Friday, 6 May 2011

Crones

Crones

“Who is that woman sitting across from us?” my table companion leaned close to be heard over the conversations and music. I looked at her and glanced at her husband's enquiring face. They really had no clue. I looked across the table to the weathered face of the woman I had known all her life. Her skin had aged beyond her years and contrasted glaringly with her dyed blonde hair in a Stevie Nicks 80's style, thirty years behind the times. Her make up sat heavy on her too soon crepe eyelids and her hands shook as she reached into her bag for the ever present cigarettes. She wore clothes a teenage girl would have been proud to wear and I felt sad for the teen girl lost in this aging woman.
“She is my sister, the bride's sister. She is the next youngest after me.” The couple looked shocked and puzzled.
“We didn't even know she existed.” These people had been friends of the bride's parents for many many years.
“That's because we are the green sheep of the family” I laughed as I always do to cover awkward moments and ease things for others. “Besides daughters don't count.” I smiled and got up from the table to talk with people who had kept themselves strangers from me when I lived here but who had put on their wedding happy faces and pretended they had missed me. The same people who had taken bets on which local man would invade my grief to offer me sexual solace after my husband left. The people who had no interest in my pain or loneliness or grief.
By chance I sat with another of my sister's. This one a tall robust woman with a giant heart and a difficult nature. Pain does that to people. She had had pain for a long time, physically, mentally and emotionally. We all had, and tonight was no exception. People had noticed. The main table was set for the father and mother of the bride, the father and mother of the groom, three of the bride's brothers and their partners but not us. Her sister's were relegated to wherever we could find a seat amongst the general guests. I doubt we would even have been invited if the bride had not insisted. One brother and one sister had not been invited at all.
I looked up as our other sister joined us after her smoke. A girl approached us with a camcorder, gushing and grinning and asking us to record something for the bride.
A fairy tale from my childhood floated into my fore brain as I looked at us. The three wise old crones leaving our wisdom and wishes for the new bride. Each bestowing her own particular gem.
It was only a moment but it was too much. We were all wondering why she had a father and a wedding and all these trimmings and we had been cast aside like waste products in an abattoir.
The brides mother dandled her grandchild on her knee. “oh it is so lovely that we finally have a grandchild” emphasising the we, she gushed and cooed at the baby. I looked at the dance floor and counted the other ten grandchildren who didn't rate a mention.
Of course they wouldn't, they were the children of her husbands first family. Mine and my sister's children.
I knew this would be a gruelling ordeal and I had been working up to it for weeks. I hadn't been able to attend my baby sister's engagement. I wasn't mentally prepared to face her parents. I had a breakdown in the car fifteen kilometres from the wedding venue. Sobbing and punching my steering wheel and fighting with myself not to just turn around and drive for three hours back to the safety of my own home.
My children were horrified. They could not fathom what was wrong with me. I told them that the people they were about to meet would be lovely and friendly and kind and probably funny and they would never understand what was wrong with me or what they were really like because they hadn't lived with them.
When I arrived I had support from a most unexpected quarter.
“Don't worry Mum, if anyone gives you shit just let me know and I'll deal with them for ya.” I was so stunned by this I burst into tears again. My tall skinny boy had my back. I hadn't dared hope any of my boys would support me. I thought they all lived in happy families pretend land. My first born just told me to get a grip in that gruff, don't embarrass me mum way of his.
I managed to catch my breath and put on my public smile in time to greet several of my brothers whom I had not seen for some time. I smiled at people I had not seen for years and smiled at nephews and nieces and strangers. I hugged my sisters and kept smiling even when my cheeks hurt.
I sprinkled glitter on the bride and she laughed. In an attempt at a positive interaction with her mother I said that the glitter down her dress would make her remember me, to which she responded “Why would she remember you? Oh that's right you are one of the, er, sisters.” must be alzheimer's setting in early since she has known me for 39 years. I didn't think anything would have changed but I am ever the optimist and hope burns eternal even in the face of all opposition.
I wished the bride a long and happy marriage. I think that is what I said. I think I said that the way the groom looked at her gave me hope that her future would be full of love. I am not sure really what I said but I wanted her to know that I really was there for her in my own small way.
I had always felt sad for the crones in the story and now I am one.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

the rejected novel

My first attempt at a novel took possession of me back in 1999. Its original title : if the shoe fits has been used by someone else and its current working title: the ogre and the puppet woman is unworkable however I doubt I will use this novel again but it does have some good elements I will recycle.
This Novel was rejected by two publishing houses with wonderful feedback and encouragement.
It took me six months to get the courage to actually post this first manuscript once it was in the envelope. It served the purpose of getting me past a fear hump and now I look back on the piece I see so many glaring problems with it but I also see where my influences came from.
I have always wanted to write or rather I just made up stories but I rarely wrote them down. I told stories to my younger siblings and children I babysat in my teens and I have had people tell me over the years that the stories I told them stayed with them. One beautiful young mother tells me she tells my stories to her children.
My own children both grown and still at home often recount how my stories stay with them and my siblings tell me my early stories gave them nightmares and an indelible impression in their memories. I hope they will tell those stories back to me some day because I have forgotten them.

I have several novels in progress. One is a SF/fantasy, one fits in to the new 'urban fiction' category, several are for children and involve fairies far removed from the pretty delicate things people tend to think of, a couple of odd romances and some childrens picture books about relationships. I also have a 'how to' I intend to dust off, polish up and send out into the world.

I am excited about the year ahead in terms of my writing and I am extremely grateful to my supportive fans who bully me about when the next part of an adventure will be related.

My step Dad

My step dad

My step dad is short and has red hair and blue eyes. His hair curls up at the ends but he hasn’t any hair on top. He doesn’t look like us.

My step dad says he is a leprechaun and when his work made him wear bright green overalls, he let me paint his lunchbox and boots to match.

My step dad took me fire spotting with him in the Mt. Gordon fire tower. It was very high and scary but I felt safe because he was right behind me. I saw an eagle from the tower.

My step dad loves my mum. He dances rock and roll with her and they are very good.

My step dad is a big Elvis fan. He doesn’t look like Elvis either but he pretends sometimes.

My step dad helps people. I get so mad sometimes when he is taking us to the movies and he stops for a broken down car and we don’t get there.

My step dad works in the forest and he smells like timber and smoke and warmth.

My step dad brushes my hair very gently.

My step dad plays darts. He showed us how to play darts too. We all joined the local team.

My step dad plays footy. I never went to footy matches before he came to live with us.

My step dad smokes a pipe and plays guitar. He likes playing duelling banjos. I like the smell of tobacco but not when it is burning in the pipe.

My step dad makes the best chips in the world. Sometimes for a treat he would buy prawn crackers and cook them for us too.

My step dad took us on holiday to Queensland. We had lots of fun at the beach until I got caught in jelly fish tentacles. My step dad put vinegar on me and it didn’t sting for too long.

My step dad lights the fire at night to keep us warm. He showed me how to build the kindling up so the fire will go first time.

My step dad makes me feel safe. I fall asleep listening to him talking gently to my mum.

My step dad isn’t my father but he loves me just the same and I love him.

Cecilia Clark August 2003 ©

my step mum

My step mum

My step mum comes from overseas. She doesn’t say things the same way we do.

My step mum cooks different things than mum does. I like some of the things she cooks but some of them smell funny and look weird.

My step mum loves animals. She looks after baby wallabies and has lots of different types of birds in her hen house.

My step mum works on the farm with my dad. She works very hard and is very skinny.

My step mum keeps a diary every day. She writes in tiny writing. I started keeping a diary.

My step mum takes photos. She has thousands of pictures of all the places she has been. She has been to lots of countries.

My step mum tells really funny stories.

My step mum speaks lots of languages. I want to speak lots of languages too.

My step mum gives all the animals on the farm a name.

My step mum misses her family overseas but she is part of our family now too.

My step mum does a lot of things differently than we are used to but we like new things.

My step mum holds hands with my dad when they walk through the bush looking at things. That’s cute.

My step mum annoys me sometimes. She says children where she comes from are never naughty like me. I think she made that up.

My step mum holds my head when I am sick and gets a cold cloth for my forehead.

My step mum has lots of cool collections of thimbles and shells and animal skulls.

My step mum is nice. I like her a lot.

My step mum doesn’t have warts or a magic mirror and she doesn’t give me poisoned apples or lose me in the forest. Step mums are OK!



Cecilia Clark September 2003 ©

practice bad writing

The girl stood on the burning deck with her personal floatation device slipped over her neck and she wondered why they were called personal flotation devices instead of life preservers like they used to be called, because if she had to jump in the water it would be a life preserver but then of course she supposed it was going to help her float so it was a floatation device and life savers were those men in skimpy bathers or the lollies that looked like life preservers.

memories

In the deep, the two strong swimmers felt the pull and drag of the waves on their young bodies. They raced between waves, parallel to the shore, dragging their arms through the rippling turquoise liquid, flipping under the waves, somersaulting and splashing. Filled with joy and youthful enthusiasm for this warm tropical water. Movement toward the beach caught the girls attention and she swam through the breakers and paddled toward the shore, trying to see what was attracting so many people. Her ear detected a wailing sound as she moved closer. Her feet dropped slowly to the seabed and she stood up. The wailing became a siren.
“Jellies! Look at the Jellies!” people were yelling and gesticulating at the water. Just beyond the wave line the sea was covered with a blanket of bobbing gelatinous globes. “Get out of the water! Get out of the water!” The girls' stomach clenched and her heart started racing as her eye fell on the bobbing head of her brother just metres from the front line of Jellies. She raced back toward him, ignoring the cries of the crowd behind her. She ran through the water, her attempt to move swiftly taking on the frustrating slowness of a dream as the water sucked and dragged at her legs. Her terror for the fate of her brother pushed her onwards, she tried to yell and swallowed a mouthful of salt water. Coughing and spluttering she tread water and raised her arm trying to attract his attention. A wave of relief washed through her as he turned and looked at her. She was only two troughs from him. Horror gripped her as she watched the crest of the wave and pointed at the Jelly riding above him. He turned his head and quickly dived beneath the wave. She hoped he was out of reach of the tentacles dangling below the surface. Distracted by watching her brother she failed to notice the same Jelly as it crested the wave until the water pushed it against her abdomen. Abruptly she turned, instinctively using the next wave to wash the Jelly off before it tightened its contact. She headed for the shore, veering around the bobbing jelly, relieved to see her brother ahead of her. The panicking crowd concentrated at her part of the beach. They were waving and calling.
“Yeah Yeah, I know about the Jellies” she mumbled to herself as she reached shallower water and stood up to walk the last distance. The moment the air brushed her skin, intense scalding pain rippled along her nerves. She staggered and arms reached to hold her up.
“Call an ambulance!”
“Pour on the metho.”
“Call an ambulance!”
“No, vinegar, pour on vinegar!”
Acrid smelling liquids were poured lavishly over her body, momentarily intensifying the stinging then easing it to a duller edge of pain inside her skin, if only for a few seconds. Vicious purple welts were forming around her torso.
The hubbub of the crowd rolled over her as she tried to think through the screaming along her nerves.
“My brother, is my brother ok?” reassurances from the crowd and her brother's voice helped her relax enough to hear her mother telling the crowd.
“She's okay, she'll live. She has made it through the crucial three minutes so no need for an ambulance. Thank you for your help. She is okay. She is breathing okay...” her mothers voice flowed on reassuring the crowd of no permanent damage from the Jelly sting and was answered by an ebb of surprise and diminishing concern. The aunt gathered her northern browned children and laughed about the toughness of their southern cousins.
“We must have got the vinegar on you in time. There are only three recorded survivors of that particular jelly fish, that's why we have the sirens. You are pretty lucky”
“ Didn't you hear the siren? Would have served you right if you had died.” Her mother shoved her shoulder. “You can have a cold shower when you get back to the house and wash off any stinger left on you.”

memories

I woke early. The room was still dark but not so dark that I couldn't see, like it would be at night. I could hear the birds singing their morning song. I tried to ignore the pressure but it pushed me out of the cocoon of warmth created by me and my little sisters. I turned around on to my belly and slid off slowly, reaching with my toes to feel the floor. I tiptoed quietly, as quietly as I could through the sleeping house. From my bedroom toward the bathroom door then into the kitchen, the kitchen was still dark and I was a bt scared but more scared of making a noise so across the cold lino floor through the far door into the laundry porch I ran. Suddenly my feet slipped on the damp floor. I threw out my hands to stop my fall and my hand landed on the jagged edge of empty baby food cans in a bag by the washing machine. I got up and turned again, past the troughs to the toilet. I closed the door and sat down and gazed at my hand. I could see things inside my hand. Pink flesh and veins. I was fascinated by the insides of my hand, drawn into it, watching things move and shift but then it began to throb. It hurt a lot. I tried to keep quiet but I wanted someone to help me. It was hard to pull up my 'jamas with one hand. I flushed the toilet and held my cut hand tight in my other hand and walked slowly back along the porch, careful not to slip again. Crossing through the shadowy kitchen I stood near the kitchen door. I didn't call out but I whimpered, leaning against the door jamb. I feel sick in my belly and there was sweat on my forehead.
Then she came out of her room. Her door was opposite the kitchen door, the bathroom door to my right and my bedroom was over to the left, past the buffet cabinet. The front door was opposite the cabinet and I could see the growing light through the three mottled glass panels of the door.
"What are you doing out of bed?" she hissed at me. I whimpered again. "Be quiet or you will wake your father! Go back to bed." she hissed again. I held my hand out to show her the cut. "Oh shit, what the hell have you done?" she grabbed my arm above the elbow and pushed me into the bathroom. She ran cold water over my hand. She found a rag, tore a strip of it and wrapped it tightly around my hand telling me to be quiet and stop whinging. "Now get back to bed" she said and shoved me toward the bedroom door.
I healed quickly as I always do. There was no bandage or plaster or wrapping to show them at school at the end of summer. Only a scar. I was five.

reading memories

My heart beats with a mixture of excitement and fear. I clutch the bunch of dahlias in my hand and enter the building. There are lots of big kids in the corridor hanging up their coats and bags, laughing and jostling each other, talking about their summer and catching up with friends they hadn't seen since before Christmas. I follow my big brother. He is 6 and he is wearing new shorts with sharp creases in the front. His yellow hair is neatly slicked with a part down the side. My part is in the middle and my plaits hurt. They are very tight and make the skin near my eyes feel pulled back. I look at my feet and smile. I like my plastic sandles and I have on a new grey pinafore. I am a big girl now and this is my first day of school. The dahlias are for the teacher. Dahlias are my favourite, there are lots of colours and I like the smell. Peter and I go in to the little room. The big room is where all the big kids go when the bell is rung by the head master but we go into the little room. I sit in the prep desks where Peter points and he sits in the grade one desks.
Mrs Le Brun beckons me over to her desk.
“Welcome to school Cecilia. What lovely flowers, are they for me?” Shyness overcomes me and I duck my head holding out the dahlias for her to take. She puts them to one side and picks up a book in her right hand. She reaches out a warm plump left arm and pulls me close to her side. “Now can you read some of this for me Cecilia?” I look at the book. It has a brown cover with a picture of a girl running behind a little dog. It only has a few words on the page and I look at the teacher for a moment, hesitating. “It is all right if you don't know yet, that is why you are at school dear, to learn.” She hands the book to me and I read it. It only takes a few seconds and I hand it back to her. Her eyebrows raise and she picks up another book. This one is about two children and two pets and there are more words but not many more. I read that one quickly too, trying to make it sound interesting as I read. “How old are you Cecilia?”
“Four.”
“What things do you like to read at home dear?”
“The big books with the red covers, there are twenty two of them,” I say proudly because I can remember how many there are, “ and I read the stories about children who die and go to heaven but they are very sad. Sometimes I read other things too but mostly I like the big red books.” Mrs. Le Brun wrote something in her big blue book.
“Well go back to your desk now dear and don't read out loud in case you upset the other children” Off you go.”
How might I upset other children? I sat down puzzling over what she said. Other children were called over to her desk and I listened. They stumbled over every word. Some of them could not work out what the word meant and some fumbled and hesitated. The words should flow and be beautiful and make music in their mouths. Was there something wrong with me? Had I done something wrong? Was I supposed to read like that? Would I get in trouble? I didn't understand. The words had always been in my head. Maybe if I just stay quiet no one else will notice and it will be alright.

Time heals

“Don't slam the door boy, your grandpa is having a nap.”
I grab the screen door just as it is about to hit the door jamb and smile at Grandma. They don't mind if I run in and out of the house so long as I don't slam the screen door when Grandpa has his nap.

She beckons me over to the kitchen bench and hands me the wooden spoon, dripping with cake batter. That is the best part I reckon, licking the batter. Grandma has been teaching me how to make biscuits. She says we can have one with our afternoon tea or a piece of the cake. The kitchen smells like baking and is warm and cosy. We talk about the day and what happened during the week at school and about the weather. I like talking to Grandma when we cook.

Grandma wipes down the bench and washes the dishes. She is very tidy and cleans things almost before Grandpa and I have a chance to make a mess. Grandpa says Grandma is so clean we could eat off the floor. The floor sure is shiny but I think that’s disgusting, I would never eat off the floor. We used to eat in the lounge room before I came here. We had bean bags and trays and watched movies with our dinner on our knees. It was fun but we didn't talk much.

I hang around the kitchen waiting for the cake to cook and for Grandpa to wake up. I can hear the big clock ticking in the hall. Everything in this house ticks along with that clock. When we get up, when we eat, when we sleep. Everything is regular as clockwork. Grandpa says that's why he eats bran for breakfast, to keep himself regular. I reckon he just needs that clock. Sometimes I hear it chiming in the night when I can't sleep and I am thinking about Mum and Dad.

Grandpa shuffles out in his tartan slippers and slides on his boots at the back door. We go out to work in the garden. Grandpa loves his garden. He cuts the hedge and trims the edges of the lawn and the grass is so short it looks like an alien shrank it. Grandpa lets me help him plant vegetables and gave me my very own patch of dirt. I grow Sweet Williams and tulips in my patch. Grandpa has a whole family of gnomes in the garden. I like the smell of the dirt and how it feels in my hands. I forget everything when I am digging. There is no digging in concrete, except when its wet. I got in trouble once for putting my hand print in wet concrete. Dad just laughed when he found out and said I would be on that path forever.

Grandma calls us for afternoon tea. We wash our hands at the outside tap. There is soap hanging in an old sock on the tap. Grandpa changes back into his tartan slippers and I take off my runners. I have slippers too but I can't find them. Grandpa says I better find them before winter or my toes will freeze.
I think they are under my bed. Grandma can't bend over enough to look, so it is the messiest place in the house. I always had a messy room. Mum used to say creative people are always messy. Grandma cleans up everything else and I am supposed to clean under my bed but it kind of reminds me of Mum. I guess I will look there later for my slippers.

There is tea in the pretty cups with the flowers and the matching plates and some cake and biscuits. I am allowed to have two biscuits or one and a piece of cake. I have one of each and sip my tea. Grandpa turns off his hearing aid. He likes to read the paper in peace he says. Grandma says 'hosh posh' when he does that and flicks her tea towel at him in a fun way. They both smile. It makes me feel warm inside. We didn't have matching plates at Mum and Dad's house and I never had tea, only cocoa, sometimes. Grandma hums a tune to herself and takes the tea towel to the laundry.

Grandma is teaching me how to crochet. She makes toilet roll dolls and oven mitts for the store at the children’s hospital. I can only make Afghan squares and one day I will make a whole rug. Grandma makes them very quickly and sometime watches TV at the same time. She doesn't have to think about it she says unless the pattern is very complicated. The TV usually has some boring movie on and I get bored.

Grandma sends me outside to play. I ride my bike around the block. I climb a tree to see over the neighbours fence and throw plums at the kid next door. Grandpa would tick me off if he caught me because I am not supposed to throw things at people or wreck the plum tree but the kid next door is annoying. She pokes out her tongue and says she will dob on me if I throw any more. I didn't get her anyway. I ride around the block a few more times.

I hear the big clock chime four and I race inside. Grandma shoos me outside to wash my hands and take off my shoes. I kick off my shoes and they fly across the back porch. I don't wash my hands very well but I can watch TV before tea and I don't want to miss my favourite shows.

At seven o'clock, I have a bath in the big old bath. It is almost as big as a swimming pool and it has feet like a lion and I can stretch out full length in the water. I can't have too much water because of restrictions but there is enough to splash and make bubbles and pretend to swim. Grandma always warms the towels up for me in the dryer. She says she used to put them in the warming oven when she had a wood stove. She used to warm them for my Mum when she was little. We had a small bath at home, at the other home, at Mum and Dad's house. It was little anyway. The towels were always scratchy and cold. I guess Mum didn't learn about warming towels in the dryer. Grandma says she didn't get a chance to teach Mum about the towels.

There are lots of photos in our house. Sometimes in the evening we talk about the people in the photos. Grandma tells me stories about when she and grandpa met or about people overseas and sometimes about when Mum and Dad were young. Grandpa just gets sad when we talk about them and kind of folds in on himself like he is far away and not just in the old chair across the room. Grandma looks sad too but I think she must be tough because she just gets on with things. I miss Mum and Dad and I am glad the photos are there in case I forget what they look like. Sometimes I forget.

Grandpa made me a stool to climb into bed. We made it together in his shed. I held the nails until he needed them and I sanded it smooth with a little sanding block. I need the stool because the bed is really old and really high off the floor. I was scared I would fall out when I first came to live here. I like it now. There are two duvets and a wool blanket with stripes and matching sheets and an electric blanket under the sheet but I can only have that on in winter. I wear stripy pyjamas like Grandpas. Grandma made them on her sewing machine. Grandma and Grandpa always kiss me goodnight and tuck me in. Grandma reads me a story or a chapter if it is a long book. Sometimes I fall asleep listening to her voice and sometimes I just drift away thinking about Mum and Dad.

Tonight I listen to the clock chiming.

once upon a time

Once upon a time, she said
as we lay curled up on my bed
magic, fairies, kings and wands
shiny rings in deep green ponds
tigers, knights and giants too
hidden treasures, a bright red shoe
ancient places, brave young men
silly chickens, clever hen
singing creatures, frightened thieves
dancing girls and golden leaves
steadfast hearts, icy snow
weary travellers, far to go
wicked queens, a helpful friend
brave ones winning in the end
sleepy kisses, dim the light
close your eyes and dream. Goodnight.

the reluctant genie

“Are you sure we are allowed in here?” Beth’s own nervousness intensified when she noticed Mark’s hands shaking. He tried unsuccessfully to swipe his security pass through the electronic lock.
“Sure Beth!” he straightened his shoulders. “you are always hassling me. They trust me, they gave me a pass so I am using it! Besides, this is the only chance you will get to see the collection before it opens. It is booked out for weeks. Don’t you want to see it?”
Mark always managed to twist things so Beth had to make the decisions. Her shoulders slumped. He didn’t notice. Beth was so sure Mark would get them into another sticky situation just like he had since they were preschoolers. She had to give him credit though, this was his first serious job and he had been really keen to show her how much they trusted him.
“Yes Mark, I do want to see it. You know that.”
“Cool! Here we go then.” The door swung open and he smiled his sunshine in Beth’s direction. His eyebrows lifted and his familiar lopsided grin made her smile too. They stepped into the cool interior of the gallery and walked through the rear storage area past crates and canvas wrappings. Beth had never been in this part of the building and was fascinated by the odd tour.
“It won’t be open until Friday. We completed most of the displays this morning. Everyone has to wear special gloves when they touch the artefacts and the whole place has special air conditioning. Some of these are ancient, like really old. I got to put up some of the paintings and I even helped move some of the display cases.” Mark prattled on about the work and couldn’t keep the pride from his voice. Mark had only been working in the gallery for a few months but he really liked it and wanted to impress Beth. She smiled at her brother.
“I was so glad to hear about this collection. It will add some interest to my history assignment. We are studying ancient Egypt at the moment.”
“Here goes then.” With a mock bow, Mark swung open the side door of the main gallery. Beth stood in awe, gazing at the beautiful and strange display. The whole room was made to look like the interior of a pyramid with the walls angling up to a point. Hieroglyphs adorned the walls and cleverly drew the eye to focus on each artefact or artwork.
“Wow! You guys have done a fantastic job.” Beth walked slowly through the room, trailed by Mark wearing a huge grin. “Oh look at this.” She gazed delighted at one display and another, losing complete track of time.
“Beth, lunch break is almost over. I will get in trouble if they catch you here. Come on.” Mark sounded worried.
“Typical mark. I thought you said you were allowed to bring me in here?” Annoyance coloured her tone and she turned her back to look at something glinting in a shaft of light.
“I said I was allowed to use my security pass. Come on Beth you have to go. Sorry. Hey don’t touch that!” Mark shouted.
Beth had picked up a slim elegant bottle with intricate golden patterns etched into the glass. She fumbled it in fright, almost dropping it. Her heart caught in her throat as it landed heavily on the unfinished display stand. A cracking sound echoed over loud in the huge chamber. Mark grabbed Beth’s wrist and dragged her toward the door.
“I told you not to touch anything. I told you everything had to be handled with special gloves. What the hell do you think you were doing? Damn it Beth! I will get killed if that thing is broken.” Mark pulled Beth at breakneck speed along the corridor, his angry outburst masking his own fear.
“I’ll lose my job. Oh shit!” Mark moaned and skidded to a halt. He pushed Beth behind a large packing crate.
“Stay down and keep quiet, the boss is coming.”
Mark picked up a nearby broom and started sweeping the floor. Beth’s heart was pounding in fear at being caught. A sense of horror settled on her in her cramped hiding space as she realised what she might have done to the bottle. She hoped the cracking sound wasn’t something dreadful. She had been mesmerised by the bottle, it was so beautiful and seemed almost to lure her to where is was laying. What a stupid idea, Beth shook her head. Realising that Mark had disappeared from the corridor she eased herself out from behind the crate and found her way to the rear exit. She pushed open the heavy door and blinked in the bright sunshine, taking a moment for her eyes to adjust.
“Hello.” A deep smooth voice spoke in her ear. Beth yelped, assuming she had been caught; her instincts were to protect Mark from getting into trouble so she ran for it. She sprinted across the park not looking back, lengthening her stride across the street and leaped over the fence of the junior school. She weaved her way through the playground shrubbery, intent on losing her pursuers. She ran through the back gate and turned down the alley behind the supermarket, jumping over boxes and dodging stray cats. Reaching forward as she ran her hand light post at the end of the alley using it as a pivot to launch her into the main street where she slowed her pace and glanced behind her. With no sing of anyone she didn’t already know, she slowed to a walk and slipped into Barber’s Cafe.
“Hello Beth, you look like you just ran a marathon. What can I get you dear?”
“A glass of water please, Mrs. Barber.” Beth panted
“Here you are dear. I won’t be retiring on the money I make from you now will I?” Mrs. Barber handed Beth the glass of water and walked away chuckling. Beth lifted the glass and glanced in the mirrors behind the counter. She could see in the mirror a reflection of a man in very strange clothes sitting in one of the corner tables. He smiled, raised his eyebrows and waved his fingertips at her.
“Hello” he said in the same deep voice she had heard at the gallery door. Beth choked on the water. How had he made it to the store before her? She knew the town better than any stranger could.
“What a marvellous sprinter you are. If you had been a man in Roman times they would surely have wreathed you in laurels.” The sound of the town’s only police car sped past with its siren wailing. Beth ran to the door and watched it turn down the gallery street. She had a bad feeling about that.
“Thanks Mrs. Barber.” She called to the back of the store. Ignoring the weird man Beth sidled out the door and sprinted for her flat.

Beth squealed in fright and flattened herself against the the kitchen wall.
“Who the hell are you and what are you doing on my kitchen bench?”
A slim tanned man wearing yellow pantaloons, red slippers with gold embroidery and curled up toes, a blue fez and a hand embroidered purple waistcoat with gold trim sat cross legged on her kitchen bench. He smiled a broad gleaming toothy grin. In a deep voice she was becoming eerily familiar with, he introduced himself.
“Few of your kind can pronounce my name so I answer to genie. You may call me that too if you wish to. I don’t have to dress like this but it fits the stereotype and makes my appearance easier to accept.”
He waved an elegant hand along his almost bare torso indicating his attire.
“Accept what? A loony on my bench! Get out or I will call the police.” Her voice trembled.
He looked at her with chocolate brown eyes, shiny as marbles. He turned his palms down in a non threatening gesture.
“Hey, hey it’s okay. I won’t hurt you. I can’t hurt you.” His voice had become a soft croon designed to calm her. “You are my master and I am here only to serve you.” He leaped lightly from the bench and swept the floor with his fingertips in a deep elegant bow. “you are so difficult to catch up with.” Beth barely caught the last exasperated whisper.
“You have been following me?” Beth looked for a way to escape, sliding along the wall and backing slowly through the doorway. “Stay there okay. Just stay there.” She raised her hand palm toward him in a placating gesture.
“Your every wish is my command oh master!” he lifted himself back on to the bench. Beth stopped moving, her fear ebbing slightly as he made no dangerous moves. Puzzlement overcame her fear.
“Why do you keep calling me master? I am no ones master.” Her social conscience raised its proud head. A bottle appeared in his hand. An Egyptian bottle with gold etching.
“Oh my God it is the bottle from the gallery. Where did you get that?” Beth’s fear returned as she realised she must be facing an expert thief. He must have been in the gallery when she and mark were there and walked out behind her. The police will think we helped him. What if our fingerprints were on the things? Beth was frantic. Where was mark? Was he okay? What did he tell the police? She was distracted by that deep smooth voice.
“This is mine. It is my home and you my dear opened the door. That makes you my master and I, your humble servant.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” She could feel anger swamping her fear.
“It is so obvious. You picked up my bottle and cracked the seal on the lid. A little rough I must admit but effective none the less. I am the genie from the bottle and you who opened the bottle are now my master. I know it comes as a shock being the owner of an incredibly handsome and magical creature such as myself but I am sure you will get used to it. Now if you could be so kind as to make your first wish, I am a little rusty so start small. Wish away and we will build up to big things.”
Beth shook her head, completely at a loss for words but her thoughts tumbled over each other. A genie? Is he an escaped lunatic or a criminal or both? Oh goodness I am in big strife. Maybe if I humour him I can make my escape or keep him busy until mark gets home.
“Okay if you are a genie then you have the wrong master. I can’t make wishes as I am totally against slavery in any form. I will simply set you free.” Beth’s youthful ideology sent a warm flush through her. She didn’t expect the reaction of the genie.
“Don’t be ridiculous!” he sputtered angrily. “I don’t want to be free. Why would I give up what I have for what you call freedom? You smug little fool, no one likes change, least of all a genie. Why would I give up my powers for hormones, ageing and death?”
Beth blinked.
“But everyone wants to break free. People are always dreaming of ways to break their bonds.”
“it is all lies little master. No one really wants to move out of their comfortable little realities. Real adventurers are so rare. The ones who truly taste what the universe has to offer. I only met one as master and he wished for...never mind, he left me behind damn him,”
“Well what are your powers? I mean how do they work?” Beth wasn’t sure she liked the way this was going.
“Oh that’s easy. We genies come from a time when reality wasn’t set in concrete like it is now. We know that the universe is made of innumerable little particles floating around while some of them clump together to form what you see as solid realities, there are plenty left around to play with. So, you simply wish for something and I draw those particles through your memories and hey presto, I guide them into formation. Let’s start with a banquet of all your favourite foods shall we?”
“Favourite foods? You can’t make my favourite foods.” Beth felt sure of herself now.
“Why not?” he looked bemused.
“Well if, say you were to make my grandmother’s chicken roast. It wouldn’t be the same as having it at grandma’s house with all the smells and sensations of her house. A burger isn’t worth anything without my friends and the gossip and laughs. Popcorn at the movies never tastes the same anywhere else and a picnic at the beach is only good at the beach with sand in it and sun burning our noses. It isn’t the food, it is all the memories and scents and places that go with it. A banquet of food is just food and would be a waste of, of...particles.” Beth shrugged and the genie laughed.
“I can see you are going to be an interesting little master.”
“I am not your master. Stop calling me that.” Beth’s voice had a little hysterical note to it.
“You’re every wish is my command. Maybe I should call you Beth?”
“How did you know my name?”
“Part of the power of being a genie; as soon as I awaken I can speak the languages of the time. I know my master’s name and all about him or her and I am fully conversant with the socio-political climate of wherever I am. Anything I don’t know I simply ask the universe and the answer comes to me. Do you really think I would want to give up that? Here, I can even change my clothing to suit the local fashions.”
In yet another elegant gesture his pantaloons and fez disappeared to be replaced by a sophisticated grey suit over a vivid yellow silk shirt and purple hand stitched vest, designer dark glasses and imported Italian leather shoes. “You know, you people have the same powers but you don’t believe it. I believe you call it a leap of faith and none of you can leap very far. You all like to stay in your comfort zones.”
“That isn’t true. People can change. People are always changing.” Beth felt the need to defend humanity.
“You are deceived little Beth. They buy lotto tickets to escape poverty but they really don’t want to win. They just want a tiny bit of one one-one-upmanship on the neighbours but they don’t want to change. How many times have you heard of people winning only to be right back where they started in just a short period of time? Wars and revolution are simply exchanging one lot of masters for another lot exactly the same.” He smiled ruefully, shook his head and whispered “Wars and revolutions.” He stared hard at Beth and she squirmed under his intense gaze. “better the devil you know than the one you don’t, an old saying but quite relevant. People seem to be adventurous but the intrepid explorers and mountain climbers of the world have to keep doing the same thing, explore, explore, explore and more exploring because they don’t know how to do anything else and when they retire they write about exploring.
Look at the people out of work after twenty years doing the same job. They don’t know what to do, they are lost. A few retrain in a similar field, some die and many just waste away moping for the good life they left behind.” Beth felt herself nodding in agreement. His argument delivered in that melted chocolate voice was so convincing. “Why are there so many refugees and migrants who set up a mini homeland in their adopted country? Ah I see you have never asked yourself those type of questions have you?”
“I guess I haven’t. But isn’t it okay to want freedom for people? To rid the world of atrocities and cruelty, no more oppression and famine, free the slaves?”
“Beth you echo the tender heart of every woman and many a man but you are seeing only a tiny fragment of the picture. Of course those things should end but how are you going to convince the slaves and martyrs and the oppressed and starving that what you offer in exchange isn’t too much out of their experience? How are you going to ease them into thinking new things and who are you to decide what’s best for them?” he leaned his chin on his thumb and raised an eyebrow. “It has been done before but it is a huge takes, takes centuries and generations and even then it might not work and the tiniest thing could ruin all those years of hard work. I bet you think level playing fields are a good thing too.”
“Yes of course, everyone should have equal opportunities!” Beth was indignant.
“Ah I somehow knew you would say that.” He smirked.
Beth flared up.
“What’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t everyone have the same?”
“If everyone lived a perfect life with exactly the same housing, food, clothing and income where would be the challenges to overcome? Where would be the magnificent art works created from the chaos of dreadful childhoods or lost love? Where would we find the super athletes we admire so much if there were no races to be won? Who would create magnificent music if everyone had to learn the same instrument? The reality you have created is through adversity humanity reaches its greatest heights. Levelling the playing field simply reduces the opportunities for learning what humanity is.”
“So you don’t believe everyone has the right to reach their fullest potential?”
“I didn’t say that Beth. Everyone has the right to reach their full potential but if we take away the challenges how will they get there? If everything is easy how will they overcome and be greater for it?”
Beth slumped into a kitchen chair. This so called genie challenged everything she believed and she didn’t like the turn her thoughts were taking, it was too uncomfortable.
“Okay genie,” she said in a quiet defeated voice, “or whatever your name is. I will make a wish. I wish I never picked up your bottle and you were safely sealed in it in the gallery.”
“Your every wish is my command little master.” The genie smiled and disappeared.
The clock ticked loudly in the quiet kitchen. Beth shook herself wondering how long she had been asleep. Her neck ached from snoozing in the chair. The front door opened.
“Hey Beth, you’ll never guess what happened at work today.” Mark tumbled into the kitchen.
“Whatever it was it couldn’t be as weird as the dream I just had.” Beth smiled and hugged her big brother listening to his words pouring over her in his excitement to tell her.
“ Someone stole a gold bottle from the display and the cops came and everyone was questioned and then just when I thought I was in real trouble for taking you in without permission, the bottle showed up.” He felt her stiffen in his hug and pushed her away to see her pale face.
“Beth? Beth?”

stranger than fiction

“Who the hell messed with my bowl of cereal?” Milk and flakes dripped off the edge of the teetering bowl onto the table with a splat, dampening the edge of a square of paper with the word yes written on it.
An upturned wine glass scraped slowly across the tabletop towards the letter E, written on another small square of paper in a circle of letters and words. Blood drained from the faces of the young women around the table.

“I didn’t do that” squeaked the youngest, pulling her finger away from the glass.

L-L-E-N-D-I-D.

“That doesn’t make sense” sneered Ryan, shovelling more cereal into his mouth.

Ellen blanched further as she added the first E to the sentence. She was certain no one had seen her stir her brother’s cereal with her finger. It was a spiteful backlash to his imperious order not to touch his breakfast but she was sure she had been unobserved.

“You're messing with the glass Betty aren't you?” Ellen had a sick cold feeling in her stomach that Betty had not touched the glass.

“No I swear I didn't touch it, Shaz must have. You pushed it didn't you Shaz.” Betty was the youngest and this was her first time playing with the oiuja board, she didn't want to be kicked out for making a mistake.

Sharon sneered at her sisters and flicked her cigarette lazily at the ash tray on the kitchen table.

“This is an imbecile game, as if I would bother touching the glass.” she drawled then lowered her voice to a spooky moan and leaned in toward her little sister “It is a parlour trick usually played in the dark of night for scaring little girls like you Betty. Woooooo. Boo!.” Betty jumped.

Ellen wasn't so sure of herself and she was beginning to doubt the wisdom of a breakfast time séance. She knew there was more to the world than 16 year old Sharon thought she knew and none of them had seen her stir the cereal bowl.

It was all the rage to play with the occult and everyone who was anyone had a oiuja board to call the spirits and tell fortunes. Her mum had been reading tea leaves for years and taught Ellen how to do it and she had become adept at sensing the gender of a baby with a hair and a gold ring or sexing eggs for people wanting to put female eggs under a broody hen. Half the ladies in the neighbourhood had tarot cards or a crystal ball and it was common practice to consult a fortune teller but most of them didn't really believe it and were only having fun. It had sprung up to fill a void, a niche in the latest fad market.

“Ellen you had best finish what you started girl, can't just leave the spirits waiting around at your whim.” Their mother picked up the empty cereal bowls and took them to the tiny scullery beside the kitchen.

“Who’s there? What do you want?” Ellen’s voice quavered as she began to regret putting together the board.

The glass moved again. The others spelled the words out, almost chanting each letter.
V-I-S-I-T-M-Y-W-I-F-E. P-R-O-M-I-S-E-E-L-L-E-N. V-I-S-I-T-M-Y-W-I-F-E.

“I don’t know who that is. Who are you?” How can I visit your wife?” Ellen’s fear chilled her skin in spite of the warm morning sunshine flowing through the window.
Slowly but surely an address formed. Ellen’s mother wrote it down.

“This is crap! You lot are pushing the damn glass around. What a joke.” Ryan’s scepticism seemed to push back shadows. The women looked sheepish and laughed nervously with relief until the glass began to move again.

Y-O-U-M-U-S-T-G-O-E-L-L-E-N-V-I-S-I-T-M-Y-W-I-F-E.

“Sure. I’ll go.” Ellen’s throat fought to form the words. “Let’s pack up. Maybe we shouldn’t mess with this stuff.”

Ryan laughed heartily. His earthy disbelief released the women from the chill as they swept the letters into a waste paper basket.

Betty ran outside to play; Sharon picked up her cigarettes and informed anyone who wanted to hear that she was going down high street to the diner; Ryan grabbed his work boots and stomped out of the house down the long front passage way, slamming the front door on his way out; Ellen went to help dry the dishes.

“I wish that boy would not slam the front door and he's gone without his Thermos. Will you drop it off at his work on your way please Ellen?”

“Sure Mum, do you think I should go to the address?” Ellen put the Thermos in her basket. Her mother leaned out of the tiny window in the wall and called into the back yard.

“Betty come in and put your school shoes on” She gave a final wipe to the sink and turned to Ellen “You will do what you are meant to do dear. Why don't you think about it for a few hours and make a decision later. Now you get off to work and I will see your sister to school and we can talk about it this afternoon over a nice pot of tea.”

“Thanks Mum. See you later.”


Promises are easily forgotten in the maelstrom of life. Work and missed trains, tooth ache and shopping, birthdays and weddings, children and change. Time passes and small silly parlour games are forgotten along with parlours, and sculleries, that change with trends and innovations into modern kitchens and living rooms, where people live and laugh and play new things. Sleeker faster cars arrive off the factory floor and televisions appear in every house. Smoking as a social thing reaches a peak and becomes as controversial as the prohibition of alcohol decades past. Tarot and tea leaves make way for mung beans and coffee.

Ellen put the coffee mugs on the table and sent the children outside to play. The sisters didn't often have the chance to get together now they were all married with kids.
“It's good to relax over a hot coffee and put my feet up for once.” Ellen leaned back in the arm chair and sipped at her mug. Conversation flowed around them in warm nostalgic waves.

“Hey do you remember when we were teens and we all used to play with those, oh what do you call them, oh yes, ouija boards. Do you want to make one?” Betty gurgled enthusiastically.

Ellen felt a sudden loss of warmth. “I don't think you should mess with that stuff really” She picked up the empty coffee mugs and went to the kitchen.

“Come on El, it was fun when we were teens. Everyone was doing it back then. What harm can there be in it. It’s just a joke.” Shaz grinned through the doorway.

Ellen washed the mugs then turned back to the commotion in the dining room where her sisters had cut out paper squares with letters and upturned a wine glass. Curiosity drew her into the room.

“Hey what are you guys spelling?”

“We aren’t” came the nervous reply “It’s moving by itself.”
E-L-L-E-N-B-R-O-K-E-H-E-R-P-R-O-M-I-S-E. The voices around the table chanted the letters out one at a time. Ellen, leaning on the door frame in the kitchen, was wiping the last mug; she laughed.

“What promise?”

Y-O-U-D-I-D-N-O-T-V-I-S-I-T-M-Y-W-I-F-E

Ceramic shattered on the kitchen floor.

With trembling hand she reached for the telephone and dialled.

“Mum, do you remember that séance we did in the kitchen that day when I messed with Ryan’s breakfast? Do you still have that address you wrote down?”

“That was years ago, love, I probably threw it out. I'll have a rummage around in my top drawer and see if it's still there. Why would you want it now after all these years?”

Ellen shakily told her mother about the séance in her house that day.

“I'll look straight away love. I'll phone you back as soon as I find it.”



The two women stood on the footpath in an older suburban street.
“Are you sure this is the right address Mum?”
“El, that was over ten years ago and it was just a silly game but since you ask, yes. I kept that piece of paper. I don’t know why. It survived more moves than anything else over the years and this is the address.” The women moved close together and stared into the vacant block.

hope

hope


rainbow swirls in oil droplets on the road
slushing sounds of the tires
grey, slowly losing shape in the fog
Broken hearts
everywhere are broken hearts
gather them in hold them close
glue them with tears and caresses
hold their hearts
stop them breaking
broken broken broken
so many times broken
tiny fragments drift away
irreplaceable
Outside the window the rain is heavier and everything is shrouded in water

motes of music weave magic and sound
to hold them
spell bound rippling the edges
holding back the fog

grief is a heavy
dragging drawing clawing eating away
at a heart full of mourning seeping into the cracks
breaking
drying out the flesh

rainbow swirls in droplets of oil as rain hits the road.
Water skims across slick blackness and whorls of translucent colour move endlessly across the surface.
lost, empty, drawn into the patterns.
fog and water condense
Everything loses focus
Find a way through the fog
think about how pretty oil drops are
hear motes of music
beauty in the ordinary
magic in the music
drawing the broken parts together

Frogs

colours of a rainbow hue
poison red and brightest blue
green and yellow, orange, brown
frogs all colours to be found

slimy, wet and fragile skin, wondrous amphibian
in pond, 'neath bark, up in a tree the frog elusive treasure be

evening chorus moist and warm
sing the frogs from dusk till dawn
barometer of natures health
frogs our damp and hidden wealth

lime light

I went to see the whales today
I wanted to see them splash and play
to roll in the surf and play with the calves
and let me take pictures to send to my friends.
I went to the platform with hundreds of others
one hundred and seventy steps up from the beach
I peered over railings through the saw edged dune grasses
and pondered how long it would take if I dropped it,
for my camera to land on the sand.
I saw a fin and we all oohed and ahhed,
the huge waiting crowd all excited.
I focussed my eye through the lens of my camera
ready to snap a picture delightful
of frolicking behemoths glistening wetly
but all that my eye could detect was the sea.
I looked up to see a large fin a-waving
mothers and babies dark islands glistening
They paddled and splashed and blew fountains of sea spray
as long as my eye from my camera did stray.
They leaped and cavorted and raced through the ocean
but all of the evidence I have to show
is a vast grey expanse of cloud over water
and right in the centre a tiny black dot.
They're out there right now laughing at us
strange silly two legged hovering watchers,
those great ponderous actors
out in the ocean
performing their actions
for free
no cameras please
my sad neglected web log needs a dusting off, "...and about time too" I hear some people say so here I am determined to get my writing muscles working overtime this year. :) I have several stories in progress and have had some enthusiastic feedback from my loyal band of followers who love them. So to honour myself and them here comes the words.