by Daniel Bennett
A friend of mine put an end to herself one early Friday morning, aged twenty-three and a half, in the garage of her stepmother’s empty home. Upstairs we found the cabinet open, the record player turning empty, as though she had begun to make some pithy final gesture and not known what to have it say.
Daniel Bennett lives in Melbourne, Australia.
by Jo Langdon
The flat still has the smell of paint, and the new carpet is full of static.
He is dressing in the dark, kicking into the cold legs of his jeans when she surfaces from the sheets, hair disordered and eyes shining.
When he leaves he checks the lock by twisting the handle, once, twice, and then he slides the key under the door. Outside he pockets his fists but the cold soon begins to ache in the bones of his hands and feet.
He steps into the slick black street and imagines he is stepping into her dream, but inside she is staring up at the shadowy cracks on the ceiling, as if waiting for sleep, or for the telephone to ring.
She turns sideways to face the window. The sheets are cold and do not smell of anything. A phantasm of snow against the glass reminds her, somehow, of somebody speaking.
Jo Langdon is a literary studies PhD candidate at Deakin University. Her published fiction and poetry includes work in Mascara Literary Review, Wet Ink, and Voiceworks.
by Laura Jean McKay
The last hours of May. The air is sticky, no moon, and we’ve been at that bar with the generator. Outside, because of the power outages, there are people in the motorbike-lit streets.
We catch a tuk-tuk. Our voices throw over the dim parade – kings have been there, Charles De Gaulle has been there, the Khmer Rouge have been there… but a plastic crack like a giant toy gun interrupts us: the sound one motorbike makes when it hits another.
Then there’s one man writhing like agony over the road. And there’s the other man he hit, face down. The slow dimming strobe of his bike lights, his blue jeans, and his oiled black hair. He’s oddly tall and handsome like that.
People run along the quay. Their flip-flops echo in a strange silence where there are no screams, no sirens but our quiet argument: What do we do? What do we do? We’ve been at that bar with the generator. We’ve been to the temples and the killing fields and the bars and the pool. What do we do?
We hang over the back of the moving tuk-tuk like kids on a bus and watch the divide. We watch the asphalt slide. Soften.
Laura Jean McKay is a writer, performer and a playwright published in Best Australian Stories, Sleepers and the Big Issue, and featured on ABC Radio National. Her plays have been produced by Forty Forty Home and The Emerging Writers’ Festival. Her 2009 Asialink residency to Cambodia led to her current work on a novella and short story collection. She is also a performer.
by Josephine Rowe
If she had looked up she would have seen it, and it would have reminded her that the world was sometimes beautiful, sometimes magical. But she was standing at a window eleven storeys above Nueve de Julio, and nobody looks up from that height. She looked down into the street and saw the crawling traffic and knew it was loud down there but none of the loudness came into her room. In the room it was silent, and her skin still smelled of airline hand sanitiser. She waited for the city to show her something beautiful or magical, and when there wasn’t anything she came away from the double paned window and lay on the bed. The glass shading the ceiling light was a concave frosted dish. Through the frosted glass she could see all the black specks where insects had crawled in and died under the hot light.
Josephine Rowe is a Melbourne based writer, whose first love is the very short story. Her collection, How a Moth Becomes a Boat, was published last year by Hunter Publishers. Read more at josephinerowe.com
by Robyne Young
I’m so excited! It’s my birthday and I’m going to be a princess for the day with a party and a castle-shaped cake with six turrets and six candles.
All my friends are coming, so Rosie can’t come. She’s not my friend. She wears really daggy clothes and always whines. Mummy said I should invite her, but I told her it was my party and I only want my friends. I cried and cried till she said I didn’t have to ask Rosie.
Mummy tells me I have to wear my everyday clothes until the party. “Please Mummy. Can I pleeease get dressed now? I won’t get dirty. I promise. I’ll just sit here in my bedroom and read. AND IT IS MY BIRTHDAY!” Mummy gives in.
There is a pretty princess on my dress but she’s only tiny. I put on my dress and tiara, and look in the mirror then twirl and twirl and twirl until I’m dizzy. I stop and see the princess is getting bigger and she’s now all over my dress. Her arms and legs are getting longer covering my hands and fingers and legs and feet. “Mummy! MUMMY!!!” I scream, but she can’t hear me because I’m trapped inside the princess dress.
“No. It’s not Mummy. You wanted to be a princess for a day, but you make such a beautiful princess I think you should be one forever. Now, you’ll never have to go to school or see Rosie ever again.”
Based in Albury, Robyne Young writes short fiction, columns and the occasional poem. She is writing her first novel and for research is plundering her sons’ lives.
by Julie Noever
They knew it was going to rain. The sky was thick with the smell of water waiting to burst through. Two ladies, one small and one just a slip, marched through the field in stiff rubbery raincoats.
The Slip was not naturally adventurous. This was a secret. She worried about lots of little things that grew large and hungry in her mind until they were too big for her to fight. Waiting for the rain made her heart thump so loudly, she worried her sister would hear it.
The Small One grinned at the Slip from under her hood. Rain-walking was not for the fainthearted. You could tell a seasoned rain walker from their jaunty stride and the glint of crazy in their eye, something which the Small One had clearly mastered. The Slip wanted to be brave, and she carried the weight of all that want wherever she went.
At the first drop, the two ladies stopped to welcome the rain. A patter soon grew to a full orchestra of drummers, beating down so hard even the Slip’s raincoat shuddered.
Slowly, the Slip slid out of her trembling raincoat.
Out from under the weight of all the want, the Slip began the dance of the mad rain walker. She thrashed all the worry out and stomped all the bravery in, and when she was done she grinned a soggy, crazy-eyed grin at her audience of one.
by Bridget Lutherborrow
When he died she took up millinery. She bought one smart black dress and started blocking hats. At the funeral, she had worn a badly cut skirt suit and her sister’s heels. In the months afterwards, she accepted every invitation – afternoon teas, soirees, cocktail evenings, coffee dates – each time turning up in the same black shift with one of her own creations nested in her hair.
At first the designs were simple (tasteful, they concluded); but as time passed the felt shapes framing her face became more haphazard (preposterous). For an engagement party, a crest of hand-sewn autumnal leaves sprayed from her forehead. At a Christening, a pillbox frosted with lace as though it were a cake. The top hat she wore for her nephew’s birthday seemed a quirky shade, grass green, but was judged fairly tame. That is, until a hatch in the back let out a small train to trail around the brim.
People asked why she did it – each other at first, then they asked her. From beneath the taxidermied wing of a fairy wren or the coiled, synthetic tail of a pygmy bearded dragon, her answer was always the same – why, because difficult times give you character. It would seem, before he’d died she’d simply had none.
by Sophie Langley
His fingers moved across the piano keys, again and again hitting the same wrong note. That same section, again and again. The keys were smooth under his fingers, worn from years of his sisters’ treading similar paths, and from the family who had owned the piano before theirs did.
What he really should do, he knew, was stop and play notes around the offending one slowly – repeatedly – until his fingers moved without error. The instrument was out of tune anyway, he thought, having been moved between houses many times. The wrong note, repeated so many times now, didn’t sound so wrong anymore.
Without warning, he played the correct note, and his fingers hesitated above the keys. Practise makes perfect. Or practise means our bad habits become more deeply ingrained – he was never sure which.
When he placed his fingers back on the ivory it was warm, and he’d lost his place on the sheet music. He wasn’t an exceptional pianist, he thought.
His sisters had been exceptional pianists. And public speakers. And debaters. And exam-passers. He, on the other hand, made the same mistakes again and again.
He thought about closing the lid.
Instead, he played the same section through once without a mistake, then twice, three times, four, five, six, and on and on, never finishing the whole piece but playing that section so many times that the number itself was exceptional, even if the playing wasn’t.
by Carlie Daley
At night when her body lay still, her mind roamed restlessly. It sputtered, faltered, grew thirsty and insatiable like a rusty bike. Sleep came but the dreams held out. Neon lights bled through, tormenting her bones.
She yearned for wild weeds to tumble through her mind. Unfurling like vespertine flowers, revealing the pearls within her waking life. Instead they were soldered shut like virgins’ thighs.
From her small window always the twinkle of Venus in the dark morning followed by cries to mark the day. Sometimes she’d catch a glimpse; a face or a scene, but it would evaporate like smoke. Sucked into a vacuum.
Across the world she saw the clenched faces of insomniacs sparring with themselves, tangled in bed sheets, yet she found no solace in their shared suffering. Struggling not for sleep as she travelled through the night, a grim reaper propelled by a storm of black thoughts.
All the while a babe slept softly beside her, murmuring and babbling, as she roamed on endlessly for that bridge between sleep and waking. Yet it always eluded her. If only she could enter the clean, sparse mind of her newborn. If only she could dream again.
by Jordi Kerr
Beatrice stood by the window.
Her husband worked nights, leaving the children to her care. She’d dash from the office in time to pick them up from school. Soothe the stresses the classes placed upon them, and the hurts that children inflicted upon each other – for boredom, for amusement, for a place of dominance in the pack. Once home she’d fix their snacks and separate their squabbles, oversee homework and organise dinner. When bedtime came she would tuck them in. Marcus, the eldest, no longer cared for motherly attentions and would grunt his “goodnight” as she switched off the light. Ashleigh and Lucy had to share a room, and although it was Lucy who still begged for bedtime stories, Ashleigh would listen to them with as much delight.
At the moment they were working their way through Peter Pan. Beatrice remembered how, as a child, she would leave her window open and lie awake at night, waiting for Peter Pan to come. She wondered if her girls also dreamt of escaping to Neverland, of not growing up.
It was an autumn night, the temperature dropping quickly, the windows tightly shut. Beatrice knew there was no Peter Pan beyond them. She had grown old waiting for him. She turned her back to the window, picked her cushion up off the floor, and pressed it firmly over Lucy’s face.