It is 8:14 again. The alarm claws its way out of the chalkboard box in your head. You make a mental note to change the settings to a softer tone later. For now, your energies are devoted towards restarting your senses. The light tapping on the windowpane turns out to be rain, so an unpleasant walk to work lies in store for you. Flatulence propels you out of bed and into the bathroom. Do you brush your teeth first (turn the page to paragraph 45), or take a shower (turn the page to paragraph 33)?
You have seen this episode before. It is the one where the man finds himself in an unusual situation, and has to do humorous things in order to escape. Will you change the channel and watch something else (turn to 2), change the channel and watch a film instead (turn to 34) or decide to shave your genitals (turn to 10)?
You text out a nonsensical message – gekquraqqef – giving it your utmost attention. The sound of tiny wheels recedes behind you. You breathe out a sigh containing equal particles of relief and shame, and absent-mindedly wipe the droplets off your mobile phone screen. Turn to 22.
You have left something at home, your wallet. This day is a write-off. Without money, even lunch is beyond you. Why not return home and construct a system for never forgetting it again. Perhaps if you keep a lot of change in it, you will notice the absence of its weight. But change is meant to be kept in a jar, and later sorted neatly into small plastic bags provided by the bank. The sky starts to darken again. Turn to 28.
The doorbell rings a few more times, and each one sends a sliver of panic into your heart. You start humming. A good excuse will be needed to explain this to the boss. Luckily, you have the rest of the day to think of one. Turn to 42.
You listen to a sports podcast while working out on the floor of your bedroom. One of the hosts makes a joke about a rival sports team, and the energy consumed by your laugh makes you wobble on the nineteenth press-up. You wonder for a moment if it is worth going for twenty one. No-one will know you quit early. But you push through the laughter barrier and hit your target. Will you reward yourself with a glass of orange juice (turn to 23) or a slice of processed cheese (turn to 12)?
The pharmacy has an array of creams, oils, washes, lotions, spreads, salivas, but you are reluctant to ask for help due to the delicate area of your problem. After thirty minutes of reading unreadable ingredients, you settle on a tube with a picture of a coconut. The shop assistant tells you the price is €14.35. In your wallet you have 2 €10 notes, a 50c, 3 10c and 3 2c pieces. If you know how much you want to give the assistant, turn to the paragraph with the same number as the cent value in that amount. If that paragraph makes no sense, or if you just want to hand over €20, turn to 19.
You reach out a trembling hand and take the occult book from the shelf. Inside, the mystery of your predicament is revealed. Turn to 30.
He does not ask you if you want a bag, and it is too late now to ask him for one without losing face. You put the cardboard box under your jacket to keep it protected from the rain and onlookers. However, the bulge now makes you look like a bomb disposal expert. Indulging the fantasy, you imagine a friend’s funeral that you have been asked to speak at, and how the church crowd murmurs as you step up to the pulpit. Oh look, they say, there is the famous bomb disposal expert and true knower of the deceased. He will know what to say, they say. If you say an Our Father and three Hail Marys, turn to 21. If you say oh fuck, turn to 38.
They say you should do one thing everyday that scares you. Perhaps this mantra can become part of your daily routine. You make a note in your electronic calendar, undress, and shower with hot water to soften the hairs. The shaving cream dispenser is rusted and empty, so you make do with seaweed oil shampoo instead. However, after finishing your inner thighs, you recall reading somewhere that re-emerging hairs can cause irritation. You decide to do some more research before continuing with this project. It is getting late. Turn to 50.
It is still raining when you leave the house, and your eighth umbrella of the year is bent and will not open properly. The walk uphill to the office is character-building. On the way there, you see a woman pushing a pram towards you. Even at this distance, you recognise her as a half friend from university, an economics student with a fake bindi who was named after a tree by her progressive parents. Do you avoid this awkward meeting by crossing the road immediately (turn to 25), pretending to look at your mobile phone (turn to 3) or pretending not to know her (turn to 47)?
Too late you realise that the cheese will give you weird dreams. There was that one time you ate a quattro formaggi pizza, dozed off, and dreamt about clanking sounds. You somehow knew it was the sound of your childhood bicycle being repaired. You walked down a flight of stairs, and saw your mother fixing it, even though she had no idea about how to do so. And you never had a childhood bicycle. You feel very tired. Turn to 50.
How will you justify this laziness to your brain? You did some exercise yesterday (turn to 29), your leg hurts (turn to 24), there’s a good film on TV (turn to 34), or exercise could potentially make you sick after eating that pasta (turn to 41)?
You are probably right. Turn to 32.
Yes, it could be a parable about the economic crisis. Successful businesswoman buys flat in uptown development, but finds herself trapped in a sort of alternate reality. You resolve to buy a notepad tomorrow so you can begin to flesh out the characters. The TV screen has dimmed from lack of input. You turn it off and go to bed. Turn to 50.
You notice that the inside of your thighs is blotchy and red raw. Perhaps it is the result of chafing, or something more serious. A few internet searches sets your mind to unease, as the diagnoses are varied. Exposure to air, you feel, is the cure to all life’s ills, and an empty office is an opportune time to test that theory. Are you content to spend the rest of the work day pants-less (turn to 40), or will you buy some cream instead (turn to 7)?
You lift the mobile to your ear, and utter a rising hello to complete the illusion. Outside the rain has stopped, and the air is fresh and clean. You are shocked when your phone starts vibrating. An incoming call from your mother, ironic punishment for the previous lie. How will you justify not answering it? You are very busy at work (turn to 49) or you left your phone at home (turn to 4).
The friend is all smiles, and once she has the laptop, she leaves in an uncomplicated manner. When you close the door, a gust of air informs you that your zip is undone. You cannot be sure if she noticed. Turn to 42.
The assistant mumbles an apology as he hands you a load of change. You doubt that he is truly sorry. On the way back to the office, the wallet feels like an extra limb. Turn to 42.
The queasiness subsides as the day continues. You have probably just been eating too much mayonnaise recently. You make a note in your phone to switch to a low fat alternative, watch an internet documentary about the perils of dairy, and consume the office milk supply glass by glass, in an experiment to determine if you are lactose intolerant. The results are inconclusive. Turn to 42.
You walk past a church and overgrown graveyard on your right. If you wanted, you could go in and say a real prayer. You could go to confession. You could light a candle, or turn one on, as they are probably electric these days. You could look at the rafters, where you used to imagine the pagan monsters were kept. You could splash your face with holy water. You could reach into your pocket, take out the office door key, and open the office door in front of you (turn to 42) or you could go home (turn to 32).
The office, a converted house, is quiet. The rest of the staff are out on the road, and you have been left behind to man the phones and ensure that the fax machine is fed regularly. After the seventeenth game of solitaire, you realise the freedom available to you in this situation. An out-of-office message can be recorded for the phones, and the fax sated for at least a few hours with a thick wad of A4. The scroll containing life’s possibilities is unfurled before your eyes. Will you watch some pornography (turn to 16), walk down to the corner shop to purchase an out-of-season ice cream (turn to 39), or just go home altogether (turn to 28)?
Too late you realise that the remnants of the juice’s acidity will prevent you from brushing your teeth for a hour or so, and it is already midnight. To pass the time, you try to listen to some music. However, the shuffle feature on the MP3 player has randomly sorted the first three songs in perfect alphabetical order, and the pattern disturbs you. You stand on one foot, lightly brush your teeth, and go to bed. Turn to 50.
The traffic is heavy. For a horrible instant, you think you might be stuck on this side. The sound of the pram is getting closer. You avoid looking, in case you lock eyes. There is no option but to dash out and rely on the kindness of drivers. A brief ray of sun illuminates your passage. You reach the other side unscathed. There, for the purposes for motive, you pretend to be engrossed in a shop display. Turn to 22.
Yes, it could be a parable about modern ennui. Woman gets new job in office, but a mysterious force prevents her from ever leaving. You resolve to buy a notepad tomorrow so you can begin to flesh out the characters. You get up to turn off the TV, but find it has automatically done so already. You go to bed. Turn to 50.
You play a video game. As the commander of a large space armada, you are asked to determine the fate of a world infected by a new form of Black Death. Will you devote your resources towards finding a cure for the pandemic (turn to 46), or fire bomb the planet surface (turn to 46)?
You manage to get your umbrella open for the trip home, but the direction and strength of the wind force you to hold it in front of your body, like a shield. Vision impaired, you collide with a lamp post, further bending the frame. The rain stops. You manage, with great effort, to close the umbrella. A BMW is parked next to you. With childish force, you jump into a puddle next to the passenger door, and send dirty streaks rolling down the metal. Turn to 32.
Your brain is about to inform you that this is a lie, when it is distracted by a familiar piece of music coming from the TV. It is the theme for a seventies comedy show. You realise that this is the tune you hum when you are nervous. Will you consider the implications of this revelation (turn to 43) or watch the show (turn to 2)?
If you are reading this paragraph, you have made a mistake, or cheated, you naughty person. Please return to 1.
He nods and smiles, and places your cereal in an insufficiently sized paper bag. When you leave, he says he will see you tomorrow, which you find presumptive. Turn to 42.
The apartment is cold. You throw your umbrella onto the carpet to dry out, and prepare a pan of boiling water. After adding the pasta, a search in the fridge reveals no conventional pasta sauce of any description, just a jar of white stuff and a bottle of soy sauce. It could be the next taste sensation, but it does not turn out so well, and you eat a disappointing meal in front of the TV. There is a film on where people are murdered in inventive ways. You scratch your leg. Tonight is exercise night, and you are due to move up to twenty one push-ups and seventeen pull-ups, but it is difficult to get enthusiastic about it. Will you do the exercise anyway (turn to 6), reschedule exercise night to tomorrow (turn to 44), reschedule exercise night to the day after tomorrow (turn to 13), or try to forget about it (turn to 27)?
The water is very hot. Halfway through the shower, you realise you meant to shave beforehand. Now the steam will have fogged up the mirror, rendering a clean cut impossible. You tell yourself that stubble is fashionable these days, as you knead seaweed oil into your curls. Turn to 11.
A man is transformed into a talking coconut. You have seen this one before, but you watch it again, in its entirety, to confirm your opinion that it is bad. You are sure you could write a film if you wanted to. You have lots of ideas. Would you write something about a haunted hotel (turn to 15) or a haunted office (turn to 26)?
Listening to your body is a good idea. It is a very natural way to live. A pain means go to the doctor. A fart means go to the toilet. A yawn means go to bed. Turn to 50.
You unburden yourself of the many coins in your possession. The assistant slides the tube over the counter, and thanks you by name, even though you are sure this is the first time you have met him. You leave feeling slightly light-headed. Turn to 42.
A driver has just powered through a pool of water next to you, sending most of it spraying over your trousers. The cereal box is unharmed, but you feel disempowered by the experience. You resolve, some day, to jump in a large puddle next to a car, and restore balance to the world. In the meantime, you return to the office, and fold your damp clothes over the radiator. Turn to 40.
Walking to the shop, you wonder if this is the influence of subliminal advertising. The film you watched last night had a character being stabbed through the heart with an ice cream cone. By the time you reach the shop, some of that influence has faded, and the rain has made you self-conscious about buying a cold dessert. But the shopkeeper has noticed you. Will you pretend to receive an urgent phone call which demands you take it outside (turn to 17), or buy something at random (turn to 48)?
The afternoon passes in a wonderfully uninhibited fashion. Then the doorbell rings, and you remember that a friend of your boss was due to visit today in order to borrow a laptop. You know that if you delay too long in opening the door, she will suspect you of watching pornography. Will you pretend to be out (turn to 5) or dress as quickly as possible and answer the door (turn to 18)?
The noise from your stomach means either that you should eat something, or that you should definitely not eat something. You decide to never listen to your body in future, as it is just a confusing mess of biological signals. To spite it, you go to bed early. Turn to 50.
You spend the next few hours reading comments on the internet. Virtual persona Duffydack08 writes that the football team you support is akin to a terrorist organisation. You are about to type a witty reply when you notice the clock has reached 5pm. Leaving the office, you realise you might have wasted your life. Thinking further on it, do you come to the conclusion that comment boards are bastions of free speech (turn to 14), cesspools of humanity (turn to 14), or another thing you should probably not think about too much (turn to 14)?
It probably just means you are emotionally stunted. Revelling in this newfound state of childhood, you consume an entire packet of biscuits with a pint of milk. Then you remember that the last time you did this, it gave you terrible gas. You go to bed, wary. Turn to 50.
You will have to remember to change your shower routine, but the rescheduling should work. You sink further into the sofa. The film has finished, but a new, bigger and better one is starting. Watching two films might be overly decadent for a work night. Will you watch it anyway (turn to 34), watch a short, safe comedy instead (turn to 2) or look for alternative entertainment (turn to 27)?
You brush standing on one foot. A magazine article you read recently said this was a good way to stay fit. But your leg starts to ache when going over the gums, so you cheat and balance yourself on the towel rack. Turn to 11.
The screen freezes. The game has crashed, taking with it an hour or so of galactic unification work. You scratch your leg and temples in frustration. Some research on the internet informs you that this is a common bug in the game. Virtual persona Duffydack09 writes that the developers are akin to a corrupt religious institution. By the time you have finished reading his post, three hours have passed in the real world. You feel very tired. Turn to 50.
As you get closer, you realise that you do not, in fact, know her. It is just a woman pushing a pram. You walk on, feeling a heaviness in your chest. She must have broken her umbrella too. Turn to 22.
You scan the stationery for a moment, but then move on to the breakfast cereals. There are several factors to consider – vitamins, iron content, value, box size, colour, fear of cartoon animals, wholegrain, multigrain, ingrained eating habits, price as indicator of social status, the environment, starving children in Africa, font, that bee looks more like a wasp. You take your choice over to the counter, and the shop assistant asks how you are in a friendly tone. Will you maintain a customerly distance (turn to 9) or inform him of your physical and mental well-being (turn to 31)?
Actually, there was something you needed to do at work. You eat a sandwich in a nearby pub while trying to recall what it was. There, the large amount of mayonnaise overpowers the taste of the fillings, and you start to feel queasy. The rain taps on the window logo. Will you take a sick day and return home (turn to 28), or tough it out in the office (turn to 20)?
You sit beneath the covers with your knees drawn up, and think about what you are going to do tomorrow. Your plan to treat yourself to two bowls of cereal turns into a swarm of bees, and you know you are falling asleep. You are sure you have forgotten something. The bees are tapping at the window. Turn to 1.
Robert Feeney taught English for six years in Japan before returning home to pursue a Masters in Creative Writing at University College Cork. He is the author of several short stories, articles, plays, and a sitcom script that was kindly rejected by the BBC. His favourite colour is either blue or grey.
I am told there’s been trouble at the plant.
they tell me this with that strange mixture
of fear and relish so characteristic of the beaten.
I am at a loss as to why they come to me,
but they seem to seek me out,
as though they regarded me as some sort of bridge.
but when they come like this
with their dark, beseeching eyes
to tell me there is trouble at the plant,
something in me folds,
and all the distance I have put between
myself and their worries, so assiduously maintained
like a prim hedge,
the kind of hedge that states more emphatically
than a strand of razor wire
suddenly all that distance melts away
and all my loathing turns inwards,
like when I spy the boss’ daughter in her summer skirt
and I realise in a flash I am not the prince of my mother’s songs.
Justin Lowe was born in Sydney but spent significant portions of his childhood on the Spanish island of Minorca with his younger sister and artist mother. He developed a penchant for writing poetry while penning lyrics for a string of bands, successful and not so, and has since been published all over the world. Justin currently resides in a house called “Doug” in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney where he edits poetry blog Bluepepper. His selected, Days of Wine and Bruises, 1996-2016, was released in April 2016.
first beat of spring
careening down chimney
full bore into wall,
window pane, again
daylight moth snared
by sun – carry on in vain
til spent; flaring,
in backstroked spasms
on the sill
wriggling free from
such plenty that one
find some scrap or
cat food bowl.
all life; death
in one space.
in its maligned
SB Wright was born in the town of Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land, though most of his life has been spent in Alice Springs. A graduate of NTU he has spent his adult working life as a security guard, a martial arts instructor, a trainer in an international gaming company and currently works as a primary school teacher.
His work has been published in Tincture Journal, INDaily Adelaide, Eureka Street, Bluepepper, Writ Poetry Review and the anthologies The Stars Like Sand and Poetry & Place 2015.
(edited by Laura McPhee-Browne)
We sat in a paddle boat and ate cheese sandwiches. The water swirled slowly around us.
This is nice, you said, and it was nice.
The rain had held off, just like we hoped, and the clouds were merely white smudges in the sky. When we finished eating, you took my hand and smiled at me with your eyes.
I love you, you said.
You waited for a response, clicking your fingers quickly. I watched a duck swim past our boat, making gentle movements in the water.
Please, you said, say something.
I mumbled, about baked beans and tinned sausages.
Back at the tent, your hands grappled with the tin kettle and I stretched out my legs and studied the ants in the dirt. The different reds and browns. Their bodies, tiny and large all at once.
Why don’t you love me, you asked, pushing a knife into a jar of peanut butter, breaking a piece of white bread in half.
I watched you eat, licking your lips, smacking them together, laying the knife down slowly. I shook my head. Spread my fingers out, pushed them into the dirt. Ants scattered, dancing over my knuckles.
You asked me again, your voice stretching. I wondered aloud if we’d see a wombat, snuffling round the back of our tent, near where we’d parked the car, near where our rain jackets hung off the side view mirrors.
Please. I dangled a tea bag up and down and looked back out towards the water, where swans were gliding.
Please. Your voice was croaky, swollen, stuffed full of a sunset that would never rise.
Please, you said again, the word beginning to sound like something other than language.
And then, because I’m weak, or something very close to it, I said I love you too, and you were radiant. We drove home together, through the darkness, and it started to rain a little. I leant my head against the window and you talked a lot, flapping your hands when they weren’t on the wheel. I listened and said yes at all the right moments. Because there were things at yours of mine, and it felt easier than saying goodbye.
Hailing from Melbourne, Katelin Farnsworth won the Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction in 2015 and came second place in the Rhonda Jankovic Literary Awards in 2017. Her short story ‘Round’ was featured in Award Winning Writing in 2015. Katelin has also been published in various Australian journals including Feminartsy, Lip Magazine, Tincture Journal, The Victorian Writer, Offset, Voiceworks, Verandah Journal, and Writers Bloc, amongst others. She studies Professional & Creative Writing at Deakin University and is currently working on a novel (or two!).
When Janice agreed to marry me ten years ago, her one condition was that I give up active duty and take a desk job. At the time I was one of the best marksmen on the force and at thirty-five I still had good years ahead of me. ‘I love you honey, but I couldn’t handle it if you killed someone in the line of duty or if I saw you on the news beating someone with a nightstick,’ she said. ‘Even if they deserved it a million times over, you’d be a monster to me.’
We live, or used to live, on five and a half acres in the foothills, about ten minutes drive from the station. The previous owners of our property raised racehorses and when we bought it I converted the stable into a studio for Janice. I ripped out the stalls, bleached the floor, laid down hard wood, and installed insulation and double-paned sky-lights. Janice used the spectacular views of the valley and the Traverse Mountains as inspiration for most of her work.
Sometimes she painted a whole picture in just one day, in a trance, brush hand on the canvas, the other stretched out, palm up behind her like Tinkerbell. Her paintings were all over our walls. They still sell some of them as posters and postcards at the tourist centre. She said that the valley and the mountains changed every time she looked at them, brightness, colour, shadow, and eventually I came to see that too.
In 1989, after a nationwide manhunt, Jordan Depaul, hydroponics specialist, was found in the Salt Lake City house he’d barely left for years. He was convicted of the murder of five Dole Fruit truck-drivers between the years 1985 and 1987. God’s work. He had no regrets. It was the usual story, absent mother, bitter father, twisted personal religion. After he was sentenced to death he pored over the criminal statutes and discovered that a forgotten writ permitted him to choose the firing squad instead of the customary lethal injection. Depaul’s loophole was closed the next year, but it wasn’t retroactive. His wish had to be carried out and I volunteered for some of the carrying.
After ten years of shooting paper targets at the range, ten years of reading about robberies and on-duty deaths; even petty vandalism reports started to get my blood rushing. My brother was a typist in the Vietnam War and developed sympathetic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—even though he was never fired upon—transmuting his guilt at spending the war in an air-conditioned base. That guilt, fostered by typing up accounts of atrocities day after day, destroyed him. Maybe worse than if he’d actually fought himself. I understood him.
And, I wanted to know what it felt like to shoot someone. Some of my colleagues had killed perpetrators in self-defense and it changed them, lent them a certain gravitas. Any man who tells you he’s not envious, on some level, of men with combat experience is a liar. It sounds bad to say, but I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by. And, what difference did it make if I did the shooting or not? Someone else would.
A week before the execution Warden Jeffries gave the five of us a tour of the execution chamber. He showed us the whitewashed wall with a slit cut in it for us to shoot through, and a mockup of the target that was to be pinned over his heart; a white paper square with a black circle in the middle. ‘Now, you all know this is highly unusual. Your job is not to let it turn into a spectacle,’ he said.
He then explained the procedure we were to follow on the night. An unmarked van with no windows would pick us up at the police station at eleven and drive us to the prison. Before our arrival, our five rifles would be loaded with two rounds each. According to tradition, one of the rifles would contain two wax bullets. At five to midnight we would be handed our weapons by an officer who had not seen them being loaded. We would enter the chamber and take our positions while the warden watched from the second level through one-way glass. Depaul would walk, or, if unable to move under his own power, be escorted in and given two minutes to speak. The shooters would kneel down behind their rifles and the squad captain—the role that fell to me, as the most senior volunteer—would whisper to each in turn to see if they were ready. Then the squad captain would give the ready signal to the warden, receive final confirmation from him through an earpiece, lower his rifle and count down from one to five. Then we would fire.
My four deputies were Johnson, who exasperated his partner with his inexplicable silences on duty; Young, who lost his left ring finger to the knife of a heroin pusher in Liberty Wells; Kupeofola, an imposing, black-eyed Tongan; and Selwood, the serious one, who never broached a joke, about himself or anyone else. We all had scored perfect 75s at the range at least a dozen times and averaged above 72, our identities were unknown to everyone but ourselves and the warden, and, it must be emphasised, we all volunteered for the detail. That week, the five of us practiced with blanks at the range every day during lunch break; our goal was to fire simultaneously with one loud report instead of five scattered cracks. Accuracy was a given. From twenty feet you can’t miss with a .30-30. When we started we sounded like five cork pop guns competing for attention. By the day before the execution, after about four hundred rounds, we finally started to sound like a cannon.
When I got home from work on the night before the execution, Janice was chopping onions. I could hear the sharp knock of the knife on the wood chopping board as I opened the front door. As always when she cooks, she had the radio on and of course they were jabbering in concerned tones about the big execution. She was the only person I know who prefers radio to television. She said radio allows her to imagine a scene while television imposes one on her.
After I shook the snow off my boots I came up behind her, wrapped my arms around her and kissed the back of her neck. The sting of the onion caught my eyes and I started to tear.
‘What are you making?’
‘Bolognaise. As if you care, so long as there’s plenty of it.’ She cracked a handful of spaghetti in half and dropped it in the pot. The water hissed briefly. She turned down the radio. ‘They just said the attorneys aren’t going to file any last minute appeals. It’s up to the Parole Board now.’
‘I doubt they’ll issue a stay.’
‘Do you know any of the firing squad?’
‘I’ve met them,’ I said, which wasn’t lying.
She set out the bowls and thudded the steaming pot of pasta in the center of the table. As usual, I finished her leftovers. While we were eating desert—mint chip ice cream—she asked, ‘Do you know what he asked for? For his last meal?’
‘No.’ The warden had advised me not to read the papers until it was over.
‘Just an olive?’
‘Just an olive. And he asked to be buried with the pit in his pocket.’
I didn’t know what to say so I scooped up a spoonful of ice cream. In the silence my spoon clattered on the rim of the bowl.
She began again. ‘Why do you think he asked for that olive and nothing else?’
‘Hmmm,’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t want anything but this ice cream.’
‘It seems odd, doesn’t it? Some kind of spiritual exercise, maybe? I can’t see a political point being made with an olive.’
‘Maybe he’s trying to invoke the olive branch of peace. Trying to tell us he’s found inner peace.’
‘What would you know about inner peace?’ she said with that teasing smile.
‘More than him, I bet. What would you want for a last meal?’ I asked.
‘You,’ she said, and leaned over the table and kissed me. ‘Or five blocks of Valrhona dark chocolate.’
The next morning I woke up before dawn, primed and alert. At six I did my half hour on the treadmill, had a shower, and then put my uniform and boots on—I forgot I didn’t need to be at the station until eleven that night. I walked downstairs to the kitchen with a heightened sense of reality, that transcendent awareness that used to make me turn the patrol car down an alley on impulse to find a mugging in progress. Everything looked newly congealed. I fixed myself a cup of coffee and went over to the living room window. The soft blanket of snow outside had thickened overnight.
‘What are you doing up this early?’ Janice had come down silently in her pink slippers. I always liked how she looked in the mornings. She never took her pajamas off before noon and when she walked I’d catch hints of her firm legs and smooth hips as the material brushed against her skin.
‘I don’t know, just looking at the mountains. They aren’t half as beautiful as those paintings by Janice Lee Draper. You heard of her?’
‘Aint she the wife of that handsome cop?’
‘I believe so, yes. He sure is one lucky man.’
‘I thought you weren’t working until tonight.’ She’d noticed my uniform. I’d told her I had the eight-to-two overnight dispatch shift.
‘Uh, I don’t know. I just forgot.’
She laughed and gave me a little pat on the behind. ‘Well, put something else on and I’ll get the pancakes ready.’
I came back down in civilian clothes and sat down in front of five steaming pancakes.
‘Mmm,’ I said, as I chewed, ‘these are good enough to be a last meal.’
‘Aren’t you funny,’ she said. Then she became quiet and I knew by the way she was cutting her pancakes, slowly with exaggerated precision, that she was about to say something serious.
‘You know, I had a dream about it last night. I was facing the firing squad. But no-one put a hood on me and I was trying to explain that I was the wife of a police officer. They had mistaken me for someone else. I screamed and screamed but they shot anyway. I didn’t feel any of the shots and I still had all my senses. The bright lights were on me and a doctor came and felt my wrist and I tried to tell everyone that I was still alive but no sound would come out. And I was complaining that I didn’t even get a last meal. Then I woke up.’
‘Always thinking about food, you.’ I chuckled a little but she wasn’t laughing. ‘What was your crime?’
‘Nothing. I hadn’t done anything.’
‘But they must have at least accused you of something?’
‘I suppose they did but I didn’t know what it was.’
After breakfast Janice went off to paint so I drove to the batting cages in town. You can just put all your focus on counting the rhythm of the mechanical arm and smacking the ball as hard as you can.
After warming-up in the 75 mile-an-hour cage I moved up to the 85 and was hitting nearly every ball into the back of the net. I was in a groove. Step, swing, pop. Step, swing, pop. Two eight or nine year-olds came over to watch me and after a particularly flat line drive I heard one of them say, ‘Maybe he plays for the Bees.’
The next pitch came out with no spin on the ball. The red stitches, two curves on the white, enlarged in slow motion as they rushed towards me. Before I could get out of the way, the ball hit the knuckle of my right index finger—my trigger finger—jamming it into the bat handle. For a second I felt nothing and then it felt like my knuckle had been cracked in a vise. I’d never seen a worse pitch from a machine. Six seconds later the next pitch thudded into the canvas backstop, straight down the middle.
‘If you rub it you’re a wimp,’ said one of the kids, ‘do you play for the Bees?’
‘No, but I’m flattered you asked.’
I peeled my gloves off and walked back to the girl behind the counter clutching her phone between her two thumbs—the kids trailing—and said, ‘You should check the 85 machine. It just hit me on the hand.’
She looked up. ‘Which one?’
‘We had them all serviced last week. No one else has complained.’
‘I’m not complaining. I should have been able to dodge it anyway. I just want to make sure it won’t get anyone else.’
‘Well I don’t know what you want me to do then.’
‘Think if it hit someone in the head.’
‘I’ll tell the manager when he gets back.’
The two boys, having lost interest in me, were looking at the rare baseball cards laid out in individual cases underneath the glass countertop. Generosity sneaks up on me sometimes. Their parents probably dropped them off at the batting cages for the day because it was too cold to throw them outside. It might be hours before they were picked up again.
‘Two packs of Topps, please,’ I said to the girl.
I stretched out my hurt finger, which had begun to swell like a kielbasa, and opened my wallet with my thumb and middle finger.
‘Hey,’ I said, ‘take one each.’
They ripped open the foil packaging. ‘Thanks, Mister.’
Twenty-three years of shooting have given me hands like gold dust scales and my rifle weighed not a gram under regulation.
Aside from the few eager souls at the prison gate waving blue glow sticks and holding hands and singing, the ride over had been silent. We waited in an anteroom for what seemed like a long time. I kept my gloves on so no one would see my injury. Small talk was difficult but we did it anyway. It’s funny, I still remember Selwood saying his daughter had pneumonia.
We stood behind the concrete wall as Depaul shuffled out unassisted. A lick of white hair stood up at the back of his head. It was hard to picture this wispy man as the brash murderer on TV from fifteen years before. He declined to speak. The guard asked if he had understood that he had a right to speak. He said ‘yes, sir’ and then he was strapped to his wooden chair up on the wooden platform with black sand bags stacked high around to prevent ricochets.
His black hood was fitted, then the target was pinned to his chest with two safety pins. His bonds were double-checked and the guards withdrew. Perched between the black stacks he reminded me of a statue in its tabernacle. The others were ready. I kneeled down on the right end and took my right glove off but kept my hand in front of me so the warden couldn’t see from behind. I turned the safety off my rifle and put my finger, as tight and firm as a hose on full blast, pain barreling through it, on the outside of the trigger guard. I raised my left hand, the signal to the warden. ‘All clear, buddy,’ I heard him say. The paper target slowly turned into a baseball card and I heard myself starting to count. Around two, I remember thinking that the black now looked more like purple and the lights had brightened. I could barely make out the sandbags. I fainted somewhere before four with my finger on the trigger.
I don’t remember my rifle going off or the recoil hitting my shoulder but there was a bruise there the next day. When I came to, Kupeofola was shaking me from behind and three doctors were frantically undoing Jordan’s bonds. Blood was dripping down his chair and onto the floor. My finger was in a crucible of pain. I sat up and wrapped my arms around my knees. Kupeofola, Young and Johnson were staring at me with puzzled expressions. ‘What happened?’ I asked.
‘You hit him in the stomach,’ Selwood said.
They performed emergency surgery on Depaul that night. At two a.m. the warden decided I couldn’t be charged with any crime but I would have to present at the inquest. He drove me back to the station so I could get my car. I didn’t go home straight away but drove around looking at the encircling Traverses in the three-quarter moon.
When I got home Janice was still up, painting in the sky-lit stable. ‘The moon is good tonight,’ she said. She kissed me. ‘How was work?’
‘Quiet. It’s too cold for criminals. Did you finish anything?’
‘You’re gonna laugh at me.’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘Yes you will.’
There on the canvas, in shades of ash and pale green, was an olive. The morning took a long time to arrive.
Lucas Smith is a poet and writer from California and Gippsland, currently living in Melbourne. His work has appeared in The Lifted Brow, Voiceworks, Australian Book Review, Gargouille, Cordite and elsewhere. One of his stories was highly commended in the 2012 Age Short Story Award.
I am under the silence of a silent migraine yet before me are seas of blessed days. click. In the future eagles nest in cardboard boxes and women and children share the sky. click. An artist paints a picture of a girl being raped and spends three years crying. click. He suffers from double vision and earthquakes. click. I demand no effort nor support towards the absurdity of death. click. I demand a voice for women and distinctive ring tones. click. I demand cats on walls and rooftops and for stick men to eat lamb stews. click. I demand an armour of mist. click. I expect morbid criticism of the organisation and of tambourines on the street. click. I encourage the waste of human beings on Himalayan mountains. click. I encourage leeched colour. click. I believe I am an epilogue for spiders. click. I lost a race in heavy traffic with a chav. click. I am under the silence of a silent migraine yet before me are seas of blessed days. click. My mind is filled with sallow fantasies. click. My mind is a rubber puddle as peaceful as purdah. click. I stand at my full lunar height and sea brine blows onto my teeth. click. I taste juniper berries. click. Remember: only cats, engines, and promises purr. click. I am under the silence of a silent migraine yet before me are seas of blessed days.
Jamie Alcock is from North Wales and lives and works in Devon, UK. He divides his time between writing and working as an outdoor educator with vulnerable young people and adults. He holds a MA in creative writing (dist.) from Bangor University, where he is currently studying for a PhD in creative writing. He has been shortlisted for the Bridport poetry prize, has poetry currently in The Seventh Quarry, a novel extract in The Manchester Review, and a short story forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle.
Rabbit on the Promenade
in homage to JS Harry
Umwelt of responses
and in the substrates below
a silt of muted action.
There are inaudible gasps
bouncing in echo chambers
from delicate atria
to delicate atria
in a soundproof dugout
which pre-empts any
This is my skittish
which hops softly
so my fellow crowd members
won’t fear my paw pound
like I fear hammers creating
this fur face of crushed paper
setting these eyes straight
ahead, up and down,
and any periphery lopped.
This torso the only aligned
part of raw automata
a straight ahead up and down
line. A body made for tunnels.
No slouches allowed.
My wet nose touches
another wet nose
and white whiskers
twitch on pockmarked
cheeks. Red eyes as a
skittish rabbit. The home
is proof of damage. It’s
quiet here. Outside the grass
blades swash my floppy ears.
It’s a clash of waves
cotton battles till the
and small slide
of wet noses.
There’s much activity here
the grass blades rattle,
the busy prowls and promenade predates
are like a pocket turned inside out
and lint falls like a feather
(there was a bus ticket too).
I ate at a restaurant with lah-di friends
nibbled on crispy wafers
caramel flan for dessert.
I put my money away and counted my
approving recollections of a city outing.
A Poet Knows When
Right up against me
I carry carcass.
It taps me on the shoulder
I lug it from room to room.
It tells me the Vedic line
when I will join carcass earth.
When the meteorite lands
on its feet
it drags me like
repulsive lovers can
it thrusts its cunt at me
I kiss its bare bone breasts.
It’s ten it says,
set the wake up
for then, the port
of entry in ten years
and when I arise
without bladder organs
with calcified face
torso tilted with rattle coin
I latch on to the next
keeler. The one for me
who wakes and sleeps
in dread in a canoe called bed.
Ariel Riveros Pavez is a Sydney based writer. His works have appeared in various publications including Contrappasso, FourW, Journal of Postcolonial Text, Social Alternatives and Southerly. He also has a chapbook through Blank Rune Press, Self Imposed House Arrest, and appears in their anthology Forgetting is So Long: An Anthology of Australian Love Poetry.
glass slipper | Inside it
I’m so brown I’m clear White gold
un dress | B(l)onded into celibacy
I’m so blonde I’m pure Blackness
so blue black invisible I explode
in a WHAM!
I’m so B(l)ond I’m action shot awe
mega secret gadget car chase galore
I’ll turn those Batwings you gave me
into | Angel | I am so food so smooth
so smoothie mmm so #street dope
You’d be cute in our commercial
but we can’t find a mum
of your shade of shade of shade
I’ll be your best friend bodyguard
Illegal Maid Refugee Gangsta
I’ll dance in the #toostreet boulevard
of Beatnik diversity | I could be a fairy
Princess from a parallel universe
Don’t PC me | I’m sorry sweet
Seeking: Preferably Blonde Fairies
I rehearse | I rehearse
I’m dancing dancing dancing
in the #toostreet where I exist
as universal | Red Riding | I am
the hood | Your curved transversal
un dream | I resist your fantasy
that cannot transcend its own lack
of imagination | I am | I can | I exist |
The only barrier to me playing Ophelia
is the colour of your text | The texture
of your lie | The truth born of your
starvation | How you live and let die
Taste my skin golden brown and black
My Terrorist crown glinting, in epitaph
This poem was prompted by the comment that Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play James Bond.
Fleur Beaupert is a Melbourne based poet. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in spaces such as aaduna, 404 Ink, Blue Pepper, Bimblebox 153 Birds, Regime and Cordite Poetry Review.
If you’re thinking birds, trees and butterflies, take a seat.
Join Anne Elvey and Phillip Hall as they pick their way through defining ecopoetry (vs ‘nature poetry’), looking at the work of the praise poem and the lament, and wondering what it all means for the work poets do away from the page.
To get deeper into the discussion check out Harriet Tarlo’s editorial for the latest edition of Plumwood Mountain, Robin Cadwallader’s review of John Kinsella’s The Vision of Error: A Sextet of Activist Poems, and grab yourself a copy of Bonny Cassidy’s Final Theory (Giramondo, 2014).
Missed our earlier episodes? Listen here!
Anne Elvey is managing editor of Plumwood Mountain: An Australian Journal of Ecopoetry and Ecopoetics. Her recent publications include: Kin (2014), shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize, and This flesh that you know (2015), international winner of the Overleaf Chapbook Manuscript Award. White on White is forthcoming from Cordite Books in 2018. Anne holds honorary appointments at University of Divinity and Monash University.
Phillip Hall is a poet, reviewer and essayist working as an editor with Verity La’s Emerging Indigenous Writers Project and as a poetry reader at Overland. From 2011 to 2015 he lived in the Gulf of Carpentaria where he ran sport and camp programs designed to re-engage and foster emotional resilience, cooperative group learning and safe decision-making. In 2014 he published Sweetened in Coals. In 2015 he published Diwurruwurru, a book of his collaborations with the Borroloola Poetry Club. He is currently working on a collection of place-based poetry called Fume. This project celebrates First Australians in the Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria. Phillip now lives in Melbourne’s Sunshine (western suburbs) where he is a very passionate member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club.
Alice Allan’s poetry has been published in previous issues of Verity La as well as in Cordite, Rabbit and Australian Book Review. She is the creator and convenor of the Verity La Poetry Podcast and produces her own weekly podcast, Poetry Says.
You hold a catacomb of memories.
I wait outside your door to catch fragments.
How much can any of us know
of what preceded? We interrogate
doors we cannot pass through,
look at shadows through keyholes.
Can I trace the path of your flight from Egypt
in the old grainy black and white photographs
of a young man and a younger woman
honeymooning in Luxor over sixty years ago,
in the French you speak with an Egyptian accent,
or those long nights playing cards in the lounge room
in clouds of cigarette smoke, the murmuring of
Egyptian voices transplanted across the world
billowing like the sail of a felucca in my childhood sleep?
You strolled along the Corniche
in Alexandria when you were a girl,
moved to Cairo,
fell down the stairs and cracked open
your head when you were ten (we can still
feel the scar through your hair),
recall blocks of ice hauled from the street
to the balcony, siestas and lazy afternoons
at The Club, visits to Groppi’s.
I imagine a world moving around you
like the intricate workings of a watch:
you were immersed in friends, community,
large family gatherings, a hubbub of siblings,
warm and close. Looking back
from this distance, it seems carefree
like the young woman in the photographs,
but I can see only shadows: and your
mother’s early death in childbirth,
your father, your beloved father.
You were caught in the spokes
of history’s turning wheel.
A plague of war came closer, Rommel
pushing through the desert to El Alamein,
synagogues destroying their records,
the threads of your life unravelling
— and further unravelling
even as Israel was being born,
even as a tide of refugees,
a great ingathering of the displaced
landed on her shores —
with waves of departure,
family splintering off to America,
to England, to Israel, one after
the other — the mass dispersion
of everything known,
everything familiar, everything.
Leaving is not a simple thing:
what is left behind? What comes
with you? What stowaways?
Affix a moment to it:
the act of leaving — boarding ship
at Port Said in 1952;
or the commitment to leaving —
the Australian crew bringing
you a birthday cake,
wishing you ‘many happy returns’
and your puzzled response:
‘I’m not going back’.
A moment as artifice:
to mark passage, to denote
before and after, despite
the continuum of leaving:
making landfall, arriving
The Egypt of your childhood
receded before you left,
before you took what few possessions
you were allowed — leaving behind
what was already gone;
taking with you what you imagined
you were leaving —
and boarded the ship to your future
with hardly a backward glance.
The sea parted before you.
You were young then
and the future lengthened into
a fall of manna, a dazzling antipodean
light that you entered
and kept entering for sixty years.
But Egypt kept returning —
in accents or turns of phrase,
in phone calls,
in visitors at your door
from Brazil or Europe:
messengers from an earlier life.
In the mornings, the rich smell
of Turkish coffee — Dad going through
the elaborate ritual, the practised
science of making it, his daily gift
of smell, of taste, of texture
from another land, another time.
Curious, I went back thirty years later,
returning to the Egypt I had never left
and never known, attached by an umbilicus
steeped in history. I looked to find my face
or its echo in a Cairo crowd,
but the half life of your quarter life is short,
and there were no traces: it takes so
little time to be obliterated, for all the markings
to disappear, buried in a sea of sand.
Each year at Pesach we remember the Exodus
in ritual, in food and song, in stories:
your story overlaying the biblical —
exodus upon exodus,
always leaving, lost markings hidden
though marking generation after generation.
David Adès returned to Australia in 2016 after living for five years in Pittsburgh. He is a Pushcart Prize nominated poet and short story writer and the author of Mapping the World (Wakefield Press / Friendly Street Poets, 2008), the chapbook Only the Questions Are Eternal (Garron Publishing, 2015) and the forthcoming Afloat in Light (UWA Publishing, 2017).
David won the Wirra Wirra Vineyards Short Story Prize (2005). Mapping the World was commended for the Fellowship of Australian Writers Anne Elder Award 2008.
David has been a member of Friendly Street Poets since 1979. He is a former Convenor of Friendly Street Poets and co-edited the Friendly Street Poetry Reader 26. He was also one of a volunteer team of editors of the inaugural Australian Poetry Members Anthology Metabolism published in 2012. His poetry has been published in numerous journals in Australia and the U.S. with publications also in Israel, Romania and New Zealand.
David’s poems have been read on the Australian radio poetry program Poetica and have also featured on the U.S. radio poetry program Prosody. He is one of 9 poets featured on a CD titled Adelaide 9. In 2014 David won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize and was shortlisted for the Newcastle Poetry Prize. His poems were also Highly Commended in the 2016 Bruce Dawe National Poetry Prize and a finalist in the Dora and Alexander Raynes Poetry Prize 2016.