When I was in Grade 4 some high school kids visited our school and did a survey. They asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I said a writer. I never wanted anything else. I loved telling stories tall and short, made me happy for some weird reason. (I can hear a few friends laughing right now who would remember). My Grade 6 teacher told me I would be a famous writer one day and he would watch to see when it happened. I wrote him stories all the time. A high school teacher said the same thing. Some teachers said lots of things really, not sure all of them were true or accurate lol.
Anyway life got in the way, teenage angst and grown up stuff and it got put to the side. In 2005 I finally pulled my head in and wrote a book. A fictional, adult story, a heap of short stories all based around characters that are connected somehow. I pitched it at a writer’s weekend to a bunch of editors (most nerve-wracking experience of my life) in a room full of journo’s and some famous writers, folks who had written books you name it. Big scary stuff, risky stuff and growing stuff.
Out of all those peeps myself and newly found friend got “picked up” which is where the publisher tells you they are interested in publishing your book. Out of all those people. I thought I had won Tattslotto. Ecstatically shocked I think you might call it, or the said Editor had forgotten to take her pills, not sure. To cut a long story short, the editor read it, “loved it” and Penguin wanted to publish it. Then at the eleventh hour (why the 11th and not the 12th?) they dumped it. It didn’t fit into their marketing department’s idea for the next year. I sent it to numerous publishers who all said the same thing “Its good but not what we are looking for right now, do you write vampire fiction?” Needless to say my belief in my ability was shattered and the said book now gathers dust. In my mind if you weren’t published you weren’t a writer. I had poetry published, a few mag-zines online but nothing great.
Anyway, the reason I loved writing wasn’t if I was good or not. It was because I love telling a story. And a story calls to be told, no ego, no approval. So this week I have decided to chew my lips off, ignore my beating heart and share two of the chapters. Bucket list item number 7 ticked- “Share the book”. The book is called Short Naked Latte and is a collection of mini stories. Make yourself a cuppa and some space for you and hopefully you will enjoy? (eeeek- here goes nothing)
The mouths of Babes
‘There is always one moment in childhood;
where one door opens and lets the future
Peter carefully unwrapped the plastic from his sandwich and hungrily took his first bite. Ham, cheese and tomato was his favourite and his Mum always made them the way he loved it; extra cheese and extra pepper. He looked down and eyed off the Mars Bar and Chocolate Snack Pack that was to follow.
As it ambled along the freeway, the bus was just about empty. Peter had a seat all to himself and was enjoying the trip. It was a big adventure; the very first time he had been on a trip up to Pa’s all by himself. There were no stops, so it was straight on to Pinnebrooke Bus terminal, but it was cool just the same.
His mum dropped him off at 6.00; worried out of her brain. She freaked out big time.
Pete knew she was stressed out as soon as the alarm clock went off. She came in, fussed over his hair and insisted on a full breakfast; double-checked his backpack for clean jocks, the whole deal.
By the time they reached the city terminal she had bitten off most of her shiny nails and kept tugging a small piece of hair that had fallen loose from her bun.
“I’ve always driven you there Pete; are you sure you will be ok?”
“MUM! I told you, I’m eleven now, I’m not a baby anymore. I’ll be fine,” he groaned.
“My point exactly, you’re eleven, you shouldn’t be making bus trips on your own; especially not four-hour ones. If I didn’t have this presentation to do I would drive you myself. You could wait till next week you know, maybe I can organise some time off?”
Anne knew it was pointless even trying to convince him. She had as much chance of him agreeing to delay this trip as him eating cabbage every night.
“No way! Mum look, the bus driver told you he would look out for me when you booked the ticket. There are no stops and besides; granddad will be waiting for me when I get there. It’ll be cool Ok?”
He was embarrassed now, they waited at the benches for the bus, and people stared and smiled at her fussing over him. He wasn’t in nappies anymore!
“Ok, I know you’re a good kid, you’ll be ok. Please just be careful Pete. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t normally let you do. granddad is a bit complacent these days and he isn’t used to having kids around. Use your common sense and don’t even think of riding that bloody motorbike. Try and get to bed at a reasonable time, and please…”
“MUM! I am going” said Peter, he kissed his mother as quickly as possible, hitched his back pack up and climbed the bus steps.
“Ring me if you need anything babe! I love you!”
Anne watched him sit down at the back of the bus, he grinned at her. He was such a good kid, she thought. He still had his baby cheeks and blonde tussled hair.
She looked up at the bus driver; the burly man gave her a wave.
“He’ll be fine love, I’ll watch him!” he yelled.
So now Pete was all on his own. It was school holidays and he was staying at his Grandad’s for a whole week. Pete and his mum came down every winter during the holiday break. Pete loved it.
His Dad couldn’t understand it. Pete knew that Dad and Granddad didn’t get along very well sometimes. His Dad didn’t like the country much either for some reason.
Last night after tea Phil patted Pete’s head and laughed at him.
“Don’t know in God’s name why you would want to go and stay with that grumpy old sod Pete,” he said.
“Hey! That’s my father you’re talking about!” yelled Anne from the lounge room.
“Yeah!” And you know exactly what I am talking about!” Phil yelled back.
“Grumpy old bugger” he whispered to Pete.
“Granddad’s ok dad, he’s way cool,” said Pete.
“Whatever you say my man, I think you’re nuts!” said Phil, shaking his head as he emptied the scraps off his plate into the bin.
Granddad’s name was Herb. Herbert Barthalomew Kinkley. Herb for short. No one called him Herbert though. Pete had never heard anyone call him that. When he was six he asked his mum why no one called his Granddad Herbert. Anne laughed and said Pa would have kittens if someone called him that. Pete knew all about the birds and the bees now, but back then he was horrified by the idea of Pa having kittens. He’d seen a cow giving birth to a sloppy and bloody calf on the farm and thinking of Grandad shooting little fuzzy kittens from his bum was gross.
Pete heard his mum and dad argue about Pa one night. He wasn’t too sure what they were talking about; something about Nan and the farm and assets whatever they were. Pete knew it was money they were getting really mad with one another about. Dad was saying Granddad knew nothing about money and should sell up. Mum got really upset.
His Mum and Dad did not yell at each other very often. Pete was grateful for this, it made him feel yuck in the stomach, like the feeling you got when you were little and scared of the plug hole in the bath. It was weird. Peter had a few friends whose parents fought heaps and then got divorced. He knew it was tough on his mates. He wondered how that felt, and rejected the thought, cause he didn’t really want to know.
So Pa and Dad didn’t get along too crash hot for whatever reason. The very few times Granddad came to stay at their place; he was weird. You could tell he didn’t like it much; he played with his hands a lot and looked bored. Whenever the ambos or police drove by with their sirens on, Granddad would jump in his chair. Whenever Dad talked about money Granddad’s face would change, he would get even quieter and sometimes he would get up and walk out of the room. Pete guessed that they were just different. His mum always told him it took all kinds of people to make the world an interesting place. Maybe this is what she was talking about.
Dad had only ever been to the farm a couple of times. It was all-different then. Granddad was funnier and made jokes about city slickers. Dad always complained about the mozzies and flies.
Pete missed his Nan. Even though he was only six when she died, he still remembered her. He remembered mostly her smells, lamingtons and lavender. Mum told him Nan was a teacher when she was younger, which must have been why she always read Peter so many books when he was there. Teachers loved books. But Nan wasn’t boring; she always did the voices really good.
It wasn’t far to Pinnebrooke now, about half an hour the bus driver told him.
Pete pulled out his ipad and decided to cram in a few minutes. It would be the only chance he would get for the week. Granddad didn’t like electronic games, He said they munched up your brain cells. Pete knew this was crap but he didn’t play it while he was there anyway.
Pete decided he didn’t like the smell of the bus; it reminded him of leather shoes and sweat. They didn’t travel on the bus much at home. They mostly took trams or trains when they went into the city to go shopping or out for tea. He didn’t like them much either; too many people on there all squished together, pushing to get a seat. Some of them smelled bad, and even the ones that smelled OK smelled too much OK and the pong was enough to make you choke.
Soon the bus pulled into Pinnebrooke. Peter packed away his Ipad and stood up, back pack in tow.
“Got you here safe and sound matey, here you go. Is your Grandpa here?” asked the driver, opening the automatic door.
“Yes thanks,” said Peter. “That’s him there” he pointed, as he spotted his Granddad standing with Jimbo the dog.
“You have a good time then” said the bus driver. Pete stepped down from the steps straight into a muddy puddle, splashing his shoes.
He waved to his Granddad and walked over. Jimbo the Border collie ran over to him, he wagged his tail flat out, and sniffed Pete’s pants. Peter gave him a pat.
Herb stretched out his hand and gave the boy’s hand a firm shake.
“G’day there little mate, how was your trip?” he asked.
“Hey Grandad, it was cool” said Peter.
“Well, I reckon it would be cool, it is winter” said Herb and gave the boy a wink.
“Geez you’ve grown a whole inch since I saw you last I reckon” said Herb, he patted Pete on the head.
Jimbo licked Peter’s hand and Pa took his backpack; he threw it into the back of his Ute. Peter silently hoped the Ipad hadn’t smashed.
As they drove down the bumpy road to the farm, Pete felt glad to be back. The familiar smells of cow poo and car polish filled his nose and Jimbo insisted on sitting in front with them, panting and putting his paw on Pete’s leg.
Dusk started to settle on the paddocks, as Pete looked out over them, he thought of the stories his mum told him, camp outs with her best friends, her best friends to this day. It must have been fun growing up in a small town. Maybe boring too.
It was night-time and very cold when they got there. Herb had already started the fire. Pete loved the open fire. It was heaps better than their central heating at home. Granddad had a little gas heater too, but that was turned off.
Pete rang his mum when he got there; he answered all her questions about the trip and everything.
“God she worries so much” he muttered when he got off the phone.
“That’s all right Pete, she’s your mother. That’s what mums do best,” said Pa. He served up their tea of sausages and mashed potato. Pa drowned his plate in tomato sauce. It wasn’t McDonalds but it was good enough for Pete.
Herb pulled out dessert. A huge sponge cake loaded with strawberries and whipped cream.
“Don’t look at me Pete; I couldn’t cook a cake to save myself. Bloody Gerta Bridges from the place over the road keeps making them for me every week. I don’t know bloody why. Too much for me to eat, Jimbo usually ends up finishing them off.”
“She must like you Pa,” said Pete.
“Hey! That’ll be enough of that lad!” Pa said jovially.
“That woman comes over here every Friday, gossiping and chattering away like an old Galah about everything and everyone. I’m sure she only comes over to see if I’m keeping the house clean.”
Pete laughed. He knew Mrs. Bridges. She did remind him of a Galah, whenever she came and Pete was there, she always looked at him up and down over the top of her glasses with her nose wrinkled up.
“How’s your mother Peter?” she would ask, along with fifty other questions that Pete often did not know the answer to. He tried to be polite. She often sniffed and twitched a bit.
That night, Pete slept in the spare room with his favourite patchwork quilt tucked in. He got a little bit scared at night on the farm. Pa never locked any of the doors. At their place mum was crazy about locking all the doors and windows at nighttime. Pete wasn’t dumb; he knew why. There were some really whacky people out there. Dangerous people. Pete saw on the news about kids getting pinched and horrible things happening to them.
Pa slept in the old room out the back, Jimbo slept at his feet.
Pa didn’t sleep in the main bedroom anymore. Pete couldn’t figure out why. It had a heaps bigger bed, and it looked warmer in there than the old room out the back.
No sooner had Pete convinced himself that no one would come out here and grab him, he was asleep. It had been a big day, and his eyes drooped of their own stubborn accord.
Frosty wind blew hauntingly against the walls of the old weatherboard house; possums cried out to each other in jitterish language, cows bellowed. The old man and his grandson slept soundly.
‘She bought forth butter in a lordly dish’
The wind from the night before had bought with it an intense storm. Some of the thunder was so loud the windows shook with force. When Pete opened the bedroom door and saw Jimbo cowered timidly in front of the lounge room heater, he knew exactly how he felt.
“Good morning Pete” called Herb from the kitchen. Pete had always thought his Pa was deaf, mum made out like he was. Whenever Pete’s dad spoke he would cock his head in the opposite direction and loudly respond with “AY?” But here in the house, the slightest creak and apparently he could hear it. Funny. And he was always up so early. Pete could never recall a time his Granddad was up later than anyone else. Shaven and boots polished. Old people were right off, Pete mused.
“Morning Pa” replied Pete, he yawned widely.
“Quite a storm that brewed up last night, how did you sleep?”
“I didn’t hear anything until just before, it’s really loud.”
“Yeah, well, kept me up most of the night, haven’t heard a cracker like that in a while. I got up to check on you, but you were fast asleep, your mother was the same you know, would take an earthquake to wake her up once she was shut up shop.”
“Yeah, she’s the same now. She snores, but she cracks them if Dad and I tell her that” said Pete fondly.
“You missing your mum?” asked Herb.
“Nah, not really” shrugged Pete.
Herb guessed otherwise, the boy and his mother were joined at the hip. Anne was a terrific mother; she and Pete seemed really close. It was good to see, and Pete was a good kid to go with it. This was the first time Pete had come to stay by himself. Time had flown. Herb recalled that it didn’t seem so long ago that he and Marissa were driving to the city to visit Anne and the new baby. How Marissa had melted when she first set eyes on him. Herb quickly shook himself out of that memory and poured his cup of tea. The past stayed in the past. Thinking too much about that stuff was no good.
“That’s a cool hairdo you’ve got there Pete” said Herb chuckling at his grandson’s blonde thick hair sticking up in thick clumps.
“Yeah” replied Pete, trying to pat his bed hair down.
Goosebumps rose up on his skinny pale legs from the coolness of the floor. Pete had thrown on a jumper, and now pulled his sleeves down over his fists in an effort to warm up.
“Here you are, I’ve made you a hot drink. I thought we’d just have toast for breaky this morning, sound ok to you?”
“Yeah, cool” yawned Pete; he sat down at the kitchen table.
“So, what will we do today, won’t be going outside I don’t reckon, too woolly out there. Not much on the TV. You play cards?” asked Herb.
“Yeah, I guess, I haven’t really played cards much” Pete thought for a moment about what they would do today, and had an idea.
“Hey Pa, why don’t we cook?”
“Cook? I didn’t think a young fella like you would be into cooking?”
“Mum and I cook a bit. I like it, we do it at school, I got an A for foods last term” said Pete.
“Strewth, they actually teach boys cooking eh? Times have changed,” laughed Herb, hanging the tea towel on the oven door.
“What would we cook? I’m pretty rusty unless its eggs on toast or sausages.”
“Is that all you eat? Didn’t Nan ever teach you to cook different stuff?”
Herb scowled slightly.
“Nothin wrong with sausages” he snapped and patted the roundness of his stomach through the worn flannelette shirt. Pete failed to pick up on the change in mood.
“What about lamingtons like Nan used to make?” Asked Pete, excitedly, he loved lamingtons.
Herb dumped his teacup into the warm dishwater and cleared his throat.
“Men don’t make bloody lamingtons, what are you on about?” He snapped. Bloody kids, what was he thinking making cakes, lamington days were finished with.
“And for god’s sake, will you pull those jumper sleeves up, I’m sure your mother doesn’t spend good bloody money on jumpers for you to stretch them all outta whack like that. Pull that ipad thingy out, isn’t that what you lot do these days?” He grunted.
“You don’t have to be so grumpy’ mumbled Pete.
“Ay?” said Herb irritated.
He turned and looked at the boy, who had now turned and was glaring at the wall, his lips set in a firm clasped line. Frustrated Herb exhaled loudly. This boy was certainly his mother’s son. God it took him back when she was a girl. If she got that thin bloody line in the lips, which wasn’t very often, look out. Pete didn’t upset easily.
“Pete, I’m not really into the whole cooking thing, and don’t mind me, old blokes like me tend to get a bit crusty sometimes. They don’t like doing stuff they don’t need to that reminds of things they don’t need reminding of, you catch my drift?”
“Whatever” said Pete absently, shrugging his shoulders.
“What does that mean whatever?” Said Herb, his frustration grew again, and he wasn’t one for tolerating cheek, especially not from a 11 year old.
Peter turned to look at his grandfather, his shoulders lifted slightly from their slumped position and he took a deep breath.
“I just like cooking, I like lamingtons. It makes me feel happy to think of the nice things Nan did” he looked at the wall again, took another breath and then looked at the floor between his feet, “It makes me miss her less, so I don’t forget her” he finished.
Herb felt stunned as though he had been slapped. The boy’s wide blue eyes held an innocent earnestness.
He stood up abruptly and walked to the sink, ripped out the plug, the water gurgled noisily.
Uh oh, I’ve done it now, thought Pete. He had seen his Granddad angry before, but never at him, and he wasn’t enjoying the feeling very much. Now he did miss his mum, he missed her heaps. Maybe this is how Dad feels like sometimes, he thought.
Silly old fool, Herb cajoled himself. He was so busy filling days up with not thinking about Marissa that he had never thought of his family’s need to remember her. When Anne had moved with Phil to the city, the hole she had left was big. But with Marissa keeping them both busy with her socialising and between running the farm, they were kept busy. The farmhands and their families were always popping in for a meal or a cuppa, they were never left idle, then the times would swing around when they would all catch up and the hole was filled again.
Herb felt like when Marissa died, so did nearly everything else. The hole was a crater that gaped as wide as a continent. The farm work diminished, the visitors dwindled. It was pretty simple to Herb, life was never the same, and thinking about that hurt. He needed to shut her out to survive, to be able to become an old man without her holding his hand or cooking his lamingtons.
Anne and Pete was all he had now, and the idea that he had hurt Pete’s feelings filled him with shame. It dawned on him that shoving aside her memory was more than a bit selfish. Struth, Marissa would be damn crabby with him for carrying on like a pork chop over something so silly.
Pete was trying to keep her memory alive, something Herb could never do without feeling like someone had ripped his guts out.
Maybe it was time.
“Well” he said turning “fair enough, lamingtons it is. I’m going out the back to cut the wood, you get in the pantry and have a look at her old cookbooks and whatever things you need to go in them” with that he strode for the back door.
Jimbo whined and hastily followed the old man to the back door.
“Won’t the ingredients be out of date?” called out Pete.
“No” yelled out Herb opening the door with the creaky hinge.
“I still fill her shopping list every fortnight,” with that he slammed the door behind him.
It was Pete’s turn to be surprised.
Lamingtons it was.