Monday, 30 September 2013

The Intern

by Lisa Rapley

She sat writing, practically shaking with anger as she remembered the day’s events...

Dear Diary,

I fucking hate that bitch. I don't know how much of her privileged demands I can take. She doesn't even realise how commanding she is, she just expects everything.

Of course it is my job to do some of the things she requests,  but honestly, others are downright insane. They are not part of my job description. She doesn't even pay me, oh is the life of an intern.

I could find something else. Maybe. But you can’t be picky in this industry. When you get a break like this you stick with it, no matter what they make you do. If I did find something else the only difference would probably be the screeching. She LOVES screeching at me, like nails on a chalkboard all day long. Even then… I could end up with another screecher.

You really won't believe what she had me do today. I thought the incident with the grapes last week was bad, but no, today was truly horrible. She really needs to be brought down a notch, or twelve.

So I get to the set this morning. Early. And she yells at me for being late. I told her straight that I was in fact early, but she was adamant I was supposed to start at 8.30 and not 9. That she had told me the day before I needed to be there early because she was having a facial on set first thing, so I had to be there to meet the woman and lead her past security. I know she was lying because one, I would have had it in her calendar, which is shared with mine and two, I called security and they had nothing about anyone coming to set for her. She's absolutely mental.

After she had finished lambasting me about that, she started berating me about her breakfast - where was it, blah, blah, blah. I tried to explain that if she hadn't been yelling at me I would have had it for her already. She actually replied, "Yelling? Me?"

The gall of her!

I finally got her breakfast. She has the same everyday - freshly squeezed orange juice, plenty of pulp and an egg white omelet. I took it into her, already wondering what other heinous torture could befall me today. And once again she was off, shrieking she hated pulp in her juice and I had never made it that way before. She proceeded to pour it on me. Yes, she literally took the glass and poured it on my head, the sticky, pulpy juice dribbling down my cheeks. Then she queried where her yolk was. HER FUCKING YOLK. I'll give her a fucking yolk.
And she used these exact words, "I abhor egg white omelets. Bring me a real one." At that she jutted out her chin.

I could have bloody choked her.

Luckily she was needed in front of the camera, so I had time to calm my anger and get a change of clothes from wardrobe. Plus if I had choked her the director would have been really pissed and he's actually cool. I have no idea why he wants to work with her.

At lunch she came back to her trailer. But there seemed to be something off, she was acting really peculiar. Maybe she had an aneurysm. I pleaded that she had had an aneurysm. She was not her usual privileged persona. She sidled up to me, acting nice - her nice?! When pigs fucking fly. And she said to me, "Hey Claire, you're poor, you must live in the bad part of town, you must know some drug dealers. Can you get me some coke?"

Ok, so I paraphrased that last bit, but she did assume because I was not wealthy that I must therefore know drug dealers and be able to get her some coke. Naturally.

I am not your fucking servant, even though you treat me like one, I had thought.

When I told her no, contrary to how you think I live I do not know drug dealers and cannot get you any substances. Turns out her dealer had cut her off due to not paying him. Fairly typical of her, actually.

And so, she took it out on me. Her reaction to my refusal was apocalyptic. She went nato. Steam could clearly be seen coming out of her ears - ok, no, but I can pretend she's a teapot, right?

If I wasn't so scared of her, I would have laughed, she was like a cartoon.

And then it all became clear, all the things she alleged I had got wrong today (and all previous days) were an act. An attempt to fire me. And that she did. She released me from my servitude. She spat it out - I actually felt saliva hit my face - and I could tell she had a touch of glee in her voice. She had been through seven assistants in just the few months of filming. This really should have been my first warning.

But everything is actually going to work out. The director heard the whole sorry thing and after she was finished with me and left the trailer (strutting off in her highest heels with her nose in the air) he came up to me and offered me a job! Now I'm going to be telling her what to do! Oh how quickly the roles have reversed! I'm going to have so much fun with this!

I shouldn't be so gleeful, but she deserves her comeuppance, whatever it will be.

Claire.

She lay back, closing her diary. Yes, tomorrow was a new day and there would be no more spittle on her face, or orange juice in her hair. Unless of course she put it there herself - it had actually given her locks an unusual shine. She was going to go to a job where she got paid. It had, in fact, been the best day ever. Claire slowly drifted off to sleep, propped up on her pillows, her mind ticking through all the possible ways she could bring the actress down.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Volunteer

by Wai Chim.

**Author's Note: Apologies in advance for use of foul language. I also realised this ended up not exactly working with the prompt - but I thought it was more appropriate for her to be a volunteer than a servant. Anyway, as always, thanks for reading. **


--

An unnatural digital shrieking jolted her from sleep. A siren, an alarm - it took several moments for Clary to recognise the ringing of the new household phone. She squinted in the uncomfortable darkness, seeking the hum of the radio clock beside her.

4:07. Who could be calling at this hour?

Her mum rasped into the phone, her cigarette stained voice even croakier than usual in these brutal hours reserved for sleep.

'H-hello?'

Silence. Clary pulled the pillow over her face, to snatch at the fervent tails of slumber but her curiosity ran too deep. Her ears were already straining to catch the snippets of words, an intake of breath, anything to tell her who could be on the other end of the line.

Nothing. Not even the usual wheezing of her mum’s chronic cough. Not a sigh nor a moan. Whoever was on the other line, whatever news they had to deliver, had rendered her mum silent and lifeless.



After a lengthy stillness, Clary heard the light click of the phone returning to its plastic cradle.


And then the onslaught began.


“Fucking asshole, cunt. Fucking lifeless useless motherfucker. I spit on his fucking grave.” A loud hacking and the wet slap of spittle as it hit the floor.

Clary pulled on the pillow tighter, creating a cocoon around her ears. There was no drowning out of her mother’s cries, the crassness of her words. They were a muffled drumming against her skull, thick and persistent, demanding to be acknowledged in her mind.

The tears were already forming in the deep junctures of her eyes.

The door to her bedroom slammed open and her mother blew in, upturning her momentary safe haven with brutal force.

“Get up, you useless cunt. Get up.”

Clary didn’t move a muscle, shut her eyes tight, hoping against hope that in feigning sleep, she might be spared. Of course, her unresponsiveness only angered her mother further and she felt the sharp sting across the back of her legs from her mother’s blow.

“Get up, you lazy no good selfish bitch. Sleeping like the waste of space you are. You better wake up.”

“Ma, I have to work in the morning,” Clary pleaded as the pillow was torn from around her eyes. Her mum had thrown on the lights, so that the harsh white fluorescent glare burned against her sensitive retina and she threw am arm against her brow as a shield.

“Working. You think you’re so goddamn important because you fucking work.” The pillow hit the side of the headboard and Clary felt clawing on her arms. “You think you’re so much better than me because you're getting a fucking education. A fucking job. Fine. If you want to stay here, you’re going to pay me some motherfucking rent. Fucking $200 a week. That will show you how much your fucking job is worth to me.”

There was no use mentioning that her 'work' was actually volunteering, that she wasn’t paid a dime. That it was all supposed to help her get into uni. Her mother’s tainted mind was running, drawing collusive parallels and conspiratorial tangents in her discountenance. There was no use pointing out the missed strands of logic or common sense; the urgency to judge just had to pass.

Her mother’s rant went on, a scathing recap of the world’s tyranny against her. How Clary was front and centre in her never-ending list of misgivings. Clary’s eyes clouded over, letting her mother’s caustic words wash over her, so that they did nothing more than brush a coat of dull veneer over her hardened mind.

After the tirade was over, her mother, still furious but having worn herself out, stood up to leave. Clary let out a silent sigh of relief, calculating the precious minutes of rest she could still salvage. But as her mother hovered by the door, she left her daughter with one last prick, one final jab that was meant to draw blood. This assault, even the weather-beaten Clary was not prepared for.

 “That no good nick father of yours, he’s fucking dead. Gone and offed himself. Fucking prick.”

She left the room in silence.

And after a long terse moment, Clary howled.

--

The next morning, Clary staggered into the kitchen, her eyes red-rimmed and bloodshot. Her mum was up and muttering, wrapped in her robe, already on her third cigarette of the day. Clary said nothing, just manoeuvred past on the way to the fridge.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you?” her mother sneered, taking in her daughter’s sullen state. “Wasted fucking tears on that asshole. Do you know what he's done to me? What he's done to us?”

Clary bit her tongue as she retrieved a carton of juice, watching it splash into her glass. Swallowing a fresh sob bubbling upwards, she sculled her drink in just two gulps.  She welcome the cool, sweet liquid that slid down her throat.

A swipe of her mouth with the back of her hand and a quick rinse of the glass later, Clary gathered her canvas bag and headed for the door.

“Where do you think you’re going?” her mother demanded.

“I’m going to work,” she snarled, slamming the flyscreen shut. Her vision blurred and her sobs came freely, drowning out her mother’s cussing behind her.

--

The volunteer centre was already bustling when Clary arrived to check in at the Red Cross disaster zone. She’d walked most of the two miles here, trying to extinguish the last of the crying. She ducked into a petrol station bathroom to splash cool water on her face. Peering at her reflection in the cracked mirror, she saw that her nose was rubbed red and her eyes were still bloodshot. But her cheeks were no longer puffy and the flood of tears had dried, for now. Given it was the height of the pollen season and all the vehicles were covered in a thick yellow film, Clary figured that she would pass for suffering acute allergies.

“Name?” The bored orderly asked without glancing up from her clipboard.

“Clarissa Stevenson.” Clary managed a small, polite smile.
The orderly checked the list and marked her name, waving her over to a far table. “You’re on the phones. But don’t expect much. Most of the temporary homes have already been assigned. Just a straggler or two left.” She dismissed Clary with a grunt and a shrug.
Clary settled into her station, tossing her bag to the floor. Glancing at the giant white board that listed the housing assignments made today, she saw that the orderly was right - it was pretty empty. Two weeks ago, when the floods had been at their peak, those boards had been filled with lines and numbers, each representing a displaced family that had lost their home to the rising waters. Clary had spoken to a number of them, mothers sobbing as they gave their babies dates-of-birth, fathers angry and bellowing when they realised that they were on the waitlist for another day. Clary had smiled and gritted her teeth through all of it, following the script as best she could, lending the sympathetic ear when it was needed and doing her best to give the firm but professional denial that the Head of Staff had belaboured on them.

But today, today there was none of that. The boards were empty, the last of the waitlist had been more or less been assigned. They were now more likely to turn away attention seekers and profiteers, the ones trying to use disaster resources to their own advantage. There were no more woeful stories to be listened to, at least none that were being called in.

As the hours ticked by, Clary felt herself sinking into numb complacency. She fiddled with her phone, did some practice questions for her HSCs to pass the time. The sense of boredom seeped into her bones but she refused to let her mind wander. The sleep deprivation crept up, so that she had to brace her arms against her chin to keep from collapsing on the table.

The orderly came into the room, surveying the rag-tag team that were drumming their fingers and lolling in their seats. “Who wants a job?” she barked.

Clary was the first to leap up, the only one actually. A few of the older volunteers sniggered behind their hands but she ignored their ribbing. “I’m free.”

The orderly grunted and motioned for Clary to follow. She led her past the canteen and a few empty offices to a back room, undoing the lock with a key from around her neck. It was the sharp pungent fragrance that hit her first, clawing at her nose hairs, dissolving into her sinuses. Clary sneezed once and the orderly smirked as she yanked on the cord that lit up the room.

Clary let out a gasp.

Standing on every table, covering every shelf and visible surface, scattered across the entire floor were buckets upon buckets of flowers. 

Clary’s jaw dropped. She recognised some of them the more common names: gerberas, carnations, even a cluster of sunflowers tucked into a tall standing vase in the centre of the room. Some of the other blossoms, they were equally bright and colourful, but she had no idea what they were. There were a few wisps of baby’s breath and number of large fern leaves, possibly even some wildflowers and weeds. Clary turned to the orderly in wonder.

“A donation,” she declared with yet another shrug. “The Friends of the Gardens society thought that a truckload of flowers was just what we needed for the disaster.” The orderly snorted and shook her head. “I tried to turn them away, but the Head of the Red Cross, he thought the centre could use a little bit of cheer. You have allergies?” she asked with a quirk of an eyebrow.

Clary, too stunned to speak, simply shook her head.

The orderly smacked her lips in approval. “Anyway, your job is to get these distributed. Spread good cheer.” Her fingers hooked the air as she uttered the words. “I don’t care how you do it, where you put them, who you give them to, just get them out of here.”

And she left Clary standing at the door, gaping at the insurmountable task.

Slowly, painstakingly slowly, her dormant mind clicked into gear and she went to work. Clary found bits of string to tie haphazard bouquets together, clawing into the recesses of her mind for what her art teacher had once told her about colour matching. She found dirty glasses in the kitchen, and when those were tapped, she retrieved stale milk bottles and soda cans out of the recycling bins. Clary jammed every vessel, every bottle, basin and receptacle she could find chock full of flowers.

These she then distributed throughout the centre. She gave them to the volunteers sitting bored at the call centre and she lined them up along the window sills. She took them into the administrative offices and gave little homemade boutonnieres to the janitors and cleaning crew on duty. The kitchen staff guffawed when she asked if she could use the slop buckets and then gawped when she returned them, brimming with blossoms. Each and every one of the staff looked genuinely surprised and touched by her offers, and soon, you couldn't find a single corner of the centre that hadn’t been dressed with Clary's good cheer.

And Clary had to admit, the work made her feel better.

As the day's sun stretched its fingertips across the sky for a final time, Clary gathered up the last of the stalks and stems strewn about the now empty room. There was a gentle knock and Clary glanced towards the open door.

She recognised him instantly, the Head of Staff of the Red Cross. He was soft-spoken and gentle, but still commanded a definite presence. Clary had noticed the gossip and cackling of the other staff noticeably die down whenever he entered the room.

“Clarissa?” he asked gently. Clary blushed, she had no idea that he knew her name.

“Clary,” she choked out. “Everyone calls me Clary.”

His smile brightened. “Clary, the staff have been talking a lot about you today. What a bright ray of sunshine you’ve been, so to speak.”

Clary felt her blush deepening. “I was just doing my job,” she mumbled, looking down at her shoes.

“Well, you’ve been doing it with a big smile and lots of energy. Everyone’s been raving about your cheerful demeanour and generous warmth.” Clary squirmed. “So on behalf of the Red Cross, I just wanted to thank you for all your hard work and service. We are incredibly honoured.”

Once again, Clary found herself at a loss for words.

“Well, let me know if you ever need a letter of recommendation for your work.” The man smiled and left her, standing knee deep in garden waste, as her strangled tears returned.
And Clary wept, once more. 

 

The Morning Train

By David Allsopp.


My dearest Gwen,

Where do I begin? How do I say what I feel needs to be said, when it has remained unspoken for so long?

You know I’m not a man who decides upon a course of action quickly, but as events continue to unfold so rapidly this evening I find myself struggling to take it all in and keep up with my own thoughts.

I can only imagine the turmoil you must be going through right now, and I wish I could have been here for you in your darkest hour.

* * *

In hindsight, Thomas should have known something was terribly wrong when he didn’t see Gwen’s smiling face when he returned from his journey to Dunstan’s Mill. At the time he just assumed she was busy with her duties – attending to Lady Burnley in some manner – and that he would see her later that evening at supper. He couldn’t have guessed what had happened, or how dramatically his world would be changed.

After stowing away the parcels he’d returned with, Thomas walked into the kitchen to look for Mrs Livermore, the cook. He came across her two assistants, Susie and Jayne, furtively whispering about one of the servants having being dismissed. The conversation ceased as soon as he entered the room, but as Thomas only caught the end of the conversation he thought little of it at the time – just that he’d walked in on the girls having a private gossip.

Needing to attend to Lord Burnley presently, Thomas decided that he’d take a chance and return upstairs to the residence via the staff quarters to see if he could check-in with Gwen on his way. Walking past her room, Thomas could see the door was ajar.

He knocked gently, and when there was no answer he took the liberty of glancing inside. Everything seemed in order, with all of Gwen’s belonging in their usual place. Not having time to dally, Thomas continued on into the residence to lay-out the evening attire for Lord Burnley.

His Lordship entered as Thomas was brushing a dinner jacket, and awkwardly announced that he would be dressing himself that evening. Something about Lord Burnley’s manner was seemed ‘off’, and his reluctance to address his Valet directly – or even look him in the eye – was most unlike their usual easy discourse.

At first Thomas wondered if he’d done something to cause offence, but then he got the impression that Lord Burnley felt as if he’d been the one to slight Thomas in some way. Rather than acknowledge any issue, Thomas simply took his leave and left Lord Burnley to his own devices, as per his wishes.

Returning below stairs, Thomas passed Emily, the housemaid, who seemed startled when he greeted her. She hurriedly walked away, giving Thomas a sinking feeling in his stomach and causing him to wonder once more what he had done to offend the household.

The staff had started their evening meal downstairs, and as he walked down the hall Thomas listened in hope of hearing Gwen’s voice. Instead, there were more furtive whispers about someone being sent away after being found in a compromising position with Lord Burnley. Once again, the whispers died-down when Thomas entered the room, and the servants sat in relative silence while they ate. Awkward glances passed around the room, as though they all wanted to say something but were holding their tongues.

Gwen’s absence was the elephant in the room, and Thomas’ heart sank as he started to put things together in his mind. The silence became deafening.

It was Mrs Livermore who eventually broke the silence when she returned to the kitchen, taking Thomas aside to break the bad news.

* * *

Mrs Livermore did her best to break the news to me in a delicate manner – eschewing gossip and sticking to the basic facts: that something had happened in the afternoon when you were upstairs, and that Lady Burnley had found you in a compromising position with his Lordship and immediately dismissed you from service.

All I could think of was finding you – not to question or accuse, but to provide comfort and seek understanding. I’ve always known that I could find the truth of any situation in your eyes, and I regret not declaring my devotion to you every day of our time together.

* * *

Mrs Livermore was telling Thomas that Gwen had been driven down to The King’s Arms in Wharton when they were interrupted by the call for dinner to be served upstairs.

Carl, one of the footmen, had spilt some soup on his shirt, so Thomas quickly volunteered to begin the service upstairs in the dining room in his place. It wasn’t the done thing for a Valet to serve dinner, but protocol be damned – he needed to get into that room and look Lord Burnley in the eye to uncover the truth.

When someone has spent a significant amount of time in service they pick-up on the unspoken words and body language of the family they serve. As soon as Thomas saw Lord and Lady Burnley at the dining table he could tell from their stony silence and awkward posture that something major had caused a divide between them. When Lord Burnley sheepishly couldn’t meet Thomas’ gaze when he addressed him, Thomas knew that what he’d been told must be true.

After the entrĂ©e was served (and Carl had found another shirt), Thomas took his leave and found himself back in the staff quarters walking towards Gwen’s room, where he found Mrs White, the housekeeper, packing Gwen’s belongings into suitcases.

Mrs White, who it seemed had known how Thomas felt about Gwen long before he himself had recognised the truth, told him that Watson was to take the car and deliver the luggage to The King’s Arms that evening. Gwen was staying there until she could catch the morning train to London.

There seemed so little time to think, let alone act, but Mrs White suggested that if Thomas were to quickly write a message she would see that Watson delivered it along with the luggage that evening.

* * *

Whatever happened this afternoon I want you to know that you have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to be sorry about.

It is I who should apologise.

I’m sorry to have caused you any pain. I wish I’d been brave enough to speak my heart’s desire and have spared you the heartache you must now be enduring. It shames me to think that I could have prevented this circumstance had I not been so wrongly beholden to the positions in which we serve.
The four years we’ve spent in service together have been the best of my life, filled with moments I will always cherish. Our lunches together. Those long conversations in the gardens. Our afternoon walks. It has felt like we’ve been living in a dream, separate from the cares of the world outside the grounds of this estate.

But like a dream that ends when you awake, I know now that those days are gone.

You’ve been my dearest friend, and the last thing I wanted was to risk losing that closeness which I have come to rely on so much. But I now understand that it was much more foolish of me to live in fear of my own feelings and desires, forgoing the chance of true happiness that had been in front of me all this time. I realise what a fool I’ve been to not have told you how much I loved you every day we were here together, and for that I now desperately seek your forgiveness.

Without you here, this place no longer holds any meaning for me. While I can’t change the past or undo what has happened today, I can try to make a better future for us both, if you’ll have me.
If you can find it in your heart to accept me for the fool that I am, I will walk with you to the ends of the earth to start a new life together, knowing that I would have the strength to face the unknown if you were by my side.

Yours always,
Thomas.


* * *

Hurriedly finishing the letter, Thomas rushed to the garage to hand it to Watson just as the driver was placing Gwen’s luggage in the motorcar.

Walking back to the staff quarters, he prayed that the letter would safely reach Gwen that evening. Whether she could love him now or not, however uncertain and scary the future might be, at least now Thomas knew what he had to do.

He’d pack his belongings, write a letter of resignation, then find a way to be on that platform before the morning train to London departed.

The rest he’d just have to take on faith.

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Servant


by Sarah Harvey

It was a grey, autumn afternoon as a tall frame cut a lonely figure walking down the road. The star-strewn sky darkened and it started to spit. Dressed in long black robes, Lord Voldemort carried his wand by his side with poise and regal, but he was troubled. Oh yes, he was troubled. It had been 5 years since his ‘death’ on the final Harry Potter movie and he had struggled to find work. He felt horribly stereotyped; his image concerns had only increased as time passed. He was quite depressed. Oh, there had been a ‘Special Appearance’ or two at various children’s parties, but the GFC had hit hard and no one wanted to hire a washed-up Dark Lord anymore.  He needed a new look. He needed a change. Luckily for him, it was late night shopping.

As he walked past a hip boutique clothing store, Voldemort stopped and peered at the mannequins inside the window. He pressed his long skeletal fingers against the glass. This might do, he thought, and stepped into the store, immediately approached by a young sales girl. Voldemort observed her; a muggle most certainly, petit, blond, square black-rimmed glasses... maybe around 20-21 years old..?
‘Can I help you?’ she asked with a bright grin - Voldemort made a mental note to add ‘annoying voice’ to her list of features -‘or are you happy browsing?’
‘Are you my servant?’ Voldemort asked curtly.
The girl missed the nuances of Voldemort’s tone. ‘Yeah, sure I can serve you! My name is Penny. I’m a sales assistant here, but really this is just to pay for uni. What I really want is to be a fashion designer!’ Voldemort looked at Penny with a steely gaze and waited for her to recognise his celebrity status. She did not. He rolled his eyes.
‘Don’t you know who I am, child? I am Lord Voldemort! The most powerful dark wizard in the world! Or at least, I was...’
‘OMG! Are you a celebrity? That’s totes amaze balls! Hang on a sec; I have to Tweet/Face book/Pin/Instagram/Blog this! Oh! Would you have a ‘selfie’ with me?’
‘Have a what?’
FLASH!
A blinding light emitted from Penny’s phone and Voldemort winced, protecting his eyes. He was ‘totes’ annoyed by now...
‘Will you stop this ridiculous Muggle behaviour and help me child!’
‘Oh, of course, sorry. Um, so what are you looking for today? Do you have something particular in mind?’
‘Isn’t it your job to advise me?’ Voldemort wheezed impatiently.
‘Ah, sure, but I have to know what sort of image you’re looking for?’
Voldemort looked down at his robes and grimaced with pity. ‘Look at these old-fashioned clothes. They didn’t even update them on the set! I’m so 1997-2008. No one is going to hire me looking like this...’
‘Well forget about updating the robes, Mr V. You should lose the robes completely - and the wand. They’re just creepy.’
Voldemort sniffed and turned away from Penny with an indignant flounce. ‘I was playing a role! I am just misunderstood, that’s all. The movies finished, there was a big party, and that was it. There was no follow up, no counselling - nothing.’
Penny was at a loss. She felt sorry for Voldemort but she just didn’t know where to start. She measured him to waste some time, but it didn’t give her any ideas.
‘What magazines have you looked at lately? GQ or Men’s Health? Do you like Daniel Craig’s look? Or McDreamy / McSteamy from Greys?’
‘McDreamy?’
‘Ryan Reynolds? George Clooney?’
‘Who?’
‘Daniel Radcliff?’
‘Ok that’s not funny...’
‘Matt Damon? Ryan Gosling..? Come on Mr V, there has to be someone you want to look like?’
‘I don’t want to look like anyone – I want to look like an updated version of me!’
 ‘Ok, ok, I have an idea.’ Penny wandered off to the nearest rack of clothes and started scanning through them. Voldemort sighed and sat down legs crossed on a Poof. Within minutes Penny skipped back and presented Voldemort with a pair of vintage-style jeans and label t-shirt. He stood up and frowned. ‘No, no, no!’ he rasped. ‘I want roles for things other than for villains, but I have to look approachable. This will just make me look like an aging hippie! Not to mention these jeans look way too small for me...’ Penny considered this. She had another idea.
‘Are you body conscious, Mr V?’
‘Body conscious?’
‘Yeah, you know – are you concerned about your figure...?’
Voldemort was embarrassed. He knew the weight had crept on a bit. He pressed his stomach and looked over his shoulder to get a better view of his bottom.
‘Well, ummm...’
Penny lowered her voice. ‘Have you considered SPANX, Mr V?’ He may have been a murderous villain once, she thought, but she didn’t want to embarrass him.  
‘SPANX? Aren’t they for – for muggle women?’
‘Well, yeah originally, but they make them for muggle men now. It’s totally cool for guys to wear them. I can show you some if you like..?’

3 HOURS LATER

Penny straightened Voldemort’s tie and stood back to look at him as she talked.  
‘So then I Face-stalked him of course and saw that he had been tagged at this party with her and I just knew he was lying to me. I confronted him and he admitted cheating and everything. I was totes devo...’
‘Would you like me to curse him for you? I may be out of practice but I’m sure I could conjure up a Cruciatus Curse if I needed to.’
‘Thanks Mr V, but he’s not worth it. I’m just going to focus on my career now. Right, there you go. What do you think..?’
Voldemort stood in front of the full length mirror and admired himself. Penny had dressed him in a simple charcoal-grey suit, crisp white shirt and scarlet-coloured tie. He looked pretty dapper for a ‘dead’ wizard.  As he admired himself, Penny’s manager, Scott, stormed over.
‘Penny! What are you doing?’ he snapped. ‘Why have you spent this entire time on just one customer? And who ordered a pizza?!’
Voldemort turned from the mirror slowly and walked towards Scott with a grim expression. Scott froze and the room went cold. Someone put on their jacket.
‘L-l-lord Voldemort,’ Scott stammered. ‘What an honour. I-I-I didn’t realise Penny was assisting you...’
‘This girl deserves a pay rise. See that it is done.’
‘Uh, yes, yes of course!’
‘And give her some time off. All of next week - with pay.’
‘Yes, Lord Voldemort. It will be done...’ Scott scuttled away to organise Penny’s paperwork.
‘Wow, thanks Mr V!’
‘Penny, when I first walked in here, I thought that you were my servant. You have been such a help to me that now I see I am here to serve you. Not many people have shown me much kindness since Harry Potter finished.’
‘Awww, thanks. Now don’t forget what I told you –get onto social media ASAP and build a profile for yourself. Self-promotion is the key. The NSW Writers’ Centre has some great workshops on digital media. Just call them on that number I gave you...’

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

When she was nine

By Michele Hackshall


Josie was nine and felt brave that day. Her parents were glued to the Wimbledon finals, and the neighbourhood kids were nowhere to be seen. Bored, she took her bike and went for a ride. It was yellow, called ‘Desert Rose’ and had a banana seat. The next year for her birthday she would get her first 10 speed, but Desert Rose always remained her favourite.

She usually turned right at the end of her driveway, up the hill and up several kms to the local store to buy her favourite treats. But curiousity led her to choose left, up past by usual barrier points at the end of the block. She crossed the street past  and started riding where she’d never ridden before. 

It was exhilarating: one of her first moments of realising the meaning of freedom. There was no accountability. She was making choices for herself and letting her wishes decide her fate, consciously. Her decisions were usually made for her: school decided what she studied, friends were decided by who lived in the neighbourhood, parents cooked her food. Josie had never thought about it before. Now she was making a choice for herself and felt ready for the responsibility that came with it.

She felt like she had been riding for ages when the footpath narrowed due to a tall well established lush hedge that grew and obstructed the path. Protruding branches scratched her arm as she passed. It was when she stopped to survey the damage when she noticed she was in front of the cottage. It was hidden behind a deliberate wall of living green, like it was meant to be a secret. 

The sun was hot even though it wasn’t even half way high, making tall dark shadows from the hedge onto the street. The cottage was weatherboard, with dark grey, worn looking wood. The shutters and trims were painted vibrant white. The white gravel of the driveway finished off the impression of the property: it was loved. Nothing was out of place. No weeds could be seen. Even at 9, the impression it left on the girl was remarkable. It looked like the pictures on so many of the postcards sold at the numerous tourist stores scattered across town. 

That’s when she noticed the flowers: delicate lace work patterns that adorned the bottoms of the bushes all along the driveway and footpath. They were so perfect, creating an arrangement of white and green that stretched the path around the front of the house. There were so many of them growing. They seemed to go on forever.

An enormous desire overcame her to pick flowers for her mum. The day before she had taken Josie blueberry picking. Her mother never wanted to do it: it was a long drive and interrupted the mother’s set routine, but consistent begging made her succumb. The result was that Josie’s mother was left to figure out 101 uses for blueberries for the cosy family of three. 

The girl was still young enough to want to appease her mum and the attention that bringing flowers would deliver. Maybe as a reward they would bake a cake.

The bouquet imagined for these flowers was like something out of a movie, carried by a  bride wearing a big white dress and a long veil, like Princess Diana’s. Full and round. carefully, she picked the flowers that followed the footpath along the street. They were so delicate that Josie needed to make sure that it enough stem was picked to hold it without bruising the intricate wisps of petals. 

Engrossed in her  task, she picked about a dozen when a voice behind said,

‘They’re Queen Anne’s Lace.’

Turning around Josie was struck by the starkness the voice’s owner brought to the sunny day. An old woman, her gaunt, long, pale and elderly face blocked the sun, making it hard to see. What unsettled the child was the old lady’s long black hair that didn’t match her face. Tall in height, thin, with crossed arms, she glared. 

“Did you ask for permission to pick my flowers?”

The girl thought she was going to wet myself right there. She felt like she was in one of those nightmares where you try to scream but no sound comes out.

“No,” came as barely a whisper.

The girl was obedient and not used to getting in trouble. The bravery of the day had now turned to despair. Freedom had fleeted. She was back to being  a servant to her age. 

“Where do you live?” she demanded. Her voice was scratchy and filled with emotion. 

“Down the road.”

“Well, show me. You’re parents need to know that you’ve been stealing.”

Her preoccupation with following orders kept her focused, or else she would have cried shamefully in front of the lady. After a long pause, she slowly started peddling home shadowed closely by the woman. She walked behind, not saying anything, arms still crossed. Her gait was long, even and confident.

A big cloud covered the sun and sent the world into shadow.

Panic trained the girl’s thoughts. What would she say to her parents, interrupting their tennis and  Bloody Marys? 

Her bike willed her to go faster, struggling with only the one gear. This caused the girl to quicken pace slightly, promptly slowing down to let her tormentor catch up. After a couple blocks, Josie looked over her shoulder: the lady was a bit further behind now but made no comment about it. Casually the girl moved a bit further ahead. The gait of the woman maintained, her face silent and stoney.

Josie bolted, riding as fast as she could, checking constantly over her shoulder. Expecting protest or quickening of pace from the old woman, but none came. She became smaller and smaller in the distance yet kept walking steadily forward like a monster. 

Rushing into the garage, the girl closed the door behind her frantically. The flowers were still in the basket of Desert Rose. Now they taunted her, their whiteness and perfection.  She squished them into as small a ball as possible. 

She stole a look out the garage window where paranoia took over.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Lovers' Reunion

by Sarah Begg

Kaelly woke before dawn in that hour when the roosters would just be stirring outside, preparing to greet the morning and wake the manor to a new day.

At first she lay still, her eyes wide, and then she allowed a small smile to creep over her face. Today was the day!

She sprang out of bed, ignoring the early morning chill, and threw on her dressing gown. Slipping out of her bedroom, she ran lightly down the servants staircase and out into the dark courtyard. Looking up, the sky was just beginning to lighten.

She had already planned this morning so many times in her head, to think the day was here was strange. She hurried around to where the water pails waited and was glad to see the one she had carted up yesterday evening, together with the bar of soap she had hidden, were still in place. There was a small alcove here, as the men sometimes had to wash themselves off after working in the stables before they were allowed to enter the manor.

Glancing furtively around, even though she knew no one would be there, she quickly stripped off and began washing herself.

The cold water was chilling but she grinned to herself regardless – she was going to be clean today when Jack arrived.

It had been a few days ago when she heard of his impending return. Of course it wasn't him exactly that the other servants were talking about, as he was simply a valet. But word had gone around the castle that Duke Holland would be returning today, and not only that but there would be a wedding to celebrate upon his arrival!

The Duke and his retinue had been gone from Greyshore Manor for half the year – they had moved to London for the summer season and because the Duke was of an age to begin courting ladies of noble birth. How fortunate that he had found one in only one season! It was well known that the Duke's family did not have a lot of money left, having made some bad investments recently, however his title would still attract many women.

Kaelly was pulled out of her daydream when she heard the first rooster crowing. Cursing her slowness, she threw the rest of the water over herself, wrapped her gown around her and raced back in through the servants doorway and back up to her bedroom. Luckily she made it back before the first door opened and the other staff began sleepily emerging. She quickly dried and dressed herself in her cleanest, newest uniform, adding a touch of rose essence she had saved especially for this occasion to her neck and wrists. Smiling again as she left her room, her sense of anticipation began to grow.

The morning passed quickly as the servants raced around preparing the manor for the Duke's arrival. Kaelly barely paid attention to the others around her and she could hardly wipe the smile off her face. More than once she was shouted at for milling around like a loon.

The others didn't know – she and Jack had been very careful to make sure their love affair was kept a secret. Just before he left to go to London, they had made promises to each other in the dark of night – that when he returned they would announce that they intended to marry. How perfect that the Duke would also be wedded this year – for she knew that Jack and his lord were much closer friends than was appropriate for a servant and his lord.

At midday there were shouts outside that announced the carriages had been spotted in the distance. The servants worked themselves into even more of a flurry than they had already been in – all racing to finish their tasks before they were expected to line up outside to greet the party.

Kaelly was first out the door and in line, eagerly peering down the long driveway towards the dust cloud approaching.

She barely noticed as the other servants emerged and lined up, didn't listen as they whispered about the Duke's arrival, the upcoming wedding and the bride-to-be who would also be arriving.

The carriages pulled in as Kaelly watched, bouncing slightly on her toes, and she spotted the Duke's carriage at the front.

Yet when the carriages halted, Jack didn't emerge from that first carriage as she had expected – he emerged from the carriage that was behind. She held her breath as he stepped out and then stood tall, straightening his top-hat and glancing up and down the line of waiting servants. She grinned at him when he looked, but his eyes slid right past her.

She tried to quell the small alarm that seemed to have rattled her stomach – did he just not see her?

Then she watched with foreboding as he turned back to the carriage and held out his arm.
A gloved, delicate hand appeared and placed itself on his wrist, and then out stepped a girl dressed in fine silks and laces.

Kaelly heard the collective gasps of the other servants down the line, as they whispered.

“There she is!” the kitchen maid beside her whispered, nudging Kaelly painfully in the ribs. “That's the bride!”

Kaelly ignored her, staring dumbfounded at the scene before her. Why was Jack now walking arm-in-arm with the prospective bride, instead of the Duke? And why was he standing so tall and proud, blatantly ignoring the glances of the other servants?

Jack walked right past her, his eyes staring straight ahead, but the girl looked. The girl looked right at Kaelly, swept her gaze up and down Kaelly's finest, cleanest servant whites, and then turned back, a fine eyebrow arched, and leaned in to whisper something to Jack.

Kaelly felt her heart splinter. It was only then, as if the very action of her heart breaking was opening her ears, did she listen properly to the whispered conversation of the servants around her.

“Such a scandal!”

“And why not? A wealthy lady like that can choose anybody she wants to marry!”

“But he's just a valet!”

“Didn't you hear the Duke has raised him up, made him one of this confidants now. Good for him! Jack's done extremely well for himself, hasn't he?”

The girl on Jack's arm suddenly laughed at something he had said, and turned back to look at Kaelly again with a grin on her face. It was like a stab in the chest.

But then something hardened inside her. The tears in her eyes dried and she managed to take a deep breath.

Let them have each other, she thought. Never would she shed a tear for him, for what he had promised her. She would be better than them – one day, she would be.

As the party disappeared into the castle and the servants dispersed, Kaelly forced herself to smile at the others, forced herself to walk normally and to talk. None had known of what had been, and now she would pretend it hadn't happened either.


Only that scar on her heart would remain.