This week

By Vita Forest
This week I have been

From Harold Reid Reserve, Middle Cove – right in the middle of Sydney!


WRITING 

READING Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith

WATCHING the Dance Academy movie with Lucy 

VISITING the Harold Reid Lookout in Middle Cove with Lucy for a picnic and a bush walk and

Looking across to Castlecrag


EATING a baguette, cheese, dips and veggies 

ENJOYING some warm spring weather

On top of the ridge at Harold Reid Reserve


BEING surprised by a homemade cake from some of my students baked on a play date 

PLANNING out my week and 

DOING my chores through the weeknights so I had a lovely chore-free weekend 

HOPING to keep up this new habit in the future 

Spring wildflowers seen on our bushwalk

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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.

This week

By Vita Forest

Auburn Botanical Gardens


This week I have been

WRITING  

READING The Piper’s Son by Melinda Marchetta (I just love this book)

EATING Gyoza dumplings when

VISITING Auburn Botanical Gardens for Hanami and some


SKETCHING of the cherry blossoms and other lovely things 

CELEBRATING Betty’s upcoming nuptials with a Girls Night In complete with drag queen 

LEARNING how to use a hammer drill (sorry neighbours)

PRACTISING our class play to be performed next week

FIXING props damaged in said practice 

Selfies with cherry blossoms

Eye Contact

By Vita Forest


Sean trundles along with the herd, following the signs to the Sistine Chapel.  He has lost the others.  He glanced away for a moment and when he turned back, they were gone.  They must have been pitched away from him on the tide of tourists they are travelling in.  Too late to even throw him a life line.  He supposes they will meet again at the exit, when they are all spat out some squalid hole in the wall like the rest of the waste products.  Why didn’t they make a plan?  They should always make a plan.  There are so many people here.  He feels giddy.  If he really needs to stop, he will have to fight his way to the side, cling onto some statue and get out of the pull of the current. 

Every surface seems to be busy.  The clashing colours of the clothes of the tourists pressing onwards, the paintings smothering the walls.  The noise too!  It ricochets off every surface.  He is being pelted with syllables from all sides.  He can’t understand most of it.  He would just like to rest.  They swing out of a gallery and into another corridor, but even in this between-space there is no relief.  The walls of the corridor are decorated too.  Can’t even rest his eyes before the next room!  There are fat babies balancing on towers made of fruit and veg – not how Phoebe would describe it, but it about sums it up for him.  Pattern crawling over everything like a disturbed ant nest.

The floors in these places were so hard.  He should have worn his hiking boots.  Tomorrow he will wear them.  He can feel each step jolting all the way up his spine.  Hiking boots…  Not for walking over peaceful, green fields, but to cushion the blow his heels make when they slam down on hard, city surfaces.  Both inside and out.  If it wasn’t marble floors, it was cobblestones.  What were they thinking?  All very impressive, as long as you didn’t have to walk on it.

Green fields…  He liked what they did in Austria.  Climbing up from the lake, walking through the arch of the trees, balancing on boulders to cross the streams, the smell of crushed pine needles prickling their nostrils.  There was still snow on the peaks of the mountains and the water stung their feet with its iciness.  He and Phoebe had paddled barefoot into the stream, shrieking.  Later, they sat looking down over the valley.  He cut thin slivers of apple, passing them over to Phoebe as she leaned back against a tree.

That had been a good day.

He sighs and treads water in the bottleneck at the narrow doorway at the end of the corridor.  If he loses his footing he will probably drown.  He glances out the window and sees the Papal gardens.  He would prefer to be out there in that soft greenness.  He could snooze under a tree and wait for Phoebe.  They should have arranged a time to meet.  They could be waiting all day now.  The others wouldn’t mind arranging a time, setting a limit.  He knows their interest in museums is minimal.  The Vatican is just one of those things you have to see.  When in Rome… ha ha.  He wonders if they were as bored by his suggestion of bush walking? (or hiking or whatever it was called over here.)  Possibly.  They are all being so polite.  It wouldn’t last.  This gentility.  They should set times to meet up.  If they had done this earlier, say in Austria, he could have climbed just that little bit higher and seen what was making that sound they were hearing.  Bells?  Was it goats?  Bells hanging from their necks as they strolled through the long, wet grass? 

He’ll never know.

He supposes he could just get out of here, have a quick coffee and sit on the steps in the sun to wait.  Close his eyes.  Shake his ankles out.  They would all have to come out the same exit surely?

The crowd spills out into a huge open room.

And suddenly he is there. 

This is it.  He thinks flatly as he glances up.  The Sistine Chapel.  Woo Hoo.

First things first.  He looks about at ground level and spots some bare wood – a space has opened up on one of the benches that line the walls.  He makes a dive for it and sinks blissfully down, leaning back on the cool, hard wall.  So there is the ceiling.  There is the altar painting thingy.  Yes it’s good.  He can see why it’s on the list of things to do in Rome.  His feet hurt.  He can feel the blood descending to his toes, pooling there as if his feet were made of stone, like Jesus and his mates out on of top of St Peters.  He will have to rest there for a while.  He can’t move.  He looks at the ceiling and then folds his arms and looks at his watch.  He wonders where the others are.  Maybe they aren’t too far behind him.  Mike and Louise anyway, he can’t imagine that Phoebe would get here this quick.  He leans his head back against the wall and closes his eyes.  He can’t block out the noise.  The whispering.  The oohing and ahhing.

All these people from all over the world.  He is one of them.  One of the multitudes.  These all-devouring tourists.  It is making him queasy.  Going to a place where they can’t speak the language and trying to have the right experience.  Sucking it all in during their three or four days.  What he would really like to do, if he is honest, would be to go on a three or four day bushwalk, by himself.  Take a tent and camp beneath the stars.  Alone.  He needs some space.  He needs some time. 

He is still not sure what was happening with Louise.  That time on the train to Sorrento…

They were sitting two across, facing each other.  Louise and Mike on one side and he and Phoebe on the other.  Phoebe was asleep, her head leaning on his shoulder, her jacket worn backwards over her chest like a blanket.  She felt the cold, that girl. He had the window seat, looking out at the scenery.  Mike sat across from him, reading some book or other and Louise was there beside him.  Sean had glanced away from the view and back into the carriage.  His eyes had flicked over Mike and were on their way past Louise, when he realised she was staring at him.  She was sitting right next to her boyfriend, studying him.  If Mike had glanced up, he would have thought she was just looking out the window.  But he didn’t.  He was engrossed in his book.  Sean had let his eyes pass over Louise and down the train, as if he was counting the passengers, as if he was looking for an old friend, as if the blood wasn’t rushing to his face.  His eyes drifted back and there she was, still staring at him.

What?   He wanted to snap.  What are you looking at?

But he didn’t of course.  He looked out the window again and stared grimly outside, as if he was being dared.  Which he was.  She was sitting over there, staring at him, laughing at his discomfort.  He rubbed his hand over his chin and willed his vision to stay outside the train.  He was intensely aware of Phoebe’s head on his shoulder, of the gentle little puffs of her sleeping breath that only he could hear, of her hand resting in his.  He must have moved.  Phoebe stirred and opened her eyes.  He had pulled her close and kissed her rather passionately on the lips. 

And that was that. 

He had tried not to think about it too much.  What was the point?  There was enough friction on this trip without thinking about that, without reading anything into that.

But here he is, momentarily alone and thinking about it again.  He is sitting in the Sistine Chapel with very, very heavy feet.  He opens his eyes and runs them over the crowd.  The place is packed.  There are people standing in the centre of the room, craning their necks back, mouths open.  There are people walking to and fro, trying not to collide with those who have stopped.  There are others sitting on the benches that line the walls. 

And there she is.

He catches his breath sharply.  In a sudden break in the crowd, he had seen through to the benches on the opposite wall.  To Louise sitting on a bench on the opposite wall.  Staring at him again.  Is he simply being paranoid?  His vision is blocked again as a tour group leans into the tide of people and forces their way toward the exit.  The leader holds a yellow flag above her head as if going into battle.  They move on and he can see her again.  No, he is not being paranoid.  She is leaning back on the wall, not looking at the ceiling.  Ignoring the ceiling, staring over at him.  He has the solitude to test her this time, to really make sure.  He holds her gaze.  He holds it as it is crossed by gaping teenagers, retirees, parents dragging kids, people of all nations.  The whole world.  The whole world rushing past.  He looks through them and finds her staring still.

They sit across from each other, their gaze stretched tautly from wall to wall.  They sit and look as they have not looked at the ceiling, or the altar, or the statues, or anything else in this museum. 

Then all at once, Louise slowly leans forward away from the wall and rests her elbows on her knees and clasps her hands.  Moving in closer. 

Closer to him.

 

This week

By Vita Forest

Indigo Slam, Chippendale


This week I have been

WRITING

READING Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (it is a ripper!)

WATCHING Viceroy’s House (recommended).

VISITING Chippendale Green for some sketching.  (I sketched Indigo Slam designed by William Smart.  An architecture student came over and chatted as I sketched and told me that all the furniture inside was specially designed too – including a table that seats 100 people!  This is a house that is designed to last one hundred years – fantastic!)

At Central Park, Chippendale


MEETING up with Vastra and Saskia at a favourite local restaurant where my favourite dessert was back on the menu (Flan Catalan – mmm!)

ENJOYING the autumn sunshine in Sydney.

 

Mobile Tales 7: in which the ship undertakes an unexpected journey

By Vita Forest

Another dispatch from the myopic mouse aboard the good ship Possession.


The ship lurched and keeled heavily to starboard.  Christabel’s eyes flew open.  She was glad she had continued her precaution of strapping herself into her cosy bunk, otherwise she would surely have been thrown to the floor.  There was a reason for putting such safeguards into her routine, even though at times it made her feel overly cautious.

There were sudden storms, sudden disturbances in the atmosphere, that meant the ship departed from its usual circular route as dictated by the length of chain and the anchor lodged in the ceiling.  Sometimes the world turned topsy-turvy.  Sometimes it was best to be prepared.

Christabel opened her coral and white polka dotted curtains and pressed her eyes to the porthole.

What was happening?  Had they unwittingly floated into a maelstrom?  Had a giant squid from the trembling, inky blackness of The Deep erupted to the surface of the sea and taken The Possession hostage in the rippling embrace of its eight arms?  Had the anchor chain broken?  Were they now adrift on the perilous sea?

Christabel’s eyes darted about but she could make out nothing.  Her eyesight really was dreadful.  She would have to go aloft with her eyeglass.  She reached for her life jacket (conveniently located on a hook above her bed) and strapped it on over her cotton night gown.  She slung her eyeglass in its case over her shoulder and grabbed the length of rope coiled and hanging neatly by the stairs, ready for such an emergency.

Christabel took one end of the rope and expertly secured it to the hook from which it had hung until mere seconds ago.  The other end she tied to a convenient ring on her life jacket.

She was ready.  It was time to leave the safety of her cabin and go Up There.  Taking a deep breath, Christabel mounted the stairs even as she felt the ship settle.

What had happened?

She emerged onto the deck and looked around.  There was not the white expanses of ocean and sky she was used to, they had moved.  Raising the eyeglass to her eye, it all became clear.  The ship was no longer anchored to the ceiling above The Table, it had sailed through The Kitchen Doorway and come to rest in The Kitchen.


Christabel was startled.  She was now in The Kitchen, a room she had only glimpsed from the ceiling before!  She could not have been more surprised if she had found herself in the Antarctic!  And rather than being supported by the anchor and floating in an upright manner, the ship was keeling sharply to port and seemed to be suspended in a kind of frozen whirlpool.

Whatever was going on?

Suddenly there was an ear-splitting whirr which seemed to pierce into Christabel’s very brain.  It sent her scurrying below deck again and huddling beneath her goose-feather quilt.  The quilt did little to muffle to noise and Christabel shivered in terror.

Then all at once the noise stopped and she felt the ship sailing once more.  The vessel swung as if cresting a huge wave, then it righted itself and took on a more familiar swinging motion.  Had they returned to The Ceiling?  Christabel crept up the stairs once more and peered up.  The world looked white again.  She tiptoed up on deck and raised the eyeglass.

She was back!  Back on the ceiling!  How relieved she felt as she spotted the sturdy anchor above her and felt the familiar gentle weaving motion of the ship!

Then she stopped.  Not all was as it had been before.  For there above them floated a new moon.


Christabel stared up at it, her hand on her heart.

A new moon…

She tried to stay positive despite her fright.  Perhaps it would aid in her calculations.  Perhaps it would aid her navigation.  It certainly seemed large enough to make a difference.  And it was a full moon, not the strange rectangular being that had been there before.

Christabel felt her heart fluttering beneath her hand.  It was all most perplexing.  Perhaps she would ponder this strange series of events over a cup of peppermint tea.  And after snapping her eyeglass back into its case, Christabel went below to do just that.

Mobile Tales Despatch 3 – in which we learn of Christabel’s clandestine pleasure

By Vita Forest

In which we learn of Christabel’s clandestine pleasure.

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Do not imagine that the fact that the Good Ship Possession is firmly anchored to the ceiling, limits in any way the interest that Christabel La Mouse finds in her surrounds.  Not at all.  For the sea is full of life.  A great percentage of all living things live there, so Christabel has read somewhere or other (and if something is written down, it is generally true).

There are of course, the comforting creatures of The Deep who reside on the Tablecloth, the school of flying fish who live near the Distant Doorway and The People who swim about freely as far as the spyglass can see.  But most intriguing of all (as well as most terrifying), are the elegant, the graceful, the beautiful, the monstrous – those leviathans of the deep; the whales.

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The whales fill Christabel’s heart with fear.  Their size!  Their strength!  Their razor-sharp teeth!  The hooked talons of their claws!  But as well as making her tremble, the whales fill her with fascination.  (How often is it thus?)  And so Christabel is careful to maintain control, to not lean too far over the edge of the ship, to avoid succumbing to the siren call of the whales, to the hypnotic glamour they exude.

She knows all about these creatures, of course.  You can find a plethora of information about them in any handbook on ocean voyaging, in countless tales told to children (to entertain, but also to warn youngsters about surrendering to the temptation of diving down and curling up in soft white scales, or along an ink-black tail).  Christabel must constantly remind herself that if she lets go, if she gives in, these creatures would indeed EAT her, would not see her as a kindred spirit (as she feels she is), but as a tasty and unexpected supplement to their diet.

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There is The Elegant White One who chirps and hums – perhaps as a means of detecting distance, or maybe she is composing a tune (it is so hard to tell), or it could be she is calling to those other pods of whales that must migrate past their little corner of the world at some point.  (Floating on the warm currents of the Tabletop or perhaps breaching the surface of the sea with a young calf.  Just imagine!  And yet, she really mustn’t…)

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And there is The Masked One who chews pieces of cardboard and paper to keep her teeth in good working order (and perhaps to terrify any quaking prey who witness such violent crunching of her jaws).  This one likes to curl up in the depths of the Tabletop, perhaps atop a sewing basket, or any whale-sized white rectangle left about.

Christabel knows the danger, and yet, these dragons of the water with their white whiskers and their sinuous bodies, curling up in spirals among the rocky floor of the Cushions, are nothing short of mesmerizing.  It is shameful to admit, and she would never report it in any official despatch, but a good part of her day is spent observing the goings-on of these enthralling creatures.