Members Early September

  1. ‘Totally against my expectations, it took off!’
  2. Memento Mori
  3. The sparkly blue jacket
  4. Under New Management

 These are the topics which inspired the stories below. Please read on and enjoy our efforts. 

DISCOVERY by Ken Morrell

I had developed the practise of wandering second hand bookshops with the vague expectation or rather fleeting hope of finding a previously undiscovered first edition of Great Expectations or maybe a leather-bound copy of the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, but the bookshop owners knew what they had and charged accordingly. They wouldn’t be running a business handling old books if they didn’t know their oats. Or in this case their books, so I had broadened my horizons and began frequenting second-hand shops in general which gave me the chance to trip upon a lost work of art or at the outside a significant sculpture previously unidentified.

Most of these establishments were little more than junk shops filled with the detritus of past generations. Glass ornaments, silver trays and monogrammed teaspoons. The sort of stuff Mum and Dad have prized all their life and the kids can’t stand the sight of.

I was thumbing through a pile of paperbacks by the likes of Wilbur Smith and Harold Robbins when I spied a thin volume that had once been embossed down the spine with golden Arabic script. The gold had long worn off and it was old, tatty and well used. ‘a Koran’ I thought. It was interesting and intriguing. I decided to check it out. The translation app on my phone was programmed for Old English, Latin and various forms of Greek. I was trying to download an Arabic version when I was disturbed by a growled “Oyez”. The grizzled old proprietor was leaning his shaggy head around the door frame “Those are for buying not reading. This is not a library.”

I held up the slim volume “How much for this one?” He indicated a sign tacked to the wall at eye level with a gnarled finger ‘BOOKS $1 ea  OR 15 fur $10’. I tried hard to not feel like a dill and covered my tinge of embarrassment with a bright “I’ll take this one”.

“Hurmmgh” he grunted and disappeared back to whence he came displeased at either the meagre sale or the fact that his inventory was depleted by only one book and not fifteen. It should have been depleted by a whole barrowload as they were really only good for fire-starting.

At home I completed the download and scanned the flyleaf of my purchase. The title translated as Recipes for Life. It was a cookbook! How disappointing but I was intrigued at what sorts of things they cooked up in the ancient Arab world, so I continued translating although the app appeared to be inaccurate. Many words did not translate at all although there was enough to decipher the meaning. I concluded that the original language was ancient Arabic and the written language had changed through time making it difficult for the app to work accurately.

Recipes were for some really strange dishes. The Beginnings of Life, To Blight a Future, A Fondness of The Heart. In other words, how to make a baby, to upset someone’s life, to make someone fall in love. Just the sort of thing the old women of the English woods were called upon to do. This was an ancient Arabic Spell book! With growing excitement, I worked that app industriously hoping to get something clear enough to try out and see if anything worked and the clearest recipe was one for Making Fly. Why on earth would you want to make a fly? Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go and wrote out all the ingredients and instructions in English. That’s when I realised it was to make something fly not to make a fly. A recipe for a flying carpet! Wow! Was I going to give this a go!

The ingredients took a while to gather and in that time I settled down and allowed my doubts to gather. This was ridiculous. No way was an actual flying carpet possible. I only had to get one ingredient wrong or misinterpret one instruction and nothing was going to happen. Nothing was going to happen anyway declared my scepticism.

I gathered olive oil, oil of Ulan (which after much research turned out to be lanolin or the grease in a sheep’s wool), saltpetre, desiccated spiders (try getting that online!) and the many other weird ingredients the recipe called for. This turned into a lengthy and ongoing minor obsession but after three years and four months I thought I had everything I needed. I had obtained a cauldron and bought a carpet. In fact I had gone back to that very same second-hand shop for the most Arabic looking tatty old carpet I could find and it was even made of silk which is what the recipe called for. Definitely not woollen or modern polyester. That had never been heard of when the instructions were written.

I gathered all together and popped the cauldron onto the gas ring in the kitchen before surveying all the ingredients and thinking “I’m going to need a gas mask if that lot starts heating up. It’ll cause a hell of a stink.” As subsequent developments proved that was a thought that showed a previously unacknowledged intelligence on my part. I moved all outside and lit a fire. Mixed everything according to directions and waited for the mixture to achieve the legendary ‘Hubble, Bubble, toil and trubble’ of Disney fame.

Slowly it heated, but it never quite came to the boil. It turned green and began to quietly swirl in a clockwise direction. It gave off a sharp stinking odour which brought to mind rancid goats milk. I have no idea where that idea came from but that’s what it smelled like. I was glad I wasn’t in the kitchen.

I rolled out the carpet and had to sprinkle the mixture evenly across the surface all the while repeating the words “turtefa watatfu” which my app assured me meant “rise and float” in Arabic. I thought I would be smart and use a colander into which I poured the mixture and expected it to flow out like rain but the plastic colander just melted. As did the mesh sieve I used for the same purpose so I just splashed the liquid out of an iron saucepan just as they must have done years ago fully expecting the silken carpet to disappear into smoking holes. Burnt through by this stinking toxic brew. I shook the pot before me scattering droplets of liquid all the while backing across the carpet like a biblical farmer sowing his crop. Nothing happened.

Disappointed I recalled the old adage “if at first you don’t succeed try again” so I repeated the procedure and kept on until all the mixture was used up and the silken carpet was thoroughly soaked.

I stood back staring at the carpet ruminating on what a total waste the last three and a half years had been when against all expectations it took off! It slowly rose to waist height, to head height and just steadily kept on going. Up and up and up until it was just a speck in the sky. I was too startled to grab it or hold it or shout for it to come down. I was supposed to be sitting on it flying around like Aladdin but here I was standing on the ground stunned. Just watching it go up on its own. Just as well really as I had no way to control it and I would just have gone on up with it and disappeared for ever. Just as that carpet did.

I still had the spell book and the cauldron but I’m hesitant about giving another spell a try. The more I think about it the more I realise I had a narrow escape with that carpet and that might not happen next time.

Ken Morrell Sept. 2023

 

Memento Mori by Susan Schrader

Emily Whitby was given the black petty cash tin on her 25th Birthday. It was old, edged in gold paint with an embossed gold fleur-de-lis on the lid. The key was long lost and so the lid opened easily. Her Aunt Mavis, who had raised Emily after her father’s death when Emily was two, explained that the box contained what Emily needed to know about her father.

What it contained was an invitation.

It was Sunday. Her uncles had come for lunch and after the roast lamb and vegetables had been consumed and cleared away, after the apple pie and custard had been demolished, with Uncle John adding a dribble of custard to the pattern on his tie, they had all shared a drop of whisky and the men had left.

Emily was sitting on her bed, legs crossed, in her upstairs room in the terrace house in Balmain. From her window she could see her uncles standing in the street. They seemed tense as they talked, Uncle Harry twirling his hat in his hands, the other two gesturing, hands flying in a conversation that did not need words. A look cast in her direction made her draw back and she focused on the tin they had asked her to open when she was ready.

She jumped off the bed and placed a record on the turntable, Cat Steven’s Tea for the Tillerman, mellow enough for an afternoon scouring through a box of history

Settling back on the bed Emily lifted the tin’s lid.

A litter of sympathy cards lay on top. She lifted them out, turning them over. They were only small, like the cards used now for flower deliveries. But each one was signed in fountain pen, the ink bleeding slightly at the edges of the script. Emily read through the names. Some were familiar, family and friends that had been in her life for as long as she could remember. Others were unexpected – Fred Anderson, Lennie McPherson, Tillie Devine, Abe S. There were plenty more. They were notorious, a who’s who of the criminal underworld. You did not grow up in Balmain without hearing these names, without hearing about the bookmakers and the fixed races, the sly grog and the standover men or the sudden disappearance of some criminal or poor sod who lost too many time at the card tables. These names all sent a chill down her spine.

Below the cards was a newspaper clipping from the Balmain Times: –

 

Local Publican Found Murdered – 15th September 1948

The body of Reginald Whitby was found in the cellar of the White Horse Inn on Saturday morning. Whitby was the publican of said Inn. He had been shot three times, twice in the chest and once through the head, execution style. He had been thrown  down the stairs to the cellar. His wife, Mary Whitby, found the body in the early hours. Unconfirmed sources suggest that the death is related to criminal activities in the area.

The police are carrying out a thorough investigation.

 

Emily’s breath caught in her throat as she struggled to take in this news. Her hands were shaking, urgency and panic colliding, she started tossing the cards aside looking for one that was different. There … Lennie McPherson … a black finger print next to his name … a mark easily mistaken for an ink smudge but, on close inspection, something much more menacing.

Emily tipped the  box out, spreading the contents haphazardly. What was she supposed to learn from all of this? There were her father’s army papers, war medals, some photographs – small box brownie black and white images. There were betting slips, some IOU’s for large amounts of money … and a bullet.

A bullet? She picked it up carefully. Carved on the side was her father’s name – Reg W. He’d been a marked man. Her father had received a Memento Mori – not just a reminder that we all must die, but a message that he must die.

Emily closed her eyes, covered her face with her hands and looked into darkness. Images flashed – things she was not supposed to have seen or understand. Her Uncle Harry twirling his hat. The ongoing secretive meetings here with Aunt Mavis.  The flash of a gun in a holster over Uncle Ken’s shoulder hidden behind his suit coat.  The few occasions when men she did not know had sat on the front porch of the terrace for days without explanation. What had she missed? What had they not told her?

There was a knock at her door and Aunt Mavis let herself in.

It took Emily’s aunt less that ten minutes to fill in the gaps. “The family business is in pubs and nightclubs and there are several other lucrative income streams.  As long as we pay the standover men their due, we’re safe – the protection rackets are run by Lennie McPherson and Fred Anderson. Lennie was only young when a hit went out for your dad. Lennie was ready to step up and build his name and your dad … well, your dad wasn’t going to kowtow to anyone so he was the perfect example for Fred’s message to anyone not about to pay up. Hence the bullet.”

“What about Mum?” Emily asked.

“She died a year after your dad. Some say a broken heart but it was a brain aneurysm, quick and unpredictable.” Aunt Mavis replied. “There was  nothing sinister there.”

Emily turned the bullet over and over in her hand, silent for some moments, then, “Lennie’s still walking around, isn’t he?”

“Yes,” Aunt Mavis said, “but we can’t get to Lennie. Fred, that bastard Ray Kelly, Abe, maybe … it could be time to set the record straight.”

“So,” Emily said, a hard edge to her voice, “Is this my invitation to join the business.”

“You’ll have to discuss it with your Uncle’s but, I’m fine with you doing so.”

“Then pass me that penknife.” Emily took the knife and carved Len M on the clean side of the bullet. Cat Stevens was looking for a Hard Headed Woman. Emily gritted her teeth as she finished the carving.

Memento Mori Lennie, she thought as she carefully placed everything back in the box.

© Susan Schrader                                                       28th August 2023

 

 

MEMENTO MORI by Judy Norris

“I know, I know…there are two things we can be sure of in life and that’s ‘death and taxes.’ I saw a meme the other day that said we shouldn’t worry about death because we are totally oblivious to it. It’s those around us who bear the pain. The meme said it’s the same as when you’re stupid.” Steph laughed, in an attempt to lighten the conversation but Maeve wasn’t in the mood to make light of it.

“I’m not scared of death itself,” Maeve explained, “I’m concerned that I will die before I have done anything with my life.”

“You have done loads with your life, woman. There are people who would love to have experienced and achieved the things you have. What on earth has brought this on?”

Maeve was reading a book, about four women who had reached various stages in their fifties and were bemoaning their need to do something different in their lives that was actually for them.

“Most of my life I have conformed to whatever has been expected of me by other people. Towed the line, followed safe career paths, been a dutiful wife and doting mother, followed the rules. Don’t get me wrong I love Liam and the kids, of course I do. I have a beautiful home, no money worries and blah, blah, blah.”

“Blah, blah, blah? Listen to yourself Maeve, people…”

“I know what you’re going to say, Steph and I know I sound ungrateful.”

Maeve had thought twice about telling Steph how she was feeling. She did feel guilty but this wasn’t something she could glaze over and just get on with her life, the way it was. It didn’t mean she wanted to do anything drastic and she certainly didn’t want to ‘run away’ from everything. One of the women in the book, always wanted to travel. Her mother had been a dancer and worked all over the world. She even left her with the grandmother while she pursued her career. She’d kept all the postcards her mother sent and decided she was going to take a year off family and work, to follow in her mother’s (dance) footsteps. For years she’d wanted to do this but ‘life’ with its responsibilities and consideration of others, had always got in the way. Her decision involved telling her husband and adult children she would be away from home for a year while she ‘scratched this itch’ and they would have to get along without her.

Another one of the women, had a baby in her late teens and was forced to surrender it for adoption. Not long after the adoption she received a letter from the adoptive parents, who said she would always be welcome to contact them if she ever wanted to keep in touch with her daughter’s journey. They were even prepared for her to visit them, if the time was appropriate, the daughter agreed and it wouldn’t be detrimental to any of the parties involved. The adoptive parents had moved back to their home town of San Francisco, when the child was very young. She never took up their invitation. One of the main reasons she didn’t follow her heart was, she was consumed by guilt and dealt with it by leading a busy life that helped her to push it so far back in her mind, she almost convinced herself it hadn’t happened. Total denial was futile of course and she finally decided to make that journey.

Steph didn’t understand Maeve’s need for life affirmation but she wanted to. They shared one of those once in a life time friendships, where nothing was off limits and they were totally comfortable with each other. “You’re scaring me a little Maeve, where is this going?”

“It and I are going to the Whitsundays for 3 months, to learn how to sail and …”

“Wow, why the Whitsundays and why 3 months? There are perfectly good sailing schools in Sydney and it wouldn’t take 3 months for you to become competent.”

“Correct, but I don’t want to stay in Sydney. I need to get away, chill out spend some time where it’s warm and surrounded by glorious ocean views. I plan to read more, do absolutely nothing sometimes and enjoy the sunsets. I also need to work on my other plan.”

Maeve was a high-ranking police officer and had been in the force for almost thirty years. When perpetrators of crime were incarcerated, there were government agencies available to support and assist their human dependents but it had always bothered Maeve, this didn’t extend to their pets.  “You know how I’ve always said how sad it is when we arrest people and there is nobody at home to look after their pets? I want to set up a foster scheme to help look after them while their owners are not around. To be a good copper you have to see the human side of crime, empathise and help when you can. It’s heart breaking to hear them say, “Who’s gonna look after me dog?” and see the anguish in their eyes. “Yer won’t take him to the pound Mrs, will ya?” I remember one guy who’d had a budgie for 12 years and was beside himself that there would be nobody to look after Bandit.”

“Isn’t that the sort of thing you can outsource to an animal facility?”

“Probably, but how humane would it be. I want to provide a service that truly cares and is not bogged down by bureaucracy, which would exclude some of the pets because of some stupid rule.”

“Sounds like an enormous risk to me. Have you thought about all the legal implications and hot water you could get into?”

“No, and you’re missing the point, Steph. I read about a death doula recently who ran three notebooks: Advice; Regrets; and Confessions. She listed in them the things her patients shared with her on their death beds. I’m not going to let one of my ‘regrets’ be that I never went through with my ‘Pets of the Misguided’ idea because of it was too difficult and I wasn’t game to take the risk.”

“Seriously, ‘Pets of the Misguided’?”

Maeve chose not to go into her choice of project name with Steph and instead launched into the third and final thing she planned to do. “I’m going to get a tattoo.”

Steph was speechless. She stared at Maeve wondering who this woman in front of her actually was. It certainly wasn’t the friend of almost 30 years who was always so sensible, conservative and rational. Where did she go? “A tattoo? You of all people Maeve. You are really scaring me now. What’s it going to be, a budgie in a convict outfit?”

Suddenly the weight of carrying all that she’d just shared with Steph fell from her shoulders and Maeve laughed until the tears of laughter turned to tears of relief and excitement that her journey was about to begin. By actually putting her plans into words she’d given herself the permission and impetus she needed to set it all into motion.

“No, Miss Smarty Pants. On the inside of my right wrist, so that I can clearly see it every time it looks like I might falter on my new pathway, will be tattooed Memento Mori.

Steph had no idea how Liam and the children would react, firstly to Maeve being away for 3 months and then taking on the enormous responsibility of ‘Pets of the Misguided’ (she was still having difficulty getting her head round that name) not to mention the financial outlay it would involve. As a loyal friend it was not her place to put obstacles in the way and, having witnessed Maeve’s emotional and vehement determination to follow her dreams, it would be futile and possibly be a threat to their friendship, to play devil’s advocate any longer. Instead, she put her arms round a still shaking but euphoric Maeve and told her she would support all the way, with the exception of also getting a tattoo that is.

 

Judy Norris © September 2023

 

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