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Bedtime Stories #2

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Retired carpenter..history buff, local and ancient..love stories of Italianate style, especially those village superstition stories..Very far left-wing.

Bedtime Stories #2

The search for soul …

Down the Adelaide Central Market, between Marino’s butchers and the Samtass fish market, there is a walk-through breezeway to Gouger Street. Years ago there was an arcade type stall there selling second-hand books … it was run by a bloke in his fifties, if I recall … I used to browse there when I was going past.

At the end nearest the street, there was a tray holding hundreds and hundreds of these … ”penny dreadfuls” I suppose you’d call them … not even with a cardboard cover, but just some lurid pic on paper with around 50 pages or so stapled in a folded booklet type thing. Many of them so old and dog-eared as to be almost a throwaway item …

I asked the man behind the stall there about them …

“What are all these scribbled, tags inside the front cover?” I asked.

“That’s the personal initial or tag to identify that someone has read the story,” he replied … He then continued on; ”I get orders from several old folk’s homes for them, so I bundle up about a dozen or so at the time and deliver them there on my way home.”

The Unloved

Who will give them kisses, sweet kisses,

Essences distilled from secret sentences.

With touching fingers palpitating the heart.

And … and desire …

Ahh! DESIRE! … that wicked,

Wily, wonderful want! That demands attendance

At just about twilight.

When everyone else but thee is in a clutching embrace.

And then, late at night,

When all the bedroom lights turn off,

Leaving thee with no company … but the “cold, dark press of night!”

And unshakeable echoes of regrettable vanity.

… or pride (O’ the affection you scorned!),

“But they were hopeless, boors, losers! ..

Where is that damn paper when you need it?

Ah! … Here!”:

Read: “Do apply if you are honest,

Attractive, with positive outlook.

I am an interesting intellectual,

54 years.

Seeking same for intimate evenings,

Sharing thoughts and hot toddy’s

By a flickering fire … ”

“Reads good! … I hope it brings ‘em in … ”

“What do they sell for?” I asked out of curiosity.

“Oh … there’s only sentimental value in them,” he informed me. “I sell them to the people in the homes for 50 cents each … they read them over some months, mark them with that special tag and then I buy them back off them for 25cents each .. and they go round and round … I know all their tags now, so I send them ones they haven’t read yet … they are slow readers and it keeps them content … ”

Ah … growing old has its mercies … but also its regrets … would that one could drink from Ponce de León’s fountain of youth … I’m sure I would not let so many chances slip by …

If only

Would my wit be a sage much wiser.
Would my courage be somewhat bolder.
Would that time could take me back yonder,
To de León’s youthful fountain mythical …
There in a blush of delight so typical,
Would I and thee … as Adam and Eve,
As those children in the garden of Ede’,
Brighten our eyes to that first sight,
Of a new dawn rising over the mountain’s height.

If only …

I skimmed through some of the copies … they were mostly blatant romance or westerns with a romantic theme … on the front would be a “gunslinger” type or some “muscled young man,” his sleeves rolled up and a touch of “action man grime” in just the right places, with his arm around a “gal” and that determined look on a “chiselled jaw” face … that type of thing ..

“I wonder what they see in them?” I pondered. “They all seem to be about the same” … and I thumbed a copy …

The Secret

I first heard its whisper in the wild oats,

Whose husks had shed their seed.

The breezes hustled the golden sheaths,

Where small lizards scurried beneath.

It was hushed to me in the cries of birds,

The scratching bark of the mallee tree.

It was held to me in my lover’s embrace,

When we kissed our anniversary.

The secret came from the other side,

Of the wide, vast universe.

But it really started right here and now,

In the confines of this Earth.

It is nothing strange or unusual,

But it can never really be told.

It is as young as a first desire,

As a drama about to unfold and

As needed and as fought for,

As the last breath of the old.

“Yes … I wondered on that too once …, ” the seller said. “And I asked this German woman who was a regular customer here at the stall … ”

“Do you buy them for the romantic story?” I asked her …

“No, no … I am too old for the fictional romance … though I do like that side of it … but I read them to get … ” and she struggled for the right words … ” to remember the FEELING … the feeling of the emotion of romance … like when you were young … one forgets the feelings … you can remember the doing of some things … but the feelings of those moments slip away .. and I want to still feel the emotion of those times and sometimes … not often, but just sometimes I get that feeling back … ”

“I would never have thought of it that way” I remarked … but I was much younger then … Now, a much older man, I know exactly what she means … I too now have the beautiful memories … and I like to at moments hold or “freeze-frame” those moments and to then plunge into my emotions to surround that memory with the appropriate emotions and sensual feeling … to marry the moment with the desire … it is a difficult thing, but sometimes it just works … and it is a wonderful feeling … like that first kiss.

The Vanishing Door

Though pleasant enough;

These days of wine and roses,

When the wash of an evening sunset

‘Purples the fleece’d horizon.’

And yet .. yet .. does this doubt seep

Over me, like the fevered shiver

Of an approaching cold.

I have everything … and yet the

Small freedoms I have traded

Seem to hark back to me as whispers

From behind a wall … or door!

A vanishing door!

Through which passes every thought,

But I stay.

I see them vanish, but I stay.

Last night’s dreams … I’ve forgotten,

Yet, I still feel I enjoyed them so.

Gone, with my youthful memories,

Through the vanishing door.

And even the door soon will close forever.

But I fear … I will stay …

I think I can add a quote … for better or worse … from F.Scott Fitzgerald here … it is taken from his later writings toward the end of his life … from “The Crack-up” .. essay #3:

“So what? This is what I think now: that the natural state of the sentient adult is a qualified unhappiness. I think also that in an adult the desire to be finer in grain that you are, “a constant striving” (as those people say who gain their bread by saying it) only adds to this unhappiness in the end — that end that comes to our youth and hope.”

But this aging relic must now go to bed and claim some sleep … best if we all close our eyes and dream sweet dreams … goodnight my sweets …

“Everyone’s gone to the moon” … Jonathan King:

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Bedtime Stories #1

I stare into time’s eyes … She stares back at me. Actually, it isn’t time as in measurement, it’s my cat … she has that stare of eternity … like cats seem to have … like she has been born into forever. I stare into her eyes sometimes as she sits on my lap … we exchange knowledge … I have to admit to her that I do not like raw, gutted mouse and she draws the line at chilli con carne … lose the chilli, she says and she’ll give it a go … but she is partial to a nibble of smoked salmon … then she curls up on my lap and we both go to sleep.

I like bedtime stories … I like the night.

I am the night

Beware the people of the day,

Their plans, their tools, the schemes they lay.

Beware the people of the light,

They have no feelings for the night.

I am a person of the night,

I bask and wallow in its quiet delight.

I stand drenched in the light of a million stars,

I wash my soul in Celest’s sweet baths.

Night … soft as scented smoke,

Velvet smoothed draping cloak.

Comes, caresses me gentle all around,

Sweet as complexion rain on a Derry Down.

I stand under the sight of a million stars,

Starlight pouring down on me,

Each a whisper in this night,

Each star a story delight.

I am a person of the night,

I bask and wallow in its quiet delight.

I stand drenched in the light of a million stars,

My soul washed clean in Celest’s sweet baths.

My mother used to read me “Lassie Come Home” when I was very young. My mother wanted to be a writer … she did write some short stories and sold a couple too. But in growing up in extreme poverty like so many of that generation from the great depression and the wars, she held her own self and her privacy closely guarded, so she couldn’t be hurt … so her stories didn’t go deeper than a recalling of anecdote or observation … for to tell stories of a person’s situation, you have to reveal some of yourself … you have to cut out a piece of yourself every time you draw that picture.

But I do have a scratch of a poem of hers she wrote when a teenager in love … it is only a section, but it says a lot … I think..

“Now at last I am free!

Off through the scrub I run

Where sheep tracks only are seen

Nothing but bush and sun

Till all of a sudden I come

Out where an axe swings free.

Cutting, for love and money

The axe bites deep in a tree … ”

My mother married that axeman … an Italian interned as an “enemy alien” during the war … They made a sort of life in the fringe suburbs of the capital city … on the southern hills near the sea … far from the bush and Mallee, far from the Dolomites … two strangers in strange country … but the irony must be admitted in the revelation in the correspondence and account books of my parents after their passing, that while my father sent a not small amount of money back to his parents in Italy, my mother, likewise, invested regular amounts in the Brighton Parish of the Catholic Church … and we kids went around dressed in hand-me-downs … But the Rosary figured central to our meals every night after eating.

The Tide

Like a sailor old, who watches the tide,

Life’s many moods I do abide…and still I watch,

For there comes a wash of the river flow,

That carries the ebb, what comes and goes.

That “tide in men’s lives” that carries their thoughts,

Like flotsam swept before a wave wild wrought

By wind and storm or by deceiving calm they be brought,

To wreck upon Charybdis rocks or wash up on rugged tor.

Fortune for that sailor who with astute eye,

Will risk the temper of mood and tide,

And call the exact moment makes best to ride.

He casts the ropes that hold him belay,

All wind and storm be no delay.

Yet I and thee, chained to life’s fickle destiny,

Can but watch as the vessel sails away from we,

While idly biding …

Like empty shells scattered on a wide, broad shore,

Awaiting tide and waves also, to move us ever-more …

Anyway, we grew up in spite of our parents … even though they tried to stall that inevitability by sending us to Saint Theresa’s Primary School, to be harangued and psychologically tortured by some sexually frustrated nuns … the “Sisters of Mercy” … I think they lost their “by name” calling somewhere along the line … for merciful they were not! … I still remember one of them … Sister Mary Lawrence … who stalked the playgrounds looking for victims (most prevalently amongst the boys) with a chastising length of jarrah in her hands … growing up as a carpenter, I can perfectly record the measurement of that flitch as around 18 inches long, by 2 inches wide and ¾ of an inch thick … it was marked by having a bevel down each side along the full length … presumably done on Sisters instruction so as to get a better grip when inflicting pain onto a child’s hide! … I can recall one particular moment when Brian Hurley and myself were playing marbles in a “verboten” area of the schoolyard and Sister Lawrence bearing down upon us at great haste with that piece of jarrah held high like a missionary’s crucifix and her nuns habit flowing about her in a voluminous black terror … and to this day, whenever I hear a rendition of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” I am instantly thrown back to that moment of descending doom! It’s a pity those nuns couldn’t find sexual satisfaction with the priests in the presbytery next door … as I’m certain THEY TOO could have done with some release of tension!

When a Catholic priest goes to a convent to hear the confessions of the nuns there, it is said he goes to; ”Dust the Lilies” …. the lilies, of course, being the; ”Lilies of the fields”: The nuns.

Dusting the Lilies

Wither goest thou, Father John,

On such a splendid day?

Do you follow whimsy’s course,

A carefree wanderer … say?

A laugh, a smile, pause a while …

Then, cautious answer, yea …

“I go toward yonder gate,

Under stately blue-gum tree.

There, (with blessings of God) …

I go to ‘dust the lilies’.

To dust the lilies gently,

Lest such petals fade and die.

I’ll embrace their hips,

Kiss their lips,

And whisper a little white lie!”

I blame our grandmother for the almost fanatical adherence to Catholic doctrine … SHE was a fervent believer that converted from Protestantism when she arrived in Australia … why … heaven knows … but I have my own suspicions and in any case, it caused the catastrophe of her meeting and marrying one Richard Hocking … Theirs was to be a tormented, impoverished existence that burned a sense of shame and frugality into the very souls of their children … I believe parents ought to consider very carefully their own state of existence before inflicting any such example upon their offspring.

I awoke in a startled fright

From a dream I dreamt last night.

From a memory so long ago,

I’ll recall the moment as it did go:

A child, from the pusher,I broke free,

As my mother walked me by the sea.

I broke free to chase a rabbit fast,

Fled a shrub by the sea-cliff path.

I ran as does a child; sudden, swift,

As the rabbit fled over the cliff.

I too stumbled toward the edge,

But my mothers call of fright,

Drew me to a stop just right.

I could see the waves crash below,

She gathered me frightened in her arms …

But now, in this dream I did fall,

Tumbling over with rabbit and all.

As we fell in that slow dreamy way,

Each to each, eye to eye … knowing.

The creature looked to me to calmly say;

“Do not worry, you will not drown.”

But I kept falling, falling, falling down …

Just then I woke in chilling fright

And in that gasping, grasping struggle for sight

I stared and stared into the depths of night.

The stroking of a cat’s fur is so much more relaxing that that of a dogs … the cat is a more tranquil beast … it hunts, yes … just like a dog … but it hunts by silent stealth, whereas a dog will in most cases run down its prey and tear into it with force and brutality … and they hunt also in packs … I remember when I was in Rome for the first time around 1980 and the dog-packs were getting so dangerous that the authorities had to organise squads of police to mass shoot so many dogs to cull their numbers.

I like dogs too, mind … I like all animals … but I’ll be buggered if I will ever stoop to eating crickets and bugs for protein! … nah … f#ck that!

Anyway, peeps … that’s all for tonight … I’ll read you some more tomorrow … goodnight.

The Beatles: “Goodnight.”


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The Promising Poppy Syndrome

Art, under this current right-wing government has become a dirty word … probably because in these times of economic rationalism, the spending of monies on things that cannot show an immediate “bottom-line” profitability is considered money not well spent. Curious that, as in days of yore, many far-right regimes would invest big-bucks in works of art and even use such to legitimise their governance … I am thinking of the Medici’s sponsoring of several now revered artists and architects of that era … and even several Popes in the Vatican pumped God’s lucre into creative works … But with these times of art becoming both a comercialised commodity and a thing to fear by the right, the encouragement of the serious amateur artist is something somewhat avoided … and many are left to flounder about in abject poverty at the mercy of their own devices.

It’s a curious thing, and unlike the Tall Poppy Syndrome, where a person of well-known repute is attacked for being too obvious or famous, the promising poppy is attacked by their closest people from their own class before they can scale the ladder to known or appreciated works … when they first show signs of talent or ambition to venture into a skilled area of craft or artistic ability. The curious thing is that the budding talent is not destroyed by a more skilled operator, that may come later, but first they are humiliated or debased by some of their own level of class … by their peers … those who see themselves as a kind of “gatekeeper” of the status quo … always fearfully on the lookout for that most dangerous of agitators; the “out of control talent” that may throw a spanner in the works of establishment order.

This is managed by those who themselves lack the “risk factor” to reach for that higher plane of achievement, a kind of social sloth, too scared to expose their deepest thoughts or emotions to the hard, sometimes unforgiving glare of public scrutiny, instead hitching their wagon to the safe long-haul star of established reward and flattery … I recall witnessing just such a moment where a young, keen person, in explaining a scenario in a moment of creative enthusiasm, who in lacking any sort of degree of higher education, mispronounced a word which was quickly pounced upon by just such a one of the aforementioned sloths and the conversation was rudely interrupted while the slight mistake of vowel emphasis was sneeringly corrected with a; “surely you mean … ?” and then followed by that social enforcer of belittlement; the smug and self-confident derisive chuckle … The ruse worked and the enthusiasm of the young person died and a silence of disempowerment descended over the group … The death of creativity was complete.

The objective of established social order is to control the unregulated and creative person or mind, for there has never been throughout history more threatening to authoritarian order than the new idea … a new way of perception borne on the wings of the creative mind … witness Julius Caesar, Galileo, or even here in humble Australia with Albert Namatjira … a superlative creative intellect that was crucified as a kind of “Black Christ” for daring to escape the conditioned cage he and his people were trapped in.

If there is no direct or deliberate cruelty in such action, there certainly is no kindness, for the humiliation that is delivered on a opportune basis can be both cutting and destructive to both the individual targeted and to any relationship they may be involved with, as each moment of belittlement chips away at the base of a relationship … and it is not as if such an individual may intend to abandon their obligations and responsibilities to family and society, but would give back to that society a hundredfold if encouraged. I recall a conversation with a fellow worker in the building trade who had set aside small brackets of time to pursue their desired calling so as not to deter from family responsibilities, only to then have those moments of reserved quiet interrupted with calls to their attention or chores suddenly dropped upon their shoulders that took them away from their personal fulfilment. This created both doubt in the integrity toward their partner and a resentment to the broader relationship that ate away at the once secure bond of their marriage.

The end objective may not necessarily be to stop completely the promising poppy’s activity, just to break the continuity of practice or perfection to their chosen craft so that they never can competently work toward that perfection of the art … and once enough interruption is done, the seeds of self-doubt take over and the promising poppy grows forlorn and doubtful of its budding talent so the perpetrator can forever claim to it not being they who sabotaged a promising talent, but rather the person themselves lacking that certain skill that would have taken them to the next level of achievement, when in reality, what is most needed is patience in a personal space of time and silence to hone those skills to perfection.

Even in retirement, when one should have the time if also the health to pursue that long-held dream of finally taking up that task of perfecting their skills, the mischievousness of sabotage can creep into their corner … the continued harassment of “jobs that now can be done” … the interruption of that silence needed with calls to their time and person. There is a sadness in all this in that it seems to be mainly those of the working classes … the “useful person” that suffer most the truncated ambition to achieve a dream … If I look back into the past of three female relatives … now since deceased, I am informed that they all had desires to reach for a higher objective than what their growing years of penury dished up to them … One wanted to be a writer, another a painter and the third a more pragmatic Vet … None however achieved their goal, even though they all chipped away with their hopes … and then their parents stealing away any capacity of making their lives more promising by frittering away a chance benevolence of enough money that could have set the family up with a more secure lifestyle … the selfishness of that action sealing the fate of their daughters ambitions by necessity forcing them into marriages that took away any hope of self achievement.

Society too, has means and methods of locking out those who aspire to grace the art of their country with at least a little of their imagination … Society has framed those who “deserve” their work to be displayed with a border of “recognised training” in a certified institution that “honours” their students with an embossed paper that legitimises a certain level of imagination … a certain level and no more … some go on to a higher plane, encouraged by a network of access to openings of opportunity … while most are satisfied with that certificate of diploma that guarantees at least recognition of attendance and even less application to the chore of originality … I see this “validation” of art to be the new direction of what is little more than the old Australian “cultural cringe,” where an “authority of accreditation” must place a stamp of approval on a work before that work can be accepted as a work of art.

These institutionalised “keepers of the flame”, even though their qualifications may be for subjects completely alien to the one of artistic application, say; social science or perhaps psychology, they will still insist that a amateur scribbler adhere to their most strident interpretation of grammatical purity even while one is striving in a different direction with poetic licence … Heaven forbid that one takes liberty with such holy grail as language … and once again the low level of mockery is applied and one can be taken back to that memoried instance of the mispronounced word accompanied by the silent chuckle of derision … it is why so many “approved graduates” strive for the glittering prizes handed out to the favoured sons and daughters of those “noble institutions” solid built of sandstone but resting on foundations of clay.

It must be remembered and must be held close to the heart of the dedicated and honest promising poppy that the whole world of the established status quo runs on bluff and they have neither the right, capacity nor dignity to either correct your method or steer your ambition. Far too many decent but shy artists have been crushed by the juggernaut of petty jealousy of those who want creative originality but cannot achieve it and those who never had the courage and will not gain it.

A Place of One’s Own

Within everybody’s heart,

There is that little pump.

And in the still of the night,

You can hear its tremulous thump.

Within everybody’s heart,

There is a little room.

Upon the wall there is a picture

Of a place we silently yearn.

To some it is just a fantasy,

A desire they can’t fulfil.

Some will strive to seek it …

Some have not the will.

And some will substitute

A lesser philosophy,

To dull and blind the senses

To a love they will not see.

We will survive.

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A Mother’s Right

Ten Tales … Dieci raccontiDecem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language, stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number seven:

A Mother’s Right

I see her even now so clearly … like a child sees his mother … like a son sees his mother for what was honoured what was loved and what was wanted … what was wanted and also what was lost … What tragedy is a mother? … Can the loyalty of a legion of national heroes match her dedication and honour? … What an investment is her love of her offspring, to give so much of her heart so that in the end she can only watch as they leave her and leave her care … she must watch as they leave her care … she cannot hold them to herself any longer … then they are gone .. and she grows old.

My younger brother had an accident while riding his motorcycle, the damage to his leg was quite severe and left him with steel pins and plaster cast for around eleven months. I had just returned from working in the north of Australia and the cold weather was not conducive to a good mood.

Winter … The carriage of the morning 8.28. train to the city was cold and draughty. Rain streaked on the panes of glass, angled and beaded by the wind. I sat chilled, committed to endure the ritual of confronting the almighty twin towers of LAW and ORDER … but rather, not exactly me, but my mother. I was brought along for moral support. We were going to the small-claims court to contest a hearing that went against my brother in the cause of the accident … My brother lost that case and had resigned himself to the result, but our mother was adamant that “justice and a fair decision” was our right.

I had already leaned in my young life that which a more trusting older generation did not seem to be able to grasp: You cannot for the love of Mary expect a fair shake from the tombs ( those dusty-musty tombs) without pouring everything paid for and promised into that gaping maw of “legal representation.” It ‘d be cheaper to run a Rolls Royce.

A child over the road from the station. On her way to school no doubt. Yellow raincoat with bag clumsily slung over shoulder skipping carefree in the drizzle … (O′ … child run past my window…wide … something-something-with every stride … O′). The image started a rhyme growing in my head …


“Hmm, Yes mum.”

“Did you see that young girl over the road there? Ah, the young, they don’t seem to feel the cold like we do.”

“Hmm … ( … youthful life in every … nuh … doesn’t work)”

“How many witnesses did you get hold of?”

“Well … the legal aid people said to bring along as many as possible, it looks good in the magistrate’s eyes,” Mother replied.

“Yes, but how many did you get?”

“Only Mrs. Rowe … Mrs. Morris wouldn’t come … I can’t blame her .. she’s expecting, she’s nervous.”

“Hmm. Do you hold much hope?” I asked.

“I’ve just got to try … I … I can’t let that Wishart chap have clear run of it … It grates on my … my nerves. To see poor John … a year in plaster … an all that University study down the drain .. an’ that smarmy lawyer at the first hearing … I just have to fight it a bit … I’m his mother an’ I won’t see him hurt without sticking up for him a bit … it’s … it’s my right.”

“John saw fit to give it best … ” I pondered.

“Well he shouldn’t have. He should be here now instead of me … But, well, at least I have his signature for me to represent him today.” And she clasped her handbag tight in her lap.

“I don’t know, that legal aid crew … I don’t know.” I said doubtfully.

“Well … I can only go by what they advise … an’ if they won’t come in with us, then I have to go alone and this time I have Mrs Rowe!”

“Trump card.”

“Well she wasn’t there at the first hearing so she will be new evidence … and she says she saw the whole thing … the whole accident … right there outside her window … it’s a wonder that other legal fellah John hired didn’t bring her along to the first case.”

“Good of her to come,” I mused.

“Oh, I said I’d pay her for the half day she missed at her shop.”

“But her husband runs the shop doesn’t he?”

“Yes I know but … well, have to give her something … I …”

(“ … a child run past my window wide … Less a child with every stride … er … nah!)

Central Station roared with life. So many people, so many people. I like crowds, but I don’t like to think myself part of the crowd. But I guess I am. To those other people I’m just, well … one of those others … (Doctor, my eyes … can you see … can you feel … the child runs … ).

“What did you say?”

“The bus, here, we’ll take the bus.” Mother paid the driver … “The law courts, thanks.”

Those little sayings on the back of the tickets … what does this one … ”There is no rainbow at the end of pot.” … Oh I don’t … no rainbow at the end … silly thing, can’t believe it … Two punters were having it out over the races.

”I don’t want to see your tips … like yesterday at Randwick … knew it would win, just knew it … But nooo, you said it wouldn’t an’ just what ‘appens … It’s the last time I listen.”

“I know, I know, you just can’t win. So, who can?” the other answered ..

The cold sterile buildings of the law courts. So neutral in design, so impartial in colour, so sparsely furnished, as though it was a crime itself to give the place any character at all. Here we met with Mrs Rowe. She suited the surroundings.

“Hello, so good of you to come.” My mother greeted her.

“Well, we’ll see Mrs Clarke,” she returned.

“Here, we’ll sit here, Oh, this is my son, Daniel.” We were introduced.

The seats offered little comfort. I was crowded to the end when another couple entered the waiting room. Gradually more people filled the room till there was standing room only. We all sat there in silence, trying, I thought, to sus out what each other person was doing there. I had to rush off for a “nervous”.

“Excuse me, I have to go to the loo … ” I even felt guilty for that. The rest seemed to frown on me as I edged out the door … Air, open air … ahh!

While I was in a cubicle, a man came through the outside door. He sounded angry with another person there.

“Listen here, I don’t give a tuppenny damn what his excuses are, I need that machine this weekend without fail.” The urinal flushed and a tap sprayed into a basin while the other answered.

“But sir, you must understand the difficulty he has in getting parts … Here is a little list he wrote of the pieces … ”

“Give us that list.” The paper was snatched, a door of a cubicle flung open and the toilet flushed. “There, that’s what I think of your “little list” … This weekend, that’s all.”

The outside door slammed. I thought they were both gone. I went to wash my hands and there was still one of them there. He glared at me when I appeared, one of those cold looks you get from an official who has some sort of authority deciding to deal with you in some way.

“Good morning,” I said.

“Mornin’.” The other man curtly replied and walked out, it was the angry one.

(… child run past my window wide, Less a child with every stride … happy now in innocent age … goorr).

A motley crew it was there in the court room. A furtive bunch of clients with a shifty lot of solicitors. “Pearson please, of Pearson versus National … ” The clerk of the court called. “Pearson plea … ”

“Oh yes, Frank. Here, it’s been deferred. They couldn’t arrange a witness.” And on and on, until:

“All rise please, his honour John Mathews residing.” It was the man shouting in the toilet. I almost chuckled out loud. The cases were got through speedily, but with little result. It always seemed they were deferred to a later date because of some obscure reason. One time a young man in a crushed and creased blue, pinned striped suit rushed in with a sheaf of papers addressed the magistrate for no more than a few seconds then dragged a sheepish looking client outside for a quick consultation. He never returned. No-one seemed to miss him. The court steamed on like a cargo of pilgrims to the promised land. Till finally: “Wishart verses Clarke,” was called.

“Give ’em a run mum,” I encouraged.

Wishart was there with his lawyer.

“Your honour. We wish to present no new evidence at this appeal, but will rely on the judgement bought down at the preliminary hearing. Thank you.” The lawyer spoke then sat back down.

“Well, Mrs Clarke … You are the defendant’s mother it says here.” The magistrate read from his notes.

“Yes your honour, my son, John, is away working up the Riverland at the … ” my mother explained.

“Yes yes … But you see, he is eighteen years of age, and so you cannot represent him here. You were explained that … before.”

‘Yes I know your honour but this time I have a little note he signed allowing me … ”

“Regardless of your … little note, Mrs Clarke, I cannot let you represent your son.”

“But the Legal aid people said … ” Mother tried to speak … The magistrate raised his voice in anger …

“I don’t give a tupp … well I’m afraid they led you astray … what makes you think you have the right to come here as a legal authority?” the magistrate tried to belittle mother.

“I have a mother’s right to defend my child!” My mother stood her ground and quickly but sternly replied … I could hear several soft gasps from people behind me …

This simple logic pulled the magistrate up and he seemed to give some thought to the reason. He then replied in a more conciliatory and polite manner.

“A mother’s authority, I’ll grant, has a reach so far, but THAT doesn’t extend into the law courts … yet … ”

“More’s the pity” my mother mumbled quietly … The magistrate paused and raised one eyebrow as if to chastise her .. but then thought better of it … for every man knows: A mother’s temper ought not be tested.

“ … But this thing has dragged on long enough,” he continued … ” a decision must be reached on this case.” The magistrate rustled amongst some notes on the bench. ”It’s best, I think, to defer this till we have an assessment of damages. If that’s agreeable to both parties? … Very well, case deferred for cost assessment and a hearing set on completion thereof.”

And that was it. No witnesses called, no discussion entered into, no completion.

“Short and sweet eh?” I sighed when we were outside.

“Damn and blast … What a waste of time … what’s the use of those … ” My mother was piqued at the result.

“Mrs Clarke.” It was Mrs Rowe. ”I really must be off, if I only knew it was going to be this useless … You said you would reimburse me the half day … ” We stood on the pavement at the corner of City Square.

“Oh yes Mrs Rowe, I’m dreadfully sorry … Here” and she handed Mrs Rowe a fifty dollar note.

“But Mrs Clarke, I thought we agreed on eighty dollars.” Mrs Rowe complained.

“What: Oh no Mrs Rowe it was fifty,” and they stood there, both frowning till Mrs Rowe shrugged her shoulders and walked away.

“A disappointing day all round eh?” I was trying to ease the feeling.

“A useless day would be more correct … Strange that It seemed so clear and simple last night in bed … ” She sighed.

That rhyme started up again in my head … I was getting sick of it … (”A child run past my window wide, Less a … ) ahh forget it, don’t corrupt the memory … Leave the child run …

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A Candid Conversation

Ten Tales … Dieci racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language, stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number six:

A Candid Conversation

… And the afternoon sun illuminated the panorama with dazzling glare so that the sea, with its distant choppy water flashed a glitter reflected off the waves. There were trees out the front of the hotel over the road, big trees, shrubs and bushes, the tops of the tall trees hidden from view by the edge of the roof from the fascia up with leaves hung in long hanging fronds down the trunk and out a little, dangling heavy like those big gum leaves do, the palm trees swirled a little with the slight breeze that had whipped up from the north across the backwater swamp.

The beach sand a muddy colour with the tide right out and a couple of kids throwing handfuls of the stuff at each other down by the creek, laughing and running away with a quick glance over the shoulder at his chaser, their laughter a stabbing staccato, rattling across in the heat from a distance.

Two of the few ‘long-grassmen’ that lived down by the make-shift shelters next to the beach crossed the road, their hair lank and greasy, the same could be said for their shreds of clothing.

“You could be worse you know,” the friend said, “You could end up like those.”

“At the way I’m going I’ll be worse than those,” the man answered. He picked up his beer and had a sip. They sat quietly for a while, and one fiddled with his beer glass, the kids swimming now down across the creek, splashing and ducking each other, childish squeals between the silences of the hubbub of the hotel bar behind them.

“Have you told her yet?” the friend asked.

“No, I’ve been sort of putting it off on the chance of an improvement.” He winced and sipped.

“That won’t help you know,” the friend motioned to the beer.

“I’ve got to.”

“Why? It would be better to leave it alone … well … at least until they finish the treatment?”

“I know, I know … but if I don’t get sozzled these nights, I’ll have no excuse for not doing it.”

“Oh come on, she must think there’s something wrong if you come home drunk every night?”

“Yes, she thinks I’ve developed a drinking problem.”

His friend grunted. A waitress come to the table, picked up the empty glasses and wiped the table top down with a damp rag.

“And how are you gentlemen today?” she spoke as she wiped.

“Oh very well thank you, Min, very well.”

“That’s the way to be,” and she smiled a little smile … “No good being crook in this sort of weather.” The men just grunted. The waitress went on to the next table.

“How are you boys today?” she repeated.

“Nice girl, Min, always friendly,” the friend remarked.

“I’m beginning to think no girls are nice.”

“You just picked the wrong one that night.”

“Yes, I should’ve left her well alone.”

A fisherman steered his dinghy up the small creek, water slipping off the bow and fanning out in ripples behind, the man standing erect in the boat with tiller in hand. He gave a little wave to the excited kids running along the bank. His progress tracked by flashes of boat and man between thick green bushes and trees, going to his moorings.

The man brought his fist down firmly but quietly on the table, his face twisted in bitter frustration.

“I don’t know, a man’s a fool.” … His friend was quiet.

He wiped his hand over his face, then dabbled his finger in the condensation made by the drink.

“I know I’ve been a fool, but then I wanted it, for some strange fucking reason I needed it more than ever that night, after all” ( he did a quick movement with his finger in the liquid). “I’d just become a father then … and it’s been so long.” He had a quick draw at the beer as if to wash the weak excuse of words away.

“How in Heaven’s name do you put her off?”

“Well, its (let me see) about two months now since little Pauline arrived, and I’ve been saying that we ought to be careful cause it might not be best to start just yet, give it another coupla’ weeks. And then you know she’s not supposed to go back on the pill just yet, so I’ve used that as a backup. And now I’ve got on to this drinking thing.” Here he reflected a little. “Trouble is she’s starting to blame herself for my not being able to get it up. She thinks it was all those months of confinement that bought it round … Shit, shit, shit.”

“Why don’t you come right out and tell her?”

“No!” He looked shocked. “Hell no! She’d leave me, by Christ, she’d leave me quick, it’s one thing we got, or had between us; trust … no she’d just give up and go.”

He looked suspiciously at the friend. “You won’t tell anyone else about this will you? … You better not.”

The friend was shaking his head quickly …

“No, no … don’t you worry … boy, I wouldn’t tell anyone about that don’t you worry.”

They sat quiet again for a little. The friend stood up.

“Well … I gotta go.”

“Oh, well, I’ll see you later, I guess.”

“Yeah, listen … I hope this works out for you … ”

“Yeah, thanks.” The man smiled weakly. the other smiled back. He tried a joke.

“Just watch out all this pissing on doesn’t develop into a drinking problem.” They both chuckled a little and the friend walked away. The man finished his beer, walked over to the bar got another and went back to his table. He stretched his legs out in front and clenched his hands behind his head. He just stared out to sea.

“Damn that bitch,” he thought “and she looked so clean … that’s the trouble, who’d have thought that a quickie in the car-park could cause all this. Bugger it, I just hope those damn doctors can fix it soon as … ”

He sat there staring out to sea.

The kids had gone home. The leaves of the eucalyptus trees had come to life a little with the coolness of the evening, while the tide crept stealthily over the brown sand and up the running water of the creek, the big gums threw soft shadows crookedly over the bonnets of parked cars.

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Cruel Madonna

Ten Tales … Dieci racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number five:

Cruel Madonna

It was a month now since he had first gone to her, and his perceptions of her had shifted from that initial phase of blind adoration to a more abstract collation of her little mannerisms.

Malcolm was twenty-seven years old, an illustrator-painter who, like most artistic types that arise from the ranks of the working class, made his living from menial labour: Malcolm worked in a shop selling pizzas! His illustrations were sometimes commissioned by obscure magazines and he also sketched houses for real-estate agents’ catalogues. He never associated with any ‘artistic’ set, in fact he winced at the pretentious grouping of that elite class. Instead, he spent his spare time nurturing the skills for his temperamental dedication to his craft that helped him to produce, for his own needs, a creditable portfolio of water-colours, sketches and pastels which he kept in a room of his small flat at The Bay. Now it was high summer, the acres of beach thrilled to the delightful squeals of childish glee and the shoreline oozed that faintly sulfurous tang of heated sea-water that flares the nostrils and excites the brain! Like a beacon to the idle and dispossessed it lured youth to that sandy expanse, the gentle lapping of waves playing a sweet tune to the laughter and cries of a delightful seraglio!

Malcolm stood under the kiosk verandah. He had come to buy drinks and an ice-cream for themselves and her children. He paused under the shade of that portico and gazed out with his artist’s eye over the road to the sea. All was opposites; black to white, sand to bitumen, light to shadow, silhouette to glare, diamond to iron. The shadow of the verandah cut a sharp, precise line edge to the bitumen footpath. The sun was at its zenith, there was no blurring of shadow to light, just a clear-cut concise line to demark one from the other.

He grimaced as he stepped bare-footed out onto the waxy bitumen, then juggling drink and ice-creams, danced with a fire-walker’s jerky step as he tiptoed swiftly but painfully across the scorching road. With each placing of his foot the hot road ‘bit’ and the sun seared down onto his sea-salt dried skin so it raked across his shoulders like a harridan’s claw! But oh! that lovely sea air and the cries of happy children, a gull banked spread-winged against the azure sea – a collage: a fixed image in his mind – another time will recall … Pausing momentarily under the shady boughs of a small tree on the edge of the path to the beach, he gazed hungrily at the long white of sand sweeping north to The Bay with the ‘stretched’ optical illusion of the seashore and esplanade buildings all a-wobble in the rising waves of heated air. He inhaled ecstatically …

A sigh! …

“Sometimes (he reflected for the words) … there is too much of nature and not enough of human,” he said, again sighing.

“Malcolm,” she called …

He turned and went down the path to the expectant faces crowded under the beige ‘moana’ beach-shade. As he came close to her, she turned her gaze upon him, stunned, he stopped for a moment to admire her flawed beauty, flawed, for a small scar penciled over her left eye from a motor accident in her youth, but still so beautiful for her obvious Irish features and that calm patience that seemed to weigh down on motherhood as an accepted fate.

Malcolm stared at her for that moment and a thought arose in his mind:

“I’ll have to paint a portrait of her” … he decided all of a sudden … “a portrait of a Madonna!”

That evening he broached the subject of his painting a portrait of her.

“Uh huh,” … she responded calmly … “with or without any clothes on? And will there be any paint on the brush?” she finished with a wry smile.

“With clothes on, of course!” he answered defensively, “and what do you mean by ‘paint on the brush?’ ”

She smirked cheekily, with worldly knowledge of men more sophisticated than she let on.

“Oh, you would read of those men that were always looking for “photographic models” but there was never any film in the camera!” And she tossed her blonde tresses back carelessly and laughed and her eyes sparkled for that worldly absurdity and naivety of men’s hunger for the female nude.

Her laughter awoke insight in Malcolm just at that moment (for isn’t it always only given in fleeting moments? … A spice scent on a zephyr sent … a stranger’s eyes reflected upon a window pane in passing … should one stop wasn’t that … ? No, moment gone!) and he realised that encompassed within that feminine physiognomy of beauty are all the genetic instructions for confounding the male of the species; all the wilyness of thousands of years of the socially bludgeoned “faithful servant,” against which the male has but one advantage: physical strength, brute strength and in degrees does a man grow weaker and more feeble, in the same measure must women lose their youthful allure..yet their character grow stronger … the man cannot win!

For the next few weeks he worked at the portrait, the portrait he had fixed in his mind from that afternoon at the beach. Sometimes he would paint from memory of her; at other times she would model, draped with a silken cloth so he could capture light and shade within the folds of the cloth as it curved over her shoulders.

It was at these sittings she would tease him, not taking seriously that desire of artistic creation sought by Malcolm … the artist, but already unknowingly possessed by herself … the woman.

“Some native tribes would refuse photographs to be taken of themselves as they feared it was stealing their spirit,” she coyly said … “Are you trying to steal mine?” she smiled.

“Don’t smile and don’t joke,” he commanded. ”Madonna’s are too sacred to be flippant,” and he bent close to the canvas to touch a little paint. She took this moment of his lack of attention to re-adjust, stealthily, the soft cloth draped over her breasts so that between the folds gentle, one erect pink nipple and a blush of oriole protruded proudly, she settled back poker faced and waited … he looked up again, palette aslant, brush poised … his brow knitted but for a moment at something different about her pose … then he saw … her left eyebrow rose ever so slightly, ever so slowly … he placed the brush and palette on the table and turned to her.

“That’ll be enough art for today,” he spoke quietly.

Her hand reached out and lifted a long stemmed rose off the side table. He sat close to her. Her hands cupped and cradled the pale, pink rose, its long stem lay across her garment, she lifted it gently to inhale its scent, his fingers softly flowed through her voluminous hair. A petal fell silently onto the folds of soft cloth; his eyes followed its descent, one eyebrow arched:

“Of jealousy … despair?” he teased.

Her lips formed into a confident smile:

“And why not?” she toyed.

”‘Tis woman’s privilege,” he answered gently, she settled back into the soft pillows on the couch.

“And man’s pleasure?” she coaxed.

“Ah! … ” and he bent down to kiss her, at the same time taking the rose from her hand and dropping it onto the floor, as it touched the tiles, some petals fell off exposing the rich , rosy heart of the bud inside …

The finished portrait bothered him, it was all there but it was dead, flat, strictly two-dimensional and if one thing killed the portrait it was the eyes … the eyes, the eyes … try as he might, he was unable to excite in that Madonna the life needed to complete the picture. He made visits to the art gallery to study portraits of past masters, but to no avail, he looked over prints of other Madonna’s by Da Vinci, Titian, Raffael … They had captured that serene beauty, that silent power of the patient pose. What was their twist?

Were the skills of those past ages so much greater than now? Was his talent that much inferior that given the same subject, same material, where they produced gold he could only master clay? Was it a greater affiliation with the artistic psyche, something which modern man has traded away along with so many other emotions?

Malcolm stood awed before these other portraits, just so much history now, yet greater than our own feeble posturing at art, he flung the prints to the floor, bitter and frustrated at his own failings.

“What is art now,” he asked himself, ”but a whore modern man satiates himself upon when he tires of the fight … ” he pursed his lip thickly, sulkily then spoke again. “Sometimes we admire it. Sometimes we are it,” and he threw himself down on the couch and stared fixedly at the portrait of his Madonna.

After dinner that night they sat talking to each other at the kitchen table, small talk of minor events of the day. The children played in and out of the kitchen, they played chasing games, dressing games and guessing games, they played continuously and as Malcolm talked he worked combination after combination of eyes over and over in his mind and applied them mentally to the portrait much as a police officer would do with an ‘Identikit’ portrait. He started pondering on a line of thought in his conscious mind.

“Could it possibly be that modern woman defies depiction in that once seemingly ageless style of motherhood?” he mused. “For here is a ‘single mother’ with three children, would the pressures of money, food, clothing, housing and then our relationship place such a heavy burden on her life as to extinguish all illusions of naive innocence?”

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“Oh,” he moved his arm, “of how you manage by yourself, with the kids … then me.”

She gazed at him squarely with deadpan eyes.

“Sometimes you silently scream, sometimes you softly soothe, and then sometimes you go a little mad!”

She turned her head and narrowed her eyes for just at that very moment, the youngest child reached up from behind the chair in playfulness and pulled her long locks of hair. She resisted, he laughed and pulled harder. ”Sam,” she spoke threateningly “if you don’t let go at once, you’ll – be – dead – meat!!” and as she spoke these words she turned her face down to him and her eyes narrowed cruelly.

Malcolm gasped as he witnessed this little scene … for there, contrasted against that Irish beauty of face, the long tresses of golden hair and soft mouth were the threatening eyes; there in an instant, alongside the wily eyes, the loving eyes, the caring eyes, the worrying eyes, the killing eyes … these were the eyes of his woman on the canvas, as changing as a chameleon’s colour, one moment as warm as an autumn sunset, then as cold as polar ice!

These were the eyes of a modern Madonna … a more worldly Madonna … a cruel Madonna!

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A Trivial Inquiry

Ten Tales … Dieci racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number four:

A Trivial Inquiry

Peter Haffney took his latch-key from the deadlock and closed the front door behind him. He paused inside the entrance as one is want to do when first coming home, and looked about. He was not seeking anything in particular, just reassuring himself that everything was as when he left it that morning. An air of suburban mustiness pervaded the house and the dreary silence echoed even the polished rustle of his suit. He then proceeded to the kitchen pantry and easing his portly bulk between the ironing board and bench top he placed a plastic shopping bag with several regular sized cans of food on the bench nearest the pantry. Taking one of the cans from the bag, he raised it to eye level and read the label. On satisfactory completion of this task, he shook his head slowly and sighed. Taking a similar sized can from the pantry, he held it next the other and compared … the brand was the same, the content was the same, even the advertising slogan was the same, however, they had changed the layout of the label!

Gone was the old familiar pattern that had for more years than he could remember been the hallmark of the company’s product. The label, it could be said, was of greater recognizable value than the product contained within the can! indeed, when he thought about it, that old familiar label must have been the same since before he was born! But now that was all gone and, heaven forbid, perhaps too they had changed the mix of ingredients in the product …

Peter was a worried man. A worried man because for many years, because for a goodly part his life (or at least his married life, for that was when his little strange mannerisms first came to public attention), he had suffered from what is called a “obsessive-compulsive disorder”. His peculiar obsession was concerned with the cooking and eating of food … he would never eat any food that he had not himself prepared, with the exception of fish and chips. Though this condition may seem humorous to the layman, it can single out the victim for mischievous mockery. Peter had been many a time made the butt of poor-taste humour. For instance, although he would never eat any food his wife would prepare, he did bend this rule for a roast dinner (his mother always had the Sunday roast) … but he had to guard his portion at the table against mischief … such as: If anyone was to touch his food, never mind with a finger (Heaven forbid that!) but with just a clean knife or fork, he couldn’t help but sweep the corrupted article off his plate with a flick of his fork at the speed of light! So on a really bad day, bits of roast would be hitting the walls or television or whatever ‘til a cry of exasperation issued from him and the protagonists buckled over in convulsions of laughter! Such is the life of those that suffer this neurosis. Because of this complaint, Peter’s mainstay of nutrition from Mondays to Fridays was canned spaghetti on toast! Saturdays were fish and chip days … Sundays were … well if his wife was cooking one; roast day, otherwise … you guessed it; canned spaghetti on toast!

But now, all this was thrown into disarray with the shock of discovering that “the company” had changed the label and perhaps, the ingredients! Fortunately he kept up his supply of cans to allow a weeks ration of meals … in case a family member took a liking to spaghetti on toast. So all was not lost, he still had a week to sort this nagging doubt out … he would write to the company seeking reassurance.

A gentle beam of afternoon light shone through the lounge window. Peter folded back the top sheet of writing paper and placed the pad squarely in front of himself. He then sat and thought … while he was thinking, he carefully examined the point of his pencil, for, you see, he always wrote with a sharp-tipped, Staedtler Bl pencil, preferring it to a ball-point as it was not likely to clumsily slip over the paper and make for illegible writing. The house, except for himself, was empty. It exuded that unexciting silence that is common to outer suburban houses … nothing extraordinary would ever happen there and was tinged with the stale mustiness of yesterday’s air-freshener. Peter touched the tip of the pencil to the tip of his tongue and began:

Dear Sir/ Madam,

I am writing to you to make a small … trivial … enquiry. For many years, I have held your product above others on the market as being greatly superior in quality and flavour. Indeed, I have travelled great distances to full-fill my obligation to purchase your product when the local supermarket was not able to supply your particular brand! However, today, when purchasing my usual supply from the supermarket, I was astonished to be informed that you had changed the layout of the label! Upon inquiry if there had been some sort of mistake, I was reassured by the proprietor that this was indeed so! Though he hastened to add that the ingredients were the same, I was far from reassured! So I am writing to you seeking that reassurance and I don’t think I can exaggerate the importance of this reassurance required to myself!

I, fortunately, have a number of cans of your product (see the accompanying label) to see me through another week. So I would appreciate a swift response to this letter (may I suggest return post?) to reassure me of your continued high standard of ingredients.

I await, in anticipation, for your reply … may it be favorable …

Yours truly,

Peter Haffney.

Peter gazed at the letter with a sense of satisfaction. It said no more nor no less than he wished to say. It was written in that clear, concise script taught to him by his primary school teacher, Mrs Herreen, who enforced such a high standard from her star pupil with the aid of a flat, slim, wooden yard-ruler that would cut over his knuckles when a grammatical deviation was observed by the attentive Mrs Herreen gazing sternly over his shoulder!

Even the underlined words were encouraged by that same teacher, with the logic that:

“It does no harm to the correspondence, Peter, if you draw the reader’s a-ttention to a par-tic-ular point you wish to em-phasise by the use of underlining speh-cific words or phrases in nee-ed of their a-ttention!” And she would invariably finish her homily with a steely gaze over her glasses down the pointed rule.

But all this was inline with the mathematical precision of Peter’s mind. For his was a very mathematical mind. Indeed, perhaps the obsessive affliction itself was a result of conflict of reason versus reality. Perhaps the fact that the uncertainties of life did not adhere to his own personal equation resulted in the withdrawal of his eating habits to a more precise routine … a routine that he had complete control over. A cabinet maker of our acquaintance was of the same type. His obsession was with jokes and satirical humour. His over-exuberant laughter would ring through the rafters on all occasions and he became known by his laugh, his nickname being; “The HO! HO! man” … but that did not disguise to us his mathematical brilliance … and it became most visible in his skills with the chessboard, even at state-level competition. That and his swift response to subtle mockery. He too, like Peter, controlled his lifestyle through his obsessions, and with these obsessions, distracted and distanced themselves from too close a familiarity with the unruly chaos of life.

However, it was now nearly two weeks since he had written to the company. His supply of the older brand labelled cans had run out, and he had searched in vain for others at more distant markets. His fidgeting restlessness had not gone unnoticed, though, for the sake of sparing himself from inevitable ridicule, he had not said a word of his predicament to any member of his family.

“You’re not giving up smoking and your football team’s on a winning streak. You’re breaking even at cards, though you lost a little at the dogs the other night so I’m buggered if I know what’s eating you … but you’re out of sorts this last couple of days,” his wife accused.

“It’s nothing, nothing … I … I’m on a bit of a diet,” Peter excused himself so.
His wife let out an explosive guffaw …

“That’ll be the day!” She narrowed her eyes cunningly: “You haven’t been tucking into your spaghetti the last couple of days I’ve noticed that … what’s the prob’ can’t find the can opener? Got worms?”

“Look, piss off, love! It’s nothing … leave me be I’ve just been making a little inquiry … that’s all.”

“But you’ve got some cans … ” She moved to the pantry and took out a can. “Why look!” she announced gaily. “They’ve changed the label … crikey, after all these years,” and she gazed pensively at the can. Peter came and took it gently from her hand and placed it with the others on the shelf.

“So they’ve changed the label? So what? It’s their label they can do what they want with their label.”

His wife had been watching him closely while he mumbled this little discourse. She suddenly let her jaw drop a little as it all dawned on her …

“Oh, I see … the label! The label has changed … OK! OK! But what of the ingredients? That’s why you’ve not been hoeing into it this week, and I thought you were coming down with something … ha! ha! … you poor bastard! … ha! ha!”

“Don’t let it worry you, don’t let it worry you … I’ve made inquiries and I expect an answer any day now!”

But his wife didn’t look as if she was worried at all … as a matter of fact she had to ease herself into a chair so as not to crumple up with laughter. Peter reflected on the wincing humiliation he would suffer when this new one got around.

“Oh! You poor suffering dear,” his wife spoke between gulps of breath, then the look of comical angst on his face set her off onto another round of laughter.

Still, it was another three days before Peter was able to set his mind at ease as to the ingredients in his favourite food.

He walked in through the doorway from work with a bundle of letters in his hand. He was thoughtfully sorting through the mail when his wife asked:

“Anything there for me, love?” But she already knew the contents of the mailbox … she had looked before and saw the “brand-name” letter among the others and decided to leave them in the box for Peter to find.

“Yes … yes a couple the usual bills.” But here his eyes widened in anticipation.

His wife was watching from a sly vantage point in the lounge as he slit the envelope with his pocket-knife. Peter was a study in silence as he read the letter … then, slowly, his eyes closed with delight and a small smile spread over his lips.

“Anything else?” his wife asked.

“Oh … yes, one for me.”


“Well … sort of … just a reply to a trivial inquiry.” And upon completion of the read, he methodically tore the letter into very small pieces and placed them into the waste-bin. Next, whistling a little self satisfied tune to himself he went to the pantry and took out a now familiar can. His wife spied this little pantomime from her vantage point in the lounge and shook her head smiling …

“The poor dear,” she said to herself.

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The Day Bomfino Went Crazy

Ten Tales … Dieci racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number three:

The Day Bomfino Went Crazy

I doubt that many gen Xers or Ys would sympathise with the sentiments in the story below, it being of a ‘raving radical’ kind from the days of my apprenticeship when workers and bosses were a world apart and “nae’r the twain shall meet!” The paint shop man where I worked WAS named Beppi, he DID have a flagon (several that I saw) of red wine behind the tins of primer and he did go troppo one blistering hot day and he did get the sack even though we collectively pleaded to Mac, the foreman for his job (he was a decent bloke, just a tad homesick) … the political rantings are from my imagination … though such sentiments were not far from many of our lips in those days … Viva la differenza! … and thank god for the unions!

The day Beppi Bomfino went crazy was a hot day, it was the third hot day in a row. All over one hundred degrees Fahrenheit! The heat beat down mercilessly on our heads from the low corrugated iron roof of the joinery shop, the dust and sweat and heat like a hair-shirt on our backs. We should’ve been let go for the afternoon as per work-place rules, but the boss, a ‘self-made man’, an escapee from the communist Baltic States wasn’t one to tolerate such liberal comforts … not while he could still work in his air-conditioned office! So we stayed at our benches and the leading-hand gave out salt-tablets so we wouldn’t grow weak from the loss of sweat .

The salt tablets made you want to vomit when you swallowed them so most of us just chucked them away! But we stayed at our benches and worked. Beppi Bomfino was in charge of the paint-dept’, to be precise, he was the paint-dept’! His paint shop was a corrugated iron shed that backed onto the machine shop and opened out onto the yard where the trucks could load up the finished joinery frames. His shed was a mixture of foul smells, sticky floors and a cacophony of screaming machinery when the ‘four-sided moulder’ was going flat-out next door.

Beppi drank. Beppi kept a flagon of warm red wine behind the tins of primer in the paint cupboard and would imbibe liberally from time to time to make his life more pleasant. At times we could hear him singing a delightful Neapolitan aria as he splashed the primer on the frames. You could sometimes see him flinging his arms wide with the paintbrush in one hand in a flamboyant gesture and flecks of paint flicking over the walls a la; “Funiculi-Funicula”. At other times though, when things were not going so pleasant, he would break out in a fit of swearing, which, although incomprehensible in his native dialect held enough ferocity in its temperament to impress us immensely, so none would dare venture into the paint-shop till once again the sweet sounds of a gentle melody permeated the dusty air and floated above the hum of machinery and the hammering of nails.

The day Beppi Bomfino went crazy was the day he drank too much warm wine, it was the third hot day in a row, hot enough to strip the skin off a snake’s back! Beppi came out to the joinery-shop and stood by the wide-open doors that looked out onto the loading yard. His staggering torso looking too heavy for his legs so they bowed more than usual. His brow was black and knotted, which meant he had been brooding over something. He stood swaying unsteadily, bare to the waist and only an old pair of grubby dungarees hauled up tight around his stomach with a thin belt.

He glared out at the sweltering yard over to the large plate glass window of the boss’s office. The boss would occasionally sit or stand at that window of his air-conditioned office and gaze over to the factory where we worked. He would look over with the self-satisfaction of a ‘made-man’, secure in his setting, for he would stand with his hands behind his back, rocking on his heels in satisfied contemplation.

“Just look at him,” Beppi growled; “The Padrone oversees his flock! (puttana!).” He spat, turned mumbling to himself, then stumped, splay-footed, like a “potato-cocky” back to his paint-shop.

Jack, the leading-hand, came around with the daily dose of salt-tablets. We all gave him hell about them, but he wouldn’t listen.

“You gotta take ‘em, th’ boss says so..they’re good for you … look!” and he tossed one down his gullet and gulped it down.

“Let’s see you do that again with mine,” called Bruce.

“Mine also!” added Baxter as he tossed it over and it bounced off Jacks’ shoulder.

“Bugger orf!” Jack replied, “just take it and stop whinging.” And he stormed off to Beppi’s paint-shop.

Around the middle of the afternoon we were suddenly distracted from our work by an almighty’ cry that split the air with it’s ferocity!

Caaasso … !!(prick)”

It was Beppi Bomfino.

He was standing unsteadily out by the doors of the joinery-shop. He was out in the full sun swaying unsteadily, holding a filthy sweat-rag in his left hand and the unmistakable large, white salt-tablet held high pinched between thumb and forefinger of his right hand.

Stronz!(turd),” He bellowed out in the sweltering air of the yard.

He wiped his sweating brow with the rag and held it high for us to witness, we had all gathered in the doorway to watch the spectacle. Bomfino began:

“This is how they measure the worth of the working-man … how much sweat he puts out, the padrones’ holy water! yes, si, gather it from his brow and bless yourselves with it … bless yourselves and thank Christ for it and give the men salt-tablets so they can sweat a little more yes, sweat a little more for the boss!”

He dropped his hand to a gesturing position then began again:

“I’ll tell you a little story my grandfather told me. Every year at harvest time, the Padrone would come out to the fields of maize with the priest where the men were cutting the grain with their scythes. Then the priest would commence to “bless” their scythes one by one with a prayer and a dash of “holy-water”. When he came to my grandfather, my nonno raised his hand flat to stop him!

“Here, Father,” he said as he loosened his neck towel, “sprinkle your holy-water on this towel so I can wipe my brow, so I can cool my temple with the waters of the Lord..as for my scythe, I will bless that with my own holy-water.”

The priest looked to the Padrone, the Padrone gave a curt nod to the priest and he, a little hesitantly, splinkled some holy-water on the towel. My grandfather thanked him. Praised the Lord and the Padrone and as they stood there, took out his ‘old fellah’ and urinated on his scythe! and as he did he said :

“Holy Father, bless this scythe that keeps me chained to slavery … bless this scythe that allows my family to live in a borrowed hovel and be half-starved … bless the steel that keeps the Pope in Rome, the Padrone in comfort, and us in our place for ever and ever … amen!” Bomfino threw his head back and tottered about laughing

“Ha..ha..ha!. The Padrone fired him on the spot!” Bomfino paused for breath, swayed a little then continued; “Here in this country …” he paused to burp; “Here things are different … Oh no! (he waved a thick finger from side to side), oh no, not the work, the work is still the same, the work is the same all over the world! … The boss … the Padrone is still the same.” And he flung his arm toward the plate-glass window that now framed the figure of the boss gazing quizzically at the gesticulating individual in the yard, “The Padrone is still the same all over the world! … but there are no priests to sprinkle holy-water to cool our brows … Here the bastards give you salt tablets! Like grease for a hot bearing so it won’t seize up, oil to keep the machine going!” Bomfino yelled red-faced to the plump figure standing at the plate-glass window of the office! Bomfino seemed to relax and straightened up, he smiled to us then turned again to face the boss with the salt tablet held out in front like an offering.

“But no no … Bomfino doesn’t take his salt-tablet, for he has his own holy-water, no, I don’t need it you see,” he turned to us with eyebrows raised, mouth puckered and his head nodding slowly. “But the Padrone has anyone thought of the Padrone?” he asked with appealing hands, we all shook our heads, he nodded his head as if assured. “No … I though not … but the Padrone, he too must have his salt tablet, eh? In case he grows weak from sweating in the heat eh? .. we must not let that happen eh? No … so I … I Beppi Bomfino humbly offer my salt-tablet to the Padrone.” He turned and staggered to the centre of the yard now glistening white-hot with the dazzling sunlight on the white gravel and dirt.

The boss glared at him with hands on hips. He called to someone off the side in the office and a moment later the intercom buzzed in Mac, the foreman’s, office. Mac was locked away in his cool office listening to the races, oblivious to the goings on outside. He slowly picked up the receiver, listened a moment, then sprang to his feet, the chair falling back to the floor behind him as he gaped wide-eyed out to the joinery-shop floor.

Bomfino was out in the sweltering yard gesticulating to the boss.

“Padrone, come out now and I will give you your salt tablet.” He held it at arms length. The boss scowled behind the glass and shook his fist!

“What? … oh, I see the problem,” Bomfino continued “it’s my fingers, they’re too grubby … and they have made the tablet dirty … but that’s alright boss, you don’t have to swallow it, you can take it as a suppository now come out here and I’ll shove it up your arse!” Bomfino started to undo his belt … ” and to make it. more hygienic, I won’t use my dirty finger to push it up … I’ll use this instead!!” and he dropped his dungarees and his underpants there and then to his ankles. We all roared with laughter, Mac, the foreman pushed through, a look of shock on his face.

“Ohhh gawwd!!” was all he managed to say as he stood rooted to the spot in horror.

Beppi Bomfino held the tablet up high in front and appeared to be grasping his genitals and thrusting them provocatively toward the boss, who stood there mouth agape, arms spread and eyes wide behind the glass!

“For gods’ sake Bill, go and stop him,” Mac pleaded.

“Not me!” Bill was horrified, “He might mistake me for the boss! … why don’t you go yourself?” Mac winced painfully at the thought.

Beppi shuffled forward a couple of steps, his trousers around his ankles.

“Come my little fishy, my plump little polenta … your old uncle Beppi has got it for you .. the same location we’ve been getting it for a thousand years … now it’s your turn for some medicine … oh you lucky man!” … this in a sing-song voice.

“For Christ-sake someone do something or he really will shove it up! you, Brendon?”

Mac pointed his finger .

“Actually, I was kind of looking forward to the possibility of him achieving his objective in public !” … Mac groaned again.

“If you don’t come here my little ravioli, I’ll come there.” Beppi crooned.

“Oh god!” Mac wailed.

The boss, on hearing Bomfino’s latest threat suddenly disappeared from the window, a few seconds later his car was heard to start with a roar of the motor.

“The boss is pissing off.” Mac related to us as tyres screamed on the bitumen outside.

“First gear! someone commented, the motor roared a little distance away and the tyres squealed again:

“Second gear!” another quipped with respect and in the distance we could hear the tyres give another faint squeal.

“Third even!” Mac said, proudly nodding his head, a few of us whistled in respect for the power of that machine.

Bomfino, in his inebriated state was unaware the boss had vacated the premises as he stood in the yard, the tablet held high in reverence, his other hand still grasping his genitals and his buttocks shimmering and quivering as he thrust his groin at the office. He kept up a continuous tirade of obscene suggestions both in English and his own native dialect (strange how degenerate abuse is understandable no matter what the language used).

One of the office workers face appeared in the boss’s window, then assumed a mask of shock-horror-disgust! … as only women can when confronted with raw, male ugliness! She quickly disappeared, followed by the appearance of two other clerks, they too did not linger, nor were their expressions one of glee! Jack, the leading-hand, picked up a length of two by two inch timber and made to go into the yard, Mac grasped his arm.

“Don’t use that,” he spoke softly, his eye fixed mesmerised on Bomfino, wailing and chortling obscenities in the yard.

“Mac!” Jack pleaded ” we’ve got to do something.” Mac gently took the length of timber from Jacks’ hand and replaced it with a length of four by two!

“Use this and do a good job,” Mac whispered.

Jack crept up stealthily behind the swaying, cackling frame of Bomfino, he raised the timber … suddenly, as if on cue, Bomfino started to sway, then staggered forward, to finally sink to his knees and fell, face forward onto the gravel. Jack looked back to us with astonishment, the length of timber still held high, then everyone suddenly came to their senses and rushed mob-like to crowd around the inert form of Beppi Bomfino, face down, bum up in the dirt!

When the boss returned the following week, we tried to plea for Beppi’s job back, but he wouldn’t have a bar of it (so to speak) no way! which just proves that humour decreases as ambition increases.

So that was the end of Beppi Bomfino’s employment at the factory. I might mention that it also was the last time we were given salt-tablets on hot days, the boss let us have one cool-drink each free instead! Sometimes a great price has to be paid for a small mercy. We’d get our free drink on those hot days, stand in a circle and raise them to the memory of the day Bomfino went crazy!

Salute’!,” we’d cry.

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The visit from an old couple

Ten Tales … Dieci racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language stories have come down to us as a delightful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. Let us now go to story number two:

A visit from an old couple

Geezus! … the old couple that came to the nursery workshop … I almost forgot … ah! I was buggered after a lousy sleep the night before, what with all the lightning and thunder … I went straight to sleep after dinner last night … I’ll tell you now.

It went like this …

This old couple … Now we get a few curious people come to these free “how to pot and grow” workshops at the nursery, some tree-change people who want to grow their own … some for company and a day out … we got one couple who grew lilliums for show … they moved out here to stop other ‘breeders’ from stealing their bulbs and such … very jealously competitive is the flower showing fraternity … we had a couple of miniature horse breeders come along once … the horses were miniature, NOT the breeders … but I won’t go there!

This old couple turned up, John and Helen … never seen them before … said they were up visiting some rellies and thought they’d come see (we advertise in our newsletter). A nice couple, smartly if a tad conservatively dressed, sharp-pressed slacks and trousers, cardi and collar shirt … comfy, snug-fitted slip-on sandals … a lot of pastel shades … you know; the “eastern suburbs grandparents look.”

As a matter of fact, it was that which drew my attention to them … they had that exact look that you’d expect the perfect grandparents to have … Her; that soft-featured countenance with the “look of the listener”, hair; short, curled and permed (I suppose that’s what you’d call it). Him; soft, groomed moustache, kindly, inquisitive eyes with a keen ear … his hair, silvered, short, parted to one side, held in place with some sort of hair crème. They looked a picture of genteel grandparentlyness.

At the end of the workshop, when they were purchasing some pots, soil and a few plants (our prices were very cheap … cost only), I approached them with my observation … the lady laughed out loud and the man smiled ..

“Touche,” he said … ”Or rather; ‘Une touché de elegance’ !” And they both smiled.

I raised a quizzical eyebrow.

“I am afraid you see us in our theatrical get-up … it becomes very difficult to shake off at times,” the lady explained.

“This sounds interesting,” I remarked “Can I coax you in for a cup of tea and biscuits while you tell me about it?” I offered.

They accepted keenly and we sat at the kitchen table with cuppa and iced vo-vos while they revealed all.

The lady spoke:

“We hire our persons out to people or organisations that want couples such as ourselves to add a certain “touch of elegance” to an occasion … or as John said; ”Une touché de elegance” … as a matter of fact, that slogan is on our invoice.”

“Let me get this straight,” I pleaded “ … people and companies hire you to come to their events just to give it a sort of respectable elder citizen cred’?“

“Exactly,” he answered

“What sort of companies?” … I was curious.

“Oh financial investment houses, aged care providers, companies selling certain products for the elderly … we go there and … well … mingle … that sort of thing.”


“Yes … look respectable … like you’d expect an elderly grandparent to act … sweet, polite, gently condescending … that sort of thing … full of good, sound advice … provided by the organisers, of course.”

“And private people?” I asked.

“Now they are the difficult ones!” He sipped his tea and placed the cup and saucer back on the table. “We have some who want to claim us as their real grandparents so as to have a kind of geneaology line to impress another party … They supply a few pictures and we refer to them in conversation, sometimes we photo-shop ourselves into another photo … say “at the beach” or somewhere … for that extra touch of reality …”

“Isn’t that a bit risky?”

“You mean in case someone recognizes us in another place sort of scenario? … Well, my dear chap, that’s where the theatrics come into play … ”

“We are both retired actors.” Helen took up the telling: “Small repertory theatre, that sort of thing … Noel Coward farces and comedies … Unfortunately those small companies and theatres mostly closed down with the internet and “demand streaming” … and of course, the time of slapstick or double entendre vaudeville is now ‘persona non grata‘ … and we got bored with a dull life at home .. no kids, you see … so we thought of this … ”

“I tell you,” John leaned over the table to me … “we could come in next workshop as different people and I guarantee you wouldn’t recognise us!”

I believed him.

“But we did have some beauties before we got savvy on how to handle one-on-one situations … John , you remember that Italian woman … the fiancé of the orphan gentleman … ”

“Dammed embarrassing! … almost made a fool of myself! … But I plead innocence in the matter … I was ambushed!” John protested.

“Shall I tell him, John?” Helen touched his hand gently.

“Oh go right ahead … so long ago now it’s almost funny.”

“Well,” began Helen; “We had this commission from a wealthy Australian business chap … somewhat dodgy, if you ask me … that was going to marry an Italian woman … from Italy … in Italy, but he was an orphan and her family expected him to have certain credentials, so to speak … respectability I suppose you’d say … Anyway, we were hired to play the grandparents who became close to him after his mother and father were killed in a motor accident … He was on holiday in Australia with the lady and they were to drop in on Gran and Papa for afternoon tea … in the English manner, and we were to impress the lady with our quaint charm and so on … ”

“And did they?“

“Did they bloody ‘ell!“ Helen blurted. “Like a cloudburst! … I’d no sooner answered the door when she was in the hallway like a stray dog after a square meal!”

John took up the story:

“The woman was unstoppable! … All bouffant, bottom and bosoms!” John phewed. “I was sitting in the club chair and she came straight over to me … I was about to get up when she came and planted big, fat, juicy kisses on both my cheeks … my nose wedged into those voluminous bosoms like Edmond Hillary descending into a crevasse on Mt Everest! … and I tell you what, the perfume she had soaked down there nearly knocked me out cold! … I’d just come up for air when she exclaimed: “You are Brendan’s Granpapa but now you are my new Nonno! … and she sat BANG down on my lap!”

“Ha!,” Helen exclaimed, “dammed hussey!”

“ … and no sooner than she sat down, it came up!”

It?” I pondered …

He pointed meaningfully toward his crotch.

“Lazerus rising!” Helen mocked.

“Whoa!” I exclaimed.

“You’re not kidding; whoa … I quickly jumped up, sending her to the floor, spun around to conceal and readjust the ‘inconvenience’ and then doubled over pleading ‘my old war-wound’ … “

“Anyway, we got it all sorted out and they departed happy if apologetically after a suitable time … I believe he informed her some months after the wedding in Rome that we had both died of a heart attack … one followed the other into God’s care … a nice romantic touch, don’t you think?”

They both smiled.

“I say,” John leaned over to me … “I don’t suppose you’d mind me taking a couple of those nice vo-vo’s with me … for a snack on the way home … one’s blood-sugar, you know … Ta! ” And they stood to depart.

I gave them the invoice for the plants and potting stuff they took.

“You’ll accept payment in seven days, I take it?” John asked, eyebrows raised, wide eyed.

I hesitated … then smiled ‘knowingly’ in return.

“Of course, of course … and thank you very much”.

Lovely couple, but I don’t think I’ll see them at too many more workshops.

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Decem Fabulum…

Ten Tales … Dieci racconti … Decem Fabulum.

English, Italian, Latin … in whatever language, stories have come down to us as a delighful medium to offset worry or boredom … In the time of The Plague in Italy, Giovanni Boccaccio wrote of the stories told by just such a group as they while away the hours in isolation from the Black Plague … “The Decameron”.

In keeping with this tradition, we offer you likewise some stories here. These stories may or may not have appeared on this site before, but it could be from a long time ago and many may not have read them. So let us begin with one of the first stories offered here:


The tide had ebbed.

He was strolling down the still waxy sands, she, with her two frolicking children, aged three and five approached from the opposite direction. Suspended from a coarse, frayed piece of rope gripped in his hand, was a glass net-float. It swung, pendulum like as he walked. As they drew near to each other, their eyes met and their gaze held one another with that curious cognisance that lingers longer than is usual with strangers. A search not timid nor wanting but rather, as with like minded travellers in new lands, a polite familiarity in each other. The wide open sands of the tidal beach allowed plenty of room for personal space. The older child, a boy, saw the glass float, its surface sheen reflecting, with rhythmic precision of the swings, a shaft of evening sunlight into his eyes. He ran over and touched it, open mouthed, wide eyed and with the innocent inquisitiveness of a child.

“What is it?” he asked, his fingertips palpitating over the glass surface.

“A float, a glass float off a fishing net,” the man continued to explain. The other child approached with the mother, its tiny arm clutching around the mother’s leg.

“Where did you find it?” The boy persisted.

His query remained unanswered because the man gazed at the woman who in return exchanged greetings with her eyes. He held out his hand.

“David MacKinnon,” he announced. She took the tips of his fingers lightly.

“Suzanne,” she replied with the natural caution of omitting the surname.

“What is it?” she asked, one hand waving across her face to chase away flies. The bridge of her nose pinched in a wrinkle.

He held the orb up by its rope, looking for all the world like a severed head with the bits of straggling seaweed.

“A glass float, rather old though … they use plastic ones now … or polystyrene.”

She didn’t remark on the information, just stared at the orb as it gently turned on its rope axis this way then that like a mesmerists fob watch, the “oily” aged glass swirled marbled with rainbow tracks.

“It’s almost … like … a pearl!” she delightfully exclaimed. There was a pause as he gazed.

“Why … yes, yes … I suppose you could say that.” The thought attracted and attached itself to his mind. “But then it’s only appropriate to find a pearl at a pearl-fishing part of the coast.”

The little boy reached up to spin it around, but his hit swung it against the man’s body … he lowered it to the sand and let the boy roll it around … it had no value to him.

“I dug it up back there.” He motioned toward a dark hulk of a wreck of a boat back up the beach, its rusty skeleton softened by a cluster of mangrove fronds over it.

“Maybe it’s from that boat?” she remarked.

“Maybe … but that’s not a fishing boat, its a pearling lugger,” he said.

“How do you know?”

“By the sweep of its deck, … oh, I don’t know really … I’m just guessing … a feeling rather … it’s the way they used to build them”.

She laughed gaily.

“Well perhaps that is an old pearl,” she said pointing to the float. “After all, I bet they don’t make them like they used to!” And they both joined in the friendly levity.

They stayed there together as the children played with the glass float. He looked intently at the children.

“I have two children myself,” he announced vaguely … “A boy and a girl … ”

“Oh … how old?”

“Seven and eleven.”

She nodded.

Here was comfortable ground and a chance to talk to another human being after that interminable drive up from Perth, with every town a seeming thousand miles from the next and oh! the dreadful endless road and the tedious bitumen.

“Where are you headed?” she asked.

“To Perth … home … and you?”

“We’re off to Darwin … to a new home … or at least we hope to call it that for the next couple of years.”

“I’ve just come from there,” (as if it was just up the road).

“Oh … what’s the place like?”

“The tropics are beautiful this time of the year. It gets very oppressive in the “wet” … yes, I enjoyed it there.”

“What do you do for work?”

“I’m a carpenter,” he replied.

She smiled … for there was something secure about a carpenter, the thought of his hands smoothing over a piece of wood … the truthiness of his eye, turning the wood, gauging the grain with a sureness of judgement to match and make … a workshop strewn with curled shavings, the odours of Pine and Fir resin … joss-sticks … sandalwood?

”Yes, a carpenter must have a patient touch,” she mused.

“Are you driving straight through?” she asked.

“No … not tonight … I’ve just arrived … ” he pointed to a distant campervan …

“I’ll book into a caravan park for the night. Get a bit of a clean-up.”

“There’s a nice one just up the road a little … at the edge of town, we’re camped there ourselves for the night too.” She gave this information over lightly, without invitation .. just as information.

“I s’pose that’ll do then … I’ll give it a burl … Gosh! … look at that sunset!”

They both turned to face the ocean, the sinking star shimmered and quivered into the lapping mercury of sea. He snorted humorously:

“It’s a pearl, too.”

They both stared silently.

“Yes,” she softly murmured. “It’s quite divine … ”

David turned to see the children frolicking, their stretched shadows flickering over the waxy sands …

” … and we live our lives in the shadow of the divine,” he said.

The caretaker showed an informal interest in his booking as there were few people staying there that night.

“Just find yourself a park over there near the ablutions block an you’ll be right.”

As David steered his van to the site he saw again the woman outside a station-wagon. She was with her two children.

“Hello!” he called, “Do you mind if I park nearby for the night?” And he smiled.

“Suit yourself, it’ll be good company.”

They crossed paths to the showers later that evening and after more small talk agreed to sharing a coffee after the children had gone to sleep.

The sweeping silence of the night lent a comforting familiarity to the talk and it wasn’t long before they were sharing confidences and laughter.

“Yes, I did meet some real characters up there in Darwin there’s some beauties, especially in the building trade.”

“Tell me about one,” she leaned over the little table in the van, her face supported by her fist under her chin.

“Ahh! … they’re too crazy.”

“No, really, tell me.” There was a tenderness attached to her inquiry.

He rubbed his fingers over his brow as he pondered, aware all the same of the purring sensuality in her voice, an early indicative sign that men interpret as woman’s intention and act instinctively. He sat upright and began.

“Here’s one … There was this bloke I knew up there … a Kiwi fellah … a contract painter … any how, he was telling me he done this big job for a wealthy family, the whole house, inside and out … a couple of months work … and they didn’t pay him … couldn’t get the money out of them … rich people can be the worst payers … and him with all the material costs, all the paint … and the other blokes he had working for him … a fortune … and it was sending him broke but he got this other job … with another wealthy family. He was up on a ladder painting the cornices with this dark, crimson paint one day and thinking of going down the tube what with these others not paying and thinking one thing an’ another an he didn’t know how he did it but he dropped his pot of paint! … and it fell outside the groundsheet! … all over the white carpet! … ”Holy shit!” he cried, “I can’t afford to pay for that! … ” and he was just about to panic when the woman’s poodle walked past (he knew she wouldn’t be far behind) … He quickly grabbed the dog and threw it onto the spilled paint and cried in an exaggerated yell … ”You little bastard!” … the woman came rushing into the room, threw her hands up in the air … ”Oh, Pickles! … Oh you naughty dog, I’m so sorry … I’ll … I’ll pay for the paint.”

Suzanne laughed as she threw her head back.

“Oh the rotten bugger!” she cried.

”Yes, I guess so … though I suppose he had to do something and I daresay the insurance would pay for the carpet … ”

They both giggled a bit more, then a silence fell between them, and within that silence there rose in each of them a warmth of companionship and familiarity so they both knew the others desire, but the restraining codes of society held them yet apart. Instead, he pursued the desire with some small-talk.

“Huhm … and what are you going to do in Darwin?”

“Me? … Oh … I work in jewellery shops … an assistant … so I suppose … ” she left the answer open to the inevitable conclusion.

“Jewellery … ” he repeated, his eyebrows raising swiftly. “Then I may have something that will interest you.” And he turned to reach into a drawer on the side of the van.

“Just a minute,” she said, her hand raised and lay familiarly on his shoulder, “I thought I heard one of the children … be back in a minute.”

When she returned, David had a small, dark wooden box on the table. It was very ornate with chunky carvings, of the chest-type from Thailand, only smaller, about ten by six inches. Suzanne pulled her stool up closer to David, her hair brushing over his shoulder, she noticed the “goose-bumps” that arose and she smiled to herself.

“And what has he got in his little black box?” she smirked … He chuckled.

Lifting the lid gently, a chamois bag was revealed, he lifted it from the chest and placed it between them on the table. Dave slowly untied the soft, woven cotton pull-string that choked the neck of the bag … slipping two fingers into the opening, he eased the bag apart wide. In the tarnished glow of the mozzie-candle, lay, like the waxen orbs of many tiny eggs in a nest, a regular bounty of … pearls!

Suzanne pursed her lips, for they were indeed attractive, and in this light, their buffed skins took on a living glow, like the promise of an egg about to hatch! she put her hand forward as if to touch, but David, not noticing her movement, had placed his own fingers into the burnished silvered cache. As he lifted the pearls up and let them fall dull-tacking back into the fold, he looked to her face. It was intent on the pearls, the dancing flame of the candle light lapping into and onto the soft features of her face, a face not yet drawn with the lines of care nor bitterness, a face still open and serene … David pondered on his own features, were they as easy to read? were his eyes still capable of showing impromptu emotion? … but he quickly dropped these introvert thoughts … he longed to touch her … would she allow … ?

“Where did you get them?”

“From a Melville Island local … they call these ‘roughs’, as you can see, they aren’t nicely rounded. but they are still pearls … ”

“Why did you buy them?” Suzanne asked, not taking her eyes off the luscious hoard.

“I liked the look of them … the feel of them … the sound as they touch each other … ”

“Were they expensive?” she asked. He laughed.

“No … ” then softly, almost dream-like he ran his hand through them again. Suzy placed her hand on his shoulder … he gazed at it, then rubbed his hand over hers, they smiled together … she turned her attention back to the pearls.

“Why do you keep them?”

“I keep them because of how they feel … because I like how they feel.”

“I have to ask … it’s the way you run your fingers through them.”

He looked to her eyes to gauge his answer, to feel out her capacity for a simple truth … a male truth … for there are some secrets neither men nor women would share with each other … her eyes answered him encouragingly. He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, she pressed her cheek against them … but how does a man reveal that named desire for the untouchable, the impermissible part of a woman that he is both slave to and yet feebly jealous of without himself sounding feeble, or foolish in a description … a name for that most powerful sexual part of a woman.

“They remind me” … he paused in trepidation, to consider, for he didn’t want to lie to her, then spoke , the timbre of his voice firm, but softly tender, “I sense … they remind me … of … a woman’s —- .” And here he used the old Saxon word of description, a brash word of men’s language. His eyes moved away from hers to the pearls as if in apology for using such a vulgar noun, even though his pronunciation of the word was rather in a deliberate reverential tone than a cutting slander. But how else could he say it in truth, how does a man describe such that which is an overwhelming yet beautiful hunger? … He once again dipped his fingers into the pearls, their satiny surfaces making a sound like … like silver … He continued; “Sort of velvety-smooth … and pleasant to touch, a sense of moist … but these, of course, are dry … ” he picked one pearl up, pinched between thumb and forefinger … he rolled it gently around the ball of his fingertip … “and by themselves, like this, they are like a woman’s firm nipple … almost erect yet … so gently pliable.”

David spoke in a detached but tender tone. She had at first balked at his use of the vulgarity and she watched him closely, looking to detect any trace of lechery in him, but no, while certainly he could be called a sensualist, there was not that oleaginous sleaze that is attached, film-like, to the seeking voice of the degenerate. No, he had used the word as such because in the descriptive circumstance there was no other with the strength of emotion to encompass the fierceness of that strange male hunger.

Suzanne stretched her hand over his to touch the pearls with her fingertips. The smooth opalescence of her skin in vast contrast to his tanned workman’s hands … and as she dabbled them into the glistening bag, his hand moved to the inside of her thigh … Her head came forward to rest in the crook of his shoulder, his lips sought her ear … his other hand moved down the spine of her back to lift up the base of her blouse, his touch had found her so warm … he felt his hunger for her body rise … and ohh to touch that forbidden place and then to be encouraged to go further … David sighed. He freed the clasp of her bra and slipped his hand to cup her breast … lovely breasts, so full and voluptuous he squeezed the nipple so very gently between thumb and forefinger as she softly gyrated her hips to his caresses …

“Mmm, she cooed … ” I see what you mean.” She spoke as she fingered the pearls.

“How do you know?” he teased.

She smiled.

“Oh … just a wild guess … ” and she pulled back arms length with her hands clasped at the back of his neck.

They sat looking at each other for a full minute without speaking, the insect-candle sending its whisper of citrine scented plume curling over their heads. David placed his hands on her hips … it was settled, and it seemed as if some enormous imprisoning weight had lifted from their hearts to be replaced by a freedom of movement liberated from the constraints of the artificial dualism of civilised human – spiritual animal!

Suzanne moved her hand down and took his now firm manhood in a gentle clasp, as one would hold a thick stem of a flower …

“All rise to the power of the beast!” she laughed quietly … he chuckled with her … ”how good a carpenter are you?”

“Oh … fair to middling I always try to put my heart into my work,” he smiled.

She worked his zipper down and released his “beast” from its “cell”.

“Mmm … with a bar like this you should be able to jemmy any door!” They both laughed heartily but softly, then again a small silence … Suzanne gave his penis a gentle squeeze, noting again that soft, silken feel of the hardened flesh … with the oh so gentle undulations along its length … she felt a rising anticipation for it to press against and then to enter the soft opening of her body slowly pushing in deep up to its full length … her breath deepened at these thoughts she had … David’s words on the beach reverbetated in her mind …  “… and we live our lives in the shadow of the divine.”

“Will you stay the while?” And David patted the cushion of the seats … ” It folds down to a double bed.”

She felt a sudden flush of colour rise to her cheeks, a warmth of emotions that she had not experienced since her teens when her body was master over her mind … before the demanding constraints of social convention had enslaved her desires.

“Will she stay the while?” Suzanne repeated his request. She looked into his eyes, she leaned toward him, her breath quickened, their eyes held till the hiatus was broken by the gentle touching of their fingers intertwined …

A kiss! A kiss!

The first glimmer of dawn sweetened the charcoal sky as Suzanne changed into top gear and headed up the highway toward her ultimate destination, the memory of parting still warm on her lips. They had made love on awakening and she had left him there in the park and drove away so as to get a good start before the children awoke. A kiss and a wave of hand the last time she would see him … oh yes! … also the pearl! The pearl David had given her as a memento. She took one hand off the steering wheel to feel into her breast pocket … there it was!

She took it out, held it up in front of her eyes and gazed at it, its polished husk glowed like a moonstone … but wait! … the moon! … there, suspended in space on a lightening horizon was the full moon, as polished and opalescent as the pearl itself! a compliment to each other! she smiled as she thought of that morning’s quiet love-making in the bed and ahead of her lay the interminable road. She glanced back at the children still asleep and then, smiling wickedly, took the pearl and dexterously slipped the treasure down inside her panties to place it strategically and comfortably just there.

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Proverbs / Parables for the young and old

I suspect many readers here have heard of that old parable of the Sun and Wind having a competition as to who could get a man to remove his overcoat the soonest … The wind blew and blew its hardest, but the man just pulled the coat tighter around his body. The Sun on the other hand shone warmer and warmer so that the man got hot and removed his coat at his own leisure …

I have given up on writing political posts because there being a plethora of such on many blogs and social media, demanding change or attention to this or that current topic … and all with the good intention of bringing about a change of heart in if not the already converted then … presumably … the many undecided readers … I have to conclude that because of the still predominant angst of some regular posters in the many forms of social media, not much success has been achieved in that quarter.

I have gone another route … trying instead to use the art of persuasive language of story and tale as exemplars of the humanist struggle against oppression, be it political or social … Who knows, I may have as minimal success as the aforementioned political posters, but I would like to think that at least in my stories I show compassion or irony but do not exhibit the strident demands of the soap-box spieler.

In the spirit of both storytelling and that age old methodology of parables, I hereby offer these few proverb / parable cameos to you for a kind of exemplar of life.

Proverbs and Parables for the young and old

Proverb: It costs a lot of money to die comfortably.

Parable: Nickolai Petrov was moderately wealthy. He was also so cautious with his money, that many times his friends would chastise him with the old adage; “You can’t take it with you, you know!” … Now he was old and was dying of cancer. The surgeon told him this at his bedside in the hospital.

Nickolai’s wife sat at his bedside consoling him, holding and stroking his hand. A tear fell from her eye on to the bed cover.

“Ah, Nicky … my dear Nicky … what can I do for you?” She sang in sympathy.
Nickolai thought about this for a while … then said:

“Trishka, my dear … one thing you can do … ”

“Yes, my dearest … just say it.”

“A … a cushion … an embroided, red velvet pillow .. like they have in the old country … to lay my head on when I … pass on … to put in the coffin for me to rest my head on … ” He turned his eyes to her.

She wept a little at his request. “So like the man.” she thought,

“Yes, Yes, my sweet … I’d love to.”

And she made him the soft velvet cushion of the dimensions he wished, embroided with also a tasselled edging. She brought it to him in the hospital the day he was to be sent home.

The doctor had given him a couple of months to live and he spent these finalising his accounts and business and even arranging the funeral services. He insisted on doing this work himself and said:

“While I have the strength, let me have the dignity.”

And so he died and was buried with the red velvet embroided cushion under his head. His wife mourned for weeks in sadness, but, life goes on and the bills keep coming in.

One day she went to the bank to take some money out, there was none there! – the account had been closed. She went to the building society … that too, closed! … No money? Where had it gone? She asked all the relatives if Nickolai had given them proxy after death to handle the money? No, no one knew … Had he hidden it in the house? She turned it upside down in the search … No … gone … lost!

At last she went to the grave of her husband.

“Nickolai, I know you’ve hidden it … but where?” She glared at the tombstone through slit eyes. “You old devil.” She hissed “Where did you hide it?”

Then she looked to the photograph of Nickolai Petrov fixed in the left side of the tombstone. He had a certain “Mona-Lisa” smile fixed on his face. “Damn it, Nicky, I need … ” She stopped short as a niggling, nasty realization crept over her mind. She flung her hand-bag to the ground. “You swine! … Oh you, you bastard! … the cushion, the cushion … you did take it with you after all! You little pig!” She shook her fist at the grave.

It cost Trishka five thousand dollars and a lot of affidavits to exhume the coffin and redeem the money from the pillow. She replaced the cushion under his head when they reburied him … but this time she filled it with rocks!

Proverb: “Those with sour mouths cannot spit sweetness.”

Parable: Jim Parker worked as a motor mechanic in his own garage in Darwin. His wife: Cynthia worked in an hotel in one of the outer suburbs. After work, Jim would drive to the hotel, pick up his wife and give her a lift home. This evening he was late.

“What took you so long?” his wife complained.

“I had to finish Mr. Black’s truck, he wanted it tomorrow.”

“Oh yeah, so who’s more important; me or Mr. Black’s truck?” She didn’t want or expect an answer but snatched her bag from the desk and pushed the door open to the car park. Jim followed two or three steps behind. As she strode toward their car, she came near a group of aborigines lounging about drinking beers. One of the women was sitting on the bonnet of a car that belonged to one of her workmates Cynthia didn’t like aborigines at all!

“Get off that car you, black bitch!” She snarled as she walked past.

Suddenly: “Wham!” she was hit and knocked to the ground by one of the Aboriginal men standing close by. Jim pulled up in shock with his arms spread and his mouth open. The Aboriginal women, as if by some pre-arranged strategy quickly removed one of their shoes and thrust them into the hands of their men standing there. Jim dashed forward for the fight and was confronted with a “wall of men” with the shoes in their raised fists ready to strike. Although a seasoned “scrapper”, Jim saw at an instant this was too much to take on. He halted and glared around in anger, the men glared back, their raised arms wavering.

“Hit him, Jim, hit him, hit him … go on you coward … hit him!! … his wife yelled, one arm propping herself up off the bitumen. Jim felt the taunting insult rake across his brain.

“Go on, hit him I said … oh you … you coward!” She wept.

“Shut up, Cyn, for God’s sake shut up and get in the car before I hit you!” And they drove away. But all the way home she lay into his manhood so that he dropped her off and grabbed his shotgun and returned to “settle things”. But of course there was no-one in the car-park when he got there. Jim sat brooding in his car with nothing to calm his anger and the sour bitterness of his wife’s accusations biting into his soul.

Proverb: “What the eye doesn’t see, The heart doesn’t grieve.”

Parable: ” I laugh now when I think of it.” The old lady chuckled, “But I was young then, about fourteen … or sixteen … but I was a ‘young’ sixteen … you know? … and I had gone to the millinery store in the town and bought a dress for the fair. The dress was pink floral with a blouse all in one and it had two pieces of material, like braces, with big buttons on the waistline and those two braces went over the shoulders down the back.”

“Ahh … I was young then … anyway at the fair there was the excitement of a merry-go-round and bucking horses and shearing contests and … and tug-of-war … an … and … horse races … you know, that sort of thing and everybody from the district and from beyond the bend of the river .. and they’re dressed up to the nines, oh dear,ha! … the big day of the year for us then, ha!”

“Well, there was this aboriginal girl there the same age as me it turned out, and she had on EXACTLY the same dress that I had … exactly! … and we ran up to each other and laughed and became great friends that day … she worked, like me, at another station on the Murray … cooking, cleaning, looking after the children that sort of thing … anyway, we were great friends that day an’ we walked all around that fair together arm in arm, laughing and having great fun and we’d tell everyone we met that we were twins! … Ha! ha! … TWINS! … you’d laugh now, but we didn’t even think of her being black and me white then .. some people smiled and others threw their heads back and laughed and we just thought they were as happy as we were, ha!”

“Oh, a jolly good time we had that day … I can’t even remember her name now … ha! …. Ah well … twins … twins indeed … I can’t imagine what my mother would have thought!”

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The Indoctrination of Christopher

Christopher stood as instructed before the first small icon of the Stations of the Cross The pictures were at some height above his tiny frame, he craned his neck to see it. Sister Mary Joseph placed one arm around his slender child body and in a secretive whisper described the goings on in the painting … she did this to each child in turn, from one station stop to the next, with each station becoming more and more intense with the humiliation and torment of The Christ, her voice too grew in intensity and anger …

“Look!” she’d say, “look how they laugh and mock our lord Jesus … ” And the children’s eyes all wide and staring at the horror of the gore and blood on the crown of thorns and the leering faces of the torturers. The children’s hands clasping and wringing in fear and horror … several of the little girls clung to the habit of the squatting sister as she related the means of cruelty inflicted on the body of the Son of God as “He suffered for our sins here on Earth … He suffered for us,” her eyes alight also with the self-inflicted emotional pain of the scenes she described.

The young nun then proceeded to instruct the small group of children in the ritual of the journey through The Stations of the Cross … she would say the Leaders chant:

“We adore thee O Christ, and bless thee.”

Then she would ask the children to repeat after her:

“By your holy cross Thou has redeemed the world.”

Then she would gather the little cluster of children around her and softly tell them a little maxim of life; “As a child, we sometimes feel alone … sometimes others do not stand up for me when I am picked on and afraid … so help me Jesus to be strong and protect me in thy light.”

The chant was repeated at every Station, along with the repeated response and then another little homily on the lessons of life through the eyes of reverence for Jesus. “As a child, I sometimes repeat stories that are unclean and disrespectful … Help me to keep myself pure and clean … ” All while standing before another frame of the torment or torture of Our Lord Jesus Christ. These lurid paintings left nothing to the imagination, from the first of the condemning to death before Pontius Pilate to the meeting of his mother and the women of Jerusalem on the road to crucifixion and the stripping away of his garments to the hammering in of the nails to his hands and feet and the sinking in of the spear into the side of his body …

These chants, prayers and visuals were displayed in graphic intensity to the ears and gaze of those five year old children, fresh from the comforts and protection of Mother, Father and the safety of home … To Christopher, they were a shocking assault on his quiet nature … He had never seen someone so deliberately hurt … He had never seen someone held down and tortured. He had never seen a person stripped, beaten, speared, gored and nailed to a wooden cross … Yet here was Sister Mary Joseph explaining it all with the soft, gentle, assured voice of a confident adult … so it must be so.

But strangely, the terror didn’t bite into young Christopher. Those carefully designed pictures, those beguiling, persuasive homilies and all the Sister’s gently pitched whispers into his child ears were to be of no avail … for even as a child, Christopher was more of a “touching” child … he was more interested in the tactile nature of things .. on the habit of Sister Joseph, he would touch to feel the heavy-starched white cloth parts of her cowl as she cooed, as with a lover’s breath, the corrupting words of indoctrination into his ear, wondering why the cloth was so sharp … he would stand by her side and feel the heavy wooden beads of the Rosary belt that wrapped around her waist then dangled down the side of her habit-skirt … He would be mesmerised at the large, pendulating black cross that swung against her breast as she leant down to him. His was the world of touch, sights and sounds, the child’s world of wonder, when the wind told stories to his ears … alike to the animal kingdom … windy days telling hurried stories of trees and hills, grasses and ferns, of white-capped ocean waves and gliding sea-gulls under drifts of wind-blown clouds scattered over azure skies. A child’s ears and innocence tuned to that elusive pitch and timbre that becomes dulled and destroyed by adulthood and those alluring, wailing whispers on the wind are seldom heard again.

What is lost in the eyes of the child, when such macabre icons are drawn to their gaze … The innocence that must be destroyed so guilt can be created, hatred infused before a depraved love constructed, fear before security, doubt in place of certainty, death before life. What is religion that would need to do such to a child … for it is surely children to which all it’s cunning indoctrination are delivered … as the adult convert must be a relatively low number in proportion, so it is the child that must be coaxed out of it’s dreamy cocoon into the adult world of conditioned certainty … where “trigger words” or scenarios are embedded into the vernacular to be drawn upon when needed by civic state or religion … for they do work fist in glove in collusion with each other … how else could it be explained or excused, for what were these series of cameos of horror and degradation but in reality a kind of ecclesiastical pornography pushed into the subliminal thoughts of the children’s minds, a “sleeper” awaiting the right moment to respond.

After the last Station was reflected upon, the last homily spoke, the last humiliation embedded into their child minds … the children were lined up and marched back single-file to the classroom near the row of huge old pine trees … Christopher looked at the radiating branches ascending high up into the depth of the foliage …

“Wow! what a great place for a tree-house,” he was thinking.

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The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs

I have a war story … well, not actually about war itself, but about how it broke and remade a life … It is a true story and was told to me by Darcy C; an old farmer who lived on the farm next to us (in my first marriage) in the hills. He was one of those generational farmers whose family had been in the district since its inception. A dry old stick who knew everything that went on in the district, he was taken to telling a yarn or two when he had nothing else to do or it was raining … I was always a keen listener.

Of course, Darcy told me the main parts of the incident and I picked up bits and pieces elsewhere in the district … You have to be a bit canny when making inquiries of this nature … the locals don’t like giving anything away … it’s a bit like fly-fishing for trout you have to know how to search the shadows.

It went like this:

The Resurrection of Herbert Griegs

“Pray for me my sweet,

Lest I forget to praise myself,

For God is a distant star … ”

The small casement window of the dining room of the old house lay slightly ajar so that the gentle afternoon breeze just lifted the cotton lace edged curtain and it brushed against the glass fronted china cabinet next to the window. A crystal-glass wind chime tinkled sweetly as the breeze chinked its pieces together making little pin-pricks of sound. On top of the cabinet stood three objects, two of which were framed photographs and one ceramic figurine of a young lady with a basket of flowers over her left arm. One of the photos in a gilt-edged frame showed a young snapshot of the just recently deceased Herbert Griegs with his then new bride; Mary-Ann. Herbert is dressed in his army uniform. They both appear very, very happy. The other photo is of a young family, about the same age as Herbert and Mary-Ann. There is also a small child in the photograph. The man is also in a uniform, but it is the uniform of the Fascist army of Italy. The young family too, appear very happy. All these people, with the exception, perhaps, of the child are now deceased. Herbert and the wife of the Italian soldier died of old age. Mary-Ann and the Italian soldier died in the Second World War.

Here is their story:

Herbert Griegs and Mary-Ann were married in the local church at the small country town where they were raised and intended to live after the war. They did not doubt that Herbert would return from the war, it just seemed impossible that he would not. There was so much life ahead, the promise of a fine full life on the farm.

Herbert was already in the army when they married. He had joined up some months before so he had finished his basic training and was on leave. He expected to be posted to barracks in the eastern states awaiting orders to go overseas to active service. They had been married a week and three days when Herbert’s orders came through. He kissed his new wife goodbye reluctantly and travelled with a large number of soldiers away to New South Wales.

In the days of the Second World War, in many country places in Australia, soldiers were billeted on farms in the countryside. If there was a shearing shed on the property, the army would staff it with a cook and kitchen helpers and put a hundred or so soldiers there under canvas. Such an event happened at Mary-Ann and Herbert’s farm, two or three months after Herbert had been shipped off to New South Wales. Soldiers from all parts of the state were camped there.

This was a very unsettling time for Mary-Ann, for she missed her husband terribly, and in the course of fate, whether it was similarity in looks, sympathy toward their fate or simply the uniform, Mary-Ann one day was seduced by one of the soldiers. Why? Well, who knows, as mentioned before, it could have been for a number of reasons or desires but for whatever reason she did, Mary-Ann was the most shocked, and fell to despair when she found she was pregnant to the soldier who had by now long gone away.

Mary-Ann became so desperate of the situation, that she somehow, someway found the address of a place in the city that would, for a price, do abortions. Mary-Ann paid the money and was attended by the anonymous people. But the operation was a failure. she hemorrhaged badly and it couldn’t be stopped. She died in the room of a house in the back-street of the inner-city. During the night her body was re-moved and left propped against a tree in one of the parklands that surround the city.

Herbert received the news with horror and disbelief. Impossible! How could she be dead, she was alive and healthy six months ago, she was smiling still in his memory, she was laughing just out of reach on the slopes of the field-daisy covered hills behind their farm-house when he chased her up the slopes and laughing, pulled her down on the yellow and green carpet and there amongst the miles and miles of open countryside under a soft sky they made love.

“No! It couldn’t be so, No!”

The letter from his brother didn’t tell of the circumstances of Mary-Ann’s death, and he didn’t find out till he returned home for the funeral on leave of compassion. But still he was so shocked that even the sordid details didn’t seem to sink in. How? How? he kept asking himself and he would sit for hours at his brothers’ kitchen table and sometimes look as if he were about to ask a question but then would close his mouth in silence and look deeply into his cup of tea. He mechanically went through the ritual of the funeral and stumbled from the graveside in silence. It was in silence also that he re-turned to the barracks in the East to be shipped off overseas to the war in Africa.

On the crossing to the front he searched again and again through all the details in his mind that he knew of the tragedy. He started to hate Mary-Ann. He stood her before him in daydreams and called her “whore”, “betrayer” and any other names that he thought he could hurt her memory with, but in the end of it all he called her “love” and wept for the sadness of it all.

Then he started to hate the soldier who had seduced her. He looked around at the noisy men about him and tried in his heart to pick the types that would seduce “a lonely sympathetic woman.” Several times he fought fights with braggarts who told lurid tales of their “conquests” before they left home. He had to be dragged off one fight before he killed the man. Fortunately none of these fights reached the ears of the high ranking officers, it was just the “locking of horns” amongst the men, the release of tension before the approaching theatre of war.

The first action Herbert’s battalion was to see was the assault on Bardia in Libya. By now Herbert’s hatred was directed toward the enemy out front and there was no more eager soul for battle in the battalion. He was in a state of silent desperation. He silently nurtured the philosophy of “kill or be killed”, it didn’t matter to him at all. What was there home now? What was there here? Who was he fighting for? It just didn’t seem to matter anymore. He just wanted to throw himself into the teeth of war with a seething vengeance! He wanted to kill, if only himself, he wanted to kill!

At zero hour the artillery barrage began. Herbert was humming and whistling nervously. Then the barrage lifted and the first wave of infantry attacked behind the engineers who blew the wire with “bangalore torpedoes”. Herbert was rushing, running into the acrid fumes amid the fires and shooting. He shot at a few fast moving shadowy figures near a guard post. The horizon jumped and jerked with the flashes from the Italian artillery. He ran past a truck destroyed by their own barrage, wild orange flames swept around the cabin of the truck from the burning tyres, the flames lashed and licked at the metal like the wet tongue of a huge animal. His temper was almost uncontrollable as he rounded the corner of supply building of the post. An Italian soldier suddenly stepped out of a doorway just ahead of him with his hands on the verge of raising in surrender, he didn’t get the chance. Herbert shot at point blank range and the soldier fell in front of him. He rushed up and plunged his bayoneted rifle into the man’s chest. The soldier gasped. “Ah Dio Boia!, Dio Boia!” he cried and Herbert too yelled out amid the wild weird racket of battle all around him, it seemed as if a demon had escaped from the depths of his soul and he cried out for the release of it all while the filthy smoke from the burning machinery engulfed the entire battle scene and he fell to his knees beside the body of the dying soldier. Herbert felt his chest constricted and his breath laboured in short gasps as he knelt there with his hand on the Italian soldier’s chest.

He became aware of some words spoken near his ear. It was the dying soldier. At first Herbert was shocked, open mouthed, he lifted his rifle to strike the soldier again till he realized the man was no threat and that he was saying over and over again; “Non e colpa tua, non e colpa tua.” The soldiers hand moved slowly, falteringly up to his chest pocket, then quivering fell to his side. He was dead.

Herbert jumped to his feet and stood staring down at the first man he had killed, he was about to rush off when he was drawn, compulsively to reach into the dead soldier’s breast pocket. He did this quickly as if repulsed at the thought that he could be looting a dead body. He quickly put his hand in and pulled out a leather folder. He thrust it quickly into his own pocket and scrambled off to the battle further ahead in the mist of dawn and fire.

Herbert did survive the war and he did go back to the farm amongst the gently sloping hills of the hinterland. But he did not go to the grave of his wife in the grounds of the little church on the edge of the town. He could not face her name on a tombstone and he could not say her name for a long, long time.

His farm was suffering from lack of care and he himself moved about under an oppressive cloud of lethargy and listlessness till his friends and neighbours all felt it was only a matter of time till he broke down or cracked up. Herbert could feel himself being slowly drowned by his despair and was aware that he would have to do something to get his life back on track soon or he would go under. A friend of his from the district who had gone to the African war with him had returned and gone into a ministry with the church. Herbert drove to the city one day to speak with him of a certain matter that was troubling him. He was shown to the minister’s room and left to knock on the door.

“Come in” a voice called from inside. “Why hello, Herb!” The minister smiled and rose from his chair

“Here, come over here and sit down … cup of tea? good, good.” … He poured a cup from a pot. “ … just had one myself … I’m afraid this isn’t the army now … nothing stronger … ” and he laughed.

“Ta, thanks, Brian … no, it’ll do fine.” Herbert spoke quietly.

After the cup of tea was placed in front of him Herbert started to sugar and stir the drink with slow solemnity. The minister settled back into his chair and gazed quizzically at his old friend.

“You don’t look too cheerful, Herb,” he spoke.

“Well, no, no, I’m not much fun to be with these days.”

“Is it the memories of the war?” The minister asked.

“That … and Mary-Ann,” Herb answered.

“Hmm, I think I can sense that … but what precisely is the trouble with Mary-Ann?” The minister pried.

“I haven’t been able to go to her grave since I’ve been back,” Herbert spoke softly, a silence fell between them.

“You remember Bardia?”

“Do I?” The minister replied, “scared the pants off me.” He snorted “Glad it’s gone … why?”

“Brian … ” began Herbert “Brian … I killed a man there … ”

The minister squinted his eyes a little, there was something more in this, he was feeling, he replied with a stock answer:

“Well … we all killed there … many of our side were killed also.”

“No.” Herbert spoke slowly and carefully … ” I murdered a man there … an Italian soldier … he was about to surrender, I see that now, but … but I was full of hate, full of Mary-Ann … I didn’t give him a chance … I killed him out of my own hatred … I killed a man … ” Herbert dropped his head in shame.

The minister raised his eyebrows at the problem he saw before him, but then, he was thinking, who didn’t kill in hate of some kind, did people kill for kindness? … we were all full of hatred when we went there, otherwise we’d have stayed home and raised families! The minister spoke these thoughts and moved to quieten his friend’s fears, and because he spoke with the sincerity and honesty of friend to friend, he could see it sinking in … An inspiration came upon him:

“Have you told this to Mary-Ann?”

“What? But it’s too late now … she’s dead, Brian, dead and gone.”

“Dead maybe, Herbert … but not gone, surely.”

Herbert raised his head to gaze steadily upon his friend.

“Why don’t you go down there Herb, go down and visit the grave? It won’t hurt, and who knows, you may feel some sort of response to your worries … it certainly couldn’t really do any harm.”

It seemed a strange thing to do, to go down and consult the dead. He was a little apprehensive and also a little scared, so clutching a small bouquet of field daisies that he and Mary-Ann had lay in those days so long ago, Herbert walked through the whitened cemetery gates on a grey-clouded, winters day. He stopped before the white marble gravestone that read :

“Mary-Ann Griegs

Loved wife of Herbert Greigs.

Died Oct. 4. 1940.

A Tragedy”

Herbert stood before the grave, feeling lonely, not knowing what to think, what to say. So he just stood with his hands clasped in front with the small bouquet held upside down in his fingers. He thought over the happy days, the early days, the sad days in numbness and the war days in pain. The picture of the dying soldier came into his memory, the man’s life fading from the brutal attack of the bayonet.

“Dio Boia, Dio Boia!” The man had cried, the words now clear in Herbert’s mind. And then the final fatalistic sighing of the dying soldier :

“Non e colpa tua … Non e colpa tua.”

Herbert never could understand what the soldier meant by those words, even when he heard them translated, surely it was HIS fault the soldier died … HE was the one doing the killing! … He repeated the words now to himself and the repetitive tone seemed to bring clarity to his thoughts till suddenly, as if illuminated by light he understood the juxtaposition of their lives, Mary-Ann, the soldier’s, his own, and he suddenly realized why Mary-Ann had risked her life and destroyed the unborn child, her child, for whoever the father, it was still her child. But she destroyed her child and lost her life, not out of self protection, but rather for a greater prize to her … Herbert’s love … she died for love of him …

“Oh God,” he cried at the realisation “oh God! oh God! oh God!” and he fell to his knees in front of the grave and the meaning of the soldiers last words fell into place and he sobbed to same words to his wife:

“It’s not your fault, It’s not your fault! It’s not your fault!” he wept , falling down on his knees with his face clasped in his hands, he wept, and so as his tears were falling to the earth, so was his soul descending down, down, till he felt he could ‘touch’ the soul of his loved … and he now understood; the unborn child she sacrificed to Herbert to save her love and the Italian soldier he sacrificed to Mary-Ann to show his love. “pity the killed, pity the killers, pity us all, God pity us all !” he wept to her … a light rain misted over the small graveyard, beside the church on the edge of the town. The bouquet of daisies had slipped from his hands and lay softly on the flat polished gravestone. It’s yellow and green glowing brightly against the wet, white marble …

Herbert Griegs came back from that time of despair and started farming again. He never married again and spent his years in service to the local community and the church. The wallet he took from the dead soldier that night contained, beside other things, a photograph of a young family: The soldier, his wife and a young child. This photograph he put in a gilded frame matching the one of his own marriage and stood them side by side on top of the china cabinet in the dining room of the farm house. These people are now all gone and soon, but for this, I feel, will be forgotten.

This article was originally published on The Pub.

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Incident on the Bulldog Run

I can see by some of the recent comments that there are those who are getting a bit “nervy” … tempers are being tested and in some, found wanting … so please, if it can be of assistance in these testing times, perhaps you can let ol’ Uncle Joe tell you a tale or two to settle the nerves … after all, we may be here for some time.

Now … where were we?

If you turn off the main “Halfway House Road” there about seven mile out of the town, there onto a dirt, bush track; “The Bulldog Run” and go a few miles down that track, you’ll see away there off the side in the mallee scrub; Rhidoni’s old place … a small cottage built in that old pioneer style of four rooms with a lean-to on the back and the old “bucket ‘n’ chuck-it” dunny out the back yard.

The Hocking family had made this cottage their home … for the near future .. a future fraught with the uncertainty of shifting fortune and work … Not that Dick Hocking was such a determined seeker of full-time permanent employment … nor was his wife Alice that keen to become a part of any township community … herself having escaped from a trapped, middle-class life back in civil-war torn Ireland, but still retaining enough of that class’s snobbery to scorn small-town society.

No … the bush suited them just fine and so they sought out these cheap-rental, isolated cottages where scrutiny and regulation was never a problem.

So in consequence, Dick and Alice Hocking and their children stayed in many old pioneer huts out in the deep mallee back in the pre-war years … Because of their isolated positions, far from the nearest town, these huts and settler’s cottages could be rented much cheaper … and with them never being flush of funds at the best of times …

Such run-down old pioneers huts, part stone construct, part pug ‘n’ pine were the usual homes on such tracks as “The Sleeper Track” … named after the cutting of railway sleepers … ”The Seven Cross-roads” or as it is locally known; “The Seven Sisters Junction” … or in the case I am about to tell of: “The Bulldog Run” … locally shortened to just “The Bulldog” … not named solely on account of that particular breed of dog, but because of the wilds of country there … as in; “That’s wild country out there … real bulldog country … ”

It was at Rhidoni’s old place … out in the sticks there just a bit off from The Bulldog … The Hockings lived there a while with three of their children … there were five kids, but the eldest girl had gone to work on one of the river stations as a servant girl and the oldest boy had got work at the local post office in the town of Sedan and was away for most weekends … that left the two early teenage girls and the youngest boy who was around four or five years old.

The parents went to town one day, taking the youngest boy with them to get supplies, leaving the two girls home with the company of a local youth named Murray also in his late teens, who was courting after the elder girl, Maggie … he was safe … But there were some dodgy characters who made their way to the Murray Mallee to escape the law in the city and there was no better place to “disappear” than in the wilds of the mallee in those days … Such a desperate character came upon the cottage there with the three teenagers alone.

The rough looking man watched the youths play a while, reassuring himself there was no adult about … He then calmly approached them in the front yard.

“Hello, children,” he said, his gaze roaming cautiously about, ”Is mum or dad around?” He asked in an innocuous tone as if he knew the parents … foolishly, Rose, the younger of the three replied that “No … they had gone to the town to get supplies and won’t be back for a while” …

The man nodded, tipped his hat and melted into the bush …

But the teenagers became suspicious of his motives when they spotted him lurking about just out a ways in the scrub … They decided it was better if they went inside when they saw him sneaking up closer to the house …

It was fortunate they did, for no sooner than they had gone inside than they heard him cautiously try the door handle … the three children silently stared in fear as the handle of the door moved up and down and then could hear the door creaking and see the door being forced upon gently with his shoulder as he tried to get in … Now this is when things got a tad worse! … Rose had a little dog … a poodle she was most fond of and it had been forgotten when they retreated into the house … Rose became distressed when she noticed the dog’s absence and with a shriek, quickly ducked out the back door to retrieve the poodle, much to the panicked cries of Maggie and her boyfriend Murray …

“NO! … Rosie … come back!” But it was too late … they heard her call for the dog and they could hear the man leave the front door and scurry toward the voice of Rose … They heard his rough voice cry:

“YOU … stay there! … ”

Murray opened the front door and called for Rose …

“IN HERE Rosie, the front door!” and she suddenly appeared, little dog in arms and scurried through the front door with the rough man not half a dozen strides behind her! … Murray slammed the door in his face and quickly secured it … the man put his shoulder to the door and crashed it several times, but fortunately it was built of strong, stout rough-cut timber with a cross-bar securing it, so it stood firm against his thrusts … He then went to get the axe there at the wood heap and proceeded to hack at the door … The children were terrified …

Here, the youth; Murray, did the smartest thing he would do in what turned out to be an otherwise mundane life … He went as close to the front door as to be heard by the man outside and in a ‘just too loud’ whisper, said:

“Maggie … go get your dad’s 303 rifle and I’ll shoot the bugger through the door!” …

All went silent, the axe went still and the man seemed to think for a moment and then abandoned his intended deed and slunk away quickly into the bush … Of course, there was no rifle, it was just a clever bluff … and it worked … The police who later came and searched for the man found him and reported to the parents that he was a wanted rapist from the city …

Lucky children indeed …

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Irresistable Song

Many years ago, I was invited by a close friend to come to Perth to do some major renovations to his house … a kind of “carpenter’s holiday”. There, I met the lady about which this story was written. I got to learn about a kind of “way of life” for seemingly many single parents there … ie; the weekend love-tourists commuting between Fremantle and Perth. This was in the days before mobile phones and internet dating. It was a sad replacement for the permanent relationship. I would think it even was then or perhaps is now, a less than happy substitute for loneliness.

It went like this:

Irresistible Song

Memories are an irresistible song; chained to our triumphs and failings as the notes are played out on the music sheet and the song is ever played in tones of sweet delight or melancholy:

One memory always brought her back to the old water-mill they would visit as a family in her childhood. They would visit that mill in the Summer months for picnics as it was always cool under the reaching shade of that enormous building. She could see now the shadowed sloping lawn slipping away to the willows on the bank of the stream in the lee of the hill with the crumbling limestone edifice of the mill on the opposite bank. Silvered bracelets of water wept from a rusted sluice channel onto the blades of the mighty but now frozen wheel suspended from the side of the stone building. Her minds eye swept over the scene and fixed on her mother and father sitting next to each other on the red checked rug. Her mother’s head thrown back in a sudden shout of laughter so her father leant close kissing her neck in a noisy exaggerated passion so her mother squealed delightedly and they both overbalanced, falling back giggling onto the cool grass.

The memory faded and she came back to the present like a falling leaf and she waved to her children, departing excitedly in their father’s car … her ex-husband … today was Sunday, they go with the father’ every Sunday; her day off.

“Bye, bye mum … Ta! Ta!” the children cried.

The father said nothing, for the bitterness still rankled both parties so silence served for accusations.

“Behave for your father,” she called as they drove away.

Her shoulders drooped as the car disappeared around the corner, as if shedding armor and responsibility combined; the tonnage of adulthood. Marie lingered in the driveway, gazing across the road. Sunshine poured out of the morning sky and the enormous expanse of oval lapped, water like, right up to the kerb of the footpath. A gaggle of gulls frozen collage on the embankment stared patiently at a small group of children running, crying, kicking a ball in the centre of the oval.

On the closest edge of the park stood, isolated and deserted, one of those gauche spaghetti plasticised “playgrounds” that reflect the banal taste of local-govt’ and the naivety of design that would believe that children can be enticed to “have fun” on such sterile frameworks that appeal only to vandals and local government administrators. It stood out painfully yellow and red against the placid azure-blue of the western sky.

Marie turned from the oval to gaze upon a row of scraggy geraniums lined, dusty and weary along the length of the gravel driveway. There is an unfathomable insanity inherent in our society, reflected most visually, I feel, in those tawdry flower beds of the houses in the outer suburbs; earth desperately scratched and scrapped and mounded with paths of various coloured gravels or scoria, cacti and daisy bushes, hardy roses (without scent!) or other tough, dry climate vegetation and, of course, that mainstay of colourful desperation: the geranium! with its scaly stems like rooters legs and the little circlets of hue almost precocious in its attention grabbing way like a spoilt child with a new toy to show off, demanding to be seen and used by those poverty stricken gardeners to balance out against the financial unpredictability of their own existence, at least flowers are manageable!

“Oh this dry weather,” Marie sighed. “The poor garden,” she added with a “tch” and took the hose to sprinkle some water over the geraniums. She then went inside to pick up the last discarded clothes that the kids had dropped before leaving, then again fell to washing up the breakfast dishes, as she didn’t like coming home to a dirty kitchen; it was one thing she detested; the dirty sink. “If I let the little things go,” she would protest, “it soon gets to be a frightful mess!” and she would mop the floor to finish off so she could go out and know there was a clean kitchen to come home to. For today was Sunday, her day off…today she could dress up and drive to Fremantle … Freo.

She would drive to Fremantle to sit in some cafe and try to meet a man. She smiled a little smile at the thought of these strange encounters, she smiled as she remembered Ivan, the Slav who was nice but so noisy … and he laughed at his own jokes! which she found annoying! and then there was that nice Egyptian man; … Rafaya his name was and she thought they had so much in common … almost soul-mates you could say, then she saw him that time in the city with his family and he made like he didn’t know her and she knew he saw her by the frown and the warning away with his eyes … and he too agreed they were “soul-mates” but he couldn’t risk talking to her with his family because:

“You see, my sweet … my wife she would get very jealous and maybe take a knife to you! They are like that, my people … very jealous.”

But still he had a lovely voice and when he talked of love in the dark sanctuary of her bedroom his words were like an irresistible song, the sweetness dropping dew-like into an empty heart, and even if it was only for one night affairs they could still see each other now and then … “Eh, my darling Marie.”

Memories are like an irresistible song, only where the lyrics of the song are fixed, the memory will sometimes edit, cut, embellish, till what is left is the scattered coloured fragments of that which we desire so deeply to see. But today was Sunday, today she would dress up and go to Freo.

She carefully selected her clothes as to best show off her figure, which (she observed critically) was in need of “strenuous exercise,” she was “running to fat” and she frowned, then brightened a little as the noticed that her buttocks at least, now had a rather voluptuous curve to them, something she knew some men found irresistible in a woman, she gave herself a playful slap on the bum, “You’ll be right!” and she smiled into the mirror, giving herself a furtive wink. She finished her dressing, adjusted her sunglasses and hit the road to ‘Freo!’

Once she cleared the city traffic and made the highway, she pressed the ‘pedal to the metal’ and streaked down the road, the window down and her elbow out, with one hand on the wheel and the stereo blasting a suburban beat, her long dark hair streaming in wisps out the window from the speed of the car. Long streaks of cirrus cloud from the west pointed abstractedly to her destination and the car ate up the miles. Ah! speed, speed, that euphoria universal that swiftly carries body and soul on an ecstatic high to god knows where … where? … the same place, most usually, from whence we came!

Marie felt the cool rush of air over her face … Sunday … Freo! … she laughed … But Oh! did she lock the house securely? She went over a check-list in her mind: Front and back doors … barrel-bolts?- Yes. Security locks? – Yes. The windows? – Yes. The kids room … the lounge? – Yes – Yes. Ah, but did she plug in the electronic security alarm? … ”Yes, oh yes! … and I better be careful when I come home not to trip over the cord in the dark and pull the bloody thing off the wall! … Freo here I come!”

Travel is like an irresistible song, escape from the dreariness of an ordered existence, even a day-trip can have the feeling of severing the ties that bind us to our duties. So the countryman goes to the city and the coastal-plainsman to the mountains. The desert appeals to the forest dweller and there must be an ache in the heart, sometime, of the Bedouin for sweet rainforests!

Marie parked the car under a large conifer tree next to the park, she locked the steering bar in place then checked all the doors were locked, “you can’t be too careful, you know.” She suddenly remembered the house. Did she lock up securely? – “Yes.” Good, with her mind comforted as regards her material security she could go forth to risk her heart!

Bells! bells, she paused as she heard the faintest tinkling of bells, no, not bells, too metallic,

“What is that? can’t see, can’t imagine, too far away.” And she stepped off the footpath.

Memory is an irresistible song. She remembered her own wedding and how her father wished to hear the peal of bells to celebrate the occasion, but there not being any bells at the church he decided to supply his own in the form of two enormous hand held bells that her younger brothers were to ring as she stepped out of the portal of the church, and how her father, on seeing the youngest boy struggling to sound his strongly, rushed up to grasp hands over hands and ring the bell furiously so it clapped out its joyous peal over the whole assembly in the churchyard and she could still see his grimacing smile and his suit coat flapping open with his strenuous efforts! Ah, what started so sweet should end so wan.

‘Francines,” the pastel coloured neon light glowed softly and the art-deco interior oozed cleanliness. Marie stepped up to the counter and ordered a coffee and cake.

“I’ll bring them to your table,” the waitress said.

Marie chose a table with only two seats near a potted palm and the full glass window. As she sat, she gazed around the cafe, there were only two other women there, seated two tables away, they were dressed as though on show. “Looking for men too,” mused Marie.

“Here Luv.” The waitress placed the coffee and a small plate with fork and cake on the table. “Oh, that’s alright,” she assured Marie with a light touch on her shoulder, “you can pay me on your way out,” and she moved away with a soft smile.

“This looks a nice place … a clean place,” Marie thought, “I must remember to come here again,” and she sipped the coffee sweetly.

She finished her first cup and took it to the counter for another. The waitress server her and asked in a comraderie sort of way:

“Nice then, was it?”

“Oh … yes, very much.”

“So,” the waitress smiled as she placed another cup in front of Marie on the counter, “your day off is it’?” Marie looked at her puzzled.

“Pardon?” Marie said quizzically. The waitress placed two sachets of sugar on the saucer and leant towards Marie.

“It’s alright luv,” she spoke with a familiar confidence, “Saturday’s my day off from the kids but I live here in ‘Freo’ so I go to Perth.” And she winked at Marie as she moved down the counter. “Oh, I’ll put that on your tab … and who knows, you may not have to pay it on your way out’” and the waitress smiled knowingly.

Marie was shocked, the familiar tone of the woman’s voice and the insinuation left her speechless, was she that obvious, she had always considered these sorties into ‘Freo’ as her own private excursions, she never would have thought that her behaviour was such a public spectacle. She turned to go to her table and then stopped, for two men had approached the other women at the table near hers.

“Hello Ladies.” The taller of the two spoke in a cheerful voice. “May we join you for a coffee?” The women smiled stealthily at each other, not giving anything away, then as if coming to an agreement without spoken word or sign, one of the women said:

“Well, we don’t know you but … well…they look harmless … don’t they Marcie?” and she smiled.

“We’ll take a chance,” the one called Marcie replied.

“I may look harmless but there’s a sting in my tail!” The man laughed as he sat down. It broke the ice.

“Your friend’s quiet, has the cat got his tongue?”

“Oh … he’s thinking,” the first man said quickly.

“What about? … no … don’t tell me, I know what all you men think about … don’t we Marcie?” and the group broke into thrills of laughter and a lively conversation ensued, punctuated by lowered voices and secret confidences then bursts of shrill laughter.

Sexual attraction is an irresistible song, like an intricate spiraling melody it encircles and entwines desires to mull, mould then meld the senses into sensuality till voice and eye become a hypnotic serenade to lure the soul to hungrily acquiesce to the body’s physical need.

Marie sat gazing into her cup, but this was terrible, she was thinking, the crass coarseness of their conversation was embarrassing … then she remembered that day with Ivan in another cafe … oh God! was she that vulgar too! Yes! … yes! she recalled their own conversations … noisy and touched with crudity … conversations of idle chatter, of subtle innuendo designed to lower the barriers of strangeness between two people, the probing into lifestyles, work, interest and leisures, all followed closely with eye contact to filter out the compatibilities of two distinct personalities. She had never thought twice about her behaviour, but today was different, the waitress’s wink had triggered off a feeling of disquiet in Marie, a feeling of commonness that she was party to, a conspiracy of seduction, a whole underclass of single parents desperate for company to hold off the loneliness of isolation from casual conversation with the opposite sex. Marie sat stunned at the table, not quite knowing what to do with this new found discovery, like a person witnessing a crime but not knowing whom to tell.

The tail end of a joke wafted over from the nearby group, the men laughed.

“Oh, that’s an old one,” Marcie moved her hand wearily. “And a dirty one, the other woman admonished playfully, the man raised his hands flat in surrender.

“You should have your mouth washed out,” the woman said chidingly.

“You’re right,” the man agreed, “and I know just the club to do it in … Anyone for a brandy and dry?”

“Make mine a ‘Harvey-Wallbanger’ and you’ve got a deal!” and the laughter resumed gaily as they all stood from the table.

“Excuse me.” Marie turned to see a man standing at her elbow. “Excuse me,” he repeated, “I noticed you sitting alone and I wondered if I may join you?”

Marie turned to gaze up at him. But it was no good, the magician’s trick was exposed and she couldn’t now fake it. She stood up from the table and gathered her things together.

“Are you leaving?” the man asked

“Y … yes,” Marie mumbled.


Marie turned to him, trembling slightly.

“I … I’m the mother of two children … ” she said weakly as if that in itself was an explanation … there was a moment’s silence between them.

“And I … I am the father of three,” he said softly.

Marie looked into the proud eyes then lowered her own, he was not to blame, there was no fault in either of them, just as there was also no common interest save their own circumstances.

“Excuse me,” Marie said quietly and the man stepped aside. But as she passed, he touched her arm.

“Then why did you come here?” he asked, for each of us recognises others of like personality and needs.

“I … I made a mistake,” was all she could say, then lowering her eyes turned away to pay her bill.

The waitress leant over closely as she tallied the account.

“He looks alright to me, luv,” she whispered secretly. Marie didn’t answer but quickly left the cafe.

The sound of bells echoed over the park as Marie sat sad faced on a bench under an elm tree, the sea breeze hissing soft admonitions through the leaves.

Love is an irresistible song, that searches the emptiness of the heart, weaving melodies of possibility within its chamber, and like an irresistible song; the more you shun it, hold it away, the more alluring it becomes and not even a cloak of bitterness will shut out its desiring warmth. The one that seems so wise can be the one most vulnerable to its passions.

“What are those bloody bells!” Marie cried in exasperation and she arose from her stupor in a determined stance to investigate. Clasping her handbag to her stomach she strode through the lawned park toward the sound of the bells. A cry of gulls permeated the air as if harking attention to the dropping sun and a sweet song of voices wafted above the chime of those “bells” … the washing of waves against the sea-wall slapped time to the dancing yachts in the marina.

The singing voices were a trio of Vietnamese women talking and laughing on the wharf of the marina and the gulls overhead argued in competition to their musical language of tone and song … and the clipping of the sail ropes ringing against the aluminium masts of the yachts swaying at their moorings in the harbour: “the bells.” Marie sighed, she had expected a more mysterious solution, not such idiotic simplicity!

“Dammit,” she hissed, “why must every avenue of retreat be just a deceitful blind alley?”

Life is an irresistible song. All its trickery!, all its joy, its fanfare, its deceit but a moment etched on us like breath on a mirror and who really has the time or wisdom to answer the whys and wherefores before that mist is evaporated forever?

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