Rachael stood behind the small sales cabinet; sweat beads trickled down from her brow. No customers again!
Her hands were hooked in her belt, as though she could prevent them wanting to roam.
Do something, silly!
Rachael grabbed a pair of pruning sheers. Rows of flowers needed daily care in the shop. For a week, though, business had been slow, and as Friday crept closer, she had neglected her little beauties more with each passing day.
The mundane task did little to settle her growing anxiety. Vic had insisted, “Friday, or else.”
* * * * *
Rachael turned the car down her street and saw a Buick parked in front of her house. A tightness covered her throat. Lilli should be home by now!
The lawn chair beside her screen door was occupied. Rachael let out a strangled yelp. Lilli was sitting on Vic’s leg. His smile was warm, but his eyes were focused. He didn’t need to say a thing; she knew the question, “Where’s my money?”
“Mommy!” Lilli said as Rachael stepped out of the car. “Lookie! Uncle Vic’s here! I told him all about my birthday last week.”
“Sounded expensive,” he said with a whistle.
Rachael gave a forced smile. “Hi, Vic.”
He put two hands on Lilli’s shoulders. “I saw Lilli here when she was gettin’ out of school and thought I’d give ‘er ride home instead of ‘er catchin’ tha smelly bus.”
He pinched his nose and made a duck face.
“Eww!” Lilli said. She gave an innocent giggle. “Mommy, can I watch a movie?”
“Yes, dear. I’ll get it for ya.”
Lilli jumped off his lap. Rachael passed Vic. His hand reached out and grabbed her arm. “I’ll join ya.”
His grip tightened; Rachael flinched and opened the front door.
“Here you go, baby,” Rachael said in a shrill voice once she had turned on the TV.
“Why do you sound so funny?”
“No reason, baby. Sit close to the TV, m’kay? Uncle Vic and Mommy hafta talk.”
* * * * *
Rachael walked back to the bench and unlocked the sales cabinet. Without looking, she reached into the top shelf, hand grazing filled plastic bags, and clutched an envelope labelled “TIPS.” Rachael counted, 100, 120…280. I just need $20.
Rachael placed it back inside just in time to hear the entrance bell ding.
A man in his twenties stood there, eyes wide with terror. With a sigh, Rachael dusted her apron. She knew that look. It was the same when a man walked into a lingerie store. Too many options, too many chances to mess up, it was all a little overwhelming for some. Rachael prepared herself. “Good afterno-on,” she said, voice cracking. Ugh. Great start, Rach.
“Hi,” he said, with a smile. “I hadda fight with my lady. What flower says I’m sorry but also says I want sex and cake.”
A pinkness rose in his cheeks, and Rachael smiled with triumph. Cake. Oh, thank goodness!
After some discussion, she put six long-stem roses into a box.
Rachael opened her cabinet and pulled out a bag filled with a green herb and placed it into the box under the wrapping. She smiled at the young man, and he winked back at her.
“That’s $150,” she announced.
He hesitated. “More than I expected.”
“I gave you the extra nice roses,” she admitted.
With a raised brow, the young man thought for a moment. “Better be good.”
“Guaranteed to knock her socks off,” she said.
He paid and left. With a wide smile, Rachael placed a fifty in the envelope and put the lot in her purse with a chuckle. Charged extra all week for the same product, and they all fell for it!
She grabbed one of the lilies off the shelf to take home and decided to close up shop for the day. Vic would receive this week’s and last weeks’ earnings within the hour.
We square? Good. I’m ready to stop dealing, Vic. How do I get out? Her internal monologue continued. She wouldn’t see the shadow outside at the edge of the storefront.
“Lying cunt!” she heard as a flowerpot collided with her temple.
Rachael crashed onto the pavement. Blood trickled into her eyes. Delirious, she stared at the lilies. Tiny bubbles of crimson freckled the pristine white flower until they were soaked up, turning into misshapen circles. She wanted to apologize but had no idea why, so instead, she closed her eyes and let the darkness take her.
Obsidian goblins – faces tortured and motionless – watched our trek. As a young one, I swore I heard their chatter in the catacombs. Their ghosts would give me night terrors until my father took me to the Ritual of Spirits.
The sound of water trickled from the stalactites above us. The sulfuric scent in the cavern was masked only by the amber crystal I carried in my hand.
I stopped at a fork in the cave and turned to the young ones behind me. For our yearly pilgrimage, we all would take the path to the right, warning: “never take the left.” Every few years, one would dare it and not return. It was a lesson that none forget.
I smiled and turned toward the left corridor. Their faces bespoke no fear, but their posture became rigid. My mate nodded to me at the end of the group and ushered the young ones towards me.
“Trista ugar nabulosum. Trista ugar nabulosum,” my mate and I chanted.
Our crystals lit up showering light upon the spirits surrounding our party. We had entered their land. Without the chant, without the amber, we would be lost here.
A shriek echoed through the cave, and the spirits shrank away. The eyes of the young ones widened.
“Tavykha,” I heard my name called. I looked back upon Tav’i, but she shook her head.
I followed the path as I always had until we reached the throne room. Here the spirits did not enter. With the young ones inside, Tav’i closed the door and we circled the perimeter – our chants lighting the chamber. The group gasped at the remnants of the Troll Dynasty before them. Beast-skulls lined the walls; our sigil hung over the throne. In the centre of the circular room was a raised platform bearing a large fountain.
The door to the chamber rattled. I heard my name, but it was best I ignored it. Spirits were not allowed to speak with the living.
I ushered the young to sit down in front of the fountain and placed my hand inside it. I drank from my cupped hand.
“Long ago our troll ancestors lived in this cave,” I began.
“One Winter, the Obsidian Basilisk could see our people dying and invited us into the cave to live until summer returned,” Tav’i said.
“The basilisk protected us from our enemies, the goblins, and turned any that entered into obsidian. The troll dynasty built this throne room for our Troll-king. But after a whole winter in here, the Troll-king started to show signs of madness. The basilisk realized that we could not see what she could see and fed one of us her milk.”
“That’s when the first Spirit Warrior was born. He saw what the basilisk saw.”
“The cave was touching the underworld,” I said. “And the spirits were maddening the king. The basilisk and the first spirit warrior made a pact. The Spirit Warrior would protect all peoples from the spirits, and the basilisk would stop any spirits from speaking to the living. If ever they did, she would turn their spirit to obsidian.”
“And thus we have remained protected since. The amber and the chant stop us from losing our way during the ritual.”
The door rattled once more. Voices echoed within.
“Tavykha!” I heard.
“The basilisk is dead!” another cried.
Suddenly the door swung open.
Jumping over the fountain and the young ones, I swung my weapon at the spirits pouring in with Tav’i at my side. We swung at foe after foe, but spirits kept coming in. Unable to stop the onslaught, I watched in horror as our group met the spirits’ touches. Defenceless, their souls were snatched from their bodies.
“Run!” I cried as I pushed through the door, grabbing Tav’i’s hand. We had to warn the others. Tav’i and I hacked our way through the mob, but still they pulled on our souls.
Tav’i shrieked, her hand going limp. I dared not look back, but I knew the truth. My mate was gone.
I kept running towards the obsidian goblin entrance. If I could reach it, I could protect my clan.
The amber crystal glowed bright as I reached the goblins. The spirits grabbed hold of me.
I slammed the amber crystal into a stalagmite. The igneous stone exploded. Stalagtites crashed down, trapping us inside. As my soul was pulled from my body, I smiled. The crystal’s magic had worked. The spirits could not escape here today.
It starts simple. An argument – the eponymous lover’s quarrel – begins somewhere. For you it might be the way the trash can is clearly full but he/she keeps pushing it down to avoid taking it out. Or it might be the way you nag about his or her driving habits. Or the way the toilet roll is always in the wrong direction on the holder. It’s usually the little stuff, or a combination thereof. Sometimes, it’s something big, though.
In this instance, it is one little word: Renovations.
Don’t worry. There’s always a honeymoon period. When you and your significant other realize it needs to be done and start talking at length about how to do it and how great it will be when it’s done. The arguments might not even start at this point. You may agree on everything. You may be formulating the way it needs to be done in your head, though; you may even be planning without including him or her into your thoughts. Keep doing that. That’s Step 1.
Step 2: Initiate dispute at the hardware store. It needs to be in a public place to heighten the annoyances of both parties involved. Perhaps it will start with hushed voices in the corner in front of the spanners or whatever tools you need to complete the job. You may notice a couple of people glancing over their shoulders at the pair of you. This is the moment you need to make a decision, but you won’t have any control over it. It will be your nature that will drive you to become either embarrassed or emboldened. Whichever it is, the result is usually the same – a raised voice. “Let’s talk about this at home.” “All these people can see how I’m right and you’re wrong.”
Step 3: After agreeing that you have too many eyes on you, move to the important part of the hardware store. The place where you will pick the integral product that needs replacing. For this, let’s say a kitchen faucet. This is where that earlier planning comes into play. Be sure to stand your ground on the type you want. This will increase your partner’s anger, who is still in a heightened level of rage from the aforementioned whisper battle. Involve the shop clerk. Maybe your partner will ignore the fact the clerk is there while you are deftly aware of how you are wasting the clerk’s time. You may even start thinking about how it must look as they watch your marriage devolve into a pissing contest. More embarrassment is great fuel for the burning remains of your once strong relationship.
Once you’ve finally agreed on what you are doing (note: this may take more than one tripto the hardware store), Step 4 begins: the actual renovation. The key to this step is to ignore everything your significant other is saying, “Hold that here.” “Shine the light there.” Because you are now not invested, you will do the opposite inadvertently. Encourage the raising of voices so the neighbors can hear every word. “I AM HOLDING IT THERE!” (trust me, caps, bold, and italics doesn’t do the yelling justice. It. will. be. loud.) There may be moments where you will want to storm off and can’t. Grinding your teeth may help you get through this time.
Once you’re done installing, consider your next move for Step 5. Maybe you were a little wrong. Maybe this was the worst fight you have ever had. Maybe you don’t ever want this to happen again. Maybe you should kiss and make up. Or. Maybe you can’t consider kissing and making up. Maybe you should see a marriage counselor.
Step 6. Congratulations! You survive the test. Have a drink. And for the love of God, if this is what happens when you change a faucet, don’t suggest painting the inside of your house.
(I might be painting my house right now. I’m shocked to say it is going very well.)
Back in 2006, I was getting ready to make the biggest life-altering decision of -well – my life. 25 and in love for the first time, everything was taking a whole new meaning to me. The decision to move to the other side of the world was an easy one, somehow. I was in a dead-end job. Sure, I had friends and family, but we could talk over the internet. I didn’t have anything specifically holding me down. I was pretty happy to leave it all behind.
At the start of 2001, I was still living at home and going to college. I was two years in. The plan was to finish the spring semester at Junior College and then go to a real university in August/September that year. I was Dean’s list, so I was accepted into University of North Texas’s Film school.
My dream – to be a screenwriter – was that much closer to coming to fruition. It joined my two passions. It made sense to aim for it.
I had roughly $3k saved for my first year and a $2k scholarship that I had earned from high school. It would have barely gotten me by, but I was going to keep saving and working for that dream. I worked at a movie theater. After four years moving the ranks, I was finally an assistant manager, which meant I had more chance of being transferred when the time came.
In March, though, my parents were sent a letter. The bank was going to foreclose. We were going to lose our home. Of the three kids, I was the only one with a job, and of the three kids, I was the only one with a buttload of cash just sitting in the bank. The exact amount that they needed to pay to keep the house.
It was a no-brainer… actually, it wasn’t. It was life-altering, but I didn’t know it at the time. I gave them everything I had. The promise was that when they received their tax return, it would be all mine.
But when that came, there was nothing left for them to give. In June, I made the next life-altering decision. I decided to stay at home for another semester to save the money (again) to go to UNT in the spring. They agreed to let me wait another semester, so I went back to Junior college. I started saving my money again and got some credit cards to try and help improve my credit rating just in case I needed student loans.
In September 2001 – actually, I remember it vividly – on September 12, 2001, while my mind was still reeling with the rest of the country about the Twin Towers, my parents dropped the line again. “Foreclosure.” Only this time, it was too much for me or them to handle. I honestly… I’ve never asked them how it happened so soon after. I’ve known my whole life my father (God rest his soul) was not good with money. He saw a big stack of cash in his hand, and he spent it. Sometimes on bills, sometimes on booze, but he never… ever spent it well.
The house was gone less than a month later. My manager at the movie theater happily took me in, while my parents packed up everything and put it in storage, then moved to Dallas. My brother went to uni, my sister went to uni, and I was stuck in junior college with no money, two credit cards, and suddenly out living on my own.
My savings went pretty fast. I wasn’t as prepared as I had imagined to live the single life. I had rent of $100/wk, and I was earning a movie theater manager wage of $6.15/hr. I worked 50+ hours a week but only got paid for 30-40, went to college, and had nothing to show for it in the end. I started going into debt too. And the cycle was certain to continue.
In December, my parents tell me that they’re doing well in Dallas. Dad’s got a job, they’re renting a couple of rooms in a friend’s place, and they are in a good place. I wasn’t. I was feeling trapped and all I wanted was to spend six months working and saving my butt off so I could go to UNT. I couldn’t go in January, after all. I had nothing.
So they agreed to let me come live with them and I would save money to get back to uni. I requested for a transfer and was promised the opportunity so…
That’s what I did. I moved away from my hometown to Dallas to live in the upstairs bedroom of some old lady’s house that I’d never met. The transfer didn’t happen, because the manager that had been so great to me tried to save her own skin and blamed me for things that she was doing.
But worst of all…
Daddy didn’t have a job. Not a full-time one. He had a sales job. But I never saw him selling anything. So out of four adults living under one roof, only one had a job, and that was the landlady…
I got a job less than two weeks later, and things seem to be going well. I helped pay rent as a once-off, under the condition Dad work on selling whatever software it was he was selling. I come home after getting my second paycheck and discovered… they hadn’t paid rent. The landlady while we were out changed all of the locks. I offered her my paycheck. Pleaded. I had no idea.
She saw the truth in it, and let us in to take our things to leave.
I’m 21, and homeless. Again. For the second time.
We got a room for the night and searched rentals. We found a place to rent, and I started paying rent to help them get back on their feet.
Two years later, they still hadn’t found full-time jobs. Just occasional temporary and part-time jobs. I was the bread winner of the family.
Less than six months after all this began, my brother was kicked out of uni and moved in with us. And my sister did the same a year later when she fell pregnant. Five people lived under a two bedroom apartment that I was fully paying for.
At the end of that second year, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I moved out and got my own place with a roommate. I left them to fend for themselves, and you know what happened? They fended for themselves…
Granted, I left them the car I was paying for. I kept paying for it. And the electricity stayed in my name for some reason, so whenever they forgot to pay it and it got cut off, I was suddenly held responsible to pay it.
I think back on it now, and I’ll tell you. I still do not see it with rose-coloured glasses. I have a lot of pent up rage about it sometimes. But then I put myself in their shoes.
You have to be in a pretty dark place to have to go to your child for money. I was a last resort. My mom, who had really only worked in one job during my childhood, had no marketable skills. She struggled in a place like Dallas to find work, because highly qualified people were struggling to find work. My father was fantastic with IT, network engineering, and fibre optics. He really knew his stuff on his junior college degree. But so did every other bachelor and master degree person that was looking for work at that time. 9/11 happened during an economic low-point, and it thrust everything down with it. The biggest area that was hit was IT.
I’d like to think they were lazy. And a lot of that would be true. But I always wonder (because I never ask these kinds of things) how much of what happened they stayed up at night thinking about.
A year after I moved to Australia Daddy had a heart attack and died. His heart doubled in size. He had hepatitis of the liver, and he had yellow bones. He basically had drank himself to death. A lifetime of misuse. His demons came early.
This all brings me to the bus ride analogy. I came up with it in 2006, when my life was taking a turn towards happier times. Because my parents had my car and I was living on my own, I rode the bus to and from work.
Every day I rode it, and every day there were nearly always different people on it. There may be one or two that were the same, but mostly I was looking at different faces every day. I used to make up stories in my head about each person. Sometimes in great detail.
But then, as soon as I walked off the bus, that person was gone and so was their story. It’s a bit sad, really.
But life is sorta like that. You meet people along the way. Some are there forever like family. While others are just there for a few minutes or parts of your life. They come and go. Some might leave a lasting impression while others just fade completely from memory.
I have friends that I still stay in contact with, while there are others that have moved on. In this day and age of social media, our buses are getting pretty full with familiar faces, but seeing a status or a photo doesn’t really tell you what’s going on in their life. It’s all just footnotes, really.
Nevertheless, my bus ride analogy… I think I might expand upon it someday. Even if it isn’t all that original anymore.
I sit around a table with my new in-laws. The mother, brother, and sister-in-law of my significant other talk and laugh about things I can’t quite remember.
Cuts of cold meats, cold roast chicken, green salad, potato salad, minted peas, and pavlova sit on a table laden with red and green Christmas decorations, Christmas crackers (bonbons), and disposable plates and silverware. The hundred degree day causes sweat to trickle down my back.
Australian Christmas is so different from the Christmas I knew.
The clock ticked over, and I jumped out of bed. Brother and sister joined me as we screamed, “It’s Christmas!”
The night before we had already opened the gifts from Great Grandmother. They were adored for a brief moment when the packaging was torn, but the contents were far less exciting with soaps that smelled like old lady and purses that would sit in a special place in the closet.
Today, there would be gifts from Mom and Dad, then to Grandma’s house to eat, open gifts, and watch Ben-Hur on her big wooden box TV.
This year was special with more gifts than ever. Daddy was working, so he could afford something big.
It was the new Nintendo Entertainment System.
It was the best Christmas ever!
It was the worst Christmas ever.
I woke to an almost empty home that Christmas morning. Mom and Dad had left early, leaving brother and me stranded in a cramped apartment. I made myself breakfast, then lunch. It was simply another day.
Two o’clock, and the parents returned.
“We just got finished watching Return of the King,” Dad said spitefully. “It was good.”
They knew full well I wanted to see it. Not to mention that having lived on one wage for the better part of two years, I thought we couldn’t afford to do anything so extravagant.
“Here. We got you a Christmas gift,” Momma said. She handed me a book.
I don’t even remember the name, but it hardly matters. I remember the message. It was a spiritual book, intended to remind me that I would be living in sin because I was moving in with a boy the next week (never mind we weren’t romantically involved).
I wake early. I have so much to do. I’m hosting Christmas for the first time in my life. I’m so excited, causing my brain to be flighty and unfocused – no, hyper focused. I have waited for this day since I was a little girl.
I want my Australian family to experience an American Christmas.
I spend all day in the kitchen, a towel by my side to wipe the sweat. “Now I know why Australians don’t cook at Christmas.”
Still, the temperature won’t dampen my mood.
4pm comes, and everyone is there, including my stepkids. But I am the last destination of a day filled with gifts and food and family. The meal is enjoyed but hardly touched.
I eat leftovers for days.
I finally get to celebrate a proper Christmas with my sister-in-law and her family. We have a combination of hot and cold foods – maybe too much but that’s the Boseley way – with gifts spread out across the edges of the room. It feels whole. Complete. I wish every Christmas was like this. I love the look on Mum’s face when she opens a giant crochet blanket I made her.
It’s easily one of the most memorable Christmases of my life.
Last Christmas with Grandpa. I can imagine him sitting in his chair, non-verbal, with a mixture of childlike bewilderment and sorrow in his eyes. I might have hugged him and heard Grandma bothering about Daddy’s “ill-tempered mood.” I probably forced my brother and sister into putting on a Christmas carol show for the whole family in front of the fire.
But I can’t say for sure any of those things happen. I can’t remember that day at all.
Last Christmas in America. Last Christmas with Daddy. In a few months, I moved to Australia. The news of it was fresh on my mind, but I wouldn’t ruin another Christmas. I kept it a secret for two more months.
I don’t know if there was lunch and gifts. I don’t remember if we have watched Ben-Hur or Gone with the Wind. We might have sang.
But, I can’t remember.
I wish I could remember.
What ever I do know, I certainly hope 2017 will be a Christmas to remember. Actually, make that a happy Christmas.