Thoughts on Creativity in 2017

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Dear readers/viewers/people who follow my artistic/creative pursuits,

Today, after finishing the last episode of my video journal, Approximately 345 Days in the Cold, I am thinking about what to do next with film, and how I can bring filming things together with my writing work. I would love your thoughts and input about these ideas.

I have begun with two vague ideas which have evolved as I have jotted them down. The first is that I want my next film project to be something which could form a portfolio towards my dream kind of work… which is to be involved with something like Playschool or, as I will describe more, a similar program aimed at people of all ages/for different age groups. From there, an idea has evolved which I would like your opinions on. Here are my notes:

  • Write stories that are like fables with a lesson, but new, addressing modern issues told in an abstract way, e.g., using animal characters and/or fantasy. I would like them to be stories which promote community, forgiveness, and things like how to explain your point of view or even change somebody’s mind, without making that other person feel rejected or MORE different from you; stories with ideas about how we can work towards equality and fairness and kindness in ways that have a positive outcome for everyone. Stories that discuss how we are all human, perhaps, ironically, by using characters that are not human. Isn’t this what fantasy is for, in some ways? What do YOU think? And what kind of stories would you like to see me try to tell?
  • These could go with a series of illustrations of things from the fables, which I could then use as an art series entitled ‘modern fables’ or convert into a picture book of the story, but they would be used in the film reading, not necessarily animated (although I would definitely consider working with someone who does this), but probably in a turning the pages of the book kind of way.
  • Promote the idea that picture books/verbal storytelling are not just for children: I think this is something which can inspire us and get our brains working throughout our lives, and that perhaps there is a need for storytelling in the style we think of as ‘for children’ and ‘children’s books’, aimed at young adults finding their place in the world, older adults looking for meaning/memory triggers etc, and so forth. So here’s a question for you: Who do you think needs picture books and verbal storytelling, and if you would watch something where someone tells you a story, what kind of stories would inspire you and give you hope and direction in your current part of your life?
  • Research cultures where verbal storytelling/oral history and the fusion of these two things are common and find out to what extent they are/were historically used with the community as a whole rather than just with children
  • Promote inclusion of poetry in stories for children and adults, and work against the idea that poetry is not accessible to those who are not ‘great literary minds’ as it were – write poems as part of these stories which appeal to most people
  • Work out how to fuse film of the real world with drawn illustration in a way that does not detract from the flow of the story

The second vague idea is that I want to, in general, create simple films with overlaid spoken poetry. I want to:

  • Set poems against beautiful film backdrops that promote hope, meditation if that’s your thing, and relaxation, and perhaps may aid people with relief of stress and/or anxiety.
  • These poems should all inspire action and hope for the future, and the images should encourage mindfulness and reflection by drawing attention to the small and beautiful things all around us. If you feel you have knowledge of the kinds of messages that should be in this poetry, or in the visuals, or thoughts about it more generally, send them my way.
  • The obvious title which came to mind for this particular project is ‘Poetry in Motion’ – it’s a bit clichéd. Does anyone have an alternative title idea for me?

Thank you for reading this morning’s reflective ramble! You are more than welcome to give me your thoughts as comments here on social media if your idea/thought/request fits into a reasonable length comment. If you get all inspired (I hope lots of you do, that’s what I’m aiming for!) and want to write me an essay, please email it to 25teacups@gmail.com (an alternative to my usual email, to make it easier to keep responses to this all in one place and separate them from my always very full normal inbox).

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Short Stories Series 14

Wallace and the Heatwave 08/05/16

Today there were no clouds. It was the hottest day Wallace could remember since he’d lived in the big park. Hot days were good because on hot days the dogs could not run so fast. Unfortunately, neither could Wallace. Being a bit of a round squirrel was useful for keeping warm in the Winter, and for taking up all the room in a hollow tree you didn’t want any other squirrels trying to get into, but not so useful for staying cool when the sun was hot like today, and not ideal for running. Wallace was however a deceptively fast runner, because he was always trying to get at dropped human food that the local dogs shared an interest in, and had a lot of practice at getting out of there at the last minute. It was all about good running technique and spotting where you needed to go without letting on that you were going there.

This afternoon Wallace was interested in some small humans who were sitting on the edge of the playground with nice-smelling food in their hands which they were licking. Wallace had not seen humans lick things very often before. He thought their tongues were awfully strange objects. The food they were licking was colourful and left coloured smears on their tongues so that they looked like odd creatures indeed. He had seen them drop some bits of this food and was looking forward to investigating after they moved. He could already see an impediment to this mission in the form of a fox terrier chasing a ball off to one side, who kept glancing in the direction of the small humans and being called to attention by the man throwing the ball. So Wallace had his route to the edge of the playground all worked out in advance with places to hide every few metres.

When the small humans finally stood up and wandered away, the race was on. Wallace had an advantage at first, because the dog was being supervised and called back by the human it was with, and Wallace was hard to see, following his pre-planned route. However, when he reached the spot where the humans had sat, Wallace was dismayed to find that the food once dropped apparently ceased to be solid and became a sticky liquid, which he could not carry in his mouth easily and still breathe. He busily tried to scoop some of the liquid into his front paws and some into his mouth. Upon putting it in his mouth Wallace discovered that it was cold, in unexpected contrast to the hot air around him, and had to spit some of it out. The dog had now outright defied the human and was barrelling over. Wallace barely had time to lick his lips before he had to dive into a nearby shrub.

The dog, it turned out, had this special type of food down pat, and went straight to licking the ground, while Wallace watched, disgruntled. When the dog was towed away by its exclaiming human, he skulked out and checked the spot, but there was no further sticky food-liquid to be found. Returning to his tree, Wallace spent the rest of the afternoon trying to lick all the stickiness off of his paws and chest, which was a long and annoying exercise. He decided that this type of food was not for squirrels. He had to hand it to the dog; its less cultured approach was definitely wiser in this instance. Curling up huffily to rest, Wallace thought to himself that in future he would avoid foods that humans had to lick, and stick to those he could hear them chewing. Watching their tongues was disturbing in any case.

The Apricot Tree 09/05/16

There was a spot Abbey remembered in her Grandmother’s yard. There was a memory she had from her childhood about being there. She wasn’t sure if it was a real thing, or one of her creative imaginings. Memories from when she was young were hard to differentiate that way. But every time she stood beside the apricot tree, this same one would come back to her.

She’d been watching the ants that ran along the branches in the Summer, cautious about picking fruit because she didn’t want them to run up her arm. She’d noticed that some of them were carrying things. Bits of leaf, petals, tiny sticks, and other small things Abbey couldn’t identify. The ants were taking all these objects to somewhere, and Abbey had wanted to know where. So she’d got up from under the apricot tree and tried to follow the trail of ants. Along a winding worn dirt path she’d gone, between hedge-like shrubs. The path passed not far from the apricot tree, and disappeared down a slope. At the bottom of the slope was a perfect little clearing, where everything was flowering and the air had a sweet scent like honey. The ground was covered in a tiny-leaved creeper like grass, which felt like foam matting under her feet, only cooler. The ants were running under the bright flowering bushes and putting down their collected items, where other ants were using them to build beautiful domed shelters and arches. All the ground below the shrubs was covered in these structures, like some rounded, domed alien village built entirely of flowers and twigs and leaves. Abbey had started bringing things to help the ants.

But Abbey had been back to where this spot should have been as an adult, and it did not exist. There was the apricot tree, and a path that wound away from it. If you followed the path, there was a place in the garden with flowering shrubs. But there was no grass or creeper on the ground there, and the shrubs never all flowered at the same time. And it didn’t seem to be particularly popular with ants. Still, sometimes when she stood by the apricot tree, Abbey would wonder if there was some special season in which ants piled up flowers and leaves for a purpose relevant to their nests or breeding or food for a new queen. She liked to think that maybe, just maybe, at very particular times, the scene she remembered really occurred.

 

The Chief in our Feet 10/05/16

Maisy dragged the toes of her school shoes around in the dust below the railing she sat upon at the bus stop, drawing figure eights and spirals. The dust had settled in a sticky layer on the leather and she could feel it getting into her socks, but it was too late to notice now, when she’d already been trailing her feet about in it for some minutes. A scene was replaying over and over in her head of the girl called Taya in PE saying
‘Who cares Maisy?’ And turning away from her to lead the other girls out of the changing rooms. Maisy had been making some conversation about various things school-related, but even she would admit she wasn’t very good at it. She’d sort of comment on how things were without leaving much opening for others to continue the discussion. Taya liked to capitalise on every opportunity to point this out; to draw attention to how boring Maisy was. But Maisy wasn’t boring. There were all kinds of interesting things inside her head, she just didn’t like sharing them with girls like Taya when she barely knew them. They’d all started at the school together, but Taya seemed to command attention and admiration within a few weeks. Maisy was trying to work out what she could have said back to Taya to look less stupid. She knew she would think of something next week, or in a dream, or when she was talking to her cockatiel Wesley. But she could never think on her feet enough to say anything sufficiently bold in response. As she fumed over this, Maisy had an odd idea, her mind jumping the barriers of context at the thought of feet. She could think on her feet, just not like that. She could think on her dancing feet. Imagine if she had danced up to Taya and high-kicked her in the nose. That would have been something.

Maisy of course would never really do such a thing, but it did fuel her movement at dance class that evening, and her friend Akira commented on it. Maisy told her about Taya, and Akira made a derisive noise.
‘Girls at school are nasty. It’s the same in my class.’ She said. ‘We should dance at our schools. Everyone will talk about dance then, and we’ll be the experts.’ Maisy wasn’t sure about this at first, but Akira was the kind of person who wouldn’t let an idea go, or other people scare her. So they agreed to write to their schools and get permission to visit each other for a performance.

Maisy and Akira had a friendship that shone through in their smiles when they worked together, and a command of their feet that made them seem in control of everything. After their performances, they answered questions with humour and flair, hyped up on the adrenaline of that performance excitement that could be nerves if you let it, but they never did. After the day she would remember as dance day, even though there were many other occasions in her life involving dance, Maisy wasn’t known for bad small talk anymore. She was known as ‘the dancing girl’. And she was fine with that.

Short Stories Series 13

Movie Night 04/05/16

It was a slightly rainy long weekend, and Jo and Ross had gone out to breakfast at a little café in a nearby country town. The chef had cut the avocados into fancy armadillo shapes, and they were both taking pictures for their Instagram accounts. Jo was explaining at the same time how poached eggs were made, which sounded like some kind of black magic to Ross, who generally stuck to things he could fry in the frying pan when Martin wasn’t at home. The breakfast tasted as good as it looked, and they were both feeling rather pleased with themselves.
‘What shall we do with the rest of the day?’ Ross wondered, lazily contemplating the fact that the café probably wouldn’t like them to stay for hours after they ate. ‘We could go to the movies tonight, but we might run into Martin and Lena; their plan was movies this evening.’ Jo shook her head.
‘No, Lena said they decided to just get movies off the computer and watch them on the TV screen so they could eat hot chips and lay in the bean bags at home.’ Ross slammed down his fork.
‘What?! How do you know these things when I don’t? Ugh! Martin will go through my hard drive to find movies! I don’t want him going through my stuff! He’ll probably put a virus on there!’ he grabbed his phone off the table and started madly typing.

Ten minutes later when they had both finished their coffee, Martin had not replied to Ross’s text, and Ross was very annoyed.
‘Don’t worry!’ Said Jo, exasperated. ‘Lena isn’t going over to your place until like three at the earliest. He’ll definitely read your text by then and even if he doesn’t, we can always go back after lunch and we’d still be there before Lena is.’ She got up, and insisted that they leave the café and go to the zoo. At the zoo, Jo talked to monkeys and parrots and Ross took photos for her and kept checking his phone. When they had said hello to all the primates and birds in the place, they got ice cream and lunch from the zoo cafeteria, which was expensive.

After ice cream, there was still no reply from Martin so Ross tried calling him, but the call went straight to Martin’s message service.
‘What the heck? His tablet isn’t even turned on! What’s he doing?’ Ross complained. Jo sighed and put her hands on her hips.
‘Come on then. I guess we’d better go find out.’

Jo and Ross came into the lounge room to find Martin and Lena both sitting on the carpet staring intently at Martin’s laptop and pointing at things. They had the screen connector cable connected to the TV but the screen was not showing a movie. Instead it was showing Martin’s desktop screen, which was turned side on. They both looked up at the sound of feet in the hallway.
‘Oh! Ross! Good timing!’ Martin exclaimed. ‘A thing has happened with my laptop.’ Ross glared.
‘I can see that.’
‘I thought you weren’t coming until three Lena.’ Said Jo. Lena gave her a weird little smile.
‘Yeah I wasn’t. But I was trying to text Martin about tonight and he wasn’t replying, so I figured he had phone trouble and came to talk in person, and this had already happened.’ She gestured to the laptop and TV screen. Ross went
‘urghhhh.’ And rolled his eyes. ‘Yeah what’s going on with your tablet Martin?’ Martin shrugged and got up to bring the tablet to Ross.
‘It won’t turn on.’
‘Well when did it turn off?’ Martin thought about it.
‘I’m not sure.’ Ross gave him a black look.
‘When did you last charge this thing?’ Martin looked indignant.
‘I’m not that dumb! I had it plugged in this morning over there.’ He pointed at a spot on the kitchen counter where his charger was still plugged into the wall. Then he looked sheepish. ‘Oh.’ He said. Everyone looked at the charger. The power switch on the wall next to it was not switched on. Ross rolled his eyes and went and plugged the tablet back in. Then he spent twenty minutes getting Martin’s laptop screen back to normal and fixing the connection to the TV screen, while the others argued about the take-away because Martin wanted to know what ingredients were in everything.

When at last all the technology was working and Martin had successfully chosen food, everyone looked at each other, and agreed it would be fair if they all got to watch movies now, since Ross had had to set everything up. Ross disappeared into his room and returned with a USB containing a large selection of movies, and everyone squeezed on a kind of pile of bean bags squished up to the sofa, because the sofa wouldn’t fit four but neither would the bean bags, and no one wanted to sit on their own. Lena and Jo had to keep passing the popcorn over the boys, who sat in the middle and took up all the room, but they seemed to find this somehow an amusing game rather than annoyance, so the night worked out rather well, for one started by technological failure.

 

Fairy Tale 05/05/16

Flossy was rolling in the dirt. It was very satisfying, the grains of scented earth rubbing into her skin, the smell of freshly cut grass all around. Especially because Tom had just given her a very thorough, rose-scented bath.

Tom was now sitting enjoying the sun inside by a large window and assumed that Flossy was doing a similar thing on the lawn. Flossy was thinking about food, when a very strange insect flew up and landed on her tail. It made her hair stand on end and tickle, and she gave her tail a flick.
‘Hey!’ Said the little creature, standing up on two legs like a human with wings. ‘Don’t throw me around! I came to talk.’ Flossy barked. The little figure put its hands over its ears. ‘Shh! Your human will come!’ It flew around and landed on her front paw instead. Flossy cocked her head on one side and looked at the winged creature. What did it want in her garden? She wondered if she should bark some more.
‘I’m looking for a book.’ It said. ‘You got it out of our cave a while ago, remember?’ Flossy thought about it. She did know what a book was; she knew a lot of words. But she didn’t remember going in a cave. Those were at the beach. ‘Under the tree.’ Added the little person.
‘Yip!’ Went Flossy. She remembered the place now, with strange stairs where she just expected a hollow full of moss and a squirrel. She had found it peaceful, but not very comfortable to a dog. The thing on her foot put its tiny hands on its hips like Tom when he was disappointed. ‘I know you gave our book to your human. But it isn’t meant to be for a big human like him. It’s supposed to be for a small human. Big humans forget about us, but small humans like to play.’ Flossy sniffed the creature in approval. Yes. Small humans did things big humans didn’t. Like crawling under bushes and rolling in the dirt.
‘Will you bring our book back so we can give it to a small human?’ Asked the tiny thing. Flossy made a snuffling nose noise, and then sneezed at the creature. ‘Oh! You know a small human?’
‘Yip!’ Said Flossy. The creature looked around at the air behind it, which was all shimmery, glowing in the sunlight. Flossy understood that it was consulting some fellow creatures who she couldn’t see, so she put her head down on her paw and waited.
‘Well,’ said the creature eventually, ‘If you’re going to give it to the small human you know, we think that will be alright. Do you promise?’ Flossy made big eyes. That usually convinced Tom. There was a whir of wings which made Flossy sneeze, and the tiny person was gone.

The following Saturday when Tom’s grandson Nate came over, Flossy disappeared upstairs.
‘What’s she doing?’ Said Tom, looking dramatically surprised at Nate and spreading his hands. There was some rummaging and banging upstairs, and Flossy came back from Tom’s bedroom with the book in her mouth and a tissue stuck on her head. ‘Oh!’ Tom removed the tissue. ‘I think Flossy wants to give you this book Nate. She found it in the park, believe it or not!’ Nate wiped Flossy’s saliva off of the cover with his T shirt and began to flick through the pages.

The next time Nate came over, he brought his book with him. Nate’s mother gave Tom a secret wink and said
‘Nate has some imaginary friends at the moment, don’t you Nate?’ Tom smiled and ruffled Nate’s hair.
‘Ah, well, you’ll have to tell me and Flossy all about your adventures.’ He said. ‘Grandpas like me miss those you know.’

 

In the Detail 07/05/16

The blades of dry grass whispered to one another as they shifted in the wind that blew down the valley. The landscape sloped in a rounded grassy arc from dry, hard clay to the wet in the valley’s crease where the stream flowed beneath the bracken and skinny gum trees. In the air, tiny gnats joined larger flies and dragonflies in a clicking hum of heat haze and dryness. Lily had on her adventuring clothes; a long, impractical skirt with hiking boots underneath, a<span class=”text_exposed_show”>nd a loose shirt with a tie at the neck, which she felt looked medieval. She had picked up a big, dry, fallen branch, and was pretending it was her wizard’s staff as she followed after her uncle along the worn dirt track towards the creek. Uncle Rod had a big broad-brimmed straw hat obscuring much of his shoulders and neck, the backpack slung over his shoulder poking out from beneath it, adorned with flies looking for sweat.</span>
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As they reached the creek, Uncle Rod paused in the shade of the first few gum trees and sat on a rock, waiting for Lily to catch up, sipping from his water bottle. Lily approached slowly, distracted by her shoelaces which had entrapped some prickly grass seeds. As her gaze was upon her feet however, she saw the tiny print in the mud of the creek bed before she stepped on it and obscured it with her own larger one.
‘Look! Look! Uncle Rod! A tiny animal was here!’ She exclaimed, kneeling down to peer closer. The paw print was no larger than one of her fingernails, but perfectly formed in the damp mud as though the creature had been there only moments before them. Uncle Rod had a look, and said he thought it was probably made by a bilby or potoroo. Then they crossed the creek, and climbed the opposite hillside to finish their walk.

Lily and Uncle Rod arrived home dusty, sweaty and tired. But Lily did not feel exhausted or want to sit down to watch television with her Dad. In her mind, she was still looking at the tiny pawprint, imagining the creature who had left it might have seen her, and that one day, she would go back, and meet it there, where it had left its mark.

UK Adventure Journal: Visitors

May 25th – June 12th, 2016

At the start of June, we were to have our first ever visitors. Emily and her mum, Elizabeth, were travelling to the UK and then Canada for a conference. In the lead up to their arrival there was much excitement and apprehension in the Fletcher Flat as we wondered how we would go fitting four people in the tiny space instead of two. An air mattress was obtained and spare pillows and sheets, dietary requirements were found out and much tidying was done – it is very surprising how much dirt and mess can fit in a very small flat.

In the interim it was Lloyd’s Dad’s birthday, and we wanted to give him something nice that wouldn’t cost lots or be something he could get himself, so we made him a book of Feathers Wood ‘N’ String songs TAB for guitar. We also released a new song called Not My Song. A few days before Emily and Elizabeth’s arrival I visited Maddy in Old Sarum for an open air production of Tess of the D’urbervilles at the Old Sarum hill fort ruins which was a really cool night out.

 

Emily and Elizabeth arrived on the evening of the 4th June after a long day with some relatives who live nearer London, who had many activities planned for them in their short time there, followed by a long train ride. They looked pretty exhausted when they came out of the train station at 8.45pm! We towed their cases the short walk home where I had pizza and cake waiting and they handed over an extensive collection of T Bar tea provisions and our wedding guest book, which I had left in Australia with my mum to get messages from people. Emily was excited about the dark chocolate and rosewater cake I had made. We had a hilarious time getting the air mattress pumped up and trying some sweets Emily had brought called ‘surprising fantasy’ and ‘blueberry cuddles’.

Over the course of the following days I introduced the two of them to Southampton Common and the university, with Lloyd showing us a beautiful garden containing a long-haired grey cat in which to have our picnic. However, on the first day our visitors were with us, a hilarious turn of events saw the Southbrook Rise building’s fire alarm going off repeatedly, getting all the residents out in the carpark for no apparent fire, and making for some very confused firemen. We had some fun dreaming up possible causes, such as a tenant with a crush on a specific fireman who kept pressing the button until the right person came, or someone being lonely and wanting to meet everyone. We met our neighbour Ashley, who was very nice, and everyone was a bit bemused.

Our guests helped me to document my handstand practice while they were with us, culminating in Emily helping me to do my first handstand unsupported by a wall or tree by holding onto my foot on an open area of grass.

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Emily and Elizabeth also wanted to see Salisbury and took me along with them, as a group ticket was no more expensive than tickets for two. I ambled round the markets and did some reading in the library there while they went to see Stonehenge and accompanied them to Salisbury Cathedral.

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Reflections in the font at Salisbury Cathedral

On one very memorable day Elizabeth decided to explore Bath while Emily decided to take me with her on a trip to explore The New Forest. We took the train to Brockenhurst and this time knew where to get a map. We navigated our way to a completely different area to where Lloyd and I had gone, and discovered a much more dense, fairyland style of forest. There we saw many things that brought to mind childhood dreams. For example, when we stood at a stile, wondering whether to enter the forest at a certain point, our choice was made for us by a mother and baby deer walking across the path and disappearing into the woods before our eyes. Further on, we found some children had built a very good forest hut, which we could sit inside, and then emerged from the trees onto Fletchers Green to meet ponies everywhere.

Returning to the town we then caught a train to a coastal town in The New Forest called Limington. In Limington we found a strawberry farm and had cream tea, before going on a mission to see the coast. We walked through fields and down tiny narrow roads bordered by hedges and high grasses, to glimpse the water and the Isle of Wight in the distance over an area of marsh while standing in a meadow. Emily is an amazing portrait photographer and took some pictures of me in the meadow even though I couldn’t return the favour because of her hayfever (see her work at blackwoolholiday.com).

On the walk back to the station, again through beautiful hedged narrow paths, we met with a group of young people carrying bags of broken up timber and chairs and an old dresser. When asked what they were up to, this interesting party replied that they were going to have a little campfire on the beach. Presumably they knew the way to an area of pebble beach or a tiny bit of sand which we did not see. I hope to go back and find it. I found the farmland at Limington like a daydream of a place I imagine spending time when I try to think of a ‘happy place’. It felt so tranquil. Being there with Emily was very special and I wished that Lloyd and Ashton could have seen it too.

 

On the last full day of our guests being with us, Emily and I set out to take some new portrait photos of each other at the Common during the very extended twilight time that occurs here in Summer. I dug out my ballet pointe shoes which had come in the sea freight but which I had had no opportunity to use for anything as yet, and had some of my photos taken in ballerina poses. Emily had also gifted me a beautiful, flowy maroon skirt, which paired very well with my deep red caplet so that I felt as though I could have been in some kind of story. Emily, being the coolest person I know, was decked out in leather jacket and mauve boots and looking like she could probably influence armies of dragons.

Emily and Elizabeth headed back on London on the 11th June after a hilarious time writing folding stories. From there they travelled to Edinburgh and Emily took with her the paper crane I folded her on the morning of their leaving. ‘Mr No-Name’ the paper crane subsequently viewed all kinds of places on my behalf, including Canada when they arrived there. It was a tough goodbye after such a special time having these lovely people with us. As a result, I began an attempt at an electronic folding story to carry on some of the fun, and keep us all connected. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to these two for the precious time they gave us.

 

Short Stories Series 12

Wopper goes to school 01/05/16

‘Today is a special day, Wopper.’ Heather said, pulling on her socks with the careful concentration of a small person who has just learned to do it herself. ‘It’s pets day. You get to come to school.’ Wopper was chewing on one of the wooden legs of the bed. He didn’t really care about going to school, but Heather seemed in a nice mood about it so he assumed it was a pleasant thing.

He was less pleased when Heather’s mother brought in the vet box. This box was not for nice things. It was for being trapped in while he was taken to the place where people pricked him with things, sometimes in unpleasant places, looked in his mouth and dripped things in his eyes. He did not want to go in the box. So he kicked Heather’s mother in the nose.

One hour later, Wopper was being taken out of the car in the box by Heather, who had to use two hands and let her mother carry her school bag. Heather’s mother had a plaster covering most of the bridge of her nose, and was not in a good mood. Wopper was not in a good mood either. This box was not a proper box. Proper boxes were made of chewable materials in which you could make alternative exits. He wriggled around, huffing, and Heather had trouble hanging onto the handle of the box.

Heather, Wopper and Heather’s mother wobbled their way across a noisy area with a lot of small people and medium sized people in it. There were also other animals. Wopper could smell them. He pushed his nose up to the door of the box, tipping it forward. There were definitely dogs. He tried to look on the bright side. Maybe they were small dogs, in which case he was bigger than they were.

In the classroom Wopper had to stay in the box and sit on Heather’s lap while other animals got let out in the middle of the circle. At first he didn’t like this at all, but the small people seemed to hold onto the animals most of the time, and they all got patted by the other small people, at which he assumed he would get a turn. Wopper liked pats. At one point a bird got out of the hands of a small person, landed on the bars of the door to Wopper’s box, and tried to pull out some of his fur, and he liked this less. But there also seemed to be other rabbits in the room. Wopper had a plan.

When it was Heather’s turn to go in the middle, her mother held onto the box and she lifted Wopper out and sat him on her lap so that she was almost entirely concealed by his fur, as though she was wearing a very thick fur coat over her school dress. She stroked his ears and began telling the other children about him.
‘This is my rabbit Wopper. He’s a New Zealand Giant, but he’s very gentle.’ Wopper had different plans. While Heather’s mother was adjusting the towel inside the box, he wriggled and pushed with his back legs and leapt out of Heather’s arms, running as fast as he could over to the black female rabbit being held by a small male human across from them. He sniffed the black rabbit and the small human’s shoes to exclamations from Heather’s mother and the teacher, smelt other rabbits, and decided it was necessary to mark this new human as his territory.

Wopper was taken home by Heather’s mother while she had to stay at school and say sorry to the other small human. When they got there, he was unceremoniously put in his outdoor enclosure and left without a carrot, so he ate some grass and enjoyed not being in the box anymore. Heather came home a bit cross and sat down in the enclosure with her arms folded.
‘Why did you do that Wopper?’ She threw a carrot on the ground. Wopper, however, knew how to fix this. He lolloped straight over to Heather, ignoring the carrot, climbed onto her lap, and went to sleep. Heather would be unable to move until well after her tantrum was over, and he would probably get a cuddle.

Another Day 02/05/16

The steam from Maisy’s coffee drifted across the inside of the van’s windscreen, leaving a curious curved stripe of condensation. She gazed through the centre of the arc it made and watched the magpies peck their way over the lawn in front of the shed she was watching. There was absolutely no sign of the teenager she was supposed to find here, but then it was morning, wasn’t it. She settled down in her seat and rested the takeaway cup on the steering wheel.

After about an hour Maisy thought she saw movement at the rear of the property. She slipped out of the van and closed the door very quietly. Quickly and lightly she crossed the lawn and moved along the side of the shed, listening for sounds of activity ahead. She peered around the corner. On the grass by the back shed door was an odd assortment of rubbish. There was a soft drink can, a sock, some half-finished hot chips in a foam cup, a pizza voucher, and a small plastic bear. The shed door was open and the shed did not contain any teenagers. Instead it contained a half eaten plate of cookies next to a salvaged sofa, some spray paint cans and a jack russel who was looking rather woozy with crumbs on its nose. Maisy rolled her eyes and picked up the wobbly dog.

Back in the van, Maisy used her GPS to deliver the jack russel to the nearest vet. Then she went back to the property and pinned a note on the dilapidated sofa explaining that the cookies left on the floor were a danger to pets, and probably not especially good for their owners either.
‘I will collect and return your dog from the vet when you return the various items that are not yours to the police station on Mill Street.’ She figured she could wait in an arm chair in the office rather than the cold van.

Mirrors 03/05/16

Sammy moved slowly along the market stalls, beaming at each of the stall holders and taking an interest in the specifics of their produce. She particularly liked the honey stall. The young woman there was learning beekeeping from her grandfather and he was with her, ensconced in a wicker rocking chair and a rug, weaving little wheat wreaths that they decorated the tops of the jars with. They had honeycomb in little pots, which Sammy couldn’t resist purely because they looked nice. She put the pot in her shoulder bag to take back to the farm for Olive, who would put it on the tea shelf and admire it for weeks before eating it. She swapped details with all kinds of folks that morning and met the market manager, who gave her the information she needed to get a weekend stall started. Sammy rode home to the farm on her bike glowing and humming at strangers. Cody would be so pleased that there was a stall all ready to come to. And in the meantime, she would sell the sunflowers and herb posies she grew in the borders of the fields, and she would have a source of beautiful writing paper; this market had craftspeople too.

Back in the city, across county borders, and far from the herb-scented hedges of Sammy’s new home town, Cody tried to finish his university studies. Each day he sat in the library amongst the harsh fluorescent lighting and the scent of old carpet, and struggled to tear his imagination from the wafting of wheat fields in the breeze. The sunflowers he knew by now would stand tall above the field’s edges. The way that he and Sammy would be invisible amongst the tall stalks of wheat that went on for great expanses like a dry, gently rippling beige sea. The crackling fire he would light in a stone cottage fireplace not far from the property, but far enough. He often sat before half-written essays, suddenly in a different world with no idea where the thought had been going. After long days of lectures and lab classes he would go to the garden. Plant and harvest and water, but it all felt like a game now, and the things at the plot would fuel his daydreams. It surprised him how much such pleasant scenes in his mind could make his soul ache. So eventually Cody went back to the office where he had once stood scheming to get a garden plot next to Sammy’s. And canceled the lease on their two garden plots. He offered to take care of them until a new gardener took them, and to help them learn, as Sammy had once helped him.

Tess was a much better gardener than Cody had been when he started, and she did not need help for long. She liked talking about the plants, and she invited him to stay as long as he liked, but Cody felt strange working with someone else in the garden. So after the third week, he shook Tess’s hand and wished her luck, and he left the garden in her capable hands. On the way home he felt lost. So when he got there, Cody wrote to Sammy.
‘I said goodbye to the garden today. Now the rent for the plot will go towards our cottage instead.’

Sammy felt sad when she read Cody’s letter. The garden had always still been there, her first home, just in case. But here they could both do what they loved, she told herself. She struggled over what to write back, staring at the beautiful paper she’d bought as she sat at her new market stall. In the end once she started, the words tumbled out in a scrawl and the paper was gone too fast, as she wrote all about the new market and how it was a new home, one for both of them. But Sammy stayed late on the stall, helping pack up and talking to customers about the farm, bubbling over with excitement as she did when she spoke about things that grew. And she forgot to post her letter that day.

So a week passed before Sammy was in town again. And another while her letter traversed the road home to the city. And Cody felt in this time as though the threads that held his plans together were very fragile. Her letter finally came two weeks later. And as Cody read, a picture painted itself in his mind of a young woman half-hidden behind vegetables, her brightness shining as she talked about the garden where she grew them. And he knew then that the city was not home anymore.

Short Stories Series 11

Digging for Job Satisfaction 27/04/16

‘Why do you think you would be suited to this role?’ The interviewer from the earth-moving company asked, peering over her glasses at Robert.
‘Well, I’m very passionate about digging.’ Robert said. ‘Digging builds homes, gives workers a purpose, creates new environments. I enjoy doing it and I can impart that enjoyment to others to create a good team work ethic.’ The interviewer nodded.
‘What do you know about machinery?’ Robert sniffed and replied,
‘Machinery can dig larger amounts faster, and make the job simpler. But personally I think there is no substitute for the authentic, personal and detailed work of a dedicated worker.’

One month later, Robert was working at the earth-moving company. But it was not the experience he had expected. He was put in management, and had to do a lot of paperwork concerning machinery. He never got to do any actual digging at all. As the months passed Robert found the work more and more depressing. No one was doing their own digging work anymore. He had to resist the urge to shred the paperwork. Eventually he decided the job just wasn’t for him and handed in his resignation.

So it came about that only two months later Robert was attending another job interview, this time for a wholesale internet grocery store who were seeking quality assurance officers. His particular role would be in the department testing the quality of the fresh fruit and vegetables.
‘So what do you think you could bring to this position?’ Asked the interviewer, giving Robert an encouraging smile.
‘I really have a great deal of experience judging the quality of vegetables.’ Said Robert. ‘Especially carrots, I have eaten a lot of carrots in my lifetime.’ This was very true. Robert was a very talented rabbit. Tracy thought there was no more ideal candidate for the position.
‘I just have a few concerns about how you will return your reports…’

Patchwork 28/04/16

Lei often felt that she had a patchwork life. Some days she would curl beneath a patchwork rug made for her as a baby and pretend to be tiny again, a novel open at the entrance to this tent. The book would be an entrance to a different world, a patch in the quilt that existed only in her imagination, but that she believed in wholeheartedly. There were many of these patches, strange imaginings from her childhood that she had kept like scraps in the sewing basket, or memories that seemed valuable though they were very small, like a leaf that floated down and landed between her and Ray on the park bench one Autumn.

On other days, Lei dressed in office clothes and led a different life, typing in entries and answering phones. These days were like neatly checked patches, black and white and organised, but they lay beside moments like swirling rainbow squiggles in the quilt of her life.

People were like patches too. From high school, there were the bold coloured polka dot memories of the boy who made her laugh, and the tiny detailed florals of girls who held her hand and skipped across the oval in the afternoons when the bell sounded to release them from classes. But they were neatly edged and abutted by the pinstriped lines of the chemist she had met at university and the colleagues who shared her lunch hour with tales of homes and children.

Lei was a patchwork of acrylic paints and data entry, novels and afternoon lap swimming. Whenever she finished with her novel days, she would fold up her quilt and place it on her pillow, ready for the dreams that would bring new colours and patterns to its design.

 

Number Jumble 29/04/16

The message said ‘are you going tonight? If you are, could you take my sport bag’. Lyn had absolutely no idea what this meant. She hadn’t been invited anywhere tonight and she didn’t know Mick even had a sports bag, let alone why she should know where it was and be able to take it to some place she hadn’t been invited. Receiving this message rattled her. Most likely it was just accidentally sent to her when it was meant for someone else. But it made her feel like she’d missed some huge important bit of her life where she knew where Mick kept his sports bag and some common friend had invited them both somewhere. And it wasn’t just that. It was the way it felt as though she could see inside the lives of Mick and whoever this message was meant for. Like something that should have been a communication between them had been lost in translation because she had it, and it would never be quite the same message, even when it was finally passed to the correct person. She shook her head at these odd musings and typed a reply.
‘Hi Mick. This is Lyn – not sure that last message was meant for me. Wouldn’t even know if your sports bag was a real item lol’. She hit send. Then she put her phone in her handbag and drove home.

After she’d pulled into her carport and locked up the car, she went into her shade house where she had a bench swing, sat down among the plants and got out her thermos cup and her phone. Then she noticed two odd things. The first was a sneaker, lying on the ground by her front door. It did not belong to her. The second was that Mick hadn’t said anything in reply to her text. That seemed weird to her. Surely if you’d mistakenly messaged the wrong person and they let you know, you’d say something back, at least ‘oops’, or something. Frowning, she went and unlocked the front door.

Something was eery in the entrance foyer. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it but she felt all shivery and scared. She went very, very cautiously into her living room. She stood still and looked all around her in a slow circle. Suddenly a chorus of shouts burst forth, making Lyn jump out of her skin. There in front of her were all her friends, with balloons, including Mick in a clown suit. Lyn said
‘Whaaat……’ Before she realised what the big important thing she’d forgotten today actually was. It was her birthday. She put her hands on her hips.
‘Hey Mick, next time you’re involved in organising a surprise party, you might want to make sure you don’t text the person it’s for.’ She held up her phone and laughed. ‘Oh, and you lost your shoe.’ Everybody groaned and laughed and then Lyn was surrounded by balloons and cake, and she forgot all about the strangeness and creepiness and ate cake and hugged friends until midnight.

It was only after everyone had gone home, and she was sitting in her recliner in her slippers, sipping chamomile tea, that Lyn thought back to when she’d received the text, and to the feeling of coming into her house and knowing someone was there. And she decided that even though it had been an excellent party, she didn’t really like surprises.

Short Stories Series 10

Wallace 24/04/16

Wallace was a very fat squirrel. He didn’t like dogs, because they made him run. Today he was in a terrible mood, as he had already had to run from a dog three times. It didn’t help matters that it had been the same dog on every occasion. But Wallace had really wanted those dropped chips by the park bench. He just wasn’t quite able to beat the dog to them, no matter how many times he made a loud noise near his little sister Milly and sent her running out as a decoy. Milly had now retreated to a different tree and gone inside a hollow branch where she had collected some acorns. Wallace thought chips were worth twenty acorns. Unfortunately, he had taken the serious measure of attempting to hide himself under a log nearer to the bench. On the way in, the gap had seemed larger. Now he was in a fairly large space underneath the log where he had caused a terrible fright to two mice, but was thoroughly confounded as to how he was going to get outside again. There was quite a severe drop from the gap he had squeezed through to the floor of the hollow space he was now within. Wallace looked about. There was nothing down here he could stack up to climb upon; the mice wouldn’t be any help; they were cowering in the corner debating whether he was a cat or not. It looked like the only way out was by doing one of the things he did best; chewing. But first he would have to reach an area of the log that touched the ground, and wood wasn’t very tasty, so he would have to be tough. Wallace headed for the other side of the log, where there was less of an incline to where the wood met the soil. He dug with his paws and chewed at the log, making an awful mess, and presumably, a racket, because soon after he began this endeavour he heard the sound of sniffing and barking outside. Wallace scrambled back down into the base of the hollow. The dog was back, right outside! There was a creaking and cracking, and a wet, snuffling nose appeared as the point where Wallace had been chewing was pushed upwards by a dirt-covered dog face. Wallace wasted no time, barrelling right past the nose and into the daylight. He streaked across the grass to the sound of excited barking for the fourth time that day and landed with a thud next to Milly, covered in dirt and bits of chewed wood. Today, he would have to settle for acorns. When you were narrowly saved by the same dog you were running from, it was not a day to tempt fate.

Rodger Makes Tea 25/04/16

Kaeli held the cow under its large, heavy chin and used her free hand to gently pull back an eyelid, looking into the beast’s eye which was cloudy with infection. She frowned.
‘You should have asked me to come earlier for this.’ She stroked the big animal’s head, but it pulled away from her, agitated. Kaeli knelt down and opened the satchel she carried slung across her body, sorting through the herbs and powders inside. Greg, the farmer, loomed over her as she did so, moving his heavy booted feet about irritably.
‘Well we can’t. You’re always somewhere. Getting hold of you is like throwing a homing pigeon out in a storm and crossing our fingers.’ He said in a low, grumbling tone. Len, the stable boy, leaned out from the rafters where he was stacking some hay to nod at Greg.
‘Aye, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was causing half the ailments round here herself just so as she can come and save the day, sneaky witch.’ He slung himself down and slouched over to stand looking down at Kaeli with Greg. Kaeli continued to go about her business, pulling out some ginger and turmeric powder and dried rosemary to mix her preferred calming infusion. It was no good trying to disinfect or use magic while the cow was so agitated. She began to feel a sense of being trapped, kneeling there with the irritable beast on one side and the two less than friendly men on the other, but she hid it well. Plying the trade of general supplier of healing to animals and people alike in these small towns often led to these accusatory moments. She had learnt that it was best to ignore their complaining and solve the problem fast; that way folks had to calm down and be grateful to at least some extent. Len, however, poked at her mixing dish with his boot and said
‘I wouldn’t trust her and her potions. How do you know she isn’t poisoning Maisy? Wouldn’t want that now, would we, girl?’ He reached out and patted the cow on its rear and Maisy took a step in Kaeli’s direction, nearly stepping on her fingers. Kaeli removed her hand from the cow’s proximity and calmly continued to mix her ingredients.
‘Everything in here is stuff you’d eat yourself, from the spice market.’ She told them. ‘It’s just to calm her down and reduce the inflammation she has everywhere so I can handle her better to treat the infection.’ She regretted the explanation even as she said it, as Greg’s face quickly went blank and Len was looking sceptical, and now the cook, Mag, and Greg’s son Nate were coming toward the barn from the farm house. Lots of people was bad. Maisy would get jumpy and the slightest reaction from her to anything Kaeli did that didn’t look entirely positive could fuel a fire. Kaeli looked about surreptitiously for a good way to get out of sight where she could turn into something that could move fast, but the barn was suddenly full of unfriendly people, and Kaeli felt very small.

Then, through the barn window from the direction of the farm house came a ball of feathered fury like an angry, feathery stick with a pointy end, and there were shouts and shrieks as the crowd around Kaeli ducked and covered their heads. Kaeli stood quickly to gently stoke Maisy, whispering calm through her fingers. Rodger appeared leaning up against the barn wall as though he’d been there all along. The crowd sufficiently silenced, Hooter returned to sit on Rodger’s head. As the farm folk straightened up and uncovered their faces, Rodger looked at them, arms folded.
‘What are good folks like yourselves doin’ picking on this young lady then? You want your cow to get better or not?’ He gestured to where he presumed Hooter was. ‘This ‘ere is ‘ooter. Like cows, he doesn’t like noisy crowds, and he especially doesn’t like bullies. Now ‘ow about you all get back to your very important jobs what you’re currently neglecting, and let Kaeli here help Maisy out like she came to do.’ There was some shuffling and murmuring about where this man had appeared from and why he would want to stand up for the witch, but slowly all the people wandered away, glancing over their shoulders, even Len.
When the barn finally contained only Kaeli, Rodger, Maisy and Hooter, Rodger came over to Kaeli, who had knelt back down, ostensibly to get her things organised, but more likely he thought to do some deep breathing.
‘Perhaps I can ‘elp?’ He put Hooter on Maisy’s head. It was a strange sight, but Maisy seemed to calm down significantly. Kaeli snorted with laughter, in the abrupt way that people do who have been somewhat shaken up and subsequently struggle to contain their reactions. She stood up and got a closer look at Maisy’s eyes. In the peace and quiet without farm people everywhere, she could use magic all she liked. Her hot tea billy’s steam turned a vibrant shade of glowing green as the beast took deep gentle breaths that drew it in. Rodger appeared to be once again leaning on the wall, but Hooter patrolled up and down Maisy’s back, and Kaeli could sense that the cow was making a faster recovery than she could work alone.

When Maisy was happily grazing on some hay, her eyes returned to their normal deep brown pool-like state, Kaeli walked straight out the back door of the barn and out onto the moors, and Rodger followed. He found her sitting looking out across the valley, satchel still on, arms folded. He plonked himself down beside her unceremoniously, and Hooter flew up momentarily before settling back on Rodger’s head. Rodger poked at the satchel slung across Kaeli’s shoulder.
‘I gather that tea billy of yours works without a fire then.’ Kaeli gave a bit of a start, and then said
‘Oh! Yes! That was really very rude of me, striding off out here without saying thank you.’ She untied the satchel and pulled the billy out.
‘Well,’ said Rodger, ‘Those people weren’t very nice, were they. I can understand you being out of sorts. But my ol’ mum always says, there’s nothing so bad it can’t be fixed by a good cup of tea.’ He took the billy out of her hands and held it between his own, and perfectly brewed boiling tea appeared inside, the steam spiralling skyward in the cold morning air. They both produced tin cups, and sat as the sun rose high enough to finally shed some warmth, mugs in hands, warming their fingers in a companionable silence.

Scones 26/04/16

Mrs Knott sat at her small kitchen table, giving alternate impatient glances to the oven, where her batch of scones was still looking pale and unrisen, and the view out of the window, where there was a drizzle of rain just enough to make a walk unpleasant. The discouraging effect of the weather on going outdoors obviously applied to the grey tabby cat that lived next door as well, as she had not spotted it all day. She had some half-finished, half-hearted knitting in front of her, to which she added the occasional stitch between craning her neck to the window and sideways around her table to see the oven door. Her favourite, dainty but chipped teacup sat beside her, some of the tea spilled out into the saucer from her hasty getting up and down to check the scones and frequent knocks from her knitting needles. It was mostly cold, though she was sure she’d only made it a few minutes ago. She added a few purl stitches to the knitting, her rather fluffy white eyebrows drawing together in concentration and annoyance, uncertain whether this row was indeed supposed to be knit or purl. Then she put the knitting down again and looked out of the window. And saw the cat.

Immediately she was up out of her chair and putting on her gumboots under her floral skirt, hitching up her skin-coloured stockings. Without a further thought to anything going on in the house, she went out the front door and leaned over the front wall. The cat was on the footpath, sunning itself and washing its face with one white-tipped paw that currently had a few bits of dry leaf attached.
‘Hello puss-puss!’ Mrs Knott called, leaning over her wall, arm extended. ‘Want to come and get some cream?’ She made the ‘ch, ch’ sound that was meant to attract cats though no one seemed to know why. The cat wandered closer, plonked itself on the pavement and rolled over on its back, tail twitching. Mrs Knott knew that cats in this mood were not to be trifled with, but the cat had a very fluffy white belly and chest that it was waving at her. She went out of her gate and leaned over to rub the cat’s chest. It purred for a while.
‘Good puss.’ Said Mrs Knott. Then the cat latched onto her arm with all four feet and its teeth and began furiously kicking with its back feet as though her hand was prey to be knocked unconscious.
‘Yow!’ She yelped, trying to pull her hand away, but the cat let go in its own good time and wandered a little way off to sit, looking cute and pat-able again, enjoying the sun. Mrs Knott gave it a glare. ‘Bad puss.’ She went back in her gate and opened her front door. Loud expletives were then heard flying out the window, along with the blackened scones, and several pigeons arrived, unperturbed by the cat, to peck out the unburnt bits.

Short Stories Series 9

Notified 20/04/16

Max bounced around the bedroom, strumming his guitar along with the CD playing on his computer. Kyle was lazing on Max’s bed, nodding along a bit but not contributing a great deal. At the end of the song, Max whirled around in a crude sort of guitar-wielding pirouette and jumped into a rock star pose, and Kyle did a slow nod.
‘Yeah! We should start a band man.’ Max grinned and said
‘Yeah! What are you gonna do in the band?’ Kyle sort of shrugged.
‘I’ll be the singer! And I can play bass; that’s easy.’ Max gave him a sceptical look.
‘I dunno man, maybe just the singing.’ Kyle picked up a shoe and made a ‘Yeowlllll!’ Noise into it as though he was a metal singer armed with a microphone. Max made a sort of ‘not bad’ face. He plonked himself down on the bed and comics and school worksheets went flying.
‘Hey! You know who we should get to be in the band – Ryan. He can beatbox, and in music he played on the drum kit and it was way cool.’ Kyle looked unsure.
‘Isn’t Ryan too cool to be in a band with us?’ Max went ‘pffft’, and then said
‘Bands are cool man, doesn’t matter who’s in them. Let’s call him on Skype and ask now!’ Max threw a bunch of textbooks and food wrappers onto the floor and grabbed his laptop, standing his guitar between his knees and leaning the laptop up against it. He opened Skype. It said ‘no connection’.
‘Oh no. My wifi has been off all night! There’s gonna be way too many notifications! Maybe we better just message him on my phone.’ Max grabbed his phone off his desk and unlocked the screen. Four new notifications popped up. Max opened the Facebook ones. ‘What the heck? Leah’s put up that we’re in a relationship!’ Kyle laughed loudly.
‘Told you not to sit with her at lunch.’ Max blew out some air and went onto Ryan’s profile.
‘Oh see look! He’s started drum lessons now ‘cause he went so well in music!’ He clicked on the messenger button and read out what he was typing.
‘Hey Ryan, Kyle and I were thinking we might start a band – I have awesome guitar skills and Kyle can sing, so I was wondering if you wanted to be our drummer.’ He looked at Kyle. ‘Alright?’ Kyle shrugged again, so Max hit send. Ryan’s tiny face popped up next to the message. ‘He’s seen it already.’ They both looked at the phone. The ‘Ryan is typing’ symbol came up. And stayed up. ‘What’s he doing?’ Kyle shrugged some more.
‘Can we go get chips?’

At the fish and chip shop Max was lurking by the drinks fridge when the reply message popped up. Kyle was in a big queue so Max didn’t say anything until the chips had been duly obtained.
‘Ryan replied.’ He told Kyle, when he approached with the chips.
‘What did he say?’ Kyle replied, undoing the neat parcel the girl at the counter had made for the chips already.
‘He said, “K, when are we gonna try playing together?”’ Kyle did an absurd face.
‘He took all that time to say that?’ Max did a blank look.
‘He was probably really excited and had to edit what he said lots.’ Kyle stuffed a chip in his mouth and then made gasping noises and held his mouth open because it was too hot. When the chip had sufficiently stopped burning his mouth, he said,
‘Yeah. That’s probably it. So, when should we meet him?’ Max looked in his phone calendar.
‘After school Friday?’
‘I have soccer.’
‘Saturday morning?’
‘We need a school drum kit.’
‘Oh yeah.’ Max scratched his head. ‘I have my guitar lesson Monday night, and on Tuesdays I have work. So Wednesday or Thursday after school?’ Kyle got out his own phone.
‘Yeah. Yeah I can do then.’ Max nodded and clicked back on the message from Ryan, grabbing a chip with his free hand and typing with his thumb.
‘We have Wednesday and Thursday nights free. Can you stay after school one of those?’ They both watched the phone again. Ryan was typing. A notification from Leah popped up behind the messenger window. ‘Oh no. I’m not going to look.’ Max kept messenger open. ‘Ugh. He’s taking forever to type again. Let’s walk back.’

Back at Max’s house, the friends dumped the chips on the coffee table in the lounge and Max got some extra vinegar and sauce. His phone buzzed.
‘Finally! Ryan says he has his drum lesson on Wednesday but he can do Thursday.’
‘Cool! Thursday it is. I’ll practice singing in the shower and annoy my sister.’

On Wednesday night Max dumped his schoolbag on the bed and picked up his guitar. His phone buzzed. It was Kyle.
‘Have gastro. Can’t come to school tomorrow, hopefully practice next Thursday.’ Max sighed and messaged Ryan to see if he wanted to practice anyway. Ryan was typing for ages. Then he said
‘I have it too. Have fun in maths on your own with Leah.’ Max made an exasperated snort and flopped back on the bed, guitar still on his lap, and fell asleep.
Max’s mother poked him awake for dinner and smiled with amusement at the guitar sitting flat across her sleeping son’s stomach.
‘Guitar working out well then?’ Max shrugged.
‘It’s alright. I guess I might keeping learning next term.’


Tail
21/05/16

The cat balanced along the wall, pausing to sniff bits of moss and fine grass which had grown up between the stones. Its tail waved above it like a long flag, peeking over the top of the hedge that ran along the opposite side of the garden. Mrs Knott could see the tail from her garden on the other side of the hedge, but she could not see the rest of the cat. She pottered closer to the hedge and stood on tiptoe to look over and watch. The cat was a grey short haired tabby with a little white bib on its chest and a white splash running down its nose. It had not been there a few weeks ago, when the weather was still cold. Mrs Knott guessed that it must have been kept inside over the Winter. Now it was strutting back and forth along the stone wall, sitting for a while in one place, then moving on to a spot that looked sunnier, or perhaps provided a better vantage point, and sitting a while longer, clearly enjoying the sunshine and the view. The sun was catching the tips of each bit of fur so that the cat had a glowing blurry outline around its edges. Mrs Knott stayed by her hedge and kept watching, relaxing with the cat and enjoying the Spring day in the same way it seemed to be.

Then, suddenly the cat looked around sharply towards something behind the house, which Mrs Knott could not see. She leaned sideways, trying to see around the house, but she was too far behind the cat from her position in her yard. The cat pushed off lightly from the wall and disappeared out of sight, presumably moving in the direction of whatever had caught its eye. Mrs Knott had to know what it had seen. She hurried out her gate and around the front of the cat’s yard, to the side with the stone wall. She rounded the corner and expected to see the cat somewhere ahead of her. But there was no cat to be seen anywhere, just an empty street. Disgruntled, Mrs Knott turned and wandered slowly back to her own garden, muttering as she went
‘I’ll find out where you go one day.’

Wopper and the Yarn Basket 23/04/16

Heather was in a craft mood today, so she and Wopper had been left sitting on a large patchwork rug on the lounge room floor, with the giant basket of yarn and ribbon and a box with glue and beads. Wopper was busy chewing on a toilet roll which had been left for him to play with, making strange sounds of eating that resembled both tearing paper and munching. Heather was threading some of the beads onto a piece of yarn to make a necklace. It was already almost as long as she was, and could have been more usefully utilised as a skipping rope.

Heather pushed herself up on her knees and leaned her head over to look into the depths of the yarn basket.
‘Look, Wopper, there’s a shining fairy in the bottom!’ She stood up and bent at the waist, reaching inside. Over went the yarn basket, colourful threads rolling out across the floor, and Heather, unperturbed, immediately went forward on hands and knees to stick her torso inside the basket. Wopper lolloped over to see what all the fuss was about, and discovered a magnificent, airy tunnel, filled with exciting scents. He squeezed his way under Heather’s chest and joined her inside. A shining fairy there was, and a terrible cave-in of yarn, threatening to bury Heather. Wopper leapt bravely forward, tackling the shining fairy aside before more yarn toppled down, and set to work excavating the yarn-fall.

In no time at all, Heather and Wopper re-emerged, bits of colourful thread adorning their coats, shining fairy safe in Heather’s hand, and the offending cave-in dug aside. The lounge room door opened and in came Heather’s mother, dusting something off her hands. She stopped on the threshold and looked at her daughter.
‘What on earth have you two done to my yarn basket?’ She rushed over and picked up the now empty receptacle. What few items were left inside dropped out at her feet, falling through Wopper’s newly-chewed emergency escape holes. Wopper and Heather looked up at her like sprinkle-covered sweets, bits of yarn of all colours and lengths covering their proud faces as they reflected on their heroic deeds.

Short Stories Series 8

The Song of Hands and Teaspoons 17/04/16

In the mornings I am cold and sit at the kitchen table in a ray of sunshine, getting warm in its brightness and the kettle’s steam. There are familiar, comforting sounds around me, the gentle patter of morning voices, the scrape of a butter knife on toast, the chink of a spoon against a bowl. Tiny pieces of dust float on the golden trail of the sun’s light, and I drink in the warmth of brewing tea and the movements of hands on cups, their variety speaking many stories.

At morning tea the room is busy; bowls clatter against plates, the voices are pitched higher, the company larger. The hands of the drinkers are more hurried as they plan their next movements. The scent of scones and cake wafts about on the steam. I relish the company as I draw the attention of different people every moment. The room is bright and warm.

When lunchtime comes the voices are tired, and the sounds are of hurried eating and few words. Cups are exchanged for mugs and the drinking is less pensive. The microwave beeps and the kettle screeches. I feel taken for granted in my silence.

At afternoon tea the company is few, but gentle and watchful in nature. A cat leaps and lands softly on a lap, and we sit in quiet contemplation of all afternoon teas past. The sun is dropping and casting an orange glow with less warmth and more passion. A trickle of approaching footsteps signals the arrival of a few home-comers, and the moments are peaceful and safe.

Over dinner I am slowly forgotten, a cup or two brewed and poured from my lips during cooking before I am made redundant by wine and end-of-day elation. I sit by the kettle as it cools and slowly the warmth fades from the day. They sit by the fire and become first louder, then quieter, as the wine plays its game of highs and lows. One by one they trickle out and the house falls quiet. The fire turns to embers, and then to ash, and the kettle and I play out our cold night time courtship as I cool to the crisp veneer of unused porcelain and wait for the dawn.

The Farm 18/04/16

It had been almost the end of Winter when the letter arrived. Sammy had scribbled her communications on pieces of card, torn from some kind of packaging. Yes, she’d said, you’ll like the farm in Spring. Mind you get someone to care for the garden and the market and bring your boots. It hadn’t been a long letter, but the hastiness of the handwriting had given Cody pause for thought.

Today he had his gumboots on and his backpack shouldered, stuffed with the few things he actually used every day. In one hand he had his train ticket and in the other he had three bags of assorted vegetables and bulbs that had grown in Sammy’s old plot that he didn’t think would go bad on the journey. It was a cold morning with the kind of frosty air you felt had a slight crunch to it. He pulled his chin down into his scarf to keep the chill out of his jacket.

On the train Cody tried to imagine what the farm was like. He knew it was run by an older couple, Olive and Charlie, who apparently were very nice about letting him come. He had images in his head of fields of beans and wheat that went on forever into the distance, fields you could completely disappear in, and the farmhouse nestled in amongst them, though he knew it didn’t make sense for the house to be in the middle.

Walking up the dirt road that came off the main street, he wasn’t disappointed by what he saw ahead, although he was surprised to see sunflowers; Sammy’s work, he’d bet. When he got closer he could see her, the ginger cat she’d described trailing after her as she moved along checking an irrigation line one drip point at a time. He knew it was Sammy, and not one of the other people who lived here, even though she was facing the other way. Sammy had a distinctive way of kneeling down to look at things, something he’d become so familiar with when they worked the market garden together, that for a moment he felt like he’d gone back several years in time. She didn’t see he’d arrived for a while, absorbed in the task as he drew closer. Cody briefly worried that he hadn’t let her know the date, but then he supposed most days were similar when you were doing this kind of work. He stopped when he got within a short distance, went over to the bean plot and stomped his foot to make a firm footprint in the mud; it was a thing he used to do in the garden which had always made Sammy laugh.
‘The rain will wash your marks away.’ She would say, looking solemn, and then giggle. Sammy heard the sound and it took her a moment to realise she wasn’t daydreaming. It was an odd greeting for such old friends, when she noticed him, but there were enough smiles in it that the trip didn’t seem wasted.

Sammy explained to Cody how the irrigation worked before she showed him around the farmhouse. It was just how they worked together. Grouch the cat had more to say than Sammy, and took to Cody immediately, securing him firmly by the fire all evening while Olive and Charlie asked him questions and Sammy tolerantly brought them all cups of chai tea.

That week Sammy showed Cody her work, and he helped. It was almost like being back in the garden plot, but much bigger, and harder. Cody would always feel heavy and exhausted by the time they came in from the fields, mud caked on their boots and their arms full of tools and harvest. There was firewood to be cut and the big fire to be lit, the chickens to feed and irrigation lines to check, pruning to be done and manure to be hauled out into the fields. Grouch the cat tagged along much of the time, though sometimes he waited in the door to the laundry if the work was noisy or it was raining. Cody wondered how Sammy kept working like this for months on end. Yet at the same time, he loved it.

While they worked, Sammy and Cody tried hard to talk. It was a strange experience. Back home in the garden when they expected to be in town forever, there had always been long, companionable silences where they just looked after the plants together and appreciated the presence of someone else out in the rain or enjoying the sun. But here, there was the constant awareness of time flowing on and the ever-encroaching day when Cody would have to get back on the train, even from the very first day, and it seemed a waste if they hadn’t talked in every waking moment. The pressure on the conversation made it difficult, and if they weren’t discussing plants, usually they talked about Grouch. He had character, and it was easy to discuss him endlessly.

On the day Cody had to leave he was very organised, all his things back in the backpack and his boots cleaned up ready to avoid dirtying the train where he sat. But he let Grouch hold him into his seat at the big breakfast table longer than he really should have. Sammy walked him to the station this time. Olive had given her the morning off, saying there would only be irrigation and a little pruning to do today. They walked in a thick silence, Sammy with her arms folded about one another. Cody thought to himself that he should give her a hug, but the air between them felt like jelly, difficult to move in, strange to touch. Two minutes before the train was due, he turned to her and said,
‘Thank you for letting me visit.’ And tears sprang into both of their eyes. It seemed as though this surprised them both. Cody said, ‘When I finish at uni, I’ll move here.’
‘What about the market?’ Said Sammy. Cody thought about that. Eventually he said,
‘There are markets here too, right?’ And Sammy realised that she didn’t know, she’d stayed so well away.


Spring Toast
19/04/16

Abbey and Tom were watching the ducks. The Spring leaves were showing on the deciduous trees around the lake, and water lilies had appeared on the surface in just a few weeks. The sound of birdsong was all around, quiet against the quacking of the ducks, and Abbey was entranced, watching for robins in the trees. Paddling about near them were a number of male mallard ducks and one female. Tom had brought his leftover toast from breakfast to give to them. He was making up what the ducks were saying as he tossed bits of toast to them.
‘Mine! This bit’s mine! I’m gonna give it to my lady duck!’
‘No! That bread’s for MY lady duck!’
‘Guys, there’s only one lady duck on this pond. She’s gonna get really fat if everyone gives her their food.’
‘Do YOU want this bit of bread?’
Abbey smiled and watched the ducks all rush for each bit of toast Tom tossed away. She turned herself sideways and lay down on the bench with her head on Tom’s lap so she could look up at the trees.
‘Watch the leaves Tom! The new leaves are tiny. Like little bright green fairies with the birds weaving in and out dancing with them.’ Abbey saw brilliant yellow butterflies up there too, a swirling bright party of dainty-sized winged creatures welcoming the sunshine. She closed her eyes and watched the dancing green lights on her eyelids, listening to the music that the birdsong made. There must have been four of five different voices in the chorus of gentle chirping at all times, and Abbey wondered how she hadn’t spotted all the different birds, but so many of them were tiny. Tom continued to see a duck story, and he was engrossed too, but differently. It didn’t matter. Spring wove a meditative spell around them, nature whispering of tranquillity and excitement at the same time.

And even though they were watching and thinking of different things, Tom and Abbey were more together here than if they had been staring into each other’s eyes.