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.

maxresdefault

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

 

Last Quarter

The fish swims with its wooden fins nailed to the wall, a static body, brushed with white paint. A woman sits on a balcony. She watches the chai latte moon spill milk out onto the ocean.

‘God damn it,’ she whispers.

The woman pivots a wine glass in her fingers, squinting as her hand ceases up. Her wet hair feels cold on her neck. She swirls the wine again, all too aggressively, and it spills from the top of the glass. Cars glide down the road, in the distance, twinkling like slow-moving comets.

‘Fourth of September?’ she whispers. ‘Mm, fourth of September.’

She nods her head slightly, sighing. Of course she missed the deadline. She always does. She peers through her wine glass at the seaside town. It’s skewed and foggy. To the right of the headland, a ship crawls along the ocean.

‘A caterpillar with one hundred golden boots,’ she says, smiling at herself.

Maybe she’ll write that one down. The doorbell shrieks.

17641990

***

When the man steps into the apartment she directs him to the dining room. The man studies the two chairs and settles for the Cherry Wood. He plays with a tassel on the table-throw.

‘Would you like a glass of wine, sir,’ she asks, winking.

‘No, a tea would be better.’

She gives a slight nod and a small smile.

‘Ok,’ she says.

In the kitchen, steam drifts from an orange teacup. The woman snaps five squares of chocolate from a Dairy Milk bar.

‘Ouch,’ she says, scraping cold chocolate from under her fingernails.

Glancing at the orange cup, she notices the tea’s dark shade. She wonders if it is bitter. She quickly lifts the teabag from the cup and drops it into the sink. Liquid escapes from the white mesh like a punctured soup dumpling. There are eight cold teabags sitting, slumped, by the drain.

The man is rubbing at his forehead when she walks in. His scalp is smooth and glossy.

‘I must be home by seven-thirty,’ he says.

‘But, you only just got here,’ the woman says, placing the tea down with quivering hands.

‘I would like to spend more time with you, but, I’m a Manager. I have work to do tonight. People depend on me. ’

The woman sighs, placing her hands on her hips.

‘I have to do work tonight as well,’ she says.

‘Yeah?’ the man says.

‘I’m a writer,’ she says, proudly. ‘I enter competitions to win money.’

‘How interesting,’ he says.

The woman smiles weakly, pulling a strand of hair behind her ear.

‘Stay the whole hour, at least?’ she says, fluttering her eyelashes.

The man ignores her, cradling his teacup in large, weathered hands. He lifts the cup to his nose and breathes in the steam. He brings it to his lips. She feels her stomach sink.

‘No!’ she says.

The man looks at her with wide, husky-blue eyes, the teacup frozen at his lips.

‘What? Did you poison this?’ he asks.

‘Yes.’

She rubs her fingers down her chin and laughs.

‘No, it’s just too hot to drink.’

He nods sternly, inspecting his Rolex, before standing abruptly.

‘Where are you going?’ the woman asks, panicked. ‘Please don’t leave. I need you.’

The man unclips his name badge and places it gently on the table. He grabs at a lace on his medallion captoe Balmoral and loosens his tie.

‘It’s 6:30pm,’ he says. ‘We must make the most of our time together.’


She hates the feeling of lying in bed in only a chemise. The doona is rough against her skin.

‘Why do you see men?’ the man asks, rubbing at his bare chest with glazed eyes. ‘At your age?’

‘I just do.’

The man nods before stepping out of bed. He stands by the mirror, twisting his shirt into position.

‘Don’t you have a family? A son? A husband?’ he asks, smoothing out his tie. ‘Why do you live at the beach? Property is expensive here.’

‘I like it here.’

The man runs his fingers against the top of his head as he smirks.

‘You’re running from something aren’t you?’ he says, staring at the woman’s mirrored reflection.

The man turns to the door and raises his voice as he walks from the room. She follows.

‘You know how the moon on the horizon is an optical illusion…?’ he says. ‘It seems bigger and better because you think it’s far away?’

When the man reaches the dining room, he turns to face her, pinning his name badge onto his dress shirt. David Kerning.

‘It’s the same old moon,’ he says, staring at the woman intensely. ‘It’s no bigger and no better. It’s not actually far away.’

The woman shrugs.

‘My money?’ she asks.

He pulls an envelope from his pocket and passes it to her.

‘There’s 75 dollars. As agreed.’

She opens the envelope, thumbing through the notes. She nods.

‘Let yourself out when you’re ready. If you’d like to see me again, you know where to book me.’

The woman turns and walks down the hall. She swings her hips, smiling when the headland comes into view. She hears the door close. A tiny click. She sits on the balcony pivoting a wine glass in her hand. In the other hand, she holds a lead pencil and scribbles in her notebook. When the woman’s hand begins to cramp she raises the wine bottle to her lips. She sucks in the fruity liquid and watches the cars glide down the road in the distance. At 10pm, she walks back down the hall and stuffs the empty teacup in a cupboard. In the shower, she rubs Argan oil into her hair and listens carefully for the 10.30 doorbell.

 

Carmel Purcell

 

At 11pm and then 12

Malice in Manhattan

The waiter walks past me in a hurry so I click my heels under the table and sigh loudly. He notices and he stops in his tracks. It annoys me a little that he hasn’t yet noticed my almost empty drink. When I first walked in here he couldn’t keep his eyes off me.

“Another one, ma’am?” he asks and I nod, yes. I still have my second drink and I swirl it around in my glass as the waiter leans over and takes my first one. His sleeve pulls back a bit as he stretches over the table, and his Rolex watch glints at me. I notice it’s 11pm, and I don’t have to be anywhere until 12. But I don’t mind wasting my time in a bar like this. It’s fancy but I notice a few cracks in the paint, some dodgy craftsmanship on the woodwork on the bar. There’s a door slightly ajar behind the stage, and there’s a man with glasses going over paperwork. There’s a frown on his face and a pen behind his ear.

Apart from the little irregularities, I will admit that this bar has charm. The chairs are all red velvet. They match the piano player’s fedora. I’m surprised the piano fit through the wooden front door. Perhaps the piano has always been here? Maybe this place has always been a type of jazz bar. It’s situated down a side alley off a main street that’s lined with sleeping households. This is the only place open in this suburb, and the kind of place to bring people of all sorts in at 11pm.

There are a few well dressed men sitting at a round table, each on their 5th scotch or whisky. A man and a woman sit opposite each other at a small table with a bottle of wine between them. I’ve been watching them for a while, and I’ve deduced that it’s a first date as they don’t really look each other in the eyes, and the girl has a very nervous laugh.

There’s a few more men sitting around the tables and at the bar. I don’t believe tonight is this Bar’s busiest, so a blonde woman wearing a red dress, alone at 11pm, really stands out.

The waiter brings me over another glass.

“Thank you.” I say and smile.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?” he says, leaning on my table.

“Yes actually there is,” I say leaning forward, “Could you tell me what the time is?”

The waiter stands up suddenly, “Oh, sure of course.” He pulls his left sleeve. “It’s 11.05.”

“Thank you.” I say, leaning back into my chair and taking a sip of my drink. The waiter walks back to the bar.

From the corner of my eye I notice someone staring at me. I subtly look to my side and see one man from the circle table hunched over his drink. He’s probably too drunk to realise how much he is staring at me, but hopefully sober enough to remember me, especially as I subtly lean down to scratch my knee. While doing this my dress pulls up and reveals the 6-inch revolver tucked neatly into my garter belt. I don’t look back at the man. I stare into the fireplace in front of me. The man doesn’t get up or move, but he will remember.

The waiter walks behind me again. I grab his left arm.

“Another drink, please?” I say, not breaking eye contact.

“Of course, ma’am,” he says with a cute smile. “I’ll bring it right over.”

My wig starts to itch and I think this will be my last drink. My plan was to arrive here at 11pm, and leave at 12. An hour would be enough time to make an impression on the staff and hopefully some locals. They would notice an out-of-towner anyway, but I added the get-up to cover myself. And have a little fun as well, of course.

Soon I’ll get up and leave, smile a thank you to the waiter and walk out into the cold night. It’ll be dark at the end of the street where a street lamp is broken, and the number 8 is faded into the front door. His window is open. I was told it would be, anyway. Climbing into his bedroom will be the easy part. Finding a place to carefully hide my heels so that they can still be discovered by the detectives will be a little more tricky. But my main aim is to be as swift as possible as I twist the silencer on my gun. From experience, I know silencers aren’t extremely quiet, but that’s the scene I’m aiming for. Someone next door will notice. Perhaps they will notice a blonde with a red dress walking briskly down the empty street, alone at 12pm.

It will be a quick, clean shot to the head, and a quick, clean exit out the rear door. A train to the next city with my outfit trashed in the bathroom bin. My money will be waiting for me back home. Quick. Clean. Easy.

After a few more drinks the time ticks over to 11:45. I gulp down my glass and get up to leave. Putting on my coat I lean down to write a fake number on a napkin for the waiter, just another red herring for the night. I look up to see if he notices me leaving. His eyes again aren’t on me but instead on the bar and around the floor. I quickly leave before the he realises I’ve stolen his watch.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

 

Poetry

Molly parked her walker up under the window of the dayroom and took the last place at the table. The poet was sitting on one of the long sides; he’d set up plates of cream biscuits down the centre as if this was a kitchen table and it was going to be some chatty morning. Molly tried to pull her chair in so she could reach the complimentary paper.

First thing, before mention of the biscuits, they went round the table listing favourite poets. Keats, Browning, Wordsworth, a nod to Shakespeare and even God with the Psalms. As the latecomer, the visiting poet – whose name she couldn’t recall – came to Molly last. She said she liked Sylvia Plath. Not that she’d read anything beyond the sensational newspaper reports at the time, she just wanted to be different; she’d never been one to conform and wasn’t about to start. The poet nodded sagely.

‘Wasn’t she the one who killed herself?’ asked Arthur, the only male resident to turn up to the poetry workshop.

sylvia plath

The woman beside Molly leaned over and whispered for her alone: ‘that’s where poetry gets you.’ She smelled of Yardley lavender talc. Molly recognised her as she breathed her in, and was instantly glad Patience was here. She reached into her low slung cleavage to fetch out her glasses – that way she could see what was going on too.

‘So you are all fond of a poem with a rhyme, Plath fans excepted,’ said the poet with a tiny bit of acid in his voice. ‘Do you want to see if you can write something without rhyme?’ The enthusiasm was not returned unconditionally. The idea of a three line form poem seemed okay though. ‘None of us are likely to die before we finish,’ murmured Patience. Molly couldn’t help sticking her glasses back on her nose and glancing across at Joyce just to make sure. Joyce’s chin was resting on her chest and her baldness was exposed: a naval gazing slump.

Molly was still muttering out strict syllable patterns for her haiku about a muddy pond when Patience shoved her own bit of poetry-paper over for her to see.

Blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah blah blah

Molly put her hand over the paper and started a reply, feeling like she was at school again, sharing secrets with a girlfriend, living in the light of her smiles and approval.

Ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
ha ha ha ha ha

Patience gurgled and spluttered and sprayed a bit of spit and Molly lost sight of her as her own eyes crinkled into slits.

‘Would you like to share your poems?’ the poet asked. Molly opened her eyes to see him looking straight at her. The poor thing, what disappointments he must have had to end up doing poetry in an Aged Care Hostel.

‘No, it’s a bit personal,’ Patience interrupted boldly. She reached over and patted Molly’s goanna-skin hand. Molly felt electricity shoot up her arm. The hostel’s nylon carpet was a bugger for static. And she’d been in love with Patience from the moment her son admitted her. She missed Nancy every day – who wouldn’t after forty-three years together – but Nancy was dead and Patience lived in a room in the same corridor.

‘A love poem next,’ announced the poet. ‘Maybe we can extend ourselves to ten lines.’

Molly didn’t hear the instructions; she was composing a love letter she’d never send. She knew every metaphor she could come up with was a cliché because love was a cliché no matter the age. A nipple still stood up like a rose bud, tides still rose too, and a storm wave still crashed through secret caverns.

The room went silent around her except for the scratch of pens negotiating their way across paper and Joyce’s soft snoring. Molly did try to put some of her thoughts down but they were always one step ahead of her arthritic joints. Arthur was quicker. He read out an ode to a woman who was ‘the prettiest rose in the garden’ and ‘the twinkliest star in the sky.’ He wasn’t the only one in the workshop to tear up as he read, though his face remained a continent of dry creek beds and no tears fell. They all needed a break and an orange cream. A trolley of teacups chattered in. Patience poured more electricity into Molly as she touched her.

‘I was thinking about all those years at boarding school,’ Patience confessed. The left side of Patience’s face sagged a little even when she smiled. A stroke was not always as gentle a thing as the movement of Patience’s hand down Molly’s arm.

‘It is like school,’ agreed Molly, hoping to recapture the collusive intimacy of their haiku laughter.

‘I had a thing with one of the girls in the dorm.’ Patience stopped. Picked up Molly’s hand. Stroked the loose skin on the back into gullies before travelling the length of her index finger. ‘I always wondered if it counted and whether it meant I was a virgin on my wedding night. Can I get you a cup of tea? Two sugars isn’t it?’

 

Jane Downing

 

The Leak

Sun-Through-Hole-In-Roof-of-Engine-Shed-at-Bahnbetriebswerk-Pankow-Heinersdorf

There was a leak in my ceiling. The ceiling paint chipped where the water pooled and the drops dripped heavy and glistening, straight into my bathtub. At least I wouldn’t need a bucket. The drops were consistent; I counted about 10 seconds between each. I was standing in the bathroom doorway brushing my teeth when I first noticed it. Every drop echoed in the porcelain bath and through the hallway.

I’ve lived in this house for four months, but every room already has a broken fixture or fault. The stove broke on the first day. The keys got stuck in both locks on the second. The next week, the tap handles in the kitchen broke and the week after that one of the floorboards snapped beneath my feet. In all instances, the real estate agent took their sweet time to act on the issues. That’s what you get for hurriedly signing the lease for an old Queenslander house for too-good-to-be-true weekly rent. But it was close to work and was as far away from my ex as possible.

I was having a rough year. And to top it all off, I hadn’t sold any of my pictures since I moved in. I just had nothing new and people just weren’t interested in my old stuff anymore. The house was bad luck and I blamed everything on the real estate.

I stared at the leak a bit more while chewing on a piece of toast. I would have stared at it all day if didn’t have to go to work. Staring at my ceiling didn’t seem like a good enough excuse to take the day off.

When I drove to work I couldn’t help but think about the leak. It probably wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I had lived in an apartment on the bottom floor. Someone could have left a tap on too long, or a pipe could have burst. But I lived in a house. Sure, an old crappy house but there was no reasonable explanation for it. There was nothing above me but a roof and the sky.

I discussed the leak on my break. A few people came to a conclusion, that it was just left over from a previous rainstorm and had matured in my ceiling, slowly rotting the timber and curling the paint.

“Are you sure?” I asked them.

“Yeah,” said one co-worker, “it happened to my brother not so long ago. He just let it drip out – didn’t even need to call a plumber.”

“So I’ll just have to wait it out then?”

“I guess.”

When I drove home, I couldn’t help but notice the blue sky. It was an interesting contrast to the brown fields and crinkling forests. It hadn’t rained in this town for months. It flooded around the same time I moved in and my paintings stopped selling. Maybe I was cursed.

I stood in my bathroom doorway again, counting the drops. It was now 8 seconds between each, and the drips were no longer a hollow sound on the porcelain bath. The drips slapped into a pool of water that had grown while I was away. The plug was out of the bath (I don’t even think I had a plug) so there would have been blockages in the pipes as well. But with only 8 seconds between each drop I wasn’t too worried. It took only a day to fill a quarter of the bath. I could wait till tomorrow to find a plumber.

But just my luck when I woke up in the morning the leak had increased – now 5 seconds between each. And the bath, well, it was the first time I had ever seen it full. And the water was clear, beautifully crystal clear. If it had been manifesting in my ceiling I would have expected it to be dirty and full of rot. What sort of leak was this?

I rang the agent as I watched the drops splat into the bath. They put me on hold for five minutes. Then there was a cheery hello.

“Yes hello,” I said boldly, “I would like to get a plumber over my place as soon as possible please.”

“No problems at all, which house are you from?” said the too-cheery voice and I was a bit insulted that they didn’t already know me by now. A plumber was organised anyway and would be at my place between 11am and 1pm tomorrow.

The plumber arrived at 1:15pm and we both stood in the doorway of my bathroom, staring at the leak.

“That’s damn clear water.” He said.

“Damn clear.” I said. “Can you fix it?”

“The easiest thing to do is it just let it leak out.”

“How long will that take?”

“Depends on the size of water in the ceiling.”

“Ok.” I said and just stood around while the plumber fixed the blocked pipes in the bath.

“Really shouldn’t take longer than a week.”

A week?” I said, shocked that I would have to endure drips and splats echoing though the hallway and in my dreams for a week.

“Don’t stress yourself over it.” The plumber said and left. I think he stole my pen.

That night I drowned in my dreams and the next morning I woke up in a sweat. Maybe the plumber was right; maybe I’m just going insane. I got up and walked to the bathroom. Strangely, the pipes were clogged up again, and the bath was full. 2 seconds between each drip now. And the ceiling was almost curved a little… like it was only just now heaving under the weight of the water. And the bathroom floor wasn’t any better. I stepped on one tile and the whole floor creaked like it was screaming from my touch. This wasn’t good. But I had an idea, and I grabbed my camera. This was the first bit of inspiration I’d had all year.

I waited for about an hour before the water in the ceiling finally broke through. It poured into my bathroom like a waterfall. The pressure from the water buckled the floor and the room crashed in on itself. The mirror smashed and the walls cracked and split. A palm tree fell in through the window. There was now a hole in the ceiling was the leak had been, and the sun was shining through.

I took a picture. I took a few. The rest of the house was still sturdy, but maybe not for long. Maybe I would sell the picture, and earn thousands. I would definitely get some sort of insurance pay out. But, either way, I’d have to call the agent and inform them of the situation. I hoped they would remember me by now.

 

Ashlee Poeppmann

Got something to say?

Need somewhere to say it?

vintage-hearing-aid

You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You don’t have to be a writer to write. You don’t have to be a journalist to have an opinion on current events. You don’t have to be a reviewer to write thoughtfully about art. You don’t have to be an academic to be an expert in your field.

If you have something to say and would like somewhere to say it, you’ve come to the right place. You provide the piece and we provide the platform.

What We Want

Well-written, qualified, thought-provoking and engaging pieces in a variety of formats from a range of voices.

  • News & current events
  • Popular culture
  • Social commentary
  • Reviews
  • Interviews
  • Photographic or visual art
  • Short fiction and poetry
  • Arts-specific advice or discussion in your specialised area

Become a Regular Contributor

We want to broaden our core team to include some new faces. If you have knowledge or experience in one or more of the above areas you may like to join the Cringe team as a regular monthly or bimonthly contributor.

Find out how to apply.

Contribute Whenever You Feel Like It

You may have a piece that fits exceptionally well with one of our Themes, or a piece of short fiction that you want to send out into the world. Or you may like to contribute pieces now and then on a more sporadic basis.

If that’s the case, visit our Submissions page to find out how.

Want Yourself or Your Work to be Promoted?

If you are a practising artist and would like your work to be reviewed, or if you would like yourself or your organisation to be profiled by one of our interviewers, then please email us at thecringeblog@gmail.com so we can discuss it further.

Finally

Have a look through our site and check out our values to make sure your work lines up with what we’re doing. And of course all posts must adhere to the requirements of copyright, and state and national laws.