The Last Free Man and Other Stories

The Last Free Man and Other Stories

Lewis Woolston

Truth Serum Press 2019


The Last Free Man and Other Stories is the debut story collection from Alice Springs writer Lewis Woolston.

I was captivated by Woolston’s writing, a mixture of honesty and true-blue Australian-ism we don’t often see, these stories teleport the reader into the Australian outback. The outback is a place of drifters, stories, and backpackers. It’s a place you don’t stay unless you’re running from something.

Filled with stories from multiple perspectives and set roadhouses and other remote work around Alice Springs, the Nullarbor, and many other areas, Woolston has creates a picture of a quiet, nomadic life-style with the potential to make money and leave or, alternatively, live a quiet life away from the big smoke.

One of my favourite stories in this collection was ‘Driftwood’. Set across Brisbane, Perth, Mundrabilla, and Adelaide this story follows the main character and his relationship with Helen from their first meeting in Brisbane to their working and intimate lives. What I like most about this story is that is seems to give a wider picture of the characters’ lives, including Justin and Helen’s friend Louise, who are more than just supporting characters in the main characters’ easy-going love story.

Certainly, this isn’t a short story collection everyone will enjoy, like many Australian stories these might seem quite strange to some. Features such as curse words, outback slang, and drug use might be off-putting to some audiences; however, the no-fuss inclusion of these things is something I personally found comforting. Not often do you come across coarse language in a book that feels like it ought to be there. In Tim Winton’s work, certainly. But many writers do not do it well. Woolston’s inclusion of swear words throughout his stories spoke more about a cultural approach to these words and to the people; the drifters of the outback roadhouses, recovering addicts, and those who wanted to escape something.

I would recommend Woolston’s work to other readers of Australian fiction, particularly those who, like me, have not had the experience of being out there meeting eccentric personalities and learning how to maintain an awareness of what’s around you in face of Australia’s diverse and threatening wildlife.

To purchase a copy of Woolston’s book visit: https://truthserumpress.net/catalogue/fiction/the-last-free-man-and-other-stories/.

Words by Kayla Gaskell

In Conversation: Stone Table Books

Stone Table Books is an imprint of the independent Morningstar Publications. Based in Melbourne with contacts in Adelaide, it is primarily a speculative fiction imprint with a focus on fantasy for all ages. This focus on fantasy goes right to their name, which was inspired by C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The WardrobeTulpa Magazine’s Cameron Lowe spoke with Mark Worthing, one of the founders of Stone Table Books, to find out what it’s like being a small-time publisher in Australia.

Stone Table Books began in 2016, after Mark Worthing was contacted by Morningstar Publications.

“Ben Morton (fellow co-founder) and myself are long-time fantasy and sci-fans,” says Worthing. “We co-taught a course on fantasy and science-fiction literature some years back and also have both published fiction pieces in these genres.”

Right from its inception, Stone Table Books has had an Australian focus. They have primarily remained Australian-focused, to give voice to local indie authors. Beginning from next year, they will begin publishing international authors, particularly from the United States. This is now possible after they recently entered a partnership with an American-based publisher. Despite this overseas expansion, Worthing said, “We will continue to be an Australian-based imprint, seek out Australian talent, and publish our Australian authors using Australian standard spelling and grammar.”

 

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Mark Worthing (left) and Ben Morton (right) at Adelaide Supanova, 2018

 

Beginning a small press in Australia is not easy. Finding and maintaining high-quality authors and cover artists on a tight budget is challenging to say the least. Worthing call their survival in this industry one of their greatest achievements. There are a lot of challenges in this industry, one being that there is little room for error. Cover art, for example, must not contain any errors as it can increase expenses. Another challenge they have faced is being able to get their books stocked in major book stores. This is due to them having to compete with larger publishers, who can print more books and offer lower Recommended Retail Price (RRP).

Even with their challenges, Stone Table Books has continued to attract new readers and authors since its launch. Their position as a small press has allowed them to take risks on many exciting, quirky and risky projects. One of these is Wendy Noble’s Young Adult Beast-Speaker trilogy, which deals with children becoming soldiers. Worthing said that this is a theme some large publishers did not want to touch, but Stone Table Books was eager to take on. He said it was a risky theme, one which is what he looks for in stories.

When asked for advice to give to potential writers to submit their work, Worthing said, “Writers should make sure that what they submit is well-written and well-edited before they send it in, and they should make sure that the story engages the reader from the start.” He says a writer only gets one chance with each publisher and they must do what they can to catch the editor’s attention early on. Not following this or the guidelines, he says, “equates to a missed opportunity.”


For those interested in Stone Table Books, check out the link to their website here. Follow them on Facebook for updates and their latest releases. You can also check out a review of Playing God by Morton Benning here.

Words by Cameron Lowe

Header image: Steampunk Festival 2017

‘Greenwood’- By Paul J. Laverty

She parked in the driveway. She didn’t open the car door, just sat there. The house looked different. Bright red gutters replaced the old, peeling green ones. There was a new beige garage door. Yet the garden, the street and the suburb surrounding it was much the same.

She tried to think of the last time she’d been here. Boxing Day. Four years ago. After that Danny didn’t want to. Especially when his real habit crept in.

She remembered their last year of high school. She used to spend most nights here. In his room, drinking homebrew, smoking cones, watching Wes Craven movies, listening to Queens of the Stone Age. Making love. That was fifteen years ago, but it felt like a lifetime.

Mummy, when are we going in?” her six-year-old, Hunter, asked from the backseat.

Mikhaila lit a cigarette. She immediately regretted it as Val would smell it on her and add that to her shit list. She was already wearing a black sleeveless top that couldn’t hide the love heart tattoo which Val had never disguised her disdain for. The one her son had designed.

In a minute, hon.”

She reclined the seat slightly and took a drag. She might as well finish it now it was lit.

Back in high school she was seen as a good influence. Their Daniel had never got anything but D-grades. All he wanted to do was skate. And then she came along. Pianist. President of the student council. Plans to study medicine. Singer in an up-and-coming local band. Danny’s marks moved up to a C. His parents liked her. For a little while, she felt, anyway.

Mummy, I’m thirsty,” her four-year-old, Courtney, whined.

Her band got signed. Got on the U.S. festival circuit. She didn’t want him to come. It was work, after all. But he did. And with a lot of time and a little money on his hands, the soft drugs became hard.

Then quick as it began the band ended. Artistic differences, youthful arrogance. Their visas expired. She and Danny returned home. Settled down. Somehow their relationship rolled on. They had one kid, then another.

She wanted to get married, she wanted to take his name. She knew this would make them happy. She saw how they treated Lauren, Danny’s older brother’s wife, once they’d married. She couldn’t even have kids. But Lauren was a respectable primary school teacher, not a former frontwoman of a failed synth-pop band who flashed her legs (and occasionally her tits).

Danny always had an excuse ready and loaded about not conforming. She even got the blame for not baptising the kids Catholic even though Danny said he’d take care of it. She wasn’t even Catholic but she wanted to. She knew how it would make his parents happy and her life easier.

I’m hungry,” said Hunter.

I’m bored,” said Courtney.

They moved down south. She got a job in a clothes shop. His tattoo venture didn’t get off the ground, and he couldn’t cope with the normality of just existing. Of being a partner. A husband. A son. His addiction took hold and knowing he was failing at all that mattered he chose to take his own life on the one night she’d come back up to the city to have dinner with her remaining friends.

Mummy, can you hear us?”

Last month in the Family Court it all came out. Val claimed it was Mikhaila who had turned her son onto the pipe. That she was unstable, she was an unfit mother. Val even alluded to how it was Mikhaila’s fault that her son had ended it all with a leather belt tied around his neck.

Val didn’t mention how Mikhaila had never touched serious drugs. How Danny had lost them the home she paid for, her car, her job. And left her a bereaved single mother at age 31.

The judge gave the grandparents one weekend of visiting rights a month.

The front door opened. Mikhaila stiffened, quickly put out her cigarette and opened the window. But it wasn’t Val. She saw the dark greying features. The strong jaw. The dignified gait. It was Brian, Danny’s dad. Almost exactly how Danny would have looked if he made it to 60.

Hello, love.”

Grandad!” the children squealed racing out the car to throw themselves at him.

Hello, Brian.”

She’d always liked Danny’s dad. He wasn’t a strong man, but he was a nice, quiet man who, in his own way, and faced with great adversity, had tried to stick up for her. Mikhaila saw the curtains twitch and spotted Val’s stern features gazing through the glass. Her eyes bore right through Mikhaila and then softened when they settled on her grandchildren.

You doing okay?” Brian asked.

We’re getting there.”

He reached into the back and lifted Hunter and Courtney’s backpacks. “We’ll drop them back Sunday night.”

Thanks.”

I know it’s hard, but it’s important we do this. For the children.”

The kids waved and disappeared through the door. Mikhaila reversed down the driveway. Drove down the quiet street, parallel to the street she grew up on, and made it out of the suburb. The narrow-minded suburb where nothing ever happened, which she’d tried her whole life to escape, but never could.

It wasn’t until she hit the freeway that she realised she had nowhere to go.

 


Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

Words by Paul J. Laverty

Paul J. Laverty is a Scottish-Australian writer. Emerging from University of Melbourne with a Graduate of Diploma of Arts, he was shortlisted for Overland’s 2018 ‘Fair Australia Prize’, and his work has been featured in publications such as Underground Writers and Better Read Than Dead.

 

While You Were Reading

When it’s cold and rainy outside there is nothing better than curling up on the couch with a good book and a cup of tea*. Having seen While You Were Reading all over social media, I finally gave in and picked up a copy so I could do just that. While You Were Reading is writer duo Ali Berg and Michelle Kalus’s second book together after The Book Ninja.

There’s just something heart-warming about reading rom-coms in familiar settings.  Seeing these conventional rom-com women in locations I could easily find myself in gives the story just that touch more authenticity than reading something set in another part of the world.

Beatrix Babbage is on the cusp of thirty and she’s just ruined her best friend’s wedding. It was an accident, but she’s ruined Cassandra’s life and now Cass won’t even speak to her. Feeling alone and wanting to give Cass space, Bea packs up her life and moves to Melbourne, an hour away from her sister who she gushes to   about her new marketing job—isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. While struggling to come up with slogans for toothpaste and trying to move past the office misogyny, Bea befriends local barista Dino, whose strong skinny lattes and quotes bring light to her new life.

Alone and disconnected, Bea tries to branch out, going to slam poetry events and exploring Melbournian bookshops. In The Little Brunswick Street Bookstore Bea picks up a second-hand copy of Meeting Oliver Bennett, a book that can only be described as life changing. The book is filled with annotations from its previous owner and Bea quickly falls in love with them. Desperate to the find the writer, Bea creates an Instagram account to help her find them. But the quest is short-lived and Mystery Writer pops into her life as if it were fate. His name is Zach and he works as an editor for a local publishing house. Bea is a goner – how could such a perfect man exist? And better yet, find her? It’s almost too good to be true! And maybe it is.

As much as Bea fits your traditional romantic heroine stereotypes she also takes a step back, proving to herself and the reader that despite wanting love and affection she is her own person and needs both space and fulfilling relationships with others. I think the focus on the importance of surrounding yourself with good friends is a great lesson in this book. It can be so easy to go along with what someone else wants and never consider what you want.

While I love Ruth and Philip, Martha is one of my favourite characters. Both Bea and Martha are completely at ease with their toilet-stall relationship. Everyone, no matter the industry, needs someone to vent to at work – even better if you share similar interests like Bea and Martha with their love of Jane Austen. Later in the novel when Bea bumps into Martha again it seems the perfect time for their real friendship to kick off, not just as friends but as business associates. Martha teaching Bea how to run her accounts is a great example of women helping women, and each woman in this novel is autonomous and motivated by their own goals, whether their goals are business, sustainability, or revenge.

This is a book for every book-loving romantic, with literary allusions aplenty!

 

* Ideally your cup of tea should be of the never-ending variety and forever comfortably warm. If anyone finds said cup of tea, please let me know where I can get one.


Words by Kayla Gaskell

‘Harold Can’t Sleep’ – By Louis Dickins

Harold, thirty-five years old, lies awake in his one-bedroom St. Kilda apartment with messy hair, wearing a defeated expression. His cheap alarm clock reads 4:31AM in red numbers. Tomorrow, he has an eight-hour shift at his mind-numbing post office job, but he hasn’t had any sleep. His mind is turning, overwhelmed by too many thoughts.

At its best Harold finds sleep beautiful; a welcome relief from work and family, deadlines and pressure. As a kid he was a brilliant sleeper. He had wonderful, actionpacked dreams where he fought off prison guards and drove sport cars. But not anymore. He sighs and turns his pillow over. Harold isn’t even tired. It’s his relationships that are keeping him awake; regrets and mistakes playing over in his mind.

His ex-girlfriend, Julia. The memory of the initial thrill and then the ultimate demise of their six-year relationship. Truthfully, they just didn’t understand each other. An abstract artist with talent, her paintings were compelling in their passion and complexity. But they could also be demanding and confronting. She’d show Harold her completed canvases expecting a detailed analysis of their meaning and aesthetic quality. Instead, he would get confused and tongue-tied trying to explain what he thought and she would interpret it as indifference. But really, Harold had cared about her more than anything.

Why were they together? Did she ever love him? They had terrible fights which Harold always lost. She had a habit of throwing lamps when she was upset, usually at him. His passivity annoyed her, she thought he was capable of so much more, not only in his career, but to be more outgoing socially. She’d drag him to sophisticated, art-crowd dinner parties which he despised. Sitting there silently, he’d get quietly and terribly drunk, then pass out under the table. Harold embarrassed her and his unassuming nature lost its charm.

Harold’s mind wanders further. He remembers the last time he saw his old friend Rachel. When they were at school together, they shared everything. They could talk for hours. They’d skip school and smoke darts and play street fighter in the city. She was his best friend. They would look into each other’s eyes and feel completely comfortable and understood. Now, something has changed. She had stood before him despondently, with vacant eyes, asking him why he hadn’t called her back. It just wasn’t the same anymore. Once she got married and started having kids they started to drift into separate worlds.

Harold’s thoughts turn to his postal supervisor at work, like all serious pedantic assholes his name is Terry. He talks time management, enthusiasm indicators and routine entrustment diagrams with such condescending intensity, it often makes Harold want to scream. He knows exactly how much Harold despises him. He was terrible at hiding it. Harold had had it there, surrounded by mail, sometimes left to feel like he was turning into a living, breathing envelope.

All this thinking has given Harold a headache. He falls out of bed and stumbles in the dark toward the medicine cabinet. He pushes two heavy-duty painkillers out of their packet and downs them both with a glass of tap water. He looks at his reflection in the mirror. A flash catches his attention; he turns quickly to look out his window and sees a bolt of lightning, followed by a tremendous crash of thunder. And then a drenching, heavy rain begins to fall from the night sky. He opens his window to see the gutters already overflowing.

Something about this sudden downpour has energised and thrilled Harold in a way he can’t quite explain. He puts on his jeans and runs out the door, down the steps of his apartment and out into the street. It’s still dark, the streetlights guide him down the road and onto the esplanade. He’s never run this fast in his life. Almost slipping on the wet concrete, he continues, undeterred. Through parks and puddles, his heart beating, not sure where he’s going but in love with movement. His pent-up frustration and sadness is being exorcised with every step. He crosses the street, dodging early morning motorists. Trams and buses whizz by, the passengers watching a man running at full tilt.

As the sun rises, the most fantastic epiphany dawns on Harold: today, he’s going to quit the post office. He’s going to find something better.

Suitably soaked and out of breath, Harold finds himself in Fitzroy. In the distance he sees a bakery, just opening for the day. He goes inside to catch his breath and gazes at the freshly baked loaves and croissants on display. A friendly voice greets him.

Harold looks up to see the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen smiling back at him. Her brown eyes make his knees buckle. He stands there completely shocked and in awe of the chain of events that have led him out of his bed and to this moment. It seems as if an eternity has passed before he opens his mouth in order to speak but when he does, he starts coughing uncontrollably. She laughs. Eventually, he composes himself and says:

Hi, I’m Harold’.


Words by Louis Dickins

Louis Dickins is a 23-year-old writer who has had short stories published in both X-Ray literary magazine and Sleaze Mag.

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

The Angel

It would be silent if it weren’t for the echoing hymns, the lingering seminal cries and the whispered prayers of ghosts. It would be silent if it weren’t for his footsteps.

He acts as if he is making a choice, running his fingers along the cold, unsaved wood, looking left and right. Eventually, he chooses a pew halfway down the middle row and settles in, just like he does every evening.

He forces himself to remember. Wading into the shallows, colder than the cellars of hell, his skeletal fingers stretch, searching. Into the reminiscent void, he cries out for guidance. There is no answer. The tide tugs his overcoat until the woollen fabric is heavier than lead. And with a guttural sigh, he lets go. The tidal wave of memory drags him under. The flood fills his lungs. This is not holy water with which to cleanse. It is holy water with which to drown.

On the stain-glass windows, there are angels, floating over the Virgin in the sombre evening glow. One is different from the rest. Instead of revering the hallowed infant, her eyes glass the boughs of the Church. The man raises his face to meet her gaze.

In the cherubic creature he sees a likeness to himself. He’d cradled a similar likeness once. Held her hand. Tied her shoes. Told her stories. Watched her feathered soul ascend from the petite casket to be captured on the way to paradise. There she stays. A little angel immortalised in the stained-glass.

 


Words by Laura Benney

As well as studying to become an English teacher, Laura Benney has a passion for writing. In between completing assignments and reading voraciously, she is currently working on several projects, including a novella. Her childhood dream was to become an author.

 

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

‘It’s Too Early’- Poems by David Faber

He

rather liked

the notion

of a superior

order of

mathematical

clergy, but his

Welsh wife

thought the

The Glass Bead Game

a load of pretentious

old twaddle, Nobel

Prize or no

Nobel Prize.

___

 

It’s too early

to give you

red roses on

Valentine’s Day,

although I’ve

dreamt you

know what I’m

about already

courting you,

but soon I’ll be

giving you

flowers randomly

and routinely

like I used to.


Words by David Faber

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Lost Roses

Lost Roses

Martha Hall Kelly

Penguin Books 2019


Martha Hall Kelly’s Lost Roses is a historical fiction which follows the chain of events up-to and following the fall of imperialism and the rise of Boshevism in Russia across World War I. Set across three continents and following the stories of four different women, Hall Kelly weaves a tale of resourcefulness, the power of friendship, and humanity.

Fictional Russians Sofya and Luba Steshnayva, together with a fortune-teller’s daughter, Varinka, and history’s Eliza Ferriday come together throughout the novel to show the strength of female friendships, particularly those that survive across continents.

Eliza Ferriday and Sofya Streshnayva are fast friends keeping a daily correspondence, even during wartime. The pair face a number of challenges in their day-to-day lives, only made worse by the conflict. For Eliza these challenges are taming her wilful daughter and mourning the loss of her husband. For Sofya, the stakes are much higher. As one of Russia’s elite and a relation to the imperial family, Sofya must flee for her life abandoning all she holds dear: her father, her sister, and her young son who was kidnapped during the seizure of the family property.

As Russia descends into chaos, Eliza (like history’s Eliza Ferriday) begins the American Central Committee for Russian Relief, aiming to help the women and children who fled the violence of Russia to regain their lives. She becomes an ambassador for White Russians and finding the women work and accommodation.

Sofya and Luba Steshnayva are cousins to the Tsar and through these characters we see the greatness of the Tsar and later crumble. Hall Kelly reveals that much of Russian aristocracy were in abject denial of the rising threat of the Red Army.

An entirely fictional character, Varinka embodies the desperation of the serfs during this time. A village outcast and in the care of her father’s murderer, Varinka and her unwell mother are completely destitute. When Varinka finds work at one of the rich country estates as a Nanny, she takes to the baby straight away, doting upon Maxwell in a way that verges on obsessive. Not quite a villain but certainly no hero, Varinka embodies the complex nature of humanity, portraying both great good, and great evil while simply trying to survive.

Lost Roses is a novel which asks us to interrogate what it means to be human. With history as our teacher and with fiction being a way to explore it, Hall Kelly shows good and evil side-by-side within a range of characters and situations. I would recommend Lost Roses to anyone with an interest in historic fiction, Russia, and the Russian Revolution.

4/5 Stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Racing the Sun

44330028Reading Racing the Sun by J.R. Koop was like taking a deep breath of fresh air. Set in a Southern Asian inspired fantasy kingdom and with a queer love story at the centre, this Young Adult work is bright against its heavily heteronormative, and predominately Western-based peers. After the soul is stolen out of her secret lover’s chest by a sorceress bent on resurrecting the Ashen God, Rahat must race through the dangerous jungle to save both her lover and her kingdom.

Koop’s writing flows easily and is very fun to read. Her characters and their relationships, especially between family members, are engaging and well-formed. The passages with the faerie, Qaidra, were some of the book’s best they provided much of the lore and world-building background for the work. Qaidra is a being that has suffered and the glimpses into her past were sharply drawn and helped flesh out the faerie into a strikingly memorable figure. That said, I do think the world of Abrecan  could have done with a little more world-building in terms of the lore of the Gods and the significance of the faerie Rapture; at times it felt as though the author expected you to be privy to the inner workings of the world without the full breadth of that insider knowledge quite making it to the page. However, the world-building that was present was rich and interesting – Koop clearly has a vivid, active imagination and lots of love for the things she creates.

The politics of this novel – Rahat and Iliyah, her lover, are both of the ruling class but cannot be together: instead Rahat is promised to Iliyah’s brother to unite their kingdom – add tension to the plot and a desperation to Rahat that endears her to her readers. Although, again, I would have benefitted from a tiny bit more of an explanation about the things that prevent Rahat and the girl she loves from being together, especially given the reason for their separation – Iliyah’s service to a God as a dream weaver – proves to be easily dismissed at the end by the powers that be.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which felt like a good mix of Neil Gaimen, Garth Nix, and Audrey Coulthurst. There’s lots to love in Racing the Sun: the rich world of Abrecan; the sweet love story; the love and encouragement between family members; the unusual range of creatures and beasts (I loved the mechanical horses, they were my absolute favourites); the adventure. This novel is a refreshing addition to the YA genre, and I am excited to see what Koop produces next.

Four Stars.


 

Words by Riana Kinlough

‘Botanical’- By Sarah Ingham

 

There she was, her beautiful, beaming face complete with deep smile lines and ‘happy wrinkles’ as it always had been. The large photograph, while in colour and in focus, didn’t even come close to giving her justice. Where was her loud, echoing laugh and warm, squeezing hugs? Where were her comforting words that always seemed to fix the world, no matter how crazy it got? Where was her permanently lingering smell of cooking and home? Alas, all her quirks and comforts were to never be seen again, because she was buried in the family plot at 2pm.

Grief overwhelmed me absolutely. The world was covered in a grey haze that I couldn’t break through. However hard I tried, I couldn’t utter more than a few words without the energy of speaking being too much for my heart to handle.

I opened the squeaky wooden door into the big house. The silence opened into oblivion, twisting and turning into darkness beyond. I could hear the dust settling all over the house. Emptiness filled me like concrete. I morphed into a solid state, sinking slowly onto the well-worn sofa. Even the sofa didn’t feel good enough for my raging emotional state, it was too soft. I needed something that would make my back hurt.

I don’t know how long I sat for, on that sofa. Seconds surely. Hours maybe? I got up, feeling dehydrated. At least I could feel something physically, that was a plus, right? I found myself in the kitchen, getting a glass of water. It was probably the first thing I’d had in days.

Filling the glass up, because I felt like I should probably drink something lest I starve, I headed back to the couch. This time, when I sat down in the place where my butt had left its indentation years ago, I noticed the few changes she’d made since I had last been here. A new TV, a few new ornaments and some new picture frames. A picture of me I had sent to her from my last trip to the beach. Something I’d thought so trivial, yet she had treasured it to the point of framing it and placing in a prominent position upon the mantle.

I looked around and saw her prized Peace Lily plant resting in the corner of the room. Observing the brown and drooping leaves, I moved my gaze to the other plants. All almost brown and distressed, they looked like they were sleeping. Her stupid plant collection had been the one true love she had, besides the love she had for everyone she met daily. Just looking at the sad things made me think about how unfair life was. These plants, with expected life spans of a few years, had outlived the greatest woman who had ever lived. These plants even got to see her right before she died. Bloody things. Stupid plants. I placed my foot on the small stand holding one up and pushed. The glorious sound of breaking terracotta made me smile with absurd glee. Dirt sprayed the floorboards and the stem of the tree-like plant snapped.

That was more like it.

*

Waking in the small hours of the morning, I realised had passed out on the couch. I peeled myself off of the cotton blend cover. The still-full glass of water sat on the table, both taunting me and reminding me that I had I was still neglecting myself. I knew I wasn’t going to drink it though. I just didn’t care enough about me, and my insides still boiled with anger. It was probably going to sit there and laugh, so it went into the nearest pot plant.

Clearing out her stuff was the hardest part. Hours upon hours of seeing photos and knick-knacks that must have been so very sentimental. Entering her bedroom and inhaling her scent, my heart started beating like a hummingbird. It was just as she had left it, like most things that the dead leave behind. Bed unmade, underwear and socks that had nestled in crevices and been stuffed hastily into drawers. The curtains were wide open, and I could see more plants still scattered on the windowsill. The stupid things were just growing and growing, unaware that the world was now hollow. Their carer and provider was gone. They didn’t need to grow anymore. Their purpose was done. Kneeling on the lint-ridden carpet, I became a vessel for the thousands of memories poured over me like rain. My mouth opened and a raspy sound escaped me. She was gone. She was in the ground, entombed in a wooden box. In the next few weeks she would be lying there, just waiting for the worms and beetles to bury through the wood and into her body. This was not fair. How could such a beacon of light just be snuffed with the flick of a wrist? Her place was here. I needed her more than the burrowing bugs. My wet face leaked onto my shirt and the surrounding furnishings. The tears had burst through my emotional dam, flowing from somewhere deep within. She wasn’t here, so I settled for curling up on the ground that she had walked on.

Although most of my anger had left, sadness had taken up residence in its place. I wandered from room to room like an unsettled ghost. Physical pain broke through my haze and I yelled expletives as I jumped backwards. A shard from the broken pot had embedded itself in the soft arch of my foot. Removing it slowly, my eyes were drawn to the tree that once dwelt inside. The plant still lay, snapped and broken, on the cold floor. A wave of sympathy washed over me. The plant didn’t do anything, and I had taken delight in its death. I knelt and gathered up the grubby remains.

In her messy shed, I placed the plant in another terracotta pot and filled it with soil. The top of the plant was already brown, so I snipped it off with secateurs. As the small nub of the remaining tree sat there, I smiled. For the first time in weeks, I smiled. I had caused this plant to die, but I had also revived it.

*

After taking care of my cut and sweeping up the dirt, I brewed some tea. Nestled on the couch, I sat next to the newly rescued tree and noticed something. The plant that I had carelessly tossed my water into was reaching high towards the ceiling. The leaves that had looked so pathetic and lifeless yesterday were a brilliant emerald green, and a few of the white tear-drop buds had opened. I stared. Were these things so easily satiated that a few millimetres of water was all that they needed?

I found a small watering can and did my rounds of the house. Within the next few hours, the majority of the little things were looking a touch happier. Within weeks, they were back to their usual selves. Within months, they were thriving.

The caring of the innumerable plants kept me busy. The places that mum had them worked out well. The watering and moving kept my mind in the present, whilst also reminding me of the past.

The memories of my mother and her passion for plants came streaming back. Her careful hands caressing the green growth and tending to them daily. Her obsessive movements and belief that her plants were sensitive to our moods. The music she would leave on when no-one was in the house just so they wouldn’t be bored. As my knowledge and love for these strange sprouts grew, so did my sense of awe for my mother’s green thumb.

These things that she had loved, I would take care of them for her. I had never understood before, but the care of such a small thing was so rewarding. The fresh air in the house, the excitement when hours of hard work paid off with a tiny bloom or new leaf. They taught me to check in with myself, make sure that I was watered, happy and getting enough sun. The healing process was long and tedious, nevertheless, I finally flourished in the world without my guiding light. The world would never be the same, but at least I wasn’t completely alone in this new stream of life.

The legacy lived on through the maintenance and love that I would pour into these sprouts. They would become my beloved prodigy, just as they were hers.


Words by Sarah Ingham

Art by Tom Murton

sarahI’m Sarah Ingham, and I’m completing my first year of a Bachelor of Professional Writing and Communication. I have folders of unfinished writing, and I am so glad that I can put my ramblings to use! Being a part of Tulpa Magazine has made me feel like I can release my full artistic voice, and I love it dearly. I hope that I can continue to write my way into a writer, editor or publisher position after finishing my degree. Until then, I hope that you enjoy my imaginings.

 

Tom Murton is an illustrator and graphic designer, with an Honours degree in the Creative Arts from Flinders University. His work includes illustration for the comic series Hail, the short comic Stranger,professional graphic design work, as well as a library of personal sketches and illustrations.