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

 

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

 

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

 

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

the end

He holds your hand in both of his, sitting on that cracked top step, his face grim and vulnerable with tender resolution. “It’ll work out. I’ll work it out.”

You stand before him, panic quickening your heart. “What are you saying?”

“I’ll move.”

He meets your eyes, exposed conviction in his gaze, and your breath is gone. But surely he knew?

montreal

Surely he knew this was the end.

You hear the others through the open door, laughing over their share-house dinner. They know you’re both out here, they know why. Your time is up and you have to decide.

The door is open but this grip of his feels like the most intimate you’ve ever been. The weight of the simple gesture makes it real, terrifying. He waits and you can’t speak.

What did you think would happen? Maybe you hoped that when the moment finally came you’d both laugh and agree it could never work.

Or maybe you wished through the descending seasons that your heart would shed a layer and this would suddenly be right.

The question was there from the moment you met, knowing you were his type and he was yours. He took you to the old hall on campus and you stared up at the tiny stained glass windows, portraits of legendary writers. You were breathless, in awe, like he knew you would be.

His careful approach to life was a relic from his childhood, from his infamous neighbourhood and absent father perhaps. A determination to make the right decisions, avoid hurting others. This was the first commandment of his life, despite the subtle, contained wildness in him: an irresistible conflict of impulse and hesitation.

Were you completely honest with each other? Not really, not with the deeper stuff, the hidden places. You showed him most of who you were: not everything, but more than usual. The rest you dropped in hints, hoping he would catch them, hoping he would show some sign of awareness, acceptance.

But if you lost your security or your strength or your resolve or your temper it would surprise him. He would try to re-strategise, to deal with this new antagonist in you, full of tense dissatisfaction.

You didn’t want to be dealt with (even thought he didn’t mean it that way). You needed someone who would push back, who would put you in your place or be moved by your conviction or slam the door in your face or thrust you against a wall. He would be slow and considerate and that would make you push further, irrationally scratching for that true impulse, the indication that you were both alive to the same humanity.

Perhaps you’ve known all along that he couldn’t be that person. But still you wanted to be with him, to see what would emerge, hoping he would prove you wrong. All the passing seasons have faded into this inevitable parting and all you’ve thought about is this moment, forming your heart around the possibility of a future.

Perhaps it’s your fault for letting your heart go because now the memories are too real and they won’t go away, wedged in your mind, forever shadowing the years of your life.

Time is up and you have to decide, and here he is on the step with his earnest eyes telling you he’ll move, he’ll follow you, he’ll make it work, and you know he believes it.

So, you see? No one wins. Both of you cautiously following the path of possibility, neither willing to make the first mistake, and this where it ends. Surely he knew that?

But no, he never did, and for that you blame him. Now you have to be the one to admit reality, to open his eyes to the truth. You must be the one who does this awful thing and it’s not fair. You gave him your heart, you tried, and yet he still doesn’t know you, not really.

The laughter grows louder in your ears and your hand trembles in his grip, under his waiting gaze. He has broken your heart, and now you must break his.

Elise Janes