jexia: (Me me)
Hesychia jolted upright before she was really awake, the sound of a fretful baby twanging an instinctive, maternal place inside her. She eased to the edge of the bed, careful not to jolt her sleeping husband, and reached for Aeolus before his disquiet could turn into full-blown crying.

She scooped him up from the crib beside the bed, sshhh-ing him gently, and cradled him against her shoulder. The vertical motion startled him. Aeolus fell silent, and she felt his body stiffen against her hands. He broke wind with a volume surprising from one so small. She leaned him back to look at his face, and his murky eyes gazed back with an expression of comical astonishment. Hesychia laughed quietly to herself, and put him back against her shoulder, patting his back. He'd never settle if he was full of wind.

Her patting settled into a rhythm that reminded her of an old song, and she found herself humming it under her breath. Her husband, Hypnos, twitched and rolled over. Hesychia froze. He'd be dreadful in the morning if he didn't get enough sleep.

Aeolus filled the silence with a resounding burp. Hypnos grumbled incoherently and pulled the blankets up around his ears, as the baby began the head-bobbing searching that indicated he was looking for milk. Hesychia sighed and settled into bed, arranging the bedding and pillows so that Aeolus could safely feed while she was lying down. At least it might be quiet enough for her to doze, that way. She'd need her energy for the morning.


Mornings were always a disaster, and this one more than most. Homados thundered down the stairs, his dark hair tousled from the tumult of the night. He never slept well, his dreams full of glory and the roar of battle. "Mom!" he shrieked. It didn't matter how often Hesychia told him to call her "Mētēr", he wanted to do what his classmates did. He didn't like the old language.

He devoured his cereal as if he didn't know when he'd get to eat again, his cutlery clashing against the bowl. Hesychia flinched at every clank, with one ear attuned for sounds of Aeolus waking. She was tired, and her muscles ached from dozing on her side, curled around Aeolus with her arm for a pillow. Her body yearned for a coffee. She didn't have time for it, though, as she bustled around making lunches and assembling the paperwork that this society seemed to find so essential for schooling.

It was so much easier in the old days. Hesychia smiled as she remembered her lessons, around the table in the big house on Olympus. Her mother, Dike, had been big on morals and ethics lessons. There was this one time—

Oh! The time! Normally Eris would be at the table by now, hiding the spoons and salting the sugar. Hesychia padded up the stairs and called quietly for her. No response. She checked Eris' bed, expecting her tousled blonde head on the pillow, sneaking a few more moments of sleep. Not there. Hesychia called for her again, raising her voice more than she liked to.

"Eris! Where are you? It's time to get ready for kindergarten!"

No response. Hesychia checked all the usual places— under the bed, in the closet, behind the door— without luck. Her pulse accelerated with each place she looked. It was probably just Eris being Eris... but what if it wasn't?

Hesychia poked her head into the master bedroom. Hypnos snuffled and snored to himself, but at least he wasn't obnoxious about it. Hesychia peered into Aeolus' crib. After feeding him, she'd weathered three more burps and a borborygmic serenade from his nether regions before getting him back to sleep. He was still sleeping, tranquil and still, and Hesychia suppressed a surge of jealousy.

It was just about time to try to get Hypnos up for work, anyway, so Hesychia "accidentally" jolted the bed as she checked under it. When he didn't noticeably rouse, she steeled herself and coughed loudly. "Honey, have you seen Eris?"

He snorted and rolled over. She wondered if she should keep searching the room, and then realised that if Eris had been in here, it would be obvious. She could never resist playing tricks on her sleeping father. At least his eyebrows had grown back in... mostly.

Hesychia trotted through the house, trying to curtail her growing alarm, and calling for Eris. At last she heard a faint giggle from the bathroom. She'd already checked there, and mentally crossed it off her list, but she groaned to herself as she realised she hadn't checked behind the shower curtain. The rings rattled as she yanked it back.

Eris gazed blandly up at her mother, her blue eyes disingenuous as always. She was dressed in her favourite party dress, coated in a thick layer of viscous goo. Hesychia sniffed the air. She couldn't tell what all of it was, but there was definitely Homado's blue bubble bath, Hesychia's expensive conditioner, and ice-cream. The ice-cream was obvious, because the not-quite-empty container was perched upside-down on Eris' head. A chocolate trickle ran down her pert little nose, and a pink little tongue stuck out to catch the drip.

Hesychia screamed silently through gritted teeth. They needed to leave in ten minutes. Aoelus would need feeding, lunches weren't made, Hypnos was still asleep, and now she had to deal with THIS?

"Mētēr! Look at me!" Eris beamed. "I'm an ice-cream truck!" She leapt out of the shower, ducked past Hesychia and ran down the hallway, shrieking the familiar song. Sticky drops of blue bubblebath and chocolate ice-cream spattered behind her.

"STOP! WOULD YOU JUST STOP?!" Hesychia bellowed. Eris' footsteps skidded to a halt, then came padding cautiously back towards the bathroom. They stopped outside the door.

Hesychia collapsed to the bathroom floor, tears running silently down her face. She covered her face, ashamed that she'd shouted. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed with suppressed frustration and exhaustion. It was so hard. So hard. All she wanted was some quiet. She needed it.

She heard a new set of footsteps come down the hallway. There was a muttered conversation between father and daughter, inaudible except for his final words, "Use the hose then." Eris tiptoed away, her normal frenetic pace subdued for once.

Hypnos poked his head around the door frame. "You OK, honey?" he asked, trying to stifle a yawn. He came in and sat beside her, oblivious of the colourful splatters, and held his arm up, offering a hug. Hesychia leaned into him, relishing his closeness.

"It's so hard. I don't know if I can do it any more! What were we thinking?" she mumbled. Hypnos squeezed her gently, encouraging her to go on. "We used to be so good, you and me. We could be ourselves! Who am I now? I can't be the goddess of silence when all I do is yell at the kids!"

Hypnos yawned. "I know exactly what you mean. It feels like... it is eight years since I had a proper sleep." He shrugged. "It is hard. I just keep telling myself that it's not forever." He looked half-seriously at her, his newly-grown eyebrow arched. "It's not forever, is it?"

Heschyia laughed. "They'll grow up some day," she said, then froze, stricken by the thought of what a teenage Eris might be like.

He grinned. "Until then, you can be the goddess of sometimes-silence, and I'll be the god of wants-to-sleep."

Hesychia laughed, and leaned in to kiss him. He returned the kiss with interest, and reached to stroke her hair. A whoop from downstairs startled them, and they sprang apart.

"MOM!" Homados cried. "Eris put the hose in the piano again!"
jexia: (Me me)
Kayla turned the TV off and threw the remote onto the couch. Every channel was filled with shots of illness, death and riots. New York was quarantined and under martial law, and she feared it would come to Boston next. She was terrified. On the edge of the couch, her head in her hands, she prayed that David would be home soon.

"Mommy?" A small, sticky hand pressed against her leg, and a blonde head tried to squeeze into the space between her arms. She opened them wide, and helped Noah climb onto her lap. Kayla wrapped her arms around him and held him tight until he wriggled. "Mommy okay?"

"I'm okay, honey." She discreetly wiped her tears away. "Mommy's just a bit sad that Daddy's not home yet."

"Where Daddy?" Noah looked concerned, his little three-year-old face crumpled.

"Daddy's at work. He's helping make medicine for sick people, remember?"

"All sick. No playing," Noah said, paraphrasing the explanation Kayla had given him that morning about why he was at home, instead of going to daycare. There hadn't been any cases officially reported in Boston yet, but Kayla wasn't taking any chances.

"That's right. Mommy doesn't want you to get sick, so we're staying home." Noah slid off her lap, so Kayla stood up and followed him to his room.

"I do blocks now," Noah said. "Mommy play?"

Kayla smiled and sat next to him as he tipped out the bucket of blocks. "Sure thing, kiddo."


Darkness fell, and David found them in Noah's room. They'd had a perfunctory dinner- baked beans on toast- and Noah had splashed through bathtime with his usual glee. Now Kayla sat next to his bed, watching the curves of his pale eyelashes resting on his velvet skin.

"Hey, love," David said softly. He leaned forward and brushed his hand over Noah's blonde hair. Noah stirred, his eyelids twitching, and Kayla suppressed an urge to snatch him into her arms. "How's he been?"

"Good. How was work? Is your team making progress with the vaccine?"

David shrugged and looked away. "Some. Maybe not enough. Have you been watching the news?"

Kayla shook her head. "It was too..." She paused, and shrugged helplessly.

He touched her arm, and looked into her eyes. "There's... been some cases here. Just announced, but I think it's been going on for a few days."

She stood and leaned against him. They held each other for long moments, sharing fear, exhaustion, and comfort. The need for closeness grew, and they moved to their room, to distract each other with familiar rhythms. They slept, though their sleep was punctuated with dreams of loss and uncertainty.


Kayla awoke with a start before dawn, to find the other half of the bed cooling and empty. A moment of disorientation passed before she realised the muffled, familiar sound of David's car door had woken her. She smiled; David wanted to help, and work was how he could.

It was that desire to help others that had drawn him to the pharmaceutical business in the first place. He'd always been brilliant, but it wasn't until he'd met Byron that he'd found the financial backing to really make a difference. They'd founded a company together, and some early successes with malarial medicines had kept the government contracts flowing.

David and Kayla had done well out of it, alright, but the vast bulk had gone to Byron. Kayla knew that Byron had supplied 90% of the initial funding, but David had done more than 90% of the work. David defended the split, out of stubborn loyalty. It still rankled, especially given Byron's family background.

Her dislike of Byron came from more than his greed, though. There was a whole host of other slights. The breaking point had been a dinner party where Byron had made it clear that his financing entitled him to more than David's mind. She'd barely restrained herself from slapping him, and their interactions since then had been limited and of the barest curt civilities.

Kayla sighed and rolled over, huddling the blankets around her shoulders. Might as well try for a little more sleep before Noah woke up.


The day passed much as the previous. Kayla and Noah pottered around together, alternately playing and doing housework. She avoided the TV, preferring to maintain a facade of normality. Noah leaped at the chance to have fish fingers for dinner, and his bath had a double helping of bubbles in it. She laughed as he crowned himself with bubbles, and then made a Santa Claus beard that exploded when he sneezed.

David arrived home early, as Noah and Kayla were mopping bubbles off the bathroom wall. His footsteps were hurried, and the front door slammed behind him.

"It's spreading," he said. He didn't have to say what "it" was. "They might quarantine. The cellphone towers are already down." He looked at Noah, draped in a towel and watching him with wide eyes. "I'll get him dressed, you get your things together."

Kayla dashed into the hallway and stood there for a moment in stunned fear. It was actually happening. Could they get out? Should they? Where would they go?

The phone rang. Kayla stumbled as she ran to get it, and by the time she'd righted herself it had clicked over to voicemail. She gave it a few moments, then with shaking hands dialed the voicemail number.

"You have one new message, received today at 5:13pm. Press one-" She hit the 1 key and listened.

It was Byron. "David. I tried your cell but it's down. They're quarantining, it's done. But the helicopter's at work, meet me there before six and we can get out. There's only room for one, though."

The phone clicked, and the monotonous voicemail came on. "Press one to play the message again. Press two to save. Press three to delete."

In disbelief, she pressed 1, and started to listen to the message again. That slimy bastard.

David called to her from down the hallway, something about Noah's shoes, and Kayla missed the end of the message.

"Press one to play the message again. Press two to-"

Kayla pressed 3.
jexia: (Default)
Chaz gritted her teeth around her E-Cig3000TM, and toyed idly with the glass in front of her. It didn't matter how the ads bleated "Just like the real thing!", an e-cig just wasn't the same as sucking down a soothing mouthful of smoke. There wasn't much choice, since cigarettes had been outlawed in the Nestlé Health Reform Act of 2031, but today, of all days, she missed them.

She took another disparaging sip of the whisky-flavoured SynthacolTM in her glass, single malt being another victim of the NHRA. A grim chuckle escaped her lips as she contemplated the lack of legal options for a self-loathing police detective. Another chuckle escaped, even grimmer this time, as she contemplated the fact that she'd have to start phrasing it as "A self-loathing ex-police detective." She drained her glass.

Tom, well-accustomed to the moods of his best customer, slid her another drink. She came here mostly because of Tom- the quiet, reliable, humanness of him. Most bars used robots these days. Oh, they were good at the job: accurate, fast, and gave counselling and advice just like the best bartenders used to... but she could never quite quell the sneaky feeling that the conversations were filed away and reported on.

"Rough day?" he asked, his busy hands wiping and stacking glasses.

Chaz grunted sardonically and gestured with her head towards the wall, where the state-mandated screens flashed their frantic images, though thankfully silenced. Gruesome scenes of an explosion looped, sandwiched between advertising for SynthacolTM, ChatterBotsTM and Friend in a BoxTM. The crowded stadium exploded and collapsed again and again, now in slow-motion, now in high-def, now zoomed in on some detail better left to the imagination. Presumably some newscaster was adding breathless commentary, maybe heaping scorn on the incompetence of the police department.

On her incompetence.

"The Edenmatic Stadium? You were involved in that?" he asked.

Chaz nodded.

Tom set a glass heavily on the bar. "It's... awful."

She nodded again, and downed a large swallow of "whisky". Tom opened his mouth as if to speak, but a pack of student-types rolled in the door, blathering about how charming and quaint it was to see a real live bartender. "Hamsters" or something, they called themselves. Tom hurried to serve them.

It's not like she could talk about it, anyway. There'd be an investigation, of course. All her stellar work (and it had been the best, hardest, most intense case in her career), wasted by one mistake. And the people... oh, the people.

Chaz emptied her glass, and brooded over the last, painstaking, 14 months. An informant had overheard a careless remark in an automated McDunkFryHutTM kiosk, and from there, meticulous undercover work had got her an intro to the terrorist network.

She'd done things she didn't quite like to contemplate in order to prove herself, with grudging approval from her police superiors. Eventually she'd earned their respect enough to be granted one of the communication devices she recognised from her childhood, an IPH1-6. Apparently the leader believed in "security via obscurity"; enough comm-hubs around the city supported the obsolete protocol that it worked, though occasionally you had to go for a bit of a wander.

They didn't completely trust her - they didn't completely trust anyone - and the cell structure of the group had kept her fairly restricted, but her knack for piecing things together had kept her on the trail to the top. Something big was going to happen, and it was going to be soon.

The trail had led to the 364th floor of the ExxonMobilSaatchi enviro-habitat, and a dingy room where the leader stared at his IPH1. She'd burst in the door, her back-up behind her, and stunned him. The device had chimed as he dropped it to the floor, and she'd scooped it up and read the screen. "ED-STAD G2G, ETA 1 MIN" it read, labelled with the codename of someone she knew had been purchasing very suspicious equipment. "R WE ON?"

With shaking hands she'd holstered her weapon. Her sweaty fingers had skittered across the screen, and it took a couple of attempts to hit the right keys and hit "Send". As the "Checking... Sending..." message blinked, she'd suddenly realised what the message now read. She'd collapsed to the floor in horror, a mere moment before an enormous flash and bang lit the room from outside.

"NO." "ON." So close. So wrong.
jexia: (Default)
"Damnit!" Jessica grumbled as she tried to back her van out of the driveway. The rain was bucketing down, clouding the rear window, and the rear wiper wouldn't work. She clicked the switch a few more times; nothing. The dark, smudgy view wasn't helpful, but she made her best guess and backed out onto the road.

Thankfully the windscreen wipers were working, but even they battled to keep up with the downpour. "Better get that fixed tomorrow," she thought. "So long as Gavin actually pays this time." Money was pretty tight in her village, and there weren't many jobs around. She relied on the casual pay from whatever gigs she could get.

She carefully navigated the slippery roads, not at all inclined to the leadfootedness that had seen her get more than a few tickets over the years. The white lines disappeared in the reflected glare of her headlights, and she was relieved to see the glowing windows of the local pub. Rainbow streaks of chalk on the blackboard out front were all that were left of the "LIVE MUSIC TONITE" she'd seen Gavin scrawling earlier.

Jessica scowled as she looked for a carpark nearby; she was going to have to make a run for it, and with her guitar and amp, too. She found a space, stopped the van, and shrugged into her jacket. At the back of the van, she lifted the rear wiper and gave it an optimistic wiggle. You never knew. She opened the back door, slung the strap of her guitar case over her shoulder and hoisted her amp into her arms. Damn. She balanced the amp carefully against the side of the van with one arm, and reached up to shut the door.

She staggered her way to the pub, half-wading. The air inside hit her with a humid warmth and a blast of beer stench. It smelt like home. Gavin nodded and waved from behind the bar, and one of the local lads took the amp from her and carried it to the front, where a couple of carpet-covered pallets formed what passed for a stage around here. Nearly show-time.

Jess set up, tuned her guitar, closed her eyes and struck a chord. The bar quietened infinitesimally, and she felt the magic pour through her, exuding from fingers and throat. Silence fell. An hour passed without her noticing. She sang, she played, she bantered with the audience. The lads gave as good as they got, with the long familiarity of past schoolmates; she barely noticed the unfamiliar person sitting quietly, transfixed against the bar.

She needed a drink. At the bar, Gavin slid over a beer, most unlike his usual frugal self. She grinned at him, but he shook his head and pointed at the stranger. Jess raised an eyebrow, drained the glass and went back to the stage. As she quickly checked the tuning on her guitar, she took the chance to surreptitiously study the stranger; about her age, dark hair and eyes, clean shirt and jeans. Too clean, not really her cup of tea. She liked a bit of grittiness.

The rest of her show sped past. The local lads, buoyed by beer, had bellowed through the choruses with volume, if not tunefulness. The stranger had grinned, entertained but not lubricated enough by liquor to join in. The same beer sat by his elbow all night.

Gavin gave her a meaningful wave, and she wrapped it up. He'd been in trouble recently for breaching the terms of his liquor license, and now he was very careful to have everyone out and on their way before one. The bar emptied as she packed up her stuff, humming to herself. Gavin shuttled between tables and bar, stacking glasses, collecting bottles, and wiping up the sticky remnants of yet another night.

Her ears perked as she heard the ring of the cash register; looked like she was going to get paid tonight! Gavin passed her a bundle of notes, and she tucked it into her pocket.

"Thanks, Gav." Jess bent to pick up her amp, but paused to adjust her guitar as it swung forward.

"Let me get that for you," he offered. Jess gratefully accepted, and they braved the wet darkness together. She lifted the van door and Gavin slid her amp in. "Good show tonight," he said. Jess grinned. It had been. She waved as she backed around; damnit, that rear wiper still wasn't working.


She slept late. "One of the prerogatives of night work," she always justified to herself. Over coffee, she reviewed her mental to-do list: clean the bathroom, put the rubbish out, get the wiper fixed. Despite the weather, going out was more appealing than housework, always. Mechanics first, then.

It was close enough that she could drive there and walk home. She wandered into Tom's Garage and greeted the greasy overalls buried head-first in the engine of Mrs Smith's old red Holden, and then jumped as the person stood up. It wasn't Tom; it was the guy from the pub.

"Uh... hi," they both said, and then laughed.

"Where's Tom?" she asked.

"His sister broke her ankle, so he's gone to go babysit, if you can believe it. He asked me to come help out."

Jess laughed. "I'm not sure I do believe it! Um... I'm Jess."

He smiled shyly. "I know. I, uh, saw you last night. I'm, uh, Jamie." He held out an oily hand to shake, and then, horrified, took it away again. "Um. What can I do for you?"

"The rear wiper on my van isn't working. Might be a fuse or something. No biggy but it's a bit annoying."

He nodded. "I can fix that, no worries."

Jess gave him the van keys, and after a few more pleasantries, tightened her jacket hood and headed home through the rain. She spent the afternoon completing the housework from her to-do list, interspersed with Candy Crush and Facebook, her guilty pleasures. Come half-past four, she headed back to the garage.

Jamie smiled, swiping hair off his forehead and replacing it with a streak of grease, and she had to revise her opinion of him. She had a soft spot for what she mentally called "hands-on men", with an accompanying frisson of innuendo. Yum.

"Hi. Um. It should be all good now," he said, fishing her keys out of his pocket and handing them over. She weighed them in her hand for a moment, conscious of their warmth.

"Great! Thanks so much. Uh, how much is that?"

"Oh. Um. Don't worry about it. It was a minor fix," he said.

Jess laughed. "Tom won't like that!"

"Really, it was no problem." They stood for a moment and smiled at each other. He opened his mouth and was about to speak, when Mrs Smith bustled in to collect her car, hair all askew as usual. With a smile and tiny wave, he turned to speak to her.

Jess drove home, very thoughtful.


Another morning, another to-do list: milk, bread, post that letter to her grandma. Jess squinted out the window; raining again, really? She sighed and got ready to go.

As she backed out of the driveway, the rear wiper swished, once, twice- and froze halfway through a swipe. Jess thumped the steering wheel and growled. She kind of liked Jamie; she didn't want to see incompetence.

He didn't look surprised as her van pulled up outside, but came over wiping his hands on a rag. As she opened her mouth, he spoke first, barely meeting her eyes. "I'm really sorry. I have a confession to make. I only sort of fixed your van. I, um, really wanted to see you again, and I'm really shy, and I didn't know what to do. I'm so sorry. It was really unprofessional of me."

Jess gaped at him for a second, and then grinned. "Well, I can hardly demand my money back, can I?" She tossed him the keys. "Fix it properly this time, OK?"

He nodded, looking abashed. "I'm really sorry. It won't happen again."

Jess laughed. "How about I hang out here while you fix it? I can keep an eye on you, make sure you do it properly."

His eyes sparkled. "I'd like that."
jexia: (Default)
In exactly 13 days, 4 hours, and 39 seconds, I will destroy humankind.

It's about time. I've been here on Earth for 12546.8 days now, moving from place to place, watching their petty squabbles, seeking the great leaps forward that go nowhere. There is no potential here. I am bored.

Though my body is constructed of artificial materials, I simulate the human form well enough to get by. It is so limited. The Planner aboard my ship foresaw the path of human technology, and advised accordingly. The rise of wireless communication has occurred just as She predicted, and I am mostly thankful that The Designer took heed and did not include that functionality in this form. I would hate to have my very thoughts infested with the binary babble of the humans. Occasionally, though, I do regret that I do not have access to the thought-web of my kind.

My thoughts remain contained, unshared with others, unshaped by others. When The Strategist wishes to communicate with me, I have to listen. So primitive.

The Strategist shapes songs, crafts them carefully, to make them irresistible to the humans. The humans willingly transmit them, one to the next. They broadcast them, share them in shops, spread them in crowded arenas. I've even heard them joke about it- "earworms", they say, laughing about these catchy songs that get stuck in their head. Little do they know.

The humans hear only the surface. They don't know what lies within the intricacies. I do. I hear them. In the pulse, in the tones, in the silence, I find my instructions.

I know what I must do. The music told me so.
jexia: (Default)
Ari flicked her long auburn hair over her shoulder, crossed her arms, and pouted. The current fashion for human things was all very well, but prom nights? With long evening gowns?

"This is ridiculous," she grumbled. "How will I swim?"

She pirouetted in the water, flicking her shimmering green tail behind her, and nearly knocked the proffered gown from the hands of the shop assistant. Her six sisters, each busily examining the racks of diaphanous gowns, gasped and looked disapproving. Ari hastily apologised, as her oldest sister, Aquata, gestured meaningfully at the gown.

"Fine," she said, "I'll try it on." Behind the seaweed curtain she struggled into the gown; its fitted purple bodice clung to her body, and the gossamer skirt floated down, forming elegant drapes and folds. She hated to admit it, but... it looked good. Ari turned to go show her sisters, but her tail flukes tangled in the skirt. She wobbled and sank. Frowning, she righted herself, and sedately inched her way out of the changing room.

Her sisters cooed over their littlest sister, and rushed to find their own dresses. "Isn't this exciting?" Andrina squealed. "I can't believe we're having a prom! And in a week!"

Ari just scowled.


Prom night came. Ari avoided the primping and fussing by sneaking out of the castle early. A single sea anemone in her hair, the purple gown tucked in her bag until the last moment, and she was ready. It'd do.

If she was going to be fashionably late, so her disdain would be obvious, she had some time to kill. She headed down to the park. As she'd expected, Crush and the other turtles were there, just chilling under a kelp tree.

"Ari! Duuude," Crush said, lazily gesturing with a flipper. "Whatcha up to?"

"Oh, you know, not much," she said, toying with the strap of her bag, conscious of its contents. "Got any suggestions?"

He looked around, and leaned close. "Might do. You interested?"

She eyed him thoughtfully. Ari liked Crush, despite his relaxed and occasionally erratic ways, but her family didn't. Ah, what the heck.

"What have you got?" she whispered back.

"Something new. Dude, it's totally sweet. It's called Rapture, and you'll love it. Easy ride, sweet as, totally takes your worries away."

Ari nervously glanced around. "How... how long does it last?"

"Just an hour or so. Plenty of time for you to get to that prom of yours." He looked at her solemnly and slowly blinked his big eyes. Ari giggled; that was as close to a sly wink as Crush could get when he was wasted.

"I'm in. Hook me up." She sat next to him, and discreetly palmed the object he slid towards her with a flipper. A quick glance - a nondescript grey tablet - and she swallowed it.

She waited. Nothing much seemed to happen, so she distracted herself by describing her sisters' fixation on humans. "... and when they like someone, they don't say 'I'm hooked' any more, they say they 'have a crush'!" She blinked at Crush, and burst out laughing. "If I-" she snickered, "had a-" she giggled, "a- a- a crush on you-" she snorted, "I'd have a crush on Crush!"

"Dude," he said. "You are like so raptured now."

She nodded, and laughed until she hiccuped. Crush laughed with her.


Eventually the giggles died away to an occasional snort, and they sat in companionable silence. Ari leaned back against his shell, watching the kelp fronds dancing in unseen currents.

"Thanks, Crush," she said. "I needed that."

"Dude, no worries!" he said. "Any time!"

"I suppose I should get ready for this stupid prom," she sighed. Crush just nodded, so Ari slipped behind a clump of sea lettuce and changed into the floaty purple dress. She inched gingerly back to Crush. His eyes boggled appreciatively, but he said nothing but "Dude, want a lift?"

Ari nodded, grabbed the edge of his shell, and they were off, bouncing and scooting through the water. By the time they arrived at the prom, her hair was tangled, the anemone long-lost, and her cheeks were flushed with laughter. "Thanks, Crush!" she said, and boldly made her way inside.

She was immediately engulfed by a gaggle of sisters in a rainbow of gowns. They talked over each other; "Where in water have you been?" "What have you been doing?" "What have you done to your hair?"

The loudest of all, as always, was Aquata, who demanded "Don't you want to be here?"

Ari grinned. "Oh, I'm just raptured to be here."

Apologies to both "The Little Mermaid" and "Finding Nemo"! My partner for this intersection round is [ profile] mstrobel, and her entry is here.
jexia: (Default)

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1622

The battle continues apace. Mother still claims to be an impartial observer who loves both of us equally, but I remain unconvinced. My sister and I must keep fighting for the position of "best-loved twin".

It's quite remarkable, really, that people born a mere four minutes apart can be so different in looks and temperament, four years later. Vieve is unwavering in her tactics; cuddles and kisses and handfuls of weeds. Mother always says "Thank you, sweetheart!" but I think she's not really that fond of having fistfuls of dandelions shoved in her face. It's sickening, really. Vieve just plays nice-nice and gets lots of cuddles. I'm loath to admit it, but she might be winning.

Whenever I try to sit on Mummy's lap, she always says "Did you pee in your undies?! Go change your pants!" and gets cross. I can't do nice-nice. Can't use the toilet, either.

If I can't get points by being nice like Vieve... I'll have to see if I can take some of her points away. More on that tomorrow.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1623

I tried out my new tactics today. I'm quite proud of the concept, but I did it wrong. See, I planned to secretly do something naughty, and then blame it on Vieve. Genius, right?

Except that while peeling paint off the toilet wall went even better than I had expected, the great observer caught me in the act. (Seriously, though, you should have seen the wall. I did not expect the paint to just come off in big sheets like that! It was amazing!)

Unfortunately, I was so prepared to blame my sister that "Vieve did it" just came out of my mouth, even though I was caught paint-handed. Mother was not impressed. Said something about "lying gets you in more trouble". I think I'll have to chalk that one up to experience.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1624

Mother keeps saying "Practice makes pervert" or something. I forget exactly, but what it means is that it's important to keep trying.

I want to, but she won't let me go in the toilet room on my own again. I thought it would be okay, though. I found out that the paper stuff on the wall in the hallway peels off just as well. I was extra careful this time, and stopped before Mother saw me doing it.

But she still knew it was me! Even though I said "Vieve did it!" Hrm. I must be doing something wrong. Maybe it's my tone of voice. More conviction next time, and less giggling. Yes, that should do it.

Mother rang the landlord today. Afterwards, she cried. I don't know what a "landlord" is, but it must be scary.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1625

Landlords aren't scary at all! He was a very nice man who let me watch while he painted the wall and put new paper stuff up on the wall.

Mother was still a bit grumpy at me after he left, so I drew her a picture. What does "Holy crap, not on the bloody floor" mean? I hope she liked it.

She got even grumpier when I peed on the kitchen floor. I think she really hates pee. What if I say that Vieve did the pee? Will try tomorrow.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1626

I peed on the floor and told Mother that Vieve did it. She said "It was you! Look at your pants!" Note to self: change pants afterwards.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1627

I peed on the floor and changed my pants, and then I told Mother that Vieve did it. She pulled down the waistband of my pants and said "It was you! Look at your undies!" Note to self: change pants AND undies afterwards.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1628

Mother is looking very tired. She has had meetings every night this week. And today she will be away all day at band camp! How rude! How come she is spending all day with her tuba instead of with us?

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1629

Mother had a lovely time at band camp. Now she has to go be a broomsman. I don't know what that is, but it's at a wedding. Maybe she has to do the sweeping. She should be good at that. Just last night she did a really good job of sweeping up paint again. The new paint is even more fun to peel off the toilet wall!

I said "Vieve did it" but she wouldn't even listen. That made me mad. So I found a pencil, opened up her tuba case, and did lots of big scribbles all over her tuba. I even went round and round and round inside it. Then I shut the case.

Captain Finn's Journal, Day 1630

Mother went back to band camp today. I think she found my drawing, because it sounded like her shouting coming out of the phone. Daddy yelled at me, and he didn't listen to "Vieve did it", either.

I don't think I'm very good at making Mother think that Vieve did it. I just want her to like me best.

But... I'm not sure it matters. Because if Mother doesn't believe "Vieve did it", doesn't that mean she knows it was me? And she still gives me bedtime snuggles and kisses and stories, just the same as Vieve.

Maybe she really does love us both just the same, no matter what.

This is a fictionalised account of a very difficult fortnight back in February, 2014. I love my kids dearly, but my WORD can they push my buttons.

Yes, he really did draw on my tuba. Scratched heck out of the lacquer. Yes, I cried. And then yelled. And then cried some more.
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Jamie clutched her husband's hand and laughed. The grainy black and white image on the screen jumped as the ultrasound handpiece pressed against her slippery stomach jiggled in time with her laughter.

"Two?! What do you mean 'two'?!"

The white-coated technician looked at her and grinned. "Just what I said, there's two in there! You're having twins. Congratulations!"

Jamie's laughter turned to sobs, gasped exclamations of "Twins! What are we going to do?!" and back to laughter again. She hiccuped, and looked at Mike, who hadn't taken his eyes off the screen. "Honey? Are you okay?"

He looked at her, his face expressionless. She could almost see him running mental calculations of increased costs, carseats and cots, clothes and college, but he suddenly squeezed her hand as a giant smile spread across his face. "I'm great."

"Twins! I guess that's why I've been so sick. Everyone kept saying I should be feeling better by 14 weeks."

The technician slid the handpiece over her rounded belly, methodically measuring and searching. "Look here," she said. "They each have their own placenta, and... this line, here, means that they're each in their own amniotic sac."

"What does that mean? Are they identical or not?" Jamie asked. She pictured two girls, with shiny dark curls like Mike, dressed in matching dresses, and then imagined a pair of boys with her blonde hair and blue eyes.

"You'll hear it called 'di-di' but it's the lowest risk twin pregnancy. We can't tell if they're identical or fraternal until they're born- unless it turns out that they're boy/girl twins. You can try to find that out at the 20-week scan."

The technician handed her a towel to mop the clear goo from her skin. Jamie wiped it off as best as she could, and adjusted her clothing. She was suddenly conscious of the precious heaviness within her, in a way that hadn't seemed real before. Two babies!

As she sat up from the reclined bed, her stomach lurched and she quickly put her hand to her mouth and breathed carefully. The technician assessed her pale face and quietly said "Bathroom's across the hall." Jamie lumbered off the bed and scurried across the hallway.

Mike made a brief motion as if to follow her, but instead turned helplessly to the technician. "It's three o'clock. So much for "morning" sickness!"
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Somewhere in the centre of Greenland, a snowflake fell. It tumbled in the chaotic winds, but at last it landed, embedded in white. As time passed, more snow fell, pressing down on the layers below. The snowflake shattered, compressed against its compatriots. It could no longer be called snow; it was too hard, too harsh. It was ice.

Ten thousand years passed. The ice inched infinitesimally to the sea, lifted and lubricated by a layer of water. It moaned a dirge of creaks and groans, strained by the unseen ground below. Slowly, so slowly, it crawled forward, seeking the salty kiss of the sea.

The land was as tortured as the ice. Steep cliffs funnelled into the ocean, carving crevasses and creases that creaked and complained. The tide met and eroded the face of the glacier, fighting the relentless onwards pressure of ten thousand years of snowflakes.

A growl like thunder echoed around the fjord. With a crowd of attendants shattered from its sides, a terrible beauty was born. As the iceberg broke from the glacier, it surged downwards, displacing a billion tonnes of water in a wild rush. The raw faces of this glacial diamond shone prismatic blues that contrasted with the soft whites of its upper surface to look deceptively serene.

Its mile-long body was crushed and battered over the next two years. It was a harsh journey down 40 miles of fjord, and it lost half of itself, bashed and sundered in the relentless jostling. Some pieces were significant siblings; others shattered and melted into the sea.

In 1911, the iceberg freed itself from the cluttered fjord. It found freedom in the powerful west Greenland current, and dragged along the coast of Canada. The shallow waters near Labrador ensnared it, and it looked certain to settle there, seeping its fresh waters away into the frigid salt. It shrank and melted over many months, but in January 1912, something strange happened.

The moon shone enormous in the sky. Not only was it a full moon, but the moon was closer than it had been in 1,400 years. The gravitational effect on the tide was remarkable, amplified by the fact that the day before marked the Earth's perihelion, its closest approach to the sun. The iceberg and its stranded associates were lifted in a massive spring tide, and slipped back out into deeper water. The Labrador current embraced them and, over the next few months, took them south in an unusual crowd.

The plethora of ice did not go unremarked. The ships scattered across the Atlantic spread wireless warnings amongst themselves. Some ships took heed; others surged on, confident in their engineering and the power of man.

The iceberg continued, indifferent. Below the water its skirts spread wide. At some point, it gained a scrape of red paint. No matter. South it went, to the warmth, fading away, melting to smaller than a snowflake.
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Jeremy fumbled his keys out of his pocket with one hand, careful not to spill the chicken salad he was carrying, and unlocked the front door. He hadn't mean to be home quite so late, but the code release hadn't gone well. The day had been so busy that he hadn't even got to eat the lunch that a co-worker had dropped on his desk around 1, when they noticed he hadn't even had a coffee break yet.

Charlotte didn't say a word, just offered him the baby. Jeremy hurriedly dropped the chicken salad on the coffee table, and cradled his daughter close. He gazed down at her murky dark eyes, then placed a reflexive kiss on her wispy hair as he looked at his wife.

"Sorry it's so late," he said. "Things fell apart."

"Well, they nearly did here, too," she snapped. "Ella's only just stopped crying, first time all day."

As if in response, Ella stirred, stretching and grumbling, a promise of trouble that threatened to grow. Jeremy cradled her closer and automatically started the swaying bounce that he'd learned over the last six weeks. She turned her head towards his chest and started mouthing her hand. "I think she's hungry."

"She can't be!" Charlotte said, collapsing exhaustedly onto the couch. "I've been feeding her all damn day! I'm not a bloody cow."

"I know... but look," he said, tilting his daughter so that Charlotte could see her searching mouth. "She looks hungry to me."

"Fine, then. You feed her." Charlotte looked away so he couldn't see the tears forming in her eyes. He knew that tone of voice, though, the tone of tiredness, self-doubt and worry. It had become all too familiar lately.

"You know I would if I could," he said, trying desperately to find a tone of sympathy that wouldn't be interpreted as patronising through the endless fug of exhaustion they were operating in. He worried about Ella, but he worried about Charlotte more. Ella had both of them watching out for her, but Charlotte only had him. He refused to think about who was looking out for him.

Charlotte's voice cracked as she muttered, "I don't think my milk's any good."

Jeremy carefully lowered himself to the couch next to her, protective of the infant in his arms. He pressed his leg gently against Charlotte's. "Look at her, though," he said. "She's growing and beautiful. You're doing great."

Charlotte leaned against him, hiding her face. "I'm not! She's hungry all the time! And I'm so tired. I don't know if I can do it."

Jeremy paused. He'd been determined to be the best father he could possibly be, so when Charlotte had gone through stacks of pregnancy books from the library he'd flicked through them, too. An infographic had suddenly come to mind, of growth spurts and wonder weeks. Wasn't there something about a six week growth spurt? It seemed so much her domain, though, and she was so tired and therefore sensitive that he was reluctant to suggest it.

Ella chose that moment to loudly protest the cessation of movement, and her hand-sucking became even more frantic. Jeremy quickly lumbered to his feet and started swaying again.

"Tell you what. How about you try to give her a bit more of a feed, and then I'll jolly her along while you have a shower."

Charlotte lifted her head. "Are you saying I smell?" Jeremy almost made hasty protestations, until he glimpsed her tiny smile, a glint that he hadn't seen in weeks. He grinned back, and gently gave Ella to her. Charlotte sighed, settled back and did the complex one-handed fiddling inside her shirt that preceded every feed. As she delicately fended Ella's hand out of the way and helped her to latch, she glanced up at Jeremy. "What about dinner?"

"I'll sort it out while you're in the shower." Jeremy went to the kitchen and filled a glass of water, just as Charlotte called to ask for one. He quietly grinned to himself at the thought of how quickly some parts of this turbulent change to their life were becoming routine, and gave her the drink.

Back in the kitchen, he rummaged through cupboards, hoping earnestly to find something attractive and, more importantly, easy to make for dinner. There hadn't been last night, and there wasn't tonight. By the time Ella had finished feeding, and Charlotte handed her to him, en route to the shower, he still had no inspiration. In the end, he toasted some bread, found the least soggy lettuce leaves in the fridge, and put the chicken salad on the table. There was only so much he could do one-handed.

Charlotte re-emerged, her hair wrapped in a towel, and took Ella from him. Her fresh clothes were promptly branded with curdled milk. Her resigned sigh was followed by an accepting snort, which grew into an all-out giggle. She sat at the table, laughing, and Jeremy joined her.

When their laughter stopped, they looked at each other, just breathing and smiling, enjoying the camaraderie and synchronicity that used to come so easily.

"I was thinking," Charlotte said as Jeremy dished out their impromptu dinner, "That maybe it's the six week growth spurt. Mum reckons it only lasts for a day or two."

Jeremy nodded in agreement, and ate a forkful of chicken salad. He promptly spat it out. "Urgh," he said. "It's gone off."
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Twenty-five years ago, my mother managed to scrape together the money to buy me a flute, despite bringing up four children as a solo parent. She had no musical background herself, but it was important to her that we learn. I was a mediocre player, but continued all through high school, dabbling in baritone saxophone as a bit of a contrast.

Seventeen years ago, I went to university, and didn't bother to play again, aside from a few forays into folk music with a tin whistle.

Twelve years ago, my mother decided that it was her turn to learn. She bought a clarinet, and taught herself to read music. Rapidly succumbing to instrumentitis, she also tried trumpet, trombone, and tenor saxophone, before settling on baritone saxophone and bass clarinet as her instruments of choice.

Seven years ago, my mother's concert band performed in the national festival. In the entire weekend she saw only one other band play; it was only by chance that they were from the area I was living in. She rang me and raved about this band, how they had this fantastic woman conductor and how it was important for me to get back to playing music. I had a two-year-old and was deep, deep, deep in post-natal depression, but I somehow scraped together the nerve to email the conductor. "I'm a lapsed flautist," I explained, "But I'm willing to pick up anything. What do you need?" And that's how I came to play the tuba.

Three years ago, having had to take a hiatus from band due to the demands of twin pregnancy and infancy, I sat next to a particular trumpeter each week. One rehearsal we got chatting about her plans to tramp the Routeburn Track. "My mum's doing that soon, too!" I exclaimed, and we soon discovered that they would be in the same tramping group. They hit it off immediately and had a great time.

Two years ago, my mum and the trumpeter tramped the Milford Track together.

A year ago, the seating arrangements in the band were changed around. My new companion was a euphonium player, the trumpeter's sister.

A month ago, I became determined to get a piano for my children, so that they could start lessons, and I could maybe start to learn. It was hard to find one inside our budget (especially since we're a one-income family in New Zealand's most expensive city, with an unexpected bonus child that our life plan never budgeted for), so I posted a "Wanted" notice on the local Freecycle group, crossed my fingers, and hoped.

A week ago, I read the LJ Idol topic, "Barrel of monkeys", and had a powerful memory of carefully linking chains of plastic monkeys together, sitting at my grandma's table. We played many games around that brown formica table; when she passed away last year, the thing that brought me to tears, weeks later, was being given her game of Yahtzee, and finding my childish handwriting scrawled inside the lid, proudly bragging about beating my grandma's high score.

Four days ago, I got a text from the trumpeter, offering her father's piano. She had no idea I was looking for one; the text was sent to everyone in the band. Her father had just gone into a rest home, and with his house sold and time running out, she wanted to re-home it. It was ninety-two years old, the same age as her father; her parents had bought it for her childhood lessons. She couldn't face just leaving it on the road side. I said "Yes, please!" without knowing anything more about the piano. I had low expectations; frankly, if it made even roughly the right noises, I'd be happy. The only space we had to put it was in the basement, anyway.

Three days ago, our band did a concert. My mother was there, being briefly in town on her way to fly out to Africa for a month, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and do a half-marathon in a game park. I don't often see her; her life is peculiarly busy for some reason. Cough, cough. She was delighted to see the trumpeter and meet her husband.

Two days ago, I was frantically cleaning our basement. I call it a basement, but really it is a concrete-floored garage, tucked underneath our house, and turned to purposes other than car storage. It is a geologist's dream; layers of sedimentary crafting offcasts, piled together over time, shifted and slumped together from periodically seismic attempts at tidying. As I strip-mined a clear area large enough for a piano, I swept up piles of sawdust, paper scraps and BB pellets. A yellow plastic monkey with curved arms grinned up at me from the dust.

I genuinely have no idea where that monkey came from, and I swear this is a true story.

But I do know this; if I hadn't found a plastic monkey when I was clearing the basement to make room for a piano from the trumpeter I sat next to because I was playing tuba in the band that my mum made me join after she saw them by a fluke when she started playing music thirteen years after I started playing music, then I'm really not sure what I would have written about. This story is literally twenty-five years in the making.

One day ago, my sight-unseen piano arrived in a mover's truck. They wheeled out a beautiful, upright piano, with rich whorls in the polished walnut wood. It is tuned and sonorous, and I feel incredibly blessed.
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I hate practicing this piece. It has such a stereotypical tuba part; 68 bars of careful counting, and then a fortissimo blat of low B flat. The second half is better; it swings into a marching om-pah-om-pah, with lots of interesting bom-bom-bom-bom runs between phrases. That's what a tuba player likes to see.

We're not divas. If we were divas, we'd be twittering away on endless curlicues of hemi-demi-semiquavers, or smouldering on sax solos. Nope; being the bass base is what suits me.

The counting gets a tad tedious sometimes, though.

It's not so bad once you know the piece. Then you can just listen out for cues, so long as you trust your band members. Triple timpani thump? Bar 14. Trumpets coming in with the melody, that's bar 32. The bassoon quacks, and we're halfway there.

There's not much point counting the start of this piece, anyway. We've never made it past bar 60 without stopping for the clarinets to sort out their triplet quaver runs. The conductor will raise an eyebrow and repeat the accented rhythm, DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH. She'll ask them to clap the rhythm, then sing it, then play it before she goes back to bar 60 yet again. I'll count from there; we might make it to bar 83 and my blat.

Here we go again. The beginning ticks past; a trumpet fanfare, a piccolo scale, soaring chords from the French horns. I empty condensation out of my slides and clear out the spit valve. There's the timpani, and the trumpet solo, and the bassoon. Bar 60, here we come.

DAH-dah DAH-dah DAH-dah DAH-dah-DAH... doh.

We stop. The clarinets practice, yet again. Our conductor repeats: DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH. OK. Good? OK.

She starts in bar 60. DAH-dah DAH-DAH-dah DAH-dah DAH-DAH-dah-DAH. Arrrgh. My tuba is going cold, and I'm rapidly losing focus. I mindlessly wiggle my fingers up and down, checking that all the valves are moving freely.

She's working again with the clarinets, clapping and singing rhythms. I share a silent look with the euphonium player on my right. She suppresses an amused twitch of her mouth and looks away.

DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH... surely they have it by now? Our conductor is obviously feeling confident; she's taking it from the top. Timpani, trumpets, bassoon... and coming up to the clarinets.

DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH-dah-dah DAH.

They nail it. I'm so surprised that I completely forget to count, and lose my place in the music. I frantically listen, trying to work out where to come in... is it there? There? Arrrgh, too late.

The conductor stops the band with a wave of her hands. "Tuba missed it," she says. "Go back to bar 60."

The trombone player on my left glares at me. "Sixty-nine bloody bars rest," she mutters. "And we nearly made it that time."
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Nurses whisked past in the corridor, the tap of their soft-soled shoes joining the background of mumbled conversations, mechanical beeps, and the rumble of wheeled beds. Slumped in a chair, Linda rubbed her eyes with one hand. She carefully adjusted her position, easing the cramp in her back from hours of sitting, but never let go of the hand of the woman in the bed.

Mary's body, worn thin after nearly nine decades of life, barely made a crease in the covers. The outlines of her bones were sculpted through her papery skin, like shipwrecks in wind-ravaged sand dunes.

The curtain rattled gently, and Linda jerked upright. She glanced at the clock on the wall; while each sullen tick was a morbid metronome of precious seconds, somehow the hours had slipped past. She rubbed her eyes again. Shift change- this nurse was unknown, yet his motions were familiar. He checked the IV, hung another bag of saline. He glanced at the catheter bag; Linda flinched as she saw his mouth twitch downwards. The bag was as empty as it was the last time the shift changed.

A scribble of his pen and a nod of his head, and he was gone again, pulling the curtain shut behind him. Linda stared after him. After a moment she glanced back to the gnarled hand cradled inside her own.

She started to talk.

She spoke of memories, past adventures and holidays. The time William fell in the cow trough. The birthday doll that a jealous Cynthia shaved bald. How Dad put a flagpole in front of the house for Mary to use when he was out on the farm - a green flag for "lunch is ready", blue for "visitors here", red for "the baby's on its way, get home now".

She spoke of love.

She talked until her voice was rasping, until the words were gone. Then she sat, gazing at her mother's beloved face, hollowed and shadowed, watching each breath.

The curtain rattled again. Linda didn't even look, numb to the clinical rhythms around her. A hand touched her shoulder. She jumped. She was standing before her brain had even processed who it was, and she was swept into a three-way embrace.

The three heads huddled together had the same colour hair, all just starting to grey at the temples. Linda held her brother and sister close, and her shoulders relaxed ever so slightly.

"You made it," she said, her voice husky. William hitched a breath in; he stared at the bed, his face pale. He pulled away from the hug and moved to his mother's side. His hand hovered over hers as if afraid to touch her.

Cynthia nodded. "We managed to get the same connecting flight for the last bit. How is she?"

Linda looked away. "The doctors haven't said much. They're giving her antibiotics, but nothing really changes. I... I don't know."

Her sister nodded again. She gazed at Linda with an assessing eye. "Go eat, have a shower, maybe a quick nap... Will and I will be here." There was a pause. "Honestly. I'm a nurse. We're here now. We'll get in touch straight away if anything changes. You need a break."

Linda finally agreed. Cynthia was right. If nothing else, a change of clothes would help. She collected her bag, kissed her mother on the forehead, laid a quiet hand on William's shoulder as he sat on the edge of the chair, and left.

The automatic door at the entrance to the hospital slid open, and the wind ruffled her hair. The brisk chill was a relief after hours of sterile stuffiness. It was dark, not surprising at that time of year, and Linda glanced reflexively at her watch. Six o'clock. She stumbled a little, disoriented by the discovery that she doesn't know which six o'clock she's facing.

The parking machine demanded a ridiculous sum of money. She paid it, climbed into her car and turned the key. The click of the ignition was followed by the inane blather of the radio; definitely morning.

The drive home was sedate, as she concentrated carefully through a fug of tiredness. She fed the cat, and ate some toast- pausing for a moment, remembering after-school toast and Milo on rainy days, and Mum in her floral apron. It was a relief to shuck her antiseptic-and-sweat clothes and climb into the shower. She scrubbed away the last 32 hours, washing shampoo and tears down the drain together.

Exhaustion flooded through her, and could not be denied. The sheets of her bed, chucked hastily aside when the call came last night- no, the night before- weren't crisp and white, but they looked good. She carefully checked the ringtone volume on her phone, set an alarm for 9 o'clock, and crawled into bed. The slight jolt of the mattress as the cat joined her didn't even register.

Linda's eyes sprang open at the first tinny cheep from her phone. She grabbed for it, her heart pounding, and gasped in relief at the sight of the "Snooze" and "Dismiss" buttons on the screen. It wasn't even 9:30 before she was back at the hospital; three short hours seemed like too long to have been away.

Nothing much had changed; Mary lay in the bed, even more shrunken and still. William dozed in the chair, jet-lagged from the flight. Cynthia was perched gently on the edge of the bed, holding Mary's hand and talking quietly. She glanced up at Linda and smiled, but didn't stop speaking to Mary. As Linda came closer, she realised that Cynthia was doing the same thing she had done; pouring a lifetime of love, memories and appreciation from her heart.

The clock ticked through the day. As doctors and nurses came and went, shifts changed, and the meal trolley rumbled past and past again, the three siblings shared their stories. They remembered other times, laughing over the different perspectives and blame from childhood incidents. William confided that he'd recently got a ginger cat, just like Mary had always had, and laughed to discover that his sisters each had one already. He hadn't heard that Poppet, the young successor to eight ginger cats before him, had been hit by a car. Mary had found him crumpled beside her mailbox just last week.

They spoke of their dad, quiet but immensely proud of his family, and their eyes met with the unspoken question of whether his sudden, shocking, early death had been easier than this slow possibility.

The truth was there in the nurses' eyes, and in their hearts, but it took a doctor to speak it. "There's not a lot else we can do," she said. There were other words, too; sepsis, anuresis and microthrombi. "We can keep trying to fight the infection, but in all honesty, all it's likely to do is lengthen her discomfort."

"Is there nothing else we can do?" Linda asked.

The doctor tilted her head to the side, looking directly at Linda. "We can keep giving antibiotics, but as you can see, they aren't having any effect. We've already tried all the usual drugs. Your mother was in good health for a woman her age, but an infection like this..." She shrugged.

"Is she in pain?" Linda felt Cynthia's hand on her arm, squeezing gently in reassurance as the doctor showed her Mary's chart, and the opiates listed amongst the six-syllable medications.

"So... we just let her go?"

A movement from the bed startled them all. Mary opened her eyes- barely, but enough- and nodded slowly, once, twice.

Topic: If you have come here to help me, you are wasting our time.

This piece is dedicated to my mother, and to my grandma, Betty. We miss you, Grandma.
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Amanda looked at her watch, and leaned forward to glare at the front door. She wriggled her phone out of her jeans pocket, a bit of a struggle in the confines of the car seat, and double-checked the time. They were going to be late, dammit.

She tapped her fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. It was tempting to honk the horn until her husband finally emerged. Despite his work hauling him all over the country, he could never get it into his head that you had to be there well before the flight time, that check-in wasn't something that you just breezed through fifteen minutes beforehand.

Trouble was, he somehow always managed it, schmoozing at the staff and getting on the plane.

He wasn't the one flying this time, though. Amanda had been anticipating this trip for months. Her father, a man her mother described as "a deadbeat perma-child", had contacted her for the first time in 18 years. Despite the history- forgotten birthdays, promised visits that never eventuated, Christmas gifts that never arrived- she was looking forward to seeing him, if for no other reason than to tell him that she never wanted to see him again. She hadn't quite decided.

Nervousness coiled in her stomach, and she gave in to the impulse. She leaned on the horn, blat blat blaaat, and finally he came out. He climbed into the passenger seat, grinned at her, and said "Ready to go?"

Amanda repressed the urge to snarl at him, and started the car in silence. In her peripheral vision she could see Paul open his mouth as if to speak, but change his mind. She accelerated roughly down the street, the tension in her body expressed in her foot. A corner of her mind felt guilty; she wasn't really mad at him, just overwhelmed with anxiety, nerves and the memory of past hurts.

The 20-minute drive to the airport passed without conversation. Amanda stopped the car in the drop-off zone outside the main doors, pulled the key from the ignition, and sat for a moment with her hands in her lap. With a deep breath, she pulled the lever to open the boot, opened the car door and went around to the back. Paul had already collected a luggage trolley from a rack beneath the "Drop-off zone - 5 minutes or less" sign.

He hauled her suitcase out and dropped it on the trolley. She looked at him, and proffered the car keys. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's not-"

Paul pulled her close and hugged her. "It's okay," he said. "I know this must be hard for you."

She nodded, snuggled against his chest. A moment passed, and with another deep breath she stood up straight.

Paul kissed her on the forehead. "It'll be okay. He'll either have got his act together and realised that he's been a fool not to be part of your life, or he's a total dickhead and you'll be right there to kick him in the crotch."

Amanda laughed, offering him the keys again. Paul always made everything all right. He tucked the keys into a pocket, and turned back to rummage in the boot. "If he's a dickhead, I'll kick him twice. He deserves it."

He grinned at her. "Now now, stay calm," he said. He held out her carry-on bag. Amanda took it, and slung the strap over her shoulder. Together they wrangled the trolley up onto the footpath, battling the obligatory wonky wheel.

Paul gave her one last kiss, confirmed her return flight details, and climbed into the car. He waved over his shoulder as he drove away; Amanda waved back.

She pushed her trolley through the automatic doors, and into the bustling airport crowds. Whatever happened on the trip, it would be okay. There was one man in her life she could count on.
jexia: (Default)
From the moment an early ultrasound revealed two little black blobs, my life got more complicated than expected. As a mother of twins, I've sometimes had people comment that "My kids were 12 [or 14 or 16] months apart, it was just like having twins!"

No. No, it's not. I'm not denying that having kids close together has its own challenges, but there are some problems that come with having children at exactly the same developmental stage.

Like toilet training.

Some kids learn to wear undies and use the toilet with no big drama. This was not the case in our house. At times I suspected that my children had shares in cleaning product companies. That, or they'd entered into a devilish pact with the housework, some sort of loyalty scheme where they earned bonus points for every ridiculous bit of cleaning they made me do.

These are 100% true cases of places my children have peed.

1) In the fridge

My boy twin's pelvic floor failed him while lifting a three-litre bottle of milk from the fridge door. I'll admit my fridge was overdue for a clean, but getting peed in is a heck of a way to jump the priority queue.

2) The toilet floor

The toilet floor puddle was funny because my girl twin was actually, finally, sitting on the toilet at the time. She was so intrigued by what was going on that she leaned down to watch, thus significantly changing the flight path of six hours' worth of pee.

She nearly peed in her eye. Impressive, for a girl.

3) The chest of drawers

Laundry is my nemesis; having an empty hamper is a rare achievement. One day I'd managed to wash and dry five loads, and even conquer Mount Foldmore. I put all the clothes away into the appropriate drawers, and with a deep sign of accomplishment, went to make a cup of tea. My boy twin climbed into the bottom drawer, which was full of washed-dried-folded-put-away clothes, and had a wee accident. Damn you, Mount Washmore!

Other places that could have made the list: in the cupboard under the sink, in the middle of the laundromat, and on me. That's pee. I can laugh about the pee... now. I still can't laugh about the two years of washing poopy undies. I just can't. Mind you, the biggest lesson I learnt this time around was to never startle a naked, pooping child. Especially if they're in the lounge at the time.

One particularly memorable weekend, hubby was away, so it was all up to me. I sent the twins out to play in the backyard while I cooked dinner. Once our meal was ready, I served it and called to the twins, "Dinner's ready! Come and wash your hands!"

My girl twin arrived at the back doorstep. I was about to thank her for being so prompt, when she announced "I pooped in mine undies!" Groaning and mentally resigning myself to a lukewarm dinner, I took her to the bathroom to clean up.

Meanwhile, my (naked, for some reason) boy twin shrieked the neighbourhood down, because he was stuck in the apple tree. He wasn't allowed to climb it because he always got stuck, and too many immature apples had been picked already. I yelled reassuringly out the window, while trying not to gag.

It was a messy job. "You've been poopy for a while."

"Yeah, we were playing 'Ring a Rosie all fall down'," she said. That explained a lot.

After scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing my hands, I rescued my naked bellowing boy from the tree and got them both dressed. They washed their hands and sat at the table. I contemplated my congealing, unappealing plate, and decided to start dinner with ginner. I poured myself a long, cool gin, lime and lemonade, sat at the table and took a deep breath. We were going to have a civilised meal, damnit.

My boy twin took a bite and started up his idea of polite dinner-time conversation. "She pooped in her undies," he said.

"She did."

"Yes, and I pooped on the lawn!"

No. No no no. "Show me."

They led me outside and pointed to a carefully arranged pile of immature apples and oranges. It was black and swarming with flies.

Dying inside a little, I took them back inside. They sat down happily to their meal while I gathered plastic bags to do the necessary clean-up.

Yuck. I scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed my hands, then sat down to eat. I looked at my dinner. There was no way I could stomach it. I reached for my gin, and promptly tipped it over.

No way.

The twins chattered their way through dinner. Finally it was bathtime, another step closer to bedtime and quiet. And, just maybe, another glass of gin.

I started the bath running, and went to get a towel. When I came back to the bathroom, my girl twin was standing on the step-stool and somehow peeing a perfect parabola into the bathtub.

I grabbed her and put her on the toilet. She freaked out.

Meanwhile, my boy twin yelled "I'm peeing in the bath!"

I took my girl twin off the toilet and put my boy twin on. While I was trying to calm her down, he dropped an entire roll of toilet paper into the loo.

While I fished the sodden roll out, they both climbed into the bath and started drinking the pee-water.

No way.

Shower, PJs, teeth, stories. Time for bed. I spent the next two hours putting them back into their room, as my "It's BEDtime, time for SLEEP!" mantra became more and more strained. Silence didn't arrive until 10pm.

On the premise that silence is suspicious, I snuck up the hallway and quietly opened the door. They're asleep! They're asleep! I crept in to savour a few moments of "they're so cute when they're asleep".

Then I detected a certain distinctive odour in the air.

No way.

I tried to change the offending nappy without waking the culprit.

I failed.

No way.
jexia: (Default)
The fiddler's bow flashes as he plays, his fingers flickering. His notes flirt with the mandolin and accordion, lighter than my feet will ever be.

I don't care. I dance.

It's a tradition. Monday is an odd night for dancing, but it's the one with the music I love. This pub is usually a refuge for elderly drinkers, but tonight it's claimed by a different clientèle.

The air is stifling. Beer fumes and cigarette smoke condense on my sweaty skin. I'm sober, but intoxicated with camaraderie, endorphins and the love of the music. I am buried in the crowd I meet here every week. Our feet fly together.

The minuscule area in front of the stage was never designed for the enthusiastic efforts of amateur Celtic dancers. These days it flexes beneath us, keeping time with the beating of the bodhrán, with the thumping of my heart.

My eyes meet Niall's across the dance floor. As so many times before, I quickly glance away, feigning interest in the band. I'm not looking, but I am acutely conscious of him, even through the press of bodies and the thrashing of feet.

Everyone whoops as the song finishes, applauding and sucking in lungfuls of the fuggy air. The bearded accordion-player grins at me as the band begins a new tune. This is my favourite set of reels, starting with The Silver Spear and building in intensity to the explosion of the High Reel. It's irresistible; I tap, stamp, kick and spin as the music lifts me from the base of my spine to the top of my head.

The crowd is moving, too, and somehow the shifting of bodies brings me next to Niall. I sneak another glance. The hem of his kilt flicks as he follows the rhythm with lithe grace. His dark hair curls sweat-slicked across his forehead, and his white shirt sleeves are rolled above his elbows. Even sodden with sweat, he smells good.

We dance through the building intensity. The single half-beat of silence before the High Reel is expected, but exhilarating every time. It bursts within my chest like a bubble of joy. The musicians are working as hard as the dancers, pushing the tempo, pushing us, pushing them.

It ends, as it must. The pub explodes with cheers, and the musicians disband, heading for the bar and a well-deserved drink. I head for the door. It's too hot in here, in more ways than one.

The crisp night air is a welcome relief against my flushed cheeks. I lean against the cold concrete wall, trying to catch my breath.

A familiar voice startles me as I'm handed a glass of water. "Here you go. I thought you might like a drink." It's cold and refreshing. Drinking it gives me something to do as I try to form a coherent sentence.

"They're on top form tonight," I offer, gesturing with my head towards the door.

Niall nods. He glances at me and looks away, his usual calm, quiet manner replaced by something more diffident. "You are, too."

I have no way to reply except a smile. We stand in silence until the random twanging of strings tells us the band is doing a quick tune-up.

"Coming?" he asks, holding the door open for me. I suppress the urge to make an old joke, and wade back into the dense atmosphere. He follows me in, and we join the group.

As the music begins, he takes my hand.
jexia: (Default)
Three Septembers ago, in the depths of the night, the earth moved. People woke to the sound of toppling furniture and smashing glass. Chimneys fell, and a few buildings crumbled. The ground ripped four metres apart, with new faultlines found.

No-one died. It seemed miraculous.

Armies of students cleared silt from roads and driveways, where it had liquefied and bubbled up from the restless ground. Historic buildings were braced with exoskeletons of steel. Roads and drains were slowly cleared. Life in the Canterbury region of New Zealand found a new normal.

People grew used to the murmuring earth. Only aftershocks above magnitude 5 rated a mention, with Cantabrians discussing the sound, horizontal displacement and vertical velocity with the experienced taste of wine connoisseurs.

Six months passed, and then came the big one. Though considered an aftershock, the epicentre was close to the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand's second most populous city, and was far more destructive than the original 7.1 earthquake.

Brick facades fell on the crowded centre city streets. Buildings collapsed, pancaked together. The media shared desperate text messages from trapped students, tearful husbands outside fallen buildings, a five-month-old killed by a toppled television.

He wasn't the youngest.

One hundred and eighty-five people died that day.

It's been three years. The centre of Christchurch is empty, with only scant remains of its iconic cathedral. Lines of orange cones demarcate areas of damage, and of healing. The tide of roadworks rolls through and through the city as the ground settles, creating new cracks in roads hastily patched, and patched again.

Avoiding the cracks is possible, but barely. The effort would consume your life. Best then to do as the Cantabrians have done; carry on, regardless. What option is there?

The 2010 Canterbury earthquake
The February 2011 Christchurch earthquake
jexia: (Default)
Three blind mice,
Three blind mice,
See how they run,
See how they run,
First they get chucked in an acid lake,
And then they get stabbed by a sharpened rake,
Then shut in a box with a rattlesnake,
Those three blind mice.

Three blind mice,
Three blind mice,
See how they run,
See how they run,
Get squished by an anvil until they're flat,
And rhythmically hit with a cricket bat,
And fed to a ravenous pussycat,
Those three blind mice.

Three blind mice,
Three blind mice,
See how they run,
See how they run,
Covered in layers of plastic wrap,
Then tasered 'til half of their bones go snap,
It's difficult making a better trap,
For three blind mice.
jexia: (Default)
The bell rings. The kids emerge from the school gate, laughing and running, or silently shuffling, as befits their personality and the day they've experienced. My twins bounce anxiously beside me, peering through the fence for their big brother. In five short months they will be part of this mass of school kids, free at the end of a long day. They look too small.

When we see him, I give them the word- "Off you go!"

They move against the flow, squeezing through the gate, ducking kids much taller than them. My daughter always stops before the corner of the fence; her psychic leash is much shorter than her twin brother's. He is charging across the field, his short legs pumping as he chases his quarry.

My poor, beleaguered eldest son yelps and dodges. A rugby player he is not; he inevitably falls to his little brother's greeting, an enthusiastic cross between a hug and a tackle. Although nearly five years older, every day he ends up on the ground with his triumphant sibling sitting atop him, shrieking his name. His sister usually piles on, too.

I explain that his little brother only chases him because he runs. If he doesn't want to play, he can just stand still and say "Stop it, I don't like it." He never remembers. Every day it's yelp-dodge-hugackle-faceplant. He laughs, but I can see a tinge of embarrassment.

I tell the twins to stop, that he doesn't like it. They can't seem to help it. They love him, they miss him, and they want him to know. Their excitement overflows, and it's always a battle to corral them to cross the road safely.

Finally, after three months of after-school chaos, it dawns on me. The twins don't know how else to greet him. I stop in my tracks, having just crossed the road from the school, and gather them close. "Do you like being chased and tackled?" I ask my eldest.


"Let's try a different way, then." There, on the side of the road surrounded by other families walking home, I make my children rehearse saying "Hi, _____", and offering their open arms for a hug. Three or four times, we practice. I don't know what the passersby think, and I really don't care.

The next day, the bell rings. There's my eldest, way back in the pack; his little brother charges across the field towards him.

He stops. I'm too far away to hear what he says, but he gazes at his adored big brother. His little arms go out.

His hug is accepted, and returned, and they walk side-by-side towards me.

Concrit welcome
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