"Over in Aunty Vicky’s stables there’s a pregnant palomino mare, and Aunty Vicky’s promised that if the foal comes while I’m here I can watch it being born..."
Poem - a spider's work is never done
Spinning, spinning, spinning,
my new web is surely a winner,
spinning, spinning, spinning
as I catch and wrap up my dinner.
It took me all day
to catch me a snack
but you brushed me away,
so I hid in a crack.
As the sun sets you know,
you know I’ll be back, to my…
Spinning, spinning, spinning.
Story - Loki, Bird of Mischief
My name’s Loki and I’m the best cockatiel. I live in Lilly’s room—my human’s—where I have a cage to sleep in at night.
One day Lilly was sitting on her bed, muttering gibberish words like fractions and not letting me sit on her head. I’d done a couple of flybys, clipping her ear with my wing, then retreated to the windowsill.
Just as I launched off to tickle her ear again I caught a claw in one of those flimsy nets and fell out the window, only just managing to grab the wood at the bottom before I face-planted into the ground.
I hung on, screeching...but Lilly didn’t come. I screeched again, then louder. Still no Lilly.
The air was warm out here. Smells that sometimes came through the window were super strong, so with my heart pounding like a hummingbird’s wings I let go of the wood and flapped my wings.
Lilly stuck her head out the window. ‘What are you doing out there, Loki?’
Lilly stretched down a hand. ‘If you come back here I’ll give your earholes a scratch.’
Just as I was about to fly back to her I spotted fat, muddy-brown little dumplings flying at me. I chirruped to say hi but they kept coming, their eyes hard. I darted away, only to have them chase after me no matter how much I circled, trying to shake them off my tail feathers.
I spotted Lilly down on the ground, waving her arms and doing our special whistle, and I flew as fast as I could towards her. But as I got near the blasted flying dim sims were there again, so I maneuvered away, keeping on flying until I found a humongous tree to hide in. I huddled there, waiting, but by the time they finally left it was too dark to look for Lilly. I’d usually be snug by now, nodding off with a belly full of my favourite seeds.
Instead, I spent a scary night assailed by a cacophony of hoots, rustles and shrieks.
At dawn I dragged open my eyes and set off in search of Lilly again. But every time I took off those wretched homing birds found me. I battled all day, and just as was giving up I heard Lilly’s whistle.
‘Chirrup, chirrup,’ I called from my hiding place.
Too tired to fly, I started climbing down, branch by branch, relieved to see Lilly’s dad climbing towards me. He helped me down the last little bit and I leapt onto Lilly’s thumb, gripping it tightly, then ran up her arm and buried my head under her chin. ‘Chirrup.’
‘It’s okay, Loki, you’re nearly home. I bet you’re hungry.’
In our bedroom I ate and ate, then let Lilly scratch my head. Later I went to tell the other bird in that mirror thingy about outside—to warn her from going there.
In the Depths of my handbag
You’ll probably find in the depths of most women’s handbags a wallet. Maybe a mobile phone and even the trappings of face paint. Definitely emergency feminine products that when mentioned will make guys break out in a rash and dive for their happy place. My bag is not dissimilar, but there is one important difference – it has the name of a woman stamped on the inside. Nomita. This is the artisan who crafted my handbag out of ethically tanned leather. She was liberated from the sex trade in Kolkata, India, and now creates leather goods at The Loyal Workshop. When you buy one of these you can go online to The Loyal Workshop’s website and meet the artisan who made it.
This is what TLW’s website told me about, Nomita: A peaceful and contented older woman, who has found great joy in coming to work with us. She is grateful for the simple pleasures in life. She speaks fondly of living in her nearby home and walking the five-minute journey to work at Loyal each day. Her dream is to work with us for the rest of her days.
Even better, there are videos on Facebook showing a satchel being hand-stitched, discussing the benefits and durability that occurs from the leather-workers’ devotion to their craft.
My satchel is dark tan with two buckles in the front, and was advertised as the Goodstead style of bag. I’m pretty sure I had a similar type of bag when I started school in 1975. I’m also pretty sure it’s a bogan trait, but I love the smell of leather, and find vegetable-tanned leather smells a lot more woodsy than traditionally tanned leather. Even though I only received my current satchel from my kids last Christmas, it now has dozens of scratches and marks that to my eyes show it is well loved and slowly forming its own story. It’s hard to describe the feel of these little scars as I run my hand over them, but I imagine them as being like the wrinkles my skin will acquire the older I get. When I add my chequebook (I know – archaic, right?), iPad and wallet, my highly indestructible handbag becomes a weapon to ward off muggers and purse snatchers. Next time I travel overseas it will be my constant companion (see photos above around San Francisco).
Sometimes I wish I could buy one of everything TWL produces every year, just to feel a minuscule part of such an altruistic mission. I am in awe of what a Kiwi family have achieved with their business/humanitarian venture. The founders – Paul and Sarah Beisly – along with six other New Zealanders are teaching freed women skills that will give them a different and better life. A life outside of the sex trade, creating individual leather products to sell instead of their bodies. Just taking a quick look at their timeline is inspiring – from the Beislys’ first visit to Kolkata in 2002 and introduction to Freeset, a pioneering business fighting slavery, right through to TWL’s third intake of women graduating in 2017, which takes their total number of artisans to eighteen.
When I contacted TLW on Facebook to ask questions about how they recruit and what a typical work day for the ladies looks like, this is the response I received from Lou:
Our days begin when all our artisans arrive at 10am to the workshop, located on the edge of a red light area here in Kolkata. Many of these women live nearby, some still in the rooms they once used as brothels, and walk the short stroll to the workshop. Others bus to work from other areas of the city, and a couple come from villages further out requiring a long train journey each day.
We start the day with all the staff coming together for a time of singing and sharing. Then the artisans take their own drawer with the leather item they're currently working on and their leather stitching tools, choose a space on the floor of the stitching room beneath the ceiling fans or on the balcony outside, and work away.
It's a relaxed environment with lots of chatting while stitching, and we stop work to all come together regularly throughout each day. At midday we drink cha (sweet milky tea) together made in our little kitchen by a different staff member each week. We break for lunch at 2pm, which for most is a meal of rice, dal and vegetable dishes brought from home and often shared around. The work days finish at 5pm when everyone heads home.
We recruit women in group intakes and have had 3 groups so far. Before starting The Loyal Workshop Sarah spent a lot of time in the red light area building relationships with women working there. Many would have liked to work for us but had circumstances holding them back at the time, so when we are looking at taking on another group of women Sarah and our social worker will visit these contacts and see if they are ready. We also occasionally have people who drop in asking for work, and our women will put us in touch with friends of their who want to leave the sex trade, so these are people who will be visited and might end up part of a group intake. If these women are ready to fight for their freedom, we will fight with them.
Training is a 6-month period which involves supporting the women in whatever it takes for them to leave the sex trade. This time also includes group counselling, literacy and numeracy classes and learning to stitch alongside one of our more experienced artisans. We have milestones for this process and we celebrate together when each woman accomplishes a new skill, which keeps it really positive.
It wasn’t until I went searching for the cultural ramifications of the sex trade in India that I discovered there are different distinctions for “sex work” and “sex trafficking”. Abraar Karan in his post for The Lancet Global Health Blog, Understanding Cultural Female Sex Work in India and Why Tradition Needs to be Challenged, differentiates these clearly:
“Traditionally, we think of trafficking as the movement of bodies through force and deceit to new locations, mainly in brothels, where they earn money for their pimps and madams. This is in contrast to autonomous sex work, through which the sex workers’ rights movement has grown.”
After the British Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 came into effect, forbidding jesters, snake charmers, dancers, acrobats and other performing communities (tribes), many turned to sex work as a means of survival, adopting it as part of their culture. Karan goes on to say, “I believe that those in ‘cultural’ sex work are neither autonomous, nor happy. And they certainly are far from safe.” Many of the women and girls are physically abused by “clients” or their husbands and in-laws, and a majority of the time it’s a family member who’s forcing them into the sex trade. Any family that endeavours to break away from this “cultural tradition” is likely to be ostracised by the public and become outcasts, unable to relocate somewhere new.
One of Abraar Karan’s comments from his blog that I wholeheartedly agree with is: “Suffering is suffering, whether it is in the USA or in a rural village in India. Traditions are meant to be broken with when they are exploiting our world’s most vulnerable.” One thing Abraar Karan believes can make a difference in tribes where women and girls are forced into sex work, is giving them access to primary health care. I have to agree with him but would expand that to include education free from prejudice and bullying, something he identifies as a major factor causing girls from one of the many “cultural” sex work tribes to drop out of their primary schooling.
If you have the stomach for the horrific details on human trafficking you could read several articles and essays online. One such essay is in Granta – “The Tamarind is Always Sour” by Keane Shum. It is heartbreaking what he writes:
It is not hard to imagine Kamal,* a twelve-year-old Rohingya boy, walking through his village one autumn night, suddenly being encircled by a group of young men. Some have guns. They grab his hair and make him walk towards a riverbank, where dozens of people are being herded onto a large canoe of sorts. There are a few other children like him, alone and confused. After several hours heading out to sea they sail up to a fishing trawler. Everyone boards, and Kamal is forced underneath the deck, into the hold. He does not know where he is going.
It’s hard to read the above quote – or others that tell of a sixteen-year-old girl being repeatedly raped over fifteen days in the jungle, or the hundreds of bodies buried near refugee camps. Or that describe the squalid conditions teenage girls are kept prisoner in after being married off by phone – their new husbands pay their passage, but instead of reaching their destinations the girls are held for ransom by the human traffickers paid to transport them.
Keane Shum leads the Maritime Movements Monitoring Unit at the UNHCR Regional Office for Southeast Asia in Bangkok, and what he says about his job in The Guardian, June 2016 – “My job is to ask refugees about their journey. It's so awful I've run out of words to describe it” – can’t help but thump me in my sternum, tightening my chest and making my sinuses sting as tears threaten.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be sold or pressganged into sex slavery. To only be perceived as worthy because of the genitalia between my legs – trapped through being discarded, kidnapped or trafficked, viewed as property, and available to any man who has a few dollars. It’s doubtful this alleviation of base male needs is in any way profound, and highly unlikely to be performed in a hotel room that has even basic comforts, let alone one boasting a king-size bed made with crisp white sheets cooled by air conditioning, plus a separate ensuite with little wrapped tablets of soap for the girl to wash off the stranger’s semen and smell.
Two daughters and a stepdaughter make up part of my family. We live in comfort in New Zealand, and though we struggle from pay packet to pay packet (I’m told that’s common nowadays) we are at least safe, warm and fed. I can sit in my lounge, headphones on, listening to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ music and write this with the knowledge that I won’t be persecuted, jailed or killed for what I write. And though I’ve probably threatened to dozens of times over the years, from sheer frustration, I haven’t sold any of our girls off.
When I first started researching Kolkata I found an amazing amount of historical as well as geographical facts about the city and India. I was particularly intrigued by this sentence: Today it’s known for its grand colonial architecture, art galleries and cultural festivals. And, also: Nicknamed, “The City of Joy”, the city proper is home to 4.5 million people, with the total reaching a staggering 14.1 million if you include all the suburbs.
Where is the joy for the girls and women trapped as possessions?
What you won’t see in any of those travel blurbs is statistics on human trafficking, which is possibly why a previously savvy Kiwi woman, at the grand old age of twenty-one, thought it was a good idea to travel to India alone.
At the beginning of 2017 Bridgette, my stepdaughter, moved to Kununurra in Western Australia. She stayed there until June that year, when she flew to Delhi on her way to a month at the Mahi Yoga Centre in Dharamsala. Now, most parents would be going “Cool, what an adventure”. But the thing that’s wrong with this picture is this – Bridgette went alone. She was a young, tall, blonde white woman who planned to travel across a country that treats women as commodities and where some 40,000 women and girls go missing every year. There are many stories of white women being kidnapped and trafficked. Suffice to say, Bridgette’s dad didn’t sleep very well for over a month.
Being a privileged westerner, I find it near on impossible to comprehend the horror that the women at TLW may have endured prior to starting work there. But somehow this lack of knowledge made it even more frightening to hear what happened to Bridgette in old Delhi:
My taxi driver got lost and was yelling out the window, asking people where my hotel was. Some random guy off the street said he knew and grabbed my bag out of the car. I chased after him, trying to get my bag back, and he went into a building. It was just him and 3 other guys. It seemed really dodgy, but they just ended up trying to sell me tours and stuff and writing me up a plan of activities for the next day, and I said I'd think about it. He eventually ended up taking me to my hotel.
It’s scary as shit thinking about how the situation could have ended a whole lot differently, especially when I happened across an article in The Guardian that says, “Foreign arrivals [have been] issued with welcome kits including safety advice for women, after high-profile assaults” and adds India’s tourism minister has said foreign women should not wear skirts or walk alone at night in the country’s small towns and cities “for their own safety”.
After leaving Dharamsala, Bridgette joined up with a few people she’d met at the centre and went hiking...on the border of Afghanistan! When I saw the Facebook photos of her hiking in short shorts and a crop top I decided to pretend I was an ostrich, sticking my fingers in my ears and going “La la la” until the images melted from my brain. The day she flew in to Australia to work on tall ship Soren Larsen in Sydney Harbour I swear was the first day her dad and I took a full, deep breath. At least when she’s perched on the top of a 30.5-metre mast taking photos of the deck she’s attached by a harness. Small mercies from a parent’s point of view.
I have to say, India has never been on my radar as a place I long to visit but I would love to make a stop in Kolkata – not for the tourist attractions, but just so I could go to The Loyal Workshop and meet the inspirational Kiwis and artisans there and pay homage to the incredible work they do.
Granta 138: Journeys, The Online Edition, Essays & Memoir, 19th June 2017: Sham, Keane, “The Tamarind is Always Sour” – www.granta.com/tamarind-always-sour/#f1
Huffington Post, 17 January 2017: Karan, Abraar, “Women in India’s Cultural Sex Trade Need Healthcare” – www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/why-healthcare-is-essential-to-overcoming-the-cultural_us_58791a1ce4b03e071c14fca4
Kolkata, India – Britannica.com - www.britannica.com/place/Kolkata
The Guardian, June 2016: “Keane Shum” – www.theguardian.com/profile/keane-shum
The Guardian, 29 August 2016: Sufi, Michael, “Female Tourists Skirts Safety Advice” www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/29/india-female-tourists-skirts-safety-advice
The Lancet Global Health Blog, 9 December 2016: Karan, Abraar, “Understanding Cultural Female Sex Work in India and Why Tradition Must be Challenged” - www.globalhealth.thelancet.com/2016/12/09/understanding-cultural-female-sex-work-india-and-why-tradition-must-be-challenged
The Loyal Workshop: Ethical Leather Satchels & Bags - www.theloyalworkshop.com/ www.theloyalworkshop.com/meet-the-artisans/ and www.facebook.com/theloyalworkshop/
Rediff.com India News, 8 March 2018, Human trafficking in India -
Reuters, 5 December 2017, Nagaraj, Anuradha & Bhalla, Nita, India's human trafficking data masks reality of the crime: campaigners -www.reuters.com/article/us-india-trafficking/indias-human-trafficking-data-masks-reality-of-the-crime-campaigners-idUSKBN1DY1RP
Story - Licky Palomino
“Mum, Muum,” I call to Mum in the driver’s seat. “Cissy’s been carsick again. It smells awful and I think I’m going to puke too!” Cissy always throws up when we drive from Wellington to Kinloch. “Maybe we should get a feedbag for her to wear?” We could get it from Aunty Vicky’s stud farm.
“I’m not wearing a feedbag! Mum, tell Cameron he’s being mean.”
“Oh, Cissy, I could have stopped the car. Cameron, don’t forget you used to throw up on this trip too.” Instead of stopping, Mum wound down the windows.
We passed through Taupo and headed out towards Aunty Vicky’s farm. I’ve been coming here by myself since I was Cissy’s age. That first time Uncle Stan taught me to ride on old Bobby, who’s a black, half-Arabian, 12-hands-high pony. Bobby’s twenty horse-years old, which is 60 for people, but he can still go like a rocket...when he wants to, which isn’t often.
Bobby’ll be waiting for me but my cousins are at uni now, and Uncle Stan died two years ago. I still miss him.
Mum and Aunty Vicky hugged and whispered for ages when we finally arrived. I think Mum’s really happy she and Dad are going off on their own for a holiday. I don’t care that they’re going to Fiji—I like staying here more.
“You know where to take the suitcases, Cameron—up you go,” Aunty Vicky mumbled through Mum’s hair.
I lugged Cissy and my bags through the ranchslider and upstairs to the room we always stay in. It’s my favourite because the wallpaper has wild horses on it, including a palomino stallion rearing up on his back legs, pawing at the air. Over in Aunty Vicky’s stables there’s a pregnant palomino mare, and Aunty Vicky’s promised that if the foal comes while I’m here I can watch it being born.
“Cameron, where are you hiding?” Cissy called for like the millionth time in the week we’ve been here.
She keeps following me all over the farm asking stupid questions. I got so angry yesterday I pinched her arm. Aunt Vicky made me muck out a whole lot of stalls. So now I’m hiding in Bobby’s while he’s out in the paddock—I know Cissy can’t see over the stall doors.
Because I’m ten, I’m used to being on my own here, only seeing Aunty Vicky at mealtimes, but at five Cissy isn’t. Aunty Vicky gives Cissy a riding lesson after lunch, but the rest of the time she has to play on the swings and sandpit, or in the treehouse Uncle Stan made for my cousins—except when she tries to get me to play with her and make magic potions out of flowers and stuff. Mostly I avoid her by going for a ride—I can saddle Bobby myself so I’m allowed to ride on my own, as long as I can see the stables.
After dinner Aunty Vicky, Cissy and I played Go Fish until Cissy’s bedtime. On one of our last nights the phone rang as Aunty Vicky came downstairs.
“Hello, Vicky here...right, see you in a minute.” She hung up and smiled at me. “Ready to see a foal being born?”
“Heck, yes! Right now?” I hopped up and down on the spot.
“Yes, right now. Grab your jacket and gumboots and we’re off.”
I had to skip to keep up with Aunty Vicky as we crossed the yard to the stables.
“Remember to talk quietly, Cameron. You don’t want to scare Mayzie.”
“Did you name her after that book Daisy-Head Mayzie?”
“Not originally, but I caught her one day jumping around with a daisy on her head, and the name kind of stuck.”
“That’s so cool. What’re you gonna call the new foal?”
Aunty Vicky’s eyebrow rose. “I have to find out first if it’s a filly or colt.”
The stable door squeaked as Aunty Vicky pushed it open. The lights were on in the big stall at the back, and when we went in I saw the mare on her side.
“Stay near the door, Cameron, and tell me when you see the front legs.”
My feet were stuck to the ground like the time I walked in Dad’s new concrete path. I stared at Mayzie’s tail for hours, until at last I saw two hooves push out. “Hooves!” I called as quietly as I could.
Aunty Vicky stopped talking to Devon, the guy who looks after all the pregnant mares, and came put her hand on my shoulder. “It won’t be long now.”
When the nose popped out and then the whole head I remembered Matua Ross showing us how to dive into the school pool.
Devon cleaned yucky stuff off the foal’s nose and held its legs.
I whispered, “Aunty Vicky, is Devon going to pull the foal out?”
“He’s not pulling, just giving Mayzie a bit of a hand.”
I think it was only about ten minutes later that the foal was out and Devon was rubbing it with straw.
“He’s a colt, Vicky, and he just licked me so he’s definitely going to be a hungry one.”
“That’s fantastic, Devon. Thank you.” Aunty Vicky turned to me. “I think it’s your bedtime now, Cameron. You can come back tomorrow after breakfast.”
After stumbling my way back to the house I lay under the sheet, staring at the prancing wall-stallion. The foal had been all wet and little. There was no way it would ever look like that...
“Cameron, wake up— there’s a new baby horsey in the stables!”
“I know, I saw it being born.”
“Truly? You saw it being borned? Was it really cool? Is the baby big?”
“Yeah, it was really, really cool but not very big. You’re probably bigger.”
“I can’t wait to see the baby horsey,” Cissy called as she bounced down the stairs.
I dressed faster than I ever have and was soon at the table, shovelling in cereal.
“Slow down, both of you—you’ll choke. The foal’s not going anywhere.”
I was in my gumboots at the back door long before Aunty Vicky had finished her coffee.
She helped Cissy into her boots. “You need to be very quiet in the stables—you don’t want to scare the foal.”
“I’ll be as quiet as a mouse.”
We stood in the open stall doorway and watched the foal sleeping. For once Cissy didn’t ask even one question...while we were in the stables. She had a gazillion as soon as we started walking back to the house. Aunty Vicky answered every single one.
We’d just got inside when Aunty Vicky’s iPhone rang.
“Hi, Vicky, are the kids there?” It was Mum.
“They sure are.” She put the phone on speaker and held it out so we could see the screen.
Cissy gabbled, “Guess what? We just saw a baby horsey, and Cameron saw it being borned.”
I glared at her. It was my big news to tell.
“Cameron, you can tell us all about it when you get home. Oddly enough, we have some similar news.” Dad sounded funny. “We’re going to have a baby too. Well— you’re actually going to be big brother and sister to two babies. It’s twins.”
They looked so happy, beaming at us. My skin felt cold and my tummy flip-flopped. Hand over my mouth, I bolted for Bobby’s stable.
I sank onto the floor of an empty stall, kicked the door shut, then pushed my face onto my knees. My tummy stopped sloshing.
Later Aunty Vicky called though the door, “I’ve got your dinner. I can leave it out here if you want?”
I opened the door and walked into her arms.
“I know you don’t want baby sisters or brothers, Cameron.”
I shook my head.
“What if I told you that before you came I talked to your parents and we’ve decided you can have Mayzie’s foal. You can name him, and come every holiday to train and ride him.”
“Can I call him L&P?”
“Because he’s a Licky Palomino.”
“It’s a great name. You could call him Licky for short.” She grinned, and I smiled back.
“Umm, can I have my dinner out here?”
“Sure, just pop the plate in the dishwasher when you’ve finished. And if you’re interested we’re watching Frozen at 6:30.”
While I ate I listened to Bobby making snuffling noises as he had his own dinner. I thought that one day Licky would be as big as the wall-stallion and paw the sky just like him.
Story - Only Fools and murder
Josh kicked a stone off the path as he searched for the right door to get back into the small church. He’d ducked out for a walk along the beach across the road, and now couldn’t remember which door he’d used. The third one he tried was unlocked, to his relief. Josh’d promised his best mate, Adam, he’d make sure everything would be ready before the wedding guests arrived.
Stepping through, Josh spotted a woman seated by the glass window overlooking the graveyard out back. Her body was turned so she was in partial profile. Frown lines marred her delicate features, and his breath caught as he realised he’d stumbled upon Adam’s bride.
“Hi, you must be Dominique?”
The woman stiffened, and swung to face him. “Oui. Sorry – yes, and who might you be?”
Josh wondered if the tightness in his chest was something to worry about as her gently accented voice wrapped around him. “Josh.”
Dominque’s eyes widened with recognition.
He strode across the room towards her, and felt her pulse give a sudden kick when he took her small hand in his larger one. His being lurched. Oh, hell, I’m fucked.
Over the next hour and a half he and Dominique got to know each other. Neither of them mentioned Adam even once - a really, really bad sign in Josh’s book.
Panic crossed Dominique’s face as noises filtered through from the front of the church, heralding her impending wedding. Josh stood, pulling Dominque to her feet, unsure exactly when they’d started to hold hands. Tightening his grip briefly, he said, “I wish I’d gone with Adam to Paris.” Then after a final squeeze he let her hands go, turned and walked out.
On the other side of the door Josh leaned his forehead against the cool wood, his hands shaking by his sides.
For months before the wedding Josh had been telling Adam he was nuts to go from a bachelor’s easy-going lifestyle - shagging anything that moved - to shackling himself to one person.
What a fool he’d been.
A smooth mask in place, Josh watched helplessly while Adam married Dominique. When she said, ‘I do’, her voice husky with a slight tremble, something profound cracked within him.
The next six months passed, fraught with public meetings that were one of the few lights in Josh’s misery. Yet seeing the longing in Dominique’s eyes messed with his head so much he started avoiding visiting Adam’s place. Though this was hard to achieve completely, since their properties bordered each other and Adam seemed hellbent on including Josh in his life, in his immense happiness. Josh thought having bamboo shoved under his nails wouldn’t cause nearly the same agony.
Josh strode across the paddock with his familiar ten-in-the-morning erection. Every day at this time he made the trek to Sebastian’s, where he’d stand outside while Dominique posed semi-naked.
He leaned against the kauri tree behind bushes that kept him hidden from sight but with an uninterrupted view through the floor-to-ceiling picture window into the room Sebastian used as a studio, four metres or so away.
Dominique walked into the room, the rose colour of the silk dressing gown highlighting the delicate glow of her skin. She sat on the chaise longue facing the window, and shrugged out of the gown so it pooled around her hips. Resting her arm along the back she turned and looked towards Sebastian’s easel.
Josh’s gut clenched, his erection impossibly harder. His greedy gaze took in the elegant arch of her neck, sweeping along her graceful back to her slightly-too-full bum.
Two hours later she stood. The silk slithered down her legs and she clasped her hands high above her head, her breasts lifting as she stretched.
Then she turned, fully facing the window, and Josh could hear the thunder of his heartbeat in his ears.
She’s stunning. Petite at five foot two and with hair the colour of cocoa - usually spilling down her back, but currently piled scruffily on top of her head. Her eyes were the colour of Ceylonese sapphires and her nipples a blush that deepened as the breeze from an open window brushed over them, making them pebble. Josh had lost count of the nights he’d lain awake, mentally cupping them, running his thumb over the little birthmark on the underside of her right breast. He’d spotted it the first time she’d stretched with feline grace in front of this window and had looked for it ever since.
His gaze travelled over her slightly rounded stomach with its appendectomy scar, to the mound of curls a shade or two darker than her hair.
Disappointment flared as she pulled on a scrap of lace, then let her dress slide over her body, blocking his view.
She left the house. Josh stayed perfectly still while she backed her car down the drive. Ten minutes later, once more in control and able to walk with some comfort, he knocked on the door.
He was silent as Sebastian led him through to the studio.
“Are you sure you still want to buy this, Josh? It could drive you madder, my friend.” Sebastian was the only person Josh had told how he felt about Dominique.
Josh stared at the two portraits. The one with a hint more modesty Sebastian would sell publicly. Dominique didn’t know about the second; Josh had commissioned that.
“I have to have something of her.” Barely holding his shit together, Josh handed over the thousand dollars, the amount Sebastian had paid Dominque to pose for him.
Sebastian’s mouth turned down at the corners. “It will be finished in a week. If you change your mind...”
Josh shook his head and made for the door.
He’d really thought having Dominique’s nude hanging on his bedroom wall would help in some small way to keep his sanity.
More fool him.
As he lay on his bed, the morning light slanting across the wall towards the painting, he contemplated his options. The sensible one was to sell the farm, move far, far away and never have contact with either Adam or Dominique again. Lucifer perching on his shoulder suggested he kill Adam and bury him in a shallow grave in the backyard, then move to Brazil with Dominique.
Fuck it all, Brazil it is, Josh decided that night on his way to Adam’s for dinner, having run out of excuses for turning down the invitation – not to mention the desire to do so. He hoped Dominique would like Brazil; he’d loved it when he’d travelled there as a teenager with his parents.
“Hey, Joshy, glad you could make it. Where’ve you been hiding?” Adam said, opening the door and clapping him on the shoulder.
Damn it, he’s my best mate... I can’t kill him. “Oh, you know, lambing’s about to start. Adam, do you want to buy the farm? I’ve still got itchy feet and want to carry on travelling.”
“Whoa, that’s from left field. What brought that on?”
Josh shrugged. “I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of years... and I only came home when Mum and Dad died and the farm needed me. My head’s not in it any more.”
“I know the death of your parents hit hard, but the farm’s been in your family for generations.” Adam shot Josh a searching look. “Let’s talk about it after dinner—Dominque’s made something Frenchie and it’s ready. We’ve got a surprise for later.”
Oh, God, no, please don’t let it be a baby...not until after I leave, or I’ll completely lose my marbles.
Adam disappeared into the dining room, where as boys the two of them and Adam’s sisters had made forts. Josh shook the rain – and the urge to bolt - off his jacket and hung it in the hall closet before following him.
Dominique was already sitting beside Adam, a casserole dish steaming in the centre of the table. Josh sat opposite her and surreptitiously soaked in her face, taking in the lines of strain bracketing her lips.
She avoided his eyes, busying herself serving the casserole, the vegetables close enough that he could help himself. Looking slightly to the left of his face as she passed his plate, Dominique asked, “Have you ever had boeuf bourguignon before?”
Adam laughed. “Neither of us have, darling. I keep telling you - we’re now’t but ignorant farmers.”
He winked at Josh and the tension eased for the duration of the meal as they argued about whether or not bliss could be found in ignorance. Josh secretly thought so because Adam gave no indication of realising Josh loved his wife. Or that Dominique returned the sentiment.
Josh helped Dominique clear the plates and stack the dishwasher while Adam went to feed the calves.
The moment they saw Adam vanish through the barn door Dominique whispered, “Josh, please go. Adam is going to show you a painting of me with very little clothing on that he bought from Sebastian.” Her breathing choppy, she added, “I can’t cope living with Adam and having such feelings for you. It’ll only make things harder.”
Josh silently agreed, guilt riding him as he thought of her picture hanging in his room.
Stepping away from the window, he stroked his hand from Dominique’s elbow to her wrist and gently pulled her into his arms. He held her tight and rested his cheek against the top of her head, inhaling the crisp perfume of her apple shampoo. In that moment he decided.
Drawing her scent in, Josh leant down until his lips hovered near hers. “Dominique, I will fix this.”
He gave her a final squeeze and moved away, pausing by the back door. His eyes swept her beloved face, taking in every last detail of her exquisite features before shutting the door quietly and walking the short distance to the barn.
With the faint glow of pre-dawn behind his eyelids, Josh cringed at the crunching, squelchy noises as the adult pigs ate their way through bone and muscle. He’d been a teenager when he’d read that thriller about how a murder victim had been eaten by pigs, leaving no trace.
He’d had nothing to lose, his sanity hanging by a thread.
The odd snapping noise that he presumed were tendons being severed had him opening his eyes.
Disorientated, it took a minute for him to realise the noise was the elastic band of a label being attached to hand luggage.
The businessman in the next seat gave him a lopsided smile. “Sorry, mate, I didn’t mean to wake you. I get antsy in transit. Buenos Aires is so close to Rio - you know what I mean?”
“No worries,” Josh managed to say before closing his eyes, plunging back into desolation so black there was no end in sight.
Story - Buried Treasure in the Veggie Garden
Photo by, Rhiannon Payen 2020
Rhiannon was twelve when she found the ancient drill bit buried in the garden. A metre-long corkscrew that looked like ones she’d seen in the Hikurangi museum.
They’d just bought the house, despite it being advertised as Nightmare on George Street. Originally built in 1902 as a one-roomed miner’s cottage, over the years more rooms were added until it was a hodgepodge of strange shapes. The veggie garden was probably the last addition, and the drill could have lain under the potatoes and silverbeet for over fifty years. Until the day Rhiannon’s mum decided to move the garden.
‘Rhiannon, just dig up the smaller rocks,’ her dad called as he rolled a humongous one past.
‘Where did all these rocks come from?’
‘See Hikurangi Mountain? From there, when it last erupted.’
‘Could it erupt again?’
‘Very doubtful. It’s probably been dormant since Adam was a cowboy.’
As Rhiannon watched her little brother, Fionn, using his beach bucket and spade to make mud castles, she dug in with her spade.
Rhiannon hesitated, then put the spade in again.
‘I’ve found treasure,’ she yelled.
Dad came over and dug down, until he pulled out the rusty drill bit.
‘That’s not treasure.’ Rhiannon gave it a disappointed nudge with her toe, then suddenly remembered Whaea Hayley’s lesson. ‘What if it was the one that hit the underground river, flooding the mines and making Lake Waro? ‘Maybe the miner lived here and hid the drill bit so no one would know.’
‘I think only the miner would know for sure,’ Dad said. ‘If you clean it up we can mount it on a piece of board.’
Rhiannon hosed the dirt off while Dad cut down a board. She asked Fionn, ‘Hey, do you want me to fill up your lake?’
‘Yeth pleath, Nannon.’
Rhiannon dragged the hose to the biggest hole and filled it to the top.
‘Thanths,’ Fionn said as she went to turn off the tap.
‘Give your drill bit a shake and bring it over here, Rhiannon.’
Dad laid it on the board and handed Rhiannon a hammer, tacks, and a couple of metal saddles, then showed her where to place the saddles over the shank.
While Dad hung it on the garage wall Rhiannon called, ‘Mum, come and see the really old drill we found in the garden.’
‘True? You found something other than veggies? Could we cook it up for dinner?’ Mum grinned.
‘Yuck, I don’t want rusty stuff for tea.’
Later that evening Rhiannon overheard Mum ask Dad, ‘Could that drill bit really have caused the mines to flood?’
‘I highly doubt it. It’s actually a wood auger, possibly used to mill the wood for the original part of this house.’
Rhiannon’s shoulders drooped.
Mum said, ‘That means it could be over a hundred years old.’
‘More than likely,’ Dad agreed.
Rhiannon bounced down the hall to her room. Not as big a mystery as she’d thought, but it was an ancient artifact and she couldn’t wait to tell Whaea Hayley about it at school.
Forming a picture of you
Forming a Picture of You
by Kevin Baddeley
You are my dream enveloped in a rainbow,
So enchanting sprinkled in gold dust,
Your eyes reflect the beauty of the heavens,
And the warmth of your love surrounds me.
Taken from: Forming a Picture of You: A Small Book of Poetry. J Payen & K Baddeley. Prose Publishing Ltd. Kindle Edition.