On a Cloud

(Placed second in Hibiscus Coast writers scriptwriting competition.)

On A Cloud explores the impact on family members following an unexpected death. Raw emotions, anger and regrets are laid bare. The story confronts the questions: do any of us who have been loved unreservedly, as only a mother can love, ever die.

Actors:

Laura, a single mother of two teenage boys, one now deceased.

Joseph, Laura’s youngest son, twelve years old. The son who does everything right.

Aaron, Laura’s deceased son, a sixteen-year-old school drop-out. The son who did everything wrong.

Gretta Winstable, funeral celebrant, a kindly, older woman not known by the family.

Red-haired youth – an associate of Aaron.

Extras: Four pall-bearers and Mr Price, the school principal.

(A one-act, two-scene play, best suited to a proscenium theatre)

Scene 1

Stage set-up: A kitchen. A kitchen table placed in the acting area. Joseph and Laura sit at right-angles to each other, facing the audience. A large clock hangs on the wall behind them. Both mother and son are dressed in funeral attire. Above the table and slightly to the side, a fluffy cloud hovers. Aaron lies stretched out on the cloud, his head resting in his cupped hand.

Laura: (reaches across the corner of the table and holds her son’s hand) Joseph, Aaron’s death was not your fault. You mustn’t blame yourself for what happened that day at the beach. Aaron certainly wouldn’t want that.

Joseph: (jerks his hand away from his mothers’ clasp) What would Aaron want, mum? Would he want to be dead because of me?

Laura: (sighing heavily) Aaron was a strong swimmer but the surf on that day…

Joseph: Yeah, the surf was strong that day and, Aaron told me not to go in, that there was a powerful rip, but I didn’t listen. If I had, he wouldn’t be dead.

Aaron: (leaning over the side of the cloud) You’re right, little bro, I don’t want to be dead, I’m not ready for death, it’s not my time. For once, why couldn’t you listen to me?

Joseph: (rubbing his ear) Aargh!

Laura: What’s wrong with your ear? Let me take a look.

Laura stands, moves to Joseph’s side and attempts to look in Joseph’s ear. Joseph clamps his palm over his ear.

Joseph: It’s nothing, just a weird whooshing sound.

Aaron: A weird whooshing, hah? You get a weird whooshing in your ear while I get a forever weird stuck on this stupid fluffy cloud. Totally bored out of my brain, nothing to do, no-one to speak to, only you.

Joseph: (clamps his hands over both ears) Aargh.

Laura: Are both your ear’s troubling you? Maybe you have an infection.

Joseph: It feels like water swishing around, like when I got tossed over and over before Aaron pulled me from the surf.

Aaron: Yeah, you were tossed over and over. I struggled to get a hold of you, kept going under myself. When I finally did get a grip, you thrashed out with your legs, kicking like a spooked horse. At one point, I thought about letting you go, letting you drown and saving myself.

Laura: (pushing back her chair, stands) I think there is a bottle of ear drops in the bathroom cabinet.

Laura leaves the stage, off-left.

Joseph: Why didn’t you? Why didn’t you let me go and save yourself?

Aaron: Hah, let the number one son drown? That was never an option, and you know it.

Joseph: I’m sorry, I’m really sorry. I was just so mad at you. You promised mum you’d finished with drugs, that you’d stop hanging out with all those losers and that you’d go back to school. When I saw you with the red-haired guy behind the dairy, I knew you’d lied to mum. You shouted at that guy that if he didn’t deliver on time, he’d get the bash.

Aaron: Yeah, and I tried to explain, but you didn’t want to know.

Joseph: Right, that it wasn’t what it looked like, it was something else. Only you couldn’t tell me what the something else was, could you?

Aaron: That’s right, I couldn’t.

Joseph: You do remember it’s mum’s birthday tomorrow, don’t you? What sort of a day do you think she’s going to have?

Laura: (returning with the ear drops.) Hold still.

Laura: (squeezing drops of the liquid into each ear.) Better?

Joseph: (rubbing his ears) Hmm, yes, I think so.

Laura: (remaining standing, glances at the wall clock.) It’s time, Joseph. It’s time to farewell Aaron. The taxi is due at any moment.

Laura gathers her handbag from the table and cups a hand under her son’s elbow. Joseph doesn’t move.

Joseph: (sniffling) Mum, I can’t do this.

Laura: (slumps back into her chair, rubs her son’s arm.) I know this is the most challenging situation you’ve ever had to face, but…

Joseph: It’s more than challenging, mum, it’s impossible. It’s impossible to say goodbye, goodbye to my brother, goodbye forever …

Laura: (looking earnestly at her son) Aaron needs you there, I need you there. Do this for both of us.

Aaron: (in an angry whisper) Yeah, who’s being selfish now? Accusing me of being selfish, of never thinking of anyone but myself, of hurting mum over and over. The wasted druggie, you called me.

Joseph: (burying his head in his hands) Aargh, stop!

Aaron: Man-up! Mum’s only got you now. You’re no longer the little golden kid, the can-do-no-wrong, kid. Mum needs you, and if you love her half as much as she loves you, you’ll get your arse out of that chair, and …

Joseph: (pushing back his chair and standing up) Okay, let’s go.

Scene 2

Stage set-up: A chapel at a funeral home. Two large vases of flowers sit at the front corners of the stage. At the back of the stage, a stain-glass window with light coming in. Sombre, piped music plays. A coffin is placed in the acting area, centre front. Above the coffin is the fluffy white cloud. Aaron is stretched-out on the cloud, head resting in his cupped hand. On the left side is a podium.

Twelve seats, six on each side and three in each row are arranged at an angle, in the downstage area. The front row of seats is empty. In the second row on the left side, sits a red-head youth, and on the right side sits bald-headed Mr Price, the school principal. From the back of the hall, Laura and Joseph enter. As Laura and Joseph pass, Mr Price turns, grimaces, and nods at Joseph.

Laura hastens her pace as she approaches the coffin. Reaching the raised coffin, she awkwardly spreads her arms, and her upper body over the polished wooden top, and rests her head. Shards of soft light, shine through the lead-light window beyond the coffin. The music ceases.

The celebrant enters from a side door, (off right) takes her place at the podium. Joseph guides his mother to the front row (their backs face the audience)

Gretta Winstable : (clears her throat, looks at the small gathering) My name is Gretta Winstable. We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of Aaron, and while I didn’t have the honour to know…

Aaron: (perched on the cloud, leans over) Nice day, isn’t it? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, all is well with the world, well nearly.

Joseph: How can you be so flippant at your own funeral?

Laura: (turning sideways)Joseph? Did you say something?

Aaron: Flippant? You think it’s easy for me to be here, huh? For starters, the turn-out is pitiful, and that celebrant woman doesn’t know shite about me. Goes to show, my life didn’t amount to much, eh?

Joseph rests his head on his mother’s shoulder, closing his eyes. Laura’s shoulders heave.

Gretta Winstable: … the day Aaron pulled his younger brother from the surf, he made the ultimate sacrifice. He gave his life.

Gretta Winstable: (spreads her arms) Would anyone care to share their thoughts about Aaron?

Joseph springs to his feet and steps towards the podium. He faces the audience.

Joseph: I want to speak about who my brother really was.

Aaron: Way to go, buddy. Be sure to mention how handsome I am/was, and my bravery, and …

Joseph: I got it, pipe down, I need to concentrate.

Aaron: Just one other thing, tell mum that although I didn’t always show it, I did love her, that I still do,

Joseph: My brother Aaron may not have been a model son, he may not have always made the best choices…

Aaron: Steady on, mate. That’s a bit harsh.

Joseph: Sssh. (pauses) But he had a wicked sense of humour. Aaron saw the funny side, even in the direst situation. I know for sure that right now he’ll be stretched-out on some fluffy cloud up above cracking smart-arse jokes about his own send-off, his own funeral.

Red-haired guy: (laughs) Too right!

Joseph: Aaron was intelligent, way smarter than what he portrayed. Aaron could figure things out, see alternative solutions and fix a problem. Best of all, Aaron was the kindest person I’ve known. He’d do anything for anybody even if it was detrimental to himself. (pauses) He and I argued the day he died. If I’d listened to him that day, he’d not have died saving me. (pauses, looks directly at his mum.) Mum, although he didn’t always show it, Aaron truly loved you. He always will.

Aaron: Wow! Pretty cool words, bro. Thank you.

Joseph returns to his seat. Sombre music plays. Four pall-bearer emerge from the back of the chapel, (off left) take their positions beside the coffin and carry the casket down the aisle. Joseph and Laura, arms linked, follow behind. The red-haired guy stands, slips between the seats and presses a small, shiny red box into Laura’s hand.

Red-haired guy: It’s from your son, Mrs Hunt. It’s from Aaron.

Josephglances over his shoulder towards the cloud, looking puzzled.

Aaron: Yep, that’s right, bro. A present for mum. I had intended giving it to her myself, but, the script got rewritten.

Laura opens the box and takes out a silver bracelet.

Aaron: Don’t worry, little brother.I’ll always be here for you, still whispering in your ear.

Laura holds the bracelet up to the light and reads the inscription.

Laura: To the best Mum ever, love never dies, Aaron.

End of the Road

Today’s post is a story triggered by a recent short trip I took in my camper van.

End of the Road

I had driven for miles along a gravel road to the remote campsite. Parked up and plugged into the power, I sat in my camper-van reading, enjoying the quiet. My dog snoozed on her blanket after our leisurely walk through farm paddocks to the beach, where she’d romped in crazy circles chasing the few sea birds.

As the skies began to turn grey, a large camper slowed then stopped on the gravel road. A gaunt, grey-haired man climbed out of the van, wandered through the gate, looked around and shook his head. He yelled something over his shoulder to a woman exiting the vehicle on the passenger side. She joined him. I sighed as I closed my book and pulled on my shoes. My solitude had ended.

‘Hiya,’ I waved to them.

The man turned toward me. ‘What sort of a Mickey-Mouse place is this? No signs, no directions, in the middle of nowhere,’ he threw his arms in the air. ‘How do you even book in?’

‘There is a place with a sign on the gate back down the road. Drive up the driveway and pay the woman at the house,’ I offered.

‘I don’t fancy driving this huge bus up some narrow driveway,’ the woman chipped in.

‘There are phone numbers on the sign you could try,’ indicating the large sign at the front. ‘But they didn’t work for me, so I went to that house.’

‘We didn’t plan to come here. We were headed for Wellsford. Miles of driving on gravel, windy roads out of our way. Bloody GPS.’

‘You’ll find it’s worth your while, it’s so peaceful. You can walk to the beach along a farm track, and there’s cute llama’s through the fence there, and the facilities are top-notch.’

‘Ain’t interested in walking to some beach or petting some stupid animals with ridiculously long necks. Been travelling for two weeks and we just want to get home, not be stuck in some god-forsaken place at the end of the road.’

I shrugged. ‘It is lovely here,’ I feebly offered again.

‘How do you get into this place? Does it even have power sites?’

‘Of course, there is power, see those white poles? Come through the gate, round the cabins and down to the flat.’ turning away, I returned to my camper.

The couple got in their van, drove in and parked on the flat. Snuggled under my blanket, I returned to my book. My concentration was lost. Fancy arriving at an idyllic place like this, owning a top-of-the-range vehicle like theirs and being so grumpy, so unappreciative, my inner dialogue mumbled.

Later that evening, I encountered the woman in the kitchen. With her back to me, she was busily washing a stack of dishes, slamming them onto the bench with force. I asked, ‘So, where have you driven from today?’

‘Manganui,’ she replied without turning.

‘A long drive for you both.’

‘Yep, and we had no intention of ending up here in the middle of bloody nowhere. We just want to get home.’

‘And where’s home?’

‘Wellington.’

‘Been to Manganui before?’

She nodded, slamming another dish to the pile.

‘Manganui’s a beautiful spot.’

‘Yep. We got married there. That’s why we went, filling my husbands bucket-list before it’s too late.’

Wishing I’d never started this conversation, I tried another tack. ‘Your van looks pretty impressive, especially compared to my humble, old thing.’

‘Yep, cost a fortune. Not my idea, not my idea at all,’ the woman shook her head. ‘That’s the reason why I’m still working.’

‘Still, it must be really comfortable, and …’

‘Soon as he pops his clogs, I’ll be down-sizing, to something more suitable.’

Her husband entered the room, wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown. With a towel draped over his arm, he clasped a sponge bag. ‘You not done yet?’ he barked at his wife.

Ah, my chance to leave, so why didn’t I?

The wife pulled the plug in the sink, turned and glared at her husband.

‘I’m taking a shower. I presume there are showers here?’ the man nodded in my direction.

‘Sure, through there,’ I pointed.

The woman began to dry the dishes. ‘Don’t mind him,‘ she said, facing me now. ‘It’s the morphine. He’s pretty morose by the end of the day.’

‘Oh,’ I stammered. ‘Must be tough for you both.’

‘Not exactly what I signed up for, but what can you do?’ her face softened.

‘You fancy a cup of tea or coffee?’ I asked. Why did I ask that? Why didn’t I leave?

‘Neither. A glass of wine is what I fancy. I’ve got a bottle of red in the van. You’ll join me, right?’ a statement, not a question. She threw down the tea-towel and bustled out of the kitchen.

Finding wine glasses in the cupboard, I placed them on the table.

‘I’m Kathy,’ I said when the woman returned, offering my hand.

‘Sybil and old grumpy-boots is Dennis.’ Sybil didn’t shake my hand. She poured the wine, and we sat in the plastic chairs.

Neither of us spoke. I sipped my wine.

‘What line of work are you in, Sybil?’

‘I do the books for a large international company, mostly working from home.’

‘Oh, that’s handy for you. I work part-time…’

‘Yeah,’ she snorted. ‘No escape from my invalid husband, always doing his bidding. Get this, do that, help me with whatever.’ She gulped her wine.

‘Has he been ill long?’

Dennis, returning from his shower, stood by Sybil’s chair. ‘How long do you plan to be sat here supping that poison?’

Sybil ignored him and refilled her glass.

‘Do you want to join us?’ Sybil glared at me. Dennis mumbled inaudibly and left the room.

Sybil laughed. ‘Dennis doesn’t approve. Here, have another.’ She poured wine into my glass.

‘Let me tell you about my dear sanctimonious, saintly husband.’ Sybil spat, gulping more wine. ‘Six months ago, he begged me to forgive him for running off with his tart and implored me to let him back into my life. Hah, he apologised for hurting me. I weren’t hurt, I was humiliated.’

Like a rapidly flowing river, Sybil’s words flowed without pause, spluttering over the jagged rocks of infidelity throughout their lengthy marriage. The waters bumped against the moss-covered banks of their pretentious, moneyed life – grand houses, luxury cruises, expensive education for their progeny, membership to exclusive clubs. The river flowed, disgorging itself in the vast sea.

‘And here we are, at the end of the road. We’re practically penniless and completely barren of any emotion for each other.’ Sybil slunk low in her chair, her face rigid as if carved in stone.

‘How long had he been with this other woman?’

‘Five years, and he returned to me, a pauper.’

‘You mentioned morphine earlier. I’m assuming you administer the morphine to manage the pain?’

‘Yep.’

From what you say, I glean that you’re having a pretty shitty time, but you’re in control. Eventually, your husband will die, it’s the end of the road for him, right?’

‘Yep.’

‘But you’re in control of the morphine?’

Sybil looked me in the eye. Her face relaxed into an almost smile.

‘Are you suggesting I accidentally …’

Throwing my arms wide, I replied, ‘I’m not suggesting anything.’

I supped the rest of my wine. ‘Goodnight’ I said, ‘And good luck.’ I left the room. It had begun to rain.

Heavy rain persisted throughout the night, my sleep was fitful. Waking late, I prepared my van to leave.

As I drove slowly across the wet, soggy grass, the door of the big camper opened. Sybil, in a flimsy night-dress, stumbled down the steps of her camper. Taking a few wobbly steps, she frantically waved her arms in my direction.

I drove away.

Ducks Revolt.

Today’s post is in recognition of all ducks out there, as it is duck shooting season.

Duck’s Revolt.
The dark times have returned. Camouflaged maimai’s, dotted around waterways are being erected. Soon, within these secluded, hidden shelters, humans with guns will huddle, their faithful sleek retriever dogs by their side, waiting, watching, gleefully anticipating.
Our feathers will ruffle, our webbed feet will shudder on witnessing an abundance of decoy ducks floating on our beloved wetlands, lakes and rivers.
The air will resound with horrendous honking, duck-mimicking noise, in an attempt to lure naive ducks into flying overhead. Upon being shot, ducks plummet gracelessly, to be retrieved by slobbering hounds and bagged by gormless humans. The dark times have returned.
These gun-wielding assassins dare to call duck shooting a sport. How can the annual decimation of a species unable to fight back, be considered sporting? And the fact that duck shooting season is sanctioned by the law’s of the nation is blatant hypocrisy.
In a desperate quest for self-preservation, some of us, annually flock to public gardens and parks and submit to voluntary lock-down. While taking refuge in suburban locations, we are grateful to the kind souls, who feed us human foods such as bread or stale crackers or rotting fruits. These morsels provide us with much-needed nourishment in these bleak times. Still, human food is not conducive to our bodily systems and ultimately cause adverse ailments.
Those unable to take the flight will remain exposed to the dangers, fearful for their lives. Only essential trips for the gathering of necessities is advised. As Walter Cronkite said, ‘The perils of duck hunting are great – especially for the ducks.’
As in past years, our return to our homelands, following the duck shooting season will be a time of great sadness. We will discover who has become a lame duck or not survived the slaughter. Who has become an orphan or who has lost a beloved grandparent? A time of grief and mourning for those who have met their untimely and unwarranted death will cast a dark shadow over our holy habitats.
Revolution is afoot. The status quo is about to be disrupted, laws will be rewritten and history made. The dark times will end forever.
Taking charge of their own destiny, ducks are fighting back.
I, Dario Duck, a humble middle-aged Mallard duck have devised an ingenious plan, a cunning campaign to end the fear, the suffering and the grief. The annual massacre of ducks as we know it will be no more.
Honking throughout the land has spread the call. As wings furiously flap, the great migration of multitudinous proportions, pure poultry in motion, has begun. Ducks of all breeds from the far north to the far south, from the east and west of the country, are winging their way to the corner of Molesworth Street and Lambton Quay, Wellington.
We do not subscribe to violence or anarchy, but rather, our protest will take the form of passive resistance. On the steps of that sacred place, the entrance to The Beehive, the place where all laws of this great country are made, we will flock. The sounds of the city will be drowned by our incessant raucous quackophony. The steps of parliament house will become splattered with our excretions, unavoidable to those attempting to enter this iconic building.
We anticipate attempts to remove us will ensue due to the inconvenience of our occupation. Contingency plans for that eventuality are in place. Our troops will simply flutter skywards and reposition on the ledges the ten-story high building provides until the danger passes. Then down we’ll swoop once again to occupy those steps.
We shall remain resolute in our revolt, clustered on those hallowed steps for as ever long as it takes to be heard. By fear means or fowl, we will be noticed, we will be heard. The archaic, outdated practice of shooting ducks, will be outlawed, confined to the history books, to the past forever.
The diabolical duck-a-thon, the stupendous sit-in, the feathered folly, call it what you may, has begun. Ducks from every corner of this country, have converged to the steps of the Beehive. Hunkered together in our hundreds, honking in unison, our mass occupation has begun.
At the break of day, politicians and their minions, attempt to enter the building. Cautiously, they duck and dive through the mass of feathered, raucous fowl, avoiding the gooey grey-white excrement splattered on the steps. In frustrated furry, some of the two-legs flap their bulky briefcases or wave their arms fitfully trying to swoosh us away. In our deduckation to the cause, we sit, ducks in a row (actually, several rows) in solidarity, each and every duck remaining stalwart. Donny Duck from Dunedin is the self-appointed conducktor to our honking symphony.
Throughout the morning, cars driving past, slow and gaze with puzzlement. Many honked their horns in support. At mid-day, a camera crew and reporter visit the site. A class of chattering children from a nearby school, visit. Squatting or standing, with sketch pads in their hands, they draw this incredible sight.
Late in the afternoon, a straggly group of older two-legs gather in front of the steps holding placards and chant, over and over ‘Ducks have rights, stop the slaughter!’
A guy with a megaphone strides to the front of the group and begins a new chant.
‘What do we want?’
‘An end to duck shooting.’ his comrades reply.
‘Why do we want it?’ megaphone guy continues.
‘Ducks deserve to live.’
‘How will we get it?’
‘Change the law.’
Gleefully, we flap our wings, waddle around, preen our plumage and honk in jubilation.
The news crew returns, cameras flash, and the chanting continues, long into the night.
At the quack of dawn, we’re awoken by a low rumbling sound on the street as two large red trucks cruise towards us. The trucks halt, men jump from the vehicles and begin unravelling hoses. The red-jacketed men position themselves along the hefty round tubes pointed in our direction – water blasts from the hoses. Hah, haven’t they heard that expression water off ducks back? Our wings flap and flutter, we hover above those shiny red vehicles, those red-coated men and we perform our morning ablutions. Soon, the trucks and the men are adorned with glistening white-grey splatters, and again, we occupy the now clean steps – the disgruntled red-brigade wind up their hoses and leave. Our placard-carrying comrades return in higher number, along with various news crews.
Throughout the morning, aroma’s from Bellamy’s kitchen from inside the Beehive, drift on the air, cruelly taunting our nostrils. Thoughts of politicians dining on Peking Duck, crispy duck, duck orange, duck pate, duck satay or spicy duck with apple sauce dampen the spirits of some amongst us. In an attempt to distract these sensitive souls from their dark thoughts, Davy Duck, our very own comedian cracks some jokes.
‘Here’s one,’ he quacks joyfully. ‘What do you call a gaggle of ducks in a box?’
‘Honk?’
‘A box of quackers!’
‘Why are ducks good at fixing things?’
‘Honk?’
‘They know how to use duck tape!’
‘What has webbed feet, fangs and wears a cape?’
‘Hank?’
‘Count Duckula!’
Davy is a real quack-up.
But I digress. Our placard-carrying supporters, chant, and Dunedin Donny conduck’s with added vigour. The crescendo of the quackophony symphony heightens and cars on the street, honk their support.
The class of school children return, and waddling like ducks, they line up facing us ducks. The teacher positions herself in front of the children and raises her arm. Donny lowers his baton. We cease our honking.
‘Six little ducks that I once knew…
The innocent sound of young voices fills the air.
‘Down to the river they would go, wibble-wobble, wibble-wobble to and fro…
The children wibble-wobble on their feet, flap their arms, as camera crews zoom in, filming them. Our placard-carrying supporters sing along.
‘But the one little duck with the feather on his back, he led the others with a quack, quack, quack…
Cheerful, sweet tones and poignant words.
‘Quack, quack, quack. He led the others with a quack, quack, quack.’
The Minister for Conservation emerges from the sanction of the Beehive. The body of huddled feathers, part and form a pathway for the neatly attired Minister to descend the steps.
‘Back from the river, they came not,’ The sweet, innocent voices continued with gusto.
‘For by the hunter’s guns, the ducks were shot.’
Rolling cameras zoomed in on the children, standing still heads bowed in silence.
Our feathers ruffle, our webbed feet shudder.
Megaphone Man strides to the front, ‘What do we want?’
‘An end to legalised duck shooting.’ They wave their placards, punch the air with their free fist.
The Minister clears his throat. ‘Ahem. An emergency sitting of the House is scheduled for this evening to consider a new bill presented to the House. Furthermore, until a resolution is found, this years’ duck-shooting season is cancelled.’
The ducks clap their wings, the placard-carriers cheer loudly, and the children wibble-wobbled as they sing.
‘Home from the river they would come,
Wibble-wobble, wibble-wobble, ho-hum hum.’

Bargain From eBay!

Many people use eBay and similar sites to purchase bargains. This frivolous story is a believe-it-or-not story, about one such purchase. 

I slip the bulky bracelet onto my slender wrist, fasten it, and set the timer button on the side for nine-fifty nine. I pull down my sleeve, hiding its existence.
Leaving the house, I imagine people’s thoughts if they spotted the bracelet on my wrist.
‘What a loser!’
‘No level-minded person would believe such crap!’
‘Hah, some people are just so easily conned, eh?’
‘No matter how desperate I was, I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing one of those.’
‘That’s just sad.’
But the unfortunate part is, I agree with them.
Strolling towards the supermarket, my library books in a tote bag, bouncing against my hip. I yank the sleeve over my hand and grip the end with my fingers.
The bracelet, a belated birthday gift from my well-intentioned sister.
‘The Love Bracelet. Everyone deserves love, everyone deserves to find their soul-mate. The force of the magnetic discs embedded in the bracelet will attract you to your soul-mate. This is our promise to you,’ so read the advert of this new genius device.
Hah, who’s to say your soul-mate would also have a love bracelet and would be wearing it at the same time as you, my rational self, questions.
‘Open it, I know you’re going to love it,’ my sister Cassie, gushed the day she gave it to me.
I fumbled with the wrapping and opened the box. I knew immediately, this bracelet was one of those, having done my own, lonely-early-morning-hour-internet-search. I knew these bracelets weren’t cheap.
‘Oh, that’s really, um, thoughtful of you, Cassie, but I can’t accept it. These things are costly, aren’t they?’
‘No, not this one. I brought it on eBay, never been used. A bargain. The seller assured me he’d found ‘the one’ before he had a chance to use it.’
How touching that my loving sister, concerned for my well-being, my happiness would be so generous as to give me a gift with such promise. Yeah, at the right price.
‘I can’t, I can’t wear it. I’d feel like a complete loser.’
‘What have you got to lose? Nothing else has worked, has it? Not the speed-dating, the drunken nights hanging out at bars, not the swiping left or right on your phone, the internet dating sites. How many blind dates have you had in the past year, since breaking-up with Steven? Thirty-six, and alone, Fiona, time is running out.’
‘Yeah, thanks for the reminder.’
‘Awgh, Sis, I just want you to have what Gareth and I have. You deserve it.’
Cassie and Gareth exist in their own love-bubble, unable to make even minor decisions without a discussion with the other, and often a lengthy conversation at that. My sister has the kindest heart of any person I know. She will do anything for others, albeit with Gareth’s approval. When they’re together, which is practically always, their eyes are locked in total adoration, and little silver arrows ping through the air.
Seven years, Steven and I were together. Seven years of making plans, buying our do-up home together, with nothing done on it as yet, supporting one another in our chosen careers, then it ended. Wonder-woman Wanda waltzed nonchalantly into Stevens life, blowing our bubble to smithereens. I’m still extracting the splinters from my shattered soul.
And, no, I didn’t slink away gracefully.
‘You got the house, Fiona. That was generous of Steven. You should be grateful for that at least,’ my sister reasoned.
Yeah, right, a do-up house does not compare to Wanda’s plush penthouse suite.
When Steven first left, I’d phone him on some pretext or other.
‘The bathroom tap is dripping. Could you come over and change the washer?’
He sent the plumber. The tap was not dripping.
‘Do you remember where we put that old set of encyclopedia, the ones we brought at the car-boot sale that time? I’ve looked everywhere.’
‘You gave them to your sister, I’m sure you remember.’
‘There’s a loose batten on the back fence, I don’t suppose you could…’
He hung up.
The next time I rang, the number had been disconnected.
I swore I’d never resort to what I did next. Dining at that up-market restaurant the same evening as Steven and Wanda were there, I swear it was coincidental. I only ordered an entrée, the place was super-expensive. Shopping in the supermarket across town? Another coincidence, I just happened to be in the area and needed certain items. Rubbish bags and five cans of tuna, the tuna was on special. All five cans of tuna are still in my pantry, untouched. I don’t eat tuna. And as for jogging in the park at six o’clock in the morning, exercise has never been my thing and bumping into the pair of them looking ever so radiant, while I looked… Hmm, I’ll leave that to your imagination. At least Steven did acknowledge me that morning.
‘Fiona, this has to stop, you have to move on, get out of our lives. What you’re doing is sad and pathetic. Don’t do this to yourself.’
I stumbled to a nearby park bench and bawled.
A pleasant young constable delivered the restraining order, later that day.
Nine-fifty nine, I feel the tingle on my wrist as the bracelet is activated, just as the instructions said it would. Perhaps this will work, I muse, striding confidently into Sammy’s Quick-mart, failing to notice the pyramid of tinned tomatoes beside the shopping baskets. Bending to extract a basket, my elbow nudged a can.
As the cans tumble to the floor, I briefly consider exiting the store. On my hands and knees, I begin retrieving the rolling tins. I’ve forgotten all about the ridiculous bracelet on my wrist.
‘Here, let me help you,’ a silky voice whispers.
I tilt my head slightly upwards, and there he is, Mr Silky Voice, kneeling on the floor, reaching for cans. I register his bright emerald eyes, thick, wavy silver-grey hair and an amused grin.
‘Clumsy me. I was distracted,’ my heart thumps.
‘It happens to us all.’
As other shoppers step around us, we gather the cans and place them to the side of the aisle.
‘Gerald? What on earth are you doing down there? Get up now!’
‘Ah, Gloria, a slight accident,’ he scrambles to his feet. ‘I’m helping this young lady…’
‘Yes, I knocked over the cans, and your husband is kindly helping me to pick them up,’ I stand, extend my hand to the well-coiffured lady in spindly high heels. ‘Hi, I’m…’ She ignores my gesture.
‘I’m ready to go, Gerald. Carry these,’ Gloria barks, thrusting two bulgy shopping bags at Gerald. He throws me an apologetic look as he hurries from the store after Gloria.
‘Oh look, on her wrist, it’s one of those love bracelets, isn’t it?’ a young girl in the check-out line is pointing at me, at my arm. I glance at my arm. The bracelet is exposed in all it’s glorious ugliness.
‘Oh yeah, that’s hilarious, I never thought I’d ever see anyone actually wear one,’ her companion responds, a smirk on her face. Their laughter follows me as I hurriedly exited the store.
Seeking refuge at a table, in a secluded corner of the library, I bow my head in the pretence of reading the book I’ve randomly taken from the shelf. ‘Ten simple ways to train your cat.’ With the laughter of those girls still ringing in my head, I decide the bracelet must go. I must lose it. Raising my head, I look around. No one is close by. Furtively, I attempt to undo the catch on the bracelet inside my sleeve. My thumbnail isn’t quite long enough to force the clasp to open. I twist my arm this way and that, bracing the bracelet against the table. Finally, the clasp clicks and the bracelet drops to the floor. I reach under the chair, retrieve the bracelet and poke it under the cat book on the table.
I grab my tote bag and head towards the door.
‘Miss, miss, I think this must be yours,’ an urgent voice follows me. I keep walking.
‘Miss, your bracelet. I found it under the book your were reading at the table,’ hurried footsteps behind me are closing in.
I push the door open, ready to sprint away. A firm hand grabs my shoulder. I spin around. ‘Yours, I believe?’ An older snowy-head gentleman smiles at me, dangling the bracelet. ‘Now you don’t want to go losing this, I’m sure. Rather unusual, isn’t it? And quite heavy. Is it one of those medic alert bracelets?’
‘No, yes, maybe, I don’t know,’ I stutter.
‘You don’t know?’ a look of puzzlement on his face.
‘Yes, it is a medic alert bracelet.’
‘Thought so. No need to feel ashamed, my dear. Lots of people wear them. This one is a bit different from others I’ve seen.’
‘ Yes, it’s a new model, so my doctor says. Thank you for finding it,’ I say, reaching for the infernal thing.
He grabs my wrist, ‘Let me help you put it back on, eh? Can’t let you risk a medical misadventure, now can we, deary?’
I walk towards home, no groceries, no library books, and no soul-mate in tow. As I near my door, I see the lace curtain in my neighbour’s window twitch. A withered hand waves. I groan internally. Head down, I hasten up my path towards my door, pretending not to have seen Dorothy. Fumbling with my door key, she swings open her front door. For such a frail old woman, she sure can move quickly when she wants to.
‘Ah, Fiona. I’m glad I’ve caught you,’ she’s clutching her scruffy, snarly little dog close to her chest. ‘It’s my Bertie, he’s in desperate need of a walk, and my arthritis is playing up something dreadful today. Would you be a dear?’
‘Oh, I have…’
‘Doesn’t need to be a long walk, just a bit of fresh air for my sweetie. Bertie would be so grateful,’ Dorothy buries her face in the dog’s straggly fur. ‘You know Bertie absolutely adores you.’
‘I’ll get my jacket and scarf,’ I say, looking skywards to the looming dark clouds.
I go indoors, take my jacket and scarf from the hook and unclasp the bracelet, leaving it on the hall table.
Leaves whisk in the wind as Bertie and I walk towards the park at the end of the street. He scampers after the leaves, tugging on the short lead, yaps at a cat, sniffs a crusty mound of dog faeces in the grass. I pull him away, he snarls at me.
At the park, I release Bertie from his lead. He bounces across the grass, runs around the trees, yaps at flying birds, slows down and sniffs the ground, then with a flurry, he’s off again. I straggle along the path, calling his name. Bertie ignores me. Ahead on the track, a silver-haired man is leading a well-groomed white poodle. The pair walk sedately. The man, his head bowed appears to be engrossed in the phone in his hand. Bertie bounds towards them.
‘Bertie, Bertie,’ I shout. ‘Come here now!’ Bertie ignores me.
Reaching the poodle, Bertie runs around the pair in decreasing circles. The man pauses, sliding his phone into his trouser pocket. Bertie yaps loudly, and the poodle bats a foreleg at the annoying Bertie. I break into a run, shouting.
‘Bertie, stop!’ I scream.
The poodle chases Bertie, winding his lead around the man’s legs, barking at Bertie. The man bends, attempts to pat the exuberant Bertie and calm his own canine.
‘Bertie, stop now,’ my voice is hoarse.
The man topples sideways and lands on the grass verge. Both dogs cease their antics, and the poodle licks the man’s face.
‘I’m so sorry,’ I pant breathlessly, and kneeling, click Bertie’s lead on his collar.
The man sits up and begins to unwind the lead from around his ankles. ‘Ah, it’s you, hello again. Are you in the habit of toppling things over?’ he laughs, continuing to unwind the lead.
‘No, not usually, I’m not having a good day, and Bertie’s not my dog. He belongs to my elderly neighbour who has arthritis and, and he’s not the best-behaved dog as you can see,’ I gabble.
‘Gerald,’ he says, offering his hand.
‘Yes, I remember,’ I say, taking his hand. ‘Fiona.’
‘And this is Polly, my sister Gloria’s dog, also not very well behaved.’
‘Gloria is your sister? I thought she was… .’
‘My wife?’
‘Yes.’
Gerald, released from the lead, scrambles to his feet, offers his hand, and pulls me upright.
A clap of thunder booms. ‘Hah, that sounds ominous. What say we grab a coffee at that cafe the other side of the park?’
‘That would be lovely, and I’m buying,’ I insist.
With the dogs on their leads, Gerald and I stride briskly to the end of the park. Gerald takes my hand into mine. My hand tingles.
‘Okay?’ he asks.
I nod. An image of the ugly bracelet sitting on my hall table flashes through my mind. I’ll repost it on eBay, I think to myself, and advertise as never been used.

The Root System of the Dandelion

May 13th. Today’s post is triggered by the hot summer conditions experienced in Northland.
The Root System of the Dandelion.
Five purple hebe plants withered and died over the scorching summer. The sturdy Manuka tree in the bottom corner of the section shrunk noticeably, the leaves limp, curled and browned by heat. The Kowhai tree, dejected and miserable, alone on the browned lawn, hadn’t escaped the ravages of the summer either. Only the sprightly, yellow dandelions survived unscathed.
From behind the French doors, Josie gazed at the devastation that was her garden. Rain pelted against the windows. Too late to nurture, too late to resuscitate and revive, the rain had finally come.
‘The summer of destruction, the summer of death,’ Josie mused.
Destruction of once healthy, vibrant plants.
Death of a once loving, trusty relationship, hers and Garth’s. Cracks, like spidery splinters in hardened, baked soil, first appeared after the family gathering on Labour Weekend. Garth ranting against her off-spring, incensed by their wanton wasteful habits, irritated by the shrieks and demands of the youngest generation, her grandchildren.
As summer approached, the cracks widened to chasms. Garth found fault in every aspect of their lives, the ‘friends’ they socialised with, the weekend parties of the hippy-neighbours living in a battered bus and the relentless heat.
‘Extreme heat can have that effect,’ Josie mused.
Add to that, Garth’s constant ravings against his miserly aged father.
‘At fifty-six-years old, your father probably expects you to be financially independent, my sweet.’ Josie offered, her sympathies firmly aligned to the octogenarian.
‘Hah, he needn’t expect me to visit him, even if he is at death’s door.’
Caroline, Garth’s sister, had nursed their father for five years.
Summer had passed, the rains dampened the soil, freshened the air, but failed to quell the dissonance between her and Garth. Their relationship fell through the cracks.
Josie knew she’d have to replace the plants, even with this rain, the plants were beyond saving. They’d have to be wrenched from the soil, disposed with and replaced.
But to wrestle Garth from her life, to dispose of their relationship, (not replace him, necessarily) required more significant consideration. Could the once sturdy relationship be nurtured, Josie pondered, fed sustenance of essential minerals and be revived?
Dandelions, decapitated by the blades of the lawnmower, manage to cling to life and bloom once again, didn’t they? Their tenacious tap-root system penetrates deep into the soil growing lateral roots, allowing the plant to thrive.
Garth and I could penetrate deeply, sprout lateral roots and bloom again. Josie’s inner dialogue caused her to giggle.
‘Unbelievable!’ Garth stomped into the lounge from the bedroom, mobile phone in hand. ‘The old coots died, and he’s left me nothing! It all goes to my saintly sister!’
Josie laughed louder.
‘I’m disinherited, and you find that funny?’
Josie, shaking her head, regained composure. ‘No doubt, you’ll visit your sister and demand your share.’
‘Too right. As soon as I’ve packed, I’m leaving.’
He’s leaving. Every occurrence has a silver lining, even death, Josie thought.
‘Best you don’t return, Garth, after all, you and I aren’t dandelions, are we?’