Flash Special (June 2013 / 13.11)
Blaise Allen, Ph.D. is the Director of Community Outreach, Palm Beach Poetry Festival. An award winning poet and photojournalist, she has published her poems widely in anthologies and literary journals. Blaise is particularly interested in community outreach to youth and elder populations. Blaise roams sawgrass and howls at the moon with her four rescued dogs.
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She is a tower of pillows and laughter. Her clear eyes reflect the river where she spent her childhood. The jade river, ´the Waitaki,´ whose name means, ´water that weeps.´ On its shores, suffocated frogs spread their extremities, disorderly, like her eyelashes. In the morning, she tries to calm her hair with a damp facecloth. In the afternoon, once again it becomes black velvet screws that jump over one another. The whiteness and tenderness of her skeletal hands are lightning bolts. Her belly is the biggest pillow, for me, it’s a nest of little white feathers where my head finds sanctuary from all the adult complications and words, for which I don´t have a dictionary.
In the kitchen she´s a wizard, sprinkling surreal ingredients and chanting her spells made of fragile, forgotten words, like hidden spider webs. She makes a potion of smells that write their flavors upon the walls and dance out the window.
Later, she’s there, at the table, with her magic wand filling out the white squares, among the black ones, with the letters of wisdom. They are clues to a map for another world, and when she’s filled them all out, she’ll take me by the hand and lead me there, with her.
Tina Cartwright is a folk artist concerned with stories and beliefs that people carry in their blood, consciously or subconsciously. She has one foot in southern New Zealand and another in Mexico. She currently studies Contemporary Mexican Fiction and is putting together a book from New and Australian artists and writers whose work reflects time spent in Latin America.
Sylvia’s back in town. I saw her in the supermarket this morning picking over the Portobello mushrooms. It’s been… what? five years? She looks exactly the same: not a single grey hair or wrinkle.
Whilst I hovered over the half cabbages, she moved on and picked up a pack of smoked salmon. Maybe she’s planning a little ‘welcome me back’ soiree for the old gang.
She still has that certain presence. Partly, it’s the clothes: high boots, skinny jeans, blue scarf tossed over the shoulder. I’m no good with scarves; they get shut in car doors or dribble in my soup. But there’s something else — an air of entitlement which draws second glances. Not that she responds. No smiling at elderly shoppers or clucking at babies from her.
I let her move ahead but caught up to her in the wine section. There was a time we would have helped each other choose from the twenty-dollar range. Today she was engrossed with the high end stuff while I went for our usual seven-dollar Aussie red.
In the confectionery aisle she picked up a slab of chocolate. That surprised me. I’d always thought of her as borderline anorexic. It was Dark Ghana. Perhaps after dinner she’ll sit on the knee of her new feller, feed him a couple of teensy squares and murmur, ‘It’s full of anti-oxidants darling, practically a health food.’
And after dinner I’ll pop a peppermint into the mouth of her old feller and murmur, ‘Sweets for the sweet?’ I won’t mention Sylvia. He swears he’s over the rejection and the divorce settlement but, is one ever? Really?
I was beginning to feel like a stalker so I hung back again. By the time I agonized over the loo rolls and debated whether to buy ice cream, she should have been well gone. Then coming through the checkout I caught a flash of blue from the corner of my eye. Cursing myself, I couldn’t resist a sideways glance.
But it was all right. Sylvia had picked up a magazine and bent her head so the lush fall of her hair came down like a curtain between us.
Janet Pates was the winner of New Zealand’s 2012 National Flash Fiction Day competition. Her stories reflect her background of life in rural and small town New Zealand. She enjoys the spare, pared-back economy of flash fiction.
Siobhan and Jilly come from a fractured city that endured peak ground acceleration larger than the force of gravity. Alarms, sirens, debris falling. A scurrying and rushing and dazed wandering of people to homes, to schools, to rubble in search of strangers. They come from a city that shared food in the suburbs. A city where they could no longer go to the Central Library, the Square, the Arts Centre, the corner that had been Hack Circle. A city of liquefaction and munted buildings and exhaustion. They camped in their friend’ living room, and told their little brother to calm down.
They waited for news about the Eastern suburbs. For the power to be restored so the TV would come back on. They waited for a supply of free housing but instead the city got hundreds of emergency campervans at market rental. They waited for the toilet to get fixed. For the kindy to reopen. The city waited, and families suffered their own crises caused by or despite the quakes. They hunted for new homes and shared gossip to fill the information vacuum: Is it staying? I’d heard it’s going. They’ll probably pull it down in the middle of the night. Siobhan and Jilly waited till they found a new place to live; a small house with a large garden. Siobhan waited for her roster, and then she drove daily past the Property of the Sydenham Heritage Trust. This had once been a church and was now a pile of stone behind a chain-link fence – the heart already broken but a determination to control the grieving. They waited for Jilly to start work again. They waited for the plans, the announcements, the rebuild. They waited and waited and while they were waiting, Erin went up a reading group; Liam started to talk; Tommy took up running to impress his girlfriend.
They signed a pledge to say they would always stay in the city. They stayed in the city through the June aftershocks, when people stood outside their houses and stared crestfallen at the liquefaction, many for the third time. Through Jilly’s boss making her go straight back into work to get hard-drives and anything else they might need if they weren’t allowed in for a week. They stayed in the city through the snow covering the ground and the ruins in July. Through papers in other cities saying, ‘Christchurch stress reaches War Zone level.’ They stayed in the city and Jilly scored a roll of paper for Liam and Erin to draw on, like she and Siobhan had done as kids. They stayed in the city and their mum started visiting on Sundays. One thousand buildings were signed off for demolition. The city reached the one year anniversary, and people positioned flowers on road cones, part protest, and part memorial.
They lived without hair curlers, and their aunty said to them, ‘You two look more and more alike every day.’ Siobhan returned to dressing like other women her age in the city: tight pants and long cream jerseys. They lived without insurance or job security.
They lived in a city which had its fair share of foul weather and water pollution, frosts in winter. Hot spring temperatures that plummeted at tea time. They lived in a city where an artist pasted sticky plasters – ‘kiss it better’ – on broken buildings. A city which had been delineated between boy racers and Rotary clubs and was now divided into red zone, white zone, orange zone, green zone. Siobhan read the blog posts that said kids should be protected from earthquake damage, so they left Erin at home with Tommy when they drove, periodically, around the city. That’s gone, that’s gone, that used to be a book shop, we used to go there for takeaways, do you remember? A city of dust and artesian wells and cell phones and Prozac. They lived in the city and people still made babies and moved to Australia and wrote letters to the editor. They lived in the city and visited the memorial on the corner of Madras and Chester St. 185 empty white chairs, one for each person who died.
They lived in the city about which Mal’s workmate said, ‘I ask my wife at night, what would we have done? If the kids were little? If we had the grandchildren? The guilt if something happened and we’d decided to stay…I am so glad we’ve never had to make those kinds of decisions.’ They are from a city where the newspaper ran stories about families living in one bedroom units, red-zoned houses, deserted streets, and the journalists asked, ‘But will you be able to survive another winter like this?’ as if there were other options on the table. They are from a city where two bronze bulls stood atop grand pianos, heads down, on an empty site on Madras St, installed by the city’s Art Gallery. They listened in a first floor gallery to the carved, red-lacquered, paua-inset piano as it belted out music across the devastated city. The demolished city. The city where new asphalt roads looped off grid streets and over old building sites, over the site of the Pacific Church.
They are from a city where people make plans again, just a little way in the future. Where some young couples still buy houses, still get on that liquefaction-prone and rising-sea-level-threatened property ladder. They are from a city where they look up and see buildings halfway across the CBD, with nothing between except earth and sky. Packed earth that hasn’t seen light in a hundred years. A city where the Government threatened school closures and their family joined thousands protesting in the netball courts of Hagley Park. A city where they are surrounded by most everyone they grew up with and an influx of demolition workers. A city where the new normal is no longer called new.
Frances Mountier grew up in Christchurch and lives in Petone. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters (2009). Her work has appeared in Turbine, Sport, Takahē, Renegade House, Hue & Cry, JAAM, , and Flash Frontier. Frances was the 2012/13 recipient of the Lavinia Fellowship at New Pacific Studio Mt Bruce. She is working on a novel about a Christchurch family, which begins with ‘Christchurch‘ and ends with ‘Christchurch II’.
Pandora and the Brain Surgeon
They say Diogenes of Sinope resided in the jar of his own mind. To believe this is, of course, foolishness, He resides in our own memories.
She certainly has a fine choice of words, this woman. Subtle, intelligent, sometimes soothing, but spiteful, yes, so bitterly spiteful. Considering she is the source of the family of the one man and all men, she is surprisingly withering when the mood takes her.
She sits in the chair, not moving, as if her head were contained in a cage. Which it is, keeping her rigid, immobile. She looks around the room; she can see each object, she can name them. That is all. Even her thoughts are held, immobile.
There is the shave, the removal of all extraneous personality. A sharp blade to slice the skin, then the buzz of the drill, penetrating into the skull. The jar is opened to reveal the secrets.
Once the stopper is removed, the pressure is released. The evils are excised, scattered into the open.
The brain is so pale, the colour of her skin just out of the womb. Delicate as skin that has never seen the sun, never been exposed to chill air. Clear and bloodless on the surface, with a peculiarly healthy transparency.
Slowly, she begins to connect. She connects table to chair, tank to trolley, scalpel to surgeon. She sees the world as it might be. It is baffling, it is incomprehensible.
With the flap replaced, the skin heals and the stopper is returned to the jar. She is free of those evils. She is left with only hope.
The scars are hidden beneath her hair. Now she understands. It is just common sense.
Martin Porter, born in Jersey, studied Astrophysics in London and Leeds and taught Physics in Jersey. He now lives a quieter life in New Zealand. He has recently had poems published in Auckland’s Poetry Live Live Lines 4 and Wavelengths, an anthology of Channel Island writing. He was the winner of the Channel Islands Writers Competition (poetry section) 2005 and the Whangarei Libraries 2012 flash fiction competition. More at Poetry Notes and Jottings and Small Stony Notes and Jottings.
Celia woke as a crow flew at her. She covered her face just as it dissolved above her head.
That was the third crow to fly out of the bedroom wall. It scared her more than any other nightmare.
What if she ended up like her mother, who’d slept on the sofa with the lights on all night – then stayed there for days with a teatowel across her eyes? Celia had had to tiptoe around making school lunches from crackers.
There’d been machine-guns and snow in her mother’s past. Celia had never seen a machine-gun, or snow; and her mother hadn’t seen a bikini until she was war-orphaned and shipped half-way across the planet.
Celia’s ears filled with static.
She sat up and felt the air prickle.
A pair of people stepped out of the wall. Little and old. The woman wore a black kerchief, the man a black shawl.
Celia blinked hard. They disappeared.
She went to work and tried not to think about the old couple and the crows.
The next day she woke and the air prickled again.
The old people stood close.
Don’t you recognise us? We’re your grandparents.
The little woman did resemble Celia’s mother – if she’d worn a kerchief.
We need a bone, small bone, fingertip, toe.
Hurry, hurry, the old man shooed Celia into action. Did they want one of her toes?
Then a crow landed on the window-sill beside her mother’s urn.
The little old couple rummaged inside the urn until the woman pulled out a gravelly piece of ash – a tooth?
They waved to Celia and disappeared into the wall.
Celia waved back, sank down on the bed.
The air softened.
The curtain blew back revealing a glimpse of cypresses and snow.