Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

28 November 2013

Sandalwood. A Short Story

The Diamond Wing lounge was almost empty as Perry Durham sank into one of its soft, enveloping armchairs. He looked about him. He could be anywhere in the world, these waiting rooms all had an international look. There were the magazine racks with the latest issues of Time, National Geographic, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and various glossy inconsequentialities that always seemed to carry the same advertisements for Swiss watches and high end cars - BMW, Audi, Lexus, Range Rover. There were the same potted palms, the computer stations, the tea, coffee and snacks buffets and a small bar, seductively lighted, that would politely offer complimentary drinks to the premium traveller.

Perry guessed that, as with some worldwide hotel chains, the familiarity of the lounge's appointments gave comfort to the frequent traveler - never far from home however far that might be.

He went to the coffee maker, poured a slightly stewed brew and returned, nodding to an elderly banker? lawyer? arms dealer? who acknowledged him fleetingly over half-moon spectacles.

Perry checked his watch. Two and a half hours until his connecting flight. He started to read Time magazine. The world was as it always was and always would be. God - at thirty he was becoming the world's great cynic!

She arrived with energy and almost fell into the armchair alongside his, her shoulder bag going to one side, a topcoat to the other. 'What a mad rush' she laughed, 'and now an hour to wait.'

Perry smiled at her. 'Going far?'

'Paris. Almost a regular trip. UNESCO. You?

'London but I have a longer wait than you'.

They lapsed into silence almost as abruptly as she had arrived. He returned to Time while she fished a paperback from her bag, pulled out its bookmark and settled to read. 

Paul looked at her covertly, having read the same paragraph several times without absorption. She was an attractive woman indeed. He judged her to be somewhat older than he; perhaps in her early forties, with a clear, almost unblemished, face adorned with small laughter lines radiating from the outside corners of her eyes. She had a full, generous mouth and bouncy blonde hair. Dressed in a tailored suit of navy blue, her only adornments appeared to be a tiny, Longines gold watch and a single rope of small pearls about a neck that was not greatly lined.

She caught his eye and smiled. She reminded him of somebody from his distant past and the atmosphere around her, as an invisible aura, reinforced the impression. He could just capture a hint of what he had come to know as sandalwood, it was a perfume that had long struck with him and the memory she had evoked took him back to when he had first been aware of it. Then, he had been a boy of eight years and could not have put a name to it but once or twice over the years the scent had been on the air and he had been able to identify it through a friend in the perfume business.

Now, here it was again with this intriguing woman.

'I've caught you in a reverie'. She smiled, one eyebrow lifting as a question.

'Was it that obvious?' He replied, 'You've sent me back a year or two.'

Then, with that intimacy of strangers who do not expect to meet again, he opened his mind to her.

'Something in you has taken me back to my school years. I was eight, away from home, lonely but madly in love...'

'In love? At eight.' She chuckled, 'The little girl in the next row, I suppose.'

'No. With Miss Kingcombe. She was my teacher. I adored her. I would do anything for her.'

'How long ago? What was she like? Can you remember her?'

'I am thirty now. Twenty-two years ago. I can't remember much from then but some little things stay in the mind for ever and I think she had quite an effect on me. I've no idea how old she was. To a small boy all adults are grown-ups, but I have a feeling that she might have been perhaps eighteen or twenty because I do recall that I had heard her referred to as a student teacher. She was tall - well seemed so - and willowy; I have an impression of her hair drawn back into a practical bun, I can't see her clothes but, oddly, I remember that she wore sandals and that her legs were suntanned with fine, blonde hairs and she had long, straight toes, the big ones turned up as if they were being jolly.'   

He grinned almost sheepishly at her, 'That must sound awfully silly!'

They were interrupted by the barman standing over them. 'Hello again, madam' he addressed the woman, 'Can I get you something?'

'Yes, thank you, I'll have...'

'...don't tell me; your usual chablis? And you sir?'

'Well I'll have the chablis too, thank you.'

As the barman walked away Parry remarked, 'You are a regular, aren't you. How long have you been doing this journey?'

'It seems many years, but not really. I just think he fancies me a bit.' She laughed, 'I don't discourage him. Get well looked after that way. But,' and at that she leaned across to Perry and tapped his arm, 'I'm enjoying hearing about you. Tell me more about Miss - what was her name?'

'Kingcombe. Oh how I loved that woman, I wonder where she is today? I remember that she used to tell us all sorts of things that weren't about writing or sums. And she used to do wonderful colourful crayon drawings of the things she told us. For instance, have you head of a shadoof?'

'Well, it's something Egyptian...'

'Yes, ancient Egypt; and the word has stuck in my mind all these years because Miss Kingcombe told us about how the Egyptian farmers used to irrigate their land by using a bucket - a shadoof - on a pivoted pole to raise water from wells and pour it into drain channels. She drew the farmer using a shadoof and I can almost recall every detail of that drawing that hung on the classroom wall.

'I wanted so much to please her that I got two simple books from the school library, one about ants, the other bees, and I read them - devoured them - so that I could tell her what I had learned. You see, she used to have a session when she would ask the children what they had been reading and I, of course couldn't wait to put my hand up. "Ants, miss; and bees". Well now Perry, Miss Kingcombe had said, why don't you come to the front and tell us all about your discoveries?'
'Were you nervous?'

'No', said Parry, 'I was ecstatic. I stood up there on two occasions at least and told my classmates all that I had learned; the first time about bees, the drones, workers, queens; the hives; the nectar collection and the honeycombed nests. And then, on another day, of how ants, like the bees, were colony creatures, helping each other and so on and so on.'

'What do you think Miss Kingcombe thought of you, then?

'I don't really know from this distance. Perhaps she thought I was a precocious little prig. I don't know. But she filled what could have been a lonely life, she was with me at the time, and in anticipation, and in recollection.'

The chablis was cold, dry and flinty and he watched as she ran her carefully manicured finger down the frosting on the glass to send rivulets to its base. 

She look at Perry. 'And I remind you of her. How so?'

'I haven't worked that out yet. But there's a trigger there somewhere.'

'What happened to her?'

'I've no idea. At some stage I was taken from the school and restored to my parents. In fact I've no idea why I had been separated from them. Never asked. Never questioned happenings. I guess she grew older - well that's rather obvious - probably qualified and found another sea of faces to confront'

He sank into reverie again.

When he emerged he took a sip of the chablis, and said, 'Here's something interesting: I even drew a map of the world for Miss Kingcombe. I didn't copy it, I drew it from memory knowing that South America and Africa were sort of the same shape and separated by the Atlantic ocean and that Australia and the little islands of New Zealand were tucked away in the bottom right hand corner and that great lump of Europe and Asia dominated everything. I coloured it in. I gave it to her and I remember she smiled at me and thanked my very much for it and put it very carefully into the music case that she used to carry'.

The woman sat back in her armchair and crossed her legs. She looked at the watch. 'Not long now.' she said. 'Thank you for telling me your story. It's made the time go so quickly. I might just have a smoked salmon sandwich before I go, can I get you something?'

'On one condition.' he replied. 'That I get to hear your life story, too.'

'Wait.' She walked across to the buffet table and as she passed he caught that evanescent perfume again. Odd how evocative a scent could be.

As they settled to eat she started to tell him about herself but had gone no more that a few words when the PA announced 'Singapore Airlines wishes to announce that the Paris bound flight...'

'That's me.' She cried and gathering her shoulder bag and topcoat, stowing her book and retrieving her passport and boarding tickets made to leave. She pushed her hand into his, 'Sorry, you'll have to hear about me another time.' she said. 'Must go'.

Perry stood as she moved quickly to the door of the lounge. 'Go safely.' He waved and then frowned as that fleeting scent was carried on the air.

She stopped at the door and looked back. 'By the way, Perry Durham' she called, 'you left the whole of India off that map'.

And she was gone.

Perry frowned again and then, as the significance of her throwaway line dawned upon him he breathed, 'Of course. Miss Kingcombe. Sandalwood.'


© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz or donovan0001.blogspot.co.nz

27 November 2013

Photoprint for Sale: Pelican, Lake Barrine, Queensland, Australia

This is an original photoprint from my personal collection

Size of image is 30cm x 46cm (12" x 18").

Price is $NZ 50.00 inc. urban p. and p. in NZ.

Please contact me at donovan@ihug.co.nz or 09 4159 701.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz

26 November 2013

Restaurant Violence (Newspaper Headline)

Pinkus shuffled head down along the shabby street, his unmatched shoes - one of whose uppers had parted with its sole exposing a row of rusty shark’s teeth - kicking aside discarded cigarette packets and butts and candy-striped cardboard tubs once loaded with greasy chicken legs. Autumn leaves swirled around the cracked flags of the uneven pavement and littered, like flotsam in a harbourside eddy, the precincts of over-shop apartments whose doors rarely stood open in daytime.

He paid no attention to the shoppers and business people who, opposing his progress until confronted by him, parted like impatient waters around a slow moving sludge dredger butting upstream on an unswerving course. To Pinkus it made no difference whether the world around his was populated with scarecrows or fashion plates, men or women; he had no eye for a pretty shape, his libido had died years ago washed away by cheap sherry and methylated spirits hidden in their bottles in brown paper bags visited furtively in public parks erected by idealistic councillors for the public good only to be inhabited by the likes of Pinkus and other tatterdemalions.

Pinkus was dying, slowly, of gross abuse of his bodily organs and of malnutrition. A percipient doctor, were Pinkus by chance to find himself in one's presence, would soon have found, among other incipient outward signs of inner decay,  evidence of scurvy. It was hardly surprising for Pinkus dined on a menu of leavings; food scraps which, on a bad day, comprised crusts too heavy for sparrows to carry away or, better, discarded half-eaten sandwiches and doughnuts lying like hidden treasures among the dross of community trash cans. On a better day, Pinkus might find fruit, an apple core, a plum with flesh generously adhering to its stone, a banana with a small cone of sugar-browned pulp nestled at the hub of its splayed panels.

On a good day he would have money to spend; some coins or a low value banknote. They came rarely and from unpredictable sources: opportunistic theft, perhaps from the pocket of a park worker’s jacket left, in the heat of the day, by his wheelbarrow; or from the guilt-loaded charity of a contemplative citizen. On this day, the wealth that Pinkus clutched in the deep pocket of the sagging, oversized army greatcoat that served to cover his emaciated body both from the night airs and public gaze, was a handful of gold-coloured coins that he had found, piled randomly, in the payout cup of a gaming machine in the high street amusement arcade.

They had shooed him away but not before he had scooped out the coins, assuming correctly that his good fortune came from a miraculous moment when a punter, having pulled the bandit machine’s one-arm for the last time, had impatiently turned away disgusted with his inordinate run of bad luck before the final permutation of numbers triggered an internal command to release a minor dividend.

Flush, Pinkus turned in to the mosaic-tiled doorway of a crowded hamburger restaurant and joined a queue of hungry customers. The reactions of those before and after him were worthy of study. Those in front first became aware of the odour; some of  those behind left space, having observed Pinkus's dilapidation rapidly followed by a perceptible change in air quality. Others behind simply did not stay, opting, who knows? for Burger King, Wendy's or Kentucky Fried Chicken a few steps along the road.

Hygienic in her fresh, bright, crisp uniform the girl-child, earning part-time money to help with university costs, blinked disconcertedly as Pinkus came to the head of the queue. But the staff-manual smile quickly re-arranged her pretty face as she asked 'What would you like, sir?' Pinkus, just audible, ordered the cheapest hamburger with cheese, some French fries and a milk shake and dipped deeply into the greatcoat pocket. Out came a few coins, some old crumbs, generous pellets of pocket fluff and a rusty paper clip all of which he deposited into a plastic bowl on the counter. The cashier, already wearing plastic gloves that looked like five-fingered condoms, extracted the coins, jettisoned the rubbish, and holding the paper clip ostentatiously between finger and thumb placed it on the tray with his food.

Pinkus looked around. The restaurant was almost full but he espied a table in a corner against a mirrored wall that was cramped beneath a staircase leading to an upper storey. He made his way there largely unconscious of other patrons, as he passed them, who shrank away with stares of repugnance and disbelief at his filthy appearance. Settling in, he opened the striped box and withdrew its contents. On the table was a red plastic container of tomato sauce, another, yellow, with mustard sauce, salt and pepper shakers and a glass cone with a metal funnel, containing white sugar.

Having separated the top of his hamburger from its cheese and meat patty, Pinkus, determined to get his money's worth, picked up the tomato sauce and shook it vigorously. Aiming the spout at the meat patty, Pinkus sqeezed gently. Nothing happened. He shook the container once more, turned it upwards and squeezed again, this time with both hands, hard, until the dried plug of sauce that had blocked the spout suddenly shot out, followed by a stream of tomato ketchup which arced across two tables and struck Liam Murphy, who was dining with his wife and two boys, in the right ear.

Murphy and his family hailed from Ireland and were sworn enemies of the Ulster immigrant family of Donnellys of which Michael, the father, was passing behind Murphy with his tray of food and drink at precisely the moment the sauce stream struck. Red liquid dripping down his tee-shirt, Murphy turned to see Donnelly behind him. 'You focking bathtard, Donnelly.' He rasped, 'You did that on porpose!' and half standing he brought his fist up under the tray and sent it and its contents flying across the restaurant. Michael staggered backwards, knocking a nearby pensioner off his chair and falling to the floor.

Irene Donnelly took that opportunity to swing her black shoulder bag at Murphy's wife, Kathleen. It caught her in the back of her head forcibly ejecting from her mouth an illegal cigarette which lodged itself in the bag as Irene retrieved it.

A small group of punk rockers, all mohawks and safety pins, suddenly fired up by the burgeoning fight between Catholics and Protestants across the room, took the opportunity to hurl a couple of chrome-legged plastic chairs over the now extremely disturbed patrons. One of the chairs hit and shattered the peach-tinted mirror on the wall beside Pinkus just as he noticed that an unopened striped hamburger packet had somehow appeared on his table.

Unnoticed by anybody, Mrs Donnelly's shoulder bag emitted a small puff of white smoke.

Behind the serving counter young boys and girls of the staff watched, amazed, as the manager ran to the telephone to call the police. As he did so he noticed two boys trying to steal the Coca-Cola clock off the wall opposite the broken mirror. Both boys had long coveted the clock and wanted it for a souvenir. Unfortunately it was not battery driven, it was powered by a mains connexion whose flex ran discreetly down the side of a pilaster to a plug socket, the flex being held in place by a series of plastic coated staples set at regular intervals. As the boys removed the clock the staples flew out of the wall and one of them landed on a meat-and-egg-burger as its owner took a bite. Horrified and in pain he started to choke, his neighbours unaware of his predicament as they either watched, dodged or took part in a melee that now engulfed the whole restaurant. His face scarlet he eventually ejected the staple and, staring appalled, at it lying on the table croaked, 'The bastards, the bastards, I'll sue them, I'll sue the bastards!'

The noise was unspeakable as punches were thrown, territory invaded, hair pulled and eyes poked. Schoolboys attacked rivals, schoolgirls screamed at their boyfriends, pensioners wielded sticks and walking frames and two Japanese tourists, not long off their cruise ship moored in the downtown harbour snapped and videotaped digitally as if the show had been especially staged for their enjoyment. From halfway up the stairs a hopeful man had called the local television station on his mobile phone and while engaged in trying to extract money from them in return for letting them know where the riot was taking place, was rendered unconscious when a metal container of paper napkins hit him on the temple.

Pinkus, safe in his corner beneath the staircase, finished his milkshake and wiped his mouth on a paper serviette that had fluttered from the staircase above his lice-infested head. The table next to his had been vacated by the Donnelly boys who were now fighting and biting the Murphy boys on the floor. Suddenly the table upended spilling a mustard sauce container, a plastic wallet and a few gold coins at Pinkus's feet. He leaned down and retrieved the money and wallet which he dropped into his right pocket while slipping the boxed hamburger and condiment into the other. Then, choosing his moment carefully, he slid out from his table, picked his way across the floor, avoiding writhing bodies and squashed French fries and exited the hamburger bar as the distant sound of police sirens reached his tufted, waxed-up ears.

A small crowd had gathered in the street but gave way to Pinkus as the Red Sea had parted for Moses. He had gone no more than five metres from the door when the restaurant's large front window exploded as Liam Murphy's coiled bulk flew through it followed by his deadly enemy's wife's shoulder bag, now smoking like a bishop's censer. As the police car drew to a halt another chair sailed through the gaping window, bounced off the roof of a parked saloon and hit the blue revolving light on the top of the police car. The light and the chair landed in the high street and were promptly flattened by a No. 88 bus whose driver and passengers were paying more attention to the fracas than the road.

Pinkus shuffled a further fifty metres to where a small, pigeon-infested rest area, remnant of an ancient cemetery, provided a haven from the bustle of the main road. Here he settled on to a green wooden bench as another wailing police car followed by an ambulance arrived at the scene.

Pinkus felt in the left pocket of his mouldy greatcoat and his hand closed over the still intact packet containing a double-meat-with-cheese-and-dill-pickle hamburger. Below it he could feel a few French fries and the plastic container of mustard sauce. Then he plumbed his right pocket wherein lay somewhat more coins than he had had when he had first entered the restaurant and also the wallet which he now withdrew. Inside he found some bank notes, credit cards, rewards cards, membership cards, a blood donor's card and a driving licence. He re-pocketed the bank notes and threw the wallet and its remaining contents under a fuschia bush behind the bench.

Pinkus laced his mittened fngers across the string knot that held his greatcoat fastened and drew his head down below its collar. A half smile crossed his wind-roughened cheeks and their marbling of small, broken blood vessels. He belched gently and as he quietly fell asleep reflected that today, among all the dull days, had been a rather good one - with supper already on hand.


25 November 2013

Unprotected Sex in a Tuscan garden.

There’s no experience quite like that of leaning out of the unshuttered upper storey window of a country villa on a sensuously warm Tuscan summer night and looking out over a valley upon whose hillsides specks of light mark ancient villages. On the honeyed air comes the seductive perfume of nocturnal flora, the barking of distant dogs and the rustle of the leaves of chestnut trees

Below the window, upon terraces where moon-silvered olives share grassy slopes with vines and raspberry canes fireflies weave like drunkards with torches trying to find their way home. You can’t help comparing this to paradise; it’s all too unbelievably perfect. Those fireflies, they’re so beautiful that we would like always to think well of them, but to their magical world there’s a grisly, dark and sinister side.

Take two species: photuris and photinus. Be careful, those names are deceptively similar.

The female of the species photuris is a siren who eats male fireflies. She has the decency not to tuck into her own menfolk, but with diabolical cunning she copies and then imitates the light signals of that other species, photinus.

Having done so, like a Cornish wrecker she lures into her air space any hot and lusty young photinus bent on a bit of nocturnal nooky, but it’s neither sex nor a good meal she’s after, she wants a chemical called lucibufagins which photinus has but photuris hasn’t. Indeed, she needs it badly because once she has ingested it from the doomed dupe it will guard her from attacks by predators - spiders, bats and the like. They don’t like the taste of lucibufagins so they avoid any firefly that’s got it.

So when, in the northern hemisphere summer, you savour the night air of the Tuscan terraces and are wooed by the enchanting illuminations of those meandering insects remember to reflect upon the casual, routine murder that's taking place before your misty eyes; and weigh the astonishing notion that when the crunch comes, photuris actually benefits from unprotected sex.

Now there’s a twist!


© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz or donovan0001.blogspot.co.nz

24 November 2013

Photoprint for Sale: Woman Reclining In Deck Chair By Hotel Pool

This is an original photoprint from my personal collection

Size of image is 46cm x 30cm (18" x 12").

Price is $NZ 50.00 inc. urban p. and p. in NZ.

Please contact me at donovan@ihug.co.nz or 09 4159 701.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz

17 November 2013

Photoprint for Sale: Dance Kiosk 1910, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

This is an original photoprint from my personal collection

Size of image is 30cm x 46cm (12" x 18").

Price is $NZ 50.00 inc. urban p. and p. in NZ.

Please contact me at donovan@ihug.co.nz or 09 4159 701.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz

12 November 2013

Photoprint for Sale: Classic Queenslander House, Charters Towers, Queensland, Australia

This is an original photoprint from my personal collection

Size of image is 30cm x 46cm (12" x 18").

Price is $NZ 50.00 inc. urban p. and p. in NZ.

Please contact me at donovan@ihug.co.nz or 09 4159 701.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz

02 November 2013

Photoprint for Sale: Cape Upstart from Mt. Inkerman, Queensland, Australia

This is an original photoprint from my personal collection

Size of image is 30cm x 46cm (12" x 18").

Price is $NZ 50.00 inc. urban p. and p. in NZ.

Please contact me at donovan@ihug.co.nz or 09 4159 701.

© DON DONOVAN. donovan@ihug.co.nz 
www. don-donovan.blogspot.co.nz


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By Don Donovan