Eclectica: An anthology, p.2Publishing Portfolio
“Yeah,” he replied. Anything to get my mind off of Carrol, he thought.
The seductress walked over to Reuben with his drink and sat on his lap. Reuben took the glass to his lips and drank the concoction she had prepared for him.
“Whoa,” he coughed. “That’s strong.”
She winked at him, stood up and removed the cup from his hand. As she stripped in front of him and let her red dress fall to the ground, all Reuben could do was stare.
“I knew you would like that,” she said flirtatiously. “I think I know exactly what you like.”
She placed her hands on either side of his face and softly kissed him, and then proceeded to bite his bottom lip. As if under some kind of spell, he followed her to the bed. She laid him down, where she continued to kiss him. Reuben closed his eyes to savour the moment.
Reuben woke up to sounds of the night: taxi cars and indistinguishable chatter of the young adults in the street 20 metres beneath him. When he opened his eyes, he was tied to a chair with its hind legs balancing on the open window sill. The only thing that stopped him from falling was the rope that connected Reuben’s chair to the one she was seated on. By this time, she was fully clothed again and smoking a cigarette, waiting for him to wake. Reuben made a panicked, split second convulsion when he realised he was about to fall out the window, but was restrained by the rope tying him to the chair.
“I’d try not to move if I were you,” she said.
“W—what’s happening? What are you doing?”
She sighed. “Do you remember the night?”
“What?” he asked, confused.
“Do, you, remember, the, night?” she enunciated.
Reuben continued to look confused. She took another drag from her cigarette and blew a soft trail of smoke from her lips. Reuben couldn’t reply due to his slight deliriousness.
“Do you find me attractive?”
Unsure how to answer her question, he thought it would be best to flatter this beautifully horrifying woman.
“Yeah, very ...”
“Is that why you pursued me this evening?” she asked.
Reuben struggled with a reply. “Yeah, yes, very pretty,” he slurred. He was starting to perspire quite heavily.
“Is your wife not beautiful enough for you?” she asked.
Reuben continued to struggle and could not manage a reply, as if all of the muscles in his face were starting to go limp.
“Men,” she scoffed. “None of you can be trusted.” She stubbed out her cigarette. “I’ll tell you something about men: every man thinks he is a king, and should be treated accordingly. I get incredibly infuriated when people tell me that ‘it’s a man’s world’ or that ‘men are the superior species’. Men think that a woman should obey any man, and that any man can and shall have any woman. You think you deserve women and are glorified for having them,” she said, irritated, “when in reality, these ‘kings’ are cowards. They are too cowardly to stand proud with one woman, one queen. You, Mr Caliper, are no king, you are a coward. Cowards do not deserve queens. Which is why I am saving you and your queen the trouble, by killing you. Your wife, your queen, does not need to see her king demoted to coward. She may think highly of you, but I know the truth.”
Reuben’s vision was blurred and he could not make out anything this woman was saying. He had a constant sensation in his body that made it feel as if he would faint at any moment.
Regardless of these facts, the nameless woman continued to insult and demean the male species. Her revulsion began with a past love affair; for her it was love but for him it was an affair. Since then, ironically, she had only been with—nay, targeted—married men.
“Cheating is the filthiest, most low-life act within the capabilities of humans,” she continued.
In her mind, if a man cheated he deserved no better than death, but if a man could manage to resist temptation, resist her, then he was in fact a ‘king’. The paradox presented here would never allow for her to become truly happy with anybody, because the married men were clearly unavailable, but if she did manage to convince the men to be with her, they would be cheating. It seemed murder was the only logical explanation.
“I don’t know if you can even understand me now with the poison running through your veins,” she said. “A nice touch, I thought, just in case the fall doesn’t kill you. I would kiss you goodbye, but you’ll be long gone before I even reach the window,” she remarked with a smile.
After she had finished her speech, Reuben’s body started convulsing.
“Well, that’s my cue,” she said. As she stood up from her chair, the weight shifted on Reuben’s seat as he fell backwards into the abyss of the night.
“Pity, really,” she said. “He was certainly a sight for sore eyes.”
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Happy Birthday Courtney
By Zoe Donkin
There is a girl named Courtney,
And she is a bit of a shorty.
She is rather cute,
Even when she’s a brute.
She lets us into her house,
Even when we have to be quiet as a mouse.
She introduces us to her friends—who are rad,
Which matches her nicely furnished pad.
We make fun of her for being sad,
But then she gets awfully mad.
On occasion, we have a drunken patch,
Then a brutal hangover, to match.
She is such a lovely girl,
Ought to get the world.
My love for her has no cure;
For our friendship is just that pure.
What else can I say?
But I love you ‘til the end of the day,
And that we’re a little bit gay.
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By Jan Samuels
They call them the hedgehogs: a huddle of little old ladies shuffling along in the late afternoon, heads down, united by their solitary thoughts, some tottering, others not, travelling their mysterious circuit to sniff out what’s changed in the streets they’ve lived in for years.
Not that there’s much to see in this part of the bay, set low in a crucible of sheep-ridged hills, facing half west, into the thin light of the setting sun, and half south, with McMurdo Sound and its penguins the next stop. Paint-peeling fibro houses line the street, with rust-crusted car bodies stacked against wire fences and grimy sofas wedged onto porches. No gardens either, just plastic flower pots blooming with cigarette butts and old Chupa Chup sticks.
Nothing changes much, but for the hedgehogs, with their memories and health and tired old bones wearing away, time is all they’ve got. So like some mysterious tic of nature, unbidden and unquestioned, they drift from their humble homes and garden sheds at the same time every Wednesday and set off on their circuit. Some days there are only two, on other days six or more, their ranks changing with the seasons or the occasional visit of a grandchild. They barely speak to each other—don’t need to—but still they persist because they have to stay fit and there’s safety in numbers. That’s what the doctor said anyway.
“Just doing the rounds,” they might say if you asked.
Today the one who lives at the bottom of the hill starts the ritual, pushing up the street into the tearing autumn wind, her jaw set and rheumy-blue eyes squinting into the middle distance. Too poor for new glasses and too stubborn to admit that, at seventy-five, her sight is now shot. The next one appears from the house with the daisy bush out the front, sucking on peppermints that clack against ill-fitting dentures, which whistle like the wind around her house when she does speak. Number three pretends not to be waiting, outside the flats at number twenty-seven, and by halfway up the hill there are four, rolling up the road under a prickly shield of old age and determination. They hunch over against the cruel southerly, not looking at anyone, not even each other, because eye contact can be risky.
“You don’t want to attract the bad elem
They look like an op shop parade, all decked out in shapeless coats and hand-knitted jerseys, old beanies and scarves, their trousers tucked into cheap brown boots.
Today there’s the cat lady.
The fat lady.
The hat lady.
And Old Bet, the bat lady. You can see her now, forty kilos of poverty and pain, hanky ready to wipe away dribble that leaks from her mouth since her muscles gave up after the stroke. She’s clamped her beanie (acrylic, because she’s allergic to wool) firmly over her spiky home-cut hair; it frames her thin little face, which looks like a skull with windburn. Her kiddy-department leggings, washed a hundred times, pouch around the knees, emphasising her skinny legs as she trudges up the hill, right in the middle of the path, with the others.
At the top of the hill the hedgehogs clutch their hats with knotted brown hands then bend into the corner, squaring up to the wind for part two of the circuit—the path along the cliff top. One gust would send them over the edge but gravity is kinder today and keeps them pinned to the earth for one more round. They bunch together, their coats filling up with wind and flapping around them like spinnakers.
The path is narrow, not much more than a track really, cut through the long grass, which whips at their legs as the wind tosses around them. Even the seagulls, with their keening cries, are struggling to stay aloft.
“Bit fresh today.”
The bay spreads out below, rocky and rough at one end then smoothing out into dirty black sand and on to a row of old boat sheds far away at the other end. Everyone knows the Bay Boys run a dodgy trade in shellfish from one of the sheds but nobody ever sees a thing. There’s no one down on the beach today; it’s too cold and getting dark. It’s not safe for kids anymore either, not since that little one got taken on her way home from school. Never did find a trace.
Old Bet remembers that little kid—she used to play with Tuck—a nice wee thing, even if her dad was no good and her mother never amounted to much of anything. Didn’t deserve that though.
All the kids call Bet the bat lady, but in a good way. Tuck started it when he was about six.
“Lift up your arms, Nana Bet,” he demanded when she came to get him from school one day. So she did, never thinking to ask him why until her stickish arms were waving around like a scarecrow and all the little kids were shrieking and scattering. “Daddy says you’re an old bat,” he said. “I wanted to see your wings.”
They all believed that at night she hung upside down in the spooky pine tree behind her house, although no one ever really saw her. And she didn’t mind being the bat lady: there were never any firecrackers exploding in her letterbox and it kept the naughty ones away from her house on Halloween.
“Never bothered me again,” she’d tell you if you asked.
She remembers all of them: the bad kids and the good, the bullied and the abused. And now they’re growing up—big and mean, some of them pushing prams of their own—crowding the hedgehogs for space on the footpath as they keep on plodding.
“I’m not scared of them,” Old Bet would say. “They’re just unhappy little kids under all their nasty tattoos and smelly leathers. I remember who liked flowers and who brought me shells from the boat shed and who came cradling that little dead thing (whatever it was) that he found squashed on the road by the park.”
It’s true that she has a small-animal graveyard up the back of the garden. She seeded it with poor old Toby, the Jack Russell terrier who died of a seizure on the back lawn one day when she was out at the shops. She found him cold and stiff, back arched and teeth still bared in surprise, and never quite got over it. He’s got plenty of company now though: as well as the dead thing from the park, Tuck’s goldfish is there, with an ice block stick for a headstone, and so is Jenny’s zebra finch. The kids know that when they bring their pets she’ll bury them and keep them warm with her muttering and pottering about. Back at their own homes the dog would dig them up or their brothers would chuck them in the rubbish on bin night and laugh at their secret tears.
Bet’s days are full of the no-longer-present and the dead. She keeps tabs on every one of them, doing the rounds of past events, checking the deaths column in the paper at the library, watching for curtains that no longer twitch when the hedgehogs go on patrol.
“My life’s too crowded,” she’ll complain if you ask about her day. “And I’m not sure who’s who these days, who’s real and who’s only in my head. It’s not very comfortable in here, you know.”
She can see her father, all buzz-cut and tubercular lungs, and Grandma Cameron in her big woolly coat. Her sisters are there too, still whining about their health and who’s really worse off.
“My money’s on Noelene,” she’ll announce, as if running a private tote. “That shunt in her head is worth two of Dot’s heart attacks any day.”
The hedgehogs complete their precarious cliff-top navigation, their shoulders relaxing and coats deflating as the wind frees them from its grip. A left turn and they’re back on the real footpath. Sure-footed once again, they speed up to a slow dawdle for the final stretch down the hill—past the school, barred shut for the night, but still not safe from the graffiti and obscenities sprayed across the decaying brick walls.
“Rotten brats,” the hat lady might say, her mouth pursed tighter than a drawstring bag. “What’s the world coming to?”
No answer there. The graffiti’s so faded the culprit’s probably moved on to other things. Like prison.
They ramble on, past a speed hump on the road, along the edge of a building site, heaped with rubbish but nothing that’s worth pinching, then across the street to the yellow corner shop. Outside there’s a mean-looking black dog tethered to the bike stand. Its bristles stand up and it growls low in its throat. The hedgehogs sweep wide, calculating the reach of its heavy choker chain. Bet swipes at her mouth with her crumpled hanky then marches away from the tsk-tsking old ladies.
“Good dog,” she says. “Good dog!”
She gives it a big hearty pat right between its ears—thump, thump.
It looks confused then licks her hand. She wipes the drool on her coat and trails after the group, still shuffling along the street, shuffling toward sunset. She thinks about her small, chilly kitchen and the lamb chop she will have for tea. She thinks about Toby too, and his dusty bowl still out on the porch.
Not much to report today, only the dog outside the shop. Nothing new to worry about.
At the bottom of the hill the first hedgehog peels off into the gloom, not looking back, waving vaguely over her head at the rest. The others nod stiffly and carry on.
Just doing the rounds.
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In the Cold Night Air
By Jodee Lockman
Heading along the Western Highway, I take the Bacchus Marsh exit and drive over the Lerderderg Creek Bridge and onto the elm-tree-lined avenue. This has always been my favourite stretch of road because of the 281 crowns of golden magnificence forming a guard of honour above me for just over three kilometres. The saplings were planted back in 1918 to honour the local men and women who served in World War I. As a child I lived with my family on the northern side of town, which meant that to get to our house we didn’t have to travel through the Avenue of Honour on our out-of-town journeys and I always felt disappointed.
It is almost dark and the shadows of the trees begin to play tricks with my mind. During my teenage years, I once drove through here with friends, telling ghost stories to try to scare the younger sister of a friend who had tagged along. Suddenly the passenger door flew open and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Boys can play some horrible pranks, and considering we had just heard about the
My attention quickly shifts back to the trees as the corner of my eye catches a slight movement amongst the shadows. I can’t quite make out the shape but there is definitely something there moving along at great speed. Panicked, I slam my foot onto the brake pedal. With one giant leap a roo reveals itself and stands tall in front of my car.
I must have lost control of my car at that stage because I can’t come up with any other explanation as to how my car ended up crumpled into a tree. I drag myself out of the car to survey the damage. I’m not sure how much time passes as I sit there, confounded and oblivious to the cold night air. When I eventually come to my senses I crawl back to the car and search for my mobile phone. In the dark it is impossible to find anything and it‘s as if my eyes are closed for all the good they do me. My bag should be on the passenger seat, but it isn’t. I become less optimistic about finding my tiny mobile phone. Eventually I give up on all hope of help from a passing car, as traffic on the avenue has been greatly reduced because of the new freeway enticing traffic to bypass the town. I struggle to my feet and begin my long walk to the heart of town, which I know all too well will resemble a ghost town at this time of night.
It is quite an eerie walk, the trees whispering and warning each other of my presence. I try to take comfort in thinking that maybe the spirits of the fallen soldiers are looking out for me as I stumble from one tree to the next. Luckily, my thoughts are occupied trying to figure out what to do when I make it into town, otherwise those headless horseman stories might just freeze me to the spot with fear.
My legs felt so weary and my mind felt drained. I had been wandering for over an hour. Stoney’s Hotel was only a short walk over the bridge. Finally, a place to rest for a while and sort out what to do next. Leaning against the door was an elderly man, dressed like someone you would expect to see in character at Sovereign Hill. There was always some touristy event in Bacchus Marsh, so he was probably dressed to promote whatever that may have been.
Eclectica: An anthology by Publishing Portfolio / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes