Three Fantasies for Carlotta Cunningham

The Middle Beach High reunion was minutes old and already abuzz: the girls giggled as they arranged white garden chairs in rows along the walls, they nattered while they adorned sand-filled bottles with yawning posies; the men cleared their throats and rehearsed the success stories of their lives.

Some glanced over their shoulders in between sentences or peeked from behind their plastic cups of supermarket prosecco. Carlotta Cunningham was coming, expected to arrive just after nine—or 21:00 as she had written in the email—directly from the international airport, probably by cab if she couldn’t find a decent hire car, (who knows if I still know how to drive on the left!) and maybe, although not definitely, accompanied by an upcoming poet from Barcelona whose work everyone just had to get to know. Continue reading “Three Fantasies for Carlotta Cunningham”

The Cats of Butcher’s Road

The man stood at the end on the pier, a giant oak barrel balanced on two carrot sticks, one hand punched into his hip, the other tugging nonchalantly on a fishing reel.

It was the morning grey – before the insects, before the million fragrances and feathery winds – when the mist was still rising from the lake like steam off a mirror. The abattoir trucks wouldn’t be raking up and down the roads for at least another hour and, as long as the sun skulked behind the fringe of trees, the world was his. Continue reading “The Cats of Butcher’s Road”

Why I, a Papillon (or Continental Toy Spaniel), wish to become a Rainbow Lorikeet

I’ve seen them. Oh, yes. I’ve seen them alright: dozens and dozens of them flittering from tree to tree, shaking figs onto the paved ground, flashing their technicolour flaps at the wind, and trilling like a bag full of whistles. And I give them my best every day – I pant and yap and shake my collar until I’m wet at the blaze; I practise my plucky bounce over the prickly fern and attack the wall right under their green-feathered underparts. Continue reading “Why I, a Papillon (or Continental Toy Spaniel), wish to become a Rainbow Lorikeet”

The air conditioned

Toes rip through wet sand; they trace stones through the stinking weed, around flaking logs until I’m skidding, dry and squeaky, up the path to the car.

The sun has flashed the air and seared the afternoon white. My hands, still gluey from the orange, slap dispassionately at flies. Half the beach has settled in the pouch of my swimmers and I sway until I hear someone rattle the keys. Continue reading “The air conditioned”

The new girl

Mr Howard peers over his broom handle glasses. “We both know that there is no truth to what you said, don’t we, Miss Collins?”

Theresa shrugs and fidgets with her hair. She wants to have it cut on Saturday.

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. In all my years as principal of Caraway High, I’ve never seen such dishonest and disrespectful behaviour. Poisonous lies such as these ruin reputations, Miss Collins. Do you understand what I’m talking about?”

Theresa shrugs again and decides that Howard can take it anyway he likes. Continue reading “The new girl”

Orbiting eccentrics – Chapter 4

Dial ‘W’ for WTF

It occurred to me suddenly that the object which was blinking and buzzing gaily in the trunk of my taxi could have been some form of incendiary device. Naturally I’d not let myself be taken in by the paranoia which the foaming neurotics had so effectively disseminated around the world’s airports and shopping malls and, when I did notice an unattended bag lying on the platform at a train station, I never succumbed to hysterical fits as instructed: I proceeded calmly on my way. Continue reading “Orbiting eccentrics – Chapter 4”

A bogan love song

the first moment when i metchya
i knew that i would getchya
i knew that i’d be goin’
since tequilia shots were flowin’
back to yours for sumpin’
mebbe a little pumpin’

i said to meeself, i betchya
she’ll prolly even letchya
take ‘er bra off yeah
or give her one right there
but she knew that it didn’t suita,
and crashed ‘fore I could roota

so i went away and lefta,
thought prolly shezza lesba,
or not the type of sheila,
who’d let some random feela,
but she got me on the blower,
said why dontcha comeova?

then i knew shewas keenfa,
a bit of aussie beefa,
like all euro chicks are gaggin,
for a proper manly shaggin,
or at least a normal bloke,
to fondle and to stroke.

now i think she’s grouse,
and i like being at her house,
coz now we don’t get mashed,
just so we can pash,
and she makes me feel real ace,
and she’s got a beaut face.

The farmer’s journey

Owen’s gaze brushed over the horizon. The 5:30 lights of the town had already dismissed the stars and were now winking him reminders that the day ahead, like many before that year, would be hard. The dogs would be alright for a day on their own. He might call Tony later and ask him to drop by the gates just to be sure, but they would be back tonight anyway. Tomorrow at the latest.

Connie was to be put on the plane and sent to Sydney again (apparently that’s where all the best doctors were) and this time he had to go and leave the farm to run itself. It hadn’t come suddenly, Owen would have preferred something he could have reacted to, taken immediate control over. No, the trouble had accrued in portions. His wife could still ride up the hill on the motorbike, shoot a struck sheep in the head and drag in back down over her back. She screamed at cloudless skies and kicked iron when it wouldn’t bend to her will. Her cancer, however loud it might deride and chastise her, tried but it could not drown out the daily rhythm of the past fifteen years. But the headaches and tiredness which arrested her in the evenings had become worse and her way of moving contracted and stiff, as if planks of wood had been stapled to the backs of her legs and arms.

He jingled the keys in his pockets to announce once again that he was ready to leave. Might lock the house this time, he thought. Connie was upstairs. Her coughs echoed down the stairs, around the corner, past the picture family frames on the wall and out the door. “Everything alright up there, darling? We’ve got to get a move on if we want to catch that plane.”

“Give me a bloody minute,” came the answer. Owen smiled and went out to start the truck.

An outback family

Tuesday morning was warm and dry. From an unsealed road, a minibus waited for a semi-trailer to pass and then pulled out onto the dusty highway that led into town. Neil Taylor, or ‘Baked Bean’ as he was known in town due to his bonfire of red, tussled hair, did that same thing every day at eight in the morning, listening to the same radio station and whistling the same melody, which wasn’t really a melody at all, but a series of twitters – his anthem for the road.

The highway was smooth and flat like most of the country and stretched out towards the horizon like a strip of iron. Neil squinted behind his dark sunglasses, whistling to the pitch of the screaming bus. As he approached the Styles property, with its lone gum tree looming over the road, he slowed down and indicated. He turned around under the shade of the giant gumtree pulled up in front of the  plastic drum letter box in front of the iron gate. Adele was not there.

Neil made four trips a day in his blue minibus: two out of town and two back in. Sometimes Adele was Neil’s only inbound commuter on Tuesday mornings and for a woman of eighty-eight, she was the sharpest and most devilish person Neil had ever encountered (and he’d been to the city more than a few times). Adele would recount tales of her voyages abroad, eating exotic foods with even more exotic people, choreographing each event with dancing hands and wild eyes. On Tuesdays she would do her grocery shopping and, despite living on the property alone with her grandson, she bought food and drink in quantities that would have nourished a larger family; on some occasions her purchases would fill the back two rows of the bus.

Neil waited for ten minutes, but could see no sign of Adele so he set off back down the highway. He had other pickups in town to make.

The bus scuttled through the dust into town and pulled up in front of the post office, which also served as the bank, the newsagent and the petrol station for the town’s population of 600. Leslie opened the door, her eyes squinting in the white light. With a half-smile she held offered Neil a can of lemonade.

“Del didn’t come in today – didn’t even ring to let me know like usual.”

“Haven’t you heard, Bean?”

“Heard what, Les?”

“Del passed on yesterday about two o’clock in the afternoon, in her sleep.”

“Christ!”

“Yeah, bit of a shock.”

“How’s Kevin?”

“I haven’t seen him, but you know Kevin, quiet as a mouse. But he must be shaken up, the poor thing.”

“Yeah.”

“Here, drink this.”

“Thanks, Les. Did they say what-“

“Old age I suppose. Although you’d never know it. “

“So, did Kevin just find her … like that?”

“Apparently.”

“Wow.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, she lived a good life. Been around for ever.” Neil took a long gulp of the lemonade then breathed out hard. “How’d you find out?”

“From George – Kevin brought her in to the clinic last night. George said he wanted to bury her straight away,” Leslie said.

“What? Where?”

“In the cemetery of course. George said Kevin was a bit pushy – can’t see why. Said it had to be yesterday.”

“Why’s that?”

“I dunno, but George said ‘no’ and told Kevin to come back sometime today.”

“Yeah well, probably for the best; let him calm down a bit. See ya, Les.”

“Bye, Neil.”

The next morning Neil didn’t whistle and drove in silence. He was thinking of ‘ol’ Del’. Del was one of those people who could talk about anything – she would understand you in a second and then talk  it right back at you. Sometimes she’d tattle on about events in the world, days before they happened (Neil thought she got most of her news from her many overseas friends) and other times she’d just talk about the weather forecast, which pretty much remained the same all year and was fairly predictable even for Neil: warm and dry. But she also had her ‘Del-centricities’ as Leslie liked to call them. No-one ever knew who ate all the food she bought from town each week, but there were plenty of speculations – Tom, the publican, believed she and Kevin were harbouring illegal immigrants there, although he could never explain how they came 1500kms inland on leaky boats; Meg, who, as the ranger, had been closer to the Styles property than most, said that once she saw a great aluminium shed, higher than any silo and bigger than any aerodrome hanger she ever seen, with a tiny door. Perhaps there were people living in there? Neil thought it was not anything overly bizarre, but was it was enough to get other people talking and their malnourished imaginations salivating.

It was hard to have lost a member of the community, even a moderate recluse like Del. She hardly left her property except for once a week and rarely participated in town social events. But out in the tiny desert town, whether she liked it or not, her fate was tied to the 600 odd souls around her and although she had died, she would still linger in their minds like a bump in that brown, flat land.

In the distance Neil saw the curling arch of the gumtree, holding its branches high and dignified. He accelerated and meant to resist the temptation to stare down the gravel road, behind the trees and towards the Styles property where, until yesterday, no compulsion to stare had ever teased his mind. And he was doing well until he saw, coming in the opposite direction, a row of metallic black shimmering against the hot tar; long dark cars with black tinted windows moving slowly, one by one under the gumtree and past the iron gate. Neil abandoned his resolve and pulled the bus over to the side of the highway, just down from the gate and stared at the grim procession.

He counted ten cars in total but he guessed that many more had entered before. They were moving slowly over the crunching gravel, precisely, as if to avoid puncturing a tyre or damaging the paintwork. They were apparently not aware that a blue minibus with an overweight bus driver were parked just down the road, spying on them: that, or they didn’t care.

Neil then saw a white four-wheel drive flash towards them, dust clouds boiling behind its wheels. It was Kevin. Kevin turned into the drive way, tooted the horn and slid to a halt. He jumped out leaving the door open, and commenced waving his arms and shouting at the cars, some of which continued to ooze through the gate. Neil couldn’t understand what he was saying.

Kevin danced between each car, his arms stretched out above his head. A car at the rear sped up past the others and stopped just behind him. From the rear door, a tall man dressed in a blue suit stepped out. He was wearing silver glasses and holding something that reflected the sun into Neil’s eyes. The man didn’t speak but raised the bright light to Kevin’s forehead with an outstretched hand. Kevin stumbled back and covered his face.

Neil had seen enough. He smacked his foot down on the accelerator. The front wheels screeched and the bus’s engine roared forward pressing him into his seat. Both Kevin and the man in blue were running behind Kevin’s four wheel drive well before Neil reached the driveway, but Neil, bracing himself for the impact, kept his course and rammed into the side of the black sedan with a crash, sending it sliding across the gravel and crunching into the colossal trunk of the gum tree.

Neil shook his head. He could see white bark and the mirror-black roof of the car, now wedged between the minibus and a the giant tree trunk. He felt a pain where the steering wheel had struck his stomach, but nothing was broken. Regaining the sense of urgency, he leapt out of his seat and off the bus. The party of black cars had stopped and more rear doors were opening from which more tall men in blue suits were coming. He thought for a moment about the black car which now embraced the trunk, its engine gently humming, and wondered if there were anybody was injured. But the scene of execution flashed in his mind and he scrambled over to Kevin who was cowering behind the real wheel of his truck

“Kevin! Are you alright, Kevin? I though that lunatic was going to shoot you!”

Kevin’s arms were wrapped around the tyre and his shoulders were trembling. His normally brown, weathered face was white as chalk, the hairs on his arms were upright and through his wet lips he was speaking in whispers.

“Kevin! It’s me, Neil! What’s going on?”

“Don’t let them take Grandma again… don’t let them do it!”

“Kevin, I’m sorry, mate. I just heard yesterday about Del.”

“Don’t let them take her!”

“I thought she was with George,” Neil said, but Kevin had turned his head to the ground and began shaking. “Kevin! Are you alright?”

“’Kevin is just fine, aren’t you, Kevin?” The man in blue strode out from behind the car and looked down at Kevin with no expression. He removed his glasses and put them in the top pocket of his jacket. Neil rubbed the back of his hand over his eyes and bent down to look at Kevin, who was rocking and shaking his head. There was no mistake: there were less wrinkles of course, and his hair was shorter, but the distinctive jaw and level nose were clearly identifiable: the man in blue looked exactly like Kevin, so much so that they could have been the same person. In his hand, Kevin’s twin held the metallic instrument like a weapon, which Neil thought looked rather like a shot gun but thinner, however there was no hole in the end. He seemed to be waiting for Kevin to do something.

“What the hell is going on here? Are you one of Kevin’s relatives?” Neil asked.

“My friend, we all are.”

Neil followed the man’s gaze towards the gate where more than a dozen other men stood, stolid and silent. Each one was wearing the same blue suit and behind the silver lens’s of their glasses were the same eyes, the same faces, as the terrified man at Neil’s feet.

“You see,” the man said. “We are Kevin and Kevin is us. We are the same.”

“Why were you going to shoot him then?”

“You think this is a gun?”

“It looks like one.”

“It can kill yes, but it has other uses.”

“Where are you all from? And why do you all look the same?”

The man didn’t answer.

“Kevin,” Neil said. “What’s going on?”

Kevin remained silent, his knees were trembling.

“Tell him, Kevin,” the man in blue said. “Tell him how you deserted us. Tell him how, even in the deep, in the desert, in the night, you can never escape yourself.” The man smiled and nodded at one of the other blue suits. Some of them were inspecting the crashed car, checking its tyres and windows; another two were pulling a limp body from the rear seat. They laid it on the ground. It was a woman.

“Oh my God, I’ve killed her. Oh my God.” Neil felt sick in his stomach. “I thought you were… I thought… Kevin-”

“Neil,” Kevin said, still on the ground, his voice barely audible. “Neil… it’s not your fault. Neil. Don’t look at her.. don’t look at her.”

But Neil, tamed by his unbearable guilt, shuffled over to examine the corpse. She wore a long skirt of blue with a high collar that went up to her pale ears. The men were pointing their shiny instruments at her grey skin, prodding her abdomen and chest. There was no blood on the car or on her dress and Neil felt relieved when she saw her chest suddenly rise and fall and her hands move to her sides and then to her temples.

The men in blue stood in a circle and resisted Neil’s attempts to assist as the woman crawled to her feet.

“I’m alright,” she said and then over the wall of blue suits, she looked to Neil, her head bent back upon her thin neck. “Who’s this one?”

“Adele!” Neil cried and fell to his knees.

The fruit stall

Marjory brushed away the morning flies that were circling around the crate of apples, her chequered apron swishing against the cold concrete floor, keeping a cotton beat to her low hum, soft and petered, like the light which came in from the car park entrance. She was the first of a few stall owners who had arrived before sunrise. Brian, the book seller was there and Owen, from the hardware stall, both unfolding their tables, thumping and chinking their wares, talking among themselves and tuning in their radios.

Marjory sold fruit under a small shopping centre near the sea. Her and her husband Jim owned twelve acres of land an hour west of the coast in the highlands and her gardens were plentiful in the summers, with gnarled lemons, passionfruit like tennis balls and glowing sweetcorn, all of which she neatly laid out on the table with an elegant slant. There was never enough passionfruit to last the entire day, the customers who came in before seven always selected the biggest and ripest. Every Saturday, Melvin, a restaurateur from across the road, wandered in and chose some eggplants for his vegetarian bake. “The best in the east”, Melvin would say each time, making Marjory blush. A fisherman, who spoke little, and whose name Marjory never remembered bought bananas before setting out to catch the fruits of the sea. All these people kept Marjory in her garden bent over crooked, her fingernails black with soil and at her stall – erect and proud at the Saturday markets until two-thirty in the afternoon.

Her space was just inside the car park where the roof was low and the alleys were narrow. She had always been at the entrance because she had always been one of the first to arrive. People always remembered that they needed fruit and vegetables at the end of their visit to the markets she reasoned, or not having found a home-made gift or a discount decoration for their homes, they justified their outing with a bunch of carrots or a fluffy lettuce. The space to the right of her was forever changing tenancy. For a few months it had been Roy, who sold woollen carpets, blankets and boots, then for a good while after it was Eileen, peddling her home-made cakes, biscuits, jams. Eileen often swapped a chocolate dessert for two kilos of potatoes or a large pumpkin.

Marjory ripped off a piece of bread and chewed, surveying her table with its clumps of colours, smelling its sweet, earthy aromas. She looked in her tin money box to make sure she had enough change to last the morning. Inside were mostly coins, a few small notes, some orange seeds and a fine, brown silt. She shook the box, looking for the gold coins, but there were none.

Outside, the sun was beginning to creep up the road, now animated with morning walkers, dogs on leads and the odd car. A pale, blue Volvo station wagon, pulled into the car park entrance, as it idled, the engine rattled and choked, spitting out black clouds of exhaust smoke which wafted into car park. Marjory spread a tea cloth over her produce but it hardly covered everything and her grapes caught a blast of the dark clouds.

The Volvo went forward and then reversed into the car park so that the car boot was just in front of Marjory’s table. The engine hummed at a higher pitch for a few seconds and then shut down with a rattle. A thin woman with a patchwork jacket and a shaggy mass of yellow hair popped out of the car. “Hello, I’m Sue,” she said.

Marjory raised her eyebrows.

“I’m in number three for a few weeks,” Sue said as she opened the rear door and began pulling boxes out of the car. “Got all these boxes to unpack. Yes, there’s a table. Did I bring my chair? Hey, those apples look good there! Save me a couple for lunch.”

“Whatcha sellin’?”

“Fruit-eze.”

“Frooties?”

“No, Fruit-eze. It’s powdered vitamin supplements. They’re imported from the States where they’re all the rage, has the diet circuit doing cartwheels. There’s one for everyone, mums, athletes, teens, elderly people and it comes in all sorts of flavours: banana, cherry, apple, rockmelon you name it; there’s even kiwi fruit. Would you believe it? Kiwi fruit! And it’s made from real fruit. I’ve already sold a heap down in Melbourne but I think it’s going to be a hit here too. Now that one was banana, oh yes, kiwi fruit, here it is – see the little picture of the running kiwi fruit? I think it’s so cute.”

Marjory screwed her face and put her hands against her wide hips. She stared as Sue struggled with a long table. Marjory had never had any problem erecting her table – Jim had made it especially for her from pine wood and metal hinges, which, thanks to Jim’s constant vigilance, assembled and collapsed silently with fresh grease every week. Sue’s tables on the other hand looked as if someone had attached four pool cues to a door.

Sue dropped the table and it hit the concrete floor with a sharp clap. “You’d think I’d be used to it by now,” she said and continued to work, singing successive choruses of ‘tsk tsks’ and exasperated sighs. She draped a white cloth over the table and arranged small glossy signs at each corner. The signs had the words ‘FRUIT-EZE’ printed across the top, above a cartoon image of an running man carrying a fruit basket. Sue stacked tins of Fruit-eze and arranged pastel coloured leaflets in front of them. “That looks just wonderful then,” she said and began singing ‘What a wonderful world’ in a growling Louis Armstrong voice.

As Sue trumpeted beside her, Marjory restacked the bananas and made sure that all the pieces of ripped cardboard had the correct prices and were sitting nicely on top of their respective piles of produce. Then she recalibrated her set of scales and weighed a couple of avocados she guessed to be about a kilo. The arrow bobbed up and down and then rested at nine hundred and seventy eight grams. Satisfied that everything was ready, Marjory sat on the edge of her picnic chair, rubbing her hands on her apron, waiting.

By six-thirty the market was yawning as stalls began to multiply and interested buyers drifted in from the street. Melvin, the restaurateur, came in looking tired and blurry-eyed. He bought four eggplants and a sweet potato and then left, mumbling something about Irish people and wine. He didn’t compliment Marjory’s eggplants. Marjory checked the others to see if they had blemishes or were too small. The fisherman didn’t come for his bananas but three tourists ambled in and bought two each. Marjory had not taken many bananas with her to the markets because, for the third time in two years, the trees on her farm were infested with fruit flies. Marjory didn’t like to use spray on the trees, but there had been no alternative. It was a pity, she thought, because bananas were always the best sellers.

A women of about forty walked through and paused at Sue’s table. She picked up a leaflet.

“Good morning!” Sue tanned face and yellow hair burst forward like an exploding sun flower. “If you’ve ever tried to diet and failed miserably, I know I have, or just looking to complete a balanced diet without the calories then I really recommend that you have a look at Fruit-eze.”

The woman smiled and nodded for Sue to continue. Marjory tried to appear disinterested and looked out onto the street. She coughed and edged closer Sue’s table, one hand over her mouth, the other on her hips.

“It’s got all the goodness of real fruit and all the flavour, I might add. Do you like fruit? Good. Well you’ll love Fruit-eze. It’s got twice the vitamins of real fruit and lasts up to three years in the pantry. You can take it anywhere too! No more rotten apples! If you just want a moderate intake of nutrients, try the rockmelon variety – it’s one of my favourites, not too sweet…”

Sue rummaged around in one of the boxes from which she produced an orange and white tin. She held it up high like a trophy. “For just thirty dollars, I’ll throw in a banana starter kit too.”

“No, thanks,” the woman said and left.

Marjory wiped down her apron and smiled. It was getting warm and the whirring engines of ice cream trucks on the footpath outside indicated that the day’s markets had awoken. The plant sellers had erected a temporary jungle at the mouth of the car park and the fresh smell of herbs began to swim around the market floor, joining the scented pool of donuts and saw dust.

Sue was wiping down a gigantic stainless steel milkshake maker with twin blenders. She smiled at Marjory.

“You make it like a milkshake,” she said. “You just have to add water and maybe some ice and then you stir it up! Some people even put ice cream in it! I mean, you go on a diet for a reason don’t you? It’s the athletes who can afford to do that I think, but I’ve heard that some mothers keep drinking Fruit-eze after pregnancy – they’re addicted to it! Are there any power points near here?”

“You got power up there – cuts off at two o’clock. And the taps are round back near the newsagent’s,” Marjory said and moved around some eggplants that had fallen on their sides.

“Thanks! Do you want any? Can you keep an eye on my stuff while I’m gone?”

Marjory waited until Sue had walked some way and then shuffled over to look at the multi-coloured tins. She picked up one called ‘Bouncing Berry’. “Flavour agent D89, non-crystallising solution, beta-Gluconates, Gum-Arabic…” Marjory turned her up nose. She didn’t know a lot about the new trends in health; she’d seen infomercials about intestinal cleansing diets and machines that helped you lose weight while watching television, but could never understand why people chose to eat things, the origins of which they knew little. She lifted the plastic lid and sniffed.

“Excuse me.”

Marjory fumbled and dropped the tin. It hit the concrete with a clang and exploded in a cloud of blue powder.

“Oh, sorry about that. I didn’t mean to startle you,” said the man. He looked about sixty and wore a blue track suit. An Alsatian puppy was running in circles around his ankles tied to the end of a red leash.

“Oh no, you-“

“I was hoping to try out some of this stuff; a friend of mine said it was quite good.”

“Well, I,- ”

“The banana I think, yes, that was it. The banana. I think I’d like to try that one.”

The dog yapped at the man’s feet. “Settle down, Ginger,” he said.

“I’ll just clean up.” Marjory bent over and picked up the empty tin. With her tea cloth, she began sweeping up the dry powder. Clouds of grey dust rose from the ground with every pass.

“You don’t mind if I take a look at some of these do you?”

“Uh, no,” Marjory said from under the table. The man went to each variety and read the contents, um-ming and ah-ing. From under the table, Marjory could see the Alsatian pup, nosing at the man’s black leather shoes: they had polished gold insignias. Marjory was the first to admit that, with her knitted striped jumper and rotten joggers, her sense of fashion was questionable, but she had rarely seen anyone wearing a blue cotton track suit with designer shoes. She got to her feet and put the re-filled tin of Bouncing Berry back on the shelf.

“Um, never mind about the banana,” the man said, putting back a tin of Cherry Chaser. “I might come back later. Will you be here?”

“Yes, but-“

“Goodbye!” And with that he darted out of the car park dragging Ginger behind him.

Marjory looked up and saw Sue’s yellow hair bouncing up the alley; she quickly went back to her stall and began rearranging potatoes.

“Thanks for that,” she said. “Anyone come by?”

“No, no.”

“Oh well, early days yet! I met the nicest man – Brian his name was – he was selling books. He gave me this vegetarian cookbook to read for the day. What great people you’ve got around here. Nothing like back home in the city. A girl could fall in love with a relaxed place like this but it’s a pity I’ve got to go north tomorrow.”

The day wore on and the sun crept its way into the car park. Groups of children walked passed the entrance carrying surfboards and smoking cigarettes. Marjory had not sold much that morning and was irritated when she looked down at her tired-looking tomatoes and browning bananas and then at Sue, who was chattering at the passing crowds with her permanent smile and high-pitched voice. And they came and they bought. From the corner of her eye, Marjory could see Sue’s money belt getting thicker while her tin box laid barely untouched beneath her chair.

“What about you sell me some of those great looking apples?” Sue asked Marjory around noon. “They are just crying out to be eaten. How much? A dollar? Great!”

Sue took the apples away and washed them in a bucket of water. As she crunched on her first apple, a siren wailed. Outside, people’s heads turned towards the road but Sue and Marjory couldn’t see what was going on. “Can you see? What is it?” Sue said just as a police car swerved in from the road and screeched to a halt at the entrance. Two burly constables trooped out from the rear doors. The front passenger door flew open knocking over one of the plant seller’s ferns and out stepped another. This one pointed at Marjory – it was the man she had seen in the blue track suit. Marjory’s heart raced and she stepped back, knocking her chair to the ground.

“That’s her,” he said. “She’s the one whose been selling stolen goods. The vehicle matches the description.”

“So we’ve finally got you, eh?” said the Senior Constable. “To be honest you look a little different to the description. Just goes to show that anyone’s capable of hijacking a truck and ripping off the driver. And I see you’ve made quite a little business out of it.”

“I… I… I just sell fruit,” Marjory blinked. “It was her. It was her! Look there she goes!” Sue had run off down the alley, bumping into market-goers, squealing “Get out of the way! Get out of the way!”. She crashed over a plastic bin filled with empty cans and napkins hitting the floor hands-first. Someone tried to help her but she thrust them back. As she did, a burst of yellow flashed into the air like a fire. Sue’s shaggy wig had flipped over her head and landed in a crumpled heap on the concrete, was now covered with a mixture of cordial, juice and soup from the fallen bin. The police gave chase, but Sue, now brown and scruffy, leapt through a hole in the throng of shoppers and disappeared into the hum of the day’s market. Marjory watched the police run off and then looked down at Sue’s wig. Its sandy curls were straightening out in the dregs of the morning’s market as it edged slowly towards the iron bars and into the drain hole.