Letter to my boy

A boy needs his mum, in good times and in bad. Even when you don’t think you should

They say, no man is an island, but he can certainly be a turtle. Head tucked in, solid defensive shell a guard against the world.

In times of stress you don’t need to be alone, to pretend that all is grand. When things are tough, look to home.

No matter what your age, we’re on the same page. Zero to 100, we’ll be with you if you let us. Push us away and you’ve missed a beat.

I need to be strong can make you seem weak. Because, no man is an island. And your family knows that.

Even when you’re grown. No longer at home. Reluctant to moan.

If you feel alone, perhaps you are. You choose to be.

If you can’t see the light, come back to the heart.

Mum might seem gruff, inclined to be intense. But when things are tough, she’s your strong defence.

No. Man. Is. An. Island.

An oldie but a goodie. These clichés stand the test, when you aren’t at your best. When you need safe harbour. Someone on your side. When you need a team to conquer all – don’t let pride divide.

You weaken your position, when support is diluted. When you hesitate to ask – for help.

We know you’re an adult, only want to share success.

Let us in and back to back, we’ll find your best self.

Together.

No man is an island, my son.

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The Thief

‘Right, folks,’ calls our driver. ‘One hour. Grab a bite, hit the shops or queue for the loo. Take yer pick.’

I snort at that last one. No doubt another one-toilet town, for too many anxious women.

‘I thought we were stopping at the roadhouse,’ I say.

“Yeah, we usually do. I don’t know why I chose here. Impulse, I guess,’ says the Irish Bus Driver.

‘Shopping any good?’ calls someone from within.

‘Alright,’ he says. ‘Depends what you’re looking for.’

‘Ooh, darling. An antiques shop,’ coos Bertha, from behind me. I look up to investigate and feel a shock to my stomach.

‘Yeah, nah. I’d avoid that one, missus,’ warns the driver. ‘Not too welcoming.’

The gauntlet thrown, goosebumps, skin tingling, adrenaline piqued.

I’m on this bus today because I’m a thief heading to Melbourne for a fresh start. Away from bad influences, the reputation that haunts me, the criminal environment I inhabit. One throwaway comment though clicks on my opportunity radar. The body replies, challenge accepted.

My heart and soul, however, hold a different opinion.

Standing in the aisle, foot tapping, Malodorous Man mumbling at my shoulder. I ignore him, like we’ve all been trying to do for the last four hours.

When I reach the bottom step, I hover, one foot dangling in space, suddenly afraid. Caught between the urge to return to my seat and wait this one out, ignore the psychic challenge, and the hulking, angry passenger.

‘Another ‘nuthin town on the road to ‘nuthin,’ he growls, impatient.

I drop onto hot, sticky bitumen, eyes glued to the storefront of Gundegai Antiques. I feel the serpent of fear as it slithers through veins, hoovering blood, excited sweat upon skin.

I am unprepared for danger. One moment enjoying sweet harmony with the driver, his dry humour at his passenger’s antics, his amazingly acrobatic brows. Trapped in the twilight world of touring terror, too close to strangers with their snorts and farts and quietly urgent domestic disputes.

And Malodorous Man, whose loud muttering, forehead slapping, atrocious body odour and lack of sense of personal space, makes us uncomfortable.

This was a new chapter, an attempt at a better me, complete with the new job in hospital administration. Arranged by the friendly neighbourhood Klepto Anonymous group I’d fallen into before Christmas, when alone and desperate I’d landed a meeting with legs surrounded by shopping bags celebrating the best places to pilfer gifts.

Good daughter, great friend, brilliant student but pathologically unable to resist the genetic urge to steal. The merest hint that I should not, set me off on the wrong path.

Like a true believer, I followed the anti-commandments as closely as a book of twisted Ikea instructions and the urge to thieve embraced idolatry, jealousy, greed, deceit and adultery.

I’d managed to obey, do not kill.

My life depended on taking a 180 turn, adopting a new attitude, a break away from the straitjacket of expectation. Blue skies, green meadows, fresh start.

Yet here I was. Urged by opportunity to commit a felony, to pilfer trifles, invade the sanctity of the vendor’s domain. And the shop knows it.

It breaths. It waits. Eager. Hungry.

I feared yet wanted it. Danger, risk, reward. The rush. The shop was just another mark, but with attitude.

The paunch of Malodorous Man nudges from behind and I fall against the building, one hand on its window. Glittering treasures call my eye. I peruse the offerings. Junk. Nothing that I want or need. Yet, I hunger.

Vintage jewellery, wooden toys, items of agricultural equipment, scary looking dolls. I hate dolls.

And the building breathes. There’s an audible pop as I push myself away.

Spooked and desperate not to steal, not to cave to the need, I race across the road without checking traffic. A bakery entices for all the right reasons. Delicious wafting smells. I buy a pie and  coke, snaffle a couple of sauces on the way out.

I perch on the outside bench. Directly opposite my opponent.

I eat, and I watch. And hunger.

Neighbouring stores display a collage of advertisements and signs. Loud posters announce touring comedians and musos. Ubiquitous SALE notices. Discounts publicised on oversized star icons.

The antiques store too is covered in paper. Fine print though, too small to read, inviting the unwary closer. Enticing. Curiosity to overwhelm the cat.

I was hardly unwary, but it was working. Spidey senses on high alert, I was still an idiot. The urge to steal versus malevolent warning – not good.

A dry gust of wind, gritty with sand, grabs at the brown paper pie bag. I lurch as it whips away from me, skitters across the road, under the tour bus and splat against the window of the antiques store. It holds, and holds, then slithers toward the door. When it opens,  the bag flashes through and out of sight.

I chew on the pie and pick gristle from my teeth, swallow a grease clearing mouthful of coke and glare at the storefront. Movement to the left, a feral cat. Movement from the right, bored passengers, biding time. Shopkeepers on either side of that haunted store, hover. One sweeps the never to be tamed dust. Another shakes out a rug. The hairdresser leans against the door jamb, with her takeout coffee.

The Irish Bus Driver rests against the grille of his bus, sucking on a cigarette like his life depends on the smoke flooding his lungs.

Malodorous Man sits beside me. I slide further along the bench. He manspreads, and armspreads across the back of the bench, generally taking too much space.

‘Mate,’ he says.

I look in his direction. I hope for glacial disinterest.

‘I recognise the look,’ he says. ‘The eyes of a desperado. What’s your inclination?’

‘Get lost,’ I say. Classy.

‘I can’t work it out,’ he says. ‘I know you’re spiralling, but you’re staring at a bloody secondhand store. Not booze then, not drugs.’

‘Piss off,” I say.

‘Granted, there is something broody about that shop. Have you noticed? Nobody’s gone in since we’ve been here. It’s too quiet.’

A malevolence. It’s not just me then.

I give him proper attention. Turn toward him and gesture a waving hand that takes in his whole being.

‘What’s your deal then?’ I challenge.

‘Too long a story and not your business. But, I’m prepared to say that I’m pulling myself out of a dark place and getting there.’

‘I’m prepared to say, you could use a shower,’ I offer.

‘You’re a bitch, you know?’

‘Granted. Mum would be disappointed,’ I begin to stand, and say ‘I reckon I should investigate.’ Only to discover legs that won’t hold me. I fall into his lap. One large, hairy hand stops me falling further.

The other rubs a filthy handkerchief across his face, removing sweat and crusted on dirt. He’s a decent looking bloke under there.

‘Have you a tenner? It’d be good to have a feed.’

‘Sure. There you go, ten dollars and ah, I picked up your wallet,’ I say digging it out of my bag. ‘If I don’t come back  …’

‘I’ll send in the army,’ he says, grinning. Bad teeth!

Deep breath and shoulders back, I step onto the road. And sink, infinitesimally. I pause and think hot tar. Second step, sink. Lift, but more effort required. Another. Stuck.

I look down at my feet in surprise. The ground appears solid enough. I watch as tendrils of tar reach to hold me in place.

‘Wrong,” I say aloud.

‘You alright, mate?’ calls Malodorous Man.

‘Sticky,’ I call back.

‘Bloody hot, bound to be soft,’ he calls.

There’s intention here, holding me in place, keeping me from the shop.

‘I need to face it,’ I whisper. And step forward.

Freed to go to my doom, I cross the road. A zombie abandoning all hope.

Like a soldier on patrol I sweep eyes across the field of danger. The hairdresser could be my own mother, all compassion and concern. Except for her dead eyes. I falter.

The deli owner leans on his broom, paused in his pointless pursuit of standards. He shakes his head, no. In mute terror.

Under the blazing sun, I shiver, suddenly cold. Fingers of fear creep along my skin, into my hair, jelly replaces my legs.

Now I can read the warning signs that plaster the store. Shoplifters will be destroyed. Enter at own risk. No mercy to be found, here.

An Australian, bastard, building. Direct. No bullshit. Fair warning.

‘I wouldn’t,’ said the hairdresser.

‘You’ll not come back,’ said deli owner.

‘You look like you’re gasping for a beer,’ offered some random.

Walk away, my inner voice warns. You are a lunatic. Yet the store beckons and I obey, like a mindless robot. Hair raised with static, tears falling, lizard brain fighting to be heard, stomach bitching.

I place my hands flat against the window and fall into the heartrending terror of lost souls. Pain, fear, dread. Trapped in fire, twisted, bleeding and flayed. Innumerable. Interminable.

Sucked into a hell of writhing bodies, the soggy mass of bodily fluids, poisonous filth. I can’t move nor breathe.

Vignettes of life flash in the dark. With my parents as a child, on the beach, laughing, burning. My mother birthing a monster, cackling maniacally. Bus passengers peering from windows, faces disintegrating, horror melting away.

A child calls, Mumma! My father calls, Becky!

My eyes open. And there he is, my long dead father. Distorted face, wretched in terror. Howling my name. Armed robber, killed in jail, knifed.

‘Go, baby,’ he howls.

‘Daddy,” I wail.

I try lifting a hand to pummel, to plead for my dad, but I’m stuck. All the strength of my body can’t pull me off.

A psychic energy pulses through me and I push. Beside me, I feel the presence of clean strength. Malodorous and Irish, hands against the window.

A high-pitched whine from the building, pleading No! Windows implode.

A tremendous howling wind blows inward, dragging me over the window frame. I feel the sting of glass splinters as they prick my skin. Then I’m blown viciously away, into the light of hope.

Breathing hard, bent at the knees, fat hot tears land on the pavement.

‘Daddy,’ I whisper.

Strong arms support me, Malodourous Man to the left, Irish Bus Driver to the right.

‘Thank you’, I say.

Dusty and blood streaked they lead me back to the bus, push me gently up the steps.

Hands reach to touch me as I pass. Before I fall into my seat, I hand her iPhone back to Bertha.

Someone hands me an icy coke. I gulp at it, feeling its soothing bite channel a way through, cleansing.

The Mercedes engine hums to life, while around me people settle.

I look out the window, afraid of what I’ll see, but all that is left is a rubble filled space, danger removed, malevolence disembowelled.

The storekeepers stand ghostlike in the street. Covered in dust, or fading away, surplus to requirements.

I stand the winner in this battle for my soul.

‘Thank you, Daddy,’ I whisper, as the bus pulls away.

[1856 words]

Life on the Edge

This piece was inspired by two items. Last week’s Simply 6 Minutes photo prompt (photo below) and the criteria for AWC October Furious Fiction – which were ‘500 words, set in a court of some kind, with a character who measures something, and include the words balloon, rock and umbrella.’ I didn’t submit to either – but kept thinking about life on the edge, of a pin. A little more than 500 words. 

*****

Court, on the head of a nail, said the colourful old man.

Seems a stretch. Somebody’s having a lend!

I gazed around what appeared to be the set of a French arthouse movie. Sumptuous furnishings, gold everywhere, fussy hairpieces and much braying laughter. Overdressed people. Bosoms bled over the top of gowns.

I couldn’t imagine one of my mates setting this up. Hooded and dumped into the trunk of a car and dragged into a strip club, was more their style. This was a step up.

“Are you okay, sir,” asked the man.

“You’re the court jester? That’s why you’re dressed so … flamboyantly,” I said. “Those balloon pants, that loud … harlequin style.”

“The knock to the head addled your brains worse than I thought,” he said. “I am the surgeon, sir. You took a bad fall. And … landed here.”

“And here is?”

“The court of King Joseph of the land of technicoloured haberdashery.”

“The land of … on the head of a nail,” I stifled a laugh. He was quite earnest. Who’d hit their head?

“Or pin. Some others describe it so. We are relaxed about the exact determination and description of our home. We are one of the peoples that inhabit the heads of tacks, pins, and nails.

Oh sir, it is quite the precarious way of life. At the mercy of man and his humours. Pin quakes are common here, as we are often nudged or moved indiscriminately. And of course, we get a lot of drop off. It comes with the territory.”

“That old furphy, falling off the edge of the world. This rock is round, a globe. Scientifically proven.”

We are not the world, sir. Only of the world. A microcosm, the edge of which is unprotected and therefore perilous to the unwary.”

I am a grown man. We are atop a nail,” I said, smirking. “How does that work?”

“A magic I cannot explain. If a man stumbles in exactly the right manner, instead of being impaled he lands atop,” the doctor said. “It is not a reciprocal magic. We are not protected the other way. We believe that our lost have splattered on impact, been trampled underfoot or eaten.”

“What science do you have? Machines, perhaps the power of flight?”

“We understand the sense of these things, but not the devices.” Then smiling, added “we can fly!”

“No bull,” I said.

“We have established contact and sometimes trade with other pin communities. We’ve captured flying insects over which we assert some control. Dandelions are useful too. Beautiful, but fragile and whimsical. Used mainly by the more adventurous type and prone to disaster.”

“Have you tried flight by umbrella?” I offered “Using updrafts and thermals?” The doctor shook his head. “They could be kept at the ready at the edge of your … nail. A last second grab and someone could land safely on the earth.”

“An intriguing idea,” he said. “We have tried lowering brave citizens to the ground via bucket. It is, however, fraught with danger. We run out of rope before achieving success. The distance seems immeasurable and the winds daunting.”

“And telescopes? If you could look more closely at mankind …” I said.

“I gather you mean a device that allows us to distinguish detail, like the zoom glass used for tiny stitches,” he said.

“I guess so.”

“The outside world is so large and so immediate that all is a blur. To stand at the edge of a nail or pin and gaze outward is to witness a kaleidoscope of murky colour, with no clear lines. It causes severe nausea in most,” he said. “I believe that disorientation contributes to the numbers lost.”

“So, what now?” I asked. “Can I return home?”

“Definitely, sir. When you are ready, we shall farewell His Majesty and then shove you off the nearest edge,” he said. He looked quite cheerful at this, with his thumbs hooked into his belt, bouncing on his toes.

“Hang on!”

“Oh, don’t you mind. It will be nothing to you. Once you step off, you’ll immediately regain your usual earthly parameters.”

“I’m ready,” I cried.

After shaking the hand of the indolent king, the doctor led me through the courtyard to a sign that read No further, on pain of death. Ominous.

“Farewell, young man. Just one step and you will be home.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said as we shook hands.

With confidence I placed one foot over the edge. And as my second foot began to lift, panic hit. Stepping blindly, I landed on solid ground.

“Phew,” I exhaled.

One more step and I stumbled over a piece of wood. Arms wind milling for balance, I settled heavily onto a large nail.

“Bollocks,” I whispered. [791 words]

Animal mosaic

Weight it out

“You never shut the …”

“What are you on about?” I scream.

I have had enough. The never-ending struggle. Surrounded, on duty, twenty four seven.

I ride a horror wave of despair that undulates, heaves, thrusts, leaving me nauseous. In this two bed flat I’m one of five, but I’m alone. I wear the weighted hat of responsibility. It pummels me to stagnation. Disciplinarian, toastmaster, cheer squad. Lover.

It doesn’t stop, as I paint with the kids. Background noise, a constant. Fuggy air, it never clears. Mid-winter, in a flat.

“You didn’t close the …”

“Shut the EFF up,” I tell him. Master of the house. Head honcho at work. Now, at home. All the time.

My three jobs down to the one I can do from home. I can barely deal.

One shared computer. Me trying to work, himself sorting rosters and options for takeaway, or home deliveries, or some other way to bring in income. The office space now a war zone.

I need to escape. Spiders in my brain climb walls, thread-like fingers invade crevices, electrify neurons, send me psycho. I’m pushed from the inside out.

I retreat to the only room that locks. The loo. I perch. Feel walls press. Hands to my ears, I block external sound, and free my soul to scream.

A banshee cry bounces, echoes inside my skull. A giant squats on my chest.

Another panic attack. Second one this week. The shift toward insanity, the slippery slide.

Knock, knock.

“Fiona.”

“Leave me alone,” I whisper.

“Mummy, mummy. I need poo-poo,” cries Clara.

I squeeze my head between vices masquerading as hands, to minimal effect. I want to pulverise, obliterate.

“Mummy.”

“Fiona, you need to …”

I breathe deeply. And again. Force oxygen past gritted teeth. And again. Air wheezes through lungs, empties into stomach. And again. Chest relaxes, arms loosen. Again. Eyes open. I can do this.

Stand. Pull hair back.

“Mummy. Gotta go now.”

I open the door. Clara rushes past, undies half off.

I feel Simon’s concern.

“You left the browser open,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Red Balloon. I saw. Oh babe, to think of me in the midst of this …”

I shrug.

“I’ve always wanted to drive a V8.”

“Sorry babe. We can’t afford it. Next year, maybe?” I disappoint.

“Sure. Sure. No worries. Coffee?”

“That’d be good.”

What I can’t say. I bought that gift six months ago. Today I requested a refund.

Four laps at Bathurst vs survival. [412 words]

Shit wife of the year award

Life in Lockdown

“Seriously Pete,” I say, staring down the webcam. “I can’t handle another day of this. Patty is doing my head in!”

“What, team Terry and Patty in trouble? Pete scoffs. “Hard to believe, mate.”

“I agree, normally. But mate, she’s being very hard,” Holding up a lumpy looking sandwich, I ask, “What the fuck is this? Vegan or something.”

“It’s healthy, mate. Lots of people doing Vegan these days.” Pete tries to console me.

“She thinks I’m fat! Last night, I was poking around in the fridge looking for something exotic to eat, and she starts into me.”

‘You’ve had enough,’ she says. ‘You’ve eaten your dinner, my leftovers, all the bread rolls and licked both plates. You’re at the fridge And, you’re getting pudgy.’

“You said that’s just posture.”

‘Well, that doesn’t help.’ She grinned, continuing. ‘You eat too fast, and your brain doesn’t know you’re full. Stop looking in the fridge!’

My cheeks are red, and I’m breathing hard as Pete begins to laugh.

“She’s a shit wife!” I shout.

The door opens and Patty comes in with coffee.

“Hello darling. Thought you could do with one. Is that Pete? Hi, Pete! How are you?” She waves wildly at the laptop. “Don’t mind the PJs.”

“You’re a vision, boss.” Pete laughs. “You know, Terry is not happy.”

“Oh, gossiping, again?” Patty asks, calmly. She turns to me. “Is this a work meeting? Or a drinks night with your boyfriend, moaning about his tiny thing, like a dizzy blonde.”

Then she gets stuck into Pete.

“Have you called Dave?” Pete’s smile slips. “It is a priority. Clients come first. Remember your budget …”

And on and on she goes. Her voice seems to fade, as my ears begin to bleed.

Then, I deep hawk into my throat and Patty literally growls!

“That’s disgusting! Blow into a tissue.You’re always doing that. Even in the shower.”

I’m mortified and feel even worse when I see Pete smirking and shooting hand pistols.

“Blowing does nothing. Anyway, it’s okay in the shower.”

“It’s still disgusting.” She’s smirking too.

“You’re a shit wife, Patty. You could win Shit Wife of the Year. I should post that on Facebook!”

“You should!” Patty cries. “I’d love it.”

“Really?” Why was I surprised? “You’re twisted, you know?”

Patty hugs and kisses me, and I notice Pete chuckling.

“We’re a great team,” she says, leaving the room. “What would you do without me?”

She might be a shit wife, I think. But she’s my shit wife.

As I turn back to Pete, he says “You have been in a premium paddock, bro!”

Swearing under my breath, I try getting back to business.

 “About tomorrow’s meeting.”

This short story was written for Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction competition for August 2020. Word length, 500 words or less. Each month, certain criteria are set and for this month the criteria was:

  • Your story must contain HUMOUR/COMEDY
  • Your story must include the following five words: DIZZY, EXOTIC, LUMPY, TINY, TWISTED.
  • Your story must include a sandwich

You can read the winning entry and long-listed stories here.

Re-Creation Story

This very tongue in cheek story came out of me asking friends for some ‘What if’ prompts. My friend Bobbie suggested ‘What if … the beginning’. My first effort was along the evolutionary lines. Then for my cousin Kevin, I wrote a cheeky version of Creation. Apologies for any offense caused. 

God was stoked. He felt very jolly.

But also knackered.

Fair to say, He had a very tough week, having undertaken the heaviest workload in like, forever!

He’s looked around, checked things out and is feeling good!

“Everybody will love it!” He exclaimed. “I mean, one day everybody will love it. When there is an everybody. Well,” God conceded. “I guess I am ALL. And so, I am everybody and I love it!”

God took a moment to review his work. Ticked off achievements on his mental ‘to do’ list. Boy was he proud of the something out of nothing he’d pulled off – in one week!

  • Planet out of the void. Great illumination. Check.
  • Liveable, with an atmosphere, water of life, and so forth. Check.
  • Trees and plants, grasses, the Garden – beautiful! Check and check.

God thought the planet seemed a little lonely, hanging there in a void and so He came up with some very cool ideas:

  • The Sun and Moon; because when He became busy elsewhere, the planet needed the ability to phase out of light and dark, day and night, and evolve with growth cycles. Ah, very scientific thinking, thought God.
  • Adding more planets was a point of interest! God hadn’t really thought ahead too much about purpose. But by gosh, that sky sure looked pretty.

Then God thought LIFE! And brought forward creatures (big and small, and slithery!). Sea creatures, and birds. He’d had a marvellous time letting his imagination rip!

Amid all this activity, God found the need for words to describe all he had created. God became history’s first Lexicographer. Even before there were Lexicons and even before there were beings to care about words.

“One day,” God thought “there will be people to use language. I’ll need to drop some clues around at various points in the planet’s future.”

“People,” thought God. “Animals, birds, trees, sky, stars, oceans, water! Ooh, such words. Man, oh man!”

Then God created Adam. Man, in His own image. Well, as God imagined Himself, if He took form.

“I could take form. I shall take form. Sometime when this planet has evolved along its natural path, I might just pop in from time to time. See how they’re all going,” God told himself, as he watched Adam and his woman playing in the Garden.

His final trick, creating the woman Eve out of Adam’s rib. Ouch, that must have hurt.

“I guess I created pain then too,” thought God. “Downright nasty of me, that one. Why did I do that? Oh well. Don’t want to give them false hope of everything being too rosy. A being needs challenges.”

“Look at me!” God cried to the great unknown. “I could just lounge around in my heavenly abode, tossing grapes, creating angelic beings to play soothing music on golden harps. But no! I’m out there, challenging myself!”

God looked around, smiling. And felt good. Tired, but good.

Then boredom hit and He wandered off to find other entertainments. He’d need to remember to come back and see how Adam and Eve fared; in a millennium or two.

Might be some smiting to do [524 words].

Friday Fictioneers – Cancelled

Photo prompt @ Jeff Arnold

Somewhere over that rainbow, a better life awaits.

Something to look forward to. Something to hope for.

In my country (a lucky country) we’ve moved through several heartaches

Drought

Widespread bush fires

Months of unbreathable, smoke-filled air

Floods

Covid-19

We were looking for the light at the end of a tunnel, the gold at the end of the rainbow

And we got Corona Virus. Isolation. Quarantine. Lock down.

Families separated. Dying abandoned. Easter, and weddings, and funerals cancelled.

As time stands still. Lives put on hold. These boats are waiting.

All heading out to sea, is what I see!

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Cowboy Blues – Devolution

I dislike visiting the library in St Augustine Street. Rundown and grubby, the pungent air announces mouldy age; furniture is beige and unloved; the nameless staff appear tired and broken.

As a repository of excellence and knowledge, it is not what I expect in a modern world.

Need alone forced me, twice weekly, through the door. Armed with coffee and dreams, game face on, I’d sit in a smelly booth, staring at my untouched notebook.

This mausoleum of misery was still a refuge from the cowboy boyfriend, and his nasty put downs.

When I met Toby at our theatre group, he was a brilliant light in a fog of disillusionment. The group, once a haven of joy in a bleak world, lost first our enthusiastic director, then several inspiring actors; leading to a gloomy and disheartened ensemble. Toby was my reason for staying.

I was slow to realise that Toby was bad news. Praise turned to taunts, encouragement to disparagement. Toby was toxic and I was in trouble.

I’d joined the group not as an actor, but aspiring writer. The creative process between the writer and director was exhilarating; the pleasure of hearing your words spoken by such talented people, shared with an appreciative audience, was uplifting.

Toby was a star from the start. My male characters began to emulate Toby and fit him like a glove. Which came first; Toby the person or Toby the protagonist? Was art imitating life? I was no longer sure. Then life began to blight the page and I turned away from the star.

My friends knew first, as usually seems the case. I fought what was obvious. Clichéd, and so blind. It took the closing down of our group, now left alone with Toby, to illuminate the danger I was in.

Writing had been both solace and enchantment; it now became a weapon. Cutting words and phrases; bloody intention and madness. Words to defend, to deflect; to destroy.

Each evening I return home to see what new damage has been inflicted on the once glorious love. Fresh wounds; old scars; a man subdued and diminishing.

In the dingy cubicle, I clench my pen, bend to the page and scratch out my revenge.

Australia Day 2017: A Dreaming

So, Australia Day 2017 presents with an expected peak maximum temperature of 35 °C. Typical. What’s new? Perhaps, an increased awareness of the heartache and anger of our Indigenous population and a willingness to engage in the conversation. Perhaps.

I don’t often participate in Australia Day celebrations – not due to any sensitivity I hold for our Indigenous Australians, hurt and damaged over the tragic history they’ve experienced since the arrival of the British Empire; no. It is more to do with my own laziness and it is always hot and I don’t enjoy the heat. Also, my idea of a ‘lucky’ day off is to ‘be’ and not ‘do’, ‘retreat from’ and not ’embrace’ people and to ‘disappear’ between the pages of a good book.

On this day, however, I choose to at least attend the Citizenship Ceremony; a dry event (I know from personal experience) but a chance to welcome, in solidarity, our newest ‘Australians’.

Our town celebrations are being held in a local park only a short walk from my home and despite the promised horrible peak temperature, I decide to walk instead of drive. I leave home dressed in a light long-sleeved ‘cheesecloth’ shirt, hat and sunnies and carrying a shady umbrella. ALL bare patches of skin have been lathered in both Factor 30 sunscreen and Mozzie Repellant. I smell chemically divine.

I arrive at a bustling park, with too many cars and too many people. The local brass band plays, competing with the sound of hundreds of chatting people, many screaming and laughing children and the background noise of food truck motors – as there are a number of vendors selling such things as egg and bacon burgers, lamb and gravy rolls, cold drinks and barista-style coffee.

In those first few moments, I stand apart glancing around and I notice a group of Indigenous Australians gathered in the part-shade/part-sun of a small stand of trees.

They are a mix of the old and young, well dressed and scruffy, quiet and rowdy; some sit, but most stand – holding up posters and waving the Aboriginal flag of black, yellow and red. Colours representing the ‘Aboriginal people of Australia, the Sun and the red earth, the red ochre used in ceremonies and Aboriginal peoples’ spiritual relation to the land’. (taken from Wikipedia)

They talk among themselves, occasionally someone shouts out – it is difficult to make out what they are saying – but their signs and posters say it all.

“Invasion Day 2017” “Forgotten people” “We were here first” “Justice Day” and “Change the Date” to name a few.

Nobody in this group of people is smiling.

For 10 minutes I stand hidden behind my shady tree, attention switching from this group of unhappy Australians – not a standard Australian flag among them – to the noisy and laughing crowd.

Sporting crazy hats, t-shirts and thongs; waving little hand-held Australian flags, holding their cold drinks in stubby holders with “We Australia” “Proud to be an Aussie” and “100% Aussie”. With their t-shirts covered in slogans such as “My ancestors were First Fleet” or “Proud to come from Convicts” and invariably their clobber and accessories either in the well-recognised Aussie Green and  Gold colours or (more likely) emblazoned with the insignia of British Imperialism. The Australian flag with stars representing our Southern Cross, and the British’s ‘Union Jack’.

These people are having a great day!

This white conservative, middle-aged and ‘naturalised’ Australian woman (born in Ireland) strolls to the nearest drink vendor, joins the queue and then asks “How much for a bottle of water?”

“$2,” answers the vendor.

“I’ll take 20 bottles, thanks!”

“Sorry, how many?” asks the startled teenager.

“20 bottles of water, please,” I repeat.

“Okay, that’s $40. Thank you,” she says as I hand her two $20 notes. She then starts handing down to me, the cold bottles.

I haven’t thought this through clearly, I think. I don’t have a bag and I’m suddenly juggling 20 icy cold bottles and my umbrella. People nearby help to load me up and I smile gratefully.

A mass of black and buzzing flies have taken just this moment to harass me – targeting my face and head. Or were they already there, but now that my hands aren’t free to perform the laconic ( or is that ‘iconic’) ‘Aussie Salute’ and swat them away, they seem to have proliferated?

Sort of stagger-walking, I head toward that group of Aboriginals – one eye on the ground looking to avoid trip hazards and the other nervously eyeing off the people standing at the front of the group. I realise now, that they have begun to ‘eye off’ this crazy white woman, who seems to be zigzagging her way toward them.

I stop and say “Hello. Water?” and try to make eye contact with anybody, over the stack of bottled water.

Only those at the very front have heard me and they look at each other, shrugging their shoulders. Nobody makes eye contact with me. I’m wondering if that’s a cultural thing, when suddenly four or five kids streak forward and grab some bottles, running off with large ‘white’ grins on their faces and laughing loudly.

“Cheeky buggers,” I murmur.

“What the fuck do you want?” yells an aggressive-looking man, perhaps about 30 years old. He moves closer to my personal space, his whole body radiating anger.

A couple of the nicely dressed young women of about his age, glare at him in rebuke. One puts a hand on his arm.

“Easy, Jimmy,” she whispers. Then she steps forward, nods and smiles at me and takes a couple of bottles and starts passing them back into her group.

As the load in my arms quickly reduces, I see that the group appears to be relaxing. There are more smiles and occasionally someone will raise their water bottle towards me, before taking a sip.

“Thank you,” says the same girl who stepped in to calm Jimmy.

“You’re very welcome,” I say, smiling around at the group. “I’m new in this town. I’m from WA and we have Yamatji and Noongar around where I’m from. I’m sorry, I’m not educated in Indigenous culture; but, I do know that Ernie Dingo is Yamatji, from the Murchison mob,” I exclaim.

I’m sure I hear someone in the group mumbling something about that ‘white fella, Dingo.” So, I guess there’s discrimination and racism within the tribes too.

“I worked with a group of Aboriginals when I was a girl, at a convention. They were Nana …. Naana …,” I stumbled over the name, my memory letting me down.

“Ngaanyatjarra?” the girl asked, frowning and elbowing her friend, who was listening closely.

“That’s it, yeah,” I laughed. “Not a tribe, I think, but representing some of the tribes in Western Australia. I think.” Smiling at them, I then ask “What’s the name of your tribe, in this area?

“Wiradjuri,” a few of them call out together. I laugh again. Clearly, I have more of an audience now.

We stand together, looking around us and sipping cool water in a companionable silence.

Then I say, “It must be hard for you today, to be here and watching these people enjoy themselves; celebrating a history that denies you place and (for you) begins a time of genocide of your people. A lot of hurt.”

“Yes,” said the girl. Many nod their heads at this. “And we stand excluded even more today, because we also want to remind them of that displacement and damage and at this particular time, they don’t want to remember.”

I drain the last of my water and ask the girl, “What’s your name?”

“Bethany,” she answers.

“I’m Trish, Bethany. Nice to meet you,” and I hold my hands out to her. “Tell me,” I ask as we shake hands, enthusiastically. “In Wiradjuri, how do you say ‘friend’?”

Bethany looks surprised, but answers “Mudyi.”

“Mudyi,” I repeat.

“And, ‘welcome’?” I ask.

“Gawaaymbanha,” she responds, grinning.

“And I wonder, how do the Wiradjuri people say “peace”.”

Bethany’s expression sobers suddenly, as she replies “Gwandalan.”

I nod and say “Gwandalan, Bethany,” as I walk away from her people and towards the space set up for the Citizenship Ceremony.

*** *** ***

Note: This is a work of fiction. If I was a braver person, this could be a conversation I would have, but for now it only happens in my ‘scenario-planning’ imagination.

I use words from the Wiradjuri language hesitantly. I ‘google’ researched (again) and these were the closest descriptions for the words friend, welcome and peace that I could find. Hopefully, no offence caused. And if anyone does know the correct words, I’m happy to be told.

(http://www.wiradjuri.dalang.com.au/plugin_wiki/wordlist) (http://www.housenameheritage.com/hnh_wsc_aboriginal.asp)

Murder & Mayhem – Australian Writers’ Centre

The Australian Writers’ Centre is having a Murder & Mayhem month and are running a Crime and Thriller short story competition.

It is a small competition – prize is a bundle of books – but it is all practice! 🙂

The guidelines are:

  • Word count of 149 or fewer
  • Include the words birthday, softly and umbrella
  • Feature your character having committed a crime

But it doesn’t have to be a dark or scary theme – or seriously nasty crime – could be jaywalking!

So following are the two stories I’ve entered! Enjoy 😀

Chloe

It was Chloe’s birthday and a sunny winter’s day had darkened as the world was blacked out by a wall of rain.

Grabbing her favourite dome umbrella – the clear one with blue nightingales and a metal handle – Chloe stepped softly around the bleeding body splayed awkwardly, at the bottom of the stairs.

Bending slightly toward the body, she reached out tentatively as though to awaken him, but pulled back. What should she do?  He couldn’t be dead. She could check for his pulse. Call for help.

Chewing her lip and twisting a strand of hair, Chloe stood poised to leave. She was a good person, but the surrounding floor was very wet and that could mean she was already in serious trouble – no sense planting DNA evidence.

Chloe was responsible for the “wet floor” signs; and with the excitement of the day had forgotten to put them out!

Surprise!

“What do we know?” asked the lead Detective.

The Senior Constable consulted his notes.

“Deceased male is Owen Scale, well-known in the building although he hasn’t been seen around for a while. His girlfriend Katrina Byrne lives here in 21 and he had a key.

She’s distraught and currently sitting with her neighbour and a constable, next door.

She hasn’t seen Clive for a month or so; didn’t know where he’d been and he apparently surprised her by walking too softly into the kitchen. She reacted with a butcher’s knife to the chest!”

“As you do,” replied the detective. “Guess she doesn’t like surprises in general, then” he stated, grinning.

They turned to the body lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor of Apartment 21 – and the parcel wrapped in birthday paper and impaled with a bright pink umbrella!

Hope you enjoyed them – Trish 😀