How I Met Your Grandmother

“Want to hear a real-life love story?” George asked his grandson.

“This is a story of fate, passions, and the power of rock n’ roll. It’s the story of how I met your Grandmother. It was 1975 and I was a cool, young dude of fifteen. Like all cool, young dudes back then, I watched Countdown every Sunday night.” Grandpa paused there and waited for the question.

“What’s Countdown?”

“Jack, it was a magical portal that opened on your tv screen once a week, where a man named Molly showed you everything you needed to be a cool, young dude!”

“It was a music program on television, Jacky,” Grandma offered helpfully.

“A few local kids would make the trip into the ABC studios and be there live in the audience. All the best bands of the day were there, playing their latest songs. Dragon, Hush, Skyhooks…”

“Sherbet,” chimed in Grandma

“…Ted Mulry Gang. One fateful day, all the stars aligned, and three worlds collided – me, your grandmother, and the greatest band of all, ACDC! It was luck, or coincidence, or serendipity. Love at first sight! Bon Scott was up front, flirting with the girls, like he always did. But there was one girl, paying no attention to him. She was looking at me!” He winked at Grandma.

“Next thing I knew, this beautiful girl was standing close to me, and Bon was singing Baby, Please Don’t Go and I was thinking ‘please don’t go’ but not feeling as cool as I thought I was. In fact, I was starting to overheat! Incredibly, ACDC was her favourite band too, proving that she had great taste, despite also, eventually, marrying me!”

“But, Grandpa, doesn’t grandma hate ACDC? Don’t you hate ACDC, Grandma? Didn’t you say that to Mum the other week?” Jack looked around the table, confused.

There was a nervous shuffling as the adults tried not to meet an eye. Grandma blushed deeply, caught out in the biggest deception since Watergate.

Grandpa was laughing nervously, a bit unsure of his footing suddenly. “Grandma loves ACDC. Don’t you, Michelle?”

“Well,” the flush deepened, “I love you, and you love ACDC, so…”

“Michelle?”

“Okay, I don’t really like ACDC! But that’s not important. They’re just a band, for heaven’s sake!”

“Michelle! Just a band? They are ACDC. They are gods! We fell in love because of them. Your favourite song is Jailbreak!”

“Oh George, you fell in love because of ACDC. I fell in love because of you, mainly. Also because of Daryl Braithwaite. I moved near you that day, because I’d caught a glimpse of Daryl Braithwaite. You were so cute and earnest, I let you believe…”

“For forty-five years? You let me believe?”

“I thought you would get over me, or at least ACDC, before now.”

“Never!” He laughed.

“By the way, what IS your favourite song?”

As one, the entire family erupted with “That’s the way it’s gonna be, little darling. We’ll go riding on the horses, yeah, yeah…”

A Letter from Santa

Dear Children,

I am writing to all of you with an important announcement. I am retiring. Some of you are going to be upset about that, but really there is no need. That’s what I want to explain to you.

You see, most of the things that you think you know about me aren’t exactly true. People tell stories about me, and get things a bit wrong sometimes. I don’t like to embarrass anyone by contradicting them. But over a long time, this becomes a real problem. It gets hard to tell what is right and what is a misunderstanding.

I want you to know that after I retire, all the best things about Christmas will stay the same. I know you’re thinking that the best thing is getting all the presents that I leave for you under your tree and in your stockings, but it’s not. And, honestly, that’s not me that does most of that. That’s a combination of societal pressure, Kmart layby and parental guilt. Credit card debt, click and collect, wish lists, traffic jams and enormous electricity bills have evolved into Christmas traditions via a guilt-driven, market-led economy! But I digress. My apologies.

My contribution is more subtle – the sound of jingle bells that you sometimes hear in the night; the smell of cinnamon and cloves on the breeze in the morning; the seemingly accidental bumping into friends you haven’t seen in a while. I bring some moments of warmth and good humour and kindness. Actually, I think Christmas might get better once I’ve publicly retired. Without the expectation of a lot of toys and devices being delivered in the dead of night, you and your families might notice all those other things.

Christmas is a marvellous chance to get together with branches of the family that you rarely see; share stories, not just of the year that’s gone, but of all the years that have gone. Ask Uncle Trev about that time he sailed across the ditch, or have Granny tell you about her sizzling hot dance moves before she met Pop! Enjoy spending time with each other – play, sing, dance, laugh!

And just so that you know, I never did keep “Naughty” and “Nice” lists. I don’t know who came up with that terrible untruth. I want you to know that, if I had kept such lists, you would all have been on the “Nice” list all the time! Children are not naughty! Children are joyful, and curious, and mischievous, and adventurous! Some adults have, sadly, forgotten what being a child is, and interpret “disobedient” or “noncompliant” or “energetic” as “naughty”. But you’re not!

It’s been wonderful reading your letters all these years. Thank you for writing. Perhaps we can keep corresponding, but spread the letters out across the year a little more?

I am going to have a good long rest now. Perhaps have a holiday somewhere. I’ve flown over so many nice locations.

Merry Christmas.Love from Santa.

And Then What?

“And they lived happily ever after,” she said and closed the book.

“WHAT?” I sat up, flinging the doona back, and flipping stuffed animals to the floor. “You can’t stop there! What happens next?”

“That’s the end of the book. They live happily ever after and you go to sleep!”

“It can’t end there! Isn’t there another a chapter? Or another book? A… what’s it called?… a sequin?”

“A sequel. No, there’s no sequel. All fairy tales end like that. Now lie down and go to sleep.”

I was tucked firmly back into bed, with a menagerie of animals that could only live in harmony in a child’s bedroom. The traffic rumbled outside, bleating like lost sheep in the distance; the red and white lights danced filtered patterns through my curtains. I lay there watching and listening, trying to focus on the night sounds, and not worry about Cinderella.

But I was worried about her! Why had the story stopped so abruptly? It seemed like she was just hitting her stride, finding herself, making her way in the world. I couldn’t imagine that she just married some prince to sit on a throne and eat cheese for the rest of her life. This was a woman who had known slavery, abuse, oppression, and then risen to a position of privilege. Surely, she had gone on to use that privilege to raise the status of others.

If she hadn’t, well, what was the point? Why tell her story at all? What is the moral lesson, the main takeaway? Make sure you’ve got both shoes or you’ll be stalked by the posh boy you met at the dance? Get home by curfew and life will be grand? None of it made sense. It smelled like a cover-up to me; like the real end of the story had been redacted – “Nothing to see here! Everyone is happy! Look, a talking mouse!”

Could she have married the Prince, only to then be abused by him, just like she’d been abused by her step-family? Or perhaps – and this bothered me most of all, if I’m honest – she had perpetuated the abuse by treating her own palace staff as badly as she had been treated herself.

It was late, but I had to know. There was only one way to find out. I took up my notebook and pen, and huddle down in a comfy doona cave. By torchlight, I began.

“When the fairy tale stopped, real life started for Cinderella…”

The Myth of The Scrolls of Perpetual Servitude

Suddenly and simultaneously, the lights snapped off, the television blipped to darkness and, worst of all, the Wi-Fi died. Blackout. Total and complete.

After the initial shock, anguished expletives, and search for candles and matches, we settled down to wait. And wait.

And wait.

“Grandma, tell us a story!” someone suggested from the gloom.

“Yeah! A story from the olden days!”

“Nah, a scary story!”

“Sure. I’ll tell you a story. Get comfy…

“When our people first came to this valley, it was a wild, overgrown wildness. Nature had taken back what those before us had stolen from Her and She had done Her best to erase all traces of them. But those pioneers, your ancestors and mine, discovered clues about the people long gone.

“One day, in the Great Marshland, they happened upon an oilskin package containing a set of scrolls. Our ancestral scholars studied and translated and interpreted and argued over the meaning of these scrolls for almost a century. The mystery was eventually solved by an elder who had studied the scrolls all her life. She had finally unlocked their true meaning.

“She had determined that these scrolls laid out a system of governance and society that ensured the enduring dominance of one gender over another. She called them a “handbook of perpetual servitude” and proposed to the Council of Elders that the scrolls be destroyed.

“The Council agreed. But added that, because the scrolls’ contents went so much against their own beliefs and teachings, their destruction must be done in as public and powerful way as possible. They needed to make a statement. After all, a lot of their people had read the scrolls over the years; they wanted no misunderstandings about what the Elders thought of them!

“And so it was. The Scrolls of Perpetual Servitude were destroyed. Each scroll in turn was hung beside the latrine by the swamp, and each and every villager, regardless of age, gender, or ability, was expected to tear off a piece and smear it with their own excrement before returning it to the bog forever. When each scroll was depleted, the Matriarch would ceremonially unwrap the next, hanging it in the place of the depleted scroll.

“Superstitions and customs live on from such myths. To this day, the paper we use to wipe excrement is known by some as Bog Roll. And only the oldest, wisest woman is permitted to remove a depleted roll and place a new one on the hanger.

“The end.”

“That’s a load of crap, Grandma!”

“Probably so. Now let’s hear your theory!”

A Toast to Dad

“I’d like to propose a toast!”

It was the same eye-rolling, gagging, groaning dad-joke every morning at breakfast. To his credit, although it was the same joke every day, the toast itself did vary. Not the bread toast. That was as predictable as the tides: he had white bread with orange marmalade every morning, Mum had wholemeal and jam. I had Vegemite. But his tributes were a daily invention.

Some of his toasts were philosophical, or funny, or obtuse. Some were prophetic. The morning I started school, he sent me off with, “May the teacher be smarter than the bullies.” It was a wish I repeated to myself hundreds of times over the following decade.

As a teenager, I tried to avoid breakfast with Dad. He didn’t know when to quit! No matter what time I ran out the door in the morning, there was no avoiding it. He would stand at the doorway (or even in the street!) holding up his marmalade toast and shout after me things like “May your grades and your knickers stay up!” I learned it was less embarrassing behind closed doors.

I learned, too, that Dad was an alcoholic, or used to be, or still was but didn’t drink. I was an awful teenager, but who wasn’t? I was having a good old bitch to Mum about Dad one day and she just lost it. She called me an “ungrateful, ignorant child” and told me the whole story of how his twin brother had died and how his social drinking had turned into something more pathological. But then when I was born, he just stopped.

Dad was a different person to me after that. I could see his scars a little more clearly. He was human. I joined in at breakfast sometimes, adding my own tributes in response to his. “Let the sun shine bright enough to make you squint!” he declared one morning. “And may the lines not set round your eyes,” I added.

But then the morning arrived when our world crumbled. We sat together, neither of us eating the toast we’d made. He lifted his only slightly off the plate and said, “May we be strong enough to go on without her.” I responded by running off to my room to weep for my dead mother.

The morning that I set out on my Grand Tour, as Dad called it, he looked at me through glassy bloodshot eyes and said, “May you find your salvation.” I knew he’d started drinking again, and although a part of me was mad as hell at him, there was another part that understood how lost and broken he was.

I was lost and broken too.

But I’m back now, and I’m sitting alone at our old kitchen table with the swirling green fake marble top, eating Vegemite toast. And tomorrow, Dad will be back here too, twelve weeks sober. I raised my last tiny crust, “May we both be stronger than our demons, Dad.”

Make Something Happen

“Good Morning Elizabeth”

There is nothing guaranteed to ruin my morning more than that message appearing on my computer screen when I log in at work. Firstly, there should be a comma. “Good Morning COMMA Elizabeth!” Secondly, why is “Morning” given the status of proper noun? It’s not that special. Trust me, every morning is the same around here. And finally, not even my mother calls me “Elizabeth” anymore. Honestly though, I’m not sure that “Good morning, Liz” would really improve the day all that much. It’d be nice just once though.

I can do this work without thinking too much about it. That’s the problem really – it gives me too much headspace to think about other things. As I’m entering details of other people’s lives into the database, all I can think about is how pointless it all is. I mean, what am I doing this for? I’m not making anything much happen, not making a difference, not making decisions, not making anything useful… I’m not even making that much money. I’m just tapping away at a computer that won’t use my preferred name. Or, a comma.

I recalled as a teenager how I wanted to be a baker, or a chef, or a pastry cook. I didn’t know the name for it, I just wanted to make cakes. I never learned how to decorate them like on those Food Network shows though, where they make cakes that look like fighter jets and waterfalls and such. But my cakes taste great! My brother calls them “Betty’s Ugly Cakes” after that awful television show. “You could so sell these,” he would tell me, with moist crumbs clinging to his lips, “if they weren’t so ugly!”

It had been a while since I’d made a cake. Perhaps I’ll make one after work today…

“ELIZABETH!”

Damn. Boss. “Call me Liz,” I mutter under my breath.

“While you’re here, you work. Dream on your own time.”

Had I made up my mind, or was it a reflex? I’m not sure, but my index finger pressed the “power off” button on the computer and I stood, my calves sending the ergonomic chair designed for someone else spinning across the office. And I walked out.

“ELIZABETH! Where do you think you’re going?”

I spun back almost as swiftly as that chair and looked him in the eye. “Actually, call me Betty. I’m going to make something of myself.”

Ghost of a Chance

I feel like I’ve stepped into a 1930’s speakeasy – cigar smoke haze, a gaslight dimness, and someone singing a slow, gentle croon. Her voice is like a dream. She sings softly, but clearly; each note pitched directly to the heart, not the ear. “I don’t stand a ghost of chance with you,” her song tells me, “I thought at last I’d found you…”

I knew there was little point looking for her. I’d heard her sing before; I’d had these visions before. Each time they are slightly different, but the smell of the cigars, the creamy light, and the song were always the same. I never found her, no matter how hard I concentrated, or how long I held the vision.

I listen carefully to the song. I’d googled it, of course, between visions, and found out it is one of Frank Sinatra’s classics. That means anyone could be singing it! I’d found YouTube clips of both Etta James and Billie Holiday singing their versions, but this voice was something else; more… Oh, I don’t know… Inviting? Enticing? Damn it. It was sexy! It was so damn sexy it was driving me to distraction! If I found out who this singer was, she sure did stand much more than a ghost of a chance with me!

Something BANGed loudly outside and I lost the vision. I lost the voice. As my eyes snapped open, the bright morning sunlight dazzled them shut again. I lay there in my otherwise empty marriage bed, seeking her voice, somewhere in the fading drift of cigar smoke.

Oh well, it’s still early. But I guess I should get up. Glen’s day had obviously already begun.

___________________________________________________________

The box was in the back of the shed, under some other old things, covered with a tarp – a box we had neglected to unpack when we moved in some fifteen years ago. It was marked “Glen’s Stuff”, my stuff, so I opened it. I found a wonder of things I thought I’d lost. Honestly, I thought Marie had thrown them out. Among them, a record – vinyl – in a plastic sleeve to protect from dust.

There she was on the cover, still looking as young and beautiful as I remember, dressed in cocktail dress and white gloves, lounging with her shoes kicked off, and looking up at me with her big brown eyes. I’d so loved this record, and her.

I hadn’t told Marie that I found the record, or the turntable. The LP was a bit scratched up and the only track that played properly all the way through was the first track of side two. But sometimes, early in the morning while Marie is still asleep, I like to sit and smoke a cigarillo, and listen to that one track, all alone.

And as Linda Ronstadt sings “I Don’t Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You,” I think to myself, “You might have done once, Linda. You might have done once.”