A lot of photos in my late grandmother’s photo album have some person cut out with scissors. I asked my mother about it and she didn’t have a clue why. She said she thought the pictures were complete when she got the album when grandma died.
I went through the album carefully trying to find two photos the same or similar; one with a person cut out and one with the whole photo intact. I couldn’t find any. And then I found two that might be of help. It looked like they were both taken on the same occasion. It was someone’s birthday because a man was blowing out candles on an outside table. In the first one the figure standing behind the chair of the candle blower had been cut out. There are four other men in the photo counting the candle blower. In the second photo they are standing in a row. I can be certain that four of them are the same because of their hats and scarves. The fifth person could be the same as the one cut out but I can’t be sure. I didn’t know who any of them were. The one cut out is the only one wearing a hat without a noticeable hatband.
I showed the photo to my mother and asked if she knew who they were. She looked at it and said she didn’t know.
“Where did you get that photo from?” she asked. And I said it was in grandma’s album. Later when I went to look at it again the fifth figure in the photo had been cut out. It could only have been cut out by my mother because grandma is dead. I didn’t like to ask my mother about it because she sometimes gets quite cranky when I ask too many questions. She brought me up on her own. Apparently I was an “accident”, but I’m certainly pleased I’m here! I often wonder who my father might have been. A picture would be nice.
The horrible witch pushed Hansel and Gretel into the refrigerator and the light went out when the door was shut. They had a terrible time trying to stay cool.
The witch was busy heating up the cooking range to roast Hansel and Gretel when the woodsman turned up and pushed the witch into the oven. He then went on his way.
Oven doors can be pushed open from the inside, so that is what the witch did and she stepped out back into the kitchen. Fridge doors are not like oven doors; they need the outside handle pulled to open the door. Hansel and Gretel pushed their shoulders to the door – WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! – and the refrigerator fell over on top of the witch and killed her.
Now the door of the fridge was face down on top of the witch’s corpse and there was no hope of escape. That was when the woodsman returned because he’d forgotten his axe. He saw the fridge on top of the dead witch and said “Good riddance to bad rubbish”. He pushed the fridge upright and in doing so accidentally opened the door.
Hansel and Gretel stepped out and the woodsman said “What the heck are you doing in there?” Everyone was very happy because the woodsman was Hansel and Gretel’s father.
He said to his kids, “Just leave your dead stepmother on the floor. Let’s go outside and eat some candy off a drain pipe.”
I’d always liked the painting Aunt Josephine had on her dining room wall. I don’t know why I liked it, but I did. It was simply a portrait of an unnamed woman. It was painted in oils, waist up. Her eyes stared out directly into the room. I was delighted when I was left the painting in Aunt Josephine’s will.
I too hung it on my dining room wall. It was on a side wall behind where the head of the table would sit – not that we followed such a custom. We sat where we liked. On one of the longer walls was the fire place, and on the wall opposite the fireplace was an expansive window. The lady of the painting overlooked the table; the fireplace to her right; the window to her left. It was as if the portrait had been painted especially for the room.
Not long after I had hung the painting, my sister visited. She knew I had been given the painting. Where is it?
“It’s in the dining room,” I said. “She overlooks the table.”
We went there, and the lady’s eyes were no longer looking straight ahead. She was looking out the window. It was creepy.
I soon took the painting down. I didn’t like to store it in the attic for who knows if it would go bump in the night. It was possessed. I burnt it in the fire. Bit by bit. I remember especially burning the piece with the eyes.
That evening, when we sat down to eat, the picture was back up. Entire. Complete. The eyes were staring steadfast and cold at the fireplace. And her lips had a smile that wasn’t there before.
There was someone, or something, watching me. I felt it. That night I shouldn’t have taken a shortcut through the cemetery. It was to change my life.
I had been working late at the law office. I was going to grab some junk food somewhere on the way home (I would go to work on foot and lived alone) but then I remembered some left-over soup in the fridge. Waste not, want not – as my granny used to say. It’s a motto I’ve lived by. So I was hungry and eager to get home. That is why I took the shortcut through the cemetery. I normally wouldn’t do that because to be honest I don’t like cemeteries, let alone at night.
I got goose bumps. The hairs on my arms and back of my neck stood up. I wanted to turn around and look. There was no sound, no footsteps. I was telling myself, “Don’t turn around! Don’t walk faster! Stay calm and quietly walk forward and you’ll soon be out of here.”
And then I heard it. A little sound. Very quiet. Very soft. “Help! Help!”
I stopped. It seemed to be coming from a tall gravestone monument – a pedestal with a marble angel on top. “Help! Help!”
My first thought was to wonder if this was a trap. But what if it wasn’t? What if the child was in genuine need? (I presumed it was a child because the voice was so small). I decided to investigate. It was a child indeed. A little girl. I asked her what was wrong, but she would answer nothing but “Help! Help!”
“Come with me,” I said, and she followed. We went home and I contacted the police. Over the next few weeks messages went out about the little girl. It drew a blank. No one knew a thing, and the little girl spoke but would never say her name or where she came from.
That was fifteen years ago. As the years went by I realized something: it wasn’t the little girl who was watching me. It was someone else.
Tonight we celebrate Sasha’s twenty-first birthday. We made up the age and date and name. I know that Sasha and her boyfriend Sam are going to announce their engagement. She has been the joy of my life.
Valerie was in charge. She’d been in charge all her life; in charge of everything. Now she had been promoted (at last! at last!) to become the Director of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at the University’s Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. At last she could demand real science from the lecturers. None of this namby-pamby nonsense of there being only two sexes. If multiple sexes were good enough for mushrooms it was good enough for humans. Had not fungi and humans evolved together on the same planet? If one wakes in the morning and feels like a marsupial then one is a marsupial.
We must rid ourselves of white, middle class, male, deeply-entrenched European concepts of science. When did we last teach the profound science of the Yoyontze Tribe? They could tell the time of year from the singing of birds. The weather was forecast in the flowering of the sontigaga vine. Warfare between villages was necessary to prevent the gene pool from getting too restricted. The science went on and on. And on. Butterflies are to be admired, not dissected. Oh look! There’s one now!
Yes, Valerie was in charge. She had expelled from the university’s teaching staff all who could not follow the science. After all, that’s what the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force was for. There are even rumours that Valerie is going to be nominated by the President to be the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – once the current holder kicks the bucket.
Only a real man writes poetry. At least that’s what Aunt Winifred told Nephew Hayes. Lesser men grovel around in prose, but a real man writes a poem.
Hayes had been dating Mabel for over a year now. He wasn’t an overly clever chap but he thought he might string together a line or two of poetry. Anything to impress Mabel. Anything to make her go weak at the knees.
Mabel’s such a pretty name
It makes the birdies sing,
But I can’t make it rhyme with anything.
Hayes screwed it up and dropped it on the floor.
You are my sunshine on a rainy day
You are a restful park bench on my way
You love me especially when I pay.
Again Hayes screwed it up and dropped it on the floor. There was getting to be quite a pile of paper there now. It was also getting to be late afternoon, and Hayes was getting depressed. He began to think he’d be better happily grovelling around in prose for the rest of his life.
A violet by any other name would smell as sweet
And you smell.
Hayes screwed it up and threw it on the floor. And then the doorbell rang. Hayes answered the door. There was an envelope. It was a message from Mabel:
(Stories posted on Mondays on this blog – at least for a while – will present famous people I once spotted, albeit usually from a distance.)
For those who don’t know Margaret Mahy here is a little blurb copied from somewhere on the Net:
Margaret Mahy is internationally recognised as one of the all-time best writers for young readers, her books having been translated into all the major languages of the world. Twice winner of the prestigious Carnegie Medal, she also won the Esther Glen Award five times and the Observer Teenage Fiction Award once.
At the time I “spied” Margaret Mahy I was living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Margaret Mahy (I think) lived in a little township just out of Christchurch called Diamond Harbour. It was easier to get to Diamond Harbour by boat than it was to drive for an hour or so along the winding road around the harbour. I knew that because I would take a boat to see friends of mine, Jeremy and Kate, who also lived at Diamond Harbour.
I was quite well known in Christchurch as a playwright. The Actors’ Company, the Christchurch Shakespeare Festival Trust, the Mill Theatre, and others produced quite a number of my plays. Several thousand schools around the country used to do one of my musicals each year – one school doing a Goodman production nine years in a row! At a one-act play festival, so many theatre companies were performing a Goodman play that they started fondly calling it the Goodman Festival! Believe me, I didn’t mind. Sadly, I have since fallen off the stage and am not even a dim memory. Nothing was ever published except by the photocopier.
I say all this simply because my friend at Diamond Harbour, Jeremy Roake, was also a playwright and was commissioned to write a play for Good Friday by the Christchurch Anglican Cathedral. I was asked to direct it. Each scene would be acted at a different spot in the Town Square and end up inside the cathedral itself. The aim was to make it seem like the “procession” of Jesus to his death on Calvary was actually happening in the Town Square. There were crowds of people at the performance pushing and shoving to get near the front to watch the action. The part of Jesus was played by an Indian actor who was a Hindu. My favourite bit was when the lady who was always in the Square preaching Christianity came up to Jesus, handed him a pamphlet, and asked, “Are you saved?” The Christchurch Wizard – a very popular tourist attraction in the Square at the time – howled with laughter. Anyway, the production was quite moving and the Cathedral Dean was happy enough. The cathedral has since fallen down in an earthquake.
It was during this time of rehearsal that I was asked if I would chair a meeting of the Christchurch Branch of the New Zealand Writers’ Association. (It used to be called PEN but they changed the name because it caused a mild smirk when an announcement was made such as “PEN is having a meeting”). I wasn’t a member of the group because I’d never had anything published! The reason I was asked was because writers sometimes enjoy talking about themselves and they knew I was more than capable of telling them to sit down and shut up. (Nicely of course). One by one at the meeting I called upon various writers to read an extract of their work. But there was a problem: Margaret Mahy was at the meeting as large as life, and I didn’t know how to pronounce the Mahy bit of her name. There was more than one Margaret. In the end, as the very last, I introduced her: “And now we shall hear from the great Margaret!” She stood and off by heart entertained us all with a poem she had written for children. It was a wonderful end to the evening.
In the queue at the cup of tea afterwards, I was standing next to her. In response to one of the things that had been read, and I can’t remember what the reading was about, the great Margaret told me a story. When she was a little girl she went to school one day, and it wasn’t until she sat down at her desk that she realized she hadn’t put on any panties.
Don’t take this the wrong way but I’m not after sympathy. My wife died unexpectedly two days ago. We had planned to go on a seven week luxury cruise around the Pacific Islands. There she was starting to pack our things for the experience of a lifetime and the next thing she was dead.
This is starting to sound like I’m more shocked with missing out on the cruise than I am about my wife’s sudden departure. We had been married for fifteen years. There were no children; that was from choice and not from the vagaries of Nature. So we were quite free to go on a seven week cruise without too much responsibility for what was left behind at home.
We were both in the bedroom when it happened. The luggage lay open on the bed. Suddenly she couldn’t breathe like she was being strangled. She was flaying her arms about and making a horrible screeching noise. And the next thing she was on the floor dead.
I honestly didn’t know what to do next. In events such as this one plays things by ear. I didn’t call for an ambulance. Instead I took the luggage off the bed, picked her up, and lay her down. I know when a corpse can’t be resuscitated.
The problem now is how to get rid of the body before Betsy-Sabrina and I leave to go on a seven week luxury cruise around the Pacific Islands.
The Canasta Club was a thriving retired persons’ venture in the town. Every Thursday evening about sixty people would gather to play canasta and socialize.
As with every such group there is always a head gossiper. Cushla was such. Not a snippet of intrigue escaped her attention. This week it was about Damarius. Damarius was over in the corner with his group playing canasta, and Cushla was on the other side of the room with her group.
“Did you know,” said Cushla, “that Damarius’ old truck was parked outside the only pub in town for several hours? I believe that can be interpreted only one way; he has a problem with drink. He clearly needs to seek help. There’s a club somewhere in town for alcoholics that meets regularly. With his truck parked outside the pub for so long it definitely points to his alcoholic tendencies.”
This juicy piece of gossip was quietly spread from card table to card table. “Damarius is an alcoholic. His truck was parked outside the pub for hours, and everyone in town knows that truck.”
Word reached Damarius’ table. He didn’t say a word but went on quietly playing canasta.
Later, he parked his truck on Cushla’s driveway, took the keys, and left the truck there all night.
Alexia used to joke – and goodness knows it was the same joke every midday Sunday – that there were fewer deaths on Sunday so she would indulge in a wine or two and a cigarette.
They always had the main meal at midday-ish on a Sunday. On other days of the week the main meal was in the evening. Alexia’s little joke was undoubtedly because the list of names in the death column of the Sunday paper was a lot scantier than the list of dead people during the week. In general, all Sunday news was scantier. Of course in reality the number of dead on a Sunday was averagely the same as every other day.
None of this stopped Alexia from her little weekly joke as she settled in an armchair during pre-prandials, pouring a wine, and lighting a cigarette. “It’s safer to drink and smoke today because there are fewer deaths on Sunday.”
When Aunt Ethel called from the kitchen door that “Dinner’s ready!” (Aunt Ethel always cooked the Sunday meal) all rose except for Alexia. The newly lit cigarette held between her two fingers had burnt to the butt. So quiet and sudden was her death that not even the ash had fallen to the floor. No one had noticed.