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Strange Weather

by C.M.Sheely

An ominous drum roll of thunder and portentous darkening sky,
Heralds foul rain that in my heart falls,And has done since the death of Margai.
I am heavy and drowning in unending woe for her soul and the loss to us all.
And with anger, reprisal deep in my soul, stand on the apex of Madden Knoll.

In the rustic and bucolic village below, her place, one she nurtured and bore
In her loving embrace, healing hands full of grace, giving succour with love from her core.
Then the village was cast in the deadliest blast of a sickness and the death that it wore.
And the blame when it inevitably came took root at Margai’s front door.

T’was a terrible and implacable throng, full of anguish and death and defeat,
Took its vengeance, its pain and bereavement to the door of the healer’s retreat.
From the side of a child slowly dying they dragged her and tied her denying
Any succour or relief, and without any grief, fed the pyre higher and higher.

The swift rearing tempest I hold in my thrall and will loose on this murderous throng.
In their beds they will drown under runnels of brown sticky mud, as it tumbles along.
With a thunderous rumble the mud starts its tumble, to cascade over the drop.
Ere death it bequeaths on the village beneath I ‘m imprisoned, the deadly slide stops.

Immobile I stare at the heart-rending glare of the woman whose life was just lost,
The anger roiled in my mind is becomes coiled, a hard rock that feels like sharp frost.
And her voice in my mind speaks rebuke, to be kind to those who have lost
The old knowledge, and truths, the beliefs and proofs of a loving, benevolent god.

The weather so strange, in a turbulent range of directions now promptly retreats,
Those few in the street are numb, they must flee from the wind and the rain and the sleet.
The rage and great grief that gave no relief, caused me to call down this gale,
Is gone with the wind, and I try to rescind all the hate, to give love without fail.

So the change it has come and I, only one, see the darkness and how it will spread. 
No more truth, no more magic, simply human and tragic for an eon the people will tread.
Till the goddess herself will rebuke them by stealth, with earthquakes and floods and fire,
She’s awake to destruction and will take harsher action and thus remind them of Gaia.

Now in dark secret places, to young naïve faces, I pass the old knowledge along,
Unused in broad daylight, brought out in hidden night, they keep the craft burning strong.
For a time it will come, in the future so glum, where, in need it returns to the light.
In that tragic time, it will surface and chime in order to save what it might.

Help In Need

by C.M. Sheely

Astra hurried from her parked the car behind Woolworths as the winter wind cut up under the hem of her down parka. Her fingers ached bitterly from the early morning cold and for the thousandth time and she wished for a warm pair of gloves.  Urgh, winter in Goulburn! she grumbled inwardly. The Southern Tablelands of New South Wales were notorious for the chilly winds.

   Warmth enveloped her as the sliding doors of the store drew her in.  With a sigh she hurried to the baby section to pick up the disposable nappies and baby food she needed. Her war-widows pension only ever cover the basics, the mortgage and little more.  Just to go shopping she had to rely on her elderly neighbour to sit with Cilla and she felt she could not leave for very long.  Back out to the cold and the drive home;  the old car heater barely making a difference even though the engine was warm.

   ‘Hi, I’m back,’ she called as she entered the old government house on Findlay Road she and Paul had bought just before he left for Afghanistan.  The fibro three bedroomed house needed insulation and was always cold despite the large electric heater in the small sitting room.  They’d had such hopes for this little place; such plans to do it up when he returned.  All gone now.

   ‘Hello Astra,’ replied old Ernie from next door.  He was well into his seventies and a Vietnam veteran.  Astra was sure he felt a duty to help her since Paul was killed in action.  With her family an eight hour drive away in Cobar, she had no-one else.  She’d not had time to make any friends and Paul’s family were distant.  They blamed her for his death somehow.  They lamented the fact Cilla was a girl and left her to it.

   Cilla was happily asleep in Ernie’s arms.  At seven weeks she had become quite accustomed to Ernie’s old man smell.  Even to Astra it was a small comfort and reminded her a little of her Gramps.

   ‘I see she’s been good.’

   ‘Oh yes, a real sweetie.  Makes me remember my Alice at that age,’ the old man replied.  I was away a lot of the time but there for Alice’s birth.  Weren’t there for Tommy though.  Elsie did most of the hard yakka with the kids.’

   She’d heard this a few times recently and knew Ernie had a deep regret about not being there for his kids and Elsie.  His kids, living in Sydney and Melbourne, rarely visited.

   Astra gently removed Cilla from Ernie’s arms and placed her in the cot that lived in the warmth of the living room.  ‘Can I make you a coffee, Ernie?’

   ‘That would be lovely,’ he said with a smile.  ‘You know, Astra, you can count on me.’

   She turned from the sleeping Cilla and gave Ernie a warm smile. ‘Yes, I do. And it’s a great comfort Ernie.’

   Two days later she went next door when Ernie hadn’t come in for his morning chat.  The front door was unlocked.  Her heart skipped a beat. She knew something was wrong. Pushing through the door with Cilla snuggled in her arms, she found  Ernie in his recliner in front of the television that was happily blaring away.  Ernie was pale, eyes open and and cloudy and very dead.

#

‘Mrs Ferne,’ Harkin the lawyer said gently, ‘Mr Grimes left you a small something in his will along with a letter.’  Harkin was sitting at the small dining room table, papers open in front of him and a small box beside them. 

   ‘Oh,’ was all Astra could produce.  Cilla was being grumpy and was wriggling on the blanket a few feet away from the heater.  Her cry distracted Astra.

   ‘I’ll leave them with you,’ continued Harkin, ‘and if you have any questions you can call me at this number,’ he added, leaving his business card on the small box. He rose to leave.

   Remembering her manners, Astra led him to the door a few paces away. ‘Thank you,’ she managed as she closed the door on the compact, grey-suited man.  Then she turned to pick up a squalling Cilla and wondered what she would do without her kindly neighbour.  Her eyes teared up and she shook her head. I need to be strong now, she told herself.

   She fed and changed Cilla and cuddled her till she slept before placing her carefully in the cot.  Then she remembered the box and the letter.  She opened the letter first.

   Dear Astra,

You remind me so much of my Elsie.  She was a strong and capable woman.  I know it will be difficult for you but I’m sure you will get through any problems you face, just as my Elsie did.

Elsie was a special person and she had a depth I cannot fathom.  She always had a particularly special place for this little box and when things got bad she would take it and sit with it quietly somewhere, alone.  I have no idea why, but something about it helped her at the worst times.  She told me it was her saviour when I went missing in action.

I thought you might like it.  I don’t have a key for it but I’m sure you can organise something.

Thank you again for your company and sometimes remind Cilla when she’s older that there was an old man who was happy to be there for her.

It was signed in Ernie’s elegant cursive script, Ernest M. Grimes.

  Astra went to pick up the box. ‘Oh!’ she exclaimed as she touched it and immediately jerked her hand away. She’d felt a tingly electric change shoot up her fingers and arm. ‘Oh!’ she said again as a feeling of peace and harmony enveloped her for just a second or two.  And a third, disappointed ‘Ohhh!’ as the feeling dissipated.

  ‘What on earth….’ She said out loud and eyed the box suspiciously. Mr Harkin had handled it and he showed no sign of it affecting him.  Ernie’s letter didn’t mention that it had any special charge or to be careful of it.  But then he wouldn’t, would he, she thought. He’d want to keep it a secret.  If he knew.

  Cilla got restive again and then began to cry loudly.  Already upset, Astra felt she didn’t need a bad day from her little girl.  She wanted a sleep herself; needed it actually.  With a resigned sigh she went to pick up Cilla.  But this time Cilla wouldn’t settle.  She curled her little knees up to her tummy and waved her arms about, wriggling like a worm.  Damn, realised Astra, she’s got colic.  Now what?

  Two hours later, totally worn out, Cilla finally passed a great deal of gas, burped a few times and fell into an exhausted sleep.  Astra lay down on the couch, deeply fatigued and also fell into a deep asleep … and dreamed peaceful dreams.

  They both slept for nearly four hours. When Cilla woke Astra with a quiet but happy chuckle, both were in a much better mood.  While Cilla was still happy to keep herself occupied batting at the mobile over her cot, Astra went to make herself a quick sandwich and a coffee.  Then she sat down at the dining room table to look at the little box.

  It had delicately carved figures on all sides. The front had a exquisite silver filigree latch lock with a tiny key hole at the centre.  Gathering up her courage she laid her hand on the box again but this time there was no energy discharge.  She got up to get a paper clip from the papers beside her chair where she kept the pile of bills and bank statements.  She straightened it as she walked back to the table. Sitting down and inserted the metal into the tiny lock.  It just fit.  A little jiggle, a click and the top sprang open.  It contained another handwritten letter but in a different script to Ernie’s’.

To whomsoever opens this,

You have a treasure here that must be carefully guarded and only passed on to someone you can fully trust.  You will undertstand after you have found all its benefits.

But beware, misuse brings calamity.

Elsie May Grimes

  Great, though Astra, no instructions, just a dire warning.

  Over the next six months, as Cilla continued to flourish, Astra occasionally touched the box that now lived as a decoration on the only bookshelf she owned.  When she got depressed she would just lay a hand on the box and the feeling dissipated.  If she got lonely, she placed her hand on the box and someone would knock on the door within the hour. 

  The first time Astra thought it was a coincidence as the new neighbours, who had bought Ernie’s house, knocked to introduced themselves. 

  ‘Hello,’ said the attractive brunette standing in front of a tall man, ‘I’m Margie and this my husband Steve.  We’ve just move in next door.  Thought we’d come over and get acquainted.’  It didn’t take long before they were friends.  They were the best neighbours Astra could have hoped for.

  The week that Margie and Steve left to visit family in Melbourne, Astra again felt lonely and went to the box for comfort.  Ten minutes later a lovely lady from the Uniting Church came by.

  ‘Hi, I’m Elizabeth Rolands,’ her mellow voice explained.  ‘I heard from Steve and Margie that you’re a widow and I thought I should come and visit.’

  By the time Cilla turned one and was toddling about the furniture, Astra was a member of the local Uniting Church and had a lovely coterie of friends.  Every Sunday she and Cilla would go to services.  Each Sunday Astra said a prayer of gratitude to Ernie and his mysterious wife Elsie for leaving her the lovely box.  Goulburn turned out to be a wonderful place. Until Cilla turned fourteen.

#

‘Hello, Mrs Ferne,’ said the stern voice on the phone, ‘I’m Geraldine Murton, your daughter’s home room teacher.’ 

  Astra felt a chill go through her. ‘Yes,’ she said hesitantly.

  ‘Is your daughter at home?’ asked the teacher.

  ‘No. Isn’t she at school?’

  ‘I’m sorry, Mrs Ferne, but she hasn’t been at school for two days.  I thought she was ill and was just checking.’

  ‘Oh dear,’ she managed.  ‘She left for school normally and yesterday came home at the normal time,’ informed Astra.

  ‘Well,’ there was hesitation in the voice now. ‘I think you may need to talk to her.  And when you do please make an appointment to come and see me before she returns to school.’

  ‘OK,’ said Astra. ‘But why come and see you.’

  ‘It is likely she is to be excluded from school.  She has been some trouble of late and left school ground when she should not have.’

  ‘Why am I hearing about this now?’ demanded Astra, anger suddenly hot, not just at her daughter for skipping school but at the teacher for not contacting her earlier.

  ‘I’m sorry Mrs Ferne, Cilla told us you were very ill.  We thought that was why she was acting out.’  Astra was speechless.  ‘Mrs Ferne, are you still there?’

  ‘Umm, yes.  Yes, I will deal with this and speak to you after.’                                        

  Anger hot as hell blazed in Astra but she set the phone down with great care.  She wanted to throw it hard against a wall but years of parsimony held – she didn’t want to spend the money on a replacement.  It was eleven in the morning and she had no idea where Cilla was; no idea where to look for her.

  ‘I’ll just wait till she comes home,’ she decided.  But she could not sit still.  Her eyes fell on the box that she had only dusted over the past eight or nine years.  She walked over to the bookcase and lay her hand on the box.  Nothing.  Surprised she picked it up and took it to the dining room table that was by now a little the worse for wear.  She opened the box and found, to her amazement, a small roll of parchment wrapped with a thin red ribbon.  She took it out and unrolled it.

  ‘Use your instincts,’ it said.  Nothing more.

  ‘Ahhhh,’ she yelled as she scrunched up the paper and threw it away.  It landed on the table only a foot away.  She felt her instinct was to rant and rave and go out to all the places she thought Cilla might be like the Argyle Mall.  Yet common sense prevailed and she calmed just enough to realise that would not help.  Showing up Cilla before her mates would exacerbate the situation.  She went to make herself a cup of camomile tea and returned to the dining room table.  The box was still open and the small parchment was again rolled up and tied with the ribbon and sat neatly on the soft green velvet of the box lining.

  Curious, she took it out and untied it.  This time it said, ‘Well done.  Now wait quietly till she gets home.  Then hug her gently and ask her where she’s been.  Don’t judge.  Just talk.’

  OK for you to say, she thought.  Nevertheless, she drank her tea, had a small bite for lunch and waited.  Cilla walked through the door at the normal time of three forty five.

  ‘Hi Ma,’ she called and headed for her room.

  ‘Hi Cilla,’ Astra got out as normally as possible. Then she waited some more until the girl returned, dressed in casual clothes.  Astra thought of her uniform lying crumpled on the bed as usual.  She breathed deeply.

  ‘What’s for dinner?’ Cilla asked as she returned from her room.

  ‘Sausages and vegetables,’ replied Astra.  ‘But I need to talk to you for a bit before you….  Cilla, please turn off the television.’

  Cilla turned to look at her mother, and it didn’t take a genius to realise she’d been caught.  She sighed but moved to a seat at the table.

  ‘I guess you got a call from school,’ she said somewhat defiantly.

  ‘Yes, darling, I did.’ 

  Cilla looked surprised at her mother’s calm. ‘So….,’ she said and it came out more belligerently than she’d expected.  Her face went red.

  ‘So I’d like to know what’s making you unhappy.’  It took great effort to remain relaxed and gentle.  Astra could see it surprised her daughter.

  There was a long silence.  Astra, despite all that was going around in her head, kept silent and poised.  Cilla on the other hand was twisting her fingers round and round and had trouble sitting still.  Finally she said, ‘I’ve been working at Woolworths.’

  Astra, expecting the worst, had to squash a loud ‘What!’ and instead said, ‘Why?’

  ‘Well…..,’ it seemed Cilla couldn’t answer.

  ‘What do you need money for?’  Suddenly the horrible trouble young girls could get into came to the forefront.  She schooled her face and showed little of the turbulence within.

  ‘It was supposed to be a surprise,’ said Cilla sullenly.

  ‘What was darling?

  ‘I’ve been saving for us to go to ‘Love Never Dies’ in Sydney.  I just needed another four hundred dollars before your birthday.  The only way I could do it was to take more shifts.’ It all came out in a rush.

  Astra didn’t know what to do.  Her daughter was doing this for her.  She was tossing up between happy laughter or sobs of relief.  Neither would do.  They just stared at each other.

  The box, still on the table but now closed, popped open right then.  Inside were four crisp new $100 bills.

  ‘What the…,’ began Cilla before clamping her mouth firmly shut.

#

The box sometimes provided and sometimes didn’t.  It did when there was real need and only what was needed.  Sometimes it was medicine when one or other was ill, sometimes it was money but only enough to cover a specific need.  When Cilla went to university the box produced a scholarship paper.  Neither Astra nor Cilla ever mentioned the box to anyone.  In fact neither talked about it at all … ever.

  Cilla completed her law degree and returned to her home town as an articled clerk.  She started with Mr Harkin, now old and ready to retire. Eventually, she took over his firm.  When that happened the old house on Findlay Road, now upgraded to a small and comfortable family home was sold and Cilla moved her mother into lovely townhouse on Crestwood Drive.

  Several days after Astra settled in, she heard a very young baby crying.  It came from the next unit.  Taking a small teacake she had just baked went next door.  The door was opened by a very young woman.  Olivia was a single mother with a three week old baby boy.  She was very tired and she was glad of the company.  Astra was happy to help.

#

‘Are you Olivia Freeman?’ said the dark suited woman.

  ‘Yes, I am,’ she said.

  ‘I’m Cilla Balga-Ferne.  I’m Astra’s daughter,’

  ‘Oh,’ said Olivia, a little shocked, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.  Uhm … where’s my manners, please,  please come in.’

  ‘Thank you,’ said the lawyer.  When they were settled at the small dining room table, Cilla said, ‘My mother left you a small inheritance.