Being a parent was not anywhere near the top of my list.
Hell, I’m not sure I had a list.
Becky said, “It’s time,” and after a full-term gestation there was Jo (not her real name, because I never liked Minerva).
I’m not a huge fan of babies — I know they exist and I’m pretty sure I know what causes them, but not a huge fan.
Then there was Jo, and I was hooked.
Everyone said, “What a cute baby,” but she wasn’t — just average, but boy, did she grow into her looks.
I took this photo just before I had to leave. It’s how I remember her.
Her bedroom is very girly, thanks to her interior decorating wizard mum, and I always felt slightly nervous being in there.
She was usually asleep by the time I got home from work — and then there wasn’t any work.
I can’t tell you what I do, but I can tell you that my work has to do with keeping an eye on people.
A sudden change in policy and my station was closed. No ceremony and little fanfare. These days, I think they use the building for a bank of servers that feeds everyone’s desire for cloud storage.
So, my skill set just sat there like a cat that no one needed anymore.
I was getting paid, but if I wanted that fiscal situation to continue I would have to move to nowherefuckingnearanywhere, and no, we won’t pay for your family to relocate. Besides, Jo has started school, and it is essential that she be adequately indoctrinated into the ways of the average person — couldn’t disrupt that process.
We talk on the phone — at least three times a week and every time she asks when I’m coming back, but lately, not so much.
Her mum asks how I’m getting on, and I say I’m not allowed to talk about it and then there is a long silence followed by, “I’ll put Minerva on and you two can talk.”
Occasionally, my wife complains that my salary needs to increase so she can buy a gold plated can opener, or whatever it is that she wants — she never asks when I’m coming home.
I’ve missed two of Jo’s birthdays, and I haven’t the slightest idea how I’m going to avoid missing more of them.
I’m stuck here and she is there — not exactly stuck, but she might as well be.
The doll in the photo came from a toy shop in the seaside town I was in at the time. It was a boring assignment, and there were three of us watching what I considered to be a low-value target, so there was plenty of time off.
The lady who ran the toy shop was a few years past her prime, but still pretty in a dishevelled sort of way. She constantly chased a loose strand of hair which refused to stay behind her ear. I think her name was Mrs Wilson but I got the feeling that Mr Wilson had legged it a long time ago — with the girl who worked in the local fish and chip shop. Not sure if I heard that somewhere or I made it up, but it seemed to fit.
I remember that Mrs Wilson was reluctant to sell me the doll — something about having put it aside for a special customer.
To clinch the deal, I offered way above the value of the doll.
“Alright then. What do I care? It’s been sitting there for months, and she never came for it. Serves her right,” said Mrs Wilson who never once looked directly at me during our conversation.
I handed her the money and looked around the shop while she wrapped the doll.
It was well maintained, and the toys all seemed very new. The shop faced the shoreline, and the light streamed in late in the afternoon.
I wondered how Mrs Wilson survived during the offseason. She didn’t seem prosperous. Didn’t seem like someone who had inherited from her great Aunt Ethel. Didn’t seem like she had ever known much money.
Jo loved the doll when I gave it to her. Her mother said I was spoiling her, which I was. I’m a father with a daughter — what was I supposed to do?
There was a small item in the national daily newspaper about a raid on a shop on the coast — MYSTERIOUS WOMAN ARRESTED UNDER VEIL OF SECRECY.
I asked around.
“Dead drop,” said the kid in the mailroom (I wonder where he ended up when they pulled up stumps on our operation?)
“For whom?” I said.
“Well-financed right-wing nut bags,” was his reply.
I considered asking him how he found out about all this and then I could see myself in front of a Senate inquiry — “And how did you use this information, Mr X?”
I’m a crap equivocator, so I let it go.
You’ve already worked out that there is something of value inside my Jo’s doll, I know you have. The penny dropped for me a few moments after the loose-lipped mailroom boy finished talking.
Whatever it is it can stay where it is.
“Hi daddy, I haven’t seen you for two years. Why are you dismembering my doll?”
I don’t think so.
Not having that conversation, and no, my very young daughter doesn’t usually use words like dismembering — but you knew that too, didn’t you?
It isn’t every day that you get to come home.
I didn’t expect to find her. I wasn’t looking, but isn’t that always the way?
She can run fast and I can fly, which makes for an interesting combination.
There will be a surprise wedding (not mine) and some time on a train. A visit to the house I grew up in and a quandary about sleeping arrangements. A ride in a horse and cart, and tea in a coffee shop.
And of course, there will be dancing.
Drinking after hours and a mad, barefoot dash for freedom.
All these things and a full heart, then I have to go, but she will wait for me. Wait patiently for me to fly away home.
Susan, a bereaved daughter, stumbles upon her grandmother’s journals. Stories hidden from the family of adventures, spies, a mysterious discarded toy, lost loves and revenge flash before her eyes sparking a desire to escape her ordinary life.
In a dusty attic, Susan holds her sadness in check as she attempts to organise her mother’s stored memories. Boxes of journals written by her grandmother reveal a hidden secret life lived out during the modern world’s most dangerous conflict. Time slows down as the young woman relives her ancestor’s exciting life. The quiet dismissive old lady that she knew does not fit with the vibrant idealistic young woman she reads about in these journals. The identity of the mysterious ‘Keeper Of Secrets’ is ultimately revealed and this revelation leads Susan to a decision — she is going to escape from her ‘ordinary life’ and live a secret life of her own.
BOOK TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2OHQd7X_Jo
I loved her the first time I saw her, and that’s all you need to know.
She had hair the colour of rich Belgian chocolate, and recently cut it shorter only to grow it longer again, just for me. A short stay in hospital had left her looking a little pale, and her lack of makeup was not disguising her beautiful complexion. She smiled at me and spoke enthusiastically about different coloured foods. She didn’t see me, not really, and I was determined to change that. Nothing was more important in my life. She was wearing an exquisite gown that showed the curves of her petite body to perfection. She left early with her friends, and I sat in a daze, wondering what had just happened.
It was Scarlett Holmyard who triggered my fitful imagination. It was Scarlett Holmyard who gave my life meaning when things were at their darkest.
I still have the souvenirs. Random memories that, if you put them all together would look like the remnants of a shredded photo album. Fragments of photographs are floating on the water or stuffed down the side of a sofa. Each piece tells a story of adventure, close encounters, triumphs and pure excitement.
I cannot explain the feelings I have when recalling them — the frustration, the hope, the confusion, the anger. Scarlett is the most important person in my life, but I don’t know that yet. She’s that person that you catch sight of out of the corner of your eye. She’s the one whose name you struggle to remember, the torn photograph with not enough detail. She is my nameless champion, my never wavering hero, and I’m the one who is doggedly searching for her.
Sam loves Scarlett, or at least that is what everyone keeps telling him. After the bloke in the stolen car slammed into Sam at a Tee intersection, everything changed. A head injury, a stay in hospital followed by a stint in rehab and Sam is no closer to regaining all his memories. His distant past is clearer than his recent present, and Scarlett belongs to now. Can Sam fall in love with Scarlett — all over again? And what of the bloke who ‘hit and ran’? Will Inspector Blank work it all out, or will Sam have to be his own detective? For many months, while Sam works on his recovery, there will be numerous tram journeys and frequent visits to Dr Doug, the therapist chosen by Scarlett to help to bring her Sam back to her. Who is the bloke in the brown shoes and why do Sam and Scarlett decide that blackberry jam is a good way to put closure to their uncomfortable adventure? Sam Bennett faces his biggest challenge to date — finding his Scarlett.
Publishing date: February 20th 2019
Now available for pre-order.
A chance encounter on a country road and Rufus’ skills are put to the test. Rufus is wiser than his diminutive stature might suggest. Wisdom and size do not always correlate.
I remember thinking that it was unfair (I can hear my dad saying, ‘who told you life was fair?’) that talented female writers had to resort to submitting their work under a male name to get attention from publishers. It has happened even in the modern era — JK Rowling admitted that she used initials to give the impression that she might be a male.
Now, the pendulum seems to be swinging the other way (or is it my imagination?).
As you have probably worked out (if you are a reader of my work) some of my major characters are female. I love writing through the eyes of a female protagonist.
My mind started wondering (it does that a lot) what name would I use were I to publish as a woman and more importantly, what would I look like?
I can’t be too butch, or it would defeat the purpose, so what would I look like?
Of course, the whole experiment could stop at the name, but you know me when my mind gets involved.
I imagine myself as an independent woman (no shortage of those at the moment so I should blend right in). I’m probably at the peak of (or slightly past) my prime, beauty wise. I have a lot of ‘admirers’, but no ‘significant other’.
I pay my own way, but I will let a man lavish me if it gives him pleasure.
I only go out with men who drive interesting cars, and a mud-splashed four-wheel drive will see me come down with a sudden headache.
I have reasonable taste in clothes, and I’m not afraid to pay for advice about personal presentation.
I sleep in the middle of a large bed, and I only drink the finest wines, but I prefer spirits (never to excess).
I can talk sports and cars with the men, and I know how to change a tyre, but for obvious reasons, I’ve never had to.
I eat well, but I don’t obsess about my figure.
I need time to myself, especially when I’m in the middle of a good book.
I enjoy all musical styles except for whatever my neighbours are playing.
I avoid travel unless there are interesting people at the end of the journey — trains come first followed by open-top sports cars, buses at a pinch, but never budget airlines.
The people in my life (male and female) must be able to bring something to the conversation (small talk is reserved for the chance encounters and that annoying bloke who wants to intrude when I’m walking the dogs).
Of course, there must be dogs. It does not matter what size, but there must be dogs, and they don’t stay at home, they go where I go (with a couple of obvious exceptions).
So there you have it — my flight of fancy.
And here’s to the amazing females in my life — the ones who inspire my characters and enrich my life.
Anyone who has ever worked anywhere will tell you that their job would be easier if they didn’t have to wade through an ocean of excrement cleverly disguised as bureaucracy. The senior officer in a small country police station solves a mysterious crime only to have his decisions scrutinised by those above him. The writing is on the wall for him and his staff, but he still has a job to do. Fate will take care of the rest.
From the audiobook SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES
Helen prepared lunch — dumplings, one of her specialities. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. No work and the usual sounds of neighbours mowing lawns or talking to invited friends was thankfully absent. Only the sound of a gentle breeze moving through the trees penetrated Helen’s kitchen.
The sound of footsteps, large and heavy, made her turn towards the glass door that led to the back yard.
His silhouette was motionless.
Helen should have been startled. The person behind the silhouette was familiar and warm, or so it seemed to her.
“Can I have some of those?” said the man.
“I’ll get you a bowl,” said Helen.
The aromas of the outdoors rushed past the man and into the kitchen, momentarily brushing away the smell of her dumplings.
Helen returned with a Japanese bowl, part of a set — perfect for dumplings. The bowl held three dumplings, steam rising from them. Helen brought chopsticks instead of a fork because she knew he preferred them when eating Asian food.
“Thank you,” he said, “I’m really hungry. I’ve walked a long way.”
The man was dressed in long pants and a shirt — both clean but unironed, giving him a mildly unkempt look. His sneakers were dusty, and his hair was tousled from the breeze — he didn’t bother to brush it.
“These are very good. I remember these. You are a very good cook,” said the man.
“Where have you been?” asked Helen, as she sat at the small kitchen table with her dumplings getting cold.
“Traveling. Coming home.”
“What happened to you?”
The man did not answer, he was finishing the last of his food. “Is there any more?”
Helen took his bowl and put three more dumplings in it. She was saving them to take to work the next day.
“Where were you travelling from?” asked Helen.
“A long way away,” said the man with a mouth full of food. “I started in Queensland, and I travelled along the coast until I reached Melbourne.”
“Have you been travelling all this time? All these years?”
“Why didn’t you call?”
The man didn’t answer. He was strangely calm, and hungry.
“Can I have water?”
Helen filled a glass and put it in front of him. His smell filled her nostrils.
“I’m very tired. Can I lie down on the couch? You do still have the couch?”
“Yes,” said Helen.
The man lay down and fell asleep. He was still asleep several hours later when Helen went to bed.
When Helen’s alarm went off, she went out to the kitchen and put the coffee on. For a moment she thought she may have dreamt the previous day’s appearance. She pocked her head around the corner of the door and peeked into the darkened loungeroom. The couch was empty. Maybe she had dreamt it.
Helen prepared for her working day and as she walked through the kitchen on her way out she saw the two dumpling bowls lying in the sink.
“He looks so much like your late husband — my heart skipped a beat when I saw him,” said Helen’s neighbour.
Glenis and her husband, Bill had lived next door to Helen and Charles for several years. They moved into their houses only two weekends apart. Not exactly fast friends, but friends all the same. Someone to have coffee with on a day off from work.
Helen had a full-time job and still does. Back then it was a way of ‘getting ahead’ — saving for ‘things’, holidays, cars, furniture, maybe a baby — maybe. Now her job was part of her survival, financial and emotional.
Glenis didn’t work, not in the traditional sense. Her life revolved around her husband and his career, the house and the children. It wasn’t enough, but she never said it out loud — out loud would make it real.
Glenis was often at a loose end, and this was one of those days.
The sudden appearance of Charles’ doppelganger was too much for Glenis; she needed answers.
“He’s Charles brother,” said Helen.
“Why haven’t we seen him before? We’ve lived next to each other for years, and I’ve never seen him before.”
Helen could feel the insistence in Glenis’s words, and it would only be a matter of time before she said something that Glenis would latch on to. Better to be rude and end this — at least for now. Helen knew that putting her neighbour off would only give her a moment’s rest; she’d be back.
“He’s been working on the oil rigs. I really do have a terrible headache Glenis. Could you excuse me, I need to lie down.”
For a moment, Glenis considered the possibility of hanging around while Helen slept. A chance to look around and see what she could see, but she quickly abandoned the idea.
“Of course dear. You rest. You must be tired.” I wonder what you and the brother get up to when no one can see.
Glenis took her unspoken innuendo and went home.
Helen was dreamy and distracted at work, but no one noticed. Her workplace was dull and predictable with people on autopilot — not rude, just not fully there. Helen bought her lunch from the cafe on the corner and thought about the dumplings she planned to eat. She told none of her workmates about her encounter.
At the end of her working day, her ride home was uneventful. The train carriage was full of the usual assortment of daily commuters. A high school boy offered her his seat, which she gladly accepted. The boy quickly went back to talking to his friends, and her encounter with him was virtually wordless — all hand gestures and eye contact.
When Helen arrived home, she cautiously entered her home, happy to have avoided her neighbour who seemed to be perpetually at her front gate.
There was no one in her house. What was she expecting?
The neighbour’s cat walked in when she opened the back door and curled around her legs.
“Am I your first port of call Puss, or have you been working the neighbourhood all day?”
The cat purred, which could have meant anything.
Helen gave the cat some scraps, and it curled around her legs again before eating and gracefully walking out into the backyard on her way to visit her next benefactor.
Tuesday went a lot like Monday and Wednesday was threatening to do the same, but when she got home, Helen made a cup of tea and watched the sun go down from the comfort of her kitchen table.
When the man appeared she didn’t jump, didn’t show any signs of surprise or alarm — she was back in that dream again. She wondered if she had fallen asleep at the table — she was tired enough, but she seemed to be awake, either that or this was a very vivid dream.
“Do you have any more of those dumplings. I love your dumplings,” he said while standing in the doorway wearing the same clothes he had a few days before. His hair still needed brushing, but the beard she remembered from all those years ago was gone. That’s what it was, the beard.
“When did you shave off the beard?” she heard herself say.
“Not long after I came back — a few days after, I guess. I saw myself reflected in a shop window and I thought, ‘that’s not me anymore’, so I shaved it off.”
“How?” asked Helen.
“A friend loaned me his razor.”
“Did he help you get back home?”
“Not directly, but I stayed with him for a while. He taught me how to fish. It turns out that I’m pretty good at it. He gave me somewhere to stay for a while, but then he disappeared, so I hit the road.”
Helen got a packet mix from her pantry and began to make the shells for dumplings. The whole process took a little while, and the two people inhabiting the tidy kitchen remained silent until the steaming dumplings were ready to eat.
The man hunched over his bowl with the steam curling around his face.
Helen made more than she usually did in anticipation of her lunch and the request that she knew would come.
“May I have some more please?”
The man slept on Helen’s couch, and he was still there in the morning.
Helen anticipated his presence and wrapped herself in a floral dressing gown hiding her naked, freshly rested body.
She pulled the gown tighter as she walked into the lounge room. Despite his recent disappearance, she was sure he would still be there this time.
He sat up when she entered, stretched and rubbed his eyes.
“Do you want a shower before breakfast?” Helen asked.
“No, you can have it. I’ll shower when you go to work,” he said.
“Eggs or cereal?”
“Do you still have that cereal that pops when you put milk on it?”
“Yes, but I don’t know why. Force of habit I guess. I never eat it.”
“Can I have some?”
“It might be past its ‘use by’ date. I’ll check.”
Helen made toast and put a tiny amount of Vegemite on hers. She nibbled at the edges of her toast as the man gobbled down his cereal. “Can I have some more?”
Helen showered and dressed. She paused at the front door and said, “Will you be here when I get home? I have a student coming around at 7pm. I should be home before then.” The man smiled at her but did not answer.
Helen’s working day seemed to take forever, even more so than usual. The numbers swirled on the page — no one noticed her distress.
Widows learn how to hide their pain.
The man was still there when she arrived home, and she barely had time to grab a snack before her student came with her mother in tow.
The mother of the maths student eyed the man before expressing her concern about her daughter’s grades.
“I pay you a lot of money to tutor Annabel, and her grades don’t seem to be improving,” said the slightly overdressed lady. Her daughter rolled her eyes. “Why do I have to do maths? I’m going to marry some rich bloke who owns his own panel beating business, and I’ll never need to work. Numbers suck.”
When someone starts to embezzle money from your husband’s panel beating business, it would be handy if you had enough knowledge to see it happening before you both went broke, and you have to go out to work, thought Helen, but all the mother saw was a smile.
“Annabel needs to apply herself and do the assignments I set for her, then her grades will improve,” said Helen as pleasantly as possible.
The tutoring work was necessary because her job was not enough to keep body and soul together since her husband disappeared while working as a marine biologist on assignment in Queensland.
It had been a struggle, but she had managed to hang on to the house. The insurance company would not pay out on Charles’ life policy in the absence of a body. Seven years was a long time to wait for some financial relief. His employer had tried to be helpful and had paid her all his accrued holiday pay and long service leave, but it only helped delay her penury.
When the reluctant student was gone, Helen made two cups of tea and joined the man who bore a remarkable resemblance to her dead husband, and they sat in silence until the man said, “Are all your students like her?”
“No. Some genuinely want to learn, but I can’t afford to turn anyone away.”
“Can you take some time off work? I’d like to show you where I’ve been.”
“I have some holidays due to me, but I don’t have a car anymore. I can’t just up and leave.”
“Because I have a house to pay for and responsibilities.”
“I understand,” said the man and they sat in silence until it was time to sleep.
“My bed is very big and much more comfortable than the couch. You are welcome to share it,” said Helen who was avoiding eye contact.
“I’d like that,” said the man.
He waited long enough for her to prepare for bed and when he came into the bedroom, he noted that it was as tiny as the rest of the house. He walked around the bed and turned away before disrobing. Helen peeked over her shoulder and admired his tall, firm body — straight back and round buttocks. She looked away as he turned.
The man who looked like her dead husband slipped silently into bed curled up and faced away from her.
Helen could feel his warmth, and she longed to reach out and touch him but felt that such a move would be too bold.
Where had he been? Why was he here? Why did he seem so unconcerned?
For that matter, why was she not afraid. Her heart told her that he had not just run away. He had died. They never found his body, but he had died. There were witnesses to him falling off the research vessel. The witnesses were drunk, but they knew what they had seen. In the confusion, it took too long to turn the boat around.
This was the official version that came from the inquest. They called it an open finding, which meant that there was not enough evidence to show what had happened. The indistinct nature of the finding gave the insurance company a reason not to pay out on his personal life insurance. They wouldn’t pay out on the company policy either. Taking the company to court would most likely bring a result and force them to pay up, but Helen had neither the money or the energy to fight them. Something they were probably counting on. His employer only had to wait until the seven years was up and they would collect — with interest — cheaper and easier.
When Helen awoke, she was alone in her bed.
The man who smelled a lot like her husband was in the kitchen eating cereal that popped when you put milk on it.
“Can you buy some of this today? It’s nearly all gone,” he said without looking up.
“Probably,” said Helen.
“You talk in your sleep,” said the man.
“Have I always done that,” asked Helen.
“I don’t remember,” said the man who likes the same cereal as her dead husband.
Helen drifted through her workday with the only highlight being a magpie in the park during lunch. It came up very close the way that birds do when they have chicks to feed — reckless parenthood. It warbled every time she gave it part of her sandwich.
Helen put her shopping bag down before unlocking the front door. The cereal box was bulky and threatening to burst through the thin plastic carry bag.
Revenge is best served with dessert and a red wheelbarrow.
An original story read by the author, 10:14
From the audiobook SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES