Furious Fiction September

This story is now my second to make the long-list for the Australian Writers’ Centre’s ‘Furious Fiction’ comp! Along with the usual conditions of 500 words in 55 hours, the September challenge required the following: include at least one element from the periodic table; include something that buzzes; contain the words traffic, jowls and hidden; and the first and last words must begin with s. 

Hope you enjoy my take on this below. Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @debhannagan

To read this month’s amazing winner and shortlisted entries, check out https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/furious-fiction-september-2019-winner-and-shortlist/ 

 

Nitrogen and Phosphorous

‘Stop that racket, Percival,’ came a voice in that high-pitched cackle old ladies get.

The barking ceased. After a grunt of effort, the gate swung open. A white-haired woman and a stroppy-looking pug emerged.

‘Daisy Martin?’ I held up my badge. ‘Officer Peter Riley.  I’m here to ask some questions about your neighbour, Jack Parker.’

‘Cup of tea?’ she smiled.

I inwardly cringed. Maitland had sent me out here to cross his t’s and dot his i’s. This lonely old dear would try to keep me talking all day. I pasted on a smile as she lead me inside.

The place was dark and had that smell old-people’s houses get. Mothballs, talcum powder and lard. I was glad when she suggested we take our tea in the backyard.

‘Beautiful garden… So peaceful out here. No traffic.’ I looked at her. ‘And you live on your own.’

‘I’ve got Percival.’

The dog puffed out its chest in affirmation.

‘It’s two months since Jack Parker went missing.’

‘Yes, terrible business, that.’

‘Can’t make you feel too safe out here. A woman of your age.’

She sipped her tea.

‘I do alright.’ Taking the lid off a ceramic jar, she proffered it. ‘Biscuit?’

I leant in with a grateful grin and nabbed a Scotch Finger while Percival enviously licked his jowls. I flipped open my notebook.

‘Did you notice anything unusual on the day Jack disappeared?’

Her brow wrinkled.

‘Not that I recall. It was a pleasant day. There was a nice breeze. Perhaps he decided to go for a walk by the river as he often did.’

I nodded.

‘Did you get along well with Jack?’

‘As well as any neighbour.’

Sucking tea from the shortbread, I scanned the notes.

‘Another neighbour mentioned you and Jack had a dispute over a tree.’

‘Yes.’ She gestured towards the fence line. ‘That beautiful gumtree. Jack complained it dropped leaves into his yard. Can you imagine? Why live out here if you don’t enjoy nature?’

‘True… He also complained about your dog barking?’

‘Yes,’ Daisy smiled. ‘Jack liked to complain. But then, we all have our vices, don’t we?’

She gave me a wink and I fought the urge to laugh. What did this old biddy know about vices?

 

On the way out, I spotted a massive, sprawling vegetable patch, buzzing with bees. A quaint wicker basket sat beside it, full of produce – giant zucchinis, vivid kale and fat blood-red tomatoes.

‘Wow! Those look amazing. What’s your secret?’

‘Nitrogen and phosphorous,’ she smiled. ‘Please, take some. There’s more than Percival and I can eat.’

As I jumped in the car, a grocery-bag loaded with vegies on the passenger seat, I laughed – it hadn’t been a fruitless exercise after all.

I was glad I’d resisted the urge to spike that presumptuous young officer’s tea with oleander. Did my back last time. Gathering up the basket, I eyed the mound of vegetables surging from their hidden nutrient-source.

‘Shh,’ I whispered to Percival. ‘It’s our little secret.’

Corrugated Lines

The poem below is dedicated to the late Rani Middleton. It references her love of and wonderful way with words, her significant contribution to the Corrugated Lines writers’ festival, and her relentless radiance.

She was there

When a corrugated line

Was just a shine

In an eye

A glint of sun

Off the bay

Under that hitchhiker’s thumb

 

A reluctant Mum

But as they say

Build it and they will come

A hand on her belly

She smiles with uncertainty

Of what awaits

A road that corrugates

She takes a step

She breathes a breath

Of life

Of words

 

Love leapt up

Crept up

Like the tide

And she was swept up

On its wave

A pulsing power

Opening inside her

Like a flower

Something you can’t see

But you can feel

So you know it’s real

 

She loved to watch the dragonflies

Cross the wirralburu skies

They say that dragonflies can see

In colours we cannot conceive

 

Do you believe

That we could climb

That staircase to the moon?

It’s at its brightest

In the dark of night

 

Do you believe

A mysterious force

Drives us to write?

The spark of an idea

That won’t disappear

A seed that grows

And feeds

Us when we read

 

Maybe you

Have felt it too

While swimming through

The turquoise blue

A corrugated line

Snaking with divine allure

You’ve let it lure you in

You’re hooked

Between the pages of a book

Crossed into another world

A world that you can’t see

But you can feel

So you know it’s real

 

She breathed life

Into those lines

And she breathed something undefined

Something wondrous and divine

 

When the corrugations came

They couldn’t dull her shine

She wrote

She shared

Her life

Her words

 

They say the corrugations

In our lives

Make us stronger

But I wish that she had longer

In this world

Time

For life to etch its lines

In layers of smiles

Painted on

Colour over colour

Those we can discern

And those that burn

In eyes

Of dragonflies

 

She held

An inextinguishable radiance

Let’s not forget

The sun never sets

Its only us

Each day

Who turn away

 

She had to, one day

Stick her thumb

Into that bay

And hitch a ride

To the other side

She took a step

She took a breath

Of life

Of words

 

What voice did she hear?

She said it was not fear

But wonder

Where would her love go?

We know

That it’s still here

It grows

 

She never said goodbye

Instead she said

We’ll meet again

When

It’s time to watch the dragonflies

Cross the wirralburu skies

When all the salty rains

Have dried

Leaving beautiful stains

And somewhere

She remains

A force we can’t explain

Colours we can’t see

 

But listen and you’ll hear

A warm northern cheer

A soft southern laugh

A dry eastern whisper

A wet western call

The spirit of this festival

She will endure

And best of all

Even if you never knew her

You’ll know her

In stories

And in words

 

In a world

That you can’t see

But you can feel

So you know it’s real

Furious Fiction July

This story was long-listed in the Australian Writers’ Centre’s ‘Furious Fiction’ July 2019 competition out of almost 1,200 entries. Along with the usual 500 words in 55 hours, this month’s challenge required the story to take place on a train, include something frozen, and include three 3-word sentences in a row. Hope you enjoy! Let me know what you think on Twitter @debhannagan 

Cat and Mouse

She wrinkles her nostrils as she steps onto the train. Armpits hang from the handrails like overripe fruit.  A set of dark eyes meets hers. The floor trips beneath her as the train jerks into motion. A trickle of items spills from her handbag. Her gloved hands snatch up a lip-balm, a comb, a pen.

A throat clears.

‘Is this yours?’

Their eyes meet. Dangling from his fingers by a single woollen thread, a grey knitted mouse.

‘Yes! Thank you.’

His hand is warm. Her cheeks burn.

‘It’s for my cat.’

He nods, gathers his coat and pulls himself up.

‘Please, have my seat.’

The warmth of his body travels through her as she stares at the wall of his chest.

‘I’ve got a cat too. Abyssinian. You?’

‘Siamese.’

He looks her up and down.

‘That fits.’

She shifts in her seat. Her eyes avoid him until the train stops and she watches the bodies depart, the space emptying. He sits beside the woman next to her.

Her hand slips into her bag, unzips, slides a piece of cinnamon gum from its wrapper. A moan emits beside her.

‘My favourite.’ His dark eyes burn.

She pauses, teeth sinking into the gum. She proffers the packet across the woman between them. The woman glares. The smell of cinnamon fills the air. The train stops again. More bodies offload.

She feels the weight of his eyes. She unzips another compartment, pulls out a book and begins to read. The steady rock of the train on its tracks, the dull murmur of coughs and sniffs and yawns is soon interrupted again.

‘Issa. One of the greats.’ He jerks a thumb towards the book of haiku.

Her eyes lock with the woman between them. The woman folds her arms and sighs.

‘Can’t you see? She’s not interested.’

The women share a smile. The late afternoon sunlight falls across the page. The shadows of passing buildings lengthen and distort. The train slows again, inverse to her heartbeat as she watches the woman between them gather up her things, exiting the carriage with every passenger but him.

The train jerks. They sit alone. The corner of his lip rises. He slides closer. Her hand dives into her bag, grasps the deepest zip. Around them, the carriage glows.

‘Nice sunset,’ she says.

He turns towards the orange ball. She sucks in her breath. Her hidden hand tightens around a cylinder, flicks off its cap and retrieves it in one motion. He is turning back as she brings the syringe to his neck.

His eyes careen. He grasps her. Their arms lock. She absorbs his convulsions. They ebb to stillness, his dark eyes frozen. Letting his body slump, she replaces the syringe in her bag.

Grimacing at the taste in her mouth, she spits the gum in a tissue and balls it into her pocket. She pulls out her phone.

‘It’s done. The cat is in the bag.’

Inhaling the cool air, she slinks into the night.