Be Careful Who You Work For…

June 27, 2015

Be Careful Who You Work For…

We all want a decent job, some place we want to be, where we feel valued and part of the team, where we can carve out a career and move up the promotion ladder, and make a difference. Sometimes this isn’t always the way. Sometimes just having a job is enough, is all there is.

That’s not to say we should accept the constant attack on workers, on hard fought conditions, on fairness in the workplace. No, we should not bow to the rich and powerful and let them push us around. We should not accept zero hour contracts, eroding conditions and the worker-boss balance tipping ever further in the boss’ favour. And we most definitely should not, unless we end up in difficult straights, work for those who would screw us over at every opportunity.

This piece is about being careful who you work for, who you agree to spend 8-10 hours of your day with, giving your time, your labour, your energy, your ingenuity, your devotion and passion. Be careful who you give these things to. They should be worthy recipients.

GeofC

We should, where possible take as much care gathering information about prospective employers as they do about us. They want references, they want qualifications, experience and verification of our worth – which is entirely fair and right. They want interviews, tests, visits, background checks and yes, they do look at your internet presence, so be careful there!

Yet we are not as diligent with our prospective employers. I know, sometimes the euphoria of having a job overwhelms us, especially if we’ve been looking for ages. Sometimes that yes, we’ll have you when we’ve been searching for a while gets in front of our own due diligence. Often the new surface is glossy and pretty and we haven’t scratched it for ourselves, chipped away the perfect paint to see the damage underneath. Often, in the need for the job we overlook things that perhaps we should consider more thoughtfully before we sign on the dotted line.

Jac-work1

How do you avoid working for wrong people?

*Research. In this day every company, every employer has a web-site. Read it carefully. While it will be full of spin it should tell you about values, results, give a first impression. It should give you some facts to work with.

*Talk to people who work there. Get the inside view – speak to people who have been there for years, speak to those who have just arrived, what about those who used to work there? People’s stories give you a better idea of the truth of an organization. We know some places suit some better than others, so listen carefully.

*Visit before the interview. Many places offer this option and you should take it. Yes, it will be a surface inspection too but it can give you a better feel for the place, look at what’s happening as you wander around, talk to people, not just managers. Just like parents visit a range of secondary schools on open days to make decisions about their child’s school, so you should too.

*Go on instinct. Too often we ignore our intuition, we think we should be factual and logical but sometimes how we feel about something (especially people) tells us the truth. So don’t over think your response, feel it too.

*Ask questions at interview – this option is part of standard interview practice, yet all too often people skip this, or ask simple questions that don’t really gain any information for them. Think more carefully about this as you prepare for your interview, what is it you need to know to decide to work for them??

*Don’t rush your decision. Allow some time for all the information to sink in. After all, your prospective employer is thinking about you, chatting further. They aren’t making a snap decision. You shouldn’t do the same. Think about what you really want: is this the place for you – for now, forever, until the right one comes along?

 

london building

Working for the wrong people/company can be as damaging as not having a job. We need to be more wary of prospective employers, just as they are wary of us. We need to be sure that they match our values, our way of doing business, our expectations.

And when things shift, when how you want to do business (of whatever hue) changes and you no longer feel valued and/or feel compromised in your job, or you can’t make those changes yourself, when you are out of step with the mainstream, you need to move on. You need to go before things corrode to such a state that you are damaged beyond recognition. Sadly, the bosses win. They have the superior firepower and the only way to survive is to leave. But leave while you are standing, while you can take a decent reference with you, while your self-worth is strong, so they can’t reach their malicious, evil tentacles into your next job, into your chance to start again.

Jac-work2

You are at work for a very long time. You need to make good choices for yourself. Yes, your career matters, but so does your self-respect, your values and your dignity, not to mention your health. Choose your employer wisely. Change them when you need to and remember that you work to live, not live to work. (Images from Private Collection)

The World is a Dark Place, but There Must be Light Too…

June 20, 2015

The World is a Dark Place, but There Must be Light Too…

At the end of some days I really wonder what the point is – what am I doing with my life? Immured in the ignorance and stupidity of others, and not necessarily the young! Some days when lessons go pear shaped, when bills appear out of nowhere, when the news is once more full of man’s inhumanity to man – yes, you, Tony Abbott – how dare you be proud of paying people smugglers – I wonder what the point of existence is. I look at people on buses, in Tesco’s, in the street and wonder about the point of all these trivial, silly lives, including my own. What are we doing, why are we here?

In a world full of death, despair, evil, pain and suffering for so many I cannot help but wonder what the point is. It is too easy to spiral into nihilism, to enter a place of existential angst puzzling over the pointlessness of it all. The endless parade of war, rape, torture, inequality, callous disregard of the powerful few for the powerless many. This is our world. We have made it so. Even those of us who suffer at the hands of business and politicians. We have lost our way and we should be ashamed. We are worse than animals, we turn on each other, blame each other and kill each other – in many cases without batting an eye-lid.

dead angel

Is the world worse than it has ever been, or is it the constant stream of news and information from all over the world that makes it seem so? Are incidents of rape more common or simply being reported more often? Is child abuse on the rise or are we more aware of it now and less tolerant and so it seems worse? Is the gap between the haves and have-nots the same as it has ever been but we are simply bombarded with their excess through the media?

The insistence that we live in an Economy instead of a Society has not helped. It has made Money the God of us all. Celebrities and sports stars with their excessive lifestyles and incomes makes a mockery of hard work and ordinary lives lived well. Politicians who have no interest in making society better for all of us, not just their banker or business mates, have screwed ordinary people. Why do so many people need to live on the streets or in squalor when there is so much wealth in the world, especially in countries like the UK, Australia and the USA?

Greece2

So, how do we find meaning in our own lives in the face of the darkness in the world?

Apparently at the end of our lives we see things as they are, we look at our lives and consider our worth in the world. If you’ve ever been seriously ill, or lost someone you love you’ve also trod this path. Cancer survivors often embrace life with renewed vigor, only too aware of what was nearly lost. But we don’t have to wait until the end to consider our own worth and value. Look around you now, what is it that you bring to the world, that shines some light in the darkness?

Don’t be fooled by money and celebrity. Don’t think that meaning lies in the big things, in doing something ridiculously brave or foolhardy. You don’t have to crusade against the latest infidel. We can’t all change the world but we can in many ways make it better.

 

Shine your light…

*Be aware of your strengths and how you operate in the world – are you a good friend, are you thoughtful and caring, considerate and fun to be with? Being a good friend is one of the best ways to make the world a better place, so don’t underestimate the gift of friendship.

Pal's pals@GCSE

*Your day job is probably more important than you know. So many jobs are people oriented, and how you interact on a daily basis does make a difference to others. Yes, teachers, nurses and doctors have an edge here. We have the potential to make big differences to people’s lives and we do and sadly that is not accorded the credit it needs. But note, people who make it big never mention their banker or the PM, they usually remember the teacher who made a difference. Yes, their teacher, not the principal or the Education Minister, but the person in the room with them, guiding them, chiding them, giving them knowledge, confidence and care.

*Volunteer – locally, it doesn’t need to be a big look-at-me oversees experience, get involved in clean up programs, charity shops, visit old people. No Australian should be OS helping third world people when the third world lives large and shamefully in our own Outback.

*Help others – it makes them feel better and it helps you. Coaching a team, tutoring others, sharing your skills with the world makes it a better place.

*Protest – if you believe in a cause join an action group, sign petitions, march against corruption, inequality, Austerity and what we are doing to the Boat People; march for the forests, for justice – people power does work, does change things and reminds you that others feel just as you do and renews your faith in your fellow man.

*Be an artist – paint and create beautiful things, the world is sadly in need of beauty. We need to be reminded the world can still be beautiful.

*Be a writer – tell stories to take people away to other worlds, different times, new experiences, to learn about themselves through your magic words. Tell stories that inspire others to action, to make them think. Stories tells the truth and stories of all sorts must continue to be told so we know who we are.

light forest

We all have a light. In this world of darkness and danger we must work harder to find our light and shine it brighter so the world does not become a place of relentless despair and hopelessness. (Images from Private Collection)

Who are Our Heroes Now?

June 13, 2015

Who Are Our Heroes Now?

Recently there’s been a spate of fallen heroes. Sepp Blatter, Alberto Salazar, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods. Notice that they’re all from sport and all tainted by cheating and corruption. Yet these men have been held up as heroes, as role models for others. There are others of course but sport seems to spawn an inordinate amount of cheating fallen heroes. Other areas are as guilty, entertainment has been tainted by the abusive and predatory Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, and politics is not a place we find anyone to admire any more – Joe Hockey, anyone? David Cameron, Tony Abbott?

There are a range of issues with expecting too much from people, with expecting perfection and goodness, with not allowing for human failure, with having heroes. But those mentioned have knowingly and wantonly cheated for their own good, have abused their positions of trust and exultation and in many cases are criminals.

Something in the human psyche needs someone to look up to, to revere, admire and emulate. Apparently Alexander the Great’s hero was Achilles, assassin supreme of myth and legend.

Unknown

What makes a hero – or a heroine? What traits do we look for in those we admire? Think about this collection of positive characteristics:

Tenacious – they don’t give up, despite set backs, rejections and disappointments

Self-belief – they know they have something to offer, something worthy about themselves

Gifted – heroes tend to have a gift, a natural talent of some sort – Achilles and Alexander were gifted warriors; Richard Branson is a gifted businessman; Jimmy Page is an extraordinary guitarist/writer; Cate Blanchet is a talented and mesmeric actress; Dawn Fraser was the first woman to swim 100 metres in under a minute; Angela Merckel is a fierce and powerful politician. Heroes go beyond the ordinary, in who they are and what they do.

Dedication – these people work at their gift, they develop and refine it, use it and make themselves the best they can in their field. This is why we admire sports heroes – we know how many hours go into being the best, into winning. We admire skill and talent, we know we can’t do it and how hard it is, so their talent becomes super-human, as does the effort to become that good.

Achievement – true heroes leave their mark. The world knows they have been here – they have done something, not just made money or ripped things apart. Alexander built an empire; Shakespeare left an extraordinary body of work; Columbus went where no man had gone before. Agatha Christie wrote the best collection of crime fiction there is.

Something extra, something special – there is a sort of ‘it’ quality to heroes, something that sets them apart. They aren’t necessarily nice people, driven people often aren’t. They can be selfish and narcissistic, impervious to the needs of others but this single minded determination is admirable. People admire Steve Jobs but it’s clear he wasn’t the nicest person to be around. Elizabeth I was a great queen but mercurial and dangerous to cross. Still, we admire these two for their achievements and their presence on the world stage.

 

Why do we need heroes/heroines?

It seems we need people to look up to, to give us a clue about how to live a better life, be a better person. There’s no harm in hero worship. How many of us had walls plastered with the heroes of our youth – rock stars, film stars, sports stars? We could look at them and dream about being like them. Their benign presence in our bedrooms made us feel less alone in the world, and knowing that many of them had come from humble backgrounds and/or fought their way to the top was useful in the moments when you felt useless and unloved. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Mark Spitz helped me through many tumultuous teenage traumas.

mark spitz

Perhaps the point is that we should be more careful about who we admire, who we elevate to hero status. It is so easy in a celebrity saturated culture to be elevated beyond your talents, beyond your means. Too many such fabricated ‘heroes’ are fools with feet of clay, who should not be on any pedestal or strutting on any stage. (Enough clichés there?) Too easy for us to be duped into admiring what is not worth a second glance.

Look away from vacuous greedy celebrities and corrupt cheating sports stars. They bring nothing of worth to the greater good of mankind. Look to those who achieve, who make a difference, the ordinary heroes all around us; nurses, doctors, teachers, librarians, firemen, policemen. Don’t over-look them when searching for people who do great things every day.

By all means have a hero. But choose wisely. Look to real achievement, to characteristics that are worth admiring: look to the past, look beyond pretty faces and keep well away from sport.

classroom

Remember, too, you can be a hero too – as Mr Bowie said, we can be heroes, if just for one day. Worth a try, I’d think – look to yourself as well as to others. (Images from Google Images & Private Collection).

Just Be Kind

June 6, 2015

It is such a simple thing – kindness. And such a powerful thing. But there is so little of it about. Think on this: are you a kind person? Could you do better?

As we look around our world kindness and compassion seem to be in short supply. The news and FB feeds are full of cruelty to homeless people, refugees, animals, each other: stories of rape and war, death and casual indifference to suffering (especially you, Tony Abbott and David Cameron). Perhaps in this increasingly divided world where the rich and powerful and violent are increasingly holding sway it is time for the rest of us, the majority of us, to proceed in kindness, to see if we can make a difference.

Farm-orchard

Kindness to strangers

Why not drop a coin or two in the homeless person’s cup – why not take the time to say hello to them? Don’t assume they are so very different to you.

Stand up for someone on the train, tube or bus. Let someone go in front of you in the queue in the supermarket, let someone else have the better parking space. Open the door for someone.

Smile at random strangers for no reason. Pay someone a compliment if there is something about them that you find pleasing. I can tell you when people tell me they love my hair it makes me smile and feel better about the world.

Say thank you to the bus driver, the shop assistant – they may be doing their job but it’s a nice to show some appreciation.

Remember, you don’t know what their lives are like, a random act of kindness may make all the difference to them.

 

Kindness to colleagues

We spend a great deal of our lives at work, often years with other people, more time with them than our families it seems. So surely it’s not so hard to be pleasant, to be thoughtful and considerate in the work-place? Yet increasingly it’s become an adversarial environment, more like Game of Thrones, where it’s every man/woman for him/herself, with increasing levels of treachery and cunning. Where did this culture come from? Why are so many people only out for themselves, or wanting to cut others down?

I find it amazing in my profession, where we are meant to care for the kids, that so many up the food chain, patently do not. They say they do, but in the way they treat colleagues and manage matters it is clear that they have no care or compassion for anyone, so what are they doing in Education?

I won’t even mention the current Education Secretary, who is another in a long line of idiots who persistently crap on teachers, instead of praising and appreciating the dedication of most of us.

Why are so many teachers dropping from stress? Why do so many young graduates not stay in the profession? Because it is not a kind profession, because compassion and caring for your team, your colleagues, is not seen as the way forward. Because if you falter, fail in any way, you are seen as weak – you are the problem and you must go.

In fact, if you are working in such a place then you should go – find a place where management care about their team, their staff and you will feel valued and perform so much better and won’t that be the best thing for the kids, or the clients, or the business you work for?

 

Kindness to family & friends

This should be so obvious I need not mention it. But recent events remind me that we are often more careless with those closest to us. Kindness is not a given in family or with friends.

Being close means we see each other’s faults and over time and during intense events – such as holidays or weddings, funerals or moving across the world – we see the faults more clearly and sometimes we react badly. Sometimes we expect too much from others. Sometimes we need to think about what we are doing in a relationship – what does this friendship mean; why is this family member so important to me?

Patience is an essential part of kindness and is crucial in close relationships, as is forgiveness. People are foolish (as a wise child once told their granddad) and say and do foolish things. They are also thoughtless. But if we react in the same way, especially when we know better, how does that help anyone?

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Kindness to animals (and other desperate creatures)

I do not want to see pictures of damaged and brutalized animals on my FB feed. I care not that many of these stories end well, I am upset by these images. Yes, like many, these pictures have a greater impact on me than boatloads of desperate refugees. I am aghast at what is happening to refugees and could not imagine the horrors of their plight but there is something about dumb animals, creatures that are dependent on us to look after them and do the right thing that cuts to the heart.

I loved Zanz (my GSD) with all my heart. I do not understand why anyone would knowingly and wantonly be cruel to an animal. It seems indicative of a much larger problem in our society, where cruelty, not kindness rules the planet.

It’s simple – don’t have an animal if you are not going to treat it correctly. And if you come across strays or animals suffering then don’t ignore them. You could even rescue a puppy yourself.

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Kindness to yourself

Not last because it is least, but because this is important. Kindness comes from feeling strong yourself, from feeling good about who you are and your place in the world. Kindness to yourself recognizes your own humanity, your own infinite ability to fuck things up, but to let it go, forgive yourself. You cannot be kind to others, if you cannot be kind to yourself.

Kindness is about forgiveness, about recognizing that the world is a harsh and often brutal place, but we don’t have to embrace that. Kindness should be the new black, the new cool. Kindness to others makes them feel better and you know what, it makes you feel better too. It’s a simple thing but oh, so effective.

 

As Glen Campbell told us years ago –

You got to try a little kindness, yes show a little kindness

Just shine your light for everyone to see

And if you try a little kindness then you’ll overlook the blindness

Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Poetry: Monsoon Night … Northern Morning

February 21, 2015

My friends in the North have been battered and bruised by the elements once again – but survived. Yes, Australia is a dangerous and terrible place – it’s also beautiful and special, especially the Northern Territory. Today I have a couple of poems for you written as part of a longer series about life in a particular Northern town.

darwinbats

Monsoon Night

Up there, in thick black clouds

Beyond the fat moon, far above the tree tops

the storm gathers, growls

smouldering away.

 

Clashing noises from the Gods

rumble and thunder across the patient night sky.

Winds rush up streets

slamming doors – open and shut

rattling vases, knocking down pictures.

A sudden and vicious gust.

Before the rain whips in

hard and vertical

marching in a line up and down streets

first on one roof and then another

precisely covering each suburb

of this hot little city.

A swift-savage downpour.

Crashing on iron roofs

flooding gutters

filling swimming pools

washing possums, dogs, cats

from their resting places in trees, gardens, parks

Scattering bats across the clouded skies.

 

Waking babies

wake their mothers,

who walk the night

fill bottles, offer a breast, change nappies

Sooth unsettled children, startled babies.

Then sit on bamboo chairs on elevated verandahs

Alone, to watch the night

The wondrous storm

taking in the cool of the air

deep into their lungs, their pores

feel their being change, becoming

part of the confluence of nature

part of the storm

pulled into its current.

Faces cleansed with rain

nostrils filling with freshly released perfumes

bodies bathed in breezes

Calmed by the rain.

Spirits soothed by the storm.

 

A mother’s breath exhales, and her home eases.

Storm-disturbed children

sigh and settle back to a dreamless sleep.

Men shuffle down passages

Feel the change in the air

visit the fridge

the toilet

stretch and scratch, snuffle and snort

returning to bed for a restful sleep – a deep slumber

before the day arrives to send them back to work.

 

A man

A woman

stand abutting their verandah railings

flesh to naked flesh

rain splashing skin

Looking into the night

the arcs of light across the sky

the shadows of cloud across the moon.

Nothing moves except the sky.

No sound except the thunder.

 

Above

High overhead

the storm moves away

rumbles mumbling out to sea

lightning now flashing feebly

over the black-blue water

losing passion

losing power.

A spent storm

Now all still over this northern most city.

 

Northern Morning

Still dark now

People waking, emerging from dreams

slip from ruffled beds, disentangle from sleeping partners.

Garbage trucks begin their guttural rumbling trek through

a snoozing suburb.

Light-creeping night-falling

sun fingering in through dawn-clouds

Streaky bacon sky.

 

Alarm clocks shrill

clock radios spring into life

walkers, runners, riders invade the streets

silently pounding, arms swinging, regular breathing

swimmers plough up and down backyard pools

The day begins.

 

Light floods

the flat blue horizon

Storm clouds roll away across the heavens

leaving the suburb coolly sighing in the moments

before the sun bursts upon them

firing up the day

firing up the week

firing up the temperature

so that by the time people step

from their morning showers

before they can even dry the water from their bodies

sweat is rolling down their skin.

 

The morning smells sweet

clear, crisp, lighter than the night

Light-blue smells

not the

velvet blue-black smells of the night.

Inhale the refreshed gardens

the flowers releasing cleansing perfumes

filling the nostrils of the waking streets.

Later, children strolling

spilling from cars

will breath in this morning air

smile and be revived for the week’s work

All – children, workers, mothers, babies, students, unemployed –

as they find their way in the world today

will be buoyed by the night storm

the fresh smells of their suburb

the bright blue of the sky

and go happily about their business today.

 

But now dreams are scattered with the early morning light

lost, taken with the dispersing clouds

only snatches left,

disturbing tendrils to bother and mystify throughout a day

busy with the needs of work, of other people.

Ah, to sleep the extra five minutes

to save the lost dream

the door to the soul, to dark wishes and desires

the book of ideas and inspirations

the path to the future (Images from Private Collection & Google Images)

Stories: A Small Flirtation

February 14, 2015

A story for Valentine’s Day – a bit of romance and betrayal, passion and lust. This first appeared in Red on Red, an Anthology of Northern Territory Writing. Happy Valentine’s Day.

A SMALL FLIRTATION           

Jack.

I kissed her. Properly. Finally. Well, she kissed me and I didn’t hold back. Well, I did. A bit. I didn’t kiss her the way she wanted. I wanted to. When we were sitting in the pub I knew something was coming. She touched my hand a couple of times, kept looking at me, held my gaze: smiled. She’d grabbed my arse before we left work: I knew what she was thinking. Said she’d had another dream about me. Erotic again. She dreams about me a lot. I like that. I like that she dreams about me and tells me. I wonder how explicitly. She hints. I can guess.

So I went for a drink with her and Cam. I s’pose I shouldn’t have. I know she wants me. Would I fuck her? Perhaps if she was a bit thinner, perhaps if we weren’t married. I don’t know. I think about it. I like cuddling her, touching her, the smell of her. But anything else is too difficult. Judy would kill me this time. But we went for a drink – couldn’t hurt, not with Cam there too. But she played up to me, smiling, listening sympathetically to my woes, swirling her ice in, it sounds stupid, a very sexy way. I was really aware of Cam, like a chaperone, there with us. He seemed not to notice her attentions, but he’s used to her flirting: he has coffee with her every morning. Perhaps she doesn’t like me that much? Perhaps she plays us all like this? I watch her. She pays more attention to me than Cam: it’s my hand she touches, it’s my gaze she holds. She stays in her seat as Cam moves to go. So do I. Is she waiting for me, watching me? I expected us all to leave together. But Cam leaves and neither of us move so we’re left alone in the pub.

Her drink is almost empty. She wants another. I don’t. I’m frightened what might happen if I drink too much. I offer to buy her a drink. She will if I will. I won’t. She doesn’t. I feel nervous. I should go. Judy and the kids. It’s eight o’clock. She won’t stay without me. We leave together. I feel better that we’re going. It would be too easy to stay. Outside the door she slips her arm around me, tucking her shoulder under mine. My arm goes around her. I don’t even think about it. We walk like this so often. I like the way she feels tucked in close.

We stop at my bike. I put my helmet and gloves on the seat. She stands in front of me. Close. Expectant. We don’t often stand face to face. She’s quite short really. No heels. Her head fits neatly onto my shoulder. I know this from before. Before that scene in my office, when we used to cuddle too much. She puts her arms around me, around my waist. I know this is stupid. I should have got on the bike and just gone. I shouldn’t have put my helmet down. She’s waiting for something to happen. I put my arms around her. She looks up at me. She wants to kiss me. I want to kiss her. I’ve kissed her before, on her hair, her tinted blonde, soft hair. And a peck on the mouth, once. She wants more than a peck tonight. I bend down to her mouth and we kiss. Mouths slightly open, enough pressure. She tries to move her tongue into my mouth. I can’t do that. She pulls away. Pissed off. I’m glad. No, I’m not. Shit. I don’t know what I am. I want her but her tongue at my teeth scares me. I can’t open my mouth.

She rants and raves a bit. Understandable. Do I lead her on? Have I encouraged her? I don’t know. I do like her. I like the way she feels. But she’s married. I’m married. I know her old man. I tell her I like him too much, her too much. It’s not much of an answer. I put on my jacket and helmet. I can’t go any further with her. Although I probably want to. Where would we go for God’s sake – her car and have it stink of sex and Gary know something was up because that smell is unmistakable? I hug her and go. I don’t even look back to see the lights of her car or if she’s okay. She’s okay. She’s pretty tough really. Must be to like an arse-hole like me. I try not to think about her as I ride home. I lick my mouth tasting her lipstick. I don’t think about her body pressing into mine, her eyes on me. I put tomorrow out of my mind.

I wipe my mouth carefully before I go into the house, remembering the shit her lipstick on my shirt sleeve had caused last month.

***

Kim.

He kissed me. Properly. Not really passionately but it wasn’t a Platonic kiss. He held me and he kissed me. He just wouldn’t let his tongue respond to mine. I don’t know why. But as I think about it now it wasn’t all me. My mouth tingled from the stubble around his mouth, so the pressure was there. He tasted of beer and smoke, sexy, making me think of years ago. And as he’s so much taller than me and I wasn’t wearing heels and I wasn’t on tip-toe he must have bent to kiss me. So he kissed me as much as I kissed him.

I can’t remember how tightly he held me or where his arms were I just know he stayed behind when Cam left and he put his helmet down when we got to his bike. He’d spent the afternoon with me, sat with me at the function, got me drinks, told me stupid jokes. I told him I’d dreamed of him again. That always gets into him. But I was surprised when he agreed to go for drinks with Cam and me after work. He usually pisses off really early. I was pleased though. I knew something would happen. Six months of this, the year nearly over. Something had to happen.

I watched him when Cam made going home moves. He just sat. Cam seemed unsure. Didn’t seem to know what was going on. He sort of hesitated, then left. He waved at me through the window. Did he raise his eyebrows? Jack did not move an inch. He stayed still. Sat with me. Alone together. It was fine and then he seemed to get cold feet. Jabbered on about getting the kids to bed and getting home. Me too, I said. What’s the hassle, I thought. So we left. I put my arm around him and he hugged me to him. We walk like that a lot. I like it. I like the way he feels. Big, strong, but soft. He’s beginning to run to fat in there somewhere. Who am I to say! We stop at his bike. He puts his helmet and gloves on the seat. He stands there. Me in front of him. I can’t help but cuddle him. He puts his arms around me. Well he must have. I can’t really remember this bit. I didn’t have that much to drink, perhaps I should have had more, perhaps we would have fucked then!

But we kiss. Open mouths, some feeling, some fire, but he won’t respond properly. I feel stupid. Idiot. My mouth tingles from his stubble. I taste his beer and cigarettes in my mouth. I step back. Shout at him. Made a fool of myself again over you. How nice for your ego, how nice for you. What stops you? I want to know. He throws out come-ons, winks, smiles but won’t go the distance. Why have a drink with me, kiss me and then kick me in the face? I hate him. I feel so fucking stupid. Because I respect you and Gary too much he says. I almost laugh. What a fucking stupid thing to say.

He stays calm. I hate it that he does that. Gary does that too. He puts on his gloves and helmet. He puts his key in the bike. I hang about. I want this resolved. He comes back. His mouth is covered in dark pink lipstick. Mine. I think I should tell him to wipe it off but why bother. He hugs me. It sort of stems the discomfort I feel, the bile rising in my throat. He isn’t a complete arse-hole. Not quite. I go to the car. He roars past me. Gone. I can’t go home. Can’t face Gary after that. My head spins, my mouth still tingles, I can still taste him. I go and see Caitlin and get blind.

***

Kim

The day after the kiss was fine. He was easy with me, smiled a lot, chatted a lot. We seem to have a secret, a nice secret between us. There seems to be an understanding about Tuesday night, about us. I feel calm around him, sort of happy, like we’ve moved to the next phase of this idiotic non-relationship of ours. I feel like we’ll progress like this, slowly but inexorably towards fucking each other. It seems an inevitability of being around him. Things will happen if I don’t force anything.

Caitlin thinks I should talk to him. It didn’t work last time, why should it this time? I don’t want to talk to him in his office but he won’t come to mine. Patience. I shall try patience. Today I think I can wait forever for him. I assume this serenity won’t last.

***

Jack

I’m not sure what’s going on. Kim is all sweet and calm. No hassle about Tuesday night, yet we seem to have seen a lot of each other at work: intimate sort of chats. It’s like we have a secret. Well I s’pose we do. Where to from here? When she smiles at me and touches me I do want her. I’m sorry I didn’t fuck her the other night. I could do it now – take her into the photocopy room and fuck her there. Just do it.

I had a strange conversation with Cam. After Kim had been with us, discussing next year’s intake. I didn’t think we’d flirted at all, but he did. He was cryptic but I got the message. I’m not as thick as some think. Too much gossip, not good for the place, for me, for her. But I don’t want to talk to her about it. What do I say? Look as everybody thinks we’re doing it we may as well. There’s a thought. Listen, you’ve got to keep away from me. But she does. She only sees me when she has to, she just tends to stay for that extra five minutes. We can’t talk to each other at all? A solution, but not a preferred one.

I should have fucked her. Ages ago. Made all this shit and angst worthwhile.

***

Kim

He’s been transferred. I don’t believe it. He’s going.

***

Jack

They’re transferring me. I don’t want to go.

***

Jack

Kim came into my office after Cam announced I was going. She looked terrible. I felt terrible. She wanted me to shut the door. I said no. There’s been enough bullshit around here the last few days. No closed doors. She just left. I s’pose I was a bit harsh. I saw her about twenty minutes later in the corridor. Looking sad. I must have too. Our eyes met for a moment, a long moment but we said nothing. What is there to say now?

She was leaving work as I was, just in front of me. I called her back: Kimberley. Sometimes I call her that. She only lets Gary call her that. What does that mean? I want to talk, want her sympathy, her support. I want to know how she feels about me going. I feel absolutely shit-house. She’ll give me a hug, help me feel better, make leaving bearable. There’s no-one around.

Instead she savages me. What happened between yesterday and now? She’s pleased that I’m going. Personally, I’m glad you’re going. You’re such a bastard. You’ve tried to say this is all me. It’s not all me, not just in my head. It’s you too. You stayed on Tuesday. You sat with me. You kissed me too. You could have left. You know how I feel about you.

I can’t handle this. No hugs, no smile. No comfort here. How much truth in what she says? She’s hurt: about me going, about how I treat her? I’m hurt. Can’t she see that? I hate her for this. I don’t want hysterical scenes. Not as I’m leaving, not ever. I have done nothing wrong. I was just being friendly. I can’t see her eyes behind her ray-bans but she hates me too. Her chin is set against me. She gives up. Suit yourself. She’s gone. I drive away too fast, feeling bad about the whole mess. Fuck her, fuck her, fuck her.

Fuck the company too.

***

Kim

I cried as I left work. I didn’t want a scene like that. Not so close to the end. Not with him. But the bastard wouldn’t talk to me and then he was an arse-hole in his office, eyes all steel and cold, as I don’t know him. They went like that again in the car park. But in between they were soft and sad, lost blue eyes. Blue eyes I think I love.

No, I don’t. That’s just being sentimental, dramatic, so stupid.

But I felt a real bitch after. I felt mean and nasty and low. In town after I’d done the order for next year and posted my Christmas cards I bought him a card. I thought a long time about what to write. I used my best black pen and wrote it out a couple of times before I wrote on the card. I left it on his desk first thing Friday morning, with a chocolate Father Christmas. He’ll be late. So he’ll get the card before seeing me. He’ll be softened and I’ll be half shot after the champagne breakfast. I’ll have to try not to cry all day. And not to make an utter idiot of myself. Not again.

***

Jack

The new place is horrible. I don’t want to go. Why can’t the bastards leave me alone? Why can’t they leave me here? Everyone is being so nice this morning. Lucy, the receptionist, cried. Sandra, Cam’s secretary, gave me a hug and a kiss good-bye; early she said, before the rush from the others. As if Kim could seriously think that I liked Sandy as I like her. When I finally got to my office there’s a range of packages, a fax from the department, official written notification and a card from Kim. Simple. Sweet. So she felt guilty about yesterday. “Love, Kim”. Oh, yeah. Does she love me? She’s never said. But she wouldn’t. Why would she, I’d just screw it back in her face. Shit, I’ll miss her.

I don’t want to go. Fuck ’em!

***

Kim

I didn’t see him until lunch time. He was cooking sausages on the BBQ. People everywhere. I’d had about two bottles of champagne since 7:30. He had a beer. I went straight out to him and hugged him. He kissed me. On the mouth, in public. Several times. I apologised for being a bitch. I asked about the new place. He’s resigned to it. I’m happy that we’ll end as friends. I still like the way he feels: so good to hold.

Lunch is a long pissy affair. I tidy up my desk slowly, wondering about saying goodbye to Jack. Caitlin is taking me home but she’s busy washing up. I don’t feel so desperate any more. By the time we start again next year this will all be forgotten: he’ll be gone, there will be no more gossip. Well, not much anyway.

I wander through the front office saying goodbye to people. I kiss Cam, hug Rob, then look for Jack, hoping he’s in his office. He’s not. He’s standing by Lucy’s desk. I don’t care any more. I’d like a private goodbye but it doesn’t matter. Not any more.

I’ve come to say goodbye before it’s too late. It’s 2:30. We hug close and tight. We kiss hard but friendly. I burrow into his neck. God, I’ll miss you. My head is buried in his shoulder. His face is in my hair. I love you, too, he says.

I walk away quickly, putting on my ray-bans so no-one can see me crying. Bastard! How dare he say that now! How dare he say I love you? How dare he say such a thing as he’s leaving!

***

Jack

It’s gone. The last box is in the car. I can’t believe I was only there for six months. I could have stayed forever. I’ll miss Cam, the others, Kim. I will miss Kim, but … If I’d stayed it would have got messier. She looked lovely today; all Christmas, balls in her ears, tinsel around her throat, her wrists. I watched her through lunch. I know why I want to fuck her- she uses her body the whole time, she smiles continually, she’s noisy and bright and I want her next to me, naked and lush with me inside her. I don’t care that she’s a stone over-weight, I don’t care that we’re both married. I care that she wants me. That she might love me. Christ! I should have fucked her when I had the chance.

She came to find me after lunch. I wondered if she would. I wanted to be in my office alone but I was talking to Lucy. I expected Kim would take me into the office. I was surprised when she didn’t. Perhaps I’ve been too rough with her. Not given her enough out of this strange game we’ve been playing.

So we said good-bye. I held her tight and she buried her head in my neck, kissing it as we were lovers alone. I kissed her hair and we kissed again, hard, too much feeling. God, I’ll miss you, she said. I hope she does. And I said, not thinking, not even sure if I meant it, but said it perhaps because finally it was the only thing I could say, I love you, too. I held her a moment longer. Close. Intimate. And she was gone.

As I left I over-heard someone say Kim was crying. I almost went to her. Almost held her tight. Almost took her away. Almost.

Stories: Life, the Universe and Cancerous Things

February 7, 2015

This is the story of my cancer journey – 12 years ago now. It was early February that I found a lump in my left breast, just starting at a new school, just moved into my new lovely house on the Tamar River. Oh, my was it a tumultuous year. This story won an ABC Short Story prize and appears on their web-site somewhere!! Enjoy.

Life Happens

Life, the Universe and Cancerous Things

I am 42, which according to Douglas Adams in The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the answer to the question about the meaning of life. In my case the answer is cancer. Breast cancer and I have a feeling that Adams might just approve of such an answer were he still alive to hear it.

I am slightly younger than the average age for this encounter, but not uniquely so. Every day someone is diagnosed with cancer. Every day someone dies from it. Recent statistics have us all lasting a lot longer. Early detection is the key to survival, as is treatment. There are still those of us living in denial who, on finding a lump ignore it, hoping it will go away. I met such a lady during treatment. She ignored her lump: now it is huge and the cancer has spread throughout her body. Why did she ignore it? She doesn’t know.

I found my lump during dinner one Saturday evening in February. A slight pain near my left nipple and in rubbing it better I found it. My lump. Not small, not indistinct – clearly something that shouldn’t be there. I felt sick, worried all weekend and rang my doctor on Monday. How long had it been there? Had I been ignoring this, not examining my breasts regularly or carefully? But I was sure it was new, that it hadn’t been there in December.

Time then did strange things, as it has been doing ever since. My GP moved quickly, ordering scans, biopsies: an appointment with the specialist. Onto the cancer roller coaster I stepped, taking my family with me. Once malignancy was established the choices narrowed. It had to go. How much breast was to go with it? As it turns out over a third has gone and I have a seven inch scar from left to right, making me look something like a cream bun on the left and a normal round full jam donut on the right. It is not a pretty picture in the bathroom mirror.

Chemotherapy followed surgery. A decent interval apart. In fact it seemed too long at the time. I just wanted it to be over. All treatment completed and behind me so I knew what was to happen for the rest of my life and then get on with it.

Don’t let anyone lie to you: chemotherapy is hideous. It makes your hair fall out, your skin reacts, you ache all over, you’re constantly tired, you feel nauseous, constipated, or the other extreme and your predilection for infection rises dramatically. Yes, chemotherapy can kill you.

Six treatments were set at two weeks apart. During the course of treatment I contracted two chest infections, my veins collapsed and I had to have a transfuser port inserted into my chest. Some days I felt so bad I thought that to die might be easier. Chemotherapy is a blunt instrument and it amazes me in this age of medical advancement and miracles that a regime, which seems to just kill everything indiscriminately in its path, is so commonly used. Is in fact, integral to successful treatment.

Radiation on the other hand is refined and specifically targeted. I am measured up, tattooed and then zapped every day for six weeks. Some discomfort, on-going fatigue, but nowhere near the trauma of chemotherapy.

I am nearly through the initial cancer woods. Drug therapy and follow up checks and tests with my doctor’s lay ahead. Is the cancer through my system? Has it spread from the breast through the lymph nodes to other vulnerable parts? I won’t know for some time. Five years they say until the “all clear”. And then the numbers are on my side.

Douglas Adams made it to 49, perhaps that was his answer to the question of life, the universe and everything? I hope my answer is a much bigger number than that.

PS: I remain cancer free, check ups have been all clear since that terrible year.

Stories: My Father’s Feet

January 24, 2015

Another story from my collection: Life Happens. This one has also been published in a couple of short story anthologies. Set in Darwin and Tasmania, a long time ago now. Hope you enjoy!

Life Happens

My father’s feet were quite remarkable, indeed unusual. A picture forms in my mind; clear, accurate, detailed: my father’s feet when he was a young man and I was but a toddler. My father’s feet are what I remember most accurately about him.

My father’s fee were ugly, deformed, strangely coloured, oddly shaped and held me fascinated for years as a child. When you were sitting near him on the floor you could not help but reach out to touch the unnatural lines and odd bumps that were his feet. Nor were they identical in their deformity. One foot – his left, I think – was more grotesque; the lump in the middle of his foot rising more angrily that the corresponding bump on the other foot. Both swellings were a reddish clay colour and looked sore all the time, as if they needed some balm frequently rubbed into them. The skin was drawn over them and seemed ready to tear at any flex of his foot. Both is big toes were long but one was at an awkward angle to the remaining toes, which also seemed abnormally long. His arches were high and pronounced. His souls were as tough as old boots and seemed impervious to pain.

There were other things about him that were memorable, unusual too. He had a strange voice, quite different to Mum’s and ours. (I didn’t realise how strange until I went to school and became a regular visitor in my friends’ homes.) His voice was deep and rich and melodious with hints of foreign places. In fact he was English but never sounded it to me and never owned up to it, often claiming to be Russian, or more frequently, Turkish.

Like some children I did not wish to be the same as everyone else so it was handy being able to claim a father who was different, and therefore claim that I, too, was of Russian (I preferred being Russian) extraction. I luxuriated in my ‘difference’ although I looked just the same as everyone else at school and despite my last name not being adequately awkward enough to pronounce. But then my cover was blown by my father’s appearance at school for a parent-teacher evening: the truth became apparent and my embarrassment was excruciating.

He never answered anything directly either. Although he knew a great deal, getting information out of my father was akin to dancing through a mine field – if you could pick and dodge your way through his enigmatic answers and reach safe ground you usually ended up with the answer of piece of information required, and often more-so. We could all think laterally and learnt how to phrase our questions precisely before any of us realised just how much we had learned.

And playing games! He never, not even once, let any of us win. He never deliberately lost to any of the children. He always played to win and expected us to do the same. And we did. Those early games of Monopoly, scrabble and chess were slaughters of epic proportions but we learnt quickly and effectively and despite never beating him at chess I could eventually make him fight for his victory.

We were a close family: evening meals together around the table, never – well the occasional Sunday night – in front of the telly. They both cooked – Mum and my father. His speciality was curry, usually a spicy sweet lamb curry with lots of pappadams (which Mum always cooked because my father made them too oily and she drained them on kitchen paper being efficient and fat conscious), pickles and sambals but never enough rice because my father didn’t like rice all that much and never made enough for us, believing that we felt as he did about the stuff.

We went out to dinner regularly from an early age. Not just pizza houses or cafes but proper sit down, behave-yourself restaurants. It was fun to dress up and have a late night out being grown up and vaguely sophisticated. (Very handy training ground for taking out sweet young things when I got old enough.) We were allowed a glass of wine and learned the difference between a good meal and an excellent one, knew how to behave in public and much later I appreciated the bravery of our parents taking us to such places when we were so young.

There were so many books in my house too – some for us but many belonging to Mum and my father. It was easy to distinguish his from hers but they were all interesting and held us spellbound at different stages of our childhood. Mum’s books were of greater interest to us than my father’s – too many involved, complicated, dry scientific books. But my father has read all the books in the house, including Mum’s of Egypt and Homer, myth and fantasy, history and Shakespeare and he would delight in telling us of the wonders therein as we sat at his feet mesmerised.

I think now that my fascination with my father’s feet should have died away long ago. But they never ceased to intrigue me, pull my eyes towards them, entice my fingers to touch them. It wasn’t as if they were often hidden from view. My father only wore shoes to work and when going out of an evening; and then he only wore lace up shoes because they were the only type of shoe he could wear day long without pain. For the rest of the time his feet were naked or thronged, exposed to the elements and our eyes.

I think of his feet driving the car, his big toe resting on the accelerator; of his feet walking on beaches and leaving strange prints for the tide to wash away; of his feet walking toughly on tropical asphalt; of his feet aching back into shoes again after the summer holidays; of his feet giving shoes the most unnatural lines.

I remember my father’s feet when we went south to live for a year because Mum had become too homesick after the birth of the last of us and it was either split the family or all of us travel off together. It was cold down there in Tasmania. We all acquired endless pairs of thick footy socks and ugg boots but my father was still bare footed as often as he could. Often blue and orange but still uncovered against the cold. Some nights in the heart of winter we would find his bare toes stretching towards the open fire; letting them warm and helping the orange and blue fade to a soft pink. We all liked in down south, grandparents and four seasons to a year, stone fruit and cold rain, but we returned after a couple of years. I sometimes wonder if we returned to the tropics for the sake of my father’s feet.

My father’s feet were often to be found entwined in my mother’s. Her feet were normal; perfectly shaped, often with painted nails; frequently a broad white thong maker showing against the brown regular lines of her feet. Her natural, normal feet only accentuated his deformities even more. Yet they would sit on the couch of an evening, one at each end, reading or watching TV, or talking with their feet touching and stroking, enmeshing together.

There is a photograph I have of him. In it he is holding an enormous fish – a queenie, I think. There is a superb white cat snaking around his feet, inches from the fish’s head, eyeing it expectantly. In the picture my father looks bronzed and fit. His beard is long and bushy and he looks as if he has been out of doors all his life. Yet it is to his feet my eyes are inexorably drawn. They are as brown as the rest of him but his arches look too high and his deformed lumps stand out like flashing beacons. His feet are what I examine when I look at that photograph, not the sixe of the fish, nor his proud smile, not even the cat’s hopeful gaze.

He was a young man in that photo. It was taken before he married Mum, but they were together then. The cat in the photo was her cat. I remember that cat – it was old when I was a baby but it used to come and sit with me in the play pen and curl up against the corner bars. It used to sit on their feet too. Curled in contentment of an evening – more often on Mum’s feet than my father’s. Now I think it was because he was her cat, then I used to think because my father’s feet were too uncomfortable to lie on.

I used to worry about my father’s feet. Worry about them in a purely selfish manner. Worry that they sprang from a disease that would eventually manifest itself in us. I used to examine each new sibling’s feet for signs to see if they had been born deformed, and when they showed no signs I would watch and wait for the bones to erupt and the skin to stretch and for our feet to resemble his. I wondered how long it would take. For years I lived in fear. I should have sought the truth sooner instead of letting his feet fester in my mind.

My father’s feet were not the product of genetics or disease; they were the outcome of an accident, as you might guess. A car accident when he was young, where he was lucky not to be killed. When I finally knew what had happened I felt such a surge of disappointment – how could such a source of endless fascination emanate from such a predictable event? But my feeling of loss soon vanished, for as I listened to the story I watched his feet and my hand stretched out in its normal fashion.

My father had been sixteen at the time – so difficult to imagine him at that age – out and about with his mates on a Saturday night; drinking, whistling at girls; too young for the pubs, so driving around. Of course, they smashed; driving too fast, ran off the road and caught the edge of a telegraph pole. No one was killed but four of them were injured. Amongst them, my father, who had been sitting in the front seat with his feet upon the dash, idly quaffing beer. My father’s feet were smashed to pieces; steel pins inserted in his ankles, his feet rebuilt; months in plaster in hospital unable to walk; lying in a bed in a ward of broken bones, learning to walk again; being thankful he hadn’t been totally wrecked, like the car.

As he grew older, after we had left home, his feet began to hurt him. The highness of his arches would make walking a chore; the thinness of his ankles seemed barely able to support his slight frame. The arthritis in his deformities would wrack his feet and keep him still; limit his mobility, anger him as he had to swallow pills to fight the pain. The warmth of the tropics did little to ward off the pain; the joy of his books and the beauty of his garden did little to comfort him; and my mother’s younger, able, mobile feet did nothing but upset him.

My father’s feet are what I remember most clearly about him – more than his love for us, more than his unusual voice; more than his love of reading; more than his obsessive way with games or his enigmatic answers – more than anything else about him. My father’s feet are what I remember the day I found him as I walked in his garden and came upon his feet as they dangled, deformed and lifeless form beneath the foliage of the Raintree. They were still, white, bloodless, old now; the bumps and lumps and unnatural contours free from pain and intrigue. I touched them for the last time and cut him from the tree.

Stories – The Weather Girl

January 17, 2015

Another story from the ebook collection, Life Happens. A bit shorter this week – especially for my Australian friends who suffer the extremes of weather, sometimes all in the one day. Enjoy.

Life Happens

It took 42 years for Daisy Long to realise she was a Rain God. It was only in the looking back that the pattern took shape and made sense. She remembered as a child idly saying, “It won’t rain today,” and being correct, despite the clouds and the forecast. She’d tell her mum, “I think you should bring in the washing now.” After a while her mother always checked with Daisy on all family matters where the weather was going to be a factor. Gardening, picnics, visiting the beach, as well as the washing. Daisy was their own little barometer – somewhat peculiar in her weather ways but someone her family came to take 100% seriously in all matters to do with rain.

In her university years Daisy had a collection of unreliable cars: one in particular that would drip onto her leg from an impossible to find hole in the rubber of her windscreen. No amount of sealant and repairs managed to stop the drip-drip that wet stockings, stained jeans and made her shiver through the dark days of winter. But one afternoon as she came out of lectures and looked at the threatening sky she had pointed her finger, shook her head at the clouds, saying simply, “Don’t. Not until I get home, anyway.” And the storm held off, just as she asked, bucketing down as she closed her front door. She’d smiled, remembering her childhood magic and took to being obeyed by storm clouds.

Looking back she saw that what she’d laughed at was quite special. She’d simply accepted that she had an affinity with the weather, was somehow super-sensitive to it and thus could predict, with a high degree of accuracy when rain would fall. She’d kept this to herself as she’d left her family and made her own life. It didn’t seem the right sort of thing for normal conversations. Certainly she’d never mentioned it to Ray. In the harsh light of adulthood it all seemed so silly.

Now, recalling her affinity with the elements, she wondered if she could actually make it rain. She looked at the clouds drifting over the homestead, ever threatening, but still withholding all after so many months. Daisy wondered if she could really do something: if she could break this endless drought and give them some hope of keeping the property.

Daisy needed the right moment. She needed to be alone for her experiment, so that if she failed nobody need know and she could simply put the whole Rain-God joke away again, back in the little musty box in her brain that had recently sprung open. She waited until her family was firmly asleep and went outside, where she could examine the heavens, inhale the night air and try to conjure a miracle.

She paced. She breathed deeply. She looked at the sky: scattered clouds grey and promising against the black of the sky, the tiniest glimpse of metallic moon. The place was still: no breeze, no sound. She stepped onto the dirt patch that was once lawn and reached her arms to the sky. “Hello,” she said. “It’s me, Daisy. Remember me? I reckon it’s time we had some rain.”

She waited. She stopped breathing to listen to the slightest sound. Nothing. She checked her watch and waited five minutes. “It’s not good enough,” she shouted. “This has gone on for too long. It’s time for rain. Now.” She tapped her foot impatiently. Then she felt it: oh so softly at first. The slightest breeze, a change in the air – she could smell it: the rain was coming. She looked up – the moon was completely gone. The sky was full of thunderheads. She could feel them heaving, readying to split open. “Oh, yes. Come on. You can do it. Yes, you can!”

The first drop fell on her head, a fat heavy tear of rain that slid down her face to her lips and onto her tongue. The next few fell on the ground making the dirt jump and spatter on her bare feet. The rain fell heavily on Daisy, standing there in a widening puddle of mud. It teemed, sending bullets of rain up from the desiccated earth, rattling on the roof like a machine gun. It was so loud on the corrugated iron that it shook the sleepers from deep in their dreams and brought them from the house.

Ray stood on the verandah, his face awash with relief. The kids ran into the rain and put their faces to the wet sky, laughing and dancing in the expanding sea of mud.

“What do you think you’re doing, woman?” Ray said, bringing her under cover.

“Making it rain.”

“Don’t be daft, Daisy,” Ray laughed. “People don’t make it rain. It’s the drought. It’s been hard on all of us. We’ll be fine now. As long as it keeps going, fills the damns, soaks the ground.”

Daisy shrugged, winked at the heavens and went inside for a nice cup of tea.

Stories – Walking

January 10, 2015

A change for a few weeks while I go hard on the final stages of the PhD, some stories from my  e-book collection Life Happens. This first one, Walking was written during my early years in one of the most magical places on the planet, Gove, and managed to win a prize in a short story competition. I hope you enjoy!

Life Happens

Walking

1.

The women in my street walk at night. They rarely sleep. When the children – those who have children – are safely in bed they slip from the house. Husbands, lovers – we are all escaping from them. They sit in the house, the particular room is irrelevant, engrossed in the cricket, the video, the book on calculus, impervious to us. They are shrouded, veiled, at a distance from us. They do not listen to us, do not hear us: they barely speak. We are barely there, in the room or in their consciousness.

Listen. I hear a door slam. There. It is Jane walking out this evening, cigarette in hand. I see her because I am sitting on the verandah, nursing my glass of wine while my lover sits inside, a million light years away. Even if I had not seen her I would still know who it was. Robert does not leave his house at night. He does not slam doors and walk away. Often I hear his voice – sometimes quietly as he talks to his boys; sometimes he yells, screams abuse at Jane. No wonder she leaves the house. More often I hear Robert fiddling; tapping away at something, fixing, mending, tending to his house. He does not leave.

I sip my wine and wonder where she is going. She is leaving in her car. Often at night, we leave in the car – late, quietly. Jane leaves quickly and vanishes into the night. Not so me. When I leave I make a noise. I whirl away quickly, slam doors, reve engines. I want him to know I am leaving unhappily, deeply troubled.

There is something that troubles the women who live on my corner. There are five of us now – one left, she could not handle the ebb and flow of life here. This corner, my corner, our corner of walking women. But we are not weeping women. We are strong women, we are brave. Foolish? Did you say foolish? Well, yes. That’s possible too. But what is it that keeps us from sleep, that causes this creeping restlessness? Sometimes it seems it visits different houses nightly – takes turns in disturbing us all.

Jane is still gone. I know she has not gone into work. It’s Saturday night – she doesn’t work Saturdays. She has left too quietly – as if she is sneaking away. I can’t help but wonder why, guess at how Robert has upset her this time. I do like Robert, don’t misjudge me, but he is just like the rest of the men in this street. Ah, why do we stay? What keeps us here?

Across the corner live a lesbian couple. Two women without men. Now I had always assumed – perhaps hoped – that same sex relationships were somehow better. That two people of the same sex would understand each other better and be more liberal, caring: be so much closer. But I have heard the smashing of plates and shattering of glass. I have seen the bruises, shared the pain. They too leave at night, race to the car and hurtle off into the blackness.

They are no happier than us. Our scars are not on the surface. I have heard some of Jane’s and she know of mine and realises there is worse to come. As do I. Why do we stay? She stays because of the boys. I stay because of love. We all stay for love. It is there. Sometimes.

Sue, who lives next door, is clearly happy. Well, she and Mick are young and enthusiastic and spend so much time together. Yet, I have heard shouting, the screams at night. Sue does not walk out at night. She is still too young. She still believes in love and happiness and a golden future. But wait. Things will change (and not very long now) and she will vanish into the darkness like the rest of us, urged on by some strange disease that infests the rest of us.

Perhaps it is this place? Jane was happy once. She was thinner, she didn’t smoke: she laughed, was happy, enjoyed her life. My lesbian friend was once engaged, never bruised or battered and her haunted expression never imagined. Once I too was thinner. I barely drank. I slept at nights and never lost my temper at work.

We were all so different once. Before. When? Before we moved here? Before we became involved. Before we thought we had found love?

Listen. Jane is home again. She shuts the car door quietly and moves to the house. I cannot see her face. It is too dark. She has seen me. Her cigaretted hand moves in salute. I imagine a tired smile has crossed her face. She knows. I know. We suffer together: alone. She is inside now. Perhaps she feels calmer, perhaps the pain has eased. I hope so.

I finish my drink and return inside. He is still on the phone. Still talking to her. He thinks me unreasonable. I cannot explain. He believes it is enough that he is with me and not her. But it is not. He smiles at me. He expects me to stay. I have no resolve. I have no strength. I have walked outside but only sat this evening. I feel no better. I will stay: stay until I can bear no more.

 

11.

It is hotting up now. The weather is steamier, muggier; we all feel it. Here on the corner we have moved ahead with the season. Now we are sweatier: we strain more, our burdens seem more unbearable. The ceiling fans are on high but their pathetic draft is not enough to cool us, to comfort us. The air is heavier, expectant. As are we.

The season has changed. We have changed; taken steps towards our own specific futures. Here on the corner our futures are changing. I rarely sit on my lover’s verandah now of a night: the insects are too thick, too bothersome. It is cooler outside, but now it seems more comforting and welcoming inside. Well, it has been. Tonight I am sitting outside. I need some fresh air. I have no glass of wine to nurse.

There are footsteps across the way. Jane is moving about within the house. She is going from room to room looking, assessing; gathering in. Packing. Jane is leaving. She has had enough. Now she is going. She has been smiling again lately. Having made her decision she is now resolved, now calm and almost happy. Things are not about to become easier but they shall become smoother, easier for her to manage.

Outside a bright light blazes. Robert is up on his roof. Tap-tap, mend-mend; taking care of his house, his home; his soon to be empty home. He says very little to any of us. He is getting on: he is getting by. He is staying put. Why do women always leave and take their children? Why do men leave and disown their children? Ah, generalisations: I am good at them

Tap-tap goes Robert’s hammer as he hammers his home.

Tap-tap go Jane’s shoes as she takes all she owns. She will not be there tomorrow night. The tapping will cease for both of them, I imagine. She is moving through the house like a dynamo. She must pack it all, not leave anything behind. She cannot come back. She must forget nothing. This is the end. I am sad about this. But it is the sadness about death, about waste.

Jane is doing what she must to stay alive. She must go before she and Robert kill each other.

A quiet night except for the tapping. Next door Sue and Mick are watching the television. I imagine them curled in each other’s arms, smiling at the same things on the screen. Even the heat, the sweat of close contact will not deter them from their closeness. Sue has spent the last week away, some course in Darwin. They have missed each other; they touch each other all the time. Not a cross word has passed between them in the three days since she returned. They are still young, still in love. They believe in it, and in happy endings. I hope the sickness in Jane and Robert’s house does not jump the fence and breach their walls of love. They should not be invaded by foreign germs. Not yet. Not ever. Let them discover diseases of their own, if they must. It has been good of late not to hear Sue and Mick’s raised voices or slamming doors. Perhaps they will last?

In fact, the corner has been very quiet of late. Perhaps it is the weight of the air, the oppression in the atmosphere that keeps us quiet? Across the corner there has barely been a sound now for weeks, or is it months? Of course, I am rarely on my verandah these nights, but we used to hear our lesbian lovers from inside behind the noise of the air conditioner. They worry me. They are too quiet. I see my friend of the two very rarely these days. We have not chatted for some time now. We are both becoming quite isolated. Probably we are caged by the same things. Yet I hope their qualities are different because when I look upon her face I see death. There is something in her eyes – or is it that there isn’t something in her eyes – something missing; something lost. Her smiles are vacuous, meaningless. She is vague, missing. Slowly she is being extinguished. It will be a lingering and painful death. I consider her weak for not doing anything: for not getting out when she had the chance. And she had it, by God. But am I any better, any stronger? I doubt it.

Jane has found strength. It is good to see. At least one of us has some determination, some courage. At least one…

I listen for voices within my house. It is silent now. He has finished on the phone. Still he needs to talk to her. I had thought that would change, stop, go away. But it hasn’t. I think I understand more now. But still I do not like it. I say very little these days; it only causes arguments. At least he understands me more now. My patience, my stoic perseverance, is winning through. There is more to keep him here now. That makes me safer, secure: even happy. I have not walked for a long time; I have not disappeared into the night in a fit of tyre black or petrol fumes. I do not disappear from his bed before dawn. I stay.

Jane is going. Happiness is returning to us all. Perhaps she is taking away this disease of disquiet, this revolution of unrest with her? Perhaps in her final waking she will drag away the blackness of our nights and leave we, who remain, in peace and contentment? A night thought. A good thought. But I have my doubts. Our happinesses are momentary, fleeting. We rejoice in Jane’s decision, in her courage, and we smile, hoping for the best for her in her new life. But we know, or at least I do, that the walking is not over. It is very far from over. It is never over. Troubled minds, unquiet hearts stay with you; they are the part of you that does not remain in the house as you leave. No, you are their house and they stay with you wherever you go.

Soon the rains will torment out of the sky. Soon this corner will be drenched with rain and the sounds of tears and fists and glasses smashing will not be drowned out by the rain: they will simply accompany it.

The coolness of the night soothes my mind. My aches are slowly dissipating. The screen door is sliding open. My man has come outside, ostensibly to look at his garden in the silver black of this night. But really, I know these things now, he has come to bring me back. I am more precious now. He does not want to lose me, so he does the right thing. He has learnt that a little reassurance goes a long way.

There is a future. A future for us all on this corner. Perhaps we cannot stay here? Jane has to go. Sue is safe for now, but wait a few years. Our alternative couple take their troubles wherever they go. I shall be gone soon, too, from this corner. But I am not like Jane. I do not plan to go alone.

111.

Time has passed. All is still and quiet on my corner. The season is cooler; the oppression and expectation has left the air, left the corner. The nights are almost cold: the fans are off; we lie entwined in each other.

Listen, you will hear nothing. There are no women left on this corner now. Jane left long ago; Sue and Mick moved before the tired air of this corner invaded their hopes and future; even our lesbian couple have found a new house and peace and harmony, if only for a short while. Robert is left and I remain.

But we are going to. Our house and contents are all but packed – this is our last night here. My last night on this verandah. We have found a quieter place where our neighbours do not impinge upon us, and their midnight screams do not float through the darkened air into our lives.

Listen. All is quiet here now. There is no flood-light on Robert’s roof: he is not working, tapping or mending now. There are no footsteps echoing through his house, no cries, no slamming doors, no walking out. There is no breaking crockery or screams from across the corner – all is dark there too. Silent.

Inside here is quiet too. There are no voices over the phone now. No more long and detailed conversations from which I must escape. Now I sit on the verandah because I wish to. Now I sit here under this frangipanied night listening to noises from the past.

Hush. All is quiet. All is dark. All is peaceful on this corner. No longer my corner. We sit together, my husband and I, on our last night here. He ruffles my hair and goes to stand in his garden, inhaling the perfumes of his vegetables and flower for the last time.

Listen. All is quiet now. No one walks at night any more. All our despair and hopelessness has gone – has been taken away. Hush. All is quiet. We are going, leaving this corner, leaving it in peace; letting it recover from us all. Ssh. Listen to the peace while you can.


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