Blake Curran is currently studying a Bachelor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing) and a Bachelor of Arts (English Literatures) at the Univeristy of Wollongong. He is in his third year. He lives somewhere around Campbelltown, and finds inspiration for his stories in the suburban and natural world around him. He hopes to one day be a published novelist, but also enjoys writing shorter pieces very much.
The uniform houses lie like squares in a patchwork quilt, flung over the undulations of the earth as far as she can see. She sits on a hard, wooden bench on the front verandah, cigarette warm in her hand. She knocks it against a small ceramic dish before it ashes. It is evening. It’s always evening, by the time she gets a chance to come out here and have a quiet smoke by herself, churn things over, cast a meandering glance over the observable world.
Last night, the air was warm and it felt like a summery dusk from her childhood: you could stretch in its luxuriance, and the world went on forever in perfect golden tones. But tonight, the air is sharp and everything looks monochrome. Crickets chirp, and grass glistens like glass darkly caught in the shine of the moon. She hurries to finish her smoke so she can go back inside.
It is a new suburb. Many of the houses have only just been built; some are not even finished. She is lucky, in a way, to be able to live in one so soon. Her previous house, which she had been renting by herself for years, had been demolished at the landlord’s bequest, forcing her to pack her few things and leave. It pays to have a cousin in contracting. What was it her father used to say? It’s not what you know, but who. And blood is thicker than water. Apparently.
How can she believe that when everyone she’s ever loved has left her, one way or another. At the occasion of death, blood turns to water. At least here she doesn’t have to think about it. She can pretend not to, anyway.
She has forgotten about the cigarette, and it has gone out a couple of centimetres from her fingertips, a small heap of ash beneath. What a waste. She considers lighting another, but does not bother. The once-lit cylinder hangs limp from her calloused fingers. There is no point in lighting another. It is cool outside and she can feel the threat of rain close by. She could go inside right now and run herself a hot bath, pour a glass of heady red wine and relax into one more early night, ready for another day of work tomorrow. But she does not move. She remains motionless, except for her eyes. They rove over what used to be rippling bushland, seeing none of it. She is thinking about how she is the only one living on this street, on the whole block, and how this grey light makes her ache in some unexplainable, non-physical way. Not even a car has passed by all evening, and now it is night, and she has not seen another person since she got home. She has been sitting here since the streetlights clicked on down the road, but this block belongs to another transformer, and has not been wired up properly yet. So she sits in dim moonshine, alone on the outskirts of artificial light.
She lets the cigarette drop into her ashtray on the arm of the wooden bench, picking up the carton from the empty space beside her. Inside rattles her last cigarette and a cheap, silver lighter. She holds the cigarette between her lips and flicks it alight between cupped hands. The sky begins to drip. She inhales a hollow breath and thinks empty thoughts that loop endlessly.
Daniel Young is a Sydney-based writer whose short fiction has appeared in Seizure, Verity La, Hello Mr. Magazine, Cuttings Journal, Bukker Tillibul and Mascara Literary Review. He’s developing a novel manuscript as part of an MA (Writing), is the founder of Tincture Journal, and is writing about all the novellas at allthenovellas.com.
Chá Yè Dàn
The buildings on this street were old, blackened by age and pollution, and of widely disparate heights. Billy came to a food stall, the vendor selling home-cooked food alongside a few pre-packaged items: bottles of tea, rice crackers, biscuits.
“Hello,” shouted the lady, engaging Billy with kind eyes. On his last visit to Shanghai, ten years earlier, the locals had treated him like a bizarre novelty. They chased him, shouting hello, laughing and even wanting to touch his light blonde hair and stare into his round brown eyes; all in a generous spirit of friendship. This time around, the younger generation were more confident, aloof to foreigners, keeping a casual distance.
Billy smiled, but didn’t answer her, suddenly ashamed of his poor mandarin skills. He spotted a shiny metallic bowl on the table beside a mound of dark green bamboo-leaf parcels. Sticky rice, which he had never enjoyed. It was the bowl that grabbed his attention, filled with tea eggs.
They used to make tea eggs together, in Brisbane. When they lived together like love-birds, for that one short year. In their two-bedroom apartment on the banks of the murky Brisbane river, where the jacarandas bloomed purple as spring raged into summer and final-year exams approached. Brisbane and Shanghai were linked, both bisected down the middle by these turgid brown snakes, rivers twisting through the landscape, disorienting to the uninitiated, and with the occasional bridge providing a means to get around the city.
Qiang held Billy tight, calling him a good boy. Billy mixed the tea, spice mix, star anise and soy sauce, placing the eggs onto the heat. Qiang delivered instructions in his quiet, yet firm and confident voice, and Billy followed along, eager to please, happy to be learning these cooking secrets. When the eggs were half-done, he smashed the shells with a spoon, allowing the rich dark liquid to seep into the gaps, forming brown marbling patterns on the cooked egg white.
Billy blinked and bought two tea eggs from the lady with an awkward combination of pointing, holding up fingers and fishing around for the smallest coins he could find. He knew the words: chá yè dàn. Cha for tea, dan for eggs. Dan-dan for testicles, Qiang had reminded him with a laugh, grabbing Billy’s hand and forcing it towards his crotch.
Although he recalled the mandarin words, his mouth remained fixed in silence, unable to even try and pronounce them. He stood at the stall, peeling one of the eggs and eating without taste, paralysed by memory.
Natalie Chin (b. 1992) grew up in Singapore and lives in London. She is the Literary Editor of Galavant Magazine. Her writing has been published in The Quietus, Ellipsis Journal and Living In The Future. http://herbonestructure.com
‘Low-hanging fruit’, he says
6pm, the sun disappears in another poem. The surrounding buildings are emptied like the day is ending. Everywhere we look people are swarming towards the train station like it is the hive. There is a heaviness to the air, to the movement. It all seems to slow down in one direction. I pause on the corner, turn to Alex — Alex, who I only met earlier that day, and now he’s here with me. We light another cigarette and look through the crowds. Let’s play a game, I say to Alex, let’s see who can spot her first.
A minute later, I see her: At the train station, the only stationary figure in an unrelenting stream. There is no one else there waiting. I don’t say anything, begin walking in her direction until she is only a crossroads away. Though we move with the river it feels like I am sleep-walking. She looks exactly the way I thought she might. Funny how that works: like I should always trust my instincts after all.
The way she re-arranges her face from one of anxiety to casual excitement is the same way I would re-arrange my body language when I wait for him: she waits, too. Already, the ache overrides every other feeling. Alex looks at me, he is holding my luggage. He says, Maybe we should just go to the airport. I say, Yeah, maybe. We cross the roads, and she is still in sight, and then we are with the crowd passing her.
As I turn, I see her take out her phone, presumably to ring him. There is a dry ache that seems to drop from the back of my throat, that signals to me that I am losing my voice. Somewhere else up the road, his phone is ringing, but I no longer care: this isn’t about wanting to understand.
I close my eyes, take a final drag of my cigarette, drop it and stamp it out under my foot. I walk up to her, this girl who would shrivel up and die without the male gaze. I punch her in the stomach. She screams as her eyes focus on me. I laugh as I do it again, and then she grabs my hair. The whole crowd splits wide open, like a mango hitting the ground. Someone calls for the police. My flight leaves in five hours. There are whole worlds that none of us know anything about.