Heads up, p.1
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Heads Up
HEADS UP

  An anthology of short stories

  Published

  by

  The Royalties

  who are

  Libby Hathorn

  The Day TV Came

  Louise Katz

  The Little Demon

  Bem Le Hunte

  The Final Christmas

  Sue Woolfe

  A Conversation in the Desert

  Copyright 2011 The Royalties

  The Royalties is a writers' collective founded by Sue Woolfe, Bem Le Hunte, Libby Hathorn and Louise Katz, a group of much-published Australian women novelists who decided to come together to create precedent for innovative new publishing models that will benefit all Australian writers in an international marketplace.

  We are not particularly tech-savvy, but we all feel the urgency to participate in rapidly changing publishing structures. With current technology there is a real opportunity for writer-centric models to replace traditional legacy publishing models and promote  a true renaissance in literature.

  With publishers nervous and bookstores closing, it's become clear to all of us that this is the time for writers to ride the times, take the risk and claim greater rights to their words. And who, we ask, would take control in these formative moments of opportunity, if not the writers themselves?

  We are all actively involved in experimenting with our literary work and the way that it is produced, distributed and marketed, and we'd like to share this experiment with other writers. If you're a writer you can join us in this experiment, share in our experience and reach out to a wider community of national and international readers.

  THE DAY TV CAME

  by Libby Hathorn

  ‘There’s a new market started in the RSL Hall of a Thursday,’ Frannie’s mother called as she threw the spoils of her afternoon’s shopping onto the large table. ‘And looks like I’ve got a job on Mrs Rosenthall’s stall. Thursday mornings.’

  ‘Good,’ Frannie had said, drawn towards the sound of parcels being unwrapped in the dining room.

  This smallish room, with its bow-fronted sideboard, mock Jacobean table, and three matching pictures of pale English country gardens, was called the dining room even though one end of it was actually the kitchen or kitchenette, as Laura insisted they call it.

  One wall of the dining room seemed entirely taken up with the bulk of the cream round-shouldered refrigerator that had only recently replaced the neater wooden ice chest. The other side had twin windows with cream venetian blinds that looked out over a clipped lawn and a piecemeal straggly garden of staked dahlias and intermittent hydrangea bushes bordering a grey paling fence that hemmed the lot in. Frannie stared out of it and thought about the wildness of her grandmother’s garden and vista in Megalong Valley on the farm. In her mind’s eyes she always saw the rambling roses and long grass that ran down to the bickering creek all lined with heavy waving blackberry canes then up to the honey coloured cliff faces beyond that one day she planned to scale.

  ‘See what I got. Only spent a couple of pounds too.’ Laura spread things out. There was a big damask tablecloth with matching serviettes and three linen tea towels.

  ‘They’re all for you, ‘she said in a pleased voice, ‘for your trousseau’.

  ‘What do I want those for, Mum? You know I don’t have a trousseau for God’s sake. And I’m not getting married. Never. Never. Never. You know that.’

  ‘Give them to Raelene or Janine Thingo for their shower teas.’ Frannie stared at the unwelcome gifts and then at her mother. ‘They don’t have Bermuda shorts there do they, Mum? Cynthia has a tartan pair and they’re –‘

  ‘I’ll put these in the cupboard with the other things, Francis. I thought you’d say thank you at least.’

  ‘Thank you at least Mum. You shouldn’t of. But I didn’t ask you now did I? Not for house things.’

  Laura snatched up the goods from the Thursday market at the RSL Hall.

  ‘Shouldn’t have - you should know that with all your education…’

  Frannie knew her mother got some small satisfaction in correcting her or her younger brother Darren when she could and she said nothing.

  ‘Set the table nicely, Fran. We’ve got a visitor tonight.’ Laura was on her way to the linen cupboard now half way down the hall.

  ‘Not Ray. He’s not coming tonight, is he Mum?’

  ‘He’s coming to look at the room. And if he likes it and if you kids are quiet enough, he’ll move in on the weekend.’

  ‘He’s a dope,’ she called at her mother’s disappearing back.

  ‘Well, he’s nice enough.’

  ‘And it means Darren’ll be moving into my room I suppose.’

  ‘No, Darren can move in with me if Ray takes the back room. I hope to God he takes that room Francis. It’ll be a big help.’

  ‘A few lousy pounds a week and having to put up with a dope like Ray.’

  ‘Well you get out and earn a few lousy pounds a week, my girl.’

  ‘I would, if you’d let me leave school,’ she called out. It was easier to say all this with her mother out of the room.

  ‘You know I won’t get my Leaving, Mum. I just scraped by the Inter. I haven’t got a hope. I’ll get out and earn a few lousy pounds, just give me the chance’.

  ‘Miss Preston told me you’re a very intelligent girl, Frannie – Miss Preston said you could pass no trouble – a girl with your IQ.’

  Frannie sank down onto one of the stiff plastic covers that had replaced the worn tapestry on the dining room chairs only a few months ago She hated words like intelligent and IQ more particularly now since their neighbour, Mrs Dale, had had both her kids tested. She’d told everyone in the street, in that way of hers, that her kids were in the superior range with their IQ’s. Raelene and Michael Dale for God’s sake!

  ‘They’re going to start a big supermarket up the junction, Mum,’ Frannie jumped up and wrested a fresh tablecloth from the over-stuffed sideboard drawer. ‘You know, where the ice works used to be. A supermarket right in the middle of Maroubra Junction, Mum! You know like they have in America – really big.’

  ’Mmm.’

  ‘I want a job there. I can add up you know. You don’t even need your Inter, let alone your Leaving I reckon I could get a job no trouble. Desley Slater told me her Dad’s leaving Coles ‘cause he’s going to be running the place. And he said they’re looking for girls.’

  Her mother came back into the room. Her face look tired, worried. ‘I want you to get that Leaving Certificate, Frannie. I want you to have that piece of paper. You know why. So don’t go on about it anymore.’

  Frannie threw the knives and forks down untidily on the fresh seersucker cloth. Mum had had to leave school at fourteen years of age. She’d never had the opportunity to learn. She’d never got a decent job. She had to go and clean houses just to keep the family together. Her and Darren. She didn’t want Frannie working like she’d had to. ‘You just get that certificate and get a nice job – a teacher or a nurse. Something nice. You’re clever enough if you really try. Not cleaning toilets and things like me, all of your life, Frannie.’

  ‘What’s for tea then?’ Frannie asked her mother.

  ‘I’m doing crumbed lamb cutlets.’

  ‘Two each I hope or he’ll think we’re mingy or something.’

  ‘Two for Ray,’ Laura told her daughter.

  Ray moved his things in on the weekend. Boxes and boxes of books. He was a clerk somewhere. He liked reading. He had his own radio with a record player attached. He was a quiet man. They only saw him at tea time and sometimes even then he went out. Laura cooked really nice meals for Ray, and Frannie noticed she put on make-up at teatime too. She talked brightly and she didn’t go mad on them half as much.

  ‘Maybe Ray can help
you with your maths homework,’ Laura said after Frannie’s report came in and she’d failed again in algebra.

  ‘It’d be a pleasure,’ Ray said in that shy way of his. And so once a week she sat with Ray and he’d shown her lots of things about algebra she’d never understood and explained cos and tan and all that stuff she never listened to in class. And when she passed at the half yearly exam Mum bought Ray a few bottles of beer just to say thank you.

  Things didn’t seem to change too much with Ray being in the house. That was until they got TV. It was actually Ray got them a television set – well, half of a television set.

  ‘Nearly everyone’s got TV now,’ Frannie had complained as often as she dared to her mother, ‘We’ll be the last in the street.’ Whenever Frannie and Darren accompanied Laura on shopping expeditions to Maroubra Junction they would stand outside Eric Anderson’s, heads rotating in slow half circles like the open mouthed clowns at the Royal Easter Show, watching three lots of flickering black and white TV pictures for as long as they could. In fact it was almost impossible to budge Darren once he was into a show. But Laura was adamant.

  ‘I’d get a fully automatic washing machine before I got TV,’ she told them, ‘you’ll just have to be content to watch TV up at Cynthia’s or over at Pete’s for the time being. I don’t want to hear any more about it.’

  And then just a few months after Ray had come to live with them, there’d been his suggestion about TV.

  ‘I can get a new TV just about cost. So maybe, if you thought it was a good idea Laura, we could go halves,’ Frannie heard Ray say one night in that apologetic way of his, ‘that’s of course if you’re interested.’

  ‘An HMV in a very nice cabinet too, doors with a brass trim and brass handles. A good looking piece of furniture.’

  ‘I suppose it’d be educational for the kids,’ she was surprised to hear her mother say just like that.

  ‘Oh, lots of programs are educational for sure, on TV’, he’d said, ‘You know I reckon it’d go well in that corner of the lounge room, that is if you’re sure you want it in the first place.’

  That was when Frannie wanted to fly out from her bedroom and say, ‘Oh no it wouldn’t – you’re not deciding where things go in our place. The cheek of you, boarder! We don’t want half a TV with you telling Darren and me what we could watch. Oh no, we bloody well don’t.’ But she heard her mother agreeing again.

  ‘Under the window there? Yes – yes it’d fit quite nicely there, Ray, now that you mention it. Of course, I’d have to move that nest of tables over here somewhere.’

  ‘You’d have to be a bit careful about the weather too – you know the wood. Wouldn’t want the rain coming in on it.’ Frannie hated the way they both laughed as if in perfect agreement when it was common knowledge that Laura left windows and doors carelessly open to the weather all over the house.

  But she couldn’t help feeling the excitement of it all the day the TV arrived. Lex, a friend of Ray’s brought it in the back of his Ute. Frannie was watching through the flyscreen from the bay window of her mother’s room and saw, over the bulbous heads of blue hydrangea blooms, the truck swinging around the corner into Kyogle Street. Ray was sitting up on the tailgate, his arm over the top of the burly box that was dressed in canvas and lashed with ropes. When they pulled up outside where half a dozen kids were waiting, Darren let out a yell that opened doors and windows all along the street and drew Frannie outside too.

  ‘It’s here! It’s here! Our TV’s heeere!’ Darren’s shrill voice rang out and Frannie felt the thrill of it all right. As if the Amusu or the Vocalist theatres up at the junction were about to move right inside their house. Pictures of their own and every night!

  She sauntered down the side path not wanting to appear too child-like about it. She watched as Ray untied the ropes one after the other with deliberate movements.

  ‘God he’s a bloody slowcoach!’ she thought wanting to jump up there and wrench the wrapping off and reveal the HMV TV that was half Ray’s and half theirs. She’d ask him which half when they got it inside.

  When it was sitting on the grass, stripped and shining, all the kids clapped and some of the women who’d gathered to watch, too. She noticed when Ray smiled like that he looked a bit like a kid himself.

  ‘Do you realise…’ Laura announced dramatically when the two men followed by Mrs Dale and several kids had heaved it up the path and down the hallway, setting it under the window where the nest of tables had been, ‘that we’re about to let the world into our lounge room…’

  Darren’s young friends had lined up on the carpet waiting but Laura was standing right in front of the tightly closed doors of the large new shiny piece of furniture, admiring it.

  Darren’s best friend Pete spoke loudly to the group assembled in the room, ‘I like The World of Disney, Mickey Mouse Club and Father Knows Best’, he challenged, ‘in that order.’

  ‘Sounds like the American world to me,’ Ray commented.

  ‘I suppose you’re right, Ray,’ Mum agreed, smiling at him. ‘We’re letting the American world right into…’

  ‘Turn it on, turn it on,’ Darren shouted ‘C’mon Mum!’

  Ray glanced at Laura and she smiled and nodded graciously. ‘The plug’s just there, Ray,’ she told him. She stepped aside after she pulled open the polished doors of the new television revealing the large curve of screen, that magic surface smooth and sleek, an empty dark grey that would have a life of its own any second – and leap into theirs.

  There was a moment, just a moment, when all talk and movement stopped in the room. It was when Ray drove the plug home into the socket on the skirting board half hidden by the drape of the heavily ruched honey-coloured curtains. It was as if the chartreuse green room itself took a deep breath and waited. He swung in a single movement from down there at the socket straight back up to the large gleaming dial button of the HMV TV, everyone watching, no one speaking.

  He twirled the dial maddeningly slowly bringing the huge remorseless eye (a 21 inch screen it’s got and I’m advised you really need it that big) to life. Music splayed out into the room and Frannie glanced round watching the faces spattered with the strange bluish flickering light trapped in their small lounge room. Then there were whoops and yells and Darren’s high cackling laughter as he rolled around the floor in delight.

  ‘TV!’ he chanted, ‘Teeee Veeee’.

  ‘No need to get excited, Daz. It’s only the test pattern, silly,’

  ‘It’s our test pattern but,’ Darren said.

  ‘You change it, Laura. Come on, come over here and change the station,’ Ray said putting out his arm towards her.

  ‘Channel,’ another knowledgeable voice informed.

  But Laura was afraid of the glittery over- large dial that controlled the moving pictures at a touch.

  ‘No, I’m fine,’ she told him, staying back against the wall with Mrs Dale. ‘Go on, you get the thing going, Ray.’

  Again Ray’s hand on the dial, bump, bump, bump around the glittery clock face thing with its overlarge numbers 1 to 10. And then a new shivery image assumed form.

  There were water pipes in the background, huge water pipes that ran off downhill and somewhere further off the vague twinkling of movement, a distant river. And there was a man very close up, a man who was very short of hair. He had a microphone in his hand and one foot rested nonchalantly on a rock whilst he talked about the water pipes.

  ‘Over twenty thousand migrants have worked on this part of the hydro electric scheme to date. And the area where I stand right now is to be the next major stage of development…’

  ‘Yeah,’ Darren applauded smiling at his companions, ‘it’s on.’

  After ten minutes there was a ripple of movement in that room. The camera had moved to a close up of one of the pipes now but the man’s grey voice was going relentlessly on…

  One by one the kids in the room began slipping away, ‘It’s better this arvo,’ they apologised to Darren,
‘they don’t have much news stuff then.’ And even Ray’s friend Lex said well, he better get going now it was all set up and good luck with the new TV.

  Frannie sat in the shabby single armchair,’ You can see it OK from this angle,’ she told her mother, ‘quite clear, even sitting sideways.

  ‘You’ll have to get TV plates with sections on them, like we have. In plastic. You’ll be having dinner on your knee every night, you know,’ Mrs Dale told Laura after a minute or more of the pipes and authoritative tones.

  ‘Turn it down Darren, so’s we can hear each other,’ Laura told him.

  ‘TV dinner plates,’ Mrs Dale repeated.

  ‘I suppose,’ Mum said uncertain.

  ‘This chap could probably get them cheap, you know Laura,’ Ray was smiling at her from where he sat on his haunches by the TV.

  ‘Good, good,’ Frannie was amazed to hear her mother say.

  ‘But you said one thing we’d never ever do, Mum – you said one thing we’d never ever do – was eat our dinner in front of TV. You said it was barbaric. I remember you using the word. Barbaric, not to sit around a table and talk over dinner like human beings and…’

  ‘’Oh now Frannie, p ‘raps sometimes we’ll sit in here for tea. Odd occasions…if Ray can get the plates from that chap.’ She smiled across the room at him.

  ‘It’s a nice piece of furniture, ‘ Mrs Dale cut in, regretting her own pale veneered TV with its modern splayed brass cupped legs, which had, after all, been the first TV in Kyogle Street.

  ‘’I’d like Alf to come and see your HMV this evening – I really would,’ she went on.

  ‘Yes, it’s a lovely thing.’ Laura went across the room and stood beside Ray to needlessly polish the surface.

  ‘I wonder should I put something here, on top, something from the china cabinet. The ballerina or maybe this?’ She picked up the heavy clawed ashtray that sat on the mantel piece above the gas fire forgetting the flickering screen.

  ‘Not that Mum, it’s so damned ugly!’ Frannie objected at once. Venetian glass was new in Maroubra and Frannie loathed the heavy gaudy highly coloured pieces that had made their way into the two or three gift shops at the junction and thence to several lounge rooms in Kyogle Street including theirs. Ugly contorted protrusions, vivid blue or red. Laura had said by way of explanation to her disapproving daughter, hiding it on the dusty mantel, ‘It’s a gift, Fran – and if your Auntie Dulcie visits – well, it’ll be nice for her to see it here. Don’t carry on about it. I don’t really like it either…’

  Now, Laura placed the big red ashtray carefully in the centre of the polished wood where the daylight blazed on it.

  Mrs Dale had fixed her eye on it approvingly. ‘The red of it goes so nicely with the dark wood of the cabinet, don’t you think? And the gold handles.’ Laura wasn’t sure. ‘What do you think Ray?’

  ‘Oh, don’t ask me, I’ve no idea about these things,’ he said.

  ‘Course not,’ Frannie thought, ‘you’re not going to stick your neck out, are you?’

  ‘I think the glass looks too much there Mum with all that light on it. It’s ugly, that’s what!’

  ‘Hardly ugly young lady, the price someone must’ve paid for it!’ their neighbour said.

  Laura hesitated, reached her hand out towards the bulbous glass piece and then stopped. She walked back across the room and stood studying it

  ‘Doesn’t look too bad there, I s’pose. Not too bad’

  There was a silence in the room.

  ‘Not too bad,’ Ray said going to stand beside Laura as if to contemplate the new placement more carefully

  ‘Nice,’ Mrs Dale said appreciatively.

  When Mrs Dale left, Frannie noticed that her mother sat down next to Ray on the settee – something she’d never done before. Right beside him on the settee that was directly opposite the big new 21 inch screen.

  They all stared silently at the moving screen. Outside Frannie could hear the whoops and yells of Darren’s friends. He had not been able to resist the lure of the games on the sunny grass verges. But later he would not be able to resist the lure of the new acquisition and would develop the skills of sitting quite, quite still.

  Laura made a cup of tea for the three of them which she brought in on a tray that she put on one of the small tables close to Ray – and a plate of overlapping Saos arranged with untidy chunks of Kraft cheese.

  ‘Help yourself, love,’ she told Frannie.

  ‘It’s okay, Mum.’

  ‘So this is TV,’ Frannie was thoughtful in her chair as the earnest balding man seemed to chomp at the microphone. The river continued to run tantalizingly somewhere too far away behind him whilst above his earnest face, the large red-clawed ashtray glittered in the sunlight.

  First published as part of an exhibition on television by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, Australia

  Background to the story The Day TV Came

 

  The Day TV Came was written as part of a novel about life in the Sydney suburb circ 1950’s. Although the novel was not completed because of other writing commitments ( I was working on the text of the picture book Way Home (Random House) and the novel Feral Kid Hodder Headline), there were early chapters that were complete in themselves. Some of these later became the basis for short stories. The chapter about television besetting the closed world of the Australian suburbs was one such discrete chapter. When the Museum of Contemporary Art, fairly new in Sydney at the time, was calling for stories about television, I figured that the story of a family actually receiving a television into their living rooms and indeed into their lives, would fit the bill. And it did.

  It was exciting for us to have a large museum in a beautiful sandstone building by the harbour, dedicated to contemporary art in Sydney at last, and I was thrilled when I saw their call for stories. In fact, The Museum of Contemporary Art was opened in 1991, the building at Circular Quay gifted by the NSW government. The Day TV Came was forthwith published by the MCA in special edition of a magazine to celebrate their newly mounted exhibition on the life of television in Australia.

  As many writers do, I then put the story aside for later publication as part of a book of short stories, never dreaming it would be part of another way of publishing and of accessing reading. It is interesting to me, given the revolution that is upon us as writers and publishers, and thinking about the impact of e-books, to choose this story of the impact of day of the television as my contribution to this co-operative of writers publishing our first e-book together.

  Biography

  Libby Hathorn is an award- winning author of more than 50 books for children and young adults as well as poetry for all ages. Her works have been translated into several languages and published in the US and the UK and India. Her latest novel which was highly commended in the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, 2010, is Fire Song (ABC Books) and latest poetry collection is The ABC Book of Australian Poetry (ABC Books, 2010). She is currently working on a novel set partly in contemporary Australia and partly at the Somme in World War 1; and a book of short stories entitled Several Pleasures. Her first e-book Ghostly Ghastly (2010 ) is now on Amazon and only available in this way, along with her book titles with ABC Books, Fire Song and Letters to a Princess.

  .www.libbyhathorn.com

  www.libby-hathorn.blogspot.com

  THE LITTLE DEMON

  by Louise Katz

  Now, this world is very wide, and so is the next one, and the one after that. I cannot vouch for more, or even if there are more than three, for three are as many as I have seen. It is quite often the case that inhabitants of one domain may have heard rumours of the existence of life in other worlds, but it is only on very special occasions that direct contact between species occurs. But it does happen. In fact, it was only quite recently that it happened to a human and a demon.

  Demons, and angels too, live in the air, in great mansions of cumulus, and prefer to remain invisible to their neighbours. (Bats, w
ho are very sensitive beasts, are aware of them, but being blind, have never actually seen them. This doesn't bother bats, for they have never seen anything else either.) Demons may occasionally manifest themselves for short periods of time, but they cannot effect lasting changes in their world or any other. In any case, it would be extremely unusual for a demon to attempt an act of creation, for creative impulses are born as much of flesh as they are of mind, and demons have no flesh, no material substance of their own.

  Once upon a time there was a demon lord who lived in one of the larger, better appointed castles in the air. He was long since widowed, so his countenance was grim, but he was wise and clever and occasionally good. Like all demon folk, he was not troubled too much by virtue. Fate and his beloved wife had blessed him with six children, all of whom were geniuses in their own particular ways. His first daughter, Discretia, knew how to disguise dangerous truths with the most convincing lies, while her twin, Indiscretia, could cause quite a stir by simply speaking the truth. Nick was the most talented thief, and Bushel contented himself with merely hiding things, from pins and pen caps to agendas and motives, while young Beatrice would help folk to find things that were lost from hope and trust and luck to that excellent recipe for hot and sour hail soup. Then there was Merrili, whose spirit was so light, so joyous, that he was almost impossible to control. He brought embarrassment as well as joy to this demon family, and never seemed to understand that there are always consequences to every action.

  It was the occasion of Merrili's three hundredth birthday. He was the last spawned, the baby of the family and the most beloved of all, for not only was he extremely lovely to look at, but he possessed the sweetest humour, the sharpest wit. To be in Merrili's presence was to be happy. Three hundred is the age at which demons reach their prime. (For benefit of humans reading this, three hundred demon years would correspond to about thirty in mortal terms.) In preparation, the demons had shifted some continental plates in order to clear a space for dancing, organised a monsoon or two to water the garden, and detonated a few volcanic eruptions, for no party is complete without fireworks. Merrili and all his siblings and friends had a rollicking time.

  But now, as was the custom on three hundredths, the time had come for the special coming-of-age experience itself: Merrili was to descend from the air to visit the mortal world where humans live. Three hundredths were one of the very few occasions that demons were allowed, for reasons of protocol, to materialise for the purpose of hobnobbing face to face with humans. Merrili felt some trepidation on this momentous occasion, but it was not in his nature to show it. Instead he cracked a joke or two to make his excited and anxious siblings smile.

  As the escort party of demon lord and progeny made its way towards the rim of the world, Discretia took Merrili aside. "Little brother, I do want you to enjoy your visit over there, but a word of caution. Keep close watch over your heart, your mind, your money, because men are a shiftier bunch of shysters than even our darling Nick!"

  "Why is that, do you think, sweet sister mine?"

  But Indiscretia interrupted, as was her wont. "One theory is that all their troubles are caused by that soul thing they have. Sneaky beast, soul, hides itself somewhere in the conjunction between spirit and flesh. Humans are part flesh, you know. We demons are safe since we don't have any flesh, and therefore no conjunction, but nave seen soul in action! And it's mean, baby brother, it's viral! Kills 'em in the end, always. But in the living meantime, it fills those mortal minds with such an array of conflicting fears and doubts and yearnings, all born of dreadful desire, that they are probably the messiest conundrum in the cosmos. So take care, little Merrikins, okay?"

  By now the demons had reached the fringe of cloud that marks the beginning and the end of their world.

  "And don't forget, Merrili, you must return at the very first sign of dawn, lest you lose yourself in the light of day," cautioned Bushel.

  "I won't forget," replied Merrili, who by now was quivering on his hooves in anticipation of the adventure before him.

  And so, Beatrice banged out a few devil's tritones on the portable perplexichord while their father, the demon lord, slammed together his most powerful pair of syllables: HA BOOM! And without further ceremony Merrili was on his way.

  On the worst day of her life Delia walked into Purgatory. Ahmed's Dick and the Boiling Witches were playing. It was very dark in there, and very loud, which was exactly what she needed. Dark to hide in, noise to kill her thoughts. She ordered a double vodka from dear old Mother Russia, and drank it down quickly before going into the laundry to put on her costume and make up her face. The laundry, with its comfortable smell of washing and its pleasantly domestic sound of whirring machines, always made her feel calmer. After dressing, she sat on a straw laundry-basket and waited for her cue.

  Soon she heard the Witches winding down, and her band winding up. After a couple of warbles, a whine and a howl came Ahmed's drum roll. She scuttled backstage; a moment later Princess Delia shimmied through the curtain, resplendent in bangles and frills and a few gauzy bits which covered most of her, except for her dainty toes, her slender arms and a glimpse of her little round tummy.

  It was at this moment that Merrili, fresh from the ether, materialised at the bar. Fortunately all eyes were fixed on Princess Delia's garnet navel-ring so nobody noticed his eccentric mode of arrival. He staggered a bit at first, being unaccustomed to the weight of a body. "Whew, he muttered to himself as he slipped onto a bar stool, "this gravity deal they have here is really heavy!" He ordered a bloody mary and turned to watch the floor show.

  Princess Delia stood in the centre of the large stage, then slowly turned until her slender back was towards the audience. She raised one arm in a languid salute to the band, and a guitar murmured softly to itself. She moved her body almost imperceptibly - a tiny dip of the shoulders was all at first, exposing her nape. Those few downy centimetres of woman-skin at the opening of the stylised garments implied everything else that was hidden. Hidden, but known to be there, bound up in a fabricated abstraction of gauzy folds, a disciplined container for sex.

  She stamped her foot and fantasies of Eastern concubines dropped away in a snow of remembered peonies. The volume of the music increased. She strutted like a flamenco dancer, inviting everyone to take her in. She began to move her arms, her hips. She danced and her dance was unselfconscious and unadulterated, despite and because of the pornographic stares of the audience: I am the procurers' confection, sang her lissom arms, her hips, heir lips, carelessly._Look, but don’t touch Her dance was style; it described what she was in purest terms, and she didn't care, for her dance was an animal's dance. The soul that animates doesn't trouble itself with the impression it makes. She danced her dance that was banal and cruel and coarse and magnificent.

  Oh, by all things diabolic and all things angelic, thought Merrili, how lovely she is! How completely miraculous! Nothing had prepared him for the sight of a human abandoning itself to sensation. Merrili was suddenly certain that every delight he had ever experienced was a frivolous, shallow thing in comparison to this human animal version of joy. He was thrilled and shocked to the very core of his ethereal being.

  Princess Delia's eastern, western, flamenco-belly dance ended abruptly. It seemed that someone had flicked the off- switch on the light which had energised her. Merrili, for whom love and laughter was as natural as breathing is to a human being, felt his tender heart ache for the suddenly melancholy Princess.

  She let herself down from the stage and moved back across the floor to the bar. The barman placed a complimentary vodka before her. She drank it down like medicine. Of course she noticed Merrili sitting nearby, for he was now as visible as the bottles on the shelf and the drinkers at their booths. She thought, Now, that is a seriously made-up person in intriguing fancy dress.

  She could not gauge his gender, or whether he was ugly or beautiful, young or old, for humans cannot judge demons at all. Still, she found this odd aura of ambivalence ra
ther compelling, a factor to distract a girl from her sad thoughts. And diversion was what she craved through dance, through drink, through lovemaking, through novelty. What else was there? She noticed that he had the longest nails, and that the nails were a very deep, dense matte black. The skin was absolutely white. The effect, she assumed, was heightened by Purgatory's lighting.

  Then the apparition spoke: "You are so beautiful," he said, politely inclining his horns.

  Delia, startled, shifted her stool back a few centimetres.

  But the weirdo in fancy dress was determined to persist. "You are lovelier than an armoury of lightning rods. Your beauty is more radiant than all the fires of Vesuvius."

  By her astonished expression, Merrili gathered that perhaps these were not the sort of words she was accustomed to hearing. He tried again. "Have one on me."

  Delia was bemused, but she felt no threat. In fact, she had begun to notice a slight easing of her heart that even the dancing had been unable to induce. The relief was lovely. She even smiled.

  "Thank you," she said, graciously offering Merrili a scintillating twinkle of her violet eye, and a glimpse of sweet little pearly teeth. She shook back her long, black hair and raised her tumbler. "Cheers!"

  Merrili smiled and took a sip of his own drink.

  "So," she said, "you are a demon, then, I suppose?"_

  "I am."

  "Horns and tail and all. Very traditional. I like that."

  "Thank you. My name is Merrili."

  "Row, row, row your - boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. You are a very cute and funny demon. Are you particularly wicked?"

  "Wicked? What is that?" Merrili was rather taken aback. "I am merely a genius. I inspire the mind."

  "Do you? Oh, excellent. I could do with a little inspiration, to tell you the truth. Buy me another drink will you, Merrili- genius?"

  And so Merrili and Princess Delia sat and talked through the night. She confided in him the reason for her unhappiness. She said she was almost at the end of her tether, and that men, in her estimation, were on the whole the most terribly unscrupulous bastards. Merrili agreed, having heard the same from his sister, Indiscretia, only that morning. And Delia told him of her lover, Bruno, who had left her that day to return to Brazil. Merrili had never heard of Brazil, but assumed it must be some other place in the animal world. So he told her of his life in the sky, which brought a smile to her lips. He described the occasional shifts he did with the angels, helping them carry messages between the dead and the living. This story made her flesh creep deliciously. And when, with a playful twinkle, he told her a tale or two of demonic trickstering, his favourite pastime, she laughed out loud. How charming he was! What a delightful sense of the absurd! Her eyes, which had been so grave, were now alive with lovely sparkling lights. Merrili did not mind being laughed at, not at all. For now he existed only to make her happy.

  However, too soon, far too soon for Merrili, the sun began to rise. Thin-fingered dawn had already begun to insinuate herself through the shuttered windows of Purgatory. He had to excuse himself.

  "But don't forget to come and see me again, little demon!"

  "I will be back," he replied, taking care to leave by way of the door before reversing his father's syllables, clashing them together, and evaporating on the deserted pavement.

 
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