Landscapes Remembered – A Short Story By Mary Mageau

Mary Mageau, one of our most productive contributors has ventured into a completely new area in the following story – she has tried the paranormal for the first time, and if this story is anything to go by, then she has found one of her many strengths – Read on and you shall see.

Landscapes Remembered

Last night I dreamed again of Coleraine.

In my waking memory its image is fleeting, but I still recall a sign near the long driveway, displaying its name. Set in acres of open range with its blazing floral gardens, and the elegant homestead with sweeping verandas on three sides – what could the dream signify? It has aroused such an aching within me I’d better talk to Geoff about it at breakfast.

My partner is a successful vet who specializes in large animal diseases. Geoff travels the length and breadth of the countryside, helping station owners and breeders with their livestock problems. Occasionally when I’m free I join him on these trips. We both love the Australian outback—so vast and empty—such intense colours—The Dry Lands.

‘Geoff, I had a strange dream again about a place called Coleraine. I looked up the name on a search engine and found that Coleraine is a large town in the Irish county of Londonderry. In Gaelic, its name means, nook of the ferns. There is a town by that same name on the Glenelg Highway in Victoria and another in Itaska County in Minnesota. But none of these places seem to fit into my dream.’

‘Gwen, what a coincidence! I was just going to tell you that I’m leaving again tomorrow morning, to visit a remote station. Can you come along with me?’ Geoff had that open, hopeful look on his face I loved so much. ‘I’d really appreciate your company as we’ll be away for several days. And by the way, the place we’ll be visiting is called, Coleraine.’ I could barely contain my excitement as I replied, ‘Absolutely, I’ll join you. I have a deadline to meet on a piece of writing, but I’ll bring along my laptop and work on it at the station. Oh Geoff, this might be the place I dreamed about.’

We packed that evening and found ourselves on the road just before sunrise. On the second morning Geoff remarked, ‘Our destination isn’t that far away now. We should reach the outside gate of Coleraine in a few more minutes.’ I squeezed his hand with excitement.

No sign marked its dusty road. We followed an endless track until I experienced a hint of recognition as we passed a windmill. Excitedly I cried out, ‘Geoff, after this hill crests, you should catch your first glimpse of the house. It’s very large and elegant. There is a circular drive filled with flowers near the front door. In its centre is a fountain set in a small reflecting pool.’

But as we reached the hill top, only the run-down shell of an old house appeared below. It was unpainted and the large verandas had been removed. Neither a flower nor a fountain was in sight. The working sheds scattered behind it were all in the same state of disrepair. I was in shocked disbelief as we reached a dusty circular drive and pulled up near the front entrance. The entire homestead looked dilapidated and uncared for. What could have happened here to change things so drastically?

‘Gwen, I’m sorry to disappoint you but this can’t be the house you saw in your dream. It may have been splendid long ago but it’s recently seen some hard times. Let’s get out and find the station owners. Don’t fret, sweetie – we’ll still have an enjoyable time here.’

As we walked toward the entrance a woman’s voice called out, ‘Welcome to Coleraine! I’m Mary O’Neil. Bill and I have been looking forward to your visit.’ A tall raw-boned woman appeared, held out her arms and gave us each a big hug. I warmed to her immediately. ‘You’ve been on the road a long time and I’ve got the jug boiling. Come on in for some morning tea and let’s get acquainted.’

When we entered the kitchen a strong, burly cattleman put out his hand. ‘Gwen and Geoff is it? I’m Bill, and you are both welcome.’ As we tucked into Mary’s country-style cooking he shared their story. ‘Two years ago this property came on the market and it was in our price range so we grabbed it. The house isn’t much to look at but there are acres of prime grazing land. Mary and I run several hundred head of cattle here on agistment.’

Mary added, ‘Thomas Hanlon built the original house in 1882 for his wife Marie, and their five daughters. It must have been grand in its glory days. Everyone regarded it as the showplace of the district.’

‘And what happened to the house since then, Mary?’ I asked.

‘After the fire of 1895, the back of the house and most of the verandas had gone. Two of the Hanlon daughters perished in the flames. The rest of the house was saved but the family was so destroyed by it all, they just upped stakes and walked away.’

‘Finish your tea, Geoff, then we’ll saddle up.’ Bill rose from the table. ‘One or two of my steers aren’t doing so well and I need the advice of a vet.’

‘Let’s have a look at them.’ Geoff left the table, took out his medical bag, and the men departed. Mary and I cleared the table and washed up. “What do you plan to do with yourself, Gwen, while I carry on in the yard?’

‘I brought my laptop together with some work. Can you set me up at a table next to a power point, Mary? I’m finishing a piece of writing that’s due next week.’ As soon as I had settled down Mary moved outside to weed her vegetable garden.

*

Time flew by until I heard the clock chime three. Geoff and Bill had returned. The first scent of a baked dinner wafted through the rooms. We all met in the dining room for afternoon tea, and Mary’s buttermilk cake covered with rich chocolate icing.

‘Geoff is a good vet, Mary, and he put my mind to rest. The cattle will be fine and some antibiotics will fix up the steers that worried me,’ Bill explained. ‘Now we can all relax.’

‘We eat just before sundown,’ Mary told us. ‘Bill and I turn in early because we get up with the chooks. After your long drive you might enjoy a quiet evening too. And we also found something I know you will both enjoy looking at.’ Mary passed a ragged cardboard folder toward us. ‘Not long ago Bill found this, covered with dust, on the shelf in a back shed. When we opened it, we discovered several pictures that probably belonged to the original Hanlon family. In a few days the Charleville Historical Society is coming to collect them, but before they go you’ll both find these old photos interesting.’

As Mary removed three sepia-tinted photographs my hands suddenly began to shake. Why did I feel a sudden sense of apprehension? Bill passed the first picture across the table to us.

‘Look at this family all gathered in the parlour. Thomas Hanlon and Marie are seated in the centre. She’s such an elegant woman in her lace trimmed dress and pearl necklace. Standing behind them in a semicircle are their five daughters. They were such beautiful girls.’

Suddenly Geoff exclaimed, ‘Gwen, look at this daughter, the third from the left. She is the exact image of you.’

‘Why she could be your twin, Gwen!’ Mary called out in amazement. I looked carefully at her and had to agree that our likeness was uncanny.

‘If you rolled your hair back and pinned it away from your face you could be this young woman.’ Bill remarked.


Mary added, ‘Turn the picture over, Bill, as there are names written on the back. The date, 1890, is inscribed on the front of the photograph so this picture was taken before the fire. There is a list of names on the back, written in a darker ink. Most likely these were added later. Read aloud what it says, Bill.’

‘The names start at the left and move across. Emma, Fanny, after her name it says RIP, Georgina, also RIP, Edith and Margaret. It seems that Fanny and your look-alike, Georgina, must have both died in the fire,’ Bill nodded toward me. ‘On the next line it identifies Thomas Hanlon and Marie Hanlon.’

Mary took up the next picture, a smaller photograph in a slim oval frame. It featured a young man dressed in full military uniform, mounted on a horse. Mary read from the back, ‘Lieutenant Patrick O’Neil. Isn’t he handsome!’

‘We’ve kept the best for last.’ Bill held up a large photograph of Coleraine, taken from the road in front of the house. I cried aloud as there it was—the elegant white house behind a floral bed. In the centre of the circular driveway was a two tiered fountain.

‘Geoff! That’s the house I saw in my dream. It’s Coleraine, exactly as I dreamed it.’ Then for no reason I burst into tears as Geoff came to my chair and put his arms around me.

‘It was only a dream of something that happened long ago. Let it go, Gwen. What is really important is that you and I are here with Mary and Bill, these two wonderful people. Thanks to you both for sharing your pictures with us. Perhaps the time has come to close the folder now and put it away.’

My composure returned and sometime later, we enjoyed a delicious dinner over a bottle of red wine we had brought along. We all had a good laugh over Bill’s tales of his early days as a cattle drover. After the table was cleared and the dishes washed, Bill and Mary excused themselves. ‘Breakfast is on at 6:00 tomorrow morning. We’ll see you in the dining room.’

The night was so peaceful we decided to step outside to admire the sweep of stars spread above us in the shining heavens. The Milky Way traced its meandering ribbon of white through the darkness, as far as the eye could see. All this beauty took our breath away. It was a perfect end to the day.

I never dreamed of Coleraine again: not the station surrounded by acres of open range, with its dilapidated old house and dry, dusty roadway, or the beautiful white timber home with its floral gardens and gracious fountain. Yet I know that in the distant corridors of time past, many years ago I lived in Coleraine. It had once been my home.

Mary Mageau © 2018

The Theft of the Caledonia – 1831 Moreton Bay Penal Colony – By Richard Carroll

This is not the Caledonia, but it is a schooner drawn in 1831, so it gives a good idea of the boat in this account.

The news that convicts had seized a schooner and escaped swept through the settlement to reach convict Sean Kelly’s ears in the hospital where Dr Cowper had come to treat the Irishman’s freshly-flogged back.

Fellow inmates had informed Sean that Commandant Clunie was a strict disciplinarian albeit not to the point of Logan, and circumstances had improved since he had assumed command. Sean certainly hoped so; a shiver ran up his spine as an image of the previous commandant lying bloodied by a creek flared involuntarily before his eyes.

The doctor broke into Sean’s musings, hovering over the bed. His breath, stinking of rum and tobacco, washed over his patient in a foul tide. Sean wrinkled his nose and turned his head.

“Doubtless you are yet to hear the latest news, Kelly,” Cowper slurred, swaying on his feet. “Eleven prisoners have stolen the schooner Caledonia, right from under Clunie’s nose!” he howled like a dingo, slapping his knee gleefully, tears coursing down his cheeks.

The Caledonia had traveled north to salvage the ship America, which had foundered on a reef at Loo Island in proximity to the Tropic of Capricorn while on a voyage from Hobart Town to Batavia. The schooner had called in at the Bay to recover one of the America’s boats and the commandant had gone to check the veracity of the request.

“Clunie went over to Stradbroke Island where the schooner was anchored off Amity Point,” continued Cowper on recovering. “When he landed it was too late to visit the boat and besides, the pilot and two of the three island soldiers were drunk as lords. Oh, I must say, it is so hilarious. During the night the boat from the America arrived carrying a greater contingent of convicts than usual to row because of unfavourable winds. Figure you that in the middle of the night they dug a hole under the wall of the hut, rowed out, oars muffled, to the schooner in the pilot’s boat and overwhelmed her crew. The Caledonia set sail, sending the crew ashore in the pilot’s boat before the commandant awoke. The thieves retained the schooner’s master as none of the escapees could navigate, although two were mariners. You cannot imagine the state of apoplectic agitation of our poor commandant. From right under his nose, no less,” he repeated, taking a swig of rum from his flask. He danced a quick jig, almost falling on Sean.

“You have to admire the audacity of it, to be sure,” Sean commented.

Sean learnt the full story some months later. As had happened with Walter Scott, Dr Cowper had taken a shine to the learned, spirited Irishman and they had become friends.

“You would not credit it, Sean,” the doctor began one day, still sober at this early juncture. “Word has come that Browning, the Caledonia’s captain, has survived and landed in Sydney. He caused quite a stir as everyone believed him dead for certain. He says the pirates forced him to sail them to Savi in the Navigation Islands in the Pacific where they hoped to stow away on one of the American whalers that regularly call into the island for stores and water.”

“A solid plan, to be sure” Sean agreed, barely showing interest, his spirit floating like a ship on a breeze-less ocean. What did he care about the antics of his prison-mates?

“Yes indeed. They weren’t long at sea, according to Browning, when the trouble began and six convicts attacked the other five, supposedly settling old scores from Moreton Bay. At any rate they shot one and threw his body into the sea then gave the others a choice: jump overboard or be shot. Hardly a choice. Ha. One man pleaded piteously for his life: they shot him anyway. Unfortunately, they only managed to blow off a couple of fingers and scorch his skull. So they picked him up and threw him over the side. The poor creature grabbed a rope and hung suspended in mid-air, dangling above the waves. The killers produced a knife and cut the rope.”

“Jaesus, Joseph and Mary.”

“They went ashore in New Caledonia to fill their water barrels and had to fire muskets at a large group of hostile natives to keep them at bay. When they quit the island, the killers left behind another man, who the natives presumably ate. They sailed on past the New Hebrides to the Navigation Islands where they set about scuttling the Caledonia. The absconders were about to dispatch Browning along with his vessel when natives unexpectedly boarded the schooner and escorted them to the island’s chief. This good man took to the captain straight away and declared him to be under his personal protection, while the bolters said they were ship-wrecked sailors. Browning was eventually rescued when the English whaler Oldham stopped at the island.”

“Well, well. Talk about the luck of the Irish, even if the gentleman is not from the Emerald Isle. What has become of the runners?”

“Somehow Browning got aboard the Oldham and told the captain of his experience. The boat’s crew caught a convict named Evans and brought him aboard the whaler in irons. The natives sheltered the three remaining felons, refusing to give them up. As the Oldham put to sea Evans escaped by jumping over the side, surely to drown as a furious tide was running. The Oldham fell in with the American whaler Milo bound for Sydney so Browning changed vessels and came home. What do you think of that, my friend?”

“I cannot say I applaud the murders which are a matter of course between some of the brutes imprisoned here. However, I do salute the fact of their escape as would most in this place. And I am most happy that the enterprising Captain Browning did not become a further victim.”

“Ha. I guessed as much coming from such an accomplished escapee as yourself.” Cowper shook his head. “Incorrigible Irish nincompoop.”

Copyright: Richard Carroll.

Flying Blind – Mary Mageau

‘This has been an absolute bugger of a weekend! Thirty-six hours without sleep, two days of tough negotiations and still no contract. Then I stupidly dropped my glasses down a flight of concrete stairs. When I collected them at the bottom, the frame was hopelessly bent and one lens was smashed. So here I am now—stumbling around—only able to see a metre in front of my face. Well at least I can go home and catch up on some sleep,’ Peter muttered aloud.

Peter Bolcombe made his way to the airport departure desk, squinting as his suitcase moved safely through the check-out. Next he secured his boarding pass in his back pocket. Now his biggest problem was finding the correct departure gate; not a simple task when you can’t see very well. He walked for a long time trying in vain to find his way. ‘I’ve come too far or maybe taken a wrong turn. Better ask someone for help,’ Peter whispered to himself. Just then a small motorized travel buggy swerved out of his path.

‘Hey there, I almost hit you,’ called out an unfamiliar voice. ‘Watch out where you’re going!’

‘Sorry!’ Peter called back. ‘I’m travelling to Oakland, but I’m nearly blind and I think I’m lost.’

‘You’re in the wrong terminal, mate,’ the driver answered. ‘You want the building beyond this one. I’m going that way so get in. I’ll drive you down there.’

Peter breathed a sigh of relief, but the driver sounded worried as he said, ‘I think your plane may have left. Let me call in and see if we can still make it.’ After a short, excited conversation he turned to Peter.

‘Buddy, you’re in luck. The plane was ready to go but they are holding it for you. I told them you were cleared for take-off and you are partially blind. They’ll have a wheelchair at the ready. As soon as you get aboard you’ll be off and in the air.’

‘Am I glad I met you,’ Peter answered. ‘Thanks so much for this.’

‘Not a problem. Take care and have a good trip.’

Moments later Peter was wheeled into a huge plane, then nearly exhausted with fatigue he was strapped into his seat. His relief was so great he immediately began to relax, to doze and suddenly he dropped blissfully into the arms of Morpheus―deeply, totally, and soundly asleep.

When Peter awoke everything seemed very strange. The entire plane was in darkness. All the passengers were wrapped in blankets, sound asleep. His Oakland flight should have taken only a few hours, but here on board it appeared to be very late at night. He caught sight of a stewardess and waved her over to him.

‘I’m confused, Miss,’ he whispered. ‘Where are we?’

‘We’ve just passed over the Fiji Islands and our pilot has changed now to his southerly flight pattern,’ she replied. ‘You’ve been sleeping soundly for nine hours. You were almost unconscious. We couldn’t even wake you to check your boarding pass or to serve your dinner.’

‘Miss, I think I’ve boarded the wrong plane. I was travelling to my home in Oakland, California.’

‘Oh Mr. Bolcombe, I don’t know how to tell you this, but the plane we’re travelling on is heading for Auckland, New Zealand. We’ll be arriving there in another four hours.’

Peter spent the next few minutes in a complete daze. First he moved into denial and then a deep and terrible shock set in. Stunned and shaking he said aloud to himself, ‘Here I am now, halfway around the world without my glasses, a ticket, my luggage or a passport. This has been an absolute bugger of a weekend!’

© Mary Mageau

JANUS God Of Beginnings And Endings. Julie Martin

 

JANUS    God of Beginnings and endings.

Julie Martin

She turned her son’s eyes from the carnage in the village, away from the blood, the mutilation, the death of her parents-in-law. She put her hands over his ears so he would not hear the screams. She hunkered down over his tiny body and waited for the men in thick hard hats to go away, taking their guns with them. She waited in silence hidden in the thatch of her husband’s family home with her tiny son. She prayed. In her belly the movement of another child heralded what? What would, could a new life bring now?

“I’ve got to do a project about the country I came from. Can you help me find the information?” the boy said.

The librarian smiled. “Of course. Tell me what you want to know. What do you want to find out?”

Everything. I know nothing about…”

Teacher and boy located books that might help after searching the catalogue. They piled the books on a table and set to work.

The boy’s elder brother flipped through some of the books in the pile, eyes squinted, stopping occasionally to trace shapes of a barely remembered home with his fingers. One of the books fell open at a picture of soldiers, heavily armed, patrolling a village. 

“They’re the enemy,” he said. He slammed the book shut, threw it on the floor and ran.

His younger boy was perplexed, needing to know what upset his brother, needing to follow to find out. He bowed slightly to the woman helping him.

“Thank you for helping me. Can I come again tomorrow? the younger child said. “I must go now. I need to stay with my brother.”

Night fell. Silence deeper than the bloodied water well almost drowned her. The boy was asleep, safe in the thatch. She must attend to the dead. Proper burial was not possible. A woman alone could not do it. She moved each body into its sun position and propped its mouth open. In each mouth she placed a small grain offering, pushed to the back so it could not be seen. She sang as she worked, hoping the dead would understand the lack of band and custom. At the end she ate a small funeral feast. She prayed. She could not cover the faces. She could not build the mounds. Tomorrow the soldiers would return. The carnage must look untouched. She must not be there.

As the first morning-birds called to the coming light, the woman picked up her child and as much money as she dared to carry then moved toward the river. By day she hid in the reeds. By night she moved towards the sea. That is what her husband said to do if the unthinkable happened.

Often she saw soldiers but they did not see her. Her boy suckled the need for quiet into himself. She worried whether she was giving him enough to sustain him. He was a big boy now for her breast. For three weeks she slipped through the life of her country, invisible but aided. Her second son was born in the Delta in a fisherman’s hut. At his birth she thought of his father, a helicopter pilot for the army of the soldiers who had killed her parents-in-law, her village. She would get a letter to him somehow.

“What do you know about the Ngo family? Do you know their story?” The librarian asked the principal.

“Not much. Boat people. Father is very keen for the boys to succeed. He was a helicopter pilot for the American army. Mother has no English. Any particular reason you want to know?”

“Not really. Just interested.” The librarian did not want to generate gossip. Too many of her fellows distrusted the sudden acceptance of Asian refugees, boat people, after so many years of the White Australia policy. A dark chuckle escaped her lips. Heavens only knows what they’d do if they knew her grandmother was a descendant of the original boat people who came to this land 60000 years ago. White Australia had affected her family too. Why couldn’t everybody see that the country was filled with boat people. They just came at different times.

On New Year’s Eve 1975, the woman paid her money to ride in a leaky fishing boat to a new land where innocent people were not shot because they were suspected of hiding the enemy. The fire works of Tet lit the sky as the boat moved away from the shore. New Year, Tet, a time of forgiveness and peace—a new beginning. The woman thought of her husband. She hoped her letter would find him. The fisherman promised he would give it to an American friend.

Storms came, and pirates. She was glad she was not pretty for the pirates often took the pretty women. She hid her precious gold coins in her baby’s nappy. Poo was a good deterrent to searching.

In the new country, she and her son stayed in a camp, stark, unlovely, safe. There she had word from her husband. Her letter helped him trace her. She had given him the number of the leaky boat—KG4435. He found her and her children in Darwin. There were no guns. There were no soldiers. A big plane flew the little family to Brisbane. There was a clean house with a green door to a new life, bought with Mr Ngo’s savings from his old job.

The librarian saw Mr and Mrs Ngo come to pick up their children. She called, “Mr Ngo, may I speak with you?”

She knew she could not address the woman. She lowered her eyes as she approached the man. It was strange that this honouring custom existed in his culture and that of her grandmother who was an original Australian.

She told him of his eldest son’s reaction to the picture of the soldiers.

“My wife thought he was too young to understand what happened to my parents. We have never talked of it with the children so it must be in his memory. How can he carry this weight, this hate?”

He talked to his wife.

“My wife says to thank you for telling us. She says we must talk the truth to the boys about our country. They must know killing is wrong but suffering can be overcome. They must know how to overcome suffering. We must follow the teachings of Buddha.

These teachings are important here too,” the teacher said, though Buddha is not our guide. These teachings are deep in my grandmother’s culture from the time of the Dreaming, part of my father’s culture since a man died cruelly so that people would treat others as they, themselves, would wish to be treated. A picture in a book, a memory, cannot control our lives.

She looked out at two boys, one dark and one blond, racing down the path, filled with the joy of friendship.The blond child was her son. She smiled. A third boy tagged after, carefully carrying a project on his birth country, marked with an A+ and a giant gold star.

Fourteen years passed. Two families sat side by side in a huge university hall to watch their oldest sons graduate as doctors. They watched as their sons turned to a new friend, another who had come by boat, another who believed in truth and the evil of killing, another who knew suffering could be overcome. The  three young men flung their arms around each others’ shoulders as mates do and walked with pride towards the waiting families.

Snippet’s Christmas – Julie Martin

Snippet’s Christmas

Bloody hell! Look what’s comin’ up the drive…the Richardsons, with eleven bloody kids. I’m outa here. Not stayin’ on the veranda with that lot round for pats or bones. Those kids think a dog’s job is to fetch balls they throw into prickly bushes and the babies have no respect for eyes or mouths. Somebody should tell ‘em I’m a cattle dog. I’ve got a real job. My job is to round up the herd mornin’ and evenin’ and sleep as much as I can…but I don’t mind helpin’ the Missus with the chooks though I can’t nip ‘em. I’m not kid-tainment, but. Kitchen’s the place to go. The Missus often drops bits on the floor. I help her clean it up. That’s another part of my job.

Cripes, the bloody kitchen’s hot. Too hot for a sensitive bloke like me to stay in. And it’s filled with women who won’t shut up. Surely the Missus knows it’s summer and she doesn’t need the range goin’ full bore. Aaah! I know that smell—puddin’, Christmas puddin’. Don’t mind a bit of that, just don’t know what to do with those hard silver bits that the Missus always puts in. Where”ll I go for a bit of a kip? Can’t stay in this furnace. Maybe the cool room if someone’s left the door unlatched.

Perfect spot for the cool room, under the tank. That rain last night filled the tank to the brim so it’s still dripping and the Boss has hung wet sacks around the walls so the under-stand room stays extra chill. Door’s ajar. Can just squeeze in. Will ya look at that…five cockerels all in a row, pinkly plucked, and a monster ham and a hogget and a mountain of sausages. Dog’s paradise! Fella’s hungry too but this tucker’s for the mob not for me. Missus will give me the scrag ends pretty soon. Heaven. Cool resting place and tucker to come.

What’s that bloody noise? Ratty. Get outta here ya mongrel. This ain’t your tucker. How’d ya get in…aaah, the open door. Damn he’s up on the bench, after the sausages, no doubt, cause they’re easy to get at. If I get up on the bench I can get round behind the hogget and get…

People oughta be careful where they shove their boots. Me backsides not the place for footprints and I was only tryin’ to stop the dratted rat. Won’t be able to walk proper for a week and I didn’t even get Ratty. Wonder what he’s eatin’ now. Is he shut in with the cool room feast or shut out?

Fella could starve round here. Feed shed’s the only place to hide from the mob…Richardsons, Adams, Hoppers, McCreaghs, Humes…even people camped in the big shed. Nobody ‘ll camp in the feed shed but, too many bloody mice and snakes. I’ll get Ratty yet.

The Missus is a good woman. She musta figured I was starvin’ cause here’s me dinner and Ratty’s only taken a bit. She’d know I wasn’t after the sausages. At least the feed shed’s a fair distance from the pianny. Maudie’s flat and the pianny ‘s out of tune, but Maudie’s havin’ a fine time beltin’ out Christmas carols. None of the rest of all those visitors can sing either. I can help ‘em out with me special howl, learned it from Mum. She was a dingo.

Cripes that was close. Somebody should tell that bugger with the 22 that it was only me. Don’t think I’ll sing again. Sounds like the Boss is toweling up the shooter, givin’ him what for. The Boss wouldn’t want to lose his best dog.

It’s quiet now. The kids said some joker called Santa Claws was gunna break into the house and leave presents cause they were good. They’d be hopin’, unless their definition of good is different to mine. Sides which I’ll be watchin’. No swaggie’s getting in this house with all these sleepin’ kids. If they woke they’d kill him with kindness, force feed him cake, shove rum down his throat, rummage through his worldly goods until they found what they wanted, specially the Richardsons. Poor fella’d never be the same again.

What’s that? Tap dancing on the roof. Can’t be goats hooves. The Boss doesn’t like goats. Night’s clear. It ain’t hail. Something’s comin’ down the chimney. Any half-way decent cove’d come to the front door and knock. Cripes he’s stuck. He’s calling me. By name. Ya gotta be suspicious of some sweet-talking, red-suited, fat cove stuck in the chimney in the middle of the night. Should I get the Boss?

He wants me to pull his boots, drag him down the chimney like. The Missus wouldn’t be pleased if that chimney black stuff rained out on her carpet. I’ll just sit. Mornin’ will come soon. The Boss will get up and solve the problem.

The whiskery guy’s telling me 4, 826, 377 children in Australia are waiting for their Christmas presents. This was his first stop. That’s a laugh. Why would any household let a strange man slip down their chimney in the middle of the night to leave presents for the kids? Hasn’t he heard of Stranger Danger and how nasty people bribe kids into their cars and…He reckons he’s been slippin’ down chimneys and through keyholes for nearly two thousand years and everyone is pleased he does. I ignore him.

Then he talks about big juicy bones that good dogs get for looking after their houses. Ain’t heard of that but I could go a good bone. I’m definitely interested. 

I sniff his boots a bit to see if he’s telling the truth. Can’t get at his backside so boots will have to do. I can smell bonza bone inside the leather of his left black wellington and it’s not his shin bone. I give his left boot a bit of a pull. Black stuff almost suffocates me. He tells me to keep pulling. I oblige. Suddenly he’s in the lounge room with a sack the size of a mining truck. Lord knows how that got down the flue.

He unpacks enough presents to keep even the Richardsons happy till Boxing Day when, thank heavens, they’ll be going home. Lastly he pulls out a bone bigger than the leg bone of a brontosaurus, just for me. I give his hand a bit of a lick and drag his sack to the chimney. He leans over and tells me that dogs always have it hard at Christmas then he looks up. The Missus and the Boss are standing at the door watching. They call me over and I get the biggest pat before they take me to a new kennel just outside their bedroom door. I look back over my shoulder as I’m going and the man in the red suit sucks all the black soot sprinkled over the Missus’s clean floor up the chimney as he goes. He calls something as he disappears, sounds like Merry Christmas. Not really too interested. I’ve got a bone that will keep me happy for many tomorrows and a hidey place safe from the exuberant Richardsons.


PAST PAST PRESENT FUTURE By Julie Martin

The climb up Cheekha Dar was everyman’s nightmare, rock-boned and blood-gullied—not even an ant could hide there. Its steep, unstable slopes exposed its attackers to unrelenting bombardment from the adherents of Islamic States Alliance embedded on its strategic ridge tops. Body-parts of comrades who’d kicked a footy together or challenged each other to chess a week before, made the ascent even more difficult. ISA had gone viral, so out of control that even the mighty world government that replaced the UN, had no hope of creating peace. Random explosions of violence cowed the world, wrapping it in mistrust and fear. The ISA spiritual leader had to be somewhere. Tradition said that somewhere was nearby. The predictions of Revelations and Nostradamus were being delivered, as promised, but small men fought on, driven by idealism, conscription and lack of choice, trying to stop the end of the world.

Adam had faced these horrors a thousand times here before, yet this was his first time. Behind him, in front of him were the shadows of others who’d believed a leader’s call, followed an adventurer’s dream, felt an allegiance to an idealfreedom, safety for loved ones. In the end war was only about power and money for an elite few—power and money that would never belong to the poor bugger who struggled up the hill, laden down with a nation’s expectations, a mother’s hope, a lover’s promise and forty bloody kilos of useless junk that was little protection from imminent death.

Afghanistan’s roasting sun sucked the esse from Adam Goodman until all that was left of the boy-man who’d left the sunburnt plains of Collarenebri was a desiccated shell, a life-numbed zombie who could not imagine his sister’s gurgling laughter without quivering in fear, remembering the broken cackle of the young suicide bomber walking into the café as his mates played cards. Behind him a shadow-other passed to him the whimpering of the Vietnamese boy laced with bombs lying in pretended death to blow up the first to touch him. In front a shadow-other gave him the piercing scream of a Turkish child-soldier, high on the romance of Ataturk, who drew his enemy to a barbarous pit of sharpened sticks carefully camouflaged— more brothers in blood gone.

On that treacherous mountain, on his way to certain hell, Adam Goodman became everyman, every soldier who’d heard the call, been dragooned or conscripted into the wars of the megalomaniacs who wanted land, oil, riches, power… He was the serf dragged from the fields of Richard’s England to fight the marauders of the Holy Land, the Roman by the cold fires waiting for Hannibal, the Mongul under Genghis Khan, the farm boy in Gallipoli, the conscript in Vietnam. Their life was his life, their history his history. Their suffering was his suffering.

Adam blundered onan automaton who’d accepted his fate. At the top of the ridge was a hate hole of Taliban ISA, men like himself, thinking they were fighting  for what they believed in. What did they believe in? What did he believe in? What could he believe in? Whatever it was it wasn’t here.

No air cover came. The Lieutenant had asked for it eight hours ago before they’d charged into no-man’s land, up the mountain straight into enemy fire. Adam had never believed it would arrive. Sometimes it was hard to understand the logic of desk-bound strategists. The shadow-other from Gallipoli passed flashes of equally abortive actions framed by men who had little care for soldiers on the front line. They were on their own.

A blasted night came, black ripped by flash white, yellow and red. Screams and the smell of escaping blood—Adam thought of the abattoir near his uncle’s place in Sydney. Men were animals in every sense. Flashes of the carnage in Culloden, the meat-fields of Flanders, the bloody massacres of the Armenians, shared by shadow-otherscountry against country, sect against sect, neighbour against neighbour, and sometimes brother against brother. The horror was the same.

What was there left to believe in?

He was alone with a million sandflies in the middle of no-man’s land. Daylight burned his eye sockets. How did he get separated? His platoon that always stuck together, had moved on. He remembered searing agony. Sand blown rocks about him pocked with spraying bullets, some burying themselves in more than rock, but that wasn’t his problem. The hot rancid breath of death whirled around him. Why were they still shooting? He couldn’t move. He couldn’t get his gun. Where was his gun? Ebon void fell on him like a shaken-out sheet on a lover’s bed.

Quiet at dawn. Deathly quiet. His mates had withdrawn, left him for dead. Why? Didn’t they check him? The medics always checked all bodies thoroughly, retrieving anyone with the slightest sign of life. He was alive. If he’d been dead he wouldn’t have felt pain. Pain was the essence of his survival. He didn’t feel like he’d been hit. No warm stickiness gelled around his prone position. He had a sense of wholeness, physically anyway, though his body twitched often and his heart was a Beijing driver in rush hour—erratically fast then snail slow. Floating visions of battlefields ran rampant in his brain—the iced disaster that was Stalingrad with the eyes of the dying barely fluttering snowflake tears, the torrid terror of Milne Bay with saltwater eyes crying rain. These eyes of the nearly dead were his.

Adam struggled to lift his head, just a little. A Hiroshima bomb exploded inside his skull. He was not on the rock-blasted hillside facing a sandstorm downpour of bullets—the last thing he remembered. Echoes bounced round a small church-like cavern sheltering him from man-made fury. A rough table with a small brown pottery bowl on it teetered beside a tortured monument of metallic shapes. A flickering fire smelled of burned dung, scorched oil and gunpowder. A slowly moving shadow on the wall was a silhouette of feminine grace, not one of the shadow-others. It was defined, moving in the same way as his mother moved in her house, wrapped in an air of dedicated possession. The shadow being came towards him and nodded. She was covered in black, removed from the eyes of strangers. Her eyes smiled as she beckoned to an ancient man in a grey-white keffiyeh that partially covered his steel hair strings. His flowing robes jangled a little as he hobbled forward. His teeth were as worn as those of an old warhorse. He held up a huge blackish armoured scorpion with his right hand and indicated his neck. He pointed to Adam.

So he had been bitten. His neck felt swollen and sore beyond the searing burn of fire. He had been bitten.

The man moved forward with the bowl and urged Adam to drink. The liquid reeked. Adam disciplined every urge in his body not to vomit. Shadow-others caressed his mind with visions of a Bedouin in the desert ministering to a hurt ANZAC, a German woman bandaging a fallen airman, a Japanese guard giving a smoke to a POW. That made the swallowing easier. He breathed in the kindness. He drank the care. He touched the compassion. He would survive.

He knew what he believed in then. It had to do with the purest form of life respect. It had to do with love, compassion, tolerance, trust, truth... It had to do with being others in the past, past present, and future. It had to do with the still sad music of humanity. It had to do with knowing yourself in the infinite stretch of time.

Adam recognized the contorted metal beside the table and round the cavern, broken twisted guns. His was among them. He would not deliver war ravages again. He would make his stand for peace. The shadow-others stood with him, surveying a world they needed to make better for his great-grandchildren. History was written with every soldier’s blood but his great-grandchildren had the right to choose another future to give to the world.


Copyright: Julie Martin.

The Big Dry – By Mary Mageau

Here we have a heartfelt short story from Mary about the current horrible situation in our part of the world…..

The Big Dry  –  Mary Mageau

This land, where not a drop of rain has fallen for over three years and the ground, cross-hatched with deep cracks and dry fissures, lies baking in the blistering sun. Here every puff of wind reorganizes the loose dust and topsoil into rising and falling dunes. Each desiccated tree—if you can still find one standing—every withered bush or clump of bleached grass, and even the land itself cries out for rain.

Spare a thought for the farmers who work 24/7 under impossible conditions, to grow the food to fill our plates.

Spare a thought for the cattleman who watches his last prize bull―the end of generations of his finest breeding stock―being loaded onto a truck and driven away. Neighbours have all told him not to turn around and look back.

“Great hamburgers today folks! How about chips and salad on the side?”

Spare a thought for the frightened farmer’s wife hiding her husband’s gun, so his life won’t end before this drought does.

Spare a thought for these folks on the land waiting for the banks to foreclose on them, while hand feeding their dwindling herds with donated hay.
It is time now to pray!

And finally spare a thought for the land itself. We weep for you too, our tears the only moisture you will ever receive – you worn out, threadbare, dusty old rag of a country.

Place of the Dead Houses. By Mary Mageau

Place of the Dead Houses

Mary Mageau

‘Come along, Amity. It’s your bedtime now.’

‘Mum, I’m trying to brush my hair but it’s full of snarls.’

‘Let me tease them out of your curls then we’ll lie down together for a story.’ As Mary Thompson took the brush from her daughter she asked, ‘What tale do you want to hear tonight, Amity?’

‘Oh Mum, please tell me about the time we went to Humpybong, when I was a baby.’

Laughing, Mary hugged her daughter as the two of them snuggled down together in the large featherbed. After they were settled her story began.

‘On September 14th in 1824 your father and I, your five year old brother John, three officers, soldiers, and their families all went ashore at Red Cliff Point. We also had twenty nine convicts in our landing party. This location, near the mouth of Humpybong Creek, was the place where Governor Brisbane told us to build a prison settlement. When we first landed the site looked beautiful with its red cliffs, a good supply of fresh water and wide open spaces. Forests behind the shore were filled with tall trees so the business of house building began later on that very day.’

‘Was I with you and Father then?’

‘You were still growing inside me and you must have been eager to see Red Cliff because you were born one week later on the 21st of September. Everyone was so pleased to welcome you, the first baby to arrive in the new settlement. We named you, Amity Moreton Thompson, after the Brig, Amity that brought us to this place.’

‘What’s a brig, Mum?’

My little darling, a brig is a two masted ship with large square sails. Captain Charles Penson took all of us on board at Sydney. The explorer, John Oxley, joined us with sheep, goats, pigs, seeds and plants for our new colony. We carried extra provisions for six months to keep us alive and well. It took two weeks to sail up to Moreton Bay on that very crowded ship.’

‘What happened after that?’

‘All the men, soldiers and convicts, set about building homes for the families and barracks for the prisoners to sleep in. Later they constructed a store, a kitchen and weir well, the soldiers’ barracks and a commandment’s house. Gardens were dug and planted so we could begin to grow fresh food. Within several months we had settled in quite well until one by one, things began to go wrong.’

Is this next part scary, Mum?’

‘No darling.’ Mary smiled and held Amity close. ‘The local native people, called the Ningy Ningy, wanted us all to leave this place so they began a series of attacks. A young soldier was killed, our sheep were all lost or stolen and we never found them again. During a summer of drought, our supply of fresh water began to disappear. Hordes of mosquitoes almost drove us mad and thankfully our family could sleep under netting or we would have been kept awake all night by their whining and biting. Because the beach was so shallow, it was impossible to anchor large ships. After eight months of living there, we were ordered to abandon Humpybong. By then everyone was happy to leave. We moved south into a new, safer home, on the shores of the Brisbane River in Moreton Bay.’

‘Will we ever go back again to see Humpybong?’ Amity asked sleepily.

‘I don’t think so, Amity. We are well settled now at the new and much larger Moreton Bay Penal Colony.  Because father is an officer, his skills are needed here. This is a safer place where all of us are happy to be among many new friends.’

Amity yawned then asked her final question.Why was our first home called Humpybong? It has such a strange name.’

‘When we sailed away we had to abandon all our houses and buildings. The Ningy Ningy clan called our empty buildings, oompiebongs. This means dead houses in their language, so this place became Humpybong.’

Amity’s eyes closed and soon she was fast asleep. Mary kissed her goodnight, blew out her candle then gently shut the bedroom door behind her.

Notes:

This replica of the brig, Amity, was constructed in the Stirling Historical Precinct at Albany, Western Australia. It was completed in 1976 for the town’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

The Amity was used by the British Government for several voyages of exploration and settlement during the early 19th century. Among them were the first European settlers who attempted to colonize Redcliffe, Queensland. Later the brig transported these settlers to Moreton Bay. Several voyages to King George Sound (now Albany) carried colonists to Western Australia.

The Amity was wrecked in 1845, after running aground on an uncharted sandbar, north of Van Diemen’s Land.

The original settlement at Redcliffe was established between Humpybong Creek, Anzac Avenue, and the beachfront. Nothing remains of it today as the site is occupied by the Humpybong shopping precinct and large unit blocks.

A First Settlement Memorial Wall was built with 50 tonnes of bluestones, to a design representing the sails of the Amity. Erected near the beach in September 1991, this memorial commemorates the story of Queensland’s first, brief settlement here.

RO MANSE By Julie Martin – A Very Curious Short Story

Here we have a rather enchanting short story by Julie Martin – Our esteemed President – who obviously has an amusing  way with words…  And this very odd story about procreation and vegetables, ends with the most inventive series of puns – Love it!

RO MANSE

By Julie Martin

“Reverent love has left the building.” Faith poked the smouldering fire from the inglenook cheek seat as her two sisters snuggled into the shabby but not chic sofas of the manse living room.

“Reverend Love with a “d” was Father’s name not Reverent Love.” Hope poured her eyes over the sympathy cards sent by her pupils, unconsciously looking for spelling errors as she drew in their warmth. “You are the queen of malapropisms, Faithy Love.”

“I meant reverent love with the “t” …that’s what they had for each other, Father and Mother. All those little attentions they paid each other, always there for each other.”

“No wonder we’re spinsters.” Charity said. “We hadn’t a chance of finding such love, such romance in this day and age. Not in this hole. No one we could find, could live up to their devotion.”

“Oooh, I don’t know. The laird has certainly been romancing Faithy with coleslaw and lettuce and fragrant nothings in her ear too I’d guess…shame he’s wheelchair bound so nought can come of it.” Hope pushed her pupils’ cards into a pile on her lap.

“We have like interests and he provides me with a job.” Faith was slightly flushed.

“OK, I’ll accept Mother and Father showed reverent love but I’m not sure there was romance in it after forty years. Don’t think there was any mystery left either.” Hope levered herself off the sofa, shedding her pupils’ cards on the floor before she investigated the pantry. “You’ve got to tell the laird to stop giving us coleslaw and pickled cabbage, Faithy. We’ve got enough to feed the whole Highland Regiment for six months.”

“I like it.” Faith stirred a pot of vegetable soup, complete with cabbage, on the wood stove.

“We know you do, but we don’t.” Hope said. “At least the cold weather has stopped the lettuce supply.”

“We planted some in the new hothouse…should be able to harvest it in a week. Archie’s experimenting with developing brassicas and lactuca sativas resistant to the cabbage white butterfly and the green fly. My gardening background is useful. ”

“Getting a bit familiar, aren’t you? What’s this Archie thing instead of My Laird?” Charity said.

“We work together all the time. I only call him Archie in private. He wants me to go to an etymology conference with him in London next month to help him present a paper. ”

“Just as well the tongues know he’s a paraplegic or the place would be rife with rumours.” Hope added a sumptuous stew from the pantry to the stovetop to warm. “ Dada! Two courses…now we need dessert.”

“I still can’t get my head round their deaths…both together, holding hands as Father shut the manse gate after evening service. What are the chances of lightning striking at that instant? What are the chances of such an escape for Mother from…?” Charity pushed the pleats of her district nurse’s uniform into knife edge lines as she swung her endless legs to the floor.

“Aye, it was a lucky escape but we’re left with a problem. Father bought this place and the church and the hall for their retirement when the synod told him the church was closing. Now it’s ours. We’re stuck here. It’s not likely to sell ever. No chance of us finding romance in the town of Ro. Did ya look at the pickings lined up at the funeral? It’s scary.” Hope said. “At least you’ve had a taste of the sex thing, Charity. It isn’t half obvious who Alistair’s dad is. It looks like Callum McPherson cloned himself, so like him is wee Alex.”

“I didn’t get Alex from sex, I got him from artificial insemination.” Charity nailed her sister with a glare that would have had most folk running to hide in a whiskey bottle. “When Fiona what McPherson couldn’t conceive after Fergus’s mumps rendered him sterile, they begged Callum to donate some sperm. After all he is Fergus’s twin. Couldn’t get a much better match. I did the procedure in the clinic. There were some sperm left in the bottle so I inseminated myself.  Callum seemed a reasonable choice to give good genes to the child I wanted. He had a steady job and he likes dogs. Fiona got her twins and I got Alex. Statistically unlikely but true.”

Alex sunk deep into his grandfather’s leather chair by the bookshelves, determined to ask Aunty Faithy later what his mother meant.

“The tales you tell, Charry. The men look at you like you’re Arianrhod, goddess of life. Can’t tell me you haven’t played their instruments occasionally. You just got caught out with Callum.” Hope wasn’t daunted by glares.

Charity turned away. If her own sister couldn’t believe her story, no wonder the townsfolk didn’t.

“I asked Father once what he wanted most for us girls,” Faith said. “He said a man of letters and law for me, a breeder of good lions for you Charry, and a fisher of men for Hope.”

“Yes well, education is not high on Ro men’s priorities so there go the letters, lion taming doesn’t happen in Ro and the church has been closed because of the diminishing population so that cuts out fishing for men. Father’s wishes for us aren’t likely to be fulfilled here…and here we are stuck.” Hope had never lived up to her name. “By the way Father’s attorney is coming tomorrow.”

“We need to start thinking what to do with this place.” Charity said. “If we could find a buyer we could each buy our own place. Otherwise we’ll need to divide the place so we have both privacy and shared space.”

“I’ve got enough to buy the manse but not the hall or the church, “ Hope said.

“Look my bike’s fixed, Mum, and I hadn’t even told you about it.” Alex said. Charity looked up from the mail she had been puzzling over — a school bill for Alex, marked paid but she hadn’t paid it. Since her parent’s funeral there had been a series of unexplained but welcome incidents that had made her life much easier.

“Can I go over to the twinnies’ place, Mum? Tam and Iain have the bronchitis and Mrs McPherson likes it fine when I take over me ipad and we play Spaceteam.” Alex said.

“Be back by 4.30. You’ve got homework and we’re invited to tea with the laird according to Aunty Faithy.”

“Hope he has more than cabbages in his larder.” Alex slammed a peck on her cheek and was gone.

Charity decided to pick Alex up early from Fiona McPherson’s. She had a sudden intuition she needed to scrub the boy up before they went to tea. As she was going through the croft gate she met Callum McPherson.

“Callum.” She nodded greeting and made to move on.

“Wee Alex is my son, isn’t he?”

Charity froze.

“I didna have sex with you, Charity Love. I’d surely know if I did, you being so desirable and all, but wee Alex is my son. How can that be?”

Charity dropped her head and moved forward. Callum gripped her wrist. She was forced to halt.

“I’ve watched your kindnesses to ma mother, Fiona and the village for nigh on nine years. I’ve watched the way you love our boy. I’ve loved you, Charity love, from afar for you’re not welcoming to advances. I worked it out at the funeral when I saw the three boys together, so alike in so many ways: they all roll their tongue, they all have bent little fingers, they all clasp their hands with their left thumb on top, all things that Fergus and I do, but Alex has blue eyes while Tam and Iain have brown. Fiona has brown but you have blue so your recessive gene for blue eyes with my recessive gene gives Alex recessive blue.”

“Are you the one paying Alex’s fees and fixing his bike? Are you the one who’s fixed the fence of the pigpen and changed my flat tyre and a thousand other little things? Did you stop the Council from closing the district nursing service, thus saving my job?”

“You haven’t told me how Alex is my son.”

“He could be anybody’s boy. Ask the tongues.”

“I did more than that. I asked every man in the town. They would like to claim the boy but none can. They don’t have all the necessary dominant and recessive genes.”

Charity drew herself up to her full five foot two. “I artificially inseminated myself with the sperm leftover from Fiona’s procedure. You had all the things I wanted in a father for my child but you were about to be engaged to a fancy city girl at the time. I wasn’t interested in any other man…I’m a one man woman, if you like, I just couldn’t have the man I wanted.”

“Well you can now.” Callum kissed her. “That city woman was after a professional man with money not a country vet. We never did get engaged.”

“That kiss’ll set the tongues wagging. Two of them over there are near falling out their windows with curiosity.”

“Not for long. I’m marrying you as soon as possible. I don’t want my daughter conceived by artificial insemination.”

Faith was glowing at the tea with the laird. “We’ve worked out how to do it”,  she sang.

Charity nodded. She couldn’t wait to share her news or maybe she would savour it for a while longer…until her wedding.

Hope said. “Well it’s taken you long enough. Does that mean we don’t have to eat lettuce and slaw forever more? What are we to be gifted with next?”

Faith blushed. “No. Yes. We haven’t solved how to make the brassica or lactuca sativa pest resistant but, “ she giggled, “we worked out how to have sex, very good sex, at the conference.”

Hope dropped her teaspoon and Charity turned to clap her hands over Alex’s ears.

Alex pushed her hands away. “I know about sex, Mum. It’s what you and my father didn’t do to have me. I heard you tell Aunty Hope you hadn’t had sex so I asked Aunty Faithy about the thing you did to create me. She had to explain the sex thing too.”

“I’d like to ask you Miss Hope, you Miss Charity and you Master Alex for permission to marry Faithy. I’ll look after her and promise to keep you all in veges for ever.” The laird blushed but kept his eyes focused on the family.

“Just not cabbages and lettuce.”

The celebrations were loud and long. As the sisters and Alex were leaving, the laird stopped Hope for a moment.

“When you have finished talking to Izaac Fieschmann tomorrow, would you ask him to drop in. I need to change my will.” He took Faith’s hand and smiled.

“I get it,” shouted Alex. “I get Grandfather’s riddle wish, Aunty Faithy, and it’s all coming true.”

“I’m not marrying a man of letters and law, like Father said.”

“No, you are marrying a man of lettuce and slaw. Mum will marry not a breeder of good lions but a breeder of good lines cause he created me and Tam and Iain, and he breeds the best Collies in Argyll. Grandfather meant he hoped Aunty Hope might marry Mr Feischmann not a fisher of men. So there is plenty of romance in Ro Manse and lots of love for the Loves, isn’t there?”

Lost and Found   By Mary Mageau

We are lucky enough to have a short story by Mary Mageau to publish on our website.  A short, simple but moving story about love, luck and kindness.  Read it and enjoy it.


Lost and Found   By Mary Mageau

Dear Marolyn Masters,

Walking through the sand and boulders at The Hollows, on Old North Beach, something caught my eye. It was gleaming brightly in the sunlight. As I bent down to retrieve it, I discovered a gold bracelet engraved around the inside with the following inscription: Marolyn Masters – Jed Williams. Between the names appeared the outline of two conjoined hearts.

As I believe you are the same Marolyn Masters, the owner and director of the Fair Winds Art Gallery, I am writing to report my discovery of this bracelet. If this item does belong to you would you please advise how I could return it? It must be a very precious possession.

Now I don’t wish to intrude into any of your personal business, so dismiss my next question if you wish. Regarding the other name, that of Jed Williams, is he the famous yachtsman who was recently lost at sea during his solo voyage around the world?  If this is so, you would want your beautiful bracelet returned as soon as possible.

I await your reply,

JM Smith

26 Alderson Parade, North Beach

*  *  *

Dear Mr Smith,

Thank you for your recent letter with the wonderful news that you found my lost bracelet. I must have dropped it when I was spending some quiet time alone, walking through the dunes at The Hollows. I was heart-broken when I realized that my bracelet was missing. I returned several times to search the beach for it, always without success. I had given up all hope of ever recovering it until your letter arrived, with its good news.

So to answer your question, yes, this is my bracelet. It is a treasured gift I received from Jed Williams before he left port to begin his long solo journey. As it is so precious to me now, I would appreciate having you deliver the bracelet directly to the Fair Winds Gallery. I am hoping to extend my personal thanks to you, but if I’m not in the office when you arrive, please leave my bracelet at the main desk. I will arrange for a small gift of appreciation to be kept there—one for you to take away and enjoy in your home.

Sincerely yours,

Marolyn Masters

26 High Street, North Beach

*  *  *

Dearest Jed,

I realize now that you have left us and will never be returning. You met your death at sea doing what you loved most, and this thought comforts me during the remaining moments of each day. I have used these letters to you, as a way of healing the pain left by your absence. When this fifth letter is finished my heart will be at peace again, and I will be ready to burn them all in the fireplace. They were written for our eyes alone.

The beautiful gold bracelet you gave me, which I lost in the sand at The Hollows, has been found and returned. I am wearing it now, as well as the star sapphire engagement ring you slipped on my finger the night you asked me to marry you. These precious keepsakes will always remain with me.

At some point the grieving must stop so life can move on. I am planning to add another wing to the gallery where I will offer art classes to talented painters and beginners. Our committee has decided to host a biennial art prize, supported by a generous benefactor. The Fair Winds Gallery is becoming a tourist attraction too, thanks to The Best Beans, a smart new coffee lounge that opened next door. Several paintings from the gallery hang there now.

Jed, you will always remain the love of my life and I hope that you have finally found joy and peace. Once you sailed the seven seas, but now you sail the heavens.

Your ever loving,

Marolyn