Sunday, 27 February 2011

The fire of love

The Eternal Idol by Rodin

I burn with a fire
and you submit with desire
our love is entire

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Clarence leaves his mark

When Paul signed on at Centrelink to look for a job they took his details and asked for his postal address. He had given his mother a poste restante address of a post office in the next suburb over but this only lasted a month. So he had to give them Maisie’s Post Office box number. He only discovered that she had no mail delivered to the house when he was clearing out the front yard. There was no letterbox! However there was a sign on the fence that said “No Junk Mail”. Maisie explained that by having a box number no one really knew where you lived and the front garden wasn’t cluttered up with rubbish. Paul had a little smile on his face when she told him that but was wise enough to keep his mouth shut.
Walking up the laneway at the back of the house he could hear Maisie talking to someone in the back yard.
“Clarence, don’t think you can come crawling back in here. I told you last time that I had finished with you, now you have done the dirty on me again”.
Paul couldn’t believe his ears. Surely she didn’t have someone else that used her place to doss down in. He couldn’t figure out whether to go through the back gate or keep out of sight. He was so full of his news that he would get a job start allowance just needing to front up each fortnight to say what jobs he had applied for and by keeping a log book. He fiddled about a bit then took the plunge and opened the gate.
Maisie was at the back door, admonishing the dog. Suddenly it all appeared clear, Clarence was the dog and that name was only mentioned when he had done something wrong. Maisie looked up saw Paul then looked down at the dog again and put her finger to her lips so as to let the dog know he shouldn’t say anything.
Paul sighed in relief. It was business as usual in his new home!
Well?” said Maisie.
The dog meanwhile was unsure whether he was allowed back in or not, nudged the flyscreen door without success. He then gave up and went to see whether his weekly juicy bone hidden in the garden had been found by the cats or even the goat.
Paul explained to Maisie what had happened and his use of her address for correspondence.
“That’s all right Paul, you are one of the family now”.
It was the first time she had called him by his name. He was so touched that he gave her a hug and said, “It really feels like that too”.
Meanwhile the Galah swinging in its cage above them let out a fearful screech.
At which Maisie retorted, “I don't think she is so stressed any more she is getting some of her feathers back”.
We will leave Maisie for the moment, however she may return from time to time.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Arrangements

At breakfast Paul placed the $50 note on Maisie’s side of the table. “It’s for the food and cost of looking after me” he said. Then he went on “Until I can get some money coming in”.
“You can register for unemployment or job search benefits can’t you” she asked, as the note disappeared from the table.
“Mind you” she went on. “This place needs tidying up, that will do for your keep” She then went into the jobs that he could do around the house until he found some paid work.
“I don’t eat much, so I never spend all the money that I get”. She said. “And the empties are just a little bonus on the side”.
Paul was later to learn that she received a widow’s pension, and that the house was fully paid for. Who would have believed it looking at her scrabbling amongst the rubbish for few cents worth of bottles and cans?
So for the next fortnight she set him to work cleaning up the interior of house. This meant that the items she now deemed unfit to be in house were placed outside in the yard for the goat to check out for their food value.
“Do you milk him?” Paul asked.
I wouldn’t try it if it was a ‘him’”. Maisie responded with a chortle of laughter.
Paul coloured up, and seeing his embarrassment Maisie went on.
She’s dried up now, she’s only a pet”
Once back inside, the house started to be transformed into a place halfway to normal. This seemed to worry the dog as he kept coming round to where Maisie was supervising the work and sat right on her feet and stared up at her face.
“It’s got you worried hasn’t it my pet?” She soothed. Then she bent down and let the dog lick her face for reassurance.
“Hasn’t he got a name?”
“Oh yes” Said Maisie. “But he is embarrassed about it so I only call him that when he is naughty.” So Paul was none the wiser.
The next day Paul was surprised to see Maisie dressed differently. He said nothing but his glance at her smarter attire forced her to explain.
“I still go to the cemetery to tell my husband Don and James my little boy what I am doing” she said without any embarrassment. “They will want to know I have a boarder”.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Paul asked.
“Yes, I think so.” She said. “They’ll need to check you out.”
They had to walk all the way over the railway yards by the busy main road to get to the West Terrace cemetery. They strolled along in the February sunshine which in Adelaide even at 9.00 in the morning was quite warm and in through the main entrance gates. Maisie skilfully negotiated the maze of avenues to reach the spot where there was a simple white slab on the ground. Paul stood back a little way and glanced with interest around him at the assortment of memorials of angels and broken columns and black marble slabs. He kept silent as she fussed unnecessarily around the neat memorial. Clearly she was talking to her Don and James as he could see her lips move and when she seemed to have stopped, he approached and stood by her side.
“I think you had better send that money back to your Mother with an apology.” She said.
“You shouldn’t have taken it. Just tell her you needed it to get here and you are sorry to have caused her worry, but you will write later when you are settled, but don’t give her your address”.
Paul was about to say something, but one glance from Maisie was enough to shut his mouth again.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Maisie's Dream

As Maisie pulled the covers over her small wiry body she listened hard to see if Paul was moving about in his room. All was quiet, so she plumped up her pillow and settled down for the night. She had lived in this house all her married life. She still considered herself as married even though she had lost Don her husband many years ago. She always thought of him when she went to bed. If anyone would have asked why, she would have said it was because he was a kind and gentle man that thought the world of her. But nobody ever asked. He had been killed in a freak road accident so many years ago. He was a delivery man for a store in town and another vehicle had clipped the rear door of the van he was opening, knocked him to the ground and hit his head on the road. He died of a brain haemorrhage.
That was the second occasion of great sadness for Maisie. The first was when they lost their baby James a few weeks after his first birthday. Maisie was so upset that she didn’t know even now exactly what illness he had or why they couldn’t save him. The word meningitis was used but she didn’t understand it or why they couldn’t save him. She had gone into a state of shock and depression. Don had been very kind and supportive and later they made plans to have another child but one never came. Then Don died and Maisie was by herself. In but a blink of the eyes her married life and that of a mother were ended.
Maisie was by this time fast asleep. In her dreams she relived her life and reshaped it to how she wanted her life to have been. Her Don would touch and kiss and make love to her and trace his fingers over her body and she would fall asleep safe in his arms. James her baby would steadily grow up and play with toy cars and Lego and might even have a train set. He would go to school and come back home with his school books and his words would have some of the letters written the wrong way round. She could see him kicking a football and swimming at the pool. She even wondered what sort of girl he would pick out to be his bride.
Maisie was woken early the next morning by the dog scratching at the door. She wearily got up and let him out to wander round the garden. And then she looked in on Paul whose door was now open. As he lay there still fast asleep she wondered whether she could catch up on some of the life she had missed out on.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

I'll Never go back.

Paul was seventeen. His Mum’s new boyfriend, the antipathy of his sisters who were too young to understand what had happened and the fact that their father was a useless waste of time who in any case was the devil knows where, were all the stimulus for him to make a break. He left his family at Altona outside Melbourne and hitchhiked his way not to Sydney where everyone would imagine he had gone, but to Adelaide. He had never talked about Adelaide. He chose this city because the one person who meant anything to him said she came from there. That was Megan Watts, his teacher at school a year or two back. She was the one person that talked to him and encouraged him to do what he wanted in life. He felt a special bond with her. She won’t be there but at least no one will look for me in Adelaide.
He hitched the 800 kilometres using highway 1. The first lift only got him as far as Horsham, the next dropped him at Bordertown. The last leg got him put down at the Old Toll House at the end of the freeway with directions to walk down the last few kilometres to the city which he could see in the distance. It looked magnificent with the high rise buildings standing tall and the line of the sea stretching away in the distance. Everything was so bright and clean and green. Every street was lined with trees. Even the Jacarandas were in blossom.
And now less than two weeks later after sleeping down by the River Torrens or in the parklands that circled the city he was finally in a bed again! And clean!
He looked up at the paint flaking from the ceiling. The dog which had chosen to sleep in his room made snuffling noises in his sleep and he could still hear Maisie fiddling about in the kitchen.
OK, so her cooking was a bit basic, the house certainly needed a tidy up but for once in his life he felt good about things. He went through his possessions again. I’ll have to give her some money for board he mused as he took out a small torch from his backpack. He unscrewed it and tapped the body against his hand so as not to make a noise. Instead of batteries a tightly wound up roll of notes dropped into his palm. “I’ll give her $50 to start”.
“I’ll never go back, not in a thousand years” he murmured. He got up, went to the door and switched the light out then felt his way back to bed. Even Maisie was quiet now and night fell on the household.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Maisie at home

The boy followed Maisie across the bridge over the railway and down into the back streets of the suburb filled with light industry and run down housing. Despite being a few yards in front of him she prattled on saying things he couldn’t quite hear. Then suddenly she was gone. She had turned down a path between some houses, fought her way along the narrow lane overgrown with weeds and disappeared through the back gate of a property some distance from the road. They were home. The lane was an old access route for the night soil men who collected the buckets from the outdoor toilets from the backs of the properties so many years ago.

Immediately she entered the garden Maisie was greeted by a screech from the Galah swinging in a cage on the back veranda and one or two cats ran up to acknowledge her presence whilst others merely stared with their green eyes then looked away again.

One cat with a malevolent look eyed the boy with suspicion.

“Miserable bugger, don’t dare pick him up, he’ll scratch. So leave him alone.”

Meanwhile the goat ignored everyone and went on munching the grass as if they were not of his world at all.

“What’s yer name?” Maisie asked the boy.

“Paul” was the response.

Maisie acknowledged this with a nod and opened the back door with a push and dropped her bag on a table. She immediately put the kettle on and started rattling tins to ascertain the presence of biscuits.

Paul meanwhile wandered around the house sensing an essence of unwashed dog tentatively opened doors and found the mutt happily sleeping and unaware of their entry.

“Deaf.” Maisie said by way of explanation. The dog as if to deny this looked up presumably alerted by the vibrations through the floor and wagged his tail then appeared to go back to sleep again straight away.

“This is your room.” Maisie announced as she opened up the door to a room with slightly less clutter than the rest. “Where’s your stuff?”

“I'll get it later.” Paul said.

The kettle whistled its readiness and they returned to the kitchen area where tea was made, poured and liberally diluted with milk. Sugar came in sachets filched from the tables of outdoor cafes as Maisie collected her bottle and cans in the city.

Living on the edge of society had made Maisie a very practical person, nothing was ever wasted. As they sat there Maisie picked up a small piece of knitting and furiously added a few more rows to the indeterminate garment so small that couldn’t fit a doll let alone a child.

Paul obviously wanted to ask the question but Maisie was ahead of him. She picked up every movement, every nuance, everything that was happening around her.

“It’s a coat for the Galah. She’s losing all her feathers.”

For more of Maisie see: 'A Walk in the Park' and 'Maisie Perkins Story''

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Maisie Perkins' Story

“How do you plead?”
“Guilty” said Maisie with a scowl in the dock. The whole court seemed to sigh in relief, as Maisie Perkins followed her appointed lawyer’s recommendation. The proceedings thereafter were short. First there was the evidence of the policeman, who claimed that Maisie had tried to strike him with her umbrella, followed by an eyewitness account of a passer by. He received a glare fit to kill! Then her lawyer rose and attempted to mitigate the offence. He had advised Maisie not to fight the charge but to plead guilty thus avoiding higher court costs and a larger fine.
She had reluctantly agreed to this plan, as she had a family at home, all nine of them. Her family comprised an assortment of stray cats and one dog, an aggressive goat and an almost bald galah.
The Magistrate considered the evidence and submissions and determined that Maisie was guilty of causing a nuisance in a public place and should be bound over for twelve months to keep the peace and to pay costs. Fortunately with the proceedings so brief the cost amounted to a mere $237.
Maisie bit her lip. “Have to live bread and scrape” she murmured, but no one noticed as the court was preparing for the next case.
She lived alone, had done for years. Nobody remembered her husband, and her children, if any, never visited her. She survived in a hovel at Mile End. The garden what there was of it was unkempt; the grass scorched by the sun, providing nesting places for the cats. The fence around the property was full of holes and this provided an essential feline expressway to escape the neighbours and aggressive dogs. The back door of the house, the only one in use had been patched with unpainted hardboard and now curled in protest away from its fasteners. The colour of what little paint was left on the building was indeterminate, and the grey rags at the windows excluded the outside world. Inside the house there was a considerable amount of clutter ranging from old bicycles to empty ice cream containers. Anything that could contain something did so as Maisie was a great hoarder. Her current passion was drink containers which could be redeemed for a few cents at the recycling depot. She was an enthusiastic collector and would be up early to feed the animals before she went out. She herself ate little; just a piece of stale bread cut up placed in a bowl and covered with milk. This she would slurp down between her gummy jaws spilling droplets of milk down her front as she talked to her animals. Her clothes, which were not much more than rags, generally came out of goodwill bins after dark. She also smelt, an acrid mix of curdled milk and unwashed dog.
She had her regular route to collect her empties as she called them, trawling the streets of Adelaide with a huge plasticised bag in which she would put both empties and an assortment of discarded food for the animal’s tea. As the city came alive, workers scurrying to work would barely notice Maisie and her haul. When she first started collecting she would keep the cans and bottles intact but soon realised that it was easier to squash them and this she did in the street, jumping on them to make them flat.
It was at the Railway Station she was involved in the incident. It was here that she had seen the youth being bailed up by the policeman all those weeks ago. The boy appeared quite distressed and hating bullying of any sort she had strode across to the scene and shouted.
“Leave him alone you mongrel, go and pick on someone your own size”
The policeman turned around in surprise and stared at the diminutive figure close to him.
“Off you go Granny, this has nothing to do with you”
Maisie looked at the boy’s frightened face and stood her ground.
With that he put his hand on Maisie’s shoulders and turned her round to steer her away. Maisie exploded and grabbed her brolly out of her bag and raised it up. The policeman with a look of surprise let go of the youth who disappeared quietly between some parked cars. By this time the second policeman from the patrol car jumped into action and Maisie was arrested for assault.
As Maisie left the court after arranging to pay the fine she set off for home. She hadn’t got far before she heard the sound of steps behind her. She was not a nervous type but did turn round to see the very youth that had been involved with the police the day she was arrested. He looked pale and unfed.
“I just wanted to thank you.” He said.
She eyed him up and down. “So you got away did you?”
He nodded in assent.
“You are going to cost me a few dollars you are my boy.”
She chuckled, grinning at him with her gummy grin.
“You’ve nowhere to stay have you? What a piece of flotsam you are, sleeping rough, by the look of it. How did you come to be on the streets?”
Before he could answer she went on.
“No, no, don’t tell me now. Let’s go home and have a cup of something.”
With that she started striding off down the road that led home. Crossing over West Terrace the spire of the church at Thebarton rose out of the green valley welcoming them to her haven that was almost untouched by the bustle of city life.
Maisie was happy again, she had another stray to look after.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011


I walked with some authority in the Hospital. The handful of others in the lift knew not whether I was a patient, visitor or staff. I carried a light weight briefcase; it contained my lunch not documents, I even fooled myself. I had journeyed there many times, directing people when they got lost, chatted with the tradesfolk as they went about their business and became abrasive when I could see carelessness or neglect by the nurses. Very few could read me. I was a closed book. I was capable, strong, able talk to specialists and cleaners alike. I fitted neck braces, massaged limbs, and read to this patient and chatted with others, I fetched cups of coffee. I discussed treatment; I assisted a patient to walk to the shower; I brushed hair, I applied moisturiser, and I called out the clues to the crossword for the patient who couldn’t sit upright to fill the answers in themselves. I accompanied patients to radiography, and held their hand when bloods were taken. I talked of gardens and weather and of people we both knew and of plans for the future. But there was no future, you slipped away without saying goodbye, or had you? And now I am left with this loss, a void that cannot be filled and now on my own I am always looking for you, you are everywhere but not here, not where I want you to be.