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…)

 

 

 

 

 

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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–

 

Spun Gold

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

Spun Gold

 

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

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

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

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

My default setting. He frowned.  

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

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

Spun gold?

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

Carlie. His heart beat staccato. Carlie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He gaped, and then smiled back. “It’s not mine. Do you have a grandchild or someone?”

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

She squared her shoulders, and smiled widely.

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

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

He nodded, “I’m Dave.”

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

He noticed a gold strand trapped between the laces.

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

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

He bent over the pillow and touched the strands.

They’re real.

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

Weird.

He smiled.

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

He didn’t talk about her a lot, except on the 23rd of December. He spoke with pride as if she was the star player on the best football team.

The End

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

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