Tag Archives: Metamorphosis

Partially Mine, Sharon Johnston

We talk

He laughs

i smile

Preemptive aura hits

Déjà vu

His eyes plead

i know it’s coming

So does he

Then he’s gone

Disappears from reality

Trapped somewhere in his mind

No longer mine

A vacant stranger

He stumbles

Falls

i reach

Brace his body against my own

Heavy struggle

i lower him to the ground

Gently

Tenderly

i wait

He reaches, eyes unseeing

He grunts, voice unknowing

He drools, mouth unbreathing

i watch

Then he intakes

Swallows

Mumbles

Hums

Partially back

Partially complex

Partially mine

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Squinting Against the Sun, Laura Neill

Tess opens her eyes. A sandwich sits half an inch from her face, the crust nearly grazing the tip of her nose. A mangled mess of chicken shoved between two planks of frozen bread.

She rolls onto her back and scratches at a crust of dried spit in the corner of her mouth.

‘Right.’ Mick is sitting on an upturned milk crate in the corner of the room. ‘Two days is enough sulking time, kid. Better eat something or I’ll have the coppers round here charging me with child abuse.’

Tess hauls herself up. Little brown dots freckle her vision.

‘Can I’ve a smoke?’

‘Since when do you smoke?’

‘Please.’

Mick tosses the pouch to her and she teases out a clumsy lump of tobacco. The wax-white band of skin on her ring finger sends a spear through her empty guts.

‘Your mother rang again. The bed’s all made up for you down there. She’s offered to come get you, so you don’t have to drive.’

Her mother. Flitting around like an insect trapped inside a lampshade.

‘Just a few more days.’

‘Tess, mate. She’s bloody beside herself. And you know I’m not—’

‘Dad. I’m not here for your famous hospitality, alright?’

‘I know what you’re going through, kid. I remember it.’

‘I’m surprised you remember anything,’ her voice cracks.

Mick looks at his hands. A fly lands on the corner of the bread and begins to clean itself with its furry feet. Tess doesn’t shoo it away.

‘Hey, listen.’ Mick straightens up, clasping his hands together. ‘There’s a south-easterly blowing. Why don’t we go for a paddle later – like we used to.’

Tess watches the fly crawl over the sinews of chicken flesh. Mick rises to his feet and pauses at the door, as if about to say something else, but then changes his mind. The door closes.

She crushes her cigarette into the top of the sandwich. It extinguishes with a soft hiss.

Mick trots across the dirt the canary-yellow kayak under his arm and his wetsuit peeled down to his waist. Tess trails behind him, shrouded in a beach towel despite the heat.

She steels herself for recognition, but the streets are empty. On the corner, the surf club stands unchanged, like an old photograph. The hours she’d spent in that carpark, scratching her name on the salt-crusted breezeblocks, listening to the beer glasses clink inside. How she’d climb up the lifeguard tower to try and catch a glimpse of him behind the bar.  The smell of his uniform when he’d finally emerge, stale beer mixed with a perfume too sickly-sweet to be her mother’s. Those late night “dinners” of canned spaghetti “thickened” with a raw egg. Once, a dinner roll filled with the cold horror of apricot yoghurt that she’d hurled against the wall.

When she’d finally left, there were still flecks of dried yoghurt stuck to the lounge room wall.

On the beach, the sun is blinding. A string of surfers bob like black beads in the water, waiting for the next set to roll in. The tide is retreating, leaving behind crusted tidelines of debris; scraps of fishing net, cuttlefish skeletons, scabbed stumps of cunjevoi. Mudjimba Island stands stoic against the horizon, her green bulk fuzzed in the heat. ‘From here, it looks close,’ Mick used to tell her, pointing out to the island before pushing her out on the kayak. ‘But it’d take you a day to get ‘round it. So don’t get any ideas.’

Now she stood on the same beach, with the same kayak, looking out to the same island. As if nothing in the universe had shifted.

‘What a pearler,’ says Mick, beaming at the water.

Tess’s legs are gelatinous with exhaustion. She trudges behind her father as he drags the kayak down to the shore, following the groove the hull cuts into the wet sand. They wade out until the water licks at their knees and the kayak butts and nudges between them.

Mick holds out the paddle, squinting against the sun.

‘In you get.’

‘Me?’ A thousand excuses bottleneck.

‘What’s worse, out there or in here?’

The words hang suspended between them. Tess takes the paddle. Mick holds the fibreglass hull still as she climbs in and straightens out her legs.

‘Go easy now, don’t go trying to—’

‘Dad. I know.’

They wait for a break between sets and Mick pushes her out. Tess strokes forward, slowly at first then gaining strength, dipping and scooping, rising and falling over the increasing swell of the waves. The water grows darker and she paddles stronger, rope-burn in her shoulders and biceps. Every stroke in perfect synchronicity with her ragged breath.

Dip, scoop.

Churning water.

Slicing further, deeper into inky murkiness.

The island drew closer; the outlines of foliage now visible on the crest of the headland. At this time of day, there’d be a long afternoon shadow falling behind her.  The water sparkles, gold on tile-blue. She closes her eyes, but the light remains, shifting, flickering on the insides of her eyelids.

On the shoreline, Mick stands tiny and concave like the spine of a broken shell. If she hadn’t arrived unannounced yesterday, he’d be leaning on the balcony of the surf club right now, a beer in his hand, looking out to the same horizon.

He raises his arms now, in a semaphore wave.

Tess tries to turn the kayak, but her arms are heavy. The horizon gently lifts. A set is rolling in.

It seems to happen in an instant. A crystal wall of water, shards sparkling, curled, poised. A rollercoaster drop. Tess is thrown from the kayak, water crashes, blasting, deafening, her body grinding into the sand. She claws and breaks the surface, dragging a lungful of air before being forced back down again. Galaxies explode behind her eyelids. She instinctively thrashes, her toes curl and cramp. Lungs tighten, ready to explode. A lifetime of seconds.

She’d heard that trivia fills the mind in the moments before drowning, but all she sees is a series of quick, colourful images.

The green island.

Yellow fibreglass.

Red bricks, splattered with yoghurt.

Seawater scorches down the back of her throat as she tries to stroke forward. Then a yank, a tearing in her scalp. Her head snaps back and her face breaks the surface. She can hear someone else’s gasping. She grows heavier and heavier and then her heels are dragging, bumping along wet sand and she is plopped down like a rag doll on the shoreline.

Her chest swells again, this time quick and urgent. She leans forward and coughs up slimy foam and bile-infused seawater.

She coughs again, and drags in a breath, her lungs burning. A string of saliva dangles from her chin.

Breathe. In and out. Her whole body pounds.

Mick holds her upright, one arm across her chest and the other hand cupping her forehead. His grip trembles.

Tess gives his hand a squeeze.

‘Next time we’ll go on the river, eh?’ The joke rings high and he forces a chuckle.

They remain on the shore as the tide recedes further and their shadows slant long and lean across the sand. Nobody approaches them.

After a while, the pain in Tess’s chest fades, replaced with a new sensation; a growling ache in her stomach.

A piece of yellow slices her periphery, as the kayak slips back onto the shore.

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Radio Face, Elizabeth White

Ebony Janssen was walking from the train station in her school uniform. She could feel a clammy glide of sweat lubricating the movement of her thighs. In a modest attempt to firm her thighs and put an extra shield between the world and her underpants she wore bike pants underneath her dress. They had rolled up and were now like thick tubes around her legs.

The black lycra soaked the salty moisture and alleviated the premature signs of chafe. She tried to adjust them by pulling at their hems through her uniform.

She had been walking for ten minutes since stepping out of an air-conditioned train and onto the steaming black asphalt platform at Bowen Hills station. She didn’t know anyone who caught the train to Bowen Hills. The surrounding streets were lined with industrial buildings and mid-rise office blocks without many windows. She hadn’t walked past anyone since leaving the train station, but felt a pang of fear every time a car drove by. She kept her school hat on her head and pulled it down at the front to obscure her face. Her parents thought that she was working on her history assignment in the library after school. Although it wasn’t likely that they would drive past her, she kept worrying that someone that she knew might. What would they think about the way she was walking, trying to keep her thighs separated, causing her steps to angle out diagonally?

Two incidents in Ebony’s life had taught her that other people noticed her faults. One morning in Grade 3, Ebony had been sitting on the carpet with the rest of her class while Mrs. Wilson shared with them the daily news. When Mrs. Wilson asked Ebony and the other students to return to their desks, Ebony put her hands on the carpet in front of her, uncrossed her legs and got up from her hands and knees. Brandon Francis noticed the way she used her hands to get up instead of swiftly powering up in an unsupported motion, the way he did with his own lanky frame. Once Ebony returned to full height Brandon sniggered at her, ‘That’s how fat people get up.’ A new concept began to shape itself on Ebony’s unmarked psyche. Brandon had just brought it to her attention that she was fat, which was not something she had noticed or believed about herself before, but he had. She now understood from things she had heard in the playground, that fatness equated with ugliness.

The second instance had occurred on the train home one Friday afternoon earlier in the year. Now in Grade 10, Ebony had been standing inside the door of a train, gripping the handrail that hung down in the centre of the carriage entryway. Olivia Johns stood opposite her. They weren’t usually companions on the train trip home, but on this particular day, all of their friends had been picked up from school by their parents. Ebony was conscious that Olivia was cooler than she was, and therefore she made an attempt to appear up to date with the latest gossip circulating through their grade. ‘Did you hear about the party that boy from St John’s had? Apparently some guys from Macarthur High gatecrashed, and then the cops turned up.’

‘Yeah, I was there,’ Olivia replied. She avoided looking at Ebony by watching some schoolboys sitting down the other end of the carriage. Ebony tried to keep the conversation going. ‘Do you know many guys from St John’s?’ she asked. The only boys Ebony knew were on the soccer team she played on. But she never really spoke to them unless they said something to her first, which wasn’t very often.

‘A few. I went out with one for a while,’ Olivia said, still watching the boys further down the train.

‘That’s cool.’ Ebony hoped that one day she’d go to parties and hang out with some boys.

‘Hey, why don’t you wash your face?’ Olivia turned back and centred her attention on Ebony, looking at her through the metal handrail.

‘What? I do.’ Ebony’s face started to feel warm. The train came to a halt at a station. Losing her footing, she tried to grab onto the handrail and rebalance. She turned back to Olivia and mentally chastised herself for her inability to remain balanced on the train.

‘No you don’t. You’ve got blackheads on your nose and pimples on your forehead because your face is dirty. You should start washing your face.’ Olivia’s eyes scrutinised Ebony’s appearance.

‘But I do,’ Ebony tried to vindicate herself.

Olivia didn’t know that every morning and evening Ebony showered and washed her face with Clearasil. She rubbed the tips of her fingers over the small bumps that littered her face. Each spot was a tiny embodiment of her imperfection. Ebony prayed, she pleaded, and she bargained with God. ‘Please make my skin perfect. I’ll believe in you if you do.’

Ebony’s mother had told her that she would eventually grow out of her pimples, the way she had when she was a teenager. But Ebony couldn’t stop the feeling of disappointment that she experienced when she looked at herself in the mirror, a haunting reminder that what she saw was ugly. If she noticed it, she was certain that everyone else did too.

Now, on this hot afternoon, standing on a corner, Ebony pulled a piece of paper out of her pocket and checked the address she’d scrawled on it. 14 Brookes Street.

Looking at her surroundings she concluded that the place she was looking for was just a bit further ahead. She was going to see Dr. Hayward. She wasn’t positive that he was a real doctor. She was only positive that if she had any other options she wouldn’t be walking down an industrial road on her own with her birthday money in her schoolbag.

The front of the building was plain and undistinguished. There were no signs and the windows were all blacked out from within. Ebony noticed three pot plants that were lined up beside the front door. Their leaves were green and supple, signs of excellent care and attention. This was a good omen for her appointment. Ebony walked through the door and saw a man sitting behind the reception desk. She assumed that he must be Julian, the receptionist she had spoken to when making her appointment. Until she spoke with Julian, Ebony hadn’t made an appointment for herself before. When he answered, his voice has been friendly and approachable.

‘Good afternoon. Skin-Deep Clinic. Julian speaking.’

‘Hi. I want to see Dr. Hayward. Please. I have pimples.’

‘Darling, of course. Let me see what I can do for you. I need your name first, please.’

‘Oh, sorry. I’m Ebony. My name is Ebony Janssen. Can Dr. Hayward fix my pimples?’

‘Lovely. Ok Ebony. Dr. Hayward is booked up for the next few weeks. What time of day works best for you?’

‘Umm…I need to see him one day after school. And I have soccer training on Tuesdays and Wednesday afternoons. Oh, and games on Fridays. Is he free on a Monday or a Thursday afternoon? Please. Thank you.’

‘You’re a sporty little thing Ebony. And has anyone ever told you, you have a lovely phone voice? Maybe you could be on radio.’

‘No. They haven’t. Thank you.’

‘Now, I can fit you in to see Dr. Hayward on Thursday 6th November, 4:00pm. Does that work for you Ebony?’

‘Yes. Yes it does. Thank you.’

‘Wonderful! We’ll see you in a few weeks. Take care till then Ebony.’

‘Ok. I will.’

Now, she could put a face to the nice man on the phone. He wore a white shirt, unbuttoned at the top, underneath a navy suit. His glasses were tortoise shell and round, his hair brown and combed back in a perfect wave above his forehead, and he didn’t have any pimples. Ebony approached the desk the way she’d seen her parents do when they arrived at an appointment.

‘Hi, I’m Ebony. I’m here to see Dr. Hayward at four,’ she said.

‘Hello Ebony, you’re the girl with a voice fit for radio. It’s lovely to see you. Take a seat. The doctor will see you shortly.’ Julian’s warm reply lightened Ebony’s apprehension about her appointment.

Ebony found an empty leather chair with wooden arms. In the centre of the room was a large fish tank that stood from floor to ceiling. Ebony watched the fish swim around in their bottled blue ocean while she waited for Dr. Hayward. A harmonic progression of classical music sounded from two speakers that sat on a filing cabinet behind the receptionist’s desk. Ebony didn’t pretend to know about classical music, but she listened to Classic FM frequently. She believed that the calming sounds might relieve the stress that was probably causing her pimples.

Ebony kept a record of the different methods she had used to try and makeover her skin and outward appearance. She started with different soaps, noting which made her outbreaks worse, or which brought slight improvements. She attempted to eliminate soft drinks and lollies from her diet, but very often failed to say no when they were offered to her. She tried drinking more water, but that only made her have to go to the toilet all the time. She tried to be a better person; hoping people would think she was nice. But none of these approaches rid her of her blemishes.

The waiting room was deserted except for one other patient, a woman asleep with her head crooked back. She was dressed like Ebony’s mother: a pearl necklace, white denim skirt with a red polo shirt and matching red loafers. Shortly after Ebony sat down, the woman let out a low moan and slouched back into her chair. The receptionist whispered, ‘Never mind Mrs. Tyson, Ebony. She’s just coming to after a little procedure.’

‘What was her procedure?’ Ebony asked, feeling uneasy about how she might find herself after her own appointment.

‘I’m afraid I can’t say. Patient confidentiality. But really, she’s fine.’ He stopped working on his computer and looked over at her with reassurance.

Ebony didn’t get time to consider Mrs. Tyson’s situation any further. Dr. Hayward appeared at the doorway beside the receptionist’s desk and called her name. She slung her school bag over her shoulder and followed Dr. Hayward into his office. He ushered Ebony into the seat in front of his desk and sat down opposite her.

Like other doctor’s surgeries that Ebony had been in, she noticed that Dr. Hayward had his certificates of qualification hanging on the wall. He looked younger than her parents, but old enough to be an experienced doctor. He was the best-looking man she’d ever spoken to. Ebony thought that Dr. Hayward had probably never had any trouble with pimples on his skin, or if he had, he had obviously been able to cure himself. He had smooth, faultless skin.

Dr. Hayward pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket and held it ready to write. ‘Ebony Janssen,’ he said, reading her name off the manila folder on the desk between them. ‘Yes?’ she said, looking at him.

Ebony sat on the doorstep outside her house. The sky was dark and her phone began to buzz in the bottom of her school bag again. She didn’t answer. She’d been sitting in the dark for fifteen minutes trying to deny the consequences of her pursuit for beauty. Finally, she resigned to her situation and opened the front door. Her mum rushed down the hallway towards the stairs. ‘Ebony? Is that you?’

‘Yes Mum.’ Ebony kept her head down and took off her school shoes, leaving them beside the door with her school bag. Her mum reached the top of the stairs and looked down at her.

‘Ebony, it’s eight o’clock! Where have you been? God! What happened to your face?’

‘Hi Mum,’ Ebony looked up at her, ‘Sorry I missed your calls. I went and saw a doctor about my pimples. I want to get rid of them.’ Her mum rushed down the stairs, reaching out her hands to hold Ebony’s face.

‘Who? What doctor? Where? How did you get an appointment? What happened to your face? Ebony, it’s all red. Does it hurt?’ She looked at Ebony’s face closely, examining the moist blisters that had appeared.

‘Sort of. I heard a girl at school talking about this doctor, apparently he helped her. I just called up and booked in.’ Ebony, shook herself free of her mother’s hold and started to bend down again, this time removing her socks.

‘Where?’ Her mother bent down, trying to reconnect with her daughter’s gaze.

‘A place in Bowen Hills.’ They both stood up again and looked at each other.

‘Bowen Hills? Ebony! What specialist practices in Bowen Hills?’

‘Dr. Hayward.’ Ebony picked up her bag and started moving up the stairs.

‘I thought you were at the library!’ her mother followed after her, ‘You should have been home hours ago! I’ve called your school! I’ve called your friends! Your father is driving around trying to find you. And you were in Bowen Hills seeing a doctor, who’s burnt your face! Ebony, I’m going to have to take you to a hospital. What else did he do to you?’ Ebony walked into her bedroom at the end of the hallway.

‘Nothing. It’s fine Mum. He said it would be a bit red for a few days, then new skin will form and I won’t have pimples.’ Ebony pulled out her school books and placed them on her desk.

‘A bit red? Ebony what did he use? What possessed you? Why didn’t you tell me? I could have gone with you.’ Her mother took Ebony’s lunchbox as she handed it to her.

‘Mum, I’ve asked you for help before, but you just said it would be fine. It’s not fine. I hate my face. I hate the way I look. And you don’t seem to care.’

‘Ebony, what am I supposed to do?’ Her mother reached out to move strands of hair that had become stuck to Ebony’s blisters.

‘Whatever.’ Ebony brushed her away, sat down at her desk, and started flicking through her schoolbooks to do her homework.

She was copying notes from the blackboard at the end of her German class when someone placed a note on her desk while they walked past. A lined piece of paper had been folded to half the size of a business card, and her name was written on the front in a fancy cursive. She grabbed it and put it in her pocket, and quickly scrawled the last of the notes into her exercise book.

Once she was back at her locker, Ebony opened the letter and glanced first at the bottom to see who it was from. Olivia Johns. Unease gripped Ebony’s stomach. She couldn’t separate herself from the shame and embarrassment the thought of Olivia caused her to feel. Ebony didn’t have pimples anymore, what would Olivia say was wrong with her now?

Hi Ebony,

How are you? You must be really good at German, you write down all the notes! Frau Martin is so boring. Anyway, we haven’t really chatted in a while, but I wanted to tell you I think you look really pretty lately. I’m not sure what you’re using on your face, but it’s really working for you! My friends and I sit in the second train carriage from the front on the way home, you should come and join us this afternoon, it would be good to catch up!

Don’t dog me!

Xo Olivia J.

Ebony folded up the letter and put it in her locker. She turned around and surveyed the lunchtime commotion in the locker room. Girls were rushing in to drop off their books and grab their lunch. Everyone wanted to make the most of the break with their friends. Ebony saw Olivia over the far side of the room. She was leaning against a locker, eating an apple while she waited for one of her cool friends to get her own skinny girl lunch. Ebony thought of the sausage sandwich in her lunchbox that she’d been waiting all day to eat. Olivia and her friends existed on a diet of fruit and vegetables. But if ever they strayed, it was common knowledge that they’d go and vomit up their indulgences in the bathroom. Olivia was looking at Ebony. Ebony looked away and then looked back at her. Olivia was still looking at her. Ebony felt like it was a challenge, a new chance to prove she was cool. Ebony wondered if she should walk over and say something. She felt awkward and hesitant. What would she say? ‘Thanks for your letter. It’s nice that you think I’m pretty now. I went through a lot of pain to look like this. There are parts of my cheeks that I can’t feel anymore and my parents think I need to see a counselor because they don’t know how to handle me.’ Or, ‘Hi Olivia, I guess you know I wash my face now. Can you introduce me to some of the boys you know from St. Johns?’

No, she thought, that would sound too desperate. Ebony was still scared of Olivia; her clear skin hadn’t changed that. Olivia continued looking at her. Ebony turned back towards her locker and got out her sausage sandwich. When she turned back Olivia was walking away with her friend. Ebony felt relief. She couldn’t be Olivia’s friend; she’d have to give up her sandwiches, and her friends. And somehow, she felt that would only be the start.

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The Results are in, Jasmine Giuliani

Our fate sealed with handshakes between

coal soot tycoons and media moguls

and big banks and fear-mongers

and bigots and slippery dealings and

hateful concessions and business as usual.

The echo of humanity no longer

brings comfort or false hope on a sleepless night

where the minority in white towers do not stand alone,

no, they stand in force with

the apathetic, the selfish “not in my backyard”, the grasping at jobs in mines, the “get mine”, the investors and retirees in cladded homes, the weak trembling at the feet of reform

who don’t shake the norm because it builds them houses with pools to retire in behind gates untouched.

The “I worked hard for my money” as they grasp it to their cabana and believe every lie ever told, like the powerful care if there’s not a vote to be stolen, the privatised with dead shining eyes,

the hateful and the lazy and “aspirational” who don’t care to see past their own nose, the easily manipulated

who believe the targeted campaigns and selfish jokers who snigger as the planet burns.

In the tatters, it’s the same people

who quietly and loudly do the work, pay the price, who

have paid each day since colonisers came,

since they fled, who watched on without surprise,

who continue to rise, despite the feet on their backs. The too well known hateful slurs at the curl of an identity, “unknown entity”, the same groups who

organise and retaliate and never rest,

who were born fighting,

never had a “fair go” in this “easy going” home

the same few who care to share some of it with the rest, those

who know it all means nothing

on a dead planet.

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True Colours, Bohdi Byles

Disclaimer this personal essay contains potentially triggering content relating to hate crimes, self-harm, and suicide.

 

March 3rd, 2012. I’ve never seen anything so vibrant, so spectacular, or so expressive before. It is the night after I’ve come out, and Mardi Gras felt like a symbolic way to embrace my new, authentic life. There’s every colour of the rainbow in all different shades, from azure to cerulean, indigo to violet, lemon to lime; colours in the hair, on the naked bodies, on the clothing, the floats of the parade. There was something about the rainbow that was transcending the physical — it was like there was a rainbow flowing through each person and connecting them, bringing together a community to celebrate who we are. How is it, though, that a rainbow had come to hold such symbolism for people?

Scientifically speaking, a rainbow is a blend of colours typically in the order of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. They occur when light is refracted through the water droplets floating around in the air and are commonly associated with storms and the sun emerging from behind the clouds. Personally, I find that explanation boring. For me, whenever I see a rainbow in the clouds, it is like the universe is nudging me a little more forward on my path, or reminding me that I’m not stuck, I’m just pausing to take a breath.

A rainbow flag was an image adopted by the LGBTQ+ community in 1978, originally designed by the late Gilbert Baker. Prior to the rainbow flag, a pink triangle defined the gay community during the Gay Liberation Movement. However, the triangle was a symbolic reminder of how Nazis identified homosexuals in World War II, and so with the triangle came the emotions connected to what it had been. For Baker, the rainbow flag was a way to deconstruct the solemnity attached to the gay community. When openly gay politician, Harvey Milk, was assassinated in November 1978, the flag became a symbol of the gay community. Since its genesis, the rainbow flag has become a constant image of resilience and strength.

I want to take you back to May 2010, when I didn’t know about strength or resilience or pride. I am sixteen-years-old, sitting in a theatre, waiting for the lights to dim and the movie to start. My friend and I are chatting as my phone buzzes. I open it up to Facebook. One unread message. I see the name of the person sending it to me and inhale before opening it.

‘Use all should be shot in the head and burned you queer kunt.’

My fingers tap wildly on the screen as I respond.

‘When the fuck are you going to understand. . . I. AM. NOT. GAY.’

I silence my phone before shoving it back in my pocket. My heart is thumping in my chest and my stomach churns. It’s hard to draw in air. The lights dim, and the movie begins as I start getting tunnel vision. I smile at my friend, but all I can think is how I have school tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month, and the next year. I want nothing more than to curl up under the seat in the darkness and stop existing. I’m not going to make it.

It’s effortless for me to recall this experience and many others, like the Facebook page made about me saying I had sex with another male student in one of the high school blocks, only for people to shout it at me for weeks during quiet classes. Or being harassed in the change rooms for looking at the boys when I was standing as far away as possible, staring at a corner and changing as fast as humanly possible. I was still in the closet, still hiding who I knew I was. For me, to be out in high school would’ve meant more than just being vulnerable and authentic. It’d be like bleeding in a lake full of piranhas. They would’ve smelt me out, and they would’ve come in full force to tear me apart even more than the chunks they’d already stolen.

Bullying is bullshit. It’s deeper than just a mean remark or a nasty comment. It’s a way to police people’s behaviours and try to force them to conform to an ideal person. In my case, that ideal was to be straight. It’s not an uncommon story either, and it often has tragic endings.

Seared into my mind is the story of 9-year-old Jamel Myles who came out as gay, full of pride and joy, only to endure four days of constant bullying, to which resulted in him committing suicide. Four days is all it took for people to take this boy’s pride and irreparably shatter it along with his life. The other names tattooed on my soul went the same way – Tyler Clementi (18), Jamey Rodemeyer (14), Phillip Parker (15), Jadin Bell (15). All young, all beautifully queer, all gone. These names never fail to bring tears to my eyes because they are like a mirror to me of what could’ve been.

While I was walking on a tightrope for 4 years, I nearly fell off. Along with that list of names could’ve been Bohdi Byles (18). My name has had a total of four opportunities to join that list, three of them in 2012, each attempt etched into my brain along with their unforgettable sensations. The pills washing down my throat and being forced back up. The sharp sting of a razor blade slicing over flesh. The belt-tightening around my neck. My lungs burning with my head underwater. The shame. The prickly shame of failing yet again.

The day I came out, I was terrified. I was scared that those closest to me would abandon me. I was suffocating. It’s like my body was ready to emerge from the cocoon but the cocoon wouldn’t break, so it was just getting more and more claustrophobic. However, fear and anxiety were not good enough reasons to carry around a 50-ton burden anymore. I was going to come out and the chips could fall wherever they damn well pleased.

Gratefully, I had an easy coming out experience, albeit a little anti-climactic. While I thought everyone would be shocked and have their perceptions of me absolutely blown apart, for the most part, the opposite happened.

‘It’s about time, now go clean your room,’ Mum said to me. The fear I had wasn’t real anymore, and frankly, no one cared.

Except for Grandma.

Grandma didn’t want one bar of it. Even now, six years later, she still is optimistic that I will one day realise I am straight and want a girlfriend, regardless of how insistent I am and how much I externalise my queerness. She’s grown though, from the woman who cried and told me I was going to get AIDS and die.

AIDS has always carried a stigma with it. In the late 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, it was linked entirely to gay men. That stigma, while it has shifted over time, has never fully been left behind, as proven by my grandmother’s fears. It was her fear that drove her reaction, not her disapproval. Her love has never been in question, only her acceptance.

When my uncle was 13, he was placed in a boy’s home for stealing a car. While there, a gay security guard sexually assaulted him, and from that, my uncle contracted HIV, which later developed into AIDS. He passed away when I was two, so I have no recollection or memory of him. I only have photos, but to me, they might as well be photos of a stranger. I never had the opportunity to know him.

I spoke with my grandmother recently to try and scope how that experience was, particularly because it was happening during the AIDS crisis and just afterward. I wanted to know, partially out of my own curiosity as a Gender Studies major, what it was like, what the beliefs were, and how they were enacted. Through her tears, she told me about how all her friends abandoned her when they found out because they were terrified they would catch AIDS. She wept and spoke about the deep shame she carried.

‘How could I tell anyone?’ she asked, her voice croaky as she wiped a tissue over her eyes. ‘How could I possibly tell anyone?’

I understand why she feels the way she does. Through that understanding and empathy I have is a driving force for me to own my authenticity and my identity with pride. I am proud of who I am, and I want to make it known to people that there is pride to be had as an LGBTQ+ individual. With that pride comes a community, a chosen family who accepts one another.

In June 2016, a shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, went down in history as one of the worst shootings to ever happen in modern U.S. history. 49 people in a gay club were killed, another 53 injured. I was in a house alone, watching the constant stream of news through Twitter unfold.

I was shell-shocked for weeks. I was numb and felt so completely powerless. I lit candles, I cried, I even gave an impromptu speech at a vigil (even more powerful given how I detest public speaking). I cried some more, and I was just a cloud of confusion and fear. What helped me walk down that cloudy, scary path though was the rainbow I was walking with, the people I looked to for inspiration.

For the months that followed, the rainbow flag was not just a symbol of pride, but one of remembrance and grieving, connection and compassion, not just in Florida, or in the United States, but worldwide. People mourned as a community where their brothers and sisters, their chosen family, had been attacked. These were my people. My community. My family.

The words from my high school bully rang through my head after the shooting, and still do. ‘use should all be shot in the head.’ Bad grammar and spelling aside, if this person had their way, I would’ve been one of those injured or killed. Yet, reflecting back on those experiences of the many others who came before, like Harvey Milk or the victims of Pulse nightclub, I think that there is solidarity in our struggles, and there is power in our stories.

In 1939, in The Wizard of Oz, Judy Garland (a much beloved gay icon) sang the lyrics, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow / Skies are blue / And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.’ Beloved popstar of the 70s and 80s, Cyndi Lauper, sang in her powerful anthem, True Colours, for her friend lost to AIDS, Gregory, ‘I see your true colours / And that’s why I love you […] True colours are beautiful / Like a rainbow.’ During her life, the late Maya Angelou would often sing a 19th-century African-American song: ‘When it looks like the sun will not shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.’

I wonder if perhaps there isn’t something waiting over the rainbow, but maybe the rainbow itself is the dream that really does come true. Maybe it isn’t so much about the rainbow, but about who is within that rainbow that you find.

What I know for sure is that coming out as gay was so much more than liberating. It was a golden ticket to life, permission to not just survive but thrive. Pride wasn’t a sudden response, but a gradual and internalised feeling that reached the deepest, most unloved parts of me and brought them to the surface to shine.

 

Endnotes

“9-Year-Old Boy Killed Himself After Being Bullied, His Mom Says.” The New York Times. 4 Oct. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/28/us/jamel-myles-suicide-denver.html

“Cyndi Lauper Lyrics: True Colors.” AZ Lyrics. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/cyndilauper/truecolors.html

“Dr. Maya Angelou: “Be a Rainbow in Someone Else’s Cloud” | Oprah’s Master Class | OWN.” YouTube. 27 Aug. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nYXFletWH4

“Jamey Rodemeyer Bullied Even After He Died.” Total Life Counselling. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.totallifecounseling.com/jamey-rodemeyer-gay-teen-bullying-tips-suicide/

“Judy Garland Lyrics: Over The Rainbow.” AZ Lyrics. 28 Aug. 2018.  https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/judygarland/overtherainbow.html

“Oregon teen hangs himself in schoolyard ‘because he was bullied for being gay’.” Daily Mail. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270457/Jadin-Bell-Oregon-teen-bullied-gay-hangs-schoolyard.html

“Orlando Shooting.” The New York Times. 28 Aug. 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/2016-orlando-shooting

“Phillip Parker, Gay Tennessee Teen, Commits Suicide After Enduring Bullying.” Huffington Post. 3. Oct. 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/23/phillip-parker-gay-tennessee-teen-suicide_n_1223688.html

“Rainbow Flag: Origin Story.” Gilbert Baker. 27 Aug. 2018. https://gilbertbaker.com/rainbow-flag-origin-story/

“Sixty Minutes: Cyndi Lauper/Kinky Boots Special.” YouTube. 3 Oct. 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtVR7jX6P7I

“Tyler Clementi’s Story.” Tyler Clementi. 3 Oct. 2018 https://tylerclementi.org/tylers-story/

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The Girl Who Knew Too Much, Aylish Dowsett

‘A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

So is a lot.’

Albert Einstein

Okay, I know this looks bad. And very much illegal. But really, what else was I supposed to do other than to whack it on the head and drag it here? Don’t roll your eyes at me like that. It saw me; and we all know what could happen if the humans ever found out we still existed. Poof, gone, we’d be wiped out before Bob ever became anyone’s uncle. And is that? Urgh, ew, it’s bleeding. Human blood is so gross. You can pull that face all you like, but I’m not touching it again. Yes, I could’ve just let it go, but then what? I really didn’t want The Order to find the human and then they’d have found out about…well, you know. Not that I’m hiding anything. Why am I telling you anyway? I bet you’re just another filthy human, prying into, no, invading everyone’s business like usual. You should really take a good long look in the mirror, idjit. You’re the monster, not me.

But seriously, why the fuck is it so cold down here?

Jinx tugged at her jacket, the wool from her gloves snagging on the brass buttons. Great.

This was why she never came down to the cellar. Aside from the fact that, well, it was a freezing shithole, she could’ve sworn she’d seen a pair of eyes, glinting from the jade bottles that lined the walls. It must’ve just been from the dust that choked this place. Hallucinating on dust was the least of her worries right now though. She had…that to deal with.

Jinx grimaced, her eyes gliding over the human’s wilted head. Copper curls hung meekly down its arms; the hair having twisted itself around the metal of the chair. Freckles decorated its cheeks, along with smudges of thick, sticky blood. The lingering stench of damp and blood made Jinx want to gag. It was a Fae’s worst nightmare all right.

‘Is she…can I…is she awake yet?’

A blonde head slowly peered around the nearest door, his sheepish eyes darting from the curly mess to Jinx. He seemed to whimper at the sight of her, as though he might collapse under her gaze alone.

Jinx rolled her eyes, extending a gloved hand towards him. ‘Hand it over Seb,’ she sighed. ‘If you’d taken much longer, the Queen would’ve been dead and buried by now.’

Seb’s tawny eyes widened. ‘Oh yes, yes, I have it. It’s just,’ he scurried through the door, ducking under its frame. ‘It’s just, I had to…had to make a few alterations.’

Jinx looked at him blankly and snatched the burlap sack from his bony fingers. ‘I hate looking at its face,’ she said, screwing her own up. ‘At least now,’ she stepped forwards, throwing the sack over the human’s head, ‘we won’t have to, and I can actually think.’

The sack did not land with great accuracy, and instead, sat horribly slanted with what appeared to be

‘What are those!’ Jinx swivelled to Seb who recoiled instantly, shielding himself with his teal overcoat. The sack stared at them; two large cotton eyes were stitched in the middle, with a matching, happy, but wobbly mouth.

‘I did-did say that I made a few alterations, there were quite a few hole-holes in it, in all the sacks.’ Seb had faltered against the wall now, his fingers clutching the crumbling brick. ‘I think a family of moths had been enjoying it, perhaps a little too much,’ he mumbled, barely audible. ‘Maybe they smelt the potato residue? Did you-you know that Gypsy moths can lay up to one thousand eggs per—’

‘I don’t care about the ruddy moths Sebastian, fucking hell!’ Without warning, Jinx swung around and punched the wall behind her. The dusty bottles, thankfully empty, tumbled to the floor and clattered into silence.

The two Fae paused, the stillness engulfing the space between them. Seb gulped. Jinx examined her bleeding knuckle. And the sack gawked stupidly.

‘Well don’t just stand there!’ Jinx snapped back to Seb, her pupils tiny. ‘Fix the damn sack and pick these bottles up! Why do I always have to do everything? Why did I get stuck with a fledgling rather than a real healer?’

Seb had paled to the colour of sour milk, his lip quivering slightly. ‘If you allowed me to heal her, Jinx, she would recover. It would take a m-mere few minutes.’ He side-stepped to the sack, adjusted it gently over the human’s head and skirted around her to the fallen bottles. ‘She’s b-bleeding Jinx. We need to alert The Order.’

‘We’re not leaving Sebastian and it’s not going anywhere. It stays until I figure this out. I’m thinking a Gravel Grot could wipe its memory? But they charge a fortune…’

‘But if we—’ He grabbed a bottle, wiping its dusty body on his sleeve. He was avoiding looking at Jinx, studying the bottles instead with deep concern. ‘If we took her to The Order, they could erase her m-memory.’

Jinx glared at him, kicking a nearby bottle with a booted foot. ‘Yeah, and I’ll be striped of my ranking for having ‘maimed’ a human. Fat chance of that.’ She took a step forwards, leaning towards the unconscious girl. ‘No, I’ll deal with it myself. This piece of filth will go straight—’

But then the sack twitched. And Jinx practically flew straight into Seb. Seb, admirably, caught her, but she shoved him back hard, leaping away with a growl.

The human began to thrash around now, nearly toppling off its chair with a scream. But Jinx was there, her hand stuck out in its direction, tensing. It stopped moving instantly, but that didn’t stop its muffled cries.  

Seb had retreated into a corner, clutching a Rosé bottle desperately. ‘She’s awake, she’s awake! Ah! What do we do? What do we do?!’

‘Will you shut up!’ Jinx spat. Her hand trembled, still pointing at the very-much-awake human. ‘I don’t know! I was hoping it was dead! These things are so fragile! I thought a good whack on the head would’ve killed it, but apparently not!’

Seb’s eyelids fluttered in disbelief. ‘But you said it was an accident. You said you didn’t mean to hit her. That you panicked. What were you doing Jinx?’

‘None of your damn business fledgling!’

‘I HAVE A GUN! YOU TRY AND LEG IT AND I’LL SHOOT YOU, WHOEVER YOU ARE!’

The pair froze, their eyes jolting towards the stairs to the cellar: the only way in and out.

‘If you’ve hurt my sister, I swear I’ll kill you!’ cried the mysterious, quivering voice. It was getting louder. ‘DON’T YOU TOUCH HER!’

Jinx and Seb looked at each other then, both equally as terrified as the other.

Oh fuck.

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The Wedding Eve, Alison Graham

Altan had hardly expected to enjoy the day of the pre-wedding celebration, but things took a significant downturn after the rehearsal.

One of the girls had decided to ask him a question.

‘Shouldn’t you be with your future bride?’ she asked, teeth bright in a cheeky smile. She was a pretty thing with large blue eyes, cinnamon skin and unusually bright auburn hair. Her question sent a ripple of giggles undulating among the other girls surrounding the prince, glittering butterflies orbiting a single bright flower.

Altan stifled a scowl, glancing at the figure in the corner of the ballroom.

His betrothed cut an embarrassing figure. She was too slight and pale, garish in a puffy purple gown in the style of her homeland. She was rarely dressed in such finery, and it showed in how her calloused fingers tugged uncomfortably at her ruffled hems and pulled at the brocaded waist. Flowers had been woven into her glossy dark braid, but its beauty did little to offset her perpetually red cheeks and nose, and she hunched awkwardly over the glass in her hand. He knew she sipped at it to keep her hands and mouth busy, to hide the fact that nobody was talking to her.

Next to him, they made a bizarre pair, so he preferred to keep his distance. Altan was lithe and dark, with fine features. His mauve kaftan skimmed his figure perfectly, comfortable as a second skin. His jewellery was carefully placed, each link of gold painstakingly measured, garnets chosen in just the right colour to match his orange eyes. He was better suited with one of the glimmering courtesans currently surrounding him, but they lacked the power or lands that better piqued his mother’s interest.

He swallowed these thoughts, deciding instead to deflect the girl’s question. ‘My bride and I will be spending plenty of time together soon enough,’ he said, sliding an arm around the girl’s waist. Her cropped blouse and the gap left by her draped sari meant his hand travelled along bare goosebumps. ‘Are you ungrateful for this limited time left with me?’
Another peal of giggles dispersed through the group, and the auburn-haired girl flushed.

As the laughter settled, Altan felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, and found himself facing the hard stare of his mother’s advisor, Odval.

Odval’s eyes were the cold hardness of amethyst, and even on this occasion she hadn’t traded her simple black abaya for anything more festive. Only a jeweled chain headpiece over her hijab gave any indication of her rank, and her face was as stern as if there was nothing to celebrate.

‘Your mother would like a word, Highness,’ she said in a low voice. She tilted her head, and Altan’s eyes followed the direction. Sure enough, his mother had sequestered herself by a gilded fountain. She was barely a shadow from his distance, but her golden-eyed gaze was clear across the hall.

He sighed, extricating himself from the auburn-haired girl. ‘All right, Odval,’ he said, following her as the dumpy-silhouetted woman led him through the throng towards his waiting mother.

The queen of Baliqas greeted her son with a lengthy sigh. ‘Altan, sun of my stars,’ she said, taking his hand. Her gold-lacquered nails pricked his palm. Where Odval was plain and utilitarian, Aigiarn was bright and effervescent with jewels and colour. She’d worn a purple gown that consisted of so many sheer layers that she seemed to float more than walk, and her long inky hair was woven with pearls and gold chains. A gold ring made a feature of her regal nose, and gold paint along the rims of her eyes accented her dark skin.

‘Mother,’ Altan said. ‘Odval said you wanted a word.’

‘I see you’ve been enjoying your rehearsal ball,’ Aigiarn said, eyes scanning the huge ballroom.

‘It seems all have been merry, except for one very key reason for the revelries, sweet.’

Altan fought to keep his expression neutral. ‘She seems to be enjoying herself just fine.’
‘Altan,’ Aigiarn stated. ‘Sascha has been hiding in the corner by herself since we finished the ceremony rehearsal. She looks utterly despondent, watching her groom flirt with every young person in the room but her. Would it torture you so to even smile at her?’

Altan’s hand clenched ever so slightly on his mother’s grip. ‘I’ll have all the time in the world to smile at her after tomorrow, Mother,’ he said carefully. ‘I’ll be the happiest prince alive once we’re wed, I can promise you.’

Airgiarn’s glittering eyes narrowed. ‘I take flattery and dressed lies from many, child-of-mine, but I won’t take them from you.’

‘So you know, the truth is I don’t want to marry her,’ Altan hissed, dropping his voice so low he wasn’t sure even his mother heard. ‘That’s hardly a surprise to you. We’ve never gotten along!’

‘You’ve never given her a chance,’ Aigiarn murmured, steel in her voice.

‘And what chance was I given? You dropped a little girl I’d never seen in front of me one night when we were both six years old, and you told me to be nice to my future wife. Did you really think I’d do just that?’

Aigiarn took a deep breath as if to speak, then paused, exhaling slowly. Her eyes still darted across the room, never ceasing to monitor the guests.

‘I’d always hoped you’d grow to care for each other eventually,’ she said softly. ‘I expected resistance – of course I did, Altan. You’re my son. But I’d hoped you’d inherited some of my… I don’t know. Romance? I thought you’d at least feel sorry for her, this poor princess taken to a foreign realm where nothing is familiar. I saw long ago I was wrong.’

Aigiarn paused to straighten and square her broad shoulders, flashing a quick smile at a passing courtier. ‘Nonetheless, the marriage is necessary,’ she reminded Altan. ‘And you know this well, otherwise you wouldn’t bother putting on a show. You know what this means, both to our nation and hers.’

Altan looked across the room again, at the forlorn girl in the corner. He knew exactly what was at stake and what he needed to do, but it didn’t mean he had to enjoy it. He dropped his mother’s hand.

‘I’ll be all smiles and blissful marital delight tomorrow,’ he muttered. ‘I promise. But at least let me have fun tonight.’

Aigiarn pursed her lips. ‘I wish you’d see her from a different perspective, Altan.’

Altan turned away. ‘Enjoy your night, Mother.’

He could see the girls as he’d left them, no worse for his absence. But as he approached them, another hand landed on his elbow. Scowling, he pulled away and turned to face whoever now demanded his attention.

Huge brown eyes looked at him, jarring over an unlovely face and downturned mouth.

Oh.

Sascha.

‘What?’ he asked.

She was little; at her height, she had to look up at him, like a child. She hesitated, chewing her lip, and Altan’s frustration flared. She was so timid. ‘Get on with it,’ he snapped.

Her milky cheeks filled with colour. ‘I just wanted to ask how you were,’ she said in a low voice that mirrored his exasperation. ‘I saw you’d been speaking to your mother. You looked unhappy. I wanted to see if everything was alright.’

Altan reared back. ‘If I needed comfort, I wouldn’t seek it from you,’ he said.

Sascha blinked slowly, breathing in deeply. ‘Forgive me for my concern, Highness,’ she said, and turned to walk away.

As she left, the auburn-haired girl peeled away from the group to greet him. ‘I think you need a moment in peace,’ she said, grinning at him and taking his hand.

She led him out of the hall and outside, into one of the quiet courtyards littered across the palace. This one was mercifully quiet, with only a light breeze and faint birdsong accompanying the pair. The sun was low in the sky, painting a pale sunset behind the palace’s white marble.

‘You seem troubled, Highness,’ the girl said, skimming a hand over Altan’s shoulders. ‘I am surprised a prince would have woes on the eve of his wedding.’

The orange light lit up her skin and made her blue eyes appear to glow. Altan smiled and caught her hand.

‘No woes,’ he said. ‘Merely concerns. Political marriages are not all bliss.’

‘Your bride seems less happy than you,’ the girl said, raising her eyebrows. She pulled Altan over to a seat bordering a little stone-bounded patch of greenery, a fine maple reaching over bright flowers and shrubs. Altan obliged her and sat, ignoring the cold stone for the girl’s warm skin.

‘I am sorry for her,’ the girl continued, twining a finger around a lock of Altan’s blue-black hair. ‘She seems so lonely. How long has she been here? Enough to make friends?’

‘Twelve years,’ Altan said. ‘She arrived here when we were six. She made friends, but…’ Altan waved a hand in the air. ‘Palace staff, pot-scrubbers and guards’ daughters.’

He could envision them so clearly – the woman who taught the pair to ride, lovingly easing Sascha into the saddle while unceremoniously dumping Altan onto the back of his lioness. The sword master who left him covered in bruises, while Sascha’s fair skin remained unblemished. A young cook who’d sneak up to their chambers to share leftovers with Sascha, the two of them giggling when Altan grimaced at the homely food.

All people who could not be invited to the wedding festivities. Altan didn’t know if he should have felt guilty or smug when he saw Sascha alone.

‘Did you never try to befriend her?’ the girl asked.

Altan could not hide the wince he made. ‘We are very different people,’ he said.

The girl laughed. ‘They say opposites attract, Highness.’

‘There is such a thing as being too different to be compatible.’

‘I don’t know,’ the girl said. ‘I think sometimes it’s a matter of perspective. Do you view a person’s differences as flaws, or as unique attributes?’

‘I don’t know,’ Altan said, starting to feel irritated. ‘I didn’t realise you wanted to come out here just to talk about her. Of all things, she’s the last person I want to think about tonight.’

The girl’s blue eyes narrowed. ‘It’s a shame for you to be so cruel to her, Altan. I would have liked to think you’d give her more of a chance.’

Altan blinked, shifting away from the girl. ‘Did my mother send you to talk to me?’

‘Your queen?’ The girl laughed. ‘She’s in no position to order me around, I’m afraid. No, I attended because I wanted to see how the wedding would play out. I didn’t realise the Baliqan prince was such an ass towards his bride, though. She seems nothing if not sweet.’

Altan’s mouth fell open. ‘Who do you think you are to speak to me like that?’ he demanded.

The girl sighed, smoothing a hand over her face and hair. As her palm passed over her features, they shifted. Her skin became as green as a sapling’s leaves, and her ears grew long and pointed. Her nose and cheekbones were sharper, her shapes harder, becoming too strange and beautiful to look directly at. Wings flashed kaleidoscopic colours as they shimmered into place. Only her hair, clothes and eyes remained the same.

‘My queen is interested in the dramas of your court,’ the fairy said. ‘She sent me to collect gossip for entertainment – I’m no spy. She won’t be entertained by a spoiled prince’s arrogance, though. I will need a better story to tell her, so… I think it’s time you had a change of perspective, dear Altan.’ She laid a slender, gentle finger on his chest.

A sharp pain bloomed in Altan’s stomach, a ripping sensation that spread outwards. He grunted. The pain surfaced, sending jolts of it over his skin, not unlike pins and needles. He looked at his arms; his clothes were melting into his skin. He stared in horror as the silk sank in, morphing; turning into gold-orange scales the same colour as his eyes.

The pain enveloped him completely, as his bones scraped and popped and groaned and changed. His lungs tore into shreds, and he felt long gashes slice across his ribs.

His fingers fused, his hands flattening and becoming translucent, the same occurring to his legs.

He gulped for air to scream, only to drown.

He felt himself being grabbed, and thrown. He splashed against water. The impact stung, but at last he could breathe. He gasped, sucking at the water. He tried to kick, but found he couldn’t move his legs. He couldn’t move his head to look at himself.

He drifted motionless for a moment, registering the new form of his body. There was a tail, and fins. He wriggled the tail, and could swim forward.

He looked up, and the fairy was grinning down at him, her face distorted by the surface of the water. He swam up and broke the surface. She smirked. ‘Welcome to your new home, prince,’ she said. ‘I hear goldfish make wonderful companions.’ Then with a flutter of her glittering wings, she was gone.

Altan looked around him. He was in a stone pool, with algae-covered rocks at the bottom, several plants, and other goldfish. They swam in lazy circles around the pond, apparently oblivious to the newcomer.

Altan propelled himself upwards, pushing himself out of the water. If he pushed hard enough, he could glance out of the pond for moments at a time. The pond was in the centre of a circular courtyard that now seemed gargantuan, bounded by trees and a tall iron fence. Large glass doors led in to what appeared to be a bedchamber.

He knew where he was.

These were Sascha’s chambers. She had a large pond in the courtyard outside her bedchamber, filled with bright little goldfishes that she cooed and chatted to. And now he was one of them.

There was a bang, like a door slamming. He heard footsteps, and the rustle of crumpled fabric. Someone came into view, slumping by the pond. He looked up to see milky cheeks blotched red, soft brown eyes watery. Tear stains tracked down the cheeks of a face he’d known for twelve years, that he’d never seen so close, or from below.

‘You’ll never believe the night I’ve had,’ she sobbed to the fish.

Altan sunk low into the pond as she raged and wept and lamented her many frustrations with him that she never voiced in his presence.

New perspective.

Right.

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After the Phoenix, Kirsten Oakley

Please Play while reading

 

 

Your ashes are in my mouth. I swallow the bitter taste as I crouch. But I cannot follow you. They need me here.

In the small bathroom their shrieks reverberate against the tiles. I want to cover my ears but my arms are weighed down with their soapy bodies. I cannot even close my eyes as I know that it only takes a second, a moment of inattention. Instead, I watch them as the tepid bathwater rises and falls with their bickering. I ignore their illogical arguments and try to hold those slippery limbs still. I rearrange my lopsided mouth. Does that look like a smile now? I can’t remember the last time I looked at my own face in the mirror. Even now it is at my back, capturing only the faces of my mischievous sons as they dart away from me, and vegemite and dirt slides away from my grasp.

From far away, the noise of the doorbell peals. My neck snaps sideways, listening, exasperated. It rings again and I have called out half a syllable of your name before I remember. Half of you hangs, spoken in the air, reverberating in the empty house.

Their voices clamour and I drag them from the bath, wrapping them in one toweled arm each. I heave and move to exit but our bulk won’t make it through the door. I was never good at judging angles, distances, practicalities. That was your department. We jam in the doorway, a three headed monster that sends the cat tearing away from our path. As I untangle us, the towel sweeps a plastic bottle from the makeshift shelf onto the floor. From the cracked bottle a pool of your anti-dandruff shampoo seeps out. Did you imagine that in your new life that you would no longer shed your skin?

I leave the mess and drop one son, wrapping him in his own towel. He leads us down the hall, trailing a path of shampoo, snakelike, for us to follow.

I tell myself that they will be my world, but the water from their wet bodies has already seeped through my t-shirt and is chilling me in the darkening night. Their faces are damp but dirty as the youngest loops chubby limbs around my neck, leaving vegemite in my hair.

I hold them tighter as I peer through the rusted screen at the empty doorstep. I stare at the space where somebody had just stood. There is no-one but me here now. I wonder how soon I can start the rituals of sleep.

At night I will sip the port that your mother gave us as an anniversary present. I will remember the whispered plans we used to make, dreaming of a time beyond sour vomit and cubed food and endless cheap plastic. I will click through the images of you as you inhabit that space of clean, bright newness. I will watch you emerge, trapped in my den of blue light.

This yearning will not snap the tether of small fingers, dark eyes, the smell of breast milk and the tug I feel all the way through the seven layers of my Caesarean scar. I am anchored to them skin and bone. But your ashes are in my mouth as you rise.

 

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Two Thumbs Make Butterfly Wings, Eva Matheson

Everyone does it, not a big deal. It was bound to happen sooner or later. I want to see the kids, the grandkids, I want to stay in touch with old friends. It’s time to spread my social media butterfly wings.

Create a username… I’ll use the same password I use for everything… Hello, Facebook.

Three weeks later.

Everyone does it, no big deal.

Create a username… Hello, Instagram.

Two weeks later.

Everyone does it, no big deal. I hear the US President loves it.  

Create a username… Hello, Twitter.

One week later.

Sometimes I wish my passwords were harder.

Everyone does it, no big deal.

Create a username…

So this is Netflix.

Just one more episode, then I’ll post the grandkids Christmas presents.

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Brief History of the Blood Curse, Celine Perczynski

It was commonly known that the Curse was not well thought out. There was humming, not shouting. No licking of stones or puppets. Though the ingredients were ground into thin powder, they were snorted not swallowed. Nothing was done properly.

Still, it was not a complete disaster.

Instead of turning into crows, women bleed once a month.

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