“Chalcedony. That’s you.”

Sylvia looked up sharply at her grandfather, dislodging the modesty cloth that covered her nursing baby. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped, yanking the blanket back over her exposed breast. There was a cranky mewling and a tiny hand poked out from its folds before settling back in.

“It’s a kind of quartz. Brittle. Intense. Lustrous. Comes in almost any shape and colour,” the old man replied, his brow furrowing as he watched her. “You’re like your mother. She had a hard time after you were born. We called it baby blues back then.”

Oh, spare me, she thought, unable to bear his concern on top of everything else, wishing she hadn’t told him anything. She looked around the nursery at the scenes she’d painted on its yellow walls, at a time when her belly was big, and enormous love for this baby seemed possible. There in the corner Mother Hubbard with her rimless glasses peered into her cupboard; there Jack and Jill slogged their way up the hill, oblivious to Jack’s impending disaster. “You’re accusing me of post-partum depression?” she retorted.

Her grandfather shifted in his chair, leaning toward her, his frown deepening. “No, I just mean you’ve got some of your mother in you. She was all interesting shapes and hard edges and full of beauty.”

His concern bit deep and Sylvia recoiled. “You think I’m going to kill myself like Mum did?” The words were out before she could stop them.

He reached toward her, shaking his head. “I’m not saying that, Syl.” Elbows on knees, he clasped his hands in front of his chin. “Seems like what you’re feeling is just what happens when you got a rock and hard place.”

“Right. And I’m the rock. Chalcedony.” Well, she thought, that means this baby is the hard place. And a hard place it is, with its own rigid ideas, its own fierce demands. Sylvia pulled the blanket back and watched the vigorous fists, the ferocious little mouth. Her breath caught. Ruby’s mouth. Her tiny daughter’s name tasted good. Ruby’s fists, she thought, Ruby’s mouth. She’s like me, all fiery and passionate. And strong.

In that moment the baby released its grip and looked up at Sylvia. The intensity of those eyes! She released a breath she felt she’d been holding for weeks. She glanced at her grandfather, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth. “Ruby’s chalcedony too. Look at her, Grandpa.”

Her grandfather blew out a soft breath too, stood and stretched. He put a finger to Ruby’s nose. “She’s a crystalline wonder.” He ruffled Sylvia’s hair. “Well, you two, I got to go. Your grandmother will be expecting me.”

“Oh, Pops, Gran wouldn’t…” Sylvia started to say, cutting off her next words: she wouldn’t recognise you in a line-up of wombats. Instead she said, “She wouldn’t mind if you stayed for another cuppa. And Ruby might like a cuddle with her great-grandpa. Here, hold her and I’ll heat the kettle.”



Jack finished his sandwich in one big bite and grabbed his rod and reel. He swept the rod back and tossed his line in a long curving arc. “Good one,” his grandpa said, steadying the boat as it rocked lightly.

“And Grandpa,” Jack said, his chatter resuming as soon as the sandwich was swallowed, “don’t forget we have our big birthdays coming up. I’ll be 10 and you’ll be 70!”

“How can I forget,” his grandpa said. “Very special.”

Jack puzzled a moment, the reel stopped in his hand. “You’ve been around seven times as long as I have. That’s a LONG time.”

Grandpa threw his own line over the other side of the boat. “Well, if that’s a long time, what about when the dinosaurs walked the earth?”

“Oh, Grandpa, that was ’way before you were born.”

Grandpa chuckled. “You could say that. Dinosaurs became extinct some 60 million years ago.

Jack paused to consider that. “My head can’t think about 60 million years.” They both reeled in their lines and left them limp at the boat’s edge.

Grandpa pulled out his pen and smoothed out a piece of paper towel left over from their lunch. “Here’s an image I like, it’ll give you an idea of things.” He drew a big circle on the paper towel. “Let’s say that’s a clock.” He pencilled in the numbers 3, 6, 9 and 12. “Let’s say the whole time of the earth fit into a one-day period. Do you know how long the earth has been around?”

“4 point 6 billion years,” Jack said proudly.

“No grass grows under you,” Grandpa said. “4 point 6 billion years. So that’s the WHOLE length of this day. Got it?”

Jack nodded. “Got it.”

“So here at 12:00 the earth is formed. Over here, around 3:00, the first lifeforms show up.”

“Bacteria,” Jack supplied. “One-celled organisms.”

“Exactly right. And not until way over here, about 8:00 in the evening, does primitive life begin. Seaweed. Jellyfish.”

“So people didn’t come until about 9:00 at night?”

“Well, hold on. You know about the supercontinents?”

“Sure. Like Gondwanaland. Australia and South American and Africa, all in one big country.”

“Well, Gondwana didn’t break up until about 10:00.”

Jack dawdled a hand in the water as realisation dawned. “There weren’t even dinosaurs yet when Gondwana existed,” he said slowly.

“Correct. Dinosaurs didn’t come until well after 11:00.

“So…no people until a long time after that.”

“Right again.” Grandpa stabbed his pen on the 12. “Here’s the first humans arriving, on the plains of Africa, about a tenth of a second to midnight. ”

“A tenth of a second,” breathed Jack. Silence descended, broken when he finally said, “So humans hardly mean a thing.”

“That’s a way of looking at it.”

The immensity of what the little clock communicated pulsated on the seat between them.

The boat bobbed gently, the two rods lying idle over the sides of the boat. Jack slowly traced the outline on the paper towel. He abstractedly picked up his grandpa’s hand and ran his fingers over its veins and wrinkles. Then slid his fingers into his grandpa’s.

“So. You coming to my birthday party?”

And then the rains came

Good lord. It was quiet. Not a sound. No buffeting against the windows, no howling in the eaves, no great whoosh in the treetops. No parched wind.

Maggie’ eyes slid open, acknowledging the advent of another day. Perhaps this one would be without wind ripping through her hair, tearing her clothes, percolating through her soul.

When was the last time she’d felt some peace? Slowly, she brought her feet to the floor.

A few minutes later, coffee in hand, Maggie wandered out onto the deck. There were clouds, low, ominous. Around her was the evidence of two months of wind and dry weather. The elephant ears, struggling to survive, were tattered and torn, edges browned and crisp. It was hard to remember the gaudy two-metre display they’d put on last summer. Was that the same species as this year’s forlorn specimens?

She shifted her cup into the other hand. Last spring Derek had been alive. This time last year, they’d only just found out about his cancer. The battle was all ahead of them, and they hadn’t a clue how it would turn out.

The whole garden was a mess, really, ripped to shreds by the heat, the drought and the winds. What had she been thinking, a tropical garden in this country that swung between wet and dry like a teenager in love?

A thought niggled. Oh god! The quilting club, due at 10:00. She stepped back in to glance at the clock. Barely an hour. Time to swing into gear. Shower, dress, swipe of mascara, earrings. Wipe down the counter, set out the coffee cake, put the kettle on. Plates, napkins. Cups and saucers, clatter dispelling the quiet.

She slipped into Derek’s office, no, the sewing room, to get the bit of quilt she’d been working on as respite from the gardens and from the wind. She ran an index finger over the appliqued chicken, its rosy comb, the strawberries that served as a border.

She cocked an ear: was that a spatter of rain?

Doorbell. Just as Maggie reached the front door, where Rosemary, Pat and Jeanie were hovering under the canopy, the skies opened. There was a sudden cacophony of laughing, pelting rain, screeches, the doorbell finishing its long chant. Rosemary reached for her, enveloping her in a hug while the water tipped out of the sky overhead.

Helpless again the onslaught, the tears came. “It’s been so dry,” Maggie hiccoughed, clutching the patchwork chicken as she rocked in Rosemarie’s arms. “I don’t know why I’m crying, it’s the bloody wind, I feel like an idiot. It’s been so dry…” She gulped for breath.

“Well, we’re getting rain now. It’s going to be all right,” Rosemarie murmured, holding her tight. Pat poured boiling water into the teapot and Jeanie fished around for a knife to cut the cake, making easy conversation as they did so. The elephant ears reached their scruffy leaves to face the tumult and the rains came down.


Like her namesake, Trout lies motionless on the water. Her arms are stretched out beside her and her short hair pulls behind her. Her backside, still encased in its plaid school skirt, lightly scrapes the creek bottom as she drifts. She closes her eyes. For this moment, her mind is still.

And still is good, better than the disgust she always carries. She’s never really liked anything or anybody, but lately, just lately she has to admit that life is serving up a few treats.

It blooms like a secret inside her, and it’s about her software design class. It started off as stupid as all the rest of school and the half-witted cattle who go there. But Monty, Mr Montgomery, gives her a lot of extra work and projects, and then one day she’s working on source code. Her eyes pop open, and she thinks, when you’ve got the principles you can make sense of anything. You can create whatever you want. The world of technology swells before her, no longer a sewer of emojis and selfies. The course has a lot of carry-on about team work but even that isn’t too bad, as long as she gets to work with Toby or Max, who aren’t complete morons. It’s like the future has a crack of bright sunlight shining through the perpetual cloud.

“Hey, Trout, don’t move.”

It’s a boy’s voice, nearby, quiet. Trout is startled and splashes to her knees. She registers one of the older boys from school. “Zach!” she hisses. “You followin’ me?”

“Keep still. I’m not some pervert, I’m just walkin’ along the creek. But look.”

Trout wobbles erect in the shallow water and looks in the direction Zach is pointing, toward a clearing close to the creek. She can’t make sense of what she sees. It looks like a stake pounded into the ground, but it undulates. And it had two heads.

“What is it?” she breathes. “Is that a two-headed snake?” She lurches backwards to put some distance between herself and the thing.

“No, just stay still,” says Zach. “It’s two red-bellied blacks, copulating. They’re too busy to care much about us.”

“Copulating? You mean, like, having sex?”

“Yeah. Mating. They do that this time of year.”

“I never heard of such a thing. You’re full of shit!”

Zach squats down on his heels, watching the snakes closely. “Did you know the female can carry the male’s sperm in her cloaca for years and years, until conditions are right and she feels like making eggs? And did you know a snake has two penises? Hepipenes, they’re called. How about that?” He glances at her before returning his gaze to the snakes.

“You ARE a pervert,” she says. She can’t suppress a hint of a smile.

“Nah, I’m just interested in how animals work. The bloody creativity of nature bends my mind.” He stands and turns to look at her. “But on the other hand, it’s kinda fun looking at you drippin’ wet with everything stickin’ to you. School clothes never looked so good before.” He grins at her. “Won’t your mother kill you?”

Trout shakes her head like a wet dog. “I don’t care. It was hot.”

Zach reaches out his hand to help her climb the shallow bank. She accepts the gesture, a new kind of self-consciousness flowing through her. She stands beside him, dripping, while they silently watch the snakes in their sinuous dance.

The world crackles with the energy of creation.

Laura, come back

It’s quiet and warm in here, it must be like this inside a cocoon. Outside there’s an awful commotion, jostling and shouting and shoving, but in here, ooooh, safe and serene…Oh, look! There’s Mark, tears running down his face, handing me this squirming bundle, this little pink octopus of arms and legs. “Look what we did, Laura,” he whispers, and you can’t imagine the feeling, this tsunami of love for him and for this wonderful bundle…where do you put all that feeling?

Oh, look at that mountainside, how the sun gleams pink off those marble cliffs; so this is Tuscany, I’ve wanted to be here forever. Mark beside me, breathless; he’s mesmerised by the sunset too.

Voices, urgent, demanding. “Laura, don’t leave us!” Ah, that would be Dad. The only time I’ve seen you cry, what is it with men? Soft tears caught in the wrinkles around your eyes. Dad, I have to go, there’s nothing for a young girl here. I’ll be fine, and I’ll be back, it’s just a plane ride. Don’t worry. I love you so much.

Oh, there’s Lucky! My dog Lucky! When I stand up, I can put my arms right around his neck, and nestle my face in that soft fur just by his ear. Lucky, I love you, I love you, I love you.

Insistent voices again, pushing on the edges of my cocoon. “Laura, stay with me, stay with me, Laura.”…Mum, I’m here for you. Let me take my coat off and hug you with all my heart. Look at you, so frail and old. But I’m back to see you and cuddle you and say goodbye when you’re ready, I’m not going anywhere. So tired, so sad, Mum, don’t go, I’m still hungry for you, I haven’t seen you enough, I’m not ready for you to leave.

Distant voices, jostling, pushing and shoving. “We’re losing her.” Don’t you love how there’s that silvery strip along the beach at the edge of the ocean, and the waves lick at it, and the little sea birds make dark shadows as they skitter across it.

A voice from a mountaintop a thousand miles away. “Clear!”

Oh! The weight of it! Like a truckload of gravel, like being caught in a vice. Lungs full of hot painful air, don’t open your eyes, don’t let it in. “Laura, are you there?” I must look.

I blink at the sight of it. Strangers with kind, anxious faces, smiling at me, holding my hand, helping hold back the weight of things. “Laura! It’s good to see you. You’re going to be all right.”

Will I? – Of course I’ll be all right. Of course.

No escape

There is a place of no escape. It is in a forest, an overgrown garden, a swamp.

It is lashed with shadows. When the sun is strong, you can see clearly, then clouds cross over and you can’t make out what is lurking, ready to strike. Deep in the hidden places strange and menacing things lie in wait.

Did something move there? Have you been here before? Do you even know this place? A ray of light reveals a familiar face.

And then darkness descends again, too soon, too soon.

My mother lives in such a place. Thoughts and memories encircle her, maddening in their incoherence. Then suddenly all is crystal clear, she knows, she remembers. But she knows the crystal moments will not last, so clutches to hold onto them. She writes messages to herself on scraps of paper, then has no idea what a note says or means when she comes across one. “What’s this say?” she’ll ask, or “Did I write this?” She is consumed by the fear that something important has been lost.

As indeed it has.

At 96, my mother is lucky. She can afford to live in a small facility where she is known and loved, where every staff member understands dementia, where she is hugged and fed well. She is drawn out of her room several times a day, urged to do both familiar and creative activities. Because they know she was a drummer in the old swing bands, she is encouraged to play her snare drum. Because she was an award-winning gardener, she is enticed into the courtyard to plant and water. Because she was a fine tennis player, she is placed in front of the television during the Opens, where she follows the ball and gets excited when someone makes a great shot. She gets to listen to the music of her youth.

But there is a shadow world where the cable guy steals her purse. When the purse shows up, it turns out he’s stolen her cash and cards. She’s sure the care home where she lives belongs to her mother, and can’t figure out why all these strangers get to stay there. They are not her 8 siblings, though this lively environment must be her childhood home. She sees a woman at the shops wearing her red housecoat, and now that it’s been returned, she has to hide it so it won’t get stolen again. She can’t remember that she went out for lunch today with her granddaughter, but when the pianist shows up in the afternoon she can sing every word of every one of the old songs, and brushes her single drum with her hallmark skill and panache.

Every year God inexorably takes his 10% before moving on. The shadows deepen, the daylight hours become shorter, the underbrush more dense.

There is perhaps one escape but so far my mother’s strong feisty body has not allowed her to flee.

You win

His mother’d been fussing around on the sofa half the afternoon and now she threw down the paper she’d been reading, bouncing it off the coffee table.

“Ridiculous nonsense,” she said. “I can’t stand it. All this kafuffle about alternative facts. As if journalists have some kind of special entitlement to the truth.”

Andy put his finger carefully into his page in the biology book he’d been trying to study. “I suppose you think politicians do,” he said, fully aware that his mother was hooking him but unable to stop himself.

“I do not,” she replied. “But I do have the sense to see that just occasionally there are two sides to a story.”

“To a story, maybe,” he said, “but not to a FACT.”

“Oh, yeah,” she replied, eyeing him in that way she did lately, as if her massive belly was giving her the right to be some other kind of malevolent being. “Give me a sample fact.”

“Well,” he said, one hand still tucked in the biology text and the other pointing to the offending belly. “Human females have a gestation period of 9 months,” he said. “Fact.”

She snorted in that unpleasant way she’d developed. “I’ll give you an alternative fact. Less than 5% of human females deliver at 9 months. I made it up but I guarantee it’s a truer fact than yours.”

It took him a second to get it, and then he remembered she’d said that technically the baby was due today. So that’s what was up her nose. Baby was going to be late.  As if he cared. The later the better, as far as he was concerned.

He didn’t deign to reply. She ALWAYS had to win, and he wouldn’t give her the satisfaction. But she’d moved to stand in front of the window, and the bulge was this grotesque thing under her flimsy shirt.

“If you’re going to stand in front of windows,” he said, dialing up the scorn, “you shouldn’t wear diaphanous stuff.” He flipped open the biology book to illustrate the FACT that the conversation was over.

“Ooooo, ‘diaphanous’,” she mocked. “Listen to you with all the growed up language.”

He could feel his face reddening as he flipped pages in the textbook. Suddenly he was aware of her standing right next to him, and he spun round – to encounter The Bulge. She’d lifted her shirt and positioned her stomach right in his face. It was veiny and stretched like a moldy balloon, and that belly button! It was obscene.

He lurched out of his chair, brushing past the offending bulge and the nasty grin on her face above it. “You win,” he shouted. “You always have to win. I’m going out. Nobody could study in this bizarre place. Go ahead and WIN all on your own.”


Andy stood with his hand on the door knob, ready to make peace. His time out had cooled him off. He’d gone over to Matt’s, and Matt, while sympathetic, had pointed out that females probably get antsy when baby time is coming. And that his father still being overseas probably didn’t help, nor that his mother was pretty old. Well, Andy knew all that, of course. Maybe he could cut her a little slack. It would be nice if she’d cut HIM some slack, what with his year 10 finals coming up and all, but he could be the gracious one if it came down to it.

When he went inside, she was nowhere to be seen. He slung his coat over the back of the chair, to discover there was a short note on the table.

Baby’s on the way, I’ve called a taxi. I’ll ring you when your little sister arrives.

Love, Mum

P.S. You win. Baby’s coming at exactly nine months. Fact.

His ears suddenly buzzed and he had to sit down for a second. His little sister!

Then he grabbed his coat, checking to make sure his bus pass was in his pocket. This was a time when his mother needed a man around. He knew a bit about the whole birth business, and he’d be there for her.

How hard could it be?

The Christmas Invasion

It wasn’t his fault. It was the damn ol’ grasshopper. The damn ol’ grasshopper had surprised him when it jumped onto his sleeve, so he’d batted at it. And it landed in the punch bowl.

Then crazy Grandma with her orange hair and million wrinkles had screeched, “Toby threw a grasshopper in the punch,” whereupon he’d accidentally knocked the punch bowl right off the sideboard. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if the punch bowl hadn’t hit tile floor. Fortunately there wasn’t much punch left in it, what with the grownups going back and forth to it all afternoon, steadily getting noisier and angrier.

Anyway, everyone was SHOUTING at him and at each other, so he’d made a run for the closet under the stairs. They were all still at it out there, but at least he wasn’t in the middle anymore.

He took his knees off his ears to have a listen. His mother’s voice sliced through the closet door. “What do you mean, your son? He’s our son, the last I looked, even if you’ve gone off to live in coital heaven.” And then Renee (“the so-called step-mother”, his Mum called her) had shrieked something about how she’d said this family wasn’t capable of a blended Christmas, and it wasn’t her stupid child who’d demolished the punch bowl, and she could not be under the same roof as the stupid child and its stupid mother. Then came Uncle Owen’s voice. “You might all want to consider quietening down a little,” which was more craziness because he was shouting too. It was like laser beams were firing out of everyone’s mouths.

Toby crouched down as footsteps climbed the stairs centimetres over his head. First came a clickety-clickety set, then heavier stomping ones. Dust trickled into his eyes. His mother’s voice hollered, “That’s right, run away, you coward. Go do some Christmas afternoon banging.”

At that point, Toby realised he badly needed to set up the Supersonic-Space-Shield. Now that his eyes were getting adjusted to the dark, he could see it standing against the wall. It looked like an ordinary umbrella, but Toby knew its actual powers.

“Las’ time I invite ANY of you to my housh for Chrishmas.” That was his grandmother, in her too-much-punch voice. He hurriedly set up the Supersonic-Space-Shield and switched it on, then put his fingers into his ears for good measure.

The sound shield worked fine, and after a while he pulled his fingers out of his ears. There was a tapping on the closet door. A voice said, “Toby? It’s Uncle Owen here. Wanna come out now?”


Silence for a moment.

“Well, can I come in?”

Toby considered the request. He liked Uncle Owen mightily. On the other hand, he was gay as a fruit fly, which he’d heard Renee say and meant something was wrong with him. Also, he was a pretty big guy and the closet under the stairs was pretty small.

Toby opened the door a crack. Uncle Owen’s face looked worriedly at him. “You can come in for a while,” Toby whispered. “But you have to be quiet in here.”

“I can do that,” said Uncle Owen.

“And you can’t see when you first come in, so you have to be careful.”

“I can do that.”

“I’ll put the Supersonic-Space-Shield down so there’s more room.”

“Thanks.” There was much scrunching and moving about while Uncle Owen got himself settled. “Ow!”

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m just getting used to sitting on the vacuum cleaner attachment.” There was a long period of quiet.

“I didn’t exactly throw the grasshopper into the punch bowl,” Toby ventured.


“I sort of pointed it there, but it jumped on its own.”


“And I just had a reflex that made the punch bowl fall off. You know, like, a reflex?”

“Yeah, I know about reflexes.”

“And besides, the punch bowl was stupid. Everybody was going back and forth, back and forth to it, and getting louder and grumpier each time.”

There was a pause. “Click-clack-clerk dadadada shoodabunner.”

“What’s that?” Toby asked, startled.

“I’m pretty sure it was the space alien talking to us, the one who invented the shield. He said, ‘Well, at least they can’t drink the punch anymore.’”

Toby giggled. More silence.

“Do you think any of them will like me after this?”

“Blekka-blekka shostabang blekka-blekka kerchoo.”

“What does that mean?”

“The alien says: ‘They’ll all sober up soon, and feel bad that they got a little crazy. Then they’ll love you up all the more.’”

Toby found Uncle Owen’s hand and slid his own into it.

Silence. Either Uncle Owen or the space alien made a grunting noise, then Uncle Owen said, “Do you think we should go out on the planet surface now, inspect things after the invasion?”

Silence. Then, “Okay, but I’m taking the Supersonic-Space-Shield with me.”

“Good idea. I’ll go out first and check if there’s enough oxygen on the planet.” Uncle Owen cracked open the door and sniffed loudly. “It seems fine.”

Toby followed cautiously. The planet surface looked all right. There was no sign of Dad or Renee, who’d probably been vaporised. Grandma must have been zapped by an alien stun gun, as her orange hair was on crooked and she was making loud snores on the sofa. Mum was over in the corner on her hands and knees where the punch bowl had landed, with a pail of water and a bunch of newspaper beside her, making snuffling noises.

“Let’s sneak out and sit on the swing,” whispered Uncle Owen.

“Okay. I got the Supersonic-Space-Shield.”

They climbed into the swing. “That’s very useful when the grownups get too much into the punch,” Uncle Owen commented as Toby opened up the shield.

“Clooka clinka cavoot-voot-voot.”

“What’d he say?” asked Uncle Owen.

“He says, ‘I’ll stick around to keep you company. AND if we want, we can ring Uncle Owen.’”

“Smart dude,” said Uncle Owen, as they rocked back and forth.

She’s got the Heebie-Jeebies

There were five or six of them, quite the little team. The Heebie-Jeebies were pretty much constant companions these days.

Admittedly they sat in a corner and behaved themselves when she was in her office. The orderly piles of payroll records and timesheets kept them quiet most of the time, on a good day. And today had been a good day. Beverly and Owen had smuggled in champagne and birthday cake, and then everyone had piled into her office, spilling the fizz into plastic cups. A couple of the Heebie-Jeebies had rustled around when Owen made a gushing toast about how she deserved the best, and glared at her while saying this would be the year She.Got.The.Best. But generally they’d behaved themselves. When she’d left at 5:00, she was only dimly aware of them hovering in the back seat of the car.

That all changed when she reached home and saw the driveway was empty and the house dark. The Heebie-Jeebies sprang to attention. One of them liked to trickle a cold fingernail from her collar up into her hairline, and he was the first into action. Fierce overlapping whispers followed.

“He’s not home! Why isn’t he home?…Drinking, he’s drinking…Drunk. Drunk. Drunk. Coming home drunk…You’re dead this time.” One of them struck up his familiar theme: “Run. Run. Run. Run…”

She ignored the clamour as best she could, slamming the car door behind her and making her way cautiously up the steps and into the house. The whole team held its breath while she approached the answering machine, its red eye flashing on the kitchen counter. The voice of Dan’s mate at work, sounding tentative, said, “Uh, Dan? You left your jacket on the bench. I’ll, uh, bring it over for you tomorrow.”

She erased the message. “Well, that’s nothing,” she said aloud.

The team paused for a horrified moment, then detonated a firecracker cacophony. “What do you mean, NOTHING?!? It means he’s been fired…He’s been fired…Fired again…Fired and mad….MAD!…Fired and mad and drunk…Mean drunk…BIG DANGER…You’re dead. This time you’re really dead…Run. Run. Run. RUN.”
But she didn’t run. Instead, she sang, “Oo-bla-dee-oo-bla-day” so loudly that she drowned them right out. She got out the scissors and sliced off her long hair, then stashed the scissors behind the answering machine. Two hours later the Heebie-Jeebies shrieked out Dan’s impending arrival when the truck was still at the top of the street. He staggered into the house and grabbed for her hair, only to discover that his favourite handle wasn’t there. While he roared in anger, she winded him with the chop she’d been learning in karate, and then slammed the scissors into his groin. He dropped to the floor, incoherent and already spurting blood.

Panting, she swung around to confront the Heebie-Jeebies. There wasn’t a murmur.

“Do what you like,” she said to them, grabbing her keys. “I’m hitting the road.”

Summoned by Bells

I too, am summoned by bells.*
Although I am not the Poet Laureate
Of England, nor shall ever be, those
Bells keep calling constantly to me.

Times long past, peering over tall grass
It was nodding bluebells that whispered
Knuckled hand, a purple fistful for my mother

School brought harsher bells.
Scraped knees, ragged plaits,
A race to class before the echo
Faded to a teacher’s ready displeasure

A teen in clothes-strewn bed
I woke reluctant, all at odds,
With Elvis’ latest hit chiming
On a green plastic clock-radio

Then college bell, sharp on the hour
Called to genetic coding, sonnets,
Young men with sparkling ideals.

Motherhood: the peal of bells lay quiet
’Neath shrieks, laughs, distressed cries of
Babies, toddlers, ragamuffins.

Long years in office towers
Urgent response to ringing phones,
Early morning alarms
Chimes of train stations and lift lobbies.

Now, the world quietens.
Windchimes caught by afternoon breeze,
Crisp ping of email on tablet,
Daughter calling on Skype,
Reminder to go now to the school to hear
The littlies read.

And so it comes around again…
Small folk, eager faces
Summoned too by bells.

As long as we have ears to hear, hearts to beat
Who will fail to heed the call to join the world?


With acknowledgement to Poet Laureate John Betjeman
and his autobiography, “Summoned by Bells”

Writing by Maurice (1) and Heather (2)