Break In


They stood on the front porch, stymied and stupified. Dylon had no key to the front door, and Linda hadn’t brought her key. She’d assumed Dylan would have his with his car key. No.

The spare key lock-box was empty. That meant Adele had taken it, either into her room or – as her car was nowhere to be seen – out with her.

“Let’s call Adele,” said Linda.

Dylan wouldn’t hear of it. No way was his daughter going to learn he’d forgotten to take his key with him.

“We’ll go to the back.”

Linda stretched on tiptoe to reach over the gate to unlatch it.

“I can get a spare key from the garage,” Dylan said. He went through his pockets as he approached the garage door. “Shit. I haven’t got the garage key either.”

Linda checked the doors, just in case they’d left one unlocked. No such luck.

Dylan steamed, Linda fumed…who each was blaming, neither would ever say.

Dylan examined each door…the sliding doors to the lounge and the bedroom were tamper ptoof, as was the wooden door to the laundry.

But…the laundry window?

Dylan turned the screen locks and removed the screen, leaning it against the wall. He didn’t for a minute believe it would, but he tried lifting the sliding window…and it slipped up and out easily.

So, who was to go in through it? Dylan knew he was too large and, at 71 a little too limited.

“I can do it,” Linda said. “I just need something to step up on.”

Thank heavens for absent-minded handyman husbands – he’d left two saw horses outside. Dylan placed one under the window – sort of. One foot was higher than the other three, and as the wall planter for their herbs was right below the window there was quite a space between the saw horse and the sill. Which was at Linda’s bust height.

Now, Linda had her own structural problems, neither age-related, even though she was 65 years old. One hip joint had been replaced, botched, and replaced again, leaving her with the leg an inch shorter than its mate, and limited movement. She had had surgery on the other leg to excise melanoma from the groin, so big a mass and so entwined around the tendons and arteries the surgeon had needed to scrape the cancer from the tendon – leaving even less movement possible.

But, of the two, Linda was the only one who could fit through the window.

She needed a boost from Dylan, but made it to stand on the saw horse. Now, how to pass through the window, now looking much smaller.

“Go through on hands and knees,” Dylan suggested.

Linda couldn’t get a knee up to the sill. “No, I’ll do it this way.”

“Perhaps I’d better try.”

“No, I can do it'” She shuffled herself around on the saw horse, until she had her back to the wall. With her hands behind her on the sill, and one foot on the garden tap, she boosted herself up into the window frame. Not comfortable when it’s an aluminium frame, with a slot-and-groove track for a sliding window pane!

She lifted a cheek so the grooved track fitted more comfortably. Only, now she was facing sideways, but still with both legs hanging off the sill. The leg closest to the window was the least useful leg. Try as she did, the bloody leg would not bend close enough to let her foot pass the frame – even after Dylan pulled her sneaker off.

“Leave it,” Dylan said. “I’ll think of something else.”

“No way – this is fun.”

“Try going through backwards.”

That was going to be awkward – an acrobat Linda was not. She shifted around again. First one cheek, then the other, passed that darned track. Where next…this needed some thinking. If I put my left hand down on the hot tap, and my right hand on the front edge of the tub,  I can start to let myself down onto the washing machine.

She set the plan in motion – and ended up flat on her back on top of the machine, her legs still up on the window frame.

She walked her feet along and down the wall as she turned herself to face the room, all the while laughing like a crazy woman at what she must look like (were anyone watching).

Once on her feet, she unlocked the laundry door for Dylan. He passed her and went to the door into the bathroom.

Shit, oh dear, he had locked the bathroom door from the inside before they’d gone out! Still no entry to their own house!

Dylan remembered he had tools in the boot of the car. Using a screwdriver he popped the bolts from the door hinges, then levered the door out of its frame, hoping the bolt bracket wouldn’t break the door. But no … success. They were in.

Tempting though it was to leave the door between bathroom and laundry, to let Adele see the open plan layout created by her key forgetfulness, Dylan set about replacing the bathroom doors’ locks with ones that could be opened from the “wrong” side, and setting another lock box out beside the lounge door.

The only real disappointment? No one had filmed her hilarious cat burglar impersonation!

Numbers for One Son


One Son, One Crash, Nine Injuries, One Band

One night, near midnight, the telephone rang, waking us from sleep. The voice asked for verification that I was mother to Michael, and told me she was calling from Auckland Hospital’s Emergency department. I repeated what she said, so my husband would know what was happening. He immediately sprang from bed, and started hauling suitcases down from the cupboard above our wardrobe.

“Michael’s been in an accident?”

“He’s in a critical condition?”

“He may not survive the night?”

“It’s a nine-hour drive.”

“There are no planes to Auckland from here.”

“We’ll hit the road. If there’s any question of permission for any procedure, you have it. Just, please, keep him alive until we arrive.”

Our clothes jammed in the cases and we were on our way, stopping to collect the father of Michael’s girl-friend, who’d been in the same crash. We drove all night, only stopping for a coffee and snack when fatigue hit the driver. We arrived at the Emergency Department at about the same time as the business rush-hour was in full crawl.

“He’s not here,” the man said. I nearly collapsed, thinking he meant our boy had died. “He’s up in the Critical Care ward. I’ll walk with you to show you the way.”

We parted company from the girl’s father, as she was in a general surgical ward, and arrived on the CC floor. Sitting on a bench seat outside the ward was the driver, Richard, his head in his hands. Beside him, another of Michael’s friends. I went straight to Richard, sat beside him, and held him close.

“Richard, this is not your fault. We do not blame you. Please, don’t blame yourself. I’ll call you in as soon as they let Michael have visitors.”

We entered the CC ward, and were led to Michael’s cubicle; there he lay, his usually soft tan skin pallid, eyes closed as he drifted through the induced coma that rested his body. Both of us had tears in our eyes, but we fought them off. Our worry and misery were far outweighed by Michael’s condition.

He had taken nine points of impact and damage when the car had been T-boned at an intersection, and he in the passenger seat took the full impact:

A skull fracture, and concussion;
A fracture of the humerus, and tearing of the ulnar;
A hairline fracture of the C6 vertebra (with potential paralysis);
Two fractures of the pelvic cradle – one at the front, one at the back;
His spleen had been shattered and splattered throughout his abdominal and chest cavity;
Abdominal organs had been forced through his diaphragm (they found his stomach between a lung and his heart)!

They had already removed all traces of his spleen from the abdominal cavity, replaced all organs, and repaired the diaphragm. He wore a neck brace until the C6 hairline fracture showed signs of healing and it was safe to manage without it. They operated to repair the arm fracture.

In the meantime, over the days of visiting him, we all were able to stay in the hospital’s family hostel, with a community kitchen and quiet room. It was a steep walk up to the level of the hospital, and I was using a walker frame, being in recovery form my own health problem.

The girlfriend’s condition was far less concerning than my son’s. She whined about the possibility of a slight scar on her face. Her father had by then been joined by her mother and younger sister – lovely girl. The mother was my husband’s “boss”, and she told him he had to return home, to complete a routine end of the academic year task. So I remained in the family hostel on my own, but managed to get up to the CC ward everyday – just to sit as “wall paper” as Michael lay there, needing quiet, or companionship when he was up to talking.

They operated to pin his pelvic fractures, and advised me he’d be out of surgery and ready to see me at about four-thirty. I returned to the hostel, listening to the radio during the long surgery. When I walked into the CC ward the anaesthetist and surgeon were attending him still. They urgently waved me away, and said they’d fetch me when he was awake and ready. Something was wrong, I could feel their despair.

I waited for another hour and a half before they came out to fetch me. Oh, God. Their faces were the colour of a hospital sheet.

“He’s not coming out of the anaesthetic.” I didn’t wait to hear any more.

Around his bed, the anaesthetist stood at Michael’s head, the theatre nurse stood at Michael’s left side, monitoring his pulse with his hand – watching the wave lines on the monitor. I stood at his right, holding his hand, tears running down my cheeks. It seemed this would be his last hour on earth.

Then, I realised – even in a coma, some patients still hear what is spoken directly to them. Michaelbeing a musician (bass guitar, drums, and vocals in a small rock band) I began talking music to him.

“Michael? The boys in the band are waiting for you. They need you, Michael.”

“Michael, I’ve been listening to the radio all day – The Rock station – all your favourites.”

The medicos were murmuring to each other sotto voce, their tones tinged with concern. I didn’t want to hear their words. Then I remembered something The Rock’s announcer had said.

“Hey, Michael. You know what I heard on the radio? AC/DC are touring down under.”

“Jesus, he’s got a grip!’ cried out the theatre nurse.

“That’s a good response.” The anaesthetist glanced up at the sudden spike on the monitor. “He definitely heard that.

In between silent sobs as I tried to sound calm, I said “Michael, if you come up out of this… if you can wake up… I will get your to an AC/DC concert… even if we have to fly across the Tasman.”

His grip of both our hands was sharp, sudden, strong! Thank you, Lord Jesus.

I kept talking about our favourite band, naming their songs, which videos we both liked best… Heck, I even sang one! I gave time between talking for him to respond – and for the medicos to watch the ever increasing pulses of the monitors of his brain activity, his heart… then, at last…

“Wanna see AC/DC, Mum.” A soft, whispered mumble, but there he was, back from the depths of near death.

Gradually over the next hour as the theatre nurse and I quietly spoke to him about music, his friends… he brought – he fought – himself back to full consciousness. Only when he was stable, and awake but tired – a natural tiredness – could I leave him to sleep.


This post brought to you via

dailyprompt_wordpress
Discover Challenges

 

Post Script: AC/DC announced they would extend their tour to New Zealand, to Auckland. At the time, I had relapsed (shortly after Michael’s surgeries were completed, and my body collapsed after bearing all the stress) and was again confined to my own hospital bed at home. But Michael, and his sister, did get to hear our favourite band perform live. I have to admit, I cried as I couldn’t be there with them.

Let’s Play ‘Pretend’


d “Let’s play ‘pretend’,” she’d say. And on a dairy farm, miles from the nearest town, and a long way to walk to play at your friends’ farm…what else could you do when you’re bored with dolls, toys, colouring in, and all the other indoor activities. On a sunny day, playing ‘pretend’ was the best way to fill our day.

“Let’s pretend we’re Robin Hood?”

“No, there’s only two of us here, and I’m fed up of being the Sherriff of Nottingham!”

“Let’s pretend we’re Sir Edmund Hillary!”

“No. That only means we walk up the hills to the ridge at the top. That’s not real climbing.”

“Well, let’s pretend we’re Biggles and Ginger.”

“Yes, let’s. Can I be Biggles this time?”

“No, you’re too small to fit in the cockpit. I’ll be Biggles.”

So that means I’m Ginger. Like I was the last times we’ve pretended.

“You don’t mind, do you.” It’s not a question. She’s already heading off down towards the cream stand near the gate.

I don’t mind, not really. At least Ginger gets to do more than Biggles, who just tells me what to do. I follow, as always, as we move across to the windbreak of old macrocarpa trees. No breeze today, so no riding the lower branches.

Beside – actually through some of the trees’ trunks – is the old almost-still-a fence, with its posts slanting every which way, probably supported more by the macrocarpa trunks than the posts. Lying across the sagging top wires is the old tree trunk, blown down years ago, stripped by the weather and the seasons of its bark and side branches.

We scramble over the fence into the old orchard, with its rows of neglected apple trees whose windfall fruit feeds the pigs when they’re allowed out from their sties. I’ve never seen the pigs myself. She has. She’s told me why Dad doesn’t want us to come into the orchard – the pigs are wild, she told me, and dangerous. That’s why we mustn’t tell Dad and Mum this is where we sometimes play.

Biggles checks the plane, making sure it’s not damp, it’s got no bugs in it. As she climbs into the cockpit, she gives Ginger orders.

“There’s parts missing, Ginger. See what you can get from the hangar.” So I get some likely-looking twigs, and pass them up to her. I start to climb up into the seat behind Biggles.

“Ginger, I’ll do the safety checks. But we’re short on fuel. Sort it out old chap.” I leave her to stick twigs into borer holes, for switches, climb through the fence again and get the old bucket from under the cream stand. It’s always there. I’ve told Dad about it. I asked him if he wanted me to bring it home, but he said to leave it there.

I carry it up to the house, going in through the front hedge and around to the water tank beside the back of the house. I refuel it, and carry it back to the plane. It’s heavy, and some sloshes out.

“That’s not much fuel,’ says Biggles.

“That’s all the chaps could spare. Besides, you said there was some fuel left from the last flight.”

“Okay, Ginger. Fuel her up.” I pour the ‘fuel’ into an opening in the old trunk. We both know the hole goes right through, and I’ve worked out how to stand and refuel without getting fuel on my feet. I put the bucket down by the fence, and climb aboard.

“Wait till I get the engine running, Ginger. I need you to pull away the chocks.” Biggles starts the engine. “Took, took, tchook, tchook… Took, took, tchook, tchook… Took, tchook, tchooka… Rrrrrrr, Rrrrrr… Chocks away, Ginger!”

I kick away two rocks, and clamber aboard. Biggles has the motor running smoothly, and it starts into a full roar, rising in pitch, as he revs her up and we take off. I run the motor when Biggles runs out of breath, so the engine doesn’t stutter and die.

“I say, Ginger,” calls Biggles. “We’re right over the enemy air field now. Snap those photos now, old boy!” Biggles takes over the engine, while I hold out the camera and take snaps.

Click. Kachick. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik.

“I got four good snaps, Biggles. Will that do the major?”

“Keep snapping Ginger!”

Click. Kachick. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik. Click. Kachik.

“Right-oh, that’ll have to do. One of their planes is out taxiing – they’re after us. Let’s head for home. Well done, Ginge!”

We fly back to base, land, and taxi to our spot beside the runway. Biggles does the safety checks while I replace the chocks.

“Great flight, Biggles. Are we going to see the major straight away?”

“Oh no, Ginger. Let’s stop off at the canteen for a cuppa on the way.”

We clamber through the fence, I replace the fuel bucket, and we walk up the gentle slope to the house – going through the back gate to the kitchen.

“Welcome back chaps. Good flight?” Mum asks. The teapot’s full, and there’s scones on the counter. Help yourselves, won’t you.” She smiles, and leave us to it, going out to the clothes line to lower the prop and unpeg the washing.

“Runs a good canteen, does Mum, eh.”

“Yes, she does.”


Dairy farm, c. 1955-56, in Whangarata, Waikato, New Zealand
This memory brought to you by
dailyprompt_wordpress

Year 2316 NA


The two of them were bending over a case, browsing through three-dimensional projected images inside the glass case. The young lad kept flicking through the menu, rejecting choices faster than the old man could keep up. He was frowning at the boy’s rushing, and hit the [Project] button on one image, of an old tower building. He seemed to recognise it.

majestichotel_hughferriss
Majestic Hotel, 1930.

“Here… my great-great- great…who knows how many greats, Grandah helped build that!”

 

“Built over 300 year ago, now Grandah.” The boy was reading the projected data

“Do you tell me that?”

“I do, that. Majestic Hotel, it were. What’s ‘hotel’?”

“Do you not know that? A hotel was a place people stayed when they came to visit a town.”

“Like our Home-blocks, then?”

“Not at all, not at all. Guests they were called, and only stayed a short time before moving on, and paid for their staying.”

“They paid for a place to live, then?”

“No, for a place to stay…listen boyo. Back then, people paid for everything.”

“Everything, Grandah? Like, food, and clothes, and school, and—“

“Not school. That were Gummint provided, no cost. ‘Cept for rich people; they paid if their chil-derns were at a private school. Least, dat’s what I’ve read.”

“So, Grandah, this hotel… built ‘way back in th’ olden days then. But it looks same as our home-blocks, dunnit.”

“So it does, so it does. Back then, it were called ‘futuristic’. Wonder what them people’d think if they saw our buildings today.”

Ding! …and the Simulated Automatic Mouth recited…
“Doors close in fifteen minutes. Those on floors thirty-five to fifty, use the express elevators one, two, three, four and five. From floors fifteen to thirty-four, use elevators six, seven, eight and nine. Those on floors fourteen and below, use elevators ten, eleven and twelve to the third floor. Those on the third floor use the rapid escalator in the central foyers. Do not use elevators thirteen and fourteen. At the sound of the next bell, you will have thirteen minutes to clear the building.”

“It’s closing time, Grandah; we’ll have to use a rapid elevator.”

“Do you tell me that, boyo?”

“I do that, I. Can we come again?” He grabbed his mePad and stuffed it into the meBag which began to buzz, ready to follow him.

“Can you not use the Explorer on your edication pad?”

“Yea, I can…but here, it’s more like real. Can we come back, then?” He grabbed Grandah’s hand and began walking to elevator three, along the footway between exhibits. His meBag followed.

“Next time your edication pad posts a day off, we will, for sure.”

Ding!
“Thirteen minutes to clear the building.”

“That’s a promise, is it?”

“It’s a promise, boyo.”


This post created for the Google+ ‘Writers Discussion Group
(Hoping the link take you straight to the starter post there”

Off the Page July’s homework


“I need to go now.” She reached across the sofa for her handbag, fumbling to grab its straps.

“Now? You’ve twenty minutes before the bus comes.” The tea towel in his hands twisted in a knot, his hands winding and unwinding it. “Can you wait?”

Looking through the pouches of the bag, checking without seeing its contents, her side vision caught them both reflected in the mirror. She couldn’t look—at it, or at him. “It’s a nice morning. I’ll walk to the next stop.”

“About last night. I want…“ He turned away, threw the tea towel into the kitchen. Head down, he rummaged in the baggy pockets of his old cargo pants—a cigarette packet. He drew out a half-smoked fag and the lighter.

“Don’t light up inside.” He wouldn’t, but it was something to say. She groped through her bag, as she groped through her mind for the words needed. Nothing came.

From opposite sides of the room—the space between empty with its minimalistic décor, as empty as each felt—they faced each other, not looking.

“Let’s just pretend last night didn’t happen. It won’t happen again.”

She walked out, touching the new bruise on her eye.


The Brief:

Show a relationship between two characters using Subtext – what’s not said or told, what’s not in the lines, but between the lines.

Commended entry to Mapua Literary Festival short story competition


The Moon Disappeared Behind Dark Clouds

{This sentence was required within the story}

The moon disappeared behind dark clouds, leaving the campsite and campers blind–if they’d been awake. Their campfire had been extinguished when they’d been sent to bed. Bringing flashlights, candles or matches had been forbidden, for this was a Teen Intervention camp, three days walk from the nearest highway, along a dusty, gravelly track.
Seven tents had been pitched in a horseshoe-shape, and numbered from the eastern end around to the western, one to seven. Two strangers to each tent, with the Leader Robert D Raingier (pronounced as “Raing-ee-ay” he had emphasized) in tent four at centre of the U. Once Police Special Ops, demoted to Public Service and the beat, he never revealed he had been retired early. His late career expertise with disaffected youth gave him the cred for running this programme for teen shop-lifters, serial home runaways, drug and alcohol abusers … and those who’d learned the best form of defence was attack.
Within the six teens’ tents, all were asleep–oblivious to the blackness outside. Mr Raingier was not–he was lying belly down on his cot facing the pinned-back flap and its opening. Without shifting his stare through the doorway, he reached under the cot and took hold of his night-vision goggles. Putting them on, he’d be able to see if any left their tent, or lit up inside it.
A-hah! In tent seven, a flick of a lighter gave a quick spark and blacked out again.
Inside the tent, two watchful boys were sitting on their cots facing each other. One, Dobbo, was fumbling blindly down in the foot of his sleeping bag, for his pack of fags.
“Don’t light that again!” He hissed, not realising a hiss travels more clearly than does a whisper or even a mutter.
“But can you find them?” His mate Frank was desperate or a smoke.
“Makes no damn difference whether you flick that bloody lighter or not, idiot! It ain’t gonna shine down inter the bag, is it! Ah, gottem.”
“Got what, boys? Tobacco? Mary-jane?” Raingier’s voice was a deathly quiet murmur “Come on out, you hear? And bring it with you. Now.”.
The lads stooped to get through the low entrance, and meekly handed over the lighter and smokes.
“Follow me.”
The boys heard him move away, and stumbled after him, wondering how his step was so silent and confident, whereas they could not see a foot in front of themselves. If they made any sound after tripping, slithering down the slight slope or banging into anything, his quiet voice made a quick “Fft”.
When he stopped they bumped into him and each other. He made no sound to indicate their noise mattered now, and time had passed enough that Dobbo and Frank knew the hollow they were in was some distance from the campsite.
“Don’t move from there.” Raingier moved off some distance by the sounds they heard of a lockbox being opened, things lifted out, and the lid closed again. They both nearly jumped when his next words came, so suddenly close to them again.
“You–this way”
Dobbo found his arm in a vice-like grip. Raingier drew him away from Frank, and suddenly slammed his back against a trunk–rough bark dug into his skin through his light cotton shirt. Suddenly his arms were behind him around the tree, and the rip of a zip-tie slammed his wrists together.
“Dobbo? What was that? You awrigh’?” Frank heard no reply–Dobbo’s mouth was full of peanut butter sandwich with duct tape sealing his lips. “Gawd aw’mighty! You scared me then, ‘Mr Ranger, Sir’!”
Raingier, his arm now with a tight grip on Frank’s arm, said nothing–infuriated as the quotation from the cartoon Yogi Bear always made him feel. He dragged Frank in the opposite direction, still in this blind hollow, but farther from Dobbo. He tied Frank to a trunk, stuffed his mouth with a sandwich and taped it shut before Frank could blink.
The boys heard his near silent tread leaving them alone in the black. Although each writhed to pull their wrists from the zip-locks, they only succeeded in drawing the bindings tighter into their skin. Dobbo realised his skin had been split when he felt blood dripping down his palm, and immediately stopped struggling. He hoped Frank would wake up and not struggle too.
High overhead, a sky breeze scudded clouds away from the moon, just long enough for the boys to be able to glimpse each other across the clearing in the base of the hollow, and to realise they couldn’t see over the top of the slope enclosing them. They imagined each other’s state, having only a dim sight of eyebrows and wide eyes. This was not good, they knew.
– – –
Jacinda in that same momentary gleam caught sight of Raingier walking towards the camp, scanning each tent. She shrank back, seeing his night goggles. Raingier, satisfied none of the teens were awake, slipped into his tent. In moments he was snoring. She sneaked out of her tent and into his–and within a minute had found and lifted his night goggles. Outside, the clouds re-covered the moon. With the goggles on, she headed out in the direction Raingier had come. She had street-sharpened instincts, and glancing from side to side caught a broken branchlet here, a skid there, and before long was standing on the edge of the hollow.

She half walked, half slid down. Knifing through zip-locks, ripping off duct tape, she stepped back as the remaining moosh of the sandwich gag was choked out.
“Jaysis, guys, what the hell was this?”
“Raingier caught us–smokes and lighter.” Frank glanced around, hoping Raingier was well away.
“Relax, he’s snoring like a pig. Jaysis–if this is for smokes, what if he found me knife!”
In another brief moment of light, they saw her eyes slit.
“Don’t worry guys–this won’t happen again…”

Circus Kill


This arose from a challenge from CelticFrog to use within the same story three elements: a clown, an elderly Russian spy, a bar of soap


In the barren back lands of Australia, many years ago, an outback community was buzzing with talk of a circus coming to town in a few months. Sited in the middle of desert land, serving cattle stations that were bigger than Texas, the little town (which refused to be considered a mere village) was a focal point for gossip, ordering supplies, and the outback radio network. Four main buildings made up the “town” – a blacksmith and hardware store, a general store and postal station, a school house, and the pub. Lining the dirt track through the town and out into the desert were about eight or nine houses – seven if you only counted those in which someone actually lived.

The maiden-aunt figure of the school teacher (Miss Nadia Vokova) was given distractions by questions about circuses, as they’d never been to one nor even seen one. In the dusty dry book shelves in the back room she found a story book with pictures showing a circus, and she made sure the class learned what to expect when the circus came to town.

She arranged for the educational school’s airwaves host to cover the circus as a topic. Children living ‘way too far to come into town for school would hear of the circus through the radio grapevine, and want to know more about it too, before deciding if it would be worth calling the plane in to bring them to its performance.

Early on a typically dry morning, as Miss Vokova crossed the road from her school house to the general store, she saw the jeep drive away towards the landing strip, having just dropped off the weekly mail. She opened the store’s door and went to the stationery area, seeking large paper sheets and powder-mix paint for the school.

“Hey there, Miss Vokova, you just call if you need any help there,” the store keeper Blue Jackson, greeted her as he hauled packages and envelopes from the green canvas mailbag.

“Thanks, Blue, I will need help later with delivery of a few things,” she answered “Carry on with the mail, don’t mind me.”

“Righty-oh, Miss,” and he began piling, sifting and sorting. Soon the mail was sorted: one pile to be delivered by his black boy to the town addresses, one pile of envelopes that would wait for near farmers to collect on their weekly ride into town for supplies, and one pile for the local airplane to drop off at the distant stations.

She moved on towards the fabrics at the back. She wanted to sew a new dress for summer, and started pulling cloth bolts partially from the stacks.

“D’you need the missus, there?” called Blue.

“Is she busy? I’d like some advice from your wife.”

“Sweet-‘eart? Sweet heart! Customer in dressmaking, love,” he hollered.

Mrs Jackson bustled through the curtain hanging across the doorway into the back half of the store, where their living quarters were. The women were busily comparing patterns, measuring Nadia, comparing fabrics, selecting, matching and gathering the notions – buttons, threads, lace trim – when Blue’s voice  (always rather loud) roared even louder.

“Ya-bloody-hoo! They’re here! The tickets are here!” he held up a cardboard packet. “And posters too! And give-away balloons! It’s really on. It’s on, alright!”

“Ah, you’re a big kid yourself, Blue!” his wife called to his retreating back. He was off to tape a poster onto the store’s window, then the pub, the blacksmith’s, the horse trough … anything vertical.

“As soon as he’s back, he’ll be on the air telling everyone the tickets are in. He’s worked so hard to get that circus to agree to come out all this way, he has to sell every ticket, Daft bugger,” she said lovingly to Nadia.

Nadia wandered the store, collecting a few household items: a can of Brasso, a pack of two bars of Sunlight, two new dusting cloths and another kitchen knife – one with a long, thin blade for cutting easily through the Cheddar. She paid and carried the household items back home. Blue’s boy, Arunta, would deliver the school and dressmaking items, neatly wrapped in brown paper and string tied, later in the cool evening.

Just as the kids were ready to come inside again as lunch break ended, Arunta came jogging over the road, carrying a rolled tube of paper.

“Missy Vok! Missy Vok!” he called.

“Hi there, Arunta,” she greeted the lad.

“Mr Blue, he says your school kiddies can have a poster too, Missy,” and Arunta held out the tube. As she took it and thanked him, he continued “And don’t worry about this morning’s shopping, Missy. I’ll be coming by at end of the day, like always.” He grinned broadly, and scampered back to the shop.

‘For a lad of only eleven, he’s a good kid,’ thought Nadia. ‘No parents, lives alone in Blue’s spare house, and works hard all day for anyone with a job for him. Pity he hasn’t a chance of coming to school.’ She meant that at his age, he would not be able to catch up with the farming children already in school. If he were younger and had a sponsor instead of parents who’d left him behind when they went walk-about, there’d be no problem.

She unrolled the poster inside the classroom after making space on the pin-board by moving other pictures. She stood back and read it:

BARNABY & TAYLOR’S AMAZING TOURING CIRCUS!
♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
Caged Lions, Tigers –
And, New To The Country’s Circus Circuit
The Asian Tree Leopard!

Clowns!  Trick and Show Ponies!
Jockey Races Around The Ringside!
Juggling!
Fire-Eater Feroni! The Incredible Smithson’s’ Stilt Team!

Trapeze Artistes Monica And Michael!
And Did We Say Clowns?
The Mechanical Car! The Fire Truck!
♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥
BLINKY THE CLOWN, With BONEY, The BRAINY BEAGLE!

Blinky? Her heart skipped a beat. Surely, not her Blinky, still chasing her after all these years? It couldn’t be – after so long, he’d be dead by now. She peered at the art work of Blinky the Clown. No, it wasn’t her Blinky – the makeup was wrong; she knew a clown’s makeup was registered and never changed.

But she didn’t look at that poster again unless she had to.

– – – – – –

Blue had sold every ticket there was by the time the road-train arrived with the circus. Blue suggested a patch of ground behind the pub, but the circus owner refused, and so they set up the tents behind the blacksmith’s. Nadia allowed the school children to watch them finish setting up in the morning after they’d almost completed everything during the night. Of course, the kids all had to write a report on what they’d seen, just to keep it “educational” as an experience. The children were all disappointed, and felt sorry for Miss Vokova – she was the only person they knew who’d missed out on buying a ticket, so she wouldn’t be going.

– – – – – –

At home during the evening of the circus’s single performance, Nadia listened to the traditional circus music and the excited cheers of the crowd.  She felt restless, and left her seat by the open window, went into her back room and pulled a large trunk from beneath the spare bed. She dusted it off then went to her room to find the keys to the locks: two different keys, to confuse anyone trying to get inside without her okay.

She flipped back the lid, and carefully unfolded the tissue layered over the contents. Her formal evening gown, worn in London. Her sensual cocktail dress and sandals, worn in Prague. Assorted business suits and elegant casual clothing, plus the black closely fitting body suit and nylon boots, perfect for night stealth. The alligator skin clutch purse, in which her fake passports were tucked (the currently ‘real’ one was in her top drawer of her china cupboard), along with small wads of banknotes from each country in which she’d ever worked. No Roubles of course. Her orders had always been never to try to go home again. She lifted out the cardboard shelf that held all the innocuous clothing.

Below was another set of memories. The gun she’d been issued by the KGB – useless now that bullets for it couldn’t be bought in Australia for neither love nor money. The Glock she’d lifted from the New York police station front desk, and the box of bullets. The New Zealand Police 590A1 model Mossberg shotgun with 16 inch barrel, and the boxes of cartridges. Three kongos. The shiv she’d had to make from a six-inch shard of broken glass slotted into an eight-inch handle of bamboo, in Vietnam. She took one kongo, and used it to twist her hair up on top of her head. She pulled the Mossberg and cartridges out, repacked the trunk and slid it back away out of sight.

In her sitting room she fetched the silencer she’d made years ago, from its place in the pantry, and checked the Mossberg’s action, loaded it and fitted the silencer. She slid it under her two-seater couch and sat listening to the National ABC radio broadcast, although her ears were alert for sounds from the circus site and the perimeter of her house.

The show ended, and there was a seemingly endless parade of people, buggies, carts and tractors hauling sleds past the house. Then, only the sound of the roustabouts packing the trunks of the troupe and pulling down the tents. The performers would have headed straight to their compartments in one of the road train trailers.

As she expected, before long after silence fell, there was a tap at the window – timid, but audible above the chirruping night crickets. She walked to the window and opened it wider, nearly taking off the head of the figure crouched under the swinging frame.

The moonlight was bright enough to show her it was indeed Blinky. He’d have been aged about sixty-five, by now. He was balding (so perhaps that explained the new makeup clown face), slightly stooped, but as always elegantly dressed, in a sports jacket and trousers – though still wearing clown-face.

“Come in, Blinky,” she offered, and stepped back to give him room to use the window, which faced away from the road. He reached up to the sill, and somersaulted into the room over it. He stood brushing imaginary creases out of the clothing.

“A drink together, Miss Nadezhda Sergeyevna, for old times’ sake?” he offered as he drew his hip flask from his inside jacket pocket. He flipped off the two tin cups covering the lid, unscrewed the lid and poured a generous nip for them both.

“Za vashe zdorovye!” they toasted in unison. The vodka was a good Stolichnaya, and Nadezhda held out her cup for another.

“So, you are still chasing me,” said Nadezhda. “Even now, when neither of us could harm a living soul, nor each other. And still after all these years, I do not know why. So, it’s time to tell me.” She gestured they should sit, and carefully manoeuvred him to the one seat that did not directly face the two-seater.

“It’s simple. I’ve been trying to stop you,” he said.

“From doing what?” she pretended innocence, knowing it would infuriate him.

“From chasing around the world, adding to its troubles by following directions from an agency that is now impotent and no longer has a hold over you.”

“I know the KGB is only a shadow now. But its replacement still forbids me from going home. So, I live here now. I am not an active agent any longer. I’m a fair-dinkum Aussie after fourteen years here. I teach children, I grow vegetables, I cook and clean for myself. The only difference between here and Russia is – I’m free here. No one knows what I have done. And Australia is much warmer than Russia.”

She paused and accepted a third cup of Stolichnaya.

“And why does it matter to you, what I do and where I live?” she asked, and eased her position on the couch, closer to the edge as if to listen carefully.

“To me, it does not personally matter. But to others, your existence is still a threat to their political or financial welfare. And they are my friends. I help my friends, Nadezhda. After these years of no contact, we can forget our past conflicts. I can be your friend, and you can be mine.”

“And these other friends of yours. They are…?”

“Austrian, Kurkhistani, Algerian, Palestinian … places –“

“- places all over central Europe, the Middle East and old Russia,” Nadia finished for him. “And how close to correct would I be if I guessed … old KGB?” She saw his tell – the twitch in the corner of his mouth. Blinky was there for only one reason.

She raised her hand casually to her hair, and removed the kongo. It was a small but heavy one; she could hide it in her hand. He realised her next move a split second after she made it. As the kongo spun through the air to crack his temple open, he reached into his pocket for the stiletto he always carried. But she already had the shotgun out, and was moving in closer.

(‘The longer barrel and getting in close makes for a narrower scatter,’ the voice of her instructor came back to her from years ago.)

Standing over Blinky as he scrambled up to his feet to face her, she fired directly at him. Two shots – one to make him hurt, one to finish him.

She felt his carotid pulse – not a twitch. Taking his stiletto – a fine Italian silver engraved ebony handle – and the Mossman back to her back room, she stowed everything away in the trunk.

She tipped Blinky’s body out the window, into the flower bed below. She fetched a bucket, a rag, and a new bar of Sunlight all-purpose soap, and removed all signs of the little bleeding from Blinky – most of his blood was soaked into his suit.

Outside, she washed all the clown-face from him. She stripped him down to his singlet and boxer shorts, and stuffed his clothes and leather shoes into an old hessian sack, which had last carried potatoes.

Blinky’s body she then dragged across to the circus cavalcade, where, beside the caged wild cats, she cut up and fed him to the lions, tigers and the tree leopard – a pretty wild cat, that one.

Over the next couple of days after the circus road-train had left – the owner annoyed by Blinky being missing – Nadia spring-cleaned her house, for the first time since buying it years ago fetching old junk from the ceiling crawl space, from under the house, from the back of old closets. Blue obliged by letting her have some large cardboard banana boxes. One of the school pupils’ Dad offered to come and haul away her rubbish, and drop it into a deep pit he wanted filled in, before he lost cattle or a child down the natural shaft.

Nothing was going to interrupt her retirement now. Not while she could help it.


Footnotes:

nahDYEHZHdah for woman spy = Nadezhda
Sergeyevna = middle patronymic name with feminine ending
Vokova – = wolf’s; surname with feminine ending

vodka brand = Stolichnaya vodka