Most Of The Time

 

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I used to be angry. 

A lot. 

Most of the time.

Then I wasn’t. 

The time gap between these two extremes is vast — most of my life, in fact.

For most of that time, I was unaware of the reasons for my anger.

I was aware of not having all the things I wanted, I frightened people, success seemed to come close only to run away — these things I knew and I assumed that my anger grew out of them. The more I strove to rectify these deficiencies, the worse things got.


The day I worked it out, I got angry. Not the old kind of angry, this was new — righteous, biblical, galactic.

For all these many years, I’d been living someone else’s life. Living their dogma. When I find that person, I’m going to reign down some righteous vengeance and lay waste to their existence — just saying.

I feel a lot better now I know.

Not knowing is the worst.

Anora

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Before Scarlett, there was Anora.

Not in the ‘girlfriend, boyfriend’ sense.

Anora looked after Sam’s wellbeing. She cleaned his house and cooked amazing meals.

Standing at about five foot three, she was slightly round with short wavy hair.

Sam had tried to help her son, Antonio. Tried, but not succeeded. He went to gaol but not for as long as he should have.

Anora showed her gratitude by becoming Sam’s housekeeper.

In those days three young men were living in Sam’s house in Preston. Anora cleaned for them, but she only cooked for Sam.

Three times a week, delicious smells assaulted Sam when he got home.

On this night it was penne with a Sicilian meat sauce, thick with Roma tomatoes, garlic, basil and oregano. Anora cooked as though there was likely to be another war. Her meals were meant to feed a small platoon.

Sam dished a portion into a bowl, heated it, before carefully moving it to the table that Anora had set before she left for the day.

Sam grated Romano cheese onto the dish, but not too much – mustn’t overwhelm the other flavours.

Moving the fork to his right hand — a habit he learned from his mentor, he lifted the first piece of pasta to his mouth. The aromas assailed his nostrils, giving his taste buds a preview of what was to come. Sam sighed and swallowed and repeated the process slowly until the plate was empty. A piece of crusty bread wiped the remainder of the sauce, and Sam sat in contemplative silence.

Red wine with a tomato-based pasta. The glass felt pleasant to the touch and the bite of the wine compliment the taste of the meal.

“Is it okay to speak to you now?” said Damien. Sam’s housemates knew that you never interrupt or speak to him when he is eating.

“If you must,” said Sam.

“Your crazy housekeeper lady left this for you. Said I was to give it to you, ‘personally in person’. I have to tell you she scares me, Sam. She caught me sniffing your meal, and she threatened to stick me with a fork.”

“She’d do it too. Don’t mess with Anora. Her name means ‘woman of honour’ in Latin. She believes that I helped her son, so her honour tells her to look after me. She won’t take any money for her work, so we play this little game where I put it directly into her bank account, and she pretends that she doesn’t notice. Be kind to her, she has some dangerous relatives.”

“Like I said, she scares me, and I work in finance with some of the most vicious motherfuckers on the planet,” said Damien. “Any chance I could have some of that. I’m starving, and I’ve been smelling the aroma all afternoon?”

“What if Anora found out?” I said with a smile.

“On second thoughts, I’ll have a toasted cheese sandwich. Forget I mentioned it.”

The Protest of Romance Against the Commonplace of Life

 

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As far back as anyone can remember, there was the three of us.

Of course, there were others — friends, relatives, enemies, confederates, liars and parasites. But through it all, we remained untouched, unsullied and unconcerned.

My main job was to not favour one over the other — a clear course to disaster.

They both wanted me, and the feeling was mutual, but to fall in love with one more than the other would pull our world apart.

I’d loved them both — not at the same time, we were too young to be that creative or that unselfish. Our carnal adventures were played out over the raging fire of adolescence. We could not; would not see any further than our triumvirate.

I’m younger in years but older and wiser. I put a gentle stop to our naked activities, and it has been that way ever since — not an easy feat.

We are closer than family, fiercely loyal and dangerous to cross, as certain people have found out.

There are ‘sticks and stones’ to deal with from time to time, but we’ve heard all the jealous jibes, and they roll off us before they even make contact.

The concept of ‘friends forever’ seems to be a belief of the young. Life pulls friendships apart, but our goal is to be the exception.

Small cracks are beginning to show as our careers begin to accelerate and war looms, but for now, we are here together, and the sun is shining, and the breeze is cool.

If yesterday is a foreign land then tomorrow is a promise never fulfilled — give me today every time. 

He Mistook His Existence For Life

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It was a mistake that was easily made.

I’d walked a short distance from the bus carrying two suitcases (I’d long since learned that two small suitcases were less of a burden than one large one).

A friend, who wasn’t expecting me, lived around here — I just wasn’t sure exactly where. My confusion was of no matter, I have the ability to find my destination, and there is nothing mysterious about the process. I simply walk around, smiling at people and looking for familiar landmarks. On a larger scale, it worked for me when I drove a car. These days, there are insufficient funds for a wheeled vehicle, so I wear out shoe leather.

When the war ended, I stayed in Europe.

There was nothing for me back home.

My parents were passed, and my girl ran off with a Real Estate agent. My aunty misses me, but she has a family of her own to keep her company.

I teach English to businessmen and children of wealthy parents, and I get by.

Things don’t interest me much.

As long as there are books and wine and occasionally, women, I’m happy. My way of living, for that is what it is — living, confuses my friends back home. When the guns fell silent, they could not wait to go back to their old lives. Old lives! How could anyone go back after what we have seen?

It has to be said that I didn’t notice her at first, I was scanning at ground level, looking at faces to see if I recognised anyone.

I was here about a year ago, and my reason was the same as it is today — the library.

The staff here managed to move all of the ancient texts to safety during the conflict. The frontlines were hard to define, and at times it was only a few miles away, before being pushed back. Those were tense times for the people who had lived here all their lives. We, on the other hand, had come from far away. Even the local troops were from other regions. The townspeople treated us like heroes — we weren’t, but it felt good. We were just trying to stay alive in a country that was not at all like our own.

The lady in the white gown, in the high window, was a woman who had lived her life in luxury. One by one, she lost most of the people she loved. Every year, she stands in the window of her apartment wearing the dress she was to wear on her wedding day.

Her man did not come home. If he had, she may not have recognised him, loved him, wanted him, but we will never know.

A love lost in such a melancholy way is a love that endures.

When I wasn’t tutoring, I was reading in the ancient library. The staff knew me by sight, and I was allowed access to books that were usually only available to scholars sent out from the Vatican. “Don’t tell anyone,” said the head librarian who had lost his only son in the war.

When the library was closing, he would gently place his hand on my shoulder and say, “Antonio, we are closing up now.”

My name isn’t Antonio — I never corrected him. It isn’t polite to correct and old man. I never asked, but I had a good idea who Antonio might have been.

If there wasn’t a student to teach, I’d head for the cafe on the corner, the one with the parrot in the window.

I have several favourite spots, but the table by the window is my preferred dining place.

The owner makes incredible meals, and as long as the ingredients don’t involve seafood, I leave it to her to feed me. “What you got against seafood Michael?” she would say, at least once a week. “The same thing I had against it the last time you asked Etienne, I don’t eat anything that can look at me,” I’d say, and she’d laugh every time.

The cafe has an excellent cellar which mysteriously survived the larcenous behaviour of the soldiers stationed here during the war.

I rarely drink white wine, but the whites that Etienne has squirrelled away are to die for, so occasionally, during warm weather, I break my ‘only red wine’ rule.

Etienne will not say which bakery supplies her bread, and I don’t understand her reticence. The bread, with well-salted butter, could be a meal in itself and often is.

“Why you only eat bread today, Michael?”

“Because it is so good and it reminds me of you; warm and crusty,” and again she laughs at my words.

“If I were thirty years younger,” she would say.

“I wouldn’t have been born yet, so I wouldn’t make much of a lover.” This time there is only a smile.

Once in awhile the lady in the white dress, would come into the cafe and we’d dine together. She’d tell me about her fiancé, and I would talk to her about my books and my life on the other side of the world.

The first time I saw her standing in her window, resplendent in her wedding dress, I thought her behaviour was unusual, to say the least. The villagers seemed to understand where I only wondered.

In a world torn apart by war, there was understanding and compassion for a neighbour who had lost all the things that mattered.

All that matters to me is on my back and in my two suitcases — and in my head, of course.

Every day, the things I have learned are slowly pushing out the memories I’d like to forget.

Maybe one day there will be room in there for romance and love, but not just yet.

So Nice To Come Home 

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Three flights of stairs later and my key slips easily into the lock.

It’s a dead heat as what hits me first, the aroma of Elizabeth’s cooking or the song playing on the radio.

You’d be so nice to come home to

You’d be so nice by the fire

While the breeze on high, sang a lullaby

You’d be all my heart could desire

Under stars chilled by the winter

Under an August moon shining above

You’d be so nice, you’d be paradise

To come home to and love

It’s not exactly our song, but it probably should be. Cole Porter weaves his way through our young lives. He was a soldier in the Great War. He made it home, and so did I.

I am coming home, and there is a fire in the grate. She is my heart’s desire, but it’s not quite August. This time last year, I was trying not to get killed in a war that was all but over.

I haven’t had time to close the door properly when Elizabeth wraps herself around my neck. “You’re home,” she says in my ear rather too loudly. I lift her off the ground, and my tired muscles complain. I spin her around, and they complain a little more.

“I sure am. Who else were you expecting?”

“Only you. Always you,” she says, and not for the first time I wonder how she remained faithful all those years I was away. In many ways, she’s a better man than I am.

“What’s cooking. Smells great?”

“It’s a stew, and you have to guess the secret ingredient,” she says, and out of nowhere, she produces a wooden spoon. Steam rising, delicious aroma. The taste matches my expectations. The girl can cook. I can’t pick the secret ingredient and she won’t tell me what it is. “You have to guess.”

“How do you manage these meals in such a tiny kitchen?”

“The secret is to clean up as you go then you don’t trip up on your mess,” she said, earnestly.

Our apartment isn’t exactly tiny, but you wouldn’t want more than two people rattling around in it. The kitchen, such as it is, merges with the sitting room. There’s room for a good-sized table and four chairs (which we inherited from the Simpsons when they moved back to the country — the City was too much for these gentle souls). The walls could use a lick of paint, but the windows all open on command and stay open without the aid of a prop (I fixed the sash cords on the ones in the sitting room — Elizabeth had been propping them open when we first moved in). The bedroom is just big enough for an armoire, a double bed and a little table on my side. Elizabeth makes do with a tiny dressing table. The bevel edged mirror reflects the low afternoon sun in the winter and produces rainbows on the walls. Our bedroom smells of her perfume and powder — it makes me feel married, and I’ve had my fill of male smells.

“I’m going to wash the grime off,” I say as Elizabeth puts the finishing touches to our evening meal.

It’s no longer early in the evening, so it’s dark outside. The street light on the corner and the neon signs are overwhelming the fading daylight. Our windows are open. I can hear the street sounds as they intrude between songs on the radio.

I strip down to my waist and scrub the dirt off my body, the perspiration off my arms and riggers of the day fall away — I’m home, where it is warm and safe. Where Elizabeth waits for me.

I put on a clean shirt and pants. Despite my fatigue, I have to fight the desire to walk into the kitchen, scoop up Elizabeth and carry her into our bedroom. She would put up a pretend fight — a token resistance and I would make love to her until she called out my name — and that’s how I know. She only calls out my name when she has reached that place. At those times, I know better than to call her Liz — it has to be Elizabeth, it’s the only name she will answer to. “It’s the name I was given, and I don’t like to lose any of it.”

Which is fair enough. We have pet names for each other, but saying our names in full seems grown-up somehow.

Most of our early adulthood was sacrificed to the war effort, so now we have some catching up to do.

I don’t scoop her up and have my wicked way. I return to her and stand in front of the fire, freshly scrubbed, warming my bum in front of the fire.

Elizabeth ferries the steaming plates the few steps from the kitchen to the table, where a table cloth and napkins await the plates, nestled between silver-plated knives and forks. There is a vase with flowers, and sometimes, on special occasions, a candle is burning in a green glass candle holder.

“Do you mind if I light the candle?” I say.

“No. Go ahead. Is it a special occasion that I’ve forgotten?”

“Maybe. Let’s see how the evening pans out,” I say.

“You are not going to tell me you’re having a baby?” she says, and I laugh. Her humour constantly surprises me.

“Not that I know of, but it’s too early to tell,” I say through the remains of a smile.

“Would you like me to put a baby in you?” I ask. We have had this conversation, but I’m wondering if her joke was a hint that she had changed her mind.

“Not just yet. We need to get on our feet first, don’t you think?” she said.

“I agree, and that has a lot to do with the lit candle. I’ve been thinking.” I said.

“Thinking is one of the things you do best, among other things,” she said, and she lowered her eyes like a little girl and smiled.

“I would think you would be sick of me doing that by now,” I said, “It’s been months of nothing but sex, sex, sex. Frankly, I’m getting bored,” I said, expecting a silver-plated fork to go whizzing past my ear.

“I’ll remember that when dinner is over, and you suggest a bit of ‘cuddling’,” she said.

“I take it all back. I want my most recent comments to be stricken from the record, your honour.”

She smiled, and we ate, and we both knew that we would end up in each other’s arms.

“So why did you light the candle?” she said between mouthfuls.

I soaked up some of the gravy with a thick slice of bread and wondered how to start.

“You know how good we look in evening clothes? Well, I was thinking of putting our good looks to work for us. I love our life as it is, I really do, but we have to think of the future. I have a good job, but being a labourer is not going to bring in enough money to get us into our own home.”

“I bring in a bit with my part-time job. I learned a lot when you were away. I can earn,” she said, and it occurred to me that she phrased it, ‘when you were away’ so that the terror of it all seemed less real — only ‘away for a while’, not being shot at or being blown to pieces.

“I know you do kid, but at this rate, we’ll be in our own place by the time we’re sixty.”

“We’re together, and we’re safe — you’re safe, and we have a good life. Can’t we just enjoy it for a while longer?” she said.

I could hear the anxiety in her voice, and the longing — she wanted to keep me close so that the bad memories would fade away.

“I understand what you are saying, but I think we need to be brave. We survived when a lot of people didn’t. We owe it to ourselves to live our lives.”

We ate our meal without speaking, and I hoped that I had not upset her. She trusts me, I know that and I believe that she will go forward with me, but it might take a bit of convincing.

“So, what did you have in mind?” she said, and I breathed out.

“Well, as I said, we cut a dashing figure when we are dressed up and out and about.”

“That’s true,” she said.

“There are lots of opportunities out there if you know where to look. As you said, you’ve learned a lot of new skills while I was away and I’ve had a heap of experiences as well. I know how to survive, and I know how to move through the world, and I notice things that others don’t. It’s part of the reason I made it to the rank of sergeant. I think that we have the skills and all we need are the contacts. We can decide together what opportunities to take and which ones to leave alone.”

I drank the glass of water in front of me and let my words sink in.

“I’m listening,” she said.

“Skills on their own are not enough. We need to get to know people who are successful and see if some of it rubs off on us. I’m sure that I can get interesting jobs working with motivated people, I just need us to meet them. On my own, I’m just a bloke on the make. Together, we are a couple out for an adventure. Who could resist us?”

“Going out to nightclubs, wearing beautiful clothes sounds like fun, but we barely have anything left over at the end of the month as it is. How do we finance this new lifestyle?”

“I have my army pay. I know you wondered why I didn’t spend it all when I got home. Most of my mates were broke within a few months.”

“I admired your restraint, and it was your money, you earned it, so I wasn’t going to tell you how to spend it. I’m not that kind of girl.”

“You would have been within your rights. You waited for me all that time without even a ring. What would you have done if I didn’t come home?”

She didn’t answer, she just stared at her plate.

“I’ve worked out that if we are careful, we can keep it up for about six months before the money runs out. Longer if I can work during the day and not fall asleep on the dance floor at night.”

“Or get yourself killed at work because you are too tired to concentrate,” she said still staring at the pattern on the tablecloth.

“If we get lucky and work comes my way, I’ll leave the construction job, and that should take care of the fatigue factor.”

“No. if we are going to do it, we go all in. I’m not losing you to an industrial accident after everything we went through,” she said, and I wasn’t expecting this development, but I could see sense in it. Being a zombie in a dinner jacket is not going to impress anyone. So like Caesar and George Washington, we are going to burn our boats.

“I’ll be bringing in a bit from my job. It’s only a couple of hours for a few days a week. They want me to work longer hours, but I’ll put them off. I can grab a few hours of sleep. Just enough so I don’t lose my beauty.”

What a warrior this girl is. I knew I could count on her.

I couldn’t suppress my smile.

“Remember that cuddle you mentioned. It would be a good way to celebrate our new life?” I said, hopefully.

“What about the dishes?” she said.

“Tomorrow’s a day off. I’ll get up a do them in the morning. I may even make you breakfast in bed.”

“I’ll ring mum in the morning and see if she will lend me her sewing machine. If I make some of my gowns it will make our money last longer,” she said as we got up from the table.

I moved towards her and held her in my arms.

My hand slid down her spine and settled on her bottom.

She kissed me, and I lifted her off her feet and carried her into our room.

I held onto her longer than I needed to show her how much strength I had.

I don’t know if she was impressed, but I do know that she called out my name several times before we fell asleep.

How could we not succeed? She loves me, and I love her. 

The world doesn’t have a chance.

Naked, Brave and Dusty

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Through a dense fog, I hear the splintering of timber. Voices. Male voices.

Something about ‘drifting away’.

I’m being wrapped in a blanket, it’s woollen, I can feel it against my skin. It’s warm.

Strong arms guide me toward my bed. More voices. ‘Cover the mirror’.

Why are these people in my room? What do they want?

I feel very light, and I see myself from a distance. A very comfortable distance.

I’m trying to decide. Do I come back or do I drift away? Drift away seems like an excellent idea.

I’m not asleep, but I’m not awake, either. I’m in that in-between place. It’s beautiful here.

~oOo~

When I awake, a day and a half have passed.

I’m feeling rested, and it’s quiet because almost everyone is off at work.

I take my time and bathe.

I look at myself in the bathroom mirror; I don’t look any different, but I definitely feel different.

I spend the afternoon quietly sitting in the garden listening to the birds and trying to collect my thoughts.

Eventually, my extended family begin returning to our large home.

The house is surprisingly quiet as the women prepare the evening meal.

The men bring in wood for the fire and go about the small tasks that men perform to keep a large house like ours running smoothly. There is very little of the usual chatter, and what conversation there is, is carried out in hushed tones.

It is not spoken, but everyone is thinking the same thing.

What happened, and how will it affect the fortunes of our family?

Even if they did work up the courage to ask, I would not know how to answer.

Quite simply, I don’t remember what happened.

I know that the experience almost cost me my life, and I know that I feel at peace.

Something passed between me and the mirror and even though I don’t know what that ‘something’ is I know that it was good. I know that our family will prosper and I know that I will come to be its leader, in the fullness of time.

Everyone is looking at me in a different way than they did before, and that is as it should be.

How the mirror came into our family and where it came from are two facts that are shrouded in mystery.

My favourite story? That it was enchanted by a gypsy princess.

The princess was captured by angry townsfolk who were upset about a poor crop yield, or something like that, and blamed it on the gypsies.

I guess people have always needed someone to blame.

One of my ancestors, who was a poor but chivalrous young man, rescued the gypsy princess.

She was a bit bruised, battered and dusty, but otherwise unhurt.

She took my young ancestor back to her caravan and gave him a good seeing to, which they both rather enjoyed.

She also gave him the mirror. Her enchantment meant that the mirror would respond favourably to any female member of his family who was beautiful, naked and brave.

I guess I was all of those things.

I know I’m not the same.

I dared to face the mirror, and that sets me apart.

My self-confidence goes all the way down to the tips of my toes.

I’m the same height, but I feel taller.

My thoughts are now full of answers, as well as questions. The future feels bright and full of possibilities.

Sometimes courage is its own reward, and outward beauty has very little to do with it.

I know that my daughters will be vigorous and wise. The experience with the mirror taught me that bravery overcomes all obstacles, but in the end, it is the love that comes from within that holds a family together, no matter how large or small that family might be.

.

.

.

Painting by Alex Alemeny

Dust If I Must

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There are people in this world who can identify dust by its aroma.

Book dust is widely considered to be the most aromatic and most likely to evoke memories.

I mention dust because the house we rented has lots of it.

If the building had been hermetically sealed before we got there I would have wondered how the dust got in, but it wasn’t, and it did. Get in that is.

The house is about as sealed as a sieve.

Don’t think I’m worried about it because I’m not. I’ve never been prissy about such things.

I like the bare floorboards (they’d polish up nicely — hardwood with an attractive grain), and I love old furniture (the house came furnished). The furniture is functional, but not at all stylish — not now nor when it was new, but that’s okay too.

It has an open fireplace and thin pointless curtains which don’t block out the light or give any kind of privacy during the evening hours.

Some bright spark said that dust is mostly made up of discarded human skin particles, but I know this is bollocks. I’ve explored buildings where no human being has ventured for many years, and the place was still full of dust — neatly settled on every available surface.

Renting the house happened on a whim. 

We needed to get away for a while. Someone suggested this country town because of the river and the pine trees and the old general store which doubles as a cafe during the day and a bar at night.

The quietness is deafening. 

I need quiet if I’m going to finish this book, but I worried about Rebecca. Would she be bored? She said not, so I had to believe her.

“I’ve got my sewing and my books, and it looks like a great place to go for long walks. I can cook and write and play with Billy (our small dog). That is if he can drag himself away from you. He really is the perfect writer’s dog,” said Rebecca, and I had to agree. “You finish your book, and we will look back on this time as being special.”

Billy, the dog, wandered into my life a couple of years ago when I was sitting at the garden table — I’d left the back gate open, and he took it as an invitation. He curled up next to me and went to sleep. It turned out that he belonged to the Mitchell family from Bent Street, about half a kilometre away. They had six children all under ten years old, and the little dog was exhausted from the morning’s chaos, so he came to my house to get a bit of peace.

Once I worked out where he was from, I left the gate open for him each morning.

When the Mitchells split up, Mrs Mitchell asked if I’d like to have Billy, “I’m taking the kids to my family in Queensland, and I don’t think Billy will enjoy the heat.”

I said yes, I would like to keep Billy and he’s been with me ever since.

Acquiring Rebecca was another matter entirely. Billy had a bit to do with it.

Rebecca worked for the local pet groomer, and I bought Billy’s dog food from them. Billy’s not the kind of dog who needs a lot of grooming, but he is small and white (except for the black bits), and he has a disarming smile.

Rebecca offered to trim his nails, which needed it even though he wore them down while walking with me every day.

I checked with Billy, and he seemed okay with the idea, so I handed him over. After that, he veered violently into the dog groomers every time we walked by. Rebecca would see us and come out from the back of the shop and pet Billy, who squirmed up against her loving touch. I wondered how Rebecca’s boss felt about these frequent trips, but I guess she was happy to put up with us because of all the expensive dog food that Billy consumed.

I’d been living on credit in the house my aunty bequeathed to me, and things were getting a bit grim when I sold the film rights to my first book. That gained me a bit of attention, and my publisher (I use the term loosely — about as helpful as tits on a bull) decided to reissue my first three books and actually put a bit of money into promoting them.

I paid off my debts with the proceeds of the film deal and suggested that Rebecca might want to join Billy and me in a spot of celebration.

Fortunately, she said yes, and the rest you can probably guess.

My publisher set a deadline for my latest literary effort. Rebecca is happy being my muse, Billy is happy to have Rebecca living with us and I’m just flat out happy.

This dusty little house is going to be our residence for a few months, and while we are here, we will make it our home.

It’s getting a bit chilly, so I’d better light the fire. 

Billy loves it when I light the fire.

More Interesting Places

 

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Someone in a summer dress asked me if I preferred men or books.

“Books, my dear, every time. They will take you to a lot more interesting places.”

I was being facetious, of course. Men are necessary, but you can’t put them down and come back to them as easily as a book.

The pressure is mounting because the money my grandfather left me is rapidly running out. 

There is nothing else for it, I’m going to have to get a job or marry a man, preferably one with an excess of funds.

I think I prefer the first option, but what to do?

I have a reasonable education, although I’ve failed to keep up the friendships from that time in the way that men do — networking, I think they call it.

I’m pretty, and I speak well enough, and I can type, but I never admit to it.

I’m well-read, although I’m not sure how that will help me. I guess I shall have to find out.

The ‘summer dress’ argued with me, passionately. Men are wonderful things, apparently.

I suppose I know a few decent men. 

My grandfather adored me, hence the inheritance. 

My father likes me, although you would not hear him say so. 

My brother is the finest man I know, but they won’t let you marry your brother, which always seemed absurd to me. I understand the bit about two-headed babies resulting from such a union, but I’ve never felt the need for children, so no problem there.

Sadly, my brother did not return from his stint at ‘King and Country’, so that avenue is pure fantasy. He really was the most delicious person, and I miss him. Something in me died when he didn’t come home.

In a way, I’ve been living the kind of independent life I know he would have lived.

Mustn’t get too maudlin, I have decisions to make and a life to live.

Maybe the ‘summer dress’ has a point.

On second thought, no, she hasn’t.

Books trump men every time.

Now, if I find a man who loves books, I’ll be in a quandary.

Can a person have their cake and eat?

Wouldn’t it be fun to find out? 

Pop’s

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Not for the first time, the informant was a no-show.

It happens more often than you think.

In the movies, the detective gets a phone call from someone who won’t give a name, ‘but I got great information for yous’, and the scene cuts to the dark, dangerous meeting place. The informant does, or does not, cough up information in return for a handful of notes or a punch in the stomach — depending on the director and his taste for violence.

In my world, I meet people where I can keep an eye on them, but occasionally I will turn up to a deserted location like the old wharf at South Bank.

It wasn’t the warmest night on record, and I waited a reasonable length of time, but he wasn’t coming. There could be a hundred reasons why he didn’t show, but I was too tired to list them all, and besides, Pop’s doesn’t have paper napkins (it’s not that sort of place) so where would I write them?

Pop’s serves a weird assortment of goods including peanuts and ice cream, which is mostly for the day trade. At this hour of the night, a man was likely to get mugged for ordering ice cream. Beer was the order most heard. There was also whiskey, but I wouldn’t recommend it. None of it had ever seen the shores of Scotland.

The building is small, but there is a small verandah at the back that looks out onto the water. During the day, people tramp up the sandy steps sit and lick ice cream. At this hour of the evening (Pop’s never closes), cigarettes and beer help to accompany the view. You can hear the waves even when the wind is still.

Detective work is a lot like being in the army — moments of terror and excitement punctuated by long stretches of mind-numbing boredom. This was one of the latter.

Something will come along, it always does. The rent has been paid, there’s food in the fridge, and the tank on my Coupe is full. I could use a haircut, but that can wait. I haven’t been shot at for a while, which is good.

“Sorry to disturb you sir, but there is a lady just came in, and she wants to talk to you,” said the barman, leaning out of the door leading to the verandah.

“Why didn’t she come out here?” I said.

“I don’t know mate. Maybe she’s delicate and the evening air would adversely affect her completion. How the fuck would I know.”

The barman disappeared, I stubbed out my cigarette, sculled my beer and put on my hat.

This night was beginning to look up.

Inconsolable

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She wouldn’t be consoled.

It didn’t matter what I said; her tears continued to flow.

I’m not good with tears.

It triggers something in me, and I want to squirm and possibly run away. I tried not to do either.

My wife has impossibly high standards for herself. She can be forgiving of me and others, but she expects more of herself. I admire her for it, but she suffers from her beliefs.

Through the sobs, I pick up a name, Jonathon. I don’t know any Jonathon’s, not recently. There was a John and a Johnno when I was growing up, but that was a while ago.

I hold my breath and try to decipher what has gone wrong.

Something about ‘last Friday’, ‘drinks after work’, ‘attracted to’, ‘big shoulders’, ‘walked me to my car’.

The next few minutes were an indecipherable mumble mixed with the occasional, “I’m sorry”.

“Did you kiss him or did he kiss you?” I asked abruptly. Debra stopped crying and looked at me through puffy eyes.

“He kissed me, but I let him,” she said before burying her head in my lap again.

“Not the end of the world kid,” I said. “If you’d stuck your hand down his trousers, I might have been upset, but a kiss can happen. Don’t beat yourself up.”

My wife stopped crying and looked at me.

“You’re being nice to me. I’d feel better if you yelled at me and got upset. I deserve it,” she said.

“Not my style, you know that. You fix yourself up, and we’ll go out and eat, and you can tell me all the lurid details,” I said.

“Nothing else to tell. He kissed me, I waited too long before pulling away. I did tell him not to do it again, and he smiled, but I think he got the message,” she said, sitting up now.

Debra disappeared into the bathroom to fix her makeup, and I did a mental inventory of my collection of bats and clubs. The heavyweight cricket bat my brother gave me for Christmas should do nicely.

Beating the living daylights out of a bloke who came on to my wife seemed less brutal if one used a gentleman’s weapon — a cricket bat.

I call out to Debra, “Where does this Johnathon live, darling?”

“I can’t hear you, dear, what did you say?”

“Nothing dear, I’ll work it out. Do you remember where I put my cricket gear?”

“In the garage, but it’s still winter. You won’t need it for months yet.”

 “Best to know where these things are. Never know when I might need a workout,” I said.