Digital Mischief by Warrigal Mirriyuula
Image and Story by Warrigal Mirriyuula
Mexico had always loomed large in the American consciousness as a kind of Altered States of America; where life is slower, easier; and death, a festive celebration. A place of escape and escapism where weed is cheap and strong and tequila goes down like mother’s milk; a loser’s paradise where the failed American dream can relax and learn to believe that it never mattered in the first place.
Of course, this is not the Mexico of reality and it never was, but none the less America continues to dream of “Fun in Acapulco” while Trump wants to separate them from that dream with a wall, and the drug gangs have made Acapulco the murder capital of the world.
And yet, when their world goes wrong, Americans go to Mexico. Even if it’s only a Mexico of the mind.
“No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem” Ken Chesney
“Blame it On Mexico” George Strait
“Margaritaville” Jimmy Buffett
“Mexican Divorce” Ry Cooder
“Oh Mexico” James Taylor
“South of The Border” The Doobie Brothers
“South Of The Border” Marty Robbins
“The Ballad of Pancho & Lefty” Emmylou Harris
“That’s Why God Made Mexico” Tim McGraw
“They All Went To Mexico” Carlos Santana and Willie Nelson
“The Sands Of Mexico” The Chieftains and Ry Cooder
“We Are Mexico” Becky G
“The Border”, Rodney Crowell
“Mexico” The Refreshments
“Loco In Acapulco” The Four Tops
“Acapulco Gold”, Cheech and Chong
“Then Came The Last Days Of May” Blue Oyster Cult
“Going Back To Mexico”, Steven Jaymes
“Mexican Bands” Merle Haggard
Digital Mischief by Warrigal Mirriyuula
Story by Warrigal Mirriyuula
10 Out of The Fiery Furnace 02 (1962)
It was Catherine who noticed first.
Eric and William came out of the hallway into the living room. Mrs Morrow had turned on the overhead lights and the room was brightly lit.
“Heavens! That’s you, Eric.” Catherine said with some surprise, then paused, her eyes widening, her mouth dropping, just the merest bit.
“Eric, what’s happened to you….., Oh my poor darling.” Catherine rushed to Eric.
William couldn’t see what the fuss was about so he came round the other side of Eric and then he saw what Catherine saw as she gently held Eric’s face in her hands. In the revealing overhead light Eric looked like he was a hundred years old.
Eric couldn’t work out what the fuss was, so he quickly turned to look at his reflection in the glass panes of the hall door.
“Oh, bugger!” Eric frustratedly stamped a foot.
Eric turned back to Catherine and William with a gesture that comprised of shrugged shoulders, rolled eyes, a dumb smile, and finishing with a shake of the head.
“Sorry I forgot to…,ah,….” Eric half turned and pointed down the hall to the front door of the house.
“I was so enjoying just sitting outside; the cool night air sighing in the Norfolk Pines, the ozone and damp sand. I love that smell; and the sound of the waves breaking and shushing up the beach, that last sibilance and silence as the water finally sinks into the sand… Well I forgot to reset.” Eric looked at the assembled company with a look of abject apology.
“Mrs. Morrow, I am so terribly sorry you had to see me like this.” Eric ran his hands over his face, “Hhhmmmm…” then said, “I want you to hold Catherine’s hand. This might be a little alarming, but I want to assure you that none of you are at risk. This won’t hurt a bit.” Mrs. Morrow, her distrust of Eric growing, took Catherine’s hand and gave Eric a sour look.
Eric then shook himself like a wet dog; but instead of water flying off, there were shards of coloured light rainbowing off him as the angular momentum of the shake threw them from Eric’s clothing, his face and hair, and finally his shoes; before they twinkled out to nothing.
When the shaking stopped Eric adjusted himself, straightened his back and looked at The Staffords and Mrs Morrow. “There you are, all done.”
Mrs. Morrow screamed and pulled Catherine in front of her, clutching her arm and peeping out from behind Catherine’s shoulder. Catherine was dumbfounded and William looked like he’d just been plunged into the middle of the biggest problem he had ever faced.
To the three observers Eric had apparently just shaken away about fifty years. His face; no longer a contour map of wrinkles and lines outlining the terrain of a long life; appeared taught, his eyes brighter, teeth straighter, whiter. Eric was younger. In fact he looked younger than when William and Catherine had last seen him.
Catherine decided that comforting Mrs. Morrow would allow them both time to unconsciously deal with what they had just seen. “This is definitely more your line of country darling.” She said to William as she took the older woman softly by the shoulders and led her away to the kitchen.
“Mrs. Morrow and I will go and get the brandy. I think we could all do with a drink after that little performance.” She looked at Eric with frank curiosity. “You areall right, aren’t you Eric?” She thought it best to check before she left them.
“Oh yes, fit as a flea, me.”
“Well…., OK…” Catherine still wasn’t sure; but then how could she be sure. She too had no idea what had just happened.
Catherine guided a babbling Mrs. Morrow through the dining room and into the kitchen. The older woman was in shock. A little comfort and hot sweet tea would take the edge off that, but Catherine was going to have a stiff snifter.
“Bloody Eric!, God love him. Nothing is ever simple with that man.” She was fond of Eric and had long ago accepted the major role he played in their lives. Bess adored him and Eric lived for the time they spent together; and William owed almost everything he had achieved to Eric and the Trust. Even though they had not seen Eric for a few years, he was family.
Back in the lounge room William had adjusted the lighting and the men had sat down by the cold fireplace.
“So lets start with what just happened.” William cutting to the heart of the matter. “You just shook off several decades of senescence; and I did note the photonic effects the shaking produced. I’ll assume that they were…., “time”…, though what manner of “time” they were you’ll have to fill me in on later.” William paused before setting off again. “Given how simple it looked to achieve, I’m also assuming that this is something you do regularly. Which begs the question, “why didn’t you…, “reset”, is that what you called it, “reset”; before we got home? Surely whatever it is that has you so concerned might better have been described by an Eric we could recognise, or at the least, one who wouldn’t destroy the equanimity of our housekeeper with parlour tricks. Poor Mrs. Morrow. You’ll have to work hard to get back in her good books.”
William, as ever the practical, pragmatic humanist, had accepted that something entirely outside his experience was happening around him tonight, and he knew that it would take some time to understand what had just happened and what it might mean for his family; but Mrs. Morrow’s mind wasn’t up to such acceptance. What had happened was an assault on her reason, possibly her faith, certainly her everyday experience. William would talk with her as soon as the right opportunity presented itself. He was always able to soothe Mrs. Morrow when she became upset.
“Yes, I really am sorry.” Eric looked genuinely sorry. “You’re right. I was hoping for a long quiet chat with you and Catherine before Bess gets up in the morning. This involves her too.” Eric looked frustrated with himself. “I just buggered it up; I forgot. I’ve been very busy lately.”
“What’s Bess got to do with whatever this is?”
“Just about everything.”
William was internally adjusting to the events of the last few minutes. There was no rational explanation for what Eric had just done, so it was either a kind of mass delusion, or it had happened and it was real; but as yet simply unexplained.
“Eric, I’ve gotten used to the Trust and its funny ways and I’ve always thought, in the back of my mind you understand, that the work of the Trust and my part in it is of a larger scale than I’ve ever been able to accurately gauge. I won’t pretend to understand that scale, or the true nature of the work that you and the others do, and I’ve always been so very grateful for the welcome the Trust gave me and the support it has shown for my work, but what has happened here tonight requires detailed explanation. I’ve got all night, and you appear to have “time” by the neck.”
“So do you William, so do you. You just don’t know it.”
“I’m in no position to debate that point so why don’t you just tell me what you mean.”
A short while later Catherine, having calmed and then helped Mrs. Morrow to bed; leaving a generous measure of brandy in a glass on the bedside table; rejoined William and Eric in the lounge room with the bottle of Hennessy and three balloons.
The men were deep in discussion and seemed almost to be using a different language but Catherine, hearing a few key words, understood that they must be talking about folded space. It was William’s speciality and Eric had been his supervisor and mentor, so there was nothing unusual in their discussion, except the look on William’s face as Eric threw numbers and algorithms around with a kind of hurried urgency. Catherine could see that William was hanging on to every word as though his life depended on it, which incidentally, it did.
Catherine dragged a chair over to join the men and poured the brandy. William and Eric brought their discussion to a temporary close and gratefully accepted the proffered balloons of warming liquor, but Catherine could see that William was deeply distracted.
“You two look like a couple of conspirators. What have you said to William to so distract him?”
Eric offered a gesture suggesting that William might like to field that one.
William, rolling the balloon between his hands, warming the brandy and inhaling the vapours, looked at his wife over the rim of the glass. She could feel his anxiety as William looked directly at her; obviously trying to choose the right words to explain the inexplicable. As usual, William cut straight through to the heart of the matter.
“Leaving aside Eric’s startling performance for the moment;” William said; his face looking as if he was trying to wrestle an answer into submission; “apparently we’re meta-humans,” William said flatly, “both of us; though in different ways; and apparently our daughter is even more “meta” that us.” William stopped at that point to gauge Catherine’s reaction.
She looked at Eric with simple disbelief. “What is this nonsense Eric?”
“All too true I’m afraid.” Eric took a slow sip of the brandy.
“What does he mean darling; and what’s this about Bess too?”
“Eric, you’d better handle this. I’m not sure I’ve understood you well enough to convey even the smallest bit of the important meaning in what you’ve just told me.”
Eric tightened his lips and nodded.
“Catherine, I see you’ve hung a new picture.”
At this both William and Catherine burst out, “Oh, for God’s sake, Eric…” but Eric put his hands up. “Bear with me,” He looked at Catherine more closely. “The picture Catherine; its one of yours, isn’t it? What do you call it?”
Catherine face became a mask of caution. She looked at the painting and then at William and finally at Eric, her face slowly freezing to a quiet stillness. Her reply, “The Fiery Furnace”, was a little anxious.
“Those twisted and tortured elements look like a car; an abstracted, folded car. A car being consumed by a chaos of flames. And those two other elements seemingly emerging from the maelstrom. What was your thinking as you worked on it.?”
A dream from a few moths ago came back to Catherine as if someone had just hit replay.
“It was critique. The ugliness of cars and car related stuff. To hell with it, I thought; burn it all up.” That sounded like bravado. Her quiet deceptive tone suggesting even Catherine didn’t believe that.
“It’s not like you to choose an “ugly” subject. Its quite confronting and yet very beautiful, in its own unapologetic way; but was that really what you were thinking, or did you…see, something else.” Eric was looking right into Catherine’s eyes.
She thought she could almost feel him in her mind, and she knew he was right. The painting wasn’t some kind of social critique, it was history, a waking dream filled with a burning vision of flame and twisted, tortured metal. She remembered the look on little Bess’ face when she had finished the work and called her in to give her opinion.
Bess had looked at the painting and turned to smile at her mummy and said, in all innocence, as though it were the child who had to reassure the mother, “You won’t die Mummy.” It had been a statement of fact, and Bess had given her mum a cuddle and gone back to play with Ellie, leaving Catherine a little perplexed and somewhat shaken.
The painting of the “The Fiery Furnace”, executed with an obsessive haste, had been in response to the vivid and disturbing nightmare that Catherine had had some months ago. The dream, in which she and William had been driving the Humber down Barrenjoey Road towards the little bridge behind Bilgola, had seemingly come from nowhere; and, while she’d “seen” the crash and the subsequent fire, she had been left with a deep uncertainty about the outcome. What had happened to William, what had happened to her? That uncertainty had become the defining theme of the painting. Could one survive death in a fiery crash?
What Catherine had thought or felt at the time, she could no longer accurately remember, but now it seemed that little Bess had already known, and Eric knew too, and William; she looked at William, the man she loved, the father of her child; he knew too it seemed. Catherine was trembling.
“Will we die tomorrow Eric? Or will it be something else?” It seemed a perfectly rational question to Catherine; and one that required an immediate answer.
“You weren’t in the car.” Eric tisked. “Sorry….; you won’t bein the car.”
Catherine looked at William who was nodding his head confirming that Eric was right, everything would turn out OK.
“This is too much!” she exclaimed.
“Yes it is; but I’m also afraid that it might not be enough.” Eric looked down between his knees , wringing his hands a little.
“William you might remember that Einstein claimed, to a friend, that his wife, Elsa, was still alive, though she had died some time ago. His belief in the continuing life of his dead wife was almost certainly a cognitive coping mechanism; he wanted her to be still alive, so he believed it to be true.
Of course I don’t think he really believed he might be able to access that continuing living reality, but it comforted him to think that somewhere, sometime, she was still living.
Einstein was completely right, but really had no clue as to the nature of that life; what it might be constituted of, how she might have lived.
He was still bound up in the sequential nature of existence. He was quite literally a man of his time. Her death, being in the past, simply made her inaccessible to him. Of course he knew just about all there was to know about space and time, at that time. He’d created most of that ontological mass. What he didn’t know was how simple it might have been for him to find Elsa, if he could only transcend the temporal dimension.”
Eric paused to gather his thoughts before plowing on. Catherine and William had been listening closely, probably in the hope of some explanation they could get their material brains around.
“Imagine for a moment that your Humber had a button or switch on the dash that you’d never pushed or flicked. It had just been there when you bought the car. Imagine that, having never had cause or thought to activate the switch, you had also neglected to learn from the manual what the switch was for. What it did. Imagine then that one day a person says to you, “Oh, I see you have the new Humber with the time switch.” and then went on to explain how manipulating the switch gave access to slices of time to which you could “drive” the Humber.”
“Sounds like the set up for a children’s radio serial. “The Horological Humber”; Adventures across the clock. Creates a whole new set of possibilities for the Sunday afternoon drive.” William’s joke seemed to lighten the moment a little.
“Funnily enough, it is about that simple once you get the knack; and believe me, you both have the knack. Let me show you. Let me flick that switch.”
And he did; and both William and Catherine just slumped back in their chairs, their eyes wide with wonder and amazement; their faces flipping from smiles to open mouthed awe, then consternation, then irreducible stupefaction. Whatever it was that Eric had started had nothing to do with the real world and both their minds were entirely taken up with visions; hallucinatory, impossible dreams; but for all the sudden uncertainty, they were in no danger.
Eric observed the couple for a short while, smiling, they’d be like this for a while.
He then wandered back through the dining room to the kitchen and into Mrs. Morrow’s quarters. Slipping quietly into her room he noted with some relief that she had found sleep, though her brow remained furrowed and Eric could see that hers was a troubled sleep. “Well, that’s hardly surprising.” Eric said to himself.
He smiled gently at Mrs. Morrow’s sleeping form and quietly laid a hand on her forehead.
Mrs. Morrow’s brow relaxed and a hint of a smile appeared on her lips. “There, that’s better isn’t it?”
Satisfied, Eric rejoined William and Catherine who were still lying in their respective chairs, their eyes now closed, their breathing deep and regular. Behind their closed eyelids Eric noted the REM like flickering of their eyes and he wished more than anything that he could see what they were seeing in the way they were seeing it. It cast his mind back to his own Damascene moment; his own conversion to the new, bigger reality. That moment when all the contradictory, confusing uncertainties of his everyday human existence had transmuted into a new teleology that was both staggering in its extent and implications, and yet, uplifting and invigorating. A new life, a life without end.
But that had been so long ago, and his memory had discarded so much more than it held that his existence had become a day to day thing, always in the moment; until he had become aware of the coming trouble.
He crept away from William and Catherine and found his way to Bess room at the rear of the house.
Slipping inside he sat down on the edge of Bess’ bed. Bess’ little Staffie, Ellie, was curled up with her on the bed. Bess was sleeping soundly and Eric could tell that she was dreaming, so he insinuated himself into her dream. He knew she wouldn’t mind.
Little Bess was playing with Ellie on a grassy hillside covered in wild flowers. In the distance there was a range of high snow covered mountains from which direction a light, cool breeze was blowing. Ellie was chasing butterflies, leaping and barking in an exposition of doggy joy. A glorious sun backlit the fluffy clouds as the breeze swayed the flowers in the sunshine. Bess turned towards Eric and seeing him, jumped up and ran to him, wrapping her arms around his middle. Eric stooped and picked her up, holding her out at arm’s length; Ellie leaping at his feet.
“How’s my favourite girl?”
“Perfectly fine, thank you Uncle Ecci” she offered rather formally, before he brought her in and they gave one another an enormous hug full of good feelings.
“This is a dream isn’t it Ecci?”
“Yes sweetheart, it is; but I just had to see how my favourite Little Miss was doing.”
“Is it time Ecci. Is that why you’ve come?”
“Yes my darling, it’s time.” He put Bess down and Ellie fussed around her, then standing up against Bess, in that way that Staffies do, Ellie looked from Eric to Bess and back again. She barked once.
“Can Ellie come too Ecci. She loves adventure.”
“Yes Ellie can come too. In fact Ellie’s a very important little girl, we couldn’t be without Ellie.”
“That’s good. I wouldn’t want to be without Ellie, and Mummy and Daddy of course.”
“That’s right, we’ll all be going together; but I have some other things to do now, so you have fun and we’ll see one another when you wake up in the morning.”
“This is going to be the biggest adventure…” Little Bess stooped and grabbed up a stick, then threw it down the hill for Ellie to fetch. As she ran down the hill after Ellie she shouted over her shoulder, “See you then. Love you.”
Eric felt a swell of emotion. Little Bess was so full of innocent wonder and enthusiasm for life. Even the strangest things seemed unable to unsettle her.
Eric slid back to his place on Bess’ bedside, smiling down at the little girl’s sleeping form. He stood slowly and crept from the room.
Story by Warrigal Mirriyuula
09 Possible and Probable 02
“Can I get you anything?” Pip was eager to make Bess comfortable. “I know you like a cuppa and a biscuit. I think we’ve got some of those “Morning Coffees” in a jar. I like them. I’ll put the kettle on, shall I?”
“Yes that would be lovely.” Bess dumped her back pack beside her usual chair and collapsed into the smooth studded leather. She watched the young man as he filled the kettle and got some cups and saucers ready, emptied and rinsed the pot in the small sink.
“There’s a lot to be done tonight so a good strong cuppa is warranted; but we’ll have to wait until Eric gets back with…..” Pip paused, “Well, he’ll be back, in a minute.” He didn’t look to see if Bess had caught his almost slip. Pip put several biscuits on a plate and paused again before turning to Bess, his smile once again firmly affixed across his face.
It was niggling Bess that she couldn’t place him in her mind. Since he opened the door she’d had the growing feeling that she knew him, perhaps quite well. It was infuriating.
“Pip, have we ever met before?”
“I can say with my hand on my heart,” he put his hand on his heart, “that I have never met you before.” His eyes then sharpened a little, Bess noticed.
She smiled at him. “But you knew who I was when you opened the door…”, the smile still there.
“Oh no you don’t, Bess Stafford! You’re not going to catch me that easily!” Pip blustered, jumping and twisting on the spot to avoid Bess’ gaze, and that smile. Bess sat quietly watching him, wondering. She relaxed her smile. This was getting both serious and interesting.
“Relax Pip. I was just wondering.” but what Bess was wondering was, “Catch what, how?”
Pip turned slowly, ready to avert his face immediately he spied that smile; but Bess wasn’t smiling. She had a look of genuine interest, concern.
“I’m sorry, its just that; well the truth is that Eric….. I’m not to say. You’ll have to ask Eric.” Pip almost pouted like a infant. “I’m not the same as the rest of you.” he said with both disappointment and frustration. His face had become like that of a thwarted child.
Once again Bess was forced to wonder; who are “the rest of you” and in what way was Pip different; because it was obviously an important difference to Pip.
Bess could see that Pip’s natural inclination was to garrulously roll out the entire mystery from the buff enveloped invitation to his own curious behaviour; and the shadows of things unseen, unsaid; but he couldn’t. Like a show jumper that baulks again and again at the jump both horse and rider know they can easily get over, Pip opened his mouth several times, obviously intending to speak; but each time he didn’t make the first sound.
Bess felt a warm empathy for the young man. He was definitely odd and he seemed a little emotionally fragile, yet he had a certain confidence; something strong and durable about him too. His presence said a great deal about him. That Eric would leave him to greet a stranger also meant something. Eric always had his reasons.
Bess tried to lighten the moment.
“So what’s Eric been up to lately? I haven’t dropped by for yonks. Are you on the QC course Pip?”
“No. I’m not up to all that apparently, and Eric…, well Eric follows his own path most of the time. He’s been very busy lately, working on something to do with big numbers. I’m not all that cluey on numbers so its all Greek to me.”
“Are you local?” It could have meant anything; local Glebe or Newtown; local Sydney, local NSW.
“Yes, I’ve got a place in Glebe; actually, I had a place in Glebe….” Pip looked at Bess as if he’d let something slip again Bess noticed. Why couldn’t she resolve who Pip was?
“Moving’s a bugger. Got your eye on something?” This is such an ordinary conversation you won’t even realise you’re being interrogated.
“I may be able to go back to my old place. I’m just not sure about the timing.”
“You could say that.”
“What do you do Pip?”
The young man looked suddenly tense, a little afraid.
“Not much. You might say that I’m one of Eric’s assistants.” A cagey response absent any real information.
“He’s a fascinating man. Astonishing intellect.”
Now Pip was getting more agitated. “Yes I suppose he is, has. But I wouldn’t know!”
There was that almost pout again. Bess knew that Pip did know who and what Eric was, what he was up to. He just wasn’t saying, and the effort to keep his mouth shut was frustrating to him. Bess determined that Pip was a fundamentally honest person who became disconcerted when he had to lie or dissemble. Another thing that Bess was becoming fond of in him.
“Well not everyone is destined to look into the abyss; and even those that do remain themselves having done so. There’s a wonderful saying from Master Kong; “Before enlightenment; chopping wood and carrying water. After enlightenment; chopping wood and carrying water.” The burden of life is different for each of us but we still share our common responsibilities, to ourselves, to others.”
“Yes.” was all Pip said to that. A firm yes brooking no demur. Bess got the distinct impression that our common humanity and mutual obligation were things that Pip held high. She saw, for the first time, the hard edge in Pip. These were things he’d fight for.
Pip brought the tray with the tea things over and sat it all on a table between the two studded leather Queen Ann chairs. Bess was already occupying one of them and Pip dumped his bum in the other.
“Shall I be Mother?” Pip said as he poured the tea into Bess cup. “I know you don’t have milk or sugar.”
“How do you know Pip? How do you know so much about me?” Bess was smiling gently at the young man; and then she saw it all. It happened so quickly that Pip hadn’t even noticed.
Bess hand went to her mouth, smothering the silent “Oh my god!”, her eyes wide with disbelief and wonder. “Living dead people everywhere! No sting, no victorious grave. Life triumphant!”
Bess couldn’t work out if that was more of the gobbledygook or whether her mind had finally taken leave of its senses. And then Eric appeared as if by magic from behind her chair.
Bess jumped as if electrified, her whole body trembling, “Hell’s bells, Eric, you frightened the life out of me! How did you do that….?” she said rising and twisting to look behind the chair
Eric gently grasped her arm and leant down to kiss her on the forehead. “Sorry Bess.” As he drew back up he gave Bess a thorough looking over.
He turned to Pip, “You’ve told her haven’t you?” His tone was stern.
Pip stood up out of the chair. “No, honestly Eric I haven’t said a word, honestly.”
“He didn’t have to. I saw it for myself,” Bess said firmly, her face a little stiff, wary. Bess was buzzing with curiosity, anticipation, a little fear, much perplexity; all mashing together, making competing demands on her adrenalin and neurochemical production. Her brain was on fire, she couldn’t think straight. She had just “seen” inside Pip, inside his mind and in a split second she had seen his day down to the smallest detail. Pip was more than odd; he was positively out of this world, figuratively and literally.
“You two had better start talking because this has just entered the Twilight Zone and I’m beginning to feel a little out of the loop.” Pip looked pointedly at Eric and moved a little way into the shadows.
“Well, we’re over step one.’ Eric said with a look like it had all happened too fast. “What did you see, Bess. In detail, please.”
“Well I saw the shambles of a day our young novelist here has had.” she turned to Pip “Escape Lawful Custody carries a hefty fine and possible gaol time, you’re lucky that bottle of Absinthe didn’t connect or it would be very much more serious;” she scolded Pip before turning back to Eric, “but that pales to nothing compared to how his day started.” Bess narrowed her eyes and shook her head. “I was there Eric, in the house in Glebe, earlier today. Held the hand of his grieving neighbour. In fact I have a back pack full of Pip. A dead Pip, who I can now see isn’t actually dead at all. Bess looked at Pip. “I knew I knew you.” she said, like she had just hooked a fish.
Pip was beginning to look queasy, “I’m sorry Bess, really I am but I couldn’t tell you. Eric wouldn’t let me.” He really did look sorry and Bess could tell it was genuine. Not surprising given that she had just seen how high Pip held her and the regard he had for her.
Bess turned to look at Pip directly. “….and what was all that business before breakfast this morning; The Dixie Cups in all their slightly out of tune glory doing “Chapel of Love”, and you faux crooning into your spoon, dancing with the straw broom…,” Bess paused, drew a long nasal breath, “while you fantasised about dancing with me! You just don’t strike me as the “Chapel of Love” type, so what was that about Pip?”
Pip went bright red and looked at the floor while Eric, looking away, stifled a laugh.
“…and what are you laughing at? What’s going on Eric?” Bess was now drawing on her hard nosed copper routine.
Bess moved forward to sit on the edge of the chair. “You look like you did when I first met you. How’s that Eric?” But Bess was running out of emotional steam. The impossibilities were just piling one on top of the other and Bess wasn’t sure how long she could stay upright, fighting it all, pushing it back, trying to find a pattern, to make sense of it.
She collapsed back into the once familiar leather of the chair. Eric’s rooms, previously a kind of sanctuary, had begun to seem alien, threatening; and no amount of tea and biscuits was going to change that.
“Bloody Boudica on a bicycle; just tell me Eric!” Bess closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her thick curly hair.
“There’s no easy way to explain all this, and we need to get over the next hurdle, so I’m going to have to just push through. I’m sorry Bess but you’re going to have to prepare yourself for the shock of your life, quite literally.”
Bess looked up; a worried look on her face. Eric went round to stand beside Bess and put a hand on her shoulder, “You ready?”
“How the bloody hell should I know?” Bess was greatly upset and confused. She had hardly ever raised her voice to Eric. “Oh look, I’m sorry Eric but today has been nothing short of… well I don’t know what. Let’s just say I’m ready and we’ll see what happens.”
“OK.” Eric leant down and kissed Bess on the top of her head. She in turn gripped his hand on her shoulder.
“You can come out now.” Eric said to the door in the corner of the room. It was his private room, a sort of monk’s cell; bed, small wardrobe and writing desk. He used it on those nights when finding his way home in the small hours was too much trouble.
The door being behind her, Bess turned in the chair as Eric tightened his grip on her shoulder. Bess held his hand similarly.
A woman came slowly out of the room. Bess’ first impression was of a plumpish woman in her sixties, thick salt and pepper grey hair. She was dressed for summer in the bush and was wearing a pair of worn camouflage patterned trousers curiously covered in pockets. She seemed very apprehensive about entering the room.
She came slowly out of the shadows into the pool of light over the Queen Ann chairs and made her way around to a position in front of Bess and Eric. Pip was now standing back, almost motionless; his hands in front of himself as if in prayer, a huge smile on his face.
“Hello Bess.” the woman said. Her voice was soft, careful. She stepped in to the area immediately in front of Bess’ chair and squatted before Bess, looking deeply into her eyes. “This is as much a shock for me as it is for you. I’m just lost for words.” The woman smiled and shook her head. “I don’t know what to say. I can’t even say how I got here, but here we are.”
A shock of recognition jolted Bess like a charge of electricity had shot through her whole being. She began to tremble almost uncontrollably. She was looking at herself. An older Bess, but there was no mistaking it. It was her.
“Oh yes, Bess its me, you, us. Oh I don’t know, but here we are.” The older Bess leaned in and wrapped her arms around her younger self in a huge hug. Younger Bess just began to cry openly, unashamedly. It was all so overwhelming, and what could it mean, and how, what had just happened, how, how, how………
Story and Graphic by Warrigal Mirriyuula
08 Who Is Bess (2019)
“Then you’d better tell me who I am and what I’m to do.”
“Well you obviously know who you are as far as your life up to this point is concerned. None of this changes any of that. You’re the you that holds the memories of your existence, your experiences and learning, insights and your dreams. There is only one you and you are it. The one and only Bess Stafford. Genetics took care of that. You are, in fact, Elizabeth Ruth Stafford, decorated police officer and investigator. But that’s not all you are. It’s whatyou are that is probably more important than whoyou are. It’s what you are that makes you so important, indeed, it makes you unique. So let me try and lay this out for you.
Some decades ago it became apparent to cosmologists and astrophysicists that the universe was continuing to expand and that expansion could not be adequately explained by any of the current models of reality.
Do you know anything about M theory and branes, string theory; any of those sorts of things?
I like the physical sciences. I like their rigour. I try to keep up, and yes, I’ve heard of these things and have a laypersons understanding. They’re all about higher dimensions, over and above the four we know and live within.
Well here in the material universe you’re human, as I am, here. But through the discordance, on the other side, we are both tensors in the mathematics of those higher dimensional spaces; incredibly complex algorithms, you much more so than me of course, Those mathematics define an idea of reality that is specific to each of us, but also general to the greater space, like ingredients in a cake.”
“Sort of like the sugar that becomes the sweetness. This is the field Dad worked in; Folded Space Time.”
“So you’re saying that when we jump through “The Discordance,” Bess capitalised the words verbally, “we lose our materiality and become…, what exactly?” She’d clarify exactly what “The Discordance” was when she’d discovered where it led to.
“Heard of dark energy and dark matter?”
“Of course. They’re alI the unseen stuff that accounts for the majority of the mass of the universe. If I remember correctly dark energy is about 70%, and dark matter about 25% and together they may be responsible for inflation, the continuing expansion of the universe post big bang.”
“Yes that’s right, here, but that’s not all they are. What do you know about the Zero Point Field?”
“Its a quantum vacuum space of incredibly low energy; theoretically at absolute zero temperature, so no potential or kinetic energy. Yet I seem to remember that none the less things still pop into and out of existence even when there is no energy gradient to exploit.”
Yes they do; but most of those spontaneous creations burst like bubbles in the sun. They expend their brief existence coming into being and then decaying. You know about Heisenberg and Schroedinger?
“Uncertainty and Entanglement?”
“Right. So much for Einstein’s “spukhafte Fernwirkung.”
Well, every now and then one pops into existence and abides. This is usually the result of the intersection of those branes I mentioned earlier. Without going into the mechanics of it all, these spontaneous and persistent little tangles of corpuscular energy can become entire universes following there own physics, rolling out to their natural conclusions.
This universe of yours, ours really, is just such a one. One of many, very many. Though this one has been modelled for stability and its ability to support biological life. Beings just like you and me, Bess; and all the other creatures that have ever existed on this beautiful blue green ball and all the other balls of rainbow colours that fill this universe. This universe is a school for solving the problems of biological life. That is why you are here, why you’ll go through the curricula so many times. This is your school, where you have and will learn all that you’ll need to finally join those beings, including your parents, who have matriculated to a higher dimensional set.”
“Those higher dimensional sets sounds notionally like a kind of heaven.”
“A heaven with its own problems, but yes, in a way. There is a school of thought that suggests that the human concept of gods and heaven is a kind of foreshadowing infusion of that possible future where all will be revealed and made good, where the individual can move mountains. A kind of garden to which all the world’s Candides retire to contemplate and create the best of all possible worlds.”
“You also started out as one of those energetic little balls. You’re your own little universe, modelled by your parents consciousness, and their human genes of course, and finished off in the fire of life.”
“Their consciousness? I don’t understand. Do you mean that what was on their mind when I was conceived had a determining effect on how I would turn out?”
“Sort of; in fact its all down to consciousness; but these weren’t random thoughts, nor were they merely the cognitive components of the sex act, whatever that may be when its at home. Your parents entered what would commonly be called a trance state. Be thinking the Buddhist’s “Om”; a means to access one’s true self and mind. Of course its wasn’t really a trance, it was more like a functioning “Om”, a sort of “fOmmmmm” that allowed them to synchronise their consciousnesses and hold an idea of you as a living potential field, and then to transfer one of those tiny corpuscles of energy from the ZPF into that potential field.”
“Oh my giddy aunt! I’m a “star baby”!” Bess imagined a naked baby sitting in the core of The Large Hadron Collider. The baby was laughing.
This was really getting difficult to keep a grip on. Like sand running through her fingers, Bess was only able to understand a little of what Hansen was saying. The rest was just running away. She’d have to sweep it all up later for further analysis.
“Were my…., are my parents like me? Do they have these super powers?”
“Oh yes; and quite powerful powers they are too; but very abstract. Your parents were never really meant for this world. They were only ever destined for a single iteration before matriculation. Of course, they weren’t meant to disappear from your life in the way they did. That was, or will be, the result of exigent circumstances. There’s simply not enough time to fully brief you on all the aspects of what’s happening and why it all has to be so urgent.”
“But Eric, I’ve just been an ordinary copper plodding my way through, and now you tell me I’m really some George Lucas fantasy character.”
“There’s nothing ordinary about you, Bess.
You’ll remember that little boy you found in the New England Ranges back in the early eighties. He’s about to put his hand up for the seat of Armidale. He’ll be standing as an independent at the next election and he’ll shoo it in. He’ll remain the member for Armidale until his retirement in 2052, by which time he will have been PrimeMinister in the first government made up entirely of independent candidates. You were, or should I say will be, the proximate determining factor in that outcome. You see if you hadn’t found him when you did, well stochastic factors would have set in and in all likelihood…” Hansen’s face saddened.
“You know what’s really beginning to bother me is whether or not I did any of these things on my own; or were you there, always nudging here, restraining there, pushing ideas into my mind. I know you have access. I’ve seen you many times in daydreams, or when I’ve been thinking of you. Am I just some sort of glorified tool?”
“Marx believed we are all the tools of history.”
“Yes, well Marx believed a lot of things, but that’s not an answer.”
“No, of course not. You’re able to determine your own life, follow your own hunches, pursue your own dreams, you have “free will”. I’ve only got access to your conscious processes and you have to, in a sense, invite me in. I can only suggest, I can’t compel you to do anything. I’ve gotten used to being the irresistible force when it comes to taking a look “inside” and giving a gentle nudge, that’s my burden; but you are the immoveable object. There is no shifting you from your chosen purpose.”
“You talk about these iterations. How many iterations will I go through?”
I don’t really know. Its uncertain; though I have seen six of you so far.
What? No idea at all? Sounds like the wheel of life. Is what’s through “The Discordance” like the bardo?
We’ll not be going all the way through this time. We’ll be using it as a transport hub, sort of like an interchange, but yes the space we’ll be going through, an an intermediate space, which is, yes, actually like the bardo, in the sense that it is a place between your present life and a kind of rebirth as the new improved you, but only if you view it from this human perspective. When you get there it won’t seem like the bardo at all. Humans have never been very good at imagining transcendence or what “heaven” may actually look like; but then how do you imagine the non existent?
You see time is our problem here. Materiality requires the arrow of time. Without it reality becomes incomprehensible to the human mind, just a blur of instantaneous sections of the quantum waveform collapse. Pick a moment, any moment and it will be a perfectly formed three dimensional data cloud…, like those images of chaos that were so popular back in the 90’s, nothing like a photograph or image you can interrogate, it will entirely lack context.
Each moment is just itself; but add time, and you get process; context and meaning emerge. Consciousness feeds on that meaning and re-contextualises it further, creating narratives of possibility, pursuing the future, re-interrogating the past, turning the present into a never ending flame fuelled by the past to fire the future.”
“Heraclitean Fire. Will I become an “immortal diamond” as Hopkins hoped he would?”
“In time, perhaps in time.
You see Bess, nothing is really as it seems. From those tiny quanta spontaneously emerging, to federal elections, famines and warfare, nothing in this world is as described on the tin. Everything is always subtly different, serving another purpose, seeking the resolution of an undisclosed, hidden agenda. Good works and bad, its all the same to the universe. It just keeps on keeping on like the old paint ad; and just like paint on a wall, what you see is the paint, not the wall behind it.”
That’s right. Ingersoll knew a thing or two about the reality of reality. There never has been “right and “wrong”, just what happens next. That’s the glory of biological materiality. The future is always unknown, a Peter Pan adventure for adults.
I loved Peter when I was young, but now I see him in so many people; childish pride, boastfulness, lacking any real long view. We can’t all be Peter. It just doesn’t work.
Yes, things have come to a bit of a sorry pass at this point in human history, but you’re on the side of the angels; at least in as much as the angels have a side.
Alright, let’s say that while I don’t understand even a small part of what you’re suggesting, I can accept all that you’ve said. Mainly because its you that’s said it. Let’s say that I’m willing to accompany you through The Discordance. There’s just one thing I need to understand. What has marijuana got to do with all this?
Ah, yes, the welcoming weed. That’s quite simple really. If you were to just jump into the discordance unprepared it might very well shred your consciousness to unconnected filaments and that’d be the end of that. You’d still exist but as discrete sets of individual ideas no longer networked to each other, you would literally lose all meaning. When, if, you came back after such a traverse you’d almost certainly be a mental wreck; aphasia, inability to maintain coherent thought, loss of motor control. It wouldn’t be pretty.
Getting stoned loosens the mind by adding a stochastic element to your consciousness at the quantum level. Think of it as a preventative pill to forestall the worst headache you could ever imagine. It slows the sorting leading to the quantum collapse, creates a kind of rubberyness that allows your consciousness to stretch and twist without actually tearing itself asunder.
“It’s a relaxant.”
“Simply put, yes. Marijuana has a clinical effect like no other in this application.”
“We had to smoke some dope on a course I was on years ago. I hacked and coughed my way through the joint, I just felt silly. Oh and hungry. I got the munchies. Then I began to worry that they were all looking at me. To be frank it wasn’t all that pleasant.”
“Well there’ll be none of that tonight. I’ve been breeding weed for….., Well lets just say I’ve got it down.”
“Alright then. Lets go.”
“Good thinking. While we’ve got some time left here, I would, none the less, like to get you to a place of safety as quickly as possible. Once we get there we can talk through all this and I can give a sufficiently detailed briefing.” Eric opened the small shiny hinged tin and got out a packet of Tally Ho papers and a small zip lock bag of mull.
Bess watched as Eric rolled the joints, noting how very good at it he was. The finished tube and its contents an almost perfect cylinder, one end folded over, the other fitted with a small roll of thin cardboard; something the lips could hold without sogging up the rolled paper. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers had nothing on Eric.
When he’d finished rolling he handed one of the joints to Bess who accepted it awkwardly, not really knowing what to do or how to hold the thing. He put another to his own lips and flicking the Zippo, applied the flame, drawing down a very generous lungful of smoke.
While he held his breath he indicated with the Zippo that Bess should put the joint to her lips. She did so and Eric applied the flame while Bess tried in her inexpert way to ape Eric. It may very well have been the best weed in the world but Bess still fell to hacking and coughing. When she’d regained her composure she held the joint at low arms length and gave it a look, then turned to Eric with a big grin on her face.
She took a few more tokes, the coughing abating as the smoke took its effect. With Eric’s continued encouragement she finished the joint.
She was a little unsteady after smoking the reefer and let go the occasional giggle.
“This is ridiculous.” Bess muttered under her breath. She felt a bit foolish having arrived at retirement and never having recreationally smoked a joint in her life and now here she was acting on evidence she couldn’t really say was actually evidence and behaving as if she understood what she was doing. The truth was she didn’t really have a clue. And the whole lot was now lain over with weed wonder.
“OK, are you ready Bess?” Bess giggled a yes.
“Look into my eyes. Make sure you hold them in your view until we pass through the discordance.”
“I’m as ready as a person who’s never done this before and has no idea what to expect, but yes,” Bess giggled again, “I’m as ready as ever I’ll be.”
Story by Warrigal Mirriyuula
07 Out of The Fiery Furnace (1962)
The Humber Super Snipe purred up Barrenjoey Road from Newport, taking the climb over the headland in its smooth stride. Inside the car it was warm and comfortable. ABC radio was playing Alfred Hill’s Symphony No 8, “The Mind of Man”, and William Stafford was idly musing on the piece as he drove, noting similarities in the voicing of the orchestration that had an affinity with Arnold Bax’ “Tintagel”. Being contemporaneous composers probably explained that. Even high art has its fashions.
Catherine Stafford was sleeping in the passenger seat, her head resting on a small rough velvet cushion against the door pillar. There was the intimation of a smile on her sleeping face and William, taking a quick glance at his wife, felt that same old urgent twinge so often mistaken for the butterflies of anxiety, but which is nothing less than a visceral reaction to, and a physiological manifestation of the unexpected apprehension of love. William thought that Catherine was simply the most beautiful person he had ever known and believed himself unbelievably lucky that she had chosen him.
Catherine had been very popular with the other young men at Sydney University. So much so that William, a very reserved young man from the country, had thought he didn’t stand an earthly chance. This sense of foregone failure must have seeped into his facial expressions giving William the caste of a poet lost in love.
He would see her in the Union, The Pleasaunce garden; always surrounded by eager young men and young women besotted with her beauty; but what William didn’t know was that Catherine, whilst charmed certainly, flattered of course, was not exactly bored, but certainly not interested in allowing these attentions to bloom into anything with the scent of spring. She had her eye on a young man with whom she had never even spoken. A physics student with the face of a sad poet.
She often spied him from the corner of her eye, and if their eyes met, it was only ever briefly. The young physics student would shuffle away as if suddenly remembering something he had to do.
The truth was William just shattered every time he saw Catherine. How could he approach her? “I’m such a dummy!” he would tell himself. He began to believe that it was an impossible dream and, with First Year sliding towards examinations, he had better get down to the books or this “star crossing” might be the end of his University career.
He made a point to avoid the places where he might see Catherine. If she so much as popped into his mind; something that happened unbidden several times a day; he would think of complex differential equations, hoping that the cognitive power required to mentally drive these calculations would leave little left for the winsome intrusions of Catherine’s beautiful face.
So it was that for all of second and third year they hardly laid eyes on one another. They had no lectures in common. Catherine was studying Fine Arts. Her head was in Michelangelo’s clouds searching for the numinous. Across campus William’s head was in a cloud chamber searching for tiny evanescent particles that screwed themselves out of existence almost as soon as they had appeared. In his bleaker moments William equated these short-lived particles with his own chances with Catherine.
But just as absence is said to make the heart grow fonder; (perhaps in this case the archaic “fond” was more accurate. William certainly felt like a fool, and this programmed avoidance just made his yearning that much harder to bear); William tried but could not succeed in moving on from his infatuation with Catherine; who, in her turn, found that she spent a great deal of her time wondering and speculating about William Stafford.
Sublimation had seen them both do spectacularly in their Honours program and they were both contemplating what might be next when they both, separately, received invitations to a ball to be held at St Paul’s College to celebrate the end of the academic year.
William wasn’t going to go. He didn’t really get on with the Rugger Rowdies from the colleges. It wasn’t really him. Not that William was antisocial; it was that he was socially awkward to the point of embarrassment, and the prospect of having to make small talk, or worse, dance with a girl, filled him with dread. Besides, he assumed that Catherine wouldn’t be there so what was the point? “My God! What would be the point even if she was going to be there?” he found himself saying out loud. He’d never be able to overcome his shy diffidence to so much as even cross the floor in her general direction.
The world turns no matter the pressing concerns of the love lost; and so, in the week before the ball he had unexpectedly seen Catherine in the Quad resulting in the usual sudden sense of weightlessness such sightings brought forth in him. A friend with him at the time noted the look of confusion that swept across William’s face at the sighting, and quickly turned to spy the cause. The young woman coming out of the Nicholson vestibule was absolutely gorgeous, and he turned back at his friend with a look of respect, impressed that William had set his sights so high.
“You never know, Billy Boy; faint heart and the fair maiden, what?” His friend always affected silly British locutions, but William had to admit he was running out of opportunities, and excuses. He was going to take Lady Macbeth’s advice and screw his courage to the sticking place, and then hope like hell that things turned out better for him and Catherine than it did for the Macbeths. That was the problem with these old literary saws. They often came from places that didn’t really support their contemporary usage; a different world.
William nodded to his friend, a gesture of both confirmation, and parting. He strode down the cloister on the western side of the quad towards the MacLaurin stairs. He had to go to the library anyway. He could fake a meeting he thought. Just run into her. It was a clumsy plan and didn’t take into account the fact that Catherine would almost certainly see right through it; and what would he say anyway?
As it turned out Catherine had seen him coming and planned her own cute meeting. She would call out to him and open with a question about X-Rays and their application in certifying the authenticity of old masters. Catherine had discovered that William was fast eclipsing his professors in the area of x-ray diffraction.
One of William’s tutors, no doubt hoping to ingratiate himself with the beautiful Catherine, had let on that no less a person than Sir Lawrence Bragg, Australian head of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, youngest recipient of the Nobel for physics and world expert in X-ray crystallography, had offered William a position at that prestigious lab.
Catherine had been working on “the first question” for some months. She wanted something that could combine their two separate interests and after receiving the intelligence on William from his tutor, she had finally settled on x-rays as the key to open the lock on William’s sociability. She hoped that it might help her see inside the diffident young man, draw him out so she could engage him in conversation.
So, like two of Williams accelerator particles, each with their own energy, each with their own purpose, they collided at the bottom of the MacLaurin stairs and something new was created between them. It had been just a light bump, followed immediately by hurried apologies and innocent smiles. William of course was then simply struck dumb, so Catherine piled up her courage and asked William about x rays and old masters. William, feeling on more solid ground here, burst into a speech giving Catherine all that he knew about x-rays and x-ray crystallography.
It would have been obvious to any observer that Catherine was only understanding a tiny fraction of the information that flowed from William’s babbling lips. Yet she seemed to maintain a look of earnest interest; her eyes moving all over his animated face. She was trying to see through the young intellectual palimpsest. To see the William that only this morning she had admitted to herself, she loved. She knew it was silly. How can you love someone you’ve never really spoken to; but she was certain this was love none the less.
She loved the way William spent a great deal of his time alone with his head in a book, occasionally looking up, as if to speculate on his reading, before looking back down and carrying on. She loved the way he walked around campus, his confident stride, his expressive face, curious and alive to all that was happening around him, but most of all she loved him for his version of “The Arab’s Farewell to His Steed” which she had seen him perform at a Victoriana night held in The Great Hall.
His spoken performance had been accompanied by sentimentally sad piano; the accompanist dressed in full evening togs. William had on brown face and suitably draping Arab costume with a keffiyeh on his head. His rendition was full of hammy emotion fully appropriate to the Arab’s loss; his arms wide, his face to heaven, a picture of that loss; and as he spoke the lines, “I could not live a day, and know that we should meet no more!” Catherine had felt a powerful shiver move through her leaving her quite excited. She knew the line referred to the Arab’s steed, but my goodness! it had started something in her. Even her girlfriend noticed.
“Are you alright Cat? You aren’t feeling feint?”
“Oh, yes. A little.” Catherine let out a slow nasal breath. “No. It isn’t that. I’m alright. I’m fine.” A broad and quite frank smile took up post on Catherine’s face.
She was still reliving William’s performance, and its affect on her, when she realised that William had finished rattling on about x-rays and was looking at her with a certain expectation of response. She just smiled at him and that turned out to be the end of their beginning.
Side by side, they’d climbed the MacLaurin stairs to the library and made their way down to a table in the back, for privacy; where they had spent the next several hours just talking, very quietly of course.
William had found it surprisingly easy to talk to Catherine and his reserve was gradually replaced with an eager, almost boyish enthusiasm; and she had found, confirmed at last, that he was more than just a handsome young physicist with a yen for bad Victorian poetry. He was blindingly bright, sharper, more incisive than a microtome. He seemed knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects, but he was also gentle and kind hearted, he was empathic and seemed most concerned that Catherine should be comfortable with him, that she thinks well of him. He need not have worried on that account.
In the course of their peripatetic talk they covered an enormous amount of territory between them, finding commonalities and likenesses, shared tastes, values and similar aspirations for the future; and they discovered that they had both received Paul’s Ball invitations. So it was that when the librarian came to tell them it was closing time and they’d have to leave, both William and Catherine had begun to make certain basic assumptions about each other and their shared future. They didn’t discuss these assumptions. They didn’t need to. They had found one another.
At the ball they had sat alone and talked, they had laughed together, made silly intimate jokes together, even danced to some of the slower tunes played by the small orchestra. It had all turned out to be so simple, so easy.
William was surprised how quickly he picked up the steps and by the end of the evening he had begun to think that he didn’t mind dancing at all. It wasn’t so hard and his occasional clumsy missteps were soon forgotten holding Catherine in his arms, the couple seemingly existing inside their own bubble of young love. It was a Champagne night that William and Catherine had toasted to the dregs.
As the night drew to its inevitable close, they picked their way through the debris of the ball, the tired orchestra playing a ragged “God Save The King”. Stepping over inebriated undergraduates they both realised they too were a little tiddly, but neither wanted the magic evening to end. It was late and they thought they might go into town, perhaps a bite and a glass of Frontignac at Lorenzinis. In its turn, but only after a few Frontignacs, more talk and long pauses where they simply looked at one another, even Lorenzinis closed.
William and Catherine found themselves sobering as the sun rose. They’d walked and talked their way down Elizabeth Street and finally to the Quay where the early ferries were steaming up, the warming morning air filling with sooty smuts as the boilers came to pressure.
The day shift was just coming on at the Maritime Services site as William and Catherine, leaning over the sea wall, looked down into the water filled with flashing and darting juvenile Yellowtails and sinuous swaying sea weed. William was trying to model the chaos of the water as it slapped against the slimy seawall while Catherine saw only the beauty of the fish and their weedy resort.
They must have looked a sight amongst the early hurrying workers, William in his tailed dinner suit and Catherine in a ball gown and short cape. Some of the Maritime Services workers, noting the line of Catherine’s bottom as she leant over the sea wall, showed their appreciation of Catherine’s beauty with shrill wolf whistles; and when Catherine turned to acknowledge the men with a beautiful smile and a wave, they had spontaneously erupted in applause. William, at first put out, then awkward, relaxed and acknowledged that the men probably had no choice, just as he William felt he had no choice. Catherine was simply that beautiful.
William had not taken up the PhD offer from the Cavendish, instead he had taken up a late offer from a private philanthropic trust that had offered William a free hand and an open bank account to study Folded Space Time. It wasn’t what William had been working on but the offer, made by the man who would be his supervisor, and the possibilities the research program offered, sounded absolutely fascinating and so William had accepted. It would be a new adventure befitting William’s increasingly adventurous bent.
Catherine had decided that she wouldn’t pursue an offer from the Coulthard Institute in London. It had been very flattering that they had thought so highly of such a young woman; but if William was staying in Sydney, so would she.
They had married soon after in a local magistrates’ chambers. A small affair; just the happy couple, her parents, and Catherine’s great aunt Primula Gilfilian, or Mrs. G; as the family always called her. William’s father had not been able to attend. He was dealing with flooding on the family property. He sent his best wishes to them both and hopes that he’d be able to see them soon. He came a few months later, to much fanfare and feasting.
Mrs. G let go a bombshell over coffee at the end of the first family dinner, a kind of second wedding feast with William’s father as special guest. Given who they were the discussion, prior to Mrs. G.’s bombshell, had been lively and at times humorous, was none the less serious.
They’d been talking about education spending and discussing the Education Minister, Bob Heffron and his plans to establish more universities, particularly in the country. The general consensus had stabilised at “Good Thing” when Mrs. G, ’til now not really having much to contribute, piped in.
“Education is so important.” said Mrs. G in her brogue. “In no time you’ll be havin’ to make decisions aboot the wean.” Mrs G was looking at Catherine’s tummy. Catherine’s mouth was hanging slightly open. She still managed to make her way to Mrs. G’s meaning.
The rest of the table just looked from Mrs G to Catherine and back again.
“You didn’t know…, none a ya?” Mrs G asked the table. Catherine, her face moving from speechless immobility to a slow shake, mouthed “No.” The others just seemed stunned though smiles were beginning to crack across the faces.
“Oo, I am sorry to let the cat out of the bag like that; but y’are.” Mrs G took a sip of her soda water. She never drank alcohol.
William took his left hand off the Humber’s wheel and pushed it through the already greying hair at his temple. That was nearly ten years ago.
He looked at Catherine again and saw that she had been looking at him.
“We’re nearly home.” he said and smiled.
“Mmmmhmmm…..” was all Catherine said as she wriggled herself up straight in the seat.
They pulled into the drive of their home at Whale Beach. William turned off the ignition and took the key out. He was about to open the door when he saw someone in the shadows of the front veranda idly sitting on the swing seat there. William couldn’t make out who it was.
“I think we have a visitor.” he said to Catherine with an uncertain tone in his voice. “Strange time to come calling.”
Catherine, becoming a little more alert after her snooze during the drive home, looked in under the veranda. “Mmmmmm…” she said. Not committing to any particular feeling for their late night visitor.
William came round to Catherine’s side of the Humber and opened her door, offering is hand. She stepped out of the car and straightened her gown with a few brushes of her hands on the folds of the skirt. She kissed William briefly, a perfunctory kiss.
“You’d better see who it is.”
William stepped up onto the veranda, still not able to make out who it was that was sitting on the swing. Suddenly the light came on and the front door opened. It was the babysitter, Mrs. Morrow.
“I thought it was you two.” she whispered, “Ssshhh, I’ve only just managed to get Bess off to sleep.” Mrs. Morrow then spied the man on the swing. A look questioning his presence crossed her face. She gestured to Catherine to come in, mistrusting this late night assignation. Catherine, with a look like she should know the man but just couldn’t place him, followed Mrs. Morrow inside leaving William on the veranda.
“Hello Will. Long time no see. I don’t think Catherine recognised me.” He didn’t get up.
“Eric…,” William turned to look for Catherine but she had already gone inside with Mrs. Morrow. “This is an unexpected surprise. I thought you were out of the country.”
“Just got back earlier this evening.” Eric’s tone was unusually serious, so William would be serious too.
“Well hello, Eric. To what do we owe the pleasure of your nocturnal presence. It must be more than five years….”
“Too long between drinks, I’ll grant you; and I wouldn’t normally dream of intervening in Catherine’s and your domestic idyll if it weren’t of the most immediate and urgent importance. There’s nasty work afoot Will and I’m afraid I need the Stafford family, and your very particular talents, to see us through to tomorrow; but first there’s some very difficult and confronting things we have to deal with.” Now he stood up, straight.
“Cup of tea….?” William had been hooked on the mystery of the thing.”
“Something stronger, perhaps…..”
The mystery thickening as William, his hand in the small of Eric’s back, took them both inside.