Young creatives awards 2021 Writing Runner ups and Librarian's pick

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Runner ups

Caramel by Peli Nghiemxuan (12-15 years)

Tiny paws balanced on the open window ledge, a step away from plummeting into a pool of distant shadows. Two hands wrapped around the supple caramel fur, snatching it away and settling it on the TV box, airing that new movie from theatres, West Side Story. The apartment’s age freckled the stucco walls brown and the floor was crowded by boxes teeming with designer clothes, either stolen or bought through a week’s worth of starvation. Annie found the tabby outside her apartment six years ago, two blocks from Hyde Park and it has lived with her ever since. Poor slob. Poor slob without a name. It was a little inconvenient, not having a name, but Annie felt she didn’t have the right to give it one. They don’t belong to each other, at least not until she found a place she and things could really belong to.

Annie ran her fingers through the caramel fur, slowly drifting to sleep before realising the time. Her eyes, tired from batting her eyelashes and her ears, throbbing from last night’s party. Hours of patiently listening to uniformly suited men rave about green filled wallets. She grabbed a pair of strappy heels and rushed out the door... but not before stopping at the mirror. Gloss on the lips is the measure of a woman’s worth, or so she would say. Her silky brown hair was precisely sprayed into a neat up do leaving behind a naked neck. She was adorned in a ruffled black dress cinched at the waist by a radiant gold belt. The spotlight, a head-turner, the centre of attention.

She was on her way to Long Bay to meet Mario Peroni. He was a sweet old man, terribly pious. A true shame he was locked up. Annie was scheduled to meet him once a month to teach the Italian some English. Each time, he would say something about the weather; Sunshine in Cuba, cyclones in Vietnam, to which she would report back to his brother’s answering machine, proof she was visiting and not some shifty scam. This all sounded a bit peculiar to Annie. She did many odd jobs to keep up with her lavish life, not all of which she was fond of, but she grew a liking to Mario.

Across the prison table, she faced two innocent caramel eyes holding a sunny smile across his face. He wore a soft brown jumpsuit and smelt of a wispy sea breeze. He resembled her brother, Andrew. They used to call Andrew dotty, his crazy obsession with caramel liquorice. But, confined between the steel walls of the orphanage, he was the only one that hugged her in the darkness of the night time sea giving her his blanket when mother nature was being particularly cruel. Annie gave Mario a warm smile, something she hadn’t found herself doing in a while. At least not since Andrew was carried away by the cruel clutches of chance. Taken to the clouds, leaving her estranged.

“Five more years. Then I’ll be sipping Tequila on the beach,” Mario simpered slyly. “You should come with me. Unless you like it here, with all your friends and family.”
Annie’s shiny rose lips curled into a curt smile.

“I wouldn’t be leaving behind anything... I’ve always wanted to escape someplace. Belgium, I hear they’ve got the most scrumptious caramel liquorice.”
Sombre clouds drifted clear from Annie’s eyes leaving a smaller glimmer. “Andrew would have loved Belgium.”

A chilled Arctic like gust settled over Annie’s apartment. The bustling vibrance of day time only lasted so long. The cat scratched her paws against the glass window, a pointless attempt to capture the ambered street light across the hollow road.

Two harsh knocks against the door interrupted Annie’s cereal dinner, causing a spill on her Tiffany scarf.

“You are under investigation… We need to take you in for questioning...,” the words dissipated through the air as Annie was whirled away in a scene of maniac confusion.

She sat on the cold steel seat, right across from a man wearing a badge obnoxiously hung around his neck.
“Mario’s been running shipments in and out of the harbour from the confinement of his cell. What’s a pretty girl like you doing visiting a man like him?”
“He pays me. To teach him English. We ain’t guilty of anything.” Annie replied.
“It’s him we want. Not you. We can offer a deal, get you out of this mess Mario put you in.”
Annie stood her ground, refusing to turn on the one man that had been so dear to her. She knew Andrew would do the same.
“He’s a good man, pious and wrongfully accused. Nothing short of holy!” Annie snapped.
The man pursed his lips, stupid girl.

Behind the man was a reflection in the two-way mirror glaring back at her. A face of fear, blindly battling the harsh reality alone. A fool she was and a criminal he is. He was no Andrew. Sooner or later she was going to be stuck in Long Bay right next to the bastard.

Giving up, the man let her leave. Waving around her hand, she hailed a yellow taxi. “Take me to 182nd Gravestone Avenue. Then the airport!”

It wasn’t long before she had packed up her belongings leaving the apartment an empty canvas. Only the cat was left. Cradled in her arms she carried it to the end of the street.
“What’d you think, huh? Rats-galore, trashcan sanctuary, plenty of slobs to be with. Maybe you’ll finally find a friend.” She placed it down, nudging it away. “Go off now, get lost!”
She walked away. It wasn’t hard for her to let go. No promises were made. It didn’t belong to her and she didn’t belong to it. They never-

Her heart filled with dread letting an overbearing coldness consume her body. Flyaways feel down her face soaking her messy hair in tears. The cat’s warm caramel fur and innocent eyes,

sipping away at leftover milk flashed through her mind. She raced down the street, crying out with a croaking voice.

“Cat? Come back here!”

Her words echoed down the hollow void, fading into the wind. Alienated on her own street. Flickering, the street light’s bright spark tarnished into permanent darkness.

Abnormality is Normal by Amy Zhong (16-18 years)

I’ve always hated the suffocating silence of Tokyo’s underground train stations. Wearing a new suit, the material, still stiff from its prior absence of wear, was itching my skin. Stupidly, I had forgotten to bring a jacket and couldn’t wait to escape the biting temperature. There were only a few commuters this early in the morning; it was the only time you could really avoid the notorious rush hours of Japan’s busiest station. Shinjuku Railway Station accommodates millions per day, yet on this eerie morning, it seemed the oppressive weather had forced many to delay their journey. Every day, the cycle repeats; waiting in the same spot near the end of the platform. Today, there was no one in sight, save but a young teenage boy hidden by his oversized hoodie. Stealing a glance at my watch, I felt the wind rushing before the train's headlights came into view. 6:09; right on time.

Sometimes I wonder how, in just one second, events can change so drastically. I think I heard the sound before the blur of grey had even registered in my head. To this day, that is what stuck with me the most. A deep, resonating note of mangled chaos; his skinny physique no match against the oncoming titan. Looking back now, I can’t remember if I even screamed. The ringing of the screeching emergency brakes drowned out everything else. I’m still not sure why I did it; why I walked away. Maybe it was the initial shock that led me to the bathroom, but it wasn’t particularly the most pleasant of surprises when I left with my breakfast in the bowl.

It always amazed me how fast the situation had been controlled. A perk, I guess, of living in a country with the highest suicide rates in the world; after a while you must get good at dealing with it. There were police, paramedics, staff and mechanics who scurried around performing their duties with confidence that only came with experience. Covering everything was a massive blue tarp, the kind of pop-up gazebo used on a picnic outing. It made my stomach lurch again when I remembered I had a good idea of what lay beneath.

They had left the train doors open, giving the illusion of freedom to passengers stranded by the whole rail system being put on hold. “Attention customers, the train on Platform 2 has been delayed for today. We apologise for the inconvenience and hope to resume service soon.” I looked up at the monitor.

Jinshin jiko. Human body accident. The kanji characters stared back at me, bold and taunting. A seemingly ambiguous statement well understood by all regular commuters.

I sat down on a bench and surveyed the tsūkin-sha, the swarming crowd of morning commuters. They stood in neat lines guided by the markings on the ground. As time went on, and there was still no sign of the train’s departure, the lines started to snake around the station. The renowned Japanese conformity was in full display. I was a hunchback amid the throng of tall, poised businesspeople. Too tired to stand like them, I longed for inemuri, the socially acceptable napping in public. Instead, I took out my phone to send a message to my boss. I texted: Apologies! Train delayed.

…Jinshin jiko, I added as an afterthought; though I know I will be expecting a call soon. Awoken from my train of thought, I am disrupted by a haunting, howling wail, which I can’t forget to this day. Its owner, a wrinkled woman grasping the hand of a young boy. He looked no older than seven; her, no younger than eighty-five, if I was being generous. I cringed at the sight of her as she hobbled down the platform. I watched as her forced movements weighed heavily on her weak frame, and winced as she trudged slowly with great urgency, down a path that had parted for her.


Her screeches echoed down the station. Responseless. I couldn’t help but stare, as everyone politely turned away.

Yukio, meaning ‘snow boy’. Birth during winter.

In hindsight, it makes me wonder how she had arrived so soon after the accident. Her face was contorted in agony, deepening every valley and crevice she bore. Her eyes, tinted with a deranged look of desperation. No one had even flinched at the spectacle. Their heads were bowed low, looking down at their phones, minding their own business as always.

“Jinshin Jiko.”

I managed to catch soft whispers of horrible news passed on by the unfortunate stationmaster unlucky enough to have to tell it.


Frail arms encase the boy. Tighter and tighter, she holds him as if he was someone else. Nursing the last memories of her kogarashi.3

Looking my way, she noticed the only person paying her any attention. I stared at her and she stared at me. An awkward, unspoken conversation between two confused strangers. With one arm around her remaining possession, she reached out a bony hand, breaching half of the gap between us.

Blocking out the rest of the world, I could feel the heavy weight of mine as it rose to close the rest of the distance. With fingertips close enough to touch and her eyes pleading pools of hopelessness locked with mine, something unfamiliar tugged within. My mind raced with overflowing words; words I wanted to say, but could not.

Looking back, I think I had become slightly unhinged by what I’d witnessed. I wanted to comfort her. Be there for her. Listen to her stories, and tell her mine. I remember feeling an urge - it seems stupid now - an urge to tell her about my new job, and my hopeless boss. To just sit with her and share her grief.

The phone rang in my pocket. Self-consciously, I withdrew my momentarily outstretched hand. Snapping my fingers around the cool metal, I turned away. What was I doing? A small sigh escaped as I realised that no one had noticed our little interaction. The crowd had accumulated exponentially now. I had lost my spot in the queue, and was quickly shuffled and nudged back to its end.

“Attention customers, the train will now depart from Platform 2. Thank you for your patience”. 7:13am. I watched as the doors closed in front of me. I felt, with their closing, a slow dawning of normality... I’ll regret not bringing a jacket, stay back late to catch up on missed work, and be forced to make agonising small talk with an incompetent executive. The distance between me and the woman grew further and further; the unwavering stares of two small figures began to disappear in the distance. I was almost an hour late. I’ve always hated the suffocating silence of underground train stations.

Last Crossing of the Wind Sea - Rinjani Soengkoeng (19-24 years)

Inspired by The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The cold comes from the inside out. It seems to inhabit my bones first, turning them into dark, inert iron and weighing me down in my seat. It seeps slowly from me, and I begin to fancy I am forming my own sea of cold, with waves that ripple outwards to lap against the carriage’s birchwood walls. It is fortunate that I am its only occupant, for otherwise my fellow passengers would soon be drowning in my sea, their cheeks ballooning desperately with the last bubbles of warmth they managed to snatch.

I am wearing three fur coats – mink, fox, and wolf. Underneath, a heavy gabardine overcoat, the old-fashioned kind that you see soldiers of the Morning War wearing in children’s picture books. Underneath that, a bark-rough fisherman’s jersey and two rollneck pullovers. Then all the shirts I packed (flannel, dress, and under) and two more I found abandoned in the overhead compartment (stained, but clearly clean). My head is covered with an enormous
lambskin hunter’s cap, which I traded a gold tooth for back in Khe Luar, and my face is swaddled in my grandmother’s cashmere shawl.

I am still cold.

When we first entered the wastes – the ta-gar as the locals call it – I asked the stewardess if we could have the heat turned up every hour she entered the carriage on her rounds. Each time she would smile and say that the central heating was at full capacity. After a day of this nonsense, I became enraged enough that I marched all the way to the front of the train and demanded entrance to the command chamber. The stewardess - similarly frustrated, I now suspect - wrenched open the doors and pointed to the relevant panel.

The dial was turned completely to the right. Next to the mark was a word written in Aphaic script, as all the signage was. It read mytroi – maximum. I turned to her, smiled, and walked shamefacedly back to my carriage.

Outside the one window I have left uncovered, the ta-gar yawns on. At first its sheer expanse left me breathless and slightly horrified. Now, four days in, I could almost be bored of it if not for the unrelenting cold it radiates.
According to geographers the ta-gar is a desert, an absence of water stretching endlessly towards the horizon. Its dryness means it is unable to support either life or weather - nothing moves out here, except the wind. Ta-gar means Wind Sea, but can also be translated to the Last Sea, or the Sea of Death. When I first heard the word, it confused me. Why, after all, would you name a desert after a body of water?
But I understand now. The ta-gar is not a desert, it is not an absence of something. It is an ocean – endlessly vast, endlessly empty, endlessly alien. The wind moves ancient dust across the bone-coloured ice in ceaseless, unknowable patterns, and if you don’t concentrate hard enough on your own thoughts you can hear it singing.

Late that night my alarm clock wakes me, as I have set it to do every half hour to prevent my death of hypothermia. I am now conscious of the deep, aching cold of the carriage, and I shiver violently as I lean over to pull the light-string.
1 o’clock.

I almost shed tears as I leave behind the cocoon of my bedclothes to begin walking up and down the carriage. I am an old man; my convulsing limbs flail and skitter and my back bends under the weight of my clothing.
The dark of the carriage is punctuated by a single beam of silver, which stretches from the window to the tiny icon above the foldout table. The beam flickers, as though the window is an old kinematograf projector, and the icon’s gilded face flashes intermittently.

The flashes get faster; the saint’s face is now winking in a rapid Morse code. In jolts and shudders I make my way to the window, hands outstretched. Nothing is visible in the fog of condensation, but the light continues to pass over my face like a distant search beam. Cold burns my cheek when I put my eye to the little hole I wiped. Again, nothing. I press closer, cheek screaming, and furiously blink away tears.

The darkness lifts and suddenly the great silver ocean of the ta-gar is revealed. But the sea is no longer dead – great arcing shapes rise out of it, like storm-called waves or breaching whales. Dozens, no, hundreds of them, some so close to the rail-lines that they cut out the moon.

My eye adjusts to the light’s vagaries, and I can discern the remains of masts, rigging, sometimes even steam chimneys.

A row of windows like eyes lines the uptilted bow of one ship, half-sunk in the ice. Great sheets of its hull have peeled away, so that the boat appears to have its jaws open in silent anguish. Another lies on its starboard side, exposed planks whittled by the wind into rib-like points. Frost rimes the edges of the wound.

In the distance, I hear singing.

Morning arrives with the usual painful clarity. I wear my body like another overcoat; I curse and exhort it as I would a wilful horse. The window shows nothing but wind and ice, no matter how I scrub at it with a woollen fist.
When the stewardess arrives with breakfast (smoked tea and unleavened bread, sour cream, equally sour jam), I ask her about the ships in the night.
She shrugs and smiles. “Osche.” Ruins.

It is only when my last cup of tea has gone cold that I remember osche can also be translated as ‘remains’ or ‘relics’. It implies a forgiveness, an acknowledgement of earthly wrong via spiritual reverence.
Osche is the word used for the bones of martyrs, the mass graves of civilian casualties. The places where unwilling sacrifices were made.


Librarian's pick

The New Sound by Darcy Phelan

Inspired by the Journey of Self Discovery in Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha

The Bloke gazed into the desolate expanse of the Tanami, listening for the serene sounds of this lonely stretch of desert. It had been a dream of his since early childhood to be a great musician, inspired by the ethnomusicological research of John Lomax and his son, Alan; specifically, their recordings of African American blues music. Yet dreams rarely manifest, and The Bloke’s career shifted into ethnobotany, the study of a region’s plants through utilising local cultural knowledge. This change of career granted The Bloke the gift of monetary gain, and useful skills, but hadn’t given him pleasure nor contentment. He’d been stationed within the marginally viable dirt-farming town of Jamulu for months, touring the sparsely populated Outback to conduct ethnobotanical studies for the CSIRO.

He had noted that Carnegiea gigantea, an invasive breed of cactus, had effectively colonised the desert, gradually replacing native species. Warlpiri locals had schooled The Bloke on how to survive the desert by utilising native plants – plants that were getting harder to find.

These same locals had also informed The Bloke about a local legend known as Langarr-panu, which loosely translates to ‘able to hear’, or ‘The New Sound’; Langarr-panu was a unique noise heard in the deepest desert that, when heard, transforms the listener into a state of mind akin to having one’s greatest desires become instantly manifest. There was something about this myth that had invaded The Bloke’s consciousness, as if his mind was this desert and the legend, cacti. Inspiration had morphed into intense determination, and finally, into an obsession to find this ‘New Sound’.

Driven by a mix of desperation to change his life and just plain naivety, The Bloke had decided to undertake a pilgrimage to find the Langarr-panu. He set off from the isolated Katabasis bus stop, walking in the direction of the sun, in accordance with local instruction.

He sang as he wandered further into the Tanami; finding snippets of old blues tunes that had formed the soundtrack of his infancy. He knew this journey was a product of an unshakeable ennui, a feeling driven by a burning dissatisfaction with what his life had become. He knew the quest he was embarking on was likely to be a slow walk towards death. The quest was a pretext; he would find either salvation, or the great desert would grant him the peace of oblivion.

As he walked, he would remember happier times, back in the city; when he lived among his mates, playing music in dim-lit pubs and living on fish fingers - the staple diet of an impoverished musician. The memory increased his determination, a determination to return to this lifestyle - minus the poverty. He had blamed his lack of musical success on his impoverishment. In his heart, he knew it could not excuse his lack of prowess.
Tread the path to the middle way, the balance between music and money, happiness and stability, The Bloke scribbled in his notebook while on a rest break, meditating under a Corymbia Opaca. He’d come to believe these smooth-barked trees, with their blood-red sap, were the Tanami equivalent of the Bodhi Tree, Ficus Religiosa.

He resumed walking. The taste of fish fingers lingered hauntingly within his mouth for hours afterward.

Delusion was setting in.

In the shimmering distance, The Bloke noticed a fellow wanderer setting up camp for the night. He reminded The Bloke of a fedayeen warrior, a memory of past travels. The Fedayi donned a checkered keffiyeh that complimented his thistly black beard, his eyes as green as the invasive cacti. The Bloke walked over and The Fedayi extended his hand forward. As the two shook hands, a deep shiver flooded through The Bloke’s body. The whole interaction had been a daze.
He gazed down at his right hand, burning with a sharp pain, besmeared in blood and infected with small black thorns. The Bloke whimpered faintly, before collapsing into a deep slumber under the shady underbelly of an eolian dune. Only upon awakening, in a brief interstice of lucidity, did it occur to him that there had been no Fedayi, just more cactus, Carnegiea gigantea draped in a forgotten scarf.

Clenching his eyes shut against the painful glare, he staggered onwards. Walking towards the sun had taken its toll. A melodic chirping slowly permeated The Bloke’s perception. Clenching and unclenching his eyes, he attempted to take stock of his surroundings.

He had reached the end of the road; a paradisiacal oasis, unlike any he'd previously seen. Towering golden palm trees, Dypsis Lucensis, guarded an azure pool of water, wind chimes hung from their branches, accompanied by vividly coloured birds creating a hypnotic soundscape. A droning hum assaulted The Bloke’s ears as he was drawn towards the water. He was enthralled at his reflection. ‘What had he become?’ The Bloke pondered while smiling, observing his peeling skin and skeletal figure. He plunged into the water, the humming becoming increasingly louder as;

He went deeper


Until he reached rock bottom.

Upon touching the oasis bed, a sound beyond sound, a sound no words, no poetry, could capture, overpowered his consciousness. A beautifully warm rush flooded every nerve-ending, every muscle, every sinew in his body.
For a brief moment, he’d found the New Sound.

The Bloke’s katabasis had ended and he was pulled to the surface, baptised, transformed. All he wanted to do was listen to the melodies of nature; and he was in the perfect place. His skin felt healed and his energy rejuvenated. The water’s taste reminded him of fish fingers - A taste he would never have to experience again.

Grinning like an idiot, he cleared the water from his ears and stared at the still singing birds who had welcomed him in song, but heard nothing. His grin faded into a frown.

The Bloke made a mortifying revelation:

A tranquil sound.. a nothingness had overtaken his hearing,

His passion, silenced. He would never again hear anything of the outside world.

Pluviophile by Oliver Whitehouse

The seductive darkness of sleep threatened to swallow Henry whole, but his eyes stayed open. He hadn’t slept for weeks.
It had been raining for almost a month in London, the incessant, soft pitter patter like dissolving footsteps. To him, they sounded like flutes. A deep voice, to Henry, was a cello; the whine of a kettle a high C played on a piccolo. His mind relished in reshaping these sounds into whispers of magic. Tonight, he listened to the rain. Eyes closed, his mind wandered; grand symphonies, delicate notes from a violin, ethereal melodies floating from slender fingers on ivory keys, music, filling the soundproofed chambers of his mind.

Henry’s rapture was cut off by thumping from his bedroom, and the refreshed hums from his fridge flowed into his ears. The thumping was his roommate, Hank, who was probably with a girl. Henry didn’t need a bedroom - he didn’t sleep, so he rented it out. The thumping grew louder and Henry muttered a curse as he moved to lie down across his couch. The papers scattered across the coffee table, scrawled with endless lines of notes, momentarily fluttered as his arm moved past. They used to be printed - arranged in neat little stacks, but there was no more time to be neat. Not since he started his sextet. He hadn’t even bothered to name the composition, all he knew was that rain, to him, was a sound so indescribably fragile, so human, that it begged to be put into ink. His bandaged finger was evidence of countless nights spent gripping his pen, laying out his life onto lines across paper. Sprawled across his sofa, he smothered his head with a pillow, muffling the thumping from his bedroom and the humming from his fridge. He felt his muscles relax as he lay there in his limbo between reality and fantasy, until the music pried open his dreaming mind.

The flutes from the night before still echoed in his thoughts. If he wrote them down, he could quell their whispers. The gentle pattering of rain outside seemed to mimic their pleasant lilts as he poured his coffee and sat. His bedroom door opened and the echoes of music began to fade, a girl emerging and sitting down across from him.
“Sorry about last night.” “Hm?”
“Was I too loud? You kept covering your head with a pillow.” The flutes were now a distant memory.

“Last night. Was I too loud?” “...What are you still doing here?”
The look of confusion across her face seemed to taunt his indifference. Her pretty, delicate features tucked into a scowl.
“Alright, geez … relax, I’m gone.”
The door slammed shut, and as if on cue, Hank walked out in his boxers. His muscles rippled as he pulled his shirt over his head.
“Where’d she go?” “Out.”
The flutes started up again, causing Henry to claw desperately at where his pen had been. A sigh came from behind and he turned to see Hank, pen in hand.
“Every girl I bring home, you do this. Why? Why can’t you just talk to them like a normal person?” He lunged forward. Hank effortlessly sidestepped Henry’s attempts to take the pen, leaving him grasping at air.
“Hank. Hank listen to me. Give me the pen.” The two men grappled at each other, Hank holding the pen behind his head.
“I need that pen Hank”
“No, you listen to me. You can’t live like this. Henry, relax.”
His voice seemed distant, the flutes deadening his words. The music grew to a crescendo, and Henry barged into Hank, knocking him off his feet. He snatched the pen from the ground, scanning the table for a sheet untouched by ink. The black scribbles seemed endless.
“Paper. I need paper”
Hank groaned from his position on the floor. “Henry, you’re fucking obsessed.”
Henry couldn't hear him, the flutes now deafening as he slammed the door shut.

It’s the evening and the rain was now an unrelenting downpour, the scratching of pen on paper barely audible above its roar. Henry sat at the coffee table, the notes spilling from his fingertips like water, the sound of flutes emptying from his mind.
The satisfying click of the door unlocking tore Henry from his reverie. Hank brushed by and stacks of paper cascaded from the table, joining the mess accumulating on the carpet. Hank eyed the chaos in distaste as he handed Henry a phone.
“It’s the landlord. Answer it.”

He realised Hank’s lie too late. His father’s baritone voice came through in a muffled haze. As he held the phone, he listened more to his musical translation of the storm battering his apartment than his father’s harsh melody of words- words that came through in short bursts where the violins and cellos tormenting him grew quiet.

“You haven’t visited in 5 months… quit the rugby team…”

Henry winced as the screech of a cello cut his father off.

“...when was the last time you talked to a girl?...
...Our family is a family of law…
...I was willing to look past that…”

The overwhelming sound of bows drawn across taught strings and his father’s scrutinizing voice amalgamated into a head splitting mess of confusion. He couldn’t take it anymore.

“We even let you choose your own degree, we know how much you loved music, but this is too far…”
“Dad! Why did you call? Did Hank ask you to do this?” “Who’s Hank? No, Henry- your mothers worried about you.” “No she isn’t. Why did you call?”
“... The university called. You haven’t been in three weeks.”
“I’m writing a piece.” “Henry…We’re cutting your tuition.”

The cellos seemed to give way to momentary silence, as if expecting a response from Henry. He didn’t have one. He thumbed the screen of the phone, ending the call, then stared at where Hank was standing. The emptiness of his apartment stared back at him.

Henry spent the rest of his night listening to the rain and writing, trying to recapture what he had heard during the phone call; but the music was like water, slipping through his fingers. He could hear Hank’s whispers, unceasing and relentless.

They don’t love you. They don’t need you. She doesn’t need you.
You should call them. You should apologize. You should call her.
The conversation seemed like a waking dream, the more he thought about it. He didn’t care about the tuition. If he had to bleed to achieve greatness, so be it. He didn’t need university, didn’t need his parents. This was his life. This was his masterpiece.

By five in the morning he had finished. He fell onto his sofa, a spent firework. His phone rang and he unearthed it from the scattered papers.
He recognised the voice. It was the girl from the morning. “Susan. I’m… I’m sorry.”
“Hey, it’s okay. Honestly. Don’t worry about it. I know you.”
“I’ll call you tomorrow.”

The dull throb of rainfall grew into a brutal wail as Henry slid the balcony door shut behind him, but all Henry could hear was his sextet. The unbroken sky was the vast chamber of an opera house. The rain battering the balcony was the music. The clouds suffocating the skyline were his audience, mesmerised. A percussionist struck a drum as thunder boomed in the distance. The lights of the opera house blinded Henry as lightning twisted, splitting the sky open.

A figure stabbed at the edge of his vision, and he whirled to see Hank, behind the glass of the balcony door. Lightning flashed, and Henry was left staring at his reflection, his body fragmented by the raindrops trickling across the glass surface, his distorted face devoid of identity. Insanity swum in his eyes. The music seemed to coalesce with the sound of lashing rain, until he couldn’t tell which was which. Henry heard music, Hank heard the rain. Consumed by the noise, by the storm, by the ecstasy igniting his mind, the blur between Hank and Henry dissolved, flowing across his brief existence as if it was liquid, as if it was the raindrops running down the glass, as if it were the tears trickling across his face.

With a push, the glass shattered and the roar of the rain flooded into his ears, untainted by music.


Middle of my mid-twenties: Beauty - by Caitlin Lawler

The middle of my mid-twenties

It’s the same patch under the ensuite sink that the bleach, dustpan and mop can’t reach.
It’s the same pant leg of those promising blue jeans that creeps out of the laundry basket teasing my OCD.
It’s the same morning routine, racing the kettle to scrub my teeth.
It’s the same 3-hour conversation about almost men broken by heavy, expectant architectural dreams.
It’s the same species of apple carved into the same eighths using the same knife with the weathered handle.
It’s the same saturation of white sneakers littering the doorway, hallmarks of comfort and uniformity.
It’s the same drop in energy and increase in judgement when a mirrored image reflects my textured, speckled face.
Same old same old. Sun rise sun set.
If I don’t wipe tears from my face, do they just absorb and reset?

I wish I could love the image of me eating a croissant as much as I love eating croissants

The inners of my right ear are crusted with oxygen and blood
And the bakery at the end of the street is all out of cinnamon scrolls 4 mirrors wide
The end of my good sleep streak
Who needs carbs when you can be satisfied with A double chin instead?
Or the imprint of a jean button south of my naval
Or body confidence held together by an imitation silk sheet. Sugar and flour, sweet treats and cuts that run deep.


Breadwinner and apron wearer. Beard hairs in the sink and a double shot in my drink. An office
won’t contain your ego and your mother tells me fuchsia is not pink. The first course on the menu tonight is my eagerness to please, followed by a hearty dish of expectation and completed with

three scoops of claustrophobia. Right before the dish soap hits a greased pan, you tell me mushrooms are revolting. My vegetarian pride takes a private punch, but I can’t ignore the leftovers on your plate.

How much heat can be contained in a one-bedroom apartment?

I’ve tried to convince myself that one-bedroom apartments are a good idea. But then, reality takes the shape of an absent smoke alarm and two mock-meat patties in a stranger’s frypan. Two fans create a wind tunnel, pushing beads of sweat from the left side of my forehead to the right. No matter what deodorant I buy, two yellow rings of sweat decorate my favourite, white shirts. My feet treat shower water as lava, a cleanse by fire. One-bedroom apartments heave, they swelter. Aircon free and trouble steeped. Left alone in the company of heat.

Writing is finite and I am tired Stay away from the kitchen table Stay away from the bed

Loud moans and paper cuts Where can I go instead?
The blood of all those collected in the past Stain and pull at your crisp white shirt
Your box of tissues won’t clean up my mess and my hurt Red is the colour of strawberries and sweetness
Rage and incompleteness
And the whites of my eyes are littered with red tired sighs As the keys smack the paper
Hands bruise my skin
Writing is finite and evades instructions

Mid-week wine

Take one bottle
And pour it from the base Haste
I empty myself into you
But there are holes in your vessel And the wine leaks down and out

Staining my fingertips My lips
My memories Bleached red

Being in a happy relationship makes for crappy writing

Bees / Trees / Scrambled eggs / Pillow Window / Inflatable pool / Cold cups of tea Lipstick decorated rim / Tissues
Six pairs of shoes / Cables across my room
Whispers in the apartment carpet / Iced coffee straws
Pimples / Displaced hair snakes on the bathroom floor
Marriage question mark / Morning and night |Loneliness / Bed / Desk / Office chair
Instagram likes / Exes with curly hair

Things that go Zoom

Race car down a race track
Overexcited rescue dog kept indoors too long
My second-hand blender with a failing motor
Police cars in south-west Sydney under the guise of “protection”
Clouds rolling across a clear, blue sky
All my meetings and Sunday afternoons
Life churning through hours
Who needs society
When you’ve got Zoom?


Here lies 4 isolated beard hairs
There lies a sculpture fashioned from tissues The next room showcases weeks of dust
The dining table displaying dirty dishes in full view A museum worker is working from home
And sees a nostalgia in everything

Collecting insignificance

Curation in discarded gym equipment Exhibiting coffee rings on the countertop
This week the mail man brought 3 new acquisitions: Skincare, bedsheets, and heated towel rack
A museum worker is working from home Let her back to her endangered habitat

Fine lines and wrinkles

I’m sorry I’d like to return this eye cream I purchased last week Yes, I’m very dissatisfied
Don’t you know I’m turning 25?

It’s the age where society starts turning against you
Fine lines and wrinkles
I want to buy a bottle of airbrush
Using the guise of beauty to make quick cash

You don’t have that do you?
What about some tools then?
To dismantle, to give respite, to empower.
I search for them in every screen imaginable
And each time I come back, soured.

Don’t you know I’m turning 25?
Someone help me -
With beauty and longevity.

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Page last updated: 08 Sep 2021