Tag Archives: Animals

The Outskirts of Benslimane by Josie Gleave

I am called brave for leaving my home and moving to the other side of the world, but I know that any bravery I might have comes from my sister. She is the one who can effortlessly introduce herself to a crowd of new acquaintances or play the peacemaker in an argument. She climbs back on the horse that just bucked her off. I wanted to be her.

I have not seen my sister for over a year since I moved. It feels like ages to us who are often mistaken for twins. I stand on the edge of Paris at the Levallois-Perret train station where we are meeting for only a few short days. I arrived early, and she will fly in from her summer job in Morocco where she has been training horses for a family she claims is one of the wealthiest next to the King.

As I pace the platform, I pose the question: how does a twenty-something, female, Arizonan horse trainer end up in Morocco? There is a blank space in my mind when I think of that country. Instead I imagine a desert of sand and a solitary tiled palace with extensive stables full of black horses. I think of our parents in Arizona who I know have been uneasy for her safety. My own feelings of concern were that she would not be taken seriously or treated fairly. Americans feel loved within their homeland, but that warmth is not always reciprocated when abroad.

Like bees flitting out of the hive, Parisians flood the station. They are a swarm of blue suits and black dresses. I scan the faces of each traveller finding none that resemble my own. When the flight calms and I anticipate waiting for the next train, a statuesque female with long, straight hair rises on the escalator. She is zipped in a black jacket with an embroidered Arabian horse head over the heart, tired blue jeans, cowboy boots, and a rhinestone belt with a horseshoe buckle. We squeal each other’s names and hug. Together we weave through the streets, passing her lumpy duffle bag back and forth to rest our shoulders. My mind is teeming with questions and so I begin.

 

‘How did you end up in Morocco?’

 

It started with Riley’s phone call. He used to shoe for the same stables I worked for in Arizona, and so we would see each other from time to time at the show circuit. He rang me one day saying he had a job for me body clipping some horses for a photo shoot. He said the guy would pay well, three grand for the lot. I said I could get it done and asked for the location of the stable. He said Morocco, and I thought, like the country?

He called me on Monday, and I was on a flight that Wednesday. I only stayed a week that trip so I could get back for the second half of the university semester, but I got to know the owner, Anas, and his situation. His three main properties: the Villa, the Centre, and Comagree are all on the same road on the outskirts of Benslimane. His racing stable is on the coast of Mohammedia, a half hour away. Most of the show horses were stabled at the Villa while the Centre and Comagree had a mixture of agriculture fields, olive and citrus groves, donkeys, goats, cows, sheep, and miniature horses. Anas tries to make money out of his work, but his dad is content keeping him out of the city. See, Anas does everything extreme. He took partying to the extreme. Now he has over 500 head of horses. That is extreme. But it keeps him out of the city. That week, I just body clipped. Anas found out that I can ride and asked me to come back.

One month later, I was back on a plane to Morocco for the summer. To show me the land, Anas took me on his daily rounds. Every night he drove to each property to check up on the horses. He had pastures upon pastures of foals, yearlings, two year olds, three year olds, and pregnant mares. He didn’t remember all of their names, but somehow he knew every pedigree. He would point to a horse and say, ‘This horse was by this and sired by this horse and its grandfather was by this.’ Sometimes he sat up all night long researching pedigrees, and if you weren’t careful and didn’t go to bed on time you would be stuck there with him. Anas wanted to bring back the pure and traditional Barb. If you look them up, Barbs look like fat little ponies, but when you see them they are big boned with huge necks. According to Anas, a few years ago the Moroccan government was lax about accurate breed records. The Barb was disappearing and so anything that looked like a Barb was listed as a Barb to build the registry. While looking for a true bloodline, Anas was also breeding pure Egyptian Arabians and racehorses. He had more than a couple of projects in motion.

Anas set me up in the Villa. I had a room to myself with hot and cold running water and even occasional air conditioning. I was taken care of. The only problem I had was a rat that paid me a visit one night. Already I had a little mouse and two big geckos sharing my accommodation. There was no room for a rat. I locked it in the bathroom, but struggled to sleep. Every time I started to doze, I heard it scurry and bang into a wall or I dreamed that it was nibbling on my toes. In the morning it had left through the same hole it entered. I duct taped it tight.

From six in the morning to five at night, I worked with the horses. Anas had unrealistic expectations for the stallions’ progress, but I still tried to please him. He wanted them prancing and doing tricks, but most couldn’t ride in a straight line. Half of them weren’t even broke before I arrived. I split my horses into two groups. The first I turned out to pasture to let them run and play in open space. The others I lunged in a round pen and the next day I rotated. I schooled the halter Arabs by training them to position their necks high and back legs outstretched and then I worked on breaking the stallions. Some of those studs were raunchy. I mean, I would take them out of their stalls and they would try to bite my head. They would strike at me, rear up, and come at me. When I was breaking Markmoul under saddle, all he would do was buck. What I found to work with Markmoul seemed to ring true for stallions in general. The more consistently I worked them and rode them, the better they became. They were easier to handle and weren’t retarded. Let a stud sit for a bit, and they turn into mischief-makers. So I give them a job and it makes them happy. I think men are the same way.

My two years of high school Spanish were obviously of no use that summer. The people spoke a concoction of Arabic and French. A couple of guys at the stable took it upon themselves to educate me, which started as pointing at an object and stating its name. I kept a vocabulary list on my phone and botched the spelling of every word so I could read it later. Ayoub and I became friends through this process. He worked at Comagree, but was close to my age so we went riding together and explored old ruins and roads. I don’t know what language we spoke, but we could understand one another. We carried on full conversations in this odd foreign dialect that probably wasn’t really a language.

One of my favourite evenings was when Ayoub and I drove to Mohammedia. I had been before to see the racehorses, but never at night. That is when the city comes alive. Whenever we were unsure of directions, we pulled over on the side of the road and Ayoub would call out to a lone vendor selling snail soup or cactus fruit. The people were helpful and friendly, almost too friendly with a tendency to jump in your car and take you to the place you are trying to go. We arrived at Mohammedia, walked along the boardwalk and watched a little carnival on the beach where there were horse rides and camel rides for children. Somehow Ayoub convinced me to ride the Ferris wheel. Terrible idea. It went around and around for what felt like an hour and it went fast! I am not great with heights, but that was hardly my primary concern. First of all, it was a carnival ride. Second of all, it was a carnival ride in Morocco. The hinges looked shabby with ropes and knots holding things together. My nervousness only encouraged Ayoub. He tried to shake the carriage so it would rattle and swing and then he would laugh and laugh.

Early in the month, Anas asked me to show some of the Arabs in halter. I told him I would if he really wanted me to, but I didn’t think it was a good idea. The horses wouldn’t have a fair show with me. Women aren’t exactly repressed in Morocco, but they don’t show horses. Even if I trotted out with the best Arab gelding, I would still be a woman. Anas knew the risk, but still thought that I deserved to flaunt my work. I told Anas his horses would have a better shot with me training and a man showing.

Morocco has its own politics and rules around horse shows. I let that be. In no other way was it a problem that I was a woman. The guys treated me a bit differently, but that was because I am a white American, and as a trainer I was a little bit higher than them. After they saw me manhandle a couple of the studs and bust my butt working and getting dirty just like them, they accepted me.

One day, all the guys and me were at Comagree looking at the Barbs used in Fantasia. We had just gone to the festival and seen the main competition where twenty men on Barb horses, dressed in traditional garb, gallop towards the audience and shoot their rifles into the air one time. The goal is to fire in unison so it sounds like one single shot ringing out, not popcorn. These Barb horses are a fiery breed. They are taught to dance and rear upon hearing certain Arabic words. One of the guys brought out this grey Barb and jumped on bareback. The horse took off down the road, reared on command like The Man from Snowy River, sprinted back toward us, and skidded to a halt. The man jumped off and said to me, ‘You?’

‘Yeah!’ I swung up on the grey without a thought of possible dangers. It was my chance to prove my riding ability. We galloped to the end of the road, and I repeated the Arabic commands. The Barb pranced and then reared, pawing the air. We shot off again and slid to a stop. The guys clapped and cheered for me. I slid off the Barb’s back and couldn’t stop smiling. Amongst the commotion, Said asked me something in Arabic. I was used to nodding and agreeing with what was asked of me even when I didn’t understand. Next thing I knew, he was kissing me! I guess you can’t say yes to everything.

As much as I loved Morocco, I did miss speaking English. What a relief when Enda arrived from Ireland. At least I had one person I could talk with easily. Enda was hired as a farrier, but he also helped exercise the horses with me. He loved to ride. But he had one problem; he had a massive appetite. Hajiba was our amazing cook who sourced most of our food from the properties. Everything she made was saucy and delicious, but Enda still said he couldn’t survive on three meals a day and no alcohol. He was pleased when the guys at Comagree invited both of us to another Fantasia festival. It turned out to be more of a post-wedding, bachelor’s party for some guy from the next town over, but it meant Enda’s belly would be full after the feast. I sat next to Enda and Ayoub and tried to not feel out of place as the only chick in the tent.

The people aren’t that big on plates or forks in Morocco, but they do have a strong sense of community. The men passed around a community bowl of water to dip your hands, community towel to dry your hands, and then one community glass of water to drink. I started with the cup, but turned my back for a second and it was gone. By the time I noticed, it was halfway around the table. I didn’t want it back. The one thing I did get to myself was bread because it is eaten at every meal and used as utensils. When the banquet was laid before us, everyone dove in fingers first and used the round khobz to shovel lamb, potatoes, and carrots into their mouths.

After we ate, four girls entered the tent and danced. Everyone clapped along as the dancers waved their arms and flicked their hands as if flinging off water. One of the girls continued to sway as she climbed on top of the table. Then she turned to me and tried to pull me up alongside her. Um, no. But she didn’t give up. She urged me to join her until the guys hollered for my submission. So I thought, when in Rome…. There was a lot of hair whipping and hip shaking, but I can’t deny that it was fun. Once I jumped off of the table, everyone in the tent was on their feet dancing, clapping, and flicking their hands. I found Ayoub in the crowd and stayed close to him. He showed me some steps he knew, and I tried to teach him country dancing spins and dips. Enda was beside himself. ‘How can a people act like this without a drop of alcohol?’

What I loved most was making friends. There was this one guy who lived down a road where I often went riding. I don’t know his name, but we called him Avocado because he had green eyes. Whenever he saw me passing, he came out of his house to give me a piece of fruit. I loved that. People didn’t have a whole lot, but they didn’t need a whole lot. From what I saw, most of the people were happy. They were religious. They believed in a God. They believed in helping each other and doing what is right and being kind.

Oh, I almost forgot. Anas told me this joke. Why is the donkey’s nose white? It’s because his enemy is the children who pull his ears. When he went to Heaven he peeked his nose in, saw all of the children, and ran off.

 

Download the PDF of ‘The Outskirts of Benslimane’ here

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NiKKi, Hiroki Kosuge

18th April, 2014

Church

I went to church on Good Friday. A man standing by the lectern preached about the importance of choice in our lives. Then, we sang a hymn. Every single believer but me sang pretty well.

The preacher said, ‘Anyone interested, please come over here.’ The believers flooded to the lectern. They were asked to choose either a black bean or a white bean. Some took a black bean in a transparent plastic cup. Others took a white bean in an opaque plastic cup.

After having completed the countdown of three-two-one, they swallowed their own beans hastily.

At that moment, the floor underneath the believers who swallowed white beans cracked open and they fell into a deep pit. Those who chose black beans seemed to be relieved and returned to their seats contentedly. The preacher said, ‘You see? This is the importance of choice in our lives!’

Just before leaving the church, I looked into one of the deep pits by the lectern and heard a voice: ‘I should’ve chosen a black bean.’

28th April, 2014

No Woman No Cry

I saw a woman weeping in the train. Her face was reddish and slightly swollen with alcohol. Then her phone rang. While she was talking she only said, ‘Why?’ Hanging up, she started sobbing again. She cried like an animal. She opened the window, and threw the phone to the outside of the train.

The phone pinged, and was run over and killed. The louder she cried, the more brilliantly her tears dropped on her light-blue dress, and shone.

Finally, her body was completely covered with her tears. They looked scaly. She had become a large fish. After flopping on the seat several times, she leaped through the window and dived into the water under the Harbour Bridge. She left behind her tears, which were as hot as melted iron.

 

 11th May, 2014

Mother’s Day

From the bus, I saw a woman in the cemetery. She was polishing a tombstone, kneeling down on the ground. She was the only one in the cemetery. The tombstone was shining like a gray gem while other graves were deserted, or broken.

I arrived at the Shopping Centre. There was a huge arch of pink balloons and flowers for Mother’s Day. There were a lot of people carrying flowers in their arms. The petals of chrysanthemums in their arms were rigid as soldiers. I bought eggs and milk, and left, wondering how cruel Australians were, since chrysanthemums are only used in funerals in Japan.

On the way home, the bus passed by the cemetery again. Nobody was there, but a fresh bunch of flowers were left in front of the shining tombstone. The flowers were swaying like a giggling child, blown in the wind. I wondered how many mothers were lying in the cemetery. Then I remembered my own mother, Nanohana, who was named for a flower that blooms in spring, and was proud of that.

 

29th May, 2014

A Shovel

I happened to find a shovel at a museum shop, which was heavy and reminded me of my childhood. When I was a child, I was afraid of shovels. Every spring, without any good reason, the heavy lumps of iron were given to us, and we were forced to plant sweet potato seedlings. We dug, until the teacher told us to stop. The teacher said, ‘We’ll harvest in the autumn,’ although none of us asked when to harvest. I didn’t really want to harvest, because I knew I would have plenty of food in autumn even without sweet potatoes. I would rather have washed my hands as soon as possible, and have run away from the garden named after the manga character in which I was least interested. The hole I made looked like a grave for me. I didn’t like adults or children.

A museum attendant asked me if I would be interested in gardening. I smiled, looked at the shovel with a floral pattern and then asked her if I could make a grave with it. The staff was appalled and stepped back, but assured me, ‘If you want.’

30th June, 2014

An Over-Familiar Possum

I went to a swimming pool in the city. My goal was to be able to swim fifty metres. I managed to swim forty-five metres today. I am almost there. However, as I forgot to bring my goggles, my eyes became bloodshot and everything I saw became hazy. Even after I had left the sports centre, I couldn’t see things clearly.

Later, I went to a Turkish restaurant. The restaurant was filled with smoke. Rubbing my eyes, I ordered a kebab. A waiter asked if I needed a regular salad. I couldn’t read the menu but could only see his white teeth shining dimly. I left the restaurant, groping for a beacon outside.
The street lights were the strangest. I could see a dim ring around the light. It looked like a halo, and I regretted that I went to the church frequently these days despite the fact I was a Buddhist.

Walking at a snail’s pace to the station, I passed through Hyde Park. There was an extraordinarily huge possum. The possum looked at me as a beggar. I remembered that I had a Tim Tam and opened my bag. However, because of haziness, I couldn’t find it. The possum seemed to be really irritated. Finally, I found a Tim Tam and threw it to the possum. However, the possum rejected it and said, ‘Mate, can I have a durry?’ Then I finally found that it wasn’t a huge possum but a homeless person. I apologised to him and scurried back to my home.

 

13th July, 2014

An Accidental Indian Dance Instructor

As I make it a rule to write outside on a sunny day, I went to a park. When I was sitting on the bench and writing, I could see two girls dancing an Indian dance. One of them was Indian and another girl was Chinese. They seemed to be practicing for a performance. The Indian girl was teaching the Chinese girl. As they had danced for more than an hour in front of me, I realised that the Indian dance consisted of four patterns.

1. Make a loop with fingers

2. Bend knees

3. Shake hips

4. Tilt neck.

The Indian girl (I named her ‘A’) did two-four-three-one-three-four-four-two, while the Chinese girl (I named her ‘B’) did two-four-one-three-one-four-three-one. ‘A’ did two-four-three-one-three-four-four-two again, but ‘B’ did two-four-two-three-one- four-four-one. ‘A’ did two while ‘B’ did four. When ‘B’ did three, ‘A’ did four.

A: three-one-three-four-two-one-three-three-two-one-four.

B: three-one-three-four-two-one-three-three-two-one-one.

So close!

Then a strong wind blew my papers away. ‘B’ kindly picked them up, looked at the B4 sized papers on which numbers from one to four were scribbled and tilted her neck.

That’s it!

 

14th August, 2014

Lost

I took a wrong train. It was a night train to go to Melbourne. I had plenty of time and didn’t have anything to do but sleep. My face reflected in the window was as black as a portrait drawn in Indian ink. It wasn’t easy to sleep.

I looked at an obese man sitting on the other side of my seat. He had been talking to himself, while looking at his computer screen, ‘Crap…Crap…Crap…’ I looked into the screen and found he was watching a film. It was a film of his own life.

He was a child who was lovely, smart and vulnerable. He could get high marks in any subject, but wasn’t good at playing any sports. One day, he was chosen as a rugby team member by lots. It was obvious he was the poorest in the team. He didn’t practice and was absent on the day of the rugby match, because he didn’t want to show his poor rugby playing. Next day, nobody blamed him, but he blamed himself. He reckoned himself a loser. He graduated from school and got a job in a construction company, but soon quit. He stayed indoors and kept on eating. He believed he was always starving despite his body swelling like a balloon.

He clicked a rewind button and started watching the film again, murmuring, ‘Crap… Crap… Crap…’ Then, our eyes met. He said, ‘What are you looking at?’

After an awkward pause, I said, ‘I’m lost.’ He said, ‘So am I.’

 

 15th September, 2014

This Is No Longer A Bus Stop

When I got to the bus stop, there was a sign. It said this was no longer a bus stop due to the changed road conditions. I found an aged couple sitting on the bench. I said this was no longer a bus stop. They looked at each other, laughed and said that was why they were waiting here.

Again, I said this was no longer a bus stop and therefore the bus wouldn’t come no matter how long you would wait. The husband studied me and then whispered something into his wife’s ear. His wife slightly nodded and opened her bag. She fumbled her red enamel bag and took out a piece of a yellowish paper.

It was a timetable. However, I couldn’t read it because there were so many small holes in the paper. Again, I said the bus wouldn’t come, folding the paper. They burst into laughter. I was disgusted with them and started walking. After a while, however, I felt sorry for the couple. Both of them must be suffering from dementia.

After having walked for a couple of minutes, however, I heard a thundering sound. Looking back, I could see the bus stop flying across the sky, like a skyrocket. The couple in the rocket-like bus stop waved to me with big grins. Then, I realised they had been waiting for the moment the bus stop would no longer be a bus stop, literally.

 

16th October, 2014

Arsonist

She called me and said she wouldn’t be able to talk for more than ten minutes because she was now imprisoned. I was really surprised because she was my best friend and was unlikely to commit a crime. I asked what she had done. She said she set the woods on fire, which wasn’t intentional. I suggested that she should have claimed that she was innocent. She said she couldn’t because it was true that she had set fire to a palm tree in the woods. I asked her why she had set the fire on the palm tree. She answered she was falling in love with the tree and couldn’t forgive it for reaching its branch to another palm tree. She confessed that she was about to lose her marbles whenever the palm tree quivered its leaves in a blowing wind. When she was about to say something, the telephone was disconnected. I wondered if she had already become crazy.

Afterwards, I told this creepy story to my partner. ‘It’s crazy to fall in love with a palm tree, isn’t it?’

My partner, a eucalyptus, didn’t say anything as usual. I hugged him tightly, closed my eyes and then enjoyed his clean scent.

 

 4th November, 2014

Coy Carp

There lives a coy carp in the Sinobazu pond within Ueno Park in Tokyo. No one has seen it swimming. Hidden under waterweed, seemingly, it keeps still. It has a hobby, though.

The coy carp is into Twitter now:

 

#Shinobazu Pond

Water is lukewarm.

 

#Shinobazu Pond

Am afraid of Dengue fever.

 

#Shinobazu Pond

I wanna go to the beach someday.

 

There lives a coy carp in the Shinobazu pond within Ueno Park in Tokyo. No one has seen it swimming. Hidden under waterweed, seemingly, it keeps still. It is an ambitious carp, actually.

 

 16th December, 2014

Wednesday, the Day of Loneliness

Mr Sato our boss is now often absent on Wednesday. It’s quite okay because he is just taking his paid leaves. He’s within his rights.

One day, one of my colleagues, however, told me Mr Sato’s secret in a cafeteria at the company.

She said in a low voice, ‘A friend of mine saw Mr Sato in a park on Wednesday.’

After looking around carefully, she added, ‘He was on a swing there. Alone.’

I didn’t know if I should laugh in the moment like this. I just imagined a middle-aged man sitting on a swing by himself.

I thought it would be the ultimate loneliness.

 

 6th January, 2015

Beer & Beach

Mum would tell me when I was a child that life originated on the bottom of the ocean. Then I wondered if we would ascend into the sky like balloons when we died.

I had a friend called Jim. When I first met him, we were final-year students at the university. He was the kindest man I had ever met. We would often go to the beach on Sunday. Jim would tell me the names of birds floating in the clear sky. I would talk with him about my dream of becoming a poet. He would never laugh at my callowness. It may be just because both of us were intoxicated throughout the summer, though.

‘I must be strong to be a poet,’ I said.

‘Poets must be vulnerable,’ Jim said.

After we got drunk, we would exhaust ourselves swimming at the beach.

When the summer was over, Jim left the town in order to get a job in a city on the east coast. On the day he left, we promised to meet again. I haven’t seen him since then.

Some years later, I really became a poet.

Jim became an ornithologist, I heard, and died of lung cancer at twenty-seven.

I have forgotten his gentle voice, sunburnt skin and coy smile. We didn’t take any pictures in that summer. All I can remember now is the taste of bitter tides, and that we did believe we were immortal while we drank beer on the beach.

 

Download a pdf of ‘NiKKi’.

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Burdens, Olivia Whenman

DAMON HILTON

Constable Derrin was standing behind me whilst I was on the phone. In high school we used to call him Herc the Lurk.

‘I love you baby. Please! I won’t do anything like this again. Please baby. Don’t hang up! Don’t hang up!’

But she hung up. I turned around in defeat. I was face-to face with Herc. It reminded me of when we were forced to partner up in self-defence class. He kicked my arse. Ugh, in high school he was a loser. Actually, he’s still a loser. The only difference is the school blazer’s now a badly pressed uniform and its emblem a poorly shined badge.

‘Who was that?’ Herc asked.

‘Mara,’ I said.

“She like princesses or something?”

‘What?’

‘Come with me mate,’ he said.

His mother was Greek. Called him Hercules or some shit after a Greek god who fought monsters. I don’t know. I don’t care. There’s not even anything particularly godly about Herc. I bet the only monsters he ever gets to fight are underage offenders. They aren’t even monsters, they’re just bored.

‘Check out ya face,’ he said.

He opened the bathroom door and let me in. Water had leaked underneath the mirror leaving a mass of black ooze in the corner. My face was blue under the light. On the side of my face there was a stain and on my cheek a splodge. Mara. Black eyeliner and pink lip-gloss. Her signature. I didn’t wipe them off. I left them there for company. I missed her already.

‘You like being a princess?’ Herc said.

‘Yeah, maybe you can be my Knight in Shining Armour and save me? Wait, aren’t you a god or some shit?’ I asked.

‘Yeah real funny wise guy. I won’t be saving your arse until I know it wasn’t you. So until then I can’t let you go.’

‘What does that mean? Is there going to be a line-up?’

‘Yeah mate, there’s going to be a line-up.’

The cell bed sagged in the middle where various arses had been before. I’d been lying there for at least an hour.

There’s a photo stuck above my bed. It’s a school photo of Mara. It was taken in Year 11 a couple of months before we started dating. Her hair was blonde and long, and her lips tinted with pink lip-gloss. Sometimes I’d see sticky residue on the collars of other boys in my year. But then we started going out. After that the lip-gloss smears disappeared.

In Year 12 I used to smoke every afternoon at the train station. I’d smoke one, two, three cigarettes. Commuters would stare. I’d fight with Mara at the station because she wouldn’t kiss me. She said my mouth tasted like shit. Then she said second-hand smoke was even worse than the real thing. She said that it caused cancer and if I kept it up I’d be dead by the age of 30. Than my brother Levi died. So I stopped.

The year after we finished school Mara decided she was going to move away and go to university. She ended up staying. I’m pretty sure she stayed for me. I was glad because I didn’t really care about anyone else in our shithole of a hometown. Mara’s best friend Larnie moved away though. I could tell Mara missed her. But she had me. She still has me.

‘Mate you awake?’ Herc asked.

‘Ugh yeah,’ I said.

‘It’s time.’

I stood against a white backdrop with seven random guys. Actors? Picked off the street? Other cops? I don’t know.

‘Is there anywhere in particular you want to stand?’ Herc asked.

‘Nah not really,’ I said.

Honestly, I just wanted it to be over and done with. Through the observation window I could see the witness’s hair in some sort of bun. There was a vein bulging on the left side of her temple. Frustration? Anger? Exhaustion? I’d seen her three times before. She worked at the jewellers.

She pointed straight at me. Her lips tight.

‘It was that one. He broke into the jewellery store… again.’

Herc took me by the right arm. He gripped it tightly as he walked me back to the holding cell, told me that in the morning they were going to take me to a corrections centre, a new fancy fucking way to say ‘jail’.  I was a repeat offender. Breaking and entering as well as theft was my specialty. This wasn’t the first time I’d stolen something from that store. But it was the first time I’d stolen an engagement ring.

Herc leant against the cell wall, hands in his pockets. He was chewing gum that squelched around inside his mouth.

‘You wanna know something?’ Herc asked.

‘Ok,’ I said.

‘So you and Mara started like dating in year 11 or something, right?’

‘Yeah. What of it?’

‘Nothing mate. It’s just she’s a huge bitch.’

‘Fuck you! You talkin’ shit about my girlfriend? I’d fuckin’ kill for her.’

‘Are you fucking serious? Mate you gotta draw the line somewhere. She’s a bitch. That ring you stole was for her wasn’t it?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Yeah thought so. Just like all that shit you took last time? You know what your fault is mate? You’re massive idiot,’ he said as he shut the door.

Yeah I thought. I am a massive idiot. But I love her.

 

CATS ARE BETTER THAN DOGS

Joel Hilton hit me because I said his dog was stupid.

‘Cats are better than dogs. Dogs can’t even look after themselves. You have to clean dogs. You don’t have to clean cats.’

‘Yeah well dogs are better than cats. Dogs can play fetch! Cats don’t do anything, they just sleep all day. Borrrrring.’

‘No they don’t! I play games with my cat all the time. He likes to play games with this stick thing. It’s got a string on the end and you like wave it around and he chases it and tries to eat it.’

‘That sounds boring Gabby. Your cat sounds stupid. He’s trying to eat string. Cats can’t eat string.’

‘He’s not stupid! Your dog is stupid.’

‘Nuh-uh, my dog’s smart. He can play dead and everything.’

‘Yeah well he’s probably so stupid he should be dead.’

We both have time out tomorrow at lunchtime because Mrs Burrell says so. She says it doesn’t matter if cats or dogs are better. She says I shouldn’t have said what I said. But I don’t think she understands. Cats are better. They just are.

I hit Gabby Wright because she said my dog was stupid. But he’s the smartest dog I know. He’s smarter than Gabby. She’s so stupid. Mrs Burrell says I shouldn’t have hit her. So I’ve got time out tomorrow at lunchtime. Anyway dogs are better than cats. It’s not my fault Gabby doesn’t understand.

It’s lunchtime and everyone else is outside in the playground. It sucks I’m stuck inside on time out. I asked my Mum if cats are better than dogs. She said yes. She said cats are better than dogs because cats are independent. I think she means that cats can go and catch birds and eat them if they’re hungry.

I’m in time out. My brother told me I shouldn’t worry about it. He used to get put on time out all the time. He also said that that dogs are better than cats because dogs can help blind people. All my friends are outside playing. Gabby and her cat suck.

Did you know in ancient Egypt the mummies loved cats? They made statues and pictures of them and stuff.

Did you know one of the first animals in space was a dog? I wish I could go to space with my dog.

Cats always land on their feet.

Dogs are used by the police to find things.

Garfield is a famous cat.

Snoopy is a famous dog.

Cats are better than dogs.

Dogs are better than cats.

Cats are better than dogs.

Dogs are better than cats.

‘Have you two learnt your lesson?’ Mrs Burrell asked.

 

LUNCHBOX

 It was the 17th of January 1963 when the Bray family came to town. Fourteen children + one mother + one father + one uncle + one aunt + one grandmother = nineteen unwelcome Brays.  Their clothes, tacky with tropical dampness, had dirtied in the dust as they set up their makeshift homes. Now they were all brown. George Wright watched through his bedroom window. His mother Patricia shouted from her sewing room, ‘You stay away from them, you hear? They’re filthy people.’ But George ignored her. She never let him do anything. At church he’d often pictured God’s arm crashing through the ceiling and grabbing his mother from the pulpit and taking her away like King Kong did to Ann Darrow.

Pa Keith was the only interesting grown-up he knew. He was 86 but George liked the fact that the wrinkles on his face were so deep he could stick a half-penny in there and it would stay. He also took George to see King Kong at the movies and let him have a whole bottle of Coke. Pa Keith told him it was their little secret. George’s Mum never let him have Coke. She said it would ruin his teeth. She never trusted anyone with bad teeth.

By late afternoon, the vacant lot had been transformed into ‘Brays’ Land’. Their six horses ate the fresh, green grass beside their four caravans placed in a line like peculiar storefronts. Each wooden body had been decorated with patterns and pictures. The doors were round.

There were five girls and nine boys in the Bray family. George counted them on the morning of the 18th of January as they ran around the oval giggling and yelling. His mum said he had to stay inside because of his allergies. George knew she was lying but his dad was home so he couldn’t argue.

George’s dad had really white teeth. George’s dad wore suits and only suits. His pyjamas were even ironed to have the same starchy stiffness as the business suit he sported every day over his body like a second skin. But it was a Sunday and Malcolm Wright was in his home office making telephone calls because ‘A banker never rests son. One day you’ll understand. Now what’s one + five + nine + two?’

‘17.’

‘Good.’

At 11:00am Patricia Wright left for one of her ‘Women’s Meetings’. She took Pa Keith with her and dropped him off at the RSL to play bowls with his friends James and John. George left the house at 11:15am and walked to the oval with his lunchbox, packed with a sandwich just in case he got hungry.

‘Who’s that?’ the oldest Bray asked when he saw George walking towards the cluster of children sitting underneath the only tree on the vacant lot.

‘Oi, who are you?’ he asked George.

‘George Wright. Who are you?’ George asked.

‘Gary…  Ain’t you been told to stay away?’

‘Mum said to stay away yesterday. I thought we could play or something…’ George smiled.

‘Nah it’s alright. We gotta enough kids to play with already. Whatcha got in that lunchbox?’

‘A sandwich.’

‘Can I have it?’

‘It’s turkey. But can I play with you?’

‘Yeah but only if ya give me ya lunchbox.’

‘Ok.’

George played tips with the Brays until their legs were too tired to run anymore. Then George helped them feed the horses. His favourite was called Onyx. His favourite Bray girl was called Maggie. She gave George a kiss on the cheek. Her teeth were yellowed and gritty. She smelt like ants and melted sugar cubes.

‘You’re nice,’ she smiled and then walked away.

George blushed.

‘George William Wright!’ Patricia Wright screamed.

‘I need to go home,’ George said.

‘Don’t you want to stay for supper?’ one of the Brays asked.

‘I can’t.’

George saw his Mum crossing the vacant lot. Her blue dress threatened to lift and expose her underwear.

‘What did I tell you? What did I tell you about going near these filthy people?’ she said.

‘I was just…’

‘You never listen to me George! Why is that? Why are you disobedient? And why does that boy have your lunchbox?’ she pointed to Gary Bray.

George Wright knew what would happen if he told her the truth. A bar of soap in the mouth, a few smacks with the belt and no dinner.

‘I was having lunch in the park and he stole it so I came over here to get it back.’

‘Gary didn’t steal nothin’! That’s a lie!’ Maggie said.

‘Shut up you filthy little liar! Shut up!’ Patricia Wright said.

On the morning of the 19th of January the revelation that a Bray child had stolen George Wright’s lunchbox was the talk of the town.

‘You can’t trust anyone these days,’ Pa Keith said.

‘Yeah, you can’t trust anyone,’ George said as he sipped some Coke.

The police said they couldn’t do anything so a group of men including Malcolm Wright went to the vacant lot. George heard that Mr Bray had some of his teeth knocked out by a cricket bat. They cracked and splintered. Little white dots like breadcrumbs thrown for the birds on the green grass. The Bray family packed up their things and left.

 

NARCISSISTIC MUCH?


How’s the train ride going? J

I’ve got some bogan sitting next to me. He smells like that Lynx chocolate spray all the guys used to spray on themselves after P.E.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA it smells so bad! Sucks to be you!

Fuck you. I’ll buy you some for your birthday. P

Ok. All the boys will want me cause I’ll smell so good!

You wish bitch.

LOL. I’ve gotta go. Talk later. xx

 

My skirt is riding up my leg again.

The guy sitting next to me on the train looks like such a pervert. Shit, he’s looking at me.

Great so I picked the carriage with the seedy looking guy. His red windbreaker reminds me of James Dean in ‘Rebel Without a Cause.’ But he isn’t James Dean. A curly orange mullet cascades down the back of his freckled neck. He has a suitcase. His nose is inflamed and crusted around the nostrils. Wait. Crust around the nostrils. Cocaine? OMG you are such a prude Martina. He keeps twitching. Fidgeting. There’s sweat on his upper lip. Why can’t he keep still? I get my book out of my bag. Sense and Sensibility. I’m just going to ignore him. He’ll eventually get off.

‘Hey is it alright if I leave this here?’ I hear someone say.

‘Ummm yeah. Yeah that’s fine… Wait, what?’ I reply.

I look up and no one’s there. I look backwards down the aisle and I see the guy with the red windbreaker already moving in the space between carriages. Where’s he going? Why’d he leave his suitcase?

I read the tag. It says his name is Sam Bray. I go back to reading my book.

40 minutes later and that guy hasn’t come back. I’m trapped. Trapped forever in an endless sea of green seats and beige plastic walls. I just want to know if he’s coming back. I just want to know why he left his bag because like, is it even normal to leave your bag with a stranger?

It’s been over an hour now. I remember reading a sign once at the station that said you should report unattended baggage. I’m not overreacting am I? Wait, is this even unattended? He sort of implied I watch it, right?

Fuck. Maybe he’s somewhere doing drugs? Maybe he’s hiding in the bathroom snorting more cocaine? OMG what if he’s left me with his stash of drugs? What if the cops come on and do a random bag search? I’m not a drug mule!

Some guy left his bag with me and disappeared. He’s been gone for like an hr. Wat do I do?

IDK. Move to a different carriage? xx

OK.

I put my book in my bag and stood up to leave.  I walked past an elderly couple sleeping in a huddled mass. The woman was snoring like a pig. The thump of footsteps stopped behind me.

‘Hey! What are you doing? I asked you to watch my fucking bag!’

‘I was! You were gone for like an hour!’

‘Yeah so. Just let someone steal my fucking bag instead yeah?’

‘But you were gone for ages.’

‘Yeah and? I was on the phone to my Mum OK. Is that a crime?’

‘No.’

‘Fuckin’ bitch.’

 

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