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Cha-Cha September 28, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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I chose this week’s writing exercise: Write about a time the lights went out.

This week, I really wanted the challenge of writing with a ‘voice’ other than my own. I’m not skilled with outlandish characterisations, but after some pondering – and remembering a lot of black-outs from my childhood – I wondered how I’d go writing as if I were a toddler. I actually found it very hard! The trickiest bit was actually not being too consistent – when toddlers are toying with speech, they have their own little nuances, but there are still things they ‘get’ even when they haven’t ‘got’ the whole concept yet.

What do you think? How did I do?

 

I hear Bonnie yell faw Mummy. Daddy does gwoan an’ get out of bed harrumphily. He lets da chilly air in at mee.

I scwabble about cwossly, but my eyes do stay shut tight. I want asleep. Smells musty where my nose do be. Like feet. I wiggoow up da bed a bit an’ finda spot smelling like Mummy. Cosy. Soft. Just da wight place faw sleeping.

“It’s just a black-out, sweetie,” Daddy say. He coming closer; Bonnie sniff’ing. I squeeze my eyes tight. I don’t want her. My spot.

“Oh. You too, hey matey?” Daddy voice, den Smelly does whine, sleepy-like.

“Alright. Everyone into bed. Just mind Cha-cha – she’s in there somewhere.” Daddy not wants evvyone inna bed. Just mee.

Someone does dig my wibs an’ I howl. That’s wude. “No Smelly!” I wail.

“It’s Merrill!” he hisses. I know dat. But Bonnie did like it when I try to say ‘It’s Merrill’ dat udda time an’ I say ‘Smellel.’ She say ‘Smelly’ suit him. He call mee Cha-cha when I dance inna pwetty skirt. Now evvyone call mee dat. I might say ‘Merrill’ one day. May be.

Daddy lighting candoows all over da woom. Pwetty, like when he an’ Mummy havva door shut. He climb inna bed an’ I ’scape Smelly to cuddoow up inna Daddy-lap. He pull doona close all wound us, an’ Bonnie an’ Smelly an’ Daddy an’ mee are all snuggoowd.

“It’s scary without Mummy,” Bonnie say an’ her voice does be all shaky an’ scaredy cat.

“Mummy and baby Clio will be home in a couple of days,” Daddy say. He does yawn. He’s chest does wumble when he talk, an’ I smile an’ wiggoow closer.

I did meet dat Clio baby today. I did smile faw da camwa, but she did yell. She was vewy, vewy loud. I did not like her.

Daddy’s wumbly voice starts to tell da storwy of Tewwy da Tuffikins Tewwia. I cuddoow up an’ pwactice saying Tewwy’s name.

Bonnie gets cwanky. “It’s rrrrrr!” she does hiss at mee. “Terrrrry!”

“It doesn’t matter, honey,” Daddy shooshes. “She’ll get it eventually. Time to just be still now.”

 His wumbly voice does wumble on, an’ I lissen to how Tewwy does lern not to bark at da cat an’ how dey lern to play nice. If dat Clio baby lerns not to yell so much, maybe we could play nice. May be.

 But faw now, it’s just Daddy an’ Smelly an’ Bonnie an’ mee, an’ I’m all cosy, an’ I don’t mind sleeping with da flickawing of da candoow-light. Not at all. It smells pwetty. Like Mummy.

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Limited September 26, 2009

Posted by Anna in Uncategorized.
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The exercise is: “Write about being limited in some way.”

 

I’ve been thinking lately. Well, truth be told, I’ve been thinking a lot for years. You tend to think a lot when you sit in a rocking chair on your front verandah, day after day, year after year, watching the world go. Watching the grass grow. Watching the neighbourhood brats grow. ‘Silly old bugger,’ they call me, sitting there keeping an eye on them. ‘Silly old bugger’ is what my own kids call me, too. Well, not to my face, but I know it’s what they think.

Think. Oh, that’s right. I’ve been thinking lately.

I’ve always got a pile of books beside my chair, for the hours between when I’ve finished the morning paper and when school’s let out. In one of the books – can’t remember which one – I read a statement. Love limits itself. That’s what’s got me thinking.

Can’t say I’ve ever been fond of limits. Dad gave me a curfew when I started going out with my mates as a teenager. I didn’t like that limit, and I never heeded it unless I was bored and wanted to go home anyway. If I’m honest, I didn’t pay much heed to limits with girls, either. Only stopped if they hit me. I was a good looking young fella though, so I got a way with a lot. I was pretty reckless, I suppose – fast cars, fast women – fast with every damned thing, Dot’s always told me. Scowled at me, more like it. Shrew.

My mum was a shrew, too. Gawd, that woman could shriek! Get that mud of your boots, you little bugger! Wash those filthy hands before you come to my dinner table! Don’t speak to your gran like that! She never just spoke anything, my mum. Everything was in this high-pitched, banshee wail that could travel a hundred miles in one utterance, my dad used to tell me on the quiet.

Dot didn’t start out like that. When we first got married, she used to talk softly – more like Jim’s Nancy. Dunno where she picked it up from, because she never met my mum, but old Dot can shriek like the best of them these days.

Where was I? Oh, that’s right. Where I usually am. Thinking. Love limits itself, but I never did.

No. I never saw why I should, really. It was my right to yell if I was angry or frustrated. It was my right to hit something – or someone if they irked me. It was my right to follow a bit of skirt if it took my fancy. Actually, that might be the one area where I did learn to limit myself, but only after I came home and found that Dot had moved herself and the kids out of the house because I’d done it again.

Jim talked to me a lot about that. He reckoned Dot was right to expect faithfulness from her husband. Geez, that scared me! It was like they, Jim and Nancy and Dot, were forcing me to grow up.

Huh. Not sure I’ve ever thought about it like that before. No more getting drunk all the time. No more knocking her around because she was slow to get up and cook for me at 3am. No more thinking that all of womankind was my own personal playland. Geez that was tough. But, Dot and the kids came back, and they stayed.

She did leave one other time, after all the kids had moved out and I hit the turps again, but by then I felt too old and tired to go chasing, so I promised to be a good boy and she eventually came home again. The kids don’t come often, and when they do, they don’t stay long. But at least Dot’s here to cook and clean and give me a bit of the other.

Huh. So maybe I did limit myself. For Dot. For love of Dot. Geez that’s an awkward thought. When you’ve been married as long as we have, love isn’t really a topic of conversation very often. You talk about the weather, or the kids, or what’s on the telly, or what the neighbours are up to. Love’s more like a dirty word. I think.

Jim and Nancy aren’t like that. They still say ‘I love you’ all the time to each other. They say it to our kids, and they even say it to us, Gawd help us!

Jim. He and I have been best mates since before we started school. We both still live in the houses we were born in. It hasn’t always been an easy friendship, but we’re still mates.

He’s always been very different from me. He was just as much of a wild boy as I was when we were young, but then he went away to do his training to become a cop, and he came back different. My mum said it’d toughen him up and stop him being such a nice, easy-going bloke. It wasn’t like that, though. He came back with the same nature, but there was something respectful about him. Something restrained. Used to annoy the crap out of me!

He wouldn’t get drunk, because that wouldn’t look good for a cop. He wouldn’t sleep around, because he had his eye on Nancy and he wanted to show her that he was a decent bloke. He wouldn’t come to the drag races out on Turvey’s Lane any more, because he wanted to make sure he was around to enjoy his future. Gawd! The names I called that bloke!

The school kids start walking past, and a couple of teenagers stop just outside the old Harrington place and kiss. I guess I was pretty sweet with Dot when I first started chasing her. But that was because I wanted something. Had to marry her to get it though. Talk about paying a high price for something!

Where was I? Silly old bugger, I am! That’s what happens when you get old. Your mind wanders.

Dot brings me out my afternoon tea. Right on time. Trained her well in that regard. Usually I just nod toward the little table on my right, and she waits while I take the papers and books and dump them on the boards of the verandah floor. I grunt when she’s put it down, and she leaves. Today, though, when she puts it down, I muster all my strength and say, “Ta, love.”

When she looks at me, startled, I meet her eyes and I give her a bit of a smile. Gawd, it feels odd! It feels like my heart’s tried to climb out through my throat, then fallen backward in a big quivering heap of jelly. It’s something Jim would do, though. He’d do it to Nancy or Dot or anyone who did something nice for him. I wonder if he feels so wobbly on the inside every time. But Dot isn’t doing something ‘nice’ for me, she’s just doing what she should do for her husband.

Dot scurries inside, and I struggle to remember what I’m thinking about.

Love limits itself. Jim got really good at that, I have to say.

He’s a big bloke, Jim. Tall, broad shouldered, a real super-hero build on him. Big in personality, too. When we were teenagers, he was always the life of the party – rambunctious, inappropriate with his words, loud. As he got older, though, that seemed to settle.

It wasn’t just because of Nancy, either. He told me that. He said, “Some people can’t take me, huge and loud all at the same time. If I settle down a bit, they can get to know me, and they might even get to like me.” I always thought that was stupid. People should like you as you are. I certainly never moderated myself just to con people into liking me! They could take me or leave me!

Huh. For the most part, I guess, they left me. I’m not just a ‘silly old bugger’ around town. I’m a ‘cranky old bugger’ and a ‘menace’ and a whole other string of things. If someone shoves me with their trolley in the shopping centre, I don’t care whether they meant it or not, I turn right around and shove them back, as hard as I can. If someone blows their horn at me in traffic, I’ve been known to get out of the car and bang on their window with my walking stick. I hate it when people impose themselves on me. Jim reckons that it’s just part of life, but I always let people know when they’ve crossed the line. They still do it an awful lot, though.

Jim and Nancy still do it an awful lot, too. You can tell. And by ‘it’, now I’m talking about the other ‘it’. They’ve been married a bit longer than Dot and me – about two years, I think. I remember asking him, when I was thinking of proposing to Dot, what it was like doing it with the same girl all the time. “Wild,” he said, and he looked really embarrassed, which on a big bloke like Jim, looks odd. I couldn’t figure how a sedate girl like Nancy, and a bloke who was on his best behaviour all the time like Jim, could be wild in the bedroom. When I said that, though, he just laughed. “That’s the place to be wild,” he laughed. “I’m not being gentle with Nance as an act, you know. I’m gentle with her because I love her and I respect her. I choose to be that way with her. I’m rewarded with ‘wild’ when it’s just her and me and it’s private. Believe me, it’s worth it.”

Dot and I had been married about a year and a half when our first kid was born. Darren. Little bugger. Ruined my sex life! I remember whinging to Jim about it, and he just looked at me like I was from another planet. He and Nancy had been told they couldn’t have kids. “You’re a selfish, selfish man,” was all he said to me then.

Nancy gave birth to a little boy, oh, it must have been about five years after that. We had Darren and Barry and Susie by then, and you’ve never seen a happier bloke than Jim. He changed nappies and hung out washing, and did a whole pile of stuff for little Adam that I’d never have been caught dead doing for our kids. Big wuss! But … if I dare to be really honest with myself, I’ve never actually seen a happier family than Jim and Nancy and Adam.

Our kids were all surly little blighters. They’d mouth off at you or kick you, and they were always laying into each other. When all six of them were on the warpath, the house was like a warzone. I used to leave a lot in those days, just for some peace and quiet down at the pub. Dot never seemed to understand why I needed it, but it wasn’t like she loved the rabble. She cried a lot. I guess men and women just cope with things in different ways.

Little Adam. Now there was a bonny kid. He had a halo of golden blonde curls, and the biggest grin on his face. He was cheeky and funny, and he was just the light of old Jimmy’s life. One afternoon – he was in kindy or first class, I think – he was walking home from school, and this drunk driver careened off the road and onto the footpath just down the road from Jim and Nancy’s place. Nancy was waiting at the gate for Adam, and she saw him start to run towards her, full of anticipation for the afternoon tea that she always made for him. Then she heard the squeal of tyres – she saw the impact of the bull-bar of the old Valiant ute hitting her angelic little boy and ploughing him sideways through the Vaughn’s front fence and into their fish pond.

If I was Jim, I’d have killed that bloke. The drunk driver. I’d have hunted him down and blown holes through his heart and his brains with my service revolver. It was months after the funeral that I said that to Jim. He was a cop – he could have done it so easily.

Jim looked at me like I was a moron. Me, with my six pain-in-the-butt kids. I still don’t know what kind of reaction I expected from him. Maybe that he’d go off and do it, or maybe that he’d come over all saintly on me and tell me that wasn’t the way.

What he did do was sigh heavily, lean forward and hang his head for awful, long minutes. Finally he looked up and me, and his eyes were red. “You think I haven’t thought of that?” I didn’t answer. “I’ve thought of it, alright,” Jim said flatly. “I’ve seriously thought of dealing with it like my old mate Frank would deal with it.” I felt momentarily proud that he’d contemplate doing something like I would. Then he shook his head. “But all that would do,” he went on, “is give vent to my anger and frustration. There’s nothing good comes from that. I’d then be up on murder charges, and how would that help Nancy? No, Frank. I’ve watched you all our lives, just doing whatever you wanted to do. Nothing could have spoken louder about how not to live a life. Nance and I will hold onto each other, and we’ll come through.”

You know … it’s years since I thought about that conversation. I wasn’t hurt at the time. If anything, I was proud that he’d watched me doing what I wanted to do. Now that I’m really thinking about it though, he certainly wasn’t paying me a compliment! He was actually calling me … for want of a polite term … a loser.

Love limits itself. There it is again. That thought.

Oh, I’ve limited myself alright, but only to get me what I wanted. Jim, on the other hand, has limited himself for the sake of others, and despite all the sadness that he and Nancy have endured, they’re still the happiest people I know. They travel, they have friends all over the world … and they have six kids, six sons-and-daughters in law, and about twenty-five grandchildren who all adore them. Biologically, those kids are Dot’s and mine, but they’re not really ours at all, any more.

I’m not really sure when I noticed it, but some time after Adam was killed, Jim and Nancy started being more involved in our kids’ lives. Our kids would go there for afternoon tea on their way home from school. They started sharing their exciting news with Uncle Jim and Auntie Nance. They’d go there to talk through problems that they had. I didn’t care! At least I didn’t have to sit and listen to them whinge!

Most of the horde of school kids have passed by, now. They’d be home telling their mothers about their days. Well, maybe not. Most mothers these days are out working. They’ll be home watching the telly. I’m actually glad that our kids had Dot to come home to. I’m even glad that they had Jim and Nance. I can see that they’re better for it. They’re all okay, these days, as far as I can tell.

I hang my head, just dropping my chin to my chest. I feel the whiskers of my unshaven face bristling and prickling where chin meets chin and chins meet chest.

Gawd, I’ve been a bastard.

Really, I’ve only ever lived my life for me. Now, I’m a lonely old coot who shares a house with a frightened rabbit of a woman who only speaks when she’s spoken to and does everything she’s told because she’s scared not to. I fought for ‘me’ all the time, and in the grand scheme of things, I’ve got nothing. Jim’s got everything that matters, hasn’t he? He’s got the love of everyone around him, but especially his wife.

Gawd, I’m sorry. I can feel hot tears on my cheeks, but I don’t care enough to brush them away.

The sun is setting when I struggle to my feet. I put my weight on my walking stick and shuffle inside the house. Then I go back and pick up my mug and plate, balancing them carefully in one hand as I walk through to the kitchen.

Dot looks up, and blinks in amazement as I put my used crockery on the bench. I’ve never done that before, and I’m almost surprised to realise that it hasn’t cost me anything.

She’s peeling the spuds for tea, and I shuffle to her, take the peeler from her hands and put it on the bench. She’s frozen, not knowing what I’m likely to do. I put my arms around her. “I’m sorry, love. I’m sorry I’ve been such a bastard. For so long.”

Slowly, her arms come around me. I don’t know whether she can feel my tears through her grey hairs and onto her skull – I just know that I don’t care if she can. It’s not weakness. She’s my wife.

“I love you, Frank,” she ventures at last.

“I love you, too.” I straighten, but still hold her, looking down into her perplexed, wrinkled face. She’s still beautiful, beneath the years of torment I’ve put her through. It must be five decades since I told her that. Maybe when Darren was born.

“I was thinking,” I say. “All that money that I’ve been so … mean about.”

“Yes?” I can hear the fear in her voice, and I don’t want her to be fearful any more. She’s a good woman.

“We should book a holiday. Go and see all the kids. And when we come back, lets look at doing some renovations on the old house here. Maybe then they’ll want to come and visit us.”

Now her tears are hot on my chest, soaking through my vest and my shirt and my singlet, and I’m holding her close, like I don’t ever remember holding her in all our lives before. Now, I’m not doing it because I want sex (although I wouldn’t say no). I’m not doing it because I want her to come home and stop being stupid. I’m doing it because I want her to be happy.

We don’t have a lot of years left, but it would be nice if, when she finally buries me, she’s glad she married me in the first place.

My Fair Lady September 22, 2009

Posted by Anna in Free Range Ideas.
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After completing this week’s writing exercise, I had another idea floating around in my head. I wasn’t going to post it to the blog because it’s so long, but then I kinda wanted some feedback, too. It will make most sense to those who are familiar with the musical “My Fair Lady.”

 

Slouched at the breakfast table, Lizzi hunched more protectively over her bowl of cereal as her brothers and their mate slouched into the room. They’d already been out in the front yard, working on the Monaro’s engine before the summer heat became unbearable for the day.

Paul, the eldest, went to the pantry and started handing out boxes of cereal to his mate Chook, who put them on the table opposite to where Lizzi was huddled. Trent got the bowls and flicked on the kettle, while Bevan, his twin, got the spoons out of the drawer and the milk from the fridge.

“How’s the princess this morning?” Trent enquired with a private grin as one by one the boys got seated at the table and began piling their bowls with muesli, rice bubbles, Weeties and cornflakes.

Lizzi glanced up at him, glowering. “I’m not a princess.”

“You sure looked like one last night,” Bevan pointed out, exchanging a wink with Trent.

She had looked beautiful, heading off to her Year 12 formal with her hair all done and in a dress it had taken her six months to save up for. Coming home, though, easing quietly through the front door after 2am, well after the curfew her father had given her, the four boys had seen for themselves how dishevelled she looked.

“Must’ve got lucky,” Paul had grunted, giving Chook a nudge beside him on the lounge, where they waited for the twins to hand over the game controllers for the Playstation game the four of them were playing.

Lizzi didn’t reply to Bevan’s breakfast comments. She knew very well that anything she said would elicit teasing. They couldn’t help themselves, and she just wasn’t in the mood. Gulping down the last of the milk direct from her bowl, she flung herself away from the table, put her bowl and spoon in the dishwasher, and just about ran out of the room to hide away under the comforting deluge of the shower.

The four older boys all exchanged dramatised glances, arching their eyebrows at each other and widening their eyes, spoons all poised somewhere between bowls and mouths. It was their cue.

“What in all of heaven could’ve prompted her to go?” Paul asked, his tone conveying shocked amazement.

“After such a triumph at the ball!” Bevan confirmed, his own voice full of petulant dismay.

“What could’ve depressed her?” Trent enquired with mock concern.

“What could’ve possessed her?” Chook echoed, understanding that he was required to play along with this, and knowing the musical lyrics as well as Lizzi’s brothers did.

“I cannot understand the wretch at all!” the three Peirce sons chorused in pretend justified indignation.

This kind of scenario had been played out over and over again in the Peirce household since Lizzi was in Year 8 at high school. The twins were in Year 9, and Paul and Chook were in Year 10. Every student was required to try out for a part in the school play that year, and Mrs Peirce had dropped them all off at the auditorium together, for the M to R auditions.

When she got to the Peirce teenagers, Mrs Delahunty took great delight in calling out ‘Eliza Peirce!’, which always made Lizzi cringe. Lizzi just about cried when the teacher insisted on calling her ‘Eliza Dolittle’ and even though she really wanted the lead role, she sang off key because she was so nervous as a result of the teasing.

When she got to Chook, Mrs Delahunty of course refused to use his nickname to demand that Henry Pickering present himself on stage. It was quite lost to her that ‘Chook’ was the right thing to call him – Henry, Hen, Chook – it made perfect sense to all his mates.

“What a shame your surname isn’t Higgins, Mr Pickering!” Mrs Delahunty smiled ironically. She suggested that she would pair him with Lizzi as Eliza Dolittle just because of their names, and that was enough for Chook to muff his lines completely and utterly disqualify himself for the lead or any other role.

It was news to everyone in the room that Henry and Lizzi shared an amusing array of names from the characters of My Fair Lady, the play which would be performed that your. It was delightful fodder for many.

 

Lizzi returned home from her first year at university a much more confident young woman than she’d left. She had learned a number of skills useful in the fighting off of unwanted male attention, and she rather hoped she would also be more adept at handling her brothers. In her whole year away, she hadn’t walked home once, and although she had a reputation as a total prude, she preferred that to the options elicited by certain other behaviours.

Trent and Bevan were both doing apprenticeships in their home town – one as a builder and the other as a butcher. Paul was doing a Business-Law degree at the same university where Chook was doing Civil and Mining Engineering, and Lizzi had made sure she wasn’t even in the same city as them. The two of them shared a flat, and Lizzi had declined every invitation to party with them, no matter the excuse.

They were all home for Christmas, though, so she took a deep breath, put on a big smile, and fronted up to the breakfast table on her first morning home.

Her father laid a big plate of bacon and eggs down in front of her, and her mother poured her a coffee. Both her parents were beaming, having all their flock home under their roof again for Christmas. Even though Chook’s parents lived just down the road, Lizzi wasn’t surprised that he was at the table too. He was like one of theirs in so many ways.

Her parents asked Paul and Chook about their studies and their sporting activities.

They asked the twins about their social lives, even though both boys still lived at home.

“Have you met any nice young men?” Lizzi’s mother finally asked her.

Lizzi coloured. She hadn’t expected her mother’s preoccupation with seeing her married off young to carry on after she’d got all high distinctions in every subject of her education degree.

“I’ve met a lot of nice young men,” she answered tartly. “But none of them special enough to take precedence over my studies.”

“Well, that’s very commendable,” her father said, patting her hand comfortingly.

Lizzi watched the flow of conversation around the table, with all the major attention focused on the boys. Even Chook got more attention than she did. He caught her eye at one point, and winked at her. Sometimes she wondered if he knew how overlooked and unnecessary she felt.

“So what are you up to today, Busy Lizzi?” Paul asked as she closed her knife and fork on her empty plate, placed her empty mug on top and got up to put them in the dishwasher. “Lots of shopping with the girlies?”

Aiming a ground-disintegrating glare at her oldest brother, she exited the room with as much dignity as she could hold together.

Behind her, as she headed down the hallway to her bedroom, she heard the predictable chant start up.

“Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!” Paul exclaimed in overly-theatrical dismay.

“Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags!” Bevan agreed vehemently.

“They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags!” Trent confirmed with relish. He always loved getting all the words right in that line, and in the right order.

The last thing Lizzi heard before she closed her bedroom door, was her father laughingly demanding “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” She hated that their father had joined her brothers in their lyrical taunting of her.

She didn’t hear Chook say, without any characterisation at all, “Why the hell would you want them to be?”

The tears were shed behind her closed bedroom door, and Lizzi’s make-up was immaculate by the time she eased her way out the front door to catch the bus into town to do her Christmas shopping alone.

 

Lizzi dressed with care in her hotel room. There was nothing in her that wanted to attend Paul and Henry’s graduation ceremony, but her mother insisted that she simply had to attend. “I know they tease you unmercifully, darling,” she soothed, “but they do both love you, and they’d be awfully hurt if you weren’t there.”

The twins both whistled at her when she joined the family downstairs in the hotel lobby.

“Wow, she doesn’t much look like a country girl any more,” Trent commented to Bevan.

“So have you met any nice young men?” their mother enquired of Lizzi as their father negotiated the old family car through the city traffic.

“Actually,” Lizzi said carefully, wondering what can of worms she was about to open up, “I have been seeing someone.”

Either side of her in the back seat of the car, the twins leaned forward and looked at her with interest.

“Really!” the twins said, in perfect union with both their parents.

“What’s his name?” Trent wanted to know.

“Fred,” Lizzi said quietly, examining the paint job on her fingernails nervously.

The whole car went silent. She glanced up in time to see Trent and Bevan squinting eyes at each other. “Not sure,” Bevan said. “We’ll have to do some research.”

“I wish you lot would get over your obsession with that stupid musical,” she mumbled, her mouth tightening with frustration.

“No way!” Trent and Bevan retorted together.

“How else would we express our adoration for you?” Trent added, giving her knee a squeeze and making her yelp. She hated being imprisoned between them like that.

“You’re actually a Pickering for the day,” Henry’s younger sister Georgia told Lizzi when they met up in the auditorium. She linked their arms together, giving Lizzi’s arm an affectionate squeeze. “The boys get four tickets each, and we only needed three, but your family needed five.”

“That’s fine,” Lizzi smiled back at the fifteen-year-old, grateful for the acceptance the girl was bestowing on her. The relief she felt at not having to sit with any of her brothers was almost overwhelming.

The graduation ceremony passed without incident. Afterwards, Lizzi noticed that the twins were involving Paul and Henry in a number of secretive huddles. They all had their mobile phones out at one stage, and Lizzi, despite the happy chatter of Georgia at her side, felt her heart sitting heavily in her stomach. There were photos and banter, but Lizzi smiled dutifully and said as little as possible.

Of course there was dinner that night. The evening was cool, so Lizzi, like her mother, Mrs Pickering and Georgia, wore a different outfit for the occasion.

“You’re looking lovely again tonight, Lizzi,” Henry said amiably as she walked past him to take her seat, thankfully between Mr Pickering and Georgia at the dinner table. She nodded her acknowledgement of the compliment, and eased into the safety of her seat.

Desserts were being served when Paul turned to his sister and asked her in a voice so innocent the hair on the back of her neck bristled in alarm, “So who’s this bloke you’ve been seeing, Lizzi?”

She didn’t want to answer.

“Oh, are you seeing someone?” Georgia asked, her tone an odd mixture of horror, dismay, delight and intrigue.

“Yes,” Lizzi answered her newest friend, unable to be rude to her, even to defend herself against her brothers. “His name is Fred.”

Immediately, with hastily rehearsed precision, Trent began the chanted lyrics that she’d known would not be far away.

“Marry Freddie!” he exclaimed in pinched and pompous outrage. “What an infantile idea.”

“What a heartless, wicked, brainless thing to do,” Paul added, mimicking Trent’s vocal inflections seamlessly.

“But she’ll regret it. She’ll regret it!” Bevan continued with tremulous, hammed-up certainty.

“It’s doomed before they even take the vow,” Henry added with mortician-like foreboding.

Lizzi, who had begun to eat her pecan pie, laid her dessert fork back down on her plate. “Are you serious?” she said calmly across the table to her brothers and their collaborator, stopping them before they could plunge any further into their planned taunt. “Are you really serious? You haven’t seen me for two years, and you spend your whole afternoon figuring out how to humiliate me. Again.” She laid her napkin on the table, got to her feet and left the table with her clutch purse in hand.

“She’ll be back,” her brothers said to each other, and the others at the table.

“Oh, of course she will,” Mrs Peirce agreed, taking another mouthful of her sticky date pudding.

Nobody said anything for an uncomfortable moment. Then Georgia piped up. “Well, if I was her, I wouldn’t!”

“Georgia!” her parents said in unison.

Georgia, however, was glaring across the table at her big brother. “How could you do something like that to her, Henry?” He didn’t answer her. “You’re always telling us how nice she is and how pretty she is and how beautifully she’s growing up … and you treat her like that!”

Paul turned his head and opened his mouth to say something to his friend, but no sound emerged. Trent and Bevan also looked shocked.

“Oh, she knows it’s all in fun,” Mr Peirce told Georgia soothingly. “She knows that’s how the boys express their love for her.”

Georgia, quite used to expressing her opinions at home, turned to him and raised her eyebrows. “That’s an expression of love?”

“Yes, of course it is,” Mr Peirce replied, though less comfortably this time. “The boys have been doing this for years. They put a lot of time and effort into learning these songs, so they can amuse her with them at appropriate times.”

“Well, I don’t know if you noticed or not,” Georgia told him with patient firmness, “but she wasn’t amused. She was hurt.” She looked across the table again and engaged her eyes with her brothers’. “And if that’s how you express love to a girl, you’ll die a sad and unhappy old man.”

“Oh, don’t say that, love,” Mrs Peirce sighed patronisingly. “It’s an expression of love,” she added, reiterating the point her husband had made earlier.

Georgia shook her head firmly. “No it’s not. If Lizzi doesn’t understand it as love, then it isn’t love.”

Around the table, nobody said anything. Everyone looked at their plates.

“I should go talk to her,” Henry said, scraping his chair back.

“You won’t catch her,” Georgia told him certainly.

“Oh, she’ll just be sulking back at the hotel,” Mrs Peirce said knowledgeably.

“If I was her, I wouldn’t be,” Georgia said quietly to her parents.

 

Lizzi was back at her own university by morning, in her own room, packing boxes. By midday she had met with the Dean, and within the week, she was driving north to finish her degree at a different university.

Phone calls came, but she declined to answer them. She got a new sim card for her phone and threw the old one off a bridge somewhere.

Letters followed her – she tore them up.

Fred came to visit her. She told him not to come again.

“You’re a lovely girl, Lizzi,” he told her sadly, hugging her goodbye. “I hope you get this rubbish with your family sorted some time.”

 

After she graduated, Lizzi took the remotest posting possible. Nobody would look for her in Broken Hill.

She quite liked living amidst the red dirt and intense heat of the mining town. Teaching in the primary school wasn’t always easy, but she made friends amongst her colleagues and neighbours. After a year or so, she was even able to purchase a lovely old house, with lots of help from the bank, of course.

When her third year at the school was drawing to a close, she threw a party at her house for her colleagues. It was part house warming, and part birthday party for her friend Lydia.

The house was festooned with balloons and tinsel and streamers, and as the guests arrived, two piles beneath the Christmas tree grew, with Secret Santa presents for everyone on one side, and a separate pile just for Lydia.

Lizzi was having a wonderful time, carrying trays of food around the place amongst her mingling guests. Most of the men had beers in their hands, and most of the women were drinking either white wine or shandies. Out under the awning in the backyard, Lizzi found a group of people who were standing around empty handed, and hurried to bring them out something cool to drink, as well as a fresh tray of food. As she handed the last stubby from the carton to the last man standing, she looked up at him, saying, “Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Lizzi.”

She didn’t know everyone there, by any means. Everyone had brought somebody with them, and she only knew a few of her colleagues’ partners anyway.

“Hi Lizzi,” the man said, smiling down into her eyes. Her blood ran cold. “I’m Henry.”

She blinked at him. “No.” She shook her head. “No.” Mining Engineer. Broken Hill Mining. “No.”

The next thing she knew, Henry and another man were helping her down into a seat, and Brenda, the librarian, was bringing her a glass of iced water.

 

They met for brunch in the café of one of the town’s art galleries.

“They’d love to just know that you’re okay,” Henry told Lizzi gently.

“I don’t want them to know where I am,” she said flatly. “I’m the happiest I’ve been in my life, away from all that ridicule.”

Henry nodded. “I can see that.” He couldn’t just then because she was pale and nervous seeing him, but he’d watched her from a distance for an hour last night before he’d had to introduce himself. He’d never seen her laugh like that, ever. She was lovely.

The waitress brought them cool drinks, and then food.

“They thought it was loving, teasing you, you know,” Henry braved.

“It wasn’t. It was cruel. The joke was always on me. It never included me.”

Henry chewed his lip. “You know that it was supposed to be on me at the start too, do you?”

“What do you mean?”

“The joke started about Eliza and Henry, didn’t it?”

“Yes, but you joined in!”

He shrugged. “Survival. It’s what blokes do. You figure out how to be one of the boys.”

“By chanting show tunes to make a vulnerable adolescent girl feel even more worthless than she already does.” She snorted. “How very manly and gentlemenly of you.”

He pulled a face, not really managing to suppress his grin. “It was funny, Liz. Honestly. Seeing those boofy blokes learning how to recite poetry so they could stir up their kid sister. It was actually kinda cool to be part of it.”

“I’m pleased for you,” she said drily.

The waitress brought them more water.

Then she brought them the dessert menu.

“Just an iced tea for me, please,” Lizzi said without looking.

Henry ordered a coffee, and settled back to look at her across the table. “I’m here for a year,” he said amiably. “I met Shonna at the pub last week.”

“Well, I hope you two will be very happy.”

“Don’t be so damned stupid, Lizzi!” Henry shot at her.

She raised an eyebrow at him in a way that reminded him, oddly, of Georgia. “I’m a lot of things, Henry. Over-sensitive, too serious, humourless, etcetera. But I am not stupid.” She eyed him steadily. “Why would you think I was stupid?”

“Shonna’s some chick I met in a pub. You are …” He couldn’t say it. Not yet.

“I’m what, Henry?”

He didn’t answer. He was remembering that Georgia had spent the two weeks of each of the last three years out in Broken Hill. She had photos of all the local tourist attractions. Rocks. Pro Hart. She had been fervent in her encouragement of him taking the Broken Hill offer, rather than the Queensland one or the Western Australian one.

“I’m what, Henry?” Lizzi repeated, sounding like her patience and her presence were both nearing their end.

He was about to open his mouth to out Georgia as the match-making little minx he’d just recognised that she was, but had to stop himself. That wouldn’t be smart.

Lizzi was on her feet. “Thank you for breakfast Henry. It’s been nice seeing you again. I’m sure Broken Hill is large enough that we don’t need to bump into each other very often at all, really. Shonna and I aren’t particular friends, so feel free to continue doing with her what she’s been so happy about for the last week!”

He watched her stalk off, realising that he’d known this meeting would end like this. He was too well trained by her brothers not to antagonise her still.

 

“Hi Mrs Peirce,” Henry said from the lounge room of his single bedroom company-owned flat. “Yeah, settling in well.” He paused for a moment while she responded again. “Mrs Peirce … can I ask you something?” he asked in all seriousness.

She gave her assent.

“Mrs Peirce … you’re a woman.”

“Well, yes …” she responded uncertainly. It wasn’t an observation he usually bothered to articulate.

“Well … why can’t a woman be more like a man? Men are so decent. Such regular chaps. Ready to help you through any mishaps. Ready too buck you up whenever you are glum. Why can’t a woman … be a chum?” His tone was full of ignorant bewilderment, but void of melodramatic affectation.

“Oh Henry!” Mrs Peirce laughed. “You’re such a goose!”

“Why is thinking something women never do? Why is logic never even tried? Straightening up their hair is all they ever do! Why don’t they … straighten up the mess that’s inside?” He had the teasing chant in his tone now, but Mrs Peirce hadn’t picked up on it yet. The serious edge in his tone had distracted her.

“Henry! That’s a bit rough, darl!”

“Why can’t a woman behave like a man? If I was a woman who’d been to a ball … been hailed as a princess by one and by all … Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing? Or carry on as if my home were in a tree? Would I run off and never tell me where I’m going? Why can’t a woman … be like me?”

Mrs Peirce was crying softly now, as his utterance began to make sense to her. “You’ve found her. You found our Lizzi.”

“Yes,” agreed Henry gently. “But she’s not your Lizzi any more. She’s even more wonderful than she was, and if she ever comes home again, you’ll all have to meet her as the woman she is, rather than who you all just assumed she was.”

 

The children had been dismissed on the last day of school, and Lizzi was just doing one last check of her classroom, making sure that no fish remained in the tank, and that Ellery Peters really had remembered to take Bertie the Bunny home with him from the hutch.

A knock sounded on the glass of the open door, and Lizzi straightened from stowing a box of books in the bottom of the cupboard. “Come in!” she called cheerily, sliding the aged cupboard door closed and wondering how much longer they’d have to wait for the promised refurbishment funding.

When her eyes made it to the door, she stood stock still. Henry stood there, holding a massive arrangement of native flora in his hands. “Merry Christmas,” he said, chancing a hopeful wobbly smile.

“What are you doing here?” Lizzi asked tersely, heading for her desk to collect her handbag so she could get out of there.

“I’m here for lessons, please Miss,” Henry told her pleadingly.

She looked at him angrily, expecting to see that he was teasing her. He didn’t seem to be. “Lessons in what?”

“Lessons in how to really know Lizzi Peirce,” he suggested. “Lessons in how to be her friend, and …”

“And what?”

He pulled a face and twisted his head, neck and shoulders awkwardly. “Maybe more?”

“Oh! Now you’re being ridiculous!”

Henry didn’t move from the doorway. He shook his head. “No, I’m not.”

“What about Shonna?”

“Shonna knew even before the party at your place that I wasn’t interested in her. When she heard I was new in town, she asked if I’d like to come to your party to meet some people. She mentioned your name, and I asked some questions to make sure it really was you. I told her I was an old family friend.”

Lizzi stared at him. He really was very bold.

He twisted his upper body again, clearly not wholly comfortable under her scrutiny. “She told me even before we left the party that she could see that we had a thing for each other, Liz. I’m not cheating on her. I was never with her. She was happy because she knew she was helping me, and she hoped she was doing something nice for you, because you’re a good friend, she said.”

“I’m not going home for Christmas!” Lizzi exclaimed abruptly, as if she suddenly thought all his motives had to be ulterior in some way.

He laughed softly. “God no! I’ve got to learn how to stand up for you and not sing any more My Fair Lady songs at you, just cos your brothers are around!”

She nodded slowly. “Those are some very hard lessons you’re signing up for, Mr Pickering.”

He nodded back. “Yeah. I know.” He already knew she was worth it.

 

They were married during the September holidays the next year. Henry made it very clear to everyone that this was a public declaration of where all his allegiances lay from now on. Lizzi watched her brothers warily.

While the packed church waited for the bride to arrive, a barbershop quartet serenaded the congregation with strains of Wouldn’t It Be Loverly and Get Me To The Church On Time.

During his speech, Henry told everyone the story of how Lizzi had hated him because he conspired with her brothers, and how the Marry Freddy serenade at his graduation had been the undoing of her, but that in truth he really had Grown Accustomed To Her Face, and thanks to Georgia, Lizzi was at last able to share in the joke that she’d never got before.

When Mr Peirce made his speech, he stood nervously for a few moments without speaking. The entire reception hall was in a hush, waiting for him. He cleared his throat. “It’s a frightening thing for a father,” he said finally, his voice shaking a little bit, “to see a fifteen year old boy look at your thirteen year old daughter in a certain way … and to be whisked in a moment down a corridor of time to see their future spread before them, and know that it’s right. Then, to come back to reality, to where she is only thirteen, and know that as her father, you just can’t let it happen yet.”

He cleared his throat again. He turned to look softly as Lizzi, who had never looked more beautiful in her life. “I’m sorry you got hurt, honey. But when those boys started singing those songs to my fair little lady, they served to protect you from meeting your destiny too soon – before you knew who you were. Your mum and I, we’re glad Henry found you now, and we’re very proud of the woman you’ve become.” He didn’t sing or recite any verses, and when he returned to his seat, Lizzi intercepted him with a tight hug.

“We have one last gift for you,” Paul said, almost nervously, having given his best man speech and raised glasses to Georgia and the other beautiful bridesmaids. Trent and Bevan came to stand with him, and looking directly at Henry, he began, quite seriously: “Tonight, old man, you did it!”

“You did it! You did it!” Trent and Bevan chorused.

“You said that you would do it and indeed you did,” Paul affirmed.

“We thought that you would rue it,” Trent added solemnly. “We doubted you’d do it.”

“But now we must admit it,” Bevan assured them, “That succeed you did.”

Together the brothers chorused, “You should get a medal, or be even made a knight.”

Henry, knowing his part, grinned, “Oh, it was nothing. Really nothing.” He smiled softly at Lizzi and squeezed her hand, hoping she wouldn’t mind too much this parting gift from his old mates.

“All alone you hurdled every obstacle in sight,” the brothers retorted, but that was where Henry left it. He didn’t go on to insist that some of the credit was due to his new brothers-in-law. Lizzi wasn’t at ease any more.

“Thanks guys,” he said, getting to his feet and pulling Lizzi after him, he moved to go and hug his mates. “Thanks for the parting words, guys. I … we … appreciate the gesture. But it’s over now. There will be no more musical recitations from you Peirce boys. Understood?” Everyone saw that they did, even as Henry and Lizzi hugged them all.

Henry and Lizzi cut the cake to On The Street Where You Live, and danced to I Could Have Danced All Night.

“So that’s it, huh?” Paul sighed, obviously with some sadness, having helped Lizzi get into the back of the limousine that would bear Mr Pickering and his fair lady off on their honeymoon.

“Yes it is,” Lizzi said firmly, smiling fondly at him and giving his cheek a parting kiss. A lot had healed.

“Yes it is,” Henry affirmed, even more sternly, when Paul said the same to him. “You’ve already seen that she’s strong enough to leave if it isn’t. I’m not risking that, ever again.”

“So that’s it,” Paul sighed to Trent and Bevan as the limousine cruised down the driveway and away from them.

“Yeah,” the twins exhaled in unison.

“Well, except maybe for special occasions like birthdays,” Trent said.

“And anniversaries,” Bevan added.

“And christenings,” Paul grinned. “After all, uncles are a very important part of kids’ lives. Even if it’s only sometimes.”

No Such Address September 21, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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This exercise from my sister Ada: Choose one of the following and go with it:
• your language? • no such address • with all the drowsy stuff • they were a little put off by the way.

This story is quite long, I’m sorry – I got a little carried away, I think.

 

Matilda sighed and stopped outside the gate, resting the weight of her own frame down through the core of her being. She dropped her head backwards and let the rain pour down her face instead of running off the brim of her hat.

She’d been at this for days now, and not only were her feet sore and weary, but her heart was draining of conviction, too.

She wasn’t a young woman, and in that moment she felt fully two or three times her real years. She wasn’t used to trudging around city pavements for days on end. She didn’t much like talking to people at all, let alone stranger after stranger after stranger, and it was demoralising beyond comprehension when every single one so far had shaken their head sadly and said “Sorry,” in one way or another. “Sorry, love.” “Nah. Sorry!” “No my dear, I’m so sorry.”

Matilda realised that the rain was trickling down the inside of her collar and running rivulets down her skin. Dropping her head forward with exhausted frustration, she clamped her hand against her chest and wriggled her aching shoulders to force the fabric of her clothing to soak up the intrusion of the rain into her personal space.

It had started when her mother started to decline, and Matilda rallied the family to see if they could locate some of her past for frail, self-sacrificing Maisie. Of course most of the work was left to Matilda, and only one or two of her own children even showed a spark of interest when she told the family who she’d found to write to this time. Not that it mattered.

A handful of her letters brought responses stating an inability to help, or a refusal based on lack of information. Most of her letters, though, had come back brutally stamped by the Post Office with an accusing finger pointing from right to left: Return to Sender and a box ticked to justify Australia Post’s failure to deliver the letter. Mostly, the checked box indicated that the addressee was Unknown at this Address. The last letter was different. Address Unknown.

Matilda still had the envelope in her handbag, and it had been through a great many hands since its return to her home address. Her Uncle Norm had looked at it several times. “No, love. That’s the right address. I know it. I never went there meself, but I used to address the Christmas cards for Mum when her hands stopped working. For years I did that! She always remembered them at Christmas – it’s where George told her to go to have the baby. With George’s parents. They were good to her too, love. Helped her get on her feet when George was killed in the war.”

Matilda knew she didn’t have another knock-back left in her today. Turning away from the dilapidated house in front of her, she turned and walked across the street and settled herself inside an aging café. Its walls were desperately in need of paint, but its tables were so scrupulously clean that the pattern was all but gone from the green Formica tabletops.

“Take yer coat off before y’sit down, love,” called out a kindly male voice from somewhere behind the counter. A white-haired chap hurried out of the shadows and helped her out of her sopping raincoat and hat. “Oh, y’poor thing! Y’look half drowned!” Twisting his head over his shoulder, he aimed his next utterance towards the kitchen area somewhere. “Lisa! Bring us a bowl of soup and some fresh buttered toast, willya?”

“Oh, that’s very kind,” Matilda said softly. “I’ll just have a coffee, though.”

“No, no, love!” the snowy-haired man insisted, guiding her by the elbow to a table near the heater. “The soup’s the same price, and the coffee’s on the house for drowned rats. Y’look like y’need warming up from the inside.”

Matilda sank gratefully into the chair he’d pulled out for her, and looked up into kindly brown eyes. “Thank you so much. That’s very kind.”

He hovered, frowning at her slightly. “You got arthritis?” he asked, nodding when he saw her agreement pass over her face. “Like me.”

His grand-daughter brought the soup and toast, and Matilda didn’t think she’d ever tasted anything so wonderful in all her life. Snowy, which is what Lisa told Matilda everyone called him, brought her a perfect cappuccino in a large mug, just as she was finishing the last bite of toast.

Somehow, then, they got talking. It wasn’t busy in this weather, Snowy pointed out. It wasn’t good for business, but he liked days like this because you actually got to meet people, rather than just serving them and taking their money.

Matilda told him why she was out on such a wet and blustery day, and so far from home. Her mother was dying. She’d always been a fragile sort of person, probably shouldn’t have lived at birth, except for her fighting spirit, Maisie’s mother had always told her.

“Her parents met during the first war,” Matilda told Snowy. “George got permission to marry, but soon after he went with the Lighthorse. Gertie found she was pregnant, and somehow she ended up living with George’s parents in the city here, and that’s where Maisie, my mother, was born. They lived with George’s parents for nearly a decade, I believe, before Gertie remarried and they moved up to Uralla. They had more children of course, and Mum doesn’t really know what happened to her grandparents who lived around these parts. She just remembers being happy with them.”

Snowy nodded understandingly. “Communication in the old days wasn’t as good as it is now,” he reminded her. “Even in the sixties, phone calls were expensive. And telegrams – remember those?” he laughed. “‘ARRIVING PM TRAIN SAT’ and all in capitals, of course. Gosh, y’had to be able to decipher the cryptic in those days!”

“Yes,” agreed Maisie. “I think Mum would just like to see, one last time, the place where she was born. My Uncle Norm was Gertie’s youngest child with her second husband, so he doesn’t know a lot about her life before his father came along, but he insists he remembers the address correctly. I’ve written to the local council, I’ve written to all the Pendleburys in Tempe from the phone book, but nobody’s ever heard of George Lionheart Pendlebury.”

Snowy scrunched up his eyes at her, almost suspiciously. “Lionheart? That’s an odd middle name!”

“Mum says she thinks they were related to Richard the Lionheart, way back.” “What’s the address?” Matilda thought she caught a trace of accusation in Snowy’s voice, but she was too tired to trust her own sensibilities, or to really care. “That you’re looking for,” he clarified when she hesitated in answering.

She rifled through her bag and pulled out the now-worn letter that had been in so many hands, just in this one day. Handing it across the table, she recited, “24 Pendlebury Lane, Tempe. Apparently there’s no such address.”

“Huh,” Snowy said, holding the letter with both hands and nodding absently at it, his mouth slightly agape. “Huh,” he said again. When he looked up at Matilda again, she thought his eyes were moist. He cleared his throat. “Pendlebury Lane was renamed back in the fifties,” he said. “Apparently it was considered more appropriate to honour local dignitaries, no matter how unscrupulous they were, rather than real, honest people.”

Matilda caught the note of pique in his tone, and didn’t respond.

Again, Snowy cleared his throat before speaking. “The numbers were redone in the seventies.” He left Lisa to deal with the new customers that came through the door, shaking off their umbrellas in the doorway.

This time, Matilda felt her own disappointment. She’d been going to knock on a door across the road. She’d heard today that there was a possibility that the street had been renamed, but she’d never dreamt it had been renumbered, too.

“I suppose I’ll have to doorknock the length of the street.” She sighed. “That will have to be tomorrow. I’m too done in today.”

Snowy shook his head, and this time there was no doubt that his eyes were moist. “You probably didn’t notice,” he said, his voice unsteady. “The shop here is called the Lionheart Café. Now, we’re 27 Rutherford Street, but back when your mum was born, it was 24 Pendlebury Lane.” He held out his hand, to shake hers as if they were just meeting. “I’d been your second cousin,” he said with a wobbly smile. “Or something like that. Snowdon Lionheart Pendlebury Jones – that’s my name. Snowy Jones. My mother used to talk about Gertie and Maisie all the time. My mum was George’s little sister. Your mum lived out the back here with them all.”

Her own features flooded with emotion, and Matilda slowly lifted her hand to mechanically, disbelievingly connect with Snowy’s.

“Mum! Mum, you’ll never guess what!” she cried into her mobile phone an hour later as she hurried to the train. Uncle Norm was holding the phone to Maisie’s ear. “We’re bringing you to Sydney!”

A Judgement Call September 19, 2009

Posted by Anna in Poetry.
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I came across a man* today
With whom I am acquainted,
And as we spoke of common things
The atmosphere was tainted.

The pleasantries were quickly done;
We talked more personal,
Yet as I listened for response
I felt quite criminal.

Our conversation was about
The pitfalls of the journey;
The treachery along this route
Of whom so few are worthy**.

His words did not betray his heart
Nor yet was it his silence,
Yet judgement oozed from every pore
And censure was his parlance.

Does he know more than me? I thought
When able to escape.
Perhaps he does, I must admit,
But we are not his shape.

This path we walk is ours alone,
With companions on the way.
Some help, some harm, some radiate
Turning night time into day.

The friends I treasure most are these:
The ones who respect my call**.
They love their call and honour mine:
Together we give all.

These friends allow me most of all
To be honest, real and human.
They stand beside me, hold me strong:
We are each other’s crewmen.

Those who won’t permit the smallest hint
Of human frailty,
Omit themselves from warm inclusion
Great fun and loyalty.

Please understand my dearest ones
The path might seem to be wide,
But when you sit in pious judgement
You create your own divide.

 

* “a man” is a generic term and does not apply to anyone specifically
** “the call” and “for whom so few are worthy” is about parenting parenting – not one of us would be picked on merit at the start, none of us do it like another, and our efforts can take a lifetime or more to be proven one way or another.

 

The Dreamgivers September 14, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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This week, my sister Jane provided the words: search, certain, senile, slumber, shunned. When I came to write, I had little idea of what story  wanted to tell, other than I wanted to write from the perspective of a fairy-like creature. What emerged wasn’t anything I might have expected.

 

Elly sat daintily on the edge of her bark doorstep and delicately preened her gossamer wings. Inside her tiny lodging had the damp fragrance of overnight rain, and she was using the raindrops that fell from a nearby leaf in her grooming routine.

Today, she felt just as excited as she did every day, but just a little nervous, too. Today, she was to spend time with the Dreamweaver, to learn from him about teenagers. Today, she would see into the dreams of some of the humans she had visited when they were little, and it had been her joyful task to take sweet thoughts of fairy floss, happiness and laughter into their slumber times.

Her morning preparations complete, she stood to her tiny feet and stretched out her delicate wings, arching the cartilages and causing the peeking sunlight to shimmer off her prettily coloured membranes.

A small shrill to her left made her fold her wings carefully, and her eyes made a swift search of the leaves until she found the offender.

“Oh, you are naughty, Ronahan!” Elly twinkled at him, laughing.

“I didn’t think you’d hear,” he laughed back, in the light, bell-like way they communicated. “Are you with the Dreamweaver today?”

“Oh yes! Do you have advice? I am to see teenagers, and I am a little afraid.”

Ronahan fluttered out from his own hidden abode and alighted on a branch not far from Elly. “You must remember the innocence they had when you first knew them,” he said. “The Dreamweaver told me that they are still the same, it’s just that they are no longer in the certain place of their childhood, so they become angry and afraid sometimes.”

“What do they have to fear?” Elly asked, her tone tinkling shrilly with her surprise.

“Just the unknown,” Ronahan replied with the air of one of superior knowledge. “They don’t know to trust.”

“But why?” Elly blinked at him and smoothed down her skirt, the tendrils of which were inclined to lift with the morning breeze. “Didn’t we give them enough reassurance in their childhood dreams?”

Her companion smiled at her modesty. “It is not our responsibility, the Dreamweaver told me. This is a difficult time for a human. They are no longer fully cared for by their parents, but they are not yet fully responsible for themselves. A big part of their fear, the Dreamweaver says, is that they will be shunned by others if they don’t do things right.”

Elly ruffled her wings. “But they have such freedom!” she tinkled at Ronahan. “But I must be going. I must not be late.” She did a final preen. “How sad for the teenagers. If they knew to trust, they would have no need to fear.”

Ronahan stood too, and ruffled his own wings with masculine pride. “I am to be with the class again today. We are to learn about dreams that teach.”

Elly’s eyes opened wide. “Don’t all dreams teach?”

“No. Some just collect the refuse of the day and cast it off as waste. Those are important too, you know. If a human doesn’t allow those kind of dreams, they can easily become senile when they get older.”

“Oh!” This time, Elly’s jingling tone betrayed horror. “Is that when the refuse of a lifetime overflows into the human’s wakefulness?”

“It can be,” Ronahan nodded. “Shall we fly together to where the path divides?”

He held out his hand to her and they lifted off together.

“All you need to remember,” Ronahan said to Elly as they flitted through the trees together, “is to love the teenagers just the same as you love the children. Then, the message you bring them from the Dreamweaver will settle true in their hearts.”

“Except for when they sleep in shade,” Elly pointed out, remembering her studies by the firefly’s light from the previous night.

“The shade decieves.” Ronahan guided them to a stop, in the midst of a horde of others of their kind, all saying their farewells for the day to go about their business. “When there is shade,” he advised, “don’t speak the message louder.” The ringing of his intonation was fond. “Just speak with more authority. The shade is only shadow – it has no substance.”

Elly nodded, realising that she had studied this, too. “The more certain I am that the message is true, the more the dreamer will remember, and the more use the dream will be when it is needed.”

“You will do well, Elly,” Ronahan chimed encouragingly. “See you at Gathering tonight. Remember to listen not just with your ears to the Dreamweaver, but also with your heart.”

He watched her lower her eyelids and twinkle her farewell, then her wings tilted almost imperceptibly and took on a shimmering, vibrant hue as she turned from him, eager to enter the day. She would learn from it all she could, and emerge from it fuller and better than she had begun.

Under his breath, Ronahan clinked hopefully, “Eliana the Dreamfreer and Ronahan the Dreamwarrior.” His own calling was always most effective in partnership and Elly would make a fine partner indeed.

As he flipped his own wings back into action and joined the throng heading towards his destination, Ronahan tinkled, “Elly and Ro, Ro and Elly.” It shaped a new song in his heart, and gave form to a different kind of dream that he hoped the Dreamweaver would cause to be fulfilled.

Fragrance September 7, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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1 comment so far

“Describe a fragrance.” I chose the exercise this week, and I deliberately chose something I’d struggle with. I don’t usually research before doing a writing exercise, but I did in this instance. I probably spent an hour reading about fragrances in general, and this one in particular. Then I think the exercise probably took half an hour.

It wasn’t a comfortable story to write, because to my mind, stories are more about people than peripheries – the scenery and senses should be minimal, so that it is the people who are best understood. What do you think? There’s a poll at the end, and I’d love your comments. 

 

I sniff the card handed to me by the lady behind the perfume counter in Myers. My eyes close, and I am instantly back in the summer of 1989, driving to the beach in my friend Cindee’s convertible vee dub, with John Farnham blaring on her newly installed CD player.

Just a touch, a touch of paradise …

The woman is explaining to me about top notes of tarragon and cinnamon that are only light and which dissipate quickly. I sniff the card again, trying to make my olfactory senses detect even the merest hint of liquorice, aniseed or apple pie.

Just a touch, a touch of paradise …

That was the year my friend Dave got married. Pretty little thing she was. There weren’t any prizes for guessing which brain he was thinking with when he fell for her though – it certainly wasn’t the one ensconced in his cranium. In the speeches at the wedding, someone described Dave’s face when his little sex kitten emerged for their first date. I don’t know what anyone else was thinking, but my heart sank because I knew that my friend was going to have his heart broken for his disregard for common sense in choosing his life’s partner. A touch of paradise? It was only the song they danced to at their wedding.

“Now the middle notes – those are the ones that emerge after fifteen minutes or so, and they last for an hour or more. The middle notes of this cologne are patchouli and vetiver.” Patchouli. I wasn’t sure what that was, but it made me think of hippies and incense and love-ins.

“What’s vetiver?” I asked, feeling like a complete dolt.

The woman was telling me something about grasses with incredible fixative properties, but I was thinking of poor Dave, whose pretty little wife was cheating on him within a year of their wedding.

“Deep, sweet, woody, smoky, earthy…” the woman droned on.

Dave took his straying wife back when she had her heart broken, and then when she was pregnant, he agreed to raise the child as his own.

“You may be able to detect hints of amber and balsam,” the woman suggested as I looked up at her again. “That’s also the vetiver.”

I took another sniff and tried to identify dried grass in my nostrils, for some reason. The woman looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to decide whether or not this was the cologne I wanted to purchase.

“The base notes, which are the ones that remain after those initial fragrances are gone, don’t emerge until after an hour or so,” she said, as if I’d taken up enough of her time.

“And when they do emerge, what am I looking for?” I asked, unwilling to be rushed.

She pursed her lips at me. “Civet and Russian leather.”

“Isn’t a civet a little animal from Africa and Asia?” I gasped, horrified at the thought of any fragrance containing minced critter of any sort. I was sure I remembered Cyril the Civet from years ago, when I was teaching my daughter about phonics and we used animals to reinforce sounds.

The woman gazed at me tolerantly. “It’s a musk that the animal produces,” she sighed wearily. “And before you ask what’s so special about Russian leather, it was something that only the royals were allowed to wear, and it has a particular sweet pungency that only comes from age.”

I thanked the woman and told her I would continue to sniff my card while I ran the rest of my errands. I needed to know what the scent was like when it had settled and become what it would be. I promised I would be back later to purchase either the cologne I was currently most interested in, or something else.

The post office queue was long, but I got through Medicare quickly enough, went to the bank, bought a few things for dinner, and idly looked through some clothing racks.

Poor Dave. The child he chose to love like his own was taken from him when she was just two years old. Her fickle mama had reconnected with the little girl’s father, and they were going to make a happy ‘proper’ family together. I can only imagine how gutted Dave must have been.

The red top I was trying on reminded me of my going away outfit from my wedding, probably only because of the colour, but after I’d purchased it, I took the fragrance card from my purse again. Sniffing hard for traces of musk lifesavers and old leather chairs, I felt tears spring to my eyes at the wave of contentment and peace that swept over me.

“What is this called?” I asked the woman, waving my card at her as she finished with another customer and approached me warily.

“It’s ‘Gentleman’ by Givenchy,” she told me, looking at me oddly as I began to laugh.

It wasn’t maniacal laughter, but more the soft ripple of joy as memories find their proper place and relevance makes sense of oddities.

Givenchy Gentleman was my husband’s favourite aftershave when we first met. Nineteen eighty-nine was not only the year that I watched one friend begin his slide from reckless youth into saddened maturity, it was also the year that friendship blossomed with the man who had, as of today, been my husband for twenty years.

Dave did remarry, choosing a genuinely lovely girl the second time around. He’d have been married to Sue for maybe thirteen or fourteen years by now. I know they have children. I hope he’s happy.

His first wife didn’t stay with the man she left him for – I have no idea what’s happened to her.

I wore my purchase out for our celebratory dinner, and my husband wore his gift from me – along with a suit, of course.

I sniffed him when we danced, and when we came home. Now that I was so well acquainted with the scent of him, I very much liked who he had become.

For the life of me, I couldn’t identify any of the flavours or scents that the Myer lady had suggested I would identify in ‘Gentleman’. All I could smell were the memories of a year gone by. The hesitant anticipation I’d felt driving along in Cindee’s car, having just caught a whiff of this man’s aftershave at the end of year dinner a few weeks before. The sight of that particular young man wearing his first-bought suit to a special occasion and my heart fluttering inexplicably. The flurry of emotions when I realised it wasn’t ‘just me’ but that what I was feeling was entirely reciprocated. The dazed amazement, standing with him in front of the minister and all our friends, exchanging vows and knowing that through thick and thin, rough and smooth, we were in this together for life.

“You’re a weird woman,” my husband chuckled, nuzzling my neck in response to my sniffing.

“Mmm, I know. But you love me,” I answered, holding him close with a grateful heart.

It occurs to me that fragrance really isn’t about ‘notes’ or ‘flavours’ or any of that nonsense. Fragrance is a memory enhancer. It helps us make sense of our recollections. It’s purpose is to make us smile and be thankful.

Our life hasn’t always been even a touch of paradise, but I don’t need John Farnham to sing to me about it. I’m just grateful for the scented reminder of what blossomed the year he sang that song. Its fruit has been good.