Calling home

“What else?” She asks.
For the second time today.

The first time, 
I’d stood by the window
basking, in the stream
shooting from the horizon.
Full in my face,
filling untinted glasses
with blinding brightness
and warmth.

Like a steam towel on an airplane
soothing, it sat on my eyes,
closed, I’d surrendered
just a little longer…
almost forgetting
mother’s “what else?”
I’d jerked at her shakiness
“Hmm… Nothing else, ma.”

Clicking off,
promising another call
in eight hours.

As a pebble in a stream,
tumbling, tumulting at tasks 
delayed progress
time flew in my world—
froze in hers.
As empty picture frame, 
life hung around.
Hollow in the middle, 
nothingness spread wide,
countable greys now blacks
once page-flipping fingers
frayed, shiver at a touch
shrill soccer mum’s throat
now trill in weak trebles.

“What else?” she asks me.
Stumped, “How’s the weather ma?”
I repeat.

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Babble

Radiating confidence 
of teen-girl rebel
rattled by mother
rummaging her things,
defiantly stares 
the young ‘un.

Eyes bulge, carefree,
dripping blueness
all over
father’s shoulder.
Against pink shirt
cotton bud cheeks 
plump up
as lazy lashes 
wink,
in slow motion 
incessant
as instant replay. 

Dribbles
liquid stardust
pixie magic
spayed on words
babbles baby.

Hiker

Sandy sunscreen
straw hat of dust
a coat of gravel
covering all
wanders woman 
uphill.

Face to the sky
defying weariness
denying defeat
digs feet down
desperate 
for peak.

Mean rebel
uncontrolled
know-it-all
unmarried still
questionably so
treks solo.

Runs away
plain after plain
to send back
pain after pain
as parental hopes
finds noose.

Beams wide
atop mountain
brighter than light
from within
comes peace
with freedom.

Lake Ginninderra, Canberra

Hungry

As child starved all night
tugging at its mother’s heart
laps, laps, lake water


Photo: Lake Ginninderra, Canberra

The security

“Hey Liv, did you see the new security guy?”

I looked up from my desk, mouth full of noodles. It was another lunch-at-the-desk day. I’d just hit submit on the report I’d been working all morning, and had turned to stuff my face into my meal-prepped lunchbox. 

Spaghetti in a sautéed tomato-mushroom sauce. Homemade food had never tasted so good. Perhaps Pinterest wasn’t kidding—maybe cooking on Sundays is a better idea than brunch with friends. I even managed to get the laundry done, and folded it for good measure.

I shook my head at Jesse’s raised eyebrows. She’s not the kind who’d bring up the security guy unless it was important. Perhaps he was cute.

“Nope.” I supplied swallowing the carby goodness. “Why?”

“It’s an old man!” She almost shrieked, sitting down on my desk, despite knowing how much I hated that. But she didn’t seem to be in her right mind today. Her usually straight black hair was bouncing off her shoulders in curls. Her mascara was a little too much to look at, and she’d force-matched her tiered skirt with a pair of high heels she looked terribly uncomfortable in. But she was gleaming with joy. Unable to figure it out, I decided to wait for her flamboyant explanation later.

“So what if it’s an old chap?”

Everyone needed money. It’s possible that this man didn’t have enough retirement funds. Or his kids weren’t around to help him. After all, I’d seen a lot of older folks struggling to make a living. It was sad, sure, but certainly didn’t warrant a hiatus during lunch. 

I went back to my noodles, ignoring the penciled eyebrows glowering at me. After a while, she gave up and went back to her seat. And I turned to the pile of reports that still needed finishing, verifying, and submitting.

Sigh. It’s going to be a long day.

For the rest of the afternoon, I carefully avoided running into Jesse in the bathroom or the vending machine. I knew she ached to discuss the old security guy. It wouldn’t be the first time—she imagined herself an upstanding citizen being the change she wanted to see. A couple of weeks ago, I’d spent an hour listening to her lament the fate of migrants working casual jobs and unconventional shifts. All because she was drunk on a Friday night and ordered pizza. Her delivery guy was an African hoping for a permanent stay.

My escape was short lived. Just as I stepped out in the terrace, glad that I’d finally completed the week’s backlog, I jumped. 

“I spoke to him.”

Not seeing her crawl up behind me, I turned ready to punch her shrugging childish face. Before I did however, she continued, eyes rounding in sadness. “He was missing his daughter. He took the job so that he’s not bored and lonely at home anymore.”

She was Puss in Boots begging to go with Shrek.

My frustration deflated. It was no use fighting it—she wouldn’t rest until she’d gleaned a response from me. 

“Yes,” I rubbed my stiff neck hoping she’d take a hint. “That is sad.”

Thankfully, that was the end of our conversation. I went back to doing some light reading and recipe hunting before heading home to Netflix.

As the office doors swung shut behind me, I saw him. A tall man in a khaki suit. He didn’t see me approach him—something through the window seemed to have caught his eye and he peered, his shoulders hunched.

“Have a good night!” I faked a cheer, pressing the elevator button. I was exhausted and famished.

He swung around, taken aback. 

“Dad!”