Sunday, 30 January 2011

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.


“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.


“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?”


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.