Archive for January, 2015

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.

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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.