Imagine

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I hadn’t noticed her stall at the craft market before.

She was not the kind of person who is easily forgotten.

There was a possibility of rain, but her market stall was uncovered — lacking the portable ‘gazebo’ covering that most of the stalls seem to have.

Shiny black medium length hair, and a long black skirt with an off-white blouse.

Embroidery was the theme, with her clothes and the white table cloth that covered her display bench all showing touches of colour applied by an experienced artist.

She spoke softly, which made you lean in to hear what she was saying. A slight eastern European accent completed the picture.

It sounds unkind, but she wasn’t beautiful or even pretty, but you forgot all the frivolous assessments as soon as she spoke.

When I sailed by in my usual ‘craft market mood’, three people were standing in front of her stand, making it difficult to see what she was selling. I did a quick scan for signage or a banner only to be disappointed.

“You may want to sit down,” were the first words I heard her say, “it may come over you immediately, or it may take a minute or two. Every person feels it differently.”

‘Feels what differently?’ I thought out loud — I do that, talk to myself in crowds. It rarely gets me more than a quizzical glance.

I’d separated myself from the rest of my family. Playing the doting grandfather wears a bit thin after a while, so a modicum of solo wandering is liberating. I could see them through the throng, waiting for food. My daughter-in-law is bouncing the youngest on her hip. Mothers develop hips where no hips were before, have you noticed that? Females are amazing. They accept their roles and dive right in. I’m sure they are just as pissed off as males, but generally, they seem to get on with it. I admire that, and I wonder how they do it, or are they just better at hiding their despair from the rest of us?

An old wooden, curved back, early Australian chair sat dangerously close to encroaching on the sacred space in front of the adjoining stall and a late thirties female was gingerly making herself seated. The old chair was rock solid, and the young woman seemed to sink into it, head back eyes closed, arms draped at her side. For a moment I was worried she might topple off the chair onto the hard old school ground surface. My kids played on this old blacktop many years ago, and they came home bloodied and bruised on most days — an unforgiving surface.

I saw her friend take a step towards her as she finally settled.

“It’s amazing. I’m flying. There’s heaps of blue and clouds and birds, and I can feel the wind on my face,” she said, and I wondered if she had been a ventriloquist in a previous life.

“She loves clouds and birds,” said her friend.

“And flying?” said the older lady next to her.

“She used to flap her arms a lot when we were kids, but she never actually took off. Not that I know of.”

“It not matter,” said the lady with the black wavy hair and the gentle voice. “In her mind, she is flying. It as real as if she were bird.”

“She’s driving me home,” said her friend. “How long does this last?”

“It varies. About an hour.” She turned her gaze to the amazed customers, all looking at the flying thirty-something ventriloquist.

“You must not partake and drive, or operate heavy machinery, or sign anything, sex okay though, even encouraged,” said the stallholder with the delicate embroidery.

“Is this stuff even legal?” said a skinny male with a tightly cropped beard and hand-knitted beany.

“My family has been making IMAGINE since before time. It has nothing to do with law. It has to do with what your heart wants. Would you ask lady who makes the jams if it is legal?”

She slowly raised an arm showing old bones and tight muscles and pointed at the large lady in the red and white gingham apron who looked across and smiled at us. She held up a jar and said, “Apricot. Only a few jars left.”

“Her jams are delicious, but no one asks her if they legal. Is happiness legal?” she whispered. The wind caught her hair, and it moved back from her face revealing cheekbones and a gentle mouth. Her eyes weren’t on any of us, but off in the distance.

“Buy, don’t buy. Is your choice.”

A little boy ran into the back of my leg, and when I winced and looked down, he said, “Do you like my dog, mister?”

I looked at the kid and the dog. The dog looked at me with pleading eyes.

“Yeah, cool dog,” I said.

“You want to buy him?”

“How much?” I heard the words spill out of my mouth before my mind engaged.

“Ten bucks and packet of Juicy Fruits,” said the small boy.

The dog seemed to think it was a good deal. The dog had been on this planet for several years so he would know a good deal when he heard it, I guess.

“Wouldn’t your parents object if you sold your dog.”

“Nah. They wouldn’t care,” said the small boy who sensed that I was not an easy mark.

“See ya,” he said and turned to leave. The dog held my gaze as the boy dragged him away.

I turned back to the quiet drama that was still unfolding at the market stall run by the gently spoken lady.

Some of the crowd were now surrounding the young woman in the kangaroo backed chair. They were listening as she narrated her adventures — something about perching on a mountain range with snow all around.

I took the opportunity to peruse the merchandise.

The table was partially covered in tiny clear glass jars about the circumference of a fifty-cent piece. She had arranged them into one small pyramid. The tops of the jars were golden and unbranded. There wasn’t any branding anywhere on the stand, just gold-topped glass jars.

One jar was open and sitting on the table in front of the stallholder. Next to it was an empty jar full of toothpicks.

“How long have I been gone?” asked the lady in the chair. She was attempting to sit upright, straightening her skirt.

“About ten minutes,” said her friend who put her hand on the young woman’s shoulder for reassurance.

“It felt like hours,” said the young woman. “I know what I have to do now.”

She reached in her handbag, pulled out her purse and produced a handful of cash.

“How much for a jar?” she said, looking at the dark-haired stallholder.

“Fifty dollars.”

“I’ll take two jars please,” said the woman snatching two jars and putting them in her bag. “Can I have your card, please?”

“Olga doesn’t have card. But be back again soon.”

The young woman seemed dazed for a moment.

“Don’t bother smear it on; doesn’t make it last longer. Do just as I showed you.”

The woman and her friend disappeared into the crowd, and the young lady who had been flying only minutes ago seemed determined to get somewhere.

“Don’t let her drive,” the old woman said as they rushed away, “give her vodka and potato soup, then she can drive.”

The others in our group pushed money at the lady, and she gave them each a gold-topped jar.

“You want wrapped?”

“No. Thank you, I’ll just pop it into my bag,” said a slender woman with grey-blond hair.

“Good luck, and don’t worry. He’ll be okay.”

The slender woman stared at her before melding into the crowd of craft market shoppers.

The young bearded man who was concerned with legality held out a fifty-dollar note, and the stallholder placed a jar in his upturned palm. She looked him square in the eye. “You know what happiness looks like, and it knows you.”

The young man closed his fingers around the jar, bumped into a lady with a pram before heading off in the direction of the windchime stall.

“Would you like to try IMAGINE?”

I stared at the chair before looking to see if my extended family were still in sight. The little bloke on the hip was stuffing a hot dog in his mouth — little kids always get fed first.

“Yes,” I said, “what do I have to do?”

The woman delicately chose the right toothpick from amongst a jar of identical toothpicks and dipped it into the pale green mixture. The breeze wafted a scent of menthol.

“What adheres to tip of toothpick is enough. Any more and it a waste.”

She awkwardly handed me the toothpick. My large old fingers were reacting to the cold afternoon air, and I was momentarily afraid I would drop the pick.

Thumb and forefinger did their job as they have for more than seventy years, and I rolled the toothpick applying the sticky substance to the back of my hand and rubbed it in with my little finger.

After putting the pick down, I sat on the chair, but not before rubbing my fingers across the pressed pattern on the back. In my youth, I had restored chairs just like this one. Sitting on it felt like coming home.

 

I fully expected the school ground to be empty of stalls and people with only the occasional paper wrapper blowing in the wind. But, instead, it was as it had been when I sat down.

I didn’t go flying, there weren’t any clouds or birds and no snow-covered mountains, but I knew I had to find that kid and the dog. Nothing else was more important.

I handed her money, and she gave me a jar from the pyramid.

“Your destiny is not yet written. It has soft edges,” she said.

I wondered what the ‘soft edges’ meant, but I let it go.

The smell of menthol was in my nostrils as I picked my way through the crowd.

It took a while, but I found my sprawling family near a pottery stall. The little one had smeared tomato sauce across my daughter in law’s shoulder, but she didn’t seem to mind. Mothers blow me away.

“Where did you get the dog grandad?”

I’ve always hated being called grandad, but this was not the time for an argument.

I looked down at the straggly dog with the golden eyes, and he looked up at me.

His lead was a length of stout string that was biting into my hand.

The dog stood patiently by my side, sniffing the air for any interesting smells.

“It’s a long story,” I said. “Do we have any toothpicks at home luv?” I said to my wife. She looked at me in that way she does and said, “I think so.”

The dog licked my hand, and we all disappeared into the crowd.

Portrait

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It was my mother’s idea.
Mum was never short on ideas, bless her soul.
Somehow, she had found out that no one in our family had ever had their portrait painted, which didn’t surprise me. In our world, only rich people had the spare change to pay for a portrait painter. We had more significant problems, like food and electricity and dog biscuits if it came to that.
Which brings me to Eric. Eric the dog.
He doesn’t like to miss out on stuff.
Mum suggested that my new business venture, supplying rich people with household staff who could also play a musical instrument (more of this a bit later), could use a boost. “Imagine the impact on your prospective client when they come into your office and see a portrait of you, done in oils.”
The idea appealed to me. Despite my left wing leanings on most subjects, I’ve always liked the trappings of wealth and privilege.
Eric, on the other hand, just likes being where I am, doing what I’m doing.
So, when it came time to travel to the city for my first sitting, Eric wanted to go as well. He had no idea where we were going or that it involved a trip on the number 12 tram and even if I had explained to him that he would probably have to sit quietly in some outer office for more than an hour, he would still have liked to come — that’s Eric. He does not want to miss out.
“I like your dog,” said a delightful creature in a chiffon dress.
“And I’m pretty sure he likes you too,” I said facetiously.
“How can you tell?” said the delightful creature, who was in danger of catching cold, as my mother would have said.
For a moment, I thought she was kidding, but it turned out that she had left what remained of her intelligence in her other purse.
I have to say that I took advantage of the situation and we were going to be getting off the tram presently.
“I know, he speaks quite softly. I’ll get him to say it again, only a bit louder,” I said.
“I saw his lips move, but I didn’t hear anything. What did he say?” said the scantily clad creature.
“He phrased it differently, but the sentiment was the same. Oh, and he added a bit.”
“Really?”
“Yes. He reiterated his liking for you and suggested that if you were a dog, he would suggest a mating session — doggy style, of course.”
The beautiful creature blushed and stroked Eric on the head.
I love being out with Eric.
The artist studio was in an apartment on Little Collins Street, a costly part of town. Based on his fee, I could see how he was able to afford this address.
I expected his secretary — (yes he had a secretary, and I wondered what she did all day), to ask me to leave Eric with her.
I wondered what they would talk about.
As it turned out, the artist squealed like a little girl when he saw Eric.
“The dog is, how shall I put it, perfect!”
So that was that. Eric is now part of the company, and it has to be said that he gets more attention than I do, especially since we started using the portrait in our advertising campaign.
Eric has his own section on our website, and we share a secretary so that he has his fan mail answered.
You are probably still wondering about the ‘could also play a musical instrument’ bit.
Well, the idea has been around for a while, and it all started with an old interview with a famous Scandinavian film director who has his own production company. In a throwaway line, he said that he would not employ a lawyer who did not play a musical instrument. Considering how many lawyers a film production company would need, the interviewer tried to pursue the point. No one has ever been able to find out if the director was just outrageous for the sake of it or if he was serious. For our purpose, it does not matter, because the press picked up on it again many years later, and so did the people who like to design personality tests. The best selling book, “And Can You Play A Musical Instrument?”, established the idea in people’s heads and you know what happens when people get an idea into their heads — it stays there, and no amount of logic will shift it.
So, God help any domestic servant who is looking for employment without the ability to at least pound out ‘Chopsticks’ on a piano.
Sitting for a portrait is not as much fun as you might think. My neck got a crick in it, and my arm ached from hanging on to Eric. Eric wasn’t any too pleased either. He wasn’t having it, so I had to hang on to a cushion for most of the session.
I was happy when it was done, and I loved how the painting came out, and as with childbirth, I forgot about the pain.
There is talk of doing another one every five years so that we will end up with a bunch of them showing the permanency of the business, but I’m sure I can think up an excuse to not be available for the next one, and Eric agrees.

 

 

Image: Aaron Westerberg

Emma and Moonlight

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It has to be said that Moonlight was easier to see at night.

She was still there during the day, but she was harder to see.

Emma wondered about this, but only for a moment. Considering all the strange things that had happened around her over the past year, not being able to see her dog clearly during the day seemed like a small concern.

Emma’s second favourite part of her day was sitting on the old leather couch in her aunty and uncle’s lounge room watching a movie. She could have gone to her room and watched it on her computer — been alone with Moonlight, but she sensed that Moonlight enjoyed being with the grownups — hanging out. Considering Moonlight had defended her when she needed it most, Emma felt it was the least she could do.

Moonlight didn’t watch the screen, she watched Emma — head on her lap, sitting at her feet. Emma stroked her head and scratched behind her ears — Moonlight liked having her ears scratched, not because they were itchy, but because she knew this touch was full of love.

“Why do you do that Emma?” asked her aunty.

“No reason,” said Emma as she stopped stroking Moonlight.

Mrs Brown had been told not to make Emma feel like she was doing anything unusual. “Try not to notice when she does things — strange things. It’s all part of her healing process.”

Emma was slightly ashamed that she took advantage of the advice she overheard her psychologist give. Nevertheless, she took full advantage when it suited her, particularly around bedtime. Unfortunately, this only worked for a few weeks, and she learned not to overdo it — too precious an advantage to waste.

After a few months, the police stopped ‘dropping in for a chat’. They were hoping that Emma could remember more of that night, but there wasn’t any more to add to what she had already told them. Her mother told her to hide, and Emma was very good at hiding — she knew all the best places. She remembered the adults shouting — strange voices she didn’t recognise — Moonlight barking and growling, then silence. Emma stayed hidden until the policewoman in the white overalls found her. Two men were arrested at the Emergency department of the local hospital. Moonlight had inflicted severe wounds on them both — had driven them off before they could search the house — before they could hurt Emma.

The police said Moonlight was badly injured when they found her. She didn’t know who these people were so she tried to drive them away as well, but she was too wounded to put up much of a fight.

The policewoman in the white overalls told Emma that Moonlight had been taken to a Vet.

Moonlight was fine now. She came to Emma that first night — the night Emma rode in the police car to her uncle’s house. They turned the flashing blue lights on for her, but said they couldn’t turn the siren on, “It tends to wake people up, and people need their sleep.”

Emma didn’t sleep much this days.

In the beginning, it was strange to sleep in a new bed in a new house, but then she got used to the all the new things. Moonlight kept her company on those sleepless nights.

Emma didn’t have to go to school for several weeks, and when she did, it was a new school, and she had to start all over again — find new friends.

No one at her new school knew what had happened, although Emma sensed that her teacher knew something — they never talked about it.

Emma was the only girl at that school who was allowed to have her dog with her during the day. No one said why and she didn’t ask — she didn’t want them to send Moonlight away, so she didn’t bring it up.

Sometimes, Emma lost sight of Moonlight at school, but soon she would turn up with an old tennis ball or a bone and lay it at Emma’s feet.

“Not now Moonlight, I’ve got an essay to finish.”

Emma’s best friend, Josie, knew Moonlight, but sometimes the other girls would ask Emma who she was talking to.

“Don’t you talk to your dog?” Emma would ask.

Josie would usually change the subject and suggest that they all play a different game.

Emma didn’t catch the bus when it was time to go home from school because the long walk home with Moonlight was a highlight of her day.

Their usual route took them past Maccas, and if Emma had any pocket money left, she would buy a small ice cream cone and share it with Moonlight.

Moonlight loved ice cream almost as much as she loved Emma.

“You wait here Moonlight while I go and get an ice cream. Be a good girl.”

Sometimes Emma didn’t say why she was going into the shop because Moonlight would get very excited and spin around in circles at the thought of ice cream. It took her a long time to settle down and even when she was sitting, her bottom wiggled with delight. Even when she didn’t say the words, Moonlight knew what was about to happen — Moonlight was a bright dog — she knew stuff — what she didn’t know she could sense. She knew when Emma was happy or sad. She tried to lick away her tears, but Emma scolded her when she did. She wasn’t really mad at her and Moonlight knew it.

Mostly, Moonlight knew that her job was to stay close by because Emma needed her.

Moonlight knew that something was different after that night, but she didn’t waste time thinking about it — she had a job to do and a girl to whom she could give all her love — that was enough for her.

After ice cream, they would cut through the park and sometimes there were other dogs to play with. Some were hard to see in the daylight, and some weren’t, but dogs don’t worry about such things — they live in the moment.

After the park, there was Mrs Jenkins.

Mrs Jenkins was ancient, and she smelled like eucalyptus lollies. Moonlight liked lollies, and so did Emma.

Mrs Jenkins would be waiting for them, every day, standing at her front gate. When the weather was warm, they would all sit on her front verandah and drink milky tea. Moonlight would rest her head on Mrs Jenkins’ lap — she knew that Mrs Jenkins had a cat, but the warmth of a dog is unique. Moonlight knew that Mrs Jenkins was coming near to the end of her life. It had been a good life — full of wonder, but all of her friends were gone, and she was looking forward to seeing them again.

When Emma and Moonlight said their goodbyes, they walked the rest of the distance to their house, but they did it very slowly, not because they didn’t want to go home — they liked being there, but because they didn’t want the experience to end.

The days rolled into weeks and the weeks rolled into months, and as they did, Emma and moonlight settled into their new life — far away from their old home.

Emma’s aunty and uncle were kind, and their house was warm and comfortable, but it wasn’t their home — not really.

“You miss your mum and dad don’t you, Emma?” said her aunty. They had been watching a movie together, and the movie had gone into an annoying bit.

“I miss them every minute of every day, but Moonlight is still with me, and I don’t get too sad when she is around.”

“You do know that Moonlight died that night — defending you?”

“I know she was hurt, but she got better and came to me. I know she is a bit hard to see in the daylight, but she is always with me.”

Emma patted Moonlight and Moonlight licked her hand and went back to dreaming about walking home from Emma’s school and ice cream and playing in the park and Mrs Jenkins and her eucalypts lollies — life was good.

Precious and the Librarian

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As a general rule, librarians consider dogs to be something that are best kept on the street side of the door.

Precious was the exception.

The library staff at the East Side Library liked their job. It wasn’t well paid, but the hours were reasonable.

The south-east corner of the building had been damaged during the war — one of the many air-raids. The town council didn’t have the funds to carry out the repairs so that part of the building had been inaccessible to the public for many years. The government engineers had reinforced the structure with massive beams of oak — one of the few things that we had in abundance after the war. So the building was safe, but there were no plans to restore it, ‘books come way down the list’, was the official reply when the head librarian sent in her yearly formal request for building repairs. It irked her that the countries that had been defeated seemed to be benefiting from reconstruction while her library lay wounded all these years after victory.

Because the damaged part of the building was not considered to be officially part of the library, Jane Delbridge did not have a problem with Terry and Precious enjoying its privacy and comfort. It was cold in this section of the building, but not as cold as sitting out on the footpath in the snow — even if she was wearing the sleeve of one of Terry’s old army jumpers as a coat.

Mrs Delbridge lost her husband in North Africa during the war, and she looked upon ex-solders with warmth and respect. Terry and Precious went to the library every Monday and Thursday — regular as clockwork. Mrs Delbridge left the side door open so Terry and Precious could enter without drawing attention to themselves. The door frame was warped from the explosion so it did not open easily. Terry thought about repairing it but decided against it — too obvious.

The room that they shared was partially open to the air, but the roof was still intact and the hole was not on the ‘bad weather side’ of the building, so water was rarely a problem. None-the-less, time was eating away at the building and Mrs Delbridge was rightly worried that the council would use the deteriorating condition of the building to justify pulling it down. It stood on prime real estate and the council could use the resultant flood of money for desperately needed projects. Fortunately, many of the library’s customers were influential members of the community and they made it clear that the building was off limits.

The room with a view as Terry called it, had an old table and a dusty couch that had been rescued from a building that was being demolished. The hole in the wall let in more than enough light to read by. Precious claimed one end of the couch while Terry sat and read at the other end. Cups of tea would mysteriously appear from time to time and the rings of countless cups were imprinted into the unpolished surface of the small table.

Choosing a book was the most difficult task. The library was well stocked from before the war and they had inherited books from libraries that were more unlucky. The library staff spent many hours repairing damaged books because they knew that just like money for building repairs, money for new books was way down the list.

Terry enjoyed detective stories and Mrs Delbridge had introduced him to Chandler and Hamett. She also headed him towards Green and Maugham. She was looking after his mind. He had been spared and now she would show him the wonders of beautiful words.

Sometimes, just for the enjoyment of it, Terry would read to Precious. She seemed to enjoy A Moon and Sixpence,  but he wasn’t sure why. She didn’t like Dickens, which was a shame, but she did like Conan Doyle. Terry did all the voices and tried to make it as exciting as possible. He worried that Precious  might get bored waiting for him each night. The truth was that Precious didn’t need to be entertained. All she needed was to be close by — close to Terry. That was enough for her.

It’s important to know how much is enough.

The Woman In The Window

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I saw her most days.

Just sitting and staring out the window.

Her house was on my regular route.

I say regular, but that depends on my mistress.

She doesn’t like me ‘wandering around’ as she calls it, so I only get to sneak out when she is busy. She sits at her desk and writes on most days but sometimes she gets wrapped up in her work and she even forgets to stop and eat. On these days I know I can go for a long walk and most likely I won’t be missed.

The lady in the window is Mrs Norris. I guess there must have been a Mr Norris, but I never saw him.

She seemed sad to me, and I know what sad looks like, but it was more than the way she appeared it was the way she looked, as though she was waiting for someone.

She rarely went outside and on the few occasions that I saw her, she barely noticed me, which is unusual. People want to pat me all the time. They say things like, ‘Aren’t you cute, and who’s a good dog then?” I’m not sure if I’m supposed to answer or not so mostly I just wag my tail.

Old ladies are the worst.

They come out of nowhere and start patting me before I know what is happening.

I’ve got a friend, a white Maltese named Zed and he tells similar stories.

The difference with Zed is he collects little old ladies. He just stands there and looks cute, and the little old ladies sneak up on him and pat him. He lets them come in but on the way out he gives them a nip.

He keeps count.

So far this year he has cleaned up 17 little old ladies, and it’s not August yet. You might think that he gets into trouble, but he doesn’t. His owner says, “Serves you right for patting the dog without asking permission. He’s wearing a bright red lead that says CAUTION. If you can’t be bothered to read the warning, then it serves you right.”

So far no one has complained to anyone and Zed reckons he can hit 30 by the end of the year, especially if the tourist season is a good one.

I took Zed to visit the lady in the window, but I made him promise that he wouldn’t bite. He said that he only bit little old ladies, it was a matter of principle, so she was safe.

Even with a cute white fluffy friend, the lady in the window did not pay us much attention.

She always smiled at me, but that seemed like as much as she could manage.

Once or twice I sat next to her in her garden. We sat there for ages; not saying anything at all. I think she enjoyed my company. I wanted to make her feel a bit better. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I didn’t make her feel any worse and sometimes that is as much as you can ask for.

I went past her house again today, and there she was, in the window, just looking. I wonder if she will find what she is looking for? I wonder if what she is looking for will find her?

I’m only a dog, so I may never find the answers to those questions, but that does not matter. Today is what matters; right here and right now. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on the lady in the window, but in the end, her happiness is up to her, all I can do is be there.

When my mistress lets me, that is.