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The MiNiBaBug November 9, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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Writing prompt: “This is what I do at 2:30 in the morning when I can’t sleep.”

 

Our house is an odd shape, I suppose, but it never occurred to me before that it was quite like the house I grew up in. The place that Greg and I bought as newlyweds is an inner city house on a long, narrow block, whereas the place I lived in growing up was a massive block of land on the outskirts of a country town.

Our place is typical of worker’s cottages of the era, and typical of the renovations that were done a few years ago. You walk in the front door, past a bedroom on either side of the long hallway, then past another bedroom on one side, and a bathroom on the other, behind which is the ensuite for the master bedroom. The third bedroom was probably the lounge room when the place was first built. Then you walk into a big lounge room that’s the full width of the house, and through that into an expansive family area with a laundry and galley kitchen down one side. The back wall of that is concertina-style glass doors, opening out fully onto a deck and entertainment area that in the early days housed a kiddy swing off one of the rafters, and a clamshell sand-pit that never seemed to successfully retain its load.

The place we grew up in had the front door opening up into a long wide hallway, too, past rows of bedrooms on either side, then into a lounge room on one side and a dining room on the other, jutting out a bit both sides so that extra stained-glass windows caught extra light. The kitchen and bathroom were just tacked on at the back of the old house.

That place was an odd cross-shape from the top of the old gum tree, and although when we bought it I thought this place was just a long narrow box, it too is an odd cross-shape from above. I don’t need to be up high anywhere to see that, I just know it.

When I was a kid, Mum always kept the bickie tins full. We’d catch the bus into school from the front gate of a morning, and come home to either chilled home-made lemonade in summer, or steaming mugs of sweetened cocoa in winter. Alan and Deirdre and I would always consume at least half a tin of biscuits between us before Mum popped the lid back on and slid the tin back onto the top of the fridge where all those tins lived. She’d then bustle us along to get changed and hurry outside to play, so that we were ready to settle down and do homework by the time Dad was home and she was cooking dinner.

I was a teenager before I realised that Mum worked, just like Dad did, and that she didn’t have time to bake during the daytime. “So when do you make all the bickies, Mum?” I remember asking.

“Oh, while you lot are all asleep,” she said dismissively.

By then, none of us were in bed before midnight, by which time Mum and Dad had both been asleep for a couple of hours, so that didn’t make sense to me.

“Oh, I always did shift-work when I was first nursing,” Mum said, addressing my unspoken consternation. “I think it ruined my sleep patterns. For years, I’ve woken fully up, bright and sparkling, sometime after midnight, and I used to always be really frustrated that I couldn’t get back to sleep. When you kids started coming home from school ravenous, I realised I could put the time to good use with baking. So since then, this is what I do at 2:30 in the morning when I can’t sleep. I get up and bake, and then, for some reason, I can go back to bed and sleep like a baby.”

I wondered if Mum was pregnant when she was first bothered by the sleeplessness.

Vaughn, our first son, was due to be born a week or so hence when I started thinking about all this – I was on maternity leave from my own nursing job again. Brittany and Annabelle were asleep down the hall, and of course Greg was snoring loudly beside me. I wanted to blame him for my sleeplessness, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought that baking a batch of biscuits might be just what the doctor ordered in terms of sleep therapy.

As it turned out, I loved it. I was baking, which I’d always loved, I had time to think my own thoughts and be in my own kitchen without anybody else being under foot, and Greg and the girls certainly enjoyed my efforts.

Vaughn, as he grew, could eat a batch of biscuits almost entirely unaided, and I started having to do what my mum had done: putting the lid back on the tin as soon as the lemonade or hot chocolates were finished, and shooing the kids off to play before it was time to do homework.

It was never my intention to have a home for our children that was so like the one I grew up in. It’s just happened that way. The funny thing is, I think it took Greg about a decade to figure out how the bickie tins stay magically full all the time. He’s never objected, though, and the kids just think I’m strange. They’ll get over it, though. Who knows? One day the Middle of the Night Baking Bug might just bite them, too.

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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.

Fragrance September 7, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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“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.

The Hideout March 30, 2009

Posted by Anna in Exercises.
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The writing prompt said, “Describe a hideout.” This is my attempt to do just that. 

Four boys stood bunched together at Jonno’s back gate, silently contemplating the expanse of bushland that beckoned them from the other side of Mr McGinty’s paddock.

It took the minute or so of a lifetime to feel the resurgence of bravery in their midst.

Then Jacko, the oldest of them, gave a nod. “Let’s do it.” And as a man, they trod the drought-baked ruts of McGinty’s Lane, and eased themselves between the jagged teeth of McGinty’s barbed wire fence.

The newly liberated forest almost vibrated with the energy of shaking off its winter coat, and allowing all the potential that had been incubated throughout winter to emerge wide-eyed and bursting with excitement. All around, greenery shot forth from otherwise dead-looking twigs, and newly formed wild-flowers blinked themselves awake into the sunshine.

It is possible, too, that the air was alive with piercing bird sounds, and that the creatures of the forest floor were scuttling about with the same eager energy. Sometimes, however, when you are on a mission, the beauty that surrounds you, no matter how overt or flamboyant it may be, would only be a distraction if you allowed it your attention.

The small troupe of boys who wordlessly trod the familiar paths of the colour-laden forest weren’t particularly mindful of any beauty. All they knew was that it was the first weekend for months and forever that their mothers had allowed them to venture out amongst the trees to return to the fort where so much of their last summer had been played out.

Somewhere between the back gate and the depths of the forest, each boy had found himself a suitable stick. It wasn’t a conscious thing – none of them needed any help traversing the paddocks or the paths – but a stick in the hands of a boy seemed a completely necessary thing, deep in the psyche of each one who trod the path.

Somebody whacked at a bush with their stick, and Jacko, in the lead, turned briefly to glare in the direction of the offender.

This approach to the hideout, the first for the spring, was sacred.

Something made a nearby bush rustle, and Dink, at the back, squeaked. He hastily stifled the sound, not wanting Jacko’s glare turned in his direction.

“What if there’s a bear?” Buddy voiced suddenly, high pitched and frightened.

“There’s no bears around these parts,” Jonno shot back scathingly.

“Shut up,” Jacko ordered.

Abruptly, he stopped. The others gathered around him. There, across the rocks of the dry creek bed and up the slope a bit, it was.

It didn’t look quite as it had done in summer, when vines entangled themselves with the boughs and sticks and old palings that the boys had used to enhance its camouflage, and the canopy of trees hung low around them. The structure seemed intact from a distance, and fresh foliage and blossom was beginning to emerge on the vinery.

It was Dink who broke rank first, and began to scramble over the rocks and up the slope to their hideout, his hiking stick abandoned where he’d stood.

Ducking behind the prickly bush at the entrance, he fell from habit to his knees and crawled inside. Blood from the angry jab of a jagged rock smeared with dirt down his shin as he moved, but it didn’t matter. The ground beneath him was dry, but the shroud above him smelled damp and sweet, almost acrid in some places, but breathtakingly familiar.

In the back corner, he found the remnants of their last meal from the end of summer. The rusting baked bean tin, an empty soft drink can, and a soggy chip packet all seemed to say, “Remember?”

Behind him, Dink heard the others arrive, not quite as breathless as he had been moments before.

“It’s smaller,” he called out to them.

“You’ve grown, you idiot!” Jonno called back.

One after the other they crawled inside, looking around, tasting the atmosphere in their breath, the urgency for fun almost palpable. This year, though, they could not heed the call.

The four of them unconsciously took up their designated posts from last summer and sat in silence. Dink was at the back; his big brother by a year and a bit, Jonno, to his left; Buddy to his left and Jacko straight in front of him, their guard at the doorway.

This summer wasn’t going to be like last.

This summer, Jacko and Jonno were going away on a cadet camp.

This summer, Buddy’s family was moving to the other side of the country.

This summer, Dink would be the sole custodian of their sacred place.

He brushed the still-trickling blood away from his knee and wordlessly reached into the corner to scrape the debris from last summer into a pile between them.

He picked up the baked bean tin first. Handing it to Jacko, he said, “You looked after us all. Keep it, hey? Remember.”

Jacko took it, but didn’t reply.

Dink picked up the chip packet and let some stagnant water drip out onto the dirt below. Holding it towards Jonno, he said. “You didn’t want to, but you shared. Remember?”

To Buddy, he handed the coke can. “You refreshed us all, buddy. Remember us.”

Summers fade, boys grow, and mostly, life goes on.

The hideout never again saw all four boys together.

Jonno brought his girlfriend there, but didn’t come again until she was his wife, and pregnant. When it was subdivided, they bought the land from Mr McGinty that had the hideout in its back corner, and Jonno’s sons played there as they grew.

Buddy came once to visit Jonno, healthy and hearty, with a tribe of rowdy children and a face streaming with tears.

Jacko visited sometimes, and he came when Buddy did, stony-faced and unbelieving.

“You wouldn’t think that one annoying kid could leave such a mark on a landscape, would you?” he said to his old friends, surveying the scene of their childhood revelry.

Jonno finished hammering the cross into the ground outside the fort. Beneath it, along with the ashes,  lay an old coke can, a dried and smoothed out faded chip packet, and a rusty baked bean can. The cross itself read: Dink won, cancer lost.

“Or a heart,” he said quietly.