As they walked back from Afghani’s R Us, the warm breeze off of the bay caressed their senses. Allen strode ahead, the three girls , arm in arm behind him, giggling about the cute boy waiters at the restaurant. With Allan striding ahead and them arm in arm, it was hard to believe the meal had cost an arm and a leg.
Allen had been the one to voice a complaint. It had got right up his goat. The humour was not lost on Deb who noted that the boiled goat stew Allen had complained about was tougher than his leather flip flops. The girls had favoured more exquisite delicacies. The spring swallows testicles were indistinguishable from winter or summer testicles. The piece de resistance had been the glace said to be from the icy waters of the Hindu Kush. It tasted like Thargomindah bore water and passionfruit.
“Here we are now,” gushed Bec, ” This’ll be my first time in your apartment, Has it been renovated like mine?” she blurted to no one in particular.
Sandra and Deb looked at each other. Deb had spent the afternoon preparing her lounge to allow her wide screen to be fed by Bluetooth from her computer.
“Bugger the tea,” Allen called, “I want to see the vid you girls are yapping about. Isn’t this the first time we’ve got together since Mt Binda?”
“Me too,” chimed in Bec,” You guys must have had the best time. Allen says you saw or didn’t see a Chinaman by the billabong under the shade of a wattle tree.”
” No, it was a coolabah tree,” Sandra corrected.
“Spooky, spooky eh, just like Waltzing Matilda hey. Did you hear a ghost?” she said half sneering.
Deb and Sandra wondered about the ghosts shortly to be laid in Rose Bay.
What was current reality would, within two hours or so, be the past, a fragment of Allen and Bec’s past.
“C’mon, roll it. Are there any sour cream chips by the way,” said Allen.
As the Bluetooth connected and the image stabilised Allen and Bec moved closer to the wide screen. The dishevelment of the bed covers and Allen’s rampant erection first burst into view, just after Bec’s arm had returned to her side from flinging off her gown, causing the remote camera to start.
They sat spell bound. It was like a porno they’d viewed when younger, or even younger. However, the spots for guffawing and ye ha’s were stifled with sideways embarrassment. It went on and on.
Deb and Sandra stood behind the three seater leather lounge on which Allen and Bec had front stalls. Slowly they sensed the relief of years of humiliation wash off of them.
Bec and Allen stole furtive glances when awed by a particular athletic move, mostly from Bec. Allen really was a pole around and on the dancer performed. They couldn’t wink or nudge under Deb and Sandra’s gaze.
When the vid finished, Bec rose to leave. She shifted both legs sideways and pushed off from the lounge. Allen tried to rise to bid her farewell, but couldn’t manage effort.
Deb saw Bec to the door bidding her farewell with,
“We’ve got the tape, as you see, so Allen won’t be needing to see you any more. Bye, forever.”
There was no reply. Bec dashed across the road in the twilight, squeezed past the gold Porsche and into her flat. She sobbed for a week.
Deb and Sandra rearranged the lounge, Allen too dumbfounded to talk.
“Look what I made today Allen your favourite, chocolate Torte,” Deb whispered to him.
The magician stayed home, dog on the porch, eating cake.
The drive back from Goulburn was uneventful. Both ladies absorbed in the planning their parts of the joint mission to soothe the long term separate itches each had suffered.
“How good God is,” thought Deb as she pretended to nap in the wrangler passenger seat. Alan was content humming and sometimes singing along to country and western tunes from each country radio station..
Though Sandra appeared absorbed in the back of the Winnebago with repeated re runs of the Ellen show, she knew she had the more difficult task of secretly mounting a camera in Bec’s bedroom. She’d not been to Bec’s for sometime and though she intuited where the camera might be placed, getting in was gonna be a problem. Then it hit her. Ellen was yapping about the benefits of lesbian relationships, and extolling the virtues of a bi lifestyle for variety, when she realised cakes were the answer. She’d offer to come over for a few visits to help Bec make cakes worthy of a king. There was no way the Bec would say no. In fact she’d indicated that such help would be appreciated recently. Bec had said that some of her cake tins had been returned by Allen with sarcastic little notes. The notes wished her well and that both Allen and partner had ‘so much enjoyed them.’ Bec told Sandra,
“I think I’m losing his enthusiasm, he used to gush over them, now he’s sharing them!”
Back at home Sandra pulled down her Mrs Beaton’s Cake Cooking book, and scanned for the most sumptuous delights she could find. Chocolate mysteries stood out especially the Bavarian Torte, which she chose.
Over a few days she perfected making them, consigning her early attempts to the bin. They were good, damn good but not perfect. She wanted hers to not be out of place at Jean Michele’s, the epitome of Cake royalty in Rose Bay. Then she was ready. Feeling that Bec would need more than several lessons, she knew she’s have plenty of time to place a camera during her visits. By using the ensuite for dunny visits, she’d be able to pass unremarked through Bec’s bedroom.
Deb too had returned from Mt Binda with a plan. Allen had been increasingly absent on Saturday and Sunday mornings picking up the Australian and saying he’d bumped into mates down the way. She implied that early morning trips out to the far western suburbs and potential development sites around Badgerys’s Creek were hotting up. Allen didn’t even bother to nod interest. She was careful not to mention the Waterhouse’s engagement in the sales. Mentioning them would have sprung Allen into wrangler action if he heard there was the remotest possibility of the doyen’s of the thoroughbred community being involved.
Slowly Allen’s ‘weekend mornings outings lengthened, interrupted only by the monthly magicians Newcastle meetings.
Deb and Sandra stayed in touch by text, sharing their state of readiness to spring their trap.
“Hi sweetie, so good of you to come over and help me,” Bec gushed over Sandra. Sandra had been invited over to show the basic elements of torte construction to Bec. Bec had had to pull her horns in over the past few weeks when one cake had such a fallen centre no amount of bogging it up could hide her embarrassment. On another occasion the burnt offering could barely be extracted from the cake tin. It was set like concrete.
“Ok, let’s get into this then hon,” Sandra chirpily replied. With Mr Beaton’s book resting against the Kitchen Maid they launched into the recipe. Bec was in awe of Sandra’s skills, and could see why she had been such a help to her brother in his dying days.
“You’re good around the house, aren’t you, and such a good cook.”
Sandra replied,” I was better before my weak bladder set in though, its hard to concentrate, when all ya wanna do is pee.”
Bec consoled her,” Well use the ensuite anytime you need darl, it’s so much closer than the regular bathroom, just their through my bedroom.”
“Gee thanks luv, no need to tidy the bedroom, I’m used to such a well slept in room,” Sandra said with a slight hint of irony which passed through Bec as the bicarb through the flour.
Sandra picked up her handbag, and headed off to the toilet.
“Just keep whisking darl, I might be a mo., numero duo, you know.”
“Don’t hurry back Sandra, I’ve all these eggs to whisk!”
Sandra quickly found the ideal spot for the camera, beneath junk on top of the wardrobe which clearly hadn’t been moved for yonks. Though it was no CIA hiding place, for the purpose it gave wonderful panoramic shots of the bed from foot to bedhead, and all in focus!
” Ah that feels better,” Sandra said on return,” that’s a load off of my mind, haha.”
The camera had been set to motion detect, relaying the images for recording at a password protected site within five hundred metres. Being just over the road, Deb’s apartment was well within range.
Deb could see the action in the bedroom from her computer when she typed in the password “TheCake.”
After baking a so so torte on a first try, Sandra said she’d be back again next week to give another lesson.
They both went down stairs, air kissed then Sandra shimmied past the golden Porsche and was off.
Glancing up across the road she slyly winked at Deb who’d watched the farewell, from behind her first floor curtains.
A few weeks later, a non magician weekend, Allen got a text. It was the weekend and Deb had to go out early to a site meeting somewhere up Newcastle way it turned out. A potential site for a retirement village, right on the seashore, but complete with all manner of planning issues. Deb had mentioned all these to him as he lolled in bed with his phone. He wasn’t the slightest bit interested until he could see that a signing was in the offing, the chance for him to stride on from stage left. The capable man, doing a man’s job.
“I’ll be back late, so see to your own lunch, and you might have to go to the Club for din din, that ok ?” she said round the doorway of the bedroom.
Allen was replying to the text and without looking up from his bed said,” Ok, ok, I guess I’ll do it myself then, and don’t forget to tell me if there’s anything official with this development I need to know, I’ve been round real estate yonks and know a few folk, if you know what I mean.”
Deb knew exactly what he meant. He sounded just like Darryl answering QC provocations, ‘yes or no’ at the Independent Commission Against Crime. Darryl had been, depending on what day or moment or who you asked, Gladys’s, the premier, close personal friend, boyfriend, lover, nothing at all serious, or marriage contender. It all depended on the fog of romance. As in other metaphorical fogs, like the one surrounding war, it paid to expect the unexpected. In war, a hero wrapped in fog, might also be a war criminal. While Gladys twirled in the richly deserved spotlight of being hoist with her own petard, Deb suffered no such infamy. She was now on a path to transform her indignity.
Cheekily she shouted as she close the apartment door,
“Now don’t you go doing anything I wouldn’t do!” She added this knowing that Pamplona bulls have nothing but tourists arses in mind as they charge through the village streets annually, whether those arses be clad in red white or khaki. Allen, bull like, would be out of the cot as soon as this red rag fluttered. His reply text to Bec had said it all, though cryptically.
“Bec! gird thy loins,
Is choc tortes baked? With my Sir Loin
No orgasms faked.”
As he pulled up a crushed pair of strides over his short pj’s he looked down at his paunchy flab. Goddamn it was everywhere, especially hiding the stretched elastic waist band. Yuk, so he threw on a large voluminous light printed cotton and polyester gown, not too feminine, but on trend for the Eastern suburbs and eased into an old pair of leather flip flops. His doggerel had flip flopped too, but Bec’s quick response text hit him for six.
Hey darl, come right on over,
Fuck me stupid in the clover,
Torte or scones who really cares
Let’s see who comes, its you I dare!
A quick glass of water and down they went. The dosage was one but he took two blue daddy’s little helpers.
He arrived at Bec’s door tumescently happy to see her. She looked at his crotch and was also.
“My God,” she exclaimed, ” Am I up for this or what! Let’s go Al, ride ’em cowboy, ye ha!”
Allen could hardly catch his breath. The rush of blood to his nether regions had been like a mini stroke to his brain and other organs. He staggered into the bedroom, not noting the chocolate torte, with cherries and vanilla cream. Bec wasn’t the least fazed, she had other things on her mind.
With a grand operatic gesture she threw off her dressing gown, revealing shadowy fat rolls beneath a sheer polyester chemise. For her the effect was sufficient, though lacking the class of pure silk.
As her arm flew across the face of the hidden camera it silently turned on transmitting to the recorder on Deb’s computer in the opposite apartment.
As the horizontal, inclined, upside down, 69, doggie and inverted X events were staged at these bedroom Olympics, Deb was learning the finer points of Stockton Council’s objections to the proposed beachside development. She couldn’t wait to get home and escape the boredom and see what she could report to Sandra from the day’s secret filming.
“Oh my god, how does she do that! Wow, so much flab but she’s really getting down! Allen looks like he’s heart attack material but he’s so hard! Geez you’re lucky Deb babe, my god, how do you cope with that, my god I’m jealous lol.”
Deb looked on amazed. She’d never watched porn. If this was that, she didn’t know how to respond to Sandra truthfully
She prevaricated between, ” What a slut, she needs to treat my Allen with more respect,” and ” I’ve never seen a horn on Allen like that in my life.”
They watched the two hour performance, twice, all the nuances, oh’s , ah’s, more please, go on deeper, shit that’s tight, toilet breaks, sheet cleaning, lubrication and hand cream.
Eventually Deb cleared her throat after she was able to put her eyes back in their sockets and said to Sandra,” With a few quick edits I reckon I can have this video ready for circulation should we have the need. The premier would need to be a special event for Allen and Bec only. I reckon after that there’ll be no more cakes or aches.
The girls arranged a little soiree for all. Deb Allen, Bec and Sandra. They booked a cute little Afghani themed spot down off the strip in Double Bay, to be followed by coffee cake and videos back at Deb and Allen’s. The Afghani spot in reality was Italian and Moroccan fusion, but the owner had spotted the niche. With a few herbal changes and cheaper meat cuts his clientele wouldn’t dare to query him at the price point he’d chosen.
Deb and Sandra knew they had heaps to talk about. Both worried about the fire leaper down by the billabong. A strange place for a Chinaman, if in fact he was. There’d been no Chinamen in this area for a long long time, since the 1850’s goldrush. When the surface alluvial gold had petered out, the diggers dissipated into the community, gone to New Zealand or America and in a very few cases gone home to the celestial kingdom.
Deb had other matters on her mind, than a possible drowned chink, tragic though it might be. Perhaps in the future his ghost might be heard as folk passed by that billabong. She was reflecting on the news which she’d heard on the radio where the state’s premier Gladys was sautéing in her own juices.
She felt for Gladys, who seemed to have a made a most awkward mistake in romance. Deb too had made mistakes in choosing the wrong men. She realised that not every relationship has a happy ending particularly if the man is married or already in a relationship. She desperately felt that everyone needs to love someone. She’d once felt a glisten in her eye for Allan. By now though she wasn’t sure if it was ever love. Her first marriage to Ivan her long ago ex, hadn’t exactly been a love match. He never said he loved her. Allan too had never ever whispered the word. Not even sweet nothings. Gladys too had made reference that her lover never told her how he felt about her. Perhaps it was just men! Gladys, however, was now finding her very private voice to say how she felt about him. No more missus nice lady!
Allan had been in a relationship with Deb for the past 8 years. A secret relationship just like Gladys’s. He still played the field without regard for anyone’s feelings.
Being away at faraway Binda, there were no cakes to be made or received this weekend and she was relieved. She hated baking, not being a natural, but was desperately trying to learn the art.
She received a plethora of Alan’s speeding fines and demerit point losses when he was driving her car. On top of the smashed front side light fitting and unpaid tolls, it had been an expensive three weeks while the wrangler was squared up. When repaired, the wrangler had managed to get them to Binda successfully. There was no way she was going to take her Merc bush.
She got back to pondering the Chinaman’s ghost in the flat billabong’s now placid surface. The silence only disturbed by the flitting midges and swopping swallows chasing a feed.
Perhaps this had started long, long ago.
Her mother and father couldn’t have cared less what happened to her as toddler. She’d barely known them They abandoned her for adoption at the age of two. It was a many years later when she visited her birth mother at the age of sixteen, visiting her when sick in a hospital ward. Deb didn’t know why she was there, or why in fact she had been brought there. Maybe her foster parents had been advised that her birth mother was gravely ill and that Deb should be brought to visit for a final time. Whatever the reason, it didn’t go well. Mum spat at her, Deb left. Not long after Mum died.
Her father too had separately been very distant. Deb saw him once, as she recalled. She was five or six, a joyous middle aged man. Four years later when she was about ten she saw him again. They met when brought to his side by current fosterer’s. She smiled at her Dad as ten years old’s are wont to do. He looked up, gazing straight ahead, from his cheap satin lined rosewood casket, ready for burial. The handles, faux gold plating over plastic.
Deb continued doing the rounds of foster homes, suffering food insecurity and emotional neglect. Fosterer’s were always able to cover up their neglect to satisfy the government inspectors on their infrequent calls. They could always fudge their way through with an appearance of care. She knew otherwise. Many used the fostered child payments to boost meagre incomes, for gambling, drinking or whatever. A contracting out of society’s obligation to the less well off.
Her ultimate fosterer’s though were wonderful parents. Childless themselves, Deb eventually called them Mum and Dad. They believed in her, helping her to see she’d the potential to be somebody. And they did. Deb’s damage was rooted deep in the pre teen abuse she’d suffered and struggled a lifetime to overcome.
Sandra meanwhile had been stewing slowly, while Deb deliberated.
Sandra was simmering over Bec, her sister in law’s profligate use of her ill gained inheritance. She felt Deb would be just the one on whom she could unburden herself as her simmering rose to a roiling boil.
That gold Porsche, a trollop’s car at her age.
“What the hell are you thinking!” she’d told her on the phone, when she received an Instagram of it.
“All the better to hook the lads,” Bec blithely said,
“But you’re no spring chicken; chicken,” Sandra has told her, “and those tummy rolls look as if you’re permanently ready for swimming with ya flotation rings.”
Child birth, six off had been the easy bit for Bec. They popped out like sausages. However, keeping the weight off after had not. She’d piled on the flub in fruitless battles after each pregnancy. Even fruit only diets did no good. Bec loved sex, but her memory didn’t run to condoms or pill. She’d gotten right into it whenever the mood took her. Her vet vet hubby loved it too, she was his favourite, doggie. He felt he’d found the antidote to PTSD.
But that was long ago, and Sandra resented the way everything had worked out. She felt used by her brother’s family, having provided tips from her nursing training as to means of coping. Slowly it had turned into her fulltime job as the others sloped right off. There was a shed full of stuff to unload with Deb, they could have their own trip to the tip without fees!
“So what d’ya reckon about our Glad then?” Sandra queried Deb as she grabbed a full strength Intense teabag from the table outside her Winnebago.
The men were furiously trying ham contacts bouncing from the mid stratosphere inversion, which had been proving favourable this last evening.
Deb had wandered over from Allen’s and her setup next to the wrangler, to finally chew the fat.
“Bit of a dark ‘orse that one I reckon,” Sandra went on, “all that faux reticence and butter wouldn’t melt in your melt routine, while stinking it up with her bad boy hey! What I wouldn’t give from some tapes of her being banged, legs up, anywhere!”
Deb was taken aback a little but Sandra’s comment, but her vindictive tone touched a nerve ripe for the tickling. But how to reel her into the plan she’d been mulling over in the Winnebago napping during afternoon siesta time. Deb knew her fruitless entreaties to get Allan back on the porch, and stay, had failed to enable Allen’s self control. He needed sharper discipline. She’d come to realise that what mattered most to him was his reputation amongst his so called friends, men and women. She felt marginalized, it was something just she felt. No one, her friends, her family lest of all Allen felt it.
Then in a flash it came to her. Allan needed to feel the same. It was something they could share, grow old with, mull over, their mutual marginalizations.
What he needed to internalise was something she’d never thought about, but Sandra was giving her just the provocation she needed. He cared about nobody but himself. An opportunity to reflect on his own feelings when he thought nought of other’s feelings, was the insight she needed. Instead of focussing so desperately on herself and continually trying to strive to make amends for stuff in her past that no one else really cared about, she realised that ” a problem shared is a problem halved.”
“That would be so interesting,” Deb attentively replied, though the image of Gladys, legs splayed and skyward was not exactly clear to her, nor frankly that attractive.
“You into that sort of stuff,” she offered, but not really certain of what she really meant by ‘that sort of stuff.’
“Aw, c’mon luv,” Sandra came back,” seen done and photographed a fair bit, its been amazing the quality you can get with smart phones nowadays. My Samsung is amazing! Have you and Allan done any?”
Deb’s jaw dropped, but inside her cheeks, barely visible to Sandra who was sipping on the hot cup of cha.
Deb’s mind went blank! She couldn’t recall the last time she and Allen had been intimate, or shared intercourse. She imagined Sandra asking more directly, ‘when you guys fuck last?’ but the question was more prosaic, ‘Have you and Allen done any?’
“Done what?” she queried herself. She chose the one of the two interpretations that came to mind without revealing the absence of full intercourse, answering,
“No, we’ve not photographed ourselves, Allen’s got an old Nokia which doesn’t do video.”
” What you got then?” Sandra asked, ” mine’s great, once you set it up you forget it’s there, it captures all the action, sounds and all. I love it!”
“I think it’s a Samsung like yours,” Deb replied knowing full well they were the same save for the diamante cover in which Sandra’s was encased.
“Why not surprise Allen for his birthday or something, set it up in the bedroom wherever, and ride him to blazes.”
Such an event was the last thing on Deb’s mind.
But the embryo of the an idea was forming in her mind. And this idea had just developed arms and legs.
The second last mind thing on her mind was Allen being ridden by Bec, something Deb and he could share privately. More excitingly shared with the Allen’s public and friends, especially his magical ones, should Deb sense him prestidigitating off of their conjugal porch.
The embryo arms and legs waved in her mind at her, enticing her to say,
“I’ve an idea, we could both enjoy, KarmaCarol.”
Sandra was quick to pickup on Deb’s reversion back to her current name. The intimacy between them had clearly developed to a level at which this seemed normal.
“I realised that after our earlier chat about the gold Porsche that you and I were more closely connected than you’d imagine Sandra. Allen’s bonking a sheila with a gold Porsche and from your indication of where she lives, its across the street from our place.”
“Really! I’ll be fucked, really, You gotta be joking, really, really truly?” Sandra gasped,” Fancy that, fancy bloody that!”
” Does she bake?” Deb asked.
” Funny you should ask,” Sandra said, ” In the last few months, I get nothing but texts about cakes and requests for easy recipes. I told the fat bitch to ease up on it, cos she’s gonna end up like a Goodyear Blimp, but she says ‘not to worry, I’m making them for someone else.’ I thought she was doing it for the CWA.”
“Well,” says Deb, “turns out they’re for Allen, and the silly boy can’t say no. When he’s out, having made him eat half, I turf the remainder in the bin. He’s piling the weight on!”
And like two black holes orbiting each other and collapsing into each other, they both saw their opportunity for annihilation, Allen’s fornications, and Sandra’s frustrations.
It seemed to take them no time to come up with a plan for Sandra to secrete a phone at Bec’s and Deb to work out a way to encourage Allen to dally longer with Bec on a Sunday morning cake pickup. He’d not be able to resist the honey pot, with that tingly frisson of doing it so close to home.
The trip to Mt Binda had been a bit of a damp squid for the ham radio buffs.
The best Goulburn, south west Riverina branch members of GROSS, had only equalled the distances achieved in 1962. The Sydney based hams had done even worse.
But for their ladies, the air was now buzzing with static.
Not even sizzling bacon and eggs and soft fat flap jack’s with oozy maple syrup, could rouse some of the older guys. The two women in the crew had slept well without their men, safely tucked into their sleeping bags, alone.
Some ham contacts had been made in Namibia and a single five minute conversation with a blind operator in Alaska. These contacts were in contention for some of the distance awards. Daytime presented more of a challenge. Atmospheric conditions, in the layer of the stratosphere they used, were being affected by some recent sunspot activity which the GROSS technical newsletter had overlooked. It had been decided to leave a skeleton crew on the transmitters to monitor for an improvement in conditions. Most of the crew decided on a further kip, to be ready for the evening. Deb and KarmaCarol took the opportunity to head off for a walk in the surrounding lush bush.
The hamming camp was above the still waters of a billabong, on the creek in the valley below Mt Binda. The winding track they took headed down the rocky slope to the wooded shade of the billabong. Together they walked, side by side. In their sensible hiking boots, they looked stylish, in spite of the surroundings. Good breeding always shows, it’s damn hard to shake. They both had had the lessons of their past education ingrained into their psyches. They stopped walking when under the shade of a coolabah tree. They were surprised to find they were not the first there.
The smell came from a crackling fire and a boiling a billy of Lapsang Souchong Cha, renowned for its restorative properties.
“Did you know Gail Murphy, Maureen Cool or Jennifer Lang at The Institute?” KarmaCarol asked knowing they were sufficiently far enough away from the encampment. The Institute was a subsidiary of the well known Swiss finishing school in Switzerland, the Institut Villa Pierrefeu.
“Yes, I recall Jennifer,” said Deb, ” yes, yes a dark brunette, short and very petite, lovely lass.”
As Deb got into the conversation she slowly realised that she could see in Deb, the face of a prefect in the year senior to her at the Institute. Then it came to her,
“You were a prefect weren’t you,” Deb exclaimed, ” but your name wasn’t KarmaCarol. It was Sondra, or Sally if memory serves me correct.”
Well better now than never, KarmaCarol surmised, if we’re going to bond further some little disclosures will start to speed the process up.
“Well, I wasn’t Karma then,” she started, “I was Sandra.”
“My oh my,” said Deb, “So why the name change. I thought it was you, but was too afraid to enquire. My you’ve hardly changed at all.”
“Long story really, but the truth is I was Sandra McKillop back then at the Institute.”
“Ah I remember the name,” Deb said enthusiastically,” Wasn’t your great great grand aunt a McKillop, yes, the blessed Mary, being considered through the Catholic hierarchy for canonisation?”
Sandra, blushed a little, though noticeable if you’d been close enough.
“Yes,” she said softly, “thankyou for remembering, it was such an awkward time for the family. Her saintliness made all our actions come under scrutiny, as if we were all up for canonisation, and we weren’t even religious Catholics. By that time we were lapsed Catholics, so the intrusion of religion back into our lives was, well, not to be disrespectful, a pain.”
Deb pondered how Sandra had kept this all to herself. She recognised her now as a prefect, at the Institute, trying to be perfect. A slight twist of the letters R and E had dominated Sandra’s school life. Other parts of the curricula such as Religious Education had also dominated their young lives. It was more than simply prancing around with the slimmer volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica on their heads. At school she’d wondered if this had been a means of attempting to transmit knowledge cranially. These thoughts dissipated in her late teens.
The intimacy of the moment was not lost on them. Both could feel the onion unpeeling. It was slow work, best done underwater to avoid eye sting.
Sandra knew she’d been seen as a leader in those school days. What worried her though was that all she knew of Deb was her adopted family’s wealth; a somewhat vulgar reason to be aware of anyone.
“So, what did you get up to after Institute. I recall you were the belle of the ball that year, so elegant, sophisticated and sexy and everyone’s dream!” Sandra gushed.
Deb flushed, really flushed and it showed.
She bit her inner lip slightly to still her inner fears. Deb felt on the precipice she knew she’d edged towards, when they’d both agreed to saunter casually down the slope away from the camp.
Before Deb answered or even nodded, a sideways glance caught sight of a jumbuck coming down to drink at the waterhole.
“I was a virgin at the ball,” she confided, ” but….” and before she could go on.
The boiling billy of Lapsang Souchong Cha went flying, scalding the right side of the fire attendant’s face as he pursued the jumbuck. He manfully ignored the searing pain and scampered after the startled beast. Sensing the threat, the jumbuck had raised its head to the sound, reared and took off. The fireman took several minutes to corner the jumbuck in a thorny thicket, before hogtying it, and returned to the upset campfire. He prayed, then slit the bleating jumbucks throat, in the halal approved manner and bled the beast. This way he could serve it up to any possible guest, Moslem, Christian or Callithumpian.
Vegans though were excluded. There also was much less risk of blood staining his when he stowed it in his tucker bag. To fit it all in though he had to chop off the lower legs and hooves as they wouldn’t scrunch neatly into the tucker bag. He thought to get a larger tucker bag at the next sale down at Goulburn Disposals and Camping, maybe at the post Christmas sales.
The local dingoes would appreciate the fresh shin, hooves and head.
The jumbuck’s drained warm blood though was delish before it congealed. He guzzled it all.
Deb and Sandra watched this drama play out from the safety of the dense foliage between them and the extinguished campfire. When they looked at Deb’s Rolex they could see they’d been away longer than intended. The fire attendant wore his clothing in a slightly un Anglo-Saxon manner. He seemed too slight. The leather hat sat incongruously on his head before it flew off during the jumbuck chase. To Deb and Sandra, he looked a bit Chinese.
They circled round the jumbuck slaughter site and back up the stony track to the hilltop encampment, too stunned to repeat a word of it to the menfolk.
“D’ya enjoy the walk?” Allan enquired,” get down to girlie stuff,” he mocked.
Deb chose to ignore him. She was still shocked at herself for blurting out about being a coming out ball virgin. It had reset her mind to a time she’d long ago forgotten, and she wanted to stay there. Allan was an impediment. He was now, he would have been more so then.
“Yes, we enjoyed each other’s company,” she said, avoiding any discussion of the jumbuck sacrifice.
Up to the crest of the hill rode the nearest neighbour to Mt Binda. He technically didn’t own the property, but had been there for ages. Some quirk in the NSW land regulations which others like Eddie Obeid and his mate MacDonald had exploited. In fact he was squatting.
The men around the fire were squatting too, at least as far as their unexercised muscles would allow. Chinese made polyester camp chairs with ridiculous side arms and places for a couple of tinnies were in abundance.
The real squatter approached the assembly and scanned those presence. He was on the lookout for something. He was clearly anxious, but being outnumbered he knew his chances of making real progress in his search were slim.
“What sort of meat you got grilling there?” he asked.
“Beef, kangaroo and fresh road kill possum and wombat,” came the reply.
The squatter was relieved road kill was being utilised and that no jumbuck had been mentioned but he asked,
“What you got in them eskies then?”
Before they could answer, all their heads turned in the direction of the dusty road to see a Toyota Landcruiser hooning up the slope. It was a police car. After it slid to a halt at the edge of the encampment out jumped jodhpur wearing rural cops from the cattle rustling squad, one, two, three. A sergeant, first class constable and rookie.
The squatter felt emboldened now to get to the point.
“So which of you buggers been stealing my sheep then?” he challenged.
It was so quiet even at this distance you could hear the transmitter crackling in the background. Deb and Sandra furtively looked at one another. Should they fess up to what they’d seen at the Billabong? Was it their business? Didn’t the fire attendant need the food. He’d have had to buy it at an inflated price after butchering down Goulburn way, and clearly it would not have been halal. No, no their lady training kept them schtum.
The silence continued.
” Ok, then if you see any of my sheep round here, leave them alone, they’re worth a bloody fortune now!” he said as yanked his horse’s head towards the slope.
He cantered off down the hill to the billabong, closely followed on foot by the police, one, two, three.
The squatter and police party had been gone several hours before they ascended the hill again, sweating and begging a cold tinnie.
“Nothing to see down there,” they said, “but evidence of a recent campfire and by the smell of it Lapsang Souchong tea. We reckon someone has used the smell, to try hide the smell of slaughtering.”
The sergeant added, “So any of you folk know anything about this?”
As it was clear to the men assembled that this was a question addressed to them, they truthfully answered, “No.”
“We did see rippling on the billabong as if someone had chucked something in there. You guys not using it as a rubbish dump are you? We’ve squandered loads of government money from the Murray Darling
Thingamabob cleaning our section of the catchment, so to put it bluntly, we don’t want it fucked up!” the first constable added.
The GROSS members couldn’t really have given a toss, but the girls did.
Ripples in the still billabong waters and no fire attendant mentioned?
Had he jumped in to get away?
It was the stuff about which ballads could be written!
When Deb got back to the Wrangler, Allen was there. She wasn’t sure where he’d been while she was away but the distinct aroma of Chesterfield Blue smoking tobacco hung about his shoulders. Being mixed with the eucalyptus and pine smoke of the campfire, she knew she didn’t have to worry where he’d spent his time. However. he seemed a little depressed, emotionally flat, and wanted to get a few hours shut eye before the ham challenge began at midnight in the bush.
“How was she?” he asked without conviction.
Deb noticed his tone, but chose to ignore it.
Though she hadn’t spoken of finishing school, at first acquaintance it didn’t seem the sort of how you doing type of
question one should ask at this stage of their emerging friendship. Their whole conversation had confirmed though, this was a lady of some breeding and was someone with whom girlie secrets could safely be shared.
“She seemed quite nice thanks, we’ll catch up over the weekend while you guys are doing your ham thing.”
Allen seemed comfortable with this, and after a couple more cold tinnies he was off for a kip.
Deb thought that he was already three parts sozzled, but knew better than to try to stop him. If he was not fully functional for the first hours of the challenge, that was his concern. She’d be fast asleep.
KarmaCarol reflected on her chat with Deb too after she’d departed.
“Nice lady,” she thought,” I could get on with her really well.”
Scratching her memory she thought she could place Deb from finishing school. Deb though had not seemed to recall her. Perhaps they could try out some names on each other when next they met. KarmaCarol slowly realised Deb must have been in the grade year below her, but had a presence beyond her years.
As her memory nodes flashed into life, she recalled Deb had caused somewhat of a stir when she had started. She had come from a super rich family, though herself an orphan. That’s all she knew about her. Deb was always quiet at school, and KarmaCarol pondered on what her back story might have been. It hadn’t mattered then, when important issues were in play. For young ladies, even those at finishing school Cleo made the issues, especially in the sealed section.
KarmaCarol back at her Winnebago was also reflecting. How lovely Deb had been, she thought. Had I known her in Sydney I’d not have had to come all the way out here. Away from the drama of recent past times. Supporting her family had been a real chore when she looked back. Sure she’d done it willingly, as girls of her era did, but the liberation succeeding generations had gained, made her feel a little jaded. Sexual liberation, the Pill, abortion, agenda’s on domestic violence and child care had made all the struggles she’d been through seem passé. Each family matter had piled on, one after the other, a dry laundry basket perpetually screaming for ironing. She’d never shirked, though she might have at times gotten a little behind in her self imposed domestic schedule, but in the end it was always done. At least now with Franklin she could slow down. The house in the country, the Winnebagoing across the in the country had been so, so soothing.
Franklin had been humorously affected by the Northern Territory’s parochial advertising. Though he hadn’t been so affected by the Scomo’s invocation of ” Where the Bloody Hell are Ya!” the Northern Territory ad had hit the mark. They readily took up the invitation to “See you in the Northern Territory,” revered by Aussies as the CUNT advertisement. It was a gift at so many levels.
The last of KarmaCarol’s tribulation’s followed her sister in law’s purchase of her golden Porsche from the proceeds of her brother’s estate. KarmaCarol had been left with nothing. This was in spite of having nearly solely cared for her veteran brother in his declining years. Her sister in law had been married with six kids, though in the final decade a marriage in name only. KarmaCarol, was aware of some of her nieces and nephews. Her brother’s kids, as young professionals and wanna be Instagram hits, were focussed on ensuring the government or private sector looked after their Dad Cost effectively. That their aunt had taken on the role suited them and ma right down to the boot straps. All the more residual dosh from Dad’s superannuation dough for e-start-ups. Their Mum really trumped them when she opted for the gold Porsche from her, what they considered, too large a portion of their inheritances.
Her sister in law had moved into the ritzy part of Rose Bay, with Sydney’s upper crust when hubby passed. The kids were content in their Macmansions in the burbs, purchasing in the upper market sections of each estate in which they purchased. Being out there, they had little time to contact their Mum, but came in semi regularly to see who they could spot in the cafes and coffee haunts of the area. They regularly contacted her by messenger, messages, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter. Of late though recently Mum had seemed a little distracted. Her keyboarding skills seemed to be slipping, and she didn’t respond as instantaneously as she had when they had first trained her.
Perhaps KarmaCarol could unburden her cares on her yet to be friend Deb.
“How exciting this will be,” she thought, not knowing just how exciting!
KarmaCarol was chowing down on her slither of barramundi, with a side of grilled tofu and vegan patties.
The grilled tofu was perfect. Gosh, Tom was a genius on the grill. The vegan patties a little under done. She could excuse Tom, as he was used to see the blood flow and turn from red, darker red, just done brown to dark, then over done oozy liquid. The patties still had an over kale taste and whatever protein extender they’d used was overdone by a handful. However, it was the barramundi she was particularly enjoying. It seemed so succulent, with what she thought was a slight hint of briny sea water.
“Where’d ya get this then?” Tom asked as he flipped it.
“Down at the organic butcher next to Woolies,” she replied, “I always shop local!”
“Bah! And the butcher’s selling fish he ?” he retorted.
“Yes,” she said, ” he said it was ocean fresh.”
“I reckon! When it came out of some ocean fish pond in the Bay of Thailand before freezing, road to Bangkok, airfreighting to Sydney then road transported from Mascot to warehouse then on to Goulburn.
KarmaCarol suppressed a rising gag. She’d been taken in by the locals, and not for the first time. Her training all those years ago at finishing school was not wasted, replying,
” Thanks for letting me know Tom, I’ll be sure to be more vigilant next time, thank you.”
When she’d forced down the final mouthful of barramundi, leaving half a patty untouched, she delicately touched the sides of her mouth with her linen napkin. Yes she knew paper serviettes might serve the purpose as well, and without the added discipline of having to wash, dry and iron. But that was her and such training is hard won. She liked herself and for once in her life someone liked, even loved her. Franklin had been a real boon to her self esteem. Coming to the country had been the wisest decision she’d made in a lifetime of self sacrifice.
As KarmaCarol was ruminating on these thoughts, she saw Deb crossing the fire circle. They’d not been introduced formally, but though she’d have preferred this, a spontaneous meeting in this setting was to be expected.
Deb sized up Karma Carol as she approached. Deb recognised the distinct posture she adopted. Back straight, feet slightly outwardly opposed, and an ever so delicate hip twist, presenting a different plane in the lower body to upper torso. It was the elegance taught with books on head and not in hand they’d both picked up from youthful classes. This vision eased Deb’s latent anxiety. Surely a lady of some breeding like her could form a useful ally. Not yet at the hug or air kissing stage of a relationship Deb meet KarmaCarol’s proffered hand with a nodding,
“So very nice to meet you,” though she stopped before saying Allen had spoken glowingly of her partner VK39BAA.
KarmaCarol was surprised by the cultured tone of Deb’s voice. This was most unexpected. Out around Goulburn where she and Franklin lived, dropped “haitches”, truncated names and severely foul language were all the go. Not since living in Mosman had she heard the calming lilt of well-spoken English. It took her back like an elastic wound too tight then released, an energy which spoken word had given her, now sadly unexercised.
” And you too, do you like coming out back of beyond for these Ham meets?”
Deb wondered how to answer, and if she did, then how enthusiastically. She decided on discretion and kept her comments neutral. This wasn’t a time to exchange bosom buddy confidences, something she realised she’d missed in recent times.
“It’s my first actually, you could say I’m a Ham Virgin,” half smiling at her little attempt to engage KarmaCarol.
” Well my cherry popped soon after we came out here,” KarmaCarol, continuing the slightly loaded metaphor.
“This is our, hhmm, I can’t recall how many times we’ve been here. Apparently it’s a great spot for hamming, especially on a cloudy night when the stratosphere is reflexive. She was clearly not much into the technical stuff, as was Franklin, but tagged along so as not to be left alone in dullsville Goulburn for a weekend.
“So what else is there to do if you’re not on the radio? Guess this weekend will be intense with clipped conversations or Morse transmissions from world wide call signs,” Deb said trying to ease herself into the Ham world.
“I usually wander around in the day, but typically there’s no other women here so it’s pretty solitary. I’d never be seen with any of the guys. Innocuous as they seems, they all wag big fat tongues,” KarmaCarol said.
Deb chewed over what KarmaCarol had said. Perhaps this was a her chance for some girl talk over this weekend, the better because once they’d all gone home the chance of meeting again was unlikely. A chance to visit the virtual confessional into which she’d shared her most intimate secrets. It was where her tortured existence had found its roots. Allan, James, Robbie and her long ago ex husband had played their separate roles in keeping her locked in that dark booth; and they weren’t even Catholic!
Deb thought this wasn’t the time to get down and intimate, there was a whole weekend ahead, and chances would present.
Deb then replied after a moments thought,
“Well, I best get back and see what Allen’s up to, he’s getting on a bit now and he’s shaky on his feet, not that he’d admit it.”
“Oh poor dear,” KarmaCarol murmured supportively instinctively for a finishing school grad. Recognising that such a fate awaited Franklin and herself down life’s road she continued,
“I watched my Dad and Mum decline over several years, and though they had private elder care I hated the process. To be truthful, I’m glad it’s all over now and I can get on with my life.”
Deb realised the conversation was sliding into a realm she hoped for in the future so she brought it to an end with,
“I’m so sorry to hear that, can we catch up this weekend for a real chat?”
KarmaCarol perceptively picked up on the stressed, real, responding,
“Oh of course, love to, anytime I’m free, just come over to our trailer. I promise to come over whenever I can slip away, which by the looks of it should be no problem this weekend.”
” Ok,” said Deb, “a deal.”
And without thinking they spontaneously reached out and embraced with cheek kissing on either cheek, a sure sign of their developing friendship.
The cavalcade of vehicles entered the dusty site. Allan had already selected what he thought was the best site. It was the reason they’d left their breezy unit by the Harbour so early that morning.
The campers rounded up into a circle around the fire Allan had started with excessive amounts of petrol. He nearly incinerated himself on his second attempt having forgotten to close the lid of his jerry can when the flames roared away as latent embers flared. For fuel he’d eschewed the drier dead windfall timber surrounding the site, using the greener branches he could pick up in the immediate vicinity of the fire pit. By now the petrol odour had subsided and the incoming campers were glad to warm their backsides by raging fire. Some were still setting up their masts and antennae for an evening’s communicating as they waited for the right atmospheric conditions. Other national groups in the Ham Radio E8nthusiasts Annual Jamboree world wide competition for furthest contact in 24 hours were located at similar remote locations. Annually the team from Upper Tibet, lower Himalaya Group was found placed in the top three. Its altitude and closeness to the stratosphere gave them a decided advantage. They’d established a semi permanent base with funding from Ed Hilary, who’d climbed Everest. However, the site had become the preferred Himalayan rubbish dump for oxygen cylinders, plastic survival wrappings and Mountain Spring water bottles. Recently though there’d been an alarming increase in small condoms and all terrain wheel chairs. The stench of rotting food permeated the camp.
Not so at Binda. Meat of all types grilled and smoked on the half forty four gallon drum rack. The aroma tempted the nearby carnivores, but a couple of .33 shots into the gloaming forced them to rethink their hunger.
At the grill, grill master Tom wielded his tongs in a display of artistry rarely seen.
“Can I have some space on the flat plate to broil my fish?” one of the GROSS wives asked Tom.
He squinted through the smoke at her, feigning deafness.
“Can you put my fish on the hotplate?” she repeated in a slightly elevated tone.
“Fuck!” retorted Tom, ” next it’ll be tofu burgers and vegan patties!”
“Well, if you can fit them on too, I’d be obliged,” KarmaCarol replied.
KarmaCarol had recently changed her name from Sandra when she moved onto a small acreage with Franklin, just out of Goulburn. She’d meet Franklin, a recently retrenched public servant from Canberra who’d used his payout to go bush.
Katherine, Tom’s wife, heard his ‘fuck’ over at the trailer, banged her head on the raised side of their openable touring camper as she lifted her head to say,
“Tom! You just do what Karma, asked you to do or you’ll have me to answer to!”
Tom felt a bit silly, but not a lot, then recalled how he was in the minority at the last general meeting of GROSS, when it was decided to allow woman on the annual Jamboree, as a trial this year.
” Ok, ok, I’ll put it on but don’t blame me if it tastes like shit. It probably does without cooking anyway,” he thought under his breath.
Other GROSS members heard the exchange between Tom and KarmaCarol with a mixture of mirth and embarrassment. It really was Tom’s schtick. He was unmarried, not partnered and never likely to be, with a male female or intersex person. He liked his own company and ruled the grill. Ham radio was his one outlet from the fortnightly grind of picking up his CentreLink payments. Negotiating the always changing rules was a great intellectual challenge for him and recently he found that by moving just 10 km further from town his mutual obligation to apply for jobs was reduced. Together with his just started aged pension, life had never been better. With the Wuhan Virus though recently, he’d been forced to consider moving back closer to town to hook into the doubled JobSeeker allowance.
“Shit,” he thought, “If this keeps up I’ll have to vote Liberal next election.”
As dinner finished, GROSS members got down to chatting about their targets for the evening. Allan and Deb were known to some, but only by their ham call sign. Allen knew a few, Deb none.
Around the fire it was time to get serious. Convention was to drop call signs in this more intimate bush setting, time to relax. Until the radios crackled into life at the midnight start, no XA-4CD, OA2-BH, VK.2AK, K-4SU or even VK3D.L. was allowed.
Some of the elderly hams decided to catch a few hours sleep before the competition started. Though well into this age bracket, Allan didn’t. He’d spied a couple of likely missus’s or partners and he wasn’t gonna miss a chance. He just need to feed Deb a line, to keep her occupied so he could play.
“Have you meet KarmaCarol darl?” he cooed, wiping his dinner plate ostentatiously. It was the first time ever she’s seen him pick up a tea towel, so she was interested.
“I heard she went to the same finishing school as you?”
“Well, well ,”thought Deb, “this may not be such a write off of a weekend if there’s to be no porking.” However, she doubted that the suspension of Allen’s Jeep Wrangler could cope with cyclic vigorous vertical loading at Allen’s weight.”
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