“Adaptability and improvisation are the names of the game now,” said Liz, beaming with satisfaction. Her impulse had been a success. A quick call to the local dog shelter and the delivery of two dogs within the hour had solved the problem nicely. As anyone who’d ever had dogs knew, cleaning up spilled food was simply never a problem. “You won’t have to wash the dishes anymore now!”
“What do you mean?” Finnley asked suspiciously. “Surely you can’t mean…”
“Why, yes! Just put them all on the kitchen floor and the dogs will do it for you. They’re ever so good, they won’t miss a single morsel. Which is more than can be said for your washing up. Now don’t pout! Be glad you have one less job to do.”
Godfrey patted the black poodle’s head, which had a funny sort of spring loaded feel. “We’re keeping the dogs, then?” he asked, failing to keep the hopeful note out of his voice. He was rather taken with the funny little dog. Without waiting for an answer from Liz he said to the expectant little face peering up at him, “What shall we call you, then?”
The shadow of a frown creased Liz’s brow momentarily as she wondered if she’d done the right thing. Would she be able to stomach seeing Godfrey fawning over a poodle? Why on earth had the dogs home sent her a poodle? Did she sound like a poodle person? But then, they’d sent her a lurcher as well. Liz contemplated taking umbrage at that, did she honestly sound like a lurcher person? A lurcher poodle person? Or a poodle lurcher person?
“Are we keeping both of them, then?” asked Roberto. “What shall we call you, big boy?” he asked, addressing the dog.
“On the way back call in at the dogs home and pick two more dogs up, Finnley. We may as well have one each. I’ll ring them now.”
Bella says to me, I want to see the whales. She keeps going on about it, tugging at my skirts while I’m trying to get things done. What do you mean you want to see the whales I asks her. Took me a time to know she means the stories I used to tell about the place where my Mam lives with the legend of the whales there. The place we be going but how can she know that?
First it is Jimmy and his dreams and now Bella. It be so many years since I told her these tales and now she is remembering them. Cook is here I must leave off writing for now for she is asking after the hens. I won’t have her killing my Esther for her pot. God knows what will happen to them once we’ve gone. I will set them free before then. At least they have a chance.
“Food fight really?” Finnley was aghast. “I suppose, you’re all planning on cleaning up your mess? I’m feeling a little weak in the respiratory department.”
She placed her elbow in front of her mouth for a dry cough, looking over to see the reactions.
“I bet cleaning us the lard will get us points for continuity,” mused Godfrey.
Shaking, Liz wiped the egg yolk out of the corner of her eye. The beer that was gluing her hair into sticky clumps would have to wait. She flicked a half sausage off the corner of her desk with a tremulous sigh and sat down. Her noble features creased into a momentary visage of despair when she saw the bacon, but her natural stoicism corrected her expression as she picked the rasher up between her thumb and finger, removed if from her keyboard and blithely flicked it over her shoulder.
Roberto, standing silently behind her, ducked nimbly as the greasy slab flew past. It stuck to the French window briefly and then slithered down, leaving a snail trail of lard.
Liz cleared her throat and looked sternly at each of them in turn.
“What,” she said, her voice cracking, “What next? Whatever next?”
“A whale, maybe?” asked Godfrey with a lop sided smirk.
“What are you two conspiring again behind my back?” Liz barged in, with a few patches of nicotine across her face.
“It better be good.” she leaned towards Godfrey who was always incapable of lying properly.
“It just… that… ouch!” he started hesitantly, while Finnley elbowed him vigorously. She also knew he wouldn’t pass a serious questioning without ratting them out. She questioned why in the first place he got her involved with his flimsy start of a plan.
“What about?” Liz continued, her face nervously twitching. She coughed raucously.
“THERE! Told you!” Godfrey couldn’t contain himself. “We should confine you, at your age, it could be dangerous!”
At the mention of Liz’s age, all hell broke loose in the mansion.
Cousin Lisa came calling yesterday morning and she tells us there’s some in the Village have come down with sickness. Of course it would be Lisa being the bearer of such news, her face lit up when I tell her I have heard nothing. Cook, over hearing our conversation, which was private but Cook is always sticking her great nose in where it is not required, she’s hung braids of garlic at the front door. I caught her telling the children it was to keep away the evil spirits that brought death. Poor little Jimmy couldn’t sleep last night he was that afraid of the spirits bringing death in the night. He asked endless questions, how will the garlic stop them? Can the spirits get in through a window instead? He got his sister afraid also and the pair of them wouldn’t sleep then for crying in fear. I told Cook off roundly this morning for speaking to them thus.
The master came home filled with drink, crashing around like the damned drunken fool he is nowadays. He shouted at the children for their crying and shouted at me for not keeping them quiet. At least he did not raise his fists for he wanted to lie with me and I nearly retched with his stinking breath coming close and thank God for His mercies that the fool passed out before he could do the deed. I may have done harm if he’d tried for the brass bell was sitting there on the table (and it is a heavy thing) and I was seeing at it as he came close and there was a moment I could have picked it up and crashed it to his skull. May God forgive me.
He makes my skin crawl for I know what he has done that he thinks I don’t know. But all will come to light if not in this world then the next. I am more sure than ever I must get away and the children with me.
11:11. If that’s not a good time to start a new journal, I don’t know what is. Four Ones.
It’s a good job I hid all my old journals before all those scavengers looted all my stuff. Downsizing they called it. De cluttering. As if a lifelong collection of mementos and treasures was clutter. No finesse, this lot, no imagination. Clean sweep, bare white, sanitary, efficient. God help us.
They didn’t get their hands on all of it though. I hid things. Don’t ask me where though! ha ha. They’ll turn up when they need to. At least some of it didn’t end up on the trash heap.
No room to swing a cat in here. No pets allowed. Inhuman, I tell you. They don’t know about the mouse I’ve been feeding. They call it sheltered accommodation, and it’s a downright lie, I tell you. I get the full brunt of the westerly wind right through that pokey window because they keep trimming the bushes flat outside. Flat topped bushes, I ask you. Those young gardener fellows cut the flower buds right off, just to get the flat top.
I’ll be hiding this journal, I don’t want any of them reading it. It won’t be easy, they snoop around everything with their incessant cleaning. They don’t even give the dust a chance to settle before they wipe, wipe, wipe with their rubber gloves and disposable cloths. I have to cover my nose with my hanky after they’ve been, stinking the place out with air fresheners that make me sneeze. Not what I call fresh air. Maybe that draught through the window isn’t so bad after all.
Anyway, I won’t be staying here, but they don’t know that. Just as soon as my hip stops playing up and I can make a run for it.
“Why are you looking guilty?” It was impossible for Godfrey to hide anything from Liz. She noticed at once the nervous tic in his left eye, and the way he was shuffling his feet around. He was clearly rattled about something.
“I’ve g g g ot a confession to m m make,” he stuttered. Liz had never heard Godfrey stutter before, and it was unheard of for him to make confessions. Something was troubling her old friend greatly, and she was concerned.
“I put two of your characters in jail.”
Liz gasped and her hand flew to her mouth.
“And now,” Godfrey’s voice caught on a little sob, “And now, I have to pay the bail money to get them out.”
“Why not just get Mr August to talk Mellie Noma into paying it? She got the kid back ~ mysteriously, I must say, quite a gap in the tale there..”
“Well it’s your book, so it’s your gap,” Godfrey retorted, reverting back to his old self.
“Then what were you doing in it, putting my characters in jail?” Liz snapped back. “Go and get that bail paid so they can go to Australia. Otherwise you’re going to muck up another book.”
“I thought you said we were going to Australia, April? This doesn’t look like Australia to me,” she said casting a despondent eye around the dismal cell. “Why do they always paint them grey?”
“To make you suffer. You’re not supposed to enjoy it.”
“Barbaric,” sniffed June. “And inefficient. I refuse to be rehabilitated unless they improve the accommodation.”
“Fat chance of that” April snorted. “We’ll be sewing mailbags or being a guinea pig for the latest bolonavirus vaccine.”
“What? No art classes and gym and choice of menu?” June was aghast. “You had better get us out of here! That latest scam was all your idea, anyway.”
“Actually, no, it wasn’t. It was that guy, what was his name? Godfrey? The one that comes to see Mr August sometimes. I was in the elevator with him one day and right out of the blue, I mean, I don’t know him personally, but he planted all these crazy ideas in my head telling me about how fool proof this credit card trick was…”
“He can pay the bail money then.”
“Now there’s an idea.”JibParticipant
With her pink glove on and her lips apart, Liz passed her finger on the bookshelf. Making the most of the opportunity of Finnley’s excursion outside, Liz had pretexted she wanted to show Roberto how to check for dust. In truth, but she would never confess to it, except to Godfrey after a few drink and some cashew nuts later that day, in truth she had bought a new pink uniform for the gardener/handyman and wanted to see how it fitted him. Of course, she had ordered a few sizes under, so Roberto’s muscles bulged quite nicely under the fabric of the short sleeves, stretching the seam in a dangerously exciting way.
“What’s this book?” asked Roberto.
“What?” asked Liz who had been lost in one of the worst case scenario. Why would Roberto talk about something as undersexying as a book? Nonetheless, without wanting to, her eyes followed the gardener’s sexy arm down to his sexy finger pointing at the book spine and her brain froze on the title: “An Aesthetic of the Night Mare“, by Vanina Vain.
“What’s this book doing among my personal work?” she asked, all sexying forgotten.
“Don’t you remember?” asked Godfrey who happened to pass behind her. “Years ago when you still read your fanmail you answered one from a young girl wanting to follow in your footsteps. You sent her a handwritten copy of Rilke’s letter to a young poet. I wrote it myself and Finnley signed it for you. She’s so good at imitating your signature. Well anyway a few years later that girl finally published her first book and sent you a copy to thank you.”
“Have I read it?” Liz asked.
“You might have. But I’m not sure. It’s quite Gothic. The girl takes advantage of her sleep paralysis at night to do some crazy experiences.”
Liz had no recollection whatsoever of it, but that was not the point.
“Tsk. What’s it doing among my personal work bookshelves? Don’t we have somewhere else to put that kind of…”
“The trash you mean?” asked Finnley.
“Oh! You’re back”, said Liz.
“Tsk, tsk. Such disappointment in your voice. But I’m never far away, and luckily for some”, she added with a look at Roberto who was trying to stretch the sleeve without breaking the seam.
“You know, I wasn’t initially fond of this idea, Godfrey” Elizabeth said, while looking at Roberto doing the dishes. A bit unusual of her to spend time in the kitchen, probably her least favourite room in the house, but she was keen to revise her judgment as the view was never as entertaining.
Godfrey was finishing a goblet full of cashews while leafing through the “Plot like it’s hot” new book from the publishing house that Bronkel had sent autographed and dedicated to Liz “without whom this book may have never seen the light of day”.
“Godfrey, are you listening to me? You can’t be distracted when I talk to you, I may say something important, and don’t count on me to remember it afterwards. Besides, what’s with the cashews anyway?”
“Oh, I read they’re good natural anti-depressant… Anyway, you were saying?”
“You see, like I just said, you made me lose my stream of thought! And no… the view is for nothing in that.” She winked at Roberto who was blissfully unaware of the attention. “Yes! I was saying. About that idea to write Finnley in the new novel. Completely rash, if you’ve had asked before. But now I see the benefit. At least some of it.”
“Why are you never paying attention?”
“No, no, I heard you. But I never… wait a minute.” The pushy ghostwriting ghostediting, and most probably ghostcleaning maid (though never actually seen a proof of that last one) had surely taken some new brazen initiative. Well, at least Liz wasn’t taking it too badly. There maybe even was a good possibility she was trying hard to stay on continuity track about it. Godfrey continued “Benefit, you said?”
“Yes, don’t make me repeat myself, I’ll sound like a daft old person if ever a biopic is made of me, which by the way according to Bronkel is quite a probability. He’s heard it from a screenwriter friend of his, although his speciality is on more racy things, but don’t get me carried away. The benefit you see, and I’ve been reading Bronkel’s stupid book, yes. The benefit is… it moves the plot forward, with ‘but therefore’ instead of ‘and then’. It adds a bit of spice, if you get what I mean. Adds beats into the story. Might be useful for my next whydunit.”
Godfrey was finding her indeed lingering a tad too obviously on the ‘but‘ and their beats, but abstained from saying anything, and nodded silently, his mouth full of the last of the cashews.
Liz pursed her lips “Well, all this literature theory is a great deal of nonsense, you know my stance on it; I made my success without a shred of it…”
“Maybe you’re a natural” Godfrey ventured.
“Maybe… but then, they’ve got some points, although none as profound as Lemone’s. His last one got me pondering: finckleways is not a way in, delete it or it’ll get you locked out; only flove exists now. “
Finnley had a feeling that May down in the kitchen knew something about the baby girl imposter. On impulse, she pushed her cleaning cart over to the service lift. Luckily the baby was still sleeping soundly.
May was in the lavatory, a young woman informed Finnley as she entered the kitchen.
The familiar voice roused the baby, whose cry was at once recognized by her mother. Fanella knocked her chair over a she dived into the pile of dusters and seized the child. “My baby!” she cried.
“Thank god for that,” said Finnley under her breath.
“I have nothing against outrageous clothes,” Liz said, feeling the unspoken murmurs of “we noticed” from the others. She smoothed down the voluminous pink satin of her floor length gown, batting her false eyelashes. “Life is one long fancy dress party, and one should dress accordingly. Today I am Barbara Tartland,” Liz flashed her long pink nails. “Otherwise known as the Pink Thing.”
Godfrey replied with some alarm, “You’re not planning on writing soppy romances are you, all with identical plots and predictable characters?”
“That’s because the characters are trying to commit suicide,” said Finnley.
“Nobody else can see him, Liz. Or her. Whatever.”
“Trebuchet. Nobody else can see it. I’ve asked Godfrey. I’ve asked Roberto. I asked all your ex-husbands. I even skyped that maid we sent packing in a suitcase—she’s fine by the way—and she said she had a doubt too.”
“Those fools! What would they know!”
“I’m many things but I’m no fool!” said Godfrey emerging from behind the curtains.
“Why on earth are you wearing a pith helmet, Godfrey?”
Godfrey beamed. “Glad you noticed. What do you think? Alessandro told me it was all the rage.”
“I’m very uncomfortable with fashion, Godfrey. As you well know. One of the reasons I hired you was for your obvious lack of any fashion sense. And as for you, Finnley, if you don’t exchange those wide-legged pants for something less à la mode, I will have to re-instate a uniform.”
Finding the baby makes me believe there might be a god after all.
The maid was playing it cool but I could tell she’d been quaking in her beaded slippers. The baby was not so happy to be found, screaming fit to bust.
I have to shout over the racket. “Where can I find Mr August?”
She looks down her long nose at me. “Mr August does not see you without an appointment.”
You would think that, seeing as I had found the baby and all, she could be a little more accommodating. I resist an urge to grab the brat from her and chuck it out on the street again. I console myself with the thought that, if I get the job, I am going to be Miss Fancy-Slipper’s boss, so it’s no wonder she’s a little frosty.
What am I saying? If?
Acutally, I’m feeling pretty confident. I’m wearing my lucky knickers and I’ve got enough faked references to fill a suitcase. You could say I am oozing confidence. I probably need to tone it down a notch; that’s one thing I learned at my last job working for a crazy romance writer with delusions of grandeur: People don’t like competition.
And I’m competition.
“Thanks,” I say when she finally deigns to point me in the right direction. “Oh, and I think you’ll find his nappies need changing.”
There’s no two ways about it: I’ve let myself go. There’s never any excuse for that, even if you are turning one hundred. I’ve always tried to impress this on Dodo, but will she listen? That hair of hers! God knows what’s hiding in it. And those nasty dungarees she likes so much; they’d stand on their own if she ever got out of them.
Not that I am one for fashion, mind. Last thing I bought was a few decades ago. Some striped pants that one of the twins helped me buy on the internet, on the line, as they say. The legs were that wide I was scared some critter might crawl up to my privates. Don’t want that going on at my age! When Bert said he had a pair like it once, well, that was the last straw.
One hundred! Wonder if I’ll get one of those letters from the King. That’s about all the monarchy are good for now. After that debacle back in the 20’s, thought they’d do away with them. But old big ears is hanging in there; reckon he must be nearing his hundredth soon.
Anyway, the mirror doesn’t lie and what it’s telling me ain’t so fancy. My hair looks like something the moths have had a chew at and I’ve put on that much flab the only thing will fit me is a potato sack. And now Prune’s planning some big birthday bash…I’ve got my work cut out! She thinks I don’t know but there’s not much gets by me. If people think you’ve lost your marbles, they’ll say all sorts in front of you. And since those magic pills the aboriginal fellow gave me, my marbles are all back where they should be, thank you very much! Now I just need some pills for my boobs.
I don’t know how I restrained myself from throttling Finly when she finally handed me the letter from Corrie. A whole week she’d had it, and wouldn’t share it until she’d cleaned every last window. Some peoples priorities, I ask you! The funny thing was that even when I had it in my hand I didn’t open it right away. Even with Mater and Bert breathing down my neck.
It was something to savour, the feeling of having an unopened letter in ones hand. Not that this looked like the letters we used to get years ago, all crisp and slim on white paper, addressed in fine blue ink. This was a bundle tied with a bit of wool pulled out of an old jumper by the look of it, all squiggly, holding together several layers of yellowed thin cardboard and written on with a beetroot colour dye and a makeshift brush by the look of it. The kind of thing that used to be considered natural and artistic, long ago, when such things were the fashion. I suppose the fashion now, in such places where fashion still exists, is for retro plastic. They said plastic litter wouldn’t decompose for hundreds of years, how wrong they were! I’d give my right arm now for a cupboard full of tupperware with lids. Or even without lids. Plastic bottles and shopping bags ~ when I think back to how we used to hate them, and they’re like gold now. Better than gold, nobody has any interest in gold nowadays, but people would sell their soul for a plastic bucket.
I waited until the sun was going down, and sat on the porch with the golden rays of the lowering sun slanting across the yard. I clasped the bundle to my heart and squinted into the sun and sighed with joyful anticipation.
“For the love of god, will you get on with it!” said Bert, rudely interrupting the moment.
Gently I pulled the faded red woolen string, and stopped for a moment, imaging the old cardigan that it might have been.
I didn’t have to look at Mater to know what the expression on her face was, but I wasn’t going to be rushed. The string fell into my lap and I turned the first piece of card over.
There was a washed out picture of a rooster on it and a big fancy K.
“Cornflakes!” I started to weep. “Look, cornflakes!”
“You always hated cornflakes,” Mater said, missing the point as usual. “You never liked packet cereal.”
The look I gave her was withering, although she didn’t seem to wither, not one bit.
“I used to like rice krispies,” Bert said.
By the time we’d finished discussing cereal, the sun had gone down and it was too dark to read the letter.
Bert tells me it’s Christmas day today. Christmas! I just looked at him blankly when he told me, trying to bring to mind what it used to be like. I can’t remember the last time Christmas was normal. Probably around fifteen years ago, just before the six years of fires started. It’s a wonder we survived, but we did. Even Mater. God knows how old she is now, maybe Bert knows. He’s the one trying to keep track of the passing of time. I don’t know what for, he’s well past his sell by date, but seems to cling on no matter what, like Mater. And me I suppose.
We lost contact with the outside world over ten years ago (so Bert tells me, I wouldn’t know how long it was). It was all very strange at first but it’s amazing what you can get used to. Once you get over expecting it to go back to normal, that is. It took us a long time to give up on the idea of going back to normal. But once you do, it changes your perspective.
But don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all bad. We haven’t heard anything of the twins, not for a good ten years or more (you’d have to ask Bert how long) but I hear their voices in my head sometimes, and dream of them. In my dreams they’re always on the water, on a big flat raft boat. I love it when I dream of them and see all that water. Don’t ask me how, but I know they’re alright.
Anyway like I said, it hasn’t been all bad. Vulture meat is pretty tasty if you cook it well. The vultures did alright with it all, the sky was black with them at times, right after the droughts and the fires. But we don’t eat much these days, funny how you get used to that, too. We grow mushrooms down in the old mines (Bert’s idea, I don’t know what we’d do without him). And when the rains came, they were plentiful. More rain than we’d ever seen here.
Prune’s been back to see us once (you’d have to ask Bert when it was). She was on some kind of land sailing contraption, no good asking me what was powering the thing, there’s been no normal fuel for a good long time, none that’s come our way. Any time anyone comes (which is seldom) they come on camels or horses. One young family came passing through on a cart pulled by a cow once. But Prune came wafting in on some clever thing I’d never seen the likes of before. She didn’t stay long, she was going back to China, she said. It was all very different there, she said. Not all back to the dark ages like here, that’s what she said. But then, we were here in the first place because we liked a quiet simple life. Weren’t we? Hard to remember.
As it happens…
POP-IN THREAD (Maeve, Lucinda, Shawn-Paul, Jerk, [Granola])
In Canada, Lucinda has enrolled in a creative fiction course, and is doing progress… of sorts.
Granola managed to escape the red crystal she was trapped in, after it cracked enough due to the pull of her friends’ memories.
FLYING FISH INN THREAD (Mater/Finly, Idle/Coriander/Clove, Devan, Prune, [Tiku])
The Inn is back to its normal routine, after the bout of flu & collective black-out.
The others, we don’t know.
DOLINE THREAD (Arona, Sanso/Lottie, Ugo, Albie)
NEWSREEL THREAD (Ms Bossy, Hilda/Connie, Sophie, Ricardo)
LIZ THREAD (Finnley, Liz, Roberto, Godfrey)
There’s always something happening. Listing it is not the problem, but keeping track is.
DRAGONHEARTWOOD THREAD (Glynnis, Eleri, Fox/Gorrash, Rukshan)
Cackletown & the reSurgence (Bea, Ed Steam & Surge team, etc.)
Ed is back to the Cackletown dimension after some reconnaissance job on the whole dolls story interference. Might have spooked Maeve a little, but given the lack of anything surgey, have sort of closed this case and gone back to HQ.
We finally figured out what was wrong with everyone, making us all lounge around for weeks on end, or maybe it was months, god knows it went on for a lot longer than our usual bored listless spells. Barely a word passed anyone’s lips for days at a time, and not a great deal of food either. None of us had the will to cook after awhile, and when the hunger pangs roused us, we’d shuffle into the kitchen and shovel down whatever was at hand. A wedge of raw cabbage, or a few spoonfuls of flour, once all the packets of biscuits and crisps had gone, and the pies out of the freezer.
Finley seemed to cope better than anyone, although not up to her usual standard. But she managed to feed the animals and water the tomatoes occasionally, and was good at suggesting improvisations, when the toilet paper ran out for example. The lethargy and slow wittedness of us all was probably remarkable, but we were far too disinterested in everything to notice at the time.
To be honest, it would all be a blank if I hadn’t found that my portable telephone contraption had been taking videos randomly throughout the tedious weeks. It was unsettling to say the least, looking at those, I can tell you.
It started to ease off, slowly: I’d suddenly find myself throwing the ball for the dog, picking up the camera because something caught my eye, I even had a shower one day. I noticed the others now and then seemed to take an interest in something, briefly. We all needed to lie down for a few hours to recover, but we’re all back to normal now. Well I say normal.
Finly looked at some news one day, and it wasn’t just us that had the Etruscan flu, it had been a pandemic. There had hardly been any news for months because nobody could be bothered to do it, and anyway, nothing had happened anywhere. Everyone all over the world was just lounging around, not saying anything and barely eating, not showering, not doing laundry, not traveling anywhere.
And you know what the funny thing is? It’s like a garden of Eden out there now, air quality clean as a whistle, the right weather in all the right places, it’s like a miracle.
And everyone’s slowed down, I mean speeded up since the flu, but slower than before, less frantic. Just sitting on the porch breathing the lovely air and thinking what a fine day it is.
One good thing is that we’re taking showers regularly again.
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