Situation Vacant

“I am warning you, Isabella, say nothing.”

“Why not?”

“Because if you open your mouth, they will cotton on to the fact that you speak with a French accent, and our disguise will be blown to smithereens.”

“Oh, what an ennui this is.”

“Really, Isabella! How many times am I going to have to tell you to use English words, rather than French ones, albeit they suit the purpose?”

“Oui, I forgot. Yes. I mean… you know what I mean.”

“Yes, Isabella, I know perfectly well what you mean. Mais tu dois faire semblant d’être sourde, and do your deadpan face, or our cover will be blown.”

“Deadpan? Qu’est-ce… oops, what’s that?”

“Your face must remain figée, like you didn’t hear anything. OK?”

“Fine.”

That, Your Honour, was the conversation we had. Ten months previously, she had shown me a Situations Vacant advert; a weird one, because the position was for a Princess.

As I recall, Your Honour, there was a list of things that a Princess had to know, or learn. She wanted to apply, and knowing that I had gone to finishing school, she wanted me to teach her all I know… And we went to Baltimoran.”

“List? Define list, please.”

“Well… it was silly stuff like:

be sarcastic with a sincere-looking smile; drink from a cup without pointing your pinkie out; get out of a car without showing your cleavage; wear nude tights without snagging them…

“I see. But that does not explain your actions.”

“She got the job, and employed me as her Lady-in-Waiting. She began acting hoity-toity. She and began making unreasonable demands, wanting me at her service 24/7. She took my passport, so I could not run away. And on that fateful day, she called me useless and ugly. So, obviously, I killed her.”

Fleur u Lee

Il-Qaddisin Kollha

“Il-Mama qalet li l-festa ta’ Halloween mhux tal-Insara…” qalet Georgianne.

“Iva, anki tiegħi, hekk qalet!” sostniet Olivia.

“U ajma, mhux gost tmur tiġbor il-ħelu mingħand in-nies?” merithom Jael.

“Eh, gost tilbes ta’ saħħara jew xitan?” qabeż fuqha Frankie.

“U dan mhux qisu Karnival?” żied jgħid James.

“Imma aħna Qaddisin Kollha ngħidu, mhux xjaten u sħaħar…” qalet Fleur, bis-serjeta kollha…

“Kos, vera!” qalu xi tfal kollha f’daqqa, qishom f’kor.

“Kemm tħassru festi…” gemgem Gerard, li f’moħħu ġa kellu l-pjanijiet ta’ x’ser jilbes u kif kien ser jieħu backpack biex ikollu sew fejn jistiva l-ħelu.

“Ħa naraw Miss Marija x’tgħid…”

Miss Marija, li sadanittant kienet qed tissemma’ kwieta kwieta, tbissmet. “Iva, tfal, din tal-Halloween, moda ġdida li lili ma tgħoġobni xejn. Qed jippruvaw jgħadduha li hi xi ċajta ħelwa, jew Karnival bil-ħelu, kif qalu James u Jael. Iżda fil-verita, aħna suppost li nkunu qed infakkru x-Xirka tal-Qaddisin, u niftakru fil-mejtin tagħna.”

“Qed tara!” qalet Fleur, li bħas-soltu kienet tieħu gost turi lil kulħadd li kellha raġun.

“Allura, Miss Marija, aħna mhux ħa nagħmlu Halloween fil-klassi tagħna?”

“Ajma ħejn, kemm jieħdu gost il-ġenituri tagħkom jekk nibgħatkom id-dar b’borża ħelu…” U t-tfal daħqu. “Imma… għandi ideja iprem!” Miss Marija kienet irranġat kollox ma’ Miss Yvonne, bħal dejjem.

Għalxejn iffittawha t-tfal, għax baqgħet fommha mitbuq. Kull ma qaltilhom kien li kellha bżonn tagħmel xi ftit telefonati, u li kienet ser tkellimhom l-għada.

U tabilħaqq hekk għamlet. Kienet irranġat mal-ommijiet li jafu jħitu, lit-tfal jagħmlulhom kostumi tal-qaddisin. Xtrat xi drappijiet, kif ukoll xi ħwejjeġ miċ-Charity Shop biex jirranġawhhom, ħalli jiffrankaw ftit xogħol.

Is-Sibt, iltaqgħu fil-Kamra tal-Klikka, u f’kemm ilna ngħidu, kellhom l-ilbies lest; qaddisin li kienu sorijiet, bħal Edith Stein, Madre Tereża, Jeanne Jugan, Tereża t’Avila… qaddisin li kienu saċerdoti, bħall-Papa  Girgor VII, San Filippu Neri, San Ġwann Vianney, u oħrajn, u qaddisin li għexu ħajja normali fil-familja… Sant’Anna, Carlo Acutis,  Louis u Zelie Martin… Kull qaddis li kien hemm irrapreżentat, kellu karta b’paragrafu żgħir dwar il-ħajja tiegħu.

Kif kien għamel għall-fiera, missier Abigail għabba kollox fil-vann u ħadhom l-iskola nhar it-Tnejn, qabel ix-xogħol.

Miss Marija qaltilhom li fuq dik il-karta li kien hemm fuq il-bankijiet tagħhom tistenninhom, kellhom jiktbu isimhom. Imbagħad, wara li jqiegħduhom f’borża, hi tagħlaq għajnejha, u tibda’ ttella’ isem isem.

“Imbagħad?” staqsewha.

“Kull min insejjaħlu ismu, tmorru għand Miss Yvonne…”

It-tfal għażlu l-kostum tagħhom, u libsuh.  Qabel il-kolazzjon, daru l-klassijiet, tlieta tlieta, u qraw il-paragrafu dwar il-Qaddis.

Tassew kienet sorpriża ħelwa din!

Selling Your House

Should I change the kitchen? Ought I to instal air-conditioning? Must I really block the entrance to the kitchen’s ensuite bathroom? Will painting the front door a vivid yellow make any difference? Should I enumerate the hundreds of things wrong with the plumbing?

These, no doubt, are but a few of the questions asked by householders wanting to put their homes on the market. Most estate agents will tell you that spending a fortune on renovating premises to up the price does not necessarily mean you will recover the money. Indeed, those of us who have had new neighbours moving in over the years know that sitting rooms become garages, front gardens become extensions of children’s playrooms, backyards become greenhouses, and balconies walk-in closets, to name but a few so-called ‘minor’ alterations.

The story is told of the couple who had a corner house painted a muted shade of lilac. It had been on the market for quite a few months. A well-meaning relative told them that potential buyers were probably put off by the colour, and offered help in removing it.

They enlisted more help, and in a relative jiffy, the deed was done. And then came the phone call they never expected. “We passed by your lovely lilac house last month on the way to the airport last month; is it still on the market?”

Let us say you are like the acquaintance of mine who has lived in the house since royal purple was the ultimate colour for bathrooms; she still hasn’t used hers, content to make do with the spare shower, for fear the colour might wash off.

Even in such an extreme scenario, it would be pointless to say the bathroom is ‘new’ – the buyers would probably want to install a brand new one… and they would, to boot, probably suspect something wrong with the plumbing, as to why the room had not been utilised.

Think Englishman in New York. You may be used to the filthy grouting in your driveway crazy paving, the overgrown jungle of weeds choking the hibiscus and the aspidistra, or the way the gate screeches in protest when you open it; but how would you have reacted if it belonged to someone else? Sometimes the tiny details put people off a property.

Carrying out minor or major refurbishments does not necessarily mean you will recoup your costs. However, they may be the deciding factor in clinching a deal.

Most kitchens these days are made of fitted units, and included in the price; however, do not be surprised if prospective buyers complain about the wood, colour, lack of storage space or dearth of appliances, as part of the traditional haggling process. Most people will appreciate an extra toilet and wash-hand basin in the washroom or tucked away downstairs somewhere.

Consider whether updating the bathrooms suites is worth it. Even if you opt to change only the bath, it may mean finding a veritable disaster area, plumbing-wise, under the tiles, some of which will inevitably crack when fittings are removed. And are you sure you have enough matching tiles for the necessary patchwork?

Think cosmetic surgery. If you improve your nose, you will probably think your love handles need removing. And when you have done that, you will probably want the bags under your eyes ironed out.

If you remove shelving and paint one wall in a room, the other three will look dingy. Similarly, rest assured that if you renovate one room, the rest of your house will look shabby. But grubby doors and sticky floors never did anyone any favours.

Are you really going to use all the furniture you have put in storage for your new home? Will the venetian blinds made-to-measure for this property fit into the apertures of your new house? What about the carpets and curtains? Are you sure you do not want to leave them in this house as selling points?

While house-hunting, I have come across all manner of fobbing-off methods when I asked about things that did not seem right. In a house with not one right angle in the rooms, I was told that it was the ‘modern’ way to build. In a house where the entrance to the garage from the house was through a 40-cm slit in the kitchen wall, I was told that this was in aid of an ‘extra’ row of kitchen cupboards. In a house with iron beams at 45o to one another in the bathroom, I was told it was because of the ‘portico’. In a garage where water was practically streaming down the walls, I was told that the roof tanks had overflowed that morning. Moral: whatever you do, do not lie. It puts people off.

Think body language. If you fail to replace spent bulbs and broken window panes, even if you are not living in the house any more, you will not make too good an impression on visitors. For the same reason, a house that is clinically clean will appear artificial, but one where the term lived-in includes dirty socks on the floor and a thick, dark tideline around the bath is off-putting. An old trick is to have the smell of baking bread or freshly-brewed coffee lingering in the air – without making any reference to it. Avoid having curries or fry-ups when visitors are calling.

Think shopping list. Potential buyers will be less likely to pay extra for a garage that is not attached to the house, even if you hint it may become part of the package. A garden gives instant brownie points – but not if all the trees in it are beyond redemption and the soil is caked and cracked, decorated with dollops of dog mess. You could, in passing, mention how far the house is from the nearest bus-stop, supermarket, church, and playing field, according to the information you would have garnered through playing it by ear.

Think chain reaction. ‘Gazumping’ is the term that explains what happens when there is a chain of buyers who are also sellers, ready to move into their new home when theirs is sold and they have the wherewithal to pay for it. Be wary of joining such chains, because if one link defaults, you may be left high and dry, with a promise made to sell your old home but nowhere to move into.

Furnished accommodation can prove very expensive, and not everyone has relatives or friends who will offer temporary lodging.

Do not gossip about the neighbours, especially if you do not happen to see eye-to-eye with them. Apart from the fact that they may be bosom friends of the potential buyers, or even related to them, there will be time enough for new inter-personal relationships with them if these people move in, and it is not your job to be the liaison officer. Incidentally, if you are asked why you intend to sell the house, always give the same answer to everyone.

Checklist to make your house more attractive to potential buyers:

1.       Bathrooms: rinse out showers and sinks every day.

2.       Clothes: put them away or in the laundry basket before you retire for the night.

3.       Clutter: a place for everything, and everything in its place.

4.       Dishes: washed and left to dry, not in a pile on the counter or in the sink.

5.       Drop-zone: for schoolbags, handbags, shoes, coats.

6.       Laundry: at least one load a day to keep on top of it.

A Journey

I’m a good swimmer. And I do my homework.

When they showed me The Map, I knew that my best bet was to come ashore at The Plant, and then I’d play it by ear. The heat would dry my hair and clothes in next to no time, and then I could pretend to be one of the workers.

It worked… and soon, I became a part of the scenery, and no one looked at me twice.  They assumed that because I didn’t speak much, I was stupid. Little did they know I could wipe the floor with them. I found a disused shack and pilfered stuff for it… a glass, a fork, a plate, a length of pipe, a couple of nails, a hammer… swatches of fabric and needles and thread, so I could make myself a blanket…

Where I come from, we eat guinea pigs – and I reckoned rats weren’t much different from them. So I saved the canteen bread, and had a protein-rich meal every night, after the workers left. By the morning, the smell of rat stew, rat broth, stir-fried rat or baked rat would have dissipated. And nobody was the wiser.

I gained confidence. I wanted my own place, and not just a poky room with makeshift furniture made from pallets. I unrolled The Map and traced my fingers over the red lines. No – it would not do to pass through The Diamond, because I would stick out like a sore thumb.  The District would be tricky, too, because someone was bound to ask me where I came from, or, perish the thought, demand my papers.

My best bet was to wait for the correct weather conditions, and use the currents to my advantage – something like Johnny Utah was allowed to do in Point Break. As I said, I do my homework… and my knowledge of pure and applied mathematics made the calculations a cinch.

And then it happened.

I had long assumed that the rats that roved about The Plant were being lured to their deaths with toxic bait. That is why I had constructed a system to ensnare them and ‘clean’ their digestive systems. I kept them in the pen for a week, during which I would feed them what I managed to salvage from the garbage bins.

I can only assume that some of the noxious stuff had got into my system.

The first time it happened, I had just come out of my makeshift shower. I happened to glance at the mirror (a piece of glass lined with tinfoil), and I saw him. There was an overpowering smell of brine, and this bald head swaying to inaudible music. The vision lasted for a few moments, and then, there was I – wet, dishevelled hair, bags under my eyes, sunken cheeks…

Was I going crazy?

There was the recurring dream, too. I would be walking along the coast road with two of my friends. It would bizarrely occur to me that had I been Jesus, we’d have been on the road to Emmaus. But Cleopas and his friend still would not have said the magic words “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.”

So, each time, they would go on their merry way. And the visual clichés would tumble merrily along. I would look at the long, yellow, brick road ahead of me. Would I be beset by thieves? I could smell the green, green grass of home (mostly the mint, which was so invasive it had even clambered up the orange tree along with the bougainvillea, creating one fine mess). I’d see a hundred yellow ribbons tied around a hundred old oak trees…

In the dreams, I felt dejected, forlorn. Inevitably, I always stopped to retch. I stooped and leaned against the low sea-wall, holding back the tears. Brine?  Wait – this was not the Sea of Galilee.

Was I going crazy? Would I ever learn how to re-route my dreams, make them lucid, and get out of this scenario? I suddenly recognised the fjord of my childhood. The flat roofs of Samaria by this juncture would have been replaced by high-rise buildings, but as soon as I shielded my eyes and looked up, trying to make out the floor where I worked when I had been a corporate banker – before I went to prison for fraud! – they disappeared.

In their place would be a row of old-fashioned Norwegian houses, all painted in different colours, and with grass and flowering weeds growing on the roofs. I’d see a road sign saying “Christiana (now called Oslo)”. Each time, it would be in a different font, but never, ever, Comic Sans, which I hate.

The sky would suddenly turn into blood, and I recalled the proverb about how it was deemed to be a shepherd’s delight. Surely not this sky, though. The clouds burgeoned and pulsed with psychedelic lights. I would want to wake up, but I would not be able to.

With the foreboding of déjà-vu, I’d know that the clouds would soon begin rippling, and dripping blood. I’d look back and see the two men in the distance; they would seem to be looking back and waving at me, so I would half-raise my arm to salute them, and then, immediately feeling a physical ache in my heart, I’d massage my chest, feeling as if there was a gaping wound I had to close. I would wake up each time, dripping with sweat, even though it was the dead of winter. I could wring out the sheets, they’d be so wet.

I pilfered a brass flowerpot from the lobby of The Plant front office, and turned it into a singing bowl. The energy and vibration of their specific frequencies worked on my subconscious, but only just. I remembered what Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein had said about this… And I discovered Gregorian chant.

The dreams persisted, but at least the scary details were gone. Time was moving on, and the sea currents were changing. Soon, I would be able to make my escape to The Slum.

As the weather changed, the two men I met I the dream acquired a different aura; if I poked my finger into it, they disappeared. The sky-scrapers did not feature in my new set of dreams. When I woke up, I would no longer need to air the patchwork sheets to dry them. However, I’d started getting muscle tension, a migraine, and an upset stomach. My left thumb would hurt, for no reason.

My new identity was far removed from my old one. Fraudster me was gone – instead I felt like the simpleton everyone joshed. Was I bothered though.

I thought the eclipse was the auspicious omen I was waiting for. I packed my belongings in two large pilfered garbage bags, each of which I put inside four more, and allowed the current to bear me down to the cove just beyond the boundary that separates The District from the Slum. No jellyfish. Good. No street lights. Better…

I reconnoitred (my night vision has always been good) and kept away from houses where the lights were still on.

And then, in a cul-de-sac, I found it – the house where I knew wanted to live until the end of my days. Breaking and entering was easy. The cobwebs and musty smell of mould told me nobody else was interested in it. I knew that I had the propensity to make this dump a home within a week – and I did.

Life was good. I melded in perfectly with the hoi polloi, with my deadpan face and scruffy clothes. Nobody asked whence I came – and I didn’t offer explanations. I did odd jobs, and earned enough to eat – so I was rich. I later realised that since everyone in The Slum had secrets, nobody probed to find out those of others.

When the house was as clean as it would ever be, I began on the basement. There was furniture that had seen better days, and piles of clothing that had fused to hard mounds because of the damp. I came upon a full-length mirror shrouded in a sheet so stiff I thought it was cardboard.

I removed it, and suddenly, there was an overpowering smell of brine, and the all too familiar outline of a man’s bald head, his hands cradling his face as he sang Gregorian chant. The vision lasted for a few moments, and then, there was I – wet, dishevelled hair, bags under my eyes, sunken cheeks…

I threw a punch at the mirror, and it broke into a zillion pieces. I ran upstairs like a bat out of hell.

I have barricaded the door to the basement.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

Abracadabra

Each day, they found something missing.

One day, it was a teacup. The next day it was a tin of milk, and the day after it was a light bulb from the chandelier in the ballroom, where they were holding rehearsals for the New Year’s Eve Extravaganza…

Who could the crook be?

The pilfered stuff appeared to be random. They kept their eyes peeled and their ears open, to no
avail. They could never guess where, or when, or how, the next theft would happen. So, they installed the latest state-of-the-art CCTV cameras. The items taken were not valuable enough to support a drug habit; neither could they be sold online, or to a fence for petty cash, because this would surely arouse suspicion.

The hit-and-miss twoccing continued. A broken alarm clock that was too pretty to throw away; an
opened packet of biscuits; a tub of hardened playdough; a microfibre floor-cloth; all the socks in the orphan sock drawer.

They debated upon whether to call the Police; but the thief never stole expensive things, or
useful ones. The confounding burglar filched things that had no monetary value, but were missed by their (erstwhile) owners for different reasons. He was just being a nuisance, wanting to create irritation, if not outright anger. And, besides, they would look silly, she said, complaining about the loss of a new packet of felt-tip pens.

It was as if the thief knew where the cameras were installed, and which particular spots in a
room were not covered; items were always lifted from blind zones.

The irrational thievery continued: all the Mozart CDs from the BBC collection. A favourite
blouse. A in of corned beef laid out with the rest of the ingredients for a
pie, on the kitchen counter. A bespoke bottle of medicated shampoo. A billiards
trophy off the mantlepiece. A tattered copy of Dianetics.

They convened a Staff Meeting to thrash this out. They asked whether by accident, chance, or
even need or design any one of them had taken something, anything. They asked
whether one of them had seen any other employee acting suspiciously. They
hinted at a big reward to the snitch. She said she would not mind if anyone
contacted her privately.

They all started at one another, dumbfounded, unsure what to make of their employers. Were they
taking the piss? Were they setting them up? What was with the false bonhomie,
the implied threats, and the cajoling?

And so it went on. A framed copy of The Class of ’76. The spare keys to the laundry, and the
stables, and the car. A fund-raising Christmas Catalogue that featured their
ranges of jams and preserves.

Laughingly, she suggested that a poltergeist was setting up home, and, for all they knew, was
stealing stuff rom all the mansions in the area. Angrily, he replied that this
was not funny at all, and if he found out who the prankster was, he would
garrotte him. Or her, he said, with a glance that spoke volumes.

The ludicrous list grew longer; an unopened tube of toothpaste from one of the downstairs bathrooms; half the clothespins; all shades of green, pink, and yellow threads from the
sewing basket.

It was farcical, with surreal undertones; a tragi-comedy without Troilus or Cressida. He
suggested that everyone – including they – took a lie-detector test. She told
him he was letting a silly prankster ruin his life. 

The CCTV cameras suddenly started picking up blurs, and the microphones began recording static – but nothing that could help identify the suspect. She said it might be Flash
Gordon, and he berated her for treating the whole thing as a joke. She told him
life was too short to allow someone to live rent-free inside his head.

And the bizarre thefts went on. A tin of shoe polish; a bottle of aftershave. All the fruit
except for one solitary tangerine, from the bowl in the middle of the dining
room table. The X-Files book off his beside cabinet. His pruning
shears. Her hair crimper.

And then, it happened. He was one of the victims in a spectacular boating accident that even
made the international press.

At the funeral, she noted the zombie-like demeanour of one of his secretaries, who fancied herself
as quite the novelist. Something clicked, and it all fell into place. It had been the good old gaslighting technique, all the while. She caught the woman’s eye, smiled at her, and gave her a thumbs-up and a cheery wave. The secretary gasped, covered her mouth, and sat down heavily.

The thefts stopped, and the New Year’s Eve Extravaganza was held with more revelry and merriment than usual.

 

Time Waits For No Man

  • It’s totally bizarre, really. Who would have thought that what she ate would lead them to me?
  • Oh, science, these days; it’s almost miraculous.
  • I mean, I made sure that the table I chose was one of the two that is not covered by security cameras. Remember, I had worked as a Manager at the Hotel, so I knew all the insider information.
  • But surely you knew that there would be an autopsy?
  • I did suspect that Bernice would smell a rat. As a forensic analyst, the case would interest her, but never in a million years would I have expected her to ask to be present…
  • Well, she was Donatella’s friend, so…
  • Yes. She was in the right place at the right time, apparently. When I saw her being interviewed on television, I knew my goose was cooked… erm…
  • Quite. I saw her, too, and I remember saying how she gagged when she smelled the contents of Bernice’s stomach.
  • I couldn’t understand how the food was not digested. I mean, we’d had our… last supper… hours before, and then we went for a drive, and watched a film…
  • Nothing strenuous. Just sitting around.
  • Yes. If only I’d suggested we go swimming instead. If only we’d had sex. If only we’d taken a bike ride…
  • Or, to put it more plainly… if only you hadn’t taken her to lunch at a place where the signature dish is octopus cooked in whiskey and served over bucatini…octopus is hard to digest… and the carbs… well…
  • Yes. That put the final nail in my coffin.
  •  I find this stuff really, really interesting.
  • As you can imagine, so do I. Did you know that forensic autopsies began as a way to determine whether a person was poisoned, or had died of a heart attack?
  • Really?
  • Yes. I’ve had plenty of time to read up on it. Sometimes, you read stuff in the papers like “…the victim had his last meal five hours before he was found hanging from a tree, stabbed sixteen times in the stomach…” as if that’s relevant to the case. They’d know this because a meal is usually fully digested after six hours. This was one of the things that was mentioned in that series, Forensic Files.  
  • You never know, with all the odd things that happen nowadays… it might be a clue to what happened to him in the interim. But I would have thought that rigor mortis, decomposition, insect activity and the environs, would have been more important than the contents of the stomach.
  • That’s what I thought. Until this. Speaking of odd things…if you want odd things, I can tell you hundreds of stories that happened when I was working in the hotel.
  • Apart from the Mr and Mrs Smith type of trysts, I take it.
  • Oh, those were a dime a dozen. But I was alluding to the strange type of guests that turn up every so often. I could write a book. Correction – I could have written a book, had I been so inclined.
  • Yes.
  • Yes, what?
  • I mean – I’m sure you have plenty of stories to tell. Are you going to spill the beans?
  • Ha! Funny you should use that expression, speaking as we were, of the contents of the stomach.
  • Ugh!
  • Well, once there was this guest who turned up with an expensive suitcase and matching hand luggage. How would not allow the bellhop to handle the large baggage, but tipped him handsomely for carrying the smaller one (which was very heavy, according to the boy) up to his room.

When he checked in, he paid for a month’s stay in cash, in advance. We rarely saw his face, except sometimes when he went down to the garden, walked six times, methodically and rhythmically and obsessively around the swan pond, and then went back upstairs.

  • You don’t say!
  • He had all his meals delivered by room service, and left his laundry outside the room.
  • How strange…
  • Yes. There was always a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign hanging on the doorknob, so the cleaners could not go in and clean… not even when he went for his constitutional.
  • So, the staff never got tips from him.
  • Oh, they did. He left envelopes with descriptions of personnel he would have noticed on the way up and down the garden. Stuff like “the tall girl with the fringe”, or “the woman with the red hair and glasses”, or “the short thin girl with the tattoo on her wrist” or “the Asian man with the ponytail”, or “the fat man with buck teeth”.
  • You’re having me on!
  • No, really. It became a kind of game to see who’d get the next envelope.
  • I bet they haunted his corridor, just so that he’d see them!
  • It didn’t quite work that way because the persons who got the envelope sometimes would not even remember seeing him, and they would have been on duty in another part of the hotel.
  • Maybe he used binoculars to suss them out?
  • Could be. At any rate, when his month was over, it was as if he simply disappeared into thin air. The “Do Not Disturb” sign was gone. The Night Receptionist swore that he had not seen him leave, and the Night Staff said that the room had been in darkness all night. The door was locked, and they had to force it open when they knocked and he did not answer, because the Master Key would not work, for some reason.
  • Maybe he jumped off the balcony.
  • That’s what they thought, but the shrubs underneath it were intact, and the soil was not disturbed.
  • Oh, come on! He didn’t fly away!
  • Who knows? Let me finish, will you!
  • So, there’s more?
  • Oh, yes. As soon as they smashed the lock and flung the door open, they smelled this horrendous stench.
  • Blocked toilet?
  • Worse. They traced it to a wardrobe, and there, in the opened suitcase, was the dismembered body of a woman. The little baggage contained surgical instruments and a portable drill… and more. The inside of the wardrobe was crawling with huge winged ants.
  • Heavens above!
  • Yes. The Police were called, and it turned out that the victim was a teenager who had gone missing some three months before.
  • But there was nothing about it in the Press.
  • Of course not. It would have been bad business for the hotel.
  • Like…
  • Yes… exactly.
  • No internet and no tell-all books, in those days.
  • We were all sworn to secrecy by the Management.
  • Ah!
  • What’s more, guests who were in that room often complained about nasty smells or noises. So, the Management made it into a storage room, but some of the housekeepers would not go in, even if they were newly employed and did not know of the story, because they said the room had bad vibes.
  • Ouch.
  • And although the telephone was disconnected, every so often the Front of the House Desk would get a signal from that room.
  • Mesmerising story. I wish we had more time to speak of these things.
  • Alas, we don’t. My Lethal Injection happens in just under 30 minutes. I told them I am allergic to midazolam, but did they listen…?

“Is money ever clean?”

Only money given to a deity (albeit via third parties) is ever clean. That’s what I assumed – until life got in the way.

I realised that if I wanted to get really rich – rich beyond dreams of avarice, I would have to invent a religion one that would be The One True Religion for my followers.

People are disillusioned with paternalistic, male-god religions, yet at the same time desperate to hold on to the traditional monotheistic waffle; but the I saw God and She Was Black mantra is so hackneyed…

Earth Mother let her Tears of Loneliness drip into the Great Meniscus of Nothing. Physics laws state that when droplets fall on a stretch of water, they engender back-jets. These columns of the liquid shoot up and then fall back into the water, creating concentric ripples.

But according to my Time of Before, each back-jet became a Land Place.

I stole ideas from religions and cults, and patchworked them into plausible verbiage.

Mum speaks to me; not in trance, not in vision; she swings on my garden hummock, wearing an aquamarine kimono and matching bandana and flip-flops. She is a benign immortal, and not actually a deity.

However, please note that I did not make the mistake of others who thought they knew it all – for I really do. I am as genuine and unpretentious as they come, despite the fact that I am a genius.

I forbore to give Mum a consort. For had I done so, it would have meant that I had to give her a whole hagiography, philosophy and mythology (and history!) of rivals and offspring – including the equivalent of Nephilim…and, obviously, a couple of bastards to boot.

To recruit my first batch of Faithful, I took out innocuous advertisements in the press, peppering them with words like peace and kindness and happiness and every other positive word I could think of, but never mentioning the word ‘religion’. For good measure, I threw in buzzwords: spiritual enlightenment, incidental infinity, higher consciousness, mystic wisdom…

I never asked for membership fees; but I accepted donations. My people appreciate my humility and my razor-sharp wit.

Midway along my mission, however, I discovered that money (by this time I was rolling in it) was not really important.

So, now, I can once again insist that only money given to a deity (albeit via third parties) is ever clean.

A Flickering Light unto My Feet

Every lit candle gives light

From the Gospel of Saint Matthew: [Mt:5:14-16] “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Rather, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Let’s roam into the world of fantasy.

Once upon a time, there was a candle, and according to the Biblical instructions, it was set upon a shelf, to be visible, and be conspicuous, and illuminate.

Now this candle was a little shy, and she didn’t like it, that everyone was looking at her. She wished that she could come down from the shelf, and hide under a tarp, or anywhere else, really. She started struggling to get out of the sconce, so she could jump down.

The ornamental lantern, which had cost megabucks, told her, “Stop acting up. We are not supposed to hide; we are meant to shine. I know you’re not as sumptuous as I am, but, still… you do emanate one candle-power of light…” And to show how wonderful he was, he strained to raise his wick as high as he could.

“But I’m not comfortable!” insisted the candle. “I don’t want to stand out.”

“We are light. We are not like darkness, which hides everything. Our job is to glow, to show the way.”

But the candle said, “Our light is just around us, though. As for the rest of the room, it is in darkness.”

“All the more reason for us to shine…” The lantern replied, and laboured to raise his wick a little more. After a while, the glass bulb was all sooty.

Soon, the gilded lamp ran out of oil. His flame flickered, and went out. But the candle remained alight. A woman entered the room, and began to grumble. “Oh, just look at that! I know the lamp had enough fuel, for I filled it with oil, myself. I filled the lamp with oil. How come the flame got extinguished so quickly? And come the bulb is all blackened?” She went to check and found that the wick was almost spent. “This is really weird. I’m sure I left the wick as low as possible, so it wouldn’t burn out. That must be Henry, pulling a fast one on me…”

She grabbed the candlestick and took it with her so that her husband could see to change the electric fuse. The light of the house was fixed, but the light of the other building, or some reason, could not be repaired. The man began climbing a spiral staircase. “Where are we going?” the candle asked herself (because people don’t hear candles talking).

The man climbed up to the window of the harbour lighthouse, and placed the candle in front of a system of mirrors and prisms. Immediately, there was enough light to illuminate the sea for miles around. “How far this little candle throws her beams!” he quoted. “An enormous lighthouse lantern does not work, because there is no electric power, and yet, this tiny candle serves us well…”

“Thank heavens we had this cheap candle!” said the woman. “Because the expensive lamp came a cropper. Tomorrow, I will take it to the pawnshop, to see how much I can get for it…”

We are all God’s candles. Our job is just to shine as best we can. A candle, however small, still gives light to those who need it.

Make Your Own Sandwich (2)

Find the ingredients in the grid.

banana                                Basil                                    Beansprouts      

Beef                                     Bovril                                  Brie       

Butter                                  capers                                carrots 

Cheddar                               Chicken                              Coleslaw             

cucumber                            Garlic                                   guacamole         

Ham                                      Honey                                Hummus             

jalapenos                            Jam                                      Ketchup

Kimchi                                 lettuce 

Solution:

Make Your Own Sandwich (1)

Find the sandwich fillings in the grid

Horseradish                        Mayonnaise                       Mozzarella         

mushrooms                        Mustard                               Oil          

Olives                                  pepper                               Pepperoni          

peppers                               Pesto                                  Pickles  

Provolone                           Relish                                  rosemary            

Salami                                 Salsa                                    Salt        

Sausage                             Sriracha                              Tabasco

Tomato                              Tuna                                    Turkey 

Vegemite                            Wasabi

Solution: