'Think of an Australian writer and chances are that at some time or another they’ve had short fiction published in Meanjin.
'For the first time a treasure trove of this writing leaps from the pages of Meanjin into a book of fine fiction.
'You’ll read Tim Winton, David Malouf and recent work by Jennifer Mills. In between you’ll find John Kinsella, Eliot Perlman, Elizabeth Jolley, Nicholas Jose, Bruce Pascoe, Melissa Lucashenko, A.S. Patric and many more. ' (Publication summary)
'Just before I turned forty, my mother, who was the only other member of my family still alive, died from a stroke. She left me a small amount of money, enough for a deposit on a semi in a suburb that was not too far from the city, a place where the streets were hilly and treeless, and the houses that hadn’t been knocked down to build huge brick villas remained unrenovated.' (Introduction)
'For ten years Malka had not been able to mix with Jews. For ten years, even to walk along Acland Street, past the Scheherezade Restaurant, past the Benedykt Brothers Delicatessen, caused Malka anxiety.' (Introduction)
'DAY ONE : The Tulips
They enter the room and its silence enters them. The predictable motel furniture is unnaturally and watchfully still. This is one of several honeymoon suites in the long west wing that faces the sea. There are two plastic-sealed slices of dark fruit cake on a tray with a half-bottle of champagne. She goes across to the vase of tulips courtesy of the management and touches one flower so that it shivers on its stalk. He closes the door and puts the cases down. It is as if the wedding, its dinner, speeches, dancing and drinking, tears and hugs and bad but sweetly affectionate jokes have all sunk into a cold black sea. The two of them might be a couple married for more than half a century and now close at last to the end of it all.' (Introduction)
'His father had an unmistakable preference for his sister ... when he was still very small... his sister had seduced him into sexual practices ... As a child she was boyish and unmanageable, but she then entered upon a brilliant intellectual development. . . In her early twenties . . . she poisoned herself [by drinking mercury] and died far away from home.'
'Anna heard him snuffling. She knew he was standing by the foot of the bed. The walls drew in close. Sergei was asleep in his cot by the open window. This was the moment when the day gave itself up to the night.' (Introduction)
'February was hot. Old ladies expired by the dozen in Adelaide flats. All the fire warning signs were wrenched into the red zone but heading south-west out of Sydney the air was salty with illicit barbecue. The man at the Kilmore Caltex joked that I was driving into an inferno but I was only inner weather then and thought I knew hell better—though really worse—than Dante.' (Introduction)
'My sister was up on the tables, dancing, when I arrived on New Year's Eve. Hours later, when I was ready to dance on the tables, she was off in a corner, weeping.
'This was the pattern.
''I've so many young friends now,' she had insisted on the phone the week before. 'So many . . . caring friends. They've given me so much support. Please come. You must meet them.'
''Well . . .'
'Everybody said she did it because Lloyd said no when she asked for lunch money. That’s partly true. Tess asked him just before he went to the pub. I heard her. She said, ‘What about lunch money for tomorrow?’ What the people in the town didn’t mention, though, was everything else, and they didn’t mention everything else because they would have suspected something all along, but did nothing.' (Introduction)
'Direct action. You don't want to hear it. You want to make another pot of tea, and wait for the re-run of Star trek: The next generation to come on. Direct action means arguing with punters on the street who try to pull your placards off you, and dancing round the missile base so that the cops can laugh themselves sick before they move in on you. Its something you admire hearing about second-hand, shaking your head at someone else's bruises. It's not something you feel like doing, on a cold winter's night after dinner. Except that you can't stop thinking that right now, after dinner or not, and all through tonight, and tomorrow, twenty-four hours a day, in fact, seven days a week, Barron Papermills, just up the road, are glugging industrial effluent straight into the river.' (introduction)
'The Shady Tree. The Tree at the Centre of Town. The Big Fig Tree. The Lovers’ Tree. It had a bunch of names, with different age groups favouring different names. It was an old tree, at least sixty years, and long ago seats had been set up under its massive twisting limbs for a quiet and cool moment in this hot, inland wheatbelt town. Even when the fruits came and fell and stained all around, people sat there. At night ‘the boys’ drank and smoked, sometimes ‘pashed on’ with their girls. During the day the town ‘characters’ would sit, watching all that went by, and waiting for acknowledgement and greeting. Ol’ Bill had right of way—for a good fifty of the sixty years, he’d spent at least an hour every day on one of the seats. The tree was cherished, and was even photographed as part of the authentic heritage look of the town.' (Introduction)
'The best thing that's happened to me lately is how I'm startin ta feel sorry for whitefellas. You probably think that's pretty funny, eh. Seeing as I'm the one what's locked up, and youse ". well. I dunno where youse are. School. maybe. Home. Whatever. Not jail, that's for sure. They don't call it jail. They call it juvenile detention. but you believe that ya wanna look at that window la. See that steel mesh welded on? Try opening that window on a hot arvo in January. Its jail, orright.' (Introduction)
'There is a point in the northern part of the state, or rather, a line that runs waveringly across it, where the vegetation changes within minutes. A cataclysmic second a million or more years back has pushed two disparate land masses violently together, the one open savannah country with rocky outcrops and forests of blue-grey feathery gums, the other sub-tropical scrub. You arrive at the crest of a ridge and a whole new landscape swings into view. Hoop pines and bunya command the skyline. There are palm-trees, banana plantations. Leisurely broad rivers that seem always in flood go rolling seaward between stands of plumed and scented cane. It is as if you had dozed off at the wheel a moment and woken a whole day further on.' (Introduction)
'So the text message came at lunchtime and I went to the hole in the wall and got out cash. You don't know it's happening until the day. A text message arrives on your phone, giving you the location and the hour. They don't take credit cards yet but they're so organised I wouldn't be surprised to see one of them whip out a machine sometime soon. Thirty bucks to get in, minimum bet is twenty. There are blokes who lose a thousand a night. I take along a hundred bucks or so. I win, I lose, it's no big deal...' (Introduction)
'It’s been three years since Roxanne had sex. For the first six months, it had been funny. Sitting with Rita and Linda in cafés on Brunswick Street, in the city, in Collingwood, she’d thrown her arms up in the air and said things like ‘Six months, I mean, what the fuck is that, right?’ And they’d all laughed, as if there was something exciting and even naughty about not having sex in six whole months. By that August, she was shocked to realise that she’d been making the ‘six months’ joke for a whole year. ‘Twelve months’ just didn’t have the same sound as ‘six months’. At the end of eighteen months, she stopped talking about it altogether. When the topic of sex came up, as it invariably did, she sidestepped, laughed, said ‘not as frequently as I’d like’ or something equally inane, and moved the conversation away from herself.' (Introduction)
'Did you ever see him? Oh, yes, dozens of times, me and the others . . . well, not see him, but we knew he was there. I’d never go over that mountain at night. Still won’t. Rather stay at the bottom, in someone’s house. Go on next morning. Sometimes used to stay with them . . . Mac something . . .' (Introduction)
'From the black, freefalling nothingness the voice emerges with an absolute American calm. That television-friendly NASA cadence of confidence: everything is A-OK. The pilot speaks soothingly about the turbulence. The muttered ‘motherfucker’ at the end of the transmission makes Keith blink, although it doesn’t destroy his confidence. The lights flicker back to life as the plane continues to vibrate. He isn’t feeling any fear. If anything, he’s bored. Julia can go on and on when the subject is her soul. She believes in the sacred spaces of her inner life, and within the confines of their airplane seats there’s no escape. ‘The best thing about this dream is that it was weird in that great way, where you’re almost thinking while you’re asleep, this is so cool it’s like a film by Buñuel.’ (Introduction)
'If I roll over I can see the shore where the old quarantine station still stands. Once, men dragged whales up that granite shore and cut them up and boiled them and left their skeletons to rot in the shallows. I speared fish here as a boy.' (Introduction)
'So I’m lying in the darkness staring into space, listening to the crickets outside and trucks passing on the highway and Julia breathing beside me when—bam—it comes to me what I got to do. Fuck this, I think. I’m leaving. She breathes like a child. Frankly, I hate her ability to sleep through anything, even what we’re going through today. The woman is like a corpse after dark. It isn’t just the breathing, of course. It’s a bunch of things, wearing me down like water dripping on a rock. But the breathing always gets to me.' (Introduction)