[Driving around Adelaide these days, I see many classic cars. Brings back memories of our family cars from my childhood…]
After 50 years, I have discovered the significance of our Holden FC’s name.
My dad was called David. In the Bible, there’s a King David who has an illicit affair with a woman he spies in a bath on a roof top. Her name, Bathsheba. Bath-she-ba; an apt name considering the circumstances of their meeting.
Did Mum think that when Dad bought this car, this silver-pointed beauty was his “mistress’?
Similarities: Both Davids were master of their realms. Both Bathshebas, not new, used, yet beautiful. And both Bathshebas became parked in their David’s palace, in a harem, their love shared.
[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 (6.2.2) while lunching in Launceston’s Cataract Gorge, Wilhelm and Letitia witness the harassment of peacocks.
Note: I have changed the character’s name from Will to Wilhelm to add an extra layer to this character’s personality and how in 1967, he had taken on all the airs and graces of a pseudo psychiatrist.
Just another indication that this reworked novel draft that had been marinating in the “drawer” for more than 10 years, is a rework in progress.]
Call Me Wilhelm
Wilhelm guided the steering wheel with one index finger. With his other, he conducted the orchestra playing Vivaldi, The Four Seasons, playing on the classical ABC Radio Station, thus masking the tape of his recent performance in his head.
While Frieda slept the previous night, Wilhelm had sidled up to the computer, switched it on, connected it to the IGSF satellite and then linked it to IGSF’s Admiral August Fahrer with face-to-face television-visual mode.
The Admiral reclined on a kangaroo-skin rug, eating a sausage in bread. In the background of the screen, Jemima, his granddaughter hunched over the flames of a modest fire.
‘You took your time there, Al,’ August said through a mouthful of bread.
‘It’s way past my bedtime, Wilhelm,’ Jemima grumbled. ‘Ten-o’clock! I hope you’ve been behaving yourself.’
Wilhelm rolled his eyes. ‘I have her. Your mum. You didn’t tell me she was such a whizz on the computer.’
Jemima laughed, ‘You didn’t ask. Better the less you know the better.’
‘Oh, and another thing,’ Wilhelm said, ‘My name’s Wil-helm, sir. Not…’
August smiled. ‘You’ll always be Al to me. Remember how we met?’
‘What? You mean your wife? Or me?’
‘No, you as Al. Remember I came home from war? And there you were, in my house. Everyone else had gone. Including my wife.’
‘What happened to your first wife, Grandpapa?’ Jemima asked.
‘Don’t ask,’ Wilhelm murmured.
‘She vanished into a parallel universe. Like our socks do, dear.’
Will rubbed his pounding temples. The snow of interference descended on August’s and Jemima’s images. Their voices distorted and muted. Wilhelm hammered the “enter” key, but the screen continued to fade.
Screaming added to the hammering in his brain. Wilhelm cradled his head in both hands and begged it to stop.
A small voice behind his ear wailed, ‘I’m right here!’
‘Go away! Leave me alone!’ he cried. Then rummaged in the medicine cabinet for the bottle of Valium.
[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 (6.1), Wilhelm and Letitia begin their journey to Launceston in Will’s Aston Martin.]
Real-estate at Richmond
Letitia’s influence over the computer did not even last the night. The morning greeted her with barely four hours sleep, a hung-over and grumpy Wilhelm, his yacht bathed in an orange hue, and a computer in mutiny. The dream performance of yester-noon, was replaced by abject refusal to work. Clarke, the computer had downed tools, gone on strike, and short of blowing up in a puff of smoke, plainly refused to go.
After conceding that moronic model was a “lemon”, Wilhelm made a hasty trip home to settle a seedy and rather irate Frieda. Then, by mid-morning Wilhelm and Letitia could be seen, at speed in the Aston Martin, clipping across the vast dry plains of Eastern Tasmania, heading northwards to Devonport. Plans had been hastily altered and tickets for the ferry purchased through a very obliging travel agent friend of Wilhelm’s. For some reason, Wilhelm had been reluctant to sail the vessel without a functioning computer. And then, for some unexplained reason for which Letitia was most grateful, Wilhelm preferred to drive to Devonport rather than fly. Even though, he risked the ire of his wife who currently accused him of neglect while she was so poorly. Letitia asked no questions. After her not so distant altercation in such a craft, she had had enough of aeroplanes.
Morning tea and the pair who appeared as mother and son, picnicked on the banks of a river that accommodated the oldest bridge in Tasmania, if not Australia. Letitia admired the family of ducks that possessed this sloped grassy land, while Wilhelm wandered off to investigate some prospective investment property.
‘Real estate, that’s where it’s at.’ Wilhelm upon his return from wandering remarked. He unscrewed the lid from the thermos in the picnic basket and poured steaming coffee into two waiting metal cups. He then held up a tube of condensed milk. ‘Milk?’
Letitia nodded and Wilhelm squeezed a dose into her cup.
Chuckling Letitia remarked, ‘The ducks look as though they already own the bridge from the dawn of Tasmanian history.’
Wilhelm plonked himself down on the tartan blanket placed on the grassy slope and briskly shuffled through the recent acquisition of colourful real estate flyers. He admired his property prospects while Letitia silently sipped her morning coffee. Every so often he would mutter, ‘Hmm! Richmond. Now there’s a good investment.’
The ducks had waddled under the shadow of the bridge and disappeared. The coffee also vanished slowly consumed in the comfort of the mid-morning Richmond sun. Letitia was being lulled into a false sense of forgetfulness. Perhaps, she reasoned, nothing else mattered but basking in the sun on a grassy slope admiring an old stone bridge.
‘Where did you say your house was, Letitia?’ Wilhelm interrupted her dreaming.
Letitia looked up and frowned. ‘On Mirror? Or before? When I lived with Mum and Dad.’
Wilhelm blinked. ‘Before, I suppose. Before you went missing on us.’
‘Sydney, near Bondi,’ she said, ‘the house was walking distance to a park where the lion statues were.’
‘Sydney, ah, yes, of course.’
‘Your father came from a village in the Black Forest, though.’
‘Hmm, yes, I know. A long time ago. But my mother, Gertrude, came from Adelaide. He met her there in the Botanical Gardens, after the war.’
Wilhelm turned from his coffee drinking and studied Letitia. ‘Are you that old? I mean, you look older than I remember you, but…’
‘No, yes, actually, I was born 1935, technically…But I lived on Mirror twenty-six years. I have a daughter who is all grown up…’
Wilhelm sniffed and nodded. ‘Oh, yes, that makes sense, now. And then you travelled back in…’
‘Time.’ Letitia concluded. ‘It seems, unless this is an alternate…’ then as if to steer the direction of the conversation, she asked, ‘Did you know my father? August?’
Wilhelm blushed and mumbled, ‘Hmmm, yes, quite well, actually.’
Letitia noted the reaction. Her eyes widened. ‘Really? So what’s your story, Doctor Thumm?’
Wilhelm rose and stretched. ‘Well, must be getting on. Must be in Launceston for lunch. There’s a lovely little café in Cataract Gorge I want you to try.’
That was awkward, Letitia thought. With the picnic basket hooked over her elbow she followed him. His avoidance on the subject intrigued her.
As they left the picnic place, the ducks emerged from under the sheltered darkness of the bridge to possess the river reeds and banks of lawn.
[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 (3.1) Letitia meets an old friend…]
The Point of Batteries
‘You must come to my place. You must!’the blonde said.
Letitia glanced around the almost empty street. The crowds had dwindled to nothing in the golden light of the late afternoon sun. Her suggestion was not a bad one under the circumstances.
‘You must come for tea.’ The lady grabbed Letitia’s arm and dragged her along the road lined by warehouses. ‘We’ll grab takeaway on the way home. There’s a lovely little fish’n chip shop just up the road near our place. Remember when we were kids and we used to ride our bikes up to The Rocks and get a three-pence bag of chips? They were the best chips, weren’t they?’ The blonde ferried her up some steep steps.
‘Hmm!’ Letitia tried to remain polite and in the know. Rocks? Riding bikes? Fish and chips? Three-pence? All familiar images that hinted at the nameless friend’s identity. Her fuzzing mind tried to stretch her still frozen memory to capture who this woman was. The harder she tried, the more futile her efforts at name retrieval became. ‘How embarrassing! I apparently knew this lady from childhood,’ she muttered.
The blonde gave a tiny snort of laughter. ‘Gunter loved those chips. Remember? He said they were the best chips in Australia.’ She paused and for a moment gazed over the cove which spread beneath the hilltop vantage point. ‘Poor Gunter!’ she remarked, ‘Boris got him, ya know.’
The sun had crept behind Mount Wellington casting muted shadows over the historic houses, the pebble-strewn beach and the calm waters in hues of purple and blue. ‘Hmm! Poor Gunter!’ Letitia parroted. She paused in thought. Gunter, my half-brother?
Bright, colourful sails of boats dotted the river. The vivid reds, yellows, and whites pitted against the deep blue of the waters almost succeeded in converting Letitia to cheerfulness. However, the reality that she may have left her old world permanently behind, lurked in the shadows of her subconscious and troubled her. Letitia tried to agree to sound as if she knew what the blonde was talking about. She tried in vain to match Gunter with this lady’s elusive name. Perhaps it’s a case of mistaken identity.
How did anyone from the past recognise her? Mirror World and nanobot repair from the burns in her first accident had darkened her skin. Letitia checked her hand. Still the colour of cedar.
‘Poor Gunter, we haven’t been able to find him. He left after the disaster, you know, the bombing of our ship. He blamed himself for your disappearance.’ The lady guided her, striding towards the banks of the river. ‘But…it was my fault; I should’ve never…’ She stopped at a corner and announced, ‘Here we are! The Fish’n Chip shop!’
She led the way through the open white-framed doorway to the full-bodied aroma of sizzling oil, batter and chips, tessellated tiles and stainless-steel benches. A few bored customers reclined on a wooden bench seat that lined the shopfront, reading Readers Digests from the 1950’s.
Letitia peered at the magazine of a disinterested patron to the left of her. “Behind the Iron Curtain” the cover advertised. Letitia leaned back to check what that article was all about. The man narrowed his eyes and glared at her. Then, he stood up, marched to the counter, and spoke to the manageress in muffled tones, furtive glances and fingers pointed in her direction.
Letitia’s chest tightened. They’re going to ask me to leave, she thought.
‘Do you want whiting, Letitia?’ her blonde friend, also standing at the counter, called back over her shoulder.
‘Yeah, okay,’ while waiting for the inevitable directive to move outside. After all, it was the 1960’s and Letitia was the wrong colour.
Letitia noticed the blonde make an emphasised gesture in her direction, and say, ‘My friend will have one piece of whiting and I’ll have one piece of garfish with minimum chips.’
The manageress, a woman with bottled auburn waves, and olive-toned skin, looked at Letitia, and opened her mouth to speak.
The blonde cut off her unspoken words and in her best German accent, said, ‘Listen lady, she’s my friend, got it? We’re better than that, aren’t we? That’s why we come to Australia. We are all different, but we are all human beings. Besides, I don’t know why she’s so tanned, but she is as white as me; I know her parents, they come from Europe, migrants from Germany, just as you are a migrant from Greece, am I right? So, just make those fish and chips, okay?’
Something clicked. A key turned in her mind. Letitia studied the blonde lady handing over the cash to the Greek vendor. Frieda. Only Frieda Muller would have the courage to stand up for her rights; human rights. Frieda who tolerated no nonsense. Frieda, who once confided that she’d defied Hitler, and somehow survived. Something to do with being Lebensborn, she remembered. Admittedly the last time she met Frieda, she had become Frieda Thumm and was well into her fifties (give or take a decade or two with the distortion of light-speed travel). Letitia wondered how she could have struggled to recognise her. She who defended her in the fish and chip shop and now stood before her with a newspaper parcel of battered fish and chips was Frieda. But which Frieda? Letitia assumed this world’s Frieda.
Letitia perched on the bench.
The man adjusted his black-rimmed glasses, and with head bowed, walked back to the space next to Letitia. He mumbled an apology which Letitia acknowledged with a slight nod.
Letitia rubbed her hands together and smiled at Frieda. She had retrieved the name. She had found her friend’s identity. At least that was one good outcome from an otherwise less than ordinary day. At least she had one friend in a world and time when she calculated to have few friends. There was Fritz. But where was Fritz?
Frieda strode up to her and she leapt up to follow her friend. ‘Come,’ she commanded, ‘Let’s get to my house before the chips get cold.’
In the lingering late afternoon sun, the sun that refused to go away, the sun that refused to set, the friends wended through the narrow streets of this aged and historic part of town. The roads were steep as they were narrow. Parked cars on both sides, blocked some roadways which had not caught up to the 20th Century. Letitia marvelled at the vintage nature of the vehicles. She had not seen a FJ Holden in decades. The place was cluttered with them. And brand-new Holden Premiers, the luxury version, a collector’s dream on Mirror World. And there, she mused, was a Ford Falcon, more angular than its Holden counterpart; commonly a hoon car on Mirror World (in the eastern states of Australia, mostly). In Mirror Baudin State (South Australia), only Renaults and Peugeots would do. Letitia had to hide the smirk on her face as she contemplated the ugly future of these carbon spewing air-polluting machines.
‘So, Frieda, what may I ask are you doing in this part of the world?’ Letitia ventured to enquire.
Frieda frowned. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean…um…’ Letitia hesitated hoping to guess correctly, and whispered, ‘um, um, Hobart?’
‘Hobart? But Letitia, we’ve been here for ages,’ Frieda replied. ‘Thing is, how did you end up here?’ She made a sharp turn at a white rendered wall of a two-story bungalow overlooking the bay.
‘Long story,’ Letitia exhaled briefly, relieved that she had guessed correctly, about Hobart. ‘I mean, are you working?’
Frieda returned a pan-faced expression which read as “are you stupid?” Then she pressed the small hand-held device and magically the gate in the wall opened. ‘Nup, I don’t need to work. I’m a lady of leisure. I’ve achieved “effluence”.’ Frieda’s tongue remained firmly in her cheek.
‘You mean, affluence? Lucky you!’ Letitia remarked admiring the fine leadlight birds that framed the light-coloured pine door. She absorbed the unique brisk scent of pine and commented almost involuntarily, ‘Wow! What’s that smell?’
‘You mean the door? It’s Huon Pine. Solid…’ Frieda began to explain before another, fouler odour accompanied by a large darker four-legged creature, assaulted Letitia.
Frieda’s train of thought and keys were lost in her black Labrador’s excitement to greet the unfortunate visitor, namely Letitia. In between the fever of yelps and her face covered in fermented slobber, she could hear Frieda yell, ‘Jack! Off Jack! Down! Down! Sit Jack! Naughty boy! Get off Jack!’ But her commands were in vain. Jack, the dog kept on jumping all over Letitia, and slathering to his heart’s content.
As the torture by dog continued, Frieda’s tone changed from playful to serious and Letitia nostrils were disturbed by a particularly pungent smell that lingered on her clothes. It had that thin weedy, off-meaty, faecal, with a touch of compost aroma about it. She brushed her uniform defensively and shrieked, ‘Ugh! What’s that smell?’ Bits of pitch-black dirt the consistency of sludge clung to her fingertips.
The Labrador gave a final yelp and flung itself after a flying fried fish.
‘Quick, while he’s distracted.’ Frieda pushed her friend through the door and slammed it shut. Once inside in a darkened entrance hall, she exclaimed with disgust, ‘Pooh! What’s that smell? It’s revolting!’
Smeared over Letitia’s lime green pants and top were the tell-tale marks of a dog’s misadventure. ‘Ugh! What is this stuff?’ She choked on the strong stench of sewerage. ‘It’s worse than Boris! When you said that you was “effluent”, I didn’t think you meant literally.’ She pinched her nose with added effect.
‘Oh, gore! The bleeding dog’s got into the blood ‘n bone. Sheisse!’ Frieda’s language was becoming increasingly colourful, and Letitia had no doubt that she was indeed Frieda. She grabbed a hold of Letitia’s arm and escorted her up the stairs. ‘Come on, you better get out of these rags – have a shower – I’ll get a change of clothes – and put these…’ she covered her nose with her sleeve and breathed out a nasal cry, ‘Phew! These into the wash must go!’
Born March 16, 1906 – March 4, 1981 [40 year anniversary]
THE DOOR IS ALWAYS OPEN
Grandma rarely locked the back door; not when home or if she ran short errands. The only times she did lock the back door was when she went away on holiday. Ah! Those were the days! The 1960’s—Adelaide, the front door greeted strangers and salespeople, the back door welcomed friends and family who didn’t knock, but walked straight in.
Grandma lived a ten-minute walk from my home in Somerton Park. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I walked or rode the route down Baker Street, across “busy” Diagonal Road, and into Panton Crescent. Then I trod down her gravel drive of her Trust home to her back door; a door always unlocked and without any ceremony of knocking, I pulled open the fly-screen door, pushed open the wooden door, and walked into Grandma’s small kitchen. I still dream of Grandma’s place, “Grandma’s Lace” as I used to call it as a child, her huge backyard with fruit trees and hen house.
The same as her home, Grandma had an open heart with time available to be there for me. From the time I was born, she was there. She bought and moved into her Somerton Park home nearby, about the same time my mum and dad with my brother and me, bought and moved into our home.
Every Sunday all the family which included mum’s brothers and sisters and their spouses, gathered in her tiny kitchen dining area for Sunday roast. The home filled with laughter as we enjoyed Grandma’s roast beef and crunchy roast potatoes—the best ever! Dessert of jelly and ice-cream followed, topped with a devotion, then the Sunday Mail quiz. Holidays held extra treats of cousins from Cleve, all five of them and Auntie and Uncle. Grandma fitted us all in, albeit us younger ones sat at the “kinder tisch” in the passageway. Often friends from church or elsewhere joined us for Sunday lunch. The door was open for them too, and somehow Grandma made the food stretch and the table expand for unexpected guests.
One of the first times I took advantage of Grandma’s “open door policy” was at two years old. I’d dreamt my cousins were visiting and no one told me. My beloved cousins were at “Grandma’s Lace” and I was missing out.
So early that hot summer’s morning, I climbed out of my cot, dumped my nappy, and naked, I navigated my way to Grandma’s. I streaked over Diagonal Road, not so busy at dawn, and then toddled down Grandma’s driveway. I pushed open the back door and tiptoed through the kitchen and passageway. Then I peered into the bedrooms one by one. Each room was empty. Where were they? Where’s my cousins? I was sure they were here.
I entered Grandma’s room. The mound of bedding rose and fell with each puff of breath Grandma made.
I tapped Grandma and asked, ‘Where’s my cousins?’
Grandma startled and her eyes sprang open. ‘Oh! Oh! What are you doing here?’
‘I come to play with my cousins,’ I said. ‘Where are they?’
‘Oh, my goodness—no dear—they’re not here.’ Grandma climbed out of bed and waddled to the bathroom. ‘Now, let’s get you decent.’
After wrapping a towel around me, she picked up the telephone. I stuck by her solid legs while she spoke to my mum. ‘Marie, just wondering, are you missing a daughter?…You might like to bring some clothes…’
As I grew older, Grandma’s open-door policy included her home-made honey biscuits. My friends and I visited Grandma on a regular basis. We’d enter through the back door and make a beeline for the biscuit tin. Then we’d meander into the lounge room. With my mouth full of biscuit, I’d ask, ‘Grandma, may I have a biscuit?’
Grandma would always smile and reply, ‘Yes, dear.’
Grandma’s open-door policy helped as a refuge when love-sick boys stalked me. Mum and I arranged that when I rode home from school, if my blind was up, I was safe from unwanted attention. But if the blind was pulled down, I would turn around and ride to Grandma’s place.
Grandma was there also when I had trouble at school. I remember at fifteen, having boy-trouble of the unrequited love kind. Grandma listened. She was good at that. She sat in her chair as I talked and talked, pouring out my heart, while emptying her biscuit tin.
When I paused one time, after exhausting all my words, she said, ‘Lee-Anne, one thing that may help—you need to have Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.’
Grandma passed on from this life to meet her Lord and Saviour in early 1981, less than two weeks’ shy of her seventy-fifth birthday. Her old Trust home on the big block with the fruit trees and chook-yard were razed and redeveloped into four units—front doors locked and no easy way to their back doors.
The Sunday after the funeral, it seemed to me strange not to gather at Grandma’s. Then Christmas, the brothers and sisters celebrated separately with their own family or partners. I missed the whole Christmas connection with my cousins, aunts and uncles. Time had moved on and our family had evolved to the next stage of our lives.
In 2021, leaving one’s back door open, even during the day, seems an odd and risky thing to do. Times have changed—more dangerous, or perhaps we’re more fearful of imagined dangers outside our castles. And now in this Co-vid dystopian reality…Well, Grandma’s life and her “open door” policy in a more trusting time, has made me ponder: How open and available am I to others? How willing am I to listen and value others and their world?