Untitled 1, by John Bartlett
BING! THE SOUND OF SOMETHING NEW
glad to be one of the girls
to middle-income glitter
Bing! the sound of something new
off the page
chubby love heart > xo > a saucy wink back > dripping
should that be blushing
lines of images
little French bulldog
halter neck polka dot
too quick to scrutinise
Verity doesn’t say anything. If she says anything, there will be no more likes
and emojis, they will bleed.
She has seen
you have seen
emoji, emoji, emoji
classifying one’s life
is the sound of something new.
MY EIGHTH DAY ON THE CATWALK
It’s oh so boring, the dressing up, the dressing down for the next gown. It’s summer evening wear this afternoon and it’s all about the latest Marimekko prints – a degustation of big bold blooms. Oh, dear god, give me something simple, something cool and nice. I simply want to sit back and sip a coffee, iced. Please, please let this day’s showtime end. I yearn to cleanse myself of the dressing room’s unctuous twitter, close my eyes to its frippery, to greet with delight the final catwalk call. I dread the afters soirees I am required to attend – my contract stipulates it in paragraph #10. Home is where I long to be with Barney, my Burmese, and Attenborough on my wide-screen TV. How I long to slip into my organic cotton voile maxi dress, the egg-yolk yellow with the black Swiss dots Dôen does best. I shall sweep the hair up from my nape, throw on my cashmere cardigan against the AC’s draught, sweep open the floor-to-ceiling windows’ drapes – how window frames do declare a scene! – to enjoy my pocket garden’s golden wattle blooms at the ending of a short afternoon.
Digital feelings instant by txt,
online crudity or cleverness.
Abbreviations and emojis,
are never from the heart.
Power of words exchanged for;
Feelings of love, lust, tenderness,
are best face to face,
or by ink touching paper,
not twitching fingers on small keys.
Real words are more than passing moments;
Such words are for always,
etched in minds and hearts.
Found as memories in drawers,
electronic words vanish quickly,
written words are forever;
We hurry nowhere special,
time is of the essence.
Eking minutes where we can,
in a world that traps us in a spiral,
Language slides into convenience,
sadly fades into bits and bytes.
Lovers searching for their next one,
phone affairs lasting an hour.
Not real, or enduring;
ELOQUENCE AND CHARM
THE LEADER OF THE PLAQUE
It wasn’t Sonja’s day.
First her coffee had gone cold while waiting for her phone to charge. Only then could she try searching for a dentist to fix the toothache with which she’d woken. ‘And it’s a bloody public holiday!’ she swore. ‘Can anything else go wrong?’
Needles … make that hot needles … probed places in her jaw best left alone.
When her phone finally charged, she called her new-best-friend, Charlene.
‘I know just the man to fix your problem,’ she said. ‘He’s always available and does wonderful work.’ The way she said available and wonderful work made Sonja think there was more to …
‘Dr Death,’ said Charlene.
‘Pardon?’ gasped Sonja.
‘It’s a name people give him because of the skulls and models he keeps in his office. They’re a bit off-putting at first but they give a new insight into oral hygiene. I’ll make an appointment for you. An added benefit,’ Charlene added, ‘is his voice.’
‘His voice?’ Sonja asked frowning.
‘Let’s just say when he speaks … well, clit-licking comes to mind.’
‘Charlene!’ Sonja gasped.
‘And my dear,’ Charlene added conspiratorially, ‘sex in a dentist’s chair …’ She made squeaking noises. ‘Once tried, never forgotten.’
Whether Charlene was right about the sex, Sonja never found out but Dr Death’s, ‘Come in and sit down,’ was hardly an introduction to her erotic fantasies. But the timbre of his voice lit a fire in Sonja’s belly that quickly spread to her …
‘Relax.’ His words caressed more than her ears as he eased her back into the chair.
She felt his fingers probe and brush her gums and cheeks till at last the tip of his finger toyed with her troublesome tooth.
Sonja looked up into his eyes. Black pearls, more like she sighed. She blushed as he smiled, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
‘Excellent,’ he nodded.
Excellent? That wasn’t the way she’d describe the agony that was her tooth but, oh, the way he said it …
‘Now just put your head back and … relax,’ he repeated.
Was he kidding? She was anything but relaxed. But, as she closed her eyes and sighed, she could only obey. The noise of him sorting his instruments were the reminder of where she was. All the time he reassured her in that clit-licking voice. ‘It’ll all be over before you know it.’
She felt his hand on the top of her head, tilting it back. She wanted to pucker her lips and …
‘There,’ he said suddenly, voice caressing her inner thighs. ‘All done.’
All done? How could he be all done when she’d only just …
Sonja opened her eyes to see Charlene! A smiling Dr Death stood beside her holding up a bloodied scalpel. ‘Perfect,’ he purred.
She frowned and felt a slight tingling … more like a mouse nibbling at her throat really … just below where her tooth was no longer giving her any trouble.
THE POODLE LOOKED MORE AT HOME THAN I DID
A sea of piercing eyes scrutinises me from head to toe. I quickly slide down into the leather chair, willing myself to blend into this temple of French gentility.
The air is heavy like a warm blanket. It’s suffocatingly thick with hairspray and perfume. Yet this potpourri of scents is paradoxically both subtle and overpowering.
The salon is bustling with mid-afternoon clients. French women: well-heeled, refined, elegant. A soft murmuring of voices, as muffled as the purring of cars passing on the cobblestoned street, ripples through the salon.
They peer intently at the intruder.
Mon dieu. Qu’est-ce que c’est?
Several elderly clients towards the back of the small salon, their faces uniformly pale and wizen, have succumbed to their afternoon drowsiness. Semi-reclined under pedestalled hairdryers, they resemble slightly squashed Coneheads.
I settle into my chair and draw my eyes downwards, and in a desperate attempt to hide my muddy hiking boots, tuck my legs underneath. I’m blushing like a beacon, palms hot and sweaty, and feeling decidedly underdressed.
The French women regain their decorum. They resume chatting demurely, dismissing me as la touriste, no longer a topic of interest.
All except for a large white poodle seated on the red velvet stool next to me. She stares directly at me, then nods her bright pink topknot by way of greeting. But her eyes are mocking.
The young hairdresser smothers me with a black waterproof wrap.
Bonjour madame. Comment puis-je t’aider?
My conversational French is limited. And I have no words for a trim, a tidy-up.
She frowns, runs her hands through my white hair and tut-tuts:
I quickly scan the salon. Platinum blonde, Renaissance red, chestnut brown, midnight black, all applied liberally from a bottle. There is no one with white hair like mine.
I’ve rarely seen a white-haired woman in all my time in France, and now I’m terrified colour is a given. My heart pounds and my hands begin to tremble. I grab the arms of the chair.
Will I be whisked across to the basin, hair plied with colour before I know how to protest?
In desperation, I point urgently to the poodle’s pink topknot.
Non, non, NON. Non coleur s’il vous plaît madame.
The hairdresser clutches my shoulders from behind and collapses with laughter.
Oui, oui pas comme le chien madame!
An amused squeak escapes from the woman next to me, short and sharp like the hissing of a pricked balloon.
I smile at the hairdresser and relax further into the chair, relieved I won’t become the poodle’s doppelgänger.
She snips and styles my hair, and then I am free to go.
I open the salon’s front door, and a welcoming breeze smarts my blushing face. Then I hear polite applause from inside the salon and turn around.
The French women are smiling at me and politely clapping.
Bravo, bravo la touriste!
And I may have heard the smallest bark of approval from the poodle.
It’s all chaos right now, everything a whirling dervish of activity. I feel like everyone around me has come out of hibernation, like they’re desperately trying to cram in two years’ worth of activities into every passing day. Like they’re frightened it will all be snatched away at a moments’ notice again.
Meanwhile I’ve always been here; there was no stasis mode for me. You needed me too much.
Get up, get out
Get your mask on, wash your hands, show me your paperwork, are you even allowed to leave the house?
Well, of course I am, I can’t take care of you in my lounge-room. I can’t check your vital signs whilst wearing my pyjamas, can’t give you your medication whilst wearing my slippers, and what even is a Zoom meeting?!
So now you’ve all been let back out; did all that you could as good little citizens, even if suddenly everyone became an expert on politics, and now you’ve earnt your freedom. If I sound bitter then perhaps I am.
The weather is so warm, the days are long, summer is finally here, and there’s music playing everywhere.
Come on out! Come meet us for dinner, come dance at this festival.
That band is playing again, that store is having a sale, this bar has just opened up, that guy is back in town, you remember him, don’t you?
But I’m so tired….
Oh come on! I haven’t seen you in AGES! I’m so tired of being locked up in the house!
But I just want to rest…because nothing ever seems to stop, nothing ever seems to slow.
The world was so harsh to me; so harsh to the ones that kept on trudging in.
We were ESSENTIAL.
But now that I can see you again I just can’t muster the energy. I’ve had no breaks, no outlet, no nothing. And it gets harder and harder the more we meet up.
I’ve had enough of being outside, it scares me more now than before.
So please let me have my peace. Let me enjoy this moment, let me have my moments of mindful/ mindlessness, let me watch my phone, drink my bubble tea, and wear my pyjamas.
Because, believe me, you’re gonna need me again some time very soon.
For I am still ESSENTIAL.
I lived at 45 Regent Street Belmont with my parents and my sister. Jodi was two years older than me and had long blonde hair and big blue eyes. She was pretty—everyone said so. Even at six years old with her front teeth missing, she still managed to look cute. Her name was cute too, and modern—Jodi.
I wasn’t an attractive child. I had mousey-brown hair and my eyes were not blue but sort of colourless, and my name was old-fashioned and boring. I was named after Dad’s dreary Aunt Marion who never did anything useful except die. She left him some money, but not enough to make us rich.
Jodi always got new clothes for Christmas and birthdays. They were in soft pastel colours—pink, pale blue, or lilac. She was slim and looked like a story-book princess in them. I didn’t get new clothes. Everything was passed down from Jodi. I was chubby and the dresses that were perfect on her never fitted me right.
At high school Jodi was good at sports. She was always picked first to join any team, and with her long tanned legs she looked adorable in her netball skirt. She was also popular and invitations to her birthday parties were highly sought after.
I was clumsy at sports and usually picked last. My clothes were new now—I was too fat for Jodi’s, but with my chunky legs my netball skirts were an embarrassment. And I was hopelessly shy. My birthday parties were not a success. The library was where I preferred to be—solitary reading in a hushed environment.
‘Don’t tie up the telephone, Jodi,’ our dad complained. At seventeen she never had to invent lovers on the phone like the girl in the Janis Ian song, and me.
I had pimples and braces on my teeth.
‘You’re a late bloomer,’ my mother told me, but I never did bloom.
Jodi discovered a love of acting. Naturally she was successful. A talent scout spotted her and she scored a bit part in ‘Neighbours’. There was talk of this becoming an on-going role.
For me, it was the sciences, in particular Genetics. Why did Jodi get so lucky with her genes and not me when we had the same parents? This question was never answered to my satisfaction and I switched to Chemistry. After achieving my degree I went to work with a research chemist, Dr Stephen Rickard. Dr Rickard, considered brilliant in his field, was working on a cure for leukemia.
Mutual respect grew into friendship and then into something more. I invited Stephen home to meet my family. Between roles, Jodi was there too. It only took one little smile from her and he forgot that I existed.
Ten days later she was found dead in her bed—a drug overdose. Her death shocked all who knew her.
No one had suspected Jodi of using drugs, and nobody ever suspected me.
A WORD IN THE RIGHT PLACE …
A name plate on the office door said Dr. Hermione Hardy.
She was a well-dressed woman in her early forties. Her hair was styled like Brigitte Bardot’s, a strand falling on either side of her attractive face. She wore minimal makeup. The eyes were large and lips full and generous. She wore a long-sleeved cardigan over a frock that looked expensive.
‘Morning, Mr. Simmonds. Please take a seat. You have been referred to me by your G.P. – Doctor Rashid – is that right?’
She smiled in a welcoming way and Alice, the receptionist, left, closing the door behind her. I intercepted a quick glance between the two women, the sort of message that professionals might exchange about a new client. I wondered what it conveyed.
I answered her question
‘He recommended I seek help. To be honest I was reluctant at first but now I think I need it.’
‘Let me confirm a few details before we start. You are an ex-serviceman in your thirties, you served in Iraq and Afghanistan and left the army. Your marriage has recently broken down. Dr. Rashid’s notes tell me you have been suffering from nightmares that interrupt your sleep. You are currently employed in the security industry but are having trouble holding down a job. Is that a fair summary?’
I nodded wordlessly, clutching at the fabric of my worn jeans as if very nervous.
‘OK, why don’t we move across to the window? Stretch out on the couch if you like – it’s very comfortable. I’ll sit in the armchair next to you. Is it alright with you if I record us on my mobile? I can assure you our discussions are completely private. By the way, call me Hermione if you like, and I’ll call you Bruce?
That last was a question, so I nodded my agreement.
She sat well back in her chair, set the phone on her lap and placed an ear-bud into one ear. On her left hand I noticed a wedding ring.
‘Let’s make a start, shall we Bruce? Can I ask you when the dreams started? The fact they are costing you sleep must be exhausting for you.’
I unpacked my story for her. A young and naïve soldier serving in the Middle-East; gradually getting a whole different slant on our mission. I told her about the first hot-fire patrol and losing two mates to enemy bullets. Then the dreams started when I got home. They quickly ruined my marriage. I couldn’t blame Janelle for walking out on me.
Hermione Hardy was very good. She made soothing noises, didn’t interrupt, avoided direct eye-contact, concentrated on my every word. I had to keep reminding myself there was no need for her to take notes. It was all being recorded.
Would I return for another session? Maybe I would. I was getting a feel for her character.
Now I needed to find a damaged vet for my novel. That could be tricky.
‘I’m doing the right thing, aren’t I Mum? Yep, I can’t have a baby, not now. It’ll be fine. I just have to be able to keep hearing your voice – so don’t stop talking. If I have to listen to clanging metal sounds I might chicken out. Yep you’re right, the timing ain’t great’.
I’m talking to mum. It makes me smile. I can’t imagine what it would have been like in the old days when you couldn’t talk to your mum after she’d died. I suppose some people still can’t, if they can’t afford one of these Communicators.
We’ve just moved here from Melbourne, at my insistence. It was me who landed the dream job but the first year pay is abysmal. In the meantime, all the promises I’d made to Jack my overqualified partner – about this being the land of milk and honey on the jobs front – haven’t materialised. That’s not my fault. He’s got a different approach to me. I’d be out doing volunteer work in places I’d like to work at, that sort of thing. He’s too shy or too something to go down those routes. Easier instead to just write endless job applications and to fill the time reading novels.
‘Yes mum, Jack is still unemployed. I can’t get maternity leave in the first year – it’s in the contract. I don’t know, well they ARE the government so I guess they make the rules. Yep, I’m working long hours but I really like the work and I want to get an overseas posting asap. You can visit me more easily now anyway – in some ways it’ll be a lot easier than when you were alive. Don’t worry, I won’t move somewhere that doesn’t have a connection’.
‘No it wasn’t hard to get into the clinic. I wish wish wish I could get knocked out for it though. No they won’t give me a general – yep I love GAs too. Do you miss it here mum? I wish you could tell me more about what it’s like there. Why can’t you tell me? Do you think this baby will end up where you are? You’re right, she’s not really even a baby yet I guess. Yep I’m pretty sure she’s a girl, or would be a girl. That’s the bit that does make me sad….can you keep talking mum? Tell me about when I was little and used to eat dirt under the house in Innisfail. I read that kids might crave dirt if they’re deficient in iron or zinc or something like that. Don’t beat yourself up mum – I turned out ok – I just like hearing you tell these stories’.
‘This chair is great by the way mum – it’s massaging me all the way into my lower back. Are you sitting, do you sit? Do you sleep? I keep asking you these things because you don’t answer me’.
‘Oh mum, it’s time, they’ve called my name. But please keep talking …’
Cain eased up at the traffic lights on the outskirts of the village
His gaunt face taut and strained. Steadfast.
He felt a cold chill, despite the weather being warm for this time of year
He pulled the mink over his shoulders, smoothed his shantung skirt
His long blonde hair curled, left flowing
He glanced out over the fields ringed with stone walls, the lone bull standing unaware
Beside him were the ancient dry-stone walls, nurtured with care and harmony
He remembered envying the gentleness shown to every stone
The walls looked familiar and protective
He remembered the stones’ roughness beneath his young manicured hands as he sought refuge.
He remembered vainly, desperately, searching for gaps to conceal his finery,
tiny ants spectators to his terror.
He remembered his sister calling.
For a brief moment he felt hesitation,
… shrieking, chortling … calling him ‘Cainwen’
then the moment fled with fear nipping at its tail
Soon he would be meeting with the other band members.
Friends. Were they?
Or were they moths to a flame?
Wolfe moved through the village untouched by events or time
He knew no one would recognise him with sleekly bobbed hair cloaked, his shellacked nails gloved
The clocktower, the centrepiece of the market, stood both daunting and unbothered
Its endorsement of the malevolence unseen
His heart beat faster, his breath shallow and raspy, his chosen name ‘Luna’ on his painted lips
He silently padded down a laneway, flowered pots gaily juxtaposed with his thoughts
The cobbled brightness and painted cheer, helpless to past and future horror
He neared the school, bleak and stony, picture windows staring out at the pocked asphalt,
No gentle hand of care had painted this world
He remembered his silk camisole torn and ripped from his back.
He remembered the stares.
Soon he saw the small village hall, circled by strangely welcoming poplars, their meeting place
Claeg manoeuvred the small dark coloured van into a parking spot behind the hall
His fine bejewelled fingers tightly gripping the steering wheel
The flowing ebony gown he had chosen was sombre and elegant
The shadowy car park smelt dank, the autumnal leaves sodden despite some recent sun
His heart was as heavy as the equipment he lugged from the van
His sorrow only buoyed by their scheme, with no twists or turns, only a finale
As arranged, the door to the hall was unlocked, and it easily swung open
The gloom made tangible by the familiar, overwhelming scent
He remembered the scrubbing brush abrading his rouged cheeks,
his tinted eyelids bruised and bloodied.
For several heart-beats he was held fast, panic rising
The unwitting crowd cheered the Seahorse Band to the stage
Cainwen, Luna, Claire stood united
Each took her turn at waving to the hapless gathering,
Silently waiting as the cheering ceased, and an eager hush fell …
They would paint the town red tonight
With the blood that they spilled
Nothin. Bein gorgeous. You?
Just had my cures. Thought I’d text you. Bin a funny day.
I think Ronaldo raped me.
WTF? I’m calling you now.
Like, what the total fucking fuck? Are you okay? Whaddya mean you THINK he raped you?
It’s blurry. I’m okay.
A little. Had my head screwed on. I wasn’t out of it or anything.
He told me the collagen job was crap and I looked like I’d been slapped in the mouth with the back of a spade. I told him to fuck off. He was trying to say sorry, feeling me up and putting it on me. I kind of said, No, but, dunno, he didn’t hear me, or said he didn’t, or something.
Slime! Did you call the police?
WHY THE FUCK NOT? HE IS GOING TO GAOL!
They wouldn’t believe me. My word against his. It would just be long and drawn out. I couldn’t be bothered babe.
And the engagement?
What do you think? Totally off and keeping the bling! Queen Bee Bitch babe!
HA! Are you SURE you’re okay?
Powered! I’ve been ghosting him all day. He’s texted and called about 500 times.
So, what now? And, like, you just got that tattoo.
Don’t remind me.
Not a funny day at all, hun.
That’s not the funny part.
Well, like, I’m sitting in the salon chair, fingernails drying and getting my toes done. My eyes narrowed and I decided to Google something.
Uh-huh? And that waaassss?
How to cut a man’s dick off?
I’m like, fuck it! Why get mad when I can get even?
CRAZY FUCKING BITCH! You’re totally my hero!
The funny part was when I was in the middle of my googling…
What did you find by the way?
Ya don’t want to know babe. Ronaldo taught me the ins to the dark web.
Smart man dat!
Anyway, I’m in the middle of googling this fucked up shit and the manager of the salon comes out and says, ‘Congratulations on your 20th visit. You’ve won a pair of complimentary scissors.’
Well, that’s pretty fucking random.
So, she hands me this shining, pretty little pair of manicure scissors and because of where my head was at and how totally, like, fucking out of the blue this was, you’ll never guess what I said!
‘How did you know I’m going to cut my fiancee’s dick off?’
NO. FUCKING. WAY!
Yes, way. I just blurted it out! I almost burst out laughing!
INTENSE! What did she say?
Well, she paused for a moment, and then turned and went back behind the partition. She came back and handed me a pair of seamstress’s shears, kissed me on the lips and said, ‘Well, then, you’ll need a bigger pair!’
Yes, way! Snip snip baby! I’ll call you tomorrow.
Don’t do anything stupid babe!
Moi? Queen Bee? NO WAY! Call tomorrow. Kiss kiss!