Ist: Michael Botur
Dad, Here's Us
Dad, here’s us when Vanya was a day old.
Vanya’s my daughter, in case you don’t… Y’know.
Dad, here’s us spearfishing before you got, um, diagnosed.
Language doesn’t work on you, I’m told, but they reckon showing photos wakes up your dormant bits - if waking up is what you want? Maybe there’s memories you don’t wanna wake. Maybe Huntington’s disease was a blessing.
Dad, here’s me dressed up for court before the careless driving sentence came through and even though I only had to do community service, you said you’d never speak to me again. How we owed the dead chick’s family everything? And the only honourable option was to hang myself? Dunno if you remember them words. Certainly seared into my mind.
Anyway, this here’s my thesis. Printed a copy especially to show you. Not that I even completed it, cause of, y’know, court and that. Just thought, half-a-Masters might make you half-proud.
Don’t flinch. Just guiding your fingers, turning pages. So my thesis looks at minimising mutations of the HTT gene, the one that’s supposed to make huntingtin protein and form neurons. Your nerve cells decay, Dad, so if you’re born with Huntington’s mutation, it’s like you start walking around drunk till you’re paralytic by 60ish. My thesis, like, it evaluates research around carbohydrate-restrictive diets’ effectiveness in minimising hereditary huntingtin mutations. No alcoholised sugars recommended in diet, for one. Definitely no driving after ten beers at quiz night.
Anyway, this diagram. It’s deoxyribonucleic acid, two tight coils, maternal, paternal. You’ve already passed most genes directly through me into your granddaughter. Doesn’t matter now whether you remember telling me I’m out of the family.
Covalent bonds, Dad. They’re a chemical attraction that holds atoms together even if they’d rather go in separate directions. They can’t come apart.
Highly commended: Tracie Lark
Don't Go Up, Go Along
The soles of my feet stick to pink and black mould stains on the bath floor. I don’t try to avoid them and neither does the spider. Water batters down in galaxy-sized drops onto a daddy long-legs and its eight legs slip on the glistening surface. I wonder why it doesn’t get crushed.
Don’t go up, go along, I tell the spider. Come on, crawl if you have to. It’s not hearing me. Why won’t you save yourself? I turn the shower head away, lessening the blow. Do you not know how? Still, the daddy long-legs slips on all eight legs.
I’m paralysed - as though fear itself were true - by a small spider, by my own mind.
I grab my razor and push the smooth side underneath the spider, collecting it, then I drop it upon the soap bench. Get along, spider, I tell him. His legs contort, flail.
Why didn’t I save him earlier? It’s as though fear itself bit me, not the spider. Why couldn’t I just have saved the spider, had my shower, and then driven to my friend’s funeral?
The foot of my soul sticks to black and pink stained thoughts on the bottom of my conscience. Then, galaxy-sized water droplets batter down my cheeks, my breasts, my thighs, my legs. Don’t go up, go along, I tell myself. Get along. I grab a razor-sharp thought and lift my chin. My legs slip on the acrylic bath surface but I am able to step over the edge and on to the bathroom floor mat. Come on, crawl if you have to. I take a towel from the rack. You couldn’t save your friend, but you can save yourself. In the mirror, I rub the fog. It’s okay if you do not know how.
Highly commended: K V Martins
A Voyage on a Portuguese Caravel
He longed for
His wife, the longitude and latitude of her body curved into a sail laid bare, before him a distant ocean where no anchor tethered her, and he, unbound, realised his lungs were better suited to warm, salty air. She waited. A mermaid in green waters deep, peeping at a phosphorescent sky of unfamiliar stars. Night after moonlit night he watched, becalmed with sextant in hand, until she unravelled her tongue, and they sailed once more, timbers creaking, following a star path east.
He stepped ashore, her spiced skin the scent of strange flora, his foot sinking into smooth sand. He traced her contours, sounded her depths, skirted shoreline’s hem. He gave shape to the shapeless, an oven-hot turquoise land where his ancestors did not dwell, and where his words were not understood. He hesitated to plant the flag, wondered if it would water itself once he had gone. It was quiet but for the jewelled birds who looked to the horizon and asked where he had come from. He did not know what to tell them, for one, two, three hundred years from now, he would not be there to say he was sorry.
He arrived on an ice-bitten morning two years later, the docks unchanged, plump rats still scurrying this way and that. His name faded the moment he’d spilt over map’s edge, on a navigator’s foolish quest. Soon, though, they would rub their hands together, count their reais in Lisbon’s counting houses, tell their wives in hushed tones they would buy them pearls the size of sweet peaches, boast they would stuff the new world in their pockets. She was there to meet him. She had not forgotten his name. And he understood then; she had never been far from his ocean.