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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Mark Brandi was born in Italy and then spent most of his childhood in a remote country Victorian pub. He now lives in Melbourne, where he writes fiction. He was the grateful recipient of a 2015 Varuna Residential Fellowship and was runner up for the 2014 NSW Writers’ Centre Varuna Fellowship. He was the 2014 winner of the City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards and shortlisted for the 2015 Seizure Viva La Novella Prize. He was also longlisted for the 2015 International Caledonia Novel Award. His shorter work has appeared in literary journals and been broadcast on ABC Radio National. www.markbrandi.com
It stinks of shit. Heavy and sweet. Like the chow mein Mum cooked for the punters. Fried mince, cabbage and curry powder.
Dad’s lying in bed, the blankets pulled up to his neck.
“Are you okay?”
“I think so.”
Mum’s eyes. Cheap liqueur chocolates. Her mouth twitches a broken beat. Closes the window. Opens it. Looks at me. Says it with her eyes.
I didn’t know who to call.
“Dad,’ I say. Too loud. ‘Is your head okay?”
“Are you feeling sick?”
“I’m not sure.”
Mum’s candy-brittle smile. Crosses her arms. Shakes her head. “He’s just embarrassed.”
I help him sit up. Pull the blankets back – the shit is there. It’s on the mattress. It’s on the floor. There’s shit everywhere.
Mum dry retches.
He swings his legs over the side of the bed. Stands up shaky. Faded cotton undies and short-sleeve Aldi shirt. Chicken legs with hairless skin. His belly is much too big for chicken legs.
His thin, white hair is standing on end. Like a bush cockatoo.
Dad’s outside a country pub.
He just bought it.
He’s with Mum.
A gold-rush pub.
Empty for years.
Full of rats.
But there’s gold too.
Behind the fireplace.
They’ll find that later.
I tell him to put his arm around me.
“We’re gonna walk to the shower. You feel okay to walk?”
“I think so.”
We walk there. His hand on my arm. Soft fingers. Thin skin. Not like it used to be. Dried up leather. Old Blundstones in the sun.
It’s a nice bathroom. It’s better than mine. Dark-grey tiles. A special shower.
I show him how to use the mixer tap.
“I know,” he says.
“Make sure you clean your backside.”
Dad watches me mime the action of washing my arse with imaginary soap. The soap is clean and green in its little chrome tray. It doesn’t know what it’s in for.
Mum doesn’t know what she’s in for.
She doesn’t speak English.
Dad taught himself on the boat.
They’re gonna run it, he reckons.
He’s never run a pub.
He’s a train driver.
Diesel engines and punch-ups.
Aussies with big mouths.
Dad hurt his back.
Mum’s gonna be the cook.
Dad’s family are all insane.
Just ask anyone.
Mum is in the bedroom. She’s in the bedroom on her knees.
“Bloody dis-gusting.” She’s scrubbing the floor. “Filthy bastard.”
I hear the shower go on. “How did he … ?”
“Who knows? I’ll never get these stains out.”
Dad is in a brown suit.
He looks like Bob De Niro.
The judge is Lionel Murphy.
The judge says Dad made history.
A precedent, he said.
It’s about his back.
Mike Willesee wants to talk on telly.
Mike Willessee is all the rage.
But Dad won’t talk.
And Bob De Niro’s not a lawyer.
The shower goes off. So I listen at the door. The dead whirr of the fan.
“Cleaned yourself properly?”
Swish and rustle. Starched towel on flesh. I hope he cleaned himself. I hope he got all the shit off. I hope he doesn’t stink.
It’s three weeks til his birthday.
It’s my friend’s birthday.
His mum drives me home.
Double-storey brick house.
Dad is building it himself.
No need for a roof.
We’ll live downstairs.
This isn’t my house.
So drive me somewhere else.
That’s exactly what I said.
In the kitchen, we dance around it. Like the last ones no-one picked. When no-one else is left.
“Well eventually …”
“He won’t go. It will kill him.”
“What’s gonna happen when—”
“I’ll do it as long as I can.”
Steps on the stairs.
He won’t know anyway.
He comes through the door. Pants pulled up high. Jumper tucked right in. Jacket on. Smiling.
All ready to go.
Schoolbag in the back.
Windscreen frozen over.
Ice, he says.
Get the hose.
From safe inside, I watch the cascade.
The crystal flow.
Until he’s there again.
Through the glass and frost.
Just a shimmer in the morning sun.
As the ice begins to melt.
A thick woollen jumper.
His hair turning grey.
The smile won’t leave his eyes.
Rebecca Jessen lives in Toowoomba with her two cacti. She is the winner of the 2013 Queensland Literary Award for Best Emerging Author for her verse novel Gap. In 2012 Rebecca won the State Library of Queensland Young Writers Award. Rebecca’s writing has been published in The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks, Stilts, Scum Mag and Verity La. Rebecca’s verse novel Gap is out now through University of Queensland Press. She is the recipient of an AMP Tomorrow Maker grant.
The Late September Dogs
low mist hanging off a high mountain. driving cars worth more than your self esteem. a twenty-nine dollar tax return that feels both like a gift and a joke. waiting two hours for five minutes. leaving with your fifth K10 questionnaire in as many years. hopelessness is always high. nervousness is mostly circumstantial. lying face down in your IKEA furnished study. listening to a Melissa Etheridge LP as old as you. feeling both like an old soul and too young to know what life really is. scoring yourself thirty-five out of fifty on the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale. half listening to your caseworker who is not a psychologist. almost believing when she says you eat and sleep too regularly to qualify as depressed. what you have is chronic low mood. there’s not much help or hope for people like you. sorry kid. not everyone can be happy. here take some vitamins. ignoring text messages from the government. asking your opinion on a safe night out. crying for no reason. listening to the same Melissa Etheridge song on repeat for two hours. crying for no reason. sorry kid. there’s not much help for people like you.
Ella Jeffery was born in northern New South Wales and currently lives in Shanghai, China. She writes poetry and short fiction, some of which has appeared in Best Australian Poems 2013, Cordite, Voiceworks and elsewhere. She will commence her PhD in creative writing at Queensland University of Technology in mid-2015.
It’s always late when I come here. It’s always cold outside. I can see her through the glass-panelled door. She thinks she’s keeping me waiting but I’m watching the patterns of the moths around the glass. Sometimes there’s so many of them I can barely see through it. They probably stay there all night, moving around and around the same ring of light.
She always opens the door with a lit cigarette in her mouth. But this part has happened only since I told her I was quitting. She lets me in without looking at me. The chatter of bats in the mango trees is snapped off when she pulls the door closed.
Here she is: bare feet and white legs. Black underwear and a white singlet with a red bra underneath, showing through like a blush on a pale cheek.
“You didn’t call,” she says, drifting back to the couch. “I might’ve been out.”
“So where would you go on a Tuesday?”
She laughs. She’s watching one of her crazy subtitled films. The directors are European, the women all have faces like crumpled paper and go insane about halfway through. The men are psychologists. The children die early on. Usually that’s the way it goes. She watches to the end.
I make myself a coffee while the psychologist wrestles with his screaming wife. The fluorescent in the kitchen buzzes with moths. More are on the windows, or skittering up in the corners of the high ceilings. There are always so many in here, though the only window I’ve ever seen her open is the one over her bed. Their movement is soundless, sightless. They’re not aiming for anything, except perhaps a higher part of the moulding wall. They just keep switching places and switching back, flickering around quietly, leap-frogging over each other with their chalky wings. I wonder if this is their home. A cramped space; the cupboards like tall men squished in an elevator, stretching up. The moths settle on the tops of them for a moment, and leave again. Hundreds of them bang against the light fitting. They must do this every night.
She lives just off the highway. I listen to the cars while I move over her. She never makes much sound but it didn’t take long to learn what she likes. She’s not a talker. She doesn’t get on top. I use my stubble against her, raking over her neck and cheeks. I hold her hands down. The only noises are the jolting of the bed, and under that is her quiet breathing, and under that is the sound of the moths, which gather in her bedroom more than anywhere else in the house.
I’ve never known a house to be more full of them than hers is tonight. The cars roar by. Where do people go on Tuesday nights?
A moth brushes over my hair as I finish and replace myself on the other side of the bed. She lights a cigarette, smokes from the flat of her back. She doesn’t offer me one, but I’d have taken it. The burning end shows her face in shaking light. When it’s done she ducks off to the shower and flicks on the light as she goes. Her room is never dark enough.
As she leaves I look up at the ceiling from the same place she laid a moment ago and see so many moths up there, more than I could count, and there is so much movement I feel almost dizzy. And more moths come in, and more and still more, so many moths that the light is now dimming, now blacked out, except the colour’s not black, it’s dusty brown and grey. Soon the room is filled with moths. They’re covering my skin and hair, and my mouth is shut as tight as it can go and I’m worrying about my ears and my nose, whether they’ll try to nudge their way inside me with their bulging alien faces and chalky wings. There’s only the sound of dull ruffling wings. Their antennae move noiselessly, listening or tasting, I can’t remember which. They’re on my face. I can see their tiny mouths, the tiniest mouths I have ever seen. And more are coming, stuffing themselves in through the door, and I can see them pressing their little furred bodies up against the windows, skittering over the walls.
I close my eyes. Moths land on the lids. The imprints of their feet. They don’t go anywhere. They don’t have anywhere to go.
“Hey,” I call out to her. “Come in here.” I keep my eyes closed and press my lips shut again and keep perfectly still under the movement of so many moths.
A second later she’s back and there are moths on the towel around her neck, landing in her wet hair. She shrugs and says “They’re just moths. They won’t hurt you.”
I get up anyway, shake them from my clothes and walk out of the door where they’re still crowded like mystics around the circle of light spilling out. I walk down to the highway and hope the last bus is running late. I look at the bone-coloured moon and I don’t imagine her in that old house, sleeping under blankets of moths.