The Pinnacle Desert and camping on the coast of WA

Source: The Pinnacle Desert and camping on the coast of WA

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Challenge Taken

[[A challenge with the following criteria was given to me:

I received this challenge from a friend.

The conditions :

Up to 1000 words flash fiction with the following title “ I (almost) died of boredom” in the form of a personal monologue and ending with the sentences in bold. I haven’t presented them here, but there is nothing to stop you from scrolling down and reading them first. Thanks Joshua, it was nothing if not interesting, and it did stretch the legs during a time when I just haven’t felt like writing. :))

The exercise was done twice, Mk 2 had a female protagonist and a different (supposedly exotic) profession, but I decided to leave that until another time.

I am doing some serious writing now with my five day a week discipline, and a third draft of my first novel will be in a competition, and out to beta readers in September. OK, it’s a realistic competition where one of the prizes is developmental editing… What you read here is usually very raw, and show cases my commitment to the sheer fun of writing, and no one is ever going to take that away from me.]]

Anyway I would have called it “Investigator” but dutifully it is entitled

I (ALMOST) DIED OF BOREDOM 

 

For five years I investigated work injury compensation claims, watching people who could hardly walk doing push ups at their local community centre. Early in the game I would work out  who was lying — call it exaggerating, a little white lie, looking after mum in her old age or giving a kid the best education justified for these people telling (and writing) anything to the agency. These jokers made the others in the system who needed help wait and jump through hoop after hoop. My blood used to get right up the day I knew I was gonna get that incriminating ( love that word) video.

Then I did a line in following the young wives of old blokes who were getting nervous that the ladies were getting a bit on the side. That surprised me in that half of them weren’t trying to get any. They were attending Uni, or going to book club, or attending spa days with their friends, or at the gym three times a week. Fifty percent of accusations that fracture relationships start with insecurity in the mind of one of the parties. It surprised me… although I’m not willing to admit that anyone who wants it can’t get plenty. I, for example, have an active love life… ahem.

The day Mack Freedman walked into my office in his charcoal Armani , is that how you say it? I knew he was a different sort of client. He was dressed for business, smartly, and he wasn’t carrying forms in a briefcase, or pictures in an envelope. He looked around my office, and down at my well-used adjustable office chair that I put out for clients. He remained standing. This is how I remember the conversation, do you mind if I attempt to imitate the other party’s voice.

“Mr Freedman?”

He nodded.

“What can I do for you?”

“I want you to gather evidence that my wife has hidden assets that she’s not declaring on our divorce papers.”

“OK–”

“I’m sending you an email to John@masterspi.com. It contains my wife’s photo, address, financial details, and details of what you need to do to be paid. Get a list of every asset she has globally, anyone she contacts, and where she goes. You have 12 weeks, and I will pay you $1500 per week plus expenses. The form for itemising expenses will be attached to the email. If you don’t wish to take the job let me know by reply email by 5pm tomorrow. If you return the finance form this will indicate acceptance. I want a report every four weeks. Don’t call me unless you have something unusual to report. See you on August 15th at 10 am,unless you pull out.”

He turned his back on me.

I thought, no negotiating then you ponce. I’d leave you too.

I decided the money was OK  and I needed something to do.

Forty eight hours later, I fell asleep after watching Bella Freedman eat snacks of pizza and drink smoothies, on a fancy couch for six hours while watching Netflix.

When I saw Mack on August 15th I was able to tell him that this was what she did, along with daily walks with her Sheltie, called Lindsay.  On Thursdays she went to the local coffee shop,Nick Nax, for lunch with the head of her favourite charity, Lighten my Load, that rehabilitated child soldiers in Africa.

He wanted to know the name of the owner of the coffee shop so he could have him investigated for financial dealings with Bella. I told him it would be extra to break into the owner’s files.

Another month went by with Bella and I catching sight of each other eating pizza and chocolates in our respective, mostly glass, habitats. Her’s was swankier than mine.

One night she came out of the house at 2am and rapped on the blue Ford’s window. I bumped my head as I sat bolt upright from a dead snooze, to watch her laughing face, followed by her brisk trot back to her place.

The report on September 15th prompted Mack to investigate the pizza delivery place. By then I had changed my lunch and dinner orders to items from Bella’s preferred pizza cafe.This considerably increased my expenses but I filled out those forms for Mack.

Bella had a change of routine. I had tapped her phone. A call on the 5th told me she was going to meet her sister on October 7th for a week’s holiday at a hotel she enjoyed in Surfers Paradise.

When I told Mack he got excited, “ This is it. She tells her sister everything.Get into that room before they get there and bug everything.”

Even the airport, the plane, and cheap hotel were a nice change from sitting in my blue Ford Falcon on the south side of Bella’s place or hiding in her garden.

Once I’d done the bugging of Bella’s hotel room, I went for a walk on the beach.

Mack was beside himself with all the long-winded, girly details I was able to supply him with.

“Get into the room. Hide on the balcony. Look for folders in her laptop when she leaves the room. I know she’s hiding something.”

That night,October 14th, I was still hiding on the balcony of Bella’s room at 2 am. The night was cool and I fell asleep. I pitched forward off my perch on the balcony table onto my face, at 2.45 am. I fractured my nose and gave myself serious concussion. Bella rescued me and called an ambulance.

While I was recovering from amnesia, I fell in love with her.

Mack was disgusted to find that Bella had purchased only one asset during their married life, and her effective lawyer negotiated well.

“In the end he had to settle for the family holiday house, on the French Riviera, called Vitalitè Noire. After he sold it, paid my medical costs, and accrued expenses he was able to invest in another one bedroom shoe box in Parramatta.”

Butterfly

Zara lay, face skyward, on the damp grass. The buzz of bees and the distant hum of traffic were audible. Nearby dogs barked and windows whooshed open. It seemed all the world was on the move except her. She felt the gentlest touch upon her cheek, and another upon her arm. Her eyes swivelled in their sockets veiled by her eyelids: she was a little nervous of bees.

Are they bees? Bees!

She opened her eyes . There was  a graceful orange and black Wanderer, a butterfly on her right arm — the white spots along the edge of its’ wings distinguishing it, as explained by her grandfather when she was younger. Another kiss near her lips made her look down past her nose, and she saw the blurry orange shape of another Wanderer. She pursed her lips and kissed it back. She thought of her boyfriend, Mitchell Grant. Mitch.

Where was he? Should she worry that he was late?

She jumped up from the moist warm grass, scaring butterflies and bees alike.

“I’m not even ready,” she declared.

She bounced up the brick front steps of the porch. By the time she reached the front door of the rendered brick veneer she shared with her middle-aged parents, she was fast enough to cause the front door to slam against the wall. She didn’t see one of the  Wanderers fly off with what, she may have thought, was cocoon silk dangling from its’ feet, unaware it was a spun gold thread.

In the farthest part of Lilyborough from Zara’s front door, her boyfriend,Mitch, was mouthing off at his boss for the second time that month.  The red-faced  boss shook his greying head.

“ I hope you can make a living from being a know-it- all Mitch, because you are one more warning away from being fired.”

Mitch grunted and walked away towards his Ute parked by the western chain link fence of the truck depot where he worked.

Why did I take an apprenticeship with this Dick?

Right then Mitch couldn’t think of one thing he liked about auto electrics. He’d forgotten that the firm he worked with were solid employers, respected in half the state. His grandfather had coached him through the VET pre-apprenticeship course, and pulled a lot of strings as he often reminded Mitch.  Mitch imagined he would be better off as a beach bum watching Zara sashay across the golden sand in a red bikini, all day long. He drove away from the depot in a cloud of dust.

When he arrived at home, he gave his parents, who were seated at the kitchen table, a cursory wave as he stalked past them.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?”

His mother called out to his disappearing back.

“Zara,” he yelled back before he locked the bathroom door, and turned the shower to pelting. He loved the sting of the water between his shoulder blades.

He stepped out of the shower, and grabbed a thick blue towel from the nearby rack. He sniffed the scent of lavender dryer sheets.

Ugh!

He shuddered. He could not remember when he had enjoyed floral smells. He glanced up to see a butterfly on the sill of the open window above his head. As it fluttered down toward him he was bemused by the sight of a glimmering golden thread between its’ feet.

I thought only spiders floated with threads.

Mitch felt weightless. A damp suffocating weight was between him and the light, his body and the patterns. He fluttered and crawled, fluttered and crawled until the light was all around him. He felt himself lift toward the illuminated air. Now he rested on the metal edge of the way out; he moved his wings with ease and their perfect motions caused the currents to lift him, up and out. He flew towards the north-east, his thorax rushing with longing. His soul trembled around what he now felt were the limits of himself.

Mitch had an instinctual recollection of Zara; the emphases of his memories were transformed. Her sandy ringlets were recalled as an attractive nimbus of light, her pink mouth  as strangely unimportant. The smell of sandalwood, which before he had grown to just tolerate, now made his feet burn with desire. He wanted to feel his feelers brush against her soft, ivory palm so he could experience that richness.

The rhythm was delightful in the downward thrust and upward sweep of his almost human-heart-shaped wings. The motion surprised him with its’ engineering. When he least expected it the air rushed up, pushing him forward. He couldn’t understand it, but he was feeling it. He weighed only as much as the index finger of his former earthbound body. Now he surrounded this fluttering bundle of proteins. It was if he was a great formless shadow, observing this minute creature — a shape patterned with orange, black and white. There were many Wanderer bodies around him, strengthening the uplift, driving them all forward.  His soul sighed and he began to plummet down towards the dry, harsh earth. The smell of milkweed drew him like a siren’s song.

He felt a fearful shadow nearby , the mouse brown shape of a thrush. He knew its’ laser-like yellow eyes were fixed on him. His soul shrieked. Thrusting his wings, he raced forward between two other butterflies in the crowd, and escaped. The fluttering tribe forged on.  Underneath him he felt a rush, he knew the thrush had struck hard; tortured wings were crushed in its’ beak, then dropped. The bitter, milkweed-fed fragility was nasty. With a cry the young thrush wheeled away.

The tribe of butterflies flew steadily, with the setting sun lowering behind them, and the evening breeze pushing them on.

Zara found the butterfly ornament of fine gold wire  on her dressing table the day after Mitch disappeared. It  distracted her for only a moment. She placed it in a square floral patterned cardboard box that had sat on her dressing table for as long as she could remember.

I wonder if Mum made that. I must ask her, she thought.

It took Zara a week to go from being angry with Mitch to being seriously worried about him. How dare he? was where she started out, and she ended up at Is he OK?

At tea time a week later, when she had the chance to ask about the butterfly, she was sidetracked by a phone call from her friend Celia, who was visiting that evening to commiserate with her about Mitch. They loved that word; they always said it with as much earnestness as they could find within themselves. She never did ask anyone about the fine gold wire sculpture of a butterfly, though she kept it for years and years.

That night after Celia had gone, and the moon had drifted high amongst the trees, on the eighth night since Mitch had disappeared, Zara dreamed of butterflies.

A swarm of Wanderers, with their orange and black wings edged with white, were covered by a great shadow in the shape of eagles wings. She saw the swarm settle in a shaded grove of flowering trees. Despite the shadow she danced between sunlit almond trees, removing nuts from cracked shells, and eating them. A relaxed smile grew on her face. The butterflies hung like giant teardrops from the branches of the almonds, and  from the branches of nearby flowering plants that looked like Rhododendrons. The strange dream where sunny orchards coexisted with moist shaded hillsides, ended with a golden veil of mist falling over the scene, hours before Zara woke.

Mitch was heady,flitting from flower to flower in pursuit of the pheromone-laced females. The soft milkweed flowers smelt marvellous, but the females made his wings sing. An instinct whispered to him to settle and wait.

Wait until a female pauses and wants to mate.

He alighted and spread his wings to scare away predators. He waited until the sun was halfway to the zenith of his sky. A female flew over him, and he lifted his wings to fly beside her. It was an amazing feeling fluttering his wings in perfect synchronicity with another.  A male rival appeared, brushing wings with the female, and flying straight at Mitch. Mitch shifted to above the female, and then stalled  to drop below her. He turned himself in a westerly direction towards the thickest patch of milkweed, and the female followed him. They descended between the thick green stalks with their abdomens locked. They twitched and settled, surrounded by a mist of pheromones amongst the humid chlorophyll enriched pores until the sun began to descend.

Everyone rose from amongst the grass. They were indistinguishable from one another like a huge orange and black cloud. Mitch tried to keep the female in sight, but a pair of pied shrikes began to strike at the edge of the moving mass. Their cruel beaks scored here and there, crushing the thoraxes of just-fertilised potential.Mitch and the female found each other again. They dipped and weaved, escaping they knew not how. At last they settled on the easterly side of a rhododendron that bore orange flowers. The shadows grew long over Mount Lily.

The female mind-whispered to Mitch, At first light I will lay my eggs.

His body grew still with the rightness of it all.  At dawn he flew with her down among the milkweed to guzzle the dew. When he lifted his feet and antennae from his feast, the female was nowhere to be found. He felt his strength leaving him. His feelers tasted nothing now.

Though Zara was in a dream, it seemed as if the light was blinding her.

How could that be? 

Her eyes swivelled in her head, the nerves shivering, but she could not waken then.

The glare encapsulated a shadowy butterfly shape. The shape transformed from two dimensions to three, it flashed Technicolor. The colours muted into lighter shades, and as if Zara peered through a camera lense, her vision zoomed in to capture the minutest detail. The butterfly’s body was in mid-flight as it sought to settle on a branch. It’s trunk curved as if it were a boomerang. Its’ wings had separated enough to slow their downward motion. The light outlined the space between its’ moving wings, and she saw the funnel shape appear, then change to some space resembling the shape of an aeroplane wing. To her, the air did an unexpected thing, it curved over the broad top edge of the wing. And she could see the air flow like golden meridians, long strands that lifted the butterfly rather than holding it down like she had anticipated.

When the thought pictures faded, she felt sleepier than she had in the dream. It was if the dream was sure reality, and her ordinary room an extraordinary place.

Zara left her room, and headed to the kitchen. She was driven to seek food, by a hunger she had seldom experienced before.  It was Saturday morning, and she missed Mitch.

Twelve of the two hundred eggs that Mitch had fertilised survived to become yellow and black caterpillars bloated with the sap of milkweed on which they fed. Fat and prosperous , they shed their wrinkly tobacco brown skin to hang in Chrysalis. Trapped inside, their bodies dissolved to a hopeful jelly. Metamorphosis allowed their wings of watchful warning, antennae of smell, and feelers of taste to emerge  — all the wherewithal for migration on the milkweed express.

Despite this preparation, odds of survival were low for Mitch’s offspring. Three of the twelve made it through a pack of marauding Magpies, 160 kilometres east of the mountain on which they were born. Mitch’s instinctual mating had produced one surviving male and two females, one of which would never mate.

Six months later Zara sat on the front porch of her parents’ brick veneer, nursing a bouquet of flowers she had bought for her mother’s birthday. After storms of tears, and nights of denial, she had accepted that Mitch had run off. Even his own mother thought it was a possibility that on the night he said he was meeting Zara, he had, in fact, met someone else.

“ He always kept me in a flutter, with his impulsive ways,” she had said to Zara only the previous week.  “I always wanted something special for him but you can’t control people like that.”

Zara’s own mother had stated, “ He wasn’t getting on well at work you know. Just a restless young man.” She said it with a shake of her head.

Zara knew what wasn’t said. It’s just as well you found out now, before you got really serious about him.

The familiar orange, black and white patterned Wanderer settled on the yellow roses in the bouquet. Zara watched it bend and twitch its’ antennae, and then flutter to her right hand. She felt the kiss as its’ tiny feeler feet moved over her hand — more kisses. She knew they drank that way, and her hands were moist with drips from the rose stems. The butterfly flew upwards, and got caught in her sandy ringlets,  in the spot where her skull met her spine.  At that moment, her parents arrived to pick her up for dinner after their afternoon out.Distracted by her father tooting the horn as he pulled up in the drive with her mother in the car, she missed the last kisses.

Later, around midnight, as Zara was combing her hair before bed, she was shocked to see fragments of butterfly, fall onto the polished surface of her dressing table. She turned her head to grab a tissue in which to collect the fragments and bury them in the bin. When she looked back to the dressing table, the mess was gone. She shook her head, and decided she’d be vacuuming the fragments off the carpet tomorrow. There was a breeze stirring the curtains on her window and she went to pull the sash down and lock it. In the open box on her dressing table the gold wire butterfly glowed.

The End

You might like to catch up on Butterfly news…

Disclaimer: Any links I post were live at the time of posting.  If the links don’t work , I have tried to give enough information so  that you can search them if the creators are still making them available online.

1.Time lapse – The life cycle of the Painted Lady Butterfly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=63B1lnqPa8k (5 Mins, 23 seconds)

2. Ethan Spencer – Caterpillar to Butterfly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQOFh1exp3A (6 Mins , 55 seconds)

3.Disney Nature documentary about the secret life of flowers. (I found the voice over annoying – you might like to watch in silence) The visuals are amazing, and it does have an important message

Wings of Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbvPqkmmats (66 Mins)

4. The Story of the Butterfly, posted by Janson Media

[This link is to a British educational documentary. Its script is very formal]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-T6EXTK4-w (34 Mins)

5. Flutter, the Butterfly movie… produced, edited, and directed by Braddon Mendelsohn (noisivision studios)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DQY9ZwzsI4

(My favourite…)

 

 

 

 

 

Sustained Metaphor: “May”

[ I decided this morning to personalise May, the last month of autumn(Fall) in the Southern Hemisphere, and play a little. My experience of May  is influenced by  a lot of time spent outdoors, and in rural or semi-rural areas. I hope you enjoy what is a dissonant sort of tribute to my favourite time of year. It reminds me that Ballarat’s winter is coming…]

May arrives in the south surrounded by smoky air of burnt leaves, her dress is vapour thin. Her blue toes and icy fingers stroke your hands and face at dawn. You experience reluctance to meet her but her heart carries warmth: russet red, butter yellow, burnt orange fading to the practical colour of an Aunty’s woollen cloak. You cannot help but be arrested by her colours, her last potent and bright blooms, but despite her afternoon heat she reminds you of a cold, grey gloom that is coming.

Her evening shows of diffused golden light, appearing like Elven* play slides between the branches of half-naked trees, join earth and sky. Her magic tempts you to linger in the cool to watch the Milky Way’s unmasked clarity. Her magic hour is exquisite , her tea gown a deep blue that invites you to wait until she dons her navy velvet couture embellished with diamonds , and dances with you through her dusky mist and charmed mirrors.

Never mind that she comes to aid the lengthening of nights and the freezing of your breath; her unique charm bewitches you until her first showers drench her burning heart.

(* a reference to elves ( belonging to elves)- the word Elven was made famous by Tolkien- not to be confused with elfin which denotes something elf-like with associations finely built, lively, magical )

The End

That Pink Rose

The history and symbolism of the pink rose in my front garden, and of flowers generally, has become a topic of interest to me this week. Flowers symbolise not only love, friendship, and beauty, but also death, sympathy, unfaithfulness, and fragility.

20170220_132441-lyons-st-pink-rose bud-and-bush-pink-rose

Concerning the specific history of the pink rose in my front yard, which has excited interest in passers-by, with its delightful double blooms, sweet fragrance, and delicate colour I did some research. I don’t know if I am 100% right but after making some observations about bloom appearance, hardiness in unstable weather, vigorous flowering and insistent fragrance, my money is on the rose being a Bella Rosa® standard.

I took these photos of the lovely belle on my front fence line.

http://www.magicgardenroses.com.au/proddetail.php?prod=bella_rosa

This is a commercially available rose and is categorised as a Floribunda Standard. It is a large full rose in appearance with a minimum of 26 petals. Its’ registration name is KORwonder. https://www.helpmefind.com/rose/l.php?l=2.579.0.

Reimer Kordes of Germany (1922-1997) was the grower who bred and registered this wonderful flora. It first appeared in Germany in 1981. Mr Kordes must have been fond of pink roses as he also bred the Pink Kardinia ® which is another pretty rose. It is a taller standard, producing blooms on a single stem

The link to this video provides an overview of rose production, and features a red variety of Bella Rosa.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0p5aSGI-eY

My next blog post will concern a story in which I played with the Victorian era obsession with the language of flowers to add a distinctive undertone to the narrative.

 

Rosellas : favourite Australian birds

 

crimson_rosella_platycercus_elegans_10244627086https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACrimson_Rosella_(Platycercus_elegans)_(10244627086).jpg

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/db/Crimson_Rosella_%28Platycercus_elegans%29_%2810244627086%29.jpg

By Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE (Crimson Rosella (Platycercus elegans)) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

eastern-rosella-adult-image

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:JJ_Harrison?rdfrom=commons:User:JJ_Harrison.

The photo of the Eastern Rosella is attributed to J.J. Harrison

 

800px-eastern_rosella_chicks444

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Taken by benjamint444. These two attributions are for the photo of the chicks

Crimson Rosellas, the Australian Parrots with scarlet, sky blue and indigo plumage, are a bird that reminds me of childhood, the bush, and the bright flashes of colour in the woodlands that excite imagination. In my childhood years, the rosellas I would have seen were Eastern Rosellas. These have scarlet, yellow, indigo, and green feathers, along with small amounts of white and charcoal, around the edges of the wings. Their beaks are yellowy coloured while the crimson Rosella beaks are ivory, or pale grey.

I love to see a flock of these shy birds alight on the ground. They shuffle and huddle together around the food they have discovered. Memories abound of flocks landing around piles of seed, and pecking quickly, noisily cracking seeds in their powerful beaks. When they flew away, the shape of the fans at the end of their tails, and the graceful curves of their wings were a delight to watch.  On trips to the Warbies, or Grampians, I remember them arriving at the picnic grounds to clean up after the greedier Kookaburras gobbled the sausages and the bulk of the bread. They would peck at the crumbs, and be quickly off if they couldn’t find anything satisfying.

I know that most very young bird chicks are ugly. This lends credence to the theme of the Ugly Duckling, but the startling ugliness of Eastern Rosella chicks takes me aback. They look like very mouldy lumps of a cheese I first tasted in the nineties, pink peppercorn and cheddar, and their beaks look like handles you should use to throw the mess away. There is no doubt Rosella parents see the potential in their offspring. They must make more noise than Magpie chicks seeking to be fed, but I have never knowingly heard them. Something motivates the parents on a day to day basis to help turn their chicks into the handsome birds they become.

It is one of the mysteries of Australia that a land of dull bush in shades of taupe, khaki, brown and grey should be home to birds of such colourful plumage.

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, at the front of his house. 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 was alone like the thousand plus nights before. A well-meaning couple, Dean and Tracy, whom he had met at the camera club a few months ago, had taken pity on his obvious singleness and invited him to pre-Christmas drinks and nibbles at their house. He decided to go and not go a dozen times before Dan came to pick him up. Dan was the one friend left from his youth, the one friend who remained from the time when Dave and Jan were a couple. Dan had come to make sure he went because he was Dave’s 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. Dan slapped him on the back, and they both knew that meant Dan was happy to hear him laughing. He was left alone for a while but then Tracy decided to introduce 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 his 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 stood at 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 beyond 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 dreamt 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 very last moment with his dream of that final 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 Dan 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 smiled back. “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.

Weird.

He smiled.

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

He didn’t talk about her a lot, except 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/