H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
B Y E L I Z A B E T H M O R T O N
I remember the heat, like it was yesterday. There were hoofmarks around the waterhole. We stood in flippers and snorkels and watched Ma pick bees from the honeycomb. There might have been goats. Pa made a tepee out of manuka while we splashed about. The honey tasted like the end of the world. It made me sad. But I saw a flounder through my snorkel glass. The flounder was mouthing something like Watch Out, but underwater doesn’t make a sound.
My zodiac said I was in the zone for romance, so I twisted the stem of my apple until it snapped. I said the alphabet until it got to N, which was the letter of the boy I would marry. I knew it was Nathan Holt. Nathan with grey eyes and a face like milk. I wanted Nathan to play Kissy-Kats but Nathan just watched the aphids crawl up the school swanplant all lunchtime. So I tried another apple.
Ma said Nathan could come for tea, which is not English Breakfast or Earl Grey but actually dinner. I showed him the nectarine tree in our garden, and the succulents that you can suck on but they taste gross. Nathan and I did knock knock jokes and folded our napkins into tiny squares. Ma said you can’t fold a piece of paper more than seven times, but I bet that’s a lie like the tooth-fairy and how eating your crusts gives you curly hair. I reckon we did sixteen times and it was just fine. Nathan ate his peas first and then his mash and then his fish fillets. I mixed mine all together like it gets in your stomach anyway. Knock knock, said Nathan, but nobody answered.
The thing was, Nathan came the night our house was on fire. It was hot in there, like Bangalore on a sunny day. Nobody spoke at the dinner table, but everybody said Grace. Ma and Pa looked spooked, like a ghost was munching the peas alongside us. I didn’t realise the house was ablaze until pudding. The flames moved so slowly, from room to room. We did our best to look inconspicuous, which just means we blended in with the carpet. Nathan and I lay on the floor, watching the flames lick at the curtains. Knock knock, said Nathan, but his words were two sparklers, splintering.
I suppose you’re wondering why we didn’t run. We had our reasons. Pa was busy collecting postage stamps. He had a Victoria sixpence in his pocket. He wanted to gather a basket of his best things, but everything just seeped through the wickerwork. He licked the gum on the back of his stamps and, using tweezers, placed one by one along the ridge of his collarbone. He would squeeze through the laundry window and sit on the lawn, easing the creases from Par Avion stickers and Penny Blacks.
Ma busied herself, capturing the moment on her iPhone 7. She took a selfie with orange in every room. She stopped by the linen cupboard, to weep at cereal and the banality of shampoo. She catalogued the charcoaled bassinet, the smoking stuffed animals. Every room was a nerve she could not touch. She sobbed in doorways, dragged the garden hose into the living room, but it melted into a gelatinous snake.
I guess you could say, I was mortified for Nathan. It’s not every day you take a boy home, let alone Nathan Holt with milk skin and dark curls, who was Star of the Day, ten days in a row, in form class. When we said Grace we said thank you to the janitors and thank you to the fishmongers and thank you to the checkout chicks. Nathan looked scared, like the thank yous were an admission of guilt. Amen, we said, and Nathan shrank into another knock knock joke, and folded his napkin over and over, and I am sure it was twenty-six times.
I remember the heat. Ma spilt her peas on the table, and Pa looked sick and distracted. I guess he was watching the smoke plumes. Nathan said we’d better Stop Drop and Roll, but we couldn’t be bothered. It’s so much fuss, said Ma, and Pa nodded and loped towards his study.
The day we went to the waterhole, I think Ma and Pa were actually happy. We stood in our snorkels and flippers eating honey from the comb, picking the insects from our knees. The manuka tepee leaned tall on the shore. When I saw the flounder and it mouthed something like Watch Out I grabbed my two-prong spear and stabbed it good.
Elizabeth Morton is a writer from New Zealand. She is published in Poetry NZ, Landfall, Takahē Magazine, PRISM International, Atlas Journal, Cordite, and Island Magazine, and The Moth, amongst others. She is included in Best Small Fictions 2016, and came second, twice, in the Sunday Star-Times Short Story competition. Her first poetry collection is published with Mākaro Press in 2017.
She likes to write about broken things and things with teeth.
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