It Happened at Midnight, One Christmas Eve

Aaaaah fuck it.

Here I was being as quiet as possible, avoiding all the damn booby traps and there he is at the foot of the stairs, pointing a goddamn smartphone at me. He’s not taking photographs either, he’s actually shooting video.

Hope that’s something you were planning to upload later and not live-streaming to a mate somewhere else, little buddy.

“Gotcha,” he says with a smarmy, gap-toothed grin.

Fair cop, kid. You got me. Here I am in the jolly red suit, long white beard and lugging a sack full of loot, and you’ve sprung me. I’m even lit up by Christmas tree lights to make the video clearer. What did you reckon, you too-clever little shit? This time of year is easy pickings for all sorts who want access to people’s houses. Despite all the fear being peddled by politicians and the media, people just get too fucking trusting around the holiday season.

Doesn’t mean I should be less cautious, though.

I hate when this happens.

Does he genuinely believe I’m Santa? He’s young, like eight or nine, and the superhero graphics on his pyjamas suggest he reckons he’s older than he really is, but he’s not too old to not believe in Santa any more. Is he the one who insisted on the home-baked biscuit and glass of milk on the coffee table? There are even carrots there for the reindeer. It’s a nice enough house. Both parents work by the look of things, and the home-made decorations on parts of the tree show the little sister is a big believer with a heart of gold and the artistic talent of a deranged meerkat.

He’s still grinning, but even from here I can see he’s trembling too.

“So what’re you gonna do now?” I ask. He shrugs. Springing me had been the priority. What came next was something he was probably going to try and work out later. He hasn’t yelled for anybody yet. Maybe I can sweet-talk the phone off him. “Did you get my best side?” He nods. “Can I see?” He shakes his head and holds the phone behind his back.

Devious little bastard.

“What did you bring me?” he gushes with a little hop. Like I haven’t heard that one before. This whole area has always had some snot-nosed junior piss-artist ready to challenge the rumours Santa’s not real and wait in the shadows on Christmas Eve. Makes getting around a bit harder than usual, but the pickings are just too easy to resist.

“You’ve been naughty this year, so no bike for you,” I tell him flatly. He’s genuinely upset. There are the beginnings of tears, but even from here I’ve got doubts they’re real. If he wails, the rest of the family will be awake and down in a shot. “I did get you a mini drone,” I quickly assure him, gesturing to the pile of presents under the tree. The tears evaporate and his appreciative eyes widen.

“What did you get for your sister?” I ask, trying to distract him. Maybe I can make my way over and snatch the phone away. He points. There’s a wooden doll house. It’s not big by any stretch, and looks like the carpenter had hiccups when he put it together, but the thick coat of paint and big red ribbon are guaranteed to win over his sister’s heart.

“I made that for Maddie,” he says.

Did you now? Clever and talented. Hmmm. At least he’s been a bit good. His sister’ll be thrilled.

“I’m gonna show my dad the video of you coming in through the door. He said you came down the chimney but we don’t have one and he didn’t believe me when I told him you’d have to come through the door,” he declares and turns to head back up the stairs. “It’s why I left it unlocked.”

“Jasper,” I call. He looks back, shocked. Of course I know your name. It’s all over every second tag under the tree. “Don’t. You can’t let your parents know I’m here.”

“Screw that,” he says with a laugh and takes the first step.

You made me do it, you stupid little shit. At the end of the day, you’ve only got yourself to blame.

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen! Hang on tight Jasper, this is going to be a bumpy ride!” I yell with a crack of my whip as the sleigh rises from the roof into the crisp night air.

Mother Christmas is going to have to set an extra place this year, but we’ve always managed every time it’s happened. Besides, there’s always room for another pair of hands in the factory.

Just have to remember to magic him up some pointy ears.

Child labour’s a no-no these days, but nobody bats an eye at elves slaving away in Santa’s workshop.

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Bunny

The day I first saw you, all I could make out was a tiny shock of ginger fur in amongst the ferns.

You were so small, your eyes so big, your feet and little ears so dainty.

Swooping wings made you flee into the shadows, but you were always there. Over time I saw you grow. You nibbled on my marigolds and capsicum leaves. My parsley was your domain, little holes everywhere showed roots were your favourite. Sometimes you felt confident enough to sit in the sunshine, chewing on clover or nasturtiums. It was a garden of happy abundance for you.

A cockatoo or kookaburra flying in to see what there was to eat would send your little white tail bobbing into the undergrowth. You learned how to keep yourself safe.

Rabbits aren’t supposed to be around here. Sydney isn’t your proper place, and though you were born in a warren at the back of the neighbour’s property, I wouldn’t be surprised if either or both your parents were escaped pets.

You were too cute to get angry at, too sweet to want to get rid of. Your friends the black bunny and grey bunny sometimes showed up, but you, sweet ginger seemed to find my backyard home more than they ever did.

This morning, the noisy mynahs were alarmed. Nature’s guard-birds, I knew something was up. It was crows. Where there are rabbits, crows are sure to follow. Two crows in the backyard. Something was up.

I found what was left of you on the lawn under the shade of the ash tree. You were fully grown now, able to take care of yourself, flee from danger. The ginger fur scattered over the lawn and bushes told me whatever took you was particularly savage, your talent for survival and escape proving not enough for you this time.

I buried you in the garden bed close to where you were born. You weren’t supposed to be here, yet you were. As the soil covered your maimed form, my final glimpse of you was your white tail, the last I ever caught of you every time you dove for cover.

I don’t know who took you. The damage suggested a dog, not a crow. Crows clean up, rather than go in for the kill. Whatever took you did so because that’s what they do. I’m sorry it happened when I must have been asleep. If it had happened when I was awake, I would have likely stepped in to protect you.

As I wash the soil from my hands, I tell myself I know you were never supposed to have been here. That didn’t mean you deserved anything other than a life of happy plenty, though.

I’m sorry.

Good bye, little friend.

Diane

“Daddy, where do dreams go when they die?”

“I dunno, son. Why do you ask?”

“Mummy was saying her dreams have died. We visit Parkers Road Cemetery to see Diane. Where do we go to visit where mummy’s dreams are buried?”

“I … think … Diane was a dream of you mummy’s. Mine too.”

“Is that why you’re sad all the time? Did your dreams die as well?”

He lost his fight against the tears. A year wasn’t long enough. Not by a long shot, and Timothy was simply too young to understand, even now.

“Diane was as special to us just as you are, Timothy. We tried to give you both what was best, especially our love. Diane had a passion for … horses, so when we were able, we got her Thundersky. I don’t think either your mother or I thought Diane was in any danger, but when she came off that day, we found out.”

“Found out?”

“We found out how wrong we were. Diane had learned all about riding, but she didn’t understand about—”

He choked.

“Daddy?”

“I—I can’t even talk about it any more. Dr Edgerton is going to kill me. Every time I see a horse, I still can’t help but think of Diane.”

“Is that why all the things from her room got packed away?”

“I think so. It was far too much for your mother. She won’t even watch the news because there’s sometimes horse racing on.”

“Is it because Diane was your happy dream?”

“Yes son. Diane was our happy dream, but all those dreams are sad ones now. We have you, son. You’re our special dream. Your mother and I need to try and build fresh dreams together, but there will always be that place where Diane was, and that makes it extra hard. Sometimes dreams can’t be buried, even if there was ever a cemetery for them. No matter what, we’ll always love you.”

“I love you, daddy.”

“I love you, son. Goodnight.”

He switched off the light.

Whither Writing? Or is that Wither Writing?

The autotelic creator is someone who creates for the sake of creation. The painter who paints without regard for selling. The musician who performs even if there is no-one to listen. The writing who can’t help but pour out their heart and mind onto a page that could remain unread.

Even an autotelic creator needs to eat, so sometimes they dip their oar into the mainstream and turn their hand to something they feel the “market” might like. For many, it’s not a place they either like or feel any sense of belonging, but still respect as a necessary evil so their own existence may be perpetuated or more comprehensive resources afforded.

A fortunate autotelic creator is one whose creations align closely with the commercially attractive. Tragically, there are also those who lived their whole lives creating wonders, only to be “discovered” long after their death (e.g. Vincent van Gogh). The worst are the ones who are never discovered—their anonymity in life continuing after their death.

Now in our own time, the accessibility and ‘democratisation’ of information has arisen, providing new curses (e.g. ‘alternative facts’) as well as new blessings (e.g. online art galleries, self-publishing eBooks and YouTube). Never before have creatives had access to potential audiences as they do now.

The flipside to that accessibility is economics. Never before has there been pressure applied to authors, musicians and artists to provide their creativity free of charge. The perpetual argument is to provide something for free is to raise awareness of that creative amongst a potential market.

Long ago I was told in no uncertain terms to never give anything away, as to do so was to undervalue my own work. A small sample was fine, but an entire work? Never!

I’ve adhered to that principle since, knowing full well there are numerous individuals out there who consider anything other than free as too expensive, and the world owes them a living. They’re welcome to live in that fantasy land if it makes them happy, but going to a restaurant and asking for a free meal is not only a slap in the face for the individuals responsible for cultivating, harvesting, refining, transporting ingredients, and then all the actual preparation, it’s just plain rude. Why should a work of art or writing or music be any different?

Again—free samples are fine, but not an entire work.

I write and I create art. Music and I parted ways a long time ago, but I still listen to it with a passion that frequently rivals my passion for art and writing. I will continue to write and create art. There have been instances where I have been paid by a person for my art and my writing. There is hope. I haven’t earned nearly enough to make a living off that creativity, but I continue my efforts in the hope that goal may one day be realised.

Perhaps my greatest fear is one day my energies will decline and I can no long write or draw or paint. I’ve already gone through horrific dry-spells thanks to depression, anxiety and a raft full of medical problems, and it has only been through tremendous effort I’ve been able to emerge through the other side of those tribulations. The old saying “use it or lose it” only makes me anxious about every time my hand is stayed—I fear the withering effect of demoralisation. Regardless, I will continue to create. My hope is what I create continues to be worth creating.

Great Wealth

“…and the Great Fog … lifted!”

Morgan Freeman’s voice narrating “Cosmic Voyage”? Actually, perhaps that too, but for me it’s the result of my head responding to the cessation of taking medication for depression.

So I’m back to being depressed? Actually yes and no. During my medicated period, I researched alternative methods of dealing with depression, and one technique I came across time and again was “write”. During deep bouts, nothing could be further from what I wanted to do, and yet even scratching out a creative sentence could have enormous positive effects.

The thing preventing me from writing however was the medication. My imagination was nowhere to be found. I could write factual sentences. I could describe real things around me and in me, but when it came to soaring off on fanciful tangents, hammering out metaphors and similes on my anvil of creativity or even dreaming up a name for a character, the workshop was closed.

A week after weaning off the meds, and I punched out a short story. It was fiction. It was fanciful and fun. It was creative in a way denied me by months of hazy blithering stupefaction designed to make me feel “better”.

Pfff – I felt better writing.

Lesson learned. I’m beta reading for another writer at the moment, a memoir about surviving a brain stem stroke. The author is a remarkable individual, determined to make something of life regardless of the extraordinary and appalling challenges they face. Does it make me feel better given I have reasonable command of my own faculties? The author had their foggy moments, but they came good, a clearly functioning brain locked in a prison of recalcitrant flesh. That’s dreadful and something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I don’t feel better from realising I have it better than someone else – that’s not how I operate. What I have gained from their story is the reassurance it’s not worth giving up, a message that was and is a constant companion of depression.

If there’s something worth fighting for, then fight for it. Everyone out there in the world has their own fight, even those seeming to have it all. Life is about fighting. Some have a fight far greater than others, but everyone’s fight is no less valid than anyone else’s. The wisdom? Don’t judge others until you come to understand their fight, and in the process learn something of your own.

That’s the true value of stories, and the great wealth that is writing.