Today, we introduce a new story to you from local award-winning author Kaaron Warren. The story is very different from Craig’s Dateline. You have been warned.
All the places you think are real, are real. Events and people are pure invention.
People love coincidences. “I was just thinking about my uncle and he called,” or “I found an old camera and the film on it belonged to a school friend I’d lost touch with.” Trying to find meaning in the everyday.
But coincidences are about how little control we have over our lives.
This one began one Sunday morning, when I woke up earlier than usual.
The kids were with their father, probably marching up Mount Majura by now. The thought spurred me to get up, have a quick shower, head out to Trash and Treasure. After a weekend with their dad the kids would come home tired and full of how fantastic he was, so I liked to have a treat or two waiting. A new toy, or a computer thing, or a dress for my daughter.
The car park was full but I found a spot outside the Turkish restaurant, which meant bread and dip for dinner because I can never be near that place and not buy.
Trash and Treasure was packed. It was a beautiful Canberra morning, crisp and clear. The heat would be on us around noon, but I’d be home by then.
I picked up a few vegies and a box of tiny Star Wars figures for my son. I found my daughter a cute make-up mirror her dad wouldn’t approve of and was heading back to the car via the sugarcane juice stall when I felt a weird pressure against my temples, like a sudden headache. I stopped to take a sip of water, thinking I was dehydrated, and heard a whisper, Oh, look at that lovely teacup. Oh, it’s special. Must have. Must have. So cheap. So special.
I turned to see who was whispering in my ear, thinking it must be Gloria, a workmate who came here often. But no one was there. Nearby something did catch my eye, a beautiful golden teacup. No saucer. It sat in front of a wooden crate which was filled with a collection of oddities, beside a tired-looking pot plant.
“How much for the teacup?” I asked the stall holder, a youngish man with strong arms, a blue singlet. Bruised in places I thought. Some cuts. A labourer?
“Ten bucks,” he said, grinning. I laughed. “Tell you what,” he said, “take the whole box for five. I pulled it out of a place a few days ago. Haven’t even looked at it. You might find a treasure.”
Given that I could see a broken plate on top, and what looked like half a wooden drumstick, I doubted there was anything valuable in the box. But he was cute, with his blue eyes and his cheeky grin. I would have thought he was ten years younger than me, but it still felt like he was flirting.
“You’ve got an odd collection of stuff here.”
“Yeah, I’m a removalist by trade,” he said. “You’d be surprised what people don’t take with them. All of this came from one place. This rose, too, but it’s not for sale. Have a sniff.”
It was a rose geranium, but I didn’t tell him that. It was glorious, one of the strongest scented flower I’d smelled. It was so strong it almost gave me brain freeze.
“Do you have a stall often?”
“Why, ya wanna see me again?” he said, raising his eyebrows.
I snorted at him, smiling.
“Here, take my card, for if you need anything shifted. Like a husband. Or a boyfriend.”
That made my raise my eyebrows, but I took the card, gave him five bucks for the box of stuff, including the teacup.
“Give us a call,” he said.
That’s how easy it is.
That’s the sort of decision you can make that changes your life.
The kids liked their presents and their dad had sent me some lasagne, which was uncharacteristically kind of him, but a bit sad that he thought I needed it.
We sat on my bed to eat dinner, bread and dip until the light bulb blew out of its fitting and we all squealed. “I’ll fix it, Mum,” my son said. Such a sweety.
They both went to sleep quickly and without complaint, meaning I got to bed unstressed and relaxed. I’d hidden the crate in my cupboard, not wanting the kids to see in case there was stuff in there for their Santa sacks.
It gave off a very faint smell, like the rose geranium I’d sniffed at the stall, but not so strong that it bothered me.
I was awoken in the darkest night by the sound of creaking. I thought one of the kids was walking up the hallway to me, unable to sleep. But it was rhythmic, like a rocking chair.
I sat up. It was dark, but by the glow of my phone I thought some shadows were darker than others.
“Who’s there?” I whispered, harsh and low. “Go away.”
I shivered; the room was freezing. I snuggled under the doona, hoping to ignore the creak, it was just my imagination, but it kept on, and on, and on.
Finally I turned on the light.
Nothing. Nothing at all.
The moment the light was off it began again. I tried to sleep, but those shadows, close now, over my bed. And they seemed to be rocking from foot to foot, side to side, creak, creak, creak.
And somebody whispering, Your kids hate you. You are a bad mother.
But those were just my own thoughts.
Bram Stoker, twice-World Fantasy Award Nominee and Shirley Jackson Award winner Kaaron Warren has lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Fiji. She’s sold more than 200 short stories, three novels (the multi-award-winning Slights, Walking the Tree and Mistification) and six short story collections including the multi-award-winning Through Splintered Walls. Her latest short story collection is Cemetery Dance Select: Kaaron Warren. You can find her at kaaronwarren.wordpress.com and she Tweets @KaaronWarren
Part two of The Public Menace of Blight will be published on the site tomorrow.
The title comes from Pritchett, Wendell E. 2003. The “Public Menace” of Blight: Urban Renewal and the Private Uses of Eminent Domain. Yale Law & Policy Review 21, 1-52.