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

‘Infinity Problem’- By Danielle Kate

there’s an infinity problem.

spherical in it’s physical essence yet it is everyone that has a

bitter longing for superficial happiness, tears glisten like glitter

love me, paint me on a golden pedestal worship me as you fall

in endless pits of misery. continuous misery of human inadequacy but

devote your soul to me and take the distorted reflection into your hands

see the reflection of society burning a hole in your mind. eyes dance around you

from your very own hands and you take the knife of plastic, and mimic the

images of a damaged world. paint over me and create your own masterpiece

of an eternal loneliness of perfect imperfection of loss, of failings, of being flawed.

whisper the hated words as you love me, hate me, try to be me.

spin around down the hole of despair of never being satisfied, always wanting more

never being enough – continuous misery.

plaster me on your walls.

stare up and worship me.

 


Words by Danielle Kate

Danielle Kate is a caffeine-dependent life form who occasionally writes and does art. You can catch more of her @daniellekstafford on Instagram.

Photo by Sid Verma on Unsplash

 

‘The Red Dress’ by Suzanne Bowditch

The woman in the dress shop told her mother, Janelle, it fitted perfectly. ‘This is so now you know,’ she’d said, standing next to Rosie in front of the ornate mirror. ‘Red is the colour. Haven’t you seen it on the best catwalks?’

Janelle shrugged, pulling the dress down over Rosie’s knees. A whisper of gauze beneath, to complete the look, scratched the backs of Rosie’s legs. She barely noticed. Instead, the smooth taffeta had felt luxurious on her fingertips, the rich colour flattering on her pale skin.

Please mom?’

Her mother sighed, then nodded. ‘Just remember that it never looks the same worn at home,’ she said, but Rosie had already pulled it off her shoulders.

The ring of the bell had signalled their exit. Rosie’s grin was wide as she stepped outside, the parcel firmly tucked under one arm.

*

Now, in the shade of her bedroom, she wasn’t so sure. The taffeta clung to a bosom that was still as unfamiliar as the smattering of spots across her nose. The dress fitted just below her waist, straining across her stomach; puppy fat and wobbly thighs hidden underneath its folds. Why hadn’t she noticed in the shop? She pulled at the thick unyielding material, supposedly meant to fit across her shoulders in a chic 50s style. Turning sideways, the patterned black and red flowers seemed to mock her, spread as they were across her back and finishing on her bottom. She felt like an overgrown rose garden that had fallen into disrepute.

You look lovely, Rosie.’ Her mother stood in the doorway. ‘It was a good choice after all.’ Janelle’s slim arms were folded across her chest, her jeans snug across slender hips.

For the thousandth time, Rosie cursed her own well-rounded body, a throwback to her grandmother. Why couldn’t she be long-limbed too?

Her younger sister Taylor bounded into the room, plonked herself on Rosie’s bed. Taylor wore a seersucker top and teeny denim shorts over tanned legs that seemed to go on forever. She tucked one limb under the other, like a young gazelle.

You look like a flowerpot!’ she said, giggling. A sprinkle of cute freckles and sparkling blue eyes completed Taylor’s look. Naturally gorgeous.

Rosie turned away, her brown eyes filling up. I can’t show I’m upset; I can’t! she thought, glancing at her reflection for a second time. If the flowerpot look was in vogue, she’d win it, hands down.

Taylor had a point.

That’s enough of that Taylor! Rosie looks beautiful.’ Janelle tapped her watch, encased around a slim wrist. ‘You’d better hurry Rosie, Amber will be waiting. Dad’s downstairs.’

Thanks mom,’ she replied, ignoring the sly giggles behind her.

That was her, ever the trooper. Rosie, the solid one of the family who let everything slide. It was water off a duck’s back.

*

The party was just starting as the car pulled up outside a huge house. Rosie could hear music blasting and the shrieks of laughter from people arriving. Everyone was chatting and having fun. She clambered out behind Amber and smoothed the folds of the dress, annoyed that the netting had caught on the handle of her dad’s car. How she wished she’d chosen to wear the blue dress instead. It had been worn before, an old faithful, but she felt much more comfortable in it.

Amber gave her an excited look, hooked an arm under hers as they walked up the driveway. A couple of giggling girls ran past, dressed in bright colours and flouncy skirts; a flash of skinny legs in pumps.

I’m starting to think that the ’50s were the least flattering time in history!’ Rosie moaned, scraping her pumps over the gravelled driveway.

Come on, you look fine.’ Amber frowned. ‘You know how cool Lily Anderson is, her parties are epic. We were lucky to get an invite.’

It’s okay for you. You look as if you’ve not eaten for a week! Whereas me…’

She sighed, pulling at the shoulder sleeve for the hundredth time.

A dark-haired boy walked past. His head down, hands in pockets, shuffling his feet.

Why was Alex Tomlinson invited?

Hey Amber, get you a soda?’ Blake Magill slid up behind them.

See you later, Rosie,’ Amber giggled, then ran up the driveway.

Great. Now she was truly on her own. She shivered, deciding to turn back. Mom would have fixed popcorn for her and Taylor. She could snuggle into her pyjamas; sorted.

Just at that moment, Alex sidled up. Rosie’s heart sank.

This was turning out to be such an awful night!

Hi Rosie,’ he stammered.

Hi Alex,’ she replied, hoping to sound as offish as she felt. Alex’s eyes looked deep blue, his eyelashes thick and dark. He had on a baseball jacket and sneakers, a vast improvement on the nerdy school tie and sensible lace-ups for a school day. This close, he didn’t look half bad.

Say, why don’t we try that new place down by the pier? I can get my dad to drop us.’ Alex looked encouraged. ‘Then we can take a walk along the beach…. if you want to that is?’

She could see a faint blush spreading across his face. Rosie had to think. Ice cream down the pier, against an awkward party?

*

Alex had kept to his word, and they’d strolled hand in hand along the beach. The wind had ruffled her hair, and she’d felt alive for the first time – ever. He’d dropped her home after.

Now, the red dress hung from the back of her wardrobe. Its ruffles and sequins shone from the street light outside her bedroom window. She remembered how it had hugged her curves, and how she’d looked through Alex’s eyes.

You got me a boyfriend,’ she whispered. Then she turned over and went straight to sleep.


Words by Suzanne Bowditch

Art by Emily Cooke

About the Artist:

49548081_291720338156778_4967218626596700160_nHi, I’m Emily! I’ve loved art ever since I was young and am now starting to take my artwork seriously. I mostly draw digitally, however, I do sometimes prefer paints, fine-liners, and pencils! I usually do a lot of character design but I sometimes branch out by trying different techniques!
At the moment, I just draw whatever I like as well as create some commissions and designs for people, but I aspire to work in the game/entertainment industry so I will be studying to further my work! I am inspired by a lot of the games I play as well as a general love for all things fantasy. I use my art as a way to communicate that love as well as just putting the worlds and characters I create in my head on to paper!
I run the art page Melancholy Socks, which is on Facebook, Tumblr, Deviantart, and Instagram. Check me out!

‘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

‘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.

‘Parradice Lost’- By Nadia King

River Parradice was the wrong side of forty. Once in a while, his sandy blonde hair flopped over one eye and he pretended to be a very young Robert Redford. Tiff laughed at his impersonation and called him her ‘slice of paradise’. Later though, her laugh was hollow with a few fractious notes.

Such cracks first made an appearance in the Parradice household around Easter. The insidious fissures couldn’t be repaired by a casual swipe of Selleys Spakfilla; they needed professional work. River tentatively raised the question of marriage counselling. Tiff gave him one of her cold, impenetrable stares and her cobalt eyes held his gaze until he dropped his head. He stammered about work stress and could have sworn that Tiff’s shoulders eased at his words.

Chad, River’s best mate, hadn’t been any help. They’d sat in the beer garden of The Queens. Humidity hung over them in swathes of moisture, and sweat pooled between River’s toes. Girls flitted by in bright sundresses, catching Chad’s eye more than once. River wanted to grab hold of Chad’s hand and tell him how important this was, but he didn’t want to come across as needy. Chad downed the last of his Guinness in a swift gulp and slapped his hand on the table. River jumped at the palm-slapping, and upon reflection started to believe his own white lie that ‘work was getting to him’. Chad rolled his eyes and snorted.

You and Tiff? Having troubles? All in ya head, mate, all in ya head.’

River wondered if it was all in his head and if couples counselling was overkill. Maybe he just needed his own weekly therapy. Then he remembered Tiff’s odd new showering habits: the way she hid her nakedness as she stepped into the bedroom and how, a long time ago, she used to give him head once a day.

Sometimes after work, he couldn’t remember what his own wife looked like – like he suffered from marriage amnesia. What had it been like when Tiff had loved him? The memory was like a long-ago holiday that was so good that in hindsight you wondered if it was even real.

Once, River spotted Tiff and Chad in a smart city bar. His meeting in the city had finished late and he was making his way in the direction of the train station when he was compelled to walk along the river boardwalk instead. Chad manfully sucked on a ciggie and Tiff busily applied her signature red lippy. They weren’t touching but there was something in the way their bodies leaned close that made River pull back into the shadows. He was jostled by incoming patrons when his phone pinged. It was Tiff. She was stuck in one of those bloody sales meetings. River stopped, just for a moment. Tiff was lying. She’d always been a good liar. She studied a book about body language and trained herself in front of the mirror; eradicating every tiny tell-tale sign and gesture. It was important, she’d said. In sales, an honest-looking face would be an asset.

Later, River didn’t mention the bar and Tiff banged on about the meeting. She said they would be a regular thing; her boss was a control freak, she’d be home late every Friday. Chad was absent on Fridays, too. He said he stopped in to see his Auntie Fran one Friday, the next week it was a nephew’s birthday, and after a while River stopped asking. Chad couldn’t lie convincingly if his life depended on it, and River didn’t like watching him try.

On Fridays, River picked up fish and chips. He fed Henry (their blue-eyed white Persian cat) half a serve of snapper, and they watched Sanctuary together. They sat on the navy sofa that Tiff had picked out. Henry left his fur all over a dusty pink velvet cushion that Tiff just had to have.

One Friday, Tiff rang to ask River what he was doing. He described Henry purring like an idling lawnmower and declared that the fish and chips had never tasted so good. He said he had to go: Sanctuary was starting.

Weekends were always a blur of activities. Sometimes, there was a faculty dinner. Tiff never accompanied him. River was well-liked by his colleagues so he didn’t mind flying solo. Tiff’s family was large and most weekends there was a family BBQ. The men kept each other company around the Weber, and women scurried in and out of the kitchen with bowls of salad and potatoes. Kids wound their way through people’s legs, and screamed and shouted until someone put on a movie.

On a couple of weekends, Tiff had conferences on the Gold Coast. River stayed home with Henry. He didn’t call Chad for a beer; he thought he’d probably be busy.

River settled into his new routine and Tiff occasionally showed up for their marriage. He stopped meeting Chad. He was quiet at family BBQs and slept in the spare room with Henry. Work became his escape. He thought he could be on to something with his research into ontogenetic changes and variations in the anthropogenic activities of Eudyptes Chrysocome, Rockhopper Penguins.

An opportunity arose within the Australian Antarctic Division of the Department of Environment, and River submitted his application without telling Tiff. He was surprised when he got the job but happily handed in his notice. He had a nice little send-off. His colleagues had chipped in and presented him with a fine china statue of his favourite penguin species.

He came home and made immediate arrangements. He would catch the same flight as Henry. They would leave the comfy sofa and dusty pink velvet cushion. They would leave Tiff, Chad, and the frequent family BBQs. They’d still have fish and chips on a Friday and there were three series of Sanctuary to watch. River knew that sometime in the future, he would miss Tiff, but he also knew he would shrug off the feeling like one does adolescent mistakes. His focus would be his research, Henry, and his new life. Parradice might be lost, but there was always another adventure.


Words by Nadia King

Photo by Mattias Diesel via Unsplash

DSC_7612 copyN.L. King was born in Dublin, Ireland and now calls Australia home. Nadia is an author, blogger, and presenter.

Her debut book, Jenna’s Truth, is a novella for young adults and is published by boutique small press, Serenity Press.

Nadia enjoys writing contemporary young adult fiction and short fiction, and lives in Western Australia with her family.

 

 

 

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Buy Jenna’s Truth from Serenity Press

‘So Long, Sixteen’ by Sean Crawley

The last of the ham and pudding is given to the chickens. You think how disgusted Jesus would be at the waste generated in honour of his birthday. Now there’s just the New Year to get through. The thought of resolutions and reflections on the year that was is sickening. Maybe January will bring peace. Lazy summer days are holiday novels, stone fruit, salty skin, sleep inducing televised sport, no work, no commitments.

Yet the truth is that you want it darker. You scour the internet to find threats of war, financial collapse, political scandal and broken celebrity marriages. You polish off gifts of beer, wine and spirits not for the euphoria, but to relish in the hangovers. It’s a slow and tortuous suicide – a coward’s exit for sure. Care factor zero. Watching and waiting for some real drama, no bullshit day to day histrionics, but the real deal. And not over there somewhere, but right here right now, on our doorstep, with an ineluctable battering ram. Something to wake you up from the nightmare that this is as good as it gets.

From the ashes of the desire for violent revolution, you dream up the required treaty. It is only words, yes that is true. Words are all we have to define ourselves and our place in this cosmic mix. The human world is built of words. Words are everything. Perhaps an anthem and a flag will accompany your attempt to articulate a fresh, more eloquent expression of the human condition. A complete package to keep us vigilant against the blinding glare of shiny new gadgets made by the third world slaves to sedate the first world sheep for the sole benefit of the one percent in their gaudy gated palaces. Yes, we need a treaty.

__

Darling, the Joneses have invited us over to watch the fireworks from their terrace.’

You despise the Joneses and their terrace, their phony friends and the whole concept of fireworks. YThe fact you’ll have to take something even though they said to bring nothing, and what you bring will be placed to one side and ignored. You may as well go down to the yard, shoo away the chooks, retrieve the ham and pudding, wrap it in recycled gift paper and let Richard Jones deal with it on January One. That would be being on the level. But you say yes to the invite and will spend your dwindling holiday pay on an acceptable bottle of wine that won’t be acceptable at all.

Your submission, born from a fear of saying no despite an irrefutable right to decline, eats away at the pathetic remains of your once healthy identity and integrity. You pray for Armageddon and then remember you’re an atheist.

Your family and friends can see that you’re leaving the table. They don’t understand. They are searching for a label to describe your condition, the spectrums of autism, anxiety and depression are discussed in your absence. Yet you hear every word; it is written on their eyes.

Even the vibrant colours of the rainbow, when mixed haphazardly, will make a dull brown. The only sensible response is to discard the old, worn-out palette and start again with charcoal on white paper. Can’t they see that? Can’t they see that ‘brown’ won’t do? Or grey, for that matter. Everything is so grey these days. Nothing is right or wrong; relativism gone mad. And everyone can feel the nausea, if they listen to their gut that is.

__

Where are you, lover?’ she asks.

I am lost,’ you manage to reply.

Talk to me,’ she offers.

I can’t tell you what it’s like, only that if I didn’t have your love I think I would simply disappear and be nothing.’

She lets you be lost. Just like she let you change your career mid-stream, like she let you buy that guitar and let you stop the number of kids at two. Letting you be is her greatest gift. Even after her affair there was no thought of going solo. Your imaginings of her naked and wild with Richard Jones hurt like nothing else, not even the ruptured duodenal ulcer compared. The revenge infidelity – a seedy ménage à trois with Mrs Jones and her maid – only added trauma.

Time and brutal honesty did the healing. And you can’t help but think that the whole sordid affair, the absolute violations of marriage vows made in the maelstrom and ignorance of passion and youth, was needed to set things right. Your love has never been stronger. You are lost in the world, not lost from her.

After years of accumulation there were years of shedding, and now you’re travelling light. No God, no philosophy, no goals, no desire for unnecessary stuff. For a while it seemed the better way. Now, doubt with a capital D has struck again. Existential terror. Uncertainty running feral, indecision rife, January looming. Waiting for it all to break, for cracks to let the light through.

A reluctant man with a deep and rich voice strums simple chords to ask the universe for guidance. We dare to call him spiritual and he backs away again. This time for good. We cling to an idea that if we steer your way, Mr Cohen, we will be delivered from all pain and suffering. And yet we know that is a lie, like all the lies that weather us down to dust.

__

On New Year’s Eve you pick up your one remaining guitar and strum F#minor – your very own string reprise treaty.

It’s nice to hear you play again, lover,’ she says.

Hallelujah, Suzanne,’ you cry with a smile.


Words by Sean Crawley

Art by Rhianna Carr

Sean Crawley Headshot.jpgSean Crawley writes short stories, songs, non-fiction and the odd angry letter. He has been published online and in anthologies. He has worked in education, mental health and once owned a video shop in a dying town. Sean’s desk is currently located somewhere on the east coast of Australia. His website is at https://wakeupandsmellthehumans.wordpress.com/