I am in awe of Madeline Munro, A.K.A Mad Maddy, the newcomer to our year twelve class at Aspiring Academy. Disowned by her father, an esteemed government official, for her ‘scandalous behaviour’ resulting in expulsion from two previous schools, Maddy lives with her spinster aunt. With rope-like Rasta hair, cut-off overalls and chunky Doc Martens, and a passion for dirt bike racing, Maddy, unapologetically, stands out. We witnessed her prowess in martial arts the day Tough-guy Tauntington foolishly provoked her. In a lightning flash, she floored him with an expertly executed move.

Everyone is wary of her. But I, Nathaniel Norton, the captain of the debating team, a drama club member and school magazine editor, revere Maddy. As the token scholarship student in our year at this prestigious school, I am an outsider like Maddy. Except, I’m not at all like her. She wears her differences defiantly like steel-plated armour.

Mr Hudson scrawls our next paired writing assignment, a fantasy story, on the whiteboard. The perfect opportunity for me to speak to Maddy for the first time. After all, what could be more fantastical than Nerdy Nat working with Bad-arse Mad Maddy?

In front of Maddy’s desk, I shuffle my feet, ‘You want to be partners?’


‘The fantasy writing assignment. Do you want to be my partner?’

Maddy shrugs. ‘Whatever.’

I glance theatrically around the classroom. ‘It’s not like anyone else has asked you.’

‘No one is rushing to ask you either. I guess we’re stuck with each other. I loathe fantasy. Fairy tales are lies told by adults to trick kids.’

‘Fantasy is not just fairy tales. Fantasy can be dystopian like alternative worlds, where there are struggles against oppression, leading to revolutions and wars, reflecting the real world.’

Maddy’s eyes glimmer. ‘Action and gore and death, that’s more like it. Let’s write a dystopian story.’

‘Let’s not. Everyone wants to write the next Hunger Games or 1984. If we write something old-world with a utopian vibe, our story will stand out.’

‘Like you and I don’t stand out already?’

‘Not me. I’m invisible.’

I continue. ‘Our story will be about a tribe of little people like in Gulliver’s Travels who live in a network of underground tunnels in a magical forest.’

‘Where the trees walk and talk, and beetles which live in caves emerge as dragons at dusk breathing flowers, spreading love.’

‘That’s brilliant.’

‘I was kidding.’ Maddy folds her arms and sinks lower on her seat.

‘I’ll write the first part tonight.’

‘Suits me.’

‘Maddy, do you want to hear what I’ve written so far?’

Maddy shrugs.

Opening the notebook, I read. ‘In a time long ago, in the far-away mystical forest, lived the peaceful Immortals, a tribe of minuscule people, no taller than the wild daisies growing in the woods. The Immortals lived in tunnels and maintained the health of the forest. Beetles who lived in caves transformed into dragons at dusk. Known as Beegons, these creatures breathed not fire but sweet-smelling flowers. The trees wandered across the forest floor on their broad trunks, chattering and laughing.

In a nearby valley flanked on all sides by snow-covered mountains lived another tribe of tiny people, the Disgruntles. A disagreeable people with upside-down mouths and back-facing ears, the Disgruntles had, over time, destroyed many neighbouring kingdoms. They deployed an army of vicious vultures who attacked from above and venomous vipers who invaded the land. On demolishing these noble kingdoms, the Disgruntles absconded with valuable treasures. But no matter how much they acquired, the Disgruntles remained disgruntled. What point was there having all these treasures but a limited life span to enjoy them? Seeking everlasting life, the Disgruntles turned their attention towards the peaceful forest, towards the Immortals.’

‘What do you think?’

‘Not bad. The Disgruntles will attack the Immortals and demand the everlasting potion, but will the Immortals outsmart them?’

‘That’s up to you.’


‘Since you like the action stuff, you write what happens next.’

‘Can’t. I’ve a dirt-bike practice, and writing isn’t my thing.’

‘You can do it, Maddy. Throw in as much blood and gore as you wish. Have fun.’ I hand her the notebook.


‘Okay, here’s what I’ve added.’ Maddy clears her throat. ‘In the darkness of night, the Disgruntles marched to the edge of the enchanted forest. They carried the vipers in baskets on their heads. Bows were slung across their shoulders, and quivers with needle-sharp arrows hung on their backs. In a kettle above, the vultures flew, ready for attack.

On arrival, the vipers were released amongst the trunks of the mighty trees. Slithering across the forest floor, tunnel entrances were quickly discovered and entered. Screams of horror and pain erupted from within the tunnels. The Immortals staggered from their havens. Some needed to be carried in a comatose state, while others bore bloodied wounds. The circling vultures above spewed great chunks of vomit, coating the trees. The trees howled and wailed as their highest most branches drooped and withered with the slimy syrup trickling through the leaves.

The Beegons emerged from their caves, breathing sweet-smelling flowers, on hearing the commotion. A clanging sound filled the forest as a fine metal net dropped from the claws of the vultures and covered the woods, trapping every creature within. The Beegons fell to the forest floor, covered in flower petals.

Encircled by the Disgruntles, the Immortals embraced each other in confusion and fear, ‘‘Give us the potion for everlasting life,’’ chanted the Disgruntles, stretching back the strings on their bows.

‘‘Everlasting life cannot be given to another, for it is within us,’’ spoke the chief Immortal.’

Maddy closed the notebook.

‘What do you think? Enough action?’

‘You said you couldn’t write. That’s awesome. Vivid and tense, with a clever twist.’

Maddy’s cheeks tinge with a red glow. ‘Thanks. Let’s forget the story for now and ride through the bush. I’ve got a spare bike.’

‘No thanks. Dirt-bike riding isn’t my thing.’ I take a sip of my syrup.

Maddy scowls.

‘What is that concoction?’

‘This? A magic potion made from wild berries.’ I try to lighten the mood.

‘Yeah, right. What is it really?’

‘A syrup made from berries that my mum drinks to relieve her M.S. symptoms. In her words, it’s magic.’ I shove the syrup and notebook into my backpack.

‘Your Mum has M.S? That sucks. I find a ride helps me forget the sucky stuff in life. How about it, Nat? C’mon, you can do it.’

Reluctantly, I agree. Maddy hauls the bikes from her aunt’s garden shed. She straddles her bike and zooms off. I swing my leg over the bar and start peddling, gripping the handlebars tightly. Bouncing along the narrow, bumpy track, I wobble. Thin branches flick my face, the bush becomes darker, and I lose sight of Maddy. I career down a hillside with a sharp bend at the bottom. Maddy, standing on the edge of the curve, screams. ‘Brake!’

My feet slip from the pedals, a gnarly tree root jerks the front wheel sharply, and the handlebars are wrenched from my grasp. Maddy grabs my backpack as I race past. The bike crashes to the ground. As Maddy and I fly through the air, silvery tree branches brush against us. Our bodies become coated in a suit of armour. The notebook flutters from the backpack, and we land within the book’s pages. Our armour jangles loudly as we crawl onto the forest floor from the book.

Surrounded by tiny people with upside-down mouths and back-to-front ears pointing bows and arrows at us, we spring to our feet.

‘What’s happening?’ Maddy whispers.

‘We’re in the story. Think quickly.’

‘Who are you, and where have you come from?’ A disagreeable voice speaks.

‘We’re the Formidable’s from another world. We’re the keepers of the magic potion for everlasting life you desire.’ She grabs the syrup from my backpack.

As the chief Disgruntle reaches for the bottle, Maddy whips her head around. A hank of her rope-like hair wraps around his neck. She tugs tighter. His eyes bulge.

‘Throw away your bows and arrows and free the Immortals. Remove this net, tidy up the mess on the trees and restore this forest to its glory.’ Maddy says.

The Disgruntles throw down their bows and arrows and instruct the vultures to clean the slime and gunk from the trees. The Beegons emerge from beneath the flower petals and comfort the Immortals.

Maddy disentangles her hair, releasing the chief. ‘File past me, and I will sprinkle you with the potion.’

‘No, give me the bottle.’

‘For the potion to work, the syrup must pass through my magic fingers.’

As the last Disgruntle files past, an Immortal reaches for the bottle. ‘What is this stuff really?’

‘A magic potion for everlasting life. As a peaceful people, the Disgruntles will never attack your kingdom again.’

‘We both know there is no such thing as a magic potion for everlasting life.’

‘Ah, but if we believe it, it is so.’


“What’ll we buy, Nana?”

“Shoelaces.” My Nana tugged my arm tightly as we hurried along the country road early in the morning to catch the soon-to-be-departing bus.

“I know, but what else?” I persisted as we climbed onto the bus.

“Just shoelaces.”

I knew we’d buy more than just shoelaces. No one ever took the bus trip of thirty minutes to the bustling metropolis of Westport just to buy shoe laces. I was sure my Nana would buy me, her number one driftwood gatherer, a treat, a surprise that she was keeping to herself for now. I fidgeted on the bony bus seat until Nana turned her steely gaze on me, and I stopped.

This shopping excursion was a welcome change from the usual daily routine at Nana and Poppa’s in the small wind-blown coastal village of Granity, where they lived.

Nana cooked on a wood stove, fed on driftwood collected from the beach. My job was to collect and stack the driftwood in the old tumble-down garage.

I spent hours scouring the beach for pieces of driftwood for that stove. This wasn’t an inviting beach, not a beach to explore or frolic on. The wind blew relentlessly, and the massive waves crashed with frightening force. In winter, it was extra blustery and bitterly cold.

Sitting in the corner of the kitchen was a gleaming new electric stove brought by Nana’s four children a few years earlier, but Nana stubbornly refused to use it.

“It’s just a waste,” she’d say. “A waste of electricity, and nothing tastes as good cooked in that new-fangled thing.”

“How do you know?” my Dad retorted. “You’ve never used it.”

Nana became teary and walked away in a huff. My Dad didn’t persist, and I continued to collect the driftwood.

Dad and I visited his parents every winter. Nana and Poppa lived in a modest wooden house near the beach, which wore the ravages of the harsh wind and frequent storms over the years. There were always repair jobs for Dad to do when we visited.

Poppa had been a coal miner all his life. He and Nana had emigrated from Yorkshire to the West Coast with their young family forty years earlier. Years of hard toil had affected Poppa. He stooped a little more every year and moved a little slower. He was a quiet man who liked playing harmless jokes on people, like when he glued a half-penny on the concrete step at the back door. On seeing the ha’penny, Nana bent to pick it up. She became frustrated when she couldn’t budge the coin. When Poppa began to laugh, she knew she’d been duped.

“Harry, we don’t have ha’pennies going spare for you to go sticking on concrete steps for one of your silly tricks,” she admonished before stomping inside.

That half-penny remained stuck to the step for many years and tricked many others but none as good as Nana.

My Nana was of small stature. At ten, I was already half a head taller than her. She was as thrifty with her words as with her pennies, and everyone felt her presence. Her tightly curled grey hair was captured in a hairnet, the type most people only wore to bed. On her stick legs, she wore grey woollen stockings and black, flat sensible shoes. Nana had one going-out coat. She’d had this coat since immigrating. “It’s still as good as the day I brought it,” she’d proudly say. And except for a few moth holes and an array of different buttons, it was. The coat completely smothered Nana’s small frame. A pair of thick glassed spectacles framed her tiny scrunched face, and her piercing blue eyes spoke louder than any words behind those spectacles. Nana became more and more taciturn as the years passed.

On reaching Westport, Nana and I crossed the street from the bus stop at one end of Westport’s main street and entered the haberdashery. Finding the shoe laces she needed, Nana went to the counter.

“That’ll be 3d,” the young assistant smiled at her.

“3d,” Nana exclaimed. “Are you sure you’ve priced them correctly?”

“Yes, ma’am. The price of those laces is 3d,” the girl replied, a slight blush rising on her cheeks.

“Hmmm, I’ve never paid that much before,” Nana complained as she counted out her three pennies.

“Will there be anything else?” the girl enquired.

Without replying, Nana gathered her bag and purchase and left the store.

I struggled to keep pace with her fast march down the street. “3d, 3d. Daylight robbery, I call it.”

At the other end of the street, we entered a shoe store. Nana spied the exact same laces. “How much are these?” she demanded of the young shop assistant.

“2d. How many would you like?” the young man inquired.

“Harrumph.” And with that, Nana left the store, leaving the young shop assistant holding the shoe laces, a look of confusion on his face.

Back down the street, we marched.

“Where are we going now, Nana?” I asked, hoping I’d get my treat, the surprise Nana had planned for me.

“Back to the haberdashery, of course.”

Entering the haberdashery again, she thumped the shoelaces on the counter. “I’ll have my money back, thank you.” Those piercing eyes fixed on the quivering assistant.

With her 3d tightly clutched in her hand, we again left the haberdashery and returned to the shoe store, my hopes of a treat quickly fading. Nana brought the 2d shoe laces and triumphantly left the shoe store.

Waiting at the bus stop, I ventured to ask Nana a question.

“Why didn’t you buy the cheaper ones the first time we went to the shoe store, Nana? It’d have saved us two trips.”

Fixing her steely gaze on me, she replied, “But then I’d have spent 5d with no guarantee of getting my 3d back.”

“We’ve probably used 3d’s worth of wear on our shoes,” I mumbled.

Post-script: Years later, when living in London, I went to the Kensington Flower show. As well as all the floral displays, many retailers sold gardening-related paraphernalia. A burly chap who I picked straight away to be a Kiwi stood by an enormous stack of driftwood of various shapes and sizes. He explained that driftwood had become a fashionable garden accessory for the pocket-sized gardens in London’s leafy affluent suburbs. He shipped container loads out from the West Coast and was making a killing with it. He held up a twisted, tortured piece no more than a metre long with an eighty-pound price tag.

“People will pay that?” I said.

“They sure do, and more,” he chuckled.

If Nana had looked down on me that day at the Kensington Flower Show, she’d have turned in her grave.

Where Are the Yellow Shirts When You Need Them?

Where Are The Yellow Shirts When You Need Them?

Weary from her flight, Louise Brooks gazed out the taxi window. Flimsy shacks constructed from packing crates, plastic sheets and corrugated iron lined each side of the road. Horns tooted, brakes squealed on the congested highway, and drivers swerved sharply to avoid colliding with another vehicle. Overladen small trucks, nifty motorbikes and scooters, crowded, beaten-up Jeepneys constantly stopping.

Her son’s words of warning seeped through the cacophony of the bustling street. ‘I fear for your safety, Mum. The Philippines is a poverty-stricken country with a high crime rate. It’s not safe for foreigners, especially middle-aged white women.’ Louise had agreed with her son but didn’t tell him so. Instead, she replied with her typical bravado.

‘I’ll be fine. I know how to take care of myself. I always have.’

Now alone in this taxi, a nauseous feeling rose in her throat. What had she got herself into? Alone in this place, far from anywhere or anyone she knew. Why she persisted in portraying herself as being this tough nut, unafraid of anything or anybody, Louise could not fathom. In reality, she was fearful most of the time. Why hadn’t she listened to her son, listened to her own inner voice?

Sinking lower into the seat, Louise rubbed the pounamu fish hook she wore around her neck, her fiftieth birthday present from her children. ‘It means prosperity, good health and safe travels,’ her daughter had told her.

‘This is your hotel,’ the driver announced, pulling into the car park of a grey-block building, ‘Cebu Central Hotel.’

In the early evening, deciding to find somewhere to eat, Louise sought directions from the hotel receptionist, who suggested a nearby open mall. A drizzling warm rain fell, and Louise’s thin wrap-around skirt, quickly becoming damp, clung to her thighs.

Unsavoury odours assaulted her nostrils. Scrawny, sniffing dogs brushed against her legs. Beneath a bridge, bodies wrapped in thin blankets crouched around small fires. Louise shuddered as the fear she’d felt in the taxi returned.

Someone tapped her shoulder. Spinning around, she was faced with three bedraggled children. One imitated eating while another reached towards Louise’s orange tote bag slung over her shoulder. ‘Please, ma’am, we’re hungry,’ their eyes pleaded. Louise hurried on, a sob rising in her chest.

On reaching the mall, she chose to eat pizza. Inside the brightly lit Yellow Cab Pizzeria, away from the bustle of the street, Louise began to relax. Pizza boys in yellow shirts and black caps with a cloth insignia cheerfully greeted and served the customers. Louise sat by the window, slung her bag over the back of her chair, and waited for her order.

A heavy-set man and younger woman entered and sat behind Louise, only to hurriedly leave moments later, closely followed by a yellow-shirted pizza boy. The boy jumped on his motorbike and sped off. Louise observed that, oddly, the boy had no pizza boxes. Her order came, and she began to eat.

Soon the bike returned, screeching to a stop. The boy rushed into the restaurant, had a garbled conversation with his co-workers and then came to Louise’s table.

‘Ma’am,’ he said. ‘Where is your bag?’ She swivelled around in her chair. Shocked to find no bag, she desperately looked under the chair. Her bag was gone. A look of horror clouded her face.

‘Is your bag an orange cloth bag?’

Louise nodded.

‘Come with me.’ The boy led her outside into the mall.

Under the dim light, three security guards pointed antiquated rifles at the pair from the restaurant.

‘I got them,’ the pizza boy gushed. ‘I got the crooks. I ran them down on my motorbike. They target older western ladies, like you, in our restaurant. We watch for them, and this time, I caught them.’

The young, scantily dressed woman looked to the ground. ‘It wasn’t me. I didn’t take your bag. Please take pity, Ma’am.’

The man, an angry expression on his heavy-set face, remained silent. Defiant. A crowd formed a circle around the crooks and the security guards. Louise reclaimed her bag from the pavement and frantically checked the contents – phone, wallet and passport intact. A police car entered the mall and parked haphazardly. An excited exchange between the pizza boy, the security guards and the two policemen ensued.

‘We’ll need a statement,’ the burly policeman barked. He opened the back door of the police car and beckoned Louise to get in. Then the two crooks were bundled into the car on either side of her. Squished between the suspects, Louise tried to quell a feeling of unease. Where was she being taken, and could she trust the police? How would she get back to her hotel in this unknown, jumbled city?

With the siren blaring, the car wove recklessly through the heavy traffic as the ructions of the city flashed by.

The man, scowling, pressed menacingly against her bare arm and muttered words she did not recognise – Cebuano, perhaps, the local dialect. Clinging to Louise’s other arm, the woman bleated her litany of innocence, ‘Please ma’am, seven children to feed, seven children who need me. Please, take pity.’

The police station, a small, wooden building, contained two desks, a few chairs and one ancient typewriter. Two other officers playing a game of cards greeted their colleagues before returning to their game.

One policeman led the man and the woman away.

‘What will happen to them?’ Louise asked.

‘Locked in the cells for the weekend, then processed on Monday.’

‘Oh, goodness. What about the woman’s children?’

The policeman shrugged and wound a piece of paper into the typewriter. ‘Name?’

Louise answered.

‘Date of birth, country of residence, your reason for being in the Philippines?’ The policeman rattled out his questions, and one finger tapped the keys on the typewriter.

‘We’ll need an address for the court notice.’ Louise gave her new school’s address.

‘Wait here,’ he said to Louise, pulling the sheet of paper from the typewriter.

‘Photocopies,’ and he dashed into the night.

One of the card players chuckled at Louise’s puzzled look.

‘Photocopy shop down the street. We don’t have our own machine,’ the officer explained.

Upon the policeman’s return, Louise signed her statement in triplicate.

‘You’ll be contacted when the case comes to court.’

Driven back to her hotel, Louise’s first night in Cebu was finally over.

Two months later, in a stuffy city courtroom, Louise Brooks sits waiting for her case to be called with her visiting son. Victims and accused are seated side-by-side on hard wooden benches. They wait for two hours before the judge arrives. When Louise’s case is called, the prosecutor establishes that the defendants have absconded. The judge stands and addresses Louise. He apologises sincerely for the crime committed against her.

‘Although you have suffered this unfortunate incident, I can assure you that our city is friendly and law-abiding. For the remainder of your time here, you will be safe.’

Louise Brooks will live in Cebu for the next three years and become the victim of two more bag snatches. Unlike the first bag snatch, she will lose all her belongings. Phone, wallet and passport. Where are the yellow shirts when you need them?

What the Neighbours Saw

What the Neighbours Saw

Up-chuck, chunder, vomit, throw-up, spew, call it by whatever name. Fiona moaned deeply as another splurge of vile fiery red liquid projected into the handbasin in her friend’s upstairs bathroom. Her body shook, and her eyes watered. Fiona clasped her head in her hands and stared into the soup-like swirling mass, a psychedelic carnival. Kernels of corn from yesterday’s fritters, slivers of orange carrot and chunks of red capsicum from tonight’s green salad, and pale and dark polyps from the bean salad floated and mingled. Fiona thought of minestrone soup and heaved again.

Fearful that the basin, now three-quarters full, would overflow, Fiona desperately stabbed at the plughole with the end of her toothbrush. She plucked out strands of puke and flicked them out the open window.

‘You okay up there?’ Her friend’s voice from downstairs.

‘Yep, all fine.’ Pluck, flick, moan, heave.

‘You need some help?’

‘No, all fine.’ Pluck, flick, moan, heave.

‘You don’t sound fine.’

Fiona admitting defeat against the tide of the angry red whirlpool now lapping the ring of the basin wailed, ‘You’re right. I’m not fine. I need help.’

‘This is so embarrassing,’ she whimpered to herself. ‘I’ll never be invited back.’

Before her demise, the evening had begun with a large tumbler of home-brew beer, a particularly nourishing, refreshing beer. While eating dinner, Fiona and her friends Ellie and Seb consumed a couple of wines, a couple of bottles of wine. The camaraderie sizzled and popped until Fiona had suddenly bolted upstairs.

Seb joined her in the bathroom, peered into the basin and gagged. ‘Oh, jeez.’ He clasped his hand over his mouth and quickly left. Fiona heaved again but ejected nothing more than a long, pitiful moan. Seb, brandishing a plunger returned.

‘I’m so sorry, I can’t remember when I last chundered. Pretty ghastly, isn’t it? I can identify everything I’ve eaten over the last twenty-four hours. See the red bits that’d be … ’

‘Not helping.’ Ashen-faced and with sweat forming on his brow Seb repeatedly dunked the plunger into the soup. His upper body moving rhythmically up and down, up and down. Slowly the soup seeped away.

That evening, Herb Green and adult son Steve, visiting from Britain, two doors down the street, relax in side-by-side outdoor baths on the deck.

‘Pure bliss, don’t you think, son?’

‘Sure is pretty special, Pop. The sound of waves crashing on the beach, stars glistening above and a bevvy in hand; the epitome of peace.’

Father and son, each lying back, rested their heads at the end of their separate bath, soaking up the tranquillity.

Bert sat up and peered around with a puzzled look on his face. ‘You hear that?’

‘A person moaning?’

‘Yeah, and it’s coming from there, Seb and Ellie’s upstairs bathroom. There’s a blurry shape in the window.’

‘What do you reckon is happening?’

The moaning continued. Father and son kept watching, listening, their mouths agape. The silhouette of another blurry shape appeared in the window and began to move in a thrusting motion. The moaning became softer.

Herb chuckled as he reached for the bottle of beer.‘Well, I’ll be damned. Didn’t think Seb still had it in him.’

The following evening was the weekly Friday nights get together at the Greens. Neighbours dawdled in with platters of food, cans of beer and wine.

Ellie introduced Fiona to the gathering and then sat next to Herb Green. ‘Last night, I had the best sleep I’ve had in a long time,’ she told him.

‘And why would that be, Ellie?’ He gave an exaggerated wink.

‘When I went to bed, I told Seb that tonight was treat night.’

‘Nice, and Seb obliged?’

‘Sure did. I knew Seb would be watching the squash on TV, and not wanting to be woken when he came to bed, I asked him to sleep upstairs.’

‘Oh, I thought you meant something else.’


‘Steve and I heard and saw it all while we were taking a soak in the baths, the moaning, the thrusting. You put on quite a show, the pair of you.’

‘What are you talking about, Herb?’

‘Oh, come on, Ellie. No need to be coy about it. Does a relationship good to spice things up a bit. I’ve heard about couples doing it on the kitchen table, so why not against a bathroom cabinet. Seb certainly has some stamina, and going by the moaning, it sure sounded like you enjoyed it.’

Ellie laughed. ‘Oh, no, that wasn’t me in the bathroom. It was my friend Fiona.’

‘With Seb?’


‘And you’re okay with that?’

‘Sorry to disappoint you, Herb, but what happened in our upstairs bathroom wasn’t what you thought. Let’s just say, Fiona suffered from Seb’s home brew and a few too many wines and Seb had to come to the rescue with the plunger.’

‘My version of events is way more entertaining.’

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.’