Paparazzi

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The sun had just lowered below the horizon, blanketing the city in a sheet of darkness. My arms were overloaded from the successful shopping trip I had just taken into the city and starting to strain and hurt from the weight after the long train trip back into the suburbs where we were staying.

Fumbling for my key in my handbag amidst the crinkling bags, I struggled through the door and finally unceremoniously dumped my loot on the lounge. Seeing the bags flop and fan out in a circle symbolising a hard days work, I smiled satisfactorily. A job well done!

Looking around me, I realised the apartment was quiet for once. When there were ten people staying together, one never expects quiet! Finally I spotted them all having drinks out on the far corner of the balcony before heading out for the night. Turning, I headed back into the kitchen to grab my own concoction and join the party; ready to regale everyone with the successful expedition of my shopping trip and solo navigation of the city’s public transport routes.

Click.

I froze at the intrusive sound behind me. What was that? I sounded like a camera flash.

Click click click click click.

As I turned around the investigate, the sound became more frantic. Looking towards the corner of the room I saw an older man with a camera raised to his face, capturing my every move. Uneasy, I stared at him as he continued to shoot away.

“What the hell are you doing?” I asked, trying to keep the tremor out of my voice that threatened to break through.

Mute and unwavering in his incessant clicking, the man continued on.

“Stop it!” I cried, the shrill tone of my voice starting to betray the fear I was feeling.

Unwavering, his pudgy finger continued to depress the wretched camera button.

“STOP IT!” I screamed this time, making my way towards him quickly as he continued to shoot shots of my face as it came closer and closer towards him. Grabbing the camera from his hands I threw it against the wall, taking delight at the audible crack that rang through the air. Visible rage filled the mans eyes, and I shrunk back, all of a sudden second guessing my ability to take him on alone.

Pondering my next move as this deceivingly small man towered over me, I breathed a sigh of relief as the sliding door to the balcony slid open and Ryan’s voice boomed behind me.

“Who the fuck are you?” He yelled, making his way across the room in a few short strides. Grabbing the man by the scruff of his collar, Ryan shoved him violently against the wall. Watching intently, I waited to see what would happen.

Before he could throw the first punch, Rebecca came through the door screaming for Ryan to put him down. As the others made flocked into the room, the man managed to sneak out. Screaming in frustration, I sank to the floor as what had just happened started to sink in.

Ryan made his way over to where the offending camera lay still and quiet against the beige carpet. As he flicked through the images, scowling in displeasure, I realised my proud throw hadn’t been such a big shining moment that I’d thought it was.

Shaking as Ryan put his arms around me, I started crying. “Shhh” he murmured into my hair. “It’ll be ok now. Let’s just get out of here for now, get you away for the night.”

Nodding in acquiesce, I let him lift me and lead me out of the room.

After three train trips, a bus ride and a fair walk, we finally reached Ryan’s place. Moving into the lounge room, he settled me into the couch and told me he would be right back. Still reeling from what had happened at the apartment, I sat back and closed my eyes, hoping some form of relaxation or sleep would grab me and help calm my frayed nerves.

Light as a feather, fingertips whispered across my thigh.

“Stop Ryan, that’s not funny.” I mumbled through the encroaching darkness of sleep.

More determined and incessant in their strokes, the fingertips moved up and across my thigh.

Shooting up, I opened my eyes to see the seedy camera man hunched on top of me.

Screaming, I struggled with my life as he lay on top of me and attempted to hold me down as his hands roamed my body.

Racing into the room, Ryan grabbed him, throwing clean across the room in a fit of rage. I cowered as I watched him beat, kick and disparage the man, taking some form of reverence in the arc of crimson blood that had sprayed clean across the white wall.

Leaving the unconscious, bloody mess of the man on the floor, Ryan made his way back over to me quickly, pulling me into his arms once again.

“This time he’ll be gone.” He promised.

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Guess Who’s Back…

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Brrrring. Brrrring.

The incessant shrill of my phone pierced the calm night, echoing through the empty house to where I sat in the bedroom. Jumping up, I ran down the hallway into the kitchen as the ringing increased and taunted me to reach it before it cut off. Skidding to a breathless holt on the tiled kitchen floor, I made a wild grab for the phone, answering it on its last ring.

“Hello?”

“Oh thank god you answered!” Andy cried on the other end of the phone hysterically. “I don’t know where we are, they took us and blindfolded us and now we’re sitting here in the car, tied up, all alone.”

“Wait – what- slow down, what the hell is going on?” I stammered as a cold sense of forbidding flushed through my veins.

“I don’t know!” He answered, “Nathan and I were just out getting some dinner and the next thing we knew, we were tied up in the front seat of this car, staring at rows and rows of cornfields somewhere.”

“Are you ok? Do you have any idea where you are?” I asked frantically. “There’s no cornfields around here at all!”

“Shhh” he whispered anxiously into the phone. “I think they’re coming.”

Standing stock still in the kitchen, I gripped the phone so tightly it cut off any circulation to my fingers. Staring blankly at the wall I held my breath, waiting for what was coming next. I know I need to do something, I mused. But what? Call the police! I decided with a jolt. No, no how can you call the police you silly woman? You don’t even know where they are or who took them! Feeling helpless and worried, I slumped against the kitchen counter and slowly slid towards the floor, numb to the cold seeping through my legs from the cold tiles as I listened intently to the static silence coming through the phone.

“Hello boys” a soft feminine voice floated through the speakers. Sitting up suddenly alert, I pressed the phone harder against my ear as if that would take me to them and save them.

“So sorry about the rough ride. We didn’t mean to scare you. We were just having a little fun.” Muffled laughter filled the air; dominant masculine tones overriding the dulcet feminine chirps of the woman. She wasn’t alone.

“We would appreciate it if you boys would kindly slide into the backseat while we place these blindfolds on. Jerry here will be taking over the driving for a little while.”

Jerry… Now where had I heard that name before? In fact, the woman’s voice sounded familiar too. A memory twinged at the back of my mind, fighting through the haze of fear and confusion to get through. Jerry… Jerry and… Matilda! That was it. The coldness seeping through my veins turned to ice as I remembered.

Matilda had been after me. She’d wanted Andy all for herself, and would stop at nothing to get him. A few years ago she’d attempted to kidnap me and have her fathers men kill me but I’d been lucky enough to escape. The police had swooped in and arrested her. But it looked like she was out and back on the prowl for her prey – my Andy.

Placing my phone on the counter quietly, I moved into the next room and grabbed the landline to call the police. Now I knew who had taken them and the police should be able to trace them.

* * *

An hour later I sat in the back of a police cruiser as we flew down the highway with the sirens blaring. The dark landscape flew by, illuminated in a brief glow of red and blue. The wide eyes of surprised animals scurried and sought cover as the violent noise penetrated the cold night. They knew where he was. We were going to save him.

Skidding to a stop in front of an old farmhouse, the police cautiously got out of the car, guns at the ready as they prepared to storm the house and extract the boys. The dirt kicked up from the sudden stop in the old driveway helped hide their movements, and the inky night sky further helped to obscure them from prying eyes.

Nose pressed firmly against the glass, I raised my sleeve to wipe away the condensation from my breath as I watched the two men make their way towards the front door, working in tandem to ensure they remained safe. Standing side by side, they covered the door scouting for danger. Before they could do anything, the door swung open and Andy and Nathan came streaming down the front steps in a blur to get away. Matilda followed only a few steps behind, unaware of the authoritative presence dominating her doorstep at the moment. Screaming obscenities at Andy and I, she was apprehended and dragged away to a second police car.

Pulling Andy tightly against me, I marvelled at once again how we were able to escape the evil woman’s clutches. Hopefully this time she would go away for good.

Escaping the Onslaught

Plonking my suitcases down beside me I turned to survey the landscape before me – and what a landscape it was! Rolling hills frolicked with blossoming flowers and trees everywhere my gaze travelled. Right in the centre of it all stood an elegant, careful crafted cedar house complete with floor to ceiling windows and the family guard dog stationed out the front. Not that they needed pooch when the screech of my sister ripped through the air as she caught sight of me.

“AHHHHHHH!” Amy screamed as she flew up the driveway and launched her self into my arms. Gasping for breath as her hug squished the air from my lungs, I laughed and hugged her back just as tightly.

“It is so so so so so good to see you” She murmured into my shoulder and she gripped me close to her.

“I know I said back, smiling and relishing the feeling of her physical body in my arms once again. “I can’t believe you moved all the way to America and got married and didn’t invite me!” I exclaimed breaking the hug. “I mean, I’m happy for you and all and this place is just – holy shit it looks incredible. But I was always meant to be there Ames!” Catching myself before I went any further I mentally reprimanded myself. Over and over again I’d gone through it – do. not. guilt. Amy. for. getting. married. without. me. So what do I do? I start guilting her. Watching her face fall I kicked myself again.

“Sorry Ames, I’m so happy for you. I just really miss you is all” I apologised. A soft, watery smile spread across her face.

“Me too.” She replied.

Making our way into her magnificent house I couldn’t help but marvel at her life now. She truly had it all.

“And this is my handsome, sexy, hunk of love husband Brian” she introduced me. Snapping my head back around I realised that whilst I’d been daydreaming and taking in my surroundings Brian had come to meet us in the front foyer.

“Lovely to meet you Brian.” I smiled. And it truly was I thought to myself as I watched them smile blissfully at each other.

After a thorough tour of the house and coffee and cookies with Amy and Brian I finally retreated to the guest room to unwind after my 17-hour flight from Australia. Resting my head back against the fluffy pillow, I closed my eyes and started to drift off into a light sleep.

BANG.

Startling awake I shot up out of the bed to my feet. What in the world was that? I wondered, standing still and listening out to see if there was anymore noise to come.

“You stupid, lying bitch!” Brian screamed words reverberated through the house, and my blood went cold as I started to move out and give him a piece of my mind. How dare he talk to my sister like that!

Making my way down the stairs to the first floor, I could clearly make out Amy and Brian standing in the kitchen. Brian’s tall and stocky figure loomed over Amy menacingly, whilst she cowered against the sink and cupboards. I hesitated as I watched them for a moment. He wasn’t being violent, was it really my place to intrude? Then the first plate smashed. Followed by another and another as Brian lost his temper and started hurling the plates as through the were Frisbees at Amy.

Running into the kitchen I grabbed my screaming, crying sister who was lying on the floor and hurled her to her feet. Turning back to Brian to give him a piece of my mind I recoiled. His eyes were bloodshot and filled with passionate hate and anger. HE was scary – really scary. He looked out of control.

Without another word, I grabbed Amy’s arm and yanked her out of the kitchen away from Brian. We ran out the front door, down the carefully and perfectly paved driveway out to the main road, not stopping until we reached the town centre.

“Are you ok?” I finally asked Amy, gasping for breath after our marathon run.

“I – I think so.” She hiccuped, tears still streaming down her face in torrents. “I’ve never ever seen him like that.” She said, “it was like he was possessed. That’s not Brian, he’d never even hurt a fly!”

Gritting my teeth I started to look around me for a place we could stay and get cleaned up. Obviously there was a lot Amy didn’t know about Brian, but right here and now probably wasn’t the place to get into that.

“Let’s just find somewhere I stay and –“ my sentence was cut short as I was tackled to the ground, the air whooshing out my lungs for the second time that day as my shoulder hit the asphalt hard. Dazed, I tried to turn around and see who had taken me down and found myself staring into a set of brown, bloodshot eyes tainted with the same evil Brian’s had been. In fact, they looked identical. And this guy wasn’t going to stop, he was going to kill me.

Ignoring Amy’s screams and pleas for help, I started groping the ground around me searching for something – anything – to help me get away from this guy. Eventually my fingers brushed across something cold and hard that had fallen from the crazy mans pocket when he had taken me down and I stretched my fingers until they could firmly grip the object.

Swinging my arm up with all the force I could muster whilst pinned underneath his seething bulk I managed to make contact with his cheek, realising all too late that my mystery weapon was a knife. Blood dripped onto my face and I managed to use the distraction to my advantage and scramble away as he roared in pain. Looking around, I noticed that this wasn’t the only instance of violence of the street. Everywhere people were fighting. There were bodies littering the streets of people who had gone down, others were jumping on cars, ripping their doors off and pummelling the innocent victims inside.

Amy grabbed my hand as I backed up towards her. “We’ve gotta get out of here.” I said firmly to her, not taking my eyes off the horror unfolding in front of me for a second.

Moving towards the docks, we managed to stay undetected. I don’t know if people were past paying attention or they were all too busy fighting it out with each other, but we were able to get away. Jumping into a small tin boat, we fired up the motor and pushed away from the dock. Droplets of water splashed up and attacked our faces as we flew down the channel towards the open waters. The wind whipped past us, taking away the scenes of devastation, horror and violence. We were getting away from whatever epidemic was sweeping the town. How far it had travelled we didn’t know. We had no plan, nowhere to go. But at least we were together.

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The Girl With Venom in her Smile

I never really thought I had a problem with my local government… Maybe I still don’t. Maybe I just have a problem with some people destroying the serenity of a place I viewed as the most beautiful, wonderful, magical place as a child. Nonetheless, I’m not really sure where last nights dream came from. It was certainly an interesting experience – one that cumulated with me exhibiting some amazing basketball skills that would have seen me shoot straight to pro… too bad I’m uncoordinated and clumsy in real life. At least in my dreams I get to be a star (and a teenager again apparently!) 🙂 Anyway, I hope you enjoy the latest jaunt into my unconscious mind.

This was totally, 100% unacceptable.

Beyond unacceptable.

Pulling out my notepad and pen, I poised myself to write a very strongly worded letter to the council about this situation. Sitting down on the grass on my front lawn to scribe this complaint I found myself lost for words. Glaring at the landscape around me I angrily threw down my pen and stood up. It was the noise that was blocking my flow – this was meant to be my quiet, peaceful place. This was my home; my front yard and the council had turned it into a detour for traffic. Car after car after car sped through my yard, churning up the painstakingly laid and cared for green grass my father had laboured over and demolishing painstakingly arranged flower beds Mum had planted and lovingly tended to. These assholes were disrupting the natural peacefulness and privacy my home afforded me.

I was livid. I couldn’t see through the haze of red blurring my vision. Angrily I picked up the rocks lining the edge of my driveway and started throwing them at the passing cars in anger, screaming out obscenities as they drove through. How dare they violate my home in this way! I couldn’t even let my dog out anymore for fear she’d be hit by a car speeding through her own backyard. All this because of some zoning blunder. Some thick-headed, stupid imbecile in the past stuffed up the zoning and consequently it had just been discovered that a strip of our property still belonged to the council. And like the money hungry, soul sucking lechers they were, they had decided to capitalise on that and use the strip of land running through the middle of our property for their own private needs.

Not. Happy. Jan.

Feeling a hand on my arm, I whipped around to face whoever had dared come near me.

“You can’t change this now hunny,” my friend Nancy murmured soothingly to me. But we have to go, we’ll be late for school. And we’ve got the big game tomorrow too, we really need to practice!” Pulling my hand gently, she started to lead me away from the local traffic thoroughfare.

Sighing I relented, letting her pull me away from the monstrosity that was my home towards the building a few doors down that we were staying in.

Walking up the front, concrete steps we entered the narrow building. The floor creaked under our footsteps, the old wooden panelling on the walls faded and decrepit in the morning sunlight streaming through the small windows. The carpet, once an olive green, clung to the smells of time and scented the air with its unique brand of must, dust and grime. It wasn’t the most luxurious of homes, but it would do for now as we prepared for the upcoming game.

People milled around us, laughing and joking as they prepared for the day. I patiently waited until the bathroom was free, busting to use the toilet. Finally, the fifth person emerged from the staircase leading downstairs to the bathroom and I hurried in before anyone else could intercept it.

Locking the door solidly behind me I sighed in relief. Finally, five minutes alone to relax and get my head back in the game. Lifting the toilet seat, I shrieked as the door from the other end of the room flew open and three people came bursting in.

“Who the fuck are you?” Demanded a tall, willowy girl. “You can’t be here, this is our bathroom!” She exclaimed.

Stammering I tried to tell them to get out, but before I could the young man; her twin by the looks of it; roughly grabbed my hand and yanked me out of the room, pushing me up the stairs and warning us all to stay away from that bathroom. The only bathroom in the house.

Shrieking in frustration, I followed my own group who were all washed, scrubbed and relieved from the house, waddling to keep my own needs under control until we could reach somewhere suitable. This just wasn’t my day.

Walking towards the school, everyone joked and laughed, gearing themselves up for pre-game day at school. We stood outside the gates when we got there, throwing the basketball around until we were ready to enter. Finally calming down and smiling, I moved to the side with Nancy to discuss strategy.

And then I was gone.

The tall guy from the bathroom had literally swept me off my feet as he ran past; throwing me over his shoulder and running away with me. Screaming, I beat my fists against his muscular back to no avail. He was carrying me like I was a feather, and nothing was making him loose his grip.

Finally he placed me in front of another group. His twin and the other rude girl from the bathroom were standing nearby, and unlike my messily dressed conglomerate of friends, this group was all neatly attired in blue uniforms.

An elderly gentleman approached me, smiling softly and offering his hands to me. Gingerly I took them in mine, unsure of what was happening.

“My dear, I apologise for the uncouth way in which Damien here has bought you to us, but I assure you it is for a very good reason.” Pausing to smile reassuringly at me he continued. “We would love it if you could please join us out on the court to represent our basketball team. We understand how much trouble you are having with the council, and we would be more than happy to assist if you’d agree to switch sides and align yourself with us.”

Looking around I took in the neat, organised group of people. Though malice and venom dripped from their eyes I could see the meaning behind their actions. They just wanted to win. And they’d help me if I helped them.

Taking a deep breath I looked back at the old man. “Ok.” I agreed, unable to say any more for the shock of what I had just agreed to.

* * *

The next day was the game. An outsider looking in would have seen one group – a messy arrangement of mismatched boys and girls jovially approaching another basketball game with fun and laughter in their eyes. The other group stood in stark contrast – crisp, fresh and organised in blue and gold uniforms, their eyes hard and unwavering with tones of evil, malice and intent. And standing front and centre of this group was me. The girl now in blue with venom in her smile.

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My Escapades in Wonderland

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After this dream I came to a solid decision – no more drinking alcohol before bedtime. It makes for strange strange dreams. I woke up feeling a bit like Alice – drinking a (few) small jars of burning hallucinogenics and falling down the rabbit hole that is my unconsciousness. So, without a firm grip on my own sanity after this dream, I’ll just start from the beginning. Bottoms up!!!

 

The stadium rose high above my head, its intricate, architectural white marble sides looming and casting long shadows over the car park where I stood as twilight fell. The crowds milled around me – people ferrying pillows, doonas and overnight bags from their cars to the stadium door in preparation for tonight. Looking down, I realised I hadn’t bought anything with me at all. Just the flimsy shorts and t-shirt I was wearing.

Looking around, my eyes passed over hundreds of people searching in vain for the man who had convinced me to come tonight to no avail. Sighing, I let myself get swept up as the crowd slowly surged forward as one, shoulder to shoulder, shuffling towards the two tiny doors of the arena that looked like they’d never let us all in. I guess I would just find him when we got in there. Frowning as elbows jostled my body and people rudely shoved me aside in their hurry to get in, I questioned why I had even come at all tonight. For charity, I assured myself. It’s all for charity. Another sharp elbow to the stomach forced the air from my lungs and caused me to stumble into the woman in front of me. The woman tossed her hair over her shoulder flashing me a haughty, annoyed look. Yep… all for those poor orphans.

As the doors loomed larger and larger before me I started to get excited to see what was inside. These golden tickets of entry were like needles in a haystack to get a hold of; though you’d never know it with the throngs of people fighting to get in. I’d been really lucky to get a spare ticket from him and was glad he’d sent it over to me before the event. The men at the doors stood to attention in red tops and tails. Their skin youthful and oily, their eyes sharp, their smiles friendly. Checking my ticket, one of the young men took my arm and escorted me into the building.

Finally crossing the threshold, I stared in astonishment. It was like a jungle in there – ropes at all different levels throughout the arena suspended small lily pad beds complete with plush white pillows and doonas. Vines with petite lilac flowers curled around the ropes; climbing towards the open-air roof and increasing inky darkness of night. Small pinpricks of glitter smattered over the doonas and lily pads, twinkling under the bright spread of stars. The ground was covered in small, sparkling lights that illuminated the aisles and numbered ladders swaying in the evening breeze. Some beds were already taken – from mums, dads and kids curled up in the biggest pads, to couples hiding under dancing doonas, to individuals settling back with books, drinks and food.

Following the ushers’ directions, I meandered through the thinning crowds towards the back section, climbing my swinging ladder to our pad. Snuggled comfortably under the doona sat Mike smiling down at me.

“She’s finally here!” he exclaimed, reaching out and grabbing my hand to pull me up onto the pad with him. Laughing I let him pull me up, crossing my legs and surveying the world of beds from our high vantage point. Breathing deeply, I let out a small cough, frowning as the toxic smoke of cigarettes filled my lungs. Glancing around I took in the chubby, man-sized caterpillars dotting the landscape. One in particular was sitting a few pads over, blowing smoke rings and ruining the serenity of the night.

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I started to move towards the edge of the pad to get some help. This was just unacceptable. Pulling me over, Mike told me not to worry and murmured that we should get some rest. Stretching out, I hugged the snugly, feather doona to my body and closed my eyes. I could forget about it. For charity. Drifting slowly off to sleep, I was jolted sharply back to reality by the loud snores of those around me. Sitting up I looked around, taking in the sleeping figures of chubby caterpillars, men, women and children – all emitting nerve grating, window shattering, ground shaking snores. Flopping back onto my pillow, I blew my hair off my face. I wouldn’t be getting any sleep tonight. Grumbling I reminded myself once again – this is for the orphans.

 

Happy Mothers Day to the most wonderful, inspiring woman I know

ImageMother’s Day is a time to celebrate the wonderful women in our lives who gave us life, love and laughter. So rather than retell my dream from last night today I thought I’d take the opportunity to send out a tribute to my mum; the best mum I could have ever asked for.

As a child, I think we all have this innocent, unwavering belief that our parents are the best parents in the world. It seems obvious to our developing brains that these people who provide us with unconditional love, warmth, food and a home are the most amazing people in the world. Lucky for me, I never lost that view. I still think my parents are the most amazing people in the world.

As a child, my Mum was my best friend. Some of my best childhood memories are from all those times we spent together and all the lessons in life she imparted to me. She taught me how to cook – we would waste away days concocting cakes, slices and cupcakes together. The most important thing she taught me about cooking though would have to be the beauty of licking the beaters and the bowl – a tradition I still engage with now as an adult! My mum also taught me how to sew – every rainy Sunday she would pull out her sewing machine and set me up with a machine designed for kids. Whilst she spent time mending clothes, curtains and odds and ends, I spent time carefully following her actions to sew my few bits of paper together. As I grew older and was allowed to move on from my toy machine to the real thing, she taught me how to thread the needle, change the settings and sew together anything that needed fixing – an invaluable skill I have thanked her for repeatedly when things need altering and mending again and again over time.

Besides the practical things in life, my mum taught me to share and be kind to others. My first real childhood friend spent a lot of time at my house and vice versa, and Mum taught me the value of letting her play with the best toys just for a little while because she was the guest. I’d get them back after a few hours when she left and making our guests happy and content was an important part of making us happy and content. As a four year old, I have to admit I was not very happy about handing over my favourite Barbie doll or my best pair of fairy wings… But I did it anyway. And as much as I wouldn’t have admitted it back then, it was a very valuable skill to have learnt and I’m so glad I had someone there to teach it to me.

My mum taught me how to love. She showed me the value of loving and cherishing others for who they are, not where they stand or what they do – just for them. As I’ve gone through life, this lesson has been more than valuable to me. Throughout the different stages of my life I’ve seen people discriminate against others for their status, gender, disability, socio-economic status, race; really anything they can pick on; and I’ve always prided myself and cherished the lessons my mother taught me around treating everyone equally. I especially recall how proud I was one day in kindergarten when my best friend was dragged away from me in morning assembly one day (no small thing I assure you – standing alone after this was life social suicide). Rather than follow like a sheep and subject myself to ridicule, I did what my Mum would have wanted me to do – I approached the girl in line who was always picked on and teased for her weight and race (5 years olds can be so cruel I tell you) and I made friends with her. There were so many other people in that line I could have chosen to stand with, but it was the wisdom of my mother than led me to embrace those who are excluded or on the perimeter and show them that someone cares. It is something I have always carried with me and tried to do throughout school and the workplaces I have been in. I can honestly say though, that I would not be the person I am today without her input into my social development and the way she taught me to love and accept people for who they are.

As I grew older, I became a rebellious teenager in many ways (because that’s just the thing to do these days apparently). I went though a few mental health issues, and am aware I scared the crap out of her a few times when things got really bleak for me. Without her by my side through it all though, I don’t know where I would be today. She was my rock – and still is my rock – and it was because of her that I got through things. I can’t even describe how important she is to me, except to say that without her I don’t know if I would be here today, or if I would be the person I am today.

As an adult, I can look back on all the fond memories I have of my Mum. We laughed and sang our way through 80s and 90s pop music into hairbrushes as we danced around the kitchen working up a sweat many, many times. We cried together over broken hearts, wiping away each others tears and cuddling throughout the night in bed when needed. We devoured cookie dough and chai lattes as we perused our favourite tv show, Charmed, every week together. We still like to engage in this tradition when we can as we catch up on Revenge and The Vampire Diaries – though we’ve added Garlic Prawns to the menu and a run the next day to work it all off!!! We shared books, commiserated over great book hangovers (and real alcohol hangovers), scorned the books we didn’t like, and shared in the excitement of Sookie Stackhouse’s experiences together. Now that we’re a similar shape and size, we share clothes, ideas, dreams and travel experiences together. I never needed a sister or a best friend – I always had it in my mother, and I always will.

Another amazing woman in my life that I feel I also need to say a few words about is my Aunty. This woman is one of the single strongest women I know, and has taught me so much about the hard times in life and how to get through. As a child, she was always around and I spent quite a lot of time with her. She was forever fixing my hair into ponytails and plaits, but I always felt so jealous I couldn’t have her long hair that trailed down to her waist. My cousin was a few years younger than me, and born with severe cerebral palsy. I got to spend a lot time with her and my Aunty, and was introduced to the not so nice side of life very early on. I would go with them most weeks to the Spastic Centre and play with the kids there. I would spend my days laying next to my cousin and help my Aunty feed and care for her when I could. And I grew up with an attitude of respect and reverence for both people with a disability and those who look after them. When we lost my cousin at the age of 13, I watched her crumble and saw her spirit crushed. But she recovered – and seeing someone come back from that had to be the single more inspiring thing I have seen in my life. She has faced so much heartache, been through so much and she is still so strong and wise. She now works in the disability industry, putting her skills to work and improving others quality of life. She has been there for me when I need her at any time of the day or night, and is such an amazing woman. Just like my mother, she has held me and consoled me when I needed it. Laughed and enjoyed the good things in life with me. I just want to let her know how amazing I truly think she is, and how much I love and value her in my life.

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So, to sum this all up, I just wanted to take the opportunity today to say thank you to the most amazing, strong, beautiful and wonderful woman I know. You’re my mother, my best friend, my confidant and my idol. I love you more than anything Mum, and the lessons you’ve taught me have made me into the strong, steadfast, successful woman I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am without you and your belief in me no matter what path I choose (and there’s been a few) has been unwavering and so important and cherished to me. So thank you for putting up with all my crap, getting me through all the bad times and celebrating with me through the good. I look forward to the next stage in our lives, and I can’t wait for my children to meet you one day and to benefit from your loving and wonderful nature as I have throughout life.

I love you so much Mum, thank you xxxx

 

The Day the Meerkats Disappeared

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The front porch was spacious and airy, the ground covered in thick white tiles coated in a rough glaze to stop one from slipping in the wet. A small green elaborately moulded iron table and chairs sat to the side with two small teacups adorning the table. The ground around the front door was littered with shoes – from sophisticated high heels, to converse sneakers, to sandals and thongs – so much so, that Andy and I had to stand in single file to avoid stepping on the mess encroaching on the doorway.

Swinging open the door, we came face to face with a huge, red smile, bright blue eyes and a mob of curly grey hair. Laughing gaily, Mrs Westcombe grabbed our hands and pulled us inside, exclaiming all the while about how happy she was that we could make it today. I turned back and shot Andy a furtive look – what had he told her our reason for coming today was anyway? I only wanted to check out the house in case it was suitable to rent… Not move in there and then! Shrugging his shoulders and smiling sheepishly at me, Andy moved up to walk beside Mrs Westcombe as we made our way down a spacious white tiled hallway into the living and kitchen area.

Andy kept Mrs Westcombe engaged in conversation, so that left me free to examine what we were being shown. Trailing behind them, we made our way through room after room and I appreciatively took in the high ceilings, polished hardwood floors and light and airy atmosphere of each room. Maybe Andy was onto something. I spent time examining the other inhabitants of the house; or at least their belongings to get a feel for who we would be living with if we took the room.

“And now for the crème de la crème!” Mrs Westcombe exclaimed as she threw open the final doorway, leading to the small staircase to the roof. Anticipating a spectacular view and decoration based on the rest of the house, I eagerly climbed the five stairs leading into the sunlight. Stepping out, I recoiled in shock at what lay around me.

“These are my prized possessions!” Mrs Westcombe trilled proudly as she gazed around in satisfaction. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even stutter out a word. I wanted to be sick. Cage after cage after cage cluttered the rooftop; the cages to my right full of meerkats and those to my left full of boys… teenage boys who looked at me with desperation, sadness and fear in their eyes. Even Andy looked disgusted at this turn of events.

Seeing Mrs Westcombe’s expectant expression as she watched Andy and I take in the rooftop, I thought I should say something. “So… you kept meerkats long?” I asked, kicking myself mentally that that was the only thing I could think of to say.

Laughing, she moved towards one of the first cages and lifted the latch to open it up. “Since I was a child.” She replied, as the two meerkats scurried up her body and perched around her shoulders.

“And what about the kids?” I asked bravely.

“Oh those,” she scoffed, waving her hand in the air. “They’re just a little project I’m working on. Never mind them though, do you think you’ll take the room?”

“Uh, we’ll need to have a little chat.” I choked out. “We’ll get back to you soon.”

“Well don’t take too long!” She trilled as we started to back towards the staircase, “prime real estate like this doesn’t last long!”

Smiling weakly, Andy and I all but ran from the house.

“We have to save those poor kids and those innocent animals.” I said as we sat in shock in our car.

“Tomorrow morning when she leaves for work.” He promised, sitting stock still and staring out the front window.

***

The next morning, we turned up at the house as Mrs Westcombe was leaving for work and asked to look at the room one more time.

“Of course darlings!” She cried, “just let yourselves out when you’re done!”

Walking into the house, we smiled politely at the two girls sitting on the couch and made our way up the stairs towards the roof. With trepidation I reached out a shaky hand and twisted the knob to the final door that opened up to the small square of blue sky. We made our way quickly up to the roof, backpacks loaded with bolt cutters, food and water for the boys and meerkats. Turning to Andy as we ascended to the roof, I began murmuring the best plan of attack.

And then, once again, we were rendered speechless. All the cages were gone. All the kids, all the meerkats, everything – all gone. Moving to sit on the edge of the roof, I turned to Andy with wide eyes.

“Did we imagine them being here?” I asked.

“No” he growled in reply, “stupid bitch is onto us.” We sat in silence as we comprehended this, sending up a silent prayer for those boys who were once again at the mercy of crazy Mrs Westcombe.

“We’ll still save them though.” I said, more to reassure myself than anyone else.

“Course we will.” Andy said, standing up and holding out his hand for us to leave.

Photo credit: http://rateeveryanimal.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/meerkat-family.jpg

Marry her or marry me, I’m the one that loves you baby can’t you see?

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The flowers were arranged. The guests were assembled. The grass was greener than green, the sky bluer than blue. The band struck up a perfect slow, jazzy tune as people shuffled down the vibrant red-carpeted aisle to their seats. Women giggled as they clung to their partners to prevent their heels from sinking into the soft dirt and toppling them head over heels into the perfectly arranged, white wooden seats. The Minister stood beneath the perfect arch adorned with small white roses re-reading the script in front of him; his figure ensconced in a perfect halo of light from the afternoon sunshine through the archway. Guests chattered between themselves, the soft laughter of women floating on the light breeze and mingling with the bright chirp of birds in the distance.

Oohs and ahhs filled the air as the groom and groomsmen made their way to the front of the group. Their black suits and freshly combed hair made them look suave and handsome, and small titters from the women in the audience debated which man was single and looking for some action tonight.

I quietly sat and studied the groom. He looked dashing in his suit. He always did. His hair was freshly cut to the perfect length, and he was biting his lip in a way I intimately knew meant he was nervous. I knew I should feel happy for him; today was his big day. But I couldn’t as I remembered, once again, that even though his intentions were honourable he could never marry me because he would always be married to her. He shot me a look of apology and sympathy, before turning his attention back to the aisle as the first of the bridesmaids approached. Unable to stomach what was about to come, I thanked god I had chosen one of the seats on the edge of the row as I slipped out and covertly and quietly slipped away from the group.

Making my way towards the house, I couldn’t stop the tears that started streaming down my face. This was meant to be my day. My goddamn perfect day. And she was stealing it all from me. I would never get married now, I would always have him but I would never really have him. And she didn’t love him. This was all just to appease their parents. A farce that was ruining my life.

Making my way inside, I blindly stumbled through the hallways until I reached his room where I had stored my bag and belongings. Sobbing quietly, I began to gather my stuff together to leave. I just couldn’t do this. Hearing footsteps in the hall I froze. I didn’t want anyone to find me like this. I didn’t want their pity – or worse – their scorn for coming between two people who didn’t want to be together.

A soft knock echoed through the room as the door opened slowly. A large figure filled the doorway, and I found myself looking into the kindly face of his father.

“Are you ok?” He asked, coming over and pulling me into a gentle hug.

Sniffling into his jacket, I replied. “I don’t think so. I’m sorry, but I have to leave. I can’t be here for this – I can’t do it anymore.” 

Pulling me back, he pressed a large wad of money into my hand. “I know,” he said, smiling softly at me, “and I know how wrong this is. That’s why I want you to take this money and run – both of you run – and be together. Be happy.”

Startled, I started at the money in my hand. “But-but- he’s still out there.” I replied sadly. “He doesn’t want me. This.”

“That’s where you’re wrong” came a voice from behind me. “We have to leave now, before they realise what’s happened.” He came over quickly and grabbed my hand as we walked onto the balcony. “After you.” He said, helping me climb over the side of the ledge and grab a hold of the vine scaffold to climb down.

In shock, I started making my way down, wincing as my heeled feet slipped and I almost lost my grip. Reaching the ground, I gasped in shock as he grabbed me and pulled me into a passionate kiss.

“I love you” he said, looking deep into my eyes. “I will never leave you.”

Smiling and crying in happiness, I kissed him back. Maybe I would get my perfect wedding after all one day.

Flailing into Darkness

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As the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the horizon, I pulled my damp beach towel tighter around me to suppress the small shivers beginning to rack my body. My sun kissed, pink flushed skin was bruised and battered from a day of sliding down giant tubes on my barely covered bottom; clinging for dear life to small rings that whipped me through twists and turns of darkness, shadow and tunnels; and being hammered repeatedly by wave after wave of cascading water in the wave pool. All in all, it had been a perfect day. And it was finally time for dinner before we hit the rides one last time before and headed home for hot showers, warm beds and a well deserved rest.

The smell of barbequed meat drifted through the air and made my mouth water and my stomach growl in hunger. I headed over to where my family stood in line, plates held out in front of them in eager anticipation of well-earned food. Grabbing my plate from my Dad, I took my place and devoured the meal piling up before me with my eyes. The meat, so tender and juicy nestled against a bed of lettuce, tomato and cucumber. The fluffy, white bread roll balanced precariously on the side of the plate looked like it would melt in my mouth and as soon as we sat down, I tore into it, closing my eyes and moaning in delight as the first of the food hit my cavernous stomach.

Demolishing my meal in no time flat, I laid back and rested by head on the ground, looking up and watching the last remnants of the day fade away in a flare of orange, pink and yellow. Closing my eyes I laid content for a while, letting the food settle and my tired and screaming muscles relax after the ruthless pounding I had given it today.

A bone chilling, piercing scream filled the air and yanked me from my reprieve; its terrified tremor penetrating me to core and filling me with a cold dread.

Startling up, I took off in a sprint behind dad towards the ‘cave’ rapids and the sound of the scream. Without hesitation, Dad leapt into the current and dived under the water searching for the boy who was drowning. Leaning over the edge of the rock, I reached down into the rapids as if I could grab Dad and the boy out myself. I noticed I had started crying, but the salty rivulets streaming down my face as I screamed were washed away by the splash of chlorinated water pounding against the side of the rocks.

Watching for a sign of movement, any sign, I started hyperventilating that Dad wasn’t going to come back up. Taking a deep breath, I launched myself over the edge of the rock and into the rapids myself. Spluttering and choking as the water threatened to invade my lungs and suck me under too, I flailed helplessly realising all too late that this was a stupid idea. The current had me now, and I tried to relax as it carried me quickly towards the end of the line, and hopefully, Dad and the boy.

Spitting me out, I tumbled and landed on all fours on cold, hard ground at the bottom of a cave. I looked around anxiously – this wasn’t where he ride had ended before. It was cold and dreary; the only light penetrating the cavern coming from a few scattered floodlights attached to the ceiling and the brief illumination of passing semi trailers. A huge whiplash of wind threw me across the ground, and I lay shaking in shock as I watched the truck that had flown past disappear into the distance. I had no idea where I was. It was cold, and dark and looked like the bottom of a cave system somewhere, but there were still trucks travelling at exorbitant speeds as they hurried to their destination. So it had to go somewhere.

“DAD?” I screamed, “DADDY WHERE ARE YOU????” I cried, clutching my arms around my body in earnest to try and stop the sobs and bone chilling shakes that were wracking my torso.

“It’s ok,” a voice sounded softly from behind me, “we’re both here.” I turned around and saw my Dad and the drowning boy standing behind me.

“Where’s here?” I asked, swiping my hand across my face and trying to control my trembling voice.

Looking up, Dad replied, “I don’t know sweetie. But we’re going to get out.” Holding his hand out to me, I climbed to my feet. Clutching each other tightly, our trio made our way to edge of the road and started following the slight descent out of the caves.

Photo credit: http://nationalgeographicmagazine.tumblr.com/post/22996395147/ora-cave-papua-new-guinea-photograph-by-stephen

The Day I Grew A Pair

My body shakes as I breathe in; the air getting caught in my throat and constricting in my chest. I don’t think I can do this. I don’t know why I’m even here. I just want to cry and run away in distress and fear.

I start to turn away from the ominous building looming in front of me, but as I slip my hand into my pocket for my keys my fingers brush against a round, cold object. I reach out and clutch the pocket watch from an old, deceased friend between my fingers, grasping it tightly as I remind myself why I’m here and steel myself for what is to come. My breathing starts to slow as my blood simmers with determination. Sharpening my senses, I turn on my heel and walk quickly and deliberately inside the barred gate with my head held high.

There’s no one to stop me as I make my way through the halls. If I wasn’t so caught up in what I am about to do I might have been concerned about this fact. My tunnel vision guides me to where I need to be though, and my feet pace silently along bland concrete walkways that have seen more drama, doom and gloom than I could ever comprehend.

Finally reaching the archway I need to cross I stop and pause, taking in the echoes in the room before me. Shouts of masculine anger, jest and conversation merge to create a tense soundtrack of discordance. The pungent smell of male sweat penetrates the air around me; and the sharp smells of metal, dirt and urine waft in the breeze. I crinkle my nose in disgust and steel my nerves for what I am about to do – reminding myself once against that these men cannot get me behind the locked doors of their cells.

Taking a deep breath and wincing as the aroma of prison eau du toilette invades my nostrils, I start to walk slowly forward. At first no one notices; the men all too busy going about their own business to focus on the small, lone female figure making her way into the center aisle of the large, drab room of cells. Then the jeers start; the catcalls; the comments I dare not repeat let alone comprehend the meaning of. I let them all brush off me, refusing to acknowledge or react to even the most vulgar and disturbing suggestions thrown my way. Stopping in the center, I put two fingers in my mouth and whistle loudly; the sound bouncing off the concrete walls and echoing through each and every cell. A hush falls over the prison as men move to their doors and drape themselves through the bars, their eyes piercing my soul as they wait impatiently to hear what I have to say.

“Three years ago you were all transferred here as part of the prisoner rehabilitation scheme,” I began, my voice ringing strong and loud throughout the building conveying a confidence I didn’t possess. “You were promised release within 10 to 12 months; and yet none of you are yet to see the light of day.” Murmurs of agreement floated through the room.

“You’ve lost people though.” Pausing, I prepare mentally for the repercussions of what I am about to say and cast out a silent prayer of apology to my family. “But these people were not released like you were led to believe they were. They’ve been killed, slaughtered, hunted in the name of fun. This new ring of poachers have run out of wild animals to hunt and resorted to using real people – to using you – to hunt and slaughter inhumanely. That’s why you’re here; you’re being weakened, broken, slowed before you head out there so you can’t fight back, can’t escape. It’s not fair, it’s not right. You need to stand up and fight. You need to get out!” I scream the last sentence over the top of the deafening roar of anger and fury that booms throughout the building.

Dazed, I look around slowly. I take in the scrawny men in stained white singlets violently shaking the bars of their cells. I cringe as I watch muscular, shirtless men rip furniture from the floor and wall and slam against the walls, doors and floors of their cells. Shouts of anger, fury and fear overpower the room, and I turn and walk quickly from the room, breaking into a run when I reach the hallways and trying to escape before they break loose and start seeking their revenge. I have to warn my family. Even if my Dad is the head of the committee who kills these men for fun, I can’t let them die. I just hope they can forgive me for what I’ve done. I just couldn’t stand by and see people being killed for sport any longer; even if they were criminals.

Huffing and puffing, I run until I reach the top of the hill above the prison. Looking back, I can see the guards have the rebellion under control. There’ll be no prison break today. Sighing, I shake my head and take comfort in the fact that at least these men know what’s coming now. I did all I could. I startle as a hand claps me on the shoulder, and swings me around.

Looking up into the dark, angry eyes of my father the wall I’ve been holding up finally collapses under the weight of my fear. I pray he won’t kill me for what I’ve done. Sobbing, I reach out and hug him, shouting my apologies in desperation for his forgiveness.

Patting me on the back, he softly kisses the top of my head. “It’s ok kiddo, it’s ok. I don’t blame you for what you did. I forgive you.” Sobbing harder, I relax against him and let him lead me home. Nothing has changed… But I know I’d made a difference speaking out and maybe, just maybe, I’ll get to save at least one life by doing what I did.

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Photo credit: John Keith W http://www.viator.com/photos/San-Francisco-tours/Alcatraz-Tour-plus-Muir-Woods-Giant-Redwoods-and-Sausalito-Day-Trip/985240