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And no one's really sure who's lettin' go today
It’s Wednesday morning and I should be in third period calculus not parked up at the beach listening to the mix tape that Dan made for me; November Rain, in November, in the rain, with the music up so loud that I am neck deep in the melancholy of that long guitar solo.
Dan’s not here, just me, and the fat drops of rain sliding down the windscreen of the white ute I drove here in. It’s old and unreliable, smells like you’d imagine an ex-farm vehicle would. Dust and hay and cow shit. The tray on the back can carry us all, lying flat so the cops or our parents won’t see us driving to the beach, the river, anywhere that is away.
The beach is closest. Past the turn off to the main car park and down Rotten Row with its scatter of lean-to baches; empty windows until the holiday season rolls back round again. Past the domain where the street curves to an end, there’s a clearing big enough for a few cars. If you stand on the back of the ute you can see over the dunes and sea grass to the river mouth. Its shingled teeth empty into the estuary, wet mud bubbled with crab’s breath, thick enough to steal your jandals at low tide.
Last time Dan and I were here, it was October. The sun toasted our skin pink. We shared the headphones from his Walkman - GnR again or Pearl Jam. Dan told me about his mum and the time she took her dog for a walk down this way. It was a city dog with soft grey curls and short legs. It chased a seagull, got stuck way out in the middle of the estuary, all four legs deep in the muck. The tide was coming in, a slow creep over the mudflats. His mum panicked and instead of wading out there and, pulling the dog by its collar until it popped out, she shouted for help and when no one came she ran for her car. She drove back home, found his dad and drove back again. By that time the water was high and she wasn’t even sure where the dog had been. Dan told me that she still can’t talk about it without crying.
The song ends. I get out of the ute, climb up on top of the cab and stand there in the rain, look out over the stretch of mud, same as Dan and I did that last time when he held my hand and sang those words at me like he’d never let go.
Rachel Smith writes prose and poetry in Aotearoa New Zealand. She has been widely published in journals and anthologies including Landfall, Best Small Fictions 2020 and Best Microfiction 2019. She was a recipient of the NZSA Complete MS Manuscript assessment in 2021 and her book reviews have appeared in takahē and Landfall Online Review. She is an editor at Flash Frontier.