Chewing Gum to the Rescue

 This short story will be included in the Memoir I’m writing. It’s all true, even down to the names as I see no need to hide the identities of my fellow gum-chewing partners.

For those of you who don’t know, Alan and I were married in 1961. We traveled around Western Australia with a caravan and a utility, camping for a week or more wherever he had work, surveying new farmland east of Narrogin. I was only on the road with him for a few months,but I have some ‘interesting’ memories  from those days.

Chewing Gum to the Rescue

We left the camp near Wave Rock at Hyden at about four o’clock on that October afternoon. The boss lived in Narrogin, so we allowed time to collect the men’s pay cheques on our way and be back in Perth in time to sleep in a proper bed at my parent’s house that night.

All went well until the radiator started boiling. On a Saturday night in 1961, when even the pubs were probably closed, three miles out of town, nothing moved. Hoping to find something  open, Alan sent Lou, his assistant, back to the nearest little blip of a town, to buy chewing gum—as much as they could supply.

Never having regarded the chewing of gum as an enjoyable activity, I hoped that my husband’s plan would not involve my participation. I realised that the local garage, if there was one, would be closed and out of action until Monday. The chance of them stocking a replacement for our radiator was remote anyway and with only a measly pay cheque and little cash, we couldn’t have paid for it even if one was available. Alan was pretty good at thinking up new ways to overcome problems but I wondered how chewing gum might help us with a leaky radiator.

As we were all accustomed to bush safety, we had several cans of water on board, so if the leak could be patched up we should make the journey home.

About an hour later, Lou returned and handed over a bag full of Wrigley’s chewing gum in little packets.

‘Right, start chewing,’ our leader instructed. ‘As much as you can, to get it malleable.’

We all emptied several packets of gum, popped it into our mouths and chewed away as fast as we could. It was hard work. I don’t think our jaws are designed to chomp on stuff at such a rapid rate. We did have one thing in our favour though—a full moon. Thanks to its bright light, Alan could see well enough to paste our combined efforts over the leak spot on the radiator. He got Lou to start the engine and was relieved to see the gum stay in place.

With two big men and one pregnant woman squeezed into the front of the ute, and our intrepid Labrador puppy on guard in the back, we set off again.

‘Keep chewing. That lot won’t last long and we’ll need lots more if we’re going to make it back to Perth.’ Alan didn’t sound exactly confident that his idea would be successful, but we all chewed away, hoping that it would.

I think I must have dozed off. Well, I was pregnant, so trying to stay awake would have taken some sort of miracle. I don’t know how far we travelled before the radiator boiled again and the next coating of that very useful gum was needed. My jaws ached and my tongue felt numb, but I had dutifully chewed my way through several packets of the stuff, despite the dozing.

After the second round of repairs we squeezed back into the ute and repeated the performance but didn’t get far this time. The guys were really too tired to be driving and I was suffering from motion sickness so Alan decided that we should try to get some sleep. He and I propped each other up in the cabin, hoping that our breath and body heat would eventually warm the space, because, although the daytime temperature had been uncomfortably warm, we were still far enough inland for the nights to be cold. Lou was relegated to wherever he could lay his head outside. He had brought all his clothes with him, so the bulky green jumper his Gran had knitted, came in very handy. Our dog was already sound asleep, curled up on the tray of the utility. Lou headed off into the bushes and must have found some soft growth because at sunrise he knocked on the window, grinning like the teenager that he was, claiming that he’d had a good sleep.

I don’t remember what we ate for breakfast, but as we were leaving the camp for about a week, I had emptied the perishables from the caravan fridge so we probably had a lump of cheese and a tomato each; washed down with a swig of water from one of the large bottles.

Anyway, civilisation was not far away, and surely, even on a Sunday, we’d find something open soon. That was wishful thinking.

More chewing gum, hours of chewing gum, until my jaw was stiff and my mouth so swollen, I felt as if there was no room for my tongue, but still I chewed more packets of the stuff and helped keep the old ute going.

Heading for Armadale we were delighted to see signs of human activity. A couples of policemen got out of their vehicle and waved us down. Thinking that they must be desperate to catch drunk-drivers with hangovers from a Saturday night out on the town, we pulled over.

‘What’s your name? Where are you going? Where have you been? Why are you driving along here at this time of the morning?’

All of these questions, fired at Alan and then Lou, didn’t make a lot of sense at the time, although, after a sleepless night, with the men needing a shave, a shower and a change of clothes, they probably could be mistaken for unsavoury characters. Perhaps there’s a murderer on the loose, I surmised.

The police then started on me. ‘Who are you? What are you doing here, with these two?’

Dumbfounded, I stuttered over my answers and in the end the older police man tapped the young officious one on the shoulder with, ‘It’s not them,’

‘You can go,’ he said to Alan, ‘but watch yourself. Don’t stop for anyone.’

Do we really look like criminals, I wondered. Checking in the mirror, I saw a pale and frightened face, not one that should cause suspicion. The guys, on the other hand, looked decidedly scruffy.

It was about eight o’clock when we rattled up the driveway to my parent’s house in Kalamunda, having dropped Lou off at a train station along the way. As they’d been expecting us the night before, they hadn’t slept well either; we received reprimands as well as relieved hugs. We were delighted to have made it home, thanks to the chewing gum.

I was hungry but my mouth didn’t want to take another bite of anything, so after a good scrub under lots of hot running water (such luxury after our bucket washes) Mum gave me a bowl of delicious fruit salad. Alan, of course, ate a proper full breakfast.

Later that day we listened to the news on the radio and heard about the escaped prisoners, two young men, who had been sighted in a utility with a pregnant woman, thought to be the partner of one of them and presumed to have assisted in their getaway. One of the men was of Italian descent, of medium height with black hair and facial stubble; just how I’d describe Lou. They were armed and dangerous according to the report.

There was still a lot of surveying for Alan to do, as the government was opening up areas for farming in the eastern wheat belt, but that was the last of my trips for a while.

Weather Alert: Short Story Competition Winner

Late last year I entered this story in a writing competition. It’s not my best short story but when I won first prize I promised to post it once it was published. I then forgot about it, so here it is. If you read the longer version last year under the title ‘Lightning’, please ignore this repeat so that my newer followers can enjoy it.

I’ll also post a couple of poems from ‘Friends In My Garden’ today as I know that some of you enjoy them too.

WEATHER ALERT

In the paddocks around the house our cows had gathered in groups, their calves, now ready for weening, herded within the protective circle created by their mothers. Hay, almost a metre high, was ready for harvesting in paddocks around the dam and up the hill, towards the forest. November brought hot winds to much of our south west. In Europe they talk of the mistral that blows for days or weeks at a time, sending vulnerable people in France and Spain mad. Coming overland from the desert, our easterly winds had a similar effect on me.

On that particular day I’d gone out to check the water troughs in the paddock below the house and was surprised to note that, instead of lumbering towards the utility which they usually did in the hope of finding easy food, all the cows with calves stayed put. There was little movement amongst them, except for the odd shaking of a head, accompanied by a high pitched moo or a sort of snorting. I could feel their agitation.

The air was still and oppressive. Looking up, I noted thick grey clouds which seemed to grow darker and heavier as I watched. Tails flicked and ears twitched; my four-legged mob didn’t like Nature’s developments.

Then I, too, heard it – the low rumble of thunder. The first bolt of lightning pierced clouds, forking down into the forest. Walking back towards the utility, I heard the thump as a tree or a large branch hit the ground.

Driving back to the house, I felt sorry for the cattle and wondered why they stayed so far from the protective covering of the trees which were all around us. The answer was obvious when, ten minutes later, I watched through the kitchen window as lightning struck the tallest karri, near where I’d parked, shearing it in half.

As a newcomer to the role of farming, I was concerned about fire. Animals grazing near the house were my insurance against losing our home that way. Rain wiped out our first hay crop, but our simple beasts taught me two important lessons – stay away from trees in a storm and if the cattle are concerned, it’s probably time to seek refuge.

The Hills in Summer

THE HILLS IN SUMMER

The throb of the helicopter woke me. Seven fifteen, the clock said.

‘Smell that?’ Another deep sniff and I bolted out of bed. ‘Get up! Get up Tom; there’s a fire.’

‘Wha.’ My husband’s sleepy head rolled over to face me. ‘What’s that love?’ He swallowed, trying to get the juices back into his dry throat after lying open mouthed, snoring.

‘Fire. Can’t you smell it? And listen; the helicopter’s flying overhead. It’s low, so the fire must be near here.’

Running to the window, I pulled back the curtain and peered out. Smoke billowed from the valley below our house and black specks floated past the window.

‘Get up Tom. Now. For heaven’s sake, get up man. There’s a bloody fire at the bottom of the hill. Some idiot again no doubt; probably a teenager seeking thrills. I wish they’d catch the bugger and punish him properly. Oh, come on, hurry up. We have to fill up the bin and the baths and troughs and everything. You know they’ll cut off our water if they have to.’

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Weekend In Paris

‘It’s six o’clock already.’ Rain drips from the points of her umbrella as Jasmine checks her watch and tries to move faster through the Friday evening crowd.

Despite the weather, her mouth turns up at the corners. She does a little skip over the next puddle, dreaming about her coming flight and Brendon’s plans for their weekend in Paris. His emails were necessarily brief and vague, sent from his computer at work to the computer at the boutique where she sells high fashion garments to wealthy women living and working in the West End.

Never mind the lack of specific directions, he’ll be at Orly Airport to meet me, she re-assures herself while jostling with the other sardine shufflers making their way through Knightsbridge Underground Station. She squeezes into the carriage and manages to claim a small section of rail to hang onto.

‘You’ll catch your death love.’ The elderly woman sitting in front of her, points to Jasmine’s soggy boots.

Jasmine looks down at the brown suede boots which she had bought to wear on the flight.

‘I’m okay. Thanks.’ She turns away, suppressing a grin. Well, I’m sure Brendon will love my underwear. She sees herself taking off her coat, jumper and skirt. A shiver ripples up her spine as she imagines Brendon slowly removing the black stockings and suspender belt, the lacy French knickers and the deliciously naughty new bra which she discovered in her lunch break.

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Lightning

After Christmas, time to get back to writing at last. Chopin and Mozart are entertaining me from the lounge room and I have been searching through some old stories in the hope that I might find something for my readers to enjoy. This one is based on our years on a farm that was situated in a magnificent karri forest in Western Australia.

Lightning

Grey clouds skittle up from the south, hastened by a blustery wind. From the karri forest surrounding our farm I hear branches crashing to the ground. Electricity in the air makes the hairs on my arms stand on end. A jagged slash of yellow light spears the earth, accompanied by the crack of thunder.

Cows waddle as quickly as their ungainly bodies will allow, away from the fence and tall trees.  In tones that vary from soprano shrieks to the calming pitch of more experienced mums, they summon their calves. Soon I am the only lightening rod in the top end of the paddock. I sprint towards the protection of the cattle; like them I seek safety in numbers.

Splattered by large blobs of rain, the thirsty ground releases an earthy smell that sets off primitive emotions in me. I sniff the air and welcome the downpour. Steam rises from hot hides, calves nuzzle at their mothers’ teats and big brown eyes watch for the next flash that might barbecue one of us.

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Colours – Grey

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Grey is not one of my favourite colours, but I think it depicts the emotional state of someone experiencing this kind of loss and grief.

 

 

The ocean's rhythm

The ocean’s rhythm

 

GREY

She watches the sun set then gathers her jacket closer to her chest. Under her bare feet the sand feels crunchy. It makes a squelching sound with each step. The water whispers ‘Sh-sh-sh,’ then retreats with an inward sigh, as if drawing breath before rushing back to the shore.

Toes half-buried in the sand, the woman waits. No matter how hard she tries to resist, the shock of that first splash catches her breath and forces a short, sharp squeak from her. Two waves later and her response is childlike. She rolls her trackpants higher and dances along the water’s edge, swaying in and out with the ocean’s rhythm.

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Two Old Farts

There goes Mick again. Silly old bugger. Thinks he’s Prince Charming or something, the way he carries on with the Murphy sisters over the road. Mind you, they’re as dopey as him, fluttering their silly old lashes and mincing about, pretending that they’re still young and pretty. Young and pretty. Bah! Had my pick of them in my youth. No good thinking about those days. Look at him. Shiny shoes and bloody arty- farty walking stick, with its twirly knob. Yes. I suppose I am jealous. He’s handing Daisy a rose. Saw him out in his garden this morning. Should have been watching the toast, it burned, serves me right. Time I got a new decent bloody toaster, the popup sort that don’t burn. He was singing to himself. Sings so loud the whole street can hear him. Needs a hearing aid, has a hearing aid, but he’s too bloody proud to use it. He was out there this morning watering his precious plants. Loves them like he loves that silly dog, old, blind and just as useless as him. I should talk. Useless, bah! We’re all bloody useless at our age.

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Kerbside Collections

Last Sunday Julian and Penelope enjoyed a salubrious lunch at the Darlington Estate Winery. Returning home they shared memories of teenage years – Penelope’s spent in the hills, riding her bike along bush tracks with friends, Julian’s helping his father on the farm where he lived in Cornwall.

‘After that feast we should have a rest when we get home.’ Penelope glanced at her partner, the beginnings of a smile playing with the corners of her mouth.

Julian spluttered, ‘Do you mean a rest?’ Bushy eyebrows questioned her meaning of rest.

Almost missing the corner, he turned left into Glen Forrest Drive.

‘More of a siesta,’ Penelope continued.

‘Someone’s been busy while we were eating.’ Thoughts of a Mediterranean style, leisurely post-lunchtime rest were put aside as the green jaguar slowed down to allow a rudimentary assessment of the no-longer-loved contents of a garage or storage room, neatly laid out on the road verge opposite them.

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