Resigned to Staying

The mobile purred. A sleepy finger reached out and pressed answer.

“Thought I’d phone in this week’s postcard from afar.”

“Lee, I can barely hear you. You sound like you’re croaking it in a drainpipe.”

“Only line in town, boss.”

“Only time for one take, even then we’ll barely make the deadline. Gimme a second to start the recorder.”

A pause.

“Okay, Lee. 1-2-3-go.”

“I’m calling from a fire-engine red telephone booth. With ocean views. Mirror blue sea as far as the eye can see. Capped by iced-cream waves lapping at the shore.

My backdrop is soaring granite-walled mountains that fill the horizon, capped with marbled white snow all year around.

Beyond the phone booth, between me and the sea is a stone-edged jetty where the fishing dinghies tie up of a night. Full to the gunwales with today’s catch of slapping fish glistening in the sunset.

But this paradise is totally isolated. No satellite. No internet. Just a solitary phone booth overlooking the sea.

When I told the locals, I was a travel blogger, they bought me drinks at the local while falling about laughing. When I convinced them, they were most helpful. They directed my now lightened steps to this phone booth.

But not before opening up the markets just for me. A special evening session. Fish arrayed in booths: smoked, seared and sealed. Garnished by plates of the gathered local cuisine. I could share the recipes but that would save you the effort of making the trip. Beautifully locally brewed beers and wine to die for. And for dessert : marshmallows toasted on a stick and smeared with sweet cream.

‘Marvellous,’ I said. And told the locals of my predicament. And my decision. And again they were most kind and hospitable.

I thought of writing in this episode but the stamps and postmark would give the location away. Even if I crossed out the return address. No postcards either. Same reason.

Sorry about that.

You’ll have to make you own when you get here. If you can find me.

No holiday snaps. So no selfies either. Even if they had mobile reception: which they don’t.

Otherwise you’d geolocate me and this place would be filled with tourists crowding the locals out. Sorry about that.

So here I am, final tourist in town, pockets full of change, phoning in this poddy. This is Lee, signing off for now. And forever.”

Hard Knocks

“Three times, “ she said.


“Three?” I muttered to myself.


“Three times,” she answered.


“Then you’ll know. That’s when you up and leave.”


I’d lost track of the number of chances I’d given. Only when things were tapering off towards the end did I start to keep track. Tens, twenties, hundreds. Three would have had me out in the first few months, I suppose.


“And make sure you duck,” she said.


Next time, I thought, next time.


“Otherwise they’ll keep hitting, “ she continued.


I knew that one.


Truth was I didn’t have the ex’s reflexes. Nor did I stand back far enough. Out of her reach.


“And don’t ever hit them back,” she continued.


I never did, I started to say. But today’s lesson wasn’t revision: it was preparation.


I wasn’t even beckoning her to speak to me. She was easily reading my mind. She knew what I needed to hear before I did. And especially what I didn’t want to hear.

Welcome to real learning : the type that melts your prejudices away.


I looked closely at her. Double my age : maybe more. Never ask her age, she’ll tell you in time, she always advised me.


Adopted into a foreign family : mine. A woman who should be bent double by the years amassed. But the light in her eyes belied that assumption.


Some could think her uncouth. Certainly her language was more fruity than flowery. After all she had only managed to finish high school.


And then the maelstrom struck.


Married to a man who as she said had a magnetic personality : attractive and repellent all wrapped up in one. Who’d as she said smiled as he delivered the next backhander.


Kids, divorce, the whole catastrophe. All in a one pony country town where suspicious gossip lead eventually to a malicious exclusion. So she left. And made the life she had now.


Her eyes caught mine. I looked and realised she had been silent during my reverie.


“You’re in class now.”


She laughed at my shocked expression. I was only visiting, just came in for a word.


“Welcome to school, “ she drawled, “the school of hard knocks.”


“So, how do I graduate?” I replied tartly. “Is there an exam I can pass?”


She put her cigarette aside. Her eyes lit up. She leaned back full stretch creaking in her chair. All the better to roar with laughter.

At me.
“You don’t grad-u-ate from this school, “ she said.


“Well?”I shrugged.


“They just give you a harder test next time.”


“And if I fail?”


Her eyes lit up again. But her voice was low and serious.


“You get the lesson. Again.”


Then she started laughing, leaning back full stretch, only catching herself before she started coughing.


“Just make sure you don’t repeat another year like the last. Ever.”

The Beckoning

Five minutes? Or five months? I can’t be sure of time anymore. All I can do is listen from afar.

“I don’t know why I’m even telling you this,” she says. To the stranger over the phone.

At last it has begun. Though it is over for me.

Her hovering over me in the bedroom. Closing the curtains again and shrouding me in endless twilight.

I can see my waxen face reflecting the light from her eyes as she leans close. “Is there anything you need?” she is asking.

I hear my whispered breathing stop. Now no longer interrupted by my interminable whistle. Which bloody well annoyed her like metal scraping a frypan. Now I can’t even comfort her in that anymore.

I see her running for Dad. Down the stairs into the lounge room. Him still and silent. Him joining me temporarily in his state of suspended animation.

“So again it fell upon me,” she continues to her stranger.

I remember the phone calls. First the ambulance. I saw them brisk but unhurried. Felt them lay their gentle hands on me. Saw them again shake their heads. And her face falling apart.

Her calling relatives. Screaming at them for not posting on Facebook. There’s plenty of time for that, I thought at the time. Yell it all out at the funeral, I say. But of course, I’m silent now.

Until two weeks later. When Dad joined me. She found him caught mid-breath, remote still clutched in his clawed hand waiting for the next show. Waiting for the cup of tea, just like I used to make. That she never could of course.

As she tells the stranger on the phone.

And her life full of laid-back lawyers, bone-picking relatives and real estate agents all wanting their part. While I listened near but too far away to be of comfort.

“I didn’t even know what probate was,” she yells into the phone.

“Me neither,” he replies.

And I’m with her again. Leafing through photo albums, scrolling through social media posts, she sits cross-legged surrounded by stale clothes and dusted furniture. Every so often, she picks up a keepsake, holds it close, bows her head and weeps. As she tells her stranger.

“I’m still finding out who I am,” she says. “After all the years, I spent caring for them.”

The stranger nods. “It sounds cliched,” he says, “but there must be some silver lining in all of this.”

I see my daughter look down. I hear her breath. And as she speaks I see a new light in her eyes.

“I can never replace them,” she says. “But I can live a life that honours them.”

“That’s why we’re here,” the stranger replies.

She puts the phone down. It has begun.

And all I can do is agree and disappear.

Laughably Ever After

“Dr Twinkle?”

“Speaking.”

“Do you do weekend emergency out calls?”

“Nope. Only weekdays. And only to the Kid’s hospital. Why?”

“I need a doctor for a party.”

“Have you tried datingdoctors.Com?

“A clown doctor,” I replied.

“And how did you get my name?” she asked.

“You tried clown ties on me. In the kid’s hospital foyer.”

I heard her smile.

“Andrew isn’t it?” Her voice softened.

“None fitted,” I continued, “Though the colours matched.” 

Light laughter at that. “Nice try,” she said. 

“And you’re at the party now?” She asked.

“My daughter’s,” I whispered. 

I heard her smile over the phone.

“You’re the trainer?”

“Now a disaster manager.”

“What seems to be the medical emergency?”

“Kaylaur’s balloon party,” I sighed, “Balloons, helium, the clown ran away…”

“To the circus…” she replied.

It was then Kaylaur tapped me on the shoulder. 

“Daddy,” she said, “Why are you calling a doctor? We need a clown.”

Murmurs from the girls crowded around.

I smiled. “Dr Twinkle is a clown doctor. Would you like that?”

“Yes,” said Kaylaur.

Stifled giggles now from Dr Twinkle.

“Hmm, possible case of mass child hysteria.”

“And chronic parental guilt syndrome too,” I replied.

“Hmm, looks like your party needs a humour infusion.”

“So, you’ll come?

“Yes.”

“I’ll text you my address. And I almost forgot…You can make balloon animals?”

“That’s my specialty. I can bend and twist them into any shape you want.”

I had to catch my breath at that. Luckily no one noticed how flushed I was when I hung up. 

“We have a clown,” I said.

Everyone cheered and clapped and stomped.

And that’s how Dr Twinkle saved Kaylaur’s birthday. She stayed afterwards to ensure I made a full recovery. And that’s how we lived laughably ever after.

Book Meet

Buff notebook, fine point pen.

A grubby dog-eared novel more well-read than me.

“Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. I’d already made sure they had a spare.

All I had to do was wait. I kept my head down. The only sound I could hear was the scratching of my pen on paper.  I was meant to be making notes. But I was making doodles that only a shrink could understand. 

Every so often I reached out, pinched a page between my fingernails. I had to. My hands were too wet. Each time I would shake my fingers and palms free of sweat. And every so often the pen would slip out of my hand. 

I tried not to listen to my breathing.  

He’d already missed the first meet. If he didn’t make this one, the fallback, we’d have to put out an alert. 

I’d chosen my position carefully. Chair and table backed by a reflective glass window. So I couldn’t be seen from the street.

Bookshelves to my left where pensioners glided like ghosts leaving everything untouched.

In front of me, teenagers at reception jostled, emptying and refilling backpacks. 

Another quick look. No nameless face caught my eye and stared that microsecond too long.

No couples speaking with mismatched gestures and words. No one hanging around looking falsely lost waiting that minute too long. 

There’s nothing to worry about, I thought.

Besides there’s no need nowadays. That was my cue. I looked up. There was a black globe glowering at me from the ceiling. CCTV. 

I smiled to myself. It didn’t matter anyway. What we were about to do was so innocuous, so innocent that it couldn’t possibly arouse suspicion.

Unless he doesn’t turn up. Or makes a scene and botches the meet. 

I quickly looked at my watch.  Your time starts now, I said to my nameless contact. A twelve minute window to make the meet. 

A few eternal moments later, I heard soft footsteps. I kept my head down.  

A rustle of paper announces my visitor. “Excuse me,” his voice purrs, “was this seat ever occupied?” 

Perfect. The game is on. 

“Not by me,” I muttered back. 

Swiftly I see my notebook moved. And replaced by a beige A4 spiral notebook. 

Wait a moment, I thought. That’s the confirmation? 

Then Moby Dick disappeared. Replaced by Jane Eyre. A copy in worse shape than mine : Charlotte Bronte with a broken spine. 

Too late for outs now, I thought. Even if he’s sky written his intention in mile-high capital letters. 

I swapped back both notebook and novel. No deal pal.

 I heard the sharp rasp of his breath.

His copies disappeared.

His footsteps quickened and faded away. 

Beep-beep-beep. The librarians picked him up before he could ever escape.

One for Each Pot….

“One for each person,” she thought she heard.

“And one for the pot,” the whispered reply.

Yes she thought. You again.

She turned her head away, the easier not to hear.She stood on tiptoe, stretched up and opened the kitchen cupboard. 

“I could’ve done that for you,” he said.

She shook herself off. She reached high, levered up a saucer, scrabbled at a cup, caught it before it slid off the hook and brought all gently down to the bench. 

Again? She thought.

“One for each person.”

“And one for the pot,” his whispered reply.

No, she mouthed silently.

She lifted open the percolator, turned on the tap and filled it.

One cup. she said to herself.

She opened the coffee bag. Carefully spooned out enough coffee. For her. 

“One for each person,” he whispered.

Not Again? She thought. Surely he would know by now.

“And none for the pot,” she said to herself.

She turned on the stove. 

Then she felt his tap on her shoulder. Cold.

She slammed the percolator down and caught it just in time. She whirled. She brandished the percolator at him.

”Give it up will you,” she said aloud. 

Clitter-clatter, she heard.Not that rattle, she thought. 
The cupboard doors sprung open.

She dodged and deftly ducked her head underneath.

She turned and shook her head again.

Another cup and saucer floated to the bench. 

Not the bloody teapot, she thought. 

An ugly squat misshapen John Bull teapot rose, circled and landed like a dragonfly on the bench. 

“One for each person,” he whispered.

“And this one is for the pot,” she finished.

She snatched up the tea pot and turned to face the cupboard.

“One…”, he began.

But before he could say or do anything, she turned back.

She stepped away from him. She stamped the garbage bin foot lever.

And in one movement, threw the teapot in.

“Plenty of tea on the other side,” she said as it shattered.