Saturday, July 31, 2010

212. Packaging hot air

Josie presented herself immaculately. A beige linen skirt brushed her calves as she strode the cobblestone alley-way between the cafe and her office along the canal. As her brisk tread measured the distance, her quick brain was running the conversation in her head. She needed to counter the argument and to impress. The only way she knew how, was to be on the front foot from the get-go. William would be on her left and old Mr Holstein at the head of the board table to her right. James would be straight ahead. She must remember not to let her eyes linger on him but to be professional, and exude an air of competence.

She swung through the archway on her patent black flats, brushing her silk camel blouse across the gloss of the door jamb. A wisp of steam flu’ed up from the untouched coffee. Her heart fluttered within.

Friday, July 30, 2010

211. Global positioning

Finding one’s direction is a test of character. Some people rely on the GPS on the dashboard, ensure it has the latest version and press buttons and slide screens until it sings in a language moderne. Other people slip the five year old Gregory’s from the glove-box and madly flip pages as they idle at the lights. And yet other folk, stick their head out the window and do a quick calculation of the angle of the sun and reckon they need to go ‘that-a-way’.

Finding one’s direction in life bears a striking similarity. Some people want to do it their way, to them the journey is more important that the destination. What they see and experience is immeasurably more precious than items they acquire along the way. Jessica was one such person.

With few external trappings, Jess lived a life of simple happiness, rarely knowing which way was up.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

210. His back to the wall

He ran his hands across the wall at his back, envisaging the sandstone beneath his touch, trying to determine which pock mark was from weather, and which from the swing of a pick. There was a solidity to sandstone, but also a natural ruggedness. In his mind’s eye, he compared the finished product to granite and to marble. Rugged naturalness was more Willard’s style. He snuggled within his jacket.

He went off in his head readily nowadays. Attention was no longer his to give.

A wry smile flickered across his face. The crickets in his head emitted their high-pitched drone endlessly. Willard heard them most when he was trying to think, or sleep. They disturbed his equilibrium. He often could not think straight. It was disconcerting, but mostly it was tiring. He was finding more and more things were tiring. Willard was tiring.

But he was not ready to sleep.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

209. A soft touch

Flintiness came naturally to Amanda. As a child she had been cute. Ringlets tumbled across her high cheek bones. Her baby blue eyes peeped out from beneath long, silken lashes. Only a fool was taken in by this.

She had a mind of her own, right from the beginning. Knew what she wanted and tried to assess the best way of achieving that. She was not selfish in this. It was not that she wanted more than a sibling, or a friend, a greater share of the cake. More that she was not able to be waylaid from an aim once it had formed.

And this was not to be confused with an inability to let her hair down, to flick the switch to vaudeville. Not that the switch-flicking was part of the journey either, but more a release for a short period.

She was no soft touch, our Amanda.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

208. Drifting on a lazy afternoon

Tim grew up on the north coast in the township of Byron Bay. He had always been involved with music, growing up as he did, with a mother who taught piano and voice to half his primary school. Her studio was the sunroom along the north-eastern side of the house, where the morning sun would stream through the louvers, dancing the dust motes to the vibrating chords.

He and Irene marched to the beat of a similar drum, simpatico in both nature and interests. They only diverged after Ron joined the teaching staff and he an Irene entered into a relationship. It was not so much that Tim disapproved of Ron, it was more that he simply did not like him. The resulting friction drove a wedge between mother and son that was difficult to resolve.

Tim’s creativity flourished, his personal life veering wildly under the influence of conniving svengalis.

Monday, July 26, 2010

207. From ear to smiling ear

The concept of shyness, of reticence, of life as a shrinking violet is not even a blimp on the radar for Nathan. A born performer, he hit the footlights at birth and has been a hoofer ever since, with the personality to match.

He is fascinated by people. He likes them. He approaches them, asks them what they are doing, and why. He hones in on every nuance of emotion, catching the flagging spirit, the jaded response. His networking is hard-wired, but capable of adaptation. When Andy and Bron enter a room they understand that he has already snuck through the tangle of legs over to the buffet to find a plate to offer ‘round. He is akin to a god-fearing pastor who has techniques for keeping track of new members of his flock.

One hopes, as he travels through life, that he finds someone atune to his own frequency.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

206. Splendour in the grass

She was up to here with him.
Had endured enough.
Could cope no further.

Katie turned smartly on her heels, and flounced out of the department, across Elizabeth Street and into her favourite lunch-time retreat. Greta-Garbo-like she sat in splendid isolation, yet connected to the world. Riffling through this week’s magazine-of-choice, she could not settle. Neither her eyes nor her brain could concentrate on the written word, no matter how vacuous.

Katie had long felt a disconnect between head and heart, and wished desperately for a similar disconnect between thought and speech, to no avail. Bouncy and bubbly by nature, she continually rushed in where others feared to tread. She longed to befriend shades of grey, but perceived the world in black and white. She pined for the day when subtlety became her friend.

She needed to relax, to uncoil the spring, but was hesitant to expose the inner fragility.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

205. Dust on the hillside

Immediately the hostilities had ceased and the men of the village had come out of the caves and down from the hillsides, Eleni was promised in marriage to Nikolas, the youngest son of the largest landholder in the village who, with his brothers and sisters, tended the extensive family market gardens. They struggled to make the land viable, and life all over the Peloponnese peninsular was difficult.

In the early ‘50s, Nikolas and Eleni and their own young family emigrated to Australia, settling on a small holding in Camden. Life was good. Their children flourished. They increased their holding gradually, yet were saddened as, one after the other, each son left the farm for life in the city.

Nikolas and Eleni were torn between their future and their past. They ached for the dust on the hillside, for the narrow winding roads, donkeys and black widow weeds. They craved roots.

Friday, July 23, 2010

204. You can run but

Tomas had been running ever since high school. He neither knew what from or what to. Running had morphed into the purpose. He was the stone that avoided the moss. a tortoise with a shell replacing the moat of yore. A back-packer inheriting the mantle of the desperate souls humping their swags on outback roads.

As he lay in the sun, listening to the laughter of those around him, Tomas realised, with a start, that he wanted to go home. His leg twitched as a nerve spun out of control. A muscle running down his neck jerked, pulsed, then remained still.

Home! Where on earth did that idea come from? He had not ‘done’ Asia yet. He wanted to walk the foothills of the Himalayas. Duck and weave the tortured lands between the Two Rivers. And yet here he was thinking of spires and cobble-stones, and his father’s weathered hands.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

203. The closet Samaritan

Perched on the edge of the fountain, she was totally alone in a boisterous crowd. The day was cold and bleak. She existed in a cocoon. She did not smile. She did not speak. She looked but did not appear to see. What was going on inside her head?

The child was young, very young. The mother was not much older. Maybe she was waiting for her partner. Maybe she was waiting for her mother, or for a gaggle of sisters. But here she sat, in splendid isolation. She stared down at the bundle of clothing. Her hands did not move, her arms did not jiggle. Her body did not sway. Disconnected. Alone.

I wanted to go over and sit next to her and smile. I wanted to ask her name, the age of the child, if she was alright. Instead, I walked down the pathway to the bus stop.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

202. Lost and found

Lost within a world of her own, Grace desperatey wanted to overcome her discomfort in her own skin. She was a small delicate soul in a gauche awkward body. A perfect example of what you see is not always what you get – a disconnect between books and covers.

Grace had known Jassen since childhood. They had grown up on the same housing estate, attended the same school, played in the same orchestra. Jassen had hitched his star to the ‘cool’ group and travelled far from his family in his desire to be popular and connected. He was articulate, fashionable, and influential in a way that Grace found perplexing.

And yet, here they were, apparently an ‘item’. Grace was confused. Confused by her emotions. Confused by the disjuncture between her brain and her heart, her intelligence and her emotion, her dreams and cold, hard reality.

What did he see in her?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

201. To the fullest

Heather had never been one for letting the grass grow under her feet, and since she lost Bruce, she was more determined than ever to make the most of every day she had left. Not for her sitting alone in the front room. Not for her weeding, watering and repotting. She was absolutely determined to continue to travel the world meeting new and different people.

She thought of herself in those terms. She was a traveller, not simply a tourist. She was razzed by her son, Jonathan, who thought the distinction minimal and bordering on the elitist. However, Heather had a point. She was the sort of traveller who took a cargo ship for the return leg, no matter that an aeroplane would be more comfortable and far quicker. She did not require slick and expensive hotels to provide her creature comforts.

For Heather, it is all in the journey.

Monday, July 19, 2010

200. The ties that bind

It is the last weekend in June. Three guys meet at the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park. They spend the next two days talking, eating and drinking. They veer from The Rag & Famish in North Sydney, to the DoG in Randwick, to the Four-in-Hand in Paddington. They analyse the Five Nations rugby, Apple’s i-Pad, and the head-to-head between the Honda 2000 and the Audi TT Coupe. They are mates.

Eleven years ago they each completed an MBA at ‘New South’ having segued straight into that from a combined undergrad session of Economics and Law. Each had supported his own studies with long shifts at suburban hotels. You guessed it – the above mentioned salubrious establishments. After completing an MBA they secured high paying financial positions. Each married, and each had a daughter.

It may be a commonly accepted maxim that blood is thicker, but water can bind just as strongly.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

199. Moving forward together

Chloe and Brian had been together for just over nine years. Was it over nine years since that crazy midnight swim in the local river hole? Brian had been coping well for quite a while now, but it was all down to character. The ability to suck up misfortune, not to dwell, not to rage, not to blame. Suck up the hurt, the disappointment, the confusion. Move on. Preferably forward. No sense in repeating the past. Learn from it. Move forward.

Chloe came through the normal channel for seeing-eye-dogs. She had all the necessary characteristics, thousands had been poured into her training. They bonded quickly, helped by Brian’s positive attitude. Helped by his unwavering determination to get back on track. Not the track he bestrode prior to that fateful dive. But a track with a beginning, middle and end.

He valued her. She adored him. They were moving forward together.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

198. Scoundrels finding refuge

Is patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel? Samuel Johnson thought so. Was Kennedy being a scoundrel when he declaimed ‘My country right or wrong?’

As I travelled Australia recently , I had cause to reflect upon the increasing number of national flags flying in front yards. I am not referring here to green’n’gold swatches atop car antennae to encourage the Socceroos, but to the national flag, the one with the Union Jack in the corner.

What sort of person would fly this flag? I wouldn’t. But I am at a loss to understand the difference between the two types. Why wouldn’t I? I am moved to tears when I watch the ANZAC Day march. When I stood in the geographical centre of Australia, way out in the backblocks of the Northern Territory, tears streamed down my face.

But it would never occur to me to fly our national flag.

Friday, July 16, 2010

197. In a world of her own

The pavement is scruffy and littered with obstacles. Cassie navigates on auto-pilot as she hurries to accomplish her lunch-break tasks: pick up the book she ordered at the ABC Shop in QVB; and checkout the Priceline 30% off sale. She is oblivious to the more extreme forms of ugly that invade the city streets. Her feet are killing.

She has only a hundred metres of concrete to negotiate to her first point of call, but she knows she has to avoid the woeful guitarist outside the Comm Bank, swerve around the ‘Big’ seller on Woolies corner before he shoves a copy under her arm, then take the diagonal across to the statue of the old Queen, trying to avoid the two or three chalk pavement artists in the forecourt. All the time trying to ensure she is not flattened by any one of a half dozen crazy couriers on bicycles.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

196. No much sap left

Nora lent against the verandah post, shielding her eyes from the harsh glare of the midday sun as she scanned the distant horizon to the north-west. A bank of cloud bubbled over the Bareback Ranges but already her local knowledge divined they were, yet again, barren. She picked absently at a splinter of wood from the old hardwood upright, as her eyes lowered to what she laughingly called a ‘garden’.

The first concession she had made, twelve years ago now, were the annuals. In one fell swoop they were eliminated from the mix, quickly followed by any pretence at a lawn. She replaced these with natives, a mix of upright and prostrate. Using these as both a windbreak and a soil retainer, she set about ensuring that her ability to grow her own vegetables was not compromised.

Her ragged nails and dry, cracked hands were testament to her unceasing endeavour.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

195. Heart starter

Walking down Oxford Street in the morning peak, one is accompanied by coffee junkies. That essential heart-starter, that kick in the solar-plexus as only caffeine can. The craving wears off during the day, returning late in the evening, whilst sprawled on the sofa with a brittle dark chocolate, open at page 183 of the latest page-turner.

As I lay sprawled last evening, the book limp, I mulled over a line heard peripherally, one that resonates and insistently niggles at the consciousness and the conscience. ‘Corrosive aimlessness’ lodged in my brain as relevant to my life and the lives of others. The full quote was ‘without work comes corrosive aimlessness’. This, of course, is a plug-compatible expression, redolent of that Sussan advert ‘this goes with that’. One could substitute endlessly: without work comes penury; without god comes corrosive aimlessness; without love comes loneliness. To each his own rhapsody on the theme.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

194. Moving forward

Erica shook her head as the ideas tumbled around in her mind. One of the pleasures of horse riding for her was the gentle rocking of her head, add to that the clip-clop sound beneath her, and the pungent smell of horse sweat and she was in her element. Sometimes it made for a quiet ride, but she noticed that Linda did not seem to mind that. A companionable silence reigned over their time together.

Her brain had latched onto the expression ‘moving forward’ from the news last night. She smiled wryly as she wondered if she turned around and went in the opposite direction, would she still be moving forward. Daft concept, really, all she had done was turn around. No somersault, no back-flip, just a moving forward in a different direction.

She had ever done this. If one direction did not bring the required results, she changed direction.

Monday, July 12, 2010

193. Nose to the grindstone

At the end of her tether, Geri strode down from the station in the general direction of the financial hub of George and Bridge Streets. She was more than ready for a change of routine but, her reach being greater than her grasp, life would not accommodate even the smallest measure of change. She was addicted to that regular fortnightly ‘ching’ into her bank account.

Feeling the dead-weight of ‘consequences’ dragging along behind, she did a mental riffle through her usual mind-altering tricks. She had no holidays in the pipe-line. Her relationship with Iain was on its last legs. Her share-apartment was going along smoothly, but mainly because both she Jenny were like ships in the night. Not much there to lighten the mood.

So, back to the old staple: winning Oz-Lotto and divvying up the spoils. That will take her mind off stark reality for a block or two.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

192. Sun blind

The sun radiating through the tight fall of ringlets mesmerised him. He could hear her voice, like off in a vacuum. He knew he would be in strife when she twigged to his inattention, but he could not help himself. His line of sight wavered, his iris glazed over and he was off in a world of his own imagining.

The mind’s eye is a prescient device. He caught again the ray of light glinting through as she flicked an errant strand of hair catching on the gleam of perspiration cresting her right deltoid. He was conscious of the quiver in his right index finger, wanting to reach out and sweep up the slowly spreading sweat. Both nostrils flared as the memory of that body odour seared into his frontal lobes, that sharp, sudden smell of musk.

He shifted his backside in discomfort, a low moan escaping his lips.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

191. Physicality

Each weekend during the winter, their ageing bodies get belted across fields in pursuit of physical pleasure, chasing the adrenalin charge, not of winning, but of contesting. ‘Ageing bodies’ is relative as these are the lithe fully fit bodies of men in their thirties. Even they have long left youth in their wake. This rush of physicality with be paid for on the morrow, with bruised shins, torn muscles, and a myriad other aches and pains.

Rob and Kiao-wei have been competitors on the playing field since early primary school, when Kiao-wei was a scrawny Vietnamese kid straight off the boats, with no English, no schooling and very few prospects. He did, however, have an innate skill on the field of being able to judge angles, and a blistering turn of speed. In his new country, that was all that was required for his instant acceptance. The rest would follow.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

188. Over the edge

Frank sympathised with the Spaniards of the middle-ages. From where he stood it did look as though you would just topple off. Whoosh. One moment you’re scooting along, the wind filling your main-sail, the salt crystallizing on your weather beaten face, and the next moment you are toppling. toppling over the edge, into the abyss. Floating in the black hole of emptiness for eternity.

A beach fisherman needs his feet planted firmly in the sand.

Frank had seen documentaries on those mad buggers who climb Everest. Inch by mind-altering inch. Hands blue with cold, yet red with blood seeping through cracked skin. Then, whoosh. They did not even know the crevasse was there. Base over apex they tumble, down into darkness, into the centre of the earth. Evaporated by molten lava.

Frank feels a tug on his line. Whoosh, his senses return, return to the here, to the now.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

182. The neighbourhood fashion plate

Wal had long considered his sartorial splendour his own business. Growing up the youngest in a staunch Catholic family with five sisters, he soon learnt that he differed slightly from them and that the only way to get peace was to listen then ignore, which he did with aplomb.

Exhorted from the pulpit as a teenager to give to the community, Wal volunteered at Vinnies in Charring Cross and spent Saturday afternoons for two years sorting clothing out of cardboard boxes and jiggling them onto misshapen hangers. He quickly realised the treasure-trove that came through each store, and vowed never to shop elsewhere for clothing. Having eventually succumbed to bunions, he sensibly bought his shoes at that bushmen’s outfitter.

Once his girth expanded in middle age, he took to braces, a choice reinforced by the near universal and hysterical condemnation of his siblings. Stirring the pot had always delighted him.