Argenta and Gold.

It’s time to act, decided Bethany, as she reflected on the preponderance of silver which cast a gloomy pall over her bursting trophy cabinet.

She summoned the detective.

“It’s impossible,” declared detective inspector Gordon G. Wilson, before offering an explanation.

“The problem is Sapphire’s collar. It has heat, fingerprint, voice and retina activation. What’s more, the replacement collar would have to avoid detection from Sapphire’s first groomer, psychologist, stylist, brand manager, second groomer, nutritionist, physical trainer, photographer, massage therapist and third groomer before the dogs even enter the arena.”

Bethany was unmoved.

“You fail to understand detective, that this is my last chance to beat Lady Hamilton. There are strong rumours of ill health at Hamilton Manor.”

“It simply can’t be done,” Wilson reiterated.

The hand that had been lovingly stroking Argenta now reached for a photograph. Bethany slid the single polaroid across the lavish suite’s ornately finished table.

“I’m sure you’ll find a way detective,” she stated, fixing him with a cold unflinching stare.

Wilson sunk in the chair. The colour could be seen draining from his face even in the faint light of the flickering fire. He excused himself and set to work. He would need 12 months and all of his police smarts to accomplish this task.

Bethany was bursting with nerves and excitement. She clasped her clammy hands as she positioned herself behind the judges in the hotel’s elaborate auditorium. Her heart pounded as the parade of pampered Bichon Frises elicited gasps of adoration from the audience.

“Sapphire!” beamed the announcer, and the audience burst into rapturous applause. Bethany’s stomach churned with familiar disgust until she remembered her clever ruse. Her beloved pet was wowing the audience and the judges.

“Argenta!” strutted in to the arena and Bethany’s conflicting emotions resurfaced. Her breath shortened and her mouth dried.

‘Argenta’ paraded brilliantly and camera flashes lit up the auditorium.

Then something happened. Something almost imperceptible. Sapphire lacked her customary rhythm, her famous je ne sais quoi.

Had the judges felt it?

Had Bethany felt it, or was she simply intoxicated with the overwhelming emotions of this daring subterfuge?

The wait for the judge’s decision was torturous.

“The winner of the gold medal, category Bichon Frise, 2020, is…”

Bethany couldn’t breathe.

“Sapphire!”

Wilson now found himself in the same chair, in front of the same fire. The detective’s eyes settled on the photograph sitting next to another silver medal on the ornate oak table.

The detective pleaded his case.

“The switch was made. The task was completed, as per your orders.”

“Then where is my gold medal?” demanded Bethany, who had banished Argenta to the pound.

“It confounded us too,” testified Wilson, “until we swapped the collars back after the competition and discovered that the rumours of ill health were well founded,” outlined Wilson.

“But how? Lady Hamilton was alive and well and gloating pompously on the dais yet again,” protested Bethany.

“The Lady was always healthy,” Wilson paused,

“but Sapphire wasn’t.”

Image: Gabriel Crismariu

Sunday in Suburbia.

“So, what brings you on this auspicious journey?” asked the woman seated opposite Steve.

“Apart form the opportunity to become one of the world’s last true pioneers?” he chuckled in reference to the promotional material.

“I’m Dita, by the way, and this is my partner Norah”

Polite and stilted conversations had begun after the captain informed passengers they could remove phase one of their elaborate safety apparatus. They slid band 1 out of clip A before lowering band 2 in order to reach clip B which upon release gave access to clip C…

“It started one sunny Sunday,” began Steve, and Dita certainly didn’t object to a longwinded story on this seemingly interminable journey.

“Varna kicked it off, her Huskie barking his lungs out at 6am and that was the end of the sleep in.”

“Any idea why he was barking?”

“Probably protesting about the tropical heat and humidity.”

“We won’t be meeting a huskie or Varna where we’re going,” said Dita confidently.

“Then Victor fired up his lawnmower for a few hours. He loves cutting grass.”

“At least he was cutting his own grass this time,” added Steve’s wife Patty.

“That’s not fair,” Steve chided her politely, “you don’t know that for sure.”

“Oh yes I do, I caught the pretty young thing scurrying down the side passage with a guilty grin on her face on more than one occasion.”

“Did you tell the wife?” asked Norah

“Absolutely not,” declared Patty,” I don’t like to be nosy.”

“Plus, not our concern anymore. Not where we’re going.”

“Very true – but is that the only reason? I mean, it was an arduous application process,” to which the new friends rolled their eyes in sync.

“What about that one question – Can you list 10 delicious and nutritious recipes featuring potato, silverbeet and cabbage?” and they laughed concomitantly.

“But actually, there were more reasons”

“Mack owns the weekender across the road and spends his weekends working on D I Y projects with his Mackita.

“Mackita?” enquired Dita.

“Mrs Mack,” explained Patty. “One of Steve’s hilarious jokes I’m afraid.”

“Well she is Mexican – he’s Mack so she’s Mackita,” he stated proudly.

“Meanwhile, Marcel went to war with his garden and that chainsaw left horrific wounds on every living organism in sight – I bet he’s STILL going.”

“At the same time, Ozito launched into another renovation. I guess he has to justify that garage full of tools and add-ons”

Patty was required to explain again.

“More champagne comedy,” she said sarcastically. “Ozito is our patriotic nextdoor neighbour. Raises and lowers the Aussie flag every morning and evening without fail.

“So, I guess you can say we’ve come all this way for some peace and quiet,” surmised Steve.

As the journey entered its final hour, passengers were ordered to begin strapping themselves back into their safety apparatus. The vessel shook and shuddered in anger.

Finally, the captain uttered the words they had waited so long to hear.

“Welcome to the moon.”

Image: Greg Evans

Show Me.

“Show me”

No, sorry Dad, I can’t. Not now, Sophia wanted to say, but she knew even one word would release a torrent of emotion. The brisk winter morning and the flecks of salt water whipped into the air had already moistened her eyes and loosened her tear ducts.

“Show me” he cajoled, but to no avail.

Sophia’s parents and her eldest sister were the only people permitted to see her off from the terminal. Friends, family and colleagues had farewelled her at the dinner two nights earlier where her mother had told the large crowd,

“Sophia’s work brings joy and hope, plus opportunity to so many people. We wish that for once she would focus more on herself and find…

but before her mother went there, Sophia shot her a look which said ‘not now mum, not now’ at which her mother changed tack,

…or at least that she could do this work closer to home.”

“You’ll do great things” is all her father could manage, lest he cry endlessly in front of his friends and family. That was not the done thing for an ex boxing and wrestling champion.

His little girl was departing, again, but this time there was no scheduled return date and a much greater risk which no one wanted to acknowledge verbally.

As Sophia felt the familiar warmth of her mother’s embrace, she found herself contemplating which melancholic musical score would best accompany this moment. The girl who eschewed modernity, who chose sailing over flying, paperbacks over kindles and letter writing over messaging, thumbed mentally through her vintage record collection searching for an appropriate title, until she switched her attention to her big sister.

The longest hug was reserved for her father. She was the baby of the family, and even when her work thrust her into battles with world leaders, corporate heavyweights and, on one occasion, a feared local warlord, she was still Daddy’s little girl.

The ship hauled itself from the dock, and once Sophia had finished waving, she slid her chilly hands into her coat pockets. There she felt a piece of paper. Unfolding the paper, she saw a stamp pasted in its centre. The stamp featured a koala, and it was the stamp which had sat proudly on the first letter she had sent to her father, all the way from her nextdoor neighbour’s house where she had embarked with boastful pride on her first epic adventure – a sleep over.

Her father had even sprinkled glitter on his letter in honour of Sophia’s insistence upon decorating her letters well into adulthood. She imagined her burly father hunched over his work bench surrounded by power tools and trophies, adding glitter ever so delicately to her parting gift.

The letter comprised of four words. Four words which always elicited a smile from Sophia, even in her darkest days. Four words her father had used to slice through her despair and sadness, her anguish and tantrums.

“Show me your teeth.”

Carrie’s Cafe Crawl.

Receptacles at the ready, the competitors in Carrie’s Café Crawl sized up their opposition.

A great challenge lay ahead.

Seven cafes.

One ingredient acquired secretly from each café.

One sandwich combining these ingredients.

Detection equals disqualification.

The casual weekly competition had morphed into a serious battle, and this week a heavy tension hung in the air. The source of the tension was abundantly clear, but no one would let it distract them from tantalising the taste buds of their own children who served as judges. Sandwiches would be judged on taste, presentation and one exotic ingredient. As to what qualified as ‘exotic’, Ambitious Annie was still impatiently seeking clarification.

Stealth was imperative. Stingy Steve thanked his equally-stingy parents for inculcating him into the practice of hoarding breakfast pastry and fruit at holiday resorts.

“That’s your lunch,” they would say, as his deft hands slid a muffin into his lap.

Dizzy Dave broke the tension temporarily when he asked;

“Who’s having coffee here?”

Dave had consumed a short black at every café on his first crawl, and had buzzed at dizzying heights for days.

Steve and Roddy ordered coffee, as Kylie arrived with adorable baby Ned and a stroller bursting with baby accoutrements. She also bought the Earl’s Pearls, which glistened in the tropical sun and hung proudly from her neck to signify her victory in last week’s competition.

Upon sitting, Kylie noticed the source of the tension. Ambitious Annie wore a pair of pearl earrings, in subtle protest at Kylie’s victory. Kylie’s own son had awarded 10/10 to the anonymous sandwich and its side of ice cream. Even an eight-year-old knew that Kylie was the only competitor equipped to transport a cooler box large enough to preserve a scoop of ice cream for hours in the tropical heat. Annie called the decision nepotism. Kylie called it her Baby Bonus.

Competitors performed their weekly Snack ‘n Slide at one café after another, while the judges worked up an appetite at tutoring college. The Saturday morning tutoring gifted the parents four hours of serenity and adult company, and now only Ambitious Annie expected any academic improvement from the extra classes.

At the fifth café, disaster struck.

Bev broke out in violent, lumpy welts, spreading rapidly from her neck. She was rushed to hospital for fear she had been bitten by one of the tiny, deadly bugs which inhabit these lands. The café crawlers dreaded the news from medical staff.

When doctor and patient emerged, all were relieved except Bev. Dijon mustard and tropical heat had caused the rash. The same Dijon Bev had smuggled from home in her top pocket.

“The Condiment Conundrum,” she offered as a paltry excuse. Condiments were the hardest ingredients to pilfer, but could make or break a sandwich. The sachets had burst when baby Ned writhed and twisted in her arms. The competitors thanked the doctors. Kylie thanked her Baby Bonus.

The Dijon Debacle had thus nullified this week’s competition.

What of the Earl’s Pearls?

Image: Van Thanh

Cut

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Donny heard it again.

“He was cut, Donny was cut,” they repeated, before sheepishly averting their eyes from him.

Donny needed air, and squeezed his way through the whispering crowd to the church yard.

Left out of his father’s will? Donny didn’t understand.

Giuliana felt her husband’s mood swing from grief to anxiety and beyond, and she tenderly stroked the trembling hand which held the weathered pages of the eulogy.

“Quit worrying so much about the eulogy,” she counselled, “just speak from the heart,”

Donny genuflected and ascended the altar.

“Pa was a giant of a man, a king, a legend,” the dutiful son recounted to the hordes filling the church beyond capacity.

“He was a father to all of us,” he affirmed, and for many the tears began anew.

Then, suddenly he stopped. His voice wavered between sorrow and anger and he spoke from the heart.

“I can’t do this. I ain’t gonna pretend. Why was I cut from the will? Why me? I loved Pa more any o’ you lot. Me and Pa saved the family business when the Russians moved in. Me and Pa took on the Bosco twins, it weren’t none o’ you,” and the congregation sat in bemused silence.

“Paulie, Alfonso!” he shouted in accusatory tones at his cousins.

“Where were you when times was tough, hey? Playin’ backjack in Atlantic City, hey Paulie? and what about you Alfonso, hiding out at a titty bar in Vegas?”

Donny’s resentful gaze landed upon Alfonso’s wife and he saw the whites of her eyes beaming from under her black mourner’s veil.

“And you Little Tony, you ain’t done nuthin’ None of you lowlife bloodsuckin’ maggots ain’t never done half o’ what I did for Pa. You disgust me. Pretendin’ to pay respect, but You ain’t here for that. You all came for your piece of the pie isn’t it…”

White hot anger propelled Donny’s words and they ricocheted off walls more accustomed to sombre prayers and hymns.

“Well it looks like I ain’t getting’ my piece o’ the pie, so you can all get…” but before Donny could hurl the final insult, he sensed the approach of the priest, and either through decorum or fearful respect, he vacated the pulpit and stormed out of the church.

Donny’s mother motioned to Roberto, and he set off after his brother.

“Donny, what was that?” asked Roberto, exasperated.

“They cut me out Bobbie, out of the will,” Donny sprayed, his anger not yet quelled.

“What are ya saying?”

“Before the service Bobbie, everybody was sayin’ real quiet and suspicious like… Donny was cut, Donny was cut”

“That’s how he died”

“What? It was a heart attack”

“No, it weren’t, we just got the autopsy results this mornin’, when you was out here reading that paper over and over. The Bosco twins got him, Pa was cut real discreet, he died real slow” and Roberto blessed himself again.

Donny slumped, dejected.

Donilo Scarpone Sr.

Rest in Peace

Image: Mayron Oliveira

The Noisemakers

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“Noisemakers, behold, your Mayor of Mayhem…”

They waited. Beady, desperate eyes squinted at their Sky Box.

The rotund, bespectacled one, the Mayor of Mayhem, loomed large over them; in them.

Then it appeared, filling the Sky Box.

The smirk.

“AAAAAAAAARARRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH”

Hundreds upon thousands of Noisemakers unleashed themselves onto the streets. Activated, emboldened, enabled. Sent forth.

The Noisemakers hurled themselves into action with boisterous loyalty. V8 engines purred with patriotism, mowers and blowers howled. Stereos strained. TVs triumphed. Reality was re-defined.

‘NOISE NOT KNOWLEDGE’ ran the mantra, seared into their consciousness.

‘NOISE NOT KNOWLEDGE’

A force directed Jarryd to a library. Libraries remained contested space. Territory recently won, but in need of defence, consolidation, fortification.

Books = learning = knowledge, Jarryd knew. NOISE NOT KNOWELDGE, ran his internal monologue, NOISE NOT KNOWLEDGE.

The scene at the library pleased Jarryd. Noise was heard. Hollow noise. One corner of his mouth turned upward, involuntarily.

It twitched.

His ears pricked, he heard it. A Talk Box. It spurted loud, obtrusive, vacuous noise. Jarryd could almost see the learning leaching out of the pages of the lonesome books, spilling like blood onto the sponge-like carpet. Lost.

His Talk Box, her Talk Box…music, mobiles, meaningless mutterings…mayhem.

Jarred smirked.

Time was ticking. More mayhem was demanded, and action requires sustenance. A public house lured the loyal servant and he rode to it on a wave of violent squawking.

“Do you have mayonnaise?” enquired Jarryd, motioning to his hot chips.

“Nah mate, we’ve got sauce.”

No Mayonnaise, and no Sky Box – just innocuous screens with Surfing on loop.

Jarryd deserted his chips.

A second public house was located, a house alike in dignity.

‘…alike in dignity…”

Jarryd’s skin prickled, his stomach turned. He was jarred and jolted by the memory of this phrase and the learning it entailed, a higher learning acquired in quiet contemplation and a depth of thought which was anathema to his calling and ambitions.

The Mayor would be displeased. The Mayor would not smirk. Noise, not learning, begets a Mayor.

The Mayor in the making stomped the clutch, ripped the throttle with fury and careered his crackling Motor Box to a public house. A safe house.

“Do you have Mayonnaise?”

“Maybe,” replied the barmaid with a smirk. A juvenile smirk, a smirk in development. An apprentice’s smirk, An ally, but not a competitor.

Jarred devoured his chips, noisily. Transfixed by the Sky Box. Waiting, yearning for instruction, inspiration, motivation, affirmation.

The scene pleased Jarryd. Eyes flittered from Sky Box to Talk Box to Sky Box… noise filled every crevice of the space. The Talk Box and the Sky Box downloaded their orders into Jarryd.

Turbulent commotion outside. Jarryd in movement. Fast, faster.

A woman, quiet, still, reading. An obstacle. Jarryd’s Motor Box devoured her.

“What are you doing’?” she whispered in pain and dismay.

Jarred smirked. A maleficent grin, close to perfection, he knew, as he caught its reflection in her glasses. He was ready.

“I’m runnin, laaady. I’m runnin for Mayor of Mayhem”

Image: Markus Spiske

Let’s Walk

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Harry is a happy little boy.

He likes to eat.

He likes to swim.

He likes birds.

…and he loves to walk.

 

One day, he went to the park

“Hop in the pram,” said Nanna.

“No Nanna,” said Harry,

“Let’s walk!”

So, they walked to the park.

 

Poppa pushed Harry on the swing.

It was fun.

He liked the park.

 

One day, Harry went to the beach.

Mummy tried to carry him across the sand.

“No, Mummy, let’s walk,” said Harry.

So, he walked to the water.

Splash ! Splash! Splash! It was so much fun.

 

One day, Harry went camping.

He slept in a tent.

He ate in his special chair.

He sat by the fire.

“Let’s find some birds,” said Mummy.

“Hop on my back”

“No Mummy, let’s walk.”

They walked to the trees and saw lots of colourful birds.

 

One day, Harry went to the pool.

“Into the car,” said Daddy

“No, Daddy, let’s walk,” replied Harry.

They walked to the pool.

Harry swam.

Under the water.

Side to side.

He swam with Mummy.

He swam with Daddy.

Harry was happy.

 

One day, Harry was at home.

He was playing with Nanna and Poppa.

“Time for dinner!” called Daddy.

Great, thought Harry.

“Let’s walk?” said Nanna.

“No Nanna” Harry smiled,

“Let’s run!”

 

Image: Bady qb

 

Smile

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Liam is a friendly little boy.

He loves to smile.

He loves to laugh.

 

His brother is called Jerry.

One day, Jerry made a big truck out of Lego.

Liam smiled.

 

His sister is called Marlie.

One day, Marlie put a lizard on her head.

Liam laughed.

 

One day, Daddy took Liam into a helicopter.

“Wow!” Liam said, and smiled.

 

One day, they went swimming.

Mummy jumped into the water.

“Oh, oh, it’s so cold!!!” she screamed.

Liam laughed, he likes swimming.

 

One day, Liam stopped smiling.

 

On this day, Jerry arrived home.

He had dirt and grass and blood and scratches and bruises everywhere.

He fell off his bike.

He felt sad and Liam felt sad.

 

Later, Mummy came home from work.

She was tired, very tired.

She felt unhappy, so Liam didn’t smile.

 

Marlie wasn’t happy either.

She did ballet. She had sore feet.

She didn’t smile, or laugh, and neither did Liam.

 

Daddy was also sad on this day.

He went to watch his favourite team, the Sharks.

They lost, again.

Liam took off his Sharks hat. He didn’t smile or laugh.

 

Everybody was sad.

 

Then something happened.

Liam looked at Jerry and clapped.

“Good crash Jerry, he wanted to say.

Jerry smiled, and Liam smiled too.

 

Liam crawled to the piano.

He looked at Marlie.

Marlie played the piano and Liam danced.

Liam loves dancing.

Marlie smiled, and Liam smiled too.

 

Then, Liam put on his helmet.

Daddy put him on the bike, in his special seat.

They started riding.

Liam smiled.

Daddy went fast.

Liam smiled.

Daddy went faster and faster…

“Yeeeeeeeeeoooooooooohhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!”

Liam laughed.

Daddy laughed too.

 

Liam made Jerry smile.

Liam made Marlie smile.

Liam made Daddy smile.

 

Soon it was time for bed.

Liam had dinner.

Liam had a bath and brushed his teeth.

 

After his bath, Mummy read him a book and gave him a great big hug.

“Good night,” she said.

Liam smiled and reached out.

“Another hug Mummy?”

…and he made Mummy smile.

Image: Katrina Knapp