Just One More Time

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 One More Time

 The dew on my face and arms felt like sweet kisses. The light breeze carried the dampness which had eased the heat of the night. I pumped the pedals of my bicycle in a steady rhythm. Kookaburras’ laughs echoed through  a stand of stringy gums as I left the paved road and travelled into the bush along a  narrow path through the bush grass. The packed hard clay was covered in loose white powder that rose in puffs as my bicycle tyres made tracks through it. The low sun glinted on the toffee brown river, and moisture glossed the pale olive leaves of the gums, surrounded by their tan and beige curling skin, as if they were the first sunburn victims of the hot season. The  black bush ants crawled over and around the detritus of the gums, collecting treasure and returning to their great hills on the bush side of the track. The wending track led to the curve of the Ovens where a wide bank of sand sloped gently down from the stands of wattle, stringy bark and black boys; what amounted to the last of the  bush left behind the golf links. The main point of coming here was the water hole that spread out at this curve of the river. It was called the ‘Golf Links’ locally and most of the kids in a five kilometre radius knew it was a good place to go on the river, you could sit and sunbake on the wide bank of sand, and the water was free of dangerous currents.

Dismounting my bike and lying it down upon the sand, I  removed my t-shirt and shorts revealing a o bronze-coloured bathing suit with patches worn thin from sun-baking on last year’s river sand. Familiar as the scene before me was, it was mid-November and months since my last early autumn swim here. The lack of mechanised sounds was newly sacred. I held my breath and stilled my whole body as if I  might be able to melt into the atmosphere. Here there was the faint buzz of a dragon fly over the sun dappled water. I could hear the water’s slap slosh against the huge carcass of a river gum that poked its’ limbs into the air mid-stream. A huge Gum on the opposite bank supplied the limb for an old rope swing, that was being attacked at that very moment by the sharp beak of a magpie. Its’ mates were gargling with glee higher in the tree, observing with reddish brown eyes the laughing Kookaburras.

I gasped as I entered the cool river, but it wasn’t enough to deter me. The volume of water allowed a good depth where the sand bars dropped away , but the current was lazy. I stretched my limbs in the yellowish water; its colour was due to clay and the valuable sand quarried from further downstream.  The lethargy of what had seemed an interminable warm night washed away, I struck out towards the huge tree using my best version of the Australian Crawl. Another dragon fly darted in front of my face and away.  With around thirty strokes I reached the half-submerged tree and, at first slipping and banging my knee, found a foothold on a knot just below the water and clambered onto it. The breeze was just occasional puffs now, so I could settle against the remains of an upright limb and be as still as possible without freezing.

Slowing my breathing I waited; then I had a heart quickening thought. Checking around me, I  looked for any active snakes that might be sunning themselves or swimming toward the log from the high approximate bank.  After looking around for a while I settled again. The gum platform was wholly in the shade, not a popular landing spot just yet, though I was waiting for an Azure Kingfisher to do just that. To see the sapphire breasted and smallest local member of the Kingfisher family was my goal before heading home for breakfast. Stilling every muscle, I fixed my eyes on the closest bank – the spherical opening into which I had seen one of the feathered fishers disappear the previous week. My right leg with which at knee height I straddled a hideous knot was becoming numb when I saw it. It flitted over the lower log far to my left just within the line of peripheral vision. I turned only my head and focused. Its black beady eye was like the dot of an exclamation mark on the sunny stripes of its’ head. Its wings became blurred like a hummingbird’s as it hovered, darted and hovered again, the rising sun making a jewel of its sapphire-bright breast. I leaned closer for a better view, shivered and  huffed ;it was gone.  I felt the smile on my face all the way back to the gritty shore. When I arrived home, tea and toast with apricot jam  tasted so good  when consumed with my memories of that delicate and delightful creature.

Three hours later after showering and chores and the ritual of sunscreen, which was seldom reapplied, I met two of my friends, Tricia and Teresa at the intersection closest to the river path, with towels, drinks and excited chatter.

When we arrived on the sand the boys, Tricia’s brother Michael( known as Mick), his friend ‘Michael W known as Mike, and Peter, Tricia’s boyfriend  were already hollering and yahooing. They had climbed the opposite bank and were taking turns swinging on the rope far out into the middle of the “waterhole” between he banks. We girls chatted and splashed in the shallows then struck out towards the opposite bank. Traversing the hard packed clay to reach the tree was slippery when we were dripping but sliding back towards the water was more amusing than dangerous. It surprised me how close the limb used for the swing was to ground and the water. A person had to run and swing with all their might, letting go at the perfect moment, or they might crash into the bank. I watched the four of my friends swing until they were getting tired before I got up the courage for a go.

I ran and pushed my legs forward so hard it felt like my hips and waist would separate. I felt keenly the lack in my short, slight frame. For a second the sight of the water frightened me.

Should I let go?

The heavy rope grazed my hands. I released one hand which went in front of me, and then the other. The water stung my outstretched arm like a Chinese burn, as I  plunged under the surface. Then I was up, breathing, laughing with more relief than pleasure, as I determined to try again. This time I would swing out further, and let go both hands at once. The others were laughing and calling out advice. One of the two Michaels said, “That was bloody awkward.”

I put on my game face and struggled up the bank.

One morning in late December the whole group arrived together. After about ten minutes in the water, we were overwhelmed by the stench of rottenness. If a person launched out on a trajectory  across the stream to the area below the rope swing,  lifting their head for a breath midstream,  a foul gas made them want to choke.

“What the hell is that stink?” my school mate Richard who had joined us for a ‘stinking hot day’ swim remarked. The group now standing on the clay ledge hidden beneath the water under the tree, looked like they were walking on water if you shut one eye and watched from midstream. The earthy smell of wet clay and floating gum leaves was a dead second to the stink. Dead was appropriate because the boys couldn’t resist wading upstream in the shallows, and discovered the bloated carcass of a reddish brown cow. The flies had turned her eyes into a dance hall, and the white wriggling mass around her gut was evoked by their rough descriptions of the flies’ activities.

“How long do you reckon it will take for the stink to stop?” Tricia asked.

No one replied. Combined with the hunger evoked by half an hour’s swimming, and five turns each on the rope swing, the smell of the rotting cow was turning stomachs.

“Let’s come tomorrow early before it gets too warm”, suggested Peter ,” It shouldn’t stink too much then.”

We decided to go back to Tricia’s place, change and go to the local Olympic pool. We spent two hours that afternoon swimming around in the sanitised blue pool.  We ate pies and  something called redskins – tacky raspberry toffees named with political incorrectness. We tried to get comfortable on the prickly buffalo grass of lawn, but unless you could get comfortable on the warm concrete it was useless. The ‘buffalo’  stood up to the wear and tear of hundreds of feet, but the leaves poking through your towel gave you an irritable red rash on your back.

The next day when I called Tricia, she told me that her mother had “gone ape” when she heard about the dead cow. Michael had told a colourful tale of how far he had swung on the rope swing that day, and how great it was. Then he described to their younger sister Tessa, in graphic detail, the death and the smell of the unfortunate cow. Tessa objected to the story, and informed her mother that Michael had seen a dead cow in the river swimming hole.

 When their mother heard she said, “That water hole is pretty still isn’t it? That cow could have died from a disease and there it is sitting rotting, right by where you’re swimming. It’s unsanitary, that’s what it is.”

Michael could see where this was going so he tried to convince his mother it would all be OK. “ It’s not right where we’re swimming  Mum, it’s about 300 metres upstream on a sand bar.”

“So, it’s upstream from where you’re swimming? That’s it, you cannot go there swimming until it’s been removed.”

 That was part of the beginning of the end of swimming in that great Waterhole in the Ovens River. When the other mothers found out, and that took about an hour, swimming at the waterhole was considered the most dangerous thing for your health next to building the Panama Canal before inventing a vaccination for Yellow Fever. It was the most horrifying thing imaginable. We were relegated to the sanitised, safe local pool.

This meant – no early morning swims – you had to wait until the pool opened. It meant a regulation swimming costume at all times. There was no thrills like seeing Kingfishers diving for food, or watching canny Kookaburras find a young snake mid- morning. There was no swimming between the hot and cold patches that occurred naturally in the river, floating with the sun on your face, or cooling down by dogpaddling in the shade of an old gum. No chance of swimming in the river during the early or late stages of a freak summer storm, endangering your life, as you watched charcoal clouds with purple lightning blow south. The pool shut before you could watch Venus appear on the horizon, its reflection in the water. And the danger of jumping or diving  from the high board couldn’t match the thrill of that rope swing.  At the pool, it was warm to hot concrete, and the freezing deep end; and the boastful, rough bombings of the Yarrunga boys who owned the territory around the diving board. It was a long summer where swims were restricted to around two hours before three o’clock when the pool was in full sun, and the long rides home meant you were hotter than when you started out.

It was the  summer when I turned sixteen that put paid to the Golf Links though. There had always been the odd beer bottle down there, and the remains of a fire now and then. Evidence of hijinks by older teenagers who could drive or were the kind that got that creepy bloke who hung around the railway pub bottle shop to buy them beer or ‘brandivino’.

The summer of 1979 was a hot one. We began to enjoy the golf links around November that year. We went for a walk between 11 and 12pm on the 31st of December, and the temperature gauge on the local radio station showed 31.5 degrees Celsius, lit by the glow of the nearby street lights. One thing I loved about those hot summers were the freak storms that came over the mountains to cool things off. When you rode your bike home the evening  one was coming in, you could feel the radiant heat from the footpaths and the buildings on one side of you , and the gusts of wind a few degrees cooler , smelling of damp dust, promising the rain that hadn’t hit you yet, on the other side. You were a moving object between two forces of nature, it was weird and wonderful.

We began that summer with picnics, canoe paddling upstream, and four hour sessions in the water until we couldn’t get the wrinkles out of the skin on our feet and hands. There was the odd day we didn’t go down to the Golf Links, but they were days on which we woke earlier  and did the paper rounds we’d taken over from some boys we knew. Sometimes we couldn’t be bothered, and though I hate to admit it now I read a fair few Mills and Boon novels in the afternoons that summer, and Thomas Hardy to balance things out. My first foray into science fiction as well with 2001: A Space Odyssey. I think that’s why I never feel like Mills and Boon are much more than a way to waste life’s most valuable commodity.

We noticed more than one ashy fire site with half-burned branches, and a lot of beer bottles that summer. Unfortunately, some person unknown had dropped some broken glass in the sand, and one afternoon we had to wrap one boy’s foot in a towel, while another dinked him home on a bike. His mother took the injured boy to the local emergency department, and while he wasn’t allowed to come back (I think he was reluctant anyway) we didn’t tell our parents. It was some time before they found out.

We were annoyed by the glass, and I by the intrusion into what I liked to think of as one of my special places. Still I wondered what it would be like to sit around a fire by the river. When I did years afterwards in non- bushfire season it was fun. The tall solemn shadows of trees contrasted with the liveliness of leaping flames creating a circle of light on those seated at the fire; the breezes gusting causing a kind of musical chairs to avoid the smoke;  and smoked toast and burned marshmallows eaten from the end of gum twigs make a bush camp fire one of life’s rustic pleasures.

One evening in 1979 around the end of January, we stayed late enough to find out what was with the intruders and their activities. It was one of those hot days when we’d only come to swim around 4 pm. By 7pm the sun was lowering over the river, and hunger and sand rash were beginning to niggle. There was a roar behind us, and we heard the sound of tires drumming on the bush track, cracking branches, and making Magpies flutter away.

Two  aged Ford vehicles pulled up; one a beat up ute  and the other a sedan. One of the blonde Yarrunga louts got out, a stout yobbo who I remembered from his braggadocio by the pool, with him was his mate, the brother of another girl I knew from school.  Two dark-skinned boys from the big local  Italian community got out of the other ute.  They called out to us and we waved as country kids do. I had started to wear glasses late that year, after six months of struggling to see the blackboard and headaches, so at first I didn’t recognise one of the Italian boys as a crush of mine, a raven haired and broad-shouldered member of a family who lived around the corner from my house. When they came down on the sand, we expected them to come into the water though we didn’t want them there. Mick, Tricia’s brother had come across from the rope swing, and said hello to the blonde boy who grunted and waved. Then they opened the boot of the sedan, sat on the bonnet of their respective vehicles, and downed about three long necks each, dumping them into the remains of a recent fire.  The blonde boy’s mate got a box of matches out, and two of the others staggered around looking for dry branches. Mick who was already close to six-foot and had a bad temper, and an easy confidence that was rare amongst his peers, approached the blonde boy and his voice carried into the water. “Lighting a fire here in the Summer is a dickhead move.”

Mick had expressed this point of view when we had suggested a fire, and the only fire we had  was out at Boweya, on his Uncle’s farm.

There were some rude gestures, a bit of muttering and some more beer drinking but  the tension remained. As they drank, they got louder, and were standing on the bonnets of their cars throwing bottles and smashing them against a blackened log sitting  in ash. I had already thought about going home but was afraid to go past them to my bike,  leave on my own. By then I had realised that dark-eyed raven-haired ‘boy’  was the someone I had admired for a while from afar. He was one of two boys that were quieter but were intently drinking.  It was sunset and the shadows were long when the blonde boy walked down onto the sand , dropped his shorts, and mooned us. This was followed by  uproarious laughter, and whooping. They were impressed with themselves.

Mike W said “Ignore him. “ Richard laughed which seemed to encourage them. We did a few more rope swings. Then I said to Tricia, “I’m seriously cold. I’m going to get my bike and go home.”

She nodded and followed me to the shore. I was stepping out of the water when the blonde boy and the two Italian boys mooned us. We decided later it was unlikely we could ever “unsee” their pale bottoms backlit by the lowering sun.  I  looked away, grabbed my faded beach towel, t-shirt and footy shorts, and went to my bike. Mick was on the sand yelling at them as I rode away.  Behind me was  the rattle of metal, and the sound of rustling in the bush grass, looking back I  was relieved to see Tricia and Richard coming behind me on their bikes.

I heard a rumour that Mick and Damien his cousin went down there the next week and “had words” with the ‘mooners’. But Richard’s parents were joined by other parents all talking about the trouble down at the Golf Links, and apparently where we swam was 50 percent private and 50 percent crown land. We started going out to Boweya to a pleasant dam on Mick’s uncle’s property.

The next November when I went exploring around town on my bike, taking the longer rides I always did when school was winding down for the year, there was barb wire intersecting the track to the Golf Links.  A sense of loss came over me as I realised that it was attached to a fence that was built to keep us out. Searching for an access point, I came away with scratches on my calves and disappointment weighing on me. It was a place where I had relaxed, had adventures, pondered life and communed with nature. It was a loss I felt keenly for the years that remained in Wangaratta.  I had watched the first activities of the Azure Kingfishers there when the apricot rays kissed the river, and longed for those moments just one more time.

The Pearl Bond

Marie-Claire slipped into her short black evening dress. Its cunning cut flattered her tall slender figure and showed off her shapely legs. The V-neck of the bodice was enhanced by a pearl and aquamarine cross, attached to a string of pearls, the gift of her maternal Grandmother. She decided to pair the cross with the blue Tahitian pearl studs that once belonged to her father’s Aunt. They were a prized gift on her 18th birthday, a little over 17 years before.

She remembered Cousin Michelle had whispered to her as she opened the box containing the ear studs, “I’m sure my Mum would have wanted you to have these.”

She’d been thrilled with the gift of the unusually coloured pearls. She modelled them for her father. He patted her shoulder as she stood in front of him saying “Dad, what do you think?”

“They’re lovely,” he said, his eyes and smile stayed on her. She knew he was proud of her all together.The thought of her father gave a pain that seemed to sit behind her sternum. She blinked away tears.

His photo stood on a tallboy near her bedroom door. It was taken a few years before he had died; photographed on the night of her 25th birthday. He looked so happy, like they both did before her mother’s death.  His cropped black hair bore two silver streaks along the hairline, passing back from his forehead and above his ears. His blue eyes were bright.  His high cheekbones, which she had inherited, cast a slight shadow above his square jawline. His bow-shaped mouth had a full lower lip. With his gentle smile it softened the sculptured lines of his face. His was a distinguished, attractive face, and beloved by her. She hummed Dad’s favourite The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies as she waltzed back to the mirror and looked at herself.

She had inherited his midnight hair, high cheek bones and full bottom lip, but she had her mother’s softer jawline , rounded nose, and  deep brown eyes. She liked to think she was the perfect mix of both parents, especially tonight. She was going to a performance of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra; this ritual was in honour of her mother. She had performed it every year since her mother had passed ten years before. This sad event was followed, three years later, by her father’s passing.

Facing her mid-thirties she knew that even with her personal success as a musician in theater orchestras there was a  void left by a lack of family. Marie-Claire felt the aloneness  as a burden she would love to cast off. She began humming The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies again; her father had loved every bar of The Nutcracker, by Tchaikovsky. She wondered why she wasn’t humming Beethoven’s Fifth which was her mother’s favourite since the evening’s outing was in memory of her. She glanced at her antique watch, and decided not to put her mother’s old vinyl recording on the player.

It was a November evening and the frequent rain had lessened.

I’ll walk to the Opera house, she thought as she reached for her coat. As she did so she felt the pearls at her neck give way.

“Frig,” she said as she tried, in vanity, to catch the pearls in her hand. They bounced against the architraves and the pendant fell to the ground. She felt a pearl half way down the back of her dress. She wriggled to dislodge it, and it became the caboose of the train of pearls resting at the base of the wall. She scooped as many as she could into a bowl that sat on the sideboard. Seeing the time on her watch, she hurried out the door, a tear in her eye.


Liam seated himself in the concert hall at the Opera house twenty minutes before the concert of Bruch and Mahler’s music was to begin. He was the first person to arrive, and when most of the attendees arrived about eight minutes before the curtain, he noticed  Marie-Claire finding her seat from where he was seated: two seats behind her, and to the left.

What a stunning woman, he thought observing her graceful figure. Her elegant neck was enhanced by a simple up-do formed out of shining black hair. The dip in the back of her dress showed flawless ivory skin. She turned her head as she stood to allow a patron to pass into a seat to her right, and he got a glimpse of one brown eye framed by sooty lashes, a sculptured cheek and generous mouth.


The lights dimmed, and his enjoyment of the first strains of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 softened his disappointment at being distracted from the woman’s beauty. He listened, losing himself in the music. Already Ashkenazy was conducting a piece that lived up to its’ reputation as a dramatically varied piece of music. He settled as he heard and felt the strains of the music change from the plaintive tears and storms of its’ opening phrases, into a sweet melodious passage, seemingly answered by the next passage with folksy cheerfulness. After 50 minutes, the orchestra had also finished  the first two movements of Mahler’s Symphony in C Sharp Minor.  The third movement was Liam’s favourite but it would start after the intermission.


His eyes focused on the beautiful woman. He observed that she stood, stretched, and looked around. She moved out into the aisle and looked through the door at the queue winding its’ way to the bar. She stood for a few minutes, looked at her watch, and returned to her seat. He observed that she wore a pair of large smoky blue pearls in her earlobes.

The second part of the concert began, and he stood up, sat down and shifted his legs to allow those who had lingered by the entry doors to move into seats to his right. Liam relaxed as he heard the music begin again; he really couldn’t understand why so many of his friends labelled classical music as boring.

The conductor reminded the audience that the evening was meant to showcase the best of Bruch and Mahler. He assured them that he and the Orchestra had enjoyed their rehearsals for this special presentation.  

“Now, we will continue with the next three movements of Mahler’s symphony. The third movement is a light-hearted movement, played Scherzo. Following it will be movements four and five, slow and forceful. Please sit back, relax and enjoy the music.”


The concert ended too soon for Liam. He stretched his arms as the audience members in his row left. He enjoyed the luxury of sitting thinking about the wonder of the music.  

I must open my eyes to catch a glimpse of that gorgeous woman, he thought.

He was relieved she was still seated. She seemed a calm oasis, as the disarray of the concert hall swept past her. She stood for a moment when an audience member returned to secure a dropped pair of glasses from under a nearby seat.  When the stranger had left, she stood for a few seconds before lifting her coat from the back of her chair, and he noticed that one of her earrings was missing. He looked again.

Nothing in the left ear.

He called, “Excuse me, you’ve lost one of your earrings.”  

In the hub bub, she did not discern his voice. She was moving away now. He moved to her seat, and felt down the back of it. At the base the pearl was stuck, by its post, into the weave of the fabric. He glanced around for the back of the thing, but was unable to see it.

I must catch up with her.

He pushed his way past some stragglers and down the hall leading to the foyer.

She’s tall, he thought and paused.

He closed his eyes to avoid distractions, remembering other details. Opening his eyes again, he saw her. There she was to his far left, exiting the foyer. He bolted, from a stand still, yelling, “Excuse me.” He felt like an idiot as he slowed to a stroll, puffing and panting, about five metres behind her.  He waited until they were under a light, and amongst other people. He gasped out the words.

“Excuse me, I believe you lost one of your earrings in the concert hall.”



Marie-Claire stared at him.

Could it possibly be?  she blinked. it must be him she thought.

The thought made her shiver. He looked so familiar, and one eye was brownish and the other green, the way she remembered from her girlhood.

She shifted her clutch to high up under her right arm, felt her earlobes. He held out his right palm with the blue pearl in it, and gestured toward it with his left hand.

“I didn’t find the back, I’m sorry.”

She felt him watching her as she took the pearl and zipped it into an inside compartment of her purse. She tested the ear stud in her right earlobe, pushing against the back to check it was secure. She stared until she became aware he was folding his arms, continuing to look back at her.

She said, “I’d like to thank you for being so kind. Can I buy you a drink?” She felt her hands trembling as she adjusted her clutch again. He smiled broadly; as if reassuring her. Her face felt stiff with shock. It began to rain.She thought, what an odd meeting this is on the anniversary of mother’s death. She would not approve.

His voice was light-hearted,interrupting her thoughts, “That would be lovely.”

They walked down the block to a Café, in which half the tables were full. She walked ahead of him and asked for a table for two.

She didn’t say his name before he said, “By the way, I’m Liam.”

They waited in silence for the two Irish coffees they ordered. They touched hands awkwardly across the shiny surface of the table in the booth by the front window. Soon they were sipping the coffee,still in silence. She like a schoolgirl visiting the Principal’s office.

“The whisky in this is good,” she said and he nodded.

Another 60 seconds ticked away as they sipped.

“I can’t thank you enough for returning the pearl stud. The pair of studs belonged to my Aunt whom I only met a few times. Having them makes me feel more connected with my Dad’s family, now that he’s gone.”

Liam said, “Is your loss recent?”

“My Dad died seven years ago, but I still miss him. But it’s the anniversary of my mother’s death today.”

Liam hunched forward and the pressure of his thigh scrunched the folded handkerchief in his pocket. He said, “I have two half-sisters, one that I met once, and one in her teens. Anyway, I’m used to comforting sisters, if you want to cry.”

He could feel a flush starting at the back of his neck.

Marie-Claire spoke, “You look almost exactly like my father at your age – around 30?  You could be his 30s’ doppelganger.”

The left corner of her mouth went up, and her forehead creased.  “This is awkward.”

She reached into her bag and opened her wallet. She extracted a photo and slid it across the table. It was a picture of a man.  

He looked at it and said, “This man looks a lot like me I agree, in fact he might resemble my father.”

His hands began to sweat.

“I’m going to ask you a question. Don’t be shocked.”

He stared at her mouth.

“Did you ever live in the Blue Mountains? Is it possible that your mother was my father’s mistress? I believe I’m that half-sister you met once. The woman who gave me these pearl studs came with me and my father on a visit to your house all those years ago. Do you remember?”

His hands seemed to flutter on the table like the wings of an injured bird. His eyes began to water. He grabbed his drink and gulped noisily.

“Yes,” he breathed out.  His voice grew louder,  “I had hoped your mother would have changed her mind long before he died. When I heard nothing, I knew there was no point making a scene by turning up at the funeral. If I had gone to the funeral I would have known who you were tonight.”

He glanced sideways and saw the reflection of the bar tender, he was leaning across the bar looking at them.

Marie-Claire placed her hand over Liam’s wrist.

“My father told me about you a month after my 21st birthday. He said, that boy we visited is my son, to Mary Davies. He is your half-brother, Liam Souther Davies. I am so proud of him, but your mother can never know about him.”

She sighed. “My father and I were pretty close, but it took some time to digest the news. I never mentioned anything to my mother.”

Liam cleared his throat. He placed his fists on the edge of the table.

She went on, “About six months later he stopped making his fortnightly trips to the Blue Mountains. I got busy with my career as a musician. But I could have made inquiries. I am so sorry.”

Liam felt tears on his cheeks. She was rubbing his arm. He grappled for the handkerchief in his pocket, and grasping it turned his face to the wall, wiped his eyes and blew his nose.

When he was calmer, he said,  “My Mum broke it off with Dad because he wouldn’t marry her. I went away to boarding school, then university.He never loved me enough to leave his wife, she told me. But he supported me through my entire education.”

“You became a Civil Engineer didn’t you?”

He nodded, and ran his finger around the base of his glass.

“Didn’t you travel overseas to work on developing world projects?”

He shrugged, ” I did a bit of work in Tibet and Burma.  I went to Cambodia too. “

“Dad talked about you with so much pride. To him you were the epitome of intellectual prowess and kind heartedness combined. “

The words spilled out.  She didn’t know whether they were to comfort him or make herself feel better.She reached for his arm again, and he shuffled it away toward his side of the table.

Liam shrugged, “I appreciate that he knew about what I did, but I don’t know how important those projects ended up being.”

She said, “Despite Dad’s failings, he had a sensitive, modest side. Always downplaying his success. You seem to have inherited more than my father’s looks.”

She smiled at him, partly in relief because the fact that her mother had died before her father wasn’t noted by him. Would he be upset that Dad had never sought Mary out? For a moment, she felt as if her mind and body separated as the strength of her longing for her parents surged through her. She thought, I don’t want to regret this chance. Her strength returned and she resisted the urge to rush away.

“I remember that meeting when we were young, you were about eleven.”

He nodded, and they sat in silence, musing.

He smirked,”I showed you my maps.”

“We both knew we would travel,” she said.

“And we did,” they said together.

Their mutual eruption of  laughter surprised them.They returned to silence, and Liam began to look pensive.

“I can’t believe he is dead.”

Marie-Claire touched his hand. She extracted a card from her purse.

“This is enough for one night, but please don’t be a stranger.”

He took the card and read her name. Marie-Claire Blaxland Souther.

She said, “I’d love it if you kept in touch. Don’t hesitate to call or email.” She wondered if he would keep the card.

She felt his eyes on her back, as she walked away. She crossed the pavement with tiny steps, aware of the slippery soles of her patent leather heels. She approached a taxi parked outside the Café window. Leaning inside, she escaped the rain dampening the pavement. She could see Liam still seated in the booth. As the taxi pulled away, his solemn face  appeared as if  superimposed over the blurred reflections in the street’s slick surface.


The End

Spun Gold

[[ Here is a late Christmas story that I got distracted while developing.  I hope your new year holds recovery, healing, peace and joy. I hope you don’t have too many  unpleasant challenges and when you do that you can see the silver lining, and being unafraid make those experiences part of the wonderful,unique person you are.]]

Spun Gold

David did something he hadn’t done in five years. He went to his bedroom window, pushed aside the sheer curtain, and took in the view over the narrow front street bordering the estuary. He saw a bent lady with silver curls walking along the near foot path. She wore a lavender cardigan that dipped on one side as if it was stretched or buttoned crookedly. She carried a battered basket on her arm. Seeing her made him sadder. He wished he could see kids playing cricket, or kicking a football. Sighing he walked out of his room, and down the hall.

He pushed the door of her room open. The dust motes drifted in the light from the window. The red oval of Carlie’s football, and the black and white round of her soccer ball, along with other bats and balls were tumbled in a big basket by her bed. Her giant fluffy brown bear seated on the end of her bed, stared out of glazed eyes. On her pillow, were two golden strands that looked like hairs. A shiver went down his spine.

Last night after returning home from a Christmas party he had been alone like the thousand plus nights before. A well-meaning couple, Cam and Tracy, whom he had met at the camera club a few months ago, had taken pity on his obvious aloneness and invited him to Christmas drinks and nibbles at their house. He decided to go and not to go a dozen times before Ben came to pick him up. Ben was the one friend left from his youth, the one friend who remained from the time when Dave and Jan were a couple. Ben had come to make sure he went because he was the self-appointed life-coach and he wouldn’t let up.  Dave had run out of energy to keep saying no, and so he went.

It was pleasant enough. He found himself laughing at a couple of jokes. Ben slapped him on the back, and they both knew that meant his laughter made his friend happy. He was left alone for a while before Tracy introduced him to a couple of her friends. Sally and Tina were attractive with glossy hair and curvy figures. They carried the conversation for an awkward half-hour. In the first ten minutes Tina tried to flirt with him, but he felt like he was watching his own body looking at this attractive woman, picturing the coy words ballooning out of her mouth, a viewer of his own b-grade video. He felt nothing because that was all the permission he had given, show nothing to others, for so long.

My default setting. He frowned.  

He was a little embarrassed about standing there like a dummy. Tina was worthy of admiration just for the polite recovery she made from his lack of response, but soon he was left alone again.

He stepped closer to Carlie’s bed, and looked down at the pillow again, golden strands, two of them. They were so luminous for discarded strands of hair.

Spun gold?

He hadn’t thought of that phrase since his daughter Carlie had mocked at the description on the back of the box containing Princess Barbie given to her by Aunty Judy.

Carlie. His heart beat staccato. Carlie.

Carlie who would have found a neighbourhood friend and been in the street playing cricket, or kicking a football, or even a soccer ball. She loved sports.

He moved to the foot of her bed staring at the strands, trembling. He imagined her standing beside him, and looked around at the pictures that hung in groups on the wall next to the window. Carlie nestled in his arms at six months old. In the next, she was running away from him, looking back at him, aged 2 years. Tiny Carlie holding a soccer ball half her size, with Jan crouched behind her.  With her friend Suzie, at age 6, the two of them giggling. Carlie kicking a football.

Carlie who would never be a sassy, wonderful woman with the biggest collection of sport paraphernalia this side of the Murray. She had hair that floated and glistened like spun gold when she ran, though the most she’d let you say was that it was pretty. He missed the youth and the fun of her antics and companions. He could hear his breathing loud in the room. Sadness overwhelmed him, and for the first time since he stood by her open grave, he wanted to resist it.

Carlie was a goer. I wouldn’t want her to think I was a slacker.

He had preserved some good memories through his camera lense. He let his gaze linger on each one.

He had dreamed about her last night, perhaps the hairs were an hallucination, more grief rising from the aquifer inside him. In the dream, the kind of one she might have had, he watched her kick three goals on a field that changed in each scene. First it was a muddy country oval surrounded by wooden benches, then it was the oval at her primary school, with white posts painted at a recent working bee. Rows of parents stood to one side cheering at her high, long kick. Finally, it was the Melbourne Cricket Ground with three men in white jackets and him. When she sent a strong kick from the centre of the field straight between the posts, one of the men had blown a whistle and she had turned and smiled at him the way she had before she fell on the road that terrible day. Her smile had filled his mind, and the sound of the whistle his ears, as if he had been wide awake. He wondered if he’d released the grief from her last moment with his dream of that alive smile.

She’d run carelessly, pursuing a ball into the path of the red SUV. He had been 20 metres away. There had been nothing he could do despite Jan blaming him as she beat his chest and soaked his shirt. Then he’d drunk heavily for a long time, and Jan had left.  

When he finally managed to live sober, he had moved through days by rote, and wept in the silent early hours. During the long visits to his parents, where his mother grew terse at his half-eaten meals, he trembled at one glimpse of photos featuring his wife or daughter. At the sound of excited children, his throat would tighten. He did some work; the odd joinery contracts which involved the most standard fitting. Most weekends he slept the days away if Ben didn’t come knocking.

Now, it was the 23rd of December five years later, and the well of bitterness seemed spent. He gazed at the strands, afraid to touch them, and made a decision. Leaving the room, he went down the hall to the little room, they had used for storage. Pulling out a stepladder he climbed and got the artificial tree from the highest shelf. Two boxes were stacked in the corner, marked Christmas. He moved the tree and the boxes into the hall. His eyes were streaming from all the dust on the plastic around the tree. Slowly, holding the tree a few inches off the floor, he went downstairs to the laundry. Unwrapping the tree, he shoved the plastic out the door into the yard.

He shook the tree and only a tiny amount of dust floated towards him. He grabbed a silver-coloured bucket from the shelves by the trough. He carried it and the tree into the lounge. Once it was stable he went upstairs for the decorations, and began to attach them to the branches. He finished his decorating, by placing the angel at the top of the tree the way Carlie loved it. He was taking photos when he heard tapping on the front door.

When he opened the door, there was the lady he had seen earlier. In her hands, she held a shiny,  leather football with a gold ribbon around it. She smiled, and held it out to him.

“I found this right next to your open gate. I figured you dropped it on the way in from Christmas shopping.”

He gaped, and then recovering smiled into the lady’s eyes. “It’s not mine. Do you have a grandchild or someone?”

“I do. I have two grandsons, and they love to kick the footy. They’re visiting on Boxing Day.”

She squared her shoulders, and smiled widely.

“Look, I know there are no kids for two blocks. Who’s to say who dropped this? Why don’t you take it, and give it to your grandsons?”

“I could keep it at my house for them to play with.” She hugged the ball to her chest. “Happy Christmas. What’s your name?”

He nodded, “I’m Dave.”

“I’m Elsie, and thanks for the football.”

He noticed a gold strand trapped between the laces.

“Don’t thank me”, he said to her back.

Shutting the door, he ran upstairs to Carlie’s roomsherrin_australian_rules_football

He bent over the pillow and touched the strands.

They’re real.

He lifted one and it sagged. It felt soft and pliable. Like real worked gold.


He smiled.

From then on, he would tell his friends “My Carlie, she was special, a real goer.”

He didn’t talk about her too much, but regularly on the 23rd of December. He spoke with pride as if she was the star player on the best football team.

The End

football image: https://www.flickr.com/people/121166191@N02, Kerrie

gold ring image: http://www.slaets.eu/jewels/mattioli/tibet/00129-tibetring/000559/