‘An Ordinary Life’ by John RC Potter

My earliest memory was my second birthday, sitting in my highchair in the kitchen of our family home. It was before the kitchen was renovated to include a large picture window. Previously, there were two long old-fashioned storm windows on that wall, with a telephone sitting high in pride of place between them.

You may ask how anyone can have a memory when only two years old. My own family has questioned it. However, I do remember that birthday and that day, and the memories evoked are in my mind’s eye – almost like a film flickering along from the past. My birthday is on February 23rd and my paternal grandfather’s birthday was two days earlier, thus on that day in 1960 two birthdays were being celebrated. I particularly remember the scene because I was sitting near the end of the table beside my mother, whilst my grandfather was at the other end in his ever-present plaid shirt and suspenders. The day was particularly notable because my grandfather’s brothers and their wives were also present; in a matter of a few years my grandfather and two of his brothers would have departed this earth. I recall that my grandfather and his brothers looked so much alike, all balding with liver spots on the crown of their foreheads. Only the oldest brother, Uncle Will, was different in appearance: with a full head of white hair and a moustache (a few years later he would remind me of Colonel Sanders of KFC fame). 

Another early memory is of wandering away after supper. I barely remember it. I was a toddler and always wanting to roam (which was an early indication of my need to roam even further afield than the farm and head off across oceans to other lands). My mother had been cooking supper and my dad would have been in the barn; my older sisters were young too but no doubt playing in the house, the yard, or the barn. I was probably left in care of my sisters, and they may have lost track of me. In any case, I headed off back the laneway that led to the barn but extended past that known place into the more distant universe: back to the corn and wheat fields that stretched to the back of our farm and ended in a small forest of trees. However, just past the barn and to the left of the laneway that receded into the distance there was the swamp, and further yet a small creek that meandered through our farm from north to south and then to the east where it met up with the concession line on which we lived. 

When my mother went outside to check with my sisters as to my whereabouts, I was no longer on the back step playing. My mother was naturally very concerned: a farm is a place not only of discovery, but also of danger. As I was later told, due to the sun setting and the evening proceeding on its daily path, my parents and our next-door neighbours set out in all directions to find the missing toddler. I can only imagine what went through my mother’s mind that evening: had I tumbled into the crick, or wandered into the cow field and been trampled, or worse yet, had I been abducted from the front yard by a passing motorist with evil intentions? 

All families have their legends and their lores, their memories and myths. The episode of the wandering toddler who disappeared one evening around suppertime was one in my life and in my family. For a few hours it caused a sudden panic for my parents and great concern for our neighbours. However, it had a good ending, as we wish all such incidents did: it was my mother who found me late that evening in the middle of the swampland, sitting on a log, illuminated by a full moon, and singing happily as if I were ensconced in the safest place on earth. 

The roamer and wanderer that was a part and parcel of my nature as a child continued throughout my childhood. I was fascinated by travel documentaries, by the National Geographic, and by any information about travelling via airplane, boat, train or even car. My parents were never in an airplane, although my father had ridden in a helicopter. However, I would begin travelling by airplane when a young adult, and then after moving overseas as in international educator, I was always in the air. My thirst for knowledge about other lands, languages, cultures, and peoples has taken me to approximately fifty countries, and I have lived in five. 

During these travels and journeys – the physical as well as the metaphysical – I have borne witness to defining incidents that have been signposts on the journey of my life: more than one earthquake (Turkey and Indonesia), a political uprising (Indonesia), a tsunami (Bali, fortunately far from the epicentre), an aerial offensive (Israel), up to 50 degree heat (UAE), and found myself taking refuge in a church in the middle of a raging, white-out conditions snow storm (Canada). When I was born, I am certain that my parents had no idea where my life would take me; they would have thought it would take the natural course as theirs had done. It was assumed that I would take over the family farm, that I would settle down and have the same life and lifestyle as my parents, and my grandparents, and thus similar to each generation previously. That did not happen. Like the settlers and explorers of generations earlier, deep inside me was the need to uproot myself, to experience the unknown, to chart another course; in a fashion and manner similar, no doubt, to my forebearers who departed from the British Isles in the early 1800s, heading for new horizons ‘across the pond’.

Like them, seeking a new life, an ordinary life. 

Meet the Author!

John RC Potter is an international educator originally from Canada, but who is living in Istanbul.  When in high school John had the opportunity to interview the Nobel Prize winning author, Alice Munro, who resided in his hometown. It inspired John to begin creative writing. His poems and stories have been published in the following: Literary Yard, Down in the Dirt, Bosphorus Review of Books, The National Library of Poetry, Jabberwocky. His most recent publications are ‘Blood from a Stone’, an excerpt from a novel-in-progress (Bosphorus Review of Books, January 2023), and ‘All Roads Lead To Istanbul’ (The Write Launch, February 2023). An upcoming story will appear in an issue of Fiction on the Web (March 2023). He is currently a quarterfinalist in the ScreenCraft Short Story Competition with his entry, ‘She Got What She Deserved’.  2023 ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Competition Quarterfinalists – ScreenCraft 

‘The Shock of This’ by Clive Donovan

The shock of this
creature woman
lying still – not asleep
her middle portion rises and falls
her soft breath steady

The reclining form
like a great cat
at a zoo
or the couch
of a sculptor’s studio

Gentle flickers
of movement – avidly
I ponder mouth open
what will she do 

My God she is
moving her arm
in a broad arc
in a broad arc she sweeps
like a firm slow scythe

She reaps – what?
Molecules of air
my fascinated eyes follow
to her new point of rest
where she spreads into adjacent space

Manoeuvring like an oyster
on a table breathing with the 
quickened waves of warm delight
her lips open
in the pink blush of twilight.

Meet the Poet!

Clive Donovan is the author of two poetry collections, The Taste of Glass [Cinnamon Press] and Wound Up With Love [Lapwing] and is published in a wide variety of magazines including Acumen, Agenda, Crannog, Fragmented Voices, Prole, Sentinel and Stand. He lives in Totnes, Devon, UK. He is a Pushcart and Forward Prize nominee for 2022’s best individual poems.

‘Atonement’ by Daniel Schulz


Atonement seems obsolete as an idea, but the idea keeps itself alive, precisely because the moment in which it could have been realised was not met. In sum, all we did was interpret what we have done, instead of changing it. Stunting ourselves, resigning from reality, committing to the defeatism of reason, we fail to change the world. Our appearance is what we put out as our experience, to hide the naive construct of our own innocence through jaded glasses. Nothing ever happened here. That is the truth, because we never changed our narrative.

“Are you flirting with me?” I asked her.

And she said, “You’re a thinker. Why don’t you go ahead and answer your own question?” So I put my hand on her thigh, while staring at the side of her face as she observed our friends’ conversation at the table. She brushed it down once. She brushed it down twice. And the third time she retreated. 

I wasn’t sure if this was what she wanted, until she sat down opposite from me and pale, drawing her girlfriend close to her, like a shield. That was when I got the idea, but did not say a word.

That speechless shame to have gone too far. If you’re a man, they say, you have to be assertive. I never wanted to be this way, but never having had the courage before I tried. You aren’t born a man, you see, you become one. 


Leaving the bar, I went out for fresh air and left things as they were. For a moment reality settled into my conscience like a stinging cold, but it was disproportionate to the world surrounding me. I realised I had misinterpreted the signs she had given me, but did not say a word. It was too late to say anything, anyhow, I told myself. The deed was done. I didn’t change the world, you see, I just left the situation and took a breath.

Near the entrance, another woman, smoking her cigarette, had her eye on me, then looked away, not to draw attention. She didn’t belong to our inner circle. I put on an appearance. Disinterested, I stared into the night, telling myself that I was not a threat so that this stranger might believe it, too, then left.


There were no consequences for me.  Some of the women I used to be friends with, kept their distance from me. But that is all I know that happened, rumours. The eyes that locked onto me and paused, because they never expected me to do anything like that. Maybe that was the point. I was the shy guy and everybody’s best friend. If I wasn’t categorised gay, I was categorised submissive. There is nothing you can do about other’s preconceptions. I didn’t mind being categorised as these things. What I did mind was to be written off as a person with no desires of his own. What I did mind was to be everyone’s personal pet and joke. So I pushed my hand underneath her skirt, thinking she might react.

Being feared is worse than being ignored, especially if people start ignoring you, precisely, because they fear you. Self-reflection cannot yield before the events of history. 


Atonement seems obsolete as an idea, precisely because life goes on. But the idea keeps itself alive, precisely because the moment in which it could have been realised was not met. I didn’t change the world, you see, because I never said a word. One evening, ten years later, I remember slipping a poem toward the clerk of an exhibition, believing the double innuendo to be clever. Revisiting the scene a day later, I saw her keeping distance, jaws locked in position, her rage and terror turned to stone. Her anger stood out like a statue in the gallery, hammered down with a weight, she would have liked to bludgeon me with, if I had not been a very special guest on this occasion. This is what happens when you have friends and business connections, you see. The space was very well known for its feminist art pieces and paying its female employees less than it did its men.

Appearance put out as experience, to hide the naive construct of a glamorous image, which is merely a construct of our minds indifferent to reality.


I shed my skin a few nights ago, going through my memoirs. Longing to give some kind of confession, I entered a student bar, well known for its open readings. This is how I told the world my story. Bare of expensive clothing, I read my previous lines and sat down at the counter, realising that my life fit into a specific kind of category, a specific kind of box. You aren’t born a man, after all, you become one.

“What a depressing story,” the man next to me ranted, “Couldn’t you have read something more comedic? You come off as somebody who suffered child abuse by his parents.” Turning my head toward him, I waited for him to tell me more about what he was thinking. He continued without invitation, “Don’t get me wrong. You’ve really got talent as a writer, but if you just would do something more comedic to lighten up the room, you would really be something else, you know? You would be successful. You know? People want to have joy in their life. People want to laugh.” And with those words he handed one of the other performers his card, explaining that he was a well established media producer looking for fresh talent.

Unapologetic about his own behavior, he turned his back on me like a true conversationist and mingled with the other people reading at the bar. From afar, I got a better look at his trademark polo shirt, and the people he was leaning toward, saying he was in the city for a visit. Leaning over toward another table, he handed another group of people his card, resting his hands on the back of a chair, until his hands slid down farther and the woman he was groping told him to get off. Hands in the air, he said, he didn’t do anything, but backed away as her friends stood up. He even said so to my face. “Some people are really uptight.”

Suddenly, I felt my lips move: “I saw you slide your hands down her back.”

And as I said those words, he looked at me in astonishment and fury, self-assured about himself and answered, “No, I did not. I didn’t do anything at all.” Turning his back on me again, because I did not share his song, he interpreted his own actions in a different manner, editing reality before reality edited him out of the room. There was something hilarious about him in that moment, something that made my throat choke with laughter, simply because it was true.

Meet the Author!

Daniel Schulz is a U.S.-German author based in Cologne. He is best known for his short story collection Schrei (Formidabel 2016) and his work as curator of the Kathy Acker Reading Room at the University of Cologne. In 2019 he co-organized and curated an exhibition for the Goethe Institute in Seattle for which he edited the book Kathy Acker in Seattle (Misfit Lit 2020). He also worked as co-editor of Gender Forum‘s special edition Kathy Acker: Portrait of an Eye/I (2019). His works have appeared in the journals Der Federkiel, Luftruinen, Die Novelle, The Transnational, Electronic Book Review, Mirage #5, Gender Forum, Fragmented Voices, Divanova, Kunst-Kultur-Literatur Magazin, Versification, Salut L‘absurde, Café Irreal and Cacti Fur as well as the anthologies Tin Soldier (Sarturia 2020), Corona -Schnee (Salon29 2021), Jahrbuch der Poesie 2021 (AG Literatur 2021) and Home (Fragmented Voices 2021).  Instagram: @danielschulzpoet

Author’s Note: 

The text derives specific parts of its contents from Theodor Adorno’s Negative Dialectics, replacing the subject matter of philosophy with the subject matter of atonement and regret. As Adorno juxtaposed appearance and rhetoric of philosophy against the material reality of actual historical events and acts of discrimination and violence, his concepts could also be utilized in context of what the #metoo-movement made vocal. Appropriating Adorno’s concepts helped with the emotional, hurtful, and heavy lifting of the subject matter at hand. Below are the sentence specifically appropriated for this text, a writing technique I, in this text, have adapt in kinship to Kathy Acker’s work.


Author’s Text:

Atonement seems obsolete as an idea, but the idea keeps itself alive, precisely because the moment in which it could have been realized was not met. In sum, all we did was interpret what we have done, instead of changing it. Stunting ourselves, resigning from reality, committing to the defeatism of reason, we fail to change the world. 

Theodor Adorno’s Text:

Philosophie, die einmal überholt schien, erhält sich am Leben, weil der Augenblick ihrer Verwirklichung versäumt ward. Das summarische Urteil, sie habe die Welt bloß interpretiert, sei durch Resignation vor der Realität verkrüppelt auch in sich, wird zum Dafaitismus der Vernunft, nachdem die Veränderung der Welt mißlang. 

(Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialektik. Jargon der Eigenlichkeit., Suhrkamp 2003, p. 15.)

Philosophy that once seemed obsolete keeps itself alive, because the moment of its realization has been missed. The summary judgement that philosophy has merely interpreted the world, that she, crippled in herself, has resigned from the world, becomes a defeatism of reason, after changing the world has failed. 


Author’s Text:

Self-reflection cannot yield before the events of history. 

Adorno’s Text:

Ihre Kritische Selbstreflexion darf aber nicht innehalten vor den höchsten Erhebungen ihrer Geschichte. 

(Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialektik. Jargon der Eigenlichkeit., Suhrkamp 2003, p. 16.)

Her critical selbstreflection cannot stand still before the highest mounts of her history.  

‘The Risk of Blank Spaces’ by Emma Lee

He confesses    he couldn’t tell her
                       he feared she didn’t feel the same
                       how to know?
                       she was polite,
                       no unnecessary words.

Write what he couldn’t speak?
    How to pick the words?
        Print was too formal.
            Could she read his handwriting?
               Would she interpret his sprawl
                        with unintended meanings?

Better be blank.
Let conversations fizzle out.

                                            She wonders what she’s done wrong.
                                            If he cares, why does she feel uncared for?

Meet the Poet!

Emma Lee’s publications include “The Significance of a Dress” (Arachne, 2020) and “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015). She co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea,” (Five Leaves, 2015), was Reviews Editor for The Blue Nib, and reviews for magazines and blogs at https://emmalee1.wordpress.com.

Translation Tuesdays – Looking forward!

Dear Reader,

It probably hasn’t escaped your keen powers of observation that we struggled to deliver our translation feature last autumn!

We rely on collaboration with fellow authors from other countries, and it’s difficult to find a replacement at short notice. We’ll be rethinking our strategy for the coming seasons, but are delighted to be sharing Polish work for our Spring Translation Tuesdays.

Literature is international. We draw inspiration from formulations, images, words, and ideas from other literatures. That is why translations are so important: to keep the dialogue going; to grow and breathe; to understand that there is more than one’s own experience. Therefore we would like to keep the feature as part of our magazine, but we need to change the way we source translations. (Do you have a translation you’d like to share? Send us your work here!)

This spring we bring you three new voices from Poland. It is thanks to the versatile and multilingual Romanian author Mircea Dan Duta, who organised everything. Polish literature is considered one of the great literatures of the world. No less than six Nobel Prize winners in literature come from Poland, the latest one being the amazing Olga Tokarczuk.

We hope you are as excited as we are by these new voices from Poland, which represent only a small sample of what this country so rich in poetry and stories has to offer.

Natalie Nera

‘Water Bodies: Four Liquid Recollections’ by Michele Nugent

I found water chilling my five-year-old bed-warmed feet as they reached the floor one grey morning. My tiny toes soon retracted, shocked and sloshing. 

It became my first conscious memory of water’s impact on my own body, my life. It became hard-wired, the first of many welling watery waves.

Around Australia today, 50-odd years later, countless small children are beginning to grasp the power of water. 

Their town’s rivers are rising centimetres daily, morphing from pretty local fishing spots to the places that swallow cars and houses. 

Their cars and houses.

My fine messy curls, slightly sweaty from a night of innocent slumber, flapped as I shivered at the weird, watery abundance.

It was licking at my ankles, splashing at my calves, spilling beneath my bedroom door from the linoleum hallway beyond.

Why was a paddling pool on my bedroom floor? A sense of forbidden fun charged through me as I scrunched my nightie in my hands, knowing I shouldn’t let it get wet. 

These new sensations were accompanied by a rhythmic swooshing sound. The shape of my mother efficiently sweeping watery waves towards our open front door came into view as I peeked into the hallway. 

An unfamiliar coolness had also pooled there in the darkened corridor. 

Outside the front door, a dull yet oddly bright morning was shedding light on our toppled rubber tree. Its split trunk and once sky-high branches now blocked our car’s exit from the carport and driveway. A fallen giant.

My brother and I were wide-eyed as we met in the hallway, our bare submerged feet tip-toeing their way through the dimness.

Mum broke her broom-wielding focus, scooping us close with her free arm. Her perspiration left a smudge on our faces and shoulders as she ushered us outside with the excess fluid, thin summer pajamas a novel uniform for the day.

We raced to clamber between the fallen branches and shiny purple-red leaves of the dense tree that had once separated our front yard from the neighbour’s.

They too were surveying this brave new early morning world and Tropical Cyclone Trixie’s hallmarks. I began to hear the word ‘damage’ repeatedly spill from everyone’s mouths – Trixie Cyclone, whoever she was had a damaging reputation.

And she was way stronger than anyone I knew. 

Everything was so different today. Perhaps yesterday was a dream. What would tomorrow be like? The answers didn’t make any sense.

I’d never met Trixie. Where was she now and why had she damaged our street? Would she come back?

Sheets of water had moved mounds of soil to the road below, mowing through the shrubbery of the gully beyond. 

It had created deep rivulets in the sloping remainder of scant lawn, exposing the roots of trees all along the street.

The big kids next door rode their bikes through the silty build-up, creating new roadways, raising the sense of excitement that sent pulses through the thick atmosphere. 

Small bugs were sticking to my skin, floating in the air, lost.  

Leaves of all shapes and sizes were strewn confetti-like, some stuck fast in the diamond-patterned cyclone screens encasing the windows. 

Soon my toenails and cotton nighty were stained with the familiar rusty red of the Pilbara as I embraced the freedom. 

The attention of the adults was concentrated elsewhere, and a new pecking order had formed. The big boy next door was the leader of our street’s kids, on the new red chopper he got for Christmas.

I could hear my dad’s voice in my head. “Don’t go through that puddle on yer bike love, the spokes’ll rust.” 

I stole glances at his wheels to see if they had begun to lose their shine. I was certain Trixie had the power to make his bike rust.  

The swish of bristles on watery floors syncopated with my father’s axe as he and the street’s men hacked through green wood. White gooey tree blood dripped onto the sodden ground, like primary school craft glue. 

Offhand but furrowed-brow warnings not to touch the sticky deposits interjected as we made sense of our rearranged front yard and street. 

It grew steamier as the sun radiated under the dense cloudy blanket, powerful rays trying to melt their way through.

Toast for breakfast hadn’t entered our minds in this new overcast, eerie playground but plates of bread with butter and Vegemite were a welcome addition to our adventures beneath the soupy sky.

We wolfed the stiff slices down, leaving black salty flecks in the corners of our mouths. We were powering up for our next expedition, like underdressed astronauts on a new planet. The garden hose washed brekky down, flushing away the crumbs.    

Mum had made headway with the interior rivers, keen for muddy-footed children to stay outdoors as the floors began to dry. 

All the doors and windows were yawning open, sucking in air. This was new! We had been trained to conserve the refrigerated air that relieved us from the usual stinging outdoor temperatures by closing the doors behind us.        

Could we turn the telly on soon. Could we change into our play clothes for a trip to the shops. Could we go to the beach for a swim. That’d cool everyone down and make us all clean again.

Talk turned to the eye of the storm, how long it would last until the rain and wind returned, how much damage would Trixie do to a place called ‘inland’. 

I didn’t know storms had eyes. I searched skywards, expecting to meet the angry gaze of a grimacing girl called Trixie.

All I saw were endless clouds, plump with steely rain, and the sun still trying to burn its way back through to us.

My baby brother learned to swim in a water tank named Violet.

She was sheltered from the late afternoon sun by a lonely stand of eucalypt. Her cool, pump-fed oasis protected from the Pilbara’s unrelenting evaporation by a flimsy, removable corrugated tin cover weighed down with red house bricks.

The creaking jangle of her Southern Cross windmill eked out a welcome call, audible from the stone homestead 100m away. Our heads would turn, anticipating an elusive waft, willing it to tickle our sweaty hairlines.

Magnetised to mattresses on the verandah, we would patiently listen for the faint Indian Ocean breeze travelling from 50kms west.

We were placated by the blades’ midnight maneuvers; the remote yet friendly family member grated out a one-way conversation our ears became attuned to.

Laying sheetless under mosquito nets, Violet’s bounty drip-fed a lattice of floor-to-roof chicken wire colonised by hardy creepers. The damp shrubbery caught and cooled any breath of air that reached it, an ambitious solution to the throbbing brick and stone walls of the homestead’s inner sanctum.

Her liquid miraculously flushed the frog-infested chain-operated toilet, and the solitary kitchen tap echoed before the flooding swoosh eventually shuddered its arrival. 

Daily the noisy plumbing summoned the ancient waterbody from deep artesian bores into domestic and agricultural duty, gifting we humans a false sense of power despite our outback isolation.

The impossibly deep iron bath was rarely filled higher than bellybutton height and its scalding bounty needed a half-hour wait before tender skin and hardened shards of yellow soap could be introduced to its sterilising temperature.

My baby brother’s bulbous cranium, feathery golden filaments flattened, bobbed happily, buoyed by the liquid bonanza in the cool circular water tank. 

His chubby, star-dimpled hands and smooth brown forearms doggy-paddled between my cajoling parents, tall and strong enough to stubbornly grip Violet’s slimy concrete floor with their curling toes.

His green water-filled eyes lined with dark clumping lashes blinked unaffected, matched by a wide pink grin over perfect baby teeth. Bunching his shining cheeks, my baby brother’s giggle was never far away as he gave Violet another life-affirming vocation.

I called him ‘baby’, but my brother was a sturdy toddler the year I went into Grade Five. I was already lamenting my entry to weekday primary school boarding and the time it stole from my dusty meanderings at the faraway sheep station.

Like all youngest siblings, he remains an eternal infant, cradled at the family bosom, even as it shrivels into the drought of life.

As I struck out from the rickety ladder to the centre of Violet’s pool, I would dutifully heed stern commands to steer clear of the windmill’s pump float. It would surely pull me under if I edged too close.

Our movement stirred green globs, tongues registering a faint dirt quality, palms and soles gradually turning a stubborn wrinkly white. No one wanted to leave Violet on those baking afternoons. A swim in her was a relieving reward after an arduous day that began with the rising heat of the east and its smug crow song.

The dog lapped at the cattle trough, claiming her share of Violet, slumping down panting on the shady side of her hard grey cylindrical bulk. The red mud stuck to her short blonde coat, quickly solidifying before drying to dust. 

I witnessed my baby brother’s paddling grow stronger every weekend as I returned to the station after five days in town an hour’s drive away. Swimming lessons in the freezing chlorinated pool were a poor swap for Violet’s lukewarm yet intimate acceptance.

My middle brother and I demonstrated the finer points of our mandatory Education Department swimming lessons, introducing freestyle and showing off our backstroke. 

As we grew stronger, three butterfly strokes easily spanned Violet’s girth. 

Our boisterous skills splashed her waves of gold over the side, muddy rivulets sending her life force back to its earthly spring.

Before retreating beneath the covers to read myself to sleep, I would drape my dark blue Arena full piece across the end of my bed. 

There my racing bathers would wait, primed to help me slice through the rectangular body of water across town early the next day.

Nanna must have known I’d need an alarm one day. Every day. Except Sundays. The dark green faux leather had little time to gather dust as my hands reached almost daily for the small folding clock, shutting off the irritating bell. 

Shorts, a shirt and rubber thongs also waited at the bottom of the sturdy piped cotton bedspread. An already-packed bag held a faded towel, goggles, knickers, 20c, a plastic shopping bag for wet bathers and a freshly powdered swimming cap. Red.

My hand silenced the jangling of Nanna’s clock, and my body would groggily glide, eyes still closed to the toilet and bathroom. With teeth brushed, face splashed, and chlorine-green tinted hair pulled back into a quick ponytail, I was ready for the morning ritual.

The house was still and silent as I headed out the front door toward my Malvern Star, its pedals usually tangled with those of my brothers’, the well-used machines shoved carelessly into the steel bike rack welded by my father. 

My middle brother was often slower than me to leave the house for our shared destination, but he always caught up, forcing a race as we approached the town pool and its turnstile entry.

Swimming lessons. The endless challenge of immersing one’s sweaty limbs into a vast, chilly body of water to join the splashing queue chasing our relentless taskmaster – the black line.

100m medley to warm up, the coach always repeated the directions chalked on the poolside blackboard as the latecomers ebbed and flowed through the entry gates. 

But the ultimate coach was that black line, leading us on, stroke after stroke propelling our lithe bodies 50m closer to the finish line under the unflinching gaze of the analogue minute clock.

The water, initially a shocking scourge, became a warm supportive friend as we battled that line, punctuated with tumble turns and a brief loss of it from immediate view.

Always it returned, sometimes obscured by a floating Band-Aid, or a glinting coin, or misplaced goggles. Teamed with the buoyancy and freedom of the water, this meditation became a coping mechanism, a way to regulate the breath and repetitive limb beats, sped up or slowed down on command, setting the day’s rhythm.

Slavishly I churned up the metres, building my resilience and strength, giving my brain time to turn the worries of the coming day over, and my eyes a private space to seep tears unnoticed. Deep sobs reverberated in my eardrums as I pushed out air before refilling my hungry lungs. 

I anticipated the only obvious reward, a long warm shower in the concrete changeroom cubicle. 

Then, goose pimples calmed and body cosseted in dry clothes, I’d set out for the mainly downhill coast toward home and the comfort of Vegemite toast and Milo before another bike ride to school.

This swimming lesson routine was matched each afternoon with a swift sunset glide toward home. 

Another race to the family chlorine-smelling shower, followed by pajamas, Doctor Who, dinner and the exhausted release of a Trixie Belden novel and sleep.



Dirty paws and spittled mouths left their telltale marks on the dented 1-litre plastic bottles. 

They had once contained sweetened orange juice but were now refilled with the quenching plentiful water borne by our kitchen tap. Warm. Often plain hot, despite the blue coding on the tap of origin. 

Refrigeration was the key to life in that searing town.

Every couple of months the bottles were retired, after a life of rough and ready handling, the loss of lids a regular reason for renewal. 

They were refilled regularly each day with the steady stream of hard calcium-laced water that killed our thirst. Bulging again, the malleable vessels would be thrown haphazardly back into the fridge door, testing the limits of the Kelvinator’s forgiving plastic and aluminium barriers.

We couldn’t have predicted these bottles and their dwindling contents would become an after-dinner treat. A before sleep soother. 

These nightly sips were a reminder of a life left behind and the delicious dawning of the new one ahead. Adulthood was gaining on us like a rising spring tide. 

Until then, the years ahead were unbidden, with no comprehension of a future threat to our plentiful drinking water. 

But that watery end of days did arrive, and we were collectively responsible for exhausting our limited supply to soupy dregs, dished out in ever diminishing quantities until the bottles were finally and firmly empty. 

There was no option of a refill. The source was a 3,000km round trip away.

The strong smell of chlorine had become a comfort, when previously it had been a recognisable olfactory assault only overcome by a tooth-aching chill. We greedily gulped, its goodness dispersing to all corners of our bodies via intricate deltas of river-like veins.

We grew to love it by default. Chilled water was the only effective antidote to the urgent thirst that was the hallmark of young boundless energy. Lemon Cottees cordial sometimes broke the monotony, but the plain tap taste was never really surpassed for its sheer ability to revive.  

It was needed to replace the sweat that oozed between the grime of outdoor play, sport, bike rides, hill walks, salty swims and the beating sun on our hatless heads and freckled noses.

In contrast but just as plentiful, the softer water of these new southern water pipes lacked flavour. It took too long to rinse the soap suds from our hands, hair and clothes – a symptom of not being treated to within an inch of its life like its northern cousin.

How we ached for the comforting taste of fluoride and chlorine-treated artesian water, and later the dammed spoils of the Harding River.

Our young heads had never grasped there would be such a noticeable difference in such a simple thing. Water from the kitchen tap.

We were pining for a life we’d so naively taken for granted, as all children who are lucky enough to live in the moment do. 

We had begun to realise how our bodies, borne upon water, were finally changing course.

Meet the Author!

Michele Nugent is a former Australian print journalist and editor of 27 years, published author, blogger and busy media/comms officer for a metropolitan coastal local government. A 2021 Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre Fellow, she is working on a 62k word coming of age manuscript that needs serious attention. She writes all day: in her head, via computer, pen and paper, to produce fact and fiction professionally and unprofessionally. 

Instagram: @printisnotdead Madam Editor – Perth, WA (@printisnotdead) • Instagram photos and videos

LinkedIn: Michele Nugent (4) Michele Nugent | LinkedIn

Three Poems by Sheila Jacob

An Angel In Your Sleep

After John Burnside

She went peacefully,
tucked inside her bedclothes,
the paramedic soothed,
hot water bottle at her feet.

I wasn’t sure about peaceful
when I saw you; ice-blue,
in the funeral parlour.
You looked surprised, indignant,

as though disturbed mid-dream 
by the bark of a fox
under your window      gash
of pale gold    
                  between drawn curtains
of white light
along the pink hem
of your pillow case

before you sat up,
looked around, brushed 
a glint of night frost
off the angel’s wing.

My Summer Holiday With Marilyn 

Colwyn Bay 1990 

I’m choosing seaside postcards 
and there she is, a revolving stand’s worth,
as though no holiday’s complete 
without Marilyn, mouth wide open, 
eyes half closed, body on the brink 
of earth-moving orgasms.                                                     

I leave the gift shop,
hurry to the beach with my family.
Marilyn melts like candy floss
until I remember high summer, 1962.
News on my parent’s wireless.
Marilyn. Overdose. Probable suicide.

We buy sticks of peppermint rock
and there she is again amongst photos
of the pier: Warhol’s colour portrait,
postcard size. Her mascara’s running,
moist lips puckering –a trick of light. 
The sun in my eyes.

Poolside parties. Secret assignations.
Nembutal, Chanel No.5, silk sheets,
and the coital sweat of John F. Kennedy.
I think of the dress she was sewn into,
its beaded marquisette trembling,
straining to cup her pendulous breasts.

I Took It

After Julia Webb

Love came on a plate 
and I couldn’t taste it;
devoured scrambled eggs, bacon, 
sausages, fried tomatoes
and wanted more.
I craved the touch of Mum’s hand
on my hair, my cheeks,
expected a fireside chat 
when Mum would enter my grief,
tell me she missed Dad as well
but we’d manage, just the two of us.                                                               

Weeks and months sped by.
Mum stewed garden windfalls,
floured her rolling pin,
baked golden apple tarts.
She stuffed my packed lunches
with wedges of spit-roast chicken –
kitchen left-overs from the staff canteen
at Lewis’s Department Store
She caught a bus there every day,
dopped off to sleep, most evenings,
after she’d washed our dishes.

I traipsed upstairs, began my homework,
tuned in to Radio Luxembourg
on my tinny transistor.

Meet the Poet!

Sheila Jacob was born and raised in Birmingham, and lives in Wrexham, N.E. Wales, with her husband. She has three children and five grandchildren. Her poems have been published in various U.K. magazines and webzines including, most recently, The High Window, Black Nore, Dream Catcher and Sarasvati. Her work is also included in Yaffle’s ‘Whirlagust 111’ anthology and the DragonYaffle Anthology, ‘Duff’. She is working on her first collection.

‘Springboards to Opportunity’ by Mike Fox

Jemima has made it to the end of the season, but only just.

‘I was sure we’d get at least three years out of her,’ Jen says, as I muck out the shed we call a stable.

I put this misplaced optimism down to Jemima’s acquiescence. For a donkey she is not prone to mood swings – what you ask her to do, she does, if slowly and arthritically.

It’s fair to say she has borne a heavy load since Jen acquired her in the spring. Apart from the weight of the local children, few of whom are underfed, there’s been the burden of Jen’s expectation, to which I myself have been no stranger in the two years since we became an item.

In Jen’s mind, Jemima was to be our conduit into the previously impenetrable life of the local community. Staunch as her efforts were, her success was limited. Each day, unsaddled and led sometimes by Jen, but mainly by me, she clopped up and down the sparse, unwelcoming sands across from our seafront house. The locals came, they brought their children, they parted wordlessly with a grudging pound – then, ride completed, went away. Towards the end of the season Jemima’s rear legs ceased to coordinate under load, and she is now an elderly and time consuming pet.

For Jen, however, setbacks are merely springboards to opportunity.

‘I’m a self-starter,’ she said, shortly after we were abandoned by the other members of the ‘collective of like-minded people’, who moved in (then swiftly moved out) of the derelict shell that became our home. Now, though owing much to Charleston Farmhouse with a dash of Gandhi’s ashram, Jen has rebuilt it in her own image. And it is habitable.

With the restoration of our home complete, our thoughts have turned to other forms of survival. Once it was obvious that Jemima had heehawed from the credit to the debit column, Jen applied for a part-time job in the local Citizens’ Advice Bureau. Her client-centred, solution-focussed approach now infiltrates most of our waking hours.

‘Are you sure your role extends to marriage guidance?’ I ask in innocence one evening, after she has spent an hour describing the interpersonal dynamics of her latest client’s life.

Jen stares at me in disbelief.

‘To heal you must become whole,’ she explains, as if to a turnip. ‘Life isn’t just about Council Tax.’

I nod and say nothing. Jen’s vision has always been broader than mine.

I observe my relief when she decides to teach yoga one evening a week. Spring is yet to arrive and the church hall she has hired is damp and drafty, but her classes are proving surprisingly popular, with women of a certain age and men of a definite vintage flocking in.

‘Their last teacher moved further down the coast,’ Jen explains to me, early on.

Others might think this ominous, but Jen does not believe in omens. Soon though, I hear her muttering as she rinses her leotard.

‘I’ve seen more flexible ironing boards,’ she intones, with bitterness, to the sink. ‘And as soon as I start the relaxation they fall asleep.’

Self-belief might be Jen’s default, but she can also feel underappreciated. 

I meanwhile, in the absence of other possibilities, have taken up busking. On overcast mornings I stand alone and unamplified in the town square, adjacent to the cultural hub that is the local Tesco, trying to imagine I’m Mississippi John Hurt.

‘Nobody listens to thirties rural blues in this day and age,’ Jen advises me later, as I drop a meagre palmful of coins on the table. ‘But perhaps if I come with you…’

I don’t think of myself as a jealous person, but find it painful to admit that Jen’s ability to engage a crowd exceeds mine by about three hundred percent. Her voice, when she so chooses, is indistinguishable from that of Memphis Minnie, her harmonica sound from that of Sonny Terry. Standing at just over five feet tall in her flip-flops and crop top she effortlessly galvanises the local shoppers into generosity.

‘You have to make the effort to project,’ she explains to me later, not unkindly. 

But soon a chill wind blows from the advice bureau. It would seem Jen’s professional involvement with the concerns of others has not been entirely consistent with her job description.

‘They don’t want creativity, they want time servers,’ she laments, as we sit together over a debriefing coffee.

‘It was tactless of the manager to offer to pay your notice if you agreed to leave immediately,’ I suggest.

With Jen, you’re never unsure when you’ve said the wrong thing.

‘Tactless bordering on bloody criminal,’ she yells.

‘I’ll make us pasta tonight,’ I mumble to her back, just as the door slams after her.

But with Jen a dark mood is but the passing of a rain cloud. Summer, she assures me, is the time of fresh beginnings. She has taken an online course in kite making, and sits at the kitchen table constructing tiny frames of dowel and balsa wood, stretched with brightly coloured painter’s cloth.

‘It’s like making miniature shoji screens,’ she tells me, her face absorbed, her fingers busy.

First batch completed, she sets up a stall on the beach. There’s a certain panache in the way she flings one of her ‘bijou aerobats’ to the wind, then manipulates its flight with supple wrists. 

‘I used to fly kites on the Downs as a kid,’ she explains, when I comment.

The sight of Jen’s aerobat pirouetting on the sea breeze has immediate effect. Kids tug their mothers’ arms while old men look on wistfully. Sales prove brisk, and in response to discussions about technique Jen offers group tutoring at a reasonable rate. Mothers guide their daughters’ hands and fathers tag along with their sons, as local defence mechanisms start to crumble.

I knew they couldn’t hold out for ever,’ Jen tells me, matter-of-factly.

 Lacking Jen’s powers of self-reinvention I tart up my CV yet again and address it to a company I know nothing about. They are seeking versatile people with initiative, they say. When I press the send button it feels like leaving an orphan on a doorstep. I decide to start a vegetable patch to preserve my self-esteem.

As the year lengthens into autumn, I take to sharing my morning thoughts with Jemima. She is a ruminative animal, in more than one sense. We stand together in the small field in front of her stable, and I explain that the future is not entirely without hope, while she grazes, and offers me the occasional solicitous glance. In moments of extreme empathy she stops chewing and rubs her muzzle against my thigh. She knows I have taken to filling my trouser pocket with oats. It is a secret we choose not to share.

Meet the Author!

Mike Fox has co-authored a book and published many articles on the human repercussions of illness. Now writing fiction, his stories have been nominated for Best of Net and the Pushcart Prize, listed in Best British and Irish Flash Fiction (BIFFY50), and included in Best British Short Stories 2018 (Salt). His story, ‘The Violet Eye’, was published by Nightjar Press as a limited edition chapbook. A collection of mainly new stories is being prepared for publication by Confingo Publishing in 2023.

Hello from frosty Yorkshire – and Prague!

As editors we all live in different places in the world! Rue and I are both UK-based, but 100 miles apart, and Natalie Nera lives across the sea, in Prague. This year I was lucky enough to travel to Prague for the first time to visit Natalie and her lovely family. I enjoyed a week exploring the culture of this enchanting city, and even participated in a reading with Natalie in the capital. We were also able to catch up during the summer as trio of editors in Newcastle; the place where we first met and created Fragmented Voices. At times such as Christmas we notice those friendships, as well as family, more than ever. 

Thanks again for supporting our indie press this year. It is truly exciting to read your submissions for our online magazine and annual Big Books. Our third Big Book, an uplifting poetry anthology beautifully designed by Rue on the theme of ‘the ones who make the world better’, is just around the corner for launch and release in print and digital form. We’re very excited to celebrate the work of our authors. 

2023 will bring some exciting developments for our press. At Fragmented Voices we aim to connect voices across borders, and this year we have published some fabulous international voices in our Translation Tuesday online features, including Czech poets, Japanese verse, and our thrilling autumnal showcase of Peruvian writers. In 2023, we hope to expand our showcase of translation into print form for your bookshelves. 

Online submissions are closed for now, but we will be open again in the New Year. We wish our followers, readers and authors peace and happiness this Christmas.  

Natalie Crick

Poetry Editor 

Three Poems by Alex Reed


I called to you this morning 
from another room 
in this new house we chose together, 
as lovers call to one another, every day, 
for a hundred mundane reasons

there’s coffee in the kitchen, 
someone wants you on the phone, 
leaving now but won’t be long 

I meant to call you in this way 
but through some slip in time and place,
called you by her name.

After all these years, I used her name
when the word I wanted was Love

Past lives

As if meeting a promise she made to herself a long time ago, as if placing an unfinished glass at the edge of the cluttered table, as if turning her body away forever, she speaks very gently, I asked only this, that you were honest

Weekly ramble

You’re on at me for being late again, while you were on time as you always are, then as we walk the talk turns to the usual stuff: cutting back on the drink, watching the waistline, you’ve found a new app that tracks your heartrate, then you mention some bloke we went to school with who you bumped into the other day, he looked a right fucking plightI’ve never seen anyone in such a state still walking the street, and we both go quiet, feeling better. 

Meet the Poet!

Alex Reed’s poetry has been published in various print and on-line magazines. His pamphlets A Career in Accompaniment and These Nights at Home (with accompanying images by Keren Banning) were published by V. Press and explore themes of illness, care-giving and loss.

His recent collection knots, tangles, fankles (V.Press, 2022) is a re-imagining of the work of radical psychiatrists R.D. Laing & A. Esterson on family life and ‘schizophrenia’.