Short Stories Series 7

Carbonara 13/04/16

It was Sunday afternoon and Martin had taken a girl called Lena on a picnic to a place in the countryside. It was a very nice spot on a hillside which he knew from his childhood, with a very good view of town and a little tiny forest behind them. He’d brought mini cheesecakes that he’d made and a selection of fruit and cheeses and dips, and now he was playing to Lena on a ukulele he had impulse-bought at the market earlier that day. Lena was friends with Jo, who Martin and his housemate Ross knew from high school. Ross had managed to get a second date with Jo that night, despite Martin causing problems by supervising her pancake-cooking last time she was over. Martin was under instruction to stay out of the house tonight until at least ten o’clock, so after the picnic he planned to take Lena to a movie and dinner elsewhere. Lena didn’t seem to mind going out together for the whole day, which Martin took to mean he was doing a good job of dating. While Martin was playing the ukulele Lena was quietly having the occasional flick through newsfeeds on her phone, picking at the cheese and laying back on the picnic rug, looking relaxed. When Martin finished his tune she clapped and giggled, and then sat up and said
‘Guess what? Jo said Ross is going to make pasta carbonara.’ She leaned towards Martin, who was already looking concerned, and lowered her voice conspiratorially. ‘What he doesn’t know, is Jo is THE best pasta carbonara cook I’ve ever known in my LIFE. He’s gonna have to do a good job!’ Martin looked alarmed.
‘Oh no! Ross can’t cook without me! I thought he’d just order pizza or something! I have to text him and tell him not to make something so hard! Pasta carbonara is so easy to screw up!’ Lena cackled with laughter and flopped back down on her back.
‘Oh! This is going to be hilarious!’ She said. Martin was a bit annoyed by this.
‘No it isn’t! Ross is going to stuff up this date, and then he’ll blame me for not being there to help him, even though he’s the one who said I couldn’t help.’ He scrabbled around in the backpack he’d carried the picnic in for his tablet, and pulled it out from under his jumper. He unlocked the screen.
‘WHAT THE?? What is it doing?’ He turned the tablet this way and that and glowered at it. ‘It’s crashed! I’ll have to get Ross to look at it.’ He turned to Lena. ‘Can I borrow your phone?’ Lena smirked and rolled her eyes.
‘Ye-es. Gotta save Ross from bad cooking.’ She handed the phone over.

Half an hour later, Martin, Lena and Ross were in Martin and Ross’s kitchen, trying to save Ross’s meal before Jo turned up. Lena was actually quite knowledgeable about fixes for failed carbonara sauce, and Martin was suitably impressed. When Ross was armed with an acceptable sauce, Martin and Lena looked at each other. They were too late for the movie. Lena gave Martin a shove and smiled.
‘You owe me a movie. I’ll be back next week.’ She said, and with that, disappeared out the door just before Jo appeared. When Jo saw Martin, she looked unimpressed, so Martin went and hid in his room.

The next morning, Ross ambled out to make his breakfast bleary-eyed, and thanked Martin for the cooking help.
‘That’s alright.’ Said Martin. ‘I think I broke my tablet.’ Ross’s colourful exclamations could be heard from next door, where the neighbours looked at one another and said
‘Martin broke technology.’

Wopper the Rabbit 14/04/16

Heather was lying on her stomach on the grass, leaning on her elbows while she worked on her tiny insect house, which she was building from sticks and leaves and gumnuts. Wopper the New Zealand giant rabbit lay beside her, absentmindedly snuffling his nose and occasionally chewing on a bit of grass. Heather was five, and Wopper was nearly as big as she was. Heather held up a twig with several gumnuts on top.
‘This should be something. What should this be, Wopper?’ She asked. Wopper didn’t look very interested. The gumnuts smelt like poisonous eucalyptus. He didn’t want to eat them, so what were they for? He snuffled his nose a bit faster for a moment and then laid back down. Heather frowned.
‘You’re not very helpful, Wopper.’ Just as she said this, she noticed something moving in the hedge in front of them. She looked at Wopper, whose nose snuffled faster again. ‘What’s in there?’ She sat up, pointing. ‘Shall we see?’ Wopper rolled over slowly and sat in a crouch, not sure he wanted to encounter whatever was in the bushes, but Heather was already walking over there, so he loped along behind.

Crouching down, Heather poked her head through a gap between the leaves. She couldn’t see anything inside the hedge, but she could still hear rustling noises from somewhere a little deeper in, so she immediately began clambering between the branches. Wopper had no choice but to follow her, squeezing along at ground level. Up ahead they could see a bright, white light of some kind. Tunnelling through the shrubs, it seemed as though someone came this way often, because there weren’t too many branches to push out of the way, and the ground was worn smooth, like when Heather swept the ground under her favourite tree with her leaf-broom.

Wiggling along a bit further, Heather and Wopper emerged into a sort of clearing under the hedge. Here they found that there was music from a tiny harp, and a dance was in progress. Involved in this dance were a much smaller white rabbit, who kept grunting and grumbling about keeping up with the others, a tiny person in a blue flat cap, a huge butterfly with bright, peacock wings, and a mouse with an apron on. Heather’s eyes got big and bright with excitement and she made as if to rush in and join the dance. Wopper moved uncharacteristically fast to hop in her way, because Heather was too big, he knew. She would squash these small people, dancing in this tiny space. Heather landed on top of Wopper with a thump that made him huff suddenly out and then continue snuffling very fast. But it was comfortable on top of Wopper, and Heather suddenly felt very tired indeed. She smiled, watching the strange little dancers hop and skip about together, and lay contentedly still, while Wopper also lay still, feeling a bit squashed.

After a short time, Heather went to sleep. Wopper wiggled carefully out from under her and went to sniff the other little rabbit, who by then had been allowed to stop dancing, but the other rabbit was not very friendly, and grunted and complained just as much at Wopper as they had at their dance partner. The tiny flat-capped man and the butterfly came to help Wopper move the sleeping Heather out of the hedge, seeming to know that she needed to go back into the garden. It must have been a strange sight, the butterfly holding the back of Heather’s jumper, Wopper shuffling along underneath, supporting her, and the little man holding onto her to keep it all balanced. But no one saw them. They laid Heather back on the grass, and Wopper touched noses with everyone and lay back down next to her. There, he went back to sleep himself, and dreamed of the tune of the harp in the hedge, not really knowing what it meant, but enjoying it all the same.

Chicken 16/04/16

Hooter was perched on the fence of a chicken coop. He wasn’t very comfortable. The fence was too thin for his feet to grasp properly, and there was some movement in it, which made it difficult to sit still and look like a tree branch. What a tree branch would be doing stuck on a fence was a bit unclear in any case, but Hooter still looked like one to the five men trying to dig chicken poop into the trench on the other side of the fence, where the struggling, bare, pear trees grew. They were having trouble with the hard clay soil, fired by the hot sun to be solid like crockery.

Hooter was watching the chickens. What strange birds they were. Too solid to fly well, even if their wings had been intact. Having such a happy time because someone had dropped some lettuce. Lettuce. Not even worms. Hooter shuffled around on the fence to look the other way. His eyes settled on the workers, hacking that the hard soil with picks and shovels, making slow progress. The men looked tired and listless. Hooter could feel Rodger getting upset about this inside his head. He personally wasn’t sure why the humans would want to dig in the first place, and was more interested in whether they had turned up any worms.

The door to the building behind the chicken coop opened and a wiry, pale man came out and surveyed the scene.
‘Come on ya slackers! No one will have any fruit this year if ya don’t get the manure back into the soil!’ The men seemed like they were trying to ignore him, but one of them stopped and looked up, sweaty-faced.
‘This soil is ruined, Mr Max, Sir, it’s too hard to dig. We should move your orchard somewhere else.’ The wiry pale-faced man made a growly noise in his throat.
‘Weakling! Chicken! Come over here!’ He pointed to the chicken coop in front of him. The man who had spoken dropped his shovel on the ground and slouched over. ‘Come inside.’ The pale man continued. The worker did. ‘Now sit down, with the other chickens, in the mud.’ Spat Mr Max.

As he spoke, however, strange, dark, wiry vines grew out of the dusty ground in the chicken coop and wrapped themselves thornily around Mr Max until he was wound up like a sausage roll, with just his head poking out. Mr Max went ‘Whaaaaaaaa?’ And looked about wildly. Rodger ambled out from behind the building.
‘’Scuse me, “Mr Max”, but it would seem to me that you are being a bully. My ol’ Mum says, if someone’s a bully, kick em’ in the fork. I’m sure one of these overworked folks will oblige.’ He turned to the field. ‘Prob’ly you’re all wanting to grow things though, I s’pose.’ He tossed out a billy full of cold tea and tea leaves over the baked clay, and similar-looking vines began springing up all along the trench. The four workers still in the field jumped warily out of the way, but these vines grew leaves and then grapes. ‘These’ll take better to the warm climate ‘ere.’ Said Rodger. ‘They’ll need some water, and pickin’. Mr Max ‘ere can stay outside while you chaps do some o’ that. ‘Bout time he spent a day outdoors from what I can see.’ Then he opened the gate and let the chickens out. ‘Chook, chook chook!’ He called to them, and the chickens went up to him on their way to freedom and let him scratch them on the tops of their heads. Turning to what the men had thought was a piece of a branch caught in the fence, he said ‘Come on, ‘ooter. Dinner’s waiting.’ And the stick opened its wings and flew up to sit on his head. Before anyone had time to wonder where he’d come from, Rodger had disappeared entirely into the nearby scrub, and the men were left standing amongst happily scratching chickens and flourishing grapevines, Mr Max still entangled in his vine cocoon.
‘I wonder when those vine things will come off?’ Said one of them. They all shrugged.
Then the one in the chicken coop stood up and gave Mr Max a tentative kick. And then they put him in the shade and gave him a drink, because they weren’t bad chaps, even to a bully.

 

Short Stories Series 6

Soggy 10/04/16

Sammy dragged one soggy, mud-laden gumboot from her foot and hopped, wobbling, to the doorframe to put her relatively clean sock-covered foot down on the towel just inside the doorway. Balancing on the towel, she tugged on the second boot, which came off suddenly, causing her to sit down hard on the tiles of the big back laundry. Everything was wet. There was wet washing in the sink, waiting to be hung out to dry, except it wouldn’t dry. It would probably fall in the mud in one of the horrid gusty winds that came in overnight.
The farm cat, Grouch, came up to her and made one of his strange, harsh-sounding meows that had earned him his name. He was an odd, solid-looking ginger mog with a sort of squashed-looking nose and exceptionally long whiskers. Sammy scratched his ears.
‘Yes Grouch, it’s nasty and soggy, isn’t it?’ She looked wistfully out at the sodden field beyond the doorway. ‘We’re all soggy sorts at the moment, Grouch. Moping about because nothing’s growing, thinking about times past instead of the now. How about you and I get a fire going before Charlie and Olive finish ploughing. They’ll need to get dry.’ She got up and Grouch followed her through the big solid door at the other end of the room into the main part of the house.

When the flames had begun to crackle and flare and she was sure the fire wouldn’t go out, Sammy went and got Grouch some food and herself some tea. She stared into the teacup’s milky reflection and saw herself, damp-haired, a bit of mud on her nose. It was not an unfamiliar sight to her. She had often looked this way, ever since her market days. Back then though, she mused, the sight of the dirt had never failed to make her smile. Now it meant the fields had been soaked, seeds and mulch sometimes washed away, and Charlie and Olive stressed out.
‘I wonder if there’s any paper about this week Grouch.’ She said, wiping the mud off with a kitchen sponge. ‘I should write and find out how things are at the market. I hope Cody hasn’t stopped growing the tulips. Everyone loved the tulips.’ Grouch looked up at her, licked his lips, and gave another of his yowls. ‘Yes I know, I never write anymore. It isn’t my fault… and he never writes back.’ Grouch had cocked his head on the side and was looking quizzical and hopeful of more food. Sammy pulled a face and reached down to pat the cat’s forehead. ‘You’re right. I could write tonight, since the rain will keep us all inside.’

Sammy rifled through the box she kept under her bed, searching for spare paper or postcards and pens that hadn’t long since run out of ink. Old post office receipts fell out, dated almost a year ago, and some silverfish had got in and chewed some of her envelopes. Sammy grimaced. How did you start a letter that was the first message in ten or eleven months? With facts, she supposed. She tried three pens and then settled for a pencil and pages from a little notepad she once used to record market sales.

“Dear Cody, everything here is sodden in such a wet Winter. How are the gardens holding up to it? I don’t think we ever had this much rain in town, so hopefully the plants are still coping and you still have things to take to market….”
She rambled on for several pages detailing the peculiarities of the farm and its inhabitants, and finished by describing Grouch. “He told me I should write again. Funny cat. You’d like him.” Cody did like cats. Sammy remembered one that used to hang around the gardens, which he always fed bits he kept from his school lunch and talked to. Maybe he’d write back this time.

Cody was surprised to see the letter when he returned from the Tuesday market. He never got much mail that wasn’t bills. He laid it out on the table beside him and read it while he scrubbed potatoes. The farm didn’t sound as nice as it had in the Summer. He smiled at the description of Grouch though. There was something to say for a place that had a good cat resident. He looked about the kitchen, and seeing nothing suitable for letter-writing, turned Sammy’s paper over and wrote on the back. It surprised him that he had things to tell. But mostly he asked about Grouch. Maybe if he earned enough next month, he could travel to the farm and meet the cat.


Rodger Saves the Day
11/04/16

Hooter was not on his head, Rodger realised. He wasn’t sure when the bird had left, but he definitely wasn’t there now. He knew this because he was upside down leaning out of a window, trying to reach the bag that Sally had tried to toss down to her lover Tom, but which had caught on a peg in the outer wall designed to help secure a ladder when the roof needed fixing. If Hooter had been where he normally was at this moment, he either would have flown away, or his claws would right now be pulling very hard on Rodger’s hair. Sally was anxiously trying to see around Rodger, which was not helping him reach the bag, but he didn’t have the heart to complain. Sally and Tom’s romance was a secret from both of their families. Sally’s father and Tom’s mother were arch enemies for a reason Rodger could not remember, which meant it wasn’t very important. Sally and Tom liked to pass messages and small gifts through the window in Sally’s bag. The bag stopped casual viewers seeing the notes, which arranged their meetings. It would be better to do something about the quarrel between the parents, if one was to resolve it all, but right now the bag was going to need to get back into the hands of either Sally or Tom regardless.
‘’Ooter! Where are you you blasted bird?’ Rodger tried to look around, but it was very difficult from his current position. There was a hoot from somewhere which was quiet enough to indicate that Hooter was not in the immediate vicinity. ‘Well come out an ‘elp me for a moment and I’ll get some bacon for you instead!’ There was an immediate gust of air as Hooter came zooming around the corner of the house. ‘Steady on! I’m balancing ‘ere!’ Hooter grabbed the bag and took of up into the air right past Rodger’s nose. He pulled himself back through the window and stuck his head out to look up. ‘Bring it here! It’s no good on the roof is it then?’
When the bag was safely back in Sally’s clutches, Rodger gave Hooter a pat.

‘Now then, Sally. Isn’t it time we tried to talk your ol’ Dad round to this ‘ole thing with Tom?’ Sally was attempting to leave the room in an inconspicuous way, which was extremely conspicuous because she was the only other person in it. ‘I mean come on, what’s the worst that can ‘appen? He might get a bit cross, but he probably can’t stop ya, I mean, he’s pretty old, like my ol’ Mum, if you don’t mind my saying.’ Sally had disappeared behind the door frame to the next room and her voice came out in a squeal.
‘He’s a darn sorcerer Rodger! He can do anything he wants about it!’
‘Oh, he is, is he. Well we’ll see about that. I can do some interestin’ things meself when I need to.’
The door burst open at that moment and revealed Sally’s father, who was trying to puff up his small frame.
‘Folks in the street are saying you were hanging out of my daughter’s window!’ He spat.
‘Oh yes, I was doing that in fact.’ Rodger replied. ‘But only to ‘elp her and ol’ Tom, what she’s dating.’
‘WHAT?’ Yelped Sally’s father, going frowny and red. Rodger grabbed Sally by the elbow, dashed for the window, and yelled at the wall, which sprouted a thick, twisted vine like a fireman’s pole which he and Sally slid down, just as the living room exploded in flames.

‘Me ol’ Mum has a temper like that too.’ Rodger explained matter-of-factly as the vine shrank back into the ground. ‘They usually cool off when they cool off, if ya get my drift.’ He reached for his hair. ‘Is there still a bird on me ‘ead?’ Sally, dumbstruck, just nodded.

Brewers Bond 12/04/16

The Bumbling Bloodhound had been the haunt of James and his friends since they were teenagers. It wasn’t like other pubs, in that it had a number of resident animals, mismatched floral op-shop armchairs round the fire, and various board games and books in a shelf in the corner. You could get spiced mulled wine and mead in the Winter, which old Arnie made in a big pot which sat on top of the fire. The beer was of all varieties great and little-known, and Arnie made a special malted barley non-alcoholic drink he called ‘oat ale’ for the underage, brewed up in an industrial kitchen shed he had out the back on the hill. During their teenage and young adult years, James, Jason and Tai would curl up in the floral armchairs until long after the Bumbling Bloodhound should have closed, big tankards of whatever drink Arnie offered on the old upside down half-barrel that provided a convenient surface beside them, talking about life, or playing some kind of game they usually invented themselves. Arnie would gently kick them out when he needed to go to bed, and they would grumble their way out into the cold and off down the hill to their respective houses.

When the three friends were in their early thirties, old Arnie passed away. He must have been ancient, they all agreed; he’d looked old to them their whole lives; he’d had a good innings. But what of their favourite place? Arnie didn’t have any family living in the area, so James put it to the others that they should take over the place. Jason and Tai weren’t sure; they had all embarked on their various careers, and it seemed risky to give them up. But everyone wanted the Bumbling Bloodhound to stay the way it was, and not be taken over by some larger company or group who would take away the floral armchairs and say the open fire was unsafe. So they came to a compromise. They wouldn’t try to all take care of the Bumbling Bloodhound all the time. Each of them would take it turns, so they only needed to give up a day or so each.

James tried to learn to make oat ale, but Arnie hadn’t written down a recipe, so James made something rather different, although it still tasted nice. He called it ‘wheat soda’ and wondered why neither he nor old Arnie had ever used ‘barley’ in the name despite that being what was in it. Jason made mulled cider instead of mead because he couldn’t work out where Arnie had been sourcing the mead from. Perhaps he’d made it. Jason put whole cinnamon sticks in his mulled cider because that was fashionable, and he brought in some stools he’d made as part of his carpentry apprenticeship, which he didn’t like in his unit. Tai brought some newer games to go in the shelf, which he thought the local youth would like, plus his old screen and game controllers. By the time they were settled in, the Bumbling Bloodhound looked quite a different place.

One Saturday night they were all there together, leaning on the bar and looking around the room.
‘Did we change it too much?’ Said Jason, looking at the others. James and Tai looked over at the armchairs. A group of four youths were slouching there, drinking the wheat soda and arguing over who had to sit on one of Jason’s stools while they played something one of them had brought to put on the screen. Tai laughed.
‘Nah mate. We made the version of this place we’d want if we were their age now.’ He said, nodding at the teenagers. As he said this, the cat, Wiggles, who had outlived old Arnie, pushed through the cat flap in the back entrance and went and got on the armchair with one of the four teens, and James and his friends exchanged a smirk as the creature proceeded to behave in the way for which he’d been named.

Short Stories Series 5

The Strainer Mystery 07/04/16

The family trailed through the gate in dribs and drabs, leaving cars and bicycles parked oddly on the front lawn or half on the dusty gravel edge of the vague footpath that traversed the front of the property. They carried plates of food to share, ranging from Carly’s home-baked lamingtons to cousin Tony’s shop-ordered cheese platter. Aunty Majorie had come in the car with Tony and the two of them had just begun making their way across the lawn to the front door when Carly and her family arrived. Carly was driving today, trying to build up her hours towards her Ps, and Aunty Majorie turned right around and watched her park with a critical eye. Aunty Majorie had never learnt to drive herself, but she liked to give thorough advice about it all the same.
‘Nice job Carly dear.’ She bellowed out, and Carly had to force herself to concentrate on pulling up and ensuring the handbrake was on and not letting the clutch out before she’d switched off the ignition. (The curb at the house was on rather a slope, so it was always safest to leave the car in gear). Once she had made certain the car was staying put, Carly joined Majorie and Tony on the lawn and gave Aunty Majorie a hug.
‘Happy birthday Aunty Majorie! Did you get breakfast in bed?’ Mum, Dad and Max were piling out of the car behind her. Aunty Majorie made a huffy noise.
‘No! Your cousin Tony is such a sleepy head that I was awake long before him and decided to get up and make my porridge.’ She replied, shaking her head slightly. ‘Your grandmother would have highly disapproved; I just can’t help waking up early, no matter what the occasion.’
A bike rocketed round the bend at that juncture and pulled up with a squeak, bringing with it Uncle Jeremy, who beamed and waved and nearly lost his balance. Carly waved back and said to Aunty Majorie,
‘Oh well, we’ll have to make sure you’re thoroughly waited on over lunch then.’ She smiled and went to greet her uncle.

When everyone was inside, Max handed Carly the special box they’d brought, and she pulled out three ancient-looking tea tins.
‘So, we brought a special present.’ She said. She handed the lamington plate to her mother, who carried it over to the big scrubbed table, so she could hold the tea tins properly. ‘These were Grandma’s and two are her tea that she used to always give us all and one we’ve refilled with a different one. We thought it would be fun to see if you can tell which one is not Grandma’s tea, plus it’s an excuse to have three pots!’ Aunty Majorie smiled at this.
‘Ahhh!’ She said. ‘I’ll bet I can tell straight away! Your Grandma’s tea was a very specific kind. Where is the pot, Tony? Lyn?’ She looked around the kitchen. Carly’s mother grabbed a big blue teapot from one of the shelves.
‘This one? It’s my favourite. Oh, but we need a strainer!’ She went and looked in the drawers. ‘I can’t find it! It’s always in here!’ Tony bustled over.
‘Let me look. I know where the imps push things they don’t want us using too often.’ There was a huff as Aunty Majorie expressed her annoyance that Tony was talking about imps again. Carly smiled to herself.

Half an hour later the strainer had not been found, so everyone was crossly drinking the tea from a different, modern pot that had an infuser.
‘This one is definitely the odd one out.’ Aunty Majorie was saying. ‘It’s much smokier and it has more of a smell. Not as subtle as Rose’s.’ Carly shared a secret smile with her mother.
‘Well picked! You win birthday Aunt!’

That evening as they got into the car, Carly found that her seat was very uncomfortable indeed. Poking about behind her, she discovered that something had slipped into the seat-cover lining. She grumbled and tiredly stretched the side of the seat cover up and put her hand inside.
‘What on earth?’ There in the seat cover was the mysteriously missing tea strainer. This mystery, Carly and her family agreed, would not be solved today.
‘We know the answer to another mystery though.’ Said Max. Carly gave him a look.
‘Yep. Grandma used the Foodland Earl Grey.’

 

Daffodils 08/04/16

Abbey made her way down the stairs behind the shopping centre and ducked into the little park that ran along the median strip. There she could walk amongst the daffodils instead of on the footpath. She thought about the women she had overheard talking behind her in the supermarket. One of them was complaining about their husband’s taste in television and saying how she just wanted to watch a particular soap, and would rush to put it on whenever he left for work. The second woman was agreeing passionately with the first on this topic and they then discussed the recent small incidents in the soap opera in great detail while they made their way through the shop, seeming to follow Abbey down every isle she went into. If she’d had to hear the second woman gasp ‘Oh. My-God!’ one more time, Abbey thought her head might have exploded. When they had exhausted the happenings of television, the pair proceeded to discuss washing powder. At this juncture, Abbey grabbed a random washing powder from the selection and moved on to the checkout. She wondered if she would ever find that kind of stay-at-home banter interesting. She certainly hoped not. After she dropped the shopping home she would go out and seek some new sight to discuss with Tom later, and if nothing of consequence occurred, she would discuss things out of her imagination. Abbey had always produced all manner of scenarios in her head. Not all of them were worth discussion, some weren’t up for discussion, but others were great stories to tell and hear others’ opinions on. At least it seemed so to her.

By the time she turned this thought over in her head Abbey had reached an area where the narrow grass strip widened out and flattened into an area of grassy parkland which she would have to cross to reach home. She paused to pick some of the daffodils, and spontaneously sat down among them to appreciate the view surrounded by their stalks and bright flowers, gently waving in the breeze. Abbey put the shopping bag down beside her and lay down to look at the sky through the bright yellow of the petals. From this point of view, she saw a mass of yellow, white and orange-clad dancers, fluidly swaying in water-like patterns. It was a ballet of sunshine colours. As she watched, squinting against the sun, some of the dancers seemed to take off and swirl above her as though on invisible wings, daintily flitting against the sky. And now Abbey heard a familiar kind of just-audible, tinkling tune. She couldn’t tell if it was being created by the dancers or in her mind, but she appreciated it regardless. After a while, she began to gently hum along, and by the time she finished humming, she found herself unlocking the door to home. This was the story she would tell Tom when he got home today; the tale of colourful dancers against the sky, performing to this tune. She hurried to find something to record what the music had been like, though she didn’t expect her voice to do it justice.

 

Bowed 09/04/16

The violin was many generations old. It had seen family musicians grow, from playing so poorly it hurt, or broke strings, to knowing all there was to play, but struggling with arthritic fingers. It had been passed from generation to generation. Right now, it had sat for many months in its case, bored and lonely, and fearing the current generation had not taken to it very well. A horrendous first few plays had been better than this silence. Inside the case was dark, and comfortable in a sleepy way that over time grew claustrophobic. The violin longed to be in the company of other instruments, laughter, and excitement. Yet right now there was only a sense of being forgotten, and the previous owner was sorely missed.

After some weeks more, the case was picked up and carried somewhere, and there many pairs of new hands lifted it from the case and tried a few notes, but they didn’t stay. It was like being new, and unconnected, and it felt awkward. Then, one day, someone recognised this ancient instrument. There was a brief discussion in the air around it, and though this person seemed not to know what to do with it, the violin was carried home anyway. There it was kept on a table and frequently picked up out of the case and admired, but there was no music. The violin felt less lonely, but still neglected and underappreciated.

Sometime later, came the strange and terrible experience of the aeroplane. Its strings were loosened off and the case was packed inside a box with lots of strange, pressing foam, and the whole lot was jolted around between other kinds of bags and parcels. Afterwards it was carried about in this box for some time. Then, the box was opened by hands that fumbled with a mixture of trepidation and excitement. The violin was lifted out and placed into small hands. Immediately it could sense that this was new family. Somehow, though it had been passed around all over, it had found its way back to a new generation.

The years that followed brought the discomfort of a squeaking learner, the excitement of first tunes learned and finally the polish and flourish of a seasoned performer. The violin met new instruments, and played together, the way it wished to. Every time it was taken out was a new party to attend. It was no longer lonely or bored. Life was a celebration full of company and bright melodies. Just occasionally, very occasionally, though, it did feel tired, bowed by the pull of the multiple lives to which it was forever connected.

UK Adventure Journal: Songs in the Sun

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April 12th – May 24th

April continued into May in Southampton with a wealth of enjoyable weather; I began to wonder if ‘Approximately 345 Days in the Cold’ was really an accurate title for my video journal. Although it still sometimes pours or hails without warning, the majority of the time we have experienced quite warm temperatures and sun. When I say it is warm, I mean it is about 20 degrees Celsius, but here, with the humidity, it feels more like what 26 or so would feel in Adelaide.

Our main activity during this time was simply to enjoy the outdoors and make music for Feathers, Wood ‘N’ String, avoiding spending money on activities in order to pay for our return to Australia to see everyone for Christmas in December. One particularly lovely Sunday afternoon we sat with a tea thermos, writing and brainstorming for writing lyrics together in the sunshine. As we did this, all around were examples of people doing things we can’t do in Australia; specifically bringing portable barbecues of all varieties onto the Common to cook picnics, which they were enjoying with beer and cider. In Australia parks are generally ‘dry zones’ – i.e., no alcohol, and when the weather is sunny enough for a picnic, it’s probably fire ban season, so no barbecues in the park either. So the idea of this kind of gathering, of which there were many, was quite unusual to us.

We recorded quite a lot of Feathers, Wood ‘N’ String music during this time, including a fast electric hornpipe, a slip jig, King of the Fairies and four original songs, Epic, The White Sea, Firelight and Versions. We also obtained some percussion in the form of a cajon.

We also eventually got in touch with the nice folks at Triple J Unearthed to check if it was okay for us to make a profile, as Australian citizens, though not current residents. They said “go for it!” So we created a profile page here: https://www.triplejunearthed.com/artist/feathers-wood-n-string, took some ‘band’ photos and uploaded a few of our tracks.

Once the dance tracks were finished I set about making some dancing music videos. I found it harder than I expected to get the Irish dancing community excited about electric guitar Irish dance tunes, but I had a lot of fun all the same.

It was also Mother’s Day in Australia during this period. It took us a while to work out how to do something for our Mums long distance, but eventually I had the idea to create something similar to the film and poem creation I’d done for Emily’s birthday, with Lloyd contributing music.

I was also very lucky to have the sort of dancing family who would decide to hold a Mother’s Day tea for my Mum! I joined in via Google hangouts and it was very lovely.

Other things that occurred around this time included: Meeting Susu, the university student union cat, when on campus for job interviews. Meeting several other cats of Southampton, one of which was extremely friendly. Finding numerous butterflies of species I haven’t seen before around the Common, including a small blue one which appeared very busy with a dog poo. Beginning my “women in STEM and trades” writing project. Finally getting a National Insurance Number and enrolling to vote here. Celebrating Charmaine’s birthday long distance. The beginning of outdoor season for archery for Lloyd, which apparently mostly involves sun in one’s eyes and wind, but at least he’s getting outdoors! Creating a WordPress page for Feathers, Wood ‘N’ String as our website; that can be found here: https://featherswoodnstring.wordpress.com/. And finally and amusingly, Lloyd giving everything in the flat including me its name in Irish on a sticky note to help with his language learning.

Short Stories Series 4

Guitar Heroes 04/04/16

Jim looked at the electric green guitar that Matt had sitting on his lap and beamed.
‘How long ago did you get it then?’ Matt continued to polish it with a cloth, turning his head on the side to inspect the space under the strings.
‘Last year for my birthday.’ Jim whistled.
‘You take excellent care of it then! I should get you to show me how to look after mine better.’
Roy came and sat beside them, already wearing his fluoro yellow guitar on its shoulder strap.
‘So what kind of stuff do you play then? Let’s see what common ground we have.’ Jim laughed.
‘I think you’ll be very surprised by what I do. It’s not exactly conventional electric guitar stuff.’ He broke straight into the fastest hornpipe he could manage. The other guys stared. He waited for them to make fun of the traditional tune, but instead Matt said
‘Holy crap! That would make the coolest rock riff ever! Don’t you reckon Roy?’ And Roy nodded enthusiastically.

From then on, Jim went to meet his guitar family every night after the market closed, and they played with merging their styles. Soon they had a completely unique repertoire of things that sounded like rock anthems but borrowed from the traditional tunes Jim played to produce intricate riffs and solos. Everyone was very excited. There was even talk of recording. On the third week, Roy brought in something to show Jim.
‘This is me grandad’s – I thought it might interest you, seeing as how such a lot of your influences sound Irish.’ He pulled from a special case an instrument similar to a set of bagpipes, but without a mouthpiece. Jim went silent, looking closely at the instrument. Then he said,
‘They’re uilean pipes! I remember something! I remember these!’ Roy handed the pipes over to Jim and after some turning over he held them correctly and played the first few bars of an air, a little shakily, but as though he had known how to play a little once.
‘Maybe you’re from Ireland!’ Said Roy, impressed. ‘It would make sense, you knowing what to do with these.’

For the next week Jim spent his spare time on the internet, reading about uilean pipers. Eventually he recognised the name of one, and in a flash, he knew he was on a wild goose chase. That night he trailed into guitar practice looking forlorn, and Roy came over straight away.
‘What’s the matter Jim mate?’ He asked.
‘I remembered why I know about uilean pipes. It was just a touring piper, and I had a couple of brief lessons while he was there. That thing I started playing the other week, it was just the first thing he taught people – an exercise. It wasn’t in Ireland. I’m not Irish.’ He looked terribly disappointed. Roy patted him on the back.
‘Ah well, I’ve never been to Ireland myself either ya know, and I still count. I’d say knowing all those tunes you’re as Irish as I am. Anyhow, band members are family regardless. You’re welcome in my family anytime.’ Jim smiled and unzipped his guitar backpack. He might not know where he came from, but he knew where he belonged now.

Rodger Goes Up 05/04/16

Rodger and the girl, whose name was Kaeli, sat by the fire and drank tea until long after dark, talking of animals and medicine, and Rodger shared the bacon. Hooter woke up a bit with the sun set and started to comment here and there in their conversation with a disdainful ‘hoot’. He was much displeased at the sharing of the bacon and actually flew over and took some of Kaeli’s.
‘’Ooter! That’s not polite! You’ll still get the rind!’ Exclaimed Rodger, but Hooter returned to sit on the top of Rodger’s head with a little bit of Kaeli’s bacon still in his beak, and ate it slowly and pointedly, to the extent that a bird can eat anything slowly, which is to say he took several gulps to swallow it instead of just one. Kaeli just laughed and gave Hooter a look.
‘Well Hooter, since we’ve shared our food we must be friends.’ She said sharply. ‘Perhaps we can go for a fly together after dinner.’ Rodger looked at his feet.
‘Do ya ‘ave a broom then?’ He asked. Kaeli snorted.
‘No! Uncomfortable things. I meant as a bird of course.’ She narrowed her eyes playfully at him. ‘Unless of course you’re scared.’ Rodger pulled a face.
‘My ol’ Mum says shape-shifting is gross. I’ve never tried.’ Kaeli laughed disbelievingly at this.
‘Really? Never? You’re missing out. It’s the best.’ She looked at Hooter. ‘Do you see what Hooter sees when he’s flying?’ Rodger snorted.
‘Yeah but he doesn’t exactly enjoy exercise if you get my drift.’ Hooter made an offended ‘hoot.’ Kaeli gave a small mischievous grin and looked at the bird.
‘Well then. Probably time you stretched your abilities huh?’ She threw her travelling cloak to the ground. Rodger turned his face away.
‘Oh no! No changing round the fire!’ He objected, but Kaeli was fast, and she was already spreading her wings. Not wanting to look the unfit fool, Hooter ruffled himself up a bit and fluttered up into a tree for an easier take-off.

Kaeli was a white owl and she was agile. As soon as Hooter appeared in the air she swooped around him tauntingly and dared him to follow as she worked to gain height and then dived repeatedly down towards the treetops, pulling up at the last moment. Tentatively, Rodger laid back against his tree and closed his eyes, letting his mind join with Hooter’s. Hooter was struggling to keep up, but he plummeted exhilaratingly on the dives. Eventually he turned back and landed on a branch near Rodger, who opened his eyes.
‘Lazy bird!’ He scoffed, and stood up, looking into Hooter’s amber eyes.
Kaeli knew the difference when Rodger joined her in the air, although he looked just like Hooter; he lagged behind less and tried to race her, though he couldn’t catch her either; he had too little practice using wings to draw on from Hooter, and he was clumsy. Rodger sucked in the night air and charged after Kaeli as best he could. This was the life. She was right, it wasn’t gross at all, it was the best thing he’d ever done.
‘DAMN UNNATURAL SHAPESHIFTERS! I CAN FEEL THEM! GET OUT THERE AND GIVE CHASE YOU LAZY CAT!’ Rodger heard his ol’ Mum’s voice as clearly as if she were yelling right in his ear. He let out a squawk and plummeted to the earth, half man half bird, his wings no longer wing enough to keep him airborne.

Kaeli had to search through the scrub for some time before she spotted Rodger sitting up against a new tree. Hooter had found him already and was looking disgruntled that Rodger wouldn’t let him sit on his head, because he had a scratch where Hooter wanted to put his feet. Rodger was a sorry sight full of splinters, but nothing too serious. Kaeli swung her medicine kit from her shoulder as she approached.
‘Stay away from us you creepy shapeshifter!’ Yelled Rodger, spotting her among the trees. Kaeli shrugged.
‘Oh. Okay. Whatever then.’ She turned on her heel and stalked off into the trees, fluidly dropping to all fours and disappearing amongst the undergrowth as a fox. Rodger glared at Hooter as though it was all his fault.
‘Good riddance.’ He muttered. ‘Bad influence, that girl is.’

One Lonely Sock 06/04/16

There’s always one. Isn’t there. You know the one. That sock, that ends up on its own, no matter how carefully you pair them all. But where does the pair go? Rosie got to wondering about this one night. How did the second sock become separated from the first? Perhaps it was when the owner of the socks, thinking they could carry everything, bundled their dirty washing, or their clean washing for that matter, into a pile to carry in their arms. Socks, being slippery fellows, liked to fall out, unnoticed. All the socks would be trying their best to get free. But the carrier, wanting to get everyone safely to their destination, would grab and catch as best they could the truant socks. A pair of socks would try to make their escape together, but the carrier might notice one of them, and not the other, and the socks would not have time to realise their mistake. Down to the floor that pair-sock would go. One lonely sock, sliding over the floor’s cool surface, kicked under the furniture, tumbled in with rubbish. Many months might pass, while the lonely sock left behind travelled through wash after wash, never being worn, because the wearer needed two socks, and that one lonely sock wouldn’t do. Surely, if they just kept putting it back in the wash, it would eventually come out with the missing pair. Yet it never would. For the pair was somewhere swallowed up by the nooks and spaces in a home that no one ever noticed existed. It could even make an adventurous trip out with the rubbish or unnoticed inside a bag or box the owner took with them, perhaps to return to the same house as its pair, or perhaps to be left somewhere else. That one lonely sock, left in the drawer, might never meet its partner again. Meanwhile, the pair could be anywhere, perhaps at another person’s house or dropped outdoors. There it would experience the sounds and smells of another home, where all the socks were of a different style and it didn’t belong, or the cold loneliness of rain on the pavement after everyone had gone indoors for the night. Why did the socks try to escape, knowing this could happen? Rosie thought that perhaps socks lacked understanding of consequences. With these strange thoughts in her mind, she went to the lounge room and lay down flat on her stomach, head turned to the side, to peer under the book shelf. And there, sure enough, surrounded by balls of dust and hair, kept company by dead bugs, far to the back of the space that no one would imagine anything could get into, was a sock. Rosie stretched out her arm as far as she could, and snagged the sock with a finger, tweaking her shoulder muscles uncomfortably. Trying not to cover herself in the dust and other undesirable things, she dragged the sock out. It was a sorry sight. She could scarcely tell which missing pair it was for the layer of dust on it. But Rosie, sobered by her imagination, took the sock to the bathroom and gave it a wash in the sink. Then she dried it with her hair dryer. And at long last she rifled through her sock drawer, taking everything out until there, at the very back, she found that one lonely sock, the pair for this long-lost partner, and lovingly reunited them.

Dancing for Feathers, Wood ‘N’ String

Since Feathers, Wood ‘N’ String have now completed a couple of Irish tracks, I have had the pleasure of producing dance performances to them. King of the Faeries Electric was my first full length music video dance and I am very proud of the way it came together when I edited the video. Not having hardshoes is a nuisance in terms of sound but also freeing because I can perform on all kinds of surfaces, opening up a lot of interesting locations for filming. I’m looking forward to working on some choreographed pieces and incorporating some ballet knowledge and eventually, when I’m competent, acrobatics.

Shoutout to women in the sciences, engineering, IT, trades etc

Hi everyone,

If you follow my PhDancer short stories page on Facebook you might have noticed my new science-girl character Kimberly popping up recently. She is my short story practice version of a long term project. If you’re female and you study or work in the sciences, engineering, maths, IT, etc, please read on. You can help me. I’m also interested in women in trades like mechanics, plumbers etc. If you have a friend who fits this description, you can help me by passing this message on.

My husband is very passionate about giving girls stories that make science and maths seem more like a cool thing girls can be into. I think we’re all aware of the gender imbalance in the sciences and engineering and of the fact that some girls are interested in these subjects when they’re younger but might feel like it’s not a thing girls do, because there aren’t many stories, kids books, novels, you name it, out there with characters like them. So Lloyd has challenged me to provide these stories. He is my “science and maths consultant” – since I’m a Humanities type, helping me to write realistic science and maths in the stories.

What Lloyd can’t tell me, is what it’s like to be a girl who is drawn to these fields. So I’m looking for personal anecdotes and general experiences from women who have ended up working in or studying the sciences, engineering, maths, IT, etc. I want to hear from as diverse a group of women as possible – about what school was like, how you got interested, did you have bad experiences around having these interests, what were good experiences, what things did you do as a young child because of your interests (funny anecdotes a bonus), how did other personal characteristics about you, such as your cultural background, spirituality/religion, or sexual orientation interact with your interest in or aptitude for these fields to make up your unique experience – how did you end up where you are today.

If you think you have experiences that would help me get inside the heads of women in science, or you have a friend who you think does, please get in touch via PhDance25@gmail.com, and help me create some characters girls today from all kinds of backgrounds can identify with.

Thank you all very much for reading and in advance for telling me about your experiences.

Earl Grey and Rosewater Shortbread Recipe

About a month ago I found rosewater in the supermarket baking isle and decided to try making some super scented tea snacks. This recipe is approximate as I was making it up as I went along a bit, and didn’t write it down at the time. I’m recording it as best I can remember at the request of a follower.

image

Ingredients

– 2/3 cup butter or alternative spread
– 2/3 cup caster sugar
– 1/4 cup boiling water with 3-4 earl grey tea bags steeped in it for 15min
– 1 teaspoon rosewater
– 2 cups plain flour

Method

1) Cream butter and sugar
2) Steep earl grey teabags in boiling water for 15 min then strain teabags out and add water to butter and sugar. I also tore open a teabag and added some actual powdered tea to the mix but I don’t think it did much to the flavour and it created a slight graininess in the texture which I wouldn’t recommend.
3) Add rosewater and as much plain flour as needed to mix a firm dough that can be rolled out with a rolling pin
4) Roll out on a floured surface and cut into segments or shapes as desired
5) Bake at 170 degrees C for approximately 15-20min.

Best served with tea!

Short Stories Series 3

Flat Capped 01/04/16

The flat-capped man had become a regular instalment outside the Adelaide Central Markets. He’d appeared suddenly and never left. He must have lived nearby, because he was ready and waiting when the hour was such to start making noise, every market morning. His brilliant green electric guitar drew many gazes and photographs when he drew it from its case each day. He would set up his little speaker box and sit down next to it on a milk crate, the guitar case open at his feet. Teenagers would gather, expecting to hear something heavy and cool, but the flat-capped man didn’t play rock. Instead, out of the electric green machine came an endless library of traditional melodies, tunes with origins in Ireland, Greece and Wales. Passers-by would watch his hands as he held the neck of the guitar, his thumb reaching over to fret bass notes while his fingers picked out the melodies.

The flat-capped man wouldn’t tell you how he knew traditional tunes from so many places, or why or when he’d come here, to Adelaide. Because he couldn’t remember this information himself. He knew the music, and he knew where each of the tunes were from, sometimes telling wonderful tales about the origins of a piece to those who asked. But all he remembered was being here, in Adelaide, playing outside the markets by day and staying in a little city flat. Where he came from and how he came to be here he didn’t know. He often worried about it, the not knowing, but he tried not to let it trouble him, and the music absorbed his attention entirely whenever he played.

It was Thursday morning and the market traders were pulling in with their wares, the smelly fish and the piles of vegetables; caterers coming in with their freshly cooked food. The place rang with the shouts of the people pulling crates off vehicles and wheeling things around on their sack trucks.
‘Morning Jim!’ Called Immanuel the fishmonger. They all called him Jim, presumably because of the number of his tunes that sounded Irish, and he’d accepted the name.
‘Hello Immanuel!’ Jim started setting up his spot, spreading out his picnic rug that he liked to have underfoot and plonking down his milk crate. Suzie from the cheese stall came up to him, smiling.
‘Hey Jim! I reckon I’ve worked out where you might have come from aye!’ Jim frowned at her.
‘How would you find out something like that Suzie?’ He sat down on his milk crate and began tuning his guitar, trying not to look interested. Suzie probably didn’t understand the nerve she was touching.
‘Come for drinks after closing and I’ll tell ya.’ Suzie replied, grinning and tossing her head as she lifted a box of cheeses out of the truck and turned on her heel to head for her stall.

After closing Jim put his guitar in its backpack bag instead of the hard case and packed his other things onto his bike, which he chained up under a tarp. Then he followed the crowd of laughing, tired-looking market workers to the local pub. Suzie hooked her arm through his and led the way inside. Setting up on the stage were a bunch of guys who all had brilliant, blinding coloured electric guitars. Suzie pointed and laughed.
‘April fools!’ She giggled. Jim was disappointed, but he had to laugh at all these people with guitars just as vibrant as his. He would go and talk to them later. They could be a sort of guitar family, which was the next best thing to relatives.

Not Together 02/04/16

Martin and Ross were not a couple. They shared a house in town because neither could afford to rent on their own, and they had known each other since primary school. Martin was a graduate accountant, a Caucasian chap in his thirties who liked to play the drums in his spare time. Ross was the IT guy at the accounting firm where Martin worked, another Caucasian man of thirty-one, who liked to play computer games. They both played soccer and liked to listen to rock music. Their friendship had always been largely based on Martin’s failures with technology, which Ross fixed and Martin tried to get around in strange ways. One time this occurred when Ross was already trying to help Martin to fix the touchpad on his laptop. Ross was at work, fixing a problem with the local server, and Martin had rung him there because he was trying to work from home. Martin was unable to get the mouse to move on the screen, so Ross suggested a keyboard shortcut to reactivate the touchpad. Martin tried to press the correct combination of keys, but somehow he pressed something else, and the whole screen view turned side on. When Martin described what had occurred there was a stunned silence on the other end of the line, followed by some incredulous swearing. Then Ross said
‘Just Google it! I don’t have time to fix your computer illiteracy!’

When Ross got home that evening, Martin had rigged up an arrangement of pillows and chairs that allowed him to lie side-on at the coffee table and use his laptop screen without working out how to turn the view back up the right way.

Martin was a back-seat cook. By that I mean that when Ross was home before him and cooking a meal, Martin would text every half hour so with questions and instructions about the cooking.
‘Is the meat in the oven yet? Check the temperature.’
‘Have you put the garlic in? Don’t put it in till last.’ Ross didn’t mind, but he also didn’t read the texts.

Tonight Martin and Ross were going to the same party, a thirtieth birthday for a girl they knew from high school named Jo. As teenagers they used to fight about Jo, and the situation had been resolved by neither of them being allowed to ask her on a date. So on the way to the party Martin and Ross argued about whether Jo was single now and what their agreed etiquette was for asking her out. It was agreed that whoever Jo spoke to first could have first shot, and if Jo declined, then the other would be free to ask her. Ross had made some cupcakes to bring, which Martin had heavily supervised.

Old school friends waved when Martin and Ross came in, and said things like
‘Heeeeey! It’s Martin and Ross!’ As they came over to slap backs or hug or shake hands. It was weird the way they said their names, sort of run-in together like ‘Martin n’ Ross’.
‘We’re not together!’ Martin found himself telling people. He supposed that was what you got for hanging out together all through school and then sharing a house. People made assumptions.

In the end Jo surprisingly did agree to go on a date with Ross. This was surprising to Ross because at school Jo had been one of those intimidating sort of people who you were sure would laugh at you. He and Jo went and got fish and chips the following Saturday and walked along the beach afterwards. It was a very pleasant evening and afterwards they went back to Martin and Ross’s house and made pancakes. Martin was practising drums loudly, but when they asked him to stop for a while, he was quick to be on their case with the cooking.
‘Did you use one egg or two? You should put a bit of self-raising flour in so they’re fluffy. Why don’t you add those bananas that are getting old, that way they’ll be fruity!’ Jo looked at him funny and told him to shut up. The pancakes weren’t for him, she said.

After Jo went home Ross told Martin off for back-seat cooking when Jo was there.
‘I don’t think she’ll come back now! Why can’t you stay out of it when I have girls around?’ He said. Martin looked cross.
‘She was using the wrong proportions! Your pancakes were going to fall apart.’ He complained. Ross grumpily shoved past into the kitchen living area to clean up. On the counter was his laptop which Jo had been looking at for a recipe for pancakes with fruit in them. The screen display was turned side on. Martin really tried not to laugh, but it was very satisfying somehow.

Plotters 03/04/16

Cody had begun renting a garden plot in the urban garden allotment when he saw the gardeners at the local market. His high school had made them all go to the market for a maths project, and at first Cody had not been very interested in the produce, but then he’d seen the girl with the long black plait. Sammy grew greens, berries and flowers for the florist’s stall in her plot on the allotment. She loved the plants and she loved the banter of the markets. When the high school group visited, Sammy was allowed to have a day off school herself to go to the Tuesday market, because the other stall holders reported how she drew customers with her enthusiasm. There was just something about sharing the products of the soil that she had planted and watered and taken care of herself. Sometimes, she thought she inspired others to grow things too, and that was special. Cody was one of those people who seemed to be fascinated after she told him about the allotment. Next thing, he had a plot too. He said he wanted to grow beans, but he needed lots of help. He hadn’t the first clue about fertiliser or irrigation or anything like that.

Two years later, Cody was much better at growing beans, and he had started root vegetables as well. He had a stall next to Sammy at the weekend markets, and they both went on Tuesdays when they could around part time work and study. Sammy was doing horticulture at TAFE and had all kinds of new heirloom vegetables in her plot as well as the berries and greens and flowers. She had plans to buy a small farm one day. Cody was studying a Bachelor of Science at University, but his heart wasn’t in it. He just wanted to be in the garden with Sammy all the time. Her passion for the work was contagious, and her company addictive. So Cody learnt everything there was to learn about plants from her. Even though he could grow beans well now, he kept laying plans to grow new things that he wouldn’t know so well, so that Sammy could help.

But on Cody’s twenty-first birthday, Sammy was offered an opportunity as a farmhand out in the country, and no matter how he schemed and suggested, none of Cody’s new garden plans could distract her from her intention to go. Sammy went to live far out in the countryside in another county. She wrote Cody postcards, telling of how much she was learning, and how she might take over the farm one day. And Cody took over Sammy’s garden plot, and worked it along with his own. He quickly became a successful market gardener, running a bigger stall with all the things he and Sammy had sold combined. He never wrote back to a single postcard. The garden was all consuming. Little by little, the postcards petered out. Cody became known at the market for his enthusiasm which drew in customers and new gardeners. And sometimes he wondered if he’d imagined Sammy. Perhaps, like her, he’d just been interested in plants all along.

Short Stories Series 2

Vanished 29/03/16

The spaniel flew across the open, marshy grass, the scent of wildlife in the trees beyond reeling it in on an invisible thread. Leaves flew up under its eager paws and pigeons burst from their scratching among the leaves to wheel around in the air above as it passed. Plunging into the undergrowth it raced on, twigs and creepers grabbing unnoticed at its fur. The smell of a squirrel grew stronger as it came closer to a dark hollow in a huge gnarled and spreading oak tree. The dog slowed, panting and keen-eyed as it peered closer, wet fallen leaves dampening the sound of its paws on the soggy ground. It poked its nose around the edge of the hollow, and saw only blackness, its eyes not yet accustomed to the dark. Its nose, however, knew the way, and the spaniel padded into the darkness, its feet finding moss-covered rock and the edges of creepers that extended their fingers out from the sides of the cavernous space. The dog knew from the sensations on its feet, the smells and the faint details appearing in the filtered light, that the ground formed uncomfortable, curving steps, extending downward, moss covering the joins and cracks. It padded slowly on, eagerness curbed by the difficulty of descending stairs and confusion at finding this kind of landscape where it expected some kind of shallow, flat hollow space. The steps descended in a spiral, each one wide and carved from stone that seemed to emerge from the ground below. To the sides, thick moss grew on wood-smelling walls, interspersed with creepers that slowly gave way to more and more varying types of fungus as the staircase went lower. Finally the dog’s feet found flat ground, and the space opened into a cavern filled with the sound of running water. The stone walls formed nooks and raised, flat surfaces, smooth as though they had been carved by water, not by humans, but shaped to work as places to rest, or put something down. At several places on the walls, tiny waterfalls descended, falling into small streams which ran into a central pool. The surface of the pool glinted with rays of sunlight let through from far above by gaps in gently shifting leaves. There was no sign of the squirrel, but the voices of many tiny birds chirruped and whistled like a natural orchestra.The dog sniffed its way around the floor of the space, and its nose led it to an old book, smelling faintly of cheese, which it gave an investigative lick, and decided to bring back as a present for Tom. Book in mouth, it trotted a full lap of the gently trickling, chirping space, and lay down for a moment, eyes on what could be fish in the depths of the pool in the centre. Hopes of a squirrel to chase dashed, eventually the spaniel retraced its steps up the stone stairs, and out into the blinding sunlight, where it heard the sound of Tom calling.Tom had stopped at a park bench, leaning on his stick. The spaniel barrelled towards him, diverting its course at the last minute to avoid knocking him over, and sat looking up, book in jaws.‘Wherever have you been Flossy?’ Scolded Tom, shaking his head. ‘What is this now?’ He prised the leather-bound tome away and inspected it. The pages were aged and hand-drawn fairytale figures were dotted between the paragraphs. Tom shrugged, flummoxed, and looked at the dog.‘What a strange thing to find, Flossy! I hope you didn’t steal it from a child!’ He dabbed at the damp covers with his scarf, and placed the book into a worn backpack which he slung over his shoulder.‘Come on, now, we mustn’t miss the ducks.’ Flossy immediately charged ahead, strange cavern forgotten, eyes on the reeds that concealed the lake.

Ripples in Time 30/03/16

Samuel lifted the bow again with a sigh. The other squires shifted about impatiently, tired of training and thinking of their dinner. Master Duncan tapped on the top of the target with his cane.

‘Come on, again. This time don’t watch the arrow. Everyone will have one more attempt.’ He stepped back to stand in line with them and motioned Samuel forward. Setting his feet apart, Samuel pressed his shoulders down and drew the bow, bringing the string to rest on his lips. As he loosed the string, his fingers whispered past his cheek and back behind his ear. The shot felt perfect, but the arrow landed a little low of centre.

‘You lower your bow arm as you release the string.’ Called Master Duncan. ‘You will never shoot high enough.’ He strode forward and took Samuel by the arm, and drew him to the side to stand before a large mirror propped up on a table. ‘Draw again and watch. Aim for the tree behind. Let down if you’re unsure.’ Samuel took a deep breath and drew, looking down the arrow’s shaft into the mirror. He could see his right eye beside the arrow, glaring back at him with sharp focus. There was something disquieting about it, and he drew a sharp breath and released the string without thinking.

Samuel thought he heard Master Duncan’s shout and the clanging of the arrow hitting the mirror at the same time, and they echoed as though he was in some great hallway. Where the arrow hit, the glass seemed to ripple like water, great pulsing waves washing outwards from the point of impact like a stone hitting a lake, and Samuel felt a great rush of air like a receding wave pull him forwards and into a whirling, blinding brightness. For a time he was tumbled and buffeted around and all he could see was rippling light and shadow. Then, his vision cleared and he saw the castle green once more, only there were no other squires around him and no Master Duncan. The hedges and garden beds looked strange somehow too. Looking closer, he realised there were different plants and the borders had shifted. There was even a different tree where the one he was supposed to have aimed at would have stood a few seconds before. That tree had been a solid-trunked oak, but this one was some kind of strange, thin cone-shaped pine. People were milling around on the grass and were dressed in all manner of strange garments, as though someone had invited everyone from the King to the girls from Johnson’s Bar to strange fairy tale characters Samuel had seen painted in books the prince was reading. A girl who seemed to have the ears of a cat bounded over with a strange, lighted square object in one hand and a drink full of fruits Samuel didn’t recognise in the other.

‘Hey, peasant! Let’s have a picture!’ She squeezed up beside him in a way Samuel considered highly inappropriate and stretched out the arm holding the little lit-up box.

‘I’m not a peasant mistress, and I must say…’ Samuel broke off, realising he could see his face reflected in the object’s surface. ‘Oh no! No, no more mirrors!’ He tried to turn his head away but the girl hung on tight and did something with the object in her hand that made it flash, then turned away giggling as she looked down at a picture of Samuel looking wide-eyed and alarmed. Samuel swayed, a clanging in his ears, and suddenly felt the tug of the tide again as the scene blew out into brightness once more.

He opened his eyes to Master Duncan standing over him bellowing.

‘We’ll have seven years’ bad luck for your stupidity young man! Starting with the King having my guts for garters for bad training!’ Samuel just blinked at him.

‘More like seven hundred…’ He muttered to himself.

‘What did you say boy?’ Demanded Duncan.

‘Nothing Master.’ Said Samuel. ‘I’m ever so sorry, I must have…. Lost myself.’  He got carefully to his feet and squared his shoulders. ‘I will apologise to the King in person.’

Looking back over his shoulder, Samuel saw that the mirror had shattered out from the arrow’s strike in a pattern not unlike ripples on water, but deep spiders-web cracks ran out from the central point, cutting through the waves to the mirror’s edges.

Heart Notes 31/03/16

The four friends sat in a circle, just like in high school, except now they sat in special chairs with high arms and no one was wearing lip gloss. None of them could really clearly recall the moments that had made them close, the things that had made them laugh those days on the school green. But they must have happened, for here they were, having chosen the same place to retire to, still sitting in their circle.

‘All the old times are in here somewhere.’ Mel would say, beating her fist on her chest. ‘Hearts are treasure chests for memories.’ The things they shared the longest ago were the strongest points any of them could recall of their lives; the counsellor Jan said it was because they had been teenagers, which apparently made for strong memories, and because they were still together, keeping the connections real. But Lara didn’t want to remember the bitchy days of sixteen when boys flirted by stealing their erasers and keeping them until the girls had to approach and ask for them. She wanted to remember the times when they had prepared for one another’s weddings, helped one another raise their children, and gone on treks in the wilderness, failing together at erecting the tent. And these things she didn’t always remember now. She just knew they had happened because sometimes they talked about them. She remembered more than Amita, who remembered more than Ellie. They knew this because they compared notes after the nurses went away, but really they were never sure what they remembered and didn’t and which memories were real and which ones were there because someone told them. Visitors were recognised some days and not others, and sometimes by some of them and not by others. They always knew each other, because they were always together and always on at each other about something. Amita would always complain about the staff, and Lara would try to defend them, and then Amita would say she was letting people walk all over her. If somebody failed to recognise a relative or a younger friend the others would give them a hard time. It wasn’t because they wanted to be mean, but because they didn’t want anyone to forget the things that made life real and important, and sometimes it was easy to imagine that if you told one another off enough for forgetting it might stop.

Today Ellie was staring into space. The others talked around her and tried to include her but she didn’t seem much up to chatting. Lara was running out of easy things to talk about and feeling sad, when she saw Ellie’s grand-niece Sophie approaching. This made her feel anxious, because she didn’t think Ellie would know who it was. Mel waved her cane around and called hello to Sophie, and Sophie beamed and swung a little case off her shoulder. When she reached them she just sat down in the circle without further ado and smiled up at everyone from the grass.

‘Uncle Matt found a video of you guys!’ She announced. ‘It was from Mel’s wedding and you were singing a song. I looked it up and I learnt how to play it; listen!’ She pulled a little ukulele out of the case she’d been carrying and began to strum and sing the first few lines. Amita joined in straight away, and Lara remembered. They’d learnt it especially and argued for ages over what key to sing it in because nothing seemed to suit everybody. She cleared her throat and joined the chorus, and then everyone sang, even Ellie. After they finished the song, Ellie started telling the story of the argument and how it had originally been settled by Mel insisting that they sing in the key of the hurdy-gurdy that one of the groomsmen knew how to play, but which changed the rhythm of the piece entirely and had them all rushing to fit in the ends of lines. On the day, it had turned out that the groomsman concerned had a sprained wrist and couldn’t play his instrument at all, so a last minute change back to guitar had produced the much nicer version that Sophie had seen. Then they did a mock-hurdy-gurdy rendition for Sophie which had her in stitches.

When Sophie went to leave, Ellie demanded that she bring the video next time for them to see, and bring Ellie her guitar too so she could try to play. Mel looked at Lara and Amita and smiled, and did the chest-beating thing she always did when she said all the memories were in there somewhere, and Lara knew what she meant.