Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Alice's Diary (a snippet)

So we walked and talked and I marvelled at our deepening, almost spiritual bond. It felt electric, like lightning crackling between us. But then I looked up and realised I was foolish in attributing a meteorological phenomenon to a personal connection, for even though it was only mid-morning, the thunderheads grew ominous above.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Review: DISLOCATED by Max Andrew Dubinsky

DISLOCATED is a novella that presents several chapters of an online serialised graphic novel with the same name. I read the e-book in two late-night sessions, interrupted by a couple of days. The first session followed immediately after I'd seen Paranormal Activity 4 and the second was Halloween—you could say I was in the mood for a good scare. But credit where it's due—Dubinsky does a great job of building and maintaining suspense at a level so high it would be dangerous if the book was any longer.

While there are still a few 'read-me-twice' passages that could benefit from tighter editing, they only detract a little from an otherwise convincing portrayal of the protagonist, William Scott. The evenly paced first person account gave me the impression of watching (or listening to) someone else playing a video game—change it to second person and I'd think I was a player. Hmmm, you say. Perhaps this sense led me to a more favourable view of the e-book's ending.

I had no intention of getting involved in the serialised graphic novel, but I do now: this e-book has left a strong impression on me and I've started following the Disclocated blog.

This review was originally published on Amazon, where you can currently get Dislocated for free (Digital List Price $4.99)—but only if you're quick.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Whatever happened to the mystery?

Once upon a time, words were mysterious as it was deemed they should be. They lingered longer, invoking a magical languor that tied us to the pages we slowly turned. They spewed forth and spattered over us, filling all the spaces. They always said something, but it wasn't always what we heard. Sometimes the words shape-shifted in the aether and became new beasts in our minds. But now the masses beg for plain-talk, forgetting the art of expression; the mystery is gone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I hereby promise to write and submit a short story to a literary magazine.

That's an easy promise to make, because I've done that before. I've got the rejection emails to prove that I've tried it several times. One of my short stories has been printed multiple times and carefully plastered with notes from my critique group. I even have a couple of publications.

But this time, I'm promising to do it carefully following the suggestions in Let's Write a Short Story by Joe Bunting. There's a real world out there, though, and I also have a few articles I've promised to write for three different magazines, as well as a tax return to prepare and file, so this might take a while.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Before My Time

Granny told me:
'Back in my day, we used to
walk ten hours to get to school, and
ten hours home again. We went
six days a week and we studied
for six hours straight.'

I was good at sums:
'But that's twenty-six hours each day.'

She knew best:
'That's why we only went
six days a week.'
She shook her head.
'Kids these days.'

I asked Mum:
'Granny said that
back in her day, they used to
walk ten hours to get to school, and
ten hours home again.
She said they went
six days a week and they studied
for six hours straight.'

Mum asked:
'What did you say?'

I felt smart:
'I told her that made twenty-six hours each day.'

Mum smiled:
'And what did she say?'

I smiled back:
'She said that's why they only went
six days a week.'

Mum laughed, and I was suddenly uncertain.
Then she said:
'Kids these days.'

Friday, July 06, 2012

How to swallow that pill

It's come to my attention that although I'm not the only person who struggles to swallow pills, I seem to be the only one who has a great strategy for dealing with it. I came upon this strategy through mixing my knowledge in various areas, and now I'm going to share my secrets.

Mountain biking has taught me to choose my line and then watch it like a hawk. So long as I'm watching it, I'm following it. But the instant I look at that big rock jutting up from the side, I'm going to veer towards it. When it comes to pills, choose your line: don't think about it getting stuck in your throat, or it will.

Yoga has taught me to focus on my breathing and relax the rest of my body. It's easier to swallow when my jaw is not clenched, and I'm less likely to panic if my muscles aren't all tight and ready to spring. If you have trouble relaxing because pills freak you out, I'd highly recommend a few yoga classes to get the hang of breathing.

Rifle shooting has taught me to move slowly, calmly and at the right time. We follow a pattern: slow inhalation, slow exhalation, slow inhalation, slow half exhalation, pause that exhalation to pull the trigger, finish exhalation. It's a countdown and a breathing exercise all in one. Now, instead of pulling the trigger, swallow the pill. Don't ask me why—just try it.

Science has taught me many things that experience can back up. Water that is too cold will make my throat tighten up, making it difficult to swallow. If the pill starts too far back, it will initiate my gag reflex before I even get a chance to swallow it. Sometimes when I can feel a pill jammed in my throat, it's not really there, it just bumped the spot on its way down. This knowledge helps me plan my pill-taking, but it also helps me reason my way out of rising panic.

And now, for the most important step of all…

First aid training has taught me that I should tilt a casualty's head way back during CPR to open the trachea and block the oesophagus. This ensures the air goes into the lungs, not the stomach. But I want the pill in my stomach, not my lungs—how about you? Don't throw the pill back and try to flush it down with a gulp of water. Instead, fill your glass up high so you don't need to tilt your head back, and then tuck your chin down a little and look into the bottom of that glass as you swallow.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Alice (a snippet)

Alice sat as still as the dead, only the slight shudder of her shoulders betraying her. Her breath came in the ragged, wheezing gasps that had all but replaced words. Tears welled up in her eyes but they never pulled together enough to leave, much like Alice herself. I realised, sadly, that one day she would stop speaking altogether and just hang in the silence between others' professions of love and triviality.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Darren looked into the basin and gagged. 'Blood.' He started to rinse it away. I could taste it anyway, but I still wished he hadn't mentioned it. I poked a new piece of gauze into place, trying not to think about it. Darren was insistent. 'What did he say?'

'He thed why withdom tooth wath–' I spat out the gauze and started over. 'He said my wisdom tooth wasn't being stopped by the one on the bottom, so it would keep growing down unimpeded. Then he jabbed a needle in my gums. Then he ripped it out.' I felt a little shaky, and sat down on the edge of the bath.

'I don't get it. Why'd he do that?' He could have been worried, or merely inquisitive, but those emotions had died years ago with the love. All that had remained was the habit, and eventually that died, too.

I poked in the third piece of gauze—my last one—and bit down hard on it, signalling apologetically that I couldn't speak. But I didn't feel sorry. The pain was sickening, but it was a dull ache, nothing like the raw agony of watching our marriage decay.

Monday, May 28, 2012

You've Changed

You're not what you used to be. You're a different beast entirely. Where once I could find solace in your solitude, I only find chest-beating vanity and a holier-than-thou treatise on what I already knew. Where once you welcomed newcomers with open arms, now you scorn us and make us feel unworthy. Wait—I'm no newcomer. Yet, I feel this way nonetheless. Once a home for free spirits, you are now shackled by worldly concerns, capitalism, competitiveness. You chase the glory, unaware that we created it; it comes from within. You shame your origin, your roots, your ties to the soil. And your mother will reject you, as you rejected her open, honest heart. For beyond this space lies one still greater, reserved for those of pure intention.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Why it's cool to quit

I'm a fighter. It's who I am, who I've always been. I don't give up, and I don't give in. If you say I can't do something, I'm going to do it, just to prove you wrong. I can win this, and I will.

But what am I going to win?

Why do I want to win? Am I fighting for something? Or am I just fighting against you?

What will happen if I quit fighting?

'You'll never reach your potential if you don't push.'

Perhaps that's true—the path of least resistance has led me astray. That's how I spent years trying to be an academic before I finally quit. That's how I ended up working at a job that I hated in an industry I held (and still hold) no respect for.

I may have obediently followed the easy path, but it was still a tough hike. I was doing something so incredibly wrong for me that it was a fight to get out of bed in the morning. I place no value in your so-called contribution to society.

So, what if admit that I never want to reach your definition of my potential? What if I'm honest with myself instead, and admit that what I really want to do with the rest of my life is read, write, and tell people about stuff I've read or written. How about that?

'That's a cop-out. You're a quitter.'

No. The only thing I've quit doing is fighting myself, and I don't need to fight me. I need to be me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


'What's the opposite of thrifty?'

Marie always asked the darnedest questions. This one threw me for a sixer, but I'm not one to admit ignorance. And I had a rough idea, anyway. 'Wasteful.'

She frowned. 'It can't be wasteful. It has to be something like thrifty. Say, dethrifty, or misthrifty, or unthrifty.'

I thought hard. 'Unthrifty sounds right.'

Juliana chose that moment to join us in the kitchen. She picked up the tea towel and took over drying the china. 'Unthrifty is right,' she agreed, 'unless you are referring to someone with no thrift at all. Then they are thriftless.'

Stranger In My Sights

I wouldn't have believed her, but for that forlorn sigh. It tore at my heart. I knew something must have gone terribly, terribly wrong. I wanted to comfort her, but I didn't know how. I didn't even know if she wanted comforting.

As if she'd read my thoughts, she straightened up in her chair and her face became a mask once more. It struck me that I knew almost nothing about this woman who sat across the table from me. She was, and always would be, an enigma. And suddenly, that tiny distance between us grew to a yawning divide.

I yawned. It seemed such an inappropriate response, given the circumstances. I hurried to cover my face, scolding myself for reacting to the word association.

Callie grinned. 'Same old Sue.'

I tested the water again; this time it went down smoothly. 'So, what happened? Was it an accident?'

'No... more like an incident.' She spoke nonchalantly, then hurriedly added, 'A regrettable one.'

My mind whirred, trying to make sense of what she was saying. I had no reason to doubt her, but I needed more information. 'Callie, please, tell me.'

She looked me dead in the eye and said, in a cool voice, 'I can't. I'm sure you understand.'

Then she called for the bill.

Have you read Part 1: Café-In-Confidence?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Three Truths and a Lie (or vice versa)

'I love you,' he said. She said,
'I love you, too.'

'I want to be with you forever,' he said. She said,
'I'm exhausted—I need sleep. Can you turn out the light?'

Friday, May 04, 2012

Fuel wars… again

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is investigating whether major fuel retailers are colluding to drive out competition. You can read all about it here.

Apparently, this investigation is great, as it may lead to opening up the information to the public. That means consumers will be able to see where the cheap fuel is without touring the suburbs to figure it out. What a great way to save a dollar!

How's this for an alternative way to save a dollar? Drive less.

As an added bonus, the opportunity to do more physical activity may help people lose weight, which will mean they burn less fuel when they do drive.

Think I'm joking? Reuters reported on Monday that in the US
Cars are burning nearly a billion gallons of gasoline more a year than if passengers weighed what they did in 1960.
The article goes on to explain that
Some costs of obesity reflect basic physics. It requires twice as much energy to move 250 pounds than 125 pounds. As a result, a vehicle burns more gasoline carrying heavier passengers than lighter ones.
"Growing obesity rates increase fuel consumption," said engineer Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois. How much? An additional 938 million gallons of gasoline each year due to overweight and obesity in the United States, or 0.8 percent, he calculated. That's $4 billion extra.
Of course, these statistics don't necessarily translate readily to Australia. But I'm left with the impression that driving less might be the best way to save money at the bowser.

In case you're wondering, I own a 50cc scooter, and it costs me about $1 to travel 100 km on it. The 'family car' only comes out when it's got two or more people in it.


I press my back into the tree trunk and close my eyes, willing my body not to give me away as it shakes in beat with my pounding heart. My breathing, audible over the rush of blood in my ears, sounds panicked and gasping.

Something crashes through the undergrowth to my felt. I flinch, but do not run. An acrid smell rises to offend my nostrils: I have wet myself. I shiver, and make a weak attempt to assuage my own fears: It's a mere mortal beast… no doubt as scared as I am.

I wait there in the darkness for the thunder of a thousand feet to fade into the distance. Then I take a deep breath, and step back onto the road.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Lovers and the Nurse

I can’t lift my arms, my legs;
can’t raise my eyes to see you;
can’t summon my voice to greet you.
My body is betraying me,
but you must know
I love you.

My heart breaks to see you
like this: so weak, so broken.
But it’s me who is weak;
it’s me who won’t set you free.
I need you too much.
I always will.

I do my duty with pride,
though my back aches and
my feet protest at each step.
You need me; he needs me.
This is what gives me the strength to
keep going.

Friday, April 27, 2012


A toe peeps out,
testing the air. It darts
beneath the covers,
where it is warm.

A buzz rings out,
waking her up. She starts,
resenting the intrusion that
assaults her senses.
She was dreaming of lovers
beneath the storm.

She then climbs out,
hating her job. These parts
of the morning—waking up,
from that deep, blissful slumber;
getting out of bed into the cold,
empty space—this
she can do without.
She can do without brothers,
their hovering swarm.

And, for a time,
she does.

Can't wait—get out.
The day begins. Her heart's
pounding with the thrill of
something new. She shakes
off the morning chill and moves
in spirited patterns of creation
with other writers. They give birth
to words and, like all mothers,
shape their final form.

(originally published on 27 April 2012 at 8:31 AM Eastern Standard Time)

Thursday, April 26, 2012


'I tell you this in the strictest confidence,' she said. 'Do you understand me?'

I nodded and made as if to zip my mouth shut. 'Sure.' For the life of me, I couldn't understand why she was making such a big deal out of Smithy's holiday destination. Smithy was laid-back and had a habit of giving too much information, so I was pretty sure he wasn't behind the secrecy.

Callie leaned in closer and motioned to me to do the same. Then, in a hushed tone, she said, 'He's dead.'

I sat back in shock, my heart racing. Time stood still, but the people in the café kept moving around me, oblivious. Callie rested back into her chair and took another sip of coffee, as if to wash down the gritty words she'd just spoken. I searched for meaning in those words, but they were in a foreign language. They made no sense to me.

And then I realised: she was joking. I burst out laughing, interrupting the café's subdued buzz. 'Oh, Callie! You had me going there!' I reached for my water glass.

She raised an eyebrow. 'You've drawn us a little attention.' She was right. Several of the patrons were glaring at me, unimpressed by my outburst. 'And I'm not joking. I'm serious.'

I choked on my water, coughing and gasping for air. Callie calmly passed me her napkin so I could wipe the spittle from my lips. When I'd recovered enough to speak, I asked the logical question. 'Cal, how could you possibly know that?'

She sighed. 'Because I killed him.'

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Good Times

It's been years since I saw you.
People tell me I haven't changed
too much. They don't see see
how much I have changed,
perhaps because I keep reverting back
to how I was then.

Back then, the beer was cold and sharp.
My tongue was sharper, it cut you
faster than my teeth cut through the pizza.
You found me before I ever did, and I never
forgave you for it. Or forgot you.
But, ahhh—the memories. Good times,
good friends and goodbyes.


The chill down my spine was a stark contrast to the heat of the cabin, the crackling fire. In a flash I was gone, drawn away from the trashy drivel I had been writing, something full of passion and plot holes. My mind wandered out across the snow and I struggled to breathe as the night’s icy hand clenched around my heart. After all this time, he had returned.

The fire flashed higher and I was back, present, the half-blank page still before me, taunting me. I pulled it from the typewriter in disgust, scrunched it up and flung it into the fire, watching it burn. If only all half-formed ideas could be disposed of so readily.

It seemed inevitable and then it came, the knock at the door. The sense of foreboding was unbearable, but I moved toward it, unable to stop myself. And why would I? It was always going to be this way. I could feel his tangible presence surrounding me, yet I still couldn’t believe that he was real, couldn’t define him.

With trepidation, I opened the door and looked out into the empty night. Empty, dark, cold, like my heart. Another flash from the fire as it consumed the last of my romance, darkening my shadow on the snow at the doorstep. A creature made a lonesome call in the distance, echoing my soul. I took a step forward and stumbled.

From an endless tumble I started awake, present, the half-blank page still before me, taunting me.

Friday, April 20, 2012


Chrystal looked down at her hands, up at the screen, back down at her hands. She chewed on her lip and thought a bit about what Billy had said. She didn't much like where her thoughts were going. She clicked 'reply' and then 'discard' and then 'reply' again, still uncertain of her next steps.

She was good; she knew she was good. Billy had no right to be saying otherwise. He had no right to tell her she couldn't audition. He had no right to tell her she'd fail, before she'd even met the judges. But he was the boss, and she had to do what she was told, no matter how much she wanted the gig.

Telling herself that she was just writing it for therapeutic purposes and would never send it, she began to tap out an email, occasionally looking over her shoulder to check she was alone. She wrote of her distress, her distrust, and her fear of self-destruction. She told Billy of all her doubts about her ability, his dedication, their future. She let it all out in a flurry of words, barely away of which ones she had chosen. She clicked 'send'.


She checked over her shoulder again and pondered her situation. This was bad; she new this was bad. She'd never stuffed up like this before. It could mean the end of her career—or her life.

Getting up from the desk, she pulled a suitcase from under the bed, sneezing and crying as a cloud of dust whirled up to tickle her face. She opened it and started filling it, carefully at first, then with increasing vigour as the urgency of her situation struck her. When the case was almost full, she pulled the plug from the wall and threw the MacBook in, cables still attached.

She fled down the staircase, dragging the heavy bag behind her. It banged loudly as it fell from riser to riser but she didn't want to stop to adjust it and didn't think she could lift it. The important thing was getting the hell out of this house. She moved quickly across the entry hall and reached for the front door handle.


I held your hand, looking into
your soul.
Tears welled up in
my eyes.

Our hands were clasped together,
holding on to
precious things,
my grip stronger,
yours more determined.

I bent close to your face,
my cheek against yours,
your lips to my ear.
You whispered,

I love you.

And then you were gone.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Because you asked…

Trifecta asked about me.

Okay, not really about me, but about anyone who visits the site. I fall into that category. I plunge into that category. I am a member of that set.

What is your name (real or otherwise)?
Tamyka Bell, but if you creep me out at a party I'll tell you I'm Angela. If you met me at uni games in the early 2000s, I probably told you I was Natalya Svetlana Nesdescovszki.

Describe your writing style in three words.
quirky, blunt, eclectic

How long have you been writing online?
I first started posting my poetry online in 1999 or 2000. I began a blog a few years later, though I've occasionally downloaded it, deleted it and started it over again.

Which, if any, other writing challenges do you participate in?
It's April 2012 and I'm working my way through the Poetry Month Poem-A-Day Challenge at Writer's Digest. I've also responded to a few prompts on The Write Practice and I aspire to join NaNoWriMo this year… if life doesn't interfere with my commitment.

Describe one way in which you could improve your writing.
I tend to focus on the visual aspects of my descriptions and I'd like to pay more attention to my other senses.

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever been given?
To write and read as much as I can, and never ignore the muse.

Who is your favorite author?
That's too hard! I choose me! Here's a small list instead: Stephen King, Jane Austen, Haruki Murakami, Paulo Coelho, Ian Irvine, Isobelle Carmody, Dan Millman, Lian Hearn. All for different reasons, I suppose.

How do you make time to write?
It's a process of structured procrastination. I've gotten behind on my uni work, so I'm putting extra effort into the Poem-A-Day Challenge, writing competition submissions, and blogging. When I've caught back up on my work, I'll go back to writing for an hour or so each morning.

Give us one word we should consider using as a prompt. Remember--it must have a third definition.
Force. (I also liked thunder and stumble.)

Direct us to one blog post of yours that we shouldn't miss reading.


She sat before the mirror, carefully painting her face, reproducing the mask she showed the world. In twelve minutes, he would begin screaming at her to 'get a move on, woman!' In fourteen minutes she would be done, lips perfectly red, hair perfectly coiffed, bruises perfectly covered.

It was a ritual she would observe to the end of her days, just as she observed the traditional rituals of her lineage. And perhaps this was yet another of those traditions, shared by her sex throughout the ages, a sufferance to bestow honour upon her family.

'Get a move on, woman!' His hated voice shot up the stairs and filled the emptiness around her, echoed in her heart.

When she was ready, she knelt before the small shrine she had constructed, bowing her head. She had spent weeks collecting bits and pieces that others had discarded in the yard, and that he insisted upon calling 'junk'. It was not junk, but an embodiment of her saviour, who gave her the strength to keep walking through the days.

She held an unspoken wish that one day he would give her the strength to walk away. But, for now, it was enough to keep living. She went downstairs to answer to her husband, propping on the last riser and hoping that she had done enough. She didn't want to start over again.

He was displeased, but less so than normal. His lustful eyes roamed over her body as he slurred something about 'his pretty little lady', which she chose to acknowledge with a small dip of her head. It was obviously the wrong thing to do. His face contorted into a leer, and fear crept into her heart.

'Ya think yer some kinda princess or somewhat, eh? Noddin' at me like that… pretty little tart, maybe, but yer no princess.'

And so it began.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I rest a moment
beneath the tree.
Wiping my brow, I survey
the surrounding countryside.

Sweeping plains,
painted in shades of brown and red,
accentuated by pockets of brown grass
dotted across the landscape.

Everything is withered,
even me.
My throat is parched like the scene before me,
behind me,
surrounding me.
This desert's sand fills me,
scratching my throat and
choking my lungs, until
I can't breathe.

I investigate the tree,
its gnarled trunk thick with age
like grandma's vein-clad legs,
its arching branches hanging low,
its leaves tickling the dust
like mother's broom,
sweeping away the evidence of
my intrusion.

I should head back now—
they'll be looking for me.
Mother will be worried, and
Pa will get mad.

But there is nothing familiar here;
the space is all new and
I'm not sure which way to go.

I am certain this tree lured me here.
It must have had a good reason, and
now its shade is so tempting…

Perhaps if I lie down for a while,
all will become clear.


I thought she would come
to see me,
after that. But
she never did.
She never saw who I was.

Instead there came
an endless stream of
masked men and women,
and dogs.

Through the crowds
I fought,
seeking the empty space
within. I did without
those things to which
I had become accustomed.

And noise assaulted my ears,
and delicious aromas taunted me,
and my eyes beheld infinite darkness
while small hairs pricked up
on my arms and
my neck.

Then one voice spoke silence, and
the rivers stopped flowing.
Seas surged and storms swept overhead
while the seasons stood still.

Beneath the tempest
I waited.
I heard her from
far away, and
I thought she would come. But
she never did.

Friday, March 09, 2012

E-Publishing Network

As some of you may already know, I'm currently studying a Master of Arts (Writing). During this course, I've had the good fortune to meet some fantastic writers and critique partners. One such individual is Natasha, who has been my critique partner since my very first study unit. She gives me blunt, honest feedback on how to develop my work, yet she's always encouraging, because she sees the potential in any piece of writing.

I'm not all that keen on sharing her.

That said, she shares me. There are a few other writers that I partner up with and I believe they are all immensely talented. (I'm hoping I might get an acknowledgement in a book or two along the way—that will be a genuine claim to fame.) So it would be unfair if I didn't share her in return.

Natasha is a part of something bigger, and it's called E-Publishing Network. They're an Australian team offering manuscript assessment, e-publishing tips, book cover design, blog setup, marketing—all the things that are very useful for someone looking to self-publish.

Someone like me…

Someone like you.


Tea comes in many unique colours.
It can be black, green, white, red, or yellow.
It is borne into each culture,
but never born into race.

Tea does not discriminate.
It does not judge.
It does not find me wanting.

Tea brings me comfort in these long, dark hours that fall
between midnight and dawn.
It is my companion through these hours, in which
few are charged with seeing
or standing
or walking.

Tea can be bitter, sweet,
strong, weak, aromatic;
it can transcend the bounds of categorisation.
Within the confines of my teacup
it can hold a gentle flower or a
raging fire.

Tea warms my hands.
It wants me to drink it in, so it can
warm me from within.

Tea does not take offence at my suggestion that
it needs sweetening tonight.
Instead, it humbly accepts the gifts I bring, of
honey, sugar or some artificial sweetener that
I can't pronounce.

Tea does not protest my attempts to cool it sooner with
cold water from the tap,
milk from the fridge, or
ice cubes from the small tray in the freezer.
In warm and sunny tomorrows
tea will thrive on fruit and bubbles.

Tea welcomes the addition of the not-tea,
the foreign.
It is always open to change,
yet it changes little and
remains dependable.

Tea shares my initial;
it sounds like my nickname.
In me, you find tea.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

The Dark Side

I am a writer and I have gone to the dark side.

What dark side?

E-publishing. Self-publishing. Both of these, rolled into one.

Yes, I intend to self-publish some e-books. Why? Well, for a start, I'm not particularly interested in the long and drawn-out process of finding an agent or publisher who will like me. I have a hard enough time getting regular people to like me. More importantly, I love to read e-books. So does John Birmingham, apparently.[1]

Don't get me wrong: I love the musty smell of a priceless tome filled with ornate words of wisdom just as much as the next girl—but not as much as I love my Kindle Touch 3G.

I haven't always been a Kindle user. My first e-book reader was a Sony Reader Pocket Edition, which I impulse bought from a vending machine in LAX. For my Australian readers, yes, you honestly can buy electronic goods out of Best Buy vending machines in America. You can also get your credit card skimmed, and if this happens, I hope you share my good fortune of having a bank that calls you about possible fraudulent transactions.

But I digress. I bought the Sony Reader at a time when my friends were singing the praises of their iPad Kindle Apps, and I did it for the e-ink display. I loaded my Reader with free books from Project Gutenberg (and the Australian site) and research papers that my employers found fascinating.

But, as with many overseas technology purchases, it didn't work quite as I had planned. The Reader Library application was great for syncing books between my computer and my Reader, but the Shop function only worked in North America. Years later, online shopping was made available from several Australian stores, but their ePub versions were still significantly more expensive than a Kindle e-book—anywhere from $3 to $10.

That's what prompted my move to Kindle. I made the transition gradually, first installing Kindle Apps on my iPhone and MacBook Pro, then updating the software on my HP Mini so I could use Kindle Cloud Reader. I bought a Kindle version of On Writing, then a few magazines, then…

I still resisted buying a Kindle, because I was hanging out for the Kindle Touch 3G, which wasn't yet shipping to Australia. New versions of the Kindle came out in Australia (at inflated prices—of course) and even the Kindle Fire could be shipped. I was infuriated when the Kindle Touch arrived, but only the wi-fi version.

A girl has needs. I needed free 3G so I could download my books when travelling, rather than using data roaming on my phone. I needed an e-ink display so my eyes wouldn't be strained. And I needed the touchscreen, for ease of selecting text. So I held out for as long as I could. And along came this article, which pointed me in the right direction. My Kindle Touch 3G arrived the next business day (albeit at an inflated price—of course).

I love it. I really do. I love jumping around the text, flicking forward and backward through pages or whole chapters. I love that it remembers where I'm up to in all my books and can quickly sync to the last page I read on my iPhone. I love highlighting interesting phrases and adding my own annotations. I love adjusting the display to suit the text and the conditions. I love its menus and the way I can one-touch download my books. I love the way it can download and play my Audible audiobooks (though I more frequently listen to them on my old iPod shuffle while running). I even love its accessories, such as the lighted leather cover that I ordered soon after.

Most of all, I love being able to look up words I don't know at the touch of a finger. Yes, I'm a writer. Yes, there are words I don't understand. My Kindle teaches me these words, and I add them to my vocabulary for future use. My Kindle is teaching me my own craft.

I've downloaded a few Kindle and PDF e-books on writing prompts, publishing and style. I even tried to get Ursula K. Le Guin's Steering the Craft, but it wasn't available. And there's the rub: sometimes there's no e-book, and I have to resort to a printed version. And as much as I poke at the words on the page, no definitions pop up.


[1] I know this because he wrote about it in 'The New Deal'. It was in the column section of Ampersand Magazine's Issue 5, 'Eleventh Hour', which I picked up today. I read a good chunk of it over a coffee, and when I got home I subscribed.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

A note to my readers

Hi everyone,

I know you're out there. I do. You sneaky little buggers.
I like you. I do.
I just wish you'd admit to being there. That'd make you seem so much less like stalkers…

Jokes aside, as a writer it is really important to me to get critical feedback on the things I post.

The work I post on my blog is never perfect. Except maybe 'Myth'—that came pretty darn close. Sometimes I am too eager to post my work and I don't notice the typos. Sometimes I am out and about and I can't spot the plot holes. Sometimes there is no point to my writing, and it shows. Sometimes I read over my work and cringe; sometimes I'm embarrassed to have posted it.

You can help.

Please consider sharing your reaction with me using the 'like' and 'dislike' checkboxes. Please consider hitting that '+1' button if you like what you see. If you think someone else might like it, please consider sharing it with them using your social media networks or that fantastic little 'email' button.

But even more than that, please tell me what you think. If you don't want to post a comment on the site, I've got my details on the 'About Me' page, so try me there. Maybe even tell me why you don't want to post a comment on my site, and if it's a technical problem, I can change my site to fix it.

First, I need to know.


The two unicorns obediently followed the undead up the gangplank. Selwyn looked nervously at the vampire pair behind her. She found her new acquaintances to be rather unfriendly and a little on the malodorous side.
'Sucks to start with a U,' she muttered, enviously eyeing off the sprites, sylphs and succubi that got to hang out near the sphinx. A troll looked up and caught her staring. He made a face; Selwyn quickly looked away.
Elwyn nodded his agreement. He had been fantasising that he was the sphinx, followed by the beautiful sprites, succubi and sylphs. He hadn't noticed the first troll leering at Selwyn, but he looked up when she turned her head quickly, so he saw the second troll club the thunderbird's foot. He chuckled. 'Trolls!'
'I don't know, Elwyn…'
'No, really, over there—see, trolls!'
'I see the trolls. That's not what I mean.' Selwyn sounded so uncertain that Elwyn finally gave her his full attention.
She continued. 'I'm not sure about him.' She pointed her horn at the Ark's captain, navigator and lone sailor. He was holding a golden clipboard upon which there was a list of the approved species. Selwyn wasn't sure who had constructed the list, but it had surely not been any great authority, because the man was adding as many new names to the list as he was checking off the ones already there. He did this with a diamond-encrusted pencil that he waved extravagantly as each pair stepped aboard.
'Weeeelllllcome tooooo meeeee shiiiiiiip, ladieeeeeeeesh,' he slurred at the nymphs that had just stepped aboard.
One nymph retorted, 'I'm a male. That's the whole point, right?'
The captain giggled hysterically and waved his sparkling pencil. 'Yeeeesh, iiiiifff yoooouuu shay shoooo… Weeeelllllcome aboarrrrrd!'
The unicorns shuffled forward with the queue. Elwyn thought this very unseemly. He eagerly awaited the acceptance of the ogres; removing such enormous beasts from the queue would surely offer an opportunity to prance, as a unicorn should. Sprites, succubi and sylphs were unlikely to notice a shuffling unicorn, but a prancing unicorn could probably draw their attention.
Noticing that Elwyn's thoughts were wandering, Selwyn nudged him quickly, once, twice with her horn. He focused on the captain once more.
There was a woman by the captain's side, seated upon the decking with her head resting on his thigh.  Elwyn thought he could see a trail of drool down the captain's trousers, connected by a silver thread to the wench's mouth. Selwyn explained how she had watched in astonishment as the woman slumped to the deck in a stupor twelve minutes earlier. So far, the wench was showing no sign of recovery.
Selwyn lowered her voice. 'I think he's drunk, or stoned, or something.'
A hushed silence fell around them. The undead turned their blank gazes upon Selwyn and emitted a haunting moan. One of the vampires shuffled a little closer, as if to hear better. 
Elwyn acknowledged that she had made a very good point. 'So, should we bail?'
'I guess so, but… Where would we go? It's not as if we can suddenly sprout wings and fly away.'
Their conversation was interrupted by a loud beating sound. The unicorns braced against the buffeting wind. Elwyn looked up, half expecting to see a helicopter. Instead he saw a pegasus taking to the skies, closely followed by his mate. Elwyn's harmless envy of the fortunate sphinx, followed by sprites, succubi and sylphs, dissolved into the aether. In its place he found a bitter jealousy.
'That's hardly fair. Bastard.'
Some rows ahead, a thylacine pronounced to her mate that she was keen to head to Tasmania. 'I've heard the scenery is lovely, and it's an island, so we'd be quite sheltered and safe. What do you say?'  Her mate nodded, and together they slunk past the other creatures, back down the gangplank and onto dry land.
One ogre stepped aboard, and the two unicorns pranced forward. The sprites, succubi and sylphs noticed, and smiled coyly at Elwyn. He shook his impressive mane and was about to rise up on his hind legs when Selwyn prodded him again. 
The other ogre stepped aboard and the ship swayed alarmingly. The captain laughed merrily as he teetered and tottered. The wench slipped from his thigh, her head striking the deck with a loud thunk.
Despite their misgivings, the unicorns continued to wait patiently in the queue, and when their turn came, they boarded the Ark. Selwyn politely introduced herself to the captain.
'Faaaaarrrrrk, youuuu have naaaamesh?'
'Of course we have names.' Selwyn was perplexed. 'Don't all the creatures have names?'
'Nope. I'm Noooooaaaaah.'
'Hi Noooooaaaaah, it's nice to meet you,' said Elwyn.
The captain started to giggle again. Elwyn did not appreciate being laughed at, particularly when he did not understand the joke. Before the situation could escalate, Selwyn led him toward the stern.
She explained the joke in a whisper. 'I think his name is Noah. He's just slurring because he's so drunk.'
Come to think of it, that was pretty funny, thought Elwyn.
In the seven odd weeks that followed, it rained all day and all night. Selwyn wished fruitlessly that Noah would construct some sort of cover on the deck. The furry animals soaked up an ever increasing volume of water and the entire vessel began to stink of wet carpet. A few species of fish lay rotting on the deck, though Selwyn couldn't imagine why they had come aboard in the first place. Quite frankly, the place was a bit of a mess, and the unicorns had lost all faith in the captain.
So they weren't all that surprised when they struck the reef.
'Buggerrrrrr…' said Noah. He dug out his golden clipboard and diamond-encrusted pencil and started to call the roll. Within minutes, he was up to his knees in water, but only up to 'Banshee' on the roll.
Selwyn and Elwyn huddled together, disappointed and yet relieved that their ordeal would soon be over. The vampires approached them shyly.
'I suppose this is it for us, then,' said the female. 'We can't swim. How about you?'
Selwyn seemed to be choking up with emotion, so Elwyn answered for them. 'We can't swim, either.' The vampires nodded sadly. 
Selwyn sobbed. 'All these beautiful creatures…' 
Elwyn moved closer to comfort her. 'And we are the most beautiful of all. Perhaps, someday, someone will write about us,' he said. 'Someone like Stephenie Meyer.'

Thursday, March 01, 2012


the smell of her soft, warm skin,
the scatter of her long hair
turned golden by the sun's early rays
through the grimy windows.

this moment,
when you two lay side-by-side,
as one, in the place
where last night you lay entwined,

this peace,
for tomorrow you lie alone
in the trenches.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Around Me

I float effortlessly atop a sea that earlier threatened to drown me. Before, it was churning, burning and now it is calm, soothing. I drift with the tide of happiness, buoyed by a mood that came over me just recently. I have found the trail and it lies within me. This trail runs deep through my veins, linking my clearings, always sheltered by the tightly woven canopy. The clay cools my bare feet; they in turn sculpt it into beautiful shapes and scrunches. Then gravel crunches. Sharp stones press at my heel but I do not feel them in pain. I recognise the joy they bring, because they are solid, the earth beneath my feet. The hills tower before me and the breeze pushes me back, but it is gentle, like a lover, like the tide in which I float effortlessly.

We run for joy, to solidify our friendship. My companion is struggling; his legs are shorter than mine, though he has twice as many as I do. He strides valiantly along, determined not merely to keep up but to lead the way, even though he doesn't know where we are going. He puffs and pants but continues to drag me forward. We run in response to some deep instinct that lies at the core of all running beings. He is a dog, and I am human; together we run for joy.

I simply run. Before this moment, the world could have swallowed me up—I may not have noticed. I was too busy running. It wasn't joyous; it wasn't real. I was running away from something, being chased down by the expectations of others, fearing capture and containment. Now I simply run.

The world around me bursts into glorious song. The colours speak to me in hushed voices; flowers reach out with long tendrils of esters to enrapture my senses. The sun shines brightly somewhere above, but I can not see it, here beneath the canopy. The trail winds endlessly on between the trees, littered by the gold and red leaves they have dropped here. Something scurries beneath and my companion darts off into the low scrub, snuffling at the ground, desperate to catch a scent. My feet dance swift and fleet over rocks and mud as I leave him behind. I am at one with the world around me.

A tiny rock juts up and catches my toe. I squeal, as I do each time I trip. My companion lets out a panicked bark in response. I take two more steps in an attempt to recover, but this only serves to drive me towards the ground even faster. My shoulder slams painfully into the dirt, and my head hits a tiny rock.

I open my eyes and tentatively touch my forehead. Shifting my hand disturbs my companion, who has been worriedly licking it in an attempt to wake me up. At my temple, find a trickle of sticky blood, but not so much that I should worry. I laugh, and stand up. Twilight has come, filling my dreams with new colours and images that I can't quite fix upon. It is always hard to focus externally at this time of not-day, not-night. The only thing left to do is seek within. I open my eyes.

This mystical world has suddenly opened to me in all its glory. I see lights dancing across the forest, flitter-fluttering to and fro in the gentle breeze. A small worm inches slowly out of the mud, wiggling its way over to me. A mosquito alights gently on my arm; I slap it away and a small splotch of blood paints my arm. I hear the distant hoot of an owl and feel the silent beat of bats’ wings through the inky emptiness above my head. Something scurries, stirring up the leaves; it has given away its position and a hungry night creature pounces. A weak, longing howl echoes in the night, raising my hackles, but my companion sits calmly by my side. Everything is moist and fresh; everything smells like life in this mystical world.

The darkness is now complete. I swing my backpack down to the ground and fish around in it for a torch that I know I threw in there weeks ago. My fingers skim across the emergency blanket, the first aid kit, the packet of chips and my jacket. They sink into something softer, tearing a foil wrapper, and the rich smell of chocolate makes me salivate. It seems to have the same effect on my companion, who looks at me intently, willing me to share. I wonder if I was mistaken, but then my fingers brush the cool metal surface and I grab my torch. I switch it on; it lights my way and cuts through the darkness.

We have played all night, it seems. I stop, disoriented by the twilight, until I realise it is dawn. I know this trail well, yet I have wandered all night. Only now can I see that I have circled back on myself. We have a way to go, but it is not a long way. My companion is tired; he slumps to the ground and licks at his paws, whimpering. I kneel down to pat him, which seems to be all the encouragement he needs. He sits and drinks the water I offer him in his collapsible bowl. I have very little left, but he has always stayed by my side and I am happy to share. We move again; this time he is content to follow my lead down the trail. Soon we reach the clearing at the end of the road, where my car is parked. The red paint has been decorated by golden brown leaves and the gritty defecation of night creatures, but that is to be expected when we have played all night.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Kids Do That


Cam nodded in agreement. 'Shit, indeed. Wasn't expecting that.'

'What the fuck do we do now?' Ange's voice was rising to that almost-hysterical tone that inevitably caused Cam to lose it. Jess thought it best to intervene before things got out of hand. But, of course, things were already out of hand.

'I guess we have to tell someone.'

'Are you fucking insane!' Cam exploded. 

Much as the house had done, Jess reflected. She figured her intervention had failed, but persisted anyway. 'Look, we screwed up. We're in trouble. But it won't go away if we pretend it's not there. It'll still be there, getting worse. We should tell someone now.'

'Like who?'

'I don't know, Ange. Maybe the cops. Maybe your folks--they're pretty cool, laid-back.'

'No way. Not my parents.'

'And not the fucking cops,' said Cam, as if drawing a conclusion from a reasonable argument that had never taken place. His face was bright red, punctured by thin slits where his eyes and mouth had been minutes before. A bright purple vein pulsed at his temple and the cords stood out on his neck as he clenched and unclenched his fists.

Jess looked at the smoke rising from the forest beyond the clearing. It was thick and dark, like the thoughts in her head; both the smoke and her thoughts seemed to be blown away by the gentle breeze. It was one of those surreal moments where she was sure she would wake up soon, but felt it necessary to take action anyway--just in case. The only problem was that she couldn't think of what to do.

Ange looked apologetic. 'Maybe we should just get out of here. You know, before someone finds us.'

'We never should've come here. Fuck!'

'Calm down, Cameron.' Jess continued thinking. 

'We should've listened to Jo. Fuck!'

'Calm down, Cameron.' Jess found it very hard to think with Cam's continual nattering.

'Fuck it! It's all over! We're screwed! Let's get the fuck out of here!'

'Cameron, just shut the fuck up and let me think a minute!' 

That seemed to work: a silence settled over the clearing. But it was an uncomfortable silence, awkward and uncertain, not like the peaceful silences they usually shared. Jess didn't find it much easier to think, and wished that Ange and Cam would talk again. Then it clicked.

'I have an idea.'

Ange's face lit up with delight at the prospect of yet another perfect solution by Jess. Cam was less enthusiastic, but Jess figured that was probably a simple case of grudge-bearing. He never liked being told to shut the fuck up.

'So, no one saw us coming out here, right?'

Cam and Ange nodded in unison.

'And our bikes are back at the main gate, but we always leave them there when we head bush, right?'

'Yeah, but--'

Ange cut Cam's sentence short with her elbow and a stern look. She knew what Cam was thinking: it was obvious that they were covered in soot. Jess must have noticed. 'Let her finish.'

'So, as far as anyone knows, we were just coming out here to... do what we do. And we were just doing that, when all of a sudden there was a godawful explosion and we saw smoke coming from the old Kitchener house. But we figured that a fire wouldn't start on its own, and we were worried someone was in there, so we smashed the lounge window in, just in case someone needed help to get out. And that's why we're sooty, and why there's a broken window and why our fingerprints are in the house. So now all we need to do is call the police and tell them our story. So that's all good.'

Jess sounded calm, but she was freaking out. It seemed like a plan, but she was sure she was missing something.

'But there's one more problem,' Cam added, sighing. 'Jo knows.'

Jess wondered briefly if Cam was psychic, but decided it was a pretty obvious point to bring up. So, what to do about Jo?

'Jo won't say anything,' Ange said confidently.

'You're right, she won't. We won't give her the chance.' Jess sounded cold, distant. Cam and Ange looked up sharply, one eager, one apprehensive.

'What do you mean?' Ange sounded rather less confident, now.

'I mean, we'll make sure she won't. Or can't.'

Cam leaned closer. 'What are you proposing?'

'I'm not sure yet. But, first things first--let's call the cops.' She pulled out her phone and was dismayed to find she was out of range. 'Damn, no signal. How's yours?'

Cam had three bars, so he made the call. He didn't give much detail, but Jess figured that was for the best. That's what criminals did on TV show... not that they were criminals. Nor were they on TV.

They sat down to wait. All of a sudden, Cam started laughing. The others soon joined in, not quite sure what had prompted their laughter, but unable to contain it. Jess was mildly worried that she might wet her pants, but she was grubby anyway. She lay down to chuckle it all out, and the others lay down too: Cam with his head on her abdomen and Ange with her head on Cam's legs.

And that was how Jo found them five minutes later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Build 'Em Up

'So, why'd you put her up there?' Mark nodded his head towards the girl. She was sitting cross-legged and hunched over. Her messy hair blocked her face from view, except for those wild eyes that flickered back and forth across the room, seeking an escape route.

Steve raised one eyebrow quizzically. 'But... it's made for her. She belongs up there. My queen, upon her throne.'

'I don't think she likes it. In fact, I think she's fucking terrified.'

Steve shook his head. 'You don't know what you're talking about, mate.'

'I think I do.' Mark was worried. He could understand why Steve had put her up there--Abigail was certainly beautiful and he'd heard that she was quite the poet as well. But it was clearly not working out for them. For a start, she'd let herself go. Messy hair may have been in fashion, but Mark didn't like it. There was also a foul smell in the air, which he suspected was the result of her shitting her pants.

And then there was the whole out-of-reach problem. Steve had placed her so high up on that fucking pedestal that there was no way she could get down--and no way he could touch her.

'Steve, how's it working out for you?'

'It's good. I'm good. We're happy.'

Mark nodded at the girl again. 'She doesn't seem so happy. Do you let her down often?'

That eyebrow, again. 'Why would I do that? She belongs up there, man. Aren't you listening?'

'I'm listening. I'm hearing you. I'm just not getting it. Why does she belong up there?'

'Because she's my queen. She's perfect. Her skin, her eyes, her voice... her words...' Steve trailed off into a memory or a daydream or perhaps insanity.

'Okay. But she's not looking her best now, is she? And... when did she last speak?'

'She is always speaking in my heart.'

'You've fucking lost it. I'm calling the cops.' Mark took his phone from his pocket and unlocked it.

'Don't!' Steve lunged to knock the phone away, but Mark sidestepped. Off-balance, Steve crashed to the floor, cracking his shoulder on the pedestal as he fell. The pedestal shook, and Abigail stood up in wide-eyed shock.

Mark leaned closer and investigated the damage. He had thought it was made of cement, but he saw now that it was papier-mâché over a skeleton of coat hanger wire--hardly fit for a queen, which, he reminded himself, she was not. She was just a sweet, innocent girl that this poor fool had placed on a pedestal. 

Steve seemed to be unconscious.

Mark's eyes were drawn upward by some invisible but nevertheless tangible force, which turned out to be Abigail's gaze. She had knelt down near the edge and was now peering down at him. As she gripped the edge of the platform, a barely perceptible smile twisted the corner of her mouth up.

Her voice was like coffee. 'I don't suppose you could help me down.'

'Ummm...' Mark looked around for a ladder, a stool, something, anything to reach the young woman who suddenly seemed so warm, so alive.

'It's okay,' she said. 'You won't' find anything. Just help me knock this thing down so I can touch the floor again.'

Mark was uncertain, but the girl started to tug on the edge of the platform, gently rocking it back and forward. He joined her dance from the bottom of the pedestal, gently swaying away from it and then striking it with the full weight of his brawn. Each strike caused Steve's body to shudder. Mark wondered if he would wake up soon, but wasn't overly concerned.

Mark had a sneaking suspicion this was a dream.

The pillar swayed, tracing a growing arc, closer and closer to its tipping point. With some alarm, Mark realised it wasn't going to fall away from Steve. It was going to fall on him. He stopped pushing.

'Wait!' he called out. 'Why don't you just jump down?'

'Oh no,' she replied, still tugging at the platform. 'That wouldn't work at all.'

And with one more heave, the pedestal fell, crushing Steve. His brains spattered across the space and splattered onto Mark's crisp, white shirt. 

After the initial shock, Mark felt relieved--it must be a dream, after all. He wasn't waking up, though, so he figured he might as well play along, and he went to check on Abigail.

She was gone.

Mark heard sirens in the distance, and willed himself to wake up.

Mark heard sirens nearby, and willed himself to wake up.

Mark heard yelling at the door, and willed himself to wake up.

Mark was a little confused and unsure of what to do next, so he approached the door. It was made of beautifully carved mahogany, and Mark realised uneasily that he had no recollection of entering this way. His suede jacket was hanging on one of its two brass coat hooks, though, so he must have. He reached for the shiny door handle, deciding it would be better to open the door than to have it kicked in by a burly police officer.

He decided too late.

The door was kicked in by a burly police officer. The handle slapped Mark's hand away, and his suede jacket swung wildly from the coat hook before coming to rest against the wall. Mark hung limply from the other coat hook, which was neatly inserted into his left temple.

Monday, February 20, 2012


You're everywhere. Everywhere I look and everywhere I go, it's you. You're all there is. Everything is you. You've pervaded my every sense like Coelho's Zahir. Like the finest sand, you filter through the gaps and fill me up until I can't breathe. My every waking moment is you, and you are in my dreams. You are the twinkle in my eye, the crinkled corner of my mouth when I smile and the shaking, quaking belly laughter that rocks my whole body in the wake of your joke. You are the heart that beats in my stillness and the voice that roars in my head. You are the heady heat of summer, all blood-rushed and dizzying; you are the soft comfort of a favourite blanket, a red wine slowly savoured in a warm bath. You seep into my skin like an essential oil, rich, aromatic and sweet, soothing but never cloying. I write you into my stories because that's the safest place for you. There I can meet you, yet you remain untouched. There I can touch you, yet you remain unmoved. There I can move you, yet you remain. A shiver down my spine in the chill of dawn…your touch is sacred. My lamb, I slaughtered you in a faraway land, and still you haunt me. You go on, always. Always inside me, always outside. From the moment you first heard my words, I saw you would follow until the end of days. You have not left me; you never left me. Fluttering, obsessed with the fire that burns you, you seek ice floes to cool your fleshly desire and fear not to drown. In this absence I feel your presence, more keenly than before, more tangibly, more insistently, like a child that tugs at my sleeve, willing me to provide that sweet, sweet candy that is mine alone to give. Dare you taste it? Dare I let you? I never did, claiming that I feared for you; I see my blindness now. I feared for me, for love, for that everlasting road that I deigned not to tread. My legs are strong after climbing to mountainous heights and tripping into canyons beyond; do you remember walking with me? Many were drawn to my flame; only you could see its extent and not fear it. Now you fan that flame, a gentle evening breeze that feeds me. Now you are that flame, wild and untamed; you consume me.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Charm (in 15 minutes)

His forehead is creased with wrinkles, so deeply imprinted that they seem to trace out a map in his flesh. His brows furrow above deeply hooded eyes that crinkle as he squints to focus on me. His skin is slick with oil and sweat. He leans closer and I can see the grit in his pores and smell the honest, unclean smell of a man who works in the dust.

He tweaks his unkempt moustache once before pursing his lips around the mouthpiece of his instrument. He plays.

It is a sound like nothing I've heard before, and I don't know its name. It is nasal, whiny, discordant and yet strangely and hauntingly beautiful. It is this sound that lured me here, that prompted me to throw down some coins into the brightly coloured, hand-woven rug that marked the border between his space and mine.

I take my place in the circle, joining the thirty or so others, mostly tourists with clean faces and pale skin. I hover at the edge, neither here nor there, somewhere in between. I watch.

A cobra rises from the intricately carved vase, swaying gently as the man plays that magical instrument, the one I can't name. The crowd's accompaniment is divided between those who sway with the snake and those whose vocal ejaculations meld with the music. I do neither; I just watch, mesmerised, sinking into those deep eyes that must be a gateway to hidden knowledge.

He is not playing for the snake, nor for the crowd. This is all part of the performance: he plays only for me. He knows who I am and why I have answered his call. And so I wait for the performance to end. I listen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Coffee (in 15 minutes)

As I open the front door, a wave of heat washes over me, escaping the confines inside. I'm not sure what I was thinking, moving into a house with no air conditioning in the middle of a Brisbane summer. A bead of sweat threatens to trickle into my eye and I wipe it away in a hurry. I step over the threshold.

Something new washes over me. It's not the heat. It's not the heady smell of the flowers wilting painfully in the vase on my dining table. It's not the faint but persistent odour of sweat in a running t-shirt draped over the chair.

It's coffee.

I ground it this morning, expecting to have a relaxing mug of warm happiness before starting my day. But the phone rang and I was interrupted; then chores got in the way. I had to buy groceries and figured I'd grab a latte while I was out—and I did. It had been delicious, fresh, milky and tasty. But it had lacked love.

My house smells like love.

I realise that I've just made quite a startling discovery. It's not the taste of coffee that I'm addicted to, nor is it the caffeine content—it's the smell. That rich, earthy aroma, almost like chocolate, but somehow warmer. One whiff and I'm hooked.

I search my memories for more evidence of this new theory. I find what I'm looking for—years of waking up to the smell of brewing coffee, along with the acrid burn of cigarette smoke. The latter was a masking agent for unpleasant bathroom odours. The former was the reason I gave my mum a kiss after she'd had her morning coffee. I tried coffee myself many times, always disappointed by the bitter taste until something changed in my late teens.

Coffee is the smell of growing up and the taste of becoming an adult. I'm an adult now, so I cross the dining room, which is also the entry room and the shoe room and the library, in this tiny house. I fill the kettle and wait by the gas stove for three minutes and twenty-six seconds while it boils. I tip a few spoons of those fresh grinds into my Aeropress, add the water, stir, plunge. Delicious dark liquid spurts and swirls into the mug below.

It's too hot to drink. The coffee, the day, me—it's all just too hot to enjoy. But that smell…

No, it's too hot. Maybe I can put ice in it and top it with a little cold milk. Or maybe I'll just leave it a bit, let it cool. Or maybe I won't even drink the coffee. Maybe I'll just drink in that smell of childhood, love and home.