Writers work for June

A reminder last week’s prompts were …

  1. Oh Dear …
  2. When All Around You Is Falling Apart …
  3. Just My Luck …
  4. “I’m sorry but you card has been declined”

 

Coming Out
by Olivia Masterfield

 

“Mum, Dad,” Elise said, her voice trembling as she gripped the edges of her chair for comfort and security. “I’m a lesbian.”

 

Those four words were enough to silence the room and make the air grow suddenly colder. Time slowed to a snail pace the longer the silence prevailed, and the tension at the table was thick enough that only a chainsaw could cut through.

 

All eyes were on Elise now as she bowed her head down and chewed on her bottom lip. Her mind ran through multiple scenarios as if to prepare her for what was going to happen next. The longer the silence lingered the more frightening her mind became and until at last the silence was broken by her mother, Martha, taking a deep breath and proceeding with packing the plates with Tuscan meatballs.

 

“No you’re not Elise,” she said dismissively as she sank into her own seat. “You’re only nineteen. You are probably just confused sweetheart.”

 

“But I am gay mum,” she argued gently, pulling her chair closer to the table and glancing down at the succulent meatballs and sour cream and chive mashed potatoes. It was all she felt comfortable looking at. “I have been for a while.”

 

She could feel Martha staring her down from across the oak table, as if trying to reinforce her own truth into her daughter with her gaze. That was when her father Andrew cleared his throat and spun to face his daughter next. Thankfully her father tended to have a better understanding of things such as these, at least in his own way.

 

“Elise,” he said gently. “if you’re gay as you say you are then how come you haven’t brought home a girlfriend yet?”

 

That was the one question she could not answer. Not with her mother at the table glaring daggers into her very soul. If she knew Elise did in fact have a girlfriend, who just so happened to be her best friend, then she would ensure they have unfair boundaries and rules to keep them apart.

 

She could only look at him and hope he could see the answer spelt out in her gaze. And after a while he nodded and looked down at his dinner, stabbing his fork into the potatoes. She waited for him to say something, but throughout the entire dinner no one spoke except to ask for sauces or salt and pepper.

 

Dinner ended but the silence continued on. Martha retired to the loungeroom to fold while watching the news, and Andrew went back into the study to work on some marking from school. The only one who did talk was Elise, and it was to wish her parents goodnight and go to bed. It was only then that Martha removed herself from the living room and made her way into her husband’s office, pouting all the way.

 

“You need to tell her, “She snapped.

 

“Tell her what love?” he asked, not once tearing his eyes from the unmarked essays in front of him.

 

“To quit the bullshit,” Martha hissed. “She is NOT gay. I would know she was. This has to be something else, a sign maybe that something is wrong. Maybe its social media pressuring her to be one of those LGB people. You know how they are! The whole ‘if you’re straight and white then you’re the devil’s spawn’ agenda.”

 

Andrew did not turn around to face his wife. He could even stomach too. All he could do is ask a daring question, one that may break the camel’s back. “Why does it bother you so much that she is a lesbian?”

 

Martha audibly gasped. “What kind of question is that, Andrew?!”

 

“Answer the question,” he replied coolly. “Why does it bother you?”

 

Martha pursed her lips tightly. Andrew turned to look at her, and still, she did not speak. He could only shake his head and turn back around, returning to his work. “I admit I do not understand the concept of loving someone who is the same sex as you. But that’s me being an old timer. But while I don’t understand it all I do love my daughter. And if she is lesbian or trans or non-binary, then it’s my job as a parent to love and support her.

 

“You are her mother Martha,” he concluded with a sigh. “Why can’t you look past your own beliefs or thoughts and see that our daughter is no different than she was just yesterday, or her whole life?”

 

Martha sniffed definitely as she straightened her posture and pursed her lips even tighter. He waited for her to reply but he only heard her storming out of the room and back to the living room. He did not chase her, and he did not call for her either. He simply got up from his seat and made his way into the kitchen to make himself some coffee.

 

From upstairs, Elise heard everything.

She laid awake staring at the ceiling as her mother confirmed her greatest fears. Tears stung her eyes and her mouth tasted salt as she did her best not to sob or make a sound. She shouldn’t have said anything, she told herself over and over again. She should have stayed in the closet for just a bit longer, and waited for the day to move out to tell them. But now, until she could, she would have to stay under the same roof as her mother.

 

Her phone dinged from her bedside, startling her. She automatically reached out and picked it up, reading the message that had been sent. It was from Evelyn, her girlfriend, whose name was accompanied by love heart and flower emojis. It read; “Hey~ how’d it go? Did you tell them?”

 

She sniffed as she typed her answer below. “I did. Mum didn’t take it well.”

 

Three dots jumped around beneath her message for a while. After a minute she had her response, and that almost made her cry even more. “I’m sorry to hear that babe 🙁 I know how scary it is to tell people things like this. But I promise it’s gonna be okay. If you want you can stay at mine for a bit until things calm down? You’ll always have a place with me. Love you, lots of hugs!”

 

She stared at the reply for a while, unsure of what she could say. She thought about it for a while longer before typing her response into the bar below. “I’d love that. Thank you. I love you too. Goodnight, babe, see you tomorrow.”

 

Once the message was sent, Elise rolled away from her phone and closed her eyes. She found solace in the thought of Evelyn and being able to stay with her for a while. It was that thought that managed to make her feel safe and loved enough to fall asleep in her own home.

 

© Olivia Masterfield                  May 2023

 

IF and WHEN
by Gary Ireland

As he contemplated what his next move might be, Harrison found the first lines of a poem he had studied in Year 11 drifting through his mind, “If you can keep your head when all about you/ Are losing their and blaming it on you.” They were from a work called If by the imperialist writer, Rudyard Kipling and described a series of unpleasant situations, suggesting the proper response to them, and concluding with the declaration that if he did all of these things, “you’ll be a man, my son.”

 

The poem had spoken to him and he had liked it but, being aware of the distain with which it was viewed by his teacher, Ms. Bramwell, he had discretely muted his admiration in his term essay, and thus gained an A++. She was a fervent admirer of Sylvia Plath and spoke of Kipling’s poem as a piece of antediluvian, patriarchal, self-delusion typical of the era. Yet now, he found himself drawing strength from it. It was no longer a case of if he could keep his head when things were falling about but rather that the occasion was upon him when he must.

 

His father had been well over .05 when he had run the car into a guard rail, and now both he and Harrison’s step-mother were in hospital, his father with only minor injuries and likely to be discharged in the morning but his wife was seriously injured, unconscious and her right arm and leg encased in plaster, sustained by a drip. The step-mother’s parents had come to the hospital but, distraught and angry with their father had turned on him and his younger brother and sister, somehow attributing the accident to them despite the fact that all three had been home playing a video game when it had occurred. It was in the face of their anger that he had begun to take refuge in the nostrums proffered by If– “If being hated, don’t give way to hating.”

 

He longed for his own, his real grandparents but his father’s parents had retired to Surfer’s Paradise and his father had been so unwelcoming to his mother’s when they tried to maintain a relationship with the children that they now largely kept their distance. So it was all up to him for now, even though Nan and Pop were trying to book a flight from Coolongatta in the morning. In only two weeks he was due to commence university but, if necessary, he could put that on hold.

 

He turned to Liam and Sarah who sat beside him in the waiting room of the hospital ER, disconsolately playing with their phones and waiting for an adult to tell them what to do. They readily obeyed when he told them that it was time to go home. He had the family’s second car, an old Mazda 3, which he borrowed frequently for his part-time job at Coles, so he led them to the parking lot and, conscious of the dangers of the road, ensured they were properly buckled in, and then prepared to drive off.

The words of the poem ran again through his mind and he said to himself, “Well, my son, I guess I am now a  man, but I wish I didn’t have to be”

 

GARY IRELAND                                                                            June 2023

 

Amazing Grace
by Susan Schrader

 

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me …

 

As the organ started, the congregation stood, their voices raised in unison to sing the strains of the familiar hymn, the harmonies swelling to fill the church with a sense of spiritual worship.


I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see …

 

Adam Barker looked down at his hands. They were shaking and his voice was silent. He could still see the dirt on those hands despite the number of times he had washed them over the past four weeks. Four weeks. He could not believe it had been four weeks but still he could not settle to what he had done. Had he been blind when he had acted? Was there any saving grace for the wretch he had become?

 

He looked across the nave of the church and saw Bucket. Her face was beautiful and radiant in the shaft of sunlight streaming in through the stained-glass window. She was composed, serene and singing along with the rest of the congregation.  He wondered how she maintained her calm. She knew what they had done but it did not seem to affect her at all.

 

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace, my fears relieved …

 

If she had any grace in her heart did she fear the consequences of their actions? But, of course, these were fruitless thoughts. He had loved her since their childhood and would have done, would still do, anything to ensure her happiness.

 

After the service as the vicar, Mr Danley, stood, pompous and rigid, greeting the members of his small parish, Adam went to fetch the carriage for Bucket. As he held the horses steady by the lynch gate, he overheard Mr Danley ask Bucket about her husband.

 

“Lady Redwynn, it is lovely to see you on this fine day. We have not seen Lord Redwynn for some weeks now. Is anything amiss?”

 

She smiled, that gracious, indulgent smile she reserved for social gatherings and the gentility she barely tolerated. “No, Mr Danley, everything is fine. Lord Redwynn has been called away to London on business and I expect he will be there for the remainder of the month.”

 

Adam gulped. How could she say this with such aplomb and what was she going to do when her husband did not return at the end of the month. His hands were shaking again and it took all his strength to regain his calm. As Bucket approached the carriage, he bowed, acknowledged her by her title and opened the carriage door for her. With his free hand, he helped her step into the carriage and felt the thrill that her touch always inspired. Hoisting himself into the driver’s seat, he flicked the reins and urged the horses into motion. The two greys were superb animals and responded in unison, their hooves clip-clopping over the paving stones with ease. Caring for the two beasts was something he loved about his job – that and being near Bucket.

 

Back at the Redwynn Estate, the horses halted directly in front of the doors to the house that had been Lady Redwynn’s home for the past five years – home and prison. A footman, who had been standing in readiness for his mistress’s arrival, stepped forward, lowered the steps and opened the carriage door, allowing Bucket to step easily onto the cobbled drive. As she did so, she addressed Adam without looking at him.

 

“Mr Barker, would you please join me in the library in thirty minutes. I wish to discuss events for the week ahead.” Without waiting for a response, she lifted her skirts and walked purposefully into the house.

 

Adam knew this was a ruse but he was excited to spend any time he could with her and he knew she felt the same way.  Thirty minutes would give him time to unharness the horses and clean up a bit – wash his hands again and hope she did not see the dirt on them that haunted his sleeping and waking hours.

 

At the stables, he unharnessed and curried the horses using the small circular motions his Da had shown him when he was a child. As he worked through the familiar process of caring for the horses applying just the right pressure, combing the hair gently to loosen any dirt, his mind wandered.

 

He remembered his Da working as head groom on the Winfield Estate. Adam was there with his Da, saddling the pony for the small girl who learned to ride with his father as her guide. His Da had let him ride along too and the small girl had laughed in delight when she first let the horse gallop ahead and saw his Da blanch in fright. She had called Adam, Spade and he, in turn, nicknamed her Bucket and these became the names they used for one another, those terms of endearment that endured as she grew into a beautiful young woman. When her father decided it was time for her to marry and had chosen Lord Peter Redwynn as her husband, she and Adam had hugged each other, crying at what was to be the loss of their friendship. By then, they were completely besotted with each other and could not imagine a life apart.

 

However, fate had intervened when Lord Redwynn’s head groom died suddenly, and it was decided that Adam should take his place at the Redwynn Estate. It was still not ideal but the best that could be hoped for considering that their respective places in society would always keep them apart. Peter Redwynn was a brute of a man from the first day of his marriage to Bucket. He was critical, demanding and demeaning. Over the past five years, his behaviour had become worse, and he had started beating his wife.

 

Adam winced as he recalled that day four weeks ago when Redwynn had knocked Bucket to the ground in the stables. Adam had lost his temper and attacked the man, punching him with the strength he had acquired from years of physical work. Redwynn did not go down.  Instead, he rallied, overpowered Adam, and pulled a dirk from his belt and held it at Adam’s throat. Adam recalled the madness in the man’s eyes. In that instant when Adam thought his life was over, he saw Redwynn gasped, his eyes widening in shock as a trickle of blood coursed from his lips. Dropping the knife, Redwynn released Adam and fell to the ground, a pitchfork skewering his gut. Bucket was standing there with a look of terror on her face and the two of them stood frozen over the dying form of the man that had been so vile to them both.

 

The image was seared into Adam’s mind. The man gasping for his last breaths, the accusing look and the fear. The fear rippled through the three of them in that moment, a unifying emotion and stripped away all class distinction. Death took only moments but it seemed like hours and when at last the body lay still and lifeless, there was a deep silence.

 

On that day, it was the horses that broke that silence – their nervous whinny cutting through the horror and terror. Bucket had spoken first.

 

“We have to get rid of him.”

 

Adam had looked at her and had seen the strength that had held her together over the past few years. She had no intention of bearing the brunt of whatever judgement would be passed on this deed. She picked up several horse blankets and tossed them over the body. “We can bury him on the moors – up on higher ground where no one goes – beyond the walking and horse trails. Help me … help me now.”

 

Adam was still frozen and Bucket turned him to face her, shaking him by the shoulders and, when he still did not respond, she slapping him out of his shock. “Do you want to hang for this? They’ll blame you, you know. No matter what we say, this will be murder and they will hang you. We have to act now.”

 

She pushed him then, towards the blankets and the body and with his mind still in shock, he wrapped the body and lifted it onto the cart.  Using the pitchfork, he tossed hay over the lot and piled it high, laying the pitchfork and a shovel across the top. He harnessed the Clydesdale and with Bucket beside him, they tracked out into the countryside to an isolated part of the moor where the heather and thistle bloomed, and the winter frost hit so bitterly that very few ventured into the area.

 

They had found a spot behind a rocky outcrop and Adam had dug into the hard compact dirt, using every ounce of strength in his body. He had dug with fear and force. He had dug out of love and faith. He had dug out of horror and disgust and the dirt had coated his hands and his clothing sticking to the blood that had splattered him when the pitchfork had pierced Redwynn. He hefted the body into the deep hole and covered it with the hay and the soil, tamping down the earth with a silent prayer for the man who now lay in an unmarked grave.

 

It was not until the last clod of dirt was in place that Bucket let herself feel anything and it was at that point that the tears welled in her eyes and overflowed – a waterfall of grief and fear and relief. Adam, took her in his arms.

 

“Spade,” she said, “what do we do now?”

 

What indeed he had thought then, and he was still thinking it as he finished combing the greys, washed his hands and headed to the library to speak with Lady Redwynn.

 

She was standing facing the window as he entered, her back straight, dignity in every fibre of her being. But when she turned to face him, Adam saw the redness in her eyes and the despair in her features.

 

“Spade, I have bought us three more week before more questions will be asked but, somehow, we have to have a story that will stick, take us through to beyond further questions being asked.”

 

“We could pack up and go to the Americas,” Adam said and she smiled weakly at the thought. “Why not? We could start all over – marry, be a respectable couple.”

 

She stepped up to him then and kissed him. The first, truly open kiss they had been able to share. His response was immediate, warm, filled with love. He knew she was saying goodbye.

 

At the end of the month, Adam was on a ship to America. He would settle in the colonies and send mail to Lady Redwynn – news from her husband and she would continue to fend inquiries about Lord Redwynn’s health and wellbeing. She settled happily into the house which now became a haven for her. Adam established businesses in the name of Lord Redwynn, took on the persona of the man and continued to love Bucket from afar.

 

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;

 

Adam did not lose faith though and on Sunday’s as the strains of the familiar hymn were sung, he thought of Bucket and hoped to see her again.

 

’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.

 

 

© Susan Schrader                                                                        16th June 2023

 

 

 

OH DEAR!
by Ken Morrell

Tony Theobold swung one leg over the saddle of his bike and rode the pedal halfway up the drive before he dropped off with a couple of quick steps and allowed the machine to glide across the lawn, into a garden bed and crash onto its side. He tripped up the steps and rapped on the screen door.

Zanthus waited several heartbeats before opening up with a surprised ‘Oh high Tony. What’s up?”

“Thought I’d drop by for that poster.  Was just going past” and he leaned nonchalantly against the door jamb.

“Oh yeah. I think it’s in my room. Come on in and I’ll fetch it” she tried hard to be as casual as possible even though the handsome and popular captain of the school soccer team was standing right there in their living room. She scuttled up to her room and collected grans old spell book flipping it open to the binding spell Zany had been studying all week. Ever since the idea had come to her. The idea of using the spells in Gran’s ancient occult spell book. Gran had been a powerful witch using her powers for good. She had helped many people in subtle ways, mostly in secret.

One bright sunny afternoon Gran had taken her favourite granddaughter aside and confided where she had hidden her store of spells and incantations.

“What about Mum?” Zany had asked “shouldn’t she get the book? Isn’t it supposed to be passed from mother to daughter?”

“There see. You know without even being told what should happen with magic. Your mother means well but she hasn’t the knack. She just doesn’t get it. She takes after your dad. But you my dear, you’re magic to the core, just like I was. Am. When I’m gone you take the book and do good things with it. Help people. It’s very rewarding helping people.”

But Zanthus thought she might as well help herself as well. While she was getting used to the magic. And she was going to help herself to Tony Theobold. A little binding spell and he would be her first boyfriend. What a catch!

She had promised him a poster of his favourite footy star Harry Kewell that her dad had supposedly thrown out. It didn’t exist but it was enough to lure the target of her desire to their house and be idly loitering in their lounge room at a time when Mum was down the shops. Zany raced up to her room, collected Grans spell book and made her way back rehearsing the spell she had spent the last ten days memorising.

The introduction was a bit confusing: the caster must be pure of tongue, stout of heart, strong of mind. Zany knew she was strong of mind, she really wanted Tony Theobold. Stout of heart? Well, yes, but she thought pure of tongue meant to not make a mistake in the telling hence the ancient book open in her arms. Entering the lounge room she read out the binding spell just as Tony was turning from picking one of Dad’s figs, of which he was so proud, out of the fruit bowl in the middle of the jarrah dining table. He turned towards her, scowled at what she was doing and froze. Froze solid, just like a statue in the park. He was supposed to be glad eyed and running towards her, love in his eyes. Instead, he was stock still with a frown on his handsome face. Instantly Zanthus knew something had gone wrong. And things were going to get worse as she heard mum’s car crunching over the gravel drive on its way back from the shops.

Throwing the spell book onto the sofa and quickly covering it with a knee rug she wandered onto the veranda intending to give the impression of wanting to help with the groceries but shaking at the knees and sick in the stomach she surprised herself at the words that actually came out of her mouth.

“Please Mum. You can’t go in there. Not until I’ve had a chance to fix it.” Her mother froze, staring at her daughter with trepidation written all over her face.

“What have you done?” she asked in an unusually calm tone still holding an armful of purchases.

Raising her hands in a placating gesture Zanthus assured her mother that “I can fix it. I know I can fix it.”

Calmly her mother laid down her burdens, and determinedly made her way up the steps, past her daughter and into the lounge of her home to study the frozen figure of a handsome young man reaching for a fig.

“Oh dear” she said. “A binding spell gone wrong” and slowly she circled the figure studying him. “Hmm. Where’s the book?” she asked.

Still standing trepidatiously by the door, Zanthus was trying to make herself as small and unnoticeable as possible as her mother turned her gaze towards her “where’s the book?”

Zanthus simply pointed to the sofa. Mum reached down and flipped off the tartan rug studying the book it revealed.

“Hmm, that old thing.” Turning her attention back to Zany cowering in the doorway “it’s dangerous stuff what’s in there. Why do you think I’ve never been near it in twenty years?” and she jerked her thumb over one shoulder “because this is what can happen if you don’t get it right.”

“I can fix it Mum, I know I can.”

“humph. You’ve done enough damage” her mother grumbled reaching for the book and leafing through the pages. “Which one did you use?” she asked.

Zany indicated with a twist of her finger to flip a few more pages until the offending not working spell was revealed. “That one” she said.

“Hmmm. Pure of tongue, stout of heart, strong of mind” Mum read. “Is that you?”

Zany shrugged her shoulders noncommittedly.

“Did you tell a lie?”

“It was only a little one. Just a white lie to get Tony to come over.”

“What do you think pure of tongue means? That’s why the spell didn’t work. Everything has to be perfect when working with magic.” She heaved another big sigh “hmmm” and began flipping more pages.

“I was going to use a reversing spell” Zany suggested. Her mother evaluated her out of the corner of one eye. “There’s one in the back of the book.”

Together they found the suggested spell and studied it.

“Well, you cast the original spell. It would work best if you cast the reversing one. Read up while I get the rest of the groceries.”

Zanthus gave her mother an enquiring look. She was taking this disastrous situation altogether too calmly.

A few minutes later Mum instructed her “Now walk around him while reciting the spell then stand back. Do it calmly, clearly and with confidence.”

Zanthus obeyed. Calmly, clearly and with a confidence she didn’t really feel. More a hopeful wish.

Suddenly the statuesque Tony Theobold blinked, shook himself and looked straight into her mothers eyes with a startled expression.

“Who are you and what are you doing in my house?” Mum asked.

Totally taken aback Tony stammered “my name’s Tony and Zany asked me to come over.”

“Hmmmm.” Growled Zanthus mum. “I think you’d better leave.” And Tony did not question the direction save for a quizzical look to Zanthus who mouthed the words “I’m Sorry”.

Once he had collected his bike from the garden and headed off down the road Zanthus turned to her mother and observed

“You’re taking this all very calmly.”

“That’s because I know all about magic and the trouble it can cause. I could never make it work out right.” She then turned to her daughter and declared, “I think we need to have the talk.”

“The talk!” a startled Zanthus exclaimed.

Her mother waved a placating hand and explained “I know you know all about the birds and the bees but the talk we need to have is all about magic.”

 

KEN MORRELL JUNE 2023

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