The Cedar Tree on the Rocks by Catherine McNamara
The cedar tree stands on the rocks over the sea, the dust in a rounded groove at its base, where people come in the afternoon, crouching or lounged out, to talk. There is a pull towards the tree because of this flattened terrain and the arms of feathery shade provided, and the dry woodiness on the air. There are other trees along the point, more stunted and merged together, and certain upswings of orange rock, some with buckle holes worn through, or crescents where rough sandals can be rested, or small rucksacks with water and zippered purses with coins, while one swims.
On this day the others have continued to the point. One woman is swimming in the green below, rotating her tanned body so that her black hair appears to swivel, detached from her body, which is drawn into the sea, foreshortened and dwindled. The rocks lie beneath her, collected in long darkening strands that speak of structure and myth.
Under the tree a man lies on his belly while a woman straddles his lower back, massaging his neck muscles and burnt shoulders. Her knees are in the dust. Her hands are trained. In these moments she has found a rhythmic way of working and she plugs her thumbs into his flesh in a way she knows gives him spears of cold pain. She sees his nostrils flinch; and the wet lines on his neck realign. The man follows these seams of pain into his interior, realising how his brain is in charge of a series of alerts; he tries to sever this rallying, to isolate the zones of his body. The woman has no oil so she spits on the man’s spine, drawing down the two heels of her palms, watching the skin rumple and collect. She wonders why there are no birds here; only yesterday there had been swallows skating over the water surface, then gone. She sees where the path of his bones is skewed and witnesses the bare knuckles of the vertebrae without their gluey iron cushions; she sees the netting of sinews and the curved vaulting of ribs beneath which will one day be a disused chamber, devoid of pattering organs. The man groans because the pain has become something spinning, perhaps at large within the tree whose wood he can smell.
The woman relaxes on her haunches and his body cups hers and her parts emit a flat sucking sound. She is open upon him, and though they are not united as man and woman she feels his being plunge into her, in ascent, and they are bound as though at the soft peak of entire penetration when there is sometimes a pause for grief, and knowing. He looks back at her. She slurs herself over his buttocks and extends over him, laying her cheek in the sore hollow at the base of his skull.
From the sea they look like oily wrestlers in slumber.
The woman in the water fishes under in a sort of pirouette, kicks down to realise that the rock pleats are further than they had seemed, feels the passages of her ears pressed inward. Everything that is within her sack of skin is inverted, and in this stillness begins to pass by osmosis beyond her.
Early last century a seed fell into a cracked rock and grew tendrils in the dust there, becoming a sapling brushed by wind. Over the years this hardy trunk with crimped arms produced sparse foliage that is stiff and aromatic. The foliage is a dusty olive canopy. Someone has drawn a pear-shaped stone into the embrace of an exposed root. Beneath the rock shelf over the sea there are stippled pillars that mimic the root system of the tree, standing like the supports of a crypt. The sea pours around these columns engraving them with charged filigree.
What I Told Her by Rachel Smith
I told my grandmother that I would live in the caravan on her back lawn and study to be a teacher in the city, I didn’t know what kind of teacher yet but I liked writing and I liked maths so probably one of those, and I would need to use the bathroom inside her house because the caravan didn’t have one but it did have a table that folded down into a bed, and I told her that I did not want to marry and I didn’t need a boy except to have the babies that would sleep beside me at night in the fold- out bed, and we could wake in the morning to the sound of her voice when she called out that the porridge was ready.
Writer’s rock / Writer’s block by Gail Ingram
I see a flattened path through the glade. Maybe the girl? I whisper, Are you here? I wind in and around the yellow flowers that must be following some underground stream; stems so bright, so tall, in the muted landscape. They’re penwipers, and I think this is right and I laugh. I will find you, wiping my pen as I go. I swish through, swinging my arms, catching the unopened tops with my fingers.
boulders tumble upwards
into the afternoon
Sweat gathers at the back of my neck, wets my hair. My calves then thighs contract as I pull my weight and my pack’s weight up to the top of a boulder. Step along, jump down, and pull up again.
climbing higher –
Above the creek, the valley narrows. All I want is to find her – let my pen sing. I remember who I used to be, humming low while she wove the high notes between – how the metaphor falls between difference and similarity, a bell and a bird.
through a gully door
of an amphitheatre
There is no such thing as a destination. The hut on the plateau is full of trampers – bearded men, thin as rakes. No girl. Someone says the yellow flowers are Māori onion, not penwipers. Beyond the hut is a labyrinth of 500-million-year-old karst. I will make my way through it. Maybe the girl will be there, at the top, playing her pūtōrino.
The Secret Scrabble Club by Louise Mangos
They walk the half mile to Norma’s house from the village, each arriving separately, at least five minutes apart. The cottage is in darkness, curtains closed. A pale grey feather rises from the chimney and the pungent smell of wood smoke hangs on the air. Norma has left her porch light off, told them to bring torches, warned them about her mossy bottom step. Each time the door opens, a slice of welcome shines across the frost-tinged grass of the front lawn.
Norma ushers them in and they wrap their arms around each other. Oh, how they hug!
Inside, the fire is stacked with logs, popping and crackling. The reflection of flames flickers on the bottle of Prosecco chilling in the ice bucket that they will graduate to after their traditional pot of Earl Grey. A selection of finger food is spread across the table. Neatly stacked sandwiches, mini quiches and sweet pastries. Bowls of crisps and nuts, into which everyone will dip their wrinkled bony fingers, not caring whose have been in there before them. The only bubbles they respect are the ones that come out of the waiting bottle.
They play two and two, then swap partners. Some they win and some they lose. Between games they replenish the party snacks, fill the cups, then the glasses. They laugh and smack their lips, lick their fingers, raise their drinks.
Audrey’s luck tonight is a thing of wonder, with a record score for her. Fiona has a seven-letter word, but cannot play it: STEALTH. She shows the others the letters in her holder. They laugh, chink glasses and drink another Prosecco.
As they shake the letter bag for the last game of the evening, Betty’s seven-letter word wins the admiration of them all: DEFIANT.
About Face by Cristina Schumacher
I touched my face like I did so many times before. It was a gesture of no consequence in between maybe exercising and looking through the window, or perhaps before recalling urgent errands and after eating breakfast. This time, however, my face came off my head like a mask. Sensing the touch of the unshapely mound of flesh and skin in my hands, I put it down and rushed to a mirror. I needed to see what I looked like, but I couldn’t as my eyes had gone with the face I had just shed.
Drenched in panic, unexpected clarity made me realise I didn’t have to see what I looked like – I already knew that face had not really been me. In fact, I had not yet – or ever – been me.
Gail Ingram writes from the Port Hills of Ōtautahi Christchurch and is author of Contents Under Pressure (Pūkeko Publications 2019). Her work has appeared recently in Landfall, Poetry New Zealand, Barren Magazine and others. She is managing editor for a fine line, New Zealand Poetry Society magazine and a short fiction editor for Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction. More at: https://www.theseventhletter.nz/
Louise Mangos writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists, and have been read on BBC radio. Her short fiction has appeared in more than twenty print anthologies and magazines. She lives on a Swiss Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons where she has been able to enjoy skate skiing, kayaking and wild swimming as socially distanced sports throughout the pandemic.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris to write, and ended up in Ghana running a bar. Praised by Hilary Mantel, her short story collection The Cartography of Others was a People’s Book Prize (UK) finalist and winner of the Eyelands International Book Award (Greece). Pelt and Other Stories was long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Award and a Hudson Prize semi-finalist. Love Stories for Hectic People is out in February 2021. Catherine is a writing coach and runs summer writing residencies in Italy where she lives. www.catherinemcnamarawriter.com
Cristina Schumacher is a Brazilian linguist based in New Zealand and an expert in language learning and teaching. With 28 language manual titles published since 1999, she is also a coach, translator, evaluator and consultant to large international companies. Cristina’s work is focused on language awareness and on how language knowledge can become a highly effective self-development tool. She writes flash, poetry and fantasy.
Rachel Smith lives in Aotearoa New Zealand. Her flash and poetry has been widely published including Best Microfiction 2019 and Best Small Fictions 2020.