A wrinkled dusky pink sheet cradles a flowered meri blouse, a laplap and a bible – a word or two in the bible is for me, she echoes…
Room scented with sea, woods, coconut oil, eucalyptus and basil
A lotto ticket to set me up for life (her farewell and a surprise gift)
“If I won,” she always said, “I would let you decide what to do with the money”
We had laughed and discussed the possibilities
On the bed, an italic old-style farewell, handwritten in a very neat prose, mixing pidgin and dialect –
“Pawi – my child, I will miss being here…”
My mother was in a plane and gone
Twelve months threaded colourful bilums, gardens, and stories,
bringing me back to the first ten years of my life.
An assortment of brown hue – sculptured gum branches stacked for winter’s fires
Through the window, her many familiar artwork marked my surroundings, reminding me of her even bossy ways
-purple and green kaukau leaves sitting neatly on mounds
“You have sweet potatoes for winter”, her voice reminds me.
The large elephant leaves of pumpkin spreads and sprout golden flowers – a promise for more food.
But, I miss her telling me her stories.
See below some of my mother’s creations. All her bilums featured here were sold before she left Brisbane for Papua New Guinea. If anyone is interested to purchase my mother’s bags – please write to: email@example.com
The kitchen in Bellbowrie house was marvelous. It’s Wednesday today, but the kitchen also looked marvelous on Tuesday and Monday. I simply wanted to make chicken soup tonight, but I was afraid to dismantle this piece staring at me.
I looked at the stacked white cups, plates, and silver bowls that made this strange beautiful body and then the cutlery that made its arms and legs. Each item was part of another. It was a tidy dishwasher look without all the sections, except it was arranged to come together as one piece. If I had built a kitchen sculpture like that myself, it probably would have already unraveled when I got to stacking the spoons and the forks. And right now, if I tried to remove one cup or spoon to use, the rest would come crashing down like a dismantled sculpture. My son Nathan washed our dishes sometimes, but this was not his work of art – it was clearly my mother’s. My mother is obsessed about cleanliness and obviously tidiness. She has her own unique way of doing it.
Our kitchen has been so clean and different in the past six weeks since my mother has been with us in Brisbane that I’m inspired. I made a promise to myself; I could live up to this new expectation after she leaves. May be I could cut down on writing, art, a job, the garden, birds…It was not that we lived in a dirty house, but when my mother does something, especially cleaning, she takes it to a higher level, and makes you feel really good about it.
I could not have made this kitchen any cleaner in the past five years. Mother was not only obsessed with cleanliness, but getting any job done. Her gardening was the same and she began early and worked long hours. She was determined to clean the whole area and I reminded her some parts of our place was meant to be bushy for the animals. My siblings had asked me to bring our mother away from PNG to rest – but you think she would listen to me – no. She loves working hard. She attributes her strict work ethics to her parents, nursing, and her early learning from the Germans and Americans after the war.
I was grateful for her help now, but I fear when her holiday ends, this kitchen would return to the way my sons always left it; filthy with empty containers, piled up dirty dishes, peeled purple onion shells and spilled beverages. I clean it but it was never easy to maintain that pristine state for more than two days.
I took out the thigh fillets and started making chicken soup for my mother, my younger son Chris and I. Nathan had cooked his own meals for nearly a year and since he started a special fitness programme.
Across from the kitchen, my mother was folding the clean washing. Her knitting was on the dining table, colourful and laid out in neat bundles of colours. Mother folded all our clean washing like the way a machine would have done. We did sit and tell stories while we folded, but I soon gave up folding with her because she tended to unfold and re-fold the clothes I folded. And, if I told her she wasted her time because the clothes were meant to be worn again, she just giggled and said she preferred they were ‘properly folded’.
As I watched the boiling pot of chicken soup, I pictured Mother laying out all her medical tools on the shiny trays and pushing them from ward to ward on her tall shiny trolley. She is staring ahead with her white cap and apron crisply ironed and sitting in the precise position on her green uniform. She walks with her head held high and exuding a presence of authority when all around her is turmoil. I wondered if anyone had ever messed up her display of shiny metal pieces on the trays when she was a nurse. I once asked and she told me – never!
I think Mother’s cleaning and folding obsessions started from the hospitals and later, H.C. Leo a Chinese clothing manufacturer in Port Moresby hired her to fold completed garments. She was so precise with her craft that customers thought the cellophane packed and sealed shirts were done by machines.
My mother’s dedication to what she loves doing is second to none.
(To my regular readers – I wrote this draft/story yesterday, a part of a longer piece for Isabel D’ Avila Winter and our last Creative Writing Workshop group next Tuesday in Kenmore). If you expected drama while reading this – well there is, but it is in the rest of this story in the memoir – thank you for reading).
Thank you Slipper Edge for sharing the music of this fantastic talent, Micheal Kiwanuka.
Of Ugandan parentage, who escaped the Amin regime (1971-1979), Kiwanuka (born May 3, 1987) grew up in Muswell Hill, North London. He attended Fortismere School after completion of A-levels and studied in the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminister.
Kiwanuka acknowledged that his music has influences of great musicians such as Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Bob Dylan, Jack Johnson and Eric Bibb.
A high chorus of panic flooded into the lounge. I ran out to see what had bothered the chickens. Two crows sit on the grass and eat the top layer mesh. I was surprised. I had not seen crows here before. As I pulled the sliding door, the crows shot into the tall gum trees. Then they split and one stayed beyond the fence and kept talking to the other in the gum tree. It was only then, I realised they had built a nest. Over the weeks and months, one crow would venture into the backyard to snap bits of food. At one point there were three of them. Now the third had left. The remaining two worked in a team, one stayed at bay and talked loudly while one approached the house to shop. They both tended to keep their distance from any humans, but one was always braver.
And just like that, a confident thief in a black suit, one crow marched towards the house one hot day. I stayed in the kitchen and watched. Without touching the duck nor chickens’ food bowls, the crow came under the house and picked up a slice of bread and flew into the trees and over and beyond. I watched the crow circle above our property and my two neighbour’s houses and returned to our backyard where it met the second crow on an old gum tree.
On this spot, where the gum had lost all its leaves, the crows shared their slice of bread in silence while the chickens and the ducks watched. I believe the chooks were kicking themselves for missing that slice of bread.
Here is one of my earlier short stories that I published on this blog in 2014. I have not been writing much, but painting and drawing. I have to finish some old projects. I hope you enjoy “Where My Eyes Are From”.
I turned to face the door and sat down in the centre edge. It was the softest part of mama’s large queen-size bed. I ran my large grey eyes over the bed. They never miss a thing. Papa had built this bed. The bed was rustic but sturdy. Because of the many years in the timbers, the bed talks like an old man when you are on it. Right now, the bed is not talking because I am not moving. The white cotton sheets were crumpled and warm. I wanted to climb into the sheets, make the bed talk, like mama and I used to when we would read together and play, but I could not.
We had buried mama at 3pm. The day had been long and tiring.
The few friends and family returned to our small two bedroom cottage on the edge of town in the hills of Mt Crosby, Queensland. The offering of sweet tea and cake to the mourners wrapped the day. However, the sweet tea did not sit well nor change the taste in my mouth. Soon, they left papa and me. We sat together on the old small veranda and did not speak. The old swing did the talking to the slight breeze. At 15, I knew half of papa was buried with mama this afternoon. I could not think of anything to say to papa.
The day hurried past. Soon, it burnt orangey into dusk. The ambers from the remains of the daylight pierced through the small white cottage.
“You can go to her room” Papa had said close to 5pm.
I saw the small clock on mama’s bedside as I sat down. Mama’s room smelt like vanilla with faint coffee. I had tried to shut out the noises with the door, but I could hear the puppies. All five of them ready for their milk. They needed their mother. A sharp pain went through me.
My hand felt under the pillow slip and I found it. The small white envelope mama promised before she took her last breath. I gazed back at the door. I waited. My heart started to race.
Through the gaps in the window I caught the late breeze approaching carrying bush smells of gum and acacia. I could hear my father humming “Gershwin’s Summer Time” and rocking in the old chair. The chair squeak was rhythmic and soothing. It re-assured me of his location. I did not want him to come in.
The house seemed to mimic Papa’s humming and suddenly I felt the sadness heavy in my chest. Papa was a real sweet man. Not only did he lose his woman, but his best friend.
I sat still and held mama’s envelope; firmed by the content of its small card. In this envelope was something mama wanted only me to know. My stomach did not feel right and I knew it was something I do not wish to know.
The room held on to the last of day light. In this dim light I read my name written neatly across with dainty curls. Mama always made a point of making big long tails in letters ‘y’ and “g”. My name was Margaret Meadows. Mama shortened it to “Maggy” with a “y” instead of an “ie” like in other Margies which was short for Margaret.
I brought the card closer to my nose. It smelt of vanilla too. This made me smile and my eyes salted. I felt that weight in my chest move up to choke me. I looked at mama’s photo of us in a white frame by the bed. Tears rolled down my eyes. Slowly, I pinched the corner of the white envelope and slit the end through with my index finger. This forced the white envelope open to reveal a small red card.
I eased back on the bed. The old man-bed groaned softly. I felt I needed some support and security before I opened the red card. I let my shoes drop on the wooden floor. I stared at the door; hoping papa would not come in. I need to be alone when I read this. That was what mama wanted.
“My Love Maggy,
You were born a beautiful baby of glorious soft honey skin, pink lips, fair hair and long arms and legs. You were a fairy with piercing eyes. I swear if you had wings, you would have flown away. Your eyes always had a mysterious twinkle. When you were little, I often wondered if you were worried or just curious about your eyes because you asked me many times why your eyes were different from your father’s and mine. As you know, we both have brown eyes.
I need you to understand that Paul Meadows loves you like his own daughter. There is not a single person that loves you more and not a single reason to be ashamed of who you are.
Your grey eyes came from a man named Peter Sullivan who was once your father Paul’s best friend. Last year, I found out that he died in a car accident while driving back to Brisbane from New South Wales.
A storyteller illustrates a story about a girl, her mother and a turtle.
As the graphite glistens like a medieval etching on stone, the crisp white paper grows pictures. The art dances and the images come together and get close in a circle.
The storyteller adds smiles on their faces; the story is going to have a happy ending.
But, as the three characters get closer during the shading, the storyteller accidentally gives the mother a tear. Another tear is added deliberately for balance. Then the storyteller gives the girl a tear, somewhat reluctantly. The storyteller’s eyes fill with tears. She works faster as tears stream down her face. She begins to shade around the three characters. She cannot separate them. The storyteller is pulled into the circle, to the three characters. There is no separation. It is the law of nature. It is the law of memory and love. It is the law of characters that we love.
Dear Readers of Mondays Finish the Story. I am very sad to re-post the news that Barbara who started and ran the Mondays Finish the Story fiction challenge has passed away last Sunday. I saw the message from the late Barbara’s husband when I visited her page this morning. I wanted to share the news with those of you that enjoy my contribution to this fun 100-150 story-telling exercise – created by Barbara W. Beacham. She also supplied all the pictures.
You have helped sharpened my story-telling skills. I will miss the challenge and your wonderful comments Barbara.
It is with the a sad heart and mind that I let all of the readers of Life In The Foothills know that Barbara who began this a few years back has succumbed to her illnesses and passed away last Sunday. Writing this blog as she dealt with her health issues gave her tremendous pleasure and as she told me many times a purpose to continue and fight the cancer that finally took her.
I shall miss her tremendously as she was my wife, my best friend, and my life’s love. Those that did correspond with her please know you helped her with her fight and added to the pleasure she received as she writing her stories.
To all of you thank you.
I myself do not have the same strength as Barb did at this time. I am in that emotional spot at this time that wants me to run from reality yet it wants me to confront it as well. I know many of you have experienced this as well.
As this will be the final post I ask that no-one reply to this as I will not be monitoring any reply to have it posted. So rather than reply please simply send out a thought or prayer on Barb’s behalf and that will serve a better purpose than a typed message.
The other day I found this tiny ‘gangster’ running around in my garden. It was all over every plant as I chased and tried to shoot it with my macro lens, but ‘he’ was too fast.
His colours reflected the light and I fell in-love with him. Twice, when I got closer, he jumped onto the lens. I tried to not squash him by accident. I spotted something on his back when he jumped off the lens. It was a pattern that looked very close to a skull. Look at the picture below, can you spot it too?
I thought “gangster” was a good name for him. He quickly spun a web in the cherry tree and made it, his home while he waited for his next prey.
The next day, I checked, and the gangster was gone. I just hope the gangster had not become someone’s meal.
I have been slowly putting a collection of things I find in our garden together. These garden finds are only objects of my curiosity more than anything else. There are quite a few regular objects like an axe in the above picture and the knife below. Every object has a story, just like people and places. We have lived in Bellbowrie house for over four years and the collection is slowly building up.
Some of you may know I am a museum curator, so I tend to collect things and then I attempt to tell their story. However, even without my museum work, I am always curious to know the story about each of the things my sons and I find on the property. I have some stories to tell.
Recently however, I have been thinking that since I cannot research and find all the stories about each of my garden findings, I may write some short fiction instead. It sounds strange, but I have thought up some fiction you may want to read.
This month, I am busy writing for the NaNoWriMo, so hopefully, in December I will be freer to write some stories about my garden finds.
Let’s see what you make of these objects I have posted. Please feel free to tell your story about these objects or make suggestions – unless of course, you know what the real story. If you do recognise of know some of the objects, such as the gun, then, you have to tell us.
She lived a life that some would describe as being on edge. Amile rubbed the twins in her red Yves St Laurent coat. She ‘borrowed’ the coat from her one-month-old employer. With minimum wage, Amile was desperate for money. She heard about a game at Vipers, a dingy bar downtown. The stakes were nice and high. Gambling left her habits after Lucas was born, but times were hard.
That night, as the game intensified, all players dropped out except for Snarky Joe and her. Snarky was rumoured to kill at a drop of a hat.
Grandma Magda’s lucky twin coins made Amile fearless. As the dealer began, Amile winked at Snarky and raised all in. Snarky’s hungry eyes lavished her full honey glossed lips, high cheekbones and large brown eyes. His eyes couldn’t go beyond the poker table; instead, he held Amile’s gaze.
Revealing her win, Amile reached for the chips. Snarky pulled out a .22 calibre.
“I win,” he said.
Click on short stories on triblamysticstories blog, to read more 150 word short stories created for Mondays Finish the Story flash fiction.