The Forbidden Pet
by Branko Manojlovic (Japan)
My rental agreement stipulates that no pets are allowed in the house. I double-checked it the other day. The reason? Well, I have gradually come to realize that in fact I do have a pet: one praying mantis.
I remember sunning myself in the front garden some weeks ago, thinking of this and that. Mostly of Y. She had been down with flu and had not texted me back for several days. Sunk in thought, I suddenly noticed a praying mantis beside my left foot. It too was soaking up the sun. It did so by stretching its wings apart so as to expose a silky abdomen beneath. It was impossible not to notice a long, yellowish incision along its underbelly. A battle scar? A birthmark?
out of long grass
a praying mantis
In any event, it looked quite at home procrastinating on a wooden plank in warm November sunshine. After a while I decided to test the critter’s resolve, so I placed my hand right in front of its face. It did not budge at all. I stomped hard on the plank. Still nothing. I then nudged the creature a few inches away and for a moment it lost balance but was soon back on its feet, boldly pacing back to the original resting spot. My repeated experiments yielded the same result.
on sunlit stage
refusing to bow
The weather has been very pleasant recently and I have been out in the garden several times. On each occasion the mantis sat by my side like a most faithful pooch. It has become a true pet. Once I even caught myself talking to it. Another time I fed it a swatted fly. I watched in delight as my friend’s jagged mandibles worked its meal little by little.
Today a fully recovered Y. pays me a visit. I want to introduce her to my new housemate so we step out to the garden. Lo and behold, the mantis is missing! We embark on a search mission, combing through the lawn, the weeds, plant pots – to no avail. Y. then says, ‘Maybe the mantis was me all along.’
An (Cottage) Prize
Way of Lilies
by Marietta McGregor (Australia)
Dawn comes softly to Arnhem Land. Here at the top of Australia, people believe ancestral Dreaming1 lies in billabongs, waterholes sung into being by creation spirits. Early on a dry season morning, there’s a mystical feel to Kakadu. A thin mist rises off water and drifts across the wide plains. In the lagoons, sweetly-scented waterlily flowers seem to hover on thin stems like pale blue dragonflies, and the succulent leaves of lotuses green the river banks. Across the lagoon, I watch as four-legged shapes materialise like wraiths out of the mist – wild brumbies seeking water. As the feral horses slither for purchase in the lagoon’s soft mud banks, their hard hooves trample lilies, lotus, sedges and herbs, churning the banks into black bog. Nothing grows where brumbies drink.
lizard-scaled in mud
One day, at a billabong damaged by exotic animals which were introduced by Europeans, the people decided they wanted their children to know the land the way their elders once knew it. Aboriginal rangers built a fence around an ancestral waterhole, strong enough to keep out wild horses, feral pigs and Asian water buffalo. Waterlilies flourished, and the billabong was again rich in small life. The children could see their home as it was created by their Dreaming spirit. Now, families come early in the mornings to swim in warm amber water among the lilies and their plate-like leaves, and when their pods fatten with seeds, women return to harvest bush tucker, yarlbun2.
grandmother’s dilly bag3
fills with lily pods
Dreaming1: Aboriginal spiritual beliefs of the time of creation.
bush tucker, yarlbun2: bush tucker refers to any endemic wild food; ‛yarlbun’ means waterlily pods in the Marra and Alawa languages. The edible seeds may be eaten raw, ground into flour, or roasted over a fire. The stems and roots are also edible.
dilly bag3: an Aboriginal carry bag, woven from the fibres of Pandanus species.
An (Cottage) Prize
Let There Be Lightning
by Ignatius Fay (Canada)
Dark is falling, and with it a soft, warm rain. The drops dimple the surface of the lake. Very little wind. Mom and Dad are in the camp’s kitchen; by coal oil lamp light, he’s doing a jigsaw puzzle and she’s reading Reader’s Digest. I sit outside on the screened porch, also reading.
The first streak of lightning is completely unexpected. For an instant, everything is a silhouette. Then the thunder. I have always been fascinated by thunderstorms. Try not to attract attention. Ease the porch door open. Slip out and down to the dock. Moments later, lying on wet planks, I have the best view of the light show. And what a show!
At the third or fourth streak, Dad yelling from the porch. His word are lost in the thunder. He heads towards me. I am in trouble…again. My eyes are closed by another streak of lightning. When I open them, he is lying beside me in the rain.
the blacker darkness
after the lightning
An (Cottage) Prize
Waiting for Christmas in Ohio
by Chris Bays (U.S.A.)
Near Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the car radio crackles. I flip channels. Voices drift in and out of static – troop buildup in Korea, terror threats in the Middle East – until a hallelujah from Händel’s Messiah erupts, and the glare of red lights envelops me. Slamming on the brakes, I skid to a stop.
Another traffic jam to mark the season. I look to my right at row after row of military housing. As a child, I lived overseas in similar duplexes. Aren’t children of the Armed Forces still called military brats? “Brat” is used like a badge of honor – for those living in the shadows of war. Perhaps these children living in one duplex – whose faces are pressed against a balcony window – seek more than honor. They seem transfixed by dusk and snow drifting across the distant runway.
Jet engines roar overhead. A little girl in pajamas scampers onto the balcony. Snow flurries swirl heavily around her pale form as she reaches toward the sky. Is her father or mother returning from overseas? I inch the car forward. How many military brats are waiting for their parents tonight?
plow paths through clouds …