Andrew James Whalan

Poet Blogger Writer

Two Souls

A kiss. A heavy unmoving kiss. Like my first : open mouthed and no movement. Which flowed over me.

I woke a little. I drew a breath. I held it. I threw up my arms. I pushed her away.

She didn’t want me. I wasn’t interested. I had other fun. Now all I could feel was soft down. Under a heavy weight. Then I couldn’t breathe.

But rather than the suffocating dark, I could see all of the basement. And smell its smell : antiseptic mixed with sweat. And her still over me, pushing the pillow flat over my face.

My car, her car now, washed and waxed last by me, was parked off to one side. Tools, another computer never to be assembled, motherboards, network and graphic cards, hard drives, memory cards and floppy disks were scattered across my bench against the front garage door. At the back, arranged in a circle, a new sofa-bed, a hairdresser’s chair, a table and the dentist chair. In the middle, on a raised table, cleaned and ready, sat the tattoo machine, ink wells ready for another day customer.

I hated the dentist drill whine it made. My ears, first, then my jaw, all hurting as if ready for another root canal. She made sure that each morning, her electric pen woke me up, clientele or not. Hence the industrial strength earplugs. Which is why I had heard nothing.

The sofa bed, extended and unmade, blanket over pillow. And me under it. Never to be woken. Unless…

“State your case!” The voice came from behind me. From the white light from where I had reemerged.
“Who are you?” I asked. Silence ruled the afterlife it seemed to me.

“Your testimony must proceed followed by our consideration and then any actions or sentence will be sanctioned or pronounced. This process will take some time”, belled the white light’s voice.

“I remember being told that in a previous life,” I snapped. “I just want to get on with this, get it over and done with. I want to make sure she pays for what she has done to me!”
“I want revenge,” I said, “Revenge for what she did to me.”

“And what would that be?” The sound enveloped me and the basement. Yet there was no echo.

I recalled my past. First the angry words, the hefty blows, the affair. The creation of an open marriage. Open until I was caught out! She said that if she can’t keep me where she wanted me then no one could! And this night I left her furious. I don’t know what provoked her. I turned around and her face was red. Her pupils were dots again. I stepped back quickly. I tried to stand beyond arm’s length. But I was too slow. And she did it again. She windmilled her fists at me. I tried to demonstrate but couldn’t.

I waited until she fell asleep. I left her in front of the TV. I walked quietly, no stomping when you’re angry remember, into the bedroom. I shut the door, got my nightclothes on, put away today’s clothes and prepared tomorrow’s.

“Isn’t this the next life?” I asked, “Isn’t this something you should already know?”

“Indeed that is true. But as Ghost Guardians we cannot let anyone back into the previous life unless they have a valid case!” There is no humour in the afterlife it seems.

“Isn’t revenge enough?” I replied.

“Under the appropriate mitigating circumstances,” was the reply.

“Which are?”

“We are asking the questions here,” they intoned.

I nodded. Although I didn’t have a body to do so.

“Why are you asking me this? You should know. Now can we just get this over and finished with. Let me do what I need to do.” I was furious.

“Have you considered forgiveness?”

“Forgiving her?”, I expostulated.

“Yes.”

“Are you, are you…After what she did to me!” I said.

“It would easier for all concerned,” they replied.

“You know this as well as I do. She has stated so that she would never forgive me nor accept my forgiveness.” I was turning out to be a better lawyer in the afterlife than before.
“Would that be appropriate and thus mitigating circumstances then?” I concluded.

“Indeed. You may proceed. But we must make you aware of the overarching and constant consequence of being granted revenge!”

“Which is?” I replied.

“That you forfeit your eternal soul to us until she relents!” Which was no different than in the previous world!

“Revenge once granted allows you freedom of action. You may haunt, appear as a vision, you may even speak to her, speak to others, appear or disappear at will, even rearrange or reanimate objects. All within the constraints we set. In the meantime, we ask that you show the proper respect for due process.” said the Ghost Guardians.

“And if she doesn’t relent?” I replied.

“Then she and you are both doomed for eternity!”

“She will never relent, she will never forgive,” I replied. “But you know her soul better than I ever did.”

“Perhaps if you spoke to her?”, the Ghost Guardians said gently. And their voices were like silken music.
I nodded again. Perhaps two souls for the price of on

And now I’m lying on the bed under that pillow waiting for her to stop killing me so I can start gently haunting her back to another life.

 

 

Bullied into Silence aka the Bastard Problem

The phrase “being bullied into silence” has started occurring in the Same Sex Marriage debate, often emanating from the No camp.

Here is my response…

Only bullies complain about being bullied into silence because it’s the exact technique they use to bully others!

As soon as they are questioned or confronted they say they are being bullied. Their very actions are meant to provoke. So an angry response is what they want! But even a question or a rebuttal evokes the same response. Then they say they are being bullied.

Or as I call it: the bastard problem.

The bastard problem: assume everyone else is a bastard, treat them as such and keep them underfoot.  And when they resist or respond, they’re a bastard, they’ve proven themselves so. Substitute the word bully for bastard…

So ironic to see what happens in public replicate my own experience in private. As asked last week about how bullies start, I replied without thinking, “They practice first at home!!”

 

Secrets by the Sea

I always choose my words carefully
Even more so as you listen to me 
But somehow silently now suddenly 
I see my secrets have drifted out to sea.

As a witness now my thoughts unfurl
My secret privacies untangle and uncurl
Confidences once kept in fear by me
Now freed soar high above the sea.

And because you listened to me
My silent secrets once solitary
Are calling and beckoning to me
As they climb beyond the sky and sea.

But I realise now that previously,
All else I I kept hidden and close to me.
And now I've told you we both can see,
Yet another secret has drifted out to sea.

So dimly I discern
Perhaps there might be
A sanctuary of safety
For me and my secrets by the sea.

 

When the Rainbow Opened My Eyes

My niece got engaged yesterday to her partner. Now my brother has two daughters instead of one. I’m joyful for both as they’ve found that love is love is love. But it took me a while to understand…

For I must have lived in a sexual vacuum. Growing up I never even knew what homosexuality was. Then in my teenage years, the epithets cat and poofter were bandied around.

I still didn’t know what they were talking about.  It sounded bad so I wanted no part of it. I didn’t even know about heterosexual sex!!

Then later, at university, I discovered what homosexuality was. And decided it wasn’t for me. And paid no attention to it. Even in the Catholic Church it wasn’t mentioned at all.

And so I slumbered happy in my ignorance.

That was until I joined a Pentacostal church.

When it happened, I was working in Sydney, away from home. I working back as there was a huge amount of work to be done. But I couldn’t work more than forty hours so I finished early on a Friday. So when we had drinks of a Thursday, of course I would hang back.

And I started talking to one of my workmates. And he freely admitted that he was gay. And I was so confronted I kept talking to him!

And then he told me what he did in his spare time. He was counselling and assisting people with AIDS. Remember this was the nineties when the prognosis was almost always pessimistic. And my immediate thought was that’s where I’d find Jesus, ministering to the modern-day lepers.

For the established church has a poor record of ministering to minorities : women, homosexuals, sexually abused, etc, etc, yet it is those people to whom the gospel is preached. Sometimes I think they’ve missed their mission by the length of heaven!

That was Sydney. Then I went back to Brisbane. And listened to the worst sermon ever (See When Will There Be Rainbows in Church?)

And since then I’ve met others, a man who was a mentor to me, a lesbian couple who were like an old married couple, a man through university who had been  in a long-term relationship.

And I couldn’t tell the difference between their love for each other and my love for another.

And then my niece (now engaged) came out. Which was a joy and blessing to everyone, for she had found out who she was.

And surprisingly, they’re not pedophiles, nor totalitarians wishing to impose their values on others.

Just people living their lives, trying to find happiness, same as you and same as me.

And dear reader, before you condemn homosexuality and same sex marriage, follow my path, meet them for themselves.

And then make up your mind.

 

Political Insults? Been There Heard That!

As a writer who was in a verbally abusive relationship for many years, the current political climate is rather familiar.

Funnily enough my main reaction to both is the same. It’s not being offended at being insulted.  After the initial six weeks (in a relationship) or fifty years (in politics), I become bored…

  • Socialist
  • Communist
  • Stalinist
  • Marxist
  • Snowflake
  • Bed wetter
  • Leftist
  • Do-gooder
  • Social justice warrior
  • UnAustralian
  • Latte drinker, etc.

And much like being called a creep, bastard, wanker, an apostate (had to look that one up as I was not studying for the ministry), oversensitive, etc, I have the same sense.

That the standard of political sledging has slipped: to the same level experienced by those in abusive relationships!

Insults on repeat.

And similar to sport, my prescription is the same.  We need to raise the standard see Australian Institute of Sledging?

For I do prefer, the insult that make me laugh. The one that makes me think.

Not the one that makes me nod off. Been there, Heard that.

I’m a Trainer and All my Icons are Disappearing

http://www.geekfreeconsulting.com.au/uncategorized/im-trainer-icons-disappearing/

Daddy Tick Tock

3:06am. He’s crying. The father groggily wakes and looks at the digital clock on the bedside table. The shrouded corpse far across the bed doesn’t move. He hears the seconds dripping.

3:05am. He’s still crying, even if time has ticked backwards. Confused at first, he realises it was 3:05 then 3:06. But the last three hours sleep? Gone in an eye blink. He’s still crying.

And once his other eye opens, the real day will begin. Post the forced wake up, yesterday’s washing must be hung out, snack for breakfast, shower in between, shave while not being cut by an unsteady hand, the new washing hung out to dry, perhaps most of last night’s housework, then the final reluctant rush to work. She’ll sleep through. And the son too.

Maybe a deep sleep on the bus might save me, he thinks. Yeah! But that’s some hope! Then nine hours of bobbing his head up and down with the interruptions and interrogations every minute or so. Selfish people with trivial wants, urgent phone calls or exaggerated crises. Then he’ll tank ten cups too much of coffee. And on the way home, he’s as jittery as Methuselah the bus driver.

And silently, as a burglar, he enters the empty house of no welcome. A kitchen of bowls, cups, saucers, baby bottles, plastic spoons and congealed saucepans. The lounger with scattered clothes both clean and dirty to be gathered, or worse. Somewhere in the fridge, there is a covered dinner of leftovers. Usually his only friends are the freezer, the microwave and frozen pizza.

He slips hopefully unnoticed to visit to his son. As he creeps through the hallway, she’s there. The mother of their child, back to the nursery door, wordless and childless, a pillar of salt with eyes blazing.

He draws close. He takes the usual half step backwards. Then he pushes down the door handle and skips into the open space. If he’s quick, he’ll glimpse his son. Some days he doesn’t make it that far.

“Perhaps this is the day,” he says to himself. “The day when St Thomas finds out who his father really is.”

There he is, in yesterday’s dirty jumpsuit. A covered head, a small contorted face, dolls hands protruding. “My son?” he thinks. He reaches to touch the arms stretched each side of the cot. He stops his breath to listen to the whispered intake of another’s. But she steps inside, blocks his way, steps into him and shuts the door.

“I didn’t disturb him,” he soundlessly whispers. But the standard admonishment is always administered.

Then the flight back to the kitchen, the clothesline and the laundry. Undresses himself in the dark, and slips unnoticed into bed. To sleep wakefully.

3:06am. He checks. Yes they are now both awake. Dreamily, he finds a small mercy. That cry isn’t the endless one-note scream. He forages for the proper definition: a night terror?

A terror shared both by father and son. For nothing can wake her.

If it was that one-note call from hell, it would be okay. He would be at battle stations ready to repel demon boarders. He’d sprint in the dark. He’d take a nanosecond to snatch the child from cot. Forget about unlatching the cot side. Leave that for later. He’s stolen the baby. For then there’s the piercing shriek that dissolves them both. Then that hour long second to pass inconsolable baby to consoling mother. Then silence. Then the bottomless ocean of post pregnant sleep. Which only subtracts a little more from him.

It’s the mummy cry, he recognises. Not to be confused with the daddy cry. Perhaps that doesn’t exist, he thinks. It might if fathers could become pregnant. No it’s the natural order of things, he muses. But it’s still wrong.

“How can she sleep through this? It’s her cry, not mine.” Perhaps a few more moments and she will wake…

He dunks face first into the first pillow, then smothers the back of his head with the other. He turns over and in on himself. He binds himself in his blanket. And he sets a imaginary alarm. She’ll wake this time and there will be peace for all.

Eyes half open he watches and sleeps. The pile of blankets to his right doesn’t move. She’s going to sleep through.

3:07 He’s still crying. Was there a minute of sleep? He can’t remember. In the dusk, the wall of sheets and blankets opposite is unclimbable. But a small gap, might be enough. If he gently disturbs her, she’ll softly wake, yawn and stretch, hear her baby, go to him, St Thomas will be comforted.

And it will be like the old joke. Now we all can get some sleep. That’s the punchline but what was the joke? He scrabbles across and meets two pillows, one on top of another, pressed down under the blankets. He could burrow through but the danger of course is real. For once awake, there will be the usual set-to in front of the baby.

Yet again it’s come to this, he thinks. Maybe this will be the time, when he’ll be lulled to sleep by his father. And know it.

That would be a welcome addition. Then St Thomas will know he’s not a baby napping stranger. Or an absentee father practising for the future. Knowing that, we both can sleep, peaceably, however long that takes. With his mother grateful for the sleep won.

Now, he’s the reproached lover who has started the long walk back. He approaches the cot, walking on the sides of his feet, approaching unheard. But he’s caught out again, even before unlatching the cot. Same as last night. Same as yesterday. Same as the last three months. Or four?

Through the cry, he hears rustling. He looks back. Blankets, sheets and pillows have flown upwards and outwards. The mother, dishevelled, now a phantom. She strides quickly towards the nursery. He’s too tired to shrug off the blow. He never did duck or flinch before. In case you’re wondering , he rehearses, the mark is shaving rash. That is, if anyone asks.

What is she doing? She’s plucking her head. Pulling her hair out? She’s pulling at her ears. Two or three snatches then, two bright objects appear. She throws the earplugs to the floor.

She bares her white teeth and snarls. “Why didn’t you wake me?” Most of that is lost as St Thomas screams even more loudly. She gathers the child, still robed in her blanket and departs to her queendom.

He’s left standing there, too tired to rub his cheek. He thinks, it’s too late to go back to sleep. But too close to dawn to get up. Same and again.

One happy addition, as they say, but all subtractions from now, he thinks. Twelve weeks, two days out, now, isn’t it? Or is that when mother and child came home? Twelve years after that. Then the six or so teenage years. Chained in a land he will never understand.

3:11. He’s crying.

Write, Rewrite, Then Don’t Rewind : Writing Out Loud #4

I paid my money didn’t I? I should be able to take my choice then?  No, not when NYC Midnight have their flash fiction competition.

One thousand carefully chosen words,  a genre, a scene and an object chosen at random. Forty Eight hours to write it.

And on Saturday 15th July, the email arrived. Genre: Ghost Story, Scene: A Basement, Object: A Tattoo Machine.

I had to find out what a tattoo machine is, didn’t I?  That was the easy part.  A quick Google search and I found one.

I even listened to recordings of tattoo machines. Which reminded me of the dentist’s drill. That at least ended up in the story. But after listening to that, there was no way I was going to be inked in the name of research.

But me? A ghost story? My first reaction was:  I haven’t written any. I was wrong. I’ve written two. One fact. One fiction.  Still I researched my genre. And read some ghost stories, some great, some indifferent. And brought to mind my secret love of Edgar Allan Poe.

But a basement. I really don’t know what to do in a basement…Self doubt occurred early. But I persisted…

I scrabbled and scrambled for thoughts. Then came the flood of nefarious ghost-like events. I wrote them out. Then…

I revised what I had written. And threw it all away. Somewhere, somebody is looking at my lost notes and saying, “I wouldn’t write that either.”

Then the premise arrived. The idea was a ghost requesting permission…But I won’t add to that otherwise it would spoil the story.

And I wrote it. And I was pleased with it. But there was a problem…

The rewriting. The last time I wrote a short story (The Great Blow), I went on a re-writing frenzy. Eight or nine rewrites until I could take it no more.

This story (called Ghost Tattoo) was rewritten about four or five times.  I only realised it when I posted it on the competition forum. Some of the feedback was similar. And when I read the story, I realised they were right. A few more rewrites…Still when I receive the judge’s feedback, I will rewrite it. And post it. And learn my lesson. Otherwise I will have to take the test again!

 

 

 

 

Duel 2 : Me versus Truck

Up ahead, in the twilight, two traffic lights turned green. The first traffic light meant that the two cars ahead of me moved forward. Towards the bridge : now single lane as it was under repair. The second traffic light was across that bridge. Waiting to go across was a semi-trailer. I can still hear the sound as it blew its horn. I can still see its searchlights switched on. I can still remember it start to cross the bridge. Against the lights.

I was tired. I had worked back. I had taken the long route home. I had forgotten that the narrow bridge at Maclean, north of Jimboomba in South-East Queensland was being extended. With the only one lane open filled with an oncoming truck.

The two cars ahead quickly pulled off to the side. The cars banked up behind me stopped. The truck sped up towards me. I had perhaps fifteen seconds left.

I couldn’t go forward. I couldn’t move to the side, the two cars had left no room. I couldn’t reverse, the cars behind me were too close. I was in the only space left. I had ten seconds until the truck either went around me or through me.  And he was speeding up. It was me versus truck. I briefly thought of abandoning the car like the movie Duel. Except Dennis Weaver didn’t have an LPG tank in the trunk.

I did the only thing left. I clunked the Holden HQ’s gear into reverse. I remember the whine of the engine. I looked forward for the truck. And backward along the road. I was reversing the car around the queue. On the truck’s side of the road. But that’s where I was now anyway. But I did know that not far behind me, the road widened. Hopefully there would be a space for me. I didn’t know how many seconds I had left.

I can remember thinking, I don’t know why at the time, the word “Angels!” But by then the truck had roared past me. I had found a space.

I had to wait an extra fifteen minutes as I was now at queue’s end. It didn’t bother me. I sang instead. I rather enjoyed it.

Post Script : I wrote about the incident in a letter to the editor to two of the local newspapers. Both published me. I also took the other way home.

Why I Write:Writing Out Loud #3

If money is the measure of success, as a short story writer and poet, I have little chance.

So why do I turn up? Why do I fill notebooks with words? Then copy and rewrite it in Evernote. And then again into Scrivener?

I now know I’m borrowing a talent as it were, but that doesn’t explain my motivation to write. Especially when the story or poem is demanding to be written.

Why do I do this?

Much like a poet who expresses those thoughts best unsaid, the author, Natasha Lester answered for me in her blog Success as a Writer: What Does it Mean? Understanding.

And she speaks for me. I was joyfully surprised by the feedback I received for the Great Blow. I wrote a poem called The Unravelled Heart , then attended a meetup. Two people had read it and they understood.

But the first time I really found out why I write occurred when I wrote a story called Medicine Woman.  A few days after publishing it, I received an email containing the French phrase, “On Ne Peut Sauver Celle Qui Ne Veut L’etre.” My school French could not suffice and I googled the phrase and also checked with my French teacher friend.

The phrase meant, “One cannot help those who cannot help (themselves).” Which is what the story really was about. Which is why I really wrote it.

Which is why i write.

 

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