Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Teadrop

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014

‘So,’ thought Wu Ze Xi, ‘this is it.’ She had just sat down to the beginning of her senior high school final exams, on a very warm summer’s morning. The exam was English poetry. She had organised her exam space, and tested her three blue pens on the card with her candidate number indicating her allocated desk. Wu Ze was seventeen years of age and felt fairly confident of doing well on the exams, largely because she naturally adored learning. She had arrived in Aus from China with her two professional parents sixteen years ago, 1982, and didn’t really miss China at all, proud nonetheless of her ancient culture. The family soon after arriving here chose Sydney to take up abode, predominantly for business reasons. Naturally then they would want to live in the heart of the city, or as close as possible, and so ended up in nearby multicultural Redferne. Her and her parents all loved being of two cultures and Wu Ze was very proud of her excellent bilingualism. Well, three languages if you included French but she had never used it in France. She was also very confident in her understanding of English poetry (although she preferred Classical Chinese poetry, both sharper and more wistful.)
     The exam supervisors now began handing out the exam paper, face down on each student’s desk. When Wu Ze received hers she took out a flask from her bag. She placed it on the table and, after a quick prayer, poured herself a cup of chamomile tea. She took a sip when the supervisor announced the official beginning of the exam.
     It didn’t take long for one of the supervisors to approach Wu Ze and to query her about the flask she was drinking from. Wu Ze presented a medical certificate stating that she has suffered from anxiety for the past year, as well as having a family history of such, as a result of her father passing away in a car crash. Wu Ze had discovered that chamomile tea was great in alleviating her stress and the doctor had prescribed it whilst sitting her final senior high school exams. After reading the certificate the supervisor said that she would temporarily allow the tea but would have to show the document to her own supervisor. She told Wu Ze though that she would probably be allowed to keep the tea if the certificate proved to be genuine.
     Thus Wu Ze was allowed her tea throughout the remainder of the exams and by the end of them felt supremely confident that her many, many hours of study would bear the promised fruit. She was aiming to do Science at university, majoring in Biology and Physics, and when she received the final results she had the pick of her institute. She received 98.37%. She was slightly miffed that she fell just short of a perfect score but her parents were quick to point out that perfection is impossible and that she had done very, very well. Very, very well indeed.
     Wu Ze now came to rely on her flask of chamomile tea throughout her university studies, in lectures, and when doing assignments and exams. The other students nicknamed her ‘Teadrop’, which she was rather flattered by, proud of her eccentricity. The students liked her though and were impressed with her consistently high results. But unbeknownst to them Wu Ze was perhaps studying too hard, her goal being to be accepted for Honours Science. The crux came during the very last of her university undergraduate exams. She had just poured herself a chamomile tea but whilst having the first sip her right hand was shaking so hard that she spilled most of it. Looking at the mess she had made of her exam paper seemed to unleash a dam, and Wu Ze began sobbing uncontrollably. One of the campus’ nurses told her that it was a nervous breakdown, the obvious result of having very, very little social life since senior high school but studying intensely instead. Wu Ze had opened up to the nurse as she hadn’t opened to anyone since high school. Wu Ze had never really talked about her father’s passing, choosing to bury herself in study instead. The results, or so said the nurse, were always predictable.
     It took a full lunar month for Wu Ze to more or less recover and the university was happy to allow her to sit the final exam again after being provided with a brief report from her doctor. Her final results were again outstanding and she was invited to study for Honours Science, in Physics, which course she found gave her the first real intellectual challenge of her life. Her PhD studies, in Biophysics, were even more invigorating, with the assistance of the chamomile of course, and by the following day of her thesis’ oral defence she found herself being headhunted by some of the world’s largest breweries. At the time she didn’t know they were big players but a little research showed her that she had come under the notice of some very powerful companies. She soon enough found out why they were so desperate for intelligent employees.

*

     ‘Please be seated,’ said the suited young executive. Wu Ze had chosen to meet at random one of the brewing companies seeking her services.
     ‘Thank you.’ She was in a well-appointed office and her parents had bought her a new suit for the interview. Wu Ze was here just to test the waters, adamant she wasn’t going to fall for the first offer she was made.
     ‘Just a bit of paper work before we begin, Wu Ze,’ said the young man, taking a sheet of paper from inside his Manilla folder. His name was Earnest. ‘Would you mind signing this confidentiality agreement: what I’m about to raise with you is still commercial-in-confidence.’
     ‘Certainly,’ replied Wu Ze. She duly signed the document and Earnest then promptly got down to business.
     ‘As you probably know hops is the critical ingredient in making beer. Well, within the past three months an unknown disease has begun wiping out the planet’s hops crops. We want you to find the cure.’
     ‘On my own?’
     ‘Certainly not. We’re recruiting other higher achievers and you’d be part of the team.’
     ‘Surely it can’t be all that serious. Can’t people just switch to wine?’
     ‘One of the best things about an open market is that people have choice. And most people choose beer over wine. It has proved to be an important social lubricant over the millennia. This unknown disease is still secret because news of it could well snowball into disastrous consequences.’
     ‘And considering that we live in a patriarchal society, and that men love their beer, it could well bring society to its knees.’
     Earnest considered this a short while, and then replied,
     ‘Essentially, that’s correct.’
     ‘Well, Earnest, what are you offering for my help?’ Wu Ze listened politely to Earnest’s offer and then told him she’d think about it. She followed the same procedure with the other breweries finally selecting the largest of them, a German company, Hahne, who had the best resources for her to tackle the problem.
     Hahne paid for her flight over to Germany, arranged accommodation, and saw to all the paperwork for allowing her to work in Germany. She instantly missed Sydney, Aus, a land so pristine that she felt Mother Nature must have created another one in a parallel universe out of overflowing love for it. Wu Ze took up her role two weeks after becoming set up in her new homeland.
     Her first day at the new job was a thorough disaster. She wasn’t allowed to bring her regulation flask of chamomile tea with her into the lab, her supervisor stating that not only was it a contamination hazard but an accidental spillage would undoubtedly ruin the results of very expensive work. Wu Ze was dumbfounded. She had never had this problem before, her own supervisors at university making a medical exception for her in the lab’s standard operating procedures (within reason of course), especially since she was such an excellent student. She seriously did not think that she would be able to perform the high grade work required without the tea’s necessary soothing. But her new supervisor was not to be swayed: she must work without its benefit.
     She tried working without the tea but it was no use, her anxiety levels soon became uncontrollable. With her smattering of German she consulted a doctor who prescribed her Valium. The doctor warned her against its addictive nature and told her to have one only when the stress became unbearable. He prescribed it at the lowest dose, allowing her to work whilst medicated, although she would need someone else to operate the lab’s machines for her.
     Wu Ze thought that there was nothing finer than chamomile tea for relaxing her but the Valium was altogether in a greater league. She naturally loved it but despite her best attempts could not stop herself from popping the tablets like they were confectionary. She soon had to go doctor shopping, also necessitating improved German to argue with the doctor for what she had come to rely on. Naturally her work suffered and it wasn’t long before her employment was terminated. Her supervisors had clearly seen her popping the pills too much and felt that they had no choice but to let her go in case she caused a terrible accident.
     Wu Ze took to unemployment gracefully but she wouldn’t give up her Valium and so wouldn’t be able to reasonably find another job. A serious job. She spent her time instead in reading, pleasantly zonked throughout the day, and going to bed early. She found a black market site on the Net to supply her with the pills and felt she had no more needs. But when the news finally broke, three months after she was fired, that the planet’s hops plantations were dying out she felt tremendous guilt, feeling, undoubtedly unreasonably and irrationally, as if she had abandoned her global cousins. Life was probably going to become very trying for a large part of the world’s population and she felt that she was part of the cause. So she abandoned her own life, abandoned her flat and her pet dog, abandoned any chance of a fulfilling career and took herself to the streets of Berlin in a vague attempt to ‘atone’ for her sins. And now that she had no Net she found it virtually impossible to get the much needed Valium. She had no choice really but to substitute it with wine, red wine being the chosen medication. Luckily she had only a mild addiction, being sure not to up the dose per pill, and her withdrawals were readily quelled with the wine.  

     She was drunk throughout the various riots and looting across the globe that followed the news of beer inevitably, and soon, going the way of the dodo and she died drunk. She had accidentally become caught up with a bunch of looters and a flying shard of glass from a smashed bottle shop window nicked her left carotid artery. She died amongst her fellow citizens scrambling for the last of the beer. As she had no ID on her she was buried without being missed. The hops crops were eventually saved, just in time, through sheer luck if nothing else. Wu Ze’s parents still live in hope of hearing from her.

~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and
paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing and you can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Probably Dishonest

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014

‘Faaark! Faaark! Faaark!’ Thus have three crows constantly awoken Constince, Constince Mwebi, each morning for the past two years. It was just another annoyance about birds, thought Constince, so eager to start the day so they can all strut around chirping about how brilliant they are. Easily fed, shelter anywhere, companionship unquestioned: bloody birds. Pigeons especially were annoying, yea, the most annoying. They were everywhere, pigeons frolicking around and getting a free feed. Bludgers. Constince, it must be said, knew that her dislike of all birds was irrational but she pursued the delusion nonetheless.
     She turned over, opening her eyes.
     Before the crows could get started again in their high, shrieking way she got out of bed and looked around the mattress on the floor for her tobacco pouch. Found it. The crows were quiet.
     ‘Bloody birds,’ she said after the first drag on a rollie. She put on the kettle for a coffee after the smoke, this squat being the only one she’d been in with working electricity. And thus after the regulation coffee and three smokes she headed out to beg up a few bucks for breakfast.
     Outside, Newtown was in splendid form, alluring houses snuggled somehow intimately together under bright, dry and clear sunshine. Indeed, Newtown was perhaps Sydney’s belle. At least that’s how Constince felt. It was the start of summer, 2014, and Constince, stepping through the gap in her squat’s fence, felt that today’s dazzling morning sun promised things would be different; today was there mighty bounty possible.
      It was the instant she stepped into the public domain that something dropped onto her head, bouncing off. She looked up. A pigeon whirled away. She looked on the ground where the object must have fallen.
     It looked like chicken, a cooked piece of chicken. She picked it up. It was chicken, a tender cooked morsel. She ate it. Tasty, very tasty.
     Needless to say Constince was confused. Why had the pigeons now begun offering her food? Was it deliberate? Was it accidental? Were they making a peace offering on behalf of their avian brothers, sisters, and cousins? Were the birds somehow seriously disturbed by her irrational distaste for them, seeking conciliation? After all, Constince was really in the same boat with them.
     Nah, they were probably being tricky, enticing her to let her guard down and so make a simple mistake that would eventually turn fatal, all because she had decided to trust the freeloading birds. Yep, their overture of peace was quite probably dishonest. Bloody birds.
     Thinking about all this, walking up Newtown’s main drag of King Street and begging up a few bucks for brekkie, Constince decided she was going to make the birds pay for their duplicity, make them verily rue the day they had all crossed her. Bloody birds.

*

Constince had no sense that she was sleeping through the next morning, an important morning when she was supposed to hand in her regular welfare application. To be paid the following day she had to hand her ‘form’ in today to Centrelink, the Aus federal welfare agency, stating that she had looked for work in the past two weeks and was unsuccessful. Accordingly she was entitled to government monies to assist her in the further search for work. But to be paid tomorrow she had to hand her form in before 1pm today. Mind you she blew most of it at once on tobacco, bottles of wine, and what little was left over had to go on takeaway meals, having no fridge.
     Constince continued sleeping, blissfully through noon, the crows still silent, sleeping lightly through 1 pm, and awaking just before 2. She was instantly aware of her error, confirming it on the clock beside her mattress.
     Waiting for the kettle to boil after the ‘morning’s’ first smoke she tried not to think that she would probably be desperately poor for an extra day. Such was invariably the consequence, at least in Constince’s infrequent experience, of handing her form in late. Sure, she was bound to receive the welfare, but that extra day! A day that she needn’t to have begged. Maybe she should just hand in her form now and sleep until her pay went in. It really was the only answer.
     But, after a large breakfast of some hot chips, with chicken salt (she begged up enough for a large serve, comfort food for having to wait the extra day for cash), Constince, despite needing to hand her form in, decided on a post-prandial nap. She was soon home and easily settled down to sleep. She had plenty of time to hand her form in, even by 1 pm tomorrow, at the latest, would be fine.
     But the three crows wouldn’t allow her repose and did not look like they would let up with their screeching. She soon sat up, listening to them, wondering how she could fight the bastards. Bloody birds.
     The solution was fairly obvious: she could just shoot up some of her fortnightly harry, heroin, which she had saved up. It started out accidentally, but one fortnight she had bought some harry, didn’t have it, and the next fortnight she decided to treat herself to some KCF fried chicken. She found the harry when she was looking through her backpack for a napkin of some sort after the KCF. Ever since she’s had harry after KCF, setting it up so that it was a fortnightly treat, just before she accessed her fresh welfare payment. The arrangement made her feel like The Goddess, partying so high, and with more coming.
      So she injected the harry and soon welcomed a spreading numbness. She lay down. The crows thankfully decided to keep their nasty beaks shut.
     Things would be much better though if there wasn’t a dog barking, a new dog by the sound of his yelping. The poor dog must have also been terrified of his new environs for he or she didn’t let up all day. The crows’ returned cawing at the beginning of the twilight was the last straw; she got up, still slightly smashed from the harry, and made herself a chamomile tea, with two teabags; then all the friggin’ birds can chirp, call, tweet, or caw to their heart’s content, she’ll be peacefully numbed again. Not having had handed her from in didn’t bother her as doing so wouldn’t bring the welfare any closer. By 1 pm tomorrow would be fine.
     She fell asleep while the kettle was boiling. She slept soundly, the dog obviously having grown tired, and the shifty crows were quiet also. She slept the entire night, through noon the next day, and she slept through 1 pm, arising, suddenly, just before 2 pm. She cursed the crows for not waking her early. Bloody birds. Once again if she were to hand her form in now it would be at least 36 hours before she would be paid. So much begging!
     The only choice that seemed reasonable to her was to hand her form in now and stay awake until payday. Thank God she had coffee grounds, a plunger, and electricity. She set off instantly, stubbing her cigarette and gulping her coffee, and felt the beginnings of hope once the form had been lodged. It was just a matter of time.
      She managed to remain alert until dawn the next morning, with copious coffee and drawing in her sketchbook, but as the sun arose she was sure she needed some guarana to get her to the ATM as soon as the money was reasonably in there. And then a loose several hundred bucks!
     Getting a guarana drink she expected to be no problem and so was quite naturally surprised to see a dog charging her, on her way to a local shop, intent on fury. She didn’t believe it until she had to extend out her right forearm for the dog to grapple, whom then pulled her this way and that. A stranger rescued her, bashing the dog’s snout. A small crowd then developed to banish the mongrel.
     When the dog had vanished Constince’s initial rescuer thought it fit to call for an ambulance and the paramedics soon took her to nearby Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The paramedics could see that it was a fairly clean bite but considering that Constince was obviously living rough an adverse reaction was more likely to any bacteria in the wound.
     She had always been scared of hospitals, more so now knowing that living on Shiraz, bananas, and water was not at all ideal for one’s immune system in an environment that held germs, though those germs be at bay. Nevertheless she agreed to stay overnight for observation when the nurse admitting her noted that the swelling from the bite was more pronounced and bruised than normal. When, the next day, the bruising was worse instead of better, she was admitted as an inpatient.
     She took the news that she had developed Methicillin-resistant golden staph very well. But things soon became terrible for her. For the first time in her life Constince had, deliriously beset with medical woes as a result of an experimental medicine to treat the staph, become so sick and neglectful of her Centrelink requirements that she was cut off of the dole. She learned the day before her eventual discharge from hospital that she had no welfare to rely on. She could reapply of course but, God!, it would take ages to get her money.
     She returned to her squat, somehow burned down, and wondered, ‘Now where’ll I sleep?’ Funnily enough a priest came to mind, someone who could take her out of these squats, begging, and placating Centrelink. True, she had entered her life of homelessness willingly, not wanting to pay rent to ‘the man’ in her idealistic early twenties, but four years of unrelieved poverty, filth, and her increasing wine problems had recently made her wish for an easier life. A cleaner life. Well-fed, comfortable, like of those she saw about her when she went begging.
     ‘A nice Protestant priest,’ she said to herself, outside her burned down home. ‘A priest who can marry must know the love that regulates each our core.’ She had never been religious so it was unusual that she should suddenly think of a Protestant priest for help: still, desperate situations call for desperate measures.
      Constince found her priest, a rector whom she consulted by chance in Surrey Hills, and he has taken things very much in hand. Constince now has safe shelter in his, Rector Thomas’, home while she looks for work and more stable housing. All the good Rector asks in return is that she attend to his menagerie, and a well diverse menagerie. Constince expects better yet.


~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go
to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing and you can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com


Thursday, 1 December 2016

A New Home

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2014
  
An aqua coloured leaf, obviously spray painted, was the only thing disturbing the pristine pool. Saina Malleswary was unsure if she meant throwing it in there as an act of defiance or an act of conciliation. Surely her father couldn’t really kick her out of home if she had to clean the pool as usual? And those streams of paint are going to need extra attention, requiring Saina’s usual diligence. Mind you, she had been adamant that she would leave home soon after turning eighteen, moving into a share house with two of her older friends. Her father wanted her to wait but then realised the sooner he let her go the better; she was always going to leave. And even he was surprised when five days after her eighteenth birthday, at the beginning of another very mild Aus autumn, at breakfast, he told her that she would have to leave in two days. Mr Malleswary wanted to get the pain over with as quickly as possible. Mrs Malleswary offered no objection. Time to fly, Saina.
     Saina dwelt on the words banishing her, staring at the streaming leaf, and then felt something snap deep within her being, like some mental support that had suddenly given way. She soon began breathing in short, sharp breaths, holding her head, her eyes squeezed shut, looking for herself in her mind’s eye. Luckily she knew to take big, deep breaths, thus controlling the sudden panic. She then reasoned with herself, arguing her return to normality. In fact moving out was bound to be great, having two good friends to shelter with. She was soon able to look down at her packed, large sports bag.
     ‘Yeah, everything’ll be fine,’ she said to herself. ‘Rita and Jess will be all the help I need. If any.’ She picked up her bag and headed inside to ask her father for a lift to her new home.

*

The trip was in silence and it was short, two suburbs over to Redferne. Five minutes from her new home though Mr Malleswary, Aadil, decided now was the time to reveal a secret of his that his daughter might find useful.
     ‘Sai, now that you’re a grown woman I’ll tell you of a habit of mine that I use to deal with a stressful world. As you know I have a family history of anxiety on my mother’s side and when it all gets too much for me I put on Handel’s Water Music.’
     ‘I’ve heard of that.’
     ‘It’s divine, Sai. I invariably listen to it with earphones to bring it closer. It’s in three suites and always allows me to let the stress and angst flow off into the ether. I feel great for weeks afterwards.’
     ‘I don’t really like classical music, Dad.’
     ‘Well, just listen to this one. It could well be your only solace in the obscure future.’
     ‘So it always calms you down? Relieves the tension?’
     ‘Always.’
     ‘I’ll see if I can get a copy soon.’ Saina’s inherited anxiety episodes were rare but intense and any boon couldn’t be refused in dealing with the sudden panic attacks. They then pulled up at Saina’s new address. Aadil thought it best to remain in the car while his daughter stepped into a new life but was also sure to remind her,
     ‘Make sure you go to work tomorrow! No partying!’
     ‘Yes, Dad.’ She closed the car door and then called out to Rita and Jess from the porch of her first share house.

*

Rita and Jess were just about to head out for an early lunch and invited Saina along. She chose though to remain by herself in the new house, walk around a bit and peek into all the corners, arrange her new bedroom, basically acclimatise herself to the new situation. The ladies perfectly understood.
     She liked her bedroom, neither too large nor too small. Pity the mattress was on the floor though. And the white wallpaper wasn’t as white as she remembered it. Well, there’s no point in depressing oneself. She duly sat down on the bed and considered her father’s recent words. Music would certainly channel her mildly disordered thoughts, some new music to reflect her new situation. Trouble was she had no money to buy the Handel and her bank account was overdrawn. And she most certainly was not going to ask her parents for a loan within an hour of the grand flight. How to get a copy, she brooded.
     ‘The library!’ she exclaimed. She could just borrow a copy. Easy done. True, it was Saturday, but only elevenish so Redferne library should still be open. Motivated now, she unpacked her bag, piling her clothes neatly on the floor, and her other small amount of books and knickknacks. That done she changed into a new outfit, red ankle boots, black jeans, and a purple blouse, and headed off to find Handel.

*

A mild anxious feeling settled on Saina when she saw that Water Music was out on loan. She was going to give up on the search, maybe listen to a classical radio station at home instead. But, no, if her father saw fit to point out that it helped with the genetic anxiety then she would need it as quickly as possible, especially with the stress of undertaking a new life. So she left the library to have a look in nearby Newtown  library. She briefly considered searching the local University library but she imagined it would make her feel like being at school again, instead of a budding woman making her mark upon the world. Not having any money though meant no ticket, thus no travel to Newtown.
     Well, she’ll risk it. It would be a short trip anyway with less chance of being caught.
     The trip was indeed uneventful but when Saina arrived at Newtown library it was shut, despite it being only 1200 pm. A brief inspection of the closed doors showed Saina a notice saying the library was closed due to renovations.
     ‘Well then, it’s the State Library,’ she said to the notice. And if the State Library didn’t have it she would borrow some money from a work colleague tomorrow to get a copy.
     Her perseverance was rewarded and she wasn’t fined for travelling into the city without a ticket. She pressed play on the loaded CD player with a feeling of a fundamental accomplishment.
     Her father was right, as usual. Travelling with the music was like travelling through endless processions of crystal castles in her mind. She was a spirit, travelling her sure and happy path, unable to be denied anything that she set her mind to. As she travelled with the music the pinkish castles were growing broader and taller, until they exploded in tinkling gems, making her skin tingle, and then reforming to reassure Saina that she was indeed safe. Here was always a home from which she could never be forced out of. It was a fountain that had always been flowing and always would be.
     When the music ended Saina felt as if she had discovered Paradise, a Paradise always available and accessible. On the way home she rang a work friend to borrow the money for the CD. Rita or Jess would have easily loaned her the money but Saina thought that that might not be a good way to start off her living with them.

     She listens to the Water Music every morning now, and when she feels the sudden silent creep of panic she imagines it, feeling its noble castles shelter her from the tension. The Handel was also the source of a newfound and still growing respect for her father.

~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go
to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing and you can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The White Handkerchief

Wednesday 2 November 2016

The White Handkerchief


 by Dorothy Henderson

From the other side of the fence, I could see something white fluttering. Despite the fact there was no breeze, a piece of white fabric was fluttering up and down as if it were being tossed by a cheeky breeze. No trees waved their limbs or leaves in response. The day was unusually calm for a spring day in my part of the world.

Intrigued, I moved towards the movement. Then I realized that the cloth was in the clutches of a hand. Long  fingers grasped the white handkerchief, at least I think that is what it was, and moved it up and down. Frantically. It struck me that the hand with the flapping white cloth was engaged in a pose used by defeated soldiers admitting defeat and seeking mercy from the victors, but maybe I am guilty of watching too much "Horrible Histories" with my children.

Far from signalling retreat, the hand was in fact engaged in a deliberate attention seeking exercise. The body attached to the hand was that of a jean-clad young woman, who was standing behind another person. Hard to tell if it was a male or female as it wore a faded denim baseball cap and had its back turned towards me. The second person was crouched down, almost squatting on the ground, and deeply engrossed in something.

In front of the baseball cap wearer and handkerchief shaker stood a magnificent horse. It was black. True black, not just dark brown with faded brown edge, but rich, blue black from the tip of its muzzle to its hooves and the frayed ends of its flamboyant tail. Attached to a third person by a long line clipped to a plain leather halter, the horse was looking straight at me.

It was a Thoroughbred. I could tell by its shape and its physique. Behind the horse stretched a long line of stables and other horses heads were visible as they watched the same scene from a different perspective. Some were tossing their heads as if jealous that they were not the centre of attention, others simply gazed on as if appreciating the diversion from the monotony that is the life of a constantly stabled horse.

As the person in the grey cap moved to a new position, I was able to see a huge black lens protruding from her face. The photographer was obviously trying to get a photograph of The Horse---and it wasn't obliging.
Despite the frantic hanky waving and whistling of the jeans person, it refused to look in her direction. It watched the birds, it gazed at the sky, it tried to nuzzle the rope holder, who kept pushing its head away and saying "stand up" in a firm and slightly agitated tone of voice.

I watched, transfixed by the beauty of The Horse and amused by the efforts of those trying to get its attention. Then suddenly The Horse arched his beautiful neck, allowing his mane to fall gently along the curve of his muscled crest, and held his gaze on a point somewhere behind the hanky shaker. His eyes glowed with interest, and I followed his gaze to see what had caught his attention.

On the top of the fence that I was looking through there sat a cat. A white cat. With startlingly blue eyes. If ever an animal could be a complete contrast to the horse in front of me, this was it. It was fluffy, petite and elegant and it wrapped its body along the fence as only a cat can do. The Horse was transfixed. He just started at The Cat, his nostrils flared and every muscle in his body quivering in inquisitiveness. If the people hadn't been in the way, he would have been at that fence on a mission of discovery. But he stood.

"Got it! That's the shot!" exclaimed the person at the end of the camera. It sounded like a man's voice, but I still couldn't really tell as the camera was still obscuring his face.

The hanky waver relaxed, and the four left the scene. The Horse was led down the line of stables and disappeared from my sight, his shining raven coloured rump and tail gone from my view. His mission had been accomplished. The perfect pose had been struck.

A week later, as I walked past a newstand in the town I lived in, I saw The Horse again. His eyes caught my attention as he looked out from the cover of the latest edition of the Stud and Stable magazine. I couldn't resist buying a copy so I could find out more about The Horse. When I looked more closely at the glossy image I noticed the reflection of The Cat in the paper horse's eyes. White as snow. Blue eyes locked on the brown eyes that captured it and I couldn't help but wonder if the photographer had even noticed the two animals connecting, or if all of the credit for the pose had been handed to the hanky.






Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Throwing Poses

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2015

‘“Ladies, I shall expect you to be ready at exactly a quarter before eight. His Imperial Majesty is to arrive at eight precisely, and I must be there to receive him.”’ Anthony Trollope, The Way We Live Now

Myself being The King of the Universe, for around a decade now, I know the importance of turning up to appointments on time. Mind you, most of these appointments have been arranged by the voices that only I can hear. Certainly they are the only ones involved in these transactions, I know that, but there’s still a chance that a thus scheduled meeting will indeed bear the magickal fruit expected. Not that I practice magick, but I somehow seem to have become caught up in someone else’s spell(s.) I’m sure there’s a reason for this and as soon as I’m told, I’ll leave all these squats that I’ve been drifting between over the recent many years. My filthy squats are probably the reason why the voices have never scheduled a meeting for me with sundry people at home, shadowy beings or otherwise, to provide physical proof that I am indeed King of the Universe, instantly worthy of untold riches.
     One time, however, I was actually expected. Sure the voices hadn’t arranged the rendezvous, it being a spur of the moment thing, but walking aimlessly down Newtown’s main street - King Street, Sydney, the unofficial capitol of so very sophisticated Aus - high as a kite on some top quality speed, yet unwillingly again, but without help to do otherwise, I suddenly entered a café on my right, which seemed to have developed a stunning brightness at my passing. I had walked into a photo-shoot, myself obviously the subject, from what I could tell by the photographer’s actions. He had an assistant who seemed to be encouraging me to throw poses.
     Here then was what I’d been waiting years for, proof of my Royalty, the beginnings of archiving my approaching Reign. I accordingly threw some poses, over a few minutes, and I must say that it was the best time that I can recall ever having. It felt very natural, both feeling and looking very chic, experiencing a vogue with Nature at a fundamental level, revelling in one’s own role in living, and fully able to gloriously show off one’s deliberately chosen colourful presentation to one’s fellow citizens. Like I said, the best time that I’ve ever had.
     And just as suddenly as I had begun I likewise stopped, just running out of steam, and starting to feel too self-conscious.
     ‘That was wonderful!’ said the photographer’s assistant. She then came over to me while the photographer moved into the background with his camera. ‘You just jumped right into the spirit of the shoot.’
      ‘Thanks.’ She obviously didn’t know that she’s just a pawn in the bigger game. ‘It suddenly felt like a liberating thing to do.’
     ‘Well, you were superb. I’m Deidre, the guy with the camera’s Elvis.’
     ‘Elvis?’
     ‘His parents are massive fans, actually hung out with him for a bit back in the day. He was a thorough gentleman.’
     ‘And probably still is, in Heaven. I’m Sidney. Any chance of being paid for the shoot?’
     ‘Maybe. We’re a new art zine, Tempest Times, and were planning on doing some random-slash-guided shoots to open the first edition. What’s your number? I’ll call if we go with you.’
     ‘I don’t have a phone.’
     ‘Well, Sidney, give me your last name and we’ll let you know here at the café in exactly a week if you’ve got the gig.’
     ‘Okay, cool. It’s Rutherforde, with an ‘e’ at the end.’
     ‘I’ll call. Anyway, I’ll let you go. Gotta get ready for the next shoot.’
     ‘See ya.’
     So, feeling great, I treated myself to a cappuccino. Not many people entered the café, and all boring types, with apparently regular jobs, and even more apparent, regular opinions. They looked briefly at the photo-shoot setup but Deidre didn’t seem inspired by their insipid, lifeless attire.
     It was when I’d just finished my coffee that Kelly walked in, Kelly Alvarez, a fellow squatter that I often see around, even though we’ve never been in the same squat together. She’s always been a very vibrant person and she entered the café straight to where the camera was based. She threw some very vogue poses and Deidre signalled for Elvis to begin shooting.
     It was a longer session than mine and it was Deidre who called a halt. She got Kelly’s name and phone number, and then left her to her own devices again. I signed to Kelly and she came over.
     I never knew this about Kelly (then again I do know little enough of her) but she’s always wanted to be a model, and I can quite easily imagine her successfully doing so, with not much make-up, maybe some jewellery. She has such cute Latino features, with alluring eyelashes that are just crying out to be kissed. Constantly. Heroin, though, had other plans. Heroin forced Kelly onto the streets, her entire welfare being spent on the junk, only able to eat free food, and from money that she begs up, living in abandoned, filthy houses for the past four years. She wants to be a model even more now, surviving only on her charm, instead of dependant on a lower life form.
     So she made a deal with me, when I told her that I too had posed for Deidre, and was expecting to hear from her in exactly a week. Kelly promised to give me half an ounce of pot (fourteen grams) every two weeks for four weeks if, in return, should I be selected by Deidre’s zine, I encouraged Deidre to take Kelly in my place. But I would get the pot only, and guaranteed, if Kelly resultantly got the gig.
     Well, it seemed a good deal; who am I to stand in the way of a desperate lass’ dreams? So we shook on it. But we shook on it after I made only the one proviso: we both must head into rehab: her, to get off the junk; me, to get off the speed. Kelly easily shook on the deal, she said, because it was such a great idea. Finally! Control over our lives! We agreed to meet again, at noon tomorrow, in the same café to head off to Rozella Psychiatric Hospital, Ward 26, the rehab ward (well known amongst the seasoned inner city Sydney alternative types.)
     Both of us were true to our word and each of us literally arrived at the same time. Kelly was in as good as spirits as I was, both on the cusp of achieving a more reasoned meaning for our lives, wanting them to be simply ordered, simply yet also intoxicatingly. The ward, though, was unable to help us, at least just then. We both had to wait two weeks for a bed. So we put our names on the list and hoped for the best. Walking away from the ward, with having been so very close yet so very far, proved depressing, and neither of us talked on our journey back to Newtown.
     As I stepped onto King Street again, after Kelly, she turned to me, looking very solemn.
     ‘Sidney, you’ve always been a really good bloke, can I trust you?’
     ‘I always enjoy helping.’
     ‘Today’s my dole day. Can I trust you with it until we get back to Rozella in two weeks? I want to achieve something today and a $350.00 nest egg would be really something.’
     ‘Sure.’
     ‘Okay, let’s go to an ATM.’
     Kelly duly gave me her entire dole payment and today, a few days before what promises to be another roasting summer in sophisticated Aus, 2015, is the day we are to meet again at Rozella. I still have her money, deposited in a fee free bank account to keep it out of the hands of a certain speed freak. I’ll give it another hour before I check in to the ward; it would be great if we both had each other’s support while ditching the alluring bane that is all manner of illicit drugs. We’ll see.

*

Well, I’m now in rehab. The ward gave me a bit of a feed after I filled in the paperwork (for which may God earnestly bless them!) and I am still waiting for Kelly. I’ve enquired about depositing her monies with the Hospital for her but they say I can’t do it on her behalf, not even having her full name. Ah well, at least it’s not in my wallet, easily destined for some more choice speed. The only thing I can do now, I guess, is to follow the programme here and clean up my act. Can’t wait for Kelly forever. I remain hopeful.

*

It is now the next day and Kelly is still a no-show. My first night in rehab was awful, though the day started off all right. Soon after admission in the morning, however, I couldn’t stop my racing thoughts, couldn’t stop pacing, constantly thinking of the direction and purpose that speed gives me. The staff gave me a Valium to calm down but it stopped working around bedtime. I didn’t sleep all night, desperate for a shot. I was going to ask for another Valium but, really, things were looking like I was just trading one addiction for another. And speed is a finer master.
     So I’ve checked myself out and am on the bus back to Newtown. Kelly’s $350 will buy a nice bit of speed and a good chunk of pot. Boy, does that approaching party feel good! I’ll deal with Kelly when I see her. She can’t really blame me, though, for spending her money. I can always repay her if she really does kick up a stink.
     Anyway, just about to get off the bus. Things are looking fine again!


~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing and you can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com

Saturday, 1 October 2016

Likewise Hearing

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2015

‘They recognised the voices which, a little while ago, had accorded and sung in cadence with their own. But they were familiar voices no more . . .’ Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

Marjorie Rice Behan and Bellamy Regence were the first out for ward 16’s regular six a.m. coffees, Bellamy having just finished his second cigarette of the day. Marjorie and Bellamy were often patients at ward 16, Rozella Psychiatric Hospital, and tended to socialise with each other, despite the decades difference in their ages. They were both comfortable enough with each other to sometimes sit silently together for a long while, mutually sharing with each other their private fears and dreams.
     This intimacy, though, they did not at all expect to result in both of them hearing the same disembodied, androgynous voice. They looked at each other, seated side by side.
     ‘Did you hear something?’ asked Marjorie. ‘A quiet voice, with no-one there?’
     ‘Yeah. Which is more disturbing than we realise.’
     ‘Well, at least you heard it too. I’m not senile yet.’
     ‘Could you make out what it said?’ asked Bellamy.
     ‘Nope. Could you?’
     ‘No. But I really do think this is serious. We’ve both technically witnessed some psychic event.’ Their discovery though was both boon and bane. Boon, because it meant that each of their own inner voices were indeed real, objectively apparent to each other; yet bane because they only had each other’s word to support their story of having undoubtedly experienced the same type of telepathic moment. The question soon became whether they should tell the nurses of what they had both clearly witnessed. Yet, really, it was a moot point, as lacking any evidence whatsoever the nurses would have no choice but to believe they were each again entering psychosis. Their enforced residence in hospital would then most probably be a good stretch longer. No, they quickly decided, they wouldn’t reveal their discovery. Instead they would move into Marjorie’s two bedroom rent controlled flat when they were discharged (a grateful Godsend to Bellamy who had somehow found himself homeless for the past two months. Neither was he able to get safe, reasonably priced housing in Sydney’s tight renter market, being thus forced to sleep on friends’ couches) and hope to attract that voice again, this time maybe being able to record it with their phones, or otherwise establish its reality. They were both looking forward to residing together but each had to wait about two weeks before they could be sent home. The time passed quickly, both of them practicing having their phone’s recorder only a thumb press away. It was only a matter of time.

*

Their first night together under their own roof proved successful, but terrifying too: both were awakened in the wee hours of the morning by a long, sustained, keening, coming from the kitchen. Both listened to it, petrified, each suddenly wide awake, able to feel the blood drain quickly from their faces. Then the house returned to silence again, but this time seeming to possess a sinister timbre.
     It was Bellamy who broke the sudden pall, opening his bedroom door - slowly creaking, and then apparently listening attentively. He soon knocked on Marjorie’s door.
     ‘Is that you Bellamy?’ she asked.
     ‘Yes. Did you hear that scream?’
     ‘Yep. Wait, I’ll be out in a minute.’ Bellamy then went to the kitchen to make some coffee for them both. Sleep was without doubt foregone this night.
     Over the coffees they both compared notes and were now entirely sure that both were witnessing some strange psychic phenomena, for equally strange reasons. It was more likely though, that there simply were no reasons and they were both just random targets. After all, they were just two ordinary people, albeit with serious mental illnesses that entitled them to federal government welfare pensions. But for what ultimate purpose? For what gain? Why was the spirit world asserting itself to them two in particular? The only rational explanation, they decided, was that their respective mental illnesses had probably taken a very threatening twist, and they should really go back to Rozella before the sun arose in order to have the nurses and doctors examine the phenomenon.
     They ran into the old problem however; they had no proof for the spirit they’d repeatedly clearly heard and the staff at the hospital would just lock them up for another six weeks, without affecting the voice in any way. Then they would be at the mercy of the voice if it turned nasty, hounding them while they were completely trapped in the luscious grounds of Rozella Hospital. Sure, they could flee the hospital if that voice sought to persecute them, but they would just be brought back again against their will. And even if they somehow weren’t brought back, the voice would hound them wherever they were. But seeing as how it was proof that would solve all their problems, they decided to both take turns at night, staying awake until the morning, fingers at the ready on their phone’s recorder like they had practiced, listening as best they could for the voice’s reappearance in order to record it. Whoever was on the day shift would also listen attentively in order to record the voice. It seemed like a good idea. In fact, the only viable idea.
     Their success in attracting the spirit stayed with them, for, four nights later, while both were unexpectedly partying on a bottle of good Irish whiskey, Bellamy was able to record the voice. In fact he had just opened its recorder function and had settled more into what promised to be a very pleasant, toasty evening. They heard the voice again while Marjorie brought back a fresh bottle of cola from the fridge. But Bellamy only managed to get the last word.
     ‘Ware! Beckoning Charon!’
     ‘I heard it clearly this time, clear as day,’ said Bellamy, after checking the failed recording. ‘Did you?’
     ‘Yep. And with a good education like yours you should know who Charon is.’
     ‘The Ferryman, guiding people across the river Styx into the next life.’
     ‘What did it mean though? Are we to beware Charon’s beckoning, or to beckon him?’
     ‘Don’t know. But we have to get this recording to some sort of authority. Something in the recording might cause some interest. And then they can’t call us crazy anymore, or anyone else that hears bodiless voices.’
     ‘We might be the next level of humanity.’
     ‘Perhaps. But police or hospital? To whom do we go for help?’
     They decided, quickly once again, to take their slim evidence to the local police as, after all, both Marjorie and Bellamy were under somewhat of a continued assault by this spirit.
But since fools rush in where angels fear to tread they resolved to see the police the next day. They wound up the party a little later and retired for the night, sleeping peacefully and undisturbed.

*

Marjorie was surprised to be the first up and about the next morning at six, as Bellamy was usually up around five a.m. She knocked on his door. Something didn’t feel right. She knocked again. No answer.
     She opened the door. There was Bellamy, in his pyjamas, sprawled across his dishevelled bed, his right hand frozen in a fist over his heart. She took his pulse. And then closed his eyes after feeling no beating. She rang for the ambulance who confirmed Marjorie’s horror. Dead from a heart attack. One of the paramedics pointed to the packet of cigarettes on Bellamy’s bedside table and said she wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were what caused the attack. Filthy smokes, she further averred, and an even more filthy endless string of hypocritical governments for allowing that poison into everyone’s faces, willingly or otherwise.
     When the ambulance had taken Bellamy away she suddenly realised why she was feeling so peculiar. She was sure there was something that she was missing, even though Bellamy’s death could be the only thing amiss (and that had just been taken care of): she could no longer hear her voices. For the first time in over forty years she now had her own thoughts completely at her disposal, no longer able to be hijacked from voices that were simply not real. It was an unusual feeling. It was also a good feeling, her mind so very calm and peaceful. To celebrate she headed out for a large breakfast at a nearby café, tentatively sure that her voices had vanished forever. She felt sure that Bellamy wouldn’t mind the sudden extravagance so soon after his passing, after all, his death seemed to have brought her tranquillity. He always was a good bloke.
     ‘Thanks, mate,’ she said to his ghost, closing the front door behind her. ‘Yep, you’ve been a real Godsend.’
    

    ~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing and you can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com