Beginning in March 2014 I participated in a flash fiction challenge hosted by Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch Communications. Although each of my pieces is published as an individual post, as requested by Charli, I decided to put them all together on one page for ease of location. These are my responses to the challenges Charli set/s. I will add each new piece as it is published during the challenge. I hope you enjoy them. I welcome any feedback.
The trickle began; imperceptible, unheeded and ignored.
Needing more attention, the volume swelled and quickened pace. S
till no attention was forthcoming so the surge became more urgent and incessant in its plea.
“Slow down! Stop me!” To no avail.
The avalanche engulfed her.
Heat flashed through her body, from feet straight to her head.
Heart pounding loudly, “Let me out of here!” it pled.
With reverberations magnified in each and every cell, the heady swirl became too much – she trembling, choked.
B-r-e-a-t-h-e . . .
The panic abates.
She could hear them. They didn’t think she could. She couldn’t talk. Why should she hear?
Caressing soft leather covers, fingering embossed lettering, she smelt the welcome of well-read pages and familiar characters.
In her mind.
While they annihilated shelves of prized possessions.
“No value here.”
Stripped of speech and movement, her twisted body dumped in her “favourite chair” for “minding” while they pillaged her collection: a lifetime in the making; seconds to destroy.
Her eyes flickered. She knew those words by heart. She had written them – Her last refuge.
and that’s gone too!
Arms flailing like a helicopter, eyes wide like headlights on full beam, her screeches rent the quietude.
They came running. “What’s wrong?”
“Get it off! Get if off me!” she shrieked.
“What? Where?” they asked.
“In my hair! A spider!”
“Stay still.” They looked. “Nothing. No spider,” they said.
“Are you sure?” she implored. “Something ran across my cheek.”
“Maybe this?” He chuckled, untangling a wizened leaf.
In agreement, another leaf fluttered down.
They raised their eyebrows, smirking conspiratorially.
She stormed away, tumbling over chairs and cushions, leaving them speechless with mirth in her wake.
Her crumpled body pressed tightly into the corner; she willed herself a part of it. He was coming to get her. His tendril-like fingers scratched the window pane, prised up the screen, tore down the blind, demanded entry. With her eyes clamped shut, the images took charge: too terrifying to forget, too horrible to remember. He’d never let her be. His powerful hands pummelled the door, jangled the handle, wrenched it free. Hands blocking her ears failed to exclude the menacing howl. “There’s no escape.” Her screams found voice. “Hush,” they soothed the quivering mass. “It’s just the wind.”
Vagaries of Time
She rubbed the grimy pane, squinting to peer inside. It was all boarded up now with chairs stacked haphazardly on tabletops and piled in corners decorated with cobwebs. On one side stood the jukebox covered in dust. Suddenly she was back in his arms, their bodies pressed tightly together, swaying to Mick singing “time is my side”. They thought they would be young and in love like this forever.
“Hmmhmm! You okay, Miss?”
“Yes,” she stammered, embarrassed. She stumbled down the steps, smiling as the words in her head became Van’s “precious time is slipping away…”
These white flowers in the pot at my door remind me of you. I bought them for you, to remind you of home, when you moved, with reluctant acceptance. Peace lilies. Your beautiful peace lily flourished in the warmth of the sunny spot beside your favourite chair; the favourite chair that you took with you to your new home; that transported you to Heaven. You were ready. Now they reside with me, in the pot made by his hands; a fitting spot. You will rest with him in his plot, together again, now at peace, forever. Love you Mum
She hurled it with such force that had it been his head, as she had wished it was, it too would have smashed into smithereens, just as the figurine had.
“You ab-so-lute monster!” she screamed.
She fell to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.
All her life she had thought it was her; something wrong with her; she that was wanting.
But it wasn’t her. It was him. His wanting. His vile taking.
The repulsive visions made her want to turn inside out and eradicate any trace of connection.
Her ignorance had offered no protection; and now no solace.
Her motivation and inspiration was as parched as the cracked red soil beneath her feet. The days were hot and lazy: nothing to do until the rains came. One long languid day followed another. With no work to be done on the land, time did not pressure creativity. Without pressure, there was no rush, no will. The bright blueness of the skies, usually joyous, now oppressive. An occasional cloud or flash on the horizon made empty promises. Finally the winds whipped the clouds into a frenzy, reigniting her creativity as the relentless soaking rains awakened the dormant earth.
I don’t want to.
I don’t feel like it.
You can’t make me.
It’s not fair.
Leave me alone.
I don’t want to.
Alright. I’ll sit over there,
But I won’t do it.
You can’t make me.
I won’t even look.
It’s not even fun.
They can do it.
I don’t care;
Don’t know why they dragged me here anyway.
Told them I wasn’t going to do it.
Haha. What happened?
That looks like fun.
Hey! Let me do it.
It’s my turn.
Boy, this is fun!
She willed the doors shut forever, knowing that open they must, or she’d be left behind.
She mentally checked and re-checked required items. Surely there was something she had missed?
Dread gripped her ankles, threatening her balance.
Fear squeezed her chest, constricting her breath.
Heights and enclosed spaces were not her thing.
She straightened, attempting to hide the tremble from fellow travellers.
“Don’t be crowded. I need space, air to breathe.”
The doors opened. She was swept inside.
They closed, encasing her. No escape now.
Would she make the distance, mind intact?
Floor 35. Here already.
No books, no talk were in the home.
He was happy to play on his own.
School began when he was five.
Learning from flash cards, how hard he tried.
“My boy can’t do it!” his Mum once wailed.
With ‘forged’ test scores no child would fail.
Leaving school, the options were few.
Teaching was the one he could do.
Uni years flashed by so fast.
Number requirements meant he passed.
Then into the classroom he unprepared went.
No future joy for any student.
What bad luck!
The waters raged around her, pummeling her against the rocks, tossing her every which way, pushing her under and holding her there until she thought she must drown. She clawed at the rocks and grasped at the reeds, gasping for breath. The bank beckoned invitingly. The torrent sucked her back, playing ‘now you see her, now you don’t’ before swirling her back to bump inelegantly over the rocky shallows, dumping her battered body on the edge. She gulped the air begging respite and revival. Her choice: the safety of the sideline bank or back to navigate a journey through.
“What do you seek?”
“Knowledge of the future.”
“That knowledge comes at a price.”
“I’m willing to pay.”
The eyes as deep as the ocean and dark as coal lifted from the shiny globe, contemplating the petitioner.
The globe’s soft glow in the dimness cast eerie shadows across the youthful face accentuating his desperate need.
One eyebrow raised, questioning. “It involves . . . a sacrifice?”
“I have more money than I could spend in a thousand lifetimes. Just tell me the price.”
The dark eyes flashed.
He saw it all in a moment, and was gone.
She sat on the bed and looked around. Funny how some things don’t change.
They had left it untouched for all those years since her escape, waiting for her return. But she never did. Never could. Until now.
“You should,” she was told. “Make peace.” “Let it go.”
It didn’t look so scary now. They were both gone. She was grown.
Sunlight glinted on the unicorn. It had faded but waited still, on the night-table, for their nocturnal escapades away from cruel reality.
She fingered it for a moment, remembering. Then dumped it in the wastebasket.
“Sell!” she said.
‘Miss. Marnie has a toy in her bag.’
‘Uh-uh,’ I responded.
‘You’re not allowed to have toys at school,’ he insisted.
Trust him! Always dobbing.
‘Miss,’ he persisted, tugging my sleeve.
‘What is it?’ I sighed, dragging myself out of the confusion of marks and percentages that now seemed more important to telling a child’s story than their own words and actions.
I looked at the little fellow pleading for my attention. They were all so needy; so demanding; but time . . .
‘It’s a unicorn, Miss.’
‘Unicorn! Let’s see!’ I was back. A child in need!
Timid. Needed help getting things out of bag to put in drawer. Sat towards back of group. Drew knees up under chin. Hunched over. Sucked thumb. Twisted long tangled hair under nose. Rocked.
Responded in roll call! Sat with ‘friend’. Legs crossed. Back straight. Smiled – briefly. Someone looked! Screamed, “Stop looking at me!” Dissolved in tears. Again. Retreated under desk. Again.
Initiated conversation!! Hair combed!! Nose not running!! Brought toy for show and tell. Responded with one- or two-word answers. Small, dirty, pink unicorn. B laughed. Erupted, but went to desk, not under!
Her freckled, calloused hands were red and chaffed as they gripped the wooden stick and stirred Monday’s sheets in the large copper pot heating over burning blocks of wood.
The children played in the dirt nearby, scratching like chickens, hopeful of an interesting find.
The dirt embedded under her torn and splitting fingernails began to ease away in the warm sudsy water as she heaved the sodden sheets and plopped them onto the wooden mangles.
The children fought to turn the handle, smearing dirty handprints on the sheets.
She sighed, and hung them over the line. One chore done.
“I’m off now,” she said.
“Have you got everything?” asked Mum.
“Are you sure you haven’t forgotten anything?”
Mum looked around. There must be something she’d missed.
“What about . . .?”
“No, Mum. I’ve got everything.”
“Okay. If you’re sure.”
She walked through the door and down the stairs.
Mum watched, anxious. What could she have forgotten?
She turned, puzzled.
Mum leapt down the stairs.
Mum hugged her tightly, whispering softly, “I love you very, very much. Always have and always will.”
“I know. Love you too Mum.”
It started way up
In the highest of hills
So crystal-clear pure
With a life to fulfill
It babbled through forests
And danced in the streams
Marveling at wonders
Before never seen
It passed through the valleys
Irrigated the farms
Taking the runoff
And doing no harm
Down past the villages
Watered them too
Acquiring their discards
Now murky like stew
Passing by factories
Spewing out waste
Picked up their burden
And left without haste
Weaving its brown trail
Way down to the sea
From its mouth vomited out
A poisonous mix
Deceiving all living things
Expecting a gift
A fruitful harvest
Little Tree stood alone at the edge of the orchard thinking, “What’s wrong with me?”
The other trees grew tall. Their branches, laden with bright green leaves and sweet-scented blossoms, seemed to whisper mockingly.
The sun shone. Rains watered the soil.
Their blossoms turned to fruit, a plentiful harvest.
Confused and dejected, Little Tree avoided the celebratory festival.
Then all grew quiet. The bigger trees rested, preparing for the next season.
Suddenly an insect orchestra and an unfamiliar fragrance startled Little Tree.
“What’s up?” it asked.
“You!” they buzzed relishing the richness of its golden blooms.
She willed the earth to open up and swallow her whole. But it didn’t. She just stood there trembling, attempting to hold back the deluge that threatened to engulf her.
She strained to remember, knocking her head with her fist. Quick. Try. Try. What’s the rule: i? e?
She stammered an answer. Wrong again! Too many rules! Stupid rules! Broken – just like her.
She fled, eyes stinging, mouth twitching; and as she passed, with one hand grasped the confiscated unicorn sitting askew the teacher’s desk.
Away they flew, the assault of mocking laughter fading far below.
More than numbers
The more he stared at the numbers the less sense they made.
They swirled and blurred. He just didn’t get it.
“Numbers don’t lie,” they’d admonished.
“But they don’t tell either,” he’d thought.
The hollowness left when all he knew had been extracted could not be filled with the smorgasbord of numbers loaded on the page.
The richness of lives reduced to mere squiggles.
“This is what’s important,” they’d said, fingers drumming tables of data.
With heaviness of heart he closed the book and walked away.
“They are not even numbers,” he thought. “If they were numbers, they’d count!”
More than words
“More!” they implored.
She surveyed their eager faces then glanced at the clock.
“Just one more?”
“Okay. Just one more.”
Before she could choose, a book landed in her lap.
“This one,” he said.
“Yes,” they chorused. “It’s a good one!”
She smiled agreement, then started to read.
They joined in, remembering, anticipating.
She turned the page.
“Wait!” he said. “Go back.”
“Did you see that?” He pointed to the page.
“But look what he’s doing,” someone else chimed in.
They all laughed.
The shared joy of a beloved book. Each time the same. Each time a little more.
The final school bell tolled and the students erupted from the building like a burst box of chocolate balls, scattering in every direction and at varying speeds. Some stuck together along pathways safe and sure. Others crashed and bumped over roads less traveled seeking excitement, new discoveries and secrets to explore. Others stopped abruptly, their journeys foiled by stubborn obstacles. Still others, rolling upwards, failed to maintain the momentum to carry them over and beyond with those more adventurous others.
Who would know?
Inside the box, they were identical, centers hidden. Outside, their uniqueness was on show.
Awakened suddenly, I didn’t dare breathe. The sound was unrecognizable: guttural, movie theatre loud in surround sound. I sat up. The sound continued. I wasn’t dreaming. I nudged Bob. No response. Gripped with fear but needing to know, I tiptoed to the window and peeked through the curtain slit. I expected to see The Creature from the Black Lagoon. There was nothing. Now it came from the front, inside the house? My son! I tore down the hall. He slept peacefully! Back to the bedroom. Bob awoke. “Did you hear that?” he asked, wide eyes staring . . .
The boat tossed mercilessly. I battled to contain my insides while all around were losing theirs into little paper bags offered unceremoniously to obliging staff.
Finally, just before landfall, I joined in. Then it was over – for me. Bob’s queasiness laid him up for the night; but I went to tea.
The path back to the cabin was unlit but for a splash of moonlight. Suddenly horrific wailing assaulted my ears. Was Bob being murdered? I hurried back. He was fine, but the eerie sound unsettled us far into the night.
In the morning we laughed: mutton birds nesting!
His eyes widened, flitting across the table, scanning the feast, a smorgasbord of sensory delights. His mouth moistened and tummy growled.
Where to start? A bit of this. A little of that. A whole lot of that! Mmmm!
He rubbed his belly and licked his lips.
Suddenly he was marched away and slammed onto a hard wooden bench. A bowl of colourless pap was flung at him. “Eat this!”
The overfilled spoon was shoved between tightened teeth.
“It’s good for you!”
Over time he learned. “Not so bad,” he thought.
A collective gasp interrupted the music mid-beat.
All eyes turned synchronously, as if worked by unseen strings, towards the French doors, burst open and revealing a silhouetted figure framed by billowing gossamer-like curtains.
Out of the darkness the figure emerged: clothed in black with coat tails flapping, a top hat in one hand and a white-tipped cane held aloft in the other.
The conductor revived the orchestra as the figure glided across the floor, seized the heroine decisively and whirled her around and around.
The spell now broken, the cast joined in the dance to tumultuous applause.
A lawyer, a doctor and a journalist walked into a bar, ‘Class of ’99’ emblazoned on their backs.
Talk flowed freely.
When someone mentioned old ‘four-eyes’ Proffet, laughter erupted.
“Thought he was a prophet,” they chorused.
“Mark my stars,” the lawyer mimicked, wagging his finger. “You need to learn to be less argumentative.”
The doctor peered over her glasses and giggled, “And you miss, will never amount to anything!”
“Remember Prophet’s favourite, ‘most likely to succeed’?” said the journalist. “Saw Daniel last week, handing out horrorscopes, on corner of Main and Black. Hardly recognised him. Poor sod.”
She spluttered out the splinters of pencil: no longer tasty, never helpful. The assessor’s steely eyes pounced. She wiped the last vestiges from her mouth; staring blankly, as blank as the paper in front of her.
Outside the sunlight danced like fairies on the leaves, beckoning. Below, in the shade, the unicorn pranced and called her name.
“Why do I have to do this stuff? Who cares anyway!”
She grasped the broken pencil and scored a large “F” on the page.
Then she closed her eyes and was away, riding to freedom and joy on the unicorn’s back.
Are you a video bomber?
Ever tried making a video but
the subject won’t cooperate,
or turns its back to you,
or perhaps it even disappears Poof! It’s out of view.
You shoot upside down or to the side,
the focus you can’t get right.
You shoot with the camera supposedly off,
then close-up your fingers when on.
You record to capture a photo,
or snap when it’s action you want.
If your answer is ‘Yes” to just one of these
come join the vid-bombers club.
And then celebrate
When your video capture’s “the bomb”!
“Miss. Marnie’s locked herself in the toilet and won’t come out.”
“What now?” I thought, scanning the troubled face pleading for assistance as much as to be absolved of blame.
“Okay,” I reassured Jasmine. “Let’s go see what’s up.”
As we hurried to the toilet block Jasmine reiterated her innocence, she hadn’t done anything, she didn’t know what was wrong (it wasn’t her fault).
“I know,” I smiled. The toilet cubicles had frequently been Marnie’s sanctuary. But not for weeks. Jasmine’s kind-hearted friendship had seen to that.
“She’s got her unicorn again,” Jasmine whispered.
“Oh,” I said.
People crammed in, around and in front of the small sidewalk cafe, reminding her of the fairy-tale pageant that had bypassed her radar. She couldn’t move now. Her coffee fix, too hot to sip, had just been served. So, as always, she retreated within.
Cocooned in thoughts flittering across years and experiences, she barely noticed the cacophony of the crowd or passing parade.
The sudden shout of “Unicorn!” penetrated, startling her.
She was six again, cowering with her unicorn, avoiding mocking stares.
But this time pitying and unbelieving stares watched the spreading stain of scalding coffee.
Marnie jerked backwards avoiding the predictable grope. In so doing she collided with her mother, sending her sprawling onto the tattered sofa.
“Aargh!” her mother screamed. “Look what you’ve done!”
Marnie watched the liquid from the upturned glass merge with the patchwork of stains collected in the carpet. If it was her blood it would not have mattered more.
“I … I’m sorry,” she stammered. But her sorry was for all the years it had been like this.
He smirked, raising his hand to strike, “No presents for you this year!”
“That’s right!” She ducked. “No presence!”
With faces as bright as their Christmas wear, the children bubbled into the room, each carrying gifts for the Kindness tree, “for those less fortunate”.
Parents fussed, removing smudges and replacing wayward hair before blowing kisses and hurrying off for the parade.
And there was Marnie: no parent, no Christmas dress, no gift, no smoothed-down hair; no smile.
One last chance.
“Marnie!” I beckoned, and held out my Christmas cape and crown. “Will you be my special helper?”
Our eyes locked communicating more than any words. Her smile was my reward.
“I’m proud of you,” I whispered.
9. Write what you know about acute angles.
She looked around the room for inspiration but all the helpful charts had been packed away for next year. All that remained were lists of holiday and Christmas words.
Suddenly she spotted the word beside an angel resplendent in white and gold.
She shrugged. Angels in a maths test? It didn’t make sense. But then not much did. Anyway she could answer this one.
She wrote, ‘I wish I had a cute angel for our Christmas tree but mum says no!’
She didn’t get it. She never did.
She examined the new arrival, assessing the possible effects of integration into the existing collective. Would the group be enhanced or would this newcomer disrupt the established harmony?
From every angle the edges were rough and uneven. The years of obvious neglect obscured the potential from any but a trained eye.
Fortunately her eyes were keen. A bit of encouragement here, a little adjustment there, an opportunity to sparkle and display unique and positive attributes.
She smiled. Experience had shown what could be achieved with a little polish and care.
“Welcome to our class, Marnie,” she said.
The power of “No”
It was grey.
For as long as anyone could remember.
They moved about, comfortable in the familiar, avoiding the unknown.
Shadowy shapes beyond incited fear: a threat to all they knew?
Lives lacked definition, blending to sameness, conforming to rules.
“But why?” The tiny voice shattered the stillness.
All eyes turned. Bodies stiffened.
Whose was this unruly child?
“Shhh!” the hapless parents failed to hide their offensive produce.
“Why?” Again! No one moved.
“Because!” was the parents’ definitive reply.
They breathed. “Because!” they confirmed in unison.
Defiantly the child pressed the dust-covered switch and flooded the world with light.
She collapsed, exhausted. Stairs led up and stairs led down; some steep, some wide, some narrow, most dark. Her head spun and vision blurred. Which way now? Which way had she come? Had she been going up and down these stairs forever? Going around in circles? They all now looked the same. She didn’t even know if she’d been in this place before.
“I’m trapped,” she thought. “Stuck here forever.”
She closed her eyes, surrendering to despair.
Outside birds heralded the rising sun. She was lost, oblivious of its promise.
If only she had recognised the door.
“It’s positive,” he said.
She smiled. She knew. She only needed official confirmation.
He wanted dates. She supplied.
But she knew the very moment an unexpected but welcome spark enlivened her being with its playful announcement, “Surprise! I’m here!”
She’d carried the secret joy within her for weeks, never letting on, keeping it to herself, waiting. No one would have believed her without proof. But with her whole being she knew.
Finally, after nine inseparable months, she held the child, distinct and individual. She marvelled at the tiny creation whose existence breathed purpose and meaning into hers.
“The end” he chiselled, exhausted but satisfied. Reaching the final tablet atop the precarious stack he stumbled, taking them into the quarried chasm whence they had come.
With a flourish as feeble as his sight and worn-out quill he scratched “The end”. Placing the final parchment he bumped the oil-fuelled lamp, and succumbed to the flames with his lifelong work.
Draft. Save. Edit. Save. Rewrite. Save. Not yet. Stash . . .
Reread. Hmm. Rewrite. Save. Edit. Save. Done! Crash. Gone!
They wafted somewhere in the cloud . . .
One moment deep asleep. Next, upright; breath still; ears intent; staining to hear above her pounding heart.
Nothing. Just the familiar: fan whirring, palm frond swishing against the house.
Must investigate: bravely, fearfully.
With limbs trembling, palms sweating and mouth dry, she eases her legs out of the bed, puts her feet on the floor, pushes herself up and pads to the window.
Peeking out she scans the yard, illuminated by the full moon.
Nothing. A dream?
She pads back to bed. 2am.
“Ooh! Only three hours!” She closes her eyes, wishing hopelessly for sleep until morning’s liberation.
The pulsing train wheels pounded in my head.
Way off in the distance voices called instructions to each other.
“What day is it?” I said.
The voices were closer now. “She’s in here.”
“Can you walk? Come with us,” they said.
They led me to a vehicle and bade me lie down inside.
Then came the questions:
What’s your name? When were you born? What day is it? Why are you here? Who are you with?
Slowly, as if from the deepest recesses, I drew each recalcitrant answer, recreating identity.
“You’re okay. You bumped your head,” they said.
“Don’t ‘Aw Mum’ me. She’s your dad’s only sister . . .”
“But Mum …” I could already smell her stale cigarette breath and feel the stickiness of her too-red lipstick that wouldn’t rub off.
“It won’t hurt you. She’s not staying long.”
“Why can’t Jason?”
“Because Jason’s going to work,” she said.
“Yeah, Squirt,” grinned Jason, throwing his backpack over his shoulder.
“Smoochie Coochie,” he mocked, squeezing my cheeks into a pucker while making loud lip-smacking sounds. His laughter followed him down the street.
Suddenly she was there with her sharp green pistachio grin.
In the ‘smart’ outfit carefully selected by the charity shop attendant, Marnie was surprised how well the confident exterior masked the whirlpool of fear, anxiety and insecurity.
Without looking up, the receptionist handed Marnie a number and waved her to the waiting area.
“9”. Her heart sank. “That many?”
Avoiding contact and ‘contamination’, she squeezed into the only available space: between a boy slouching awkwardly and a girl picking her fingernails.
The girl started crying. Marnie stiffened, but glanced sideways. The girl cried into her sleeve.
Marnie breathed, proffered her unopened purse packet of ‘just-in-case’ tissues, and smiled, “Here.”
She stood at the door for one final glance. Not much had changed, but it felt, oh, so different. They were gone. Gone!
Almost twenty years had passed since she’d stood in this spot; since she’d fled their cruel ways. Twenty years of dodging shadows, double-locking doors, and fearing the phone’s ring.
But no more. They were gone. Gone! And for more than five years! Five years to track her down! All that remained was the house. She’d sell of course.
With the door closed behind her she almost skipped down the stairs, her heart singing, “I feel good!”
Marnie paused on the bridge and gazed into river.
“My life began here,” she thought.
. . .
More than twenty years before she’d stood there, begging for release from torments she could no longer endure; when a gentle voice beside her said, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” and stood there with her in silence a while before asking, “Care to walk a little?”
. . .
Marnie flicked the agent’s card into the water and watched momentarily as it carried away the last remnants of that other existence.
“I wonder if Miss still lives there,” she smiled. “Must say hello.”
Marnie paused at the gate. The house looked the same: roses by the steps, bell by the door, windows open and curtains tied back; just as she remembered.
She shuddered as the memory of her last visit flashed momentarily: she was running, almost blinded by tears, stumbling with fear, up the steps, to the open door and open heart. She rubbed the turquoise pendant Miss had given her then, for “protection and peace”. She had worn it always.
Now, Marnie walked the path with an unfamiliar lightness. It was over. Really over!
She knocked at the door.
Jasmine and Georgie rushed towards the cluster of children who were laughing hysterically at something unseen. They expected to see an entertainer performing magic tricks. Instead they saw Marnie, face down in a puddle, reaching for her unicorn; sobbing.
“Good one, Brucie!” Two boys high-5ed. Another called, “Way to go!”
The children stood transfixed by the spectacle. Jasmine pushed through. She picked up the muddied unicorn, stretched out a hand to help Marnie up, then put an arm around her waist,
As she led Marnie away Jasmine glared at the group of disbelieving faces.
“Shame on you,” she mouthed.
The children suddenly appeared: one bedraggled and muddied, the other exuding authority.
“Brucie tripped her. On purpose!” declared Jasmine.
“Come on, Marnie. Let’s get you cleaned up,” said Mrs Tomkins. ”Then we’ll see about Brucie. Is your mum home today?”
Marnie looked down and shook her head.
“Will I help you with that jumper?”
“A jumper? It’s too warm . . .” Her thoughts raced.
Marnie turned away. As she pulled up her jumper, her shirt lifted revealing large discolorations on her back.
Over the years Mrs Tomkins had seen too many Marnies; too many Brucies; never enough Jasmines.
She paused her dusting, as often she did, scanning the fading faces. Her gaze lingered, as always, on one. She gave it an extra rub as if to wipe away a tear, erase the pain.
She lifted the postcard wedged into the frame to read the words she knew so well but wished had more to tell: “Thank you, Miss. Remember me.”
“Where are you? How are you doing?” she’d never stopped wondering, hoping.
She fingered the smoothness of the turquoise stone, its partner given long ago . . .
A quiet knock on the door interrupted her thoughts.
She walked between the desks admiring their work. From the same small palette of primary colours, and a little black and white for shades and tones, what they produced was as individual as they: J’s fierce green dinosaur and exploding volcanoes; T’s bright blue sea with sailing boat and smiling yellow sun; B’s football match . . . At least in this they had some small opportunity for self-expression. She paused at M’s. M had mixed all the colours into one muddy brown and was using hands to smear palette, paper, desk and self . . .
She almost danced along the verandah. What would it be: medal, certificate, special recommendation?
The door was open but she knocked anyway.
“Come in.” The command was cold. A finger jabbed towards a spot centre-floor.
Confused, her eyes sought the kindness of the steel blue pair, but found a vice-like stare.
“In one week you have led the team on a rampage:
Leaving taps running
Graffiting the lunch area . . .
We thought you were responsible. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“But sir,” she stammered, “You made me vice-captain!”
“Gone is the gloom!”
Mother duck waits
For her babies to hatch.
Here they come now
The first of the batch
So cute and cuddly
All covered in fluff
Eager and ready
To show off their stuff
“Patience!“ quacks mother
“There’s no need to rush.”
“One more is coming.
Stand back. Please don’t crush.”
With one final crack
Last one’s out of his shell
“I’m proud of you babies.
You’ve all done so well.”
Mother duck smiles
As they waddle in line
She knows that each duckling’s
Own time will be fine.
She glanced at the child, usually so eager to please, and knew this was no ordinary day.
Downcast and avoiding eye contact, the child trembled. Her instinct was to reach out with comfort to soothe the hurt; but stopped. Any touch could end her career. What to say? Brown earth/brown rocks? would ignore and trivialise the pain. Any talk now would be insensitive with other ears listening. Any word could unravel the relationship built up over time. Nothing would harm more than doing nothing. Her steps moved her body away but her heart and mind stayed; feeling, thinking.
The officers looked friendly enough but still she tried to hide the tremble in her soul and tremor in her voice behind the blankness of her stare.
She’d opened the door just a crack, as far as the chain would allow.
“Marnie Dobson?” they asked. She shook her head. She’d not . . . ; not since . . . ; no longer. She shook again.
They asked her to step outside. With no other option she reluctantly unlocked and emerged into the glare of daylight.
“Marnie Dobson,” one said, “We are here to inform you . . .”
Marnie’s face pressed into the bars of the tall white gate with amazement: white-covered tables laden with food; chairs with white bows; white streamers and balloons; and a band!
But the ladies had her spellbound with elegant dresses and high, high heels; flowers in their hair and bright painted lips.
A man in uniform opened the gate to guests arriving in limousines. Marnie followed.
“Not you, Miss,” said the uniformed man.
Marnie held out her invitation, “Jasmine . . .”
But he’d closed the gate and turned away.
Marnie looked down at her stained dress. What was she thinking?
Marnie observed the roses Miss R. had arranged for class, carefully assessing the colours and studying the lines while sketching them on the canvas, striving to match their perfection. Oblivious to all but Miss R. and the roses, for one hour nothing else mattered.
As other students streamed out Marnie hung back to chat with Miss R.
Miss R. handed her a rose from the vase saying, “You are that rose. You may be surrounded by thorns, but the beauty of the rose is inside you. Remember that always. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Your wide-open eyes fix on me through bars, imploring and accusing at the same time.
Why am I here? Don’t leave me! I don’t – want – to be here! I want – to go – home!
My heart tightens in a vice-like squeeze. My palms sweat and hands tremble.
I meet your stare with overwhelming hopelessness and helplessness.
I didn’t know . . . I thought . . . I never meant . . . I thought it would help.
They close the door, turn the key and lead you away.
“Damn those rules!” I scream silently, futilely planning your rescue.
We sat in the circle chanting,
“I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it.”
“It” skipped around the outside, waving a handkerchief.
“One of you has picked it up and put it in your pocket.
Not you. Not you. Not y-o-u!”
Suddenly “It” was running and children were scrabbling behind them.
“Run,” they called.
Then “It” was beside me.
“Plum pudding!” they all screamed hysterically.
The adult pointed to the centre of the circle. “We’ll have you for dessert,” he grinned.
I cried, wondering what it would be like to be eaten alive!
Her spade crunched against the obstinate soil. Then tap, tap, tap, another thin layer loosened. She scooped up the soil and tossed it onto the pile growing steadily beside the excavation site. With expectant eyes and gentle fingertips she scanned each new surface. Then again: tap, tap, tap — toss; tap, tap, tap —toss!
She pushed back her hat to wipe her sweaty brow, leaving a smudge of dirt as evidence. She glanced skyward. The sun was high. She’d been digging for hours. She must find something soon. What would it be? Pirate’s treasure or dinosaur bones . . .?
I heard the scurry of footsteps. Then he was in the doorway; eyes ablaze, breathless.
“Come … quick … Miss,” he said, punctuating each word with puffs and pants.
Before I had moved, there were others behind him, imploring me to come.
With quickened pace I followed, hoping that I, that all, would be in time.
Others were there already, clustered around. I peered over their heads, expectantly, holding my breath in a vain attempt to make time stand still.
“Ahh!” we breathed in unison and awe as we watched the butterfly emerge from its now transparent shell.
They slumped around the table, eyes transfixed on hands clasping coffee cups, bemoaning their lot, each desperate to outdo the other in frustration and despair.
“They just don’t get it.”
“I’ve tried everything.”
“They don’t listen —”
“They’re so rude —“
“In my day we wouldn’t dream —“
They welcomed the kiss of sun upon their cheeks, the freshness of air to their lungs; and breathed as one in wonder.
They found cloud-painted sky pictures, brightly coloured beetles in green grass stalks, claw-made scratches in the rough tree bark; and brimmed with wonder.
and dared to dream …
She scrolled through the headlines, searching …
Minister passes over bridge in favour of tunnel
Minister fails to dig himself out of tunnel fiasco
Minister reveals hand on bridge impasse
Minister’s tunnel vision blocks bridge improvement
Minister jumps from bridge over tunnel plans
Talks with Minister over bridge collapse
Bridge closure forces Minister’s hand
She was sure she had heard something … it must be here … why couldn’t she see it?
Scrolling … scrolling …
“Finally,” she sighed.
Bridge players wanted, Tunnel Street Community Hall, Wednesdays 10 am!
Like a deer in the headlights she was immobile. She’d dreaded this moment. Although she’d tried to fade into the background, she knew she couldn’t hide forever. The room suddenly fell silent, all eyes on her. Would she fail?
“Marnie?” prompted the teacher.
Her chair scraped as she stood. She grasped the table with trembling hands attempting to still her wobbly legs. They waited.
Marnie squeaked. Some looked down, or away. Some sniggered. Jasmine smiled encouragingly. Marnie cleared her throat, then blurted the answer.
“That’s right!” congratulated the teacher.
The class erupted. Marnie smiled. Their efforts had paid off.
Marnie propped her head on one hand while the pencil in the other faintly scratched the paper. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she didn’t get it. But she didn’t get it. She didn’t get last year, or the year before. Why should she get it now? What was the point? Her brain just didn’t work that way. She was dumb. They had always said she was dumb. No point in trying.
Then the teacher was there, encouraging, supporting, accepting. “Let me help you,” she said. “You can do this. Let’s break it down into steps. First …”
Before she left she was drawn back for one last look at her hiding place. There, between the garden and the wall, her tears would fall as she dreamt of better things and planned her escape.
The veggie garden was hardly recognisable, camouflaged with weeds. But wait! A flower? She stooped to look. An onion flower?
“Ha!” she thought, recalling the times she had pulled up and bitten into an onion to explain her tears should anybody ask, though they never did. Even untended a flower could bloom, as she too had blossomed despite the harshness of those days.
The adults dotted the perimeter, holding tight to their own; bound by the security of sameness reflected in their own eyes, excluded by fear felt for differences perceived in others: different dress and hair, unintelligible words and unfamiliar scents.
In the centre the children romped together, united in the secret language of smiles and laughter, funny looks and gentle patting hands; no words needed.
The children smiled, waving promises of future plays, as one by one the adults called them home, delighting in their children’s easy ways, wishing for their own nonprejudicial days. A nod. A smile. A beginning.