Tag Archives: Issue #11

An Evening on the Farm, Tanya Lake

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The pink cockatiel jumped inside her cage, sprouting phrases as people passed; each one tailored to the individual.

“Wine O’clock!” it would chirp, for Linda.

“Bottoms Up!” for Gary. “Bottoms Up!”

“Yeah, we heard ya.”

“Yeah, yeah,” the cockatiel replied.

 

Linda wasn’t racist, but she told Gary, “Them Muslims over Monkey Tree Hill, I’ve got my suspicions. Their dog killed 100 head of my sheep. Happened right before them weird sacrifices they have. Very bloody convenient, if you ask me. Would’ve snuck up in the night and nicked a few I reckon, for their sacrificin’ and whatnot.”

Gary muttered noises of solidarity.

 

Linda hadn’t left the farm in years. She got homesick on the drive to Mudgee. “I miss my animals too much,” she said, when Gary left for supplies.

The pig patrolled the fence, snorting like a bathtub emptying. It ate everything they threw over the fence; lemons, bread rolls, icecream. Whilst the hills whistled a tune of isolation that gave Linda the heebie jeebies, she didn’t feel lonely. Quite the contrary; the animals were her gang. The mule, the goats, the Lab, the chickens; she loved ‘em all.

One evening she was walking alongside old Macy the Clydesdale, checking the water level at the back dam, when the old mare trod onto her steel capped Blundstone, breaking her foot. Linda didn’t remember passing out, but when she came to, the Muslim neighbour was beside her.

“Water level’s not great, is it?” was all Linda could think to say.

 

Her name was Sasha. “Let’s get you up on the horse,” she said.

“Why aren’t you wearing your… your thing?” Linda asked.

She appreciated Sasha’s help. She announced that she was not going into Mudgee to have her foot looked at. She would be fine on the farm, thankyou very much. At the house, Sasha helped her onto the couch, then fetched a whisky to wash back the Panadols.

“It’s lovely to talk to someone,” Sasha said. “I love the space out here, but John isn’t a talker, if you know what I mean, and it’s just so lonely sometimes.”

“Oh I love it.” Linda replied. “It’s not lonely when you’ve got this many animals.”

Sasha looked around Linda’s home; the spinning wheel, the bird cages. “True. Maybe I need more pets.” She patted the grinning Lab beside her, his tail thumping the floor. “I think I’ll get a dog. I need a friend.”

She crouched at the cockatiel’s cage.

“She escaped once,” Linda began. “Flew over onto that roof, there. But she was shit scared. When I found her she tucked her head into my neck, shaking all over.”

Sasha stroked it through the bars. “Hello Cocky!”

The cockatiel leaned toward Sasha. “I’m not racist, but!” it answered.

The bird bobbed up and down. “Not racist, but! Bloody Muslims. Cwack!”

Linda stared into her whisky glass. “The thing is, if they grow up in a cage, they don’t want to leave the cage.”

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Testing Times, Helen Carter

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Breathing rapidly. Heart throbbing. Sweat forming under my armpits but I held my ground, as I stared down the ferocious, club-wielding giant. I wanted to run. Tears were welling up but I held them back. I wasn’t going to be intimidated. I might only be slightly built, but I could do this. I didn’t want to but I had to. What would happen if I budged? I didn’t know and I didn’t find out because I stood my ground and passed the test. He got as close as the length of his wooden club and stopped. I breathed a sigh of relief.

So why, ten years later, was I being tested again? The first time had been in New Zealand. It wasn’t easy for the Maori group to accept a woman was head of the tribe, but there it was. And ten years later I had to pass another test but as head of a different tribe, and this time in Fiji. There was the added frisson of a history of cannibalism in the village but that was in the past, wasn’t it?

A bright yellow school bus drives us to the small village of Kuku Tailevu, an hour north-west of Suva, past the old Wesleyan mission where my father-in-law’s family are from. In the tribal-war days the village was called Molituva and a fortified ring-ditch provided protection from neighbouring, hostile tribes. That part of the village is abandoned now, along with its terrible association with cannibalism.

A wooden-painted church hall and a mixture of concrete and wooden houses welcomes us. Around the village is lush with palms, hibiscus, climbing vines with trumpet flowers and thick, green undergrowth. Free-range chickens cluck at our feet. Young children shyly smile, as we walk up the muddied, grass track to the amphitheatre, serenaded by toothless village elders.

I sit down with the village headman, on a grassy hillock overlooking the amphitheatre, while the rest of my tribe sit some distance away, ringing the edges. For modesty, I’m given a long grass skirt to wear. The atmosphere is tense, as the singing stops and drums begin their sombre beat. The air is charged, expectant. There is nothing to be afraid of, and yet?

Five strapping, young male warriors, wearing grass skirts and woven anklets, wielding spears appear. They usher in another warrior bearing a large wooden bowl.  They walk solemnly to the middle of the amphitheatre and sit. The chanting begins as they prepare their mixture in the ceremonial bowl.

The first cup of kava goes to the person of highest rank as a mark of honour. And apparently it is me. It is meant to be a ceremonial sip but they’ve decided to test me. The presented cup is full and despite wondering about the hygiene of the hands mixing the concoction, at least he hadn’t chewed the roots, as was the original tradition. It looks like dirty dishwater and has a taste to match. But I don’t gag. I drink it all. Once again, I pass the test.

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Seeing Through Smoke, Guy Webster

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This is me waking up. This is me reaching for my phone, pushing the blanket away, walking to the bathroom. Reaching for my toothpaste, brushing my hair, and avoiding my eyes in the mirror. This happened a week ago. Opening the fridge and cooking something that you don’t need to know about, running for a bus and looking out a window at streaks of movement and blurry scenes. This is me knowing where I’m going and waiting to get there. I won’t give you names and details, I’ve decided not to. I’m looking out a window and seeing clouds form and surround people on the street – seeing mist dissipate as the sun rises, catching the glare of something reflected and blinking through spots of light in my eyes. I’m holding my phone and searching through names and details. I get off the bus, I walk through a crowd and catch the eyes of many – see them suddenly look away, see that they were never looking. It can be 10 am if you want. I’m walking faster. I think of what I want, what I could want, but you don’t need to know that. Changing the song, I calm myself down. I don’t remember when I became stressed. I didn’t tell you that I was listening to music. This is me following the signs, cursing people who walk slowly and reprimanding myself for cursing them. This is my destination, I walk through a door; my hands are sweating. There are too many mirrors and I see myself everywhere. I see hands move toward a phone, a whispered conversation and another door opening. I am lead through and down various corridors, there are stairs and an acidic stench. Can you see that smiling man at the end of that corridor, preparing to greet me? What about that lilting portrait or that vase of sunflowers? This is where I was supposed to go today, this is who I’m meant to see. There’s a window behind him, it takes up the entire wall. Through it I can see the apartment blocks behind this building. But I watch him only, I’m here for him to ask me questions, for him to offer me a job. I’m here, I promise. He talks to me and I respond as I should. There’s a fire outside. He’s talking slowly, and his eyes never leave mine. There is dark smoke rising from the building next door, I see it. He smiles and I nod, the window seems to stretch and expand. There are storm clouds building and rising, there is incense in this room that smells of burnt cedar, and the distant echo of approaching sirens. But if you’re still watching, this is me answering his questions, with names and details that you don’t need to know. There might be more to it than that, in fact there definitely is. But this is all you get.

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So Be It, Jane Messer

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(After reading ‘Wants’ by Grace Paley)

I lived in Copenhagen for years, and like to remember the many sounds of snow underfoot. I lived in a treehouse for a week of environmental protest, and gladly recall why I was up there with the leaves whipping around me on windy nights. Floundering at age twenty I mistakenly thought being in the navy would suit my peripatetic urges, and found myself trapped in a sunken submarine exercise. I still recall the brisk fresh air once the submarine breached, the hatches had opened and I decided the navy wasn’t for me. A decade has passed since my marriage ended, yet this morning I woke thinking of those years with him, and not these other times.

My ex-husband and I don’t talk, we’re South and North Korea circa 1950, even though we live only a couple of suburbs apart and spawned three children. Lately I have seen him getting lunch at the poky mall near my workplace. He must see me too, but according to our divorce-bruised young-adult kids, he says I’ve ruined his life, so naturally enough he doesn’t want to speak to me. Each time I have left him alone. I’m not mischievous.

A while back I saw him at the mall around midday getting his lunch in the food court that has just six outlets. He was at the place which sells salad wraps and fresh juices. Then last week I saw him again on the street at the mall entry, getting money out of the ATM and that reminded me of when we’d separated and he was withdrawing $400 a day cash until $20,000 was gone. Even now I don’t know what he spent it on. So I was again going to walk past him without saying hello, when a truck negotiating a parking spot drove into a jacaranda tree growing in the square of earth given to it on the footpath near us. It was about fifteen years old, that tree. I know, because I’ve worked nearby all that time.

As the truck nudged the tree, it shook and splintered in a shower of mauve petals. I waved furiously at the driver trying to stop him grinding further into the tree. My former husband left the catastrophe straight away, his lunch and a coffee in hand. A few of us exclaimed at the driver’s idiocy and willful violence. By Monday, the tree had been removed by the council. All that is left now is a low stump and a few purple petals.

My birthday comes when the jacarandas are in flower across the city. When I think of my birthday, I think of the jacarandas. And, as I do each year on my birthday, today I woke needing to take account. I thought about the petals and my former husband striding away with not a word spoken, again. Some people really know how to hold their breath. Not me. I let go. Just like that.

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Powerless, Niko Campbell-Ellis

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It had always been a struggle for Cate, seeing her grandchildren wanting for something so easy to give. Holding out a book to their parents and asking them in perfect English and Korean to “read it to me. Please, pleeease.” Seeing them head out into a frozen Seoul winter day without a coat and only cloth slippers on their feet. Seeing them slapped for not eating properly, not speaking properly, for getting a bad report from school. Tory was only seven for God’s sake, and Nano only five. Lucky, or perhaps not, Kara was too young for school.

It wasn’t something she wanted to face but these three little people, wild, fierce and desperate for love, forced her to see that her son was an idiot and her daughter-in-law a cold-hearted bitch. They were such an odd pair. Sure, she could see the attraction, they were both beautiful, but they had nothing in common. Cate knew that Tory, coming when he did, glued Sam and Akari together and that without him they probably would have split. But in their shoes Cate would have left, pregnancy or infant notwithstanding. And now the crazy pair had added two more kids to their brood.

The straw that broke Cate came a week ago. Nano had not eaten her dinner. She didn’t like it she said and Cate could understand that. Was there no room for the child to have her own opinion? Apparently not. Akari pulled Nano from her seat and delivered a slap to her knickered bum in one practiced movement.

Lip quivering, Nano still refused the food. Arms crossed, mouth clamped shut, a shake of her head. Then Sam, Cate’s only child, the one who had been brought up in a home of gentleness and love, her Sam grabbed the plate and shoved his daughter and her meal outside onto the balcony. “Come inside when you’ve eaten it all.” His words swirled around the heated apartment in an eddy of icy air.

Cate had looked from Sam to Akari and back again. They avoided her eyes, watched Nano instead.

“It’s freezing out there…

She’s only wearing a singlet and undies… she doesn’t even have any shoes on…

Let me take some warm clothes out to her.”

“No.”

Both parents spoke at the same time.

“She can come in anytime she wants,” Sam said, not taking his eyes off his shivering daughter. “All she has to do is eat it.”

“Sam, this is cruel.”

Cate could see Nano watching them through the glass. Stoic, she wasn’t crying and she wasn’t eating. Her arms were still crossed but Cate couldn’t tell if this was defiance or an attempt to keep warm. Every breath haloed around Nano as it hit the cold air. She locked eyes with her grandmother.

“Sam, it’s freezing…

Sam, let her in…

Akari?”

Cate started to cry. Outside in the cold, Nano began to eat.

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Camouflage, James Scully

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Driving slowly past his campsite, holding my breath. Frightened girlfriend beside me, likely reconsidering partner. 2 am, chills me to see camo-man reading by lamp-light. Waiting. Big bags on ground.

Outside the camp grounds, hit the accelerator. I drink-drive-flee for my life.

I’ve been best friends with Andrew since we were 8 and my parents would have to collect me from sleepovers because I got scared. He and his wife Heather still asleep in the tent we were sharing, unaware we’ve left, unaware of the danger.

Andrew organised this trip to beautiful, isolated Wiseman’s ferry and we had fun: booze, weed, junk-food, Cards Against Humanity. The bush whispering around us, I relaxed. Until I needed the toilet.

As I’d walked to the bathroom, felt a joy at seeing people living: roasting marshmallows, drinking, a scout group playing spotlight. Then I saw the man in the camouflage pants.

Camping usually scares me: a strange catch-22 where I crave escape from the claustrophobic city but then start to panic as soon as I’m more than five minutes from a Woolworths.

Earlier, camo-man came around every campsite. I was wary of his over-friendliness. He laughed at nothing, needed gentle prompting to leave. Then I saw him getting these two huge black bags out of his 4WD Troop Carrier. Alarm bells. He smiled widely, sat the bags next to his one-person tent. A wannabe army-man camping alone is sinister and terrifying.

Trapped on the wrong side of the river, I thought of that massacre in Norway. Kids confined and hunted down on an island.

Slow-panic walk back to our tent. Campers were going to bed. Small birds sang throughout the forest as if it was day, creating a portentous mood.

I said nothing to my friends but, once in bed, I told my girlfriend.

We’ve only been together a few months. I know I’m risking a lot by letting her in. On first impressions, I seem normal. But we share anxiety and she agreed to run.

I’m gunning it down the narrow road, brooding river to our left in early morning. she says “Slow down. Drive straight.” I can’t. She tells me to let her out by the roadside. I try not to. She insists she’s going to walk back to the campsite, tells me I’m nuts.

Devastated, I drive on, see the lights of the ferry through trees—pray it’s on this side.
Camo-man might have started shooting already and I wouldn’t have heard over the chugging ferry. I wouldn’t mind at this point if he shot me. I pray she doesn’t go back.

I’ve had my moments with weed before. One time thought it was a heart attack, realised it was too much Indian food.

I board the ferry alone, flashing lights breaching the dark.

Wake in the morning parked in front of pub—her knocking on my car window.

Text message from my friend after I tell him where we are: haha. Classic Scully.

Three years later: reader, she married me!

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Faulty Product Query, Kate Smith

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Dear Darren,

My name is Helen and I’m contacting you regarding a product I purchased last month on the 13th of June 2017.

I’ve spoken to the Manager of Sales, Ben, and I’ve had a lengthy chat with Melanie from Finance.

I don’t usually write these kinds of emails but, as I said to Ben, I purchased a $95 item from a reputable Australian company and to say I’m unhappy with the purchase is a significant understatement. I’ve only owned the item for six weeks and it’s broken.

I used the item in accordance with the instructions and, as someone who takes good care of my possessions, I can guarantee you I took exceedingly good care of this item during the brief time I owned it.

I believe the item is either faulty or very poor quality and given that for the same price as this product I could have flown to Hobart, I feel it is only right that your company offers some sort of solution. Melanie has informed me that you do not offer refunds or exchanges after thirty days. I believe the timeframe is inadequate given the price tag attached to this premium product.

Ben tells me that due to the invasive way the product is used you do not offer repairs. I must say, I find this confusing. Last year when my daughter’s breast pump broke she returned it to the manufacturer for repair, and when my father’s hearing aid ended up in the washing machine the technician was happy to receive the item for mending. I really don’t see the difference in this situation.

This information may be of no interest to you, but I think your company misunderstands the e-commerce needs and motivations of women in my age group. I’m not sure what type of people you consider your target market, but as a sixty-year-old woman with the time and means to research health products and purchase top-of-the-line solutions, I feel certain I belong to a demographic worth noting in your market research.

I bought this product online because I felt self-conscious about purchasing it in a department store. I would feel embarrassed if my friends found out I was paying four times more than the standard price for such an item. Hence, I bought it online from a company I thought I could trust.

I urge you to change your policy position regarding refunds and come to recognise the values and needs of your primary customer base.

It’s the small daily rituals that make a difference in one’s life and to one’s health. As the CEO of Australia’s leading oral healthcare brand, I’m sure you appreciate why I invested in your most expensive electric toothbrush and why I am so disappointed at the result of my investment.

I hope we can reach a mutually agreeable solution to this matter.

Regards,

Helen Donaldson

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In This Otherwise Normal Day, Laura Neill

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She was supposed to call at ten, and it was already 10:26.

Tara sat at the kitchen table, her gaze locked on her phone. A full cup of tea was growing cold on the bench beside her.

When the screen lit up, she snatched the phone.

“Hello? What did they say?”

“They said we should all come now.” Her mother sounded groggy.  “We can have until this afternoon with him.”

Tara pushed back the chair and moved to the window. Outside, the sun bounced bright off the white picket fence.

“Darling?”

“Yes.”

“He’s been asking for flowers – could you get some? Bright ones. The nurses gave us some extra vases.”

 

At the supermarket entrance, the flowers stood in steel buckets under a Fly Buys Special sign. Chewing a thumbnail, Tara surveyed her options. Daffodils that sulked, stale-looking, their cellophane wrappers stickered with orange dots. Snapdragons with petals curled and scorched around the edges. Roses in tightly wrapped greenish buds that wouldn’t blossom in time.

Her throat constricted. Nothing here was beautiful enough, bright enough, and she was running out of time.

Tara grabbed a basket, loaded it with daffodils and headed to the express lane, dripping a trail of water behind her.  One by one she unpacked them onto the conveyor belt.

“How are you going today?” the cashier sang in a well-worn melody, tapping a plastic talon against the screen. Her name tag read ‘Marion’ and below it, ‘you can count on me.’

“Fine thanks and yourself?”

“Good thanks.” She started scanning the bouquets and arranging them in plastic bags.

Her lips pressed tightly together, Tara studied the artillery of breath fresheners and chewing gum in front of her.  Extra, Double-mint, Tic Tacs, Fisherman’s Friend, PK.

“Nice day isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is.”

His favourite gum had been PK – he’d always kept a stash on the cut-crystal change tray beside his bed. He’d slip her a couple of pellets when Nanna wasn’t around, smiling that secret twinkly smile.

“Twenty-nine fifty thanks.”

It had been years since Tara had chewed a piece of PK. She couldn’t remember what it tasted like.

“Do you have a Fly Buys card?”

What else would she eventually forget? Those big fix-it hands, cool and leather-dry, or the smells of car oil and fresh mint on his shirt? His crinkly smile, his salt and pepper hair?

“Wait, I’ll take this.” Tara grabbed a stick of PK and handed it to the cashier. The woman sighed and jabbed at the screen again, then pushed the pin pad towards her.

“Thirty dollars.”

She peered into the bag.

“They’re nice and bright, aren’t they?”

“Yep.” Tara whispered.

“Have a nice day then.”

Her vision swimming, she snatched up the bags and hurried out through the mezzanine, past the bottle shop and the cafe with its smells of freshly-baked bread and coffee.  She weaved around shoppers, prams, baskets and rattling trolleys, all a neon-lit blur. She was a stranger, an alien, out here in this otherwise normal day.

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Neurotoxin, Katie Pullinger

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I was behaving oddly, that day.

I entered a room with grey linoleum and no windows. A tall woman told me to lie down on my back. She shone a bright light into my face. She pierced my skin, many times, with a small needle. She injected me with a biological agent.

The biological agent was produced by a certain bacterium called Clostridium botulinum. This bacterium is generally found in soil and in the intestines of animals. Clostridium botulinum is closely related to Clostridium tetani, the germ that causes lockjaw. Lockjaw is an invariably fatal disease against which most Australians have been vaccinated.

The biological agent poisoned my nerve cells, leading to muscle paralysis.

I made no protest.

It was as if I was under a spell.

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If I Could Just Have a Word, Teresa Peni

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When you went out last night, the minute you left (in your diesel-guzzling, unsustainable 4WD, pulling out of the driveway like it does every morning at 6:50 am–I know because it’s right next to my bedroom window) I noticed your dog, Pepper started barking (and yipping, and talking to herself a fair bit) and continued to do so pretty much the whole three hours you were out (This I also know because I was watching the movie, ‘Room.’ It was a very long and suspenseful movie, and Pepper’s yips punctuated every intense moment Brie Larson and that amazing little boy actor–who didn’t even know dogs were real–tried to escape their shed prison). I actually videoed the barking (in case you were wondering, I have evidence), and I felt a bit (a lot) annoyed that my peace was interrupted. I felt—

—Oh I
—I’ll just
—Sorry about

I felt angry because this is not the first time I’ve complained about your dog barking, and I thought you should know that she barks every time you leave her alone at night (at possums, at the boogie man, at the echo of herself coming back across the creek valley), and I am worried (about her) you are not aware this is happening (how could you? She saves her best barking for the moment you zoom off in your beast of a car), and I am not alone in thinking this is a bit annoying (yep, me and the other neighbours have moaned about it behind your back) and we were thinking (use ‘we,’ I sound more badass) that perhaps Pepper ought to be left inside, or you could take her with you when you go out at night (which you young people seem to do a lot, and as I have no social life to speak of right now, it means I get to stay home and listen to your dog. Maybe I should go out more?)

Oh she’ll rip the—
She’s an outside—

Frankly, I think we need to remember that she’s your dog (and your problem) and that if I went out and left my kids screaming for three hours in the backyard during an evening, you’d probably call the police (which I can’t do… because I’m trying to be reasonable, and because nobody is home at your house to receive the cops) (Hmmm, maybe I should make the kids do that…)

Yeah, well my housemate is normally—
She’s away for the—

(What happened to that nice boyfriend you had when you first moved in? Why did you change your hair from blonde to brunette… don’t women normally dye it blonde after a breakup?) Listen, when you leave your dog at home alone during the evening, outside, and she spends the whole time barking, I feel upset, and I would appreciate it if you did something to alleviate her disturbing the peace. (LET’S NOT EVEN start to discuss the fact that the arrival of your cat has created territorial and self-esteem issues for my cat…)

*names have not been changed to protect the guilty

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