Wednesday 30 December 2015

Whispering Woes

By Aline-Mwezi Niyonsenga

I slowed to a stop in front of the sign and bit my lower lip. Passing an agitated hand through my hair, I decided to turn right anyway. Just to see, I told myself. On the side of the road, dry grass dipped into gorges where pond water used to dwell. I thought of kindling. Finally, I arrived at a semi-open gate where an ute was parked facing me. I braked to a stop. A portly man leisurely emerged, walking towards me as if he intended to go elsewhere. I rolled down my window, smiling uncertainly.
“Sorry, it’s closed,” he shook his head. “Tomorrow’s gonna be 38. It’s already 35 today.”
“Aw,” I pouted. “but I came all this way to see this place.”
He frowned a bit, casting a quick look beyond me. “Who were you gonna whisper to?”
“I’m hoping he’s still here,” I admitted.
Sighing a bit, he glanced back at the gate. “There are still two cars parked, but I have a meeting in a few so you all have five minutes.”
Thanking him, I passed into the gate and slowly drove down the gravelly slope to the unsealed parking lot. Three concrete posts welcomed guests to The Whispering Wall. Beyond them, steps led down to a landing next to one side of a parabolic dam. A walkway passed above it, giving the visitor a view of the sloping wall and scruffy bush on the right. On the left, water filled the reservoir to bursting. One could gaze at the scene and no longer thirst. As I exited the car, one of the remaining cars rolled out of the parking lot. One man stood on the landing at the other end of the walkway. I eagerly went down to the landing closest to me, mimicking his position.
“Mark,” I whispered.
He didn’t respond.
“Mark,” I said more forcefully.
“I heard you the first time.” His voice seemed to come from a space two metres in front of me.
“Isn’t this amazing?” I excitedly replied. My hands fidgeted, curling and uncurling into themselves as I leaned them against the railing.
No response came from the other end.
“Mark?” I questioned.
“Yes, it’s amazing.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. We were still on speaking terms, right? Surely that was what this meant.
“The man says we have five minutes,” I told him. “What have you been up to?” Again, there was no immediate response. “Mark?”
“Not much,” he said. “You?”
“I went to Mt. Gambier for a while,” I shared, “to see family. I tried to contact you but I guess you were busy. I climbed that old volcano there for the first time. It’s amazing. The sky was so blue...have you ever been?”
The quick response emboldened me. “Well first you climb the mountain, and those stairs, god they’re terrible. Once you get to the top you get this astonishing view of this massive bowl of bush. I mean you already had a view of the plains while you were climbing but now you’re staring at what used to be the inside of an active volcano. Crazy right? Then you have the option to walk down to the very centre. It’s a little tedious but once you get down there it’s like you’re in the centre of the earth.”
I cringed a bit. Exaggerating wasn’t going to make him more interested in what I did while I was away. Was he interested at all? Interested in me?
“If-if I were to go again, would you come with me?” I asked.
“That depends.”
I grappled with that response for a few seconds. “Well,” I finally decided. “Five minutes may have already passed. Do you wanna go have coffee someplace?”
“I’m not going anywhere with you.”
I froze. “What?”
“That’s what you said. Remember?”
I bit my lip. He can’t be bringing that up.
“That was ages ago,” I murmured.
“Well I remember.”
While he spoke, I gazed at his faraway figure. Like the closed sign, his shirt was bright red. I could only see his face in profile.
“You’d always laugh about me with your friends,” he continued, “and make a horror story out of the thought of going out with me.”
“I thought I already apologized for that,” I countered. “Look, I was young and shallow and really stupid. I’ve changed!”
“Because Tessa told me you recently said some terrible things about me behind my back.”
My chest tensed up.
“Not only that, but you’ve suddenly been very nice to my face. Is it because I’ve gotten better-looking over the years? Are you sure you’ve changed?”
I struggled to form the words. “Tessa...lied.”
“Is that all you’ve got?”
Biting my lip, I considered my options. Confessing my feelings here and now would get me dumped faster than sewage. (Of course she would tell on me! She had feelings for him too so she got crafty after I desperately tried to make her give up on him, the little…)The second option was to...was there no second option? My mind drew a blank.
“Wow,” Mark huffed. “Just wow.”
I ran up the steps and sprinted across the walkway. Wind whipped up my maxi skirt, reminding me of a sail. Did I look photogenic running next to that pristine body of water? Did I make Mark draw a breath? Out of options, I’d fallen back on physical appeal. Once I came close enough to his strolling figure, I stopped, chest heaving.
“Please!” I exploded. “You have to believe me! I-I really like you. I genuinely, truly…”
His elbow shoved me to the side. Footsteps echoed behind me, heading back the way I came. I stood there, dumbfounded and dumped. Forget about five minutes. My hands hurriedly wiped my face. They weren’t enough to reach my destination.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Madly in Love

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2015

Jeanne Margit Revoir appeared to be glad to be now arriving home even though she had just stepped out onto one of the wards in Rozella Psychiatric Hospital, near the heart of Sydney, after being involuntarily committed. It wasn’t hard either to notice her arrival as she went straight out into the common area, as if she knew Rozella well, and asked one of the smokers for a lighter. I offered her mine as she looked like a young lady who desperately just needed to talk. For a long time.
     ‘What’s your name?’ I asked when she had lit her cigarette and handed me back the lighter.
     ‘Jeanne. What’s yours?’
     ‘Xavier. I’m back here for the second time because I stopped the meds for a while. I thought I was better. The voices didn’t. They’re still screaming in my head now but a lot more quietly. I can reason now. Which is good, because I’m a writer.’
     ‘I’m an actress and I’m back because I’m in another very big manic phase.’ She laughed. She had a very nice laugh, both deep and elfin. ‘My cup runneth over!’ She also had no idea how she had ended up in Rozella but suspected her boyfriend, as she vaguely remembered having just come from a drive with him.  
     Jeanne and I then clicked, both of us naturally having just fallen into each other’s young persons’ company. We were both scheduled involuntarily so we may as well make the most of it. We also liked flirting with each other, making lurid remarks about each other’s sex appeal, even though Jeanne said she was very happily seeing a young man, who wasn’t mentally ill. I guess it’s natural then, despite the fact that I was holding a candle for someone else (whom shall remain nameless), that on my part I began to take this flirting seriously. Despite the schizophrenia I’m just a regular guy involuntarily ruled by his gonads.
     When I confessed my adoration to her she responded enthusiastically, touching me and flirting, but could only promise me that I would be her next boyfriend if she and her present one, Dominic, ever broke up. She was also sure to point out that she owed him a lot over the past two years, whom had always been helpful, to the best of his abilities, with her bipolar disorder. As love is mostly loyalty I would have to wait and see. But don’t get too hopeful, she told me, she was going to start dropping hints to Dominic very soon about him asking for her hand in marriage.
     The good Dominic I did eventually meet, a couple of days later, and he certainly provided a lot of competition. He was colourfully dressed, with shoulder-length, slim, and clean, pale brown dreadlocks tied at the back of his head. He was clean shaven and his whole face seemed to be a smile. Jeanne seemed besotted with him, sitting spread-legged on his lap throughout most of his visit, her arms draped about his neck. Not that I was jealously studying them.
     But there was trouble in Paradise. Big trouble. Jeanne awoke me early the morning after Dominic’s visit to say that he had broken up with her. When I sat up in bed, blearily awaking, it was her red, swollen eyes that first warned me of the current disaster. She said she’d been crying all night and was now very suicidal. She showed me the razor she had got from one of the nurses, saying she was going to shave her legs. She had been on her way to the bathroom to open her veins in its warm, lone bath, and at the last minute had decided to say goodbye to me. I snatched the razor from her. She made no protest.
     ‘I think I was hoping you’d do that,’ she said, looking down at her bare feet.
     ‘Jeanne, no man is worth suicide. No man. Or woman either. Why did he leave you?’
     ‘He said he was fed up with my constant hospital admissions. He’d been recently talking with his last girlfriend about how I’m hardly there, about how high maintenance I am. He said he’s going to try and get back with her.’
     ‘Well, he’s definitely not worth suiciding over. You’re worth a lot of trouble.’
     ‘Because you’re a lot of fun.’
     ‘Yeah, but you haven’t seen me in my downer moods. I’m almost a vegetable.’
     ‘Do you handle your high moods a lot better than your down moods?’
     ‘A lot better. But I tend to do stupid things. Which reminds me.’
     ‘What’s that?’
     ‘I need your help, now that suicide isn’t an option.’
     ‘With what?’
     She then sat on the bed, grabbing my arms. ‘Show me how to be normal. Give me something, some plan to be normal, like a schedule or an instruction book, something I can always have nearby for guidance. That way Dominic is sure to come back to me if I can be normal. You’re smart, Xavier, surely you can help me?’ How could I ignore those pleading, clear, green eyes?
     ‘I’ll think of something,’ I promised.
     ‘Thanks, Xavier.’ She then left me to think about the problem.
     Surprisingly the answer came quickly, a plan to regulate her violently swinging moods. It was suggested by her mentioning ‘a schedule.’ What if Jeanne planned out the hours of each day, having a set programme all of the time, a diary of every day’s activities? That way she would have a greater sense of daily certainty, being able to channel her mood swings into appropriate activities. She would also need to exercise and eat really healthily, the base to this programme. When the mood swings become too much she should head out to a café. For the numbing depression she should treat herself to a hot chocolate or two, with marshmallows, and for the manic excitement she should have a camomile tea or two. The exercise and healthy diet should provide her the wherewithal to make it to the café when the moods are too rough.
     When I informed Jeanne of the plan she thought it brilliant, a physical manifestation of control over her moods. She began on the project immediately, borrowing some paper from the nurses and outlining the rest of that day as well as the following. Apart from that she was going to take life one day at a time.
     The regime must have worked better than expected for Jeanne was discharged from Rozella a week and a half after her breakup with Dominic. The doctors and nurses were keen to encourage the stability she had suddenly displayed, or so she told me. I was worried about her though. Sure she had her daily diarised events, a guide to channel her mood swings, but she had no backup in case of trouble. She had already come to me those times she felt the diary was useless, an inanimate taskmaster who didn’t care for her. Could she now resolve such problems without my assistance? Surely Dominic could help her there, if he didn’t get too jealous?
     The answer was, apparently not. She was back in hospital two weeks later, myself still waiting to be admitted into the rehab cottages. As I had been homeless for so long the hospital thought it prudent for me to go into the rehab cottages in order to relearn everyday living skills. Which was fine by me, I was fed up with being homeless.
     Jeanne though was back in hospital under false pretences, having faked a mild suicide attempt. She was back in hospital just to see me. She was back in hospital to ask me to marry her. She wished to marry me because the diary idea had really grounded her, setting out a clear path in which to control her wayward mind. She had also been eating right and had begun exercising regularly and was back here to claim the only real support she had ever received.
     ‘My cup runneth over, Xavier. You have given me meaning,’ she said, after her proposal.
     ‘Jeanne, yes, I will marry you, but we’re in a psychiatric hospital. Our vows have no legal meaning while we’re not of sound mind. Or at least while I’m not of sound mind since you’re here malingering.’
     ‘When are you discharged?’
     ‘Not for months at least. Three months I’d imagine.’
     ‘We’ll marry on that day. We have to marry. You’ve given me real direction, Xavier, and I just can’t let that go.’
     ‘Well, visit me every day, sweetie, while I’m in rehab. You’ll be out again soon so you can get things ready on the outside for us.’
     ‘You’ll really marry me, Xavier? Continue guiding me?’
     And so we were married four months later, on the day that I moved into the flat she had got for us, quite affordable with both our Federal Disability Support Pensions, albeit an hour’s train ride from the centre of Sydney. I’m writing this now from our reception and Jeanne says her cup once again ‘runneth over.’ She’s drinking camomile tea and tells me she has not the slightest desire for any of the alcohol intoxicants here. She also tells me that I intoxicate her enough. How have I been so lucky?
If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available at as both Kindle books and paperbacks. Click this link to view them - Other ebook options are available through; go to -