It’s that time again…EPIPHANY TIME! and this time, I want YOU to join in.

whispers QWC

Look, see? It’s me!

 I’ve just returned from the Brisbane Writers Festival where I was asked to read some of my work at the Queensland Writers Centre Whispers salon, and, let’s be honest, I might be on a bit of a high.

Being up there, finally able to share with a real audience some of my own work was such a fantastic experience. It was daunting, yes, and I may have needed 3 trips to the bathroom beforehand, and there may have been some positive self-talk mumbled under my breath to the tune of I think I can I think I can, but once I was up there…It felt like I was doing what I should be doing. More than I ever feel at my work as a nurse, even on my best days where I know that to that one person, I am making a difference. This was different. It felt right.

My parents, husband and friend were cheering me on in the benches, and people afterwards I had never met before were very gracious in saying how much they enjoyed the reading, and one lovely lady even said she’d buy my book. I felt a thrill I’d never felt before. A tiny, tiny spark. A dangerous, maybe I can do this in the back of my mind. Continue reading

HELL IS EMPTY (and all the devils are here)

leunig_cartoonPROSPERO
My brave spirit!
Who was so firm, so constant, that this coil
would not infect his reason?
ARIEL
Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad and played
Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
Then all afire with me. The king’s son, Ferdinand,
With hair up-staring—then, like reeds, not hair—
Was the first man that leaped, cried, “Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.”
 – William Shakespeare, The Tempest
That last line has kicked around in my head for a couple of days, and I think I know why. I’ve been working on an article about the link between the creative mind and depression, and this quote made me make that embarrassing ‘wo-hey!’ noise people make when their mind is doing it wrong. Being prone to depression myself, it has felt exactly like that at times – that hell is empty and all the devils are here, in my mind, just chillin’, turning my formerly logical, productive self into a pile of numb that alternately cries because I can’t get through folding the laundry or makes me sit in bed all day watching Orange is the New Black. 

Continue reading

At the Movies with Anna & Stephanie

ImageMy big sister was born on a Wednesday; the kind of Wednesday that meant she’d be full of woe the rest of her life. We had that poem on a square biscuit tin and we’d always pay Anna out about it, ourselves being fair of face, workin’ hard for a livin’, bonny, blithe, good and gay and all that jazz. Anna responded the way she always did; that is to say, she didn’t really respond. She was a weird kid.

But I wanted to be exactly like her. When Anna decided she hated having her picture taken for anything, I suddenly hated having my picture taken (even though I capital L-, bold, underlined, italicised –o-v-e-d it, but Anna was my tastemaker, my barometer of acceptable and cool. So when we go to the movies, and I laugh at something I think is funny, I look around to see if she’s laughing too. Only, she never is. There might be a flick of a smile and then it’s gone, Anna’s face a silent, severe, respectful mask.

One time a large group of us went to see Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and there was a crowd of rude teenagers being themselves: chatting, yelling out, throwing popcorn at each other. There were so many ‘tuts’ and ‘tsks’ it was like being surrounded by geckos, but no one said anything. No one but Anna. People don’t often ignore Anna when she speaks; she does so with such conviction it will make anyone think twice. She’ll turn it on her family too, when we’re at the movies together, laughing our assortment of laughs, and there will be Anna at the end of the row, serious and watchful, and she’ll lean towards us, a fierce ‘sh’ at her lips, and mum will dramatically act abashed and dad will smile and I’ll roll my eyes; Em will be too busy asking if the movie is a true story or not and Claire won’t even hear because she’s laughing her head off at the screen.

‘Well’, Anna says reasonably afterwards when we all give her shit for it, ‘people pay to see the movie. We need to respect that.’

Have I mentioned she’s an actress?

Once, just Anna and I went to see the last Lord of the Rings together, the last real trilogy, before someone in Hollywood decided that the 3rd film in any trilogy needed to be split into 2 films. Bye bye trilogy, hello quin…tilogy? tology? tuplet?

I remember crying when Frodo is hanging off the ledge in Mount Doom as the world explodes around them, and he gets that look in his eyes that says he’s just so tired, the ring is gone and won’t it all just be so much easier to let go? I was smooshed into my seat, hunched to protect myself, whispering ‘don’t you dare’.

I couldn’t look at Anna. I was too afraid she’d think I was ridiculous, that this moment would be taken from me, that my tears would be downgraded somehow by the lack of her own.

As the credits rolled and ‘On the Horizon’ began playing right after Sam closes his front door, Anna at that moment turned to me.

Her face was streaming wet, her eyes red, and more tears fell as she spoke.

‘That movie,’ she choked, ‘shat all over the other two.’

CALLING ALL EDITORS

Image

I have a short story I’m about to send in to a competition – 1000 words max.

Would anyone be able to help out with offering their thoughts on the story?

For those interested, the competition is for Yen Magazine, and must feature a suitcase. The details are here. Entries close August 15th – get writing!

Steph x

Ode

imagesDeath isn’t spoken about much in society, except on tumblr by teenagers who just want to like, die, or whatever. 

Which is strange, because it is the only thing in the world that everyone has in common – that one day, you and everyone you love will die. But it’s still a taboo, and today that’s not okay with me.

Four years ago my friend died. It’s still not real.

I’m not in shock, or denial, but the reality, the finality, the unfairness of it all has hit me only a very few times, in moments like short bursts of light, flaring and breathtaking and all consuming. Those moments have taken my breath away. The enormity of that word – death – and all it encompasses are things that can only be felt, not spoken about, but it’s a very human thing to try to explain the inexplicable; this compulsive need to plumb the depths of life’s great mysteries.

She was here. She was a living, breathing part of this world. She was funny and pretty and smart and had so much hope. She was positive and sarcastic and biting and loyal. She didn’t take anyone’s bullshit. She was twenty. She was all those things.

She was here, she was alive. And then she wasn’t.

And then? The weirdest thing happened.

I got used to it.

I pushed all that enormous enormity aside and moved on. But – I’ve never forgotten. You never do forget the first thing which makes you realises that you have a soul and that it can hurt. 

Annie will always be a part of me; she changed my life. How sad that it was only after she died that I could say that.

Annie I remember you. Your warmth, your light, your strength. Thank you for being my friend. What a privilege it was to have known you.

And so today I lay aside all other things. Tiny distractions, life goals, money troubles, DIY projects. Today is for you. Today is for you and all those who loved you. All those you loved.

But please don’t mistake me when I talk about today. Anniversaries are just our way of marking time, a way of coming together, an excuse for those who have trouble expressing themselves otherwise that you meant something to them. It doesn’t mean that I don’t think about you the other 364 days of the year. Not by a long shot.

Today is just the day where we get to say it out loud. 

Week Twenty-Six Prompt: Sated

This is written in the same universe as 'After-Haze', my week 20 entry, but it can absolutely be read on its own. 'Sated' took me in the opposite direction this week, of wanting so badly to feel fulfilled, and knowing it will never be a possibility. Let me know what you think!

A History Lesson

Thanks Michael. Sit down please, Lucy, Tom. I promise this won’t take long. Rachael sees the dubious looks on Tom and Lucy’s faces and rolls her eyes. Well it might. But it’s important. No Lucy, your father and I are not splitting up, don’t be ridiculous.

Tom makes a small noise that might be a cough and Rachael’s eyes flash.
 What was that Tom? 
Tom is silent, slightly mollified and he thinks that maybe now isn’t the right time to stir his mum up.
That’s what I thought, Rachael nods. Now. 
Rachael inhales slowly and her children stare back at her, little faces peering up at her with the intensity only the combined forces of three children under twelve can muster. 
I have decided – Rachael pauses here, takes a breath and continues – to tell you about your uncle. 
Which one mum? We have like, over a thousand.
No, Lucy darling. Your other uncle. The one you never got to meet. 
Lucy's brow furrows. But, we already know – 
Tom elbows Lucy and she shoots him a vicious look, mouthing what? What? But Tom ignores her, staring at his mother. She looks sad and he sort of wants to hug her but he can’t really, he’ll be twelve soon, but Michael is there with his too-small arms and his mum is suddenly smiling again. Tom feels himself relax a little bit, enough to turn back to Lucy and poke his tongue out at her and watch her face heat up with indignation while he smirks, satisfied, and turns back to his mother.
Thanks Mikey. I’m alright. You can sit back down. I know you know about him, Lucy, but I want to tell you three properly, because – Rachael's voice breaks and she looks down at her hands. The three children stiffen slightly and Lucy’s breath catches; a tiny, fragile sound that is almost lost in the crackling of the fire in the hearth beside them. Rachael's shoulders straighten and she looks back up again.

Okay?

Okay. 
Okay. So. Here we go, then. 
Okay mum. 
This is going to be me, telling you about your uncle.
Alright.
Okay. 
A noise at the doorway startles Rachael and she looks up. Her husband, Dan, is leaning against the frame, staring at her in the pale grey winter light, last-minute Christmas packages in hand. Her eyes meet his and he wills her silently to continue. They have talked about this, late at night when Rachael’s legs are lying over his and his hand is wrapped in her hair; when words are breaths in the dark and everything around them is stillness and shadows. Rachael wants her children to know – they both do – so much, about her brave, clever, impossibly funny brother, who was no longer here. She wants to tell them how he teased her mercilessly over her crush on Dan, how he had once saved her from drowning in the creek out the back of their childhood home, how he had once let her into his tree house for a treat on her sixth birthday and let her eat as much mud cake as she wanted. She had been sick for a day afterwards and he had come to her with piles of Charlie Brown comics and read them to her, doing all the voices, til her stomach hurt from laughing so hard. She wants, with her whole being, has wanted for years, for them to know him like she had, which she knows is impossible but – she wants him to be more than just a name to them. 
Looking down at them all; at Lucy, fidgeting quietly with legs crossed in front of her, at Michael, so like her brother with a sort of quiet intensity in those bright green eyes of his and at Tom, who was trying very hard to look serious and grown up. Do you know, she thought, how much he would have loved you? How he would have spoiled you? How he would have claimed the ‘Cool Uncle’ title and demanded they come to him for advice about which spot exactly to tickle their mum in, or to teach them the Repetition game and, much later, to ask for advice about relationships and, God forbid, sex? How do I even begin to start telling you about this brilliant person you will never get the chance to meet? Somewhere in the very pit of her, buried so deep within her skin she had forgotten it was there, a tightness ached suddenly with this want, this want to have her brother back, this want for him to never have got into that car, for her children to know him, and she felt terribly sad that they would never – could never – know him, not really, not in the way she wanted them to. 
I’ve heard – Rachael can hear the smile in Dan’s voice as it cuts across the living room and three little heads snap up to stare at their father – that to start at the very beginning is a very good place to start.
Rachael looks up at him then, her eyes meeting his and he crosses the room and sits next to her on the couch, her body dipping towards his slightly as he settles; the warm length of his body in line with hers, smelling of Christmas and night-time and so very Dan it almost overwhelms her. Her hand finds his and the tightness unravels slightly and she thinks that, for the three little people in front of her, she can bloody well try. She takes a deep breath.
His name was Rob.

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Week Twenty-Five Prompt: Intersection, “Closer”.

Closer

“Strange is our situation here upon earth. Each of us comes for a short visit, not knowing why, yet sometimes seeming to a divine purpose. From the standpoint of daily life, however, there is one thing we do know: That we are here for the sake of others…for the countless unknown souls with whose fate we are connected by a bond of sympathy. Many times a day, I realize how much my outer and inner life is built upon the labors of people, both living and dead, and how earnestly I must exert myself in order to give in return as much as I have received.” – Albert Einstein

“At this stage, it remains unclear how many people have been injured, as the chaos surrounding the nightclub fire continues. First reports indicate an electrical short ignited the acoustical backing which surrounded the stage area…”
*
The morning has been chaos, I’ve been down in Emergency helping transfer the stable patients to theatre or a ward. The hospital is on bypass now, we’re not taking any more admissions. The burns unit is full and every bed up here contains someone in pain. Alexa asks me to do a dressing on a patient for her; rattling off a quick handover: She’s come to us from Emergency overnight, she’s fairly stable, extubated already, the main problems for her are pain management and infection control. Alexa touches my shoulder, “It’s a mix of first, second and third degree – her face, right arm, bilateral legs, abdo – face and arm are the worst. Just those dressings for now. Thanks.” I nod and enter the room, wheeling my dressing trolley in with me. The TV is blaring, another newscast about the fire fills the room. I mute it, and suddenly all I can hear is the ticking clock and the soft put-put-put of the pump pushing fluids into the patient’s one good arm. 

I cross to the sink, scrubbing my hands for the thirtieth time that day. My skin feels raw as I grab a towel and pat them dry, snapping gloves on after opening the dressing pack. What I can see of the woman is covered in bandages; swollen eyes and mouth are all I can see of her face. Puffy fingers peek out from one bandaged arm; the other arm uncovered, relatively unscathed. Good. One good arm. That is good. That will help. She begins whimpering as I slowly and carefully drip sterile saline onto the old dressings on her arm. 

“I know it hurts, I know. Try to take slow breaths.  We have to soften the bandages first before changing them.” 

Clotted blood and haemoserous stains turn wet, shiny from the saline. The dressing relaxes, no longer dried out papier mache, and I slowly, carefully, peel it back. 

Stop. Just stop. Get that look off your face. This is your job. Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. Breathe. Just breathe. This is a person. She is still a person. 

I bite my tongue. Stop. Her arm, what used to be an arm; what might, some day, again be an arm, stirs, reaches out, searching. Just stop. It brushes against mine; hot and angry. I watch it for a moment, see the red, oozing, raw skin against my own. My first impulse is to draw back, shake it off, some disgusting, rotting, inhuman thing touching me. She pulls her arm back, leaving a smear of clear fluid on my skin. I stare at the mark she left, anchoring me to this moment. Get that look off your face. The smell smacks into me, sinking into my nose, my skin, my clothes. This is your job. I close my eyes and suddenly, I am two years old again. I am staring out at the driveway of my childhood home. It is 45 degrees outside – mum and dad keep talking about it, “heat wave”, “we really should get air conditioning”. The driveway is paved dark stone and the heat is visible, rising in hazy waves to meet the hot blue sky. I am wearing latticed white stockings, no shoes, and a dress. It is 45 degrees outside. The door is propped open to let some air in. I step outside. 

Breathe through your mouth and suck it up. I think of the effort it must have taken this woman to touch me, how much pain it would cause that arm to brush against mine. Her eyes are wet; she is blinking as though she can’t see clearly. I look around for a tissue and grab one from her bedside table, holding it to her eyes. The tissue soaks up the salt water and I watch her mouth. She seems like she might be trying to talk, but I can’t understand her.

I reach to take off the dressings covering her face. They peel off, one by one, the smell rising up in cloying tendrils, getting worse with each unraveling layer. I gasp. I can’t help it when I see her face. What used to be her face. What might, someday, again be her face. But not today. Today it is half gone, blackened and shiny and swollen and oozing and it's never struck me before that without hair, eyebrows, a nose or cheeks a person doesn’t look like a person any more. Breathe. Just Breathe. The breaths remind me to focus on what she has been through. What she will go through. I see it all now, spinning out before me on some kind of timeline; I see debridements and amputations and skin grafts and excisions. I see how completely her life has changed even though she doesn’t know it yet. I see that right now all she needs is for me to be calm. In control. I take a deep breath. This is a person. I wipe a smile onto my face. 

“You’re going to be okay,” I lie through my teeth. I am two years old again. I am screaming and screaming and screaming as my stockings melt into my feet. I cannot move. I can only scream. 

“I’m just going to change these dressings okay? It will be over soon.” Panicked footsteps, and my dad is almost there. I know it’s my dad, even through my tears I can see he is dad-shaped and crying and trying to get to me faster. Closer now. Closer.
Almost there. 

“Almost there, I promise. I just have to clean this first.” He’s there, scooping me up, crying and yelling and so mad at me but gentle and I am so tiny in his arms and then I am in the car, feet in an orange bucket. There is ice and water in the bucket and I cannot stop screaming. My sister is holding me, shushing me, telling me it will be alright. ‘You’re at the hospital now, they will take care of you. This is where people come when they’re hurt because people know what to do here. They look after you
here.’

She is still a person. 

“Right,” The nurse smiles down at me, I smile down at the woman; calm, in control. “Let’s get you fixed up.” I relax in the nurse’s arms. I trust her. The woman grips my hand suddenly, tight against mine, and her breaths come easier. She trusts me. 

**NB** 45 degrees Celsius is 113 degrees Fahrenheit. 

This has been an intersection with the very lovely , who put up with my nitpicking like a real trooper. Now go read hers, it's awesome!

Many thanks to  for 'whipping' (har har, see what I did there?) this into shape. 

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