Tag Archives: chaos & creation

Charge, Jonathan Pastolero – Yin

1. EXT. STREET PATH. DAY
Rushing rain hits the pavement.

Dark clouds cast a shadow over the entire suburb.At first, the street seems desolate. A bicycle light fading on and off can be seen making its way up from the distance of the footpath.

NORA, a sixteen year old girl, breathes heavily as she pedals her bicycle with her bulging school bag strapped behind her. She has a silver helmet on and is dressed in her bright green summer uniform.

CUT TO:

2. INT. NORA’S BEDROOM. DAY
FLASHBACK:

A futuristic digital clock rings: the time is eight twenty -five. A caption reading,  ‘History exam first period’ flashes under the displayed time.

Nora in her pyjamas springs out of bed with her history textbook falling off her face. She brushes back locks of her straight hair. She looks towards the digital clock on the side of her bed and rushes to a window displaying a night sky that becomes transparent by the touch of her fingers.

She sees the school bus leaving her street in the pouring rain. Nora drops her head down and gasps.

3. EXT. STREET PATH. DAY
Raindrops pour down her exhausted face. As she pedals she looks at her digital watch and sees that the time is eight fifty-nine. Her mouth is wide open; she inhales and exhales. A red car speeds past Nora, sending a wave of gutter water splashing all over her. She takes a hand off one of the handle bars and raises it towards the air.

NORA
Hey! This is a forty zone, jerk!

She bows her head, huffing and puffing.

Her watch flashes: the time is nine o’clock.

Wiping her wet face, she pedals faster.

Growing in the distance is the faint sound of lightning getting louder.

Nora slipstreams through the rain at a steady pace.

A bolt of lightning strikes Nora. She is sent flying along with her bike over a nearby hedge.

Everything goes black!

4. EXT. STREET PATH. ONE HOUR LATER
Nora’s eyes open, the rain has stopped, and all she sees is grey sky. Her uniform is intact, but it is ruffled around the edges.

She turns to her side to see her bike smelted black.
She frantically gets up and takes off her helmet. Her straight hair is now all fuzzy. She runs her hands around her body; her expression shows relief that she is in one piece.
She looks at her watch.

NORA
Shit!

The display of the watch shows an array of flashing digits. She shakes the watch as the display emits a blue light blinding Nora and causing her to shield her eyes. She unbuckles her watch and throws it out to the road. As it hits the tar the flashing screen dies. She jumps over the hedge and breaks into a run.

5. INT. SCHOOL HALLWAY. DAY 5
Nora’s face is flushed red. With her head down she gasps for air as she walks along the marble white concave corridor, unaware of the fading florescent lights she
walks under.
She passes by a LED poster that animates the following: ‘Relax, & enjoy your exams!’ A smiley face appears.

The LED screen fizzles out; the smiley face turns into a sad face and the screen goes black.

Nora comes to a halt. She turns her head facing the doorway to her history room. She takes a deep breath and before she can place her hand on the button that opens the door, it slides open.

The school bell rings.

A sea of STUDENTS exit out of the room weaving their way around Nora who manages to stand still. She examines their faces which are full of relief and joy. Some of the students take a quick glimpse of Nora while the majority give her long stares upon seeing her fuzzy hair and the state of her uniform.

Three girls, MANDY, SHARON, and CASSANDRA giggle past Nora. Their summer uniforms are sleeveless, they wear loose bangles, and their cheeks blush of pink makeup.

Nora’s fingers clench, her eyes shut.

CASSANDRA (O/S)
Looks like someone left the hair dryer in the sink.

 

Her eyes open. She gasps aware that her fine, radiant locks are now all fuzzy. She strokes her hair trying to straighten it out.

GABBY (O/S)
Nora, about time!

GABBY emerges from the room and approaches Nora.

NORA
Well… There were some complications along the way.

Nora sees JASON from within the classroom as he is about to finish his conversation with MR HISTORANT. She sees Jason heading out. She stops pulling her hair and fixes her scrunched uniform. She extends her hand and shows Gabby her open palm.

NORA (CONT’D)
Gabby, quick! A comb!

Gabby turns around and does an, ‘Oh’ expression.

Jason exits the room and walks towards their direction.

Gabby turns to Nora, giving her a wave and then walking off.

Nora places her hands by her side.

Jason walks towards her.

Nora sways from side to side smiling. A strand of fuzzy hair falls over her forehead. Her eyes roll up as she blows the strand away.

NORA
Jason.

JASON
Hey, you look… fresh.

NORA
Uh, thanks.

They both stare at each other awkwardly. Jason lifts the collar of his uniform while Nora whistles.

He takes a deep breath as if he is about to say something.

CASSANDRA (O/S)
There you are!

Cassandra loops her arms around Jason giving Nora an envious smile. He looks uncomfortably at Cassandra, then looks at Nora with a blank face.

CASSANDRA (CONT’D)
So, we still good for this afternoon?

Jason tries to fidget out of her grip. But she holds on to him smiling, her pristine white teeth showing, her mascara eyes gazing into his.

JASON
Huh? Cassandra, did we arrange…

Nora looks on with her teeth clenching. She raises her hands in protest, but is cut off by the squealing of Cassandra who is now jumping with joy.

CASSANDRA
It’s a date!

She pulls him away further down the hallway. Nora can only stand still as she looks on. The fluorescent light above her fizzes.

6. INT. HISTORY CLASSROOM. DAY
Nora stands before Mr Historant by his table.

MR HISTORANT
Woke up on the wrong side of the bed, did we?

NORA
Not quite…

Mr Historant crosses his arms.

MR HISTORANT
Your habit of coming in late isn’t doing you any favour, Nora.

Mr Historant points his fingers at her as she starts to cringe.

MR HISTORANT (CONT’D)
I’m going to have to fail you.

Nora’s body stiffens.

NORA
You can’t! I mean, I would have come in five minutes late anyway if I wasn’t…

He places his hands on his temples rubbing them.

MR HISTORANT
Let me guess, you caught the wrong bus?

Nora opens her mouth, but Mr Historant stops her by hissing.

MR HISTORANT (CONT’D)
You missed the bus? No, wait! I got it, the bus didn’t come on time!

Nora drops her shoulders.

NORA
I was hit by lightning!

He raises his hands in the air.

MR HISTORANT
Wow… Out of all my years in teaching, this has got to be the first.

NORA
I swear, it happened. I’ve got my bike to prove it! I just have to get it back…

The lights around the room flicker frantically as Nora says this. They both look around the room and then lock eyes.

Mr Historant pulls out a form and places it on the table. Grabbing a fountain pen from his pocket, he hands the pen over to her.

MR HISTORANT
I want you to sign this.

Mr Historant fixes his eyes on Nora, his face is tense.

NORA
No! I’m not signing anything!

A crackle of thunder is heard.

MR HISTORANT
Do you want to be suspended? Is that what you want?

Nora bites her bottom lip. She lets out a sigh and grabs the fountain pen. Mr Historant falls to the floor.

Nora shouts and drops the pen. It hits the floor as electrical currents jump out.
She bends down and performs CPR on her teacher. She does a compression which causes Mr Historant to violently jolt from the ground.

She stands up with her hands across her mouth.

CUT TO:

7. INT. HISTORY CLASS ROOM. THRITY MINUTES LATER
Mr Historant is lying on a stretcher as a group of PARAMEDICS roll him out of the classroom. Nora watches as PRINCIPAL ALICE stands next to her.

PRINCIPAL ALICE
Nora, I am so proud of you! Most students wouldn’t have known what to do. You should be very proud of your actions.

Nora bites her bottom lip.

NORA
I guess.

8. INT. MEDICAL BAY. DAY
Nora sits on the edge of the bed. DAHELPER is wearing latex gloves as she shines a torch on Nora’s left eye.

DAHELPER
So, you say you were electrocuted?

Nora nods her head.

Dahelper shines the torch on her right eye.

DAHELPER (CONT’D)
And, you’re not feeling any numbness or a headache?

Dahelper turns the torch off and places it in her pocket.

NORA
Nope, but I got this feeling pulsating through me, like this great mass of energy running through my veins.

Nora claps her hands.

NORA (CONT’D)
Ready to burst!

She does an explosion gesture with her two hands.

DAHELPER
Uh, huh…

Dahelper takes notes on her clipboard, and then turns to the drawer on her side pulling it open. She takes out a couple of pink pills and hands it over to Nora.

DAHELPER (CONT’D)
You’re still recovering from the shock dear, this should settle you down.

Nora looks at the pills with an expression of surprise.

DAHELPER
Plus, seeing your teacher collapse must have been traumatic for you.

Nora clasps the tablets.

NORA
I think I caused him to collapse.

She opens her fist to reveal pink powder.

DAHELPER
A stroke Nora, he had a stroke.

NORA
Because of me.

DAHELPER
We sometimes say things that may allude to other problems, like at home maybe?

Nora’s mouth opens as if she is about to say something.

DAHELPER (CONT’D)
Do your parents make you feel like you’re being blamed for everything you do?

Nora gets up dropping her arms. The crushed powder in her palm sprinkles to the ground.

NORA
No! What are you talking about? Nothing’s happening. My parents love me dearly.

 DAHELPER
Just calm down, we can talk this through…

NORA
We won’t. Because you don’t believe me!

CUT TO:

9. INT. GIRLS’ BATHROOM. DAY
Nora looks into the mirror staring at her own reflection.

NORA
You’re not crazy.

She takes a deep breath.
She reaches for the tap but draws back in shock as soon as her fingers touch it.

She rubs her zapped fingers with her other hand, staring at her actions in the mirror.

NORA
I’ve lost it.

10. INT. ROBOTICS CLASSROOM. DAY
MR TINK TOP has his back to the class while drawing schematics on an illuminated digital board. The room is surrounded by various robots ranging from mechanical arms, sensory cars, self-controlled flying gliders, etc.

Nora approaches a green metallic glider placed on the work bench that is on the side of the room.

She turns to her right and sees Jason working on what appears to be a robotic hand. She smiles, but that smile soon vanishes as Cassandra stands next to him.

Nora sticks her tongue out.

She looks down at her machine and reaches for it with one of her fingers as she shuts her eyes.

The tip of her finger touches the metallic casing.

Her eyes open.

She rests her entire palm on the glider and while doing this, Nora blows a sigh of relief.

She starts pulling away the metallic casing. Before her is a complicated circuit board with a bunch of wires criss-crossing everywhere.

She turns an eye and sees Cassandra caressing Jason’s arm. She focuses her attention on the circuit board while pulling the wires frantically and rearranging them.

Jason tries to look over his shoulder towards Nora, but his view point is blocked by the gleaming gaze of Cassandra.

Nora pulls more wires and blows a strand of hair that falls on her forehead.

She turns her head to see that Cassandra is provocatively leaning over Jason.

Sparks fly out of the circuit board and zap Nora’s fingers.

NORA
AH, FUCK!

The whole class stares at Nora. She looks in silence, with a blank expression on her face. Jason and Cassandra look on, her hand placed on his cheek.
From the front of the room Mr Tink Top crosses his arms.

MR TINK TOP
Watch that mouth of yours!

NORA
Sorry…

Nora bends her head down and looks at her glider. Students around the room gradually get back to working on their own robots.

Jason looks at Nora, her hands are on the edges of the bench with her head bowed down. Cassandra clings on his shirt.

CASSANDRA
She has issues. You know that, right?

He takes a step towards Nora with Cassandra still clinging onto him. Gabby approaches Nora and seeing this, Jason takes a step back.

Nora turns her head towards Gabby.

GABBY
Can you at least show some signs of normality?

NORA
Normality? There is nothing normal about this day!

Behind Nora, the exposed circuit of the glider sparks, making a faint hissing noise.

NORA (CONT’D)
How can I, when it’s been nothing but one disaster after another?

The red light on the nose of the glider flashes.

GABBY
Are you on drugs?

Nora cringes her nose and clenches her fist.

The glider hovers its way up.

NORA
No! How long have you known me? Why would I be?

The glider is now above Nora’s head.

GABBY
Uhh… you had difficulties getting your glider to fly, right?

NORA
Yeah, so?

Nora turns around and sees the glider, her expression is that of awe.

NORA (CONT’D)
What the?

MR TINK TOP (O/S)
Shut it down, Nora!

The eyes of the entire class are on Nora. Gabby moves away. Nora takes a step forward and jumps with her two hands stretching out. She grabs the glider pulling it down. She struggles to settle the glider down as it violently sways to and fro. Her face is that of anguish.

NORA
Why won’t you come down?

Sparks fly out of her palms and flow through the exposed circuit board of the glider. The glider makes a hissing malfunctioning noise and zooms out of her hand.

Shrieks fill the room. Students duck for cover as the glider flies in low and then high.

Nora looks with an open mouth.

CASSANDRA
You’re such a screw up!

Nora turns to look at Cassandra.

Jason clings on to Cassandra trying to calm her down.

NORA
Oh, would you just shut up!

Nora sees the glider approaching her.

NORA (CONT’D)
Oh, no!

She ducks. Cassandra turns around and quickly follows suit. Jason jumps to the side knocking over a nearby female student. The glider flies above them releasing bolts of electricity that fly into Jason’s mechanical arm. The mechanical arm springs to life grabbing Cassandra from behind and pulling her up from the ground.

Cassandra screams as the arm pulls her up higher and higher. She looks out the window and sees a group of male students staring under her skirt with their mouths wide open.

CASSANDRA
AHHH! GET ME DOWN!

Jason pulls her down and they both collapse on the floor.

More sparks fly out of the glider as it circles the room activating the other robots scattered around the class.

Various robots lined along the work benches spring to life. A robot frog jumps on a girl’s head as she runs screaming.

A student with an Afro hair style runs from a chasing helicopter. The helicopter flies upside down, flying over the boy and cutting half his Afro hair off.

Gabby runs to the door as a tank situated on a workbench fires foam bullets at her.

The lights of a robotic car spring to life as it jumps off the workshop bench and down to the floor, zig zagging its way past running legs and past the legs of Mr Tink Top who runs around.

MR TINK TOP
Everyone, out!

Everyone scrambles out of the room. Jason pulls Cassandra to her feet and clings on to her as they run towards the exit.

Nora runs to the door, her glider comes swooping down striking the back of her head. She falls to her knees. Mr Tink Top runs grabbing her by the arm. He pulls back shaking his hand.

MR TINK TOP (CONT’D)
Come on, Nora.

Nora slowly gets up grunting. Mr Tink Top sees the glider swooping down towards them again. He takes Nora by the arm and as he does this he screams in pain. They exit out of the room. The sliding door shuts.

11. INT. SCHOOL HALLWAY. DAY
Mr Tink Top is lying on the floor. Nora looks over him rubbing the back of her head. They are surrounded by the rest of the class.

NORA
Please, tell me you’re okay?

He opens his eyes as he slowly he gets up.

MR TINK TOP
I think so…

Gabby approaches Nora.

GABBY
How could you ruin all our designs?

The student with the cut Afro brushes along Gabby, in his hands are curls of his own hair.

STUDENT
AND MY HAIR!

Nora takes a step back.

MR TINK TOP
Now calm down, you can’t blame her for a faulty spark in her glider.

Cassandra dashes out, her face raging red.

CASSANDRA
Did you see the humiliation you caused me?

The class start shouting at her and blaming her.

NORA
You think I wanted this to happen?

Jason looks around and sees faces full of anguish.

JASON
Guys, calm down!

Nora covers her ears and shakes her head. She screams. She runs down the hallway with each florescent light she runs under exploding with sparks.

The class panics. The fire alarm rings. All the sliding doors in the hallway open as students flock out.

Jason leaves Cassandra’s side and runs after Nora weaving in and out of students.

12. EXT. PARK. DAY
Nora sits under a lone maple tree crying her eyes out. She rests her head against the tree and shuts her eyes.

Red petals dance their way around the park with the help of the brewing wind. The petals fly around the tree Nora sits under. One of the petals lands on the tip of her nose and slides off. She opens her eyes.

Electrical currents circulate around the petals as they stop swirling around the tree and remain still. She turns her head to either side. Her head drops. The electrical currents swirl the petals around the tree. The maple tree can be seen up from a high distance as petals burst out from all directions.

Nora looks at the petals that scatter around the park. Petals fall down slowly as the residue of electrical sparks slowly smother them to ashes. Nora looks down her lap and picks up a lone red petal, the same one that fell on her nose earlier. She examines it and blows it away. She closes her watery eyes.

The red petal hits Jason on the cheek. He touches his cheek putting the petal in his hands.

JASON
There you are.

Nora opens her eyes.

NORA
Leave me alone. Haven’t you got some other girl wrapped around your arms already? I’m sure she’s missing you right now.

Jason bites his lip and clears his throat.

JASON
Nora… I like you!

She looks away from him then hesitantly turns her head towards him.

NORA
Well, you shouldn’t. I’ll only end up hurting you.

JASON
I’ll take my chances.

NORA
I’m serious Jason, stay away from me!

Nora gets up and turns her back against Jason. He places his hand lightly on her shoulder trying to stop her from running away.

Nora shuts her eyes at the touch of his hand.

Her eyes open, an echo of an explosion is heard.

Nora turns in shock, but that expression goes away once she sees Jason with his head turned. She turns her head seeing grey smoke fuming out of their school building out in the distance.

NORA
The robots…

She places a hand over her mouth.

NORA (CONT’D)
This is all my fault! I have to stop this.

JASON
Nora, this is crazy. You want your head to be chopped off this time?

Nora runs towards the school building looking back at Jason.

NORA
No, because it won’t happen.

He scratches his head and runs after her.

13. INT. SCHOOL HALLWAY. DAY
Various robots zoom across the hallway, smashing into lockers, breaking hanging trophy walls, and breaking down class windows.

Nora walks down the hallway. The busted fluorescent lights she walks under spark brightly. Nora raises her arms across her chest creating an X symbol. Electric currents surround her entire body, her eyes glow electrically blue. She unleashes her arms as sparks fly out.

The sparks hit all the robots in the hallway as they malfunction and cease to operate.

Nora’s glider flies through from down the hallway charging down at her. She takes a side step avoiding the glider which flies across the hallway only to turn back and target her once more. Nora’s eyes glow statically brighter. The glider charges down at Nora only to come to halt an inch away from her nose. It falls to the ground. Nora does a sigh of relief, and with that the electricity surging around her body vanishes and her eyes stop glowing.

Jason stands behind Nora, she turns around and she sees him.

His expression is that of awe.

They approach each other.

Jason smiles.

JASON
You’re, awesome you know that?

Nora smiles and starts walking down the hallway as Jason follows.

NORA
Yeah, I know.

Jason scratches his head.

Nora looks down.

JASON
Can I walk you home?

Nora brushes her hair to her side and looks at Jason smiling.

NORA
I’d love that.

Their hands touch.

Jason recoils back in shock.

Nora laughs as he shakes his hand.

He looks at Nora and joins in the laughter.

The tip of their fingers touch once more. Their individual fingers mesh against each other as they hold hands.
Jason turns his head.

JASON
So what else can you do?

Nora smiles as her eyes glow electrically blue.

NORA
You’re going to like this one!

FADE TO:

Black.

Sparks of electricity is heard.

THE END.

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Fallibility, Benjamin Hutton

1. INT. PRESENT DAY ROGER’S HOUSE. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT

The living room is dark with intermittent light from the old
CRT television showing THE TIME MACHINE.

Dust covers old family PHOTOS that line the walls. They feature a young man with his wife by his side and daughter on his shoulders. Another photo is of the young man by himself holding an award for an innovative invention. A
framed degree and awards from the scientific community, such as a WOLF PRIZE, hang askew and neglected.

Empty bottles are strewn around the room.

A bottle of Jack Daniels drops to the floor spilling its contents.

A limp hand follows the bottle to dangle over the edge of
the RED ARMCHAIR. ROGER (senile old man, with dirty stubble
and wearing yesterdays lunch on his sweat stained shirt) is
asleep in the armchair beginning to dream.

 

2. DREAM SEQUENCE INT. 70’S ROGER’S HOUSE. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT

Roger sits in the red armchair. The living room is the same but well lit, homely, and tidy but some of the awards aren’t present. No dust or bottles clutter the room.

From the kitchen banging and clattering noises issue. Roger goes to investigate.

 

3. INT. KITCHEN. CONTINUOUS

Roger steps into the light of the kitchen. Old food is scattered over the bench top with plates piling high in the sink. Roger runs is hand over a DRAWING on the fridge of a man and a child holding hands in front of a rocket ship, an arrow singling them out as Daddy and Ella.

More banging from a staircase leading down into the basement draws Roger downstairs.

 

4. INT. BASEMENT. CONTINUOUS

The basement is crowded with paraphernalia. Scientific experiments abandoned lay haphazardly about: beakers and
test tubes bubble idly away emitting green gases, a headless robot intermittently flashes and sparks, half concealed
under a dusty cloth is a big contraption surrounding a red armchair.

In the middle of the room, hunched over a desk, working under the light of one lamp is a young version of Roger (early 30’s with a mustache and goofy hair characteristic of the 70’s).

Roger makes his way behind Young-Roger who can’t see or hear him. “Roger reaches out to a post-it note right in front of Young-Roger. It reads: “pick up Ella from school at 3.15.” Roger looks at the time: 6:05pm.

Simultaneously, Young-Roger jumps in the air whooping with excitement while the front door upstairs crashes open and a woman yells.

YOUNG-ROGER I’ve got it!

ROGER!

WOMAN (O.S)

Roger freezes and glances at the time and the post-it note.

YOUNG-ROGER
Shit.

Young-Roger runs up the stairs two at a time and room starts to darken and diminish around Roger.

He glances at the algorithms left behind that flutter in an invisible wind.

ROGER
It wasn’t worth it.

Upstairs a yelling match begins.

CUT TO:

 

5. INT. KITCHEN. CONTINUOUS

A YOUNG-ROGER stands in the middle of the kitchen. SHERYL (Young-Roger’s fiery red-headed wife, in classic 70’s female attire) stands opposite him.

Old Roger instantly appears behind Young-Roger but he is invisible to both of them.

Sheryl picks up a whiskey bottle and launches it at
Young-Roger. It narrowly misses and hurtles towards Roger.
He is caught unawares and can only begin to shield himself
but the bottle passes right through him and SMASHES against
the wall.

Sheryl raises a frying pan.

SHERYL You left her…

Young-Roger rushes at Sheryl.

YOUNG-ROGER Put that down!

Young-Roger wrestles the frying pan out of Sheryl’s hand and sets it on the bench.

Sheryl recoils from Roger’s touch.

SHERYL
She’s a child Roger! A child!

YOUNG-ROGER
I lost track of time Sheryl I’m
sorry but I discovered something…
Huge. The Big…

SHERYL
I don’t care what you think you
discovered Roger, I had to pick
her up from the police again. One
more time and we could lose her
Roger!

The argument between Sheryl and Young-Roger continues but
Roger tunes it out.

Roger slowly moves through the kitchen in a dream-like trance, passing right through the arguing couple as if they weren’t even there.

He stops at the door to the kitchen staring at something…

 

6. INT. ENTRANCE WAY / STAIRCASE. CONTINUOUS

ELLA (all goodness and innocence), Roger’s 6 year old daughter, holds a teddy bear while she sits on the stairs in her school uniform and listens to her parents argue.

She looks right at Roger almost as if she can see him. He is frozen by her stare, silent tears rolling down his cheeks.

A long silence in the argument breaks Roger’s reverie of his daughter. He tunes in again.

 

SHERYL (O.S.)
I’m done Roger. I can’t do it
anymore.

A second later Sheryl walks right through Roger into frame and sees Ella. Roger just watches on knowing full well what happens next.

SHERYL
Oh Ella baby, I’m sorry you had to
hear that.

ELLA
Why are you angry at daddy mommy?
I’m all right.

Sheryl kneels in front of Ella.

SHERYL
I know you’re all right sweetie,
you always are. We’re gonna go
visit grandma for a little while.

Sheryl picks up Ella, grabs her keys and coat.

Roger rushes to Sheryl and Ella trying to get their attention.

ROGER
Don’t go! Please don’t go!

Roger’s head is whipping back and forth between stopping them and getting Young-Roger.

He runs to the kitchen door…

 

7. INT. KITCHEN. CONTINUOUS

Young-Roger has his head down clutching the edge of the tabletop.

ROGER
What are you doing! Go after them!

Young-Roger doesn’t respond.

 

8. INT. ENTRANCE WAY / STAIRCASE. CONTINUOUS

Sheryl has Ella in her arms. She opens the front door.

Ella stretches her arms out towards Roger, her eyes big as saucers.

ELLA
But I want to stay with daddy.

ROGER
ELLA!

The front door SLAMS.

Roger slides to the ground, head in his hands staring at the door.

An ENGINE STARTS.

There’s a CRACK of a bottle lid been twisted open from the kitchen.

Head-lights shine through the glass of the front door as the car backs out of the driveway.

ROGER
10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2….1

When Roger reaches zero a horrible sound of SCREECHING TYRES followed by a huge COLLISION shatters the silence.

Young-Roger bolts for the door right past his older self.

 

9. EXT. FRONT YARD. CONTINUOUS

Young-Roger hares onto the street and disappears out of sight. NEIGHBOURS dressed like middle-class suburbia in their dressing gowns emerge from their neatly manicured houses.

Smoke rises over the suburban landscape in the direction
Young-Roger ran towards.

Roger lags behind, dragging his feet.

 

10. EXT. STREET. CONTINUOUS

The street is crowded with a blur of faces rushing towards a flaming wreckage at the end. A small crowd has already gathered there.

Roger walks down the middle of the road, stepping in and out of pools of light cast by street lights. Ahead of him Young-Roger reaches the crash and pushes through to the front.

SIRENS wail in the distance.

The fire is reflected in Roger’s eyes.

Roger walks through the crowd to stand behind Young-Roger who is on his knees clutching Ella’s teddy bear. Two cars are a flaming mess ahead of them.

ROGER You stupid fool.

END DREAM SEQUENCE

 

11. INT. ROGER’S HOUSE. LIVING ROOM. NIGHT

Roger wakes from his dream to his living room illuminated by the TV.

He licks his lips and searches for a drop of alcohol.

He upends a Jameson bottle into his mouth, draining it. He stares at the bottle in his hands.

Visions of cars on fire and screams haunt Roger in flashes. He hurls the bottle across the room.
Roger focuses upon the television that’s playing THE TIME MACHINE. Guy Pearce is hopping into a time machine made out of a RED ARMCHAIR identical looking to the one he sits in now. Roger watches transfixed, slightly swaying and squinting, by the idea and the resemblance to his own RED ARMCHAIR.

ROGER You can change it!

Roger picks up an old picture of Sheryl and Ella.

ROGER
I’m gonna make this right, I
promise.

Roger rifles through a draw and withdraws a pen and paper. He moves like a man possessed, feverishly drawing his own design of the Time Machine.

Equations and numbers cover the page, but are ripped up and thrown away in frustration.

Roger seems to hit a wall, gets up and exits frame through the kitchen.

MOVEMENT, GRUNTING and REARRANGING noises can be heard from the basement. Roger emerges dragging a drawing board with bottles of whiskey under each arm.

MONTAGE

Roger unscrews the whiskey, takes a pull, and begins
drawing his own TIME MACHINE, pinning pieces to the board as
he goes.
The only indicator of time is how much whiskey he drinks. The living room is cleared of furniture except for the
photos, he leaves them. Then it is turned into a workshop
with tools and scrap metal everywhere.

Three quarters of the bottle of whiskey is gone. Roger looks old and frail but somehow he is building this massive contraption. His eyes are bloodshot and feverish.
Sparks flash across the living-room as Roger welds. Roger’s time machine takes shape around his red armchair. Screams of frustration and howls of joy punctuate the
hammering and welding.

END MONTAGE

Roger picks up the bottle and steps back to admire his work, taking a gratuitous swig and swaying heavily.

Roger’s TIME MACHINE is an exact replica of Guy Pearce’s. Shiny metal wraps around the Red Armchair with two giant fans at the front and back.

ROGER
No time like the present, to change
the past.

Roger slips his watch off his wrist and puts it on a stand in front of the Red Armchair. Taking one last pull of the whiskey he slumps into the Time Machine.

He reaches for the watch but checks himself and leans out to grab the PHOTO of himself, Sheryl and Ella.

He winds back the date on his WATCH, to this exact day, SEPTEMBER 14TH, only forty years earlier.

At first nothing happens…

Roger clutches the photo, his knuckles turning white, and screws his eyes tight shut.

He sees FLASHES of light through his closed eyes. There’s a cacophony of birds chirping, cars honking, hammers and saws as if time is passing. Over it all the thrum of fans punctuates until its the only thing that can be heard.

 

12. INT. 70’S ROGER’S HOUSE. LIVING ROOM. DAY

Roger’s eyes open to a fan spinning away on the ceiling. He checks his surroundings.

He’s in his living room, sitting in the red armchair with no Time Machine around him. Everything appears the same but there is no dust on the family photos or bottles strewn around. He reaches out for a photo and stops mid reach to stare at his HAND, a hand of a man in his prime.

Roger runs over to the sideboard and stares at himself in the mirror, pinching his skin in disbelief.

He is in the body of Young-Roger. He has a mustache and skin that sticks to his skull, sunken eyes, but the same blue eyes.

He jumps in the air, punching and kicking with excitement. He stops and grabs his wrist pulling the sleeve down to check his WATCH: The time is 3:35.

ROGER Shit! Ella.

He races from the living room.

 

13. INT. ENTRANCE WAY / STAIRCASE. DAY

Roger enters frame from the living room door, and begins frantically searching for the car keys. Upending the
contents of the draw and throwing coats out of the closet in his search.

ROGER Where are the keys!

He opens the door that leads to the garage.

 

14. INT. GARAGE. DAY

Roger bursts into the garage. It is cluttered, the sides piled high with junk but it is empty and open to the street. He kicks at a box.

ROGER
Dammit Sheryl, I’m trying to save
you!

With a roar Roger bolts out of the open garage door into the brilliantly sunny afternoon and turns down the street.

 

15. EXT. SUBURB STREETS. DAY

The streets are average Sydney suburb streets, quiet in some places with lots of traffic as Roger gets closer to the school.

SERIES OF SHOTS:

-Roger checks his watch: 3:59

-His legs pump hard along the pavement

-A gang of school kids come round the corner and Roger has to leap to the side to avoid them, tripping over his feet and then falling.

-He pulls himself up and keeps running, checking the TIME:
4:06

-Roger doesn’t check for cars as he emerges from bushes
onto the pedestrian crossing. He gets blindsided by a slowly
moving car and slams up onto their bonnet. He rolls off the
hood. The DRIVER (average male citizen) hops out of the car
to help him but Roger has already pulled himself up. The
Driver is about to speak before Roger cuts him off.

ROGER
Can’t stop mate, got history to
write.

Roger hobbles off, limping into a run leaving the driver bewildered

-Roger checks his watch: 4:25. Straightening his shirt and flattening his hair Roger strides into the grounds of ST. MARY’S PRIMARY SCHOOL

END SERIES OF SHOTS

 

16. INT. OFFICE ST MARY’S PRIMARY SCHOOL. DAY

Roger knocks on the office door and enters. There’s an OFFICE LADY (late 50’s, officious looking) busy at work with her back to Roger. She doesn’t hear the knock. As he steps in Ella spots him.

Daddy!

ELLA

She leaps from her seat behind the Office Lady’s desk and throws herself at Roger.

ELLA
I told them you’d be here.

Ella’s shout and sudden movement gets the Office Lady’s attention.

ROGER
Of course I’d be here baby girl.

OFFICE LADY
Mr. Pen rose, we were about to call
the police to pick up Ella.

Roger puts down Ella and motions her out the door with a smile.

ROGER
Wait outside baby girl, I’ll just
be a minute.

Roger squints at her NAME BADGE and attempts to pronounce her name

ROGER
Miss Gretzka? Greezker?

OFFICE LADY
Mrs. Greeska, Mr. Pen rose. The very
same lady who looked after your
daughter last week and the week
before when you failed to pick her
up.

ROGER
Three weeks in a row?

OFFICE LADY
Five weeks if you count the two
your wife had to pick her up from
the station.

ROGER
Wow, I was a terrible father. If
it’s any consolation I will make
some game-changing discoveries. Did
make… Am going to–

The Office Lady curtly cuts him off.

OFFICE LADY
It’s not. This is your daughter Mr.
Pen rose. She is six years old.

ROGER
I know Mrs. Grezka…

The Office Lady stares disapprovingly at him messing up her name again.

ROGER
I know now what’s at stake and I
know I’m never going to let them go
again.
Roger chokes up at the thought of losing his family again. The Office Lady softens at the sincerity displayed by
Roger.

OFFICE LADY
It’s all well and good to say that
here and now but it’s your wife you
have to convince not me. She’s
desperately unhappy surely you must
know that.

ROGER
You can’t tell her about this–

Roger grabs hold of her shoulders in desperation. (CONTINUED)

CONTINUED: 12.

ROGER
Please, her life is relying on
that.

OFFICE LADY
I’m sorry but it’s policy to inform
both caregivers after half an hour.

Roger’s head slumps to his chest and he slowly releases his hold on her.

Thank you.

ROGER

Roger turns his back on the confused Office Lady and leaves the room.

 

17. EXT. SCHOOL PLAYGROUND. DAY

Ella sees her dad looking sad as he exits the office and runs into his arms. His face briefly lights up.

ELLA What’s wrong daddy?

ROGER
Nothing for you to worry about baby
girl. What do you want to do?
Ice-cream?

Yeahhhh!

All right.

ELLA

ROGER

 

18. EXT. ROGER’S HOUSE FRONT YARD. DAY

Ella and Roger enter the front yard laughing and playing together. There is a car parked on the front lawn but they don’t notice it. Ella jumps at Roger who swoops her up and spins her around. He hears the front door open, and on their next spin sees his wife emerging from the house.

SHERYL
WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU ROGER!

The laughter and spinning dies and Roger puts Ella down, and bends down to kiss her on the forehead.

ROGER
Go inside now sweetie.

She whispers to him:

ELLA Good luck daddy.

And then hugs her mother as she passes her. This takes some of the steam out of Sheryl but not much.

SHERYL
You didn’t pick her up.

Roger walks to Sheryl and embraces her in a hug that says more than words how sorry he is.

ROGER
I’m sorry honey. For everything.

Sheryl is taken aback by the tenderness of her distant partner. She gently pushes him away.

SHERYL
I can’t do this anymore Roger. I
just can’t.

ROGER
Wait, just let me explain–

SHERYL
It’s too late Roger.

Sheryl turns to the car but Roger spins her around.

ROGER
You can’t leave, you can’t. You’re
gonna die if you do. You and Ella,
in a car crash I’ve lived it
before. Please I can change.

SHERYL (sobbing)
Roger please just let me go.

Sheryl tries to wriggle out of his clutch.

ROGER
NO! I won’t let you go again.

He grabs hold of her and tries to wrestle her inside kicking and screaming.

SHERYL
Let go of me! Get off me! Let me
go.

As Roger pulls her onto the doorstep Sheryl grabs a pot plant and smashes it over Roger’s head.

He lets go of her as he collapses to the ground. His vision blacks in and out and as he struggles to get up he sees Sheryl jump in the car and shoot out the driveway.

ROGER
NOOOOO! Sheryl come back.

Roger’s eyes shudder closed and a cacophony of noise assaults his ears, loud screeches and sirens and over the top a steady BEAT pounds, low at first until it becomes unbearably loud.

 

19. INT. PRESENT DAY ROGER’S HOUSE. LIVING ROOM. DAY

Roger wakes up as an old man once more, thrashing in his Time Machine. It is dark in his living room but with rays of morning light breaking through the covered windows.

Someone is incessantly pounding on the door and a muffled voice can be heard but Roger doesn’t answer it.

Roger unleashes a tortured howl. He sets about destroying his Time Machine.

The banging on the door becomes a massive thudding after
Roger’s outburst.

Roger is yelling and crying, throwing parts of his time machine across the room, destroying whatever he can lay his hands on.

The door busts open. Light from outside floods the room. Into the chaos steps a NURSE (late 20’s, female, RED HAIR).

Roger’s Time Machine is revealed to be just pillows and blankets around a Red Armchair with two giant fans behind it whirring away. The pillows are mostly all torn up now.

Roger picks up a PHOTO of Sheryl, Ella and himself and goes to smash it but stops himself, clutching it to his chest instead as he drops to his knees.

The nurse rushes to Roger’s side. As she bends down to pick him up there is a glimpse of her NAME BADGE. Her name is Ella.

THE END

Download a pdf of Fallibility

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learning and unlearning songs, Liz Hughes

F R E E D O M

when I go I’ll go alone/ he will be free/ give me to the father sun/ the weight of heat upon my back/ when I work I’ll work alone/ he will be free/ give me to the mother earth/ the weight of wheat upon my back/ when I sleep, I’ll sleep alone/ he will be free/ give me to my bed, the rocks/ the weight of rest upon my back/ the sky so full of stars for the taking/ sun for my waking/ the woods so full of shelter for the making/ wheat for the shaking/ for my freedom/ if I’d go, I’d go alone/ oh, to be free/ the father sun reveals my skin/ the weight of light upon my back/ If I’d go, I’d sleep alone/ oh, to be free/ the mother earth condemns my skin/ the stone that bruises black, my back/ the sky was full of stars for the taking/ sun for my waking/ the woods were full of shelter for the making/ wheat for the shaking/ now for his freedom

 

 

T I G E R                                        Tiger Song (mix 1)

tiger, tiger on your toes/ tiger with the dusty nose/ sitting all day, silently/ on the mantelpiece/ peacefully across the floor/ a piece of fur at my front door/ I pick it up, pocket it, and I leave/ I’ll find her by the river/ the water black as ink/ the tiger fills her paws/ up for me to drink/ everything here is hers/ now my mouth is stained black/ now I follow blacker tracks/ she turns to make her way, back/ to the mantelpiece/ I’ll find her by the fire/ the flames as white as paper/ give back what is hers/ you need not repay her/ everything here is hers/ tiger, tiger on your toes/ tiger with the dusty nose/ sitting all day silently / on the mantelpiece

 

S I N S

way up in that building/ they’ve got DNA from your skin/ they got records of your good deeds/ and all of your sins/ photos of your past/ stuck to the office walls/ a person with a clipboard/ another making calls/ they have more memories of your life/ than I ever did/ and they all look like you/ move like you/ speak like you/ I almost believe that it is/ and they turned up on my doorstep/ after a week away/ there was nothing I could do to stop them coming in/ no nothing I could say/ be careful what you wish for/ the elixir of life / ain’t that hard to find/ and doesn’t taste as sweet as you might like/ way up in that building/ that’s where I now live/ you and I/ on the walls/ in the calls/ of all of their mistakes and sins

 

 

S U G A R

sugar, times are dark but you’re sweet/ let me take you up to easy street/ if you want sugar/ I’ll find a farmer/ he’ll be yours to keep/ sugar, times were dark till I saw you/ let me take you away / if you want finery/ I’ll find a tailor/ he’ll be yours to keep/ don’t you be hidin’ now/ come on out/ sweet Jesus I’ve never heard such beauty/ you’re voice like honey in my ears/ If you want stars/ I’ll find an astronomer/ he’ll be yours to keep/ Mary could have been your mother/ I’d follow stars just to hear you sing/ I’ll do anything for you, sugar/ till I am plump and the soil is thin/ who gave you food to eat?/ who gave you clothes to wear?/ who gave you a home to fill?/ who gave you songs to share?

 

 

L I E S

what a joy,/ what a joy/ what a joy, joy, joy/ to lie upon a leaden bed/ and dream of softer places/ you might rest/ rest your head/ lonely as a lover giving lies/ what a thrill/ what a thrill/ what a thrill, thrill, thrill/ to wade in waters brackish, black/ and think of better places you might wash/ wash your back/ lonely as a lover giving lies/ all this dirt/ and all these bruises/ like the hands of a child/ when the sun sets/ she still chooses/ outside, outside/ what a joy/ what a joy/ what a joy, joy, joy/ to hear a bird call and call/ when the darkness seems to/ have it all/ have it all/ singing through the darkest night/ the darkest kind of lies, lies, lies
Download a pdf of creation/chaos song lyrics

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The Problem with Lily, Monica Purcell

Jo took Lilly’s hand and pulled her across the dance floor.  The bodies of dancers, clasped Continue reading

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Storm Sounds, Alexandra Bodnaruk

Suzy is woken by hands shaking her shoulders.

‘There’s something wrong with the roof.’ Her little sister’s voice digs into the space behind Suzy’s eyes and twists like a knife in her ears. Suzy kicks the blanket away from her legs and winces as loose threads cut into the fine skin between her toes.

Anna’s worried eyes are framed by a frizzy-haired halo; the kind Suzy imagines the angels that stand at the doors of the cities churches used to have. Their halos now lie, with their shattered wings, crumbled and down-trodden in the ground beneath shrieking preachers.

Under Suzy’s palms the acid scars that lie across her face feel like smooth cross-stitching. If she had a mirror she might trace out shapes. She sighs.

‘What’s happening?’ Anna’s finger twitch and curl against the sleeve of Suzy’s shirt. ‘It’s making so much noise.’

A corner of the metal roof is crashing up and down, setting an uneven background beat to the storm. The rain is running down the walls to soak into the spare blankets. A leak isn’t unusual, their mother was often in and out as she tried to patch up the holes, but there’s so much water streaming down it looks like the wall is covered in horizontal puddles.

 

Suzy and Anna would sit on the bed and try to guess which rain drops would get to the bottom of the wall first.

‘When that one wins.’ Anna pointed at the wall. ‘You have to do my chores for the afternoon.’

‘I can’t even tell what you’re pointing at.’

Anna poked her tongue out of her mouth and wrinkled her nose. ‘That one, the one that’s winning.’

Suzy ignored her, listening for the sounds of their mother moving about outside. She always ended up doing Anna’s chores in the end.

 

‘I’m not sure what’s happening.’ Suzy feels the pressure on her arm build as Anna clutches it. ‘I’m not sure yet.’

‘It sounds bad.’

The hut walls shake like that old rattle their mother’s mother had given Suzy when she was born. The wind seems to like playing games. She turns to look at Anna and tries to aim her voice at the reassuring tone their mother had perfected.

‘How about you move the food? Just in case.’ The words come out toneless and colourless; a blank canvas she cannot mark no matter how she tries. Anna takes careful steps towards the grain bags anyway, her finger scrabbling to find enough purchase to drag them back to the bed. They won’t be much safer.

There’s a pile of old synther clothes by the door; hard, cracked, and smelling of vinegar. Suzy remembers the long hours their mother worked up and down the machinery lines, the way she looked like she was bleeding oil and grease out of her pores when she got home. Synther’s as good as it gets when you can’t afford the fancy post-plastic protective suits. And if you could afford the suits you could afford to live somewhere other than the shambles of the shanty town. The clothes seem okay, functioning, if nothing else. Suzy slides her arms into one of the coats and thinks about the pock-marked men and women who sit up and down the main paths during the dry season. Their skin looks like wax; translucent, pale, and dripping. Functioning is more than enough.

‘What are you doing?’ Suzy can see Anna where she sits on the bed, her palms pressed together in unconscious prayer. She pulls Anna’s coat and gloves from the pile and holds them out to her.

‘Put these on.’

The dark synther is a stark contrast to Anna’s skin. She looks colourless in the flickering light of the lamp, like the cold statues that line the front rooms of the City Museum. Their mother took them there once, before she… a few years ago now. The statues scared little Anna so much she screamed and cried until they were asked to leave by security. They never did get to go back to see the rest.

‘Suzy, the storm’s so strong, you can’t go out there!’

The soles of Suzy’s shoes are thin, but she doesn’t feel any holes as she pulls them on. ‘I have to take a look at what’s wrong before the storm eases. I’m sure it’ll be an easy fix.’ She’ll be fine.

‘But what if-?’

‘Just sit on the bed away from the leak. I’ll be back soon.’

The old timber door sticks in its frame, swollen from the hot air and rain. It reminds Suzy of when her mother was pregnant with Anna, slick with sweat and trying to squeeze through alleyways that didn’t used to be so narrow. With a kick the door creaks open and she’s able to slip out into the storm.

 

In the heat of the wet season storms, the canvas and rope that wind tightly around the wood and metal hut chafe at Suzy. They bind her up, constricting her chest until it becomes a fight to keep breathing deep and even, and her fists free of wood splinters and blood. The hut is typical of the shanty town that fills the spaces between the factories. A sea of uncoordinated spider’s webs, holding everything down against the wind. It provides just enough cover from the muddy, acidic rain that pours out of the storms and singes everything it reaches. The wet heat that follows makes it feel like you’re drinking burnt tea with every breath.

Something flicks past Suzy’s face, then swings back to nip at her arm. She grabs it and looks at the frayed end of rope. Their mother used to tell them stories about the animals that lived before the storms. One time she told them about little rope creatures that ate dirt. Worms. The head’s been torn off this worm.

‘Check the ropes, every chance you get,’ their mother had told Suzy.

After the last storm, when the thunder and rain had quieted like the drunk men by the Church depot who yell themselves hoarse in pursuit of a right hook or a soft body, Suzy was too busy fetching clean water and food to check them. Anna could never seem to learn the difference between acid-wrecked rope and the good, clean kind. The canvas is billowing open, water sloshing around the roof underneath, and one of the walls is shifting from side-to-side more than it should.

Suzy wishes her mother was here to deal with this.

There’s a creaking, underneath the storm sounds. It sets her bones jittering and her teeth on edge; her heart banging painfully against her ribs. The roof is sliding, the fixings that keep it attached to the walls have snapped, vanished. It scrapes against the tops of the walls, pulls on the remaining ropes and snags on the canvas. The walls are shaking, gaps forming at the corners and wind rushing into the new spaces.

‘Suzy!’

The house is falling down. Isn’t there an old nursery rhyme about that? Suzy is sure their mother used to sing it to Anna when she was a baby.

‘Suzy!’

The door to the hut opens a crack, pale flickering light stretching out into the path. Anna’s face is pressed as close as possible to the gap. There are tears spilling down her cheeks, and Suzy frowns. She steps forward and pulls the door open and Anna outside. The wind is whistling down the pathways around them and Suzy’s fingers and palms are clammy inside the synther gloves. She breathes deep, too deep; the moist air rolling down her throat makes her want to cough and heave.

You promised, she reminds herself, you promised her.

‘We have to go to the Church.’ She holds her sister’s hand as well as she can with the stiff gloves. ‘Stay there for the night.’

‘What about the house? We have to fix the house!’ There are more tears building in Anna’s eyes. ‘Mum would have fixed the house.’

‘Stop crying!’ Suzy hisses and Anna gulps and chokes instead. ‘We’ll come back in the morning, talk to Mr Whitley, and you know how good he is at these things.’

Anna nods and grips Suzy’s hand tighter, squeezing the blood out of her palm and into her fingertips.

Suzy takes off running, dragging Anna behind her. Their boots splash through the mud. They slip every few steps and catch themselves up against walls. No time for careful footing, they ricochet down the paths; it’s like being one of the shuttles that hurtle through the city on their tracks, threatening to overturn on every corner. Their clothes aren’t meant for the height of the storms.

 

The main path that runs through the town will lead them to the Church, now an old store and shelter, where they’ll hopefully be able to find space. It’ll be crowded this time of year, full of strays and lost causes. Which are they, her and little Anna, with a house about to fall down and almost nothing else?

There’s more mud now, ankle deep sludge that tries to grip their feet and stop them from going any further. When they were younger, she and Anna used to cling to their mother’s hands and let her swing them in and out of the mud. They would giggle and smile, all three of them, doing it over and over again until she had to go to work.

The world lights up in bright gold as lightning hits the conducting pole. Suzy stumbles when she realises the mounds slumped by the side of the path are people. Her gaze meets a pair of washed out blue eyes. Can they even see them running past?

The rain has been streaking its way underneath her hood and Suzy’s face is stinging. Water drips off her nose and when she breathes out it sprays from her lips. She hopes Anna isn’t as bad, her hood bigger and her face smaller. There’s a chance the water is streaming past her face without touching it. She glances at her sister, but Anna’s face was already wet with tears and Suzy can’t tell if the rain has joined them. Their mother used to dab vinegar on her acid burns.

 

Towards the end their mother took up less and less space, her fingers slowly turning to spider-leg thinness; brittle and spindly. Every cough, every jerk as the retching started, Suzy worried she would fall to pieces. Her eyes would barely open, but when they did the colour seemed to leak out of them in watery tears that splashed down her face and off her jaw. Suzy wished she would keep them closed, keep the colour, the life, inside them.

The Church is ahead of them now, the sign blinking red and green.

‘See Anna, everything’ll be fine.’

Her sister nods, her hand still tight in Suzy’s as they bang on the door. The light from the sign catches on Anna’s face, glinting in the wetness that coats her cheeks. On either side of them old marble shapes loom, the angels standing sentinel in their judgement.

Suzy can still remember the last conversation she had with their mother.

‘Suzy,’ their mother croaked, ‘Suzy, promise me you’ll look after Anna.’

Suzy took their mother’s hand, so careful lest it crumble to dust. ‘We’ll look after her together.’

‘Promise me you’ll look after her,’ she coughed. ‘I always thought one of us should grow up not worrying.’

Suzy pretended not to see her wipe away the speck of red and nodded. Their mother smiled and closed her eyes. Her breaths were harsh and rasping, filling the hut with sound of her life slipping away. Suzy shut her own eyes to stop them from losing their colour.

 

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Mourning Sickness, Andie Ryan

Mary’s collar was tight around her throat. She hadn’t worn this dress in almost a decade. It was her mourning dress; black lace and buttons. It usually sat, forgotten, at the back of her wardrobe. The collar had been much looser around her neck ten years ago.

Funerals had never been easy. Her first had been by far the hardest. She had been wearing another uncomfortable dress. But it was smaller, much smaller, to fit her child’s body. After the first came a slew of other, barely recognisable names that she had watched lowered into the ground. Now today. She wasn’t yet sure what to think of today.

She tapped her cigarette, and watched the ash tumble into an ashtray on the windowsill. John’s presence still lingered, even though she had watched his casket being lowered into its grave barely a few hours before. It was in the silver ashtrays dotted all over the house, in the sickly-sweet scent of cigars still hanging in the air of the drawing room. Emphysema had killed him, inevitably. Mary considered the cigarette in her own fingers for a moment, before remembering that she was too old to care. She looked at her aged hand, at the wedding band around one finger. The ring was perfect. Just like everything in their house, and their lives. Almost.

A lawyer had come to see her earlier, when John was barely in his grave. He had slicked-backed, greased hair, and his forehead was creased in apology.

 

‘Hello, Mrs Williams. I’m Daniel Brigham. I’m here to discuss the allocation of your late husband’s estate.’
‘Yes, come in.’

 

Mary heaved over the toilet bowl. Stomach acid burned its way up her throat and out of her mouth as tears stung her eyes. She coughed and spluttered a few more times before wiping her damp forehead. The nausea still hadn’t abated. Surely there couldn’t be much left in her stomach.

A knock on the bathroom door demanded her attention. She was about to answer it when her stomach heaved again. She supposed the sounds of her retching were answer enough.

‘This is the third morning in a row, Mary,’ John’s voice called through the door, ‘I’m taking you to the doctor before work.’

Mary didn’t answer. There was no room for discussion, she could tell as much from his tone. She got to her feet on wobbly knees and leaned over the sink. The glint of her wedding ring caught her eye. Six months. Just six months of marriage, and already his true colours where beginning to emerge.

 

The doctor’s face beamed at her across the desk.

‘You’re pregnant, Mrs Williams. Congratulations.’

Mary froze. Pregnant? The doctor continued to smile at her, seeming to wait for a reaction. John squeezed her hand. She looked across at him.

‘Hear that, Mary? Pregnant!’ John was smiling at her, just as the doctor was. But his was not the smile of an expectant father. She read relief in his expression. As though a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

Pregnant.

‘How wonderful,’ Mary said through bloodless lips.

 

‘May I say again how sorry I am for your loss, Mrs Williams?’

‘Thankyou, Mr Brigham. I appreciate your concern.’

 

Books and pamphlets every colour of the rainbow spread out in front of her; Pregnancy and Childbirth, Your First Baby, The Gift of Birth. Mary closed her eyes and picked one at random and flipped through it until she found some diagrams. They gave her a very detailed picture of how her body was going to swell to accommodate the growth.

She touched her stomach. It had thickened only slightly in the last six weeks. She probably wouldn’t have noticed if she hadn’t spent time every day in front of the mirror, looking for the signs. Her morning sickness still hadn’t abated. In fact, it had become part of her routine. The nausea woke her up each morning, and she spent at least a half hour over the toilet bowl. Once she felt well enough to get up, she stripped off her nightgown and studied her stomach in the mirror, from every angle.

She had tried to imagine a baby. A small, helpless creature that needed her to nurture and love it. But she could not equate the tiny, gurgling bundles she had seen so many women carrying with the invasion upon her person she was experiencing. Lethargy, vomiting, and a swelling abdomen. It was making her sick.

She continued flipping through the chapters, until a bold title caught her eye, and she froze. Her fingers brushed the lettering, but then jumped away as though stung. She breathed in deeply, and the long-ago, almost forgotten memory seemed to rush back to her.

 

‘Labour & Birth’

Mary had heard the sounds of childbirth once before. She was five years old, and her sister was coming into the world between screams and groans.

Her mother gave birth in her bedroom, with only Mary’s father and a single midwife. Their house was decrepit and isolated, and the summer sun beat down hard upon the tin roof. Suffocating heat filled the small rooms, and the smell of childbirth hung in the air.

She was called back and forth to the bedroom with orders from her father for towels or hot water. Every time she drew near the room, the sweat and stress of three adults would hit her nostrils, and she struggled not to retch.

She caught glimpses of her mother, her nightgown nearly transparent with sweat. She saw her sitting up and crying out in pain, her face beet red and her hands clutching her swollen stomach. She saw the midwife looking between her legs, and didn’t understand why. Her mother had always taught her to sit with her knees together.

She lingered uncertainly in the hallway, until her mother started screaming. ‘Get it out! Please, get it out!’

She started to rush into the room, but her father was already closing the door. He didn’t meet her eyes, and she watched the droplets of sweat roll down his cheek.

Mary heard sounds of panic coming from behind the door. She heard more cries of pain, and eventually the sound of a baby crying. Words about ‘calming her down’ and ‘stopping the bleeding’ echoed through the door. Hours later, there was silence for a very long time. Then she heard the two, irrevocable words that changed everything.

‘She’s gone.’

Mary sat with her back pressed against the wall, and didn’t understand why.

 

‘So, you are the sole executor and beneficiary of your late husband’s estate.’

‘Correct.’

‘And your current Will and Testament states that your assets will be divided equally between your sister, Susanne Hart, and your brother-in-law Marcus Williams. Are there any changes you wish to make?

‘No. No changes.’

 

The dining room was silent, but for the ticking of the cuckoo clock, and the little chimes of cutlery against the plates. Mary stared at her food, but felt no appetite. The pungent smell of John’s cigar wafted over to her, and she crinkled her nose. Why couldn’t he wait until after dinner to smoke the stupid thing, like most people? She started when he barked something across the table at her.

‘What?’

His forehead crinkled in annoyance. ‘I said, the asparagus is overcooked.’

‘Oh. Sorry.’

‘You know, if you can’t manage to cook a simple meal, I can just hire a maid to do it for you.’

Mary sighed. It was the long hours he was working, she told herself. He had never been so harsh, so unfeeling when they were engaged, or even in the first few months of marriage. He had been charming, and courteous. He had even bought her flowers.

‘No, John. It’s fine. I’ve just had a lot on my mind lately.’

‘What could you possibly have on your mind?’

Mary closed her eyes. She was feeling a little light-headed. She’d had an appointment with her doctor that day and complained of trouble relaxing. He’d sent her home with a bottle of white pills, and she’d taken two before dinner. She let their calming effect take over, and the words spilled out.

‘I don’t want to be pregnant.’

Her heart beat twice as fast as the cuckoo clock. John’s disbelieving, uncomprehending face stared at her across the dining table. Mary was already regretting the words.

‘It’s a little late. You already are,’ he said, and took a puff from his cigar before returning to his meal.

Mary steeled herself. She’d come this far.

‘I…I’ve told you about my mother before.’

John sighed, and placed down his knife and fork.

‘Mary, your mother lived in a dilapidated farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. She had no professional medical care, just a midwife doing some guesswork. We live minutes away from one of the finest hospitals in the country. Stop worrying. It’s pointless.’

‘But, I still–’

‘Enough!’ John pushed his plate away and stood up. ‘This is what you’re meant to do, and you’re doing it. I’m going for a drive to clear my head. You’d best get an early night’s rest. You’re not acting yourself, Mary.” He left the room without another word. Mary heard him coughing from the hallway, and watched the smoke rising from his cigar with tired eyes.

 

‘It’s a shame, really.’

‘What’s a shame, Mr Brigham?’

‘That there are no children to inherit this beautiful home. It’d be perfect for raising a family.’

‘I suppose it would.’

 

Mary’s hands shook as she poured herself another generous measure of whiskey. Her thoughts, and her vision, were pleasantly blurred. It usually took much more to get her this drunk. She supposed the pills were helping.

She touched her stomach instinctively, irresistibly, and for the thousandth time wished it away. She decided to go upstairs and sleep until the morning sickness woke her the next morning. She didn’t want to see John, whenever he got home.

She glared at the coffee table, stacked with her pregnancy books. On a whim, she lifted a high-heeled foot and upturned the table viciously, sending the books scattering and the table crashing after them. In that moment, however, she lost her precarious, drunken balance and fell to the floor. She landed hard on her stomach on the wooden floorboards. Pain shot through her abdomen, and she struggled back to her feet. She kicked off the heeled atrocities and stumbled, vision spinning, to the staircase.

A painful cramp gripped her stomach as she walked. She doubled over and clutched her stomach, gasping, until it stopped. She made it up five stairs before hunching over in pain again, heart hammering in her chest. A strangled noise escaped her as the cramp eased and she made her way, slowly, up the rest of the stairs. Somewhere in her lethargic, disorientated mind she realised that she had options. Only a few metres away was the telephone. She could take those last few steps and call an ambulance, and let them try to save her pregnancy. But that wasn’t her only choice.

She thought of her mother. She remembered her red face and sweat-soaked nightgown in the last, painful hours of her life. She remembered the last words she had heard her scream. Get it out! Please, get it out!

Just finish it, she thought. Mary closed her eyes. She lifted her unsteady hand from the banister, rose onto her toes, and let her stockinged feet slip off the staircase.

 

Her heart had finally settled to a steady thrum. She could hear it, and she could smell linen and chemicals. Her eyes flickered open. The room was as white as it smelled. Her heart seemed very loud in her ears, until she realised it was the beeping of the machine she was hooked up to. Hospital. She was in a hospital.

‘Mary?’ John’s face slowly solidified above her.

‘What happened?’ she croaked. She could already see the hard lines of his face forming.

‘You drank yourself stupid and lost our child, that’s what happened.’

Relief. Quickly followed by crushing guilt.

‘I’m sorry, John.’

‘You should be. What the hell were you thinking, Mary?’

What had she been thinking, marrying this man? With the permanent crease of anger between his eyebrows, and the inability to comprehend anything beyond his own, narrow scope of reasoning. She looked into his grey eyes.

‘I wasn’t.’

She watched his face carefully. It didn’t soften. She knew it never would.

‘They’re going to keep you under observation for the next twenty-four hours. I’ll be back tomorrow to pick you up.’

Mary nodded.  ‘I really am sorry.’

He left without answering. Mary was certain he would never forgive her.

 

‘Well, thankyou for making my job so easy.’

‘That’s quite alright, Mr Brigham. Have a safe trip home.’

‘I will. Do take care of yourself, Mrs Williams.’

 

Mary finished her cigarette, and stubbed it out in the ashtray. She sat back on the lounge and placed a hand on her stomach in a way she hadn’t done in so many years. So much unexpected, uncontrollable guilt.

She thought of her mother, who she so often tried to keep from her mind. She had died sweating and bleeding, with her husband beside her. She thought of John. Of his coldness, of their empty marriage. Death had been on Mary’s mind a lot lately, but it was only then that she acknowledged that she herself would die alone, in this cold house, with the smell of stale cigars in the air. But then, she remembered, she was too old to care.

 

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Strawberries in Africa, Rebecca Dawborn

1. Mix together one cup of flour, three tablespoons of water and half a teaspoon of salt.

I didn’t just fall in love, I fell in love in Africa. And not with a man, but with what really was the most extraordinary, homemade, oven baked, hand perfected, glossy, shiny, tasty strawberry pie.

2. Roll the pastry into a ball.

I’m not assertive, and I hate confrontation. But I am – without a doubt – market bipolar. Not to be mistaken for anything real, market bipolar is just my other persona. Market persona, she’s a bitch. And when you’re early morning walking, the last thing you want is a bag of cumquats, sugar cane or a dozen turtle pens, so I say NO!, turning abruptly and pursing my lips. I probably look like a codfish, somehow I think it helps. It was in this way that I met Michael, who – with an armful of strawberries and bearing a sizeable grin with his impossibly white teeth – was the first to laugh at me. I held his gaze a little longer then was culturally appropriate, before turning around and storming off as best I could.

‘Where are you going? I can escort you,’ Michael said, following me closely, ‘this is my city, I am your guide.’

‘No thank you.’

‘Are you going to work perhaps? A strawberry for the road?’ He held one out. It looked delicious.

‘Not today.’

‘Miss, they’re juicy and sweet’ he said, and at this I stopped and faced him.

‘Don’t –’, I said, cod lips at the ready, before he interrupted me.

‘An everyday treat,’ he finished, all smiles.

3. Heat the oven to two-hundred-and-fifty degrees Celsius. Roll out the pastry.

Strawberries, big, red and freshly picked were cheap, and came in boxes and bowls and were handed to you through the car window whenever you stopped. It was the perfect and only time of year for them, warm in the day and cool in the nights. Perfection; in my opinion. Stopping, in general was something you tried to avoid. You’d have crowds instantly surrounding you, pressing hands and noses to the glass, just staring. Wide eyed, slack jawed men. If you dared open the window you’d have vegetables and animals pushed through, a back seat full of maize, in all its variations, quite possibly a goat and a bleating bunch of kids. And as you walked down the streets, you’d be offered these rich, red wonders by busty women in bright colours, and male vendors of all generations. Their strong, muscly, working arms holding trays of them above their heads, and cradled in their arms. Their hands were working hands. Like Michael, they bargained with you daily.

Strawberries are the only fruits that have their seeds on the outside. Unlike their vendors, unlike Michael, they play an open hand.

4. Lay the pastry in the pie tin. Bake for ten minutes. Cool.

It was out of these strawberries, these beautiful, rich, fresh strawberries that my neighbour, another white and wonderful missionary like myself, made this most incredible pie. Or maybe it was a tart. Or a torte. A torte tart. I was never taught the difference, never taught the tart. Once, I was told I was a tart, and not the sweet kind. But this one was sweet, and the baker was kind.

Strawberries have the most incredible healing qualities, and the Ancient Romans believed them to be the perfect remedy for all sorts of ailments, from liver disease to fevers and infections. And the Ancient Romans bought us toga parties, so my theory is that strawberries – in whatever form – can’t possibly be bad for you. Me in a toga these days, however, is an entirely different story. That’s bad for everyone, an ailment to all.

When I was younger, we had a dog, but my neighbours had a garden. My dad always told us that it was one or the other, and I loved my dog. And the wood of the fence was wearing and old, a faded green with holes in places. Holes I used to look through, on tip-toes, watching the neighbour woman hang colourful strands of long, silky garments on her washing line. She was Indian and her house, and she, always smelt of spices. They grew all sorts of wonders in their garden, tomatoes that tundeled over the top of the fence line, and lemon trees in bud with huge and thick-skinned fruits. They would bring us bags of them over the Summer. There were all sorts of flowers, and natives, hibiscus and frangipani and plants that looked like herbs and smelt like onions. And then right in the depths, in the foliage and most often under the rest, sat the little strawberry plants. Green and thin, with tiny little red fruits that went bad, or were eaten by pesky cockatoos, before you even noticed them.

Once, poking my little hands through the fence, I nabbed two. Pitiful things, and blackening at the edges. Almost prune-like, they sat in my hand. I ate one and it was sour, so I buried the other, beside my hermit crab grave, in the childish hopes that it would sprout, and grow something real and wonderful. Every day I would go out there, with a bucket of water and water, in the hopes that it would seep through the earth and beneath the soil, begin to grow a miracle.

‘They’re all together desirable,’ Michael had said, when I bumped into him another time, holding out the strawberries, but looking up at me.

5. Mash six cups of strawberries with one cup of sugar, two tablespoons of cornstarch and half a cup of water.

You could tell who had been in Malawi the longest by their ability to cook despite the cultural differences, and the interesting list of local ingredients, which often upon inspection, would contain all kinds of animal innards, and almost always MSG. But regardless, here we were, at a friend’s long and well deserved farewell evening, and in front of me sat the most incredible, beautiful, glossy perfect strawberry pie I had ever seen, and I was completely and utterly in awe of the thing.

‘Get into my belly!’ I demanded, and minutes later I sat extremely happy and in complete and utter want of more.

6.  Heat the strawberry mixture in a saucepan till it boils.

I have a theory. That when I got my large toenail removed, (long story, has to do with fungus) I somehow lost my balance. Yes, like a tangible thing that I had and now misplaced, I had balance, I had poise and then I had an operation. Now, just an uneven surface jumps out at me like unexpected party poppers, causing me to fall.

At home, in sunny, surly Sydney this is never really a problem, except when in heels on a particularly frisky night out with the girls, where we drink sex on the beach, and naked cowboys to drown out the fact that our feet are red, swollen, blistering – and hurt like hell. We dine cocktails.

The low-land villages in Malawi on the other hand, are an entirely different story. Each little village section, as you meander down and down, trailing eleven children and following your non-English speaking guide, is joined by thin, rotting, ancient logs. The locals, with their bare feet and their practice navigate the ways with ease, often carrying bundles of goods, or sticks, or children on their heads and backs. Knowing that I’m crossing, they love, in fact, to gather around. I’m sure, making bets in their own language, about at which point I’m going to fall, what I will land on, and how long it will take me to right myself. The answer is usually a very long time.

My own guide, already on the other side looked over, as in front of me the log lay, ready to roll me off and plunge me into the depths below. Not overly far down, just a couple of meters, but a couple of meters and into the lake. The lake where people wash, bathe, and go to the bathroom. Where the pigs wander, ready to eat you, and if not – just your poo. I call them the ‘poo pigs’. They disgust me. I stared at the log and I stared at the lake and I looked at the crowds. Kids giggled into their palms and the women, in a huddle, exchanged little glances. They think I am ridiculous. Well now I have to do it, I thought to myself, if for no other purpose then to simply prove them wrong.

‘There is a way around,’ I heard from behind me, turning to see Michael, all smiles. I rolled my eyes.

‘It’s you,’ I said, averting my eyes to the log again. In ‘his way’, he was carrying a box of strawberries.

‘My name is Michael, what is yours?’  His English was perfect, which was strange for a village man.

‘Not today’ I said, taking that moment to step out in faith, placing one foot in front of the other and making it, almost the whole way along before a flying something distracted me and tripping over nothing, I managed to not just slip or fall, but launch myself over the edge, face first, hurling my backpack into the lake. My arms hurt, I was soaked through, the kids were in hysterics, the pigs were closing in and Michael looked right down at me, holding out his hand.

‘Did you know,’ he’d tell me later, pointing out a chameleon and handing me a strawberry free of charge, ‘that in my culture, this is like giving you a rose?’

I googled it later, they’re in the same family.

7. Once cool, spread the strawberry mixture over the pie crust.

The thing about HIV medication is that often times, it keeps you alive at the cost of causing you a hundred thousand other ills. The side effects are as aggressive as the virus itself, and can range from burning legs to skin disease, lesions, headaches, insomnia, numbness, pustules, lumps and heart palpitations. This is why, unlike my midnight dreams of glitter shoes and dancing, they take a myriad of pills and call it a cocktail. You take a pill for the virus, and another to counteract the effects of the pill, and the cycle thus continues, and you can’t stop in the fear of resistance. And you can’t stop, and it can’t stop it. Not really. Whether now or eventually, one old man once told me, people with HIV, they will always die of AIDS. He died of AIDS. And we bring such pills to our patients on our home visits, and it was on such an occasion that I met Michael once again.

I almost turned right back around, as I ducked my head under the concrete slab and walked into his house, seeing him there on the floor, a huge smile on his face, clinically thinner, amidst a pile of maize husks.

‘You really need to stop following me,’ he said, ‘it’s borderline suspicious.’

As I observed, the nurse asked him questions.

‘I have something for you,’ he said, ignoring her, pulling a double strawberry from the basket by his side. ‘If we share this,’ he continued, ‘you’ll absolutely fall in love with me.’

‘Not today, thank you,’ I said, picking up my stethoscope and leaving out the door.

8. Refrigerate until set.

In Australia, I used to speak in high schools. Standing before a couple of hundred teenagers, as they passed notes between one another, judged me, and in question time accused me of forcing my views upon them. To ‘get down to their level’ I would play the Black Eyed Peas, wear Cotton On and talk about ninjas.

If your body is a martial arts school, then your immune system is like your disease fighting ninjas, I would say. HIV slowly kills your ninjas, leaving the school what? And I would hope for the answer, ‘open to attack’.

I would leave, and forever be in their minds, ‘that religious girl who said something about ninjas, shouldn’t wear a tube top and sweat quite a bunch’. All of which were true. What I failed to mention was the herpes. The weight loss, mouth cancers, brains tumors, the slowing of speech, the weakness of the limbs, the migraines, fever, vomiting, nausea, dizziness, leprosy, severe scabies, body aches and ulcers that the loss of these ninjas results in. That the human immunodeficiency virus hijacks lymphocytes, and like a honeymoon nest; multiplies within them. Leaving the very old and the very young – a void working, parenting, contributing generation, destroying not only T-cells and individuals, but families, villagers, communities, generations and entire nations, like Malawi. A fact that takes on a different face when it is just that, a face. A mother and child, a man in a suit, a mini bus driver, a father, an uncle, a teacher, a student, a barefoot grandma, the sweet newborn. The laughing, the driving, the serving you at the counter, the smiling, the begging, the crossing the street. Michael.

I’d never mention that being ‘open to attack’ left your heart completely vulnerable, and in each and every way just that; open to attack.

9. Share.

This strawberry pie, in all its glory, both on the plate and in my stomach really was a huge blessing and completely unparalleled. It beat my daily ritual of sausage substitute and fresh lettuce by the handful, as I tried to be healthy and support both fruit and vegetable ladies, when they came to my front door.

And it was over this pie that I was quickly pulled aside.

‘Hailey, did you hear that Michael went home?’ There was a moments pause, as she placed her hand on my shoulder, ‘to be with his family,’ she added, trying to gage my level of comprehension.

Strawberries are good for you, filled with all sorts of nutrients and healing beneficiaries. They must be picked by hand, and each one has over 200 seeds. They are beautiful, rich, healing, but all together fragile, and their season is too short.

‘Hailey,’ she said, ‘he’s gone home’.

I wept bitterly, by myself and in the kitchen. My grandmother told me once that she listened to the human heart through only one means, tears when you’re alone. There’s too much pressure, when others are around, to be first too dramatic in want of sympathy and attention, or rather, to be silent and still and tough and hard and strong. But when alone, with nobody to impress, and nobody to care, tears are deep and powerful codes; the embodiment of something deeper. Richer. Sweeter. Like a homemade, oven baked, hand perfected, glossy, shiny, tasty strawberry pie.

 

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Apples & Old Spice, Joseph Sheehan

‘I’m sorry Claire, we’re going to have to let you go.’

I wasn’t sure how I was expected to react to this.

‘The thing is, we had to make some cuts,’ Charlie said, loosening his collar. A bead of sweat moved down the pink rolls of his neck and disappeared under his shirt. ‘The economy isn’t great, and people just aren’t buying newspapers anymore…’

I stood up. ‘It’s fine, Charlie, you don’t have to explain.’

‘We’ll give you a great reference,’ he called as I walked out of his office.

Bullshit they’d give me a good reference. I knew everybody there hated me, but I didn’t care because I hated them right back. When I started that job I was promised ‘opportunities for growth’. Ha. What I had envisaged as an exciting journalism career had quickly disintegrated into three years of getting vanilla slice for Chunky Charlie and occasionally compiling the death notices if someone else was off sick. To be honest I wasn’t really shocked they’d sacked me and tried to blame it on the GFC – I wasn’t exactly Little Miss Sunshine around the office.

‘I’m sorry Claire, but I think you should move out.’

That, on the other hand, had winded me. Looking into Sean’s face and his puppy-dog eyes, my first instinct was to reach over and slap him. I went for the second, less melodramatic option. ‘What? Where is this coming from? If this is about me staining the towels with fake tan, I told you I’d buy new ones.’

‘You know things have been rocky for a while,’ he said. ‘You can’t tell me that you hadn’t seen this coming.’

Okay, so things weren’t perfect, but what relationship is?

The funny thing was, I should have been upset. I should have cried and thrown myself on the ground like a ballerina pretending to be a giant swan. My boyfriend was dumping me. I had lost my job and my relationship and the roof over my head in the space of two hours. But in truth, I knew I should have been prepared for this. You’re with someone and it’s all wonderful, then the cracks begin to show and their little habits that you used to think were cute start to drive you crazy and next thing you know, you find yourself alone on a plane to the arse-end of the world. Tasmania.

‘Darling!’

Some woman was flying toward me as I walked out of the terminal, arms outstretched. She flung them around me and squeezed. I coughed, half with the strong scent I couldn’t quite work out emanating from her, and half from spitting her wild curly hair out of my mouth. Who the hell was this crackpot?

‘Mum,’ I said, looking her over as she led me out of the airport. ‘You look … different.’

‘Don’t I look like an old hippie?’ she said, playfully bumping my hip. ‘I’ll tell you what, the amount I used to spend on make-up and shampoo, I’ve saved a bomb. Whoops, don’t say bomb at an airport!’

She cracked up at her own joke. I hardly recognised her. It can’t have been that long since I’d seen her … two years at most. Gone was the lawyer in the suit with the mobile permanently attached to her ear, whose favourite pastime was yelling at someone on the phone. In fact, I think this was the first time I had actually seen her laugh.

‘So …’ I said as we drove home, racking my brains for conversation. ‘How’s the farm thing going?’
‘Oh, we love it,’ she said, reaching over to tune the radio and settling for some old seventies song. ‘The travellers come from all over to pick the apples, it’s so interesting. I know you were a little shocked when we told you we were going to move here, but it just felt right. We needed a change, and now we wouldn’t leave it for the world.’ She wound down the window and sang out. ‘Hey farmer farmer, put away the DDT now! Give me spots on my apples, but leave me the birds and the bees … pleeeeease!’ She turned back to me. ‘And how are you, sweetheart? After everything that happened?’

I looked out the window. ‘I don’t want to talk about it. It’s done.’

‘But you must be feeling a little upset, you were with Sean for two years. You know what would take your mind off things? I’m going to a meeting tomorrow night, we’re trying to stop some deforestation –’

‘Mum!’ I snapped. She kept quiet the rest of the journey. I wanted to say something to lighten the mood, but couldn’t find the words.

We pulled off the country road and through a gate. Up on the hill I could see their house. It looked like a log cabin from an American movie, with smoke billowing from the chimney. Mum parked and jumped down from the truck. ‘Look, here’s your dad now!’

Unless my name was Lisa-Marie Presley, that was not my father. The silver Elvis suit hugged his belly, the fake jewels glinting in the sun.

‘Don’t look so shocked, Claire Bear!’ He pulled off his black wig and sunglasses. ‘Give your old dad a hug!’

My dad, unlike Mum, did smell the same as I remembered. A mixture of Old Spice, coffee and something else, something sweet I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I remembered curling up next to him when I was little as he napped in the afternoons. I’d lie there for hours, trying to figure out what that smell was. I never worked it out.

‘I’m just on my way to work,’ he said.

I raised an eyebrow. ‘Work? Are you aware of how you’re dressed?’

He laughed and said, ‘I’m a marriage celebrant now.’ Like that cleared things up.

‘Do the people know you’re coming like that? You might want give them some warning, it’s supposed to be the happiest day of their lives. It’d put a dampener on things if the bride’s mother died of shock.’

‘He runs a Vegas-themed wedding chapel near Hobart,’ Mum said. ‘It’s called Gayceland.’

‘Graceland?’

‘No, Gayceland,’ said Dad. ‘Since the bill was passed all the gays are coming here to get married. It’s been great for tourism. I have to be off, I’ve got Trace and Shirl from town coming in for a rehearsal.’

He waved and climbed into the truck. I was still standing there with my mouth hanging open as he drove away. I really didn’t know how to react. Your dad dressing up as Elvis and performing gay marriages – you couldn’t make that shit up. Mum put her arm around me. I felt myself stiffen, unsure how to react to that too.

‘Doesn’t he seem happy? Better than back home when he was always between jobs. This has been so good for his self-esteem.’

I didn’t know what to say, so watched in silence. Part of his cape was caught in the door and it flapped in the wind as he drove away. By the next morning I knew I hated farms. It was a bloody zoo. So far I had almost tripped over a pregnant dog, a pig had snorted at me, and one of the goats kept staring at me which was creeping me out. My hands were freezing, my feet were killing me from Mum’s gumboots, and I needed a coffee – none of this dandelion tea crap Mum had lying around. It reminded me of the last time we’d been to Tasmania when I was fifteen, one of the only family holidays we’d had all together. Most of it consisted of Dad and I trying to keep the noise down while Mum stomped about on the phone to her law firm, trying to sort out some Big Case and abusing her colleagues.

We stayed at a farm like this, and one morning I was standing at the fence with a basket in my hand. Mum had suggested we go get some eggs – meaning I got the eggs while she watched and criticised. I really didn’t want to go in there. In my opinion chickens were mean, spiteful creatures, and I knew that the moment I stepped in there I would be savaged, and my remains would be discovered months later covered in feathers and claw marks.

However, amazingly, for one moment she wasn’t glued to her phone, so I felt like I should do it.
I took a deep breath and walked through the gate. I stopped in front of the coop, my gumboots squelching into the wet grass. How would the chooks react to me taking their eggs? Were they territorial like bears? Did they have teeth in those wicked little beaks?

I lifted the wooden flap and tentatively reached in. I closed my hand around the closest egg, keeping an eye out for any vicious chicken that might attack me at any moment, and took it out. I turned it around in my hand. It was different to eggs that you buy in a supermarket. It had freckles like it had been out in the sun.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a large goose was charging at me like a Spanish bull. I fell backwards in shock, the egg flying out of my hand and cracking open on the side of the coop, yolk running down the side.

The goose was honking in my face, running around and flapping its wings, nipping at my arms and legs with its beak. I screamed, jumped up and ran towards the gate, hands covering my head. I jumped up and climbed over the fence and fell on the ground again.

I got up and felt the wet patch on the back of my jeans from the mud. I looked up, but Mum was gone. I could see her sitting on a log a few metres away, back turned, talking heatedly on the phone. And that’s when it finally dawned on me, what I realised I knew all along. That I would always come second.

Well, she could get her own bloody eggs now. Just because I was stuck here on their farm didn’t mean I was going to be doing chores.

‘Good morning!’ she said brightly as I walked into the kitchen.

I smiled awkwardly in reply, unsure how to react to this personality one-eighty.

‘Darling, you remember I mentioned the meeting yesterday?’ she said.

‘Mhmm.’

‘Well, what do you think? Don’t you want to come and see what it’s all about?’

No, I’d rather shave my legs with a cheese grater.

‘No thank you,’ I said.

Mum sighed. ‘I think you’d find it really interesting. Did you know that if this permit is granted, over seventy percent of the forest in the south-west will be open to loggers –’

‘Mum!’ I said, cutting her off. ‘No matter how many times you ask me, the answer will still be no. I’m not here to chain myself to a tree or run around banging a tribal drum, singing the wonders of Mother Earth.’

‘Why are you being so hostile? I thought you were here to spend time with us.’

‘I’m here because I got fired from my job and my boyfriend kicked me out. End of story.’
‘But –’

‘Leave me alone. That’s what you’re good at, right?’ I turned my back and walked away.

As soon as I did, I wanted to turn back, and grab my words from where they hung in the air. But I also wanted to tell her that I used to lie next to my dad and try to figure out his scent, and that at the same I’d try and imagine what my mother’s was. I came up with different combinations in my head – chocolate and raspberry, or lilies and musk. But every time I tried to imagine I came up short. It’s hard to remember the scent of someone who is never there, who was always working late and chooses her job over her family. In the end I stopped trying, and I closed my eyes and pretended that all three of us were lying there safe together. And then I’d open my eyes, and her side of the bed would be empty.

Say what you want about Tassie, but it sure knew how to put on a night-time spectacle. I hadn’t known there were so many stars in the sky.

‘I’ve got something for you, Claire Bear,’ said Dad, walking out onto the veranda. I was relieved to see that the shiny bodysuit was gone.

He held out a bowl with a large slab of pie. ‘Made from the apples picked in our orchard.’

‘I’m not that hungry for pie served with slatherings of guilt.’

‘Not even a very hot, sweet, sticky guilt pie with ice cream?’

The pale ice cream was melting over the hot pie, pooling at the bottom, making my mouth water. I took it from him, the bowl warming my hands.

‘Claire …’

I exhaled. ‘Look Dad, I know you’ve come up here to try and talk me into apologising, but you needn’t bother.’

He held up his hands. ‘I’m not here to tell you anything. Not even about how excited she’s been since you called and told us that you were coming. Or that she knows what she’s missed. Maybe this is her trying to reach out a bit.’

‘But she can’t just give me some apple pie and expect that it’s going to make everything okay.’

‘But maybe it’s a start.’

I looked out across the hills to the mountain in the distance. Back in the city you couldn’t look further than a few metres ahead of you because of the concrete buildings blocking your view. Somehow it was calming to look ahead to the horizon unobstructed.

Dad put his hand on my shoulder. ‘Let me know if you want some hot chocolate. I’m famous for it around here.’

‘Hot chocolate and apple pie? Don’t make me write to Jenny Craig to dob you in.’

He rubbed his stomach. ‘How do you think I got this?’

I couldn’t help smiling. When he was gone, I lifted up the bowl and inhaled. Then I stopped. That was it. The fragrance I’d noticed on Mum when she’d hugged me at the airport – it was the scent of apples.

‘Claire!’

Mum looked surprised to see me up so early the next morning. She was standing at the sink, dangling a dandelion tea bag in a lumpy mug.

‘I’ve been thinking,’ I said, leaning against the bench. ‘I think that an article on a group of loyal environmentalists trying to stop deforestation would be a perfect piece for my journalism portfolio, for when I start looking for a new job. It would really help me out to come along to your meeting.’

Mum tried to hide her look of surprise. ‘Well … so do I, darling. It’s very topical. Everyone’s into the environment these days.’

‘It’s not going to be a puff piece though.’ I pointed to her. ‘I’m going to write it as I see it. Journalistic integrity and all that. If you charge in there and boss everyone around like a tyrant, the world is going to know.’

She smiled and nodded. ‘I would be disappointed with anything less.’

I turned to walk away, but she came and hugged me from behind. I breathed in, locking that apple scent away in my memory, ready to take out whenever I needed it.

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Helike, Claire Catacouzinos

The gods are amaranthine, and so is their wrath. They are the controllers and doers of the land, they know their place, and the mortals know theirs. They decide when to thread life with a needle through their canvas, to place a stitch here and another over there, when to sail horizontally, travel diagonally, to enjoy life in a straight line or go tumbling vertically down to the depths of Hades; perhaps another colour to play with, just to test the mortal’s piety? And if a stitch is removed from the canvas, a place vanishes from history; lives are taken away; the canvas shall be remodelled, in time, when the gods decide to do so. For they are the controllers and doers of the land, they know their place, and the mortals know theirs.

The Gulf of Corinth 373 B.C.E.

In the month of Anathesterion, Alethea the daughter of Mikkos of Helike is spinning her wool in her family’s marble house when the floor beneath her bare feet begins to shake. He has come back, she thinks, moving in rhythm with the quaking earth, her body is tossed against the wall, sinking to the unsteady floor. She presses her ear against the mud brick wall, feeling the vibration of the earth ringing in her ears. Why is Poseidon angry? She hears her stool tapping against the floor. The chimes hanging in the room jingle together like the storage jars that shimmy across the room. She forces herself to stand, to do something, anything! Her sister is screaming in the opposite room. She hears the outcries of Helikeans outside; children crying for their mother’s protective arms, animal’s footsteps are clapping against the cobblestone pathways, fathers hollering for their families to get inside their houses. Is it safer inside or outside? The earth shaking, Alethea waits for a moment, her body still against the wall, when it stops. Poseidon’s anger has abated.

‘Alethea!’ she hears her sister weep. She pushes herself from the wall, and runs to locate Adelphia. She finds her amongst the pallid blankets in the corner of her room.

‘Are you alright?’ she asks. Adelphia’s curly brown hair is tangled like vineyards, her complexion that of a terrified child.

‘Why is Poseidon Helikonios angry?’ Alethea grabs hold of her sister’s hand and helps her up, still hearing the screams of the citizens.

‘Perhaps the city has unwittingly been impious to him?’ For she knows she has been for many years.

‘Father is at his workshop, do you think he is alright?’

‘If the gods have willed it,’ Alethea says.

She hears a hoarse voice outside her window and clasps her sister’s hand. She moves towards it. A tall, white-bearded man is talking to a clan of Helikeans, where more, one by one, approach to hear him speak. ‘My good citizens of Helike.There will be a meeting tonight in the market place to discuss this matter. I advise all of you to be there.’

Alethea turns away from the window. She looks at Adelphia, thinking over the past years of how they have been deprived of their mother. She knows Poseidon has not been angry with her city since the day he drowned her mother at sea. They had been returning from a visit to the Oracle of Delphi, across the Corinthian Gulf. She remembers that it had been the annual festival of the Theophania, celebrating the return of Apollo from his winter quarters in Thrace. She had been twelve at the time when the turbulent waves of Poseidon had rocked the boat. Little by little each wave grew, becoming stronger and stronger until they had risen over the surface of the boat and crashed down onto the deck, taking many helpless victims. Had Poseidon been angry with them for paying homage to a god who was not their patron? Is that why he had killed her mother? Is this why he is striking again? She knows that the only gods she prays to are Hera and Zeus, ever since she became betrothed to Elpidios. Is the quake her fault? She takes her sister’s hand and squeezes it; they look at each other and Alethea knows she has to do anything to keep her sister safe.

That night, under the lunar light Alethea and her sister arrive in the market place, joining the crowded Helikeans. They surround the area like fire flies, holding their torches. They have not heard from their father for the whole day. Perhaps there was an accident during his travels to Aigion today, to deliver his new crafts?

Alethea feels her sister holding her hand tightly, just like she did that awful night when their mother was swept away. She turns her attention to the white-bearded man – a magistrate of the committee for the safety of their city-state. He is standing on a stool in front of the Temple of Poseidon Helikonios, ‘My fellow citizens,’ he begins, ‘the quake is over. Poseidon has relinquished his wrath on us. But we shall sacrifice a bull to him tonight. We shall soothe his anger.’

A tirade breaks out amongst the Helikeans.

‘Why is he furious with us?’ They ask. Some are blaming the politicians for their corrupt ways; other citizens are frantic, holding their children closer to them, their eyes fixated on the magistrate.

While Alethea watches, she can feel her fear of Poseidon rising, deep down she is sure she knows what he is up to. She hears her betrothed speaking her name. She lets go of her sister’s hand and embraces Elpidios. Her arms wrap around him like Penelope did when she hugged her Odysseus for the first time after twenty years. The warmth of Elpidios’ skin calms Alethea’s thoughts.

‘Where have you been?’ she asks.

‘I was fishing in the gulf when the waves started tossing our boat. We capsized and had to swim to shore.’

‘Thank Hera you are alright.’

Agapi mou, of course I am alright, it would take all the gods to rid me from your side.’

Alethea refuses to ponder over the matter, for she knows, if the gods willed it, they could kill anyone. She kisses Elpidios as he wraps an arm around her and she leans into the curve of his chest and shoulder. She can hear the Helikeans still shouting at the magistrate, when he announces, ‘I have with me the Priestess of Poseidon Helikonios, our dear Elpis. She will save us by slitting the throat of the sacrificial bull.’

Alethea watches as Elpidios’ sister wearing her white shawl, holds the dagger to the thrusting bull’s neck and begins her prayer, ‘Patron god of our city, Poseidon Helikonios, Shaker of the Earth, I humbly succumb to your presence and will, to accept this sacrifice as homage from your people.’ The crimson blood from the bull is purged and gushes forth upon the marble altar, and slowly drips down on the cobblestone. ‘For now, we hope he will give us another day for his Panionia festival tomorrow, so we may be pardoned for our misdoings.’

At midnight, the god Morpheus enters Alethea’s dreams. His presence awakens her deep thoughts on Poseidon. The spirits of Morpheus’ Oneiroi envision messages of dark roaring waves and high-pitched screams of civilians running inland. Animals are stampeding amongst humans, squashing those in the way like insects. Alethea finds herself amongst the waves, drowning in the ocean. Help me, help me father, Adelphia, help! Elpidios, where are you? She thinks. Her eyes are stinging as she tastes the bitterness of salt on her tongue, her nose inhaling the waves, suffocating her. Why does Poseidon hate her? He reveals himself, his white mane covering his squared face, the sharp ends of his golden trident pointing towards her, condemning her. His cerulean eyes are fixated on her, mouthing words to her, words that never enter her ears, the sea water has already deafened them. And all she can think is, You, you who are the saviour of our city, you the god of the sea, the earthquakes, the rivers, the floods, the droughts, how could you? You, you who are the Patron of our city, Poseidon Helikonios, oh why? What have I ever done to you?

She awakes from heat, sweat and dried tears. She looks over at her sister sleeping beside her, their father did not return that night. She turns her head and looks at the starry night sky through her window. Help me Hera, oh help me, she thinks. She feels the heat and notices her blankets are lying on the floor. Is it not winter? Why is it so hot?

The next evening Alethea finds Elpidios upon his fishing boat alone. The sun rays of Helios lightening his dark skin and his obsidian hair. She watches as he packs his belongings from the boat onto the deck.

‘I thought I might find you here.’ She approaches him wearing a thin shawl. Her hand fans the heat away from her face.

He looks up from what he is doing and their eyes meet. ‘I thought you would be preparing for the festival tonight?’ He places his hand upon his brow to block Helios’ rays, his eyes squinting.

‘My father has not returned home since yesterday. I fear he has left my sister and I, the coward within him is too scared to return to Helike.’

‘Why would you say such things?’

‘He knows from the earthquake that Poseidon’s rage will be thunderous soon, yesterday was only the beginning.’

‘Alethea, you know my sister would have spoken to me if she knew Poseidon was going to punish us.’

‘Have you not heard the cries since yesterday? Something happened a few nights ago when the Akhaean League formed an agreement. There is gossip in the street that Poseidon will strike again tonight.’

‘You should not fill your head with discontent Alethea. We have appeased Poseidon with our sacrifice and today we shall rejoice in celebration of him.’

‘We ought to leave before he strikes again. We must travel inland.’

He lifts himself out from the boat and clasps her hand. ‘You should not be scared of him. Can you not see he has blessed me today with all these fish?’

Alethea’s eyes look upon the carcasses stacked in a net on the boat. Their scales silver, their black beady eyes looking up to the heavens. ‘I cannot stay; I have already sent Adelphia inland to Tritaia. Many people are leaving the city today.’

‘Are you going to leave me?’ he asks, wiping his hands on his tunic. Alethea smells the odour of fish, and breathes in the scent, remembering all the times she has been fishing with him. How he catches a bundle, kisses each of them, and thanks Poseidon for the blessing. Out in the ocean, this is where he had kissed her for the first time. On their patron gods territory, when she was only fourteen years old, the same ocean that killed her mother. Why is Poseidon doing this now? she thinks.

‘You need to come with me. I want you to leave with me.’

‘I cannot go,’ he says.

‘Can you not see the animals are fleeing? Even they know Poseidon will release his rage soon.’

‘My sister is the priestess, you are defying our patron.’

‘Then why have the wells risen? The air soaring with heat when it is winter? The fate of our city is in turmoil…Elpidios, please?’
‘No Alethea, I am to stay here in the city with my family. I have an obligation to them. If I leave them I will lose my honour.’

‘There will be no honour once Poseidon has had his way.’

‘You do not know if he is to cause any misfortune. Elpis said Poseidon had sent us a message yesterday to strengthen our piety for the festival today.’

Alethea closes her eyes, and takes in a long breath of the salty air. She could go and leave him here. He could suffer the wrath of Poseidon if he wanted. She could find a new partner, marry a different man. And yet, all she wants is to be the mother of his children. She wants to be with him.

‘Agapi mou, you are being suspicious because of your mother. Please stay for the festival tonight?’

She did not know what she was doing. A part of her wanted to run to the hills, to jump onto a cart and ride to Tritaia, further and further away from Helike. And yet the other half of her, yearned for Elpidios, for him to stay with her. Perhaps Poseidon would not strike tonight. Perhaps tonight, the festival would soothe his rage, and they would be left for another night.

The festival that night is triumphant; the athletics start with men and boys competing against each other in honour of Poseidon. At dinner time, four fat bulls are sacrificed by the Priestess during the procession. Libations of silky milk, red wine and honey are poured in honour of Poseidon Helikonios. The Priestess performs her fluid dance, choirs of boys and girls sing in praise. And to Alethea’s shock, there has not been another tremor. It is not until midway through the next pouring of libations and dancing that the ground begins to shake.

She jumps from her seat, grabbing Elpidios’ hand and runs away from the festival, her body shaking and moving with the rhythm of the earth. She can hear people screaming, panicking – run, run for your lives! Have mercy on us! What are we to do! Keep running! She hears thunder above her head. He has awakened. She keeps running. She needs to find safety.

‘Alethea, wait!’ Elpidios shouts, catching his breath. But she cannot, she is terrified, her heart pounding in her chest like her fists banging on dough. Her eyes watch the buildings around her shaking; some are swaying side to side, and others she can see are forming cracks. She keeps running, with him behind her. She runs, and runs, and runs all the way outside of the market place, pacing through the cracking buildings and animals thrashing from their chains. She hears outcries.

‘Help me!’
‘Where is my mother?’
‘Where is my father?’
‘Oh Zeus help us! Where are my children?’

And then. It stops. And so does she. She bends down, and inhales a long breath of air. Oh help me Hera, she thinks. That’s when she turns around and sees Elpidios is still there. Scared like her. But, her eyes look above him. She sees a huge wave. It is rising up, up, up towards the sky, as when she had lost her mother.

She cries, ‘Oh Hera! Please, help us!’ She tilts her head up, watching the wave; it just keeps on rising, it just keeps on rising. ‘He’s got us, he’s got us!’

Until, in a split moment, as she holds her breath, it hits its peak…and then, like the speed of Zeus’ lightning bolt, it rushes towards the city of Helike.

Elpidios grabs her. He clutches her as he whispers in her ear, ‘Signomi agapi mou, s’agapo.’

The tidal wave crashes down upon them. For the gods are the controllers and doers of the land, they know their place, and the mortals know theirs.

[For] you will remember, for we in our youth did [many] things, yes many beautiful things. Someone will remember us, I say, even in another time.
– Sappho of Lesvos Fragments 24A & 147

 

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Glossary
Anathesterion – February/March
Agapi mou – my love
Oneiroi – dark-winged spirits of dreams
Signomi agapi mou, s’agapo- I’m sorry my love, I love you

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Weight in Gold, Illya Lugovoy

Had he not been so intent on discovering what were to become the Lost Statues of Frunzenskaya, had he instead made his way out of the station like all the others, had he not dared to venture forth along dark corridors that led to machine gun-toting revolutionaries, his life might have continued on amicably for a few more years, at least until the alcohol poisoning that his life at the early age of thirty seven. But he was an inquisitive soul and thus had found himself atop a tank at the wrong end of the barrel with three tonnes of gold statue wavering above his head.

He was there. He had arrived. He had worn the ears off of all his family and friends as to the majesty of St. Petersburg – he, however, preferred the more affectionate name Piter. Now he was to traipse its very streets…except the word ‘traipsed’ implied that his venturing forth was unsure and unfounded; he was very sure of his path and where he should go. And all the chaos of Moscow (his Moskva) would dissipate amongst this semblance of culture. He knew that up ahead to his left were the famous marbled walls of Frunzenskaya, their decadence replete with golden statues calmly reaching out to the thronging masses. They had been the highlight of his readings during his schooling. He had already his notepad and fountain pen out to record his thoughts at that moment. They were always readily available in the front pocket of his attaché pouch. They (the statues) were an ode to tepid times past; and to moments of sincerity through struggles. Stalin had been a quiet man. Would he have heard their call as he passed them by? Would he have heard anything above the bedlam? They were wont to-

‘Keep moving! And don’t leave bags on floor.’ The command was accompanied by a hand pressing into his back.

Vissarion momentarily faltered and then recovered himself to see that the presser had melted already into the crowd of thousands, with more to accost him if he were to remain an encumbrance. He regathered his belongings and made to join the masses.

At the station of Frunzenskaya, one of the city’s deepest underground stations at 105 metres, one had the option of several departure points: towards the streets of Nevski; down the way to the square of Lenin; or further along to the station of Electrosila.

‘Again fool! Why you not desist? Tourist!’

Vissarion was aware of the swarthy uniformed guard now standing in front of him. The man came up only to his shoulders but still cut an impressive figure. The epaulettes on his shoulders suggested he had been decorated for more than quelling crowds of wandering people on the metro. The name embroidered on his chest read Romek Abramowicz. Decidedly un-Russian.

‘What your problem? There is no time for observation,’ the guard began. ‘Can’t you not sense mood here?’

‘I only just arrive now. I want to look round.’

‘If you just arrive now, you must go verify documents. Or else we send you away. But this is bad time for you to arrive. You should be going away.’

The guard was gone. Vissarion stole one more glance towards the resplendent wall and once again gathered his belongings.

He pushed past several babushki, rather forcefully, ignoring their cries of unorthodox behaviour, for they would do the same to him and not bat an eyelid. The metro in Piter was a hive for the infirm and decrepit: the women held out twisted and gnarled hands for money and crossed themselves every few moments whilst the men, mostly war veterans and sans legs, trundled through at knee level, also asking for money, for a helping hand, for a prayer to god. People from all walks of life were represented on the Russian metro. The Russian metro face was perhaps the best poker face ever: faces devoid of any emotion, staring straight ahead, not warming to one another, not registering a single thought process.
Vissarion’s eyes had been intently following the spiralling artwork on the ceiling, so much so that he passed by the escalator to the surface and continued around it before coming upon a dead-end at the underside of the escalator. He paused so to record his sightings and then turn back. There in a lugubrious niche stood a statue.

This surprised him as he knew that Frunzenskaya had only the one set of statues along the esplanade, all other statues having been lost since the Cold War.

He moved closer and marvelled at the beauty this particular statue possessed. It was a finely wrought work that was both out of place yet couldn’t have been placed anywhere else. The statue somehow belonged here. It hinted at some untold factor. It drew Vissarion closer…yet revealed not a thing after he scoured every inch for half an hour. And he was now very thirsty.

The whisky was a welcome refresher after his travels. He hadn’t had a drink in several hours. His bags were arranged on the small area of marble ledge jutting out from the floor and he was seated beside them. His coat and jacket lay over his bags and his tie was loosened. He was calmer now than he was beforehand, though that had not really been anxiousness he felt earlier. Merely the effect of his first time in Piter. So far, only minor chaos.

There was a steady hum that would have, without a doubt, without a thought, been attributed to the machinations of the trains. Vissarion only began to take note of the hum after a dull thump started drumming behind his eyeballs. Usually this occurred after a bottle or two of whisky; he had only finished his first flask. After a bottle or two, one could be forgiven for believing that elephants were dancing inside one’s head. They would touch upon certain nerves and receptacles that elicited extroverted responses; right now Vissarion was sure he could feel the rumble of these elephants taking place outside of his person as well, as if they were bouncing around in a china shop that was conveniently located to the aft of the station.

A stronger rumbling confirmed that Vissarion’s constitution was still strong, that there was some deep disturbance rising up to the surface.

The violence of these rumbles was its strongest yet about twenty seconds later. Vissarion was rocked from his perch, his coat and jacket falling to the ground, his fountain pen rolling over to the far wall. Grumbling over his soiled garments as he picked them up, he moved also to pick up the pen and felt an intense heat on the right side of his face as he bent over. Turning his head, he saw…what he made out to be a door wedged open the tiniest amount. He espied steps leading downwards.

Another rumble. More heat – stronger this time – was propelled through the door.

Whatever was going on was taking place beneath Piter. Logic told Vissarion to walk away and take a canal tour: discover the creations that Piter had to offer from the sanctity of the puttering barge, to delve not deeper into certain chaos.

But these days, there was nothing logical in Russia and Vissarion wasn’t about to start.
The passage was dank and grimy yet this was no matter as he soon came upon a sight that quelled any quibbles he might have held, at least for a few seconds – dead ahead was another statue.

Vissarion was a religious man by culture, not nature; his belief in fate, however, was paramount. He sensed that he was about to be graced by some epiphany that would have him on his knees in reverence.
He was there when he saw the fourth statue.

Vissarion crossed himself for posterity. He was all a jitter.

Three statues more. I not believe such things yet I can see them with own eyes.

The hum that had been so persistent earlier on had diminished to a barely audible drone. It lightly tickled one’s senses and frolicked about the edges of perception. Vissarion had all but forgotten about it, lost as he was in his statue discoveries. He was still holding his book and pen and had continued to take down notes, though whether he would be able to read his writing would be another matter as the light here was not at all strong. His fountain pen, he knew, was close to running dry and the refill cartridge was in a pocket of the bag left behind.

The distant hum had now been replaced by a sound that chilled Vissarion’s blood. Chilling because Russia had made great progress these past few years without the aid of that sound.

He rounded a corner, coming out onto a precipice of a very deep-running, far-flung cavern and was presented with the following scenario, orchestrated in all its majesty and bedlam: the gunfire he had just heard was coming from both ground level and what seemed to be a hole in the ceiling of the cavern; soldiers on what were apparently the streets of Piter (the European quarter, he noted) were firing down through the hole at platoons of men and these men were returning fire; helicopters, amidst the hail of bullets, were taking off and attempting to exit through this opening in the ceiling, flying to who knew where; what looked like scientists were scurrying about across the cavern floor, having being concerned it seems with all the machinery (tanks mostly) that was assembled about this vast expanse, and now wildly fearful for their lives; the assembled machinery was now slowly rumbling towards a tunnel on the far side of the cavern; a rocket launcher was discharged and its payload slammed into the side of one tank, sending it crashing into another tank; several tanks raised their long shafts and returned a devastating assault; the soldiers on the roads above were sent into oblivion, not even a sceric of their DNA would be recoverable; Vissarion was wild-eyed as he surveyed the chaos in front of him; he heard voices from the passage; he dove for a ladder nearby to him and which led downwards to the ground; bullets whizzed close by his head; he was close to having a conniption; the voices above were directed his way; he stayed on his course, sure he could find a niche to cower in.

The niche never eventuated for Vissarion; he slipped and fell from the ladder, but only a short way, onto a passing tank. He landed atop the swivelling gun head, holding on for dear life; he had a front row seat to the mayhem around him. The roar of the gun was deafening: wodges of rocks garnished the ground below, creating a haphazardly-shaped mural that ran black and red with oil and blood, respectively. One of the helicopters had taken fire from above and it was spiralling back to earth. Vissarion watched the rotor blades slice through several scientists and soldiers and then pop off, to whir past his head and embed themselves in a large drum of noxious liquid. The fervent purple liquid cascaded forward and lapped up those whom had fallen, whittling them into granular nothingness. A soldier fell from above onto the tank, a splash of red leaping up to cover Vissarion; he screamed aloud, his voice barely audible amidst the commotion, and pushed the body away.

The top hatch flipped up to reveal a quizzically goggled face. ‘What you doing here? You not soldier.’
Guns continued to play around them, bullets pinging here and there. The gaudy splashes of red were offset at intermittent periods by a fine pink mist.

‘Speak, interloper! Do not hide your inquisitive face.’

The tank slowed to a halt, the man pulling himself up out of the driver’s chamber. Vissarion stood up slowly, noting that this man also came up only to Vissarion’s shoulders. The name embroided on his chest read Natan Abramowicz.

Why so many Polish working here?

The Pole began speaking.

Up above, the statue that had been hoisted into the air was now wavering dangerously, several wayward bullets having clipped the wire attached. It was ready to drop onto the two men below fifty seconds into the following impassioned speeches:

‘…and so you see that we ready ourselves now to take over that bastard city that thinks can give orders, that think we are lesser than they, that we like dirty monkeys. We start by taking back statues that belong to us. You know they were stolen from us and we look long time searching for them and then one day, stupid Russians, they give to us textbook of Russian history, replete with pictures of so-called Russian art and culture. They talk about famous statues at station. We Polish knew straight away that they were Polish statues, that Russians had taken them from us. We let them take vodka as theirs, but these statues are our pride and joy. We must reclaim title that was…is…ours….That is mindset we are in: we think like Russian and so we make attack look like Russian versus Russian. You are learned man. Why not join us?’

Vissarion’s blood-streaked face trembled. ‘You te-telling me statues I have held so dear to my heart are P-P-Polish, that you here to take them, that this mayhem is all for something in p-past, something so pet-’

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