Ikateq by Susan Wardell
She opens her eyes as an iceberg glides by. It is not a dream. Dried fish are hanging, swinging from a rusted ladder beside her. They have no smell, in the way of dreams. The captain has his head stuck out of the window, smoking a pipe.
Her skin is bare, radiating with hope. No, that bit is a dream. Really, she peers out from layers of micro-fleece. No room to take it all in. This shining giant. It groans as they glide by, so near she could have reached out to run her fingers over its body.
They arrive at the village of Ikateq: a rocky outcrop, population zero. The white flowers of a Greenland spring wave like soft unspoken snow.
She wanders past empty fish racks, eying the water for the ghosts of fish, towing people in their salt wake. Inside a small wooden shed, she finds a bushel of white birds hanging by their feet. Abandoned. Preserved. Eyes shut and wings reaching.
She flees over the hill, descends into a cove filled with the thousand voices of ice. Singing, knocking, clicking. Tired little sighs; the creaking of age and submission.
She leans over to capture a piece in hastily shucked hands. Then presses it to her mouth. Or is that part of the dream? Her desiccated lips, and the ice frictionless, edgeless, its shape lost to her even as she tries to know it.
They depart Ikateq.
She stays awake this time, smoke in her nose, watching the south-bound stream of icebergs parting like Edwardian pairs around the boat’s grim little holt. Watching mist soften the thin salt membrane of the sea, veil all the places where whales might dip up into her dream before descending again to navigate their own inverse mountains. She does not blink.
The Undead in Beed by Mandira Pattnaik
Central India, May 2020
A few light taps on the pane. He turned towards the window. The illusion of rain. In the middle of the drought?
He watched the drops against the feeble flame of the kerosene lamp in his roadside stall. He sat here day in and day out, selling knick-knacks for travelers. He knew the travelers were right: they’d be hit sooner or later. People would be incarcerated in their homes, and if he didn’tperish in the drought, he might die of starvation because no one would come to his shop.
Rain. Not an illusion then. Slowly, soundlessly, it fell on the semi-dark, lonely stretch of highway, and on the parched fields abutting it. Maybe on the hills too, whose outlines he could see. Perhaps it was falling on the graveyard where many of their hamlet lay buried, with crooked crosses and headstones, amidst long wild grass. Where he might find his identity fade into digits and summaries of the lost someday soon.
He felt a chill up his spine. He thought of his wife, waiting under a street pole halfway home, so they could sit together for dinner, share a bowl of watery broth.
Now he rose, snuffed out the lamp, pulled the awning of the stall down. Then he carried his body through the rain.
The next morning, he woke feeling better. The twittering of the birds foretold the breaking of dawn in the distant eastern horizon. Through the half-drawn curtain, he saw dark monsoon clouds gathering inthe western corner of the sky. Imminent rains filled his heart with joy. If only they had comebefore they had had to sell off their patch of land. Before man and wife tried desperately to save the wilting crop.
With a little effort, he sat by the edge of the bed. He felt his feet on the cold floor.
His wife lay asleep, her mouth half open, running a temperature. He watched her as she slept, her tangled grey hair, her uneven breath, as if he had forgotten how long they had lived together in the same house. A strange pity rose in his throat. This woman – his wife – had spent a lifetime serving him. Obeying his orders, fulfilling his wishes, bearing his tantrums, doing what pleased him. Service, like devotion to the Lord. Like last evening – he had sprained his ankle walking back, and shehad to drag him home for the final stretch.
No one had come out of their houses to help. Their neighbors had turned a blind eye, had abandoned a lifetime of huddling together, in mirth and gloom.
He watched his wife struggling, gasping.
No one has lifted the awning of the stall for months. No one sips chai there. No one sits on the plastic chairs out front. No one sells anything, not even a plastic comb.
Elusive Love by Mehreen Ahmed
Social media, across time zones
Shamshi Rahman didn’t have enough money to put meals on the table. He had recently lost his job. He spent his days on social media. His life felt a waste. To his surprise, he started talking with an older woman.
Shamshi sent her little love notes. He complimented on her looks, and then her curvy figure. It was all very mechanical, trying to grab her attention. How to make someone fall in love?
It began as a game.
He told her he loved her.
She told him it wasn’t going to work because of the age difference. He said he didn’t care about age. He couldn’t live without her. He couldn’t breathe without her.
She told him she loved no one. She said she had a cold, cold heart. She was like a broken record on a decrepit player. She was like an aged palace or a mossy old temple half devoured by some unknown thousand-year-old tree. That she was Homer’s Red Wine Sea. She breathed old, stale air of the past and the present and perhaps a bit into the future too.
Shamshi’s love persisted.
And then, she felt a mad rush of love, too. One that she couldn’t understand. She couldn’t get him out of her head. She told him that. She said love, for her, was a losing battle. She would never win it. And maybe he was using her. Was he using her? Shamshi told her otherwise. He told her there was no impurity as far as love went. He told her this was love.
Was this love?
He was there. He was not. He spoke in poetry. He spoke in riddles.
She was losing it. She did not. She was sinking. She was not. Enchanting. It was not.
She was at war, she said.
Shamshi said love had to be nurtured in the heart, not in the head.
He was even starting to believe it himself.
Instructions for lockdown by Himali McInnes
gather now in your house of bread and stone; fling wide the windows, collect the leaves blown by autumn winds and paste them to your lips; wipe your busy-ness off the table, let your hair tangle like supplejack; who will I become when I am not busy anymore? you will become thinking feeling knowing unimaginable you; stir fresh water into pillowy clouds of flour, watch wild yeast make marshmallowy magic, watch the bubbles rise thick and slow and pop on the surface of your mind; relish the resilience of ancestors that is in your bones and in your blood; grieve for those splayed on mud-sand floors or snared in rust-metal wire, for theirs is the kingdom of filth and decay and easy-spreading disease; do not sequester your compassion, for this is how you kill the lonely, this is how you grow envy, this is how you fester hatred; instead poke your fingers in the crumbled loam and press in your seeds – sweet-peas for sorrow, kale for comfort, leeks for loved ones; scrape contagion off your hands and leave your gift on doorsteps to sow community; let dust bunnies forage in peace – for greater things have wars been fought; but I must read everything at all times because the news is constantly evolving – turn off your lit-blue window to the world, the world is not going anywhere; watch Papatūānuku dance with bellbirds in urban forests; smile at cherry-eyed kererū winging drunkenly through puriri; take your elders a cord of firewood, a pleat of silverbeet leaves, a warm pearl of kindness wrapped inside your palm; but who will return what I have lost? breathe deep, for this air is holy; surely you will find that which you did not know was lost
Mehreen Ahmed is an award-winning author, internationally published and critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review. One of her short stories won The Waterloo Short Story Competition, 2020. Her works have been nominated three times for The Best of the Net and for the Pushcart Prize 2020, and twice for the Ditmar Awards, in 2016 and 2019. She was also an Aurealis Awards nominee in 2015 and a Christina Stead Prize nominee in 2018. Her book was announced as The Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice, June 2018.
Himali McInnes is a family doctor who works in a busy Auckland practice and in a prison. She is also a constant gardener and a part-time chicken farmer. She writes short fiction, essays and travel articles, and is obsessed by dogs and books. She is a NZ Society of Authors Mentorship recipient for 2020.
Mandira Pattnaik writes in India. Published pieces appear in Bending Genres, Eclectica, Lunate, Splonk and Citron Review, among others. Work is forthcoming in Watershed Review, Australian Poetry Mag Not Very Quiet and Amsterdam Quarterly. She was included in the NFFD NZ MicroMadness this year. She tweets @MandiraPattnaik
Susan Wardell is from Dunedin, New Zealand, where she lectures in Social Anthropology, while raising two small humans and a modest indoor jungle. Her poetry has been published in a variety of journals throughout Australasia. In 2019 she placed second in the NZPS International poetry competition, and first in the International Micro-Madness competition.