Belmondo, Peppard, Rivero and Bogart

I want to go to the beach.
 
I want to go to the beach today.
 
I want to go to the beach today and smoke cigarettes.
 
I want to go to the beach today and smoke cigarettes like Jean Seberg.
 
I want to go to the beach today and smoke cigarettes like Jean Seberg and drink coffee like Audrey Hepburn.
 
I want to go to the beach today an smoke cigarettes like Jean Seberg and drink coffee like Audrey Hepburn and draw pictures like Frida Kahlo.
 
I want to go to the beach today an smoke cigarettes like Jean Seberg and drink coffee like Audrey Hepburn and draw pictures like Frida Kahlo and talk like Lauren Bacall.
 
I want to go to the beach today and I want to take you with me. We could take a blanket onto the sand and hide and pretend you were my Belmondo, Peppard, Rivero and Bogart.

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Baby.
You’re more here than
you never were before.

Now you’re a ghost
I wake and I break
under brutal morning light.

You haunt me with
our blistered lips, pressed
skulls and fingered ribs.

Now that you’re dead,
I can wrestle and rest
with mean and mangled desire.

My molars grind holes
that I fever to fill with
hollow tree-felled sounds

Now that life has left you,
streets have lost their names
like skin loses blush.

I soldier cold paths home
tall and hard but
torn by stolen hours.

Now that you’re not living
you’re not loving
me like you did.

I want to drown in
dawn soaked time that was
measured by your side.

Baby.
You’re more here than
you never were before.

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Puck Turns 21

I wrote the following ‘bush ballad’ for one of my brothers over the course of an hour many years ago. I had anticipated that I would deliver it at his 21st birthday party. Unfortunately, a medical emergency prevented me from attending, so the poem was quickly forgotten. Having rediscovered it recently, I have reproduced it here with very little editing, the way it ought to be.

………………………………………..

The words he weaves warm the coldest of cuckles,
From the breast of human kindness he sups and he suckles.
He’s an artisan of mirth, of story and charm,
Anointing your ears with tales like balm.

And although I know his words are to be unbelieved,
I am blissfully happy to be lulled and deceived.
Coz there’s a talent in playing the Pan-cum-Puck,
Causing chaos and strife, and running amok.

Life would be dull, without colour or relief,
From our foul-mouthed poet and Trickster-in-chief.

His philosophies are wiley, his logic a mess,
And however untamed, I’m forced to confess,
I see there is reason and purpose in thought,
That defies the boundaries we deem to be ought.

That Puck has a an uncanny and incredible knack,
Of knowing exactly where to land the right smack.
It seems always to situate between the eyes,
Of the crossing of ‘T’s and dotting of ‘I’s.

He decries and derides again and again,
Mores and rules that keep society tame.

‘Offended!’ you say? ‘Be humoured’ I ask,
There’s nought to be gained by taking him to task.
For as effusive he might be in the trouble he brews,
You are better to laugh at his rollicking ruse.

His histories yield both willing and able,
Stories that turn so aptly to fable,
His junkets and run-ins, hijinks and rebellion,
A book, aptly titled: ‘My Life as a Felon’.

That said, the lad is honourable in truth,
Even if he got up to no good in his youth.
We love and adore you and celebrate the man,
Our rebel, our renegade our modern day Pan.

Post from 1 December 2012

Folks,

Sorry for the ‘ghost post’ of 1 December 2012. That was me working away in the background at a piece that never quite made the cut, and upon which I put a password protection, instead of making it a private publication.

Apologies to those of you who quivered at the prospect of not being able to read said ‘password protected’ post. Any discrimination you felt, please know it was equal discrimination.

I hope that makes those of you feeling ‘left out’ not so alone. Know you are part of a larger community of people to whom I have promised a serial post or postings that are yet to materialise. I never forget a promise my peeps. Promises (so oft made) eat away at my insides until I can bear it no longer, only to crawl slavishly to the task of writing… loving, gift-giving etc..

So, short of engaging further in some disproportionate self-aggrandised explanation, I humbly apologise for any confusion/upset caused by my admini’ mistake.

Much love, and until next you read, know I will write.

I will… I promise.

R.

Adventures in Jane – Chapter 3 – Great Aunt Edie

The rain sprayed with each gust of wind on the hospital windows. The winter weather, blown in across the black Tasman, met the coastal city to chill its inhabitants. Patients who had stirred from their sleep to the rasping of wind or slap of rain, now pulled with comfort at their covers, before falling asleep again. Defying the forces that eroded the brick and glass facade of their wards, the ill and elderly slumbered on under the watchful eye of the night shift.

Jane lay curled up on an easy chair, wrapped in a crocheted blanket. She too had stirred, before pulling at the soft, pastel squares to resume her sleep, warm and protected. Her Great Aunt Edith lay in a hospital bed across the room. Curled up on her side, Edie’s form was hardly discernible from that of a child’s. Her skin now clung to her bones, as if her muscles and organs were dissolving under the appetite of a disease. Whilst underweight and dehydrated, Edie didn’t suffer at the hands of a disease. She had simply begun to let go of life.

Jane’s mother Margaret refused to accept that Edie didn’t want to live anymore.

‘She’s not bloody right in the head Janie!’
‘It doesn’t matter Mum, it’s what she feels.’
‘Feels? I doubt she’s doing much feeling!’

It was a conversation that Jane and Margaret had returned to on a dozen occasions over the last few weeks. It was a well worn dialogue, principally aimed at giving Margaret some territory in which to rail against Edie’s decline.

‘She’s all I’ve got of that old family. All she did was break her hip, then there was the pneumonia, and now we’re here. She’s acting like she’s got some terminal illness.’
‘But Mum, that’s just it. She is “terminal”. They say that death at this age has little to do with health, and more to do with someone’s desire to live.’
‘Desire! Oh Janie, you know so little… .’

Margaret paused, closing her eyes briefly and taking in a deep breath. Jane was used to these dramatic affectations of her mother’s and knew some sort of wisdom was about to be delivered.

‘Look, darling, I know you’ve been talking to the doctors and so on, but I’m at the coal face here. I’m dealing with a deranged 80 year old, who won’t eat her bloody food. I don’t care what your Uncle Kevin’s written in that treatment plan. I’ll be damned if I let her starve!’

‘Edie made those decisions properly. They need to be honoured.’
‘Honoured!’

Margaret rolled her eyes and head back, and opened her mouth to feign overwhelming disbelief. Recovering after a long pause Margaret was armed for a verbal assault on her daughter, and so commenced her moral tirade on the wrongs of euthanasia.

Reaching a righteous pitch, Magaret’s voice began to waiver. Filled with religious and emotional fervour, she ended her sermon suddenly. She turned her herself away from Jane, wrapping herself up in her own arms. Jane reached out to her mother without pause.

‘Don’t Janie. Just leave me be.’

Jane reached out again, gently massaging the space between her mother’s shoulder blades. She soothed her with intolerable patience and love, just as her father did on so many occasions. Soon the drama and the rage receded.

‘C’mon Mum. You’ve gotta’ let go a little.’

It made Jane feel vulnerable to see her mother weak. It made her feel monstrous to be the cause of that weakness. Jane couldn’t contend with Margaret’s rage. She could only find condolence and comfort for her, clinging on for the moment when her mother regained her usual solid self. This situation with Edie, however, had started to test Jane’s tolerance for Margaret’s want of drama.

Days earlier Edie, in a rare lucid moment, had gently urged Margaret to start sorting through her things.

‘You’ll know what to do my Meg,’ she had rasped.

Jane watched her mother take the request quietly, and for the first time since Edie’s hospitalisation Margaret had lost her veneer of defiance. With both of her hands cradled by Edie’s, she nodded and accepted the task.

‘My dear sweet Meg, you’ve always known what was what. No flies on you my girl’ she said, giving Margaret’s hand a delicate pat.

The job of sorting through the old spinster’s house had removed Margaret from the stresses of the hospital. Edie was the last surviving sibling, and her house was the old family home. It’s now peeling and cracked weatherboard shell, dorm-like bedrooms and vacuous kitchen were empty of a once loud and bustling life. Two of Edie’s brothers had resided there with her until last year when, within the space of a month, both aged bachelors had passed away. Now the house built by Margaret’s own grandfather contained all that was left of an entire generation.

Yesterday Margaret brought in a few little trinkets and photos from the house ‘to make things more comfortable, more familiar’. The easy chair, crocheted blanket and some cushions had also made their way to the room with Bob’s assistance.

Now, keeping a night vigil over Edie in her mother’s absence, Jane lay cocooned in the blanket.

‘Margaret,… Meg?’

Edie’s small and hoarse voice croaked across the room, waking Jane. Jane sprang awkwardly from the easy chair and moved over to Edie. She took Edie’s outstretched arms, which looked more like the desperate and frantic claws of a bird seeking a perch.

‘Edie, it’s okay I’m here, it’s okay.’

Edie opened her eyes at the sound of Jane’s voice. She paused momentarily squinting at Jane. Then she smiled and relaxed her arms. Jane laid Edie’s hands back down on the covers, but Edie stretched out again. This time Edie to put her thumb on Jane’s cheek, and her other fingers deep into Jane’s hair at the base of her scalp, as if she were holding the face of a child.

‘Oh my girl! Where have you been?’

Jane leaned in close to her Great Aunt.

‘I’ve been here all the time Edie, over there in the chair.’

‘You are a cheeky tike! Were you playing hide and seek?’

Jane just smiled at Edie not knowing how to respond. Her wakeful periods during the day were few now and shrinking in length. Any conversation that was had would often drift. All the same, Jane relished these moments. Edie took Jane’s face gently in both her hands.

‘I love you my little Meg. I have always loved you.’

‘Edie… Aunt Edith, it’s me. It’s Janie.’

Edie’s face twisted, as if confused, and then she smiled again and gently brought Jane in closer.

‘You are a cheeky monkey… I’d know you anywhere.’

Edie’s eyes closed, and her hands loosened. Jane covered Edie again, but not before running her fingers over the veins that criss-crossed over backs of Edie’s hands. Her skin looked almost translucent, the blood moving underneath it, so close to the surface.

Jane’s eyes moved from the face of her now sleeping Great Aunt to the framed photo Margaret had placed on the bedside cabinet. In the picture a young 20-something Edie sits surrounded by a gaggle of nieces and nephews, under a tree in the backyard of her parents home. Margaret, with her round toddler face and blonde curls, sits featured in the middle. The pride of the brood, Margaret smiles and claps on top of Edie’s knee, as Edie gazes down adoringly.

My little Meg.

Jane stopped thinking and breathing for a moment. The wind and rain had stopped outside, making the room still and the darkness watchful. The years of knowing what she had always known began to soak in. Jane looked back to Edie, at the features of her face: her hair line, the shape of her nose and corner of her mouth. A weight started to push up through Jane’s chest, surging into her neck and jaw making her salivate and swallow hard. It pulled down on her shoulders, while tingling her nose and swelling her face with blood. Jane’s body shuddered as she made a noise like a newborn pup. It was the sound of loss, and it was as old as her mother.

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Adventures in Jane – Chapter 2 – Threes

Jane lay in the blanket of shade of the old plum trees. The trees, wild and unpruned, nestled in the backyard of the house where she lived. Snake threatening grass grew up all around her, tickling at her freckled feet flopped listlessly over the side of her hammock. Slung between the trees, the hammock swung slowly and regularly like a time piece. It’s rope, taut from Jane’s weight, moved ever so slightly against the thick and aged bark making a rasping, creaking sound. Jane could hear the rhythmic song of tree and rope as the music she listened to paused or softened.

This was the evening of the last day of a 4 day heat wave. A balmy, but breezy close to the inevitable sweltering midsummer. It was hoped that February would be kinder, but it rarely was. The air carried the scent of changed humidity, of dust disturbed and then settled by the rain, and the hint of sea air from the Bite. The change would have swept through her parents place by now. Those preying dark clouds, pregnant with rain, would have raced over the plains where the Watson farm stood, shifting the climate, but barely making a dent in the rain gauge. Under the watchful eye of the southern most reaches of the Great Diving Range, that dark came tumbling toward the western reaches of the city.

The storm assured relief to the aching, baking metropolis. A change in the weather would allow the heat to slowly dissipate from the fringe estates that straddled the arid Pentland Hills. But like almost all weather that raced down those hills, it would clash with the sea air of the Port making the clouds heavy. Like the quaking of a labour, the rain would come, quietly at first. Then it would drop in an almighty down pour, making a soup of the city. The city, including it’s concreted north, would become a steamy, thermal mass. The bath of change would cool the brick and mortar heart of Melbourne until the meagre warmth left is but a fading signature of summer. All that water would course and waste itself into the rivers, creeks and bay for days afterward, drawing all that heat with it. Jane thought on this idea of passing heat, the idea that energy is not lost, just transferred. Taking sips from a now sweating beer bottle she felt the heat from her own hand moving through the green glass and into the amber liquid, slowly warming it up. The first beer, like the first rain, was always so good.

The rumbles and tremors from the West set new vibrations moving about Jane’s head. The air pressure had dropped: it was Jane’s favourite sensation. She had always been drawn in by the fury, drama and energy of a storm as it approached. As a child she would escape through her bedroom window, as Lucy slept on, to go and play in electrical storms. The horses on the farm would bristle with manic energy, racing up and down the fence line of their paddock, whinnying, kicking and bucking. Jane could never pin down why, but she understood them. She understood why they seemed to bey for the damage and destruction that the storm would bring. Wanting to channel their energy and fear, she would climb onto their bare and sweat slicked backs. Clinging hard to a neck and belly, she would take a break neck ride, howling at the wet fury of the storm.

Here between the trees her passive form continued to swing persistent and pendulum-like, whilst the black and brooding cumulonimbus gathered their skirts to settled in. She appeared to be a strange extension of the trees beckoning to the storm like a siren. There were no horses to ride. All the same, she thought, maybe I’ll stay out here. Maybe I’ll let the rain drench me, let the lightning find one of these plum trees. Maybe I’ll see if I can’t at the last moment jump out of this hammock and escape death. She welcomed a thrill after four days of malaise inducing heat.

‘Hey Jane! Wanna’ beer?’

Jane’s fantasies were broken by Chrissy’s return home from work. Chrissy had barely waited for Jane to respond before stepping out the backdoor, barefoot, a stubby in both hands. She paused to inspect the sky.

‘S’gunna’ rain Jane. You want this beer up here on the verandah?’

Jane raised her hand and bottle above the line of the hammock to salute Chrissy’s return, and to answer her questions.

‘Oh. Well then… stuff the rain, I’ll come to you… . We’ve really got to cut this grass.’

Whilst Chrissy joined her inert, but swinging housemate under the plum trees, a light but fat rain started to fall. The umbrella of foliage above Jane and Chrissy was enough to save them from the heavier drops. Chrissy assumed the comfort of a nearby fold-out chair, the joints and canvas of which squeaked and whinged as she posited herself. Chrissy, still dressed in her Parks uniform, half seated, half splayed, was completely exhausted,

‘Thank God it’s Friday?’
‘Yes Janie my love, thank God it’s Friday, coz I am buggered.’
‘What was it today: moving dirt; digging beds; planting out rare specimens; making the world a better place?’.
‘All of the above my friend. Don’t know about you, but I am f’ing bushed.’

They both grinned at their automatic end-of-day banter. Jane loved Chrissy’s turn of phrase. There was something definitely ‘country’ about it, which comforted her. But it was her delivery. Chrissy had the broad galah-like elocution of a south-central Queenslander. Chrissy came from Roma, where the only way to run cattle is to push down bush scrub each year with 2 bulldozers and a chain. She represented the best qualities associated with Queenslanders: laconic; tough; common sensed; good humoured; upfront; and partial to a beer.

‘Janie, I’ve got some bad news’.

Lurching from her corpse-still position, Jane poked her head above the taut line of rope to look at Chrissy.

‘It’s ok, it’s nothing bad. It’s just that Greg and me,… well we’ve decided to move out.’

The news muted Jane, who now looked at Chrissy with mouth open and forehead furrowed with consternation.

‘Now don’t go thinking it has anything to do with you Janie. It’s just that we think we need a place to ourselves, and… well, we need the space. We think it’s important to us.’

Jane lay back into the hammock, surrendering to the news. Her beer was warm now, and her brain frantic, turning itself to all the practical aspects of losing her house mates. Chrissy and Greg owned most of the household’s white goods and furniture. Like their furniture they had been such solid and reliable domestic companions. Now they were about to abandon her to the responsibilities of keeping a house, not to mention recruiting and adjusting to new inhabitants.

‘When?’
‘Not for another month, unless something comes up earlier, but we wouldn’t leave you out of pocket. We’d cover the rent until you got someone in, and that won’t be too hard. It’s a great place, you’ll find house mates in no time Janoe’.
‘Shit.’
‘Janie, don’t be angry at us. We have been here with you for nearly five years.’

Jane lifted her head above the brim of the hammock, resolved to be a big girl.

‘Sorry Chrissy. It’s great news. Really it is. I just didn’t expect it, that’s all.’

The rain had begun to breach the plum tree’s protection. Relocating to the verandah, Jane sighted an inordinate amount of mail laying on the kitchen counter.

‘Oh, yeah, sorry I meant to tell you, there’s a whole lot of letters for you.’

Jane moved quickly inside, and proceeded to tear each envelope open to read it’s contents. With the tearing and reading done, she joined Chrissy outside, flopping herself down into the rug covered couch next to Chrissy.

‘Rejection, rejection, rejection… .’
‘Crap. Bloody recession.’
‘Tell me about it. Oh God, I really need a job.’
‘Something will come up Jane. Just remember though: beggars can’t be choosers.’

Chrissy reached out to Jane and rubbed her hunched back. Jane meanwhile groaned with the weight of anxiety that both Chrissy’s news and the impotent letters triggered.

‘Nother beer?’
‘Yeah… . Why not.’

Jane wasn’t a fatalist. Though she began to think about what was next. Threes, Jane thought: things happen in threes. There was terror attached to the possibility that there could be another round of bad news. At the same time she welcomed a third harbinger to complete the set. It would give her certainty in a blind sort of way. The same kind of certainty her mother got from faith in old religion. Moments like this made Jane wish she believed in something. Something other than the universal rule of threes.

‘Jane, your phone. It’s your mum.’

Chrissy raced out to Jane before she could lift herself from the couch, and handed her mobile over. Chrissy sat by Jane, as she ‘yes’ed’ and ‘okayed’ her way through the call. When it was over, Jane flopped back into the couch.

‘What’s up?’
‘It’s Great Aunt Edie. She’s in hospital.’
‘Janie, shit. Is she ok?’
‘They don’t know yet, but it doesn’t sound good. Mum’s asking me to come home to help her. I said I would.’
‘You are just not having a good day are you? Well, at least it’s bloody well cooling down’.

Jane was bereft. The rain had gotten heavier now, so heavy the spouting of the house was overflowing. The torrent of water falling on the iron clad roof was so loud conversation proved difficult. A change had definitely arrived. Resistance was futile.

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Any Line – AM – Peak Hour

A random assemblage of strangers, they had only recently staggered from their beds, some of them unwitting neighbours on the streets where they lived. All were gathered together, most sitting, some standing, amongst the ordered profile of seats. Each one an individual. Each one submitting to the constraints placed on their freedom, all for the cause of getting to work.

A strange mixture of soap, perfume, hair product and body odour fills the train carriage. As the doors open and close to consume more passengers, the carriage draws breath from the mild morning summer air. Gentle and silent courtesies are exchanged between fellow passengers, keeping to a set of unwritten rules: leave your paper folded and available for the next passenger; make discrete offers of a seat to those with special needs; don’t take up more room than is necessary; and so on. Enlarged, but reduced to symbols and captured in crossed circles, the written rules curb more obviously anti-social behaviour.

The train slowly fills until there is only standing room. With no seats available, the free rails, handles and toggles are havens to each new passenger. Gripping onto these each assumes a pose consistent with their height, weight, proximity to others, and occupation. With a bag nestled between her feet a grey suited but thonged woman stands in the aisle, one hand fastened to a seat handle. Her other hand is adeptly splayed around a book so that it is held steady, open and flat. A young tradie, overalled and fluorescent, leans against the rail and wall of the carriage closest the door. He stares intently into a PS2, ear plugs in, thumbs nimbly progressing him through his game.

A school girl, adorned with rockabilly mascara and contraband piercings, sits with adolescent contempt on the special needs seat. Her hands are pushed hard into her blazer pockets and one of her knees pumps up and down on the ball of her foot. She is absorbed in her gum and the music audible from her retro-sized head phones. A man with a tie spewing from his shirt pocket sits against a window, mouth open, head back, eyes closed. He hugs his courier bag against his largish belly, his shoulders lolling gently with the motion of the train, catching the last opportunity for sleep.

Looking through the glass into the adjoining carriage, the passengers there match the demographic and relative silence of their counter-parts in the present. The imperfectly shaped tracks, bent and misshapen by generations of engines and neglect, throw the train in upward and sideway motions. The occasional sharp jerk in the line making standing passengers instinctively shift their weight, losing and then gaining composure just as quickly. Each bump experienced by the forward carriage is delayed ever so slightly by each following carriage, like a great metal Mexican wave

A woman in impossible heels tenuously sways from an overhead toggle. She loses her balance with the sudden and sharp jolt of the train carriage, as it moves one way and then the other. Losing her grip she is sent sideways toward the barrel-like chest of a man. He on the other hand managed to both catch himself, and anticipate the blow of the woman’s weight. Pivoting with the anchored weight of her satchel her now untoggled hand instinctively reaches out to grasp at his shoulder. Holding him like this now her unhinged weight lays her chest first into him. His arm wraps instantly around her waist, preventing her further trajectory. Her head buries into his suit pocket. His body curves to absorb her. And there before either can regain composure, two strangers hold each other in a dramatic embrace. They are locked in the kind of union that lovers form with abandon, without care for their audience.

They both separate, regain their composure, and smile with embarrassment. They stand now re-toggled, she more determined not to fall, he better prepared to catch her again.

‘Bloody curve, gets me every time’.

She jokes, and they look furtively at each other. They smile again, but this time it is with gratitude.
They quickly resume their silence and estrangement. It is the expected end to a random human transaction. Those audience to the scene turn back into themselves and their occupations. Some are distracted by hot air balloons suspended over the the city, still but for the occasional burst of flame seeking to draw them upward. It is as if the city has gifted this last sight of serenity to the commuters as they embark upon the bedlam of their respective work days.

Pulling into the last stop, passengers make their way to the doors in an orderly and respectful way. Exiting, the woman in impossible heels moves toward one end of the platform, and her rescuer toward the other. He looks to see if she looks for him, before continuing on. But she doesn’t. Just before she moves into the queue of people descending the stairs to the underpass, she searches for him, but he is gone.

The mass of commuters dissipates. They move into the city, away from the quiet moments spent on the train together, alone.

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Adventures in Jane – Chapter 1: The Perennial Conversation

The conversation at the Watson Christmas Day table was exactly as expected. The topics, perennial: food, shopping, work promotions, the next meal or party of the season. In all, bearable subjects to endure, but to which Jane felt she had no input. Amidst the milieu of familial guests at the table, Jane knew she had nothing to add. To her family she was at least one of two things: a child or an outsider.

Another perennial topic was Jane’s love life.

‘Tell me Janie’, Jane’s great aunt Edith huskily whispered to her, yet audible to all at the lunch table, ‘do you have someone special you’re seeing?’

With her aunt leaning in so close, waiting for the answer like every other eaves dropper at the table, Janie felt her panic set in. But, when her older sister Lucy sniggered at the now lengthening pause between question and answer, she was quickly overcome by indignation and anger. What a bunch of shits, she thought, sitting around waiting for their annual instalment of ‘Janie’s love life’. Alright, she thought, you’re all gonna get it.

‘Yes, I do.’

‘And… Well go on, what’s his name?’

‘Mr Tibbles.’

Edie’s eyebrows moved 2 inches above the rims of her glasses, indicating her surprise and excitement at Janie’s news. Others at the table stopped chewing and leaned a little closer.

‘Edie, Mr Tibbles is Janie’s new cat. She’s talking about a cat, not a guy Edie’, Lucy interjected, speaking loudly so that Edie’s hearing aid would pick up the correction. Realising that a cat and not a man was involved, Edie’s eyebrows slouched into a frown.

‘Oh… well Jane, you know, you can’t marry a cat can you?’ Edie said shaking her head and peering over the top of her glasses, projecting all the wrinkles, wisdom and chiding her years had to offer.

‘No, Aunt Edie, I can’t. All the same, I don’t think Mr Tibbles believes in marriage, so we’re perfect for each other.’

Jane shot back the remark to shut everyone up. Edie was forced to keep her comment about ‘time getting on’ to herself. And whilst her mother Margaret didn’t comment either, she did roll her eyes, glare and click her tongue. It was the kind of chastising only mothers can deliver as effectively and non-verbally as they do. Janie felt rightly corrected for toying with Edie, and at the same time she felt an almost violent need to defend herself against the silent judgements being cast around the table.

Her mother’s judgement was perhaps the hardest to bear. There was something more there in Margaret’s eye roll, glare and tongue clicking. It was something like a kind of hopeless disappointment. It was as if all was lost and there was no possible redemption for Jane. Savvy, albeit childish retorts, volleyed by Janie solidified her mother’s lost hope in any idea that her daughter would ever grow up. If Jane was honest with herself, she would admit that being the perennial child had its perks.

Jane was a 30-something with no children, no boyfriend, no career to speak of, and no assets (unless her rare collection of Australian garage rock vynl counted toward anything). Being the alien had a certain benefit though. Jane felt she didn’t need to take full responsibility for herself, or anybody else for that matter. The occasional baby might be shoved her way, but she never felt an overpowering urge to procreate. One look at her sister Lucy, with her three children and broken wreck of a husband Damien, was enough to warn her of the demons that lurked in the romantic aspirations of marriage, house and kids.

She stared at Lucy now, with affection, sympathy and a good dose of cynicism. Lucy may have made out that her life was peachy and complete, that it was everything she had wanted and had chosen. Jane knew that was a lie. It was evident in the way Lucy and Damien regarded each other. The scowls and words they exchanged, even now over the table.

‘Dame!’ Lucy shot his name at him as if calling him to attention.

‘Yeah’ he responded laconically, pausing beforehand that Lucy might know of his unwillingness to be called to heel. Lucy stared at Damien, defiant of his public display of obstinance. Jane was glad that the table’s focus had now been adjusted: all attention was on the couple.

‘Your child Damien, the one sitting next to you, he’s rubbing gravy into the table.’

‘Shit! Stephen! What are you doing mate? Bloody hell!’

Lucy sat adjacent unmoved, with a silent and almost smirking face, whilst Damien was consumed by his own parental embarrassment and panic. Margaret meanwhile moved with grace, and adept domestic skill to the aid of father and 4 year old.

‘God, I’m so sorry Margaret!’

‘No matter Dame, it’s just a little mess… There. All fixed. Keep it on the plate now Stephen my sweet.’

Margaret spoke gently, smoothing anxiety and correcting ills as only a matron can. She looked at Lucy as she did, plainly and without judgement, but so as to include her in the moment between father and son. There was something else there between Margaret and Lucy. It was something like understanding. Jane hated them for that. How was it that her mother understood Lucy’s childishness, but openly pointed out Jane’s?

‘Something in my teeth Janie?’ Jane was unaware of how intently she had been staring at Lucy the whole time. Lucy queried with her signature sarcasm, elbowing Bob her father, ‘Jane’s gone again dad.’

As immediately as it had shifted, the focus of the table was back on Jane. Jane meanwhile deferred her attention from Lucy to her lunch plate, busying herself with her mother’s attempt at a vegetarian meal.

‘Leave her Lucy, it’s Christmas after all.’

Bob’s correction was welcomed by Jane. Good on you dad: knew I could rely on you, Jane thought. That was, before he continued:

‘and you know how she dreams, we don’t all have to be switched on dear.’

‘You’re right dad. He’s right isn’t he Jane? You’re a dreamer, aren’t you?’ Lucy’s smile now only thinly veiled her contempt for a childhood spent as her younger sister’s keeper.

Jane breathed a heavy sigh into her now mushed up nut loaf. She was a dreamer. The guilt of having wittingly left her sister to pick up after her on so many occasions ate away at her, even now. Her silence was as good as a ‘yes’ to Lucy’s question. In fact Lucy hadn’t even waited for a response, she was already eagerly engaged in a conversation with uncle Kevin.

Looking up from her plate Jane sought out a face, that looked something like pity, at least. Her uncle Kevin had taken breath from the conversation with Lucy. He smiled at Jane with a kind of sympathy that warmed and eroded her at the same time. Why couldn’t she be more like Kevin: a man; an atheist; a respected barrister; a divorcee. She wanted to to wear the same social Teflon he seemed clad in. He wasn’t entirely unscathed by his family, but at least no one treated him like a child.

With the meal finished Margaret sent all and sundry into the garden to cure their festive indulgences with a nap or game of pétanque. Lucy and Jane were meanwhile assigned the task of clean up. With the dishwasher filled to capacity, Jane found Lucy labouring over a sink of greasy pans, knives and casserole dishes. Wrapped up in an apron, she stooped over the steamy water, plying a scrubbing brush to a stubborn and brown lump of nut loaf. Without looking at Jane, Lucy pointed at a spare apron hanging nearby:

‘That’s for you if you want. I’ll do the meat if you do the veg.’

Jane was strangely touched by Lucy’s consideration: that beyond not wanting to eat meat, Jane might not want to touch it either. Jane donned the apron, and picked up a clean tea towel. The tension between the two sisters was softened now by the involuntary and annual task their mother thrust upon them. Jane came close to Lucy, inspecting the dish rack for the driest item.

‘I’m sorry about lunch Janie. What I said, that was uncalled for.’ Lucy had stopped scrubbing, but still hadn’t turned her eyes to Jane.

‘That’s ok… I am a dreamer!’

‘No, not that.’ Lucy seemed a little annoyed that her sister was off the mark. Jane on the other hand was momentarily deflated, her self deprecation having been misapplied.

‘I mean what I said to Damien over the table, the way I said it, the way I embarrassed him. That was completely out of line.’

‘Oh God, I’m not upset about that Luce, why say sorry to me?’ Jane almost snorted to lift the mood and her embarrassment at thinking Lucy would ever apologise to her. At this point Lucy braced herself against the stainless steel mouth of the sink, squeezing her eyes shut, grimacing at the torrent of grief shut up inside her.

‘Oh Luce.’ Janie put aside her towel and put her arm around her sister. Lucy almost immediately melted into Janie, putting all her weight into her younger sister’s shoulders, her arms gripping Jane’s slight frame as if she were a life buoy. Then came a moan, which frightened Jane. A long and primitive moan.

‘Oh Luce, what’s up, what’s wrong. Oh shhhhhhhh, oh honey…’ Jane attempted to comfort Lucy, leading her to a nearby chair and settling her there, all the time with Lucy’s arms draped heavily around her shoulders.

‘Janie, it’s so shit, it’s so fucking hard to keep it all together. Bloody hell it’s hard!’

‘I know. Well I don’t know, but I can see.’

‘We used to be so into each other. We used to desire each other and now we can’t stand the sight of each other. We don’t laugh like we used to, don’t talk. God, we don’t even fuck anymore.’

Another moan was let out, as Lucy buried her face into Jane’s now snot and tear drenched shirt. Lucy stayed there for a little longer, before composing herself and sitting up straight. Breathing a little more normally now, having wiped the tears away, and blown her nose, Lucy looked at Jane for the first time since the lunch table.

‘I’m sorry for having a go at you before, you just seem so free of all of this crap. You seem so uncomplicated. Sometimes I wish I was you.’

And there it was, the last admission Jane ever hoped to hear from her sister: that Jane’s life was worth desiring. Jane couldn’t really say anything, it wasn’t like she desired Lucy’s life.

‘It ‘s not all that bad is it. I mean you and Dame love each other… don’t you?’

Lucy just collapsed back into Jane, and howled ‘I don’t know!’ Jane was a little frightened by this second admission and the force with which Lucy now gripped at her. Jane knew enough about relationships to really feel for Lucy’s doubts, but with kids too, that must be the shittest feeling.

Jane put her arms around her crumbled sister, rocking, patting and shhhh’ing her. ‘It’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be alright.’ What else was there to say.

Pinewood Lodge

The hallway’s long but so’s the wait,
for a change in the weather and the pan.
Locked and locked down,
I’m here in a Pinewood caftan.

Six sandcastles on Killarney Beach,
I’ve got 12 blisters on my feet,
But I am here with you,
I am here with you.

Pinewood’s got a lodger for keeps.
Linesmen in the walls are counting my sleeps,
Striking out my days against the dates.
That faux fire’s gonna’ be my fate

Six sandcastles on Killarney Beach,
I’ve got 12 blisters on my feet,
But I am here with you,
I am here with you.

Speculating about the diesel line,
Got no traction withthat blue train.
Waving away at the passing smiles,
All I can do is sing the next refrain.

Six sandcastles on Killarney Beach,
I’ve got 12 blisters on my feet,
But I am here with you,
I am here with you.

Oh my God, Sister’s coming now,
Come to wipe the mud from my mind,
Come to wipe a tear from my eye.

But I am here with you.
I am here with you.

Six sandcastles on Killarney Beach,
I’ve got 12 blisters on my feet,
But I am here with you,
I am here with you.

Dissolving Stones

He wondered on Saturday mornings like these why he decided to have kids. Waking early before the alarm he lay in his bed and stared at the ceiling. Any moment now, he thought, any moment my offspring are going to come barreling in here with their effusive and relentless demands for affection; why can’t they just piss off to the tv first.

Gone were the quiet mornings, full of gentle voluntary awakening. Past were the days when he would wind out of sleep and feel the probable satisfaction that the sight of his then naked and sleeping girlfriend filled him with. Completely evaporated was any feeling of certainty that sex, any sex, was on the very immediate horizon. It made the hardened sensation of a morning glory so futile.

As he waited his still slumbering home seemed to hum with anticipation for the day about to erupt into life. Magpies warbled on the clothes line and parrots nattered in the fruit laden trees of his elderly neighbours. All was as it should have been, as he had always desired it to be. He should have felt fulfilled. He should have felt that his suburban life was bucolic and much vaunted by those less fortunate than him. He had all of this and yet there was an aching emptiness inside him. Somewhere in that emptiness sat a stone that weighed down all his now inert and left-behind desires.

From down the hall he could hear the waking squeaks of his children, as they prepared for the daily cavalry charge of their parents bedroom. Their door opened and out they thundered, their screams of delight at the morning kisses and hugs that awaited them filling the air space of the house. Something like panic started to creep into his gut, as he prepared for the inevitable violence that their affection brought.

He knew the assault on himself would be delayed momentarily, as the first line of defence was his wife’s still inert body. It seemed unfair that she should be awoken by their screams and marauding bodies. But then he knew her too well, she would prefer a violent wake up to the anxious anticipation he seemed prone to endure. He wouldn’t stir her, couldn’t stir her, because in his own self-preserving way it was better that she took the first blows. She was so much better at it than him.

‘Muuuuuummmmeeeeeee!’ his children chimed together as they burst into the bedroom.

‘Oh my little darlin’s..’ she muffled with a sweet but downward inflection. Her lips seemed to be the only part of her body she was capable of moving. The rest of her was flattened out; her chest, arms and legs still in a prone state of surrender to the mattress.

Before she had a chance to mount any barrier or defence against them, their children were on top of her, burying their faces into hers, pummelling and jabbing their heels and elbows into her back and sides. Fighting for the territory of her body. He always wondered why she didn’t put up much of a fight, why she seemed to enjoy the preschooler shiatsu. Was she sadistic or tolerant or just too tired to care? Whatever it was that compelled her to submit to them, he didn’t feel he shared her generosity and heart. He didn’t feel like he could ever be the parent she was.

‘Dadddddeeeeeee!’ her daughter called out to him before roughly turning to him and nuzzling into his side, her attentions more tentative and gentle than she had shown her own mother. He knew his daughter had made mum first priority, and was now attempting to give consolation to dad’s bridesmaid status. But then, he was her consolation too. Suffering dethronement since her younger brother’s arrival, he knew she took particular care to single him out. They had formed a club, being the ones ousted from Her attention.

His emptiness subsided as he turned onto his side and curled his legs up under hers, as if he were a chair on it’s side. She mapped her back against his stomach and chest with her small but long limbed body, his arm reaching almost entirely around her waist, his nose and closed eyes nestled in her soft curls, his chin resting on soft rises of her spine. He may have been runner-up in the parental race, but something told him this embrace was something only dads give to their little ones.

He knew he must be primitive to believe it, but he felt in moments like this that his family depended on him to defend them from the rest of the world. Even if he couldn’t be his wife, he knew he could do the protector gig, should the need ever arise. He pushed the emptiness down for now, and disappeared the stone anchoring his unsated dreams. Even if no armageddon was imminent, he was needed here to reassure and to love. Looking over at his wife as she lay stroking the hair of her baby boy, feeling the chest of his daughter rise and fall, his unrequited longings were more than inevitable and necessary: they were entirely bearable.

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