Maps of Our World, William Lawrence

Photo by T.H. Chia on Unsplash

The first time you asked about it, I was tracing the patterns of the stars for you. How do you know all this?

We’d gone stargazing together before, but up until then you’d never questioned why I could name all the constellations we could see from here, why I knew their shapes and their history, why I could tell you about the ones that weren’t there, too (too cloudy, too polluted, too Southern Hemisphere).

I shrugged, as best as I could with our backs on the picnic blanket (mostly there to protect your white dress from grass stains). ‘I like maps,’ I said, off-handedly as if you weren’t about to touch on one of the cornerstones of Who is Katie Miller?

And then you turned your head, your full attention, towards me. Tell me about maps, you said.

So I did.

I told you that my father was a truck driver when I was little. (Well, my whole life, really. He only stopped about five years back when his vision started getting worse and he got too tired to do the long hauls, but anyway.) By the time I was four he’d worked at the company so long (being mates with his boss helped, too) that they gave him weekends off – ‘Spend some time with the little ones, eh Bill?’ – and that’s when he started taking me for drives as well.

I told you about the first time: five years old (just under, but who was counting?), sitting in the front seat, radio blaring with dad’s favourites, with a directory almost as big as I was resting in my lap.

‘Should learn to read that,’ he said to me. He’d put one of his old, faded caps on my head – it was summer, and he didn’t want me getting burnt through the windshield – and I had to push the rim up so I could see. ‘Reckon you can do anything if you can read a map.’

I remember hefting it open to a page about halfway through and tracing my fingers along the lines – main streets, side streets, roundabouts and cul-de-sacs. Here was our town – at not-quite-five, my whole world – held in my hands. I felt like I’d just unlocked the secrets of the universe, and that’s when it started.

I told you how I learnt to read through street names, keys and legends, the notes inside the covers. I devoured that directory like other kids did a favourite series. And then, once I was done, I moved onto a world map – mum and dad bought me a big one; stuck it to the wall beside my bed.

I told you how it developed over time, this passion. How it took up residence in every part of my life. I aced geography in primary school, but struggled with other subjects, until I started to think of things as maps. Science was the next thing – astronomy especially, I moved onto constellations and space at some point (but you know that already), and then biology. Anatomy. I like to think of bodies as maps too.

I explained it to you, how each system works together – respiratory, circulatory, skeletal – they’re different tracks running alongside each other in one greater area. You have the heart, the busy centre. Everything spreads out from there. Each part has a role in keeping your body – your town – running. It’s like transportation: street and train tracks, veins and bones. They’re the same, in my mind.

And you never just have one town, alone. You have to have others – they’re separate, distinct, but they’re similar. They work in the same ways.

(And this is where I took your hand, I think).

I told you this: we’re all towns and cities, the way I see it. Greater than the sum of our parts; made up of countless smaller sections, but we connect. I like how our city limits touch when we brush hands, and we make a bigger community. I like how we can make a street directory when we’re close.

And when I was done, I remember feeling like I hadn’t stopped talking in years. I’d just explained my odd, life-long obsession to you in the middle of an empty park, and I blushed when I realised that you’d probably look at me differently, from then on. With that insulting, confused side-glance I always got whenever I talked about the difference between streets and lanes and avenues for too long.

But you just smiled. And you squeezed my hand. And you said, I like whatever city makes up your mind.

We laughed ourselves to tears after that, and I still can’t explain why, but…

‘You know,’ I said, when we could both breathe again, ‘I think you’re the first person who hasn’t looked at me like I’m nuts when I’ve told them this.’

‘Do you tell a lot of people your long-winded backstory?’

I winced, then, looking at the time; the sky above us had darkened further since I’d started, and you laughed again. You elbowed me gently in the ribs. Only teasing.

You looked up; shook your head. ‘No, I… I don’t think you’re nuts. I think it’s a lot easier to understand the world through the frame of something you’re familiar with.’ You smiled at me – just slightly. ‘Art shapes the way I see things, too.’

‘I think it’s only fair you tell me about it.’

The night breeze rustled the grass around us, and you shivered. ‘Maybe another night,’ you said. ‘I didn’t bring a jacket.’

Then you stood, offered me a hand to stand and clean up, and you took me home.

It was summer when you finally told me, in the middle of the day. We drove out to the beach, to the cliffs overhanging them, because you wanted to paint the horizon. Your apron was blue and paint-speckled, a little piece of every work you’d done, with Jessica painted in cursive across the front. ‘I put my name on all my aprons,’ you told me. ‘If I don’t, someone else might try to take it. My apron’s part of my process. It’d be like stealing a painting.’

You were fussing over what yellow-to-white ratio you needed for the base colour of the sand when I brought it up, and you stopped what you were doing, blinked, tilted your head.

‘Oh’, you said. ‘I almost forgot about that.’

I remember that you tried to brush it off – ‘It’s not as interesting as the way you see things, really’ – and I laughed; told you to just spit it out. You stuck your tongue out at me through smiling teeth, but you told me anyway.

You said it was just about people, wasn’t as large-scale as my universe of maps, but that you thought of everyone as an artwork and an artist in turn.

‘It’s not just about seeing the beauty in everyone, or whatever. That’s not really what I mean – though I’m not saying it’s not true – but it’s more like…’

Paintings. Everyone is a painting, and a painter. We’re all canvases with our base coats down – our personalities, our interests, what makes us who we are – and when we talk to each other, when we let ourselves open up, a little bit of our paint bleeds together. We are influenced by every person we meet, every person we get close to.

‘It’s like what you said about building a community together. Our connections with other people change us. Just a bit.’

I sat back and thought about that – about the great smear of paint down the middle of my canvas that my dad would’ve put there when he gave me that book of road maps. About the red pricks of shame that must cover me like chickenpox from all the kids who sneered at me for being weird. I wondered what kind of mark you had left behind, and how that would change me.

I remember that the first thing I said, rather than any of that, was ‘Do you have synaesthesia? Thinking of people as colours?’

You stopped and tilted your head. ‘Never thought about it. Does it even work like that?’

I shrugged. The second thing I asked was ‘What colour am I, then?’

You told me ‘A rainbow’ with a teasing tilt to your lips, and I threw my jacket at your legs while we both laughed.

Your feet were dripping onto the car floor when we finally called it a day – you’d insisted on going down to the beach and you waded in too deep; your skirt was damp at the hem – and I knew there’d be sand in there for weeks to come, but when had that ever stopped anyone?

You tucked your legs up onto the seat and turned to look at me. ‘I wasn’t entirely joking, you know,’ you said. ‘You don’t have one solid colour. No one does, when you get to know them. You’re like… a palette of earthy colours.’

I looked at you, and I could see what you meant. You weren’t just one colour to me, either – more a mixture of pale colours, but that might’ve been because that’s what you liked to wear.

I wondered if that would change, over time. If our city limits would link together and our colours would blend.

I see you, now, wearing my jackets and jumpers, deep browns over your pale pinks and whites and yellows. I see the map on our wall, and the watercolours that tint it. I see Katie and Jess painted on it in your cursive so no one else will take it. I see our limits and our colours together. I see our space; our home.

Our little world of mixed metaphors.

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Rhyme Over Imported Wine on Date Night, Poppi Hmelnitsky

Blasted Tweed By Andrew Hmelnitsky

Now is like forever. In this park of glooming distaste I taste blood and bleed sweat.

Sirens whistle whilst we wander. Wonder wistfully. Whilst clenching Jenny’s clammy hands.
White men don’t show weakness.

Week-night date-night never knew this park, was once Gadigal country, ceremonial place of
the rainy-day missing puzzle peace. Please, replace the rephrases of the missing manual to
heaven here.                                                                     Hear, persistent European explorers aspire
to infinite incorrect underqualified entitlement. This was meant for a contemporary
reincarnation of biblical pyres, sacred suburban high-rise to the occasion of reality. Real life
escapes the cunning and time ticks.                                 Tilts,                                     Turns….
               Another round of beers for the boys!
We rise, the diamond goblets to our ruby lips in moonlight. Mozart’s signature sonata.
Romanticise me! I hold Jenny’s hand and whisper that I love her. How the stolen sweet
compromises sicken me! (Speaking softly) Of generational death in colonial paradise. Diced
ham and pineapple the epitome of the insular family.

                                                                                                                          Representing the fantasy.
Tassie but a paper bag, strew to sea, lacerated in the visceral vermillion physical of
perpetuating hierarchy. Genocide. Insecticide. Insist on laying the blanket horizontally.
Newspaper clippings dissect distant distance distribution injecting general anaesthetic.
Explorative surgery superficial sorry speech swings, silently to mind.
Mind your business and your step. Propagating perennial proclivity of instilling
institutionalised desensitised Australian’s, re-crafting obsolete optimum optimism sponsored
by commercial telly. Vision of a picket fence blaring footy and bunnings 10%.

Internal internet-work net-worth broadcasting blatantly bias billboards. Blurring the lines
between now and never.                           Quiver.                                                             Quit the vein
of conservative department parliament reimbursed delight:

            •   Turkish-delight.
            •  Australian-dream.
          • Dream-force for the country.

Unearthed relic of the prehistoric precolonial, pre-manifestation, of man-slaughter-woman-slaughters-laughter suffocates pigs, racked for rails cling to mud slushing as we slurp Kilpatrick’s slathered in dead horse, dictating my drunken discourse. Lamb tartar with capers
squelching. Squeezing. Screaming sacrifice. Sacrificial lamb for Australia day.

Date-night, day of invasion mother country, count me in the census mate! Inaccurate
illegitimacy against, your stella reputation of legalising migration. Documentation
disregarding aural authenticity, but backing fake histories? We are, bleary eyed disastrous
teens tumbling like turn-tables tabloids and dilapidated documentaries.

I pull the picnic blanket out from our red knees. Never stepping silently. Spilling, the Spanish
Red-Wine on Jenny’s White-Blouse, billowing on her mother’s heritage hills-hoist the
fictional flag. Signalling another bruised skyscape not all heroes wear a cape. Cap the wine.
I’m as drunk as a skunk! Can we walk the perimeter before dessert?

I take Jenny in my inebriated embrace, lace the lemon pie with admiration and cream of the,
crop circles have more referenced credibility then eroded wooden placards along the
undulating river bends. Swiftly revealing the dubious integrity. Gritty underside of published
articles. Clothing strewn undesirably. Questionable ability identifying the artificial artifacts,

Date-night with imported wine and I can’t keep this nonsense as just mine!

My love rhyme for Jenny….
                            And I’m failing at racking up, turning a blind I can’t place my hands precisely,
                            perpetual inability to come through strategically, exasperatingly… mate!

                            I’m up a fucking gumtree!

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A Star-Studded Season of Sleeplessness, Giorgia Woolley

Image by on Instagram

Burning so far above, blazing and bright, you do not pause… Still striving forward, and
sailing through star-raising seas— won’t you stay awake too late with me?
Carry me through to those final hours blue, due to darken at midnight.
Come on, push against the pull, It’s not as late as you say!
Do not stray away from your heavenly work-desk—
please, do not guide my sight away from mine.
Pink-blushing-red-bruising-purple sheets
fold and crease, tuck us underneath
golden green and brown beds,
darkened pillow mountains.
Artificiality cannot best
gravity, yet I persist
and resist…
Out of sight, under
covers at last,
though not the final mark to be made
in highlighter,
glittering gel pen,
black ballpoint ink—
my thoughts twirl and twist their way back to that desk.
Quiet yet desperate protests,
for the vivid darkness of dreams cannot suffocate me…
Where is your warmth?
I fumble to find
just a semblance of your light, a flashlight so bright
in your shadow. I will justify this artificiality
as an emergency!
Lying still
in restless sleep,
I stretch and I seek
for the gap in sheets
o’ tourniquet. Oh, but
will they? Won’t they? Wilt away,
slough off the skin— chain us no longer!
Oh, light up your desk and mine, once more!
Lift me up to my duty, warm my skin as I surface
at the sandy shores of golden skies— come rise with me again
against this gentle gravity!— and turn that mistrustful moon away.
Light up our old and hidden dreams, as we daybreak into our routines.

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Mist and Damp, Alec Wright

As heels peck the earth
I yearn for
an unknown world.
A quiet desperation,
for mist and damp.

Pecks turn to plump
sodden things,
upon drowning dirt.
A slow dance with vine leaves,
in mist and damp.

Untitled creatures chatter
moss covered,
A riotous reverberation,
about mist and damp.

Silhouettes of
long-lost-lovers call
to each other.
A forlorn choir sings
to mist and damp.

Gluttonous mud drinks
an ample deluge,
of cold wet misery.
A wild-place. Wander
through mist and damp.


Boyd, Daniel. Untitled. 2014, Art Gallery NSW, Sydney, Australia.

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Sounds from the Tree House/On Visiting My Childhood Home/The Sea, Katherine Giles

Photo by Jplenio on Pixabay

Sounds from the Tree House

As night falls
the shadow bats sweep
in and fill the sky
with hungry shrieks
and sounds of flapping wings.

A celebration in the trees,
all night conversation
or screeching argument,
no waver from their noisy game.

I lie in bed,
high among the trees,


I hear their clumsy flight,
their voices so near.

Did I close the door?

Will I wake,
covered in velvety wings?

The night is long,
but daybreak curfew
brings a moment’s quiet,

a silent metamorphosis

then screech turns to chorus
and webbed cape
becomes feathered wing

On Visiting My Childhood Home

above the low rock wall
the aloe vera
sends green spears
in all directions,

the bird’s nest
spreads its wide leaves
to the sky.

In the raised bed
skeletons of parsley stand,
dried seedpods,
like outspread hands
holding tiny seeds

I’ll go and run
my hand over them,
before I go,
and fine seeds
will scatter
in the earth

The Sea

My mother says
I screamed at night,
till on a ship
I found sound sleep

I feel it still,
this watery past,
the push and pull of tides,
the to and fro of passing days.

I walk towards the water’s swell
step by step,
feeling its movement
lapping, lapping against skin

feet free and floating,
I’m carried by the sea,
its arms full round me,
and here our steady pulses meet.

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The Memory of Superman, Kimberley Carter

Photo by AD_Images from Pixabay

Maria lived in the land of Giants. She was a giant too, of course. She could hold a car in her palm. But her parents were even bigger. Papa could lift her up and spin her around as if she was a baby. She wasn’t a baby. She was seven. In those moments she became a bird, soaring high above the houses and driveways and cats on cars.

She had wild hair like twigs, flushed pink cheeks and hazel eyes. She ran around the house on her chubby little legs with a towel for a cape, covered in fluff from the hall carpet and a car held high. Mama and Papa didn’t like her playing with boys, cars or superheroes. They wanted her to be a good girl, wear dresses and brush her hair. They said Barbie should marry Ken, not Superman or the Flash or Wonder Woman.

She ran into the kitchen, socks whispering as they slid along the lino. Her parents were talking, voices low. Maria couldn’t understand what they were saying. Papa wore leather shoes with scuffs on its toes. Mama wore flats with the pretty flowers falling off. They didn’t know she was there. She hid behind the counter.

Papa stopped suddenly; he perked up his ears like a dog. He must’ve been listening for Maria, her usual bangs and giggles absent. He poked his head out to check the living room. Maria giggled and Mama found her.

Maria offered up the car to play with, but Mama took it angrily. She pulled the towel off Maria’s shoulders and grabbed her arm, dragging her back to her room.

The pink beads on Maria’s door handle jingled as Mama twisted it open. She marched over to Superman and plucked him from his wedding to Barbie along with his Best Men Green Lantern, the Flash and Hulk. She found Spiderman on the windowsill, the Bat Mobile racing around the nightstand and brave Buzz Lightyear sleeping on the pillow (he called out ‘To infinity and beyond!’ in surprise when he was picked up).

‘You shouldn’t have touched these!’ Mama cried. ‘Why did you go into his room? How did you unlock the door?’

Maria fidgeted with the frayed edges of her bright orange sleeve. She wasn’t supposed to go in the Dark Room. But the door had been ajar and through the crack she’d seen it all: the bed with its spaceship blankets and bear-covered pillows; the rug that ran with roads and houses and stop signs; and all those toys! Maria had found the Cave of Wonders. All the toys she’d asked and asked for that Mama and Papa refused to buy, right there!

‘I’m afraid that’s my fault dear. I forgot to lock the door again after…I, uh.’

Mama stared at Papa while he stared at Maria’s pillow. Mama looked like Peter Parker when Harry Osborn revealed he was the new Green Goblin.

‘Why did you-’ she croaked.

‘Because, Sarah,’ Papa strode forward and placed his hands on Mama’s arms, ignoring the pointy, plastic toys between them. ‘I wanted to see it again. Memorise it. Every inch.’ He took a deep breath. ‘I want to pack it up.’

Mama gasped and dropped the toys.

‘No,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘No, no no you can’t. We can’t- oh.’ She knelt and picked up the battered superheroes, a desperate note in her voice. With the toys in her arms, she rushed out of the room, Papa following.

Maria was alone surrounded by creamy walls, a purple bed and butterflies on her wardrobe. She was the only girl on the planet; an ant that got lost on the way home. She didn’t like being alone. Her eyes pricked and her face heated up and she knew she was going to cry.

‘Dear!’ Papa called out. ‘Sarah please, let me explain.’

‘No! We can’t forget him, Jamie. We can’t.’

‘I KNOW!’ Papa yelled. Then quieter, ‘I know. I just… It’s been three years. It’s past time we moved on.’

‘Past time.’ Mama spat, as if she ate her least favourite food in the world: Olives.

They fell silent. A door slammed and scuffling came from the Dark Room. Mama was putting the toys back. Maria didn’t know what they were talking about. But she did know Mama was upset that she took the toys. Maria moved to the door. Papa didn’t seem as mad as Mama. Maybe he would give her a hug. She really needed a hug.

‘We won’t forget him, Sarah.’ Papa said quietly to the Dark Room’s door. ‘It’s just, we need to let him go. Focus on Maria. Our daughter.’ Mama didn’t answer so he kept talking. ‘And if she happens to like the same things he did then we should support her. God knows why she thinks we don’t like her playing with action figures and boys.’

Maria pulled on Papa’s sleeve. Papa rested a hand on her head.

‘I’m sorry,’ came Mama’s voice from the depths. ‘I’m sorry. I can’t– not yet. I’m sorry.’   

The phone rang. Mama opened the door and slid past Papa and Maria. She had replaced all of the toys except for one, his blue eyes and red cape gleaming. She answered the phone.

‘Mother,’ Mama said shakily. ‘Yes, I’m fine. How are you?…’

‘Papa,’ Maria whispered, ‘Why won’t Mama share her toys? Does she hate me?’ Maria’s tears finally fell, loud and messy. Mama winced from across the room, shaking her head. Her own gigantic tears fell on Superman’s face. Now he was crying too. A worried whine seeped through the phone and Mama stammered that everything was fine. Papa knelt before Maria and held her face in his hands.

‘Hey sweetie, hey, shush. It’s not your fault. Mama doesn’t hate you. Hey.’ Papa wiped Maria’s tears and hugged her tight. He kissed her hair and whispered, ‘Mama’s just in pain.’

‘Where?’ she sniffled into his shirt.

Papa pulled away and placed her tiny hand on his heart. ‘Here.’ 

Papa was warm. Maria ducked and put her ear to his chest, listening to the solid thump, thump thump. He gently stroked her hair and held her close.

‘Is Mama’s broken?’ she asked. ‘Does she need a doctor?’

‘A doctor can’t fix her. But, I think we can if we work together.’


‘Yeah. If we both go over and give her a really big, long hug I bet we can make her smile. And if we give her one every single day her heart will get better a little bit at a time. Can you do that?’

Maria nodded. Papa smiled.


Mama put the phone down and sat on the couch, head resting against Superman like a prayer.

‘What did your mother say?’ Papa asked softly, holding Maria’s hand and inching forward.

‘She’ll be here soon. She’s worried.’

‘I don’t blame her. You’re a great actor.’ Papa let go of Maria’s hand and gently nudged her towards Mama, mimicking a hug. She cautiously faced Mama, unsure. Maria placed her hands lightly on Mama’s knees, fingers curled to clutch the fabric. Mama looked up.

‘Papa said if I hug you, your heart will get better.’

‘Did he now?’

Maria nodded. Mama smiled weakly and held out her arms, still clutching Superman like she couldn’t let go. Maria flung herself forward, burying her face in her side. Mama’s hands rested on her back. Papa sat down beside them and placed his arm around Mama’s shoulders. Maria was the plant in the boot, kept alive and warm by Wall-E and Eve.

‘I’m sorry, Maria. These toys belonged to someone else. I miss him a lot and I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.’

‘Who’d they belong to?’ Maria asked, curious.

‘Someone very special. You don’t remember, but he used to sneak into your room and take you back to his bed. Your papa and I would go to wake you, only to find you gone. We’d find you curled up sleeping next to little Carlos.’ Mama’s arms tightened around Maria and Superman. Maria could vaguely picture Superman pyjamas.

‘Is he your little Superman?’ Maria looked between Mama and the toy.

‘Yes,’ Mama said, Papa wiping away her tears. ‘He was my little Superman.’

‘And,’ Papa said, ‘You’re our little Supergirl.’

Maria wrinkled her nose. ‘I want to be Spiderman!’

‘Okay,’ Papa patted her head. ‘You can be Spiderman.’ Mama choked on her laugh, pulling Papa and Maria close.

‘I love you, Maria. Very much,’ she whispered. Papa gave them both a squeeze and Maria sighed contently even though Superman’s tiny hand was digging into her back.

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The Globe’s Ghosts, Sienna Knowles

Photo by Eurpeana on Unsplash

By a Sleep We End the Heartache

He was a violet –  

The most striking of the King’s garden.

Should I have even tried

To play the instrument of his mystery?

I was warned he would not bloom long,

But what power does a young heart hold

Against the melody of a prince?

Soon, he seemed to wither –  

Not with the ecstasy of love,

My beauty not the cause of his wildness

But his madness the cause of mine.

It was not to be.

The willow branch would not hold me.

I sent myself to the man I loved –

Left Hamlet to fight upon my grave. It seems

Only after muddy death did grief and love pursue.

No matter –

By a sleep we end the heartache.

Lay Me With Juliet

Though in fair Verona he did lay his scene,

Sempiternal is the role of luminous lovers:

Volatile, meteoric, furious, but bright –  

And so, blinded are we

To the fool’s journey – not years but four days

Until young love is lost young.

Not often have happy mothers been made younger than fourteen.

I bide my time and wait for the work of years

To attune her infant eyes. Too late –

He whose heart just yesterday glowed incessantly for another Rose

Has crossed the stars for my wife-to-be.

So though she weeps for the death of kin

At her lover’s hands, she wavers not from her given lines,

Nor he

With his poetry, iambic and irresistible,

That captures the awe of not just her

but the audience of four hundred years.

All asteroids meet their demise.

While no one predicts such a sudden strike, I saw the moment coming –  

Saw her streak across the sky

And though he killed me for scattering flowers on her grave,

My type was already slain when, palm to palm, those holy lovers kissed

So open the tomb,

And lay me with Juliet.

She Had Eyes but Did Not Choose Me

Beauty, wit and fortunes tied my heart to Desdemona.

But as it always is,

She loved another for dangers I had not passed.

No witchcraft can brew the draft of lustrous rebellion.

Is death or friendship the physician of a broken heart?

One came in the form of the other.

He told me my garden was fertile yet

And so I filled my purse

With villainy.

But for youth she did not change.

I did not taste the perfume of her lips,


Assured they would never blush again.

And yet, I could not even claim the role of antihero –  

Outplayed by both good and evil,

I did not die upon a kiss.

For she had eyes but did not choose me.

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The Tree, Andrew Hogan

Image by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Michael stands on the curb. It is the same curb which he stood on as a child, during the endless games of cricket, on a road which became molten black chewing gum in the crucible of a Perth summer. The road gripped you to your fielding position, like one of the toy fielders from the ‘Test Match’ game. Michael had decided that the best fielding position was short mid-wicket, since short mid-wicket was on the curb. Now, he is standing at short mid-wicket, regarding the geriatric remains of his childhood home. It seems smaller than he remembers, and like the hand-me-downs which were worn and re-worn there for generations, the old house has many holes and frayed seams; not even useful for patches.

The property had passed from Michael’s great grandfather to his grandfather, and then to Michael’s mother, the ‘Dragon Lady’. Now, forty odd years later, with the recent passing of his mother, the old place has passed to another generation. The council has vetoed any thoughts of fixing up the place. The house has to be torn down and another built in its place. Michael is glad to have the decision taken out of his hands.

He watches as the excavator makes its first incision into the front corner of the house, where the walls meet the roof. That was his bedroom. Ghosts begin fleeing through the window. Michael reaches out to them; he wants to save them. He catches a hold of one by the tail.

‘What have I told you, you little shit?’ The Dragon is breathing fire.

Seven years old, curled up in a ball, trapped in the corner of his room; no further retreat is possible. The ‘Dragon Lady’, in the grip of one of her ‘turns’ is wailing on his back and legs with a cricket stump. The intensity of her exertions causes her to stumble a few steps backward to catch her breath. Michael runs for the door.

‘Get back here you little shit!’

Michael is out the front door; it slams against the wall with a loud bang.

‘When I catch you, you’re fucked. FUCK!’

BANG! Clunk, clunk! The sound of a cricket stump hitting the wall and coming to rest on the wooden floor.

Michael climbs the big tree in the front yard, all the way to the highest branches, where he can poke his head above the top leaves and survey the neighbourhood. Through tears, he sees Mr Schmidt next-door, watering his garden.

‘You okay, Michael?’

Michael nods, embarrassed. He had taken refuge next-door before, but the ‘Dragon Lady’ had made him pay for ‘embarrassing’ her. Now Michael runs to the tree, he is safe up there. Michael knows that adults can’t climb trees.

‘Just stay there for a while until your mum calms down,’ Mr Schmidt says, ‘You come over here if you need to.’

Mr Schmidt knows the deal.

Back in the present, a voice shakes Michael from his thoughts. He loses his grip on the ghost’s tail and blinking, the past fades from his eyes. He sees that his bedroom is rubble and toothpicks. The building contractor is talking to him.

‘This tree is gonna have to go mate. The roots will be covering an area the same size as the bit pokin’ out o’ the ground. If we have to run the plumbing, electricity and gas around the outside, it’s gonna be an expensive pain in the arse.’

The contractor stands looking at him, waiting for an answer. Michael is still somewhere between ghost catching and house killing, unable to think clearly.

‘Ummm, just let me think about it for a few minutes.’

Michael looks at the tree. It has more wrinkles than he remembers, and a bit less hair on top, but it is alive and well, like a mirror. Michael walks over to the desiccated trunk, runs his fingers over the bark, and remembers. He looks up into the branches; blades of sunlight cut through the foliage. A few metres above, Michael can see the remains of an old fence picket, barely attached to a branch via a single rusty nail.

Seven-year-old Michael transports three old fence pickets up into the tree, one by one, and rests them, side by side, across two thick branches. The pickets will provide a level platform for him to sit on, once he has nailed them into place; high enough up the tree to be safe from the Dragon, with plenty of thick foliage underneath for security. It will be his tower.

Michael can hear the familiar sound of the ‘Sandman’. He pokes his head through the leaves at the top of tree and sees the panel van turn into the driveway; ‘Sandman’ written on the side. Most days the Sandman comes by late in the afternoon, and Michael breathes a sigh of relief. He has seen this drill many times before. The Sandman drives all the way up the driveway, to the back of the house, beeping his horn half way up the drive, which is unnecessary, as the Dragon is always ready and waiting at the back door. The Dragon walks over and leans on the sill of the driver’s door, and they talk for a few moments. The Dragon gives some money to the Sandman, and he gives her a tiny bit of sand, wrapped in a little piece of plastic, with a knot tied in it to stop the sand from spilling. Then the Sandman reverses back down the drive and leaves, with a big burnout.

Michael had once seen what the Dragon did with the sand, through the gap in her slightly ajar bedroom door. She opened the plastic and poured the sand into a spoon. Then she got a doctor’s needle and used it to put some water into the spoon, and then she held the spoon in one hand while using the other hand to heat the bottom of it with a cigarette lighter. After a few seconds, she carefully placed the spoon on her dressing table, and touched the inside of it with the doctor’s needle. Finally, she put the needle on her arm and lay back on the bed. He had never seen her concentrate so much; it must be very important.

After she finishes, she is happy and apologises to Michael for being mean, and gives him hugs and kisses. Then she lies down on the couch to watch T.V., falls asleep, and does not wake up until the morning. Michael usually wakes her before running out the door and off to school.

Up in the tree, Michael hammers the nails into place. He sees, through the branches, the Sandman reverse out onto the street. A screeching burnout and off down the hill, engine roaring. A few minutes later, the Dragon, having changed into mum, is standing on the lawn beneath the tree.

‘Michael, where are you baby?’

‘I’m up in the tree, mum. I’m making a tower with some old fence pickets. Can you see me?’ Michael leans his head sideways so that his mother can see him through the foliage.

‘Yeah, I can see you puddin’. Just be careful up there, I don’t want you to fall and get hurt.’

‘Okay mum!’

‘I’m going to watch T.V. baby, come and tell me when you’re ready for dinner.’

‘Okay mum!’

As the sun sets, Michael comes down from his tower and goes inside. He doesn’t wake his mother. He puts a pillow under her head and a blanket over her, switches the T.V. off, turns off the light, and shuts the door. Then he prepares his own dinner.


Again, Michael is dragged back to the present; the building contractor is standing in front of him.

‘Well? The tree? Does it stay or go?’

Michael smiles at him. ‘The tree stays.’

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Six Seventeenths, Kyla Hetherington

Image by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Six seventeenths have passed, you’re sick with change.
They urge you ‘Find a craft. Switch the cage.’
You toil, aching back tilted over tender sprouting soil.
In the shower you kiss your bronzed hands on a whim and wonder,
        If I plant them, will they grow?
        One day at a time.
You scoop out your emptiness while your very veins crave,
Remembering the years you spent tethered to shades.

Six seventeenths past, Mother, stricken at your chains.
She grieved. ‘It kills me to see you. You’re so thin.’
You laughed, dark like a crow, creaking and frayed.
On the way out you snatched up her ruby ring and wondered,
        Will Cash Converters still be open?
        One day I’ll stop.
You lay splattered, supine, seeking Elysium and finding
A barren reverie. All Self. Sacrificed for that roiling oblivion.

Six seventeenths will pass, you’ll be stuck at the game.
They’ll greet you ‘One year sober. Congratulations.’
You’ll show your teeth, decayed and afraid.
When the heavy talisman of hope slips, you’ll wonder,
        How long will this hook stay stuck in my brain?
        The days are mundane.
Mediocrity will thwart your arcane shame.
Stumble, fall, but do not forget; you are living unlocked in colour.

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A Literary Homicide, Jasmine Oke

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Cherry. It is only a six-letter word. One vowel, consonants five, two coupled syllables. If you were to flip open a dictionary and glide over its pages for the term ‘cherry’, you may find something resembling this:

Cherry /ˈtʃeri/

noun, plural cherries

1. —the fruit.

2. —the state of virginity.

3. —something new and unused.


4. —bright red; the colour of love.

You, Reader, enjoy the idea that in a single room there exist thousands of tiny universes, bound in leather and sitting tranquilly on shelves. Or perhaps the libraries themselves are actually the universes, housing galaxies and worlds and dying stars and black holes, largely undiscovered and untouched. Lying just beyond the surface, so you would not quite know it is all there… A universe in a universe. Perhaps the world is a library. Maybe you are just another book on the shelf. We know she is. It is sort of a comforting thought. You love books, love other people’s words. It is now time for you to experience my words; images and sweeping swells of emotion that carry those poetic nuances with them.

You enter the shadowy room with too few windows and too many dust particles. You creep further to the back, feet whispering over the wooden floor, the shadows of the room getting a little deeper, the dust swirling a little heavier. Where the books sit quieter from years of being untouched. You feel an odd twist of sympathy at that, and you swipe your fingers across their spines, titles barely visible under the stress of time. Just for a little attention, a little something. So that they know they have not been completely forgotten.

It has now been a month since you met Her in that library. Since you memorised the tattoo of Her lipstick on the rim of the biodegradable coffee cup. The shade? ‘Lost Cherry’ by Charlotte Tilbury. How ironic when the non-fictional you have become the subject of a missing person’s case; you have not paid your bills, attended work or even stopped by your parents’ for the fortnightly bonding session over your mother’s infamous cherry pie. Are you not going to introduce Her to them? But you do not care. Like a mosquito, you are drunk on Her. Your lips dance. Tango. Cha-cha. Waltz. They bend to the rhythm as cherry blossoms would the breeze. No. No care at all. I will take back control of my narrative.

And so, the Author attempts to wrap you both back around his smallest finger. It is the blackest night and almost cold, the wind ruffling the moth-eaten curtains as it glides into the room through the open window, unyielding and curious. The moon sort of glows and there are a few stars that he can spot, just above orange blankets of pollution. He finds himself resenting the moon and wishing it were the sun, gripping a cigarette between long, pale fingers, his nails bitten down. He does not smoke. He does not bite his nails. But he brings the damp paper to his lips and sucks in the toxicity, breathes in the lilac fumes and watches the ember alight as the curtains tickle his dry, bare knees.

The patched-up blue velvet chair speckled with cigarette burns has moulded to his figure around the third hour. He focuses all of his energy into accessing those parts of his mind not spattered with ink. Ink that forms the words of tens of thousands of voices, echoes of which he hears even in moments of slumber: ‘Author’s debut novel Her a disaster’, ‘things you didn’t know Author meant in Her’, ‘Protagonist in Her would actually react this way.’ His notebook sits empty in front of him, the blunt tips of his nicotine-stained fingers tapping discordantly atop the surface of the cherry wood desk. The varnish is chipping away. Each hour after the fifth, the shadowy ink transforms more distinctly into the fine lines of Her plump, cherry-stained lips. Those born to be under his command. The soft padding of his pining fingers strokes against the page.






His hand darts swiftly across the battlefield. He scans his paint selection, mentally plucking up tube after tube and squeezing them purposefully on the palette.

They stand amongst chrysanthemums and daisies on a cobblestone path. Gazing up at a chaotic sky tinged with citrus hues, he pinches a few of the crisping petals between his fingers, paint dug into the creases of his nails. A distinct cherry wood aroma travels on the breeze. The undertones are what really draws him in; cedar, vanilla and musk flowing from her wrists, her neck, her most vulnerable parts.

Her cheeks are splashed with fuchsia as she catches his gaze, though the majority of the cherry tint is concealed beneath a porcelain coating. His grin widens, revealing a fine set of teeth that are almost predatory.

‘We need to work together if we are going to make it out alive. If you want to make it out alive. I invented you, you cannot be without me,’ the Author challenges.

‘I need someone who’s going to believe in me and plead for my happiness and success with each turn of the page. Not someone who forces me to behave and act the way they see fit.’

Her rejection and disagreeableness come with a gentle rise and fall of her half-naked shoulders. Her hands rest before her, dainty fingers laced and lax. All she does after delivering that final blow is shake her head, slow as poured honey, fringe falling upon her eyes. No apology in the green, the grey, the blue.

The words scrape his throat, his scalp, his brain, as they work their way into his body. They are so quiet, yet the loudest he has ever heard. Th-thump. Th-thump. Th-thump. He was one of the three little pigs and she the wolf; the antithesis of what he had anticipated. He would be damned if that stick house could ever be repaired. Now the jagged fragments are lodged deep in his heart, much like the stalk of a cherry; hidden beneath the glossy skin and sojourned into the fleshy inner core. His hand clenches tighter around her arm, nails creating crescent moons. But she never explains herself further. Never offers him sympathy. Like the heroine of any nineteenth-century romance novel, she flees. And so, he turns on his heel to leave. Almost. In reality, the only part of him that remains is still standing on that path. In that blue velvet armchair. All that is really left of him are the clothes on his back. So, a ghost walks home in his clothing.

The cherry pops and the Author is drenched in the aftermath. The crimson juice coats the entirety of his wounded expression which spreads from the outer corners of his downturned lips to the highest arch of his creased forehead; he knows this will stain. He has lost the battle. He is the Author. They were his words, his words to be read and interpreted as he intended. She was his story, his character to act and feel as he articulated. She was his. And now she will become nothing but his swan song. Shakespeare’s cursed pen may hast writ this very moment. He may be-est dotting its i’s currently, in whatever gloomy pearlescent vision of heaven sticks in thy head. The Author’s blood runs cold. It runs. Until it doesn’t. And so the tragic musk of white roses settles on the air.

Under the comforting blanket of heavy darkness, just moments before the breaking sun shatters the sky with blinding light, Her lethargic limbs travel toward the bathroom. The monotonous tone of the news presenter travels through your flat, anchoring her attention, but only because of the words that tumble into the stuffy air.

‘A man in his late 40s was found dead in his townhouse yesterday, with six stab wounds to the left side of the chest. At this point in time, the injuries are suspected to be self-inflicted.’

The bottomless glass above the basin swallows her whole, not even bothering to spit out the stone or pull out the stalk. Her lathered hands intimately read the curves of one another. This happens six times. Not five. Not seven. Six. Re-enacting Lady Macbeth’s obsessively compulsive post-murder hand washing. However, a little water does not clear you of this deed.

As she returns, you notice the resemblance between Her and the cherry blossom trees outside; both wilted and void of colour and life. You, the Reader, don’t know the first thing about the arts, but you know that you want to paint her with colours and textures that haven’t even been invented. And so, you do.

We spend our first night alone together walking aimlessly. Fingers laced with fingers and the clicks of our heels syncing as we laugh. I almost swear I can hear our voices mingled in the sky, twirling and prancing amongst the stars. There’s a delicate moon-laden moment, lost in each other’s gazes. Time might have actually stopped. Hands having stopped their rhythmic march across the clock face. I’m only ever going to write about this. About right now. About the fragility of openness and the feel of Her fingers carving their places into my skull, about the way the soft light of the moon emblazons Her skin cells and flickers in Her presence. I’m going to write about the soft look in Her eyes – the soft look that’s reserved for me, the Reader, only me, and is still there after all this time, after everything. I’m going to write about the dust and the creaky floorboards and warm skin against warm skin and I’m going to write from my soul because she is my soul and I’m not afraid and I’m not ashamed and I know it isn’t wrong. She is part of him, but she is connected with me. Interwoven and beautiful.

The moon seems to sigh above them, and if you look close enough, puff out a smoky breath of cigarettes. Almost in a poetic way. It knows they’re in love.

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