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مُساهمة  زينب في الثلاثاء مارس 17, 2015 6:53 am

Dangerous Goods
Gloria Rogers held the pen over the firm black line and asked herself again,
“Does this parcel contain dangerous goods?”
Mavis the post mistress sighed loudly, frowned, looked at her watch and shifted
her ample weight to her other hip.
“Nearly done Gloria?” she said, folding her arms.
The name, Gloria, came out of her mouth as if it was coated in foul tasting
medicine.
Gloria glanced up at Mavis from the dented pen-marked counter and licked
her dry lips.
“Yes Mavis. Almost.”
Her eyes turned back to the glaring red print saying ‘No Dangerous Goods
Declaration’ and Gloria read the fine print again:
“I hereby certify that this article does not contain any dangerous or prohibited
goods.” The sticker on the parcel had a space saying “Senders Signature”, followed
by a long black empty line. Gloria scratched her newly-dyed hair with the end of
the pen. Mavis pursed her lips and sighed again.
Well, thought Gloria, I am simply returning the items, after all. They have
barely been touched. So it’s not me sending Dangerous Goods … it was the company
who made them who sent them to me in the first place.
They had arrived just one week ago in the very same package which was crisply
folded over and stuck with new parcel glue. Now, a week later after Gloria had
excitedly torn open the package and scattered the contents on to her bed, the
soon-to-be-returned parcel looked cheap and used. It was now stapled crookedly
and stuck unevenly together with sticky tape.
Gloria heard Mardy Hankworst’s throbbing truck pull up outside the general
store, and felt relief when Mavis moved away from her.
She watched Mavis’ large backside rock down the aisle of the canned goods as 2
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she walked to the front of the store and out into the dusty, shimmering street and
to the diesel pump.
Mavis always wore a floral frock with low sensible shoes. All the ladies in the
town their age wore floral frocks with low sensible shoes. Even behind the pie
and chips counter at the local football, the ladies wore the same—except they
threw flower-print pinafores over the top of their ample floral busts. Cluttered
flowerbeds of tiny pink cottage-garden daisies clashed with blooming blues and
reds of too-ripe rose buds. The cascade of flower prints fell safely below the knees
but still revealed expanding calves, sheathed in stockings; black hairs smeared by
nylon onto skin.
The thought of the clothes made Gloria hitch her sagging pantihose up underneath
her flowered hips. She poised the pen again to sign her name and thought
of the “Dangerous Goods.”
She’d ordered them out of a catalogue. Gloria had flicked past the floral-print
dresses until her eyes fell on racy reds, silky blacks and shimmering silvers. She
neatly filled out the little squares which said Size; Colour; Quantity, and wrote a
cheque. Ten days later the parcel arrived in a cloud of dust on Fred Dandy’s bus
with an order for fertiliser for Mardy Hankworst’s farm, and milk and bread for
Mavis’ store.
In the narrow mirror of her bedroom Gloria ran a hand over her thigh, clad
in black stretch Capri pants. The word S-t-r-e-t-c-h had run in red type over the
thigh of the model in the catalogue. Gloria did the same with her hand and tried
the word …
“Strrrreeetch,” she said as she turned her rounded bottom to the mirror and
bent over. Next she tried the top. Red material clamored its way over her large
bust to her neckline, which shone with chunks of silver. She tottered in her new
Fashion Marie shoes and applied a rich layer of red lipstick to her lips.
The crowd hushed when she entered the bowling club for the end of year gettogether.
It was Bernard Morgan who bought her the first drink. And then Mardy
Hankworst. Then Ivan Peterson. In the lounge, Mavis and the other ladies clustered
in the corner and breathed and seethed heavily, fluffing up their florals like
upset hens
Now, at the counter of the store, Mavis was taking Mardy’s money for the diesel
and they were glancing to the post office area where Gloria stood pondering
the Dangerous Goods question.
In small print it read: “eg. Explosives, Flammables, Corrosives, Aerosols, etc.”
Gloria thought again. The sherry at the bowling club had exploded in her head.
It was like someone had detonated Gloria Rogers’ whole being. Her bust heaved
and seemed to rise up of its own accord towards Ivan Peterson’s already bulging
eyes. The alcohol and the crush of bowling club men around her made her face
flush red … like on fire. She actually felt flammable, as if she would explode into
flames if Ivan were to touch her. Dancing yellow and red flames, there and then
at the bar, in front of Mavis and Sady Saunders.
Later in the bowling club car park she had felt Ivan’s corrosive stubble from his
unshaven face rub on her cheeks, neck and cleavage. As for Aerosols, she wasn’t 3
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sure about that one. She looked again at the parcel … “If in doubt ask at any post
office.” She laughed when she saw it. Imagine telling Mavis how her husband’s
hand had slithered over the S-t-r-e-t-c-h fabric!
But the smile fell away from Gloria’s face when she read … “A false declaration
is a criminal offence.” As he left the store, Mardy Hankworst tipped his hat and
smiled at her saying, “Gloria” as if her name was wrapped in honey.
She called over her shoulder to Mavis.
“I’ve decided not to return the parcel. Thank you anyway Mavis.”
As she walked away, down the dusty street with the parcel under her arm she
was sure she could hear Mavis say,
“She’s a dangerous woman, that one.” ❦
Published in Verandah 16, Literary Journal, August 20014
Treasure’s Tales … from the bottom drawer!
I love reading classified ads. There’s often some really funny ones that can spark
a short story idea. Here’s one that was published in what I call a ‘Doctor’s Surgerystyle’
magazine. I have a lovely book on rare breeds of farm animals. I was particularly
taken with a Berkshire Boar and he inspired me to write my story. I was also
just so rapt to get a story about a pig on heat in a woman’s mag. What a hoot.
Gentleman Required
Mary was still shaking when she arrived at the library for work. Normally
she loved the comforting smell of books and the warmth of the sun-filled
building. On most mornings she’d hang her tortoiseshell reading glasses around
her neck and make herself a cup of coffee, but this morning she got straight to
work.
“Good morning!” Doreen called from behind the returns desk. Mary tried to
smile but blinked tears away instead.
“Morning,” she said before disappearing into the labyrinth of shelves to look
for the returns trolley. But it was no good trying to act as if nothing had happened.
She held onto the cookery section shelves and breathed deeply. Pulling a
crumpled hanky from her sleeve, Mary dabbed her eyes and blew her nose. The
shrill ring of the phone at the front desk made her jump. She never wanted to
answer the phone again. Not after this morning’s call at home.
The hissing, breathy voice on the other end of the line had made Mary shiver.
Even after she’d slammed down the receiver and pulled the floral quilt over her
head, she still felt cold. She had invited her pet pig, Bessie to hope up on the bed
so she could cuddle her and stroke her silky ears, but even Bessie’s comforting
presence couldn’t stop Mary from replaying the creepy voice over and over in her
head.
“Want a bit of lovin’ do you, lady?” the voice had taunted. “Like to read books,
eh? Wanna read some dirty books with me? Eh? Lady?”
What could she tell Doreen? How could she say she’d put an ad in the adult
section of the classifieds of the paper in the hope of finding someone? A gentleman.
A soulmate … a husband.
Mary sighed as she walked around the shelves and found the abandoned book
trolley in the romance section. As she pushed its squeaking frame along the plush
carpet the shelves seemed to close in around her. The titles mocked her; “Lover’s
Bliss”, “Hot Passion Nights”, “Carmen’s Sin”, “Tall Dark Stranger”, “Forever in
Love”.
“Trash,” Mary said to herself. But really, she wanted to devour the books, the
way she devoured her favourite biscuits dipped in cream. She wanted to consume
every hot, loving word of them and live the life of the romantic heroine.
But she was single, she thought. Still single and nearly 40.
By the time Mary had finished shelving the returns, she was ready for a cup
of tea.5
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“Cream bun for you?” called Doreen, stooping to pick up her bag.
“Not today. Thank you all the same, Doreen,” Mary said.
Doreen, startled, looked up. Normally Mary ordered a plump yellow cream
bun every morning, whereas Doreen always ate fruit.
“Are you alright?”
Mary nodded. “Fine thanks.”
She knew what Doreen would be thinking—It’s about time she tried to lose
some weight. No wonder she’s still single.
Mary looked down at her oversized purple shirt and wanted to cry again. She’d
been told she had a pretty face by men in the past. People had remarked on her
lovely wavy dark hair and large amber eyes. If only she could lose some weight
and stop being so shy.
“Back in a sec,” Doreen called out.
The moment the door shut, Mary descended on the newspaper.
She threw her rounded bottom into a chair and flicked to the classifieds. There
it was.
With a flush of embarrassment and guilt she saw her ad was listed under
“Adult” and ran after “Cheekie Marie’s” and “Lesbian Action Live”. All she wanted
was a companion. A gentleman. Not to feel sordid, smutty. She read her ad.
“Gentleman required (35-45) as companion for quiet lady, likes books. View to
possible Romance. Phone after 5pm.” And there was her number. How stupid of
her. Any loony could track her down. And now some loony had.
Through the window she could see Doreen laboring up the library’s wheelchair
ramp against a strong wind, polythene cup and apples in hand and handbag
hanging from elbow crook. Mary slid the newspaper back into the rack and went
back to her desk.
That evening, by the time she arrived home it was almost dark. She was looking
forward to sharing her special tortellini dinner with Bessie. She’d start her
diet again tomorrow she decided. As she unlocked the door, she could hear Bessie
on the other side snuffling with excitement.
“It’s alright, Bessie darling, I’m home now. Good girl. How’s my sweetie?” As
the door swung open, Bessie trotted out, rubbing her black face against Mary’s
legs and squealing with delight. Mary stooped and scratched the pig behind her
ears, where she liked it best. Bessie snuffled and wuffled, then trotted to the kitchen,
picked up her metal bowl in her short whiskery snout and carried it along the
hallway to Mary.
But as Mary followed her, she sucked in a breath. The young sow stood as if in
the eye of a storm. Scattered around her were Mary’s cross-stitch cushions, shredded
magazines and upturned chairs.
Mary froze with fear. Was the creepy caller in her house? Had he been here?
Should she call the police? She began to shake. Then the phone rang. Mary
jumped. She picked up the receiver tentatively.
“Hello?”
Thre was a pause. Then came the husky voice.
“Books. You say you like books. Do you like them dirty? Dirty books for a 6
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quiet lady. Or are you really a screamer?”
Mary slammed the receiver down and began to cry.
Normally when Mary was sad, Bessie nuzzled her, offering grunts of comfort.
But now the pig trotted in and out of her flap in the back door. It thumped
each time it did. Perhaps she should lock it, Mary thought. In case the man had
crawled through there. Bessie came back in from the garden, hopped up on the
couch and wriggled.
‘Get down, Bessie! You know you’re not allowed there.” At Mary’s cross voice,
Bessie hopped off , trotted from the window to the door and back to the couch.
Then she started trying to jump on Mary.
“Stop it, Bessie!” Mary, exasperated, grabbed the pig by the collar. Bessie had
been the perfect pet until now. Mary had always longed for a dog or cat, but
with all that fur and the sneezing and red nose that followed, it wasn’t worth it.
A segment on Burke’s Backyard had convinced her that a pig could be an ideal
companion.
Bessie had certainly kept her from being quite so lonely this past year, but she
had failed to keep an intruder from entering the house.
Mary shivered again. She couldn’t lock Bessie outside in the cold, foggy night
in case the man was still about. She was about to haul her into the laundry when
she noticed Bessie’s swollen rear end. She looked from the little sow to the upturned
room and back again. The penny dropped.
“Oh Bessie, I understand. You’re in season. You made this mess!” Relieved,
she hugged her. “There was never a man in here at all. You’ve grown up!” Mary
suddenly felt so much better.
“How exciting Bess‚ piglets! Don’t worry, we’ll find you a man. Leave it to
me.” They snuggled down on the beanbag later in the evening to watch TV while
eating cake. The phone gave a shrill ring. Mary pulled Bessie close and let it ring
out.
On Saturday morning from her front room, Mary heard the rolled newspaper
land with a plop on her concrete path. She tiptoed out, clutching her terry-toweling
robe around her, grabbed the paper and ran back inside. At the kitchen table
with a cup of tea beside her, she flicked to the classifieds, past the adult section
and on to livestock. There was her ad. “Berkshire sow requires boar for servicing;
Phone after 5pm.” Then her phone number.
Just after 10 that morning the phone rang. It rang several times before she
dared to pick it up. Could it be the horrible stranger again?
“Hello?” she said nervously.
“Hello.” It was a man. It made her panic.
“Yes?”
“I was ringing about your ad.
“Which ad might that be?” Mary’s palms began to sweat.
“Oh, I hope I haven’t dialed the wrong number,” said the man. “A chap put an
ad in the paper about a Berkshire sow.”
“Oh Bessie! Yes!” Relief washed over her.
“Bessie?”7
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“No! I mean, yes, it was me.”
He laughed a shy laugh. “Good.”
“Where are you calling from?”
“Cranbourne. My name’s Nigel. Nigel Peterson.”
“You’re not far from me then. Is your Boar a Berkshire?”
“Through and through. He’s got a pedigree going back to Lynjoleen Ambassador
1183.”
Mary squealed in excitement. “How wonderful!”
“I can pop him on the truck and bring him over tonight if you like. Then if
you fancy the look of him, we can … introduce them. If not, I’ll take him home
again.”
“Lovely. My address is 43 Elms Crescent, the double block with the old cottage
and shed. I’ll see you about six then?”
“Fine. Well good bye Bessie.”
“Mary.”
“Sorry?”
“My name is Mary. The sow is Bessie.”
“Oh! I’m awfully sorry. See you at six then Mary.”
As she put down the phone, she realised what a fool she’d been. He could be
another prank caller and now he had her address. She sighed over her stupidity.
But he sounded so nice, she thought and he knew about the Australian boar Lynjoleen
Ambassador who was so good, he was re-imported to England in 1976 to
breed Berkshires there.
Late in the afternoon, on the back porch Mary dragged the brush over Bessie’s
black back and the pig arched up towards the brush’s pleasurable prongs.
“We want you looking special for your date tonight, Bessie.”
And she was just wiping the pigs’ eyes over with a damp cloth when the door
bell rang out down the hallway, spilling it’s urgent signal into the back yard.
Quickly brushing down her own long dark hair and straightening her light blue
dress, Mary went to open the front door.
“Mary?” The man standing before her held his cap in his hand. He had nice
blue eyes that crinkled at the corners. Even though his hair was starting to recede
a bit, he still looked handsome standing there with his shirtsleeves rolled up and
cord trousers tucked into lace-up boots.
“Nigel?”
“Yes. How do you do?”
Mary offered her hand and Nigel shook it gently before stepping back and
stretching out his arm.
“Meet Napoleon.”
The large boar sniffed at the wire cage on the ute.
Mary’s mouth dropped open.
“He’s a beauty! Look at those pink points!” She pointed to his black legs which
gave way to very correct pink ankles and trotters. “And those prick ears are perfect!
He’s even got a hint of pink on the snout. Oh, Bessie will love him! What’s
his nature like?”8
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“A perfect gentleman,” smiled Nigel proudly, “He’s quiet too. A bit like his
owner.”
For an instant Nigel’s eyes met with Mary’s and a feeling swept over her that
made her blush.
Both of them had sensed it, there in the doorway under the golden light of the
evening sun. They had both found a perfect match.
As they laughed shyly together, the phone inside began to ring.
Mary glanced at Nigel.
“Nigel, would you do me a favour and answer that? I’ve had a nuisance caller.”
She gestured to him to come inside. “Would you mind?”
“Not at all, Mary. Happy to be your knight in shining armour.”
As they came inside together, Mary smiled and stooped to pat Bessie.
“I think we’ve found the perfect gentlemen required, Bess. Don’t you?”
Bessie looked up at her, and in the dim light of the hallway, Mary was certain
she saw the pig wink. ❦
First published in Woman’s Day, September, 20059
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Many years ago when I was starting to work seriously hard on becoming a writer,
I attended a Magic Realism Workshop. It’s a style of storytelling that I really enjoy. I
also love phrases in our language and playing with them in the literal sense. ‘Storm
in a Teacup’ came from my imaginings of an actual storm in a tea cup … what
would that be like? Also, I’m a flier. Not in the literal sense, but in my dreams, I fly
over land. (Weird eh? But true.)
While the grandmother and her girlhood is fictional in this story, my real grandmother,
Edna, had such a ladylike and gentle quality about her and encouraged me
so much with my writing that I wrote this story for her. The setting was inspired by
my time spent at Trundle, NSW in the early 90’s with my then ag-college boyfriend
and his lovely family. The landscape there has never left my heart.
Grandma’s Gift
The other girls had been excessively envious of my grandmother. Even today,
the ones who are left still whisper to each other. They shuffle their old bones
into my grandmother’s house, which always seems to be filled with sunshine and
bright flowering geraniums.
The women sit on chintz covered chairs for their game of bridge and eye
Grandma with suspicion. Their cracked old lips, painted with lipstick sip at gin
and tonics. A slice of lemon. A ‘chink’ of ice on crystal and a little small talk. The
women, to this day, sit straight backed bristling with curiosity over my grandmother,
who’s name to them … but not to me … is Edna.
Grandma, or Edna, once told me how the other girls had swished in their
white dresses and giggled on the lawn at my grandmothers’ eighteenth birthday
party. Their downcast eyes looking out from the brims of straw hats, with a charade
of giggles and pouts.
Most of the would-be actresses were playing to the most handsome soldier
in the district. He was not just tall and very handsome in a country way, but
also possessed a kind and gentle soul. His soul had a gift of calming other souls,
whether they belonged to crusty old gentlemen or the flighty young horses he
would break in for the army. He was the catch of the district, everyone knew, but
the prettiest, nor the smartest girls didn’t stand a chance. Not while Grandma was
around.
“He was a dish, your grandfather,” she would say to me and smile a satisfied
smile. And I would curl my legs up on the couch and hope her story would again
drift from her lips.
His eyes had scanned the girls at the party, but it was Edna who captured his
gaze. She was not slim, nor tall or particularly outgoing. She had a gift -- if you
could call it that. Edna’s mother had first noticed it when Edna was a girl and was
made to take tea with her two older sisters when Mrs Brightling had called in to
pass away another sweltering afternoon. 10
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Edna hated taking tea, especially with Mrs Brightling who took great pleasure
in commenting on Edna’s tomboy nature. Edna loathed nibbling politely on cucumber
sandwiches and chit chatting on fabrics or weather. She was the sort of
child who preferred to roll on the springy green buffalo grass in the shade of the
massive red gum with the sheep dogs, or to wade in the billabong with mutton
on string, fishing for yabbies. She liked it best in the dusty sheep yards or on a
sweating stock pony tailing a mob.
Sitting bolt upright on the couch, Edna felt a trickle of hot sweat run down her
spine. Her young, angry gaze fixed on her milky tea. It was there and then, at tea
with Mrs Brightling that Edna created her first storm in her teacup. Little waves
splashed wildly against the floral print cup and dark clouds hovered over its rim
and torrential rain fell into the milky turbulent ocean. Bolts of lightning flashed
into the cup’s depths followed by little, but violent rumbles of thunder.
The cup and saucer shuddered in Edna’s small hand and made rattling noises.
Edna’s eyes were fixed on her mini storm and her young cheeks flushed red. Her
mother delivered a stinging glance at her daughter and her sisters stifled giggles.
Edna felt her mother’s gaze, blinked and the waters of her milky tea calmed.
“Edna darling, why don’t you go and water your flower bed. It’s frightfully
hot,” her mother diplomatically suggested.
Later, her mother had sighed and said that Mrs Brightling had thankfully mistook
the thunder for Edna’s rumbling stomach and the shaking of her cup as
“nerves”. But the event could well have caused great embarrassment and even
distress to poor Mrs Brightling, her mother warned.
“No more storms in tea cups Edna!” her mother had forbidden.
Instead of storms in tea cups, Edna took to flying. She would leave her body in
the bed so her mother would not notice her gone and take to the night skies.
“It was how I won your grandfather’s heart,” she would say to me.
On the night of her eighteenth birthday party she lay on her back in a streak of
light from the moon with her eyes closed. She felt herself lift from the weight of
her body and through the window she’d fly. Up towards stars, over the top of the
giant red gum. She would touch her fingertips on the sleek gum leaves that shone
in the moon and smile. Lingering from the pleasure and sensuality of those cool,
rich smelling leaves. But tonight she had a plan. She was flying beyond town to
Heathcote’s property, “Lal Lal” where she would touch his heart in his sleep.
She could see the shine of the fence wire as she whisked away above the dirt
road. She was soon over the wide street of the town, then over the dully-shining
corrugated iron of the sleepy huge verandah that hugged the large hotel. A stray
dog in the main street was the only living thing to sense her pass. The hungry
thing looked up to the night sky and barked uncertainly.
She flew above the road to the south, faster now. Her cheeks red, yet cool from
the pleasure of the rushing night air. She could see his family homestead. Soon
she was there, hovering above him. He was on the bed. Short dark hair, freshly
cut. Head thrown back in sleep, limbs twisted in sheets. She noticed his army kit
bag packed ready to go. A frown passed over his brow but it lifted as he felt her
presence in his sleep. She tilted her head to the side and a gentle smile passed on 11
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her lips as she took in his beauty, softness and strength, sprawled out in sleep.
Edna stretched a cool fingertip and traced a path of love over his brow, his eyelids
and mouth. Her gentle finger tips stroke over soft male skin and course male hair.
First, his shaven chin, then over his neck and chest. He stirred a little and she
breathed in the smell of him and the love of him. Then she was gone. Back across
the skies and the outstretched arms of the red gum to her bed.
“He rode like a man possessed to our verandah the next day,” my grandmother
delighted in telling.
“I could see his saddle bags were full. He was off to war.” The horse’s sides
heaved and froth from sweat gathered along the line of the breastplate and girth.
He swung a lithe leg over the horse, landing polished brown army boots on the
gravel. He urged my great grandmother to allow a word with her youngest daughter.
Open mouthed the sisters watched as he took Edna’s arm and led her across
the lawn to the shade of the red gum.
He had told her of a dream he had last night and how he must have her promise
to be his wife before he left for Europe. He pressed a kiss on her lips, gently but
urgently. He promised to return.
It was after that day, that the jealously and suspicion from my grandmother’s
friends began. She was always the one who enjoyed the most frequent and loving
letters from her husband-to-be. After church the young girls would gather under
the shade of the pepper trees and read out excerpts from their letters penned
by their young soldiers. My grandmother would convert the passion that was
contained in the looped ink writing of my grandfather into words and the words
would bring a tear and a stab of jealously from the other girls.
After a while the letters to her girlfriends failed to come, or failed to be written.
“I was fortunate,” my grandmother would say mildly and with genuine sadness
for her friends. During those awful war years she said she would fly away in
the night. Flying faster than the wind, over land, mountains and oceans -- entire
continents.
She described the greenness of Europe’s treetops that rushed under her outstretched
belly.
“Beautiful trees,” she sighed, remembering. Soft and green and rushing past.
There were streets of cobbles, which after rain would shine dappled. Above rooftops
she flew to him in France. She would find him stretched asleep on a canvas
bed in a row of tents in a field. She would ease his horror and loneliness and lie
next to him, pressing her body along his side and placing an arm across his chest.
He would awake filled with her. Loving and looking only for her. Those visits kept
him alive.
She had travelled to him as he lay on the big steam ship, tossed by angry seas,
and touched him with healing in his dreams and fever. When he finally arrived
home to her he rode his horse right up to her. Right up the steps and onto the
verandah.
They decided to marry under the red gum and filled their life together with
sunshine, geraniums, children and dogs amidst the difficulties of farming.12
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“Don’t you miss him,” I asked her one day.
“No dear. Not at all.” she had said, “Some nights I feel him fly down to see me.
He lies beside me and touches my face.”
The women who sit on her couch now and drink her gin can’t understand.
They have never been able to work out my grandmother’s happiness -- life should
be crueler to women. Widows shouldn’t feel so complete.
While I sit near them, frustrated by their jealousy and suspicion of my Grandma,
I notice the cup and saucer in my hand is beginning to rattle. Small angry
storm clouds are forming over my teacup and I can hear the sound of thunder
rumbling. ❦
Published in Penguin Australian Summer Stories 4, 2002 and was read on
ABC Radio.13
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Little fluffy white dogs always amuse me, and long loveless marriages and the
cost of them fascinate me, so I was bound to end up writing about both sooner or
later. The basis of this next story was written in ten minutes flat at a writing course
that I attended in Emerald, Queensland when I was living there in 1999. Needless
to say, after I read it out, the men in the room looked at me oddly and moved their
chairs further away from me!
Prior to that course, I’d been travelling with John in Hanoi, Vietnam. I had seen
the most beautiful handbag there—and me, telling myself I’m not a glamour-pusshandbag-girl,
and that I’d never use it—I decided not to buy it. I still think of that
brilliant bag to this day and it is described here in this story. Later on, I read some
feminist spin that women are attached so much to their handbags because it is a
representation of their wombs! Now that theory simply cracked me and my mum
up. We have been making handbag/womb jokes ever since.
The Mysterious Handbag
Dr Posthlewaite had been dead exactly a week. While his wife thought of this,
she picked up her needle, stooped her head and began to stitch buttons onto
silk. A tingle of delight ran up her bony spine while she imagined sewing the eyes
of his corpse shut tight. Prick of cool needle, thread running, tugging, through
cold skin.
He had been the “good doctor”—a much admired surgeon. A pillar of the
community. And she had been the doctors’ wife. For the past forty years she had
been just that and not much else.
Life with the doctor made her feel like an empty handbag. It was a strange way
to feel, but Mrs Posthlewaite would often sip her Chamomile tea at her sewing
table in a patch of afternoon sunlight and consider her handbag theory carefully.
From the exterior she looked like a neat, polished, functional and socially acceptable
handbag. She knew she was a touch on the old fashioned side. But she was
certain she had more style compared to the other bumbag wearing, gym-going
grannies like Mrs Smithers who lived in the flat next door.
The very personal and private space inside “Mrs Posthlewaite-the-handbag”
had been emptied years ago through living with the puffed up, self-important
doctor. Now, at the sewing table she felt the anger simmer inside her empty space
again as the doctor’s little white dog clawed runs in her stockings and whimpered
to be fed.
With cool, polite distance Dr Posthlewaite had come home to her each evening.
She, the neat wife in the neat home with no children … just an annoying
little dog. Mrs Posthlewaite would hear the doctor’s pompous booming laughter
coming from the stairwell as he flirted unmercifully with Mrs Smithers. His smile
on his red round face evaporated when he crossed the threshold into the plush
flat and placed his wooden box of personally engraved surgical instruments on 14
Treasure’s Tales … from the bottom drawer!
the bedroom chair. The little dog so delighted to see him danced in circles at
his feet and piddled with excitement. Steaming dinners were placed before him
while he sighed and frowned.
Mrs Posthlewaite’s garments, meticulously stitched, hung silently in the dark
space in the sewing room cupboard. She no longer proudly showed him her sewing.
He used to glance over the neat navy pleated skirt or the finely embroidered
blouse with his eyebrows raised. Then his eyes lifted to her face and he mocked
her with silence. His surgical stitches saved lives. His needles pierced living flesh.
His skills and status attracted gushing buxom nurses who fussed and danced in
circles around him.
Sometimes, when the doctor attended conferences interstate, Mrs Posthlewaite
dragged the heavy important surgical books from the shelf to stare at the
diagrams long into the night. The human form was put together like a rather
complex garment. Diagrams of flesh transposed themselves into sewing patterns
in Mrs Posthlewaite’s mind. As she gently fell into the pages, she dozed off, mouth
open, bedside light shadowing her wrinkled slack skin. She dreamt of her childhood
when she helped her father skin rabbits, possums and wallabies. Young
girl’s fingers wrapped around the smooth wood of a well-worked hammer. Girl’s
hands tapping tacks into skin. Stretching moist pink hides on boards to dry. The
dream would shift to her tidy kitchen where she pounded meat with the hammer.
Dinner for the doctor.
Sometimes they ate out at social occasions. Chest puffed out, the Doctor took
her on his arm. She was introduced as ‘the Doctor’s wife’. Her empty space was
momentarily filled with this important fact. Other women patted him on his arm
and squeezed his important hands with delight. Then they cast amused glances
at Mrs Posthlewaite’s neat grey bun, appropriately ankle length tweed skirt and
stick-like limbs. In the crook of her arm hung a very safe navy handbag, which
matched her shoes. Handing her a twenty dollar note, the Doctor would send her
home early in a taxi.
The next morning after one such social occasion Mrs Posthlewaite discovered
a handbag under the passenger seat of their Volvo. It was of a curious light blue
silk in which purple roamed when she moved it in the light. Light also danced
through little opaque cornflower blue beads which were sewn over the silk giving
it a curious texture. Irresistible to stroke. Her fingertips, seduced, couldn’t
help but travel over cool silk then bump up and over smooth pert beads. Although
the bag was small it was stuffed full. Cluttered. There were dazzling red,
racy lipsticks, glittering nail polishes and golden tubes of jet-black mascara. Light
danced in diamantes as Mrs Posthlewaite pulled from the bag a silver comb. Entwined
between the grinning teeth were shining wisps of blonde hair. Black silk
lined the private space inside the bag. Her fingertips slid to the silky corners of
the bags’ dark little universe and met with smooth glass. Golden French perfume
was held in a bottle, which was shaped like the torso of a curvaceous woman. Mrs
Posthlewaite clasped the torso around its waist. She reached for a golden star gift
tag, which swung from its neck. Looped handwriting read, “From the good doctor.”
She drove the Volvo and the silken handbag to the supermarket and there 15
Treasure’s Tales … from the bottom drawer!
she emptied her soul some more as she filled up her shopping trolley.
The day after she calmly passed the handbag back to the gaping doctor, he
came home with a squirming, whimpering ball of white fluff in his clean pink
surgeon’s hands.
“For you dear,” he said handing it to her awkwardly, “It’s a Maltese Terrier
… with a pedigree of course. Name it what you like,” Dr Posthlewaite said before
taking his place in his leather upright chair to watch the TV news. The little
puppy, she supposed, was meant to keep her there. To show her he cared. As she
mopped up its puddles on the plush coffee coloured carpet and pulled on pink
rubber gloves to pick up it’s little brown cigar-shaped messes, she cursed it, but
like her husband, she endured it.
She named the dog, Gigi. The same name as the French perfume she had found
in the bag. Everyday when the dog demanded food, or brushing, or playing, or
walking, Mrs Posthlewaite obeyed but quietly seethed inside her empty space.
Since the doctor had died the dog had taken to sleeping on the bed where Dr
Posthlewaite had once lay snoring. Each time Mrs Posthlewaite tried to move her,
Gigi would curl up her lip and growl. In the mornings, every time Mrs Posthlewaite
stepped from the door to take Gigi for a walk, the dreadful Mrs Smithers
was there—fussing, cooing and clucking over the dog. The dog snuffled, wuffled
and piddled in excitement … often on Mrs Posthlewaite’s neat navy shoes.
One day, instead of walking the dog to the city park, Mrs Posthlewaite decided
today to walk further. She marched to the nearest haberdashery story where she
tied Gigi to a pole outside the shop, left her there yapping and went in. She bought
elegant pearl buttons, exclusive white silk, strong white cotton and a length of
lace. Returning home she placed the goods by the sewing machine and turned
her attention to Gigi. She ran a tepid bath for the dog and lay the dog’s brushes
out on a towel.
“Good dog Gigi! Bathtime,” she called.
That night, while Gigi slept in her basket, Mrs Posthlewaite went to her husband’s
cupboard and pulled from it a solid wooden box. Laying it on the kitchen
bench she undid its brass clasp and took from it the cold steel surgical instruments
that were once held in the doctor’s smooth hands. She spread the perfect,
gleaming scalpels and scissors onto the bench. From the kitchen cupboard she
took a large bag of salt.
“Gigi! Come here,” she called.
For several weeks Mrs Posthlewaite barely left the flat. But tonight she knew
it was time. In her sewing room, stooped over, her boney foot pressed down on
the sewing machine pedal. It whirred into the night. She wore a very faint smile
from the pleasure, as scissors glided through silk and the needle pierced the willing
hole of the pearl buttons. She hoped Mrs Smithers wouldn’t hear the whir of
the machine in the dead of night, but she knew the Valium would not allow the
cloud in Mrs Smithers’ head to lift.
After a grey morning shower of rain the sun burst through the kitchen window.
“Time to go shopping!” announced Mrs Posthlewaite airily. “Some new
clothes, some less sensible shoes and perhaps … even some French perfume.” 16
Treasure’s Tales … from the bottom drawer!
She made sure she timed her departure with Mrs Smithers’ morning journey to
the mailbox, solely for the purpose of showing off her brand new handbag
She excitedly grabbed her flat keys and enjoyed trying the new clasp on the
bag. Rather than toss the keys in she let her fingertips slide in and out so she
could feel the lining of cool white silk. Instead of placing the handbag on the
crook of her arm she hung the long lace-trimmed straps from her shoulder.
Her hand ran down the straps to, what she thought was the most striking feature
of the bag, the exterior. It was white and fluffy and her fingertips delighted
in touching it. Her stokes paused when her fingers met with perfect pearl beads
-- stitched on with precision. As she caressed the furry handbag Mrs Posthlewaite
smiled and said, “Come on Gigi -- we may even call into the pet shop and buy a
kitten. After all, I’ve always liked cats.” ❦
The story has been reworked and was read on ABC Radio a few years back. 17
Treasure’s Tales … from the bottom drawer!
I was asked to write a story for Penguin’s Girls Night In 4 in 2005. This story was
inspired by a night at my cousin’s house when a friend tried several times to leave
on a stormy night and ended up having to stay the night. We had a big girls night
in on that night too
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تاريخ التسجيل : 09/09/2012

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