Who are we? We’re some of the volunteer readers at Overland – you might recognise our names from the editorial pages of the journal. Ordinarily, we have the pleasure of reading a selection of the works submitted to the journal each month before they move onto Claire’s desk for further consideration. We read and carefully consider each piece, but don’t make the final choice of what’s published, and we don’t ordinarily interact with the authors.
Leona was leaving them again. Back to Sydney, she said. Whenever this happened Gran or Aunt Nance would arrive and gather up the children, all the while muttering that Sydney was where their flighty mother should have stayed. Leona knew they muttered. Those two had been down on her from the start, she said: nothing she did was ever good enough for them.
I’ve walked a lot lately. More than I would have. More than I want to. Sometimes I think if I didn’t do these long walks with him, I’d be better. We walk like prisoners walk round the yard. I am careful with every word I say. Mouthing it silently, checking it over before offering it to him. He says nothing at all.
I hear the dermlings as soon as I’m inside the prep room. They’re squealing, little hooves clattering on the slotted stall floors. I take off my school jumper, put on the clean overalls from my locker. Then I pull new shoe covers over my trainers, wash my hands, read today’s chart. The stink of sows and dermlings seeps in from the stalls: hay warmed under heat lamps, fresh shit, milk-crusted teats.
The war of forty-four was the final straw. Why that one tipped the countries over the edge, your guess is as good as mine. It wasn’t the bloodiest nor did it claim the most lives. Consider this: the million homes destroyed in thirty-nine and all the children that disappeared in the lead-up to that time. No one keeps these numbers because they’re an indictment and everyone ends up looking bad. But forty-four, we hoped it heralded the beginning of a new age.
Close the windows. Pull down the curtains. Jam wet towels under the doors. Fill the sink and the bath. I’ve done everything Willow instructed me to over the phone but the room’s still foggy with smoke. I ignite my twentieth…
A car rushing to the hospital over an eight-lane bridge, the sky cloudy and cobblestoned in the glow of a full yellow moon. The sheen of a body floundering with pain. The eyes of midwives visible behind personal protective equipment – precautionary protocol because the woman is suspected of carrying the virus.
Phylia lifted her surgical face mask up from around her neck to cover her mouth and walked into reception to pay the bill. There were four people sitting in the waiting room spaced out with two seats between them. Theo sat next to a tall plant under spade-shaped leaves, chin down, eyes half-closed. His surgical face mask had slipped below his nose.