Cloud Brawls

Big Issue Fiction Edition 2019

This short story was first published in The Big Issue Annual Fiction Edition 2019, one of nine stories picked from 424 submissions.


KEN SPITS OVER the barbed wire to the other side – one more drop for the thieving bastards next door. He feels the strong south-easterly as a push in the back. It pushes him towards the fence and it pushes the rainclouds further north, drumming life into someone else’s soil.

They’d known. He spits again. They’d known exactly when this was coming.

Driving out, he’d seen their planes buzzing overhead. The gall of it. His airspace, but the clouds seeded downwind and the rain missed his own parched paddocks by a few hundred metres.

He turns and crunches across the cracked clay to his ute. He slams the door and drives fast, curses souring in his cheeks. It was no use complaining. He and Linda had passed up their chance for a permit when the price was low, gambling on nature to fill their dams. Through the window he can see the bluff, jutting into the sky like the end of a ramp. The cool change whooshes up the other side and lobs right over the top of his land. The summer storm season was nearly finished, and all they’d gotten were buckets of humidity.

Back at home he stomps his boots on the doormat but there’s no mud to dislodge, only little eddies of dust.

“Well?” says Linda, as the screen door clatters behind him. “Anything?”

“Nup. Fell on the MacArthur’s place again.” He sighs. “Might be time to give in, buy some clouds ourselves.”

He hears the rattle of a cake tin. Her head appears round the kitchen doorway, flour on one cheek.

“You sure?”

“No harm asking the price.”

“No harm,” she agrees.

A pleasant day at the zoo

Veranda 25 Deakin University
Veranda 25 Deakin University

STEVE looked up from the dinner table to see a panda standing in front of him. It was his wife, Margaret. She had synthetic fur – black for her paws and hind legs and white for her belly – up to her neck. Above that was her face, red and sweaty from wearing the costume all day. Under her arm was the panda’s head, its eyes rimmed by inky bruises, the pupils plastic but somehow alive.

Steve stared at his wife, speechless. He was surprised because she usually came home dressed as the arse-end of a hippo.

‘Cutbacks,’ she explained. ‘A hippo requires two actors to look convincing. A panda, just one. Guess the zoo went with the cheaper option.’

The woman I remember

Visible Ink

AFTER passing through throngs of poor Chinese outside the station and negotiating queues of rich Chinese in the ticket hall, you and I finally make it onto the train platform, which is crowded with both groups. Men, women and children are packed so tightly together they have become one seething mass of human flesh.

I imagine this entity as a person who is both male and female, old and young. The person is wearing a rich man’s jacket and a schoolgirl’s dress. Begrimed beggar’s fingers protrude from sleeves adorned with gold cufflinks. One of the person’s thighs is brown and cracked, desiccated like a dried-up riverbed, and the other is milky-white and youthful. The person’s skin is wrinkled under the chin and taut on the cheeks.

A train screeches into the station. We become swept up in the tide of bodies clambering for the carriage door. Somehow, we keep our heads above the surface of jostling shoulders, paddle past the flailing limbs and make it onto the train without being crushed alive.

I look at your shocked expression and know what you’re thinking. I had the same thought the first time I found myself part of a desperate mob in China. How can there be this many arms and legs in the one place? This many kicking feet, jabbing elbows and clawing hands?

As we fight our way to the dining carriage I note that you have not yet complained about the constant shoving. I broach the subject, almost apologising on China’s behalf. Rudeness is a necessity here, I explain. With so many people competing for so few resources, one needs to be pushy to survive. Politeness is a luxury enjoyed in rich and roomy nations.

A boy scampers past carrying a bowl of steaming noodles. Suddenly he slips, sending pasta tendrils snaking across the linoleum floor. From the volume of his crying, I assume he won’t be getting another bowl tonight. I know that you have a spare noodle packet and, given the circumstances, I expect you to hand it to him. Instead, your head morphs into a carnival clown’s and the carriage booms with cackling.

That was an extract from the full story, available here.

The language epidemic

Page Seventeen

‘THIS burger is scrumptious Dad.’

At the time I didn’t really know what the words meant or what the repercussions were. But Dad did. He bolted upright, dragged me to the sink, scrubbed my mouth with soap and water and then picked up the phone.

‘Boy’s sick.’


‘Take look.’


Dad slammed the receiver and turned to face me.

‘Shut it,’ he said.