Tag Archives: grief

Solid Sand and Broken Water, Hannah Baker

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i.

He had soft sage and lavender fingers

When his mother took him up the estuary

To his brother’s tiny grave. Her first-born,

She told him, still-born, but still borne.

For months she carried him, thinking only

Of his potential, then lost him like a limb.

 

Suddenly become a second son,

He doesn’t feel like a miracle.

Unless they’re supposed to grow

More insubstantial, year by year.

 

Now he can’t help but hold sensations,

Keep them pressed into the soft mud of

His muscles, either side of his stony spine

 

Like the smell of cold grass, broken and

Sharp, wound round his little knuckles

Until he felt the hair-thin roots give.

He shuddered and stopped tugging

But those blades bit back and dug

Their imprint deep into his fingers.

 

Surely his brother would only be bones,

And even those pitted in this acidic soil.

 

Porous surfaces never used to panic him,

But the stinging sight of honeycomb now

Swells his tongue back to close his throat.

 

He tries to run, to only glide over the earth

And so ward off its patient hollow hunger,

But gravity forces his feet to knead the ground,

And long for rest on this grassy headland.

 

Though his soles are callused they still sweat,

And the veins show through his instep,

Blue and green like branches and streams.

 

Thick clay skin means nothing

When the cracks threaten to leak

His beaten blood.

 

Even the sea breeze bores into him

But the warm honey sun is soothing

And from this high the sand is as solid

As anything can be.

 

Every direction leads, he thinks,

Not to headstones holding old bones down

But to ribs exposed like mangrove roots.

 

ii.

Death happens, not easy but often.

Entropic, all matter is mostly vacuum,

It would be easy for lethargy to sink into

Atoms, and for weary rock to turn to sand.

Observed closely enough, coastlines are infinite,

And molecular gaps keep anything from ever truly

Touching. But somehow matter retains, regains,

Its energy, even advances to animation when

Bodies meet, or bloody waters break and

Out of the lather erupts something new.

Not easy but often, life happens too.

 

iii.

She laughed out sea roses as a child,

When her father warned her off wanting.

Still the smell of certain perfumes and the sea

Clearly recalls to her the sticky softness of

Petals unfurling and clinging to her tongue

Before tumbling off the cliff of her lips.

 

He told her she had been born too early.

Half-knitted, with fluid in her lungs

And a film of foam for skin,

She might have unspooled again.

But she chose to cough and cry instead.

 

Surviving with just this, she sometimes still

Feels like a miracle, and marvels at herself:

No tiny flame wind’s whim could flicker out.

 

By holding heart-sized stones she learnt to

Swim in a lake as cold and sharp as glass.

Her lungs already knew the worth of leaking,

But gravity needed help to hold her down.

 

With hands like lace she dried and sewed

Lilies and larkspur between her petticoats

And cocooned herself, as if with paperbark

 

Then paced, finally leaving distinct prints,

But passing unstung through the bees in the

Clover, over pine needles and rosemary, into

The solid embrace of the wind. Sand blows

Into the old scars of her eyelids, still she reaches

For the shape into which she wants to grow.

 

She will expand, year by year, from within,

And when all her layers chafe she knows

Her pumice-light bones will keep her afloat.

 

The bruises that bloom and linger only show

Where everything else ends and she begins.

 

Her pulse beats in her lips, drowning out

The pounding waves. Her heart had been,

Before her birth, only ghostly filigree:

Useless, however delicate and complete.

 

Now she’s dense and centrifugal, feet planted

In shifting sands, scoured by salt spray and

Spitting rain. She can afford to shed a little;

She’s known plenty of loss, but no lack.

 

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The Worst Kind of Pain, Ceyda Erem

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I watched them quickly approach us as I held her back, her piercing shrieks and cries ringing in my ears.

‘My son! Michael, my son! Please!’ she yelled through tears, her hands balling into fists as she pushed her weight against mine. I underestimated how much upper body strength she actually possessed. The smoke made it harder to breathe. I can’t even imagine what it would be like for that little shit. Through the greyish haze they reached out to us, helping me hold Emily back.

‘Ma’am, I need you to stay calm for me. There is no way I am letting you back into the house. Now, if you give us two minutes, I’m about to send in my best men to go and find your son. We’ll get him out,’ he shouted affirmatively, adjusting his helmet. ‘For now, I just need you guys to stand back and try not to inhale the smoke, okay?’

‘Two minutes?! This is my son! We don’t have two minutes!’ Emily cried, while going red in the face and forcing her body forward as hard as she could. She turned to me. ‘Anthony, do something!’

‘Em, they’ll get him. It’s gonna be okay,’ I lied, attempting to pin her arms down. There is no way I’m letting her in, that kid will have to figure it out himself.

*

Mum always told me that the fire alarm was important. And that the batteries needed to be changed often. Maybe I should’ve listened. I mean, when she would come home from work, she’d normally go right into the kitchen and start cooking dinner. Maybe she told me because it was my job to change them. But what about Anthony? He’s taller; he could’ve done it. Mum even said that when he moved in he would help out more.

I smelt the smoke while I was doing my homework. I thought mum had just burned something like she always does, even though I didn’t hear her come home. At one point I thought I heard a door slam, but I figured I was just hearing things. Kinda funny that she’s a chef and she still manages to burn dinner sometimes. She calls it stress. Then the smell started getting worse and I figured something wasn’t right. I went out of my room and ran downstairs. The lounge room was empty except for bright orange fire that was sitting on the couch and climbing across it. I screamed loudly and turned around to run back upstairs.

There was no one home, how could this have happened? My house is on fire, my house!

With each step I took, my stomach climbed higher and higher, tempting itself to fall out of my mouth. When I finally reached my bedroom I knew that I would need my big, grey jacket. I wasn’t leaving without my dad’s stuff. He died, well, passed away (that’s what mum tells me to call it), three years ago in a car accident. I was seven. Mum let me keep some of his stuff and the rest we gave away; by force, you might say. I only kept the things that were important; like his fishing rod and his favourite tie.

The things that made him special. I didn’t know how I was going to carry everything out on my own, but my jacket pockets were deep and I had to try.

They taught us about fire safety in school so I knew what to do. They told us to crawl out of the burning house so that you don’t inhale too much smoke. I made a list in my head of the things I had to get that belonged to my dad. First thing I needed was all of our pictures together; they were in my desk drawer. Those would definitely fit in my pockets. I ripped my jacket off its hanger and rolled the big sleeves up. Mum said I would grow into it eventually. While fumbling with the knob of my drawer, I knew I had to act quickly or I wouldn’t be able to breathe. I scooped my hands underneath my school clothes and threw them onto the floor. The photographs lay at the bottom of my drawer, concealed from the world. I was tempted to quickly flip through some of them but the sudden burning in my throat changed my mind. It started to become harder for me to breathe and an uncontrollable cough took over. Before I took another step, I couldn’t help but notice the photograph that was stacked at the top. It was the first time my dad had taken me fishing on the water. I had my short blue rod dangled over the boat with my dad standing behind me, helping me.

‘Dad, I can’t breathe in this life jacket, can’t I take it off now?’ I had asked, struggling to lift my arms up. I could feel the sun burning down the length of my back and neck and the choppy waves made standing still look like a job. But I was happy regardless because my dad was about to teach me how to cast a line. He had told me to keep an eye on the string as it flew out and to be aware that if it got tangled, you were screwed.

‘Your mother will kill me, so no,’ he had answered with a smile, looking over to my mum who was preparing lunch. He moved behind me and placed his hands on my shoulders, preparing to help me cast for the first time.

‘That’s right, leave it on, sweetheart,’ my mum interrupted, reaching for the camera that sat at the top of her bag. My mum had always been one to savour every moment; ‘for the future!’ she would say.

‘Oh please, Mum, no,’ I complained, rolling my eyes as she prepared to take the photo. She shifted her body towards us and gestured that my dad and I move closer together. ‘One day you’ll thank me for all these photos, Michael.’

‘Smile!’

Carefully, I placed the photos within my pocket with one hand while the other covered my mouth. I could feel my eyes stinging as the smoke had started to seep from under my door. Tears started to run down my face when I realised that I had been storing away fear. My mind went to my mother still stuck at work having no idea what was going on. That the house we’ve lived in together for as long as I can remember was currently falling apart. Or Anthony, who should have been home by now. He married my mum last year in Fiji a week before my ninth birthday. I wasn’t allowed to go because I was ‘too young’; well, that’s what he told me. When we first met he would just stare at me, like I was an insect that needed to be terminated. I don’t think he wanted to be a father.

‘This is Anthony,’ my mother said with a glowing smile. ‘He’s going to be living with us from now on. I know you two will get along.’

We didn’t.

One of the things I had managed to smuggle into my bedroom was my dad’s favourite tie. He’d wear it when he knew he would have a good day at work. My dad enjoyed his job a lot and it made me realise that I wanted to be as happy as he was when I grow up. Mum said he was a businessman, which is why he was always in a suit. My dad’s tie was hung at the back of my cupboard, so no one would think to steal it. He had promised that one day I would have it, so I was just keeping up his end of the deal.

‘Michael, one day you’re gonna have to know how to tie one of these,’ he told me one morning while standing in front of a mirror. ‘All men have to learn how to do it. My dad taught me and now it’s your turn.’

‘But I’m not a man yet, dad,’ I answered while watching his hands wove around the tie. The way his hands moved looked like magic.

‘Who says you’re not?’

I shrugged my shoulders in response.

‘You do your homework every day, don’t you?’

I nodded.

‘You help your mum with the dishes when I’m not there, don’t you?’

I nodded again.

‘Well, it sounds like to me that you already are a man. They get things done even when they don’t want to. Now come closer and watch how I do it.’

With a deep breath, I started to walk towards my bedroom door. I didn’t know what to expect on the other side but I knew it couldn’t be good. For a moment I thought it was stupid to have gone back for the photos and tie, but I couldn’t help myself. It was Anthony who forced us to give the stuff away, probably from fear that my mum would miss my dad too much. My heart wanted to grab the fishing rod too before I left, but there was no time. I started to cry knowing that I probably would never see it again. I hoped my dad wouldn’t be mad at me for losing it.

I finally built up the courage and forced my hand around my doorknob. I almost wanted to close my eyes as I turned it but I knew I would have to face the outside of my bedroom eventually. I felt it was best to ‘take the plunge’ as they say and fling the door open. I gasped as I saw that the fire had almost reached the staircase. Carelessly, I threw the tie around my neck and hesitantly walked to the top of the stairs, my hands glued to the railings. As I walked I could reassuringly feel the photos, which moved as I did in the depths of my pocket. I was determined to keep them safe. When I looked over my heart began to race; the living room was gone. The coffee table and the couches had been reduced to nothing. My head had started to spin and my coughing intensified but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I couldn’t bring myself to be scared. I was just sad. Every memory that had been created and lived through within this house had vanished. Crumbled. The stitching of my house had come undone.

The wooden tables that circled around the dining table had been forcibly chiselled down to sharp points. The smell of burning wood was normally a favourite of mine, but right now, all it did was fill me with hate. With a heavy heart I watched as the fire seeped into the heart of the dining table and begin to swallow it whole. Every night at dinner my dad would tell a terrible joke to make my mum and I smile. Sometimes we’d laugh, but we’d mostly just smile at how terrible they were. It was our version of saying grace. Now that memory had been replaced with ash. I didn’t know if I was going to make it to the front door.

It felt like it had been hours since I moved and my head felt as if it was about to fall off. They told us at school what would happen to you if you inhaled too much smoke. My stomach had started to feel queasy and churn violently. My lungs felt as heavy as cement and each breath I took became increasingly difficult. One of the neighbours must have seen the smoke by now. Did they call for help? Do they know I’m inside? Does mum know? I couldn’t wait any longer; I needed to get out of here. As I walked down the stares, my vision began to blur and my body started to droop uncontrollably; I was tired and weak. It was bad enough that the fire and smoke had torn my house apart; now it was trying to take me down.

I wasn’t gonna make it to the bottom of the stairs.

*

When they had told me I had gone into labour I panicked; I wasn’t ready. James had thrown in me into the wheelchair, screaming for the nurses to help. My contractions had started to appear every couple of minutes and I knew it was time to be taken to the hospital. James and I had been married for only less than a year but we were itching for a family. I could only see white fly past me as James raced me down the hallway with two nurses following speedily behind. He was running so quickly, I thought I was going to fall out of the wheelchair.

‘James, slow down, it’s okay,’ I cried out, my hands cupping the gigantic bump that was searing with pain. I didn’t really know if I was coaxing James or myself. It was then I realised that you could read as many books as your mind could handle, take as many breathing and nursing classes as you could afford, but you’d always end up unprepared. The nurses helped me onto the bed as I held my breath. They propped me up and leaned me against a stack of soft pillows that catered to my aching back.

‘You alright, Em?’ James asked while squatting beside me and reaching for my hand. He had looked more nervous than me.

‘Shhh,’ I replied immediately while squeezing his hand cruelly, feeling my nails dig into his skin. ‘Just please…don’t talk.’

‘Here if you need me,’ he smiled, knowing I didn’t mean to be so rude.

Minutes had turned into hours and I still had not seen or held my baby. I had reached my limit. Somehow through my constant screaming and crying I had managed to tell James to get the nurse nearby.

‘Everything all right?’ she asked cheerfully coming around the corner. I almost hated how happy and carefree she was.

‘How…much…longer,’ I groaned, squinting my eyes shut. She pouted her lips pitifully and walk to crouch near my legs, assessing my dilation.

‘You’re at 8 centimetres, you shouldn’t have long to go, dear,’ she told me softly. ‘Just hang in there for a little more.’

James tended to the building sweat that was now dribbling down my forehead and onto my lips. I could feel my heart race; it felt like it was bouncing off the inside of my chest. My body was in agony and I was ready to give up.

‘I can’t do it anymore, James,’ I whimpered, shaking my head as I spoke. ‘It hurts so much, I can’t.’

‘You can, Emily,’ he replied, stroking my hair softly. ‘I know you can.’

*

‘Sweetheart, look!’ I said to Emily, pointing to the dark shadows that were slowly emerging from the house. I squinted my eyes and tried to find Michael; either being carried in their arms or slowly walking behind them. As they got closer I could see the boy draped over one of their shoulders. He wasn’t moving.

*

Everyone says that labour is the worst pain imaginable.

They’re wrong.

Losing a child hurts more.

 

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Lost, Ashna Mehta

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It was a quarter past nine. Rubbing her eyes, Evie sat up in bed, roused by the scent of frying butter and coffee wafting into her room from the kitchen. Untangling her legs from the quilt, she swung them over the side of her bed and stood up as she registered the familiar Saturday morning sounds coming from downstairs. She could hear the television in the family room blasting Spongebob Squarepants, which had become Benny’s favourite show as of late. Evie heard her father clattering around in the kitchen, no doubt making a celebratory brunch for her mother—she was due home from New York this afternoon after being abroad for close to a month for work.

Enticed by the idea of a big fry-up and coffee, Evie stepped out of her bedroom and made her way into the family room. Still in his pyjamas, Benny sat cross-legged on the couch, his eyes glued to the screen, thumb in his mouth. He looked up and gave her a toothy grin when she walked into the family room, his arms flailing for a hug.

‘Mama’s coming home today, Evie!’ He crowed, wrapping his arms tightly around her waist. He looked up at her, his face ruddy and crusted with Weetabix. He beamed at her and she grinned back.

‘Are you excited, Benny?’ she chuckled, eyeing the clumsy ‘Welcome Home’ banner that Benny had drawn for their mum. He’d spent ages the night before colouring it with his crayons and pleading with Dad to let him stay up just a little longer to finish it. Now the banner sat folded on the coffee table, ready to be hung up by the front door, although Evie knew her father would never get around to it. Ben gave her his best gap-toothed smile and nodded. Evie ruffled his hair and padded into the kitchen, where her father was making pancakes.

‘Will Mum be home in time to watch The Magic School Bus with me?’ Ben called out, his voice hopeful. Evie laughed.

‘Sorry, kiddo. Her flight doesn’t land until 11:00,’ her father answered, smiling. He had a spatula in one hand and was wearing an apron over his sweatpants and Rabbitohs T-shirt. Evie studied her father’s face as he flipped the pancakes on the griddle. His hair was still mussed from sleep and he hadn’t bothered to shave since her mother had left for her trip. His face had grown wider over the years and reminded her of a gruff but kindly headmaster.

‘So, miss.’ Sensing her presence in the kitchen, her father turned to face her, holding the spatula like a microphone. ‘What would you like with your pancake?’ He gestured to the kitchen island, where he’d set up a cornucopia of pancake toppings, replete with maple syrup, apples in cinnamon butter and chocolate chips. Evie felt a little burst of contentment unfurl in her chest; she loved mornings like this, when her Dad would make them celebratory brunch. Today, they had two reasons to celebrate; her mother’s arrival from New York and the first day of summer holidays.

‘The chocolate chips, definitely,’ she replied, perching on a barstool by the island. Moments later, a plate of warm pancakes was set before her, along with a steaming mug of coffee. A second plate and mug was placed next to hers soon after as her father settled beside her.

‘Are you excited Mum’s coming home?’ he asked, taking a sip of coffee.

‘Of course I am—but what’s she going to say when she sees the state the house is in?’ Evie asked. Her father glanced up from his breakfast, a forkful of pancake held comically in front of his mouth. He surveyed the kitchen, taking in the clutter and general detritus that seemed to accumulate twice as fast in her mother’s absence. Her father shook his head, a small smile dimpling his cheeks.

‘I’ve never seen your mother lift a finger, yet somehow the house is always spotless.’ He sighed. ‘Having said that, knowing her talents in the kitchen, you’re lucky I’m the one who made brunch today.’ Evie’s father winked.

Evie nodded, grinning. ‘Remember the meatloaf fiasco last Christmas?’ she reminisced, referring to the time her mother had become inspired by Nigella Lawson’s cooking tutorials online and had decided to make an entire Christmas dinner herself. Predictably, her mother’s attempt at domesticity had ended with shrieking smoke detectors, a charred meatloaf and takeaway boxes from the local Thai restaurant.

Her father laughed, his eyes crinkling in mirth. ‘Oh yeah—we made her sign an agreement that she’d never enter the kitchen unsupervised again.’ He nodded, his features softening as he remembered.

‘So are you leaving to pick Mum up from the airport soon?’ Evie asked, pooling syrup onto her plate.

‘Yep, just as soon as I’ve showered.’ her dad answered.

It hadn’t been easy, adjusting to Mum being away for so long. While the initial concept of having pizza for dinner and Pop Tarts for breakfast had thrilled her, Evie found that she couldn’t wait to have her mother back home, if only so she could stop looking after Ben while her dad was at work.

‘Good point. Big day for you, huh? Are any of your friends coming over today?’ her dad asked, draining the last of his coffee.

‘No—I haven’t made any plans with friends,’ she shook her head, swallowing a mouthful of pancake. ‘I was just going to relax at home today,’ she finished.

‘Okay, well try to coax that little cretin into the shower,’ her dad gestured to the family room, where Ben had resumed watching his cartoons. Evie gave her father a dubious look, remembering Benny’s cereal-encrusted pyjamas.

‘I’ll do my best.’ Finishing the last of the pancakes, she stood up and went to wash her plate in the sink. Her dad placed his plate and mug beside hers on the counter and went upstairs to shower. Evie enjoyed the sensation of the cool water on her hands as she washed the dishes, her mind absorbed in the pleasantly mundane task. Twenty minutes later, she heard her dad clatter downstairs, clad in jeans and a Polo shirt, his face shaved.

‘Evie, before I forget.’ He began, entering the kitchen where Evie had progressed from doing the dishes to tidying. ‘Please clean up a little around the house so your mum doesn’t think I kept you kids in a den of iniquity while she was away.’ he coaxed, a wry grin on his face.

‘Alright, as long as you promise to fix the porch light when you get home.’ She bargained. ‘Mum’s been nagging you to fix it for ages.’ Evie continued, wiping down the kitchen counter.

‘Sure thing, Evie.’ Her father chortled, patting his pockets for his car keys. After a brief scavenger hunt, they found the keys nestled in Ben’s toy box. Evie returned to the kitchen and kept tidying, the muted sounds of Spongebob and Patrick keeping her company. She heard her father shout a hasty farewell, followed by the familiar creak and groan of their ancient garage door rolling open. Soon, her father had gone, and it was just her and Ben.

*

Two hours later, Evie sat on the porch swing, a tattered paperback on her lap. A pitcher of iced tea sat on the coffee table by her side, sweating in the afternoon heat. Having spent the last two hours wrangling Ben into clean clothes, vacuuming the family room and tidying her bedroom, Evie felt like she’d earned a break and had decided to relax on the porch. Evie felt her phone vibrate from the pocket of her jeans and frowned as she went to answer the call; her father never called her. He always preferred to text.

‘What’s up, Dad? Is the plane delayed or something?’ she asked, noticing that her parents should have been home by now.

‘Honey, I don’t want you to worry because I’m still trying to get the details, but there’s been some sort of accident,’ her dad began, his voice strained.

Evie sat up on the swing, her eyes wide. ‘What sort of accident? What are you saying?’ she stammered.

‘I don’t… There’s been an accident. I’ve called Mrs Cassini and she’s going to watch you kids while I’m at the airport. She’ll be over soon,’ he spoke in a rush. Evie felt as if she had missed a step going downstairs; her stomach swooped and her heart seemed to stop for a few moments as her father’s words registered in her brain. Her mother, in an accident? The image did not compute; her mother was the most cautious person she’d ever known. This was the same woman who never gambled, drank only one glass of wine a week and drove five kilometres below the speed limit. Her mother, who would fret and call Evie if she was even five minutes late to pick Ben up from kindergarten every day.

‘Evelyn, are you still there?’ her father barked. Evie nodded, forgetting that he couldn’t see her over the phone.

‘Yes, I’m here,’ she croaked. ‘I’m scared, Dad,’ she quavered.

‘It’ll be alright. It will be fine,’ he answered, his voice slipping into autopilot.

*

They didn’t know much, but they knew that her mother’s plane had crashed. Hours later, Evie sat frozen on the couch, her eyes unfocused. Their neighbour, Mrs Cassini, a plump woman in her sixties, sat across from her, a skein of wool and the beginnings of a scarf in her lap. She had come over shortly after Evie had gotten the first phone call from her father and had sat with her and Ben while they waited for more news.

The TV was playing the five o’clock news, with segments every ten minutes about the plane crash. After a while, unable to bear hearing the same news over and over, Evie had muted the television and resisted the urge to chuck the remote at the wall. Her phone had been set to its loudest ringer, so as not to miss her father’s calls.

‘Try not to worry, petal. I’m sure your mama will be alright.’ Mrs Cassini consoled, glancing up from her knitting needles. Evie bit back a retort, but couldn’t resist rolling her eyes. She couldn’t see how Mrs Cassini’s irritating platitudes would help and resumed staring at the TV, her thoughts jumbled. The two of them sat in silence, with Evie staring at the TV, and Mrs Cassini engrossed in her scarf. Earlier, Evie had tried to settle Ben down for a nap. Picking up on the tension, Ben had become churlish and recalcitrant. He’d cried out in his sleep twice, but had otherwise been silent. Evie’s heart rate spiked as she heard the creak and groan of the garage door as it opened. Her father was home.

She was off the couch in a second, her palms moist. Her father entered the family room, his face weathered and beaten, as if he’d aged twenty years in a day. Worry lines creased his face, his eyes red and raw.

Evie stared at him, biting her lip. ‘What are they saying, dad? What happened to Mum?’ she questioned, stepping closer to her dad.

‘The airline said that there was a problem with the wing design, which caused wing failure,’ he answered. He sat down on the couch, burying his head in his hands. Evelyn waited, feeling dizzy.

‘The plane experienced mechanical failure over the Blue Mountains, and crashed somewhere above the ranges,’ her father continued. ‘They’ve sent helicopters and are making their best efforts to find survivors in the rubble,’ he finished, his voice breaking on the last few words.

Through all this, Mrs Cassini had listened in silence, her jaw slack. ‘But… Surely they must find survivors. In this day and age, there must be some,’ she wavered. The old woman’s unflinching optimism made Evie want to put her fist through a wall. Evie closed her eyes as she felt tears prick her eyelids. She didn’t want to imagine her mother hurt, scared and alone. Better to imagine her mother at home, dressed in her comfiest tights and tank top, singing along to Queen.

At a loss for words, Evie hugged her father, burying her head into his chest like she used to when she was little. He hugged her back, but his arms were stiff and mechanical. Sensing that he needed to be alone, she went upstairs to her parents’ bedroom, which was exactly how her father had left it this morning, before the accident. She closed the door behind her and walked through her parents’ bedroom like it was a museum.

All day she’d refused to cry, believing that it would somehow mean her mother had gone. But now, standing alone in the darkened bedroom, she dropped to the floor and leaned against the bed, her shoulders wracked with sobs. She remembered the kind of cries Ben used to make when he was a baby, but this felt different. This felt like grief with no end. Evie cried so hard she could hardly breathe, but her tears eventually slowed to long, deep sighs punctuated by the occasional sniffle. She heard muffled voices from downstairs, and listened, wiping her eyes. Mrs Cassini was trying to console her father, but her presence in their home felt downright intrusive now.

‘Listen darl, they wouldn’t have sent search and rescue teams to the crash site if they didn’t think there were any survivors,’ Mrs Cassini began. ‘Your Alison is a strong, wilful woman. I’ve no doubt she’s waiting for rescue right this moment in an air pocket. She’s got so much to live for!’ Mrs Cassini cried. For a few moments there was silence, before a loud slam echoed around the house. Evie flinched, her eyes wide.

‘Damn it, there are no air pockets! They don’t exist!’ her father bellowed. ‘She’s gone. My Allison’s gone,’ he groaned, his voice cracking. Mrs Cassini fell silent.

Tears began trickling down Evie’s face again; she’d never heard her father raise his voice to anyone. She heard Ben wail from his bedroom; her father’s shouts had woken him. Doing her best to wipe her face, Evie crept across the landing and into Ben’s bedroom.

He was curled up in bed, his face creased with worry. His lamp cast a warm yellow glow around his bedroom, reaching all the way from his bed to his bookshelf.

‘Why is dad angry, Evie?’ Ben asked, gazing up at her.

‘He’s not angry, Benny. Just upset,’ Evie soothed. She pulled a pile of books off the shelf to read to him just like her mother did whenever Ben couldn’t sleep.

‘About Mum not coming home?’ Ben mumbled.

‘Yeah, about that.’ sensing a change of topic was needed, she told Ben to pick a book from the pile she had chosen. He picked Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. Evie hesitated for a moment, but opened to the first page, nestling closer to Ben in bed. A picture of a young mother cradling her baby son greeted them and Evie read aloud, ‘There was a mother who had a new baby and she picked it up and rocked it back and forth and sang,’ her voice was hoarse from sobbing, but she persisted.

‘I’ll love you forever; I’ll like you for always. As long as I’m living,’ here, she glanced down to Ben’s face. It was streaked with tears, his sobs so quiet she didn’t notice at first.

‘My baby you’ll be,’ Evie finished the song she’d heard her mother sing countless times before, tears rolling down her cheeks.

‘Is Mum going to come home, Evie?’ Ben sniffled.

‘I don’t think so, Benny,’ Evie whispered.

 

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Crossroads, Alix Rochaix

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I

What is it about the small hours?
Those between say, 2.00 am and 4.00 am?

‘These hours are as small as a human heart
— with no hope left in it.’
No. Too tragic.
‘These are the hours in which
to unleash a dam burst of
… creative agony.’
Worse.

I (for one)
rap out thousands of words
in these wee
small
hours
my face surreal in a monitor light.
(But you will never read them)
I hold schizophrenic dialogue with myself.
I may mutter.
Take my own pulse
— peevishly.
I examine my mad eyes in the mirror.
You know.
You have been here too
— in these same small hours.

What is it about the crossroads?
In these hours I can hear every sleeping scream
slamming door
and all the bottles
that have ever been hit
strike the pavement.

 

II

If we care at all about image
— as we doubtless do.
I would prefer to be seen as mad rather than bad.
You to be seen as crazy rather than stupid.
I’ve heard you smugly identify yourself
as a bastard
— even a cunt.
Because that to you, derivations aside,
implies power.
I think you have felt very powerless.
A bit like I do now in fact.

We know that misinterpreted power corrupts.
I know that it reduces the function
of a human heart.

 

III

I am alone in the room.
The room is sparse and loveless.
An oversized Asian washroom
— white tiles, cold surfaces.
No tell-tale signs of emotion here
— for you have sponged them from your life.
Everything on wheels.
As you decreed.
My heart shrinks and shrivels.
Outside it’s hot, heavy, acrid.
Fires in faraway mountains, but not here.
Here there is only the haze
and I have stumbled about in it.
The air is as heavy and polluted
as this ‘love affair’.
I can’t go out there.
The smells, the smoke, your silence
— are all strangling me.

I have thrashed about on blistered feet
trying to find a place to belong.
My scream is like Kahlo’s,

Diego!

I am alone.

 

IV

I stand outside the terminal.
You are waking to find me gone.
And all things shining and stationary
on their wheels.
I’m such a klutz.
I can’t do anything effectively
A stranger lights my cigarette
— face full of tender concern.
Can I get you anything?
What? A paramedic?
They don’t have an antidote
for disappointment.

This is the crossroads.
This is where worlds collide
and shove and push all things on wheels
— toting their collective baggage.

I must be a sight.
Tall blonde woman with tear-bloated face.
I inspire pity.
I have cut across the global rush
and served as a small reminder.
Stare if you dare
— or if your culture permits it.
Gabble about me assured
that I don’t understand
— because I really don’t.
Confusion is as much in the admixture
of my tears
as catharsis.

 

V

My last-minute escape flight
my adrenalin flung flight
— cancelled.
Grounded.
Thwarted.
This is no dramatic exit.
I make my displeasure known
to the blank face
beyond the counter.
I’m powerless, he says.
I may have ranted.
I did call a state of emergency.
You’re at the top
of the wait-list
he lies.
We’ll call you.
What to do
in this wasteland between
imprisonment and flight.

I check through the leather bag
bought at Bvlgari.
You thought it would make me happy.
It didn’t.
Now I’m inspecting it meticulously
— to ensure there’s no mysteriously materialised
shreds of marijuana.
Now that would be a thwarted exit!
Arrested
at Changi Airport.
For the tiny scumblings
of the marijuana I smoked
to make me happy.
The irony of that
makes me laugh out loud.
People’s heads pivot.
The thought then
of an immense space-age auditorium
this terminal
full of heads pivoting
at the sight of a tall alien
scraping her nails through
a Bvlgari bag,
feeling the surge
of hilarity hysteria
sometimes brings.
And this thought too
is hysterical.
Strange person
who stands alone

laughing.

I buy cigarettes.

 

VI

I stand outside the terminal.
Smoking and sniveling.
Yes. Yes.
I am a spectacle.
I’ve had a bereavement
a breakup
a breakdown.
Thank you.
Nothing to see here.
Move on.
Only the kind stranger stopped
at the sight of she
who scrabbled about in a
flashy bag muttering.
I’m such a klutz.
cigarette clamped
between her teeth.

I buy cigarettes.
But no lighter.

However,
being a spectacle pays sometimes.

For I am called.

 

VII

In the sky I splash my face
paint my lips a pink called Pashin’.
Take my seat and see
the blue that has stretched
gloriously above untainted
by the haze.
I had nearly forgotten it.
Eyes wide, clear now
as this sky.
— it must have been the smoke.

I can laugh out loud
at a stupid movie,
finish a forgotten novel buried deep
in the grinning gape
of a Bvlgari bag.

 

VIII

When you say,
What the hell?
We could have talked.
I say we could have.
But we didn’t.
And it was the silence
you see.
I need words and laughter.
You need your sad guitar
and silence.
And without words
I shrivel to a smudge
on the tiles
of Singapore
smoking and toting
a burdensome bag-full
of shredded dreams.

 

IX

So I stay awake
in the small hours
rewriting words.
But I can only start
at the ending.

This is a little story
— a flight, some sleepless hours,
a few words.
I thought, at least,
I should address it to someone,
rather than leave all that
folded up in the dark.

What is it about the crossroads?
There’s always small hours
of grief and madness …

Aren’t there?

 

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The White Line, Cassie Hamer

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It was the woman’s stomach that Kat noticed first – round and ripe as a February mango. Eight months pregnant, she guessed.

Kat shuffled along the bench to give her extra space.

‘Thanks,’ said the pregnant woman, panting a little as she lowered herself slowly onto the seat. The air in the station couldn’t be good for the baby, Kat thought – sooty and still – almost like smoking.

The chimes of a station announcement sounded.

‘We regret to advise that all trains on the western line are experiencing lengthy delays due to a medical emergency at Redfern. We apologise for any inconvenience.’

The pregnant woman sighed. ‘Not again,’ she muttered and rubbed her stomach in circles.

At the other end of the seat, two men in suits and loosened ties sat down.

‘I’ll bet it’s a suicide,’ commented one of them.

‘Selfish bastard,’ said the other. ‘Why couldn’t he have just thrown himself off a cliff? Save us all the hassle.’

Kat stopped listening. Unfeeling, banker pricks.

Next to her, the pregnant woman moaned softly and clutched her side.

‘Are you OK?’ Kat asked.

‘I’m fine. I’m fine,’ she said, waving away Kat’s concern. ‘It’s just the baby kicking the crap out of me.’ She smiled wanly. ‘I’m over it.’

‘How long have you got to go?’

‘Two weeks. Thank god.’

‘It’s hard at the end,’ Kat offered, sympathetically, remembering how every step had felt like a bowling ball, grinding on her pelvis.  She had wanted it all to be over – to have her little girl out, and in the world. Now, she would give anything to feel that pain again.

‘You’re a mum?’ asked the pregnant lady.

Kat paused. She never knew quite how to answer that. ‘Um, yes. I had my baby two months ago.’

‘Two months, and you’re back at work? That’s amazing.’

Adam had been cautiously supportive when she said she wanted to go back. ‘You’re sure you’re ready?’ he’d asked, frowning.

Kat wasn’t sure, but she could think of no other way to climb out of the black hole. ‘I’m sure’, she’d lied.

‘OK, well, I guess it might be a good distraction.’

‘I hope so.’

‘So you’ll stop expressing then?’

‘I guess I’ll have to.’

But she hadn’t. Every day, in the toilets at work, she pulled out her breast pump and cried, silently, as she watched the milk drip out of her.

Everyone had been so kind, at first.

‘Kat, if it’s not too much trouble…’

‘Kat, I know you’re probably snowed under, but do you think…’

‘Kat, I don’t want to put too much pressure on you…’

But after a couple of weeks, their extra words dried up. They went back to exactly the way they’d been before the baby.

Kat would never go back.

She still hadn’t gotten around to changing her screen saver image – a photo from the 12 week ultrasound image. The outlines made her baby look like an alien ghost.

The dirty wind of an approaching train blew into Kat’s face. She looked at the painted white line, separating the platform from the tracks, separating life from death. Stepping off would be so easy.

Damn that white line.

‘Kat, I’m sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat.’

That damn white line – flat and dead on the ultrasound machine.

The train squealed into the station.

The two young men leapt up, while the pregnant woman lifted herself heavily off the bench.

Kat stayed seated.

‘Aren’t you getting on?’ asked the pregnant lady.

‘No, I think I’ll wait for the next one.’

‘Don’t you want to get home to your baby?’

To a home with a nursery that had never been slept in? And a fridge full of breast milk that would never be drunk? No, Kat did not want to go there.

‘It doesn’t stop at my station,’ she lied.

The train took off with a groan and Kat stayed sitting, watching the white line.

 

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