‘Only Fools Gamble’ By Sasha Pcino

Ricadonna Russo had spent her morning in a state of domesticity. Light reflected off all surfaces like a beacon; and the aroma of caramelised onion blew through the house with the hot zephyr of summer. She sighed as she pulled her gloves off by the fingertips, placing them on the stone counter in the kitchen.

Ricadonna, at thirty-five, had not lost her la bella figura. She was wearing a black A-line dress with lace sleeves and an apron tied over it. Her skin was vibrant, but the faint cobweb of lines round her eyes had become more prominent than a decade ago – as had the laughter lines (though what on earth was there to laugh about?).

Her hands, as rich as cream, reached for the box of birdseed, stored at the bottom of the pantry. She took it outside to feed Banjo, but as soon as she saw the birdcage she gasped. She dropped the box, seed scattering all over the veranda. The cage was empty. Her heartbeat quickened. She looked up at the treetops. The trees swayed from side to side as if they were dancing. Banjo was perched on a branch, close to the clouds, in the eucalyptus tree. The vibrant green-breasted budgerigar tilted his head and looked down at her.

Ricadonna got on her haunches slowly, so she did not startle him, and scooped up a handful of seed off the concrete. She rose to her feet and whistled as she held out her slender arm like a branch, the seed in her cupped hand, in hope the bird would recognise her and fly back. But the bird puffed out its chest, looked at her again and then flew off into the cloudless sky. The uninhabited cage, hanging from the veranda, rattled in the wind.

Ricadonna stood there for a moment, shocked. Banjo, where are you going? Do you know? The telephone rang. She let it finish like a song but it started again. She threw the handful of birdseed on the lawn, wiped the seed shells on her apron, and disappeared inside.

‘Hello,’ she said in a resigned tone; her chirpy ‘telephone’ voice had flown off with the bird.

It was her husband: ‘I’m going to be home late, honey.’

They spoke briefly about how their morning had been and the weather before exchanging goodbyes.

As she hung up the receiver, the computer – set down at the desk in the corner of the living room – pinged not once, but twice. She sat down in the chair, staring at the screen. There was a text message from a woman with the unfamiliar name of Annalise. Her husband had not logged off and the computer was synced to her husband’s smartphone. It read:

Hotel looks gorgeous.’

Then:

‘See you tonight, my darling.’

Suddenly, with the rapidity of a flash of lightning, so many incidents began to make sense: always making phone calls in private; deleting his call history; and the foreign floral fragrance on his shirt a fortnight ago. Ricadonna walked over to the bar, feeling the grit of the seeds, which she had scattered earlier, in her shoes. She poured two fingers of whiskey into a crystal glass, clutching it tightly in her clammy palm. Her father had been a decent man. If he was alive, he would take a gun to her husband’s head. My late husband, she thought. She tested the words: ‘My late husband.’

She tried to think but the heat of the sun coupled with the heat of the moment made a hot murk in her mind. She poured herself two more fingers of whiskey. That would help her think or, at any rate, give her the courage to think. She looked outside at the birdcage and then at the tree where the bird, now flying free, had been perched forty minutes ago. Freedom, she whispered under her breath. Free-dom.

She pulled out her clothes from the wardrobe and scattered them, still on the coat hanger, on the beige bedspread. She didn’t know where she was going. Maybe a hotel, hopefully not the one they were going to, for a couple of nights and then to her mother’s house. Her mother. She would understand. Yes, she would.

On her haunches, she pulled out the old brown suitcase from beneath the bed. It was heavier than she remembered. The last time they had used it was on their anniversary weekend away to Vanuatu. She flicked the latch and opened it. She gasped. There was at least half a million dollars in the case, the wads packed with the efficiency of a well-planned holiday. This changed everything. A lot. She wondered if it was honest money. Probably not. No. Definitely not. People didn’t shove hundreds of thousands of dollars of honesty in an old suitcase beneath a bed. Her husband was a businessman. That breed of man that walks on blurred lines. He had side businesses, hidden in the dark crevices of society, and he conducted most of these businesses from a poker or blackjack table behind the facades of respectable business.

Ricadonna grabbed a holdall and shoved the clothes in it. She untied her apron and flung it on the bed, then heaved the holdall onto her shoulder, picked up the suitcase and walked through the house, looking at everything with the sentimentality that comes with finality, to the dining room.

She set down the luggage on the tiles and tried to pull off her wedding ring, but her fingers had thickened over the last couple of years. She pulled and pulled until the ring flew off and hit the tiles, rolling and then twirling until it lost momentum. She walked over, picked it up and looked at the inscription: R & D. She set it down on the table in the dining room, and scrawled a note, placing it under the ring.

She put the holdall on, picked up the suitcase and opened the front door. The sun’s heat was harsh. She walked to the Flinders Street Railway Station, the suitcase hitting her leg with each step. At the crossing, she wiped her upper lip with her shoulder, then looked left and right before stepping out onto the road. A horn blew. She turned to find a car slamming on the brakes.

She gestured an apology and continued walking, thinking about the three words she had written on the note: ‘Only fools gamble.’


Words by Sasha Pcino

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

Profile photoSasha Pcino is an Australian writer who is working on her first novel The Bastard Brians, a family saga set on the east coast of Australia. She has worked as a journalist and a copywriter (for which her work won the Queensland Multimedia Awards in 2014) for almost a decade. She has a Master of Professional Practice (Creative Writing) from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. She has also spent time abroad in Italy, Japan, France, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

‘Supplanted’- By Lyndal Phillips

Photographer’s assistant, Annabelle Thwaites, had long considered stealing Sebastian and taking him home. But Derrick, her fiancé, was rather territorialand sure to disapprove.

Sebastian was a superstar revered for his ability to bring dead corners to life. The dramatic height and magnificent scale of his sculptural aesthetic photographed well.

Bloggers were besotted by his whimsy and charm. Influencers posted images of his stick-thin trunk. He was the hero of fashion shoots, store fronts, interiors magazines and show rooms.

Until he wasn’t.

His descent from divine to maligned commenced when he topped the So Hot Right Now list in the July edition of New Idea. A celebrity designer described him as ‘funky’ and that, quite frankly, was the finish.

When plastic versions of him were seen sprouting from faux ceramic pots in Target, the buzzkill was complete. Sebastian was doomed to die next to millennial pink throws, pompom pillows and raw hide rugs.

It was at this point that Annabelle was forced to intervene. As the crew wrapped on Sebastian’s final shoot, she commandeered a props trolley. Taking care to accommodate his broad frame, Annabelle lugged Sebastian into the trolley and together they trundled across the cobblestoned laneway behind the studio.

A little detour, via the hatch of her waiting Daihatsu, was all it took for Annabelle to rescue Sebastian from eternal ignominy in the Phine Photography storeroom.

Derrick arrived home that evening to find his view of the television obscured by a smugly ensconced Sebastian. Unimpressed, he issued an ultimatum.

‘Me or the plant?’

‘He’s a fiddle leaf fig, Derrick,’ she said.

‘Well, whatever he is, I hope he’s worth it.’

 


7Lyndal Phillips is an aspiring writer who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her family.

Lyndal posts book reviews on Instagram @lyndalwrites_reads and on her website www.lyndalwrites.com

Photo accompanying story by Manny Pantoja on Unsplash

‘The Hands of the Dead’- By NM Cunningham

The fluorescent light of the corridor flickers and the unmistakable scent of formaldehyde fills the void. I blink blue, the synaesthesia response I know well. The floor, old speckled linoleum, has streaks of black and tracks of wheels where gurneys transport the deceased from the mortuary to the lab.

There’s a buzz of noise from the twenty students gathering nearby, and a nervous energy permeates the air. A rush of hellos greets me and the chemical odour becomes stronger the closer I am to the door. Everything takes on a blue hue; unconnected senses merging into one, growing stronger with each firing neuron of my brain. I know this feeling; it hits me hard when the surrounding smells make colours in my head. Some people around me I know and some I distinguish only by face but one of them glows a preternatural green with the uplifting scent of oranges. My gut churns with what I know lies beyond the white curtain.

A mobile phone rings, silencing the low talk and the curtain parts and we’re ushered stage left to a preparation room. No one speaks as we place our bags in lockers and don our white gowns, tie our hair back tight and clean our hands. The only sound is of latex pulled taut and bouncing back with a snap.

We are ready, like a choir dressed in white. Our performance judged by the hallowed elders of medical school.

In the lab, the room is surprisingly bright, and the blue brightens across my field of vision to a stark unfiltered white haze. Given there are no windows, no flickering, just pure light, it’s as if we are about to ascend to a higher plane.

We don’t know who’ll they’ll be. We’re given a number and five of us stand around the metal table. When we pull back the sheet, it’s a woman, her face covered with a smaller sheet. In her seventies maybe, or older, her hair soft, wavy, and silvery pale grey.

I stare at her, thinking of my grandmother, but when the sheet pulls back, it reveals an unknown face. I jerk my head back, the unfamiliarity of her features yanking me from my reverie. She is a stranger, her beauty hidden behind soft, fleshy cheeks and colour-drained lips. There’s no real hue to her, only the blue of death remains.

Over the coming weeks we come to know her; the old scar on her left calf muscle, the moles of her back, the puckered skin of a low cut on her abdomen, the trauma of childbirth etched into her womb underneath. The sun-beaten pigment of her neckline and the faraway rheumy stare of her cataract affected eyes. It’s all there, the life she lived in flesh, muscle, sinew, and bone.

Her physical state is like any elder, but it’s not the glassy stare, the gooey internal orange of her gut or the flesh of her heart that sticks with me. It something else, the colour of her no-longer-present.

We’ve dissected every part of her, moved her in reverence from side to side. We greet her like an old friend as our scalpels cut through dead flesh, muscles, and tendons to the sweetbreads of organs in her abdomen. There are days when she’s nothing more than a lump, and other days where I weep for her, longing to know, was she happy? Was she sad? Did she live the life she wanted? What was her scent, her colour? Her favourite book or piece of music?

We are at an end, there is one part of her remaining the final piece in the story of one woman’s life.

It’s the hands that strike me the most, without the pigment effects, I see it clearly. The skin spotted, veined and with calloused where she wore rings, or maybe they bore hard work. I stare at the lines on her palm. Everything is there, yet it took months to get here. Her hands tell me a story, and I feel like an interloper, as though I shouldn’t be there. I wonder whose hands she held, who she nursed and brought to her breast, who she caressed in the throes of passion, whose hand she held when they told her they would soon die.

The hands of the dead tell more than a story of someone’s life: they tell us more about our own perceptions, our own fears about living and dying. I retreat from the post-mortem examination and the blue haze returns with a guilty spark. Her hands tell a story, but it’s not my story to tell.

Our final destination is the pub, our class done, dust to dust. Unlike the lab, it’s dark and dingy with an ambience of stale beer and cigarettes; the familiar, comforting smell of the wasted youth of my peers. There’s a clink of glasses from the neighbouring table. We drink. My synaesthesia returns, and although it takes more than one beer to vanquish the smell from earlier, the red in my vision dominates over the remnant blue.

I stare at my own hands, wondering in death and in the absence of colour, what stories they’ll tell.


Photo by Joyce McCown on Unsplash

Words by NM Cunningham

NM Cunningham is an aspiring writer who lives in Adelaide, South Australia with her family and several spiny leaf stick insects.

A love of science and reading set her on her first career as a research scientist in agricultural science and a love of writing her second – as a science communicator and scientific editor. For her third career she hopes to capitalise on her previous pathways for inspiration and focus on creative fiction.

She currently works as a research scientist in entomology and aspires to weave a love of nature, agriculture and science into her stories.

‘The Cards You’re Dealt’- By Denise Picton

 

When Margaret Rose was sixty-eight years old, she became obsessed with planning her funeral.

Before their regular get-togethers her more generous friends would laugh about her fixation and lay bets about how long it would take her to raise the latest plans when they met. The record for restraint from the time of her arrival was sixteen minutes.

Her less generous friends had taken to joining her only for structured activities like movies and concerts, making it hard for her to speak. Bruce and Shirley Williams admitted to Frank and Judy Baker that on two occasions when she had pulled into their driveway unannounced, they had ducked down in the kitchen below the level of the windows, and stayed in a crouching position until she gave up banging on the door and reversed away. On one occasion, after Margaret had continued to peer through windows, knock on the door and call out their names for over twenty minutes, Shirley’s need to pee had become so acute she had waddled like a duck under sill height to the bathroom, and that night had to take double her usual painkillers for her arthritic knees.

Margaret’s latest plans called for her coffin to be pulled to the cemetery by black horses in a glass hearse, for all the flowers to be pure white, and for all the women in attendance to wear a black veil.

She regularly changed her mind about the person she wanted to lead the service. The current lucky incumbent was Bruce Williams. She provided him with an order of service and her latest choice of music to background the data-show of her life, which ran to twenty-seven minutes. Her current choice was Alison Moyet singing ‘When I am laid in earth’. She said this song made her cry every time she heard it, and she knew it would be a relief to her friends to be encouraged to show their grief in response to a haunting melody.

Margaret asked Bruce for his views on the third version of her memorial booklet. She had printed two hundred copies of each of the first two efforts, all of which had since been taken to the tip. She decided it might be wise to seek feedback before the third attempt went into production. When Bruce asked why she had changed it again, she answered that the first one was too cheerful, she hadn’t liked the shade of grey they’d used in the second, and she realized it now needed to be a booklet of eight pages given the number of photos and client commendations she’d collected about the quality of her work before her retirement.

No-one understood why Margaret Rose was so fixated on her funeral, given she was – as Bruce maintained at the secret non-Margaret gatherings her friends orchestrated every week – as fit as a mallee bull. Shirley thought it was because Margaret had been an event manager for most of her career, and missed having something to organize.

Margaret’s latest idea had been to have an enormous black and white photo of her face printed and cut into a series of large format postcards. There were one hundred and fifty cards in all making up her face. She wrote a guest list to match that number and sent each person on the list a card to keep ready for the day.

On the back was a printed note: ‘Please keep this card in a safe place until Margaret Rose’s parting. Do not use for alternative purposes. Do not bend. Do not trade your card for that of another. Do not use as a coaster for cold or hot drinks. You may upload this card to eBay following the funeral if you do not wish to keep it as a memento. If you sell it, the recommended reserve price is two hundred dollars.’

The Bakers between them had part of her left eye, and the Williams were offered a slice of her lower lip. Margaret had an additional one hundred made in plain black for the extra people she was sure would be keen to attend, and suggested to Bruce that those not on the A-list be placed around the edge of the room to create a border. She gave Bruce a seating plan and explained he would need to put names on the chairs in the order provided so that when he asked for the room to hold their cards above their heads, her face would be complete. She had booked a videographer to stand on the balcony above the choir to record the formation of her face as compiled by her grieving friends.

One Saturday night when the gang met at Paul and Barbie Stewart’s place, Margaret turned up a little late with a white hire van. She rushed in and asked Bruce and Paul to help her out with a box from the back of the vehicle. She said it wasn’t heavy, just too awkward for her. The men brought the box into the centre of the lounge room. Barbie Stewart looked daggers at Paul because the box spoiled the look of her carefully staged lounge room design.

Inside the box lay dozens of black hats, each with a veil attached. Margaret had collected them from sales and op shops for over two years, because she knew that not everyone would have a black hat these days. She asked Bruce if he could make sure the box was at the door of the church along with the mirror she had wrapped carefully and placed in the bottom of the box.

At that point, Shirley rushed out to see to the chops on the BBQ to stop herself from laughing. Barbie asked where Margaret was thinking of storing them. When she said she was hoping the Stewarts would keep them in their garage. Paul, knowing from long and often bitter experience what his wife’s mouth looked like when it was forming the word ‘no’, jumped in and said of course they would.

After Margaret left that night, Shirley and Judy started trying on the hats. They agreed they wouldn’t wear one in a fit.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Margaret Rose died suddenly of a heart attack before she turned sixty-nine. Shirley, who went to Pilates with Margaret’s doctor, reported that it was unexpected. There had been no sign of illness or hints that imminent death might be on the cards.

Bruce put the funeral notice in the papers and rang around Margaret’s friends and neighbours to give them the news. Everyone was shocked.

Bruce found a box in Margaret’s lounge room with name-tags for each chair along with an updated seating plan. He put the box of name-tags under his arm on the morning of the funeral, but Shirley told him not to be ridiculous. Two hundred people wouldn’t turn up, and those who did wouldn’t bring the silly cards with them. Bruce took his along anyway, and Frank pointed to the bulge in his own coat pocket when Bruce asked if he’d brought his card.

The funeral was a small affair. Only twenty people attended. Judy was the only person who put on a black hat. When the time came for Bruce to ask the congregation to lift up their face cards, it was a poor showing, and those who complied felt a little foolish. Barbie Stewart’s snigger was clearly audible. Her head was bare, and her card had been thrown in the rubbish the night it was allocated.

Bruce thanked those who had played their part in the event and made sure he shook hands with the florist, horse wrangler, caterer, and videographer. He asked the lass who made the video what she would do with it, and she told him she had been instructed to send it to Margaret’s accountant.

Some months later, Margaret Rose’s lawyer advised the beneficiaries of her will of their good fortune. Margaret had decided that her sizable estate was to be shared amongst those who held up part of her face at the funeral. A great deal of money was therefore shared between an eyeball, her left nostril, the tip of her right ear and part of the deep crevice that ran between her lips and her jaw.

 


Words by Denise Picton

Image by Malcolm Green on Unsplash

‘This Place’- By Callum J. Jones

This is a place I would rather not be.

It is a muddy place, terribly cold.

Dense fog restricts everything that I see.

I am imprisoned, under lock and key.

Following orders, doing as I’m told.

This is a place I would rather not be.

Death always comes painfully, cold as ice,

Those poor fledging souls, to God they are sold.

Dense fog restricts everything that I see.

Vicious, brutal pain is all I can see,

But my comrades are courageous and bold.

This is a place I would rather not be.

I admit: I want to get up and flee,

But I have to focus on being brave,

This is a place I would rather not be.

Dense fog restricts everything that I see.


Words by Callum J. Jones

Photo by Nursultan Rakysh on Unsplash

IMG_0080Creative, honest, and reliable, Callum J. Jones loves writing fiction and non-fiction. In his spare time, he likes to read, watch movies and TV shows, and go on walks.

You can follow him on Facebook (@callum.j.jones.writer) and Twitter

‘The Unmade Sky’ – Poems by Ben Adams

the unmade sky

these words

touch on something lightly

like a feather drawn

through tall, dry grass

a figure crouched

on wide and careful feet

teasing their meaning

from between time’s floorboards

forehead resting on fingers interlocked

and listening—

rising to pace the old house

and place rough hands

on a splintered windowsill

seeing dark smudges

where the dust rubs away

to gaze across the grassy yard

over stones, bare dirt and strewn chunks

of rotting wood—

where no fire flickers

in the cool night air

only cinders

and a corrugated side fence

stretching down to the road

lines of iron and asphalt

at the edge of where we gathered

where something rests in the palm

a weightless bird

memories that perch

soft and uncertain as the grey sky

hung above like a rumpled sheet

the unmade sky

whispering something lightly

words lingering in the mind

like the smell of coffee

that no longer floats

through these rooms each morning


one eastern suburbs afternoon, sliding into evening

and one says to another

there are options here

and the other says to one

would you like a drink?

and one says to another

there is class here

and perfectly kept lawns

what’s on the radio?

and the other says to one

have you checked for

fallen lemons?

and the other says to one

is the front door locked

and have the eggs arrived

this morning?

and one says to another

is the wine open?

and the other says to one

have the bins

been emptied yet?


lights in the dark

through the darkness

we trudge

soldiers on a forward action cut-off from reinforcements

like little children lost

among the trees

through darkness we trudge

and seeing lights

in the distance, as if

from some farmhouse or estate

we say, “those are not the ones

   I remember,

that is not the place

   I know.”


Words by Ben Adams
20180911_155304Ben is a writer, servo-clerk, research assistant and festival cash wrangler. His poetry has appeared in a range of print and online publications, including Australian Love Poems and Red Fez at redfez.net/@badbad He also shares poems and photography on Instagram @bts.adams while poems and politics can be found on his Twitter feed @badbadams

 

‘The Family Farm’- By Lewis Woolston

He leaves Ceduna on a hot day, driving east towards Adelaide, his car stuffed with literally everything he owns. Making reasonable time on the thin strip of tar which dignifies itself with the title of Highway, he reaches Wirrulla and pulls into the town.

The railway tracks make his car rattle as he goes over them a little faster than he should. He parks in the main street of the tiny town, one or two little shops in the shadow of the silos, and checks his phone reception. Three bars but no messages, they should have called back by now, he thinks and his already high level of anxiety goes up a notch.

He walks up the main street for a few minutes to stretch his legs. The town is so quiet he can hear traffic back on the highway in one direction and birds in the paddocks in the other . He looks up at the towering silos and wonders how long they’ve been there. Fifty years? It’s a guess but he takes it as gospel for lack of better information. He feels pretty sure that nothing has happened in this town in that time. The one little shop, the falling apart where it stands pub and the dusty Post Office tell him that much. Those silos have stood there like the Australian version of the pyramids over a few hundred people living in the town and literally nothing even remotely exciting has happened.

He idly thinks about the lives the local people must live. He tries to imagine the years and decades of not much happening in this little cluster of buildings surrounded by paddocks and watched over by the silos. He compares this to the chaos of his own life, currently running from Perth and the mess he left there as fast and as far as his limited funds can take him, and thinks that maybe these people have it better than him. Briefly he lets his imagination run wild, he envisions himself settling in this tiny town, finding a job, maybe meeting a local girl and living a long, quiet and happy life. He imagines himself sitting down years from now with his kids grown up and himself telling them the story of how he just happened to stop here and meet their mother.

He shakes his head at his own ridiculous imagination. If he can’t get to Adelaide tonight and if his sister won’t let him stay at her place for a while he is sleeping in his car for the foreseeable future. That’s reality, he grimly thinks to himself, no happy ever after in a little country town for me.

He contemplates his immediate future with soul crushing weariness. He’s sick of drifting through life, he’s sick of running from messes in different parts of the country and more than anything else he’s sick of being broke. Would it be so much to ask for a little stability and prosperity? The silence of the tiny town is neither comfort nor answer.

He gets back in the car and heads out to the highway again. Turns east towards Adelaide and the grim prospects of the future. The road winds a little and patches of scrub break up the otherwise uninterrupted farmland. Dry paddocks of wheat stubble are being slowly grazed by sheep under a sky so blue it almost hurts his eyes.

He tries to keep his mind off his troubles. He had to leave Perth in a hurry so he only has a couple of CDs in the car and he got sick of them somewhere near Norseman. He flicks through the radio until he finds something. It’s the ABC regional radio station, for lack of better options he listens to that for a while. The station is a country one so the news of markets, trade agreements and weather take priority over everything else. He hadn’t known there was so much discussion to be had about beef exports to China but the radio gets almost an hour out of the subject.

He checks his phone and notices that he’s out of range again. I won’t get anything until I get to the next town, he thinks and looks for a distance sign. One appears shortly and tells him that it’s fifty K’s from Poochera. He decides he’ll stop there, have lunch and maybe try calling again. If he has no luck contacting her it’s a night sleeping in the car for him, maybe several nights.

The first he sees of Poochera is the silos standing sentinel over the plains. They should stop bothering to name these little towns and just call them “Silo Town 1” and “Silo Town 2” and so on. It would make it more convenient.

He pulls in at the little roadhouse and tops up with fuel. He pays and then moves the car out of the way so he can sit in the little roadhouse café and make some phone calls while he eats a sandwich. He tries his sister again and finally gets hold of her. Turns out she had got his earlier message but didn’t really want to reply. She doesn’t say that of course, she’s too polite, but he can tell from her voice that she really doesn’t want to be having this conversation.

What is it now?’

Her voice lets him know that this is a burden well beyond anything that could reasonably be expected from a sister.

Well here’s the thing…’ He continues, knowing he isn’t convincing her.

He reassures her that he’ll only need to stay for a couple of days. He tells her his plan is to head back up to the NT. He left there on good terms just over a year ago and he can probably get one of his old jobs back, maybe that gig he had in the mines, if he makes a couple of phone calls. He swears he’ll be no trouble and stay out of her way, all he needs is a couple of nights in her spare room.

She reluctantly agrees and he thanks her profusely. Inwardly he curses her for the privileged selfish bitch she is. Mum and Dad’s favourite who always towed the line and never set a foot wrong. She will hold this over him for years to come and use it as ammo in family arguments whenever it suits her.

The immediate danger is passed. He got out of Perth and over the state border before they could get him. He has a place to stay while he plans his next move. Everything is going to be more or less ok. He repeats this to himself inside his head like a Buddhist meditating.

He sits for a while in the tacky little café and watches the slow drip of highway traffic go past out the window. The rather dull woman at the counter idly restocks the fridge while the TV in the corner has a midday talk show playing.

His mind wanders and he finds himself daydreaming about life in a little town like this. Maybe he could work in this roadhouse. Live like a hermit in this little town. Refuse to ever get involved in anything remotely dodgy again. Grow old and become one of those old men who potter about little towns. He smiles to himself. This latest drama in Perth has made him world weary, he recognises that in himself, once he’s stable again and back earning decent cash he’ll chase action again. Then maybe a year or so from now he’ll find himself doing a runner across the country again. That last thought sobers and depresses him. He gets up and decides to get back on the road.

The woman behind the counter looks up as he leaves and mumbles something vaguely pleasant at him. He pulls out onto the highway and picks up speed as he leaves the little township of Poochera.

A sudden urge to piss makes him pull off the road. He parks in the front gate of a farm, there isn’t a soul in sight so he doesn’t worry about being seen, he relives himself and then pauses to look around. The gate is open and there is a dirt track leading through seemingly endless paddocks. In the distance he can see a house and some sheds, presumably where the farmer and his family live. There is a sign right next to the mailbox at the gate it reads:

Whitby Downs

T.J Whitby and sons

EST 1904

He reads and thinks in the harsh sunlight and empty silence of wheat paddocks. This family have been here since 1904 according to the sign. They have a place, they belong somewhere, they have roots.

He looks back at his car parked in the dust. The boot and backseat are piled high with everything he owns in the world. He will sleep in his sister’s spare room tonight and endure her resentment and probably get a small lecture about what he’s doing with his life in the bargain.

He looks at the sign again. He envies the Whitby family with all his heart. He would do just about anything to trade places with them. But he knows you don’t get to choose. Life gets handed to you on a plate like leftovers at a soup kitchen and you have to eat it and be grateful.

He gets back in the car feeling worse than ever. He still has a long way to go before he reaches Adelaide.

 


Words by Lewis Woolston

Lewis Woolston grew up in small beach bum town in Western Australia. He left as soon as he could and travelled around the country, living in several cities as well as the bush. He spent years working in remote roadhouses mostly on the Nullarbor and in the NT. He currently lives in Alice Springs with his wife and daughter. His short fiction has previously appeared in Flycatcher Magazine.

Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

‘A Twist of the Wrist’- By Denise Picton

 

In the very last carriage, there were just about enough bottoms to match the number of seats. After rattling its way toward the Welsh border for an hour, the train suddenly screeched to a halt. A disembodied, rather bored voice advised that the police were chasing someone on the tracks, and the train driver was not permitted to move until given the all clear. It was not, apparently, the Great Western Railway’s fault.

A mother was trying to calm twin babies who were crying in stereo. She was making the kind of mother noises that rhyme with “goo” and aim to soothe, but the desperation in her tone only added fuel to their fury.

A young man with bleached pale skin, a five o’clock shadow, fine features, sky blue eyes and full pouty lips began to blow up a balloon he’d withdrawn from his suit jacket pocket.

He fashioned it with swift twists of the wrists. It became a blue bird, and he floated it over the heads of the crying babies two seats down. He nodded at the balloon as it dipped and dived over the infants, making them laugh.

‘How did he do that?’ asked the woman who had been knitting a long, cabled scarf in the seat behind the babies.

A boy in a too-small jumper that rode up his chest, almost empire line, called out, ‘I’d like one please.’

The pasty-faced man inflated another balloon that became a cockatoo and sent it to the boy.

‘Well,’ Click. ‘I,’ Clack. ‘Never,’ said the knitting woman.

‘What else can you make?’ asked a red-faced man in front of the knitting woman, and soon three more birds were floating above the seats. They began to fly in formation, a white dove in the lead. As the young man continued to inflate more balloons, the passengers cheered and made ooh and ahh noises. The men exchanged theories about how he did it. The knitting woman asked if he was from the circus.

A large, brooding man sat in the last seat in the carriage. He was the only person fortunate enough to have an empty seat next to him, largely because of the ferocious look he put on his face if anyone made to sit next to him. He watched the birds and called out:

‘Rubbish.’

For some reason, the balloons annoyed him. He lifted his meaty arm to push them away when the flock came near him.

‘Keep those bloody things to yourself,’ he cried out.

This caused the flock to swoop at him. Jumper Boy laughed.

Beefy Man snatched at the balloon birds, but they dodged him, artfully.

‘I’m not taking this shit,’ he said.

He stood up and stepped to the carriage door to leave, but the door was locked shut. After a minute, he felt silly trying to open it and sat down again.

‘Keep those bloody things away from me,’ he said.

Several people booed Beefy Man in response.

The balloon man was now creating floating flowers for a delighted crowd: bluebells and tulips, daffodils and roses. Everyone except the Beefy Man cheered and cheered.

A daisy floated near Beefy Man’s head and he reached up and snatched it. He tried to burst it with his nails but it wouldn’t succumb. Angry, he opened his mouth wide. His teeth looked like a broken grey jetty. He bit into the green stalk and the balloon went bang.

The daisy balloon screamed as the air slowly left it, its leaves waving like panicked hands.

The people in the carriage called out in alarm and disgust. Jumper Boy cried out, ‘You killed it.’

The pale balloon man crooked his finger and the wounded, deflating daisy floated back to him and when it was small and limp enough, tucked itself inside his jacket. The screaming reduced to a whimper, and then to silence.

The balloon man looked at the Beefy Man for a moment, his head cocked to one side. Then he started to blow a new balloon. He blew and blew. It grew larger and larger.

‘It’s a gorilla,’ cried Jumper Boy.

The balloon gorilla grew into a huge head, shoulders and arms. Soon it was four feet tall and four feet wide. The gorilla left the balloon man and floated above the passengers. It filled the space above their heads as it passed. Most people gave it a friendly tap as it passed. It continued on its way until it was above Beefy Man.

‘Get that thing away from me,’ said Beefy Man, ‘or I’ll burst this one too.’

The gorilla pushed its way into the space between Beefy Man and the seat in front of him. The huge balloon arms reached around the man’s head and slowly engulfed him.

‘The gorilla is giving him a hug,’ cried a little girl with a grubby frock and pigtails held up by two plastic ladybirds.

Beefy Man made a muffled kind of groan, and then he was very quiet.

Jumper Boy watched the balloon man through the space between the seats. First, he moved so he could see just one side of the balloon man’s face. They he turned his head to he could see just the other side.

The two halves don’t match, he thought. He’s made up of two pieces. But which piece wears a suit, and which piece makes magic?

The balloon man caught him staring through the space between the seats and winked and nodded.

Finally, the train moved, and everyone cheered. As they pulled into the station everyone heard a large click as the carriage doors opened.

They all filed out, talking and laughing and taking with them the balloon man’s creations.

Only Beefy Man remained in his seat, wrapped in the arms of the gorilla that continued to stare into his sightless eyes.


Words by Denise Picton

‘Nightmares’- By Amber Wurst

I remember the time when nightmares used to be monsters not people,

when I feared the creatures in the dark, not the ones hiding in plain sight.

Snarling teeth and sharp claws sent shivers down my spine,

now it’s unhinged smirks and wandering hands that make me uptight.

No is no longer a demand but a suggestion and they preach that my best bet is to cover up as prevention.

Chances are they will be let off for their transgression,

so I know there is no such thing as redemption.

Now it is no longer a matter of life or death but a bitter memory I try to suppress,

until it becomes a scar I’m too scared to address.

Instead I would rather digress and silently fight my mental distress.

Then it becomes just another secret that I possess.

Something I will never confess, because it’s safer to just repress the memory and shame.

Especially when all they do is victim blame and I know no one would ever look at me the same.

So now he is just a name I can never erase, and a face I will never displace.

I try to find a way to go on knowing that he is out there living someplace.

Meanwhile my world has become tainted and my sleep is contaminated

With dreams of being manipulated, and the ways in which I was adulterated.

Fighting is no longer for my life but for my sanity,

and fighting for the right to have control over my entity.

All the while wishing for serenity.


Words by Amber Wurst

Amber is a student at Flinders University. She has been writing for years but only recently began publishing her work on Instagram under a.wurst_poetry.

‘Bob’s Truth’ By Emmica Lore

Bob was a goldfish. He lived in a fancy house with all the fancy trimmings – coloured pebbles, a deep-sea diver blowing bubbles and an ocean view. Bob was happy. Until he was not. Staring into the world beyond had Bob thinking about the meaning of life. Enter existential crisis.

He had always admired pelicans – they were imposing yet graceful (well that might be a stretch) and had the freedom to discover new lands and wistfully watch the creatures below.

It was morning, or maybe afternoon (how the hell would Bob know? He’s a goldfish) when an idea arrived. An epiphany. A light-bulb moment. An irrational thought from inhaling too many oxygen filled bubbles. Are bubbles filled with oxygen? Whatever science, who made you the boss of everything?

It was in that moment that Bob hatched a daring plan.

He was quite a fit-fish and it didn’t take long for him to achieve his goal. Plop! Bob had thrust himself out of the tank and was now lying belly-side on the carpet. He flapped about instinctively.

“Hmmm…well this sucks”.

As his last breath was drawn, the flapping stopped.

Bob’s soul rose from his tiny neon body and floated outside above a sandy shore. He could see a sleeping bird, no, a dead bird. Then, Bob had another epiphany. Wiggling his tail and using all of his fit-fish-soul muscles he drove downwards and into the chest of the stiff creature. Opening his eyes, the world seemed sharper and brighter. The smell of salt filled his nostrils and tickled his tongue.

Bob was now a pelican.

He stretched out his wings, pressed his webbed feet into the sand and savoured his breath as he inhaled real air for the very first time.

Bob flew from the beach to the jetty. From the jetty to the river. He discovered new lands and wistfully watched the creatures below. Bob was happy. Until he was not.

You see Bob was now a pelican and what do pelicans eat? He just couldn’t bring himself to dine on his fishy friends and so eventually Bob died of starvation.

And that is why you should never leave your fish bowl.

Or maybe it’s be happy with who you are?? Yeah, let’s go with that.

 


Words by Emmica Lore.

red skirtEmmica Lore is a creative person. She is a writer, poet and avid op-shopper who also makes art from time to time. Emmica is interested in sustainable style, philosophy, politics, art, feminism, whimsy and nature. You can find her on Instagram @emmicalorecreative

‘Bob’s Truth’ has also appeared on Lore’s website https://www.emmicalore.com/ and was previously featured in an exhibition.

 

Photo by Julieann Ragojo on Unsplash.