1st: Martin Porter
The Dust of Moth
As my inheritance, I was left the box hidden beneath my father's bed, containing army charts annotated for rambling, folds eaten by moths, their dust between pictures taken by him, postcards bought in antique shops, diaries scripted in exercise books, Victorian specimen boxes, a wedding ring.
One package, tied with ribbon, contained a ripped map with a marked path, reconnaissance photographs of huts, and pictures of compounds beside an ox-bow lake in a dog-eared album. Flicking the leaves, I was suddenly faced by my father in walking hat, then my mother, and me as a small child. Visible in the background, a smoking chimney, a highbarbed wire fence. There, too, were court reports, prison records, an armband and the broken chrysalides of moths.
My father, who delighted in showing me cells imprisoned in a drop of water through his microscope, had never spoken of this. Was he prisoner or guard, builder or liberator? The diaries revealed no biography, no confession, neither truth nor excuse. My father was like a moth wing, a collage of stolen fragments and rubble, cemented in place by lime from old bones.
I cannot remember swimming in that lake nor the picnics with my mother evidenced in the photographs. I cannot remember the disappearances, the silences between the wailing carried on the wind,the smell of smoke and ash beside the lake. I heard no bombs falling and exploding. My father's curse was that he never felt cursed. The weight of his memory was locked in that box, together with the desiccated chrysalides.
Attracted by the flame, I burned the photographs. I burned the diaries, tainted by dust of moth. I sold the ring. Without knowledge of the landscape there is no history, but no hopefor the future.
I repaired and kept the map.
2nd: Joanna Pascoe
They were laid out in a line. Hats: leopard print, Russian mink, ostrich fascinator, blue felt with peacock plume, flamingo pink- animals in all of them. This line was magnificently soothing. She had made the line herself. Cleared the dusty books from the top shelf in their bedroom, and given them to the local school fair. Neil was away in China doing business so often that he would never notice. Below the hats on a dresser was her growing collection of perfume, bought at duty free, one per trip. Satisfied, she rubbed her hands on her apron with the Monet water lily design, and surveyed the bedroom. Her colour-coded silk dresses faced the same way in the open wardrobe, where shoes stored in their boxes were surreptiously stacked on her side of the space. She quickly averted her eyes away from Neil's dirty sports gear and disordered Swanndries, which momentarily disturbed her sense of elegance and order.
Sighing, gloves on, she bustled Neil's business shirts into the silver tub of her favourite wedding gift, the Electrolux washing machine. Habitually, she checked masculine pockets for forgotten treasure. The rubber glove coating found friction in a top pocket. Respectfully, carefully, she pulled out a photo of a pretty Asian woman, smiling in a red cheongsam. She considered the silk material with gold thread trim and ogled the hand-stitched peacock that draped itself from breast to navel. On the back, a neat hand had scrawled Hong Kong jasmine and a phone number. Jasmine, she thought, that would be the scent of her next perfume request. That there was a photo of a pretty lady in her husband's pocket was of no consequence, that he had the money to purchase one of these garments for her, on his next trip - this, this was significant.
3rd: Christel Jeffs
There's a girl out there in the garden, in the rain. She's dodging the raindrops, yet delighting when she feels their coldness. Their touch sends fingers running up her spine, digging into her clothes. You're young, her parents say. Plenty of time. Avoid them, don't become obsessed.
But when you're fifteen, everything is obsession. Every glassy look has meaning. Every word is wrung out andre-spun to create the response you want- does he? Doesn't he?
She looks up at the raindrops. To her they are sweet nothings, warm fuzzy ducklings to be grasped and held close to the heart. The rain drizzles on. But she isn't underwater. The rain drags sorrow from her eyes.
"Come in!" her mother tells her. "Before you become a drowned rat!" The girl shivers and opens her mouth, welcoming the drops. Better to drown than to die of thirst.
Ten years on and there's a woman out there; it's no longer raining but she stands by a river. It's racing pure and deep and she thinks, "Is this for me?"
Why not? She steps in and stoops under the water. Her dress floats out beautifully and her hair is swimming about her like a silken fish. "Come out of that river." I hear her mother's voice, cracked with age now. "You'll get lost in it and drown!"
But the woman just laughs. To her, the river is a handwritten letter. Every word pools together in an endless stream of miss you, love you, forever you. She's happy to be lost, happy to drown, as long as the river keeps flowing.
4th: Daphne de Jong
Wellington. The wind is a boisterous companion, blowing this way and then that. James's jacket flaps upward and he shoves both hands into the pockets to restrain it as he struggles to the railway station.
Riding the train to the Hutt Valley he watches the waves on the harbour swell and foam.
A little girl on the seat in front of him scrambles upright beside her mother and turns, clutching the seat back, then looks intently at him. Under her solemn stare, James raises a hand and tries to tidy his hair, no doubt in some disarray from the wind's assault. Surreptitiously he also checks for signs of approaching baldness.
The child's mother is staring out the window, seemingly unaware of what her daughter is doing.
The girl can't be older than three, James decides. If the train were to suddenly jerk or unexpectedly stop she might fall, be injured. Would that woman care? Does she deserve such a pretty daughter?
A solo mother? James speculates. Not fair on the child. Every child needs a daddy. This one is vulnerable.
He smiles at the little girl, wiggles his fingers.
She giggles, and her mother turns, snaps, "Jordan, sit down!"
"Man!" The child chortles again.
Without looking at James, her mother pulls her down. She wails, and James silently steams until the child stops crying. Bitch!
At the next station the woman scoops up her bag and hauls the child by her tiny hand to the exit.
James gets up, stepping off at the last second. This is not his station.
The mother and child scurry among other passengers to ascend the overhead bridge. The crowd gradually disperses until they are walking alone on a darkening street.
About fifteen metres behind, James follows them.
Time to Travel
The girl slipped the coin into her pocket and winced at the rattle of cutlery as she closed the drawer. From behind her right shoulder she heard the sprung floor creak. She turned. He was 5 feet away. His arm was cocked. He growled.
She took a step towards him then spun and ducked under the open palmed slap that whipped over her head. She leapt from the top step and mid-flight adjusted where she lit to avoid the fresh dog faeces she had carefully placed. Behind her she heard him bounce through the narrow doorway and then the wet mud slap of his foot squashing the mess into the wet grass.
She heard the man swear. She heard him gag and retch. She slowed as she moved between the caravans continuing until she stood beside the bus. She jumped up and smacked her hand hard against the sliding glass window at the rear of the bus. A moment later the window opened and a man's head appeared. His milky eyes focussed on her. His teeth and fingertips and the collar of his singlet were a similar shade of faded rust. He rubbed his hand across his jaw and then cupped it and lowered it to her. She put her hand in her pocket and grabbed the coins and tipped them into his palm. He shook the assorted coins and stared at them.
"This'll only get you 5 minutes."
She nodded. The man met her at the front of the bus. He held the small horse on a lead rope. She batted the man's outstretched hand away and hopped into the saddle on her own. She turned her face to the sun and leaned back and closed her eyes and gently put her heels to the horse's ribs.
Measure Twice Cut Once
You might think that killing is easy but it's hard. Hard enough for me anyway. Killing was maybe the toughest thing I ever had to do.
Yes I had my reasons for ending her but I'm hardly going to spill my guts here and tell you everything. The only thing you need to know - the truth of it - is this: she deserved to die and no one was going to get to kill her but me.
It’s a fact that I had more motivation than anybody. We had history together and not just that poisoned egg she gave me. We had a million different stories but all of them ended with her dead and me standing over her.
Old Mr Huntington was a patient bastard. Forty-one years he camped outside the front gate, quietly following us around, saying nothing. Then one morning he invited himself to the breakfast table, spilling the tea, knocking the porridge on the floor, shattering the bowl.
He just moved in and and spread out. He broke everything: every day a new indignity, a little less control.
Brave as she was, the day still came when finally she begged. Eyes wide and unfocused, the sour smell of vomit on her blue sweater. I tried running away but came back eventually to find my courage, just like she promised.
By the end, the world had turned itself away so the arrangements fell to me anyway. Measure twice, cut once my dad used to say. If you don't want blood or a struggle, planning is everything.
Afterwards I opened the windows, made myself a cup of sweet tea and picked up the phone. The night was loud with crickets.