Category Archives: Short Stories

Loving Memories

Today, on the 67th anniversary of Rod’s birth, I’ve decided to share a personal email he sent me when I entered my first writing competition (He was away on a business trip at the time).
This email shows, more than any words I could write, what a wonderful, caring, supportive man he was.

“Darling

What a big step you have taken on the road to becoming your own person telling your story in your own voice.

I have been waiting a long time for you to gain the confidence that what you have to  say is valid and relevant to a wider audience.

Reaching an audience is winning (although the kudos of a prize or two can’t hurt!!)

I am really looking forward to reading the finished piece.

One of your future pieces should be to use your wicked sense of humour and unique slant on things/life to bring some of the funny stories of your childhood to an audience.

Love and hugs”

In the words of Gladys Night and The Pips, You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

The only thing on my bucket list

NEW LIFE
 
I want to hold a baby again before I die. I want to feel the soft, gentle promise of new life, smell the scent of innocence that rises from that central soft spot of a newborn’s head, to hold in my arms the wonder of unlimited potential, and to weep openly in awe at the phenomenon of new life.
 
One of the most memorable nights of my life was spent in a Nepalese restaurant holding a friends grandson for almost three hours. My husband cut up my food so I could eat without disturbing the babe sleeping against my left breast, with his tiny head on my shoulder, where from time to time I could rest my cheek against the fluffy down of his hair, or gently rub his tiny, blanket covered back, when he snuffled his baby dreams.
 
The night was a celebration, with an aftertaste of sorrow. It was the baby’s grandfather’s 50th birthday, and his great-grandfather’s 80th birthday, but his great-grandmother had died just a few weeks earlier. Although the night was almost 14 years ago I can close my eyes and tell you where everyone was sitting, smell the aroma of the curried potatoes, and experience again my first taste of goat. But the most precious gift of all is the ability to close my eyes and know the remembered warmth, the loving trusting bond that joined that baby boy and me. I had begun to hold him because he was fractious, but once he slept, I continued to hold him for the pure joy that the holding of him brought.
 
When the evening came to an end, I handed him back to his father who placed him gently in his pale blue carry basket. I kissed his tiny head one last time, and floated back to the car with my husband. I experienced a sense of being for just a few hours, part of something huge and inexplicable. And even though I struggle with the concept of a God, I felt a deeper understanding of Shakespeare’s words “There are more things in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.
 
Tricia 4/2010
 
 

Q O F E!

Q O F E!

She had finally reached the age of freedom. It had only taken 60 years, but then she had always been a late bloomer. Puberty hit in all its drama and confusion somewhere between 38 and 40. Not the boobs, pubic hair and period stuff, rather the emotional struggle to grow into the person she was born to be.

Her husband, slightly stunned, sometimes terrified, often amused, joined her on the ride. It was a bumpy couple of years. There were moments, she was sure, when he was tempted to jump off the train of turmoil, but he loved her, so he strapped himself in and rode with her to the terminus. She was so glad he did, for when she reached her destination life was better than ever, for both of them.

During the journey they learnt to talk, really talk, about the things they had been holding inside, protecting, because they were fragile. The fine black lace cobwebs hanging in the rooms of their youth were slowly swept away. They experienced a newfound peace, no longer afraid of the hairy black spiders of their pasts.

She shared the pain of her childhood. The insidious cruelty of her sometimes loving mother, her father’s escape into the oblivion of alcohol, her inability to make friends because she was afraid a friend would see the hidden truth of her home. The more she shared her innermost self, the more she came to realize she had spent most of her life up until that time in a half world or pretence. Even with him, her husband lover, her friend, she had often worn a mask, afraid he would not love her if she let him in to the locked, web draped rooms of her truth.

He in turn shared his stories of crippling shyness, fear of rejection, how raised voices could cause his stomach to contract to the point of vomiting.   He shared secret woundings that were not hers to repeat.

As a result of their joint sharing scar tissue formed, their bond of love was strengthened, they were more, and they were stronger. Together they discovered the serenity to be found in silence, once truth has been shared.

And now he was gone! His life ended in an instant, and for a time she felt hers had too. But as the waves of grief lessened in intensity and frequency allowing space for memories, she reflected on that time of shared growth, felt again the power of lived truth, and realized she could go on. Not only would she survive, she would live a wider truth, a truth that empowered her.  She had faced monumental loss, her only child and her husband both dead. She no longer feared death, but more importantly, she no longer feared life. She was free.

With the freedom to live without fear, the gift of loving friends and family, and the serenity of her home she was – Queen of Fucking Everything.

 Tricia 30/11/11

Discussions With Death

A poem and a prose piece conversing with, and reflecting on death. Because it is a compilation of poetry and prose I have placed it in the I am what I am category
 
DEATH’S DIVERGENCE
 
Death your cycle confuses me
Is it random choice or plan
Do your allies pain and suffering
Lead you by the hand
 
I accept your inevitability
From the moment one is born
But your seemingly random harvest
I look upon with scorn
 
You took my brother at 11 months
My husband’s father at 49
What method do you use to determine
Each individual’s allotment of time
 
Some candles extinguish easily
Just one short puff of breath
Others keep flickering – reigniting
Pain filled drawn out death
 
My precious son was 26
When he called you to his side
He begged for you to claim him
Your refusal led to suicide
 
My darling husband was 63
When you stole the sparkle from his eyes
We’d just learnt to laugh again
It’s your timing I despise
 
There are those who say “God’s will”
But in that I cannot believe
Thanks to you I’m now an expert
On the many ways we grieve
 
I am ready for you to call
You no longer frighten me
I may yet beat you at your game
You’ll just have to wait and see
 
Tricia 2011
 
 
 
Death Waits
 
 
‘My death waits, like a witch at night’ so sang David Bowie.
 
Death waits for us all; sometimes so impatient he tires of the waiting and pounces. He is an intemperate bastard, with no thought for the effect his actions have on those whose lives he stumbles through; mumbling, roaring, staggering, strutting, full of himself and the power he wields. His perversity is mind blowing.
 
‘No I’ll not take that one, the one who is crying out for me to claim them; I’ll take the contented one, the one who is not expecting me, not yet ready, or maybe the wee babe sleeping peacefully in its cot, better yet the one still in the womb.’
 
There are some troubled souls who tire of the waiting game death plays; they take matters into their own hands, choosing to end lives that have become intolerable for whatever reason. I have heard it said that suicide it the coward’s way out, but I disagree, I think suicide is a courageous act. You see there are so many variables, and death is such a powerful shit. What if he refuses to claim us, if it amuses him to leave us in a vegetative state; drooling, unresponsive lumps no longer able to control our bodily functions, or worse, mentally alert but unable to communicate, stuck in some painful, powerless half life with no way out, waiting on death’s decision.
 
I got all excited the other day, was at the doctors when he noticed a mark on my neck, said it could be a basal cell carcinoma and I should have a biopsy.
 
‘OK’ I said ‘I’ll have the biopsy but if it is cancer I will happily let it take its course’. He looked at me with a gentle smile on his face, you see he knows me and my readiness for death.
 
‘This type of cancer rarely causes death’ he said ‘if left untreated it will eat at your flesh like an ulcer and cause you more pain than you already live with, your quality of life will deteriorate further’
 
‘Bugger’ said I smiling at him, ‘In that case I’ll think about the biopsy, because right now I’m not ready to have needles and scalpels poked into my neck’
 
‘Alright’ he replied ‘but don’t leave it too long because the larger it grows the more invasive it is to treat.’
 
‘Bet you don’t get too many patients who are disappointed when you tell them what they have is unlikely to kill them’ I said as I stood up to leave.
 
‘It’s not a common occurrence’ he replied, resting his hand on my shoulder for a moment.
 
So for now my death continues to wait. I refuse to plead with him to come for me, that satisfaction he will have to do without.
 
Tricia 2010
 
 

Pink Floyd – An Introspective

Pink Floyd – An Introspective
 
‘Mother did it need to be so high?’  The last line in a Pink Floyd song titled simply Mother. And build the wall high she did. ‘Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you’. Fear was the mortar that held the wall together, fear that her son would suffer as she had growing up in a home with broken parents. The heart-rending thing was it took her many years to realise she too was broken, and so the wounding continued. Love was the motivator, but irreparable damage the result. No matter how hard she tried she could not protect him from suffering. What she could, and did eventually do, was work on her own brokenness.
 
The 12th anniversary of his death was approaching and the words of the song kept playing on the turntable of her being. ‘-mother should I build a wall? — Hush now  baby baby don’t you cry, mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true, mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you, mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing, she won’t let you fly but she might let you sing, mama’s gonna keep baby cosy and warm, of course Mama’s gonna help build the wall. —You’ll always be a baby to me. Mother did it need to be so high?’
 
Her obsession with this song at this time of the year was not self flagellation, nor misplaced guilt; it was an honest acknowledgement of what was and what is. Like many mothers before and since, she was loving, caring, compassionate and imperfect. She no longer believed she was responsible for his death. He was an irrepressible mix of joy and sorrow, but within him these emotions were more than just the yin and yang of life, they were mortal enemies.  For years he battled a compulsive need to end his life; he succeeded on his fourth attempt.  
 
Wish You Were Here was the song she and her husband played as they drove into Wilson’s Prom each year on the anniversary of KB’s death. It was a necessary ritual to visit Squeaky Beach where his ashes were scattered on this day of sorrow, remembering and celebration of a life cut short. ‘How I wish you were here, we’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl year after year, running over the same old ground, what have we found, the same old fears, I wish that you were here.’
 
It wasn’t just since his death that the lyrics of this song had spoken to her deepest self. For almost ten years before he died depression and drugs had often made him an absent presence, his body seeming to be inhabited by a stranger, a stranger who denied her access to the warm, caring young man she knew and adored. She would caress his cheek, look deep into his eyes, and see nothing but her own reflection in the dark, empty pools where laughter once lived. ‘So, so you think you can tell, heaven from hell, blue skies from pain —and did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts, hot ashes for trees and hot air for a cool breeze, cold comfort for change, and did you exchange a walk-on part in a war, for a lead role in a cage — how I wish you were here.’
 
They always left Squeaky Beach just as the sun was setting. The Floyd song for this part of the journey was always Shine On You Crazy Diamond because KB, like sunset at The Prom, was a spectacular, multifaceted gem. For her this song also, applied to both his death and the living death of depression and addiction. The words illustrate the price many pay for wanting to grow up too soon, for using a substance as a means of escape from painful reality, for believing they are invincible.  ‘Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun, shine on you crazy diamond, now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky, — you reached for the secret too soon, you cried for the moon, shine on you crazy diamond, threatened by shadows at night, and exposed in the light, shine on you crazy diamond.’
 
The closer the anniversary came, the more she dwelt on her inability to believe in a life after death. She wanted to, oh how she wanted to, she would close her eyes and picture him in life, longing to feel the touch of his hand on her shoulder, the warm, loving hugs he always gave, wishing fervently that one day she could feel that warmth again.  Whatever came after death, if anything, it could never be what once was, nothing could bring back the last 12 years, rerun them like the remake of an old movie, only this time with an upbeat ending; his young life continuing happily, with a partner, a home of his own, and children, her grandchildren, all the things he wanted but never had. Still she listened longingly to the following words of his favourite Pink Floyd song, the one he related to so strongly he wrote in an earlier suicide note that it was how he wanted to be remembered – as a Crazy Diamond – ‘Nobody knows where you are, how near or how far, shine on you crazy diamond, pile on many more years and I’ll be joining you there, — come on you boy child, you winner and loser, come on you miner for truth and delusion and shine.’
 
This coming anniversary would be the third year in a row that she would be unable to make the journey to Squeaky Beach. Her husband had died suddenly, just before the 10th anniversary of KB’s death, and she had a chronic illness that left her unable to make it from the car park to the beach on her own.
 
As she mused on their first trek from the car-park to the beach, the day they scattered his ashes, she was reminded of the grief process. You arrive at an unfamiliar destination, surrounded by people who have no idea of the journey you are embarking on. The pathway leading to the beach mirrors the grief journey. You start on rocky, uneven ground, then move onto a boardwalk that takes you over murky water, you hear the croak of a frog, see ripples created by things unknown, want to look more closely, but fear what may be hiding in the shadows. The boardwalk ends and you’re back onto the uneven pathway that has been carved through the bush. At first the sky is visible, but just before you reach the beach you pass through a dark passage covered by dense bushland where the trees link branches overhead blocking out the light. Once you have made it through the darkness you get your first glimpse of sand and sea, but you are not there yet, you find the sea has flowed into deep channels in the sand, you must struggle to cross these before you reach the beach.
 
There were others who would take her on this emotional journey but – it was such a private, personal ritual, a sharing of things only they knew and understood, like the way they would open the roof of the car, even in the pouring rain, and she would stand with her head sticking out singing along with The Floyd at the top of her voice while her husband drove out of The Prom smiling, and loving her ferocious free spirit. It wouldn’t be the same with someone else. Of course that’s the reality of death, nothing is ever the same again.
 
They were both gone, both died far too young, her son 26, her husband 63. ‘Breathe, breathe in the air, don’t be afraid to care, leave but don’t leave me, look around, choose your own ground, for long you live and high you fly, smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry, all you touch and all you see, is all your life will ever be — for long you live and high you fly, but only if you ride the tide, balanced on the biggest wave, you race towards an early grave.’ They had both ‘balanced on the biggest wave,’ in their time, and although death had claimed their bodies, they lived on in her memory and in the music they had all loved. Their legacy was she no longer feared death, whatever death was they had been through it. If they could do it, so could she. She began her story with the words of Pink Floyd; she felt it only fitting to end it the same way.
 
The Great Gig in the Sky ‘And I am not frightened of dying, any time will do, I don’t mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There’s no reason for it, you’ve gotta go sometime. If you can hear this whispering you are dying. I never said I was frightened of dying.’
 
Tricia 8/2011

Jagged Slashes

She still kept the t-shirt and singlet the paramedics cut off him under his pillow. It had been over a year and his scent had long gone yet she often held them up to her face, inhaled deeply, as if by breathing in for long enough his wonderful smell would magically appear. At times she would look at them in wonder, he had sweated profusely in the moments of his dying, and yet the grey t-shirt and white singlet were now as if they had been laundered, just like the other t-shirts and singlets that lay in his cupboard, except these had jagged slashes up the centre and over the shoulders. He was still wearing his pyjama pants when they gave her those timeless aeons to lay on the floor beside his cooling body for one last cuddle. She was not good with names, but she would never forget Paige, the policewoman who said “Take as long as you want, I won’t call the coroner’s office until you’re ready” and then melted quietly away into another room as Tess lay beside him and whispered to him of the wonder of their life together. She was glad they had removed that long tube from his throat; he would have hated that, he who used to gag on a panadol. She pulled a blanket from the couch and covered him, trying to bring him warmth, brushed his hair with her hands, then chided him for leaving without her. “I know we discussed this, talked of one of us going first, but I’m not ready for you to go without me. Why couldn’t you wait for me? We’re a team; we do the hard stuff together. The scent of your hair, the sparkle of your eyes, the solidity of our silences, and the hugs; I don’t think I can survive without the loving warmth of our hugs. I want to be cross with you for leaving, but I know it was not your choice. Come get me soon.” It was her friend Emma who had eventually helped her to her feet, and told Paige she could now call the coroner. She had rang Emma at some stage during that hour when her family room had morphed into a hospital emergency room complete with drips, and machines that tried to zap the life back into her husband. It was when she had seen his tummy start to rise and fall again and had said “Oh good he is breathing again” that the tall one with the gentle eyes had said “Tess we are breathing for him at the moment, he is gravely ill and I think it would be a good idea if you called someone to be with you.”

Emma was the only one who came to mind. Everyone should have a friend like Emma, a friend who would come without question whenever she was needed, who never presumed to know the unknowable, never felt the urge to offer meaningless clichés, a friend who was gifted with the ability to just be there, listen, see what needed doing and do it, and never doubted Tess’s ability to make her own decisions even in the most traumatic of circumstances. Emma’s husband Don made a pot of tea and they went to sit in the study while they waited for the people from the coroner’s office. She knew she could not endure watching that moment when they pulled the zipper of the body bag over his beautiful face. Not long after her son’s death there had been an add on the television, something to do with an anti drugs campaign, where they had shown a lifeless looking young man laying in a body bag with just his face exposed. Every time it came on she would bleat like a ewe standing over the body of her dead lamb, and curse the advertising people for their over the top insensitivity. Didn’t they know that young people thought they were invincible and it was their families, and the families of those of all ages who had died suddenly, that were ripped open by their body in the bag stunt?

 As they drank their tea she told Emma and Don about the line from Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking “You sit down to dinner and life as you know it changes in an instant.” She said it had only been a few short months ago, on their last overseas trip, that they had sat together at a theatre in Boston and watched the amazing play that Joan had adapted from her book. It had been December and after the play they had gone out for dinner, and had a snowball fight in the car-park of the restaurant. She told them she and Harry had not sat down to dinner, they had gone to bed, the last thing he had done was make her laugh. They were both in bed and the overhead light was still on, neither wanted to get out of bed to turn it off. Harry had picked up Big Ted, the bear he had given her to ease the ache of longing in her arms after the death of their son, and said “How about I chuck Big Ted at the light switch and he can turn it off on his way past.” She had got up laughing, turned the light out then climbed back into bed and kissed his cheek saying “You’re a funny bugger aren’t you” and fallen asleep still chuckling. She had woken an hour later as he collapsed across the bed on his way to the bathroom. He then stumbled into the family room after her as she raced to grab the hands-free phone from the kitchen bench and frantically dialled 000. She guided his grey, sweating body to a chair as she spoke to the operator “The lady wants you to squeeze my hand darling” she said, he gave the gentlest of squeezes and in an instant he was gone. “He is looking at me but not seeing me” she cried into the phone “Try and get him into a sitting position” said the operator, “He is sitting” she cried. “The ambulance is only a couple of minutes away and I will stay on the line with you ‘till they arrive. Go and unlock the front door and put a light on.” By the time she had clasped his hand again two strangers were coming into her home, their hands full of equipment. They slid his body onto the floor asking “How long has he been unresponsive?” “Only a moment or two” she replied. As one started to slide a tube down his throat the other one grabbed a walkie talky type thing and said “We need a mica unit here stat.” And so the hour of fighting for a life that she knew in her heart was no more, began. As she finished her tea she looked up and saw the tears running down Emma’s cheeks. It was the first of many times she would describe the events with an almost clinical precision, for a while it was almost a compulsion; she wanted to speak the words over and over again to anyone who would listen. “I can’t believe he’s gone” said Emma. Paige the policewoman came into the study, handed Tess a little booklet put out by the coroner’s office and gave her a number she could call at any hour of the day or night if she had any questions. She walked with Paige to the front door, and told her she would never forget her kindness and compassion, she remembered feeling the gun press into her side as she gave the policewoman a hug of gratitude. It made her think of the old Mae West saying “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you pleased to see me?” She used to say it in devilment to Harry some mornings when she awoke to that familiar pressure in the small of her back. She walked back into the kitchen where Emma and Don were rinsing the cups, “Thank you both so much for being here” she said “but I need to be alone now and you two need to get some rest.” “If you’re sure” said Emma, and she loved her friend even more for not questioning her need for solitude. She fell into them both for a moment as they said their goodbyes and promised to return later that day. They offered to make phone calls, but Tess wanted to do this herself. She would wait until about 7.00am and then begin the process her and Harry had gone through together after the death of their son. For her there was a deep sense of intimacy in sharing the news of the end of a beautiful life, and she experienced this sense that in doing this herself she was administering to him, the last rights of their life together. After Emma and Don left she went to the CD cupboard and dug out the old Gladys Night and the Pips CD and played “their song” You and Me Against the World. She picked up Big Ted and swayed slowly around the room with him, she sat for the final verse “And when one of us is gone, and one is left alone to carry on, well then remembering will have to do, our memories alone will get us through, I’ll think about the days of me and you, of you and me”. 

 

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