All the places you think are real, are real. Events and people are pure invention.
Monday morning I was sure I’d dreamt them. I got the kids off to school and myself to work, even though I felt like I’d been up all night, listening to sob stories. You know those nights? When a friend’s having a bad time and they just want you to listen. I’ve been both talker and listener, and listening is harder. Exhausting.
I took the crate of goodies in to show the others, and to get it out of the children’s sticky-beaking way. A couple of my workmates were big second-hand fans; we’d share our bargains (“Only $2! Only $3!”) and admire each other’s finds.
So when I set the crate on my desk, they gathered. “Chrissie decorations already?” Margaret said. She loved Christmas, even though she had no family to share it with. “Not till next week, Mrs Donohoe!” I said.
Gloria said, as she always did, “You bitch! I would have bought that!”
“You haven’t even seen what I’ve got yet! I haven’t, even. I bought the box, five bucks, as is.”
“Bargain!” Margaret said. She was a softly spoken, sweet woman. We talked sometimes; she was very wise and insightful. We knew she’d had a tragedy (even if you didn’t know you’d be able to tell just be looking at her) but she never spoke about it. She pulled on a cardigan and I wished I had one, too, because the office was chilly. Margaret always felt the cold the most because she was from Perth, she reckoned, where it was always hot.
Gloria did a quick run to Dobinson’s so we had rum baba, chocolate tart and fruit flan for mornos. We started pawing through the crate. Some of it was junk, like the broken drumstick and plate, a plastic box that once carried lollies, a torn book. But there was some nice stuff, too, like a wooden box of surgical equipment, my teacup, a nice lipstick holder and a smooth round wooden ball.
Each one gave me a feeling of some kind, that sense that shadows were around us. I heard murmurs. I heard I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry
Then Margaret pulled out a wooden car. It was the size of her hand. It looked dull but undamaged, as if it had sat on display for years.
Her mouth dropped open. A globule of spittle perched on one lip but she didn’t notice it. She stared, unblinking, until her eyes watered.
Then she turned the car over. “Oh, no,” she said. “It can’t be. It can’t.”
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 three 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.