The Chronicles of the Flying Fish Inn

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  • #114

      I never could stand the sight of it. For as long as I remember, which is no more than 6 years, admittedly, the odd-looking fish had been preserved and placed above the fake stucco fireplace. It’s been here for much longer, though. You can tell by the thickness of the dust covering it. My friend Bert, that old chap, told me so.
      He has told me many other stories about the town, about my family, and their glorious past. It could just have been no more than stories, but I believe him —for no reason, really. Maybe only because my sisters find him slightly creepy and old. Anyway, I like him.

      In his stories, the fish had fallen many years ago from the sky. There had been rain this summer day, which was, in itself, even less believable than some oddly shaped flying fish falling from the sky. And that fish had fallen in front of what was the private mansion of the Curara family. Our ancestor found it, and decided to take it as a sign of the Almighty that they would be blessed with abundance forever after… But then, everything went downside with fantastic speed. The gold rush stopped in its tracks, the town slowly got deserted, and since then, our family started to believe that it was more a curse than a blessing. However, nobody ever bothered to get rid of the fish that once flew.

      Maybe they were waiting for another one to appear to break the string of unfortunate events. I always think of all the amusing ways I could get rid of it without anybody noticing. April’s fools wouldn’t do… Too easy. But having it served at dinner would be a start. Sadly, with Aunt Idle’s poor cooking skills, there was no chance a fish could come unnoticed.

      So it was on that particular day when I’d found and written down on my secret diary a 222nd way of getting rid of the fish, it was on that particular and fateful day, that everything changed again for the Curara family.

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        Aunt Idle:

        You won’t beleive this, I said to Mater, and she said I probably won’t before giving me a chance to finish.  I ignored her as usual and told her about the bookings.   Bookings, she screeched like a demented parrot, bookings? Since when did we have bookings.   She even had the cheek to tell me I was living in the past, imagining we had bookings.  I told her she was the one living in the past, the past when we had no bookings, and that I was living in the present because we had four people booked to stay at the inn, and we did indeed have bookings and that she should take off that old red pantsuit and put something practical on because we had a great deal of cleaning to do.  Then she did her screeching parrot routine with the word cleaning, and I left her to it and went to tell Bert.

        I don’t know what I’d have done without good old Bert over the years. I started to get a bit screechy myself with the panic when I was telling him, but he calmed me right down and started to make a list of the things that needed doing in order of importance.  Start with preparing a bedroom each, he said, and get Mater to go down to the kitchen and make a shopping list.  I said Bert are you sure that’s wise, Mater in charge of supplies, and he said no it aint wise but who else is going to do it?

        I left Bert clanging away with the boiler trying to get some hot water out of it, and went to get some dusters and a broom and had to dust them off a bit, been a long time since anyone looked in the broom cupboard, and lo and behold Mater appears dressed as a 17th century serving wench.  I let that pass without comment, but I did tell her to try and be sensible with the shopping list.


        It is a challenge of utmost magnitude to keep track of time here in this land where the Dream Time is so nigh as to make its presence oft palpable in the very air. The subtle shifts in timelines and probabilities do naught to aid in this endeavor. No coincidence “Dream Time” is the label on Aunt Idle’s not-so-secret stash — she could not keep its location secret lest she forget it during the waking hours.

        We jumped without warning into 2023. At 15, I am a grown-up now, so says Mater, and I could not wait to hear such words from her. She is always here, such a comfort, unchanging, unyielding, the only immutable force in the universe.
        So now, life can start to unfold in front of me in the manner of my choosing, rather than being dictated by the sorry state of affairs of my family. I have set my sights upon a boarding school that may provide such an escape, but it will require the procurement of the tuition money — which will take a few more years to acquire. Patience, I have, at least for now.

        The Inn is ever in need of assistance it seems. I don’t know how it came to be, but some Italian chap, Georgio, who came last year during the pandemic and got stranded with us, made such a fuss about Mater’s famous bush tucker that the Inn became fashionable overnight. Obviously Mater, bless her soul, doesn’t cook, a mercy for which we are all thankful. Said tucker was truly the handiwork of Tiku and Finly, but Georgio thought that Mater’s tucker” has a nicer ring. Whatever suits these loonies’ fancy, it did bring us a nice stream of income in return.


          I’ve always felt like the odd one out in my family. Growing up at the Flying Fish Inn, I’ve always felt like I was on the outside looking in. My mother left when I was young, and my father disappeared not long after. I’ve always felt like I was the only one who didn’t fit in with the craziness of my family.

          I’ve always tried to keep my distance with the others. I didn’t want to get too involved, take sides about petty things, like growing weed in the backyard, making psychedelic termite honey, or trying to influence the twins to buy proper clothes. But truth is, you can’t get too far away. Town’s too small. Family always get back to you, and manage to get you involved in their shit, one way or another, even if you don’t say anything. That’s how it works. They don’t need my participation to use me as an argument.

          So I stopped paying attention, almost stopped caring. I lived my life working at the gas station, and drinking beers with my buddies Joe and Jasper, living in a semi-comatose state. I learned that word today when I came bringing little honey buns to mater. I know she secretly likes them, even if she pretend she doesn’t in front of Idle. But I can see the breadcrumbs on her cardigan when I come say hi at the end of the day. This morning, Idle was rocking in her favourite chair on the porch, looking at the clouds behind her mirrored sunglasses. Prune was talking to her, I saw she was angry because of the contraction of the muscles of her jaw and her eyes were darker than usual. She was saying to Idle that she was always in a semi-comatose state and doing nothing useful for the Inn when we had a bunch of tourists arriving. And something about the twins redecorating the rooms without proper design knowledge. Idle did what she usually does. She ignored the comment and kept on looking at the clouds. I’m not even sure she heard or understood that word that Prune said. Semi-comatose. It sounds like glucose. That’s how I’m spending my life between the Inn, the gas station and my buddies.

          But things changed today when I got back to my apartment for lunch. You can call it a hunch or a coincidence. But as we talked with Joe about that time when my dad left, making me think we were doing hide and seek, and he left me a note saying he would be back someday. I don’t know why I felt the need to go search that note afterwards. So I went back to the apartment and opened the mailbox. Among the bills and ads, I found a postcard with a few words written on the image and nothing except my address on the back. I knew it was from my dad.

          It was not signed or anything, but still I was sure it was his handwriting. I would recognise it anywhere. I went and took the shoebox I keep hidden on top of the kitchen closet, because I saw people do that in movies. That’s not very original, I know, but I’m not too bright either. I opened the box and took the note my dad left me when he disappeared.

          I put the card on the desk near the note. The handwritings matched. I felt so excited, and confused.

          A few words at the bottom of the card said : “Memories from the coldest place on Earth…”

          Why would dad go to such a place to send me a postcard after all those years ? Just to say that.

          That’s when I recalled what Prune had told me once as we were watching a detective movie : “Read everything with care and always double check your information.”

          On the back, it said that the image was from a scientific station in Antartica, but the stamp indicated it had been posted from a floating post office in the North Pole. I turned the card and looked at the text again. Above the station, a few words were written that sounded like a riddle.

          > A mine, a tile, dust piled high,
          Together they rest, yet always outside.
          One misstep, and you’ll surely fall,
          Into the depths, where danger lies all.

          It sure sounds like a warning. But I’m not too good with riddles. No need to worry Mater about that, in case of false hope and all that. Idle ? Don’t even think about it. She won’t believe me when I say it’s from dad. She never does believe me. And she’ll keep playing with the words trying to find her answer in the shape of smoke. The twins, they are a riddle on their own.

          No. It’s Prune’s help I need.


            I told Devan in no ambiguous terms to solve his own funny riddle.

            I did try to make an effort, but that seemed a rather desperate way to catch our attention after not really caring about the family for so long.
            It was good to see him though.

            With all the activity around the coming guests at the Inn, it’s easy getting lost in the wind of activities, like the motes of dust hiding in Dido’s hair.
            The twins did a good effort though, with all the decorating and stuff. I was sincerely impressed. Been a long time since I’ve been impressed by them. Seems they may actually grow up fine. Who would have known really.

            Hormonal growth be damned, I’m feeling all sort of contradictory feelings about this.

            Like, what about hearing about our funny father after all this time.

            And Devan, who’d shut us all off, now back for a little make-over time… Or something else maybe. He doesn’t seem to realize the emotional landscape and baggage here. He’s a nice brother though.

            It’s horrible. So much contradiction – I feel some rage on the surface, lots of… and underneath so much caring it’s painful.

            So what happened to our father? Still alive? Quite possibly. I’ve had my suspicious when this strange guy posed as a friend to the twins on the social network some years back.
            I was young when he left without a note; hadn’t started to write my journals yet, so my memories of him are very little. But I remember the chaos left after him; Mater wasn’t really the same after. I think she’s burned all pictures of him, and somehow pretends they never existed.
            Idle plays it as if she doesn’t care, but I’m sure she does. She doesn’t want to let it be known, but she probably doesn’t want to hurt Mater more with this.

            God, what a family drama. Why would Devan want to unearth all of this now, at a moment we were all quiet and settled like a decent respectable family.

            It was maybe just keeping up with appearances, and the veneer was thin to start with.

            That’s in the middle of all this angst mixed with puberty that it hit me.

            Acrostic. Or ἀκροστιχίς in Greek. First verse, or first letter.

            My dad was a writer, so he liked word riddles. And the little sign was a pointer.

            >A mine, a tile, dust piled high,
            Together they rest, yet always outside.
            One misstep, and you’ll surely fall,
            Into the depths, where danger lies all.

            ATOI didn’t seem to make much sense, but I remembered how small “l” sometimes looked like a capital “I”.
            Atoll was the clue I’m sure of it. Where to disappear if not to islands.
            The letters at the end of the verses are spelling HELL. So it’s opposite.

            Basically, Atoll Paradise.

            A little Gugu search with AI, and that was it. That was our father here, with a number to call.

            Atoll Paradise
            Boat rentals – Island tours
            Copywriter, biographer
            Call FRED @ (+679) 215-7644

            Now it’ll be fair if Devan is calling me crazy. We’ll have to call and check before saying anything to Idle or even Mater for now.


              Aunt Idle:

              Bert came barging in my room, and I’d only just sat down, telling me the guest still hadn’t phoned to be picked up from the trail.  Bert, I said, she’ll be fine. She probably phoned a taxi and went to Alice for dinner or to meet her friends, she’s fine.  But he kept going on about what if she wandered off the trail, and I said, Bert, if she wandered off the trail that doesn’t mean she’s in trouble, does it? Anyway, I said, the parrot said not to worry. Parrot? he said and his face was a picture. Parrot? The flaming parrot said not to worry?  Not like old Bert to be as rude as he was then, I don’t know what had got into him.

              He stomped off muttering and I caught a few words like sandwich short of a picnic, but I’m used to that now, they’re all rude about me.  Well Bert not so much, which is why it took me by surprise, and the twins are alright. Mater though, don’t even get me started, nor Finly. Prune’s up to something, I don’t know what, and so is Devan. I can’t put my finger on it.  And something’s rattled Berts cage.

              She’s nice, the new guest, a bit younger than me but struth! looks about 20 years younger. Living out here hasn’t done me any favours.


              I had to meet Devan at the garage; I didn’t want to raise suspicion calling an overseas number that would show up like a sore thumb in the next phone company invoice. Even with the occasional visitors calling for bookings, it was more Idle’s job to call back. She is funny when she’s got her headphones and microphone on, with that look from the 90s, taking her grand air and posh accent to answer people over skype. ‘Sister Idle dot com‘ I call her behind her back. She sounds like a mixture of an investigator and nun who would sell goose feather duvets made by the nunnery.

              Devan was punctual for once; we didn’t have a lot of time to use the phone at the counter while his boss was off for lunch.

              We looked at each other. “You sure you want to do that?” we both knew there was no turning back. It could be a sore disappointment, but how worse would that be compared to a rabbit hole of questions and potential emotional upheavals. Someone wise said (probably Henrich Lyeumon I think) “if you continue going down rabbit holes, you’re bound to find a lot of rabbit poop.”

              Devan nodded silently.

              I punched the numbers from the Gugu search.

              The connection seemed to take forever. Then a click. A gruff “Hello?” in a male voice.

              I don’t know why I blurted it out, but it came out without thinking.

              “Dad? Is that you?”

              “…” Devan looked at me alarmed and also with excitement in his eyes. There was a blank at the other end of the line.

              “Not on this line. I’ll call you back.”

              We looked at each other with Devan. Did we just hear what we heard? Given the look on Devan’s face, I’m pretty sure we did.

              We don’t have time to waste, his boss is already back, smacking his lips all shiny with chicken grease.

              Before I leave my brother to his job, we exchange hopeful glances. So a rabbit hole is it.

              My phone is buzzing.

              A message from [Unknown sender] — why didn’t it go to spam?

              “I’m on my way. ~ F”


              Aunt Idle

              I had an idea to take them breakfast in bed but I overslept. Especially the big muscley one with the dark glowering looks, I tell you, ooof!  Haven’t seen men like that around here in I don’t know how long. The cheeky looking blond one looked a bit of alright too. Bit too young for me though. Well, no, not too young for me at all, just that I reckon I look way too old for them.  Nice to see some new faces about the place.  Nice gals, too. Seems to be a bit of life coming back to the old place, and there’ll be a bunch of people coming in for the cart and lager race.   I think I might dye my roots, get rid of the grey. Hot pink maybe, do a few dreads to match, brighten myself up.


                So our father, or a very good impersonator, is on his way.

                The thought has been with me for some time. We haven’t heard back since his message. I’ve send some cryptic SMS, but none have been read.

                It’s been only two days, and Devan has been already distracted with so many stuff. I have to be the one to keep track.

                If he’s coming from Fiji, then two days isn’t a long time; hopefully he isn’t in any trouble. I guess the sand storm coming isn’t helping either.

                I was thinking we should clue in Idle. And then I thought what I meant, we should clue in an adult, but I get the impression that’s not was Aunt Idle is… We can’t tell Mater for now; the thought might break her heart. We have to be sure.

                That Liana Parker seemed to be an unrelated loner, I was half tempted to share a few thoughts with her, but somehow I couldn’t get to trust her, she’s been acting so strange, now all locked up in her room as if she’s avoiding everyone. And maybe she’s hiding something too.

                Patience… seems to be something I need to practice more and more. That’s what Betsy had said when she saw me last, and gave me one of them little glittery bears. It’s looking at me funny on the table, and blinks with the light.

                Patience then.


                  Aunt Idle


                  Endless legal squabbling,
                  Eventually it comes to blows.
                  Zhang Ji has a speech defect,
                  Hair loose, turning northward.

                  I don’t know what the dickens that I Ching is supposed to mean, I was hoping it would give me a clue about that new guest.  There’s something about her but I can’t put my finger on it. I must remember to ask Bert about her, see if he’s noticed anything funny. Not that she’s acting funny, not unusual for a guest who’s travelled far to get here ~ and anyone getting here has travelled, let’s face it ~ to stay in their room catching up on sleep, but I don’t know, there is something niggling me about her. I barely caught a glimpse of her but she seemed familiar somehow.  I’ll ask Bert, but we’re all so busy now what with the lager and cart race coming up, and those four friends staying, and god only knows when that dust storm comes what we’re supposed to do to entertain them all when they can’t go outside, and they’ll be expecting poor old Finly to keep the place dusted and the windows cleaned.   I sometimes think I prefered it here when nobody hardly came.

                  Hardly got a moment to myself and our Prune is up to something but god knows I don’t have time to follow her around, and there’s no weaseling anything out of her when she’s got one of her secret missions going on.  Mater’s pulled her finger out, it has to be said, she’s been as good as gold with the guests, she can turn the old dear charm on when she wants to, and she’s pulled out all the stops playing the gracious hostess, and I can’t say a word against good old Finly. She’s a cheeky minx when we’re not busy but she’s been a real trooper.  I think I’ll speak to Mater about a little bonus for her.   Yes, I think that might sweeten her up for when I ask her to do my roots tomorrow which reminds me to put pink dye on Berts list for when he goes to Alice in the morning.

                  Honestly there’s too much to think about, I haven’t had a minute to get a costume ready for the cart race, maybe I’ll ask the twins.  Gotta say it, they’ve been brilliant organizing the cart decorating with the four friends. They’re a lovely group, I just wish I had more time to hang out with them, especially the big guy, oh my.  Maybe after the cart race, anything can happen after a cart race, lord knows ~ it was after a cart race in a dust storm that Howard and I had a fling and thank god Betsy never found out, she’s have had my guts for garters and nobody would have blamed her.  I still wonder what happened to Howard. We always had a soft spot for each other, but he felt so guilty he never strayed from Betsy again. I’d have been game, I’ll be honest, but I didn’t push it.  Betsy was a big girl back in those days, but nowhere near as big as she is now. Must be hard for her wondering what happened to her husband all these years, no wonder she got sucked into all that mumbo jumbo and stuffing her chops all day long.

                  And not being able to claim the inheritance that would have been Howards, that must have been hard.  They could have lived in the lap of luxury for the rest of their lives when Howard’s father died, and he hasn’t died yet, must be pushing 90 by now.  I know she’s hoping Howard didn’t die in the mines ~ obviously ~ and that he’ll come back one day somehow, and you can bet your bottom dollar she’s hoping he comes back before the old man dies and it all gets left to someone else.

                  That new guest went in Betsy’s before she even checked in here,  Corrie saw her, I guess she’s into mumbo jumbo in a big way if she had to get supplies of crystals or amulets or whatever they sell in there, before checking in to the hotel.

                  F LoveF Love

                    Mater having a moan:

                    It’s a funny old world.

                    At my age, you’d think I’d be able to put my feet up and watch the world go by for a bit, wouldn’t you? God knows, don’t I deserve it? Truth is, I’m still holding things together here. With a bit of practical help from Finly of course, who we all agree is a trouper even if she is a Kiwi.

                    Sometimes, it occurs to me I should just let go and see where the dice lands … what will be will be …  que sera sera … that sort of thing. Place will fall apart if I do though.

                    The kids don’t really care. And why would they at their age? Idle’s all talk about how she does this and that but the evidence is sadly lacking … she’s making a fool of herself with one of the new fellas, all goggle-eyed and tarting herself up more than ever. It’s embarrassing but I’m done telling her.

                    Since we got on that bnb site the bookings have tripled. Idle says I’ve got to be pleasant to people or we’ll get a bad review. Did my head in being pleasant to that toffee-nose one who won’t take her sunglasses off. That’s just plain bad manners! Another thing, she calls herself Liana but it sure takes her a while to answer to the name. Finly says she’s noticed the same. We’re keeping a close eye on that one.

                    And now sounds like the cart race in a dust storm is going ahead. I tell you right now, Finly is not going to be pleased about that.


                      I can’t believe the cart race is tomorrow. Joe, Callum and I have worked so hard this year to incorporate solar panels and wind propellers to our little bijou. The cart race rules are clear, apart from thermal engines and fossil fuels, your imagination is your limit. Our only worry was that dust storm. We feared the Mayor would cancelled the race, but I think she won’t. She desperately needs the money.

                      Some folks thought to revive the festival as a prank fifteen years ago, but people had so much fun the council agreed to renew it the next year, and the year after that it was made official. It’s been a small town festival for ten years, and would have stayed like that if it hadn’t been for a bus full of Italian tourist on their way to Uluru. It broke down as they drove through main street – I remember it because I just started my job at the garage and couldn’t attend the race. Those Italians, a bunch of crazy people, posted videos of the race on the Internet and it went viral, propelling our ghost town to worldwide fame. We thought it would subside but some folks created a FishBone group and we’re almost as famous as Punxsutawney once a year. We even have a team of old ladies from Tikfijikoo Island.

                      All that attention attracted sponsors, mostly booze brands. But this year we’ve got a special one from Sidney. Aunt Idle who’s got a special friend at the city council told us the council members couldn’t believe it when the tart called and offered money. Botty Banworth, head of a big news company made famous by her blog: Prudish Beauty.

                      Aunt Idle, who heard it from one of her special friends at the town’s council, started a protest because she thought the Banworth tart would force the council to ban all recreational substances. But I have it from Callum, who’s the Mayor’s son, that the tart is not interested in making us an example of sobriety. She’s asked to lease the land where the old mines are and the Mayor haven’t told anybody about it.

                      After Callum told me about the lease, it reminded me about the riddle.

                      A mine, a tile, dust piled high,
                      Together they rest, yet always outside.
                      One misstep, and you’ll surely fall,
                      Into the depths, where danger lies all.

                      Then something else happened. Another woman stopped at the gas station earlier today. I recognised one of the Inn’s guests, the one with the Mercedes. With her mirror sunglasses and her headscarf wrapped around her hair, she already looked suspicious. But as it happened, she asked me about the mines and how to go there. For abandoned mines, they sure attract a lot of attention.

                      It reminded me of something. So after work, I went to the Inn and asked the twins permission to go up to their lair. When dad disappeared, Mater went mad, she threw everything to the garbage. The twins waited til she got back inside and moved everything back in the attic and called it their lair. It looks just like dad’s old office with the boxes full of papers, the mahogany desk and even his typewriter. For whatever reason, Mater just ignores it and if she needs something from the attic, she asks someone else to get it, pretexting she can’t climb all those stairs.

                      I was right. Dad left the old manuscript he was working on at the time. A sci-fi novel about strange occurrences in an abandoned mine that looked just like the one outside of town. Prune said it’s badly written, and it doesn’t even have a title. But I remember having nightmares after reading some of the passages.


                        Aunt Idle:

                        There’s nothing quite like the morning of the cart race, watching for the dust anouncing the arrival of another van or cart full of people on a partying mission, there’s something in the air, well dust mainly after awhile.  Yes I know there’s a lot to do with all the extra people but Finley can manage and nobody will expect much from overworked staff anywhere today anyway.  I just love catching the first sight of a decorated cart and people in costumes, you have no idea how monotonous the attire around here is.  People of all ages, too, that’s what I love about it.  Some people been coming for as long as anyone can remember, they came back when it started again, and some of them never took their masks off, nobody ever saw them without masks and you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be here later, they always turn up.  You won’t catch them with their mask off though.  Always see some new ones. Every year new ones turn up, and then we never see them again, like pop ins they are.   Some of them stick in your mind, oddly enough.   There’s one in particular I’m always keeping an eye out for, got a cart all decked out like a pirate galleon, and barrels of rum instead of lager.   Maybe I’ll get lucky this year and get a ride in the pirate galleon, you never know. Anything can happen in a dust storm after a lager and cart race.


                          At 10:30am, the air is buzzing with excitement. As the first race is going to start soon. There has been no signs of a dust storm and everyone seem to have forgotten about it. The participants are cheering and getting ready for the race while groups of tourists are wandering about, taking pictures of the teams and the folks in costume. People came from as far as Mexico, Italy and Macedonia.

                          Because of the harsh conditions, miners were usually males back in the days. But there have always been teams at our little town’s festival ready to include women and children because they were usually lighter and it was easier to push the carts around on the tracks. Since a few years, there even have been full female teams, and they were pretty good too.

                          Prune arrives with her new fancy reflex camera she got at her last birthday. She wants to take our picture in front of our cart. At Joe and Callum’s surprise, I try to talk her into joining our team and be part of the fun. I get out of the cart a spare hat and a wig I had prepared for her, but she says today she’s doing a reportage about the festival. I know she wants to be on the lookout for our father, and keep an eye on the Inn’s guests. She told me yesterday something was off with that Liana Parker who kept snooping around and asking questions to townsfolk about Howard and Fred. And, she heard the two other girls talking about Liana being a Finli and a nun.

                          I frown. I haven’t told the boys anything about my father or suspicious guests with false names. Prune knows I’m not too keen about letting my little sister following people around on her own. I told her something could go wrong, but she brushed it aside explaining it was the perfect occasion because people wouldn’t pay attention to someone taking random pictures during a festival. She’s got a point, but I’m still her big brother. I had to try.

                          She asks us to strike a pose in front of our cart and tells a few jokes. When we laugh she takes a picture of our all male team, I’m the one in the center, Callum’s on the left and Joe on the right. I’m glad despite all the concern, I look like I’m having fun.

                          Checking her camera screen, Prune says: “You guys remind me of the Clockwork Orange with your hats, but more colourful and less creepy.”

                          Callum and Joe look at each other, each having one eyebrow raised. I snort. I’m sure they don’t understand the reference.

                          “You’re ok,” she tells them. “It means people will notice and remember you.”

                          “Spread the word! We’ll crush them all!” Callum shouts.

                          Prune looks at me. “You’re still frowning,” she says. “It’ll be fine.”

                          “Ok,” I say. “But at least take the hat. You can’t dress as yourself during a Cart and Lager festival, or you’ll pop out of the crowd.”

                          She raises her eyes to the sky and sighs. Then, she takes the orange hat from my hands and puts it on her head.

                          “There, happy? Consider that an endorsement of your team,” she says with a wink.

                          Joe and Callum hoot and whistle loudly. “Miss serious is running wild! Anything can happen today.”

                          We all laugh. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

                          “Hey! You’re mother is about to talk,” says Joe to Callum. “She’s hot.”

                          “Don’t speak about my mother like that.”

                          The mayor has climbed on the central stage and she’s talking with an all dressed up woman with a big hat that makes her look like the Queen of England. She sure seems out of place in our little town’s festival. Flanked by two bodyguards in black, I guess it’s Botty Banworth who’s provided that expensive sound system the mayor’s trying to use. “One, two, three… Is it working? Yes. Ok. All the participants are expected to bring their cart to the depart lane. We’re about to start. In the meantime let me introduce Miss Banworth who’s been very generous and allowed our festival to get to another level. She’s going to help us rehabilitate the abandoned mines and open a museum.”

                          A roar from the crowd. The woman’s lips are so thin and red that the smile she puts on her face looks like it’s just been made with a razor blade. I shiver. She’s the Queen of England turned by a vampire.

                          Someone bumps into my back and knocks the air out of my lungs. I almost fall on my sister.

                          “Hey! Watch out!” says Callum.

                          I catch my breath and look up. It’s Betsy, dressed as a miner too, with extra sequins and gummy stars on her dungarees. She looks confused and mutters some excuses but doesn’t stop. She walks as if she has had a few lagers already.

                          “Hey, Betsy,” calls Prune. “You seem like you just saw a ghost.”

                          “Someone… near the mines… It can’t be…” says Betsy.

                          “Who did you see near the mines?” shouts my sister.

                          With the noise around us, I almost didn’t hear Betsy’s answer.

                          Fred… Howard… It can’t be. I need Idle’s cakes,” she says before disappearing in the crowd.

                          I look at Prune. I see in her eyes we’re thinking the same thing. Dad’s really here. We nod at the same time and I move my lips: “Be careful.” She nods.

                          “You three, win,” she tells us before leaving.

                          “You heard her?” I asked Callum and Joe. “Let’s move our limo.”  As we approach the tracks with the other participants, a gush of wind almost knock my hat off my head. There is some commotion coming from the central stage. A guy climbed up and is shouting something  that I don’t understand, pointing at the sky behind us. When I look back like everyone, tourists and teams, I understand.

                          “Dust! Dust’s coming!”

                          And right from the direction of the abandoned mines. Dad what did you get yourself into?

                          It’s 10:55am and I’m pretty sure we’ll have to put off the race.


                            Aunt Idle:

                            It took us weeks to clean up after that dust storm, and I’ll be honest, I didn’t help much. I had a lot to think about.  Finley and the twins did most of it, and Bert of course. Mater took to her room after the revelations and stayed up there like queen bee, not speaking to any of us, only Finley who took her meals up. I banged on her door a few times (she’d locked it, can you believe it?) but she wouldn’t even speak to me through the door. I’d have thought she was dead but Finley said no she wasn’t dead, she’d just about had enough of all of us and wanted to be left in peace to think about it.  Well, what about me, I said, don’t you think I need some time to think about it all too? But Finley snorted (picked it up off that Yasmin I reckon) and swanned off, quite rudely if you ask me.

                            I did spend quite a bit of time down by the water hole, thinking about it all.  I never in a million years expected that baby to come back and haunt me forty odd years later.  I did get to wondering though, if I’d have brought her up instead of those nuns, she might have been a happier soul.   Not much ever seemed to please her, quite the reverse in fact.  Bert said Well what do you expect? in an exasperated tone.  I got a bit fed up with all the dirty looks to tell you the truth. I even thought of leaving the Flying Fish once and for all and never coming back. Then I thought, bugger that, I’m staying right here.

                            Zara and her friends left right after the dust had settled (from the dust storm that is ~ it was quite some time before the metaphorical dust had settled, in fact I don’t think it’ll ever settle.  Some people do like to harp on and on about things) and I was sorry to see them go. They were great sports about everything, they didn’t judge me. Unlike my own family!

                            I didn’t dare tell anyone about the night of the cart race when Youssef and I holed up in the cellar with all the old books. Thank goodness I had the presence of mind to grab a couple of bottles of gin and something to smoke before we fled down the stairs.  I tell you what though, the next day I had such a hangover I had a job remembering everything and wondered if I’d been dreaming.  Youssef wasn’t there when I woke up, and he had the darn cheek to avoid me the next day, and the day after that, and then they left.

                            One good thing was seeing Fred again. I wish he’d have stayed for a bit longer.  If Fred had stayed awhile, maybe he’d have helped smooth things over with me and my ill gotten brat.  Some people are so ungrateful! I may have dumped her, but it was in a nice place and she wouldn’t be alive at all if it wasn’t for me.

                            People are strange.

                            F LoveF Love

                              Finley turned off the vacuum cleaner and cleared her throat loudly. “Mater, I need time off. Next week.”

                              Mater paled. “Oh Finley, surely not now. With all the guests at the moment … and we are still cleaning up from the dust … ” her voice trailed off.

                              “Selfish cow,” muttered Idle. She was reclining on the sofa with a magazine and a drink. Taking a well earned rest, she had snapped when Mater asked when she was going to pull her weight.  She slapped her magazine down on the coffee table. “I suppose I will have to do everything!”

                              With just the merest hint of an eye roll, Finley continued. “My cousin Finnley who works for the writer told me about a convention. I’m quite excited.” Mater and Idle regarded her intently, wondering what an excited Finley would look like. I didn’t notice anything much, Mater confessed to Idle later in a rare moment of camaraderie.

                              “So?” snapped Idle. “What is it then?”

                              Finley turned on the vacuum cleaner. “Dustsceawaung convention. In Tasmania,” she shouted over  the whirr.


                                Aunt Idle:

                                “Tasmania?” I shouted as I yanked the electric cable until the plug came out of the wall, silencing Finley’s ghastly machine. “Why Tasmania all of a sudden? Explain yourself, girl!”

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