1001 Words: Vis-à-visa

Elephants in Siem Reap

[Update: I’m delighted to say that my story below has just been published in the glossy print May 2017 edition of Wanderlust magazine, so I’m bumping it back up the blog!]

“You have wrong visa!” shouted my new boss down the phone.

Jet-lagged, culture-shocked, and helpless in the heat, this was not what I wanted to hear. I’d come to Cambodia to teach, but I was already questioning a country that had a) no pavements and b) frogs for lunch.

“What do I do?” I asked, chasing an unknown creature under my hotel bed.

My employer sighed.

“Leave country and come back in,” she said, and hung up. Then all the lights went out.

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Microfiction in 300 Words: Peak betrayal

Patagonia

“Is here!” shouts our guide, and we crunch over to where the snowy cliff runs out. Miles below, unheard, a glacial river splashes. The space between the pearl-white peaks is silent. The air is paper thin.

Magnífico,” I whisper. Antonio turns and smiles, but I mean him, and his dark and sparkling eyes. I hand him the water.

Peter-the-Australian is watching the sunlight fade away.

“Where are we gonna stay tonight, then?” snorts Gemma, from behind. “My bloody feet!”

Antonio unlocks a splintery shack. There’s a rich smell of Andean wood, and something like alpaca.

“I can see me breath!” says Peter, shards curling.

“No mirror?” yells Gemma, pulling off her hat. “What about my hair?” and it tumbles loose, like silk.

We spoon up soup as the night turns blue, then black. Antonio uncorks a dusty bottle and four glasses, crystallized with frost.

“Can’t get a signal here,” says Gemma, vexed, but Peter (“You millennials!”) is already dealing out a pack of cards.

“We two,” says Antonio, winking at me, “Against Gemma. And Peter.”

We’re a team. (Tonight? Maybe tonight.)

“That’s not fair!” Gemma’s protesting, glossy-lipped; but an hour later, I take another sip, play my hand – and it all falls apart. Gemma whoops.

“I’m sorry – ” I turn to Antonio, but, “Is only a game,” he replies, knocking back his glass.

In the dark heart of the night, I feel my frozen way outside. The stars are speckled right down to the ground, as if the world has tilted. I listen in, too.

From somewhere in the shack, I hear a giggle.

The dawn’s like ice.

I hand him the water, but “Gemma!” he calls, and walks away. On a far peak, I see the snow come crashing down before I hear it.

© Joanna Rubery 2017

From room to zoom: a snapshot of the camera

Girl with camera

How many photographs will we take in 2017?

Over a million? Not even close. Over a billion? Way more: conservative estimates are that we’ll take 1.2 trillion pictures this year, with our smartphones snapping the vast majority of them. That’s twice as many as four years ago. We are, some believe, drowning in digital imagery, saturated in snapshots, seemingly captivated by an invention whose rapidly evolving nature reflects our own: the camera.

A Camera with a View

Like taxi, camera is one of very few words that’s understood almost everywhere – except in a couple of places, including (rather ironically) the most photographed country on Instagram. If you ever lose your camera in Italy, explaining “Ho perso la mia camera!” might get you some odd looks. The Italian word camera has retained the sense of its Latin predecessor, and means (bed)room or chamber. (Instead, you can say you’ve lost your – take a deep breath – macchina fotografica.).

But how did we make the etymological leap from a room to a photographic device? To find out, we need to zoom out and take a longer look at history.

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The Conversation Garden

Night Trees

[I belong to an online writing group, and each month we write a story with a theme and a word count. This time, we were asked to write about ‘A Conversation with your Spouse’ in exactly 1200 words.]

I knew it instantly. You were there – then half a second later, you were gone.

“Stand back!” shouted the doctor, that antsy one you never liked, and “This way,” said Agnieszka, doe-eyed,“This way, Mrs Johnson,” guiding me out through the swing doors to the empty corridor, as behind us they worked away on you, in vain.

I made a sound. Agnieszka squeezed my shoulder.

“It’s too late,” I told her.

She looked at me with those big brown eyes of hers. Like Bambi, I’d said to you yesterday, when you’d cracked a smile, and said –

“They’re doing everything they can,” soothed Agnieszka.

“But it’s too late,” I explained to her, as gently as I could. “I know he’s gone.”

You’d surprised me, like you always did, before I’d had the chance to tell you one more time what I wanted you to know.

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New Song: Let You Go

Every cloud has a silver lining. I do believe that. In my case, I try and turn that heartbreak into harmony:

© Joanna Rubery 2017

The Beach at the End of the World

Stewart Island Harbour by Day

I had washed ashore on the beach at the end of the world.

That wind-whipped afternoon, the ferry crossing over the dire strait from Invercargill had been, I’d scrawled in my diary, “like the Pirate Ship” – we rose and fell with each wave, the floor splashing with spilled tea. After an hour, I slid down the jetty with a handful of hardy fishermen, spangled with sea salt.

“Welcome to Stewart Island,” said the captain, shaking hands from a fish crate.

In the half-light of Half Moon Bay, I held my breath. The harbour was a glassy grey, scattered with small boats, clinking in the ripples. On the far horizon, the sun was a low glow of unearthly light. I felt, as I always do, the tingle of the unknown.

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