fiction

the butterfly collector

It was a butterfly that drew Aisha’s gaze to the bus stop across the street, where her husband was leaning against a post with his back to her, facing a woman who was standing too close.

Aisha was invisible, on the other side of the road, inside a boutique shop, pondering a scarf.

She first saw the butterfly on a mannequin that wore a flowered dress. Later it was perched on a windowsill, staring outside. Aisha crept towards it, sat on her haunches, and watched its wings quiver in the air-conditioning. Then she found herself looking out the window too.

Aisha forgot all about the butterfly, and as she leaned in closer, her forehead slammed against the glass.

The sales person jerked her head in Aisha’s direction and Aisha waved her hand to say I’m sorry, I’m all right, please don’t fuss. The sales person turned away reluctantly, suspicious now that the woman in the head scarf would cause more trouble. She caught the eye of a fellow worker and shook her head.

Aisha continued staring out the window and watched her husband run a hand through his thick, black hair then lay it on the woman’s shoulder. He pulled her close and Aisha thought she saw him kiss the top of the woman’s bare head. Aisha felt a rage that was terrifying in its volume.

She reached inside her bag for her mobile phone, watched her husband pull his out of his back pocket, glance at the screen to see who was calling, raise a finger to the woman, then turn away to take the call. He was facing Aisha when he placed the mobile against his ear. He said hello, but Aisha could not respond.

He said hello, hello, Aisha, are you there? Then he hung up. She could see he was unnerved because he looked up and down the street and ran his hands through his hair again. Aisha’s own crept up her face and formed a cave over her mouth. ‘What were you thinking, bastard?’ she whispered. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and let the air out slowly. When she was empty, she straightened her shoulders and walked to the cashier with the scarf in hand. She pulled out a credit card and laid it on the counter in front of the clerk. Aisha turned her head sideways and looked out the window.

The clerk, who had been watching Aisha, scrutinised her face as she rang up her purchase. When she was about to wrap the scarf in paper, Aisha placed a hand on the fabric and said, ‘No, I’ll be wearing this.’ The clerk nodded and handed her the scarf with the credit card and receipt.

Aisha thanked her in a low voice and exited the shop. Outside, Aisha looped the scarf around her neck and thought of nothing.

 

This story was inspired by Josephine R. Unglaub’s My Butterfly, My Axe.

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fiction

ernesto

deger bakir.jpg

art by deger bakir

You wore a skirt, it was purple, a favourite, its lace fringe limp against your brown thighs. And a pink translucent blouse, the top buttons undone from which a crucified Jesus danced in and out of hiding. You wore high heels that made you stumble on mean streets, but this was just you dancing, you liked to say.

We walked to the local store past hawkers and taxi drivers stealing siestas on front lawns. You must emit a kind of energy that reshuffled the molecules in the air because they roused themselves each time you passed by. Catcalls and laughter were common fare but on this particular day it was, Flip up your skirt! Show us your cock! Or did you finally get it cut off? You turned your head gently from left to right, a warning to me not to respond. It’s the August heat, you said, it makes men and street dogs vicious. I turned around and gave them the finger. Their laughter was sharp and cut.

When we entered the shop, Mr Lee scowled at us from behind the cash register, dabbing at his shiny forehead with a frayed yellow rag that hung around his neck. In the dark, fan-cooled interior, you stood silent, staring outside, past the glass door, at shadows supine once again on the lawn.

My hand slipped into yours, are you alright, it asked, and you squeezed my hand tight. Let’s go get you your candy, darling.

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fiction

it takes half an hour to get home

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art by silas schletterer

On the train, where she is fortunate to find a seat, Mina stares at her brown feet. The high-heeled pink toed pair next to her is intent on putting her to shame, but Mina is not easily intimidated. She slides her feet forward so her scarred limbs stretch between the legs of standing passengers. A man looks down at her foot, then at her, discomfited that her heel leans against his black leather shoe. She stares back at him, he looks away.

The train’s android voice tells Mina that hers is the next stop. Slowly she pulls up her legs, rubbing her calf against his. The man pretends he is staring out the window.

Her route home includes a ten minute walk from the train station. She’s disappointed that it isn’t raining because she remembered to pack an umbrella.

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fiction

dead things

photograph by Ashley Lily Scarlett

A wave dumped a dead jellyfish on the sand beside her, where she was building a planetary alignment of starfishes. She poked the jellyfish with her shovel, and because it reminded her of her cat that died a few months ago, she dug a grave for it. When she was done, she stood over it for a while.

The hair on her arms began to rise. The summer storm her mother promised had landed. She scooped up her dolls and shovel and ran back to the house. She paused just inside the front door, tilted her head and listened to the onslaught that drowned out all other sounds.

Is that you, Maya? her mother’s voice drifted from a room. Come here.

Maya left her toys in a crate by the door. When she entered their bedroom, her eyes flew to the eagle perched on top of an antique closet. The bird flexed its wings and screeched at her. It was from Rafael’s last trip overseas, intended as a bribe for his lover’s daughter. But the bird had taken an instant dislike to her. Maya hated it, how it shat all over the antique. Her mother named it Mahatma.

Her mother lay in bed with Rafael, her hair tangled on a pillow like seaweed. She patted the space on the edge of the mattress. Closer, Maya, we have a game for you. Maya approached them, keeping a wary eye on the bird.

Outside the bedroom’s open window, the trees shook as the storm rushed in.

Her mother began her instruction. You must learn to call everything by its proper name: breasts, vagina, penis. She took Maya’s hand and moved it gently over her breast, the hair between her thighs, then over his body. Penis, Maya repeated, as her mother helped her unroll what looked like rubber skin over it. She heard him inhale sharply. In her hand he felt hard as stone, she wondered if it hurt him. When her mother removed her guiding hand, Maya’s fell away too. She slid her hand behind her and carefully wiped the stickiness against the back of her dress.

As Maya stood there, unsure how the game ended, the eagle, startled by a crack of thunder, shrieked and hurtled itself towards the window, intent on freedom or suicide, and was saved from both by the rope tied around its leg.

Her mother shouted for it to shut up and Rafael threw a pillow, which landed on top of the closet. The eagle slashed at it with its beak. There was a shower of feathers. Maya ran around the room to catch what she pretended was snow.

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fiction

elastic phantasm

jellygirl

collage by Deger Bakir

Kate and I were the only ones on the beach. The rains were over but the sky was still gray and people were afraid to come out. Even the seagulls stayed high and landed in the beach grass out of sight.

I asked Kate to take off her shawl and she walked with it trailing behind her in the wind.

We had walked for over a mile when we came upon what looked like writing in the sand. The letters were too long to read and I tried to pull Kate along as if I hadn’t noticed them. Kate stopped and clapped her hands together. I kept walking but she pulled on my arm.

I was back in a dream I had the night before: I was on a beach, the sand was silver and the waves that crashed on the shore were a grown man’s height. I was staring at a jellyfish that had been dumped on the sand beside me. I had the urge to stomp on it, the way we tortured beached stingrays, fish, and sea urchins when I was a kid. But the jellyfish grew luminous at its core and a kaleidoscope of colors burst like fireworks trapped in a glass jar. This was the jellyfish’s brain, and these creatures were smarter than I was. Smarter than Kate and everyone else. The jellyfish shivered like it was cold and I could swear that it inched closer. I was afraid of what it might take from me.

I thought the dream was over, but now Kate was there, too, and it was real and there would be no waking up safe and sweating and snuggling against Kate.

I heard Kate reading aloud the words dug into the sand: “It’s happening.”

Kate looked at me and laughed. She was never afraid of anything and I knew it would be bad for her in the end. I had to protect her from my dream, from the jellyfish and everything else. I thought I might be able to carry on as if the dream wasn’t absorbing us. Then Kate said, “What’s happening, do you think?”

“What?” I asked.

She pointed to the letters. I forgot myself and looked where she pointed and read the jagged message. “Ah. Fuck,” I said. I felt the sand sinking down around us. I was there beside her. I was somewhere else. The sky was black and the clouds were gone and I dragged a stick along the sand. I was cold and I was sweating. I wrote. I was lost at sea.

Then I felt Kate’s flesh on my flesh. We were moving. She had hooked her arm around me and she was talking again. It was a gray day at the beach. We didn’t walk but we took steps and after a while we left the prophecy behind us. The seagulls flew a little lower and I felt comforted in spite of myself.

I continued to scheme in my mind. In a war like this the only thing we had was subterfuge and surprise.

A collaboration between Gordon Flanders and myself.

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fiction

this ends badly

monika kozak

art by monika kozak

I met her at a party, it was someone’s birthday, someone introduced us and I fell in love with her thick eyelashes and the dark shadows under her eyes.

‘I don’t sleep,’ she said. ‘I haven’t since I left uni. My body forgot how to do it.’

I said it was impossible to forget how to sleep, and I sounded arrogant because I was terrified that she would excuse herself, say she needed a drink, and not return. She laughed, and I noticed there were shadows in her eyes too.

That first night, we didn’t make love. She floated around my single bedroom flat peering into my refrigerator, my closet, my medicine cabinet. I didn’t know what she was looking for. What are you looking for? I asked.

‘You,’ she replied.

When she found out I was poet, she asked me to read her my poems, and when I said I was shy, she lay on the sofa with a cushion on her face and said she wouldn’t come out until I relented. I read her a dozen, and her sharp intake of breath told me she liked them, though she never said a word.

She didn’t move in, she just never left. And most nights, she slept deeply.

Two months later, I found her standing in the shower, shivering violently. Her nails were blue. I wrapped her in a towel and pulled her into bed. I rubbed her skin and kissed her all over. She was limp and didn’t speak for the rest of the morning.

By evening, I accused her of playing games because I knew this was something serious and I wasn’t ready yet for the world to intrude. When she spoke, I almost clawed her face. She said a man was waiting for her back home.

She stayed another week and there were silences where we used to laugh. We drank to forget that we were soul mates on death row. When we made love, I was rough. I bit her nipple and the inside of her thigh.

She left on a Tuesday while I was out. I told people whom she’d met that she died.

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fiction

nina’s not a virgin

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art by emma vakarelova

They made love with the air conditioning turned off even when it hit 40 degrees celsius, the warmest summer on record. The smell of their sex hung in the air with the humidity.

Juan lay on his stomach, his face buried in Nina’s shoulder, who was on her back staring at the ceiling. Even after a week, she had been unable to orgasm. Juan was diligent but Nina grew frustrated with the desire that built up inside her. It made her think of how they used to race uphill to the waterfall, how the climb made her heart pound so hard it drowned out the birds. They didn’t slow down as they reached the rock face from which they leapt. They flew into the wind, and the blue of water and sky bled into each other. But there was never any anxiety. Gravity would not let them down.

Nina was sure an orgasm would feel like this. She wondered if there was something wrong with her. After seven days, her feet still clung stubbornly to earth.

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fiction

notes of a voyeur

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art by poo reun

i have fallen into the habit of waiting for her in the mornings.

i like to watch her struggle with the cafe’s heavy glass doors, yellow bike helmet in one hand, large purple messenger bag slung across her chest. once inside, she scans the room and moves quickly to the table by the window, the only one with free seats, where i am. she offers me a polite smile and points to the chair opposite me. i look up from my book, feign distraction, then nod before i return to reading.

she pulls out laptop, mobile phone, and novel from her bag and place them on the table. she’s halfway through the old man and the sea. last week she was reading Henry Miller’s tropic of cancer. she opens up her laptop and orders from a hovering waitress without looking at her or the menu; but her voice is soft and low so she comes across as shy not rude. she asks for two fried eggs with toast and a large cappuccino.

a couple enters the cafe and contemplates our table with its two remaining seats. i wave them over and offer to move so they can sit next to each other. the girl removes her bag from the chair nearest her and drops it on the floor. she continues working. i settle in beside her, and we, the couple and i, smile cordially at each other but say no more. i slip behind my book and the couple peruses the menu.

the couple leaves soon after they finish their breakfast of muffins and coffee. the girl is oblivious and does not look up until she needs the loo. i am a harmless looking soul– and perhaps she recognises me as a regular– because she turns to me and asks if i could keep an eye on her laptop. i smile, i say, of course. when she is in the loo, i peer at her laptop and i’m pleased to see that she is in the process of finishing the story about an old man and his granddaughter, five years old and blind from birth. it is a simple plot and written with care. i missed a few pages but i am able to follow the narrative. i pull back just as she comes out and i watch as she approaches the cashier to pay. she decides on an orange muffin. i suspect this is her lunch.

she returns to the table and i am reading my book. she clears her throat and i ignore her. i know she wants to thank me but i feel this is superfluous as i have already claimed my payment. she has packed her things and now waits for me to look up. i can feel her stare and i wonder if she is thinking to use me in her next story.

i stand up abruptly and head to the loo.

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fiction

slumming

art by Geoff McFetridge


When you tell them your name, they laugh, they say, what a wonderful name, like the fault was yours. In your head, you tap dance to Nabokov: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

Anthony stares at you throughout dinner, which makes you drink too much wine. His friends ignore this goatish behaviour because he is off to Oxford next week on a research grant, gone for a year. Tonight, they’ll get pissed in his parents’ house and pretend to be interested in you, the Asian he met at the bookstore last week.

Later, while his friends debate whether to change into their swimsuits or dance on the rooftop, Anthony pulls you into a coat closet. You turn your back to him and press your palms against the warm wood. You rub your cheek against a dead animal’s coat.

Anthony hikes up your dress, pulls down your underwear and enters you from behind. It is erotic for five minutes, but he finds his rhythm and it is too fast and his cock is bent to the right and the pressure kills your building orgasm. He comes, slumps against you and licks your nape. You’re so fucking sexy, he says. You twist your head and give him a long kiss to stop yourself laughing. You don’t understand why he talks like he’s in the movies.

You straighten your dress and feel for your knickers with your toes. Anthony opens the door quiet as possible but he needn’t have bothered. The other guests have all migrated upstairs. Let’s have a shot of tequila, he says. You nod and wave for him to go ahead then gesture to the loo.

You take a glass of white wine from a passing maid and drink it in one gulp. In two minutes you’re out the door. Anthony will look for you, but Lisa with her horse face and common sense will distract him.

Your moped is squeezed between a Benz and a new Volkswagen. You are careful as you back it out. Then you pull on the throttle and pretend you’re escaping a crime scene.

Halfway home, you decide you need coffee and head to your local. They serve your cappuccino with a ginger cookie because they ran out of chocolate. You take out your notebook and write three poems because this is the only thing that protects you from yourself.

When you can breathe again, you look up and notice that the cafe is empty and the staff are huddled around a television set watching a film about zombies. You feel alone. But there is nothing dangerous here, not anymore.

 

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