Grace Notes: Grace O’Malley, Irish rebel, pirate queen

In a captivating feat of storytelling, Jennifer Liston entrances her audience with a combination of spoken word and song. Liston’s talent for drawing in her audience is impressive as she tells the tale of a distant ancestor, the legendary Irish rebel and pirate queen Grace O’Malley (Grainne Mhaol).

Born in the 16th century, O’Malley’s life was different to that of the typical female archetype of the time. A born leader and a wily adversary, O’Malley’s life was ruled by her love for the sea. Having devotedly learned the art of sailing and clan rule from her father, O’Malley returned to her clan after the death of her husband, taking on the role of clan chief and maintaining their reputed strength on both land and sea. With her education steeped in Brehon law, O’Malley’s character is presented as being a highly moral individual both for the good of her family and her clan.

One of the highlights of this show is perhaps the explanation of Brehon law, a cultural norm of the time which bleeds into modernity. Together with explaining the concept and telling us of O’Malley’s afront at this law being ignored, she also graces us with a haunting tune that will stay with her audience for some time yet. Even now I can still hear the echoes of that chorus.

Liston transforms the atmosphere of the Grande Room in Gilbert Street hotel into something almost mystical. With the help of white and red lighting, subtle costume ‘changes’, and the skill of switching between song, narration, and poetry the audience is quickly drawn into this entirely captivating performance.

Born from scraps of history, legend, and a touch of innate intuition, this performance is telling in the way stories can inspire new works of art. If Liston hadn’t heard O’Malley’s story from Sister Peter back in school and if she hadn’t talked with her mother about it after, who knows if Liston would have come so far as to perform this particular show at this particular Fringe Festival far from the wilds of her Irish homelands.

4 / 5 stars


Words by Kayla Gaskell

Grace Notes: Grace O’Malley, Irish rebel, pirate queen is running until March 4

For more information click here

‘Greenwood’- By Paul J. Laverty

She parked in the driveway. She didn’t open the car door, just sat there. The house looked different. Bright red gutters replaced the old, peeling green ones. There was a new beige garage door. Yet the garden, the street and the suburb surrounding it was much the same.

She tried to think of the last time she’d been here. Boxing Day. Four years ago. After that Danny didn’t want to. Especially when his real habit crept in.

She remembered their last year of high school. She used to spend most nights here. In his room, drinking homebrew, smoking cones, watching Wes Craven movies, listening to Queens of the Stone Age. Making love. That was fifteen years ago, but it felt like a lifetime.

Mummy, when are we going in?” her six-year-old, Hunter, asked from the backseat.

Mikhaila lit a cigarette. She immediately regretted it as Val would smell it on her and add that to her shit list. She was already wearing a black sleeveless top that couldn’t hide the love heart tattoo which Val had never disguised her disdain for. The one her son had designed.

In a minute, hon.”

She reclined the seat slightly and took a drag. She might as well finish it now it was lit.

Back in high school she was seen as a good influence. Their Daniel had never got anything but D-grades. All he wanted to do was skate. And then she came along. Pianist. President of the student council. Plans to study medicine. Singer in an up-and-coming local band. Danny’s marks moved up to a C. His parents liked her. For a little while, she felt, anyway.

Mummy, I’m thirsty,” her four-year-old, Courtney, whined.

Her band got signed. Got on the U.S. festival circuit. She didn’t want him to come. It was work, after all. But he did. And with a lot of time and a little money on his hands, the soft drugs became hard.

Then quick as it began the band ended. Artistic differences, youthful arrogance. Their visas expired. She and Danny returned home. Settled down. Somehow their relationship rolled on. They had one kid, then another.

She wanted to get married, she wanted to take his name. She knew this would make them happy. She saw how they treated Lauren, Danny’s older brother’s wife, once they’d married. She couldn’t even have kids. But Lauren was a respectable primary school teacher, not a former frontwoman of a failed synth-pop band who flashed her legs (and occasionally her tits).

Danny always had an excuse ready and loaded about not conforming. She even got the blame for not baptising the kids Catholic even though Danny said he’d take care of it. She wasn’t even Catholic but she wanted to. She knew how it would make his parents happy and her life easier.

I’m hungry,” said Hunter.

I’m bored,” said Courtney.

They moved down south. She got a job in a clothes shop. His tattoo venture didn’t get off the ground, and he couldn’t cope with the normality of just existing. Of being a partner. A husband. A son. His addiction took hold and knowing he was failing at all that mattered he chose to take his own life on the one night she’d come back up to the city to have dinner with her remaining friends.

Mummy, can you hear us?”

Last month in the Family Court it all came out. Val claimed it was Mikhaila who had turned her son onto the pipe. That she was unstable, she was an unfit mother. Val even alluded to how it was Mikhaila’s fault that her son had ended it all with a leather belt tied around his neck.

Val didn’t mention how Mikhaila had never touched serious drugs. How Danny had lost them the home she paid for, her car, her job. And left her a bereaved single mother at age 31.

The judge gave the grandparents one weekend of visiting rights a month.

The front door opened. Mikhaila stiffened, quickly put out her cigarette and opened the window. But it wasn’t Val. She saw the dark greying features. The strong jaw. The dignified gait. It was Brian, Danny’s dad. Almost exactly how Danny would have looked if he made it to 60.

Hello, love.”

Grandad!” the children squealed racing out the car to throw themselves at him.

Hello, Brian.”

She’d always liked Danny’s dad. He wasn’t a strong man, but he was a nice, quiet man who, in his own way, and faced with great adversity, had tried to stick up for her. Mikhaila saw the curtains twitch and spotted Val’s stern features gazing through the glass. Her eyes bore right through Mikhaila and then softened when they settled on her grandchildren.

You doing okay?” Brian asked.

We’re getting there.”

He reached into the back and lifted Hunter and Courtney’s backpacks. “We’ll drop them back Sunday night.”

Thanks.”

I know it’s hard, but it’s important we do this. For the children.”

The kids waved and disappeared through the door. Mikhaila reversed down the driveway. Drove down the quiet street, parallel to the street she grew up on, and made it out of the suburb. The narrow-minded suburb where nothing ever happened, which she’d tried her whole life to escape, but never could.

It wasn’t until she hit the freeway that she realised she had nowhere to go.

 


Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

Words by Paul J. Laverty

Paul J. Laverty is a Scottish-Australian writer. Emerging from University of Melbourne with a Graduate of Diploma of Arts, he was shortlisted for Overland’s 2018 ‘Fair Australia Prize’, and his work has been featured in publications such as Underground Writers and Better Read Than Dead.

 

The Angel

It would be silent if it weren’t for the echoing hymns, the lingering seminal cries and the whispered prayers of ghosts. It would be silent if it weren’t for his footsteps.

He acts as if he is making a choice, running his fingers along the cold, unsaved wood, looking left and right. Eventually, he chooses a pew halfway down the middle row and settles in, just like he does every evening.

He forces himself to remember. Wading into the shallows, colder than the cellars of hell, his skeletal fingers stretch, searching. Into the reminiscent void, he cries out for guidance. There is no answer. The tide tugs his overcoat until the woollen fabric is heavier than lead. And with a guttural sigh, he lets go. The tidal wave of memory drags him under. The flood fills his lungs. This is not holy water with which to cleanse. It is holy water with which to drown.

On the stain-glass windows, there are angels, floating over the Virgin in the sombre evening glow. One is different from the rest. Instead of revering the hallowed infant, her eyes glass the boughs of the Church. The man raises his face to meet her gaze.

In the cherubic creature he sees a likeness to himself. He’d cradled a similar likeness once. Held her hand. Tied her shoes. Told her stories. Watched her feathered soul ascend from the petite casket to be captured on the way to paradise. There she stays. A little angel immortalised in the stained-glass.

 


Words by Laura Benney

As well as studying to become an English teacher, Laura Benney has a passion for writing. In between completing assignments and reading voraciously, she is currently working on several projects, including a novella. Her childhood dream was to become an author.

 

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

The Archive of Educated Hearts

The Archive of Educated Hearts is an exquisitely touching piece of work. This theatre and installation act is tucked away in one of the snug and charming spaces at the Holden Street Theatres. In this half an hour production, Casey Jay Andrews, both writer and performer, shares the true stories of four women and their battles with breast cancer; these women are all influential figures in Andrews’ life.

The intimacy, created by both the physical space and the way the stories are told, was overwhelming. The small audience of only six were seated in a crescent shape around Andrews, allowing her to offer every person eye contact and directed expression, having a remarkable effect on our emotional investment. The performance space was filled with homely treasures – pictures, trinkets, old toys, books – the floor covered with beautifully detailed rugs, and the seats were old sofa chairs that many of us associate with our grandparents’ houses. It felt like a feminine space. It was the perfect place to discuss the long lasting and wide spreading effects of cancer.

Andrews brought together a range of artefacts to tell these stories, with voice recordings from the real-life characters and pictures making for an intensely authentic experience. As the audio played, Andrews sat at a small table laying out pictures under a camera that projected her content onto a screen in front of us.

Between the personal stories and reflections, the audience learnt about the Educated Heart, a concept from Gelett Burgess’ book Have You an Educated Heart? Complimenting her personal stories with the ideals of an Educated Heart – kindness, instincts and relations to others – was a remarkable paring by Andrews, as it added a further layer of sentimentality, allowing us to understand the way we receive and process life’s challenges. Andrews herself opens up to us about her own heart, and inarticulate one.

Andrews’ writing is rich in imagery and delicate in tone, with her use of language allowing audiences to feel a deep connection to her and the experiences at the heart of this piece. In her delivery, Andrews presents a version of herself that reflects genuine kindness and vulnerability, yet great composure and comfort; in summary, her character and narrative voice is a flawless fit for this production.

The Archive of Educated Hearts brings us back to the humble art of storytelling, and the power of shared connection and human experiences, particularly those generated in times of grief. Expect the odd tear, a struck nerve or a lump in your throat. In this homely space listening to Andrews’ gentle recount, you will feel as if you have found the company of an old friend, someone you can sit with for hours and discuss life with a cup of tea in hand.

5 stars


Words by Michelle Wakim

The Archive of Educated Hearts is showing at Holden Street Theatres until the 16th.

‘The Silent Door’- By Dan Cardoza

After grandmother passed away, grandfather, a very stern and dignified gentleman, would routinely join us for our late afternoon supper. Mother would make sure he was not disappointed. The last meal I recall was a braised rabbit, fresh from the butcher shop, complete with a special wine sauce, fennel seed, and a sprig of rosemary, followed by a memorable dessert.

Rarely was there an occasion that demanded the use of the massive brass lion’s head door knocker ––a piece of classic Art Deco elegance. Most guests at our home simply knocked in a staccato, contemporary fashion, more suited for twenty-first-century knuckles. Grandfather, who would not have it any other way, cherished any event that he thought demanded a grand entrance. His hallmark knock became almost legendary.

Every Sunday around 1:00 P.M., we would fox our ears in anticipation of his two heavy-handed thwacks. His knocks upon the lacquered chestnut entrance door resonated in the woody bellow and melody of a stately gavel, complete with a formal Sound Block. We fancied our home in Lombard, a Chicago suburban castle.

We loved his company, his long visits. He was a fascinating man. He would hide envelopes in the family room, while mother and I did dishes in the cramped kitchen. Behind mother’s needlepoint pillows, under the large armed comfy sofa, behind the ornate Vienna Stuchy clock set atop the chunky redwood mantle, just about anywhere, and everywhere. Of course, mother and I never acknowledged that we were aware of his secret gifts until granddad left following super. As soon as the front door closed behind him, I would search for the envelopes as if they were painted spring surprises. The gifts of kindness frequently included fifty dollars, one hundred, it varied. Mother would religiously call him once he returned home to thank him for his graciousness, with her best surprised-daughter voice, and sincere appreciation. The following Sunday would always relent to another troupe encore. But this time, there would be no following, Sunday.

Three, maybe four years after grandmother passed, we noticed that the deep knocker tone faltered. We imagined the sound more abrupt, maybe a little harsh. Mother and I found humor in the transformation, saying grandfather was just impatient to enjoy his pre-dinner coffee and cognac.

Following super, grandfather would begin to shoot questions toward mother, an easy target. This evening would be no different.

The questions I found hurtful, even the ones that seemed to miss the mark. Have you heard from Jim? Maybe there is a reason he left? Why don’t you move closer to the city for improved work opportunities? Mother never answered quickly, sometimes not at all.

During the times of our frequent visits, grandfather invariably picked up dessert, which he would serve himself, usually after finishing his after-dinner coffee concoction. Dessert would be the evening’s crowning event. The last one would be no different. Grandfather’s choices varied. On any occasion, he might present a freshly made key-lime pie, with a hint of bitterness. Once he even brought blood orange grapefruit serving it with a ghost of sugar, never sweet enough for our taste. Following the last shared meal, grandfather brought a sour cream peach pie. He was the only one to savor an extra slice.

It’s been some time since grandfather passed. Mother misses him sometimes.

I will never forget one late winter evening. In the grip an infamous Chicago snowstorm, mother asked if I would do her a favour. Put on my warm parka, go outside and rap the lion’s head knocker, two times in succession, and if I would please do this intermittently for a short while. I never thought to question her.

I enjoyed the snow, under any circumstance, but after a while, my arm grew tired. It was then that I slowly opened the door, and peeked through the glowing crack. Mother’s face was shining brightly in a wash of yellow light thrown by the tall family room lamp. She was fast asleep in her favorite corduroy high back chair, wearing a shallow smile.


Words by Dan Cardoza

Photo by Dương Trần Quốc on Unsplash

‘The Day I Stopped Looking at the Stars’- By Cameron Lowe

The day I stopped looking at the stars was the day I stopped imagining. I used to spend many nights watching Alpha Centauri sparkle, spy onto the surface of Venus through my telescope, and imagine UFOs flying through the cosmos. Most of all, I would wonder what planets were circling around those distant stars. Were they ones full of life like our own planet? Were they barren wastelands like Mars? Gas giants like Saturn? This mystery fuelled my imagination. I found myself telling stories of new worlds and alien life to everyone I knew.

So why did I stop looking at the stars and imagining extraterrestrial worlds? One simple word: reality. Becoming a teenager, they started telling me to stop living in a fantasy land and start living in reality. Their vision of reality was simple: study hard, get a job, buy a house, get married, have children. To me, their version of reality was a living nightmare. It was primarily based on luck and left little time for imagination. I ignored their lectures and continued to go out and look at the stars, allowing their red, yellow, and blue surfaces to inspire and comfort me.

One day, they told me I was no longer allowed to look at the stars. They deadlocked the doors, gave away my telescope, and kept me from going out. They said it was time for me to grow up and face reality. I put up a fight to keep my imagination, but they fought harder to destroy it. They drained my imagination of its many weird and wonderful worlds through lectures of how important a good job was and keeping the door locked.

The last few strands of my imagination were torn up the day they got me a job at a local shop. The wage was bad and couldn’t even cover my weekly expenses, but they said it was a start and would one day get me a house. I did all I could to get out of there. I applied for countless better paying jobs, but got none of them. That local shop closed down not long after my fortieth unsuccessful job application, leaving me jobless. Their version of reality had backfired, leaving me worse off than I had been when my imagination ran wild.

I went out to look at the stars again. Tears formed in my eyes as I looked up at Venus. Seeing it again brought me back to, a time before reality had set in. I remembered all the nights I spent with my telescope, exploring the surface of other planets, looking for UFOs, wondering what else could be out there. Looking at the stars again, all those dreams and possibilities of life beyond our own planet returned. As they did, my imagination reignited. Stories of first encounters and journeys to the stars ran rampant in my mind.

The day I stopped looking at the stars was the day I stopped imagining. Now, looking at them again, my imagination has returned. Now I write down what other these alien worlds look like, weaving them into stories that make them real. They continue to try and crush my imagination but now use them as motivation to keep me going. For as long as I continue to look at the stars I will continue to imagine, something reality doesn’t offer.


Words by Cameron Lowe.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Meet-the-Team-Cameron2Cameron Lowe is a horror and sci-fi writer, editor and student. He’s had fiction and articles featured in Speakeasy Zine and Empire Times. He loves to read, play video games, and drink green tea. He’s one of the 2018 editors at Empire Times. He tweets at @cloweshadowking.

‘The Red Dress’ by Suzanne Bowditch

The woman in the dress shop told her mother, Janelle, it fitted perfectly. ‘This is so now you know,’ she’d said, standing next to Rosie in front of the ornate mirror. ‘Red is the colour. Haven’t you seen it on the best catwalks?’

Janelle shrugged, pulling the dress down over Rosie’s knees. A whisper of gauze beneath, to complete the look, scratched the backs of Rosie’s legs. She barely noticed. Instead, the smooth taffeta had felt luxurious on her fingertips, the rich colour flattering on her pale skin.

Please mom?’

Her mother sighed, then nodded. ‘Just remember that it never looks the same worn at home,’ she said, but Rosie had already pulled it off her shoulders.

The ring of the bell had signalled their exit. Rosie’s grin was wide as she stepped outside, the parcel firmly tucked under one arm.

*

Now, in the shade of her bedroom, she wasn’t so sure. The taffeta clung to a bosom that was still as unfamiliar as the smattering of spots across her nose. The dress fitted just below her waist, straining across her stomach; puppy fat and wobbly thighs hidden underneath its folds. Why hadn’t she noticed in the shop? She pulled at the thick unyielding material, supposedly meant to fit across her shoulders in a chic 50s style. Turning sideways, the patterned black and red flowers seemed to mock her, spread as they were across her back and finishing on her bottom. She felt like an overgrown rose garden that had fallen into disrepute.

You look lovely, Rosie.’ Her mother stood in the doorway. ‘It was a good choice after all.’ Janelle’s slim arms were folded across her chest, her jeans snug across slender hips.

For the thousandth time, Rosie cursed her own well-rounded body, a throwback to her grandmother. Why couldn’t she be long-limbed too?

Her younger sister Taylor bounded into the room, plonked herself on Rosie’s bed. Taylor wore a seersucker top and teeny denim shorts over tanned legs that seemed to go on forever. She tucked one limb under the other, like a young gazelle.

You look like a flowerpot!’ she said, giggling. A sprinkle of cute freckles and sparkling blue eyes completed Taylor’s look. Naturally gorgeous.

Rosie turned away, her brown eyes filling up. I can’t show I’m upset; I can’t! she thought, glancing at her reflection for a second time. If the flowerpot look was in vogue, she’d win it, hands down.

Taylor had a point.

That’s enough of that Taylor! Rosie looks beautiful.’ Janelle tapped her watch, encased around a slim wrist. ‘You’d better hurry Rosie, Amber will be waiting. Dad’s downstairs.’

Thanks mom,’ she replied, ignoring the sly giggles behind her.

That was her, ever the trooper. Rosie, the solid one of the family who let everything slide. It was water off a duck’s back.

*

The party was just starting as the car pulled up outside a huge house. Rosie could hear music blasting and the shrieks of laughter from people arriving. Everyone was chatting and having fun. She clambered out behind Amber and smoothed the folds of the dress, annoyed that the netting had caught on the handle of her dad’s car. How she wished she’d chosen to wear the blue dress instead. It had been worn before, an old faithful, but she felt much more comfortable in it.

Amber gave her an excited look, hooked an arm under hers as they walked up the driveway. A couple of giggling girls ran past, dressed in bright colours and flouncy skirts; a flash of skinny legs in pumps.

I’m starting to think that the ’50s were the least flattering time in history!’ Rosie moaned, scraping her pumps over the gravelled driveway.

Come on, you look fine.’ Amber frowned. ‘You know how cool Lily Anderson is, her parties are epic. We were lucky to get an invite.’

It’s okay for you. You look as if you’ve not eaten for a week! Whereas me…’

She sighed, pulling at the shoulder sleeve for the hundredth time.

A dark-haired boy walked past. His head down, hands in pockets, shuffling his feet.

Why was Alex Tomlinson invited?

Hey Amber, get you a soda?’ Blake Magill slid up behind them.

See you later, Rosie,’ Amber giggled, then ran up the driveway.

Great. Now she was truly on her own. She shivered, deciding to turn back. Mom would have fixed popcorn for her and Taylor. She could snuggle into her pyjamas; sorted.

Just at that moment, Alex sidled up. Rosie’s heart sank.

This was turning out to be such an awful night!

Hi Rosie,’ he stammered.

Hi Alex,’ she replied, hoping to sound as offish as she felt. Alex’s eyes looked deep blue, his eyelashes thick and dark. He had on a baseball jacket and sneakers, a vast improvement on the nerdy school tie and sensible lace-ups for a school day. This close, he didn’t look half bad.

Say, why don’t we try that new place down by the pier? I can get my dad to drop us.’ Alex looked encouraged. ‘Then we can take a walk along the beach…. if you want to that is?’

She could see a faint blush spreading across his face. Rosie had to think. Ice cream down the pier, against an awkward party?

*

Alex had kept to his word, and they’d strolled hand in hand along the beach. The wind had ruffled her hair, and she’d felt alive for the first time – ever. He’d dropped her home after.

Now, the red dress hung from the back of her wardrobe. Its ruffles and sequins shone from the street light outside her bedroom window. She remembered how it had hugged her curves, and how she’d looked through Alex’s eyes.

You got me a boyfriend,’ she whispered. Then she turned over and went straight to sleep.


Words by Suzanne Bowditch

Art by Emily Cooke

About the Artist:

49548081_291720338156778_4967218626596700160_nHi, I’m Emily! I’ve loved art ever since I was young and am now starting to take my artwork seriously. I mostly draw digitally, however, I do sometimes prefer paints, fine-liners, and pencils! I usually do a lot of character design but I sometimes branch out by trying different techniques!
At the moment, I just draw whatever I like as well as create some commissions and designs for people, but I aspire to work in the game/entertainment industry so I will be studying to further my work! I am inspired by a lot of the games I play as well as a general love for all things fantasy. I use my art as a way to communicate that love as well as just putting the worlds and characters I create in my head on to paper!
I run the art page Melancholy Socks, which is on Facebook, Tumblr, Deviantart, and Instagram. Check me out!

‘Only Fools Gamble’ By Sasha Pcino

Ricadonna Russo had spent her morning in a state of domesticity. Light reflected off all surfaces like a beacon; and the aroma of caramelised onion blew through the house with the hot zephyr of summer. She sighed as she pulled her gloves off by the fingertips, placing them on the stone counter in the kitchen.

Ricadonna, at thirty-five, had not lost her la bella figura. She was wearing a black A-line dress with lace sleeves and an apron tied over it. Her skin was vibrant, but the faint cobweb of lines round her eyes had become more prominent than a decade ago – as had the laughter lines (though what on earth was there to laugh about?).

Her hands, as rich as cream, reached for the box of birdseed, stored at the bottom of the pantry. She took it outside to feed Banjo, but as soon as she saw the birdcage she gasped. She dropped the box, seed scattering all over the veranda. The cage was empty. Her heartbeat quickened. She looked up at the treetops. The trees swayed from side to side as if they were dancing. Banjo was perched on a branch, close to the clouds, in the eucalyptus tree. The vibrant green-breasted budgerigar tilted his head and looked down at her.

Ricadonna got on her haunches slowly, so she did not startle him, and scooped up a handful of seed off the concrete. She rose to her feet and whistled as she held out her slender arm like a branch, the seed in her cupped hand, in hope the bird would recognise her and fly back. But the bird puffed out its chest, looked at her again and then flew off into the cloudless sky. The uninhabited cage, hanging from the veranda, rattled in the wind.

Ricadonna stood there for a moment, shocked. Banjo, where are you going? Do you know? The telephone rang. She let it finish like a song but it started again. She threw the handful of birdseed on the lawn, wiped the seed shells on her apron, and disappeared inside.

‘Hello,’ she said in a resigned tone; her chirpy ‘telephone’ voice had flown off with the bird.

It was her husband: ‘I’m going to be home late, honey.’

They spoke briefly about how their morning had been and the weather before exchanging goodbyes.

As she hung up the receiver, the computer – set down at the desk in the corner of the living room – pinged not once, but twice. She sat down in the chair, staring at the screen. There was a text message from a woman with the unfamiliar name of Annalise. Her husband had not logged off and the computer was synced to her husband’s smartphone. It read:

Hotel looks gorgeous.’

Then:

‘See you tonight, my darling.’

Suddenly, with the rapidity of a flash of lightning, so many incidents began to make sense: always making phone calls in private; deleting his call history; and the foreign floral fragrance on his shirt a fortnight ago. Ricadonna walked over to the bar, feeling the grit of the seeds, which she had scattered earlier, in her shoes. She poured two fingers of whiskey into a crystal glass, clutching it tightly in her clammy palm. Her father had been a decent man. If he was alive, he would take a gun to her husband’s head. My late husband, she thought. She tested the words: ‘My late husband.’

She tried to think but the heat of the sun coupled with the heat of the moment made a hot murk in her mind. She poured herself two more fingers of whiskey. That would help her think or, at any rate, give her the courage to think. She looked outside at the birdcage and then at the tree where the bird, now flying free, had been perched forty minutes ago. Freedom, she whispered under her breath. Free-dom.

She pulled out her clothes from the wardrobe and scattered them, still on the coat hanger, on the beige bedspread. She didn’t know where she was going. Maybe a hotel, hopefully not the one they were going to, for a couple of nights and then to her mother’s house. Her mother. She would understand. Yes, she would.

On her haunches, she pulled out the old brown suitcase from beneath the bed. It was heavier than she remembered. The last time they had used it was on their anniversary weekend away to Vanuatu. She flicked the latch and opened it. She gasped. There was at least half a million dollars in the case, the wads packed with the efficiency of a well-planned holiday. This changed everything. A lot. She wondered if it was honest money. Probably not. No. Definitely not. People didn’t shove hundreds of thousands of dollars of honesty in an old suitcase beneath a bed. Her husband was a businessman. That breed of man that walks on blurred lines. He had side businesses, hidden in the dark crevices of society, and he conducted most of these businesses from a poker or blackjack table behind the facades of respectable business.

Ricadonna grabbed a holdall and shoved the clothes in it. She untied her apron and flung it on the bed, then heaved the holdall onto her shoulder, picked up the suitcase and walked through the house, looking at everything with the sentimentality that comes with finality, to the dining room.

She set down the luggage on the tiles and tried to pull off her wedding ring, but her fingers had thickened over the last couple of years. She pulled and pulled until the ring flew off and hit the tiles, rolling and then twirling until it lost momentum. She walked over, picked it up and looked at the inscription: R & D. She set it down on the table in the dining room, and scrawled a note, placing it under the ring.

She put the holdall on, picked up the suitcase and opened the front door. The sun’s heat was harsh. She walked to the Flinders Street Railway Station, the suitcase hitting her leg with each step. At the crossing, she wiped her upper lip with her shoulder, then looked left and right before stepping out onto the road. A horn blew. She turned to find a car slamming on the brakes.

She gestured an apology and continued walking, thinking about the three words she had written on the note: ‘Only fools gamble.’


Words by Sasha Pcino

Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash

Profile photoSasha Pcino is an Australian writer who is working on her first novel The Bastard Brians, a family saga set on the east coast of Australia. She has worked as a journalist and a copywriter (for which her work won the Queensland Multimedia Awards in 2014) for almost a decade. She has a Master of Professional Practice (Creative Writing) from the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. She has also spent time abroad in Italy, Japan, France, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

‘The Cards You’re Dealt’- By Denise Picton

 

When Margaret Rose was sixty-eight years old, she became obsessed with planning her funeral.

Before their regular get-togethers her more generous friends would laugh about her fixation and lay bets about how long it would take her to raise the latest plans when they met. The record for restraint from the time of her arrival was sixteen minutes.

Her less generous friends had taken to joining her only for structured activities like movies and concerts, making it hard for her to speak. Bruce and Shirley Williams admitted to Frank and Judy Baker that on two occasions when she had pulled into their driveway unannounced, they had ducked down in the kitchen below the level of the windows, and stayed in a crouching position until she gave up banging on the door and reversed away. On one occasion, after Margaret had continued to peer through windows, knock on the door and call out their names for over twenty minutes, Shirley’s need to pee had become so acute she had waddled like a duck under sill height to the bathroom, and that night had to take double her usual painkillers for her arthritic knees.

Margaret’s latest plans called for her coffin to be pulled to the cemetery by black horses in a glass hearse, for all the flowers to be pure white, and for all the women in attendance to wear a black veil.

She regularly changed her mind about the person she wanted to lead the service. The current lucky incumbent was Bruce Williams. She provided him with an order of service and her latest choice of music to background the data-show of her life, which ran to twenty-seven minutes. Her current choice was Alison Moyet singing ‘When I am laid in earth’. She said this song made her cry every time she heard it, and she knew it would be a relief to her friends to be encouraged to show their grief in response to a haunting melody.

Margaret asked Bruce for his views on the third version of her memorial booklet. She had printed two hundred copies of each of the first two efforts, all of which had since been taken to the tip. She decided it might be wise to seek feedback before the third attempt went into production. When Bruce asked why she had changed it again, she answered that the first one was too cheerful, she hadn’t liked the shade of grey they’d used in the second, and she realized it now needed to be a booklet of eight pages given the number of photos and client commendations she’d collected about the quality of her work before her retirement.

No-one understood why Margaret Rose was so fixated on her funeral, given she was – as Bruce maintained at the secret non-Margaret gatherings her friends orchestrated every week – as fit as a mallee bull. Shirley thought it was because Margaret had been an event manager for most of her career, and missed having something to organize.

Margaret’s latest idea had been to have an enormous black and white photo of her face printed and cut into a series of large format postcards. There were one hundred and fifty cards in all making up her face. She wrote a guest list to match that number and sent each person on the list a card to keep ready for the day.

On the back was a printed note: ‘Please keep this card in a safe place until Margaret Rose’s parting. Do not use for alternative purposes. Do not bend. Do not trade your card for that of another. Do not use as a coaster for cold or hot drinks. You may upload this card to eBay following the funeral if you do not wish to keep it as a memento. If you sell it, the recommended reserve price is two hundred dollars.’

The Bakers between them had part of her left eye, and the Williams were offered a slice of her lower lip. Margaret had an additional one hundred made in plain black for the extra people she was sure would be keen to attend, and suggested to Bruce that those not on the A-list be placed around the edge of the room to create a border. She gave Bruce a seating plan and explained he would need to put names on the chairs in the order provided so that when he asked for the room to hold their cards above their heads, her face would be complete. She had booked a videographer to stand on the balcony above the choir to record the formation of her face as compiled by her grieving friends.

One Saturday night when the gang met at Paul and Barbie Stewart’s place, Margaret turned up a little late with a white hire van. She rushed in and asked Bruce and Paul to help her out with a box from the back of the vehicle. She said it wasn’t heavy, just too awkward for her. The men brought the box into the centre of the lounge room. Barbie Stewart looked daggers at Paul because the box spoiled the look of her carefully staged lounge room design.

Inside the box lay dozens of black hats, each with a veil attached. Margaret had collected them from sales and op shops for over two years, because she knew that not everyone would have a black hat these days. She asked Bruce if he could make sure the box was at the door of the church along with the mirror she had wrapped carefully and placed in the bottom of the box.

At that point, Shirley rushed out to see to the chops on the BBQ to stop herself from laughing. Barbie asked where Margaret was thinking of storing them. When she said she was hoping the Stewarts would keep them in their garage. Paul, knowing from long and often bitter experience what his wife’s mouth looked like when it was forming the word ‘no’, jumped in and said of course they would.

After Margaret left that night, Shirley and Judy started trying on the hats. They agreed they wouldn’t wear one in a fit.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Margaret Rose died suddenly of a heart attack before she turned sixty-nine. Shirley, who went to Pilates with Margaret’s doctor, reported that it was unexpected. There had been no sign of illness or hints that imminent death might be on the cards.

Bruce put the funeral notice in the papers and rang around Margaret’s friends and neighbours to give them the news. Everyone was shocked.

Bruce found a box in Margaret’s lounge room with name-tags for each chair along with an updated seating plan. He put the box of name-tags under his arm on the morning of the funeral, but Shirley told him not to be ridiculous. Two hundred people wouldn’t turn up, and those who did wouldn’t bring the silly cards with them. Bruce took his along anyway, and Frank pointed to the bulge in his own coat pocket when Bruce asked if he’d brought his card.

The funeral was a small affair. Only twenty people attended. Judy was the only person who put on a black hat. When the time came for Bruce to ask the congregation to lift up their face cards, it was a poor showing, and those who complied felt a little foolish. Barbie Stewart’s snigger was clearly audible. Her head was bare, and her card had been thrown in the rubbish the night it was allocated.

Bruce thanked those who had played their part in the event and made sure he shook hands with the florist, horse wrangler, caterer, and videographer. He asked the lass who made the video what she would do with it, and she told him she had been instructed to send it to Margaret’s accountant.

Some months later, Margaret Rose’s lawyer advised the beneficiaries of her will of their good fortune. Margaret had decided that her sizable estate was to be shared amongst those who held up part of her face at the funeral. A great deal of money was therefore shared between an eyeball, her left nostril, the tip of her right ear and part of the deep crevice that ran between her lips and her jaw.

 


Words by Denise Picton

Image by Malcolm Green on Unsplash

‘The Family Farm’- By Lewis Woolston

He leaves Ceduna on a hot day, driving east towards Adelaide, his car stuffed with literally everything he owns. Making reasonable time on the thin strip of tar which dignifies itself with the title of Highway, he reaches Wirrulla and pulls into the town.

The railway tracks make his car rattle as he goes over them a little faster than he should. He parks in the main street of the tiny town, one or two little shops in the shadow of the silos, and checks his phone reception. Three bars but no messages, they should have called back by now, he thinks and his already high level of anxiety goes up a notch.

He walks up the main street for a few minutes to stretch his legs. The town is so quiet he can hear traffic back on the highway in one direction and birds in the paddocks in the other . He looks up at the towering silos and wonders how long they’ve been there. Fifty years? It’s a guess but he takes it as gospel for lack of better information. He feels pretty sure that nothing has happened in this town in that time. The one little shop, the falling apart where it stands pub and the dusty Post Office tell him that much. Those silos have stood there like the Australian version of the pyramids over a few hundred people living in the town and literally nothing even remotely exciting has happened.

He idly thinks about the lives the local people must live. He tries to imagine the years and decades of not much happening in this little cluster of buildings surrounded by paddocks and watched over by the silos. He compares this to the chaos of his own life, currently running from Perth and the mess he left there as fast and as far as his limited funds can take him, and thinks that maybe these people have it better than him. Briefly he lets his imagination run wild, he envisions himself settling in this tiny town, finding a job, maybe meeting a local girl and living a long, quiet and happy life. He imagines himself sitting down years from now with his kids grown up and himself telling them the story of how he just happened to stop here and meet their mother.

He shakes his head at his own ridiculous imagination. If he can’t get to Adelaide tonight and if his sister won’t let him stay at her place for a while he is sleeping in his car for the foreseeable future. That’s reality, he grimly thinks to himself, no happy ever after in a little country town for me.

He contemplates his immediate future with soul crushing weariness. He’s sick of drifting through life, he’s sick of running from messes in different parts of the country and more than anything else he’s sick of being broke. Would it be so much to ask for a little stability and prosperity? The silence of the tiny town is neither comfort nor answer.

He gets back in the car and heads out to the highway again. Turns east towards Adelaide and the grim prospects of the future. The road winds a little and patches of scrub break up the otherwise uninterrupted farmland. Dry paddocks of wheat stubble are being slowly grazed by sheep under a sky so blue it almost hurts his eyes.

He tries to keep his mind off his troubles. He had to leave Perth in a hurry so he only has a couple of CDs in the car and he got sick of them somewhere near Norseman. He flicks through the radio until he finds something. It’s the ABC regional radio station, for lack of better options he listens to that for a while. The station is a country one so the news of markets, trade agreements and weather take priority over everything else. He hadn’t known there was so much discussion to be had about beef exports to China but the radio gets almost an hour out of the subject.

He checks his phone and notices that he’s out of range again. I won’t get anything until I get to the next town, he thinks and looks for a distance sign. One appears shortly and tells him that it’s fifty K’s from Poochera. He decides he’ll stop there, have lunch and maybe try calling again. If he has no luck contacting her it’s a night sleeping in the car for him, maybe several nights.

The first he sees of Poochera is the silos standing sentinel over the plains. They should stop bothering to name these little towns and just call them “Silo Town 1” and “Silo Town 2” and so on. It would make it more convenient.

He pulls in at the little roadhouse and tops up with fuel. He pays and then moves the car out of the way so he can sit in the little roadhouse café and make some phone calls while he eats a sandwich. He tries his sister again and finally gets hold of her. Turns out she had got his earlier message but didn’t really want to reply. She doesn’t say that of course, she’s too polite, but he can tell from her voice that she really doesn’t want to be having this conversation.

What is it now?’

Her voice lets him know that this is a burden well beyond anything that could reasonably be expected from a sister.

Well here’s the thing…’ He continues, knowing he isn’t convincing her.

He reassures her that he’ll only need to stay for a couple of days. He tells her his plan is to head back up to the NT. He left there on good terms just over a year ago and he can probably get one of his old jobs back, maybe that gig he had in the mines, if he makes a couple of phone calls. He swears he’ll be no trouble and stay out of her way, all he needs is a couple of nights in her spare room.

She reluctantly agrees and he thanks her profusely. Inwardly he curses her for the privileged selfish bitch she is. Mum and Dad’s favourite who always towed the line and never set a foot wrong. She will hold this over him for years to come and use it as ammo in family arguments whenever it suits her.

The immediate danger is passed. He got out of Perth and over the state border before they could get him. He has a place to stay while he plans his next move. Everything is going to be more or less ok. He repeats this to himself inside his head like a Buddhist meditating.

He sits for a while in the tacky little café and watches the slow drip of highway traffic go past out the window. The rather dull woman at the counter idly restocks the fridge while the TV in the corner has a midday talk show playing.

His mind wanders and he finds himself daydreaming about life in a little town like this. Maybe he could work in this roadhouse. Live like a hermit in this little town. Refuse to ever get involved in anything remotely dodgy again. Grow old and become one of those old men who potter about little towns. He smiles to himself. This latest drama in Perth has made him world weary, he recognises that in himself, once he’s stable again and back earning decent cash he’ll chase action again. Then maybe a year or so from now he’ll find himself doing a runner across the country again. That last thought sobers and depresses him. He gets up and decides to get back on the road.

The woman behind the counter looks up as he leaves and mumbles something vaguely pleasant at him. He pulls out onto the highway and picks up speed as he leaves the little township of Poochera.

A sudden urge to piss makes him pull off the road. He parks in the front gate of a farm, there isn’t a soul in sight so he doesn’t worry about being seen, he relives himself and then pauses to look around. The gate is open and there is a dirt track leading through seemingly endless paddocks. In the distance he can see a house and some sheds, presumably where the farmer and his family live. There is a sign right next to the mailbox at the gate it reads:

Whitby Downs

T.J Whitby and sons

EST 1904

He reads and thinks in the harsh sunlight and empty silence of wheat paddocks. This family have been here since 1904 according to the sign. They have a place, they belong somewhere, they have roots.

He looks back at his car parked in the dust. The boot and backseat are piled high with everything he owns in the world. He will sleep in his sister’s spare room tonight and endure her resentment and probably get a small lecture about what he’s doing with his life in the bargain.

He looks at the sign again. He envies the Whitby family with all his heart. He would do just about anything to trade places with them. But he knows you don’t get to choose. Life gets handed to you on a plate like leftovers at a soup kitchen and you have to eat it and be grateful.

He gets back in the car feeling worse than ever. He still has a long way to go before he reaches Adelaide.

 


Words by Lewis Woolston

Lewis Woolston grew up in small beach bum town in Western Australia. He left as soon as he could and travelled around the country, living in several cities as well as the bush. He spent years working in remote roadhouses mostly on the Nullarbor and in the NT. He currently lives in Alice Springs with his wife and daughter. His short fiction has previously appeared in Flycatcher Magazine.

Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash