Dotted Line Dotted Line

Fiction Summer 2022    poetry    all issues

Cover of Fiction Summer 2022


Emily Rinkema
You've Got to be Vigilant, Wes

Kent S. Nelson
Where's Far Away?

Belly Up

Ronita Sinha
The Days of Phirianna

Camille Louise Goering
The Taste of Sand

David Simpson

K. Ralph Bray
Heart With No Companion

Joanna Galbraith
July 13, 1995

Natalie Shaw Evjen
Cost-Benefit Analysis

William French

Joanna Galbraith

JULY 13, 1995


I can feel my left eye beginning to twitch—the tap-tap of a butterfly about to take wing. I wonder if anyone else in the university hall has noticed. Probably not. They all have butterflies of their own to attend to.

My butterfly is cobalt blue. Or is it lapis? I can never tell the difference. But I remember the way they used to bluff in the July heat. Tumbling down the hillside beside Deda’s cottage—little blue enchantments amongst all the green.

“Boy,” Grandpa used to say, rolling a black cherry between his teeth. “See how they work? Early to bed, I bet. Early to rise, too.”

I only ever twitch when I am sleep-deprived, and I am only ever sleep-deprived on examination days. It’s not just my eyes either. It’s my entire body as well. Buzzing, a thousand cicadas. Like my pulse has begun colonising on the outside of my skin.

“Boy. You should have slept last night.”

“I couldn’t, Deda,” I whisper. “I had to be sure I’d learned everything.”


I can’t remember the last time I slept! I mean really slept. Like one of those cartoon characters with the trail of unbroken Zs.

Or how it feels to be so clean your feet squeak across the tiles.

Or to have eaten minced beef until your guts begin to ache, and you stagger through the wheat fields releasing all that wind while everyone else is laughing, even the crescent moon.

The compound we are sheltering in smells exactly how I feel—like too many other people who can’t remember these things either. Outside we hear exploding shells and the crack of approaching gunfire. Sometimes it sounds far away, and I tuck my heart back inside my chest. Other times we feel the earth break and we know they are coming.

I feel myself flinching every time someone fidgets. How can this be? I am a young man. I’m not supposed to be afraid and yet here I am sweating on this cold, factory floor.

If only I could sleep.

“Early to bed. Early to rise.”

I wonder where Deda is. Somewhere in the woods. He always liked it best out there. I should be with him, not here beside my mother and in her jealous curve, my sister, Merjem. I watch them slumped together. We are lucky to have purchased wall.

They aren’t awake,

I don’t think.

But they can’t be asleep, either.

Not with father dead, throat slit like a gormless goat.

I am the man of the house now,

except we have no home.


A woman in a too tight blouse, blue—paler than my butterfly—has announced to the hall that the examination has commenced.

LA403—Intellectual Property

The study of incorporeal rights:

things you cannot touch, let alone truly feel.

I skim through the questions. I only need to answer three. My left eye is still fluttering, the butterfly will not rest. Finally, a triumphant exhale. I can answer all of them. I even predicted one. Can I scrawl underneath it—I predicted this!

The cicadas are beginning to settle. The butterfly has fallen asleep. I try not to think of that too tight, blue blouse.


A woman is circulating amongst us working as a translator. She has a clipboard and a shattered biro. She is taking down the names of the people who have disappeared. The list is getting longer every hour that we are here. I don’t want to add to her list, though. Father is dead. Deda is in the woods. I want something different. That biro will do. It feels like a surrender to have nothing in my hands.

Nearby I see a blue helmet bluffing over a field of motley headscarves. Is it cyan or capri? I can never tell the difference. Now it has stopped and is shouting at three crouching lads: “You, you, and you.” The field of scarves begin undulating, pulling their sons to-and-fro until finally, brutally, the boys are wrenched away—what a callous way to weed! The blue helmet doesn’t seem to care. It just starts bobbing like a happy cork through the field again.

I’m not sure that shade of blue does any good anymore.


There is a sharp crack in the room, like a pistol being shot. Or a snapped branch when walking by The Drina in the deadest frost. A student three seats left of me has broken his pencil clean in two.

Why does he even have one?

We were asked to bring only pens.

I want to lean over and whisper in his ear: “I am with you, brother.” But there is nothing about the two of us that relates us in any way. He’s got a head full of casual, blonde hair which waves as he writes and broad, upbeat shoulders—the type that comes from being told you are always right. My hair is black. It sits tight on my head. I don’t speak with an accent, but both my parents do. I have a blue butterfly. He has only pencils.

Our bond is this exam—not quite a brotherhood.


Merjem is prodding my left shoulder—tap-tap. I don’t feel it at first. I have stopped feeling anything. It is better that way.

She wants to go outside. I shake my head. When people go outside, they don’t tend to return or if they do it is only their body. Something about them has been taken. I can’t say exactly what.

“Go here,” I whisper. “It’s summer. You will dry.”

I catch a glimpse of a U.N. soldier who has been stripped to his underwear. His blonde hair lies aghast. He has lost his blue helmet. Another man has it now. I know he isn’t one of us, but he has been stripped all the same. Our fates seem entwined, but they can’t really be, I don’t think.

We are bonded by the captors—not quite a brotherhood.


The examination hall is silent but for the desperate scratching of three hundred earnest biros. I glance up to the clock hanging at the front. She is handing out time as only she sees fit. Her face is wilted mint if that is even a shade. Not luminescent like the evergreens in the woodlands near the Pliva Lakes.

Two questions down, one more to go, although I am half expecting to find another one, hidden, just for me. Asking—no demanding—how it is exactly that I am even here, surrounded by students whose families graduate ad nauseum cum laude. I sound bitter but I am not. Believe me when I say, I am as surprised as the rest of them.

My dad is painfully proud although he can’t express it in English. “Very good” he says, a clap on my back—skin flushed like raw salmon.

It is hard to imagine how it must be for him, speaking in a language that he cannot feel. Gazing on a land that holds no memories. He says the old land is finished. Brisbane is his home now. But sometimes as he sits out on the porch, watching the mechanical slug of traffic wending past his house, sipping on tea, two cigarettes on the go, I see him looking someplace else. Beyond the neon lights that shout ‘Sexy Time’, the advertising billboards, the concrete overpasses, the buildings made from glass, and I know he is searching for the fields of ancient pines. And I know all he can hear is the chop-chop of crystal water over tufa limestone, and the sound of children giggling as they chew on ripened cucumbers.

I glance hurriedly up at the clock, spitting out tick tocks. They seem to be getting faster.


The wailing is getting louder now and somewhere, verging upon us, we hear screams as well. These drab factory walls feel like a prison, and I find myself becoming agitated by all the colours they are constraining.

I should have gone to the woods with Deda. We could have whittled weapons from the branches—come back and rescued everyone. Here I can do nothing, not even for myself.

Merjem is nuzzling into my arm. “I’m glad you are here, brother” she whispers. “Not out in the spooky woods.” I want to laugh (with some bitterness) at her use of the word ‘spooky.’ This is by far the spookiest place I have ever seen. But she is only a child. She doesn’t need to hear that from me—she can hear it from all the others—so instead I begin talking about the forest near Deda’s cottage and the creatures that are hiding in it, and somewhere between the goblins and the nymphs with thunder eyes, we enter a game of make-believe. And we begin to smell the scented pines, feel the long tips of feathered grass, hear the trickling flow of the ancient water mills as they play catch and throw with bewildered fish.

I know it is too late now for me to go to the woods and yet, somehow, we have managed to escape to them anyway. I keep drilling forest images into Merjem’s nuzzling head. Better she remembers that than the scent and broken darkness of this unholy place.


I have saved the easiest question until last. It is based on a court case about a lemon juice company, but the examiner has changed the product into oranges instead. If I ever write exam papers, I will be cleverer than that.

Even when I am done writing about oranges, I won’t leave the exam. Not until the clock spits out pens down. The pencil-snapper has already gone, only his severed pencils remain. I never leave an exam early, even when I am done.

You never know how it will all turn out.

How it all might finish.


I think I may have fallen asleep because when I open my eyes I am in Deda’s cottage, sitting on a wooden chair, my feet twisted around its painted legs. In front of me is a white-haired Stravarka, and in her creased hand is a bowl of water which she is holding over my head while pouring lead onto a spoon. I don’t know how I know she is doing this since I am sitting underneath the bowl,

but I do.

Now I can hear her chanting but then I realise it isn’t her. My eyes startle open, and I see the men in blue helmets have begun taking down names. It is clear by the way they are wearing them, lopsided and unfastened, that their heads were not originally chosen for these hats.

“Don’t tell them anything,” I hear a woman whisper nearby. “They’re only pretending to be who they say they are.”

I nod. My breath shallows.

I don’t even know who I am, anymore.


The winter sun is squinting down on me as I leave the university hall. It isn’t cold. Not like the brittle funnel of wind that blows down from Trebević mountain, but I still feel a chill underneath my knitted threads.

“Coming to the party, Adam?” a girl asks. (No one ever gets my name right.) Her name is Sally. (I always get names right.) Our acquaintance is only peripheral—attending the same lectures, occasionally checking the same Statute book. This is the first time I am being invited into her circle. Just as the circle is about to dissolve.

I can see my dad waiting in his beat up holden out front. He is beaming through the wound-up window. Cigarette between his lips; an Olympic ring of smoke circling his head. He wants to take me out to lunch.

“Can’t we celebrate tomorrow?”

“Your mother will be disappointed. You know how sad she gets.”

“There’s a party.”

“It won’t be the same.”

I am not sure if he means the party or tomorrow. But I know tomorrow will come and my mother will still be sad, and I will still be the same.

My father notices Sally waving me over. Her wheat-flecked hair bobbing in the pale sun. He grins.

“OK, son. I explain your mother.”

I can see he is proud of me. Perhaps now, even more.


We are being told to stand up. Everyone is moving forward, oozing like a blood stain across the concrete floor. There are buses, they say. To rescue us, they say.

Somehow, miraculously, I am still with Merjem and my mother, but I have seen them taking all the men away. I keep staring straight ahead. Perhaps if I cannot see them, they cannot see me in return. But then the oozing halts and there is a forced grip on my arm yanking me to the side. It won’t let me go so I know that I will have to. I watch Merjem looking back at me as the stain carries her away. She has thunder in her eyes, she is screaming out my name.

“Go,” I call out after her. “I’ll find you later on.”


The after-party is being thrown in a marquee rented by the Student Committee. I never liked the Committee, striding down the Law School corridors in their chambray shirts and pressed trousers. Dressed up like wannabee lawyers instead of plebbing it with the student crowd. But today I like them, even their pretentious ties, because being here is better than watching my mother cry.

The Committee have decorated the marquee with celebratory banners, mushroom heaters, and tables bent from booze. Not much for me here, then. The pencil-snapper is standing near me peeling open a beer.


Stealth is not his game.

“Hey,” he says. “You sat near me in the exam.”

“Yes, I heard your pencil.”

He doesn’t seem embarrassed. Like the pencil had it coming.

“Wasn’t so bad though?” I reply. The pencil-snapper just stares at me. Perhaps I sound too confident for a boy with tight, black hair.

He slaps me on the back. “Yeah. Well, I hope I pass. My dad will murder me if I have to repeat it all again.”

He saunters off into the crowds, another pencil stashed in his back pocket. I start looking around for Sally. She is huddling around a heater, waving me over.

“At last,” I whisper to my blue butterfly. “I shall finally belong.”


The wheat field sprawled out in front of me I have known my entire life. I don’t know this particular crop, but I know the earth from which it has sprung. I know the perimeter of pines around it, and I know the sky above. I can see little blue butterflies dancing along its rim.

Not everyone is as well-acquainted with the place where they will end.

The soil in front of me has been freshly turned, but the tractor engine has gone quiet. They are trying to make us kneel, digging their guns into the backs of our skinny legs. I lock mine tight. I won’t beg for my bullet. They’ll have to give it to me straight.

There is no escape for me now and the fear feels like an ice stream being injected into my veins. I keep staring at the wheat field as the boys begin to fall. I imagine myself running with my cousin, Adem, from all those years ago. Laughing, spitting out wheat heads, until suddenly he begins to cry.

“Why are you crying?” I ask him.

“I don’t want to leave.”

“But you get to fly in a big plane. I wish I could be that lucky.”

“No,” he replies. “You are the lucky one, Hasan. You get to stay exactly where you belong.”

I feel my knees begin to loosen.

I shall stay where I belong.

Joanna Galbraith grew up in Brisbane, Australia, where she studied Arts/Law at the University of Queensland. She currently lives in Tuscany, Italy, where she teaches English while simultaneously butchering the beautiful Italian language one phrase at a time. Her work has appeared in journals, magazines and podcasts including the highly acclaimed Clockwork Phoenix series. She is an avid traveller and always runs her work past the editorial eye of her cat, Pirate.

Dotted Line