Thursday, 14 February 2013

Saying "no" to nothing

I remember when the late great Australian actor Bud Tingwell died, Aussie director Tom Gleisner said: "He never said no to anything." This gracious attitude made him a mentor to many and kept him in steady work for most of his life, in an industry that can be fickle and difficult.
Not that I'm comparing myself to the wonderful Bud, but I think it's good advice. Now, I'm not advocating you should sign up for the P & C or tuckshop duty. Rather, this year, one of my "resolutions", that is, a way that I can help myself become a better person and writer, is to say "yes" more often and see where it takes me.
Well, it seems the universe is listening.
Last week, I agreed to read a colleague's historical fiction manuscript and provide feedback, last night I said I'd be pleased to tutor a Year 12 student in English, and today, I said "yes" to being MC for the annual Australian Yoga Conference held here in Brisbane in April. All great opportunities to further my craft, help others, and help me grow as a person.
Of course, I'm writing this while completing my own historical fiction, while keeping an eye on up-and-coming short story competitions, so needless to say, this new mindset will make me a very busy person. "Family First" vies for position on our fridge alongside "Always do your best" as part of our family values. So I will be doing all of those things, all the while supporting my husband and children, while remembering to breathe, and say: "Om".

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Doll Child

Writers get inspiration for all sorts of places. I took to my notebook when my Mum sent me an email with slides of weirdly life-like dolls and I came up with a short story 'The Doll Child'.

The Doll Child

The wealthiest family in the town once had a beautiful, precious daughter whose dimpled smile could melt the hardest hearts. For a while, it seemed as if they had everything, until little Hanna grew quiet, then pale, then deathly ill. They quickly conceived another daughter, but it was soon apparent their good fortune had deserted them. Lisette was not the bone marrow match they had hoped for and their hearts were left empty.
            In their grief, the family even considered cloning. But their local Lutheran pastor told them it was morally out of the question – even for the very rich. But still, they didn't give up.
            As their second daughter grew, her hungry cries were lost in the dusty corners of the empty, quiet house. And by the time Lisette turned two, the couple were still so absent in their misery, they searched their daughter’s face for anything that could remind them of their dear departed Hanna but the fact that Hanna’s clothes sat so well on her sister while Lisette seemed determined to be different in every possible way only seemed to compound their grief. The only similarity was the colour of Lisette’s hair – and even though it was dead straight, it gave them the seed of an idea. They knew their money could be used to ease their sorrow and in the end, it was simple. They waited another two years then flew to Norway to visit the best doll maker in the world.
            “It’s like going to see Santa Claus,” the wife said.
            “Yes,” said her husband. He squeezed his wife’s hand and looked at the snow on the ground, lying cold and in patches on the dead grass beside the runway. “It won’t be long now.”
            “How tall do you think she will be?” asked the wife.
            “Ssh. She will be perfect,” the husband said. “The doll maker is the very best. This is my promise, woman.”
            “Can I play with her?” their daughter asked.
            The husband and wife exchanged glances.
            “Perhaps,” said the wife. “But you must be very careful. She will be breakable …”
            “Ssh. Ssh now, my dear,” he said to his wife.
            “What’s wrong, Mamma?” But the child knew she wouldn't get an answer. The wife just stroked Lisette’s long, straight hair, washed clean as instructed.
            “It might still be possible …” the wife started to say.
            “Ssh, my dear. We shall see what the doll maker says,” said the husband. “He might need all of it. There is the curling, remember?”
The child didn't remember much of the trip to the doll maker. She remembers looking for God in the clouds. Then the boredom of waiting, her parents’ hushed anguish and how she screamed and struggled when they cut her hair.
            “Oh, stop it now, Lisette,” her father said. “It will grow for God’s sake.”
            “Soon, little one,” said the doll maker. “Tomorrow, or possibly the day after, you will meet your beautiful sister.”

So Lisette grew up in her sister’s shadow, enduring the silent stares, the constant, dimpled smile revealing perfect baby teeth, rosy cheeks and a slick of saliva on her tongue. She went off to school at seven, while her sister stayed behind and watched her leave from the bay window. Lisette even turned to give her a wave; Hanna smiled, but did not wave back.
            After school, Lisette took her sister outside to play while Nanny was asleep. Hanna was too light to play on the seesaw, so Lisette put a rucksack on her sister and filled it with rocks.
            I could throw her in the pond, she thought. And she would sink to the bottom and Mamma and Papa would be sad again.
            “Seesaw, Margery Daw…”
            When Hanna fell off and broke her head, large eyes wide open, Lisette ran into her room and pretended to play with her other dolls.
            But she remembers the slap across the face, her mother’s face ashen with revisited grief, which is the worst kind of all.
            She remembers how the woman scooped the sister up, cradled her and stroked her broken head, gently lifted the backpack off and dropped it to the ground.
            She remembers how the woman’s tears fell on the sister’s face, and how they both expected this to revive her. But, of course, it didn't because, after all, there are some things money cannot buy.
            And she remembers how their precious Hanna, with slightly over-sized eyes, puckered lips and real human hair sat at the bay window for years watching children play in the park across the street. In fact, the town’s children grew so accustomed to her presence at the window that they no longer saw her there, the smiling figure that watched her little sister grow up, so full of life, to accept a bouquet from a nervous boy before the school prom, then walk out the door for the last time wearing a white lace gown into a life which the doll would never have because money can buy most things. It can replace a lost child, and it can make time stand still, if only for a short time before life marches on to the soundless drum of our own mortal heartbeat.
copyright Kerri Harris 2013