Tasty Morsels

Tasty Morsels

In February 1975, I was relieved rather than disappointed to not get an invite to my cousin Charlene’s nuptials in Dipton. Unfortunately, my frail Nan took a fall thye day before the wedding. Mum begged my fiancée and me to attend the wedding on her and Dad’s behalf.

‘Please, Lucy. If nobody from our lot came, your Aunty Pauline would never speak to me again.’

‘Perfect. You’re always saying that if you never hear from that woman again …’ Dad gave me one of his mischievous winks from behind mum’s back.

‘She’s still my sister. And you can borrow our car since yours is unreliable.’ Dad, unseen by Mum, shook his head vigorously.

‘Oh, no need. Jake’s fixed The Tank,’ I said, my fingers crossed behind my back. Our 1954 Hilman was as solid and as slow as a World War Two Tank. Dunedin to Dipton would be a slow trip.

‘Good, that’s settled. The present and the card.’ Mum handed me a box wrapped in brown paper. ‘Do you have some fancy paper?’

‘Sure,’ I shook the box. ‘A kitchen whiz?’ Mum nodded.

At home, I dumped the box on the hall table next to the recently arrived worm farm kit. I’d been planning to set up the equipment over the weekend, a more enthralling activity than attending Charlene’s wedding.

As Jake caressed the Tanks engine into action the following morning, I remembered the unwrapped present. I rushed back inside, nearly toppling on my thin stilettos. As we drove out of the city, I roughly wrapped the box in fancy paper, attaching the card.

The day was hot, the journey long, but the Tank did not falter. I chastised myself for doubting Jakes mechanical skills.

Driving through Mandeville, the noises began. Tapping, clunking, grinding, louder and louder. I shot Jake a baleful look.

‘Easy fix.’ Jake turned the radio knob to full volume. ‘Hear it now?’

The Tank spluttered to a stop outside of Balfour. We stood at the side of the road, thumbs extended for the non-existing passing traffic in the glare of the mid-day sun. The minutes passed slowly. A distant sound, a puff of dust in the still air. An old David Brown tractor with a back-tray came into sight and stopped.

The farmer looked us up and down. ‘The wedding?’ We nodded. ‘Climb aboard.’

As the tractor pulled alongside the curb, the wedding guests flowed from the church, led by my strident, Aunty Pauline. I attempted to discreetly alight from the back-tray. One of my heels wedged between the boards. Snap. I stumbled. Seeing the tractor, then seeing me, Aunty Pauline’s face paled. With her head tilted upwards, her arms flapping penguin style, she waddled to the nearby reception venue. The guests followed.

Jake handed the tatty-looking present to the awaiting bridesmaids. The girls unwrapped the gift then shrieked in unison.

‘A worm farm,’ said one, incredulously.

The other read the card. ‘You’re sure to create some tasty morsels with this useful kitchen appliance, Charlene.’

A Fork on the Road

The night he had a blazing row with his Missus, Tommy Harrison made a reckless decision. He hijacked a beat-up Toyota left unattended outside the Ball and Chain pub on Newbury Street. He did not know that his choice of vehicle was a bad one. Not yet.

Sidling along the side of the station wagon in the dark unlit car park, Tommy Harrison hadn’t noticed the plastic crates in the rear. This fact would have consequences, but Tommy did not know that. Not yet.

He opened the unlocked door of the station wagon, scrambled into the driver’s seat, and hot-wired the ignition. A trio outside the pub, leaning on a bench supping pints, paused as the Toyota roared into life. Engaging the clutch, Tommy yanked the gear stick into reverse.

‘Ain’t that your ride, Harry?’ said the short one, Davy.

‘Shit.’

Tommy glanced over his shoulder. A burly bloke ran towards him, waving his arms and yelling. Tommy reversed and sped away.

‘Sucker,’ Tommy sniggered.

‘You want to give chase, Harry? My Ute’d catch that old banger in no time.’ Davy asked Harry.

Marv chipped in, sniggering, ‘Sure would. How long you had that hunk of junk?’

‘Just picked it up today.’

‘Whatever you paid for it, they must have seen you coming, mate.’ Marv laughed.

‘Nah, they didn’t. I nicked it for a job I had on. You hear about the missing crates of snakes from that zoo place?’

‘Yeah, it’s all over the news.’

‘That was me that nicked them.’

‘What the fuck you want with snakes?’ Merv slammed his pint on the bench.

‘I had a deal with that fuckin’ toe-rag crook, Simon Shoester. Talking like some fuckin’ professor, he says he wanted to put the frighteners on an adversary. The money was good, so I agreed. Now that it’s all over the fuckin’ news, the bastard ain’t going to pay me a cent. Told me to dump them. Just have to chalk this one up to experience, right lads?’

‘That jack-ass hijacker has done you a favour then.’

‘Me and, inadvertently, Shoester. You can guess where I planned to dump them snakes, right?’

The three clinked their glasses and drank up.

Driving on the motorway, Tommy wanted to get as far away from his miserable, venomous wife as possible and to never come back. As he lent over to switch on the radio, the car swerved. Tommy swung the steering wheel sharply, careering over the centre line. An oncoming vehicle tooted. Turning the wheel again, he hit the gravel, and the car bumped along the verge until he came to a stop. He heard a popping sound at the rear of the vehicle.

Shaking in his seat, he listened. A swish, a hiss. He turned his head and saw the slithering thing slide over the back seat. Tommy rubbed his eyes. Panicked, he yanked on the door handle, but it didn’t open. Turning his head back again, a forked tongue flickered inches from Tommy’s face.

Screeching Chainsaws.

Screeching Chainsaws

Tree didn’t know what all the fuss was about, but she knew she was the cause of it. The saga began the day the man strolled down the street in orange overalls and taped something onto Tree’s trunk. Tree bellowed at the man to stop, but he only added more tape. Twisting and writhing, Tree tried to loosen the thing for the sticky tape irritated her skin. Wind couldn’t help, as she was far away that day. Tree spoke to the birds, but they were too preoccupied as it was nest-building season.

Charlie and Mavis Bower, the elderly couple from the end of the street, paused as they always did to say hello to Tree and finger-trace the carved love heart from years ago. Tree had long forgiven the couple for this misdemeanour, as over time, she’d watched their love blossom. Seeing the taped monstrosity on Tree’s trunk caused Mavis to shriek. The birds stopped their nest-building a moment, cocking their heads sideways. They too, didn’t understand the fuss.

‘This is an atrocity. We’ll go to Council, we’ll protest loudly,’ Charlie said, trying to pick at the stubborn tape, but his aged fingers could not peel back the tape.

Alarmed, Tree tried bending her upper limbs to read the notice, but her arthritic branches lacked flexibility.

Tree pondered the situation – change was about to happen, something significant, something scary concerning her, but what? In the past, she’d tolerated the indignity of her upper branches being trimmed gracefully. This time, Tree had a spooky premonition that her life was in danger.

Later, children heading home from school scuffed their shoes through the leaves gathered at Tree’s base but did not look up and read the notice. Trudy Green, the last child to come abreast with Tree, did so. Trudy read the poster as she prepared to snuggle into Tree’s bough for her afternoon read. Her eyes scrunched tight, Trudy looked closer. She ripped the tape from the notice and crumpled it into a tight ball.

The next day, Overall man returned with another man who wore a suit.

‘I knew some greenie would tamper with the notice, but I came prepared,’ said Overall and out came his roll of tape and another poster.

Suit knelt and measured Tree’s girth. He gazed into her leafy canopy and scribbled figures on a clipboard.

Saturday was a miserable, drizzly day. Still, the crowds gathered around Tree, some carrying placards, others, picnic baskets and blankets. Many chanted and sang. Passing vehicles tooted their support. A group of children linked hands and danced around and around Tree until they collapsed with dizziness. The merriment of the crowd made Tree swoon with happiness. All this fuss for her, but why?

Charlie Bower stood in front of Tree, raised his arms, and asked for quiet. ‘My friends, good news. We will not be hearing any screeching chainsaws. In my research of city records, I uncovered a forgotten covenant that protects our beloved tree. She’ll be with us forever.’

What Else Will Be Lost?

What Else Will Be Lost?

Only the very oldest people remember a time when humans could see colour.

When asked to explain what colour is, an elderly person will talk about the vibrancy, delicateness, or harshness of colour. They’ll talk about colours blending or contrasting.

When asked to describe the form or size of this thing called colour, they become irritable, telling us that colour has no shape or size. It just is.

When asked if colour is a memory from long ago that has no further use in today’s world, like a treadle sewing machine, they shout, no, no, no! And refuse to say anything more.

‘Nostalgia,’ we say, dismissing their agitation with ease.

‘An affliction of getting old,’ we say in patronising tones.

But I am curious. It’s peculiar that fully cognisant old folk cannot explain this thing called colour. As a newly graduated journalist at True News, I decided to investigate against my editor’s advice.

‘We have to report the truth. Investigative journalism is simply a fancy name for speculation or opinions or the ramblings of those losing their grip on reality. And we no longer do that,’ my editor said.

‘You mean we have to report what we’re told are facts,’ I said.

I contacted an elderly, distant relative, Herman, under the guise that I wanted to record his life story for family posterity. He agreed to meet with me at the senior citizens’ lodge where he lives. We met on a Sunday afternoon in a secluded garden on the lodge grounds with his two closest friends, Stu and Ruby. Afternoon tea, provided by the staff, sat on a glass table surrounded by four cane chairs with blankets draped over their back. After initial introductions were made and each of us sat down, I opened my Y-Pad. I logged in. An awkward silence settled around the table.

‘Nice garden,’ I ventured. ‘Lots of different flowers, different aromas.’

‘Hmm, yes, just a shame there is no colour.’

My cue. ‘Colour? What is colour?’ The three exchanged quick glances but avoided looking at me.

‘I’ve heard that word, colour, but I have no concept of what it is. Is it something you remember from when you were younger? Something that is no longer in our world?’ All three sighed, and Herman rolled his eyes.

Ruby poured the tea.

‘Milk?’ she offered. I nodded.

‘Sugar?’ I shook my head.

Herman rubbed his hands together and cleared his throat. ‘So, lad, it’s my life story you want to hear. Best we get started, I tend to tire quickly, these days.’

‘No, sorry Herman, I don’t want to talk about your life, at least, not today. I’m curious about this thing called colour.’

Herman sighed, Stu coughed, and Ruby stirred her teacup vigorously.

Silence. The subject is taboo.

‘Okay, let’s start over,’ I said. ‘Did colour really exist?’

They nodded, then in a whisper, Ruby began to speak. She talked about the beauty of sunsets and how the brilliant colours created by the sun reflects in the clouds.

‘What I miss the most is the colours of autumn, the bright reds and oranges and yellows.’ Old Stu had a faraway look in his misty eyes.

‘And the arc of colours in rainbows after a rain shower. Looking at a rainbow, my heart would skip every time.’ Ruby, her hand shaking, sipped from her cup.

‘You know, I still dream in colour,’ Stu said. Ruby smiled.

I leaned forward on my creaky cane chair. ‘But there are still sunsets and falling leaves in autumn, arcs in the sky after a rain shower, and everyone dreams. What’s different?’

‘The difference is that colour is absent. We can no longer enjoy the vibrancy, joy, warmth, and power colour brings. Everything is the same: monochrome.’ Herman’s abundant beard shook, his face contorted with anger, and he thumped the table. The tray rattled, Ruby looked startled. Stu clutched Herman’s arm and smiled sadly.

‘Herman is so angry – that he sees red, as the old saying goes,’ Stu said.

‘Red?’

My companions chuckled at my confusion.

‘Yes, red is a primary colour, as are yellow and blue. The secondary colours, orange, green and purple, are made by mixing two primary colours.’

‘So colour is or was an object that no longer exists?’

‘No, colour isn’t tangible. It’s… um, abstract.’

‘But you could see it?’

‘Yes, everything has its own colour. Colour is still there, but humans can’t see it. Like Stu said, we oldies still see colour in our dreams.’

‘You’re saying colour has disappeared?’

‘Colour hasn’t disappeared. Rather, our ability to see colour is lost,’ Herman, a sparkle in his eyes, spread his arms wide and shrugged.

I shook my head. ‘Lost? Like misplaced? Like losing your glasses? That’s absurd.’ I switched off and slammed my Y-Pad shut. These oldies were toying with me, having a joke at my expense. ‘You think I’m some gormless, gullible twit you can trick into believing this senseless story? Things don’t disappear without a sound reason.’ I should have taken my editor’s advice.

‘Ah, but there is a sound reason. Sit down and listen. Colour began to fade, become muted, and leak out of things after the deadly virus first occurred all those years ago. Over time, the colour disappeared, and the world became monochrome from dark to pale to almost transparent. But we old folk know colour still exists because we see it in our dreams.’

‘And the reason you younger ones don’t dream in colour is that you have never experienced colour,’ Stu said, his face drawn and sad. ‘Colour was gone long before your generation were born.’

I pressed further, asking him where the colour went, and more importantly, why.

‘Some soft-in-the-head people believe that Mother Nature decided to take revenge on us humans and expunge all colour from the world because we’d trashed her planet. These doom-sayers believe that colour will never return. But this theory is rubbish. Colour is still there – it just can’t be seen in the physical world. There is no Mother Nature. No one has ever seen her, right? She’s a mythical creature, a fairy tale. The truth is elementary: booster shots.’

‘Huh?’

‘Get that Y-pad contraption of yours ready; you’re in for a long listen.’

As I tapped away on my Y-Pad, Herman talked in a steady, pedantic monotone, choosing his words carefully. He spoke about the deadly virus, Covid-19. The developed vaccines, then as potent strains emerged over time, like Delta and Omega, Gamma and Beta, the need for booster shots to combat these deadly strains. Inevitably, because each new variant was more contagious than its predecessor, the new booster shot was more robust, and people took longer to recover. Some people refused the shots. ‘They died, of course,’ Herman said rather off-handedly.

I tapped and nodded, saving my questions ’till later.

‘Our senses have been eroded more and more with each new booster shot,’ Herman explained. ‘By the third generation born after the booster shots began, the human ability to see colour disappeared.’

‘But the booster shots have controlled the virus and prevented people from dying, right?’

‘Yes, and the bonus is that we get to live to an ancient age if you can call this living.’ Herman snorted.

‘The boosters save us, but at what cost?’ Stu asked in a trembling voice. I had no answer.

‘Colour has been stripped from our lives. If we keep having booster shots, what else are we at risk of losing?’ A lone pearl-shaped droplet seeped from Stu’s eye.

A chilly wind swept through the garden. A bell rang from the lodge, and the trio, wrapping their blankets around their shoulders, stood to leave. ‘Wait, I have more questions.’

Herman patted my shoulder. ‘Think about what we’ve told you, lad. We’ll meet again next week, same place, same time.’ He tapped the side of his nose. ‘Keep this to yourself, okay?’ I did not need to ask him why.

All week, I’ve done what Herman said. I’ve thought about what I’d been told, about booster shots against a deadly virus being responsible for the disappearance of colour. But the dire consequences if people ceased having the shots – terrible illness or death, for the sake of this thing called colour, is too chilling to consider.

Having severe concerns about the soundness of pursuing the story, I considered not meeting with the trio today. I’d jeopardise my career, and the wisdom of keeping alive an absurd belief of regaining something lost is questionable, even if it had once existed. But something Stu had said kept niggling: what else are we at risk of losing?

Seated at the table in that peaceful garden, Ruby pours the tea.

‘Milk, no sugar, right love?’

I nod.

‘We weren’t sure you’d come today, lad,’ Stu says, picking up his delicate teacup.

‘I’m so glad you did come, though,’ Ruby says. ‘I had the most wonderful dream last night, full of splendid colour that I wanted to share with…’

‘Be honest with us. You have doubts about our theory, right?’ Herman leans his forearms on the table.

‘Not doubts, as such, just more questions and concerns.’

‘Shoot.’

I take a few moments to gather my thoughts, to choose my words carefully. ‘For humans to regain the ability to see colour, they need to refuse to take further booster shots.’

Herman nods.

‘So when another strain of the virus presents itself, which it inevitably will, you’re proposing that people refuse the shot and take their chances?’

‘Correct,’ Herman nods. ‘We must learn to live with the virus.’

‘And miraculously, the colour will return?’

‘Not straight away. It may take many generations before colour is restored.’

‘By which time, you and probably me will be dead, so what’s the point?’

‘The point is… The point is… ’ Jumping to his feet, Herman splutters and slashes the air with his finger. As Stu would say, Herman sees red. He thumps the table with his open hand. ‘As you’ve so eloquently pointed out, we old ones will be long dead and to be honest, at my advanced age, it makes no difference to me if a virus takes me or old age. Huh, what sort of a life do you think we have, shuffling around in this controlled environment, not listened to, not included, no use to anyone? I’d have preferred a shorter life full of colour than this long, drawn-out charade of life in monochrome. The point is, we have to act before it’s too late, before colour is irretrievable, lost to the generations yet to be born.’

‘So having colour restored to the human eye is so important to you that you’re prepared to die for it.’

‘Of course.’

‘And to sacrifice the lives of others?’

Herman does not hesitate with his reply. ‘Absolutely.’ Ruby and Stu both nod.

‘But what if you’re wrong and boosters shots aren’t to blame for the loss of colour and colour never returns?’

Herman taps his nose. ‘We’ll all be dead, so we’ll never know, will we?’

‘Top-up?’ Ruby says, tilting the teapot in my direction. With my hand, I signal no. In the silence, I feel their eyes boring into my head.

I switch off my Y-Pad, close it, and shake my head. ‘I’m sorry. I can’t support your suggestion. To condemn people to die for something lost that the majority of the population has never had, is… ludicrous and barbaric.’

Silence.

Ruby breaks the silence with her whispered voice. ‘We understand. It’s just that colour is such a beautiful thing. Let’s take a walk through the garden.’

Wandering along the well-groomed pathways through the clumps of flowers and bushes, Stu pauses, bends and sniffs a flower.

‘Why are you doing that?’ I ask.

‘Sniffing the flowers? I fear aromas will fade and disappear just like colour did,’ the elderly man replies, a look of sorrow clouding his eyes.

‘And after that, what else will be lost? Taste? Touch?’

The Messages We Preach

The Messages We Preach

Nightly, the rhymes we chant and the visions we plant in innocent heads, as we lovingly tuck

Our little ones into bed, singing the story of Insy Winsy, tenaciously placing

One spindly leg after the other, heroically climbing up the spout.

An ill fate is dealt to the spider as rapaciously rushing water washes poor Insy out.

In a world where floods are named by date and hurricanes are called Laura or Catrina.

As our most vulnerable peacefully drift to the land of nod,

Do we allude to a true dystopia?

Nightly, as our tamariki settle to sleep, the tales we recite so frightfully deep,

Like Ladybug, Ladybug fly away home, your house is on fire, and your children are all alone.

Sadly, not a word the Lady hears as with her peers, she cavorts with unsavoury sorts, thoughtlessly

Embarking on a night of revelry, tomfoolery, debauchery; behaviour so despicably dire.

Forgotten by their rotten mother, her abandoned brood are screwed,

Condemned to smother, to fry and die in that horrific fire.

What fears do we ignite?

Nightly, coaxing our young ones to the land of slumber, do we stop to wonder how the cow,

Serenaded by a fiddle-playing cat, egged-on by a laughing dog, and a mischievous spoon

Could jump over the moon; a feat the cow would’ve failed if not for the cocktail of illicit drugs inhaled.

And oh, the plight of Old Mother Hubbard discovering her cupboard to be bare, nothing there

For the dog, not a bone has she got. To the food bank, she trots, adding to the rapidly rising poverty

Rate in this compassionate welfare state – a shameful indictment in this supposed land of plenty.

Is this lying by omission?

Nightly, the falsehoods we cement in innocent heads, parroting platitudes, whilst

Fleecing Baa Baa Black Sheep of his wool, proving that black lives really don’t matter.

Jack breaks his crown in a tumble and rather than grumble, in his wisdom,

He self medicates with vinegar and brown paper – a woeful reflection of a failing health system.

Fat, round Humpty Dumpty, victimised, ostracised, traumatised, sits alone upon the wall:

What caused him to fall? a push or suicide? Splattered on the ground, poor Humpty died.

What truths are we hiding?

The nightmarish images we hide in the minds of little ones before they drift to sleep.

What messages do we preach?