unsweetened - Arc @ UNSW

unsweetened - Arc @ UNSW
UNSWEETENED
L i t e r a r y Jo u r n a l
2017
UNSWeetened acknowledges the Bedegal and
Gadigal peoples of the Eora Nation, who are
the traditional custodians of the land upon which
UNSW was built. We pay our respects to the Elders
both past and present, and extend that respect to all
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and
staff in the UNSW community. We recognise this is
and always will be Aboriginal land.
Twenty years ago, a group of students banded
together to create a literary sensation for the
UNSW community. At the time, it was the only
journal of its kind, publishing works of poetry
and prose written by university students under
the heading UNSWeetened Literary Jour nal.
Two decades later we are bubbling with
nostalgia to share this particular comic with
you. It was published in the very first edition of
UNSWeetened and captures the spirit of creativity
that has, and will continue to be, the bedrock of
our special journal.
D
edicated to my grandmother
whose short stories about the
fox, the crow and woodcutter
continue to inspire me and to my
other grandmother who made me the
storyteller I am today.
FOREWORD
I grew up watching my grandmother scribbling away on
her big writing desk. I later came to learn those scribbles
and piles of messy papers were contents of her many books,
a memory I cherish every time I sit across my own messy
writing desk.
As readers, we indulge in our favourite books. We walk
across Middle Earth with Frodo and Sam to destroy the One
Ring or we remain in our reading spot going back and forth
between the pages trying to understand what Ulysses is really
about. Yet, in all our journeys we are confined by what the
writers tell us, what they intend for us to know.
But, as writers, we explore the unknown much more. We
create people, their histories, and their lives from nothing
and in those moments of scribbling and scratching we feel
invincible. When we write, we lay our souls bare in our bids
to weave the perfect story and somewhere between ripped
pages of frustration and countless scribbles we create some
of our best literary works.
UNSWeetened has had a long 20-year journey, and in these
years the journal has inspired many aspiring writers to create,
to experiment and to present their work. Finishing a piece
is cause for celebration, but seeing your name printed in
the pages of a book is any writer’s dream. UNSWeetened not
only creates a platform for writers but also for its editors, to
learn the art of editing, while developing their own creative
skills. This edition has continued the tradition of keeping
the content as diverse as humanly possible with riveting
themes like migration, belonging, relationships, to celebrating
languages spoken at UNSW.
As you turn this page and enter into a plethora of
experiences I wish you a fantastic rollercoaster ride through
UNSWeetened 2017.
Haya Saboor
UNSWeetened Coordinator
C O N T E N T S
Going Home
Occurrences
in Dunpo
S a ra h M a c D o n a l d
Ja m e s S o m e r v i l l e
10
12
A First
Geneneration
Kid’s Search for
the Homeland.
Munawwar
Abdulla
22
My Beautiful
Girl
Ju l i a D a n k b e r g
24
Saturation
Camille
Inflection
Hrishikesh Srinivas
Alex Rose
O t h i l i a N g u ye n - l e
32
34
38
Sans Frontières
(Un) Belonging
B i n a k Ve rs a i l l e s
K a l ya n i
50
42
8
C O N T E N T S
A Little Yellow
Flower
Ashton Wisken
68
Sandcastles on
the Moon
West
So It Goes
William Laksana
Z i Yi n g S u
Ju m a a n a A b d u
52
58
60
Bridge
Salmon
Mar nie Cooper
Ju l e s P h a n
70
72
How This Story
Ends
A Thing
Acknowledgements
&
T i n a Wu
77
9
Z i Yi n g S u
Thanks
78
84
1st
PL ACE
GOING HOME
By Sarah MacDonald
and catch me, and I register my own flinch as
you reach out and squeeze my thigh.
There is a yellow beach in my mind. I know
the damp tang of casuarina that hangs in the
air there after rain; I have seen the water when
it storms and the dunes are swallowed into the
bruised belly of a winter sky. I collect shells
along the water’s edge – cowries and scallops,
baby-pink in their folds – and wish that I could
place them into the pocket of an anorak and
later run my hand along their contours and
maybe smell the salt on them still.
“Cheer up. You know how lucky we were to get
this job.”
How lucky you were, I think, but don’t say it.
In the real estate description: two beds, one
bath, the opportunity for a garden. I wonder
what I will grow here beneath this tepid rain;
something fast flowering, so that we will see it
bloom before we leave. Of course, you say that
this time will be different. Like all the other
times, this time, things will work out. Perhaps a
row of lavender by the window – but no, they
like a sandy soil.
“Shouldn’t be much longer now. Wish this
rain’d piss off.”
Streetlights drift over your face in swabs
of sallow orange as we drive, pooling for
a moment in the hollows there before the
darkness catches up. A steady, warm rain sways
in the headlamps and you hunch against it,
both hands gripping the wheel.
An ambulance passes and in the backseat the
baby stirs but does not wake. I dream of drying
racks of lavender, running the stems through
my fingertips and tucking sweet – smelling
pouches between her little dresses; of shells
washed up by storms lain in salty puddles on
windowsills. I watch road signs disappear and
between streetlights I catch my own reflection
in the slick glass of the car window – a mess of
hasty lines sketched out against the night and,
lately, the ink seems smudged.
“At least it’s not so humid now.”
You grunt. Your eyes stay forward and so I
watch your profile from the passenger seat:
a furrowed brow, a speckling of grey starting
to show by your temples. I wonder how long
I have missed that for. You glance to your left
Sarah is studying a double media/law degree. She chose a creative writing elective on a whim last semester after a
long-term but long-shelved interest in writing, and was excited to discover how much she still enjoyed the creative
process. If she survives law school she would love to work in a field like anti-discrimination or family law – hopefully
with time for a little writing somewhere on the side.
10
cheek and could almost pass for moonlight. Is
this what she will remember? Will she whisper
to someone she loves one day of sleeping with
a suitcase at her feet; of late night voices raised
through thin walls and heavy silences in the
morning?
We drive inland.
“What do you remember most about being a
child?”
“What kind of question is that?”
I shrug. Silence, and then: “Nothing much.
You?”
I close my eyes against the gentle thrum of the
rain. There is a yellow beach in my mind, and
I breathe in the sharp air that blows there from
the south. A gannet is circling far out across the
bay; I point, and a little girl stops to watch it
hanging alone in the grey. From a great height
the gannet drops like a sleek white stone.
I think of the shock of the water as it hits, and
then the cool blue softness and the quiet of the
deep, and
I remember walking by a night – time shore
to a fire on the sand. Fevered sparks that
splintered away towards black water and
blinked into nothing there on gentle waves;
the weight of my father’s jacket on my narrow
shoulders and the smell that lingered in its
folds, of Marlboro Reds and the spilt innards
of fish. I remember my mother’s hands in
the garden, dirt beneath her nails and in the
creases of her hardened palms as she teased
weeds from between the swaying curls of sweet
– peas; how her gentleness with those blushing
petals stirred a curious ache in my chest.
I smile.
“Nothing much.”
In the backseat the baby mumbles something in
her sleep, turns to the window so that honeyed
light from industrial estates falls across her
11
OCCURRENCES IN DUNPO
By James Sommer ville
On Wednesday there was a homeless man sitting on the wall outside Luke’s shop. If his dad had
still owned the place, the man on the wall would have been given a forty-five minute grace period,
but Luke was a little kinder and a lot lazier so he let the man be.
Mr. Mulligan with rheumatism came in at 11.
Hello, Doctor.
Not Doctor. Just a pharmacist.
Yes, Doctor. Very good. Got a script for ya.
Then Luke stood around and scratched at the lino on the counter until he felt it start to give
and made himself stop.
At 1 was Mrs. McIntyre with the gammy leg. He’d got through six cm2 of lino.
Mr. McDonald.
Mrs. McIntyre. How’s the leg?
Legs are what legs are.
Mrs. McIntyre was full of wisdom today. Luke was bored. He’d been a pleasure to have in class.
Now he was a pharmacist. That seemed fair.
He could see the hobo through the open doors. The man sat very seriously on the wall, like it was
an occupation. He seemed to be sleeping, but several times through the day he would jerk, turn
and gaze down the road eastward at the farms and hills, then turn back again and slump down.
At one point Luke wondered if the man was a burglar here casing his shop, like the time in
twenty – twelve when a big bloke with a crowbar had ambled up, quite casually smashed the plate
glass window, reached in and nicked four bottles of Panadol. The bloke never even looked at
Luke, and it was a good ten minutes before he realised he should call the cops. That had made
the Telegraph, actually. VANDALIST TAKES HIS MEDECINE. This guy didn’t look like
that, though, and he didn’t seem particularly interested in the shop. He just sat on the wall, his
shoulders pressed down low.
Luke locked up at a quarter to five. He had to pass in front of the guy on the way back to his car.
He got a whiff of him, the stink of old sweat and mud and cowshit, as if he’d been trekking across
the fields. Luke felt he ought to say something, just to reassure both of them that hey, this guy
might be homeless but Luke still considered him a person and worth talking to. He tried to say it
as he passed him by, making sure not to suggest that he was trying to initiate a conversation.
See ya, man.
The guy turned to him, slowly. One of his eyes was swollen shut and his hair was shiny with
grease.
Hey, bud. Pharma. Do me a favour.
Now you’ve done it, Luke, ya dumbass.
12
The entire register in your back pocket and you’ve started a conversation with a hobo. Can’t even
pretend like you’re all out of change. He turned back, trying to surreptitiously go through his back
pocket and make sure he wasn’t taking the precious little 2 dollar coins, because once your hand
leaves the pocket that’s a decision.
Yeah, mate.
Keep an eye on the mountain for me.
Luke didn’t actually gape, but he came pretty close.
Huh?
The mountain, mate. If it moves. Tell me.
The hobo spoke reverently, as if he were unaware of what a fuckin weird thing that was to
tell someone. He didn’t have the gravelly, scratchy tone of the hobos he remembered from his
childhood. His voice was soft and he paused a lot when he spoke, like he was thinking. A banker or
a lawyer or a teacher, not a hobo.
The mountain?
If it moves.
Luke turned his head, scanning the horizon. In the distance to the southeast were the Snowies,
and the little blue one to the far east that he didn’t remember the name of.
Which one?
That one.
He pointed east.
Are you – you’re going to stay here?
No, mate. Got things to do. Just keep an eye out for me. Ok?
Is it going to move?
The hobo shifted on the wall, turned and squinted so the little mountain was in his peripheral
vision.
I don’t know. We live in hope, eh?
.
topagraphical area map
Did you mean: topographical area map?
topographical area map
Hey, is there something up with Google?
Hmm?
His wife paused, turned to look out the kitchen window. Dish soap fizzled on the back of her hands.
That mountain there isn’t showing up.
Are you sure? Maybe you’re just using it wrong.
How do you use Google wrong? It’s not there. It must be glitching out.
He went to stand by her. He had a vague sense that he had to do something here. A private
13
display of affection, just to make sure she remembered. Fuck it, she’d be right. He was tired.
Well, maybe it’s not a mountain. More of a hill. I don’t like the look of those clouds.
There isn’t even any of those – what are they? The concentric circle things they use to show
height.
Mmm. Think it’ll rain?
Maybe. I’ve got work to do.
mountains moving impossible
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No, no. Next page. This was getting too involved.
MOUNTAIN HUNTED ME? NOT CLICKBAIT!
https://youtube.com/watch?vr3214=1QAEFI
Mar 11, 2016 – Uploaded by TheConspiracyTheo
I met a girl the other day: HUNTED by a MOUNTAIN? I said, whaaaat? But listen up, Youtube,
cos this is real…
Was it starting to spit?
MOUNTAIN HUNTED ME? NOT CLICKBAIT!
19 views. This looked trustworthy. TheConspiracyTheo had a brown turtleneck and he looked
a little like he hadn’t left his house in a few years. It was raining outside. He plugged in his
earphones.
Hey, Youtube, what’s up guys. So I’m just gonna get right into this, but first, it’s Ominous
Political News review time, as always…
Wait, they had washing on the line. Shit.
14
The hobo was still there on Thursday. That day Luke saw Mrs. McIntyre again. She was with
Mrs. Carey and her kid.
Script?
Thank you.
She turned to talk to Mrs. Carey while he was filling the script. They didn’t interest him much but
he couldn’t ask them to shut up.
You know there’s a sheep thief in town?
Nooo, really?
Oh, yes. Sixteen sheep! Led them right out of old Jerry Powys’ fields. He’s pissed as hell.
Mrs. Carey made a face and looked at her son, but he was looking at the women’s deodorants and
probably didn’t care very much.
Goodness. Do people still steal sheep?
Apparently. The police thought it was a dingo first because they kept finding bits of chewed up
wool but now it’s probably a guy trying to throw them off. Big bloody dingo for sixteen sheep.
Yes. Jimmy, don’t open that, I’ll have to pay for it.
Luke put Mrs. McIntyre’s pills in a crackly little bag and stuck it closed with some tape. She
thanked him. The door sealer thing scraped on the lino as they left. God, what a town this was.
Who gave a shit about sheep?
The one good bit of that day was that the hobo left. Around 11 he got up, rapped on the
window of the pharmacy, jerked his chin at the mountain in the distance and gave Luke a very
significant look. Then he left, not in the half-shuffle he usually affected but quite quickly, as if
he had somewhere to be. Luke put him out of his mind. He’d never gotten round to watching
TheConspiracyTheo’s video – he had better things to do, after all – and though he definitely
didn’t hope the hobo got lost out in the fields somewhere he wouldn’t have been too broken up
about it if he didn’t show up outside the shop any more.
But he was there again on Monday, more dishevelled and looking a bit sick, though the swelling
on his eye had gone down a bit. He ambled up as Luke locked up for the night, took up his same
place on the wall and sat there with the mountain on his left, just in his peripheral vision.
Luke got his keys ready in his pocket. You had to move quickly, like you’ve got very important
work to do, make Mr. Hobo feel like he mustn’t bother the working man – but don’t make it seem
affected, because people can sense that –
Hey. How’s it going?
Not so bad.
Luke paused, let the space drag, hoping the guy would take the hint.
The hobo grinned at him. His breath was awful but his teeth were perfect, not white like in
toothbrush ads but very square and gapless.
Hrm. Did it move?
Closer?
Yeah, mate. You said you’d watch for me.
Um, no, it hasn’t.
15
16
Luke turned and looked at the mountain, the sun still not properly sunk behind it. The hobo was
waiting for him to say something more.
Well, there it is.
I know that! Just keep an eye on it. Sneaky bastard.
Right. Ok, mate – I’ve got to get home –
Oh, yeah, yeah. Don’t let me keep you. Keep a weather eye. Eh?
Er. Yes.
Luke was several steps away, successfully avoided drawing the guy into a proper conversation, and
then he turned back.
Where’d you go?
The hobo turned to him.
Hm?
If you don’t mind my asking. What were you doing?
The hobo grinned. His teeth weren’t perfect, actually, One canine had been chipped. It was
probably recent cos he kept pressing his tongue through the hole, wriggling it like a red worm.
Settling my affairs. Got to be ready, eh?
Ready?
It’s coming for me, mate.
He seemed to think for a moment, then spoke again.
Look, mate – I’d rather not bring this down on you – just, keep it to yourself, huh? I’ll get out of
your hair in a few days.
Luke rather wanted to shout at him, yell at him to just tell him what he was on about, but he
thought if he interrupted the hobo would shut up. Maybe that’d be good, but he didn’t know.
The hobo dropped his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, as though anyone less gullible than Luke
would be willing to listen to him.
It prefers it when you run. And when you try to stop it.
He leant back on the brick wall, closed his eyes.
Nought more to do now, mate. Thanks all the same. I’ll see you later.
.
He had to go into the shop that afternoon. They’d built it out a bit from town along the highway
for travellers to stop at and it was always way too big for Dunpo, but normally on Monday there
were more people there. There was a great field of parking spaces out in front and maybe four
cars up near the entrance. Nice. He’d nearly got a job out here in school but his dad wouldn’t
let him.
Luke got the beer and the milk, the special ones with the pale blue stickers that were better for
his wife. There was a poster on the pole for the big sunshade over the car-park, with the little tabs
with phone numbers. The tape was all scrunched up around the pole.
17
LOST CAT
Answers to Mittens/Garbage Boy (rescue name)
Calico coat, black spiked collar
CALL STEVO IF U SEE HIM+ PLS DON’T SHOOT
The paper was thin where the picture of the cat was in the way that home printers did. Luke
remembered Stevo, he’d been in school with him in the grade above. He moved out west to a farm
in the hills. If his cat was where they were backburning he’d get torched.
His car struggled on the road back home. It was a steep bloody way and his car had mowed
through four kangaroos in its lifetime, which was more than he’d like but less than lots of people.
The mountain loomed in the sunset in the corner of his eye, flickering between the trees.
Was it getting bigger?
Nope.
.
The front door groaned as his wife pushed it open. She had her great big work bags in either hand
and bits of her hair were standing on end.
Hey. I made coffee.
Lite milk?
Yeah, I went and got some specially.
She came into the kitchen. His mug was cool in his fingers and he set it down in the sink. It wasn’t
getting bigger. The flat light in the evening always messed with his eyes. There were dead bugs in
the gap between the window and the screen. Bloody hobo. Bloody town. Eurgh.
Good day?
Not bad.
A red light flared over the east horizon. Luke blinked, shook his head. What was that? He opened
the window. There was a tang of smoke on the air.
Shit, what is that?
Smells like a fire. I’ll check the website.
She pulled out her phone and tapped at it. An ad jingled out of the tinny little speakers.
Do you have a fire escape plan? If they’d been prepared, ninety-nine per cent of people who were burned in
last year’s bushfires wouldn’t have lost their homes.
She turned the phone so he could see over her shoulder. A woman and some kids stood in front of
the shell of a house with the fire service’s number flashing over their heads. The woman’s arm was
wrapped tight around the children and they were all looking at the camera and shrugging. The
camera cut to a fireman shaking his head sadly.
Luke vaguely remembered the service sending around a form for them to fill in about what they’d
do if there was a fire. He’d used it to light the stove. Heh.
She tapped her phone and the ad cut out.
Oh, here we go. First backburning this week.
18
Luke frowned.
Are you sure?
She sipped at her coffee. A bit of skim stuck to the rim of the cup.
What else would it be? What’s with you?
He was gripping the edge of the sink, he realised. The pads of his fingers were shivery and white.
Are you sure it was this week?
She shrugged.
Says it here. Thanks for the coffee.
Yeah.
He stepped out onto the verandah, watching the fire. The sun had mostly set now and the
mountain was black against the night sky, wreathed in the red light along the horizon. She
followed him out.
Some of my kids weren’t in school today.
Luke shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Shit-fuck-dick he didn’t want to sit here
watching it but there was nothing else to do. The fire made a bit of heat haze in the distance and
the horizon wobbled.
They weren’t the normal ones, though. Must be a bug going around.
.
The sun rose late on Tuesday and it was foggy and Luke had to use his hazard lights the whole
way. The hobo was gone again. Luke had a fair bit of stock to fill and he wasn’t expecting any of
his usual customers so he was out back in the storeroom for most of the morning.
Oi. Hello.
There was a guy at the counter. He had a big bushy beard and a backpack and there was a blue
car parked out front. Luke didn’t know him.
Hey, mate. What can I get for you?
Kids headache stuff?
You want Nurofen. Back there.
The guy took some time picking out the bottle. Luke scratched at the lino some more.
What’s with the guy out front?
What guy?
That one. See?
Luke peered out through his shop windows. The hobo was back, standing on his cardboard boxes.
He was facing down the street.
Oh, he’s back. We know him. He’s been here a few days.
He told me something weird.
Yeah?
19
I mean, he asked me for a ride. Says he needs to get out of town.
Luke looked up, frowning.
You want me to have a word with him?
The guy gave him his money, half – turned so he could see the hobo. Luke saw a little girl inside
the man’s car, her nose pressed up against the window.
Ah, it’s ok. He just seems scared.
The guy thanked him and took his Nurofen and went out of the shop. Luke saw him go over to
the car and bleep his keys at it. The hobo turned when he heard the door of the car and Luke
heard the guy say something to him. He went out to listen at the open door.
Look, I’m really sorry – I’ve got my daughter in the car, we can’t take any hitchhikers.
The hobo had moved into the middle of the road. There was blood on his face from a long cut
and he was shifting his weight from foot to foot and shaking his hands.
Please, mate – I just need a ride – nothing is working –
The guy shook his head and looked at Luke helplessly. Luke shrugged at him.
The car pulled out from the kerb and flashed its lights at the hobo and he didn’t move for a
moment but then he threw up his hands and swore and got off the road. The car over – revved as
it pulled out of town.
Luke stood behind his counter for a long moment. Then he went and got one of the boxes of
band-aids from the rack in the corner. He was reluctant cos it wasn’t like he could ask the hobo to
pay him back but he felt a bit bad for him.
Hey. Mate. You all right?
The hobo turned to him. The gash on his forehead was deep but he barely seemed to notice it.
Uh. Hey, Pharma. Not really.
Luke held up the box of band – aids.
You’re bleeding.
The hobo reached out one dirty hand and took the box. Luke hung back a bit. The hobo stank.
He opened the box and the little tab on the top tore off.
The hobo stopped and looked at Luke.
Thanks. You’re not a bad guy, you know that?
Luke waved his hand awkwardly.
Yeah, ok. How’s the mountain thing going?
He couldn’t help a little sarcasm from creeping into his voice but the hobo didn’t seem to notice.
He took three band-aids out and held them between his fingers.
I can’t figure it out. There’s no bloody rules with this shit!
Right.
It’s just, –
The man was breathing heavily and sat down on the kerb and put his head in his hands.
20
I don’t get it. It’s not working.
The guy was really getting emotional. Luke wasn’t sure what to do.
I mean. Look. I’ve done everything. Went out and made it easy. And now it won’t take me! You
know how many things I’ve tried? And the things it does to stop me? You see the fire last night?
The backburning?
Heh! Yeah. The backburning. It does that when someone gets too close. Covers its tracks. Sneaky
bastard.
The hobo wiped his nose with one dirty sleeve and opened up his band-aids. He probably needed
a real bandage but Luke only had six in stock and they were $14.99/– each.
I didn’t want it to hurt anyone else, you know. I thought if I stopped running, maybe it’d just end
things. And I was ready. I really thought I could take it.
Yeah. Don’t we all, huh?
Luke didn’t really know what he was on about, but it was a platitude.
Then I just wanted a ride out of this shit town. You know? Make it work for it. But that’s not
happening. There’s no running from this.
He sat heavily on the kerb and started putting on the band – aids, swearing under his breath.
But it won’t take me! Gave me a whack with a rock on my way back, but that’s all. What am I, not
good enough? Bastard.
He finished with the band-aids and stood again, glaring out down the road. It was still misty even
though it was nearly 11.
You know what? I’m going out to the fucker. I’m gonna –
He stopped, thinking.
I’m gonna piss on it.
Luke frowned. Ew.
On the mountain?
Yeah. No way it takes that.
Huh. Think that’ll work?
The hobo shrugged.
Nothing’s gonna work. So it’s as good as anything.
He turned to start walking down the street and Luke’s curiosity got the better of him.
This isn’t like, a thing, is it? Mountains don’t – they don’t move. This is just in your head. Right?
The hobo looked at him for a long moment.
Shit. Wish someone had told me that three years ago.
Wait, really?
No! Idiot.
James is studying a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Creative Writing and Philosophy.
21
1st
PL ACE
Poetry
Entrapped in the harvest moon
Cocooned in false silk
A FIRST-GENERATION
KID’S SEARCH FOR THE
HOMELAND.
Reflected upon a foreign land with
False memories of a past unlived
I am alone where
No ancestor has ever been
The harvest moon whispers –
Silver edges flashing a snow-capped abyss
Reflections of fire like desert dunes:
my soul is hers
ensnared and afraid
eternally cast in a reflection on an ocean
of a foreign island
unable to return to the heavenly mountains
and
Tocharian plains;
No howling wolves run by no wild horses
With the screech of a hunting hawk
Silhouetted against that same moon
I am alone
22
She says:
Remember the caravans, the swirling spirits?
Remember the sweetness of honey melons
And crystal sugar tea?
omnipresent
Remember me? As we drank etken chai and
I sang you to sleep
she tells me I am
While your parents in Ili
not yet done
Spilled blood for freedom still
until I remember
just out of reach?
what has not yet begun.
But I cannot return ‘til
But she speaks to
that home is free,
A past life,
from the grips of her
With knee length braids and
calamity;
The breath of the Taklimakan.
when I can emerge from
I am but a shadow cast
the false silk riches of
Over seas,
my foster home
escaping the imprisonment back
and fly
home yet
to where my spirit keeps watch
ensnared by the moon
above the Central Asian river valleys
trapped and protected in
the harvest moon
- M u n a wwar A bdulla
Munawwar is studying a Master of Science in pain, which is oddly descriptive of the postgraduate experience.
In her free time she advocates for Uyghur rights, watches too many TV shows, then blogs about how no one
knows about Uyghurs. She is the quiet grandma friend who is always tired but will tell you to eat properly,
drink water, sleep on time and have fun!
23
MY B E A U T I F U L G I R L
By Julia Dankber g
B
ernice is a beautiful young lady. She looks just like her mother, with blonde hair that curls at
her shoulders. Her cheeks look like Renoir came into the room with his paintbrush of rose
and peach hues and brushed them with the color himself. Her eyes are the blue of the Seine:
clear, cold, and brilliant. Her skin is pure, innocent, and untouched. I see Bernice every day right
before she leaves home for school. She looks behind me at the mirror and carefully clasps the pearl
necklace around her slender neck. She clips the matching earrings on her lobes. She stares, but I
don’t quite know where, for there are no imperfections on her face. I turn to the left and sometimes
I miss a blink or a pucker. I quickly see her action in the mirror, but still, I see the same face and I
feel the same way. When I make a complete, slow circle with my toes, I wonder why she seems so
unhappy these days. I wonder what she is thinking when she glares at the mirror, speckled with dust.
She is framed by velvet and mahogany: the roof of my home. I’ve known Bernice since she was five
and I will never stop thinking, what a beautiful girl.
.
It is dark. Bernice opens the gold clasp on my box. I promptly stand up, the springs at my
pointe shoe propping me up. I begin to slowly twirl. It is morning and there is a yellowed light
splashing onto the wood floors of Bernice’s bedroom. Her white, Victorian cast iron bed crowned
with ruffled pillows is directly in front of me. Her two mahogany nightstands are the ground
of identical, gold lamps with pink, frilled shades. The walls are dressed in a pale pink damask
paper, soaking in the heat from the golden sun. Her dresser is on the wall to the left of her bed,
containing eight drawers with gold, clanking handles. She has French vases of mint and rose –
colored glaze, covered with Rococo roses, crystal dishes, and a set of white pillar candles. I dance
on her vanity, which houses her perfume bottles, lip color, and rouge, me placed to the side of her
favourite nail color that her mother and father brought back from Paris. Bernice’s friend Margaret
is standing beside her dresser. Margaret has been Bernice’s friend since she was young. “Margaret. What in the world are you doing?”
Margaret paces toward me, reaching her hand to touch my ceramic bodice and solid tulle skirt.
Her finger, warm and soft, slows my pace as I begin to face the mirror. Bernice is behind her
trying on her Hobble skirt and crème turtleneck blouse.
“Just looking, that’s all.”
There is a pause and Margaret sits on the stool to look in the mirror. She pinches her cheeks and
fusses with her hair.
“You know, Bernice, we are going to be late. Robert and James should be here any minute.”
“I know, Marge,” Bernice mumbles while fumbling with her zipper. “Here – zip me up, will you?”
Margaret rushes to Bernice’s side while she inhales a big breath of air.
“Are you sure this is going to be all right? You know what could happen to us… we ought to think
about this a little more thoroughly…”
24
Margaret looks down at her ivory leather flats. She looks up to meet my Bernice’s soft expression.
“Margaret.” She grasps her hands. “It is going to be okay,” she says. “We will have Robert and
James to keep us safe. Besides, as long as everything is hushed, my parents will never find out.”
She gives Margaret a sweet smile and then promptly looks at the porcelain clock to my left,
scurrying toward me. She jumbles my pedestal a bit, reaching for her signature pearls. She plucks
her beaded clutch from a drawer in the vanity and slams me shut. My head thrown on the red
velvet pillow and I lay there – stuck – wondering where she was going. I hope the men do not
betray her. She is such a beautiful girl.
.
I hear loud laughter bellowing from the doorway. A loud thump vibrates the walls.
“Robert you are such a tease!”
Is that Bernice? Sound carries terribly in here. Everything sounds muffled and muted.
“Are your parents home?”
Robert belches and I hear more stumbling. It feels like someone is sliding the dresser across the
wood. Her vases and porcelain boxes clink.
“No, they are in Paris for the second time this month – Robert! Be careful!”
Silence.
“I am baby, don’t you worry.”
The footsteps grow louder before my box bangs against the wall. I wish whoever was on the other
side would open it. I need to see what this commotion is all about.
Bernice suddenly appears as my box opens. I spring upward and begin to twirl. Bernice has
changed clothes since she left the room. She is wearing a white, silk brassiere. I notice her former
ensemble strewn across the floor. Bernice starts to take off her earrings and necklace, plunking
them at the bottom of my stage. Her eyes seem red and I smell cigarette smoke as her hair sways
in my direction. I am jostled. I sway back and forth while continuing my routine. In the mirror’s
reflection, I see Robert sitting on my Bernice’s bed in only his trousers.
Robert is a handsome young man. He is broad – shouldered, toned, and has dark blond hair. He
has a kind face, but with defined features. The room is dark with the exception for the subtle light
glowing from her bedside table. Their silhouettes are shadows on the dark wood. Bernice stumbles
onto the bed and then on top of Robert. I twist toward the doorway. Bernice, what are you
doing? I watch as they lay on the bed, bodies intertwined and kissing. Bernice, please do not do
this to me. I watch as he unclasps and she unbuttons. She giggles. He coughs. I face the other wall.
“Oh! I forgot.”
Bernice turns off the light. The room is a mess, and I am still dancing.
The sun slowly starts to rise and fill the room with white light. The windowpanes cast shadows on
the floor and the furniture. The room is askew. I spin to the left. I hear the sheets ruffle. Robert
is gone and in the bed lies my sweet Bernice. She sits up and looks across the room at her clock. I
hear the ticking keeping a steady pace with my routine.
“Oh no! It’s 10:30! I’m going to be late!”
Bernice jumps out of bed, sheets wrapped around her thin frame, and she slams me shut. I hear
her run out the door. The water starts to run. I am alone again.
25
I stare up at the mirror in my dark home, barely seeing myself in the reflection. Not much light is
able to pass through in here. I hear the water stop and my box furiously opens when I least expect
it. My Bernice ravages through my audience: her collection of diamonds, emeralds, rubies and all
things gold and shiny, not forgetting her prized pearls.
26
“Where are my gold diamond studs?”
She shuffles through the clasps and strands of magnificent jewelry. She finds her pair of earrings
and quickly clips them. I turn to face the mirror and her eyes meet mine. She lifts her eyelids and
brows before swiping a shade of pink on her lips. She reaches her hand out and strokes the bun
perched on top of my head. She looks down on me with admiration, and then continues to shut
the box. My head hits the mirror. The light from outside streams through the opening edge –
Bernice forgot to close me completely. The light bounces around the pieces of jewelry and reflect
prisms along the mirror behind me. It is a beautiful sight, just like my dear Bernice.
Later that night, she comes home, and I hear her walk into the room. She opens the box and
places her pieces inside. Her eyes glimmer from her lamp’s soft light. They are the color of
eggshells and her hair smells like violets. Just as I make my rotation to the right I see her hand
clamp downward.
.
Time has passed and I wonder when I would be opened again. She hasn’t worn jewelry in a
while. She wears her jewelry every day. I feel like it is monotonous sometimes – dancing the same
routine for as long as she opens the lid – but I like watching her. My Bernice is so graceful. She
glides across the room with such incomprehensible grace for an eighteen-year-old girl. Her poise
is the epitome of beauty. My Bernice had dreams to become a teacher, but her mother and father
decided she would become a housewife and marry an Arnault. She wants more for herself. I
wanted to tell her that she would not be a trophy wife. She would always be my beautiful girl.
.
I hear a slam, I hear a click, and I hear a revolving turn, and then follows a few more of those
exact same sounds. I smell Bernice’s perfume. She must be close now.
“Hello Mrs. Pattington, it’s me, Bernice. Is Margaret there?”
A pause.
“Oh that’s all right I’ll wait right here.”
Bernice must be calling Margaret about something.
“Hi Margaret,” she laughs, “yes, your mother said you were washing your hands.
Well, that is what I wanted to talk to you about because it is Friday night.
Did James call you?
Ah yes, he didn’t, but I saw him a few hours ago while at the store.
He said he had to see a man about a dog and that he’d see us tonight.
I told you! We didn’t get caught. Lovely place isn’t it?
I know. It’s a little smoky for me, too.
Well darling, shake a leg and come over here!
Mother and father are still gone, yes.
All right dear, see you soon.”
Suddenly, I see light flood into my box when Bernice opens it. I pirouette while she wanders to
the far corner of her room. She has her white robe on, and her blond hair is in a bun at the nape
27
of her neck. She opens the curtains and lets light splash into her room. With a swift pace she walks
toward me, and sits down on her stool. Her delicate fingers rest on the dark wood of the vanity.
She raises her eyebrows and then relaxes them.
“What am I doing! ” she moans.
I see the Bernice I always see and then I see the Bernice who she feels she sees. Bernice is
beautiful, and I can’t tell her and I can’t help her understand.
It is dark again.
.
Time is passing. The house is solemn. I hear nothing. I see nothing. I feel nothing. I am
suffocating, and there is no light. I’ve gotten colder from all her silver and her gold, and oh, I am
so, so still. I remember how it used to be – every day, twice a day: once to take out her jewels, and
another to put them away. For the short while when I am dancing, I am happy. I love looking at
that beautiful girl.
“Why won’t this thing work?”
It is my Bernice, but her voice… it is strained. She coughs and I hear segments of conversation.
“Oh Ellery! I –”
I hear an old man’s deep voice chime from the distance.
I hear the sound of something turning and it slightly wheezes as it rotates.
“And then I took my gun and I –”
And then I hear a younger man’s higher voice.
Bernice lets out a sigh.
“You see, uh, President Roosevelt is said to do many great things this year, Charles.” A masculine,
nasal voice speaks.
“Oh yes, and what is that?” A deeper voice cackles.
“He promises to end Prohibition and I think he very well might do just that!”
“It will be a ring-a-ding-ding day in the US of A if that ever happens, let me tell you. I remember
when my father –”
“Ok Charles, no need for the narrative, this is a news show, not a Dr. Christian episode!”
“Well, well I was just saying. Tune in next time folks, when we –”
I hear footsteps leave the room.
.
It is late afternoon when my box is opened. The hazy yellow light streams in from the windows.
I pop up and look for the reflection of Bernice’s in my mirror. Bernice is not in sight. Her room
is a mess. Her bed is unmade and her shoes and clothes are strewn across the floor. This doesn’t
seem like my Bernice. I hear her footsteps. She slowly looks at me and walks toward me. I turn
right and I see a giant, black box. It has a few, small silver knobs and a giant antenna that stood
on the top left. This must be what I was hearing the men from last night. Bernice picks up another
large object and returns to her bed. She picks up the thing on top of it and places it between her
28
shoulder and her ear. She looks down at the base, and clicks a key and lets the circle turn.
There is a pause and she looks up at the ceiling.
“Yes, hello, I need a taxi.”
She stutters as she speaks and gently closes her eyes.
“Immediately.
Two hours?
Okay. Thank you sir.”
She slams it down and reaches for it again and dials as she did before. I don’t quite see what she
presses because I am facing the opposite wall.
“Hello, Mr. Potts, it’s me, Bernice. Is Robert home?
Why yes, certainly, I can wait.
I can’t stay Robert, not even for you.
I love you.
I can’t.
I’m taking most of my things, though I can’t afford any more.
I have to sell it.”
My beautiful girl, my darling, what are you selling?
“After we go to The Back Room, I am getting on a train to Philadelphia.”
Bernice, what are you selling?
“I might be happy there, I am not sure.
You cannot come, darling.”
Darling.
“I must go alone.
I will see you tonight.
I love you.”
.
I smell smoke, poignant and familiar. It smells more flagrant than the smell on my Bernice’s hair.
It suffocates me. I feel it choke my cold exterior. I am set on top of a something. I hear music:
trombones and saxophones. It sounds like music from the radio shows my Bernice listens to every
Tuesday afternoon.
And I am dancing again, in the dark.
Red wallpaper covers the walls with a contrasting design. There is a dark wooded chair rail
dividing the wall in half. Tables and chairs are scattered about. I see dark velvet sofas on the other
side of the room. People are everywhere – left and right – when I look in the mirror as I make my
first turn I see a grand chandelier dangling from the ceiling, not reflecting light, but swallowing it
up in the most elegant fashion. People are bustling about, clinking glasses, spilling glasses.
I finally see Bernice.
29
Her hair is ruffled and her dress is crinkled. Dark bags hang beneath her eyes, like a stain on my
beautiful girl. Robert walks up beside her, kissing her on the lips, before handing her a glass.
“You always know what I like,” she whispers into his ear and leans backward.
“It’s because I love you, baby.”
Robert glances at me, hypnotized, before jamming me into the mirror. It is cold. I breathe a
shattered rhythm.
“Robert! You broke her!”
Bernice reaches into my box and pulls out porcelain pieces from my tutu. They are painted white
with blue accents around the edges. I knew what I looked like in the mirror behind me, but I’ve
never seen a part of me so dimensional before.
“I’m sorry,” Robert says.
Bernice looks down.
“Can I pay you to stay?”
Bernice shakes her head and pulls her jewels from my box. She stuffs them in her bag. I notice she
is wearing her favorite pearls. She looks down at the floor and zips up her bag. I turn the corner
and I look at the reflection on the mirror, even though it is hard to see anything in this room.
Bernice takes a step forward and sternly looks at my dance. As I twirl I want to tell her how much
I love her. I want to tell her even though I am broken; I am still the same ballerina I used to be.
I am hers. She looks at me as I round about to meet her face. But I barely catch it.
The darkness floods in again before I hear her beautiful voice one last time.
“Anyone want this…box?”
It is just a box.
“It is broken.”
I am broken.
“And I have no use for it anymore.”
Julia is an artist, designer and doodler in her last semester of her Master of Design. She previously graduated from
New York University with a Bachelor of Arts in Art History with a double minor in Creative Writing and Italian
Studies. Her favorite things are flowers, daydreaming and vanilla cake (in no particular order).
30
31
32
S A T U R A T I O N
D
own the dark page glimmers the city’s ink
Railway tracks of rain across river plains.
Stars watch the shell of weathered clouds retreat
Lamplight drowns even the deep midnight moon.
Floodwater creeps into parks, for a boat
To stand sheepish on few feet past a fence.
Splintered marshes run onto backyard slopes
Roadside blossoms forget and, drifting, sink.
They lay their heads back down and close their eyes
In the late sun off the back of a bus.
Their rooms aglow become orbs of that light
Below their beds staff busy the kitchen.
- H ri shi k e sh S ri n i v as
Hrish is a fifth year undergraduate interested in poetry and physics.
He enjoys both shoegazing and stargazing, so much so that he’s yet to navigate the middle foreground.
33
CAMILLE
By Ale x Rose
“I know how to do it; what no one has ever
done before. I know how to write a perfectly
temporally accurate narrative: no description,
no authorial comments, just pure dialogue.”
“Yes. By the end of the story she should be
sufficiently dramatized, so that you are able to
express your truth.”
“What if someone moves?”
“Of x, y, z, war is bad, true love prevails, art for
art’s sake, whatever you want.”
“Of narrative time?”
“No one will move. All they do is talk. It’s so
literal, so true to life, that there’s no room for
interpretation.”
The wine wavers precariously in his glass.
A description now of Camille. Camille has a
beer – no, a glass of wine. Yes, that suits her
better. And although her name is French, like
Herzog her accent is German.
“It’s not possible to avoid interpretation.”
“Well, let’s say there’s a margin of error – a
confidence interval. If you write pure dialogue,
you can be sure that it will almost always be
interpreted correctly ninety – five percent of
the time.”
“So what is your truth?” Herzog asks, leans
back, and drinks deeply from his glass.
Camille considers the question.
Herzog sighed and dropped his glass of wine
down with a heavy chink on the cheap, sticky
pine of the bar.
“I want to portray time that is true to how we
experience it through the human condition.”
“Who cares about temporality?” He asked
rhetorically. “Nobody. You know what people
care about? Plot, people – feeling!”
He raises an eyebrow.
He gestured wildly with his hands.
“Yes.”
“Just write something interesting,” Herzog
continued, as if Camille were capable of this.
“Use an emotionally manipulative character
– perhaps a pregnant woman. Describe her to
the reader, describe the people she loves and
the people who love her, explore her dark past,
perhaps make her fall in love, and then use her
to express what you believe in.”
“You never think about the future or the past?
You never think ‘what if ’ or ‘I should have’ and
‘why don’t I’?”
“You think we experience time accurately?” He
asks. “Moment by moment?”
“Thinking isn’t living.”
“No?”
“Trees live without thinking.”
He shakes his head and smiles.
“What I believe in?”
“Not as far as you know.”
34
“If you’re willing to base your argument on
that, then you may as well start believing in a
god too, because you can’t prove that either,”
she argues.
fifteen and Camille sits reconsidering the
importance of time, in a few seconds a bomb
will fall. A glass of wine will spill. This is how it
happens and how it will always happen:
“I’ve never said I don’t believe in a god,” he
says, smiling, “if I don’t know something then
I simply don’t know. There can be no belief
beyond that.”
Just beforehand Camille will mishandle her
glass of wine somehow and spill it on her
clothes.
When the bomb lands it will interrupt
Camille’s contemplation of narrative
temporality. It will interrupt, it has interrupted,
it interrupts the temporality of Camille’s own
body. Camille separates – and was always
destined to separate – into many different
pieces, some larger, or more significant than
others.
“You’re a filthy liar,” she claims. He laughs and
pushes her.
Usually on Friday evenings Camille tires of
Herzog and leaves the bar. She might catch a
taxi home or risk the bus, depending on her
state of intoxication. Camille’s temporary
home is forty kilometres away. Three hundred
kilometres away, in her true home, her
family are watching their Friday night film.
Pay attention to these numbers. They are
important.
As diviners of meaning, most people are
adamant that certain parts of certain things
hold more importance than others. People are
under the impression that because something is
recognizable, like Camille’s very human hand,
that it is somehow imbued with abstract ideas.
This is only relatively true. Camille’s left hand
held no more meaning or significance than the
obscure piece of subcutaneous tissue, adipose
and smooth muscle of the intestine that will
become one of the pieces.
Most nights Camille stays up with her cat,
Mistletoe, entertaining her with a piece of
string. Other nights Camille might call her old
lover, who knows which one, and invite them
to take part in the destruction of her body.
In one version of events Camille stays home
and avoids where the alcohol will lead her. In
another Camille sits beside Herzog and regrets
the glass of wine, or beer, or whisky she has
bought. In any case, she only pretends to drink.
At only three – hundred – and – two meters
from the hypocentre Camille is subsequently
vaporized so few microseconds after being
blown apart that it is essentially simultaneous.
She exists as the singular Camille, then the
new pieces of Camille, then the billions of
However, in every version of that night, at
precisely three hundred and two meters away,
as minute hands obliviously tick past eight–
35
left the bar earlier, if only she’d stayed home,
if only she had come home to them, if only.
In one fabricated future, the one in which she
stays at her temporary home that night, she
is at her greatest possible distance from the
hypocentre of the blast: forty kilometres.
individual atoms that reform into radioactive,
black raindrops.
Now I am Camille. I feel as she feels. That is
the funny thing. The transformation of atoms
into heat is so instantaneous, that I feel nothing.
It is faster than the electro-chemical impulse
of my nerves. I die before I experience the
imminence of my own death. Not even a flash
of light reaches my optic nerves.
She is looking out the window at the time. She
has decided not to go out with Herzog after
seeing the two red lines on her HCG test. Her
contact list is open and abandoned on her
phone. She is debating who to call first; her
mother, the doctor, her lover, when she sees a
flash of purple light. She doesn’t remember the
blast.
In death I no longer experience time
as a moment; I experience everything
simultaneously. I am the singular Camille, I
am the multiple separate pieces of Camille,
the atomic Camille, the potential Camille. To
you, depending on where and what you are
temporally, one Camille exists in the present,
another in the past, some in the future, others
in fiction.
She wakes up and finds her skin stuck to the
carpet. She has begun to divide into twenty-eight
pieces of melted flesh. This is not what kills
her. When she stumbles from what was once a
house into what some will describe as the fires
of hell, a radioactive particle of Herzog, united
with other radioactive particles, will descend
upon forty-kilometre-Camille in the form of
black rain. It will change the structure of her
proteins so irreversibly that she dies a few
months on. They will exhibit her miscarried
foetus and the melted tips of her fingers in the
glass case of a museum, preserved indefinitely
in formalin.
In one version of events, Herzog never goes to
the bar. He goes on to direct another relatively
renowned documentary, Camille, in honour of
his late friend. His protagonist, Camille, goes
on to do the usual things - eventually give in
to surrounding pressures of her social group
to get married and have two kids, leading
inevitably to an unsurprisingly messy divorce
and one spoilt grandchild. She finds true love at
the age of seventy-nine with a woman who has
no one else, and dies ten years later, peacefully,
in her sleep.
.
This was the only imagined narrative that
was possible. In all the variant narratives that
Camille’s mother tried to imagine all kinds of
different versions of that night. If only she’d
36
Camille’s mother constructs of that night, all
are true, but all are fictional. She is incorrectly
under the impression that because something
is infinite, it does not have limits. Camille
will never watch the Friday night film with
them. Her older brother knows all the lines.
Even though he’s twenty-three he still sings
the theme song with her as he did when he
was eight. She will never eat the homemade
chicken and leek pie her mother bakes for
her that night. She even kneads the pastry.
Camille has pretended since she was little that
she likes her mother’s cooking. Afterwards
she has to pick bits of grizzle out of her teeth
but doesn’t say anything about it. Her father
ducks out for a cigarette halfway through the
film. He says it’s his last cigarette. Camille’s
mother imagines that in this version of events
it really is his last cigarette. At three-hundred
kilometres the blast does not touch them.
In all of Camille’s infinite futures, forty
kilometres is her limit. Sometimes, on nights
which are not that Friday, she stays with her
family. Sometimes her mother cooks, other
times her father. They watch a film, either one
they’ve seen before or haven’t. But on that
Friday night Camille is, and will always be, in
the bar with Herzog.
She mishandles her glass of wine and spills it
on her clothes.
Alex Rose is currently studying ‘Creative Writing’ and works in the respite ward of a hospital. Her mother recently
read her essay on unreliable narration in ‘Lolita’, a highly contested topic in the study of ‘Narratology’, and told her
that this is not what she wants her to do with her life. This plunged her deep into her third existential crisis of the year.
She has since recovered, thanks to the help of cigarettes, Bob Ross, and her cat, Paul Pawson.
37
I
A golden handshake
The last time our hands met
your grip loosened first.
My mind was pulled into a tunnel
of the first time our fingers touched
of that spark of delight, of curiosity
I N F L E C T I O N
of excitement
of your clean trimmed nails
smelling faintly of soap and antiseptic
and of that smile that you wore
as casually as the grey sweaters that hung from your
angular frame.
I remembered the rough callouses, the wrinkles
and what it felt like when our lines of destiny
started to diverge.
I remember how your hands would gently cradle a
steaming cup of tea
with the softness of cradled a newborn
I wish that the last time our hands had met
in that gentle embrace
that I let go first
only because that memory will linger
when all others have disappeared.
38
II
A windowless pane
Capture us in the light of the dark
When the cold night beckons and the moon shines
With an otherworldly lustre
One night can shine a thousand lights
Yet in the day, our dreams drag on listlessly
Along the pavement of dreams long torn
Under the relentless toil
of that circumspect and wary
way in which we find ourselves
The moon can wax and wane
And the sea can rise and fall
But in those one thousand nights
our thoughts unfurl unbidden
and unwanted
into a tortuous infinity.
So heavily we trod down that untrammelled path
to quench our thirst
On the rippling pool of knowledge
But instead we surrender
to the frothy, torrid currents
Against which we flail
Unheeded
Unburdened
Alone to the very end
39
III
Sea of Laundry
I wish I could find you in my sea of stuff.
I was buried under my furniture, your sheets
and our cutlery
so I
reached for you through the pile of clothes
that draped over your fraying persona.
I wanted to dust away the drudgery
that clung to you like stubborn pieces of lint
And dreamed of ironing the crevices
of us
so that we could fold, neatly, into each other’s lives.
when all others have disappeared.
- O t hi l i a N g u ye n -l e
40
Othilia is a 5th year Commerce/Law student who is prone to spending unnecessarily
long amounts of time choosing between different brands of tomato cans at the local
supermarket. She hopes to one day change the world but in the meantime she will
settle for changing her desktop background.
41
SANS FRONTIÈRES
By Binak Versailles
2071, Sydney, Australis Union.
T
he air had chosen to refrain from its nightly dance across Botany Bay, providing an aural
clarity. The water sat still, a dense, dark carpet supporting a collection of motionless
freighters enjoying a final statuesque slumber beneath the Moon’s gentle rays. By morning
the vessels littering the Bay would venture eastwards towards the Union’s ‘satellite’ territories in Fiji,
Samoa and Tonga, making way for the ships completing the return leg.
From one of the resting ships, Katherine looked out towards Brighton, her eyes met only by
imprecise reflections; masses of black, grey, and a hint of cream that the sand bounced back to
her. Anti-aircraft towers formed a picket fence, watching over the Bay and the Airport, preventing
the Union’s capital from fully exposing its brilliance outwards. She tilted her head side –to –side
for her eyes to catch a pinch of light here and there. A slender young woman with smooth brown
skin and a face yet to be tested by age, Katherine watched quietly as the hidden city flickered
against her dark eyes. She had a wide nose and full lips that sat beneath fine waves of black hair,
threatening to touch her shoulders without ever doing so. Holding her breath, Katherine heard a
faint sub-bass rumble escaping the cluttered streets and huddled concrete blocks of the city.
Hunched to her left, was Linda, a short, stocky dark – haired woman of Chinese heritage. She
had a tight ponytail tied behind her head and her fair face stood out atop her black wet-suit.
Her eyes were black marbles that moved in swift bursts. The way she carried herself mimicked
her talent – precise, efficient, fluid. With Linda was David, just beyond his teen years. His broad
shoulders, sharp blue eyes and big, sharp-edged nose gave him an air of strength and control.
His fingers told another story, trembling as he looked to Linda for guidance - both were fastening
synthetic rubber to their feet, tightening small oxygen packs to their backs.
“Kath, get your fucking gear on,” Linda whispered, but her voice felt harsh in the silence.
“Shit, sorry,” Katherine jumped, before sitting down to get ready “I just didn’t expect the Static
Zone to be so….”
“Stay focused,” Linda retorted quickly. “We’re in the water in two.”
It never got cold enough in Sydney, even in the winter, for the ocean to deter swimmers but fear
took the temperature’s place for Katherine, it chipped away at her muscles, keeping them tense.
She put her diving attire on with a clenched jaw, teeth clawing at one another, kinetic energy
bubbling under her skin. As she pulled on the straps around her ankles, three braided bracelets –
black, yellow and red – danced on her wrist, they caught Katherine’s eye.
She focused on Linda’s key rule: Be silent, be safe. Be silent, be safe. Be silent, be safe, a toneless
repetition, a mental metronome. As this mantra looped, Katherine pictured a soft, round, kind
face, the one she was moulded from. She remembered holding a sweaty, trembling hand. She
replayed the moment she first put her bracelets on, as she caressed that soft, round, kind, but
pained face. She remembered looking at the body that birthed her, missing an arm and a leg. She
thought back to an agony furious enough to incapacitate, to make a mother fail to recognise her
daughter’s face. This sadness travelled with her from home, pouring itself through Katherine,
42
down her spine, within her heart, filling her hands. This sadness gave Katherine no choice, but
gave her purpose.
Linda stood up, shoulders spread; she commanded more space than her body could fill. She
had perfected many roles over the years: whip, enforcer, teacher, leader, spy, humanitarian, thief.
Tonight she filled the role of smuggler, guiding two valuable resources. She looked at the novices
and remembered the countless others she had trained and guided into the capital. Some from
Samoa, whose ancestors had lived there for millennia, historically pillaged by Europeans, now
encompassed within the Australis Union. Some from Tonga, whose parents had been transferred
from prisons in Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch and Wellington to work in component factories
for ‘a wage’: the Australis Union was efficient. The Satellite Citizens’ Organisation was built to
help people like Katherine and David, and their families; people left behind by the state. This help
was not free.
“Listen,” she said, standing still, head turning smoothly from Katherine to David every few
seconds, ‘it’s 01:23; we disembark at 01:25. The Curators change shifts at 2:00, but they come
through Gate 39 at 01:50. That’s 25 minutes. We land at Brighton by 01:35. Gear off, into the
bags. If we don’t land together, look for the laser’ she said, pulling out a crayon-sized black
cylinder from her zipped hip pocket.
“Three blinks,” David reiterated, “right?”
“Yes,” Linda replied. “Stay as low as you can until you reach me, just like we trained. Once we are
together we won’t have long.”
“And if we…” Katherine started.
“There are no contingencies, Katherine,” Linda responded quickly as she climbed onto the edge
of the freighter, preparing for her pin – drop dive, ‘we know they focus on the Airport and the
Port; the convoy will head directly to the Airport. We get to the gate before they enter and we slip
through before they begin to shut it.’
“Alright,” Katherine replied quickly, taking a breath before getting onto the edge of the vessel.
Linda checked her wrist, “it’s time.” She was very still for a moment, to deliver a final message,
“you are both important to us; we need you just as much as you need us. Be silent, stay close, and
we’ll get to the city safely.”
Together, they leapt off the vessel, feet first and bodies tense.
.
Stationed at Brighton Beach, the centre of the Static Zone’s arc, John and Sash had the sleeping
freighters occupying their focal point. Like trees at the edge of a forest, the pair stood anchored
to the eroded footpath overlooking the Bay, a metre above the sand. They both wore a thick,
synthetic-material anorak drenched in a dark, almost black navy; on their right shoulders they each
bore three thin pastel-red strips, sewn into their coats. Beneath each jacket, a marble-white shirt,
buttoned up to the neck. Only their heads moved, occasionally panning from the silent Airport to
the left, the napping vessels directly ahead, and the manufacturing hub at Kurnell to the right.
John had skin as pale as milk. He carried an austere face, his flesh tight against his cheekbones.
Short, sharp black hair, a long, thin nose, sky – blue beads within the eye – sockets and a small
mouth matched his almost spectral physique. Beside him, Sash carried a clear, olive complexion,
a solid, pointed nose and a slightly chubby face that did no justice to the well – oiled machine of
tendon and sinew concealed by her uniform. Her eyes were a vibrant green, always absorbing
43
as she rarely blinked. At five feet and seven inches, she was shorter than John but her stance
communicated leadership. In the quiet, with rifles cradled in their arms, the metal cooling their
fingers, John began.
“Sash,” John turned to his partner, “I don’t know about this…”
“You’re not convinced?” Sash replied, eyes still directed towards the Bay. “The brief is a bit… farfetched, isn’t it?”
Sash, checked her rifle, ‘it’s come straight from the Department.”
“I know, but,” John turned to the beach, “I just don’t see the point.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well,” John explained, “how many have they got operating in the city…40, 50 maybe?”
“About that…”
“So if this intelligence is right – and by the way, I’m not convinced by that either; if you wanted to
smuggle yourself into Sydney, would you go through the Static Zone?”
“Surveillance is largely automated now,” Sash countered, “the Curators are concentrated at the
Airport and Port Botany. If you don’t emit anything picked up by RADAR, it’s effectively a blind
spot. Look around, we’re the only ones here.”
“…in any case, assuming the intel is valid, why not just reinforce the Zone with Curators? Shut
this avenue down and focus on the raids in the city,” John’s wrist bleeped, “it’s 01:30.”
“They’d find another way,” Sash responded, “and we’d get no further than we are.”
“It’s less risky, though” John countered, “it’d slow them down at least.”
“The CEO, Hugo; did you listen to his first speech?” Sash started after a small pause.
John frowned, “yeah, he went on about his time at the Timor Gap.”
“He also talked about the need for us to adopt a longer – term strategy to deal with this,’ Sash
continued, ‘the perpetrators of the raids give us nothing, we’ve caught dozens. The way they
organise their people is too effective: their leaders are insulated. We need someone on our side.”
“Look, these people are thieves, criminals…”
“You’d be too, in their position,” Sash interrupted.
“I wouldn’t,” he replied pointedly. “They’re selfish and dangerous… they’ll disappear in the city.”
“The Department has given us such a specific target, they must have done the work on this,” Sash
saw John’s shoulders relax as she reassured him. “If we execute this correctly, we can get closer
to… think about it, what if we could publicly link the raids to S.C.O?”
“It would be a result.”
“Best result for years. So, relay it back to me again, let’s make sure.”
“Three will be landing at Brighton, right in front of us,” John recounted the briefing paper for the
assignment, “Asian female, Black female (the target), Cauc...”
Sash turned as her eyes caught a glint of red light. She quickly brought her rifle’s scope before her
eyes, looking down at the water, she saw movement.
John did the same. “I see them… can you pick out the target?”
44
“No,” said, Sash walking backwards steadily towards the nearest A – A tower, ‘“tay out of sight.
They have to wait for the gate to open, once the convoy passes through, we execute,” Sash was
now knelt behind a concrete barricade, rifle still focused on the three black figures on the sand.
“OK.”
“Make sure you’re silenced, we can’t disturb the convoy” Sash began whispering. “You’ve got the
target, remember the neck is the most effective area to hit, it’ll drop her quickly.”
.
Katherine crawled out of the water slowly, keeping low. The gear augmenting her suit had made
the swim straight-forward. Calmly, she took a panoramic view of the beach, catching Linda’s laser
to her left; she could just make out the diminutive frame. After removing her flippers and oxygen
mask, she took soft, measured steps towards Linda. The Static Zone was virtually a vacuum and
Katherine was conscious of the crunch her feet made in the sand. David had landed slightly
further afield, he was making his way too. The new recruits were either side of Linda as she
checked her wrist again, showing an analogue clock that read 01:37.
“Stay behind me; single-file,” she spoke softly.
With still heads and bent knees the group made their way up the beach. As they moved, a battered
Grand Parade emerged before them; store fronts were painted over in thick bitumen. Taking
the old Novotel’s place was an A A tower housing only computers and missiles. By its side lay a
hulking door, made from 4 large bullet – proof panels, though when it was shut, as it was when
Katherine looked up at it, it was a flat black wall. Across the gate’s face were two large, dull-white
digits: 39. The group stopped, crouching behind the old store-fronts across from the A – A tower.
“Doing well,” Linda whispered quickly. “Stay calm, mimic me. When the door opens, the convoy
will pass through and turn left, towards the Airport. We move when the door begins to shut
again.”
.
Sash’s scope focused in on the youngsters nodding.
“John, have you clocked her?”
“Yep.”
.
Against the silence, the mechanical roar of the gate filled Katherine’s ears.
It was an elongated, rush of caustic noise, a stinging metallic drone that scythed at Katherine’s
ear – drums.
She felt the rumble in her chest too, as the thick black wall folded up into the roof of Gate 39.
First the top panel dislodged upwards, breaking the flat surface, then the second – top and so on.
It began to create a large rectangular window into the city.
Linda flattened her palm, facing it downwards beside her: a signal to calm David behind her who
was shuffling his feet. Katherine was very still as she stooped behind them. As the door slowly
raised itself, she could only squint as the headlights of two double – decked black armoured
buses shone through. The convoy, with engines growling, was stationary as the gate completed its
sequence. Unmoving, Katherine’s breathing became shorter and shorter as she stared upon the
45
might of the Union Guard. Adrenalin swam through her chest, arms and legs, as she thought of
the hundred-odd Curators housed within the convoy; she felt her heart throbbing through her
throat.
Then, Katherine felt something punch into the right side of her neck. Instantly, her shoulder
twitched upwards trying in vain to protect her head as her face contorted. The projectile sunk
its teeth into her flesh, as the hot tranquilizer fluid darted its way through her blood. While her
peripheral vision faded, her knees buckled, dropping her onto hands and knees. Katherine saw
Linda and David fall into a heap in front of her before she collapsed face- – irst into the weathered
grey footpath.
The convoy set off, disturbing the still air as it made its way along the Bay, dropping off sets of
Curators at key points: The Lighthouse, the Airport, Port Botany. As the noise of engines faded,
and the gate closed its mouth, Sash and John made their way over to the bodies.
“John,” Sash started, “perfect mate. Well done.”
“Now?”
“The bodies,” Sash instructed, pointing to Linda and David, “straight to the morgue at St George.
Don’t talk to anyone, just scan your finger, and get them to the incinerator.”
“OK.”
“The Department has given us special clearance,” Sash continued, “none of this is on the record;
keep that in mind for tomorrow.”
“Yep,” John nodded, “we were both at home.”
“Exactly.”
“Her?” John tilted his head towards Katherine, who was still faced – down.
“There’s a specific address,” Sash explained “somewhere in Marrickville… one of the high –
rises.”
“You sure we have to do this separately?”
“100 percent,” Sash declared, looking at her wrist as she spoke, “this is time sensitive. Call your
car now,” she added as she pulled out a thin black – steel touch – console from her jacket’s inner
pocket.
John did the same, “30 seconds,” he concluded.
“Good.”
Sash moved towards Katherine, kneeling beside her. Grabbing Katherine’s numb limbs, she
fastened pastel – red synthetic cuffs onto her wrist, binding them together.
She did the same to the ankles. John knelt beside the departed, searching their pockets and bags
before preparing the bodies for removal. Sash then faced the gate with her console in hand before
it screeched to life again. The dormant bodies were lit by the ambience of the city.
.
Katherine, still unconscious, sat motionless in a light – brown, sofa – chair. Her arms were rested
along the chair’s arms and her head lay against its backrest. She was placed at one end of a tight,
but long, rectangular room with walls painted a soft, warm cream. To Katherine’s right were three
very wide floor – to – ceiling windows – the streets, twenty – five storeys below, were quiet but the
46
ever – brilliant towers and buildings adorning the skyline made elegant noise with their colours
and shapes. Immediately facing Katherine was an identical chair, just beyond a shallow square
table occupying the space in between.
Sat across from Katherine was a thin man, with tanned skin. His right iris was a bright grey,
almost white. His left iris mirrored the strands of brown hair that were pulled neatly to one side of
his head – his hair was combed so that it imitated a small wave just above his forehead. He wore a
dark, blood – red coat and on his right shoulder, one thin purple line was sewn.
47
He sat still, staring at Katherine, who was breathing slowly. Then, he lifted his hands and clapped.
The sound slapped tightly against the walls.
Katherine jumped where she sat, almost falling out of the seat. Her eyes opened sharply, and, in
the proximity, made immediate eye contact with the man.
Fuck, she thought. Her heart was banging against her throat again, but she sat still.
“Katherine,” the man addressed her, keeping his head still and his eyes fixed on hers, “Katherine
Brown, yes?”
She didn’t blink. She thought back to her pact with S.C.O, the collateral. She stayed still, looked to
the window.
“It’s very thick glass,” the man responded to her gaze, “I wouldn’t try it.” He leant back in his
seat, crossed his legs and slid his fingers between one another, resting his hands on his lap, “I
do understand though, and I don’t blame you. But give me a moment, and you’ll realise it’s not
necessary. I understand that you, your family, you’ve gone through a terrible tragedy; an accident
in one of the Union’s factories.”
As the man talked, Katherine was bombarded not only by the realisation of her precarious
position, but by the physical toll of the tranquiliser. She remembered being shot, seeing Linda
and David. Her jaw tightened, her pores released, trying to cool her down. She thought back to
Linda’s words, at once both a warning and a threat: Be silent. Be safe. She thought of the soft,
kind, warm face. She remembered the S.C.O doctors – volunteers from the core cities – repairing
a broken body, giving comfort. She recalled holding a soft hand, with warm tears falling, and jokes
about being able to retire. This sadness travelled with her always, and gave her strength.
“My name is Hugo Roux,” he continued.
Be silent, be safe.
“I need your help.”
Be silent.
“If you work with me, I will help your mother, get her away from S.C.O.”
Katherine’s lungs paused, for a moment.
“Here, in our hospitals, she can be given her life back,” his eyes stayed locked on Katherine’s,
seeing her mind move.
Stay silent.
“Unfortunately, there is no time,” Hugo sat up straight, planted both his feet flat against the floor.
His right hand slid into the left side of his jacket, and slid back out with a white pistol, pointed at
Katherine’s chest. “I’ll put this simply: if you help me, you help yourself and your family. If you
refuse, your body will be burned before sunrise, and your mother will follow you into heaven.”
Katherine thought of her mother, “I can’t.”
Hugo smiled, and exhaled. It surprised Katherine, because he let his shoulders down slightly, and
lent back into his chair, resting the gun in his lap.
“Where were you meant to go once you made it into the city?’
“I can’t,” Katherine replied softly, her adrenalin was beginning to subside, and she felt the bruising
on her neck just talking, “tell you.”
“You’ll have to get there on your own.”
48
Katherine said nothing.
“Take this,” Hugo threw over a hard, blue rectangular piece of plastic; it was small enough to fit
in the palm of a hand. It had physical buttons with tiny white digits, an even smaller alphabet, and
a miniscule screen the size of a matchbox. “It’s old technology, it uses frequencies that have been
retired, you will receive instructions.”
Katherine studied the object briefly before looking back up at Hugo.
“Just get to your safe house as you were meant to,” he continued, “send the signal that you made
it perfectly.”
“If we don’t all report…”
“I know,” he interrupted. “On the table; the consoles,” he nodded down to the coffee table at two
thin black screens,”they’ve been reprogrammed to respond to your fingerprints.”
“Are they…”
“Yes,” Hugo replied sharply, “they’re beyond your help now.” Seeing her sore, tired face sink,
“you’re of no use to me if you don’t trust me. I said I will help your family, and I will. Get to your
safe house, continue as you were, and make no noise to suggest anything is wrong. In two days, I
will send you proof of your family’s well – being, and then your work will begin.”
Jesus, Katherine felt as though blood was evaporating from her brain. “OK,” she said simply.
“OK,” Hugo concluded. He then raised his gun, aimed for Katherine’s chest and squeezed the
trigger calmly: another tranquiliser dart punched into her, breaking through the skin. In seconds,
she was slumped in her chair again. Getting up smoothly, Hugo collected the old cell – phone, a
charger and the two S.C.O consoles, placing them in a backpack which he fastened to Katherine’s
numb body.
Opposite the city – view was a thin white door. Hugo walked to it, opened it and whispered to
Sash, who had been stood, at – ease, outside, “near a station… Kogarah. Stay close until she
wakes, and then keep your distance.”
“Yes Boss.”
“Also, get John prepared,” with a pointed index, Hugo declared “I need you both in Fiji within the
week. We’ve passed the first hurdle.”
A dreamer, Binak Versailles creates music, prose and other artistic works. As with ‘Sans Frontiers’ these works are
products of self-reflection and aim to communicate feelings of unease and fear, but also love and hope.
49
(UN)
.
You cannot force my mouth into unfamiliar shapes
Nor strip away the cadences of a warm afternoon
Of rice, fish and unalloyed nostalgia
From the music of my words
You cannot shame my “imperfect” use of your enforced tongue
Nor my love of slipping
In and out
Of my father’s mother-tongue
The rhythm of ancient dance and temple rituals
Pulses through me
Unbelieving though I am
I have my home in all worlds
And my roots in none
.
BELONGING
– K a l ya n i
50
Kalyani is a Linguistics student at UNSW and an enthusiastic fan of code – switching.
She likes short stories, blueberry pancakes and dancing by herself in public.
51
2nd
PL ACE
SANDCASTLES ON THE MOON
By William Laksana
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
When I awoke, I found myself curled in the corner, recollecting only a disarranged sequence of
memories, a sliver of broken time, wakeful remnants of some interrupted dream, scuttled like the
crumpled archipelago of coat-jackets and scarves on the floor. Meanwhile, on the wall, the clock,
a semaphore conductor, swept its needlethin – arms across an expressionless face.
As she lay there, her soft breathing was betrayed only by the gentle rise and fall of her vague
outline; what uncertain, silent, stillness hangs in such empty spaces – such are the places we go
when we’re asleep. For a long while, I watched the incandescent glow through gauze curtains
dance on the upturned valleys and creased hollows of the sheets.
An old tree stood outside, turning reluctantly in the low wind as if it were disturbed from some
deep meditation. Sometimes, I would wonder if a tree in winter was any less a tree. Now that its
leaves had long since fallen and withered into muddy pools that gathered on the narrow bends of
streets, when the songbirds had made their way to somewhere in the deep south, only stark and
twisted contortions remained – fingers of spilt ink against a scrawling sky – drawing long shadows
on the frost-painted grass.
I mean, what would you expect if you asked anyone to picture a tree or draw one? It’d definitely
at least have leaves. In a sense, the greenery is a distraction, hiding what’s been underneath the
whole time, a part of something that you know is there but you just can’t put your finger on.
You mean like your nose? You can put your finger on that though.
I was thinking along the lines of repressed memories or –
Or eyebrows?
I suppose that works too. No one notices them by accident.
You could probably write a book about it, she said, no one would read it though.
Not even you?
Well, maybe if I had nothing else to do, I definitely wouldn’t go out of my way to read about
the psychology of trees.
And here I was, thinking that you were an ardent reader.
She took another sip of whisky; the glass leaving a ring of droplets, barely visible in the
52
all-too-often dim lighting of places like these – something to be taken as a given I suppose, like
how the university folk quartet would always play the same sentimental ballads on Mondays,
or the bitter taste of cigarette smoke that swirled about the ceiling.
I’d rather read a book on clouds to be honest.
Clouds?
They’re pretty interesting, I think.
Mm, I suppose.
No two clouds ever look the same, and they never stay in the same place. Keeps things original.
If anything, I’d prefer my weather slightly overcast just to look at flocks of water vapour.
You know, most people look forward to sunny days. I think it’s always refreshing to see clear skies,
simple, things are complicated enough on the ground.
Well, now that is some derivative, blue – sky thinking right there. What’s so interesting about
that? Seriously, you might as well stare at a blue wall all day. I don’t know about you, but if
that’s what most people look forward to, no wonder we’re all so disappointed.
Disappointed?
Expecting a clear day is like wishing that everything goes according to plan and nothing goes
wrong, and there are an infinite number of ways a sunny day can go wrong, if you think about
it.
Surely hoping for miserable weather is just as unhelpful, with that point of view you’re just waiting
for everything to go wrong and fall apart.
But knowing things go wrong and fall apart is the whole point. Happiness is just the difference
between reality and expectation, isn’t it; simple math really: what else can the burdens of a
shitty world minus some high – flying naïve optimism equal to if not crippling regret and
anxiety?
So the point’s to not have expectations then?
No, of course not, having no expectations is just as bad. I mean, if you had no expectations
about anything and I told you to step out in front onto an expressway blindfolded, you wouldn’t
give it a second thought, and I think we can both agree that that wouldn’t end very well –
She paused briefly, and looked straight at me, with a gaze that may as well have been an eighteen –
wheeler hurtling at some speed down an expressway.
I guess the way around it all is to have negative expectations, the worse the better. When you
expect rain and it rains, you’re not going to beat yourself up over it, are you? And when you
expect rain and it’s sunny, you’d be pleasantly surprised, ergo happy.
Well, if being happy comes from being a pleasantly surprised, perennial pessimist, don’t you think
that’s a little delusional?
Yeah, well, maybe happiness is a delusion. It’s a lot like wishing for sandcastles to not be
washed away when morning comes around, or for the world to not end.
Oh boy.
53
It was probably at about four when the lamplights went out. I couldn’t really tell, but I was pretty
sure the walls I’d been staring at were blue. That said, you don’t tend to expect much when you’re
half-awake and barely able to think straight past that hissing noise in your ears when everything’s
quiet, so I suppose it wasn’t that disappointing.
Aside from the laughing echoes of late night – come – early morning revellers, ambling their
way home, voices dissolving into the unwavering dark, the only other sound was the every – now
– and – then groaning of the heater as the gas switched off and on again, like a broken violin
dragged slowly across a brick wall.
I pulled myself out of my corner, like a hermit crab from its stolen shell, across the floor and
hoisted myself onto the chair on the other side of the bed. I stared blankly for a moment, until the
outlined forms of things began to reappear.
On the table, two used train tickets stuck out from a diary, dog-eared tags, with holes crudely
punched, leaving tooth-like chad hanging on their side. An ordered cairn of notebooks and loose
pages scribbled found companions in a single woollen glove, and an errant paperclip that had
strayed far from its deserted post. Beneath an eleventh volume of the Anglo-American, and an
abridged history of Constantinople, lay an old, yellow – spotted paperback that caught my eye.
Its cover was worn, but not tattered, its title barely visible, as though scrubbed off, wishing itself to
be discreet: «The collected works of -----». Thumbing through its tired pages, careful annotations
lined its margins, in small marks I couldn’t entirely decipher nor tell apart from the misaligned
printing of faded letters:
.
A long time ago, when the earth was young, the moon was a lot closer than it is today. It hovered
above the same spot on the ground, day and night, and was so close that if you jumped high
enough, halfway through, you’d begin to fall upwards toward the moon.
Of course, no one called it ‘the moon’ back then; in fact, they didn’t really have a word for the
floating silver orb that hung above them. People used to go back and forth so often that they saw
it as just some other place – that place on the other side of the horizon, a companion locked in a
gravitational embrace - what was the point of giving something so close by a name?
Over time, for reasons no one quite understood, the moon (they had to come up with a name
eventually) began to drift further and further away. Those who wanted to visit had to start using
ladders or to jump from a tall hill.
Eventually, the distance became so great that the townspeople who lived under the moon had to
tie the two sides together with a long rope for the occasional traveller who wanted to cross the sky.
About this time, there lived a weaver in that town below the moon. One day, when the weaver
was outside, her needle, reflecting the sunlight, caught the attention of a passing crow, one whose
wings were so wide that it cast a large shadow whenever it flew overhead.
Thinking that a storm was approaching, the weaver looked up and saw a sweep of black wings as
the crow grabbed the curved needle in its talons.
The weaver chased after the bird as it flew ever higher, pushing gusts of twisting wind with every
flap of its wings, crossing to the other side of the sky. Without a second thought, she ran to the tall
hill outside the town, where the rope was tied to the ground, and began climbing after it.
On the other side, it circled a few times before landing on the shoulder of a figure that sat on a
crater’s edge. Coming closer, the weaver noticed that he wore a silver cloak that seemed to take on
54
a shape you couldn’t quite trace.
He turned as he noticed the weaver, “I’m terribly sorry, is this yours?” holding up the needle to
return it, “my feathered friend can get quite zealous sometimes. You’re from the town, aren’t
you?”
“I am,” the weaver replied, somewhat puzzled, “I’ve never seen you before, are you visiting the
moon? Come to think of it, no one’s come up here in a long time.”
“You could say that, a long-term visit,” he said, “I live in a palace on the other side of that ridge,”
pointing beyond where the sunlight ended.
“A palace? What are you, a prince of the moon?”
“I suppose you could say that.”
“I didn’t know anyone lived up here, or that the moon had a prince.”
The prince laughed – the weaver thought it was an odd, but familiar, sort of laugh, like the sound
of an old drum – as his crow set off again, gliding effortlessly across the crater’s edge, “yes, we’ve
been here a while, a prince and his crow.”
“So, what are you doing?”
“Watching the sea,” he replied, “it’s a nice view, there’s not much of that on the far side where I
live.” His eyes followed the crow’s flight. By now, it was so far off that it was hard to spot it against
the dark of open space.
“What sea?” the weaver asked, “there’s nothing here but dust. Look there, that deep blue water,
that’s a sea.”
The prince laughed, “why that’s just a matter of perspective. You may have water for your seas,
but if you ask me, dust is just as great, you’re missing out.”
Noticing the sun begin to set, the weaver politely backed away, “It’s really been nice talking to
you but I have to go now. You know what, keep the needle and thread, you could use it for fishing.
Staring at the sea all day must be boring.”
“That’s fine, if you ever decide to come visit again, I’ll be right here,” he said, adding, just as the
weaver was about to climb back down, “and I’ll tell you if I’ve caught anything!”
The next week, she visited again; the prince hadn’t caught anything.
“Everything is so small and far away from up here, like the town, even the stars look different.”
“I suppose they must be,” the prince replied, “but I wish I knew what the stars looked like from
down there on earth.”
The weaver wondered how long he had been on the moon, though her curiosity was interrupted
as the prince’s crow returned, kicking up a cloud of silver specks as it landed.
“I never asked, what’s his name?”
“Whose?”
“Your crow.”
The prince paused for a moment, “You know, I’ve never thought about giving him a name.”
“How about Franz?”
“That sounds like a good name.”
55
And so, at the end of every week, they would meet on that crater. For hours, the weaver would tell
him about the town, and the prince about living on the moon, as they watched Franz circling the
crater, disappearing into the far-off mountains among the stars or diving into the clouds below,
always returning with some errant trinket. Every time the weaver had to return, she would invite
the prince to visit, but he would always politely decline, wishing instead to continue watching that
dusty sea.
They would talk about so many things the weaver would always forget about that interrupted
curiosity and the unasked questions she had.
One day, she noticed that the prince was in a particularly sullen mood, “when I was younger,
the earth was so much closer, and every week now, I can sense the distance growing further and
further.”
“How can you know that? It looks just as far away as it’s always been.”
“If you keep visiting me,” he continued, “one day you might not be able to get back home.”
“Then why don’t you come visit me on earth?” the weaver asked.
“I can’t.”
“Why not?”
“Because I lied to you, I’m not a prince of anything,” he said, “I was banished here a long time
ago. So long ago that no one, not even me, remembers why, or when. I don’t even remember my
name.”
He looked out at the earth, to the town under the moon, with a blank, hollow, expression, “you
see, I’ve been here so long that I can’t go back anymore.”
He held out his hand from underneath his cloak, and in the sunlight, the weaver saw that it was
made of the same silvery dust as the moon, “everything up here lasts so long, that it turns into
dust. If I went with you, I’d blow away in the slightest breeze.”
“Then I’ll live up here with you.”
“No. You can’t do that. You belong down there with the townspeople, on your world.”
“I can forget about them. I can forget about the world.”
“If you stay here you’ll turn to dust like me, and forget who you are. You can visit one last time
next week, but after that, promise me you’ll forget about me and never come back,” he said,
before dissolving away into the moon.
No one knew it then but every time someone travelled between the earth and the moon, pushing
themselves onto that rope, their weight pushed the two worlds ever so slightly apart, a difference
that almost no one noticed.
The weaver glanced back at the empty patch of dust before making her way back down. She
was halfway down when the moon started to pull at the tether; the distance had finally grown so
much that the moon began to break free, its weight forcing the strands apart as it slid across the
sky. When the people below saw what was happening, they rushed to the hill and tried to rein in
the runaway moon, grabbing the rope, calling for the weaver to come down. Seeing how far up
she was, she realised that she wouldn’t be able to make it in time. From above, she could hear the
prince call out for her to reach out, as a darting shadow dived towards her. She reached out.
The last strand broke, the weaver slipped, and fell back towards the earth, followed by the prince’s
56
crow, ensnared, tumbling down with broken wings, both plunging into the deep blue water with a
thunderous crash.
It has been a long time since then, but to this day, every night, when the moon crosses overhead,
it pulls intently at the tides as if to find something lost, and from a certain crater, when all is quiet
and the skies are clear, you can hear the silent shifting of dust and see the sun reflecting off an old
fishhook it has kept for as long as it can remember.
.
If I’m the conscious part of me that’s communicating with, what I’m assuming to be, the
conscious part of you, what if there’s some unconscious part of ourselves, deep down, that’s
awake when we’re asleep?
How do you know you’re not dreaming right now? After all – reality is a dream you dream with
other people. Lennon said that, I think.
The communist?
No, the Beatle. Well –
In that case, what would happen if everyone fell asleep.
What do you mean?
If reality’s a dream that everyone remembers they’re in when they wake up, if everyone fell
asleep, who’ll be doing the dreaming then? I mean, the only reason that you forget your dreams
is because you’re no longer in it, right –
So if everyone falls asleep and forgets about reality at the same time, it’ll stop existing?
It’s a working hypothesis. On the upside, they’d at least be able to finally finish writing history:
“and so the world ended and it was all just a dream.”
That’s a pretty unsatisfying and forgettable ending.
Is it though? What’s the point of things that last forever? Maybe the only worthwhile things are
those that end and you eventually forget about.
Just like this whisky.
.
When she left at dawn, I walked to the top of the tall hill from which the old town’s dreaming
spires lay sprawled. On the far shore, the grazing December sun pierced the harbour mist, tracing
phantom outlines of silent warehouses, and the scudding smoke of red – grey trawlers returning
from the sea. I drew my coat closer, and retreated within, as if to occupy a hole in the morning air,
upon which, in tremulous white, a faint moon hung expectantly.
We sat there for a while, the moon and I, without a word, ]watching the pebbles of ice as they
melted, listening as the quartet played on.
Will is in his fifth year of a Commerce/Law degree. Aside from taking pictures of pigeons when travelling and trying
to read Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting out loud, he continues to pursue completely ordinary interests.
57
W E ST.
shining sapphire/ blue azure/ waterfall backdrop/
for the enamel boat
on the shimmering silver stream/ across the
galaxies
and a sweet olive/ reaching towards the heavens/
firmly rooted
in eternity/ the home to a warren of cotton-tails
and a little girl in pigtails
copper coins/ seafoam green/ garden backdrop/
for the compass
on the ivory vessel/ across the distance to tomorrow
where the dawn star/ points towards forever/
firmly grounded
in the firmaments/ the home to rainbow beacons
and your personal Beatrice
in the space/ between here/ and now
the boat floats/ oarless
in the pause/ between inhale/ and exhale
the boat flows/ without sails
and bleeds into the evening
my dear/ when you left/ I looked west
-Z i Yi n g S u
Zi Ying is in her fifth year of medicine and has nearly perfected the art of falling
asleep on her feet and with her eyes open.
58
West is an open interpretation of a Korean children’s song that is very popular in
Chinese households. Commonly known as The Little White Boat. With its many
different versions, the poet has chosen the one by Xiao Bai Chuan.
59
SO IT GOES
By Jumaana Abdu
TW: Depicts domestic violence and sexual assault.
W
Myself, well, I go from the window to the
lounge. Sit. Pat down my skirt. And my hair.
Still eight hours until my late shift. I check my
watch, which, as always, seems to tick with
lethargy, with the pace of my patients in the
surgical ward when they wrench themselves
from bed so that I might shower them. Still
eight hours.
hat time is it? One should always
have a clear answer to this before
endeavouring to write anything of
note. To clarify, I don’t mean the precise time,
I mean the general time. I have a wristwatch to
tell me the exact time. It’s 9:44pm as I write this.
I already know my first line: ‘It’s the same old
greeting’. And it will probably be many, many
hours and days later when I write the last line,
which will be this: ‘So it goes’.
But what I need to know before I fill in the
middle is what time it is. Perhaps the better
question is; what are the times?
It occurs to me that the living room could
do with some rearranging. I start with the
bookshelf. Colour order. As I am putting
together the shelf of yellows and oranges,
I come across a vintage edition of The Great
Gatsby. A long-time favourite of mine. The
spine is wrinkled as I remember it, dog – eared
and bound in fading yellow-gold material.
I come up blank. Just blank. So my answer is
technically The Age of Nothing At All, Really.
I hate that answer. Better times are coming,
they say. I believe them, and I want the ‘better
times’. God, do I want them. It’s just… better
than what?
After admiring its dusted hardcover I sink
to the ground, back against the shelf, and
open to the first page. I see where I left a
note for myself in pencil beside the first line:
‘Pretentious, much?’ I breathe a short laugh.
I wonder if you, the readers, might similarly
annotate on this story… If so, be kind.
.
“So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I sit and read for a long while it seems, for
when I next check my watch it tells me an hour
has passed. I would continue reading but the
dishwasher in the other room has burst into a
bout of urgent beeping, like a morning alarm
interrupting an intriguing dream.
I return the book to its shelf and attend to the
machine. What does it have to be upset about?
Not terrorism, the impending environmental
apocalypse or, worse yet, ex-husbands.
It’s the same old greeting. The children rush
to kiss him. He stoops down and gives them
a smile which I know is out of guilt. Then he
turns to our eldest, gives her a one – sided hug
and a one sided ‘I love you’ and then there’s
a mutual breath of relief as the two part ways
and enter the car on opposite sides.
And then the lot of them are gone. It’s my
weekend with myself. I can’t remember the
last weekend we had with each other. But then
again my memory is a bit fuzzy around all
those ‘lasts’.
Where usually there is a green light, the small
LED above the dishwasher’s power button
60
and men and women all dressed in faded silks
of gold and yellow, bouncing to the roaring
tune. All of it engulfs me in a sort of breathless
swoop.
flashes red. Not a mechanic, I begin unpacking
it, resolving to wash the load by hand.
My mind wanders, as it does. Soon enough
the cleaning motion becomes subconscious.
The only sound is that of glasses clinking in
the sink, a sound that inexplicably reminds me
of dinner parties that bubble and sparkle like
champagne. Huh. When’s the last time I had
one of those? Divorce, second to the plague, is
the most efficient repellent of company for fear
of contagion it would seem.
Yes! Yes, I see it! I am with them. I am
with them, glowing with the joys of endless
company. I am dancing and mingling, laughing
with the people who have everything in the
world and chat about nothing at all.
But then, compelled by some pervasive force
determined to bar me from all satisfaction,
I find myself wandering from the crowd. The
chatter of beautiful women and the bubbling
of casual affection fades to a murmur, as
distant as the winking stars in the night sky I
now find myself walking beneath. My feet lead
me further and further from the party, towards
a glittering bay upon which the host’s mansion
stands. I walk out onto the jetty, and look across
the water. It shines like the world’s largest
inkwell under the illumination of the muffled
festivities behind me. Across the bay, glowing
with a light that pulsates ever so tantalisingly,
like a treat that swings to and fro, sometimes
towards you but never close enough to grasp,
is a single green light, minute and far away.
Mesmerised, I stretch my hands out towards it
as though if I could only reach that light –
There was music from my neighbour’s house
through the summer nights.
No music from my house.
Screw that. I turn on the radio as I wash the
dishes. Slow, teasing jazz music creeps with a
sultry step through the kitchen, the symphony
of an orchestra wafting through the air like a
young couple in an intimate swaying sort of
dance.
In his blue gardens men and girls came and
went like moths among the whisperings and the
champagne and the stars.
Yes… Slowly the music picks up tempo,
hopping and stepping, a wonderfully
mischievous tune reminiscent of women
sporting French bobs and pearl necklaces and
rag-time attire. The clinking of mugs as I rinse
them becomes the clinking of champagne
glasses and silver cutlery against fancy crockery.
I could be inside, drowning my sorrows in the
overflowing laughter of rich men. Instead I
am out here, alone, wishing. Fruitlessly and
masochistically but wishing all the same.
Gatsby appears beside me, glowing a pale gold
under the stars.
Yes. The music livens until it breaks through
the very walls of the kitchen and surrounds
me, bringing with it a mansion’s splendours
61
…he stretched out his arms towards the dark
water in a curious way, and, far as I was from
him, I could have sworn he was trembling.
I know the trembling of that hand. He turns
to me and, despairing, explains, “it’s all for
her, you know.” He gestures to the green
light across the bay but I know intuitively the
woman to whom he is referring. She is his goal,
as real and definable as that very light towards
which he reaches. Then he asks, “What is it
you want then, old sport?”
I open my mouth to reply, but find myself
dumb.
What is it I want?
Suddenly the green light flashes and beeps.
I frown, disoriented. It is the dishwasher. It has
fixed itself. Well then.
I check my watch. Just under seven hours to go
until my shift. I clear my throat and migrate
back to the living room, inspecting it before my
gaze settles on a faux marble bust in the room’s
corner. It doesn’t really need polishing. I do it
anyway. It’s of some anonymous gentleman.
I’ve always fancied that it rather resembles my
ex-husband – same expression, or lack thereof.
Same stony eyes. Cold, perfect.
He was quite perfect. Thinking of it makes
me wish I’d tried harder to – well, it’s too late.
But he’d been a fantastic cook and wonderful
at sketching, though he hardly ever practised
either hobby. What he’d preferred was driving.
Anywhere really, so long as it was away.
I’m going for a drive.
62
He’d go. I’d wait up – for a phone call saying
he’d fallen asleep at the wheel.
first dates. He was older, quieter, serious at
times – I liked that.
But he was perfect. Sure, we fought. Who
doesn’t? He was always so calm though, an ice
barge, a hulking hollow vessel traversing the
arctic. I was the screaming steam train.
I do remember one afternoon on our
honeymoon, I kept beating him at chess. I’d
never played before, he was infuriated. It was
hilarious though, the look on his face each
time I won; he couldn’t help but see it too and
somehow we ended up in a fit of laughter. He
laughed so hard the soda he was sipping came
out of his nose, I’d never seen him so animated.
After that, chess was abandoned for the day
and we fell into each other, drowsy with love
and laughter, lazing dreamily on the hotel bed.
Sure, he lost his temper once or twice. Who
doesn’t? I did. And sure, he made a few idle
threats; it’s wrong I know, trust me I know, but
it was always so quietly. He never yelled, never
involved the children, never woke them. Let’s
take this conversation into the garage; I don’t
want to upset the kids. That’s what he’d say. I
don’t want them to hear.
What changed? Having children? His father?
The depression? It seems obvious to say yes…
but none of it feels insurmountable. I could’ve
done something, been more patient or God I
don’t know. I could have just put up with it.
Oh but once I do recall him waking our eldest
over some ordeal with a knife. Or was it me
who’d woken her by calling out for help?
Those moments aren’t my clearest. I remember
though it was only a kitchen knife, an ordinary
utensil. And he put it right back – once our
daughter called out. Is everything alright? Yes
go back to sleep. And he put it right back.
Although he did break my nose once. I had
been going off about something or another and
he just- But I apologised the next day and he
forgave me, so all was good.
Except… why did I apologise? It must have
been the confused state of things at the time.
I’m better now though I’m glad to report. Yes
better now – now that he’s gone.
Only idle threats. He wasn’t a violent man
although towards the end I’m sure I tempted
him; I wasn’t myself. It’s true. I pushed him too
far, I should’ve just- What happened?! God, I
remember the early years, like flashes, warmly
– lit and silent. Smiling memories. I remember
when we met – I threw a pillow at him and
he caught it and smiled softly at me, curious.
I keep picturing that smile. Why did I visit his
family that day? Why the pillow fight? It’s a
blur; a blur amidst which there are memories
of a surprise birthday party, laughing to tears at
sit-coms, family barbeques, city night – walks,
And now I remember actually that my nose
hurt. That it bled. And when I forget like I
almost did presently and like I sometimes
do when I’m feeling sentimental enough to
remember a more forgivable past, I always
have the slight crookedness of my once shapely
nose as a perfect reminder.
“Why don’t you remarry?” is the favourite
63
…the charity group has been working towards
helping –
question. I tell them, why, the answer is as clear
as the nose on my face. The hilarity of my pun
is always lost on the receiver but it amuses me
to no end.
Next.
…warning mothers in South America of Zika
virus symptoms –
But oh the past is wonderful that way – you
can remember it any way you want and who’s
to say you’re wrong? If only everyone could
live in the past they remember. I don’t mean to
say you can’t repeat the past.Can’t repeat the
past? Why, of course you can! The trick is to
just repeat it without all the parts you don’t like.
Practice makes perfect. Then again though,
I remember perfect. My perfect, statuesque
husband.
I leave it on. Bad news crackles through the
speakers. The next story is about sport so I
switch channels a final time. A pining and
remorseful, bluesy tune plays through the car,
going:
Something’s got to shape us.
Boredom’s going to shape us.
Something’s got to shake us!
Still…
How can they save you,
I check my watch. I’ve been polishing this
statue for precisely zero seconds longer than
when I checked my watch five minutes ago
apparently.
If they can’t help themselves?*
It’s a fair question. But how can we help
ourselves if we don’t know what shapes us?
What if nothing shapes us? But we already
discussed this at the beginning of the story
and it’s not wise to let your narrative become
repetitive.
The watch has stopped.
The symbolism in it is thinly veiled but
inanimate objects pay no mind to literary
subtlety, I’ve noticed. And so it’s stopped,
quite decidedly. How appropriate.
I check my watch. Thirty minutes until my
shift. I’d say time flies, but that’s not strictly
true. Time does exactly what you don’t want
it to. It alternates between flying, crawling and
standing still all with the sole purpose of being
un-cooperative. It’s to be expected; Father
Time is male after all.
.
“It eluded us then, but that’s no matter –
tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms
out farther … And one fine morning –”
This is 99.3 and you’re with Will and
Debbo! We’ve got some great news –
I arrive at the hospital, make my way to the
surgical ward and take over Nurse Tanner’s
shift with rehearsed efficiency. I am assigned
a shared room – a young woman recovering
Next.
64
me. For now, anyway.” He lets this sink in but
I am not sure what to say. To be honest, I’d
rather not be having this conversation.
from an unsuccessful tumour removal, the
unconscious sole survivor of a car crash,
a woman who just had her stomach pumped of
sleeping pills and an old man recovering from
bypass surgery. I question Nurse Tanner, before
she leaves, about the presence of the old man.
We’ve run out of spots in the men’s rooms
apparently. It’s better than no public healthcare
system at all, I suppose.
“That’s a shame.”
“Who knows why,” he continues. I don’t say
anything. He is very old. “I was a little harsh
but fathers are. They’ll understand.”
My hand goes absentmindedly to my ever so
slightly crooked nose. It nags with phantom
pain, like a warning. I know who this man is.
He is my ex – husband, he is Tom Buchanan.
I know him.
I make the rounds, fixing blankets, replacing
IVs, changing bandages and catheters; the
usual. I get lost in it. I don’t want names or
stories. That’s not my job. My job is to take the
old man to the shower, to stop the sleeping-pill
lady from smoking in the bathroom, to check
if the car-crash woman has woken up or if she
ever will and to keep a steady flow of tissues for
the crying tumour woman. If I let myself care
about every single tragedy of a human being
that came through here it’d kill me.
I swallow hard and turn to leave. Before I can
go, the old man asks me to turn on his side
lamp. Rigidly, I comply. Dim yellow light spills
into his little corner, illuminating a worn, tired
face. Is he crying? If he is, he doesn’t appear to
notice.
“They’ll come around,” he tells me. He says
it as though he has years left to wait. Judging
by the number of tubes running into him, he
doesn’t.
The old man, however, insists on peppering me
with unwanted questions; how long have
I worked here? Am I sure that’s the right dose?
Am I really? Yes, I’m sure and I find some
excuse to leave.
He is Tom and my husband but he is also
Gatsby, laid to rest at an almost empty funeral.
This is that hopeful man who unfailingly
believes in that oh so real tomorrow where at
long last we are satisfied.
Soon, everyone sleeps but the old man and
the young tumour woman who weeps quietly
in the back corner. I am about to check if the
storeroom needs tidying when the old man calls
to me across the unlit hospital room.
So do I. And I am Gatsby too, with my empty
house once full of all the carelessly festive, fairweather friends too eager to forget me.
I am Gatsby all alone in the end, with only my
soured dreams and the hope that tomorrow
will be better. I am Gatsby with my naïve
disappointment when tomorrow comes and
“Don’t you have kids to look after?” He sounds
unwillingly accusatory, unsure how to be polite.
I tell him my children are with their father.
“He’s lucky,” he tells me. “My kids won’t see
65
for something unattainable. But (obsessiveness,
insatiable ambition and criminality aside)
wasn’t that what made him ‘great’?
I am still all alone, and even my husband’s
family, after almost twenty years of friendly
affectations and seemingly willing visitations,
has still not sent a phone call nor a kind word.
His unparalleled propensity for hopeless hope?
They were careless people…they smashed up
things and creatures and then retreated into
their money or their vast carelessness.
Perhaps we are not the Age of Nothing. I think
the closest we can get to defining ourselves
is The Age of Some More Regular People.
Because, I suppose, the one thing that connects
us all, every single one of us – me, you, my ex–
husband, Gatsby, the Buchanans and the girl
with the stubborn tumour – is that we are stuck
with our lives and our petty, yet consuming,
problems. We are stuck with them as much as
characters in a story are trapped eternally by
authorial decree. We are stuck with them and
we hope, rather ambiguously, for them to get
better. And then we join Gatsby in the bottom
of our pools, or in the ground.
That’s not me. I am not careless. Try as I
might, I can’t be. I am Gatsby, who cared until
it killed him.
So I take a seat beside that pitiful, unlikeable
old man and offer silent company into the late
hours of the night. We are all alone, but we are
all alone together.
He says nothing except, “That’s a nice watch.”
“It was a gift,” I tell him, barely there. “My
husband picked it.”
It’s not sad though. I always thought the end of
the novel was sad because all of Gatsby’s great
ambitions came to nothing. They didn’t though
because in the end he and Daisy would end
up together in a way that’s as certain as taxes,
so they say. In the end we all end up together.
That’s just life, fictional or not. So it goes.
It ticks on with steady certainty – all night long
into an endless tomorrow.
.
If this were the perfect ending, I’d have a
more satisfying resolution. The old man
would coincidentally have the exact words of
wisdom needed at this point in my life as all old
characters in stories should do. But this is not
the perfect ending because it is real. I’m telling
you the truth, mostly.
Reference
*Corby, Matt. “Empires Attraction.”
Telluric. Atlantic Records. 2016.
The only satisfaction I can offer is hope. For
what? I’m not sure. Gatsby hoped. Yes, perhaps
Jumaana is an 1st year Med student whose dreams are made of hot chocolate, world peace and good books/
TV. Dislikes fake pockets and when conversations don’t go how she planned them. She recently discovered that
obscure pop culture references are sadly not cool, cool cool cool. Also she would gladly break all 6 of her piggy
banks to buy Jamie Oliver’s veggie garden.
66
67
A LIT TLE, YELLOW FLOWER
By Ashton Wisk en
One day I spied a yellow flower
Unhappy day! Tolling the death-knell
Humble pretty as I was dour;
Of the love of my love; our union
With its petals bright as bliss
To bile and coda fell
Light as the sweetness of a kiss.
And betwixt us now – a canyon
It stole from me a smile,
Vast with depths, perilous sudden,
Of a half lopsided style,
Drowned in a sea of shadow
And yet… I left that little flower,
Beneath the looming of heartache hidden,
In the soil beneath the shower,
The quiet of hearts lain fallow.
Soaked that dreary morning hour.
That flower, a flower, and nothing more
It was a speck beneath the sky:
At least by the telling of the guise it wore,
Workaday moment hazily there
And upon my sad return I spied,
Or lonesome colourful passer-by
The little, yellow flower had died
Beside the turgid thoroughfare.
So it seemed now a secret sign
Besieged by ruin and hours
A lesson of arcane design,
That turn machines of life,
Whose teaching was all Greek to me,
Churning ‘cross such things as flowers,
Greek for all I could foresee
Leaving them crushed by strife.
Within the shadow of the sea.
68
Wrath cast the flower to the waves,
Now I keep that flower gently pressed,
To stray in spaces where dragons were.
In fondly dog-eared pages,
Now: chained by sense in mythic graves,
Of that tome named memory, dressed
And sealed with a cynical slur,
In vestments of forgotten ages;
Amidst eroding hidden places
To tell of the tale and the teaching
Where magic blooms beyond the borders
After the ebbing of the deep
Of the mind’s few cogent graces –
And the moaning and the screeching
Burning through their pained disorders.
Had slunk away to sleep.
The land was parched for lack of tears,
Beside the sea of roiling fears,
And I spent my life in dirt and dust
Keeping faith with my mistrust.
But when ire faded to regret
O’er a solemn sea, I cast a wizened net.
I trawled the depths of fear and wonder,
Amidst stirring rain and artful thunder,
And I retrieved a humble plunder.
Ashton is undertaking a Bachelor of Psychological Science, with a second major in philosophy. He didn’t want to
write this, but he was told that he’d have to, so, if you really have to know, he enjoys knitting. There; happy?
69
BRIDGE
By Mar nie Cooper
The number on the cake was eaten first. If not,
Your mum will never meet this kid,
You’d remember how old you turned.
or his sister
A grandchild picks at the icing,
who loves drawing frogs and lizards. Having
loved time travel books your whole life, you
imagine sliding through it,
A sticky sodden smile.
You hold
grabbing your mother by the back of the shirt
and dragging her back to meet the baby.
Your hands out in the lamplight against the
chatter of the living room.
She’d call him ‘possum’ and always be kind.
You like your old hands better than when they
were young.
And you feel like a bridge again. Not across
worlds but through time. Again, a warm zephyr
rises through your ribs, into your throat.
The baby thinks you’re holding your hands out
for a hug and holds his out, too.
They’ll never meet; it’s cruel.
You pick him up.
Neck,
You wonder what kind of people are on the
other side of this kid. When he’s the old one
and you’re the dead one.
His sticky sodden smile.
This little bridge.
He’s just worked out that he has feet, and
hands,
You wonder who he’ll grow up to wish you
could meet. Patterns and echoes, you suppose.
And a face
He puts his foot into his mouth and chews it.
One of his cousins approaches. She looks a lot
like your sister.
Tickle his feet,
And likes them all.
As a kid these family things were boring.
You wish your grandma had met this kid.
Younger, you travelled and collected friends
who would never meet each other.
They’ll never meet, but already speak a subtle,
atomic language of their own.
Her body remembers your sister well enough
to grow
Like a bridge
A nose
Between
And smile
Two banks.
70
Just like hers.
you’ve been speaking for a long time and it will
never stop.
Never will you remember your sister so
completely.
You pet the baby and look into his eyes to work
out who’s hiding on the other side.
It’s like they’re talking in secret across time
and you’re the one who’s now left out of the
conversation.
He gives nothing away.
Clever baby.
You’re a bridge. They’re the river.
Small talk has always been dull, but there’s
another kind of dialogue,
Marnie is a love-lover. rule-hater. trying to become one with the storytelling animal.
71
3rd
PL ACE
SALMON
By Jules Phan
TW: Depicts suicide.
S
almon spend all their life under the ocean
just to swim their way upwards to the
streams where they were born. There,
they spawn and die.
sticky layer of water on my skin since I left the
airport,” I admitted.
The terminal was flooded with people.
My luggage decided to have its first major
breakdown: a swift ‘crack’ at the gripping
handle was a telltale sign that I would have
to discard it soon. The arrivals were already
moving seamlessly through the check – in gate,
like a school of fish wading their way through
a river stream. I stood still, unnerved by the
constant flow of people moving forwards as if
following the same rhythm. A slight chill went
down my spine as the scenery hit me. How
long had it had been since I’d left?
I muttered some filler words, gazing at the
scenery outside the stained car window. Clots
of grey clouds were hovering dangerously at
the edge of the horizon. Motorbikes and cars
deftly sped past each other, blasting out their
horns, swear words, and smoke – this was the
Vietnam I remembered.
“You came back from a country with a dry
climate then. It’s alright, you’ll get used to it,”
the driver said, his voice riddled with sympathy.
A sudden swerve of the taxi followed by a loud
“skirrt” of rubber wheels dragging on the road
pulled me out of my thoughts.
“Fucktard! Watch where you’re going!” the
driver shouted, face heated with anger.
Just a few more steps.
Something intangible coiled inside my
stomach. I swallowed, trying to get rid of the
jumpy feeling and the sour taste at the base of
my throat – it was like rotten milk. I pressed
myself deeper inside the passenger seat,
recoiling from his anger, recoiling from the
sudden guilt that flashed my mind.
The airport glass door opened without
warning, revealing brilliant sunlight,
temporarily blinding me. As I walked out of
the airport, I took a last glance at the familiar
sight of the automated door. It gave me a sense
of relief: all airport doors, no matter where
they are, all looked the same. I took a deep
breath then made my way out of the crowd.
Hailing a cab, I told the driver my destination.
It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.
The edge of my seat was a bit damp – the last
customer probably had rested their umbrella
there. The layer of water on my skin was half
dry since I got on the cab – work of the air
conditioner. I closed my eyes. The remnants
of what I’ve just seen became briefly ingrained
in my consciousness, an overflow of images,
sounds, and sensations.
“Could you please let me off at 107 Nguyen
Thi Minh Khai? Just at the crossroads would
be fine.”
“You’re not from this area, are you?” the driver
ventured, briefly glancing at the rear view
mirror.
“No, I’m not. How do you know?”
With no precautions, they all disappeared from
my mind, leaving a silence loud enough to echo
off the walls of the empty, hollowed space.
“Your accent…it seems a bit off. How d’you
find the weather here? You like it?”
“To be frank, I feel like there has been a
72
The scene was tumultuous enough to scare
away a tourist visiting the country. Fortunately,
I knew the place well enough. Taking
fast strides and avoiding eye contact from
merchants on both sides of the road, I hurried
to the raw food section.
The taxi stopped abruptly before a three –
storey house, not spacey but enough for a
small family to make do. I paid the driver,
then dragged the old suitcase to the front
gate, twisted the key into the padlock, and
opened it. I hadn’t used the key for quite a long
time. Inside, the house was surprisingly neat.
Everything – tables, cupboards, chairs, the
old-fashioned TV – though outdated, was all
in their place. I put my suitcase in the nearest
bedroom, discovering that it had no window.
It felt like I had violated a sacred place, where
time hadn’t been able to reach. The electricity
and water seemed to work fine, though the
toilet needed some tinkering. I went into the
kitchen, found some dehydrated soup, poured
some boiled water over it, and devoured it
quickly. It had been a long day.
“Could I get a piece of the white cod fillet over
there, please?” I said.
“Sure thing darling. Anything else?” the seller,
a tiny woman, shouted her question to reach
me.
“No thanks,” I answered, the tips of my mouth
mechanically curled up into a smile.
Paying for the fish, I replayed all of the items
in the mental to-buy list in my head. All good;
I still have time. The picture popped up inside
my mind, like clockwork. I passed aisles after
aisles, on the hunt for the things I needed.
That night, sleeping on a rather unfamiliar bed
– one I hadn’t used in years – I had a dream. It
was about a large school of salmon, swimming
in circles, head bumping into each other. They
were performing some kind of ritual, to find
the strongest salmon left in the bunch. In the
end, there was only one left: the strongest
salmon, waddling in victory, arose from depths
of crimson. I gave out a gasp as I woke up,
sweat emancipating from my back, neck and
armpits – like a sizzled champagne bottle
unloaded by a single twist of a corkscrew.
The house was still there when I returned,
windows opened invitingly as I’d forgotten to
shut them in the morning. I plopped on the
couch, all of the things I’d bought scattered
on the floor, worn out by the exertion from the
sudden adrenaline rush.
.
Early morning, I was ready. Taking the time
to brush my teeth and comb my hair, I made
myself a decent breakfast out of the leftover
soup, a can of tuna, and cooked rice. Getting
the keys and cash, I headed out to Tan Dinh,
a market nearby.
The market was just the way I remembered:
people hustling to – and – fro, making bargains
in blatant voices, then uttering in disbelief
when the sellers insisted on keeping the
original prices. Merchants tried to holler over
each other’s voice in order to attract the most
customers, offering goods in a tone that could
almost resemble the taste of saccharine.
73
After the fish was cooked, I set the table in the
warm light of the late afternoon. Rummaging
through my groceries bag, I took out two slices
of bread, toasted them, and smeared them
generously with butter, covering the entire slice.
I slowly ate my late lunch whilst rereading my
journal. The latest entry only consisted of a
short paragraph about salmon, the very species
that appeared in my dream the other night.
After waking up from that unexpected, bloody
dream, I resolved not to sleep again – but did
some research online instead.
It had been a while since I actually felt
anything good. The excitement was visible
in my veins – my cheeks were flushed, eyes
wide opened – but drained as soon as I left the
market. The living room was empty and dark –
I didn’t bother turning on the light.
In a split second, fatigue took over my body like
a carnivorous beast swallowing its prey whole.
.
I was sitting in a glass box. The box was
transparent, but its weight felt concrete.
Everyone else could see me and I could see
them. The box was sealed. People would be
able to talk to me and I to them, and I could
see the world outside – what was happening –
but no one could come inside the box and sit
with me.
.
Salmon are by far the most interesting creature
that dies after their birthing process, also
referred to as spawning, is complete. Every
year, salmon return to the spot where they are
born to lay and to fertilize their own eggs.
After making a journey of as many as 2,000
miles, the male salmon may spawn with
several females if they are strong but females
usually just spawn with one male. After
spawning the salmon die.
I thought about breaking out of it, but there
was no way. I pictured myself out of the box,
looking at myself trapped inside pitifully like
a caged animal. I thought about holding my
breath, which would ultimately free myself
from the box. But I ended up doing nothing.
.
.
I finished my meal, cleaned the table, poured
the remaining sauce over the drain and washed
the dishes. I spared the wine glass, thinking I
would use it later. It was already evening. The
sun was hastily dipping down beneath the
skyline, illuminating it with a weak light, stark
yellow against the approaching darkness. There
was no time to waste.
The tip of the felt couch’s armrest softly gazed
my elbow as I struggled to get up. Hunger
washed over me like a wave all at once, having
slept for what seemed like a century. Stumbling
to pick up all my recent purchases, I headed
to the kitchen to make some food – despite my
growling stomach; I wanted to have a proper
meal. I marinated the white cod fillet with
cooking white wine, shallots and a squeeze
of lemon juice, while heating a large skillet
over medium – high heat. Slicing up the rest
of the lemon, I placed them in the skillet and
arranged the cod fillet neatly in the pan.
I sprinkled parsley and thyme onto the
fillet, and let it simmer as I poured myself a
glass of the more expensive white wine – a
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Chuckling
quietly, I gave myself a silent toast. Everything
was falling into place.
I took out the charcoal grill I’d bought this
morning at the market and brought it inside
the bedroom. Its black exterior glistened in
the white ceiling light, cold yet irresistibly
appealing. The charcoals were brought inside
next – I had bought more than I needed, just
in case. I twisted open the vents at the base of
the grill in a brisk motion. Like a skilled builder
doing his usual work, I placed the charcoal
briquettes in a pyramid at the bottom, slowly
piling it up into a non-identifiable shape.
74
Then, I slowly added the lighter fluid, covering
the pitch – black pile in a slightly shiny gloss.
My mouth curled into a smile as I finished
setting it up. The charcoals should be more
than enough.
He sat down on the bed and we kissed,
systematically, a necessary start for the ritual.
My hand went up and down, wrapping his rock
hard penis, as the song pierced through my
head like a chance.
I went back to the kitchen, poured myself three
more glasses of wine, and knocked them down
quickly. The slightly burning aftertaste lingered
at the base of my throat, then dissipated. I
took out my phone, which I’d set up inside the
airport, and texted a number.
I want you to sit me down
Let it go, just wasting come
I was listening to the crooked sound
Of a life that was way too loud
Everything became hazier after that. Between
each of the man’s sharp thrusts, I could feel
the carbon monoxide entering my viscerals,
the wine exaggerating it. The ceiling light was
spinning, and my head felt light. I saw spots
dancing at the edge of the bed, on his hair,
but we didn’t stop. My breath was caught in
my throat. Nausea rolled through me as we
continued the contracted ritual. Back and forth
– just like the words of the song – they were
all jumbled up now, all somewhere inside the
increasing banging in my mind.
Could you be here in 30 minutes? I sent.
Yes. Have the remaining cash ready, it replied.
I went inside the bedroom, closed the door,
took out a lighter and lit up the charcoal in the
grill. In a few minutes, they should be covered
in ash and glow red.
With nothing left to do but wait for the man
to come, I sat down on the corner of the bed
and played music on my phone – shuffle mode.
The slow, deep, haunting piano keys came
up, the tempo jagged, quietly transforming
the ambience in the room. I lay down on the
bed, feeling bare all of a sudden. Clemens
Rehbeins’ raspy voice filled the air with
floating, unanswered questions.
My brain was screaming for fresh air – the
pain in my chest transformed into quick, deep
punches in my ribs as the man continued to
rock his body inside me. My eyes blurred as
the image of him climaxing melted away. He
took the oxygen mask, the money, went out,
and closed the door behind him. The ritual is
Have you ever seen, how far it is
complete. I may die in peace.
To the place where we oughta dream
.
Can you better hear the storming folks
Whispering in fear, roars the most
“Mom, dad, look at all the lights! They’re so
bright!”
There was a knock on the door. The handle
turned sharply and the door opened; the man
had arrived.
“Darling, slow down. It’s just rained. Yes honey,
those lights are indeed beautiful.”
How did he get in? It doesn’t matter. I’d
probably given him the spare keys and then
forgotten. He’d brought his equipment like I’d
“We’re almost there honey.”
“Dad, when are we going to get there?”
Then there was nothing but brilliant bright
light. My parents never survived the crash,
work of a drunk driver who happened to be
on the same road as us that day. Our house
became mine – and I became an empty shell,
all the time wondering why it was me who lived
and them who died.
asked: an oxygen tank with a attached mask,
for himself.
“The money’s in the bottom drawer,” I said.
“Alright. I trust you,” he simply replied.
75
I made it to the kitchen, still on the floor,
pressed the emergency number, uttered some
words and my address. I craned my neck to
see the window – the first morning light was
appearing. Then I passed out.
It was the same salmon that I saw in the dream
– just there, staring at me. It should have been
dead by now. Instead, its bulbous, unblinking
eyes were focused on me.
“Am I dead? I should be dead. I shouldn’t have
been alive in the first place,” I said.
You may think you want to die when all you
really want is to start living.
“You weren’t at fault for your parents’ death.
People are drawn deeper into tragedy, not by
our defects, but by our virtues,” it said.
“But I didn’t feel like I was living after that!”
I shouted, recalling all the moments after the
tragedy, how my relatives had shunned me,
thinking I was at fault, how the house was
abandoned and I was sent abroad.
“Everyone of us loses something precious
along the way sooner or later – people, lost
opportunities, possibilities, feelings we can
never get back. That’s a part of what it means
to be alive. You have to overcome the anger
and self-loathing inside you,” it said.
“It’s already too late,” I said, tears streaming
down my face, finally letting it all out after
19 years of being alone, pretending and
denying to cope with the trauma. I’d shut out
all the memories of my parents, thinking I
didn’t deserve to remember them. Until now
– the memories, opened from a sealed box,
overwhelmed me and I sobbed, letting waves of
hot, painful memories course through me.
“It’s not too late. The ritual is not fulfilled. You
passed out and never opened the door for the
man. You never had sex with him. There’s still
time. To live,” the salmon said.
.
I opened my eyes and jolted upwards, heaving
hard. My lungs were burning. Tears wet
my shirt as I struggled to crawl out of the
suffocating room, taking my phone on the bed.
The song had stopped for some reason.
Jules is in her second year of doing a Media degree. She has an obsession with puns, and is unofficially diagnosed with
RBF (resting b*tch face) syndrome. She’s easily amused though, and is always down for new experiences and pushing
limits. Try to keep up with her because she walks fast.
76
You gave me a thing
Pulsating, red, warm
Vena cava aorta still attached
What am I to do with it? I am a girl
An employee’s first day
A surgeon’s first op
A THING
Shall I throw it in the fiery pot?
Shall I lay it in the dissection tray
Watch it burn or watch it cut
What am I to do with it?
Nothing because nothing
I don’t feel anything
I’m sorry
You may take it back
Back, with the ribbon still attached
I cannot accept a thing
Because I cannot give mine back.
- T i n a Wu
Tina is studying an International Studies/Media degree and is looking forward to the prospect of being at university
for the next 5 years. Being a writer has always been her number one dream job, but being a professional ice-cream
taster isn’t far off either. She’s an avid tea and coffee fan and she’s currently trying to work up the courage to take the
plunge from a cafe latte to a double shot espresso, black.
77
H O W T H I S S T O RY E N D S
By Zi Ying Su
TW: Depicts domestic violence.
I
will remember teaching you how to tell time
at the dining table. Your brother and sister
will be twelve and thirteen then; they will be
completing their homework next to us. I will see
their father in them – your sister will share his
namesake, your brother will have his looks. I will
still fear for them, five years after That Day in
another timeline, because I know how this story
ends.
it’s from an old cartoon; you won’t know it, that’s
way before your time.
Your dad is a philosophy major turned social
worker, with a love for potatoes and martial
arts. We met at a Krav Maga class one Friday
night in the local gym, and we decided to
have dinner together after a brutal session.
You’ll hear how we argued about life, God,
family, and if potato salad tastes better with
bacon. How your dad secured a second date by
inviting me to his place for potato salad, with
bacon, to see if he can change my mind. How,
at our third date, he grudgingly agreed that I
have the better recipe for potato salad, and I
admitted that it could be improved with bacon.
“We’ll talk about this in the morning.”
“Do you need a hand?” I will struggle to keep
my tone and body language neutral, to hold
on to the calm and let it blot out the concern,
anxiety, anger, disappointment.
“No, mom,” she will sing to the tune of our
doorbell and cackles, an ugly sound I have
never heard. I will hush her quickly so she
doesn’t wake you.
.
When morning rolls around she will tell me not
to worry, nothing happened, she only drank
because she was bored and it was something
to do; Amber was having fun and rightfully
so because it was her birthday after all, so
your sister had to entertain herself. She didn’t
drink as much as the boys but gosh did she get
drunker, and so much faster. She will mumble
all this whilst holding a cool glass of water to
her forehead, a habit from her childhood; we
will tell you she’s not feeling well when you ask.
“You didn’t have to stay up waiting for me,”
she will whine when I tell her how I worried
when she missed curfew, “you were the same
anyway.”
Your brother and sister are five and six; I left
them with my mother earlier that evening.
When I return to her apartment that night,
I clutch my keys to stop them from singing of
my arrival, I kiss them on their foreheads.
I will decide not to answer, because I will see
your brother (a gangly teenager now) in the
kitchen deciding if he wants to know of his
mother’s youthful escapades. I will see you
crouching on the couch, pretending to not
listen, and I know you will lose respect for me.
I will tell her when she’s older, or at least when
she’s not hungover; but I know that’s not going
to happen – because I know how this story
ends.
.
4a.m. on a Sunday morning, your sister will
come skulking through the front door, the
back of her strappy six –inch stilettos hanging
from her fingers instead of her ankles. She will
be perfumed sourly with alcohol and vomit,
tottering like Bambi –
78
In my dream, I am carrying you; I know it is
you because a mother just knows. I am holding
you in my cupped hands, bringing you closer to
my face to see yours better; but you disintegrate
into a liquid mess and bleed down my front
and down the drain and the floor gives way –
This is the story of a girl who didn’t know
any better:
She met Jack at a party in her penultimate year
of high school, having successfully charmed
the bouncer into letting her in with promises
that she couldn’t/wouldn’t keep. Jack had a
chiselled jaw with deep blue eyes, and the veins
on his forearms bulged each time he clenched
his fists – and he will clench them often in the
years she knew him. He had complimented her
on her natural midnight hair, the same hair
that she was so self-conscious about, and they
struck up a conversation. He was majoring in
English, an introvert, not really into the club
scene; she was too young to be there. They left
together just after midnight, his arm wrapped
possessively around her waist.
She clawed at the dead weight on her chest,
eliciting a shout of pain and a stinging smack
from the man who was, not ten seconds ago,
sound asleep next to her.
“Sorry Jack, I had a bad dream,” she
apologized profusely, sitting up in bed.
“I dreamt that I –”
“Shh.” He moved his hand onto her head,
gently but firmly pressing so that she was bent
over him rather than upright. “Now that you
woke me up, Lucy, why don’t you use that
mouth to make my time worthwhile?”
His friends had a game of truth and dare going
full swing when the pair walked into the house
Jack shared with them. The ring of young
drunks parted to make room for the newcomers
whilst hasty introductions were made. Alcohol,
weed, and other contraband were passed
around the group as the game continued; she
picked truth when it was her turn.
.
You find yourself alone in an unfamiliar
dark room and the terror grips you when
the realisation that your mother – your
mama – is nowhere to be found. This is not
your first time in your mama’s hometown,
but it’s the first time you remember waking
up where you decidedly did not fall asleep.
You patter through the dimly – lit warren of
mama’s childhood home, the deep thump
of a bass drum and the clanging of cymbals
reverberating through your chest.
“Were the boys you’ve slept with any good?”
Jack asked, and his friends hooted at his
brilliance as her already red – with – alcohol
face flushed harder.
Later that night, as they tore into a rotisserie
chicken with bare hands to stave off the
munchies, he offered her the wishbone and
together, they pulled it apart. He received the
larger half and feigned disappointment on her
behalf.
You find the adults outside, congregating
around two furry creatures, swaying in time
to the beat. Mama urges you to pet the lions;
they bring good luck – but someone sets off
the big red firecrackers that stretch from floor
to awning and you are overwhelmed by the
sound of rapid-fire gunshots, the crescendo
of percussion instruments, and the cacophony
of adults cheering. Mama says, “don’t be
silly Lucy, they’re only firecrackers, they keep
monsters away” – but you are inconsolable; like
you somehow already know at the tender age
of four how this story ends.
When he dropped her off at home the next
morning, clothes messy and hair dishevelled,
she would admit that her wish did in fact come
true –
She will, one day, wish she was making all
this up.
I had a dream about you.
79
took the opportunity to wrench her arms up
over her head, pinning her wrists in place with
his left hand. Now stay still. With his right
hand, he pulled her pyjama pants down to
her knees and placed his right knee between
her thighs, forcing them apart. Why are you
A memory:
She wept in relief as her son finally settled
into uneasy sleep, having spent the last hour
bawling against her breast for indeterminable
reasons. She doesn’t remember being this
haggard and run down since her days at
university – which admittedly, weren’t too
long ago; she dropped out last year – only a
year into her degree – when she discovered
that she was pregnant with Johanna. Jack had
insisted that she temporarily defer her studies
to care for her daughter, as her family lived in
a different state; his adamant refusal to take
the necessary precautions then resulted in baby
Joseph; her temporary deferment soon turned
permanent.
crying? You could at least pretend to enjoy this
for my sake. He stopped moving and slapped
her again as she choked on her sobs. Shut up,
shut up!
His right hand gripped her neck tighter.
“Mommy?”Fuck.
“Daddy, you’re hurting mommy!” The little
shit he spawned three years ago ran up to his
side and tugged at his right arm. Go away, you
son of a bitch! He flung his arm out to shake
the boy off, but the child persisted. Go away!
He grabbed the boy’s arm, rose to his knee,
and pushed the boy aside roughly. The boy
tumbled, and with a sickening crack fell head
– first onto the corner of the coffee table. Shit.
Look what you made me do. He got up, wiped
himself off, and kicked the weeping woman in
her side. A man can’t even get his needs met
in this household. His son whimpered on the
floor, having recovered from his shock. Get out
of my sight, all of you. He strode out of his
house and into the dark street.
Another memory:
I am snuggling under the covers between
Hannah and Joey, a book in my lap.
“Once upon a time, there was a girl named
Hannah –”
“No, mom, Goldilocks!” your sister giggles,
“Goldilocks goes to the forest and sees the
bears’ house and eats all their porridge!”
“Oh yes, that’s how it goes! And Goldilocks
felt sorry so she made more porridge and then
lived happily ever after with the three bears!”
When he returned two days later, bouquet of
flowers in his hands and ready to renew his
promise that this would never happen again,
he found the house deserted, partner and kids
gone –
“No, you’re not telling the story right!” she
protests, “Tell it properly!”
“But if you already know the story, why do I
have to tell it?”
When you are older, you will ask how Joey got
his scar and we will pretend it’s always been
there. When you are older still, you will learn to
ignore it; just as you will learn to not question
why your sister changed her name to Hannah
at school, just as you will learn to not mention
their father. You will understand that I can only
recount what’s mine to tell, and that not all
stories have a happy ending.
“We want to hear it from you, mom, from the
start!”
“Okay, so this is how the story starts.”
.
She struggled under his weight, beating him off
with her hands, but all that did was enrage him
further.
.
Stupid bitch. This is what I put up with you
for. A blow to her head stunned her, and he
You try to perch on the edge of the couch,
back ramrod straight, focusing on the woman
80
You push gently and the door reunites with
its frame with a soft kiss; a quick flick of the
wrist and a satisfying click, you are now secure
in the tiled cocoon that is the bathroom in
your doctor’s office. You slip your purse on to
the hook behind the door, its contents jostling
to be heard, a wind chime ward against the
unwanted – what is it that you wanted? You are
only nineteen – do you desire your desires to be
desired? You slide your hand into your purse
and remove the specimen container she gave
you earlier.
talking to you. She asks how you’re going since
your last appointment, and if you’ve been
gradually exposing yourself to situations you’ve
avoided since That Day two years ago. She asks
about your flashbacks and you start to answer
but her pink blouse triggers something and you
feel yourself slipping. You dig your palms into
the armrests and try to haul yourself back to
the edge of the couch, but the soft centre of the
cushion engulfs you and the memories swallow
you whole.
I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you all.
Moment of truth.
.
You gather your skirt around your waist, and
holding the container in your left hand, you
hook your right thumb under the elastic of
your panties and peel them off to your knees.
You lower yourself and slowly feel the cold
embrace of porcelain creep up the back of
your thighs –
I am making your dad’s favourite potato salad
for his birthday. Your siblings are at the dining
table – your sister in a pink blouse she got for
her seventh birthday last year, your brother
clumsily quartering the eggs with a butter
knife. Your dad comes home early to roast the
lamb, despite my protests that the birthday boy
shouldn’t be preparing his special meal. He
laughs and wraps me in a hug, encouraging
your siblings to do the same and suddenly
three bodies and six hands are surrounding me,
touching me, squishing us. I feel you stretch
and kick rapidly in response – as if to say “get
off”, and I laugh – I have never felt happier in
my life.
.
My thighs ache as I heave myself out of the
car; you are getting heavier, darling. I navigate
the steps to our front door, keys in hand and
bacon dangling in a plastic bag from my wrist.
I wonder briefly why your siblings are so quiet,
but shrug to myself and unlock the door,
pulling it open to let myself in.
“Mom, where’s the bacon?” your brother asks.
.
“Oh, I forgot!” I pick up my purse. “I’ll just run
to the shops and get some. I’ll be back in thirty
minutes, tops.”
You are only nineteen, but you would know
if you have the desire to be a mother, you are
sure of it, yet you are uncertain if you wish
to be pregnant right now. A wave of nausea
sweeps through you at the thought of growing
a human inside you when you are barely
an adult yourself – but the alternative? To
discover, perhaps, a miscarriage, an illness, or
an inability to have children – you never know.
You would say a quick prayer of intercession,
but you don’t know what to ask for, no more
than you knew before you came in here.
Your dad tells me not to worry about it, but I
insist. He squeezes us one last time, and lets
me go.
.
Your sister is five on her first day of school. She
is clutching at me, begging me to not leave,
accusing me of no longer wanting her like her
father did. She will soon receive the therapy
she needs – but right now, in this moment, my
heart pains as I pry her fingers off me and walk
away. She will never hear the story of how
much I desire her.
You screw the top of the filled container shut,
wipe it dry (just in case), and wash your hands
81
right forearm tighten; and I feel a numbing
in my lower abdomen, then two, three, four
– and then I register four radiating searing
burns blotting out your frantic jerking within.
He kneels over my fallen figure, not unlike the
night I left him with two kids in tow, and curls
his hands around my throat. I feel an insistent
pressure over my windpipe, the edges of my
vision darkening, an eerie apathy replacing our
panic; and I become unstuck in time.
in the sink. You look at the girl in the mirror,
with her wrinkled skirt and red – rimmed eyes,
and subconsciously straighten your skirt. You
make an unknown plea to your higher power;
eyes closed, deep breaths – oh please, let it be –
.
“Please Jack, please,” I shield you with shaking
arms, staring into the barrel of a handgun
and a familiar angry face. I don’t know where
your father or siblings are. Two weeks from
now, as I lie empty but fully medicated on the
hospital bed I will learn that Hannah, always
the quickest to act, had answered the door
expecting my return. She was rewarded with
a bullet to her head, killing her instantly. Your
father, acting out of instinct, rushed at Jack in
an attempt to disarm him and was the next one
down on the floor. And Joey, my sweet gentle
Joey; having managed to unbolt the kitchen
door was found dead in our well-kept backyard.
I will discover that Jack had saved the last bullet
for himself, tasting the greasy metal before the
final burst of gunpowder. His last words were
apparently:
If I can’t have you, no one can.
“Jack, please don’t,” I plead, backing away
from him and towards the front door. I see his
jaw clench in resolution, the muscles on his
For support relating to sexual assault or domestic
and family violence, please visit
www.1800respect.org.au or call the domestic
violence line on 1800 656 463.
For support relating to suicide or suicide
bereavement, please visit
www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
Zi Ying is in her fifth year of medicine and has nearly perfected the art of falling
asleep on her feet and with her eyes open.
82
I had a bad dream
Man and two children found shot dead, wife in critical condition
They’re only firecrackers, they keep monsters away
Should have left him earlier
Do you, Lucy, take this man as your lawful wedded husband?
Were the boys you slept with any good?
Can you hear me? Open your eyes. What’s your name?
Shrug your shoulders.
Bright girl, bright future, wrong boy
Is there a chance you might be pregnant?
I like Hannah, Johanna’s too much like John
I’m afraid you had a miscarriage. I’m sorry
Terribly sad, lost all three kids just like that
Can never have children again
Sorry about the wait, please come with me to my office
I’ll be back in thirty minutes
Always was a violent person, predatory, a little unstable
We need to talk about your flashbacks
You cannot continue pretending your family’s still here, pretending it didn’t happen
So tell me, what did you wish for?
Okay, so this is how the story starts
I promise that this will never happen again.
A C K N O W L E D G E M E N T S
Coordinator
With Thanks to:
Editor In Chief
Arc @ UNSW
Haya Saboor
Prose Editors
Nicola Rammers
Isabella Geha
Shima Golmohamadi
Jade Pham
Moontana Mohsin
Poetry Editors
Michelle Wang
Zara Khan
Scarlett Ha
Student Engagement Coordinator
(Clubs and Events)
Adrian Turner
Senior Graphic Designer
Sharon Dowsett
Marketing Production Coordinator
Kathryn O’Connell
Business Development Manager
Syed Jarri Haider
Zuleika Duckers
Designer
Jordan Isabella Fleming
Illustrators
Amy Ge
Talia Brittany
Eri Tran
Marketing Manager
Carla Zuniga-Navarro
Copy Writer & Content Editor
UNSWeetened Coordinator 2016
Mitch McBurnie
Membership & Communications
Manager
Steven Pott
Customer Service Manager
UNSW Bookshop
Prize Donors
UNSW Bookshop
Judges: Personal Thanks:
Anna Westbrook
A special thanks to Abbu without whom
UNSW would have only been a dream.
Thank you to Ammi, Nanu, Baji &
Bhaijan and Api for always cheering
me on.
Author of the celebrated mystery
novel Dark Fires Shall Burn
Waqas Naeem
A warm round of thanks to all the
Arc coordinators and supervisors who
were part of the rollercoaster that was
UNSWeetened 2017.
Director for Desi Writers’ Lounge and
the prose editor for literary magazine
Papercuts
And finally, a super special thank you
to Scarlett & Mitch for letting me have
UNSWeetened all to myself this year.
John Russell
UNSW Bookshop
An annual fixture of the UNSW literary community since 1998, UNSWeetened is a studentrun publication that celebrates the diversity of creative writing found on campus. It features
poetry and prose from both undergraduate and postgraduate students. You can submit your
works to UNSWeetened during the first semester – all pieces of work submitted before the end
of Semester One, 2018 will be considered for publication, so start writing!
This project would not be made possible without the committed assistance of its volunteers,
whose hard work and dedication have brought the publication to life.
To learn more about UNSWeetened or to get involved in next year’s edition,
visit: arc.unsw.edu.au/unsweetened
85
UNSWeetened 2017
ISSN 1441-1415
© 2017 by Arc @ UNSW Limited, UNSWeetened and individual contributors.
The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of Arc @ UNSW unless
expressly stated. Arc @ UNSW Limited accepts no responsibility for the accuracy
of any of the opinions or information contained in this issue of UNSWeetened. Any
complaints should be made in writing to the UNSWeetened Coordinator.
UNSWeetened is published by Arc @ UNSW Limited.
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