V/Line Vignette 1

Golden 1.4.19

Pauline’s husband died on the eve of their 50th wedding anniversary. A heart attack. It was no surprise as he had been one of a dying breed. A smoker  who over the years had to trade the convenience of smoking anywhere he chose for surreptitious drags in the shadows wedged between the looming office tower where he worked and the adjacent apartment block where he kept four walls for late nights at the office, doubling as a faux bachelor pad for the high class hookers he was dependent on. He’d work late into the night, billing clients for time that would never be his again. Pauline had been busy with arrangements for their anniversary party that coming weekend. It was just another of a long list of projects that kept her occupied through the course of their marriage. Their secret for longevity, they’d only half joke to anyone who cared to ask, was that they were both too busy to have any marital discord. This was of course not entirely true. There was discord, but it was spoken of in the hushed tones of their body language, separate beds, and dreams on divergent paths. From the first time they clapped eyes on one another, Frank a fresh graduate, and Pauline one of many typists in the room servicing the bellowing orders and egos of the men at the Firm, alarm bells rang. He’d criticised Pauline’s spelling mistakes, the smudge of ribbon ink that smeared his dictated words, and the thick, un-shapely legs beneath her desk. He was just getting accustomed to the status quo, clocking the hours to be the man the world accepted and expected of him. Their courtship, which really was just a regretable late-night tryst in the office, led to pregnancy and a shot gun wedding, Frank ejaculating quicker than Pauline could vow that it would be a first and a last. The pregnancy and her changing shape, moods and  connection with the growing being inside her that he had no control over (yet) drove him into violent rages. And so it began, or rather, continued – she could do nothing right and had the bruises to confirm this. She was lazy, a shitty cook, and of course those legs only became more engorged with the fluid retention of pregnancy. Before number one was born, Pauline already thought she’d leave Frank once her bump was of school age. That way she could get full time work and everything would be okay. Time flies she’d think, at every milestone that reminded her of her failed plans. Now that bump and the two that followed in quick succession are adults who occasionally face-time, and Frank is dead. After answering the phone call pronouncing Frank’s demise, she didn’t skip a beat and carried on with the list of final touches required for the party the following evening.

 

Vanessa 9.4.19

The train wove slowly through the changing landscape, darkness descending as tired commuters yawned, faces illuminated by dimmed fluorescent tubes overhead and blue screens projecting mood lighting upwards from clasped hands and warm laps. Veronica fought her will to scroll, placing her phone in her bag and focusing instead on the outline of blurred trees and dark sky, switching her gaze occasionally to the reflection in the window beside her of the couple who sat across the aisle, oblivious to being studied while buried in their laptops, the quiet carriage a convenient excuse for their absence of words. Proposals needed writing and job applicants needed screening, get it out of the way, they had both agreed long ago when their commuting lives began, to free up the evening to feed their voracious appetite for whole seasons in one sitting. Of course, Veronica had no idea this was the case, but creating a story for the people she observed muted thoughts that reminded her of what was missing. Looking at her checkered canvas shoes, she recognised the pattern in the lives she imagined, bleak and loveless narratives that blurred and rendered each observed pair of strangers no different from the last, not even the lightness of a homeward, end of work week leg allowed her to see them any differently. She was single and had been for some time, with no frame of reference other than the failed relationships of her past, poor choices that littered her memories of her twenties and thirties. She returned to her phone for the colourful distraction of candy crush, not quiet the same without the dopamine firing sounds, but a temporary reprieve from the same tale she’d tell the next morning.

 

In the spirit of the holiday, I am resurrecting my blog. The ‘V/Line Vignette’ series will be a weekly post with what little or a lot I have written on my commute. These are from two separate weeks earlier this month. I return to work 29th April, so I will post the next V/Line Vignette sometime on the weekend of 4th May (may the force be with me to commit to that)- saying all this is about accountability. I admire people who commit to a long term creative project like a daily illustration, photographing each meal they eat for a year, a weekly vlog etc. Have you committed and followed through on a long term project? I‘d love to hear from you about how you stick to a concept.

Awakening

Close up photo of a highland cow with cloudy sky background by Jacco Rienks used for sonya's three line tales microfiction prompt.
Photo by Jacco Rienks on Unsplash

Every morning—I assumed it was morning, but couldn’t be sure as the only light came from stark fluorescent tubes that were always lit—my horns were clasped and measured with calipers cinched by gloved hands.

‘Growing too slowly…’

The man in the white coat would mutter to himself each time before shuffling away, almost tripping over his too-long trousers, to top up my trough with a bland oily porridge that was served cold and congealed. It was unappetising but I’d eat it all, nothing escaping, not even the irony of all the meals I once snapped and shared with friends as though they’d mattered (the meals that is); the freedoms I’d taken for granted had never been photo worthy. Continue reading

La Porte de L’Enfer

Photo of a wooden door on a stone building, shut with a chain and padlock. Used as photo prompt for flash fiction.
Photo by Bogdan Dada on Unsplash

I’ve lost count of the number of times ‘the only thing private are his thoughts’ has been muttered by passers-by believing their words to be original and witty; while I retain the dignity of private thoughts in my nakedness, the pleasure is dimmed somewhat by the many distractions that rarely allow for a single coherent train of thought: visitors taking photographs; amateurs and professionals alike making sketches I’ve learnt to not take personally when certain proportions are downgraded to fun size; pretentious conversations about art; scrunched up pages of a sketch book hurled at me; crude paper planes projected with whimsy in my direction, their sharp points denting on impact, gravity ensuring I never receive the message; heads bowed in studious attention toward a Lonely Planet within my line of sight, page open to an image of me as the reader verifies the importance of their visit; and of course, that originality and wit rearing its head again with poses mimicking mine, taunting me as the comedian’s jaunty limbs move in and out of freeze frame with fluidity that escapes me.

As the sun sets on the grounds and the last of the visitors makes a beeline to the gift shop, the first muted signal of evening’s silence cloaks me like a lovers embrace, something akin to a tempered version of that kissing pair who don’t get a moment away from one another.

With the quiet of closing, when left alone with my thoughts for a spell, I’m grateful for being on the right side of the real gates of hell; knowing the screams from that garden shed will take their queue when the bells toll at midnight, telling a tale of a more brutal inferno than our maker envisioned, the fury and despair of forced retirement where the wounded, the shattered, and those with chips on their shoulders too large to repair are banished for eternity.

 

Story inspired by Sonya’s Three Line Tales, Week 97 and memories of a visit to the Musée Rodin in Paris a long time ago.

 

Impartiality

Photo of three people riding horses through the bush in an Australian cattle station. Used as a prompt for microfiction.
Photo by Tobias Keller on Unsplash

In the unseen timelines of the mortal trio, that day was marked as the occasion of the light dimming in each of their hearts forevermore, disconnected as they were from the source.

They’d slunk out of the forest triumphant, leaving behind an unrecongnisable world: sacrifices made in the name of gods they didn’t believe in, although flashbacks were tinged with fear of the wrath of those same dieties.

Meanwhile, the sun continued to rise and set, bearing witness to daylight thievery and acts of grace with the same silent intensity.

 

Inspired by Sonya’s Three Line Tales Week 95.

Excess Baggage

Photo of a pile of dirty dishes in a small sink with a single tap, used as a micro fiction prompt
Photo by Scott Umstattd on Unsplash

We stopped at Novosibirsk and waited on the  platform; as with all other stops, there were locals selling soda, peanuts, pickled fish, two-minute noodles, and the powdered mash potato that had been my staple; I’d get hot water from the surly samovar attendant and with a little stirring, giving me that sense of having cooked a meal, I turned out a delicious starchy mush that paired nicely with whatever vodka was going. Continue reading

Erasure

Image of Andrew McCall's solid light sculpture You and I - Horizontal II (2009) at Australian Centre for the Moving Image
You and I – Horizontal II, Anthony McCall (2009). Photograph by Richard Baxter.

Read Part 1: Missing Person

Read Part 2: Forrest Trail

Read Part 3: The Droste Effect

Read Part 4: The Order of Things

Read Part 5: Rift Valley

Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future. Edward Lorenz

Every news channel was streaming the very little details of the case that were known, each trying to get a more ‘exclusive’ angle than their competitors.

Channel Z8 was running an interview with a local grocery store owner.

‘I’ll never forget when that girl disappeared. What was it seventeen, eighteen years ago? Whole life ahead of her, and boom, suddenly gone, just like that. I’d been watching the cricket when one of my customers mentioned her remains had been found. What I want to know is- how the hell did she end up in Siberia of all places? Long way from schoolies week on the Gold Coast…’

The journalist probed for as much anecdotal fluff for the news piece as he could get  ‘You say you knew Eckles? Can you describe him Albert? Can I call you Al?’

‘Yeah, call me Al. He was just like everyone else in the neighbourhood- nothing unusual in his purchases, milk, eggs, bread, fruit, knew enough about sport to keep up a conversation. But he did have a strange tendency to disappear for long periods of time…’

Fiona rolled her eyes at the familiar face getting his 15 minutes of fame. He was milking it, and the journalist was relishing this ‘exclusive insight’. Switching the channel, she saw news item after news item on the same rolling coverage of the case that was set to change the world. Continue reading

Rift Valley

sketch of train tracks winding along a coastal scenery to illustrate a story set on a transiberian train tripRead Part 1: Missing Person

Read Part 2: Forrest Trail

Read Part 3: The Droste Effect

Read Part 4: The Order of Things

My last terrestrial memory is that of zooming plains through the dirt-speckled windows of the cabin we shared. Crossing the mass of land, and multiple time zones, it was my unwitting farewell to life on firm, solid ground, although I didn’t know it at the time.

I had gone along with Liam’s suggestion to take the trip, guided by a strong sense that everything I would be doing was destined to unfold, that I only needed to go with the flow, so to speak. We shared our second-class quarters with a soldier on his way home from a posting in Moscow, and a grieving widow heading to Irkutsk to collect the body of her fisherman husband who’d met his end while navigating the cruel seas. In that confined space, I’d learnt a lot about my Russian cabin mates, with crude sentences pieced together from the weathered Lonely Planet, and the outpouring of human emotion born of rowdy card games and shots of vodka. Liam however, remained a mystery. Continue reading