(The Amulet Chain - Book Two)
(The sequel to P.S.R.T.)
How do you follow a novel about time travel? With a sequel of course. Theoretically in a world with time travel this could take place before, after or during the previous novel which could make things quite interesting. This is of course the sequel to P.S.R.T. (volume 20 of The Gargoyle Chronicles.) Interestingly, the two novels are intricately entwined, yet they are totally individual stories that can stand totally alone or if you prefer (as I do) you can treat them as volumes 1 & 2 of the same adventure travelled by totally different individuals. Confused? Well, as with time travel, that is sort of the point and makes this novel a joy to write and a lot of fun.
“You said there’d be nothing creepy, Julian.”
“What’s creepy about this? Night-time, full moon, deserted English countryside.”
“You said nothing creepy.”
“You’re such a wuss, George.”
“Such a wuss, what the hell’s goin’ on with that, then? Why is the moon like that? I’m no astrophysicist, but isn’t that supposed to be white?”
The ten walkers froze. It was a cool night that would greet a frosty morning. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and not as many stars as they were used to, having all grown up in the southern hemisphere. The moon above the wild Northumbrian countryside was blood red and ominous. The beers each of the walkers cradled no longer gave them confidence.
“Whose idea was it to come out here tonight?”
“I only said we should check out the countryside. It wasn’t my idea to start late, stop all arvo at a pub and continue by moonlight.”
“So what’s this, some sort of American Werewolf in London bullshit?”
“Yeah, except London’s a few hundred miles south of here.”
“Didn’t stop them in that movie.”
“There was only two of them, dickhead; there’s ten of us.”
“Yeah, Gaz, so shut up, Julian. Bloody creepy bastard.”
The ten men, all 18 and 19 years of age, crept on less confidently. They were heading up hill and their general state of intoxication was not helping their progress; neither did the unearthly howl that echoed out across the hillside and stopped them in their tracks.
“What was that?”
“Nothing, George, it’s just the wind.”
“No, that’d be Gaz, and if he was farting we’d all be dead by now.”
“There it is again.”
The ten young men bunched together without realizing, making each other jump. The boisterousness was gone and they were whispering amongst themselves instead of bellowing.
“It came from up there.”
“No way, it came from that way.”
“George is right; it’s there, on the hill.”
The moon was creating shapes in the landscape, but unlike the other gorse bushes and dead tree stumps frozen in the still of the night, this shape was moving, and its limbs were flailing about in the moonlight.
“Jesus, where’s me cricket bat when I need it?”
“When did you ever score a run with that piece of shit? You’d be better off waving one of your box around, the smell would kill an angry mob of galahs.”
“Shut up you morons. Whatever that is, it’s coming towards us.”
Julian was the least likely to be drunk and the keenest observer amongst them, but the moonlight could play tricks on men. His nine mates had come to Europe for a multi-country pub crawl; the UK and Ireland for Guinness and pints, Spain for sangria, and Germany for Oktoberfest. Julian was not adverse to any of these activities, but he wanted to see a bit of the world, and walking across the wilds of Northumbria out of Bamburgh Castle had been his fool idea.
The creature on the hill above them seemed to be digging. They could see the dirt spraying about in the moonlight. The beast wasn’t attacking, it might be trapped, and this spurred the young men on. With drunken bravado they began to run up the hill. They had it in mind to capture this thing while it was incapacitated, and they were on the beast in a flash. It was no longer howling at the moon, its back was tuned; it had no idea that they were there.
“Jesus, its part human.”
“It’s still turning, it’s not a wolf yet; jump on it!”
“Don’t be bloody stupid, it’s not a wolf.”
Julian stepped cautiously around the beast as it wrenched itself out of the ground like some mythical troll. He reached out and brushed back its mop of unruly hair, which was plastered with mud. He was surprised to find two piercing blue eyes latching onto him. Palms towards the beast, he reached out his hands and both parties breathed détente into the frosty air.
The peace did not last.
The lack of aggression from the beast spurred Russell, the more inebriated of the nine.
“Grab its arms, boys; let’s pin it down before it turns.” Wind whipped the hair of the beast between growls and Russell summoned his football-club-captain’s voice. “What are you standing around for, go on.”
Consensus was not guaranteed, despite his dominance. The men looked at each other, wary of the beast, until Gaz stepped forward. Three others followed and, with the enthusiasm of a mob, they launched onto it. The beast flayed out ruthlessly, striking George and Gaz down before wriggling free of the others amidst the shredding of material, and Julian understood their drunken mistake.
His pleas fell to a deafening howl. The beast pounced on him, tearing the flesh from his neck before bounding off up the hill. Julian collapsed, hand to his neck, blood oozing through his fingers. His mates careened after the beast, leaving him a tortured mess on the grassy slope. Screams brought him to his senses and he staggered up the hill towards them.
“Check it out, Julian, it speaks.”
The creature was pinned beneath Russell. Four others had an arm or a leg each, holding it down. Julian jumped in on his mate and tore him off the creature; maniacal with his blood-stained hands.
“Who’s the fucking animal you bloody idiots? Get off her!”
It was indeed a her, a young woman smothered in fresh dirt and mostly naked; her dress having been torn off inadvertently during the attack. The four men, who had her limbs spread to the four points of the compass, held on grimly as the wound on Julian’s pulsed over them. They had no intention of joining him as a werewolf on the next full moon.
“Has anyone got a silver dagger or something, anything silver? I heard that works.”
“Don’t be stupid, George, and give me your jacket.”
Julian peeled off his own jacket, the arm below his neck wound deadened. Covered in blood, he wrapped it around the wild woman who lay spread-eagle before him. She was foaming at the mouth. The madness in her eyes terrified him, yet despite his wound, he was willing to risk his life. He had no idea why.
“Do you speak English?”
She stopped thrashing and nodded.
“I’m sorry about my stupid bloody friends. If I ask them to let go of your arms and legs will you stay calm?”
“She’s not calm, Julian.”
“Shut up, you lot.” Julian leant closer to the woman, his face becalmed by the moonlight. “Will you stay calm?”
The wild woman nodded again.
“OK, let go of her legs boys.”
The wild young woman’s eyes remained intent on Julian, but she did not move. He pushed her legs together gently and nodded to the two men who had hold of her arms. She slid them to her side, her eyes still focussed him, yet he saw the anger buried there.
His friends relaxed. They had expected her to leap on him. Her patience came as a shock, wooing them into security. That’s when she pounced, leaping passed Julian and latching onto the man who had almost violated her. He hadn’t quite zipped up his jeans, and as she knocked him off his feet, she latched onto his manhood through his briefs. She bit down hard, the resulting howl a horror movie in the making. The satisfaction on her moonlit face beamed. Julian held his mates back and allowed her a moment to bask, before he dragged her off Russell and pinned her to the ground.
“I understand your anger, but you said you’d be calm. If you want me to keep them off you, all of them, I suggest you calm down now.”
She was seething, but so was Russell.
“I want her, Julian... I want her now... I want revenge!”
“You don’t deserve any, Russ. She’s got hers and you better thank your lucky stars I didn’t let her bite down any longer.”
“There’s fuckin’ teeth marks... and... it’s bleedin’.”
“Gaz, you and George go and find a doctor or an ambulance or something.”
“Fuck the ambulance, I’m gettin’ the cops.”
“Whatever, just go, and take Russ with you, before he does something really stupid, or his dick drops off.”
Julian kept the wild woman pinned to the ground until his mates returned. Russ was not with them, he’d been taken to hospital. The other two brought the police. Shocked at the carnage, they tried to make sense of the situation by questioning the woman, alienating her with their rough pursuit of the truth, they gleaned nothing from her; settling on handcuffs for their own protection and hers.
“I think you should come with us, son, but if you do, you’ll have to be in the back with her.”
“I think I can trust her, officer. I would’ve attacked us too if I was in her position.”
“As you will, then, and try not to bleed all over the car.”
Julian joined the policemen with their wild catch. She had not spoken in their presence. They drove back to civilization with lights blaring. Julian noted how she cowered in the back seat as the car bumped and swerved along the country roads. She remained curled up like a frightened kitten until they pulled up outside the hospital.
Dragged out, kicking and screaming, her eyes took in the Emergency entrance wide with amazement. Julian struggled out of the police car behind her, pale and cold, his jacket her only modesty. He held the hospital’s emergency door open for the struggling trio and as they reached it, the young woman broke free and launched herself at Julian’s neck again. They fell to the ground as the door swung into the faces of the two policemen. Julian steeled himself, but felt something in his hand as she actually whispered something in his ear instead of ripping it off between her teeth.
“Get my things from where you found me.”
Her lucidity shocked him, or was he in shock, had she actually spoken or was he dreaming? He passed out, awoken by the point of a needle in his neck as his wound was cleaned. The tetanus shot was worse than the bite, the stitches salt. The wild young woman was nowhere to be seen, but the object in his hand made him wonder. What was she, why was she out in the wilds with so little clothing, and how could she have something as precious as this? Julian turned the golden object over and over in his hand. He had never seen anything quite like it.
Love or Confusion
It's getting to the point where I'm no fun anymore
I am sorry
Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud
I am lonely
I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are
You make it hard 3.
June 9th, 2012
“Are they going or not, Judy?”
“What do you think, J.J.? It’s cold, they’ve got the flu and it’s pissing down outside.”
“I’ll be going by myself without having to ask soon, won’t I?”
“Well, why don’t you take them to something they like?”
“If they’re not coming I’m going now.”
“What for? It doesn’t start for hours. What’re you gonna do, sit down and scribble away at your silly book again?”
“It’s not a silly book, it’s a novel.”
“The day you make some bloody money out of it I’ll agree, until then... just go, leave us as usual... you’re never here when you are. I’m surprised you even bother to come home from work.”
J.J. hated his wife when she was like this. Was she wrong about him? Not entirely. He wished she took more interest in his writing, she had not read a single word or ever championed him. It was so difficult to create when those around you mocked the process or just completely ignored it. Judy only let him run a book website because he worked night jobs to pay for it.
Her trump card was the mounting pile of rejections; every publisher and literary agent who had read his work. He wasn’t surprised, how could they gauge the worth of a novel by its first 50 pages. J.J. had read the Millennium books and the first 150 pages were crap. They didn’t even film that section. He had to admit it was gripping after that. Maybe he had to bundle up his dozen novels, send them off to various publishers and die. The mystery of the mysterious writer could certainly create a raft of interest in his novels.
J.J. watched Judy ploughing through the breakfast dishes. It was such a waste of water; he liked to get a good days’ worth, a decent project to tackle. Judy had developed into a clean freak who required everything just so. This attitude was applied to everything, including sex. He half expected her to begin requesting he shower before and after, while she changed the sheets in between. Physically, Judy hadn’t changed much in the 15 years they had been together. She wasn’t as adventurous as she was at 30, but they did have three children, a mortgage and a dog. J.J. did his best to keep them all amused by planning wild adventures to unusual places. In between times, most days were like this. He often wished Judy had kept her black hair long. There was precious little silver amongst it to frighten her, but she seemed to like everything managed and her hair had been sacrificed for the sake of the day to day grind.
“We’re gonna smash Freo by 10 goals today, Dad, and then we’ll be in the eight!”
There was always one in a crowd and this was his youngest; a mad keen footy fanatic who loved his Tigers as much as J.J. did, but he hadn’t endured the 30 year premiership drought. He collected footy cards, cut out all the newspaper articles and knew every score and every winning margin from all 18 teams. J.J. had been the same when he was young, when there were 12 teams and the Tigers were great. He had never had another supporter approach him after a rare win lamenting 30 years in therapy.
“Careful what you say out loud, Graham; beware of the footy gods.”
“What are the footy gods, Dad?”
“Well, whenever you’re too confident or predict a slaughter by your own team, the footy gods always come back to bite you on the bum. Never say you’ve won until the final siren goes or it’s a minute to go and you’re five goals up.”
“I’ll take you to the footy when you’re better, OK?”
“I’m off, Judy. I’ll be home around 5:30.”
J.J. hopped in his green Beetle and cruised off down the road to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the home of Aussie Rules footy and affectionately known to all as the ‘G’. It was only a 15 minute drive, but it could be an hour on any given day if the weather was bad. It was a miserable rainy day in Melbourne, but after 15 years of drought no one was complaining. J.J. knew that the car park, all grass and gum trees, would be closed, so he sought out his favourite free all day street parking, a ten minute walk from the ground. He had his iPod tuned to Crosby, Stills & Nash who he had seen earlier in the year, alone, and he had his trusty Kathmandu light weight waterproof jacket on. He was thankful for his gloves and his German walking boots as he attempted to nestle near the top of the vast Northern Stand. This place could hold 100,000 fans, they’d be lucky to get 30,000 today and presently J.J. was its sole occupant.
It was an eerie experience, yet perfect as he conjured up the atmosphere for his latest novel. He sat, writing pad on his knees, thought about where he had left his characters and then allowed his pen to flow. He had written this way for ten years and scribbled out a dozen novels, yet maintained his ordinary day job. The setbacks could not quell the urge in him, they intensified the moment.
“Are you a football writer? A little early for the game.”
J.J. peeked across to his left and discovered a fresh-faced young woman sitting in the seat next to him. He attempted to ignore her, smiling and continuing on with his current sentence. It did not occur to him to speak, but as her fingers tapped rhythmically on her knee within his peripheral vision, he knew he would have to be pleasant. He placed his iPod on pause and realized she was humming pleasantly to herself. It annoyed him. Of all the seats in all the stands, why did she have to sit next to him? J.J. stowed his pen and sat up. His legs had been resting on the back of the chair in front of him and the illegality of this struck him, perhaps this woman was an attendant.
A closer look dispelled the theory. The young woman wore a long skirt, with paisley designs, above a pair of ankle high leather boots. Above these she wore the striking yellow sash on black of J.J.’s beloved Tigers. She also wore a thick black coat and a colourful scarf, but it was the jumper that caught his eye, which was unfortunate as it cloaked the gentle curves of her breasts and he was looking right at them.
“Did you get a good look?”
“Sorry, it’s your jumper, I was expecting an attendant.”
His eyes drifted up above the woman’s scarf and rediscovered her fresh young face. She was quite pale, lightly freckled above her eyebrows and below a hairline he could not discern. Any hair she might have beyond her ears and down over her neck was neatly hidden beneath the heavy knitted hat she wore. J.J. had seen one of these before; was that on Bob Marley? He had certainly seen similar hats on students at the local market and from this he began to peg an age.
“And I am sorry too. I think I interrupted you and I have not introduced myself; you can call me Isla if you like.”
“That will do, and you are?”
“J.J., my friends call me J.J.”
“And what do your non-friends call you?”
“Very cute, slightly sexy and just a little bit anonymous; what a curious mix. What are you writing about?”
J.J. thought about this for a moment. He liked to write novels with a mysterious twist and he didn’t like to give anything away, building to the moment when the reader couldn’t help but read on. One of his lead characters was Isla, but she was not on the current page. Coincidence or was he projecting some form of delusion onto the seat beside him?
“I’m writing about a time traveller.”
“Forwards or backwards in time?”
“He wanted to travel forward, but his time device was struck by lightning which sent him backwards instead.”
“Has he had many adventures?”
“Let me see; I predict he will be involved in great historic moments of significance that he manipulates for his own pleasure?”
“No, he’s far more subtle; he has no desire to leave his mark on history. He’s more of an observer.”
“I am quite sure he still sees great wars, Viking raids and terrible pestilence. Does he find himself some beautiful ancient woman to snog? That is the correct term... snog?”
J.J. sat back in his chair. She had described his entire novel in the briefest of terms, as if she had actually read it. She must be a projection. He could almost see a knowing smile on her pretty face, until she sat back and took in the view from the uppermost reaches of the Olympic Stand.
“I have heard so much about this place. I never imagined such a wondrous stadium. It is a shame about the rain.”
“You’ve never been to the ‘G’ before?”
“No, I come from England, only recently arrived.” She whispered the last three words as if this was a secret. “Will there be a lot of people here today? I have been warned the noise is indescribably immense.”
“It is at that, but there’ll only be 30,000 or so here today.”
“30, 000... awesome. I am sorry, I have continued to interrupt. You should finish your novel and not mind me.”
“I’ve got a few more chapters to write yet.”
“Could I read some, while you continue writing, because I will interrupt again. I think it is my nature when I discover something curious.”
“Sure, knock yourself out.”
“I would rather read than be unconscious.”
He passed her the printed copy with edits he had stowed in his back pack and settled back over his notebook, as this was the out he was looking for. The two remained focussed on their individual pursuits for an hour as other fans filed into the stadium.
J.J. found himself in a blind frenzy; scribbling furiously yet coherently line after line. Until the young woman’s hand latched onto his leg and squeezed. The mood was lost and he glared up at her, realizing she had not intended to interrupt. She was taking no notice of him and a lonesome tear was tracking its way silently down her cheek; she was gripping because she was gripped. J.J. reached up and brushed away her tear.
“Oh, sorry, did I do that?”
“It is only a story, just my imagination.”
“But it is so realistic. I can picture each and every moment, even the hairy oaf of a Viking. I cannot believe you have Vikings in here.”
“I can’t believe you mentioned them earlier.”
“I guess that is what I would have written, but I don’t. My father wrote and I am annoying you again, just as I did him. You should continue writing; I might catch up before you are finished.”
J.J. returned to his affair of the pen. At almost 500 pages the young woman could not possibly catch up before the teams entered the field of play. The weather turned foul and as a spectacle the football game suffered terribly, but it was close; goal for goal with no more than a few points separating the two sides all day.
Despite the excitement of the match, J.J. found himself intrigued by the young woman beside him. She obviously knew the rules of the game, without seeing it played out live. He watched as she leant forward in her seat, rode every bump and craned her body along with every set shot at goal. At times the excitement of the contest was too much for her and she gripped onto his leg, both saved by the half-time siren. She relaxed immediately, stood up and turned to J.J.
“Are you eating?”
“No, not really in the mood.”
“I think I will get something, will you mind my bag?”
She didn’t wait for an answer; she just assumed he would. J.J. was slightly perplexed. She had no idea who he was, yet she had trusted him with her bag, was it a bomb? He studied it as it sat there invitingly on the chair. It was unlike anything he had ever seen. Clearly bigger than it looked at first glance and the lights of the stadium seemed to glisten off it, as if its surface was wet. He longed to look inside, yet he resisted the temptation and returned to his writing.
The young woman returned quickly and sat down as she had a few hours earlier; with stealth. J.J. had focussed, and was deep into the penultimate chapter.
“You did not open it?”
“My bag, you didn’t open it.”
“It’s not mine to open, but I was tempted if that pleases you?”
“It does. I got this for you, I hope you like sauce, I love sauce. Do you like pies? My father said it was what one should eat at the football.”
“He was right, and yes, I love a pie with sauce. How much do I owe you?”
“Nothing, my treat. That is a thing?”
“Yes, that is a thing.”
J.J. studied her again as she ate ravenously, a satisfaction he had lost. Home-made pies were far better than footy pies and far cheaper, but this was the football and it did deserve a pie with sauce.
“Nints gund donya thunk?”
The young woman swallowed hurriedly and tried again... “The pie... it is good, don’t you think?”
“Did you get much done?”
“Another couple of pages, I’m up to the second last chapter.”
“Do you always listen to music while you write?”
“Yep, but not sure I listen, it’s just atmosphere.”
The atmosphere at the ‘G’ was warming up again as well. The AusKick kids had vacated the arena, forming a guard of honour for the professionals, and the rain pelting down. The next thirty minutes saw many a Tiger supporters’ nail chewed to the quick. By three quarter time things were dire; Freo had caught a handy break, their captain was on fire, and J.J. was on the edge of his seat. Time was running out.
A handball, a kick, a snap... goal!
The Tiger fans were on their feet. J.J. and the curious young woman beside him joined them, cheering and clapping. He turned to capture her reaction and inexplicably caught her full on the face. Her arms were around his neck as their lips met so naturally, it was as if they had done so a hundred times before.
J.J. was deep, yet for a few seconds, an eon, he did not think. He didn’t diagnose the consequences or weigh up his options, he just kissed his imaginary Isla character, as if she was real, and she met him with the same enthusiasm.
Seconds later J.J. was pulling away. He was not a tall man, midway between five and six feet. An inch shorter, she allowed him to pull away at the lips, but her arms remained firmly around his neck as she leant her forehead into his and kissed them gently together.
“Forgive me, the moment just... what you must think of me.”
She sat down and refocussed on the game.
The rain fell steadily, and the footy gods were about to bite his youngest son on the bum. J.J. remained standing, trying to make sense of what had just happened. The young woman slipped her hand into his jeans pocket, without losing her focus on the game, and tugged him back to his seat.
The siren sounded. They did not discuss the Tiger’s chances; she read his book and he continued writing. Their awkward silence was relieved by the siren’s return, announcing the start of the final quarter. The game had an ominous feel, as he had all day, and J.J. conceded defeat with a few minutes to go. He had seen too many games in his life, both live and on TV, to know the signs. Some days the players just didn’t have it in them.
“They’re gone, bloody idiots, what a waste.”
“How do you know, there is still time.”
“I can feel it in my bones. They’re too young, too inexperienced and they don’t know how to win the close ones. They don’t believe in themselves, unlike those nutters behind the goals.”
J.J. sat back and crossed his arms. The young woman slid a comforting hand onto his thigh. He was not the type to leave before the siren even if his team was 10 goals down. He believed in taking the good with the bad, and this was a bad day, a wasteful day. He packed away his things as the final siren sounded and stood, dejected. It was 32 years, yet he still remembered standing behind the goals in the old Ponsford Stand on Grand Final day. The Tigers were powerful and he was a young boy, but their drought made Melbourne’s 15 year weather anomaly look like a Goreist-myth.
J.J. turned to the young woman. “Thanks for the company, it was interesting. I hope the book didn’t bore you.”
“It was lovely, J.J. The day was lovely. The football was disappointing as you predicted, but it was exciting. I think I will come again.”
He turned and made his way down the aisle. The stairs here were frightfully steep and he didn’t mind the hand that tucked itself under his arm. His imaginary friend was indeed a curious character and oddly caring. She remained at his side until they reached the exit a number of flights down, but they paused; it was still raining.
“Do you have a car, Isla?”
“No. I have something they call a train, at the station just across the park.”
“That’s my line. Where do you get off?”
J.J. stopped himself short. His mouth was half open and he was about to utter the words that’s my station, yet he thought better of it. The rain was lighter now as he tugged his hood up over his head and prepared to face it.
“I think you’re going to get wet.”
“I have an umbrella. Are you taking the train?”
“No, I drove in.”
“I have never done that, I have never found the need. I only have to walk across the park to the train and about the same distance to my home. Do you know Preston at all?”
“Intimately, I live there.”
“Really? I live in Wilcox Street just off Central Avenue, do you know it?”
“I should, it’s my street. Would you like a lift, it’s a bit of a walk to my car, but it’s got a heater.”
The young woman slipped her hand back under his arm and the two odd companions stepped out into the rain. J.J. always found the walk to his car, one suburb across, sweated off the frustration of a loss, but he missed the babble of his youngest son. Graham would go on and on about the stats and the umpires and what if this and what if that. J.J. was as fanatical at the same age. He used to hide under his bed if his dad’s team beat the Tigers, which was a rare event.
“Are we close?” He had almost forgotten the woman on his arm in his reverie, her deft touch a part of him. “Is your car in this street?”
“Yes, can you guess which one?”
“Well, if I had a choice I would have the cute green one. Is that what they call a Beetle?” He nodded. “I love it.”
She ran the last dozen steps, dropping her umbrella en route as J.J. pressed the release button on his bulky keyless entry. She was on the front seat in a flash examining the cabin interior and all the controls. A sigh followed when he turned on the lights. The cabin was quite space age; dramatically lit in reds and softer mauves.
“A bit like a Christmas tree, don’t you think?”
“Not like any I have seen.”
“Don’t you have lights on your Christmas tree?”
“No, the Lord is not garish where I come from, although I have heard otherwise. Does your wife like Christmas lights?”
J.J. did not answer.
“Was that an awkward question? My father told me not to always speak the words I had in my mind. He said that education from books is no compensation for living amongst many different people with many a varied viewpoint.”
“That’s true, and Judy, my wife, does like Christmas lights. I’m always afraid the tree will catch fire, but I did get some lights for her and the boys a couple of years ago.”
“How many boys do you have?”
“Three, two of them are almost as tall as me now. I’m not sure where those years went.”
“I think you remember every day and I think you must be a brilliant father.”
“No, Isla; I think I could be better.”
“We always think we can do better and there never seems to be enough time even if we control it.”
J.J. marvelled at the young woman’s philosophy, but not for long, he had to battle through the post-football traffic. She did not speak again, but she seemed quite enamoured with the music his iPod was now playing. J.J. was in a Woodstock kind of mood. He was listening to a mix that included Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, The Who, Creedence and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
“Yes, um no... the lips are more intimate. A thank you is enough or a European kiss.”
J.J. leant across and touched his cheek to hers.
“Oh, OK, I have seen that done.”
“And there’s the French version...” J.J. performed the two cheek kiss next and she returned the gesture as a sort of practice. “Do you understand now?”
“I think so. Is this how you teach your children, by example and patience?”
“I suppose so.”
“Then you are a better father than you think. Thank you again.”
She draped her arm around J.J.’s neck and pulled him in close once again, but her lips met his again with a slight giggle. She jumped out of the Beetle trailing a few words and ran across the street through the rain. The words lingered with her kiss...
“Ooops, I did it again...”
J.J. blinked and shook his head of her and she disappeared into the night, as if she was never actually there. He blinked again and strained his eyes through the early winter darkness hoping she would reappear, but she was gone.
He shifted his car into gear, pulled across Wilcox and into the rear of the corner house. The garage entrance was on Central Avenue and he was glad Judy had talked him into the remote control door. He sat in his car for a while as he often did after work before facing the family; it had been a strange day of highs and lows and wild imagination.
Judy was at the kitchen sink when he finally traipsed inside. He could tell she had been on a mad off-season spring clean. His area of the kitchen dresser had been re-arranged. He hated that. It was his one spot in the house. The boys had usurped his office for a fourth bedroom. J.J. did not speak to his wife, he was somewhere else. He sat on his recliner and continued with the book, eager to see how it would complete; a good story always wrote itself. Some would call that divine intervention, but he was not particularly spiritual.
“I know you’re pissed off your team lost, but that doesn’t mean you can ignore us. Dinner’s on the table. David, Stephen, Graham... dinner!”
Beef stroganoff was on offer, a favourite on a cold winter’s night, but he was lost somewhere in his penultimate chapter, which was turning out to be a monster. He was trying to reunite his lead characters across time, but Isla was all wrong; she had manifested herself at the football and he could no longer resolve her.
“Did the footy gods bite me on the bum, Dad?”
“Something like that, mate.”
“Oh, so you speak to them, but I’m just the wife. I’m gonna burn those stupid books if you don’t give me some attention.”
“I’m sorry, Judy, I just had a weird day.”
“Not some idiot in the traffic again, I told you to change that job.”
“You did, and I should.”
“Daddy, did you marry mum because you had the same initials?”
“No, Graham; that was just the joke that brought us together. Your mum was called J.J. once too. I think I robbed her of that.”
It was true. J.J. and Judy had met at work. He had just been divorced, and lost his house. She already had a deposit on this Wilcox Street house; pre-extension, and was Judy Julia Jamieson. He always thought she sounded like a character out of a Stan Lee comic book, and he loved comic books and science fiction. His boys had assumed these mantels, which pleased him no end, but Judy was out of the loop. He wasn’t sure how they had arrived at this odd juncture; they used to complement each other so well. She was so organized and practical; he was diligent, but off with the fairies. He assumed she enjoyed this aspect, but age was wearying her. Imagination was so youthful; organisation was terribly aging.
* * *
J.J. improved during the week. He wasn’t sure if it was guilt, but he did make more of an effort. His novel suffered, as he did play footy with young Graham and discuss his footy cards. He practiced saxophone with his middle son Stephen and he spent time discussing his eldest son’s animations. Judy was not immune to his charms. He managed to relieve her of her cooking duties two nights in a row.
“I’ve booked you in for a haircut at the market. It’s an eleven o’clock appointment, so you better get up. Now I know where the boys get it from, sleeping all day, half the day’s gone.”
Staying up until 2:00am catching up with the typing of his novel and updating his website was not worth mentioning at this point. “I didn’t think my hair was that long.”
Judy sat on the edge of the bed and ran her fingers up the back of J.J.’s neck. “Look how shaggy it is back here and grey. Why would you want to highlight that? You look so sexy with your hair cut short.”
He pulled his wife close. She smiled and pushed him away. “It doesn’t always have to be about sex, J.J. Besides, you shouldn’t start something you can’t finish.”
“How would I know? I can’t remember the last time.”
“I’m going to hang out the washing.”
J.J. slumped back in bed. He lifted up the sheets; no, nothing. Perhaps Judy was right. Judy made no secret how she felt. Perhaps this was marriage; lots of sex before, a bit of fun conceiving and then a lot of talk. Dejection was too soft a word. His characters had been rolling across the back of his eyelids all night and he longed to capture them on paper, but first things first.
He showered, dressed and walked the three blocks to the Preston Market. A spate of woollen hats bobbed up and down amongst the crowded market and he understood where he had dreamt that detail. The Preston Market was a weekly destination, to hunt down ingredients for his more imaginative culinary delights. He browsed a little now, indulging his senses through the deli section, with the fresh cheeses he had acquired a taste for in France.
“How much for your Gruyere, mate?”
“$4.99 a kilo.”
“I’ll have half a kilo.”
“Doesn’t that smell awful? It looks like it smells.” J.J. was not surprised by the voice; he had imagined it all week without acknowledging it for fear it might manifest itself physically. “How is your novel; have you finished it yet?”
The persistence of his spectre finally drew a response. “No, Isla.” And he turned in his acknowledgement. “You know, you look exactly the same.”
“But I have no Richmond jumper today and my coat is hiding my bits, so you will not have cause to embarrass yourself, and I did it again. What is the cheese for?”
“Some Gruyere tarts I have in mind, amongst other more interesting French delights. Are you shopping for cheeses?”
“Not particularly, but I could do with a coffee. Would you like to join me?”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
“How could you not drink coffee? It is such a wonderful thing for the senses. Pay the man, you must try it. Italian style is the best, with a blend, but what blend would suit you?”
Isla grabbed J.J.’s hand, her pale face lit up under the Preston Market lights with the challenge before her. The chill morning air highlighted the light sprinkling of freckles which seemed to have emerged on the tip of her nose now that it wasn’t as red with cold.
She dragged him to a small coffee house. He had ten minutes to spare before his appointment. J.J. handed her a twenty dollar note, which she waved off. Isla ordered for them, out of earshot, and sat down opposite him expectantly. A few minutes later a waitress arrived with six cups; each had a label.
“I thought you could sample six different kinds. There is no ordinary instant here, only styles and blends. Smell each one of them first. You must like the smell of coffee; it is so invigorating in the morning.”
“I’ll agree with you there. I’ve always loved the smell of freshly ground coffee.”
J.J. smelt each blend individually. He could almost picture the individual South and Central American regions where the beans had been picked, and the poorly paid people who had harvested them. He forgot all about the young woman before him as he closed his eyes and relied on his sense of smell, and he forgot all about his hair appointment.
“That should be enough with the aroma, now taste each coffee as you have smelt them. Start with that one first and work your way along the line.”
J.J. did as she suggested, tasting each coffee on its merits. He was surprised the tastes did not offend him. It had been 25 years since his last taste, perhaps his taste buds had matured.
“What do you think? Which one do you like?”
“This is really going to be really boring, but the cappuccino, with that blend.”
“Would drink that again?”
“Shall I order another?”
“No, I’m late for my hair cut.”
“All of them, especially the silver ones.”
“But why, I think your hair looks lovely. Neat but a little bit wild, a little like me.”
“Not everyone sees it like that. Thanks for the coffee tasting, but I really have to go.”
J.J. did not get off that easily; he left the table with company, as he had at the football. A hand slid comfortably under his left arm. It felt natural, if somewhat old fashioned and he did not resist its presence.
The Hair Shack was painted in a vibrant pink with imaginative lettering. J.J. had frequented this establishment for a number of years. He was pedantic about his hair, although he never used product, letting it air dry naturally. Samaro was his butcher of choice, a vibrant woman of Greek heritage who never forgot a face.
“What will it be today, J.J.?”
“Same as usual; number four on the sides and back, don’t cut with a part in mind, shave the neck and pick out as many greys as possible.”
Samaro draped a sheet across him as he sat back in front of the mirror. He wasn’t too old looking for 46. His face had remained as youthful as Macca’s and he had few visible greys, although there always seemed to be thousands on his lap after a visit to the Hair Shack. A hair cut was like pulling a Band Aid; the quicker it came off, the less painful. He didn’t take much notice of the young woman who had accompanied him, but if he had, he would have seen her whispering in Samaro’s ear. The hair cut was as quick as woman’s hair-removal strip, the pain factor waiting for him at home.
“You haven’t used the number four yet, Sam.”
“Your lady friend doesn’t think it’s required.”
“I’ll handle this, Sam... and thank you, it’s lovely.” Isla draped both arms around J.J.’s neck and stared at him curiously via the mirror. “It looks lovely long. Sam has given it some shape and left it with body, while trimming the silver hairs on the back of your neck. She should not be disappointed. Besides, it is your hair, do what you want with it. You used to like it like this.”
Until he married Judy, J.J. had always had long hair. The consequences were something he would just have to deal with later.
“You’re gonna get me lynched.”
“Is it not better to live on your own terms than to be animate but dead inside? You should pay before you change your mind.”
J.J. followed his wilder conscience for the first time in a long time. He paid Samaro, who looked nervous, and stepped down the ramp into the market. It was peak hour for bargains, with spruikers shouting out their prices, and too busy to walk arm in arm, but as J.J. led off, his younger companion grabbed him by the hand. They dodged and weaved through a multitude of nationalities, shopping trolleys, and stalls.
This was one of the few places in Melbourne where the diversities of Europe and the Near East clashed seamlessly. It fascinated the young woman who allowed J.J. to lead as she captured every face and head-dress in her picture perfect memory.
“Are you going home now, J.J.?”
“Oh. I should let go. Your wife might not be pleased.”
“Maybe I should introduce the two of you, and blame you for the hair cut.”
“Does she ask you how you like her hair?”
“Yes, especially when I don’t notice it’s just been done.”
“And does she listen to your opinion on how she wears it?”
“There you are.” Her smile was sweet, matching her face, but there was something else he couldn’t put his finger on, and it teased him into frustration as she continued. “I won’t kiss you goodbye. Don’t forget to spoil your boys.”
She was gone, a block or two early, yet seemingly happy to take the long way home. J.J. watched her for a while before he felt better of it. She had that same curious bag over her shoulder. He had something similar once with his Why John Lennon badge and various other protest slogans pinned on the pockets. He couldn’t remember the last time he had protested, although he suspected it would be soon.
“I thought you were getting a haircut?” Judy was clearly not impressed.
“I decided to wear it a little longer, but I did have the neck shaved, just as you like it, and I got Samaro to remove the greys.”
“And you paid full price for that? Come on, we’re going back to get it done properly, such a rip off.”
“No, Judy, it’s what I wanted.”
“What about what I want?”
“Sometimes I have to get what I want.”
“Well you won’t be getting anything else you want tonight with that mop.”
Rainy Day, Dream Away
June 23rd, 2012
“Who was that, J.J.?”
“George, he’s piked it. Says he’s got the flu. Jesus, I can’t believe they’ve all grown so old, so soft. You would’ve thought after his divorce he’d want to get out and sow a few of those wild oats he’s been bragging about since we were teenagers. Why don’t you come with me, Judy?”
“Why would I want to go to one of your concerts? Seriously, how long have we been married?”
“I’ll take you out to a really nice restaurant and buy you a really expensive bottle of wine.”
“I’m already cooking dinner, I’ve got a cupboard full of alcohol and who’s going to look after the boys?”
“They’re old en…”
“Don’t be so stupid. Just go to your dumb concert and leave us, as you always do, at least it’ll be a peaceful night.”
“Don’t, Judy. If you don’t want to go I understand, but leave it there.”
“What’re you going to do about the other ticket?”
“George said he’ll pay.”
“Well best you sit down and eat before you go.”
J.J. did as he was told. Some compromises were worth a ticket to see Jimi Hendrix. Well, not actually Jimi Hendrix. This was the Experience Jimi Hendrix show; eleven of Australia’s best guitarists playing all of Jimi’s best songs the way Jimi played them. This was the closest he would ever get to Hendrix.
After dinner he set his iPod to everything Hendrix, turned the volume up to eleven, and drove into the city. It was a cold night, but at least it wasn’t raining. Voodoo Chile blasted out for 15 minutes with Steve Winwood along for the ride in the right channel, while Jimi wailed it out on the left. J.J. was in the zone. He had seen Dylan alone, done The Who with his youngest boy Graham who only knew a handful of their songs, and he’d experienced Chisel’s last tour solo - why not experience Hendrix in his own way?
He found a car park a block away from the Forum Theatre in Flinders street. He was early, on Judy’s advice. The doors weren’t even open and the winter wind whistled up along the tram tracks from the Docklands, yet there was already a queue. J.J. couldn’t remember the last time he’d been to the Forum Theatre. He used to come here as a boy when it was a cinema and during university when it reverted back to a theatre for comedy shows. It had been developed into a revival centre since, which J.J. found ironic. The Forum Theatre was famous for its interior; a homage to the pre-Christian decadence of the Roman forum, complete with columns and statues of the gods. The stars on the ceiling were fake; a trick of light that created an evening sky of deepening blue. He wondered if it was still the same. The exterior certainly hadn’t changed. It still reminded him of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton; all Indian and slightly Bollywood.
The queue behind him was growing. Its members made J.J. feel decidedly young; now that was a trick of light. He often attended concerts for bands out of his generation, and considered he was born 10 to 15 years too late. His generation was revisiting their aging Seventies and Eighties70’s and 80’s idols, while he sought out the sixties.
He was snapped out of his contemplation of the Forum Theatre and its conflicting design by a familiar voice, yet he wasn’t sure he wasn’t dreaming again.
The young woman stood on the opposite side of the queue rope. She seemed different tonight, which added to J.J.’s confusion. He didn’t get time to negotiate these differences as she launched herself at him across the rope barrier. Arms around his neck, she locked her lips onto his, but this was no good morning how are you ala the Moir Sisters… this was more of a hello, I love you won’t you tell me your name; hello I love you can I Jump in your game Doors thing. J.J. found his arms around the young woman’s waist without thinking as their lips slid together. She tasted somehow different, and smelt curious, but not in a bad way. He was intoxicated by her and blindly reached in for more as she withdrew.
“Just so you know it’s not Isla; that was my mother. She used to call me Delia, you should too, others have not been so kind.” Delia pulled J.J. in close again, nestling her head on his shoulder and reaching out to the people in the queue behind him. “Do you mind if I join my friend in the queue? I am so sorry I am late, just couldn’t do a thing with my hair.”
“As long as it’s only you, love.”
Delia released herself from J.J. and hopped over the rope. She did not re-engage, but she did take his hand in hers as she snuggled in beside him. She wasn’t exactly dressed for the evening, but she was dressed for the show, with a white lace top open at the neck to her cleavage, its sleeves long to her wrist and beyond with a Hendrix frill. This was complemented by a sleeveless, suede vest, complete with Daltrey fringes and her typical long cotton paisley skirt below. Her boots were nowhere to be seen, she was strictly bare foot with toe ring sandals; the perfect vision of a Woodstock angel with long flowing hair that reached down to the small of her back. She was trembling slightly, with excitement, as she turned to J.J., who had not spoken, and found him wide eyed with mouth agape. Delia kissed him quickly and blushed for warmth.
“You… you’re a redhead.”
“Father used to say I was strawberry blonde and I found this lovely strawberry-scented shampoo, can you tell?”