Time to start hissing

August 1, 2015 at 8:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

One tug of a computer cord, and a hundred stories tumble out…

My trusty old machine has, alas, sighed its last breath. Windows Vista, what will I do without you? In transferring my writing from my old computer to my new, I’ve had a night revisiting stories, both published and unpublished, shaking the dust off some, and patting the earth over the graves of others. Quite an evening!

So while I get back to work, I thought my 100th blog post might as well be this tiny tale, runner up in the Flash Fiction Bingo Contest run by Bayou Magazine, the literary journal of the University of New Orleans.

I knew my cockroach fixation would pay off eventually…

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

The Disturbance Hiss

The cockroaches were the final straw.

She could put up with him calling her Wendy. He seemed to have forgotten he asked for her number in a Wendy’s, that wasn’t her name, but she didn’t correct him. She just called him Jack. He corrected her, you better believe it, oh yes.

But when he took her to the booth between the cotton candy and the elephants and bragged he was entering the cockroach eating competition, well, that just about did it.

She was meant to squeal, and squirm, and do what girls do. But she stared, and scowled, and did what came naturally, which was to reach towards those wriggling antennae and stroke, ever so tenderly.

Her Czech granddaddy had given her a taste for juniper brandy and Kafka stories, and she had a fondness for those little legs kicking. But Jack didn’t know “The Metamorphosis”, or how to read her dark eyes. And nobody seemed to know these were Madagascan hissing cockroaches, or they wouldn’t have had them lined up in glass jars, the route to winning a season pass to the rollercoaster.

Jack was half way through crunching a thorax when his swagger gave out, and his lunch came up. He pretended not to be embarrassed, and she pretended not to smile as they headed to the ferris wheel. She waited until they were almost at the top, until the toxin of the cockroach had begun to numb his mouth, to tell him about the hissing.
They have three hisses: the disturbance hiss, the courtship hiss, and the fighting hiss. He was trying to swallow, and finding it difficult. The first one is my favourite, she smiled. Like a song, it is.

Their carriage swayed as she put her teeth together, and began.

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Bring home the night time swell

January 19, 2014 at 12:23 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

At first we almost enjoyed it.

On day one, neighbours nodded at each other in the street and gestured to the blue, blue sky. Bit warm, we’d smile. And we’d laugh, and walk on. Understatement is an Aussie art, in a land that’s equal parts ferocity and beauty. I did what I could to keep cool. I piled my waist-length hair on my head and stripped my leopard print bedclothes back to the sheets. Bit warm, I told my cat. She didn’t answer. She knew what was coming.

If you haven’t lived through it, I don’t know if I can explain the brutality of an Australian summer. For six days in a row the temperature hit 45 degrees Celcius (113 Fahrenheit), almost a week of scorching sun so fierce you could feel your skin frying: in other parts of the country it hit 50 degrees (122). I don’t teach my students the word ‘sunbathe’; there is no gentle washing yourself in the sun’s rays here. No, we use the word ‘sunbake’ and find no humour in it. My local barmaid told me they’d cooked bacon on the roof of the pub by the heat of the sun alone. It’s the kind of thing you hear often here.

After the third day, I couldn’t breathe. The weight of the heat sat heavy on my chest. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and winced at the expression on my face: I looked like I do during a long tattoo session, gritting my teeth to get through it. Except this time, I had the discomfort but none of the glorious ink to show for it, just damp hair plastered to my skull.

Six days of sweltering heat until everyone ran out of conversation, and patience. I sat on a tram with broken air conditioning and ducked from a punch thrown from frayed tempers and cheap beer. Elevators broke mid-floor and train tracks buckled with the heat. Koalas and kangaroos crept into suburbia and jumped into swimming pools for comfort. Melbourne had 33 heart attack victims in one afternoon. And the moon turned blood red from the bushfires.

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I did not enjoy any of it.

My cat, panting with her long fur coat, took to the bathroom tiles. I joined her, naked and covered in a wet towel. I dampened a washcloth and draped it over her too. We just lay there for an hour, not speaking. Then she turned to me reproachfully and said ‘This wouldn’t happen if we lived in Berlin.’

Girl had a point.

The good news is, I wrote. My computer overheated and my phone burned up, so I went old school. I picked up a pen and wrote letters. I wrote a dozen pages in my diary, finished two stories, and started putting together a CV for a writing residency I want to apply for.

It’s in Iceland. I can’t tell you how good all that snow looks right now.

I’m also utterly, completely delighted that my first editoral interaction this year comes from SmokeLong Quarterly, hands down one of my favourite literary journals. They’ve just accepted one of my stories, a tale of Russian, Rachmaninov and rib bones, and remind me just why I love to spill this ink of mine.

I was also a runner-up in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Pocketdocs competition, with a story of swamps, jambalaya and voodoo charms in New Orleans.

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Every country I visit ends up falling out of my pen at some point…even, it seems, my own.

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Those three hisses

June 11, 2013 at 11:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

My weekend did not go as planned. I was getting ready for a vintage swing dancing ball at the Melbourne Town Hall, listening to big band music and checking the seams were straight in my stockings. But I kept creeping back to my computer, wanting to do just one more piece of research…and so I found myself with high heels in hand, feet tapping to the horns, as I bent over the screen and learned how to perform my own taxidermy on small rodents.

It’s a skill every woman should have, don’t you think?

My novel is waking me up at night, and after a long period of focusing on short stories, I couldn’t be happier about that. The protagonist, Clementine, works in the taxidermy department of a wunderkammer, and I’ve found myself increasingly fascinated by this intriguing industry. She has quite the obsession with cockroaches in particular – and you thought swing dancing was the strange part of this entry – and I’ve been jumping into my research with both feet.

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

photo source: infectiouslearning.tumblr.com

So when I saw the bingo prompts in Bayou Magazine’s flash fiction competition, I couldn’t resist. Their beautifully creative prompt was a bingo card of twenty-five squares, from which writers could choose several to incorporate into a story of up to 300 words. And yes, one picture was a cockroach.

Did you know the Madagascan hissing cockroach has three types of hiss? Neither did I until I began to write my story, but if we were to meet for a whiskey, I’d now be able to show you all three. Yes, yes, I’ve been practising the hisses.

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My story, ‘The Disturbance Hiss’, is one of the three finalist stories in the competition. I’m especially pleased because Bayou is the wonderful literary journal of the University of New Orleans, a city I hold close to my heart.

My friends are pleased because maybe now I can stop practising the hisses.

Just wait until I tell them about the taxidermy lessons.

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Fingers & thumbs

December 23, 2012 at 12:56 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

I’m appallingly nostalgic.

A Boy George barbie doll slumbers in my bedside drawer, and a dark ball of fur from my first cat is still on my windowsill, nestled in a tiny china cup. I have every love letter ever written to me even though I can’t quite recall the faces of the men who wrote them, and the front door key of a five hundred year old house in Brussels that’s still strung along a red ribbon necklace, even though I know I’ll never slide it into the lock again.

I remember things.

God damn writers, hey?

So December is such a lovely, indulgent, bittersweet time, a month to pull out the notebooks, pour the whiskey, and put some Bessie Smith on the stereo as I climb down the tail of a Y or the curve of an S, and slide back into my memories.

Some of the pearls I got to polish this year: twenty-seven stories submitted to editors, with twelve accepted, four recorded for the ABC, and five still pending. Brand spanking new website to throw my ink all over: one. Deep breaths before I made it live: you don’t want to know.

poison berries

Thirty-eight swing dance classes, three social balls, countless new cocktail frocks to keep up with them all, and so many amazing new friends to swirl around the dance floor with that I’ve well and truly run out of fingers to count them.

Cowboys to write about: too many for my own good, and yet, strangely, never quite enough.

One hundred and eleven quotes in my little red notebook.

Nine U.S. states visited, one approaching hurricane, forty-six degrees in the Mojave Desert, dozens of tears in Graceland, countless lurid purple daiquiris in New Orleans, two voodoo charms, four Louisiana gators, and one slice of coconut cream pie so luscious and divine I can almost still taste it.

Poems written for me in Bourbon Street, outside Tennessee Williams’ favourite bar: one.

IMAG0208

Things to do in Jackson, Mississippi: about…oh, three. And they don’t take long.

Pierogi in the Polish section of Brooklyn, smothered in butter and salt: a dozen or so. Smiles from the waitress: none. Minutes it took until Lisa made us flee the freak show at Coney Island with her head in her hands: eleven. Nightmares she had afterward: unknown.

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Nine paper letters written to penpals around the world, three Kafka books bought, too many pairs of red stilettos added to the collection snaking around my bedroom walls. Times I listened to Elmore James’ ‘My bleedin’ heart’, blues dancing in my head: about 1300.

Times I spoke, wrote or dreamt about serpents, cowboys, moustaches or German: do I really have to answer that?

New red notebook to record 2013 and all its jewels: one.

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My southern satisfaction

September 23, 2012 at 12:04 am (Uncategorized) (, )

I was just ordering my second voodoo daiquiri when I saw them.

They were sitting on the footpath across the road from the bar. Afternoon was turning into evening on Bourbon Street, but there was enough light to see two typewriters on a small table in front of them, and a sign propped against them.

POETS FOR HIRE.

New Orleans was something special, all right.

My friends and I had made Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar our local. Nestled up the quiet end of Bourbon Street, this former pirate haven was also the favourite hangout of Tennessee Williams. After exploring voodoo tombs at the St Louis Cemetery, or watching out for alligators in the Louisiana swamps, the perfect end to each New Orleans day was to curl up in Lafitte’s ivy covered courtyard.

 

Lafitte’s, Bourbon Street, New Orleans

 

The addition of poets for hire was more than I could ask for.

Everyone at my table knew I’d go talk to them. I’d met my two travelling companions through the written word: Erica through a feminist punk mailing list in the 90’s, and Lisa through an online writing collective. Flying halfway across the world with one, to meet up with the other, was giving me so many stories.

This was yet another. One poet was tapping away at her typewriter; the other was named Shawna, and it was her first night on the job.

I was smiling already.

‘So how does this work?’

She was young and lovely, with a mane of long dark hair and a heart shaped face.

‘Well, you tell me a few of your interests – and what brought you to New Orleans – and then I write you a poem.’

After a few minutes chat I walked back across the street to the bar, and picked up my drink. I tried not to watch as Shawna got to work. A carriage pulled by a snorting donkey drew up nearby, and tourists hung over the edge to photograph the roadside writing desk. When I saw Shawna pull the paper from the machine and turn my way, I was on my feet in a heartbeat.

If it is a northeast black

Full, perhaps smooth in framing places

Each southern eye makes its way

Towards a bulkyness

Ladies, ladies, put your hands to work

I stood under a streetlight to read my poem. It was the end of a southern summer, and the humidity had made my already wild hair swell to twice its size, made sweat drip down between my shoulder blades. Everything in Shawna’s poem caught this sultry magic in thick black imprints on the small white page, and I found myself cradling it in my palm as I read.

My southern satisfaction

It tastes so good at night

Happy and at home, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar

When, after an hour or two, Shawna and her friend began to pack up their table, I called them over for a drink. There were more donkeys clacking over the cobblestones as the night wore on, lurid purple daiquiris in enormous foam containers, and a fat moon rising above the roof of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Bar as we chatted.

I can’t remember every word, but I don’t need to.

I have the poem as proof it happened, signed with ‘Bourbon Street, New Orleans’ in tiny black print at the bottom.

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Unlock the door

February 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm (Uncategorized) (, )

Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.

Tennessee Williams

I felt a little shaky when I walked in the door.

Travel agents do that to me.

I always try not to look at the huge map on the wall, little pins stuck in cities I’ve never even considered. I‘m such a dreamer that I’m wary of glancing up at a red pin in a random place, and suddenly striding out of there with a ticket to a donkey riding expedition up the hills of Chincha Alta, instead of the winter solstice celebrations in Uppsala I had planned.

Don’t laugh. It could happen.

Instead, I walked out of there blinking at the Melbourne morning sun, looking at the ticket in my hand to Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, New York, Las Vegas and San Francisco, just as I’d planned.

And I may have strutted down Brunswick Street with the bounce in my gait that means yes, yes, I’m hitting the road again.

Few things taste sweeter.

Flickr: Rubyblossom

I’ve always wanted to see New Orleans. I’ve been to the States several times but never down south, and I couldn’t be more excited. Well, that’s a lie – when  a beloved friend offered to fly down from Philadelphia and meet me there, and take me to ‘the pirate bar where Tennessee Williams drank’…well, it’s safe to say I made a noise only dogs could hear.

I love his plays; I do, I do. I love the lushness of his words, his richly drawn characters and settings whose heat and scents curl from the page and into the air as you read.

Maggie, we’re through with lies and liars in this house. Lock the door.

Tennesse Williams, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

I have a finely honed sense of the value of home, both as a linguist who frequently travels, and the agoraphobe I was before that who spent two years locked in her house. I’m so eager to explore the streets of New Orleans and see just how the city seeped into his writing, curling its ivy through his words and wrapping around tight.

I’ve found an address near Pirate’s Alley, where he wrote at the window and his landlady poured hot water between the cracks in the floorboards to shut the tenants up. Another apartment near the French Quarter was where he lost his virginity on New Year’s Eve, then lived with a young male flamenco dancer. And another at 623 St Peters Street where he listened to two streetcars rattle past, one named Desire and the other Cemeteries, finding it ‘the perfect metaphor for the human condition.’

And if I find anyone reminiscent of a rain-soaked Stanley Kowalski bellowing from a street corner, or the silhouette of a sultry Maggie the Cat against a window, I’ll let you know.

Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour – but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands – and who knows what to do with it?

Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire
 

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