The smell of coffee in the morning

A cappuccino in a green cup.

When I first started writing, I was part of a Writers’ Group. We would get together once a month for a “meeting” hosted by members in turn. We would discuss our own projects, give some constructive criticism to each other and generally give support and encouragement.

At the end of each two-hour meeting we would have a fifteen-minute creative writing challenge based on a prompt suggested by the host.  I wrote this short fictional piece in response to the prompt to write something from  the point of view of a single sense. This one is based in the sense of smell. I have only done a light edit. Not bad for a fifteen-minute burst in my opinion! I might go back and have a go at the other senses as well.

The coffee welled up inside my head. Deep, rich earthy and warm. It smelt like a morning. A late morning, but a morning no less. It was time to get up. Time to start the day.

I pulled back the sheets and the raw aroma of the previous night’s sex wafted up from the linen. Sweaty, slightly fishy, not yet unpleasant. I thought about the time we had spent entwined in each other’s arms. Hesitant at first, then with reckless abandon that seemed embarrassing now in the coffee rich morning. He had smelt of rum. Rum with coke. Sweet, spicy and heady. The very thought of it made me quiver again.

The hot water took a long time to emerge from the tap. The chlorine, pungent and clean, drowned out the fresh citrusy bursts from the soap. It was like this in the winter. The chlorine did not have the energy to evaporate and clung to the water like a silver coat; lazy and slow.

I washed the sex away reluctantly. It had been a long time. A long time since I had smelt a man on me and in me. I lingered a little longer than necessary on the folds of my body and began to relive the passion.

The knock on the bathroom door snapped me back to the now.

Oh, that’s right! I wasn’t alone this morning. Not like the years of mornings that strung together in an endless stream before this morning. That’s why it smelt like coffee! There was another somebody in the house and he was making the coffee. Deep, rich and earthy.

How would it be now that the beer goggles were smashed by sobriety and the harsh winter light.

In my mind, I always saw myself as 27. That was a good year. Slim, tanned, lithe and strong.  But 27 was 27 years ago. A marriage ago.

What would I say? How would I act? This was worse than the first time! At 15 I had all the confidence of a goddess who bestowed precious gifts on the lucky. Now it was I who felt lucky – that this rum-soaked man had seen me despite the invisibility cloak of menopause and maturity.

I slid the door open a crack. There he was, coffee in hand, in trousers but no shirt. He was older than I had thought. Grey speckled hair, his skin half a size too big for the muscles underneath. But he smiled and his eyes shone. He handed me the coffee. He looked awkward and shy.

“Have you finished? He asked pulling a face “I have to pee!”

That’s how it was going to be – relaxed and friendly. I remember this. It was a start. Perhaps there’d be more coffee in the mornings.


Furious Fiction 6

Australian Writers Centre Furious Fiction Competition

It’s the first Friday of the month again and the Furious Fiction email is in my inbox. Yeah!! I have 2 hours before I go out with friends, and I’m already booked up for the weekend. So this time I gave myself only an hour to write the piece before submitting! Once again it’s not great but it’s done!


  • Your story must include the name of at least ONE element from the periodic table.
  • Your story’s first and last words must begin with S.
  • Your story must contain the words TRAFFIC, JOWLS and HIDDEN.
  • And finally, your story must include something that BUZZES.

500 words 55 hours $500 prize money!

Sweet sounds of silence

Stephanie sat behind the wheel, her mouth opened wide, and her eyebrows raised higher than a tranny’s pencilled-in line. She looked over at the couple sitting next to her in the traffic. They were laughing, clearly enjoying her antics.

“What?” she said aloud, gesticulating impolitely. “Never heard of facial yoga? Hey! Honey your jowls could sure do with some tightening!”

The couple turned away, the lights changed, and they accelerated away.

“Pffft” Stephanie shouted after them.

“Calm down, Stephanie!” The little voice inside her head cooed.  “They’re just not worth it”

She took a few deep breaths and returned to the facial gymnastics, indifferent to the effect it was having on those around her. This was her time, her space!  She could stay hidden in the safety capsule of her car and do whatever she liked. Stephanie looked forward to the drive home. It was her peaceful sanctuary from the raucous and relentless buzzing of the world.

For Stephanie, the world was a noisy and disturbing place.

The whooshing hand dryers in bathrooms.

The grizzling, guzzling coffee machine blowing out steam.

The beep beep beep of the road crossing alert.

The clackety-clack of heels on the concrete floors.

The loud music in the supermarket.

The audible chewing of the fellow next to her in a cafe. 

Every sound set her on edge.  There was no escape. At least in her car, she could cut out some of the noise and calm her frayed nerves. Without that peace, she knew she’d meltdown quicker than caesium held in her palm. She was grateful for the days when an accident delayed her.  Although in a pang of guilt, it did occur to her that her win was likely to be someone else’s tragedy.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a woman she knew, walking down the street with big, fat, puffy earphones covering up half her head. Her face was serene and blissful. Stephanie’s head craned around to get a better look. “What are they? What is she wearing” she asked the universe. “She looks so happy! She never looks happy!”

Up ahead was an appliance store. Stephanie careened off the road and screeched into the car park.  She strode into the store with her single purpose in mind.

Buy Bliss Making Headphones.

The sales clerk asked if he could help. “Big puffy headphones”, she blurted out, holding her hands like cups over her ears.

He took her to the rack. She tried a few on but felt no bliss.

“People like you usually like these best,” he said quietly.

He put the muffs over her ears and flicked the switch. The noise retreated into a muffled, manageable murmur.

“People like me?” she asked

“Yes” the sales clerk said shyly. “People on the spectrum”


You can see my other Furious Fiction Pieces Here.

Furious Fiction 1

Furious Fiction 2

Furious Fiction 3

Furious Fiction 4

Furious Fiction 5



Furious Fiction 5

What …with planning a big adventure to Scotland and all my creative energy directed towards travel and photography I haven’t written anything other than blog posts for a LONG time! Here is my effort for the August 2019 Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction Competition.

500 words 55 hours $500 prize money!

I give myself the added restriction of if it doesn’t get finished on Friday night I don’t submit it. So essentially done and submitted in five hours!

The rules from their post are as follows:

Hey hey, it’s ‘Adjective August’ (not to be confused with ‘Alliteration August’) – and we’ve gone absolutely description crazy…

  • Your story must include, word for word, ALL of the following SIX descriptions (describing whatever you want):
  • One of these six descriptions MUST appear in the first sentence of your story. (The rest, wherever you like.).


Ten reams to go:

The shrill, piercing shreik punctuated the dark, quiet air like an ill-placed comma. It disturbed the reverie of the gnarly old writer for only a second, but this was enough to fracture her flow so completely that the shiny, silver lake of ideas that had been swirling in her mind was sucked into the vortex of her brain as is someone had pulled the plug. The story, the line of dialogue, was now a  slithery trail of deceptive fiction never to be found again.

What had sounded like a dying baby was in fact only a peacock, settling in the trees after another steamy day in Paradise.

“Hah! Paradise!” she thought. How that description seemed so distant from the truth. The boundless enthusiasm of youth had been replaced by the scratched and weather-worn psyche of an older, creakier woman.  The entertaining antics of the monkeys, now dull. The massive, crawling creatures that infested her shoes, no longer a source of wonder. She’d been here 25 years. 24 years, 11 months and 2 weeks longer than she had intended. For her, the holiday in Paradise had turned into something very different – a lifelong commitment.

She got up from the rickety table, pushing herself back with ink-stained hands. No computer for this one. She had to take it slow. She had to be more deliberate and carve each word into the paper indelibly with a slender blue pen. The cut and paste needed to happen in her mind before any words could land on that precious paper, fully formed and perfect. Editing was not a simple keystroke away but rather a laborious trudge of rewriting. Editing meant wasting paper, and paper was more valuable than anything she’d ever owned.

She placed the cold and greasy remains of her Sunday dinner on the floor and banged on the door.

“I’m done” she called.

While she waited, she farted and enjoyed the sweet and pungent aroma of herself wafting around her, enveloping her with the only marker of self-identity she had beyond her writing.

The heavy boots boomed down the corridor. The top hatch opened, and the eyes peered in.

“Move away from the door,” the warden barked.

The bottom hatch opened, the tin plate was whisked away and replaced by five sheets of paper. Five! It was Sunday, Paper Day!

She danced as she held the sheets tightly to her chest. Not too tightly! She didn’t want to crease them.  She glanced at the other 6500-odd slivers of joy in the corner of her cell. They groaned under the weight of tightly-packed double-sided scrawl. The once bold script faded, in the same way her initial rants and protests had faded into a jaded acceptance. 

The judge had said “Life” when he had banged that gavel. Life? This pile was her life!  Would it be as tall as her when they shipped her out in a box? She did the maths. Ten reams to go. She’d run out of time.


Furious Fiction 4

The Australian Writers’ Centre’s Furious Fiction competition for April 2019 centred on three lines of dialogue.


  • “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”  from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • “He’s never done anything like this before.”  Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
  • “What’s it going to be then, eh?” A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

You can find out more about this fun competition at

Here is my story.

Black Widows

The door of the pub flew open, and an old woman, lugging an oversized suitcase and a heavy backpack, struggled to fit through its frame .

She flung her suitcase bedside a table close to the fireside and strode up to the bar.  The bag was big. She was small.

“Impressive!” the bartender thought, surprised by the old girl’s strength.

“What’s it going to be then, eh?” he asked.

She ignored him as she poked around in her backpack muttering to herself.

“It’s in here somewhere. I know I packed it.”

He presumed she was looking for her wallet, but when she slammed that down on the bar, he figured he was wrong.

“Madam?” he tried again, “What will it be?”

Judging from her skin, her hair and her sensible shoes, he figured she must be around 70. The backs of her hands had the tell-tale age spots that he’d seen on his own grandmother.

He figured she was deaf. “MADAM?” he said with more volume.

She shot him a soul-withering glance. The crimson glint of the fire was reflected, blood-like, in her dark, bright eyes. He took a step back. He figured he wouldn’t ask her again.

“Ahhh! Here it is!” she said holding a small crystal vial. It was filled with fluorescent liquid that sparkled with the same red he had seen in her eyes. His curiosity stirred.

“Toilet?” she asked abruptly.

He pointed to the corner of the room. The woman turned on her heel, leaving her stuff in a pile on the bar.

When the woman returned, her skin was smooth and lustrous, the age spots gone. Her dark hair no longer anchored by steely grey. Thirty years had vanished!

His mouth flapped wordlessly.

“It’s fantastic, isn’t’ it!” she said.

“What is it?”

“It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution,” she whispered as she held the vial up to the light, twitching it, so the ruby liquid sloshed about.

“Would you like to try it?” she asked, her voice laced in honey and silk.

“Yes,” his gasped, with fearful anticipation.

“It’s not cheap…come.” she beckoned.

He took all the cash from the till and followed her into the cold night.


In the pale morning light, the police officers stood over the bartender’s cold, grey body.

“It’s a bit queer that his lips are still so red, isn’t it Sarge?” the constable asked.

“I don’t understand.” the sergeant said quietly as he removed a vial from the bartender’s stiff fingers. “He’s never done anything like this before.”

The noise of tyres on gravel distracted them and they watched as a red convertible passed slowly by. Their eyes were drawn to two identically dressed women sitting up front. Mother and daughter perhaps? One around 40, the other maybe 70?

Their lips painted red.

Their eyes bright and hard.

Their licence plate –  BLKWYDOS


Furious Fiction 3.

I have decided to make short stories a regular part of my blogging, I think it makes a nice change from photos, travel and gut bacteria! Most months I enter the  Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction Competition. $500 prize, 500 words and 55 hours to write it. My stories are not polished. I write it on the Friday night it comes out. If it’s not finished by Friday bedtime, I don’t enter. You can find two other stories here and here

The prerequisites for the January competition were

  • the first word had to be New
  • it must contain the words nineteen, desert and present
  • It needed to include a list (open to interpretation – either include an actual list or have a list included as part of the story)

Here is my story. I hope you enjoy it!

“New Years Resolutions,”  the brand new pink glitter pen wrote with an excessively enthusiastic flourish on the first page of the blank journal.

The woman looked at the Pen’s work; satisfied and pleased with its efforts!  She liked this Pen.

This year was gonna be a good year!

“We’re gonna party like it’s twenty – nineteen ….

no.. no..

Party like it’s twennnn-ty ninnnnnne-teeeeen.”

No matter how hard she tired, she could not get the rhythm right…

She brought her attention back to the blank page. It shone creamy-white, like a desert waiting for the rain to transform it into an oasis and fulfil its real purpose. #blessed

Enough of the inspirational quotes, let’s get down to it….”New Year’s Resolutions”. The Pen traced over the letters and filled in the missing apostrophe.

  1. Go all year without alcohol.

Scratch that. The Pen scribbled over the statement. Listen, Lady, that’s just silly. It’s your birthday in three weeks. Then there’s Henry’s birthday and then Valentine’s and then….

So many “and thens”. The Pen knew more than the woman even though they’d just met.

“Let’s be more realistic,” it said. The woman obliged

  1. Go without alcohol for 6 months.

What in a row?

Ok… not in a row.

  1. Go without alcohol for  6 of the 12 months; it doesn’t need to be consecutive.


The Pen was ready to move on

2. Exercise six days per week.

Does yoga count as exercise?


OK! Lock it in Eddy!

3. Eat a wholly plant-based diet.

What about yogurt? Yogurt’s healthy, and it’s not from a plant. And kefir? That’s even better than yogurt!

OK! Ok!

  1. Eat mostly plants, but dairy is OK too.


  1. Be more mindful. Live in the present.

Hah! Why are we writing this stupid list then? This is a future based document. Your whole premise is just shot to pieces, and it’s not even 9 AM on the first of January! Hah!


Alright….don’t lose your cool. I’m only saying…

FIVE? How many of these do we have to have? Surely we should only have 3 – 4 SMART goals… not a great long list of things you’ll just look back on in a year and feel regret, remorse and recrimination over.

  1. Remain calm in the face of criticism.

What?  Having a crack, are we? Can’t handle a little constructive banter? Well, don’t be blaming me when you fall in a heap before autumn!

  1. Read at least four books from the “good books” list.

What? …Excuse me! You’re gonna do that anyway. You’re a librarian. You read books for a living! Surely you can come up with something more inspiring than that? Where are the resolutions that challenge the envelope? The ones that will stretch us to our limits? Heh? Where are they?

  1. Climb Mt Everest!

That’s better!

  1. Drop pink glitter Pen into the abyss!

Hang on… I’m only trying to heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeellllllllppppppph!

She chose another pen…


Furious Fiction 2

This was going to be a post script but I decided to move it up front! Don’t be expecting any consistency in my posts! This is a short story. Sometimes I write about travel. Sometimes it’s divorce. Sometimes it’s about healthy living. Sometimes it’s nice photos.

But it’s always about being me. An old Chook hoping to inspire others.

A few months ago I posted a very short story I had written for the the Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction competition. This, as I said before, is a marvelous competition. Five hundred words, $500 prize  in 55 hours. It appears on the first Friday of the month. There is a set of parameters to frame your story. In May 2018 the rules were:

  • The story had to begin with the words “A long time ago”
  • The story had to include the words “star”, “war” and “force” (or a plural of those words).
  • The story had to feature something that flies.

The First Friday in May was May the 4th.

Here is my effort.

A long time ago it would have been different. I would not have had to use force to get the gate open. The bolt would have slid silently; effortlessly, without the grinding screeches the rusting, decayed metal emitted now.

When we had owned this place, we would fly up. Too busy to drive the 600 kilometres to rural-bliss-sea-change territory. The flight was only an hour. It took longer to drive to the airport. Nonetheless, we’d fly.  Ironic really. We’d been so worried about climate change we didn’t even think about the  Pulse. Now, without power, without electricity; nothing worked.

We had agreed all those years ago, if “it” ever happens, if ever the apocalypse comes, we would meet here. This would be the starting place. No matter if it was war or a nuclear explosion or what, we would meet here. No matter if we were together or apart this is where we’d  go. At the time it was a joke. As if! As if the world would end! It had stuck in my mind, so this time, I had walked the 600 km.

It had taken me thirty days to get here.  Thirty days walking. Before that, there was thirty days of waiting in disbelief. Was this it? Was this the end? It had happened so quickly. Other people were still waiting. Still waiting to be told what to do. I had to make a choice: get out or stay. Now or never.

My phone was good for nothing but I had decided to keep it in case one day, the grid was back on. For now, the only power we had was our pulsing, troublesome, distant star shining bleakly through the clouds.

I got on the highway and headed north. Past the abandoned trucks and cars, their batteries fried, and solenoids melted. Cargo containers had been torn open and their contents splilled about in messy piles. Clearly others had started out earlier than me. There were enough scraps left over to get a bit of a meal.  Things weren’t so bad – travellers were still sharing.

On the last day, I opened the gate, my heart pounding. I breathed as quietly as I could. Would he be here? I hadn’t seen him for over five years. Would he be here with his new wife? Would my daughter be here with her family? Would they remember? Would whoever lived here now let us in? We hadn’t thought of that.

The gate squealed behind me.


There was nothing. No-one.

I’d wait. There may no electricity, but there was time. Plenty of time. I set my pack on the porch. I knocked on the door.

Nothing. No-one.

For three more days. Nothing. No-one. Then…

…the gate screeched….





Furious Fiction

The Australian Writers’ Centre has a marvellous monthly competition. On the first Friday of each month they publish a set of criteria for a 500 word story. They allow 55 hours to write and submit the story.  There is one prize of $500. You can find details for Furious Fiction at this link.

I have entered a few times now and it’s great fun. While I haven’t won (yet) I have been enjoying myself immensely. The writing prompts seem to limit you at first but then as your brain gets ticking, the story takes over and it is indeed, furious!

In July, the restrictions (in addition to the word length) were:

  1. The first sentence had to be a question.
  2. You needed to include the words jam, jackpot and jungle.
  3. The last word had to be BANG!

You can find the winning entry and the short listed stories here.

Here is my effort.

Be careful what you wish for.

“Do you want strawberry or raspberry jam?” Gary asked with his arm hovering mid-shelf.

“What? What did you say?” she said as she shifted her attention from the young couple in front. They looked so peaceful. He just picked things off the shelf and put them in the trolley. The woman nodded. Nothing was said, and they went ahead.

“Strawberry, Gary. Strawberry will be fine.” Her flat voice failed to hide the anger that was ready to burst through her hot skin and slice him into a million tiny shreds!

When she had first met him, she thought she’d hit the jackpot! A caring fellow who always considered her before making decisions that affected her. She had been ready to leave the dating jungle, so she jumped in and got married.

Now after 23 years, he was so damned annoying! Could he not do anything without asking?  Could he not stand on his own two feet without checking in? Just once?

There only seemed to be one way out of this mess. He was worth more to her dead than alive. But how to make it seem like an accident?

“Do you want strawberry or raspberry jam?” Gary asked with his arm hovering mid-shelf.

He was always careful to make sure he asked her first. He knew if he didn’t there’d be an argument. Gary liked raspberry, but she always said strawberry. If he suggested they buy both, she’d bite his head off.

“Strawberry, Gary. Strawberry will be fine.” she snarled.

He looked away. The young couple in front reminded him of how it had been, once. They looked so peaceful. He just made up his own mind and put things in the trolley. The woman didn’t care. She didn’t censor his choices at every turn.

He thought about leaving Miriam. Every day. Her once charming wit had turned sour.  But he knew he couldn’t compete in the jungle where the cougars gobbled up younger men and never considered balding 57 year-olds with pot bellies.

After 23 years he knew her relentless brow beating would go on forever unless he cracked the jackpot and she carked it.

There only seemed to be one way out of this mess. She was worth more to him dead than alive. But how to make it seem like an accident?

Finished at last and with the car packed, Miriam got behind the wheel. She started to reverse then had to brake hard as the young couple from before walked behind them.  Miriam watched them in the mirror as they kissed.  She sighed.

Once on the highway, Miriam and Gary both stared mournfully ahead, secretly imagining their own personal murder-mystery episode.  Time passed, neither spoke. Gary turned on the radio to drown out the silence.

A flat-bed lorry carrying huge rolls of newsprint thundered past.

They were doing 100 and it was going faster.

The 18-wheeler swerved.

The load shifted.

The cable snapped.

The roll dropped.


This month’s Furious Fiction just started!! (If you’re reading this on the first Friday of the month!!) Have a look and get started!! You’ve got around 54 hours to go

As good as it gets.

Up till now my blog posts have been about travel, wellbeing or relationships. I have included lots and lots of photos.

This post is an experiment.

It’s a short story. It has very strong Australian cultural themes so it may not translate well to an international market…. BUT…. I wanted to give it a go.

So no photos and way more than the usual 1000 words or less and it’s total fiction.

Let me know what you think! Please! Depending on how it goes I might do it once every few months. I want to stick to my themes for the most part.


As good as it gets.

Thank goodness, the next stop was hers. The guy in the business suit had been letting off silent-but-deadlies since Redfern. The steady rocking of the carriage had sent her to sleep but she was shocked back into the world by the dead aromas wafting from his arse. His face stuck in the Sydney Morning Herald, pretending it wasn’t him.

‘RUDD’S APOLOGY – TEN YEARS ON’  the banner screamed.

‘How about apologising for those farts!’ she thought.

Things were changing slowly though. She and the kids had done the Reconciliation Walk across the Bridge with the thousands and thousands of others. It had made them all feel good. Sydney had a big heart that day. What was it? Jeez… 10 years?… No! 12 years ago!

The CityRail voice announced her stop.  ‘This station is Wentworthville. Please alight for Wentworthville’

‘Hah! Those bloody Millennials wouldn’t even know what “alight” meant’ she thought as she shoved her feet back into the stilettos and got out of her seat.

She squeezed past the throng of people standing in the aisle. The doors opened, to let the wind and rain batter those closest to the door. She dug around in her bag for the umbrella but abandoned the idea. No point. The $3 job would end up inside out in this wind.

As she filed up the stairs like an automaton with the rest of them, she decided there must be more to life than this. There really must. The blow-dried black hair stuck to her face.

‘Pffttt… that’s 30 bucks down the drain!’

Another summer storm. It would keep things cool for a nanosecond out here in Sydney’s west, only to be quickly replaced by steamy humidity as the roads shimmered and the water began to evaporate. Oh joy! Another sleepless night, tossing and turning in wet sheets.  The greeny-grey sky spelt out HAIL STORM. She’d better hurry and get her car under cover.

Pointing the remote at her Audi and listening to the beep-beep she thought she should have been happier. She had made it, hadn’t she? She had ‘the’ job, with ‘the’ firm. The hard slog at Uni had paid off. She had the 2.3 children who were all doing-well-thank-you-very-much and she had the model do-it-yourself-business-man for a husband. Why was the lingering feeling of disappointment and despair always hanging over her like the storm clouds above her now? Maybe it didn’t get better? You heard what Jack Nicholson had to say in that movie “This is as good as it gets!”

‘C’mon Anca Albescu! Snap out of it!’

Anca’s back story was a simple one but not without its twists. Her dad Alin, had come to Australia in the 1950’s as an engineer for the Snowy-Hydro Scheme. He was a Professor of Mechanical Engineering in Romania but could only get work here as a Clerk of Works. But never mind. It was better than what was happening back there. Alin was sure he could make a successful life in rural Australia, far away from everywhere. Grow his own little family. He met Kaylah at the Alpine Pub in Cooma. She had a nice healthy glow about her that screamed out ‘outdoors-sort-of-girl’. He liked that. Active girls were fun. He figured he was about 15 years older than her, maybe more. She said she had just come back from Byron.


‘Yeah you know, Byron Bay, on the beach, I’ve been sunbaking for days!’

‘Oh! Yes, of course!’ he said quickly trying to cover for his ignorance of towns in Australia.

They got to chatting and before you know it Kaylah was pregnant and they were married. Just like that! Kaylah had been working in the office at the Hydro Scheme but when her bump started to show she had to leave. That’s the way it was back then in the 60’s. Alin was doing ok. They had enough money and could buy a little place on Victoria Street.

As she was growing up, Anca was always fascinated by the family tree that Alin had in the front of the family bible. There were his parents and then their parents and their parents, all in spidery writing that had already begun to fade. Alin told her stories about his brothers and his little sister and how one day he was sure she would meet them and all her cousins.

‘Mum, where is your family tree?’

‘All that got lost in the Great Flood of 1950 love… and grandma passed long ago… I don’t have all that written stuff. It’s just here in my mind.’

‘But I can’t see that Mum’

‘One day you might feel it’

Anca wasn’t feeling it now. Mum seemed have come into the world as a fully grown adult. She had no stories of her childhood. There was only her and Grandma and Grandma had died sometime before the Great Flood of 1950.

The Audi pulled into the driveway and she waited for the garage door to open, edging the car forward impatiently.  She needed to pee and she knew once she stood up the need would double in urgency. FARQ! It was shit to be a post-menopausal 55-year-old mother with a weak pelvic floor! Squeeze, Squeeze, Squeeze!

Sandu was waiting for her there at the garage door but she pushed past him and made the dash to the ensuite. Too late… she had already pee’d her pants. This was humiliating. No-one had told her this would happen. Just as she had got her shit together she would start peeing her pants? Just when the kids were off her hands and she could concentrate on her career – the pee would hit the fan? Thanks God! That’s another reason for not believing in you!

As she cleaned herself off and threw her wet undies on the floor, she heard Sandu knock politely at the door.

‘Anca? Sorry Anca… I have bad news’

She slid open the door a few centimetres and peeked shamefully into the face of the plumber she had married. Kind, gentle, sometimes smelly but always there.

‘What Sandu? What?’ she said with more impatience than he deserved. His face said it all. It shrank back and twisted in sorrow.  ‘Robe’ she said pointing to the robe on the floor.

As he passed the robe, he took hold of her arm making sure her attention was on him.  ‘Your mother… She died this morning.’

‘What?  …Why didn’t they ring me?’

‘They did… but you didn’t answer. Perhaps you had your phone on flight mode for court?’

Ohh yes! She did and it was still on flight mode. She had forgot to switch it back. No wonder she had had such a quiet day!

‘How? When? WHERE?’

He sat on the edge of the bed and patted. She joined him, even though all she wanted to do was have a shower so she wouldn’t stink of piss.

‘You’ll have to ring Alin for the details but he said she had a heart attack last night and passed this morning.’

‘Right. OK.’ she said and that was it. Should she be more emotional? Should she be doubled up on the floor crying and sobbing?

Anca went back out to her car and fished out the phone. She switched it off flight mode and listened as it lit up like a Christmas tree. Seven missed calls and eight texts.

08:50 Dad: Urgent! Call me!

08:59 Dad: Anca! – Now! it’s important!

09:05: Sandu: Call your dad. It’s really important!

09:54 Dad: Too late baby…She is gone.

09:59 Dad: I really need to hear your voice just now. Call me as soon as you get this.

10:37 Dad: Really? No reply? Your mother has died!

10:43 Sandu: Call him Boo-Boo. Please!

10:52 Dad: Goodbye. I am done.

Anca sank onto the step between the garage and the house and scrolled through the messages again.

‘What does he mean. “He is done”? Sandu? What does he mean? Is planning on killing himself too?’

‘I don’t know, Boo-Boo … I haven’t been able to get back on to him since about 11:30.’

It was nearly six-thirty. Anca pressed the button “DAD”. The number rang out.

‘We’ll call the local police. Get them to do a welfare check.’  Anca knew the lingo, after, all it was her job.

‘Sargent Grey? Hello …this is Anca Albescu…yes… good thanks…I am wondering if you can just go check on my dad? He rang this morning very distressed. Said mum had died. I think he may be considering taking his own life… Yes, if you wouldn’t mind…oh you already have his address …oh good…thanks…ring me back…’

Forty minutes later the phone rang, unknown caller showed on the screen.

‘Hello? Oh Sargent Grey… Thanks for calling back….yes…umm ok…yes…ok.. I understand….’

Anca hung up. ‘Yes… they found them both in the house. He’s dead too. He shot himself. They said they will have to wait for mum’s autopsy but it looks like she died of natural causes.’

So matter of fact …so blasé!

Anca was an only child. Apart from her own two kids and Sandu she had no-one. Sandu’s family was huge. Big! LOUD and often argumentative with at least one pair of siblings not talking to each other at some time or another. Anca’s and Sandu’s marriage was not arranged per se. Alin and Sandu’s dad, Dumitru had worked together at the Hydro. The wives were pregnant at the same time and when they had the pigeon pair they would joke about them getting married.  And somehow it happened. 1984 – The Big Fat Romanian Wedding.  None of Alin’s family made the journey out to Australia, so their side of the church was filled with friends not relatives. Still, they did the whole shebang – Gypsy musicians; the Nasi, the huge feast and the dancing. So much dancing!

She thought about that now as they headed off to Cooma. Sandu driving while she had the seat laid right back, staring out at the tree tops and the dawn sky. Every now and then, a semi would thunder by and she counted the wheels as they rolled past. Her mind dull and wandering; flicking between the now and the then as she replayed her life-movie; pausing on the good bits and fast forwarding other times she’d rather not remember. Were there any clues? She smiled at the memories of the bride-napping she and her friends had staged for a ransom. To get her back, Sandu had to agree to run through the town in nothing but his underwear. Not to be outdone, he ended up stripping off those too and ran down the Monaro Highway completely naked. Kaylah was not impressed.

She couldn’t understand why Alin would have killed himself. Was he that worried about being alone and without his wife? It just didn’t make sense.

Sandu pulled up at the house and got out to open the low gate. The grass on the front lawn shaved short, the roses in neat military rows. Summer, not quite over, was still frying the ground like a chip. The double fronted fibro cottage hadn’t gotten the makeover like its neighbours. It was still white with the chalky paint, the seams between the fibro sheets visible. Alin had resisted the aluminium siding salesmen in the 70’s. They could probably list it as a “Retro Vintage Bargain in Original Condition” when it came time to sell.  That time, wasn’t now though. Now it was time to sort through the stuff and get the funerals organised. She didn’t know what to expect. Would there be a mess?

‘Ready?’ Sandu said as he opened the car door. She realised he had been standing there waiting for her to get out.

‘Give me a sec’ pretending to search for the house keys when really, she was trying to buy more time.

The police tape was still across the door.  Sergeant Grey had said it was OK for them to go in. The forensics people had already done their thing. Some detectives would be around later that day to ask a few questions. Just routine. Nothing to worry about.

‘Ahh! Here the bloody things are!’ jangling a bunch of keys.

The door opened and the smell hit them. Not what she had expected but the pungent smell of chlorine mixed with eucalyptus oil and the earthy tones of a bush fire. Someone had been cleaning. She knew from her own job there were companies that did this sort of thing. Trauma and crime scene cleaning. She shuddered. What a job! The house was dark in its sadness. Quiet and empty. Sandu’s footsteps making the boards creak and groan. He avoided the particularly clean patch on the carpet in the lounge room.

A knock at the door. Sandu went. She could only hear one side of the conversation as she walked away down the hall.

‘Mrs Chifley! Hello, yes sad, so very sad. ANCA – it’s Mrs Chifley from next door. She just wanted to say if you want a cup of tea or something to come on over.’

‘Ok thank her for me…’ she shouted back. Anca had not wanted to talk to anyone just yet. She was still deciding where to start. The thought of piling up some papers and lighting a match occurred to her as she opened and closed the cupboards that hid fifty-six years of her parents’ life.

The rooms were all tidy, a small basket of dirty clothes in the laundry the only thing out of place and not done. The dishwasher half full of clean dishes, like Dad had thought about making sure he didn’t leave a mess. The walls looked shiny in patches as if they had been recently scrubbed. In a few spots, red-brown clay stuck in the cracks.

‘Epic fail, Dad!’ She thought ‘You left a huge mess! You left your brains on the floor!’ She hated the way her brain worked sometimes. The sophisticated exterior of an urban lawyer only barely hid the crude bogan inside.

She came out to the kitchen and Sandu was sitting on the lounge his hands cradling his face, his tears watering the rose petals on the close to threadbare carpet.  He was sobbing. She hadn’t even thought about how this news might affect him. These were her parents, she was supposed to be the sad one. But of course, he had also known them all his life too. He had formed close bonds with them. Hadn’t he helped Alin replace the gutters, dug the trenches when the sewer came to replace the septic? Hadn’t he helped Kaylah put up the curtain rods in the guest bedroom when she had complained it was too bright when they visited? Oh dear what a selfish bitch she was. She sat next to him and laid her head against his shoulder and patted his thigh.

‘There, There’ she said, like he all needed was a Band-Aid. What else could she do?

‘Andrea and Jacob will be here tomorrow.’ Anca said trying to distract him. They would be upset about losing their grandparents too. She stood up and opened the fridge and held a carton of milk to her nose. Still good.

‘Tea?’ she asked holding the milk and pointing to the jug. ‘I think we need to make a plan.’

‘Let’s just get the funerals over and done with and then we can think about what to do here’ he said. ‘I think that’s enough of a plan for the minute.’

She agreed. Another knock on the door.

‘Oh! Bloody neighbours! This will be a casserole for sure.’

Anca swung open the door. No, not neighbours but detectives holding up ID badges.

‘Hello, Mrs Albescu. We are sorry for your loss. Can we come in and ask a few questions? There’s just a few things we need to get sorted before we release the bodies from the morgue. I am Senior Detective Andrea Kemp and this is Detective Sheridan Chamberlain.’

‘Sheridan…funny name for a bloke.’ Anca thought.

‘Yes of course…come in…my husband, Sandu.’ Gesturing toward him. ‘Would you like a cup of tea, I was just putting the kettle on?’

The younger man held his hand up as a no, but the woman, older and more in tune with the protocol of forming trust and making bonds as a strategy to get down to business quickly said, ‘Yes please, a little milk and one sugar, thanks.’

‘Andrea… my daughter’s name is Andrea.’ It seemed like a trivial bit of information but Anca said it anyway. She figured they probably knew, they would have done their background checks.

‘I will just get down to it Mrs Albescu. Your mum’s death was caused by a massive heart attack. Your dad took his own life it would seem. Were you aware of any concerns?’

‘I don’t think so… He seemed alright last time we spoke. He sent me some texts the morning mum died. I didn’t answer, I had my phone on silent.’ That wasn’t strictly true, she had had it on flight mode but she wasn’t going to explain now.

‘It looks like your mum had been dead a couple of days before he shot himself.’

‘Oh…’ Anca took hold of Sandu’s hand. ‘I wonder why he didn’t let me know earlier?’

‘We checked his phone records, he made a few other calls’ Chamberlain was standing at the window looking out over the quarter acre block.

‘Who did he call?’

‘I don’t know if you are familiar but he called Aunty Lorraine…’

Anca cut in ‘I don’t have an Aunty Lorraine.’

‘No, she wouldn’t be your Aunty. She is one of the local elders.’

‘Elders?’ Sandu asked, surprised.

‘Yes, Aboriginal Elders.’ Andrea and Sheridan looked at each other awkwardly, confused by Anca and Sandu’s response.

‘Your mother was a Ngarigo woman.’ Andrea paused ‘You didn’t know?’

Anca sucked in a huge mouthful of air. Her bottom lip quivered. ‘No. No she never told me about that. She was always a bit vague about her background.’

That seemed like such a lame excuse now speaking to these strangers. But it hadn’t been like that. She had tried to find out. She had asked but had always hit the same brick wall. Everything was destroyed in the Great Flood of 1950 and Grandma had died ages ago. It was always the same answer. Alin’s strong culture had dominated their life. She thought of herself as a Romanian-Australian. The effect amplified by Sandu’s own family background. She had even sent her kids to Saturday Language School to learn Romanian.

Kaylah tanned easily but she didn’t look Aboriginal. Anca was worried that her thoughts were crossing over into culturally insensitive areas. She could scream it out in her own mind but she had better not let it out into the open. She hadn’t thought of herself as racist but she wanted to yell out to Detective bloody Kemp ‘How could Mum be an Aboriginal – she was white!

Her attention came back to the room. ‘Dad must have known then?

‘Yes, it would seem so’

‘Why did he call Aunty Lorraine – why the delay in calling me?’

‘Your dad arranged a smoking ceremony for your mum. Some of the other Aunties came to the house and got her ready and painted the walls with ochre. I guess he needed some time to get that wrapped up.’

‘That doesn’t explain why he killed himself though?’  Sandu said

‘No, it doesn’t, Detective Kemp.’

‘Andrea…please…’ Strategy No 2: Use first names.

‘Andrea, did he leave a note?’

‘No note… just this.’ She opened the manilla folder she had been holding and took out a small black and white photo. As she pushed it across the table, she took a sip of her tea, waiting for a reaction.

Anca and Sandu looked at the photo. It was old and wrinkled. It had spent a lot of time folded into quarters. There were faded spots that obscured the background. It was her dad, 20-ish, in a full-on Nazi-style military uniform. He was holding a severed head in one hand and a sword in the other. He looked very pleased with himself.

‘Oh! This must be Photoshopped!’ Anca pushed the photo away and it flipped over showing an inscription in black felt-pen.

Nu uităm. Te găsim și te ucid, indiferent unde ești

‘What does it say Mrs Albescu, can you read it?’

‘We don’t forget. We will find you and kill you, no matter where you are!’ Sandu interjected.

‘That’s not him! He was never in the army!’

‘We haven’t had time to do any fact checking yet, but it may be a motive for his suicide.’

Chamberlain added from the window.  ‘If it is a suicide’

‘I take it you didn’t know about that either?’ Andrea added. ‘It seems like your family kept a lot of secrets.’

‘So it would seem. Detectives, listen, if you have no other questions, I think my wife and I need some time to digest all of this. Are we free to organise the funeral?’

‘Yes, yes of course.  All good on that front, we don’t need them any longer.’  She picked up the photo and put in back in the folder. ‘We’ll keep this, if you don’t mind. And let us know when the funeral is on.’ placing her business card on the table. ‘Given this may be a death threat we want to see if anyone interesting turns up at the funeral.’

Sandu closed the door behind them. ‘Far-Q’ He never swore, not properly, just used these silly little pretending swear words. Same intent but it meant he didn’t actually swear.  Anca was still sitting at the table staring into nowhere.


‘Well… what?’ She snapped back.

‘That changes the plan a bit’

‘Yes, it does. My mum was an Abo and my dad a Nazi! I am not sure which is the most shocking news.’

‘ANCA! REALLY? You are just so thoughtless sometimes!’

Her bottom lip trembled. Her bravado left her. A spray of saliva shot out her mouth as she screamed and punched the table. ‘Why? Why? Why? Why?’

Sandu took hold of her hands and pulled her off the seat. He wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. ‘Shhhh… Shhhh… Shhhh. It will be OK. You couldn’t have done anything different. They obviously didn’t want you to know.’

‘But who am I now? Who am I? How do I fit this into my life? Was your dad a Nazi too?’ She pushed him away and tried to see something in his eyes. ‘What other secrets does this family have?’

Anca wasn’t the type to get all philosophical but her life had just become a train wreck. Two totally different perceptions of who she was and what contribution her life was making to the world were vying for her attention. On the one hand, the father she thought to be a gentle, peace loving man was perhaps, a murdering Nazi. Her stoic mother would probably end up being part of the Stolen Generation. Was there even a Great Flood in 1950 or was that just a metaphor? She was going to have to do some fact checking of her own. Jack Nicholson’s voice came into her head.

‘This IS as good as it gets doll face!’

“I bloody hope not!’ she said out loud. ‘I certainly bloody hope not!’

‘What? You bloody hope what’s not?’ She didn’t answer – she just grabbed the keys. ‘Where are you going?’ Sandu asked as she headed for the door.

‘I have to find Aunty Lorraine, she might be able to tell me if Jack is right?’

She was feeling it now.