For those left behind & Black dog

For those left behind

 

Behind our eyes

beneath our faces

beyond skin colour

creeds and races,

our worlds crossed

similar paths,

by dead man’s lane

the killers’ wrath

were all the same.

 

An empty chair

an old hat,

with locks of hair.

A favourite skirt,

muddy boots,

still caked with dirt.

 

We can never

replace those,

who did not plan

to leave so soon.

All that remains

are the ghosts

of those we grieve.

 

Seán Maguire

 


Black dog

 

The black dog

never leaves

my side,

gnawing heavily

at my wounded pride.

 

When I try leaving

it behind,

it is hot

on my trail

wagging its tail.

 

If I go for a walk,

I cannot think

I dare not talk.

 

The black dog,

is a serial beast

feasting on my

darker side,

pulling me below

the swirling tide.

 

I will not weep

when, I put

the black dog

to sleep.

 

Seán Maguire

 

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Always So, Never Quite

Always so plain

Never quite pretty

Always so stupid

Never quite witty,

Always so lost

Never quite found

Always so quiet

Never quite loud,

Always so average

Never quite above

Always so forgotten

Never quite loved,

Always so nervous

Never quite calmed

Always so hurt

Never quite harmed,

Always so wrong

Never quite right

Always so shadowed

Never quite bright,

Always so contained

Never quite free

Always who they see

Never quite me.

 

Jayde Taylor

When the Stars Align…

I always seem to be waiting for the perfect moment.

Just the right time.

All my ducks in a row.

When the stars align in the night sky.

Man and the Universe
And how often does that happen?

<<crickets>>

That’s right.

So procrastination, it is then.

Or “patience”…but that’s being overly kind.

I thought about the other day at the beach, and that momentary sense of peace and lightness. How could I tap back into that feeling, sustain it, weave into the fabric of my being?

I thought about how that moment could be realized within my life. Waking up at 5.30am, walking down to the beach, over cool sand, pre-dawn.

Sun salutations to awaken body & soul.
A mindful meditation to bring awareness and peace.
The rolling waves of the ocean, the engine of the earth purring into life.
An idyllic beginning, although beyond the realm of my current reality.
Using tools to hand, though, I took a positive step in creating the scene, painting the picture.

A yoga instructional podcast.
A mindful meditation audio recording.
The sound of the ocean captured on CD.

Taking these three separate elements using editing technology available to me I was able to combine all element in one track so that I can practice yoga and mediation whilst hearing the mighty ocean as a backing track.

That’s the stillness I’ve brought to myself today.

Alignment needs to be sought out. Sometimes it’s not about starring up at the sky, but looking under rocks, and some good ‘ole hardwork and application.

Disappeared

It is twenty years

to the day,

since you drove

all night,

in foul winter rain.

 

Someone saw him

hitching lifts, a hundred

miles from home.

 

Although exhausted,

we talked all night,

until the sun smiled

between yellow clouds,

well rested from the

day before.

 

And yet, after all

this time we fell foul

of idle speculation

and misinformation;

that he was alive and well.

We hoped it was true,

that he would turn up

someday, out of the blue.

 

I love those tales

of roller blades,

Sunday dance halls

and schoolyard races.

For you, those happy days

are shades of broken smiles

and pallid faces.

 

Seán Maguire


If truth be told

I read about your fall

from grace,

in the morning paper.

Buttered toast melted

my shaking hands,

black coffee drenched

half-made plans.

 

You were the one,

who cast doubt

that the truth would

come out.

 

Your pain was a

shallow act,

to hide the fact,

your heart

was intact,

whilst mine beats

like a broken drum

for a murdered son.

 

Seán Maguire


 

One More Day

Frozen faces, brittle like ice
thawing gently in the sun,
how tentative smiles break,
lapping gently at thin lips.

Sunset Image

The first snow marks the true passing of fall; when those last few tenacious leaves are finally torn from their desperate perches and left to the wind’s mercy.

The man stood silent and alone, the dying sun sinking behind the Blackthorn Stronghold. Every day he stood on the same grassy knoll to watch the sunset and every day his breath fogged in the air just a little more clearly. Flags snapped in the chilled air behind him and he knew that if he were to turn he would see tents so numerous as to be impossible to count. And yet despite the vast numbers, his army had yet to breach the walls to which they had spent a season laying siege.

Now the cold crept slowly in, spreading delicate webs of frost and misting one’s breath in the mornings and nights. The man ran scarred hands over the creaking leather straps of his armour, his blade heavy at his side.

Just one more day. Please. Just give us one more day. It was a prayer the soldier had made every evening of the last week. As though if he willed it strongly enough it would ward away the snow and the season of gold and orange would remain eternally.

For he knew as soon as the snow set in, those gathered outside the stronghold would be far more vulnerable than those trapped inside. For even the hardened people who had lived and grown here fear the white of winter and struggle to survive it. Left exposed to the elements in naught but tents, his men would slowly fall. Much like the wind whittling away at a cliff face, chipping away at stone until it all collapses. The man took a breath and felt the weight on his shoulders as though it were a cliff. To win the campaign would be at the cost of most of his men, and the wealth waiting inside would do little to comfort the dead.

The gentle crunch of browning grass being crushed beneath booted feet, drew him from his thoughts. They were far too light to belong to any of his men.

“Remus.”

He does not turn as his wife approaches and settles at his side. Nor does he look at the small figure standing to her left or the bundled one he knows she carries in her arms. When he speaks he looks still towards the fading sun. “You should not be here.”

“And yet here I stand.”

“Gisele. The children—”

“Winter is not yet upon us. They will keep.”

“They will catch their deaths.”

Gisele shifts at his side. “Soon so will we all.”

Remus turns to her and thinks there is little difference from the sight he just turned from and the one he looks upon now. Her fiery hair weaved in intricate braids had once blended with the leaves of the trees, all a ruby so brilliant that the entire forest looked as if it was aflame. Now the red locks stand out against the stark nothing that coats bare branches. Gisele meets his gaze with firm eyes, one hand resting on the curls of their older sons’ head, the other cradling their new son to her chest. The hem of her dress is damp and the fur mantle of her cloak engulfs the delicate arch of her shapely neck. They are so beautiful. Alive and breathing. And Remus fears. He has seen too much death and he doesn’t think he can bear to witness theirs.

This was always a war of attrition. If those inside the keep could last until winter, then those outside would be doomed. It was always unsure what manner of supplies Blackthorn possessed. They could be days away from starving, or could still be weeks from it. Remus had no way of knowing and because of that was stuck.

At his feet Julien moves from his mother to pluck the grass from the ground, tearing it apart as children are wont to do. Remus wishes it were as easy to keep his son safe as to entertain him.

Gisele must read something of his thoughts on his face and speaks. “I have thought of a name.”

“A name for what?” Remus asks, though he knows already.

“For our son of course.”

“It is too soon.”

“It is a good name.”

“A good name will do no service to the dead. It is too soon.”

Remus is not wrong. There are too many dangers that could steal children from the world – sickness, cold and hunger. Many parents would wait at least two seasons before naming so as to not get attached only to have the babe die. His youngest son came into the world just as the leaves started turning gold, and only now did the last of them fall. It was too soon.

Gisele huffed, but let the subject go. Remus thought she feared their son dying without a name. But Remus was responsible for more lives than those of his sons.

“If I order these men to stay I sign their death warrants.”

“Great men are rarely good ones.”

“Perhaps I only wish to be a happy one.”

Remus gestures Julien over, face already pink from the cold. Remus sweeps his son up so Julien is hanging from his throat like a necklace. Julien buries his cold face in Remus’s neck as Remus wraps Gisele and the baby both in his arms and breathes them in. There is great wealth waiting inside Blackthorn that is true. But gold was cold and gemstones were sharp and his wife and children were warm in his arms.

Just one more day, he prayed.

Please just one more day.

 

Jayde Taylor

 

Ronan & Julia

 

I fear, too early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence yet hanging in the stars.

– Romeo & Juliet,  Act 1, Scene 4

Image 3

Ronan rubs his fingers against his eyelids, scrunching his eyebrows towards the top of his nose.

‘Mm hmm, sounds good,’ he says.

‘Not finished,’ says Julia, ‘we then go to Malawi Beach, to Chipata, Chipata to Lusaka, Lusaka to Livingstone.’

Ronan sighs.

‘Julia?’

‘What?’ she snaps, scratching at her scalp.

‘It’s off,’ he says.

Julia pulls at her white harem pants and bites her lip.

‘Us or the trip?’ she says, quietly.

Ronan raises his eyebrows, wide-eyed.

‘The trip.’


Ronan taps a shiny, black lace-up boot against the linoleum and plants his hands on his hips.

‘Time to be a real adult,’ he says.

‘Yeah, you’ll kill it,’ Julia says, wiping a dollop of yoghurt off her night-shirt.

Ronan chuckles, shuffling towards Julia. He leans in close to her and plants a warm kiss on her lips.

‘I’ve got to go, Grub,’ he says.

His keys jangle sharply as he shoves his phone into a trouser pocket. He leans in to the mirror, running pale fingers through his hair, before standing back to pout, ever so slightly.

‘Bye,’ he says, unsmiling, picking up his leather briefcase.

When she hears his footsteps disappear down the hallway, Julia rubs at her scalp and lets out a shaken sigh. Balancing her tub of yoghurt against her leg, she carefully reaches for her notebook on the bed-side table. She curls her lips thoughtfully and begins to write.


She’s swirling a Rose and French Vanilla tea bag around in a mug when Ronan walks through the door.

‘We need to talk,’ she says.

‘My day was good thanks, how was yours?’ Ronan says, winking.

Julia stands, letting her white dressing gown hang open, loose on her shoulders. She plants her palms on Ronan’s upper arms and squeezes, hard.

‘I’ve decided I’m not going to wait, Ronan. I’m going, with or without you.’

Ronan’s face remains smooth as silk.

‘Ok,’ he says, shrugging his shoulders.

Julia’s heart suddenly thumps hard in her chest. Her ears burn.

‘What the hell, Ronan. You’ve always known how much this meant to me. I’m staying here for you and your dumb, new job and you’re telling me now, that this whole time, it was fine?’

‘Don’t freak out, Julia. I’m just tired of having this same old conversation. You’re not a baby. You can do what you want.’

Julia stomps backwards, gripping her mug tightly, a sound, like a growl, emanating from her mouth. Ronan watches as she smashes the mug onto the floor. Hot liquid spreads across the linoleum.

Ronan darts for the door. Julia pounds at the tea nd broken china with the palm of her hand.


Ronan is on his lunch break when he gets the call from Julia’s mum.

His palms slide against the steering wheel. His heartbeat pounds against his temple.

He twists his head every few seconds to glance at his phone on the passenger seat.

The phone soon fades into sleep-mode. His chest aches as the seat belt presses hard into his body.

Approaching the intersection, he forgets to check the traffic lights.


‘We’d like to know why you did it, Miss Capulong.’

Julia rubs at the acne on her cheek.

‘I want to go to Africa,’ she says.

‘What do you mean?’

Julia giggles.

‘He should have known it wasn’t Mum.’

‘He never met her, Miss Capulong. How could he have known?’

‘I dunno.’

‘Miss Capulong, you know you’re not supposed to use the phone without a nurse’s supervision.’

Julia picks at her fingernails. Her forehead creases.

‘I wanted him to how it felt to live without me. I thought, maybe, after the joke, he’d find it easier to let me go again?’

She bites her lip and scratches at her scalp.

‘He stole my passport,’ she mutters, ‘so, I’m not crazy.’

The nurse sighs.

‘Ok, Miss Capulong.’

‘Travel is my life,’ Julia says. ‘He knew that. Travel’s my life and he made me think I had to stay.’

‘Well, Miss Capulong. You’re going to stay with us now,’ the nurse says.

Julia ignores this.

‘Malawi Beach,’ she whispers, eyes wide and unfocussed. ‘To Chipata, Chipata to Lusaka, Lusaka to Livingstone.’

‘Sorry, Miss Capulong?’ the nurse asks.

Julia growls, pounding her fist into the hospital bed.

‘Chipata, Chipata to Lusaka, Lusaka to Livingstone,’ she says. ‘I’m not crazy. I’m not!’

 

Carmel Purcell

 

Bright Blue Light

A blue light hung motionless in the sky right next to the half-moon. It was like the night sky had a hole in it, and the blue of mid-day was leaking through. It was a perfect circle, smaller than the moon. A blue circle in the night sky.

I stood back from the window still holding the curtain with one hand, and I reached behind me for my phone with the other. I called Harry and he picked up straight away.

“You should look outside right now,” I said before he had time to say hello.

“It’s, like, 2am,” he said.

“You don’t have a normal sleeping pattern.”

“What do you want Kate?”

“Look outside.”

I heard mumbles and a window opening.

“What am I looking at?” asked Harry.

“Look at the moon. To the left of the moon.” There was silence. “It’s blue,” I said.

“Shit,” he said.

“What do you think it is?”

There was a pause from Harry.

“Could be a drone,” he said

“Oh, of course, I didn’t think of that.

We’re quiet for a few moments, on the phone watching the light in the sky.

“Don’t drones move around a lot, though?” I asked Harry.

“Yeah they do,” he answered.

“Harry… I’ve been watching it for about ten minutes. It hasn’t moved from that spot, but I think it’s getting bigger.” I pressed my face against the cold glass. My breath fogged the window. “Can you get a picture of it?”

“Yeah I could give it a go. Just hang on one sec, I’ll grab my stuff.”

There was a clang as Harry put the phone down. I could hear the main road travel through the speaker. I used to wake up early mornings to the sound of that road.

“Still reckon it’s a drone, though,” said Harry. I could hear the beep of his camera turning on.

“You used to be far less skeptical.”

“Yeah well it’s 2am, I’m always skeptical at 2am.”

“It’s 1am.” I said.

“1:30,” he said. I took my phone away from my ear. It was 1:28 am.

“… but otherwise, it could just be a drone,” I heard Harry say as I put my phone back to my ear.

“Sorry, what? I missed that first bit.”

“Nothing. I’ve taken a few pictures. Not great, though. Do you still have my 24mm lens?”

“Pretty sure you lent some lenses to Tom. Could you send the photos to me?”

“Of course I did. And yeah I will in the morning.”

“Are you going back to bed?”

“No, I’m too awake now.”

“Sorry.”

“Kate I think you’re right.”

“What?”

“This thing is actually growing.”

Blue Light

I realised I had been staring at the corner of my window, and looked back up at the blue light. It was bigger than the moon now. And brighter.

“I think I can get better pictures of it at the water tower.” said Harry.

“I can bring a better lens that Jack bought last week.”

“Jack?”

“My new roommate.”

“Right.”

“I can meet you there in about thirty,” I said.

“Where?”

“The water tower?”

“Oh right. Sorry. Still half asleep.”

“You’re not concerned about this at all are you?”

“Like I said, 2am makes me skeptical.”

I didn’t correct him, I knew it would be 2am by the time I reached the tower.

I grabbed a backpack and hurriedly filled it with warm clothes and a blanket. I took my own camera, just in case. Oh, and snacks – I tiptoed into the kitchen to avoid waking the roommates. I moved in last week and I didn’t know if they would be interested in assumed extraterrestrial activity.

Jack had left his lens on the kitchen table. I wrapped my jacket around it and put it in my bag. I would return it in the morning.

It concerned me how little Harry cared about the light. When we met we were had bonded over our childhood obsession with the conspiracy books in our local libraries. We had both agreed we were now adult skeptics. But a part of me wanted to believe.

I walked to the water tower, glancing at the light every so often. People had already noticed the light and were standing out on their lawns. Pajamas still on, phones to ears, phones to the sky. I kept walking.

Harry was already there by the time I arrived. He was setting up his tripod.

“Hey,” I whispered behind him.

“Hey,” he whispered back. I took out my jumper and unwrap Jack’s lens.

“Oh hey, this is a pretty good lens,” Harry said screwing it on his camera as I put the jumper one. “I got this too,” said Harry, pulling out an old checkered blanket. It was the one from his bed.

“I didn’t know how long we’d be here for so I prepared for the worst.”

We sat back against the railing looking up at the blue light. Every now and then Harry would sit up and take a picture. We were silent and there were crickets.

I couldn’t tell if the blue light was increasing in size anymore. My eyes lids drooped, and I began having trouble focusing.

“Kate, Kate.” I woke up to Harry shaking and yelling at me. “Kate!” I had fallen asleep on his shoulder.

“Harry, Jesus, what’s wrong?” But he didn’t need to explain, his fingers pointed to the sky. The blue light had started to do…. something. I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was vibrating almost. It was silent, pulsating. The crickets had stopped chirping. The light stopped vibrating. Goosebumps prickled my skin and my heart skipped a beat.

Then it exploded. Silently. It exploded like a firework. Bits of blue light flew across the sky like comets. The sky sparkled for a minute. And then there was nothing.

“Shit,” Harry said. I stayed silent in shock. “I didn’t get a picture.” I turn to him.

“That’s what you’re shocked about?” I ask.

“Yeah, it would have been an amazing shot.” I didn’t know how to react. harry and I just sat watching the light of the sunrise creep into the world. Harry packs up his things.

“Anyway, I have to go, I’ve got work in a few hours. Should probably get some sleep.” I hand back his checkered blanket. He starts to walk to the stairs of the tower when he realises I’m not following. “So you’re staying here?”

“Just in case,” I say.

“Kate I think the shows over.”

“Show?”

“What would you call it?”

“I don’t know,” I say, still staring at the sky.

“Sure,” I say and he leaves.

It was on the news the next day. Other people had managed to capture the moment it exploded. I watched a few online videos. NASA released a statement taking responsibility. They said it was just a routine missile test that got a little bit out of hand. Of course, I was skeptical about that, and blogs and sites were created also doubtful about the statements. But there was nothing out there truly convincing, and it annoyed me for a time. It was something that was always in the back of my mind. It was an itch of information I couldn’t scratch, but I did eventually give up on it.

I gave up on Harry. Well, he gave up on me too. I was skeptical about us. We couldn’t be just friends with a history of being more than. That’s what I convinced myself happened. That’s what I believe happened. But you can’t believe everything when you know the universe is a strange place.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

 

Two Stitch Day

Two Stitch Day

Bad things happen in the trenches, there is no other way to put it. I don’t want to remember them, but I don’t think it’s right to pretend as if they didn’t happen. So on a bad day I get some thread and make a stitch on my left sleeve. On a really bad day I make two.

Today is a two stitch day and it’s only halfway through. Lately I have more two stitch days than not. My left sleeve is filling up. I can feel the rough threads pressing into my arm where my clothes have soaked through. It’s raining, but when is it not?

The damp here is so tangible that I can taste it on my tongue, and woven through it all is the horrible festering scent of decay. It winds its’ way through every twist and turn, seeping into the grey dirt of the trench walls. It is the cloying scent of rot that truly makes the place repellent. If the damp is palpable and content to linger on ones tongue, then the rot is a presence that overwhelms and attempts to claw its’ way down your throat, so that it’s all you can do not to retch.

One wouldn’t think we’d be able to eat in such conditions. But we do, starving as we are. It’s why I sit with my back against a stinking grey wall off rot, legs drawn up and soaking wet as I choke down my rations. There are weevils in the biscuits. Little white bodies that wiggle about, almost waving hello. At the start we’d tap the biscuits to get the little creepy crawlies out. Now we just bite in and pretend not too feel the squirming, glad of the extra protein.

Things have been getting worse. Or maybe it’s that I’ve been getting worn down. All the dogs are long since eaten, even though they were mangy and flee bitten. Just another thing gone. We’re losing more than we’re gaining and I can’t seem to care. The rain that used to seem refreshing, washing away the blood, is now mocking. Never-ending it pours from the sky, turning everything to slick sludge so that we are forever caked in mud and every step is an effort. It makes the days grey, but that might be the War. Everyone keeps dying.

I hear the slick squelch of someone’s boots tromping though the mud and tilt the brim of my hat up to see who. It’s Arthur. He comes closer and crouches beside me on the rotting wooden planks meant to keep the mud away. He’s got a handful of rations and is wearing the same oil skin cloak as me. The cloaks would keep the rain off in small showers but did little for the downpour we were sitting in, the trenches offering little in the way of shelter.

“How you likin’ lunch? Reckon I could do with some o’ mama’s home cooking, that’s for sure.”

I have trouble looking at Arthur. He wears a smile like a bad mask; jarring and fake it reminds me of things I don’t want to remember. That’s what the stitches are for. Still, I can’t begrudge him how he copes; I make stitches, and he smiles. That doesn’t mean I look at him when I talk.

“I don’t remember what it’s like to be full and warm. Do you?” That isn’t what he wants to hear. I shouldn’t have said it. Arthur wants me to banter back so that we can share some hollow laughter and pretend things are good. But I can’t pretend anymore.

Arthur looks away, “Of course.”

I keep looking at him until he fidgets a little and admits, “Well maybe it’s more like imagination than memory – they’re about the same things anyway right. Right?” The question edges into panic as Arthur repeats it. The smile doesn’t slip, it becomes larger as I watch, stretching in a horrible parody of what amusement should be. He wants me to agree with him, to lie, and I can’t deny him that, not when it’s so clearly what he wants. I don’t have to believe it. I don’t even have to pretend to believe it. I just have to say it.

“Right.”

The stiff lines of his body relax again and the fevered panic that sharpened his features fades, letting his face fall back into its’ usual drawn lines. The rigid smile settling on his lips again. My fingers twitch, but I’ve already made enough stitches for today.

Arthur chatters on at me. I idly run my hand across my sleeve, fingers catching on the stitches there. All I see is grey. A horn sounds, hollow and echoing. Arthur stands. So do I. Time to fight. Maybe die. I stand amongst my fellow soldiers and can’t care that all their faces are washed out, indistinguishable from the grey. I don’t think I can live through another two stitch day. I don’t think I want to.

 

Jayde Taylor

 

Canopy Shyness

One pm and One am are two very different times of day.

One pm in grade five was a sunny but humid afternoon in science class. The Camphor Laurel trees were swaying in the hot wind, their branches tapping the rusted louvers of our dusty classroom. In science class, I remember we were taught these trees were weeds, introduced over a hundred years ago to the area. Now their old roots spread under the whole school, connecting each classroom to the forest and to the river.

 

One am in grade five was waking up in a sweat from a bad dream. While it scared me for a few seconds, I knew I could always feel safe in my own bed. I didn’t feel any eyes on me here; I felt less fear than what I experienced in school. Outside I could always feel them on my back. The piercing eyes, distant laughter. Everything I did, I did in fear of being shamed of being yelled at. Even alone, I could never shake the feeling I was being watched.

 

At one pm, I loved Science Class. If we weren’t playing with coloured solutions or Lego robots, we were outside in the heat. Some classes were in the pine forest, some behind the school where our teacher taught on the ground while the class sat above in the old Camphor Laurel branches. On special occasions, we visited the forest beside the school where the trees expanded in all its natural beauty.

One particular hot day, we ventured even deeper into the forest, following the river downstream. Here, the native trees outnumbered the weeds and the path disappeared under forest litter.

“Look up.” our teacher had said.

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At one am I used to stare up at the ceiling. I didn’t want to sleep, because I didn’t want to wake up. I didn’t want to wake up and go to school. The oral presentation had crept up on me so quickly – I had just wanted to forget about it. But before school finished our teacher reminded us to be prepared. My stomach churned at the thought of it. To choose who was to be first, the teacher picked a name from a hat. I used to blush constantly, especially when my name was spoken out loud.

 

“What do you see up there?” The teacher questioned, pointing to the canopy.

“Trees and leaves?” someone beside me answered. But I remember seeing more than that. I saw rivers between the tree canopy, and the varying colours of the different species. I saw a cockatoo pick at the bark and a lorikeet nibble some berries.

“Yes, definitely leaves,” the teacher said, “Anyone else see something a little strange?” I continued to stare straight up, keeping silent. I could see something strange, but I didn’t have the words to say it out loud.

“Ok then, does everyone notice the lines between the canopy of the trees? See how the tops of the tree’s branches don’t touch each other?”

Everyone hummed a “ahh’ of realisation. That was weird, everyone agreed.

“This is called ‘Canopy Shyness’ or ‘Crown Shyness’ and no scientist has agreed to a theory on why some forest trees do this.”

“It looks like how the ground cracks in a desert.” I murmured. A few people turned back to look at me, and I blushed and looked back up at the canopy.

 

I don’t remember going back to sleep after one am.

“Did you get any sleep?” mum asked me in the morning.

“No, I didn’t. And I feel really sick.”

“Well you don’t look sick.”

“Mum, I really don’t want do to this.”

“You’ll be fine, it’s only five minutes. Just take deep breaths.”

But it felt like my insides had rusted and that I would fail at everything. I always felt like this when my only friend wasn’t at school, or if I accidentally made eye contact with a stranger. I could never buy anything by myself, I was too terrified to say the wrong thing, or have the wrong change. I didn’t like to ask difficult questions. I didn’t want to be yelled at. I didn’t like loud things. I didn’t like hugs.

 

“One theory,” Our teacher explained, his hands still pointing to the sky, “Is that the tall trees may suffer physical damage as they collide with each other during windy days or storms. To stop injury, they respond with Canopy Shyness.”

 

The clock ticked over to 1pm. The notes in my hands were damp from my sweaty hands.

“Ashlee!” the teacher announced, and his words vibrated in my ears. “Ready for your presentation?”

I nodded while my insides scrambled, and my face warmed. I was frightened of the eyes on me, the thoughts that could be going through my classmate’s heads. I wanted to run out of the classroom and hide, but I knew that would make me even more anxious than I was. I was frightened of failing, of disappointing.

I set up my PowerPoint.

“The Umbrella Tree” my presentation was called. To my surprise, the class was in awe of my PowerPoint. I had created colourful yet clear slides with forest sounds and non-blurry pictures. My insides unscrambled a little.

“Ready when you are, Ashlee.” the teacher said.

“The Umbrella Tree,” I stuttered, “is not considered a dangerous weed in Queensland. And in this presentation I’m going to explain why it should be.”

I read straight off my notes, not even looking up once.

But no one booed or yelled, and I think they all actually listened. Because when I mentioned that Lorikeets ate the trees’ fermenting berries and became a little drunk, everyone laughed. When I finished everyone clapped, I blushed and smiled.

I walked back to my desk still a little shaky, but feeling taller. Feeling like I had grown a little.

 

Sitting in my bed at One am, I feel grown. It took me ten years, but I don’t live in constant fear anymore. I have a canopy that tangles with the forest for miles, and while there’s still a little space between some leaves, I know it’ll grow as I do. Tangling with the forest where I feel I now belong.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann