Heat Crazed

The radio informs her that it is exceptionally hot. As if she needs it to tell her forty-three degrees Celsius is hot.

The word degree means step; her city, her state, has taken forty-three steps into the furnace. The north wind, determined like the sun to make her day one to remember, whispers fiery jokes in her ear. Her house is an oven, her couch, her cushions, her bookshelves and television are like baked, finger-tip hot fruit cakes.

Babies, she thinks, should be naked on days such as this. They should lie on the floor, on several thicknesses of towelling, peeing insolently, drumming their tiny heels against the towels, cooing benignly while low-floor breezes eddy and swirl around them.

Would we all could be babies on days like this, she thinks, and enjoy peeing on the floor at least once without feeling ashamed. When it is hot, the room in which the babe lies should be cool, but not cold. Babies must not, like furniture, bake nor freeze but are best kept at a medium temperature.

The general consequence of heat, unless one is a floor dwelling infant, is immobility. Today, she thinks while unbuttoning her shirt, heat is an abject lover clinging to her body, rendering her incapable of movement.

She removes her shirt, turns the radio off and unzips her skirt. She drags the overfed parasite of heat around with her, stops to remove her skirt and continues to the linen closet. Her swollen feet seem to walk on hot, prickly balloons. She takes a towel, then another and another and walks back into the family room to spread the towels, one atop the other, on the floor. She fetches a pillow, two pillows, one for her head, one to place under her knees to ease her back. Maybe, she thinks as she arranges the pillows, she should place her bloated feet on a chair, so they are higher than her head? Is this why feet swell during a heat wave? Is it their one chance to be above the head for a while? If I were a foot, she thinks, I would make the most of the heat, just to know what the landscape above an ankle is like.

She fetches a dining chair but the effort drains her. She staggers into her kitchen with its west facing, fruitlessly shuttered window and pours herself a glass of not quite cool tap water. She returns to the family room, places the glass of water on the floor then peels her damp underwear from her body. She lies naked on three thickness of towelling, her feet on the dining chair, and gazes at the ceiling. Although she does not know it, because her radio is off, the temperature rises to forty-five degrees then takes another two cruel steps. She lowers her feet and dozes while low-floor breezes eddy and swirl around her. She decides not to pee because the pillow beneath her knees is her husband’s.

Heat_Crazed

© Janet Thomas

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Kasha Tames the Dragon

Dragon_Hand

When Kasha told her best friend about her plan, Target laughed.

‘It’ll never work,’ she said. ‘Whip tried it, so did Whistle. In fact, I’ve heard they tried it together.’

‘First, I’m not using their technique and secondly, it’s just a rumour,’ said Kasha. ‘Anyway, he wouldn’t stoop so low.’

‘You reckon? Well, since you’ve sat next to him all semester, I guess you know him best.’

‘That’s just it’ said Kasha, ‘I don’t know him nearly as well as I’d like.’

She turned towards the screen floating before her. She had completed her next assignment and set the parameters of her other, more important, search: Poetry +Love +14th-21st Century. After an hour reading and selecting poems she grabbed the lead from the computer capsule and connected it to the port in her arm. The download would take ten minutes. She reached for the bottle of anti-viral juice she bought from home and sipped from the straw, glad they had started selling the stuff in banana flavour.

Two hours later she was at her desk, mentally rehearsing her plan.  He ambled into the classroom, feigning indifference, ignoring everyone, took his place beside her, flung his bag down and slumped into his seat.

‘Hi’, she said.

He looked over at her, scowling.

‘Another poor grade?’ They had just got their last assignment back. He was managing to pass his subjects, but continued poor grades meant he’d be forced to do secondary realignment. He was better than that; all he needed was to … soften a little. Yes, that’s it. He pretended he felt nothing but Kasha knew better.

‘Yeah,’ he said.

Kasha took a deep breath. ‘Look’, she said, ‘I’ve made a start on the next assignment. If you’d like I could download the information. It is a joint assignment anyway, and….’ She stopped, watching his face. He was so unpredictable; sometimes he refused to accept help from a girl.

‘Got nothing to lose,’ he said. ‘You got a transfer cable?’

They were not supposed to bring them into class, but the teacher was still trying to log on. Kasha dipped into her bag. The transfer cable lay where she had put it last night.

‘I think so,’ she said, pretending to rummage deep into her bag. ‘Here it is.’

He placed his arm across his knee and under his desk. She inserted the port into his fine-boned wrist, holding her breath as she touched his arm. Then she inserted the other end into her wrist. He wasn’t even watching as she used her right-hand fingers to type download instructions onto her left palm.

‘Won’t take long,’ she murmured.

Ten minutes later he touched her lightly on the arm.

‘Kasha’. His voice was soft and dreamy.

‘Yes, Dragon?’

‘Thanks.’ He gently disengaged the cable from her arm, his fingers lingering on the fine blue vein that lay beneath her flesh.

‘You doing anything tonight?’ he asked.

Glimpses of an Illegal Life

‘They’re cutting a road west, towards Perth,’ says one of the crew. ‘Hot, dry, hard work. They need big blokes like you. Money’s good too’. Jumping ship is risky. If caught he’d have no papers. The idea rankles but something compels him to stay in this place. He has no idea if he will come to call it home but he knows he can never go back to what was.

He slips off the ship and heads away from the wharf. After a sleepless night, he signs up and joins ten other men on a bus headed towards the setting sun.

She’s been up since five am baking bread. While the loaves cool, she steps outside to roll a cigarette. The last fresh breath of a desert night loiters in the shade of the verandah. She rolls her smoke, sits on her haunches and watches a bus skimming between horizon and sky, a long tail of dust flickering in its wake. A new load of gangers. She shields her eyes from the newly risen sun and squints towards her destiny.

He uncoils himself from the night’s travel and alights.  The countryside is hot, flat, red and shimmering. From within the farmhouse a small woman emerges carrying a large tray of scones and strong, black tea. She has nut-brown eyes, sleek dark hair and carries herself with quiet confidence. Her smile starts small, the hint of a crinkle around her eyes that migrates to her fine mouth, revealing a clean, even set of teeth. It is a straightforward, comfortable smile. He accepts a scone, takes the tin mug of scalding tea from the tray and asks her name. ‘Isabella’: the word, when he repeats it, is a festival in his mouth. ‘Strange name for a Scot,’ he says. ‘How do you know I’m from Scotland?’ she asks. ‘I’m Welsh,’ he replies, ‘we know these things’.‘And your name?’ she says. ‘Val. Valentine, though I wasn’t born in February.’ She smiles again and he knows why he is here.

They craft a simple life: in the thirties, he rises before light, walks five miles to the docks,  a big man standing out among hundreds of others desperate for work. He unloads wheat bags, takes all his money home and he and Bel do what they can to feed and clothe the children. His eldest girl milks their cows, their first boy tends the vegetables, and their youngest knows how to water the plants. Each bairn, as they arrive, helps the others. When they lose one they are forced to survive as a hollowed, husk of a family.

In the 1950’s, their nine children join them to celebrate New Year. On either his harmonica or squeeze box he plays tunes from Wales and Scotland and tells stories about the West Coast, the Yorke Peninsula, the Depression. There is a sprinkling of grandchildren now, some with dark hair and nut-brown eyes. Others are like their grandfather, blond and blue eyed. The boys are tall and barrel chested; the girls’ smiles crinkle their eyes. There is never enough of Bel’s Dundee cake but plenty of whisky for the men, and strong black tea for the women, to wash it down. His sons and daughters tease each other, gleefully renewing childhood wrongs; infants doze on the knees of their Aunts or Uncles, while the older cousins play outside in the dark. Just before midnight they gather on the front lawn, link arms and sing Auld Lang Syne. Bel lets them back in the house only after the tallest dark-haired man is offered, and gladly accepts, a glass of whisky. Good luck assured for the New Year, Valentine and Bel breathe easily.

In the 1970’s they are great-grandparents. Neighbours congratulate them with gifts of Grappa, stuffed olives, and plates of fresh Dolmades. They ask him, their local Justice of the Peace to sign their applications for citizenship. He understands what they need and what they fear.

In the new century, Val and Bel are a memory trawling among their descendants, especially when newspapers and television programs report stories of refugees on unseaworthy vessels losing their lives trying to reach Australia, or languishing on islands steaming with treacherous political expediency. Whether he was an illegal alien or not, Val’s descendants know, like he knew, that place is more than a desert glittering in the hot sun, more than a backdrop of smoky blue-green hills, more than a warm northerly breeze carrying the smell of eucalypts.

P1000497

A Sweet, Ripe, Ancient Smell

Full_Moon

All the girl would remember was a boring night with twelve of her aunt’s friends. They did not ask why she hated being alone or why, in the last six months, her life had changed, why she wished she were dead. They smiled at her kindly and she tried to smile back. One of them handed her an orange juice. It was sweet, but she drank it to be polite. The women stood and chatted and laughed together but the girl needed to sit down. She fell asleep quickly.

The thirteen women cast the circle carefully; the athame, chalice, oak staff and pentacle glowing in the candlelight. The room hummed with power, they were restless, eager for the ritual to start. Outside a full moon lay in the caress of the eastern hills but by the time they cast the circle it had sprung free and was rising in a starless sky.

The thirteen stood in a circle around the girl. The air hummed with a sweet, ripe, ancient smell. They had been working together for five years but only recently discovered, in the last twelve months, what they were capable of.

One of the women checked the girl’s breathing. It was even and regular. The girl’s aunt retold the story of pale flesh cruelly used, of vicious taunts, how her niece pleaded for him to stop, her attempt to escape. Thirteen hearts pounded with anger and something more, something that didn’t have a name. They built a picture of him in their minds, passed it around the circle, conjuring his arrogant face, his pitiless, knowing smile. The girl moaned in her sleep. Still holding his picture, they built a protective shell around her.

They clasped hands and began the chant, building it slowly, familiar with its power, confident in its use. They began to sway, feet planted wide and firm, shoulders touching, the chant rising, echoed by a wind that brought clouds from the west to obscure the face of the moon, leaving only occasional shafts of light to search the night sky.

Stuart, nerves afire, looking for a fix, drove north through the night. He slowed for a young woman on the side of the road but she turned suddenly and walked into a petrol station. He swung the car west, towards the river. He might find something there. Twenty minutes later he had a bottle of Jack Daniels and a packet of chemical insanity. All he needed was a girl like the one he’d had six months ago, someone who would learn to respect him.

He climbed out of his car and leaned against it. At first, silence, then a faint chanting came from the south. It sounded like women’s voices, low, calm, insistent. He ignored it and washed the drugs down with whisky. The moon was now completely covered, the river black and oily; Stuart didn’t see the dark shapes skimming across its sluggish surface, the shapes that closed together, gathered force and moved towards him. The air around him filled with a sweet, ripe, ancient smell.

The first blow knocked the breath from him so he couldn’t cry out. The second momentarily cleared his mind but the third and fourth blows confused him; he couldn’t see his attackers. The chanting ceased, replaced by the dull rhythmic thud of blows, the crack of his ribs. The blows continued, enough for him to know he was going to die.

All the girl would remember was spending a boring evening with twelve of her aunt’s friends, her aunt eventually driving her home under a high, full moon shining from a clear starless sky.

© Janet Thomas

Seamstress

Jocelyn will wear her new outfit to Martin’s office party. She imagines serenely accepting the compliments that will come her way; it’s not good to show too much pride.

First, she examines the Vogue Home Dressmaker’s Pattern Book, studying the photos and designs, considering how each pattern suits her shape and height, how the dress will transform her into the tall, beautiful woman in the photograph, because she does not believe that she is, in fact, tall and beautiful.

The next day she catches a bus into the city and haunts the fabric shops. She finds the pattern catalogues on their high, angled tables against the wall at the back of the first store. She searches for the pattern she chose at home, stopping occasionally to imagine how a fabric could enhance the pattern she’s interested in and how much it will all cost. The fabric she prefers is too expensive. She leaves that shop, walks across the street, wanders through another forest of rolled bolts of fabric, carefully checks the price of each, feels the weight of the cloth, crushes it in her hand to see if it creases and reads the care instructions attached to the corner of the fabric. Before she makes her final choice, she hoists a bolt from its stand, walks to a mirror, unravels a length of fabric and drapes it over her shoulder. She studies the effect. She thinks about the accessories she owns; her handbags and shoes, the jewellery Martin gave her and how they match the fabric.

Appeased, Jocelyn carries the fabric to the counter and asks the assistant, a middle-aged woman wearing a black skirt, white blouse, and a fake diamond brooch on her large, bouncy bosom, for the pattern. She waits while the woman searches for the pattern then lifts it from a drawer as wide as a wharfie’s arm-span. The assistant hands the pattern envelope to Jocelyn who turns it over and examines the yardage proscribed for the dress, calculating for herself how much material she needs because pattern makers always suggest too much fabric. The shop assistant, mouth sculptured into a thin line, stares at Jocelyn from under her lashes. One eyebrow lifts as, on an inward breath, Jocelyn tells the assistant how much fabric to cut from the bolt and that she also requires interfacing, lining, a zipper, and a spool of red thread. The bill tallied, Jocelyn counts out pounds and shillings from her purse, pays the assistant, watches her wrap the pattern, fabric and other goods. Then she leaves the store.

The next morning, Jocelyn feeds her children and sends them to school. She makes the beds, sweeps and washes the floor and then makes herself a cup of coffee. While she drinks, she calculates how long it will take her to cut the pattern from the cloth, then reconstruct the pieces into a dress. She wipes the kitchen table, unfolds the fabric then refolds it, selvedges together, right side facing right side, and lays it on the table. She opens the pattern envelope and withdraws the folded wad of printed pattern pieces and the instructions, which she reads carefully. She unfolds the thin, semitransparent paper, seeking and selecting the correct pieces for the outfit she has chosen. She positions the pattern pieces close together, remembering the sales assistant’s expression as she cut the length of fabric Jocelyn specified.

Once she transfers the symbols that signal to the initiated how the garment is constructed, she cuts the fabric – bodice, the wide skirt, collar, sleeves, facings – then unpacks her sewing machine and sets up a workspace on the kitchen table.

Jocelyn never bothers trying on the partly made dress for fit; she’s a standard size twelve, although she cuts the hips a little wider for the skirt. In a day or two, depending on the needs of her husband, her house and her children, Jocelyn has discharged the magic that is sewing a dress. Her seams are straight, her edges neat. The buttons are firmly attached, the inner facings, that give form and shape to a garment, are invisibly stitched and the finished dress pressed and hung.

When Jocelyn and Martin were young, before the children arrived, Martin admired each dress, blouse, jacket, skirt or pair of pants Jocelyn created. He’d emit a low wolf whistle, take her by the waist, wrap his arms around her and praise the economy with which Jocelyn clothed herself.

The children come home and are content to play while she puts the sewing machine, pins, needles, and scissors away. She scoops a red nest of short, discarded thread ends into her palm, throws them in the rubbish and dreams of walking into a dress shop, trying on ten of the latest season’s dresses and choosing four. She imagines accessorising each outfit with new shoes, handbags, gloves and jewellery. The sales assistants speak to her with respect. They bring her a cup of tea while she changes from one outfit to another. They call her by name, and never refer to the price of a dress; they chat about the latest styles, how well they will suit her figure. She takes out her checkbook from her leather handbag and writes a large check while they smile and say, ‘Your dresses will be delivered tomorrow, Mrs White. Thank you for visiting, and enjoy the party.’

© Janet Thomas

Pearl

Hands_Pearl

‘Hot, isn’t it?’ A woman appears from nowhere, trickles of sweat sliding down the side of her face.

‘Yes, it’s hot.’ Eva folds her arms.

‘Cooler here.’ The woman sits on the bench. ‘I come here in this weather. Shop a bit, have a drink and sit. Wait it out. The heat. I wait it out.’

‘Yes. Wait out the heat.’ Eva should stand up and walk away.

‘That bloody Muzak is annoying. And when school finishes, all those bloody kids and their school bags.’ Why is this woman harassing her? Place. Location. Eva wants to say, ‘I was here first.’

‘Are you alright love?’

‘What?’

‘You look a little pearly. You know, pale. Like you’ll fade away. My Rosie used to look like that when she was little and it was hot. We used to say to her …’

‘I’m alright,’ says Eva. She thinks, then says, ‘It’s just the heat.’

‘Yeah, it’s bloody hot.’ The woman’s breasts jiggle indignantly.

Eva unfolds her arms, places the palm of her hands on her knees. ‘Time,’ she says, ‘goes on a holiday during a heat wave. It seeks cooler shores while we’re stuck here, where feet swell and bodies smell. When we walk we drag the heat along, like a congested parasite.’

‘Yeah, right.’ The woman shifts, creates a barely perceptible space between her and Eva.

A young woman pushing a pram, a toddler trotting beside her, walks by. Eva studies the toddler and then turns to the woman. She watches the woman scrabble through her handbag, searching for a damp handkerchief that, once retrieved, she uses to mop first her brow then the doughy folds of her neck.

Eva waits until the handkerchief is returned to the bag then says, ‘I can’t remember how I got here.’

(c) Janet Thomas

Heart

When the front door bell rang she considered ignoring it. She had started to stack the breakfast dishes into the dishwasher, she wasn’t expecting anyone and could not be bothered with evangelists. She picked up another bowl and the doorbell chimed again. She shut the dishwasher walked along her hallway and opened her front door.

He was tall and looked to be around thirty-five. He wore crumpled black trousers and a faded blue shirt. His dark jacket looked worse for wear and she was grateful for the double locked, protective screen door between her and the stranger scowling from beneath unkempt eye brows.

‘I’ve come for your heart,’ he said.

‘I beg your pardon.’

‘I’ve come for your heart,’ he said. Man_Heart

‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ she said, ‘but whatever it is you want—think you want—or wish to sell, I’m not interested.

She shut the door firmly and walked back into the kitchen. The doorbell rang again.

She ought to ignore it. She was alone in the house, one of a brace of glass and concrete confections she and her husband moved into a year ago. The neighbours were either young or middle-aged, all professionals, who left, as did her husband, for work at six fifteen in the morning and arrived home after six in the evening.

The doorbell rang a fourth time. She hovered between the kitchen and the hall. Her mobile phone gleamed at her from the bench top and she reached for it, sliding it into her jeans pocket as she retraced her steps and opened the door.

He was wearing the same clothes but looked different. He was older, yes, older by a decade.

‘More acceptable?’ he said.

‘More acceptable …?’

‘I’ve changed, so you can trust me. I can do that, I can be whatever or whoever you want me to be. I want you to feel comfortable.’

‘It’s hardly possible to be comfortable with a man who interrupts my day, ignores my, my … rejection of him, rings my doorbell repeatedly and then…’

‘… changes his appearance?’

‘Exactly who are you? What do you want? What are you doing here, at my door?’

‘I’ve told you, I’ve come to collect your heart.’

‘What kind of joke is this? I’m not contemplating anything Faustian.’

‘This’ he said, ‘has nothing to do with dealing with the devil. Neither am I a Shylock come to claim my pound—or would it be 500 grams—of flesh. Unless, of course, that’s how you wish to think of me. I don’t, however, recommend it.’

She leant against the front door frame, the mobile phone pressing into her hip. She squinted at him through the screen door, then beyond him to the paved driveway that wound past her home to the bungalows at the back of the block. The houses on the other side of the driveway glazed, implacable witnesses to the clear, still morning. The Jacarandas guarding them dripped with purple blossoms.

‘Who are you,’ she said, ‘why are you here and how did you do that … that thing, how you can age ten years in less than a minute?’

‘Why are you stacking the dishwasher?’ he said.

She stepped away from the door. ‘How do you know what I’m doing? You should leave. I have things to do.’

He smiled. ‘What you have to do will be easier if you give me your heart.’

She realized he had a pleasant smile, one that almost masked the cunning in his eyes. Or was it guile? Perhaps chicanery? He smiled again, waiting for her to work it through. She preferred chicanery to cunning but did ‘masked the chicanery in his eyes’ work? She’d probably stick with cunning, although chicanery had a smell about it she appreciated.

‘I shouldn’t let you in,’ she said.

His smile softened. ‘You know you should and you know you will because …’

‘…Of your claim on my heart,’ she said.

Five hours later her husband arrived home. She watched him come through the door, the Jacaranda blossoms behind him soaking up the twilight. He shut the door, placed his briefcase on the hallway floor and walked into the kitchen as she settled the last cereal bowl into the dishwasher.

‘Hmm,’ he said, kissing her on the cheek, ‘Looks like it’s been a good day.’

She smiled and inclined her head towards the dining table where a neat stack of paper sat in the centre, next to the salt and pepper shakers.

‘I’ve just printed it.’

‘I’ll read it after dinner if you like,’ he said.

‘That would be good, thanks’. She turned on the tap and rinsed a coffee stain from the bottom of a mug.

‘Are you happy with it?’ he said.

She smiled at him. Was it pensive, or wistful? ‘I gave it,’ she said as she bent and placed the mug into the dishwasher, ‘my heart.’

(c) Janet Thomas

Jonquil

 

Elizabeth saw it first, a solitary bud growing in a circle of soil set in a square of lawn. The previous owners must have planted before they left. It was in nascent bloom when Glen picked it the next day and placed it in the tarnished silver vase he found at the back of a cupboard.

The sunlight bloom hovered for a day above the blackened silver then its stem slumped in defeat. While it was in the garden, Elizabeth felt the whisper of spring. In the vase, in the house, in their gloomy hallway, winter triumphed.

Narcissus Jonquila

Last Rites (or Lab Rat)

The man in the white coat raised a needle. I hope I’ve been helpful, I thought, as it slipped into my furry rump.

by Ben Brooker (C)

Ben_BrookerBen is a writer, editor, critic, essayist, bookseller, and playwright. His work has been featured by Overland, New Matilda, New Internationalist, Australian Book Review, RealTime, The Lifted Brow, and Daily Review. Ben is a co-facilitator of Adelaide’s Quart Short literary reading salons and in 2016 was an inaugural Sydney Review of Books Emerging Critics Fellow.

Twitter: @BenMBrooker

Blog: http://www.marginalia-bb.blogspot.com.au

An Enigmatic Bias

Three things fascinated Gladys when she was a child. Black marks on a page, the myths her mother told her and the night sky, the glassy points of light that glittered implacably above her. Gladys always knew a mantic message lay hidden in the patterns cast by those lights.

Every month, Gladys, now well into her seventies, meets Simone and Felicity at a local café.  They order coffee and cake and, because they are regulars, the staff leave them alone to visit a world lost centuries ago, a world they access through crisply uttered, archaic phrases and codes. ‘Do we need to consider the Sun on the Midheaven receiving the square from the Moon?’ says copper-haired Felicity, ex-teacher and a maven at spotting liabilities in a chart.

Simone, steady and moderate,  suggests the Moon’s aspect to Mercury is the nub of the chart and the Mercury, which rules the fourth, fifth and seventh houses, is restrained by Saturn. ‘That’s difficult for Mercury,’ she says, ‘it hates any constraints.’

‘I’m interested in this Venus, high in the chart,’ says Gladys, ‘it’s so… ‘Peregrine?’ interrupts Felicity. ‘And besieged,’ adds Gladys, who reminds her friends Venus has a moral propensity for getting herself into questionable situations. They all laugh. They are professional astrologers, not hobbyists and certainly not uneducated charlatans. They studied astrology together. They passed their exams. They have read (though they prefer to say ‘delineate’) dozens, perhaps hundreds of astrology charts. and sometimes even they are unsettled by their accuracy. Today they delineate a chart Gladys cast. She wants to know how long her new neighbour will remain in the flat next door.

‘I am not an astrological evangelist,’ Gladys is fond of telling people, ‘nor am I an apologist,’ but since the new neighbour chanced, three weeks ago, upon Gladys, Simone, and Felicity in the café, she’s become a nuisance. Finding herself not invited to join Gladys and her friends, and seeing the charts scattered across the café table, the neighbour decided she had uncovered a dangerous coven and was determined to dissuade Gladys of her beliefs.

‘Do you believe,’ Gladys had said to the neighbour, when she visited last week and accused Gladys of sorcery, ‘in the phone when you answer it?’ The neighbour frowned. ‘Exactly,’ said Gladys, ‘Neither I or my friends credit or judge astrology; we merely answer its call.’

‘That’s ridiculous,’ countered the neighbour, who wore an orange and pink kaftan and had tied a purple scarf around her bright yellow hair. ‘Oh,’ said Gladys, ‘we ‘re immune to ridicule. We are aware of the suspicion. None of us claims to be psychic and we do no one any harm.’

‘Why, you’d have been excommunicated or burnt at the stake only a century or two ago,’ said the neighbour. Sometimes, sighed Gladys, other people’s reaction to her passion perplexed her. What, she wondered, are people are afraid of, and why they could celebrate their eccentricity but condemn hers?

Living in her seventh decade made Gladys brave: ‘You have no right to tell me what I should, or shouldn’t do,’ she said. ‘In fact,’ she started to ease the neighbour towards the front door, ‘I harbour a deep unconcern for what people think,  and my Friday afternoons with my friends are too much fun to miss. Good evening,’ she said to the neighbour, and she shut the door.

The next week Gladys, Simone and Felicity read the chart Gladys had cast for the precise time Gladys asked how long the neighbour would stay. ‘An accurate time,’ said Simone, ‘our holy grail,’ and she bent her head to the chart. ‘My, it is an interesting chart,’ she said after a long silence. The three friends spent a satisfying afternoon reading the heavens: the name of signs, aspects and houses rolled off their tongues and they discussed that capricious Venus and her venal rounds.  The patterned lights of Gladys’s childhood surrendered their secrets once more.  The heavens, she thought as she packed away her charts and kissed Simone and Felicity’s cheeks in farewell, are a circle wherein drama and intrigue are performed, a stage honoured by Shakespeare, who knew astrology.

‘Consider,’ Gladys was fond of telling her grandchildren, ‘shares the same root as the word “sidereal”. To consider, my darlings, means to consult with the stars and your old Granny can tell you the story of a moment: she can accurately extract its meaning and trust its qualities; she can mine its hopes and ride its disappointments. I also have a bloody good  laugh at fate while I’m at it.’

Her grandchildren roll their eyes and lovingly pat her shoulder. Gladys remembers the starry sky of her childhood, how she knew, even when she was a mite, that everything boils down to this: there is a fatal and enigmatic bias in the order of things.*

(C) Janet Thomas

Adapted from a quotation by Jean Baudrillard.