Mudflat Summer

Words || Rosie McCrossin

I suppose I didn’t notice it was ending. Everything was painted yellow. Sunlight and mangoes broken into fleshy chunks on the bitumen. The bikes fallen over on grass thickened by prickles. Walking from the corner shop, where the immigrant family with their raincloud eyes stare out at us. Technicolour lollies in bright white paper bags. Our feet are bare and browned by sunburn and dirt. Strong against the burning bitumen. At the park, we sit on swings and talk about our world. It is a small one, but there is always something to debate. The heat invades our bodies and forces us under the platform of the playground, where we are printed with patterned shadows. The smell of the fresh bark is heady and sweet. Your tongue, stained by strawberry clouds, glows in the afternoon light.

We are so far out now that the horizon has turned to shimmering waves. The water hovers, tepid and unafraid, around our calves. The toadfish and crabs, with their sharp wariness, make broad circles around us. You find a moon snail. Hold him by his shell. We wait. We can be very quiet. The mudflats are infinite, and the ocean an insipid plain. It is hungry for the heat. It eats it up and lies warm and comfortable around our feet. Perhaps it is saving up for the night when the wind will come and whip its shallow waters into cracked, white waves. The moon snail opens its timid body onto your hand. Its eyes venture out. We stand for a long time, the warm breeze flicking our hair, as the fleshy white flower blooms and closes, again and again.

The boat has been there for a long time. It is a ghost boat. When you look inside it is filled with rats and brokenness and people’s things. Photographs and an oven, bedsheets. Men on motorboats make their way noisily between the gaps in the trees. They shine and shift like ghosts. You kick the boat and the fibreglass crumbles. The emptiness of the mangrove forest eats up our voices and vomits them into symphonies of reverberation. I step into the dirty water. At the bottom, I can feel the too-soft floor, antennae of the mangroves separating my toes. My skin is thick with mud. We crouch in the shade. We are quiet. The shadow shifts like a mother, hiding our squinted eyes from the sun. 

Sometimes, I will wake up in the middle of the night, retracing the map again and again in my head. Now, the creek is crowded in by golf courses and modern metal houses and warehouses for supermarkets. The mudflat coast is a tourist drive and they have built picnic tables. They renovated the playground. A man came in to poison all the prickles. It took us a long time, learning how to avoid prickles in the grass. We could teach people. It is a terrific skill. Even now, I remember.

Chains and Links

Words || Tom Wade

©Gorkiegork

©Gorkiegork

Outside the supermarket Sihle reached into his pocket for his keys. A bag of groceries weighed down on his wrist making each movement in his pocket slow and deliberate.

He pulled his keys out of his pocket, but they were stuck, attached to the lining of his pocket now inside out.

‘What the fuck?’ He wrenched his keys, bags thumping against his thighs. His arms were heavy and lopsided as he worked at his keychain. 

The bags swinging against his wrists made it hard to get a feel of the situation.

A flame of brown hair and a fan of orange dress pulled up next to Sihle with a rattle and a clank. Caught in his trance of circling and swearing, Sihle didn’t notice. ‘The fuck is wrong with these motherfucking keys?’

‘Do you need some help?’ This was the first time Sihle noticed. Someone had sent an angel on a bike to help him with his keys. Her face glistened with beaded sweat and she was trying to suppress a heaving chest. She’d ridden far to help him. ‘Here, let me get that.’

She reached into the basket of her bike, pulled out her phone, and shone the assistive light on Sihle’s trousers. His keys hung there, caught a strand of thread at the end of pocket lining.

The woman reached for Sihle’s keys and fumbled with them, she was still holding her phone. The light caught Sihle’s eye and dazzled him, leaving spots. ‘Do you want some help?’ he asked her.

‘Your hands look full already.’ She was right. The handles of the plastic bags were starting to cut into his wrists. He heard the jingle of his keys and she help them up. ‘There you go, your jeans accidentally became part of your keychain.’

‘Thank you.’ How did he keep this going? He could feel the moment slipping through his fingers, she was going to be gone forever. ‘My name’s Sihle.’

‘Maria.’ She put out her hand, they shook, and she got on her bike to leave. She pushed down on a pedal, it resisted. He heard her change gears, the bike sputtered and clanged down a few ratios. Her leg swung free and Maria had to put her foot down to stabilise herself. 

‘Seems like your bike needs a service,’ Sihle realised his chance, ‘I could do it for you.’

Maria looked up from her bike, ‘I’d love that.’

The Astronauts

Words || Alana Bridget Scully

I was watching TV when I first heard the news. The flashing broadcast lit across the screen: a rocket has fallen from the sky, a failed space journey, the whereabouts of the astronauts still largely unknown. I’d looked across to my mother, her face stricken with worry, her hands wringing the tea towel she’d brought in with her from the kitchen.

“Terrible, just terrible,” she muttered under her breath. Then she walked slowly back towards the kitchen, her hands still fumbling in front of her.

The two men had appeared the next day. I was watching TV again, and it was dark and rainy outside.

“What’re you watching?” one of them had asked, jolting me from my relaxed state. I couldn’t really see his face because he was wearing a huge white helmet with an opaque black screen in the front. The helmet looked pretty beat-up, a huge gash on one side that showed tufts of his hair peaking out. The other one had red stains all along his leg, his left foot looking a little askew when he propped it up on the footrest.

They were courteous guests at first. Mother, a natural host, lavished them with cups of tea, warm baths; she even cooked her special roast – something usually reserved for birthdays and Christmas. We’d sit around the dinner table, the two men eating through the gap in their helmets, my mother looking across at them adoringly.

“Wonderful peas!” they’d compliment, and my mother would smile and pile their plates with meat and gravy.

When I asked them where they came from, how they appeared on our couch, they didn’t say much. Usually they’d shirk off my questions, but sometimes they would solemnly point into the sky without saying a word, their white gloves cushioning their pointed finger, their heavy helmet bent down towards the ground.

Weeks passed. The news coverage of the accident had subsided, but occasionally a reporter appeared on the screen, walking through an open field with detectives and policemen and scientists all fossicking on the ground behind him. Apparently, parts of the rocket flung into a neighbouring town, shocking the farmers half to death.

“We’re looking for fingerprints, for any sign of life,” the reporter said, the mood in the living room becoming cold and tense, the air shifting around us.

Eventually, it was my mother who told them to go.

“It’s time,” she’d said, standing at the doorway, beckoning them onto the front porch. They walked down the path but stopped at the front gate. Then they turned back to wave, and even through their helmet, I could’ve sworn I saw the white glean of their teeth from a broad and open smile.

Floodloss

Words || Leith Reid

She gets home first, finds their garage floor covered with mud, inches thick, creased and rumpled like the rug they’d been fooling around on in the park, just yesterday. The stench thick with memories of dog kennels and bin day.

She surveys the sad cardboard boxes spilling swollen books. Her childhood photographs caked with mud, aged beyond their years, milky with cataracts. She picks one up to try and wipe the mud from her mother’s face, and instead wipes her mother from the photograph. She Googles 'how to save flood damaged books and photos'.

When he gets home with the high-pressure hose, he finds ice-cube trays out on the bench, melting to water, the frozen peas soft. The freezer is full of wet photographs in ziplock bags. There she is: a toddler baking with her mother and her big sister. A teenager, on the beach, hanging out the driver-side window of a bright orange 4-wheeled drive giving someone (probably her Dad) the thumbs up.

Outside, the stairs are covered in his books, stood up on their bases, pages fanned, paper towels slipped lovingly between the pages like love notes or pressed flowers. He trips on No Country for Old Men, carefully wiping the cover with his t-shirt before placing it back on the stairs.

The Lone Pandanus

Words || Douglas Whyte

He pushes the brakes. The beach curves like a fingernail, ghostlike into the pre-dawn distance. He scans the water like an old lifeguard. I know what he’s looking for. One of those deep blue gutters, choppy on the surface, swirling underneath. Unsatisfied, he moves on.  

We’ll head to the Lone Pandanus, he says. I nod, listening to the ancient Land Cruiser thrum in tune to the crumbling waves. He tells me again it’s the only pandanus on the island. Again, he tells me it’s one of the longest beaches in Australia. There’s always a good gutter in front of the Lone Pandanus, I say, taking the next sentence out of his mouth. He scans me like I’m a body of water. His strange attempt at a smile reveals a deeper complication of wrinkles than I remember.

After a while, we come to another stop. I look through his window to the dunes. Sure enough, the tree stands thick and lonely against the shrub, an unlikely beacon for the emotionally adrift. We scrutinise it like it’s an artwork. I think about where it came from and the year it was created. How perfect the collaboration must have been between wind and tide, carrying its seed from the mainland and rushing it up onto the dunes. To here, of all places.

Couple of throws, he says. I nod again and we get out of the car. We rig up together, slipping line through loops, connecting sinkers with swivels, weaving worms around hooks. The rhythm is familiar, robotic. He waits until I’ve finished to ask me, tentatively, how long I’ll stay this time. I have to be back home tomorrow, I tell him. He says he’ll meet me down by the shore.

I watch him shuffle towards the water, turning his head back every now and then to make sure he’s in line with the pandanus, before stepping into the sea. He arches his rod back in one graceful motion, and in that tiny yet infinite moment before launch, I think of all the things that have been swept away.

Nex To You

Words || Zoe Knowles

Jerry snagged a feather in the muggy breeze. His costume, once white, was now soiled with dirt and blood, and balding in places where it had got caught on trees. He twisted the little feather around his fingers. From where he was waiting, crouched behind a blow-away shack just up from the small string of shops at the end of the cul-de-sac, he watched the queue of people curl up the road from the entrance to Ray’s Butcher. Wednesday. Delivery day. 

His headpiece – a round hen head – rested on the rotting tree stump beside him and a sack of mud-balls hung from his shoulder. He shifted his weight, feathers bristling; the clouds puckered overhead. 

The NEXT van – “NEX” as in chicken necks and “T” as in terrible, tragic, traumatising but also, and in this case, the “T” in the bold blue logo of “Nex-To-You” smeared across the side of the van – delivered fleshy hunks of bone direct to the people of West Flick, the forgotten sinkhole on the skirts of town. Never mattered how late it came, they still waited. 

He heard a loud rumble: possibly thunder and possibly the crowd of hungry stomachs.

A flat-thin woman hurried past Jerry’s hiding place, tugging the brim of her hat down.

‘Stop!’ he squawked. 

She looked at him with strung-out yellow eyes and doubled her pace. 

‘No, come back. Fight the urge!’

Damn addict. She was on her way to Ray’s. They all were. Because despite the outbreaks, despite the drought, despite everything – they still wanted it, even when all they could get was a pale, stringy piece of a poor bird’s spine. Jerry had to be the only person left in the world who didn’t eat meat.

Another rumble: a growling engine.

Jerry reached for the head of his chicken suit. As the NEXT van swung around the corner, he shot forward, a stream of feathers trailing him. He reached into his sack for a mud-ball, cutting his finger on the busted nail that stuck out from it. He flung it at the van. Then another, chasing the wheels that burnt up the belly of the road. Glass smashed. He flapped his arms.

‘Bastards!’ 

The van stopped. 

‘Filthy shitbrains! 

He hurled another mud-ball. 

The front doors bust open and two men slipped out, their wild yellow eyes narrowing in on him. Saliva dripped from their cracked lips. The men were on him faster than he could turn and sprint back to the shack. One clamped down on his beak, choking him; the other grabbed his arms and clipped the fake wings together with a zip tie. The stench of dirty ice and raw bones clung to the men’s hands and made Jerry’s eyes water. 

‘Look at the size of it.’ 

Jerry kicked out his legs, his shout sounding like a desperate cluck.

Little Falling World

Words || Alex Sutcliffe

©Ling McGregor

©Ling McGregor

‘I think there's something you should know,’ he begins, although we've been sitting on this bench for half an hour—although there's nothing he can tell me now I don't already know. He expressed enough months ago, at the height of a long, hot summer, when he started sleeping in pyjamas: top and bottoms. He'd fallen for someone else and was saving his okay body for her. He's old fashioned that way. When we started dating, I managed to ignore that.

‘I never wanted to hurt you,’ he says, and I believe him because he's brought me here, to the closest thing my block has to a forest—a bin, a bench and a plane tree clustered around a storm drain—to put me out of my misery. He's old fashioned that way, too. He'd never make a mess in anybody else's home.

‘I know we've been close for a while,’ he says. We're sitting with space between us for his new girl. A puddle, the first rain of the season, spreads through his jeans. The space is dry. I scan the foliage for anything else to look at. In the middle branches of the middling tree, where I have to crane my neck to see, is the first brown leaf. Except for the tree, and the puddle, we're sitting how've sat for months—rigid spines poking into silence. Never once in those months did he slam a door or break a glass. All the glassware sat in solid stacks as we hurtled toward the floor, toward shattering together.

‘I'm in love with someone else.’ The wind whips around the first brown leaf, exposes it to the grey light. A sharp gust throws my hair across my mouth, lifts a McDonald's bag from the bin, tears at the leaves in the tree. The first brown leaf comes loose. When are two people more together than when one throws a glass just to know the other sees it falling?

‘I know you didn't see this coming.’ The first leaf to fall hangs in the grey light, floats forever as the park and everything in it—the bin, the bench, the plane tree, my already ex-boyfriend, his soon to be ex-girlfriend—hurtle toward the earth.

'I know this is a shock.’ The first leaf to fall lands in a puddle in the storm drain.

Did you see that?

‘I don't—what are you talking about?’