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 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.

Mobile Tales Despatch 4 – a fishing expedition

By Vita Forest

In which Christabel is alerted to a passing school of Parmesan cheese.

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Christabel opened her eyes, suddenly alert. If she was not so suddenly distracted, she may have pondered that it was indeed strange that it was her eyes that reacted to the stimulus, when it was her sense of smell that had been awakened.  Her nostrils prickled.  Yes, there could be no doubt.  The People Below were eating cheese.  The sharp, tangy aroma drifted up to the galleon on the eddies from the deep, spiralling up past the domain of the whales, leaping up from the very surface of the water and through the open window of Christabel’s cabin.

She leapt from her slumber (an afternoon siesta – these late spring days could be so draining) and spun around in order to locate her Cheese Hunting Equipment. An operation of this sort demanded nerves of steel, the right tools (kept near at hand and in good working order) and a skill honed over years.

Luckily Christabel possessed all three. For though she verged on the jittery, there was nothing like the promise of Parmesan to sharpen her resolve.  As luck would have it, Christabel had, that very morning, found a delicate length of black cotton floating by the good ship Possession.  She had fished it out of the water with her butterfly net, attached it with a sturdy knot to her existing fishing line, and added a sharp hook made from a silver pin to its end.  All this before the heat and humidity sent her scurrying below deck with a wet hankerchief draped over her face.

Now she tiptoed up the stairs carrying her periscope and fishing line. She peered down into the depths of The Tabletop.  They were still eating, The Three.  When there was three, there was more chance of mess, more chance of pebbles of Parmesan to fly from the pasta, from a travelling fork, from a moist morsel of bolognaise sauce.  The conditions were perfect, she just had to bide her time and hope that the table was not cleared too quickly (or too thoroughly).

The meal progressed slowly, with the garbled sounds of speech rising upward, causing the ship to rock slightly and spin on its anchor in the ceiling. Christabel was forced to move from the port to the starboard side, but she quickly set up her watch again.  She was not flustered, she would remain calm and patient.  It would not do to fish too early or too late.  Timing was everything.

As the minutes passed, she tuned her ears to the slightest flick!the slightest pat! which signalled a wayward crumb of cheese on The Tablecloth. She located three.  Would there be time to get them all?  Was it better to concentrate on one?  Different scenarios and options scurried about her mind – but patience, patience! she reminded herself.

At last the opportunity came, one of the people left for The Kitchen carrying her plate, one left for The Bathroom and the other one left to answer a phone. There were two plates left abandoned, simply wallowing in cheese!  Christabel swung the fishing line over the edge of the ship and watched the line unravel, watched the silver hook, spin lower and lower, until…

It hit the plate with a tiny Ping!

She stopped.  Would the whales be alerted?  She had to work quickly.  She worked the hook around and around, drawing circles over and over again and catching up a bounty of cheese as she did so.

There were footsteps – she must hurry!

With all her might, Christabel heaved and heaved her catch up off the plate, up off the ocean floor, up through The Deep, through the currents, through the shallows, until it burst out into the air and over the side of the ship.

She sat on the deck of the boat for a moment to catch her breath.

Success!

There would be feasting tonight…

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.

 

Mobile Tales Despatch 2 – in which our heroine simply listens

By Vita Forest

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

This week

By Vita Forest


This week I have been

READING

  • Possession by A. S. Byatt
  • As I walked out one midsummer morning by Laurie Lee

WRITING Possessed by who?

WATCHING The Literati at Griffin Theatre (thanks for the free ticket Briony!)

VISITING Centennial Park to go cycling with my kids and to walk the Labyrinth.

MOVING furniture around to be ready for the installation of timber floors and new carpet next week (yay!)

LOOKING forward to bring back in my own little home soon.

Possessed by who?

By Vita Forest

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Earlier in the week I finished rereading Possession by A.S. Byatt, a book I first discovered over twenty years ago.  I don’t know when it was I last read it, but I can kind of date it by which character I related to at the time. I love it when this happens – when you read the same book at varying points of your life and it has completely different meanings; new events, distinct characters, alternate lines just jump out at you, depending on what is going on in your own life.  (I have written about this before with Tim Winton’s Dirt Music as the book in focus).

In my last reading, it was the early Roland Michell I related to.  Roland, an “Ash scholar” (Randolph Ash being a fictional Victorian poet), finds a tantalising scrap of letter from Ash to an unknown lady poet, thus beginning this literary mystery that moves between the 1860s and 1980s, using poems, fairy tales, letters and prose.  Despite the high level of Roland’s education, he survives on small grants and piecemeal work handed out by those with more power.  At the start of the novel, he is spending his time examining another’s work and living unhappily with his unhappy and disappointed girlfriend Val, who supports them financially through her own disappointing work.  They are a couple that should not be together but are bound by guilt, emotional dependency and fear.  (In fact, I think I can quite clearly date when I last read this book…)

But by the end of the novel, a new life beckons to Roland, full of optimism, independence and opportunity, a new relationship (that works) and his own words.  Unlike Blackadder, his old boss in the “Ash Factory” (as Val dismissively calls the Ash scholars working in the British Museum), for whom the study of Ash had effectively crushed any ambition to find his own creative voice, Roland discovers that he has things to say and the desire to say them.  At this reading, I related to this second Roland, discovering the joy of writing, of his own ideas, unbound or unconnected to someone else’s work – the Optimistic Roland.

And then there are the women.  This time, the ideas of Christabel La Motte, the independent, determined 19th Century poet (again created by Byatt), who shunned conventions in order to live an independent artistic life, also resonated.  She is fiercely protective of her artistic space, of having the time and focus for her own creativity.  Maud Bailey, a La Motte scholar in the 1980s section (to whom Roland turns to discover if there is a connection between the two poets), has similar concerns.  In fact, Roland and Maud both crave solitude and autonomy, even within a relationship, a space for themselves, without being “devoured” or “possessed”.  I see this in myself and in many of my friends. Yes, the fairy tale romance would be lovely, but equally important is the space (both physical and mental) for our own endeavours, for the very things that make us unique.  This is to be fiercely guarded and cherished, as Christabel La Motte well knew.

Which fictional characters do you relate to?  Has it changed with new readings of the same book?