New Book: PERIPETEIA, October 31st

The police officer knocked gently on Madame Olga’s front door.

“What can I do for you, young man?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you Madame Olga, but there’s been a complaint about the elixir you sell at the local market. I’ve been sent to ask you if we could have a sample for analysis?”

This wasn’t the first time Madame Olga had received such a request.

“Come in. Sit. Rest your feet. I get bottle and give to you.”

Proper procedure would have been for Senior Constable Wilson to select a sample at random from Madame Olga’s stock and if asked, that is what he would say he did. Wilson wanted this to go as smoothly as possible. He did not want to upset this old lady any more than was necessary.

Olga returned with a small clear glass jar containing an opaque substance. The jar had a golden lid. When Wilson twisted the cap, a waft of menthol filled the air.

“You dip toothpick in and what sticks you rub on back of hand,” said Madame Olga producing a wooden toothpick from out of nowhere.

“That won’t be necessary. I just have to hand it in to forensics, and if there isn’t anything illegal in here, you won’t have anything to worry about,” said Senior Constable Wilson.

“I make you tea and bring you biscuits. I make them myself?”

Senior Constable Wilson’s partner, PC Billy Pepper looked pleadingly at his superior.

After a pause, Wilson said, “That would be lovely,” and they made themselves comfortable on Madame Olga’s old couch.

After two cups of tea and several biscuits (which were just as tasty as you would expect), the two officers made their leave and headed for their car. They noticed the gentleman next door watching them as they left.

“Do you want to give it a try, Senior,” said Pepper, “you know the boys at the lab will have a go.”

Senior Constable Wilson had heard about the effects of Madame Olga’s elixir.

“Why do you think she calls it Peripeteia?” said Pepper.

“Probably named after a gypsy king or something,” said Wilson, unscrewing the lid. He pulled the top off his pen and delicately dipped the tip in the mixture. He rubbed it on the back of his hand and sat waiting for a reaction.

Madame Olga’s next-door neighbour, Tony, noted that the police car stayed parked outside her house for almost an hour.

What he didn’t witness was the journey that Senior Constable Wilson was taking while being strapped securely into the driver’s seat of the stationary police car.

A FEW DAYS LATER.

“How did you get on with the cops?” said Tony, who was pulling out a piece of greenery from his front lawn. Tony doesn’t like things to be in the wrong place and on this morning, he took a dislike to a dandelion that had the cheek to grow in his lawn without an invitation.

Olga bent forward to see if the postman had left her any letters. She heard his noisy motorbike a bit earlier, and it sounded like he had stopped at her gate.

“They took away a sample of my elixir, apologising a lot, saying that some person thought I was selling LSD. I told them I don’t know what that is — which is not true, I do know,” said Olga holding back a chuckle.

“They haven’t taken you away in chains, so I guess they didn’t find anything?” said Tony.

“A nice cop phone me, say that it only Vicks and mint and something else they don’t know what, but definitely not illegal,” said Olga with a sense of satisfaction.

“So that’s it then. Did you find out who dobbed you in?”

“No, but nice cop said he wants a jar and could he have a few jars for the forensic staff and I said yes, I give them a special price and they are very happy.”

 

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What if it was possible for you to see into your future? What if it was not as simple as seeing? What if you had to choose between a series of possible futures? Would you? Would you want To? How would you deal with all the possible consequences? Madame Olga could help you. That is if you can find her.

PERIPETEIA

a very long short story

Pre-order now for release on October 31st 2019

 

audiobook

https://bookmate.com/audiobooks/pb6IdLbx

https://www.audiobooks.com/audiobook/peripeteia/401416

https://books.apple.com/us/audiobook/peripeteia/id1483876758

 

 

In The Moment

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He is going away, and I don’t want him too.

“It’s only for a couple of days. I’ll be good. No time for anything else — too much work to get done.”

I believe him, but my world gets smaller when he is away.

He is working to secure our future, and I get it. My job (for that is what it is, a job, not a vocation) brings in a wage. It will all stop when I’m with child.

My husbands loves his work — the meetings, the travel (especially on trains), the drama and the office interactions. He tells me everything. I feel like I know them all.

As the train is preparing to depart, I lean into him, feeling his warmth and his strength. He’s thinking about the tasks ahead, all played out in a distant city, and I’m thinking about him, yearning for his return and feeling his hands on me, celebrating.

My hair will cascade over his body, and he’ll run his fingers through it.

“Don’t ever cut your hair, my darling,” he will say.

“But when I get older it will not be attractive,” I will say.

“I don’t care. I love the way you plait it. I love the way it sways when you walk and flys when you run, and I love the way it feels when you let it down, and it caresses my skin.”

These things will happen, but for now, there is the agony of goodbye.

The Number 58 Bus

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The number 58 bus is relatively quiet compared with the number 15 and don’t get me started on the 109. Even so, there he was, sitting across from me looking like an unmade bed.

I’m pretty good at picking dangerous individuals — a by-product of having lived a long time. This bloke seemed harmless to me, even with his dishevelled appearance.

I saw him lean over to the well-dressed lady sitting next to him, but I couldn’t hear what he said. She replied, and that was that. A few stops later, he got off the bus and disappeared into the wider world.

I caught the lady’s eye and asked her what had transpired between them.

“I’m sorry, I don’t usually do this, but there was something about that gentleman. What did he say to you if you don’t mind me asking?”

The well-dressed lady oozed serenity, and she took a moment to answer — as though she was deciding whether it was any of my business, which it wasn’t.

I began to feel self-conscious when she said, “He told me that he could kill everyone on the bus, including the driver and was there anything I could say that would help him.”

“And what did you say,” I said.

“I told him that it was illegal to kill people, and he seemed satisfied with my answer. He spoke like a child who was in trouble and needed advice. I guess he thought I could help,” she said.

“Wow,” I said, and the well-dressed lady settled back in her seat, lost in her own thoughts.

I got off the bus before she did and I looked back at her sitting serenely, and I wondered what she had seen in her life to be able to deal with such an urgent request without a moment’s hesitation.

About ten days later, I read a news item about a man who intervened when a woman was being attacked late one night. The news item indelicately added that the woman was elderly, in her late fifties!

The man was severely injured before he repelled the attacker.

When interviewed, the ‘elderly woman’ said that she stayed with her rescuer while they waited for an ambulance.

“He said that I saved him, so it was only fair that he return the favour. I had no idea what he was talking about. Before he lost consciousness, he mumbled something about a bus. I didn’t think too much about it because I was in shock. I owe this man my life, and I don’t even know what happened to him after they took him away,” she said. “I’m covered in his blood, and I don’t know why he defended me.”

Two days later, there was another article explaining that the unidentified ‘hero’ had died of his wounds. The police were still trying to find out who this brave man was and why he stepped in to save the woman. This time she wasn’t described as elderly because someone complained.

I rang the police and told them the story about the number fifty-eight bus, but it didn’t help much.

“If someone doesn’t come forward, he’ll be buried in an unmarked grave, which seems like a shame,” said the sergeant. I agreed.

The news media love a hero, so he was big news for a few days.

Someone started a GoFund Me campaign to cover the unknown man’s funeral expenses. They raised three times their target amount. Everyone loves a dead hero.

I went to his funeral, which was attended by about ten times the number of people who would have known him when he was alive.

The lady on the bus was not among the mourners.

In a way, it didn’t matter. She had done her job.

I said goodbye for both of us.

Three months later, there was a small article on page ten saying that a homeless man said he recognised the dead hero, but did not want to come forward because he didn’t trust the police. He said that they were in league with the aliens who were planning to take over the Transit Services.

The homeless bloke said the dead hero’s name was Frank, and I must admit that I look very carefully at every bus driver I encounter — you just never know.

.

The story above is pure fiction, but it is inspired by a true story a fellow WordPress person posted (Icelandpenny). She set me a gentle challenge to see what I could do with her story. I hope she approves.

Winter

 

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I’m starting to get a bit sick of people complaining about winter.

One of the delights of living in this part of the world is the fact that we have four distinct seasons.

I can be a tad cynical at times, but that cynicism is generally directed at the activities and dishonesty of my fellow humans, but I tend to leave Nature alone.

I am genuinely surprised and delighted as each new season unfolds.

Winter has a unique appeal.

To start with, it is usually too cold and wet to work in the garden. Which is an absolute bonus as far as I’m concerned. My mum was an avid gardener, and as much as I tried, I could not catch that particular bug. I like looking at gardens, and I enjoy sitting and walking in them, I just don’t enjoy working in them, and these days my ancient body really lets me know it when I venture out with good intentions to make the garden look presentable. I do have to mow the lawns occasionally as the dogs are tiny and they tend to disappear into the long grass. They think it’s great fun, but the Vet bills tend to push me out there to keep the grass and weeds down so that they don’t irritate their delicate skin.

Apart from not having to do anything in the garden, there is the absolute delight of sitting in front of the open fire, sometimes writing, sometimes with a glass of whisky or decent red, and sometimes just meditating. You can feel your stress and worries disappearing up the chimney; it’s brilliant.

If you have dogs in your life you will know that they love to cuddle up and in summer that can be a bit of a problem, but in winter they are very welcome, and as dogs operate at a full degree higher than humans, they are like little hot water bottles. Ours like to sit on feet, and this is very comforting in the cold weather.

Sitting in a cafe at any time of the year is OK by me, but it is unique in the winter as you can sit there in the warmth and look out at the atmospheric weather. Because we have dogs, we often relax outside, and during the summer it can be challenging to find a seat, but in winter we can have our pick, and we get many compliments on our courage, although they might think that we are a bit crazy.

I get a lot more work done in the winter.

Like many writers, I can invent a thousand distractions so that I don’t have to face that blank page. The warmer weather is full of beautiful distractions, but winter helps me stay put, concentrate, and get on with it.

I guess it’s a bit like eating your favourite food every day, the initial joy wears off, and it becomes commonplace. That’s how it is for me with seasons. I love winter, but by the time we get to the end of it I’m ready for something new and along comes spring, and so it goes. Sometimes I think that the Universe designed it that way just so that I would not get bored. After all, the Universe does revolve around me.

Thank you, Universe.

The Queue

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There is something about a trumpet that attracts cats.

I’ve never been able to work it out.

Back in the day I played in big bands and did very nicely thank you.

But that was then.

These days, I have a tidy but tiny room, at least two meals a day and I don’t think much about back then.

I live close to the theatre district and one of my friends from ‘back then’ manages one of the larger venues. He pays me to keep the patrons entertained while they wait for admission. He doesn’t have to, but he does. It’s only a small amount per night, but when you add it to my pension, I get by.

I first noticed the cats when I was playing a Miles Davis tune. Cats like jazz, and so do I.

I worry that they might get run over. Fortunately, they are wiser than I and rarely venture into the traffic.

The people I play for take my presence for granted, but the cats pay attention — never distracted.

They don’t follow me home, and as soon as I’m finished playing for the night, they saunter off to where they came from. I like their style.

I like my life, and I hope it continues for a while longer, but who knows?

Buster and The Dead Set Scrolls

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“So, why did you ring me. I’m no expert,” I said, with a hint of annoyance.

I’d been happily ensconced in front of my old computer which must surely turn up its toes and die, but for now, it is excellent for watching ‘big-screen movies’.

“You’re the smartest bloke I know, and besides, who else am I going to ring in the middle of the day? Everyone I know is at work,” said Thomas, my sometime friend.

“I was at work!” I said in a voice that was a bit too loud to suit the occasion, but I’m sick of people thinking that what I do isn’t work — even if I was watching a movie instead of painting.

“Yeah, I know, but you know what I mean — you are at home, and your boss isn’t going to yell at you if you stop working for an hour or two.”

He had a point. I’m my own boss — mostly because I’m too proud to work for someone who is obviously an idiot and that pretty much sums up most employers — in my extensive experience.

So, here I am, standing in Thomas’s lounge room. Thomas inherited the house from his mum, who died way too young, preceded by his dad, who died even younger. I always loved this house. Thomas and I would play for hours in this dark, carpeted room. Timber walls in need of varnish, rich tapestry curtains edging leadlight double-hung windows looking out onto the neighbour’s timber pailing fence, a few flowers poking their heads above the window sill. Thomas didn’t tend his mother’s garden, it just kept growing — a testament to his mother’s horticultural skill.

The two large parchments were spread out on the walnut dining table, the same one we built a slot car track on when we were kids. The table will seat eight people without anyone bumping elbows.

The page on the left was a bit more tattered. The sentences were written in red ink, probably using a wide nibbed calligraphy pen. The page on the right was in better condition, the sentences written in black ink using a similar width nib.

Despite the condition of both pages, the writing was crisp and clear, as though freshly written.

“Where did you get them?” I asked.

“Did a job for Jimmy over in Toorak.”

“Why didn’t Jimmy ring me. He knows I need the cash.”

 “Everyone who works for Jimmy needs the cash,” said Thomas.

Jimmy runs a couple of business, all on a strict cash basis. I’ve worked for him for years, on and off. Jimmy’s companies clean offices and meatworks, and when the need arises, he clears houses for a Real Estate chain.

“Big place. Belonged to some bloke who diddled the banks. Took off and left everything. Some of it was choice.”

“How would you know?” I said. Jimmy usually called me in when there was a sniff of classy stuff. My family dealt in antiques, and some of the knowledge rubbed off on me.

“Everything was heavy.”

“That’s because good furniture is usually made from quality hardwoods, walnut, oak, teak, cedar,” I said. Some of those timbers aren’t exactly hardwoods, but Thomas wouldn’t know the difference, so why tell him.

“Shut up a minute and let me look at these things,” I said.

The parchment may have been old. Only a few tests would be able to date it, but the ink was much younger.

Beautifully written, each short sentence spelled out in capital letters. The sentences reminded me of those annoying posts on Facebook. The ‘motivational’ ones printed over pretty backgrounds. ‘Don’t eat carrots on a Friday’‘Be good to your mother, leave home’, that sort of thing.

I read each parchment several times and was none the wiser.

“You dragged me away from my work for this,” I said.

“I know they don’t look like much,” said Thomas staring at his hands.

“So why call me in?”

“Every morning, when I get up, I walk past them on my way to the toilet and every day the writing is different.”

 “Different how?” I said.

“The sentences are different. Not the same as yesterday.”

Long silence.

“Have you been smoking anything unusual, Thomas?”

“Kicked the stuff, cold turkey, a couple of months ago,” said Thomas, which explained a lot. He had been quieter lately and didn’t say stupid things as often.

“Wow,” I said. Thomas had been smoking weird substances for most of his adult life. He always smelled sweet and a bit sickly. That smell was absent from his house and I only just realised it.

“It changes every day?” I said.

“Every day.”

“When does it change?” I said.

“I don’t exactly know. I fall asleep when it gets dark. I try to stay awake, but I wake up, and it’s morning.”

“Where did you find them?”

“Well, to be exact, I didn’t. Buster did.”

Buster is Thomas’s dog. His IQ beats Thomas’s by about twenty points. Buster looks a lot like Snowy, Tin Tin’s dog from the classic Belgian comics. Buster goes everywhere Thomas goes.

“Upstairs in one of the spare bedrooms. The carpet was loose in one corner. It wasn’t part of the job to take up the carpet, only the loose rugs — mostly Persian. I was buggered, and we’d packed the truck. I thought I’d better give the place the once over to make sure we hadn’t missed anything. Buster was having a great time. I don’t always let him run around when we work, as you know. Some places are pig styes — broken bottles and sharp sticky things, but this house was pristine. Only a slight layer of dust due to the owner being away. He must have left in a hurry because we found dirty plates on the kitchen table and a cupboard full of sheets that were probably furniture covers, all neatly packed away.”

“So?” I said.

“Buster stayed with me as we went from room to room. I wasn’t paying close attention. It was obvious if the rooms were empty or not. The last room at the end of the hall was the smallest. The carpet was older than the rest of the house and Buster was very interested in one corner of the room. You know how well behaved he is when we do these jobs, well he was going nuts trying to get the carpet to fold back. I told him off and went over to see what he was up to. There they were. Dusty, but pretty much the way you see them.”

“Why didn’t you hand them in with the rest of the stuff?”

“I always keep something for myself. I thought they might be a treasure map or something.”

“Make us a cup of tea, and I’ll have another look at these things,” I said.

The parchments were curling up on the top and bottom edges, almost to the point where they needed something substantial placed on them to keep them flat. This seemed strange to me considering how long they must have been under the carpet.

At times, the sentences were nonsensical.

The red scroll seemed to be obsessed with clothing and how to wear it.

‘Turn your collar up when the wind doth blow.’

‘Button thy trousers carefully in the presence of a lady.’ A bloke definitely wrote that. I can see him checking his fly buttons before exiting the bathroom.

‘Never wear a large hat on a Sunday.’ Why not? What would happen if you did?

The black scroll seemed more interested in manners.

‘Pick not your nose on a sunny day.’

‘Pass not wind on an open staircase during the gloaming.’ What if you were about to explode? And when exactly does ‘the gloaming’ start and end?

Thomas came into the room carrying a tarnished silver tray with a chipped china teapot and a couple of mugs that probably came from one of the house clearings.

“Odd collection,” I said.

“What?” said Thomas.

“Never mind,” I said. “Have you written down what the scrolls have said on other days?”

“Not at first, but once I noticed they changed every day, I wrote them down.”

“Give me a look,” I said, and Thomas rifled through a drawer on the sideboard and produced a few pages of poorly written text.

“Don’t ever write a ransom note in longhand. They will definitely trace it back to you,” I said. Thomas got the inference. He looked hurt.

I read through the pages, and they made about as much sense as the current parchments.

A long silence.

“I’m buggered if I know what it all means,” I said. “Do you want to take Buster for a walk?” Buster instantly stood up at the mention of the magic word.

“Don’t you have to get back to work?” said Thomas.

“Nah, the day’s buggered now. Let’s walk.”

Buster was at the door, waiting expectantly. We gathered up his favourite treats and his lead and headed off into the wilds of suburbia. One of the black scroll inscriptions flashed into my head.

‘Don’t leave your wireless playing when you leave the house.’

“You don’t have the radio playing, do you, Thomas?”

“No, why?”

“Never mind.”

The Seal of Confession

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“So, before we get started, can anyone force you to reveal what is said during our sessions, Dr Dre?”

“Yes ‘they’ can. If I think you are about to hurt yourself or someone else, I’m obliged to inform the authorities. Ditto, if I think you are about to commit a crime. Also, anyone can subpoena files for a civil or criminal trial. And, my name isn’t Dr Dre, it’s Dr Dredd. Some child stole both of the ‘d’s’ off my sign, and I haven’t gotten around to replacing them.”

“Thank you for clearing that up doctor. I’ll say good afternoon then.”

 “But you haven’t finished your first free session,” said Dr Dredd.

“It’s okay, I’ll pass. You are no good to me Doc if anyone including a disgruntled plumber can access your files. I need someone who can keep their mouth shut,” said Susan.

“You mean like a priest. Are you Catholic, Ms Smith?”

“No, but I can spell ‘guilt’ “.

“Close enough”.

~oOo~

“Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. It has been a long time since my last confession (possibly I was a Catholic in a previous life?), and in recent years I discovered a doll that belonged to my grandmother,” said Susan on a sunny afternoon in an ornate church in South Melbourne.

Susan loved old churches, especially Catholic ones. She once convinced her school friend to smuggle her into a Sunday service. “Just do what I do and open and shut your mouth when the congregation is answering the priest. No one will notice.” It worked like a charm. From that day forward Susan wanted to be a Catholic until she found out what you were not allowed to do. Not drinking alcohol was bad enough, but not fooling around with boys was a bridge too far. “It’s okay,” said Susan’s Catholic friend, “you can let the boys have their wicked way with you on a Friday night and go to confession on a Saturday, and all is forgiven.”

“Confession?” said Susan.

“Yes. You see those doors over there,” she pointed to the carved wooden doors on either side of a similar sized room with a red velvet curtain drawn across, “the priest sits in the middle, and you kneel down and say the words, then tell him your sins and he gives you a penance, usually a few ‘Hail Marys’ and you are absolved.”

“What does ‘absolved’ mean?” said Susan.

“It means that you won’t go to hell if you get hit by a bus.”

“What if I go out and do stuff with boys on a Monday?”

“No worries. Just don’t get run over till Friday, tell the priest and you are right again. Best to keep the ‘boys’ stuff till later in the week. It cuts down on stress.”

“That’s fuckin’ brilliant,” said Susan.

“You’ll have to confess the swearing as well, don’t forget.”

“Fuck that,” said Susan.

“Do you want to be a fucking Catholic or what?” said Susan’s friend, “well learn the fuckin’ rules.”

“Owning your grandmother’s doll is not a sin,” said the young priest who had been at the South Melbourne parish for a bit less than a year. He just made it through ‘priest school’ having taken two leaves of absence.

“It might be a sin if I used the doll to start a secret life, stealing industrial secrets.”

There was a silence before Susan added, “You aren’t allowed to tell anyone any of this are you, father?”

“As long as I believe that you are truly repentant I absolve you of your sins, I cannot reveal anything that is told to me in confession.”

“The doll talks to me, and only me. She can talk to other people, but we try to keep that to a minimum. I have used her to record secrets, and she retells them to me. I’ve made a lot of money, and sometimes the wrong people get hurt, but mostly it’s the bad guys who get screwed, sorry father.”

“It’s okay, I’ve heard a lot worst. What do you do with the money?”

“I give some of it away. I buy diamonds with some of it and the rest I store in old shoe boxes. It’s not about the money, but having a lot of it is a lot of fun. Check the poor box when you get out of here. You might get a pleasant surprise,” said Susan.

“Why did you come here today? Are you ready to stop your sinful behaviour?”

“I came here because I had to tell someone. It is such an unbelievable secret that I cannot tell anyone. They’d either lock me up or steal what I have accumulated. I felt like I would explode if I didn’t tell someone.”

“It’s good to get things off your chest (father Michael felt strange for saying chest), but you must resolve to renounce your ways, or I cannot offer forgiveness.”

“Thank you, father. I feel a lot better knowing that someone else knows about my keeper of secrets.”

Father Micheal told Susan what her penance was and gave her his blessing, but after he said, ‘go now and sin no more’, he expected to hear the usual sounds of someone gathering themselves up and leaving the confessional, but there was only a profound silence.

“Hello?” said father, Michael.

Leaving silently and unrecognised was a skill that Susan had mastered.

Train Sleeper

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“I’m sorry Mr Bennett,” she didn’t look that sorry, “but a shared sleeper is all we have left. If you must travel on that day, you will have to share. If you can put your trip off for a day or two you can have your pick of the solo cabins — they are more expensive, of course.”

“I have to be there on Friday, so it has to be the overnight train on Thursday. I’ll take the ticket, but tell them to stock up on decent whisky. I’m going to need it, and so is my sleep buddy,” said Sam

“You will have some time to yourself because your fellow passenger won’t be boarding until Ararat.”

That’s a few hours of peace, thought Sam, who was looking forward to reading the new Michael Robotham novel he purchased just for this journey.

The Overland sat quietly at platform 2, waiting for its passengers.

Train travellers are an interesting bunch. Many of Sam’s fellow passengers shared his dislike of planes and airports.

Trains rarely involve a full body cavity search, lack of legroom, surely security and godawful food.

The Overland, beautiful named, is a throwback to a time when people travelled for adventure, and the cost was not the top priority.

The train company asks that passengers arrive thirty minutes before departure. They are met by a company employee dressed appropriately, including a wide-brimmed Akubra. Passengers wait patiently next to their assigned carriage until the porter opens the doors. Find your cabin, stow your bags and head for the bar, maybe a snack. The evening meal is delivered to your room and so is breakfast, but a man needs snacks and a stiff drink.

Sam chose the upper bunk — first in first served.

He opened his book but decided to enjoy the view. In a few short hours, darkness will descend. 

The hustle and bustle of Spenser Street station at peak hour provides lots to look at. City workers heading home. Their tired countenance is even more disturbing than their morning gaze.

 

Suburban, country and interstate trains all share this massive station.


The train sounded its horn and slowly pulled out, right on time.

“If Mussolini were alive, he would be proud,” said Sam to himself. Right-wing arseholes are obsessed with trains running on time.

The train travelled slowly as it negotiated the rail yards with its twists and turns. The wheels and bogies complained loudly at the frequent changes of direction.

The train travels slowly for the first hour until it clears the suburbs of Melbourne. Some would say that the view is uninspiring, but Sam enjoyed the sometimes rusty and occasionally grubby nature of these old industrial suburbs. They reminded him of his childhood. His father worked skillfully with his hands, and on rare occasions, Sam was allowed to accompany him to work on weekends, when the bosses weren’t around.

Rust has its own distinctive aroma as do grease and dust and sweat, all ingredients of a working-class employment.

Once in open country, the train accelerates, and Geelong approaches rapidly.

Past Geelong and the country flattens out. The early settlers called it ‘Pleurisy Plains’. Anyone venturing out during the areas vicious gales was sure to contract the infection. 

The flatness comes about because it is a larval plain. The local Aborigines have lived here for so long that their oral history talks about the distant volcano erupting some twenty thousand years ago.

Through the gloaming, Sam could just see Mount Elephant — its indigenous name is ‘Hill of Fire’.

It was getting harder to see the countryside as the train pulled into Ararat.

The massive, now empty, rail yards looked like an old car park that no one used anymore. All a bit grim.

There was a country train on the other platform as Sam’s train pulled in. The passengers gazed at his train, no doubt wondering where it was headed and what the passengers were headed to.

After the train pulls out of Ararat, a strange thing happens. The mileage signpost suddenly drops about 30 miles. After asking the porter, Sam found out that the interstate train travels a longer route to get to Ararat than the regional line. So now they are on that track. Sam wondered who thought that going the long way was a good idea, but why people do the things they do, gives Sam a headache.

Sam’s cabin mate did not appear, and the train had been travelling for long enough for him (he assumed it was a him — even these days, Sam could not imagine a woman wanting to share a cabin with a strange man) to have found the right sleeper berth.

The first part of Sam’s journey had been peaceful, so why worry about the fate of his fellow traveller.

Sam climbed onto his bunk and read his book, but soon turned out the light and snuggled under the covers. The rolling motion is a cure for most people’s insomnia.

He was facing the door when it opened, and a medium height man wearing an overcoat padded into the cabin. He left the door slightly open, which allowed a subdued amount of light to penetrate the darkness. Sam had not pulled the blinds, but on a moonless night, there is only pitch black in the Australian outback.

The new passenger took off his coat, revealing a crumpled suit with no tie. The man was travelling with only a small bag. He reached into the side pocket of the bag and produced a bundle wrapped in an old cloth. The bundle went out the window, and the sound of rushing air diminished when the man closed it and climbed onto his bunk. He didn’t snore, but before long Sam could hear the sound of heaving breathing.

That same rhythmic breathing was still to be heard when Sam woke instinctively as the porter knocked on his door, breakfast trays in hand.

“Thanks, mate, I’ll take those,” said Sam and the porter did not glance nor comment on Sams lack of suitable attire. Porters see it all on sleeper trains.

Sam put the tray for the mystery traveller on the small table and his tray on the bunk. He managed to climb up without putting his foot in his breakfast. He was pleased with this achievement and proceeded to consume his eggs and toast while unfolding the newspaper. Somewhere, the train had picked up the early edition of the Adelaide Advertiser, which seemed fair as they were closer to Adelaide than Melbourne, but Sam would have prefered the Melbourne Age, even if it was a bit hard to unfold at this hour of the day.

The articles rolled out the usual tales of local and international mayhem, which surprised Sam because, from his experience, people in Adelaide didn’t know there was an outside world, apart from Melbourne which they hated. Forever in its shadow, Adelaide folk take any chance to compare themselves favourably, usually around Australia’s favourite religion, sport.

One item caught Sam’s eye.

There had been a shooting in Ararat.

A young husband had come home from work and found his wife in the arms of her lover, a small-time gangster from Melbourne. There was a photograph showing the front of a house illuminated by police floodlights. A neighbour, dressed in her dressing gown said that it had been going on for months and she felt sorry for the husband, “Such a nice young man. Works all the hours that God sends. Gets home late after commuting to Melbourne. He deserved better than her, God rest her soul.”

The wife died in the arms of her lover, and the lover was in a critical condition. The writer alluded, ever so subtly, that even if he did survive, his philandering days were over.

The husband and his Great War revolver were still missing when the paper went to print. The gun came back from France with his grandfather. A Webley six-shot revolver, an officer’s weapon.

The passenger’s tray was untouched when Sam climbed down, washed, dressed and waited for the train to pull into Adelaide Parklands Terminal.

Sam will need a taxi because for some reason they built the terminal away from the city, which means that it does not go to the beautiful old Adelaide Station.

Sam wasn’t trying to be quiet as he performed his preparations for arrival, but the passenger did not wake.

When the porter came for the trays, Sam told him to come back as late as possible, “This bloke needs his sleep. He’s had a rough time. Don’t wake him till you absolutely have to.” Sam slipped the porter a ‘fifty’. The porter smiled and promised. Sam made a note to add the ‘fifty’ to his client’s bill. The rich buggers can afford it.

Sam didn’t mind having a train trip to Adelaide, but all his business could have been handled by email or on the phone, but this law firm only wanted face to face meetings. It seems that they don’t trust computers. Their bill was going to be huge, but they didn’t seem to mind.

The taxi was waiting when Sam stepped out of the station, the air as hot and dry as he remembered.

“City, please driver. Rundle Mall,” said Sam.

“Might take a bit longer at this hour mate, peak hour and everything,” said the driver.

Sam laughed, “I’ve seen your ‘peak hour’ son. It lasts about ten minutes.”

Usually, Sam would have reminded the driver of what was likely to happen to him if he did the old trick of driving ‘the long way around’, a popular ploy of taxi drivers worldwide when they sensed an ‘out of towner’, but on this trip, Sam didn’t care. It was all on his client’s account.

“Just make sure I get a receipt and don’t get greedy,” said Sam.

The passenger woke to the sound of the porter and his gentle nudge.

“Sorry, sir. I left it as long as I could as per your friend’s instructions.”

“What friend?” said the sleepy man with the ruffled suit.

“The one you shared the cabin with,” said the porter, “he left this for you.”

The porter handed him a postcard with a photograph of The Overlander crossing Australia’s longest rail viaduct, just outside Geelong. On the back, written in a clean hand with a newly sharpened pencil were these words:

Dear Mr Park. I’m sorry your missus cheated on you. I know your heart is broken and I know that you will come to regret what you have done, but I do understand. A bloke can only take so much, and betrayal is about as bad as it gets.

It’s not my job to turn you in, but if you hurt anyone else I will come and find you, and you will regret breaking my trust.

P.S. I hope you took the remaining bullets out of the gun before you threw it out of the window. 

Keep your head down and don’t make me regret my decision.

A Sparrow In The Hand Is Worth?

I have a fondness for house sparrows (we don’t have them in the Dandenong Ranges). When my father retired, he taught a male sparrow to eat from his hand. It took months of patience. I was very impressed.

My father died suddenly.

The little bird kept turning up at the back door at the appointed time, and it broke my heart.

After a long time, the little bird stopped coming.

It has always been my wish to have the patience to repeat my father’s achievement. During MIFF this year, I went to Fed Square to eat a bread roll between movies. All the usual characters were there — lots of noise and bustle.

I found a ledge to sit on and was eyed by a seagull. I shared a bit with him and was ‘joined’ by a bunch more. Two young Chinese children and two young men speaking a language I did not recognise (I’m not good at speaking them, but I can usually recognise a wide range of languages) kept trying to frighten the birds away. While all this was going on, right next to me on the ledge were two male sparrows so close that they could easily have hopped into my pocket. I looked at them, but they didn’t seem frightened. I distracted the seagull with a bit of bread and optimistically put a crumb on the palm of my hand and slowly moved it towards them. After a few seconds, (the bird kept looking at me trying to decide the level of my character) the nearest bird jumped onto my hand and took the crumb.

I could not believe what had happened!

The two sparrows had flown off to eat the crumb, but they soon returned only this time on the other side of me where the seagulls could see them.

I performed the routine again with the same result!

There was no one to see what was happening — it was just me. I hope my dad was watching.

At this stage, I had nothing to lose, so I slowly took out my phone and tried to get a video. I was successful, so I did it again only in slo-mo, and at the exact moment the bird takes the crumb, my phone maxed out its memory!

It Never Rains On Olga

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Belgrave is a long way from where Madame Olga lives, but it is on a train line — the end of the line in fact, so she can attend the aptly named, ‘Big Dreams Market’.

Madam Olga has her favourite markets, and she always travels by train, sometimes having to change trains.

She carries all she needs on a trolley designed by Tony, her neighbour (more about him a bit later). The fold-up table is her largest burden, but Tony designed and built her a surface that folds up into a more manageable shape. Even so, she struggles with it if there are stairs or a steep incline.

The ‘Big Dreams Market’ is about half a kilometre from the train station in Belgrave, and all of it is uphill — one of the steepest hills in Melbourne. In the 1950s, Vauxhall cars tested their vehicles on Terry’s Avenue. Handbrakes and clutches were put to the test.

No one knows how old Madame Olga is and to be accurate, which is always important, she isn’t sure herself. Many moons and many men have passed since she was born, somewhere in eastern Europe. She came to Australia after the war, when we welcomed migrants (or New Australians, as we were taught to call them). These days our leaders are teaching us to distrust people from other lands — sadly, this is something that we take to readily.

Getting her belongings up the hill took Olga almost half an hour — folded up table and box of jars and an old wooden chair. She stopped many times. The tiny park that marks the spot where an original homestead once stood is a welcome rest stop. The big old house is gone and in its place is a large blacktop carpark, complete with white lines and the occasional tree. A supermarket chain bought the land from the homesteader’s descendants and the Anglican church back in the day when non-Catholic religions were dying.

Churches traditionally gained the high ground — closer to God, or were they just showing the people where the power is?

‘Big Dreams Market’ is held in the expansive grounds of the local Catholic church — they occupy the highest point on one side of the valley, and on the other side, the Catholics occupy the other peak with an all-girls high school.

There is a market very near to where Olga lives, but she cannot go there anymore — someone complained. She does not know who complained; she only knows that Mr Character, the secretary, told her that they didn’t have space for her anymore.

“You have lots of space. Your market is never full,” said Olga in reply.

Mr Character hesitated before answering. He wanted her to understand his predicament. He liked her very much, but the decisions of his organising committee bound him.

“You’re right; I should have been honest with you. You are too successful, too different and there are people in this world who are afraid of ‘different’, and more to the point, they are afraid of those who do not seem to care what others think of them. That’s you Madame Olga, and I’m sorry. I love your elixir, your ‘Imagine’. I hope you will sell me more when I run out?”

“I have lived a long time, and I understand small minds. I will go,” said Olga. She wasn’t exactly sad, but this market was so convenient, so close to home.

The first monthly market after Olga had been excluded, it rained.

People remarked that it had been a very long time since it had rained on market day, and that was all that was said.

There were other markets, of course, but when you do not drive, there are other considerations. Olga could drive, and she had driven, but not since her Vance had died. She didn’t feel confident without him by her side.

The tiny market at Laburnam was her favourite. It is right next to the station, tucked into a small carpark near a group of shops. Very quiet except for the occasional passing train, way up high.

Box Hill market is her most lucrative. It’s enormous, and the largely immigrant population come from parts of the world where strange things are commonplace, so she does not seem out of place.

“You make good stuff,” said the old lady of Chinese descent, “my grandma used to make potions — make you fall in love, whether you like it or not.” The old lady laughed, and Olga smiled as well.

“Love is good, but potions wear off,” said Olga.

“Not the way my grandmother made them. How do you think I got to be born? My father not have a chance.” The old lady laughed again and moved off unsteadily with her small glass jar with the gold top.

A bored teenage girl was working her way up and down the aisles giving out leaflets when someone told her to stop. An argument broke out.

“I’m just doing what my dad told me to do,” she said.

“If you want to hand out leaflets rent a stall like everyone else,” said the tall man with the strange haircut. The upset, previously bored, teenager disappeared only to reappear with a short man with very little hair. A new conversation broke out with lots of arm-waving, but the man with the bad haircut stood his ground and told them to leave. They did, but not before throwing the remaining leaflets up in the air.

They rained down like A5 pieces of snow, fluttering on the gentle breeze. Small children cheered, and adults brushed the leaflets from their clothes and bags and prams. A particularly chubby baby sucked furiously on a leaflet that her distracted mother had missed.

After this moment of distraction, shoppers and stallholders returned to their duties.

Big Dreams Market, every last Sunday of the month, St Somebodyorother’s church grounds, Belgrave. 10 am till 4 pm. Come, and make your dreams come true.

Olga folded the flyer and put it in her pocket. Something told her that this knowledge might come in handy.

Olga’s first ‘Big Dreams Market’ was held in May and the established stallholders remarked on her lack of an awning.

“This is The Hills luv. If it’s gonna rain anywhere, it will rain here first. You are gonna need a cover,” said the man who was setting up his wife’s pottery stall. He seemed like an organised bloke. He knew where everything was, and he laid it out, ‘just so’.

Olga looked at the sky. The clouds were leaden, threatening, full of moisture.

“It not rain while market is running,” she said.

The pottery husband laughed.

“You a bit of a soothsayer luv?” Olga didn’t answer. She unfolded her table, laid out her embroidered table cloth and stacked up the tiny jars. She placed the old wooden chair very close to the edge of the pottery stall. The man looked at her with a look that said, “Don’t let that chair venture on to my wife’s area.”

Despite the threatening weather, there was a continuous flow of market shoppers. Small children and young couples with and without prams. Older couples in colourful scarves and giggling teenagers trying not to look as though they were checking each other out.

Customers react to Olga’s Elixer in many different ways, but on this day, there was a lot of ‘flying’.

Late in the day, Olga was distracted by a loud bang, and as she turned, she knocked over the jar of toothpicks. It was almost empty, but the remaining toothpicks spilled onto the ground. Olga groaned. Getting down that far was very difficult for her and picking up the tiny shards of wood was a lot to expect of her ancient fingers.

“I’ll pick them up for you lady,” said a boy of some twelve years. His jeans were clean but well worn, and his jumper was a hand knit. His dark hair was long and brushed back.

“Thank you, young man,” said Olga.

The boy quickly retrieved the picks and the unbroken jar. He placed them on the table and smiled at Olga.

“Your mother loves you very much, but she is also sad. This will pass, but you need to be patient and hug her a lot. Don’t worry if she is quiet. She is not upset with you. Grief shows itself in different ways. I know you feel it too, but you are able to smile,” said Olga and tears appeared in the boy’s eyes.

“I try to make her happy, but nothing works,” said the boy, brushing something away from his eye.

“It not your job to make her happy. It your job to love her, no matter what. Do not be afraid. Let her lean on you when she needs to. And you lean on her as well, when you need to. She won’t break, “said Olga.

The boy gave half a wave, brushed something else from his eye took a few steps back and moved away.

“You were right,” said the pottery husband as they packed up, “it didn’t rain.”

“It is good to listen to Olga when she speak of weather,” said Olga.

The pottery husband laughed. “How did you go today?”

“Well,” said Olga, not wanting to give too much away, “and your wife, she sell much?”

“Never as much as she would like but enough to buy more clay and stuff.”

With everything securely strapped into place (Tony taught her how to tie especially strong knots), Olga faced the daunting task of getting down the hill to the station.

She put the trolley behind her after having it nearly drag her down the hill.

Her legs and her back ached by the time she reached the ramp that led to the station. She must have looked a sight as she staggered down the hill. Passengers in passing cars staring at her as though she might suddenly break into a gallop and topple down the steep incline.

Finally, she got to step onto the waiting train, where she made herself comfortable, catching her breath.

The journey home was uneventful with the occasional passenger having to step around her trolley.

Olga was satisfied with her first day at ‘Big Dreams’.

As the train pulled out of the station, she noticed the man who had been one of her customers. He was with his large family, only now he was with an old dog — the dog she had seen with a small boy. The dog’s lead was a piece of string. The dog looked happy, and so did the older man, but it’s hard to judge happiness from a rapidly accelerating train.