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Out in the Storm January 20, 2010

Posted by Anna in Uncategorized.
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This week’s writing prompt was a little more complicated than most, and I have to say that although I wrote down some ideas, I really had nothing that I particularly wanted to just ‘go’ with:

List 3-5 words for each of the headings: Situation, Emotions, Objects, then choose one from each and go with that.

I have to say that when this prompt came through, I had no idea what to write, so I put it to my friends on Facebook. I had some great responses, as follows (thank you all!):

Lisa: School playground; anxious; lunch box

Jo: Death of a loved one; rejection; a bookshelf

Heidi D: Small office with no window; apathy; red leather bound diary

Peter W: Starved gaming addiction; frustration; a not so pwning motherboard [I had to ask what ‘pwning’ is, and Matthew replied: Pwning = p(o)wning (said like owning except with a p) loosely means to absolutely decimate everything else that tries to compare … to which Pete agreed. I’m not sure I was any the wiser, but I’ll trust those that know.]

Anya: Menopause; inner peace / tranquillity; a lighthouse.

Debbie: Someone you didn’t want to talk to ever again finds you on Facebook; wanting to vomit at the thought of said person, and the guilt associated with that emotion; the towel into which you are now screaming.

Matthew K: Can’t find inspiration for this week’s writing exercise; frustration; Facebook.

Lily: Loyal work colleagues who stab committed workers in the back; not happy!

My own were: Out in the storm / alone at the beach / driving a car; anger / fear / certainty; glue / highlighters / magazines / rocks.

I’d written my selection at the beginning of the week, but just wasn’t inspired by any of it. As the suggestions from my Facebook friends began to roll in though, a definite idea emerged. Once again, I found myself toying with the notion of using absolutely everything that’s been suggested. I marked the bits from the above list as I used them, then keep referring back to them, just to see how I was going. The outcome was no 20 minute short exercise, but I’ve certainly had fun piecing all the threads together into something that I hope makes at least a passable story.

Shannon hurried out of the meeting and back through to her small, windowless office. Her desk was strewn with case files, and she had a list a mile long of things that needed to be sorted out. The meeting had been as ineffectual as everything else was about the taxpayer-funded social-aid organisation she was trying to work for. All the bosses seemed entirely apathetic – disinterested in genuinely helping any of the people on their files, and really only interested in their next golf game or making sure the paperwork was so complicated its only real function was covering their expansive backsides. She just hated all the politics of getting anything done around the place!

Like a number of her peers, Shannon really wanted to help her clientele, and she closed the door of her cheerless office in order to weep briefly in her frustration. After a few minutes though, the telephone rang, and she hastily dried her eyes, blew her nose and cleared her throat before answering it.

“This is Shannon Morgan,” she said as clearly as she could manage. “Yes? Oh my goodness! No, I haven’t heard a thing, I’m sorry. Yes, alright, I’ll see what I can do. Thank you. Goodbye.”

For several minutes she stared at the full pages of her diary and wondered how on earth to manage it all. She aimlessly straightened a few files. “Oh Adrian,” she sighed. “Why on earth can’t you just get on with your life?”

She drew breath, closed her eyes for a moment, then picked up the phone again and made some arrangements. Then she ran out of the office, flinging her red leather bound diary at the receptionist as she flew past, before clattering down the stairs in her high heels, pulling her coat on as she ran, with her handbag swinging wildly behind her.


“He’s just sitting in the corner of the playground,” the headmistress told Shannon. “He’s been there since just after the first bell this morning, and he just won’t talk to anyone.

Together they walked down the steps from the front office, around the corner of the administration building and across the quadrangle to where Adrian was sitting on a slatted bench. He was clutching an ancient tin lunchbox by the coat hanger wire that served as a handle on its battered top. As she and the headmistress approached, Shannon saw that her brother’s fingers were anxiously rubbing at the twisted wire and he was rocking very slightly back and forth.

“I think you’d better call the ambulance,” Shannon said quietly, just out of his earshot. She moved close and took a seat beside him, while her companion peeled off and returned to the office.

“What’s going on, matey?” she asked gently, putting her near arm across his broad shoulders.

He still hadn’t answered her by the time the ambulance arrived and the paramedics had guided him into the back.

“So Adrian came to school,” Shannon said to the headmistress as they wanted the ambulance drive away. “Did Ben?”

The headmistress turned to blink at her. “I assume so …” Her voice lilted upwards as her words took shape, panic rising as she realised that she didn’t know.


Shannon drove her car out of town, and turned into the rutted, rocky laneway that lead up to Adrian’s house. She knew with certainty that Ben wouldn’t be at home. He never was when things like this happened. He always turned up, but he never hung around when Adrian flipped out.

The house was a mess. Predictably so, Shannon mused as she picked her way across the lounge room towards the kitchen. Computer magazines, dvd cases, software packaging, plates of half-eaten toast and mouldy baked beans – it was all just disgusting. If Adrian wasn’t careful, he’d lose Ben too, and that would probably tip him completely over the edge, Shannon considered. The last thing she wanted to do was have Child Services contacted by anybody.

On the top of the mess strewn over the sticky dining table, there was a clean sheet of white A4 paper, probably taken from the printer. On it, written in black chisel-point marker was “PLEESE”. Shannon had no idea what that meant.


Picking her way down the scrubby bush track towards the beach, Shannon glanced at the sky. What had been a lovely day was fast becoming dark and intense. The predicted storms were clearly on their way. She was glad of the running shoes she’d found in the boot of her car, but seriously wished she’d also had a pair of track pants and a tee shirt as well – this running-shoes-and-business-suit combination wasn’t working so well in the bush.

“Ben!” she called as she emerged onto the beach, scrambling beyond the last of the ti tree and onto the sand. “Ben!”

The wind picked up and somehow even the waves crashing onto the shore began to sound angry and resentful as she trudged along on the hard sand towards the figure she could see, hunched up on the rocks at the far end of the beach. Just by the size and shape, Shannon knew that it was Ben, but it took her quite a while, straining into the wind like she was, to get anywhere close to being in earshot of him.

Hey matey!” she yelled at the top of her voice when she was standing right in front of him. “Come on home!”

Ben didn’t vocalise a response, but he did clamber down and slide his hand into hers, giving it a squeeze as they took off with the wind chasing them back down the beach towards the old house on the headland. They were only halfway along the sand when the rain hit, pelting at them and pummelling their backs, forcing them into an unwilling run, all the way back up to the house.

In other circumstances, they’d have been laughing their heads off when they burst into the house via the laundry door, drenched by the rain. Today, though, they were both very serious.

“Gosh, I love the rain!” Shannon gasped with relief, catching her breath. “But I can’t pretend to love getting caught on the beach in a storm! Those waves were quite frightening, don’t you think?”

Ben didn’t look at her. He just shrugged and hauled off his wet school shirt and shorts, so that he was left in only his little white Bonds undies that were now way too small for him. Shannon made a mental note to buy new ones for him.

The expression on Ben’s face wasn’t unlike the infuriated weather outside, so she didn’t try to make conversation. She did give the small boy a big hug, though. It took a while, but finally he relaxed into her.

In time, Shannon chased Ben into the shower, but only metaphorically. She dousing her own head with warm water in the laundry sink before she heard the shower start running, then went through to Adrian’s room to see if she could find anything of his that might fit her. Should she suggest to Ben that it wasn’t wise for him to be down on the beach alone, especially in a storm? She didn’t have children of her own, so she just didn’t know what Ben needed from her. It was all very tricky, really.

From Adrian’s and Ben’s bedrooms, she gathered up a load of washing, and got that going after she was changed. Then she headed through to the kitchen to get the kettle going.

It really was tragic, this situation.

Adrian was her older brother by a lot of years. She wasn’t yet thirty, but he was already well into his forties. She’d always looked up to him – idolised him, really. He’d used to swing her around over his head when she was little, making her laugh hysterically with his silly faces and voices and jokes. He’d been just the best big brother in the world. She was only about eight when he headed over to England via Thailand, backpacking his way to an adventure, he told her and their parents. She could still remember the excitement in the house when he called from overseas, or a postcard arrived from him.

He travelled for over a decade, just working as a barman or on road crews, or turning his hand to whatever was going whenever he needed money. He flew home sometimes, with a bit of parental help with the airfares, Shannon suspected.

When she was turning 21, Adrian came home for the party, and made everyone incredibly happy by saying that he was staying. It was time to settle down and get a real job and figure out how to live a responsible life. Shannon, of course, had been just as excited as their parents, but something had always stuck in the back of her mind – just the thought that in all of Adrian’s travels, he’d just seen too much. Probably done too much, too. He never said though, and she never asked.

Now, she wondered if perhaps he had indulged in substances while he travelled, damaging his brain somehow, so that it was no longer able to cope readily well in such circumstances. These were just awful circumstances, there was no way around it.


Nellie had been in Adrian’s class at school, and Shannon had the idea that she had something to do with Adrian going away in the first place, and then staying away for so long. He’d only come back to stay when she and her partner left the area.

Nellie and her partner hadn’t stayed together, though – Nell came back, and there Adrian was. He was working on a road gang, paying off his rambling old house on the point, and surfing in his free time. After a month, Nell moved in and they seemed good together. Ben was born within a year, and in Shannon’s opinion, Adrian was the happiest he’d ever been.

With time, surfing the net took over from surfing the waves, but Nell was as into gaming as Adrian, and Ben seemed to fit in with whatever they were doing quite affably.

Shannon did a quick tidy up of the kitchen while she reminisced, but as she set two mugs out and spooned in the drinking chocolate, she couldn’t help smiling to herself. Ben, of course, was always well up on the computer terms, and one time when she’d popped in for a visit, the whole network throughout the house was down, and Adrian was like a bear with a sore head and four sore paws in his frustration. “What’s up with your Dad?” Shannon had asked Ben. Ben must have been all of seven at the time. He rolled his eyes, held up his hands in surrender and said, in all seriousness, “Starved gaming addiction. Frustration … and a not-so-powning motherboard.” Of course Shannon had no idea what ‘powning’ meant, and even after she’d had it explained a dozen or more times, she was still confused. Her reminiscent smile, though, was at Ben’s obvious clear understanding of a concept that had confused her so utterly. “It’s not spelled with an ‘o’, it’s just sounded with it!” he’d insisted. Even now, she could only assume that Adrian, in addition to the network frustrations, had been having issues with an uncooperative mother board in his computer.


Ben came out of the bathroom and slid onto a stool at the breakfast bar. Half the laminate had peeled off the bench, and even as Shannon slid his hot chocolate across to him, he picked at the edges, making it just a little worse again.

“The storm’s still big,” Shannon ventured.

“Yeah.” Ben didn’t sound talkative.

Shannon knew there was no point asking him outright what had happened. He might not know. Catching sight of the note over on the chaotic dining room table, she asked instead, “So … what does ‘pleese’ mean?” She was careful to enunciate a soft, sibilant ‘sss’ sound at the end of the word.

Ben looked at her like she was stupid. “Pleese. Cops.”

“Oh, I wasn’t sure if you were saying ‘please’ about something.”

“Nup. I called the cops.”

“How come?”

“I got ready for school, but Dad left without me. I didn’t know where he was.”

Okay, so that was two puzzle pieces joined up. “So … what did you do then?”

Ben shrugged and took a sip of his hot chocolate. “Went for a walk. He always comes home.”

That made sense, too. Whatever his struggles, Adrian really did love Ben.

“How come you’re here?” Ben asked, as if the question had only just occurred to him.

Shannon explained, but she left out the bit about Adrian being carted off to the psych ward. For now. She’d have to tell him, but not yet. “So … any idea why he’s being so silly today?” she asked Ben as casually as she could.

Ben shot her another look, indicating that she really was stupid. “Mum’s birthday,” he said simply. He turned and slid off the stool, making his way through dropped clothing and other assorted debris across to the bookshelf on the far side of the dining room. He picked up a pile of envelopes and brought them back to Shannon.

“What are these?” she asked innocently.

“Birthday cards for Mum. People Dad doesn’t know. She had lots of friends,” Ben answered simply.

“Poor Adrian,” Shannon murmured, more to herself than to Ben. He was watching her, as if he expected her to go through the pile of cards, so slowly, she did. “Poor Nell,” she whispered under her breath.

Ben had been still just a toddler when Nell began to go through menopause – hot flushes, mood swings, the works. Most days she was able to be polite and pleasant, but some days she was an utter lunatic. On those days, she’d rejected Adrian and Ben cruelly, berating Adrian loudly wherever they happened to be, and actually hitting Ben if he made his presence known or asked for anything.

In the wash-up of everything, after the funeral and the vain attempts to cope with the idea that the person you loved most in the world had committed suicide and abandoned you, neither Adrian nor Ben held any of that against Nell. They just missed her.

Most of the birthday cards seemed to be from people Nell had met on her day trips. In her efforts to find inner peace and tranquillity, Nell had been in the habit of just disappearing for whole days. She would meet all sorts of travellers and have all sorts of adventures, and just leave Adrian and Ben to keep the home fires burning.

There must have been more than twenty cards in total. The very last card, at the bottom of the pile, had a sketch of a lighthouse on the front of it, and Shannon felt her heart sink as she opened it out. Nelly Belly! How’s it hangin’ babe? Remember the Lighthouse? You can turn my lights on any time. Hot Stuff! Jake.

Poor Adrian! The last fight that he and Nell had, before her suicide, was about that lighthouse. Shannon didn’t know much about it, but she knew that Adrian had been furious. Then, of course, her body had been found on the rocks below that very lighthouse, at Maddigans Point, up the coast.

Shannon looked at the closed card for a long time. Maddigans Point Lighthouse was written in very tiny letters below the sketch. Her heart physically ached for her poor brother. As much as she wished he’d snap out of his depression and whatever else was going on, she could completely understand what had triggered this particular episode. She hadn’t known that there’d been another bloke involved.


Together, Shannon and Ben worked at tidying off the dining table.  The boy’s frustration and fear seemed to have subsided somewhat, and he began to chat amiably enough.

“Why to British people say things like ‘pleese’ instead of ‘po-leese,’ anyway?” he asked. “And they say stupid things like ‘daid’ instead of ‘dad,’ too.”

“What do you mean, ‘daid’?” Shannon prompted, stacking up a pile of unpaid bills.

“Well, instead of saying just ‘dad’, like with a short ‘a’ sound, they say it more like ‘a’ and ‘i’ straight after it.”

Shannon toyed with the sound a little, and she could see what he was talking about. She had to admit that she didn’t know, though, so Ben went on, telling her about some television show that he’d been watching of an afternoon, that he really quite liked. Apparently the kids in that show talked like that.

When his talk subsided and the table was cleared and clean, Shannon made Ben a sandwich. Then she got him set up with some magazines and glue, pens and highlighters, to start work on his overdue school project. She knew he was hurt and angry, but she didn’t know any other way to help him, other than getting him doing ‘normal’ things.

She made a quick phone call to the police, just to let them know that Ben was safe and what had happened about Adrian. She had the idea that they hadn’t taken Ben’s phone call seriously in the first place, which was a bit alarming, but there wasn’t much she could do about it.

With the kitchen and the dining room back in workable order, Shannon threw the load of washing into the dryer, put some towels on to wash, and settled herself at Adrian’s main computer. She had another exercise to do for her Thursday night’s writing class, but even before this family crisis, she’d been completely lacking in inspiration.

The storm had passed, but the rain was still falling quite heavily. In due course Shannon knew she’d have to contact her parents and update them, and she’d have to go and check on Adrian in person, too. For now, though, she’d check in on Facebook, and ask in her status update if any of her friends had suggestions that fitted in with the current writing prompt. She’d done that a couple of times before, and it seemed to work well as a means dealing with her self-aimed frustrations.

It was a good distraction for her, anyway. Quite apart from Adrian and Ben, Shannon’s own work situation was weighing pretty heavily on her. ‘Loyal’ work colleagues who stab committed workers in the back – it wasn’t a situation that made anybody happy. Here she was, caught in the middle of it all, and just not knowing whether to stay and fight, or just get the hell out of there. If everyone’s time was taken up with in-fighting, clients weren’t really being helped.

Shannon made her way through a dozen notifications on Facebook, looked at Penny’s new photos, watched a YouTube video that Kurt had posted on her wall, and checked through her newsfeed.

“Facebook makes Daddy cry,” Ben said quietly at her shoulder.

Shannon turned and gathered him up onto her lap. “Why do you think that is?” she asked, kissing his soft little cheek and smoothing his tangled blonde curls.

Ben leaned forward and clicked on an icon in the tray at the bottom of the screen, opening up the email program. “See those emails that are in bold?” he said when the list came up. “Those are Facebook notifications for Mum’s account.”

Shannon glanced through the list, and noted friend requests dotted throughout the notifications about inane games and assorted other information. One name caught her attention. Jake Moncrief. Was that the same man who had sent the birthday card with the lighthouse?


It was still raining when Shannon pulled her car into her parents’ driveway. She and Ben scurried inside, and after he’d had one of Nan’s Anzac biscuits and a glass of lemonade, he took himself through to the lounge room to watch the afternoon kids shows on the television. The one with the British kids would be on soon, so Shannon had timed her visit to encompass that highlight for him.

“What are we going to do?” Shannon begged of her parents, widening her eyes and conveying the sense of helplessness that they all felt.

“Silly bugger’s just gotta pull himself together, that’s all,” her father grumbled. “In my day, blokes came back from war and they just sucked it up and got on with it. Death’s just part of life. All this moping about clearly isn’t helping anyone.”

Shannon and her mum exchanged knowing looks. Dad wasn’t coping well with his son, his pride and joy, being in the loony bin again.

“How about,” Shannon suggested, “I leave Ben with you until dinner time. I’ll go to the hospital and see if Adrian’s up for a talk. Then I’ll get Ben home and give him dinner and get him into bed. What he needs is a bit of routine.”

“He’s a very angry boy, that one,” Pops muttered, loping off to the lounge room to sit with Ben.

Shannon didn’t know whether her father was talking about Adrian or Ben, but given everything, she half thought both were at least a bit justified for their current messed up state.

She borrowed some of her mother’s clothes, which were more her style than Adrian’s huge shirt and track pants were, and headed off to the hospital to see her big brother.


Adrian was sitting on the side of the bed, fully clothed and still clutching the ancient lunchbox when Shannon walked into the ward. “Hey sis,” he said clearly, but without emotion. He looked at her, but only briefly.

Shannon took a seat in the chair beside the bed, and thought that Adrian actually seemed reasonably okay.

“So what’s with the lunchbox?” she asked, opting to sound as normal as possible. Sometimes that was the best approach.

“Huh,” Adrian said, setting it on the bed beside him. “It was Nell’s when she was at school. It’s the thing I remember more than anything about Nell in kindy. We used to play football with it, and she’d get so upset. I replaced the handle on it when we were about ten. It broke and she cried, and Mum saw what happened, and she made me.”

Shannon didn’t know how to answer that, so she just stayed quiet.

“When we got together, properly I mean, this was our wedding ring. There was a lot of history to this stupid box, y’know. Not just the football.” Adrian sighed, not in a melancholy way, more like a release. “She used to keep our letters in here when we were teenagers. Then when she wasn’t ready to settle down, she shoved the empty box at me. I ended up carting it all over Asia and Europe with me. When we finally decided to be together, we stood under that big gum tree on the cliff and held the lunch box between us. We promised each other that we’d try to only put happy memories into it for the rest of our lives.”

He looked up at Shannon with clear eyes. “She used to go away to clear her head,” he said. It wasn’t said in apologetic, excusatory manner, just a statement of fact. “It was part of keeping things good between us.”

It seemed very important for Shannon to hold his gaze now. She did, and asked, “Did it work?”

Adrian nodded slowly. “Yeah. It helped a lot. That lighthouse … she really loved that place. She took Ben and me there a couple of times and showed us around. She said that she loved to sit on the rocks and just watch the waves crashing down below. The lighthouse was like this reminder that even when things are rough, love still shines, and it’s a beacon to guide you through the storm and safely into port.”

Shannon didn’t know what to say to that either, so again she just waited.

“She thought she was safely through the storm, you know.”

A doctor and the head nurse came into the room then. They explained that Adrian had run out of his medication some days earlier and hadn’t bothered to refill his prescription. They asked Shannon if the family could perhaps keep a better eye on that in future. They said that Adrian was probably fine to go home, provided he was consistent in taking his medication.

Just as they were leaving the room, two policemen turned up, just to follow through on the phone calls from Ben and Shannon.

Adrian didn’t offer any apology, or explanation beyond what the doctor himself told the police.

Once it was just himself and Shannon in the room with the two policemen, though, he jumped to his feet and shoved the battered old lunchbox in their direction. “I reckon she was murdered,” he said, sounding suddenly animated. “In there is a whole bunch of emails and cards and stuff from a bloke called Jake. There’s one more at home that I forgot. She met him up at Maddigans Point, at the lighthouse there. He was very taken with her, but she wouldn’t do anything with him. He tried to contact her a few times, but he’d stopped for about two months before she died. She was coming out the other side of all the menopause nonsense, and she was really starting to love life again. She just went up there for the day because the place made her happy. She didn’t mean to die, I’m absolutely sure of it.”

The two police officers frowned at each other, but one of them did take the lunchbox from Adrian, probably because he seemed so adamant about it.

The taller of the two said, “Have you got any evidence, sir?”

Adrian frowned. “I’m not sure. Whatever I think might be is in there. You know when she was found, you blokes kept it out of the papers until after we’d had the service? Well it was after her name was published that this bloke Jake started sending her cards and letters. Then, last night, there was a friend request came through to her Facebook account from him.”

Again, the police officers exchanged a glance.

Insistent, Adrian went on. “I mean, this was someone that Nell didn’t want to talk to ever again. It’s been all through the papers that she’s dead, but he goes to the trouble of finding her on Facebook. I saw that notification come through last night, and I just want to vomit at the thought of the guy. He’d done everything he could to ruin our relationship, and last night …” He turned a look of abject apology towards Shannon. “Last night I wanted to vomit, but then I just felt so guilty because Nell and I had a fight the afternoon she died. She reckoned I paid too much attention to all the stupid computer games, and if I wasn’t so hell bent on winning that particular round, I’d have gone with her to the lighthouse. That’s what she wanted, you know.”

Now it seemed that all the occupants of the room were confused, except Adrian.

He persisted: “Nell never took the lunchbox with her to the lighthouse. It was a private, at-home thing. But because she was feeling so much better in herself, she wanted us both to go and kind of rededicate ourselves there. I did mean to go, but then I got way further in the tournament I was in than I expected, and so I wanted to leave the trip until the next day, and we fought. I didn’t know until hours after she’d left that she’d gone alone, and it wasn’t until Ben got dropped home from playing at Dane’s house that I realised she should have been home again. They found the lunchbox way down the road from the lighthouse – nowhere near where Nell’s car was parked or where her body was found. It was only last night that it hit me that suicide was all just wrong, somehow.”

The policemen, with barely disguised reluctance, agreed to take the lunchbox and get fingerprints from it. They would come by Adrian’s house the next day to collect the envelope with Jake Moncrief’s handwriting on it.


Ben seemed glad enough for his father to be home again, but he was certainly very keen for Shannon to stay with them, too. He said as much before he went to bed. “It’s nice when the house is tidy,” he said when he kissed her goodnight.

Sense and order did seem to be starting to seep back into Adrian, Shannon had to admit. Even during that first evening, he wordlessly helped her clean and tidy through the house, but he was ready for bed himself well before ten o’clock.

“Where’s the red towel that was in the laundry?” he asked, coming back to the kitchen where Shannon was having a final cuppa, after he’d bade her goodnight.

“I washed it,” Shannon said lightly. “The first load, the clothes, are all folded and back in your drawers. The towels will be in the dryer. Why?”

He looked abashed. “I was about to wash it myself,” he said, in a way that sounded like a confession.

“How come?” Shannon asked, puzzled.

“It was my screaming towel.” He seemed ashamed of the admission.

Shannon just widened her eyes and blinked at him.

Adrian shrugged. “When it all just got too much for me, I’d put the towel around my face and scream into it so that I didn’t scare Ben.”

Shannon put her mug of tea down and put her arms around her brother. “I’m so sorry,” she said.

“Yeah. I know. But I reckon there’s a chance I’ll be okay now.”


Adrian stayed on medication for another year after his last episode. The doctors by then agreed with him that he no longer needed the help.

Shannon gave up the lease on her flat and went to live with Adrian and Ben for a while, just to help out and stop the house being too much of a blokezone. It took her a while to decide that political fracas is painfully common in every workplace – somehow the incidences of intensity are cyclical, and in between times, it is actually possible to help people in very real and practical ways. For the most part, she came to enjoy both her work life and her home life.

Ben took a while to settle properly at school, preferring to spend time on the beach watching the waves in all reality. His dad came to accept that grief always leaves a scar on all it touches, but what that scar looks like is often very different, even between people who have loved the same departed one so completely.

Nell had been dead for almost three years before two detectives arrived on the doorstep one evening to let them know that at last Jake Moncrief had been arrested. After a piece on a television program, some tourists had come forward with a photograph of Jake and Nell in the background of their happy snap at Maddigans Point Lighthouse, clearly arguing. They’d taken three shots using a tripod and self-timer, and each frame contained decent evidence. Fingerprints inside Nell’s lunchbox, and a pattern of behaviour that was echoed in several other apparent suicides, where Jake was always somehow involved, had all sealed his fate.


On a summer’s evening, just as the breeze swung around to bring some coolness at the end of the day, Adrian, Shannon and Ben all stepped out of Adrian’s car at Maddigans Point.

Ben was in high school now, and Adrian had sold most of his computer gaming paraphernalia and was back with the road crew, working hard, coaching Ben’s soccer team, and for the most part enjoying being a dad. Shannon was married to Greg, one of the policemen who had helped solve Nell’s murder, and they were expecting their first baby around Easter time.

“Thanks for coming,” he said to Shannon. “It’s just something I’ve wanted to do, and Ben and I couldn’t have come through this without you.”

She smiled, and stood with her arm around Ben while Adrian read out a few lines from a Joan Baez song that he and Nell had loved back in the seventies.

Just one favour of you, my love /  If I should die today  / Take me down to where the hills / Meet the sea on a stormy day / Ride a ridge on a snow white horse / And throw my ashes away / To the wind and the sand / Where my song began.

Together, Adrian and Ben released Nell’s ashes to be blown away on the ocean’s breeze. “It’s not a stormy day, but it sure was, the day I knew it was murder. And there’s no snow white horse, cos I’m no hero, but you can be at peace, Nell. We’ll live again now.”

Shannon stood with her arms around her big brother and her nearly-as-big nephew. “I guess it pays to listen to that small inner voice, doesn’t it?” she said.

Nobody said it, but they all knew that despite the tragedy, they had survived. Some good had come out of the bad, and yes, there was still life to be lived.


The Car Trip January 9, 2010

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt:
include the following items: river, stranger, sock, idea, pack
and at least one of the following: a chicken, an aardvark or a donkey.

“She used to walk down by the ri-i-ver, she loved to watch the sun go downnnn …” Lachie yowled from the back seat, singing along with the radio in off-key, dramatic tones that were designed to drive his older sister and mother to distraction.

“Oh, for crying out loud, Lach! Shut up, will you!” Keely screeched eventually, unable to take his wailing any more. He was absolutely desecrating her favourite Richard Marx song!

“But it’s one of your favourite songs!” Lachie objected. “I’m just serenading you because I lo-o-ove you!” He was being a pain, and he knew it. He was mimicking the way that Oliver had serenaded Keely last New Year, with the help of the karaoke SingStar contraption that Lachie had so considerately taken along to the joint family barbeque. If Lachie could remember what the song was that Oliver had sung at that time, he’d have been singing that, for sure. Keely had been embarrassed enough at the time to realise that Oliver was singing to her, but it hadn’t prepared her even a tiny bit for the proposal that followed.

“Just ignore him,” Sarah suggested, keeping her eyes on the road and wondering how long it would be until Hamish woke up from his nap and vied with Lachlan for attention. “You know he’s just reacting.” She flicked the radio off, in an effort to maintain a semblance of atmospheric conviviality between the car’s occupants.

Keely sent a grateful look in her mother’s direction. There were eight years between her and Lachie, but sometimes it may as well have been eight decades. Sometimes it felt like there was a bigger generation gap between the two of them than there was between their mother and either of them. Their mother was right – Lachie was just reacting. He was used to having her and Hamish around all the time, and after tonight, they wouldn’t be any more.

“That’s a weird song,” Lachie mused from the back seat.

“How so?” Sarah asked, slowing down for a hairpin bend.

“Well, the guy doesn’t actually say whether he was guilty of killing the girl, or he wasn’t. I mean, he might just have been a different sort of bloke, and the sheriff just assumed he killed her. But it sounds like he was her friend, so why would he kill her? Maybe it was some stranger that killed her, and the sheriff was just framing the guy.”

Sarah laughed. “There’s no doubt about you, Lachie my boy, you do think deeply about things!”

“Yeah, well I’ve been thinking deeply about a lotta stuff lately,” he retorted with uncharacteristic darkness. He reached across the back seat and straightened Hamish’s sock, as if it was something to do to distract him from his sudden moodiness.

“Oh, okay,” Keely sighed. “I’ll bite. What have you been thinking so deeply about?” She turned around and grinned at him teasingly over her shoulder. “Don’t tell me! You had this mad idea that Oliver is really some closet serial killer …”

“Don’t be stupid!” Lachie snapped. “You’ve known him since you were in primary school. Nah, it’s more that I was wondering how I’m gonna keep being a proper uncle to Hamo, here. I mean, who’s gonna teach him about Albert the Aardvark? Who’s gonna sit there and remind him that A can say ‘a’ as in apple, ‘ay’ as in mate, ‘ah’ as in raft, ‘aw’ as in talk, and ‘o’ as in what? I mean, you and Oliver will both be working, and Mum’s not gonna to be around to pick him up from daycare …”

Keely frowned at him. “We’ll both be spending lots of time with Hamish, before and after work, and on weekends,” she said, perplexed. “We’ve met the lady who’ll be caring for him and taking him to pre-school, and she’s really lovely.” She felt a bit defensive, really – it was as if Lachie was accusing her of neglecting her own son. “And school will teach him about phonics!”

“I bet they don’t! And anyway, I won’t be spending any time with him!” Lachie sighed. He stared out the window, and after another furtive glance, Keely gathered that he was somewhat choked up.

She glanced at her mother, who just raised an eyebrow and kept her eyes on the road.

“You can come visit us every school holidays if you like,” Keely offered.

“Huh,” Lachie grunted. “Ollie won’t like that!”

“Why on earth not?”

“He doesn’t like me since I punched him!”

Keely laughed out loud at that. “You were ten!” she exclaimed. “You were defending my honour!”

Lachie just growled something under his breath in response, and it was Sarah who spoke soothingly to him.

“Darling, I’m sure that Oliver has long forgiven that. We’ve all grown up a lot in the five years since that, now, haven’t we?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.” Lachie could actually remember as clearly as if it had just happened, how Oliver and Keely had arrived in his parents’ kitchen and said that they were expecting a baby. They’d both looked so scared – Oliver was nineteen, but Keely hadn’t yet had her birthday, and they were both just starting into their second years at universities in different cities.

Oliver’s parents, who were old friends of Sarah and Wayne, were sitting at the breakfast bar having a glass of wine while Sarah cooked dinner. Oliver’s mum, Diane, had spilled her wine and begun to cry.

“You’ll have to get married,” Peter, Oliver’s father, had declared, attempting to take charge of the situation. “You can probably get your job back at the hardware store. At least rent’s cheaper here than it is in the city.”

Wayne began to berate the pair for their stupidity. They’d both grown up in the church. They both knew better. How could they shame their parents like that! Blah, blah, blah.

Lachie distinctly remembered his mother turning towards the stove, and almost in slow motion, turning off every hotplate, one after the other. Then she turned back to the horrified little gathering, put her hand on Wayne’s arm, which was always a signal for him to hush, and said calmly, “No darling, we’ll have no more talk like that. Oliver and Keely didn’t plan this, I’m sure. Now we’ll all just have to grow up and deal with the situation that is. Won’t we?” She looked around meaningfully, meeting every pair of eyes one after the other, until she had a consensus.

“It was during the Christmas break,” Keely wailed, crying now. “It was at Davo’s party – we’d both had too much to drink …”

“And you were raised better than that, too!” Wayne bawled, but Sarah silenced him with a look.

“Hush now,” Sarah had instructed firmly. “That’s not our business. Now, we all have to be very practical and grown up about this.”

And Sarah – goody-two-shoes, never did anything wrong, never even had a sinful thought in all her life Perfect Sarah – outlined a plan that left everyone gaping. There would be no wedding! There would be no ‘doing the right thing for the sake of appearing like the wrong thing had never been done.’ As comfortable as Oliver and Keely were with each other, they didn’t really know if they had the kind of connection that would endure a lifetime. This wasn’t an event that they’d planned, but this child was never to be treated like an accident. This child was precious in God’s sight, and every one of them had a duty of care to ensure that the child was raised with love and unity, to the very best of everyone’s ability.

Numbly, Oliver had asked Sarah how that was even possible.

Sarah told him that he would finish university, and he would be as involved with the baby as he and Keely were comfortable with. Keely would continue with her studies for as long as she was able, and after the baby was born, she would continue via a distance program. She would have the full support of her parents and Oliver’s parents, and Oliver was free to come and go as he or Keely chose.

Lachie had been aghast at the proposal. It would mean that there was a squalling baby in the house, getting into his personal things and wrecking everything! That was when he stood up, walked over to Oliver, and punched him square in the nose.

In the back seat of the car, Lachie chuckled. It was kind of funny, in retrospect.

“So, you’re not gonna be a chicken and back out of this?” he asked Keely. “I mean, you’re marrying a bloke who works in an office. That’s gonna be bo-or-ing!”

She smiled around at him. “No, no chickening out,” she said with certainty. “Mum was right all those years ago. If we’d married out of obligation, we’d have probably hated each other. As it is, we’ve had time to observe each other as the parents of our amazing little boy, and we’ve got to know each other as real friends. What we’re doing now … it was worth waiting for.”

“Yeah, well if you’d reckoned it was worth waiting for at the start, you wouldn’t’ve even been in this mess,” Lachie mumbled. But then Hamish began to stir, as Sarah slowed the car to begin the steep gravelled ascent to the farm-stay where the wedding would be held.

Something shifted in Keely’s heart as she was about to snap at her annoying brother. She turned and saw him grin at her. “Yeah, well, look at all you’d have missed out on if I hadn’t been stupid way back then. Now you’re complaining that we’re taking him away from you!”

“Yeah, there’s that,” Lachie acknowledged softly, with a sheepish grin back at her.

Hamish gave a start, with all four limbs jerking stiff for an instant before his eyes flew open and he sighed, relaxed and smiled. He always woke up like that. Lachie picked up Eeyore, Hamish’s tattered Winnie the Pooh stuffed donkey toy, and handed it to him for a cuddle.

“Hey matey,” he said gently, reaching to give the little boy’s hair a ruffle. “Did you pack your trucks? I bet this place has heaps of dirt for us to shift around.”

Keely turned back to her mother, after greeting her newly awake little boy. Her own eyes were suddenly prickling with tears. “How am I going to do this without Lachie?” she asked quietly. “Or you? Or Dad?” Her father had been at the venue for hours already, making sure that everything was set up properly.

Her parents had been amazing throughout all her pregnancy, Hamish’s birth, and her frustration as she struggled to get the hang of breast-feeding and sleepless nights and endless nappies. Then there were her efforts to finish her studies and cope with a toddler who slobbered over her papers and tore her textbooks and refused to sleep long enough for her to write coherent assignments. Oliver’s parents had remained too horrified to be very involved, clearly blaming her for leading their innocent son astray. Her parents, though, had just smiled knowingly and said that they’d had hormones too, so it wasn’t like they had no idea how it had happened.

Sarah was slowing the car now, into the car park of the farm-stay. She turned off the engine and twisted to clasp Keely’s hands.

“Darling girl,” she said with a gentle smile. “You will cope with this change just as you’ve coped with everything else. One step, one breath at a time. And there is no doubt that there will be times when it’s tough, just because that’s how life is. It won’t be perfect, but your dad and I are confident that it will all be good. You and Oliver have learned to work together, to put your son and each other before your own desires.” She leaned forward and kissed Keely’s wet cheek. “Here’s Dad now, to help us with the bags, darling. Let’s get you married, shall we?”

The rest of the day was a blur, as Keely dressed and walked down the rose petal strewn lawn aisle between rows of white be-ribboned chairs, towards a rose festooned arbour where Oliver waited, handsome in his suit and looking both certain and nervous. Keely clutched her father’s arm and was preceded up the aisle by her suited-up small son, and her three best friends resplendent in fushcia. She exchanged vows with Oliver, the father of her son, the man with whom she had come to share such a deep and abiding love. She held his hand, they laughed, they ate, they danced. Blur though it was, all day Keely’s heart sang.

Praise you Lord, for you have turned the darkness into light before us and made the rough places smooth. You have worked all things together for our good. You have turned our mourning into dancing, given us garments of praise and joy in our hearts. Thank you, Lord! Praise you, Lord.

As the wedding car drove off down the driveway, crunching gravel beneath its tyres, Lachie stood in front of his parents, holding Hamish’s sweaty little hand with one of his, and waving an enthusiastic farewell with the other. The car disappeared from sight, and he turned to face his beaming father and teary but widely smiling mother. “I suppose it’ll be alright,” he conceded reluctantly. “Who knows. They might even let me be an uncle again one day. It’s not like they make horrible kids, or anything.”