This week

By Vita Forest

This week I have been

WRITING

READING

  • Her Father’s Daughter by Alice Pung
  • The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

WATCHING

  • The Good Fight
  • our apartment’s garden get transformed

ATTENDING my writers circle where we were

RELOCATING to a nearby food court when the library fire alarm went off and

RECITING poetry at a shared table with a stranger eating his dinner in our midst and

FINDING out later that the drama at the library was all due to a woman in a bathroom at a restaurant

DOUSING herself with an aerosol perfume…

RESTING and RECOVERING over the weekend with the flu or some such

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Things you can and can’t do

By Vita Forest

You can’t buy happiness

Says his t-shirt

But he’s trying… shopping bags cutting into the palms of his hands as he walks.

Can’t resist

A  bargain.

 

You can train a spider

Says my friend

If you break its web often enough, it learns to move on to another locale.

It learns to

Weave Elsewhere.

Cranking up the old Hill’s Hoist

By Vita Forest

The screech of machinery stops and out of the darkness of the shed, emerges the lanky bald man.  He blinks in the brightness of the afternoon sun and shifts the weight of the paint-splattered crate he carries.  It’s heavy in his arms.  Later he’ll use a trolley to shift it, but right now he can still manage carrying it this way.

He walks along the cracked uneven path to the clothes line at the bottom of the yard.  This garden is no thing of beauty.  Occasionally it bothers him and he thinks about putting in a few more plants.  Dolling the place up.  But so far it hasn’t happened.  It’s not his area of expertise after all.

Still, it’s big and useful for testing things out.

Like these boards.

He reaches the clothesline and squats down to place the crate amongst the little flares of grass that have somehow managed to grow up through the chinks in the concrete.  He stands up stretches his back, then cranks up the handle of the Hills Hoist, watching as the wires rise higher and higher.

It always reminds him of being a kid and swinging on the bars when his Mum wasn’t looking.  If he was caught, he’d get a wallop across the back of his legs.  But it was useful, this old relic in the yard.  An old metal thing, silver in colour, probably one of the originals, not one of the new-fangled bright green contraptions with their rubber coated wires.  But he did have to make sure that he kept away from the rusty spots when he was pegging up his clothes.

The handle whirrs then sticks and will move no further.  The kite-shaped frame is extended to its full height.  He reaches down into the crate and plunges his hands amongst the silky rectangles of wood.

Picking up a panel, he rubs a thumb over the grain of the wood, admiring the smoothed corners and enjoying the scent of the oils released from cutting and sanding the timber.  He taps a couple of pieces together. 

He’s still not sure about this.  Nothing for it but to give it a try. 

On the four sides of the clothes line, he has hung a line of metal hooks about five centimetres apart.  He stands with a handful of his shards of wood and threads them through the hooks. 

He waits and watches. 

They don’t swivel.

He goes back to the shed and returns with a ball of rough brown string and his scissors.  Sitting on the ground, he cuts lengths of the twine and threads a loop through the hole at the top of each wooden rectangle.  The dog potters over and nuzzles against his shoulder.  He rubs her head then returns to his work.

Soon there are a piles of paddles ready to go.  He stands and hangs them over the hooks as if he’s decorating a Christmas tree.  This time they swing.  He fills the wires with the pieces of wood, adjusts the distance between them and stands back to wait.

The wind arrives and he holds his breath.  It flickers along the edge of the wood and suddenly the air is filled with the chiming peals of the rods striking against each other.

Putting his hands on his hips, he grins as he watches the whole thing dinging and donging away.

He pulls out his phone from his back pocket, finds the number and hits the Call button.

‘Do you hear that?’ he says into it.  ‘I think it’s going to work!’

Power play

By Vita Forest

While climbing up the steps to the house, her house, for the moment anyway, she hears unfamiliar voices.  Children.  Adults.

Unknown.  Strange.  Alien.

She hesitates.  Stands on the threshold.  Looks into the lighted box of the hallway.

Have I missed something?  Have months skipped by?  Years?  Does a new family live here now, a new family with the same picture of Bronte Beach on the wall and the same bed visible in my son’s room?

The front door opens with her key.  She enters.  Stands in the hallway, listening.  There amongst the chaos is his voice.  She checks her phone.  No messages.  Stands in the hallway, wondering.

A woman creeps up the stairs unsteadily, her hand gliding over the banister, her wedding ring rasping on the metal tubing.

A strange woman in her home.

The woman looks up, “Oh hello.  I’m after the bathroom, is it this way?”

She nods and the stranger shuffles along the corridor, hands skimming the wall, feet uncertain on the floor.  The bathroom door closes.

Voices.

Climbing down the stairs and turning the corner into the light.

Her children waving from their bowls of ice-cream.

Him.

Another family, an extended family, three generations, one, two, three.  She recognises the couple from years ago; they recognise her.  They smile while she clutches for their names.

Neil and Ursula.

And she thinks – he always puts the male first, in these pairings, these couples who came into their lives.  The male always came first, the female an attachment, an afterthought. 

And she thinks – why did he not tell me they were coming?

Neil and Ursula.  They belonged to him.  Would belong to him.  When they knew.

They stand and come to embrace her, arms closing about her stiff body.  Ursula starts the introductions.

Their children, her father, the creeping woman upstairs; her mother

Nodding, her eyes flick over to him.  His eyes flit away and he stands.

“Have some ice-cream.”

His chair scraping back on the floor and he disappears into the kitchen.

Sydney traffic.  Taronga Zoo.  Manly Beach.  Two weeks.  Returning west tomorrow morning.  Sydney buses.

Neil stares and she stares back.

She thinks, Neil knows, Ursula doesn’t.

Sydney weather.  The heat.  The humidity.  And how do those new buses work anyway?

A bowl of ice cream placed in front of her.  Staring at the glistening, white domes as her hands clench and unclench under the table.

She could throw it at him, she could stand up and walk downstairs and out of the house and into the night.

She could announce their news to this happy family.  Their son is playing cricket; we are separating.  Their daughter is learning the violin; she is looking for a new place to live.

It could be that easy.

She smiles and picks up the spoon.

 

Mobile Tales 10: in which Christabel is charmed by a singing stone

By  Vita Forest

Like the reliable sailor she was, Christabel kept a close watch on all the goings-on in her part of the ocean from her post on the Good Ship Possession anchored in the ceiling.

On this particular day, she peered through her spy glass over the starboard side of the galleon and trained the instrument down into the ocean.  She was following the progress of a large grey stone travelling from a continental shelf in The Lounge Room to its new resting place on the murky floor of The Tabletop.  The stone was about the size of a block of parmesan cheese with rounded edges and a growth of silver barnacles on its upper side.  It sat solidly on the ocean floor, sending ripples over the surface of The Tabletop.


She was not the only one whose interest had been piqued by this stone.  The great white whale had followed the procession of the stone and had leapt up onto the The Tabletop to inspect the new arrival.  The stone was sniffed and nuzzled and found to be quite satisfactory.  It lay there, sturdily on the ocean floor, settling into the sand.


The light was shining in from the northern windows and sending drifting shafts down to the deep part of the ocean.  It was afternoon.  The whale lost interest in the stone and leap from The Tabletop again to gaze out the window at the World Beyond and enjoy the warmth of the sun’s caress on her soft white skin.  Christabel did the same – lost interest in the stone that is, there was no point looking at a stone when one could look at a whale.


But suddenly, the attention of both Christabel and the whale was drawn back to the stone by a most surprising occurrence.  The stone starting singing.  Christabel stood for a moment in amazement, listening to the notes of a – what was it?  surely a piano? which drifted up, spiralling on the eddies of the water until it seemed to wash over the bow of the Good Ship Possession itself.  Christabel not only heard it but felt it too.

It was quite extraordinary.

She closed the spy glass and it put it back in its holder and held onto the wooden side of the ship with both paws.

Yes!  It was true – she could feel the singing.  Christabel closed her eyes and felt the reverberations travel into her paws, up her legs, all the way to her scalp.  How the fur stood up on the back of her neck!  How the notes danced off the end of her tail!  She stood for a few moments, listening and feeling.  Feeling and listening.  The deep resonance of the low notes.  The sharp percussive spike of a high one.  She was being washed over in sound.

Eventually, when her whole body had been loosened and calmed with all the cricks and the aches and the pains erased, Christabel opened her eyes again and took a deep breath.  The piano music continued to sing up from the stone, filling the water, filling the air, filling the galleon.  In her peaceful state, she took out her spyglass once more and trained it down onto the stone.  The white whale was entwined about it, its eyes closed in a state of bliss as the waves of sound fell over its spine.


How marvellous, thought Christabel.  How mysterious.

And she closed up her spyglass and lay down on the deck of the galleon and listened and felt the music soar up through the water, through the creaking wooden boards of the galleon and into her very bones.

 

Cold Call

By Vita Forest


“Hello?”

As Prue pauses and listens, the phone pressing to her ear, she smells the earthy scent of soil.

She should have worn gloves.

Who is it?  One of those cold calls?  One of those people from a call centre far away across the globe, sending out calls, fishing for callers, waiting until someone finally bit?

“Hello?  I’m going to hang up.”

She starts to move the phone away from her ear, then hears a tremulous, “Wait!”

She sighs and raises the phone again.

She is impatient to be out in the garden again.  She wants to get back to her work.  She wants to finish spreading the mulch around the camellias, smothering the weeds, suppressing the unwelcome growth.  Suffocating it.  Burying it.  Showing it who was boss.

“Yes?  Who is this?”

“Is that Prue?  Prue Glass?”

It’s a male voice, unfamiliar.  Uncertain.

“Yes it’s Prue Glass?  Who is this?”

“Chris.”  Another pause.  “Chris Leong.  Caitlin’s husband.”

Now it’s Prue’s turn to pause.

“Oh.”

She feels the blood rush to her face and her pulses start to pound, senses that all she has held inside is about to erupt.

“Can we… can we meet?  I think we have things to talk about.”

Prue hears the front door opening.  Luke returning from school.  A normal day.  Just like any other day.

This couldn’t be happening.

“Chris…”  What could he possibly say?  What could they possibly talk about?

She knows very well what he will say.  She knows very well what he will want to talk about.

“It’s really…”

None of your business!  Not necessary!  What could he hope to achieve from talking about it?

Luke walks into the kitchen, earphones in his ears, in another world, nods at her vaguely before dumping his bag down and opening the fridge.

Prue clears her throat.

Struggles to breathe.

“It’s not a good time.  My son…  My son has just arrived home.”

“Ok.  But we need to talk.  I think you know what this is about.”

I think you know what this is about. 

The blood burning her face.  Her skin on fire.  Knowing Luke’s eyes are on her, curious.  She turns to the window.

“Please call back another time.  It’s not convenient now.”

She hangs up.  Takes a breath.  Presses a hand into her belly.

Pressing.  Squeezing.

Tries to fling off the feeling of dread, of the floodgates opening, of her life coming crashing down.

She places a smile on her lips, turns to face Luke.

He is still standing at the fridge, one earpiece out of his ear now.  She hears the tinny beat pulsating from it, pounding out into the air.  The bright white light from the fridge sends a garish streak across his face.  The fridge breaks into a hum.

“Who was that?”

Prue blinks.

“No one.  Just one of those… silly call centres trying to get us to change who we get our electricity from.”

She presses the hair away from her temples, rakes it back again and again, goes to the sink and splashes her burning face with water.  Dousing it.  She imagines she hears a sizzle as the cold water meets the heat of her skin.  Feels steam rising.  She squeezes her hands against her cheeks, looks out the window, looks out to the pile of mulch on the lawn.

No matter how hard she tries, no matter how much she shovels and shovels and buries and piles it up, the weeds will still find their way out, still slither up into the sunlight.  She feels her breath catch in her throat.

Has it all been for nothing after all?

“Mum?”

Luke is still there, standing at the fridge.  Still staring at her.  The light shining on his face, the hum turning into a gurgle, the rows of jars gleaming in the coolness behind him. Olives, Strawberry jam, Tomato paste.

“Why is the fridge still open?  You’ll let all the cold out.”

Prue stumbles back outside, back into the air.  She rushes down the steps, past the place on the verandah where she had seen Martin and Caitlin.  Caitlin and Martin.  In the darkness that night.  She had wondered if it was real.

It was real.

It was all coming home to roost.

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.