Ranko by Fran Turner
Dad still tends to his flowerbeds with the care and attention he puts into his chess, Mom gone all these years. His sunflowers, glowing faces, absorb the fading sun.
My visit will surprise him. I wander through his quiet Saturday night kitchen. Remnants of Istrian Yoda, his Zagreb childhood’s favourite stew, smoky and sauerkraut-fragrant, in his one big lonely pot.
A special occasion that he’s celebrating? Sunflower flaming orange in a vase on his table set for two. Disarray, napkins tossed aside. Poppy seed rolls, slices plump and moist, untouched. Coffee cups, one with dregs of his sharp, dark coffee, its edge alight with lipstick vibrantly red. Another guest I must meet.
“Dad?” I follow his mumbling and pass his open bedroom door. “Dad!” I gasp.
My old father, his tanned and wrinkled face kisses the woman’s wilted-flower breasts.
“Ranko,” she whispers, holding him close and tender as though his body is delicate and rare.
Makeover by SJ Mannion
That three-legged stool. The furry top sagging and straggling down the legs, matted and stringy as old person’s hair, greasy and coarse too. The material around like a yellowy grey scalp, or the skin of an old sheep. Now, it reminds me of knickers, worse, old lady’s old knickers, baggy and scraggy and sad. I bought it for my husband for Christmas. We’re at that stage. Presents are minor insults. I never liked it. Looking at it again, I am reminded not just of old lady’s old knickers but worse again, of an old whore’s old knickers. The word ‘whore’ comes unbidden to my mind and soon after I start to dislike myself, for despising old knickers so, and old ladies. And old lady whores. My contempt shames me.
Then I remember a quote I read some time ago. Just after I bought the stool but before I despised it. It was some Rock Star talking about his new album, how it was a departure of sorts. He said it was a ‘big sloppy whore’ of an album. And I was taken aback, insulted, hurt, by this description. It felt personal. Perhaps because I am a woman and therefore potentially ‘big sloppy whore’? I felt the sting of it ‘in my body’, a real jolt of anger. Dry and hot and fierce in my woman’s body with all its ‘wetness’. The careless spite of it, the contemptuous affection, the man who said it. I burned. And then I wept. I often weep after anger. It has a dousing effect.
Of course, there is no male equivalence for this phrase? Sloppiness in that sense is not considered a male thing, though they too secrete. I listened to the album afterwards and I had to own the crudely creative genius of it. It fit the description, prostituting itself loudly with a brash leg opening sound and provocative trashy lyrics. So now, having remembered that article and having now noted the old-knicker-old-lady-old-whore-like quality of the stool top, I find I just can no longer bear its presence. It reminds me of that horrible phrase, of horrible knickers and, of how horrible it will be to be old. How ugly it will be. None of which I wish to be reminded of.
I played the album again, loud. I took a hammer and wrench to the stool. I ripped off that top, the whole lump of it. It looked like a dead animal. Then I put a match to it. Quite the conflagration! After that, I found a new top for it, a red beret I stretched over the sponge. I am nothing if not resourceful. It is quite the jaunty little piece now. My husband has yet to comment or perhaps notice the change.
Amazing by Trish Gribben
I sat beside one of the smiliest, chattiest men in the vaccine queue. His label BRIAN was written in wonky blue letters.
Brian’s chatter was at full throttle in recovery. Jesus was there, shining down on all of us, smiling in His sunshiney way for His PI congregation. That’s one good thing about this damned virus—it mixes us up. Brian’s face was a Jesus pink from his shiny bald head to the neck of his fading green sweatshirt.
“It’s just amazing,” Brian was telling his friend. “The nurse for the jab, she’s Cheryll, with a C. You don’t get many of those. My wife was Cheryll with a C. I’m telling you: not many of those. She’s buried now. Up north. Mangōnui. That’s where Chrissie offered to take me. All the way.
“When Chrissie made the offer, that was amazing too. ’Cos I’m not that kind of man. She knows. She said, Brian, don’t worry, we’re just old friends. Neighbours for17 years. But I nearly hugged her, I really did. When she said, I’ll drive you Brian. We’ll go for a day. Take flowers to Cheryll’s grave.”
“And her hubbie. He knows I’m not that kind of man. He waved us goodbye. We popped in to see her mum. She gave us scones. A sweetheart. And she didn’t mind seeing me with her daughter. She could tell I’m not that kind of man.
“We got right up to her grave. There it was. On her headstone, Cheryll with a C. We left our chrysanthemum in a pot. A chryssie from Chrissie.
“I still miss her so much. Four years ago she died. I’ve hardly looked at another woman. Till now.
“But to find another Cheryll with a C. I couldn’t resist. I told her about my Cheryll. I told her I might try to find her when I get my second jab. What a blessing, two vaccines. Can you ask for a particular nurse? Not sure if I would try. I’m not that kind of man.”
The Admin Job Psalm by Erik Kennedy
It was my first day copying manuscripts in the scriptorium. Shafts of light bored through the clerestory windows onto our lecterns. The monk next to me was Oswald, the hairy son of a wool merchant. I saw that Oswald was copying passages on practical holiness, but as he wrote out the Latin faithfully he read out a story about a wolf caught in a snare. He paused to sharpen his quill. When he resumed copying, his theme had changed; he was now declaiming the saga of an army of pyramids at war with an army of spheres.
‘Where are these stories coming from, Brother Oswald?’ I asked. ‘You are the only one who has ever wondered,’ he answered. ‘This is a safe life, but a long one. I like to pass the time by translating my copy-text into some of the languages I have learned: spite, fear, envy.’ He copied out a parable of thrift and recited a narrative about a woman and her lover drowning her husband in the bath.
The dust motes danced in the sunbeams like amoebas. And so we worked.
A month later, Oswald was found hanging in the orchard, motionless among the quinces. In his cell was a note addressed to me: ‘To Rufus, who will know how to translate this story into the language of tenderness.’
Fire and Ice by Sandra Arnold
When Angela was seven she asked her mother what kind of meat was on her plate.
“Rabbit,” said her mother.
Tears dripped down Angela’s face. “Like Snowdrop next door?”
For the next six months she would only eat meat if her mother promised that it wasn’t killed. That it came out of a tin. Until her father yelled that he wasn’t going to put up with this bloody nonsense a minute longer and shoved a plate of fatty bacon in front of her, threatening to stuff it down her bloody throat if she didn’t eat it NOW. As soon as the bacon was in her mouth she rushed out to the wash-house and threw up in her father’s work boots.
After the ferocity of the beating and the neighbours hammering on the door, he locked her in the coal cellar for the rest of the freezing pitch black night.
Jamie’s mother lamented to her sister that Jamie had never had a girlfriend and she couldn’t understand it because he must surely have met hundreds of girls at university by now. Her sister replied that girls these days only went for bad boys. Besides, what kind of girl studied physics and astronomy?
Three weeks before graduation Jamie phoned his mother to say he’d like to bring a friend home for dinner. Angela. They worked in the labs together. His mother was speechless for a whole minute. Before she gathered her wits for an interrogation she heard Jamie utter an unfamiliar word.
“Angela’s vegan,” Jamie repeated, “Me too, now. We don’t eat dead animals.”
“But… what about roast beef and Yorkshire pudding? It’s your favourite meal.”
“Not any more,” Jamie said. “But don’t worry. Angela and I like cooking and we’ll bring plenty of food.”
On Sunday Jamie’s mother eyed the lentil and coconut dahl that Angela set down on the table and gave a tight smile. During dinner she noted that Angela avoided answering questions about her parents or her background and talked only about things called solar wind, ions and energetic particles. But Jamie’s mother couldn’t miss the way they looked at each other. While Angela was out of earshot she asked Jamie if they were planning on getting married after university.
“No,” said Jamie. “Angela doesn’t believe in marriage.”
“Oh? What about children?”
Jamie shook his head. “Angela doesn’t want to bring children into this world.”
“So… what does Angela want.”
“She wants to live in Iceland.”
Inside the cabin Jamie laid the wood for the fire and struck a match. Angela stepped outside into the black frigid night. When the cold penetrated her bones she looked back at the window and saw flames in the hearth. Then she called him. Jamie came out and waited with her. Ribbons of green and blue light began to ripple and flare across the sky. In the icy air Angela felt the heat from the fire in Jamie’s arms and the warmth of his cheek against hers.
Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia and is the author of five books including three novels, a non-fiction work and a collection of flash fiction. Her work has been widely published internationally, placed and short-listed in various competitions and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best Microfictions and The Best Small Fictions. http://www.sandraarnold.co.nz
Trish Gribben has written in many ways, for many genres. She is now experimenting with flash fiction and poetry.
Erik Kennedy is the author of the poetry collections Another Beautiful Day Indoors (2022) and There’s No Place Like the Internet in Springtime (2018), both with Te Herenga Waka University Press, and he has co-edited No Other Place to Stand, a book of climate change poetry from Aotearoa New Zealand and the Pacific (Auckland University Press, 2022). His poems, stories, and criticism have been published in places like FENCE, The Florida Review, Hobart, Poetry, Poetry Ireland Review, the TLS and Western Humanities Review. Originally from New Jersey, he lives in Ōtautahi Christchurch in Aotearoa New Zealand.
S J Mannion is an Irish writer living in Aotearoa New Zealand. When she can she writes, when she can’t she reads. In between she ukuleles.
Fran Turner grew up on a farm in the southernmost part of Canada, but Toronto, where she’s lived most of her life, is the place that’s home. She was a nurse, a shiatsu therapist, and worked on cancer programs. For decades her heart was on the Aikido mat, training and teaching at her own dojo. Now she enjoys working on flash fiction. She’s had stories published in Ekphrastic Review, Dodging the Rain, and Adelaide Review.