A woman and a child in a boat. Her child, and her other child, and her other. Her
three children. And one life jacket.
She puts it on her youngest but her youngest slips through, and on the middle child,
but the middle child slips through, so her eldest accepts it when the sea is calm and
it clings to him while the sea boils and the youngest child is cut from his mother’s
arms, and the middle child is cut from his mother’s arms by the raging world.
The sea spits out the hearts of ghosts. They drop like bombs into the bottom of the
boat where they shudder and twitch until the woman collects them furtively, and her
eldest child collects them secretly, and they hold the hearts to their chests until they
are all beating to the same convulsive rhythm.
A woman arrives on shore. Her eldest child, vomit in his hair, drops a life jacket.
Around them, wretchlings in tow of their mothers. Down on the sand, somebody
‘Here are the codes to unlock your phone,’ a stranger says. But the woman wants to
know, where are the codes to unlock the world? There is a weak signal, and the voice
of the man she loves comes through. ‘Is that you?’ he cries, and the line goes dead.
Roads stretch to the distance without north or south, but a woman and a child
must set out. A paddock, an alleyway, a roadside camp. A woman and a child under
a blanket, under a tin roof, in a tent. A woman and a child in a field, under a coat,
looking up, seeing stars look down at them sharply, when all they have in this world
are armfuls of hearts.
From Bonsai. Best Small Stories from Aotearoa New Zealand.
version of this work was published in To Carry Her Home (Bath Flash Fiction, Volume One, 2016)