never again will a story be told as though it’s the only one – john berger

We are nearly there, and my friend turns to me, touching my arm. I smile, and she points out a distant snow-brushed peak. The hills are black ash but already trees sprout bright dresses of life. Snug houses, flame-licked but whole, sit amongst silent forest ghosts. There is one home coming up on our right, burnt with memory, where she will be waiting. Three and a half decades ago, she held me, briefly, before I went to other arms. Now, as we turn down the drive, I see her. She stands under a carport, her face in the light, shining. – SmokeLong Quarterly, 2003

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Calibre Prize 2014

Early in February I received an email to inform me that I had been longlisted for this year’s Calibre Prize! The title of my submitted essay is ‘A hole in the heart: on secrets, silence, and sorrow’ and is memoir based on my adoptive life. Image

The shortlist was released this month on the Australian Book Review’s website. Here is the announcement:

The Calibre Prize, now in its eighth year, continues to attract outstanding new essays. This year we received almost 100 essays, with a huge variety of styles and subject matter. The judges – Morag Fraser and Peter Rose – have shortlisted six of them:

– Ruth Balint: ‘The Paradox of Weimar: Hitlerism and Goethe’
– Martin Edmond: ‘Five Towns’
– Rebecca Giggs: ‘Open Ground: Trespassing on the Pilbara’s Mining Boom’
– Christine Piper: ‘Unearthing the Past’
– Anne-Marie Priest: ‘“Something very difficult and unusual”: The Love Song of Henry and Olga’
– Stephen Wright: ‘Blows upon a Bruise’

This year the winner (who will receive $5000) will be announced at a special ceremony on Wednesday, 26 March. This will take place in the Assembly Hall at Boyd, starting at 6 pm. The essayists will read extracts from their essays. This is a free public event, but reservations are necessary: rsvp@australianbookreview.com.au.

ABR will then publish the winning essay in the April issue, followed by the other shortlisted essays.

 

Congratulations to all the shortlisted writers and I look forward to reading their essays.

He was sitting

He was sitting eeriely still at the table. She tried to look in his direction only every so often, so as not to seem obvious. His eyes were large and clear, no bloodshot haziness. He was reading a book, plain-clothed so she couldn’t see the title, and was turning the pages at a reasonable rate. But something drew her eyes back to him. And then he looked up at her suddenly, and she froze.

Jigsaw Part Five

The jigsaw pieces made up a picture. In it were three people, a mother, a father, and a baby girl. The child was newborn, but though so young, Alice recognised her own features. The mother and father were not the parents Alice knew. They were standing in the background, their hands neatly clasped in front of them, their eyes looking over at the other couple.

  Alice peered closely at the faces. The father seemed to blur, his features going in and out of focus so that she could not really say whether he was dark or fair, or handsome or blue-eyed or red-haired or anything. The mother was looking over at the older couple, Alice’s parents, seeming to fix her gaze on the older woman’s face.

  Alice ran her finger over the faces, wondering what the picture meant. The mother holding the baby suddenly turned to speak, and Alice snatched her finger away, and fell back on the carpet.

  “This is you, Alice. This is you, you realise that don’t you? I am your first mother, I had you and gave you away, because I could not keep you. I could not afford to keep you. I would have been beaten up by my father, and by my mother, and probably my brothers. My grandmother would never have spoken to me again. They would all have called me a slut, and I would have been cast out. They don’t know, and never will know, about you. They thought I went off to work in another state for a few months. Don’t you ever tell my secret, Alice.”

  Alice put her finger under the edge of a piece of the jigsaw. She flicked it up and sent it flying. She did this with the next one, then the next and the next. Until the pieces were strewn all around her room.

 

Jigsaw Part Four

ImageShe walked along Moggill Road, into Toowong, along Coronation Drive by the river, stopping once or twice to watch something float past. She dodged cyclists as they rang their bells at her, and studied one piece of anti-safe sex graffiti. She walked up onto Victoria Bridge, across the river, past the large concrete buildings, into the Southbank precinct. She had a swim in the lagoon.

After a short sunbathe on the beach, she dressed and walked into West End. The locksmith looked at her locked pocket and shook his head.

“Can’t you give it a bang or something?”

He looked at her with a pained expression.

“You don’t have to go to a locksmith to get something banged on,” he sniffed. “This is what they call a Hooley lock. Only the person who made it can unlock it. Unless.”

“Unless what?”

He didn’t answer her. He tried to open it, just to show Alice how impossible it was. After all of his various instruments failed, he resorted to giving the lock a good wallop. That squashed it flat, but didn’t open it. Alice and the locksmith smiled exhaustedly at each other, and agreed to give up.

When she got home, she took a pair of secateurs and crunched the battered lock apart. Fragments of metal flew everywhere. At least, that was what she thought they were, until she looked down at the pocket and realised the fragments were coming out of it. She stood up from the table and took a step back. Bits and pieces of strange objects were spurting out, at an ever faster rate. She tried to catch some of them, but they seemed to disappear into the corners and crevices of the room, like sparks from sparklers.

She got a broom and began to sweep the floor. Amongst the dust, dried cockroaches, corks and biscuit crumbs she found the fragments. They looked like jigsaw puzzle pieces. When the pocket finally ceased its production, she took all the bits she had found into her bedroom, and shut the door.

Jigsaw Part Three

Alice, of course, fiddled with the lock on the pocket, pulled it this way and that, attacked it with pliers, with a fork, and with a frustrated yelp, her teeth.

  Nothing would budge it.

  She banged on the shed door until her knuckles were sore. She pressed her nose against each of the windows, but her father hid from her each time. Every time he tried to emerge from the shed, Alice assailed him with the bag. He said he wasn’t going to come out until she stopped annoying him about the locked pocket. She said she wasn’t going to stop annoying him about the locked pocket until he unlocked it.

 

  The hours and days ticked by. He managed to get out for a leak and a meal when she was asleep, because, even though she tried to keep her eyes open for as long as she could by drinking fifteen cups of coffee and nearly being sick, she couldn’t stay awake.

 

  On the fifth day, Alice went out. She took her new black bag with her and didn’t tell her father where she was going.

Review of Secret Storms by Julie Mannix von Zerneck and Kathy Hatfield

This joint memoir is testament to the pain and heartache experienced by women who relinquish their babies at birth, regardless of how their lives unfold afterwards. Julie Mannix von Zerneck was born to a highly original couple, her father being a fire-eater and sword swallower, and her mother a radio actress. Their home was often filled with carnival people in the early days, and exotic animals. Her parents travelled widely and wrote books about their experiences, which was both fascinating and alienating for their children left behind.

But she begins the book with a disturbing chapter set in the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, where she has been placed because her parents view her as suicidal after she took three sleeping pills. She is also pregnant, and her mother wants her to have an abortion, but this is not Julie’s choice. The chapters describing her time in the ward, which is the entirety of her pregnancy, include graphic descriptions of her fellow patients, “Mafia Whore”, “The DuPont Executive’s Wife”, the “Zombies”, and Theresa. Although at first they seem terrifying and mysterious to her, she soon comes to regard them with affection; “Mafia Whore”, a loud and intimidating woman with a startlingly foul vocabulary, becomes protective of the mother-to-be.

 

Review continued at Maggie Ball’s website, The Compulsive Reader.

Jigsaw Part Two

So making a bag out of a piece of vinyl was a cinch. But he wouldn’t let Alice watch while he did it, which was unusual, as he normally taught her how to make things as he went. No matter how much she pleaded with him, he would not give in.

  “No, Alice. Just this once, I want to keep my methods a secret.”

So her father went into his shed and didn’t emerge until he had finished.

  Alice loved her new bag anyway. It was shiny and black and had lots of room for all her books, her purse, hairbrush, sanitary pads and period painkillers, a notebook and pens, and lip balm. Then there was still room enough for lunch and a drink bottle.

  One thing puzzled her and that was the pocket inside. There was a tiny lock on it.

  “What is this for, Dad?”

  “Never you mind.”

  She frowned at him.

  “What do you mean? It’s my bag, and I can’t know what this pocket is for? That’s silly.”

  “One day you’ll know. Not yet.”

  “Come on, Dad. Tell me what it’s for. Come on.”

She proceeded to tickle him. But he gave her the slip and ran into the garden, round the vege patch, skipped over Rufus the Papa Great Dane, and shut himself in the shed.