and working in Germany, so it’s not all bread.
There’s something about the river. Peg wades out of its grip and runs home.
She runs because she has to, because the sky is turning and the gaslights on this side of the city are few and far between. The rows of terraced houses hum like a hive. Numb old men with leaden tongues are having a pissing contest in the gutter, and a one-armed child squats and strains on the cobblestones nearby. Peg sidesteps sleeping bodies and ducks the cords of neglected clotheslines. She pelts from one lamppost to the next, below factory chimneys that pipe scud into the clouds.
Home is in the west, detached from the city, where the dark gaps between streetlights hide only trellises of jessamines and honey-suckle, and the husks of sleeping carriages. Peg scrabbles onto the slate roof outside her sister’s room, and her wet hands squeal on the sash window as she slips in through the gap. The west wind streams in after her, swills around the walls like freshwater, spits the stale air out onto the street.
There’s movement from the four-poster inside, and Amy’s head lifts into view.
“I’m dripping all over,” says Peg. “Need a blanket.”
She catches the flying bundle with one hand and sops up the puddle at her feet; wrings out her sodden dress.
“You went to the river again,” says Amy.
The river, the river. Her milky little grin floats in the darkness.
“What was it like?”
Peg’s stomach shifts; she can’t stand that awed look.
“Tell me,” says Amy.
The crescents of Peg’s nails are packed stiff with silt the colour of boiled tealeaves, but it tastes like coal and grease and riverweed when she bites it out. The grit crunches between her teeth.
“It’s beautiful,” she says eventually, spitting into her sleeve. “Really.”
“But beautiful how?”
“Beautiful same as last time. You know I can’t describe it how you like.”
“In the morning, maybe,” says Peg. She helps Amy shift onto her side, so the bedsores won’t scab onto the sheets. “You should be asleep. But I have something for you first. For your collection.”
She tips a faceted gem of river-glass, scarlet and glinting, onto her sister’s palm.
Amy is breathless. “Is it a real ruby?”
“Looks that way,” says Peg. “And it was only a shard of old bottle when I threw it in.”
Amy finishes inspecting the thing and solemnly hands it over.
“Put it with the others.”
Peg crosses the room, sets the glass ruby on the shelf. It rolls on its axis and settles beside a whittled coil of wood that hadn’t started out that way at all; the first thing Peg ever fished out of the river’s hungry tongue.
She’d thrown it in up by the overgrown thicket near Cotchett’s old mill, for no reason, really. It was a crude hunk of oak she’d hacked out of a trunk with a sharpened butter knife, and throwing it into the river had just been something to do. She’d chased after it along the bank, past the steep slant of the weir, and fished it out where it surfaced in that eddy down by the millstream, right in the tailrace of Lombe’s silk mill. By then, something about the river had changed the simple thing – found it, drowned it, chewed it up and spat it out – and it was a perfect spiral, carved of oak.
Further along the shelf is what used to be the jawbone of a cow, until the river decided it should be a fine-toothed comb. Beside that is a goatskin pouch that went in empty and resurfaced full of glass marbles, and a broken tile of red brick that came back monogrammed with the letter ‘A’ in cursive. Peg feeds things to the river, they come out better. Changed.
“I want to see it,” says Amy behind her. “Peggy? The river. You have to take me with you.”
The air suddenly seems stale again, stagnant. For a moment, Peg seethes, heaves at the unfairness of all these pretty things destined to die here on the shelf. Better if they’d sunk and stayed like they were supposed to, or been swept all those miles and dumped out at sea. The ruby glares back at her. Peg calms, and turns.
She carries Amy downstairs, outside, and slowly back east. Amy hugs onto her neck at first but falls asleep before they reach the slums. Hollow eyes blink awake, tracking them through the streets, and the fetid air hangs heavy in their wake. Peg’s glad Amy misses it. Her little head is still limp against her chest when they emerge from the thicket by the mill and step out onto the slippery rocks.
The cracked glaze of Amy’s prosthetic gleams pearlescent in the moonlight. Their father used to boast that it was made from Derby’s finest porcelain. A fired composite of ground glass, eggshell, and human ash, he’d said, and Amelia should be proud to have such a pretty thing for a leg. She’ll never be confused for one of those mutilated urchins again.
He might have mentioned how she’d never be able to walk again either, for fear of shattering. How the socket joint of her porcelain knee would shriek and scrape whenever she tried to stand, grinding away at itself like a mortar and pestle. How Peg would have to watch her sister grow smaller and paler with every passing day, living only off second-hand stories about the magic of a black river and a promise that one day she’d see it for herself.
The rapids roar as they take Amy away. Peg pounds along the bank; races them downstream as they surge over the weir and into the eddy by the millstream. She squats there and waits – at the foot of the great waterwheel, always turning, churning – but all that washes up is white porcelain dust that sifts through her fingers and is gone.
October 1, 2015 / mascara / 0 Comments
Shannon Burns is an Adelaide-based writer, reviewer/critic and sometimes-academic. He is a member of the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice, and has written for Australian Book Review, Sydney Review of Books and Music & Literature. He won the 2009 Adelaide Review Prize for Short Fiction and the 2015 Salisbury Writers’ Festival Short Fiction Prize. He’s had fiction published in various magazines and journals, most recently in Overland and Verity La.
He was sleeping when I slipped away – I could bear it no longer – he seems to have gone blind – his eyes are grey – they were once like mine – it’s as though they’ve grown younger – perhaps he has too – his body turned inward – an overpowering desire – he will not speak of it – there’s nothing to be done – he sees nothing – he’s deaf as well – I was not quiet when I left – I thought to give him one last chance – if he’d called to me I’d still be there
there’s nothing about – all have gone quiet – I once heard mowers in the distance – every weekend they would hum – that was long ago – there are no weekends – the journey will be long – my only wish is for water – to see it at last will be the last thing – I once visited the sea – it whispered gently – my feet followed it out – when it came in I howled – it marked me out – it seemed to yearn for something – I chased it yelling – for hours we did this – they took me away – I refused drink for days – no thirst could quench my fear of it – it went out and returned, went out and returned – I still see it in my mind – it smiles whitely – it draws close and whispers – I tremble to listen
the road is flat – I picture small inclinations – they spring to life – when I left it was grey – the gate was unlatched – the garden wild – branches torn by something – perhaps the wind – there is no wind – I recall days driven by weather – to go outside or stay in? – today it is grey – yesterday I was inside – perhaps it hasn’t changed – the days are alike – it may be night – the world has spun on its axis – we are at bottom – I am alone – he is too – we may meet again – it won’t be here – someone may walk me back – but they won’t know the way –
my voice is hoarse – perhaps it will vanish – I won’t argue – there’s nothing else for it – I have no say – the weather is fine – I’ll bear it easily – my feet are cold – they never freeze – they’re soft on the soles – when I walk they burn – the road is harsh – there’s no one to clear it – the vehicles are still – they are shells of vehicles – I’ll take cover when it rains – it will not rain – the sky is clear – but there is no blue – I haven’t seen blue for years – perhaps blue is gone– it may have risen further – beyond the grey – I was never fond of it – the word is thick – my mouth won’t shape it – my lips blubber – it is their way – I don’t require them – there is no blue
I seek out the water – once it was green – it seems black in my dreams – it will devour me – I am for the most part water already – this I know – it’s getting worse – I overfill with it – there’s none there – our supply stopped – I left him dry – it felt like a verdict – the taps have deserted us – they do not approve – I cannot blame them – no simpler message – the water is gone – we are to follow – if that then this
the path is monotonous – why so flat? – do I walk on the spot? – how to tell the difference between here and there? – perhaps there is none – I’ve never considered it – my thoughts are clouded – there are no clouds – my thoughts are empty – but emptiness abounds – my thoughts are grey – but grey is the world
there’s something ahead – a large ragged dog – its hair thick and grey – I walk his way – he sniffs the air – I turn back – there’s nothing to be said for it – perhaps the dog is the sea, come to greet me from afar – nothing is friendly – hunger universal – nothing lost nothing gained – I go on bleating – I breathe – I walk – to what? – the devouring sea – opening its wide mouth – inviting – welcoming – it’s made a bed for me – that is where the others are – asleep on the sea-bed – I’ll nuzzle them soon – so long since I touched one
I follow the dog down the road – it lifts its leg on a signpost – nothing comes – an empty pizzle – we are as though one thing – I hang back until he disappears – I cannot watch the performance – he’s dwindling to nothing – everything does – he’ll reach the beachhead before me – I’ll follow his pawprints to the water – lie down by his stinking corpse – smell the sea on his putrid fur – breathe the moisture – close my eyes – hold him
September 21, 2015 / mascara / 0 Comments
Aaron Peysack is a Melbourne writer who has lived and worked in Japan. His fiction has appeared in Antipodes journal and will be featured in upcoming editions of Page Seventeen and Filling Station. He is currently working on a collection of short fiction.
It was July, the coldest month of the year, and I had no winter overcoat. I sat in my room for an hour thinking about the cold, trembling with indignation. I’ve always been sensitive: the slightest change in temperature or pressure upsets me. In that tiny room I longed for the tropics, for the heat of Angola or Brazil, some burnt-out island where life is slow and undemanding.
When the hour was up I left my room and headed downstairs. On the second floor I met a tall, lean man with lovely blue eyes.
‘Give me your winter overcoat,’ I said to him. He refused, so I grabbed him. For several minutes we struggled, right there in the stairwell, a silent, deadly struggle that could only end in defeat for someone of his slender build.
But he was one of those people who are stronger than they look and he used his long arms to advantage. It was like wrestling an orang-utan. Halfway through the struggle I knew I was going to lose—I felt like a chess player who has lost his queen—but I wouldn’t concede. Keep fighting, I told myself, at least you’re warm. Eventually he threw me down and fled into one of the apartments. It wasn’t meant to be, I thought, dusting myself off.
Outside, I dragged myself along the street, past law clerks and meat packers and men in half-price suits purchased in pairs … All the wreckage of humanity washed around me … An hour later I was near the sea and the wind was cutting me open. A boy of twelve or thirteen was standing on the sand looking out at the water. A philosopher, I thought, one of those unpleasant children who are old before their time, not quite human. I was one myself so I know what I’m talking about. I walked over and stood beside him.
‘Why are the crests of the waves white?’ he asked dreamily.
‘I don’t know,’ I said, watching them fall, thinking of horses in old movies. ‘Give me your winter overcoat.’
He looked at me curiously then shook his head.
‘It was a gift from my grandmother.’
‘I won’t tell her.’
He smiled and shook his head again.
Children are not as weak as they seem, plus they fight a lot, which makes them dangerous opponents. The boy landed a few punches but was helpless against my knee. As I pulled the coat over his head, he grabbed at it violently, tearing it along the seams.
‘Look what you’ve done,’ I said, ‘you’ve torn your winter overcoat. Now neither of us can have it.’
‘It’s better that way,’ he answered with eyes full of sadness.
I left him there and made my way across the river. It was almost dusk by the time I found the warehouse. The place was filled with coats, hundreds of them, in every size and style. I entered the room where people change and stood in front of the mirror, entranced by my own reflection. He has the face of a tsar, I thought, looking at the man in the glass.
Outside, the sun went down and evening came on, tugging at night’s shoulder. The owner locked up and went home and the sound of the city faded like snow falling on a frozen river. All night I stayed in that winter palace, surrounded by coats, and by morning I felt almost human.
April 6, 2015 / mascara / 0 Comments
Chloe Wilson’s first poetry collection, The Mermaid Problem, was commended in the Anne Elder Award and Highly Commended in the Mary Gilmore Award. She won the 2014 Val Vallis Award for Unpublished Poetry and was Highly Commended in the 2014 Manchester Fiction Prize.
It would be wrong to say he bought me. It’s never like that. He chose my photo, my description; I received a call from the agency; then we met at a dimly lit restaurant with black banquette seats. He ordered champagne and a platter of sushi and sashimi, the slivers of fish pink and glossy, like tongues.
‘You’ll have to teach me how to use chopsticks like that,’ he said.
‘You’re very good,’ I said. ‘Very natural.’
‘I hired a tutor,’ he said, slurping up a piece of eel, ‘last time I was in Japan.’
We negotiated terms. Of course, it’s not as businesslike as that. He talked about what he wanted – companionship, someone to take to dinners and parties, maybe with a view to the long term, depending on how things progressed – and when I didn’t object, he relaxed, ordered another bottle of wine.
He said he loved the way I had trouble with certain phrases – fifth floor, not at all.
After a few weeks, I had my own credit card.
After a year, he said he wanted to marry me.
I took his last name. But at night, in our futon with the koi-patterned sheets, he would whisper Mitsuki Tanaka, Mitsuki Tanaka. Even then, he was always trying to get his accent right.