The World According to Renee

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By 10am, the rain had stopped, allowing the funeral to be held outdoors as planned, albeit on soggy ground. At least it would be easier for the gravedigger, thought Lyndall bleakly. She pulled on her black dress, a half-size too small, choosing silver hooped earrings and black shoes with a small heel. Was it wrong to think she looked good in this outfit?

Dying was a terrible inconvenience. Terence never planned to die like this. He thought he’d die dramatically; a car crash or slip in front of a train perhaps. It’d started with a cough that didn’t go away, a diagnosis of lung cancer despite Terence never having smoked, and just four short months later he died in his sleep. Lyndall was furious with him. How dare he die so suddenly? They hadn’t seen the cherry blossoms in Japan, meditated in the middle of Stonehenge or posed in front of the pyramids in Giza. No, he’d gone and left her before they could do any of those things. And now Lyndall was alone, squeezed into a tight black dress with a zipper she couldn’t quite do up on her own.

Lyndall stood steadfastly during the service, staring straight ahead as the celebrant spoke comforting words Lyndall had written. The sun had burned the remaining rain clouds away, leaving a muggy residue that clung to everyone’s skin, making them even more uncomfortable. By request, the service was short with an invitation to Lyndall’s house for sandwiches and coffee and friendly chat about Terence’s happier times. She didn’t want anyone in her house but she was expected to be hospitable. Besides, she got a great deal on the catering thanks to Terence’s niece.

“Those with roses may now place them,” said the celebrant cordially. Lyndall stepped forward, placing her yellow rose on the casket.

“I’m sorry for your loss.” Lyndall swung around, trying to place the voice. She found it belonged to Kathy Street, Terence’s first wife. Kathy placed her own yellow rose next to Lyndall’s.

“Thankyou,” replied Lyndall succinctly. She really didn’t have any malice towards Kathy, but she wondered what Terence would have thought had he known she was at his funeral.

“Lyndall! How are you doing?” Lyndall’s attention was pulled again. Frank Deely, Terence’s former boss. Frank placed a rolled up newspaper on the casket. Lyndall made a mental note to ask about that at the wake.

“I’m well, thankyou.” What else was she expected to say?

Back at her house, the guests mingled in small groups. Lyndall knew most of the faces, the Who’s Who of Terence’s life. Mostly family. Terence’s three brothers stood in a corner, sipping water from iced glasses. Lyndall spied Frank Deely and wandered over to him.

“Thanks for coming, Frank. It would have meant a lot to him, knowing you were there.”

“He was a great bloke, Lyn.” She detested being called Lyn. “I’m so sorry we lost him so early.”

“What was the newspaper for?”

Frank smiled. “The day I met Terence, he brought a newspaper to the interview and asked if I wanted to read Garfield because he knew the job was his and he didn’t want to waste any of my time answering silly questions.”

Lyndall smiled. He was right, of course. Terence had already been offered the job and the interview with Frank was just a formality.

“He would’ve appreciated the gesture.”

Frank smiled wryly, unsure of what to say next. He gave her a short, awkward hug and moved towards the roast beef sandwiches. Lyndall sipped iced tea. Despite being the centre of attention, she stood alone in the room, no one quite sure what to say to her. She wondered if she could sneak a nip of vodka into the iced tea without anyone noticing.

“Lyndall, it’s good to see you.” Her head swung to her left, finding no one standing where she expected. She looked around, confused. “Over here!” called the voice. She followed the sound, her eyes settling on a tall man standing a few feet away, leaning against the wall near the kitchen entrance. He was smiling, his hand wrapped around a bottle of Terence’s favourite beer. He must have found it in the bottom of the pantry where she’d hidden it a few weeks earlier.

Her brow furrowed with confusion. She couldn’t place him.

“Thankyou for coming,” she started. “It would have meant a lot to him…”

He grinned. “You have no idea who I am,” he noted with amusement.

“I’m sorry…”

He transferred his beer to the other hand, holding out his now free hand to shake hers. “Mark Delvaney.”

“You obviously know me,” Lyndall replied in a tone that could be construed as bitchy.

Mark wasn’t put off, his grin getting wider with bemusement.

“Yes, I know you,” replied Mark without further explanation. “I always knew someday I’d be your man.”

Lyndall’s heart skipped a beat, her fake smile frozen on her face as her eyes widened. Suddenly, the black dress was even tighter and she stumbled backwards in her hurry to escape outside. As she did, she heard Mark laughing.

The vodka-laced iced tea was a puddle on the ground but Lyndall didn’t notice or care. She was outside, gasping for air, her lungs filling but not feeling full. Too late, she recognised the panic attack. Inside, Mark was congratulating himself.

“Mark Delvaney. I’m a property developer. I’m very rich.”

Mark Delvaney was indeed a property developer, and he was also quite wealthy. It was his ‘elevator speech’; the line he used whenever he was asked to introduce himself. Most people were instantly turned off by his introduction, but Mark had a habit of harassing people until he got what he wanted. In his opinion, it was the only way to do business. He had dropped out of school aged seventeen and bummed around for a few years in menial jobs before deciding working for The Man would never make him rich. He enrolled at university as a mature age student at 25, quickly discovering there was no degree for becoming a billionaire. He weaseled his way into Martin & Martin, a property development company with numerous portfolios worth several million dollars. By the time Mark was finished with them, they were within a whisper of becoming a billion dollar company. Mark took the knowledge from Roger Martin Sr and used it for his own profit. It didn’t take long. Mark was one of those people whom others would say inspired them, a Richard Branson of the property world, a charming version of Donald Trump with better hair.

Mark Delvaney, self-made millionaire in four years. Unmarried, childless (as far as he knew), and madly in love with Lyndall.

He’d first seen her at a cafe. She was alone, ordering an ordinary coffee on an ordinary day wearing ordinary clothes and ordinary, unbrushed hair. If he remembered correctly, it was six years, four months, three days and seven hours ago. Perhaps it was her ordinariness that captured his attention. His eyes were drawn to her left hand; she wore a plain, yellow gold wedding band. He finished his double shot espresso, licked his lips, cocked his head and determined his destiny to follow her. She walked three blocks to an apartment building, pressed the button and was immediately invited in. She didn’t even look around. In that walk, she hadn’t sipped her coffee. She hadn’t taken a single bite of the double choc chip muffin she carried but not bought at the cafe. He found himself besotted from just a glance at her, despite her desperate housewife appearance. He told himself later it was her inner beauty he’d seen. Of course, he didn’t know her name at first. He imagined her name was something glamorous, named after an old Hollywood star or Greek goddess. He felt pleased with himself when he learned Lyndall meant beautiful.

Lyndall didn’t notice Mark that day in the cafe. She’d woken late after a restless sleep, grabbed a coffee from a cafe she didn’t normally frequent, and headed to a friend’s place to watch chick flicks and bitch about their men.

Terence was having an affair. Lyndall knew about it for some time before confronting him. At first she was angry, then sad, then vengeful. In the end, when she found his secret phone tucked in the pocket of jeans she thought he never wore and confronted him, she felt defeated.

“Do what you want,” she’d told him. “I knew you were never mine.” She closed the door, leaving him staring after her.

“Once a cheater, always a cheater,” reminded her friend. “He cheated on Kathy with you…”

Lyndall nodded. “Yeah. I knew then he was never truly mine. He would always belong to the next pretty dame in a skirt.”

Her friend laughed. “Since when have you ever called anyone a dame?”

Mark made it his business to find out who this woman was. His attraction to her was fuelled by his lust for older women and his desire to control them. Maybe she appeared vulnerable that day in the cafe? Despite his immodesty when it came to his success, he had never been interested in trophy girlfriends. “Oh sure,” he would brag. “I could have models and actresses and pretty things hanging off my arm, but they’re all pretty brain dead, wouldn’t you agree?”

His first girlfriend was in high school, when Mark still wore braces and his hair hung in his eyes. She was a year older and taught Mark everything she knew, which wasn’t much. He was twenty three when he met Mari, the first real love of his life. Mari was in her mid thirties, a little pudgy around the belly and thighs, but really quite pretty when she dressed up. She worked in an accounting firm and when Mark Delvanely first walked through her door, she was smitten; she’d always gone for that bad boy persona. Their relationship was rocky from the beginning as Mark pursued his dream of becoming rich while she earned barely enough to keep them both fed. She was besotted by him, but his refusal to work in a job just to pay the bills finally crumbled their relationship. He knew he was destined for something better both personally and professionally.

He once bumped into Lyndall at a shopping centre, deliberately of course. In that one bump, he knocked her handbag and while she was busily putting things back, he apologised to distract her while he pocketed her purse and mobile phone. This act gave him all the information he wanted to know: Mrs Lyndall Browne, an address, a birthdate, a stack of loyalty cards to her favourite stores. It was too easy to buy her something from a store and send it to her on special occasions. At first, she naturally thought it was Terence trying to repair their marriage, but his credit card bills showed the purchases weren’t his. Her friends also denied it. Her colleagues pleaded innocence. Terence never knew. The mobile phone also provided her phone number. He took a gamble, guessing she wouldn’t change her number when she bought a new phone.

Happy birthday, Lyndall. A scented candle from her favourite candle store.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year, Lyndall. Fourteen karat rose gold earrings, bracelet, necklace, anklet.

Happy Valentine’s Day, from your secret admirer. A dozen long-stemmed roses and a box of imported Italian chocolates.

Happy anniversary, darling. A diamond ring which she always returned and never wore.

The cards and text messages were always signed, “With love, someday I’ll be your man.”

Now Terence was dead. His obituary was printed in the same paper announcing Mark’s intention to bulldoze three run-down houses and build a new high rise residential tower overlooking the new man-made lake he’d also developed. Expressions of interest for the pre-sale of these apartments were welcome. Terence Browne, loving husband and father, now with Jesus in His Eternal Kingdom. Lyndall didn’t write the obituary; she had told the funeral director to submit the cheapest template he had. Mark was looking through the obits from habit, noting which of the recently deceased had a spouse needing to sell their house in a hurry. Death was so expensive these days and it is so hard to look after a big house all by yourself… Terence’s notice piqued Mark’s interest. Until now, he’d admired Lyndall from afar. She was his true love, she knew he existed, she was just waiting for her husband to be out of the picture before she was able to be with him. And now, her husband was dead. It was time to make his move.

Mark smiled when the rain cleared just in time for the funeral. He dressed in his best suit, his lucky suit he always wore when brokering an important deal. As he adjusted his tie, his heart raced. Today was the day he would make himself known to her. It would be easy; she already knew him. She would’ve loved those scented candles. He knew floral scents would have to be her favourite, but he’d also sent summery flavours because she was a burst of sunshine in his world. He pictured her wearing his rose gold jewellery, fingering the delicate chain as she admired herself in the mirror. She’d be thinking about him, wishing she was free of her marriage shackles. He imagined her gazing wistfully at her roses, a candle illuminating the flowers, releasing scented oils from the petals. The tropical air would be filled with a multitude of scents swimming around her senses. As Lyndall made love to her husband, she’d be imagining the forbidden lust of a haunted lover. His gifts got him noticed; today he would reveal himself triumphantly. Sure, she couldn’t attach herself straight away, but after an

Lappropriate period of mourning they would come out as a couple. Yes, today was the day.

Lyndall gasped for breath, her lungs on fire, her brain screaming for oxygen. Her friend Sara ran out after her, holding a bottle of water and a pack of cigarettes. “Lyn! Lyn!”

“He’s here,” breathed Lyndall heavily. Sara’s brow furrowed with confusion.

“Honey, drink some water.”

Her brain was spinning. It wasn’t just the presents. This guy knew her. He knew her favourite stores, her favourite scents, her birthday… Terence had always been there to defend her, protect her, be with her. Now Terence was gone and she was alone, he was inside her house right now. Was he going through her wardrobe as she struggled to breathe? The weight of his stare bore through her even though he was nowhere in sight… or was he? She looked around. Sara had one hand on her, mouthing words Lyndall couldn’t hear, drowned by her own thoughts.

“Stop!” she yelled. Sara pulled Lyndall to her feet and walked her inside. The darkness confused her eyes for a moment, but when they’d adjusted she saw him standing by the breakfast bar at the entrance to the kitchen. He was still smiling, beer still in one hand.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said simply.

“Get out,” Lyndall said weakly. Even Sara, standing next to her, didn’t hear.

“We should talk, Lyndall. Get to know each other. I think you’d be surprised.”

Lyndall stood to her full height, her heart pounding, her thoughts muddled. But this, this she saw clearly. She smiled at Mark, moving closer to him. He grinned seductively as she walked past him into the kitchen. She turned to face him, her hand slipping into the top drawer behind her back. She silently withdrew a knife from its sheath, hiding it behind her back.

“It was so nice of you to come today,” she drawled, a smile slipping from her lips. “Terence would be so pleased to know my true friends are here for me today.”

Sara only watched as Mark made small talk as he walked towards her. She saw the knife behind Lyndall’s back.

This was his moment. In his mind they were already betrothed, all he needed from her was her hand to slip on the ring and make it official. There was no better moment than this, her husband’s wake. He bent on one knee.

“I have something for you,” he responded. His heart was beating faster now; this was his moment. Her husband had kindly stood aside to let destiny take its course. He slipped his hand inside his pocket, fingering the perfect diamond ring. He opened his hand to show her. “I know you’ve seen this before. I know you returned it. That’s okay, I know now that it was stupid of me, expecting you to wear this while your husband was still alive. He’d never have understood that someday, I’d be your man.” He held the ring towards her. Lyndall stopped, the smile frozen on her face. Sara nudged her forward; knowing what was about to happen but powerless to stop it. She felt sick. Lyndall took a step.

“I… I hardly believed this would ever happen,” she whispered, her hand stretching to meet his.

“It’s been a long time for me too,” answered Mark. “From the moment I saw you, I knew you were special.” The other guests were oblivious to what was happening in the kitchen, their voices hushed in respectful conversation between themselves.

“Shh,” whispered Lyndall. “Stand up.”

Mark obeyed. His eyes were locked on hers. In that second, Lyndall whipped the knife from behind her back, sliding it into his abdomen just below his ribs. Her breath was heavy, her hand steady. His mouth opened in surprise, his hand instinctively shooting to his wound to stem the blood.

“What have you done?” he tried to say, but the words caught in his throat. He slipped to the floor amid an increasing pool of blood. Sara’s scream hung in the air, calling attention to the kitchen.

“You’re wrong,” spat Lyndall over the dying body on her kitchen floor. “You’ll never know what it’s like to be my man.”

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August 1, 2018 Posted by | Short Stories | , , , , | Leave a comment

I want to be a writer

This post was inspired by my friend Devin’s blog. She outlines specific moments in her life leading to the moment she knew she was a writer.

The question every kid gets is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer depended on how I was feeling that day. Truthfully though, I had no idea. I knew I liked writing and I worked on trying to get better. In the fifth grade, if we finished our work early, we could use the extra time to write a story which would be hung on the back wall for everyone to read. I only had a couple of stories there; I always took too long in finishing my work.

In high school, we had a writer in residence but I’d been sick the day of registration so I missed the opportunity to bask in his wisdom (as it happens, I can’t even remember who it was!) During this time, we got our very first home computer (complete with a whopping 25mb of RAM!). My sister and I had a writing challenge: we’d give each other the first sentence and you’d have to write as much as you can in 15 minutes. Some of those stories were priceless, but are now sadly lost to the mists of time.

As an adult, I told people I wanted to be a writer. I had various stories and ideas saved to the computer but was too shy to let anyone read them.

Then it happened: One day, I was at a seminar and met a copywriter. I’d been doing this for years in various jobs with no idea it was a job of its own! I signed up, did the course and started writing my little heart out. Herein lies the biggest secret: In the course, the first piece of advice was to tell people you’re a copywriter because you never know where it will lead and it’s often your immediate friends and family who give you your first jobs. Whereas I’d always thought “I want to be a writer”, I’d forgotten that I already was. Now, when people say to me “I want to be a writer”, I ask, “How will you know when you are one?” Often, their answer is, “When I’m published”. My reply: “Don’t you need to write something in order to be published? So yes, you’re already a writer!”

Being a published author is a journey, being a writer isn’t. I know people who are great storytellers but not good writers, and I know of successful writers who are rubbish storytellers.

 

July 23, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment

An Interesting Life

I had an interesting chat with some Jehovah’s Witnesses recently. Here’s what they believe in a nutshell: one day, the Earth will be restored to perfection and everyone will live forever in perfect happiness, health and harmony. I was asked if I would like to live forever. I thought about all the vampire novels I’ve ever read, the torment of immortality. I thought about Paul Edgecomb from The Green Mile who watched his family and friends die, not knowing if or when his time might come. I answered no, I would not like to live forever.

The older of the two JW women said she once thought that way, but she’s since changed her mind. She remembered being young, her joints moving perfectly, how fit and healthy she felt. She recalled being on the beach, swimming and jumping in the waves with the sun on her face thinking that the moment would last forever. If she could feel like that every day forever, then count her in!

I thought about this for a moment, then asked, “Wouldn’t you be bored? All this time and nothing to do?” Both women replied that there was no hurry, they could do whatever they liked for as long as they liked… which is where I started to ponder deep thoughts. With all that free time, I can read books and watch movies! I like reading. I like watching movies. I like reading about people who are far removed from anything I could ever be. I like knowing how and why people got to be famous or why their story is worth sharing. The secret to an interesting story is suffering. Something has had to happen to a person to make their story interesting.

“But, wouldn’t it be great if there weren’t any wars? No sickness? No school massacres?” Yes, it would be great. But through suffering comes greatness. Whenever something awful happens, the best comes out in mankind. Consider The Book Thief, one of the best novels I’ve ever read. The backdrop is WWII and the story is beautiful and sad, but awesome. You’re not going to get that kind of story in a Perfect World (unless previous stories from humankind somehow exist throughout the transformation of the planet, which I’m assured will not happen as everything from the former Earth will be completely wiped out). Consider movies which are considered the best of all time, such as Gone With the Wind. Again, set against the backdrop of a war. Scarlett O’Hara et al have nothing to work with if there’s no war. Scarlett is not nearly as interesting without having two dead husbands and traipsing around creating scandals left, right and centre.

Whether or not your beliefs in the second coming and restoration of the Earth, I would not like to be part of it if there’s nothing to read or watch. Save the happy beach memories for Instagram, because there’s not really any story worth telling behind it.

December 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 1 Comment