Eltham Writers

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A most unusual case

By Carolyn Webb read more

Keeping it fresh

The only thing missing from her list was a colander. read more

Weird happenings at stupid o’clock

Monica rolled out of bed and groaned.

It was 3am. Pitch black. Dead quiet outside, as she schlepped, for the fourth time that night, to the toilet, which was across the hall and kitchen.

Her bladder was playing funny buggers but it was no laughing matter at all. She wasn’t a man with an enlarged prostate, so what was the deal with that? Was she getting kidney cancer? Probably.

And she just could not stay asleep. Every night, she’d sleep for the first three hours then toss and turn, wide awake, until morning.

She’d tried all the usual tricks. Have a glass of milk (cue more toilet trips), toss and turn (no joy), lie stock still (she just got bored), or listen to terrible overnight radio (why did they always play some god-awful 1950s drama serial just as she woke up? Or some talkback caller droning on about his psoriasis?).

As for TV, forgeddaboutit. She’d rather go out and mow the lawn than tolerate those Fat Blaster machine advertorials or re-runs of Bewitched.

She tried reading a book. That, at least, was fairly pleasant, but gnawing away in her head was the through that, every hour, two hours, then three, was hacking into her total sleep hours.

In short, she couldn’t win, short of taking drugs.

She wasn’t yet that desperate, but she had a feeling it was any day now.

She’d end up a hopelessly addicted hag, sitting with a hat and a sign on Swanston street, peddling for money to score.

With that happy thought, Monica entered the kitchen door and made her usual glance around to check for serial killers. Or ghosts. Or a serial killer’s ghost. She chuckled.

And screamed loudly enough to wake the dead, and backed against the kitchen bench. Sitting on a kitchen chair, his legs crossed on the table, was what looked like a giant smurf.

Bare blue chest and face, and white cap and trousers. This one had a black moustache, black eyes and a three day growth.

Monica was frozen, backed against the bench, metres away from him, while one arm groped behind her back for her mobile phone.

Damn! She’d left it on the bedside table – her latest offering to the sleep Gods was to look up obscure historical figures on Wikipedia in the hope she’d bore herself to sleep.

“There’s my purse – take it,” she croaked. “What else do you want? My laptop. It’s old, but it works. A-a-and there’s a jar with a few coins in the pantry. Here. Take the car keys. Car’s out in the car port.”

OK, she was being a bit generous, but she was panicking, her heart was galloping. She just wanted this freak out of here.

He just peered at her with his little beady black eyes, as though she’d been speaking Swahili. He grinned, and promptly yawned.

“Who are you? And why are you dressed as a Smurf?” she said, a little impertinently. But grumpiness was a known side-effect of insomnia.

The Smurf spoke in a high pitched whine, sounding like a jockey. “I’m not a Smurf,” he said, frowning. “I’m a dwarf. I’m Sleepy.”

“Yeah and I’m the Queen of England. Now I don’t know what drugs you’re on, or what riches you think I might have but I can assure you there’s nothing to steal, apart from what I’ve told you about.

“So would you please get out of my house?”

“No,’’ squeaked Sleepy. “I’m on a mission.”

Monica pinched her hip, hard, to check whether she was dreaming. “Owww” she heard herself say.

“I am prepared to cure you of insomnia,” said Sleepy. “I can get you eight hours’ sleep a night.”

He lifted an eyebrow. “And in return, I want….”

She gasped in horror.

“Ahhh, naaah, no,” said Sleepy. “Look, I know I’m attractive, I hate to disappoint you, but sorry love. I’m gay.”

“Then what?” she said. “What do you want.”

“In return,” he said, “I want your soul, your first born and I’ll give you blocked ears once a year.”

Monica rubbed her eyes. She really didn’t have to think about it for long.

“I’ll take it,” she said.

Sleepy looked stunned. “You what?”
“I’ll take it. Insomnia’s a bitch. I’d do anything to end it. Anything!!!”

“Well, uh, Ohhh K then!”

Sleepy sat up and magically a large sheet of paper, written in illegible ink script appeared from behind his back. He handed her a giant feathered fountain pen.

She didn’t have her glasses, but she gathered it was mostly in the vein of “and according to the party of the first part, I hereby declare that heretofore…”

She signed on the dotted line.

Sleepy disappeared in a puff of blue smoke.

Monica proceeded to the toilet. Look, weirder things had happened while she’d been wide awake at stupid o’clock.

She went back to bed, switched off the light, and the iPhone, and slept the sleep of the dead, for the first time in five years.

Stuff the consequences. Here was sleep, sweet sleep.

Everything’s just fine down here, thanks very much!

At five feet one and a half inches, I was the tallest person in my family. Together with my father, mother and twin siblings, we moved contentedly through our compact lives; effortlessly picking things up from the floor, deftly controlling the presence of mice under the fridge. Our house was naturally cooled by the shadows of all that surrounded it and the lofty ceilings inside created a sense of majesty that never failed to lift our spirits. read more


“Good of you to join us, Sleepy.” read more





Norma Monkton’s rise to fame was swift. Her cheeky girlish memoir Adieu Gruyere had been an unexpected hit, becoming Australia’s second highest non-fiction seller after only six months on the  book store shelves. Critics agreed the tale of Norma’s misspent youth in the cheese markets of Provence had tapped into an undercurrent of foodie melancholy that was sweeping through the nation’s bloated middle class as it adjusted to life in recession. At the age of 52, Norma suddenly found herself in the giddy celebrity world of the best selling author.


Norma’s memoir had originally been a therapeutic project ordered by her long-time psychologist, Dr Otto von Schrenk. After twenty three years of unsuccessful therapy, Dr Otto finally announced he could do no more and Norma’s fate now lay in her own shaky hands. Loaded up with medication and writing materials, she was sent home to creatively re-engage with her troubled past as the only way to unlocking any future happiness.


Despite an initial reluctance, Norma soon found the recall of her time in Provence was effortless and compelling. The tangy aroma of ageing Cheddars, the ooze of the double Bries and the skillful way Cedric and his father had nurtured their cheeses from a cool stone farm cellar to the bustling market where Norma worked, all came flooding back to her. The memories of breathless moments in the cellar with Cedric and his father also returned, often as affecting as the encounters themselves and leaving Norma in an alarmingly heightened physical state more than once.


Norma did not hold back. Her pen began to flow across the page as she relived her provincial odyssey; at the farmhouse, in the fields, on the back of the cheese cart. How alive she had been; awakened amongst the whey, enabled by curiosity and curd. Her story came to life in vivid erotic colour.


Norma got an agent and started doing media. Radio National ran an in-depth interview with her about the relationship between food and sensuality. Sunrise did a ten minute slot with her and RALPH Magazine Editor, Brad Trolley, playing quoits with plastic cheese rings and vibrators.


But beneath the glamorous media engagements and the invigorating journey back to her youth,  Norma felt a growing sense of unease. In truth, France had not been kind to her, taking far more than it had given. When she found herself suddenly cast out one day, left alone to deal with the consequences of her actions, Norma realised for the first time that she was in a foreign land that had no regard or responsibility for her well-being. Madame de Brique had come to her rescue it was true but in the crude and cruel way of the Paris streets. Adieu Gruyere had glossed over those desperate final weeks in France, ending instead with Norma’s return to Australia and the start of a new life farming goats in Gippsland.


After only three weeks on the celebrity circuit, Norma disappeared. She sacked her agent, cancelled all engagements and retreated into her farmhouse to correct the record. Her triumphant return eight months later with The Cheese Stands Alone established Norma Monkton as one of Australia’s most versatile writers. Her second book marked a radical departure from the flippant, risque style of Adieu, employing an anarcho-seperatist-feminist framework to trace the emergence of dairy products as a primary source of protein in the Middle Ages.


There’s a mouse in the house

It was a brutal affair, from the discovery to the chase, from the ambush to the frontal attack. The collateral damage was immense. The broken glass, the upended rice tin, the scattered biscuits and oh god, the spilled bottles of seasoning. The panic came as an escape appeared likely, prompted by a careless miscalculation of the hastily prepared fortifications. But the worst moment came mid-morning as the hunter and the hunted faced off in the confined quarters of a dark, dingy setting, one that meant only one would come out alive.  

Yikes,” screams the good lady wife.


There’s a mouse in the house.

It’s over there, it’s under the chair,

Open the doorway, it’s down the hallway, 

Grab the big broom, it’s in the bedroom.

What to do?

Ginger the cat is scratching the mat

She’s going mental, no longer gentle

She’s also too fat, my fault that.

But, has she the nous to catch that mouse? 

She has no pace, but watch this space…….

It took days before it was all over. Ginger was useless. All noise and no grit. A full investigation on how the mouse got into the house revealed Ginger had carried her in, hanging by the mouth clutched between those razor sharp teeth of hers. Ginger was not a killer, as it happened. She just wanted to play. But she loosened her grip, let the rodent slip and now this mouse put both fear and loathing into the hearts of we two gentle, if not slightly demented, definitely forgetful, aged pensioners.

We never realised there was a mouse in the house until we noticed that Ginger was showing more than a passing interest in the goings on underneath the single seater armchair adjacent to the three metre long entertainment unit. It was unusual for her to be lying on her back with one leg reaching out underneath the couch as far as she could stretch it. What a sight! She already had a scratching pole. Why was she doing calisthenics on the floor?

What was she up to, I thought, just as the Brisbane Heat star opening batsman smacked a mighty six into the SCG crowd. That’s when the mouse caught my eye, as if the cheering of the crowd was the cue to make its bid for freedom.

It’s under the unit, I just saw it

The furry little thing, I’ll give it something

But now that we know, it’ll probably keep low

I should buy a mouse trap in the morning.

Ginger sprang for the chase

Tried to grab it with her face

Didn’t work drat, it’s too smart for that

As it made a break for the pantry.

After some convincing, the good lady wife agreed that we keep the pantry door shut thus assuring the safe incarceration of the rodent overnight. Morning came and my local Coles had the traps stacked on the shelves. There they were alongside a plethora of deadly alternatives in nicely packed boxes all blazoned with colour and design that oozed success.

I decided to throw some ratsac in for good measure. You never know what fear does to one’s culinary tastes. And, one never knows what else might be lurking in the dark corners of an overstocked pantry.

Do we have any cheese, I asked of the good lady wife, as I recalled those images of Tom and Jerry I use to love at the Saturday matinee at the Broadway theatre in Camberwell. Ah, those were the days. Lots of mice hung around the house back then. Lots of traps set. Lots of waking during the night to the sound of a sudden and precise snap that pierced the still night hush. I never saw the poor things in the morning. Dad always protected us from psychological traumas during our tender, formative years.

I arrived back from Coles and planned the assault with my deadly weapons. As I opened the pantry door, a lone trickle of sweat rolled down my cheek. The big moment had come. My heart was pumping a zillion to the minute. There was no turning back. The hinges made a squeak and immediately ruined any element of surprise. No sign of the rodent as I entered the field of battle gently closing the door behind me. I rustled a few items in the waste paper basket and listened for some movement. Nothing!

There was only one way to do this; clear out the pantry, one item at a time. Laborious to say the least, but what can one do? The good lady wife took up position just outside the pantry door. We called it a rearguard defense in the army because she was in the rear and it was defense, of sorts.

We tried so hard not to make a mess

But in the end I must confess

Bottles fell and opened packs spilled

Liquid flowed freely, oh my god, really?

Then in a flash the rodent appeared

Stuck his head out looking weird

I reached out suddenly, not very well planned

And grabbed it firmly with a clutching hand.

I got it,” I yelled to the good lady wife. “Open the front door and let me out.” With that I scrambled to my feet and headed off down the front driveway. This intruder would never darken our door again. As I walked across the street to the vacant lot, a feeling of confusion overtook me. My plan was to kill it stone dead but compassion took charge of the moment. 

It was an honourable victory

No need to be cruel

We fought a good fight

A gentleman’s duel

So I let him go

To live another day

Told him never come back

As I waved him away.

Merry Christmas, old man

It’s Christmas Day, late afternoon, and Michael O’Shea is walking down the side of Mount Dandenong Tourist Road, Olinda.

Staggering a little. He’s nice and sozzled. Cooked. It’s warm, even here in the hills. Sunny and bright.

Curiously, there’s not a car in sight as he makes his way to his house, on Dodds Road.

His brother Sean insisted on driving him home, after a smashing Christmas feast at their sister Karen’s, on account of Michael being pissed as a newt, as Sean put it.

The brothers had a minor brawl that almost came to blows, over whether Sean would drop Michael off at his doorstop, not on the main road. “No, no, you’ll drop me right here, it’ll be great, thanks,’’ said Michael.

“No, let me get you to your house, you’re too drunk…..” said Sean.

Michael: “No, drop me here, I said..” and so on, and so forth.

Michael being the oldest, by 18 months, and the most stubborn, he won the argument, with Sean swearing and hitting the steering wheel as he stopped to let Michael off.

Michael chuckled as he headed down a rather steep hill. He was now a little weary, he realised. He stopped in front of a tree for a piss and was halfway through when he heard the car motor.

A little Japanese model. Quiet. In good nick, thought Michael, absently, ever the ex-mechanic. Manual. But someone was crunching the gears something shocking.

Just as he was zipping up his fly, he turned and saw a flash. Brakes squealing. A deep thud. Searing pain.

And that was the end of Michael O’Shea.

The Honda’s gears crunched but the tyres held firm as Zarah Metcalfe swerved around the diabolical Dandenongs corners and zipped up and down hills en route to her ex-husband’s home in Belgrave.

It was Christmas Day, late afternoon, and Zarah’s nerves were completely shot through. She was pretty sober – well, she’d had a few sherries making the trifle this morning.

She felt she needed a few beverages because she was stressed to the max. A good table red would hit the spot right now.

“You need to slow down. Calm down,” said a little voice in her head. But she was too frazzled to listen.

Six months before, her mother had died, and her father couldn’t cope. Lately he’d started acting erratically, leaving the stove on after a cup of tea, leaving the front door wide open, leaving dirty clothes on the floor at his house in Belgrave.

He’d called that morning to say he couldn’t do Christmas this year. It was too sad. “I’m sad, too Dad, but I’m coming around and we’ll have lunch,’’ said Zarah.

She’d dropped her kids, Cooper and Jackson, off at her ex-husband Darren’s house that morning, after they’d opened their presents.

At her Dad’s that morning, she roasted a chicken and made a trifle, with copious sherry, and laid the table with festive decorations as she vacuumed, cleaned the grotty bathroom and put some washing on.

Dad, meanwhile slumped on the lounge chair, nursing a whiskey or four, as he flipped morosely between silly Christmas movies on TV. She shook him awake for lunch and he downed a few bites before falling asleep in his dining chair.

Zarah allowed herself some tears as she gazed at a photo of her mum, Jess. “I wish you were here, Mum,” she sobbed. She picked up Dad and put him to bed, switching the air conditioning on, as it had warmed up.

It was time for Zarah to go to work. She was a bartender at the Burvale Hotel. Her shift started at 5pm.

She’d left a note for Dad and was getting into her Honda at about 4pm when she got a phone call from her ex husband’s bimbo girlfriend, Mel.

“Sorry, ah, Saaaahrah,” said Mel, “can youse come and pick Jackson and Cooper up? Right now?” She had a nasal accent and an irritating upward inflection.

“We’re due at my Mum’s at five,” Mel continued. “She’s in Werribee, at the other side of town. We have to leave.”

“Well the boys will have to go with you,” replied Zarah. “You know I have to work tonight. That was the deal.”

“Sahhhrah, they’re not my kids,” said Mel, with a decided edge to her voice, keeping it low, presumably so Darren couldn’t hear. “They’ve been fucken little pricks, if you wanna know the truth. I’m not puttin’ up with them one more minute. Youse can have ‘em.”

Zarah did not have the strength to argue. She said OK. She had never brought her kids to work. Her boss, Larry, would be angry. But she had no choice.

The roads, on the way to Darren’s at Kilsyth, were eerily clear.

Zarah’s mind kept screening three films in her head, one after the other: her Dad, was he losing his mind? Fucking Mel, and Zarah got angrier by the minute at that bitch who’d stolen her husband and now hated her kids. And work. She couldn’t afford to be late. But she had to bring the kids.

She drove the curves of Olinda, one after the other. Her phone rang on the seat beside her. She turned for a second to see who it was.

Then a thump. She screeched the car to a halt and got out.

Her heart stopped. She’d hit someone. An old man. He was flat on his front. Motionless. She looked around. No one in sight.

The car had just a faint abrasion. The sun shone through the trees. Birds chirped. She took his pulse. Nothing. She held her hand up to his mouth. No breath.

As if she were a robot, she returned to her car, got in and drove off. She would tell no one. Her Dad relied on her. Her kids lived for her. She couldn’t go to jail.

“Sorry old man. I didn’t mean it. It’s been a shitty Christmas. For both of us.

“Merry Christmas,” she added, and started to laugh, hysterically, tears coursing down her cheeks as she revved the engine and headed for Darren’s place.

The oldest Christmas story

There is too much floor in this room. The shiny linoleum is squeaky clean but depressing in colour. That colour would be called ‘dun’. And there is, literally, room for a pony. I could actually have a pony in here. But I’m not sure the pony would enjoy taking the lift to the second floor. Do ponies do stairs?

There should be other beds in here, but there aren’t. My health insurance buys me a room to myself, so I’ve got it, but it looks like at least two other people have been wheeled into a corridor somewhere to make it happen. I’m not sorry. I like the privacy. I want to be alone.

With all this space, you’d think I’d have a bathroom, but I don’t. I have to get out of bed, stagger across the excess yardage of this room to the door, cross the hall and use the shower and toilet facilities in the corridor. It’s like friggin’ Beirut in that corridor. Not that I’ve been to Beirut. Or Mogadishu. Or Baghdad, or any other place that people without any experience of a warzone liken to normal, safe things that aren’t anything like a warzone, in their efforts at hyperbole. Anyway there’s stuff happening in that corridor that makes me long for the cold sterility and endless synthetic flooring of my private room.

So that’s where I stay, and stare at the long wall of timber panels that look like they should be storage, but aren’t. It’s very weird. This is a weird room. Maybe because the last one I stayed in was – and I can’t believe I’m using this word to describe a hospital room – cosy. And not just by comparison. Its cream walls had faintly art deco sconces and the floor had a kind of bald carpet that muffled the sounds of people’s shoes. Here, people squeak in and out without mercy. And in that previous room, I had tables and shelves, filled with flowers and knick knacks from home. But it was a longer stay, and six weeks ago, and the first tidal wave of bad news. People rise to the occasion.

There’s nowhere to put flowers in this capacious room, no furniture except my bed, my IV trolley, my wheely table, and the crowded bedside table with its stupid phone with the tangled cord. Mum is the only one who calls on that phone, everyone else just sends me a text. But when that phone rings and I reach for it, the cord is so tangled that the entire thing comes with the receiver. The weight of it falling off the table creates a medical emergency as I try to catch it and am punished with crippling pain from the enormous incision down my abdomen. It’s not Mum’s fault. But it’s a stupid phone. And a weird room. And I want to go home. And not have this happening to me. And.

I’m not allowed to go home. Not until I can master the sadistic toy that the physio gave me. It has a tube, and a clear plastic housing that contains three coloured balls. When I say coloured, they’re all blue, but one is pale blue, the next is a middling shade of blue, and the last is dark blue. When you blow in the tube, first the light blue ball hits the top of the plastic housing. If you blow hard enough the next one also hits the top. But you have to blow really hard to get all three balls to the top in the one breath. And right now, it’s just not happening. Crippling pain, and all that. The things they come up with to measure your progress. Blowing into a tube will determine my fate. Like a random breath test. Ha! Fucking sadist.

It’s Christmas Eve. This – indicates hospital room – is not a Christmas tradition of mine. This is a first. Well, it’s obviously not my first hospital room, but it’s my first Christmas Eve spent in one. Not something I want to turn into a tradition. Once is definitely enough.

They try to make the best of it. They had some awkward carolers come visit. Volunteers, I suppose. A bunch of strangers file into the room and admire all the space. ‘This is a big room, isn’t it?’ and smile at you like you’re the lucky one. Then they start singing at you, trapped in your bed and tied down with tubes and attachments, a captive audience. Because nothing says ‘festive season’ like people you’ve never met invading your private space to shout glad tidings and joy at you, after an assault on your body carrying off parts of your organs and all of your remaining sanity. Anyway.

Dad’s little act of love was typical. He lugged in a portable flat screen TV and a DVD player, so that Nick and I can watch Love Actually tonight. One of our actual traditions. Dad had to purloin an extra wheelie table to accommodate the set up. I couldn’t spare my first wheelie table. They expect me to eat dinner, so I need a place to pretend to eat off. It’s a charade we all enjoy. And good to know that with Beirut happening in the hallway and two ailing people possibly ousted from this room, spare wheelie tables can still be purloined. Perhaps I am the lucky one.

The reality of which might slowly be uncovered.

Gradually, as if via drips from a leaking tap, things might turn out to be ok. Perhaps starting tonight, when Nick will give me my Christmas present early, allowing my ear lobes and throat to sparkle and glint in the sunlight of the following day – at home. Later still, when the cancer is eradicated the first time, and then a second time. And continuing, years later, when this Christmas Eve is just a bad memory – awkward, lonely, and painful – but undeniably laced with gratitude. When the scars from the incision are fading, but the ghosts of the past still haunt the blood tests of ordinary life.

They opened me up in hospital and took some things out. They unwittingly put other things in, that I didn’t have before. Some of them are things that I still carry, without even realising. But the load gets lighter, and the future less improbable as time goes on.

So perhaps that’s what my Christmas story is about. Hope.


“No, I have not been drinking!” my mother insisted as she paused to take a sip. “This is the national drink of those marvellous people from the New Guinea Highlands. It’s called Kava Kava!”

I heard the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass.

“Deeanne brought it back from her last visit home. She thought it might help me with my nerves and it has changed everything! I simply float through the days.”

A muffled voice in the background briefly took my mother’s attention away from the phone. “Yes, Deanne, get the door. Quickly, quickly.” She returned with a new excitement in her voice. “I have to go. I have a visitor.”

“Who is it?”

“No one you know. I have to go… Hello Marie.”

“Marie? Marie the cleaner?”

“It’s none of your business. I have to go… Would you like a drink Marie?”

And with that the line went dead.

I didn’t need a live connection to know the scene that was playing out in my mother’s living room. A hapless group of home care workers and people she’d met in mental health wards was gathering around her…

“Kava Kava for everyone Deeanne… Oh I love your shoes. The op shop? Surely not!”

My mother, Liz, would be happily bustling amongst her guests, well in her element as hostess-with-the-mostest anti-psychotic medication in the cupboard.

Once availed with their own liquid opioids, her guests would be ushered by Deeanne to an impressive polished blackwood table where they would sit quietly and wait for the proceedings to begin. Then seating herself imperiously at the head of the table, my mother would embark on a long speech about her own medical history before solemnly nodding to each guest to briefly outline their woes for the week.

For some, it was the little things in life that continually plagued them; working out how much money to hand over in the supermarket, reading the bus timetable or remembering to take their medication. For others, it was the continual habitations in their heads or the eardrum shattering thoughts of the neighbours that drove them to despair.

However large or small their problems, my mother’s weekly guests all brought a need for safety and acceptance around her table and, perhaps, reassurance from the readings she would dispense.

Tasseography, or tea leaf reading, is an ancient form of fortune telling first practiced in medieval Europe and popular amongst desperate peasants the world over. Many of my ancestors were well practiced in the art and my Great Aunt Elsbeth was notorious throughout Moonee Ponds for her ability to read the future in a cup. Elsbeth had always had a particular fondness for my mother, recognising not only that their names shared the same derivation, but that they also had a certain colour of soul. In her later years, she gave great attention to teaching the  younger Elizabeth the tricks of the tea leaf trade before she herself passed on to the next realm. But it was not until my mother was well into widowhood that she took up the practice in earnest and reinvented herself as a suburban seer, attracting the adoration and spare coinage of the suburb’s most vulnerable.

Deeanne delivered a giant tea pot to the centre of the table, steam drifting lazily up from the spout. Tiny ornate China tea cups followed, each placed carefully in front of a guest and then the  tea, black no sugar, was poured. When she had gone around the table, Deanne took her usual place at the right hand of my mother and enthusiastically poured herself a brew.

“Marie. Would you like to start?” my mother asked as way of an order.

All eyes turned to Marie as she silently and shakily lifted her cup. Schizophrenia had left her particularly ill equipped to deal with social situations and she withered under the weight of the group’s sudden attention. Nonetheless, she valiantly brought the cup of hot tea to her lips and with one long, loud slurp, drank the contents, careful not to swallow the leaves.

“Marvellous!” My mother peered dramatically into Marie’s cup, “Now let’s have a look.”

With the synchronicity of a chorus line, the group leaned forward in their chairs, straining to absorb every nuance of the read. Liz  ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ as she turned the cup around in her hands.

“I see a bird – that’s terribly good luck. And a frog, see there? A little frog.” My mother  tipped the cup in Marie’s direction but not far enough or for long enough to be in any way revealing. “Frogs are also terribly good luck. And I think that might be the Eiffle Tower. Goodness Marie, you are in for a big week!”

An audible sigh went around the table as everyone leaned back in their chairs and several guests reached for their Kava Kava. My mother triumphantly placed the tea cup back on its saucer and pushed it across the table towards Marie who looked the most relieved of all.

A number of managers from the Council had contacted me with concerns about my mother’s fortune telling antics. They felt the well attended weekly sessions undermined the integrity of their Home Care Program, leading staff into my mother’s social circle, or as one particularly emotional caller insisted, her cult. I always assured them I would keep an eye on things.

“How did your little soiree go?” I asked Liz during our next phone conversation.

“It wasn’t a soiree because it was in the middle of the day” she corrected me tersely. “In any case, there’s no point lecturing me because it’s a legitimate part of the new exchange economy – I checked with the Post Office. I can’t help it if people want to turn up at the house and provide a service to me and then I want to provide a service to them and we all pay and we all win. None of us win very much in our everyday lives, you know.”

“I’m pretty sure you’re not meant to bring Kava Kava into the country.” I suggested gently.

“Oh don’t be ridiculous. Deanne’s mother drinks it all the time!”  my mother shot back defiantly.

“But do you really think it’s fair to people with serious mental illnesses to pretend to read their futures?”

“What do you mean pretend?”

“Well, it’s always a good luck story. How can every sign in the leaves means good luck?”

There was a pause as my mother collected herself for the response.

“I admit it is funny how the leaves seem to fall for people with a certain colour of soul. But that’s something you wouldn’t really understand, is it darling?”

And with that the line went dead.

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