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

By Vita Forest

img_1076

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.

IMG_3053

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.

IMG_3066

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.

 

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.

Because I am early…

By Vita Forest


Arriving early I walk through Hyde Park, hear the busker singing loudly of love, admire the arrangement of winter plantings, ringing the fountain with tight purple and green ornamental cabbages.  See a backpacker taking an entire park bench for his pleasure, reclining on top of a sleeping bag, resplendent in his happiness as he luxuriates in the winter sunshine, backpack at his feet.  I look at the statues in the fountain and think of Greek Gods and how we will be into them next term.  I think of Alexander on his Outing getting stuck down a hole in this general vicinity and being raised up again with water from that very fountain.   I see the cathedral with its circles and triangles and gothic spires and think, I should really try and draw that someday.

I walk through the tunnel of fig trees and turn back to see the Archibald Fountain shining, being the light at the end of the tunnel, sun hitting the sparkling water and remember how I had drawn that tunnel of trees long ago, at high school, the branches arching up to meet above the paving stones drawn into the distance with excellent perspective.  Remembering how at night the trees were filled with fairy lights and then reading the sign that warns the unwary stroller of the possibility of “tree failure” if there be storms.  Just imagine.


I walk behind a shrieking girl clinging onto her Dad as he stomps along, daughter’s hands clasped around his waist, yelling “Where is she?  Where is she?”  Daughter hysterical with delight as yet again he turns to find she isn’t there.

Because I am early, I cross the road and take the boardwalk over the water on top of the indoor pool.  Remember how once water lilies grew in this pool, reeds, bulrushes.  What happened to them?  I wonder, and how long ago was that?  But still, the boardwalk is there, reminding the walker of jetties, piers, ferry wharves, the sea.  The museum floats upside in the water as I walk toward it on the boardwalk that I choose to take, up high above the footpath, above the pool, above the street.  I take these adventures where I can find them.

I am still too early so I sit in the sun and watch a toddler marvelling at the world – A stick!  Another one!  I can scrape them in the dirt!  Wow!  His Dad crouching down beside him, seeing the world through his son’s eyes.  And later they mount the boardwalk, enjoying the slight ringing of their feet on the wood and the boy is almost stunned when the fountain shoots sudden water out from under his feet arching out from the wood and into the pool.

Can the world get any more amazing?


 

 

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. 

 

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.

 

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 2 – in which our heroine simply listens

By Vita Forest

img_10751

Christabel La Mouse awoke in her snug cabin on the Good Ship Possession and listened.  She liked to do this before she opened her eyes, before she really started the day.  She snuggled deeper into her cosy woollen eiderdown and simply listened.

To port there was the occasional sliding swish! from the Deep Distance which must mean rain.  (There were huge creatures called Cars and when their swift feet touched water they made that delicious swish!  So Christabel had learned at school.  She was yet to actually see one).

To starboard was the chatty murmuring gurgle of the Refrigerator in The Room Beyond.  It was a kind of hotel for the food that arrived in The Home, including, and most importantly, cheese.  Christabel lived for those days when, on one of her fishing expeditions, she managed to secure as the catch of the day, a tasty morsel of that supreme delight.

img_11381

And directly below the ship, down deep on the rain-pitted surface of The Table, was a busy sort of brushing-kind-of-scratching, that stopped and started in an irregular fashion. It was That Person with the Paper and the Pencil.  Christabel sometimes liked to watch this (when she was not so cosy and tired, of course), for onto a flat white rectangle, tiny scribblings would pour from the end of the tool the Person used.  They were hard to make out, what with the currents passing over them, the distance between Christabel and the pages and the Person’s quite atrocious handwriting.  Her spyglass did not work on such occasions, and the spinning of the ship did not help.

img_11431

Still it was a comforting sort of scratching whisper.  Every now and then there was a pause and a Ting! which Christabel knew meant the Person had stopped to take a sip of her milky tea, chiming her pencil against the china as she did so.  Perhaps one day she would find some implement to assist her in discovering what the Person wrote.  But now just now.  Now was the time for a little more sleep wrapped in her eiderdown in her cosy cabin.

One must always prioritize rest.