Wednesday, March 31, 2010

90. Dreamers

Easing herself onto the oak bench, Betty delved into the goodies she bought from Coles in Hunter Street. This was a singular pleasure she kept from Eleanor. Sisters can be so insistent upon sharing everything. She nibbled the quince paste, the water crackers and the King Island Double Brie, washing it down with the spring water that accompanied her everywhere.

Beside the sandstone wall behind her, another Elizabeth had stood two hundred years earlier, at her husband’s side. Lachlan had helped her over the stile entrance at the top of the bent path, and escorted her to this vantage point. Together they dreamed of English garden demesnes, loop roads, and horse-drawn carriages at a smart clip-clop, heading towards the harbour glinting through the wooded slope.

Finishing her repast, Betty cleared the remaining crumbs with her moistened finger, and leant back against the bench, watching the yachts on the harbour below.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

89. On wings of song

His clear lyric voice floated effortlessly on the evening air. Marcus liked it out here in the gardens, away from the ebb and flow of the classroom. This was his classroom, this was where he was at his most clear-headed and creative. Frequently a bar ahead of him, Janie had already adjusted the chord at the end of the first phrase to lend a more contemplative air to the opening theme.

Marcus was struggling with a direction, being unable to come to grips with the drudgery of mathematics and the rote learning of chemistry, music was the one element in his life that captured his imagination. However, even this held a sting in the tail. He abhorred the restraints and compromises demanded of group music, and was debased by the inanity of gigs like Poetry Slams.

It was here, amongst quavers and crotchets and time signatures, that his soul soared.

Monday, March 29, 2010

88. The evening muse

Margie scrabbled around in her khaki satchel for her scribbler, her mind still churning over that last paragraph. Something did not gel, did not fit, did not work. And it was driving her to distraction. She eased back in her canvas chair, chewed the end of her 2B pencil, and watched the silver Peugeot negotiate the Five Ways round-a-bout.

She felt blessed to work out here some evenings, to join the crowd of thirty-somethings enjoying life on the street on balmy weekend evenings as summer wound down. Barry did not appreciate the background noise and preferred to stay ensconced in front of the league replay, alternately grouching and celebrating. Margie found that the ambience oiled her creativity.

She slashed an index finger through the air. That was it. Her heroine was not that tall. She scribbled hastily on the pad with the soggy pencil, then took up the Qwerty position.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

87. A city reinventing itself

Cicada-like, this unprepossessing cross-city thoroughfare is the mother of reinvention. Cast your imagination back two hundred years and, in the middle-distance, at the first set of lights where now Market intersects with Pitt, there squelched a marshy swamp that segued into the Tank Stream. Today, prising its way from that primordial bog, is an abomination of a retail mall.

The toned muscles of these urban adventurers are in neutral as they pause for the light change at the corner of Market and Castlereagh in the retail heart of the city. Not for them the contemplation of red-coated marines kicking up dust behind them on Hyde Park. Not for them the fluttering bunting and cheering crowds that raucously welcomed Federation.

One generation builds up a city, and the next tears it down. An older generation laments the lost string to the past. The younger generation must adapt to achieve different goals.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

86. Making ends meet

Oblivious to the irony, Ramona plied her walking advertisement through Pitt Street mall, even as the rumble in her tummy intensified. Coming from the blasted north of England, she was ignorant of the history of this once grand thoroughfare, although had she bothered, she would have found herself in the familiar surrounds of urban decay, and promised regeneration.

When she left home five months earlier, she had not realised that a “working holiday” meant just that. She’d had visions of packing around the countryside, traipsing from beach to pub to beach, taking the evening bus bound for the next tropical paradise. She had not factored in the distances, nor the dust, nor the flies and mosquitoes. But here she was walking the city, penniless and hungry.

Not for her the beauty of the Strand Arcade, or the sadness of the decimated Sydney Arcade. She was focussed on one thing only.

A member of the Weekend Writer's Retreat

Friday, March 26, 2010

85. In the footsteps of others

The red-coated marines invaded Timmy’s eyes as he scanned down the menu. He could see them in the distance marching with their long black boots down this rutted road that Macquarie designed to be the finest avenue in the fledgling colony. Having brunch at the outside tables brought to life Mrs Jamieson’s unit of study over this last week. He struggled to concentrate as he heard the lone-drummer march the corps onto the dusty, uneven wasteland that he knew as Hyde Park.

‘Timmy, do you want an iced chocolate with your pancakes?’

He could hear the exasperation in her voice, which brought him back to the present with a thud.

‘Ah, no, could I have a juice instead, please?’

He kicked his sneakers back against the wrought iron of the chair, annoyed that his feet still did not reach the footpath. He watched the cars slow down for the lights.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

84. A goldfish bowl

Lowering my pack onto the table, I turned indicating to Alex that I would have my usual iced-coffee. I made myself comfortable, as much as one is able in an iron chair, and let my gaze slowly swing around the city square. Although it was only early afternoon, the sun was already slipping behind tall buildings and the shadows in the square lengthening.

The green-grocer had a steady stream of customers, just enough to keep him busy, yet not enough for them to become impatient. From afar it appeared that some were regulars, as he greeted them with warm body language and a few words. To my surprise, purchases were discussed, apples were picked up and rubbed, grapes were sampled. Boxes from behind the tarp were brought to the fore.

As I slurped the last of the ice-cream, and waved to Alex, I wondered if the grocer ever became lonely.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

83. Eyes wide open

Rochelle stretched out under the blanket listening to the branch scratch to-and-fro on the window pane. The thought of the day ahead made her quiver with anticipation. She could already hear Aunty Nola showering in the next room. The ferry to the zoo, they would meet Pa and chug across the harbour to the Athol Street Wharf, before taking the cable car to the top.

She tugged open all three drawers to her tallboy. What to wear. What to wear. What to wear. She just knew her mother would cluck away. “You’ll be on the harbour, love. You’ll need a top.” A jumble of jumpers splayed across the rug. Yes, my cap, my tattoo bonnet - just the thing. And, and, and - the toe socks from Aunty Nola last night. Perfect. Mum will have a fit!

She flung herself ‘round the banister and chortled her way down to breakfast.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

82. A force for freedom

Jing Tao could not remember her father and her mother. She knew what they looked like, she had seen the photographs. But she had no memory of them. She knew the humiliating story of their fall from grace during The Hundred Flowers Campaign. But she could not recall their touch, or the sound of their voice. She felt this loss keenly.

As she held her pose, she was transported by the hum that coursed from her voice box to the tips of her fingers. The hum that signified to her the three jewels of compassion, moderation and humility. She had long tried to determine how to live in harmony with the universe, and had realised that, for her, inaction could not achieve action. She struggled with this apparent contradiction.

Sensing an interruption, Jing Tao re-entered the bustle of Queen’s Square, and stepping slowly down, handed the young man a pamphlet.

Monday, March 22, 2010

81. Starting out

The balls of Shana’s feet were throbbing. She had been on the go since six this morning, unloading the ovens out in Tempe, and stacking the steaming loaves into Dean’s Hilux. After eight months without a job, she was tickled pink, no matter how much her feet ached.

The biggest buzz for her was the contact with her customers. Fleeting it might be, but usually there was a grin and a ‘Thank you’. The more customers she served, the faster the day went. The faster the day, the quicker payday came around. And this coming payday was of particular significance.

Last December, when she received the job offer , Shana had discussed with her mother when she could pay her own way. They had agreed that as soon as Shana’s bank account rolled into four digits, board would be due.

She smiled to herself. She had plans all mapped out.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

80. A continuing journey

Waiting for the Tangara to glide into the platform, Kenny read the poster pinned to the wall. ‘Do not leave belongings unprotected’. ‘Report any suspicious parcels left alone.’ He moved slowly down the platform, catching the averting eye of a grey-haired gentleman reading the morning paper. ‘Another boat-load of illegal refugees batter our northern shores’ screamed from below the masthead of the Telegraph.

Kenny Nguyen felt unease stiffen his shoulder blades. He stared at his shuffling shoes. He was born in this country, yet he looked foreign. If he could but speak those around him could hear he was true blue, hear he was as broad as they. Each day, as he travelled out to Kensington, he gained a greater appreciation of the courage of his grandfather, Son Trung, negotiating the South China Seas in that leaky craft in the spring of ’76. Kenny needed courage from a different drum.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

79. On the slippery slope

Pat had always been such an enthusiastic traveller, the first one to pull out the box of creased maps, the first one to dream of wending and clambering. It broke Eric’s heart to see her reduced to this. The trip from London had been horrendous, with her constant inability to catch breath.

And the medical profession had been less than forthcoming.

‘We think there are flakes of muscle which are dislodging and flying around the lung blocking the alveoli.’

Her quality of life was bordering on non-existent, and all this in less than six months. How can thirty four years boil down to this - pushing a wheel c hair across Castlereagh Street when just last Christmas they had planned to travel by four wheel drive to the Red Centre? And the camels, yet again Pat’s idea.

The awareness in Pat’s otherwise dull eyes, brought him down with a thud.

A member of the Weekend Writer's Retreat

Friday, March 19, 2010

78. Making the cut

The nor-east breeze wafting across the cove adds a chill to the air. Rachel kicks back, contemplating the panorama from the passenger terminal back into the Quay, with its concrete and glass towers preparing to light up the evening. The sun dips behind the bridge approaches, shadows gradually lengthen.

This is where the cruise ship out of Vancouver terminated, where she pats herself on the back for framing that tough decision, where her father’s admonition rankles still.

‘You’ll be back. Where will you be without family support, to move back in with when the going gets tough?’

Where would she be? Sous-chef at The Quay, sharing a one-bedroom apartment over in Macleay Street, her scarlet Vespa chained to the bollard in the lane. Where would she be? Right here, standing on her own two feet.

She tosses her gunny-sack over her shoulder and strides inside for an exhilarating Saturday evening.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

77. Inside out

He searched for the arguments, shaking his head to separate the voices, oblivious to the askance looks, the shuffling feet.

You think that truth is objective? That there is a single representation that we edge toward? There is no truth; there is only absurdity.

Hedley’s stained fingers worked the noxious weed. The smoldering fag flared with each breath, the argument escaping in mumble.

Truth and free will are but inventions of a moral conscience. There is no universal morality for all people.

He traced the outline of his well-thumbed copy of Nietzsche’s polemic in his back pocket. He could see the pages in his mind’s eye, read the words.

Man is beyond good and evil. He is interested in power, rather than meaning, or pleasure.

Hedley smiled fleetingly across the chess board. He had taught that gambit to Ilsa under the peppercorn in Yurong Street, but that was long gone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

76. The lure of the old

The dilapidated shop-front did not fill Helena with confidence. She checked the envelope that Jonas had thrust upon her the previous evening at the Sotheby’s auction in Queen Street.

‘It will so be worth your while. Go through the shop, heading toward his work area. In the corridor between the two, high up on the left, there is an absolute treasure!”

Cupping her hands against the plate glass, Helena peered into the dim interior. Even from the outside, the musty smell of an old-wares shop set her heart to beat faster. It had ever been thus, since she was twelve and tagging along behind Aunt Dora through the lane ways that criss-cross Chapel Street – a scavenger in training.

With the jangle of the bell in her ear, she negotiated her way through the jumble of other-people’s-treasures, and there it was as Jonas had described: a 1952 Wegner Cow Horn chair.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

75. The cupboard was bare (2)

The mesh of the screen door bit deeply into her forehead as she leaned heavily against it with each wave of nausea. She heard the chair scrape the cold tiles as Simon pushed back from the obscured monitor. He did not move toward her. He did not make to speak.

She turned to face him, and saw the answer written on his face, reflected in the flat black of his eyes.

Gone, their wages all gone. She closed her eyes and eased the flat of her fingers across the indentations in her forehead. She swayed. Simon remained across the room.

“This is beyond the two of us, Sal.”

She stared at her cupped hand seeing nothing but darkness. She could not find her way in that darkness. There was no memory. No swirling fog that might lift, just solid dark. ‘There came a big spider that sat down inside her.’

Monday, March 15, 2010

74. No turning back

Stride from the hip girl. You’ve got it, so flaunt it. Nipples erect! Turn those headlights on. Balls is weighed, not counted!

The early afternoon sun lit the burnished ends of her hair as they flounced around her alabaster throat, with its slowly spreading crimson stain. She jammed the outsized Donnatella Vs onto the bridge of her nose.

Don’t look around, she repeated to herself. Do not look around. Don’t give him the satisfaction. You have come this far, you can go all the way.

Small pebbles flicked from the bitumen with every clunk of her Jimmy Chu’s. A few more strides and she would disappear from his sight. Their sight. The sight of them. The two of them, going hell for leather on her imported beige Natuzzi three seater.

She could not suppress a giggle as she role-played requesting a replacement from David Jones’ because the leather was stained.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

73. His way

It was the most he could find for under $5 and he shovelled it down hungrily. Walking towards the bin area, he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. Brian was glad his mother was back in ‘Derry. He could just picture her reaction to his current predicament. Wouldn’t tell her, then! The brewed coffee in this mall was doing his head in.

Fingering the job advert for the lumber yard, he pivoted on his heels and headed back up Oxford Street. Losing the breakfast job at the Potts Point B’n’B still rankled, yet he was coming to terms with his role in the blow-up. He had always been opinionated and ready to share. Curbing this would be a challenge. Having his wallet swiped walking through the turnstiles at The Cross compounded the insult. Not a good week.

He swung into the lumber yard, his brain keeping tabs on his mouth.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

72. The cupboard was bare (1)

Withdrawal declined – insufficient funds. A sharp ping coursed her veins. That can’t be right. She punched the numbers in again, more deliberately. Same result.

She flung her shoulder pouch toward the sofa, as the sunroom door slammed behind her. Her fingers trembled as she logged on. Password, password – yes, yes, that’s the one.

Nothing, all gone, empty.

A dull ache welled up between her temple and eye cavity. She could hear her heart beat thud along her inner ear canals. The rumbling pressure waves headed inexorably toward her personal bulls-eye. She splayed her fingers along the edge of the solid maple tabletop. Her silver wedding band reflected in the burnished lustre of the knotted wood.

She forced her eyes to focus on the harsh light of the monitor. There they were: a solid bank of withdrawals, four hundred dollars, every 45 minutes, from midnight to 6am. Star City, NAB, DarlHar.

A member of the Weekend Writer's Retreat

Friday, March 12, 2010

71. Now is the hour

David rarely sat in the same spot. Serves no point, his mind is doing all the work. Besides, the harbour is so different. Forty plus years will do that.

The warmth of the autumn sun transports him back until he can hear the strains of the brass band, and see the uplifted faces. The battalion – “the mighty 1st “ – is stowed, the deck of the Sydney immaculate, and the crew bracing themselves along the for’ard deck. David can bring to memory the frays of twine dangling from the gangplank. Yet he struggles with Jimmy’s face.

Young men, one and all, brothers in more ways than one, aboard the “Vung Tau ferry” to kingdom come. Sure it was heroic, noble, a service to his country. But a lyric dogs him, a snippet from a song Jimmy never knew. “Butchered like lambs at the slaughter.”

He pulls the letter out once more.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

70. I don't think so!

Madhu moved slowly and deliberately. With her eyes cast to the ground, and her head in the clouds, she made of herself a small target. It occurred to Helen that this could be by dint of her age, rather than either her race or her gender. There was a massive element of politeness in the body language.

Helen had ensconced herself at a table in the almost deserted forecourt of the old Customs House building. From there she could indulge one of her favourite past-times – people watching.

A smile played around the edges of her mouth. “I wonder if she is aware of the irony of that bloody bag!” Helen's interest, though, was in the stick. Madhu was holding it in an “all the better to hit you with” hold, not to add to her surefootedness.

“What a magnificent crook. I’d love that on my side in a dark alley.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

69. He'd had enough of this!

Bill realised his heart wasn’t in this anymore.

“You sure those figures are right, love?”

He rarely enjoyed these round-tables, papers everywhere, Jean with her lists and he with the calculator. Their original time-frame was for him to retire at 65. Jean was sorted, her pension cutting in just before Christmas. However, being beyond prying government eyes and travelling might just be beyond their resources. But, what can you expect when you leave school at 15 and work for the county council as a pen-pusher or with DJs fitting shoes in their Market Street store. Other than a few measly dollars in super, their only asset was the family home. Being independent meant selling up and moving somewhere cheaper.

“Have another look through the listings, Bill, and include Merry Beach this time. There must be something there for under three-fifty.” She licked her forefinger and attacked the pages. Bill sighed.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

68. Taking it all in

Maggie hesitated, she was unsure of the “message” from this heavily daubed, near-naked, black man sitting under a humpy, blasting out a dirge to the accompaniment of a rock beat.

For a slice of vaudeville, nothing could beat this walk around the Quay. She managed it frequently in days of yore – sans children. Nowadays, the variety seemed to be more desperate, ranging as it did from Andean pipes, through fire swallowers, to glorious Spanish flamenco, not forgetting the living statue brigade. However, this didge player had THE prime location and more than his share of the shuffling crowd. He and his spruiker commanded the airwaves.

“It’s okay, Jase, it’s only a didgeridoo.”

Maggie knelt on the baking concrete and wiped the dribble from Poppy’s chin. The mesmerised child shook her head, pushing the hand away with a grunt. Maggie understood Poppy’s body language by now.

This may take a while.

Monday, March 8, 2010

67. Through a glass darkly

I cannot even remember what I saw in her to begin with. I guess there must have been something. It is all so long ago now. Has she changed, or is it me?

Sorry, love. What did you say?
I’m not really all that hungry. Maybe, just that Spanish omelette, and somewhere, I noticed a Wolf Blass Coonawarra blend.

Am I bored, or am I boring? She seems to be enjoying all this. God, I am so depressed. I know Ian seems to think that is a cop-out, blaming everything on being depressed. How can I want out – it’s been over fifty years? Where would I go? How would I untangle it all? Would she mind? Would she even notice? Hah! There’s the rub!

Sorry, love. What? Did I even see that film? Yeah, yeah – I liked Cary Grant. I just cannot recall that particular film.

Anywhere but here ...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

66. Where to now?

“And did he say that would work?” She flicked the ash onto the pavement to deflect the thin spiral of smoke.

“They don’t even go there, love. They just say this is the next step if I am to beat this thing.”

Eric shifted uncomfortably on the bench. He could do without having to explain it. He was not even sure he had understood it himself. He knew he was not looking forward to it. Not just the operation, but the stopping smoking, and losing 10 kilos. How on earth was he going to do that?

Gwen put on her best brittle smile. “Let’s go into the Duck & Swan for a counter lunch. They do a great lamb shank on pension day, and lovely creamy mashed spuds, just the way you like them.”

Gingerly, she helped him up from the bench and together they hobbled into the corner pub.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

65. A river's song

As the steady beat resounded through the courtyard, the milling crowd hesitated, coming to a mesmerised halt as he started the familiar refrain, “Give me love, love, love, love, crazy love”. He usually had them early into a bracket. Chairs scraped the cobblestones, finding a place to chill beneath the canvas.

Anne-Marie absorbed the curve of his spine as she approached from behind, remembering her fingers running down the ageing but still taut back just the evening before. A smile played at her mouth at the thought of the ponytail tumbling around his shoulders, a remnant of his youth still necessary after all these years.

She circled the edge of the crowd, looking for a perch where she could feel at one with him. “Yes, it makes me mellow down to my soul”. He hesitated slightly, but could not stop the sparkle in his eyes as they sought her out.

A member of the Weekend Writer's Retreat

Friday, March 5, 2010

64. Body language

There is a gentleness here that passeth all understanding, that belies the cacophony of noise and colour of grime in the background. And it is not only in the delicate curl of the hand, but also in the respectful tilt of the head signalling that listening and thinking are both occurring.

Body language can reveal much about the human condition. Walking along a track early in the morning, sun rising, birds twittering and a young woman progressing towards you, lowers her eyes and passes by - silently. A herd of labourers on a building site follow the sassy broad with their slavish eyes, as she negotiates the narrow plank, thrusting their groin in a gruesome pack appreciation.

The glint from the solid band encircling each ring finger indicates that neither is a stranger to Thomas’ milky woods and his bucking ranches of the night. But that is a private matter.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

63. Negotiating the city

Cities are not easy to negotiate. There are many modes of transport – car, bus, train, taxi, monorail, lite-rail, ferry, pedicab – but the two fastest, and cheapest, would have to be bicycle and shanks’ pony.

Lashed to a post in Bathurst Street, behind St Andrews Cathedral, this bicycle will get me from the Town Hall to The Rocks in less than ten minutes - faster than other modes. Walking down George Street to The Rocks will take about fifteen minutes. Walking back up George Street takes longer! A bus from the QVB Stands can take in excess of twenty minutes depending on time of day. Training via the City Circle is the least preferable method as it involves countless stairs, massive crowds and unreliable schedules.

The problem with bicycles is that lashing them like this to a post, could see wheels and saddles disappear with just the saddest of shells remaining.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

62. From the sidelines

People watching engages every synapse, just as it absorbs every sense. Perched on the edge of a Rees folly (Lloyd not Nathan) in the midst of the early afternoon busyness of Martin Place, at first glance he appears forlorn. Perhaps it is the tumble of the water at his rear, or the trundle of the buses down Castlereagh, more likely just the pensive stance so unexpected of such a virile young man.

Spread out before him is the glory of early twentieth century Sydney, grown to maturity over the space of two world wars that pockmarked other, more distant lands. His eyes target the younger clientele of The Strand Hatters with their jaunty straw Akubras – whether it be a Hampton, a Bogart or a Jive – as they promenade with a spring in their step between the imposing sandstone and granite monuments to the financial acumen of wheeler-dealers long since departed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

61. A thing or two

I gave up “telling” long ago, now I want to share thoughts that are getting the bees in my bonnet buzzing. As much as the crazies were set off by these young men, I am not going to have a go at them specifically. Not like get a haircut and get a real job – not that sort of tirade.

Maybe these lads have jobs: night shift in a bar, perhaps. The thing that gets my goat is that they don’t seem to be stressed enough – at all, really. Nowadays, youngsters work part-time and deliberately eschew possessions, other than e-gadgets to stuff in an ear or thumb-punch. Their income is calculated to fall over the line of next payday. There is neither yesterday, nor tomorrow. Today is everything. Where is struggle street? Where is saving for a rainy day?

Boarding through the city on a slow Monday doesn’t cut it for me.

Monday, March 1, 2010

60. Being cast down

Draft 1 - Prose
Such a delicious word, slough.

His taut, lithe snake shakes an iridescent skin from its shoulders, watching as it ripples free, the full length of his sensuous curves; the discarded layer, encrusted with minute pebbles, floating with a flick, to the cool overhang of a nearby fig tree. The silkiness of the discard, caught mid-stream by the blink of an attendant eye, pausing the projection running in his self-obsessed mind. He is fascinated by his dejected progress along the wharf, his mind’s eye styling an image of a young man, forsaken and cast aside.

Slough of desponds.

A vibrant ripple beneath a stiff white, cotton Gloweave. A fine swishing as the fabric catches momentarily between the slender angularity of his hips and his wrist. He slumps onward through the mental figment of a marshy slough of despond, the dark despair of a guilty conscience forever trudging.

She would regret this.

Draft 2 - Verse
Such a delicious word, slough.

Self-consiously fascinated
by his dejected progress along the wharf;
his mind’s eye styling an image of a young man,
forsaken and cast aside.
His taut, lithe serpent within
shakes a self-righteous skin from its shoulders,
watching as it ripples free, the full length of his sensuous curves;
the discarded layer, encrusted with sweat droplets,
floating with a flick,
lodging in the overhanging bough of a fig tree.
The silkiness of the discard caught mid-stream
by the blink of an attendant eye;
pausing the projection running in his self-obsessed mind.

Slough of desponds.

A vibrant ripple released
beneath stiff white, cotton fabric.
A fine swishing, as the swatch
catches momentarily between the slender angularity
of lithe hips and fine wrist.
He flumps onward through
a mindful figment of a marshy slough of despond;
the pink funk of a queruous conscience forever pouting.

She would regret this.