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.

Meeting the Mother in Law

In the middle of Australia’s same sex marriage plebiscite,  a hair colourist has a heart-felt awakening.

“Meeting the Mother-in-Law,” the nail-polish label said. She held it up. And it suited her. Although it didn’t quite match her hair.

I looked away and resumed lipstick scrabbling. I was happy caching my favourite shades: Dark Plum, Faded Pink, Pale Honey. But I could feel her eyes on me. Waiting.

We were completely alone in the cosmetic section of David Jones : Melbourne’s largest department store. White counters and mirrors. By now we should have been surrounded by  cosmetic consultants immaculately made-up and coiffured whispering in seductive tones.

She tapped me on the shoulder. I jumped back a half step.

“Excuse me,” she said, “Would this suit me?”

I smiled. I nodded. Then I thought: I know her. I’ve seen her before somewhere but I don’t know where. Maybe on TV as an extra in a commercial.

“Do you think you could get me the matching nail polish?”

I shook my head. “I don’t work here,” I said softly.

Time stopped. We looked at each other, waiting for the other one to speak. This is the first time, I thought.

“Although it does suit you,” I said turning professional. “You’re an Autumn. Green eyes, fair-pale complexion.” She was a photograph brought to life; one I would never dare touch up. Apart from the hair.

She smiled and her eyes caught mine and it was all I could do not to disappear.

“Thank you,” she replied.  “You’re a stylist, aren’t you?”

“No. I’m a hair colourist. Or at least I’m studying to be one.”

We swapped introductions: Tennille meet Ally, Ally meet Tennille. And before she left I managed to give her my business card. And I tried to think nothing of it. Which wasn’t easy . Because every minute afterward drifted for days.

A week later, I was checking the salon appointment book. The usual regulars same time same day same shade of grey: blue, purple, pink rinses. And another name, familiar yet unfamiliar. Could it be? I felt a twitch : like static electricity.

All that day I was a child again waiting for Christmas midnight so I could open the presents. I rushed through the rinses from Toorak and South Yarra gabbling agreement as they poured out the trivial tribulations to me.

Except for one subject: the upcoming vote: Australia was deciding whether same-sex couples should marry. Nearly all of them were against it.

Except for one old biddy who whispered, “You know it isn’t right.”

I suppressed a sigh. Not another one, I thought.

“Everybody should be with the one they love.”

“Yes,” I said more strongly than I expected. Up until then, I’d ignored the media cacophony. Too many people arguing and calling each other names. Besides I had to keep up my classes: four days a week.

Then Ally appeared. I felt a small spark go through me. I took a deep breath and turned professional. Make the customer comfortable.

But it went all weird. We’re trained to get the customer talking. We even practice it in class: role plays listening to each other during the customer service module.

But I told Ally everything. About home: a one pub town in central Victoria. My move to Melbourne. The little bed-sit in Fitzroy. Coffee even how the weather is different.

She laughed at that. Her laugh was like bellbirds in spring. Instant joy to anyone who heard it. And that smile that made dimples in her cheeks. Which drew my eyes to her mouth. I didn’t know why then.

And as her eyes danced, she asked me, “What do you think I do?”

“You’re a social worker,” I blurted out. Another laugh.

“You’re psychic aren’t you?”

I shook my head and explained. It was a game I played with my clients: matching their occupation to what they wore. Usually it was easy: pensioners, well-off retirees, executives were obvious. But some were more challenging: except social workers who dressed dowdily to fit in with their clients. Although I’d never tell Ally that.

“So how did you know?”

“The pashmina,” I replied.

“Our insignia,” she laughed again.

“And what does this social worker do?” I asked.


She dropped her voice.

“They need to be listened to. It’s important that everyone can be heard.”

I felt a thrill of electricity pass through me. She’s opening up to me. Really listening.

“Like customer service training?” I ventured.

“It’s more than that,” she replied. “They need to feel that we’re standing where they are.”

I nodded.

“Like you, I’m still learning. I’m studying a Master of Counselling. Four days a week.”

“And out-of-hours?” I ventured.

She dropped her voice and whispered. “I’m an activist.”

And then it knocked me on the head. That’s where I’d seen her before. On TV. Campaign for Yes advertisement. Spokeswoman for Same Sex Marriage.

“And you?” she asked.

“I’ve already decided,” I said.

“Like most everyone else in this area,” she replied.

“But quietly,” I said. “Otherwise my friends and relatives won’t ever talk to me again.”

She nodded knowingly.

Which meant she must be…but she didn’t say. And despite that, that was the moment I fell for her.

I tried to stop myself. I’m a girl, I said. She’s not a boy. Thank God for that, I thought and laughed to myself.

Relating to boys was like talking to prisoners through a glass wall: fear, anger, revenge: all the symptoms of misogyny.  But all boys felt awkward, fumbling and overbearing. Unlike girls. Only thing was I had done nothing about it.

She became my regular client and secret love. Every few weeks, I’d practice what I’d learned on her. And it was fun. She was open to new ideas and easy to work with. I felt like she was my forever client.

She’d tell me about her studies. She didn’t treat me like a dumb hairdresser. More like a professor or a tutor: an equal. And any dumb questions I had, like the psychology she explained. I learned from me. And applied it to my more difficult clients.

As Ally said, “If we could all listen, really listen to each other, we’d understand and there might be peace.” Which described how I felt when I was with her.

Still I kept telling myself: this is only a friendship. You’re overfeeling things I said. Until I found myself replaying her words in my head. Seeing her face in my dreams. Hearing her laugh. That smile, those dimples and that mouth. And her hair: now red, vibrant and defiant: a perfect match for Meeting the Mother-in-Law: the lipstick and nail polish she always wore.

But any time I asked her about her private life, she answered, “I haven’t got one.”

“And you?” Ally asked back.

I shook my head. That night after class I went home and cried. She and I were going nowhere.

The following day, I thought, I’ll put off her next appointment. I’ll set her up with one of the other girls. Maybe Muriel: she’s more experienced than me. But I couldn’t even pick up the pen to change the appointment. And when I did, the phone rang.

“Yarra Hair,” I said. It was Ally.

“Tennile, I need your help,” she said. “An emergency appointment.”

I pencilled her in the book.

Friday night and the last appointment.

“Tennile,” she said as she made to leave, “I feel so dowdy. None of my outfits suit me. I look like a business casual slacktivist. I need your help. Will you go shopping with me?”

I nodded a little glumly as I locked up the salon. She had a date and needed my help, I thought.

“We need to apply what you’ve learned on me,” she said provocatively.

And I did. Dress ups with my best friend. We wafted through Melbourne’s high couture establishments: trying on and swapping outfits. And I made sure I used everything I had learned from her to eventually convince her: as an Autumn she looked fabulous in russet red or olive green. Not the washed-out whites, greys and mousy browns she tended to favour, I added.

And loaded down with shopping, she said to me, “What about a drink?”

I agreed and we lugged our shopping four flights of stairs to a silent bar somewhere in Swanston Street. Her and me squashed in a booth drinking cocktails while an acoustic guitar strummed love.

“Now we can share secrets,” she began. I caught my breath. She had set all this up, so she can administer the shock.

“You first,” I said hesitantly.

“You know I’m gay,” she began.

“I..I thought you might have been. But you don’t look…”

Ally laughed. “I’m straight-passing. Often have to turn down unwanted…”

And this was the shock? I should’ve drawn myself back. But inside I was secretly delighted. My beautiful counsellor was finally opening to me. Perhaps what she had taught me had finally found a use. And the peace that came with that was the perfect calm.

“Unlike me.”

“I’m sure there are many men who would love to get together with you.”

“Talking to guys is like yelling through glass. My lips move but they can’t hear anything. In the end I gave it away.”

“Took a vow?” she said leaning closer to me.

“Gave up awkward,” I replied.

“Like now?” she was even closer.

“No,” I said softly leaning in.

It was then the music stopped and the barman stopped by.

“We’re closing up,” he said.

“But..but this is Melbourne,” Ally replied.

“Sorry love.”

And with that we found ourselves on the street calling an Uber home.

Hers came first.

So, it was on the corner of Swanston and Collins Street, she said goodbye.

“What about the weekend?” I asked. She shook her head.

“I have to go.” And then she leant forward and kissed me goodnight. I made sure I kissed her back.

“Yes, Yes, we won, we won!” The day of the vote and we were clustered in front of the TV while the results rolled in.

New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania all voted Yes. Even Queensland!

Champagne corks popped. Popcorn scattered. And then Ally disappeared.

To the bathroom, I suppose. But I wasn’t prepared for the surprise she had for me when she returned.

For she started waving her fingers concert-pianist style, eyes shining. All I could see was a red blur.

“What’s this, Tenille?”

“Umm, new nail polish,” I said.

She nodded, smiling, hopping from one foot to another. Until she stood still.

I looked down at her fingernails. Red, defiant and vibrant: Meeting the Mother-in-Law.

I reached forward and took both her hands in mine.

“Let’s do this,” she said. And we did.

Not the Naughty List

“Get back to work,” a fat voice bellowed.

Sherry Wintersleigh yawned, stretched her arms wider and opened her eyes.

“What, what, what,” she began.

“He’s always like this,” whispered a passing elf.

“But Christmas is…,” Sherry said. The shadow standing over her shook his finger at her.

“You heard what I said,” bellowed Santa. “On your feet.”

“Finished,” whispered Sherry as she stood. Santa scowled down at her.

“Well, ho, ho, ho,” he replied. “To the mailroom. Now.”

“But, but…” said Sherry as she uncurled her arms and rubbed her eyes.

But by then Santa had gone.

“Better hurry,” said another passing elf.

So many passages, so many corridors, so many wrong turns, Sherry said to herself, as she wandered, only occasionally lost now through the North Pole.  

Until finally she found it. Mail Room. She tried the door handle. It turned and clicked but didn’t open. She looked up. There was a handwritten sign that said, Press for entry.

She pushed the door bell.

“Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells,” the door chorused.

Christmas is so over for you now, she thought.

She opened the door, pushed aside a Santa sack which and stepped inside.

“Glad you could make it,” said a friendly voice.

“Alabaster,” she said. She couldn’t see him for the room was filled, floor to ceiling with Santa sacks. She pushed another sack aside to see better. It fell to the floor with a gentle bump.

A wizened grey elf was crouched over a trestle table. His face flickered. Santa’s administrator. She heard scratching and leaned forward to see. He was writing.

The candle next to him sizzled. Sherry jumped.

“What, what, what,” Sherry began.

“Sit down, and I’ll tell you,” Alabaster said.  

Sherry crept forward, bumping into and stepping over sacks, pulled out a folding chair and sat opposite.

“All these letters,” he gestured around him.

The mail was late this Christmas, Sherry thought to herself.

“Are from children who,” he paused.

Sherry leaned forward.

“Don’t believe in Santa anymore,” he finished.

Sherry looked down at her hands. Oh no, she thought. Not the Naughty List.

Alabaster looked up and smiled.

“No, not the naughty list at all. An opportunity instead.”

He held up a letter.

“We write back to them. We tell them the truth.”

Sherry gasped. The Naughty List was now starting to look like the best job at the North Pole.

“What, what, what do we tell them?” Sherry whispered.

“That the person who gave them the present works for us. And yes sometimes they get gift-giving wrong. But only you can make it right. By giving love and joy and peace until next Christmas day.”

Sherry stood up, clapped her hands and shouted for joy.

Alabaster pushed a pile of letters, a pen and pad towards her.

Sherry began writing.

Laughably Ever After

“Dr Twinkle?”


“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?


“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.


An ink-stained manuscript materialises before her.

Through the mist, she sees him.

Crouched, pen-poised a man is waiting, frozen in time.

His pen rises, falls, sweeps down but doesn’t touch the paper.

He sighs. She sees two hands rise towards her.

“Nothing. Still nothing.” He throws his pen down on the desk.

She leans towards him and whispers : still unseen.

“Write,” she says.

He leaps from his desk, his chair falls back. She glides to safety.

“My muse!” he exclaims. ”You have arrived at last.”

She almost groans in his face.

She holds back a sigh.

“They always, always, call me that, “ she thinks.

“Still you have to go with it. He’ll find out in time.”

Desk reoccupied, she watches silently.

As if guided by a hidden hand, the pen dips and writes.

“Shiny, silver,” appears on the page.

“Shiny, silver what?” Her voice in his head. 

“A saucepan,” he whispers.

“Old or new?” She asks.

“Old,” he smiles, “Scratched and weatherworn actually.”

She sighs. “Perhaps if I turn down the temperature, the blood might start flowing headwards”, she thinks.

“Write that,” she says.

The pen dips and words appear.

“Clean or dirty?” she asks again.

“Cold and greasy,” he replies.  

She reaches her hands down to box his ears…invisibly.

“This makes no sense,” she says.

He nods his head. “Yes it does.”

“Write,” she says.

“She reached into the cupboard and retrieved a shiny, silver saucepan. She held it up and looked affectionately at its scratched and weatherworn lid. She reached inside and withdrew her hand. ‘Cold and greasy,’ she said to herself. A sweet and pungent aroma filled the air.”

He looks up expectantly.

She scowls but he paid no attention. “I could absolutely scream,” she thinks. She draws a silent breath…

“What’s the problem? Where’s the tension?” She asks insistently.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?”
“No, no, no, NO,” she says.

He half-rises from the chair. He looks around, eyes alight.

“Let me,” she whispers.

She reaches for the pen.

“I’m the writer, you’re the muse, I’m in the flow, leave me alone.”

His hand curls round the pen. Her hand covers his.

The pen twirls, twists and finally falls with a clatter on the desk.

She throws her hands up in despair. 


The pen twitches again, stands tall and leans nib touching the paper.

“I’ll leave you now,” she writes. “But don’t expect me back. Ever.”

A flash of light fills the room. He wraps his arms around himself and shivers. Slowly his face contorts.

“She’s gone, My muse is gone.”
He lets out a shrill and piercing scream.

“Ghost writing was so much easier on the other side,” she says as she wafts away unseen.

Extenuating Circumstances

“I need you to divorce me,” she said.

As soon as I saw her I knew she was right. I needed me to divorce her.

Although in truth I there could be no thought of remarriage. Not even a Reno remarriage. Even if Nevada was well over a day’s flying away.

The crushing humidity set all thoughts aside. The future harbinger of another tropical storm: all future hope forgotten.

It was her purple kaftan that assuaged my doubts, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, wafting like a spell: gossamer, light, wispy, translucent.

Yes indeed, your Honour, I am but a humble witness.

Lady Godiva length straight black hair. Beads encircling her neck. Flowers in her hair.

Objection sustained. Yes your Honour, I’m expressing a personal view: such evidence wouldn’t be admissible.

But every time thereafter I dreamed of her, and I awoke fully ready, she had flowers. In short, your Honour, she was the full free-range dress rehearsal hippie chick.

Now obviously I’m not Perry Mason. I’m no oil painting. A bespoke forgery more like it, hatched out with a paint-knife in the dark.
Putty-nose, red-wine veined cheeks, beer gut on the overhang, that’s me.

But I can dream. And I did. I’m a divorce lawyer, right. It comes with the job.

And respectfully I submit to your Honour, that these form the extenuating circumstances of my submission.

If I may be permitted to address the jury, I will set out the background for my testimony.

Members of the Jury, divorce ‘74 Australian-style would be the reality TV show that would never be made. Before the Family Law Act of 1975, divorce was difficult, in all practicality impossible.

While there were grounds for divorce, your Honour, members of the jury, you needed lashings of cash and eternal patience.

And if you had neither those nor the inclination, much like what would be required for a renovation of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, well, my advice was simple and straight. Look the other way.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not the glamorous Hollywood divorce lawyer.

You see my clients often wanted to divorce on the quiet. Considering their other occupations. They didn’t want the publicity.

Although a bit of notoriety would’ve helped my business. But this is Australia. And while Zsa Zsa Gabor nor Elizabeth Taylor, could have graced my books, the law would have ensured almost complete secrecy.

Truth is, your Honour, men and women of the jury, us divorce lawyers way back then were a real mongrel breed, if you’ll forgive the salty language. Part clerk, part private investigator, more than half rogue. Like our canine counterparts we had diversified into other areas: criminal defence, civil suits and conveyancing.

Nowadays, it would be fill out the forms, witness the affidavit, file the paperwork and all things being equal, see you in twelve to eighteen months. Then the lovers walk away into the sunset, their current co-habiting abode or the registry office.

And now having provided the necessary background, let me resume, my description of my client.

Her long spindly spatula fingers stretched and caressed the humidity of my poky office. She turned slowly as if she still hadn’t found the right dress at the bridal boutique.

I followed her every movement waiting for her to continue. She could take as much time as she needed. Or as much as I did. Yes I put to you that I am sometimes far too easily led by a pretty other.

That spell was broken when Lyn burst in. She broke the moment, shattered what could have been. Damnable Lyn, legal secretary to the stars, now breathless and sweating, her cotton dress clinging closely to her.

Yes, your Honour, in response to your objection, I will rephrase my testimony: my legal secretary was glistening.

Meanwhile my client-to-be had translated herself elsewhere. A place cool and serene. For she had no sweat on her. As a good witness, I looked, twice in fact, in truth thrice, just to make sure.

“I’m sorry,” Lyn began. “I couldn’t stop her.”

Then her lips silently mouthed, “I didn’t see her come in.”
“Sure,” I thought. “I’ll handle this,” I said.

I waved her away.

“But what about…” Lyn began.

“Reschedule them,” I replied.

Lyn gave me that special look. The one combining contempt and ridicule. Which stayed until my then-sainted but yet-to-be martyred secretary took a closer look at my client.

Now my secretary, so she tells me, is a God-fearing woman. She tells me so often that I stay at arm’s length from here and well beyond.

I looked. I stared. For Lyn had turned into Lot’s wife. Salt white, then charcoal grey. Her hand rose high out of the corner of my eye.

Lyn’s eyes had rolled back in her head. She opened her mouth to scream. But nothing came out. Then Lyn snapped in two and ran.

Last I heard was the glass in the frosted glass office door rattling fit to fall out. Then the slam of the door.

So much for Lyn.

During all of this, my new client had stayed serene. And in that time I had managed to take, well may I say a more professional look at her.

Now that I recall the circumstances, your Honour, there was a kind of sheen around her. She outshone the shadows that should be cast from my venetian blinds. She outshone my spluttering fluoro lights. I reckon she would have outshone the sun had I opened the window. But Brisbane ’74 had the standard sweat-swapping humidity melded with a temperature just below the century that day,.

Now that I recall it, it was like she was back-lit all the time. Now, yes I remember, now that I’m under oath, I would in fact put to you, that when she turned, she cast no shadow at all.

I motioned her to sit on my gun metal grey office chair. And again, she didn’t sit on that chair. She floated above it. But oh so demurely, your Honour.

“First I need to take down some personal details.” I buzzed Lyn.
“Excuse me, I need to get my secretary.”

I strolled past my Lady Godiva and opened the office door. No Lyn. Run off with the fairies? I couldn’t say. It wasn’t until later that I remembered. It was as if someone didn’t want me to recall…

“It’s just you and me then.”
I opened my office filing cabinet, pulled out a form and a yellow legal pad.
“What’s your name?”
“Moon Starlight,” she said.

Well that’s easy then. A name like that would be easily enough found in the registry. Except there would be the inevitable snickering from the clerks.

But a bottle or two of Johnny Walker’s Red Label would fix that. Anything in a brown paper bag, even money, would pave the way in those days.

I continued.
She wouldn’t say.
“Up from Nimbin? Byron Bay maybe? Mullumbimby?”
She shook her head. I caught her eye, stumbled and nearly fell into them.
Her real address, I heard her say, somewhere far away, perhaps not of this earth at all.
My unwilling unsharpened pencial scratched out the details. Separated: of no fixed address.

“What’s the name of your…” I began.
Her hand had already placed the photograph on my desk.
Black and white: passport size. One look at that photograph was enough for me. I had been played.

Your Honour, I these were extenuating circumstances indeed.

The passport photograph of the missing Lord L. Famous fugitive, nanny killer and failed murderer of his estranged wife. Darling of the tabloids. As you would well know, Your honour.

Even here in Brisbane, every time I opened the Tele or it’s then nemesis : the Courier-Mail, I saw his face.

Leering out at me.

The world’s most wanted man. More sightings than the Scarlet Pimpernel: England, South Africa and Australia. Made Ronnie Biggs look like an overseas recluse.

He’s dead, I thought.
Moon Starlight turned and looked. Straight through me.

I let out a deep breath. Next question.

“Marriage certificate?” I said.

“It’s with him.”

England then? On the body? With the nanny?

“When were you married?”

She intoned the date.

I snapped my pencil at that. Lead everywhere. One day after the actual crime.

Now of course, if he was there and she was here…it could be possible…But…

I submit your Worship, I’m no clairvoyant, spirit healer or fortune teller. I’m a lawyer: I devil with reality. I am recounting what I encountered without prejudice.

I found another pencil.

“What are your reasons for a divorce?”

She wasn’t looking at me. She had turned around. I could hear whispers: from far away.

I ponder the possible answers. Desertion is out: they need two to five years. Insanity, maybe, but I could only vouch for her mental state : unless he was convicted and got off mentally ill. Again far too long.

Attempted murder? Maybe. But he hadn’t been apprehended, let alone brought to trial, let alone convicted. Same as option 2.

Adultery? Even harder to prove: who was the adulterer or adulteress?
She had returned.
“Who are you talking to?” I asked.
“My spirit guides,” she breathed.
Beautiful girl, but rather deluded.
“And the grounds for divorce?”

“Spiritual incompatibility,” she breathed.

Perfect. Which would be grounds for divorce for everyone on the planet.

Except maybe Romeo and Juliet. But that wasn’t the longest love affair was it? Perhaps in time it would happen to them.

The sooner Australia got no fault divorce the better. Time for a different tack.

“Why divorce?” I ask. “Why not wait until he’s found and brought to trial?”
But her spirit guides want a word. She turned around. I wait. And there’s that slow swish before she answers.

“We were married in life. And are therefore married in death,” she replied. “Before we can be divorced in death, we must be first divorced in life.”

Until death us do part. And she had found extenuating circumstances even for that.

Beautiful, fascinating, gorgeous gal but not even a shred of commonsense.

Yet the good Lord L had only left his wife a matter of what.. a few months….

What am I meant to do? Bring him back from the dead? Get him to sign divorce papers?

She’s listening, I know it.

Then the answer came to me. Why didn’t I think of it before?

I took a deep breath and pronounced final sentence. Judge Maximum John Sirica had nothing on me in that moment.

“Bigamy…If you can find him. Or the original wedding certificate…for the first marriage…and yours of course.”

Her fingers flexed and spidered together. Her eyes narrowed and burned me.

Then the office went Arctic on me. The fluoro lights started buzzing. Then flickering like a horde of mozzies. Mosquitoes, your Honour, my apologies, English jurisdiction I realise.

Then then air-conditioning unit breathed a drawn-out death rattle and packed it in. The walls of my poky office began to move closer to me.

She wasn’t back-lit anymore.

I’ve faced down worse than her. Criminals, crooked cops, conveyancers and worst of all, Court Registrars.

I said, “You could,…send your ‘spirit guides’”.

Ice city. I was a freezing man waving my hands for a lifesaver on an Arctic beach.

“Find him., get him to sign.”

She had turned away. I sipped a small breath and hoped.

Swish-swish again and silence. I chose then to make my escape and palmed her my business card.

“I’m not your man,” I said. “Wedding certificates and/or ex-husband. Then we can talk.”

She looked through me and disappeared. I recall clearly. For the door didn’t even shush on her way out.

And after that, all hell broke.

First to go was the telex. Off-line then on-line every half-hour without fail. Each time I pulled out the telephone line and plugged it back in but to no avail.

Next was the fax. Same-same. No fixes. The telephone company didn’t know. Or didn’t want to know.

Finally, Lyn started getting strange phone calls. Every telex, every letter, every file was lost or misdirected.

And do you think the flouros and air conditioner returned to normal. Nope.

The next day, Lyn bearded me.

“That witch client of yours,” she began.

I spread out my hands and shrugged.

“Not my problem, darling,” I replied. “I sent her on her way.”

“Look around you,” Lyn whirled. “SHE…NEVER…LEFT.”

“Calm down, you getting overwrought,” I said to her.

Lyn ignored my token sexism.

“Either she goes or.. I’ll..I’ll…I’ll call down fire from heaven if she even shows her face…”

“MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE!,” I said. “Then we’re done.”

But Lyn was. She took a long holiday down to the Gold Coast.

Everything returned to normal. Everything, that is, except for the filing cabinets.

Three days later, I came in early. When I unlocked the outer office, I could see the mess. Even through the frosted glass door: papers and files strewn everywhere on the floor.

Burglary, obviously. But not the cops though. They always come in the front door. With their empty brown bags always in need of filling.

I checked the outer office door. Then the inner one. No signs of forced entry, Sherlock. I mean your Honour.

And the filing cabinets were locked.

Neatest burglars I’d ever come across.

That night, I locked myself in the office, put my feet up on Lyn’s desk and spent my efforts keeping a coffee flask awake.

Three in the morning, your Honour, I’m at the scene of the crimep
I kept dozing off. I’m in the middle of a dream. Moon Starlight is keeping me awake and she is doing a fine job.

Until I kick my foot against the desk and wake myself up.

I can see through my half-lidded eyes, the lights start to flicker and hum. I wake, jump out of my chair and stand on my desk. Just as I’m reaching up to push the fluorescent lights back in their slot, I hear her.

Or rather that swishing sound. I turn. There’s a purple shimmering near the filing cabinet.

Its lock turns left, then right, then left again.

The middle drawer slides out silently.

One manila folder lifts itself slowly up and out. Then another. And another. All are thrown onto the floor.

I’m alive now. I feel all my skin. The hairs on my neck are as stiff as steel wool.

A folder is opened. I see a sheet of paper. The folder is closed. It’s returned to the filing cabinet. Along with all the other folders. The filing cabinet closes and is locked. Right, left then right to finish.

The shimmering glows strong, shines and then disappears. A flicker of translucent purple is all I see through the frosted glass in the outer office.

I’m across in a flash. My fingers fumble and unlock the cabinet.
I pull out the file. I flip through the folder and there it is.

Both wedding certificates.

And a postcard from Lyn. With a palm tree. “I’m never coming back.”

And the next day, I’m waiting at the church. Waiting for Starry-eyed Moonlight to turn up, fill out the paperwork and file the orders.

Bigamy, divorce, bingo, ghost-free.

Meanwhile the summer of ’74 rolls on. Phone, fax and telex return to duty. Air-conditioning and office lights resume normal transmission.

I close the case. Moon Starlight has returned to her coven I suppose.

All quite, case closed. That is, until HE turns up.

Dark trilby hat, funeral black suit dark moustache now greyed against a charcoal face. He’s certainly not as dapper as his photographs. He’s more subdued. As if his life has been leached from him.

But I can attest to his identity, your Honour.

“Lord,” I begin. His gesture silenced me. “Where’s…” I ask.

He takes a seat.

“Not a word, my good man,” he murmured. “Discretion is vital. I must complete this rather awkward business forthwith.”

“I’ll bring in the file,” I say. His hand reached out to restrain me.

“Annulment,” he says. Why didn’t I think of that before?

I’m stupefied. I’m in a trance. I open the desk drawer, find the right form, fill it out and hand it to him.

Unbidden, he suppllies the explanation.

“It’s quite simple really. As you pointed out, if Romeo had never met Juliet…then they would not be married in this life…”

“Or in the next,” I answer.

He drew a fountain pen from his pocket, signs. I sign as witness. I hand back the pen and he’s gone. The door didn’t shut on his way out either.

They never found his body, your Honour. But I submit to you that I met him when he was not alive.
I perfectly understand, your Honour. After all these are extenuating circumstances.