The Inexplicable

Many years ago, before I’d turned my back on teaching for the first but not the last time, a student of mine was murdered. She was a beautiful person. I can say that because it was true.

I was teaching an all female Drama class. It hadn’t been planned, it just worked out that way because the boys had all chosen something else, I suppose. The were extraordinary young women and I was their teacher. A young woman myself.

One day, she didn’t turn up which was unlike her. One day, the rumours were flying that someone had been killed. One day, one of the girls said, I think it’s her, miss, and I said, no, no, it’s not. One day, the school psychologist came to my classroom door and took me to the conference room and told me yes, yes, it is.

We journeyed and negotiated through the grief process together. A bunch of 17-to-18 year olds and their not-quite-24 year old teacher.

I knew nothing of that kind of grief.

We would make Milo together and eat Tim-Tams because some professional development I’d attended once suggested all teachers keep a packet of Tim-Tams in their office for student emergencies. This was so much more than an emergency. I’d say, let’s take class outside today, and we’d sit in the sunshine and someone would cry and we would forget about the lesson plan for that day.

I don’t know how her family got through it. I don’t know how her friends got through it. I assume they haven’t. It’s not the sort of thing you just get through. I was too young and too inexperienced to approach the family, to knock on their door and offer them a Tim-Tam. I wish I had. But I did what I could with the young people I was responsible for. My drama class.

And then, years later, a man turns up in my inbox. He is writing a book about it and would I be willing to be interviewed. He needed different perspectives, stories, things his careful research wouldn’t uncover. He had her parents’ blessing and trust and he was a respected journalist. He was good at what he did. I Googled. He was. Would I agree? To be interviewed? I said yes. I don’t know why.

And we meet at the coffee shop and he wants to record it and he does. And I cry and say sorry a lot because I shouldn’t be crying. I have no right to cry. Not after all these years. Do I? I don’t think I ask him that but I think it. I offer stories and details, those seemingly unimportant things I remember and probably never got to tell anyone. People get bored of other’s grief pretty quickly. They don’t care for anecdotes. Silly little details you remember and want to share and hold on to. During the funeral, one of my students reached out and held onto my hand. She squeezed my hand tight and cried and we walked up to put a rose on the coffin together. She is a teacher now.

I talk with the man, the stranger, the respected journo, for hours.

He pays for the coffees.

He says, do you want to mentioned by name and I think, no, no, no, this isn’t my story. This isn’t about me. But I say, let me think about it and he says that is fine. He says he will send me the pages and I can see how I feel about it. About my name being in his book. He says he’ll check in with me first and I believe him.

Only he doesn’t.

He emails and says, the book is done, I’ll invite you to the launch.

Only he doesn’t.

And then people I barely know message me on Facebook. Some write on my wall: is that you? Are you the Katy Warner, the Drama Teacher, in the book? Thumbs up. Like.

What the hell is going on?

I email the respected journalist turned author and, with respect, I say what the hell?

He replies, I’ll send you PDF copy.

Only he doesn’t.

And he still doesn’t.

And he still doesn’t.

And he Tweets, today, with a gif of a cat high-fiving a human, that his book is a top five, non-fiction pick of all time for someone who must be a Someone. And I think: a GIF? Really? A cat gif? Really?

And I think how difficult it is to write a book.

And how much more difficult it would be to write a book about someone who lived and breathed and was loved and was taken from us too soon, too tragically, too violently, too inexplicably.

And I think about emailing him, again. I think about Tweeting him in 140 biting characters. I think about why I agreed to the interview in the first place. I think about that drama class and how they’re all about to turn thirty. I think how this isn’t about me. Or him. Or launches or top-five lists or cat gifs.

I don’t know what it is about.

But it still makes me cry.

 

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Temporary (a short story)

cropped-these-are-the-isolate-009.jpg“I’m not paying you. You’re useless. Go home,” Charlie barked, his white shirt already proudly displaying vicious sweat patches.

“I’d rather be here.”

“I’m not paying you to be here. Like I said, you’re bloody useless.”

Sam wanted to reply but the words got caught somewhere between his lungs and voice box and there they stayed, lodged in his chest, bringing tears to his eyes. Before he could stop it one escaped and rolled triumphantly down his cheek.

“Jesus Christ – go home,” Charlie’s bark was a little less biting as he handed him a tissue.

Sam hated his job. He had been planning to resign the very moment he started. But she had told him it was only temporary and she had meant it. Then. Of course she had meant it.

The fluorescent lights flickered and hummed. He watched a determined moth knock itself senseless against the plastic light fitting.

“Look at that little guy,” he said to no one in particular. He was always doing that; talking to no one in particular. It used to drive her insane, she had told him as much with that you’re-embarrassing-me-we’ll-discuss-this-when-we-get-home look he knew only too well.

Charlie, on the other hand, simply stared at him blankly.

“Jesus Christ, go –” but before Charlie could complete his somewhat predictable sentence the ding-dong customer alert chimed from the sliding doors.

Charlie sat up like a meerkat.

The ding-dong customer alert could be misleading at times. It had a tendency to be temperamental and cruel – raising the hopes of desperate salesman who felt sure this would be the sale they’d been waiting for only to learn it was just the wind. Sam liked to imagine it wasn’t the wind but ghosts who hadn’t yet realised they were actually dead going about their daily business, shopping for furniture, wondering why the sales assistants were ignoring them … He had mentioned this to Charlie who looked at him strangely and told him there was vacuuming to be done. Sam was always vacuuming – he felt more like a cleaner than a sales assistant.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong and alert as the young couple stood, confused and unsure, in the entrance to the store. Charlie fixed his tie, popped a mint in his mouth and grabbed a clipboard. “Nothing in it but it makes you look important. Customers respond to that sort of thing. It is all part of my technique,” Charlie had told him on his first day.

Charlie stood up and tucked his shirt in; his ever-increasing beer-belly clearly took offence to the constraints of business wear. His sizeable belly constantly pulled his shirt away from his pants, burst belt buckles, popped buttons. He blamed manufacturing, the drycleaner, his wife but never the beer, fried food and copious amounts of cream and jam donuts that filled his morning tea ritual. Sam would push out his belly at home and warn her that he too could look like that one day. She laughed that laugh and told him she would love him no matter how fat he got and added it was only a temporary job anyway, he wouldn’t be there forever. He didn’t tell her but he had noticed his pants were getting tighter and his face a little rounder – he quietly did fifty sit ups every night when he thought she had drifted off to sleep.

Charlie took up his suit jacket from the back of his chair and slowly put it on. Sam quite enjoyed watching Charlie’s pre-sale routine. “You don’t want to appear too eager,” had been another pearl of wisdom Charlie had kindly shared on Sam’s first day. Unfortunately customers were becoming an endangered species at Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium and the mantra you-don’t-want-to-appear-too-eager often meant losing customers before eye contact could be made. Sam blamed the fluorescent lights; Charlie blamed the economy, the competition, himself.

The ding-dong customer alert continued to ding-dong – happy that it had the opportunity to announce real customers rather than those pesky ghosts who persisted in shopping for furniture despite the fact they were dead. The young couple scanned the store from the comfort of the welcome mat (Charlie said customers respond to that sort of thing, it made the store welcoming because it said as much on the mat) and then whispered quietly to each other. It looked as if they were plotting their getaway.

“I’ve got to grab them. Just – just …” he flapped his arms uselessly as he trotted over to the couple, all minty-fresh, clipboarded and tucked-in.

Sam knew what the flapping arms meant: Stay away from the customers. He’d seen those flapping arms on numerous occasions, predominately in his first month of employment when he was forced to wear the condescending ‘in-training’ badge and laugh uproariously whenever a customer attempted witty repartee about his ‘name badge’.

“Where’s that from?” they’d ask with a smirk.

“Excuse me?” he would feign confusion.

“Your name,” they’d point to the badge to emphasis the hilarity of the joke, “In Training.”

They’d always put on some dreadfully insulting accent – French or German or something – Monsieur Entrainin, Herr Intraining. Then he would laugh and they would beam at their cleverness and continue to “just browse” and leave with a “see ya Mr Training” but no sofa or coffee table or five dollar throw cushion which was an absolute steal but no thanks not today … He hated customers. He had told her he was not cut out for customer service and she just laughed that laughed and told him it was only temporary.

He watched Charlie convince the couple to extract themselves from the welcome mat and take a wander around the store. Charlie would be their guide. Their friend. Their assistant. “Never call yourself a sales assistant,” he had told him, “it puts people off.”

The couple looked as dazed and confused as the moth who continued to knock himself against the light fitting. Sam wondered whether they too had simply been drawn in by the fluorescent lights.

He remembered visits to stores like this. He remembered feeling overwhelmed, wondering why they needed to buy a new sofa at all when the one he had picked up from roadside collection was quite adequate and a perfect example of lowering one’s carbon footprint and recycling and affirmative action for the environment because, after all, she was the so-called environmentalist and how could she buy into that Western wastefulness, that Capitalist greed … He sighed. Why could he only remember the fights?

Sam watched as the couple contemplated the queen-sized mattress. They looked like oversized dolls, lying shoulder to shoulder, shoes on, arms by their sides, stiff and disinterested as Charlie pointed out the miracles of the foam, the springs, the stitching. Sam watched as the woman took her partner’s hand. Sam watched as the man gently brought her hand to his lips and kissed it. Sam watched as she cupped his face. Sam watched as Charlie, in discomfort and politeness, referred to the clipboard and cleared his throat. Sam watched the tender scene unfold whilst the moth thumped against the fluorescent lights that hummed overhead. Sam watched as the woman told the man they were being watched. Sam watched as the woman pointed him out.

“What are you looking at?” the young man shouted from the mattress.

Sam remembered how she lay like that; she had looked like a tiny, porcelain doll upon the mattress, arms by her side, stiff and disinterested. He hadn’t expected it, her, to look so unnatural. On their backs, shoulder to shoulder, arms by her side he had picked up one of her delicate hands and kissed it, he had cupped her face in his hands, he had called her name, he had stroked her hair, he had called the nurse, he had said goodbye. He had known it was coming even though she had insisted, every step of the way, that it was only temporary – the hair-loss and the injections and the vomit and waiting rooms …

“Hey! Retard! What’s your problem?”

Sam didn’t know where else to go so he had come to work; his temporary job.

The young man stormed towards Sam. The young woman sneered. Charlie flapped his arms uselessly. Sam continued to watch and blink and breathe and listen to the dull thump of the hapless moth.

“He’s still going for it. What a determined little guy,” he said to no one in particular.

Unfortunately there was someone in particular who assumed Sam was speaking to him.

The man moved in close to Sam, his warm breath smelling like fast food and sugary energy drinks. Sam watched the man’s lips that had, moments earlier, kissed the young woman’s hand suddenly curl and contort into a barrage of insult. The young woman appeared at her partner’s shoulder and pulled him back.  Sam watched the woman’s hand that, moments earlier, cupped the young man’s face suddenly twist into a finger sign.

The ding-dong customer alert sounded and they were gone.

Charlie stood on the welcome mat, flapping his arms uselessly in time with sound of the ding-dong. “Jesus Christ. Sam. Jesus –” Charlie put the clipboard back in the drawer, returned his suit jacket to the back of his chair, untucked his shirt and exhaled for what seemed an eternity.

“I know, I know. I’ll …” He considered going back to the house. Usually as he pulled into the Crazy Charlie’s Furniture Emporium parking lot all he could think about was turning the car around and heading back home.

The moth fluttered and faltered around the light above him.

Sam’s job usually included spraying the moths with fly spray or inducing a fatal blow with the rolled up newspaper. Not today. Charlie watched as Sam stood on the desk, reached up to the light and gently cupped the moth in his hands. He watched as Sam slowly made his way across the store with the moth cradled in the cage of his hands. He heard the ding-dong customer alert as Sam tenderly released the moth into the parking lot.

Sam stood, a lone figure on a welcome mat, and watched the moth flutter and fly until he could see it no more.

“Come and have a donut,” Charlie called.

Sam wiped his feet on the mat and returned to his temporary job.

 

*****

Making myself keep up with this blog with the help of The Daily Prompt Weekly Writing Challenge – Dialogue 

Missing Grandad (or, why I’ve not written in awhile)

Katy and Grandad

circa 1982

 

How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard 

A. A Milne

I have been away from this blog for a little while because my Grandad passed away. It was only two months and two days since my Nanna died when we got the news.

I am devastated.

There are times I feel really selfish for grieving because I know I was so very blessed to have grandparents throughout all my childhood and a good part of supposed-adulthood.

Anyway, I haven’t felt like doing much of anything but I am slowly getting things back on track. Like this blog.

I remember calling my Grandad for a chat one day, over a year ago now. I remember how his voice lifted when he heard me on the other end of the phone.

“I was just thinking about you Kate,” he said.

He went on to tell me he was standing at the kitchen sink, drying the dishes (as he did after every lunch), looking out the window and thinking about how proud he was of me for moving to Melbourne and following my dreams.

That was my Grandad.

He was a soppy thing.

He was my favourite person in the world.

And he is why I have to jump back right back into life and never stop chasing those dreams.

 

Things I learnt today (or; lists made whilst grieving or; reasons why everything is actually okay)

I had not intended to write about grief so much on this blog – but that is thing about grief. It is unexpected. I had not expected to lose my Grandad so soon after my Nan’s passing but we have. I don’t know how it will ever be okay but somehow it will happen: Things Will Be Okay.

In fact, if I really think about it and ignore that awful feeling in my stomach, things are okay now. They really are. I tried to think about this today.

So here’s a list (of course) of why things are truly okay …

1. I do not live in Syria … or a place that is currently in the midst of war or civil unrest

2. I can walk to the park with my own two feet and see it, smell it, hear it …

3. Coffee

4. I have a heater and a bed and a computer and a home

5. I have family and friends

6. The sun is shining (and if it wasn’t that would be okay too)

7. I can write a list

8. I work in a place where ‘compassionate leave’ not only exists but is truly implemented

9. Fountains

10. Ducks

11. Ducks swimming in fountains

12. Memories

13. The knowledge that everything will absolutely be okay …

Remembering my Nan (things I learnt about grief)

My beautiful and amazing Nanna passed away this year (I have already mentioned her in a previous post and will probably keep on writing about her forever). As those we love get older we know that it is only a matter of time before we that call, though nothing prepares you for it. We comfort ourselves with empty sentences; “they were old, they had such a long, wonderful life” but it doesn’t make the loss any easier. We can say “she was unwell and now she is at peace” but I don’t even know if that is true.

Nan had been battling Alzheimer’s for sometime. It is such a devastating disease – watching someone you absolutely love and adore slowly deteriorate in mind and body. To see this vivacious woman who was smart, creative and always go on the go become a shell of emptiness.

It is cruel for the person suffering. It is cruel for the family and friends. It is cruel for my Grandad who loved her for over sixty years.

I felt guilty about the grief I was feeling because, yes, she was old and, yes, she was unwell but I soon learnt grief does not discriminate. Grief doesn’t hold off until it feels ‘worthy’ to punch us in the guts. Grief just is. And you have to go for the ride – as horrible and as puffy-eyed and as runny-nosed and as downright sad as it is.

Part of that ride was the funeral and part of my need to express my grief was to speak at the funeral.

This is the poem I wrote in the memory of my Nan for my family.

For Nan

I told her not to go

You’re staying right here, I said

But she shook her head

Gave that smile

Patted my hand

And went away

Leaving an empty space

It is big

This space

It cannot be filled

It is paddling

It is laughter

It is butterfly cakes and kisses

It is cups of tea

And two biscuits

It is the warmth from the heater

The mantelpiece

The handheld hoover

The word hoover

And daft a’peth

And ice lolly

And frock

And ironing on the kitchen bench

It is swinging in the garden under the peppermint tree

It is burials for goldfish

It is the budgies and the rabbits and the quails

Birdbaths and birdseed

It is the nest she made when we were sick

And always having something to do

We can have a look in the hall cupboard

Play Scrabble or cards or Boggle or bingo

Or that game with Lucille Ball on the box

Colour in a doily

Warm homemade play-dough

Pink or blue?

It is the Easter bonnets

(We would never win first prize)

It is the dress-up days

Craft days

Birthdays

Rainy days

Christmas days

The feast laid out on the pool table

The tablecloths and serviettes

The Christmas cake with Santa’s footprints

Homemade fruit mince pies without orange peel

No backyard cricket please!

It is ballroom dancing with Grandad

And seeing them hold hands

And kiss

And staying up to watch The Bill

And sleeping-over

It is feeling loved

And safe

It is stories of the war

The Blitz

The bomb-shelter

The boys

It is Taft hairspray

It is lavender and Charlie perfume and Oil of Ulay

It is walks in the park

Coffee and cake at the shops

A weak cappuccino

It is Dunsborough holidays and caravan parks

It is advice

Guidance

Support

It is a second home

It is someone always on your side

It is kindness and a smile and a ‘good morning’ to a stranger

It is Nanna and Grandad

Nan and Gug

It is a beautiful woman

A kind, caring soul

A generous spirit

A creative mind

She has left an empty space

But enough memories

Enough moments

Enough love

To fill it and leave it overflowing

Engagement Photograph - 15th August 1949

Nanna and Grandad – Iris “Billie” and Ron
Engagement Photograph
15th August 1949