The water tank covered Abu Qais on all sides. He sat in the dark, the truck rocking across the desert as fast as it would go. The tank was boiling, heavily dehydrated.  It reflected Abu Qais’ heartbeat with tired throbs.

“It’s the sound of your own heart,” a voice rang through his head.

The throbbing was in his ears too. It was so strong it moved his chest.

“You can hear it when you lay your chest close to the ground.”

This what his neighbour had told his father ten years ago when they sat together on the farm they shared. There was nothing left of that land now. The olive pit that Abu Qais kept in his hand, moist with sweat, he had impulsively scrambled to get after the invasion was over. He had raced to pick it up against a dog that was not competing with him. It was cracked. Abu Qais didn’t know why he wanted it.

When the invaders approached, his neighbour had said to him “What do we do?”

“Nothing,” he had replied.

They had watched the men with the axes and the chainsaws. There was only four of them, but they worked methodically through the olive farm, chopping and hacking and stamping too.

“I said what we do?” the neighbour had said again. He was shuffling against the window, but Abu Qais stood perfectly still.  They watched their livelihood be destroyed by the Israeli men.

“What do you want me to answer?” Abu Qais said to his neighbour.

He got no answer.

He had seen the cracked olive among others primer and riper. But he picked it up from the ground. He mushed the skin of the olive until slipped from the bone. It glistened clean like he was preparing a body for salah, and tucked it into his pocket.  That, for him, was the heat of the moment. And now it was the heat of this moment, and his neighbours were not talking now either. He didn’t ask them why. He didn’t want them to answer. He couldn’t see them through the dark of the water tank, and he was glad because he was sure of what he would see.

“We should be drowning in this water tank; not boiling,” he rasped to the tank.

Nobody said anything back to him.

Abu Qais moved his hand down the rims of the ladder he had been holding to say upright and lowered his body to the floor of the tank. He pressed his face against the hot floor of the truck’s tank. It hurt his ears; the heat of the tin, the noise of the truck as it drove. But he didn’t care. He wanted to smell his wife’s hair one last time. He used to sniff the ground of the olive farm and imagine it was her. The damp earth. The oil in her hair. He took the cracked olive pit from his pocket and cradled it by his nose. The truck bumped against his face and his vision changed.

It had never smelt so strong of olives then it did after the Israeli men had left. He and his neighbour walked through the field. The ground had not been so wet for a very long time. The oil, a yellow flood around them, had footprints and hoofprints to hide. The only path now walkable through the farm was where the chopped trees had not landed. He brought a sack with him and filled the bottom with four olives. And then five. And then he took in the scene around him and stopped searching. He sat on top of a hacked log and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He watched his neighbour muttering something, filling his sack.

His horse, with his head down, greedily lapped up the crushed fruit. The horse looked so happy. Abu Qais didn’t know whether he ought to take joy from this sight or not. Or whether the horse ought to run before more attackers came back. Abu Qais could startle it himself. He could make that decision. The horse could make that decision for him too. He got back to his feet, wiped his forehead once more. In the movement through the heat he felt a cold breeze on his neck. He didn’t know whether to enjoy it or not.

Abu Qais felt the bumping of the horse beneath him. He managed to swivel himself and see behind him. His neighbour screaming at him. Their broken olive farm. He put his hand on the horse’s heart and felt it surge through him. Ba-bum, ba-bum ba-bum ba-bum ba-bum. Below the horse, yellow olive hoofprints stained to ground. The sun was hot. He couldn’t open his eyes. He grabbed a hold of the ladder and the olive pit rattled against the tin floor. It rolled away from him before he could stop it. He put his hand out but could not find it in the dark of the empty water tank. He didn’t let go of the ladder again. If he did he wouldn’t make it back.

“Perhaps we can buy one or two olive shoots,” his wife had said. “When you get to Kuwait.”

Abu Qais shook his head. He took the dinars from his pocket and offered them to the water tank. He put them on the floor and they were invisible to every one of his senses. “The olive pit,” he said. “I do not deserve it. I have put myself in this tank. I was not forced. I am out of place like many people – but what other place could I have ended up in? I had to do something. The olive can grow without water and under very poor soil. I am no olive.”

His wife nodded. “Very true,” she said.

“I know.”

“And the olive cannot grow without the land, and neither can you.”

Abu Qais laughed to himself. His raspy noise vibrated off the metal tin of the water tank.

His wife said to him “Your father lost the farm.  You were not born. Do not blame yourself. We did not have the land. And yet here you are, grown to a full man.”

Abu Qais held his stomach. It started to hurt more than his head. It beat louder than his heart and it echoed louder off the water tank. He looked up, from black to black his view did not change. He knew the driver was not going to let him out until they reached Kuwait. But that was too far away.

“My father did not lose the farm,” he moaned. “It was taken from him.”

“Then why do you feel his pain?” said his wife’s voice.

Abu Qais could not respond.

“You are not your father,” she said.

“Then why do I feel his pain?”  he said.

There were no windows nor holes in the water tank but Abu Qais could feel a breeze blowing. He didn’t know whether to enjoy it or not.

Ustaz Qais thought back to how he imagined his father’s final moments all those years ago. He wanted to ask him: “Why didn’t you knock on the side of the tank?” He didn’t understand. He had never understood. “Why? Why?”

Ustaz Qais stood up and his pupils fell silent. “When the two great rivers, Tigris and Euphrates, meet, what happens?” He gave a piece of chalk to a boy closest to the blackboard and told him to label the diagram before him.

“They form one great river called the Shatt al-Arab,” the boy said.

Ustaz Qais nodded. “Tell the class what happens next.”

He sat back down at his desk. He was not feeling well today. He rubbed his stomach. He looked out the classroom window and remembered that his father had once looked through it, watching him study. Ustaz Qais got out of his chair and walked outside to the other side of the window.

“I know what happened to your father,” Ustaz Selim had said him.

“I know.”

“Which means I know you do not have the funds to attend this school,” Ustaz Selim said.

“I know,” young Qais said. He looked at the dirt on his feet.

“Which means there should not be a place here for you, young Qais,” Ustaz Selim said.

“I know,” he said again.

“You know a lot of things for a boy out of school.”

Qais looked up. “I also know that my father gave his life travelling to Kuwait. He tried to get me into school. And I know that if you give me the chance I will give my life too. Every day in class, every evening cleaning for you, every night revising.”

Ustaz Selim breathed deep into the silence. “Resistant and grows despite poor soil. What am I talking about?

“I know that too,” Qais said. “An olive.”

Ustaz Selim shook his head at the young boy. “I’m talking about you.”

Ustaz Qais found himself staring back through the window of the classroom he had been brought up in. The kids on the inside watched their teacher. It was a hot day and a breeze had picked up against Ustaz Qais’ neck. He didn’t know whether to enjoy it or not.


Tawhiri stood with his legs over his son’s, a beer in his glass and beer in his mouth.

Maui pulled a box out from under the bed and handed it to his father. “I get Roha’s bed, Daddy. I get her bed don’t I?”

“You get her bed,” said Tawhiri. “Keep going.”

Maui went back under the bed and used his arms and legs to push everything out into the open.

Tawhiri left him too it. He went out the front door and put his glass down on the top of the fence. He picked up the small rock by the porch, white with old chalk, and went into the driveway. His ex-wife had taken the car so the driveway was free. Tawhiri walked to the chalked squares. It hadn’t rained for months but the chalk lines were still faded. He threw the rock.

Three, he thought. And then he made himself say it. “Three.”

Tawhiri jumped and landed on one foot in the first square. He went forward, then into the second square and then into the fourth square, careful not to put his foot in the third. When he got to the eighth square he didn’t turn back. He continued walking and went back to the porch.

“What are you doing?” Maui said.

“Did you like the taste?” Tawhiri asked.

“No,” Maui said. His mouth was scrunched up.

Tawhiri took the empty glass from him.

“Go finish your sister’s room.”

“It is finished.”

“Go finish it and you can have your own bottle.”

Maui went inside.

Tawhiri rubbed his hand through his jet-black hair. He went inside and poured himself another drink, and then he caught his breath and poured another.

Tawhiri went to check on the boy. Dolls were all over the floor in his daughter’s room. Old school books were open and clothes had gathered dust that floated at his shins. They didn’t fit his daughter anymore. A photo in a frame hit his shoe. Maui loaded draws into rubbish bags and didn’t look twice at the contents.

“Hey!” said Tawhiri.

Maui wiped his head. “Can I have that drink now?”

“Why do you just throw her stuff around like it’s nothing?”

“It’s crap.”

“It’s not crap. She used to wear this.”

“But now she doesn’t.”

“Other people might have wanted it, Maui.”

Maui looked up at his father. “Do you want it?”

“No.” Tawhiri rubbed his eyes. “It’s crap.”

Maui carried on cleaning his sister’s room out.

Tawhiri picked up the bags full of Roha’s old things, one in each hand, and left the room. He wanted to throw them as far as he could. All the way to Christchurch if he could. He pushed the front door open with his knee and walked outside. He crossed over the chalked squares and dumped the rubbish bags, one on top of the other, in the trash. He picked up the chalked-up rock and threw it hard. It bounced across the cement and clipped the wood of the lower porch.

“You never were good at that game.”

Tawhiri turned.

“Hoppit. Hoppsit. What’s it?” Kiri clicked down the driveway in her heels. Her head was in her phone, but with her short haircut he could see her lipstick matched her handbag.

“It’s Hopscotch.” Tawhiri turned away.

“No thanks. I don’t drink,” she said to her phone.

“Come in,” Tawhiri said. He was already walking away from her.

“You need a haircut,” Kiri said.

“I need someone to cut it.” He left the front door open for her and went to inform Maui that his mother had arrived.

“Looks like I missed one,” Tawhiri said. He picked up an old pink fairy doll with a rip down its left wing.

The front door closing sounded through the house.

“I’ll bin that for you.” Maui snatched the fairy. He went to leave his sister’s room but Tawhiri stopped him.

“At least say hello to her. She won’t be here long.”

“Ok,” said the Maui. He rubbed his elbow to get rid of the dirt from the floor.

“Then why were you running away?” asked Tawhiri.

“I wasn’t.”

Kiri greeted Maui with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. She made a big deal. She much preferred the ‘fun aunt’ job to the ‘mother’ job.

“How’s your girlfriend?” Kiri asked her son. “Sophie, from class?”

Maui blushed.

“That good, eh? So.” Kiri looked up at Tawhiri. “Does my big boy finally get his sister’s room?”

“Go hang out in your own room for a bit, Maui.”

“The drink Daddy?”

“I’ll bring you that drink I promised.”

“You mean the beer, Daddy?” Maui smiled up at his mother.

Kiri frowned at the Tawhiri.

Tawhiri looked from Kiri to Maui. And then he diverted his gaze to the fairy in the Maui’s hand. “Go throw that thing out,” he said. “And grab some duct tape from the garage. Your sister’s bed needs fixing.”

“But I need the tape,” said Maui.

“For what?”

“To fix my boots.”

“No. Use it on the bed.”

“But I need it.”

“Do you want to sleep on your boots?”

Maui didn’t respond. He squished the fairy in his hands.

“Use it on the bed,” said Tawhiri.

Maui went out the door.

“He hasn’t seen you in a long time,” Tawhiri said.

Kiri shrugged. “That’ll change I’m sure.”

He watched her pull out her lipstick and her little mirror and readjust her mouth.

“I’m sure,” said Tawhiri. He looked at his daughter’s empty room before his gaze fell to the kitchen floor. “I can’t believe Roha’s gone.”

Kiri shrugged again, careful not to move her head as her brush worked. “She’s only gone to Christchurch.”

Tawhiri shook his head. “Very touching. She’s meant to be my little girl.”

“Well at least I’m a rock,” said Kiri.

“Rocks are softer,” said Tawhiri.

“Listen. I came for the bed,” said Kiri. She looked at him.

Tawhiri turned away and grabbed a cold Tui from the fridge.

“I guess you met someone,” he said.

“Isn’t that a bit inappropriate?” Kiri said.

Tawhiri drank his beer.

“Anyway. It’s not like you need the king size, Tawhiri.”

Tawhiri drink some more beer.

“It’s just practical, Tawhiri.”

“Yes. For you.”

“And it’s nothing for you.”

“It’s my bed.”

“It’s our bed.”

“It was our bed.” Tawhiri looked away and into his daughter’s old room.

“And you’re the one without a partner, right?” Kiri continued. She was texting on her phone. “So. The bed?”

“You can’t take my bed, Kiri. You have your own.”

“It’s Kiriana now.”


“Spud thinks it’s more mature.”

Tawhiri shook his head. “It makes you sound older.” He opened the cabinet and pulled the whiskey down.

“We’re not young anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Tawhiri said. And then he said “What did you say his name was?”

Maui came inside with the duct tape. “There’s only a little bit left.” He held up the roll.

Tawhiri nodded. “Move the mattress and use it on the bottom rung of the bed frame. And do a good job or you’ll fall through.”

Maui went into his sister’s room.

Kiri watched Tawhiri sink the whiskey. “We’ll give you Spud’s single.”

“Why would I want to sleep where Spud and his potatoes have been?” Tawhiri looked into his empty glass.

“Then trade beds with Maui. He’s got a single, right?” She was looking at her phone again.

“You can’t have the bed, Kiri.”

Maui came into the kitchen. “There’s a truck in the driveway,” he said.

Tawhiri looked at his ex-wife and put the glass down. “What?”

Maui scampered into his room and closed the door.

There was a knock on the front door.

“Spud, get in here,” said Kiri.

Spud opened the front door. “What’s taking so long?” he said.

“We’re just negotiating,” said Kiri.

“Hello Big Man,” smiled Spud. He fiddled with his belt of tools. “Aww, sick moko!”

Tawhiri raised his eyebrows at Kiri.

Kiri looked at the ground.

Maui walked out of his own room with two full bags. He went outside.

“Can we take the bed now?” said Kiri.

Tawhiri rubbed his head. And then he pointed into his room.

Spud started pulling at his tools.

“Just the mattress,” said Tawhiri.

“What about the frame?” Spud looked at Tawhiri.

“You don’t want it,” Tawhiri grinned. “It’s had a lot of weight on it.”

“Nah it’ll be sweet,” said Spud. He moved into Tawhiri’s room.

“Leave the fucking frame,” Tawhiri said.

Spud looked him.

“Take the mattress,” said Kiri. “And be quick.”

Kiri and Spud picked up the mattress and waited for Tawhiri to move out of the doorway. When he moved they carried it to the front door.

Tawhiri folded his arms. He watched them through the window as they moved towards the van. He watched Maui help them.

Tawhiri rubbed his head. He felt his arm shaking. He poured himself another drink and went into his daughter’s old room. He looked at the unused hooks that were nailed into the wall and then he looked down to the trash where Roha’s photos were dumped. He shook his head and downed his drink. He put the glass down and grabbed the role of duct tape off the floor and saw it was used up. He looked at the bottom rung of the bed frame and saw it was still broken. Tawhiri threw the used roll of duct tape at the wall.

“Screw your damn boots,” he said. He turned around and left the room and then he shoved the door to Maui’s room wide open.

The curtains were closed. He stumbled forward in the dark until his knees hit something.

It was Maui’s bed. Tucked in the duvet he saw Roha’s fairy. It had duct tape where the wing had ripped.

Tawhiri looked at it. And then he turned around and closed the door before Maui came back inside.

The Wake Up Call

Fiction is better than reality. I tried reality. It wasn’t worth it. It was a series of let downs that only reading and writing could save me from.

So I write all the time. So much so that I hardly even see those other “opportunities” (that those non-writers call them) dwindling away. They shrink in my hand until they are so small I can no longer grab a hold of them – friendship, exercise, the outside…  The urge to continue making stories, however, is as strong as ever.

People will know me for my words, not my actions.

I separate my mum from her disease. I always imagine that my mum and an alcoholic were living in the same body. And I know that my mum loved us. And that she hated the alcoholic.

Actions speak louder, but words are stronger. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. What a terrible lie. Words heal and words hurt.

‘I love you.’ ‘I love you too. Actually, I don’t love you.’

 I’d rather be punched in the face than go through that.

Is that why I want to be a writer? Is that why all writer’s do? Because words wield so much more power than actions? That and the idea of being a builder makes me sad. I imagine gorillas banging rocks.

My sister comes in. Again. This time she speaks. ‘Hi,’ she says. She called me Tom. I say hi back. She asks if I want to go outside to play netball with her. I don’t want to play. I say yes and I’ll be there in a sec. If I told her I didn’t want to it would hurt her feelings. She wouldn’t ask me again. We used to play basketball all the time. We also used to play kirby. The last time she asked me if I wanted to play any of those games, I said no. We haven’t played since.

My sister would still ask me to play if I punched her though, because I didn’t say no. I know that because it happened. I got to the end of a sad book and put it down and then she asked if I wanted to play. I told her no. She said but you’ve finished reading. Next thing she is crying. I was too sad to play. That’s what books do to me. They fill me with emotion and they mess with my head, and they suck me into their world so far that I never want to be back in mine. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. In the books I choose it’s usually for worse. I’m drawn to sad books because it’s easier to be engrossed in the life of the dying then it is to revel in the happiness of the living. It’s ironic. The dying live within me long after I finish reading. The living don’t. They can go out and play with their other living friends.  My sister can do that too.

My sister called me Tom again. She’s crying again. It’s Thomas. Not Tom. What if it was Ernie Hem? And ‘good ol’’ Charlie Dick? We write, we don’t sell used cars for god’s sake.

My sister has brought her friend round. She never brings her stupid friend round. She only does to get back at me for something. As if it even bothers me.

Twain, Lewis, Faulkner – they couldn’t write their best works with their sisters and their friends prancing around them, and neither can I. Writing in isolation has worked for them so it will work for me. I shall follow that path relentlessly until – my sister’s friend just smiled at me. My sister probably told her to do it. It isn’t even annoying. Her plan is failing. If anything it makes her friend’s cheeks red in this sorta nice rosey way. I could change her name and make her a character in my book.

I quickly load up a word document and type out a title.



The Girl

The Girl with

The Girl with the

The Girl with the Crimson

The Girl with the Crimson Cheeks

I would describe her cheeks as crumpled roses, unscathed, blood red.

No. Those words won’t do. Bursting, brimming, beautiful.

No. Those words won’t do either.  I guess human characters are more real than words can describe. But.


But written characters feel more. It’s the feeling that counts. There is no skin. There is no flesh. There is no appearance to judge by. There is only who they are. Though they are not in front of me, there are no physical barriers preventing me from seeing who they are. I see my sister’s friend. I do not see the person.

Does that matter? Her cheeks are nice and red and I can see them. They look nice. I cannot see written character’s cheeks. Perhaps words aren’t the most important thing…


Wendell Holmes Sr.’s words are. He would say Learn the sweet magic of a beautiful face, and these intense feelings would repeat a thousand times. I am learning the magic right now. My sister’s friend has a beautiful face.  I remember it as I read. She is looking at me again. I look away. It is raining outside.

I don’t need to look at her. I can read books on beauty and feel what I feel. I can do that anytime. My fiction is stronger than her reality. She will go. Books will not. The raindrops fall hard. It is loud. One drop. Two drop. Not too loud. I Write. One drop. Two drop. Look at my sister’s friend. One drop. Dickens.  One drop. Drop. Red cheeks. One drop.  Two drop. Three drop. Red cheeks beautiful face. Red cheeks. No! Dickens Hemmingway Green Gaiman One drop – Red cheeks! Drop. Drop. Drop. Red Cheeks.

I put my laptop to the side. I want to see her cheeks. I don’t want to want to but I want to. I am a fool. I would be wise to write. But,


But I need material.

That’s it.

That’s why I want to see her cheeks. Material. That’s it. Real life is there to provide inspiration and preparation for writing. I am wise.

I love her aura. She never came close but I imagine she emits a warm aura only possible with red cheeks. My sister never emits that aura. She probably didn’t expect me to understand her friend’s aura. Looks like that backfired.

I’ve read about those sort of characters that send auras and I’ve read about those that receive. Now to gather my own material. Eventually someone will write me an autobiography, but for now I’ll write my own.  I can write about my own. I need to know what fascinating, wondrous series of events accounts for the history of those crimson cheeks? Perhaps she is constantly speaking her mind and standing up for what she believes in, like Lizzie Bennett. Perhaps she has just finished using her telekinesis powers against the immoral, like Matilda. Or she could even be in the midst of taking charge of who she wants to be, like Lisbeth Salander. Excellent. Let me gather material.

I can hear my sister and her friend in her room. A low talking. Whispering. Sounds secret. Her friend is probably telling her about her latest adventure. She just got back from bravely exploring in a newly discovered land, like Lucy Pevensie, and the cold turned her cheeks that wondrous shade.

I stand outside the door, savouring the moment. One deep breath (what is that smell?), and I push open the door.

I never make it to breathing out again.

Through a thin layer of smoke in the room I see the amber tip, alit at the end of her cigarette. My sister has one too. I saw it before she tried to hide it behind her back. I keep my eyes momentarily fixed on my sister because I don’t want to look at her friend anymore. Red roses cannot blossom in ash.

As I leave the room my sister yells something about never knocking and my sister’s friend coughs in a small fit. No wonder her cheeks are so red.

I don’t know why but my hands are shaking. I never should have left the safe haven of those real fictional worlds and I never should have looked at my sister’s stupid friend. She was nothing but a stupid wake up call for a stupid boy. Real people don’t match up. Stick to fiction. Stick to writing.

I re-open my word document and make it right.

The Girl with the Crimson Cheeks

The Girl with the Crimson

The Girl with the

The Girl with

The Girl


The Stupid



The Wake

The Wake-up

The Wake-up Call