Foreword/Editor's Pick: Dog by Theo Craci
It is with great pride and pleasure that we bring you this first collection of short stories and poems from emerging and established writers across Australia.
From its humble beginnings as a locally produced quarterly print publication, what started as narrator MAGAZINE Blue Mountains is now narratorAUSTRALIA – a daily digital edition representing talent across a nation of more than 21 million people. This volume contains 215 poems and short stories written and submitted by 107 emerging and established writers published at www.narratoraustralia.com.au during the six month period 1 May to 31 October 2012.
As I was formatting these entries into this compilation, it was wonderful to revisit so many of the items which had brought me so much pleasure on first reading. It is amazing how, as you age, you tend to forget more than you remember!
You will notice as you read through that a few of the entries received Editor’s Pick awards. I am sure that for some of these items, many of you will agree wholeheartedly, and that for others, some of you will disagree with equal intensity! Each Editor’s Pick was awarded for the reaction the item provoked in us on first reading. These reactions weren’t always related to our emotions – sometimes they were related to how we were left thinking – so it may have been a case of thought, not emotion, which resulted in the award.
Looking back at these pieces now, I am still happy with the decisions, but there are other items which, perhaps, deserved something, a Highly Commended, or a Well Done, You! But I don’t want to turn narrator into a circus of teacher’s gold stars – it’s about having a collection of the best writing the country can deliver. And if there is the occasional standout piece (in our minds) then we will highlight that.
I need to assure you that these are not the only submissions we received. We ask for properly edited pieces, and only publish those that we feel have something original to offer, or which say it in a slightly more original way than the next writer might. So this is not a collection of everything which was submitted, only those pieces we felt deserved publication.
I also need to mention that while we give each piece a light proofread for more obvious errors, and try to format all to a reasonable consistency, time constraints dictate that there will be the occasional issue with spelling, punctuation or grammar. For these I can only apologise, congratulate you for knowing better, and remind you not to make the same mistake when submitting your work to publishers!
In this compilation you will find long poems and short stories, and long stories and short poems. Some have illustrations, some have explanations, others are just as they are. They have been published in date order, and there is a list of contributions by author at the back. Sometimes we published more than one item in a day, and on these occasions, you may notice a time stamp next to the date. If no time stamp, then the item would most likely have been published at 8 am Sydney time.
So please, turn the page and start reading … and when you have a moment, feel free to visit the website, or our Facebook page, and let the writers know if you enjoyed their work, and why.
And if you feel like submitting to narratorAUSTRALIA yourself one day, we would love to hear from you!
Thank you for your support of narrator and of the Australian creative writing industry.
Jennifer Mosher, AE
On a very hot afternoon, the soft grey of the path crunched softly under the steady steps of the young man. The dog, scarce more than a pup, trotted eagerly and silently beside him, the noise of her heavy panting long blended in with all the rest. The young man was vaguely aware of the sea of patched green around him. It swirled and warped, revealing sparse trees and some kind of water body amongst the grass, but all of these things seemed to be everywhere in the dream, and nowhere. He could only truly see his feet, walking just above but not quite on the ground, and the dog beside him. There was clarity in all the world of the dream, and only in that world. He looked at her for reassurance. His dog stared back, her tongue hanging out at the side, her eyes meeting his with unquestioning faith as the background blurred on. He would remember that.
I carried myself calmly into the usual office building for the first day after my few weeks off. Another day of the usual mundane work, and the table of close friends at lunch. I approached it with a dull sense of duty. Soon it will finish, I reminded myself, and I can go home to rest. I considered the second prospect with the same duty, and took my seat at my workspace, and left myself there to sort it all out. I glanced back periodically to check the time, until the hour of my return came, and I stood up and headed to the kitchen. There I met my usual table, and my usual friends, who welcomed me back with warmth I took care to reflect properly.
‘How is everybody going?’ I offered to them.
The one nearest me returned on their behalf. ‘Pretty good! How about you?’
‘How was your time off then? Anything interesting happen?’
On a very hot afternoon, the young man padded silently over the gravel path. His dog floated along beside him, perhaps making contact with the path, or maybe not. The sea of grass stretched starkly all around on either side, and the creek snaked along to the right of him, brief but intense spots of light slicing off with the gnarled trunks jutting from the banks. He was aware of the glassy sky shimmering down, but the eyes were on the feet, coated in worn runners, walking over the gravel. His mind staggered with sick unease, though his feet kept their rhythm. He looked at his dog for reassurance once again. He felt the dog look at him, and felt the unquestioning faith once again. As he turned back down to his feet, he envied that faith.
On a very hot afternoon, the young man stood. The grey path snaked to the vanishing point in the infinite void ahead, across a great sea of dirt. The young man stood, afraid for folding on himself if he walked. He felt sick enough that he found and remembered the gag reflex, and almost doubled over to be sick, but he recalled that there was nothing in the hole. The young man ignored the temptation to look at the dog, settling to continue listening to the simple steady panting. That was important, he remembered, the panting. More than anything.
He didn’t need reassurance, it was just another day on the gravel path. There were thorns on this path this time, but that was because they needed to remove the fruit. Everyone knew that you need to endure the thorns to remove the fruit. The thorns were nothing, and we needed to remove the fruit.
He suddenly felt exhausted. He felt like he’d been walking for days, and he tried to turn to see his progress, but found he could not, and only stared at the same grey path, snaking to the same vanishing point across the same sea of dirt. A mosquito floated past, and zoomed away as he thought on slapping it. One couldn't be too careful with mosquitoes, you never know what disease they might have a chance of carrying. He listened to the steady panting of his dog, and reflected on its importance. It was precious, like the dog. He looked to the dog for reassurance ... and cursed. He tried to undo it. His neck stiffened. Too late, his head was already turned and there was no unturning it. He wailed in despair as the panting stopped. He flailed violently, trying to reach the sounds. He needed to catch the panting! He screamed, a horrible, high-pitched wail that shattered the glass sky. The world crumbled.
The young man wearily lifted his face from his pillow. He stared for a moment, and started sobbing.
On a very hot morning, the young man stood. The grey path stretched to the wooden gate, and the infinite void beyond. He clutched the leash in his hand and stared at it. He felt the familiar burning, but he knew now to close his eyes and simply breathe. Fighting it only hastened the process, and he couldn't let that happen today.
He walked toward the front gate and turned to the right, to the garbage bin. He opened the bin and clutched the leash in his hand, and stared at it. He waited a moment, and then held it over the bin and began to open his hand ... then stopped. A second thought came over him.
He closed his hand around the leash, and closed the bin. He stepped back from the bin and stuffed the leash in his pocket. He patted it to make sure it was stuffed in securely, then started off. He opened the front gate, stepped out, and began walking down the gravel path.
Editor’s Pick was awarded to this story for various reasons: the rhythm, the surprise, the clever handling of what could be reduced to two sentences, but which is delivered in an intriguing manner in nearly 1,000 words, without it being a waste of text. Truly creative writing.
In The Orange Light Of Early Morning by Bob Edgar/She by Alexandra Smithers
In The Orange Light Of Early Morning
Murtula loved Crystal from the moment of her birth, loved her as any mother would love their first born child.
Naming her Crystal was as deliberate as all things were that she did in her life. Crystal would be expected to be atomically stable, either all things occurred correctly, or else nothing occurred at all.
Crystal was a disappointment.
Murtula felt no compassion, as she punctured the suitcase whilst muttering for forgiveness.
In the orange light of the early morning she flung the suitcase into the water.
Along with her soul, it hesitated on the surface before sinking into an abyss.
She left. The twine of time mended my heart with delusions of indifference. She returned and my heart beat anew, breaking each thread without considering the consequence.
This story is written using only 140 characters, the maximum allowed for tweeting.
Lovers And Liars by Emma Hall/Best Friend by Noel Downs
Lovers And Liars
She drank milky coffee and
wore pink lipstick and
after we made love
she’d stroke my back and tell me stories.
But I left her.
For the girl
with long brown curls who
never called me by my name and
after we made love
she’d loosen the ties on my wrists and go to make herself a black Russian.
And she left me.
For the guy
who bought her things that sparkled and
told her she was more fun than his wife and
after they made love
he promised she was the only one.
And she believed him.
Until she saw him with the girl
in the short short skirt with
the big blue eyes and (she was sure)
after they made love
he promised she was the only one.
So she left him.
For a boy
who wore his sleeves rolled up and
smiled with his mouth open and
after they made love
he panted ‘you’re amazing’ and she waited until he left so she could finish herself.
Then he left her.
When he told her
‘I love you’ and
she turned away and lied and said there was someone else
until he, heartbroken,
Benny and I had been mates since first grade, we were almost inseparable. If there was mischief afoot we’d be in it. Pranks mostly, it was if we knew what each other was thinking, but most likely we just thought alike. At school we’d get the same answers so often the teachers thought we were cheating off each other. They tried putting us on opposite sides of the room to no avail. Wasn’t until they moved Benny to a different class and we still did it, that they realised we wasn’t cheating. We liked the same foods, the same drinks and snacks, the same movies and music. We fished, we camped, we hunted, we lived. We were mates. Problem was we were too much alike, we had the same tastes in everything. For 16 years it was like we were twins, but not.
The year Benny turned twenty one, his parents gave him a trip to Europe for his birthday. Initially I was going with him, but my dad had hurt himself making hay so I couldn’t go. He’d been on holidays before without me. So neither of us gave it much thought as we said our farewells and joked about the diseases he’d catch. Didn’t he ever catch something! Did I tell you we liked the same things? Now with mates that usually isn’t a problem, even when you both want the same thing, you just share. But some things you can’t share.
While he was away Benny got engaged to a French girl. Though Monique was not so much of a girl, as a goddess. Boy I tried hard not to like her, really hard not to let either of them know. We were mates, things like that can ruin a good friendship, but the writing was on the wall from the day he fell in love. Benny knew something was wrong, but he was in love. Love made him stupid, hell, it made me stupid. He tried to get me to talk about it, tried to cheer me up by taking us fishing, and camping, Monique came too, though she refused to go hunting, didn’t like the sound of the gun.
We had been stalking a roe buck, and as he was about to take the shot he stood up turned his back on the disappearing buck to face me and for the first time since we’d met, he yelled with anger directed at me. We’d never had harsh words before, and it shocked me. I guess that was his aim to catch me off guard and get some answers. Not sure the answer he got was the one he was prepared for. How do you tell your best friend you want their woman? Anyway, it was in that moment when the look in his eyes told me our friendship was ended, that I thought fuck it, and I shot him.
I buried him in that little copse. Loaded our gear into the car and when it was dark crashed it into to the river. The police searched for days but they never found his body. I cried for a week; kept saying to anyone who was around, that it was my fault, that I’d killed my best friend. No-one would listen, called it an accident, they tried to comfort me, even Monique did. She said we needed to look after each other ’cause we’d both lost. Now that did cheer me up.
We’re getting married tomorrow.
Knitting In Green by Sallie Ramsay/A Slip To Eternity by Paul Humphreys/List of Contributors
Knitting In Green
As always she felt a glow of achievement and satisfaction when the end was in sight. A couple more rows, cast off and it would be done; another piece of knitting finished. She looked at the work spread out across her knee and felt pleased with the way it had turned out, although she wasn’t really happy with the colour; a bright emerald green; but it was all they had.
Clear as if it were yesterday, she remembered her first knitting lesson. She was six, sitting in the big armchair by the fire, convalescing from measles, when she asked her mother to teach her how to knit. She could still hear her mother’s voice, ‘Needle into the stitch; wool around the needle; turn, hook wool through the gate; pull it off.’ She remembered how her fingers felt so clumsy, she thought she would never get it right, but she did.
By the time she went back to school, she was so proud she told the teacher, ‘I can knit!’ That afternoon in ‘Craft’ her teacher handed out needles and balls of cotton yarn and announced they were going to knit a face washer. She could hardly wait to start but found she hated the feel of the cotton yarn, the way it squeaked and was hard to move along the needles. She had put the knitting down on the desk. She remembered her teacher raising her eyebrows and saying ‘I thought you said you could knit!’ She remembered saying she couldn’t knit with cotton and the teacher replying, ‘It is a poor workman that blames his tools.’ She struggled with the hated face-washer, gritting her teeth and muttering that it wasn’t real knitting; for real knitting you needed wool.
She remembered the doll’s blanket made out of squares she knitted from the rainbow of odd balls of wool in her mother’s knitting basket. She spent hours choosing the colours and even longer, arranging the squares into a satisfying pattern and she remembered pictures in her mother’s pattern books, dreaming of the day when she too could make the wool twist and turn under her needles and how, one day, she did.
She remembered knitting a scarf for her boyfriend when she was at boarding school; it was creamy white with a heavy rib pattern and bands in his school colours at each end. When it was long enough she wrapped it around her neck as she knitted, imagining it wrapped around his neck. He ‘dropped’ her just before the scarf was finished, but being a practical country girl; she unravelled the end and knitted in the school colours of the nice boy she met on the train going home for the holidays.
Right from the beginning she kept a record of each project in a leather bound ledger her grandfather gave her. She recorded everything from sweaters of heavy greasy wool to cosy shawls and baby clothes, so delicate it seemed they would blow away if anyone so much as breathed on them. The dates started and finished were entered; there were very few blanks in the ‘date finished’ column but behind each one there was a story; perhaps an estrangement, a death or a change of mind. She sometimes made notes: ‘Jane’s first babe’; ‘S.D’s 40th birthday’; ‘For Royal Melbourne Show’ (Best in Show)’; ‘Cricket sweater (Long Sleeves)’.
She smiled remembering the hot summer afternoons, sitting in the shade with her mother, the afternoon tea basket at their feet, knitting and watching the cricket. Her three brothers and her father all played with the local team. She remembered cricket sweaters, heavily cabled and some with bands in club colours; most were sleeveless, only serious friendships warranted the time and effort needed for long sleeves.
She remembered how she knew it was really love when she knitted a cricket sweater for a young man who insisted that it have no pattern, not even coloured bands. For her it was a labour of love because there were few tasks she hated more than plain knitting. After they were married she celebrated by knitting a navy sweater with an Aran pattern so complex, it took her nearly six months to finish. He was wearing it the day they told her he wouldn’t be coming home after a boating accident, the year after they were married.
When money was scarce she knitted samples for knitting books and remembered how much she hated ‘other people’s’ patterns. She liked to knit to order, but only to the most imprecise orders: ‘A jumper for each of the kids’; ‘A bed-jacket for Mum when she’s in hospital’; the finished work always fitted the wearer’s personality to a tee.
She knew some worried sure that she knew nothing except knitting. She thought how little they knew. Had they never looked at her knitting? Really looked at her knitting?
As her needles wove heather-soft blues, mauves and pinks into a delicate Fair Isle pattern she heard the skirl of highland pipes blowing on the wind. A Roman mosaic unearthed from a villa in Colchester provided the inspiration for a jumper for her sister. She knitted the nets, the fish and ropes of generations of Irish fisherman and travelling the world unimpeded by restraints of time or space each time she began to plan a new project.
Special pieces she put in the cedar chest alongside where, carefully packed in tissue paper, lay the unfinished layette started for the unborn baby who died within days of its father, all those years ago.
She didn’t remember when her hands, with fingers swollen and twisted like the gnarled branches of an ancient tree, could no longer move as she wanted.
She didn’t remember the day she was moved out of her home of seventy-five years to a small bright room with a comfortable chair by the window where she began to knit again. She would be surprised to know the knitting from the cedar chest in her house was now on permanent display in the Museum of Fine Arts.
Pleased with her morning’s work, even though that emerald green was not at all to her taste, she began to cast off.
‘She was a dear old thing,’ the young nurse remarked, nodding towards the quiet figure on the bed. ‘She was just sitting in the chair, died, just sitting, very peaceful.’
‘What’s with the tangle of green wool all over the place?’
‘I think she used to knit. As long as she had a ball of wool to unravel she was happy. I think she thought she was still knitting.’
A Slip To Eternity
He knew he was in trouble when his foot slipped on the moss of the cliff face and his feet dropped below him and he crashed into the wall headfirst. He temporarily lost control of the descent rope and slid about two metres.
His lead glove was wrenched off his hand and was caught tight in the figure eight descender. That was at first lucky as that stopped him from a free fall to the bottom of the chasm. However it also meant that with the descender jammed he could not go up or down.
He hung helpless and horrified at his predicament. He tried desperately to unjam the descender without success.
No one knew where he was. He only had on a T-shirt and shorts and the night was fast approaching. He had no food or water.
It had meant to be an opportunity to get away by himself, to push himself and savour an adventure. Now it was a life-threatening situation.
Darkness came quickly as the sun disappeared over the mountain range behind him. There was a sudden drop in the temperature and he knew that this was not going to be a comfortable night.
The search and rescue party found him two days later.
There had been an unseasonal cold change come through and small patches of snow still lay in pockets around the cliff edge.
As they moved his body back up the cliff one of the search group commented, ‘Did you see his facial expression? It was weird – sort of serene but with a slight smile. Never seen anything like that before.’
They could not have known that his last thought before lapsing into the final sleep was, ‘Crazy. Not heart, hernia or hypertension but hyperthermia got me.’
The challenge was to write a short story in approximately 500 words or less.
List of Contributors
Alex aka The Auld YinGardiner
Judith La Porte
Anthony J. Langford
Kate-Michelle Von Riegen