Same Same But Different NZ
Maia's gaze lifts from the glare of black and white to the kōwhai mug in Whina's hand. Whina places the steaming tea on a coaster beside Maia’s laptop and brushes a handful of curls behind her ear.
“Breathe, Mai-ātaahua …”
The whisper tingles over Maia’s scalp and down the back of her neck.
“You okay? Wanna come shake it off at Zumba?”
Maia shakes her head in the direction of the stranger next door. Dancing feels wrong when I’ve just told on you, Brother.
Whina slides two fingertips down either side of Maia’s spine. “I can stay ...”
“Nah, you go. I'll be okay. Just need to write this out.”
“Okay.” Whina glides over the floorboards, catches Maia’s kiss at the ranch slider, then shimmies across the deck in her rainbow Spandex.
Smiling, Maia brings the mug to her lips and pulls the sweet peppery liquid through her teeth. Kawakawa tea reminds her of how dishwashing detergent smells. Swishing it around her mouth, she imagines cleaning the metallic words off her tongue.
Brother, when you screamed FUCK, I felt it.
Turned her high spirits into led zeppelins. Maia had been curled up, flicking through the latest issue of National Geographic – Women: A Century of Change. One moment, she was melting into her cheeky breakfast: organic, fair-trade banana ice-cream. The next, she was frozen.
I heard a smack.
Maia pinkies “Backspace”.
I heard something moving fast through the air. Right after the curse. Before a baby crying.
Golden blobs shimmer on the table. Sunshine pathways lead back through a glass vase overflowing with a veil of tiny white stars. Their bright yellow anthers bursting outwards, like fireworks. Clematis paniculata. Or, to Māori, puawānanga: ‘flower of the skies’.
Maia’s gaze lifts out the window, to the stranger’s window. The curtains are closed.
He can’t be more than a year old – the blonde toddler I saw you throwing in the air and kissing on the forehead. He was giggling down at you, then. What if I just heard wrong earlier?
Maia had misheard her mother saying something to her aunty once, and for years after, she thought her grandfather had violets in his blood. Girl-Maia had been disappointed the day she saw a photo of her mother's father, and his skin wasn’t purple.
“Purple? Nah. Not his skin.”
The memory of how her mother spat the word “his” makes Maia's fingers skitter over the keys.
Brother, I was afraid to take twenty-seconds and paint your whole relationship in bruises. But there was also yesterday.
Maia brings a puawānanga petal under her fingernail, and thinks of how sweet they smelt yesterday afternoon, when Whina had burst into the kitchen after her gully restoration project, patched with dirt and shining salt. Holding the bunch out like a dance-partner, singing: Here comes the sun!
Maia had caught Whina mid-twirl. Pulled her close. They’d stood there, digging into each other’s eyes. Nostrils sizzling from the stink of hot earth, she’d spread a hand over Whina’s grass-stained shorts, slowly backed her butt into the side of the bench, and pressed their bodies together, like Rangi and Papa, before the split. It was then they heard the thump next-door. The woman yelling.
We’re strangers, but we’re connected, eh? Violence isn’t contained by walls. It passes through wood and glass and veins. Violence isn’t contained within moments. It moves from eardrum to eardrum, ribcage to ribcage, heartbeat to heartbeat. I know you didn’t plant this in your kete, but you’re planting it in his.
Maia thinks of the Pākehā professor who said Māori were gentle and lenient with their children. The missionaries had noted this observation in their diaries.
“Spare the rod and spoil the child” came from men who feared the god they saw each time they looked in the mirror. Not from People of the Land, who saw the face of god whenever they looked at their tamariki.
During her first year of Uni, Maia had talked to a social worker at Careers Day.
“I know we’ve got a bad rap.” The soft-faced woman had cradled one hand in the other. “People think we just take babies away from their mothers. Actually, we work really hard to keep families together.”
Maia had wanted to help the talcum-powdery-lady protect Aotearoa’s future from the many traumas reverberating beneath its Long White Cloud.
Yet, an hour ago – when she saw Oranga Tamariki had a two-star rating on Google – Maia had closed the tab. Whina was the one who actually convinced her.
“Tell them, Mai-ātaahua. They need more than one complaint before they can do anything.”
So, Maia had walked past the stranger’s letterbox, glancing at its number. Whitu. Made her think of the Seven Sisters constellation; Matariki. One of the stories says the stars belong to Tāwhirimātea, god of wind, who was so angry about his parents’ separation, he plucked out his eyeballs and flung them into the sky. Maia prefers the story she fantasised about as a child – a mother surrounded by six daughters. Like her mother should’ve been. Not just one.
“Six, and I get stuck with the worst!”
Her mother’s hiss had burned through girl-Maia’s skin, shocking as the smack. Cheek tingling, she’d run to her tree, gripped the lowest branch, and walked bare feet up thick grey bark, until her head was hanging upside-down. Then, she’d pulled her body up to where her thighs were spread round the trunk, pressed stinging soles into the branches under her knees, and climbed until she didn’t feel small. From a safe height, she’d fingered moss, and imagined reaching her hands deep into the earth, pulling her baby sisters out, one by one, sucking the dirt from their tiny nostrils, breathing them to life with the mauri from her own. That'd make her mother shine.
Oranga Tamariki only take emergency calls on weekends, so Maia sent them an email.
I know, Brother, it’s not enough.
Real caregiving takes more than watching for leaves drooping like dog-tongues and sprinkling water on their black soil.
My mother liked to say plants thrive on tenderness. They’re not the only ones though, eh?
“Sure you want to do this?” Whina’s face is like a boiled beetroot after Zumba.
“No pressure, Fi.”
“Uh uh. You're not going to that house by yourself.” Whina spreads her toes around a jandal strap. “Here, give me that kete.”
Walking towards number seven, Maia’s puku turns to eels. Her mind circles. Drop your weapons. Drop your weapons. Drop your weapons. Bringing knuckles to painted wood, she imagines golden light filling her veins with aroha and pouring out under the door. Under the heavy-heeled footsteps coming closer.
They appear like one being. The woman’s left hip dips to compensate for the toddler wrapped over the other. His face pressed into the curve of her right shoulder. Arms holding flesh like vines. Her blonde hair fountaining into his.
“Kia ora …” Maia's tone rises. “Hi, little one!”
The blonde toddler turns away. Then back, with a quarter-smile. Then away again. The woman’s face twists in a question-mark.
Maia introduces Whina, then herself. “We’re house-sitting for your neighbour, Joan.”
The woman looks blank. “We just moved in.”
“Aw, welcome, Hun.” Whina takes a wooden giraffe from the harakeke basket, gesturing to the woman: This okay?
The toddler wraps chubby fingers around the giraffe’s neck. When he brings its head to his mouth, the women laugh, like three streams bubbling into a river.
“Phoenix, say, ‘Ta.’”
Flashing a gappy smile, he burrows into the woman’s chest.
“Look!” Whina holds out the kete. “What else can you see?”
Phoenix turns again, leaning towards the basket.
“Sorry. Major baby-brain here. Come in, if you like?”
Maia had noticed the woman’s fullness and wondered if she were hapu. She glances at Whina, catching her wistful expression before it fades into a smile. They slip off their jandals and step into the hallway.
“Sorry about the mess. It’s been a nightmare.”
Maia glances at the banana boxes stacked along the wall. “Moving a young family must be hard.”
Whina hums in agreement. “You’re doing really well, Hun.”
The woman sighs, leading them into the dining room. She looks at the kai Maia is placing on the bench, opens her mouth to speak, then closes it again. She fans herself with one hand.
“Sorry. We just don’t have any family here.”
Phoenix holds the giraffe up to his mother’s face, as though it might drink the water from her eyes.
“Let's sit. Whina will make a cuppa. She’s a bit of a connoisseur, when it comes to tea.”
Whina glances back towards the door. “Mmm, how about I pop home real quick, and get some raspberry leaf? It’ll be perfect. Give you and bubs a boost.”
Maia can almost see into Whina’s mind. Images of vitamins and minerals, flowing from roots to leaves to lips to veins to whenua to baby.
Phoenix plucks a hippopotamus from the kete. The women triangulate his delight, in between sips of raspberry leaf tea. Maia feels the floorboards creak.
“Oh, hey, Babe.”
“Hey.” The stranger yawns from the doorway.
“These are our neighbours – God, I’ve forgotten your names already. Sorry. This is Ollie.”
“I’m Whina. This is Maia.”
The stranger accepts Maia’s hand, flinching slightly.
“Kia ora, Ollie.” Maia presses her other palm over his cold fingers. “Hope we didn’t wake you? We hear you work nights.”
“Yeah, nah. All good.” Ollie sniffs, then ruffles his son’s hair. “What’s all this?” He picks up a wooden tiger from the kete.
“We saw your little one over the fence …”
Phoenix drops the hippo and reaches for the tiger. Ollie holds it above his head with a grin.
“Just ‘cause I’ve got it, you want it, eh?”
“Shh, Nix.” His mother inches closer. “Daddy just wants to play too.”
Ollie surrenders the tiger. Phoenix throws it down with a howl that pierces Maia’s skull. The woman rocks herself forwards. Scoops flailing arms into her own, and sways into the kitchen.
Ollie shrugs at Maia. “Got kids?”
She stops herself from looking at Whina. “A niece. Lives down South, now.”
After all these years, the day Whina’s sister dumped baby Kay on their doorstep is still vivid in Maia’s mind. That week, Maia saw seeds of rage bloom inside herself she hadn’t even known were there. First illuminated by little feet kicking her belly, then a wriggling bottom smearing poo everywhere. When Kay nearly flung herself off the edge of the bed, Maia had seen red. Fire charging through her arms, it had taken all the self-control she possessed to drop her weapons. To hold Kay with gentle arms.
“Hopefully one day.”
The woman returns in time to sigh at Whina’s words. She tilts Phoenix forwards. His cheeks plump. Crumbs falling from wet lips.
“Take this one, if you want.”
“Aww.” Whina squeezes a cherubic foot. “Let us know if you ever need a hand, eh?”
“Just so you know, I think you’d actually be wonderful. Really wonderful.”
Maia can’t find her way through the maze of her own silence.
Whina rolls over. “Pō mārie.”
Maia stares into the darkness. Maia, you stink.
This is how the baby conversation always goes. Whina builds a new world, she knocks it down.
Maia listens until Whina’s imprisoned breath releases in soft gusts. Maybe they could do it. Say yes to uncertainty. Disappointment. Possibility. She could certainly face the lack of things. Sleep. Money. Freedom. But could Maia face her tamariki, seeing her violets reflected in their eyes? Their sticky fingers pushing all her buttons, could she go against nature?
Maybe it’s not actually about that, though. Maia wraps herself gingerly around the dolphin curve of Whina’s spine. Maybe it’s about finding the way back to a forsaken nature. Where skin touches skin, like tangata whenua touched soil. Gently. Respectfully. Because they understood we’re all intertwined with one another; cocreating a shared future.
“Push it to that lady’s checkout,” A man says to a child barely tall enough to see over the top of the trolley. Charlie’s stomach becomes heavy when they realise he is gesturing in their direction. The man’s wife turns to him, her mouth pinched.
“That’s not a lady,” She smiles at Charlie apologetically as she approaches and the tension in their belly uncoils a little.
They smile at the woman and start scanning groceries. A large box of nutri grain, two bottles of blue milk, two packets of spiral pasta, edam cheese, a large jar of pasta sauce, hokey pokey ice cream, lamb chops and fresh vegetables. Charlie looks up the vegetables and weighs them last, nestling them into the top of the bags.
“Thats $61.18, do you have a Onecard?”
The mother nods, swiping both cards and paying for the groceries. Charlie prints the receipt and hands it to her.
The man clears his throat, taking the trolley from the child “Thanks mate.”
Charlie’s skull rattles against the window, sun strobing red inside their eyelids as the bus pulls onto Dominion Road. It shudders forward and to a stop with the traffic. Some school kids, a young woman and a man with a silver hair get onto the bus. The kids sit up the front, turning around and hanging onto the backs of the seats to talk to one another. The man’s eyes lock onto Charlie for a moment. The man sits across from them and takes out his phone as the bus swings forward. Charlie shifts closer to the window, rotating their torso away from him.
“You have a bug in your hair!” Yells one of the kids.
The boy in front of her tosses a hand through his hair.
“Help me get it out!” his voice wobbles.
“She’s tricking you, there's no bug” one of the other kids says, and she punches his arm. The bus banks around a long corner and Charlie glimpses a person hanging sheets on the clothesline, the large shapes billowing to surround them. There is a motorbike parked outside the takeaway shop and a person on their phone outside the dairy. Charlie slams their thumb into the stop button and the bell shrills.
They glance at the back of the silver man’s head. The bus swings into their stop and the back door hisses unstuck. Charlie’s thank you sticks in their throat and they leap out onto the kerb. The man outside the dairy finishes his call. His eyes meet theirs and they cross the road.
The mailbox has a newspaper advertising electronics and another letter for Deepak Singh. Charlie wonders how long ago Deepak moved away and where he lives now. Flowers spill over the sides of the driveway. Weeds, they suppose. They scuff their shoes along the concrete. They recycle the newspaper and put Deepak’s letter in the bin, letting the lid clatter shut. There is a rectangle of dark earth on the lawn where a piece of wood has been moved. Pale strands of grass lie limply in the patch. Rainwater in the flaky, rusting bathtub in front of the garage has evaporated, leaving a layer of slime and dead flowers on the bottom.
Charlie is desperate to piss and the door is locked. They wriggle the key until the lock clunks open. Takeaway rubbish from last night and dirty bowls from nights previous are strewn around the lounge. Ants cluster around the rim of a cider can, animals at a metallic watering hole.
Charlie dumps their bag in their room and runs to the bathroom. While pissing they notice cat shit in the shower. They wad up a generous piece of toilet paper to scoop it up. The shit spirals around the toilet bowl and is sucked violently down the pipe. Charlie sits on the rim of the bath and opens facebook messenger. SOCIO 101 group: 15 unread messages. They open the chat to get rid of the notifications. Molly has messaged them but they don’t read her message yet. They message Emily “Babs shat in the shower again :( i’ve cleaned it this time but maybe we should keep the shower door shut from now on?”
The cupboard under the sink is filled with all kinds of crap. Charlie knocks over half a dozen dusty bottles and finds a near-empty bottle of bleach spray in the back. They work the trigger, tilting the bottle at different angles to connect to the liquid at the bottom. A measly amount empties onto the offending spot on the shower floor. They wipe it with some more toilet paper and chuck the bottle back under the sink.
In the kitchen, the recycling box overflows with containers stacked on top of one another. The sink is filled with dishes. Congealed, soapy food has floated to the surface of a pot containing a drowned fly. Its limbs spasm and Charlie realises it’s still alive. They tip out the water, sending the fly swirling down the drain.
A strange odour drifts from the fridge and they claim last night’s spaghetti from the top shelf, closing the door quickly. The leftover food rotates slowly under the strange light. They open the dishwasher. It hasn’t yet been unloaded. In the cupboard they stack different kinds of bowls together into a leaning tower. The pans and oven dishes are shoved into the bottom cupboard in a jigsaw on top of forgotten appliances. The pasta crackles with heat when pulled out of the microwave. Charlie wraps the bowl in a tea towel to carry.
They shed their work shoes and uniform, hanging them over the end of the bed so the shirt doesn't wrinkle. Freeing their torso from their binder, they pull on a hoodie and sweatpants.
Babs appears in the doorway and meows, waving her plumy tail.
“Hello stinky,” Charlie pats the bed “come here baby.”
The cat purrs as they scratch behind her ears. They shovel a forkful of spaghetti into their mouth but its too hot and they spit the half chewed mouthful back into the bowl.
They open Molly’s message. She has sent a link to a 2 bedroom rental advertised for 550 a week. “This one looks really nice! Wanna go to the viewing @ 11 on Tuesday & go for ice cream after? I can ask Ben if he’s free to come along.” Charlie clicks on the listing, which reads: ‘two double bedrooms with built in wardrobes. Fully insulated with stove, dishwasher and heat pump in living area. Landlord will happily consider a mature cat. 12 month lease initially.’ They flick through the attached photographs which have been taken at strange, low angles. The carpet and walls look very clean.
There is a red rug in the lounge which reminds them of the one their nana has. It’s clean and freshly vacuumed. The lounge looks spacious enough to fit Molly’s leather couch and some dining furniture. The bedrooms are shown with perfectly made up double beds. One of them has a nice aqua coloured duvet with a diamond pattern. There looks to be room for Charlie’s desk in either of the bedrooms. They will need to check out the wardrobes to figure out if they will need to buy a freestanding clothes rack for extra hanging space.
There is a bath, which Charlie knows must appeal to Molly immensely. Her relaxation routine involves candles, story podcasts and a bubble bath. They wonder if she will want to keep plants in the bathroom. They glance at the dead cactus on their windowsill. Plants inevitably end up dying under their care. Charlie pictures Molly filling the deck of this place with greenery. They could buy some chairs and a table and sit among the plants together for a smoke or some wine.
Perhaps they could rescue a cat together. They imagine their new lounge set up like the cat cafe, with a cat tree beside the sofa. Those things are expensive at the pet store, but maybe they could find one second hand on trademe. Cats at the cafe seem to love sleeping in the lofty baskets. Their favourite cat there is the one with no eyes, who used his sense of hearing to chase a crinkly toy Charlie threw for him.
A message pops up from Emily. It’s a thumbs up emoji. Charlie frowns at the message, which refuses to answer their question. They stroke Babs, who has curled up beside them on the bed.
“What do you think Babs? Is it time for me to move out of here?”
Babs purrs, her yellow eyes narrowed. Charlie types out a reply to Molly. “Yes :) pick u up at 10.30 on Tuesday?”
The crunch of an apple. Yup. That’s the sound.
Melody let the Nissan Tiida’s footbrake out and mashed it in again with her bare foot. She was small for a seven-and-a-half-year-old, and it was a stretch to reach the car’s pedal, even dripping over the seat as she was like a cooked spaghetti noodle. (It didn’t help that Michael was tall and had pushed the seat as far back as it would go.) Because it was January and hadn’t rained once all week, it was hot work pressing the pedal.
Crunch. Release. Crunch. Release. Crruuuuuuunch. Release.
Michael was her cousin. He lived with them. He was 17 and had blue eyes and was skinny as. He bought the Tiida because it was shiny gold and had leather seats. The man who sold it to him had a gold tooth the same colour as the car and a silver earring, and he was sweating a lot although it was winter and cold.
Michael loved the Tiida more than anything in the world. On Saturday mornings, he took it to Washworld at St Luke’s. Melody loved more than anything to go with him because he let her help him operate the foaming scrub brush. Pink suds oozed from the brush like the toothpaste Melody let dribble down her chin when she brushed her teeth (although the toothpaste was white, except when Mum bought the green one because it was on special and then the suds looked like monster sick, which pleased Melody but also made her queasy).
Michael didn’t know that Melody mashed the Tiida’s footbrake. She was not allowed in the Tiida without him. She was not allowed to sit on its bonnet or jump off its bumper or kick its tyres. If they had been to the beach, Michael made her stand three giant steps away until he wiped the sunscreen off her hands with a cloth because he read on the internet that sunscreen can stain the paint on a car.
If they had been to the beach, Michael drove straight to Washworld to vacuum the sand out of the car. Even if it wasn’t a Saturday morning.
No, Michael didn’t know that when Melody was being a detective a few months ago she found the Tiida’s spare key in his underwear drawer, and that whenever he stayed out late on a Saturday night with his best friend Jason, she took it and sneaked into the Tiida to mash the footbrake early on Sunday morning because Michael wouldn’t be awake for hours. For hours and hours and hours. Unless Melody ‘accidentally’ played super-soakers with Kevin from next door outside Michael’s window and woke him up.
Crunch. Release. Crunch. Release. Crunchreleasecrunchreleasecruuuuunchrelease.
Melody remembered exactly when Michael came to live with them. It was her very first day of school two years ago when she was five. She came home and there he was in the lounge sitting with Mum and Nana drinking a cup of tea. Nana had fetched him from the Waikato that morning. Melody wasn’t sure where the Waikato was, but Nana looked so tired she imagined it must be far away, like Waiheke Island where they went one time on the ferry. Nana also brought homemade shortbread biscuits, and there was only one left on the plate and Melody feared Michael might get to eat it instead of her.
Your cousin Michael is shifting in with us, Mum said. Won’t that be nice?
Michael had been staring at his feet but glanced up at her now through his fringe that was the same colour as Mum’s and Nana’s – blonde because of their Dutch heritage, Nana said – but not the same colour as Melody’s. Hers was dark brown like her dad’s, and it made her wonder how anyone would know they were cousins. Michael smiled at her. It was not a very good smile, the corners of his lips barely turned up at all. She did not believe his smile or that he was happy to be there with them.
Why are you so sad? she blurted out. Which Mum and Nana didn’t like her saying one bit. They both hissed, shush! and then Mum took her into the kitchen and gave her a glass of milk and a biscuit from a packet that was nowhere near as nice as Nana’s shortbread.
Mum and Nana spent the rest of that afternoon turning the sleep-out into Michael’s room. The sleep-out’s real name was the Sew and Sew. Dad had built it for Mum so she could go wild with her sewing. That was exactly what he said to her, Go wild, Gemma. And she would. Mum was happiest when Nana came to visit on the weekend and they spent the whole time in the Sew and Sew. They didn’t even stop to make tea. Instead, Dad went for takeaways, bringing home squid rings as a special treat for Nana. This was when Nana still lived with Uncle Jason and Aunt Molly on the farm, before she shifted to Auckland.
Melody liked to hang out with them in the Sew and Sew because Nana told stories about when Mum and Uncle Jason were children. She called them her Getting Up to No Good on the Farm stories, and she and Mum laughed until they held their bellies with both hands.
I’m gutted you have to give up the Sew and Sew, Nana had whispered to Mum when they were both on their hands and knees scrubbing the floor clean.
Can’t be helped, she whispered back, Jason’s a fucking wanker for kicking the boy out. Who cares he’s. . . But she didn’t finish the sentence because Nana brushed her ear with her fingertips which was their signal to warn each other that “little ears are listening”.
After her bath that night, Melody went outside in her dinosaur PJs to say goodnight to the moon. While she stood there with her face turned up to the sky, the sliding glass door to the Sew and Sew slid open, and Michael slipped outside to join her. Melody went stiff in her body because she had decided to hate Michael for taking away Mum’s Sew and Sew.
He didn’t speak, only turned his face up to the sky too. After a minute, he sighed and gazed down at the ground. Before he went back into the Sew and Sew, he gave her what he held in his hand. It was the last piece of Nana’s shortbread wrapped in a paper napkin.
Crunchcrunch. . .crunnnnch. Release.
Because she was mashing the pedal early on a Sunday morning, and she expected him to sleep for hours and hours and hours, Melody didn’t notice the sound of Michael’s jandals flapping on the footpath or the clink of the fence gate latch opening and closing. Only when he dropped his keys and said, Shit! did she realise he was close by.
A drop of pee squirted into her pants, and she scrambled into the back seat and then over the back seat into the boot where she hid under the towel Michael used to dry the Tiida’s windows at Washworld. Her breath came in yips from high in her chest. She clamped her hand over her mouth to silence them, but Michael wasn’t listening anyway. He was busy plugging in his phone so it would play music through the Tiida’s speakers. He blasted Lil Nas X’s ‘Old Town Road’, the song they sang at the top of their lungs when they drove to Washworld.
My life is a movie
Bull ridin' and boobies
Cowboy hat from Gucci
Wrangler on my booty. . .
Melody almost couldn’t stop herself from singing along. She covered her ears, but even so, her head bobbed to the beat and her lips formed every word.
The next song Michael played was not one Melody liked very much, and so she didn’t worry about stopping herself from singing along. Instead, she worried that they were going to be gone for hours and hours and hours and Mum would tell Dad to ring the police when she couldn’t find her, and she would be in more trouble than she had ever been in her life.
But Michael only drove to Nana’s house, which was just ten minutes away. Nana met him on the doorstep and threw her arms around him. Since she was extra tall, Michael didn’t have to bend over so far like he did when he hugged most everybody else.
As soon as they went inside, Melody let herself out of the Tiida and ran around to the back of the house. It pleased her that she had experience being a detective and could crouch and run at the same time, keeping low to the ground so they wouldn’t see her when she passed underneath the windows.
She heard their voices coming from the sunroom where Nana kept her sewing machine, and she hid underneath the hibiscus bush opposite to watch them. Michael’s silhouette was wiggling around behind the Japanese screen with the cherry blossoms on it. She reckoned he must be trying on an outfit Nana made him because that’s where Nana always told them to change their clothes “for modesty’s sake”.
If that hem’s not right, Nana called out, it’ll take just a tick to fix it.
It’s perfect, Michael answered, and then he stepped from behind the screen, and Nana’s face lit up like when Sonny Bill Williams scored a try.
Oh Michael, that turquoise colour suits you. It suits you right down to the ground. Nana clapped her hands. Have a look in the mirror. Go on, you’ll see.
Michael was almost too shy to do so. His eyes wandered to the ceiling and the floor before settling on his reflection. But when they did, he crossed his arms over his waist and gave himself a big squeeze. I love it, he said. I absolutely love it.
Melody pulled a hibiscus blossom off the bush. Her stomach felt funny, and she feared she might cry. Nana had made Michael a dress. A sleeveless linen dress like the one Nana wore in the photo she kept on the china cabinet. The one where she was 20 years old and about to get on a ship sailing away to England. Michael looked just like Nana did then and the smile on his face was just like hers – stretching nearly ear to ear.
Melody flicked the blossom away and pulled another one off the bush. She understood that she was not supposed to know that Michael wore dresses, and that it was a secret only he and Nana were meant to share. But it was the most beautiful dress Melody had ever seen, and she wanted one exactly like it.
Melody pulled a third hibiscus blossom off the bush. Maybe if she promised never, ever to tell, Nana would make her one too, and she and Michael could come visit and wear them together. She twirled the blossom between her thumb and forefinger. Michael would be furious with her for hiding in the Tiida. But maybe he would soften a little if she gave him this flower to put in his hair.
She crawled out from under the bush and brushed the dirt off her knees. Michael and Nana saw her at exactly the same time. The smile fell right off Michael’s face, but Nana burst out laughing. Look, it’s your little shadow, she said.
And then, as if she’d read Melody’s mind, Nana said something else, something that let her know everything would be all right: Turquoise would be a lovely colour on Melody too, don’t you think, Michael? How about I make her a dress just like yours?
With the amazing support of Rainbow New Zealand Charitable Trust, Same Same but Different are again running a short fiction writing award. From 2020 it celebrates the life and work of our founder, Peter Wells.
First prize is $1000 cash for the winning story, $500 for the runner up and $500 cash for the best writing from a promising young writer aged under 25. This makes it one of the leading short fiction competitions in Aotearoa. That it is only for LGBTQI writers offers an incredible opportunity to upskill and show your writing talent. Short fiction is demanding and we are looking for quality writing.
The contest history includes The Wallace Foundation Short Fiction Contest, which was first awarded in 2016, after a couple of years as the express writing contest. It gives New Zealand LGBTQI writers an opportunity to prove their creative skills and to publish and publicise their work in a safe and supportive environment. At the Auckland Writers Festival in 2019, Queer American Writer, Alexander Chee encouraged us all to write stories and enter contests because in doing so we find our own voices and gain satisfaction irrespective of the result of the competition.
Finding Your Future in Aotearoa today
“Finding your future in Aotearoa today” is our theme. Other than a word limit of 2000 words there are no other creative restrictions; excellence is what is being looked for and LGBTQI subject matter may be approached tangentially. Past winners have demonstrated craftmanship and good storytelling. We are not looking for flag waving or sob stories: fiction is about inventiveness, imagination and the power and use of language.
The word limit is a maximum of 2000 words and should not be exceeded. Stories must exceed 1200 words. Our judges this year are Simie Simpson and Michael Giacon. Simie is a librarian and was a judge for the 2019 NZ Post Book Awards, while Michael is a poet, teacher and mentor in creative writing. Both have mana in the writing community and the LGBTQI worlds. They are looking for outstanding sparks of creative brilliance. The judges’ decision is final.
Please state in your covering email if you are eligible for the promising young writer award. All entries will be judged for the overall contest winner.
Entries will close 5 January 2020, with the winners being announced and awarded during our fifth samesame but different LGBTQI writers festival, 14-15 February 2020
Go with your heart and share your chosen story. We want to hear your stories.
2020 Competition Rules
Same Same But Different is proud to announce the Wallace Short Fiction Contest Results for 2019:
Head over to our facebook page to read these stunning pieces.
2019 Wallace Foundation Short Fiction Contest to be awarded during the Auckland Writers Festival in May 2019
You have only a few weeks to submit your entry (or entries) for this year’s Wallace Foundation Short Fiction Contest. The prize money has been increased this year: a first prize of $1000 for the winning story, $500 for the runner-up and $500 for the best entry by a promising young writer aged under 25.
Stories must be original, unpublished works of fiction and may be on any theme. The word limit is 2000 words. Entries must be submitted by 31 March 2019.
Peter Wells has stepped aside as a judge to focus on enjoying the life he has left. The judges this year are experienced writers Brendan Weir and Paula Boock, with the winners to be announced in May during the Auckland Writers Festival.
For further information on how to submit your
entry, please review the full list of rules and conditions below.
We appreciate the support we have received from the Auckland Writers Festival