Sunday mornings

The sweet, earthy smell of my father’s car in the morning. It wasn’t until he quit smoking that I realised it was stale cigarette smoke that I had associated with his car. It’s light tan, leather seats squeaking as I fidgeted and moved around. From this distance, the morning light was golden, diffused as it shone through the tall gum trees lining our quiet, middle suburban court.

On Sunday mornings, his only day not working, I would join him in the car and we would drive to the milk bar to buy fresh bread rolls, light and fluffy, the Sunday paper and a 20 cent bag of mixed lollies for my siblings and me. I would lean up against his rough, hairy leg as I gazed up longingly at the glass counter, above my eye-line. Boxes of chocolate bars, bulging white paper bags of mixed lollies stacked high and beyond the shop-keeper cigarettes, batteries, cleaning products and other assorted dry goods.

Years later my brother ran a milk bar in its dying phase. Apparently, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Another ill-conceived get rich quick scheme. Late afternoon light filtering through the dusty, dirty windows and onto the sparsely stocked shelves. I wonder if my own two daughters look at this scene with any degree of awe.

Sometimes, we got to stop for petrol and I relished the task of filling out the figures in his log book. While he was filling up the tank with petrol, my small body would climb over the front bench seat and open the glove box. Pushing past the dusty box of tissues, I extricated the small red notebook , un-looped the elastic band which kept the stub of a pencil in place and waited for his announcement.

Chug chug. I watched the small balls spin wildly in the rush of red transparent fuel as it flowed out of the pump, through the hose and disappeared somewhere behind the smooth worn seats where my siblings usually sat. I smelled the petrol fumes that wafted in as dad cracked open the driver’s door. “65 litres. 76 cents per litre. 37,769 kms” With great care, I used my best writing filling in the columns, closed the book and returned it to the glove box.

The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes
They had only made it half way to the front door. I’d remembered to bring them down from my bedroom but left them on the half-height wall in the lounge. It was a habit we had gotten into – leaving things by the stairs to be taken up or down.  Our cats had other plans for things left on the walls. Like brave hunters protecting their masters, they would bat items off the wall and onto the floor, forcing the object to submit to their feline dominance.
So, I had moved the shoes in case they should suffer the same fate, the heavy wood heels marking the wood floor. Our landlords were cautious and had forced us to sign extra documents in our rental contract. We would not allow anyone to wear stiletto heels on the timber floor. Do I even know anyone who wears stilettos? We would not have any dogs or cats. Whoops.
The red leather shoes got put on top of a crate in my painting area. I don’t have a studio but a small area lined with a tarp then drop-sheet to protect the beloved floorboards. Plastic crates held my paints, rags and jars with brushes in varying stages of utility. Balanced upon a bar stool, an old tile served as my palette.
One evening alone and half a bottle of pink wine later, the urge struck. I didn’t have an image in mind like I often do. I looked around saw the shoes and thought why not. Loosely sketching the image onto the canvas, I got to thinking about such an everyday object in my life. I’d never been one of those women who own loads of shoes. I only wear shoes that are absolutely comfortable. I prefer flats over heels. Barefoot most of the time, any heels I do own must be able to be run in if the need arose.
There was a well dressed man who I briefly dated. He was a gentleman, sending a car to pick me up for our second date, where upon I met his best friend and wife. It was a well-reviewed bayside restaurant with an indulgent wine list and meal usually beyond my modest budget. I talked comfortably with the driver on the way to dinner. Working in a service industry myself, I’ve always chatted easily with waiters, bar staff and customer service assistants. They often know the best places for a drink or meal.
Over a few weeks, he wined and dined me. One afternoon, he turned up at my work to surprise me with a fancy dinner after work. We walked along the street after I finished up, me giving him the tour of the small country town in which I worked. Holding hands, we looked in the shop windows finally stopping at a popular bar for a glass of cold, white wine – a welcome perk of working in a fabulous wine region.
In the window of one store that I rarely entered due to my tight budget, we stopped and admired a pair of red heels. He asked if I liked them; I responded that I did. The store was closed so I knew he wasn’t going to buy them for me. I assumed he was just trying to learn more about what I liked and didn’t like. The seed had been sown though. I liked the shoes but I knew I didn’t need the shoes. I did, however, envision myself wearing them with jeans, with dresses, floral skirts – anything.
After we broke up, I decided to buy them. It wasn’t retail therapy to cheer myself up as I wasn’t really upset that we’d broken up. There had been something about the relationship that had felt a bit off. Maybe it was that he owned more beauty products and shoes than I did.
It was around this time that I began to reflect on what I had learned from the men that I had dated since my marriage dissolved. From one, I learned that I didn’t like being organized by others. From another, I learned that it is important to me to hear the words ‘I love you’. From the aforementioned gentleman, I learned that I could treat myself to some of the finer things in life.
So I went and spent more money on a pair of shoes than I had ever in my life. I slipped my feet inside and they were perfect – no pinching, no rubbing. And I did wear them with dresses, floral skirts and jeans. I loved wearing them. I felt special. Occasionally people noticed them and I would bend my knee, raise my hem and look down to admire them also. I smiled and said – thank you, I love them too.
I remember one night at a gypsy music bar in the inner north – you probably know it, it only serves crepes, two savory and two sweet options. Red-checked table cloths, velvet-clad chairs, and only one wine glass. If you are early enough you’ll get the wine glass, otherwise it’s a tumbler for you. I’m one of those early type people and while that doesn’t help with my social anxiety that the event won’t even happen, it did mean that the wine glass was generally mine.
 I found the bar via a piano-accordion player I briefly tried dating though things never seemed to quite work out there. We seemed to continually miss each other somehow.  I did, however, fall in love with the whole bohemian music scene. The swirling cacophony of notes, plaintive vocals and impassioned dancing hypnotized me. I was hooked and kept schlepping from middle suburbia into this exotic other world. My shoes brought me here. They belonged here.
One sultry summer evening, I didn’t feel like going out but had read in a well-meaning friend’s book on dating rules that the first step is just showing up. So I climbed into the low cut black dress that celebrated my curves and my comfortable, reliable red shoes. I did get compliments on my shoes. Small positive words buoyed me. The glass full of wine didn’t hurt either.
Then there was the Italian chef I had previously dated. I was now single. Again, it had been a relationship that didn’t pan out for any apparent reason. I wasn’t hung up on it. We’d both been invited to a party up country by the chef who had originally set us up on our first date. Not exactly a blind date, we had known each other through mutual friends.
Now country parties don’t normally seem like a heels kind of occasion but they had hired a function space and bungalows for the event. And I wanted to impress. I wanted to be the one who was in control. I wanted to be the one to choose to sleep with him or not.
It was going to be a great weekend. I’d taken the time off work, which was rare for me. Parties thrown by chefs are always good. Hospitality people like to drink and I’m not talking casks of Jacobs Creek. Platters groaned with piles of antipasto, cheese, seafood and more. Each surface offered up something delightful to eat or drink.
 It was late summer and the drive north was through some dry land indeed. Different shades of brown stretched from one side of the horizon to the other. Bushfires had raged across the hills only a year or two prior and many of the guests were somewhat twitchy. The firestorm was still a very real memory for most.
 I’m not a country girl though I worked out that way for many years and had grown to have an understanding of why people chose to live in such an area even though it was remote from the city with the very real threat of bushfire each summer. For me, I was always happy to return to my middle suburban life.
So I brought my shoes along with me. My red wrap dress and the heels worked their magic. I loved that evening. An entertaining group of people – I was with my tribe. I belonged even though I’d only met a handful of them before. I ate and drank with vigor, even danced to delightfully daggy 1980’s music. We did spend the night together. Though nothing further eventuated between us, I was fine with that.
Ten years on the shoes have seen better days – chunks out of the wooden heel, paint rubbed off the rear piece of leather, straps loose and soles very thin. Can they be rehabilitated? Should they be rehabilitated? Are they still relevant in my life? Am I painting a souvenir of times gone by or immortalizing a beloved item in my life?
A few days later, I find myself at the cobbler.  She is a short, spunky woman about my age who I slightly want to be. She seems to have found a trade she believes in and loves, that tires her but makes her feel useful. Her calloused, stained hands turn the shoes over and over, evaluating them while I try and explain what I hope for them. I’m not sure if what I’m asking is possible. How can I explain to her in just a few minutes what these mean to me, why I can’t seem to accept that they may have reached the end of their life? She finally looks up and smiles. I think things are going to be okay.

Gretel – prologue to a graphic novel I’m working on


She couldn’t help it. It was part of her. It wasn’t something that she one day decided to do or something that she could turn on or off. All her life, people had told her to just ignore it. You couldn’t just ignore it. It was distracting. People were distracting. It wasn’t a simple thing to walk down to the shops for a newspaper. She liked to wear smudged sunglasses and an old cap low on her head to avoid any unwanted attention from people. She mostly wore drab grey loose clothing. Her eyes looked only a few steps ahead so she didn’t actively walk into someone. That would be the worst. Catching someone’s eye or having to engage in conversation was bad enough. Physical touch was too much.

She read somewhere that it had something to do with extra links in the brain. Doctors had wanted to study her brain but she had no interest in submitting herself to endless rounds of tests and scans. Letting her body go into one of those huge expensive machines wasn’t part of her plan. Not that she really had a plan. Her plans usually went as far as what work and other obligations she had that week. Family birthdays, sure, were kind of hard to get out of but she avoided appointments where possible. She hadn’t been to the dentist in five years and had started to worry if that sensitivity in her top right teeth was actually a problem. The thought of someone’s hands in her mouth was more than she could bare.

Who knows what the dentist or their assistant would taste like? Thirty year old carpet, skin that has spent too many hours in the sun all sweaty and salty or over-heated milk sickly sweet and sour. They never tasted like warm cherry pie or straight from the oven chocolate cookies. With all of the possible tastes in this world, why was it that she encountered more unpleasant than pleasant ones. Did other taste synesthetics experience the same thing? She didn’t know anyone else with her gift so couldn’t answer the question.

She’d never met another taste synesthetic. She first learned the term when she was a teenager. Wikipedia and internet chat rooms were her salvation. A doctor had declared his diagnosis one day after years of visits. Lexical-gustatory synaesthesia to be precise. As a baby, the notes on her Maternal Child record book noted that she had been ‘failing to thrive’. Her mother had always fussed over her poor eating habits as a child and hoped that things would improve when she started school. Surely her peer group would provide a positive influence. They didn’t.

 She was petit and found it easy to fade into the corners. At recess and lunch time she managed to appear occupied with packing up classroom activities, tidying her desk or taking a trip to the bathroom. Her teachers never seemed to notice that she spent more time unpacking her individually wrapped lunch items than she did consuming them.

The crackers and the carrot sticks had to be in separate containers. Cheese slices had to be a particular brand and kept cool. Cross contamination and possible food spoilage were easy excuses for food to be put in the large round file in the corner of the classroom. Other kids turfed their dry crusts and browned apple cores amongst the scrunched waxed paper and plastic scraps. Gretel became adept at hiding her mother’s homemade treats in between the foil and brown paper bags of the class’ detritus.

After school she would retire to her room and sit with her favourite blanket under the desk that her mother had kept from her own childhood. Her mother envisioned the little girl at the desk reading her beloved books saved from her own childhood, cutting and gluing artistic creations or drawing grand designs on endless supplies of paper. Instead, Gretel would sit leaning against the wooden desk, with the afternoon sun streaming through dusty net curtains onto her legs until she succumbed to snooze-land.

Her mother was grateful that Gretel didn’t come home from school and plop in front of the TV like other children she knew. She assumed that the school day exhausted her sweet little girl. Gretel lacked energy partly due to her lack of food consumption but also because she found interaction with other people so energy zapping. They were too stimulating, too distracting, too much. She couldn’t watch TV or go to the movies. All those people, all those words and sounds each with their own taste. Everything got too much. One would be lid ice-cream, another would be defrosted bread, synthetic maple syrup, damp grass, raw potato, and ear-wax or week old kitty litter.

She could understand the appeal of texture and temperature when it came to food but flavour as embodied in food was a foreign concept to Gretel. She would taste flavours thousands of times a day and so didn’t experience hunger as others did. Flavour went beyond sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. She had tried and failed to describe the taste of vinyl car upholstery after hours in the sun. Oily, sweaty and flaccid went only part way there. It was also earthy and sweet with a lingering hint of musty leaves. It was only the recurrent grumble of her stomach and weakness in her limbs that defined hunger for Gretel.

Her sixth grade teacher had tasted of vanilla ice cream. Mr Whitehall gave her a brain freeze. She found it difficult to concentrate as she held her head back, pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth and covered her mouth and nose with her hands. WikiHow users voted these the most effective methods for dealing with brain freeze. She wasn’t so sure.


Her Landscape – short fiction

Her Landscape – short fiction by Amanda Kennedy
Okay, I’m in bed.
It’s dark. It’s night.
I’m naked.

She curls her legs up instinctively and rolls to her right side.

Owww – that hurts. What the hell?

Her right hand finds her neck and firmly rubs the muscle as she turns her head first to the right and then to the left. Running her hands up through her hair she finds a large bruise on the crown of her head.  Cupping this egg, she realises that she has no idea how it got there.
Quickly she shoots a glance to her bedside table and is relieved to see her phone there plugged in.

That’s right, my phone battery died during the afternoon.

She checks the time. It’s 11.30. She can see a couple of missed calls and messages. She’ll check them later when she feels up to it.
Draining the last of the water in her glass, she feels the first bit of relief since she woke.

This is my bed. This is my room.

With the help of the street lights shining in through the open curtains she can see her shoes, her coat and her scarf on the floor next to her handbag. The clothes she had been wearing were draped across the chair as they were every evening. Swinging her feet onto the floor with some effort, she levers her body into a standing position.  Her full bladder starts to cause her discomfort.
At first she can’t stand to turn on the bathroom light so in the dark she slumps onto the toilet seat and lets her head hang into her hands.

Okay, right. What do I know? I went out in the afternoon. I met up with Rachel. We had a few wines. I had pink. She had white. Then I hopped on the train to come home around peak hour. That’s right the train was crowded – standing room only.

Flicking the fluorescent light on, she pays witness to what she sees reflected in the large wall mirror. Her eye make is smudged giving her panda eyes and her hair is certainly in need of at least a brush if not a wash. She turns to view her back in the mirror to take stock of her entire body, checking for any new marks or bruises.

Okay, that’s good. Nothing scary.

Opening the cabinet door, she fumbles for painkillers as she starts to fully accept the pounding present inside her head. The bright yellow cardboard box yields up its last two tablets from the foil sleeve. More water guzzled down. One. Two full glasses plus a refill for the bedside table.
She climbs back into the inviting warmth of her bed.

How much did I really drink that much? Two wines as we sat in the sun overlooking the river.  No, three wines. We had that other one after we moved inside away from the rain. Oh, yeah and the pork belly sliders. She then left to go that conference and I walked across the river to catch the train home like the sensible woman I was going to be. Oh yeah, I did stop at the new bar on the corner after I got off the train.

Of course, she was there too early and there was only one other person in the bar. An old guy in a dark blue leather jacket was propped up at one end of the bar, nursing his pint. Bowls of peanuts sat on the tables ready for the shelling. A thin white ponytail hanging down the middle of his back. She managed to cajole him to play a game of darts with her, not that she was any good but she liked the idea of being a darts fiend. He wanted to play billiards but she knew that would take too long and she was on her way home – just stopping in for a quick one to check this warehouse bar she had walked past often but never inside.
It was only happy hour for another 20 minutes so she finished up her pot of lacklustre tasting beer and offered to buy her new friend Nick another one. An hour later, the bar had filled up and she rugged up with her coat, scarf and gloves to brave the icy wind and drizzle outside.

It was dark and cold and I remember it had been raining. Was it actually raining when I walked home? I’m not sure. I don’t think so.

Reluctantly getting out of her nest again she checks through her clothes for clues. On her trousers she finds green marks at her knees.

Grass stains?

Her jacket has dust marks all over it. Her pale leather shoes are mostly clean though. Her handbag sits on the chair untouched and unmarked. She opens it up in a moment of panic but finds her purse, cash and credit cards intact.

 Jumper, singlet, bra – check.  Socks? Over there.

Picking up her scarf, a lone earring and a handful of empty peanut shells fall out onto the carpet. She surrenders, having accounted for her things, climbs back into bed and switches off the light wishing for the sweet nothingness of sleep.

Okay. I left the bar alone. I was tipsy sure but I wasn’t pissed. Yeah, I was definitely alone. It was dark. Not much street lighting so I crossed the road to make sure that I walked under the lights. I was being safe. So up to the end of the road, across the grass – was that where I fell? But my trousers would be wet and my shoes would be muddy. Maybe I tripped over one of those rocks by the start of the ramp?

She again rubs her legs and arms, this time finding a tender spot by her wrist. Holding the bruised top of her head, she fantasises about the oblivion state of sleep. No pain, no blank spots, no questioning monkey mind.
Slowly, gradually the colour of the sky changes as dawn takes over and she stops fighting for slumber. A large cup of tea helps lull her pounding head while she gathers the laundry and trudges down the stairs to the machine. Pausing to spray the grass stains on her trousers, her confusion doubles.

They’re not at all wet. Maybe it wasn’t grass?

Imagining talking to Rachel later that day she ran over the evening or what she could recount of it for sure.

I know I drank but really I only had what, five drinks over four or five hours. I wasn’t that drunk that I blacked out. Was I? We had food. Thank god, I’m mostly okay. Just my head really. My phone, my purse, my credit cards are all here.  I’ve gotta go walk my steps and see if I recall anything else.

Pulling on a different warm coat and long leather boots, she grabs her keys and heads out.

Wow at least I didn’t leave my keys in the door like I did that time we went to that gallery opening in Brunswick.

Locking the door behind her, she drags down her sunglasses as a barrier against unwanted conversation. Head down and off into the cold winter day she strides.

I remember how cold it was crossing the freeway last night. It’s always freezing up there on the overpass. Do I really remember or do I just want to remember?

After having crossed a few driveways, her eye catches something glinting in the small sliver of morning sun. Her earring. It’s broken. They were only a couple of dollars from the cheap Asian store but she liked them. People complimented her in them. She squats to pick it up and it is then that she notices the moss growing along the footpath. She touches it and it is cold and damp. She looks along the pavement and it’s then that she sees scuff marks in the slippery lichen covered concrete.

Her Landscape – episode 3 of podcast The Middle Third

Forging ahead with my podcast, this is a short fiction piece about things that can and do happen to women I know in this day. I hope you enjoy it.
I’d love to hear from you so leave a comment here or on Facebook or send me an email at artbyamandakennedy@gmail.com

And here it is – Episode 3


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