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.

 

Everyday more geckos

By Vita Forest

For the last two weeks

A strange phenomena

A gang of geckos in my classroom.

They march up the walls

Keeping watch over the rubbish bin.

They peer at the whiteboard

Their sticky toes hugging the frame.

Some particularly curious ones watch me work at my computer

They must tell their friends –

Everyday more geckos.

And on the back wall by a Boy table and under the Indigenous language map

An army has appeared

Everyday more geckos

One clings to the clock and listens to its tock

They crawl up the windows

Every size, every colour, every pattern

When will it end?

Everyday more geckos.

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

WRITING Crow

READING my old novel in preparation to rework it.

LISTENING to an inspiring interview with Tim Smit on Radio National (he instigated The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the Eden Project in Cornwall).

VISITING

  • with my old high school gang for a lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with Saskia and friends for another lovely meal and great conversation.
  • with family – to see my cousin up from Victoria.
  • a local national park with an Indigenous guide.

DANCING in the school hall for a very fun Zumba class.

MAKING 3D whimsical flowers with my class (potted up in strange receptacles in the style of Shaun Tan’s Eric).

STARTING our senior dance group’s rehearsals.

PREPARING for Parent/Teacher interviews next week…

 

Skubiszewski on the wireless 

By Vita Forest


Car coasting, gliding, sliding

down the slick road

for the millionth time

when the chiming through the speakers

alerts me to this moment

– Here.

Skubiszewski

(apparently)

Pulls me back to my body

To my seat

To the reverberating space between my ears

Clear as two hands

Firm on my shoulders

Listen

It says,

And I thumb up the volume

Be here 

in this jaunty, curious place

And I look past the rainspeckled glass

As the car descends

And we are floating,

Drifting with the fog that is

Rising in sheets, in veils

Come up from the river

Ssshhh

The trees are grey lace layers

Looming and swaying apart

And we are swimming through a cloud in a car.

Mobile Tales 6: A rainbow of reading

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel solves a puzzle and resolves to rearrange her bookshelf.

Peering through her spyglass one day, Christabel watched the undertakings in The Lounge Room with great interest. The smallest human was seated on the ocean floor in front of The Book Shelf and was sorting those precious rectangular receptacles of Knowledge and Stories into piles.  Christabel could not quite understand the categorisation.  Whereas her own small library (residing on two precious shelves in her cabin) was arranged by subject and author, the Human seemed bent on an entirely new system.  The treasured volumes by Melina Marchetta were split asunder and placed in four different piles, however the Neopolitan novels of Elena Ferrante remained side by side.  What was the logic?  The largest human swam about too, picking up and volume here and a volume there and examining the books with a critical eye.

It was the spine of the book, not the covers the humans were taking particularly note of.  Why was that?  The author and title could be gleaned just as easily from the front cover (and generally more easily too, being in larger print).  Christabel watched as the human picked up Eleanor and Park, and uncoupling it from Carry On, moved it to the first pile of books.

Then all at once the puzzle was unlocked.  These books were Daffodil, Sunshine, Egg Yolk and Fresh Butter. Carry On was placed with Turquoise, Deep Ocean, Midnight Sky and Glacier.  The new classifier was colour!


In the distance began The Yellows (rather small but imbuing that far-away corner with a cheery glow). Then the books progressed through The Oranges and into the drama of The Reds.  From there, it was a flicker into The Blues and then a lazy dappled wave over into The Greens.  This was Christabel’s favourite section.  She even held out her own green-gloved paws against the books to see where they would slot (third from the right Fangirl).


The Greens moved from a verdant jade through to an almost golden khaki, then onto The Browns proper.  A swift muddling of Greys and then into the solidity of The Blacks (where all Elena Ferrante’s tomes firmly sat).  Some books were most difficult to decide a place for.  The J.K. Rowlings in the collection were from that early multi-coloured era where each spine was made up of four lozenges of colour.  Which one to choose?  Christabel did not envy The Human those decisions.


When it was all done, she ran her eyeglass quickly along the finished shelves and delighted in the rainbow of colours.  Who cared if the books were not arranged by author?  Or by height?  What delight to make the books themselves a work of art, a pleasing object to look at!

And the smallest Human had made finding a treasured volume somewhat easier by writing out lists of books on colour coded paper to remind the reader that The Handmaid’s Tale had, in fact, a red spine and The Tao of Pooh, a blue.


Christabel snapped her spyglass back into itself and slotted it back into its holder.  She stared down myopically at the ocean floor for a moment, deep in thought.  All at once, she banged her palms lightly on the edge of the ship.  It was decided – she would emulate the Human creature – she would make a rainbow in her own cabin!

And with that decision made, she rushed downstairs to do just that.

Distracted

By Vita Forest

 

Did he have water?  Had he put sunscreen on?  Was he at least taking a little bit of food?  I was distracted by Max getting ready, Max who had forgotten to take a water bottle on the previous scorching day, that stinker, that heatwave, and had managed by slurping from various taps and bubblers but had come home parched, lips cracked, cheeks red.

I had been distracted by Max, checking his phone, throwing back a glass of milk, checking his phone, cleaning his teeth, checking his phone.  We were leaving early to drop him at the other train station where he was to meet his friends before I went up north for some Zumba with my favourite Latino instructor, the one I scour the timetable for, who I travel for, who brings a smile to my face with his high-energy antics.  But I was distracted by Max, so I slid my feet into my slip-on shoes, the wrong shoes, the unsuitable shoes, but I was distracted.  We got into the car, Max – cap jammed on his head, skateboard jammed by his legs, idly spinning its wheels with his right pointer.

“They’re already there,” he updated me, checking his phone.

These school holidays Max has become a true teenager, preferring his friends to his family, taking his opal card and flying all about the city on trains, buses and boards, following rumours of skate-parks, cheap food and branded shoes.

“Do you remember when I hated teenagers?” he asked as we waited to pass the local roadworks.

I saw him again, hunched in the corner of a bus seat on a ride from Lucca to Barga in Italy, glaring when the aisles suddenly filled with loud local teens, shouting, laughing, full of joy and private jokes, delirious that school had ended for the day, unconcerned with the ears of other passengers like Max, who found them obnoxious and unbelievable.  Their mindless chatter, their supreme confidence, their lack of consideration.

“I hate teenagers,” he had announced, all of eight years old.

“Huh!  Now we are probably like that…” and I could imagine Max’s gang up the back of the bus, shouting over each other, one-upping each other, skateboards flipped up beside their too-large bodies.

I was distracted by watching Max as if through a stranger’s eyes, jumping out of the car at the kerb and sloping up to the traffic lights, waiting for green, then running, running off to meet his friends so they could make the next bus to the beach.  I was remembering how at Pilates the day before, I was chatting to an old acquaintance, catching up on news, when I became aware of a woman standing beside her waiting.  And then was introduced to her daughter, Max’s age, who I remembered as a curly-headed pre-schooler, all grown-up now (or looking that way).

As I lost sight of Max, I turned on the radio and became distracted by the story of a man in Noosa telling an appreciative crowd about his three angels – his adoptive mother, his adoptive grandmother and his birth mother.  How they watched over him when he couldn’t cope and how they led him to meet an unknown brother who was there in the crowd today!  (I blinked away tears – items on Radio National always get me in the guts).

Then I was distracted by Ted Hughes reading his poems at the Adelaide Festival years ago.  The Thought Fox, which we had done at school and Song for a Phallus, which he almost sang, and struck by the violence and brutality and passion of Lovesong.  I was distracted by learning that after the break, he had actually met up with Sylvia to discuss her Ariel poems – they were not new to him at her death.  I was distracted by remembering reading Ariel for the first time in the cool quiet of the library of UNSW, my lecturer warning that “it will be an experience”.  She was right.

And so I sat in the car, listening and thinking, then distractedly turned off the engine when it was time and walked into the gym thinking of Sylvia, Ted, Max, that pre-schooler now woman.  Then I looked down at my feet and gasped – the wrong shoes!  No Zumba today.

 

 

Mobile Tales Despatch 5 – Christabel and the Huntsman

By Vita Forest

In which our heroine has an encounter with a being from another land.

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Sometimes strange, unidentifable beings appeared in the night sky.

On one such occasion, Christabel was alerted to the presence of the creature by the sudden agitation and interest of the whales.  They were both looking up from the ocean floor, their eyes wide and ravenous, as if, by willpower alone, they would erupt from the water and leap into the very sky itself.  They were swimming back and forth, their bodies rippling through the water, their eyes never leaving their prey in the sky.

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(At first Christabel was quite overcome – were they looking at her?  Were they formulating a plan to seduce her down below the waves and in between their jaws?)  She blinked to disrupt the green dazzle of their stare and then noticed that the force of their eyes was not fixed on her, but on something beyond.  She swung the eyeglass through a half revolution and pointed it up to the sky rather than down to the ocean.

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And there it was, the four green eyes of the whales replaced by the eight black gleaming eyes of an alien in the sky.  Christabel quivered with fright and almost dropped the eyeglass.

“Do not be afraid,” came a high silvery voice most befitting a creature from the celestial realm, “I mean you no harm.”

The voice was comforting in a strange sort of way and Christabel placed a green-gloved paw to her chest to slow the clattering drum of her heart.

“What manner of creature are you?” she whispered back, pulling the eyeglass away from her face and taking in the new heavenly body in its entirety.

It was dark against the sky, a star emitting delicate rays from its centre.  Only this star seemed to be made of darkness not light.  If Christabel squinted, she could see that the rays flickered and danced because they were, in fact, legs.

Christabel rummaged through her memories of rainy day reading, flicking through the heavy pages inside her head until she alighted on an image.

“Are you in fact… a crab?”

She knew crabs had many legs as this creature did and the same disc-like body.  But were crabs creatures of the air or of the element of water?

“Oh no!” came the reply, “I am a spider.  I took a wrong turn I fear, sliding through a crack towards the light and now I find myself here, hunted by those beasts below.”

At this, the rays of its legs shivered slightly, as if every one of its eyes were meeting every one of the whales’ below.  Christabel shivered herself.

“They cannot swim to the surface,” she called, “You are safe if you stay in the sky.”

“I see a ledge over yonder,” said the spider swiveling to starboard, “Is it a safe haven?”

Christabel turned to see what the spider was referring to.

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“Oh no!” she exclaimed in realization, “For that is the moon.  It is cold and benign now but at any moment it can explode into a light so bright it could burn and consume you whole!  You cannot shelter there.”

“Where do you suggest I go?”

Christabel thought.  What the spider needed was another crack.  Not a crack in but a crack out.

“The Wall, ” she called, “There!” and she pointed beyond the icy moon to the place where The Ceiling met The Wall, where a rectangle peppered with clouds sat nestled in a hollow surrounded by cracks.  “Could you squeeze through there?”

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The spider contemplated the option for a moment, blinking all eight eyes.

“I believe so,” it answered, its voice tremulous with hope.  “I think I have the strength to make it.  Goodbye and thank you fair sailor”

“Farewell!” answered Christabel, “Safe journeying!”

And she waved her lacy handkerchief as the spider, slowly and precisely, inched its way across the heavens on its velvet tiptoes, a slow comet carefully arcing across the sky toward a new universe.