Regan Stokes

Returns

Many of the things that are here
should not be here;
perhaps a reordering is required.

Write a return order for all those koha kua riro atu:
taiaha lying in London museums
kauri waiting in offshore whare, kaha tonu.
They carry our hau
and when returned will carry yours too.

We’ll send back the possums,
send back the settlers?
No manaakitanga in that,
and very unsettling;
I’d have to pack my bags too.
But I would send back Hobson
request someone competent
or just return pene and pepa
along with The Treaty of Waitangi.
Te Tiriti can stay,
it had significant signature anyway,
and the promise of tino rangatiratanga…

Return the humans?
We all came from Elsewhere.
Manu say “Āe,
leave us with your attics
and cupboards full of bread;
we were doing fine without you,
and will do even better in your supermarket aisles.”

Āna, maybe for the best
to trade us people for moa, pouākai, kiwi, kererū, drinkable awa?
Throw in huia and you got a deal,
leave the whenua as it wants to be
Papa for PM, Rangi for deputy
though we’d always bump into it sooner or later,
star maps or compass
Ao-tea-roa or Zeeland volume two.

The most dangerous thing in this country is an open copy of Ka Whawhai Tonu Mātou.
The taiaha is waking;
ka kōrero te arero.

Some of the things that should be here
are coming back.

Regan Graham Kupu Stokes (Ngāi Te Rangi, Ngāti Ingarangi) is an Ōtautahi-based kaiako reo Māori, writer and musician. He completed the Hagley Writers’ Institute course in 2017 and enjoys writing poetry, short stories and songs in amongst the delight of whānau life.

Laura Tretheway

Homemade

ingredients 1 bunch of fresh basil / 1 onion / 2 cloves of garlic / 2 tins of chopped tomatoes / 2 tbsp olive oil / 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar / 500g whole-wheat spaghetti / parmesan cheese

preparation Pick your basil leaves, carefully leaning over the fire escape so as not to be caught by your unknowing neighbours.Mentally promise not to kill the next plant and perhaps make a recipe to follow for keeping herbs alive during a London winter.

Back home, your mother cultivated plants carelessly, armfuls of basil and mint and coriander appearing in the kitchen big enough to make bouquets out of.

You feel a pang in your chest as you envision it, hand still outreached over the neighbours’ balcony, growing colder and colder as you strive for a piece of home that’s just out of reach.

Laura Tretheway spent 2020 at the Hagley Writers’ Institute. Her work has previously been published in Oscen and Awa Wahine. You can follow her progress on Twitter or Instagram @nightmarew0man

Issue 4: Editorial

We are delighted to present the Quick Brown Dog for 2020 (4th edition), the literary journal of the Hagley Writers’ Institute.

The Hagley Writers’ Institute plays an important role in the development of writing in Ōtautahi, Christchurch. It also contributes to the literary landscape of Aotearoa, New Zealand by strengthening the community of writers here, alongside slam poetry, Catalyst, the Write On School for Young Writers, takahē, the Canterbury Poets Collective and other forums.

In this journal you will find work from current students, graduates, mentors, and tutors; emerging writers alongside more established names. We stepped away from the usual stipulation that work for the journal should be unpublished because we wanted to showcase the overall achievements of Hagley writers.

There aren’t any common motifs or obvious influences that define a ‘Hagley style’, but the pieces we chose displayed skills of craft such as meaning that was felt not said, interesting and original uses of language, and effective symbolism or figurative language. Strong imagery was noticed, and a sense of flow and rhythm in the line or sentence didn’t hurt. In poetry, thoughtful line breaks and the element of surprise also caught our attention. Most importantly though, work with a strong sense of voice stood out.

We are conscious of the context in which we are releasing this edition of the QBD journal. Writing and reading in the midst of a global pandemic almost seems like a feat of resistance against constant distraction and worry, alongside a gradual acclimatisation to risk. We’ve done all this at home, which is why we wanted to highlight the arena in which 2020 has played out: in our living rooms, bedrooms, backyards, front doorsteps, and kitchen tables.

To create this issue, current Hagley tutors Zoë Meager and Frankie McMillan took on mentoring roles to supervise our editorial efforts. We are grateful for their support and guidance over the past few months, and to Zoë especially for the mahi she’s done behind the scenes.

Alongside Frankie, we would like to recognise Morrin Rout and Bernadette Hall, as mainstays of the Hagley course. Thanks also to the tutors and mentors who support students every year. And a massive thanks to Creative New Zealand who provided the funds to pay contributors, editors, artists, and layout specialists.

We hope The Hagley Writers’ Institute will continue to provide a springboard for emerging writers in Christchurch to take their writing to the next level. As editors, we are proud to represent the Hagley community. It’s a privilege to be able to read people’s writing, and a responsibility to judge it fairly. Thank you to everyone who submitted work to the journal. Keep writing, keep submitting, and best of luck for future endeavours!

Kaye Gilhooley, Chris Stewart, and Toni Wi

Louise Lameko

Northcote Road 

The sound of second-hand skateboards rolling one by one, grins and grazes from the latest tricks, storytelling stunts and scars on legs, silence shrouding scars elsewhere, bikes and balls where lawns might seed, siblings roller-skating close by, like flies waiting to be swatted, watching those watching others, mums silent at kitchen tables, nicotine stained fingers on Crown Lynn mugs. No sugar – white.

Brand new carpet, ‘No food in the bedroom!’ Brand new lounge suite, ‘Don’t sit on it!’ Brand new curtains – lined. ‘Not like them over there,’ Mum would say, as if lined curtains were somehow important. She’d say that about all sorts of weird stuff but you knew better than to ask why. Our dog ate from a bowl, ‘Not like them over there’. We had new woollen blankets, ‘Not like them over there’. I spent a lot of time in and out of over theres and I didn’t see much difference, although one family had a Dad instead.

Every house had three bedrooms and a choice of three wallpapers or four paint colours. It felt kinda strange seeing your bedroom wallpaper in somebody’s lounge. Even our trees looked the same. One day I got home and there were silver birch trees in our front garden. Mum was a gardener, ‘Not like them over there’. She said a big truck had come along the street when us kids were at school and all the mum’s and the Dad could choose three trees off the back of it. I thought, ‘What if you were out and missed thetruck?’ which was dumb really. In our neighbourhood there was no need to check if someone was home unless it was Tuesday.

After school I’d often find Mum leaning low over the kitchen bench, head raised just enough to peer through the net curtains saying something like, ‘She’s so nosey’. Food or no food I’d race out the back door, past the laundry into giant mounds of dirt where a park should be. My older brothers and I weren’t allowed to go back to the dirt piles after tea, ‘Not like them over there’, but we could hang out at the front fence until it got dark, unless it was bath night. When it was my turn I’d float in silence, and gaze up at the Avon soap on a rope my grandmother had bought for my birthday. A pink rose, it just hung unused on the shower head, looking beautiful. Sometimes, when I was alone I’d reach up and gently lift it down, so I could stroke its smooth surface and smell the rose scent.

Louise works as a counsellor in private practice and enjoys writing about things people avoid talking about. Having previously published a children’s book, she attended the Hagley Writers’ Institute in 2020 and subsequently has had work published in various journals. In her spare time, Louise is content hanging out with her daughter and dogs in Heathcote, and mountain biking in the Port Hills.

Jane Higgins

Extremophiles on Mars

It’s no use telling him he’s wrong. He’ll wear that accusation like a badge of honour, polishing it daily and displaying it for everyone to see. He’s not going to be fooled by the likes of us.
He is Robert David Steele. Ex-CIA. On June 29th 2017, reputable news outlets in the United States reported that he had taken to the airwaves to proclaim to the nation, apparently in all seriousness, that kidnapped children are being shipped to Mars to work as slaves on a secret Martian colony.

And who are we?

We are the people who want to speak for Mars, our small, dry, red-dirt neighbour, which surely has had enough of nonsense like this.

The human race has been spying on Mars for a while. In 1610 Galileo was the first person to eyeball its tiny disk through a telescope, and in 1666 Giovanni Cassini looked through his own ’scope and saw that this was a world with a scarred, red landscape and a south pole.

For the next three centuries we peered intently at Mars from our earth-bound observatories, backyards and rooftops. We drew it, photographed it, measured and modelled it – all from a distance of, on average, 225 million km. Then, in 1965, we got to go there. Remotely, that is, in the form of the tiny, unmanned spacecraft, Mariner 4: on 14 July, 1965, Mariner 4 performed a fly-by of Mars and beamed back to us the first deep space close-ups of a planet not our own.

Our first planet-fall came in November 1971 with the Soviet Mars 2 Lander, which, to paraphrase the immortal words of Douglas Adams, didn’t so much land on the planet as crash on it. A week later, though, its sister ship, the imaginatively named Mars 3 Lander achieved what’s known as a soft landing, and managed to function from the ground for all of fifteen seconds, long enough to claim to be the first successful arrival on Mars from the inhabitants of planet Earth. Since then there have been dozens of fly-bys, swing-bys (like a fly-by but by a craft on its way somewhere else), orbiters and landers.

Many of our emissaries haven’t made it: about two thirds of the missions we’ve sent to Mars have failed. Space travel is difficult.

But there have been enough successes to keep us going back: NASA landed Viking 1 and Viking 2 on the surface in 1976 and those craft sent back our first colour close-ups of the red Martian dirt. Many other missions followed. Currently there are two small NASA rovers trundling across the Martian landscape: Opportunity arrived in January 2004, and Curiosity in August, 2012. More expeditions are planned: from the USA, Russia, China, United Arab Emirates, India and Europe.

Fair to say, then, that we’ve been studying Mars for a while. But we’ve been dreaming about it for much, much longer.

Our ancient ancestors were unnerved by this wanderer in the night sky. It was red, the colour of embers and of blood, it varied dramatically in brightness over time and it strayed about, taking an erratic path across the heavens. To these early peoples, the seasonal regularity of the night sky was a matter of life and death – they ordered their planting and harvesting by its patterns. But every couple of years, Mars performed a strange dance, coming to a halt in its march across the background stars, going into reverse for a few weeks, then stopping and moving forwards again. We know now that this is because of the way the Earth and Mars orbit the sun, but the ancients didn’t know this and to them such unpredictable behaviour was disturbing.

The Babylonians called this red wanderer Nergal, the god of fire, war and destruction. The Greeks called it Ares, god of war, and the Romans called it Mars, likewise, the god of war. In ancient India it had many names including Raktavarna, meaning the colour of blood, and in ancient Egypt, Mars was Horus the Red, god of the sky and war and hunting. In Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures, it’s the fire star, and in Chinese lore the rising of the fire star was seen by the ancients as a portent of war, famine and death.

In terms of menace, Mars, you might say, has form.

But ancient star-gazers aren’t the only ones who have looked at the red planet and wondered. Writing in his book Cosmos in 1980, astronomer Carl Sagan suggested that ‘Mars has become a kind of mythic arena into which we have projected our Earthly hopes and fears.’ Even if all we knew about Mars was its litany of ancient names, we would have good reason to agree. But in fact, the more we have discovered about this dusty neighbour of ours, the richer our imaginings have become.

With the advent of the telescope our understanding of Mars was transformed: no longer a deity, a portent, or an unpredictable sign in the heavens, it became a world.

In 1877 the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli peered at the planet through his telescope and recorded, among the areas of light and dark that he saw, a series of lines – seemingly quite straight lines – traversing the Martian surface. He thought that perhaps the landscape had been etched by geology or weather into grooves or channels, so it must have seemed quite sensible to him to name them as such. In Italian, canali.

What happened next should come as no surprise. We are an imaginative species, after all. The canali were (mis)translated into English as ‘canals’ and it was a short step from there to the peopling of the Martian landscape with an ancient, dying race that had engineered planet-spanning canals to draw water from the poles to the lowlands in a desperate attempt to survive on the arid surface.

Subsequently, both science and science fiction fired the public imagination about life on Mars. With the Suez Canal opening just eight years before Schiaparelli’s ‘discovery’ it must have been tempting to believe that humanity wasn’t alone in building such engineering marvels. Meanwhile, an American astronomer, Percival Lowell, championed the Martian canals in three books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906) and Mars as an Abode of Life (1908). Soon stories about Mars and its ancient civilisation were multiplying across the literary landscape faster than alien pods in a B movie.

In this way a language misstep – a serendipitous one, to be sure – inspired one of the richest veins of writing in the science fiction canon. Ironically, the canali were themselves a fiction, an optical illusion created by the poor resolution of the telescopes of the time. Look at the Martian surface today and you won’t see them.
But there was a seventy year gap between Lowell seeing ‘evidence’ of a canal-based civilisation and Mariner 4 disappointing everyone with the barren emptiness of the actual Martian surface. That’s plenty of time for us to imagine an inhabited world within hailing distance, astronomically speaking, of our own.

Those who have no patience with science fiction will tell you that it’s populated by square-jawed men armed with ray guns, scantily clad maidens armed with a good set of vocal chords and green tentacled aliens armed with slime who terrorise the aforementioned maidens before succumbing to the ray guns of those rugged heroes. Certainly Martian SF has had its fair share of these stories. Edgar Rice Burroughs – he of Tarzan fame – turned out a lengthy run of them in the first half of last century, with titles such as A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia: Maid of Mars – you get the idea. There were many more in this vein from Mr Burroughs.

But alongside these pulp adventure stories came a multitude of other Martian tales: invasion narratives (Martians invading Earth, Terrans invading Mars), exploration stories, utopias, romances, war stories, quest narratives, even theological fables.

Despite the commonly held notion that SF is only pulp, it’s worth looking a little more deeply into some of these entries in the Martian literary canon. Consider, for example, the most (in)famous fictional response to the ‘Is There Life on Mars?’ question: HG Wells’s masterpiece, The War of the Worlds. Serialised in magazines on both sides of the Atlantic in 1897, just two years after Lowell’s Mars championed the canals, the story was published as a novel in 1898, and amplified in the public imagination by the 1938 radio play narrated and directed by Orson Welles.

That wonderful, chilling opening sets the scene for an imaginative exploration of ideas that were capturing the imaginations, and stoking the fears, of people in the US and the UK at the end of the nineteenth century:

“No one would have believed in the last years of the nineteenth century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this globe about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. … Yet across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

The War of the Worlds is an invitation to take an imaginative leap into a world in which colonisation and empire is something done to ‘us’ – specifically British and US readers – rather than something ‘we’ do to other people. It’s also an exploration of an end-stage of evolution in which intellects have triumphed over bodies, and of social Darwinism in which survival of the fittest has grim consequences for those who are ‘not fit’ (until the end, that is, when biology takes its revenge). Written in the midst of the second industrial revolution – also known as the technological revolution – when electricity and communications technology (phone and telegraph) were becoming embedded in everyday life, it’s an examination of the power of superior technology to subjugate those who don’t have it. And of course, it’s a ripping yarn.

This novel is by no means alone in the Martian canon in taking ideas of the moment and weaving them into story. In 1893, as women struggled for suffrage, Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant wrote Unveiling a Parallel: A Romance, a tale in which Mars is a feminist utopia. In Joseph Fraser’s Melbourne and Mars: My Mysterious Life on Two Planets (1889), Mars is a technological utopia, and in Alexander Bogdanov’s Red Star and Mark Wicks’s To Mars via the Moon, both written in the period of turmoil between the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917 – the planet is a socialist utopia.

In the early years of the Cold War, Ray Bradbury’s classic collection of interlinked stories The Martian Chronicles sends Americans to Mars to found and colonise a new world because their homeworld has become riven with conflict and is eventually destroyed by nuclear war. But the culture clash between settlers and indigenous Martians comes at a horrifying cost to both sides. These are not stories of American triumphalism: indeed, in one of the central stories of the collection, Mars is a deeply nostalgic, ‘Mom and apple pie’ version of small town USA which looks like heaven to the colonists, but which rapidly descends into hell.

Most of the Mars narratives written in the first half of the twentieth century posit the existence of Martians – sometimes we meet them, often they are long dead, as in Heinlein’s 1951 collection, The Green Hills of Earth. There they are remembered with nostalgia for the beauty of the spires they built along the Grand Canal with its “ice blue plain of water, unmoved by tide, untouched by breeze and reflecting serenely the sharp bright stars of the Martian sky, and beyond the water the lacy buttresses and flying towers of an architecture too delicate for our rumbling heavy planet.”

Then came the 1960s and Mariner 4. We learned definitively that we were not going to find intelligent life on Mars, not even long dead intelligent life. But story is nothing if not adaptable. Martian narratives simply changed tack with the winds of scientific discovery and turned to explore the ‘What if…’ of space travel, human colonisation and the challenges of terraforming a hostile world.

Mars became, variously, a refuge from a dying earth, a frontier world for adventurers, a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and even to the stars. Struggles were fought between frontiersmen (they were mainly men) and sclerotic bureaucracies back on Earth, and between scientists in search of knowledge and corporations in search of wealth; Mars was envisaged as a militarised society, an entirely female society, a prison planet, even a retirement world for wealthy Terrans.

Some of these stories are flights of fancy, but some set out genuinely to explore whether we could live there. And if so, could we thrive? Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy is perhaps the most famous to take seriously the science and politics of these questions. In such stories Mars becomes a laboratory for a thought experiment: what if we went there? What would happen to a human society in an environment so hostile, so isolated, so very far from home?

It is out of respect for these stories that I take exception to Robert David Steele and reports of his claims that kidnapped children are being sent to Mars. Kidnapped children are not being sent to Mars. No one is being sent to Mars, yet. In fact Mars is astonishingly hostile to human life: it has no liquid water, and only a very weak magnetic field, which means that decidedly unhealthy doses of cosmic radiation fall on the planet’s surface on a daily basis. And, as recently as July 2017, we’ve learned that the chemical composition of the Martian surface is highly toxic to life in almost any form. These conditions suggest that the Martian surface is a place for extremophiles only, that is, for organisms that thrive in conditions of extreme toxicity. So perhaps the Robert David Steeles of this world would feel right at home there, after all.

To be sure, not all the stories that have been written about Mars have been drawn from the best of the human imagination. In their defence however, it’s possible perhaps to say this: these are stories that, for more than a century, have looked up at the red planet and asked ‘What if…?.’ What if there was a feminist utopia there? What if humans tried to terraform the planet? What if we used it as a launching pad to the outer solar system and into deep space? These stories display imaginations at work in the service of curiosity about our world and other worlds and about that strangest of creatures, the human being.

Mr Steele on the other hand, appears not to be in the least curious – not curious enough to find out how hostile Mars is to human life, not curious enough to find out that it would take less than a year to get there, not the twenty years he seems to have suggested. He doesn’t seem to care about any of that because what he appears to want to do is to use Mars to accuse people – presumably ‘the enemy elite’ – of grotesqueries. At one level this is laughable, but at another it’s not, because this is an imagination at work in the service not of curiosity but of revenge. And given the raw power of the human imagination, that is not an encouraging development.

NASA did respond to these claims, saying simply, ‘There are no humans on Mars.’ And that’s true, there aren’t, yet. But when we go there, in person, and we will, we’ll be drawn by our inquisitiveness and our wonder and our sense of adventure and challenge. We’ll go there for that most human of reasons, abiding curiosity about the nature of our cosmos and our place within it.

Jane is a community researcher who writes fiction when she can. Her first novel, The Bridge, won the 2010 Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing. Its sequel, Havoc, was published in 2015. She is a graduate of the Hagley Writers Institute.

Marisa Cappetta

Thumbprints

From now on I will save
the thumbprints of my dead.
They come away clean and bloodless
when there is no pulse.

On days when grief is a wall
I bump into over and over
unable to perform even basic
tasks like mashing the strained potatoes

or pegging out the laundry in a high wind
I’ll press thumbprints of the departed
into the soap, the butter.
Coat them in oil and press them

against clean windows and tv screens.
Also bathroom mirrors, to be revealed
when I shower. Evidence that my darlings
were pinpricks of annoyance that I loved.

She cares for her mother

The daughter irons mother’s blouses
which are crumpled as a left-sided stroke.

Mother’s tongue is a seam ripper and unpicks
the daughter’s character and flaws.

Daughter takes up the hem of mother’s
forgetfulness and remembers her

healthy as a patchwork quilt
tones blended elegantly as an equation.

One day the sums don’t add up
colours grow rancid, measurements askew.

The last few quilt-blocks of mother lay unfinished
with edges raw and frayed so daughter tidies them away.

Mother strikes again like a needle puncture
and draws blood. Daughter puts a bit of thread

under her tongue and then rolls the tiny damp ball
of cotton over the droplets until they disappear.

Marisa graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Hagley Writer’s Institute. She has published in journals and anthologies in New Zealand and internationally. Her first book ‘How to tour the world on a flying fox’ was published by Steele Roberts 2016.

John Ewen

From Clifton Hill, Sumner

‘On a clear day you can see
South America,’ I say
to the folks from overseas.
They look out and turn away.

‘The man’s a wit or witless’
their eyes signalling as they
search my face for explanation
or perhaps another way

of meaning. None’s forthcoming.
‘It must be a clear day,’
I insist.’ Not in the morning –
the sun gets in the way.

‘Nor when the sea is misty’
(then all colour drains to grey)
‘but two or three times a season
there’ll be that special day,

a day of light and brightness…’
but they’ve already moved away:
‘The man is a real nutcase –
it must be ten thousand k.

plus there’s the curving of the earth…’
so as they decline to stay
again I ponder sadly,
looking down into the bay

that adults get too literal
they’ve all lost their sense of play
but not me and small children –
we see Chile anyway.

John Ewen, now Kapiti Coast based, writes short stories, poetry and plays as well as non-fiction. His work has been published in various anthologies and literary magazines, the UK online literary magazine Five Dials, and broadcast by Radio NZ.

Chris Stewart

anger

you are
sharp boiled water bubbles
scrape and puff of smoke
char in the pan
burnt fingers on elements
kitchen table smash within my fist
neck click and bloodshot eye
I singe the steam of your smell

in the backyard I see
the rusted barbeque rest
in crosshatched shadows of dew
your red juices spread to my edges
exhales dampen my lungs placid
I touch the chill of your calm

at the letterbox you talk to Reason
the way summer footpaths listen to rain
your close breath now
a southerly moon wind
there is the shift of flax

Chris Stewart completed the course in 2015. Since then, his poems have been published in places like Aotearotica, Catalyst, Snorkel, Sweet Mammalian, Blackmail Press, Brief, Takahe, and Mimicry.

Victoria Broome

How We Talk to Each Other

Dad talks through the vegetables in the garden.
Every house he lived in he made one. Onions hung
in mum’s old laddered stockings in the garage,
scarlet runners, new potatoes and shelled peas for Christmas.
Then Mum would spend the end of summer in the kitchen
preserving red tomatoes, claret beetroot, gifted fruit,
setting wax into jars of chutneys, jams and sauces.
All year we ate them and apple jelly from the Irish Peach tree in her father’s yard.
He sawed a branch off and painted the stump white to stop it bleeding.
Years later when I was a grown up, still creating distance from the past,
plastic bags of broad beans, silver beet, carrots, parsnip, tomatoes, basil,
courgettes, rested against the door when I got home.
And I stood at the sink, peeling, boiling, freezing.
Eating the unspoken messages.

The Maori

In the dark we drive through the bright tunnel
to the ferry terminal. It’s very exciting.
There are crowds of people and we buy
tightly rolled packets of streamers.
It’s cold out on the wharf, our breath
is steamy. I feel as if I am in a movie
and will see myself at the pictures.
I hear the slap of water from under the wooden planks
and the deep pulsing hum of the ships engine.
There’s Dad at the railing with his wavy hair.
He’s laughing and waving and we throw
the streamers through the air and the long striped strips
pull tight and we run along beside him until they break.
I am shouting – Bring me back a tiki.
Victoria Broome was one of the inaugural Hagley Writers’ Institute students. She has been published in various journals and anthologies in NZ, and in recent years was twice highly commended in the Kathleen Grattan poetry award. She is a mental health worker in primary care in ChCh.

Sue Kingham

The Scholar – 1976

Mam’s envelope rustles in my pocket as I walk.

Why does she write to the butcher every week instead of giving me money for meat? Is she checking I remember to say thank you?

There’re three streets between home and the butcher’s shop on the corner of Warwick Road and Wood Terrace. I make my first turn at the monkey puzzle tree; it’s so big I can’t see into the house crouching behind it. My second turn is at the bungalow with the torn net curtain that flops like a slice of pizza. I know what pizza looks like, although I’ve never had one. Mam says they’re too expensive, but we did have fish ‘n’ chips last month ‘cause it was my eighth birthday.

I have to be polite to the butcher, but I don’t like him. His hands are pink and he has pork sausage fingers. When he gives me mince, wrapped in white paper, he smells of blood and his long nose hairs curl into his black moustache.

The message in my pocket makes me feel uncomfortable. I sit on the low brick wall in front of the ‘pizza slice’ house pull out the envelope and hold it up to the sun. Then I slip my little finger under the flap and wiggle it along. It opens. Checking no one’s watching, I take out the note.

same time this week

It’s written in pencil. Mam hasn’t signed it, used punctuation or done any of the things Miss Robinson told us we had to do in a letter. I’ll tell her how to write one properly when I get home.

Sue Kingham writes short stories, poetry, flash fiction and creative non-fiction. Her writing can be found in Flash Frontier and in Takahē. A 2014 graduate of the Hagley Writers’ Institute, when not writing she enjoys the visual arts and reading.