[Again, COVID, that uninvited guest has thwarted my visit to Carol’s. This time although she’s well, she’s a close contact and must isolate for 7 days. Meanwhile, I have been working on my writing and have been reflecting on what I have learnt makes for a good story.]
Unbelievable to Believable
Unbelievable, that’s what they said about my novel. Unbelievable. Is that why my first novel, Mission of the Unwilling has failed to thrive? Why there’s no feedback? Or is it a case of someone who’s not a Young Adult, and just not into Sci-Fi?
Whatever, I consider this feedback valid and believable. Over the next few months, I plan to revisit Minna’s world and her adventures at the mercy of Boris and learn from my venture into self-publishing. Nothing is wasted. The take-away from the most recent honest feedback—make my stories believable.
What does this mean for me as I refine the craft of story-telling?
My characters are real to the reader.
The setting is authentic, so that the reader can step into my constructed “world” suspending all disbelief.
The audience buy into the journey they take into that world.
But, what does “suspending disbelief” mean. I mean, really? I mean, when I revisit my stories, to me, the characters are alive, the setting an on-site movie set, and I gladly invest in the tale told. Not so for some of my readers, apparently. In truth, I’m too close to my work to view it objectively. I need and appreciate feedback from others. I’d go as far as to say that most writers benefit from a second, third, fourth or umpteenth pair of eyes to make their work the best it possibly can be.
So, from the perspective as a reader, that extra pair of eyes on other works, here’s what I’ve learnt that suspends disbelief and do some unpacking of techniques that make characters, setting and journey more believable.
Believable characters: Someone with whom you connect. You know that person. You’ve met them. You’ve had lunch them. You’ve admired them. They’ve annoyed you with their quirky habits. They’re those people you see across a crowded coffee shop and already you’ve constructed a whole story around them, by observing their posture, expressions and gestures. You invest time following what they’ll do, what will happen to them. Believable characters don’t have to be human, but they do need human qualities and personality for readers to relate to them.
Believable setting: Best woven into the forward-moving action of the story. The writer describes the setting with the five senses, what you: 1) see, 2) hear, 3) touch, 4) smell, and 5) taste. And for the world to be memorable, the author picks up something unique or odd about the place. For example, I may write of Palm Valley in Central Australia, ‘Ghost gums jut out of the tangerine rock-face, and a soft wind rustles through the prehistoric palms.’
Believable Story: You need to convince your readers that such a sequence of events can happen. A skilful writer uses the technique of cause and effect. The character makes a choice, and their actions result in consequences often leading to dilemma that must be resolved. Readers are more likely to engage with proactive characters who influence their environment and others, and who make active choices to change and grow, rather than the passive characters who have every disaster happen to them, and their problems magically solved.
Yes, pile on the misery, pile on the challenges, don’t be afraid to get your characters into strife; that’s what the reader’s looking for. But remember, the chain of events must be believable. An article by Laurence Block, Keeping Your Fiction Shipshape*, describes the relationship between storyteller and audience is like enticing readers onto a cruise ship, keeping them there, and delivering them back to port with a good satisfying end.
It’s the skill of the storyteller to convince the audience. If the characters are believable, the setting is believable, and the action believable, your readers will enjoy the ride and complete the journey you, as the storyteller, takes them on.
[Why Notre dame? Victor Hugo, the author of Hunchback of Notre-Dame, spent the first three-quarters of the book describing the setting. Useful if you visit Paris, but does nothing for moving the story forward.
Also tourists willing to invest in the journey to climb Notre-Dame by waiting several hours in the long line that stretched the length of the Cathedral. What will they see? The gargoyles (characters), a view of Paris (setting) and a climb and walk through the Cathedral (the journey).]
Friedrich was sure it was his fault. He was always getting smacks or the belt from his father—usually for not polishing his boots perfectly. Or for spilling milk on the floor. But when he saw the blue line in the air, the urge to escape, was too great. This was not the first time he’d ventured beyond the thin blue line under the outhouse. He just had to go through the light—for Wilma…
Then bang. Everything went black…
Friedrich put out his hands and shuffled forward. He groped for a wall, a surface, anything to orient himself.
He tripped over some bulk. He fell onto it. It groaned.
Friedrich scrambled to his feet. His mouth went dry. It was like his heart, lungs and guts were in his mouth. Oh, no! I’m on an alien world without light and with groaning monsters.
The thing at his feet moaned. It sounded like a man.
Friedrich gulped. He knelt down. He held out his shaking hand. He touched something soft and greasy. Was that hair under his fingertips?
‘Who are you?’ he asked in his Silesian language. ‘What’s your name?’
The man-thing with hair moaned again and then mumbled what sounded like forbidden words in another language. He’d heard Joseph use such words when angry.
‘My name’s Friedrich,’ the boy said. ‘And you?’
‘Oh, the pain! The pain!’ the man-thing said in that strange language. It did sound like the tongue Joseph and Amie used. They spoke using similar sounds when they were together.
Friedrich presumed the man spoke English. But he knew few English words, so he still hoped the man understood his native language. ‘How are you?’
‘Oh, the pain! My stomach! My head!’
Friedrich traced the head, the shoulders, arms and distended stomach. ‘You’re a man, aren’t you?’ He patted the spongy surface in the middle.
The man groaned and squirmed.
‘You’re a sick man,’ Friedrich said using the word in his language “krank”.
‘Too right, I’m cranky!’ the man straightened up. He grabbed Friedrich’s wrist. ‘And who the heck are you?’
Friedrich shook his hand free from the man. How was he to make sense of this man in the dark? How was he to make this man understand him? Joseph and Amie could speak his native tongue, Silesian, but this man couldn’t, apparently. Friedrich rubbed his hand.
‘Who are you?’ the man asked. ‘Where the frick are we?’
‘We had that one!’ That’s what my brother would say when mum read him the same story when he was young.
“We had that one!” maybe was the cry from readers all over the world, as this is what I have done with the Out of Time project. For four weeks. How did I not notice?
Anyway, I think I know how it happened. I changed the sequence of chapters as one does in the editing process. Then up came that particular chapter and it was repeated. All part of the editing process.
So, in the spirit of the day, here’s a post from the past on feedback, which also is about a vital part of refining our work and making our stories the best they can be.
I like to celebrate. As a child, when I received full-marks for a spelling test, Dad rewarded me with a Kitchener Bun from the Fish ‘n Chip shop/Bakery which in the good ol’ days of my childhood was situated opposite Glenelg Primary School. A few years ago, when I used to drive my son his course in Magill, my mum and I treated ourselves to lunch at the local hotel.
Every so often, I check my Amazon account. I wipe off the virtual cobwebs of neglect, and dig deep in the files of my mind, retrieving the password to enter. I expect nothing much to have changed.
I’ve been busy with my blog and the rewards, small, though they are, compared to the rest of blogging world, but the steady trickle of views, likes and comments, satisfies me. Over the years, the number of followers has steadily grown.
Once long ago, now, I made a daring move, and posted my short story, Boris’ Choice—not for the faint-hearted or while one eats breakfast…After the post, I checked for results on Amazon with my War on Boris Series books?
And…there were. Yes!
Then, I checked the reviews. Now, I don’t know how other writers have fared with reviews, but for many months since my books were published, I had received no reviews. Yes, I asked my readers to do the deed and tick the star-boxes and comment, with no results. Yes, they’d say and the weeks went by and nothing. Were they just being polite? I have no illusions and the reality is that art and literature are subjective—what one person likes another won’t.
Anyway, back to checking the reviews…I looked again at one of the countries one of my books sold. The page appeared different. A yellow bar, and a comment. Genuine feedback. Not a great appraisal, but an appraisal all the same. I knew the person responsible for this first-ever comment for my book, but was not surprised at their response. I did wonder at the time how my novella would work for them—not well—just as I imagined when they informed me they’d bought the book on kindle. As I said before, Boris and his antics are well…not for everyone.
That being said, and for fear my works may be misunderstood, I would describe the over-riding theme of my stories are the classic fight of good against evil. How evil, like Boris, can creep into our lives. And when for whatever reason, usually when we maintain and enhance our self, and to avoid discomfort, we allow evil to stay. This evil, however subtle, will drive us to isolated places in our lives, much like Boris does in The Hitch-hiker; places we never wanted to go. I want young adults and people young at heart, to make choices and use their energy for goodness and to fight evil, so they can live a full life and also be an agent for good in their community and the world.
[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…Now, being a project of sorts, over the summer holidays, I have pieced together the story from beginning to end, and then revised it. A main thread has evolved. Something to do with murder and Letitia’s unfortunate involvement in it. I have worked on developing some of the other characters. In this episode (14.1), we get to see inside the younger stolen boy’s (Liam’s) head.]
10 Days before Murder
Saturday 28th of January 1967
Liam remembered sourly the call that changed everything. One minute the fourteen-year-old was blissfully ignorant; aware only that his father was almost no-so-unhappily widowed, that his mum had returned but with that smelly character Boris, and two ratty kids, that there is no God and when he died, that was it, no accountability. The next minute, the phone rang and his whole world view was cracked. That minute there was a Jemima on the other end of the line demanding to speak to his father. It was then as this intruder insisted, demanded and hollered on the line, that Liam began to change his mind about God. Liam remembered considering, “How dare this lady invade my space! There has to be a God and my parents have to be accountable to him! This is too much! I can’t handle any more! What right had she to interrupt my life?!”
Liam clutched the telephone receiver in one hand and fended off Jemima’s advances with firm “Nos” and lies that Dad was not home at present. He could hear the rising beat of his heart, punctuating Jemima’s whiney protests. Clueless he was, how to combat this woman.
‘What do you mean he is not home?’ Jemima persisted.
‘He’s just not,’ Liam fibbed. He watched his Dad slink behind him, his old clothes high on manure.
‘But he said he would be home,’ she said.
‘Well, he’s not.’ He fanned the pungent passageway air. ‘Poor, Dad, you stink!’
‘Ha! Did I just hear you mention your dad in conversation?’
‘I did,’ Jemima, now a smug Jemima, ‘you said to him that he stinks.’
‘Look, Liam, dear, it is very important that I speak to him. He said, he promised that he would be home. Your father, he keeps his promises. He’s a man of his word,’ she spoke in a softly and evenly.
‘Yeah, right!’ Liam remarked cynically. ‘Like he promised us a holiday in Tasmania but all we got was mum going off to Antarctica and getting herself…’ He paused unsure whether he should be passing on classified information. After all, his mum had returned, wearing kaftan and beads in her hair, in possession of a new Kombi Van, and unscathed. Liam had been delighted to acquire a new cool van, but not so pleased to have his mother back. Of course, the novelty of kaftaned mother and new Kombi wore off when the van broke down and had to be towed away for repairs. S
Still, Liam couldn’t complain. Just before the recent, yet brief escape up north to Alice Springs, his dad had bought a new Holden Premier. Liam was pleased with his art of persuasion as he had convinced his father to purchase this icon of motoring history. Well, so a recent Wheels magazine had recommended.
‘I know! I know!’ Jemima cut in. ‘He told me all about it. Isn’t it obvious why she did that?’
‘Nup?’ Liam bit his nail. Jemima’s argument was advancing into areas that were uncertain. ‘She won a prize, a competition.’
‘Who are you talking to?’ Dad’s voice boomed in the background.
Liam had to think quickly, but Max who was passing by was nimbler. ‘A girlfriend. Ha! Ha! Liam has a girlfriend. What a loser!’
Liam covered the mouthpiece. ‘Yeah! So?’.
Meanwhile the Jemima intruder had come to her own conclusions. ‘He is there! You liar! Put him on! Now!’
Liam had had enough. ‘No!’ he retorted. ‘Go away, you freak!’ with that he slammed the receiver down. He then picked up the phone and hurled it towards the bookcase at the end of the room. A few unfortunate ornaments, namely Max’s prized “Lord of the Rings” dragon figurines crashed to the floor.
‘Oi! What do you fink you’re doing? You could’a smashed the tele,’ Tails yelled.
Max emerged from preening himself in the bathroom. His face turned red, and he pulled at his hair. ‘My dragon! You killed my dragon! How could you do that?’ He cradled the broken bits of ceramic dragon in his hands. ‘They are so hard to get in 1967.’ Then, with teeth bared, he cried, ‘Why, I’ll get you!’ With one swift move, he lunged onto his younger brother and began to throttle him.
‘Oi! Oi! Stop that you boys!’ Dad tore the fighting youths apart. ‘Right, that’s it! no tele or suppa tonight for you lads! Go to your rooms! Bof ov you! Right! I’m pulling out the plug to the tele, now!’ Tails marched both protesting Liam and Max to their rooms with as much strength as his fatherly muscles could muster.
Meanwhile the phone chirped, unheeded and ignored.
[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…Now, being a project of sorts, over the summer holidays, I have pieced together the story from beginning to end, and then revised it. A main thread has evolved. Something to do with murder and Letitia’s unfortunate involvement in it. Characters such as Frieda have been developed. Plus, characters, like Ella, have emerged from the shadows of past backstories that never before have been in print. In this episode (13.1) we have the meeting of these two characters…]
An Untimely Visitor
Meanwhile in Tasmania, the grass was dry and the weather about to heat up for the start of school.
The first rays of dawn filtered through the lace curtains of Frieda’s bedroom. After glimpsing the start of a new day, she turned over and settled back into a deep sleep.
Frieda groaned. ‘Go back to bed Johnny.’
‘Mummy!’ Johnny pushed at her back, rocking her. ‘There’s a funny lady in our good room.’
‘What’s she doing there?’
‘I let her in, Mummy,’ Johnny sighed. ‘She says she’s my “Cross-mother”.’ Another sigh. ‘But she doesn’t look like a “Cross-mother”, she looks too young and pretty to be cross.’
‘Now you are making me cross, Johnathon, dear. Go back to bed. You must’ve been dreaming.’
Johnny tugged at Frieda’s hand. ‘No, Mummy, she’s a real cross-mother. You must see her. You must!’
Frieda rolled her eyes and gulped down a rising sense of seediness. ‘Oh, alright, if I must.’
Mother and son pad down the stairs and into the lounge room.
A petite figure dressed in a blue dirndl stood gazing at the panoramic view of the Derwent.
She turned and flicked a platinum plait away from her face.
The stranger smiled, her deep blue eyes twinkling. ‘Beautiful view. I love it when the sun rises over the sea. Don’t you?’
‘Who are you?’
The woman stepped towards Frieda and took her hand. ‘Come, sit down. There’s something I need to explain.’
‘What?’ Frieda asked.
The German lady paused.
‘Well, don’t just stand there. Tell me.’
‘You need to sit. It’s important.’
Frieda exhaled and shook her head. ‘Fine, then, I will sit.’
She perched on the edge of the couch. The German lady sat beside her and caressed the frills on her baby blue dress.
‘I’m sitting,’ Frieda said.
‘So, you are.’
Johnny peered into the German lady’s blue, blue eyes. ‘Why are you cross, lady?’
‘I am not cross.’ The lady smiled. ‘My name is Ella and I am a friend of your mother’s.’
‘I find that hard to believe.’ Frieda leaned back and studied this strange woman called Ella. ‘You must’ve been a very young friend, my mother died during the war. So did my father. I am an orphan.’
‘To tell the truth, Frieda, your mother is very much alive. She is living in Melbourne now. You see, you were not an orphan; you were kidnapped.’
‘Really? All this time, since I was a child, I have believed I was an orphan, Lebensborn, they called me. Bred pure for the Reich. And now you tell me my mother is in Melbourne?’
‘Yes. Are you not happy about that?’
‘Ecstatic!’ Frieda scoffed. ‘And how long have you known about my mother and me?’
‘Um…’ Ella shrugged. ‘A little while.’
‘And why did it take you such a long while to come over to Tasmania to tell me?’
‘I have been elsewhere…on business. Out of…’ Ella touched Frieda’s arm. ‘But I am here now telling you. And she wants to see you. She wants you to come to Melbourne and for you to meet.’
‘And how exactly are we to travel to Melbourne?’
‘You have a sailboat, don’t you?’
‘Yes, but…I can’t…’
‘But I can.’
‘But my husband Wilhelm won’t…’
Ella’s eyes twinkled. ‘Don’t worry Frieda, I have been in close contact with your husband. In fact, I met him in Melbourne recently. One of the reasons he went there, to meet with your mother. And yes, he has agreed to lend us the boat.’
‘Not too close, I hope.’ Frieda frowned. ‘You and my husband.’
‘No! Not at all!’ Ella laughed. ‘We go way back, Wilhelm and me. Just old friends, to tell the truth.’
Johnny danced on the spot. ‘Are we going on a sailing trip, Mummy?’
Frieda nodded. ‘Yes, my darling boy. And you are going to meet my mummy, your grandma.’
As Frieda and Johnny packed clothes and essentials into a suitcase, Ella sipped a cup of tea that Frieda had prepared for her. Ella watched them and while the pair were busy packing, she chuckled. I remember Gunter, my youngest at Johnny’s age, she mused. So sweet, so innocent.
[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 (11.5) Meanwhile in Adelaide, all does not go according to plan at Maggie’s “Welcome Home” party…]
The celebration day of Maggie’s return was one of those brilliant late summer days that Adelaide, in 1967 could be proud of. There was not a breath of wind, the skies were clear and deep blue, and parrots squabbled in the ancient gum tree that towered from the neighbour’s backyard. Maggie sat on a fold-out director’s chair under the pergola, where she savoured a glass of sparkling champagne.
While the Tails cooked sausages and lamb chops on the charcoal barbeque, Liam feasted his eyes on the latest “Wheels” magazine, dreaming of a car that would fly him out of this dreary world where he suspected he did not belong with parents he also suspected weren’t his.
Family friend, Boris Roach, bearing two bowls of salad stepped out onto the patio to lay his offerings on the old wooden table painted mission-brown. He sidled up to Liam. ‘Hello, there boy.’
Liam, eyes fixed on the latest Valiant, muttered, ‘Hi, there, Boris.’
The telephone trilled from within the house. Faintly he could hear Max’s voice. ‘Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?’
Instantly Liam froze. He sensed trouble.
‘Jemima? Oh, Jemima, I remember you from…’ Max said. Then the patter of Max’s sandshoes on the wooden floorboards. ‘Liam! Liam! Come quick! It’s J…’ The pattering slowed, as did the voice. ‘Oh, hi, there Mr. Roach.’
‘Ah, my lad, do I detect more visitors for our welcome home party?’
‘N-no, nobody…Prank call.’
Footsteps shuffled up the hallway and in a low voice that only Liam’s keen ears could hear, ‘Best not come…cockroach…’
Then click. Receiver once more resting in its cradle.
While his Aryan-born charges, Monica (4), and Wally (6) cavorted on the lawn under the sprinkler, Boris leant over the wooden table. Tucked in his collar, a large napkin. With two pincer-like claws he held the lamb chop and gnawed at it. ‘Delicious!’ Boris slurped the juices dribbling on his poor excuse of a chin. ‘A fine piece of meat. On par with some humans, I’ve…You know, Maggie, you can have these two chikadees if you like.’
Maggie blanched. ‘Nah, thanks, them two I’ve got’s enough.’
‘I’d hate to put them in Seaforth, or up there in the Orphanage.’
The phone’s bell shrilled again.
Maggie who was bustling past on her way to collect the tomato sauce, picked up the receiver. ‘Hello?’
‘Hello, I was wondering if I could speak to Maggie Taylor, or is it still Cowper?’
Maggie thinned her lips. ‘This is she. And who is this?’
Click! The receiver buzzed and crackled.
‘Hello? Hello?’ Maggie banged the receiver with her fist. ‘Hello?’ She stared at the receiver and then slammed it on the cradle.
Tails called from the kitchen. ‘Who was that, dear?’
‘Nobody,’ Maggie snapped.
‘Where’s the sauce? I can’t seem to find da sauce!’ Rustling and doors banging. ‘Mags where do you put tha sauce?’
Maggie sighed as she strode into the kitchen and opened the fridge door. ‘Here! Are you blind as well as deaf and dumb, dear?’
The afternoon lulled in pleasant sunshine. The boys entertained their mischievous minds and young guests, propelling plums with their sling shots onto the neighbour’s newly laid concrete driveway.
Max discussed upping the ante and ferreting out his dad’s slug gun to take pot shots at the pigeons perched on top of the stobie poles. But when old Mrs Plunket emerged from her home and growled at them, Max abandoned the idea.
Monica whined, ‘Oh, come on! Don’t let an old lady spoil your fun.’
Wally danced on the spot. ‘Slug gun. Slug gun. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.’
‘Maybe not the slug gun; the plum gun will have to do,’ Liam said and stretched the slingshot with plum and took aim. Mrs Plunket grew as purple as a ripe plum and roared at them over the fence. She threatened to have a word to their parents and have the boys clean up the mess. Then she chased them inside. In Liam’s room, they played trampolines on his bed while unstuffing his feather pillow with a robust battle of the pillow versus Liam’s head.
He fought their blows and screamed, ‘I’m hating you more with each minute! You ferals!’
Meanwhile, Tails, Maggie and Boris, full of food and wine, reclined on deck chairs in the balmy afternoon and drifted all three of them into a post-lunch coma.
Boris, still with napkin tucked under his collar; a napkin decorated with smatterings of tomato sauce, smacked his lips and dreamt of roasted human flesh. His latest quarry, August. In technicolour and smells combined, he fantasised how he would marinate his nemesis and then smoke his matured meat on the barbeque.
‘Sweet revenge,’ Boris mumbled. He still hadn’t recovered from August spoiling his fun during the last World War. ‘How dare August take the girl, Frieda from him.’ He had plans for Frieda. Once. ‘Oh, well, there’s always her children,’ he consoled his hurt pride, and then chuckled, ‘And grandchildren.’
The doorbell rang. A mournful “ding-dong”.
‘Yes, coming,’ Maggie, half-filled champagne glass in hand, shuffled through the house, corridor, lounge room and to the front door. ‘I hope it’s not the neighbours complaining that you boys are shooting pigeons again.’
Maggie opened the front door. She paled. The champagne glass dropped from her hand and smattered on the green-painted concrete porch.
‘What’s going on?’ Liam, who had escaped the battleground of his room, asked. He ignored the smashed glass and watched dispassionately as his mother and a blonde figure scrambled to mop up the glass shards and bubbly.
He turned to his brother. ‘Who’s that?’
‘Our salvation,’ Max whispered. ‘Now will you believe there is a God?’
‘If she sorts out the “ferals” in my room, I’m a convert.’
The rooster crowed. Amie yawned and stretched her hand slapping against Wilma’s pillow. ‘Oops! Sorry,’ Amie mumbled. Wilma did not stir; she slept like the proverbial babe.
Amie peered at the window.
The rooster crowed again.
Amie eased her way out from under the doona, and then tottered over to the window. The landscape was cloaked in shades of violet, the black blocks of village buildings barely discernible against the nightscape. Standing at the window so long she shivered, Amie studied the stars, trying to make sense of them. Stars sparkled through a cloud shaped like the hand of God. She thought it must be a cloud. Why do the stars all look so different? She examined the clusters but couldn’t make sense of any constellations. None seemed familiar. ‘Must be I’m tired or perhaps dreaming,’ she murmured.
The rooster crowed yet again.
‘Oh, go on, you! It’s the middle of the night,’ Amie said. She returned to her bed and crept under the quilt.
The rooster continued to herald the dawn. Cockle-doodle-doo! Cockle-doodle-doo. Amie lay awake. Cockle-doodle-doo. Cockle-doodle-screech! Squawk! Squawk! Screech!
‘Don’t tell me—foxes.’ Amie turned over and tried to steal a few more hours’ sleep. But sleep eluded her.
The hens clucked. The rooster squawked. A gate squeaked and then clunked. Then the noise of chooks in the chook yard sounded like a party with a cacophony of squawking, clucking, cockle-doodling and footsteps scrunching.
Amie heard a thud. Shrieks and the sound of wings flapping followed.
Must save the poor rooster. Wearing only her nightdress that Frau Biar had lent her, she raced out of the bedroom. She stumbled in the darkened living area as she made her way to the door. The squawking spurred her on. She fumbled for the knob. No knob. She groped at a long metal thing—a latch. She worked the latch, tugging it, pulling at it, wiggling and waggling trying to open the door.
[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 (10.5) Letitia becomes acquainted with the flat Gunter has allowed her to stay in…]
Further Back In Time
She was prised out of her travel-stupor as a light-coloured concrete driveway magically absorbed them into a cluster of flats. Under the thin cover of carport, Gunter terminated the engine and yanked the handbrake to almost vertical.
‘So, here we are! You can stay here as long as you like. Okay, a couple of weeks, anyway,’ Gunter said unwinding his lanky frame out of the car.
Letitia pushed open her door with some effort and watched as he placed a brick under the back tyre. The Austin creaked as if in protest. She noticed a bent pole opposite. Obviously, the pole had suffered such a fate at the mercy of this car.
Gunter jangling some keys, loped up the narrow path framed with a few withered sticks of trees. She shuddered at the gazanias attacking the rocks that marked the dried-out lawn. Reminded her of some of the housing trust houses near where she had lived in Mirror. Different era. But same kind of houses, and same level of neglect.
‘I’m looking after this flat while my friend is away on tour; he’s the clown in the circus. Actually, it was his mother’s house,’ Gunter explained as he fiddled with the with the key in the lock of the door. ‘It must be all in the wrist action.’ He muttered with frustration as he jiggled the key in the lock. ‘Das ist eine Dumkopf!’ He rattled the door and twisted the key willing it to work. ‘See, it is not my house. There is a knack to it – I mean getting the door unlocked.’
‘Let me try,’ Letitia said as she grabbed the keys from Gunter. The cream painted wooden door appeared like the one possessed by her Mirror house. ‘It seems to have a similar temperament to a house I once lived in.’
‘Mirror?’ Gunter sighed as Letitia took over.
Within seconds the lock clicked in compliance and after unlocking the door with ease, they were inside staring at hideous brown carpet with accompanying musty odour.
‘Well, I will leave you to it,’ Gunter said. ‘I must get back to the boarding house or old Mrs. C will lock me out. I am sure you will be fine finding everything. I mean it is just a home. You will be right. Tschüs.’ His voice was beginning to trail off down the dimly lit path. ‘I am just down the road if you have any questions,’ he called out from the hidden darkness of the carport. ‘I think my phone number is somewhere there. Must go. Bis später.’
With a thunderous roar of the engine that caused the metal roof to vibrate, Gunter’s Austin rolled out of the carport and vanished around a corner of apartment complex.
‘Thanks for the tips,’ Letitia muttered to the greasy brown carpet. She sank onto an iridescent green felt cushion that garnished the white vinyl clad armchair and gazed, her eyes glazed, on her surroundings. There were the cream painted walls, lolly-green kitchen cupboards, the brown carpet sucking in life and light, the white wood framed curtain-challenged window, and finally an ebony veneer radiogram cabinet that engulfed the front end of the tiny lounge room. If it wasn’t for the 1967 calendar that was placed neatly under the austere mini-Christmas tree gracing the cedar dining table, she would have been sure she had been thrust further back in time to the 1930’s. Instead, only the décor and furnishings had been preserved, frozen in time, not her.
[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 (10.3) Letitia tries to get to the bottom of Gunter’s baggage …]
‘Hmm!’ Letitia persevered on the box track. That this was what Jemima used to transport them back in time. ‘That black box was precious to her. It’s very valuable. Did you ever happen to see it?’
Gunter shook his head. ‘Nein! She had this big black bag though. I used to call it the black hole. She was always losing things in it. Yet, she always had everything — everything she needed. It is amazing what she had in that bag.’ He gave a short snort of amusement. ‘I half expected her to pull out a kitchen sink. I mean she had everything!’ He looked directly at Letitia. ‘Hey, where is your bag? Don’t women always have a bag with them?’
‘Yeah, usually. I travel light.’ Letitia was rather pleased with herself for the clever play of words. ‘Anyway, mine got stolen after I got off the boat.’
‘Oh, that is a shame. Were you on a boat? You get around!’
‘Oh, just a bit of Tassie actually. That’s where I disappeared to if you have been wondering. Top Secret IGSF Mission business. Then after completing the mission, I stayed with her name which I won’t mention and husband. They’re the ones who have sent me on this mission to Adelaide.’ Letitia leant forward and whispered, ‘I have to pretend to be Maggie, Tail’s wife, can you believe it?’
‘That won’t work.’
‘How so? I thought I could say I’m Maggie in disguise.’
Letitia reclined on her seat. ‘How do you know it won’t?’
‘I just know.’ Gunter puffed out his chest. ‘Besides, I saw Maggie this morning. Dressed like a Hippie. And Bo…’
Letitia grinned and bobbed her head. ‘I see. And you were saying?’
‘Nothing,’ Gunter flushed, ‘it is nothing. I am making it up. Like you make up time travel backwards.’
‘No, I don’t think so, love. Is this a trap, my brother?’
Gunter looked away. Mute. Caught in his own trap of pride.
‘Is Boris going to walk into this café and abduct me?’
Gunter wrung his hands.
‘Or is he hiding outside, waiting to catch me?’ Letitia slapped the table making Gunter jump. ‘Come on! I know he’s around. I can smell him. And I know you are working for him. You reek of him, brother!’
‘No, you are wrong,’ Gunter whimpered.
‘O-o-oh, I do hope I am,’ Letitia said while glancing at the darked bun-haired woman who glared at them in a “I’m-about-to-close-shop” fashion. ‘I hope, for your sake, Jemima’s safe. Or you and that bleeding Boris will pay!’
‘See what I mean? Nobody understands me.’ Gunter looked up. ‘I can’t just—can’t just…you would not understand. Nobody gets it.’
‘Get it? Understand? I get and understand only too well. Two bomb blasts well. Exile in another universe well. Over twenty-five years well. I’ve seen my friends suffer.’ Letitia served her half-brother a withering look. ‘Do you think what happened in the last war was a Sunday School picnic? What happened to my friend, Frieda? Hmmm?’
‘You have no idea!’ Gunter ground his teeth before continuing. ‘That woman—that girl who waltzed into our lives, our family, like it was hers, which it was not. Nothing happened to her. Not compared to my mother.’
Now, we’re getting somewhere, Letitia thought. ‘Your mother? What did Boris do to your mother? Tell me. I’m listening.’
Gunter waved the air between them. ‘It’s complicated.’
‘Let’s just say, she is who I owe my debt to.’ He laughed, a bitter kind of laugh. ‘And Frieda? She has no idea who she is married to.’
‘Now, you have my full attention. I always thought Wilhelm was a little strange.’ She reached over again and took hold of his hand. ‘I’m sorry for my outburst. Look, if you can keep me from, you know, the cockroach, I think I can help you. And I get the feeling that Jemima is already doing just that too.’
Gunter and Letitia thanked the vendor before stepping out onto the steaming pavement. Gunter hung back from a passing Friday night crowd. He seemed uncertain which way to go. He looked at Letitia for inspiration. ‘So, where’s your hotel? I’ll give you a lift.’
‘Hotel? My bag was stolen. I have no money. I have no hotel. I have no place to stay, actually.’
‘You are homeless, then.’
‘That’s convenient,’ Gunter remarked. He looked about him as if Letitia were a stray in search of a home. He then dug his hands in his pockets and scuffed the pavement with his shoe.
‘I’m sorry. Have I put you out?’ Letitia said.
Gunter began to stride towards the highway away from the beach. ‘This way, I have an idea.’ Half-turning, he said, ‘You sure you don’t know where your daughter lives?’
‘Nah. ‘fraid not,’ Letitia answered while breaking into a jog to keep up with Gunter’s accelerating pace.