Earlier this year I received the news that an old friend of mine had passed away. He’d gone at New Years—unable to bear, I guess, the symbolic turn into yet another year, yet another cycle. I spent two months not feeling this, keeping it tight under my skin; not realising how the grief was itching at me. Then, in mid-March, the sore broke open. Crying on the side of the road while waiting for take-away braised eggplant and pickled fish soup, I told my husband about Glyn and the persistent pain of not having been there, not having done something.

Glyn and I both understood the itch: the recurrent and conflicting desires for more, for less, for change, for nothing ever to change. The itch to draw a blanket over the mind like a tired child. The itch that there was something in us that would never be quite right. And, overwhelmingly, the itch to learn and see more than we had time for, despite it all.

The works that we commissioned and received for this issue reflected the itch at varying levels of persistence, of impact, and of scale. They recognised the mental itch as well as the physical, and the ways we measure our lives against the things we expect to happen, the things that actually happen, and the things that never do.

Joanna Du’s tense and surreal cover illustration is almost overwhelming in its multipronged depictions of itching and itch creation—it’s a cover you can feel, with phantom strands of cut hair pricking at your neck.

Kristian Radford leads us into the issue with his ‘Evening Anecdote’, a short poem of ennui that had our editors cringing with recognition of all the readings we said we would go to, because that’s just what you do.

We were just as affected by Joshua Santospirito’s ‘Wallaby’ when we received it, but for different reasons—this comic is not just beautifully created, it’s also a reflective piece of non-fiction that reminds us of the importance of non-human stories.

Andrew Menken’s poetry suite ‘Filaments and Firmaments’ makes my skin tingle when I read it, and I ride along willingly on these poems of travel, listlessness, and expectations, where ‘there’s a solid chance I’m also stuck / on a huge hellish treadmill.’

With the elegant and the untethered merging in Joanna Du’s accompanying illustration, Sophie Tegan Gardiner leads us into a fiction piece that shows how life can be a series of non-occurrences: ‘instead of this being like something where something actually happens, maybe it is one of those things where it could and then it just doesn’t in the end. No punchline.’

The ‘Heels’ in Lucy Dougan’s poem dig into family loss, and the ‘good natural gritty pain’ that we don’t have to run from when rearranging ourselves around death (note to self).

Grace Tong approaches the theme directly and indirectly with both bodily and internal explorations of self-confidence, attachment, and our own ‘grossness’.

In ‘Itchius Spellius’, Mitch Hearn takes the delightful approach of a tabletop RPG spell to deliver not just itch bombs but the critical hit line of ‘Sometimes, the easy way doesn’t work. And you must confront the thing. Head on.’

Jade Peters gives us our last fiction piece for the issue: a skilful and earnest rendering of childhood pain and resilience, which knocked our selection team flat.

And, as one final scratch of the ITCH, Josie Suzanne catwalks through the ‘same bending of / light through leaves/what is leaving’ in a farewell to frost, to light, to the past.

This issue is dedicated, as far as I have the authority to do so, to the memory of Glyn Salton-Cox, and to the unutterable resilience and effort that comes before such a loss. It asks that you offer to help with those hard-to-reach itches, that you recognise when ‘the easy way doesn’t work’ (Hearn), and that, in the end, you try your best to ‘stand up bare and tall / in front of all those names’ (Dougan). To presage Josie Suzanne’s final lines of this issue: ‘good- / bye, take care of your doll, remember—travel / light’.

Claire Albrecht