Mobile Tales 9: in which Christabel learns a disturbing fact about whales

By Vita Forest

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The whales!  Those alluring, majestic glamourous creatures which Christabel La Mouse spent far too much time watching and admiring from the deck of her galleon…  It was all very well to be high above them safe in the good ship Possession as it sailed on the ceiling, but Christabel had just read something very disturbing.

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Whales slumbering amongst the coral

Her whales spent much of their time slumbering amongst the brightly-coloured corals of the Booth Seat.  Or curled lazily atop a rocky outcrop called The Couch.  Or occasionally sitting on The Tabletop and blinking peaceably as they quietly meditated.

What all these places had in common were that they were below the surface of the sea.  Deep down in the water.  So far down that they required her to use her spy glass to see more than a black or white smudge in the depths of the ocean.  Which could otherwise have been mistaken for a boulder, or the shadow of a cloud, or an underwater cave.

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A boulder?

But her book, this book she had chosen to read in order to learn more about these magnificent creatures, insisted that they were not fish at all.  That they did, in fact, breathe air as she did.  That they needed to come to the surface of the sea to take great gulps of it and to expel stale air out of their bodies in a violent, shooting spout through a hole located along their backs!

It was a lot for a small mouse to take in.

Imagine such a sight!  Imagine the whales at the surface of the sea, where the good ship Possession floated…  It made Christabel fairly quake in her boots just to think about it.  Was it really possible?  Could the authors be mistaken?

Her whales never rose to the upper edge of the sea where it met the air.  And for this, Christabel was grateful.  They instilled equal parts fascination and terror in her small mouse heart.  What would she do if they came close enough to touch?  Was it really possible they were known to capsize ships?  It was a disturbing thought.

Christabel peered through her spyglass and trained it onto the top of their sleek sinuous bodies.  Perhaps it was beyond the limit of her spyglass, perhaps it was her own weak eyes, but she could not make out a breathing hole along their spines.

This pair seemed to be a special case.  Were they yet unknown to the scientists who spoke so authoritatively about spouts and breaching and plankton?  She would need to read further.  (And be alert for any mysterious jolts to the hull of the galleon.)  Possibly (she hoped) these whales were different.

The world was indeed a mysterious place.  And perhaps it was a good thing that there were still things to learn.

Especially about the sea.

Especially about whales.

 

This week

By Vita Forest

From Castle Cove towards Middle Cove

This week I have been

WRITING Everyday more geckos

READING The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (just delightful!)

GETTING to school early for our performance group’s big audition (you may be interested to know that we had Ivan of Will you take the risk?  fame read half the introduction (the other girl reader was back too) – so they both got their moment of “Fame and Glory” and both did a fabulous job!)

FINDING out later in the week that we were successful and will be performing at the Sydney Opera House later in the year!

The Succulent Garden with the Sydney skyline behind

SKETCHING in the sunshine in the Succulent Garden in the Royal Botanical Gardens

The Succulent Garden, Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney

WALKING in the bush of Castle Cove with Saskia and Rowdy as we continue our exploration of this beautiful part of Sydney

A fallen bird’s nest amongst the ferns, Castle Cove

Mobile Tales 8: in which Christabel becomes aware of an unusual weather system

By Vita Forest

One fine, balmy morning (was there really any other kind?) Christabel La Mouse peered out from The Good Ship Possession, through the far distant headlands of The Doorway and into The Kitchen.  There was strange metallic box therein to which she was often alerted by the rumbling and humming it made.  She believed it was called The Refrigerator.

The Refrigerator was a cheerful thing that kept up a steady stream of conversation.  Unfortunately, the language was quite unknown to Christabel, so she had to make do with sending a cheery wave its way and the occasional call of “Yoo Hoo!”  It was unclear whether The Refrigerator was aware of such communications, but it seemed happy enough as it gurgled and hummed and droned and whirred.

And happy it should be, for it seemed to be the home of much of the food in The Kitchen, and in particular, The Cheese.  Many was the time that Christabel would be distracted from her lookout post by the flash of light that signalled the opening of The Refrigerator and the accompanying waft of cheddar or parmesan.

But on this particular fine and balmy morning, Christabel was aware of a cloud of white that was buzzing over the pewter grey surface of The Refrigerator.  It shimmered as if alive.  Whatever could it be?


Her curiosity was piqued, necessitating this myopic mouse to withdraw her spyglass from its case and place it up to her right eye.  She twisted its segmented body this way and that, until the shimmering cloud sharpened into focus and to her astonishment turned into a cloud of words!  A cloud of words!  Whoever had heard of such a thing!  (It was true that her own vessel was formed from the pages of a novel but a cloud of words?  Was there really weather systems created by language?  Storms of similes?  Gentle patterings of adjectives?  A sudden flash of metaphor??)

As she watched, one of The Humans stood in front of The Refrigerator and peeled small rectangles from inside the cloud and arranged them in lines floating above it.

Was it a message?  She waited patiently until a number of words were thus arranged (and also for the large head to move out of the way so she could see).

What did it say?  Christabel swung the spyglass from right to left and read:

shadow ship soar over a smooth lazy lake

How lovely!  Then

watch above though

stop the spray heave & rip & blow

Wise advice indeed.  Then

live sweet summer honey music

It only needed an exclamation mark…

And there it ended.


Christabel felt like clapping, The Refrigerator gurgled and from the depths of The Kitchen, the kettle boiled.

How wonderful it was to discover new delights to monitor from her ship on the ceiling!   The world was certainly full of wonder.

This week

By Vita Forest

Banksias in the winter sunshine


This week I have been

READING The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

WRITING

  • School days
  • Programs for next term – big plans, big plans…

WATCHING The Honorable Woman (wow!)

RUGGING UP against some chilly winter weather

RECORDING results for the long jump at our school’s Athletics carnival

PAINTING our dancers’ faces for our dress rehearsal

EATING OUT

  • with the rest of the staff at an end of term dinner and
  • at a friend’s for book club

WALKING and TALKING with Saskia

LOOKING forward to the school holidays.

 

This week

By Vita Forest

While I waited… outside The Australian Museum


This week I have been

READING

  • The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser Rowland
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

LAUGHING when some Year 4 boys went and knelt in the mud on the way to Assembly because they know how I like to sit in Assembly and admire their muddy knees…

MEETING up with some very old friends from my childhood and my sisters for a dinner at Briony’s.

FAREWELLING my children as they headed off overseas with their Dad.

WRITING Because I am early  about being early to

SKETCHING at The Australian Museum and

FOCUSING on Papua New Guinean masks


PRETENDING I was at a retreat and doing yoga twice in one day…

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Queensland Bottle Tree, Royal Botanical Gardens Sydney


This week I have been

READING 

  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (finished at last).
  • The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry (highly recommended by Sui-Sui, I have just started).
  • The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Annie Raser-Rolland and Adam Grubb (now I know what to call myself!)

SKETCHING a Queensland Bottle tree at the Royal Botanical Gardens.

Succulents at the Royal Botanical Gardens


VISITING The Powerhouse Museum with my class (great fun!! My little group just loved revisiting their early childhood in The Wiggles exhibition). 

MAKING an astronaut/aviatrix costume (my sewing machine and table are covered in silver glitter – looks like Tinkerbell has been for a visit).


EATING Belgian Chocolate gelato in Chatswood with my kids – sensational!

WALKING with my kids on a gelato expedition and later in the brisk winter air with Vastra and Saskia.

FINDING that our dance performance group is “all coming together”.

DIRECTING a little play with my class and watching them shine!

Lizzie and the bath

By Vita Forest


She sits on the edge of the bathtub and trails her fingers in the water.  The water is hot, but she knows it will not stay that way for long.  Still, she finds she feels slightly touched that he has tried to make it comfortable for her.  A lesser man would not have bothered.  She knows plenty of that kind.  She hopes he will work fast however, it is not the weather for spending long in the water.  He has moved the tub in front of the fire but she does not have great faith in that gesture either, although it too, was kindly meant. 

She decides to sit there waiting until he is completely ready.  How they fuss these fellows!  She looks down at the dress he has procured for her and runs her hands over the silver embroidery.  It is finely done.  She squints down at the stitches, noting the skill in the design.  She wonders who he borrowed it from.

He clears his throat.  She looks up a trifle scornfully.  She will make him speak, she decides.  She will not splash eagerly into the water like a playful puppy.  This is not an ordinary request he has made.

He has already described the scene to her; the dark water, the rushes, the ferns and flowers, the muted, cold light.  And the body of Ophelia reclining in the current, dead and beautiful.  Luminous and mad.  Yielding to the river.  Her fingers curled over a garland of wild flowers, the current gently loosening them as she floats downstream.  The flowers drifting over her skirt.  Lips parted, palms turned upward in surrender.

Lizzie had sniffed loudly as he demonstrated the pose (standing up, mind you).  He was quite caught up in it all, she must say.  He reminded her of those pictures of Mary or the saints.  Their palms exposed, a look of ecstatic agony on their faces.  Like they were enjoying the pain, finding comfort in the life draining through the holes in their hands.  She could understand that look.  She thought of Dante and sighed.

He clears his throat again and gestures to the bath.

‘Would you mind?’

She swings her legs over the bath and sits down in the water.  She grimaces as the water penetrates through the folds of the brocade, to her skin.  This was not going to be pleasant.

‘Now if you move down the bath a little, so your hair will float.’

He gestures again.  She stares up at him balefully.  He had it all worked out didn’t he?  She sighs and lowers herself down.  The water rises and she tips her head back, shaking her hair onto its surface and then pushing her head down through its web.  The water fills her ears until she is lying alone in a silent void. 

She looks up and sees him doing that saint imitation again.  She raises her hands out of the water curling her fingers against each other.  She looks down the length of the bath and settles her gaze on the top of the window behind him.  She glances quickly at him.  He nods at her.  She looks back at the window and tilts the top of her head under the water.  She can feel her hair drifting around her and then settling.

She can feel him looking at her.  She stares fiercely at the window.  She thinks about drawing.  Dante has been trying to teach her.  He stands behind her and points out small details that he feels she should include in her sketches; the shadows in the depths of a rose’s petals, the pearl of light in the eye of the stuffed pigeon he brought out one time.  She can see what he means.  It is as if she has been given a magnifying glass.  There is more to things when you actually look hard at them and forget about what they actually are.  She raised her pencil to the paper, fully aware of his solid presence peering over her shoulder.  She felt them both hold their breath. 

Forget about the word – forget Rose, forget Bird. 

Only look!

Just record what you see…

And yet…

If this was so, why is it Dante doesn’t see the shadows under her eyes, hear the fury in her voice when he talks of doing another painting of Fanny?

Her hands are sinking beneath the water.  She adjusts her elbows and lowers them down onto the bottom of the bath.  It is entirely uncomfortable.  She will have to get something to make it more comfortable.  She sits up hurriedly and the sound of water rushing back into the bath is as violent as an avalanche. 

John frowns at her.

‘I need something for more head,’ she says.  ‘To hold it up.’

‘I want your hair to float around your head,’ he mutters as he rubs his chin.

She waits in the bath, not looking at him, looking around at the room.  She needs to be made more comfortable.  This is not an unreasonable request.  He leaves the room and comes back with a blanket which he folds up into a parcel and then passes to her.  She adjusts it, then lays it down in the bath.  It should work.  She lifts up her hair and lies back down again, resting the back of her head on the wad of fabric.  Now she can relax her neck.  She nods up at him.  He stares at him a moment then hurries off.  What is it now?

He had forgotten the flowers.

She looks up and sees him standing above her clutching a hearty bunch of wild flowers, full of colour.  He stands solemnly over her and one by one, tosses the flowers about her face and along her body. 

Blue cornflower.  Red poppy. 

She feels a chill run through her body; it is as if she is looking up at a mourner at her own grave.  She remembers her mother’s burial, the gash dug out of the earth, the open grave, peering down into the darkness as she dropped the small posy of violets among the clods of dirt. 

John opens the palm of her right hand and closes it again over the few remaining stalks.  He walks away again.  She settles back.

She imagines wading into a river in this dress.  The ripples swigging at her fingers, the iciness of the water making it tempting to go no deeper.  And this dress – the fabric so heavy and long, she would have to fight it too.  Hauling her feet, one by one, into the cold, over the smooth stones, through the current, until suddenly it would be deep and strong enough to lift her and she would be part of the river.  She cannot quite think how death would occur, not knowing how to swim.  Would she float for a time before drowning?  Or perhaps this dress was so heavy there would be no floating.  Perhaps she would end as a pile of brocade and swirling hair among the stones of the riverbed.  She will have to ask John how it would happen. 

She glances at him.  Not now.  She knows that look.  She has ceased to exist.  He is busy with Ophelia.  His eyes move back and forth between her body and the easel but his mind does not register what he is doing.  He is under a spell.  He is possessed.  His brush is guided over the palette.  His eyes squint and frown. 

Lizzie looks away.