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.
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>
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.