September Writing Contest

Wonderful works by members of Hunter Writers Centre inspired by the prompts found here



Greg Struck is awarded $100 for his piece Parcel

Lesley Harrison is awarded $50 for her piece about Tassel House Stairway

Jan Dean is awarded $50 for her piece The Widow 1

mystic package Claudio Bravo 1967

mystic package – Claudio Bravo 1967

Tassel House stairway Brussels - Henry Townsend 2002

Tassel House stairway Brussels – Henry Townsend 2002


by Greg Struck

After: mystic package - Claudio Bravo 1967

When they told me of the minister’s decision, they said I had an hour to get my things together. They said I could take one bag or parcel. I didn’t have a bag – it had disintegrated after too many hard kilometres - so the decision was easy. They gave me some paper and string. Then it would be on to the bus – grey paint, barred windows – for the trip to what would be my new home. For how long?
         Get my things together. My “things”. The remnants of a life.
         My passport. It once meant hope, possibilities. Travel. A new life elsewhere. Now it was just a testament to my place in a failed state, a place people thought of only when the nightly news brought the latest ghastly images of bombings and rubble.
         Photos. My parents. Asif. And, of course, Yasmin. Faces from a time when cameras still caught smiles. When there were still things to smile and laugh about. The thought almost made me laugh.
         A toothbrush and a comb. A shirt. Some underwear and a pair of socks. I remembered drawers full of shirts and underwear, demanding choices for my trips to the capital. Choices? When was the last time there had been a choice to make?
         My copy of the Koran – a gift from my father. Once a foundation, a solid place in my life, a source of hope. Now, I wasn’t so sure. There were too many unanswered questions.
         A little money. A few dollars. Notes from a new country, bearing strange faces and unfamiliar creatures. But what would I buy?
         And what was this? My old address book. Names from a different world. How many of them were still alive? Yusuf had drowned with fifty others when one of the first boats had tried to get through. Ali had been standing next to a bomber in a crowded market. Ismail was probably still at the bottom of the pile made when what had been the town’s grandest building had been hit. And Yasmin. Yes … Yasmin. Better to let that thought go.
         Then, my mother’s apron. An odd thing to keep, but it was all I had of her, all I could find in what was left of the house. I looked at it again and could see her in the kitchen – the smoking fire, the endlessly boiling pots, the waft of cumin and rose water. I could still smell them.
         That was it.
         I tied the string as the guard opened the door and beckoned, his face impassive as always. I often wondered what sort of man lay behind that face. Sometimes I thought that I was only imagining that it was a man. Perhaps it was just an automaton who appeared from time to time to summon me to meals and hearings, punctuating the endless days with its arrival.
         Outside, the bus waited.                                                                                                                   
The Widow I - Kathie Kollwitz 1921

The Widow I – Kathie Kollwitz 1921


Tassel House Stairway
Lesley Harrison

After: Tassel House Stairway Brussels - Henry Townsend 2002

We’d visit Grandpapa on Sundays at eleven thirty. Sharp. Religiously. As soon as Father shook Papa’s hand and gave Mama a little bow under the sandstone arch of St Michael and St Gudula’s cathedral, we’d set off clip-clopping the cobbles.
           In precisely twelve minutes we’d pull up at the massive gothic portal. Waiting for Mama to disembark the carriage, I’d marvel at the door’s black bolts until Uncle James’s sun washed smile emerged around the opening creaky timber: eyes first as always. The smell of roasting beef permeated the courtyard luring us to the third floor.
           Skipping ahead of the others beyond the dip of the foot-worn marble step lay my favourite Sunday moment. My magical staircase to whereverland. Shadows and swirls that seasonally changed and followed me held my awed gaze. I’d stop and breathe in the smell of wax polish and soak in the chilly echo of the cavernous spiralling flight ahead. My Sunday best boots, sometimes feeling rather tight, tip tapped up the stones in pursuit of the tweed, pocket watch and lemon-and-pipe-tobacco-scent that was Grandpapa.
           First to the top I’d burst into the reception room into his cheery seated embrace. Moments in time precious to us before the others arrived, he’d whisper, “How’s my little artist?” Each week was the same. Sherry for the grownups by the fire in Winter and on the stoop in Summer. A forever luncheon then cards in the drawing room.
           Well trained to be out of sight and sound, I’d lose myself hypnotically in the rituals. Steam from the soup, ladled with precision by Martha, formed little disappearing spectres. The clang of the lifted cloche exposed more colour, texture and deliciousness than you could ever imagine for roast beef and vegetables. Puddings were Martha’s specialty with plump seasonal berries at their base and hot smooth custard made with exotic vanilla from Madagascar oozing on the top. Occasionally a cloud like sponge would nestle between the two.
          Cards did not interest me. Staircases did so I’d sit at the top and imagine. I’d see architects who designed and drew them. I’d picture the quarry where the rocks became destined to be walked on, stonemasons who formed the steps, ironmongers who crafted the curls of lace and carpenters who whittled and sanded the wood to smooth perfection. My fingers traced the painted patterns down the walls as I’d tip-toe up and down as quietly as possible afraid even to hum. One time, right at the top, a button pinged off my boots tumbling, rolling and jumping all the way to the bottom in the perfect arc of the banister’s curve. I watched everything with wonder. A little observer of life.
          Those ritual sensory Sundays steered me almost spiritually to a marvellous and blessed career as the first female architect in Brussels. For this enormous privilege I thank Sundays, Grandpa’s whispering encouragement and the Tassel staircase.
                       Thank you speech.
                       Professor Mieke Van Groot.
                       Brussels University Awards 1930.
The Widow 1
Jan Dean

After: The Widow 1 Kathie Kollwitz 1921 

Forced to view some women, I might yawn and look away. This one is different. Although a curtsey is inapt, genuflect is warranted. Having drawn her many times, I am confident I have captured her essence, ready to transfer her image to the woodblock. In a lifetime, of the many positions a body configures, two predominate; first foetal, curled with back curved and bent limbs drawn up to the torso; and second, full length with legs extended in preparation for the grave. She is consecrated to suffering. War is relentless; it takes everything and leaves sorrow. I carve into the surface of a wooden slab, away from myself, using force to express fragility. Raised sections accept the rolled ink and pressure is applied, allowing ink to penetrate paper, acting like a stamp. My cuts stop short of her edge, blurring it a little. Flecks create both aura and depth, hinting the wood from which the composition was derived. The widow knew trauma. She felt pain like a cricket ball lodged in her stomach, directly beneath her heart. She wanted to lie on a bed in endless float, exiting time and earthly distraction. Her gnarled hands reflect drudgery. She is stark, her face already the mask of death. As if mummified, the widow’s arms lie across her chest enfolding her son, a meaningful caress, yet he has vanished, forever gone.
Thea Proctor Women with Fans 1930

Thea Proctor – Women with Fans 1930

Blaze and Stone
Kathryn Fry

After: Quartet for the End of Time (1940) - Olivier Messiaen

Into the prison camp in Silesia, Messiaen 
brought an angel cloaked in cloud; scored 
rainbows into crystals, transposed harmony 
into cascades of orange-blue calm. Mixed 
though with dissonance, the most ungodly 
vibrations to the ear, as if that angel had 
run amok. From the cold and hunger, Olivier’s 
hair and teeth fell out, no wonder. Not though 

his faith. With swollen fingers, he played 
the dance of fury, a messiah with his chosen 
three. They heard how he’d written in love, 
saw how it gave them wings. All because 
he’d listened to birdsong for hours 
and wrote down every feathered note. 
Diana Pearce 

After: The Widow 1 Kathie Kollwitz - 1921 

Death stands beside her
she feels his cold embrace.

She is Queen Victoria
      Jacquie Kennedy
           Coretta Scott King

She stands at Christchurch
          Sandy Hook
                 Port Arthur.

She is our mother
Ahead, a life-scape of oblivion,
no flesh to touch
no voice to hear.
To The Artist
Gail Hennessy

After: The Widow 1 - Kathie Kollwitz 1921

Wood Block (1921)

The tree has served you well for you
have chosen your medium wisely

in a forest of felled men the widow
stands, a solitary trunk, a pieta of one
chiaroscuro delineates her hefted limbs
stained shadows run in vertical lines

the tree bears its own anguish
its veins are fashioned by sorrow
grief is carved into negative space
as your knife incises each wound

your blade has dug deep into the heart
of cherry wood, the lines have carried
the sap of unquenchable tears through
her hands
hands filled with emptiness.
The Spaces Between
Magdalena Ball

After: Color Field painting - Michel Carrade

A long time has passed since I first began stroking the scar, now a barely perceptable line like mother’s milk, a mammary ridge. The air is soft, having lost the edge of night. Everywhere aches in colour blocks, a sunrise palette. The body wakes in horizontal light. 

Bird songs fill the spaces between, layered as stripes, as sound fields: the navy tink tink of Bell Miners, foregrounded by the vibrant orange of Currawong warble, the pale teal of Kookabura clue under the wing feathers, grey as the mad exuberance of a Superb Lyrebird. Short, sharp chip notes form a spectrogram; become sheet music, left to right, high notes to low. 

This is where the story begins. It opens with sound, with scent, visual. The rest is unstated, inferred. The longing grows into a song at the back of your head, the one you grew up with, but don’t know because it’s not in your language. It’s a mystery song: short phrases and long pauses, the signature of an endemic species. You are the migrant here. A long way from a home that no longer exists, other than the strange reverberations in your head, colours that come at you during sleep, that other world, a space that won’t wash out in the light. 

Every sound is episodic: hue, brightness, saturation, vibrating, oscillating, calling out.  


Tassel House stairway Brussels - Henry Townsend 2002

Tassel House stairway Brussels – Henry Townsend 2002


Poem 3
Michael Hake

I was reminded sometime ago
Of the time I found
in my cat's mouth,
The blue nape of a native wren,
more toy than bird.
A bulbous silly thing

Her fur is black but
burns chestnut in the sun.
Her name is bicky
(short for biscuit)
She's on her side beside me now
Limbs locked like a dead huntsman.

I reach down to stroke her coat
And those back legs shoot out 
to disembowel my hand,
And in one deep seeth
I begin to think
that she does not know I'm here.
Jeanette Campbell

After: Without music, life would be a mistake - Friedrich Nietzsche

Music -
humming a tune
inside my head.
Majors and minors, chromatic chords.
Octaves, natural steps
to bring order.

Music –
rhythms, tones, harmonies.
Praise; worship;
despairing dirges.

Music –
endorphins lighten our path.
The extra dimension of humanity –
the lifeblood of the soul.
Two Hands
Phil Yeatman

Oma must be some kind of god to these pigeons, anchored to the park bench with a mound of seed piled in her ancient hand. Black covers her from shoulders to feet and she is as stern as a cliff. Oma adores the pigeons but swats them when they get too close. She cannot have pets in her apartment above the corner store where she shops—the only place she shops—where the most expensive things she buys are solid bullion blocks of sesame, maize and groats intended to feed budgies and canaries. She crumbles them with her strong fingers to give to these vermin. I’ve told her over and over that pigeons eat garbage.

Even as a child I knew her by her hands: the one that nurtures and soothes, the other that smacks disobedient backsides.

“Remember that Opa used to bring you here on Saturdays?” I prompt her.

“Of course I remember,” she snaps at me. A dull question. She likes to say that conversation isn’t made, it either happens or it doesn’t.

It’s me who came today, not my mother—Oma’s daughter. Maybe mum knows one of Oma’s hands better than the other; maybe too much fear or too much love kept her from coming. I know the shape of both hands well. Broad and dense and the colour of desert dust, where riverine veins course beneath a ridge of arthritic knuckles. Opa had hands like that as well, but his were workman’s hands. Hers are somehow different. They have held a rolling pin for two different purposes. They belong to a woman who has often been difficult to understand because she doesn’t wear her heart on her sleeve like Opa did.

Beside me on the bench Oma is small, hunched beneath a weight that was not there a few years ago. She is smaller really than she looks. Frailty is written in every stiff gesture. Spots litter her skin and her hair has lost its volume. In black and white photographs she has an erect posture and hair clipped tight behind her head and a hatchet face. She was never beautiful but had a gravity that would pull you in—she still does. But I think I can see what my mother cannot. Oma is only an old widow who lives alone in a cheap single bedroom apartment. 

“Oma, listen to me,” I say, and she frowns because she senses that I’m not about to make conversation. “We can’t afford to pay for your apartment anymore.”

The seed sifts through her fingers to be overrun by senseless birds. She clasps both hands together and hangs her head. I rest my hand on her shoulder. I know she won’t cry in front of me.
Ellen Shelley

A broken line divides
the road —
              we stop to buy lipstick.

Night fills with head-lights
and the musky shade of

Dad is driving us to the
heights again, where air
               is as thin as

despair — mountains — monotony.

Another party on a hill,
his preferred distance
I can almost feel —

laundry banter more
satisfying than the view.

In the doorway a man
with a red face is reciting
a poem to my stepmother.

My father is nowhere.
I look to the sky
for clarification, for a name

instead find the trough
where ice collapses
under the weight of itself

my hands primed to plunge
the numbness of living.
mystic package Claudio Bravo 1967

mystic package – Claudio Bravo 1967


Mystic Package
Lesley Harrison

After: mystic package – Claudio Bravo 1967

Her bottom was a bit big for the little rocking chair that she loved so much so it bulged over the sides slightly. She was a Nanna of the cuddly kind. And whenever she was in that chair, despite being seated, she was busy. I loved to hold the skein of wool as she nimbly spiralled the ball. Or watch her crochet tiny clothes for my dolls or create the latest fashion from nothing but my description, a ball of wool and her imagination. She’d create ponchos and tank tops, blankets from coloured squares and scarves and warm hats. Nothing was impossible.

In those days parcels came wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. I don’t think sticky tape had even been invented. We collected any stamps by steaming them off and placing them into albums. My album had empty pages for the countries with strange names. Who on earth would send something to you from Borneo?

When Nanna opened a parcel it was a lengthy slow process executed with great precision. The string was never cut. It was carefully and painstakingly un-knotted and then rolled into a neat tied up bundle and kept in the Used String Jar. The paper would be smoothed out and neatly folded and put in the drawer with other used paper for that “time it might come in handy”.

It was the sustainable era before sustainable was fashion. Those first post WWII years in Northern England saw nothing wasted. Nothing. Recycling wasn’t even a thing. We just did it.

Scraps of fabric from the home sewing of clothes were crocheted into rag rugs. Everyone’s Gran had a mulit-coloured rag rug at the back door.

Dripping was a thing. Any fats from the cooking of meat were poured into the Dripping Jar and kept in the larder where it solidified and became used for fried bread.

When clothes wore out and were ready to be repurposed as rags, Nanna would remove all the buttons and fasteners and they’d end up in the Button Tin. Every Gran had one of those as well. My Nanna’s tin was a large square biscuit tin from many Christmases gone by. So old in fact that it had become grey and any colour had faded and worn off. That button tin provided hours of entertainment for my childhood self. I’d sort them and count them and practise sewing them onto scraps of cloth (from the rag bag of course) and I’d marvel at the shiny military ones with writing and crests on them.

Fifty years later with the availability of plastic padded posting bags and QR Coded postage stickers, disposable everything and a rag trade that’s creating enormous landfill I am the proud owner of a Button Jar, a Rubber Band Jar and a drawer full of recycled wrapping paper. Where possible I still wrap parcels in brown paper and string, and I can’t help but wryly smile when I hear about this new thing called sustainability.
Shelley Stocken

After: mystic package – Claudio Bravo 1967

Robin sends me packages
one arrived the other day
wrapped in cotton quilting scraps
from the Kingston market

Olives picked in Chefchaouen
Burmese cats and Nescafé
silver rings, embroidered bags
fancy gin and Scrabble

Maths and puns and Christmas drinks
Gruffalos and puppet play
one of Grandma’s dirty songs
porridge with banana

All dispatched with no address
lumpy and in disarray
never to my letterbox
still, they always find me.

Crossed and creased with coloured string
knotted tight as if to say
linger here with me a while
keep me from forgetting
Lady of Shalott Walter Crane 1862

Lady of Shalott – Walter Crane 1862


Gail Hennessy

After: The Lady of Shallott - Walter Crane (1842)

This piece is about memory and the way our observations of the world change over our lifetime.

That painting, that lady afloat on the river what did we make of her as she set sail for Camelot ‑evicted from her tower after the mirror had cracked from side to side, her life of spinning over and her life spinning out of control. Back then it was an ekphrastic in reverse a response to Tennyson’s poem though I can bet London to a brick on the word ‘ekphrastic’ had never entered our vocabulary. It was all about the British Empire and Sherwood Forest, sylvan glades and the river Styx. The lady of Shallott lay passive, in the missionary position in a casket of a boat, her voluminous, pure as the driven snow, white sleeve dangling over the rowlock, resigned enough drifting under the dark trees. And what sort of life had she lived spinning away in her tower while the Arthurian knights went adventuring. But then there was the other painting, the one we remembered ‑ the woman with the haunted face sitting bolt upright, proud  even though she was dead, touched  by a flicker of candles and the rich tapestry emblazoned with colour that echoed her hair, in a boat with a fleur-de-lis as a prow. The nuns never made mention of repressed desire or Lancelot contemplating her face in another sort of way. As if all we need do back then was to lie on our backs showing a lovely face. We knew nothing of suicide either, or the ripples that spread after the deed, engulfing family and friends. We heard of life of glorious fame not an age without a name. We had never dived under the surface and learnt she’d topped herself. No wonder we jumped on a board and took to the surf.

Palimpsest: a manuscript on which two or more successive texts have been written each one being erased to make room for the next. In this piece I am thinking of the successive paintings of ‘The Lady of Shallott’ beginning with the first interpretation by Walter Crane in 1842 followed by versions by the Pre Raphaelites and in particular John William Waterhouse’s seminal one painted in 1888. Tennyson’s poem ‘The Lady of Shallott’ was first written in 1833, and another version appeared in 1842.
Ellen Shelley

After: The Lady of Shalott - Walter Crane 1862

We are all part of something we can’t see.

Even death with its subtle, layers ends.

And earths’ heart

knows each knock, each breath blown out

to bind its last. Inside the light

we speak as if to quantify as destiny opens

a place to box our sins. Vacancies are things

we forgot to say, and everything rusts. Our bodies

water is all the reflection we are, that muscle

through which we grow, patterned on beliefs

filled with innocence and leaves.
Bill Williamson 

When the sun is warming you, time is mainly in the present
As you are placed in a row to sit with other elders facing the late sun
Not looking at your days now or then or still to come,
Time is in the past if it ever existed.
An arm raised and pointing at the sky with a clenched fist
Measures time as it marks the arc travelled by the sun in one hour.
The sun you see was sent at the speed of light eight minutes ago.
Now the sun is along its arc by the width of one finger
Of that clenched fist at the end of your outstretched arm.
As you sit in the sunset row, you can watch for the green flash
In the last beam of the downing sun, as the earth rotates to block your view.
Already the sun has dropped the width of its disc, so we see a mirage
With the green of palm trees against the yellow of desert sand
And blue sky fading above and blue oasis pool darkening below
Morning Symphony
Jeanette Campbell

After: Without music, life would be a mistake - Friedrich Nietzsche

Eucalypts rustle in
the gentle breeze,
a background hum.

Placid lakeside swells send ripples
onto the stony shore,
gurgling in harmony.

A lone kookaburra
laughs the chorus in.
Bell miners take up the music –
sweet tinkles in the morning light.

Magpies warble in a deeper tone,
pizzicato voices of a peewee duet
punctuate the melody.

Cockatoo saxophones screech
across the sky to
disturb the tranquil tune.

The world holds music
for those who listen.
On passage
Bill Williamson

Dear Mum

We are about 200 miles east of Christmas Island. I don’t know when the mail leaves there, but if I write now there will be a letter ready to post when we arrive.

We left Darwin with six other boats who cleared with Customs on the same day. They were all in sight until nightfall. The next morning there was no-one in sight. We had a pleasant sail in light winds for four days to Ashmore reef, although we tore the spinnaker, and wrapped a sail around the forestay.

The reef was one of those deserted islands that are inhabited. There was an ex-fishing boat at anchor. It was on contract to the Government to stay at the reef to ward off the Indonesians who visit to collect birds and eggs. These they take in baskets holding thousands of eggs, and birds with their wings broken. They also raid the reefs for shells. What do they eat now!

The ex-fishing boat is very luxurious with all modern conveniences including video and air conditioning, but it is a lonely life for the skipper and his two crew. People do some different things in life to make a living.

We visited one of the islets where the bird population is building up now the Indonesians are being kept away. There were thousands of birds. The ground was covered with them. It was either black or brown or grey, as noddies, terns and boobies mind their eggs. The eggs are sitting just in small depressions. There were frigate bird chicks in nests in a few shrubs on one side of the islet. At another place a few other shrubs sheltered some tern chicks. A cloud of adult terns hovered overhead, protecting their chicks from the frigate birds that were looking for food for their chicks. It was an incredible, memorable sight.

On another islet is a hut housing two guys and some radio gear used by the oil rigs to position themselves. These two are not so well set up as those on the Government boat. They have a small hut for their equipment and beds. No air conditioning or video. Not even a boat. If they had a boat they might go fishing and drown or go to Indonesia for some company! So, they just sit there. If the equipment doesn’t work, they advise their base by radio and a replacement part is flown out by helicopter. They are very bored.

However, they were a windfall for us. Just before we left they gave us a frozen chicken. How were they going to cook a whole chicken on a two-burner gas stove with only a saucepan and a frypan? When we left we roasted the chicken very nicely with vegetables and had one of our last bottles of wine as we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary.

We have only caught one fish so far. The lures are going rusty.

Love from us both                                                   B and M

Street Light Giacomo Balla 1909

Street Light – Giacomo Balla 1909

Color Field painting Michel Carrade

Color Field painting -Michel Carrade

Diana Pearce

After: Street Light - Giacomo Bella 1909

in this light    a swarm
rainbow mists of insects

made from dreams in a world
beyond mundane

amber flutters clinging
to curtains of light

glittering moths
translucent gold

a crescent moon
its subtle gleam

celebration of lustrous curves
beneath a velvet sky
Jan Dean

After: Control Tower - Jeffrey Smart 1969

I was never sure if the gigantic tank housed gas
or water, but the latter would be apt, since superman
could leap from the tower, purportedly for inspecting planes
and take a break from his seemingly endless watch
           keeping the world safe.

During his breather, life freezes. At the observation tower
people, fixed in position for a lengthy stay
on their marble podium, are actors in a stilled film.
Somewhere, Alfred Hitchcock stands out of view
but the actors are firmly in his sights.

This is the ultimate pregnant pause. Life sizzles.
Eventually, superman will make his leap into the pool
and the splash of immense force, will crash the sky
bringing torrents from those righteous clouds to pour
and appease folk, scattered asunder.
Slow to wake, how did I finally recognize
the male-centric theme? The symbol
for Jeffrey Smart’s gender preference
           is there on the sign.
Feast – picture book manuscript
Claire Thomas

After: Colour Field painting - Michel Carrade was the inspiration for Feast. Blue for the river, yellow and red for the desert scrub surrounds. Feast is a picture book manuscript.

eagle, soaring
sharp beak
sharp eyes

what can you see?

I see a feast
waiting for me.

mouse, scurrying
soft feet
soft ears

what can you see?

I see a monster
following me.

and what can be done
between monster and feast?
The monster is hungry
but the feast wants to live.


monster and feast meet.

mouse, flying
wide mouth
wide eyes
what can you see?

I see the world
beckoning me.

eagle, blinking
slowing eyes
slowing wings
what can you see?

I see a family
pleading with me.

monsters grip
slips for a bit,
feast jerks
and escapes the sharp.


the ground once more and feast is free.  

babies come quickly
joyful feet
dazzled eyes

mother is back.

eagle turns swift,
silver catches her eye.

A fish feast
will do instead.

babies watch keenly
growing feathers
gaping beaks

mother is back.
The Bathers Sure Are A Changin’ 
Mick Fairleigh

Here I am a cute little baby all naked and giggling, having his first swim.
My next little dip, I wore these nice clean white nappies and needless to say, when I left the pool, my nappy had turned into a yucky brown and yellow colour.
Good things are supposed to come in three, but not for me, for I was decked out knee high to neck in my latest swim costume.
As I grew older and had something to show, I hit the pool in my tight fitting speedos.
All of a sudden I reach my teenage years and catch the waves in my new surfy board shorts.
I’m now in my late teens and giving my new boardies a dip at the beach, but lo and behold to my shock horror, I look at all the other bathers and they are happily splishing and splashing in total nudity.
I quickly rip off my boardies and join in the jovialness of the happy go lucky beach goers I’m thinking to myself, Boy, the bathers sure are a changin’.
Or are they, for nakedness is how I first started my swimming days.
The Bathers Hilda Rix Nicholas 1921

The Bathers – Hilda Rix Nicholas 1921


Greg Struck

After: The Bathers - Hilda Rix Nicholas 1921

A perfect morning. A Sydney morning. Sky, sand, harbour. The morning’s sounds. The squeals of children, in and out of the water as if on strings. The gentle thud of waves. Gulls.
Susannah had taken all this in. Perfect. Except it was not perfect. There was something in her friend’s face, the set of her shoulders, that said it was not perfect.
“So … do you want to tell me something?”
Cecily shrugged. “Why do you say that?”
Susannah leaned over. “I can tell there’s something.”
A pause. “Yes.”
“Someone else?”
“Yes.” An unasked question. “Hilde of course. Who else?”
Susannah waited. She wasn’t sure where this would go.
“Has he said anything?”
“He doesn’t have to. I just know.”
“How long?”
For the first time, Cecily looked at her directly. “I think I’ve known for months. All those late nights – working, he said. He missed Billy’s birthday party last week – had to stay at the office! Came back with a big present - as if that made up for it! But I just knew.”
Another pause. It was a morning of pauses.
“What are you going to do?”
“Do? I’ve been thinking about that. If it wasn’t for Billy … who knows ... I might do something … drastic. But I can’t, can I? I’m like all those other women out there” – a sweep of the arm taking in what seemed to be half of Sydney. “Have to be the good mother, don’t I?”
“Would you … confront him? Appeal to him? He cares about Billy, doesn’t he?”
“He thinks he does. Maybe he only cares about himself.”
“Do you think …” - this was hard to say - “he still … loves you?”
“I don’t know. I want to think so. If I didn’t have that, I think I’d give up. I have to have something to believe in … to look forward to … to make me believe this is just something that … happened … that we can get through it … be a family …” Her voice trailed off as if after a new and somehow surprising thought. 
“How long have we been friends?”
A slow smile. “How long? Long enough. I wouldn’t have told anyone else.”
“I know. That’s why I’m going to tell you something.”
“I haven’t talked about it with anyone. The thing is, Roger and I went through the same … situation … two years ago. You didn’t guess, did you?” Her friend’s face gave the answer. “I … I … put it to him. At first, he blustered, then he broke down. He had drifted into it, he said. He still loved me, but things just seemed to happen. We talked … properly talked for once … he broke it off. It hasn’t been perfect since but it’s been … better.” Perhaps the smile was as much for herself as for Cecily. “Talk to Paul.”
A look. 
A nod.
Margaret Leggatt

She used to be Charlotte, but that was in pre-tower times. Now she’s known as @shazluc and she’s the latest in a long line of Ladies Under Curses.  She’s lost track of how long she’s been here, but her snowy-white gowns have yellowed and her sparkly jewels are dull and tarnished.
        We’ll call her Shaz because it’s Shaz she greets each morning in her bathroom mirror. ‘Morning, Shaz,’ she says, splashing herself awake. ‘Maybe this is the day.’ Shaz is not a quitter.
        How did she get here? She recalls agreeing to the terms and conditions and ticking the boxes to prove she was human—she can’t say she had no choice. There must have been something she missed in the fine print.
        What was in it for Shaz? She’s sure there was something, but she can’t remember what. So, as they say, it is what it is.
        She doesn’t complain. She has a luxury penthouse suite in this soaring apartment tower with a canal view and smart appliances that foresee her every need and tempt her with others she hasn’t thought of. She has a giant screen with unlimited internet access.
        And she has the escape clause. ‘Find one true voice and the curse is lifted.’ The words drift across her screen when she logs off, undulating over the surface, hypnotic, soothing as ripples in a mountain stream. Shaz tries not to think about the second part: ‘Remember—fail to choose wisely and you’re locked out forever.’
        She logs on and the voices begin. And Shaz is ready—she’s built a robust skill base. She blocks trolls; she fends off scammers and marketing analysts. She delves into the blackest corners of the dark web, scans through social media platforms with lightning speed and amazing accuracy, but so far, not one true voice.
        Then she hears it. It’s a video link she nearly clicks out of before she registers what she’s hearing. He’s singing the sweetest of songs—notes clear and true and a voice to die for. His handle is @sirlance. She zooms in and almost swoons. He’s a vision in studded leathers, coal-black curls cascading beneath a gleaming helmet, his face aglow in the sunshine, his head thrown back as he sings. Then his voice fades as he kicks his steed into life with a roar. He’s a god, astride a Harley.
        She recognises his location, just a short distance down the canal. She checks the time on his twitter feed and she knows he’s still nearby.
        Shaz is in love. Surely this is the one true voice. She knows what to do—she’s in the elevator and down by the canal in a flash. She unties an unattended skiff, climbs in, lies down out of sight and lets the water carry her downstream.
        She’s dead as dust by journey’s end. She might have been a fighter, but Lance is just another singing biker, and a curse is a curse.
Phil Williams

After: The Bathers - Hilda Rix Nicholas 1921

Lap Nazis in tight low jammers,
goggs, paddles, kick boards,
fit-bits, pull buoys,
demand space.
                                                                            Codgers struggle
                                                                            with jilted joints,
                                                                            scabs, scars, sagging skin,
                                                                            totter the ramp to the briny.
Flamboyant felines
splayed in scant thongs,
on oversized beach towels,
preen and post selfies.
                                                                             Dishevelled blokes
                                                                             towels, t-shirts, undies,
                                                                             gape from dank sports bags,
                                                                             procrastinate and gossip.
Young women
flit and fiddle with
straps, glasses, lip cream, between
photoing and phubbing.
                                                                             Tattooed bodies
                                                                             Celtic bands on steroidal biceps
                                                                             Maori designs on pakeha calves,
                                                                             cultural misappropriation.
Bogan gangs with mullets,
sink cokes, drag ciggies,
blaspheme and bombard in
bum-cracked boardies.
                                                                             Sun worshippers
                                                                             waxed, smooth, tanned,
                                                                             spreadeagled, legs akimbo
                                                                             broiling butts.
Classy ladies in hugging maillots,
beach bag, glossed lips, lithe limbs,
straw hat, dark polaroids,
saunter, then recline.
                                                                              Middle-aged men in consternation
                                                                              to thwart thickening waists
                                                                              spar, stair climb and lap in
                                                                              faded budgie-smuggled hope.