‘Do other parents ever really wonder what it would be like if they hadn’t had their kids?’ Cassandra asked Derek. ‘I don’t. Ever.’

But she knew she was lying. Cassandra hid it extremely well, but she didn’t really like her children at all. Her first child, Trudie, was constantly whinging; ‘I don’t like it, I don’t want it, I don’t want to go.’ When other people were around, Cassandra tried to pacify her, but on their own, she’d leave the room. The four-year-old would sit and cry or follow her and cry. Cassandra would have a coffee. Eventually, Trudie would get bored and find something to do, or get hungry and nibble on the food she’d been refusing to eat.

Trudie was not as bad as Simon. He was two and Cassandra thought he had some kind of developmental problems. She would stare at him as he head butted the furniture and talked to the ducted heating vents. In public, she had to be particularly careful with him. He was on to her. Last week, having coffee at the local first-Sunday-of-the-month club, he announced to everyone that ‘Mummy doesn’t like me.’ Everyone laughed and cooed, and Cassandra laughed it off and pretended to take his nose, but in the look that passed between them, Cassandra saw understanding.

‘You just have the patience of a saint,’ said Derek, and he kissed her on the head. ‘You really must be the best mother ever.’

Cassandra smiled. Yes, she must be.


The assignment

Already she had finished most of the cleaning, but the assignment still sat there. The topic was unread and it was due in only two days. This was the one chance that she could make-up for all the rest of the slacking off. Still, she could not unfold it. She dreaded what it held. What would be expected of her.

She looked out the window. There were a lot of spots on the windows. She grabbed the ladder, some newspaper and vinegar.

When he came home two hours later, he looked at the state of the place. He didn’t need to go to the computer desk to see the assignment sheet, still folded, sitting underneath the edge of the keyboard. He couldn’t figure out what she wanted – to be touched, to be left alone, to talk, to cry, to laugh. He flicked on the television and turned up the volume.


After closing

The mist clung to his clothing, but it wasn’t a problem unless he leant on something, and then he soaked. The main problem was his jeans. They were a little too long, and the water from the puddles soaked up, giving him wet ankles and a general shiver.

It was too late for the bus and he couldn’t remember the route. It was number 761, that’s all he knew. He’d intended to get the last bus home, but then that girl started talking to him and he thought he had a chance. She went home with her friends, but at least he got her number. He looked at the sign. Twenty-seven. He’d better get walking. 



‘Hey, Auntie Kate?’

‘Yes, Master James?’

Kate was the only person Jimmy would allow to call him James. That was because she was funny. A little bit odd. Not like most adults, who would try to be funny but just be confusing. He’d learned from Kate how to fake-laugh so they didn’t know he was confused.

‘Are there pirates?’

Kate looked at him like he was a fool.

‘Of course there are pirates. But they are not like you get told. Not like the cartoons and silly advertisers show.’

Kate patted the big cushion next to her. Jimmy loved her front room. She lived in Carlton, in a terrace house that overlooked a small garden. On days like this, when the afternoon sun stretched through the branches and edged into her bedroom upstairs, Kate liked to pull out large cushions  -some as big as Jimmy’s bed! – and read. When Jimmy was here, sometimes she’d read to him and sometimes she’d make up stories. Jimmy didn’t care. He loved it. He settled into the cushions and closed his eyes, ready to listen to some great story. Kate started to stroke his hair.

‘In the olden days, pirates were a bit similar to the cartoons and stuff. Dirty, rough, and sailing boats which fell apart. They were a miserable lot; always fighting, never eating properly. Until along came Dread Pirate Penelope.’

‘Dread Pirate Penelope?’ Jimmy started to laugh, but his Aunt stopped him by leaning in, and saying in a deep and serious voice: ‘Dread Pirate Penelope was the deadliest pirate that ever existed, and her spirit wouldn’t like being laughed at.’

Jimmy stopped laughing and felt a chill drop down his spine. He loved it when the stories got scary, although his mum complained about it, as he had sometimes had nightmares. He never told his mum that they weren’t real nightmares because he was awake. They were more like daynightmares – kind of like daydreams, only bad. He thought that might be worse.

Satisfied that Jimmy would be quiet, Kate continued.

‘Dread Pirate Penelope had stowed away on a pirate ship when she was just a child. She pretended to be a boy and learnt all about sailing and about pirating. She was a smart one, and quickly figured out the problems that the pirates were having. Back at port, when still a teenager, she rallied a group of women and started an all female crew. They snuck aboard an unmanned boat one night and sailed off.’

‘They stole the boat?’

‘Aye. That’s what pirates do, Master Jimmy. They are not good people. They’re criminals. They pillage and…’ Kate paused, looking at her young nephew. ‘Well, they just pillage.’


‘Steal and wreck stuff. Burn buildings down. Cause destruction.’


‘Why what?’

Jimmy sat up, putting a hand under his chin.

‘Why are pirates bad like that?’

‘Why are pirates bad like that? Because they Arrrrrr!’ Kate tickled Jimmy, who laughed and hoped he would remember that joke for his dad. Dad’d like that one.

‘But really, Kate, why?’

Kate looked very serious for a moment.

‘Because they didn’t really have schools back then, and there weren’t a lot of jobs, and if you were poor, you either starved or you stole. And I guess if that’s all you can do, well, maybe you go a bit bad.’

Jimmy nodded as though he understood, but he didn’t’. Kate continued.

‘The pirates first problem was that their ships were falling to pieces. Dread Pirate Penelope discovered that if you treated the  wood with the sap from a rare tree found on an island in the Caribbean, the wood didn’t rot. So she could keep one ship for a long time. Their second problem-’

‘What about the pirates that owned the ship?’

‘Are you interrupting me?’

‘No, but, well, yes, but what about the pirates whose ship she stole?’

‘I’ll het to that in a moment, wait. First, she had to solve the two other problems for pirates. First, scurvy. That’s when the body doesn’t get the right vitamins and becomes sick. Penelope was the first to keep fresh fruit on board at all times.’

Jimmy shrugged. Fresh fruit wasn’t very exciting.

‘The second was peg legs. Do you know why so many pirates have peg legs?’

‘I don’t know. Sharks?’

‘How did you know that?’ She looked at him with wide, surprised eyes. He was shocked that she thought he knew it.

‘I didn’t. I just made it up!’

Giving him a suspicious look, Kate continued.

‘Pirates didn’t keep themselves clean, but the loved to drink their rum sitting with their legs dangling over the side. Sharks would just jump up and eat them. This didn’t happen to Dread Pirate Penelope’s crew. Do you know why?’

‘Um. They didn’t drink rum?’

‘Oh, no. They drunk rum. They loved rum.’

‘Um, they didn’t dangle their legs.’

‘A pirate? Not dangle their legs? Don’t be ridiculous! No, my little man, it was the boots.’

‘The boots? How?’

‘The pirate would still dangle their legs, but the ladies started wearing boots that went over their knees. It would save them from the sharks’ teeth.’

Jimmy nodded, amazed. Kate continued.

‘Once the women had solved these problems, they were set to take over the waves. The pirates who owned the ship that Dread Pirate Penelope stole managed to borrow another boat and gave chase. They caught up, but Penelope’s crew fought well, and before they knew it, they were all prisoners of Dread Pirate Penelope.’

‘Did she make them walk the plank?’

“Oh, you are just so sweet!’ Kate laughed heartily, and Jimmy felt himself blush a little. That laugh was the laugh that made him feel like a bit of an idiot. He wondered what he had said wrong.

‘Pirates don’t make people walk the plank! That is silly! No, pirates are much more horrible than that. They…’ again, Kate paused, looking at him carefully. ‘Have you been having daynightmares again?’

Jimmy shook his head.

‘Not for ages. Come on, please tell me.’

‘No,’ Kate slowly shook her head, ‘no, I won’t tell you all of the details. Let’s just say  that they literally used their prisoners as fish food. But I won’t tell you how.’

Jimmy didn’t understand. His goldfish ate flakes out of a jar. People weren’t like that. He shrugged.

‘Soon enough, every male pirate either quit piracy or was turned into fish food. Dread Pirate Penelope’s success was heard across the world, and many women still follow their code.’

‘How do you know all this?’

Before she could answer, a beeping came from her mobile. She checked the message.

‘Right, quick, your mum’s almost here. Let’s get down for a last race through the park.’

Kate jumped up and the two of them raced down the stairs. Jimmy sat on the bottom step to put on his sneakers and Kate sat two steps behind him. Jimmy stared at her legs as she pulled on boots that went all the way up her calf and over her knee.

She stood and grabbed a couple of mandarins from a fruit bowl and threw one at Jimmy, who almost caught it.

‘Against the scurvy. Now, come on!’

Jimmy watched his aunt go out the front door and wondered how knowing his aunt was a pirate would change his life.



The ground was cold but she didn’t care. Her friends had all gone to bed, but she sat by the fire, adding wood when needed. Her blanket was damp at the edges, but when she sat on the log, if she flicked it back, the damp edges remained off her.. When she arrived at camp, she promised herself that she’d watch the sun rise, at least once. This was the last morning. The last chance.

The beer and wine and vodka that she’d been drinking all night was starting to drag her eyelids down, but she willed them open. The sky was beginning to lighten to the east. Soon, she’d walk to the edge of the ravine and watch the sunrise in all its glory across this beautiful, uninhabited land. 


The room

The room was cold and the chairs were hard. Pippa didn’t know why she was there. She had gone for a job interview for a position in sales. Nothing shocking. It seemed that she’d done well, and they asked her to stay for the next round. That wasn’t strange. She waited for an hour, and then was brought into this room. There was no clock and Pippa’s phone had run out of batteries. She thought she’d been in here for hours. Screaming hadn’t gained any attention. Neither had begging or pleading. Now, she just sat in the corner and stared at the door, willing it to open.



Ricky ground a stray peppercorn between his front teeth. He’d never liked his grandmother’s cooking, but he didn’t have the cruelty nor the confidence to tell her so. At least the bitter pepper masked any flavour that lingered from the stew. His mother and grandmother were talking about something for the ten thousandth time. There were three common strands of conversation. His father and what a loser he was; the jealousy of her mother’s ex-boss who fired her for stealing – would you believe it, and everyone does it anyhow – three ballpoint pens – two blue and a black – and anyway, everyone knew it was because she hadn’t slept with him, it had nothing to do with actual theft; or else it was that his mother could have been someone – could have really been someone – if she hadn’t fallen pregnant at sixteen.

In his mind, Ricky played over his favourite moments in films; the moments were the man, who had been controlled by women throughout his life, finally snaps. His two favourite were Kevin Spacey in American Beauty and Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love. He wondered if he would ever snap like this, but he couldn’t imagine what it would take.

The tapping on his mother’s empty glass signaled it was time for Ricky to clear the table. He stood silently and took the plates away.


Springfeel in St Kilda

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There was a direct correlation between the springfeel of a winter’s day and the amount of whistlation on the streets of St Kilda. This was the fourth time that Mark had reworded the concept of his thesis, and he was sure it, too, would be rejected by the panel. It didn’t matter – he didn’t really want to do the research. That was why he had made up terms. Regardless of how long it took him, his stepmother had told him, she would support him. So, he kept putting in bogus applications and they kept getting rejected, and his stepmother kept paying his rent and bills and putting a fairly decent wage into his account. His ex-girlfriend had questioned how he could live like this – a kept man for the woman his father married after practically driving his mother to her grave. Mark didn’t care. He walked to the Espy and started his own whistlation despite the lack of springfeel.


The carpet was sticky under her feet. She was glad she hadn’t worn her sandals. She made a mental note to take her shoes off when she got home – if she walked this in to her mothers new cream carpet, she’d never hear the end of it. She looked at the band with resentment, but quickly turned the resentment on herself. When she split with Tom, she should have told them to bugger off, she wouldn’t drive them anymore. Yet here she was, and there was Tom, plucking his bass and staring at some blond in the front row. That was the last straw; she could not deal with this humiliation any longer. She put her pot of light beer on the bar and walked out. Let them put their drums in a maxi-cab. 


The glove

The glove sat in a puddle on the side of the dirt track. It was covered in grainy mud and two of the fingers were folded inside it.

I contemplated picking it up. I could pick it up and put it on the post to the side. Often I’d walked on tracks or even just through suburbs and had seen these random, lost items sitting on fences or posts. It was normal.

But, I kept walking. I think I’ve watched too many American crime shows. What if, by picking up that glove, I disturb the evidence of a serious crime and the serial killer gets away? This is the reason I no longer walk through the tall grass behind the basketball courts; I am paranoid that I will look closer and discover a hand or a foot or some other dismembered body part. It’s always dismembered. Never a whole body. I also avoid the park that cuts between the highway and the primary school and any car parks at night or on weekends.

This is the last place I dare go that is not concreted or inside, and after spotting that glove, I think I may be giving this a miss too. Perhaps I should stop watching these shows.