Spiderwebs

I watch a spider spin beneath the veranda eaves. With care, it weaves the foundation from which its web will spread. Unfazed by the dust that swirls around us and stains everything red, the spider continues. Two years ago, I swore I’d never return to this town at the arse-end-of-nowhere. Now, the dry wind blows that distant vow back in my face. I’m sitting on the veranda in the same rickety rocking chair where my mum nursed me. The woman has gone. The chair remains.

Strand upon strand, the spider’s web grows while I wait. So many layers that even if you manage to slip through one, you’re still trapped fast. I wonder if the spider considers its prey, or the turmoil it leaves behind.

The web covers the entire corner of the veranda in silver now, and the spider has retreated from sight. In my pocket I can feel my sister’s letter crumpled and balled. There’s no need to reread, I know each word from the long bus ride here.

A dragonfly hovers. First near my knee, then higher. Wings drone like radio static as it investigates the web in the eaves. The late afternoon sun makes rainbows dance along its wings, and then it is caught. The web shakes with its struggles, but the spider has cast its net well. With each desperate lurch the dragonfly becomes further trapped, loses a little more fight. Soon, the rainbow disappears and the dragonfly surrenders to its fate. The spider appears and I watch it creep forward, certain that no one will intervene.

Out on the red dirt road, a rusty pickup slows. It pulls into the drive, and I can hear the tappets screaming for oil. My sister’s ginger hair fills the cab, visible even through the scum smearing the windscreen. I drag my knife from its sheath. It isn’t until they reach the veranda that my stepdad finally sees me. He drops my sister’s hand.

Ryan Stone

First published at Flash Fiction Magazine , December 2019

A Capacity for Violence

My shot missed. Dust rose in a miniature mushroom cloud.

Donny drew back his slingshot and held a rock steady. The chicken stood still. Donny released. His rock struck the chook’s head and sent it scrabbling into the red dirt of my yard.

I watched as it rose and tried to escape, hoping it would make it. But the piece of rusted fencing wire Donny had wound round its leg and secured to a star picket stopped it from getting far. Sweltering in the afternoon heat, I wiped my hand across my forehead. Sweat and dust to ran into my eyes. I blinked it away and loaded my slingshot. I missed again.

“You’re fuckin’ useless,” Donny said.

A metal bar lay on the ground nearby, left over from the shed Dad had started to build. Another project that got too hard for him and remained unfinished. The shed leaned to one side and barely stayed upright when the winds howled.

I picked up the bar and advanced on the chook. “I’m not useless,” I said, and swung hard. The chook somersaulted through the air, then sprawled on the ground. Still twisted in wire, its leg pointed like a finger of accusation. I wiped my eyes, then raised the bar for another blow.

“Stop,” my mother said, emerging from behind the half-finished shed. She didn’t yell—she rarely did—but her presence was enough to make me lower the bar, and my eyes.

“Go home, Donny.”

Mother walked to the chicken, still flopping around on the end of the wire. With a quick motion of her hands—a pull and jerk—she ended its suffering. She turned and looked me in the eyes. “Untie it. Bring it into the shed.” Without another word, she walked away.

I entered the shed with the limp, bloody bird, and lay it on the bench my mother indicated.

“Sit down.”

I didn’t look at her.

“I said sit.”

“I can’t.”

She tilted her head to the side. “Turn around.”

I did as she asked.

“Now drop your strides.”

Face burning, I complied, knowing my bare arse was crisscrossed with red welts the same width as Dad’s belt. She placed her hands on my shoulders and turned me back around to face her.

“Please don’t tell Dad about the chook.”

“The true measure of a man isn’t his capacity for violence, but his ability to contain it. Do you understand?”

I nodded.

She handed me a hatchet.

“Cut off its head and pluck it. Then bring it in for dinner.”

Ryan Stone

Runner up Grindstone Literary Flash Fiction 1000, June 2018

Published at Flash Boulevard, September 2019

The Walk

I wake a full hour early
for the rare gift
of a walk in the woods
with my father.

He is a silent giant
among misty ghost gums.
I tell him, Watch!
See how fast I can run.

He doesn’t yell when I trip
and fall, but lifts me
with unfamiliar,
calloused hands.

At the end of the trail
I study my grazes—jagged
and bloody. He tells me
he’s leaving my mum.

On the walk home
I gaze at the gum trees
and fragmented clouds, thinking
they should look different somehow.

Ryan Stone

first published at Poetry Nook, 1st place Week 185

Unburied Hatchet

Until I saw those wasted hands,
brittle as chalk, I hadn’t thought
how fast the years make ghosts.

I heard them once called brawler’s paws.
For me, they were always more:
cobras, poised to strike.

But his brawling days are gone now;
I could kill him with a pillow,
if I cared enough to try.

Thin sheets press tightly to a bed
more empty than full, his body broken
like the promises of childhood.

Haunted eyes betray last thoughts
of a dim path, spiralling down.
He hopes to make amends.

“Forgiven?” he croaks,
barely there, as always,
and I’m wishing that I wasn’t.

With the last rays of day as witness,
I turn my back with purpose
and hear the silence roar.

In a late-night bar I catch my reflection
swimming in a glass of bourbon;
but I’m staring at a ghost.

Ryan Stone

Click here for audio

First published in Writers’ Forum Magazine issue 163, April 2015 – first place

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Muted

Clock hands circle lethargically. Heels
clack, a distant speaker hisses –
muted, surreal.

I shift on a green vinyl chair, eyes
trace an arc from clock to window.
Outside, a succubus sun
kisses children at play.

At my father’s bedside, both of us
wish I wasn’t. I despise myself
for watching the minutes, and him

for teaching me to. Broken
conversations keep awkward vigil
for something long dead.

Ryan Stone

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Self-portrait

And these are my failings:
a wild smile always leads my mind
to the kiss hiding behind it
and sometimes to plot
the shortest route there.

Did I say sometimes? I lie a bit, too.
And I tend to zone out to small-talk
like there aren’t already
enough idle words in the world.
I often wonder – where do they go,
those wasted words once they’re spoken?

And I can’t warm to people,
despite how I try.
I’m lying again – I don’t try at all.
I’d much rather hide
with The Boss or Miss Del Rey,
alone in the dark
drinking vodka;

ignoring that night
in my fourteenth year
when my father got drunk,
made me drive his ute home –
the soft bump and loud bark,
the crimson accusation,
coagulating on his tyre
next morning.

– Ryan Stone

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Written for National Poetry Month 2016 @ The Music In It – Failures

First published in Poppy Road Review, May 2016.

Stillborn published in Red River Review

I’m so happy to see my poem, Stillborn, published alongside some truly excellent writing in the August edition of Red River Review.

Please have a look if you have some time, there is some really great poetry this month. Click on the August 2017 link at the top of the page – Red River Review

Friday afternoon has just rolled in to Melbourne, Australia – I wish you all a wonderful weekend when it makes it to your individual part of the world.

RS

Breaking Point

Pa, I see you in your shed–
unaware of dusk settling
over your garden, painting
your pink crabapple blossoms
grey. I see you bend, to squint
at some small imperfection
marring the wooden soldier
you’ve spent the whole day carving,
hands slow-dancing to a tune
no-one else can hear. Later
Ma will shake her head, dismiss
your need for perfect contours
and seamless joins as foolish,
not understanding a man,
a soldier or a husband
is only ever as strong
as his weakest part.

Ryan Stone