In 2016 before I started my day job I embarked on a project to write a short story every day and post it on the associated Facebook page. Many of the stories below came about as part of this project, whilst a few are more recent. You can follow my ‘storytime for adults’ where I read new and old stories out loud for your entertainment, on my Patreon.
It was the kind of day that smelt of new beginnings, ice crystals forming rainbow reflections on the grass. Frozen leaf litter crunched underfoot and the sound of pigeons digging for seeds was louder than the sporadic echo of voices that carried on the still air. Abbey thought it seemed as though the parklands could be infinite on days like this. She listened to the pad of her boots on the frosty ground, feeling each step as her weight pressed into her toes, and watched the flitting forms of robins in the brambles, where the coffee-brown clumps of dried blackberry fruit were the only indication of the feast the birds would find there in the Spring.
Abbey took the narrow river path, wanting to stay immersed in the tranquil morning. Fewer people walked this way, and the birds were braver, often landing on the tall reed stems beside the track. Abbey looked into these reeds now, listening for the twittering call of red breasted robins. Presently she thought she spied a nest tucked into the briar rose that wove its way between the reed stalks. Coming closer, she peered in around the thorns. It was a nest indeed, moss woven between the interlocked fibres. No birds or eggs were inside, much to her disappointment, just a solitary forgotten feather, which had become entangled in the weave. Abbey glanced about, checking that no one was coming, and then clambered in amongst the foliage to get a closer look. She hoped she might find tiny eggshells, or clues as to whether the birds who had built this nest would return to use it again in another season.
As she crouched and moved in amongst the reeds, Abbey felt as though she became smaller, the world of the briar roses and the insects among the reeds enveloping her. She looked up from below at the nest, and saw something curious. The intricate weave on the underside seemed to form a tiny, wicker step pattern, curving around the nest in a spiral towards the upper edge, as though it were a spiral staircase to the tiny home inside. Abbey wriggled in under the briar rose, pushing aside the automatic fear of getting stuck. Above her, she heard a faint rustling, and a quiet twanging twittering sound. She held very still, listening hard. Perhaps there were really baby birds inside, and she had just missed them because they were so small.
Presently the twanging came again; then again, this time a different note. Suddenly the air below the briar rose was filled with music; delicate music that could be missed by passers-by, she thought, imagined to be insects or frogs, yet from here it sounded like the tiniest of harps or lyres, playing a flitting folk tune suitable for a dance. She turned onto her back and looked up, absorbed in the music. From here she could see a piece of vine that hung just so, like a tiny climbing rope. Rosehips, collected to one side in a cupped leaf, as though set aside in a fruit bowl. As she listened, Abbey heard more sounds joining the tune, high notes almost out of her range of hearing, similar to the voices of the red robins she liked to watch. Abbey closed her eyes and listened to the lilting tune. Something lived here, she thought. Whatever it could be, she would make the most of its gentle tune while she remained unnoticed. Something that small would surely be frightened of something as large as her.
When Abbey opened her eyes, she became aware of the pad, pad, of her boots on the leaf-padded ground, and realised she was on the return loop of her walk, headed for home. The green expanse of the grass opened up around her, and the shouts of people at sport training carried across the lawns. Drawing in a deep breath of the chilled air, she released it in a sigh of rising steam, and wondered whether the music would be there again tomorrow.
The tin teapot had been on the mantelpiece in the kitchen for as long as anyone could remember. It was on that high shelf, the one no one could reach without something to stand on, which meant no one used it, and probably whoever put it up there hadn’t really used it much either. No one ever questioned why it was kept, though. They just went on living in the house and never noticed it all that much. Until one day, someone got up and noticed that it the tin teapot was gone, because the empty space was much more noticeable than the object that had always been there.
‘Who moved the teapot?’ Aunty Marjorie demanded, pointing an accusatory finger at the high shelf. Everybody looked about and shrugged and mumbled in a surprised but unconcerned sort of way until it was determined that nobody had taken it. ‘Well somebody must have taken it! It’s gone! What else could have happened? Imps?’ Aunty Majorie sort of inflated and went a bit pink, indignant at the idea that something inexplicable had happened, and even more so at the thought of fantasy creatures. Cousin Tony rubbed his nose and shrugged.
‘I’m sure it will turn up. Perhaps the imps would like to take a bird house instead, and bring the teapot back.’ He opened the cupboard of odds and ends and got out one of his home-made bird houses, which were really just boxes with different-shaped doors cut into the front. He held onto it by a corner and stretched up the full length of his arm to try to poke the bird house onto the high shelf where the teapot had been. Aunty Majorie glowered.
‘There are no imps Tony! For heaven’s sake stop being superstitious.’ She bustled off with a duster into the living room, leaving the rest of them to finish assembling the morning tea. Carly tipped the fresh scones into a basket and put them on the big scrubbed table.
‘Maybe Grandma’s spirit is making tea.’ She said with a smile. ‘Someone needs to make some!’ She looked pointedly at her mother who was leaning on the counter near the kettle.
After everyone had finished their tea, the family wandered into the front garden for the Easter egg hunt. Carly ran about trying to make sure everyone found some, but Dad had three quarters of the eggs in his container in the first twenty minutes, as ever, and her brother Max had forgotten where he’d hidden most of the eggs she’d given him early this morning, which made it difficult to tell anyone ‘hot’ or ‘cold’. Tony appeared out of the daisy bushes, triumphantly carrying a garden gnome.
‘I found Borris!’ He announced. ‘I always wondered where he got to!’ He began dusting off the dirt.
‘I’ll find a spot for him inside.’ Said Mum, taking the garden gnome out of Tony’s hands and striding back into the house. Carly sighed.
‘Okay, Dad, you better share your eggs around a bit I think. Let’s put them in one big basket and that way everyone can take a reasonable number home later.’ Everyone followed Carly back inside.
As they were sitting around the table again, passing around a fresh pot of tea and unwrapping chocolate, Mum reappeared, smiling, with the tin teapot.
‘Hey! It’s the missing pot!’ Exclaimed Tony. ‘Where was it?’ Carly’s mother stretched up on her toes and ineffectually tried to place it back on the high shelf, and Tony got up to help her.
‘Aunt Majorie had it on her knitting shelf.’ Smiled Mum. ‘She must have had some plans for it that she forgot about.’ Aunt Majorie huffed.
‘I did not! One of you silly superstitious folks must have moved it and forgotten.’ Frowning, she dolloped jam on a leftover scone.
Tony slid the teapot back into place and came back to the table. Carly noticed that he didn’t need to put the bird house back in the cupboard, but she didn’t say anything. Probably Aunt Majorie had found a spot for it in the garden.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Today is the very first ‘poem Friday’, when it’s time to change things up a little bit and write a poem instead of a story. I was given ‘rabbits’ by Lloyd and ‘seasons’ by Mum as topics so I’m going to try to combine the two.
Summer rabbits snuffling slow
Spread themselves out, laying low
Early mornings on the go
Then resting all day long.
Autumn rabbits jumping flips
Tossing toys, chewing sticks
Getting up to no good tricks
Leave furniture with holes.
Winter rabbits making fluff
All over all your warmest stuff
Snuggling up, life is tough
Snoozing where it’s warm.
Spring rabbits everywhere!
Rabbits you didn’t think were there!
Rabbits sit on every stair!
Next Spring rabbits stay inside.
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.
The Song of Hands and Teaspoons 17/04/16
In the mornings I am cold and sit at the kitchen table in a ray of sunshine, getting warm in its brightness and the kettle’s steam. There are familiar, comforting sounds around me, the gentle patter of morning voices, the scrape of a butter knife on toast, the chink of a spoon against a bowl. Tiny pieces of dust float on the golden trail of the sun’s light, and I drink in the warmth of brewing tea and the movements of hands on cups, their variety speaking many stories.
At morning tea the room is busy; bowls clatter against plates, the voices are pitched higher, the company larger. The hands of the drinkers are more hurried as they plan their next movements. The scent of scones and cake wafts about on the steam. I relish the company as I draw the attention of different people every moment. The room is bright and warm.
When lunchtime comes the voices are tired, and the sounds are of hurried eating and few words. Cups are exchanged for mugs and the drinking is less pensive. The microwave beeps and the kettle screeches. I feel taken for granted in my silence.
At afternoon tea the company is few, but gentle and watchful in nature. A cat leaps and lands softly on a lap, and we sit in quiet contemplation of all afternoon teas past. The sun is dropping and casting an orange glow with less warmth and more passion. A trickle of approaching footsteps signals the arrival of a few home-comers, and the moments are peaceful and safe.
Over dinner I am slowly forgotten, a cup or two brewed and poured from my lips during cooking before I am made redundant by wine and end-of-day elation. I sit by the kettle as it cools and slowly the warmth fades from the day. They sit by the fire and become first louder, then quieter, as the wine plays its game of highs and lows. One by one they trickle out and the house falls quiet. The fire turns to embers, and then to ash, and the kettle and I play out our cold night time courtship as I cool to the crisp veneer of unused porcelain and wait for the dawn.
The Farm 18/04/16
It had been almost the end of Winter when the letter arrived. Sammy had scribbled her communications on pieces of card, torn from some kind of packaging. Yes, she’d said, you’ll like the farm in Spring. Mind you get someone to care for the garden and the market and bring your boots. It hadn’t been a long letter, but the hastiness of the handwriting had given Cody pause for thought.
Today he had his gumboots on and his backpack shouldered, stuffed with the few things he actually used every day. In one hand he had his train ticket and in the other he had three bags of assorted vegetables and bulbs that had grown in Sammy’s old plot that he didn’t think would go bad on the journey. It was a cold morning with the kind of frosty air you felt had a slight crunch to it. He pulled his chin down into his scarf to keep the chill out of his jacket.
On the train Cody tried to imagine what the farm was like. He knew it was run by an older couple, Olive and Charlie, who apparently were very nice about letting him come. He had images in his head of fields of beans and wheat that went on forever into the distance, fields you could completely disappear in, and the farmhouse nestled in amongst them, though he knew it didn’t make sense for the house to be in the middle.
Walking up the dirt road that came off the main street, he wasn’t disappointed by what he saw ahead, although he was surprised to see sunflowers; Sammy’s work, he’d bet. When he got closer he could see her, the ginger cat she’d described trailing after her as she moved along checking an irrigation line one drip point at a time. He knew it was Sammy, and not one of the other people who lived here, even though she was facing the other way. Sammy had a distinctive way of kneeling down to look at things, something he’d become so familiar with when they worked the market garden together, that for a moment he felt like he’d gone back several years in time. She didn’t see he’d arrived for a while, absorbed in the task as he drew closer. Cody briefly worried that he hadn’t let her know the date, but then he supposed most days were similar when you were doing this kind of work. He stopped when he got within a short distance, went over to the bean plot and stomped his foot to make a firm footprint in the mud; it was a thing he used to do in the garden which had always made Sammy laugh.
‘The rain will wash your marks away.’ She would say, looking solemn, and then giggle. Sammy heard the sound and it took her a moment to realise she wasn’t daydreaming. It was an odd greeting for such old friends, when she noticed him, but there were enough smiles in it that the trip didn’t seem wasted.
Sammy explained to Cody how the irrigation worked before she showed him around the farmhouse. It was just how they worked together. Grouch the cat had more to say than Sammy, and took to Cody immediately, securing him firmly by the fire all evening while Olive and Charlie asked him questions and Sammy tolerantly brought them all cups of chai tea.
That week Sammy showed Cody her work, and he helped. It was almost like being back in the garden plot, but much bigger, and harder. Cody would always feel heavy and exhausted by the time they came in from the fields, mud caked on their boots and their arms full of tools and harvest. There was firewood to be cut and the big fire to be lit, the chickens to feed and irrigation lines to check, pruning to be done and manure to be hauled out into the fields. Grouch the cat tagged along much of the time, though sometimes he waited in the door to the laundry if the work was noisy or it was raining. Cody wondered how Sammy kept working like this for months on end. Yet at the same time, he loved it.
While they worked, Sammy and Cody tried hard to talk. It was a strange experience. Back home in the garden when they expected to be in town forever, there had always been long, companionable silences where they just looked after the plants together and appreciated the presence of someone else out in the rain or enjoying the sun. But here, there was the constant awareness of time flowing on and the ever-encroaching day when Cody would have to get back on the train, even from the very first day, and it seemed a waste if they hadn’t talked in every waking moment. The pressure on the conversation made it difficult, and if they weren’t discussing plants, usually they talked about Grouch. He had character, and it was easy to discuss him endlessly.
On the day Cody had to leave he was very organised, all his things back in the backpack and his boots cleaned up ready to avoid dirtying the train where he sat. But he let Grouch hold him into his seat at the big breakfast table longer than he really should have. Sammy walked him to the station this time. Olive had given her the morning off, saying there would only be irrigation and a little pruning to do today. They walked in a thick silence, Sammy with her arms folded about one another. Cody thought to himself that he should give her a hug, but the air between them felt like jelly, difficult to move in, strange to touch. Two minutes before the train was due, he turned to her and said,
‘Thank you for letting me visit.’ And tears sprang into both of their eyes. It seemed as though this surprised them both. Cody said, ‘When I finish at uni, I’ll move here.’
‘What about the market?’ Said Sammy. Cody thought about that. Eventually he said,
‘There are markets here too, right?’ And Sammy realised that she didn’t know, she’d stayed so well away.
Spring Toast 19/04/16
Abbey and Tom were watching the ducks. The Spring leaves were showing on the deciduous trees around the lake, and water lilies had appeared on the surface in just a few weeks. The sound of birdsong was all around, quiet against the quacking of the ducks, and Abbey was entranced, watching for robins in the trees. Paddling about near them were a number of male mallard ducks and one female. Tom had brought his leftover toast from breakfast to give to them. He was making up what the ducks were saying as he tossed bits of toast to them.
‘Mine! This bit’s mine! I’m gonna give it to my lady duck!’
‘No! That bread’s for MY lady duck!’
‘Guys, there’s only one lady duck on this pond. She’s gonna get really fat if everyone gives her their food.’
‘Do YOU want this bit of bread?’
Abbey smiled and watched the ducks all rush for each bit of toast Tom tossed away. She turned herself sideways and lay down on the bench with her head on Tom’s lap so she could look up at the trees.
‘Watch the leaves Tom! The new leaves are tiny. Like little bright green fairies with the birds weaving in and out dancing with them.’ Abbey saw brilliant yellow butterflies up there too, a swirling bright party of dainty-sized winged creatures welcoming the sunshine. She closed her eyes and watched the dancing green lights on her eyelids, listening to the music that the birdsong made. There must have been four of five different voices in the chorus of gentle chirping at all times, and Abbey wondered how she hadn’t spotted all the different birds, but so many of them were tiny. Tom continued to see a duck story, and he was engrossed too, but differently. It didn’t matter. Spring wove a meditative spell around them, nature whispering of tranquillity and excitement at the same time.
And even though they were watching and thinking of different things, Tom and Abbey were more together here than if they had been staring into each other’s eyes.
Max bounced around the bedroom, strumming his guitar along with the CD playing on his computer. Kyle was lazing on Max’s bed, nodding along a bit but not contributing a great deal. At the end of the song, Max whirled around in a crude sort of guitar-wielding pirouette and jumped into a rock star pose, and Kyle did a slow nod.
‘Yeah! We should start a band man.’ Max grinned and said
‘Yeah! What are you gonna do in the band?’ Kyle sort of shrugged.
‘I’ll be the singer! And I can play bass; that’s easy.’ Max gave him a sceptical look.
‘I dunno man, maybe just the singing.’ Kyle picked up a shoe and made a ‘Yeowlllll!’ Noise into it as though he was a metal singer armed with a microphone. Max made a sort of ‘not bad’ face. He plonked himself down on the bed and comics and school worksheets went flying.
‘Hey! You know who we should get to be in the band – Ryan. He can beatbox, and in music he played on the drum kit and it was way cool.’ Kyle looked unsure.
‘Isn’t Ryan too cool to be in a band with us?’ Max went ‘pffft’, and then said
‘Bands are cool man, doesn’t matter who’s in them. Let’s call him on Skype and ask now!’ Max threw a bunch of textbooks and food wrappers onto the floor and grabbed his laptop, standing his guitar between his knees and leaning the laptop up against it. He opened Skype. It said ‘no connection’.
‘Oh no. My wifi has been off all night! There’s gonna be way too many notifications! Maybe we better just message him on my phone.’ Max grabbed his phone off his desk and unlocked the screen. Four new notifications popped up. Max opened the Facebook ones. ‘What the heck? Leah’s put up that we’re in a relationship!’ Kyle laughed loudly.
‘Told you not to sit with her at lunch.’ Max blew out some air and went onto Ryan’s profile.
‘Oh see look! He’s started drum lessons now ‘cause he went so well in music!’ He clicked on the messenger button and read out what he was typing.
‘Hey Ryan, Kyle and I were thinking we might start a band – I have awesome guitar skills and Kyle can sing, so I was wondering if you wanted to be our drummer.’ He looked at Kyle. ‘Alright?’ Kyle shrugged again, so Max hit send. Ryan’s tiny face popped up next to the message. ‘He’s seen it already.’ They both looked at the phone. The ‘Ryan is typing’ symbol came up. And stayed up. ‘What’s he doing?’ Kyle shrugged some more.
‘Can we go get chips?’
At the fish and chip shop Max was lurking by the drinks fridge when the reply message popped up. Kyle was in a big queue so Max didn’t say anything until the chips had been duly obtained.
‘Ryan replied.’ He told Kyle, when he approached with the chips.
‘What did he say?’ Kyle replied, undoing the neat parcel the girl at the counter had made for the chips already.
‘He said, “K, when are we gonna try playing together?”’ Kyle did an absurd face.
‘He took all that time to say that?’ Max did a blank look.
‘He was probably really excited and had to edit what he said lots.’ Kyle stuffed a chip in his mouth and then made gasping noises and held his mouth open because it was too hot. When the chip had sufficiently stopped burning his mouth, he said,
‘Yeah. That’s probably it. So, when should we meet him?’ Max looked in his phone calendar.
‘After school Friday?’
‘I have soccer.’
‘We need a school drum kit.’
‘Oh yeah.’ Max scratched his head. ‘I have my guitar lesson Monday night, and on Tuesdays I have work. So Wednesday or Thursday after school?’ Kyle got out his own phone.
‘Yeah. Yeah I can do then.’ Max nodded and clicked back on the message from Ryan, grabbing a chip with his free hand and typing with his thumb.
‘We have Wednesday and Thursday nights free. Can you stay after school one of those?’ They both watched the phone again. Ryan was typing. A notification from Leah popped up behind the messenger window. ‘Oh no. I’m not going to look.’ Max kept messenger open. ‘Ugh. He’s taking forever to type again. Let’s walk back.’
Back at Max’s house, the friends dumped the chips on the coffee table in the lounge and Max got some extra vinegar and sauce. His phone buzzed.
‘Finally! Ryan says he has his drum lesson on Wednesday but he can do Thursday.’
‘Cool! Thursday it is. I’ll practice singing in the shower and annoy my sister.’
On Wednesday night Max dumped his schoolbag on the bed and picked up his guitar. His phone buzzed. It was Kyle.
‘Have gastro. Can’t come to school tomorrow, hopefully practice next Thursday.’ Max sighed and messaged Ryan to see if he wanted to practice anyway. Ryan was typing for ages. Then he said
‘I have it too. Have fun in maths on your own with Leah.’ Max made an exasperated snort and flopped back on the bed, guitar still on his lap, and fell asleep.
Max’s mother poked him awake for dinner and smiled with amusement at the guitar sitting flat across her sleeping son’s stomach.
‘Guitar working out well then?’ Max shrugged.
‘It’s alright. I guess I might keeping learning next term.’
The cat balanced along the wall, pausing to sniff bits of moss and fine grass which had grown up between the stones. Its tail waved above it like a long flag, peeking over the top of the hedge that ran along the opposite side of the garden. Mrs Knott could see the tail from her garden on the other side of the hedge, but she could not see the rest of the cat. She pottered closer to the hedge and stood on tiptoe to look over and watch. The cat was a grey short haired tabby with a little white bib on its chest and a white splash running down its nose. It had not been there a few weeks ago, when the weather was still cold. Mrs Knott guessed that it must have been kept inside over the Winter. Now it was strutting back and forth along the stone wall, sitting for a while in one place, then moving on to a spot that looked sunnier, or perhaps provided a better vantage point, and sitting a while longer, clearly enjoying the sunshine and the view. The sun was catching the tips of each bit of fur so that the cat had a glowing blurry outline around its edges. Mrs Knott stayed by her hedge and kept watching, relaxing with the cat and enjoying the Spring day in the same way it seemed to be.
Then, suddenly the cat looked around sharply towards something behind the house, which Mrs Knott could not see. She leaned sideways, trying to see around the house, but she was too far behind the cat from her position in her yard. The cat pushed off lightly from the wall and disappeared out of sight, presumably moving in the direction of whatever had caught its eye. Mrs Knott had to know what it had seen. She hurried out her gate and around the front of the cat’s yard, to the side with the stone wall. She rounded the corner and expected to see the cat somewhere ahead of her. But there was no cat to be seen anywhere, just an empty street. Disgruntled, Mrs Knott turned and wandered slowly back to her own garden, muttering as she went
‘I’ll find out where you go one day.’
Wopper and the Yarn Basket 23/04/16
Heather was in a craft mood today, so she and Wopper had been left sitting on a large patchwork rug on the lounge room floor, with the giant basket of yarn and ribbon and a box with glue and beads. Wopper was busy chewing on a toilet roll which had been left for him to play with, making strange sounds of eating that resembled both tearing paper and munching. Heather was threading some of the beads onto a piece of yarn to make a necklace. It was already almost as long as she was, and could have been more usefully utilised as a skipping rope.
Heather pushed herself up on her knees and leaned her head over to look into the depths of the yarn basket.
‘Look, Wopper, there’s a shining fairy in the bottom!’ She stood up and bent at the waist, reaching inside. Over went the yarn basket, colourful threads rolling out across the floor, and Heather, unperturbed, immediately went forward on hands and knees to stick her torso inside the basket. Wopper lolloped over to see what all the fuss was about, and discovered a magnificent, airy tunnel, filled with exciting scents. He squeezed his way under Heather’s chest and joined her inside. A shining fairy there was, and a terrible cave-in of yarn, threatening to bury Heather. Wopper leapt bravely forward, tackling the shining fairy aside before more yarn toppled down, and set to work excavating the yarn-fall.
In no time at all, Heather and Wopper re-emerged, bits of colourful thread adorning their coats, shining fairy safe in Heather’s hand, and the offending cave-in dug aside. The lounge room door opened and in came Heather’s mother, dusting something off her hands. She stopped on the threshold and looked at her daughter.
‘What on earth have you two done to my yarn basket?’ She rushed over and picked up the now empty receptacle. What few items were left inside dropped out at her feet, falling through Wopper’s newly-chewed emergency escape holes. Wopper and Heather looked up at her like sprinkle-covered sweets, bits of yarn of all colours and lengths covering their proud faces as they reflected on their heroic deeds.
Wallace was a very fat squirrel. He didn’t like dogs, because they made him run. Today he was in a terrible mood, as he had already had to run from a dog three times. It didn’t help matters that it had been the same dog on every occasion. But Wallace had really wanted those dropped chips by the park bench. He just wasn’t quite able to beat the dog to them, no matter how many times he made a loud noise near his little sister Milly and sent her running out as a decoy.
Milly had now retreated to a different tree and gone inside a hollow branch where she had collected some acorns. Wallace thought chips were worth twenty acorns. Unfortunately, he had taken the serious measure of attempting to hide himself under a log nearer to the bench. On the way in, the gap had seemed larger. Now he was in a fairly large space underneath the log where he had caused a terrible fright to two mice, but was thoroughly confounded as to how he was going to get outside again. There was quite a severe drop from the gap he had squeezed through to the floor of the hollow space he was now within.
Wallace looked about. There was nothing down here he could stack up to climb upon; the mice wouldn’t be any help; they were cowering in the corner debating whether he was a cat or not. It looked like the only way out was by doing one of the things he did best; chewing. But first he would have to reach an area of the log that touched the ground, and wood wasn’t very tasty, so he would have to be tough. Wallace headed for the other side of the log, where there was less of an incline to where the wood met the soil. He dug with his paws and chewed at the log, making an awful mess, and presumably, a racket, because soon after he began this endeavour he heard the sound of sniffing and barking outside.
Wallace scrambled back down into the base of the hollow. The dog was back, right outside! There was a creaking and cracking, and a wet, snuffling nose appeared as the point where Wallace had been chewing was pushed upwards by a dirt-covered dog face. Wallace wasted no time, barreling right past the nose and into the daylight. He streaked across the grass to the sound of excited barking for the fourth time that day and landed with a thud next to Milly, covered in dirt and bits of chewed wood. Today, he would have to settle for acorns. When you were narrowly saved by the same dog you were running from, it was not a day to tempt fate.
Rodger Makes Tea 25/04/16
Kaeli held the cow under its large, heavy chin and used her free hand to gently pull back an eyelid, looking into the beast’s eye which was cloudy with infection. She frowned.
‘You should have asked me to come earlier for this.’ She stroked the big animal’s head, but it pulled away from her, agitated. Kaeli knelt down and opened the satchel she carried slung across her body, sorting through the herbs and powders inside. Greg, the farmer, loomed over her as she did so, moving his heavy booted feet about irritably.
‘Well we can’t. You’re always somewhere. Getting hold of you is like throwing a homing pigeon out in a storm and crossing our fingers.’ He said in a low, grumbling tone. Len, the stable boy, leaned out from the rafters where he was stacking some hay to nod at Greg.
‘Aye, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was causing half the ailments round here herself just so as she can come and save the day, sneaky witch.’ He slung himself down and slouched over to stand looking down at Kaeli with Greg. Kaeli continued to go about her business, pulling out some ginger and turmeric powder and dried rosemary to mix her preferred calming infusion. It was no good trying to disinfect or use magic while the cow was so agitated. She began to feel a sense of being trapped, kneeling there with the irritable beast on one side and the two less than friendly men on the other, but she hid it well. Plying the trade of general supplier of healing to animals and people alike in these small towns often led to these accusatory moments. She had learnt that it was best to ignore their complaining and solve the problem fast; that way folks had to calm down and be grateful to at least some extent. Len, however, poked at her mixing dish with his boot and said
‘I wouldn’t trust her and her potions. How do you know she isn’t poisoning Maisy? Wouldn’t want that now, would we, girl?’ He reached out and patted the cow on its rear and Maisy took a step in Kaeli’s direction, nearly stepping on her fingers. Kaeli removed her hand from the cow’s proximity and calmly continued to mix her ingredients.
‘Everything in here is stuff you’d eat yourself, from the spice market.’ She told them. ‘It’s just to calm her down and reduce the inflammation she has everywhere so I can handle her better to treat the infection.’ She regretted the explanation even as she said it, as Greg’s face quickly went blank and Len was looking sceptical, and now the cook, Mag, and Greg’s son Nate were coming toward the barn from the farm house. Lots of people was bad. Maisy would get jumpy and the slightest reaction from her to anything Kaeli did that didn’t look entirely positive could fuel a fire. Kaeli looked about surreptitiously for a good way to get out of sight where she could turn into something that could move fast, but the barn was suddenly full of unfriendly people, and Kaeli felt very small.
Then, through the barn window from the direction of the farm house came a ball of feathered fury like an angry, feathery stick with a pointy end, and there were shouts and shrieks as the crowd around Kaeli ducked and covered their heads. Kaeli stood quickly to gently stoke Maisy, whispering calm through her fingers. Rodger appeared leaning up against the barn wall as though he’d been there all along. The crowd sufficiently silenced, Hooter returned to sit on Rodger’s head. As the farm folk straightened up and uncovered their faces, Rodger looked at them, arms folded.
‘What are good folks like yourselves doin’ picking on this young lady then? You want your cow to get better or not?’ He gestured to where he presumed Hooter was. ‘This ‘ere is ‘ooter. Like cows, he doesn’t like noisy crowds, and he especially doesn’t like bullies. Now ‘ow about you all get back to your very important jobs what you’re currently neglecting, and let Kaeli here help Maisy out like she came to do.’ There was some shuffling and murmuring about where this man had appeared from and why he would want to stand up for the witch, but slowly all the people wandered away, glancing over their shoulders, even Len.
When the barn finally contained only Kaeli, Rodger, Maisy and Hooter, Rodger came over to Kaeli, who had knelt back down, ostensibly to get her things organised, but more likely he thought to do some deep breathing.
‘Perhaps I can ‘elp?’ He put Hooter on Maisy’s head. It was a strange sight, but Maisy seemed to calm down significantly. Kaeli snorted with laughter, in the abrupt way that people do who have been somewhat shaken up and subsequently struggle to contain their reactions. She stood up and got a closer look at Maisy’s eyes. In the peace and quiet without farm people everywhere, she could use magic all she liked. Her hot tea billy’s steam turned a vibrant shade of glowing green as the beast took deep gentle breaths that drew it in. Rodger appeared to be once again leaning on the wall, but Hooter patrolled up and down Maisy’s back, and Kaeli could sense that the cow was making a faster recovery than she could work alone.
When Maisy was happily grazing on some hay, her eyes returned to their normal deep brown pool-like state, Kaeli walked straight out the back door of the barn and out onto the moors, and Rodger followed. He found her sitting looking out across the valley, satchel still on, arms folded. He plonked himself down beside her unceremoniously, and Hooter flew up momentarily before settling back on Rodger’s head. Rodger poked at the satchel slung across Kaeli’s shoulder.
‘I gather that tea billy of yours works without a fire then.’ Kaeli gave a bit of a start, and then said
‘Oh! Yes! That was really very rude of me, striding off out here without saying thank you.’ She untied the satchel and pulled the billy out.
‘Well,’ said Rodger, ‘Those people weren’t very nice, were they. I can understand you being out of sorts. But my ol’ mum always says, there’s nothing so bad it can’t be fixed by a good cup of tea.’ He took the billy out of her hands and held it between his own, and perfectly brewed boiling tea appeared inside, the steam spiralling skyward in the cold morning air. They both produced tin cups, and sat as the sun rose high enough to finally shed some warmth, mugs in hands, warming their fingers in a companionable silence.
Mrs Knott sat at her small kitchen table, giving alternate impatient glances to the oven, where her batch of scones was still looking pale and unrisen, and the view out of the window, where there was a drizzle of rain just enough to make a walk unpleasant. The discouraging effect of the weather on going outdoors obviously applied to the grey tabby cat that lived next door as well, as she had not spotted it all day. She had some half-finished, half-hearted knitting in front of her, to which she added the occasional stitch between craning her neck to the window and sideways around her table to see the oven door. Her favourite, dainty but chipped teacup sat beside her, some of the tea spilled out into the saucer from her hasty getting up and down to check the scones and frequent knocks from her knitting needles. It was mostly cold, though she was sure she’d only made it a few minutes ago. She added a few purl stitches to the knitting, her rather fluffy white eyebrows drawing together in concentration and annoyance, uncertain whether this row was indeed supposed to be knit or purl. Then she put the knitting down again and looked out of the window. And saw the cat.
Immediately she was up out of her chair and putting on her gumboots under her floral skirt, hitching up her skin-coloured stockings. Without a further thought to anything going on in the house, she went out the front door and leaned over the front wall. The cat was on the footpath, sunning itself and washing its face with one white-tipped paw that currently had a few bits of dry leaf attached.
‘Hello puss-puss!’ Mrs Knott called, leaning over her wall, arm extended. ‘Want to come and get some cream?’ She made the ‘ch, ch’ sound that was meant to attract cats though no one seemed to know why. The cat wandered closer, plonked itself on the pavement and rolled over on its back, tail twitching. Mrs Knott knew that cats in this mood were not to be trifled with, but the cat had a very fluffy white belly and chest that it was waving at her. She went out of her gate and leaned over to rub the cat’s chest. It purred for a while.
‘Good puss.’ Said Mrs Knott. Then the cat latched onto her arm with all four feet and its teeth and began furiously kicking with its back feet as though her hand was prey to be knocked unconscious.
‘Yow!’ She yelped, trying to pull her hand away, but the cat let go in its own good time and wandered a little way off to sit, looking cute and pat-able again, enjoying the sun. Mrs Knott gave it a glare. ‘Bad puss.’ She went back in her gate and opened her front door. Loud expletives were then heard flying out the window, along with the blackened scones, and several pigeons arrived, unperturbed by the cat, to peck out the unburnt bits.
Digging for Job Satisfaction 27/04/16
‘Why do you think you would be suited to this role?’ The interviewer from the earth-moving company asked, peering over her glasses at Robert.
‘Well, I’m very passionate about digging.’ Robert said. ‘Digging builds homes, gives workers a purpose, creates new environments. I enjoy doing it and I can impart that enjoyment to others to create a good team work ethic.’ The interviewer nodded.
‘What do you know about machinery?’ Robert sniffed and replied,
‘Machinery can dig larger amounts faster, and make the job simpler. But personally I think there is no substitute for the authentic, personal and detailed work of a dedicated worker.’
One month later, Robert was working at the earth-moving company. But it was not the experience he had expected. He was put in management, and had to do a lot of paperwork concerning machinery. He never got to do any actual digging at all. As the months passed Robert found the work more and more depressing. No one was doing their own digging work anymore. He had to resist the urge to shred the paperwork. Eventually he decided the job just wasn’t for him and handed in his resignation.
So it came about that only two months later Robert was attending another job interview, this time for a wholesale internet grocery store who were seeking quality assurance officers. His particular role would be in the department testing the quality of the fresh fruit and vegetables.
‘So what do you think you could bring to this position?’ Asked the interviewer, giving Robert an encouraging smile.
‘I really have a great deal of experience judging the quality of vegetables.’ Said Robert. ‘Especially carrots, I have eaten a lot of carrots in my lifetime.’ This was very true. Robert was a very talented rabbit. Tracy thought there was no more ideal candidate for the position.
‘I just have a few concerns about how you will return your reports…’
Lei often felt that she had a patchwork life. Some days she would curl beneath a patchwork rug made for her as a baby and pretend to be tiny again, a novel open at the entrance to this tent. The book would be an entrance to a different world, a patch in the quilt that existed only in her imagination, but that she believed in wholeheartedly. There were many of these patches, strange imaginings from her childhood that she had kept like scraps in the sewing basket, or memories that seemed valuable though they were very small, like a leaf that floated down and landed between her and Ray on the park bench one Autumn.
On other days, Lei dressed in office clothes and led a different life, typing in entries and answering phones. These days were like neatly checked patches, black and white and organised, but they lay beside moments like swirling rainbow squiggles in the quilt of her life.
People were like patches too. From high school, there were the bold coloured polka dot memories of the boy who made her laugh, and the tiny detailed florals of girls who held her hand and skipped across the oval in the afternoons when the bell sounded to release them from classes. But they were neatly edged and abutted by the pinstriped lines of the chemist she had met at university and the colleagues who shared her lunch hour with tales of homes and children.
Lei was a patchwork of acrylic paints and data entry, novels and afternoon lap swimming. Whenever she finished with her novel days, she would fold up her quilt and place it on her pillow, ready for the dreams that would bring new colours and patterns to its design.
Number Jumble 29/04/16
The message said ‘are you going tonight? If you are, could you take my sport bag’. Lyn had absolutely no idea what this meant. She hadn’t been invited anywhere tonight and she didn’t know Mick even had a sports bag, let alone why she should know where it was and be able to take it to some place she hadn’t been invited. Receiving this message rattled her. Most likely it was just accidentally sent to her when it was meant for someone else. But it made her feel like she’d missed some huge important bit of her life where she knew where Mick kept his sports bag and some common friend had invited them both somewhere. And it wasn’t just that. It was the way it felt as though she could see inside the lives of Mick and whoever this message was meant for. Like something that should have been a communication between them had been lost in translation because she had it, and it would never be quite the same message, even when it was finally passed to the correct person. She shook her head at these odd musings and typed a reply.
‘Hi Mick. This is Lyn – not sure that last message was meant for me. Wouldn’t even know if your sports bag was a real item lol’. She hit send. Then she put her phone in her handbag and drove home.
After she’d pulled into her carport and locked up the car, she went into her shade house where she had a bench swing, sat down among the plants and got out her thermos cup and her phone. Then she noticed two odd things. The first was a sneaker, lying on the ground by her front door. It did not belong to her. The second was that Mick hadn’t said anything in reply to her text. That seemed weird to her. Surely if you’d mistakenly messaged the wrong person and they let you know, you’d say something back, at least ‘oops’, or something. Frowning, she went and unlocked the front door.
Something was eery in the entrance foyer. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it but she felt all shivery and scared. She went very, very cautiously into her living room. She stood still and looked all around her in a slow circle. Suddenly a chorus of shouts burst forth, making Lyn jump out of her skin. There in front of her were all her friends, with balloons, including Mick in a clown suit. Lyn said
‘Whaaat……’ Before she realised what the big important thing she’d forgotten today actually was. It was her birthday. She put her hands on her hips.
‘Hey Mick, next time you’re involved in organising a surprise party, you might want to make sure you don’t text the person it’s for.’ She held up her phone and laughed. ‘Oh, and you lost your shoe.’ Everybody groaned and laughed and then Lyn was surrounded by balloons and cake, and she forgot all about the strangeness and creepiness and ate cake and hugged friends until midnight.
It was only after everyone had gone home, and she was sitting in her recliner in her slippers, sipping chamomile tea, that Lyn thought back to when she’d received the text, and to the feeling of coming into her house and knowing someone was there. And she decided that even though it had been an excellent party, she didn’t really like surprises.
Wopper goes to school 01/05/16
‘Today is a special day, Wopper.’ Heather said, pulling on her socks with the careful concentration of a small person who has just learned to do it herself. ‘It’s pets day. You get to come to school.’ Wopper was chewing on one of the wooden legs of the bed. He didn’t really care about going to school, but Heather seemed in a nice mood about it so he assumed it was a pleasant thing.
He was less pleased when Heather’s mother brought in the vet box. This box was not for nice things. It was for being trapped in while he was taken to the place where people pricked him with things, sometimes in unpleasant places, looked in his mouth and dripped things in his eyes. He did not want to go in the box. So he kicked Heather’s mother in the nose.
One hour later, Wopper was being taken out of the car in the box by Heather, who had to use two hands and let her mother carry her school bag. Heather’s mother had a plaster covering most of the bridge of her nose, and was not in a good mood. Wopper was not in a good mood either. This box was not a proper box. Proper boxes were made of chewable materials in which you could make alternative exits. He wriggled around, huffing, and Heather had trouble hanging onto the handle of the box.
Heather, Wopper and Heather’s mother wobbled their way across a noisy area with a lot of small people and medium sized people in it. There were also other animals. Wopper could smell them. He pushed his nose up to the door of the box, tipping it forward. There were definitely dogs. He tried to look on the bright side. Maybe they were small dogs, in which case he was bigger than they were.
In the classroom Wopper had to stay in the box and sit on Heather’s lap while other animals got let out in the middle of the circle. At first he didn’t like this at all, but the small people seemed to hold onto the animals most of the time, and they all got patted by the other small people, at which he assumed he would get a turn. Wopper liked pats. At one point a bird got out of the hands of a small person, landed on the bars of the door to Wopper’s box, and tried to pull out some of his fur, and he liked this less. But there also seemed to be other rabbits in the room. Wopper had a plan.
When it was Heather’s turn to go in the middle, her mother held onto the box and she lifted Wopper out and sat him on her lap so that she was almost entirely concealed by his fur, as though she was wearing a very thick fur coat over her school dress. She stroked his ears and began telling the other children about him.
‘This is my rabbit Wopper. He’s a New Zealand Giant, but he’s very gentle.’ Wopper had different plans. While Heather’s mother was adjusting the towel inside the box, he wriggled and pushed with his back legs and leapt out of Heather’s arms, running as fast as he could over to the black female rabbit being held by a small male human across from them. He sniffed the black rabbit and the small human’s shoes to exclamations from Heather’s mother and the teacher, smelt other rabbits, and decided it was necessary to mark this new human as his territory.
Wopper was taken home by Heather’s mother while she had to stay at school and say sorry to the other small human. When they got there, he was unceremoniously put in his outdoor enclosure and left without a carrot, so he ate some grass and enjoyed not being in the box anymore. Heather came home a bit cross and sat down in the enclosure with her arms folded.
‘Why did you do that Wopper?’ She threw a carrot on the ground. Wopper, however, knew how to fix this. He lolloped straight over to Heather, ignoring the carrot, climbed onto her lap, and went to sleep. Heather would be unable to move until well after her tantrum was over, and he would probably get a cuddle.
Another Day 02/05/16
The steam from Maisy’s coffee drifted across the inside of the van’s windscreen, leaving a curious curved stripe of condensation. She gazed through the centre of the arc it made and watched the magpies peck their way over the lawn in front of the shed she was watching. There was absolutely no sign of the teenager she was supposed to find here, but then it was morning, wasn’t it. She settled down in her seat and rested the takeaway cup on the steering wheel.
After about an hour Maisy thought she saw movement at the rear of the property. She slipped out of the van and closed the door very quietly. Quickly and lightly she crossed the lawn and moved along the side of the shed, listening for sounds of activity ahead. She peered around the corner. On the grass by the back shed door was an odd assortment of rubbish. There was a soft drink can, a sock, some half-finished hot chips in a foam cup, a pizza voucher, and a small plastic bear. The shed door was open and the shed did not contain any teenagers. Instead it contained a half eaten plate of cookies next to a salvaged sofa, some spray paint cans and a jack russel who was looking rather woozy with crumbs on its nose. Maisy rolled her eyes and picked up the wobbly dog.
Back in the van, Maisy used her GPS to deliver the jack russel to the nearest vet. Then she went back to the property and pinned a note on the dilapidated sofa explaining that the cookies left on the floor were a danger to pets, and probably not especially good for their owners either.
‘I will collect and return your dog from the vet when you return the various items that are not yours to the police station on Mill Street.’ She figured she could wait in an arm chair in the office rather than the cold van.
Sammy moved slowly along the market stalls, beaming at each of the stall holders and taking an interest in the specifics of their produce. She particularly liked the honey stall. The young woman there was learning beekeeping from her grandfather and he was with her, ensconced in a wicker rocking chair and a rug, weaving little wheat wreaths that they decorated the tops of the jars with. They had honeycomb in little pots, which Sammy couldn’t resist purely because they looked nice. She put the pot in her shoulder bag to take back to the farm for Olive, who would put it on the tea shelf and admire it for weeks before eating it. She swapped details with all kinds of folks that morning and met the market manager, who gave her the information she needed to get a weekend stall started. Sammy rode home to the farm on her bike glowing and humming at strangers. Cody would be so pleased that there was a stall all ready to come to. And in the meantime, she would sell the sunflowers and herb posies she grew in the borders of the fields, and she would have a source of beautiful writing paper; this market had craftspeople too.
Back in the city, across county borders, and far from the herb-scented hedges of Sammy’s new home town, Cody tried to finish his university studies. Each day he sat in the library amongst the harsh fluorescent lighting and the scent of old carpet, and struggled to tear his imagination from the wafting of wheat fields in the breeze. The sunflowers he knew by now would stand tall above the field’s edges. The way that he and Sammy would be invisible amongst the tall stalks of wheat that went on for great expanses like a dry, gently rippling beige sea. The crackling fire he would light in a stone cottage fireplace not far from the property, but far enough. He often sat before half-written essays, suddenly in a different world with no idea where the thought had been going. After long days of lectures and lab classes he would go to the garden. Plant and harvest and water, but it all felt like a game now, and the things at the plot would fuel his daydreams. It surprised him how much such pleasant scenes in his mind could make his soul ache. So eventually Cody went back to the office where he had once stood scheming to get a garden plot next to Sammy’s. And canceled the lease on their two garden plots. He offered to take care of them until a new gardener took them, and to help them learn, as Sammy had once helped him.
Tess was a much better gardener than Cody had been when he started, and she did not need help for long. She liked talking about the plants, and she invited him to stay as long as he liked, but Cody felt strange working with someone else in the garden. So after the third week, he shook Tess’s hand and wished her luck, and he left the garden in her capable hands. On the way home he felt lost. So when he got there, Cody wrote to Sammy.
‘I said goodbye to the garden today. Now the rent for the plot will go towards our cottage instead.’
Sammy felt sad when she read Cody’s letter. The garden had always still been there, her first home, just in case. But here they could both do what they loved, she told herself. She struggled over what to write back, staring at the beautiful paper she’d bought as she sat at her new market stall. In the end once she started, the words tumbled out in a scrawl and the paper was gone too fast, as she wrote all about the new market and how it was a new home, one for both of them. But Sammy stayed late on the stall, helping pack up and talking to customers about the farm, bubbling over with excitement as she did when she spoke about things that grew. And she forgot to post her letter that day.
So a week passed before Sammy was in town again. And another while her letter traversed the road home to the city. And Cody felt in this time as though the threads that held his plans together were very fragile. Her letter finally came two weeks later. And as Cody read, a picture painted itself in his mind of a young woman half-hidden behind vegetables, her brightness shining as she talked about the garden where she grew them. And he knew then that the city was not home anymore.
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, and 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.
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.
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.
Kimberly’s Birthday 11/05/16
Kimberly woke up at five in the morning and ran downstairs to see if she had any birthday presents waiting. At Christmas her Dad had got her a basic toolkit with a hammer and saw, because Kimberly liked making things. Since then, Kimberly had been using her hammer a lot. She tested the hardness of things by smashing them, and she put nails in things and hung stuff on them. Mum wasn’t very pleased about the ten nails in the bedroom wall, or the experiment with some of her teacups. But Dad was mostly very interested in Kimberly’s projects.
No one was awake yet when Kimberly got downstairs, so she played with the coffee machine and tried putting some chocolate in with the beans to see if she could make the coffee taste more like hot chocolate.
Meanwhile, Dad was hurriedly wrapping her present, pretending he wasn’t awake yet. He had decided that the nails and smashing things might be best stopped by giving Kimberly some different tools which weren’t for hitting things. Grandma had also got Kimberly a bike, which Dad hoped would encourage her to spend more time out of the house.
Grandma arrived with the bike as Kimberly was standing on a chair, getting a cup of whatever the coffee machine had made from the beans and chocolate. Grandma liked coffee, Kimberly knew, so when the chocolate taste was not up to Kimberly’s standards, she offered the drink to her. Grandma was very impressed and said it was ‘like mocha’. Then she wheeled in the bike, and Kimberly had some fun trying to balance on it in the kitchen with Grandma apprehensively hanging on to stop her bumping into furniture.
When Mum and Dad came downstairs they had just enough time for Kimberly to unwrap the new toolbox and Dad to show her what spanners were for before he needed to leave for work. Grandma left to do some shopping and Mum said Kimberly could play with her new toys while she did some cleaning up.
Kimberly went outside with her bike and her spanner, because Mum said no bike in the house. She rode the bike around the driveway and fell off a few times, and then decided it would be more fun to find out how the bike worked, by taking it apart with her spanner.
When she was done with the bike, Kimberly went back inside and had a look at some other things in the house.
At four O’Clock Mum came down from cleaning the bedrooms and saw that one of the dining chairs, Kimberly’s toy box, and a lamp had been dissembled. Mum was very cross. Kimberly wasn’t really sure why. But she promised to put everything back together before Dad got home, and Mum went back upstairs, saying she had about one hour. Kimberly was very confident that everything would be back to normal by the time Dad returned. After all, she knew how it all worked now. When she came to re-assembling the chair though, she thought that some of the cross-pieces were not really essential to the chair’s ability to balance.
‘I could use these to make something else!’ Thought Kimberly, and she took them upstairs to her room, where she put them in her old tool box with the hammer and nails.
Dad came home early with a birthday cake for Kimberly. When he came inside, Kimberly was sitting at the table.
‘Kimberly,’ He said, ‘I think you might want to move the bits of your bike around to the shed so Grandma doesn’t see them out there. She might be a bit upset.’ Kimberly had forgotten about the bike, so she quickly ran out to put it away, and Dad sat down on the free chair. It collapsed.
When Kimberly came back inside, Dad had finished swearing, and was sitting of the floor chuckling to himself. Kimberly looked at the fallen-down chair.
‘Oops.’ She remarked. ‘I didn’t think those bits were doing anything.’ Dad laughed some more. Then he asked Kimberly to go and get the missing bits of chair, and showed her how they helped to hold it together.
Kimberly had a lovely afternoon building things with Dad and eating cake at the same time. Then Mum offered to make everyone a hot drink, but the coffee machine went ‘brhhhhhhh’ and got stuck. Mum couldn’t work out what was wrong, so she made some tea instead, and Kimberly got to have a hot chocolate and some more cake. This was a very good birthday.
Burnt Toast 12/05/16
Jessica was glaring at the stove.
‘Sorry.’ She said to Abbey over her shoulder. ‘This grill knows when you look away. I have to stay here or else the toast will burn. But because I’m here it will take ages.’ Abbey giggled and put her feet up on the edge of the couch.
‘Oh yes, ours does that too. I guess when we look away we do things that actually take longer, but feel like the same amount of time.’ She looked pensive. ‘It’s sort of like being able to speed up or slow down time, isn’t it?’ She couldn’t tell how Jessica looked when she said this, because Jessica wouldn’t stop looking at the grill, but she probably looked a bit sceptical. ‘Imagine if that was a thing you could do on purpose.’ Abbey mused. ‘Like you look somewhere else, and time passes faster in the place you aren’t looking.’ She got up and stood next to Jessica. ‘So I could be looking at you now, and then if I looked over here…’ She turned and looked out of the window. ‘You’d age more than me in these next few minutes while I’m looking at something else.’ She frowned out the window. ‘Oh. There’s a parcel guy coming. Do you think it’s okay if I go?’ Jessica shrugged.
‘Yeah, you’re in the house; they’ll let you take it.’
Abbey went out of the room and headed to the front door to open it before the courier got there.
‘Saw you coming.’ She smiled. The mailman made a joke about this house being popular for parcels, which Abbey responded to with a little smile and no comment because she didn’t really know, and she signed the electronic signature thing and took the parcel inside for Jessica.
When she came back into the kitchen and living area, Jessica looked around.
‘What is it?’ She leaned over to see the parcel. Smoke started coming out of the grill behind her.
‘Um…’ Said Abbey, pointing.
‘Oh Sh**t!’ Jessica fumed, tearing out the blackened toast and throwing it onto the sink as she shook her almost-burnt fingers. ‘I darn well looked away!’
When Jo and Lena arrived for dinner, Martin was practising drums. They hadn’t heard him before, so they listened for a while and Ross went and got the Guitar Hero guitar and pretended to play. After a while the drums stopped suddenly, and Martin came bounding out into the living room.
‘Guys, guys, I have an idea! We should get Ross a real guitar and we should make a band!’ Lena leaned back in her bean bag and put her hands behind her head. She looked at Martin upside down.
‘Martin, you know Ross has never played a real guitar. That’s gonna take ages! Anyway I can’t sing.’ She sat up and twisted round. ‘Why don’t you just come watch movies with us? I’ve been waiting for you to finish your practice and come sit with me.’ Martin folded his arms.
‘I don’t want to watch movies. I want to achieve something!’ Ross laughed.
‘Okay Martin, how about you achieve making us one of those golden syrup puddings you’re an expert in?’ Martin fumed and threw his arms about.
‘No! I don’t want to do cooking. I’m always doing cooking for you. I want to make something together.’ Jo had been trying to choose a movie, but she chimed in now.
‘Well what about a blanket fort to watch our movies from!’ She giggled and went and got the throw rug out of its basket by the TV, spreading it out as much as she could, being a relatively small person, and disappearing behind it as she held it up. Martin stomped back into the hallway and slammed the door.
Jo came out from behind the throw rug.
‘Oh. Well he isn’t in a very good mood is he?’ She commented. Ross looked in the direction of the hallway door, huffed, and got off the sofa. He opened the door and called in the direction of Martin’s room.
‘Hey Martin, how about you just do what you want to do man. We just don’t have music skills, so we can’t really join in alright?’ He shut the door. There was some stomping about noise from Martin’s room, and then,
‘I don’t want to do what I want to do anymore!’ Everyone in the living room snorted with laughter and looked at each other incredulously. Then Jo held up the throw rug again, and everyone got enthusiastic and helped build a blanket fort, on which Martin missed out, since he was too busy not wanting to do things.
Kaeli was staring into the flames of her campfire, a piece of bread outstretched toasting on a stick as the dancing fire played her a film reel of small moments. She saw the blacksmith, Balon, glaring over the barn door at her. Leira, the baker, handing her the special bread she’d made for a sick child with Kaeli’s ingredients. Tammy’s dog, Silkie, running to meet her at the farm gate. Her sisters, Shor and Phyllis, reciting what she’d taught them smugly, like they hadn’t needed her in years.
After a moment, Kaeli realised she could hear real voices, amplified by the still night air, and the crunch of scrub debris underfoot. At first she couldn’t pick out what any of the voices were saying, and she held still, listening and preparing to pack up and move if these other travellers were unfriendly. Then familiar tones cut over the rest.
‘What do you think is wrong with this village then? My ol’ Mum would say, must be someone done something no good, and ain’t owning up.’ Kaeli sighed. Really? Rodger? She’d never known him to travel out this far, but then, she supposed she hadn’t really been out this way to see him before. She turned her toast and waited for the party to come into sight, knowing they would gravitate to a fire to determine whether she was friend or foe.
When she could hear that the footsteps were close enough to see her, she called casually into the night,
‘Hello Rodger. Hello Hooter.’ Some of the footsteps stopped and there was murmuring.
‘How’s she know who you are?’
‘Is she a witch?’ She heard Rodger turn around, his boots swishing in the leaf litter.
‘Yeah, you got a problem with witches? My ol’ Mum’s a witch, and so am I ‘s matter of fact.’ There were some disgruntled mumblings but the feet all started moving again. In a few moments a number of mismatched individuals had plonked themselves around her fire without invitation and were pulling things from their packs.
‘This here’s Kaeli.’ Rodger told the group. He looked at her. ‘What are you doing out ‘ere?’ Kaeli pulled her piece of toast off the stick and took a bite.
‘What are YOU doing here?’ She asked, avoiding the question. Rodger gave the fire a poke.
‘Well me ol’ Mum said she had ol’ Mum things to do and I should go out and learn from some new folks for a while, and Mayor what’s-his-face was looking for people to go check on this ‘ere village,’ he gestured down into the valley where they could just glimpse smoke rising from far off chimneys, ‘what apparently ‘as some kind of madness disease problem.’ Kaeli smiled wryly.
‘Well as it happens I was planning to go and see about that too. I’m going to move on myself, I think. My sisters know everything I have to teach them and everyone round home seems to like them well enough.’ Rodger gave her a look, but not being one for many words, he didn’t ask any further questions.
‘Alright. I s’pose we’ll all make a decent team huh?’ He looked around at the other travellers, who shrugged, and elbowed Kaeli in the side. ‘My ol’ Mum always says, if you don’t know where you’re goin’ just keep walkin’ and follow your footprints wherever they decide to go.’
Kaeli thought that perhaps this advice was intended to make sure Rodger always came back home, but then, she was assuming that footprints only ever came from one’s past.
Kimberly and the Go-kart 16/05/16
Kimberly’s Grandma came over after school on Wednesdays. Today she was carrying a box.
‘Now Kimberly, I heard you’ve been doing some mechanics on your bike.’ She said, giving Kimberly a stern look. ‘Bikes don’t really like being taken apart and put back together over and over.’ Kimberly put her small hands on her hips and opened her mouth to say something indignant about how she was improving the bike, but Grandma spoke first. ‘So I’ve brought you something that needs putting together.’ She set down the box, and inside was a go-kart. Not a whole go-kart of course, but the bits for one. Dad ruffled Kimberly’s hair and said
‘I think your school does a go-kart race, don’t they Kimberly?’
Kimberly was determined to have the most efficient go-kart around. After Dad and Grandma had finished helping her assemble the kit, they went inside to have tea and gave Kimberly a muffin and a milkshake. Kimberly made her food disappear quickly. Then she went up to her room, and had a look in her toolkit. Nothing there really seemed like it would help her go-kart to go fast, so she got a permanent marker and wrote on her hand ‘make fast wheels’ to remind herself to investigate about things like that when her class got free time in the library.
On the day of the school’s go-kart race, Kimberly insisted on wearing socks with her school dress. Dad put this down to her wanting to look more sporty, and allowed it. Kimberly’s go-kart looked a lot different from everyone else’s when she pulled it out of the boot of the car. In fact, you couldn’t even see the go-kart much at all, as Kimberly had surrounded it with a cardboard shell shaped ‘like a birdy’ which she said would make it go faster. Dad wasn’t sure, because Kimberly’s cardboard looked a bit droopy, but he helped her secure it better with gaffer tape.
Everyone was a bit confused when Kimberly wanted to wheel her go-kart backwards from the car to the starting line and then turn it around. Kimberly’s teacher wondered if her parents had passed on some strange superstitions. All became clear, however, when Kimberly’s go-kart took off on the starting signal while the other children were busily scooting theirs forward to get them moving. Kimberly was far down the hill by the time anyone else got going, and was very pleased with herself indeed.
She was met at the bottom by Mr Rodgers, who looked cross, much to Kimberly’s disappointment.
‘Show me that go-kart.’ He said, and Kimberly hopped out and grudgingly let him inspect it. Sure enough, Mr Rodgers discovered Kimberly’s school stockings, now fully unravelled from where they had been tightly wound around the rear axle of her cart like a rubber band for extra propulsion. Mr Rodgers marched Kimberly back to the start and informed the other teachers that she had cheated.
Kimberly was disqualified from the go-cart race. But Mr Creek, the science teacher, told her she was clever and she should visit him the next day at school, so he could show her a way to use her idea that wouldn’t get her disqualified from any races.
One week later, Kimberly had completely forgotten about go-karts, and was busy running around the school yard after a rubber band-propelled aeroplane. Whenever Mr Rodgers tried to tell her off because the plane bumped into someone, Mr Creek would appear and show Kimberly things, like new wing designs or ways they might be able to build a bigger version of the plane. And at Kimberly’s house, her bike and her go-kart both lay forgotten at the back of a shed filled with all kinds of home-made aircraft.
The New Plot 17/05/16
Sammy could see her reflection in the cup of tea Olive had made her. Her bleary, tear-filled eyes gazing back at her only made her feel worse for looking so vulnerable, and because of this, the chai tea was not working its magic today. Olive brought her a piece of cake.
‘Come on, have something sugary to give you a kick start.’ Sammy looked up at her and summoned a little smile of thanks. Olive patted her on the back and kissed the top of her head as though she was her mother. ‘You can stay here as long as you need to love. We can afford to feed you, just not the wages.’ Sammy nodded. Olive and Charlie were very kind sorts. It wasn’t their fault the local community was struggling economically and not buying produce like they used to. But Cody was all organised to arrive in the village in two weeks’ time, when his university exams were over, and Sammy was certain he had expected to rely on her.
She travelled into town on the train the next day so that she could send email from the library. It was a pleasant surprise to find that Cody replied very quickly, while she was still sitting at the computer, taking in the unfamiliar space. Her stomach turned nervously as she opened the message, but as she read, Sammy began to feel less worried. Cody sounded much more confident and organised than she had expected, and had an interview for a temporary job at the greengrocer in town the week he arrived, and a place to rent nearby in case Olive and Charlie didn’t want him imposing.
Cody arrived on a Friday afternoon, because Saturday was market day. When Sammy met him at the station he looked like some kind of strange bag rack, with a giant back-packing pack on his back, another backpack on one arm and the other arm full of a picnic basket. He was wearing all his coats so he wouldn’t have to pack them. Sammy took the picnic basket and hugged him around the other bags. It felt like hugging a giant beast.
The picnic basket turned out to be full of afternoon tea things to take to Olive and Charlie. Olive was very impressed with Cody’s thoughtfulness when they came in for tea and provided things, but Cody said
‘I had to bring afternoon tea Olive, so that I could say hello to Grouch.’ And put the cat on his lap forcibly, which only served to impress Olive more.
On Saturday Sammy took Cody to the market. She’d been looking forward to this moment, but it was somewhat dampened now, as she introduced him to the other stallholders knowing that she might not be able to keep the stall without her farmhand work to provide the wares. Charlie had given her a big trolley full of produce that hadn’t sold to the big town markets or supermarkets, and she had armfuls of her usual bright sunflowers. Grace on the honey stall knew Sammy well by now, and was positively bouncing up and down when they arrived in anticipation of meeting the much-discussed Cody. She lost some of her brightness when she looked closely at Sammy.
‘Oh. I saw Olive at book club and she mentioned that they couldn’t keep you on – I’m sorry.’ She glanced at her grandfather, who was, as usual, weaving things out of corn and wheat stalks to decorate the stall. ‘We don’t want you to have to leave the market!’ Her grandfather, Max, glanced up at them.
‘Do you want to be farmers?’ He kept weaving his straw creations as he spoke. ‘It’s not easy, but I gather you’ve enjoyed your experience at Charlie’s.’ Sammy was a little taken aback.
‘Well – yes – I’ve always wanted to be a farmer – that’s why I came. Cody loves to grow things too; you know that’s how we met.’ Max made one of those old man huff sounds that might sound cross coming from someone else but in people like him were just sort of sounds of acknowledgement.
‘Well, little property next door to ours has been empty for donkey’s years. Used to be a sheep farm once but the old man had no one to pass it on to when he died. Rosalie bought it before she passed away – said we could grow herbs and things for the bees, but with just me and Grace we haven’t ever had time to cultivate it or fix up the house and sheds there. It’s in a mess of course, no one wants it now. So Grace and I were thinking we could maybe come to some sort of arrangement, if you two are up for some tough work to fix it up.’ Sammy didn’t know what to say, but Cody sat right down with Max and talked about it until the market closed, while Grace and Sammy ran the stalls.
Many markets passed before Sammy and Cody were back, but when they were, their table was piled high with lavender and citrus, and next door, their adopted family boasted about their new lavender honey. Every Saturday after market from then on, Sammy and Cody made the hike up to Olive and Charlie’s farm with a picnic basket of afternoon tea, and Max and Grace went with them.
Wallace and the Ducks 18/05/16
Wallace knew that it was time to move house for the Summer. The park near the playground was steamy and hot every day, there were dogs from sun up until sun down, and the rats were moving in and stealing a lot of the interesting dropped food he would normally scavenge. His sister Milly had headed off some weeks ago now, but Wallace was stubborn; more people meant more bits of food dropped, and he wasn’t about to miss out on chips and sandwiches. Today though, it was too hot. There were no more acorns to fall back on when the dogs and rats beat him to the human food. His large size and energy reserves made him too warm, and he had finally had enough.
Holding onto the last few acorns from the hollow he and Milly had been inhabiting, he climbed down from his tree before dawn and darted off across the grass, hopping expertly from hiding place to hiding place. He soon crossed out of their usual territory and into the part of the park where he and his friends thought there were too few trees and too many humans around most of the time to make it their usual haunt. The sun was just beginning to rise, and right now there were not many humans about at all. Wallace could smell water nearby, and bread, and ducks. He didn’t normally meet many ducks, but he’d seen a few fly over when humans near his tree had chips, seeming to be as interested as he was. Wallace thought he ought to get a drink before he started the long journey towards the hills. He didn’t think ducks would be too much of a problem. So he moved towards the water smell.
Wallace was a bit taken aback when he found the water, by its size, and also by the number of ducks. This was not the sort of puddle or stream he was used to. It was a very, very, very big puddle, as far as he could understand. The ducks were sort of floating about on the water and wandering around on the muddy edge, and didn’t seem very interested in him. As he tentatively approached the shore of the large puddle, Wallace noticed crumbs stuck under rocks and around the base of the bench. There had been a lot of bread here! Smaller birds were landing and picking at the crumbs, which were in nooks and crannies the ducks had difficulty reaching. Wallace had his drink and decided to hide nearby and see what happened here during the day to leave so many crumbs. Nearby, at the edge of the water, was what looked like a very tall stand of grass. It looked a little muddy, but Wallace thought the mud would be worth braving to find out about this excellent food source.
A few seconds later, Wallace was wondering what he’d done wrong, as he floundered about in some rather cold, very deep water. Apparently this grass liked to grow in deep puddles. Luckily, the ducks knew about this, and one came floating right in amongst the grass stalks and looked at him.
‘Hello.’ It said. ‘My name’s George. You don’t look like you’re used to water.’ Wallace was unimpressed.
‘Of course I’m not used to water! I’m a squirrel! I live in trees! How do I get out?’ George floated closer.
‘Those are reeds, you know.’ He poked his beak at one of the grass stalks, which to Wallace’s surprise didn’t bend. ‘They’re quite strong. A little creature like you can probably climb them.’ Wallace felt a bit silly then. He clambered up by holding two of the stalks and hopped his way back to where he could see the ground was definitely only moderately wet. George followed after him, winding his way between the reeds and staying on the water.
When George appeared out of the stalks, Wallace was sheepishly washing himself and occasionally nibbling an acorn.
‘How do you sit on the water like that?’ Wallace asked George grumpily.
‘I don’t know.’ Said George. ‘It’s just what ducks do. We live here.’ He waddled around Wallace, looking at him closely by turning his head on the side. ‘You don’t live here. Why are you here?’ Wallace didn’t reply. He munched on his acorn. After a while he couldn’t help himself.
‘Do you like bread?’ He asked. ‘It seems like there’s been an awful lot of bread round here.’
In this it seemed Wallace and George had found a mutual interest. After discussing the virtues of bread, they were immediate friends. George pointed out a tree nearby where pigeons roosted, waiting for their share of crumbs, and there Wallace found a suitable hiding place. Perhaps he wouldn’t need to move away this Summer after all.
It is Winter, and I am bare and icy. Standing tall alone while the grass feebly puts up shoots through the frosted ground and drowns again each day in the thawing. Those around me seek me as a hiding place, while I weather the morning’s frozen fingers. I frown on the landscape in gnarly wisdom.
The Spring comes slowly, then all at once. At first I am just a disgruntled, knotted figure, watching the grass unfurl and spread and the birds returning. They flit about within me, calling to me to wake, as the sun massages the stiffness from my limbs. I am wary as I push the first new green from my fingertips, not wanting to expose the gentleness inside me to the harshness of late frosts. But the sun calls to my soul as it warms me, until I explode all over in new life.
For a while I am fresh and new, in danger from the predatory beaks and mouths of the teeming life that welcomes Spring as I do. But now I am brave and I keep pushing, ever outward, until I am a deep oasis, my knotted body hidden by the lushness from the beautiful sunlight. Those who stayed out the Winter here know I have not changed inside. They return for refuge still, but now it is for refuge from the sun who has grown bright and almost harsh. I keep safe their young, and they make me their home.
When the days stretch on and there is no longer moisture in the air or freshness to the mornings, some of my inhabitants move away, but I am in my prime, the royalty of the land, tall and wide and proud. My colour is deep and strong and nothing can defy me as I fly my green banners high and claim this place.
But this time, as all times, passes. The light becomes like honey and I feel the cooling deep inside as the days lose their length and their splendour. And now I know, even as I am most admired, it is time to go back to the beginning. The sun will leave me soon, and I must play the staunch statue once more, as the ice returns to bite against my exposed arms and the creatures once again turn to me to be their haven.
Kimberly and Mr Grumpypants 21/05/16
Kimberly had always found the elderly man next door a bit frightening. He often had a severe look on his face, he didn’t talk very much and sometimes she’d heard him yell at things inside his house. Her secret nickname for him was ‘Mr Grumpypants,’ although she of course never called him this in front of anyone in her family. So naturally, today when she was flying her newest model plane, and it went too far and became stuck on Mr Grumpypants’ roof, Kimberly was very concerned. She did not want to have to go and talk to Mr Grumpypants, so she tried to work out how she might get her plane down on her own, without Mr Grumpypants ever knowing it was there.
Her first thought was to make something long enough to reach the plane and poke it down while standing on the ground on her side of the fence. She hurried inside to the cleaning closet and retrieved the broom and the mop. Then she took these, along with her toolkit, out to the shed to get the spade and the rake. She dug around in Dad’s toolbox, quickly produced some metal couplings for joining pieces, and proceeded to screw the spade handle onto the mop handle (she’d learnt all about screwdrivers and drills as well now that she and Mr Creek had started making larger planes). Presently however, Kimberly heard Mum exclaiming about something inside the house, and she began to feel tense inside. The back door banged shut and Mum appeared, hands on hips.
‘Kimberly! I need to use that broom! What on earth are you doing?’ She demanded. Kimberly didn’t want to tell Mum about the plane being on Mr Grumpypants’ roof, so she just said
‘Sorry Mum. I was making something.’ And offered up the broom, which she had not yet begun attaching. Mum eyed the mop and the spade.
‘I will need the mop later too, so it better not have a spade on it when I get back in half an hour.’ She turned around and took the broom inside. Kimberly sighed. Now what? She thought about it for a while. Then an idea dawned. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of that before? She had other planes. She could send out a rescue party. Kimberly hurried up to her room and got down a different, bigger plane from the roof of her wardrobe, and brought it outside.
Moments later, the bigger plane had successfully collected the smaller plane, and pushed it off the edge of the roof, but the collision had sent both planes crashing down together, and the bigger plane, of which Kimberly was very proud, had smashed one of its wings. She was collecting up the pieces when she heard footsteps.
‘Hey! What are you doing in my yard?’ Kimberly thought this was the most words she’d heard Mr Grumpypants say. She gulped.
‘Sorry. My plane fell down.’ She stood up holding the pieces as evidence. Mr Grumpypants looked very closely at Kimberly’s planes. He came up to her.
‘May I see?’ He held out his hands for the small plane, and Kimberly, surprised, handed it over. Mr Grumpypants smiled at it and turned it around and around. ‘I used to make ones like these.’ He said. ‘I can fly a real one you know, or could, when both my eyes worked.’ Kimberly stared, her discomfort with the man forgotten.
‘Really? Does it work just the same, but bigger? One day I’m going to make one big enough to fly!’ Mr Grumpypants chuckled.
‘Not quite. A big one needs lots more steering for starters.’ He gave the roof an amused glance. ‘And I don’t think this little chap would be able to do any manoeuvres without crashing.’ He mimed a barrel roll with the small plane. Kimberly put her hands on her hips.
‘I bet it could!’ She said. ‘I could make it so it can.’
This of course, was the beginning of a firm friendship. Kimberly stopped calling Mr Griggs Mr Grumpypants, and began referring to him as ‘Mr Pilot’ instead. Mum seemed to find this a bit embarrassing, but Mr Griggs didn’t mind at all.
Through the Lense 22/05/16
As the sun sets the light in the room becomes glowing and beautiful. It’s hard to capture, for a beginner, who never changes lenses, but you creep around, squeezing into corners and clambering onto furniture in attempt to make it look like what you see. The details like the glow in the bottom of the glass of beer and the light reflected from the polished wood of the instrument into the player’s eyes. You wish you were on some invisible harness that could move you out through the walls, to hang in space at the right distance, or lift you above to catch the reflections as they look to your eye. The room feels constraining, yet you are entirely within your own bubble of space, other senses dulled as you focus on seeing every moment, every movement. It feels as though you float on a current of light and inspiration.
You play out every moment you can squeeze from the reluctant sun, as it tugs at its leash to leave work for the day, trying to catch the final glimmers in the surface of the teacup, the soft touches on skin. But eventually it is gone, and you must concede, and reach for the light switch, disappointed.
The electric light is less beautiful, but easier work. You can freeze less, capture more. The details of fingers as they move, the relaxed, slightly open, resting pose of lips in concentration. The touch of a breeze through the open window on a strand of hair, the tap of a toe on the skirting board beneath the table. And then, as suddenly as this time of seeing things this way began, you feel the full stop, the return of the rest of the world. You have collected all the moments that are here today, and now, there is nothing to be done. Until next time. You cease to see through the lense, and you hear, and smell, and touch the floor beneath your feet, and you wonder at how the time has passed as though you were sleeping.
‘Right.’ Said Abbey suddenly. ‘I’m going to bed.’ Tom frowned.
‘I thought the decorations for Jessica had to be finished tonight or else.’ Abbey plonked everything she’d done so far into a basket on the table.
‘They did. But it’s ten and that’s bed time. So I’ll just have to get up super early tomorrow.’ She disappeared into the bathroom and teeth-cleaning sounds emerged. Tom shrugged, and picked up the glue, some bobby pins and a few pens and pencils that had escaped onto the floor. He put them next to Abbey’s basket. Then he joined her for teeth-cleaning.
Abbey was watching the mirror intently as though she imagined more there than just her toothpasty face. Tom supposed she probably did have some kind of daydream going on in there. Abbey usually did.
Tom awoke in the morning to find Abbey was already up. This wasn’t unusual. She often went on morning walks at what other people thought were crazy hours, wanting to see the morning before anyone else did. She had obviously gone on one now. But that wasn’t all she’d done. All the bunting, paper flowers and chains of beads were stacked up in the basket, which was decorated with a bow, and a plastic container beside it held coloured meringues. Tom blinked. Perhaps Abbey’s colourful tales of fairy friends were not as imagined as they seemed.
In the Glow 24/05/16
The stage lights were warm like multiple suns on our backs. I wondered why, as we stood there, science escaping me. Why were stage lights warm, and lights in houses weren’t? The stretchy wrap cardigan had been unnecessary. I threw it side stage. The audience seemed to think this was part of the show, and made noise. I looked at the others and held my breath. Would everyone remember what we’d rehearsed, or would there be chaos and falling over, like in my nightmares? It wasn’t entirely impossible. Ten minutes ago we had been in a back room, learning new positions, training Eva to do the tricks Jake wasn’t there to do. I mean of all days to trip over a cat and break your toe. His story was almost unbelievable. Except Jake had so been looking forward to being the centre of the show; there was no way he’d make up an excuse to pull out. I eyeballed Eva. ‘You can do it. Or else.’ The look said. Then Jade and I crouched into our new starting positions, and the feeling of warm sun dimmed as the lights focussed on Eva at the back of the stage.
She pulled through this trick, and the next. The rest of us spun and leapt our way to the right places. There was one sickening moment, right in the middle, when I thought Jade wasn’t going to catch Eva, almost dancing her way to her old place. My eyes darted, trying to calculate if I could slide in in time to take her place, but her gaze met mine and she pirouetted on the spot, gaining her balance just in time. After that moment was over, it was like we’d been meant to be in these positions all along. The muscle memory took over, we flew around the stage, and it was over in what seemed like moments, the only memory lingering afterwards the feeling of the smooth, warm surface of the stage beneath our feet.
When the curtains closed there was a noisy backstage party, like in the big dance films. I had to yell to get everyone organised for a final bow. We walked backstage like a long human chain, hand in hand, and the strongest memory I had ever after of that night was the warmth of the palms of those beside me touching mine, their skin still shedding the stage light’s glow.
Too Cool for School 25/05/16
Martin shut the door to his office at the accountancy firm very gently, so as not to annoy the boss next door, who he could see was working back late. He put on his backpack. He walked calmly outside. And then he jumped up and down doing air guitar in the carpark and head banging for several minutes. Now all he had to do was beat Ross home so he could meet the courier with the parcel and hide it. He started to dance to his car, but then he noticed a couple of people sitting in their cars who had been watching him, and realised that the windows of the offices above probably had a view of the carpark. Sheepishly he walked the rest of the way to his car and got hastily inside.
When Martin got home, Jo’s car was outside. He looked to see if Jo was in it. She didn’t appear to be. Uh oh. Ross better not have got an early minute. Martin went inside, looking around. Jo materialised in the kitchen and beamed at him.
‘Oh good! I want your advice on this icing.’ She showed him the chocolate mud cake she had made.
‘How did you get in?’ Martin demanded, moving over to inspect the cake nonetheless.
‘Oh I know where the spare key is kept.’ Jo winked. Martin was a bit disgruntled, but he had a lot of opinions about how Jo should ice the cake, so he set about ensuring she was aware of them.
When they were done decorating the birthday cake, Martin told Jo to watch out for the courier, and explained about the very exciting present. Jo was much more enthusiastic about it than he had expected. They both danced around the kitchen to the music on the radio, playing air guitar.
‘You should put it in the guitar hero guitar’s box, so when he goes to play, he’ll just grab it!’ Jo said.
‘I dunno if it will fit.’ Said Martin. They were trying to decide how to present the guitar when the doorbell rang, and they both raced out to meet the courier. Ross was backing into the driveway as Martin signed for the parcel, so Jo grabbed the box and ran inside, and Martin followed as soon as he could politely do so.
When Ross came inside, Martin and Jo were on the couch with sunglasses on and their arms folded.
‘What are you guys doing?’ Ross asked, looking at them strangely.
‘We,’ said Jo, pausing for effect, ‘are too cool for school. Because. Martin just bought you…’ She reached behind her and Martin stopped looking cool and spun around to make sure she handled the brand new electric guitar with care. Ross stared at them.
‘I told you guys! I can’t play a real guitar!’ Martin made a snorting noise.
‘Oh come on. Just put one of your guitar hero songs on and we’ll see about that.’
They gave Ross a pair of sunglasses too. When he’d finished the solo in the last guitar hero track, Ross looked over his shoulder at the other two.
‘And that,’ he said, ‘is why I am too cool for school.’ Martin and Jo laughed and clapped. Then Martin looked down at his tablet, which he was holding, and said
‘…..What?’ Asked Ross threateningly.
‘I think I might have just accidentally posted the video of that somewhere…’
The Secret Ballroom 26/05/16
The lights were on in the old house. Maisy nudged Akira and pointed as Akira’s parents drove past with them in the back seat. Akira raised her eyebrows. At dinner they kept exchanging secret looks over their chicken when no one was watching.
When all the lights were out and Maisy was in her sleeping bag, Akira switched on a torch and peeked out from under her covers.
‘Ready?’ She whispered, sliding out of bed. Maisy felt kind of sleepy now, but she gave herself a shake. They’d wanted to investigate the house forever. Promised to dance through the empty corridors like whirling ghosts if no one was there, and sneak around sleuthing if someone was. It was nearly always dark, ominous and empty, only lit once every few months or so. Maisy and Akira had wanted to know the old house’s mystery since the very first time Maisy had visited, when they were perhaps ten years old.
Maisy slid out of her sleeping bag and got out a small satchel bag from her backpack. In it was her torch, a camera, a tiny notebook, her phone, her pointe shoes and her favourite hairspray that always made everyone around her in the dressing room cough, because she figured she could use it like a kind of mild pepper spray if she encountered someone troublesome. Akira seemed to be thinking about bringing tap shoes, so Maisy screwed up her face and shook her head, and Akira made an ‘okay, you’re right’ face back and got her ballet shoes instead.
Very, very quietly they slid out of Akira’s window and dropped into the garden bed. They ran as stealthily as possible across the paddock and up to the hedge that ran along beside the old house. They looked in every window. But saw no one. At first it was creepy, because why were the lights on? But then Akira smiled and put on her dancing shoes. They spun and jumped and skipped through the big old rooms. They danced in all the places no one let them dance at home, videoing and photographing one another, grabbing old ornaments as props, twirling and stretching in the doorways. Finally they were out of ideas, and exhausted. They sat down on the floor in the room with the beautiful wood floorboards; they agreed this must have been a study.
‘You’re very good!’ Said a voice, and they both gasped and jumped to their feet, Maisy pulling out her defensive hairspray. They peered into the dark, and out of the hallway padded a boy. It was easy to see how he’d stayed out of sight till now, small and dark and probably fast, Maisy thought.
‘Why didn’t you come out before!’ She demanded, brandishing her hairspray like a sword. ‘What are you doing here?’ The boy shrugged.
‘I saw you were dancing, so I wanted to watch. You would’ve stopped if you’d seen me. I’m here because it’s a place a few kids I know say is good to go if you can’t stay at home.’ He eyed them warily.
‘You mean, you were going to stay here tonight by yourself?’ Said Akira, astounded. Maisy looked at the kid. She’d heard of kids doing this, but she’d never met anyone who had properly run away before.
‘Maybe you should come back with us.’ She said. ‘Akira’s parents are pretty nice; they’ll know how to help you. You can probably stay tonight. I don’t think it’s very safe for you to stay somewhere alone. You’ll be cold, for a start.’ Akira gave Maisy a disbelieving look.
‘Maisy! We’ll be in trouble for coming up here!’ Maisy shrugged.
‘A bit. But I bet your parents are nicer about it cause we’re helping someone. Anyway a bit of trouble is better than leaving him here. He’d be in more trouble.’
Maisy and Akira were thoroughly but gently told off, and sent back to bed with promises of chores instead of dance time the next day. The boy, whose name turned out to be Tom, was offered the spare room till morning and given the remaining food from dinner. In the morning Akira’s mum, who was a policewoman, took Tom with her in the car. Maisy watched them leave through the bathroom window she was scrubbing as she helped Akira clean.
‘If I don’t get into a dance troupe, I’m going to try to be a policewoman like your mum.’ She announced. Akira looked up at her skeptically, but Maisy didn’t see. She was looking out across the field at the old house, eyes a bit unfocused.
Maisy awoke a second time, tangled up thoroughly in her too-warm sleeping bag. Akira was snoring. Maisy sat up. Surely that wasn’t a dream? When Akira woke up, Maisy was inspecting her pointe shoes very closely. But Akira didn’t see the dust Maisy insisted was there, and there was nothing on the camera. Maisy had never been so disappointed in her life. But she never forgot her newly laid plans for her future.
Kimberly and Outer Space 28/05/16
When Mr Creek first announced the excursion, Kimberly wasn’t sure if she was going to like it. They had to go on a long bus ride and miss normal lessons, which meant she wouldn’t get to have science class that day. Then it was apparently going to be dark inside, so that they could see the films and pretend planets. Kimberly knew that there weren’t any monsters in the dark, but she didn’t like what WAS in it; things you couldn’t see. So she wasn’t especially looking forward to it. But Mr Creek said that she would like watching the rockets in the films, and there were lots of new science things to learn there. So Kimberly went along to school with her packed lunch and went on the bus to the exhibition like everyone else.
The dark bit was actually quite good, Kimberly decided, because you could see exactly what was in it; big models of the planets that you could walk amongst, lit up to show their fascinating rings and gas patterns. But the part Kimberly liked best was when they had to listen to some talks. The other children were a bit restless at first but Kimberly listened to the old astronaut straight away. There was something about him that said ‘I know many things’ even when he wasn’t talking. The other kids got interested when he went and put on the space suit and walked around in it and pointed out the different parts and what they did. Kimberly got even more interested then. She drew a little picture of the spacesuit on the back of her worksheet and wrote what the different parts did.
When she got home, Kimberly began her plans to make her own spacesuit. It couldn’t be too difficult, she thought. She knew all the bits, it was just a matter of working out what to make them all from.
On the weekend, when Dad was working in the garden and Mum was out with some friends, Kimberly went and got Dad’s motorbike helmet out of the shed. The first step was to ensure that this was airtight, except for a small space where she would need to put in some kind of air hose. She went and raided the kitchen drawers, and came up with a long curly straw and some superglue. Very carefully, Kimberly inserted the breathing straw into the gap between the visor and the base of the helmet and sealed up the gap with the glue. She set this on her desk in her room to dry. Then she went looking for a waterproof, plastic sort of fabric to make the main part of her suit from.
The perfect solution presented itself when she went into the bathroom. She found some scissors in Mum’s private drawer under the sink and cut the shower curtain free of its hangers. Then she took it upstairs, made a few select cuts, and sealed it all up with packaging tape in the right places.
Now she needed something to use as an air tank. Kimberly thought about it for a moment, then went down to the kitchen and got the gladwrap. Bringing it back up to her room, she lined and covered her school backpack. Then she attached the other end of the curly straw into the zipper and sealed the remainder of the zipper shut, except for a small gap she left for letting air in before use. She added a sticky taped flap which could be pulled off over this section.
Next, some gloves and boots. She went into her parent’s bedroom. In the wardrobe there were Dad’s work boots. They should do. She rummaged through some boxes and eventually found a pair of gloves in Mum’s things that were very thick and padded.
Finally, the suit needed telecommunications. Kimberly knew that Dad had an old mobile phone which he didn’t keep with him, but had not thrown away because it could be used in emergencies. She went into the lounge and looked in all the drawers until she found it, and a pair of headphones. She made the phone a shower curtain pouch, and attached this to the front of the suit. Then she plugged in the headphones and wrapped each section of cable in gladwrap. They couldn’t go through the visor because the glue had already dried, so Kimberly put them up through the neck area of the helmet, putting them in her ears before she put the helmet on. Finally, she put on two woollen jumpers and track pants underneath, because insulation was important.
This all seemed to fit and look satisfactory. However, Kimberly knew that the suit ought to be tested in conditions with low oxygen to determine whether she could breathe the air from the backpack through the straw properly or not. The best solution to this was to test it in water, she decided.
Kimberly headed outside wearing all the bits of the suit except for the helmet, which she carried under her arm like the astronaut at the exhibition had done. She inflated her blow up paddle pool and put some water in using the hose. Then she put on the helmet, sealed up the neck join with some tape, and hopped in the pool, putting her face into the water with the helmet on. She sucked air through the straw. It worked a bit, but the air was very smelly from a year’s worth of old school lunches and had a nasty, stuffy feeling to it, so Kimberly got out quickly and took off the helmet, peeling off the tape. At that moment, Dad went past mowing the lawn, and saw Kimberly in her suit. She could see his mouth yelling, but she couldn’t hear him over the lawn mower, so she carried on getting undressed.
Dad had a few things to say about the suit. They weren’t very nice. Kimberly was quite insulted. Dad was not pleased that he was going to need a new motorbike helmet. Mum was not pleased about the shower curtain. Dad didn’t find the mobile phone. So Kimberly put it in the bin when she dismantled the suit; a bit of water had got through the shower curtain fabric and the screen had gone black.
Mum rang up Mr Creek; Kimberly overheard her saying his name on the phone when she was supposed to be getting ready for bed.
The next day at school, Mr Creek took Kimberly aside at lunch.
‘Now Kimberly,’ he said ‘I’m sure you realise that the people who make suits for astronauts have a lot of very special, rare materials that we can’t use at school or at home.’ Kimberly gave him a sceptical look, but Mr Creek took her inside the science room, and showed her a plastic bottle with a little bit of water inside that he said would launch like a rocket. They took this outside and Mr Creek got Kimberly to pump some air into the bottle using a bike pump. The bottle flew up above the school buildings, and landed on the roof of the science room. Kimberly had a few interesting solutions for this, but Mr Creek laughed and said that’s what the groundsman’s job was. He gave Kimberly a drawing showing how the little rocket was made, and said this was something Dad might like a bit better than the space suit.
‘Right,’ said Mandy, leaning on the wall because her back was sore from holding the camera up. ‘Now we need to see Mrs O’Malley and Mrs Murphy arguing about who will pay to go into the hockey. So if you could all line up at the gate here, and Lucy and Emma come line up a little bit back from the front.’ Everyone started shuffling around. Lucy and Emma got into position. ‘Okay, when you’re ready.’ Lucy turned to Emma, lifting up her handbag.
‘Now Mrs Murphy, I will pay.’
‘No, no no! I will pay Mrs O’Malley.’
‘No I will pay Mrs Murphy! You paid last time.’
‘Mrs Murphy I insist!’
‘No, no no, Mrs Murphy….. Wait did you just call me you?’
‘Cut!’ Mandy shifted herself a few feet. ‘Emma, try to remember who is who. You’re Mrs Murphy, she’s O’Malley. Try again.’ She rested her elbows on a bollard to steady the camera.
Lucy turned to Emma again and took a deep breath, the corners of her mouth twitching.
‘Okay, calming down. Here we go.’ She lifted her handbag. ‘Now Mrs Murphy, I will pay.’
‘No, no no! I will pay Mrs O’Malley….’ Emma sort of trailed off a bit and then turned around to look at Mandy. ‘Did I call her the right name?’
‘Yes, you got it right this time Emma. Now can you just finish the rest of the lines from where you say “Mrs O’Malley” so we can make the joins when we edit.’ Mandy noticed that the wind was starting to pick up. ‘Before you do, can you both, and everyone else who is dressed as an old lady please tighten up your headscarves and ribbons and things so we don’t have anything blowing away.’ She went down the line and pointed out loose ties on hats and hair bows.
‘Okay, off you go Emma and Lucy, everyone else pretending to talk amongst yourselves about the match.’ Lucy turned to Emma, raising her handbag.
‘Now Mrs Murphy, I will pay.’ Emma did a cross mouth and replied
‘No, no, no, Mrs O’Malley, I will pay.’ Just as she finished the line, a big gust of wind came up. The newly secured scarves and bows all stayed in place, but Emma’s scarf had layers folded in a triangle going back over the top of her hair. The upper layer lifted in the gust and folded downward over Emma’s eyes, billowing out like a sort of giant wind sock beak. Everyone near Emma backed out of the picture in hysterics, leaving an empty gateway with a few extras standing in line a long way back.
‘Alright, alright, deep breaths everybody, we just need to get this scene and then we can all run around with hockey sticks and we’re done.’
Mandy sat on a railing and waited for her cast to stop laughing. Everybody reordered themselves. This time, Emma and Lucy got the scene right, and were proceeding to beat each other with their handbags when a van drove into the carpark behind the entrance gate. It was not one of their vans. It was a van that said ‘Jimbo Plumbing’ on it.
‘Cut! Cut!’ Yelled Mandy, then, quieter, ‘Accidental plumbing advertisement.’ Someone got out of the plumbing van and came over to them. Oh no.
‘Everything alright over here?’ Asked the plumber.
‘Yes, thank you, we’re just making a short comedy film.’ Explained Mandy. ‘These ladies aren’t actually fighting, they’re acting.’
‘Oh.’ Said the plumber, looking a bit perplexed. He turned and walked away in the direction of one of the buildings.
When Emma and Lucy had finally had their handbag punch-up successfully and everyone was inside the oval on the grass with hockey sticks, Mandy took a deep breath. Last scene.
‘Okay so, Ron is going to come blundering across the field in the chicken suit in the background, and you’re all just going to keep passing the ball as though you don’t notice. Let’s do that and then we’ll talk about how the final goal happens.’ Everyone spread out and someone produced the ball. They started to hit the ball around. Chris missed, and the ball went scooting out under the fence.
‘Don’t bother chasing it, we have spares!’ Yelled Mandy, throwing in another. Across went Ron in the chicken suit, waddling as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast. One of the supposed hockey players snorted and tripped over someone else’s stick, and Ron got distracted trying to see what had happened and immediately fell over, chicken suit legs waving in the air as he tried to get back up the right way. Mandy shook her head in disbelief.
‘Okay, you know what guys, I’m just going to go with that. Let’s get some close ups of everybody fallen over and being confused.’
The wood of the guitar was reflecting the melted butter glow of the setting sun as Thomas set up the stage. Anna watched from the lighting deck. The light was glowing in Thomas’s hair too. It made the tips of his hair seem a different colour, like he’d dyed them auburn and left the rest black. It reminded Anna of a panther she’d watched once, laying in the sunshine, its leopard spots showing, only visible because the sun lit up the shades of brown in its black coat. She messed about with the spotlights. She’d already set them correctly, but she wanted to play a game with Thomas, turning the lights on and off on him just to see what he did. His response was disappointing. He took as little notice as possible, squinting at the microphone cables and backs of the amplifiers when it was dark and shading his eyes when she turned the lights on. He never once looked up or questioned whether she was turning things on and off more than necessary.
Nina came onto the stage with her violin case and the microphone stands. Thomas looked up and they began to talk and work together. Anna turned on the microphone in the lighting booth.
‘I’m gonna need you guys to put those outer mics more central.’ She announced. ‘Otherwise I won’t be able to get them in the spotlight when the person on them is soloing.’ Thomas and Nina exchanged a look.
‘Really?’ Thomas called up. ‘I could have sworn you put the spotlight on me when I was right over there before.’ He gestured at the top right hand corner of the stage. Anna spread her hands and pulled a face as though she didn’t remember.
Chris appeared on the ground at the front of the stage.
‘I got pizza!’ He called triumphantly, turning and holding up a box so Anna could see. She smiled and gave him a thumbs up. Chris put down two of the pizza boxes on the stage and came down the back to climb up and see her. ‘How’s it going up here?’ He put the pizza down next to her.
‘Fine.’ Said Anna. ‘Everything is working well. Seems to operate in pretty standard ways. Should be a good show.’ She looked back down through the window at Thomas and Nina on the stage. Chris sat down.
‘Well, if it’s all ready to go, why don’t you come down and eat with us – you’ll have time to come back up before the show starts.’ He eyed her response carefully. She shrugged. ‘They’re ignoring you, aren’t they?’ Anna folded her arms.
‘Well it’s hard to pay attention to someone who’s up here where you’re down there.’ Chris shook his head.
‘I don’t think so. Did you give Thomas a good blinding while he was plugging everything in?’ Anna smirked and nodded. ‘Come on.’ Chris held out an arm.
‘I’m not a lady of her majesty’s court, Chris.’ Said Anna, but she took his arm anyway.
It was always surprisingly quiet in the lighting box once the show started. Anna liked to turn the volume in her headphones right down, so she could just tell what was happening enough to adjust the lights accordingly, but had a kind of peaceful bubble up there, above everything, all to herself. This theatre had a sound tech of its own, so the lights were all Anna had to worry about. The sound tech wasn’t very talkative, which suited Anna just fine. She watched Thomas with his guitar in the spotlight and she imagined how the lights felt if you were under them. She imagined that it was like being in the sun, except this sun was especially for you. It probably seemed like the lights just happened, she thought. ‘But really, I could switch off your sun anytime, Thomas.’ She thought, and that made her feel like some kind of minor goddess.
The rain just went on and on and on. It wasn’t just a bit; it was thundering on the window panes, rivers running down the road, drenching sort of rain, and it had begun overnight and still hadn’t stopped. The power was out, because somewhere a tree had fallen on the lines. So there was no playing computer games or watching movies. Jo and Lena had completed all the jigsaw puzzles. They had played all the board games Jo owned. They had tried to bake biscuits, and then realised the oven wouldn’t work. Now they were sitting by the window, watching the drops hit the glass and run down in winding rivulets as they sipped some tea Lena had ingeniously made using the gas camp stove from the shed. As they watched the rain, they were quiet.
‘I hope Martin was okay driving.’ Said Lena, after a while.
‘Yeah.’ Said Jo. They watched the rain some more. They were both thinking about the events of Friday night, before the rain had started. They’d gone ice-skating. It was Ross’s idea. So of course Ross was the one who tried to show off and had a nasty fall. He’d hit his head on the barrier, and been packed off to hospital. He’d been arguing with Martin about his tablet-charging habits when last Jo had seen him, so it seemed like he was going to be fine, but Martin had been quite upset about it and had stayed at Jo’s, because it was closer. A bunch of his stuff was all over the living room carpet, and Jo and Lena hadn’t been quite sure whether to pack it up or not so they’d just kind of made a stack. In the stack was Ross’s new electric guitar. It was in its special padded bag, but as Lena eyed it, she wondered if they should have put it on a chair or something to keep it extra safe.
‘Why did Martin go and get the guitar and then not take it to the hospital?’ She wondered out loud. Jo looked at it.
‘I dunno. He probably forgot to take it. He got so flustered about everything. Like Ross is going to be fine, clearly. He was carrying on about electronics on the way into emergency!’ She shook her head and looked at her phone. ‘Oh, apparently he’s torn a muscle in his arm and fractured a bone in his hand as well as bumping his head. You’ll like this Lena – he has to have a plaster on the whole lower half of his right arm to keep the hand still because the tendons connect to much further up.’ She started wiggling her fingers experimentally to check this fact. Lena had got up and picked the guitar bag out of the pile. She went and sat on the couch with it. Jo looked over at her.
‘Are you going to try to play it?’ Lena shrugged.
‘I’m not sure. I don’t really know how to play any instruments. But it’s not like we have anything else left to do while its raining, so I guess I could look for some tutorials on my phone internet.’ Jo spread her hands.
‘Why not? Do you have battery though? What’s the bet there’s phone towers down too?’
Lena sat the guitar in her lap. It was heavy. She was kind of surprised at that. She ran her left hand along the strings silently. There was something about it.
That afternoon Lena learnt to play the chords to two of their favourite songs, and Jo sang a bit. It was so strange and special, creating music for themselves; Jo had played a bit of piano in school but never really tried anything else, and Lena hadn’t played before at all. Her fingertips were coming up with blisters by the time she finally stopped, looking down at the instrument in wonder. Jo stood up and held out her hands to help Lena up. They’d ended up on the floor; it was more comfortable somehow.
‘Come on.’ She said.
‘Come on and what?’ Said Lena.
‘Put it in its bag. We’re gonna go see Ross and show him what we did on a rainy afternoon while he was being checked for concussion and plastered up to the elbow.’
When they got there, Martin was out in the foyer, being a grump.
‘He sent me out.’ He complained. He looked at Lena carrying the guitar bag.
‘Oh guys! What did you go and bring that for? He won’t be able to play it for months now with the hand in plaster!’ Jo looked smug.
‘How is that okay?’
‘’Cause Lena can play. We came specially to show him. And you of course.’ Martin shook his head at them. Ross was just going to be upset that he couldn’t play himself, he warned. But when they went inside, Ross laughed at Lena’s finger blisters, and tried to give her advice, and forgot all about being stabbed with needles and about the drying plaster, especially when it turned out that Jo’s favourite song, which Lena had been learning, was his too.
Later that evening, back at Jo’s, as she and Martin both camped out in the lounge, and she listened to the sound of the rain still hitting the windowpanes, Lena reflected that ‘switched off’ rainy afternoons weren’t so bad, and maybe there should be more of them.
Pieces of Paper 01/06/16
Miss Yanas looked at her class. They were unusually quiet and peaceful this afternoon. Not all of them were paying avid attention to their journal writing; in fact, Jason seemed to be cutting up some of the pages of his workbook into little pieces, but at least they weren’t fighting or standing up and wandering around. She wandered down to the back of the room, peeking over a few shoulders to see if actual journal writing was occurring.
‘Jason. That doesn’t look like writing.’ She said quietly as she passed. Jason turned over a page and started writing, and Miss Yanas was satisfied that he had ceased being distracted by cutting things up. She continued on her rounds, making occasional remarks of encouragement to those who seemed to be engaging well with the task, and occasional nudges back onto task for those who were not. In the middle row, Kimberly was not writing, but had instead drawn a rather spectacular diagram of something she had presumably invented over the weekend. Miss Yanas accepted that this was a good alternative way to document something, and merely suggested to Kimberly that she write a few sentences about how she had found the idea for what she was building, and how she felt about the final product.
When she turned back to the front, however, she saw that Jason had not continued writing, but instead had begun to make all the bits of paper he had cut up into little balls. She walked back down the middle of the classroom and approached Jason from behind.
‘Jason. I hope those are not for throwing. Where is your journal?’ Jason turned back to his writing page and picked up his pen. He had a few sentences written so far. ‘How about you just describe something you saw on the weekend Jason? It could just be something you see all the time in your house; just tell me exactly what it looks like and what you think of it.’ Jason nodded as though he thought he could do this. He began to write a new paragraph. Miss Yanas went back to her desk and sorted through some maths tests.
After she had copied all the maths test scores into her spreadsheet, Miss Yanas looked up to check on Jason. He was being very fidgety, but still had a pen in his hand. Further back she could see that Kimberly had finished her journal and was drawing something else on a new sheet of paper, so she took her some maths problems the year seven teacher had given her. When she turned back around, Jason had his hand up.
‘What’s the matter Jason?’ She went over to him. Jason stuck his little finger into his right ear.
‘I’ve got paper in my ear.’ Miss Yanas thought she must have misheard him.
‘You’ve got what?’
‘I got a piece of paper stuck in my ear.’
‘Why did you PUT paper in your ear, Jason?’ Jason shrugged.
‘I’m not sure.’ Miss Yanas sighed.
‘Let me see.’ Jason put his head on the side, and sure enough, well pushed inside his ear was one of the little balls of paper he had made earlier.
‘Right, that’s it.’ Said Miss Yanas. ‘Put the rest of those in here please.’ She held out the bin. Jason grudgingly complied. Then Miss Yanas went and got her notepad and wrote a note to the office staff, explaining that Jason seemed to have inserted a small piece of paper into his ear, and would be needing some help removing it. Jason headed off in the direction of the office, and Miss Yanas watched out of the window to ensure he actually went there. She was about to turn back to the sensible remainder of her class when there was a crash, and spinning around, Miss Yanas saw one of Kimberly’s rubber-band powered planes hit the blackboard and bounce back onto the floor at Katie’s feet. Josh was already up out of his chair, rubbing his ear and pointing at Kimberly, and several friends near him were turning around in their seats complaining. Wonderful. Now they WERE standing up and fighting. And all because of some little pieces of paper. Perhaps next time Jason could write his journal on a miniature whiteboard.
Every brushstroke, every bit of plaster felt like a triumph to Cody. The old farmhouse was an adventure. It was by no means comfortable at first, but it was a new type of work to do together, and he and Sammy had always spent their time together working, he realised. Some joint project was perhaps necessary for them to connect. But that was alright, because when the house was perfect they would still have the land to work on. They’d made a start at planting the herbs needed for the bees, with lots of lavender in the field nearest their dear neighbours, which Sammy was already drying and tying into bundles and bringing to the market. But there was still a lot of room. They had decided a small field of peas, rotated each year with some of the annual herbs, would be good to nourish the soil while still producing a useful crop. Unfortunately so far the peas had stubbornly refused to grow well. First there had been aphids, then a nutrient deficiency of some kind, other times they simply failed to germinate. It was unlike Sammy to ever have trouble with a plant of any kind. So Cody was beginning to wonder if they should just choose something else.
As the months went by, the farmhouse slowly came back to life. There was new colour in its skin, holes were patched and floors replaced. The building glowed in its new outfit of colour and greenery. They planted passionfruit vines to climb the walls, and of course rows of Sammy’s favourite sunflowers. But still the peas never worked.
One day Cody put down his paintbrush and looked up at Sammy, who was on a ladder, fitting a new light shade.
‘Sammy,’ he said, standing up, ‘will you come down for a bit? I think we should do something else, just for a little while. Maybe we could bake something, now that the oven’s in?’ Sammy was reluctant. She liked to get on with things. She liked to show what a team they were, rather than talk about it. Inside, she still felt like she had a lot to make up for somehow. But, partly because of that, she did as Cody suggested. They made herb-filled damper in the new oven and took it out by the growing sunflowers to eat, sitting together on a plank left from the painting of the front wall. Sammy found that she felt tired now that she had stopped. She leaned her head on Cody’s shoulder and gazed out at the sunflowers wafting from side to side in the wind. Cody felt a sense of being trusted then that had never had its moment before, though he knew now that it had been there a long time.
It didn’t seem like much later to Sammy when Cody squeezed her shoulder to rouse her from a doze. He pointed to a spot right by the doorframe. There, poking their heads out from the soil were the unmistakable forms of juvenile peas. Sammy laughed.
‘I guess they just want to choose where they live.’ She said. And she was right; from that day forward Cody and Sammy discovered sprouting peas in all the most unlikely places, including cracks in the laundry floor. It was okay though. Finding the peas became a new game between them, and the pea patch was filled with more sunflowers, because Sammy lived here, after all.
There was a line in Connor’s most popular song that Heidi always wondered about. It went ‘I couldn’t sing about her if I tried, she’s too many things at any given time, and if I said I ever knew them all I’d lie, her life is a kaleidoscope.’ The rest of the song was all about other things, small moments in life, like seeing a cat on a windowsill while walking past a house. Right now as she arranged the buttercups in a vase on her bookshelf, Heidi thought of the song because putting flowers in a vase was the sort of thing that was described in it. The buttercups beamed their yellow across the room and Heidi sat down with a book at the old fashioned desk she’d got from an op shop. She tried to get on with reading the novel she’d bought, but her brain had other ideas, running the words of the song around and around and around in her head, irritating her because she didn’t know them all. Was that bit of the chorus about her? It kind of reminded her of how she had a million different projects all the time, a patchwork of hobbies and bits of work for different bosses. Friends from all manner of different places, who would meet at picnics and somehow find something to talk about. But there were a lot of people like that, weren’t there? Maybe it was just about people like her in general. Heidi lifted up the front two thirds of the pages of her book to check on a rosebud she was pressing between the pages. Then she remembered she hadn’t finished filling in her records of finch sightings for her nature group and got up and left the room.
Connor was in his shed studio at this time, getting in some serious keyboard and bass practice. The light came in dimly through the coloured laserlight roof sections and not at all through the galvanised iron parts, so he had a lamp on, though the light from the doorway was bright. Carefully, he went through the new bass line for his most recent composition, aiming to play it five times perfectly before he could move on to other songs. He worked through his pieces methodically like this for some hours, and then played a few of his favourites all the way through, trying to mix up which instrument he focussed on. On a pinup board by the guitar stand were a quite orderly but seemingly unrelated collection of photographs. Many were just things that had taken his fancy when he saw them, like the silhouette of a vase on a windowsill at night outlined by the lights indoors, and a single shoe found out in the street. In the middle was a photograph of a group of children of about ten to thirteen years of age. Connor was distinctive, his colouring and physique like a tiny version of his adult self, and a small bodied beginner’s guitar hanging by the neck as he clasped it in his hand on the end of one lanky arm. Next to him three other boys stood and knelt, arms folded, looking cool, and a group of girls sat in a little circle on the ground. Two of the girls were looking at the camera, smiling. But the third was looking intently at the daisies in the grass. She had a short daisy chain on the ground by one knee, and a book open face down in her lap, and a basket of folded paper decorations hooked over one arm, seemingly forgotten temporarily. All the boys were vaguely looking at the camera but Connor was looking very strange with eyes turned to see what it was that this girl was looking at, why she was so easily distracted from all the half-complete things around her, while his head still faced forwards, and he pretended not to care.
Today’s story is based largely on real events from today with a little embellishment using some of our collective imaginings. Thank you to Emily, Lloyd and Elizabeth for your imagination of amusing possibilities.
No Icecream Cake 06/06/16
Morgan stuffed her sensible office shoes and stockings into her shoulder bag and threw her shirt and skirt onto the sand. They would get sand in them. But she didn’t care. It would be a good reminder that she’d been free, toes in the sand and sea on her skin. She ran into the waves, the water freezing on her toes and fingertips. The sensible black underpants and crop top would have salt marks later. The elastic would die. But that was okay. She dived under, letting the salty coldness wipe the makeup from her eyelids and pull apart the bun in her hair. The waves tugged at her bobby pins and buffeted her about, and she let herself float where they took her.
When she got out of the water, Morgan ran along the sand until she was dry enough to don her clothing, letting the sun crystallise the salt on her skin. Finally, she slipped the shirt back on and picked up her bag, walking barefoot back to where her bike rested against the ramp railing. She rode straight home, and there she made tea and pumpkin soup and sat in the squishiest of the armchairs with a book. She thought about Lucy, leaning over her cubicle at work, observing Morgan as she tried to fix the pay spreadsheet and saying
‘You do know; you can only do so many things you don’t want to do before you just eat a whole icecream cake. Someone wise said that.’ Morgan did not want to eat a whole icecream cake. Icecream sometimes made her sick. So she had left early that day and done things she wanted to do. She thought to herself as she sipped her tea that she had done a pretty excellent job of avoiding an icecream-cake-eating frenzy.
Presently the doorbell rang. Morgan reluctantly uncurled her legs from her chair and went to see who it was. She regretted it immediately when she found the local doorknockers, seeking an audience for one of their long-winded lectures. Too polite to ask them to leave, she ‘mm’ed and nodded and smiled for ten minutes and then courteously said ‘no thank you’ and waved them goodbye. Returning to her chair, Morgan picked up her book and tried to reclaim her tranquillity. The doorbell rang again.
Her cousin Elley was outside with a big square box.
‘Hi Morgan! I wonder if you could do me a big favour; this is the icecream cake for Nanna’s party tomorrow but we don’t have a big freezer at home and it won’t fit. Could you put it in your freezer overnight?’ Morgan stared at her.
‘But what if I eat it?’ Elley looked confused.
‘How could you eat a whole icecream cake?’ Morgan shook her head.
‘It’s a long story. But maybe you should stick the box shut with some tape or something.’
Leaning against the statue of a swan that faced the park pond, Roy sat cross legged with his guitar in his lap and lightly finger-picked his way through some chords. He watched the woman with the grey string shopping bag make her way down the path below the ash trees and immediately felt a heaviness. What kind of music was she when she was happy? He morphed his chords into a hopeful, wistful progression, gradually speeding up into a gentle but bright patter as he imagined the feeling of walking and being light, buoyed up by hope. He could see her raise her chin, lengthen her stride.
This had first happened only two months before, when Roy had set out to compose in the park, seeking a change of scene for inspiration. Yet now he actively people-watched, sensing who was down, who was angry, and who was feeling regret, and giving them the tunes that seemed right. As the woman with the grey string bag reached the other side of the grass and moved on, he turned his attention to a child of about eleven who was sitting anxiously as though waiting for someone they weren’t sure would come. For them he played what he thought later was a sort of circus music, a song of dancing tricks that sounded like ideas and newfound excitement for the future. When the child’s guardian finally appeared, they were sitting up straight, gazing up into the trees with a small smile. Roy fancied an imagined circus with themselves as the star was playing out in the child’s mind.
Every day for years Roy returned to the park and gave the demoralised hope. But every day he felt a little more tired and uninspired. Until one day, as he sat against a tree, Roy stopped playing and just sat still, staring into the distance, feeling that he had nothing left to give. The sound of feet landing on pavement close by startled him and he looked up to see that there, on the path, an older teen in bright, loose clothing had jumped up and begun to dance, even though he had ceased to play. They whirled in a blur of spinning colour and extended their limbs as though they could reach the ends of the earth. As he watched, Roy began to feel hope well up inside, and he started to play again, the bright circus dance he had once played for a child who was now grown.
Wallace and the Grey Cat 08/06/16
Wallace did not like cats. This was not surprising, since Wallace did not like many things that were not edible. Cats had a number of specific features Wallace did not enjoy. First, they appeared to have an interest in actually catching him and eating him if he did not run fast enough. Second, they wanted him to run more than necessary. Cats would, he knew from experience, give second chances just to enjoy a second chase. This was very useful in that it could prevent the unfortunate circumstance of being eaten. However, it was undesirable to Wallace in that escaping from a cat required additional energy which he did not wish to expend. Cats had similar tricks to those he employed himself in making haste across the park, and so were wise to his likely path of retreat. Thirdly, it was not all about perimeters with cats. Often dogs would remain within a certain distance of their human. Small humans would stay close to big humans and other squirrels would stay within their territory boundaries. Cats, however, only cared to avoid being in the area at the same time as other cats. If one cat had moved back towards home, another cat might venture into Wallace’s bit of park, even if its home was a good distance away.
The cat which was now fixing its golden eyes on him was one he had never seen before in the park, very large with draping fur in varied shades of grey. It had him bailed up in a low hollow in a tree, and was now patiently crouching with a twitching tail, aware that he did not have another exit from the space he was in other than running past it. Despite his fear of the cat and impending doom, Wallace’s nose perceived another event which was occurring in the park at this time. Somewhere to the right of the tree in which he was trapped, a small human had a sandwich. He could also tell that the sandwich contained some kind of bird. It was strange to smell dead bird with seasoning on it, but he could still recognise it as such. The cat stopped staring quite so intently at Wallace and sniffed the air. Wallace knew cats ate birds too. He’d seen a pigeon get caught. It hadn’t been pleasant. He decided to take a chance. He looked the cat straight in the eye.
‘If you stop chasing me, we could get that human food.’ He said, holding very still. The cat narrowed its eyes and sniffed again.
‘How good are you at grabbing things quickly?’ Wallace fluffed his tail, not taking his eyes off the cat.
‘Very. I have sort of human paws you see.’ He grabbed up a pawful of leaves from the ground inside the hollow tree to demonstrate.
‘Right.’ Said the cat, glaring menacingly. ‘I’ll make the human drop it, you get it. Come back here. You get the bread; I get the bird.’ The cat’s tone made it clear that if Wallace ate any of the bird, he would be the new sandwich filling. Wallace realised that this was a good opportunity for both escape without unnecessary exercise and a belly full of bread. Probably buttered bread, he thought.
‘Let’s give it a shot then.’ He said. The cat turned and ran towards the small human. The human went
‘Kitty!’ But the word was barely uttered when the cat sunk its claws and teeth into both of the small human’s legs, wrapping itself around the feet so that the human had difficulty getting away. The small human made a horrible high pitched sound and sure enough, the sandwich came dropping towards the ground. Wallace leapt into action. Before the human had even noticed him, too busy trying to escape the terror kitty lashing at its feet, Wallace had all the parts of the sandwich and had taken them behind the hollow tree, out of sight.
The cat ceased its attack on the human as quickly as it had begun, just as larger humans began to make loud noises at it, and shot back into the trees out of sight. Wallace was true to his word. The bird parts of the sandwich were at the foot of the tree. Wallace, however, was on a high branch, enjoying his buttered bread.
‘Nice teamwork there.’ He told the cat. ‘You’ve got them humans sussed out you have.’ The cat pretended not to be pleased at the compliment and got on with eating the bird. ‘What’s your name then, so as I know who to send word to if I ever spot another bird sandwich?’ The cat ate a bit more, and seemed to be considering whether Wallace was worth an answer. Eventually it said,
‘The humans in my house refer to me as “Gandalf the Grumpy.” Just “Grumpy” most of the time. Not sure what that’s supposed to mean. You can call me Grey.’ Wallace wondered how the cat could be confused as to the origins of the name “Grumpy” but he thought it best to keep this thought to himself. An alliance with this fierce and unpredictable creature could result in larger bread hauls, and in Wallace’s eyes, this was a good recommendation for friendship.
The Wandering 09/06/16
Kate and Penny let the crunch of sticks and leaves under their feet and the soft squashing press of the moss occupy their minds entirely. They just kept walking. They were mostly silent as they got further and further from the village, but they knew somehow that neither of them planned to return tonight. As they crossed the heath, Kate began to spot and collect herbs, and they both picked up firewood as they found it. Again unspoken agreement told them they needed to think about what they needed. Penny had water and a big raincoat. Kate had some wholemeal biscuits and apples. Neither had matches or a pot or a tarpaulin. But neither of them wanted to go back for these. They would improvise.
In the edge of the forest facing the heath Kate discovered a group of three trees arranged in a rough triangle, one side of which met a small embankment. It was perfect. Together they hauled branches to stick in the gaps between the trees and laid more branches across like roof slats resting between the trees and the newly added wall sticks. Then they collected some small rocks and weighted Penny’s raincoat on to the top of their roof, spreading it as much as possible and covering over it with stacks of bracken fronds. They wove more bracken in and out of their wall sticks as a windbreak and piled some on the mossy ground inside to make soft places to lie down. They collected their herbs and some mushrooms in Kate’s hat and piled their firewood outside by a large fallen log.
Then came the hard part. They gathered up some dry grass, bits of dry moss and pine needles and twigs. Kate found a stone from the gravel path which they could see had a small area of flint in the centre. They struck the flint with everything they could think of; Penny’s key, a coin, another stone. None produced a spark. Then Kate tried assembling a contraption to create friction with rubber bands from her pencil case spinning a stick amongst the kindling. She had just succeeded in producing a little bit of heat and a wisp of smoke when Penny’s phone chirped. Penny gave it a dirty look.
‘I thought there was no reception!’ She looked at the message all the same, and groaned. ‘Greg has chickenpox and Mum needs me to take Minnie to my house so she can try to avoid catching it.’ She looked at Kate, whose tiny wisp of smoke was gaining strength at a snail’s pace. They both looked at their cleverly constructed hut.
‘I guess it will still be here in a few days.’ Said Kate. But they sat inside and ate their apples first, just in case.
The Collector of lost Memories 10/06/16
No one ever noticed the forgotten things come and go. There was always something, every time Garry went out. He’d found a pair of baby shoes once, sitting on the curb, neatly placed together as though they had been put down there for a purpose. Another time there had been a single cellophane-wrapped carnation left on the wall at the front of an apartment block, with no indication as to who it was intended for. Today there was a rainbow backpack sitting in the middle of the road as Garry walked towards the park, seemingly empty, and a pair of men’s formal socks were pushed into the hedge, sitting on a fence post inside.
Garry took the forgotten items home. He collected them in his fourth storey apartment as though it were some kind of shelter for lost and forgotten things. Garry was lost and forgotten too. Having these little pieces of other people’s stories in his home made him feel connected to the rest of the world, even though nobody noticed.
The following week as he wandered on his regular winding route around town Garry saw a poster, and on it was a picture of the rainbow backpack. He started in surprise; the backpack had not been forgotten after all. The poster said,
“Lost. If found please return to 1 Archer’s Road.” So Garry went home and retrieved the backpack from his apartment, wondering why anyone would be so concerned about the loss of an old empty bag. He carried it to the address on the poster and rapped on the door, a little nervous; he rarely visited anyone else’s house. A young man opened the door and beamed in excitement when he saw the backpack in Garry’s hands.
‘Where was it? I can’t believe I misplaced it; I’ve had this bag since I was in primary school!’ He took it gently from Garry and unzipped a hidden pocket inside which Garry hadn’t noticed. Relief lit the young man’s face as his hand closed on an object and he drew out a beautifully crafted engagement ring.
As saviour of the ring, Garry was introduced to everybody and invited to the wedding. He only realised after John introduced himself that they had been at high school together, John a few years below him. Many of John’s friends were familiar faces, and so Garry strangely found a group of people among whom he was never forgotten again.
Wopper and the homing Pigeon 12/06/16
Wopper and Heather were helping Uncle Tom in the garden. Well, Heather was bringing bits of wood for Uncle Tom; Wopper was digging a hole. Uncle Tom was building a pigeon house. He said he was going to be visited by pigeons with messages from his friend Liz. Heather was surprised about this because Uncle Tom didn’t normally believe her when she said animals talked.
Uncle Tom’s dog, Flossy, wasn’t quite sure what to do with Wopper, who was nearly as big as she was. Flossy was lying in the dirt near where Wopper was digging and making long whiny noises at him as she turned her head from side to side.
When the sun was going down, Uncle Tom happily packed up his tools, a lovely wooden bird house standing by the walnut tree. He put some bird seed inside in a dish and Heather helped him put things back in the shed while Wopper and Flossy ran in circles on the lawn. Then they all went inside and waited. Heather was looking forward to meeting the birds, and was a bit too excited to sleep, so she and Wopper made a tunnel through the wardrobe and chased each other through it.
In the morning Heather and Wopper were the first ones to wake up. They snuck downstairs and out onto the front porch. Sitting on top of the bird house was a white pigeon with a piece of paper tied to its leg. Heather got straight to the point.
‘Hello, pigeon. Why do you have paper tied on?’ The pigeon turned its head on the side to see her better, made a soft hooting sound and then replied,
‘Message for Tom, this is.’ Heather and Wopper looked at each other.
‘But why do you have to bring it on paper? Can’t you just tell him?’ Said Heather. The pigeon made a clucking, chuckling sound.
‘Humans don’t normally understand us when we talk, small one.’ It looked at Wopper. ‘Do they?’ Wopper twitched his nose up and down and flicked his ear in agreement. Then he bit Heather’s slipper to get her attention, and snuffled at her.
‘Do you know a girl rabbit called Dotty who lives with a girl called Manda?’ Heather asked the pigeon.
‘Yes.’ The pigeon replied.
‘Could you tell her that Wopper from pet’s day says hello and he likes her very much?’ The pigeon ruffled its feathers.
‘She would like it better if you sent a carrot. And I would like it better if you would give me some more bird seed.’
Heather got some more bird seed from the shed, and Wopper chewed footholds in the wooden pole that the bird house stood on so that she could climb up and put the seed in the pigeon’s dish.
The next day for school Heather put a carrot in her lunch box. Her mother was pleased to see her packing some of her own healthy food and did not mind. Uncle Tom, however, did not wish to have Wopper to visit again, owing to the chew-holes in his brand new bird house stand, and the large holes in either side of the spare room wardrobe, so next time she got to visit Uncle Tom, Heather had to take Dotty’s reply from the pigeon. It said,
‘Thank you for the carrot, but I prefer sweet potato.’ Heather’s mother drew the line at raw sweet potato in lunchboxes, so Wopper was, for the time being, disappointed.
Building Bridges 13/06/16
The day that Martin left to go to work in Sydney, Summer took its leave with him. It pelted with rain the whole way to the airport, and as Ross drove Jo and Lena back to Jo’s house afterwards it settled into a grey drizzly soggy kind of mood that seemed like it could go on endlessly. Lena was going to fly up to visit Martin over Easter, but Ross was required to be on call for work in case any of the servers went down, and wasn’t allowed to take leave. It was a ‘peak time’ they said. It seemed like it would be somewhat strange to go by himself at a different time of year since he and Martin had few things in common when Martin wasn’t cooking and Ross wasn’t fixing Martin’s technological devices. The band wasn’t going to work without Martin so they were taking a break, just for the year until he came back next January. The transfer was supposed to be temporary, a replacement for another staff member who was being sent on an overseas assignment. Still. A year was a long time.
‘He’ll totally be on the phone every day for advice about some piece of technology he’s broken anyway.’ Ross scoffed as he drove. ‘He really can’t get anything to work. The devices must smell his fear. I should probably remind him to use the internet so the phone bills aren’t insane.’ Lena gave him a sidelong look from the passenger seat.
‘What if he finds a new technology expert up there to help him?’ She spun the pendant on her necklace around and around between her finger and thumb. ‘That would save phone bills all round.’ Ross glared at the car in front, which was being unreasonably slow to take off from the lights, he thought.
‘I could say something equally mean back to you Lena, but I’m nice.’ In the back seat, Jo made an exasperated noise at them.
‘Quit it already! We’ll all have murdered each other by the time he comes back at this rate. Geez. Anyone would think we can’t manage on our own.’
When they got back to the house, Jo and Lena made pasta and gave Ross orders, eventually banishing him to the lounge room when he burnt the onion for the second time.
‘You guys should let me try again.’ He sulked. ‘How am I supposed to make food at home?’ Lena threw an oven mit at him through the doorway.
‘Ummm, gee that’s a hard one – remember a single bit of advice Martin ever gave you maybe?’ Jo put down the capsicum she was chopping and smacked Lena on the head with a tea towel.
‘For goodness sake you two! I know you’re both upset, but surely it’s better to still have friends to hang out with than to start a fight and end up not seeing each other either?’ She put her arms around Lena’s shoulders. ‘Anyhow, miss Sydney-holiday-already-booked, you shouldn’t be complaining. Leave poor Ross alone.’ She gave Lena a zucchini to chop and went and got Ross a guitar book to look through. ‘Pretty sure we’re learning a bunch of impressive stuff and videoing ourselves being an epic band to send to him, right?’
By the beginning of March Lena had obtained a beginner’s guitar of her own and she and Ross were practising duets and songs where they could take in turns playing rhythm and lead. They were quite competitive, but this seemed to work in their favour as a team, causing them both to learn and improve faster. Jo avoided singing too much because that would be doing band stuff without Martin, but sometimes they would get carried away and do a few songs. Usually Jo filmed the others. Tonight she and Lena were sitting on the beanbags in Ross’s house singing his favourite song that they’d learnt that night when Ross was having his arm plastered, and waiting for him to come home. When they heard the car, they stopped and got ready to start again when Ross came in, showing off their voices. The door clicked shut and they started to play.
But it wasn’t Ross who walked in the lounge room door; it was Martin. He did a little spin and held his hands up like a race winner, while Jo and Lena sat dumbstruck.
‘Guess who got a promotion back in town? Meeeee!’ He disappeared into the kitchen. ‘Good singing! Are there eggs? I should make omelette; that Ross definitely can’t do.’ He came back out backwards and looked over his shoulder at them. ‘Where IS Ross?’ Jo spread her hands, wide-eyed, still taking in the fact that Martin was here. She started searching about on the couch behind her for her phone. Lena got up.
‘Do I get a hug?’ She went over to Martin in the kitchen doorway. Jo found her phone. She looked at it. She looked again.
‘Ummm… Guys?’ Martin and Lena turned around. ‘About where Ross is…. I just got a text saying he applied for a transfer to Sydney, he got accepted, and he’s catching a flight tonight.’
Everybody ran for the carport.
Lace Curtain Windows 14/06/16
During their stay Emily set Elizabeth and I a challenge to write about the mysterious apartment block opposite ours, and see how our finished products differed. This is mine.
Cassandra brought flowerboxes to the apartment. She hoped that they would bring a splash of brightness to the block, where so many windows were always blank and white with curtains. She attached a bird house to her outer wall on the balcony, hoping for company. At first she sat up there, with her flowers, and smiled down at passers-by and the people on the floors below, but the woman on the second floor just glowered and smoked in her dressing gown, her tabby cat lurking in the background and trying to avoid the fumes. The man on the ground floor sat in his dressing gown too, a large brown dog at his feet, taking up all the space. He seemed content, watching people in the street, occasionally reading a newspaper. Yet he took no notice of anyone, and never smiled back.
On the other side of her building, all Cassandra could ever see was lace curtains, punctuated by small personal effects. The room opposite hers on the top floor had a dreamcatcher. She liked to imagine that the occupant was full of good dreams and fanciful plans. The windows were always open, as though to let in ideas carried on the breeze, but she’d never seen the person she was always imagining must be there. The second floor had an ostentatious wicker reindeer sculpture. Cassandra wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be a Christmas decoration, left up inappropriately late, or if the person who lived there just liked deer. Downstairs was the one window she could sometimes see into, and the view was always the same; it was as though the man never moved. Every time Cassandra looked, he was there, eyed glued to his TV set which illuminated the room, his clothing sometimes inappropriate to an open window.
Cassandra wished her fellow residents were less insular, that they would share recipes and appreciate her bright geraniums. She often went slowly down the upstairs hallway, hoping she might accidentally encounter dreamcatcher girl. She was convinced it was a woman. In idle moments over coffee steam she’d sometimes even begun to create an imaginary face for this mysterious other next door. She’d imagined a long brown plait, and simple clothes suited to yoga and daydreaming. Grey-blue eyes like the sea on a stormy day.
It was an ordinary Wednesday afternoon when Cassandra walked home with a bag containing new jeans. Her old ones were full of holes, and she’d finally succumbed and gone to the mall after work. She looked up at her flower boxes out of habit as she approached the apartments. She almost didn’t see, she was so used by now to looking and not seeing. There, on the balcony next door, stood the occupant, holding a cardboard box. The only thing she’d got right about the person was that they were indeed female. The woman’s hair was straight, cut in a bob and a very light straw-like blonde. Cassandra couldn’t tell what her eyes were like from where she stood. She went up to her apartment, dropped her shopping bag on the dining table, and went out to her balcony. The other woman looked up, still holding the box. Cassandra introduced herself.
‘I’ve always been curious about who lives next door!’ She explained. ‘I’ve never seen you before.’ The other woman gave a little shrug.
‘I’m Maddy. But I guess it doesn’t matter. I’m moving out tomorrow.’
‘Oh.’ Said Cassandra. She cast about for words, disappointed. ‘I was always admiring your dreamcatcher. Did you make it?’ Maddy reached into the box she was holding and drew the dreamcatcher out.
‘No. Someone made it for me a long time ago. I was thinking of leaving it, actually. Do you want it?’ She held it out, as though Cassandra could reach from her balcony opposite. Taken by surprise, Cassandra just looked at Maddy for a moment.
‘Well, if you’re going to throw it away…. Shall I meet you in the hallway?’
Inside, she paused and looked around. She felt she should give Maddy something too. After a moment she picked up a little carved rose quartz ball, fashioned to look like a crystal ball, from her dresser. In the hallway, she looked at the strange woman who used to own a dreamcatcher. What was there to lose; she wouldn’t see her again.
‘If you want to be penpals, by any chance, I’m flat fourteen.’ She took the dreamcatcher inside, and hung it in her window, placing it so that it mirrored the position it had taken in Maddy’s. Perhaps, if she was lucky, she would soon be full of good dreams and fanciful plans. Maddy’s face as she’d handed it over wobbled into focus in her mind, grey-blue eyes like the sea in Winter keeping the dreams within a secret.
Kimberly’s Project 15/06/16
After school on Friday Kimberly went straight to her new spot in the shed, where Dad had put all her model planes in a specially built rack. They were becoming too many and too large for the top of her wardrobe, and Mum said the bedroom was not a very good place to fill all the drawers with tools and materials. So Kimberly had a shelf and boxes on her wall of the shed as well. She got out some gaffer tape and stuck the school science fair flyer onto the side of her shelf. Then she sat down with her big blackboard, looked at all her things and had a think.
Her friend Casey was going to enter the competition as well. Kimberly knew that Casey was going to make a volcano. She could tell because she kept seeing Casey getting bottles of vinegar from Mr Creek at lunchtime, and people didn’t normally want to cook with that much vinegar. Kimberly thought a volcano was a bit easy and boring, but it was still nice that someone else was excited for the fair besides her.
On the day of the fair Dad helped Kimberly bring a large wooden ramp structure into the sport hall using a sack truck, along with one of her newer, larger planes. Kimberly had a bike tyre tube slung over her shoulder and various bits for the stand for her ramp. Dad let her do the setting up as he wasn’t quite sure how this worked. Kimberly set her plane up in a long groove which ran down her ramp structure like a runway. She did some last minute hammering to attach either end of her piece of tyre tube to the sides of the runway ramp, and tested that she could pull back the tyre slingshot with the plane. Then she wound up the rubber band on her plane propeller. Dad said
‘How far is it going to go Kimberly?’ But Kimberly just shrugged and said,
‘Further than before.’
Casey’s spot for the exhibition was a few stalls down from Kimberly’s. She had lots of little bundles of paper towel which Kimberly knew contained baking soda, and bottles of vinegar and detergent so that she could reset the volcano lots of times to show different groups of people.
When Mr Creek came in with the first group to have a look at all the projects, Kimberly waited until they were just the right distance from her to see really well before she let go of her plane. This was going to be her biggest, fastest, furthest-flying plane yet. The plane shot down the ramp and zoomed across the sport hall… And collided with Casey’s volcano table.
Baking soda parcels, vinegar mixture from inside the volcano and some from bottles that the lids fell off of went everywhere. Casey shrieked and leapt out of the way as ‘lava’ began frothing all over her table and the floor around her stall. Her carefully painted volcano sculpture had fallen to the floor beneath the table and was smashed. When she had finished shrieking, Casey began to cry. Kimberly wasn’t sure what to do. Mr Creek gave her a mop, told her to clean up the volcano mess, and took Casey outside.
When she had removed all of the volcano eruption from the hall floor and put the pieces of Casey’s model in a box, Kimberly went outside to look for her friend and apologise.
‘We could make another volcano together.’ She told Casey. ‘A bigger one!’ Mr Creek seemed to like this idea.
‘That’s a nice idea Kimberly. Sometimes though, scientists and engineers can’t just make the biggest, fastest, possible thing, because it could hurt people. I’ll show you how to make a bigger volcano, but you girls will have to help me work out some safety rules to go with it.’ Kimberly nodded solemnly.
Kimberly, Casey and Mr Creek worked very fast after school, and the next day, a new, larger volcano was back in the sport hall, but this time it was inside a large Perspex aquarium with a lid. Kimberly swapped her large plane for one of her medium-sized ones, and she and Casey took in turns helping to set off the volcano and the plane, which was now facing an open space at the rear of the hall. Kimberly had to admit, the volcano was almost as cool as her plane, and working together with Casey was even cooler.
Bubblegum Soul 16/06/16
Thunder cracked through the dark afternoon like a collision of invisible huge stone somethings somewhere in the air nearby. The rain had not yet begun, and the air was tense with the pressure of the impending storm. Abbey made her way up the asphalt path from the little general store in the main street to home. Something about the light in the gloomy air lit up things on the footpath and in the grass to the side that shouldn’t be there; bits of dropped litter and lost hair clips, babies’ dummies, and a coin, which Abbey picked up for luck. As she stood up from stooping to collect it and went to continue walking, she discovered that her shoe was now sticky with a hunk of pink bubblegum someone had dropped on the walkway. She balanced on one leg and tried to prise it off with a stick, but the gum had adhered itself very firmly. The thunder pealed again, reminding Abbey that she didn’t want to be caught in the rain, and sounding very close by, so she hurried on, sticking to the ground every other step.
She hadn’t gone far when the other foot began to feel sticky too. Surely there wasn’t more gum? Abbey looked at her other shoe, and sure enough, there was more, this time green. She looked ahead, and saw a blob of orange, then further up, some purple. Someone really liked bubblegum, and wasn’t very thoughtful of other people and the environment, Abbey thought. Despite the thunder and her better judgment, she followed the bubblegum trail down the alley behind the houses in her street.
As the thunder rang out once more, and the first big droplets of rain began to fall, she spotted a figure sitting up against the wall, a black ukulele in their rainbow stockinged lap, a bright blue bubble stretching from their lips. The person did not seem to care that the rain was falling ever heavier, and cared little for the cold, clad in something like overalls with short legs revealing the colourful tights. Abbey could not tell if it was a man or woman or how old the person might be, their spiky short hair, half-hidden by a black backwards cap, giving no clues and their face being mainly remarkable for the repeated large bubbles of gum that protruded from it rather than any distinctive features. Abbey was curious. She wandered over, shopping bag casually slung over her shoulder. The bubblegum person looked up at her and began to play on the ukulele, continuing to blow bubbles as they did so. Abbey knew the song. So she sat down on the pavement in the rain and sang. If this was unexpected to the player they gave no sign that it was so. At the end of the song, Abbey and bubblegum person smiled at one another, the latter around a fresh bubble, and then Abbey got up and went on her way. She doubted she would see this individual again, and that was somehow refreshing.
Reginald the business skeleton was watching the rain trail down the bus windows as the girl in front of him discussed her life story. He had put on his headphones, and was playing his loudest headbanging screamo music, but he could still hear her. It didn’t help that he couldn’t use in-ear headphones, owing to his lack of supporting cartilage. This was especially disappointing as he could not actually wear the ‘Skullcandy’ brand, even though it appeared to be marketed to him. Instead he had bought a very expensive pair of AKGs designed for music production. Today he was attempting to complete a review of some new tracks by one of his favourite bands on the way to the office. However, Miss next-seat-down seemed determined to make this impossible. Every time he thought she was about to finish her conversation, she would say something like
‘but it just annoys me though, because she doesn’t ever consider us, you know?’ And off she would go again with her multitude of comments on the behaviour of someone who was evidently a mutual friend of hers and the person on the other end of the phone. At the moment she was telling a story which seemed to be sympathetic to the friend concerned.
‘She was actually in a bush. IN A BUSH, passed out, drunk. And they said “meet you at GGs” and got in a taxi – I mean who would do that? If that was me, they would have been all “oh, shall we call an ambulance”.’ There was some discussion about an evening at the club, during which Reginald managed to tune out a bit and focus on the music vibrating through his skull. Then the person on the other end brought something up and Miss-seat-in-front made a squealy exclamation which cut through the growling of the vocalist like an evacuation alarm.
‘Ohhhh he was so lovely, he kept on texting me, saying how he was glad he met me….. Yeah, but….. No but…. I really don’t want a boyfriend though! Like I really don’t. I really like being single! Oh and his friends are really weird – me and Tash hung out with them this one time, and she was getting hit on by this super strange guy – he was like, all skeletal and that, like a real skeleton – and she seemed to LIKE him, it was really weird. But then she found out he’s really into screamo music, and she totally can’t stand it, so she isn’t sure now.’ Reginald slid down a bit in the seat and did what would have been a glower if his face moved. Well that was a deal breaker. Why couldn’t he ever meet anyone who appreciated music properly? You had to be willing to listen to anything, to consider why the vibrations sounded right or wrong…
Thinking about things he hated in his life brought Reginald quickly around to Derek at work. That guy. He was always finding a way to make Reginald have a bad day. If a huge pile of paperwork had just been finished, Derek would discover a late one and bring it to him just as he was about to leave. Derek thought it was okay to take another person’s headphones from their computer and use them without asking. This was obviously not okay. Reginald couldn’t even imagine how ANYONE would think that was okay. Miss-seat-in-front seemed to again be wrapping up her conversation.
‘Yeah, yeah you have to come over, it’s just not the same at the flat without you boys! Okay, thank you so much Derek sweetie, you’re such a good friend listening to me go on! I’ll catch you at GGs okay?’
In honour of the Solstices, Winter for many of you, Summer for us, and of a magical storyteller.
This is a story that is almost true. A story about the Winter Solstice and a candlelit adventure. I won’t tell you which parts are true, and which embroidered. Perhaps you will imagine that you can tell. Perhaps none of it is imagined at all. What is imagined is very real for those who experience it, and therefore it is part of their story; an important part of their story. When experiences make us who we are today, does it matter whether they occurred in space and time or inside our heads? Sometimes, I think not. Here are some memories that linger with me, whenever I watch a candle flame twist and glow. A place I go back to in my mind when I need a sanctuary. Here is what I think of, when a storm rages outside, to remind me that not all things about the cold, dark times of year are unpleasant. Put down whatever you’re looking at besides this story. I know you have something. A piece of toast in your other hand you aren’t noticing that you’re eating. A conversation you’re trying to carry on at the same time as you read. Just sit, hold steaming tea, hot chocolate, mulled wine or mead before you, warming your fingers, as we did, and imagine.
The sun was not quite setting yet. We were impatient for the honey glow of its stroking, setting fingers tracing their path over us, casting their spell. I stirred the pot on the stove as steam billowed from the top, billowing over the scene like mist, and a sleepy comfort settled over our little gathering as we placed ourselves in the space and were really there this time. Tonight we would not turn on the lights; instead we would light the candles and small lamps; just enough to see by, coloured amber like the setting sun’s rays. Our hands wrapped around chai mugs, spiced steam kissing our cheeks, as the sun finally dropped and sent light like droplets of glowing syrup to rest inside the objects on the table, making them seem more magical, more meaningful, more noticeable. It did the same to people, tracing their edges softly as though they were blended by an artist with a glowing mist backdrop, its glow sinking into their skin. On myself I could see the creases in the skin on the back on my hand like rivulets in earth, otherwise invisible. It made her eyelashes glow as though the light was inside her, which made sense. She was going to tell us where we were going.
As we held our soup bowls, the steam rose as smoke and the candle flames dancing before us formed a campfire, coals glowing, warming us, though the chill wind bit into our skin. We were in the dark, huddling in the small shelter afforded by the side of a dune. On the air carried a strange song, out of the dark, a mystery, from some location we did not know was there. So as dawn rose we wandered that way, or at least the way we thought it was. Yet more mysteries distracted us in the endless sands as we lost our way. Footprints unlike any we’d seen, we followed. A strange monster we found and fought there, one that masqueraded as shelter but would have swallowed us all.
Another night, another fire, healing words and healing herbs. Eyes met by accident and secrets were stolen, hearts revealed. Dawn. The fire was cold, the candles out. The place where the songs came from was found, and treasures discovered there. I brought with me from there a sword most pliable and slender, a sword for a dancer. It was a long walk home, and a cold one, but the company made it alright. We understood each other now. And so it was many fires later, when we made the fire in a hearth, and warmed mead and feasting set our eyes aglow by a new flame.
Silence then, but no one was ready. We stayed curled in comfort, satisfied with ourselves, hearts still full with the hopes of lonely travellers, hoping the hot chocolate mugs weren’t empty, really. I watched the flames, my fingers curled into the fabric of my sleeves. And then she stood up, her silhouette against the bookcase behind decked out with candles, stretching like a waking bird about to take flight, we lit the candles afresh for final mugs of chai, and I almost cried, because I wanted to stay.
*Some events described loosely based on those in an adventure in @acegiak‘s Out of the Cold campaign (not the correct one for the Solstice) context not at all loosely based on one wonderful evening last Solstice, and the skills of acegiak as a DM.
Inviting Mysteries 21/06/16
I sat at the attic window and watched as the clouds flew by the rooftop opposite as though in fast forward. It looked like a setting for a dream indeed – a Midsummer dream. The windows glowed from lights within that blended with the last of the sunlight, casting strange shadows and bright reflections in a warm orange. No one around here made much of Midsummer. I’d come up here, high up, where I could watch the sunset and have space for reflection. Those fast-traveling clouds made me feel like I could see the world’s clock turning, tipping towards the new part of the year.
Above the rooftop I was watching, I thought I saw movement, a brief silouette of a black cat. It could have been any cat, wrapped in shadow, but I fancied it was black and so it was. I saw other maybe-figures, things that could have been cloaks or coats moving in the wind. I thought I heard a soft meow and the. faintest murmur of voices. Later, I saw an owl, perching on the chimney as though to keep watch. I wondered why all this Midsummer mystery happened next door, and not here.
In the morning there were no clues left behind, but on my walk I went closer to the house. On the door I saw a wreath of flowers, and I knew then that Midsummer mysteries visited here because the people here expected them. And so all along my walk, I picked flowers.
Wallace Wins a Race 22/06/16
Wallace was not a slow squirrel. Despite his large girth, he was very capable of moving fast, such as when he wished to grab a chip and run away with it before anyone noticed him. However, he was not fond of expending unnecessary energy. Therefore, he was very cross with his sister Milly at present, as she was trying to convince him to take part in a running COMPETITION. Wallace could not see what the point of this was. The prizes he normally got for running fast, such as chips, buttered bread, and bits of cake were much better than the ‘status’ prizes winning the race would afford him. The other squirrels already KNEW that he was the fastest. If they wanted to give him a prize, why didn’t they just give it to him for retrieving the bread from the duck pond? He just didn’t get it.
‘But Wallace, if you win the race, we’ll be famous and important!’ Milly was saying. ‘We’ll be able to live in the really good trees further into the forest!’ Wallace gave an exasperated squeak.
‘Milly I’ve already explained to you. I don’t want to live in those ‘good’ trees; they’re not close enough to where the humans drop things! I’ve told you so many times, the best place to live is by the duck pond, but you won’t listen to me.’ Milly chittered and shook her head.
‘There are so many humans there all the time! And ducks are so strange! I don’t know how you think we could stay there.’ She turned and skittered off up the tree in a huff. Wallace didn’t bother chasing her. Instead, he curled up for a snooze to conserve his energy for when he went out to collect human food later.
That afternoon as the sun was beginning to drop towards the horizon and the dogs and humans were beginning to empty out of the park and make their way home, Wallace came down from his tree and hid in his favourite spot behind a fallen log where were was a good view of several park benches and the playground. He spied a large cup of dropped chips by one of the benches and was excited at the prospect of today’s haul. He zoomed forward, gathered up several chips, and bolted back in behind the log. However, as he returned to his hiding place, several other squirrels appeared there, and two of them grabbed the chips from him and raced off towards the trees, the others following.
‘Hey!’ Yelled Wallace, charging after them. ‘I got those, you lazy so-and-sos!’ He quickly overtook the first squirrel, leaping over sticks and fallen branches, grabbed the chip back from them and raced on after the second chip-bearing squirrel. His quarry was just about to leap into a hollow log with the chip when Wallace tackled them, rolled over the top of them, picked up the chip and dropped into the hollow log himself, all chips now reclaimed. He stacked up his chips and stood guard, wondering what he was going to do next. The faces of the other squirrels appeared in the hollow above and some of them dropped inside to sit beside him, out of breath. Then Milly appeared. Wallace looked at them all suspiciously and sat himself on top of his chip treasure.
‘Well done Wallace.’ Said Milly. ‘I told them you could be trusted to run for chips.’ She brought him the prizewinner’s double acorn.
‘What?’ Said Wallace. ‘I hope this doesn’t mean I have to move house.’ Milly tilted her head on the side.
‘I guess you don’t have to.’ Wallace looked around, said,
‘Well at least I have chips.’ And tucked in.
Everyone was at Aunty Majorie’s house because it was time to watch the soccer. Dad was ensconced in one of Aunty Majorie’s puffy, squishy armchairs and was sort of disappearing as he sleepily slid down further on the seat. Mum was sitting on the arm of Dad’s chair and half watching, half reading her book. Aunty Majorie and cousin Tony were on the sofa, waving those clicky spinny things people took to the games and eating all the finger food, and Carly’s brother Max had got stuck in between them, and was looking sorry about it. Carly herself was having a discussion with Uncle Jeremy about fitness, sitting down on the floor where they could show each other stretches and strength exercises. They were currently both trying to do the splits, with limited success. Somebody kicked a goal on the television and Aunty Majorie and cousin Tony made noise with their sticks and shouted at the screen. Max blocked his ears. Mum looked up from her book.
‘Who was that?’ Tony squinted and craned his neck forward a bit.
‘Ireland.’ Aunty Majorie went ‘hmph’ and put her clicky stick down.
‘Cheaters.’ Mum looked at her.
‘Aunt Majorie, just because someone is on the other team doesn’t automatically mean they’re cheating.’ Aunty Majorie glowered at her and muttered something under her breath. Meanwhile Jeremy and Carly managed to get into backbend positions and started walking about on the carpet like crabs.
‘Watch out Carly!’ Said Tony. ‘You’re blocking the view.’ He swayed his head from side to side trying to see around them. ‘Do you think leprechauns will come out if Ireland wins?’ Aunty Majorie smacked him with her clicky stick.
‘There’s no such thing as leprechauns Tony! Don’t be so fanciful!’ Carly looked at Uncle Jeremy and they suppressed a giggle. Max wiggled out from between cousin Tony and Aunty Majorie and went out of the room; Carly assumed to the bathroom, or to wander round the garden for a break from clicky sticks in his ears.
Max was gone a long while. Carly wasn’t especially surprised, but she wondered how he was killing the time. To her delight, he came back in after about half an hour, just as the game on the television was in its final minutes, with a pot of tea and cups for everybody.
‘Hey! Thank you Max! Look Mum, he even got the right teapot that Grandma always used.’ Everyone got up and gathered around the coffee table to get some. The whistle blew on the TV. The Irish had won. Aunty Majorie harrumphed. Carly looked out of the window.
‘Hey Aunty Majorie, it looks like your neighbours are Irish!’ On the neighbouring lawn, a large number of green-clad people were appearing and dancing around triumphantly with beer and flags. Cousin Tony looked.
‘LEPRECHAUNS!’ He exclaimed, and raced outside, cup of tea left to go cold. Carly looked at Max, who grinned ear to ear and winked. She wondered where he’d managed to find so many Irish supporters at short notice.
Mrs Knott was sitting in her garden on a little fold out chair her son Mathew had given her for Christmas. It was, at present, a sunny day, and she was wondering where the grey tabby cat next door was, occasionally craning her neck to try to see over the hedge as she sipped her tea and pretended to do the crossword in the newspaper. A rather blustery breeze was every now and again trying to steal the newspaper from her, and eventually one very big gust did so, the paper knocking her tea and blowing off a little way across the grass. Mrs Knott wobbled out of the rickety chair with difficulty since the chair tipped if you leaned on the arms, and hurried over to pick up the paper before it went any further. As she straightened up, rubbing her lower back absent-mindedly, she was surprised to see a different cat, a black and white one, peering at her from the footpath.
‘Hello new puss!’ She exclaimed, tucking the paper under her arm and opening the gate. ‘Who are you?’
‘Meow!’ Said the black and white cat, trotting up to her and winding around her legs.
‘My goodness! You are a friendly chap.’ Mrs Knott leaned down to pat the strange cat, tipping her head from side to side in attempt to discover whether it really was a ‘chap’ or a lady. The cat did a few more circuits of her legs, and then suddenly trotted off around the corner.
‘Wait up!’ Called Mrs Knott. ‘Where are you off to? Do you and grey tabby have a hidey hole around here?’ She followed the cat as fast as she could. It disappeared down the next road a little way and went up a driveway where an unfamiliar car was parked.
‘Ah,’ said Mrs Knott. ‘You’ve come with some new neighbours. I wonder if you’ve met grey tabby yet?’ At that moment, to her surprise, another cat emerged from a driveway a little further down, this time a ginger tabby.
‘Well I never,’ Mrs Knott muttered, her stockinged legs taking many fast little steps as she hurried to meet this OTHER new cat. ‘Where have you come from?’ The ginger cat, however, was a less friendly sort, and disappeared behind some bushes. Mrs Knott was trying to see into the bushes when she spied a person walking towards her down the footpath, so she hurriedly pretended not to be looking in other people’s gardens and instead stood with her newspaper open as though waiting for a bus or taxi until the person had passed. Then she looked about for the cats. Neither was in sight. Suddenly it began to rain, out of nowhere, great big fat raindrops, and next thing she knew, there was the whip-crack of thunder right overhead.
‘Shoot and bother.’ Said Mrs Knott, and began hurrying back in the direction of her house. When she got to the front gate she could see two things; one, her folding chair was sopping wet, as was the shawl she had left behind in her race to see the new cat. Two, the grey tabby was sheltering from the rain on its porch next door.
‘Meow!’ Said the grey tabby. Mrs Knott looked at it sternly.
‘NO.’ She told it. ‘I’m getting out of the rain.’ And with that, she scooped up all her wet things, cursing all the while under her breath, and hurried indoors, her newspaper pages sticking together.
Kimberly and Electricity 26/06/16
It was Saturday night and Kimberly was squeezed in between Mum and Dad on the couch, knees tucked up into her pyjama top, watching the television. Tonight, there were robots on the television, and Kimberly was very impressed at the things they could do. One very little robot had just scooped another robot’s feet out from under it and tossed it backwards over their shoulder. They were definitely very cool, and not too big. At the end of the show, there was an advert for kits to make your own robot. Kimberly looked at Dad. Dad did a ‘maybe’ face. But the following week was Easter and instead of chocolate, Kimberly found a nicely wrapped box when she went hunting in the garden.
The instructions were a little tricky. Kimberly had never handled tiny wires like these before. Everything she made was normally big, and easy to handle. It took her a while to get used to holding tiny things in pliers. But she was persistent and did exactly what it said in the instruction booklet, and eventually, after several weeks of after-school escapades and a few instances of missing out on things because of incomplete homework, she had a very cute-looking little robot who was supposed to be able to learn to play fetch. However, Kimberly was stuck. She didn’t usually do things where she didn’t at least have the tools to find out how to do something. But the robot could not do things. It needed to be told what to do. Kimberly understood this but what was very hazy was how she was supposed to teach it these lessons. It sat in her room on the table by her bed and seemed to mock her. It would turn on, but it didn’t walk or anything, and Kimberly was very disappointed.
A week or so passed and Mum was rather concerned. Kimberly could see this but she wasn’t sure what to do about it. She still felt defeated by the little robot, and she wasn’t enthusiastic about anything else. After school one Monday, Kimberly came home to find her cousin Elsie in the kitchen drinking tea with Mum. Elsie had a piece of apple pie, and Kimberly came and sat up next to her in the hope of receiving some too. Elsie sipped some tea that Mum had made and looked at Kimberly. Kimberly didn’t like tea. She liked hot chocolate, though, and looked around to see if Mum was making some.
‘I heard you made a little robot Kimberly.’ Elsie said. Kimberly eyed her warily. She didn’t yet have any of the things to eat and drink that Elsie had and now Elsie wanted to talk about the robot problem. Mum was always trying to get Kimberly to have Elsie babysit when she and Dad wanted to go out at night, but Kimberly did not know her older cousin well and did not like her.
‘Yes.’ She said, and kept quiet. Elsie smiled at her. Kimberly frowned back.
‘Well, did you know that robots normally need a computer to talk to them, to tell them what to do?’ Kimberly frowned a little bit less. Elsie was ALWAYS on her computer when they went to Auntie Lyra’s house. Perhaps she knew some things Kimberly had not been able to find out.
Mum had to ring Auntie Lyra and organise for Elsie to sleep over and get a lift to her high school with them the next morning. Kimberly couldn’t do all of the things on the computer but she did understand some of the general ideas, and Elsie said she could come and show Kimberly more on Monday nights each week. The robot was fetching things at the breakfast table. Dad was not very pleased when it retrieved his fork and took it to Kimberly instead of the little ball Kimberly had given provided, but Kimberly and Elsie laughed, and Dad forgave them.
Kimberly of course took the robot to meet Mr Creek, who loved it, but explained that he didn’t know much about electronics.
‘You’re lucky that you have a cousin who can do computer programming.’ He told her. Kimberly nodded. That was true. Maybe Elsie wasn’t such a bad person to spend time with after all.
The Fox Book 27/06/16
The cheap fuel station tea in its foam cup reflected the barest of Olivia’s features in its milky surface. She inspected the end of her nose and the shadows either side of its bridge which would resolve into her eyes if the reflection were clearer. The sun bore down through a hazy steam of something between misty rain and fog. It made her neat braid feel sweaty and she twisted the end of it into a bun at the back of her neck. She dug the toes of her boots into the sticky soil and thought about what to do next, the cup clasped between her palms.
Olivia worked in the little convenience store that sold postcards and little gifts next to the fuel station. It wasn’t especially interesting work, but she didn’t mind it. Until today, there had always been one item, high above on a shelf, that she would look at every day and smile. It was a small glass fox with green eyes, sitting in a curled up position like a cat. It seemed to be happy and Olivia felt happy too when she saw it. But today, a woman had noticed the little fox. She’d looked right up there, to that highest shelf as soon as she’d come inside, and she’d asked for it. So Olivia had to get the stepladder and take it down, wrap it in tissue, and watch it walk away.
It would be rude to ask too many questions, but she wanted very much to know about the woman; how and why she’d noticed it so high up, and what significance it held for her. She wanted to know where the fox journeyed now. She toyed with her foam cup, now empty, making little dents in the rim with her fingernails. Then she looked up and watched the small park area in front of her, which contained some basic play equipment. She saw a woman walking across the grass who very much resembled the woman who had bought the fox. It wasn’t the same woman, but Olivia was certain it was someone related to her. She tried to watch where the woman went without obviously staring, and then, unable to stand it, she got up and quietly followed her.
The woman who looked like but wasn’t the woman who bought to fox went into a little coffee shop Olivia had never been inside before. There were books for sale and loan there too, and it had a friendly atmosphere. The windowsills and scattered coffee tables were adorned with little herb and succulent plants in all manner of strange containers. There were plants in tins and plants in teapots, plants in bowls and plants in little metal buckets. Olivia liked this. She got in line for more tea, toying with her little coin purse and trying to watch what happened with the woman she’d followed, who had seated herself off to the side on a bench seat against the wall. Presently, while Olivia was still in the line, in came the fox-buying woman. She went over to the woman who looked like her and they greeted each other warmly. Fox woman took out a little parcel. Olivia knew it was the glass fox. She strained her ears to try to hear why it had been chosen.
‘I thought this would remind you of Mum.’ The lady who had visited her shop was saying. ‘And the foxes that used to visit the house when she was there.’ The other woman seemed very moved by the fox and she held it up to the light and smiled at it. It made rainbows on the surface of their table.
‘The foxes still come right in sometimes, you know.’ She replied.
Olivia purchased her tea, and turned to leave, satisfied that the fox had gone to someone who would give it a real story. But the fox-buying woman recognised her from the shop and said hello. This surprised Olivia; people didn’t normally realise who she was outside the shop. On the table the two women also had a leather-bound book with a fox imprinted in the leather on the front. They saw her looking.
‘It’s a fox-watching journal.’ Said the first woman, smiling. ‘Our family has always kept track of them up at our property. That’s why the little fox appealed to me.’ Olivia nodded and smiled.
‘I’m glad it found a good home.’ She turned towards the door, but the woman said,
‘I’m Lyn, and this is my sister Kelly,’ and Olivia had to turn back and introduce herself and shake hands. ‘Do you want to see the fox diary? You’ve got all that tea to drink anyway.’ Olivia shrugged, surprised, nodded and sat down. The book was full of notes and beautiful sketches and pasted-in photos. Some of them were very old, and the paper felt fragile. Olivia was flattered that she was allowed to handle it.
‘I love foxes.’ She said to them. ‘But I’ve never seen them up as close as you must have. Mostly I always just watched that little glass fox on the shelf.’ Lyn looked at her curiously.
‘Well then, perhaps we should give you some real foxes to watch to make up for taking it away. Would you like to come up to the property and watch with us tomorrow? I’m just here for the week.’ It was such a strange thing, an invitation from someone she’d only just met, who wouldn’t even be here in a weeks’ time, but Olivia felt at home with these women. So she agreed.
And that was how Olivia became a fox-watcher.
The flowers were wilting. Annabelle didn’t want to throw them away just yet. She’d been expecting a visitor a few days ago. The flowers should have gone home with them. She wasn’t sure what she wanted from the flowers now that the visit had been cancelled. In some ways they seemed to be mocking her, pretty as they were; they weren’t hers, and now they weren’t the visitor’s either. Maybe if she didn’t throw them away, the visit would be rearranged in time for her to still hand them over. She put some more water in the jar she’d stuck them in and went into another room.
After another day had passed Annabelle had to admit that the flowers were not fit to give to somebody. Petals had fallen off onto her kitchen counter and stems were drooping. She looked at them sideways as she stirred some hot chocolate. What could be done with them? She looked at the petals that had fallen to the countertop, and scooped them into a bowl. Then she pulled the flowers from the jar one by one and crumbled the heads, letting the petals slip through her fingers to join the ones she’d swept up. They made what looked like a colourful salad. She stuck her nose in the bowl. It smelt nice. Annabelle went into her bedroom and looked in the drawer on her bedside table, pulling out some rose oil in a little bottle. She tossed this over the petals and left them in the sun on the windowsill. Then she threw out the stems.
The house smelt of flowers. But Annabelle didn’t have any flowers to look at now, and she missed them. So she got her coat and put some scissors in her pocket, and set out on a long walk. She picked one of every type of flower she could find, making a small rainbow haystack inside her coat.
When she returned home with her brightly-coloured bundle, she was surprised to find that her visitor was sitting on her porch.
Annabelle divided her flower stack in half, and the next day she had flowers on the counter that were her own.
Cat Burglar 30/06/16
The surface of the wall beside the road wasn’t very comfortable on Lilta’s Bare feet and hands. He balanced along anyway, watching the ginger cat on the cart edge opposite, trying to imitate its movement. The cat was perfectly balanced, even though the surface it stood on was only about an inch wide. Dad and Anda said that if you could do what a cat did, you could go on the high ropes. Lilta was determined to get up there by the end of Summer.
There was only a little bit of light left, but no one was watching him or the cat because it was almost show time. The big tent was set up a little way away from the caravan, and inside there were shouts and the sound of instruments being tuned. The cat looked into the cart, bunched itself up, and launched itself down onto some sacks inside. Lilta jumped down from the wall, somersaulted, and vaulted in after it, landing as lightly as possible to avoid frightening his role-model. The cat was using a paw to hook open one of the sacks. Lilta crouched and watched it. It persisted with the paw until it lifted the opening of the sack, stuck its face inside and came out with a piece of jerky. Lilta laughed.
‘Clever cat. Cat burglar.’ He went and opened the sack to see what else was there and found an apple. Probably being saved for Rodrick, the fire-eater. He always got all the fruit and sweet things. Lilta pocketed the apple and followed the cat along the tops of the carts, jumping the gaps and leaping over crates and sacks of equipment and supplies. When they reached the front of the caravan, the cat confidently jumped straight onto the back of one of the horses and sat there, washing its face. Lilta hesitated. He wasn’t really supposed to ride the horses. He wasn’t sure they were friendly animals. They were big, and he was rather small. He looked at the cat. The cat looked back as if to say ‘what? You coming, or not?’ So Lilta shrugged, took a breath, and leapt onto the next horse across. The horse snorted and started walking forwards.
‘Oh! No, Mr horse, stay!’ Lilta said, but the horse wasn’t listening. The horse that the cat was on started to follow, then overtook, and both horses trotted off onto the grass at the side of the road. The horses began happily grazing. Lilta looked at the cat. It had stood up and was looking out at the forest over the top of the horse’s head. Lilta stood up on his horse too. The horse kept grazing; Lilta was very light. He looked around. He could see EVERYTHING! He ate the apple and tossed the apple core on the ground for the horse. Then the cat jumped down. So Lilta jumped down too, and ran after it as it trotted up near one of the wagons. The cat was stretching its neck up to look at the window in the side of the wagon, as though unsure if it could jump high enough. Lilta looked at it.
‘You want help to get up there?’ He reached down and lifted the cat up above his head. It hopped onto the window ledge and disappeared inside. When it returned to the window, it had several sausages in a string. Lilta laughed. ‘Anything for me in there, clever cat?’ To his surprise, the cat put the sausages down on the window ledge and went back inside. It came back with what looked like a key ring, with various bits of metal attached, in its mouth. ‘What’s that, cat?’ Lilta asked. The cat dropped the ring out of the window, picked up its sausages, and jumped down. Lilta picked up the metal ring. Some of the attachments looked like keys, but there were all kinds of tools too. He grinned at the cat.
‘I know what these are. These open doors you don’t have keys for. Tomorrow night we can go into all the wagons clever cat!’ He put the lock-picking tools in a pocket. Lilta’s trousers had a lot of pockets. He sat down and gave the cat a pat as it devoured its sausage dinner. ‘I’m going to call you Sneak. Is that okay with you?’ The cat looked at him, and kept chewing. ‘I guess that’s a yes.’ Lilta said.
From that day on Lilta and Sneak were always together, and they often seemed to know things and find things. Sometimes people found little surprises, like a flower in their hammock, or an apple under their pillow, and that made up for the things that went missing.
Lyn had never owned a teapot. She drank tea sometimes with her mother and her Aunty Majorie, or occasionally at home, some teabag stuff from the supermarket brewed up for friends’ visits or rainy days. Mum seemed to put a great deal of stock in tea, almost as though it was magical. Tea with Mum and Aunty Majorie was always a kind of special ceremony of celebrating being together. Lyn understood this and that was why she drank the tea they gave her, but she didn’t feel it herself.
Today Lyn was going to a book signing by an old school friend who had become a novelist. They hadn’t seen each other or corresponded much for many years, and she wasn’t sure what to expect. She and Cathy had been odd sorts of friends at school; very well suited in everybody else’s opinion but never especially close. But she knew one thing for sure; Cathy could write. So at the very least, the book should be good. She parked behind the library and went inside, feeling awkward, waving at a few other old school acquaintances who had shown their faces.
Cathy saw Lyn from right across the room. It was surprising because Lyn thought she looked very different to what Cathy would have remembered. But Cathy’s eyes widened and she waved enthusiastically, so Lyn went over. She asked about the book. Of course, it sounded excellent, but the second thing that surprised her was that Cathy willingly shared humorous tales of the trials of writing and where her inspiration had sprung from that were equally captivating. They set her thinking, and telling tales of life herself. When the signing was over, and everyone else had gone away, Lyn was sitting at the table with Cathy, drinking tea the librarians had kindly fetched. Lyn felt that they hadn’t picked up where they’d left off their friendship in school; they’d rather picked up somewhere much more interesting.
When they’d exhausted their imaginations for the time being, their conversation turned to the present.
‘Of course, all books are better read with tea.’ Cathy said. Lyn smiled.
‘My Mum would say that. I’ve never quite understood myself.’ Cathy stared.
‘You what?’ When she learnt that Lyn drank only occasional tea bag tea, Cathy was flabbergasted. She packed up her table, hustled Lyn into her car, and drove them to a tea shop, where she made Lyn try all kinds of things she hadn’t known existed. It was certainly eye-opening. Lyn learnt that day that tea was as varied and subtle as wine.
When they got back to the library, Cathy handed Lyn a box. Inside was a big blue teapot.
‘To improve the story.’ Cathy said.
Lyn took her teapot to her mother’s house, because she’d never drink the whole pot on her own, and she wasn’t quite sure how to do things. Mum and Aunty Majorie loved it and brewed pot after pot for Lyn to try, until she felt she must have drunk all the tea in the world in one afternoon.
That night in her apartment she placed the teapot on her dining table. It was very nice-looking, and made her table look more alive somehow. And from the moment she placed it there, not one week passed that she didn’t see Cathy, her best friend, for tea.
‘Now, football is really easy.’ Edwin told the new players. ‘All you have to do, is get the ball off the other team, and kick it in your goal net.’ He looked around. ‘So let’s start by practising moving fast with the ball.’ Raymond immediately picked the ball up and started sprinting. ‘No! No! Hold on!’ Said Edwin. ‘There’s one thing you need to remember. You can’t use your hands to get the ball. You can only kick it. Okay?’ Raymond looked disgruntled, but he put the ball down and tried kicking it all the way to the net in one go. The ball bounced off into the seating area. ‘Can we get a new ball please?’ Said Edwin, not feeling like climbing over all the rows of seats today. Heath, Raymond’s little brother, threw a new one onto the field. ‘Right, so to be able to move fast with the ball, you’ll need to be able to move it along with your feet.’ Said Edwin. ‘So let’s have a go at that, shall we?’ He demonstrated dribbling the ball back and forth, then lined the men up to practise.
Ten minutes later, everyone had tripped over the ball at least once, and Nathan had slid along the entire length of the field in the mud on his bottom because the sneakers he had worn had virtually no tread left on them and definitely no sprigs.
‘Alright!’ Yelled Edwin, ‘Stop! Everyone come over here. I need to tell you a few things you need to make sure you bring next time.’
One month later it was the team’s first game. It did not get off to a good start. Three quarters of the men had attended a buck’s party the previous night and were exceedingly hungover. Raymond stopped running to throw up three times, causing the player he was supposed to be shadowing to score goals. There had not been much time to impress the finer points of the rules on the team very strongly, and Nathan had particular issues with the offside rule which soon had more goals scored against them. Greg had accidentally scored a goal for the other team. When the whistle sounded for half-time, the team trailed off the field to meet Ron looking very bedraggled. Raymond started heading for the door.
‘Hold on! Where are you going?’ Said Edwin.
‘We lost.’ Said Raymond.
‘No, Raymond, that’s only the first half. You still have another half to try to catch up. So let’s talk about how you’re going to do that.’ Nathan screwed up his face.
‘I don’t understand why I sometimes get in trouble for kicking the ball! I thought that was what I was SUPPOSED to do!’ Edwin sighed.
‘Yes, but you can only kick the ball if you’re not offside, Nathan. We did talk about this.’
‘Maybe we could get the other team to kick the ball when THEY’RE offside.’ Said Luke. ‘Then we’d get free kicks like they did.’ Edwin frowned.
‘How would you do that without doing anything against the rules?’
Back on the field, Luke danced about with the ball.
‘Neyeah neyeah, I’ve got the ball, you have a silly nose!’ Edwin put his face in his hands. But true to Luke’s prediction, his opponent glared and kicked the ball away from him.
The team achieved a tie, which was an excellent result under the circumstances, Edwin thought. Back at the club rooms, he gave all the men a drink, and everybody gave themselves a clap. When the clapping quietened down, Raymond was looking confused.
‘Edwin,’ He said, ‘What did the changing room guy do with our shorts?’ Edwin shook his head.
‘What do you mean? Are you saying that you left your uniforms at the grounds, because you somehow thought the grounds staff were going to bring them back for you?’ Raymond looked around at the others.
‘I brought MY shorts!’ Said Luke, proudly holding them up. Everybody else looked sheepish. Edwin sighed. This was going to be an embarrassing one to explain to the other coach.
Tyler squeezed the phone between his ear and his shoulder as he attempted to scrub the dining table.
‘Yeah, I’ve nearly done the kitchen and dining room – ARGHH!’ The phone had slipped out and fallen on the floor. He dropped the wiping cloth and bent to pick it up. ‘You still there?’
‘Yeah.’ Said Bella. ‘What just happened?’ Tyler sighed.
‘I just dropped the phone. Hang on, I’ll put you on loudspeaker.’ He fumbled about with his phone, and the cleaning cloth fell onto the floor. Where was the loudspeaker button again? He heard a scuffling at his feet, and looked down. Chai the rabbit was chewing on the cleaning cloth.
‘Hey! Stop that! Naughty Chai! You’ll make yourself sick.’ He had a brief tug of war with his fur child.
‘What’s going on?’ Said Bella, from the phone. ‘Oi! Dammit! Hold on, my dog just stole my spot on my yoga mat. Move Brownie! That’s not for you to sleep on! Sorry.’ Tyler chuckled.
‘No problem. My rabbit was eating the cleaning cloth. Animals don’t really understand about cleaning and exercising do they?’ He knelt down and began sweeping crumbs from under the table into the dustpan. Chai seemed to think the broom was an enemy rabbit and bit at it furiously, chasing Tyler’s hand from side to side. Chai’s attacks were quite effective, and bristles started to come off the broom, adding to the mess on the floor instead of fixing it. ‘Ughhh! Chai! Sorry Bella, I’m just gonna have to put the rabbit in his cage.’ He bundled Chai up in his arms.
‘Yeah, no worries. I’ll put you on loudspeaker too so I can keep going with my exercises.’ Tyler carried Chai to the laundry. He opened the door. Choc-chip the parakeet flew out. ‘Oh no.’ Tyler put Chai into his pen and went after the bird.
‘BROWNIE! GET OFF ME!’ Yelled the phone.
‘Brownie! et a!’ Mimicked Choc-chip, who had landed on the curtain rail. Tyler shook his head.
‘Got dog and yoga problems?’ There was some scuffling around on Bella’s end.
‘Yeah, you could say that.’ Tyler laughed.
‘Well, I’ve got a bird in here with me now, so we’ll see how this goes.’ He started spraying the window glass with Windex, a roll of paper towel at his feet. ‘So when do you have Cass home?’ There was a pause, probably while Bella came down from a balancing yoga pose.
‘Um, late tonight. She has to go via work and return all the gear to the lab.’ Tyler tore off some paper towel and began scrubbing the window.
‘Oh you have a while then. I think Tess will be here for dinner, so I’m trying to get everything nice and clean early so I can cook something.’
‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT?’ There were rustling and wrestling sounds. ‘DROP IT. DROP. IT. Good boy. Here’s a treat. Now lie down.’ There was a thud. ‘Sorry! Brownie found some dirty underwear.’ Tyler smirked and scrubbed at the dirt on the window.
‘Yeah my Mum’s dog does that.’ There was a tearing sound. ‘Oh! Choc-Chip! Stop that! Shoo!’ He waved Choc-Chip off of the paper towel roll, which now had several tentacle-like torn strips hanging off of it. Choc-Chip promptly bit his finger, and he had to go and get a Band-Aid.
By the time he got off the phone to Bella, Tyler had cleaned the windows and dusted all the surfaces in the dining room and lounge area, and tidied up all the games and papers. He stood back in the hallway door and surveyed his work. He saw nice clean windows. He also saw broom bristles all over the floor, shreds of paper towel going from one window across to the other, and a bird dropping on the back of the couch. Blowing out a sigh he went and got the vacuum cleaner.
When Tess arrived home, Tyler greeted her with a cup of tea and beamed. He’d done a great job of cleaning up. He let Chai come back out for cuddles with Tess. Tess shared some red cabbage from her side salad with Chai, who was very pleased with himself.
‘Can he definitely have that?’ Tyler asked, his eyebrows drawing together.
‘Oh yes, as long as it’s just a small bit. I googled it.’ Said Tess. She smiled and put her arm around Tyler, who leaned his head on her shoulder. Over Tess’s shoulder blade he could see Chai looking very pompous. Something was disconcerting about it. Chai was sitting near the window where Tyler had sprayed a lot of Windex.
‘UH oh.’ Said Tyler. Sure enough, a slightly cabbage-dyed, thick icky rabbit wee spread across the skirting board as the two of them leapt to their feet.
Night Writer 05/07/16
It was a rainy, slow kind of dawn where the light drizzled in slowly through a curtain of fine water droplets and fog. Tess chewed on her pen as she sat with her laptop open, the cursor blink, blink, blinking insistently at her on the screen. She couldn’t help but gaze out of the window and watch the suburb waking up. Her mind felt drained and full of fluff.
Tess had been writing a novel for as long as any of her friends remembered. Sometimes she preferred spending time with people who hadn’t known her long; people who wouldn’t ask whether it was finished yet. Everybody asked, whether they meant to or not. ‘How are you?’ Really meant ‘how is the novel?’ They all meant well, but it only ever made it seem less finished, having to describe the interminable, inching progress, which made her work sound so little.
Today she had a plan. Some fresh notes made at three in the morning when she woke from a dream. It really was worth keeping the notepad on the bedside table. These scribblings in the dark would make a chapter, and when she had a chapter, she could get icecream.
It didn’t matter how organised you were. She’d had a plan for the plot. All neatly set out in the document in dot points. She’d even had a schedule for which bits she had to write when. She’d tried to follow it. But better ideas always appeared as she wrote. It might have been easy to update the plan to account for the new ideas as she went along, but life seemed to have other ideas about giving Tess time to work on her book. It was supposed to be all she was doing right now. But actually, she was also working as a lab assistant to earn the rent for Bella, her housemate, who was in hospital on and off and kept losing her own day jobs, and organising Dad’s mail and bills and social calendar. About two months ago she’d become acting captain for her hockey team, whose actual captain was out with an injury, and her sister Laura had decided that Tess would be the perfect person to organise catering and entertainment for her wedding later in the year. These two developments had happened around the same time and initially, Tess had been quite excited about both of them. It got less exciting when she actually had to pick a team and plan training sessions and contact a huge list of relatives to find out dietary requirements. As she looked out at the rain, Tess was sorely tempted to continue work on the menu for the wedding, but she took a deep breath and tried to put it out of her mind. These few hours were critical if she wanted to write the chapter while she still had some inspiration from the dream, and she probably wouldn’t get time to come back to it once she moved on to something else. She propped her notebook up against the laptop screen and began by typing up the notes she had.
Her phone rang. It was Laura, who wanted to talk about cake.
Tess looked at her plan. This one-year novel was really looking like taking at least an extra six months. But Tess wasn’t the kind of person who would give up on anything easily. She folded her arms and stared the computer screen down. And she decided. She was going to keep going as though the book would be printed and ready for Christmas. If it wasn’t done at Christmas, she’d deal with it then. So when she got off the phone from talking to Laura, she turned back to her notes from the dream.
Three months later, it was Laura’s wedding eve. Tess was lying on the bed with Laura, who was reading through the chapters she had completed, the laptop open on the bed in front of them. Laura was full of excitement and belief in happy endings, and she pointed out where Tess’s story might use some. Tess made notes about the experience of styling Laura’s hair, and worked it into chapter six.
Dad read chapter six while Tess was filing his bills and filling in his calendar. He told her it needed more humour. He told her a story from his childhood about taking apart his mother’s television while she was sleeping. Tess added a child in chapter eight who took apart everything in the house. It made sense of the clues she’d wanted to include later.
Bella was at home while Tess wrote chapter ten. She brought cake and tea whenever Tess ticked off a dot point. One night she invited the whole hockey team to dinner as a surprise.
The week before Christmas, Tess presented her family and friends with final copies of the novel. She hadn’t got it published yet, but she’d had copies bound for them. George from the hockey team weighed it in his hands and said
‘You wrote all this even though you had to train us and plan a wedding and sort bills and work a day job?’ And Tess gave him a hug and said,
‘No. I wrote all that BECAUSE I did all those things, and because I did all those things, I had all of you.’
Reece’s Butterflies 06/07/16
Making things for people out of paper made Reece happy. It was nice the way something could start as just an old school worksheet and become an object to which someone might attach sentimental value. Whenever a friend left his high school to go to live in another state, or started TAFE or otherwise went away, Reece folded them an origami butterfly to take.
‘You can make it fly across the country.’ He would say. ‘And you will always look at it and remember that we were friends here, and we’re still friends even when you’re far away.’
When he got to university, Reece continued to do the same thing, giving paper butterflies to roommates who graduated and class mates going on exchange programs. When he graduated himself, and started work, he gave butterflies to visiting businesspeople when they left and colleagues who retired or changed careers or went away to have children. Reece’s butterflies scattered far and wide.
When he got old and retired, Reece found it difficult to find people to give butterflies to. None of his friends were off on any grand trips or new endeavours, at least not in this life. So he made butterflies for those in his retirement home who were sick. Perhaps, he thought, they would have some kind of special adventures in another life to take their butterflies on.
When Reece himself became frail and ill, his daughter Caitlin brought in a butterfly for him; one he had made her when she went on a holiday to Spain. Reece’s nurses were interested in the butterfly, having seen them all around the retirement home, so Caitlin explained about the butterflies, and someone asked to take a picture of the butterfly and tell Reece’s story on the retirement home’s Facebook page.
To Caitlin’s surprise, the butterfly picture started appearing all over the internet, and before long, other butterfly pictures were joining it in the comments. The nurse’s photograph was finding people all over the country and around the world who had Reece’s butterflies, who knew him from all kinds of places. People Caitlin never would have known knew her father. So Caitlin set up a group online called Reece’s Butterflies, where the owners of her father’s folded paper creations could bring their photos and stories together.
There were butterflies in the houses of old men who had left Reece’s high school after year ten to start apprenticeships. There were butterflies in Africa with people from university who had gone to volunteer and stayed. There were butterflies in other nursing homes that the staff discovered, and invariably found that their owners had once played on sporting teams with Reece, or attended a mutual camping trip. There were butterflies at pubs in towns all over the country where Reece had made friends over drinks during road trip holidays.
When Reece eventually passed away, there were not many family members or friends or old colleagues in the town where he had been living to mark the occasion. But Caitlin knew that many people remembered him well. She knew this because she received package after package in the mail, containing paper butterflies, with little notes about how these people had known Reece, and what their special journeys had been that he’d given them a butterfly for. Many of them sent contact details, wanted to put photos on her website, or wanted to be penpals with this woman they had never met, all because her father had once folded them a piece of origami.
Caitlin put the butterflies in a frame with a map and the stories of where they had been and pictures of the contacts she now had in the most unlikely places. She wrote back to Reece’s friends and colleagues and family members she’d never met before. And when a work friend was given an international assignment, Caitlin looked up instructions, and folded her a butterfly to take with her. It wasn’t a glamorous butterfly; it was made from a previous month’s revenue report. But she told her friend,
‘You can make it fly across the ocean.’
It was another ordinary day in the office, and Philippa was doing the photocopying of all the recently returned consent forms. It was three in the afternoon and as the minutes ticked by she felt an ever-increasing sense of dread. It was coming. They would do it soon. She had to get ready to hide so that she wouldn’t have to be embarrassed. She began to rush through the last bit of the pile, hurriedly stuffing the forms that had been copied already into a folder. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Jason stand up from his desk. Oh no. It was starting, she knew it. Sure enough, Jason began to sing and pose dramatically, and Jo spun around on her computer chair and began to sing back. Slowly everyone in the office began to get out of their chairs. Philippa grabbed the last form out of the photocopier and rushed out into the hallway, just as the first small group began to dance. HOW did they know what to do? She couldn’t believe she STILL hadn’t worked it out. Every day, she would wake up and everywhere she went, everyone knew the dance moves, recognised the songs, understood their part in the spontaneous musical outbursts that were commonplace. But Philippa never woke up with any choreography or lyrics or tunes in HER head. Everyone was in on this thing. It was too embarrassing to ask them how they knew it all. She’d tried asking her sister Daisy but Daisy had laughed incredulously as though she thought Philippa was making an absurd joke. Now Philippa just hid and watched, praying not to accidentally be caught in the middle and expected to do something she didn’t know how to do.
She peered through the windows in the hallway wall and watched as her colleagues danced and sang their way through an entire musical piece. No one ever seemed to have a bad voice, or fall over. They just did it, as though it was an expected part of their day, and then, often without any comment, they would smile and go back to whatever they’d been doing as though nothing had happened. Philippa waited until they were all sitting back down before returning to her desk to sort the forms and enter the data from them.
After work, Philippa had to catch the train home. This was the worst part of the day, because there would always be a dance and song outbreak in the station and again on the train itself. If she tried to hide away from the platform, she could miss the train, so she was always kneeling down behind seats and pretending to look for things in her bag, or pretending she didn’t speak people’s languages, although, that never seemed to stop anyone else from joining in.
Philippa hung around near the seats, playing on her phone and counting the minutes until the train arrived, trying not to catch anyone’s eye. Sure enough, a man near her took a deep breath, spun around in a perfect pirouette, and to her horror turned to her and got on bended knee. He began to sing some kind of musical proposal. Philippa had no idea who this person was or why they thought she was the leading lady of this show, and she looked around wildly for an escape route. But as the strange man sang, something very odd began to happen to Philippa. Her mind just filled up out of nowhere with the song to sing, and she opened her mouth and joined in, dancing with this person she’d never seen before as though they really had rehearsed after all.
A strange ringing went off in the distance. People began to falter in their dancing.
‘The fire alarm!’ Said someone. ‘Quick, everyone out!’ They all ran out of the train station, and Philippa sat bolt upright in bed, her head swimming.
Wallace and the Human Friend 09/07/16
Wallace darted his head in and out of the blackberry thicket, trying to do a full check of the area around the duck pond before he approached to get some cake dropped by the bench. He could see George, his duck friend, settling down for the night with some other ducks on the edge of the bank where the reeds grew, but no humans, dogs or cats, so that seemed acceptable. He scooted out and across to the bench, tail all aglow with the dusk sunlight. The cake was excellent, but there were only a few bits, mostly crumbs.
A heavy crunch of leaves nearby made Wallace freeze and crouch. Along the path a human with a dog on a leash was walking slowly and stiffly. Wallace gathered they must be old, but it was still a human and a dog, so he went under the bench and held very still. That was when he noticed the human had a bag of what smelt like bread and cake and various food scraps. What was this human bringing those to the park for?
The human and the dog approached the bench, and Wallace froze, but the dog seemed to follow the human very readily and did not come looking for him as dogs normally did. Instead it lay down at the man’s feet as he sat down, facing away from Wallace towards the lake. The man gave it something chewy and meaty-smelling and it settled in to chomp on this, eyes watching the water.
The man opened the bag (Wallace couldn’t see this but he could hear it above him), and presently crumbs began to shower onto the ground in front of the bench. Several pigeons flew down and began busily gathering them. Neither the dog or the human seemed remotely inclined to chase the birds, in fact, Wallace had the distinct impression that the human WANTED to give the food to them. This begged the question: What was their position on portly squirrels? Well, he could always make a run for it. Wallace edged very quietly out from under the bench and took one of the closer crumbs. A pigeon eyed him jealously, but the human and the dog seemed not to notice.
Wallace thus became bolder and moved forward to pick up more bits.
‘Well hello! Where were you hiding?’ Said the human, tossing some more food in Wallace’s direction. Wallace started at the sound of the human speaking but took the extra food as a peace gesture, and so continued eating.
By the time darkness crept over them enough that the man put away his bag and said to the dog,
‘Time to go Flossy,’ Wallace was seated on the bench beside him, aware of the strangeness of the situation but far more concerned with the piece of bread he’d been handed. The man looked at Wallace.
‘We’ll probably see you again I think.’ He winked, and the dog, to Wallace’s horror, put its large wet nose up on the bench and sniffed him. The experience wasn’t one Wallace would care to repeat. It was wet and cold, and far too close to the dog’s mouth. But the dog simply turned away and followed the man off down the path, leaving Wallace with his bread, slightly wet fur and a look of utter confusion.
Tim strummed a few chords. He looked at Amy.
‘Does that sound like anything?’ Amy shrugged.
‘I don’t think so.’ Tim nodded, pleased.
‘Finally.’ He played the sequence again and added a repeat and an extra chord.
‘Oh no, wait.’ Said Amy. ‘Now it sounds like Wonderwall.’
‘ARGHH!’ Went Tim. He put down the guitar and went over to the piano. He tried the first few chords again, then repeated them with a little melody riff over the top.
‘How about now?’ Amy chewed her pen.
‘I think that’s new.’ Tim punched the air.
‘YES!’ He looked at her. ‘Any ideas what it could be about?’ Amy frowned.
‘I need to hear a chorus sequence.’ Tim sighed. The process began again.
By nightfall, Amy had thrown out three pages of lyrics for being clichéd and Tim had finally hit on a chorus that didn’t resemble any other songs they could bring to mind. Amy had written some interesting new words, metaphors about the frustration of writing, essentially, and they were now playing their way through two verses and a chorus of what appeared to be a new idea. They were both beaming, and discussing whether to include an instrumental solo or a vocal bridge or both, when Amy’s grandma wandered in.
‘That was very nice.’ Grandma said, putting down some biscuits on a plate. ‘That’s my favourite, that one.’ Amy frowned at her.
‘That was new, Grandma.’ Her grandma’s eyebrows raised in surprise.
‘Oh! Really? I thought it was that other one you were playing a while back. Trust my old ears to mistake things!’ She smiled. ‘Want some tea?’ Amy sighed.
‘Yes please Grandma, I think we might need a pot.’ She waited until Grandma was out of the room before she looked at Tim. Then she put her hands over her face.
‘Damnit! The stupid thing sounds like Rainstorm! Everything damn well sounds like the first song we ever wrote!’ Tim sighed.
‘Perhaps we’re all just constantly rewriting our first songs.’ He went and got a biscuit. ‘Okay. Settle in. We might be here a while yet. What about this is actually too similar to Rainstorm?’ Amy rolled her eyes. But she sat down with a biscuit and pondered.
‘Maybe they both sound like another song.’ Tim glared.
‘DO NOT SAY THAT.’
Treasure Hunt 11/07/16
Rosie was lying on her couch, a novel in her hands, cocooned in a blanket, as the rain thundered down outside the window. Her small house smelt of fresh bread and washing. Her hair was freshly washed and plaited. There was a knock at the door. Rosie unrolled herself from the blanket reluctantly and padded out into the hallway in her socks. She couldn’t see any shadow outside the door, and when she opened it, she found that there was no one there, but a mysterious plain-looking package sat on the doorstep. Rosie picked it up and took it inside, looking around curiously for who might have left it.
Rosie set the package on her kitchen counter and peeled back the brown paper. It revealed a cardboard box with a complex line painting on the lid that seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Lifting off the lid, she saw a strange collection of what seemed like found objects. There was a beautiful peacock feather, a piece of rose quartz, a bunch of beautifully dried, preserved rose buds, and a scroll of rough parchment-like paper tied with a bright yellow ribbon. Rosie pulled gently at the ends of the shining ribbon and it fell away, allowing the paper to unroll. Written on it was a poem. It read:
“Roses red like darkest wine
Are found where Baker’s Street is high
And in the green where deer herds lie
Many feathered wings do fly
Follow stone paths to the sea
There tents and treats and treasures be
And at the end of this fair road
A place of ale and text is home.”
‘Hmm.’ Said Rosie out loud to herself. ‘Perhaps today is not a day to relax at home after all.’ She looked at the items in the box. It seemed as though the poem referred to where each of them had come from. It was a kind of treasure hunt. She laced up her boots and pulled on her raincoat, put her keys in her pocket, and thought about the first clue. There was a street called Bakers Street towards the centre of town. She knew that after the part she knew well, where the bakery was, the road went up a steep hill. That could be what ‘high’ referred to. She set off, pulling up the hood of her coat.
When she reached the top of the hill, Rosie was very warm despite the rain. She crested the hill into a grassed area with beds and beds of roses, petals dotted with water droplets as the rain softened to a light mist. She paused to pick the head from one rose and place it into her coat pocket, then continued through the roses to a less tamed heath that lay beyond. A sign proclaimed that this was Oak Hill Wilderness reserve, and a number of deer were grazing. Rosie looked around for birds. She spied a lake a little further on where some swans and geese were wandering, and headed that way. A great deal of chirping and squawking from the trees by the lake revealed that there were many other birds nearby. Rosie spied and collected a colourful parrot feather. What did the poem say next? ‘Follow stone paths to the sea….’ She looked for a path or sign, and saw that a worn pathway passing through the middle of the reserve headed up over a rocky rise into the distance. She set off this way, and was soon rewarded with a sign pointing to the seaside market.
On the shore there was indeed a little fair, brightly coloured tents and marquees sheltering stalls of all kinds, including one called ‘The Treasure Trove’ selling all kinds of semi-precious stones. Rosie collected from there a tigerseye to go in her treasure pocket. She walked through the rest of the fair, admiring the colours and stalls and scents, and at the end of the road stood a pub with a sign naming it ‘The Library Inn.’ Rosie stepped inside. The walls were lined with books. At the bar sat a lone customer, sipping at some hot soup and ale. They looked up and smiled, and Rosie recognised, to her surprise, a friend from her primary school days. She had almost forgotten about Rosemary, although they had spent much of their time together in their early school days, much to the confusion of teachers trying to remember their names. Rosemary’s family had moved interstate when they started high school, and Rosie had not seen her since. Yet Rosemary remembered all kinds of things about Rosie; she produced a slice of her favourite cake, bought at the fair, and guessed her favourite drink although they had never been old enough to drink together before. Rosie remembered one thing about Rosemary; she had collected feathers to make quills. So she drew out of her pocket the colourful parrot’s feather, exchanging it for the cake, and over ale a past not shared was filled in and a friendship was reborn.
Max was trying to set up a microphone. However, Kyle seemed to have decided that the tennis racket he’d found in the shed odds and ends box would suffice and had already started loudly singing a song about Gandalf and striking poses. He kept bumping into Max as he danced, which was making it very hard for Max to put things where he wanted them.
‘Kyle! Could you just let me get everything set up first?’ Max complained. ‘We really do need to practise if we’re going to play our songs at the Con on the weekend.’ He looked around. ‘Where has Ryan gone?’ Kyle shrugged.
‘IDK Max. He went into your back yard. I thought he probably needed to bring some drums from the car.’ Max froze.
‘Oh NO! He’s probably spotted a Pokemon! Quick, get out there and steal it before he gets completely distracted and goes off into the neighbour’s yards!’ Kyle dropped the tennis racket back into the odds and ends box and went outside. ‘And PLEASE stop using internet acronyms in speech!’ Max called after him. Max reappeared around the door.
‘Language is evolving Max! You gotta get over it. I found an article – ‘
‘Kyle can you just go and stop Ryan from playing Pokemon Go?’
‘Oh yeah – sorry.’ Kyle went back outside.
Finally, Max had some peace to finish plugging everything in and do a sound check. Everything was soon ready to go and he stuck his head out of the shed door.
‘Guys! We can start now!’ There was no answer. He went into the yard. No Kyle or Ryan in sight. Great. He went around the front. Ryan was up a tree. ‘Guys! We need to rehearse! Put the game away for a while would you?’ Kyle looked around.
‘Ryan is stuck.’ Max sighed and went to get a ladder.
When he came back, Ryan had managed to get down somehow on his own and he and Kyle were out on the footpath.
‘Guys! Cut it out! We’re here to play music.’ Called Max. Ryan looked up.
‘We were just going to go to the top of your hill and back.’ Max rolled his eyes.
‘NO! You’ll say that and then you won’t come back for three hours. Get back inside!’ Kyle did a face.
‘OMG Max, you’re such a spoilsport.’ Max gritted his teeth and let that one slide. They’d never get to rehearsing if he set Kyle off on a language lecture.
About an hour and a half of rehearsal, by Max’s reckoning, was taken up by arguments about whether the lyrics were true to storylines, politically correct, inclusive, or epic enough. Then there were discussions about events in the books and movies and games concerned and a great deal of speculating about the cosplays they expected to see on the weekend. However, at some point in the evening, each of their songs was rehearsed and Max felt that they were sounding quite good. Afterwards they accidentally stayed up until one in the morning playing Warhammer, but that was okay – they still had Thursday to get an early night.
On Friday evening Max, Kyle and Ryan trailed into the convention venue looking rather bedraggled. Kyle had decided at the last minute that they all needed to be in matching cosplay costumes and had stayed up all night Thursday night cobbling together Star Wars outfits for them. Max had got worried about lyrics again and had to go through them all at five this morning and check them. Ryan had competed in an online Counterstrike game overnight with people overseas and got almost no sleep at all.
As they limped their way to the registration desk, Ryan suddenly put his hand to his ear and spun around looking horrified.
‘Smeg! I’ve lost my mana symbol earring!’ Max groaned.
‘Oh Ryan! Are you sure it isn’t just stuck in your cloak hood?’ Kyle felt about inside the Jedi hood for Ryan, who couldn’t reach (Max was holding a guitar, two microphones and a large coil of cables). Ryan shook his head.
‘It’s not in there. Did you put it in before or after you got dressed in your costume?’ Ryan looked like he was having trouble remembering. Just then Max saw someone walk past with the exact kind of earring Ryan was missing.
‘Hey! Hey! That girl has one! Maybe she picked it up.’ Max went chasing after the girl with the mana earring. Kyle said
‘BRB’ to the people on the desk and then he and Ryan dashed off in hot pursuit.
Almost immediately they were completely lost. Then Ryan frowned at a couple walking in their direction, holding hands. Both individuals had mana earrings in.
‘Ohhhh.’ Said Max. They looked around nearby. Sure enough, there was a stall selling mana earrings, and Ryan’s colour was obviously the most popular; the stall holder had a lot of them.
‘Lol.’ Said Kyle.
‘KYLE!’ Exclaimed the others in unison.
‘It’s not funny.’ Max said. ‘Ryan never found his earring and now we’re lost and I’m pretty sure we will have been marked as no-shows by now!’ Kyle shrugged.
‘Let’s just play our songs here! People will still listen and enjoy it.’
It was true. People did, although it was mainly thanks to a kind person in a dalek who helped them attract attention by hanging around and occasionally ‘singing’ along. When they’d finished the last song, Max high-fived the other two.
‘Thanks guys! Sorry about your earring Ryan.’ Ryan looked a bit embarrassed.
‘Um, you know, I think I might have just forgotten to put it in.’
‘Lol.’ Said Kyle.
Abbey was sitting in the shade of an oak tree, watching the tangle of blackberry bushes that formed the hedge at the edge of the reserve. She could hear the distant chime of children’s voices at the playground, the chirps and peeps of many birds, the scratching of squirrels and rats in the undergrowth. She could smell the mulch of fallen leaves, dampened by a recent light rainfall and falling to pieces as the new shoots of grasses, creepers, bulbs and young seedlings pushed their way toward the light. There was a faint disturbance of smoke from a cooking fire a gathering of people had lit somewhere further up the pathway on the green. Bumble bees made their noisy whirring and leaves occasionally fell as pigeons had disagreements in the treetops above.
Abbey was aware of all this, but she was focusing on something smaller. Her eyes traced the leaves of the blackberry branches, resting on opening buds and the green beginnings of berries as she sought the ridged, orange-striped shells of ladybug larvae, the translucent casings left behind by metamorphosis or the telltale red shine of fully developed wings. She couldn’t exactly explain why she loved ladybugs so much, but it always delighted her when they began to appear for Summer. She watched one make its way along the underside of a leaf, almost hidden in the shade except for the occasional glint of sunlight catching the red on its back.
Abbey reluctantly went home when the wind turned chill and misty rain began to cool her skin. The next day she was surprised to see a ladybug larva clinging to her windowframe at home. Even as she wondered whether to take it outdoors, the little bug settled in a corner and curled itself into a beetle-like shape. Abbey smiled.
Though a week passed, and she feared all was not well, Abbey awoke one dreary Thursday to a ladybug on the windowpane. She carried this special guest outdoors on a scrap of paper, but it didn’t fly away. So Abbey took it to the nearest blackberry hedge, and watched as it disappeared among the petals of the blossom.
‘Mrrooowlll! Meoowwwlll!’ Came the call from under the window. It was one in the morning and Borris’s admirers were arriving. Borris sat upon the windowsill of the great hall, grooming his long, black coat and puffing up his white tuxedo bib. If he was going to defeat the evil mice tonight, he needed to look his best so that he would go down in history nicely dressed. He wasn’t interested in the other felines whose voices rose like banshee calls upon the night breeze, seeking his attention. He had more pressing concerns. Under the dresser only metres away was one of the evil mice. It was unaware of his presence. Borris was well disguised by the fact that the whole house smelt like him, so his scent in any particular room was not especially conspicuous. He was watching the mouse closely for evidence of the Keen Clan’s next plan.
The humans in the Hamming House were not nearly as concerned about their mouse problem as they ought to be. They seemed to think Borris had it in hand. Borris, however, was aware that the mice here plotted and schemed and conducted organised efforts to turn good food poisonous, damage good sleeping places, and spread disease to other species. They desired total ownership of the place, and sought to eliminate all the other inhabitants. At least Borris was fairly certain that was what they wanted. It could be difficult to tell with mice.
As Borris glared down at the mouse it began to chew at the skirting board, little tail twitching about evilly.
‘I knew it.’ Thought Borris. ‘Trying to damage the structure so that it will fall in and only be good for creatures their size.’ He leapt gallantly from the sill, landing stealthily on silken paws beside the dresser, and rolled underneath to tackle his foe. The mouse, taken by surprise, was caught instantly, but wriggled and slipped free, no doubt employing special evasion techniques the Clan practised. Borris lunged, but the mouse sped out across the floor, just as one of the humans entered the room.
‘No, stay away! You’ll be biten!’ Borris cried, leaping between the human and the mouse and throwing himself onto the human’s leg in attempt to push them out of the way.
‘Yow!’ The human shouted, obviously aware at last of the danger. They only wanted to help, Borris was sure, when they swung their leg about and flung him back in the direction of the mouse. With this airborne attack he easily trapped it.
‘Take it outside!’ Said the human. Borris agreed this was wise. But he snuck back in to leave some proof of his valiant efforts on the human’s bedside mat later for good measure. Today, the Hamming House, tomorrow, the world.
Blackberry picking was a ritual. The stained fingers and scratches, the juice being licked from fingers, the occasional wince as one turned out to be a bit tart. The piling of the berries in the basket stained with juice. Here between the hedges in the middle of the tiny place that was this specific bit of countryside, the grass grown tall and waving around them, except where the blackberry bushes had made no room for other plants, was a secluded haunt.
Somewhere out here was a meadow. The meadow was in Yana’s dreams sometimes. It was near here, but they’d never stopped there. In her dreams the wildflowers and the dappled sunlight waved around them and nothing else really existed but those dancing shadows and bright spots of colour. No rules, no biting insects, no hayfever, no inhibitions. Flowers like dabs of an artist’s brush on an expanse of flowing green. The meadow was in a kind of basin in the landscape, the ridged edges ringed with trees and shrubs that obscured it from view until you pushed through; made it a secret clearing. Some of the shrubs were blackberries like these. They tried to grab you as you walked in. In Yana’s dreams the meadow was impenetrable to anyone she didn’t want in it. It was her meadow.
She knew it was a real place, and she knew it wasn’t far away. The picture of it in her mind came from somewhere, from some trip out here when she was younger. It was too vivid a picture for her sleeping brain to paint on its own. Somewhere down these narrow roads with their high borders of grass and blackberries and apple trees, there was a bit of road that went past untamed forest instead of farmland and that was where it was. One day, she would stumble into it. Of this she was absolutely certain. But only when the time was exactly right. When there was something real to be discovered; a waking dream of sorts. And perhaps when she did not need the idea that those she didn’t want there couldn’t enter; perhaps when she was happy for it to be just a place that belonged to everyone. Then she would find it.
The blackberry picking and the telling about the meadow went together, a ritual gathering and storytelling time for whoever came with her for the Summer, out here, into her oasis. Some Summer, sometime, she would tell it to the right listener.
It fascinated Yana the way bulbs hibernated and resprouted, sending up green shoots from seemingly dry dead bases. She had pots and pots of them along her verandah’s edge. It didn’t look very nice when they were dormant, but she liked the surprise when they began to sprout again. She wondered how they knew it was time. Beyond the bulbs was a hedge of rosemary and behind that one of lavender. They smelt best in the Autumn, when the rain would wet them and then the sun would dry them. The bulbs sprouted then too. So Yana would take morning tea out to the little garden table, and pour the tea so the light filtered through the steam. Sometimes she had company, other times she just sat in reflection. Today she was reflecting, gazing into the rising steam with the fuzzy images of the plants behind faintly showing through it, as though it were a crystal ball to show her something important. It didn’t show her pictures in the steam. But it quieted the pictures of the world around so she could see the unresolved ones inside her head. Sometimes she imagined that all her thoughts were like photographs with holes in them or edges missing, and she was painting in the spaces with a fine brush and the pallet of fuzzy colours her eyes saw when they were unfocused.
She saw the stains that picked blackberries left on her hands, the confused moment when a piece of her friend Hamish’s hair had been caught on a thorn. The berries that had spilt on the road home the year a different friend, Maddy, had come on the picking expedition, and the basket weave had torn. It seemed to Yana that today she could make no sense of any of it, that the years blurred together and she wasn’t sure what had happened when, or why she did the same thing every year but with so many different people.
Movement in the steam caught her by surprise and she let her eyes refocus on the garden behind. A figure stood there, looking a little out of place in the countryside in too-new jeans and the kind of pretty shirt that the blackberry thorns would shred. She had a basket, not unlike the one that had broken the year Maddy came.
‘Hello.’ She said, smiling at Yana. ‘I’m Daisy. The nice woman I’m staying with said that you know where to find the last of the blackberries? I was hoping you might show me, and, well, teach me how to get at them without getting all scratched.’ Yana eyed her warily. It wasn’t every day a strange girl walked right up to your garden and asked about blackberries without being invited. After a long pause, in which Daisy tried to look friendly and grew anxious, Yana slowly smiled.
‘There won’t be many. I’ve picked most of the late ones a little over a week ago. But I can show you where and how to get a few.’ She looked Daisy up and down. ‘I hope you don’t expect those jeans to look so nice afterwards. And I think it’s probably best if you borrow a less… thorn prone shirt.’ Daisy laughed and looked down at the dainty cotton.
‘Yes, I suppose this was a very silly choice, really. I hope you don’t mind.’ Yana just shook her head, and got up from her little table, smiling a small thoughtful smile, and opened her cottage door.
‘Ah well no one knows quite what they’re looking for out here to begin with. Hard to get everything right when you aren’t sure what to expect.’ She walked inside, leaving the door open for Daisy to follow. How strange; it seemed that her reflections had conjured this new picking companion, and perhaps there ought to be more to ponder.
Paper Stories 18/07/16
George liked being a postie. It was easy to see how you fitted into the greater scheme of things; how you were connected to and helpful to other people, even ones who didn’t know you at all. You carried their messages and made sure people could reach each other, sometimes across the world, sometimes just across town, but messages in writing meant more sometimes, didn’t they? Ones on real paper you could keep forever if you wanted. Tuesday was George’s favourite day because there was always a lot of mail posted. He got to collect it and sort it and get it ready to be delivered to the right districts the next day, or sent off in the air mail truck. Sometimes he got to deliver parcels on Tuesdays, and that was his most favourite thing, because no one ever looked sad to see a parcel at their front door. He liked to try to imagine the stories of the letters and parcels; who had sent them and why, what the recipients would do in response.
He had just taken a parcel to a cottage which he always admired; it had the most colourful, vibrant and welcoming garden in about two square metres of front yard. You wouldn’t think it was possible; all down the street other people had concrete pavers or single shrubs in pots or all their space taken up by rubbish bins or bikes. But this one cottage clearly belonged to someone with outstanding gardening skills. They’d filled up their couple of metres with soil and tiny terraces, and flowering shrubs, beautiful bright annuals, herbs, bulbs and creepers which climbed all around the doorway sprung forth from it like a little oasis. George wondered where the woman put her bins. She’d beamed at the parcel and hurried back inside. George didn’t mind when people did this. It meant the parcel had a good story.
On his way back down the street, George noticed something colourful in the gutter. He hopped off his bike and knelt to pick it up. It was a little patchwork felt bear, all rainbow-coloured, but scuffed and dirty from the passing of foot traffic and vehicles. George liked the bear. It would have a good story, he thought. He sat it in his pocket and took it on his rounds, wondering if it would be claimed.
At the end of the day, George still had the bear. He locked up his bike at the front of his apartment block, and just as he was about to go inside, his neighbour, old Mrs Evans, came hurrying towards him.
‘That’s my Grandson’s! He lost it months ago!’ George smiled and handed the bear to Mrs Evans.
‘It might need a good bath, but there’s nothing broken.’ Mrs Evans beamed.
‘I’ll put him in a parcel tomorrow and you can deliver him dear.’ George smiled back. He would still have to take the parcel back to the main post office, but he didn’t mind. Mrs Evans’ grandson would no doubt have a good story about where the bear had been, and a letter for his grandmother.
The pub where Annie wanted to meet was called Dragonsbreath. It had a big detailed dragon’s head over the door that was kind of horrifying. Linda sort of ducked involuntarily as she walked in underneath it. But on the other hand, she of course hoped there was really something magical and fantastical about the place – who didn’t hope for a few bits of magic, seeing that name and such a convincing dragon over the door? Only those who swore they were ‘real adults’, and everyone knew they lied.
Linda was a bit nervous about meeting Annie after so many years. She hoped the magical pub helped them to talk easily. She and Annie had been friends through their high school choir and later hung on to a patchy friendship based on book club. She wasn’t sure what Annie did outside work now. Book club had turned into one long argumentative committee meeting and both Annie and Linda had left to avoid the squabbles. They’d had trouble staying in touch after that, until out of the blue Annie had emailed to arrange this catch up.
Linda looked around. The pub was well-suited to its name, with old musical instruments, flasks and paintings of fantasy scenes dotted all around. The bar claimed to sell butterbeer, so Linda had to try it, and that alone made for half an hour’s conversation.
No dragons or wizards came out that evening, but Linda thought the pub was truly magical all the same. It had the power to bring easy conversation and comfort, and she and Annie found memories of school days, mutually loved books and television, tales of family superstitions, and much more to discuss. When they left Linda thought, as she walked out beside Annie below the imposing dragon’s head, that they were right now the best friends they had ever been. So she turned back and gave the dragon a bow, and Annie laughed.
Acorn the forest cat had been following Amber, Tim and Tara on their travels for some time. He had first found them when their mobile home was parked in the forest near the edge of the farm where he was born. Acorn had found that there wasn’t enough mouse hunting work to go around on the farm, so he spent a lot of his time exploring in the forest and catching pigeons instead. One night the three humans had been there when he arrived, sitting around a very warm campfire. So Acorn had gone right up to them and curled up on Tara’s coat. It was much more comfortable there than vying for a seat near the fire with the other cats and dogs at the farm. At first they all agreed he was very cute, but it was less amusing when they moved on, and Acorn reappeared by their fire night after night, always seeming to successfully track them regardless of distance travelled. Acorn would materialise, sometimes with a dead pigeon, walk around the fire and sniff everyone’s dinner plates for any attractive leftovers, and then promptly settle down on any bits of clothing, swags, or similar that were left near the fire, sometimes hopping onto laps uninvited. Tim was confounded.
‘We can’t have a CAT in the campervan. There’s barely room for us in there!’ He said, shaking his head as they debated what to do about their new tag-along. ‘Anyway cats don’t go for walks; he won’t like moving around all the time.’ Amber looked at the cat curled up on top of her bag.
‘He seems to be fairly happy to move around so far.’ She gave him a pat and Acorn rolled around and purred.
‘He’s going to eat our food.’ Said Tim. ‘He’s no help with anything. Not like a dog that can hunt and guard us.’ But Amber looked meaningfully at the pigeon feathers scattered a little distance away and shrugged.
Tim and Tara were still not sold on having a cat travelling companion, and wouldn’t let Acorn get into the campervan, but they couldn’t really stop him from following them. He seemed to have an uncanny sense of where they had gone and how to find them. Amber began to expect Acorn’s appearance and put down her leftovers and drinks of water for him.
One night Tim woke in the dark, feeling apprehensive about something. He could hear some heavy movement outside. Looking out of the campervan window he could see Amber, who had decided to sleep in her swag, and Acorn, curled up on her feet. Neither of them was moving around. Cautiously Tim opened the campervan door and looked about. There was definitely something else hanging around their camp. He peered into the darkness, and as he watched, a large, shaggy shape came pacing out of the trees and began circling where the fire had been, obviously a little deterred by the still-glowing coals but very interested in what was to be found here. Tim took a sharp little breath. It was a bear.
‘Amber!’ He hissed, hoping to wake her without drawing the bear’s attention. Amber didn’t stir, but Acorn sat up, turned around, and saw the bear. He leapt from Amber’s feet and Tim expected him to run away, but Acorn stood in front of the bear and hissed. His fur stood on end. He arched his back, making himself as large as possible, and made horrible growling yowling noises. He stared at the bear’s face, eyes aglow in the low light. The bear stared back for a while, and then, growling back at the cat, slowly backed away and disappeared into the forest. Tim looked around in disbelief. Tara was standing behind him, he realised; she must have got up while he was too busy watching the scene to notice. They both looked at Amber, who sat up.
‘What was that?’ She asked. ‘I decided to keep my eyes shut.’ Tim shook his head, wide-eyed.
‘That was the cat showing what he’s useful for.’ He said. ‘He can ride in the van tomorrow, if he likes.’
Fast Forward 21/07/16
Emma’s old primary school had changed a lot since she’d been there. Where they used to have asphalt-surrounded shrubberies with the simplest, hardiest sort of plants, now there were grassy paths around varied garden beds full of native grasses, herbs and all kinds of flowers. It was much nicer, belonged much better in the surrounding countryside, and even seemed much more like somewhere children would be comfortable playing, but Emma felt very strange seeing it. It was like her primary school memories, formed running around those asphalt paths, grazing knees on them and jarring joints, didn’t have a home anymore. Their origin didn’t exist, and it made them seem surreal, as though perhaps she’d made it all up. The area of buildings where her grade seven classroom had been was now entirely taken up by a huge gymnasium. It made sense – all those classrooms had just been transportables. Yet to her, that room had been a home base for a whole year’s worth of conflicts, resolutions, new skills, and imaginings. It not being there threw her. She expected it to be there, even though she knew seven years had passed. She expected Mr Riggs to be inside, frowning over his strange little round glasses and stabbing at a blackboard with a little stubby bit of chalk.
Who was she supposed to tell about what she’d done since she left? She’d come here to find old faces, but now she saw how different this place was from where she’d thought she was going, she realised that many of the people might be different too. She could see even now, looking towards the gymnasium, an unfamiliar teacher standing near the door. They might not even believe she WAS an ex-pupil.
Her strange reverie was broken by two children barging past, racing headlong after a ball of some kind. They seemed not to notice her, but she noticed a lot of things about them before they charged back the other way. Their uniforms were just like hers. One of them even had the same kind of boots, scuffed at the toes. One had a grazed elbow that looked sore and recently incurred. There must still be asphalt somewhere. This place was different. But it was making their primary school memories now. To them, the grass-edged beds of wildflowers were a familiar setting for personalised games. The huge gymnasium must be where all the biggest moments happened – discos, assemblies, visiting performers, displays. Emma smiled then and turned around and walked back out the gate; the same, creaky, wire gate with a child-latch on. She didn’t seek out the teachers, or any more of the places she remembered. She liked her memories just the way they were.
The press of the wooden edges against my hand is soothing and invigorating. So often this skill slips away amongst the bustle of less time-thirsty ones. I can see the dust of graphite splintering off and I press for the darkest shadows, deepening the gaze of my subject. Smoothing the skin on their cheek as though I am wiping away tears, I spread the colour to make the edges gentle. I can smell the wood and graphite scent of the pencil tin, and it takes me back to school days, absorbed in the work, quiet and oblivious as the classroom echoed around me and others laughed and whispered and shouted. I would only smile, faintly recognising a joke, or frown a little, faintly recognising gossip, while most of my mind followed the lines in the reference picture I copied, traced the shadows, found the shapes. It is still the same. The peace descends. Hours pass. The cooking timer makes me jump out of my skin just like the bell for the next lesson once did. I feel faintly nostalgic, but it is not because of the memories of school; not unless then I was nostalgic for the future somehow, because I always had this feeling as I sat, pencil busy on the page. The sound of it scratching at the paper’s surface is loud. The sensation of the paper against my hand is as rough as the pencil is smooth. The picture becomes larger than life. Perhaps there lies the nostalgia. I look into the life of the face on the page, be it human or animal or a loved instrument or a growing plant, and I see its story, the emotions that might be attached to this scene, or that I know are. They wash out of the page like a gentle wave splashing against the shore and into me with every breath. The more detail I add, the more I understand them. There is life, and love, in almost anything we seek to depict on paper. If there weren’t, we might not bother. The still life shows objects that were precious, that held someone’s story. A garden is growing and alive, the scene of someone’s discoveries, games and memories. An animal has a story of their own, and perhaps they share some of it with a person, or perhaps they have secrets. A person has a history, a reason for smiling or gazing wistfully away. They are watching something, when they turn their gaze that way. Look closely, perhaps it is mirrored in their eyes. We imitate what we see, sometimes we add what we surmise, and we hope that we capture these meanings; that our pages reach out to the hearts of their viewers and tell them something about what they see there. We hope what they see then, they couldn’t have seen if they stood in the scene in life. They would have been too busy.
Daisy’s eyes scanned the image on the card, searching for missing certainty. It had to be perfect. Was it okay that the duck looked a bit wistful? Shouldn’t it be celebrating, because of Hamish’s big achievement? She went to look at Yana for guidance, but Yana had wandered off and was looking at stationery.
‘Yana? What do you think of this one?’ Daisy called, holding up the card. Yana shrugged.
‘Daisy, I’ve known Hamish most of my life, and one thing I can tell you about him, is no matter what card you choose, he won’t like it because he’s bad at accepting gifts.’ She examined a nice, leather-bound notebook. ‘He’ll be more pleased if we bake him a cake.’ Daisy sighed.
‘The cake will get eaten though! It won’t last. In six months’ time when he’s sitting at his desk in France he won’t remember it.’ Yana just laughed.
‘If he cares, he’ll remember us. If he doesn’t remember us, he won’t write, and we won’t remember him.’ Daisy frowned at her.
‘You’ve known this guy most of your life and you don’t care if he forgets all about you?’ She looked at the floor. ‘Would you care if I went away and forgot all about you?’ Yana rolled her eyes, wandered over, and bopped Daisy on the head with a plastic ruler.
‘You wouldn’t forget all about me though, would you, Daisy? Hamish might. That’s why I’m happy to bake cake and be done with it.’ She put the ruler back on a shelf where it didn’t belong, and put an arm around Daisy’s shoulders. ‘Listen, if you’re so keen to give Hamish something from us to keep, make your own card; he’ll like it better if it’s simple – write him a letter in it, decorate it. He’ll keep that.’ She guided Daisy out of the shop, giving the shopkeeper a little wave.
Back at Yana’s house, they baked a lemon sponge and decorated it with fresh mint sprigs and curly bits of apple and lemon peel made using the peeler. Daisy remembered her sister Abbey making her chocolate cake before she came here.
True to Yana’s word, Hamish loved his cake, and promised to keep the handmade card Daisy had written. When he left, Yana and Daisy stood out on the porch and waved him off. Yana seemed in very high spirits, as though she was excited.
‘Won’t you miss him when he’s far away and doesn’t visit?’ Daisy asked her. Yana smiled and shook her head.
‘Everywhere is far away from here, Daisy. People only come out to the countryside if they really care. And in just the same way, nowhere is far away. He’ll keep in touch, visit on holidays. Which is not much different from always, except now he’ll have more interesting stories.’ She looked up at the sky. ‘I think the apples might be ripe today. Do you want to come picking?’ Daisy thought about it.
‘Maybe later. I think I should write to Abbey.’ She disappeared back inside Yana’s cottage and started helping herself to stationery. Yana smiled, and went to make tea.
The Storm 25/07/16
Rosie once fell into one of those ships in a bottle. It was in the second hand shop down by school. She liked to go in there and try to find secret treasures. There were sometimes old books with fragile pages that she would turn gently, savouring the smell, or strange things, like lone peacock feathers, or tiny empty bottles made of coloured glass. One day, in the winding, narrow avenue between the wares in the back corner, surrounded on all sides by towering stacks of strange odds and ends, the bottle with a ship in it sat on a tiny round coffee table. Rosie knelt down on the old wooden floorboards beside the table and brought her eyes level with it. She watched the cream-coloured sails and fancied she saw them straining as they were filled with a magical wind. She looked at the ship’s curved wooden sides and she saw the sea wash up against them as it tossed and turned in a storm. She felt the movement of the waves beneath her and the icy cold splash of the ocean spray and the pounding rain. Lightning sparked on the horizon, disappearing into the sea, and her feet skated this way and that on the wet deck as she ran to help pull aside some ropes that threatened to trip her shipmates. A wave soared up and drenched her, and as the freezing water subsided, leaving her hanging on to a railing, Rosie blinked and found herself holding the edge of the small coffee table, still kneeling in the second hand shop.
‘Rosie!’ Her friend Mae was calling.
‘Coming!’ Rosie shouted, and raced outside into the sunshine.
The fountain bubbled and spouted. The group of drunk young adults wobbled about in the spray, feet in the pond, bottoms of skirts and wound up jeans getting wet as one of them held out a phone on a selfie stick. Mr Quest was watching from the park bench. He saw one of the young men drop something out of his pocket into the pond without noticing, too busy posing. Mr Quest knew it was a phone. The gears began to turn. In his mind he zoomed in on the pond, saw the youth step on the phone under the water and slip, knocking himself out. The accident brought an ambulance and police, cars slowing around the park as people tried to see what was happening. The fountain was drained, the other bedraggled fountain-waders hustled off home or to look after their friend in hospital. They turned on showers and televisions and lights at strange times of night. The tourists and ducks had no fountain or pond to enjoy. The tourists and ducks moved away, as though tipped down a sliding chute, and were deposited in the smaller, normally quieter park near Mr Quest’s house. The ducks were fed and quacked and pooped and the tourists swarmed about and the ground turned muddy and the air loud. Underneath the ground Mr Quest could see the earthworms struggling and in the trees he could see other creatures moving away to escape the noise and bustle.
Mr Quest leapt to his feet, ran over and fished out the dropped phone from the fountain. He held it up to the young man, whose face fell. The youth got out of the fountain immediately and sat on the edge.
‘Oh no! This is the worst night out EVER! Guys my phone is ruined!’ The other youths began climbing out of the fountain and gathering around to see.
‘Oh yeah. That’s stuffed man.’ The screen was indeed completely black. Mr Quest tipped his flat cap to them.
‘Could have been worse. Good evening to you.’ He ambled off down the path in the direction of home, their grumbles and jeers echoing behind him.
From July 27th I made Wednesday a second poem day to make way for starting a new job. You can find the best of the poems under the poems tab.
Not an Ad 28/07/16
Michael and Robyn stared at the smartly dressed woman sitting opposite them.
‘You do understand that we are an advertising agency?’ Said Robyn.
‘Yes.’ Said the woman. ‘I’m sure you’ll do an excellent job of convincing the public of our message.’ Robyn and Michael looked at one another.
‘But you want us to make an ad….. against ads. An anti-ad ad.’
‘Yes.’ Robyn chewed her pen, perplexed. Michael gave himself a shake.
‘Alright, well, we’ll see what we can come up with.’ He held out a hand to shake, indicating the meeting was over. ‘We’ll be in touch.’
After the woman left, Robyn and Michael tried to explain the project to the rest of the team. This took some doing. The brainstorming was a bit half-hearted at first. Eventually, however, Rex said,
‘Couldn’t we just put together all the worst, most annoying ads we’ve ever seen and stick on a message like “Let’s stop this!”?’
And that was what they did. For the next hour everyone thought of ads they hated and why they hated them. It was agreed that yelling sprukers in ads were one of the most irritating things, so they recorded Will, who had the most annoying voice, yelling, in his best spruking voice, things like
‘Isn’t THIS annOYing? Don’t you wish I’d just shut up so you can concentrate on your favourite show? But I WON’T, because it’s very important that I tell you ads like this in the future are down, down and STAYING down!’
Next Robyn came on and did a really gushy testimonial about how being ad free had changed her life and everyone else waved signs around and smiled their most fake smiles. Slightly too-quiet tinkly music played in the background.
Finally they designed an ending which looked like it was a movie at first, stunning landscapes and emotive music included, and then disappointingly came up with a text box with ‘Brand X’ in it just when it was really looking interesting. On the voiceover Rex said
‘This ad. The one that you’re now going to remember, because those landscapes and people showing emotions made you feel things. Don’t you wish it was actually a film with a real message? Aren’t you disappointed? That’s ads. Let’s go ad free.’
The team watched their draft product back with bemused smiles and slightly uncomfortable glances. When it was finished, Robyn shook her head.
‘So how does one actually support this no ads movement?’
Kelly had not been to many dinner parties in her life. One of her friends had held a few casual ones, the main purpose being to get to dessert, admire dessert very much and then clear the table of everything in order to play games. Those she considered long because they would play for several hours after eating. She wasn’t sure what to expect when her new French friend Chantelle invited her to one of the dinner gatherings she held at her house. Chantelle was studying history with Kelly at a local university. They often went with a few friends to get drinks or takeaway on Friday after their last class. Chantelle was always very relaxed on these occasions, and didn’t mind taking takeaway food to the park and feeding the birds, so Kelly imagined that dinner at Chantelle’s would not be too fancy. She’d heard of other people who went to great trouble with multiple courses, but Chantelle didn’t seem like that kind of person to her.
Kelly brought along some chocolate mousse because that seemed like a nice thing to do. She thought that Chantelle seemed a bit surprised but her sister Juliet, who Kelly had met only a few moments before, was very excited and carried it off to the kitchen beaming. Kelly understood why Chantelle was surprised when they started to have food. It wasn’t that Chantelle went to a lot of detailed effort to make extremely fancy food for each course, as Kelly had heard of some people doing, but that there really wasn’t any space in the evening’s food plan for any more things to eat.
Kelly had very much enjoyed the finger food Chantelle put out as they sipped on some champagne (among Kelly’s English friends champagne was reserved for major celebrations so she was rather pleased about being given some apparently just to celebrate gathering together.) Chantelle had made her own dips, which Kelly admired and treated as an entree. What Kelly failed to understand as she ate an absurd amount of dip and crackers, in order to try plenty of everything, was that there would definitely be more entree food and it would be accompanied by a new alcoholic beverage.
As the evening went on, Kelly understood three things: First, one should not eat more than a small sample of the finger food offered at Chantelle’s house. Second, nothing could be eaten without a drink. And thirdly, she definitely could not host a dinner for Chantelle; her cooking skills were good, but her creativity to invent something for every course was lacking, as was her budget for alcoholic drinks and her understanding of which of the courses was actually essential.
The one that surprised her most was that the main course was not followed by dessert, but by cheese. Excellent cheese that had to be tasted despite the enormous variety of things that had already had to be tasted during the main meal. Then there was cake, and Kelly imagined that her mousse would be neglected, but Chantelle simply brought it out after the cake, and her family happily ate it anyway and discussed all of its virtues and asked how Kelly had made it, expecting to have the recipe explained in complete detail, and reflected on similar things they had tried in other parts of the world, and all the while offered around coffee and liqueur.
Kelly was very surprised to find, when she left to ride her bike the short distance home, that she was not at all drunk after all this, nor did she feel ill from eating too much. It was only when she was unlocking her door, and glancing around at her darkened street, that she checked her watch and understood that she had just participated in an eight hour extended appreciation of food and beverages, so stretched out by the careful examination of everything consumed that each part was all but digested before the next began. She did not imagine that she could ever replicate such an event for her own family; perhaps if it was ever to be attempted, she would have to bring Chantelle to help her.
Memory Scraps 31/07/16
It was a dreary old day and there was spitting rain and very little in the way of daylight, but Carry and Thomas went out for a walk anyway because staying in the house felt claustrophobic. They drew up their coat hoods and stuffed their hands in their pockets and strode along the soggy footpath. As they walked, they began one of those discussions that began ‘do you remember those…’ and ranged over all kinds of strange small objects that had seemed like a very big deal in childhood and teenage years. Carry remembered ‘smelly stickers’ that had interesting sweet scents when you scratched them. It had been the main goal of making an effort with homework to get one of these. Thomas had never got any of those (his teacher at the same age was strictly sparkly stars only), but he did remember with humour the era of those bracelets that were like rounded rubber bands in different colours and were supposed to have meanings. Carry could only recall the rather inappropriate name used for them by some of her friends and not the more generic one. She certainly couldn’t remember anything about which colour had meant what. But of course she remembered them; girls with stacks of them on walking around looking like portable rubber band holders.
Carry’s favourite popular item of all of her childhood and teen years, however, had been the slinky. She recalled that her grade four teacher had had one in a lucky dip box, from which prizes were awarded for exceptionally good work. She’d tried all year to get the slinky, but on the few occasions she’d received a lucky dip, she’d always grabbed something else, until finally someone else got the slinky and Carry was bitterly jealous. She’d watched that other kid, Nathan, playing with the slinky for weeks on end, delighted at the way it could climb down stairs and seemed to move with such beautiful graceful energy. It had always been one of her most hoped-for presents. At thirteen she’d got one in a little box of bits and pieces given to her by a friend as a birthday present. Unfortunately, though, this particular slinky wasn’t quite so good at descending stairs and only the second time she’d prepared to watch it make its graceful climb, it had fallen between one of the gaps in the stairs outside the local library and she’d known she was a bit old to make too much fuss about losing it. After that she’d given up on slinkies, she told Thomas.
About a month later came another dreary, dark Sunday afternoon, and Thomas and Carry were sitting on the carpet with their backs against the sofa, drinking tea and watching the rain through the window. Suddenly Thomas got up and went out of the room. When he came back, he put his hands over Carry’s eyes and dropped something into her lap. She opened her eyes to find a miniature gold slinky with super fine wire rings. When she scooped it up, it bounced from her fingers with the organic-looking movement of a vine moving in the breeze. She laughed and kissed Thomas on the forehead. It was such a thoughtful little gesture. They took the slinky into the hallway and set it up on the stairs with Thomas at the bottom to catch. Carry let it go and it danced down the steps to meet Thomas’s waiting hands. He scooped it up with a wry little smile.
‘Not quite the same as a twenty-five-year-old, is it?’ He said. Carry shrugged.
‘No. But it’s still one of the coolest little contraptions I’ve ever seen.’ And so while the rain splatted down outside and their tea went cold, Carry and Thomas played with Carry’s slinky, sitting in the stairwell like silly twelve-year-olds and having an excellent afternoon, as rainy afternoons went.
Tripping Tunes 01/08/16
Tim liked to dance while playing guitar. But not just your average bit of nodding or hopping up and down occasionally; Tim liked to make complex percussion with his feet. It made great sounds in Amy’s Grandma’s living room, where the floor was wooden with some spring to it. Objects near Tim such as the microphone stand sometimes bounced about a bit, but it was alright as long as he kept one hand on them or they used gaffer tape to secure them to the floor.
At their very first gig in a small pub, however, the floor had been big slate pavers, and both Amy and Tim had been very disappointed at hearing their songs devoid of the rhythm normally supplied by Tim’s feet. In the band after them, someone had a stomp box, and Amy’s eyes lit up with inspiration.
‘That’s what you need Tim! A bigger one of those, that you can stand completely on top of.’ Tim liked this idea a lot.
So Amy and Tim visited various hardware and music and electronics stores and produced a little plywood box just large enough for Tim to stand completely on top of and move around a little bit. Inside was a microphone and the cable for this came out the back of the box for easy connection to a sound system if necessary. They tested it out on the carpet at Grandma’s house, where the sound of Tim’s feet would normally be muffled. Tim could make excellent sounds standing on the little box even without the microphone turned on, so Amy and Tim were very pleased with themselves indeed.
Their next gig was at a little garden party where the hosts had hired a small stage for them. It was a little bit tricky fitting Tim’s feet-box behind his microphone stand along with speakers and the various guitars and Amy’s microphone and a fold out table for the little mixing desk, but determined to test it out, they shuffled things around until finally everything was on the stage. A quick sound check revealed that the box made great sounds and needed very little amplification to easily be heard over the guitars and vocals.
The trouble started when they began to play in earnest. The first song went down very well but afterwards Tim noticed at his microphone stand, although it was gaffer-taped down as usual, had been pushed ever so slightly towards the edge of the stage by his feet-box, which seemed to be shifting forwards a little as he danced on it. He moved everything back where it should be, added another layer of tape and hoped for the best. However the next song was a much more upbeat number and Tim’s foot-percussion became much more vigorous. He didn’t notice the extra beat that was being created by the box hitting the microphone stand until the microphone finally tried to tip off the stage, its base still taped down, but the rest of it leaning over like a falling tree. Tim grabbed at it, but in the process lost his balance, caught his foot on the edge of his feet-box and plummeted forward, sprawled over the box and half-off the stage, one hand hanging onto the dangling microphone.
Despite extreme embarrassment, Tim was unhurt, and someone went inside the house and returned with a rubber mat to put under the box so that it would stay in one place. Amy and Tim finished their set, and the audience seemed to be all the more appreciative because of Amy and Tim’s obvious resourcefulness in creating the unusual source of percussion. Afterwards Amy went so far as to say,
‘Well that went quite well all in all.’ Tim was not sure he agreed with her sentiments, but the box, complete with a new rubber matting base, stuck, and traveled with them to every performance from that day onwards.
Mystery in the Forest 02/08/16
The little country town looked sleepy and quaint, with thatched rooves, narrow winding lanes and small shops including a real baked-on-the-spot bakery. Lena was delighted, pointing out ponies and running to take pictures of windows and rooves and mossy cobbled driveways. Martin was less excited.
‘This place is murdery.’ He announced. Ross rolled his eyes.
‘Martin, you watch far too many of those detective shows. Not all small country towns have twenty-five murders a year.’ Martin chewed his freshly-made chocolate éclair.
‘Looks murdery to me. Look at that local, pruning roses.’ Jo chuckled and unfolded the map.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘We’re not staying in the town anyway. We’re going to the camping ground out here by the forest.’ She pointed to a green patch. Martin looked.
‘Oh good. A nice secluded place full of people everyone knows don’t know the area.’ He said sarcastically. Ross went ‘Ughhhhhh,’ and went to pat a cow that was leaning over a nearby fence. Lena turned around as he caught her up.
‘I think we might need more tent pegs. It looks pretty windy. Plus, the camping store looked like it was next to the pub. Just saying.’
Inside the pub there was a lovely wood fire crackling away and an assortment of locals who tried to stare at them without being too obvious. The four of them slid onto stools at the bar and asked to try whatever beer was local.
‘You’ve arrived during a mystery this week!’ The barman told them, and various people nearby made sounds of agreement and nodded. Martin made big eyes at the others. ‘Jack and Rod here both have berry farms ya see, and all this week, someone’s bin nicking all the raspberries. Not a single one left in the morning, every time any of them look like getting ripe the night before. Only the raspberries though – everything else is left alone!’ He gave them a conspiratorial look with his head on the side. ‘Must be VERY sneaky, this thief! Doesn’t seem to matter what they do to stop them; the berries still go missing.’ The farmers agreed and grumbled. Martin looked a bit disappointed.
At the camping ground Ross and Lena set up the tent and Martin and Jo went on a firewood hunt. As they were gathering up kindling, Martin spotted a lone raspberry lying among the dry leaves and twigs.
‘Ha! Look!’ He exclaimed. ‘That raspberry thief has been this way.’ Lena smiled.
‘Maybe. We’ll have to keep our ears and eyes open overnight.’
During the night, Martin was very awake. This meant that everyone else was awake too because Martin wouldn’t stop moving around and sitting up suddenly to listen to noises. Jo was getting very annoyed and had stolen Ross’s earplugs and face mask, which meant that ROSS was now getting very annoyed, and had gone under his pillow. After many hours of careful listening, however, Martin’s vigilance paid off. He heard a very quiet but definite pad of footsteps and gentle rustling of leaves outside. Wriggling on his elbows, Martin slid forward and peeked out of the zipper. He saw a very strange sight. A boy of about fourteen was sneaking across the grounds, carrying a very big basket that made him resemble Little Red Riding Hood or some kind of strange Easter Bunny in a hoodie. Some kind of creatures were moving around in the basket, and close on the boy’s heels, a hedgehog was following. Martin hurried out of the tent, stepping all over a grumbling Lena. He put on his shoes as silently as possible and tip-toed after the kid. This was difficult; the boy was moving surprisingly fast, but Martin caught up just as the boy and the hedgehog came to the fence of a farm.
Martin watched as the strange pair got over the fence with almost no difficulty, and headed for the raspberry plot. The plants were covered with nets but the boy put down the basket and started lifting them up, and out of his basket climbed ten baby hedgehogs, who hustled in under the net and began gulping up all the fruit that had fallen to the ground. The boy then began to quickly and quietly pick fruit from the plants, placing some in the basket and some in a box which Martin supposed was for himself. Martin wondered what he should do. The kid and his hedgehogs were really pretty cute. He didn’t really want to get them into trouble. He walked a little closer and called softly,
‘Hey, kid – don’t take all of them alright?’ The boy gave a start and the hedgehogs all ran back towards him. ‘Don’t worry.’ Said Martin. ‘I won’t tell on you. You have cute pets. And you’re not murdery. Right?’
Putting on the Track Pants 04/07/16
It was a good sunny sort of day for pretending to be rich and famous and the seaside walk was quietly humming with polite conversation made by people in deck chairs trying to speak nicely. Among them were Sally, Arthur and Emma, who had arrived today with newly purchased fascinators, a basket of food they were not sure how to tackle and new clothing that had to be protected from said food. Emma was presently trying to work out whether one could remove one’s very fashionable shoes and go down onto the sand without being laughed at.
Emma didn’t get as far as the sand, however, because immediately upon standing she got the heel of aforementioned fancy shoe stuck in between the flagstones on the pavement. Arthur stood up and assisted her to remove it with minimal embarrassment but she subsequently sank into the grass so much when attempting to cross the park that she gave up on the idea of reaching the sand altogether. A seagull thanked Arthur for his helpfulness by dropping a large dropping onto his impressive tweed waistcoat.
They had both sat back down, after much wiping of Arthur’s lapel with handkerchiefs, and begun trying to navigate the food, when to their horror, a group of other young well-dressed seaside-goers wandered over to socialise with them. It was soon evident that they lacked the background knowledge to understand many of the references made by this other group and Sally had very soon caused a great deal of embarrassment by failing to eat various items out of the picnic basket in the appropriate manner.
Eventually Arthur tossed his ostentatious hat onto the ground and said to the world at large,
‘You know what? All I want is some shorts and pizza and a good old argument about something on TV.’ Their new acquaintances looked rather taken aback, but one of them, Adele, who had been the quietest until now, replied,
‘Can I come? I rather fancy experiencing that.’ The three friends looked at one another and shrugged. It seemed they would have to bring Adele along for a traditional pizza and movie night on Arthur’s flat floor.
Upon arriving at the flat, Emma had to lend Adele some track pants and socks and a hoodie so she wouldn’t drop pizza on her floral blouse. To their surprise, Adele danced about and carried on about the comfiness of the small flat and the pants and was more enthusiastic about pizza than any of them. The night concluded with a game of Twister fueled by pizza and icecream and Newcastle Brown Ale, and Sally, Arthur and Emma acquired a steadfast new friend.
Tricks and Treats 06/08/16
Riley was a pixie. Every afternoon when the fairies were trying to entertain it was her job to cause trouble. What nobody ever explained to the visitors was that the chaos she brought was there for entertainment. She wasn’t sure if the job was a calling yet; it could be a lot of fun. Sometimes, though, afterwards when the visitors would sit and complain about her with the fairies and praise them for kicking her out while she sat up in the trees above, hidden by a camouflage spell, she would feel rather resentful. No one ever seemed to work out that fairies and pixies weren’t actually different species. They were just the same little people doing different jobs. Fairies got to charm people and make feasts and dance, and pixies got to upend tables and steal cakes and tie people’s shoe laces together, so that they didn’t get bored just having a pleasant time. People were like that. If things were too simply nice, they got bored, and they started being unpleasant amongst themselves. So it always helped things to go better if pixies did their job well; their tricks had to be vexing enough to grab everyone’s attention and get them initially annoyed, but be easy to laugh at afterwards.
Today Riley had tied three people’s shoes onto each other under the table. She was especially pleased with herself about this, because they would inevitably fall on each other, which would be very embarrassing and then they would be good friends afterwards because you had to learn to get on with people you’d been physically tied to, she found. She’d swapped all the name tags and put some sticky honey under the milk jug. Milk would get spilt and people would learn each other’s names properly because they’d have to, plus they’d always remember the real name of the person who’d ended up with their name.
She lay back in her tree top hidden hammock and watched the show. As usual, the fairies blamed pixies and everyone started to tut-tut and grumble about how troublesome those pixies were, getting along famously. After a while of putting up with this, Riley had an idea. She made her way through the tree branches to the special tea party wardrobe, grabbed one of the others’ spare dresses, and transformed into a fairy. Change complete, she flew down without warning and crashed right into Bluebell.
‘Oh! I’m very sorry! A pixie spun me around!’ She exclaimed. ‘Goodness, is that cake?’
The others were obliged to give Riley some cake and tea, and Riley resolved henceforth never to play only one role at work.