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The Fundraiser October 26, 2009

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Writing prompt: “The Fundraiser”

Oh my Lord, you’ve never encountered such a fuss in all your life! I tell you, if anyone was just born to make a fuss it’s Nerida Pickle – I swear, she came out of the womb fussing and she’s never stopped since. Rarely stops to even draw breath, my Jim reckons.

The Fundraiser Fuss started when Pittypat Henry got sick. Well, of course, nobody even knows if Pittypat even has family – as far as any of us know, he came down in a rainshower one year, and has just been in residence ever since. Lovely old bloke, he is. When we were kids, he used to tell us stories about sitting in his cave and listening to the rain pitter-pattering on the rocks outside. He’d get us all up on our feet creating dances and making ‘Pit, pat, splitter, splat’ noises – Lord he was fun! I don’t suppose he was very old then, but to us he seemed to be. I only got to play with him when we were in town on holidays, but I’m sure I loved him every bit as much as the local youngsters did.

Anyway, when the Doc said Pittypat had kidneystones and needed an operation, but that the public list would mean he had to wait months to be out of pain, Nerida and Perdie and I got our heads together. None of us had a real lot of money, but we reckoned if we did some kind of fundraiser, we could come up with the money the old bloke needed in no time.

The arguments! Perdie thought an Art Show would be a good idea, but none of us knew any really famous artists, and of course Nerida didn’t think any of my stuff was worth anything. Nerida had her heart set on some kind of dinner and a show, but even hiring out the club was going to cost a fortune, and then there was the problem of what kind of show we’d put on. Nerida wanted to sing, but Jim told her flat that nobody would pay for that – they’d be more likely to pay her not to sing. Personally, I think that’s when the mucky stuff hit the fan. Nerida and my Jim have always been at logger-heads all the time I’ve known them.

One afternoon, I got talking to Penelope-Ann Cunningham – she’s our mayor, although the locals all call her Pac-man because of her intials and that she’s round and she’s always got her mouth open chewing someone out over something. That afternoon when I was talking to her though, she was really concerned about Pittypat. She’s campaigned in the past to get him evicted from his cave, but everyone loves him so nobody supported her. She must be resigned to his place in the local community, because she suggested that the council could let us have the footie ground for free for an evening, and we could have an auction. People could bring a family picnic, and we could get local businesses to donate items to be auctioned.

Jim loved the idea, so Nerida hated it. Jim started getting donations from people and having it advertised on the local radio, but Nerida had to be seen to be the organiser. I started painting a banner to hang across the main street to advertise it, and Nerida argued about the colours I’d chosen and the dimensions I’d been given by Barry from the Chamber of Commerce. Perdie started organising items into an order of sale for the night, and Nerida came in and rearranged everything.

So we got to the day of the auction, and Pittypat had another episode. Doc had him in hospital and on pain killers before the gates even opened and the local families started streaming in.

Perdie was selling balloons, and Jim had all the goods under lock and key in the back of a big truck supplied by the moving company. Nerida was fussing around, making sure that the p.a. system worked and that her list was in the right order. I spent time cooking sausages and making sangers over with the Rotary barbeque, but when time drew near for the official part of the evening to start, I excused myself and went to make sure that Jim had something to eat before he needed to be lugging things out into clear view so that people could see them at the same level as the stage (which was the flat bed of another truck).

I came around the corner of the moving truck in time to see Jim give Nerida a big shove. Jim’s a gentle giant of a man, so I had no idea why he would need to shove anyone so roughly, but something made me just stay in the shadows for a moment.

“Just leave me alone!” I heard Jim snarl at Nerida.

I glanced at my watch. Uncle Jed, the local hillbilly band, was just finishing up their set, and Nerida would need to get on stage. She was still fussing at Jim, but I drew breath and marched around the side of the truck. “Just about time to get yourself on stage,” I told Nerida cheerfully.

The movie camera of my world zoomed in close on Jim and Nerida – she was trying to kiss him, or something – and then pirouetted around them before panning backwards fast and disappearing off into outer space.

When I opened my eyes again, I was staring at a ceiling. It took me a few moments to realise that I was in hospital. “What am I doing here?” I said aloud, before realising that I was probably alone.

Warmth at my hand stirred, and Jim raised his head from where he’d apparently been sleeping, holding my hand and sitting in the hospital chair at my bedside. “You fainted at the fundraiser,” he said blearily.

“Oh, that’s right,” I agreed, after thinking about it for a moment. “You married the wrong girl.” I’m sure I heard Nerida say that. I was only good for painting things and making them look pretty, not organising anything or even producing babies, she said.

I won’t repeat what Jim said about that, but I wasn’t left in any doubt that he didn’t agree. Reassured, I wanted to know what happened at the fundraiser.

“Perdie texted me. We raised more than enough for Pittypat’s operation.” Jim sounded a little cagey, I thought, even though I wasn’t very with it.

“Did you used to be in love with Nerida, did you?” I knew it, even as the words slipped from my mouth. Why is it that that girl’s presence in every single situation creates fuss?

“When we were teenagers,” Jim admitted, looking embarrassed. “I wasn’t even sixteen when I realised she was a disaster, but she’s never really let it go.”

“How come you never said?”

“Because you were friends with her.”

“We’ve been married for eleven years, Jim,” I said. I wasn’t really angry. Jim’s a big hearted man – even though he didn’t like the girl, he wasn’t about to do her any harm. “Have you noticed that she and I aren’t really friends? Truthfully, I don’t think there’s a human being on the planet that irks me as much as she does.”

Jim looked relieved. He opened his mouth to say something, just as Doc bustled into the room. “Shame you two missed the fun last night,” he grinned. “Anybody give you all the juicy details?”

We looked at each other, then at Doc, blankly.

He grinned broadly. “Oh, by the way, your paintings raised the most, young lady. Anyway, apparently at the end of it all, Nerida looked around and announced that there was nothing else to auction. Then she straightened herself, brushed off her clothes, and said that she, personally, was free to a good home. My goodness, the place was in an uproar!”

Jim burst out laughing, although I felt quite aghast. Talk about a drama queen! “What happened then?” Jim snorted.

Doc shrugged. “Oh, I hear there were a few bids from some of the young men in the crowd. But then Elroy Finch stood up.”

“Who’s he?” I asked.

“He had a thing for her in high school.” Jim said absently. “Left to do university, made a fortune on the stock market, and recently bought that palace out on the point, to ‘retire’ in.”

I blinked at Jim. “At thirty-five?”

Doc and Jim both assured me that that was right. Doc went on: “He stood up, right there in the midst of all his family and the rest of the town, and he called out so everyone heard him, ‘I’ll give you twenty thousand to organise a simple wedding, Nerida. Then you will stop your fussing, settle down and be a good wife to me for the rest of our days.’”

There was a lot of hilarity, and we all agreed that such a scene would have pleased Nerida on a lot of levels, not least her love of the dramatic.

When we calmed down, Jim looked at Doc and asked, “Can we go along the corridor and tell Pittypat? I reckon he’d get a good laugh out of that story.”

“Sure,” Doc nodded. He helped Jim get me out of bed and they both made sure I was steady on my feet. He was making notes on my chart as we got to the doorway, but he thought of something. “Oh!” he exclaimed, making us halt in our tracks. “You might want to tell him that he’s got a new reason to hurry up and get better, too.”

“What’s that?” Jim and I said in unison.

“In a few months time, he’ll have a new adoptive grand-baby to teach rain songs and dances to.” Doc was grinning at us quite stupidly, although it took us a little bit to get his point.

After all these years? Jim and I stared at each other, our eyes suddenly brimming, and our grins more wobbly and stupid than Doc’s.

Oh, but right at the same time as Nerida would be planning her wedding! Oh! Talk about a fuss! I clapped my hand over my mouth and looked up at Jim with wide eyes. “Should we move to Timbuktu?”

Jim still looked quite delerious. “No. We’ll just manage our own fuss, and leave Elroy to manage Nerida’s.”

Oh, but I tell you, the more I think about it, the more I think Timbuktu is a good idea. Can you imagine? Nerida’s bridal shower will have to be more important and bigger and grander than our baby shower. And this baby better not pick a day to be born that’s anywhere near Nerida’s wedding day! Maybe Elroy will pine for the city, or whisk Nerida off on a trip around the world. I wonder if we could organise a fundraiser to encourage that – I’m sure a lot of people would give gladly. Oh, but Elroy’s rich, isn’t he? Maybe we could have a fundraiser to build a high fence around our house to keep Nerida out … or build a fence around that castle of Elroy’s to keep Nerida in.

Or maybe I could stop being silly, and just concentrate of Jim and our baby and Pittypat. Hmm. Now that’s the best idea I’ve had in a long time! I think I’ll go with that.

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Canteen Girl October 21, 2009

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The prompt for this week is: “When I opened my mouth to sing …”

 

Nerida snuck in through the back door of the Autech staff canteen, hoping the women cackling over the huge pots of lunchtime slop wouldn’t notice her. She stowed her handbag and cardigan in her locker, tied her apron in place, straightened her hair and make-up, and took a deep breath.

She still felt wildly embarrassed. If she could have skipped this job and gone straight to the lab for her real job, she would have done, but her car needed a new engine, and she needed the extra money.

“Ah! Here she is!” called Doris, who must have spied her as she tried to scuttle through to the front of house to turn on the bain marie. She’d then get the pies into the warmer, and make sure that everything was spick and span before ten floors worth of research scientists, their assistants and all the administrative staff of Autech began filing through for lunch. Nerida didn’t respond to the chorus of greeting that erupted behind her as she scuttled.

Just get on with the job, she told herself sternly. It doesn’t matter. You’re here to do a job. Just suck it up and do what you’re paid to do.

Shirley brought through the first of the trays while Nerida was out in the café area, wiping down tables. Nerida kept her back turned to the kitchen and worked hard to remove a smudge of dried chicken curry that had been crusting up over the entire weekend. When she finally returned to the serving area, the bain marie was laden, and it was only moments before the doors would swing open and the hordes would descend.

For two hours, Nerida worked non-stop. Doris and Carol worked beside her, giving cheek to the customers and answering questions about the food, one or the other of them periodically doing the rounds of the tables and between them keeping the industrial dishwasher in the kitchen humming. Shirley and Nerida took turns on the coffee machine, and Val worked the till.

“There we go, that’s the lot of them,” Doris exclaimed with satisfaction, as the last of the stragglers left their tables and headed back out through the swinging doors to their offices.

“No it’s not,” Shirley said with certainty. She lowered her voice so that only Doris and Val could hear. “He hasn’t been in yet.”

Doris chortled, and Val hurried out the back to make sure that Carol knew. They’d all gathered that Nerida hadn’t spoken to him since Friday night – that much was obvious. Nerida tried to hide at the kitchen sink.

At ten past two, the cafeteria doors swung open again, and a cheery male voice called out, “Am I too late? Will the kindly ladies of the canteen take pity on a starving scientist and feed him, even though he’s running horribly late?”

“No worries, love!” Shirley told him. “I’ve just gotta get this meat out the back and cut up. I’ll just give our Nerida a hoi. She’ll be out to serve you in a tick.”

The handsome face of Anson Blakely beamed at her. They both knew that he wasn’t really there for the food.

“I’m not serving him,” Nerida hissed, scrubbing hard at the baking tray that the roast beef had been baked in.

Shirley tried to insist, but in the end, she had to return to the counter herself. “So, what can I get you, love? Nerida’s up to her elbows in muck out there.”

Anson’s blue eyes twinkled at her. He raised an eyebrow. God, he’s a handsome devil! Shirley thought. Makes me go weak at the knees!

Nerida was scouring away viciously at one particularly stubborn corner of the baking tray when Anson walked through into the kitchen, followed by the wide-eyed and broadly grinning Shirley.

“Y’know,” Anson said, leaning his jeans-clad backside against the stainless steel of the sink and folding his arms across his broad, tee-shirt clad chest before looking sideways at Nerida, “the most embarrassing thing happened to me on Friday night.”

Nerida, startled, leapt back from the sink and tossed water over herself, the wall and the floor, although fortunately it missed Anson completely. She felt the blush that flooded her cheeks with redness even more hotly than the temperature of the water. “It did?” she squeaked, reaching for a teatowel with one hand and a mop with the other. Even the tops of her ears were glowing scarlet – she could feel it.

“Uh-huh,” Anson confirmed, his eyes still twinkling.

Nerida dried herself and started mopping the floor.

Finally, Doris said on Nerida’s behalf, “What happened to you on Friday night, love?”

Anson flashed her an appreciative smile. Gawd, he’s a honey! Doris thought. No wonder the poor girl’s all a-flutter!

“Well, I went to the pub on Friday night,” Anson told the gathered womenfolk, “with a few mates after work. After all, my girlfriend had a full social calendar for the whole weekend, so what’s a bloke to do, right?”

The gathered womenfolk all nodded. Nerida was lovely and lively, and she always had a full calendar. Usually she and Anson did numerous things together, but this had been just one weekend when they had separate things all weekend. The canteen ladies had already discussed how healthy they thought that was.

Assured that everyone understood, Anson continued: “We had a few beers, the steak was good, and then we went through to the karaoke. Some of it was good, some of it was bad – you know how it goes. But when my mates finally convinced me to get up and sing … well, I tried … but I couldn’t do it.”

“Why not, love?” Carol prompted, realising that Nerida’s blush hadn’t subsided and that it was entirely unlikely that the girl would speak at all.

“Well, there was really only one song I wanted to sing … but when I opened my mouth to sing … no words came out. Nothing.”

“Really love?” Doris prompted. She looked around at Shirl and Val and Carol. They all knew that, because they’d been there. “Why was that, d’you think?”

“Well, see …” Anson was now trying to catch Nerida’s eye, but she’d wrung out the mop and was working away at the baking tray in the sink again. She wouldn’t look at him, so he shrugged and answered openly. “I don’t really know why I wanted to sing this particular song, but when I got up, the girl I wanted to sing it to wasn’t there any more. There wasn’t really any point singing it to anybody else.”

“What was the song, love?” Val was the one who couldn’t stand the suspense this time.

“For some reason,” Anson replied, now looking intently at Nerida’s profile, “it was Billy Idol’s White Wedding. I just wanted to tell Nerida that today’s a nice day for a white wedding.”

For some very long seconds, the only sound in the entire kitchen was a single drip from the tap into the murky waters of Nerida’s industry.

“You mean that Friday was,” Nerida said. “This is three days later.” She sounded cross and she sounded like the only reason that she was still there was that her shift wasn’t over yet.

Suddenly Anson seemed to be quite over the game of this little scene in the kitchen. “Come on Nerida,” he said firmly. “Dry your hands and talk to me properly, will you?”

“I don’t want to.”

“But for goodness sake, why?” Anson demanded, sounding more oblivious than annoyed.

Nerida kept working on that baking dish, until she realised that it was as clean as it was going to get, and that Anson wasn’t going away any time soon.

“You weren’t supposed to hear what I sang,” she said, taking a deep breath, drying her hands, and turning to face him squarely.

Anson thought back to Friday night. He and his mates had walked through into the karaoke room when a girl was singing a woeful version of Abba’s Dancing Queen. As they got settled at their corner table, a sweet, pure voice had begun a haunting version of I Honestly Love You. Along with the rest of the room, he’d stood to applaud, only realising then that it was Nerida doing the singing. He hadn’t realised before that the pub where he and his mates had chosen to go was the same one where the Canteen Social Club was having their quarterly get-together.

A broad grin spread across his face. “Hell, Nerida,” he laughed. “We’ve been dating for six months already. We’ve known each other for nearly a decade! Isn’t it about time we got that honest with each other?”

Nerida was blushing again, but at least she was meeting his eyes. “I didn’t want to be the first one to say it though. I wouldn’t have sung that song in a million years if I’d thought you were even in the same suburb!”

Anson was chuckling though, and drawing her into his arms. “And it was the thing that made me realise I want to marry you. I’ve even had time to think about it all weekend, and I still want to.”

So, while the rest of the canteen ladies clapped and cheered, he dropped to his knee and did his very best Impromptu Romantic Proposal.

Six months later, the same canteen ladies lined up down one side of the pathway outside the church, holding pots and pans aloft, forming a guard of honour opposite Anson’s workmates with microscopes and bunsen burners. At the reception, they danced to White Wedding and later, they even sang I Honestly Love You to each other. And this time, they both sang just fine.

Future Unfolding October 18, 2009

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Writing prompt: “Your future starts here.”

 

‘Your future starts here.’

Really?

I toss the scrap of paper from inside the fortune cookie across the table and let my friends get all excited about who got what inside their little, sweet, baked and shaped wafer cookie.

Ah! Fortune cookie never wrong! No idea what that quote is from, but I vaguely remember that it’s famous. Maybe it was a line from a television commercial or something. Who knows?

In this case, however, I seriously believe that the writer of fortune cookie proclamations was having a bad hair day. It’s kind of a stupid statement, isn’t it? Your future starts here.

The future doesn’t have a beginning and an end. It doesn’t stop and start. My future wasn’t on hold when I walked into the Chinese restaurant tonight to have dinner with friends, any more than it leapt off a cliff and committed hari kari when Steve walked out of the church in the middle of our wedding ceremony last year. I nearly performed the ceremonial suicide in reaction to the utter humiliation of what happened, but my future didn’t. It continued to unfold, moment by moment, one day at a time.

In the darkness and despair of the moments, hours, and even months that followed the disappearance of Steve’s cowardly carcass down that beribboned and flower-festooned aisle, I did seriously ponder the failures of my life. I did wonder if the world wouldn’t be better off without me after all. It’s been the message of my life, really. Siblings bemoaning their diminished quality of life because of my existence. Parents sighing their displeasure at the failure of my life to glorify them before their friends. Steve’s flight to freedom no clearer statement of his belief that his life would be richer without me.

It would have been really easy to allow all that rejection to dance itself into a ceremonial frenzy in my head, until it was so powerful that I had no choice but to shed my own blood as the only worthy sacrifice in homage to the truth of it.

But.

Three little letters.

B is for Bullshit.
U is for Utter Drivel.
T is for Total, Absolute, Downright LIE.

Even worse than the fortunes inside Chinese baked goods.

When it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter who else does or doesn’t value my life. All that matters is that I do.

That horrendous day last year, with the priest hyperventilating with shock, my bridesmaids wailing their dismay on my behalf, my father fuming at all the money he’d wasted, my mother wringing her hands and my siblings telling each other that they’d told each other so, Steve actually did me a huge favour.

I didn’t get to say “I do” to the bloke I’d thought of as the man of my dreams for so long. Instead, I got to face things that I’d believed about myself: that I wasn’t worth anything; that I was a waste of space; that I contributed nothing to anybody’s life of any value … the list went on for quite some time.

Moment by moment, though, the mists cleared, my breathing resumed, and the sun came up. It wasn’t a single moment, it was just an unfolding – like the slow unfurling of a red carpet inviting those who choose Living to live – to take another step, to investigate more broadly, explore deeper, move further away from all that poisons.

So there was no formal “I do” to a man. So what? Instead, there was a smiling acknowledgement, a quiet agreement of “I do” to myself. I do believe that I’m a worthwhile human being. I do believe that I am worth knowing. I do believe that I contribute, both to society and the relationships in my immediate life. Most of all, I do believe that my life is worth living.

“Mandy!” my friend Imogen exclaims. “Was this yours? What do you think? Your future starts here.”

I laugh across the table at her. “Yes, but does it start now, because you read it out loud, or did it start five minutes ago when I read it to myself?”

Imogen’s boyfriend Greg laughs at the consternation that my question provokes, particularly amongst my girlfriends. He leans across the table and says to me, “Would you consider going out with my mate Jack? I reckon you and he would get along like a house on fire.”

It’s funny, but nothing could have surprised me further. “Thanks, but no thanks,” I hear myself saying to Greg. “I’m really just enjoying being me at the moment. I don’t really want to date anyone right now.”

It’s a good feeling, that. Knowing that you like who you are, and that you have every right to step along with your future in the way and at the pace that seems right to you. A very good feeling indeed.

Back in the Day October 12, 2009

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Writing prompt: “In those days …”

 

In those days Gina walked a lot. She walked from home to the bus stop, from the bus to the train, and from the train station up the hill to work. Occasionally she caught the bus for the last leg of the journey – when it was raining or she was just tired – but mostly she walked.

Those were the days when she went home to an empty flat, cooked a small meal just for one, and pondered the inconvenience of having a cat. She never took the plunge and bought one, though. She liked her independence.

Then came the days of being a newlywed, walking the stretches between public transport to and from work, but also walking hand in hand with Paul through parks and on beaches, or even walking holidays through bush land with packs on their backs. They’d discovered so much in those days, as much about each other as about the countryside and the forests and the cities.

Of course, parenthood followed, and walking was replaced by running. Running behind a pram, running behind a slippery toddler, running around after a thousand schedules, running kids to ballet and football and drama classes and shopping trips and interviews and jobs. She certainly hadn’t put on any weight during her full-time mothering years – she’d been too busy!

These days were different, though. They’d moved from their busy city life to ‘retirement’ in the country. Paul had his longed-for back shed, where he could play with model planes, and a paddock where he could fly them. Gina didn’t.

Gina didn’t have her children, or her grandchildren, or her friends, or her committees. She just had Paul. Who was already happily occupied. She had a lovely home, and a very beautiful garden, but still she felt empty.

That’s when the weight began to creep onto her hips, and her thighs, and her arms – oh dear Lord, those arms! Gina heard Oprah call them ‘angel wings’, but to her, they were ‘bat wings’. That’s what she felt like – a cranky, ugly, fat old bat.

Of course she tried to talk to Paul about it, because they’d always talked about everything. It wasn’t very useful, though, because now, without the pressures of work and children and juggling finances, he didn’t have distractions to keep his head out of his models, so that’s what he thought about pretty much all the time.

Gina wailed about the loss of the old days – the children growing up and getting their own lives, the grandchildren not needing her, the committees replacing her easily, the friends who still caught up without her.

Paul did pat her hand and nod sympathetically, but all he said was, “These days are not those days, Gina. These days are these days.”

She watched him head back out to his shed, anger welling inside her so that she didn’t know whether to scream at him or cry. Instead, she had a flashback. She and Paul had had almost the very same discussion when she’d first given up her job towards the end of the first pregnancy. She was bored and lonely then, too, and he’d pointed out that she had to figure out how to make this phase of her life work. Just like he was doing now.

Gina knew she was a go-getter. She always had been. She wasn’t a wallower, and she wouldn’t allow herself to be now, either. It took her a few days, but the next time they drove into town, Gina pinned a brightly coloured notice to the community board outside the supermarket.

GRANNY’S WALKING CLUB  the heading proclaimed. Beneath, Gina elaborated. New to the area granny would love regular guided walking tours with other local grannies, or if you’re like me and you haven’t yet discovered the hidden treasures of this wondrous part of the planet, come with me and let’s do it together. Coffee and cake afterwards, my place, your place, or the café in town. Of course she put her name and phone number too, and by the time she and Paul got home with their groceries, there were already three messages on the answering machine.

Gina’s club became a regular thing, and it wasn’t long before half a dozen grannies or more knew that when Gina was just a young woman she’d loved walking, and those days had sowed the seed for the camaraderie and laughter that they were now starting to share together.

The Grannies Walking Club proved to be the beginnings of some very beautiful friendships indeed. Oh, and fitter grannies too, although their shared enjoyment of cakes didn’t do much do diminish any waistlines.

Call Me Names October 12, 2009

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Writing Prompt: “Names”

 

Names? Oh, I could call you some names, let me tell you! None of them would be polite enough for mixed company, though, so I’ll maintain at least some sense of dignity and restrain myself. You might not think I’m quite up to your standard, but thankfully Your Standard isn’t the one I’m striving for.

Now your attitudes – well for them, I have names. Supercillious. Pompous. Patronising. Condescending. Oh, there are others too, but for the sake of dignity again, I won’t utter those. They would most likely cross the line between reaction against how you are and instead attack who you are. That wouldn’t be right. To my mind, there is a big difference between how a person is and who they are.

Which brings us to the real issue here, doesn’t it? What a person likes. You don’t like that I don’t like the same things you do. If you find a similarity, you praise me because I’m ‘growing’. What you mean is, that I’m becoming more like you. Not something I have as a personal goal, I’m afraid. In all those myriad areas where we are disparate, you condemn me for being wicked and wrong. In fact, I am only different. From you.

To my mind, who a person is speaks of their core being – their beliefs, their morals, their conscience. How a person is, though, is the external working of those internals. Sometimes the conveyance of our inner workings reveals truth and justice, and sometimes it reveals our confusion or presumption about life. What a person likes, however, is just personal taste – nothing more, nothing less. That side of me is no more your business than that side of you is any of mine.

‘Respect.’ Now there’s a word I like. The dictionary defines it as: esteem for, or a sense of, the worth or excellence of a person. That accurately names the attitude I think every human being longs to receive from another. The same attitude that every human kicks against the lack of. We all want our inner worth or excellence to be recognised and esteemed, and we are unfailingly hurt or angry when it is not.

All this pondering has become oppressive to me – moreso, the more I ruminate. Recognising that you really don’t have any respect for what I like or how I am, let alone who I am – well, that’s just made me angry all over again. I don’t want to be angry with you. I have considered you my friend. I have loved you – recognised our differences and rejoiced at the patchwork of diversity that weaves itself together somehow to make life into a rich and beautiful place.

I don’t like the taste of this thing, you know. It’s bitter, and I don’t want that on the inside of me.

There is a Sanctuary – a place I go when I am hurt and despised – and in that place, miracles do happen. They aren’t instant, because there are no quick fixes in life, but they do happen. In this place, this Sanctuary, I can spread my anguish, my disappointment, my devastation out to be examined. As I expose my grief, there is a flood of empathy. I am no longer alone. I am surrounded by love, acceptance and forgiveness that is powerful and real.

When I emerge, nothing is changed between you and me, but my pain has somewhat subsided. Who I am is intact and affirmed. How I am, I’m sure, will continue to bumble along, sometimes wise, sometimes foolish. What I like and what I don’t like will continue to displease many others, probably most of all you. Because I do not aspire to become like you. It wouldn’t be healthy if I did. And thereby hangs a tale.

If the name you ascribe to yourself is ‘Perfect’, then you and I will not stay friends. I am not perfect, and I know that this side of Kingdom Come at least, I won’t be. The name I choose to ascribe to myself is ‘Maturing’. Better today than I was yesterday. More tomorrow than I am today.

A friendship cannot survive if one person assumes superiority over another. The one I call my Friend is one who loves me and is at peace with who I am. Whether that is you or not is a choice only you can make. I will happily wear the name Friend for you, if you can accept me as I am. If you can’t, I will love you still, but only from a distance.

Cha-cha (2) October 3, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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The original writing prompt was: “Write about a time the lights went out.” The story I first wrote utilised baby-talk to tell the story from the perspective of a toddler. Feedback indicated that it was difficult to read because of the language style, so the rewrite attempts to just tell the story in a normal voice. Does it convey that the story is being told by a toddler as well as the first version? Better? Worse?

 

I hear Bonnie yell for Mummy. Daddy groans and gets out of bed grumpily. He lets the chilly air in at me.

I scrabble about crossly, but my eyes stay shut tight. I want to be asleep. It smells musty where my nose is. Like feet. I wiggle up the bed a bit and find the spot that smells like Mummy. Cosy. Soft. Just the right place for sleeping.

“It’s just a black-out, sweetie,” Daddy says. He’s coming closer and Bonnie’s with him, sniffling. I squeeze my eyes tight. I don’t want her. It’s my spot.

“Oh. You too, hey matey?” Daddy’s voice says, then Smelly says something, whining, sleepy-like.

“Alright. Everyone into bed. Just mind Cha-cha – she’s in there somewhere.” Daddy doesn’t want everyone in the bed. Just me.

Someone digs my ribs and I howl. That’s rude. “No Smelly!” I wail.

“It’s Merrill!” he hisses. I know that, but Bonnie liked it when I tried to say ‘It’s Merrill’ that other time and I said ‘Smellel’ instead. She said ‘Smelly’ suits him. He calls me Cha-cha when I dance in my pretty skirt, anyway, and now everyone calls me that. I might say ‘Merrill’ one day. Maybe.

Daddy lights the candles all over the room. It’s pretty. Like when he and Mummy have the door shut but they let me come in because I’m crying. He climbs into the bed and I escape from Smelly to cuddle up in Daddy’s lap. He pulls the doona close all around us, and Bonnie and Smelly and Daddy and me are all snuggled together.

“It’s scary without Mummy,” Bonnie says, and her voice is shaky and scaredy-cat-like.

“Mummy and baby Clio will be home in a couple of days,” Daddy says. He yawns. His chest rumbles when he talks, and I smile and wiggle closer.

I met that Clio baby today. I smiled for the camera, but she yelled. She was very, very loud. I didn’t like her.

Daddy’s rumbly voice starts to tell the story of Terry the Tuffikins Terrier. I cuddle up and practice saying Terry’s name. I still mix up my rrr and my www sounds a bit sometimes. Sometimes my lll sounds, too, but mostly those other ones. Like now.

Bonnie gets cranky. “It’s rrrrrr!” she hisses at me. “Terrrrry!”

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

His rumbly voice rumbles on, and I listen to how Terry learns not to bark at the cat and how they learn to play nicely together. If that Clio baby learns not to yell so much, maybe we could play nice. Maybe.

But for now, it’s just Daddy and Smelly and Bonnie and me, and I’m all cosy, and I don’t mind sleeping with the flickering of the candle-light. Not at all. It smells pretty. Like Mummy.