A familiar scent 1

 

freesias2

Our writers’ group wrote our responses to this prompt: “There was a familiar scent in the air…”

Always interesting to see individual impressions of a subject.

Jane

There was a familiar scent in the air. Annie paused, momentarily struck. It was the soft, sweet scent of freesias, a fragrance of her grandmother’s garden on a warm spring day and not something that she expected to smell in hospital in the depths of winter. She cast a look around the room but there was just one other woman resting opposite her. She was snoring softly and hadn’t woken when Annie had been wheeled into the corner.

Annie leaned forward, thinking that perhaps it was just a floral scent being worn by one of the nursing staff. But there was no-one in sight and all that she could smell now was the brazen note of antiseptic, strong enough to singe nasal hair and cover most of the bodily odours in the ward. She sighed and closed her eyes. It might have been the effect of the medication or a delayed impact of the anaesthetic but as she closed her eyes, suddenly drowsy, she could smell it again.

Annie let her mind wander back to when life was simple and relatively pain-free, when her school holidays were spent at her grandparents’ house and days passed by playing in the wonderland that was their garden.

The freesias were planted in a neat row along the driveway, forming a fragrant guard of honour along the entrance. There were several garden beds at the front and back of the property, and Annie could picture the native trees marching along one fence line, bristling with banksia men and their fierce brown faces. The front garden was encircled by camellias, their blooms both large and small providing a colourful carpet of petals as the seasons changed. A large macadamia tree stood sentry over the driveway, its barbed leaves protecting the tough nuts. Bright bottle brushes and grevilleas tempted the birds, honeyeaters dancing swiftly about when the shrubs were in bloom.

The steep back garden had been terraced in part to grow vegetables. Crisp beans grew against the back fence, sharing a space with colourful sweet peas in spring. Parsley grew in pots, and Annie had loved to pluck and lightly crush the curling herb between her fingers. Large cabbages grew in winter, their dark green and purple leaves encasing the heavy hearts of the vegetables. The cumquat tree had enchanted her; the zesty skin of the carefully harvested small fruit later transformed into jam. A gum tree towered high above the clothes line, a favourite podium for the magpies to sing their beautiful songs.

            Annie walked herself around the garden again, taking slow steps to enjoy the multicoloured freesia blooms, almost too heavy for their stems. She walked over to the camellias, marvelling at the marbling of pinks and whites and reds on the petals, such a contrast to the glossy emerald leaves. She reached out and felt once more the soft and comforting warmth of her grandmother’s hands as the scent of freesias surrounded her.

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A familiar scent 2

cliff2

Alison:

There was a familiar scent in the air. Those trees, in blossom now, were rare. She had only ever seen them here. Their tight little white flowers appeared once a year, for a short time. She breathed deeply, standing there beside the four-wheel-drive. A peppery scent, it was. With a hint of floral sweetness. She had no idea what a botanist would call them, but she knew them as beloved friends, waiting to greet her at the end of a long day’s drive.

The light would soon be gone, and she had to make camp. But she couldn’t resist wandering over to the grove of trees huddling together near a dry creek bed, breaking off a couple of twigs in blossom, and sticking them in an empty lemonade bottle, and adding a dash of water from her canvas waterbag. She placed the bottle on the bonnet of her car, then set about making camp. Not really much to do. Pitch the small tent and throw her Thermarest and sleeping bag inside. Attach the fridge and stove to gas bottles. Find a flat spot for her table and chair. She could be here for days, so it was worth being comfortable.

Tired now, she leaned against the car, and came away daubed with red dust. The cliff she was here for sat fifty metres away. It took her breath away. Its steep sandstone walls reared up out of the quiet scrub, its veins of claystone just visible now in the late afternoon light, like spidery calligraphy against the stronger reds and yellows. Out of habit she scanned the surface for handholds, footholds, a way up. She had climbed here before, but not for a long time. Not since… well, a long time.

She thought of the ropes and carabiners neatly packed in plastic boxes. She thought of her climbing shoes, and where they had taken her. Up The Breadknife, once. That was hard. But it was good. That was with Ben, when he was still…

She breathed out impatiently and put her camp kettle on the stove to make a cup of tea. She had to get past that.  She would never climb again if she couldn’t get past that terrible, terrible day. Get back on the horse, that’s what people said.

She drank her tea, and found it was dark. The stars blazed overhead in a clear sky. Tomorrow she and that cliff would talk. She didn’t want to think about it now because a twisting pain started up in her belly when she did. But tomorrow. She would climb it tomorrow.

A familiar scent 3

baking

Richard:

There was a familiar scent in the air…….  and Harry stopped to take it in.  He sniffed, and raised a dampened finger, trying to determine the direction it was coming from.

The soft breeze – just a whisper, really, – was coming from the other side of the narrow street.  Harry wondered if it was coming from the house with the open door.

His morning walk had taken him into an older part of the town, away from the ‘better’ parts – the streets with views, or river frontages.  The houses here were old, narrow, and often unpainted, workmen’s cottages.  They reminded him so much of another city’s poorer quarter, almost 70 years ago.

So did the smell.  It came again, in a complex weave.  He tried to tease apart its components, and, in his mind, was back there, by the kitchen door, watching and hoping for some titbit.  His grandmother, the shortest person in the room, seemed the largest, as she directed the activities of his mother and all his aunts.

The things that came out of that kitchen were marvellous, and the scents drifting past his nose were calling him back there – the roasting meat, the cooking onions, the warm aroma of bread and pastry that had been set out to cool, and, there, he had it at last, the mystery components – pumpkin pie, nutmeg, and cooked apples.

A car stopped in front of the house.  Two adults, uttering warnings about good behaviour, ushered four children from the car towards the house.  There was shouting and laughter as they ran for the front gate.  The last child, a skinny, tousle-haired boy, looked across at Harry, and smiled – and Harry felt young again.

The ocean helps me remember 5

surfer1

The character in Alison’s piece has trouble remembering anything at all – but the ocean takes her back to where she needs to be.

I don’t remember anything much these days. Life has become a kind of haze, where nothing starts or ends, it just suddenly is – then, is not. People loom into my view – my eyesight is not so good now – they give me food, or a drink, or pills… and then they fade away, and as often as not I feel sleepy and close my eyes for a bit. This woman in a blue cardy came to see me, said she was my niece. Well, she might have been and she might not, how can you tell? Truth has become a thing that bends and fades round the edges.

I still remember my lovely boy Connor though. Connor comes to visit me a lot. And sometimes he pops me in a wheelchair and makes a joke about me being behind the wheel of the Jaguar, and don’t go too fast Mum, the cops’ll be booking you for speeding. He wheels me out to the garden and we have a lovely chat out under the trees. He tells me all sorts of things I don’t remember now – but he’s such a lovely boy. He’s so kind.

 It’s daytime. We’ve had lunch. And now I see Connor striding into my room.

“Off to the beach we go, Mum. Are you ready?”

I look startled.

“I told you yesterday, Mum, I’m taking you down to Bronte for a bit of a look at the sea. You used to be a swimmer, Mum, real fast. And a surfer.”

Some pictures drifted through my muzzy head. Water foaming up around me, getting up my nose. An ice cream on a stick, with chocolate to lick off the outside. My pink bubble swimmers.

And my arms slicing through the water, strong and brown.

“I swam?” I say.

“Mum, you were a champ. Remember?”

And, weirdly, I do remember.

 

The ocean helps me remember 4

boat-leaving2

Jane remembers the feel, the physicality of ocean, her own history with it, and its relationship to all of us.

The ocean helps me remember to breathe. That might sound odd, especially if you’ve ever been caught underwater, the astounding pressure of water above, the inconsequential grains of sand below. It is the rhythm of the tide, rolling in, pulling out, relentless and seemingly without end. It reminds me of days spent in blinding sunshine, water eddying and eroding moated castles built with care a distance away from the ocean’s edge, but there’s the trick. There is no singular defined limit of an ocean, no perfectly marked boundary. Just as no breath is quite the same as the next.  

How I love to look at the horizon, that very slight curve far off in the distance that makes me realise the transitory nature of existence, how the ocean goes far beyond what I can see. The sheer scope of it. The hidden depths, the dangers and delights contained within. It reminds me of boat trips, fishing expeditions, even plane trips. How being perched up in a seat, high above the ground with a bird’s eye view didn’t make the ocean less magnificent. If anything it made it more so.

It makes me think of long journeys, centuries ago, across oceans melding into one another, no clearly defined frontiers, just endless blue horizons with occasional interruptions of land. It reminds me of journeys taken by boat, the vague sense of unease as moorings are left behind and we chase the horizon. The relief as land finally comes into view, the toss and tumble of the ocean’s passage soon becomes a memory.

 

 

 

The ocean helps me remember 3

caravan

The ocean helps Raewyn remember childhood holidays at the beach.

The ocean helps me remember endless days of childhood freedom.

Long summers at the campground just across the bitumen from the beach. At first in the blue bubble caravan, later in the bigger tan one with the striped annex. Being the eldest I was allowed to sleep out there on the canvas stretcher with the grey steel frame. This was Ohope in the seventies. Not crowded at all, with families of kids from all over who had the similar beach dream. Come evening, the bikes, scooters, and roller skates, and later skateboards, came out to play and the gaggle of all-age kids formed a tribe.

My mother always ensured we had these two weeks at the beach, mostly to get my father off the farm, but for our good as well. They both loved the beach. Dad was a one for body surfing, or blowing up the long blue lilo and thundering in on the huge swells that were common in those summers.

Mum’s joy was endless reading on a low fold-up beach chair in the breeze under the beach umbrella, its white tassels beating a wild, windy dance.

“Make sure you don’t drift, keep in line with the umbrella”, was always the instruction whenever we entered the surf. It was easy to allow the tow to take you sideways as you beat an endless path in and out of the broiling shore-bound waves.

I am grateful to have become a life-long lover of the endless summer beach and the deep, quiet blue ocean. The ocean helps me remember my childhood self.

 

The ocean helps me remember 2

island

The narrator in Richard’s piece associates the ocean with quite different memories, and we sense a political context here.

The heat is worse than usual, and the flies are relentless in their search for moisture, swarming at my eyes and nose and mouth.

This track I have chosen goes through the stink of the piles of garbage that have built up over the years, so the flies are inevitable. But that, I hope, makes the path a safe one, and I trudge on, drawn by a distant susurration.

I hear voices ahead – loud, arguing voices – and I slip off the track and crouch in the bushes.  The beer-fuelled argument stutters along the track towards the camp from which I have come, and I am thankful they have found something to argue about.  I glimpse a bottle being waved about, and can see that at least two of the four men have bush knives strapped to their waists.

When they are gone, I resume my trek towards that soft sound. It grows louder as I creep through the last trees and out onto the gritty beach.  There is no one in sight, so I can walk to the edge of the beach and let the tepid salt water surge around my ankles.  While sea-birds wheel and dive beyond the reef, as I stand, searching the blue expanse.

The Ocean helps me remember where I came from, and where I hoped to go, before they put me on this island, in that camp.

 

The ocean helps me remember…

Recently our writing group considered the thought-starter “The ocean helps me remember.” We decided to blog the interestingly different responses to those five words.

Therese’s response is poetic, philosophical.

seaweed-gulls1

They say that life began in the ocean, floating around in the Earth’s own amniotic fluid, so the ocean is where everything came from. We can all trace our ancestry back and back and back through time to some unicellular organism whose whole world was water, that eternal blue, sinking down into the black depths.

Perhaps everything is held there, all of evolutionary history, so I imagine the ocean as a place filled with memories. My own as well. All of the world’s memories mingling with flashing schools of sardines and echoing with whale song.

It is not often that I get to stand by the ocean, living inland as I do, but once or twice a year I hear the call, and I cannot help but respond, as if the whales themselves are summoning me. Their song can travel vast distances underwater; but on land, I think the ears of the heart can hear them just as well, can feel the deep vibrations of their sea voices. They call, and I go, finding some quiet corner of a beach where I can be with myself, and no one else.

The smell of salt water and rotting seaweed, the sound of gulls. It all reminds me of summers past, childhood holidays. Sitting on the beach shivering after taking a dip only to be wrapped in a towel baked warm by the sun. Sand stuck to my shins. Fruity ice blocks and fish and chips.

But these are only skin memories, some moving deeper, into flesh, being powerfully felt in the body; but most light on the surface, shallow. What I want is bone memory, and the ocean gives me that, transferring stories, histories, as if by osmosis. When I wade out into the water, and I feel the pull of the waves around my ankles, the push and suck of the tide, the gentle swish of seaweed against my leg, something deeper comes. Bone memory. Ocean memory. Something so ancient it cannot be put into words.

 

Out of the comfort zone 5

rock-climbing

Karen thinks that climbing a cliff like this is probably at the bottom of her to-do list, so the scene she describes in this sketch is definitely an unfamiliar subject!

I thought all the exertion would be in the ascent. I didn’t realise we’d have to walk to the mountain before we could climb it, or that we’d be carrying all this heavy gear. When we reach the pitch I just stand there, looking up, up, up. My neck hurts from tilting my head back so far. I shrug the rope off my shoulder.

Jill points out the traverse. “There’s a bit of a scramble. Then, see that dark line of shadow? It’s a ledge. You follow it along until you reach the line of pitons.”

She keeps on speaking and I know I should listen but I can’t get my mind off that ledge. How can you walk on a shadow? I realise that Jill’s stopped talking and I tear my gaze away from the cliff face. She puts her hand on my shoulder.

“Don’t worry. I’ll go first. Just watch me. Dave will have you on belay the whole time.”

She helps me put on the harness and Dave double checks everything. I should be reassured but I feel as if I’ve lost control, that I’m a marionette and the rope and harness are my strings.

I can say no. I can say I’ve changed my mind. I don’t.

Jill looks me up and down, one final check, then begins to climb. She moves quickly, and I try to remember the handholds, where she sets her feet. At the end of the ledge she stops, clips herself to a piton and leans back, looking down at me.

“Come on, Liz.”

The sun hasn’t reached down into the valley yet and the rock is cold under my fingers. Jill was right. Even a beginner like me can see the handholds. I stretch my leg up and to the side and toe into a crevice so I can get my knee onto the ledge. It’s awkward and my legs shake as I push myself up into a standing position.

I edge along the ledge. It’s only four centimetres wide. My head is turned to one side, my cheek brushing the rock, my arms outstretched. I can see Jill’s feet out of the corner of my eye and I aim for them.

At the end of the ledge I hook onto a peg and glare at Jill. She grins. I poke her shoulder.

“I’m buying you a dictionary for your birthday. There’s no way that was a ledge.”

Out of the comfort zone 4

graveyard2

Alison writes: I have a tendency to write about rural innocents, within an optimistic framework. This character is not innocent.

Father Francis finishes his homily by the graveside, and waves the censer absently about. The relatives gaze down at the coffin. The dead man’s wife dabs at her nose with a hanky. She has a slightly mad look. Father Francis feels some pity for her, but more than a little irritation as well. He has told them often enough that death is not death, that they return to the arms of the Almighty and the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. How can they not appreciate the benefits of death? The man has knocked his wife about a bit, and drank more than was good for him. She is better off without him, all said and done.

A multitude of family secrets find their way into the confessional box, which always makes funerals an interesting, rather quixotic affair, from his point of view. People think they believe things that they do not. People place trust in places that do not warrant it. He shakes his head, smiles thinly. They trust him.

He turns from the graveside as the relatives trickle away, and gives a nod to the workmen who stand at a discreet distance. No one wants to watch a grave being filled, and neither does he. It is time for afternoon tea, and a particularly fine cake, bought at the local patisserie, sits on his sideboard under a net cover. It involves hazelnut and coffee flavours, and quite a lot of cream. He has asked Mrs Hudson to change the brand of coffee she uses to make his espressos. The old brand has begun to taste like dishwater, he needs something with more bite. More elan, he told her. She’d stared at him, nodded, and walked away. Almost respectful – but not quite. She is, he ruminates, showing signs of insubordination. It is subtle, certainly –  but it is, he thinks, there. If she doesn’t want the job there will be others who do. That attractive young woman who does the flowers occasionally, what does she call herself? Tiffany, Tilly, something with a T. She is hard up, could use the wages, and she is easy on the eye. She has been to confession quite regularly, so he knows the nuts and bolts of her life. Some tragedy there, making her vulnerable. Frail. The frail ones are interesting. Ready to be manipulated, if need be.