Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On a Whim...

I did a google search tonight on "Ghost of Ping-Ling". I usually get this blog, plus a very interesting account of paranormal activity at a school in Nevada (why did he choose to take up residence in that school?).

Tonight I got this. It's an entry in the National Library of Australia Catalogue. Yes, it probably seems trivial, but it made my whole evening. It's real! It really is really real1.

If I carry on like this over an entry in the catalogue of the National Library, what's going to happen when I see a cover? How will I react when I have a *gasp* ARC in my hand? What about the real published item?

After the last few days, it's wonderful to be reminded of something so unbelievably good.

1In a very real and tangible kind of way.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

There's No Easy Way to Say This

Yesterday afternoon my boss came up to my desk and asked if I would duck into one of the meeting rooms for a quick chat. He does this now and again, usually to discuss some pay or other business related thing, so I wasn't particularly fazed. We went in, shut the door, and sat down. He looked at me and said: "There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just read from this letter."

And that was it. He didn't really need to say any more, because bosses don't tell you they have something difficult to say, then read from a letter, unless it's for one reason. Sure enough, through the fog that enveloped my brain over the next few seconds, I managed to catch snatches of words about business conditions and a weak US dollar and contracts not being renewed. Then three words I couldn't possibly miss.

Four weeks notice.

Not just me, about a dozen of my colleagues too. No sooner had I got back to my desk then the boss went up to someone else, a friend on my team, and asked him to the meeting room for a "quick chat". I watched them head into the lift, then packed up and went home before I had to watch anyone else being led off.

So today I dusted off my CV and started the search for a new position. Thankfully, I'm a professional, and I have enough experience in a diverse range of areas to make me fairly employable -- at least I hope so. I've already started firing off emails and checking job sites, and there's a couple of possibilities in the pipe-line. I don't think I have much to worry about.

But it's still a bugger. I really enjoyed working with that company. It was very layed back, and the guys I worked with were real friends, not something you find in every workplace. Besides that, I got to work in the CBD, with a great gym nearby and a bunch of book shops only too happy to take my hard earned cash.

Still, there you go. So many amazingly wonderful things have happened to me this year. My lovely little son James was born in March, I signed a 3 book deal in May, and my first ever published short story came out in October. It somehow seems fitting that the year would finish on a less than positive note. Even though I hope it won't turn out to be anything more than a minor inconvenience.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Technological Foibles

I learned last night that Google Reader feeds are cached and can't be flushed, at least not easily. So if you write something in Blogger, then delete it, it still remains in the feed.

This means anyone lucky enough to be using Reader will be treated to two versions of On Borrowed Time, my early pre-edit draft, complete with typos and dodgy html tags, plus the newer, more polished version. As an extra bonus, I've thrown in a test post for free, something I was using while trying to debug what was going on.

All I can say is, this kind of thing never used to happen in the days of typewriters and stamps.

Monday, November 22, 2010

On Borrowed Time

I first saw him sometime in late October. He wasn’t easy to miss, what with him screaming obscenities and shaking a half empty bottle of beer in the air. I thought he’d be arrested and taken away for sure, but he was still there at the station the next day, and the one after that, always in the same dirty tracksuit pants and jumper, with matted hair and three day's stubble. Just another of those people you see now and again, before you look back at your newspaper and try and push the vision from your mind.

But it got a whole lot harder to push the man away when they started work on the line, and I had to catch the train from his station rather than my usual one further up the track. All of a sudden my mornings were filled with the sound of swearing and coughing as I stood, briefcase in hand, and prayed that the train would come quickly.

He would shout abuse at the carriages as they passed, sometimes waving a hairy fist in the air, sometimes looking as if he might actually hurl his beer-bottle. "Mugs! Losers! Animals!" he would shriek, his curses interspersed with maniacal laughter, high-pitched and grating. But the laughter would end and he would grow quiet, sagging to his knees and running a hand down the side of his face. “It all must end,” he would sob. “It all must end.”

One day, some people were brave enough to approach him; I couldn’t believe it. A man and a woman, both dressed in suits. They looked at each other with expressions of shared resolve, then strode purposefully towards the shouting man. It shamed me. So much easier to let him remain invisible. So much easier to try and block him out.

I couldn’t hear what was said, but the man’s words were angry, and accompanied by the wobbly swing of a fist. The two people walked away, as fast as they could without running, faces flushed and eyes wide. “It all must end,” the man shrieked after them, bristling with anger, until his voice became cracked and weepy and he slid down the poster covered pillar, hitting the ground hard. “It all must end.”

Shame forced my hand. Selfishness, almost certainly, because I wanted to be able to tell myself that I had done something, that I too had the courage of those people in business suits. The next day I packed sandwiches, and grabbed a blanket from the cupboard. Trinkets to assuage the sting of guilt.

I almost prayed the man wouldn’t be on the platform that morning, but he was, lurching and cursing and swinging his bottle, shaking his fist at the trains as they passed. My mouth was as dry as the bubble-gum covered concrete as I went to him, preparing myself for a fast getaway, should he so much as growl at me.

“Good morning.” My voice cracked a little. “Chilly again.”

His heavy eyebrows knitted together as he looked at me, and at the box in my outstretched hand.

“It’s some food.” I gave the box a little shake. “Just a few sandwiches. There’s a blanket too.” I held it out.

The man stretched out a trembling hand and took the blanket, holding it as if his fingers had never touched such material. I smiled with relief, until he cast it down upon the rail-line, forgotten as quickly as he'd picked it up. I braced myself for an attack, but he grabbed the sandwich box, opened it, and began to stuff the sandwiches in his mouth, his hairy cheeks puffing out to the point I thought they might burst. Crumbs fell, and he made grunting noises like an animal, but it warmed my heart to think I had in some small way eased his suffering.

He looked at me, gratitude in his eyes. But his expression changed with the speed of an express train, his eyes filling with tears and his lower lip quivering. “It all must end,” he mumbled through the sandwiches. “It all must end.”

"What must end?" Perhaps I was pushing my luck too far, but curiosity overcame my fear.

The man gulped down the last of his sandwich. He raised a grubby hand and gestured at the station around. "This. And this." He pointed at the half empty six-pack at his feet, and waved the sandwich box. "And this. All of it. All of it must end."

I tried to think of words to say, of some comfort for him. But my train came, and all I could do was walk away and leave him to his sandwiches.

#


I had more food on Monday, plus a thermos of hot coffee, but the man wasn’t there. I searched for him all over the platform, and asked the mums with prams and the kids on bikes and the business people in their suits and shiny shoes. Nobody had seen him. I tried again the next day, and the one after that. The station seemed strange -- an empty, foreign place without the man and his cursing and stamping. By Friday I had forced myself to accept the truth. He was gone. And I never even knew his name.

#


I did see him again, though at first I didn’t recognise him. It was a month or so later, and I was in the bank cashing a cheque, standing in the lunchtime queue. I'd already noticed the man and woman who'd approached him serving behind the counter, and that brought him to mind, along with the now familiar worry about his fate.

And then he was there, coming out of one of the back offices. He wore a dark suit, impeccably pressed, and his face was clean shaven, radiating the confidence of a man with much responsibility.

“Mister Bradford, your 12.30 is here,” came the nasal voice of one of the receptionists, and the man waved in cheery acknowledgment.

“You!” The word came out louder than I had intended.

All went silent. As one, the customers turned towards me, and so did the man.

Before I knew it, I was out of the line, standing before him, pointing accusingly at his smiling face. “You’re from the station. I gave you sandwiches.”

He narrowed his eyes and rubbed his chin, and I felt suddenly foolish. Of course it couldn't be him. How could I make such a mistake? All I could do now was slink away and not come back for a month. If ever.

Before I could walk off, recognition came over the man’s face. He reached out a hand and patted me hard on the shoulder, then leaned towards me. “It’s like I said, my boy, it all must end, as all good things do.” His grin remained fixed, though regret flashed in his eyes. “Even long service leave.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Written Connection

Andrea has kindly added Cackling Scribe to The Written Connection , a great list of writing related blogs. She has some very kind things to say too. Please check it out!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

ASIM #48 ....

... has now been officially released. You can pick up a pdf copy (or hardcopy if you like) from here.

Exciting!

I also have the Willard Price poem coming out in the next issue, #49. That was a bit of a surprise, but a very nice one too.