Coffee

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The doctor died not long after delivering the news.

“Give up coffee, or you will surely suffer a painful death. Maybe not tomorrow, but quite soon and it won’t be pleasant.”

I didn’t gloat, but I did smile when my sister told me the news.

My sister and I set up house together when it became evident that neither of us was going to attract a mate.

“We can save on utilities and keep each other company.”

 “What if I get lucky and attract a short-sighted woman who will love me until she gets her eyeglasses changed?” I asked.

“We’ll cross that chasm when we get to it,” said my sister.

I’m used to her and her to me. We don’t exactly like each other, but neither of us contemplates homicide either.

“Dr Colour died yesterday,” she said while peeling potatoes.

“Did he have a cup of coffee in his hand when they found him,” I said. Unkind, I know, but he really pissed me off with his holier than thou coffee criticism.

“Not that I know of,” said my sister.

She rarely understood my witticisms.

Blast From The Past

I wrote this essay on one of my other blog sites (not in use now) in 2013. As it happens, it’s Melbourne Cup Day today as well. I’ve posted the text as it was and I’ve added notations, so you know how things have changed over those six years.

The first thing to note is that the dog in the foreground, Honey, died earlier this year and she is sorely missed.

MELBOURNE CUP: A Day Off.

It’s a public holiday here today, which tells you a lot about the city I live in.

As far as I know, this is the only place in the world that has a holiday for a horse race [it’s Melbourne Cup Tuesday here].

This also tells you a lot about my city of Melbourne, and it’s love affair [obsession] with sport.

It’s a beautiful day, which is not a given for this time of the year and we are taking it quietly in our house. My wife just ventured out into the garden for only the second time this year! (Not this year. We went to an excellent birthday party last night, and she is sitting up in bed ‘recovering’.) Weeds are now in bags, and a very nice cup of coffee was consumed on our recently rebuilt back deck. (The deck is now six years old and in need of another coat of oil — it’s on the list, but not at the top. I sit on this deck every morning drinking juice and listening to the birds. It’s an awesome way to greet the day.)

My lawnmower died a few weeks ago (I got it fixed, and recently it threw a blade but did not hit me — some days you are just plain lucky!) and it is difficult to get such things fixed at this time of the year, so the lawns are getting a bit jungle-like. It has been raining quite a bit (It has this year as well) but now it is warm, and the grass is rapidly getting to be taller than the dogs. The lawn looks great when it’s long, but it is impractical when you have small dogs. (Only one small dog in our house now — we have up to four at one stage — and he is feeling sorry for himself because he hurt his hind leg chasing a cockatoo)

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Speaking of small dogs, Zed is having ‘one of those days’. His tummy hurts. He eats possum poo, and his tummy gets very sore. This usually manifests itself in the middle of the night, and no one gets any sleep, but today it surfaced at breakfast time, and he is working through it as I type. Nothing we can do for him until he feels like eating [just got told that he is in the kitchen eating his breakfast….. 6 hours later]. Hopefully, he will be feeling well enough to go for a walk on this beautiful day. (No walk for Zed today. He needs to rest his sore leg. Since I wrote this, we have changed the dog’s diet to raw food, and it has made a world of difference to Zed and his tummy. His bum does not hurt as often either.)

Work has well and truly begun on the McDonalds store up on the highway and as one of the security guards loves one of my dogs, he gives us the inside tips on how it is going. January is the expected finish date. With all the silliness that has been going on around this project, it will be good to see it finished. It will be the Maccas with the best view in Australia. (It did open but not until March, and it has been going strong ever since. I have partly written many of my books while drinking coffee. The young people who work there have become friends. One of the original protestors still chalks signs on the pavement outside the shop every Friday morning!)

Not feeling all that well today, but my spirits are high after a week where I got a lot of positive feedback on stories I have written. One story obviously struck a chord with a lady who had recently lost her father. This is a story that I’m very proud of, and it has gotten a lot of attention. (It is still one of my favourite stories.)

I also received some positive feedback from writers I follow, on a recent story. My ego needs constant feeding, and it got a lot this week. (My ego still needs continuous feedback. Since I wrote this, I have written a lot of stories and published more than a dozen books. I have taught myself how to make audiobooks and have published most of my back catalogue in this form. Audiobooks take a long time to produce, and I’m very proud of this achievement. My audiobooks have sold reasonably well, but my ebooks have not done so well — no, I don’t understand that either.)

If you are in Melbourne, I hope you enjoy your day off, and if you are anywhere else in the world, I hope your day is a good day.

Terry

For What Seemed Like Forever

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“Charlie Varick? I’ve been working for him for about four years, but I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

The question came out of nowhere, and it really pissed me off. It’s a job, what difference does it make? When I go home, I leave work at work.

“What difference does it make? He’s a fucking private eye, and he uses you as a decoy.”

“I’m his secretary, and the decoy stuff only happens every now and then. Mostly, it isn’t dangerous, and mostly I answer the phones and make appointments. Of course, there is coffee and dry cleaning, but mostly it’s answering phones.”

My parents were in town for a couple of days, and I was glad to see them; well ‘glad’ is probably too strong a word, but it was good to see them. Parents should be kept at a distance that is directionally proportional to the amount of shit they put you through as a kid. Mine weren’t that bad but using this formula they should be at least 427 kilometres away at all times.

I’m 26 years old, gorgeous and leggy with long black wavy hair that men hold on to when they are making love to me. Not that there are that many of them.

I like men, just in small doses.

Not small in the way you are thinking, just small in the sense of time I have to spend in close proximity. Charlie’s different, but he is old, at least 47 years old, and he is taken, but he treats me like I’m someone. Like I count in the grand scheme of things. I guess he is so relaxed because he is old, and old people don’t worry so much about stuff.

My dad was wound up, but I know it was my mum who put him up to it.

“We just want you to be safe; safe and happy. That’s all your mother, and I have ever wanted.”

“I know dad.” Things seemed to be calming down now that the shouting had stopped.

It was still early. Hotel restaurants tend to wind down around 9:30 pm, and it was now way past that, so we had the room to ourselves except for the girl at the bar and the waiter who was doing a little shuffle that was Morse code for ‘they don’t pay me past 10:00 pm even if you are still here drinking coffee, and I have a home to go to, and my dog misses me’.

It was a complicated dance.

My father, mother and I talked about nothing for another fifteen minutes before my dad signed the bill, and they went up to their room. I stood and watched as they walked up the staircase. My mother clung to the handrail as though it was saving her from a sinking ship. My dad negotiated the stairs easily enough because he never used elevators unless he absolutely had to.

I asked him about it once, and he said that it was his small concession to keeping fit, but I think it had more to do with the stories that his father brought home.

 

 His dad was a fireman, and he would be called out to rescue cats and people, and sometimes he was expected to free individuals who had been trapped — sometimes these people had been stuck in elevators, and he delighted in terrifying his children with stories of people who had gone insane after being stuck in an elevator for six hours.

“One bloke tried to chew his arm off, which seemed pointless to me. It wasn’t as though they had him in handcuffs — he was trapped in a lift for fuck sake. Now if he had tried to eat through the door, that I could understand, but his arm — that’s just nuts.”

I sat on the overstuffed couch in the hotel’s foyer and tried to collect my thoughts.

I still had half an hour before I was to meet Charlie at Bar Alfredo on Little Collins Street. I walked the short distance up Collins and turned left onto Exhibition. Little Collins was the first on the left, and the bar was about two hundred metres down.

This end of the street had been disrupted by building activities for nearly two years, which made it difficult to negotiate on foot, or by car. The street was already very narrow, and its name gave a hint. ‘Little’ Collins Street was originally an access road for the rear of the more significant and grander edifices on Collins Street. Deliveries would be made, and tradesmen would be admitted.

It was best to keep the grubby people out of sight.

These days the ‘Little’ streets were home to trendy bars and eateries as well as exclusive apartments and the occasional clothing shop.

The footpath on both sides is extremely narrow, and I was forced to step out onto the road to let a large, rude man pass by. He looked vaguely familiar until I remembered I had not seen him before — he was exactly how Charlie had described the man I was supposed to ‘distract’.

 “He’s big, about 40 years old, always wears a dark suit with a red handkerchief in his top pocket, and he smells like lemons. He will be sitting at the bar because he always sits at the bar. Third stool from the far end as you come in the front door.”

I had the feeling that these instructions and this description were going to go to waste.

To get to Bar Alfredo, I first had to walk past a narrow laneway and at this time of night, the laneway was in complete darkness. Being a female living in a big city, I avoided dark laneways because I wanted to go on ‘living in the big city’.

As I looked into the darkness, I saw Charlie lying in a pool of his own blood.

I say ‘saw’, but that’s not what I mean. I didn’t see him with my eyes; I saw him in a vision. The dark laneway was like a giant projector screen, and on it, I saw Charlie’s exact location, as though it were daylight.

I used my phone to light the way to the spot that I knew Charlie would be lying. He was behind some boxes with a single knife wound in the middle of his chest.

I would love to say that he lived long enough to look into my eyes and tell me who had killed him. I would like to tell you what his last words were and that he had smiled before he died, but I can’t.

He was gone by the time I got to him — warm but gone.

I sat next to him for what seemed like forever and thought about my life and wondered what Charlie thought when the large man in the dark suit took his life. I wondered what my life was going to be like from now on. I wondered if my mum and dad had gone to sleep yet.

I don’t remember ringing anyone, but I must have because an ambulance arrived closely followed by the police.

The weather was warm, so why there was so much fog? And why did my voice sound funny, and why was the police officer mumbling?

When I came to, I was sitting on the back step of an ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. A young policeman was trying to get my attention, and the ambo wanted him to give me a break.

“Give her a minute mate; she’s had a rough night.”

The policeman ignored the world-weary ambulance driver. The brash young policeman considered civilians to be annoying. They kept passing out or screaming or generally being uncooperative. He just wanted to get a statement so he could get back on patrol. The homicide detectives would be along very soon, and they would shoo him away like an unwanted blow-fly.

“Miss? Miss? How did you know he was in that alley? Did you hear something? Did you see anyone come out of the alley?”

I was trying to decide which question to answer first when it occurred to me that this was all very strange.

“I had a vision, which was weird. I don’t normally get visions at night-time. I always get my visions in the morning.”

The police officer stopped asking me questions after that, and he and the ambo were looking at each other with the strangest expression on their faces. I don’t think that they believed me, and I wanted them too. This was a first for me.

A pair of plain-clothed detectives arrived and scooped me up heading me towards their car, but before I got in, I gave it one last try to convince my interrogator.

“I really did see him lying there, in the dark, which was weird. I always get my visions in the morning.”

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.”

 

Untitled 15

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.