Fugue of Fibbing
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia…
In this episode (4.1) Letitia enjoys wild Weber char-grilled salmon and must explain her inexplicable reappearance having been MiA for several years …]
The late evening light spread endlessly over the listless blue water. A warm breeze wafted periodically, ever so gently rustling the jasmine creeping up the balustrade. Salmon sizzled in the large black bowl stranded on three legs. After little Johnny with golden curls had peddled his energy out with red tricycle around the lawn area, Frieda, bathed him and put him to bed. Then she decorated the outdoor table, with left-over festive mats and coasters. Letitia now recognised the table as made of Huon pine. A spotlight beamed on their pending dinner and a lonely Tupperware bowl full of chips. Frieda then retreated to the open kitchen window that presided over the deck, where she tossed green salad that would eventually accompany the salmon and chips.
‘Help yourself to chips. They are warm. I was keeping them warm in the oven.’ Frieda offered from the open window. ‘Sorry about the fish we bought earlier. While you were in the shower, the dog got to the rest of them. Lucky, we had some salmon in the freezer. Will caught it on one of his boating exploits down the south-west coast, Macquarie Harbour. Wild salmon, it’s the best.’
‘Where’s the dog?’ Letitia asked.
Frieda rolled her eyes and snorted, ‘In the Dog House; locked up behind the shed; no chances taken. Don’t want him getting the salmon too.’
Letitia stared doubtfully at the pink plastic bowl laden with crisp wedges of fried fat and potato. She visualised Sister Salome, Gunter’s sister, egging her on. She may have been starving, but oil dipped fried chips spelt dangerous levels of cholesterol, thickening of the arteries and the waistline.
‘Come on, Lets! Have a few! You look like you need a bit of fattening up. Remember when we were kids. You would eat almost anything and everything and you never put on weight,’ Frieda urged.
‘At least you are honest. I remember my mother would just shove the bowl under my nose, strategically, and then be offended if I did not lick the bowl clean.’ The crisp golden slices of potato were enticing, and her empty stomach grumbled in yearning for them. Meanwhile Wilhelm, lean and fit, resisted temptation by casually reading The Canberra Times. He had a conference to attend in Australia’s national capital and was keen to be in the know about what was going on there.
‘Your mother! I remember her!’ Frieda snorted, ‘Why did I bother getting chips?’ She shovelled a few sticks of fried potato into her mouth. ‘Gawd! Am I going to be the only one who eats them?’ Her words muffled by the mouthful of mash.
Letitia selected a strip of carrot from the salad bowl that Frieda had brought out with her and chomped on it. The headlines on the front page of the newspaper, concerned her. “Late News Over Hanging” was plastered over the front page. The issue relating to capital punishment sent chills down her spine and she trembled.
Wilhelm peeked over the paper. ‘What’s the matter, Letitia? You’ve gone all pale.’
‘Huh? It’s that thing about capital punishment.’ Letitia shivered. ‘It’s like someone’s walked over my grave. I don’t know, I can’t explain.’
‘Hmm, there’s a push against it.’ Wilhelm flipped the paper closed and looked directly at her. ‘In my opinion, there are some people who deserve it.’
‘But what if they get the conviction wrong? And sentence an innocent person…?’
‘I think the salmon is ready.’ Frieda chirped. ‘I can smell that it is cooked.’
Wilhelm rose, laid down the paper on the table, and retreated to the Weber. With a moment’s reprieve, Letitia adjusted her position on the sassafras timber bench and leaned over to gain a view of the material that Wilhelm had been reading. However, Frieda barged in claiming the newspaper for herself. ‘Look at this! Pilots escape a plane crash! Landed on its fuselage.’
Letitia sank back into the dimness of twilight, knowing her minutes of being simply lost-now-found Letitia were numbered. Unsure of how the situation and her place in it, stood in this out-of-date world, she cleared her throat ready to recite her hastily constructed story for the ensuing discussion and IGSF debriefing while eating salmon.
‘That name sounds familiar,’ Frieda pointed at the paper.
Letitia’s heart sank with the acid of nervousness. She opened her mouth ready to defend her presence in this time which was her survival. However, Wilhelm, bearing the oven tray of Weber-grilled salmon, interjected. ‘That reminds me. Did we have a queer case today!’ He snatched the paper from Frieda and served the fish.
Without complaining or further comment for the moment, Frieda proceeded to serve the meal of fish and chips with salad. Wilhelm briskly and with finesse poured the white wine into crystal flutes. With Wilhelm’s pronouncement of “enjoy”, they silently dug into their late-evening meal.
Letitia savoured a mouthful of succulent salmon hoping in vain that her mysterious re-entry into this world at this particular time would slide into acceptance and then into obscurity. Unfortunately, that dream was not to be.
Wilhelm calmly and deliberately placed his fork and knife on his half-eaten plate of fish and continued sharing his day. ‘We had this illegal immigrant escape. Pity, the case sounded interesting. Apparently, they found her in Antarctica.’ He took a sip of chardonnay and chuckled to himself. ‘That matron, Sister Cross, you know, the one I’ve told you about, Frieda? Well, the immigrant apparently disappeared on her watch. Imagine that! Hawk-eye, herself! Tell you what, the boss wasn’t too pleased. If it wasn’t for the fact that the patient was meant to be in a coma, I guess Cross would have been suspended.’
Frieda sang some eerie “Doo-doo-do-do” tune and remarked, ‘Sounds like something from Deadly Earnest.’
Although vaguely unfamiliar with the supernatural implications, Letitia kept her head down and steadily shovelled in the salmon and salad and tried her best to remain inconspicuous. She was fortunate that her fingers were not frost-bitten and that apart from the initial lime green cleaner’s uniform, she had appeared sane and incontrovertibly Australian to Frieda.
‘Say, how has your day been, Letitia? What brings you to the clement climes of Tasmania?’ Wilhelm piped up attempting to make pleasant conversation.
As Letitia’s mind had become more unfrozen and nimbler, she knew that she had to factor in an aborted journey to Antarctica, as well as head off their suspicions as to her presence in this Apple Isle. She took a deep breath and made the tale fly by the seat of its breeches. ‘Well may you ask.’ She took a sip of Barossa wine and savoured its dry wooded vintage. ‘I had travelled to Tasmania to visit my relatives…’ She paused knowing that she had fudged the finer details of flight or sea, but sure that Jemima might be somewhere on the Island, ‘and – and was planning to fly over Antarctica – lifelong dream, and all of that.’
‘I didn’t know you had relatives here,’ Frieda interjected. ‘Last time I checked, your dad and mum were in Adelaide. The rest of them, cousins, I mean, are in Germany, aren’t they?’
Almost immediately Wilhelm flicked a hand in front of her wine glass, ‘Well what am I, dear?’ He royally waved a hand and with a knowing smirk, bid, ‘Continue.’
Letitia looked up and at Frieda’s husband. Him? Related? How? But said, ‘I meant, I mean, my mother’s family were Australian. Been in Australia for a hundred years.’ Then softly, ‘Don’t you remember how my father met my mother, Gertrude?’
‘Gertrude?’ Wilhelm laughed. ‘How many times have we heard that story?’
Letitia recalled the recent conversation with Jemima on the fated plane and decided to incorporate that piece of information. ‘Um, well, actually, yes, of course. But you see I was meeting my mum here in Tassie to go on the flight to Antarctica. It was her life-long ambition too.’ She paused, remembering that both Frieda and Wilhelm had expressed surprise at her reappearance after several years of being MiA (missing in action). She dismissed the calm demeanour they displayed when finding her as one of shock or not wanting to seem foolish for not keeping up with IGSF news. So, she added, ‘And a celebration, of course, for escaping Boris’ clutches on Mirror World and returning to Earth.’
The couple glanced at each other and then Letitia.
‘Fair enough,’ Wilhelm said. ‘But I don’t understand. There’s no tourist flights to Antarctica.’
Letitia lowered her voice. ‘Well, not officially, Mr. Thumm.’ She locked eyes with Frieda. ‘No parties at the LaGrange Point, either. Officially.’
Wilhelm crossed his legs. Frieda looked away.
‘You know nothing will stop my mother from doing what she wants to do, don’t we?’
‘No, I mean yes,’ Wilhelm muttered. ‘Strong-willed that woman.’
Frieda pursed her trembling lips. ‘So, typical! Treks all the way down to Tasmania. Hobart to boot. And doesn’t even give us the time of day.’
Letitia smiled. ‘That’s my mum.’
Wilhelm tapped pouting Frieda on her arm. ‘Say, I heard there was a plane crash in Antarctica. Unofficially.’
Frieda pounced on the newspaper and after a brief tug of war with Wilhelm, scrutinized it. Letitia braced herself. Frieda’s index finger paused, and her eyes raised up to her full of pity. ‘Oh, my God, I am so sorry!’
For a few furtive moments Wilhelm’s brow remained furrowed as he searched the paper. ‘Where is it? Where is it? I don’t see it. You’re joking.’ As he did this, Letitia steeled her muscles for the next instalment for her survival. She sensed an oddness about Wilhelm Thumm that made her uncomfortable and yet curious about him.
Once the mission to find this fake news had been accomplished, and not found, Wilhelm sternly and accusingly pointed a finger at her. ‘Well, Letitia, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be dead? From the plane crash?’
‘You see, that’s the interesting thing.’ She nodded. ‘I was in Coles Bay.’ She didn’t know why she chose Coles Bay. She recalled that there was a beach there. ‘I was in Coles Bay, on the beach having a swim.’ She checked Frieda’s and Wilhelm’s responses, so far so good, so continued her “slight” diversion from the truth. They didn’t look like the sort of people that could handle time travel or parallel universes at this stage. After all, she figured that Frieda may have imagined Mirror World to be a planet, like the Pilgrim Planet. Will perhaps, he had hinted at it. But not Frieda. Definitely, not Frieda. Then again, with her limited knowledge about physics, Letitia didn’t know if she understood inexplicable intricacies of time-travel. ‘Anyway, I had a nice cool, actually, the water was freezing cold, swim, and I came out of the surf to find everything – my bag, my towel, my clothes, money, tickets, everything gone.’
[to be continued…]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2021
Feature Photo: Hints of Derwent from Ferntree, Tasmania © L.M. Kling 2009