Monday, July 31, 2017


Cylindrical cushions rest beneath the intent of breezes from circling fans. An Indian décor lifts them to ornate couches where the room is a long passage to prayer. The man in the turban carries tea to guests, while an image of the same man looks on. Both men know the same room; one will walk past three couches spread with purple, yellow and pink cushions, while his mirrored image will pour tea for guests in the next room. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017


The streets seem less hostile, save for the mud. Nothing is left of the artist’s hut, all doors and walls are missing. In a state of exhaustion, he leaves his worthless home. The road to another town, a battle of wagons. The streets converge. There are more streets than he remembers. The man looks out and all he can see are colourful blues, ochre lines and carmine. His whole perspective changes. He goes down into the richer shades, away from the battle of his life. Inside the brilliant hues of wool and cotton, the rugs soften him, as a child might play in the tunnel of their weave. When he comes up again from his hiding, he is smiling, embraced by the warmth of this beautiful kingdom of rugs.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Last Asbestos Town 
Isaac - Chapter 11

At first, Isaac positively enjoyed the quiet, being on his own and able to wander around the hall naked. If he closed his eyes, the world was red and hazy. He only had enough Kelp to keep him going for two more nights, so he turned his rollies into little thin reeds of joy.
   Eventually, on the last night of May’s absence, he plucked up the courage to call on Cheryl, painting his face with the remaining herb paste. He could feel its sticky essence, reminding him of smells of Farmbridge’s one and only Chinese restaurant.
   He felt buoyed, hardly surprising, he was thirty-three years old, had a roof over his head, maintained some form of relationship with his father, a new job at the trout farm, loved May, yet wanted more of her emotions.  Often, he expected too much of her, a girl really, not yet a woman, but this was the happiest he had ever been. He’d hoped soon, around the corner sometime, they would have a child.
   He ceased his nostalgic thoughts and opened one of Cheryl’s books. It was her journal. At the back were her instructions on how to call back the dead. In the middle pages, he couldn’t help notice the family they had lost, three in the year 2020 and only marked with a dried sprig of lavender.


Sarah Jane                     Scott Dylan              Rowena Ann
B. June 20,                       B. Nov, 4                B. Oct, 15
1986                                   2014                         2012


   Isaac held the notebook close to his eyes. The writing underneath the dates had blurred as if someone had tried to rub out the details of the three family members. Crosses were drawn under each person and he just made out that Sarah was an aunt and Scott and Rowena were cousins.  There were further notes about the funeral. Three coffins, one large pine and two small white laminates decorated in daffodils and butterflies.
    Isaac could feel the presence of death as he turned the next page. Several photographs revealed three headstones, three dug graves and a gathering of mourners. The headstones were shiny and thick, marbly but not white, and names and dates were chiselled in black lettering. He hadn’t thought of it before, but he had omitted to visit the local graveyard. There would be something there he could learn more about Cheryl.
    Another five pages in, he looked on more crosses, drawings of white lilies, the margins edged in ivy wreaths. This section was dedicated to Cheryl’s mother, Millie. A pain shot through his hands, and to relieve the sharp stabbing, he began twisting his fingers. He thought it was tension in his joints so he cracked his knuckles on every finger. He had been studying the book for more than ten minutes when he heard a faint electric hum, not quite silence and not quite sound. Then he felt a sudden drop in temperature. The hairs on his arms stood up. His skin prickled. There were frequent shadows that danced in the room, the hum getting louder as voices yammering at him. It didn’t sound human more like a buzz of insects, or a distorted TV sound. He was disappointed at first; no one spoke to him, but then he sensed a faint scent of breath and skin.
   A skeletal hand thrust up and grabbed his arm and dragged him from the stage. He landed with a thud on his bottom. He rubbed his head. He had grazed the back of his neck against the timber, and now he caught sight of the trickle of blood on his hand. In moments he was at the juncture of feeling sore and the failing light outside. He started to laugh. ‘You’re fucked up,’ he told himself.
  The hall seemed smaller than before, shrunken by the enormity of his paintings of Cheryl beside him. They loomed close to his head, until finally a mute presence came into focus and looked down on him. It appeared to be a fragile skull, with deep set eyes, yet parts were cracked and open like the first bites of an Easter egg.
    As Isaac clutched the journal, several fingers removed it from his hand. Inside the hall, a growing dark, so that she curled and crackled like a sheet of paper in the wind, but he could feel her wit and warmth envelop him.
    Isaac Lyons, Isaac Lyons, her voice repeated. You’d better get started.
   ‘Cheryl,’ he said, trying to focus on her image. ‘Who did this to you?’
   He was close to the stage trying to grab back the journal but it was impossible to move. It didn’t matter.  Other pages opened up, again on the McDonalds.

Sarah Jane, brown hair, brown eyes. Cause of death: strangulation. Scott Dylan. Cause of death: a gunshot wound to the head. Rowena Ann. Cause of death, 16 bullet holes, scratches on face, arms and breasts…
   He tried to shift his eyes upwards into the swirling half-light. ‘We can’t lose our home,’ Isaac said, finally. ‘We need your help.’
   Autopsy and fingernails. The voice seemed to erupt close to his head.
   Isaac felt the hairs on his arms stiffen. He tried to read into what she’d said. ‘You want me to look at the autopsy report?’
   Dirt under the fingernails, came the voice again.
   ‘Yes, yes, I understand. That will give me a clue.’
   No problem. He could wing it. Go back to the cops, to the coroner’s office, ask for the reports. Already he had a hazy image of himself as a young sleuth, a Sherlock Holmes-type questioning the authorities and uncovering the mystery of her death.
    ‘Sure thing, I’ll do it. But what about the hall? They want to pull it down.’
    I will kill them, I will kill them all.
   ‘Oh, so May and I don’t have to worry, then?’
   Fingernails, fingernails, she repeated, until he was left alone, pondering the task of what she had imposed on him. He felt faint, his head throbbed and he needed to pee. He ran down the side to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet. He had been licking his lips, tasting that vile paste.
   He sat on the toilet and began to sob. In his mind, he caught a small thread of what had just occurred. There was a duty he had to perform and it appeared to be an impossible task to think about. Sherlock Holmes. What was he thinking? He had a vague notion that Cheryl was pointing to the killer, something about dirt under her, or someone’s fingernails. How on earth would he be able to find that kind of evidence? Or did she want it matched to other samples of dirt?
   There was no one he could share his experience with. It was 2.00am. He didn’t want to call and wake May.
   He washed the muck from his face, the water from the shower sliding over his skin. He liked the feeling and stayed for what seemed like ten minutes.  What would he tell May? The night didn’t appear to be successful and now he knew he was suffering from nervous anxiety. What did Steve give him? It certainly wasn’t pure, something was added. He knew that. He tried to cobble together his thoughts. What was it he had to do?  Oh, that’s right something about fingernails.  And, and… she would kill them, she said.
   Isaac straightened his shoulders, left the cubicle and headed towards their empty bed. He lay down, the night encircling him with its recent madness. He was fucked up. Fucking congratulations, Isaac! She did visit. That took a load off his mind.  Somehow in all this delusion he felt everything would be all right.
  He woke in the cool still morning from a bad dream. He had been in a burial ground, with a constant whirring of crickets. The area was surrounded by ghost gums and thick bush on three sides. He had sat cross-legged on the grass with a sketchbook on his lap, drawing black birds that hovered around him. The gravestones contained curse words and instead of dates, black faces screamed at him with black holes for eyes.
   He thought he would never go to an art class again.
   His mobile vibrated in his pocket and then ‘Greensleeves’ played . May’s familiar mobile tone. ‘How did it go?’
   ‘I can’t talk about it now, May. Wait until you’re home.’
   ‘Clarissa and I are going to Textile World this morning, then lunch, so I will be back around 2.00pm tomorrow. Did she show?’
   ‘Yes!’ Gotta go. We’ll have two hours to talk about it before I start work.’
   ‘Where are you off to, Isaac?’
   ‘The cemetery.’
   Isaac rummaged in his backpack for a map of Farmbridge. He knew the cemetery was on the outskirts, past the shops, but he wasn’t sure where. He threw in his mobile phone, a bottle of water and an apple. He grabbed his old BMX from down the backyard, and peddled out of town.
   The graveyard was as much as had appeared in his dream, small and shady with stones listing, many of the plots overgrown with weeds, plastic flowers faded from years of neglect. Roots from the perimeter ghost gums twined through some of the old pioneers’ graves undermining the soil and the level of the space. Isaac wondered whether he might find Cheryl’s grave or her mother’s.
   First, he wanted to find Scott and Rowena, possibly Aunt Sarah.
  Isaac was fascinated with what he saw.  On one family’s grave, each member buried side by side, was a series of artworks in rusted metal: kangaroos, emus, koalas and what looked like a badger. Perhaps it was a wombat, he couldn’t tell. Further along he read several headstones, the Dunlaps, the O’Briens, and the Davenports. There was an old timer named Happy Larry. His headstone read, ‘Happy in Life, Happy in Death’.
   Isaac walked amongst the endless beds. Many husbands and wives buried together, Arthur and Ethel, George and Jane Cooper, Theo and Enid Hawley.
   In the halls of the dead, he imagined their strange laughter coming from within, all cuddling down there, playing Gin Rummy. An old bike sat with its crossbar leaning over Clarence Augustus Boddington’s epitaph. Born 1953, died 2020. “Rode into the Sunset”.
   Isaac thought of him riding off from his long sleep into the blue day, the spokes of his wheels catching the evening sun. 
   He sat down near Mary Brennan, her plot edged in gold lettering; her husband George outliving her by ten years. He tipped the cool water from his bottle into his mouth. The ground was warm under his feet, the sky overhead circling with clouds. He would have liked to stay and draw here, but then a more pressing matter needed to be finished.  The hum of the insects in the grass and the loud crows in the trees made him feel happy. He wondered why he wanted to stay in that particular spot, but then pressed on. Further up he noticed a shabby grave with white river stones sinking like subsidence. And the next grave arrested his attention. It was a dug pit, with coiled wire wedged around its circumference.  Next to it, a safety sign stating “Under Repairs”. The headstone lay to one side, and as he stepped closer he read her name. ‘Cheryl Ann McDonald’. The sunken grave beside her belonged to her mother, Millie Gertrude McDonald.
   Isaac suppressed a shudder. They were all there, except he hadn’t found Cheryl’s aunty or cousins; nor had he really found Cheryl.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Pinnacles are a weird limestone forest situated near Cervantes, about two hours drive from my home.  When you walk around them they have very unusual shapes, and are almost Gothic like a parade of old souls, esp. at dusk when we took these photographs. I don't think I would have liked to stay after dark! Many have characteristics of human beings. There's Darth Vader, Astronauts, Aliens (big & small), Greek Gods, an assemblage of Monks, The Great Hulk or an Egyptian Pharaoh. The more you travel around them, the more they become people. You begin talking to them and imagine these stone monoliths like those on Easter Island. These individual rocks were not placed there by some ancient ceremony, apparently they were seashells in a deep and rich marine life. The shells were broken down into lime-rich sands that were blown inland to form high mobile dunes (Wikipedia).

The Pinnacles

You need two hours to notice them
like a parade of souls
the shape of weather

They appear like rock
shaped, perhaps placed
but are not

Some stand large
like astronauts, yet the surface
is sand, not moon dust

Sunset on a windless night
figure and shadow
line ready

as if
to march on.

Monday, June 19, 2017

This is a tongue-in-cheek post. I thought it high time to reveal the trials, tribulations and struggles to get Cat Boss aka Shibby to come and go through her "Sureflap". What is a Sureflap?    
The SureFlap DualScan Microchip Cat Door is suitable for multi-pet households to control the access of your pets both into and out of the house. The DualScan Microchip Cat Door allows you to restrict some pets to indoors-only, while others are allowed outside and back in again. Any intruder animals attempting entry are kept out.  A surefire solution to stop rogue cats entering while you are at the supermarket, away on weekends, or on your overseas trip. Reviews reveal that most cats take to the door straight away. After all, many cats like to eat and eat constantly. A bowl of food or biscuits for these hungry little moggies will be temptation enough to enter this clicking, plastic door. However, some are very slow to learn, like Cat Boss!

Interview with Cat Boss
HH:  Was this cat flap a good idea for you?
CAT BOSS: Um, I didn't get it. I had one in the laundry flywire door. I was happy coming and going through that!
HH: So, you don't like change?
CAT BOSS:  Nah. I'm only a little short-stop, you know, I have a thin svelte body, not much meat on me. And then I had to navigate this heavy plastic door, duh!
HH: But other cats go through it easily. Why couldn't you?
CAT BOSS: Well, at first, it scared the life out of me. This thing was click, click, clicking you know?
I didn't know if it was locking, out of order, or whether it had a time bomb ready to go off. It's an old saying, but "scaredy cat" is quite true of cats. That's me!
HH: Why was it a struggle, since it was designed for you and placed inside the kitchen window for easy access, with pot plants around for privacy!
CAT BOSS: I suppose you could call me a difficult cat. Or maybe because I'm getting on in years. It's a bit like - 'you can't teach an old cat, new tricks'.  That's me to a "tee". I didn't like it. I wanted my old door back (which you taped up). I know, I know, neighbourhood buddies can get in the old way..I get that, but there should have been a flywire Sureflap. That's what I wanted all along.
HH: You might not understand, but the Sureflap is new technology. It works by reading the chip in the back of your neck. It can only let you in with that chip number and no other cat. Hence, your neighbourhood buddies (ferals) can't get in and eat your food.
CAT BOSS:  I wondered what that last trip to the vet was all about. He kept fiddling with my neck skin.  Oh, now I get it. I'm carrying a wire, like a secret agent, whoa! You mean, "Mean Ginger" the local Tom can't get me?
HH:  That's right!  He can't get you, because you can race through and escape any fight or confrontation. Now, do you like your Sureflap?
CAT BOSS: I guess. But hey?  Update, dah, dah!  I go through, now. Whaddya think about that!
HH:  I am pleased. What changed your mind?
CAT BOSS:  Oh, come on. You know.  You kept me hungry "all day"  and 'cause it was winter I got freezing cold outside. Just wanted to get in and get my gourmet tuna with crab strips. Guess, you were a bit fed up after 6 months of training, hey?
HH:  Any owner would be.  I tried everything. Posting you through (that didn't work). Calling you with food the other side. Tried tempting you with your favourite cheese. Opened the flap in increments, first leaving it open and taped up, then propped up with a plastic water jug and then the final straw was a bulldog clip. I nearly gave up!
CAT BOSS:  Oh, I'm just difficult, but you spoiled me!
HH: I spoiled you because you were a stray.  I also thought you were smart, but stubbornness is something I wasn't expecting. Then I took advise from everyone, using what's called "Tough Love". It worked, thank goodness.
CAT BOSS: I butt the Sureflap with my tiny head. Just want to get my biscuits and stuff.  

I can learn anything, duh!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Almost Human

At night there's the limbering
the extended stretch

Off to bed at ten
to her side, which is
your side surrendered

In the middle of the night
an unexpected weight
aligns the warmth of pillow

A cat will enter your silence
be silent, until a nasal breath
enters your ear

A partnership co-exists
each one knowing some little thing
about the other

A cat knows how to fill a void
when to comfort, yawn or stretch
to be
almost human.

Sunday, June 11, 2017



This is a tribute to my male cat, Buddy. Gone now for 2.5 years. It has taken me until now to write about him, as at the time, of course, I was very sad, but I had also lost my partner of 12 years. I realise now what a real treasure my boys were. Especially, Buddy. He protected the property with such zealous determination that eventually it got the better of him, winning most fights with other tom cats, that he died of cancer - a feline lymphoma lump that developed near his neck. I put it down to a series of bites. He was a little tiger at times, and often came out worse than his opponent.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Kangaroos at Donnolly River Mill

Sundown marks a gravel expanse, the warmth of ochre lines. Kangaroos gather round, and like a painting of an old town, the open space is their space. The backdrop is the old mill, almost down, an historic treasure not known, a timber mill hailing a gold mine, soon to be ground, not preserved, unkempt, not kept, renegated to its knees. Roaming emus grumble, try to please. Small to junior joeys encircle, nudge close as if you’ve food. They’re in arms reach, a trick they’ve learned from passing tourists. How many? Approximately eight or ten. Further up, large does and bucks join the group, to form a troop. It’s affectionate protection. Movement is slow, when food’s a no show. It’s a leg up, back prised, the way forward is a soundless bound, an amble with no scramble to other tufts of grass. It’s a country juxtaposition! This court of roos moves freely among trees, towards fences, cross corrugated gutters, the gravel of an old track. It’s a poetic trifle, a zoological trick. The old mill, a security risk, is encased in razor wire.

Artwork: Arts Centre Cafe by Daniela Selir (1994)

Entering this competition as part of my writing practice. My story is a bit bleak, however the artist Daniela Selir would have known about the Fremantle Arts Centre as a historic women's lunatic asylum (1865-1901). A blue figure on the top right hand dormer window is not there by chance. And so I have capitalized on this, the knowledge of the cafe, its history and because I teach there each Friday fortnight. The cafe being the writers' favourite place at midday.

The 2017 City of Rockingham Short Fiction Awards offers more than $5000 in prizes.

A Brush with Blue

I wanted the day to go faster, the morning to take its course. I walked by the comfort of the ocean, over the bridge, past the cubed design. I reached my favourite place, the Arts Centre Café, had a glass of mulled wine. It was soothing and delicious. I never made it at home. I couldn’t put a finger on it, but there was something peaceful about the complex: vintage rooms, very gothic, artists mingling, the general public enjoying exhibitions, as well as the coffee.
      I told the receptionist about the cardigan I’d left behind, and that I’d return the keys so she wouldn’t worry. I knew where the window was. Found the dark room, eased open the latch, lifted the frame slowly and climbed out onto the roof. Not much point rushing things. Midday under the blue canvas umbrellas, and the courtyard was packed mostly with women, laughing, chatting over tea cups. Probably been to an art class; pastels, water colours or ceramics, something like that. I wanted to do oils once, before the baby.
      I was too young to have a baby. Alex, my boyfriend, was passive and wouldn’t help, or discuss my desire to terminate the pregnancy. When I went full term, my parents doted endlessly, pleased about having a grandson, the little fellow’s fuzz of black hair, running in the family. Said his little ears sat like pressed cauliflowers alongside his head. Father laughed at the bright twinkle in his opal eyes. Like stained-glass windows or more like a bright morning vista, rising over the hillsides.
      At six months, I couldn’t believe he was real. The birth certificate stated he was real. And all the baby photographs that lined the window coffee table showed little grasping fingers touching everything; a padded bottom sagging in blue leggings, spring bouncer hanging from the doorway.

An empty space left.  I put the bouncer in the recycle bin. It had lifted the paint, leaving two holes in the lintel.
      The handyman never turned up.
      I couldn’t bear to look at the photographs any longer, so I shoved them in the bottom drawer.
      Alex didn’t feel sorry for me. He blamed me. ‘I told you, over and over, get some help.’ That’s all he could ever say, when he was around. Three nights a week he went out, down the pub, to a card game or to footy training. He never even changed a nappy. He didn’t like the crying. I didn’t get any sleep, either. So I don’t miss his nagging. Blah, blah, blah! ‘This is wrong, that’s wrong, what’s to eat?’
      He wasn’t going to marry me anyway. Good riddance to bad rubbish.
      I had a suitcase packed for a long time. Just wanted out, too many questions. Why this, why didn’t you do that? The baby looked so still. I couldn’t see the colour of his eyes anymore. All babies’ eyes are blue, aren’t they?  
      Father said I needed to rest. I wondered about the severe conversations with the doc outside the door. I think they said I wasn’t to mix the vodka with the pills.  Ha!
      I know I had the baby, but I didn’t recognise him as a baby. He was Conrad. Conrad wouldn’t stop crying. I screamed at him. I screamed at this creature, this vile creature. Screamed and screamed at the blood on the wall.
      Oh! the headaches, my temples pounded. My parents only nodded and cajoled, but they didn’t understand. They couldn’t help, and they wouldn’t answer their phone, but that was when mother got sick. At the time, I grew afraid of the dark. I know that sounds stupid, coming from a grown up, but the dark side scared me.

I cried like a baby when mother died. One year after Conrad.  Father stayed barefoot and remained in his dressing gown all day.  I waited for his voice to return. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. He got all choked up.
      Last night I went to the river. The waterfront was not considered a safe place because of other drowning victims. Hundreds each year took the long plunge off the bridge, and hundreds more simply waded into the water. I thought it would be easier there as despair collects in the night’s veil of humidity. I thought I heard someone scrabbling up the bank, and there was a trace of a foul, brown odour. I guessed mud or detritus. But it was as if the river had regurgitated one of its dead. Late into the night, it wasn’t uncommon to see writhing shapes caught in the tidal stream, or the black symmetry of heads bobbing in the little hollows of waves. I had to tell myself they were just shadows made by the pattern of the moon’s glow.
      I had to get out of there. I walked towards the Town Hall. It was late, but I managed to grab a newspaper left in front of a newsagent stand. There was nowhere to leave any money, so I figured I owed them.
      The river was a horrifying place, that’s why when I woke this morning, the idea of sneaking through that window at the Arts Centre occurred to me; a curtainless window high enough on the second floor so that I could look out over the lawns, treetops and gardens. An old historic building, peaceful in its repose. I knew I could climb higher if I had to, secure myself behind a chimney stack before finding the right ledge, the right footing. The secret is, you never look down, only up or sideways.
      I had been there an hour when I heard a loud siren. It scarred the life out of me, but I managed to hang on. Some sort of fire drill, I assumed. I could hear voices closer to the windowed room, then a series of muffles and thudding shoes descending the stairs.
      One o’clock and classes seem finished. Not the diners in the café, though. I wanted all the women to go home, I wished really hard that they would all go home.
      What? What a commotion! Hey!  What the…? One of the women, who I spotted earlier under an umbrella, butted out her cigarette, her puff of smoke aimed towards me. The café waiters, three in all, had gathered in the courtyard, their necks craned upward. Someone pointed at me, calling out a nasty profanity. Another café patron arched his hands like window shades over his eyes, his face askew.
      The air burst an arrangement of shouts, ambulance and other sirens. Not again, I thought. It happened last year, and the year before. They’ll show my diaphanous dress on the seven o’clock news. They always spoil things for us.
      I heard the constant, crazed megaphone pleas. Now a man in uniform raised the window higher, held his hand out towards me. I couldn’t believe that such a large body could squeeze through that tiny space. So this time, I decided to move around to the east wing. Down below, there was a man in a white coat, other uniforms, someone calling. I spotted six or seven firemen guiding a white trampoline into position, and this policeman barely able to walk over the slated roof, reached out again, begging me in a silly voice, the five fingers on his right hand splayed out, wavering them back and forth like he was trying to grab my fragile, svelte body.

      I didn’t want another man, touching me, ever again, so I jumped.

Copyright (c) 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ideas for Prose Workshops

In the past I have uploaded first drafts of my writing, including poetry, flash fiction, short stories and novel chapters.  I have had some success as a published poet, however, writing like most artistic pursuits does not attract an income. On my new blog, I have included "Creative Writing Lessons" for sale @ $5 (via DDT/email) or $8 PAYPAL.
All my lessons are structured, highly researched and readily available for the conscientious writer/tutor/teacher, and your support would be most welcomed.
Check out these lessons at Writing at the Centre -

Email @ for a DDT
PAYPAL: Note PayPal also has Credit Card facility

Monday, May 29, 2017

Social media has its benefits for the writer. I especially like Instagram where I can upload all my photographs of nature, the cat, holidays and the like. I decided to reveal my true identity on all social media channels. After all, what is the point of hiding under a pseudonym or a moniker of your initials. I am Helen Hagemann, mother, grandmother, friend, nature lover, editor, reviewer of poetry and amateur photographer. I also write! To date, I have several poetry books, two novel manuscripts and I am writing a third novel called 'The Last Asbestos Town'.  This latest novel is about the eradication of  "ALL" asbestos from the world. So it's set in the future when there is public enemy No. 1. In other words, too many people are dying from asbestos related diseases and the commodity has to be destroyed whether in pure or established form. My novel focuses on one town, "Farmbridge" and is loosely based on Collie, WA. Fortunate for me, having visited the town many times I have the perfect building. The local Girl Guide Hall - a perfect setting for a murder, a ghost, and a building that wants to be saved!

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Kangaroos together in the zoo, and

As the clutter grows and people mingle, they

Nuzzle side-by-side. They're

Ground feeders, finding food,

A close pair, too close to part.

Rumps jump, a travel stop. Is there

Offspring in the pouch?

Oh yes, one leg hanging out.

 The Last Asbestos Town
     MAY – Chapter 10

May began researching the ghoulish world of the occult. She left her sewing plans and studied Cheryl’s book going along with Isaac’s crazed idea to bring her back. She spent her twenty-fifth birthday trawling the internet, reading her journals and a weird publication called Lost Cities of the Unborn. After she had read page after page, flicking through albums, sketchbooks and her mother’s notes, she realised the dearly departed had had to suffer some violence for them to return. Cheryl had been traumatized, too. She also reasoned they would need plenty of luck, perhaps some divine intervention or power to bring the girl back at night after 10.00pm. There was one thing she wanted to ask her if she came, ‘why arrange the cats?’
    May chopped twigs of Rosemary, basil and fresh garlic and rummaged further into the pantry for honey, soy sauce and carb soda.  She couldn’t imagine a more vile concoction, but it was supposed to add some sort of chemistry to the situation.  She needed Juniper as well, but couldn’t find it.
    Isaac padded down the hall, untying his sneakers. He rummaged inside his backpack ‘Do we have any Pamidol2?’
   ‘Not sure. Look in the pantry.’
   ‘What’s that smell?’
   ‘It’s our poultice for tonight. I’m not sure how long I have to cook it.’
   ‘Do we wear it?’
   Isaac opened a can of Cola, and let it trickle down his throat.  ‘You think she enjoyed defiling those bodies like that?’
   ‘Every page of her notebook is bloody and horrific. How can we bring back a girl or, per se a ghost, who has drawn such cruel pictures? I’d like to know if they were her school classmates.’
    ‘We can’t play judge and jury, May. We don’t really know anything about her. Also, I don’t want her to pick up any vibe that we’re suspicious of her or that she’s a whack-job. Let’s pretend she’s our friend, of sorts.’
   ‘What I don’t understand is that those decomposed bodies are mainly Girl Guides. Some are younger, maybe ten, eleven. I hated looking at limbs splayed apart with iron bars, some girls cramped into foetal positions, or desecrated.’
   ‘They’re just drawings, May. She was into black art.’
   May tipped the pot towards the sink, holding the lid a fraction apart. ‘It has to cool now to a paste. Guess we wear it as a face mask.’
   Emptying the pot reminded May of a time making blackberry jam with her mother. The tree had overflowed with dark clusters of fruit; the jam coming out rich and sweet and purple. There were plenty of those memories to haunt her. She wished she could go back in time, not to connect with a dead girl now, but to her mother, to the day before that horrendous accident killing her parents.
   Isaac sat cross-legged at the edge of the stage. ‘Thanks for this,’ he said, licking the shaft of the rollie and lighting up. ‘Lucky Steve had some.’
   He lay back, transfixed with a broad cartoon smile crossing his face. Junk wafted through his brain, while the pot mixture cooled, black as ink.
    ‘Don’t make it a habit.’ May laughed, putting a foot lightly on his stomach.
   ‘Ooh, I can see right up your skirt.’
   Smiles wavered and died on their faces as the hours ticked by.  In the middle of the hall, with blackened faces they huddled around several of Isaac’s paintings, two of Cheryl, the community centre, and one of the early hall thrown into the mix for good measure.
   May yawned, while Isaac stretched and almost passed out amongst the different hues of his watercolour and oil paintings, the open sky filtering through the two front doors.
    She wiped the sticky mixture from her face. ‘Hasn’t worked, Isaac.’
    ‘We have to do it, again.’ Isaac could barely keep his eyes open, then he sat up straight and shook himself.  ‘Seems to me we are doing something wrong, May!’
    ‘Isaac, what makes you think she is interested in coming anyway?’
    ‘That’s it!’ He stood up, bolt still. ‘There has to be a reason for her to come back. Now, let me think. It’s still a cold case. She died in vain. The killer’s still free. May, we have to find the killer! Let her know. Then she’ll be interested.’
    ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake.  She knows who the killer is and how on earth are we going to find that person, anyway?’
    ‘We’ll sniff around, ask questions. We just need the evidence.’
    May felt the nonsensical beginning to take over. In another two weeks the A.T.F. had scheduled a final inspection of the hall and from then the men dressed like astronauts would come; she’d seen it on the news, there’d be the slow and laborious dismantling of walls of their home. She felt powerless. Why had she allowed Isaac to smoke again? He was delusional.  But she knew he was committed and he offered to interview people to get an idea of the tragedy.
    ‘We can try one more time, Isaac.’
    ‘And if she comes, I’ll ask her if she saw or knows her killer. That would save a lot of work.’
   ‘Isaac, I don’t think I should be here. She appeared to you and you alone. I might go into the city tomorrow and visit Ben. Stay a couple of nights; get some ideas for winter dresses. Time best spent, I’d say. And you’ll know what to do.’
    ‘I’ll miss you, babe.’
    ‘You have to try. Appeal to her for help. And if she comes tell her you’ll work on getting her killer punished. There is one thing I thought of Isaac.’
    ‘What’s that?’
    ‘Sounds bizarre, I know, but this is her home too, in the afterlife. She keeps moving things around, picture frames break and fall to the floor.  She loves the cats. They’re always in a different arrangement. She wouldn’t want the hall pulled down, would she?’
    ‘Yeah, you’re right, babe. And I think I have to wait for her under the stage. It’s some kind of wormhole.’
    ‘You do whatever it takes. And I would say, keep a clear head. You have a lot to concentrate on.’
    For a moment, May imagined the thin fabric of a girl’s white t-shirt, a hollow look in the girl’s eyes. A glowing light coming under the stage. She remembered seeing a picture of Cheryl in the photo album, standing quite tall with her smallish brother in front, her arms wrapped around him.  She must have been thirteen or fourteen, but her shoulders seemed bowed with heavy breasts. A blossoming girl. A strange one that they needed to befriend.
    ‘Have we got batteries for the flashlight,’ asked Isaac, bringing May out of her daydream.
    ‘Last time, it worked. Maybe there’s some in the bottom drawer.’
    ‘I read somewhere that waving a flashlight like a wand, and calling the person’s name is part of the recovery. I know one thing, I’m going to shit myself if she suddenly appears. I will need to smoke some more, May.’
   ‘Oh, just try anything.’ May began to laugh.
    ‘What’s so funny?’
    ‘I’m sorry I shouldn’t laugh, but “smoking under the stage!” You’ll get asphyxiated. I can see you suddenly pulling yourself out, the smoke pluming in the air, setting off the smoke alarm. Isaac, that image is so funny, ha, ha!’
    ‘I’m not going to smoke under there. I’ll finish a joint out here before I go in.’
    It was truly an amazing scenario for May to contemplate. She imagined a comedy of errors. Isaac, slumped there, under the stage, waving torchlight, and calling out, Cheryl, Cheryl are you there!
    It was too much, she couldn’t stop laughing.
   But that was being silly. Their troubles were imminent, and deep down into the very core of her body she worried, not wanting Isaac’s habit to recur from its sinister past, and all the excruciating thoughts of losing the hall.
   Their situation appeared to be chemical, yet those beautiful stirrings in her groin were physical.  She pushed Isaac down on the bed and wrapped her legs loosely around him. He moved his legs against hers. Together they stretched their elongated bodies out close to one another, their tongues and mouths maddeningly slow. And so they did it. She held his penis in her mouth, and in turn he sucked down below, almost painfully teasing her.
   Sated, they slept into the early hours. The hall’s iron roof cracked a continual beat around them, the soft rhythm of their breath rising and falling, rising and falling into a moist web of dreams.


Helen Hagemann (c) Copyright 2017

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Helen Hagemann's first literary collection, Evangelyne & other poems, was published by the Australian Poetry Centre in their New Poets Series 2009. 'of Arc & Shadow' is her second full collection published by Sunline Press. She has two e-books, The Joyous Lake & Par écrit: poetry of the feminine @​​docs/joyous_lake/


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