Writing Tip: 10 Topics for Writing Practice

Sometimes we sit at our desks to write and can’t think of anything to write.  We face the blank page.  We sit there until blood pours from our foreheads, as one famous author was heard to say.

Making a list can be good.  It makes you start noticing material for writing in your daily life, and your writing comes out of a relationship with your life in all its richness.

10 ideas for writing practice:

  1. Begin with “I don’t remember”. If you get stumped, just repeat the words “I don’t remember” on the page again and keep going.
  2. Tell about sound as it arises. Be aware of sounds from all directions as they arise:  sounds near, sounds far, sounds in front, behind, to the side, above or below.  Notice any spaces between sounds.
  3. Tell me about last evening. Dinner, sitting on the couch, preparing for bed.  Be as detailed as you can.  Take your time to locate the specifics and relive your evening on the page.
  4. Tell me what boredom feels like.
  5. See in your mind a place you’ve always loved. Visualise the colours, the sounds, the smells, the tastes.
  6. Write about “saying goodbye”. Tackle it any way you like.  Write about your marriage breakup, leaving home, the death of a loved one.
  7. What was your first job?
  8. Write about the most scared you’ve ever been.
  9. Write in cafes. Write what is going on around you.
  10. Describe a parent or a child.

Some people have a jar full of words written on pieces of paper and select one piece of paper at random each day and write from that.  Others use a line of a poem to start them off.  Then every time they get stuck they rewrite that line and keep going.

Be honest.  Cut through the crap and get to the real heart of things.

Zen Buddhist, psychotherapist, writer and teacher, Gail Sher in her book One Continuous Mistake says the solution for her came via haiku (short unrhymed Japanese poems capturing the essence of a moment).

 “For several years I wrote one haiku a day and then spent hours polishing those I had written on previous days.  This tiny step proved increasingly satisfying,” Gail Sher.

She said it gradually dawned on her that it was not the haiku but the “one per day.”  Without even knowing it, she had developed a “practice.”  Every day, no matter what, she wrote one haiku.  In her mind she became the person who writes “a haiku a day.”  And that was the beginning of knowing who she was.

Gail Sher suggests writing on the same subject every day for two weeks.

“Revisiting the same subject day after day will force you to exhaust stale, inauthentic, spurious thought patterns and dare you to enter places of subtler, more ‘fringe’ knowing,” Gail Sher.

She writes in One Continuous Mistake that the Four Noble Truths for writers are:

  1. Writers write.
  2. Writing is a process.
  3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
  4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write.

So start coming up with your own list of ideas for practice writing.  Life happening around us is good grist-for-the-mill.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

My Short Story, ‘After the Games’

My short story ‘After the Games’ was first published in Quadrant magazine and is included in my collection of short fictions titled ‘Stories from Bondi’ published by Ginninderra Press. Have a read. Hope you enjoy it.

After the Games:

1.

Anny saw him again today.  He looked older.  Their paths crossed on the cliffs between Bronte and Bondi.  He walked with a woman she had never seen before. The woman had long beautiful legs – bronzed a clear nut-brown.   She was wearing a man’s undershirt and brown shorts and had a crochet bag hanging loosely from a black nylon strap draped over her hips.  Her hair was long and it flicked out in golden corkscrews over her shoulders and down her back.   They were laughing.  He walked right past Anny and kept right on walking.

2.

The beach seems unusually quiet today apart from a yoga class taking place on the grassy verge behind the Pavillion.  On the ocean, surfers in wetsuits loll motionless on surfboards.  On the sand, a gaggle of seagulls stand rigid as Irish dancers.  And over on the rocks at the southern end of the beach other seagulls laze in the early sun in groups of three or four, or six or eight – their chests puffed out, feathers bristling in the spring breeze, as they nestle into the face of the rock.

It is shortly after the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Anny is on a rostered day off from her job with the ABC.  She is also a poet but she doesn’t  refer to that unless it is something people know already.  She doesn’t think of making a living as a poet, not only because the income would be non-existent, but because she thinks, as she has innumerable times in her life, that probably she will not write any more poems.

On the grass a woman works out with her female personal trainer.  The trainer holds an oblong plastic cushion at waist height while the woman kicks the bag.

One, two, three, calls out the trainer.

Kick, kick, kick, goes the woman’s leg hard into the cushion.

Four, five, six.

Kick, kick.

That’s the way, the trainer encourages.

Nine, ten, she continues with a rising inflection in her voice.

The trainer is forced backwards slightly with each kick but makes a quick recovery to her original position.

3.

A man and a woman lie together kissing, sheltered by the shadow of the rocks at the southern end of the beach.  Anny came here at night with Howard and they sat over there near the rocks with their arms around each other into the night. The pull of the tide kept bringing the waves closer to their feet.  Anny saw the froth advancing and retreating and her own toes digging into the sand.  All the time he spoke she saw her feet and when they started to go numb in the damp sand she  knew without looking up what he was going to say;  the whole of her seemed to be in her toes.  Her love was in the waves.  For some reason she thought that if the waves reached her, things would work out between them.  The waves advanced and retreated but never quite reached the rock where they sat:  never quite bridged the gap, the space between them and the ocean.

4.

On the sand a one-legged seagull hops towards the water laboring over the crumbs of loose sand which break away and roll down as he passes over them.  The one-legged seagull seems to have a definite goal in sight differing from the high-hopping tangerine-footed bird who attempts to cross in front of him, and who waits for a moment with his black beak trembling as if in deliberation, and then hops off as rapidly and strangely in the opposite direction.  A line of seaweed with deep green lakes in the hollows lies between the seagull and the water’s edge where the other gulls are pecking for food.  The seagull waits, undecided whether to circumvent the mountain of seaweed or to breast it.

Anny stops and watches the struggle of the seagull.

5.

The ocean is grey and flat today.  It is so quiet in fact that she can hear the tiny whisper of the breeze, the rustling of the waves approaching the shore, the creaking of the wings of a gull-like bird which flies low over the Promenade and the flapping of her own thin skirt as it blows against her legs.  But there is no wind, nothing but a steady pressure forward as she progresses along the beach.  Somewhere behind the veil of clouds there is a pale sun which can be seen, in the far distance, that casts a white gleam on the water.

Who would know there had been a Beach Volleyball Stadium here on the beach at Bondi?  She bought tickets for the preliminaries for herself and her son.  They hadn’t been out, just the two of them, since he was a little boy when she took him to a Kiss concert.

After the game they’d walked back to her place and he’d come in briefly for a glass of water before saying goodbye.  She’d  kissed him on the neck – on that soft groove that she used to know so well when he was a little boy.

When he’d left she couldn’t think of anything for the rest of the afternoon except that soft part of his neck and the kiss.

6.

Near the end of the Promenade a woman cradles a baby in her arms.  Anny can see the baby’s face clearly as it is lit by the sun.  She can almost smell the baby’s soft hair, that familiar baby smell she once knew so well.  The woman strokes the baby and looks down at it and the baby looks back up at her.  She looks up again with a faraway gaze that all new mothers seem to have and rocks slowly from side, to side, her feet shuffling against the cement.  The light picks up the woman’s high cheekbones and glints off her glasses.

Anny moves to the left as a woman pushing a three wheeled stroller runs past.  The baby clutches the sides of the pram, the front wheel lifting as the woman negotiates the corner.

7.

Anny first met Howard at a dinner party at a mutual friend’s house.  He’d talked business with the host and she hadn’t really connected with him.  It was only towards the end of the meal when he’d passed her the chocolate-covered strawberries and encouraged her to eat one that she’d warmed to him slightly.  Go on, he’d said.  Have one.  Chocolate is good for you.  He was a chunky sort of a bloke, a thick head of brown hair, greying at the sides.  She had to admit that she wasn’t attracted to him when they first met. You were disappointed I could tell, he said later. A week after the dinner he’d rung and asked her out for dinner.  He’d come over to pick her up and they’d walked down to Bondi.  Coming back to her place later he told her he knew she was interested in him because she kept brushing into his arm as they walked up the hill.

8.

Anny trusts what she makes of things –  usually.  She trusts what she thinks about friends and chance acquaintances, but she feels stupid and helpless when contemplating the collision of herself and Howard.  She has  plenty to say about it, given the chance, because she likes to explain things, but she doesn’t trust what she says, even to herself; it doesn’t help her.

Because everything and everyone else in his life came before me, she might say.  His two businesses, his children, his ex-wife who lived across the road.

9.

The one-legged seagull has now considered every possible method of reaching his goal without going round the line of seaweed or climbing over it.  Aside from the effort required to climb the seaweed, he is doubtful whether the slippery texture will bear his weight.  This determines him finally to creep beneath it, for there is a point where the seaweed curves high enough from the ground to admit him.  He inserts his head in the opening and takes stock of the high brown roof and is getting used to the cool brown light before deciding what to do next.

10.

Howard had said he uses his air rifle to kill birds.  He said he’s proud to shoot introduced birds around his house – and has no hesitation in killing dive-bombing magpies and noisy possums.

She remembers his house well.  Big, two-stories, red-brick, four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a swimming pool out the back. Black leather and chrome, art books on the coffee tables.  Huge original paintings on the walls.

He’d stay in the family room when his children were visiting, which was seven days out of fourteen – everyone in their own special seat at a computer or watching television or talking on the telephone.  There was no spare seat for Anny and not enough light to read by.

She bought flowers.  She bought presents for his children;  clothes for the girls; she talked music with his son.  She learned pathways around the house and found places outside where she could sit.

She’d felt flattered when he said that he wanted her to move in with him. He offered to build her a studio out the back.  A dog house, a friend had said.  He wants you out the back in the dog house so he can keep an eye on you.  So you can be on hand whenever it suits him.

Howard talked about all the women his friends had lined up for him – waiting to be introduced.  He spoke about a former girlfriend and how he wanted her to move in with him but she wouldn’t, so he ended the relationship.  Later Anny found out that Howard had kept on seeing the former girlfriend even ringing her from Paris from the conference Anny had foolishly agreed to attend with him.  She’d stupidly insisted on paying her own business class airfare, which she couldn’t afford, in order to be by his side.

She didn’t know any of this until it was too late –  until she’d  become needy and dependent.

You just want a handbag, a doormat, a warm body in the bed, she’d accused him.

I have a fatal flaw, he’d explained.  I only want what I cannot have.

And what are Anny’s flaws?  Angry, demanding, unco-operative Anny.  Anny, the unsatisfactory poet.

11.

Two pigeons waddle along the concrete in search of food.  Their tails wag back and forth, their necks jut in and out like finely linked springs moving to the rhythm of their webbed feet.  On the grass the men and women practicing yoga twist their bodies into unimaginable knots and drop into breathtaking back bends, seeming to hang suspended in the air as they jump from one position to the next.  The clear measured voice of the female yoga teacher calls out instructions:

Push down through the buttocks

Pull up through the rib cage

Relax the head down

Spread the fingers out wide

Toes under

Push the hips up

Keep the mind focussed in the moment

Roll over on to your back

And come into the corpse position

If you live alone and you can’t close your hand, it makes life very difficult as you get older, says the yoga instructor.  Not being able to open a jar or turn a key in the lock.  Every morning when I wake up I take the time to stretch out my body, she continues.  I rotate my ankles, stretch out my feet and arms, and then I stand up and stretch out my neck.  How many of you stretch in the mornings? Living in the city takes a toll on our health.  We sit at a desk writing or sit at the computer – but we need to stretch the hands, the wrists, the hip flexors and to keep our bodies moving.

Anny wonders if the early morning stretches are only for people who live alone – for  people who don’t wake up with their lover beside them.

12.

The last time she saw Howard they sat in her car near Ben Buckler in the rain.  She rested her hands against the steering wheel, then leant back and listened as the windscreen started to fog.  She felt the rise and the fall of her own breathing but she couldn’t hear her heart or her breath.  She knew without seeing that the waves were colliding.  Below, the swells rolled against the brown cliffs that she couldn’t see.

When she drove back to her apartment she sat down on a chair in her bedroom.   She sat for an hour or so, then went to the bathroom, undressed, put on her nightgown, and got into bed.  In bed she felt relief, that she had got myself home safely and would not have to think about anything any more.

In fact her only memory now is of the sound of the windscreen wipers swinging back and forth as she and Howard sat in silence in her car.

After the Maccabi bridge collapse in Israel she rang to see if his daughter had been involved.  She left a message on his answer machine but he never returned her call.

He wrote to her care of the ABC, to say he’d pack and send her things.

13.

The grey underside of wings flap as a triangle of seagulls fly past in perfect formation above the rocks.  They climb to a thousand feet, then, flapping their wings as hard as they can, they push over into a blazing steep dive toward the waves.  They pull sharply upward again into a full loop and then fly all the way around to a dead-slow stand-up landing on the sand.

14.

Effortlessly the one-legged seagull spreads his wings and lifts into the air. In the light breeze he curves his feathers to lift himself without a single flap of wing from sand to cloud and down again.

He climbs two thousand feet above the sea, and without a moment for thought of failure and death, he brings his fore wings tight in to his body, leaving only the narrow swept wingtips extended into the wind, and falls into a vertical dive.

With the faintest twist of his wingtips he eases out of the dive and shoots above the waves, a gray cannonball under the sun.

He trembles ever so slightly with delight.

15.

She had his sweater draped over her shoulders. They were laughing.  Anny watched their backs move away.  She waited by the sea until the sun went down.

16.

The swell is up, the Pacific Ocean expressing its power across the rocks below Anny in spectacular explosions of spray.

It is colder now and the day is fading. A little wind has blown up.  The wind tears at her hair.  With a wild gesture she pulls her hair loose from its side combs and lets it stream across her face and then lets it fly back in the wind.

A weak sun emerges.  She stands still and lifts her face.

17.

Keep your hips still, swing your arms, keep your lower abdominals tight to protect your back.  Try to keep your chest high, a nice long neck.  Keep your arms out nice and long.  Relax the shoulders.  Stand tall.  Go over to the right side, keep your knees soft.  Very slowly.  And the other side.  Forward roll.  Drop the chin into the neck.  Hold it.  Keep your knees soft and come back up.  Really concentrate on spinal articulation here – vertebrae by vertebrae slowly roll it up, shoulders relaxed.  Chin in, roll it down.  Keep those knees soft.  Bend your knees as much as you have to.  Go down for four, push it in. Stretch out the shoulders there.  Hold it and release the hands on to the ground and roll it back up. Take your right leg out in front.  Hands on the hips, keep the hips square.  We’re going over in a nice square line.  Should be able to stretch the hamstrings there. 

 And … coming back up.

 The End

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

Writing Tip: Exercise the Writing Muscle

Writing as a daily practice is a way to exercise the writing muscle. Like working out at the gym, the more you do it, the more results you get. Some days you just don’t feel like working out and you find a million reasons not to go to the gym or out for a jog, a walk, a swim, a bike ride, but you go anyway. You exercise whether you want to or not. You don’t wait around till you feel the urge to work out and have an overwhelming desire to go to the gym. It will never happen, especially if you haven’t been into health and fitness for a long time and you are pretty out of shape. But if you force yourself to exercise regularly, you’re telling your subconscious you are serious about this and it eventually releases its grip on your resistance. You just get on and do it. And in the middle of the work out, you’re actually enjoying it. You’ve felt the endorphines kick in. When you get to the end of the jog, the walk, the bike ride, the swim, the gym workout or the Pilates, Yoga or Zumba class, you don’t want it to end and you’re looking forward to the next time.

That’s how it is with writing too. Once you’ve got the flow happening, you wonder why it took you so long to turn up on the page. Bum on chair is what I say to my writing students. Through daily practice your writing does improve.

In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron’s book on discovering and recovering your creative self, she refers to daily writing practice as the morning pages. She recommends writing three pages of longhand, strictly stream-of-consciousness—moving the hand across the page and writing whatever comes to mind every day.

Author of Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg refers to writing practice as timed exercise. She says you might time yourself for ten minutes, twenty minutes, or longer. It’s up to you, but the aim is to capture first thoughts. “First thoughts have tremendous energy. It is the way the mind first flashes on something. The internal censor usually squelches them, so we live in the realm of second and third thoughts, thoughts on thought, twice and three times removed from the direct connection of the first fresh flash.”

Her rules for writing practice are:

1. Keep your hand moving.
2. Don’t cross out.
3. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation , grammar.
4. Lose control.
5. Don’t think. Don’t get logical.
6. Go for the jugular.

In Creative Journal Writing, author Stephanie Dowrick refers to the same process as free writing; writing without judging, comparing and censoring. “Continuing to write when you don’t know what’s coming next and especially when you feel your own resistances gathering in a mob to mock you.”

Daily writing practice has been described as clearing the driveway of snow before reaching the front door. In other words, it’s what we do as a warm up before the real writing takes place.  And it’s a way to loosen up and discover our own unique writing ‘voice’.  That’s what publishers are looking for when they read through the slush pile.  The storyteller’s voice.  The authentic writing voice of the author is what engages the reader.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

My Short Story ‘May-Ling’

Have a read of my short story ‘May-Ling’ first published in Quadrant magazine. I hope you enjoy it.

May-Ling:

May-Ling calls out to me as I get out of the car.  She is fourteen months old and her sweet voice bounces out through the screen door where she is standing and out on to the street in North Ryde where her Chinese grandparents live.  I climb over the small white iron gate that leads to the front door.  Every week she waits for my arrival after Playschool has finished on television.  May-Ling has soft chubby legs and tiny artistic fingers.  Her hands are so well co-ordinated that now she is able to grasp a spoon and feed herself.  She has almond shaped brown eyes and very white teeth that you get to see very often because she laughs so much.   In her pink and white gingham floppy hat that she wears to the park, she looks even cuter.  What a cutie, say people on the street when I take her out for a walk in the stroller.  What a cutie.

I am the apprentice grandmother.  The Chinese grandmother shows me what to do.  She might correct my nappy changing skills, show me that I have done the nappy up too tight, that I need to be able to slip my hand in between the nappy and May-Ling’s fat tummy.  Or she might show me how I need to rock May-Ling back and forth and pat her gently on the bottom so she’ll fall asleep in my arms before putting her into the cot.

Continue reading →

Short Story or Novel?

Is a novel a short story that keeps going, or, is it a string of stories with connective tissue and padding, or, is it something else? 

Essayist Greg Hollingshead believes that the primary difference between the short story and the novel is not length but the larger, more conceptual weight of meaning that the longer narrative must carry on its back from page to page, scene to scene.

“It’s not baggy wordage that causes the diffusiveness of the novel.  It’s this long-distance haul of meaning.”  Greg Hollingshead

There is a widespread conviction among fiction writers that sooner or later one moves on from the short story to the novel.  When John Cheever described himself as the world’s oldest living short story writer, everyone knew what he meant.

Greg Hollingshead says that every once in a while, to the salvation of literary fiction, there appears a mature writer of short stories—someone like Chekhov, or Munro—whose handling of the form at its best is so undulled, so poised, so capacious, so intelligent, that the short in short story is once again revealed as the silly adjective it is, for suddenly here are simply stories, spiritual histories, narratives amazingly porous yet concentrated and undiffused.

When you decide you want to write in a particular form—a novel, short story, poem—read a lot of writing in that form.  Notice the rhythm of the form.  How does it begin?  What makes it complete?  When you read a lot in a particular form, it becomes imprinted inside you, so when you sit at your desk to write, you produce that same structure.  In reading novels your whole being absorbs the pace of the sentences, the setting of scenes, knowing the colour of the bedspread and how the writer gets her character to move down the hallway to the front door.

I sit at my desk thinking about form as a low-slung blanket of cloud blocks my view of the sky.  Through the fly screen I inhale the sweet smell of earth after rain as another day of possibility beckons.

The thing is, we might write five novels before we write a good one.  I wrote five book-length manuscripts before one was finally accepted for publication, even though I’d published 30 short stories.  So form is important, we need to learn form, but we should also remember to fill form with life.  All it takes is practice.

Copyright 2022 Libby Sommer

My short story, ‘Around Midnight’

Have a read of my short story, Around Midnight, first published in Quadrant Magazine. The story is part of my short fiction collection Stories From Bondi published by Ginninderra Press (2019).

I hope you enjoy it.

Around Midnight

‘When are you open?’ Anny asks the woman on the telephone.

‘We have a party twice a day.  Every day.  Twelve thirty to four thirty and seven thirty to midnight.’

‘Oh.  Every day?  I thought it was Saturday nights only.’

‘No darling.  Every day.’

‘So what’s the setup?’

‘$120 for a couple.  Nothing if you come on your own.  What’s your position.  How would you come along?’

‘On my own.’

‘It would cost you nothing then.’

‘But what do you do?  I mean, I know what goes on there.’

‘You’ve been here before?’

‘No.  A friend told me about it.  What do you wear?  What’s the setup?’

‘It’s all up to you love.  If you fancy a gentleman you invite him into one of the rooms.’

‘What do you wear though?  My friend said something about robes.’

‘Towels. They’re towels love.  You wear whatever you like.  Normal clothes.’

Anny is sitting at a café at North Bondi having breakfast with her friend Dita telling her about it.  Anny has ordered the scrambled tofu and Dita is having fried eggs and bacon.

I’m dying to know how you went, Dita says, pulling her chair closer to the table.

Well, Anny says, this is what happened.

It’s eight thirty on Saturday night when I approach a big steel gate with a street number in bold letters.   I open the gate and go up the lane way beside the Thai restaurant and follow the fairy lights upstairs.   There’s nothing else to indicate what goes on inside this three-bedroom apartment on a busy road in Bondi.  I follow the fairy lights along a corridor until I come to a wooden front door with no number on it.   I hesitate not knowing whether to knock or just walk in.  I open the door.

Inside, draped around the room, are about ten men and women in various stages of undress sitting on stools beside small bar tables – the men bare-chested, the women topless or wearing bras.  Some of them are giving each other neck and shoulder massages.  And they’re all wearing towels.    Not a very attractive sight in my opinion –  a man in a towel.

It’s a large room with a pretend-bar, a kitchen on the right and sliding glass doors that lead to a covered balcony with an above-the-ground spa pool.  Standing by the door are two Japanese men in black jeans and black tee-shirts.  I walk over to the kitchen which acts as the Reception area.

The only other fully dressed people in the room are the man and the woman who run the place.   She’s Czech, young and very attractive in a green lace figure-revealing dress.  Her blonde hair cascades down her back. She’s in the kitchen and doesn’t exactly greet me but asks me what I’d like to drink.  A glass of wine would be nice, I say.  She goes to the fridge and from a cask on the bottom shelf pours me a glass.   With drink in hand I stand near the door and look around.

And wonder what I’ll do next.

The two Japanese men avoid eye contact with me.  They obviously want to keep to themselves.   I don’t particularly want to join the group of men and women on the stools as I don’t intend to take any of my clothes off.

I ask the woman who runs the place to show me around.  She shrugs without much enthusiasm then leads the way along a narrow hallway.  The first bedroom on the right has a double bed with a bedside light on a table and white lace curtains on the window.  She looks out between the lace peering around outside before pulling them closed.  She shows me another bedroom at the end of the corridor with an en-suite bathroom.  We stand at the door looking in to the empty bed but she doesn’t show me in.  And then she leads the way to the third bedroom back along the corridor towards the front door.

This is the Orgy Room, she says from the open doorway.

I avert my eyes but I can see from the corner of one eye a double bed and several naked bodies doing things to each other.  Backs and thighs and bums exposed.  Not very becoming.  It all seems tacky and I begin to doubt my wisdom in coming to a place like this.  I clutch my handbag across my body and find myself a seat in the front room with my back to the wall.

There are corn chips and an onion dip on a platter that the women in the group hand around.  I decline the chips and the dip.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s the smell of onion breathe.  A woman in a white lace bra and a towel around her waist stubs out her cigarette in the ashtray in front of me and asks if I’ve been here before.

No, I say.  And you?

I come here all the time. What do you do for a living? She continues.

A bit of this and that.

She nods knowingly.

What do you do? I ask.

I’m a psychologist at a clinic at St Leonards.

I’m very surprised.  For some reason I thought women with important jobs wouldn’t come to a place like this.

A man edges over towards me and tries to get in on our conversation.  He asks the same things as she does.  Do you come here often?  What do you do for a living?  In the old days, or, rather, in the olden days, as my children like to say, when I used to frequent bars from time to time, I’d answer the first question with “only in the mating season” and the second question with “I live off the income from my investments”.  Both replies would be met with a stunned silence or an impressed “ah” or, sometimes, “is this the mating season?”

The man keeps smiling at me and I avert my eyes but somehow he is able to maneuver himself around so he’s constantly in my line of vision.  It gives me the shits.

Not your type?   Dita puts in.

No.  Absolutely not.

What did you wear in the end? Dita asks.

Only four items of clothing.

Something you could take off quickly?

Yes.  And no jewelry.  Apparently the men have to shower and put on a towel as soon as they arrive.  Although one woman kept saying to me, where’s your towel?  She wanted me to get undressed and hang about in a towel like everyone else.

Another woman tells me I should leave my bag locked up in the kitchen with the man and woman who own the place.

You don’t know these men, cautions the woman.  Lock up your bag.

I decide to keep my bag with me although I’ve left my umbrella beside the door.  Another man edges his stool over towards me and we have a conversation.  At least he’s got a brain in his head and got something to say for himself.  He tells me he’s Dutch and he’s here in Sydney on business.

It’s my first time to this place, he says.  But I’ve been to others in other cities in the world.  I travel a lot for business.

We talk a little about travel and countries we’ve visited.

He lets me know in a non-threatening way that he’d be willing to go into one of the bedrooms with me.  I feel embarrassed knocking him back seeing as we’ve had such a nice conversation and I don’t want him to be wasting time with me if he wants to be chatting up some other woman.

I’m not ready, I say politely.  Maybe later.

The other man who’s been trying to catch my eye, the pain-in-the-bum-persistent-dag who listens in to my every word, leans over towards me and says, When you’re ready would you go into one of the rooms with me?

No thanks, I say.   Sorry, I smile at him hoping all the same that I haven’t hurt his feelings.

The Dutch man tells me there’s no need to apologise.

A few new people wander in.  A man and a woman, a couple, a few single men of various ages and shapes and a fat girl draped in layers of chiffon.  Then two very well-proportioned young men.  I remind myself that I’m the one meant to be doing the choosing here.  One of the very well-proportioned young men is quite cute actually.  The other young man is not very tall, a bit too muscle-bound for my taste, and has that short spiky hair almost- shaved-at-the-side that I find most unattractive.  The two of them are younger than both my son – but that’s nothing new.

One of the women ushers them out into the back bedroom to shower and put on a towel.  They don’t return to the main room where I’m sitting jammed up between various men and in front of me a blank video screen high up on the wall.  The fat girl does some sort of disco dance in front of the wall under the video screen.  She dances in time to the music but nothing special.  Then the woman who owns the place uses her remote to turn on a video.

I’ve never seen such an explicit porn video before, Dita.  I can’t watch but I glimpse the extreme closeups of women’s genitalia and pierced intimate body parts and things being stuck in and up and it’s all too horrible.

Why didn’t you go home then?  Asks Dita.

I thought I’d wait just a bit longer.  It had taken such an enormous effort of will to get there.

The Czech blonde who runs the place with her Indian husband enjoys the video immensely.

Look at that, she keeps saying.

I have nowhere to turn my head.  In front of me the video, to my left the persistent dag.  To my right is the smaller young muscley man who now also keeps trying to attract my attention but I’m claustrophobic and I just want out of there but for some reason I’m stuck to my seat.  I don’t want to stand up and have everyone look at me – anything that moves is closely observed in this room.  I look at the floor, at the space between my stool and the spa area, and the floor towards the front door.  I’m willing myself to stand up, to walk into the spa room away from these men, or straight out the front door.

So that’s how come I end up talking to the young Italian muscley bloke.  He reaches his hand out to me and invites me to sit in the spa room with him away from the noise of the video.  I use his hand to stand up but then remove it from his grasp before walking outside to the balcony.  I don’t want to look as if I’ve been claimed.

I tell the muscley Italian man that the men here are too predatory and I’m feeling guilty because I keep knocking them back and then find myself apologising.  You don’t have to apologise when you knock someone back, he assures me. But I’m finding him intimidating right now wedged up beside me and I don’t know how to get rid of him.

We sit on the black vinyl lounge, me squashed in the corner beside him.  The tang of chlorine from the empty spa assaults my nostrils.

Can I kiss your cheek? he asks.

No.

Can I hold your hand?  he says.

No.

I wedge my hand that lays beside him under my thigh making sure he can’t hold it.

His friend, the cutie, comes out through the door and sits beside us. We smile at each other.

I was very nervous before coming to this place, he says to me.  I nearly didn’t come.

I look into his open face and his nice round eyes and thick head of curly hair.

It was the same for me, I say.

When I came in, he says, I saw you sitting there and that woman in the green dress and I thought this looks all right and so I came in.

She’s very attractive, I say.  That woman in the green dress.

I asked her husband if she participates but he said no.

Do you think it’s good value for money here? I ask in order to keep the conversation going. I mean it’s concerning me that the men have paid $180 each to come into this place and it’s free for me.

No, he says, I don’t think I’ve got good value for money.  Not so far.

His friend puts his hand on my leg.  I consider removing his hand but think it may seem churlish of me so I don’t.  And anyway if I’ve come to a place like this what am I doing knocking all the blokes back?

What does it cost to have sex with a hooker? I ask the cutie.

He looks at me with horrified wide eyes.  I don’t know.  I’ve never had sex with a hooker.

I was just trying to do a price comparison.  A value for money price comparison.

How many women have you had sex with tonight?  I persist.

Two.  One on arrival.  A woman started massaging me when I had a shower and then we had sex.  And then a second one almost straight afterwards.  The fat girl.

How was that?  I ask.  How was the sex?

She had big bruises all over her body as if she’d been bashed up or drugs or something.  Her arms and legs were all bruised.  It was awful.   I wished I was unconscious.

I nod with sympathy.

I noticed you go into the bedroom with the fat girl, I say.

He smiles at me and extends his hands towards me, palms upturned.  I could give you a great massage, he says with enthusiasm.  I’ve got very strong hands.  I’m trained in martial arts.

Mm, I say breathing out with a sigh.

But the problem is I can’t get rid of his bloody friend.  He’s latched on to me and has territorial control with his bloody hand resting on my thigh.

There are six of us in the spa room now.  The cutie, his friend, a middle-aged Maori couple and the Indian husband of the Czech woman.  I’d noticed some of the girls flirting with the Indian husband and then laughing.  He stays close by the side of his wife.  Now though, he chats to us.

We’ve only had this business for eight weeks, he says.  We took it over from the previous owner who’d been here for six and a half years.  It costs us $1000 a month in rent and $1000 for advertising on the web, in the Telegraph and in the Wentworth Courier.  It isn’t easy to make money.

We talk about business and making money for awhile then he leaves us to it.

Do you think some of those girls are being paid to be here? asks the Italian.

Prostitutes?

Well, why would a single woman come to a place like this? says the cutie who’s disappointed there aren’t more women here.  A single woman can go out any time and pick up a bloke at a pub.

I don’t say anything.  I don’t say it’s probably safer here than to take a stranger home or to go back to his place in the middle of nowhere.  And what are you meant to do anyway if you don’t have a boyfriend?

He complains that when he rang up to make inquiries they told him there is a huge spa that fits twenty people.  They could fit about eight people in this spa, he says.  And even then it would be squashed.  Twenty people – they’d all be on top of each other.

I must say that when my friend Richard, who told me about the place, mentioned that there is a large spa I did imagine a Grecian-type setting with women and men reclining and relaxing around the edges of the water.

If he was a good businessman, says the Cutie, he’d offer to give us our money back at the door.  That’s how you do business.  Keep the customers happy.

There’s no privacy in the rooms here, says the Italian.  People walk in all the time. The Japanese men paid $50 each just to watch.

We had to jam towels up against the door to stop people walking in, says the Maori husband.

Now that the Maori couple have joined in the conversation I use the opportunity to ask them how they’re going.  What they’ve experienced so far.  I’d noticed them come out of the bedroom at the end of the house.

The wife tells me in a quiet voice that they went into the room with another woman to have a threesome.  But it didn’t work out, she says.  He couldn’t do any good, she says indicating with a nod her husband’s lap and the area between his legs.  We don’t like it much here.  We’ve been to other singles clubs where it’s all couples.  Much better.  Not with all these men hanging around staring at you.

Why did you come here? I ask.

He wants to have sex with other women.  So coming to a place like this, he’s not doing it behind my back.  I know what he’s up to and I’m included.

Her husband glows smugly.

Why did you come here? I ask the cutie.

Curiosity.  Why did you come here? He asks me.

Curiosity.  We all came here for curiosity, I say summing up the conversation.

The Italian muscle-man gets up to go to the toilet.

Save me that space beside you, he instructs me.  Promise, he adds loudly.

I nod.

When he leaves the room I ask the cutie if he’s been into the Orgy Room.

No, he says.  What Orgy Room?

It’s up the hallway.  I had a look around when I arrived.  But an Orgy Room isn’t something I’m interested in trying.

Me either, he agrees.

I’m just waiting for him to finish with you, he says indicating the empty seat between us, and  then I’ll be next.

I lower my eyes discretely and suppress a smirk.

The Italian returns from the toilet and takes his seat between us.

The cutie turns to me and says:   You can give him a massage, indicating his friend, and  I’ll give you a massage.

I laugh.

The Maori couple encourage me from the sidelines.

Go on, says the Maori husband.  Give it a go.  If you don’t like it, leave.

Sure, I think to myself.  As if I’d be able to leave after going into a bedroom with two men and taking off all my clothes.  Although I wouldn’t mind going in to one of the rooms with the cutie, if I could lock the door that is, and if it wasn’t so late already.

I giggle nervously.  I have four people on my case now trying to pursuade me to go with the two young men, as if it’s my responsibility to keep everybody happy.  Hoping they’ll understand and lay off I tell them I’m laughing because I’m nervous.

Would a drink calm you down? says the husband.

No thanks.

His wife smiles at me.  In a gentle voice she says, Would you like me to calm you down?

Thank you very much, but no, I say, feeling guilty as usual.

Her husband makes some more noises along the lines of the two of them could help me out with my nervousness problem.

I sigh and then stand up brushing the hand off my leg.  I walk over to the side of the spa where the Cutie is standing.

I ease two fingers into the water as if to test the temperature.  Warm, I say.

Not warm enough, he says.

I move towards him then lift the corner of his towel to just above his knee.  I dry my fingers.

His friend jumps up from the lounge and moves in front me with his bare hairy back just inches from my face.

My back is cold, he says.  Warm me up, he commands.

I hold out one hand and lay it briefly on his shoulder, then take it away.

Let’s go for a walk, he whispers to me.

No thanks.

Give me your phone number and we’ll meet up another time then.

No.

Why not?

I don’t want to.

I laugh nervously.  How I hate these situations I find myself in.

I’m now wedged into the corner of the spa room.  My eyes fix on the door.  I hesitate wondering whether I should be polite and say anything to the Maori couple. But I feel the need for haste.  I’m worried he’ll follow me although a man in a towel isn’t going to get very far outside on the street.

Dita adds butter and a sprinkle of salt to her turkish bread and then mops up the remains of her egg yolk and the slimy gleam of the bacon fat.

And then?

That’s it. I leave.

There was a full moon.  The silver glistened and vibrated on the sea as she neared the northern end of the beach on her walk back home that night.  She passed the Bondi RSL club, the Bidigal reserve and the single Bondi sandhill up on her left. There weren’t many people around at that hour.  Heading along Campbell Parade, it was quiet. The pub and the cafes were closed.

The surf was big, the waves crashed dramatically over the rocks, the reef and the swimming pool at the south end of the beach.  In Notts Avenue she stopped at the surf viewing area just before the baths and watched the rising swell of the ocean for a few moments. She continued along Bondi Road walking fast up the hill pleased the steepness doesn’t faze her, not panting, managing it nice and easy, even in her high heels.  She crossed at the lights near the pub on the corner.

A cold wind blew and then it began to rain.

She passed the laneway on her right and was heading for the shortcut home.   She planned to cross the open car park of the block of units, and then down through the little park that leads to the hole in the fence that usually gets her home in no time.  It was not until she was in the empty car park that she heard her own footsteps squelching on the wet surface and realized that there was another set of sounds behind her.  Her shoes made a squench, squash noise and that’s why she didn’t  realize at first what the other sound was – and that the sound has been there for some time.

“The man has a gruff, heavily accented Australian voice, his face was masked with a dark balaclava and he wore dark-coloured tracksuit pants – the same description given by his first two victims.  His threats, including that he was armed with a knife, were similar to words spoken in the first two attacks and appeared well rehearsed.  After each attack he casually walked away.” 

Anny veered left as she changed course and retraced her steps without turning towards the footsteps.   After moving some distance away and towards the safety of the lights of the units and a door that she could bang on in case of emergency she turned around to see if the person was still there.  He was there all right.  In joggers, tracksuit, medium height, average build.  He’d stopped at the point where she veered left and was looking down into the empty park.

Sorry, she thought she heard him say as he looked over towards her.

She turned and hurried back towards the road and the street lights leaving him behind.  She walked on the side of the road towards the on-coming traffic just like she does when she’s on her solitary travels in Europe and the man receded into the distance.

Dita’s plate looks so shiny clean now after her mop up with the Turkish bread it’s as if the plate has come straight out of the dishwasher.  Anny tells her that before she went out that night she’d worried that she’d feel tacky when she got home.

You would have if you’d gone against your instincts and allowed those people to talk you into doing something you didn’t want to do, Dita says.

I feel bad though that this whole sex thing is such an issue for me when there’s all the killing going on in Israel and the Para Olympians in wheelchairs on the television every night.

You’re not going around complaining.  You’re doing something about it.  It’s better than those singles dances. I only went to a couple but I felt like a lump of meat being looked up and down.

But I’m such a wimp, Anny says.

No, you’re not.  You went.  You’re not a wimp if you can go.

I’m a wimp when it comes to getting rid of guys.  Some boring man always latches on to me and I end up leaving just to get rid of him or some man attempts to follow me home.

Anny breathes out heavily and tells Dita that Richard was the one who’d told her about the place.

You know Richard, the one I met on the internet.

You met him in a chat room?

No not a chat room, Anny says sensing Dita’s disapproval.  There are all sorts of loonies in chat rooms.  No.  A singles web site.  Richard said the women at these clubs do the choosing and there’d be lots of young men for me to pick from and plenty who’d want to give me a massage.  In fact I got so excited about the idea of me doing the choosing that I’d look at the men in the gym and sitting on the train and I’d think:  would I choose you if you were there.  Richard offered to come with me as my partner but why would I want to pay $120 to go as a couple when I can go for nothing.  And anyway, I wouldn’t want to see Richard with another woman.

It wasn’t very complimentary to you that Richard offered to go with you, Dita says, a harsh satisfaction in her voice.  Anny can see Dita is pleased somehow telling her this about Richard – as if Anny doesn’t  know it already.

Dita pouts her lips to apply a tangerine lipstick to her mouth.  The lipstick  matches her perfectly manicured toenails that are revealed at the end of her stiletto sandals.  She puts the lipstick away in her handbag, sits back and looks out to the ocean, then twists her wedding ring around her finger.

It’s a can that I’ve always wanted to open, Dita says.  To see what goes on in these places.

She stands up decisively and pulls her tee-shirt down at the sides accentuating the waisteless bulge of her torso that protrudes for some distance from her body.  She slides her hands up and down over her stomach like a proud pregnant woman, but Dita isn’t pregnant.

She thrusts her shoulders back and her chest out.  Who cares if my gut hangs out, she says proudly.  I’ve got a gorgeous husband, two mortgages, two kids and a great business.  What more could a girl want?

Anny feels depressed.  But she won’t tell her that.  She’s said enough already.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

At the Beginning, Pen & Paper

When I used to teach classes to beginning writers, it was good.  It forced me to think back to the beginning to when I first put pen to paper.  The thing is, every time we sit down and face the blank page, it’s the same.  Every time we start a new piece of writing, we doubt that we can do it again.  A new voyage with no map.  As people say, it is like setting off towards the horizon, alone in a boat, and the only thing another person can do to help us, is to wave from the shore.

So when I used to teach a creative writing class, I had to tell them the story all over again and remember that this is the first time my students are hearing it.  I had to start at the very beginning.

First up, there’s the pen on the page.  You need this intimate relationship between the pen and the paper to get the flow of words happening.  A fountain pen is best because the ink flows quickly.  We think faster than we can write.  It needs to be a “fat” pen to avoid RSI.

Consider, too, your notebook.  It is important.  The pen and paper are your basic tools, your equipment, and they need to be with you at all times.  Choose a notebook that allows you plenty of space to write big and loose.  A plain cheap thick spiral notepad is good.

After that comes the typing up on the computer and printing out a hard copy.  It’s a right and left brain thing.  You engage the right side of the brain, the creative side, when you put pen to paper, then bring in the left side, the analytic side, when you look at the print out.  You can settle back comfortably with a drink (a cup of tea, even) and read what you’ve written.  Then edit and rewrite.

Patrick White said that writing is really like shitting; and then, reading the letters of Pushkin a little later, he found Pushkin said exactly the same thing.  Writing is something you have to get out of you.

Copyright © 2022Libby Sommer

My Short Story, ‘Art and the Mermaid’

Have a read of my short story, Art and the Mermaid, first published in Quadrant Magazine. The story about the famous Bondi Beach mermaid sculptures at Ben Buckler is the opening tail in my collection Stories From Bondi published by Ginninderra Press (2019).

I hope you enjoy it.

Art and the Mermaid:

Once upon a time it came to pass, so it is said, that an enormous storm swept the coast of New South Wales, doing extensive damage to the ocean beaches – destroying jetties, breakwaters and washing away retaining walls.  Mountainous seas swept Bondi Beach and dashed against the cliffs carrying ruin with every roller.  At North Bondi near Ben Buckler a huge submerged block of sandstone weighing 233 tons was lifted ten feet and driven 160 feet to the edge of the cliff where it remains to this day.

One day a Sydney sculptor, Lyall Randolph, looked upon the rock and was inspired.  The sculptor was a dreamer.  Let us, he said, have two beautiful mermaids to grace the boulder.  Using two Bondi women as models he cast the two mermaids in fibreglass and painted them in gold.

Without Council approval and at his own expense he erected The Mermaids for all to see on the giant rock that had been washed up by the sea.  The Mermaids sat side by side on the rock.  One shaded her eyes as she scanned the ocean and the other leant back in a relaxed fashion with an uplifted arm sweeping her hair up at the back of her neck.  Their fishy tails complemented the curves and crevices of their bodies.

It so happened that less than a month after The Mermaids were put in place, one was stolen and damaged.  The Council held many meetings to decide if she should be replaced using ratepayers’ money.  The council had previously objected to the sculptor placing the statues there without Council permission.  The sculptor had argued that before placing The Mermaids in position he had taken all necessary steps to obtain the requisite permission.

The large boulder at Ben Buckler, upon which The Mermaids were securely bolted and concreted, he said, is not in the municipality of Waverley at all.  It is in the sea.  According to the Australian Constitution high-tide mark is the defined limit of the Waverley Council’s domain.  The Maritime Services Board and the Lands Department both advised me they had no objection to the erection of The Mermaids.

One Waverley Alderman said he wished both mermaids had been taken instead of only one.  Someone else said the sculptor didn’t need the Council’s permission to put them there in the first place and the The Mermaids had given Bondi a great attraction without any cost to the Council.  The sculptor said The Mermaids had brought great publicity to the Council.  They had been featured in films, newspapers, television and the National Geographic magazine.

The Mayor used his casting vote in favour of the mermaid and she was re-installed.

For over ten years the two beautiful golden mermaids reclined at Ben Buckler, attracting many thousands of sightseers to the beach.

Poised on the huge boulder they braved the driving storms of winter until one day one was washed off.  The Council saw its opportunity and removed the other.

Today, only the remnants of one mermaid remain – but not on the rock.  In a glass cabinet in Waverley Library at Bondi Junction all that is left of the two beautiful mermaids is a figure with half a face.  There’s a hole instead of a cheek, a dismembered torso, part of an uplifted arm, the tender groove of an armpit.  And there, down below, a complete fish’s tail.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

Writing Tip: Autobiography in Fiction

When people ask me where I get my ideas from, I tell them I use the world around me. Life is so abundant, if you can write down the actual details of the way things were and are, you hardly need anything else. Even if you relocate the French doors, fast-spinning overhead fan, small red Dell laptop, and low black kneeling chair from your office that you work in in Sydney into an Artist’s Atelier in the south of France at another time, the story will have truth and groundedness.

In Hermione Hoby’s interview with Elizabeth Strout in the Guardian newspaper, the Pulitzer prize winner said her stories have always begun with a person, and her eyes and ears are forever open to these small but striking human moments, squirreling them away for future use. “Character, I’m just interested in character,” she said.

“You know, there’s always autobiography in all fiction,” Strout said, referring to her novel, My Name is Lucy Barton. “There are pieces of me in every single character, whether it’s a man or a woman, because that’s my starting point, I’m the only person I know.” She went on to explain: “You can’t write fiction and be careful. You just can’t. I’ve seen it with my students over the years, and I think actually the biggest challenge a writer has is to not be careful. So many times students would say, ‘Well, I can’t write that, my boyfriend would break up with me.’ And I’d think, you have to do something that’s going to say something, and if you’re careful it’s just not going to work.”

At the launch of my debut novel My Year With Sammy, the MC Susanne Gervay OAM said: “Libby’s level of detail creates poignant insights into character and relationships. If people know Libby they may find themselves subtly entwined in one of her stories.”

On Goodreads’ website they locate The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath under “Autobiographical Fiction” and describe the book as Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity: “Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational—as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.”

My advice to you, dear Reader, is to be awake to the details around you, but don’t be self-conscious. “So here it is. I’m at a Valentine’s Day party. It’s 33 degrees outside. The hostess is sweltering over a hot oven in the kitchen. She is serving up cheese and spinach triangles as aperitifs.” Relax, enjoy the party, be present with your eyes and ears open. You will naturally take it all in, and later, sitting at your desk, you will be able to remember just how it was to be eating outside in the heat under a canvas umbrella, attempting to make conversation with the people on either side of you, and thinking how you can best make an early exit.

In the interview with Elizabeth Strout in the Guardian, Strout said: “I don’t want to write melodrama; I’m not interested in good and bad, I’m interested in all those little ripples that we all live with. And I think that if one gets a truthful emotion down, or a truthful something down, it is timeless.”

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer

My Short Story ‘Towards the End’

My short story ‘Towards the End’ was first published in Quadrant magazine a few years ago. It’s one of the pieces in my collection ‘Stories From Bondi’ released by Ginninderra Press in 2019. Have a read. Hope you enjoy it.

Towards the End:

He leaned back on the chrome chair, stretched his legs out under the square black table and placed his mobile phone in front of him. He looked over to the counter at the back of the cafe at the cakes and muffins on display and the Italian biscuits in jars. He turned back to the glass windows and wondered if he had the guts to tell her today. He wanted to. By Christ he wanted to. He straightened up, his elbows on the table, his hands clasped together in front of his face. There’d been some good times, that’s for sure. But what the heck. A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

The sliding glass door clanked open and Anny walked in. He looked over at her, first from the rear as she closed the door and then as she approached, her face flushed, her dark hair flying back from her shoulders. Not bad looking. A bit on the heavy side but not a bad looker all the same. Yes, there’d been some good times. Especially in the sack.

Anny removed her sunglasses as she walked over and he looked into the bright green of her eyes as she bent down and kissed him on the cheek. He felt the moisture on her face as her skin touched his.

She took off her sunshade and hung it on the back of the chair and sat down.

You’ll never guess what happened, she said.

What?

I’m still so angry I can hardly speak. She pushed her hair away from her forehead as she dabbed at the sweat with a serviette.

What happened?

This man, she said. This dreadful man. Anny used her fingers to wipe the moisture from under her eyes. I was walking along the cliff path from Bondi to Bronte, like I usually do, minding my own business, when I heard a jogger behind me.

Nothing unusual about that.

So I moved further to the left to let him pass.

Yeah. That’s the rules, keep to the left.

He must have been about to pass on the inside because next moment I heard a thud and there he was picking himself up from the side of the track.

Anny stopped talking as the waitress approached with notepad and pen.

A spaghetti marinara for me, said Daniel smiling at the waitress. And a coffee.

How do you like your coffee?

He grinned at her. Hot and black, thanks.

Anny turned away from him and squinted at the blackboard. I’ll have the Greek salad and a decaf skimmed cap. And a glass of water, please.

And I’ll have an orange juice as well, said Daniel.

Daniel’s eyes followed her as she walked towards the kitchen. Then his mobile buzzed from the table. He picked it up and held it to his ear.

Yep, he said. I can give them a ballpark figure, but that’s about it. Just a ballpark. Yeah, okay then. Here’s his number. Daniel opened the front of the phone and pressed a button. 0413 501 583, he said. He put the phone back on the table its antennae sticking out towards Anny. I hate it when people say things like that, he said.

What?

Oh nothing. Just the usual crap. They all think they can get something for nothing.

Daniel’s pasta arrived first and he began to eat. He sucked in a spaghetti tail and then impatiently cut some of the pasta with his knife. He dispensed with the knife and continued to eat with his fork. He scooped up the marinara with its splayed-like prongs.

So what happened? he said as he sucked in a loose strand of spaghetti, catching its long skinny tail with his fork.

He must have caught his foot on the edge between the footpath and the grass. I was about to say ‘are you all right’ when he roared out at me ‘it’s all your fault you know’. ‘I was keeping to the left’ I said. He ignored me and ran on, red shiny shorts flapping. How dare he speak to me like that. ‘Asshole’ I called out after him. He gave me the finger up sign and kept running. I was furious.

Daniel didn’t answer as he waited for the waitress to place a plate of salad in front of Anny. He blew on his pasta before placing another mouthful towards the back of his tongue, his thin lips closing over the fork.

When I reached Bronte, said Anny. This man had finished his circuit and was on his way back. We recognised each other and he started telling me off about which side of the path I could walk on. ‘Don’t tell me where to walk mate’ I hissed. That’s when he stopped jogging and moved towards me. I thought he was going to punch me.

Really?

I was a bit scared I can tell you, but I braced myself. That’s when he said ‘you’ve got some chip on your shoulder because you’re fat and ugly’. I laughed at him because it sounded so ridiculous and as far as that was concerned it proved my point. What an asshole. Just thinking about it makes me angry.

Daniel turned away from her. He couldn’t tell her now. Not after that. He looked out the window to the truck parked across the road. ‘Dean’s Premium Natural Fruit Juice: the way it should be’ emblazoned on the side. The way it should be. That’s a bit of a joke. Well I know this is the way it shouldn’t be. He couldn’t get Louise out of his head.. That last time – her tight white t-shirt over those tight little breasts – leaning over her plate. Eating that huge roll. The sight of her opening her mouth so wide he thought the sides of her lips would crack. Stuffing it in she was. Later at her place when he couldn’t wait. Coming up behind her as she cleaned her teeth. Ramming it in.

He tore the crusty white Italian bread into small pieces and used it to mop up the remains of the sauce and wiped the red sauce from the corner of his mouth. He reached for his glass and sucked up the remains of his orange juice through a yellowed straw, then burped. He put the glass down, his broad hand wrapped around the grooved surface and leaned across the table. He looked into Anny’s face.

I have to go.

Go where?

I’ll pay the bill.

What’s wrong?

I want to make a move on that Elizabeth Bay deal.

He stood up, his keys dangling from the loop at the back of his trousers, his rubber soled shoes silent as he headed towards the door. Only the sound of his keys and then the bang of the door.

Outside he pulled out his mobile and dialed.

I’m leaving now honey, he said. I’ll be there in a few minutes.

In the cafe Anny watched from the window. She sighed, stood up slowly and then walked over to the cake counter. He’s a workaholic that bloke.

I’ll have a slice of that chocolate mud cake and a cappuccino, she said to the girl behind the register.

Copyright © 2022 Libby Sommer