On a go-slow day at home, I clicked a link from a fellow writer and discovered this cool/cute/interesting Adobe Create personality test. It invited me to answer 15 questions. Eight creative types are on offer and once I’d completed the test I was given a full explanation of My Creative Type.
This quiz-like questionnaire gave me a joyful, colourful few minutes. I could take it or leave it, the results are rather like a horoscope, but it did give me a confidence boost.
Apparently I am “VISIONARY – A visionary combines a vivid imagination with a desire for practical solutions. Your introspective and intuitive nature is balanced by a keen interest in the world around you.” The rest is private!
The Adobe Creators say “The Creative Types test is an exploration of the many faces of the creative personality. Based in psychology research, the test assesses your basic habits and tendencies—how you think, how you act, how you see the world—to help you better understand who you are as a creative. Answer these 15 questions and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your motivations, plus insight into how to maximize your natural gifts and face your challenges.”
“These personality types aren’t black-and-white labels. Think of them more as signposts pointing you toward your full creative potential. While there’s probably one core type that best describes you, you may change types at different points in your life and career, or even at different stages of the creative process. As a creative, you have a little bit of all eight Types inside you.”
Maud Fitch was well-known to the local police. While Maud would say she was recognised for her crime-busting phone calls and neighbourly good deeds, Sergeant Ron Tisdale on the front desk of Kingsgrove police station expressed the opinion that she was a nuisance caller.
“In fact,” he said in his rich baritone voice, “she’s a serial pest.”
Sergeant Tisdale had just hung up from her latest telephone call.
“It’s not as though Maud fits into the lonely old woman category,” he said generously. “She’s got a good family, a part-time job and plenty of hobbies.”
A junior officer asked what the problem was this time. “An escaped nerd alert?”
“Don’t be too cheeky, lad,” said Tisdale, careful not to let his soft spot show. “This time Maud has been observing her retired neighbour across the road and she thinks he’s murdered his sister and disposed of the body.”
The younger officer laughed. “Wasn’t that a storyline on TV last night? She’s a sponge. She absorbs everything she sees on television and translates it to her own life to spice things up.”
“That might be so but I’ll log the details just the same,” said the Sergeant. He rubbed his chin. “I think I’ll drop by Ms Fitch’s place on my way home this afternoon. Just a quick visit to check that everything is fine.”
Being the senior officer, he ignored the knowing wink from his subordinate.
Maud had made a comment about uncharacteristic behaviour which sounded an
alarm bell in his orderly mind. At the very least, he wanted to see that sparkle in her eyes when she had a hunch about something.
* * *
Maud saw Angus McDowell draw the living room curtains again. He seemed to open and close the floral curtains three or four times a day in a vain attempt to make it look like someone was at home. That in itself was unusual in such a safe little town like Kingsgrove but it was always his sister, Felicity, who did the domestic work inside their home. Angus was the outside type. He trimmed the garden, attacked the weeds and planted flowers as orderly as a row of chairs at the movies.
“He’s been doing that curtain thing for several days now,” said Maud. She shaded her eyes from the afternoon sunlight which gleamed down on her pale skin and auburn hair. She turned and caught Sergeant Tisdale with a transfixed look on his face. “And I haven’t seen Felicity for almost a week.”
The Sergeant cleared his throat and reached for his fourth helping of Maud’s homemade biscuits.
“Perhaps she’s gone on a holiday?” he suggested. “Has he told you anything specifically to the contrary to arouse your suspicions?”
Maud poured more hot water into his coffee cup and frowned.
“That’s just it, he’s cut himself off, Sergeant.”
“Please, call me Ron,” he said.
“Angus isn’t answering the phone or the door bell,” she added, “Ron.”
“Maybe Felicity is visiting family and he didn’t want to go with her. Could be he’s home alone having a kind of bachelor break.” Sergeant Tisdale muttered to himself, “Lord knows we all need one of those occasionally.”
Maud understood that his daughter was leaving the grandchildren with him more and more now that his divorce had come through, thinking that it would cheer him up.
“He’s not the type,” she said emphatically. From her position as a twice-divorced woman with grown-up sons, Maud felt she could speak with authority on the slovenly ways of men when left to their own devices. Angus was neither a loner nor a slob.
The Sergeant shrugged his broad shoulders.
To highlight her next words, she tapped her spoon on the side of her cup.
“He’s been doing everything under the cover of darkness.”
After she had outlined the nocturnal behaviour of her neighbour, Sergeant Tisdale said “I don’t want to snuff out your theory with a fire blanket, Maud, but I hardly think getting the groceries delivered or taking out the rubbish and collecting the mail after dark constitutes a criminal case.”
Crumbs were starting to gather on the front of the Sergeant’s shirt and he automatically brushed them off. Maud’s glare made him hang his head like a school boy. He apologised as she hurried out of the room to find her hand-held vacuum cleaner. When she came back she noticed he had taken the opportunity to stuff a savoury cheese sandwich in his mouth.
Over the suction noise of the vacuum, Maud said “I haven’t told you the clincher yet.”
“Clincher?” mumbled Sergeant Tisdale. The look on his face indicate that he thought this was another word for Maud’s guesswork. But she knew he was actually allowing himself enough time to swallow the sandwich. It gave her the chance to air her next piece of evidence.
“Yesterday, when I dropped by, there was no flower bed in the back garden. Now there’s one near their old jacaranda tree.” Her voice rang with triumph.
Sergeant Tisdale smiled politely. “The McDowell’s have a neat garden, they like gardening, I see nothing unusual with that.”
“But, Ron,” gasped Maud, “it was dug in the middle of the night.”
“Well?” said Sergeant Tisdale as he eyed the last biscuit.
Maud shoved the plate towards him. “It’s the same size as a graveyard plot.”
Unimpressed, Sergeant Tisdale sighed. “And?”
“And there’s no flowers planted in it,” said Maud. “The reason I think this is so significant is the fact that Angus has a bad back so all the hard work is carried out by a landscaper who arrives around ten o’clock in the morning.”
She waited for a rebuke, similar to the kind her family dished out, which usually ended with her being told she was a sticky beak. Instead, Sergeant Tisdale asked “When did you last…?” With a dramatic squeal, she cut him off and pointed out the window. “Look! He’s fussing at the curtains again. I can see his gardening overalls.”
Sergeant Tisdale half rose from the armchair which caused a cushion to tumble to the floor and coffee to slop onto his trousers. Maud gave a snort of annoyance but it was directed through the window.
“Too late,” she said. “He’s ducked out of sight.”
“Sorry about that,” said Sergeant Tisdale. He sat back down and carefully reached for a paper serviette.
“Oh, don’t worry…” began Maud.
“No, I don’t mean spilling my coffee,” he said. “I meant twitchy behaviour. It happens a lot around policeman. Police cars also have a way of making citizens nervous.” He dabbed at his knee with the disintegrating paper and changed the course of the conversation. “Maybe he’s worried about you, Maud.” She rejected this idea with a wave of her hand. “No, I think he knows we’re on to him.” For emphasis, she punched a small fist into the palm of her hand.
“Let’s nail him,” she said.
“I’m shocked,” said the Sergeant and smiled. “You have a wonderful imagination.”
His comment was ignored because Maud remembered something else she’d forgotten to tell him. “You know, I rang all the hospitals in Kingsgrove and none of them had a Felicity McDowell on their patient admissions list.”
By tilting his head to the side, Maud thought his interest was piqued but he dashed her hopes.
“What’s the motive, Maud? From all reports, Angus and Felicity McDowell have got on very well over the years, considering they are brother and sister. No sibling rivalry there. They’ve settled into retirement together after the death of their mother and have never put a foot wrong, so to speak. Now, answer me this,” he said and leaned forward slightly. “Why do you think Angus has murdered his sister Felicity?”
His voice sent a shiver up Maud’s spine. She sucked in a lungful of air and expelled it slowly. “Well, dear Ron, I was saving the most incriminating evidence until last.”
Sergeant Tisdale put his cup aside, drew himself up in the armchair and displayed credible anticipation.
“The McDowells were arguing just before Felicity disappeared.” Maud moistened her lips. She believed this was the good part. “Felicity was leaving the house and she shouted at him saying he was a boring old man and it showed. She didn’t want to end up a wrinkled prune like him. She said he was stuck in a rut and should live a little, move with the times.”
“How did you hear all that?” asked Sergeant Tisdale.
Maud felt guilty and knew it showed. “I was watering the garden.”
With reluctance, Sergeant Tisdale rose from the comfort of the chair and said “Hurt feelings yes, murder no. An argument like that doesn’t indicate Angus would have been angry enough to commit murder.”
Maud was crestfallen. She had hoped Sergeant Tisdale would look into it for her. However, his next words brightened her outlook.
“I’ll call on Angus tomorrow, just for a little man-to-man talk. But I’m not promising anything. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for Felicity’s absence.”
As he walked towards the door, Maud followed him and voiced her main worry. “I certainly hope Angus is not a serial killer or I may be next on his list.”
Sergeant Tisdale assured her that normal people don’t turn into serial killers overnight. He thanked her for the afternoon tea and was just about to cross the threshold when he paused. He asked Maud if she had seen or spoken to either of the McDowells in the past week.
“No, except for partially seeing Angus at the window,” she said. “Why do you ask?”
“We don’t know if that person in the house across the road is actually a McDowell. It could be anyone.”
As far as Maud was concerned, their conversation had taken a turn for the worst. She was horrified to think that perhaps both McDowells were murder victims.
“Oh,” said Maud. “Both murdered.”
She opened and shut her mouth then managed to utter “Oh, Ron.”
Sergeant Tisdale told her how this particular thought had been niggling at the back of his mind. Maud couldn’t tell if he was serious. “Don’t worry,” he said and gave her elbow a squeeze. “Just speculating out loud. Not a very plausible scenario. Also, if someone was in there house-sitting, I’m sure you would have witnessed other comings and goings.”
“And surely they would have told me if they were going away?” said Maud. She felt indignant at the very idea of being excluded from this information.
“Not necessarily,” said the Sergeant. “For example, they might have been too embarrassed to say they were going to a nudist camp.”
Despite herself, Maud laughed. It was an unlikely event as far as she was concerned. She said if that was the case, she would never be tempted to join them.
“Shame,” said Sergeant Tisdale.
As she closed the front door, she was aware that the Sergeant’s look was one of interrupted longing. She assumed he was disappointed he had not been invited to dinner. With a final vacuum of the armchair, she dismissed the flaws of men because a plan of action had already germinated in her fertile mind.
Dusk had melted into darkness and the clock numerals glowed towards midnight as Maud changed her clothes. She put on her black slacks and a dark blue shirt which she buttoned to the top. In the wardrobe she found a black cap her nephew had left behind. Once it was firmly clamped on her head, she surveyed the effect and was satisfied she looked slinky enough to blend into the night.
“Now for a bit of sneak and peek,” she whispered to the mirror.
At first, Maud thought it would be a good idea to dig up the grave-like mound beside the McDowell’s jacaranda tree but visions of a gruesome discovery quickly ended that notion. Now she wanted to see who was in the McDowell house.
She crossed the dimly lit road, opened the wooden gate and tiptoed across the springy lawn. The act of trespass did not enter her mind. She headed for the side of the house because, she reasoned, it was less visible from the road and more likely to have an open window. Startled by a creature rustling in the shrubbery, she paused and held her breath. It was then she heard another sound. The sound of digging. Maud was sure her heart skipped a beat.
“Caught in the act,” she thought. Surprised at her bravery, she moved forward. She wanted to see who was doing the dirty work.
“Maybe the body is being moved?” This thought made her shudder.
Maud crept along paving stones as she followed the noise around the corner of the old house. Dull light from an open doorway partially lit the back garden. There, hunched over the newly-dug garden bed, was a shadowy figure wearing heavy grey overalls and thick gloves. Although she only had a back view, Maud guessed it was Angus. She could distinguish his movements and watched him dig at the soil with a small trowel.
Suddenly her bravado faded and Maud lost her nerve. She couldn’t tackle him and she certainly couldn’t accuse him of anything. It was too tricky, too dangerous even. Inwardly she chastised herself for doing such a foolhardy thing.
As she cursed her impulsive behaviour, her innermost thoughts screamed in a high pitched voice “Run, run now,” but she willed herself to stay calm.
She started to back away. As she moved slowly down the path, she felt for the stability of the wall. Without warning, she stood on a loosely coiled water hose and staggered. It twisted around her ankle. The more she flayed, the more entangled she became until the hose wrapped around her leg. Finally she fell backwards and plonked down in a puddle of water.
The silhouette jumped up and ran over to her. Two sturdy boots halted in front of her downcast eyes. Maud did not want to look up. She did not want a confrontation. She knew she was cured of sleuthing for life. One steel capped boot tapped with intimidation as she forced herself to look upwards.
In the same instant she raised her eyes, the backlit figure spoke.
“Maud Fitch,” said a female voice. “What on earth are you doing spying on me in the middle of the night?”
“Felicity! You’re safe!” cried Maud, flooded with relief.
“Of course,” said Felicity. “Now answer my question.”
Maud gulped. “I thought you were dead.”
“Obviously not,” said Felicity.
“But, but,” stammered Maud, “why are you dressed in Angus’ clothes?”
“To do a spot of gardening,” said Felicity.
Maud felt bold enough to ask for some assistance. Felicity helped her untangle the garden hose and she stood upright. As she brushed at her damp slacks, Maud saw a line of potted plants waiting to be transplanted.
Unable to resist, she said “Why do it at this time of night?”
“Planting by the lunar cycle,” said Felicity.
“Angus does the gardening. Where is he?”
“None of your business,” said Felicity. She appeared about to add something, instead she pulled off the gardening gloves and shoving them into a plastic bucket.
“You didn’t…” Maud’s voice faded.
Felicity shot her a sly grin. “You reckon I’ve bumped him off and buried him in the garden, don’t you?”
Maud nodded and wondered how fast she could run.
“I could easily do that to you,” said Felicity matter-of-factly, “and nobody would ever know.”
“Ron Tisdale would,” said Maud, then covered her mouth.
“Will the good Sergeant be arriving next?”
“Yes,” lied Maud.
Felicity appeared unfazed by this and Maud watched as she swiftly removed the stained overalls. Unfortunately it was too shadowy for Maud to tell if the marks were made by grass or blood. Felicity jammed the overalls into the plastic bucket and stood there wearing a pair of tight jeans and a flattering top. To Maud’s dismay, Felicity then snatched up a pair of pruning shears and shook them menacingly at her. “You’re a nosey old sticky beak,” she said.
Maud was relieved when Felicity dropped the shears into the overcrowded bucket. She retorted “Tell me something I don’t know.”
Felicity chuckled. She sat down on the door step in the pale glow from the kitchen beyond and ran her fingers through her newly-cropped hair. It was almost a challenge.
Her attitude no longer threatened Maud but she was disconcerted when Felicity smiled and crossed her legs in a relaxed fashion. Maud wondered why her image was so cool, so casual. And, she noted with surprise, so young-looking. She thought “If Felicity is older than me then she should look older.” In fact, Felicity looked younger and more unlined than when she and Maud first met ten years ago. It took Maud a few seconds to work it out.
“You’ve had Botox injections,” she accused.
“Yes, I have. Got it done last week when I was in Sydney, only took a few hours. And I’m loving it,” said Felicity with a girlish toss of her head. “When do you think Sergeant Tisdale will get here?”
“I think you should be arrested,” Maud exploded. “Obviously you wanted a new life, a carefree younger life. You didn’t want Angus hanging around, poor old wrinkly Angus, so you killed him. Clearly the treatment has addled your brain.”
“You’re the one who’s addled.” Felicity glared as much as the Botox treatment would allow. “Angus got knifed. It was no accident.” She paused and straightened her sleeve. “I persuaded him to go under the knife. I’ve been covering for him while he recuperates from cosmetic surgery.” Maud was dumbfounded. “Angus, cosmetic surgery? Never!”
“It’s true,” said Felicity. “It’s our little secret. Please don’t give the game away. He should be home tomorrow so you can check out the work for yourself.”
“I won’t be coming back, I couldn’t imagine anything more awful. What a ludicrous thing to do,” shouted Maud. She turned and stormed off before she realised her behaviour was excessive but she had gone too far to make amends. As she rounded the corner, she yelled over her shoulder “You’re a couple of vain peacocks.”
She muttered all the way home about people who couldn’t grow old gracefully, who were image obsessed and wanted immortality through the process of body distortion.
“I love my wrinkles,” she said defiantly. Then wondered if it was true.
* * *
Next day, Maud had driven home from work and cruised down the last familiar stretch of her own road when she saw Sergeant Tisdale’s police vehicle pull away from the kerb outside the McDowell residence. For her own benefit, she needed to know what he had been told about her unseemly actions and started to formulate an excuse.
She flashed the headlights then flagged him down with windmill-like arm gestures. The Sergeant appeared both annoyed and amused but pulled over good-naturedly and lowered his car window.
Maud was ready with her questions but he spoke first.
“I’ve solved the McDowell mystery,” he said.
Maud went to speak but he kept talking. “Old Angus and Felicity are there. He told me that both he and Felicity had each taken a short vacation.”
She gave a wary nod.
Sergeant Tisdale continued “The separation must have done them both the world of good. They look ten years younger.” Maud smiled. At that moment, she experienced a revelation. She decided that saving face was not as important as keeping a friend’s secret. Sergeant Tisdale looked at her expectantly. “Glad to hear it,” was all she said.
Maud accelerated sharply and left the Sergeant behind without a second glance.
She knew he wouldn’t give up on her that easily and she had biscuits to bake.
(With my thanks to Maud Fitch, friend and fellow writer)
A snowflake fell on Anne’s shoulder as she walked across the muddy track between the ski lodge and the cabins. Her boots were of no concern, she was more worried about slipping over in the new jacket she’d just purchased for an exorbitant sum in the gift shop.
The shop assistant had jabbed at the ski jacket with her bandaged hand and grimaced. “Guaranteed waterproof.”
The jacket was a unisex design, muted green with inserted grey panels. It was a generous length, full of padding, zips and reinforced stitching. A stylised logo was sewn on the high collar, a small discreet statement of affluence. “Stupid really,” thought Anne. “After today, I won’t be wearing it again.”
A product of the Sunshine State, Anne supposed her sister in Tasmania might like its Antarctic weight. Still, today it was worth its weight in gold. Today it would earn its expensive price tag by stopping her from freezing to death when the snowmobile crashed into a gnarled snow gum. Sadly Paul, her fiancé of one month, would not survive. A branch would spear him in the chest and he would die at the scene.
With numb fingers, Anne cleaned the cloying mud off her boots using a sharp stick. Inside the beautifully-appointed living room, the ambience enveloped her like warm honey, contrasting with the glance Paul shot her from under his dark lashes.
“Right,” he said, “are we ready to roll?”
While he secured their ski equipment, Anne mounted the twin seater snowmobile and positioned a basket of rations on the seat. “Alcohol was a contributing factor” stated the soon-to-be tragic accident report which ran grimly through her mind.
Their route to the plateau was empty, a vast tract of whiteness stretching out before them. The chalet was quickly lost to sight and they hadn’t travelled far when Paul pulled over, skidding in the pristine snow.
“What’s that?” he asked, pointing across the undulating tundra.
A barely visible arm was waving listlessly just above the snow line. Anne squinted into the glare. She had an agenda and feigned ignorance.
A sense of urgency crept into Paul’s tone. “Look, over there. Somebody’s crashed.”
Before Anne could protest, Paul had swung the vehicle around and was heading in the direction of a stricken form.
When they reached the spot, they found a skier laying crumpled in the churned snow. Anne experienced a moment of revelation. She stifled a snort. “Typical.”
It was the woman from the cabin next to theirs, all mouth, red claws and stiff blonde hair.
With athletic confidence, Paul jumped out of the snowmobile and landed beside her. “Oh shit, Verity, what happened?”
After much wailing, Verity explained that her leg felt broken and she couldn’t get up.
Paul squeezed her ungloved hand, his voice rising in dismay. “How long have you been here?”
“Hours,” she wept, “I’m freezing, I can’t feel my legs.”
Anne saw what Verity didn’t know. One leg had been skewered by a snapped ski pole and blood was seeping behind her into the snow.
Fighting a wave of nausea, exacerbated by Verity’s liberally applied perfume, Anne peered closer.
“The woman looks like she’s dressed for a cocktail party,” she thought, “And she used the wrong ski pole.” She swallowed the words “That’s mine.” It was a struggle to remain silent in the face of such duplicity. Anne realised a very different scenario had been planned.
Paul turned to Anne, his face rigid. “Give me your jacket.”
He wrenched it off, twisting her body. “Get on the ski buggy and go back for help. Fast as you can! I’ll try to stop the bleeding.”
Anne’s eyes flashed with anger. Suppressing her temper at this unforseen turn of events, she drove the snowmobile back down the slope. Half way to the emergency post, she shoved the provisions off the seat into a snow drift. The champagne would be well chilled. She withdrew the sharp stick from her ski boot and it followed the abandoned basket. It hurt to leave her brand new jacket. On the other hand, she would also leave Paul and take great pleasure in selling off their engagement gifts.
Several months later, Verity was preparing for a move to Perth and a new boyfriend. She began cleaning out her wardrobe. She sat looking at the green polar jacket. A mixture of bitter sweet memories came with that jacket, conceivably more bitterness than she cared to recall. She rubbed a finger across the scar which gouged her cheek.
The jacket was tossed unceremoniously onto the pile of clothes destined for the charity shop. Verity hoped Anne’s jacket would keep a dirty, smelly person warm.
Laughter gurgled up like bile in her throat and she turned to her girlfriend.
“I wonder if Paul is sleeping on the streets yet?”
Her girlfriend raised hunched shoulders in a noncommittal reply.
Verity rose and limped across to her coffee cup. “It was the thrill of the chase really.
Everything deteriorate after I mixed-up the ski poles. Then that stick flicked up and hit my face.”
They stuffed the hardly-worn apparel into brightly coloured department store bags. After loading Verity’s car, a present from Paul he wasn’t getting back, they drove in silence to the charity warehouse. The only sound Verity made was to blast the horn at a cattle truck which veered into her lane.
A small woman, with bright eyes and quick movements, dashed across to a large open box. Moments earlier, she had surreptitiously watched a blonde female dump clothing into it.
As she leaned over the cardboard box, the sides buckled inward and the box nearly swallowed her. The first jacket she saw was perfect. The woman knew that this green jacket would suit her burly son-in-law who laboured in all weathers. She walked to the counter with it firmly clamped in her hands.
The cashier barely moved her eyes from the screen. “Twenty-five dollars.”
With a gulp, the small woman said “It doesn’t have a price tag on it. Maybe it’s cheaper?” She smoothed the crinkled logo repeatedly with her thumb.
“Listen, love,” the cashier said, her whole body exuding weariness, “you shouldn’t have taken it out of that box, it ain’t been sorted yet.”
“Could you check for me, please?” said the small woman, straining on tiptoe, losing her battle to conduct a face-to-face conversation.
A gleam lit the cashier’s eyes. “I’ll have to nick out the back and check with the warehouse manager.” As she spoke, she scooped up a packet of cigarettes.
“Hey, Macro, will ya take over for me, mate?”
Macro knew it wasn’t a question. As she vanished through a door marked Staff Only, he settled his long, lanky frame into her warm chair and crossed his legs. The small woman knew that relief cashiers were not bound by the same hard and fast rules of others and Macro proved this point.
“Ten bucks, little Kathleen.” He leaned over the counter. “Go before she gets back, sweetheart.”
Kathleen paid with coins and thanked him profusely. She scurried out the door and down the street. Once around the corner, she stopped to catch her breath, air rasping into her lungs. Her fingers dug into the depth of those warmly lined pockets and she felt the colouring book and pencils she’d nicked for her granddaughter.
Kathleen said she didn’t own a mobile phone “Because they caused ear cancer.” So, when she arrived home, a message was waiting on her back door. The tack had punctured the notepaper like an exclamation mark at the end of the word “boy”.
Kathleen headed back to the bus stop with an empty stomach and a head full of premature baby scenarios. She prayed for her sixth grandson.
When she alighted at the hospital, she stopped dead in her tracks. “Where’s the jacket? Did I leave it on the bus?”
Startled, her heart lurched in her chest and she could hear the blood roaring in her ears. It was unseasonably warm. Her temperature soared as she willed herself to stay calm.
“What have I done with it?”
She patted her chest in consternation, then a green cuff caught her eye. Kathleen cautiously held out her arm. A sudden surge of relief left her feeling weak at the knees.
Swamped by ice-repelling warmth, Kathleen peeled off the jacket. With a reddened face and thin brown hair plastered to her skull, she dragged the seemingly leaden garment through the double doors of the maternity ward.
There was no crib beside the bed and judging by the look of the machines around her daughter, there had been complications. Kathleen wasn’t strong around illness. The four-bed ward began to swim and tilt alarmingly. She tottered over to a hard-looking chair next to the bed. Her daughter’s round face showed dismay but Kathleen grasped the back of the chair, determined to offer consoling words. A hoarse sound escaped from Kathleen’s lips but was cut short by her daughter’s scream; a scream which sounded suspiciously like “Muuum”.
When little Kathleen came round, a nurse was asking her to breathe slowly and evenly through an oxygen mask. Kathleen listened to her babble on about someone with a weak heart and years of food with poor nutritional value.
The nurse paused to adjust a valve and Kathleen asked “Where am I? Where’s my jacket?”
“You’re in the cardiac wing of the hospital, dear. Of course, your handbag’s been locked up but I didn’t see a jacket.”
Her eyes widened. “But the polar jacket. It’s green with grey––”
A sting stopped Kathleen. She looked down and saw another nurse pull a syringe out of her pale, bony arm and dab cotton wool on the injection site.
The nurse grinned. “Don’t worry, dear. It’ll turn up, just you wait and see.”
Anthony had seen the prestigious logo during his clean up.
As she tumbled, Kathleen had tipped the chair over, consequently bringing down the side cabinet and a drip stand. The whole lot had ended up in a heap, covering the ski jacket with a broken vase, crushed flowers, soggy towels and an aged handbag.
“It’s amazing how one little old lady could cause such havoc,” mused Anthony as he shovelled everything into a large black plastic bag. The maternity ward patients and visitors had been vacated so he righted the furniture and mopped the floor. To avoid scrutiny, he checked the handbag into Reception lost property. He liked to think he had a conscience.
Anthony sent the garbage bag down the chute and hastily followed it to the lower ground floor. He heaved the towels onto a clammy laundry pile and ducked down out of surveillance range. Fumbling for the precious jacket, a shard of broken vase cut his finger. With a yelp of pain, he wrenched the jacket free, trying to avoid blood droplets on the fabric.
He found a tissue in his trouser pocket. His finger began to throb and he was annoyed with himself for forgetting to leave his sports bag down in the utilities area. Now he’d have to walk through the staff zone to reach his locker. Nonchalantly holding the jacket, it proved surprisingly easy to slip by unnoticed. Attention was focused on the noise of an agitated mother causing a commotion upstairs.
An hour later Anthony was in his flat, itching to try the jacket on for size. He shook it out and gloated over the beauty of its tailoring. It fitted him like a glove. He shoved his hands into the deep pockets. A flash of pain shot through his finger and the cut reopened. He withdrew the offending orange pencil. “Kid’s junk,” he sniffed and threw the objects into a milk crate.
In front of his bedroom mirror, Anthony smoothed his ponytail and considered his image from different angles. He preened and pouted before removing the jacket. It smelled of perfume. Regardless of origins, he grinned with delight. He knew his flatmate Wilson would be jealous when he saw it.
Anthony bounced down a flight of stairs to knock on the pink front door of his girlfriend Frederica’s flat. “Maybe she wants to go out?” He lived in hope.
Frederica worked in a wine bar and obviously wasn’t at home. Which suited Anthony. He could drop by the bar before dinner, show off his new jacket and at the same time scrounge a free drink.
He arrived at the bar just as raindrops began to fall. Inside, he removed the ski jacket and was seated at a low table opposite a morose man whose conference name tag read “Paul”. He was slurping at a vodka like someone who didn’t care anymore, and definitely someone who wasn’t going to work next day.
Anthony accepted his drink from a cross-dresser with long legs who eyed off his jacket. He looked around for Frederica. He heard her delicious laugh. He couldn’t see her until she emerged through an open side door which accessed a private room. She was tugging at someone who seemed coyly reluctant to follow. Anthony almost swallowed an ice cube when he saw Wilson materialise beside her.
They stepped forward but pulled up short when they saw Anthony. Out of habit, Frederica twitched the neckline of her top. With his rendezvous interrupted and nowhere to hide, Wilson stood there unmistakably working on an excuse.
Without a word, Anthony rose and grabbed his jacket, an action which irritated Paul the drunk, and headed towards the door. Frederica was ready to make amends, rosy cheeks dimpling with apology, but before she could speak Anthony walked out of the bar.
He was glad to escape the smell of alcohol soaked carpet and the nicotine tinged breath of patrons who’d seen it all before, relieved it wasn’t them. Conversely the cut on his finger started to pulsate. “Bloody brilliant,” he growled and the notion of infection fuelled his rising anger.
The night air was misty and the bitumen road gleamed with falling rain. Aggravation merged with anger. Anthony briefly considered holding the jacket over his head. Somehow this gesture seemed feeble, as though he was cringing under it, taking shelter like a reviled lover sneaking back home.
Furious at the thought, he crossed the street against the lights and stomped through a luminous puddle which shimmered with oily rainbows. Unexpectedly his leather shoes slipped out from underneath him. The ski jacket went flying and in the split second before he hit the ground, Anthony knew he was going to fracture something important.
She kept looking over her shoulder into the gloom to make sure she wasn’t being followed down the alley. Once satisfied, she wrapped the jacket around her waist and tied the sleeves. She hoped it didn’t have blood on it. Hospital scavenging was risky. Taking from another hospital scavenger was riskier still. He had been crying too hard to notice.
Further along, she scaled a crumbling brick wall and dropped down into a dismal rectangular courtyard filled with rain-soaked herbs. The aroma of crushed basil wafted up to tickle her nostrils. The girl was hungry and knew Aunt Ivy would feed. In return, she would hand over this magnificent jacket. It seemed to hug her in a warm embrace, an infusion more distinct than any familial bond she had known. Fleetingly, she examined this raw thought and then dismissed it. Aunt Ivy’s food was enough.
After knocking with a secret code, she heard the bolts draw back and light pierced the shadows.
“Welcome back, Tuyêt,” said her Aunt.
Tuyêt replied in their language. “A little something for you.”
She unknotted the sleeves and held up her trophy. The jacket seemed to prickle her palms. It stung a scar on her wrist as it was drawn from her grasp. She frowned, but not so her Aunt would notice, and slipped into the sweet smelling kitchen. Steaming bowls of noodles and rice were placed on the table and while Tuyêt ate, she watched her Aunt thoroughly check the jacket.
With a knowing nod, Aunt Ivy said “It was made in your cousin’s factory.”
The girl was sceptical but her Aunt insisted. She held up the jacket which she had turned inside out. “See, here on the lining, the factory mark. Also, it bears your cousin Lanh’s sign.”
The felt pen marks meant nothing to Tuyêt. To her, they were as indecipherable as ancient Egyptian. She tucked her limp hair behind her ears and raised her chin.
“Why should I care if one of my lousy cousins made it, particularly the bad one?”
With a dismissive flip of the hand designed to amuse her Aunt, she said “I don’t want it, you keep it.”
Aunt Ivy gladly accepted the jacket. She had a suitable person in mind, someone who worked hard for very little reward. Later that evening, after supper, she waited until her husband was rested before she presented it to him.
“Ivy,” he said, recoiling from the ski jacket after inspection, “you know cousin Lanh has a poisoned mind, he probably put a curse on this jacket. One thing is for sure, I couldn’t bring myself to wear it for fear its blackness would overtake me.”
Disappointed in her superstitious husband, yet fighting with her own apprehension, Ivy decided to sell the jacket. She displayed it in the window of her tired old shop just off the main road and waited patiently for a customer to buy it.
One Friday afternoon, a man wearing tailored trousers and a maple leaf badge on his crisp shirt, pushed open the front door of her shop. He blundered into the book carousel. He apologised, becoming more and more vociferous as he picked up the fallen paperbacks and outdated magazines. Ivy could tell he was having trouble asking the price of the dusty ski jacket even though he couldn’t take his eyes off it.
“Actually I’m lost but I saw that jacket in your window and just had to stop. I know quality when I see it.”
He blossomed under Ivy’s sales technique and she avoided asking him why he wanted a second-hand jacket. He supplied the information.
“Where I work, you know, we fellows need sturdy winter gear.”
He didn’t blink when Ivy told him the price and paid much more than it was worth.
“I’ll give you my business card and if you come across another of these fine coats, you let me know.”
Ivy knew she would never see another one but smiled encouragingly just the same. The name on the card was Robert, with an unpronounceable surname, and she let it flutter into the wastepaper basket under the counter.
As she watched him climb into his Lexus, Ivy took comfort in knowing that his money was earmarked for Tuyêt. The tutor had promised to persevere for another six months.
Robert’s arthritic joints creaked when he eased himself into the rental car. On twelve weeks leave from his mining job, he was leisurely passing through Sydney, heading north to the sunshine. His accountant had said “Enjoy your riches, Rob” without sarcasm or envy.
Robert tossed the ski jacket onto the front seat of the sedan and tapped the faulty GPS. He wished there was a road map in the glove box. He pulled out into the stream of traffic and his thoughts turned to the jacket, mainly because it emitted a musty odour which forced him to open a window.
He wouldn’t need the ski jacket for a while. In the meantime, he’d have it drycleaned and stored in his new girlfriend’s wardrobe. Robert remembered she used to ski. He hoped she would wear it on a trip he was planning. “The green will match her eyes. And it might come in handy when she feels cold.” He’d seen Anne shiver, especially when she talked about snow.
Out on the highway, signposts became less frequent. Robert tapped the GPS again. The screen went blank and he cursed. He heard a horn blast and looked up. A cattle truck was bearing down on him. He tried to take evasive action but his reflexes weren’t quick enough to avoid a collision.
With brakes pumping and tyres squealing, the truck sideswiped him. The force spun the Lexus around twice before the momentum plunged it through a steel guard rail and down an embankment. It rolled several times. The windscreen shattered and items flew through the gaping hole. Robert saw the ski jacket float upwards, briefly outlined by the blue sky, then flap out of sight. As the world faded to black, he heard a chuckle.
Long after Robert had surrendered to a pain-free environment, a council worker pulled up between the rescue vehicles. He scattered the grazing cows and looked over the edge.
The first thing he saw was a ski jacket draped across a clump of weeds. Further down, he saw the smashed car, swarming with ambulance officers.
Making sure no one was watching, he scrambled sideways down the embankment and picked up the unscathed jacket. Whistling, he threw it into the back of his repair truck and began to erect temporary barricades. Little Kathleen had told him to be on the lookout for a winter jacket.