Writing: The Playground 

To me, this is almost non-fiction because a great deal of it is true and happened. I tried to style this in a way where the age of the writer, their voice on the page, is ambiguous, indeterminate. 

Well, that was my intent, any way. 

I hope my fellow nine-year-old, as we were in this story, is doing well.

I have fond memories of childhood. It was a time of learning, growing up, and finding your way. It brings back memories of simpler times. Some of that I have tried to channel with this piece.

As an aside, I continue my quest for spirit appreciation with pay day bringing to the palate: Canadian Club Whiskey. I’m finding it quite plain. Mixing it with Coca-Cola, which I unfortunately didn’t have on me, I’ll have to try.

On the back of CCW, is this story. #suddenlyinspired

***

The Playground

We were two nine-year-olds in the playground.

She was angry at life. Her mother had died and it was her first day back at school.

Unsure, avoided glances in the corridors assured her that they knew. Whispers from the staff room trickled down to hushed morning discussions at the drink fountain.

It was a car crash.

There were questions they wanted to ask. Questions that they knew were out of bounds. It was an unwritten rule, and much like the out of bounds area that only year fives and above were allowed in, you weren’t meant to broach these things.

How did it happen?

Who was making her lunches now that her mum was gone?

Who was dropping​ her off to school?

What was it like not having a mum?

How was she feeling? 

Was she sad?

Did she need a hug?

**

We were hanging out in our usual spot. The spot by the sandpit with the monkey bars, and the log roll, and those chains wrapped in tyre material you could spin around on until you got dizzy. Some kids were good at doing a lot of spins. 

Today was no different to any other day. I got on with balancing on the log roll, and occasionally climbing on top of the rail. It was more fun to use playground equipment as it wasn’t designed. She was sitting in the sand digging shallow holes and refilling them with sand. We sometimes buried our change from buying ice-creams in the sand, wondering if someone would find them. It was usually the twenty-cents we hid. Garlic bread at the canteen was twenty-cents. Someone would be really lucky. A pile of twenty-cents would buy a lot of garlic bread. Or Nutella breads. They were fifteen cents. I think garlic bread was more popular.

I asked her how she was going. She was okay. 

She asked me how I was. I was okay. I told her it had been a while since I had seen her. She agreed.

Conversation was sporadic. I talked a lot more than her today. What she shared, was whatever she wanted to, and vice-versa. It had kind of always been like that. 

I’m not sure if pressure is the right word, but if it were, there never was any. 

Being an active listener was a difficult job. You had to be quiet and listen to someone else’s thoughts. You had to think about what they were talking about. You had to have empathy and compassion, and you learned not to judge. You got to hear them. I don’t think I’ve met anyone since who understood things quite like she did.

I asked her if she was okay with being back. She said she was. 

I asked her about things that weren’t the kind I thought she would be asked.

She told me Jasper still liked sitting under her dad’s car. 

No, she didn’t take him for walks.

She told me they had Chicken Treat for dinner the night before. 

No, she hadn’t wanted the sweet and sour pork with special fried rice from Amelia Li’s. Li’s was in the town shopping centre. I usually bought one spring roll from them after I went in for a look at the snack aisle at Woolies.

Yes, she had thought about Bruno’s Fish and Chips.

We both thought takeaway was special because it was a sometimes thing. It was even more special because Chicken Treat was the only real fast food place in town. 

We both agreed that the smell of yummy food, takeaway fried chicken especially, would make you hungry, when it was almost mealtime and you had already raided the fridge. It would be bad if you had eaten two Vegemite sandwiches for lunch and you didn’t have room.

Food journeys had consistently been a discussion topic between us. 

I was glad she didn’t mind the questions I asked— food, or otherwise. 

They were banal.

No, she hadn’t been watching the shows on ABC from three to five in the afternoon. She did watch Toasted TV some mornings. It had been pretty boring lately.

Yes, she had played basketball on the weekend. She was good at it. Her cousins had forced her to but. They ended up doing practice shots only. She told me it had been good to get out in the sun. 

I had always liked when she told me about what she did. They were like little gems of detail, unique in their own way. I liked hearing about life outside of the uniform.

She asked me about what I had been up to. I talked way, way more than she did.

I had been riding my bike after school. I would zip around the backyard as fast as I could. We had dug these massive holes in the dirt. They were about half a bucket deep. We ran the hose until they were full of water and the dirt was all muddy. It was our backyard BMX trail and we would ride our bikes over the holes, like obstacles you had to pass. It was hours of fun. Then we would have to hose our bikes down because they got very grubby. We would cover our bikes in blue tarpaulin and lock them to the security grills on our bedroom windows to make sure no one stole them.

I told her about the most fun thing I’d done: rides on our washing line. It was an old steel Hills Hoist. I would hang on to one of poles that formed the line’s cross-shape and push off the ground. I’d spin around so fast on the washing line, it was like flying. I would do little running take-offs as the spinning slowed, and then I’d be flying again. It was the best thing ever.

We talked about awesome rides. We decided if theme park rides ever came to town we would eat fairy floss and do all the crazy ones, the ones everyone would be scared of going on. They would be the most thrilling. The Street Party was the annual town event when the streets at the whole centre of town were closed off for one big event with food and music stalls, and rides. It was at Christmas time, ages away. I’d seen the rides but never gone. They looked like scary rides. We could start with those. She thought that would be a good idea.

**

She paused and walked over to the monkey bars. 

She told me that it was different.

She missed doing stuff. She missed stuff. Her aunty had been helping out at home, taking care of little things like meals and washing. They weren’t really little things. Her aunty had taken her out a few times. 

Things at home when it was just them were hard.

They were lost without her.

She woke up some days disbelieving. It wasn’t real. It was a bad dream. 

Silence punctuated her thoughts.

Her eyes were dry as she spoke. They were eyes searching​ for answers. She hid her sadness. She was frustrated. She didn’t want this to have happened. She was angry that it had happened. Then she was resigned that it had. Then she was angry. Then it was not real. Then it was.

Where was fairness? Why?

Why did it have to be her? She told me that was constantly in her thoughts.

I didn’t know what to say that would be consoling. How could anyone console someone who’d lost their mother? Was that even possible? Even grown-ups would struggle with it. I recall awkwardly telling her that I didn’t know what to say but I would be there for her. I moved to sit next to her on the monkey bars. I told her if I could help in anyway she could tell me, and I would. She nodded.  

She returned to the sand and we were quiet for a bit. It was a reflective, comfortable, okay silence.

She dug a bit more in the sand. 

She looked up and smiled. Her eyes barely crinkled and her lips barely moved, but there was the tiniest hint of a smile. I hoped maybe it meant she was feeling a tiny bit better in this moment or at least that she was okay sharing that with me.

I guess in a way it told me she was resilient. Things would not always be okay, but she would be okay. 

From everyone around her, she needed their acceptance not curiosity. 

She needed company not words.

I would try to do that. I just felt useless at it. 

She laid back on the sand.

She told me she had forgotten​ to mention the chips from Chicken Treat. Sharing our chip-trying escapades was one of the things we did. The chips had been hot and crispy which was good because sometimes if you went at dinner time and they were busy you could get rushed chips. They could be soggy and oily or burnt. She would have given them to Jasper if they had been. It was good to know.

I went over to the sand and threw off my shoes, and wriggled my feet into the sand. It was nice and cool.

I remember that it was a hot day. We had our hats. It was lucky that we had both remembered them or we might have been stuck in that esky of an undercover area. Or worse, it was such a nice day we might have overlooked the dangers of borrowing from the spare hats basket. 

The siren rang. ‘Eeeeer. Eeeeer.’ It was a strange siren, our school siren.

Lunchtimes always felt like an eternity. It was sad when they came to an end. We walked back to our class. We both agreed we weren’t looking forward to silent reading. At least there was library in the afternoon, which meant going on the computers to do ICT work then having free time that was either spent playing computer games or doing actual reading. Most kids didn’t choose reading.

As we walked back to class, she put her hand on my shoulder. 

‘That was a bit fun you know. Not really like old times but I would eventually have had to be back.’

‘I’m glad. Peyton, let’s hang out after school, if you’re okay to.’

‘I am,’ she nodded, ‘Where?’

‘How about, the washing line? 

Line up, line up to be spun around on the highest spin cycle in the ride of the century,’ I said in the best gameshow host impersonation I could do.

She looked at me with raised eyes, the puns well and truly sinking in. She sighed with a look like she had given up on me as a friend.

‘You know, I’m not okay to be back. That was the worst thing I’ve heard from anyone today,’ she said half-exasperated, half-serious, and half-amused, if it were possible to be all at the same time. Maths was never my strong point. 

I couldn’t help but smile. 

I’d spent lunch asking lame questions about her dinners, and now I’d gone and dropped washing line puns in the hopes of getting her spirits up. 

Somehow, I think we were both okay with that.

Two-player Miniclip online games would be alright this afternoon.

***

© enchirist

Review: Aladdin the Musical at Crown Theatre

Over a month ago in late June, I was browsing Ticketmaster and saw the Aladdin stage production upcoming. Tickets, I had to get. 

It had been a long time since I had attended a musical. The last had been Fiddler on the Roof, featuring original cast member Topol playing the lead, Tevye. That would have been going back a number of years—actually, I’ve Googled it: 2007 the show was in town. Has time flown or has time flown.

This quote by CS Lewis comes to mind:

Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back everything is different.

Clive had that right. Everything is different. 

But I digress.

We saw Aladdin on the Saturday in the week just past. The posters all over the place at the moment give nothing away. The set, the cast, the costumes, the performance are far more fantastical and fabulous than you’d imagine! 

I’d booked us almost-centre seats in row D. They were right up near the stage, and we had a great view. This was the first time I’d been close enough to the stage to see—and therein fully appreciate (read: sit there bedazzled by all that glitter and all those Swarovski crystals)—the expressions of the performers and intricacies of the set. The proximity from the stage made a massive difference. 

I had to applaud the incredible effort to bring Aladdin to the stage. From the musicality, the performances, the energy of the performers, the polished transitions between acts, costumes, and sets, and the spectacular outfits, the entire two hours delivered a full-throttle stageshow as colourful and as busy as the streets of Agrabah. 

The Australian cast were excellent. Gareth Jacobs nailed his role as the Genie. He brought the Genie to life with sass and high intensity performances. Jacobs had the X Factor. He was a natural at working in his own stamp on the role, while at all times remaining true to the iconic character, made famous by Robin Williams. 

I loved the Broadway-born production’s localisation of Aladdin for the Aussie crowd. This was mainly through humourous quips from Jacobs, who succeeded at seemlessly incorporating Tim-Tams, Vegemite, and at one point Kwinana, into the Genie’s dialogue.

Ainsley Melham showed his versatility and prowess as a performer playing the role of Aladdin. He brought to the role a sense of believability and realness. Melham drew us in from the outset, leading us to suspend reality and immerse ourselves into the world of Aladdin.

In many of his performances, seasoned ex-Hi 5 professional Melham seemed to take the back seat to the roles of his co-stars, though not for want of enthusiasm or energy. Rather, it seemed to be a creative direction to give the other performers time in the spotlight. I initially questioned whether Melham was completely encompassing his leading man role—was he being overshadowed? I then realised that this was great positioning of the audience. It worked brilliantly.

As a viewer, it assisted with the characterisation of Aladdin as a pretty average guy. Aladdin was content being out of the spotlight. With his reputation as a street rat, perhaps he was even trying to avoid it. He wasn’t out for the gold or glitter. He hadn’t been born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His crime was falling for a princess. 

While there were plenty of elaborate scenes and visually stunning sets, there were also reeled back moments. With the bells and whistles dropped and the extravagance toned down, it was the magic of the timeless tale that captured our attention. This played on the very human desires for freedom, acceptance, and love. Desires we can all identify with.

Clever framing of the performances, showed us that Melham’s Aladdin wasn’t royalty in every scene he was in; he was simply another cast member. We saw that Aladdin wasn’t after fame or fortune. He was humble. His motivations were pure. He wanted to make his late mother proud. It wasn’t Princess Jasmine he’d fallen for, but Jasmine. Echoing the words of Jafar and Iago, the naivety and rawness Melham depicted confirmed to us that Aladdin was indeed a ‘diamond in the rough’. Humility and truth, and love conquering all, flowed through Melham’s performances.

Shrubshri Kandiah impressed with her portrayal of Jasmine. From Kandiah, we saw that having riches doesn’t equate to a life of freedom and happiness. Kandiah’s Jasmine was fiesty, confident and frustrated with her lack of agency in a clearly patriarchal society. Kandiah’s performance gave us a strong sense of Jasmine as an empowered, modern woman, unafraid to stand for her beliefs, and willing to break tradition. Outspoken and opinionated, she rejected the princess stereotype. Her appearances instead wove in themes of equity and change. She asked us to question cultural norms, the validity of law, and to have courage not to accept the status-quo. The laws of the land being changed, decried as outdated as a result of Jasmine’s refusal to bend to tradition, was vindication that change was possible. 

The weakest moment was unfortunately the song that should have been the apogee of the show: Aladdin and Jasmine’s duet ‘A Whole New World’. The singing sounded a little off key, the ‘magic carpet’ paled in comparison to what we’d already seen, and the build up to the moment fell short. The song lacked the richness in voice, feeling and chemistry of the original. While they had rubbed us the wrong way with this one, they hadn’t ruined the emphatic Aladdin classic.

Overall, it was a fantastic show and a very enjoyable night. I would highly​ recommend it just for the experience. It was totally worth the dollarydoos. 

My biggest take-away was the joy the cast displayed throughout the show. These talented ladies and gents seemed so genuinely happy it was infectious! To be able to entertain, to make people happy, to do that for a living, I don’t think many things would compare.

Now I just need to find that magic lamp.

Writing: Part 2 The Return

This is the second part in a series of my writing works-in-progress. This one begins with ‘The Port’ which I wrote about ten months ago. It belongs somewhere in the fantasy genre. I had a few ideas with this and ended up writing this part up late at night earlier this week. It was a good way to unwind.

As an aside, I recently decided to make ‘having an appreciation of spirits’ a longer term goal of mine.

My thoughts are each bottled spirit is the result of science and research into flavours and process, and is a measure of skill and effort. One of the objectives underpinning each bottle, like many things I’d suggest, is to be known as a product of fine quality and great enjoyment. There are also plenty of bottleshops. These beverages must be enjoyable. 

Ergo, drinking hard liquors could make for a tasty and fun pasttime. It could prove very expensive too—which is why I’ve made this a longer-term goal and I’ll stick with a spend limit of under $60 per bottle, if even that, which to me seems reasonable enough.

I want to own the bottles of the beverages I try. Just because. While I could sample different drinks before buying, I am happy to browse reviews and to then decide on something to purchase. I feel like by-the-bottle ownership and collection is an observable hallmark of this being more of a hobby, as opposed to not—and what it isn’t includes a lot of things, like being the start of an unhealthy drinking habit. I’ll (hopefully) keep this to one bottle at a time, lest I pass out… from realising I’ve blown my wage on booze. 

All things considered, if it means trying exciting flavours and if it perhaps helps take the edge off things on occasion, this could very well be worth it. And I will at least have a better appreciation of the beverages than I do at present. 

Getting Part 2 on paper I can say was aided by two shots of Captain Morgan rum. 🥃 #suddenlyinspired. 

Read previous: Part 1: The Port

***

Part 2: The Return

Manicured fingers holding a pin began to pick at the locks on the suitcase positioned at the centre of the stage.

There was a loud pop as the suitcase sprang open.

Immediately a cloud of thick smoke released into the air, bringing with it the overpowering smell of bergamot and patchouli. The incense was contrasting and brash, but not unpleasant. It transported the audience. Dessenmire had brought the shop of a fortune-teller to the Port. They were about to be treated.

‘She’s one of the magic acts! I bet you she’s a witch!’ an excited girl with piercing blue eyes and messy bronze hair squealed excitedly, as several of the crowd looked to the back row with disapproval.

‘Tell us something we don’t know,’ grunted the boy seated next to her feigning a yawn.

‘Kurt, it’s the first time Flora’s been out in ages. It is the first time I’ve been out in ages,’ muttered the man beside him with slight annoyance. He had the young girl on his lap, and with the poor seating they had managed to scarp, Leven Vruikton was sweating and regretting his choice of an overcoat. Kurt Galling’s usual snide remarks were the last thing he needed.

‘Look who’s making all this noise. I’m trying to enjoy the show,’ huffed Kurt, holding his algae-green jumper up pretending to create a wall between their seats.

Leven sighed. Kurt was in his late teens. He had to know that his childishness was quickly getting old.

Grateful that he had suggested only three of them go today and that the rest of the In-Charge on Consociate Thirty of the Starlock had listened, Leven’s mind wandered. Leaving the ship in Moraen’s hands was not ideal but he needed a break. One day at the Port would not be the end of the world.

‘Flora, I think you’re right,’ he whispered softly in the girl’s ear. ‘There’s usually a magic act in the top hundred. Make that a few, usually. I haven’t seen one in the longest time.’ 

She answered his kind eyes with a broad grin and pinched his arm playfully.

‘I knew it! I knew it!’ she said wriggling.

‘Careful, Winters. My leg!’ He winced as the heel of her pink Mary-Jane sandal dug into his thigh.

He hadn’t expected her to notice. ‘Lev, I’m sorry,’ she said climbing off him. Flora managed to give him a clumsy hug, before promptly returning to his lap, making an effort to dangle her legs to one side. Her tiny hands were cold. He patted her head and pulled his red scarf around her. Flora Wintershire was like a daughter to him. 

The smoke had disbursed leaving behind a fine haze. Dessenmire’s back was now to the crowd, and the suitcase out of view. She raised her arms as the stage dimmed. Her split-back yellow dress accentuated thin flaxen hair, and made privy a fragile frame and ghost-white skin. The sound of haunting panpipes began to play as she began to twirl her hands chanting melodious words in a foreign tongue.

All eyes fixated on the living doll. Her song and dance was haunting. 

‘She’s so beautiful,’ Flora gasped. 

‘She is, isn’t she?’ replied Leven with a slight smile. He felt his mind being distracted. He pinched himself. ‘Do you see her wrist? Look closely.’

‘What is it?’ 

In a swift motion he swung the girl easily on to his shoulders, ‘There. Five pearls in a crescent shape, that’s it. The sign of Ith’sazar. Hers is blue. I wonder.’ 

‘What’s a crescent?’ 

‘The half-moon of our skies,’ he said signalling for them both to shush. She mimicked his action.

**

With each lyric, Dessenmire seemed to be describing something of beauty and purity. Gentleness and an angelic quality carried through her words.

Her voice grew stronger. 

From the suitcase, the blackness of a shadow erupted and a three-foot tar-black figure took form, skyrocketing to the ceiling, as if being freed from a prison. Several terrified screams filled the room.

‘Now, now, people,’ came the unsure voice of a startled Riktor Silkbatton.

‘Let Miss Dessenmire continue,’ he warned, motioning to the man in the purple suit before returning to his normal speaking voice.

‘Quickly, tissues for Miss Rosenne. Mr Dofter, would you, please? Must I ask you! The lady has been frightened. Quickly!’

He nodded at Dessenmire to continue.

‘What was that?’ Kurt had inched closer. His eyes were wide. Leven couldn’t help but stifle a smirk at the boy’s sudden change in attitude. Flora had buried her face in Leven’s arm. 

**

Riktor’s businesslike manner seemed to reassure the frightened faces in the crowd. The blackness continued to rise as she continued her song. The shadow grew larger still as Dessenmire moved away from the suitcase, revealing that it was empty.

Floating above the suitcase, was a black shadow with physical form. It was alive, moving to its own rhythm.

‘Pron el’n neth ver’ie’, Dessenmire said in a controlled voice.

The darkness changed form. The unmistakable form of a man. A beast. Then it shrunk and seemed to become the shadow a woman. 

‘A’sha, fi ney. Return,’ she spoke.

The room was plunged into blackness for a split second. It returned to brightness. Candles, coloured deep purples and firey reds, appeared where the shadow had been. The playing of circus music interrupted the silence.

**

Dessenmire took a bow to thunderous applause. The noise of a crowd in awe overtook the room. Amidst the noise, Dessenmire could hear questions flying: who and how, was she an enchantress. Enthusiastic voices were trying to figure out what they had witnessed. The Chairman stood for a second before departing the box.

‘Brilliant, Miss Dessenmire,’ Riktor said, briefly taking her hand. He led her off stage and waved for the resident porter to follow behind them with the suitcase. 

He strode back towards the microphone, ‘Judges. Scoring please. As usual, hand back to me at the conclusion of the event. With that, we break!’ 

He swung around singing as if an opera countertenor, ‘My hands, eyes, and the rest of me, are currently busy. Jadler, I will be handing over to you. Jaddd-lerr.’

‘Yes, boss, ne’er a problem,’ the lanky gentleman in a matching maroon suit lazily spat out a half-chewed toothpick and shook Riktor’s shoulder, ‘Off you pop, lad.’

Riktor straightened his tie grinning. Noticing the room emptying, he stepped down into the backroom.

‘Did they like it, Riks?’ Dessenmire took the boy’s arm gently. Without the glaring lights, she was different. Plainer, much more like the woman he remembered her to be. Her eyes were the same, asking a million things. The innocent way she spoke hadn’t changed. He felt she always valued his opinion much more than her own. 

Riktor looked taken aback for a moment. ‘Riks,’ his eyes danced as he paused, ‘That’s the first time anyone’s called me that in the longest time!’ 

She noticed his hand shaking.

L’Ouvelle prompted, ‘Well, how did I do?’ 

He regained his composure. ‘What can I say, whatever that was, you had me scared there. What was that?

Where exactly did that come from? 

You have us all spellbound. 

I’m not meant to say this, but there’s no point pretending otherwise: Holsteins will want to see you. Haakon will have heard.’ 

His voice grew quieter, ‘Also, there’s a lot I don’t know about you.’ Riktor leaned in, placed a hand on her shoulder and procured her a jacket in the other. 

‘Everyone knows you’re the witch, after that performance. A witch at the Port, that’s quite unbelievable.’ 

He looked her dead in the eye, ‘Twenty-one years it’s been. I’m not sure I believe it.’ 

She took that as a cue to kiss his cheek: ‘I am back Riks’. Caramel and tiger orchid filled his nose. He couldn’t help but blush. 

‘Tomorrow, how about I meet you at Wesley’s, the pub down near the riverside? Stage one will continue during the day and I’m going to bored out of my wits. There are no magic acts. I will need something to perk me up a bit. Wesley’s, I have heard, does fine burnt marshmallow pies.’

She nodded, amused, ‘Burnt marshmallow, really.’

‘Really,’ Riktor laughed. 

**

Alone in the cabin Leven was pacing. He was glad he had managed the three of them to the inn. Not many places accepted foreign tender, Qos coins especially. The pudgy woman who had served him had raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Flora had been shaken by the shadow. Referring to it as ‘the monster’, she had complained it was out to get her and refused to leave Leven’s side. Hot chocolate with extra chocolate seemed to have worked and she had quickly fallen asleep. 

Kurt had retired to his room after attending the pub foot rub, an advertised bonus for staying at the inn. He had remarked at being thoroughly impressed with the result. Kurt had explained that the foot rub consisted of a burly man filing his feet before applying a sweet-smelling apple oil. He had happily paraded his new callous-free feet and surprised Leven with an apology for their tiff earlier. His jolly spirits had Leven wondering if the explanation had been entirely truthful.

They were ahead of schedule by a day. No one would be expecting them back until evening tomorrow. 

The In-Charge turned a blind eye to most things short of a disaster. The captain, whose views seemed always to take precedence amongst the six of them, had been especially moody. 

Leven scoffed at the idea of Flora’s father deciding to take an interest in his daughter, envisaging the captain jumping​ at the opportunity to suggest that Flora had been put in danger. Raul Wintershire would have them grounded on the Starlock. Raul was good at being a captain. Experienced, knowledgeable​, and generous with his time on matters relating to the ship. Other matters, Raul kept to himself. Leven could never distill what exactly the captain did in his offtime, observing only that he disappeared on and off at odd hours. Whatever it was, his plans rarely included Flora.

Moraen would no doubt be spending the majority of his time below deck, scoping out potential swinging voters, and making the most of their absence. Leven had tried his best to stay out of the politics and games, but there was no denying that they were important. He had resigned to the idea that he would be roped in more than he already was for the sake of appeasing the Consociate and keeping his position.

He reassured himself of his decision to delay a return to the Starlock: it would avoid needless dialogue. Whispers of Dessenmire would find their way to the ship. They didn’t need to hear it from him.

The shadow stayed on Leven’s thoughts. Tension was wearing on the stony-faced appearance he had been keeping up. 

Where had the shadow come from? What he had witnessed was not from this world. It did not matter if it had all been a trick. Dessenmire was real. Whatever creature she had brought to the Port was neither human nor animal. What of the stories he had heard? There was more truth to tales of the sea than people believed. Long-winded as they were, the warblings of Warlin, elders aboard the ship, had given him glimpses into lives lived before him. He had listened to ancient lives of another world. Stories of things unbounded, unexplainable by the laws of this world. Happenings that had fed his curiosity and more recently forced his attention.

The mark of Ith’sazar had been lost on the commonfolk of the Port. Dessenmire had not cared to hide whatever link she had with them. If the Ith’sa were back, that meant there were others. Witherey as they were known among seafarers were not to be trusted. They were different. Human, but a different breed. The spells and the creatures they liked to create had wreaked havoc before. 

He watched the glowing embers in the fireplace. His thoughts drifted, unable to settle. His past, his present, his future. The uncertainty was never-ending.

He swirled the drink in his glass. He felt a war brewing.

***

© enchirist
August 2018

Baking: Choc-Mint Slice

I have a confession​ to make: I messed up. I got my dates all mixed up. I’ve gone and done something that’s almost criminal. 

I let July 21 pass without the moment of reverence it deserved.

I missed National Lamington Day. I know. It is with an unopened pack of dessicated coconut against my heart that I say ‘Lamington proponents of the day, I acknowledge your right to get the pitchforks out’.

Early last week (I lie: coming on two now) I was up late researching Lamington recipes of all types—traditional, filled, flavoured, banana bread Lamingtons even. I feel like that last one might fail the bona fide Lamington test if there were such a thing. An unAustralian Lamington or a very Australian Lamington? I wonder what Captain Cook would have thought. Would he have shipped the banana bread Lamington pairing? I have a feeling he might just have flagged both as delicious.

Lamingtons had, by all accounts, been in mind. I had sorted through all the must-know tips for sorting National​ Lamington Day (I was amazed: there are articles on this). I had the date set in my mind. During the week, I had done a Woolies shop for Lamington supplies, and had even remembered to bring my reusable Woolworths Macro Jute bag like a good little Woolies customer. I had bought my two types of coconut for the pantry: shredded and dessicated. Yes, they are different, and no, that wasn’t impressed upon my mind until said research into Lamingtons. I had got a new half-kilo butter block for the fridge. I had stocktaked my chocolate stash to ensure the adequacy of supplies: two full tins of dutch cocoa powder, one of Nestlé’s cooking cocoa, and three blocks of chocolate. Ostensibly satisfactory to most minds, but I always get a niggling feeling that more I could do with.

Then things got in the way. Enthusiasm waned. Lost in a sea of distractions, the arbitrary passing of time, somewhere between four sunrises and sunsets, Lamington Day dropped off my radar. 

Four days later I instead did up a choc-mint slice.

Because I felt like mint. 

I’ve resolved to postpone Lamingtons until such time that I can do them justice. Lamington Day Atonement Day is in the pipeline. Lamingtons on hold…

Here’s the recipe for the choc-mint slice

Ingredients:
150g butter
1 egg
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup plain flour
1/3 cup SR flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup desiccated coconut, plus extra

Mix butter and sugar. Mix through egg. Add extracts, cocoa powder and stir through flours. Bake in a lined slice tin at 150°C for 20-30min until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool while preparing icing.

Icing:
2 cups icing sugar 
50 g butter
2 tbps water
1-2 tsp peppermint extract
1 drop green food colouring

Cream butter and sugar. Add water and extract. Add colour. Mix well.

Spread on top of cooled slice. I didn’t let mine cool, they were just out of the oven and onto the board—definitely made it fiddly to ice and cut. 

Ever since discovering Nestlé’s Peppermint Crisps this year, I’ve been digging minty flavours. It’s like it flicked on a switch allowing me to appreciate mint-flavoured things rather than have them remind me of toothpaste. 

These mint slices are light as, and very easy to eat your way through. They won’t do your wallet in. 

For an absolutely mint version of these, I’d add:
• to the topping, a sprinkling of crushed Nestlé Peppermint Crisps and chopped up Nestlé Mint Patties. Replace the icing with melted dark chocolate. Add a tablespoon or two of peppermint schnapps to keep things cool as a cucumber.
• to the base, a good chunk of a block of melted Lindt Dark Intense Mint from their Excellence range. This stuff is velvety and simply mint.

I am going to have to do the decadent version of these. I’ll add it to the list of things I’ve mint to do but haven’t.

Sicilian Toastie and Margherita Pizza, The Italian Corner, William Street

I spend way too much on lunch.

Every day I consider going on a diet of Vegemite sangers and Robert Timm’s instant coffee. I also promptly tergiversate on the idea when faced with lunch break and ever-present possibility of happiness being just around the corner.

I also spend way too much on coffees.

I once had a particularly bad streak of buying coffee each morning. I then decided, pledging to make better decisions, that I should probably put a stop to the daylight robberies. 

The first day without my morning coffee, I gained a full appreciation of this quote, commonly but mistakenly attributed to Michael​ Jordan: ‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.’ It was 100% a difficult morning. Sans magical concoction, the withdrawal symptoms began. Said symptoms were notoriously mild, in the scheme of things and given the substance in question: I ate a Cherry Ripe—an unwise choice of appetite suppressant that at best satisfied the wrong craving—following which, I made up a sachet of Moccona’s Peppermint Choc Bliss—which, admittedly, proved to be a substitute relative in deliciousness and enjoyment.

Taking things out of context, the sporting origin of this quote has me wondering about the existence of possible deeper meanings behind it. Dope, just unintended double-entendre. 

Here’s what I had for lunch on Thursday and Friday this week. I decided I’d frequent the new, well fairly new, place The Italian Corner.

I went for the Sicilian Toastie, ‘prosciutto, fresh tomato, bocconcini’, $7.50 and the Margherita Pizza ‘mozarella, semi-mature cheese, fresh basil’, also $7.50. How good do they look?

The toastie had a lot going for it. 

It had melty, stringy cheesiness, which I ate all the while mindful of the ease with which I might grow a cheese beard. It had saltiness from the prosciutto and freshness from the self-described ‘fresh’ tomato. It had sufficient crustiness and grillege, an imaginary word which here seems proper and conducive to communicating the requisite grilledness this toasty exhibited. As my one-thirty pm late lunch, it was a well-primed and served lunchbox of happiness.

The pizza, too, was a satisfactory option. The pizza featured a non-floury base of mid-range thickness, with a profusely gooey cheese sitting amidst a moderate backing of tomato sauce that had the slightest detection of onion. It was a stroll through the park on a day with the sun shining and the smell of spring in the air. The limited topping of spinach acted as a garnish on the already-satisactory pizza. I enjoyed it.

Which reigns supreme: the toastie or the pizza? I conclude the result of this cheesy conundrum a confused ‘currently inconclusive’. A determination will demand further visitations.

As an observation, pizzas, coffees and ice-cream earn you a punch on the loyalty card. No love for the toastie.

Taste verdict Classic lunchtime fare. I’m a great fan of cheesy things.

⭐⭐⭐