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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?

Lonely Teardrop

Lonely Teardrop

Crowds mill around the caravan court, inspecting the special deals on offer. Deafening rock music plays. Salesmen sporting bright Hawaiian shirts and shorts circulate amongst the groups, flashing tooth-paste-advertisement style smiles as they engage customers in a discussion.

‘Best deal you’ll see this side of summer.’

‘Make holidays to remember.’

Tantalising aromas of sizzling sausages waft from b-b-q’s outside the sale office. Over-large umbrella’s shade people sitting at picnic tables. Munching free sausages, tomato sauce oozing out the edges of the rolled bread, they flick through glossy pamphlets.

Returning from the Saturday market, Lizzie wanders through the balloon festooned entry gate. Her shoulders ache from carrying two bulging tote bags. A sit-down will do me good, she thinks.

‘Mind if I sit here?’ Lizzie asks a woman with grey curls poking from beneath her straw hat.

‘Not at all. Annie, and this here is Alf.’

‘Lizzie.’ Easing the bags from her shoulders, Lizzie perches at the end of the seat.

Alf smiles at Lizzie. ‘You want a free sausage? Annie and I never say no to a free lunch.’

‘No thanks. I just need to rest a bit.’

Alf springs to his feet and steps towards the nearest b-b-q.

Lizzie thumbs through a brochure, stopping at a page near the back.

‘Oh, I’ve always fancied a cute caravan like that.’

‘Ah, a Teardrop. Alf made ours, a sleek wood finish. He’s clever with his hands, is Alf. You’d love our Woody. We had such fun on our trips away. We’ve not used it for years.’

‘You don’t go on trips anymore?’

Annie scrunches a paper serviette in her hand. ‘No, it’d not be the same. Our granddaughter always came with us, but our hearts just ain’t in it since her passing.’ A lone tear trickles down her cheek.

On returning with his sausage, Alf sits beside his wife, grasping her arm with his free hand.

‘Understandably. That’s pretty tough,’ Lizzie stammers.

A Hawaiian shirted salesman appears. ‘Ma’am, interested in the Teardrop? Good choice, very snazzy. It’s your lucky day, only one left at an exceptional price (flashes toothy smile). Let me show you,’ and he tugs Lizzie’s arm.

‘I’m coming too.’ Alf grabs Lizzie’s tote bags and follows the pair to the far corner of the caravan court, where an unpretentious green teardrop caravan sits alone. Hawaiian Shirt flings open the door. ‘Isn’t she a beauty?’

Alf clambers up the steps and whips out a tape measure. First, he measures from the floor to the ceiling and shakes his head. Measuring side-to-side, Alf tuts. Finally, he measures from front to back. ‘Oh, no, that’d never do.’

The salesman glares at Alf.

‘Great sausages, mate,’ Alf says, swallowing his last mouthful.

‘Ten per cent discount, today only. But for you, pretty lady, I could twist the bosses arm and get him to fifteen per cent.’

Annie peers around the door. ‘Lizzie, Woody deserves a new owner, and you’d be perfect.’

‘An exceptional offer,’ the voice calls to the three retreating figures.

A Grand Old Dame

A Grand Old Dame.

When the old man died, our bones trembled. The night he died, the wind howled menacingly, and the rain lashed relentlessly. Torrents of water surged through our exterior. The ceilings and floors puddled, and water dripped down the walls. The smell of the disturbed, dampened earth penetrated our soul. The storm on the promontory harassed and battered throughout the night, but this once stately house had with-stood many similar onslaughts and won. With our protector, the old man dead, we face a new fear – the fear brewed by bureaucrats.

We are battle weary. The scars cut deep in the brick foundations, and the gouges in our bruised weatherboards ache. The verandah posts lean and limp precariously. Will this be our final battle? Is the war lost?

Foundation worries that his rheumatic stricken knee joints will cease to have the strength to keep us upright, and we will collapse in a heap of rubble. Staircase bemoans his twisted spine, his contorted discs and sciatica troubling his hips. And I, Attic bearing the brunt of the storm’s temper – the brutal slaps and kicks and headbutting, lost a sheet of skin in its furry. The resident spiders weave tirelessly as if their flimsy silken threads can replace my lost skin and, thus, protect us against the elements. I don’t need a stethoscope to tell me we still have a pulse though the beat is weak.

Three town hall suits donned in protective helmets came nosing around the day after the storm, poking at our walls, picking at dry-rot in the window frames, scribbling on sheets of paper.

‘A safety hazard,’ said one, slapping a yellow sticker on the door.

‘Demolition,’ said another.

‘Development opportunity,’ said the third.

The girl from long ago arrived the following day and tore the sticker from the door. The girl, now a woman, flopped on my dampened floor. ‘Oh, what is to be done? Look at the state of this grand old lady. In the name of my grandfather, I simply won’t allow it.’ Our collective pulse quickened.

As a girl, the woman had filled our then sturdy walls with shrieks of laughter and merriment on her frequent visits. On one such visit, her quick action had saved us from a fire when an unattended lit gas ring caught a tea towel alight. Is she again, about to rescue us from the cruel clutches of death?

A crew of workmen came, peered beneath the floors, and shook their heads. They proceeded up the stairs, rattled the bannisters and shook their heads. They looked into the gloom of the Attic, looked at the sky through the gaping gap, and shook their heads.

‘What do you think?’ the woman asked.

‘No can do,’ said one.

‘Beyond repair,’ said another.

‘Best you hire a bulldozer,’ said the third.

The woman pleaded; she demanded. The workmen paused and tapped a calculator. The woman smiled and shook their hands.

The workmen returned today. Restoration has begun.

‘A grand old dame,’ said the woman.