The Seal of Confession

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, but I can spell ‘guilt’ “.

“Close enough”.

~oOo~

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

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

“Confession?” said Susan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Fuck that,” said Susan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello?” said father, Michael.

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

Train Sleeper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam chose the upper bunk — first in first served.

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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One item caught Sam’s eye.

There had been a shooting in Ararat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait

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

 

 

Image: Aaron Westerberg

Cafe Hats

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Claudine thought it was an unusual name for a cafe, but my mind was on other things.
“You didn’t tell me I had to wear a hat,” said Claudine. Her mouth worked faster than her brain, and at times it was endearing and at other times not so much.
“It’s not like an entry requirement or anything. It’s just a gimmick, and you know how cashed up city types are — anything for a giggle,” I said while scanning the room for potential trouble. The only potential problem was the bloke wearing braces and a belt. Probably got ‘dacked’ when he was at school, and never got over it. A six-figure salary with bonuses and he’s afraid his pants will fall down. Then again, I’m wearing a red waistcoat with stripes, so who am I to give fashion advice?
“Even so, I’ve got a cute hat I bought at a Thrift Shop. I’ve been dying to try it out.”
“I’ll tell you what, if you stop talking about hats I’ll bring you back here next Friday night and you can show off your millinery to your heart’s content — deal?”
“Deal,” said Claudine, but I could see that she still had more to contribute to the subject, but the thought of a night out ‘all expenses paid’ was too good to pass up, so she gently closed her beautiful mouth and began thinking of another subject — at least that’s what I think she was doing. I was watching the woman with the pyramid earrings.
The cafe was packed with bright young things all semi-drunk after a tough week of playing with other people’s money. The decibel level was beyond the point where a Heavy Metal Band would tell us to keep it down — no chance of hearing what Ms Earrings was saying even though I was close enough to reach out and touch her.
“Step back and bump into her. Let’s see what she does and let’s see who notices,” I said.
“Bump into who?” said Claudine.
“The woman behind you. Purple hat, big earrings.”
Claudine looked over her shoulder and took a step back. Her bump never eventuated because she stepped on the woman’s foot and in her haste to ‘unstep’ she emptied the remains of her Gin and Tonic on Purple Hat and Big Earrings dress.
Claudine was mortified, and even though I couldn’t hear over the din, it seemed that she was apologising and encouraging the woman to head for the Ladies.
I wasn’t game to follow, but I imagined them removing the dress, washing it under the tap and running it under the electric hand dryer. The whole process would take about eight to ten minutes based on my own experience of spilling soy sauce on my pants at the Chinese on the High Street last Easter. I took it as a punishment from God for eating out at a Chinese Restuarant on Good Friday.
I scanned the room, but no one except the woman she was talking to took any interest so I could relax just a bit.
Eight minutes means I have time for another drink.
Right on cue, the two women emerged from the toilets with Big Earrings giving her dress a final straighten.
When Claudine got back to where I was standing, I leaned in close and said, “That was a bit more than I expected.”
“She wears very expensive underwear, she’s not a bit shy, and the colour in her dress didn’t run, even though it should have. Purple is notoriously hard to make fast. Oh, yes, and she slipped away from her minders, ‘I can’t breathe with those goons watching me all the time. Has your fella got a friend? I’ve been living like a nun for the past few weeks, and I could really use a bloody good…
“Okay, I get the point. Lean over and tell her, yes. I’ll make a call. My boss is going to wet himself when I tell him she fell into my arms without her close support.”
I stepped outside to make the call, and I’m sure I heard my boss squeal like a little girl.
He said he could be there in ten minutes and gave a brief rundown of what he would do to me if I were winding him up. I assured him I wasn’t.
I walked back into the cafe, and the two women were gone and so was the bloke in the braces and belt.
I know Claudine will have an excellent story to tell when I catch up with her, but for now, I needed to exit the building.
I’ll explain it all to my boss once I find out where they went and when he has had time to calm down and dry off his pants.
Claudine may call me later tonight or in the morning, and she may still have Big Earrings without her escort, but I doubt it. Life is never that easy. The Universe is never that kind.
I’ll catch up to Big Earrings eventually, and I’ll find out what she knows — I’m good at my job.
In the meantime, I’m going to buy a hat.

You Must Remember This – a novel

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.

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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.

Independent Woman?

15965736_10209412426081227_7493774806835182712_nI 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.

Cheers.

Clean Sheets

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Back in the day, my hair was longer, and my sheets were whiter.

These days, my hair is cut to a manageable length, and my sheets are clean with the brightness consigned to the ‘whatever’ basket.

My son took the photo, which ended up — many years later, as a painting — two stages my son went through and never came out of.

I don’t know what I was thinking when his finger hit the shutter, but it certainly looks like I’m deep in thought. Maybe I was distracted by a far-off clammer. Maybe I was wondering where all the pegs had gone — I still do that today, wonder, and not just about runaway pegs.

There is no date on the photo, but I remember when the painting was done.

From the look of me, the shot must have been taken not long after my son got his camera — the camera was a huge ‘guilt present’, a ‘sure I left you and your mother but this incredible present will distract you for a while before you work out what a crap dad I was’. There was never any ‘spare money’ when my husband was here, but out of the blue, he finds the funds for an SLR, top of the range, too big and too expensive for a boy of eleven. To my son’s credit, he still has that camera, and he never dropped it or otherwise buggered it up. I taught him how to use it, and I didn’t need to repeat an instruction once.

There is another photo floating around of me wrapped up in an identical sheet with two eye holes cut out. The sheet was past its best with tears where my sharp toenails had gone through it. Before the eye holes had appeared the sheet saw valiant service as a fort, strung over two lounge chairs.

I couldn’t swear to it, but it may have been the same sheet that held the telltale stains produced by my husband and his lover — she was shorter than me with a push-up bra (when she was wearing it) and legs that went all the way up to her bum. No one ever said so, but I’m pretty sure she sucked penis like a princess. Come to think of it, I’m sure that’s why that sheet wore out so fast — I must have washed it a hundred times — in a row — with bleach.

The part that really hurt was that he could not be bothered to clean up after himself — thought I was too dumb to notice, or worse still, thought I would assume that the evidence belonged to us — together, us.

I look at the painting, and I can feel the sun on my face and see the reflected glare.

I wonder what happened to those pegs?

Where do pegs go to die?

Is there a place where broken hearts and old pegs are reunited?

I guess not, but I know where old sheets go when they die, they become ghost costumes, which is appropriate I guess — at least in my case.

.

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ARTIST: J T Larson

Tell Me Your Secrets

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He had something I wanted — no, scratch that, he had something I needed — desperately.

He’s a bit-part player in a much larger story, but he’s getting in my way.

The slow passage of time is a luxury I can ill-afford.

I’ve tried being patient, I’ve tried being obtuse, I’ve tried everything I can think of, and if I had more time, it would be easy, but there’s that word ‘time’ again. To be accurate, I resent spending time on this obstructionist person.

It’s true that he is under no obligation to give me the name, so technically he isn’t annoying, but my patience is spent. I’m stuck until he tells me her name.

I’m not big enough to beat it out of him, and besides, that’s not my style.

Usually, I let my mark relax and sooner or later the truth falls out of them. It’s quite magical at times. I have a theory that everyone wants to give up their secrets — a kind of confession if you will. Those Catholics know their stuff — get it all off your chest, and all will be forgiven.

It’s God that does the forgiving, not me. Me, I listen, and what I hear I pass on and money comes flowing my way.

I’ve always been a good listener. Even when I was a child people told me things.

I remember my mother telling me that she no longer loved my father and that she was going to live with Eric. I was nine. Who tells a nine-year-old such things?

I remember my father telling me that his heart was broken and that I was going to live with my aunt Sally. Who tells a nine-year-old such things?

My aunt Sally was lovely, but I kept waiting for my mum to come and get me. I remember Aunt Sally telling me that she was having sex with the bloke who lives next door.

“Won’t Uncle Bill mind you having sex with the bloke next door?” (I think his name was Eddie, but it could have been Cyril).

“No, he won’t know and what you don’t know can’t hurt you,” said my Aunt Sally adjusting her left breast which seemed to have a life of its own.

“Why are you telling me this Aunt Sally. I’m only eleven after all?”

“I’m not sure. I guess it’s because you seem like someone who one can tell things to.”

I wanted to ask if she expected me to keep her secret, but that didn’t come into it — it was the telling that was the point. She, like everyone else, needs to tell someone. People cannot carry the weight on their own — ‘here, take my pain, help me carry it.’

Who tells things like that to an eleven-year-old girl?

This bloke will tell me the woman’s name eventually. He won’t be able to hold out indefinitely. They always tell me in the end, only this time I have the feeling that it will be too late.

I’m still going to get paid, even if it is too late. There was nothing in my brief about ‘getting the name before the shit hits the fan’, but I was aware of the urgency.

If it goes badly, I take my money and shake it off. The outcome is none of my concern. My job is to get people to tell me things they won’t tell other people, and I do my job very well indeed.

I try not to think about what people do with the information I gather — I’m not sure I want to know.

I have a sense that the woman’s name is on a piece of paper stuffed into the lining of his hat. All I have to do is get him to put the hat down and distract him long enough to have a look, but I would much rather he told me her name. I have my pride and my reputation to think of.

People tell me things, things they don’t want to say.

It’s a skill, a talent and sometimes a curse, but it’s what I do, it’s what makes me unique.

I’m not sure what I’d do if people stopped telling me things — I’m not good for anything else.

New Book: BORIS and the Rising Sun Hotel

So BORIS has an official launch date, December 22nd 2018. This will be the cover for the audiobook and the middle bit is the book cover. It is available now for pre-order.

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Boris lives in the KEEPER OF SECRETS universe.
Susan encounters him in the first book of the series and in SECRETS KEPT we get to know a bit more about him.
He is always there when Susan meets with ‘Backdoor Barry’, silently doing his job. Sometimes lipreading the mute old TV set, sometimes tending to his bartender duties. A quiet observer of everything that goes on at the Rising Sun Hotel.
When I finished the second book in this series, I couldn’t help wondering what was happening in Boris’ life when we were not around. Has he been a part of Barry’s adventures? Was he around when that chair acquired its famous bullet hole? Does he have a romantic interest?
As you can see, these questions needed to be answered.
Boris is more than just a bit part player in Susan Smith’s adventurous life — Boris has a life of his own.

DECEMBER 22nd 2018

I CAN’T GET NO SLEEP

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“I can’t get no sleep”, says the song and I know how it feels.

“Deep in the bosom of the gentle night

Is when I search for the light

Pick up my pen and start to write”

I understand the urge, but this is not how it happens for me, mainly because I’m a stubborn bastard and generally because I can’t see a damn thing without the aid of glasses, and waking up, groping around and putting them on in the wee small hours seems like a lot of bother — so I don’t.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that it’s not the lack of sleep that is the problem, it’s the quality of the slumber that is causing the discomfort.

I get the required number of hours, but at the end, instead of feeling refreshed I feel like I have carried a large person up a steep incline. Sometimes I feel as though I have been fighting and running continuously from the time my head hits the pillow to the time that the fucker with the chainsaw wakes me up (we have a variety of fuckers with chainsaws where I live).

Sleep is and has been for some time, the final (and often the only) refuge from the pain that the world can inflict — a sanctuary of warm embrace.

Part of me knows that it would be better if I woke up — woke everyone up, and wrote, but another part of me just wants to sleep, have fantastical adventures, right wrongs and feel invincible — all things that sleep and dreams can deliver.

Maybe, one night I will try, ‘searching for the light, picking up my pen and write’ but in the meantime, I’m going to pull the covers up tight and do my best to drift off to where there is a possibility of that golden light that makes all things bright.