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.

Download PDF

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.

Download PDF

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.’

Download PDF

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.

Download PDF

small deaths in spring, Courtney Boulais

Photo by Jenna Lee on Unsplash

I was in a lavender field. Or a field of lavender. There were greens and purples everywhere. You were in the lavender field too. The lavender was beautiful, but I wanted nothing to do with you other than your bank details. It smelled like a local market, like I was lingering around the handmade goat soap stall trying to decide if I’d rather the honey or the pine. Soapy and mysterious.

I angled my face away from the sun, raising an arm over my eyes.

Your camera was on me.

I could see all your teeth when you said, ‘Marie, drop your arm. Your tattoos are twisting at some fucking weird angles.’

‘Fuck off,’ I mumbled, but I had already dropped my arm by the time I said it.

‘At least you can still take directions,’ you noted, a laugh twitching in your throat.

When I could stop envisioning myself stuffing you with lavender until you choked and died, I forced my mouth to close.

The lace neckline of my camisole scratched at my chest like a dog at the door. I hoped my skin wasn’t red. I tried to look sultry or dazed or bleary-eyed the way you liked me, but something buzzed close enough to my ear that I felt it. A bee. It landed in my hair. ‘Oh,’ I breathed, trembling. ‘There’s—there’s a bee.’

‘Don’t move,’ you demanded, instantly popping the zoom on your shitty camera.

My voice went high, weak with fear. I wanted to cut my head off and hit you with it, stinger-first. ‘Don’t—I’m, like, really allergic and I don’t have an EpiPen on me.’

‘Marie, are you kidding?’ you asked, but I wasn’t. ‘It’s a fucking lavender field. You didn’t think about there being a million bees?’

I was suddenly very hot.

The rustling of lavender stems was so loud I felt it on my face. Everything shifted, sideways. It left my hair and relief nearly made me sick but—fuck—it settled on my arm. The bee vibrated and vibrated. Skin contact. I could not decide if it was the fear keeping me in my death place or if it was the way you’d said – Don’t move.

Time slipped. Sweat slid down my spine. You were clicking in sync with the humming of the bee. The lavender was humming, too.


‘Fuck!’ I yelped, ripping my arm out of your reach, away from your camera—bee be damned. Me be damned. I shook my arm violently, windmilling it like a little kid playing aeroplanes. No bee, but no stinger. Red was spreading like a wound, blood in water—shaped by your hand. ‘What the hell?’ I demanded, eyes wild.

Your eyebrows rose, your mouth so close to a smirk I wanted to kill you for it. ‘I killed it.’

‘And what if you’d helped it kill me? You—’ I stopped to exhale heavily. Distaste curled at my throat, now that terror had ebbed under the wave of shock. My heart thudded as if it was going to find a way out of me.

I ripped my eyes from yours and looked down. I couldn’t see the bee. Somehow the dirt had already swallowed it up.

‘I wasn’t going to let you die.’ You said it like you’d rather say anything else, but you were reading me like a room. ‘Pretending to grieve when the cops came would’ve been harder than getting a good picture of you.’

I swallowed. ‘You don’t mean that.’

‘Oh, I don’t know,’ you sighed whimsically. ‘It’ll be nightfall before we get out of here at this rate.’

My eyes were hot. I turned to you and you did not look an ounce sorry. You looked like you always did—eyes dark, amusement at your mouth, like you were a moment away from kicking my teeth in just to photograph the wreckage.

You made me feel fucking crazy. I felt it as I curled my toes in the damp earth of the field.


I let go of my body, hoping my imminent death wasn’t in the slant of my mouth any longer, hoping yours was. I was making my own skin crawl and there was a roaring in my ears that sounded like a thousand bees. Neither of us spoke until the rain started; water misted across my eyelashes and your knees cracked as you stood, moving closer.

‘Don’t move,’ you said for the second time that day. I was the lavender and my hair was turning to goat milk soap out of the corner of my eye. I didn’t move. ‘Don’t blink.’

I sneered. ‘Is there anything you want me to do?’

You levelled a look at me, hate in your eyes. You probably stuck photos of me on a dartboard, but—I got the most likes on your Instagram. Maybe that was in your eyes. I felt it in mine every time I saw you’d posted another one. I liked being looked at, just not by you.

‘We should finish up anyway,’ I suggested, clearing my throat.

The laugh was startled out of you. ‘What? Why?’

‘My nipples are gonna start showing through my shirt…’

You eyed me, stepping too close, your breath hitting my cheek and ghosting down my skin warmly—we were in the opposite of a cold spot. Maybe because I had said it, I felt my nipples tighten. I thought about throttling myself too—to bee or not to bee, my hands or lavender stems?

 ‘Oh, that’s sad. You thought I’d care?’ Your chest shook with soundless laughter. Your shirt brushed mine.

‘Fine,’ I agreed flippantly. ‘No, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than stand here getting wet while you photograph my hard nipples. That sounds really good.’

Your mouth did that ridiculous twitch.

Revulsion shivered on my tongue.

If I had driven here myself and wasn’t being paid to be in the lavender field, I’d figure out a way to bring the bees back, sting your airways swollen so you and your camera could die in each other’s arms until you decayed—though the field’s owner would probably find you before then…

I smiled and I knew it looked like normal. Soapy and mysterious. Honey or pine.

Water dripped off my eyelashes like tears and your camera clicked.

‘Crouch,’ you said, and I did. Wet dirt caught the edges of my white cotton skirt.

‘Leg out,’ you said, and it was. ‘Not like you’re fucking Spider-man… Yeah, Marie. Like that.’

The rain got heavier and you paused to take your hoodie off. I watched you wrap it around your camera like a swaddled baby to protect it. The water dripping between my shoulder blades down my spine was colder than it had been moments before.

‘Okay, lay down.’

I stared at you. You let out a quiet laugh and nudged me with your foot. I gritted my teeth as I put my back flat to the dirt and rain fell into my eyes. Somewhere under me was the dead bee.

You hummed, bracketing me with your legs as you peered down through the lens.

The symbolism of this moment was not lost on me.

‘Grab the dirt,’ you said, leaning down.

Mulch and soil curled between my fingers and my palm, digging into me. As water dribbled down my hand and back into the ground, I was as much the dirt as I had been the lavender. I was the field. I lost sight of you. My eyelashes fluttered and there was the scent of wet earth and lavender roots moving under me like a wave, like the rolling clouds, like the flowers buckling under a strong breeze.

Your foot nudged the side of my chest and I wrenched my eyes open to see you crouch over me, shuffling back to get the right angle. Your hair was clinging to the underside of your jaw, rivulets down your bared throat.

If I was the lavender field, you were either the sun or you were the rain. Invasive.

I wasted a second thinking about why you hated me. I hated you intimately and you hated me just as much, but I was not paying you to be photographed a slip of fabric away from being naked in a field half an hour from everyone you knew. Maybe it was because I hated you, but during our first shoot together you’d put me on my knees in an abandoned house, crunching in cicada shells and small cockroaches, and made me touch cobwebs so thick I couldn’t see through them.

‘Marie, you—’

After a second, you nudged your camera down so we made eye contact. I realised you had spoken. Why? ‘Hm?’

There was quiet. Nerves sparked in my chest as you stared, eyes too dark to be knowable. Rain slipped over your philtrum. ‘Do you regret working with me?’

I shuddered in the cold. ‘What?’

‘You fucking hate coming out with me,’ you shrugged. A strange smile corrupted your mouth before you fought it off. ‘And you only work with me, right? I can’t be enough for you.’

The water in your hair hit my throat like acid and the soap of my neck bubbled. I couldn’t say I cope by picturing your death over and over, so I said, ‘Uh. I don’t only work with you.’ The smile on your mouth stole over to mine, and it felt insidious. I was too close to you in that moment. ‘I do post other photos on my page that you didn’t take of me. I…I figured you’d seen them.’

‘No,’ you answered, head tilting. The smile was yours again. ‘No, Marie. I don’t follow you on Instagram. You’re just never busy when I need you, so I assumed I was your one and only.’

Oh, there was the urge to vomit. I wondered where it had gone. Lost to the rain, perhaps? But no, you’d found it.

The dead bee vibrated in its dirt grave, near the base of my spine.

Don’t move.

The rain let up eventually, but I don’t think I noticed.

It was edging into dusk by the time we left, twilight eating the shadows of lavender. We thanked the field owner where he stood at the back gate of his house to let us through. He gave us a block of purple vegan lavender soap each, carved with his farm’s name. I had to press my hands to my mouth not to laugh. You made me sit wrapped in the towel you had in the backseat of your car, covered in dog hair and sand.

Download PDF

Hollow Smiles, Tara Lyall

Photo by Rick Monteiro on Unsplash

Katrina Van Tassel, a restless child plagued by the age-old foe of boredom, found herself in search of a pumpkin.

The eight-year-old shot through the plains of produce. The hodgepodge of orange that contently sat at the edge of her father’s farm was the most familiar of them; the pumpkins were a decidedly perfect size for a lonely child to draw a friendly face on. A real friendly face, not like Edith Sawyer, who pulled on Katrina’s hair when the teachers weren’t looking and bullied her because her father was large. The pumpkins weren’t nearly as mean as Edith. At least, they weren’t to Katrina.

She never chose any old pumpkin for her faces. No, Katrina often bore a pernickety air in her scrutiny, cultivated by a childhood of privilege and affirmation. It always wavered when she reached the pumpkin patch though, where the spindly limbs of the trees felt like they inched closer each time she visited. The forest that lay beyond was eerie to listen to, as odd sounds rumbled in the depths, a reminder that the wood was alive—alive and drowsy like a slumbering beast. The closest she ever ventured was the cobblestone fence at the cusp of the patch.

She poked a myriad of pumpkins and hoisted them up to sit level with her head. At last, she settled on one no larger than the farm well’s pail and plonked herself down amidst the hay and crowds of squash. With a charcoal stick slyly procured from one of the farmhands, she began her task.

The eyes were misshapen and the grin stretched from one side to the other, reminiscent of a smile that unsettlingly showed just one too many teeth. Katrina, nonetheless, took pride in her work, finishing off her masterpiece with a shakily drawn ‘Edith Sawyer’ on the back. She finally had a real friendly face.

The back of her hand rose to rub her cheeks as she beamed, the dark smudges from the charcoal leaving a smear. With a reinvigorated zeal, Katrina leapt to her feet. Her arms wavered under the weight of the pumpkin yet refused to yield, and her unsteady gait teetered as she approached the cobblestone wall. She was finally just tall enough to peek over the stones.

Weakly, she heaved the pumpkin until it comfortably sat on the fence, and with an exhale, eased away from the stones and wood. The sinuous shadows cast by the thicket slunk over the pumpkin, claiming the fruit with the friendly face for themselves.

Satisfied with her achievement, Katrina rested on the grass and chattered away with her new friend for quite some time, until the forest’s shadows disappeared with the sun and the sky blushed pink and gold. The sounds of the farmhands’ voices carried across the wind. They all chorused her name, a sign that dinner would be served soon. Dismayed, she gathered her skirts and bade farewell to the smiling pumpkin; the friendly face that would be long gone when morning came.

The sequestered glen of Sleepy Hollow was wide awake and in a frenzy not one day later. The town was known for its unexplainable occurrences, as the forest that encompassed it and its inhabitants sat far outside the realm of the natural. Often, however, it was the adults of the Hollow that fell victim to its supernatural snares, not the tenderfoot children.

Edith Sawyer returned home the following night in a state of hysteria, so thickly lathered in pumpkin innards that the smell—and the creature that covered her with it—haunted her for the remainder of her days. Whenever she so much as smelt a whiff of pumpkin, even as an adult, the scent sent her into a blubbering, whimpering mess, unable to form a single coherent sentence.

The adults of Sleepy Hollow surveyed the scene the next day. The muddied road Edith had trekked along was riddled with the suspected hoof prints of the famed spectre of the Hollow – the wicked Headless Horseman. Amongst the sludge and wreckage were the scattered remains of the pumpkin. One of which, was peculiarly marked with a broken, charcoal smile.


Spectres, however, did not last. Such terrors of the night are eventually met by daylight, which puts an end to all these evils like adulthood puts an end to childhood. The years came and went for Katrina, and with them came a true realisation of her actions. Of the witching power of her pumpkins. It wasn’t a child’s game to be had; it was real life.

And so, night gave way to day.

Katrina Van Tassel stopped visiting her father’s pumpkin patch.

Her teen years were passing quietly. At the cusp of adulthood, Katrina grew acquainted with the relentless advances of men—such as the overbearing yet widely admired Brom Van Brunt—most of which she politely entertained out of expectancy. She was a well-mannered lady, tamed by the age-old sovereign of tradition. She plastered on a friendly face of her own; the spirit of her youth as far away as that forgotten pumpkin patch.

Then came the momentous age of eighteen. The sky darkened, and an icy chill uncomfortably settled in her bones.

Ichabod Crane wandered into Sleepy Hollow.

Odd as he was, after a month of the stranger cajoling the townsfolk Katrina sought him out for singing classes, influenced by the town’s adoring recommendations. It should’ve been of little surprise to her that his gaze quickly dropped to find her more physically appealing features, and even quicker to find the financially appealing features of her father’s estate.

Katrina nodded and smiled over dinner. Her father was more than happy to answer any questions Crane sent his way about the estate or her, and with every boast that leapt from her father’s mouth, Katrina noted the devious green glint growing in the schoolmaster’s eyes, the words honing Crane’s sharp smile.

Magnanimous, they had said. Her lips tightened, recalling the townsfolk’s words. Charming, wonderful with the children.

When Ichabod Crane’s stare met with hers, Katrina found an overwhelmingly familiar sensation roll over her; that of Edith Sawyer pulling on her hair when no one was looking.

Old memories cracked like dried flakes of blood as Katrina sat amongst the pumpkins. Under the spotlight of the moon, they glowed a spectral orange. Her golden crown was sucked of its vibrancy and colour, until all that remained was a pale husk, much like the rest of her. The night was still around her, holding its breath. Frustrated, miserable words swelled in the back of Katrina’s throat like storm clouds after a long drought riddled with pleasantries and propriety.

The insincere duplicity of the local charming schoolmaster plagued her day in and day out, positively delighting many members of the town. She may have felt sorry for the way he was treated by Brom Van Brunt, if the two weren’t disingenuous towards her and feuding over her like she was a prized horse—a boon that came with the estate. Like a coil, she tightened each day, and tonight, she snapped.

Ichabod Crane’s charcoal smile was skin deep; it was time she carved him a new one.

A farmhand’s carving knife was firmly clasped between Katrina’s whitening, strained knuckles, and sunk into the pumpkin with little resistance. It took longer with the knife, but like it, she was sharper. This wasn’t a child’s game to be had.

The eyes were slanted and calculating–devious like their counterpart. The smile was jagged and unsettling and could not be classified as friendly, even in the ignorant eyes of a child. Katrina felt something more than pride —a swell of something rapturous and cathartic and intoxicating—as she finished off her masterpiece with a steadily drawn ‘Ichabod Crane’ on the back.

The back of her hand rose to rub her cheeks as she scowled, the innards from the pumpkin leaving a smear. With a single-minded fervour, Katrina rose to her feet. Her arms were strong under the weight of the pumpkin, and her tread so calm and resolute that she could hear the Hollow holding its breath as she approached the cobblestone wall.

When she finally glanced down, the true face of the greedy Ichabod Crane stared back at her. Soon, it would stare back at him too.’


The Headless Horseman, the grim spectre that plagued the glen of Sleepy Hollow, found himself in possession of a pumpkin.

It had been some time since the young Van Tassel had left him a head. He had thought the once zealous and imaginative child had long since fallen into a deep sleep, the kind that very few wake up from. And yet, it appeared that more than one spectre haunted the Hollow that night. Something must have awoken the ghost of her youth, he thought.

The fingers of one coarse leather glove traced the name haphazardly carved into the back of the fruit.

‘Ichabod Crane’.

The greedy face of the pumpkin sat gravely in the arm of the phantom, and the slumbering forest hummed under the thunderous hooves of the rider’s steed. In the years to come, the only memories of Ichabod Crane left in the Hollow were what whispers remained stained on the wind, and in the carved pumpkins that unsettlingly smiled into the night.

Download PDF

Check out this article by The Daily Telegraph

Taking a Chance on Love, Elizabeth ‘Aoife’ McGee

Photo by Dennis Perreault on Pexels

Sarah scrunches up her nose as the smell of strong cologne drifts her way, doing nothing to suppress the smell of stale sweat and beer. The floor vibrates to the pulsing base of the rock music and she’s struggling to keep up with the conversation. She’s already had two wines launched at her by the same drunk girl. Too many bony elbows will leave her bruised tomorrow and her toes are pinched into ridiculously pointy shoes. She wonders why she agreed to this Friday night of fun with Andrea and Clare. Fun? More like torture. She’s just not in the mood.

Andrea points to the bar, holding up an invisible glass and shouts ‘vodka?’ raising her eyebrows. Sarah shakes her head, no thanks. She’s had enough, unlike Clare and Andrea who join the scrum at the bar. Sarah wiggles her toes, dreaming of fluffy cat slippers and a week’s worth of Married at First Sight. Helping herself to water at one end of the bar, she spots Andrea’s neon-pink bobbing head at the other end, desperately waving a $50 note at the barman. Clare beside her, twirling her blonde waves around her fingers, a classic Clare move, while ogling the guy next to her. She’s been grateful for these two crazy friends these last two weeks. Seeing a free bar stool, Sarah plonks onto it and checks her phone. No new messages from Matt. She hadn’t replied to his messages or answered his calls. She longed to but was trying to play it cool.

‘Move in with me,’ she’d said two weeks ago, during a particularly amorous moment.
‘It’ll be magnificent.’

She’d clear a shelf for a few of his Toby Jugs, get an extra chest of drawers for his clothes, make room for his Star Wars DVDs. They’d shop together, cook together, watch TV together. And think of all the extra opportunities for sex. Turns out he was content with his one jocks-and-socks drawer by her bed, a toothbrush in her bathroom and his Earl Grey tea in the kitchen. He did raise his eyebrows at tad when she’d mentioned sex, but wondered where would he hang his corduroys and shirts and where would he fit his desk? He’d stumbled over his words, said he wasn’t ready for cohabiting and if that’s what she wants, then maybe he’s not the man for her. Sarah was surprised as they’d had an amazing eight months together. But she’d raced too far ahead and scared the corduroys off him.

Her friends offered the usual break-up advice. You need to get back out there. You’ll find someone else. His loss. What about on-line dating apps? Or speed dating? Singles nights? No. No. No. She’s not ready for that minefield yet. It’s all too raw.

‘Your biological clock is deafening,’ Andrea had said. Thanks Andrea. Like I need reminding. Andrea already had the fairy-tale wedding followed by two kids in quick succession.‘She’s only thirty-two, Andrea,’ Clare had said. ’She still has time to pop out a few sprogs before she hits forty.’

Clare likes the single life, but Sarah wants the whole deal: husband and kids, two at least. A life of school concerts, Saturday sport, camping trips, graduations and, eventually, leisurely road trips in a camper van with her greying husband, whom she hoped would be Matt. At this rate she’ll end up as everyone’s favourite auntie, living alone with nobody to talk to except twelve cats, three dogs and maybe a rabbit.

Sarah joins her friends, who present her with another vodka. She groans but follows them to the far side of the pub to chat to some people from Clare’s work. She smiles and pretends to be having a good time, allowing a guy called Mark to chat her up, knowing he’s wasting his efforts. She has no interest in the best waves in Sydney, but lets him drone on about rips and wipeouts while thinking about Matt. She’d rather be sipping a nice chianti at the Italian place with him right now. She misses his strong arms around her, his mop of mad curly brown hair, the cute dimples that appear in his cheeks when he smiles and his blue eyes that sparkle when he talks about his dad. While Clare gets everyone to huddle together for a photo, Sarah reads Matt’s messages again. How are you? Sorry I upset you. I miss you. Can we talk? Please call me.


Matt is at home browsing the internet for Toby Jugs. He’s got his eye on a 1985 limited edition Captain Cook jug on eBay with the bidding currently standing at $75. It doesn’t appear to have any cracks or chips and he’s prepared to go to $120 if he needs to. It would be a good investment with only 2000 of these in circulation. He’s aware that it’s an unusual thing for a man of thirty-four to collect, but most of his fifty-three assorted character jugs were his fathers. His mother sometimes complains that the small lounge is too cluttered with a lifetime’s worth of holiday souvenirs, family photos, golfing trophies and her own collection of ornamental plates. All the same, she’d kept his childhood sticker collection and stamp books. They’ve always been a family of collectors. When his dad became ill over a year ago, he’d asked Matt to mind the Toby’s after he’d gone. Matt had kept his word and the Toby Jug collection is still growing. He loves the thrill of finding a limited edition in mint condition. You’d have loved this one Dad, he’d say as he rearranged the jugs and positioned the new arrival in the special Toby Jug glass cabinet in the lounge. Might need to stretch to a second unit soon.

He’d usually be out with Sarah on a Friday night, eating gnocchi or Chicken Cacciatore at a little Italian eatery near her place, the type with checkered tablecloths and soft opera music. His job as a programmer for a large bank doesn’t provide many interesting stories, it was pretty much him and a computer. News? Yep, it worked. All good. But he loved listening to Sarah’s stories, about who she’d interviewed that week for the magazine where she worked as a feature writer, talking animatedly about the guy from The Bachelor or some hot new celebrity chef. He disliked reality TV programs, but he’d listen intently, watching her green eyes sparkle as she spoke, thinking how lucky he was to have met this vivacious red-head. He loved the way she tilted her head and fiddled with her left earring when she was concentrating. He also loved the way her pupils grew wide and dreamy when he kissed her.

Matt sighed. He’d stuffed it up with Sarah. He’d only really wanted time to think after she sprang the moving-in-together thing on him- not to split, but he’d tripped over his words and inadvertently suggested they break up. What was I thinking? I don’t want to lose you Sarah. He’d panicked of course, and all he could think about was what could go wrong if they cohabited. There’s no room for the Toby’s, especially not with all those awful miniature china cats taking up the whole of the shelving unit. There’s also the cat cushions, pillow slips, clocks, dinnerware, an ugly tabby teapot and two sets of kitty stacking glasses. Would she be willing to compromise on the cats?

Then there was the storage situation. Sarah’s built-in wardrobes were bulging with clothes, bags and shoes. She’d mentioned buying a new chest of drawers for his clothes, but he’d need somewhere to hang his trousers and shirts too. Sarah’s clothes are thrown haphazardly over chairs or piled in mounds on the floor in the corner whereas Matt likes to be organised.

His mother is out at her regular drag bingo night with friends. She’d asked him to come along and although it’s a hoot, he’s not in the mood. She’d asked about Sarah again, urging him to go and see her rather than texting. She likes Sarah, more so than his other girlfriends in the past, not that there’d been many. Matt had moved back home temporarily when he’d returned from Melbourne two years ago, but he couldn’t leave his mum on her after his dad died. She insists she’s fine now and that he should go and live his life for himself. Go and sort things out with Sarah, Matt. Don’t let that one get away. And your dad would say the same, God rest him.

While waiting for the kettle to boil for tea, he checks his Facebook. Sarah hasn’t posted since their split, but she hasn’t changed her relationship status to ‘single’ either. Sarah’s friend Clare had checked in at The Willow Tree ten minutes ago and had posted a photo. Matt zooms in and sees Clare, Andrea and Sarah, shiny faces beaming at the camera. There’s a few people with them he doesn’t recognise, one being a shaggy blonde-haired guy with his arm around Sarah, the beach-bronzed type that makes Matt feel ghostly pale. Forgetting about his tea, he slumps back into the sofa, sitting there for a while contemplating his options. ‘Right,’ he says determinedly, before grabbing his keys and marching out the door.


Having ditched the surfer, Sarah checks the time – 9.45pm now. She’ll call it a night at ten. With the lengthy queue for the bathroom, she may spend the entire fifteen minutes there. She sees a tired woman in the mirror – makeup worn off, hair sticking to her head and dark circles under her eyes. She looks like she’s been climbing through unruly bushes on a humid day. Yes, it’s time for me to go. As she’s washing her hands, Andrea comes racing in.
‘Sarah, Matt’s here.’
‘Oh.’ She feels jittery. ‘Is he looking for me?’
‘Well, of course he is. Doh!’ Andrea grabs her wet hand. ‘Come on.’
‘No, let him wait.’
‘Don’t leave him standing there too long.’ Andrea says and goes back outside to make sure he doesn’t leave.

Sarah considers her reflection again in the mirror. Raking her fingers through her hair, she makes a futile effort to tame it, before running a tissue along the skin under her eyes, removing some stray smudges of mascara. She sighs. What does Matt want? And will whatever he might be offering be enough for her?

After about ten minutes, she decides to hear what he has to say. If he says he’ll move in with her, she’ll give it a shot. If he just wants to plod along aimlessly, just passing the time, then she’ll forget about him and get herself a big fluffy cat. To hell with Matt and his Toby jugs. She struts out of the bathroom with her head determinedly high.

Matt is smiling nervously as she approaches.
‘Hi Sarah.’
‘Hi Matt.’ Be cool.
‘Look, can we talk?’ Matt asks, blinking furiously. ‘Go somewhere quieter?’

Sarah hesitates for a second. ‘I suppose,’ she eventually replies, shrugging her shoulders, when she really wants to throw her arms around him, her resolution dissolving.
Matt looks relieved. ‘Great. How about that late-night cafe around the corner?’
‘Ok, let me just tell Andrea and Clare.’

The cafe is buzzing, full of revellers drinking coffee in an attempt to sober up and students trying to stay awake while furiously tapping on keyboards. Sarah finds a booth in the corner while Matt orders tea, before sliding in opposite her.

‘Sarah, I’m sorry.’ Matt begins. ‘I reacted badly, and I was hoping we could maybe start that conversation again.’ He’s pulling at his right ear, another of his nervous habits.
‘Sorry that you don’t want to move in with me or … what?’ Has he changed his mind?
‘Just ask me again,’ Matt says. ‘About the living in sin idea.’ He’s smiling now.
Sarah hesitates. He has. He has.
‘Ok, I’ll start. Can I move in with you? If you’ll still have me.’
‘Oh Matt, I-’
‘Wait, before you answer, I want to show you something.’ Matt pulls a piece of paper out of his pocket. ‘I realise that it will be a compromise for both of us, so I’ve made some notes.’
‘Oh, ok.’ Sarah suspects it’s one of his pros and cons lists.

Sarah takes the piece of paper and reads it. It’s titled List of things to consider if moving in with Sarah. It’s not too long. Toby Jugs vs cats, The Bachelor vs Antiques Roadshow, Not overly tidy vs neat freak, Desk for work? Verbal diarrhoea vs liking occasional silence. Cats. Cats. Cats. Sarah’s smirking at Matt as he sips his tea.

‘Something funny?’ he asks when she chuckles, her attempt at playing it cool dissolved.
‘Oh, Matt. You always know how to make me laugh. Look. We will both have to compromise. We each have habits that will drive the other one nuts at times.’
‘It’s a big step, Sarah, and I was just worried we might ruin things.’
‘We won’t. This is us. We’re good together.’
Matt takes Sarah’s hand, rubbing his thumb along the dips between her knuckles. ‘I need to tell you something else,’ he says, blinking rapidly.
‘What is it?’ asks Sarah.
‘I really don’t like cats.’ He’s pulling his ear again. ‘In fact, the live ones make me sneeze and you’ve said you’d like to get a real cat when you’re not renting.
‘I have actually noticed you turning my cushions over, and it also features fairly high on your list,’ she says, waving the piece of paper. ‘I’m not a fan of your Toby Jugs either or Star Wars, but they’re only little things. And I do like dogs too, you know.’
‘So, can we do this?’
‘Yes, Matt, I think we can. I know we can.’ Sarah leans across the table and kisses him. She’s missed him, missed these lips. ‘I love you, Matt Smith.’
‘I love you too, Sarah Lyons.’

Download PDF Continue reading “Taking a Chance on Love, Elizabeth ‘Aoife’ McGee”

Pretty Boy, Caitlin Hickson

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

‘Such a pretty boy,’ people always say when they first see me. I have heard more sentences about my bone structure and the size of my waist than about the bruises on my skin. The audience throws me roses, no matter what I do. I think they would applaud if I just stood and smiled or undid another button of my shirt.

I stand there and smile in the mirror for my instructor and she tells me to push harder. My bones are aching, and my smile is breaking but I do the routine again. I feel the ground reaching up to me, I feel it embrace me and I hear my breath leave.

The first thing I think about when I fall is my face. If I get another bruise on my face, I’ll be done for. No audience will cheer for me if I don’t look perfect. I’m not stupid, I know that’s why they come to see me. They don’t really care about my steps, my talent, or the hours I spend in this practice room.

My instructor doesn’t say anything as I stand back up.

She sends me home early. I can tell she thinks I fell in practice today because I haven’t been sleeping. To be fair, she would be right. It’s just not easy to fall asleep with my parents in the room next door, their hatred seeping through the wall like a bad smell. She tells me it’s okay to be tired and take a break, but all I can hear is my father’s voice.

He says I’ll never amount to anything.

And maybe he’s right.

The downside to leaving the studio early is that there are people at the bus stop. Boys from my school, to be specific. They’re on their way home from soccer practice, balls under their arms and mud on their socks. I shove my ballet shoes in my bag on instinct, but it’s too late. One of them sees me and elbows his friend.

‘Well, if it isn’t the pretty boy. How’s life as a ballerina?’ he asks, lips stretching into a sneer.

I ignore the nickname and push past him to stand below the bus stop sign. He doesn’t care about my dancing, he’s just bored. I don’t even think he knows my real name. I try to tune out their conversation, but their laughter carries.

It’s the same every time.

‘With that hair he looks like your sister.’

‘Hey, don’t insult my sister like that.’

‘Do you think he wears tights and tutus?’

‘Probably, you have to be at least half a girl to do ballet for fun.’

I’ve heard it all by now. But it still stings when they laugh, like all of this – my hair, my face, my dream – is all just a joke.

And the more I hear it, the easier it is to believe.

The other major downside of being let out early is that my parents are awake when I get home.

The first thing I do when I walk in the door is hide my ballet shoes. I slip into the skin of the boy my mother wants to see. The boy with good grades and lots of friends who has come home from soccer practice, or boxing, or any other acceptable extracurricular activity. We both know I’ll never really be able to be that person, but we can pretend.

She sits at the dining room table, dinner laid out and waiting. She welcomes me home almost as if she’s happy to see me. I smile back at her, forcing my eyes to stay open, my screaming muscles to act as if there is nothing amiss. But my head is spinning, and my lack of sleep is catching up to me. I’m tempted to lay my head on the dining table and never wake up again.

Instead, we talk. We talk about school like we always do. She tells me about the sons of her friends, the ones with stable careers and bright futures. I know she tells me this because that’s who she wants me to be. Then I tell her about my day – I don’t tell her I fell in the dance studio.

As soon as my father walks through the front door, I shut up. I won’t say a word unless he asks me to. His disappointment in me so quickly turns into anger and I’m not in the mood to gain any new bruises tonight.

He isn’t drunk right now, but he looks at me like he wishes he was. At least if he was drinking, he might be able to forget that his only son dances with girls and grew out his hair just to spite him.

I slip away as soon as I can to my room. It’s as I’m climbing the stairs that I hear him say my name. My foot freezes mid-step and I hold my breath. I wait for him to turn the corner. Drag me back down the stairs. And punish me for my existence.

My skin itches in anticipation. I wonder if he’ll bruise me so bad that I can’t go to the studio again. I really can’t afford to miss another practice.

But he doesn’t turn the corner, instead I hear him pull out a chair. His voice is low and not quite angry yet as he speaks to my mother. ‘All the effort it took to raise him, and the only thing he turned out to be was pretty.’

I don’t get much sleep that night either.

The next day at practice I fail the jump again.

I meet the ground and stay there.

I close my eyes and I hear the disappointment in my mother’s voice when I brought home my first pair of ballet shoes. Her longing for me to be someone else. I feel my father’s shame like the hard floor against my ribs. I smell the breath of the boys in my face, taunting me. I hear them all calling me a girl like it is a dirty word.

I clench my fists and stand back up.

I tie my hair.

I do the routine again.

This time I don’t meet the floor when it calls. This time I land.

The corner of my instructor’s mouth turns upward. Not a smile, but almost. And it’s better than a hundred roses. It means I am worth something. It means I did something right. It means I am more than my face and my waist and all the things I am not.

It makes me feel as if the marks left over on my skin from my father’s shame are worth it. His taunts ricochet in my mind as I land the flip over and over again. And each time I land his words grow fainter. Nothing can touch me here, not even him.

When my instructor leaves for the night, I stay. I practice until my eyes are blurry and my legs are jelly. I’ll catch the last bus home and then I’ll do it all over again tomorrow. And one day, they won’t be laughing anymore. One day, they will look at me and see more than my face, more than my parents’ hatred, more than someone to be teased. One day I won’t have to hide myself anymore.

At the bus stop that night there’s a girl. The first thing I notice is her face. She’s pretty in a tired sort of way. She looks like the kind of attractive girl my mother would want me to invite home – exactly the type of girl I want to avoid.

And then I notice the bruises on her legs. I can’t help it; she’s sprawled across the seat and the marks stand out in the harsh glow of the streetlight. They bloom around her knees like roses and my bruises ache in solidarity. Her hair is tied up, just like mine.

In her hands she holds a hockey stick like it’s the only thing holding her to the earth. I wonder if that’s how she got her bruises. I study her eye bags and the tight grip on her stick, and I think that maybe there’s more. Maybe she learnt to fight the same way I did, by herself against the world.

She looks at me, sizing me up. I know she sees the ballet shoes in my hands and how I carry them like they’re the only things that matter. I tighten my grip defensively. When people see the shoes, they always follow up with questioning looks and laughter. But I’m too tired to even pretend to hide them tonight. I prepare myself for the insult, praying she’ll just ignore me.

She’s looking at me and she doesn’t look at my face, or even at my shoes, but rather at the yellowing bruise on my elbow.

Then she moves over and leaves room for me to sit.

‘I like your shoes,’ she says.

Download PDF

There’s Always Another, Glenn Kershaw

Image by Maximalfocus on Instagram

Year: 2106.
Location: Camp Van Tassel, France – 20 Klms from the battlefront.
Five days before Bloody Tuesday

Rain drummed on the mess’s roof all morning, and the soldiers made a long track of mud from the doorway on the left to the servery. They selected their food and paused, looking with increasing frustration for a free seat. A lucky few found a free table in one of the five columns of twenty rows.
Jarred sat at the head of a table two rows down and in the centre column. The air was full of the kind of fear-filled chatter he’d noticed just before combat, the voices running over one another, making it difficult for the others to hear him. Jarred and the four other syns with him were in a bubble of sorts. They leant in close to Jarred so they could hear. He paused in what he was saying and, in that moment, caught a strand, a part of a sentence coming clearly through the babble of voices;
‘… I mean, like, how’d I know I aint eatin’ one of ‘em?’
Jarred understood the words but not the meaning and returned his attention to the others. On his right, their backs to the serving terminals, were Jack and Jack. Directly opposite Jarred, but sitting at an angle so that he could see both Jarred and anyone who entered, was their Ian. Next to him also at the head, Ivan; the two were often to be found together. Finally, Jake and next to Jarred, their last remaining Huxley.
Jarred tapped the thin computer screen with his left hand. The simple silver ring on the ring finger of his left hand glinted brightly against his tan in the bright lights as he pondered the coloured columns. The lapTab was only one millimetre thick and slid slightly back and forth as the finger landed.
‘Major Wallace’s company is in a good state,’ Jarred continued. ‘Most of his men are seasoned, with only a few recent replacements, and his syns are mainly current models. The two platoons on the right flank are the same.’
The other’s followed his gaze, their eyes absorbing the story the numbers told.
‘However,’ he said, ‘the two platoons on the left flank are weak. They’ve had too many replacements recently, and most of those are older model syns.’
‘Older models,’ Ian said. ‘They should have been retired ages ago.’
Jarred glanced at Ian and nodded slowly.
‘Yes. But circumstances have not allowed for it.’
‘That’s no excuse,’ Ian said. ‘We know those models are slowing. They should have been replaced by now.’
‘Ian, it would be desirable, at the moment, it’s not practical with only four days before combat,’ Jarred said. ‘We work with what we have. If the Major were to transfer across some of the seasoned soldiers and newer syns, I’m certain we’d have a good result.’
Jarred’s hair was short, a buttery blond, his blue eyes so pale as to appear like the waters of the Aegean in summer. The Jacks’ hair was slightly darker, Ian’s darker still, and Huxley’s was like midnight.
‘Is it really necessary?’ Ian asked. ‘Major Wallace’s company will provide the main thrust of the attack. The platoons on the left and right flanks are only there for support. Intel tells us the hill is only lightly defended.’
Jarred deliberated for a moment or two. The others waiting patiently.
‘I’m uncertain about the intel,’ Jarred said. ‘I believe it’s wrong or, at the very least, incomplete. I’m certain hill M94691 has more troops up there than reconnaissance reported. Look at what we know. The hill is used as an observation post. We know killer drones have been launched from there. That means troops to handle the maintenance, repair and support of that equipment. And more troops to guard and protect them. Add supplies and munitions, and we have a decent force. If they realise, we have a weakness, and the platoons on the right are weak, they could break through the line and cause havoc. Remember, the battlefront is only five k’s further southwest. They only need to break through at that point, and we could lose the entire front. This whole region could be lost. Nearly 400,000 humans still live in the ruins of Lyon. New Harbin is just to the northeast …’
‘If the Major won’t make the changes?’
A sergeant and three soldiers carrying trays stopped at their table.
‘You slimes, fuck off!’
The seams on Marable’s fatigues were razor sharp. His sergeant’s insignia hung from his collar at the right angle. His hair was regulation and his skin a healthy tan.
‘Sergeant Marable?’ Jarred said, reading the sergeant’s name patch
‘Off. Fuck off. You got no right sitting when good men have to stand.’
Jarred stood, the other syns silently following him.
‘As you command, Sergeant.’
June 9th. Bloody Tuesday.
Major Wallace had not listened. Because of that, the bodies of several hundred of the fallen and the retired lay scattered at awkward angles all over the slope of the hill. Some were only parts, missing arms, legs or their heads.
Jarred kept his head down as much as he could as he searched the torn up battleground for signs of life. A soldier squatted next to him, crying softly. Overhead, shells exploded, rockets zoomed past. IMEDS fire hit the sandbag barrier. The soldier winced and cried louder, hunching closer to Jarred. The air was so full of explosions it was difficult to hear, difficult to think.
The syns Jarred had scrounged were quickly filling the gaps left by the fallen and the retired. He was about to give up the search and concentrate on retaking terrain when he spotted a hand flutter briefly above the rim of a bomb crater two hundred metres to his left. There was no cover, and any rescue attempt would be suicide.
‘Jack,’ he snapped.
‘There’s a wounded soldier two hundred on my right. Give me covering fire.’
Jack looked at Jarred, then the distance he’d have to travel under fire.
‘All you, listen,’ Jack called above the roar of battle. ‘Covering fire on my mark. Jarred?’
Jarrad waited till there was a lull in the bombs and weapons fire.
‘Covering fire, NOW.’
Jarred rushed from behind the cover, darted this way and that in a jigsaw pattern to make a harder target. He knew death could catch him at any second, but still he ran. At last, he stumbled over the rim, tumbling into the relative safety of the crater.
‘Sergeant Marable? Are you hurt?’
The crater rim was an inadequate cover. Anyone on top of the hill had to just look their way, and it would be all over. Quickly Jarred examined the Sargent. There was so much blood. Marable’s face was pale as snow, but his eyes flickered, and he was breathing.
August 23rd
‘Why’d you do it to me! Why?’
The night was bright with the rising full moon. Sergeant Marable blocked Jarred and Ian’s path, the bandage on his hand white in the light. Lines of bandages under his recovery shirt were visible. His hair was long enough to be ruffled. But it was his face that revealed the most significant changes. The skin of his face was drawn tight over the bone. His tan had faded, and he looked pale and weak, except his eyes.
‘Sergeant Marable, it is good to see you on your feet.’
‘Why’d you do it to me, you fucking slime.’
Rage ran across Marable’s face, his eyes burning with hatred, his right hand formed into a tight fist. The knuckles white.
‘I don’t understand?’
‘Save me. Save my life. Why!’ He was almost screaming. His voice was ragged and full to the brim with pain. ‘How can I go home now. Everyone’ll know. They’ll all know. How can I live with that?’
‘You would have died if I hadn’t, Sargent. You’d lost too much blood ….’
‘I’d a been a hero. I’d a died a hero,’ Marable snarled. ‘But now everyone’ll know a slime saved me. I see ‘em in the barracks. They don’t say nothing, but I see it in their eyes. I hear ‘em laughing behind my back. What am I going to do?’
‘You could kill yourself,’ Ian said. ‘That would solve your problem.’
‘Ian, that’s not helpful,’ Jarred replied.
‘Suicide? How the fuck … My family’d lose my war pension. You know what else? Wallace says I’m gonna get a medal?’
‘For what!’ he was shouting now, barely coherent. Tears ran down his cheeks. ‘All I did was get myself hit by a bunch of shrapnel, like a fucking greenie. You’ve put me in hell, you bastard. You motherless, fatherless piece of shi-’
‘We have a father,’ Ian said.
Marable glared at him. Despite the hatred filling his eyes, he was puzzled.
‘Dr. Richard Forester Solo,’ Ian said. ‘The father of the INFACT program.’
‘Ian, enough,’ Jarrad said.
Marable moved in close to Jarred, stabbed the syn in the chest with a thick finger. Jarred didn’t react.
‘You’ve put me in hell, you fucking piece of slime. What can I do? What can I do? It’ll get out, it always gets out ….’
He stumbled away into the dark.
July 4th
Marable loitered behind a tree while attempting to appear not to be hiding. The sergeant, against the recommendations of the base doctor, had been drinking. A slow fire, a rage, burnt within him. He saw Jarred and stepped out.
‘Sergeant?’ Jarred stopped.
Despite waiting, despite spending nights thinking, dreaming, of this moment, Marable could think of nothing to say. To keep Jarred there till he had the courage to act, Marable nodded at the chain and the small disk around Jarred’s neck.
‘I didn’t know you things wore jewellery?’ he said.
Jarred touched the disk.
‘It records our thoughts, our knowledge and our experiences. When a syn retires, this information is transmitted to the central system for integration into future syns. Each of us has the memories of the syns that have gone before. It is how we retain and learn from experience. We develop. All new models are updated this way.’
‘So, you’re just a machine after all, aren’t you? Like an IMEDS or a truck. I saw the way they mulch up “Retired” syns for fertiliser.’
‘We are what you made us.’
Marable swayed slightly. A dribble of spittle ran down his cheek.
‘Yeah? Well, I’m making you shit.’
Marable pulled out his sidearm and fired. There was a brief pulse of heat, the soft hiss of IMEADs firing, then silence.
July 5th
‘Look, sergeant, destroying government property, you know, it’s frowned upon.’ Lieutenant Colonel Wallace sat at his desk, a mildly frustrated expression on his face. ‘I know you’ve had a tough time of it, and your wounds, so, yeah, I think it’s understandable.’
Sergeant Marable stood stiffly at attention. He looked and felt weak. His eyes were sallow and bloodshot, and a three-day growth covered his chin like scrubland. His gaze wandered over the Colonel’s head.
‘This is what we’re going to do.’ The Wallace looked up and smiled as if he had good news. ‘We’re sending you home on the next shuttle. You’re going to be doing some glad-handing for a while, chivvy up John and Jane public, let ‘em know what we’re fighting for. Good hotels, good food, good drink. Maybe a syn to keep you company. Just for a month or two until you’re fully recovered, and then … then we’ll see. And good news. We’re promoting you. Command Sergeant. The extra chevon’s will look great along with that medal of yours. You’re a hero, man.’
July 23rd
Marable, his duffle over his shoulder, stumbled out of the shuttle towards the terminal. Out of battle fatigues for once, his awards, commendations and the new medal sparkled on his chest. Yet his head was bowed, like an old man with a burden he could no longer carry. Around him, passing him, the other soldiers left the shuttle jibber-jabbering with the delight of being away from the war.
‘Command Sergeant Marable.’
Marable knew the voice. A week ago, he’d killed its owner. Then he remembered, not killed, retired.
‘Jarred,’ Marable whispered.
He didn’t want to look up, a battle raged inside him, but Marable found he had to.
Marable saw a cookie-cutter copy of Jarred.
‘When … when were you, you know?’ Marable whispered.
‘I became operational three weeks ago. I’m the last of the Jarred series. The Jayden series next will be.’
‘You know … you know then,’ he spluttered. ‘You’ll know everything.’
‘Let me take that for you.’

Download PDF

Signposts, Michelle Rademeyer

Image by @__.baba.yaga.__ on Instagram

Instead of sitting down to tell you a story confined to a single beginning, middle and end, I invite you to walk with me through the rugged trail of the coastal Coogee track. If a beginning must be established, one might situate us roughly half-way down Coogee Bay Road leading directly to the water. I cannot, however, tell you how far we will go or where we will end up. But in all honesty, that is how this walk always begins.
By the end of the day in mid-July, the boutiques and salons typically start dimming their artificial lights while owners close their doors to the subtle bite courting the breeze for the month. Couples huddle together in lines outside restaurants while seasoned runners, seemingly immune to both daylight saving and temperature, dart past in tanks and shorts, almost in defiance of the lowering sun. Yet, beyond the bustling glow of The Pavilion, the landscape quietens. Metres from the shore, the concrete turns to grass and a path, rising steadily upward, forms one entrance to the trail.
It was here on one such night that I was first told the rather dizzying words: Every five years your life changes. Perhaps it was a product of the blushing clouds that reflected on the water like rose tinted glass, irresistibly coaxing a more philosophical way of looking at things. Maybe it was the fact that it was a second date and the words were a rather tactful manoeuvre on his part to maximise the romance the scenery so gratuitously afforded. Regardless, at barely nineteen such a proposition that the start and middle points of each decade promised outlandish adventures enamoured me; like two sides of a mountain, time would mark a tipping point at which life itself would transform.
‘You’d better be right. I’m putting in my order now for a high-flying job in the city. I’m talking corporate suits, barista-made coffee every morning…’
He smiled. ‘Don’t you forget me when it happens.’
Hand in hand, we scanned the shrinking shore, discussing birds and other matters of life. My sneakers steadily gripped the ground. Though reluctant to admit it, we both secretly carried the belief that we could take on the world.

The smooth, flattened rock at the top of the first cliff extends quite a distance. Though the path inclines relatively quickly, the next few metres make for an easy first-timer’s walk. Bordered by a white barrier, not unlike a picket fence, one might even believe the easy terrain promises to stay this way. Beyond a stretch of tall grass, however, the bushes start to thicken. The path here is hard to find but once on the trail, the walkway snakes abruptly downwards.
The night before my twentieth birthday, this part was particularly hard to navigate. The sun was turning in earlier than expected, albeit normal for that time of year, but sudden for a small group of teens who had believed summer would last forever. Gripping the handrail, I shakily raced after my childhood friends as the path led us down to sea level. Kicking off our shoes, we scrambled across the ramp into the pocket beach of Gordon Bay. I watched as they jumped unconcerned from rock to rock, exchanging shrieks and laughter while the waves hissed at their feet. Perhaps it was different for those who still had months separating them from the next decade. My stomach knotted as the tide edged closer. I thought of the new blazer and skirt laid out on my bed and wondered whether or not to tell them about the impending morning interview. Silence, I concluded, preserved the last few hours separating the night from morning.
‘Guys, look over here!’
Gathering around the side of a beached fishing boat, we gazed at a shell cradled in one girl’s hands. The glossy face formed a jagged swirl dotted with holes.
‘Aw shame it’s broken,’ one remarked.
‘All shells get like that over time,’ another replied. ‘It’s basically hardened calcium carbonate. Once the mollusk discards it, it washes up wherever the current goes.’
Holding the shell to my ear, I listened to the swirling sounds of its travels and wondered whether it too had felt apprehensive about the journey. Glancing up at the mountaintop, I marveled at how sure I had once felt treading over the smooth terrain.
Tiptoeing along the rocks, another wave leapt up. Catching my breath, my feet slipped momentarily. Every five years your life changes.

Beyond the Gordon Bay cove, the path climbs a new cliff. Though reaching a similar height as before, the series of oncoming steps challenge even the more experienced walkers. There, the sun temporarily disappears behind the bottlebrush trees and for a moment, more than ever, it is impossible to predict just how steep the incline will get.
I only gained an appreciation for this part of the walk the morning of my first day working part-time in the city. After removing the university textbooks from my bag and grabbing my keys, I briefly paused by the mirror to adjust my jacket. Twenty and a month. Having since replaced the blazer that had drowned my shoulders in the interview, I regarded the new, unnerving image of a woman standing in a well-fitting suit and corporate bun. Scanning her made-up face and pearls, we both raised a hand to our cheeks. Impossible. Double checking my bag for my concession card, I gingerly started towards the door, clinging to the hope that people would see her instead of me.
Stumbling off the bus, a familiar bite seeped through my layers as the aroma of coffee drew me down York Street and passed a greasy figure exiting a street-side café. Hey there lady, where are you off to? Lady? Pushing the glass door, my eyes darted to the woman reflecting back.
It was only once I had started up the office building steps, with barista-made coffee in hand, that I thought of the boy. Being a month into a new decade, I could not refute his philosophy although, had he been present, I would have offered one qualification: that life changes every five years promises nothing about the preparation in the climber.
Wobbling in my corporate shoes, I continued up the stairs. Though I looked the part, it was perhaps the first time I truly felt the weight of my inexperience.

It was a while before I revisited the path connecting to the next lookout. The track was neither empty nor busy, with neither a sunset nor sunrise. Yet, the Bundock Park viewpoint marks the furthest and potentially most memorable point of the walk thus far.
It was the first time I walked the track in silence with a friend. The silence stemmed largely from my not knowing what to say but in hindsight, any of the possibilities would have been unnecessary. After a year working in the city, I had been waiting at the bus stop when he reached out with the news about his mother. Walking along the track, I decided to let the birds and quiet rustling take the conversational reins.
Though each turn presented its challenges, I began to wonder whether my shoes had since improved or whether my feet had somehow toughened. Regardless, the constant treading over unfamiliar terrain was, in some ways, becoming comfortable. As we sat down at the rock’s edge, I listened to the distant laughs of my childhood friends and the swirling sea. I listened to the boy speak of big words and philosophy and eventually, to my friend as he stared at the water and began to talk.
Only by Bundock Park did I realise, in looking at my friend, the error in how I expected life to unfold. At twenty-one and witnessing someone reach such a devastating turn before the next five-year period, it dawned on me that those elusive words never promised to restrict the movement of life to a singular point in time. While my own landscape at fifteen compared to twenty told of significantly different terrain, so too did the comparison between nineteen, twenty and a month, and twenty-one. Ultimately, it appeared reaching one arbitrarily marked time period was not to say that life would remain the same until the next five-year marker.
I never found the ‘right’ words to say to my friend. But much like the trail we had followed until this point, there was a developing steadiness in navigating situations I was in no way familiar with, nor prepared for. Sitting along the edge of Bundock Park, I squinted into the distance, attempting to catch a glimpse of the trail ahead.

Depending on how one decides to define the walk, I am told the length extends more than double – if not triple – the distance already covered. Perhaps by then, the road will grow familiar and life itself will become easier to tread. As for now, my only goal is to reach what lies between this point and the next. If we meet again, I will show you what I have seen. 

Download PDF