Archive for September, 2009
Writing for Fun
He drops them a nightly message in a weighted steel tube. They’ve lived like this for months. Hard times. She reads the few words to their son, tears staining her faded coat.
The first few lines to my first completed story. I check the spelling, ponder over the grammar, and then, full of excitement, I slip the slim volume into a large brown envelope, make sure that the entry fee, the reply envelope, and the international reply coupon, are included, and then I confidently make my way to the post office. There is a moment, just as I push the envelope through the post-haste slot, where I have a doubt, but once it starts down the slide all doubt leaves me and I am overcome with relief. My writing class tutor has told us to keep writing; even when waiting for a competition result. Back to the wordprocessor.
The words seem to flow.
Horatio wolfed down the last of his vet approved chicken pieces. His fawn, brindle and white coat shone with good health. That and the nightly baths in milk that his grown-up gave him.
That bloody obedience whistle.
A second story is on its way and still no response from the first competition. Then I see it on the Website. First, second, third prizes, then the highly recommended. I scan quickly through the list, but no graeme s dixon. I read the winning entry. It’s bloody rubbish. Mine was twice as good. Then I read then little splurge about style, presentation, and reading-the-instructions. My face and neck redden. I quickly check my current effort and all the mistakes are there. They probably didn’t even read it. I should try something clever for the next competition.
D had just committed lactomangulation for the second time that day, manhandling the “open here” spout on a milk container so badly that he resorted to the illegal side. All-in-all it had been a frustrating day.
I re-read the instruction. ‘Don’t be tempted to be clever with invented words, or smart endings. Judges look for more conventional stories. Then to top it off I start to get people thinking they see themselves in all my stories. Contrary to what they think all this stuff just happens in my head. In another life I would probably be committed to a mental institution. But strange things occur in our world and when they are juxtaposed they can make interesting story-telling.
I’m starting to get a little frustrated. My creative energies need the fuel boost of at least an honourable mention. I dash a letter of the local newspaper. They are sure to print my creative gem alongside the rubbish that normally graces those pages. Sure enough I feature as the lead to the Saturday morning edition. No matter that the letter effectively says nothing. It says it in a particularly elegant way. Mental note. Revise attitude to local newspaper.
Rhycott looked across to the tall, dark man in the sky blue suit and yellow socks in Room 3. It was bare apart from two framed photographs. On the wall behind the single polished table was a picture of a very young Queen Elizabeth, seated on a horse and looking imperious. To the right of the desk was a framed poster bearing the seal of the NZ Government and detailing a list of rights and obligations of ‘visitors to this country’. Rhycott indicated the man should sit in the chair facing the Queen.
The title for that little piece was ‘the sky-blue Somalian’. Absolute stroke of genius. Then I get one of my entries back. ‘An interesting story. Apart from the profanities it would have made a good contribution to our children’s section.’ Jeez! The ultimate putdown. Yet when I take out the bastards and bloodies it does make an interesting children’s story. Maybe I’m misreading my audience. I have a go at a romance short story.
for Sensuous Men
Davinia’s photo spread in for Sensuous Men (fSM) was simply stunning she thought as she flicked over the pages. The opening shot really captured her spooned, sensuous body with its prominent and streamlined mound of venus, further enhanced by a tasteful trimming of her pubic hair. Her flat tummy edged up toward her breasts. Hold on, what have they done there? It looked to Wanda as though they had airbrushed her nipples as the stood out like tail guns on one of those ancient WWII bombers.
I showed it to my wife. She pointed out the words ‘tummy’ and ‘nipples like ancient WWII bombers’ didn’t exactly ignite the sexual juices. But I was on a roll. I had now invented a character. She suddenly populated all my stories. The glorious Davinia. She was loosely based on Dana Carva, the emergency room nurse who foolishly went on a TV show ‘Marry a Millionaire’, won first prize, and then bailed out on the millionaire who turned out to be a fraud anyway. She then sold her story to Playboy and did a photospread. Dana became Davinia and she was in turns, an airline hostess uncovering corruption in the air, a centrefold model, a lesbian lover, a rescuer of a hi-jacked plane, a murderess, a synchronised swimmer, and then she gracefully aged. She had her counterpoints. Duane popped up more often than not as a sort of useless NZ male who misses out all the time. She briefly flirted with Madame Kzynosincki, then Casindra. She appeared on nation-wide television as a celebrated cooking hostess, only to have her show ruined by the public morality lobby. It seemed nothing could stop me. First it was old people.
Arthur fiddled with the buttons on his accordion. He was determined he would master this instrument like he had mastered the harmonica, guitar, and piano. After all, he had his system. Nothing is impossible or is beyond your capabilities, and you don’t know what your capabilities are until you try. Mary said that. She had passed on after their fifty-ninth wedding anniversary, last year, just a few weeks after they had moved to the home.
Then the week after it was cross-country runners.
The smile quickly vanished when she saw what was sitting in the clearing, seemingly awaiting her arrival. A huge black bear, red tongue sensuously dangling from his moistened mouth, fixated her with his deep brown eyes. She could see he was a male because an enormous penis, fully erect and engorged with blood, nearly reached to the ground.
Later I might whisk out to sea for a bit of nautical adventure.
Two hundred feet below the Pacific Ocean crashed against the barren rock that was their home. Jules looked out over the wind blown water to the mainland. He could just make out the twinkling lights of Aradine but the night had rain in it so they kept disappearing.
Then back onto dry land for a little hanky panky in the dark of the night.
Fingers, painted bright red, claw against the windowpane. Cat like noises screech through the night as they repeatedly draw, up and down, on the window. A hideous cackle accompanies the screeching and Ted’s ears are assailed by the cacophony of noise. He puts his hands over his ears, tries turning up the volume on the small television, tries anything to blot out the noise.
And then finish the day with some macabre doodling.
He reached into his shorts and pulled another bird out and placed it in the line of seven dead songbirds on the bedside dresser. This formed a parallel line against his wallet, the gold coins arranged in value and year, and the Laguiole pocket-knife. A cigarette spread a lazy haze over the back part of the bedroom and added to the yellow staining on the curtains that kept the watery sunlight from the small room. He reached over and holding the cigarette European style he took a deep drag, then placed the tube back in the ashtray. A small piece of ash dropped off the end and settled on his white singlet. He didn’t seem to notice as his entire attention was focused on the line of dead birds. Frederick Lewis, murderer, was content.
He felt, or did he hallucinate, a light touch on his shoulder and Mia joined him on the bed, sensuously stroking his thigh as she slid closer. He smelt the musky stink on her and buried his face into her hair and then side to immerse himself deeper in her odour. He touched her breast and felt his erection straining at his underpants. She handed him a package and urged him to open it. He struggled with the green ribbon that bound the parcel and tugged at the brown wrapping. A stench arose from the bundle as he pulled it open and a severed hand dropped to the floor. “You left this behind darling.” Dreamlike Mia rose from the bed and floated to the door then exited to the tiny bathroom that led through to the kitchen of the upstairs apartment Frederick and Mia had lived in for the last ten days.
Frederick looked up at the wall and smiled at the Polaroid photos that showed the grizzly details of their latest ‘hunting’. His attention was momentarily drawn to the sound of a siren as Mia came (back?) into the room. She was a tall woman and Frederick’s heart still quickened when she entered a room. Her hair, now dyed almost white (she said it was platinum blonde after her two favourite women) was cut short and curled around her head in such a way that it was like a halo. She had left her eyebrows her natural black (and the hair on that secret part of her body) and made them up to look even darker, kohl-like, she said. Her body was long and slender and she now slung her leg over Frederick as she snuggled closer. She whispered in his ear and Frederick felt himself hardening. She drove him crazy when she was in this mood.
But the sad fact was I was not being published. Keep on writing my tutor kept saying but she had forgotten that everyone needs some encouragement. Time for another Letter to the Editor. So here I sit at the end of nine months with two letters to the editor. Both are about nothing, one is heavily plagiarised and I have a list of twelve competition entries in front of me. This is it? Writing for fun?
My step is slower, I am more hesitant each time I drop a brown envelope into the post-haste slot, and I am even recycling old stories. All good signs my writing tutor tells me. But I do think I’ve cracked the romance writing. MY next title will feature two absolutely drop dead gorgeous bag ladies who manage to pull of the scam of the century while simultaneously changing the fashion world. All in 1500 words.
The small, tanned woman stood in front of the rectangular panel recessed into the building’s wall and grinned when she recognised her name among the thirty of so others. “Amanda Patterson”. For once, it wasn’t on the front page of a daily newspaper. For once its wasn’t screaming from early morning news program or the hot subject of the morons from talkback. She heaved a sigh of relief and then turned her personal key in the post box front.
Amanda, of the pearl and twinset; Amanda of the Liz Walker clique; Amanda Patterson who sported Vuitton and Rayner, now dressed in op-shop cardi’s and tattered Levi’s she had rescued from her boys laundry. Her shoes, once Molly M were now Commando plimsolls. But, the funny thing was, Amanda didn’t give a toss. In fact, she felt more herself, rather than someone’s image of who a successful businesswoman, a mover and shaker should be. Now a successfully home- cooked casserole (she had to learn how to cook for heavens sake) was more enjoyable than a meal at Bouquet Garni, where the lambs tongue on a bed of raspberry juice sent your taste buds and pocketbook to heaven.
At first the boys had been aghast. Although no longer living at home, being at Uni and flatting, they were still dependent on good old Mum for the weekly wash, feed, or handout. Amanda often gulped as they arrived with large bags, not bearing gifts, but dumping them on her and expecting them to be washed, ironed and returned by the next visit when they would arrive with another ’present’. She estimated they had collectively cost her more when they lived away from home than they did when they were there. She was sometimes tempted to bundle up their offerings and include a box of soappowder and fling it back at them.
Oh! Her parliamentary colleagues had laughed and jeered when she said she was going to live in a small rural community where the winter lows were –20C and the summer highs +40C. They doubled with laughter when she told them of the 100 year old cottage she had bought and they could barely restrain themselves when she produced the photos of a run down, rat and sheep infested building amongst a stand of out of control trees that she was to call home.
Now she had her new venture.
At first it had seemed preposterous. She had been idly flicking through the Internet as she waited for her future to be determined by The Minister. In Government circles it was always The Minister (in large letters) who ultimately determined your fate. Amanda had carried out one too many indiscretions and the writing was on the wall. She had tried to distract herself by surfing and she came across these couples in America, England, Holland, and Australia who had forgone the rat race and now had supposedly successful businesses over the Internet. Trading in pottery, old books, buttons, virtually anything. Amanda couldn’t get a fix on how much money could be made but suddenly her plight didn’t seem quite so bad. And she knew exactly what she could sell, and where.
The first person she had met was Mel. Mel the postmistress, come shopkeeper, come publican, come everything. She struck Amanda as someone you would describe as a rock. Tall and willowy, Mel favored trousers over frocks, a FWD over a boxy economy car. Her frizzled red hair she stuffed under an unbecoming cap, her hands were permanently enclosed in fingerless mitts –even in the height of summer. She had sought out Amanda, introduced herself, and made sure that Amanda was ofay with ht workings of mail, food, and local law. She was the repository of gossip and within a fortnight Amanda was hooked up with George for fresh fish, Sam for vegetables and amazing tomatoes, and Old Bass for odd jobs. Old Bass was a bit of a misnomer because Old bass was not old although he could be described as down to earth. She remembered her first conversation with him.
“I won lotto a few years back,” he started off while digging a hole to make a start on the fence that would run the width of her new cottage and protect the roses and delicate flowers from passerbys. “Two hundred and fifty thousand bloody dollars. Had to share the first prize with three other punters. They were nice enough but I couldn’t help saying to myself that I wished they had been out of the country on the night or lost their tickets. I spent in all in a year. Fifty thousand on booze, over a hundred thou on gambling, but I wasted the rest of it.”
Amanda had thought that this really summed him up. A nice enough but harmless man who had wasted away his life with drink. Probably some painful, long forgotten affair there which had led to the drink and gambling. She was in for a few surprises as her knowledge and exposure to Old Bass increased.
She had come to depend on Old Bass. A mans work, Amanda believed, should always be a mans work. When a drain was blocked or firewood needed cutting it was Old bass she turned to. In exchange, she provided him with women’s work. God of her former colleagues could hear the word she was using they would have an apoplectic fit! Mans work, woman’s work. The roles had never been that defined in the heady world of politics. You scratched in whatever patches you could. Old Bill Bass hadn’t been too impressed with her first lot of woman’s work. She had followed her mother’s recipe for cheese scones but they had turned out to be rock hard and boy were they salty. Teaspoon, tablespoon; Amanda hadn’t known the difference then. She was that far removed from her ‘natural’ life skills. The first rabbit casserole had equally been a disaster. Old Basss had thrust the bloodied corpse at her and indicated that if she could turn it into something useful then he would have no problem fixing the leak in the front window. She had to skin the disgusting thing first and then what do you do with a mangled, bloodied, pink/red piece of jelly? She vaguely recalled that bacon and red wine went with rabbit from her t days dining at Bouquet Garni, but when she rang the chef he seemed to have a hard time recalling first who she was then, what rabbit recipe he did that was sp exquisite.
‘I don’t cook rabbit Madame. I produce lapon de . I do jugged hare once in a while for a stuffy English visitor. Now if you want an interesting recipe for Poisson or spatchcock…..”
Amanda had switched of the connection hoping against hope that he would think it was just a bad cell connection from some Godforsaken hole in the South Island. Old Bass had grunted as he took the first bite then he had vanished to the bathroom and wasn’t in the slightest bit hungry when he returned. Still, he had fixed the window
The incident with the possum was potentially even more embarrassing but fortunately she didn’t have to tell it in its entirety so she was spared the full humiliation of it all. It had been one of those days that the locals spoke of as ‘close’ Temperatures in the mid thirties and very. Very muggy. Amanda had retired to bed early after a few two many white wines and threw off her clothes and covers in an unaccustomed abandon. She must have dreamed because she woke up with the red eye of the bedside clock clicking over 2:15 AM, and she felt horny and dry mouthed. She wandered, naked, into the kitchen the moonlight lighting up her pale body with its shock of jet-black pubic hair. She pulled open the refrigerator door and the light shone over uneaten leftovers, fruit, yogurts and the cold milk. She straightened and hungrily drunk from the bottle when she was distracted from the coolness of the milk sliding down her throat and over her neck and breast by a sound. She turned, and sitting on the floor gazing up at her with as much interest as surprise was an opossum. He must have come in through the cat door was her first thought and then she screamed and dropped the bottle. The possum turned and hightailed it back through the cat flap and Amanda was left standing looking in terror and the slowly swinging flap. She had asked for it to be disabled in the morning and the grunts and grins only conformed to her that she was awash in this place. She omitted the nakedness, as she though that Old Bass would think this was improper. Improper, citified, womanish. All the things the new Amana Patterson was trying to get away from.
“I could kill it for you. If you like” What” Amanda replied, distracted by what he might picture if she had said she was naked – and horny.
“The possum. Lay some bait or a trap. Cut it’s bloody no good head off”
Amanda shuddered at the image of a headless corpse lying on her tiled floor, her standing above it with a dangling head in her hand.
“I’ll just stick with the cat door, “ she said.
“But you can see where they’ve been. Little tight turds all over the place, half eaten fruit, stripped branches.”
So that’s what that is – thought Amanda. She had been religiously burying it all, in the hope that, out of sight out of mind.
“I’ll stick with the cat door thanks.”
“Oh Val! My life has just turned around. I came here and I must admit it – I was a bitch on wheels. I would eat men alive and come back for seconds. Now I just feel so alive. It’s the small things first .I noticed a change in my reading habits. I can only read TIME from the back page to about halfway. Curiously the front half no longer interests me. Then it’s the bigger things. And men. I must admit that my feelings for one man in particular are quite different to the way I have felt for years. I feel as though I am unleashing changes within me, flying to heaven on once broken wings. I know it sounds silly, and poetic, and totally different from what I have ever felt before but it’s just, just, wonderful.”
Amanda threw her arms into the air and spun around.
“I’ll tell you something Mel.” Amanda shifted around the coffee table so that she was edge on to Mel. “When I first started out in politics after my first husband left me I bought this really expensive peignoir. I swore that one day, when I met the right man, I would put on that peignoir and ravish him in a way that he had never been ravished before. Oh! There were many nights that I thought that this would be the right man but I never put that thing on. It stayed in the bottom of my chest for years and years. I thought that it would never see the light of day or, when I pulled it out, the moths or something would have got to it and it would be but a pale imitation of the article I had bought. Guess what Mel? I pulled it out yesterday. I think I have found the man to wear it for.”
Mel grimaced and looked away.
“What is it? Why are you avoiding me,” muttered Amanda, a tiny bit of anger flooding into her voice. “What are you keeping from me?”
Mel slowly turned around.
“The fact of the matter is Amanda that you are a really desperate bitch who make most men want to run a mile. You are too intimidating, outspoken, rude, devious, and arrogant that no-one would even want to see you in a shroud with a paper bag over your head.”
Well the nerve of that woman. You only see who is swimming naked when the tide goes out. Growing into a woman, embracing my adulthood, encircling my womanhood, and having fun with my sexuality. Mystery meat and fries used to be favourites. Now I turn my nose up at anything that I haven’t seen butchered and dressed by my own eyes.
“There’s been a plan to do this for years now. The National coalition Government originally put forward the plan in the eighties but it didn’t come to anything for a variety of reasons. It has lingered in the background ever sine. They planned to damn the Leigh River and build an artificial lake there. That about two miles on the east of here. So you can see what the natural history of our little community will be.”
Amanda nodded. “Probably this will be Lake Leigh or some politician’s name.”
“You got it love. The big advantage would be that it could be also a reservoir and, more importantly, a source of irrigation for the orchards and farms around the region. This could become one of the best pip fruit areas in the country if there was enough water and the farmers have relied on an ancient and efficient water race system for years. If they could get water piped to paddocks and water under pressure they would be in heaven. On the face of it the scheme has lots of merit. However, and it’s a big however, none of this would be free. Most landowners just haven’t got the resources to pay for it so what will happen is that the damn, the hydro station will be built, the community destroyed, and no irrigation scheme will be built because it’s, in the words of the private company which will get the contract to build it for the government, be unprofitable. Then the company sells it back to the Government and makes a huge profit.”
Amanda was familiar with the story. It was a new way that overseas Governments got costly public projects completed and the private sector loved it. They made buckets of money and sold it to poor communities as a way of providing employment and progress. Most potential employees didn’t think what would happen to them when the job was finished and the company moved on to a new project, leaving them without a job and a family now temporarily used to a higher standard of living. She looked at Karen.
“Well why don’t you do something about it?”
“What can you do? It’s a handful of people against the might of the Government and large multinational corporations.”
Amanda looked at Karen and a plan began to form.
Although she had not planned this in any way Amanda had come to the realization that her life up until now had been a life of deceptions. She had played at life rather than lived it. Her friends were only for expedience. Her beliefs were only what was the hype for that day, week, or month. Here, in Hicksville, she had found a realism that, up until now, had been missing from her life. She remembered back to that childhood dream of the cloud obscuring the sun, and she now saw it to mean not fear, but a new beginning. Amanda gazed at the perfect sun lowering itself behind the perfect, thyme scented, hills and she thought what tomorrow might bring, with a sense of complete bliss.
The rise and rise of Amanda Patterson
They are all looking at me. As if there is a huge sign on my forehead. Amanda Patterson -failed politician. In all likelihood I am destined for the political scrap heap. Amanda P, who had risen from lowly beginnings in rural Southland. Amanda Patterson-Forbes who led farming women on a march to Parliament protesting over rural health services. Amanda Patterson, who after a messy but ultimately profitable divorce, assailed the stoney heights of central Government and forged a successful career in first Tourism, then Women’s Health. Amanda Patterson whose father said would never amount to anything; would marry a local and be buried in sheep shit and pavolova’s for eternity. Hallucigenically, I have a picture of him towering over me, black clouds racing across the paddocks behind his wind blown hair, spittle showering my tender young skin; screaming at me because I hadn’t closed the gate and the sheep had gone into the wrong paddock. But, I rose above his direst predictions to become one of the power players in the Beehive. Now they just stare at me like I am a pariah. I knew I should have stayed in the Golden Wing lounge that extra minute. Then, I could have just bounded down the ramp and taken my seat in First Class while they were all listening to the trolley-dolly, giving her instructions on how to survive a rapid descent into a freezing ocean with a yellow face mask and a flotation cushion.
They probably heard all about it on Morning Report. Shaun and Eva blathered on about the Prime Minister and then that ghastly Maori woman and her sermonizing about local body politics. God! They can sniff a corpse from a mile off. Shit, I’m sitting next to the jerk local politician – Duane Hope or Duane the Dope as we call him. His biggest claim to fame before winning the safe Labour seat was cutting ribbons at school fairs and being a big know-it-all about forestry. Wasn’t he a primary school teacher or something? Probably organised an Arbor Day or something. I should ask him about child abuse. That should divert him for the hour-long flight. Opps! He recognizes me. I can tell by the grin.
I will look out the window. It never fails to fascinate me that you can ascend through the clouds and suddenly the grey, solemn day is ablaze with sunlight up beyond the rain-drenched clouds. I remember on one of many overseas junkets, essential to my position, awaking at 2.00am and gently sliding the plastic blind back on my window, despite the orders from the onboard staff. One moment there was total blackness and then there was light. A crazy mix of oranges, bronzes and blues over the plane’s wing as we raced eastward. I remembered that I tried to rouse my then lover from his slumbers, but he groaned loudly and urged me to close the blind and get the damn light out of his face.
“Do you require breakfast this morning” the trolley-dolly says, jerking me from my memories, and I can see the matching grin of Duane Hope on her face. The inner message is ‘your days of me bowing and scraping to you in First Class end next week when they kick your sorry butt out of national politics. No more freeloading on the taxpayer for you my love. I have seen it all in my ten years. They strut up to us and look down their noses, demand this and that, –expect to be treated like royalty.’
I will bury my head in the paper. Oh God! A half page photo of me. And in that ridiculous hat. And it’s my bad side. What are they saying? Well that’s not right for a start. And I was cleared of that. And that. Mmm! Where did they dredge that up from? I wonder if that is libelous? Linked to whom? Hell! That reporter is damn good. When I bounce back on my feet again – and I most definitely will – I might give her a bell. Press secretary material. Or public relations consultant.
Yes we all bounce back darling. Even those of us who end up in prison. Look at that Corporation Manager who embezzled three million over four years. He was in one of the top jobs in the country. He served a third of his time in a soft prison with conjugal rights, plus access to all the paraphernalia to get him back on his feet again. All in the guise of rehabilitation. Then he is released and he ends up with a three-page spread in the Sunday’s, a feature article in Metro, followed by North and South. Then his new partner and him have their moment of glory in the Womens mags while the old, discarded wife has her brief moment of tears on television. Within a year, he is offered a cushy job and he is back making hay as if the whole thing never happened. Court news reads, ‘discharged bankrupt, convicted fraudster, disgraced businessman.’ The public has a very short memory. Thank God.
And what did I do? I made the tragic mistake of paying my supposed good friend Carol a $200,000 golden handshake. Then she, God bless her vicious little soul, went public. And I made the fatal mistake (and I will admit that I goofed here) when I rang a senior politician to tell them they were speaking at a meeting without checking with them first. They then flexed their considerable muscle and called for my head over past incidents that have always been unresolved, as they are in any politician’s life. Well pardon me.
GAZING AT THE SOAPBOX-political comment. The Suburban Eye Another torrid week in the Capital, darlings, and your intrepid reporter was there to see it all. Many of the local papers have criticized local body executive Amanda Patterson’s heartlessness. They say she has been unmoved by the plight of the people she represents. They conclude that the answer to this is simple: she is indifferent, she genuinely doesn’t care. She is a product of a political and social system that places no value on social justice. She believes that she has some preordained right to hold power over thousands and not be accountable. During the last decade, politicians, at the national and local level, have placed a low value on the lives of ordinary people. They have consistently plundered the public purse for their personal and friends private good. They have no conscience. They lead sterile personal lives. They have no real friends. Relationships are expediencies. This breed of person (and we genuinely believe that they are a race apart) has to go. There is no place for them in a country that is gradually wakening up to the injustices reaped on a large proportion of its citizenry. We hope Patterson reaps the rewards for her reign of indifference. Let her experience what it is like to wake up in the morning to the prospect of no work. Let her reach midday with a hunger in her gut. Let her fill the endless afternoons and evenings with emptiness. Amanda Patterson must go.
Damn. She is good. I can feel the back of my neck getting redder and redder. But sweetie! Dream on. It just never happens this way. You know as well as I do that come my next reincarnation you will be crawling to my door for that sweet little press release. If you don’t play that game you won’t have The Suburban Eye after your name. You will be writing for the Matuara Tablet as a hack. Oh good. Plane landing. Isn’t that Geoffrey? I thought he was still hiding out in Switzerland until that tax thing blew over.
Ah! The office, my haven. At least they are not talking behind my back. There’s a list of people to call. That awful Martin man from the radio. And a string of calls from the evening TV news and current affairs people. They must be joking. Commit public suicide and appear on that show. I’d rather be drawn and quartered by the media talking to themselves. Hello, this one looks official. On no! A call to have a stress evaluation. The first step on that long downward path.
The street is long and wet and glistens in the late afternoon. Cars appear to ignore the laws of commonsense and physics and take no note of the treacherous conditions. A Posthaste courier van slides sideways as it enters the street. The driver hastily overcorrects and it hits the guttering and bounces down the road. The high-pitched scream of a BMW breaking loose the rear wheels in the slippery conditions enters my consciousness. Beside me, a bag lady of the streets totters off the pavement and pulls her shopping trolley, laden with her life possessions. It sticks in the deep guttering and she maneuvers herself onto the road to get a better purchase on it. My eyes are fixated on her and my brain registers something like a premonition but then I glance up and see the BM fishtailing as the driver struggles to get control. He accelerates, mistakenly thinking that this action will correct the mess he has got himself into. The bag lady tugs. The cart comes free and she totters backward into the path of the run-a-way BM. My eyes track from the cart, to the tottering lady, to the ubiquitous grille of the car. There is a sickening crunch as unyielding metal meets vulnerable flesh. Curiously I am detached from the carnage that results. My mind is thinking ahead to my next appointment. The shopping cart lies on its side, the wheel spinning in an anti-clockwise direction, contents now finally exposed to the world. What do these people collect this rubbish for? In the distance I hear the sound of a siren.
The psychiatrist’s office. I have to put up with this. I suppose he will tell me that I have to find my inner self or that all my thoughts were ingrained forty-three years ago by those two whining old farts who bought me into this world. I can’t stand the psychobabble that surrounds these people. Oh! God! It’s a woman. And I recognise her. She was sitting behind me on the plane when we flew down. Didn’t she do Darren when he had that falling out with the party over the homosexual thing? No! That was Bernard. She was the woman who was accredited with saving the pedophile thingy with the Minister of Social Policy. This will be interesting.
So I am fixated on my diminished sense of self. It sounded good when she explained it in the confines of that little room, with only her and me. With me crying like a pathetic wounded whale. I genuinely felt pain in that room, but out here is the real world and if I bought into that crap I would be offal in a nanosecond. I am either committed to six sessions with her and the possibility of more eyewash, or I tough it out in the employment court and go for unjustified dismissal. What a choice. Personal tit bearing either way but at least the trick cyclist is in private. But more humiliating in the long run.
They are calling for witnesses to the running down of a bag lady on an inner city street at approximately 4.45 on Monday the fourteenth. That must be the one with the BM. Does my social conscience extend that far? Hell, this could be a brilliant move. I could leak it out that I am very distressed but my own personal strife has to be put aside for the welfare of a citizen of our country. I could even use that wonderful reporter.
So it turns out that the driver of our slippery-as-a-snake black BMW, license plate IAMTHLRD, is none other than Dr Barrett Martin-Martin, Undersecretary for the Department of Internal Affairs. Those protectors of local body politics.
“Ms Patterson. Nice to make your acquaintance. I have always been an admirer. It seems we are parties to an unfortunate incident that could turn very messy. The pedestrian is thought to be dying and a courier driver is claiming my car passed his van at an excessive speed, and, out of control. I throw myself at your mercy as it appears as you are the only other witness to this ghastly affair, who has come forward.”
I was once a child. Some would claim that I was made as an adult but that’s another story. I was standing alone in a paddock out the back of my father’s farm. It was a beautiful summer’s day when suddenly a dark shape passed over the sun, completely blocking all light. I was terrified, and I remember the warm trickle of urine down my leg as if it were now. Then, after what seemed an eternity, the sun appeared again. I experienced such joy, I raised my hands to the heavens and I cried. I haven’t cried like that until the psychiatrist’s office today. And now again I can feel tears.
“Of course you were in control Barrett. I saw that courier. He was miles away. That lady fell into your path. She had no right to be out on that street. She seemed to be affected by alcohol or drugs or something. I’ll make a statement to that effect. You are completely freed of any guilt. I hope you understand that.”
The young novice trainee stood anxiously at the doorway to the ward. Her second day in practice and she was terrified. Well terrified didn’t really describe it. She was filled with a mix of wonder, excitement, fear, trepidation, pride, amusement, and horror. No more nursing of mannequins who were eternally grateful for any small thing you did for them and only spoke gentle words of encouragement and never complained or grumbled when a needle slipped or a hand accidentally poked an eye. Today, a real patient. One you could talk to; share life’s experiences. She hoped she got someone interesting. An interesting conversationalist and an interesting disease. Yeah! That would be great. Her supervisor gently placed her experienced hand on her back and gently whispered in her ear.
“Mr Symonds is an early stage dementia, CVA, and cardiac failure. His wife, bless her, has finally been persuaded to go home for the weekend and get some well-earned rest. You will find Mr S demanding. He slips in and out of his dementia and, as you can probably imagine, he is not altogether happy with arrangements.”
She tactfully withdrew as the young trainee edged toward the elevated bed where a humped sheet indicated the presence of the patient now known as Mr Symonds. She gingerly tapped him on the shoulder. An arm shot out, caught her under her left breast, and momentarily left her breathless. She could smell it before she saw the dark stain on the bed. He turned over quickly and she was confronted by a wild eyed man of about seventy with dishevelled hair and grubby pyjamas that gaped open and revealed a browned singlet and a scruffy patch of grey chest hair,
“Whadda ya hell. Damn and damn goddamn bloody doctors. Can’t you let a man get some sleep?”
She reeled back form the combined smell of urine and another stench that came from his mouth. She thought that this man had not bathed or attended to his cares for a decade but she clenched her jaw and introduced herself according to the manual protocol.
“Good morning Mr Symonds. May I call you Mr Symonds or would you prefer your Christian name?”
“ Call me what you fucking want you dimwit. Just get you arse over here and clean my bed. Its wet.”
With that, he slumped back on his pillow and extended his arms into the air as if offering himself to some God that only he could see on the ceiling. He started humming to himself and she thought she recognised some old fashioned tune. She tried to turn her olfactory equipment off. She remembered the TV program from the night before where morticians had rubbed their nostrils with Vaseline (or was it lavender?) to avoid the smell of the dead and she wondered if there was some nursing equivalent.
“Well hurry up. I haven’t got all day. I’ve got to go out shopping with the wife later this morning and there are the cows to move and the back paddock needs to be sewn for the spring.” He started off his humming and she turned back the bedclothes.
It was worse than she thought. The urine had not only soaked the bed but had pooled on the mattress and dripped through. Mr Symonds toilet kit was unfortunately under the bed and the urine had dripped into it as well. She pulled the sides of the open kit apart and saw the bright yellow over the soap, hairbrush, razor, and toothbrush. She shuddered and had to swallow hard. As she came back up level with the bed, she saw that Mr Symonds had struggled out of his pyjama bottoms and she was greeted with the sight of his uncircumcised, flaccid, but very large, penis. Her newly professional eye saw that it was badly discoloured and she guessed correctly that the uridome that Mr Symonds was supposed to wear had either slipped off or had been removed. He saw where her eyes rested and he seemed to mellow.
”Bloody thing was giving me gype so I took it off.”
She started to have real doubts about what she was doing. Her head had been filled with the glamorous image of coiffured women (and sometimes the token beautiful man, preferably not gay) sweeping through the wards, handing out platitudes to grateful patients who were all dry and only barely sick and made wonderful conversation. Unfortunately this, her second experience, had completely disavowed her of this.
Just then, as if accompanied by the sound of heavenly trumpets, a white coated, stethoscope toting, young man entered the room. The young novice looked up from her position about level with the bed. Her immediate thoughts of rescue from her awful predicament were immediately dashed when the young house surgeon, barely out of nappies himself, surveyed the scene before him, and exhaled a long and dignified breath.
“What the hell are you doing down there. Can’t you see this man needs to be dressed…..” (he suddenly got the full force of the stench coming from the bed), “ eeerr and a-a-a-a eeer showered and dressed and taken to breakfast. Get up from the floor and see too it.”
The young novice may have been young and new to her profession but she was well skilled in dealing with males who had ideas above their station. She rose to her full height and fixed him with her evilest look. He momentarily halted in his tracks but, he too, was well skilled in dealing with upstart young gals who thought themselves his professional equal. He had been taught in medical school that all nurses wanted to do was to form professional development groups and leave the care of patients to the untrained and underpaid foot soldier nurse aides. He started to, in the nicest possible way, explain to this young apprentice this fact when she had the temerity to open her mouth.
“I think Mr Symonds needs something to help with his incontinence of urine. Looking at his swollen and reddened genitalia I think that the uridome is causing him great pain and he may be better off being catheterised.”
The house surgeon forgot his token gesture of compromise and exploded in an apoplectic flurry of words and gestures.
“What do you know about catheterisation? You are on what, your second or third year, apprenticeship of nursing and you have the audacity to tell me what I should be doing. I’ve had six years of training and we (he said it like the royal WE) do real hands on training. None of this namby, pamby, feelgood, PR rubbish. Do you possibly think that you know more than ME?”
The young novice secretly glowed inside (he thinks I’ve already done a couple of years training) but she remained steely solid on the outside.
“Yes I do and furthermore I think that Mr Symonds is incontinent more than in the evenings which is the medical assessment I read in the nursing station before I came on the ward. I think he has episodes throughout the day and……. She looked out the side of her eye and saw Mr Symonds face as he suddenly realised what was going on around him.
“ Yeah! I want that cath, cath, thing and I want it now. I’ve got sheep to shear and I’ve the dogs to feed and …..” He trailed off as the house surgeon, seeing his battle lost, turned on his heels, and strode out of the room.
The young novice didn’t feel as though she had won any battles. She looked into the future and saw and endless line of Mr Symonds’ and young house surgeons, and wet beds and catheters and uridomes and her shoulders slumped. She was supposed to be out with her friends tonight celebrating the end of the first semester and she could see that all she would be thinking about was this. This, this…………; she struggled to articulate what it was. She transferred the wet but now happy Mr Symonds into a wheelchair and pushed him toward the shower. He turned in the chair and, winking at her, whispered
”You taught that little whippersnapper a thing or to. You stick at it girl. You’ll make a good one. Now where have those dogs gone?”
Two hours later the young novice, returning form her morning break stopped by Mr Symonds room to see how the old gentleman was getting on. She stopped, aghast, at the door to his room. Her classmate was bent over the bed, pulling back the sheets that had been clean only minutes before.
“Someone hasn’t been doing their job properly,” she moaned. ”Fancy leaving you for hours lying in your own pee. How could anyone sleep at night knowing they have neglected someone so badly?”
As the young novice listened to Mr Symonds run through his barnyard stories and as she listened to him alternately curse and compliment her classmate, she thought that she might have some grasp of what the this of her earlier thoughts might be.
Two weeks later the young novice sat in front of her computer trying desperately to bring into focus that morning as she wrote out an exemplar as part of her experienced based practice. At first, all you could think of was the shame and embarrassment of the cold and wet Mr Symonds and her inability to satisfy his needs. She pictured herself in the vast ward with more experienced and qualified colleagues walking past and scoffing her pitiful attempts to wash and clothe this poor man. She saw her supervisors eyes narrowing and rolling as she monitored her pitiful progress throughout the morning and her eyes misted over with the ignominy of it all. Then she started to see other parts of the morning. She remembered the nearly empty IV bag and how she had hooked up a new one. She remembered her correct identification that Mr Symonds was showing signs of dehydration and that his blood pressure was abnormally high and she remembered the reasons for why this would be. She suddenly saw that she had a great deal more knowledge than she had a mere two months ago.