An exploration through pictures & prose of how we attach memories to physical items…
Throughout our lives we collect and keep physical things that are important to us in ways others might never understand. These items — also known as “emotional tokens” — are often completely worthless in monetary terms, but absolutely priceless to us.
A perfectly round pebble found on the beach while on holiday. A silk scarf given to us by our grandma. A bead once part of a favourite necklace, worn so often it finally snapped. These physical things have powerful memories linked to them. Stories only we can tell.
~ This is a place for those stories ~
Read more about the project, including how it began and what it seeks to do, here.
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
Send a maximum of 3 pictures and up to 500 words focused on a Memento Vitae or “emotional token” which you would like to share via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title MEMENTO VITAE. Please also include a short bio, headshot (optional) and any links to your own website/blog as appropriate.
This project is a labour of love and self-funded, and as such I have only a small budget. However, I am passionate about paying writers and creatives for their work and I am able to offer a token payment of $20 (NZD) to anyone who contributes – payable by PayPal or direct bank transfer. Overseas contributors, please contact me to discuss what I can offer you.
If you would like to donate anything at all to help support this project and keep these lovely stories coming, you can do so via our Kofi page here:
Follow us on Twitter at @memento__vitae
LEGO SET #6590 VACATION CAMPER by David Thomsen
OBI by Kim Jackways
GUATEMALAN SNUGGLE BUNNY by Tehnuka
MAGDALENA’S PENDANT by Erica Challis
RASPBERRIES by Shannon Gillespie
GRANDPA RILEY’S WALKING STICK by JB Riley
SEASHELL NECKLACE by Heather Christensen
I was about 14 the first time I was properly hurt by another human. One of my friends turned on me, viciously. He rejected me as a friend in front of a group of our other friends. No explanation was ever given. This was the first time I experienced emotional pain, combined with a lack of understanding of why that pain had been given to me.
I lost my sense of innocence that day, along with my trust, my certainty and all those other things that go along with an assumption that life should make sense; the childish logic that as long as you go through life meaning no harm, then no harm shall come to you.
About that same time a relative mocked me for still having a toy collection as a teenager. These rejections and mockings made me feel I needed to abandon the things I loved in childhood in order to grow into adulthood, and so I stopped collecting toys.
What followed was the most joyless decade of my life.
Adult Fans of LEGO have a name for the period in their life when they were not involved with LEGO; it is their Dark Ages. I can’t think of a better way to describe my life at that time.
I don’t have those toys from my childhood any more. There is a box containing fragments of them at my father’s place, but generations of kids have been through them. Limbs have been torn from the Transformers, the LEGO sets are fractured and incomplete. I don’t begrudge the joy these children got from my toys, but it does twist my heart a little to see my childhood in this state. I have been able to salvage only a couple of mementos from this scrap.
My path to healing and rediscovering joy began when I allowed myself to buy my first LEGO set as an adult. It was a rebellion against the things that are supposed to bring pleasure to adults and an embrace of the basic things that actually give me joy. It was a bridge between my broken adult self and my innocent childhood self; a link back to the joy that can only be so pure because it was experienced without the knowledge of how cruel some human beings can be.
The unbuilt set in this photo, 6590 Vacation Camper, is a copy of my favourite set as a child. I picked it up cheap because, like myself, it has been through a lot in the last three decades. The outside has been crushed and worn, but like myself, the joy is pristine and ageless when I take a look inside.
I couldn’t say why this is my favourite set, there’s nothing particularly special about it, no race cars, space explorers, pirates or knights, but perhaps that’s just it. It’s a simple, primary coloured depiction of adulthood as it is imagined by a child. A version of adulthood that maybe only our inner children can access.
I plan to build it, two months on from writing this, on my 40th birthday.
It is a karate belt, but it is much more than that.
I was quiet as a child, called shy. But I was the quiet of an old soul, with a dramatic inner life. I preferred books to people and didn’t enjoy team sports. I was scared to try new things that I wasn’t good at. I feared group conversations, the dreaded hot blush of my cheeks a physical giveaway of my weakness. I hated making mistakes.
At twenty-one, I moved to a new city away from family and friends. I sometimes think about how different my life would have been if I hadn’t.
It was a time in my life when I was truly independent. I got a proper job, and worked my way up. I started karate classes, along with my partner, as it was something we had always wanted to do.
The karate teachers asked everything of us from day one. We ran in bare feet on steep footpaths to get fit enough to run away if we were attacked. We did push ups until we could do no more, and then did some more. We had long sequences of movements to remember. We dodged and we kicked.
I was unfit. I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t care.
The karateka became a family. We knelt together to show our respect to the teachers. We carried each other around the room. We practised movements over and over, until we could do the sequences in time with the group. Our punches extended in a wave, our shouts combined in a cacophony of sound. We were all beginners together.
At the same time, our biggest opponents were ourselves. We were constantly learning. We all found it tough to take hits. We kept on going to the end of each class because we all kept going.
When we are ready, we are asked to show the group what we can do by ourselves. We are told to breathe deeply and trust our muscle memory. We are told to slow down.
We did gradings of two hours where the black belts asked us to show them everything we had learnt. Then they requested it backwards and with our eyes closed. They tapped us with sticks to check our strength. They pushed us to our limits, and showed us that our limits were a lot further away than we thought.
I made mistakes. I looked a fool.
When I had to do something scary at work, I thought of karate and what I had achieved there. That I could stand up, alone, although my heart was beating fit to burst and my palms were slick with sweat. That I wouldn’t let the dojo down.
And so, through blending in, I found the confidence to be myself. I was happy.
It is a karate belt, and it held me together.
Kim is a freelance copywriter and dreamer based in the rolling plains of Canterbury. She was born in New Zealand and loves travelling to far-off places, mostly in her mind.
After a massive earthquake, she and her family spent a year speaking French (badly) and exploring the South of France. The cobbled streets and vivid history spurred her to start writing. Her fiction has been published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Best Small Fictions and Takahe Magazine.
You can find her at her website at https://www.kimjackways.com.
I used to volunteer at Trade Aid, Kirikiriroa, and was given a gift from the shop by a fellow volunteer when I left to study overseas. We hadn’t known each other very long or even that well, but the bunny was a thoughtful gift that has been with me since.
Over ten years later, the bunny and I are both back home and I’m volunteering at the shop again – although I’ve lost touch with my friend and we don’t get these bunnies in the shop any more.
Guatemalan Snuggle Bunny
You wanted to escape when they first shipped you away
across the world. Knowing loss from your maker,
you were stoic over the sea,
in a sea of paper,
jostled against anxious worry dolls and mindless headbands.
They were jumbled together with you in my imagination,
all woven beautiful things
sent from far-off Guatemala to little Aotearoa.
Every Friday afternoon as I locked the shop door,
I hugged your bright red sister, and the soft Indian elephant next to you,
with a deliberate squeeze.
You, I barely glanced at. But
I helped choose you, sold you, wrapped you
For ‘his niece’, my friend said,
until he handed you to me.
Now you keep him in my mind
though I don’t know where or how he is.
We crossed the world, again, together, hopping continents,
yet you never saw much more than a pillow,
living on my bed a reminder of caring embraces
and unexpected friends.
Though when I went to Guatemala, I went without you.
You were supposed to be a wheatbag,
a heated hug for a cold human.
Instead, one winter’s night,
you smouldered in a microwave,
froze in a sink.
Your purples and blues water-stained,
A caring woman cut up
her old pyjamas to give you longer life and a new tail.
Nothing can knock out your stuffing, but you do leak a little, now.
Guatemalan battle bunny.
Tehnuka is a tauiwi writer and volcanologist from Aotearoa, New Zealand. She likes to find herself in unexpected places, but others can find her as @tehnuka on Twitter.
I have a wooden pendant carved with a flower. The eye of the daisy is paua shell. My mother carved it with chisels she learned to use as a girl in Barcelona, working in her father’s joinery workshop. He might have preferred a son, but he only had a daughter so he taught her how to peel back the curls of maple and walnut and oak to reveal flowers in the grain of the wood. Together, they carved those into furniture.
They survived the famine of the Spanish Civil War by keeping goats and chickens, and some nights, by stealing whiteknuckle rides clinging onto trains to the countryside, where they raided corn from the farmers’ fields.
Her father had fled from his German poorhouse childhood on a bike, all the way across France. He was a harsh father, a natural anarchist, a loner, and a bitter man. My mother fled in her turn. Her white skin earned her a berth on a ship; a ten-pound Pom who wasn’t a Pom. She sent her family a telegram. “By the time you read this I will be on board a ship to New Zealand and there’s nothing you can do.”
They weren’t fully alarmed until they realised that New Zealand wasn’t in the Netherlands.
“Causó un gran disgusto,” her stepmother told me, years later. Her father never spoke to her again. But after he died a parcel arrived; heavy, scented with steel and oil and whetstone. His tools.
Holding her past in the same sinewy hands I’ve inherited, she shed her skin of dull exemplary housewifery and began exploring whatever fed her curiosity, the more as she felt the pressure of time bowing her shoulders and lacing her bones with pain. My mother had cancer, although she didn’t know it yet. In her last years we went from being her children to becoming co-adventurers; learning to ski cross-country, to cook exotic food, to pan for gemstones, to breed canaries.
This, though, she did alone, taking her father’s tools to see how her hands remembered their old craft. In her last years she blossomed like the flower on this pendant.
Maple wood and chisels from Europe, and paua shell from here. She was timid and brave and she crossed the world, and everything you might assume about a woman from Barcelona would be untrue, and I’ll never know if her non-conformity was choice or chance. I know we’re never just one thing and there are a thousand ways to slide through the cracks of history to become someone inconceivable.
Wellington-based writer Erica Challis left a career as an orchestral horn player to work as a journalist and publicist, after four years as founder and editor of the popular Lord of the Rings fan website TheOneRing.net. She contributed as editor and essayist for The People’s Guide to J R R Tolkien and More People’s Guide to J R R Tolkien, published by Cold Spring Press, and created scripts for Radio New Zealand Concert. Her short stories have appeared in Sport and Takahe Magazine, and more recently in the online zine Lemon&Lime.
I am not a botanically-versed individual. My childhood was spent inside as my mom tried to escape the ever-present heat of Florida, and the eyes of neighbours she didn’t trust. But one summer I was sent to a place that had no neighbours.
When I was six, my four-year-old sister Holly, five-year-old cousin Allison, and I were put on an aeroplane headed for Milwaukee. We were dressed in mom-made matching red, white, and blue skirts and vests with red cowboy boots. Waiting for us at the gate were our grandparents, Gram & Puppa. From the airport, we squeezed onto the bench of Puppa’s pickup, and drove five hours to a place called Stonington.
It is located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yes, there is more than just the mitten to Michigan. And no, you probably can’t find the place I’m talking about. There is no stoplight to signify that you are there. The only landmark to identify Stonington is a grocery store that is no bigger than a convenience store. Gram’s dad opened it in the 1920s, and when he couldn’t run it anymore, she did until the 1980s.
I remember the slight decline and bank that Puppa’s truck had to make each time we turned onto the gravel driveway. It was a long driveway. Later my mom would call it a “quarter-mile”, but at six I had no concept of how long a mile was. As we coasted over the gravel, dust swirled behind the back tires. There were trees on both sides of the driveway. They were taller than the squat trees we’d grown up around. Greener too. Between the trees and the driveway were raspberry bushes. The bushes grew into each other, crowded each other, and when we got there, they were equal parts fuchsia berries and deep green leaves.
The first morning we were there, Gram handed us bowls and told us to go pick some raspberries off the closest bush. Still in our pyjamas, the three of us scurried down the green incline our Puppa had built the house on and started pulling berries off the bush. Most of them made it into the bowls. We returned with the glass bowls pressed between our hot hands and presented our treasures to our grandmother. She shooed us from her kitchen, but when the table was set for breakfast, there was a big bowl of raspberries between the milk and the Corn Flakes.
We spent every morning picking raspberries. We also spent a few afternoons supplementing snacks with raspberries that we would eat as soon as we picked them. The mercury of childhood alliances meant that the time on the driveway was not always peaceful, but the wildlife enticed us to have spurts of silence as we tried to spot them before they saw us. We would walk around a bend of trees, and there would be whitetail deer standing on the driveway, eating the leaves of the bushes we were enamoured with.
The deer were so tall, we could have walked under their legs and not bristled the fur of their bellies if we could get close enough. Which we never could. When we told Puppa we saw deer he would nod and say, “They like the salt. They come back for the salt.” What I would learn after that summer is that the salt he was referencing were cubes he would feed the deer from his open hand. They never did this while we were there. I imagine the sudden appearance of three little girls, without volume control, was deemed too risky for a few salt cubes by the deer.
The longer we were there, the further we had to walk each morning to collect our breakfast raspberries. After a month, the bushes were bare, and our return flight’s date had arrived.
I still spend every summer trying to eat as many raspberries as I can. Unlike then, I have to resort to going into a store and peeking into plastic packages. I hold the packs up to my nose and inhale. I close my eyes, and I see tall trees, and bushes of fuchsia. I spend longer picking them out, than any other fruit. Which makes me a terrible person to try to shop around while I choose the perfect packs. I will not move. And I do not apologize.
When I bring them home, I lift each soft conical shape, and try to put them on my fingers like little hats. But they don’t fit like they used to. The packing and travel make them too easy to tear. I breathe in their scent. Gravel and dust. Evergreen trees. Deer taller than I am. Sunshine.
I am not botanically-versed, but I can identify a raspberry bush.
Shannon Gillespie is a recent graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta with a degree in Writing and an Art History minor. She is incapable of passing a bookshop without going in, which means her TBR pile has become multiple piles, while the 5 bookcases in her house have begun to bow from the weight of the books they hold. The bibliomania aside, she spends her time spoiling her dog, re-watching specific British cooking shows, and imagining a place where Fall is 75-80% of the year.
You can find her at her website: sgillespiewrites.com and on Twitter and Instagram: @sionnawashere.
My grandfather was born in December 1898.
He died a few days before my mother would have found she was pregnant.
She was 21 and unmarried, so we lived with my grandmother in the tidy two-bedroom house my grandparents built, in 1941. It was a household that had just lost a husband and father to a withering cancer at a time when chemotherapy was referred to as “poison” and thought to cause more harm than good.
It was a house my grandfather still inhabited, not only in the memories of my mother and grandmother but also neighbours, family and friends.
“You have his eyes.” “He would have loved you.” “You look just like him.”
He permeated my childhood. My favourite plaything when I was a toddler was his basement workbench. I played with hammers and screwdrivers, hand drills and saws. I pounded nails into the heavy bench posts, pulled them out, and hammered them in again. I sawed scraps of lumber into smaller and smaller scraps, learning to steady boards with the heavy bench clamp and barking my knuckles nonstop.
My second-favourite space was the semi-finished attic, where his big steamer trunk was stored. I would open it and rummage through the layers of “stuff”; pieces of his youth that had not been lost over the years or donated after he died. Everything from spats to sepia photos to his Canadian Forces medals from The Great War was in there, and I handled them with a reverence I didn’t hold for my own toys.
But most precious, tucked in my Mom’s closet and not in the basement or attic, was his walking stick. My memory is vague, but I think it was his grandfather’s, a proper shillelagh handed down. For a young man who had travelled extensively as a merchant marine and a soldier, then moved to a different country, his keeping this small stick of wood all along the way meant it was important to him, which made it a treasure to me.
His tools were given away when my grandmother sold the house in the 1980s. My Mom has his medals and a few photos in a bookcase – the rest of his trunk is gone. But the walking stick has pride of place in my living room, and is the only non-living thing I would go for if my house was on fire.
It helps me to remember:
- The man I have never seen but whose eyes look out at me from the mirror.
- Who was hit with mustard gas in France serving King and Country.
- Who loved my grandmother and mother so much I could feel it in my own life though he was gone.
- Who kept a walking stick through the changes of his life as memento of his own grandfather.
Thank you, Grandpa.
JB Riley writes and edits technical healthcare proposals for a major US-based corporation, but has loved reading and writing speculative fiction ever since discovering The Chronicles of Narnia at age eight.
She has had stories published in various anthologies and magazines, and – like everyone else – is working on a novel. When not trawling the shelves at the local bookstore, she enjoys travel, hockey, beer and cooking. JB lives in Chicago with her family; which currently includes a 90-pound dog, a new puppy driving the 90-pound dog to distraction, a 15-pound cat, and a 5-pound cat that scares the hell out of everyone.
You can find her oft-neglected blog at JBRiley.com.
I don’t have many souvenirs from that time. The ‘Hawaii Volcanoes National Park’ hat got lost along the way. It was a summer internship, camping out on remote beaches in Hawaii, staying up all night waiting for endangered sea turtles to climb out of the ocean and lay their eggs. I was young and on an adventure.
There are so many memories. The time Steve made us all popcorn and we walked out to the lookout on that crumbling road to watch the sun set over the caldera, the steam rising up like wraiths.
The first time I saw a honu’ea – a hawksbill sea turtle. It was a moonless, cloudless night. I forgot there were so many stars. I could see the dusty glow of the dim stars between the brighter stars. It reminded me of my childhood on the boat, staying up for the night watch with Dad, cuddled up under the blankets together, looking at the stars.
At first, I could only hear it. A rustling in the scrubby seaside plants. I could only see the sea turtle by not looking directly at it. Your night vision is better out of the corner of your eye. It looked like an absence of light. An even darker patch in the dark. It smelled like something that has lived in the sea its whole life.
We found the shells on this little beach along the day hike from our camp one day. They are the sea-tumbled tops of cone-shaped mollusk shells, worn so thin that a hole forms in the centre. They are rare. We found so many. I brought them home, and later bought the tiny sea-foam-coloured glass beads, and made a necklace for myself. It’s not very comfortable. A little too tight, and a bit scratchy. But it is among my most treasured pieces of jewellery.
I don’t have many mementoes from that time. But perhaps memories are seen most clearly out of the corner of the eye. Through scents, snatches of song, or an obscure object that means something only to myself. The sense memory as I run my fingers over the necklace. The feel of the cool, smooth shells, tumbled and polished over time, the rough edges made smooth, until they shine.
Heather lives in Lower Hutt, Aotearoa New Zealand. You can read her blog at thiswildgarden.blogspot.com
Fortune comes to those who least expect it, whenever it’s in the form of money, chance or blind luck. It’s something that crops up when you least expect it, and with a slight growl and a swish of a tail, it pounces on you before you can understand what that opportunity is. You’ll often find yourself completely flabbergasted, not knowing what to do. It’s rare something like this comes about in life, but for myself, a fortunate chance came upon me in the most unexpected way.
During my student days of the Media Arts, a good friend of mine—who’d inherited a large sum of money—wanted me to come visit him for a very special reason. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I complied without questioning what could be so urgent.
When I got to his house the first thing he did was show me some tickets and said, “You’re going with me,” then handed me a ticket. I looked at the paper as if it were foreign, reading the words Wacken Open Air Festival. I didn’t know what to do. No one in my immediate family had gone overseas before, let alone fly in a plane. And I couldn’t afford to do this. It was madness.
However, after much talking and debating with myself, I took his offer and never looked back. The trip was something I won’t forget. Our first stop was at Dubai, then a few days later, we continued to Germany where we spent a day or two in each major city until our main conquest was in sight: Schleswig-Holstein, the home of Wacken Open Air.
Upon arriving at the festival, I saw a huge sea of black sway to the melody of drums and bass blasting at the sky. I’d never seen so many metalheads in one area before, trampling their way to the next gig. And when the main concerts had started, and kept pounding the crowds with their thunderous bass and ear-splitting guitar riffs, I knew this would be the biggest show I’d ever attend.
However, like all good things, they must come to an end. Unbeknown to me, my friend had spent too much money, so when it came to our mid-flight towards Singapore, he had no money in his main account. My friend didn’t know what to do and tried to contact his lawyer to transfer more money, but when I asked him if he wanted a drink, he mentioned he couldn’t afford one. I was making an offer, a gesture of kindness. And when I gave him his preference of a Coke, he thanked me and drowned his sorrow and fear with the syrupy goodness.
After that small mishap, we continued on the flight, not knowing if we’d need extra cash in case anything happened. Yet when we landed, something big did happen. The bullet belt my friend had bought during the festival hadn’t had the gunpowder emptied. In the eyes of Singaporean security, this was a huge violation. But luckily, after three hours of interrogation and wondering what the hell was going on, my friend was let off with the exception that security take his belt. Fortunately for us the rest of the trip had no bumps or mishaps, no troubles or woe.
And now, when I look back and reflect on the experience that happened over a decade ago, while using the wristband as a bookmark, I realise it not only marks my place in a book, but it marks how far I’ve come. It is a reminder that opportunities are scarce, and that money doesn’t always cause happiness. And whenever things are good or bad just remember, the kindness of people can come from small things yet mean so much, even in the form of a small paper strip or a soda can.
Jessey Mills is a horror writer who loves to write about the weird and wonderful things in life, while placing emphasis on a deeper meaning. His first self-published book, Woeful Requiem, is available now and he hopes it is the first of many books. When he’s not writing, Jessey is working as a freelance editor, helping people achieve their dreams.
This chain of embroidered daisies is from the collar of one of my favourite dresses as a teenager. The dress was orange cotton. Mary Quant cut. It was very short. I wore my daisy-decked-out-dress to non-uniform days at my super conventional all-girls’ high school. While other girls wore tight blue jeans and striped tube tops, I dressed in a smock the colour of sunsets. I also liked to think that by wearing daisies, I carried hope at my throat.
Now as a grown-up woman, I reflect on this dress and its defiant act of difference and my flower power rebellion as a key point on my journey of becoming who I am today. She refuses to be boxed and categorised. She likes to be different. Yet she does so with a smile, and I hope, with a kindness in her heart that engenders peaceful conversation about changes to the status quo.
Today I write poems about clothes as talismans against hurt hearts and as celebratory garments. I see fashion as a kind of currency for many women. A way for us to express ourselves and show the world our true colours. While mine was, and often still is, a peachy sunset tone, others wear black or blue, red, white, yellow, pink…
Today, I wear far fewer flowers than I did when I was sixteen and grieving for a self I had yet to discover. Is it possible to grieve for something or someone yet to eventuate? I believe so. As a sad teenager wearing short dresses with flowers that should have made me smile, I instead wore those daisies almost as if they were a funerary offering.
It was adolescent uncertainty on an epic scale. That is, I looked like the kind of woman I wanted to become (bright, hopeful, brave) yet I didn’t feel that way inside yet, and I wasn’t sure how to become her. I thought dressing like all those things I wanted to be would help that woman become a manifest reality. And happily, it has.
She has helped me in her orange dress when things have felt at their absolute worst. While she has certainly been far away from my rock bottom self, her colourful dress remained hard to ignore. She has been my distant point of colour in a sometimes very dark world.
That my Hope has been a previous self, dressed as the woman she wants to grow up to be, feels beautifully poetic. As does the fact that I now make flowers. I sew daisies and I give them to loved ones in the hope they will also brighten up their lives.
Daisies for me are about peace, love, courage and hope. Lovely things in themselves. They are, however, more than flowers. They are personal symbols of a botanically marked journey where I not only make beautiful things but have also crafted for myself a beautiful life.
Stella Peg Carruthers is a Wellington-based writer. She grew up in this small capital city and it serves as constant inspiration for her work. She is currently editing her first novel, a cross-genre narrative about family and the power of stories and words to change our lives. Her second novel, a love story to Wellington is in its planning stages. She works part-time in an academic library and in community work. She has been published both in print and online and her first anthologised essay is due out in 2022.
You can find her online at: https://geographichearts.blog/
There is a subtle solemnity in fallen leaves. Sometimes a strong autumn wind blows so suddenly that the leaves from a tree blow away without saying goodbye. Sometimes the russet tapestry is so overwhelmingly beautiful that when the leaves are crushed underfoot the sound is almost as striking as a breaking bone. Memories swirl within the leaves. And suddenly it is winter, and the realisation is as forceful as a strike to the face – he will never see autumn leaves again.
Crassula ovata’s, or jade plants, flower between late autumn and late winter and thrive in sunny spots in the garden. Jade plants are perennials and are easy to propagate, making them a perfect gift to share with others. My first jade plant was a gift from my dad. He’d given me a cutting, and it grew so large that after several months I referred to it affectionately as my dad tree. And though I have another jade, I could never love it in the same was as I love my dad tree.
My dad has terminal cancer. He’s fifty-three. And a part of me hopes he’ll live on within my dad tree. Dad is a catholic, so I’m sure he’s holding steadfast to the idea of a heavenly afterlife. Before my dad’s diagnosis, I’d always held firm to the belief that the emptiness I felt inside was simply a space reserved for eventual joy, yet sometimes that seems like a ridiculous and outlandish notion. I don’t always understand the grief I feel. Some days it overwhelms me, others it slumbers quietly, yet always there. The thing that frightens me the most is my faith. Though I had my first holy communion as a child, I’m agnostic, and I’m not sure I believe in the afterlife. So, the hopeful part of me longs for a sign that my dad will live on through my jade, for I can’t bear for him to go somewhere I can’t follow.
I understand that death is a natural progression of nature, that just as my jade will someday die, so will I. Yet I long for death to be the expectancy of a life completed, not the untimely hands that will pull my father away from the world. Death should be reserved for wrinkled hands and aching joints, for clouded vision and diminished hearing. Death should not claim a man whose two children are not yet thirty. Death should not claim a soul so full of life. And yet death is like the fallen autumn leaves – once so full of life, now shrivelled, preparing for disintegration.
But I will gather those dead leaves and add them to my compost and use it to fertilise my jade. I will hold fast to the belief that while my father will soon pass, and will never again see the gorgeous autumn leaves, a part of him will live forever within my jade tree. And I will hold tight to the knowledge that the memories of him will grow brighter with each bloom.
Claire Fitzpatrick is a crazy plant lady and award-winning author of non-fiction and speculative fiction, specialising in body horror. ‘The Body Horror Book,’ which she co-wrote and edited, won the 2017 Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism. Her debut collection ‘Metamorphosis’ was released by IFWG Publishing Australia in 2019 to positive acclaim. She’s also an occasional illustrator and has designed the cover for two Breach Magazine issues – Issue 8 and Issue 12. Claire is the 2020 recipient of the Horror Writer’s Association’s Rocky Wood Memorial scholarship fund for her upcoming collaborative non-fiction book ‘A Vindication Of Monsters – essays on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft’. In her ‘real-life’ she’s a horticulturist and sells home-made terrariums on Etsy as Lady Terrarium.
A simple white mug,
Small, espresso sized,
Sits on a bookshelf
Fifteen thousand miles
Away from the barista
Who gifted it
Five springs past.
A simple white mug
Reminder of soulmate love,
Belly laughs, hugs, and family
And a friendship that has lasted across
Fifteen years and fifteen thousand miles
Which disappear when I notice it
And I smile, happy-sad, that a
Simple white mug can hold all of her
In such a small space.
Cyndi Benn-Miller is a poet from Wellington, N.Z. and the author of Capture and Release, a collaborative project with photographer Graeme Knowles.
Most children have a security blankie, don’t they? It can be just about anything, but it becomes the thing which allows them to sleep safe at night, to feel at home, to know that things will be alright.
Mine was a woollen blanket called “Soft Blanket”. I think part of me called it soft so that it would become ever so slightly less scratchy. I had it from when I was very small, I believe it was a blanket my mum put over me in my cot. Once I was walking, I would carry it around, dragging on the floor behind me and generally love it. Couldn’t sleep without it.
When I was four or five years old, my mother must have got sick of watching me drag this blanket around and offered to cut it into two blankets, which I consented to – thinking it might be convenient to have one upstairs and one downstairs. But one the deed was done, I had regrets – Soft Blanket was torn asunder! (And nicely hemmed and returned to me, but that was beside the point.) I couldn’t have one upstairs and one down, Soft Blanket was still one being, and I had to keep it together.
Years passed and I was still sleeping with Soft Blanket, rubbing the rough weave between my fingers, pressing my cheek against the softest bit. I was about twelve or thirteen when I began to feel entirely too grown up for Soft Blanket, I was embarrassed to still have it in bed with me, it seemed so childish, and yet I hated the thought of getting rid of it.
Around this time I also formed an obsession with teddy bears, which one might argue is still childish, but I focused my study on the history of bears, why the first one was made and sold, how they caught the imagination of children worldwide. I didn’t just read about teddy bears though, I began to make them. This obsession lasted until I was almost fifteen, and somewhere in those teddy bear sewing years, I decided to convert my beloved Soft Blanket into a bear.
I was careful about it, I used a pattern that I had used before and knew worked, and I used cut up pieces of Soft Blanket as stuffing in the bears tummy, so that as much of the blanket was retained as possible. Cutting the pattern pieces out of Soft Blanket felt a little like sacrilege and a little like an echo of Mum all those years ago.
The blanket was badly worn through in places, and you can see it on the bear’s chest where I sewed a heart shape to mask one of the worst places, and largely failed. The stuffing never sat right in his face and nose, but overall he’s a big, huggable love of a bear, and a link to my childhood that I don’t think I could ever let go of.
Jamie is a non-binary kiwi who’s always been wondering ‘what if’? They write stories about ghosts, monsters, love and how the world could be. Jamie grew up in Wellington but now lives in Auckland with their wonderful spouse and a round cat.
Editors note: Sarah’s piece uses a number of words in te Reo Māori, and pays homage and respect to the indigenous Polynesian peoples of mainland New Zealand. Sarah is a British immigrant and identifies as Pākehā (white New Zealander).
Before I ever laid a foot in Aotearoa (New Zealand) I received the gift of a pounamu (greenstone) necklace, beautifully carved in the eternity symbol, from my boyfriend who had left England to take up a job in Aotearoa. The year was 1996 and I planned to join him in February 1997, on a one year working holiday visa, six months after he’d left. In the six months we were apart I read all I could about the country I was travelling to, including literature by NZ authors. I was drawn to the country in a way that was perhaps destined.
When I finally arrived, flying into Auckland, I felt a connection. The following flight, from Auckland to Wellington, soaring over endless green country in a sea of blue took my breath away and tugged on my heart. I felt as though a magical bond was tethering me to the land, the sea, the volcanoes coated in snow and rising in magnificence below me.
Before I was even reunited with my boyfriend (and now husband) I knew that my heart was taken by the land of the long white cloud. The greenstone had seemingly transferred the power of the land to my body and I would always love it – no matter where destiny took me. Twice destiny took me away from Aotearoa, back to England in mid-1998 for a year, and later to California for a year in 2013-2014, but both times it brought me back — when at the time I had no certainty that would be the case.
This poem is about the greenstone that keeps my heart connected to Aotearoa, and the lover who first gave it to me, steering my destiny.
The pounamu touched my skin
before I even walked a step
on the land of its origin
A gift from a lover who’d made
the voyage across the oceans.
A gift to connect us
through space and time,
binding our two life paths.
As I tethered the pendant
with its eternal twist
around my neck, I felt comfort.
There was magic in that stone,
seeding my aroha for
When I finally journeyed
to the land of its source
I felt it pull like a magnet.
Circling in a plane above
rich green forests and lakes,
snow capped mountains and rivers
leading to the bluest seas,
I knew with the biggest
certainty of my life
that this country would never
let me leave it, not without
taking a piece of my heart.
My heart became entwined for eternity
to the lover and the land.
Read more from Sarah at her blog, Catching the Magic.
Hagstones are rocks that have naturally occurring holes in them. While they are called many different things around the world, they have long been seen as a focus of folk magic. They are used (amongst other things): as items of protection from black magic; to ward off malevolent spirits; for fertility magic; and for seeing into the secret realm of the Fae … Allegedly.
My two, treasured hagstones come from two different beaches, 12,000 miles apart and from the opposite ends of the Earth. The first, I found on Whitby beach on the North East coast of England while on holiday with my husband and children in May 2015. The second, from Castlepoint beach on the North Island of Aotearoa, New Zealand, in February 2020.
I don’t feel like I am incredibly superstitious, and I don’t even really believe in magic (or at least, not the fictional, Hollywood kind) but I admit my heart always leaps when I find these stones, and I am always filled with great excitement — and maybe a dash of trepidation — when I put them to my eye… Just in case one day I do get to see into the land of the mysterious Fae.
Much more than that, though, these stones link me to my home lands — the home of my birth and my new home in New Zealand. Sometimes I wonder if I look through the Whitby one, will I see the beach I used to run and play on as a child? Will I see the pier that reaches out into the North Sea, and hear the gulls as they swoop across the harbour? Might I be transported through time and space by simply peeking through a tiny hole made by the force of the sea? To a place I have accepted I might never set foot on again in my life?
I know the answer of course — while I might not see it physically, I see it perfectly in my mind. And likewise, when I put the New Zealand hagstone to my eye, I am taken right back to the day I found it — the day after my husband suffered a terrible head injury, although we didn’t realise how bad it was (or would become) at the time. The last “normal” day in my memories — before COVID, before lockdowns, before the whole world changed. And what a beautiful day it was too. Warm sunshine, blue skies, hot chips and relaxation. We climbed the steps to the lighthouse and looked out across the wide Pacific Ocean. It’s easy to forget how things felt exactly, sometimes. You start to wonder if you might be remembering things wrongly. Or maybe they weren’t as wonderful as you believed. The memories are all there, locked away in my head, but somehow the stone makes them stronger. More solid, more real, perhaps?
These are stones that have been shaped by sea. They have a mystery to them, quite apart from the folklore. They do feel magical — powerful in fact — and when I hold them, I feel and embrace that. They are a gift from the ocean, maybe even the Fae themselves? Reminders of good days and happy feelings. Meaningless to most other people, they mean the world to me.