The Wrong Future

[a short story]

PART 1

I feel like my story should start with a deep quote about time.

Rather, it starts with the words “I wish I’d never met you.”

I think after that should follow a deep reflection.

Unfortunately what followed was “I know, darling.”

I am the 32nd licensed time traveller of my day [the Lord knows how many unlicensed ones are out there]. I make ludicrous amounts of money going back in time and changing small mistakes or travelling to the future to see how investments work out, what happens to the next child superstar, what a woman will say when she’s proposed to. Humanity avoids risks by paying a few of us to take large ones regularly. And yet I couldn’t even avoid the disaster of my own marriage.

And so the story goes that when I asked her what I could do to fix everything, she says, “go back to that day-” and we both know exactly which day she means- ” and tell me not to go to work the next day.”

So I went.

I see her from across the room, over the tops of twenty something cubicles, typing away on an old fashioned desktop PC. She has her hair swept up in a bun and her cheeks crinkle as she laughs at something a coworker has said, in lines that aren’t permanent yet. Her eyes glisten in the sunlight, a clear ice blue without glasses to shield them. She isn’t wearing make up but her face is rosy and her lips are pink and she takes my breath away as I know she would have the next day when she walked into my cafe for the first time.

It’s almost impossible to break the spell and walk over but I do, before I’ve even thought of a proper way to introduce myself.

“Hello,” I say.

She looks me in the eye and sweeps a stray piece of hair out her eyes, something she is yet to do a million times in front of me, when she’s distracted.

“Hey,” she replies and smiles. Her lack of familiarity catches me off guard for a second.

I decide to go with the company protocol- my name, a piece of information to establish authenticity and finally, my mission.

“My name is Andrew, although in the future you will come to call me Sourpuss-” here she laughs, and it sounds like melted honey and butter, and I almost turn around and run as fast and far as I can- “and I’m here to tell you not to go to work tomorrow.”

“I used to call my-”

“Your dad Sourpuss, I know. You used to… well, you would have said I have a lot in common with him.”

She smiled again, a dimple forming in her cheek. She smells like lemons and the mints she used to religiously keep in her handbag, back when she was working for that promotion.

“I’ve heard about you people,” she says, standing up to meet my eye more easily. One day she will spill wine on the collar of this shirt. “Well, yea, if it’s my destiny I’ll chuck a sickie.”

Her destiny, I think. Of course. Her destiny is to be happy.

“Sure, right, well, I’ll be off then,” I say, shaking her hand. Her touch still sends shivers up my arm.

As I turn to leave, she says “yea, bye Andy.”

I freeze.

She hasn’t called me that in years.

And I suppose now she never will again.

PART 2

It’s freezing out and my coat is just thin enough to leave me sweaty under the armpits but shivering. I wish I’d shaved before I left the house, I think as I catch my reflection in a shop window. I wish I’d have combed my hair and cut my nails and gotten three hours more sleep, but it’s too late now.

There isn’t room in my tiny flat for anything much more than a bed, toilet, stove and sink. When I got back, of course our house wasn’t there because we hadn’t bought it. Every pot and pan she had bought was gone, and on short notice all the money in the world couldn’t get me much more than a one bedroom on the top floor on short notice. Even though it’s been roughly six months since I returned to the day we would have had the catalytic fight, I haven’t bothered to look for anything more. My clothes are falling apart because she used to get me a shirt every Christmas and her parents would buy me a pair of socks or tie. I don’t even get photos because no one remembers any were taken apart from me. Such is the struggle of being a time traveller- you collect memories and see possibilities that no one will ever know.

I hurry to the bus stop and huddle in the corner as I wait for transport that is already twenty minutes late. Today I’m meeting a new client who wants to see how much money their father leaves them in his will. They’re not close at the moment, and they want to know how hard to try. The obvious answer is that if they have to ask, they probably won’t get much, but a job’s a job. The rain is pouring down in sheets and I can barely see the approaching headlights of my bus before it’s almost passed. I wave my wallet in front of the reader and look for a place to sit before I see her.

The bus swings into motion before I have a chance to sit, so I helplessly swing into the seat opposite her.

“You.” She says, her mind searching for the source of recognition.

“Me.” I reply, not meeting her eye.

“You were the one who told me to miss work.”

Her hair is pulled into a tight bun at the nape of her neck and she is wearing a sharply cut suit. She must have made her promotion by now. Her nails are manicured and she has this handbag she wanted for a long time but convinced herself she couldn’t afford. Apparently she can afford it while not waiting for me to finish my time training. She is still beautiful but there is a coldness, a sense of being put together that she didn’t have when I knew her. She probably has a planner in that bag.

“I am,” I finally reply.

“You’ve got to thank whoever employed you to do that,” she says, her lips curling into some semblance of a smile I’ve never seen the likes of. I guess it’s the smile of success. “Two weeks later, there was this huge stuff up at work and they went back to check the records, swept through the whole place sacking people who were responsible. I was on the team, but I wasn’t there that day. In fact, I was instrumental in putting it all back together and soon after, they promoted me. I haven’t stopped climbing that ladder since.”

That’s not how it’s meant to happen. She’s meant to be part of that team and fight to keep her friends in work. She fixes it without sacrificing her mates. Of course, I’m trained not to reveal alternates, so I just smile, nod, and look at the ground.

“I’ll be sure to let them know,” I tell her and get off the bus when it stops.

I’m about an hour away from my destination, so I slump at the bus stop and weep until the next bus comes.

PART 3

“You can’t put that there,” I say to my spotty intern with a fern in his shaking hands. I take it from him before he drops it out of nerves.

I own my own company now, with a couple of people under me. I honestly didn’t see this in my future. [It’s recommended you don’t check your own status. Apparently it’s been known to drive time travellers insane. It also drives your insurance premiums up.] We work on making time travelling more comfortable for your average man. Wouldn’t you prefer to arrive in your time with the clothes already tailored and in your bag? Wouldn’t it be good to have a handbook on the culture and politics you’ll be arriving in? I work on helping the people who change the world every day. Of course, the recognition goes to the people who secretly employed them and took their tips- prime ministers who checked future trends before writing their mission statements and chain restaurants who explored the future acceptance of possible locations before spending their millions to make billions.

I heard the first time traveller wanted to see how humanity develops, stop world wars and provide for the poor before they were even born. But this is where we are.

I put the pot plant down on the windowsill and smile at the small cafe across the road.

The day she was meant to walk in was going to be our last day. We had balloons tied to the doors and a huge sign in the window. She walks in and says “I always meant to try this place.”

I say, “if there were more people like you, maybe we wouldn’t be closing.”

I hand her a coffee, she takes a sip, and she says “it’s definitely a shame you are.”

I reply, “I make coffee just as good wherever I am. This doesn’t have to be your last.”

She asks for my number so she can give me a call next time she wants one.

She calls me the next morning.

I make her coffee for the next ten years.

That’s how it was once upon a time, anyway. I’m glad to see they still serve coffee though. Some things never change.

I realise it’s past lunch time, so I decide to go and grab a sandwich. On the way out I see my reflection in the glass doors of the building I now own. It’s different to that of three years ago- my face is clean and my suit is dry cleaned. My shoes shine in the sunlight and my hair is slicked back to a fashionable extent. I practically skip into the cafe, and head straight for the line leading to the till, staring into the display at the array of options.

When I get to the front, I look up for the first time and she’s behind the register.

She is wearing make up, but it doesn’t make up for much. I can see the bluish circles under her eyes patchily concealed, and her bright lipstick attempts to draw away from a face that is filled with darkness. Her hair is forced into a clip to keep it out of her eyes and her nails are painted but chipped and bitten.

“Hi,” I say quietly.

“Hello sir, what can I get you today?”

Her tone hurts for a second before I remember she probably has no idea who I am. I try to remember what sandwich I wanted but it takes long enough for the woman behind me to tap my shoulder and tell me she’s in a hurry so I step to the side and take a seat at a small table.

Her apron is dirty and her shoulders sag- she is nothing like the woman I left on that bus or the woman I married in another life. She looks broken, and I can’t help but hurt for her. She doesn’t have those smile lines that were destined for her eyes, only the harsh pattern of a crumpled brow.

Before I realise it, the sun has gone down and everyone has gone home. She comes over to where I have been sitting for what must have been hours, even though I can’t remember much of it. I’ve been watching her for most of it, not even having ordered. She smells like baked goods, and coffee. She should smell like lemons and chamomile- she was drinking a cup before bed every night by now. I try to shake my head clear of memories from a non-existent past.

“You’re the time traveller, from before.”

“I am.”

“Well, things didn’t work out so well for me in the end I guess.”

“I guess.”

She laughs. “Oh, gee thanks sourpuss.”

I flinch.

After a pause, I ask, “If you don’t mind me asking, what happened?”

“I think, in the end, they just realised I wasn’t the right person for the job.”

That’s not meant to happen, I think.

“I see,” I say. “And relationship wise?”

She looks at me curiously but in the end shrugs and says, “there never really was anyone. At one point, I had a bit of a fling with someone at work.”

Her boss. He always had a thing for her.

She never even looked at him twice, I protest.

Yea, because she was with me, my mind recognises.

I should have been there.

“And what about you?”

“Oh, I run the company across the road now.”

“I meant relationship wise,” she says with a shy smile.

“Oh, ah, no, nothing really… stuck.”

We look at each other for a while. She will never know how much every date I considered felt like I was cheating on my wife. Especially since technically, I have never been married. I don’t wear a ring but I still sleep on the left side of the bed. I celebrate anniversaries alone and visit old date haunts by myself, and still stop in the shops when I see something I know she would have loved for her birthday.

Something breaks the silence-a car honking outside, or a dog barking- and she sighs. “I’m really sorry, but I’m going to have to lock up soon.”

I nod and slowly stand to leave. I can’t stop staring- how did she get that scar on her arm, and when did her hair start to grey?

As I reach the door, I feel a light hand on my arm.

“Could you… is it possible to tell me who sent you, all those years back?”

I turn to look at her. Is it against privacy to tell someone that they sent me themselves?

I take a deep breath and say, “well, it was you.”

Her face falls. “Why?”

“Because the next day you would have met me.”

Her face crumples. “So?”

“We get married, and we don’t live happily ever after.”

She begins to cry. “So?”

I pull her into me and wrap my arms around her shaking shoulders. Her head automatically fits into the curve of my neck. “It guess it just wasn’t working out.”

We stand there for a little bit until I can hear her start to breathe regularly again. I stand back.

She looks at me with such sadness I take her hand and we sit down together.

“I wish I had met you,” she says.

“I know, darling.”

There’s a pause, and I finally decide to ask.

“What can I do to fix everything?”

“Go back to that day-” and we both know exactly which day she means- ” and tell me to go to work the next day.”

So I went.

PART 4

So when we inevitably have that fight again, all those years later, and I’m dropped in the moment after I left, with her standing there, in our house, with years of shirts in the cupboard and socks in the drawer, I walk over and kiss her. I don’t know when the last time is she was kissed like that by me, but for me it feels like years. In a way, it has been.

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Why I Decided To Be A Teacher (part 1)

I was inspired to be a teacher by three particular women.

Unfortunately, you have probably never heard of them but weirdly, they’re the sort of women who wouldn’t really mind that. Quite happy to leave their mark on a small portion of the world, they certainly made a mark on me.

If you want to put it into simply terms, they changed my life.

The first, Ms N., inspired in me a love of English teaching. I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl- not much has changed in that respect. I have also always appreciated the English language and everything it affords people from dry sarcasm and puns to deep explorations of the human condition. However for a long time I wanted to be a primary school teacher. A few people told me I would be good with high school students but frankly, especially while I was IN high school, they scared me. Sometimes they still do. But thankfully, my university offers a course where you can end up teaching primary and high school, so I can back out in the end if they are still too threatening. Maybe I’ll wait until I’m Ms N’s age.

Ms N had a smile, when she was truly elated, that looked like she’d just tasted a lemon or done something naughty. I don’t know, perhaps she had. She told us stories about the farm she owned [she drove a convertible and her neck was usually adorned by pearls], and explained how she believed the world should be. She once told us that buildings should only be half as high as the street they’re on is wide, so we don’t feel trapped by concrete as we so often do in the city. I often think about this and agree, especially as apartments are built in my area that I am old enough to remember used to be quite quaint.

Best of all, though, she made books interesting. She was happy to make fun of authors who were stuck up [Alain de Botton, we are looking at you]. She read out the entirety of Shakespeare’s “Tempest” by herself, pausing to add her own commentary or thoughts on the characters [after much reflection, Miranda was decidedly naive]. She read our essays and short stories with intrigue, not with the keen eye of an eagle minded marker who has many other papers to mark. When I myself had to do some marking on practical placement recently, I tried to afford each paper the same care. My supervisor told me I wrote too much, but after all, that’s what I wanted from my teachers and that’s what Ms N afforded in her spindly, graphite handwriting. I wonder if it was lead pencil so, in case we wanted to, we could rub it out and treasure our work rather than the black crosses drawn by other teachers.

She made me feel smart.

She also once told me I have great style.

Then there was Ms P. She was the favourite teacher of many of the students at my school. Soft spoken with loud opinions and a quick wit, she was as affectionate as she was clever. Once we walked into a lesson on Pompeii only to be faced with Russell Brand who had recently said something smart, so we watched that and discussed it before getting into the lesson. Perhaps that sums her up rather nicely- she had a deeper fascination and care for what was living rather than what was dead and unchangable, although she was very good at teaching it. I appreciated her for her heart for us. When it came to our final exams, she said she expected us to help each other rather than work for our own marks, which is the way it’s usually done- she told us we were a team.

In year 11, the thing happened with my friends. She was actually the only one who sat all three of us down and asked whether we couldn’t work it out and apologise. “Sorry” was muttered simply because we couldn’t bear to disappoint her. She was strong, and calm and steady- a good mother hen figure who reminded me that teaching is not just a job. It makes you a conductor, facilitator and fixer of relationships, communication and love. You are not dealing with machines but people which makes it both dangerous and exhilarating.

The final lady who encouraged my love of teaching was Ms J.

She once told us that she was actually a businesswoman but, frustrated by the lack of world knowledge young people were arriving to her with, she decided she could either complain about it or fix it, so she dropped everything and became a teacher. She once jumped a fence in New Zealand to bring back a contraband sample of raw cotton for us. She wore 1920-1940’s style hats and high heels every day, except for when she sneaked running shoes out of her purse so she could jog down to the road to her other job teaching at a university. She just spent every day changing lives because she could. And I wondered why I shouldn’t do the same.

Last year, I held a concert to fundraise for a mission trip to Fiji and went to school to personally invite her- she came.

She told me I am a good person, and I believe her, especially when I don’t feel like one.

I could have that sort of impact one day.

Me in high school, on the right. (Cancer fundraising face painting.)

The Book Store

  

Today I walked into one of the most beautiful book stores I have ever been in. 

Sometimes book stores just have this aura- this sense that the walls are lined with stories and not just printed pages. I wanted to thumb each spine and read every word. What really caught my eye were these reimagined covers of some old classics. They had gold edged pages and were intricately designed- you could tell someone had really put thought into how to capture the essence of the story and not just rebrand an old tale to sell again. 

It may have been the light pitter patter of rain outside in the dark, or the warm glow of fairy lights- I can be manipulated by atmosphere like any fool. But I think it was more the smell, of new books and the fresh leather goods they had for sale. I think it was the smile of the shop keeper, who left their store open for wanderers like myself. I think it was the sense that this store wasn’t just selling a product but something special, like each book was a present with a surprise inside. 

This is true- when I got in the car, virtually dragged away (by the words “I am parked illegally and will leave without you”), my mum said when I was little I had entered a writing competition in that very book store (and won). I have absolutely no recollection of this. But it is fact that, since I was young, I have loved to read and write. To tell my stories and to make people laugh with them. 

However, receiving stories is just as fun as creating them. Reading books has always been a way to expand my mind, take me places and remind me of a world that is not half bad. A world full of magic and justice and love- although rare in their purest forms, they exist. Good will triumph over evil, the girl will get the guy and the world will keep on spinning, a little better for its heroes. 

And to step inside a book store is to step into a world of possibilities. 

To step inside a good book store is like flying into that world.

I like to write poetry…

(This short story is based off a secret I was given in a class, and asked to turn into a narrative. The original secret was “I like to write poetry about everyday experiences”.)

Ever since I was a kid I’ve wanted to write poetry. I don’t mean garbage like kids are forced to do for the HSC or like Shakespeare who everyone thinks is so great but is secretly just making clever “ya mum” jokes. I mean real poetry. 

I kept trying, even when it was really hard. I wanted to write from every day experiences, stuff that I knew well, but it’s hard to rhyme anything with dishwasher, or lunchbox, so for a long time I’ll admit I was stumped. I mean, George Papanakis could write stuff that would make you weep, or sit for hours pondering the meaning of life. He was the kid who sat next to me, and every time we’d have to hand something in for English, I swear, the teacher would beam as if they were getting handed a crisp hundred dollar note, not Georges homework. But whenever I sat down to write, whether it was about X-rays, My Xbox or my eczema, poetry did not seem my expertise. 

So one day, I decided to go to the professional. 

“George?” I asked, sitting next to him one recess. 

He grunted, not looking up from his book. I hadn’t thought he was busy and he was just sitting there, moving only to shove a bit of sandwich in his face or turn a page. Looking at the amount of lines of concentration on his face, I realised maybe I’d caught him at a bad time. 

“George I need some help.”

“No, Juliet Chen does not have a crush on you, she only pretended to win a bet.”

That stung a little, but I pursued my aim.

“No, George, it’s not about girls. It’s about poetry.”

George ripped off a bit of paper bag and bookmarked his page. “Poetry?”

“Yea George. You know, I know you’re good at it and I’ve always wanted to be able to write about stuff in a beautiful way, so I just thought you’d be able to give me some handy hints.”

George looked up at me, chewing slowly. After a bit, he patted the bit of bench beside him. “Take a seat, mate.”

I sat.

“Look mate, you’re not very good at writing stuff.”

“I know! That’s what I’d hoped you could help with!”

“You didn’t let me finish mate. If you’re not good at it now, and you haven’t been before… I don’t think you’ll ever be, mate.”

“What?” I couldn’t have heard him right.

“You just don’t have the gift, mate.” 

“The gift?”

“The gift, mate.”

” I see.”

“Sorry, mate.”

“No worries,” I said, hopping up lightly. “Thanks for your time, George.”

“Sure thing, mate.”

“And mate?” He called after me.

I turned around, tears threatening to cascade from my eyes.

“Yep?”

“I’m sure you’re good at other things.”

For the rest of the day I couldn’t concentrate. The gift? I absentmindedly doodled on the back of my workbook. 

I felt like I’d been slapped across the face 

After being told I didn’t have the gift.

The gift of writing, the gift to create,

And my whole world had taken a shift. 
All this time trying to do something great 

And writing line after line,

Could it be, possibly, inexplicably, 

I had been wasting my time?

All my passion, my love for words

The way they skip and interlace

A dream I had dreamed since just a boy 

Was gone without a trace.

Good at other things?

I didn’t actually want to be.

All I wanted was to write,

Good, great, poetry.

I put down my pen and tried to focus on what the teacher was saying. George was probably right- I couldn’t write poetry if I tried. 

The Old Woman and The Fool

There was once a king and queen that lived in an stately castle on the top of a hill. They were kind and fair rulers who were never seen without a smile on their faces and nobody knew that the secret to their tranquility was that each evening, after a long hard day of ruling, they’d sit down and be entertained by their Fool. He would dance about, crack [mostly clean] jokes and play out little scenes until they were laughing and relaxed. 

Many years passed, and the monarchs came to have a daughter, who then also spent her days being entertained by the Fool. He, not having any children of his own, always tried a little harder to make her laugh and loved her as his own. He spent the rest of his days watching her grow up into a beautiful young lady, who took after her parents in her wisdom, mercy and sense of justice. However, time wove its dreaded curse and the Fool grew old until one day he passed away. The royal family mourned their Fool for he had been not only hilarious but kind and loyal. Fearing they would never find a man like him again, they went about their business but the entire kingdom could feel something had changed and although the royals were still good at their duties, it seemed a sparkle was missing from their eyes. 

Years more passed, and the young princess continued to grow. Soon her parents handed responsibilities over to her, training her to be a good ruler. Soon afterwards, they passed away and the young princess was left to rule on her own. As her days grew longer and harder, her once brilliant smile was tarnished. Her shoulders grew strong but stiff. Her eyes were still beautiful, but seemed empty. Her verdicts were intelligent but her heart was cold. And, one day, she walked out into her garden to simply get away from it all. Sitting down on a hard concrete bench, surrounded by beauty she did not see, she began to cry and one of her elderly maids, hanging washing nearby, heard her weep. The pain in her tears resonated within the old washerwoman, who remembered the friendly and bright little girl she had once known and she resolved to do something to aid her mistress. 

So, with a small bundle of belongings [for she only had a modest amount to begin with], she set off to find the girl another Fool. She met many a man on her journey. Young and old, from impossibly handsome to grotesquely ugly, she laughed many times but turned each candidate away, for she knew that a Fool could not just be funny. No, he had to be something like that man from many years ago. He had to give the girl a joy that would last long after he’d left the room. The washer woman had known the palace’s previous Fool quite well and she knew what, therefore, made a good one. 

She continued to search and met hundreds upon hundreds of people who were eager to work in the palace but never found one she was completely satisfied with. They were all missing something, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Although they’d all been funny, there was something not quite right. Was it that their jokes were stiff and rehearsed? With some, it felt like they’d simply sewn together a patchwork of old stories. Was it that they did not understand how to artfully put together a story? Listening to some, she was near retching at the content of their material. No, she knew what she was looking for and she hadn’t found it. 

After searching until her feet were covered in blisters and her eyes were worn from looking, she decided to return to the palace empty handed. As disappointed as it made her, she was no longer a young woman and didn’t want to spend her last days so distant from home. Walking back to the castle, she decided to take a different road to the one she had come on and went through some farmers fields. As she passed through a pear orchard, the tinkling sound of laughter caught her ear. Intrigued, she hustled toward it and there saw, in a clearing, two little girls being entertained by who she assumed was their older brother. His emerald eyes twinkling and his chestnut curls bobbing, he told them story after story until they were rolling in the grass, begging him to let them pause for air. Fuelled by their happiness, he continued to make jokes and sing songs until he too collapsed on the grass, exhausted. The old woman came forward, out of the bushes she’d concealed herself in. There was something about him that she had been looking for. He was it. 

So, the boy traveled with her back to the castle and, after resting for a bit and eating aa lot, she presented him to the now queen of the land. Sitting regally on her throne, she looked down at him, her face stern and her lips straight. At first seemingly nervous, he began to speak and soon lost himself in his story, running around and acting out the parts, weaving marvellous imagery and interjecting with hilarious comments. Although she at first attempted to resist, the princess found herself getting more and more engrossed his tale, until at last she was smiling unabashedly. When he finished, she clapped and laughed, and the washerwoman smiled. She had been watching the entire time, eager to see her mistress’ reaction and when she had, she was satisfied. The girl was happy. 

The Queen asked what his name was and he obliged. She told him how pleased she had been by his performance and he grinned at her, thanking her for being such a lovely audience. She finally asked him for more about himself, and he told her what was most important to him- that he had two younger sisters waiting for him at home. The Queen’s smile immediately fell from her face. 
She thanked him for his service and entertainment, reached into a purse at her side and handed him a pure gold coin. His eyes widened, for he knew it would feed his family for months. As he reached to take it, however, he paused for he had just realised what it meant- the lady was dismissing him from service. The washerwoman too, felt her heart sink. What had stopped her lady from accepting the boy? 

The Queen offered no explanation, however, and so the boy, the washerwoman and the young Queen all went to bed that night with heavy hearts.

The next day, the washerwoman went to collect the washing she knew had been building up in her absence and found the Queen hanging it out herself, already washed and clean. The lady turned around at the old woman’s approach and smiled a little. She explained she’d heard the old woman had gone to find someone to make her smile, and wanted to repay the kindness. Perturbed, the old woman asked, before she could even think to stop herself, why then, had the Queen rejected the young man? He had clearly done a good job and was a good Fool. He could laugh as well as be laughed at, his story was well told and he was well spoken- he was quite handsome to boot. The Queen’s smiled dropped again and she turned again to face the washing. As she hid her face from the old woman, she explained she couldn’t bring herself to take him from his family. Her parens hadn’t done that to their Fool, and she couldn’t do it to another. The old woman gingerly approached the young girl and placed a hand gently on her shoulder. The girl turned to face her. The old woman explained that the Fool had indeed had a family- well, only a wife. And the king and queen, in order to keep their Fool, had built him and his wife a little cottage on their land so he wouldn’t have to travel to see the one he loved. The Queen’s heart was warmed at the kindness of her parents and she asked the washerwoman how she knew such a thing. The washerwoman smiled fondly and revealed that the Fool had indeed been her husband. And, she added, now that he was gone, the cottage was much too big and spacious for her. She was quite happy for the next Fool to take her place and she was quite sure he was worthy of it. The Queen laughed and embraced the old woman. 

After that, the old woman began to gently move her things out of the house as the new Fool and his family moved in. Each night, their belongings spread out a little more, but they did not disturb the old woman from her small bedroom. The boy took the place of the Fool and from that day, the Princess ended each day with a smile. The elderly woman, quite satisfied she had done her duty to take care of the royal family the way they had taken care of her and her husband, one night fell asleep in the bed she had once shared with the man she loved, but dear reader, this is not a sad ending. For, as the Princess was made to smile by her Fool, so then was the old woman made to smile by hers. 

Rest

“Hey”, she said, gently leaning on the railing. He looked up surprised. It was freezing cold and his hands were blue. “Hey,” he responded.

“How are you?” she asked, consciously looking out to sea instead of meeting his gaze.

“Oh, I’ve seen better days,” he responded with a smile, taking a step back so he could see her face more clearly.

She smiled. “Well, you see,” she said, looking down to examine the pattern on her gloves, “it’s my first time here in California.”

“Oh?” He raised an eyebrow and a sly grin began to spread on his face. She watched his grip tighten and released a breath that had been stuck since she had initially noticed him.

“Yea,” she continued, reaching out to grab his shoulder “and not to kill your buzz,” her grip tightened, “but it would really ruin it for me if you jumped.”
No, I don’t really know how I came to be in San Francisco. I mean, like most people, I had a plan for the next couple of years- uni, settling down, beginning a career- but I guess a spanner got thrown in the works. I mean, when the person you were making those plans with drops out, it makes a lot of sense to pack your bags and fly to America. 

Before you ask, I don’t know what made me go to the bridge either. I had heard that the Golden Gate Bridge was so big that every time they finish painting it, they have to start again, and I couldn’t comprehend something of that size. A work of art constantly being attended to and never being finished. That night, I was just sitting in bed eating from the mini fridge in my room, and watching a movie. I paused it half way and left.

 
When I was eight, I told my English teacher what was happening at home. He looked at me, smiled and said I should be grateful because at least I’d be able to stick up for myself when I was older. After that, every time I’d walk into English, I would look up at my teacher and remember that there is no use telling anyone anything. I ended up failing English, funnily enough. 

When I was eleven, I got into my first fight. It wasn’t over much- an action figurine or a playing card or something, but a voice in my head said “I can win this one”. And I did. And when a cop came over and asked what was going on, I told him to walk away, and he did. And that was when I learned that the world was fair. If no one was going to look out for me, no one was going to look out for the kid in the alleyway who had something I wanted. If I wanted it, I had to take it. And so, fair was fair. 

When I was seventeen, my mom died. When we were sitting at her funeral, the priest started talking about how God offers rest, how he is just and merciful. Mom didn’t get rest through justice or mercy though- she didn’t deserve to die, and the man who did was living and breathing right next to me. I guess that’s why the idea of “God the Father” didn’t really appeal either. That priest was wrong. That God was wrong.

When I was twenty two, I met her.

 
When he climbed back over the fence, I didn’t know what to do. He had felt so far away until he was right in front of me, and I hugged him. Completely without thinking about it, I just grabbed him and hugged him- he was really here in front of me. I could feel him laughing and when I let go, he had this huge smile on his face. Something in me realised he probably hadn’t been hugged in a long time. After that, I invited him to dinner. I had some money on me, but hadn’t seen any of the city apart from the route to my hotel and the view outside my window, so I asked him where we should go and he just began to walk as if it were any ordinary day. 

As we walked, I asked him about himself and he answered each question concisely- accurate but short sentences, like he wasn’t used to talking about himself but he was glad to. Or maybe he just thought I deserved the answers. Perhaps he just didn’t care any more. I guess neither of us thought we would get this far. So we continued to walk until we reached a small and nearly empty Chinese take away with a few tables and chairs scattered inside. A small old lady was seated at a table, a cigarette in her mouth, peeling string beans. She glanced up when when we entered, tapped her ash into the bucket of scraps, and returned to her work. A young man materialised out of nowhere and handed us menus, pointing to a booth next to the window. I placed my coat on the back of a fraying vinyl chair and sat down, putting my gloves in the pockets. He pulled up his sleeves to reveal arms that were milky white with scars. He noticed me staring, but didn’t say anything and I quickly turned to my menu as I felt a blush creep up my neck. I took off my scarf. He called over the young man who had been waiting for us eagerly, and quickly rattled off his order, as if by heart. I stammered out a foreign sounding dish and hoped for the best. He gave the waiter his menu and turned to me. 

“So.”

 
When we sat down to dinner, I was starving. I hadn’t eaten in a few days, like in preparation. I didn’t see the point of fuelling a vehicle that was going to the junk yard. I didn’t have my wallet on me, or anything, so I had no cash- I just sort of assumed she’d pay, and I hated myself for it. I don’t like accepting gifts, but I didn’t see a way out. She wanted a meal, and I needed one. So I took her to this crappy place on the outskirts of town- I’d been there a few times before to do pick ups and deliveries, and it was a real dump. Dan pretended not to know me when I walked in, which I was grateful for, but what was the point? He wasn’t surprised when I walked in, but I had figured for a long time that if I never walked in that door again, no one would notice. She ordered cows tongue but I’ve heard Australians eat funny things, so I didn’t question it. You know, it might not even have been her culture- it might just have been her. It took a while to climb over the ledge, and I was standing on the edge for a few minutes before she came along, looking down. No one stopped me or even honked from their car. Just like every other day, no one noticed. Except her. 

I wanted to get rid of Dan as quickly as possible so I ordered the first thing that came to mind and started to ask her about herself. I had already told her all the basics about me, but I wanted to know what had led her to be where she is. She sort of looked all embarrassed and awkward, like she didn’t know what to say. You’d think answering a question about yourself would be the easiest thing, but I reckon she was one of those people who like to listen more, and for that, I liked her.

 
I guess his transparency made it easier to talk to him. He’d been so open about his life- his mum dying when he was young, getting involved in gangs and drugs- everything that had led up to a point in his life when he felt worthless. I began to think that maybe a part of me identified. Sometimes, I think a part of everyone does. The sense that you’re not worth someone’s time, or energy, or love. The feeling that it might make things easier if you weren’t around. We all just live around the line of letting it overcome us. Today, he had crossed that line. So I told him about the past few months. Falling in love with the man of my dreams, and making plans about forever. The moment when it all fell apart and he left to live a different life. A better one, without me. And he listened. Even when my voice broke and my eyes watered and I struggled to explain how it feels to wake up on a Saturday morning and realise you have nothing planned, or how it feels to talk to everyone you were so excited to tell. He didn’t move except to pass me a napkin. Once I was done, he asked, so quietly that I barely caught it, “so why are you still here?” 

 
My earliest memory is of my mom holding me and telling me it was going to be alright. We were on the floor, and she was cradling me and rocking back and forth, and I had no idea what, exactly, was going to be alright. I didn’t realise that it wasn’t. 

When Dad came home drunk that night, and was ranting about the football scores, I didn’t even look up from my phone. I keep thinking that I should have. Mom was already busy preparing dinner, and scrambling to get him a beer while I was blindly scrolling through images, purposely not facing him. What a disgrace he was, how ashamed I was, he couldn’t even stand up straight. Recently, though, I’d been coming home more and more often exactly the same way. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. He told me, plenty of times, to look at him and greet him like a good son, but I didn’t listen. I didn’t want to. I didn’t care. The stupid thing was, I didn’t believe him. 

My dad beat me for the first time when I was seven. Up until then, it was mom, but that night, I got in the way, and he realised it wasn’t any different, so he kept doing it. By the time I was seventeen, I figured I could take it. I’d learned to take it. He beat me, I beat others. Fairness. But that night, he didn’t beat me, he pulled out a gun. And I didn’t see it because I didn’t want to face him. Mom saw it. He gave me a last chance, and I ignored him, and she was next to me and then- 

And then she wasn’t. 

That night I lost the one person in this world who cared. The one person who kept telling me I was worth something, and the one person I believed. And it was my fault. And I went through four years of convincing myself it was okay, that I could keep living with a hole in my heart that I could cram full of things to keep me from remembering I was garbage. 

 
I couldn’t stop talking. After months of not telling anyone where I was going or why, I couldn’t stop telling him what had happened to me. But when he asked why I was still around, I stopped. I think everyone feels, deep down, that they are worthless at some point. But there also sometimes comes a point when we realise we are not. 

When I was twelve, I was invited to a camp, and I’d never gone to one before outside of school. It was very different. The food was better, the people were nicer, and I had the most fun I’d ever had in my life in that one week. I struggled to figure out what was different about this than other camps or hang outs. On the last day, a man got up and told me what exactly was different- these people knew what they were worth. They were worth loving, they were worth protecting, and they were worth dying for, and someone had done exactly that. A perfect man had died for the wrongs of imperfect people, and there was hope. Because even in a world that likes to tell us we are worthless, there is a voice above the rest screaming we are worth sacrificing everything for. And that’s someone worth listening to.

As I told him, I watched his eyes light up. His shoulders straightened, and his goofy smile faded to something much more beautiful. As I told him about Jesus, I said that I couldn’t imagine what it must feel like to be worth dying for. 

“I can,” he said.

 
My dad still lives in the house I grew up in. Many times, I’ve thought about going to that house and burning it to the ground. When I think of all he did to me, and what he did to mom, I sometimes think to myself he is not worth the ground he walks on. But the biggest fear for me growing up was that I was becoming him, and in that, I was also becoming worthless. Why should he love me when I was a reflection of him and he hated himself? But, as much as I’d done wrong, she told me about someone who didn’t care. As worthless as I felt, here was someone who, like my mom, had stood in the way of death for me and given me a second chance. A love to fill the hole is what I had needed. And as I sat there and listened, I slowly felt what I had resisted for so long- I felt rest. 

The Starfish Story

Too many people have never heard the starfish story, so here it is. 

‘A boy walks along a beach after a storm, and littered along the beach are hundreds of starfish, washed up. He knows they will die out of water, so he starts picking them up and throwing them back into the ocean. A man walks along and asks him why he’s bothering. He says “you can’t save all of them, how do you think you’re making a difference?” the boy picks up another starfish and throws it into the ocean. “Made a difference to that one,” he says.’

For everyone who is a vegetarian and not a vegan, everyone who has dropped small change into a charity jar, everyone going on short term mission instead of dedicating their lives, remember- it made a difference to that one.

The Mild Insomniac

A story I promised a girl a long time ago.

 

“You know, staring at a screen for too long will stop you going to sleep,” Mum said.

I laughed and rolled my eyes.

We both knew that wouldn’t make a difference.

 

Slowly, one by one, the lights went out throughout the house and I lay on my bed and scrolled. Sleep had enveloped my family and carefully tiptoed around me on its way out of the house. Gee. Thanks.

I listened to the gentle ebb and flow of Mum’s breathing slip around the cacophony of Dad’s snoring as I gently pulled on my old, worn black boots. I pulled on a hoody that had once been claimed as Dad’s and stepped outside.

 

The wind greeted me with glee, running through my hair and down my spine. It was a little colder than I had thought it would be. The stars twinkled up above, dancing and waving at me, snug in their blanket of sky. I blew a lone curl out of my eye and shoved my hands deeper in my pockets. Nothing moved- everything was asleep. Only the stars were ready to greet me, the moon smiling down surrounded by her children. I sat on a bench outside my house.

I wasn’t lonely. The wind whispered to me and leaves chattered back, disturbed from their slumber by the pesky breeze pushing and shoving them from their beds. I smiled- so I wasn’t the only one who never seemed to be able to lay in bed. Whenever I tried to close my eyes and rest, the day would play through my head like a movie and, like a director intent on nailing every detail, I couldn’t rest until every thought had been thunk. Songs would play like a band, ideas would creep around my mind like ivy, and little worries would dance around like jumping jacks, my eyelids no heavier than they had been at midday. My muscles twinged with regret every morning, my mind running on the fumes of an empty tank, and yet, sleep eluded me. And so, here I was. On a bench, outside my house, in the cold.

Very cold.

I thought of the Spanish magazines I had left on my bed.

I thought of my friends all safe and sound asleep in their beds.

I thought of beds in general.

 

When I was awoken by the birds and the sun, my nose was frozen.

Part 2: Pirates and Penance

“I’ve never had a woman aboard before,”he said, walking around the cabin and absentmindedly playing with whatever he came across. “Indeed, from memory, I was specifically warned against it. However, you have apparently been doing a good job patching up my crew, and so the plan of leaving you next time we reach port was discarded. Also, Scrubs would have slit my throat as I slept. So, you stay. Agreed?” He looked to her.

Dove nodded.

“Swell, swell.” He resumed fiddling with the many objects the room was filled with. There were candles that barely lit a room full of beautiful and rare objects. Dove herself was struggling to concentrate as he continued to talk. 

“So you’re one of my crew now. Well. The rules are that you can take whatever you please- funnily enough, people tend to steal less when they know they can have what they want. Besides, we’re pirates, so we get into our fair share of trouble for taking what isn’t ours. But here, aboard my ship, we share. You’re allowed in here too-” he gestured about him- “and there’s a lock on the door, although I’d personally prefer not to be locked out myself.” They both smiled and Dove nodded her acceptance of the conditions. 

“Sorry it took me so long to invite you down. I suppose I just wasn’t sure what I’d do when you actually came. That’s really all I wanted to say though, so you are free to go.” 

Dove nodded and turned to leave. She, as happened many times each day, had something to say but not the words to say it. She quickly turned around and kissed him on the cheek. He put a hand to touch where her lips had met his skin, surprised. 

“You’re welcome.” They smiled again. She left.
Dove soon became a normal part of the crew. Scrubs had warned of the consequences of anyone who dared advance on her without her consent, and the men were quite certain he could deliver, despite his shuffled hobble around the ship. There then came the day when Dove experienced what the pirates spent every day waiting for. The cry came- a passing ship. All of a sudden the lazy scene sprang to life, every man scuttling to perform his role. Masks were donned and Dove shepherded downstairs, to wait for the men to return. They were ready. She was content to leave them to it. Blake emerged, brandishing his pistol and cutlass, and led them by swinging over to the other ship. All the could be heard from below was the cry of “take their bread, take their gold, but do not take their lives!” And with that, a peace overcame the girl and she sat on her bed to anticipate the amount of injuries that would be sustained. 
It was much sooner than she expected, however, when she heard the clump of boots on the wooden stairs. She stood to greet the man coming down below, but took a step back when she realised she did not recognise him. Her back hit the wall and he smiled at her, but not the friendly smile of her Captain. He was well dressed, and clean, but his smile made her feel as if he were covered in slime. Before she had fully comprehended his intentions, he lunged for her and pulled her to the ground. She hit wildly at him, and he pinned her arms above her with one hand. 

“It’s always better when they fight,” he growled into her ear, his breath hot and wet. 

She writhed and struggled, but he was too strong and she tried to conjure a scream but her lips, dry and disobedient, refused to obey her. As she resigned to what was about to happen, the mans head jerked back. He yelped like a puppy as he was held up by his hair. The captain looked down at him with disgust and pulled him up the stairs, not meeting Doves eye. 
He threw him onto the deck as the men swung back to their own ship. 

“I caught this man below with Dove.” There was an uproar. Dove emerged from the depths of the ship. The men held up their weapons, some bloodied already. 

“He was going to defile our Dove.” The men shouted louder, stamping and clanging their swords. 

“What do we do to men who want to hurt our Dove?” The captain shouted to his men, as he pulled out his pistol. The men went silent. Scrubs stepped forwards. 

“Take their bread, take their gold, but do not take their lives.”

The other men repeated after him, and the captain looked around at them, his eyes settling on Dove. She averted her eyes to the floor and shuffled her feet.

“What do we do, Dove?” He asked, his voice now little more than a whisper. 

She looked to Scrubs. “Do not take their lives,” he translated her thoughts for everyone to hear. The Captain faced the man, lying on the ground. 

“Today, you know forgiveness. We’ll drop you at the next port.” And he turned to go to his cabin. The man stood and deftly lunged at the captain. 

“I’ll take no pirates mercy!” He cried as his blade glinted in the sun. Seamlessly, Blake turned around and shot him between the eyes, then continued down below to his cabin. Nobody moved for a few minutes, before everyone wordlessly returned to their duties. Two men picked up the body and threw it overboard as Dove stood, her feet cemented to the deck and a tear hanging from her eyelashes. 

As time continued, there were more sieges. No one spoke about Doves first siege- indeed, the Captain did not talk to Dove anymore at all, and she made a habit of avoiding him if she could. The men moved like clockwork most days, with the Captain emerging only to lead the men when needed. Pirates cannot only take, however, they must have contact with land at some point, so there was a point where they came to land. Blake came out to dictate when the men had to come back and what their duties were, the men greedy to find women and drink for a night. The Captain too, disappeared off into the dusk, while Dove decided to stay back with Scrubs. They talked as the elderly pirate told her his story, and how he came to be aboard the ship. She curled up next to him as he rested an arm around her shoulders and got lost in reminiscence. Soon, they were both asleep. 
Dove awoke to quiet groans that were slightly different from the gentle creaks of the boat. Careful not to disturb Scrubs as he snored, she went to the top deck and there found the Captain, a large gash bleeding into his shirt. He was trying to hold himself together, but was as pale as a ghost. She quickly gathered some bandages and salt water and began attending to his wound. He tried to stay quiet as she worked, but when she touched his skin with a swab of alcohol, he gasped and grabbed her shoulder. She took his hand and held it, looking deep into his eyes, waiting for his grip to relax slightly. Placing his hand back on her shoulder, he chuckled with a wince. “You should have seen the other guy.” She smiled and he smiled in return. She worked as quickly as she could, wrapping him up tightly and carefully, then attempting to help him back to his cabin. He walked stiffly, but deftly and as she lay him gently on the bed, he grabbed her hand and pulled her to sit on the bed beside her. She obliged and he held her hand in his. 

“I’m sorry for what I did, Dove,” he whispered eventually. She shook her head gently and put her hand over theirs. He smiled sadly. “I didn’t want that for you. I thought I could protect you, but I thought I only had to worry about my own men. How could I be so wrong?” He looked at her and cupped her chin with his other hand. “I’m sorry, Dove”, his voice barely audible. She breathed in, trying to predict his next move. He looked away, and she breathed out. He kissed her. Her eyes flew open in surprise. 
She relaxed. They closed. She leaned in. He kissed her deeper. 

Part 1- The Scallywag Legacy

On the seven seas, you may have heard there often travel pirates. Rouges and rebels who jump aboard passing ships and take what they please. Well, it just so happened that, during the time we will look at, there was a group of pirates called the Scallywag Legacy. Led by the dreaded Captain Quentin Blake, they were, truth be told, one of the greatest band of misfits to travel those seas for they were renowned for a distinct quality. Their creed, echoed across both land and sea, was “take their bread, take their gold, but do not take their lives!” With this cry they would leap aboard passing cargo ships, wielding weapons but only to keep everyone in line. 
Well, it just so happened that one day a terrible storm blew them off course and they found themselves bumping against a desert island, the only inhabitant of which, it was clear to see, was a beautiful young lady. The men, starved of beauty for many days, happily welcomed her aboard. Grubby, and in a torn dress, as well as sharply noticing the looks she was receiving from the men (they were honourable pirates, but she was a beautiful lady), an old pirate by the name of Scrubs took pity on her and decided she was to be his charge. He took her to the belly of the ship to find her some fitting clothes and as he searched through trunks upon trunks of gold and booty, he found a skirt and small cloth shirt. Attempting to make conversation with her, he looked up to see her quivering and looking at the floor- it was clear she could not, or would not, reply, and the old man once more took pity upon her. “You’ll be right, little dove,” he remarked, grasping her hand. “Aye, Dove suits thee quite well indeed. May I call ye that, dear?” The girl looked up at him and her face suddenly broke into a beautiful smile. The old man smiled back with the teeth he had remaining and left her to get changed.
Slowly, Dove wiped the muck that had built up over the years from her skin, using a cloth dipped in some warm water. She uncovered every scar and combed every tangle from her hair. Slipping into the skirt, she smoothed her hair to ensure it covered her neck and pulled the sleeves down to make sure they covered her arms. 
When she walked up onto the top deck, every man stopped what he was doing and Scrubs beamed. He introduced her and she smiled modestly and nodded, happy at her new name. The captain, however, did not emerge from the depths of his cabin, even who approached by Scrubs at the prospect of having a woman on board. He was given only the instruction to find out what she was good at and make sure she did it.

As time continued, it became increasingly clear what Dove was not good at.

She could not cook, having survived on raw roots and fish on the island.

She was too weak to scrub the decks and hadn’t gotten good enough sea legs to climb the riggings.

She had tried to sew the men’s shirts and only succeeded in tearing larger holes.

However, the men were quite happy just to have her sit by them as they worked, encouraging them with their smile and keeping them company as they talked and she listened. 

Still, the captain remained unseen. 
However, one day, at the end of a very long day, Dove retreated to the little space which the men had converted into a small room for her. Sitting on her bed was Scrubs, his wooden leg beside him. As he unwound bandages from his stump, a putrid smell filled the air and, without a sound, Dove rushed away. Figuring he’d scared away, Scrubs thought no more of it until she returned with a dish of salt water with some spices mixed in. Scrubs moaned as she gently began to wipe his leg and the pain disappeared. It was clear what Dove could be to them- a nurse. Yet, as a line grew outside her door, the men suddenly ailed with every ache and pain they could find, the Captain remained unseen. 
And so the arrangement with Dove continued for a few days. Indeed, it was quite a few days before she finally got what she had been waiting for. The captain called her to his cabin. 
The girl was nervous, for she had never seen this man and he had never seen her, yet it was by his grace that she was on the ship she had just begun to consider home. As she gently knocked on the door, a garbled response came from inside, and she entered. He swung around on his chair to face her, and they smiled at each other. Quentin Blake was young, with a clean shaven face unlike most of his crew, and eyes as blue as the sea he said upon. His smile was kind and his hands rough but soft. He took her hand and kissed it gently. “Well, Dove, welcome aboard.”