The Pearl Bond

[This story has been through a lot of drafts, mainly fixing errors in sentence structure, timing and tense.  I also took on the feedback of an editor who felt the story was too sad. I believe there is a catharsis in hopeful realism which reflects how our actions affect others.This story is one probably told, or played out many times before, but like all writers I hope my developing voice  and distinctive moments help the reader see things from a different perspective.]

 
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; it was a portrait taken on the night of her 25th birthday. He looked so happy, as 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 and with his gentle smile softened the sculptured lines of his face. His was a distinguished, attractive face, and beloved. 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, even with her personal success as a musician in theater orchestras, did not fill the void left by a lack of family. Marie-Claire felt the heavy cloak of 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 the her mother’s favourite, Beethoven’s Fifth 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.

***

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? 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 tried not to 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 late father’s sister 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 my sister, 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. He raised his voice, and said, “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, “I went away to boarding school, then university. My Mum broke it off with Dad because he wouldn’t marry her. He never loved me enough to leave his wife, she told me. But he supported me through my entire education.”

“Dad told me you went to Blue Mountains Grammar and then to Knox, completed a Masters in Civil Engineering at Sydney U, and travelled overseas to work on important projects in the developing world. He was proud of you. He loved my mother very much but she would never have accepted you. He was glad he was your father.”

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, “You seem to have inherited more than my father’s looks. Despite his failings, he had a sensitive, modest side. In my teen drama queen days, he used to calm me right down.”

She smiled at him, partly in relief because the fact that her mother had died before her father hadn’t come up.

For a moment, she felt as if her mind and body separated with the strength of her longing for that familial sense of connection.

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 you when you were a boy, 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

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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…)

 

 

 

 

 

Pehlwani Potting Mix

[A weird episode paying homage to the Australian Tall Story – a true form of traditional culture down under.]

Gorgeous bright tomato red orbs floated behind my eyelids. The sun-ripened ones that yield to a knife like butter and give out juicy seed-laden flavour; I dreamed of them with a longing like homesickness. They would be bloody delicious layered on toasted buttered rye bread, a sprinkle of salt, a dash of pepper,and, in memory of my grandma, a pinch of sugar. I would devour the breakfast of my juvenile summers with passion born in boyhood, if I could only grow that premium ingredient.

With some help from my silver-haired neighbour Theo, the first sunny Saturday of spring saw us building a large L-shaped garden box made of sleepers. It reached almost to waist height on me, and we half-filled it with manure and straw.

“ The best thing to do is get some quality potting mix and mushroom compost to add to that,” said Theo.

I was enjoying the digging, sweating and pungent smells. It would be worth it to have real tomatoes to eat and share. He continued to explain how after the potting mix and compost I should add a layer of topsoil ,and plant the tomato seedlings about sixty centimetres apart.

“ Don’t forget your cages. Are you gonna grow Super Beefsteak? “

“ Yeah, I’m gonna give them a try. Eight of those will give me plenty of tomatoes for my needs.”

“ You’ll get the maximum yield out of this small space.”

I was grateful and sent him home with a six pack of German beer, since a cash payment was refused. He smiled, and a little later I heard the sound of the football semi-final through the fence.

My trip to the nursery was expensive. I selected four ten litre bags of compost, and, thinking of my back, eight five litre bags of topsoil. Finally, the assistant showed me bags of potting mix.

“This a new type we’ve ordered from an Indian supplier. It’s meant to be good.”

The tired looking burlap bags with their faded red print were much cheaper than the last lot of potting mix I had bought to add to the garden when I planted red-flowering Grevilleas in my south-east facing front yard. I nodded yes. After I paid for a heap of bags and some Super Beefsteak seeds to be planted in pots to produce the seedlings for my garden, I knew my dream was costing me. I added eight tomato cages and we loaded up the Ute.

It was half-time when I returned, and Theo helped me stack the bags in a neat line, where I could easily open them with the edge of a shovel and transfer the material into the boxes.I emptied four bags of compost into the boxes and my aching back seemed to say call it a day.

I’ve been too long in a desk job, I thought. I trudged indoors and took a hot shower.

Late Sunday morning I finished the job , and gave it a half-hearted turn with the shovel which had lost its new gleam. I sprinkled the top soil over the top, and gave the lot  a water.

Perhaps Theo will turn it some more for me if I ask him.

I schlepped back inside and prepared two cheese toasties and scoffed them down. While washing them down with cold beer, I imagined how much better they would taste with tomato in them.

Mondayitis was exaggerated by muscular pain, and I left for work in a daze. I did remember to shut the rear security gate that sat almost flush with the concrete driveway in the back yard.

I returned from work around 4pm and decided to leave the car in the street because sweeping the concrete free from spilled soil and potting mix seemed a good use of a fine afternoon. After some water and a few stretches, my entrance into the backyard was almost enthusiastic.

A hissing sound caused me to freeze mid-stride.  Instinct raised the hair on my neck and prickles sprayed across my back. To my left was a four-foot black snake rearing up, its’ hood flared.

Cobra!

I bolted for the rear door of the house. Without looking behind me, I kicked the rear door shut, and striding to the lounge I snatched the cordless phone from the lounge side table. I dialled 1223 and asked the operator to connect me to the Hobson’s Bay Council.

What am I going to do if they don’t answer?

It was now 4.20 pm

Holding the phone to my ear I walked down the hall to the small study that overlooked the yard. Raising the blind, I stared at the black horror that dominated the white gravel space beside my garden box. I was relieved that the garage door was down, and the small garden shed was shut. The clipped lawn under the rotary hoist offered no hiding place.

I shivered.

The receptionist put me through to the environmental fauna department.

“Animal control”, a young voice said.

“ My name is Phil Dwyer, and I have a Cobra loose in my yard at 234A Sykes Avenue, Altona.”

“A Cobra, Mr Dwyer? How do you know  it’s a Cobra.”

“It’s black with a hood.”

“It’s black. Does it have any markings.”

“I didn’t stop to see if there were any markings. I walked out my backdoor and there it was, ready to strike, so I came in here and rang you.”

“Would you mind holding please Mr Dwyer? Don’t approach the snake, please stay on the line.”

Don’t approach the snake. DON’T approach the SNAKE. I mocked in my head, as annoying musack played.

I moved as close to the window pane as I could to see what was happening. The snake was gone and in its’ place was a tall, muscular, dark-skinned man in black spandex.

Where did he come from?

He walked under the rotary hoist, and each wedge of the clothesline separated and dropped to the ground. The center pole of the hoist melted into the ground, and the sections of clothesline arranged themselves into a strange fence on each side of the small lawn. A silver snake erupted from the garden bed. As it grew and shimmered before my eyes,a tall muscular pale man in grey shorts appeared. The dampness of drool soaking through my beard told me my mouth was hanging open.

Grey shorts man stepped across the fence and the two men began to wrestle. They were well matched physically, and a few minutes later sweat had soaked them and was dripping into the ground. Their heavy breathing became audible.

The voice was back on the phone. “Mr Dwyer, two animal control officers will be at your residence in about forty minutes. Don’t approach the snake, but do what you can to stop it  escaping from the yard.”

“Yes,” I croaked. The man asked for the address again and I repeated it.

“ Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

“No.”

The line went dead. My hands trembled. The wrestling pair had locked arms and their heads seemed to press against each other’s shoulders. The ground was turning to mud under them, chunks of ripped up grass thrown around by their gripping feet. Black spandex man was gaining the advantage now. The panting grew loud enough to hear beyond my yard. Theo’s head appeared over the side fence, and he stared at the wrestling match. I raised my hand to wave, but he couldn’t see me from where he was.

I was grasping my hands together, leaning my forehead on the glass. My breath appeared as a mist on the glass.

Grey shorts man was now doing well, and locked his arm around black spandex man’s neck. Quicker than I could blink black spandex man had his arm locked under grey short man’s left shoulder pulling it forward, while pushing against his right shoulder. Black spandex man twisted his body, throwing grey shorts man off balance with a swiftness that made me gasp. He pinned the man’s head and shoulders against the muddy ground. The lower half of the man’s body writhed in the mud.

Black Spandex man threw back his head and laughed. The kind of laugh I’d heard as a kid when I watched Victorian melodrama on a school trip to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat.  

My heart rate slowed. I would have put my money on grey shorts man for a win, based on first impressions.

The men got up and began to wrestle again. Maybe I was in with a chance, best of three bouts?

I will never know what happened but right at that moment they became snakes again.  The pole rose out of the ground, and the rotary hoist looked as solid as the day it was installed.

There was a thump on my front door. When I opened it Theo was standing there. His hair looked like it had been gelled into a spiky do.

“ Mate, was there a wrestling match in your backyard?”

I nodded yes.

“And now there are two snakes?”

I nodded again.

“Do you have any of that beer left?”

He headed for my kitchen fridge.

The front door was still open when the animal control officers arrived.

Ha hem. I mean environmental fauna officers.

They called out, “Hobson’s Bay Council, Mr Dwyer?”

Darn.

When I opened the screen door they showed me their identity badges, and followed me through to the back yard.

When the Cobra was in the sack, one of them said, “Do you have a licence to keep a snake, Mr Dwyer?”

“Call me Phil, and no I don’t have a licence. I don’t know how this snake got here. It appeared after I started my gardening project. For that matter after I bought this potting mix from India.”  

I lifted a discarded potting mix bag to show them.

The officer eyeballed me, tapping his pen against his left fist. The other officer left the yard to put the sack and its’ occupant into the council van.

“Where did you buy the potting mix?”

I told him and he wrote the details in his notebook. When he asked, I showed him my car licence.

They left, and Theo and I had a second beer.

“You can have some of my tomatoes Phil. I decided to plant some too, but I won’t be using any of that potting mix. It’s probably to blame.”

We discussed the wrestling match a bit, but after that night we never mentioned the weirdness again. I was grateful for that but I always wondered where that silver snake went, even after we emptied out those garden boxes.

 

—The End–

 

Sophie in Silk

[ When I don’t set them in OZ, I set them in some place from the land of magic realism or New York. Here’s how  Sophie rolls when she finds herself on a supposed-to-be three day location shoot.]

It isn’t any old  Monday  a girl from Herb’s Deli and Diner gets to dress in white silk and lace, ready to be photographed for a Belleview Magazine October Issue. With shiny hair the colour of butterscotch, and eyes the blue of a fair-sailing sky, Sophie looked like a lot of fun. She stood with her hands on her hips and a tilt to her head that proclaimed sassy , as she observed the black satin, and charcoal leather clad Italian model who, no matter what she did , couldn’t please the overthinking stylist.  The Italian, Vincenzia, was flushing a deep rose colour, and her jaw was clenched tight. The  fussing of the stylist, Bree, was causing the photographer, Stuart, to feel the need to rummage in his equipment bag a lot. From where Sophie stood she thought his mouth movements  looked like he was cursing. Yeah. Really colourful too.

Three hours before, Sophie had been released from the makeup chair and she was feeling hollow. She could smell, and imagined she could taste a spicy hot dog with roasted onions and mustard sauce. Her nostrils flared, and her stomach growled, as the nearby food van issued savoury vapours. She changed position and tried to concentrate. The person she felt sorriest for was her cousin Rada, the fashion editor’s assistant for Belleview Magazine. She had appeared half an hour before to find out why the shoot was running three hours behind.

Stuart was complaining to Rada, “ We’re meant to get these particular flower bed shots. By the time we’re ready the light will be all wrong.”

Bree seemed to be dictating a book about about which riding crop Vincenzia should use in the next shot. Should it be the one with the gold handle, or the one with the bronze studded handle? The third model, Brent, a pale lean man with wavy auburn appeared to have given up and sat in a black director’s chair with his eyes and his fingers glued to his phone.

I hope he’s not texting his agent blaming Rada for this debacle, Sophie thought.

Another cloud of delicious savouriness drifted between the trees. Sophie’s stomach groaned like a rusty-hinged door.

Anyone could tell I’m not a real model, Sophie thought, as she studied the fake tan on her shapely calves. They did a good job of that, nice and even. Just the way I’d like my mustard sauce, a nice coating all over the dog. Two hotdogs would be awesome, one with the all important mustard and onions, the second one with chutney.

Saliva pooled under her tongue. She shook her head, doing her best to focus on how great she’d looked when she inspected herself in the mirror after makeup and wardrobe had pronounced her ready.

Rada appeared in front of her, “Sophie, you’ll need to pop back into the trailer and get out of that dress for me. Leave it with Michelle so she can steam press it again. “

Ten minutes later Sophie, clad in a beige uplift teddy and a voluminous black satin robe patterned in cherry blossom, was seated on a bench by a spreading Oak sinking her teeth into a chutney topped hot dog. Vincenzia and Brent stared at her. Rada and Bree were having words behind the trailer. The breeze carried the phrase, stick with what we discussed, despite Sophie trying to tune them out. Stuart was consoling himself with the thought that every passing minute netted him $4. That particular flower bed was now in shadow. Sophie noticed Vincenzia was still watching her, while Brent had turned his back on her. She wondered if it was to show disgust, or was he concerned about shading his fair complexion?

Hopefully they’re both Vegans, she smiled to herself.

Vincenza’s eyes widened as she looked over Sophie’s head.

Right, Sophie thought, strawberry Ice cream after this.

On camera she was meant to be the angel to complement Vincenzia’s demon, and Brent’s vampire for the Halloween-themed shoot.

Too bad.

Sophie felt the presence of someone standing behind the bench. She turned and saw Stuart who nodded to her, and bit into a large bratwurst.  

Rada was now making her way towards Sophie and Stuart. Bree was walking away in the opposite direction towards Central Park West.  Vincenzia threw up her hands and stomped towards the food van.

Sophie watched as she gestured, seeming to take ages to order from the vendor. Her Italian accent was audible, but Sophie couldn’t quite understand the words. Soon after she stopped gesturing, she received a pale looking salad of tomato, lettuce and onion, with a spicy sausage and cheese on top. Sophie thought, not a vegan then.

Rada sat down beside Sophie, “Stop eating, you’ll have a food baby when we have to get you into that snug ethereal blue number that’s next up.”  

She grabbed what was left of Sophie’s hotdog and lobbed it into a nearby bin.

Sophie muttered, “That was rough, cuz.”

But she had to acknowledge the underwire was starting to dig in a little.  

Rada ignored Sophie and turned to Stuart, “We’ll do the dusk shots by the fountain, and I’ll talk to you about tomorrow’s shoot afterwards.”

Stuart nodded, still chewing he turned and headed toward the fountain. Rada headed in the direction of Brent who was still slunk down in the black director’s chair.  Vincenzia threw her plastic container, without the salad, but still containing half a sausage into the bin. She headed towards the van where the wardrobe lady was gesturing to them. Sophie sighed. Standing up and gathering the satin robe around her she followed along.

The assignment blew out to four days, while Sophie dutifully ate salad, and spoke with careful politeness to Vincenzia and Brent. She avoided eye contact except where required for the sexy shots. Sophie heard Rada talking her boss, Melany, down several times during the next three days. Rada was amazing as she spoke with graciousness to her boss while beads of sweat formed on her forehead. After all she had a mortgage on her apartment, and part-time care of a foster child. Rada reminded Melany of her recent success with a variety of magazine spreads and that all her other projects were on schedule. Yes, yes, this spread was for the October 1st issue, but it was going to be worth it  — the photographer was fantastic!

Yada, yada, yada, Sophie thought

On Thursday evening the shoot was finished. Rada entered the wardrobe van and threw herself on a chair, “Oh Sophie, being a logistics officer for Medecins San Frontieres would be easier than doing this job with Melany for a boss.”

Sophie squared her shoulders, “The shots are fantastic though. All those great setups will burn those designer’s names into your readers minds.” She made a sizzling sound, “images are soo hot!”

Rada slumped down in the chair, “Thank God and Stuart and Y’all.” She passed her hand across her forehead.

Sophie passed a bottle of water to Rada who opened it and chugged down half.

Sophie said, “Even Vincenzia turned out  to be not so bad.”

Rada sipped the other half of her water while Sophie collected her things.  Two guys who worked for the leasing company turned up to take the trailer away, and Michelle needed help placing all the bagged garments in the plastic lined boot of her early model Mercedes.

As the sun was setting, Rada and Sophie sat side by side on the stone wall facing the Natural History Museum.

Natural History Museum NY 2 Blog

Rada said, “ I haven’t seen my little darling, Russ for two days so I am looking forward to a day off.”

“You deserve more than one day.” Sophie patted her arm.

“I have to tell you something before I go. She turned her earnest gaze on Sophie.  “This business will eat you alive.”

Sophie pressed her lips together and gazed up into a nearby leafy canopy.

“I’ve had the thought I might not be perfect for it.”

“Good hold that thought,” she glanced at her phone, “gotta go.”

She headed off in a northeasterly direction towards Columbus Circle.

Sophie hugging her bag in front of her headed towards Subway station 81. She took a train uptown and walked the last five minutes of her journey to Herb’s Deli and Diner on West 129th Street.

Time to drop in on the Friday night faithfuls, she thought.

When she arrived the place was full up for Herb’s Friday night special : Steak or Fish with fries and two kinds of vegetables , followed by a slice of pie.  The choice was lemon meringue or pecan. Sophie rolled her eyes.

She thought, Herb wont even change the special dessert to  Pumpkin pie for November. But wait there’s more —

She smirked to herself. All the coffee you could drink. Everything was fresh and not too greasy, and you could get if for  $14.

Herb’s customers were in a good mood, ordering extra beer, and planning to tip  the three-day-a -week waitress , Nette, with a generous hand.

Sophie sashayed up to the counter. “Coffee, please,” she called to the counter server Libby. Libby began to laugh without even looking around.

“I know that’s you, Soph.”

Herb looked out from the kitchen, “So how was the modelling?”

Sophie shrugged, “I think I’ll try acting next. The photographer liked me – says the camera loves me.” She grimaced. “I might need a gig as a waitress while I’m making it.”

“No way,” Herb’s mouth said, while his head nodded yes.

The front table of regulars cheered and thumped the table.

Sophie took a bow.

The End

Image used with permission :  Copyright 2013 Lance O’Donnell