Monthly Archives: January 2013

#010: Must Love Time Travel

Inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge of the halycon days of July 2012.

I was finding it increasingly difficult to make conversation, and we were only a half-hour into the date. Rod hadn’t responded to any of my prompts about work, family, favourite books and movies, current affairs, or the weather. And he was lukewarm when I tried to fill in the growing chasms of silence with information about myself.

Plus, he insisted we skip entrees and kept eating all the complimentary breadsticks.

“I have to admit, I’ve never been on a blind date before,” I finally blurted out.

“Really?” Rod said in a murmur, his eyes on his fifth breadstick in his grip.

“Yep,” I replied, relieved that if I sounded like an idiot, at least he wouldn’t notice. “Actually, Monica has been harassing me for weeks until I agreed to tonight. She said you were perfect for me.” I peeked over the table hopefully, waiting for this douchebag’s perfection to finally break through and enrich me with true love.

“I think I’ve been on thousands,” Rod smirked. “Never done any online dating though. That’s just for losers.”

“Really?” I said, amused at the irony of him saying that. “I’ve never tried online dating either, but I think it’s brave to put yourself out there; in, like, an ad for yourself.” I paused, struck by an idea, then asked: “Like, if you were to write an online ad for yourself, how would it go?”

Finally, I had grabbed his attention. Rod leant back in his chair, hemming as he thought, a stub of breadstick hanging from his mouth like a cigar. Eventually he leant forward across the table, depositing the stub of breadstick back into the basket.

“It would say: Rakishly good-looking entrepreneur seeks young companion with robust sense of humour and original hair colour,” His eyes flicked upwards with a critical glint to my bright red locks. “Must be honest, humble, giving, well-read, and able to construct a sentence without involving a swear word. Looks not overly important, but absolutely must love time travel.” He grinned at me, apparently pleased with his answer, and reached for yet another breadstick.

“I’m sorry, what was that last one?” I said, trying my best to make my tone conversational. “Must love…?”

“Time travel,” Rod stated with a mouthful of breadstick, totally serious. “Absolutely.”

“You mean, like, have more than just a passing interest in the scientific theory of time travel? Or just like, have an ongoing obsession with, like, time travel fiction?”

“Overuse of the word ‘like’ would also be on my list, I think,” Rod mused, not paying attention to my confusion.

“Well, I’m afraid I’ve never read any books about time travel,” I said, mentally calculating how long until it was polite to leave. “I’m more of an Austen and Bronte girl myself.”

“I don’t mean time travel fiction,” Rod replied, lowering his gnawed breadstick. There was an edge of impatience to his voice, as if he was speaking to a small child. “I mean, actual, factual, real-life time travel.”

There was an extended awkward pause as Rod stared me, now seemingly absorbed in making me understand. In the end, I could only splutter:

“But – time travel doesn’t exist.”

Rod rolled his eyes. “And here I’d assumed you were an educated girl. Of course time travel exists – what kind of an entrepreneur do you think I am?”

“Are you telling me,” I said, alarm bells suddenly screeching in my head, “that you invented time travel?”

“Oh no!” Rod guffawed. “D’you think I’d have to go on blind dates or scrounge around for investors if I was the inventor of time travel?” I breathed a too-soon sigh of relief. “Oh no, I’m just a time travel conductor.”

“A conductor,” I parroted back at him. The alarm bells were getting louder.

“Yeah, you know. Like how a train conductor drives trains. I conduct time travel journeys.”

“Right.” The alarm bells were now joined by flashing red lights and policemen telling me to evacuate the building.

But now I couldn’t get Rod to shut up, and I couldn’t escape his gaze to sent an emergency text to Monica. “Yeah, for those who can afford it, which is not many at all in this country. I’m not one of those by-the-book government drones running time trips for NASA or ASIO. I’m a private operator. Independent and very proud, thank you.”

“So you have a time travel… machine?” I asked.

“Sort of. There’s a whole set up, with a platform and shields and the teleportation matter remote… well, it’s incredibly complicated technology that’s probably too difficult to explain to a layman,” Rod held up his wine glass at me, before taking a swig. “But I can take up to five people with me at a time. No pun intended!”

I forced out what I hoped sounded like several seconds of genuine laughter. “So you can just… travel through all of time and space?”

“Not space, just time,” he corrected me. “I can move back and forth throughout time, but the landing zone is always the same. We’re hoping the next OS upgrade can expand that though.”

“So you couldn’t go back to the 1930s and like, kill Hitler or something,” I said. “Unless you caught a steam boat from Australia to Germany.”

Rod rolled his eyes and sighed. “I’ve had to give so many refunds to customers who wanted to do that. Why is killing Hitler the thing everybody wants to do when they find out about time travel?”

I couldn’t believe I had to seriously answer this. “Because Hitler was a mass-murdering psychopath who caused a World War.”

“You can’t alter the timeline! That’s the number one rule of time travel!” Rod half-shouted at me, causing nearby tables to stop chatting and stare. He looked about at the shocked faces surrounding him, and leant back in his seat with his wine glass, regaining his composure. I had the sudden overwhelming need for wine as well, and downed my glass.

“It’s okay,” he said quietly. “You’ll understand one day.”

“Oh, will I now?” I replied, my voice soaking in sav blanc and sarcasm. “Are you going to take me on a ‘journey’ on our next date?”

“No, not until our fourth date,” he said with the eerily serious tone of a true believer. “I offer to take you during the date before, you think going ‘home’ with me after the third date is too much of a cliché.”

“We make as far as four dates?” I laughed meanly, but Rod merely stared at me with a faraway look in his eye.

“Oh pumpkin,” he smiled. “We make it much longer than that. You even become my assistant after we get married.”

For some reason, the baby name “pumpkin” is the final straw – I can’t play along anymore. I stand up, clutching my handbag, and throw two twentys on the table.

“That’s for dinner. I am totally and completely outta here,” I announce. “Never contact me again.”

“See you in fifteen days at that tapas place on William,” Rod nonchalantly called over his shoulder as I stormed out of the restaurant.

I was still fuming as I walked back to my car. I was never going to speak to Monica again! How could she possibly believe that that madman was “perfect for me”?

Seriously. Time travel – real? And he of all people was one of the special few selected to control it? Ha!

Next thing he’d be telling me aliens don’t exist, and aren’t stealing my newspaper every morning in a cunning attempt to up brush on international current affairs before infiltrating Earth as the next candidate for President of Russia!

What a moron, right?

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#009: Ten Words Or Less

Moral of my story: don’t drink and Facebook.

#008: Ten Words Or Less

Pro tip: Never read Audrey Niffenegger after a break up.

#007: Ten Words Or Less

Still unsure who defied the other first: me or God.

#006: The Best Pizza In The World

I went to Naples to taste the best pizza in the world.

I was visiting for other reasons too, of course – to see rare art and urban decay, do day trips to Pompeii and Capri – but really, as soon as I’d read that Napoli was home to L’Antica Da Michele, the number one pizzeria in all of Italy, I knew that it would be a stop in my Italian adventure.

I arrived in the city after four weeks of straight travelling, and summer had certainly come early to the country this year. The June heat had been oppressive, especially inland. The white sun bore down on the ancient stone cities like a Centurion, my pale Anglo skin trapped in a perpetual state of swelter. The day I arrived in Naples was no different.

But overnight, even the Roman Gods must have realised they couldn’t take their mortals’ humidity any more, because I woke up the next day to dark clouds and constant drizzle.

I must admit, I was disappointed. My first full day in a new city to explore, and it was washed out. Most of the hostel’s occupants were already camping themselves in front of the common room TV for day of DVDs.

But then, I remembered the pizza.

A little thing like rain wasn’t going to stop me finding this famous pizzeria. I figured I’d spend my morning at the National Archaeological Museum and wait for the rain to clear, then go have the best lunch ever. I grabbed my bag and an umbrella borrowed from the hostel and off I went, pleased with my impromptu day plan.

The afternoon soon arrived. I went to exit the museum, only to find a small crowd gathering at the threshold, staring outside. The rain had not eased.

In fact, it was the opposite – a heavy storm was now sweeping through the city. The rocky streets were slick with rivulets of the long-awaited rain. Even with my umbrella, the five-minute walk back to the hostel would leave me sodden. And the pizzeria was located somewhere on the opposite side of there.

I still really wanted some of that pizza.

I couldn’t wait until tomorrow. I mean, nobody else would be bonkers enough to go out for pizza in this weather except me, right?

So I braced myself and began my journey through the dark sheets of Neapolitan rain, huddling futile under my cheap umbrella. I walked slowly, simultaneously trying to decipher where I was according to my stupidly tiny and scribbled-over map of the city (a page torn out of my Lonely Planet guide), and not to slip over on the unfamiliar cobblestones. Needless to say, I quickly got lost. It took me a good half-hour minutes just to backtrack along the two-kilometre Spaccanapoli after working out I’d long passed the correct cross-street.

But then, through the tempest, the sun momentarily peeked through the clouds and I spied the right street sign. A trill of triumph rose in me. I sped up as I turned the corner!

…And saw a long queue of people packed along the footpath – sheltering patiently under their many umbrellas – starting at the opposite end of the block, and almost reaching me.

As I went to join the queue, resigning myself to even more time in the rain, a snippet of conversation from some American tourists landed in my ear: you needed to take a ticket before waiting in line. I immediately wormed my way through the throng of loiterers at the pizzeria’s entrance and found a waiter. He asked how many people would be dining with me.

“Uh, just one,” I pointed to myself, probably looking pretty worse for wear after my wet-weather wanderings. “Uno.”

He smiled and said in broken English, “We have room for one now. This way.”

I guess the Roman Gods really were on my side that day.

I was escorted to a table near the back, surrounded by the happiest diners I had ever seen. There were only two options on the menu: margherita and mariana. I ordered them both.

In about fifteen minutes the two pizzas were sitting before me, their pools of tomato sauce still bubbling. I had ordered the smallest size, but they were each roughly the size of a dinner plate. The intoxicating aroma of fresh basil and half-baked dough hung heavy and warm in the air.

I hunched over in my seat and admired my beautiful pizzas, telling myself to memorise the sight (this was before my blogger-days of photographing every meal). I then realised how ravenous I actually was. With both hands, I tucked in.

So. Was the pizza of L’Antica Da Michele that good – the best in the world? Were those simple slices of margherita and mariana worth braving a storm in a strange and occasionally scary city, all by myself? My answer is this:

Reader, I ate everything.

All of both pizzas. In approximately the same amount of time it took for them to be made. And went back again two days later.

Because goddamn if it wasn’t the greatest pizza I’ve ever tasted.

#005: My Morning Story

This was originally written as a submission for My Morning Story, a online project co-created by my friend Madeleine Rebbechi.

. . .

Friday 7th September, 2012:

Setting the alarm tone on my mobile phone took a lot longer for me than it probably does for most people. Despite its designated task, I didn’t want a tone that was too alarming, that would startle me awake in a cold sweat. In the end, I settled for a inoffensive guitar strum – upbeat, but not up-tempo.

The carefully thought-out decision, alas, turned out to be a moot point. What I actually wake up to at 7:00am is a sharp buzz that seems to infiltrate my very being, bitch-slap me at my very core – the phone suddenly vibrating against the thin plywood of my bedside table. A split second later the fake guitar starts its electronic shrill, mocking me with looping cheeriness that yet another working day has arrived.

I need the alarm because have never risen naturally at this hour. Rather, I need to be wrenched forcibly from the murky depths of my slumber. Waking up this way usually feels like I’m being revived back into consciousness after having been knocked over the head with some heavy object. I wake with my eyes crystallised shut with “sleep” and a terrible saccharine taste thick in my throat. I don’t ever feel like I’m properly alive again on these working mornings until at least 11:00am – and all my shifts begin at 9:00am.

My head full of static and silt, I force my body to roll over and switch my alarm to snooze. Most mornings when I do this, I am immediately assaulted by the too-bright light of my bedside lamp – accidentally left on throughout the night after I’ve fallen asleep whilst reading. This morning is no different. Blinded, I fumble for the lamp’s off-switch. I roll back towards the wall, trying to cocoon myself from reality beneath my warm doona.

But crap – I forgot! The goddamn alarm is still ringing. It feels like so much energy is required to roll back over and turn it off. The only reaction I can muster from myself is emitting a long, guttural, cave-woman style groan.

Then the first coherent thought for my day gently emerges from the dark fuzz clouding my brain:

This is your last morning.

This is the last morning I will have to wake up this early – the last morning I will have to awake unnaturally, to an alarm. This is the last morning I have to shuffle off, yawning resentfully over the sleep-in that I’m never allowed to give myself, to a stressful job that I loathe.

I shrug myself back over to my bedside table and pick up my phone. It’s 7:02am, and – for the first morning since I can remember – I am smiling.

It’s time to face my last morning.

#004: Ten Words Or Less

“Seeya soon,” was the last thing he said to me.

#003: Ten Words Or Less

She was gone long before she came.

#002: The Book He Gave Me

This was originally written as a submission for publication in the soon-to-be-printed version of The Books They Gave Me. Turns out I missed the deadline by just under two weeks, but nonetheless I was really pleased with how this piece turned out.

. . .

Mr Blue was a book-seller, once upon a time. He worked part-time at several different chain stores across the city, his favourite one being the furthest away from his home – an independently-owned second-hand book shop hidden across the harbour by the name of Desire Books.

I first visited Desire on a unseasonably sunny winter day that just so happened to also be Mr Blue’s birthday. Neither of us had been scheduled to work for the whole day, so we celebrated this miracle by filling my car boot with an excess of unwanted books and taking a leisurely drive over to Desire Books. We were hoping to swap our pile for a new one of unread (by us) treasures, and on the way there we discussed which particular books we would like to return home with. I mentioned offhand that I’d like to find something by Anaïs Nin, an author whose existence I had only recently found out about but was instantly intrigued by. Mr Blue, who had of course already read most of the body of her work, assured me that I would definitely respond to her style of writing.

As I browsed Desire’s displays for new books to add to the tottering heap of to-be-reads on my bedside table, I took note of all the quirky details in this charmingly tiny store – the floral vintage fabric of the lampshades; the mismatched Scrabble tiles used to spell out each section of the shelves; the cluttered suburb bulletin board, layered with fading leaflets for local businesses. The small square stickers stuck on the back cover of every book to hide the defunct bar-codes, printed with the logo for Desire Books – a simple black and white illustration of a postage stamp, with a single striking word in its centre: Desire.

Eventually I re-joined Mr Blue at the front of the store with an armful of books, who was placing his selection down on the counter to finalise the exchange. I looked at his pile – on the top sat a lovingly weathered Penguin reprint of Little Birds by Anaïs Nin.

“Hey, you found her!” I exclaimed. “You’ll have to let me read it after you’re done.”

He stared blankly for a split-second, before correcting me with his soft introvert’s smile: “Oh, that one is for you.”

He had decided to use part of his exchange credit, on his birthday, to buy me that book.

Mr Blue loved me, once upon a time.

. . .

After almost four years in that foggy bliss, Mr Blue and myself broke up late last year. But I still own that copy of Little Birds.

Sometimes, when I can’t seem to shut off my brain for the night, I’ll crawl out of bed and pull the slender paperback gift from its spot in my bookshelf, hoping that Ms Nin’s warm cocoon of intimate words will lull me to sleep. And always, I will flip the book onto its back and lightly touch the sticker that Mr Blue had attached there so many years ago – a square of paper and glue still steadfastly holding on, even when he couldn’t: Desire.

#001: Apt. 12

The woman downstairs is crying again.

Well, perhaps crying is too passive a word. The sounds I hear emanating through the floor are aggressive sobs, staccato and loud like a cleaver being swung; wails that first choke the throat for an endless minute, before releasing themselves in an anguished, inhuman howl.

The cries were softer and shorter at first, as if the woman was trying to stifle them – perhaps she was trying to play normal and keep the peace, for both her own sanity and that of the adjoining apartments in our building. But eventually, she forgot about any neighbourly propriety and she gave into the grief unravelling out of her, spilling out with more noisy fervour each time.

Occasionally, the cries are in conversation with an equally loud male voice. The visitor’s shouts are muffled, and he speaks in another language – maybe Vietnamese; definitely Asian – but his hot-blooded hostility quickly seeps through the cheap plaster walls. Occasionally, I hear heavy thumps that immediately echo uneasily in the pit of my stomach.

I cradle my mobile phone in my hand, debating whether I should call the local police station this time, when I hear the downstairs door slam and the woman’s weeps settle into whimpers. So I put my phone away.

. . .

As I cross the road onto the corner where our sun-stained apartment building stands, I usually try to catch a glimpse of the woman living directly below me, but her curtains remain shut across her window.

Just once was there a sliver of an opening: I spotted her, leaning back into the dim light of the apartment, face shrouded by her long black hair. Hanging limply outside of the window frame was a slender, tanned hand, holding a burning cigarette. Ash fell fast but silent onto the awning below.

. . .

Finally, a month after I have the idea, I make the decision to introduce myself to the woman. God knows it’s hard to meet people in such a big building, let alone the city. I figure it can’t hurt if I casually let her know that I’m close by should she ever need… a neighbour, I guess.

I walk downstairs to her floor, balling my meagre courage into fists. I stop outside apartment 12 and raise my arm to knock.

But another neighbour has beaten me in making first contact.

A torn page of lined paper is taped to the woman’s door. Scrawled on it in a thick black texta, punctuated crabbily with several crooked underlines, was the following:

Occupant of Apt. 12,

Your loud crying and screaming is becoming more frequent. This is very disturbing! Please stop!!!

I will call the police next time!!! I’m a shift worker and your noise keeps waking me up.

– Your very upset neighbour

As I stare at the note, a new sound stirs from behind the door – footsteps suddenly shuffling nearer.

I don’t even hesitate. I dash down the hall and back up the stairs, back into my own apartment, back into my own bubble. It’s probably best if I just forget the woman downstairs; pretend I don’t hear her crying. Play normal. Keep the peace.