A Flower Story

My interest in the symbolism of flowers was sparked previously, and I wrote a story Bare Dealings. It is a weird episode involving romance and a naked thief (note that the romance was not with the naked thief).  The floral references, despite Bare Dealings being set contemporarily, are to the Victorian era symbolism of flowers. In my story, it is intended to provide implication about the difference in the characters of Eitan and Bryant. Despite her experiences, Piper, the protagonist is still optimistic about finding truth and faithfulness in her beloved. After all, flowers bloom the best in Spring, symbolising new life. I have edited this story and presented it this week for those who would like to see how I used the language of flowers. Perhaps in later drafts, I will not bother stating the meanings. However, it is part of the characterisation of Piper and so I guess it will remain.

Below are images of the flowers that are mentioned in Bare Dealings. With some imagination, you could imagine them in pleasant bouquets, but they are a different fashion from the usual roses, carnations, liliums, gerberas, and tulips(despite the possibility of tiptoeing through them?) so popular in contemporary floral arrangements.

 

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Bare Dealings

 

Piper Franzman glanced across her driveway. And sighed.

There goes that sweet hunk of man. How can I organise a meeting with him?

It was too bad she did not have all day to plan the perfect outfit and the best strategy for a meeting with her new neighbour.

Piper Franzman sighed again, as she combed her auburn hair and straightened her navy blazer.  After nine months of casual awareness and three months of observation, she had decided that he was respectably employed, mostly from home, and was single. He went jogging every morning at eight, drove an expensive car and took many phone calls. Some days he went out in a very smart suit, carrying a briefcase; Friday nights he would leave around 7.00 pm and get home late, but alone (she hadn’t seen anyone with him yet).  Almost every Saturday morning two or three guys turned up and he met them in sporting gear with a squash racket.

Whoo, did he look good in those tight t-shirts too!

She hoped her efforts at the gym were improving her appearance. She had lost twelve kilos and rewarded herself with some new outfits. Piper was grateful for the female staff from the school where she taught for encouraging her, but all this effort wasn’t helping her love life as well as her health. It was a long time since she had desired an introduction to an interesting, attractive and eligible male.

I want to tick the three boxes, and avoid meeting any more mummy-boy cast offs vetted by my mother!

She wondered if her interest in her neighbour smacked of desperation. Her intense observation of him, which she hoped had gone unnoticed, could be considered stalking if she took it any further. She had started collecting her mail about five in the afternoon so that they met at the mailbox. They had exchanged smiles and waves. She was pleased to see that his was a grin hinting of boyishness, a sense of humour. He had wide eyes with thick lashes around them, and he had looked directly at her when he waved. Of course, she had not been close enough to see the colour of his eyes.

Time to get back to the real world and stop acting like a schoolgirl with a crush!

On her way to work, she noticed  a sign outside the newsagent: Police chief  warns singles about local nudist thief..  She knew that the newspaper would be available in the staff room on her break, and that she could catch up on that particular news.

Thank God, I’m not on yard duty today!

The nudist thief was the topic of discussion in the staff room during the morning recess. Francine Newton the fourth year teacher addressed Piper,”Sweetheart, apparently you’d better look out for this guy, being single and all.”

“Why? What does the paper say——”

” The paper quotes the local police chief who says that this guy’s modus operandi is to enter the premises of singles who appear to be well-to-do and live alone, apparently his methods of entry are quite professional, and he picks random times of the day or night. If he hears someone enter the premises, he then strips naked and escapes even if confronted. Listen to this: “This strategy appears to have distracted his victims, and to date we have no  specific physical description of this thief who has robbed thirty premises in the area over the last nine months, and escaped with an estimated 60,000 dollars worth of cash and jewelry. We are alerting locals in the hope that someone will have the presence of mind to get a description of the man and assist us with our inquiries. Apparently, he has an excellent physique and is’ well-endowed’.  This thief’s ability to disarm alarm systems, and sell stolen jewelry, create genuine concern that he will continue to commit these thefts. Any sightings of naked men acting suspiciously should be reported.”

Samantha Pope nearly spat out her coffee before quipping, “I’ve got a man acting suspiciously at my place. Maybe I could turn him in.”

Jane Nelson smiled before saying, “I’ve got one of them too but I’ve known him for twenty years and his physique isn’t quite excellent.”

There was general laughter before the bell, and the crash of coffee cups into the sudsy sink. The door slammed in Piper’s face as she lingered a minute.

She thought, I am the only single woman in this school.

She yanked the door open and headed back to the class of Prep A.

Five pm that evening Piper was at her mailbox. Her attractive neighbour was not there. She weeded the front garden bed and swept the step. She went inside to get some shears before beginning to work on the front hedge. It was then that she noticed that sweet hunk of a man coming right towards her.

I really need to find out his name.

He was walking toward her from her left,  and she popped up from behind  the hedge, “Hi.”

A muttered expletive, accompanied by a thud, preceded the hunk’s disappearance from sight.

Oh no, she thought as she raced around the hedge and approached him slowly.  He sat up on the nature strip.

“…You frightened me, and then I tripped on the edge of the footpath.” He looked her up and down before he gave a half smile and said,” I hope you’re not going to kill me now.”

“What?” Piper gasped before she realised she was waving the shears toward him and began to laugh.

The boyish grin appeared and they both continued to laugh. They went quiet at the same time, and he began to stand up.

Before she could lose her nerve Piper quickly said, “I’m Piper. What’s your name?”

As he reached his full height, he stretched out his hand, “Eitan Frame,How do you do?”

She clasped his warm, lightly tanned hand in both of hers and gazed into his eyes.

He looked down at his hand and said, “Sorry about the mess.”

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“Really your hands can’t be any worse than mine. I’ve been weeding and I did frighten you.”

“Weeding with shears? If I was a weed  I’d know I was doomed.”

He laughed.

She smiled and said,” Didn’t you put a dint in my lawn? The weeds need to fear you.”

He looked at her. The loud buzz of his phone made him go still.”I’m sorry. This is an important call.”

He jogged to his porch and began to speak into his mobile phone; she could hear him talking but could not make out the words.

Go inside, you snoop.

Inside she sat down at the kitchen table and gazed out onto the back courtyard. Her cockatiel Mindy wolf whistled at her . She got up, removed the feed box from the bird’s cage, and filled it with seed.As she flicked on the kettle to make a cup of tea, she pronounced his name. Ay-tan. I’ll call him Eitan Jewel-eyes. What gorgeous dark jade eyes, with bronze flecked irises, hmm … and I sound like ah. I have a crush.

She shrugged her shoulders. After a quick cup of tea and some nuts, she headed out to the gym. When she returned she found a business card tucked into her screen door: Eitan Frame; Jewelry Designer and Valuer, on the back in slanting capitals : ” Let’s meet in style next time. You owe me, so call me.” She smiled. He did have a sense of humour.

It was Saturday afternoon and Piper had changed three times, Finally she settled on a royal blue cotton knit and stone-colored jeans. Platform peep-toe heels and diamond shaped blue glass earrings were her only accessories.  A little makeup and her fingers fluffed her soft ringlets.

Mandy did do a great job on my hair.

She had not been able to resist booking a hair appointment after Eitan had responded to her invitation. She had waited two days to send him an SMS, trying to appear casual. Even though it had been three years since her break up with Bryant, she wanted to take it slowly for the sake of her mending heart.  During the last six months, the memory of Bryant’s kisses, and his hard words had disappeared into a kind of fog. Sometimes she heard him in her dreams but the words were whispers.

She and Eitan were literally meeting at Cafe In Style: Mandy’s sister’s coffee house next door to where the hairdresser plied her trade. The sisters were inseparable and had put their respective talents to use in business premises that were side by side, on the riverside business strip. It was a lovely afternoon and Eitan had laughed at her play on the words: in style. She tried to quash her rising expectations.

Eitan had a sweet tooth. Although he had eaten lunch, he ordered two desserts and insisted she taste them. He picked a table on the far end of the patio near the river. The sticky date was moist and the lemon meringue had sweet pastry to balance its’ tangy filling. The breeze from the river was fresh, but not chilling. Eitan leaned toward her, as she blathered on distracted his marvellous eyes.

After a while, he got the chance to talk about his move to Wilhelm.

“I’ve lived n Wilhelm for fourteen months now and I feel it has everything I want,” he said. “It has the river environs, vibrant business and tourist trade, and it’s not so big that the real estate is priced over the moon.”

” I’ve lived in Wilhelm all my life and I guess familiarity should breed contempt but it hasn’t. I’ve visited other places but I always come back. ”

“Ah, a hometown girl,” he sighed, and smiled.

“What do you mean—a hometown girl?”

” It’s an expression where I come from for a girl whose warm-hearted and loyal——”

She half-whispered the words,”And naive, perhaps?”

She blushed as he noticed her irritation, and leaned away.

Why am I so defensive still?  Damn Bryant.

Overly loudly he spoke,” So, what’s your favourite thing about Wilhelm?”

The awkwardness lingered until he dropped her home an hour later.

After she got home, she took Mindy’s cage out into the sunny courtyard. She heard Eitan’s screen door slam and the sound of his running shoes fading into the distance. The distant sound of a lawn mower, and a ball slamming against a wall filled the space left by his absence.

His gorgeous eyes say he’s sincere but can I  trust him?

Days went by and the other teachers noticed her silence.On Friday at lunchtime, Francine approached her just before the bell.

“Are you ok? Madeleine says you’ve been ‘off the air’ a bit this week. She said the preppies are more restless.”

Piper appreciated the observant sensitivity of her assistant most of the time.  Now she inwardly resented it.

“No, no, honestly I’m OK.”

” Well, I suggest you give the job your full attention. You make a rod for your own back if you allow a prep class to get restless. Don’t let distractions undo all your great work.”

She patted Piper’s arm. Piper smiled at her.

Francine always means well.

On Saturday morning there was a knock at the door. She was surprised to see a middle-aged man holding a large flower arrangement in front of him.

“Ms Piper Franzman?”

“Yes, that’s me”

“Sign here, please”

Piper stood in the open screen door holding the flowers. She didn’t need to read the card. She knew he’d sent them.

Why now?

She stared at the bouquet of purple Hyacinth and white and pink Broom. It was unusual and Piper imagined the florist would have been surprised at the request to make a large bouquet of these particular flowers. Her first reaction was to throw the lot, heads down, into the garbage bin but she had loved him, how she had adored Bryant: the companion of her childhood; the friend of her worst years; her precious lover.  It had made the hurt all the more devastating.

He of all people should have understood her decision to leave University, and come home to nurse her dying father. Anybody would have expected Bryant’s loyalty, especially if they knew the former couple’s shared history. Now he was back, sending her a message in a language most people did not use in the 21st century. She had thrown away many of his presents but not her hardback copy of The Victorian Language of Flowers: his present at the end of their first year of University. It had been delivered to their bedsitter, along with a bunch of coral-coloured honeysuckle. It was huge, and he had been saying, in Victorian flower language: I love you. She remembered how joyful she had been at his thoughtfulness which honoured her love of Victorian literature, which he believed she should teach. His love was expressed in a language that most of their friends did not understand. It was a declaration that spoke so much more poignantly through symbolism. Now the message he was sending her today became clear.

 Broom meant humility, Purple hyacinth: I am sorry, please forgive me.

She picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hi Mum. How are you?”

” I’m well dear. I was just about to call and invite you to dinner.”

“Are other people coming to dinner too?”

“Yes.”

“You wouldn’t have happened to invite Bryant?”

“Well, yes dear. It was the strangest thing. I was out to lunch on Thursday with Cynthia. You know Cynthia? Anyway, we were sitting in Cafe In Style and in walks Bryant. Well he was most chatty, said he wanted to catch up. I thought you wouldn’t mind.”

Thought I wouldn’t mind. How clueless! Dad always did understand me better, she thought.

“What time?”

“The usual. 7.30 for 8, dear.”

“See you then, Mum.”

Well, she thought, I’m going to look my best and take Bryant a message.

Piper rang Mandy for makeup suggestions. She visited the shops in time to get new makeup products, and a special top that matched her best skirt. She was dressed and made up when the doorbell rang. She had been so preoccupied, she had not glanced at the clock. Now she noticed she was half an hour ahead. She took one more satisfied look at her appearance. The blue chiffon and jersey outfit complimented her eyes, and accentuated her waist. Mandy had helped her choose the perfect shade of lipstick and for once, her hair had not frizzed.

When she opened the door, Eitan stood on the doorstep with a bouquet of Gladioli.

Gladioli, she thought, they mean, generosity and I’m sincere.

“Hi,” he said.”I hope you like these. I’ve just been to visit my mum and she’s a keen gardener, used to have a florist shop .”

“And you always bring home bunches of Gladioli?”

“Glad you know what they are. I do bring them home often enough, I can buy them wholesale, and the guys at work like them for their wives. Most of them are married. They have wives most of them…”

He trailed off, looking embarrassed, a half smile on his face.

She changed the subject, “Where does your mother live?”

“Allenstown. It’s about four hours away by car.”

” Yes, I know it. I attended University there for a few years–”

She twisted her hands together.

” You’re all dressed up. You look great. Going on a date?”

” I wish,” she gave him a smile.

“Obligatory dinner party at my mother’s, and I’m delivering some flowers too. Excuse me while I just grab them. Won’t be long.”

She went to fetch a bunch of striped Carnations and a Hydrangea that she had left in water in the laundry. She carried them back out into the front foyer and saw Eitan inspecting the photo collection, which hung next to the living room door. He seemed startled when she appeared beside him.

When he saw the potted hydrangea and large bunch of carnations, he said, “I’ll carry those for you.”

He reached for the Hydrangea first and the pot tilted, moist dirt hit his shirt and dropped down onto his shoes; the pot began to fall. They both bent and grabbed at the pot together. Piper was a split second slower, and her forehead connected with his cheekbone.

“Ow!”

He had managed to slow the pot’s fall, but now he completely lost his grip on it. It hit the floor and rolled against the wall.

Piper gasped out, “I’m sorry.”

Still clutching the carnations in her left hand, she reached up with her right to his reddened cheek. His hand came up over hers, and they stood for seconds gazing at each other.

Piper broke the silence, “I hope it doesn’t bruise.”

” I think I’ll be ok. Some ice would help though.”

She nodded. “I’ll grab some while you take a seat in the living room. It’s just behind you.”

“O.K, I’ll just grab the hydrangea. It looks O.K”

When Piper came back with the ice pack, he sat on the couch with his head leaning back on the cushion top. His button up shirt stretched across his chest. She sat a bit closer than arm’s length, and asked him if she could apply the pack.

His mouth went up at the corners as he said,” If you promise not to hit me.”

“I won’t hit you,” Piper replied,” and I can see exactly where it’s red. You may have a bruise just under your eye.”

He turned towards her and gazed into her eyes. He lifted her wrist and she applied the ice pack gently. Their heads were level as he slouched down. They sat without speaking for a  few minutes.

He said,” Your eyes are the colour of Sapphires.”

She giggled.

He spoke again,” Did I say that out loud?”

She nodded. The phone rang.

“Oh, no, that will be my mother. She hates tardiness.”

Eitan carried the Carnations and Hydrangea to the car for her. He dripped a little dirty water on what looked like expensive pants.

“I’m sorry I didn’t wrap them better, Eitan.”

It was the first time she had said his name and it felt good.

He grinned.” You said my name right. Most people call me atten.”

“I guess that means I’m no longer a real drip.”

He was still smiling as she pulled out of the driveway.

The guy sure does love my dad’s kind of jokes, she thought.

Her mother greeted her with, “You’re late but you do look lovely. Are we looking forward to seeing a certain young man?”

She could not help it; she rolled her eyes. She wanted to swat her mother like a bug. Her mother looked wounded.

” What happens to your students, Piper Franzman when they make faces like that?”

“Not much these days, Mum.”

The doorbell interrupted them.

“You check the table settings, while I get that.”

Her mother was very predictable during dinner. She asked Bryant questions and made many remarks that enabled him to make the most of his success as a chemical engineer, as a loving son and, as a fine upstanding citizen. Piper reached an almost teenage level of angst.

Make that a red haired teenager, she seethed as she took a pull of her red wine.

The heartless pair prattled on. The time between courses dragged and it was already nearing midnight. Piper made a point of highlighting the success of their other dinner guest, Mr Whitlow in the recent seniors’ tennis tournament.

“It was a wonderful coup, Stanley, Regional over 60, A Grade Champ. I was very glad when I read about it in the Chronicle.”

” I was very pleased myself, Piper. It’s been my aim for the last three years.”

He continued and told a few stories about Piper’s late father, who had also been a local tennis champion. It was bittersweet. Mum talked so seldom about Dad these days.

After coffee, Bryant started making signals: little gestures that used to make her heart race; he wanted to be alone. Tired and fed up Piper stood to go. Bryant offered to walk her to the car and she nodded.

As soon as they were in the dark, by the car, he laid a hand upon her arm. She looked up at him. He looked back, confident of admiration.

He is tall, great bone structure, large dark eyes, has an excellent physique, intellectually he’s bright, and  even well – endowed.

Piper listed the attributes that had made her the envy of half the girls of Allenstown University.

Nevertheless, you turned out to be a heartless insincere thug.

She oppressed as she remembered how he had tried to make her choose between him and her Father.

Daddy was so ill and still you were all jealous possessiveness.

Her thoughts stirred anger. He was stepping forward to embrace her when she turned and reached past him into the back seat of the car. As she threw the door open, the handle hit Bryant hard just below the waist. He grunted, and bent forward in pain.

Piper stared at him. ” I really didn’t mean that Bryant but I do mean this.”

She handed him the striped Carnations and the Hydrangea.

It really was the perfect message, Piper thought.

Striped Carnations meant: No, Refusal, Sorry I can’t be with you, and Hydrangea: Thank-you for understanding, and also, heartlessness. I’m sure he’ll work it out.

“Actually when you’re finished with the Hydrangea you can give it to my mother, ” she said.

As she pulled away, she turfed the copy of The Victorian Language of Flowers onto the driveway. Her headlights illuminated Bryant as he bent to pick it up.

Her unit back door was poorly lit but the full moon was risen, so Piper went to the rear door anyway.  She had been restless, as she thought about Bryant so looking for something to do she had stopped at the 24 hour supermarket. There seemed no point in  trying to sleep.She arranged her two bags of groceries in one hand, so she could hold her key. As she inserted the key into the lock, Mindy the Cockatiel, screamed then hissed.

Why was Mindy feeling threatened?

 She left the groceries on the step as she went in to investigate. She approached Mindy’s cage and crooned to her pet but the bird continued to hiss. The hairs on her neck began to rise. She saw a figure out of the corner of her eye and reached for a heavy ceramic bowl that sat on the table. Still grasping her keys in her other hand she turned. The outline of a tall naked man showed in the moonlight from the sitting room window. He moved toward her. She threw the bowl. She charged him, keys pointing out between her fingers. The loudness of her scream startled them both. He began to run back through the living room and out into the hall. She chased him as he retreated down the hall, entered the kitchen and ran through the rear door. She flicked on the light as he leapt across the step, caught his right foot in the grocery bags, and crashed to the ground.  He moaned. His was motionless, under the courtyard clothesline.

Hell, that looks like Bryant. I am so angry.

She could hear her breathing. She approached cautiously, keys at the ready.

It ‘s not Bryant, no heart -shaped birthmark on the butt.  Man’s hair is dark brown not jet black, excellent physique. The nudist thief. Wow, the nudist thief.

She took three deep breaths.

Lock the back door so he can’t escape through the house if he wakes up. 

She glanced around.

Hey are those his clothes by the fence.

She inspected the clothing.

One pair of Overalls: blue, she thought. To a passerby he would look like a gas repairman. That would work in the daytime but the nighttime? Hmm.

She ran towards her car and grabbed her phone. Get Etian. 

Call police.

As she walked she dialed 000.

“I have a naked intruder in my backyard.”

She gave her name.

“Are you being threatened, Piper?”

“No, actually he’s unconscious, he was in my house and I chased him. He fell over the step and hit his head. I think he’s someone who is wanted by the police.”

“We’ll send police and ambulance straight away.”

She pressed the button to end the call,as she pounded on Eitan’s door with the other hand.

After a minute, she heard.”Hey,I’m coming,I’m coming. It’s two o’clock in the morning. Is that you, Bro?”

“No, it’s Piper.”

“Piper?   What’s wrong? ”

She shouted, “I caught the nudist thief!”

Two more houses lit up in the street.

The concussed man was half-dressed in his overalls by the time Piper and Etian arrived back in her courtyard. He was in no state to fight off Etian and two other neighbours, who placed him under citizen’s arrest.

Etian caught her eye, and winking, said,” At least it wasn’t me you hit this time.”

When the police arrived they sat the guy up and noted  the egg-like swelling on his forehead.  The ambulance arrived two minutes later and took the thief  to hospital. The police asked Piper a few questions, and took down her details, said they would be in touch, and left. Etian had explained who he was and that he was  glad the thief had been caught.  Etian was quiet and kept staring at the man. After the police had gone,  Piper asked him if he had recognised the man .

“Yes, he works at the same firm I work at, just casual though.”

Piper shook her head.

“I’ll talk to the police about that on Monday.”

Instead of going straight home he came back to the courtyard and helped her clean up the mess of broken eggs , salad leaves and  milk. He came inside for hot chocolate and when he’d finished he reached across the table and took her hand.

“You did really well, Piper”

“Thanks, Etian, I owe you.”

“I like to think so,” he said looking smug. “But I’ll consider it payment if you let me cook you breakfast.”

“Just what are you proposing, Atten,” she said, butchering his name. But her heart was pounding.

“No, no”, he said holding up his hands, “get some sleep and head over to my house about nine.”

At ten o’clock that morning, Piper sat at Eitan’s table enjoying fresh croissants, scrambled eggs and espresso coffee. Finally, she pushed back her plate.

“That was delicious.”

“No kidding,” he raised his eyebrows; “I’ve never seen a woman eat so appreciatively.”

She snickered, and then looked down fidgeting with a fork. She saw his face go still.

” I hope I didn’t offend you.”

“No, no, there’s just something I need to ask you.”

“Well, ask away,” he said as he cleared the plates. She went and stood by him at the sink. He looked at her and waited.

“When you were at my house earlier this morning, and I asked you what you were proposing about breakfast… did you mean “no, no” as in “I’ll only ever think of you as a friend.” She blushed as she continued,” or were you… What did you mean?”

She forced herself to look at him.

He smiled a gentle, slow smile. Her thoughts seemed audible in the silence.

Is he going to let me down gently? I’ m out on a limb here. Help.

“No, I didn’t mean I could ‘only ever think of you as a friend’. My feelings are more like; you’re too special to be casual about.”

He reached for her hands as she gazed into his eyes. He lifted her hands to his mouth and gently kissed each finger.

She breathed out and in slowly, and unwittingly made her thoughts audible.

“You have the most gorgeous eyes.”

He laughed.

“Yours are better than sapphires.”

The End

© 2015 Danielle O’Donnell

Attributions  for the flower images

Carnation image :By Henderson, Peter & Co.; Stumpp & Walter Co. (New York, N.Y.) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gladioli:By 3268zauber – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7262031

Honeysuckle (Coral):By Walter Siegmund (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hyacinth:By Katia from Porto Alegre, Brazil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Hydrangea:By KENPEI (KENPEI’s photo) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.1 jp (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.1/jp/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Pink Broom attribution :By Pratt, Anne; Step, Edward [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

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Party Goers

 [[I don’t think even a sentence edit can rescue this two years’ old story, but my journey continues word worts and all.  I am surprised by what impulse led me to write this story; unlike more together writers I cannot tell you all that I was thinking. I do know that I wanted to showcase an unreliable narrator, thus practice is my excuse. Any body can write badly, but it’s a rare few that know that they’ve done it and why! Of course you need a time away from the writing, distance, and courage.]]

I got angry at my silver-bodied, sapphire-eyed robotic frenemy.  With his wide set eyes, triangular  hooked beak and square chest, he bore some resemblance to a large eagle. I had thought he was my lifelong buddy Jack: lean and curly haired, with stooped shoulders, tanned hands and a manic manner.  

How could I have confused my friend with a six-foot avian monster?

It began one October night when the moon resembled a large golden bowling ball from the local ten pin. We had dropped in at six pm to play a game with Jack’s younger twin brothers.  

Initially, I refused  the eight pound ball thinking, that’s two bloody pounds too heavy for consistent strikes.  

The attendant offered me no choice. The lanes were crowded,the balls picked over, and that ball was “it”. The fluorescent strips reflected off the metallic ball with its glittery surface. It had hardly been scratched. As if the ball were trying to impress me, I bowled  three strikes in a row. After that it was 8s and 9s with the occasional strike, but I had enough points to win the game.

Jack suggested we drop in  to Lorene Bailey’s after we dropped off his brothers at the local cinema.

‘She’s having a bunch of people over for some coldies and pizza, and then a bunch  of us are heading to the clubs.’

I had been nursing my wounds after my most recent girlfriend had dumped me, and after three Saturday nights in a row at home, I was keen to be out. We enjoyed Lorene’s party but we weren’t there all night.

We left  Lorene’s at 9pm with half a dozen friends, and headed to a new place in town The SF Bar.  The security didn’t seem too fussed that half of us were underaged.

On entering the club I was expecting pictorials of San Francisco, a city I had visited briefly once, when I was greeted by large murals of robots, CPUs, spaceships and staff dressed like Trekkies or Star wars fans. The DJ wore a storm trooper mask, and the loud music made me want to dance.

First we did a few shots,  and then two tall blonde girls, who we thought were tourists, agreed to dance with Jack and I. I had never felt so graceful and rhythmic on the floor. I felt like  I was in a Zayn Video.

Perhaps I could compete on Dancing with the Stars; my Mum loves it so much.

The overhead strip lights melded into two long ribbons of turquoise and scarlet. I had never felt so high. Jack hugged me, and I hugged him back.

We are huggers full of glee.

I called out, “ I love you, bro”,  without a care for who might hear. I felt a brief stinging sensation in the back of my arm, but I thought nothing of it. I was in love with the world at that moment, including  with the Barbie-like hottie I was dancing with.  The dancing seemed to go on and on, with different settings appearing all around me. I was dancing on Bondi beach,  on the curve of a rainbow, and in the middle of the Milky Way.  Barbie and Jack were everywhere with me.Everything stopped and I felt like I was sinking into a pile of feathers.

When I woke Jack was smiling at me, and asked me if I’d like some breakfast. We walked into a room with long tables in it, featuring a mural from Tatooine with Luke Skywalker framed against the rising moon. On the tables were platters of sausage, egg and bacon, toast with butter and pots of jam, assorted pastries and fruit.   The Barbie girls served us. They winked and even I marvelled how long and black their eyelashes were.  We ate until we could hardly move.

‘Wow’, I felt like my voice was coming from far away, ‘they’re very generous for the $15 cover charge. I thought that was steep last night.’

Jack nodded, but didn’t speak, and for a moment I thought I was looking at a birdlike robot.

Now, I wonder how often I replayed that scene or whether I was drugged so long that the experience  filled all the days until now. I went to the bowling alley with Jack and his brothers on the 9th of October. When I woke up in the black pit full of rocks spouting mini waterfalls and swags of moss, the back of the bird robot was in front of me.

Out of him still issued Jack’s voice, ‘Come on Paul, have another shot. Its awesome, come on .’

I blinked and closed my eyes several times. I held my bony hands up to my face. My gut growled angrily, my mouth so dry I wanted to lick the damp moss. There was not a rainbow or a Barbie in sight. No Jack either. I couldn’t feel my legs, and when I moved my arm I felt something coarse and irritating.

What is going on?

The last time I saw a little red dot in front of my eyes, instead of clutching at it I had batted it away. During my dream, the red dots had appeared with monotonous regularity, and I had grabbed at them, until the most recent ones. I shuddered with fear and cold.

I hunched over in a crawling position and began to move towards the only gap in the stone wall which showed light, light that looked like daylight. It hurt my eyes. My knees ached, and my legs stung and burned. When I looked back the robot bird was still hunched over a narrow black table. He didn’t seem to notice that I had moved so I crawled on. When I finally reached the gap I looked back. There was a body on the table, a human body. My heart raced.

Was it a body?

I had thought I was in a nightclub with the Barbies and Jack. Had that been a dream or had I been kidnapped?  Or was everything I was experiencing now an hallucination. Should I be scared of the robot?  

I struggled over a large boulder that sat by the gap  I had crawled to. I fell forward scraping my cheek on the rough surface. I cried out, and  and touched my cheek, I felt warm and sticky ooze. I remembered having the same experience sometime before I ever went to The SF Bar.

This must be real.

 There was a bruise on my knee, but I could now feel my legs enough to stand. I looked back and saw the robot bird had moved away from the table, and was reaching into a cabinet bolted to the stone about three feet from the ground. I could now see the body clearly and it looked like Jack.

Jack. I had to do something for him. This was real. Freaking far out but real.

Was the bird a robot, or a madman in a suit? If he was a robot, who had made him?

I felt like my whole head and neck were pulsating. I had to calm down. I had to have a plan.

The robot moved away, and a sliding door appeared at the back of the cave room. He lurched through it and thunked away. The door slid shut behind him. I crept from my position to the table with the body on it. I touched it. It felt like latex, not human at all. The lean figure and black corkscrew curls were close to real life but in this light, I could see that this was android Jack, not my friend.

Was there an android of me somewhere too, and was the real Jack with it?

I looked around, and picked up a sturdy piece of steel tubing.  My mind was clearing. There were computer screens, and glass bowls full of tiny parts. This was a laboratory, and most likely equipped  with surveillance. It seemed surreal, but someone was making androids that looked like real people. I had to find Jack. I gave myself a really good pinch, and a slap on the cheek ; I made sure I wasn’t dreaming . I marched toward the sliding door.

It slid open, and I was in a long tunnel. There were lights on the wall about every three metres, and I could see lighted doorways to my right and left.  I had to guess which way robot bird had gone. I went right and into the first lighted room. Seated in chairs along the wall to my left was what looked like my entire soccer team in still life. I touched Buddy West on the cheek. His skin was plasticky and dry,like Jack’s android.

Perhaps I was an android?

I slowed my breathing and decided the heart beating in my chest had to be flesh. It felt just like  I remembered.

I thought back to my first day at school, and holding my mother’s hand as I walked to the classroom door; the touch of my mother’s hand was real. Mrs Reinhardt’s long legs, and loud voice. Running up to Jack on the playground: Do you want to be play poison ball? An android wouldn’t have memories, I assured myself. I pinched my arm again.

I decided to retrace my steps and go left past the sliding door to the other room. As  I left the soccer team behind, I became aware of how quiet it was. I could hear my breathing. All my hallucinations had been noisy, so much had happened, and it still seemed more real than the memories of  my life. I had to find Jack and get back to the surface.

As I approached my destination, I heard a familiar voice, ” Don’t do this, please, let me go home.”

It was Jack and I figured he was talking to the robot bird. I slunk to the wall, and came right up next to the door, peering in. The robot bird was lying flat on his back in a pool of thick  oil, and Jack’s voice was coming out of it. Jack stood to the side of the robot with his hand still on the bottom of a 15 litre drum.  

The real Jack said, “Where are you from? Where is home?”

‘The robot replied in a dull mechanical voice, ‘The other side of Jupiter, on a small planet called Janus.’

“Why did you come?”

“I was sent here to take our robot research to the next level.  The question I had to answer was how would robots go interacting with humans and making androids? This was the question the Janus council wanted answered. We used every means possible to make you think we were human, and then we created androids from real humans we befriended. The plan was to fill this city with a population of androids, and then invite the council to inspect our work.”

I was so angry I bounded out from my hiding place.

‘What would you have done with us?’

The robot bird’s eyes glowed, and his beak creaked open.

‘You would have been kept on hallucinatory drugs until after the council’s inspection. When the experiment finished, you would have starved underground while the effect of the drugs wore off. A mostly painless death.’

I walked over, and stomped around the robot bird. His sled like runners were off the ground now, and there was no way he could gain any traction. A very simple trick had been his undoing.

My first words on being reunited with Jack were ‘How did you work out you could stop him this way?’

‘I woke up about two weeks ago’, said Jack. ‘ I saw how awkwardly he got around, and I found these drums of refuse oil right down the end of the passage. Slowly I moved them up, and then when I had the chance I created this trap. It was the only thing I could think of.’

I slapped him on the back, and waved the length of steel tube at him.  ‘ Hey, do you think Lorene Bailey’s an android?’

‘ I doubt it’,  said Jack, ‘but the Barbies probably are. A pity.’

We laughed. Then the robot spoke again.

‘This black liquid is not a substance we have on my planet’, said Robot bird.

‘ Our wonderful luck.  Some of those drugs you gave us aren’t substances we’ll ever want on our planet again.’

As Jack and I left the room, we headed  to the end of the passage to locate the soccer team, and anybody else who’d been unfortunate enough to think the waiters  in The SF Bar were  human.  After walking about another kilometre we reached a sliding door that opened to reveal rows of cells. All the soccer team were there and most of the other people  looked familiar.I wondered if I should tell the team we had most likely forfeited the last game of the season. I reckoned  we’d been missing around fifty days.

I spotted an older Mrs Reinhardt. I was puzzled as to why she would have been at the SF club.

‘I dropped in to my niece’s 21st for about an hour. This was the result.’

She was the soberest of the lot, most of them were still high, and we had to act like we were heading to the party of the year to get them to follow us. We couldn’t move the three suits we found in the end cells. They danced manically to some tune  we could not hear. Jack found some spare bottles of water, and left them nearby. They would have to find their way out when the drugs wore off.

I led everyone back out through the main room where I’d woken up. I must have woken before  the  android process began, because no-one looked like me. I felt good about that. An android would not cut it in my opinion.

We arrived back at the surface, and looked around. The whole complex was hidden inside an old army bunker about an hour from town.  Though most of us were bloody kneed, and half-starved we would have to walk home. Not one mobile phone was intact from the experiment so we couldn’t call anyone.

Most of us had missed all of our Year 12 exams, and  there would be missing person reports out on us.  

I began to rehearse the most plausible story to tell the ‘rents.

The End

Eight Six Word Stories

[[ I decided to play with six  word stories. I gave them titles  but decided that might be cheating, and take away some of the enjoyment. If you do think of a catchy title, or want to send me a six word story of your own, feel free to use the comments and I will reply. We might be able to do a feature on six word stories. I always feel I should acknowledge a famous six word short story by Ernest Hemingway: For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.]]

1.

Just married buggy race, prostrate bodies.

2.

Broken eggs and scattered feathers.  Weeping.

3.

Lightning bolt. Smouldering tree.  Razed settlement.

4.

Straying glances.  Nightly trysts.  Removal  van.

5.

Student news. Red faces.  Town gossip.

6.

Ghostly visits.  Dying trees.  Abandoned heritage.

7.

Aisle Carpet clean, fumes. Fainting Groom.

8.

Pier Wedding photo shoot. Misstep.Splash!

Lady Gaeophia’s Wisdom

[[This story is unconventional in that it’s told in both first person and third person. You the reader will probably be aware of the act of reading the whole time. If you feel I shouldn’t play with the rules like that maybe you shouldn’t read on; I guess it just makes it more like a play.The plot is on the surface and underneath is the tension between reality and the imagination. It is the very first story I wrote when I began practising the art of the short story. It has been edited but it is still very like the story first written in 2010.. By the way the name is pronounced Jah-fee-ah ]]

 

Madeleine

I wanted to run out the front door, down the garden path and brain my Dad with a blunt instrument. My relationship with my Dad on that Thursday was at an all-time low. I felt it had slipped away like a morning fog while we were taking care of business.

I watched my dad, doing the usual thing with his mobile phone, under the maple tree in the front yard. I stared out my bedroom window. The tree’s leaves were turning red, amber and orange.   My Dad stood level with the cool, patterned grey and white bark; a dark figure in his black suit. Gary Ballantyne, Investment Broker to what seemed like half the known world, was connected via modern technology to his favourite people .Earlier he had knocked on my bedroom door but I ignored the sound.

Last night I had made my third attempt to show him the really awesome pictures I had taken on the Year 12 trip to England and France; the best ones were taken in the medieval village of Chartres. I had been rapt with what I had learned about medieval clothing, medicine and beliefs. I had been surprised to discover (and enjoyed sharing with my mother who is a doctor) that women were held in high esteem, educated and even encouraged to practice the medicine of the day. Dad I wanted to share it with you and you stuffed it up. I wanted your attention. I wanted to say thanks, thanks for letting me go on one of the most expensive trips MLC has ever had. You just blanked me. Tears slipped down my cheek. Even as I cried, I realised something to my shame, for a few years it had been cool for me to blank my dad, a lot.

Narrator

The autumn sun was already warm and Gary wiped his brow as he entered Malvern station to board the 8.15 for the City loop. Suddenly he was tired of everything; he didn’t use the earphone of his iPod but just stood, half leaning against the stainless steel pole of the carriage. He could hear the voice of his wife Margherita in his head.

“YOU have changed so much! I remember when you used to laugh out loud every day. Do you remember when you worked at McLaren, Kline and Partners and I was pregnant with Madeleine? The girls in the office loved to laugh at you; you had a magnum of champagne with a lacy maternity bra wrapped around it on your desk. You used to tell everybody soon my wife is going to have a beautiful baby!”

Suddenly He wanted to lift his arms and shout, “I didn’t mean to change.”

Instead, he stood silent and immobile.

When he arrived at Southern Cross Station he decided to take the escalator to the food court on the concourse level and buy a cup of coffee. He had arrived at the office right on 8.45am for five years. He worked up to twelve hours on weekdays. Hope they don’t call out the Light Horse to rescue me from the City of Tardy. His mouth twisted.

As he descended half an hour later on the escalator to street level, he noticed what appeared to be a pair of legs covered with red and white silk protruding across the walkway at the bottom. In the few seconds it took him to reach the bottom an unusually clad woman had stood up. She had on a long low-waisted medieval style gown with sleeves that draped down to her knees .Panels of alternating colours made up the bodice and skirt, and an ornate belt draped her hips made of silver with green enamelled flowers attached. A dark red circular cape that fell from her shoulders revealed the detail of her dress.

While he was gaping he became aware of a flash of light ,a slight vibration and then a rattling and clanking attracted other passers-by’s’ attention. Suddenly a man clad in armour appeared, carrying a large shield; divided into four sections, alternately silver and orange in colour, separated by green raguly lines. On the four sections were displayed  a silver skeleton key, an azure coloured  butterfly edged with gold, a C with much ornate detail and a wooden treasure chest ,closed. Speechless, he blinked.

No one else seems to have noticed he just appeared.

From behind him he heard a familiar voice.

“Gary, is that you?  Can’t believe you’re not in the office yet! Hey!”Dave rattled on in his usual garrulous style. “These buskers have amazing costumes, but they better shuffle before security gets here!” He pointed to the overhead camera. “The fines are pretty stiff. Anyway Gary, better be off!  See you at the office.”

He could remember when Dave would have asked him to walk with him.

Shit.

As if on cue, two security officers appeared and escorted the buskers to the office on the other side of the forecourt.  He felt compelled to talk to them. He couldn’t leave. He went over to the office and knocked on the door.

A surly looking dark-haired man opened the door.

“Excuse me, Gary said, playing dumb, “What did these people do wrong?”

“Nobody is meant to busk in the station, mate. I’m sure you know that.” he began to shut the door.

Gary blurted out, “But they’re just foreign students, aren’t they?”

“They’re foreign, alright. They sound kind of French. We’ve just called a translator.”

“What are you going to tell them?”

The guard drew back and looked at him. “You don’t look like a troublemaker but you’re pretty curious.”

“Well, I was here to meet some actors for a medieval gig ……I think they are the actors on the way to our gig. It’s a promotional type of thing. I really don’t think they meant to cause trouble.” Liar.

The man withdrew and spoke to his superior, Mick.

“We’ll let them go but would you just get them out of the station. Remind them not to practise their acts in the station. Ok?”
The guard’s beeper went off. Someone was causing trouble on the concourse level.

Gary and the new arrivals stared at one another for two long minutes. The woman reminded Gary of a character in one of his daughter, Madeleine’s story books; one of the books from which he had read at night, long ago. He sighed.

He held out his hand, “I’m Gary.”

The woman stared at his hand and looked puzzled.

The woman spoke with a guttural accent.

“Lady Gaeophia Du Cannon.” She pointed to her companion.”Elstan Du Cannon.”

Elstan smiled and placed in his hand what appeared to be two real silver coins.

The thought occurred to him that photos of these two would be of great interest to Madeleine. He motioned for them to stand together in front of a nearby pillar. He took several photos and then unpacked his laptop and transferred them to his media files. He felt eyes boring into him and noticed that both Gaeophia and Elstan, slack-jawed and pop-eyed, watched what he was doing. He played them some of his slide shows and videos. He found one of Madeleine chasing her pet rabbit in the garden. She was eight and her wavy auburn hair bobbed about on her shoulders. He noticed Gaeophia’s hair was similar in colour but reached past her waist.

Sometime later, he had despatched the two in a taxi and supplied them with a business card. Gaeophia stowed it in the drawstring bag she carried. Elstan had been asked to remove his armour, stowing it in the boot of the taxi, which caused him considerable upset. They acted like they were expecting a fight. Elstan didn’t feel so self-conscious when he looked around ,it seemed to him that a lot of people in this strange place went to market in their underwear. Gary felt like waving goodbye but just smiled, then leaned in the cab window and gave the driver the address.

I think the French Embassy will be able to sort them out.

Gary headed for the tram that would take him up Collins St. He wasn’t thinking of work but Madeleine, the sun shining on her wavy auburn hair. The image lasted until he was seated at his desk, and turned on his computer.

About 12.30,after a productive morning in the office, Gary started to think about  his favourite Chicken on Rye. As he reached for his jacket, a shriek from the front reception caused him to leap up and bang his leg against the desk.

“You cheeky bugger, John, Is this your idea of an April Fool’s Day joke! I thought things were awfully quiet round here.”

“What on earth are you talking about, Sue?’

John spoke, accompanied by more giggling from Sue.

“After the hassle I got into last year for playing jokes, you’ve…..’ His voice trailed away.

Gary and Dave arrived at reception together, both attracted by the disturbance. Dave, who was about to say that he had seen, unbeknownst to Gary, Gaeophia and Elstan earlier that day in High St  was struck dumb by the rest of her entourage. Behind  the resplendent Gaeophia and Elstan were two men ,in hose and  tunics, carrying a small casket of oak with iron bands and two locks.

One produced a small horn and played a long note.

“Bow to the Lady Gaeophia!”

“Why the hell, not? I love a bit of play acting”, said Sue and affected a courtesy.

On impulse, they offered to take the jokers to lunch.

At first it wasn’t so bad, the joke, despite having to buy lunch for the four costumed personages. Dave was thoroughly enjoying the disconcerted looks, the stares of fascination and the laughter, especially from the young women but Gary was bemused. He couldn’t help wondering why the attention seemed to ‘throw of’ the performance of such a well-prepared actress. She glared at the audience and at times spoke, in what he thought was old English, but in a completely incomprehensible way. The Lady seemed genuinely angry when the diners at the next table laughed to see her long sleeves trailing in the soup bowl. During the next course she quickly grabbed for a fork and asked about its use, after her first effort at eating steak with the knife attached to her belt met with gasps and snickers.  As Gary used his plastic to pay for lunch, he reflected that the next time he went to lunch it could not be so absurd.

Madeleine

I can’t describe how bad I felt by lunchtime that day. Mum had driven me to the corner of Glenferrie and Barker’s Roads and I’d taken the tram to Methodist ladies College. I endured the morning. For five and a half years I had been attending MLC and I was a pretty good student. Until today I had never gone home at lunchtime with a headache. Desperate to be alone I pretended to the nurse I had called my mum. When I arrived home, I stood under the maple tree in our small front yard, feeling smashed. I leant against its mottled bark. Everyone thought I must have picked up a virus, in France, but I felt heart sick. The autumn sun was warm on my upper body. I lay down with my head on my schoolbag, my jumper under my thighs and dozed off. When I woke up I remembered the strangest dream.

 

In my dad’s office was a medieval lady, dressed in the style I’d seen depicted at Chartres, accompanied by a man in a tunic carrying a very unusual shield. I especially liked the azure butterfly in the bottom left quadrant. My Dad was staring at them puzzled.

The lady went behind his desk and was pushing buttons on the keyboard of his computer. Dad said stop touching that please but she picked it up and walked forward until the plug jerked out of the wall and dropped to the floor. Dad went toward her but the man stepped between them and produced a pouch full of silver and gold coins.

“Lady Gaeophia desires to purchase this magical window of wisdom.”

Dad shook his head and tried to take the laptop back.

Get your own. I’ll tell you where to get one. This one is full of my stuff.”

He tightens his grip on the edge of the screen.

This really loud guy who has worked with Dad for years comes into the room. By this time there is a real struggle going on.

“Hey, what are they doing here? I’ll call security, ok.”

Dad nods, red in the face.

By this time, I can tell you Lady Gaeophia has forgotten she’s a lady.

The Security officers arrive and manage to get the lap top off the two intruders and hustle them out the door. Dad gets up from the floor to go with them and looking at his workmate Dave, groans out

“She’s vicious, that one, got me below the belt.”

Dave replies , “Really”, and smiles.

When Dad gets downstairs Gaeophia has disappeared and a jabbering Elstan is trying to explain himself to two very puzzled men.

I wake up. A golden maple leaf has fallen on my brow. I stand up and drag myself and my bag into the house.

Narration

Gaeophia found herself flat on her back on unforgiving flagstone. She had travelled back home through the vortex of time. Somehow she opened a door to the strangest place with her secret, magical experiments in search of wisdom. Lying with her eyes closed she recalled the vision she saw before she left. It was of the girl she had seen walking through the streets of Chartres, attired most strangely, with hair like her own, she recalled. She was sure she had come close to her on her recent foray, for she had seen others attired like the vision girl in that peculiar place.  She had almost obtained the lighted window of wisdom but the man Gary had not been willing to give it to her. As she opened her eyes the ornate tapestries of her home castle appeared through a fog .The pungent smell of herbs assailed her nostrils. There was no sign of Elstan in her peripheral vision. If he has not returned she had decided to make sure he brought back that coveted computer “the window of wisdom.” Then the hem of the long, black cloak worn by her father and mentor, Hawk brushed against her cheek. She steeled herself to shut out his ravings.

“Sely, Gaeophia, Sely! Is there no end to your foolishness? Where is Elstan? Have you beguiled him with your magic?”  Elstan was nowhere to be seen. She listened for his steps, his armour, and his voice. Hawk continued to rant, “It is medicine we practice, not this!” He grabs her arm roughly and then pulling her towards him releases her arm suddenly. Stumbling and. lowering her eyes, she says nothing but she is uncowed. She must have the window of wisdom. She considers that the strange people will not harm Elstan. Stoney faced, she contemplates her plan.

The following Monday Gary was called by the police.

“Mr Ballantyne, will you visit this man that was picked up at your building last week?  No-one can identify him. Perhaps he’ll talk properly if you are there. No-one round here can understand his language. They’re suggesting some kind of Psychosis. ”

Gary arranges a lunchtime visit with Senior Constable Jay.

For the first time since he had met Elstan he finds him fearful rather than fascinating. Constable Jay goes out after a while because he thinks he is putting Elstan off. Still the only thing Gary can make out is ‘Gaeophia’ and ‘Window of wisdom’. Finally, Elstan pulls out from under his tunic a brochure on laptop computers and a credit card marked clearly with MS GAEOPHIA CANON .Gary shakes his head. Finally the half hour is up and as they leave Gary checks to make sure that Elstan hasn’t had any visitors.

“None”, insists the nurse.

Gaeophia .

A vision of the auburn haired woman pops into his mind.

Madeleine

The night four days after the weird events start, Dad and I really talk. At dinner time, the first meal we’ve had together in weeks, he shows mum and me the pictures of the strangers from the station. I wonder at the coincidence because they are the same as the people in my dream and dressed like the people in the medieval book and postcards I brought home from Chartres. Then I show Dad all the pictures from my trip. We linger over the shots of the streets, houses and seascapes. I show him a picture of St Hildegarde with other female medical practitioners from the year 1140. He remarks how much one of the women resembles our Gaeophia.

Dad and I talk and laugh late into the night .He remarks how good it is to discuss all the intriguing mysteries of our day. It is like I am taking him on a tour of Chartres. I remember when I was a kid dad had seemed to look forward to everything as much as I did. He always had a special surprise or joke to share with me and my friends had thought he was so cool. I give him a hug when we say goodnight.

 When he came home a week later with a silver antique ring decorated with a  green enamel flower, and told me he’d found it on his desk the day Elstan disappeared from the mental hospital I laughed. It was hard to believe that the scenario I considered we may have imagined really happened. He explained that the police contacted him when Gaeophia’s knight disappeared, without a trace. When he returned to his office after speaking to them the ring was sitting on his desk with a strand of long wavy auburn hair wrapped around it. It had not been there minutes before. He had looked the style of ring up on the internet and it appeared to be an authentic antique ring from the 12th century. Then he discovered his laptop was missing. The company treated it as a theft. There was nothing on the security camera except the shadowy back view of a man with long hair wearing a tunic.

“You’re kidding Dad…right? This is a tall story, and you got the hair from Mum.” I slapped his arm.

He laughs and puts his arm across my shoulder.

“You know the last week I’ve started to believe that anything is possible. I think we might all go on a holiday together soon and just have fun… No telling who we might meet.”

He winks at my mum who smiles and tosses back her long wavy hair.

“Hey,” he almost shouts at my mum, “You don’t have any ancestors that were female medicos in the 12th century, do you?”

Narration

The grove of oaks whisper as Lady Gaeophia walks down to her favourite rock by the lily pond. She opens the slim black laptop, and watches the pictures of the young girl with the auburn hair chasing the rabbit around the small green, until the battery icon flashes, and the image disappears.

The End