Fred Flamingo Wants to Dance

by Iris Carden

(A children's story, specially requested by Clarissa)

"I'm bored," Fred Flamingo told his best friend Freda. "I want to do something different."

"What kind of different thing do you want to do?" Freda asked, as she lifted her beak from the water and stood up straight.

"I want to learn how to dance. Dancing would be so much fun," said Fred.

"Dance?" Asked Freda. "I've never heard of flamingos dancing."

"Oh yes," said Fred. "There's a very famous dance. It's called the Flamingo. I want to learn it."

"Excuse me," Ferdinand interrupted, "You must be mistaken. There is no dance called the Flamingo. Flamingos can't dance, they never have and they never will. You are a very silly flamingo indeed, Fred."

Some of the other flamingos laughed. 

Fred was very sad. He didn't like being laughed at. And he very much wanted to learn to dance.

"I am going to learn how to dance," he said. "I'm going to find someone to teach me how."

With that, Fred stepped out of the lake.  He started walking.  

After a while, he found a snake in a grassy place.  

"What are you doing so far away from your lake?" The snake asked Fred.

"I'm going out into the world to learn how to dance." Fred said. "I want to dance the Flamingo. Can you teach me how to dance?"

"No," said the snake. "Snakes don't dance. Snakes slither and slide but we don't dance. And flamingos don't dance either. They walk and they fly, and they dip their beaks in the water, but they don't dance."

"Well, I'm going to learn how to dance," said Fred, and he kept walking.

A little later, he met a small singing bird in a tree.

"What are you doing so far away from your lake?" The small singing bird asked Fred.

"I'm going out into the world to learn how to dance." Fred said. "I want to dance the Flamingo. Can you teach me how to dance?"

"No," said the small singing bird. "Small singing birds don't dance. We sing and we fly and we make little straw nests, but we don't dance. And flamingos don't dance either. They walk and they fly, and they dip their beaks in the water, but they don't dance."

"Well, I'm going to learn how to dance," said Fred, and he kept walking.

A little later, he met a little mouse, hiding under a bush.

"What are you doing so far away from your lake?" the mouse asked Fred.

"I'm going out into the world to learn how to dance."Fred said. "I want to dance the Flamingo. Can you teach me how to dance?"

"No," said the little mouse. "Mice don't dance. We scurry and we explore, and we sneak into human's homes to steal nice bits of food, but we don't dance. And flamingos don't dance either. What was the name of the dance you wanted to learn?"

"I want to learn the Flamingo. It's a very famous dance that humans do."

"I'm sorry, my friend," said the mouse. "I've been in human homes, and I've seen them dancing. I know the dance you're thinking of because I've seen it on a human television. It's not called the Flamingo, but the Flamenco.  It's a very nice dance, but I don't think flamingos could do it."

"Oh," said Fred. "But I really, really wanted to learn to dance."

"It's very sad," said the mouse. "I'm sorry to give you such bad news. And it's getting late now, you need to get back to your friends and your lake."

Fred suddenly missed his lake, he missed the other flamingos, especially Freda. Although, he didn't especially miss Ferdinand.

Sadly, he walked back the way he came.  

When he got to the edge of the lake, he saw something very strange was happening.

All of the flamingos were standing in a circle.  They would take two steps to the left. Then they would dip their beaks in the water two times. Then they would wiggle their tail feathers. Then they would take two steps to the right. Then they would turn around. And then they would do it all over again.

"What are you all doing?" Fred asked.

"We're doing the Flamingo!" Freda answered. "We made up a dance, just for you come and dance with us!"

Fred joined the circle. And together all the flamingos took two steps to the left, dipped their beaks in the water two times, wiggled their tail feathers, took two steps to the right and turned around. 

Fred had been right, dancing the Flamingo really was fun!

Orange Blossom Express

by Iris Carden

Karen tried to get comfortable. She'd been leaning with her head against the window for a couple of hours, with Tara's head on her lap. Gently she stretched her neck, leaning her head first to the left and then to the right.

The tiny blonde head on her lap stirred.

"Sorry baby, I didn't mean to wake you," Karen said, quietly. She didn't want to draw attention from the other passengers. The conductor had already looked at her strangely as she and the toddler got on board, with a plastic supermarket bag for luggage; Karen trying to hold both child and bag in her right hand so as not to use her left arm.

If she had been able to afford a sleeper, she and Tara would have had some privacy, and might have been able to sleep better. As it was, it felt like everyone was looking at them, and all she really wanted was to be where no-one could see, and to get some sleep. It seemed forever since she slept.

"The train woke me up," said the still babyish voice. "It keeps talking making clack clack clack noises, and I can't hear what it's saying."

"It's talking, huh?" said Karen. "What do you think it's saying?"

"I don't know," said Tara. "Is it something bad?"

Something bad? For so young a child to have a mind that immediately went to "something bad", it broke the young mother's heart.

"Something bad, no, baby, not at all."

Tara sat up, carefully rubbing her little eyes. One was still puffed and closed, the huge purple bruise making a travesty of the innocent face.

"What's it saying? Do you know."

"Yes, baby, I know. It's saying 'I'll take you to a new home. I'll take you to a new home. I'll take you to a new home.' "

Tara put her hand on Karen's forearm. Karen winced. She should have agreed to the xray. The nurse at the hospital had told her she really needed to have it done, that if it was broken and she didn't get it set she could cause a lot of damage. Karen had told the nurse, she would get it looked at as soon as possible. She just couldn't take the time to stay at the emergency room. Daryl would know to look for her there. She had to make sure Tara was OK and she had to go. Tara was all that mattered.

"Mummy," the big blue eye and the swollen purple lump looked up at her, "what's the new home like?"

Karen smiled.  "It's where Aunty Kit lives."

"Who's Aunty Kit?"

"She's someone very special.  A very good friend of Mummy's from when I was a little girl. She lives on an orange farm."

"Are all the animals orange?"

Karen allowed herself a little laugh. "Not that kind of orange. Oranges that you eat. Aunty Kit has lots of trees that grow oranges. They grow beautiful little white flowers, that smell lovely and there's lots of little bees that go hummmmmmmmm, and then the flowers grow into lovely sweet oranges."

"Will there be flowers and bees going hmmmm hmmm hmmm when we get to the farm?"

Karen tried to remember what time of year the orange blossoms were out. She couldn't. Childhood was a memory lost in a fog. So much had happened. And her arm hurt her so much.  She found a Panadol in her bag and swallowed it dry before she answered. "I'm not sure. I think so. I think this is the time of year for orange blossoms, but I don't remember for sure."

"I want to see bees and flowers."

Karen kissed the top of her little girl's head. "Do you know that little native bees don't have stings?"

"What are natibees?"

"They're Australian bees. Maybe we can get a hive of them as pets."

"Pet natibees that don't have stings. And white flowers. And oranges. And Aunty Kit. All at our new home."

"That's right. All at our new home."

"Mummy?"

"When do we go back to our other home?"

Karen sighed. "Never, darling. We are never, ever going back there."

Tara paused before asking her next question. "Does Daddy know about our new home?"

Karen shook her head slowly. "No, baby. Daddy doesn't know about our new home. He's never been there and he doesn't know Aunty Kit. Daddy can't find us there."

Tara put her head back down on her mother's lap. "I'll take you to a new home. I'll take you to a new home," she sang in time with the train's wheels.

Karen leaned her head against the window, saw the reflection looking back at her, a tired transparent ghost, with the grey shadowy countryside gliding past behind her. A new home, she thought, and a very old best friend. Life is going to be good.

Tomato Sauce

Just for something different: a children's story.

by Iris Carden

 Sherlock, Mycroft and Watson Wallaby were brothers and they were the world's smartest detectives. That's what it said on their office door: “Sherlock, Mycroft and Watson, World's Smartest Detectives.”

Mrs Maggie, from Mrs Maggie's Pies, went to see them because she had a problem that needed detecting.

“Whatever will I do? I'm in such a flap!” she exclaimed as she hopped around the Detectives' office. “There's no tomato sauce. It just hasn't come. I can't sell meat pies without tomato sauce!”

“Never fear, Mrs Maggie,” said Sherlock. “We are the world's smartest detectives and we will detect your missing tomato sauce and bring it straight to you.”

“Yes, Mrs Maggie, go back to your pie shop. We'll get your sauce,” added Mycroft.

“But before you go,” said Watson, “could you tell us where your tomato sauce comes from, and how it gets to you?”

“Oh yes,” said Mrs Maggie, “it comes from Delia's Delicious Deli. Wally Wombat delivers it during the night, so it's ready for the morning.”

Mrs Maggie went back to her pie shop, while the Wallaby Detectives decided what to do next.

“A terrible crime has been committed,” said Sherlock.

“We don't know that, at all. The tomato sauce may just be misplaced,” said Watson.

“Oh, we do know it,” said Mycroft. “Meat pie with no tomato sauce is always a terrible crime.”

Because Watson decided they should, they went first to Delia's Delicious Deli. They smelled something very delicious cooking. “It's cherry-chocolate-coconut-caramel cake,” Delia told them, “I'm trying a new recipe.”

“I think we should taste that cake,” said Sherlock, “It could be a very important clue.”

“And detecting is such hungry work,” said Mycroft.

“Did Wally Wombat collect the tomato sauce for Mrs Maggie last night?” asked Watson.

“Oh yes, he did. He was a little bit late, and seemed very tired. He said his neighbours had been making a noise all day and keeping him awake,” Delia said.

Watson said they should visit Wally Wombat next. Sherlock and Mycroft each took a large piece of cherry-chocolate-coconut-caramel cake to eat on the way, just in case it really was a vital clue.

They got to Wally Wombat's hollow log, to find it empty. But outside the log was a very big splotch of something very red on the ground. “Tomato sauce!” exclaimed Sherlock.

“Maybe,” said Watson.

“And look,” said Mycroft, “there's more splotches. There's a trail of tomato sauce.”

Sure enough, there was a trail of red splotches. The three detectives followed the trail. It led across Wally's lawn, through a hole in the fence, and right up to his neighbours' front door!

From inside the neighbours' house, the three brave detectives could hear all sorts of yelling, and squabbling noises.

“They're doing something terrible to Wally!” said Sherlock.

“Maybe,” said Watson.

“We have to save him,” said Mycroft. “And just as importantly, we have to save Mrs Maggie's tomato sauce. It's just about time to have a pie and tomato sauce for lunch.”

Watson knocked on the door.

A dingo, with large red splotches on her fur answered.

“Aha!” said Sherlock. “I knew you had it.”

“Excuse me?” said Mrs Dingo.

“We're sorry to bother you,” said Watson. “We were wondering if you could help us. Have you seen Wally Wombat lately?”

“Wally Wombat, no, I guess I haven't seen him since yesterday. He tends to sleep during the day. Although I'm afraid my pups are keeping him awake at the moment.”

“They do seem to be making a lot of noise,” said Watson, “what are they up to?”

Mrs Dingo laughed. “They're supposed to be painting their wardrobe and drawers. I bought them nice, fire-engine red paint. Wally Wombat helped me carry it home a couple of days ago. Right now, there's paint everywhere and on everyone, but none where it's supposed to be!”

“You've even got a trail of paint from Wally's house to here,” said Watson. “I think you have a big clean up ahead of you when the painting's done.”

One of the pups squealed especially loudly. “I have to go,” said Mrs Dingo. “I do hope Wally's all right. He's a very nice old wombat.”

Mrs Dingo closed her door, leaving the World's Smartest Detectives with some more detecting to do.

“I think I know what's happened to Wally Wombat and the tomato sauce,” said Watson.

“Someone has taken them?” said Sherlock.

“No.” said Watson.

“Wally has run off with the tomato sauce?” said Mycroft.

“No.” said Watson.

“Then what?” said Sherlock.

“Come with me.” said Watson.

Watson led them back to Delia's Delicious Deli. Another wonderful smell was wafting out the door, but Watson would not let the other detectives go into the shop to do any detecting there.

“This is the way to Mrs Maggie's Pie Shop,” said Watson. “Look carefully at both sides of the path as we walk along.”

“What are we looking for?” asked Sherlock.

“A sleeping wombat,” answered Watson.

“A what? Why?” asked Mycroft.

“Because Wally is an old wombat, and old wombats get very, very tired. Mrs Dingo's pups were keeping him awake all day, so he was even more tired. We know Wally went to Delia's to get the tomato sauce, so he must have fallen asleep on the way to Mrs Maggie's.”

Just as Watson finished speaking, the Detectives heard a sound like a motor bike revving up. “Oh! What is that terrible noise?” exclaimed Mycroft.

“That,” said Watson, “ will be Wally Wombat snoring!”

And it was.

The tomato sauce was saved! Mrs Maggie could sell her meat pies for lunch – and the World's Smartest Detectives each ate two.

Sanctuary

by Iris Carden

It's one of those magical afternoons she could wait a lifetime to have, but here it is at last! There is nothing but her, the bike and the road. The mountains are ahead as she opens up the throttle. She can feel the power of the bike. It is a growling, barely-tamed animal. But it is also an extension of her. It responds to her slightest movement or even thought. Its raw power bends to her will no-one else's.

Tell me what you're thinking.

The voice is distant, like a half-remembered nightmare. It's not real. This is what's real. Leaning right into the curve, her knee only millimetres from the rushing bitumen, she begins her ascent of the winding mountain range. The danger here is exhilarating, never frightening.

I need to know what you're thinking.

She shifts her weight to lean into the next corner, laying the bike just as far down, but never losing control. Again she shifts her weight right as the road winds and the bike angles into the next curve.

You have to tell me.

He's not real. Even if he is, he doesn't need to know. She will never tell him, never bring him here. This is her sanctuary. This is her safety. Here she is free.

The trees are closing in overhead. She's riding through a green twilight. She slows the bike so she can enjoy the smell of the rainforest - the never-quite-dry earth, the trees, the moss. The road still curves, but at the slower speed, she keeps the bike almost upright. A snake darting across the road startles her briefly, but it is there and gone. It is not going to hurt her, and cannot make her afraid.

Her upper arm is hurting, crushing. It's the left arm of course. It's usually the left arm. It's less obvious if she can't use it for a day or so. Block it out. It's not real. Don't give in to it.

She leaves the bitumen for a dirt road which takes her down by the creek. This is a road bike, it's not made for rough surfaces, but the dirt road is well-enough made, dry enough and smooth enough that she is confident she can handle it. She knows what she is doing, and will not ride too fast for the road she is on. She is confident of everything here in her sanctuary.

Tell me what you are thinking. I need to know.

He's not real, not in this world. In the other world he knows everything. He opens her mail, reads her email, listens to her phone calls, stands over her while she talks to other people, reads her journal. He's even gone to her work to stand over her during meetings. He spends her pay to make sure she can never leave. In the other world, he has invaded everything and has control of everything. But in this world, he is not real. He can't come in. In this world she is safe.

It's him, isn't it? You're thinking about him?

She never thinks about him. She can't think about him. Him exists in his imagination, not hers. There is no him in any reality she inhabits. In this reality, there is no-one but her. In the other reality, she keeps herself overweight, and wears unattractive clothes and a bad haircut, all to reassure the man who controls her life that no-one else is or ever will be interested in her. She makes it as obvious as possible that there is no him and there can be no him. She has tried to explain once, twice, endless times, but of course she has always failed. His paranoia is as strong as her escapism. He is as  certain that there's a him as she is that the sky is up and the ground is down. In his reality, him is as real, as the bike, the mountain, the forest, and the creek are in hers. In his reality, there will always be a him no matter what. She cannot change his reality, and she no longer dares to try.

She kicks down the stand of the bike, and walks down to the creek, pulling off her helmet and shaking free her shining long brown hair. In this reality, she is beautiful, and she feels as beautiful as she looks. 

The creek is familiar, very shallow, bubbling rapidly over pebbles and around larger rocks. She can see the bottom, reach the pebbles easily if she wants to. The sunlight through the trees bounces and darts off the fast-flowing water. Just above her eye level, and a bit to her left, a lazy goanna dozes on a branch that overhangs the water. She can hear, but as always, cannot see, bellbirds all around her in the treetops, singing their strange but beautiful chiming song. She has always loved this creek - and visits it often. It's shallow but turbulent waters reflect the turmoil within her.

You have to tell me.

He doesn't exist. Not in this reality. In her sanctuary, she does not have to tell him anything. In the other reality, her arm is being constricted tighter and tighter. In the other reality, she will have another set of bruises the size and shape of his finger-prints, to match all of the other similar bruises that cover her upper arms, thighs, breasts, abdomen and buttocks - all the secret places no-one sees. She chooses not to feel it. She is not in that reality - she is here in her sanctuary. What is real is the creek, the earthy smell of the forest, the ting-ting-ting of the bellbirds in the trees. Nothing else is real. Nothing else can hurt her.

The pressure on her arm has stopped. He has given up. Perhaps she can be at peace and enjoy her sanctuary now. She remounts the bike, and turns back to the bitumen.

I heard you laughing! I know you were laughing at me!

We weren't laughing at you. We were laughing at cartoons on tv. They were funny.

How dare you? I'm your father! You should show me more respect! You don't laugh at me! You don't ever laugh at me!

But we weren't.....

Don't you dare answer me back! You show me some respect!

The bike, the road, the forest, and even the bellbirds, are gone.

She is in an ordinary, middle-class suburban dining room, far from the mountains or the forest or the creek. She doesn't have a bike or even a license to ride one. Her hair doesn't shine, the brown is streaked with its first grey, and it's pinned up tight so it is harder to pull or to rip completely out. It would be short if she was allowed to cut it. The coffee on the table in front of her has long ago gone cold.

She can see through a wide doorway into the lounge room, where two ordinary, middle-class suburban children are cowering together, as small as they can make themselves, in an ordinary lounge chair. A man, who other people tell her is wonderful, who they say she is so lucky to have; is towering over them, his fist raised and his face turning purple.

The pain in her arm is real, as real as what she must now do. She is a mother. She has no sanctuary, no peace, only a desperate need to protect the most precious part of this reality. This is the reality where the danger is frightening, not exhilarating, where snakes don't just startle, the constrict and bite. This is the world where she no longer has any confidence, any control. All she has left is the power of the martyr. She can, and must, sacrifice herself. Afraid and bruised, but determined and far from broken, she once again places herself between her husband and her children.

Lance and Arthur

 by Iris Carden


Lance sat at the table with a dozen or so of his closest friends. He didn't actually like any of them, but it was called “networking”. Everyone would get together and pretend they did not detest each other, because each of these people could be of use at some time.

The next carafe of the house red arrived. “Hmm,” he observed, swirling the liquid in his glass and sniffing carefully. “Chateau cardboard, vintage...” he sipped delicately, “about last Thursday, probably lunchtime.” Beside him the blonde woman, who'd already had several glasses of chateau cardboard, laughed uproariously. No-one else laughed, they'd heard the joke too many times before.

Arthur sat by a small fire in the dry creek-bed. This was his home, and always had been. It had been his father's and his grandfather's home – going back long before there was a town around the creek – long before there were any people but his own. The Government people had come many times to tell Arthur he needed to live in a house – and he had many times told them this was his home. Eventually, they had stopped coming. That had been when he was young. Now that Arthur was old, and the campfire did not always keep away the aches and pains brought on by cold winter nights, he wondered what it would be like to sleep in a house.

Things had changed in Arthur's home. Further up the creek the young men gathered. It wasn't corroboree, and it wasn't just to camp. It was to drink. They drank day and night, beer, and wine and even methylated spirits. One of the local shops kept metho in the fridge to sell cheap to the young men and even the boys. Arthur grieved over the young men. Some of them had gathered around him when they were little to hear stories of the ancestors, of the dreaming times. But now, they were not interested in their history, their people, or the dreaming. Now, there they were, drinking poison, with bodies still alive, but empty eyes that showed they were dead inside. Their dreaming was strange dreams from strange drink. So many times, Arthur had told them stop drinking, but they had said “Go away, Uncle”, and had said many bad things to him, and thrown rocks and bottles at him. Each time, Arthur had come back to his camp, and grieved over the young men.

Lance swayed a little, regained his balance, and fumbled for his car key. He really should upgrade, he thought, to a car with one of those smart keys you didn't have to take out of your pocket. The blonde, who'd thought his joke so funny, had still not been drunk enough to go home with him. Just as well, he actually hated her, the bitch. For some reason, getting in the car seemed more difficult than usual. One the third attempt, he managed to do up his seatbelt.

Arthur was going to try one more time. Surely the young men would listen if he kept trying. These were the boys he'd passed the stories, the traditions, the lifeblood of his people to. They had to listen. He could have walked along the creekbed – but he was an old man, and while the creek twisted and turned, the road was straight and so shorter. Thinking only of what he would try to say to the young men, Arthur was not paying attention to the road. He did not see a speeding black car with no lights on.

The first Lance realised anything had happened was the thump. Then a second thump as a body hit the windscreen. A face filled his vision – a face frozen in a picture of absolute surprise – and then in slow motion slid down the front of the car. There was another bump, bump, as the car went over something on the road.

“Bloody drunken Abos,” Lance muttered, “they're all over the road, and you can't see them in the dark.”

He continued driving home, wondering how much it would cost to repair his car.