Callum B. Downes

Month: July, 2015

A Black Book

Who knew thirteen years of private school education tore so easily. It was as if he’d rehearsed the dramatic ripping motion in the mirror weeks before the ceremony, as the school emblem was pulled into two perfect halves and his name split into Francis and Jacobsen. He scrunched the portioned graduation certificate into a ball, launched it toward the headmaster’s horrified face, yanked the microphone from the whimpering school captain and battled the squealing feedback to yell, ‘I hate you all and I wish you were dead!’

Fellow pupils, teachers, parents and honourable guests, gasped a collective breath, before cupping the ears of their neighbours and leaning their bodies into rumour fuelled whispers. The mumbling and sniggering grew into an almighty crescendo that was almost enough to drown out the headmaster’s desperate plea to ‘calm down, please!’

Meanwhile, Francis had stormed off stage, school councillor in pursuit, and slammed through the back doors of the auditorium after knocking the burly gym teacher, Mr Sorensen, flat out onto the floor with palpable force. ‘Now please, could everybody calm down! There are still many students awaiting their awards!’ bellowed the headmaster, clutching at his collar and wiping his brow. His cracking voice now surfaced above the persistent mumbling. ‘I expect our wonderful, Miss Piper, will sort this mess out.’

Miss Madison Piper was well acquainted with Francis Jacobsen and had been dealing with his mess since the seventh grade. His first visit began in seemingly endless tears, brought about by the ridicule he suffered following a quick lunchtime shower in the boys change rooms, when his clothes were stolen and his XXL underwear displayed above the main quad alongside the Australian flag. This initial session ended with playful laughter and broad smiles, sealing the pair’s relationship for the duration of Francis’ school career. Like many pubescent boys before him, it seemed Francis had enjoyed the company of Miss Piper, whose gentle embrace usually invited a prolonged glimpse down her flowing blouse unto her soft breasts.

But one afternoon signalled the demise of their playful relationship, and instead, marked the beginning of something much darker. From the moment Miss Piper called Francis into her office on the last day of grade twelve, until the graduation ceremony months later, she couldn’t mange to shake the uneasiness that immediately befell her. There was something more determined in his gait, more sinister in his tone. It was a certain edginess she’d never expected of him and her thoughts grappled to understand it. He assumed his usual seat. Gaze fixated on the floor, he began to grumble, recounting the days events as per routine. His breathing took on an abrasive quality and his voice grew hoarse, as he reached the climax of his report. ‘I told him the truth about my Dad. How he’s actually gay and everything. And he just laughed in my face. Laughed and shook his head.’ His fists clenched tightly, he was now speaking through the grinding of his teeth. ‘He promised he wouldn’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret, friend. That’s what he told me!’ His voice was a volcano, spit erupting through grinding teeth. ‘Friend? Who is he kidding? He’s a liar. He told everyone in the entire school. He’s meant to be a Christian, but he’s just like the rest of them. A lying, manipulative little shit!’ He exploded violently out of his chair, forcing a black notebook out from his pocket and onto the floor. A sudden varnish of alarm coated his expression, as he dropped to his knees, gathered the little notebook and stood up straight as a plank, all in the time it took Miss Piper to stand out of nervous reflex.

‘Okay, Francis,’ she whispered with self-deceiving calmness, as she motioned forward with outstretched arms. ‘Take a deep breath and…’

‘Don’t touch me!’ He screamed, before shuffling back and almost falling over his chair. A lengthy silence ensued, as he regained his posture and Miss White considered her options. ‘I need to tell you something Maddy.’ The fear in his voice hung expectantly in the air.

‘Go on Francis.’

‘I really trusted him, you know? I thought so highly of him’. Familiar tears formed like crystals beneath his dangerous eyes.

‘I know Francis, but you don’t…’

‘No, you don’t know,’ he interrupted. ‘You don’t know that I love him!’ With a sudden burst of momentous strength, he shoved past Miss Piper and out the door into a predictably challenging future, the little black notebook, protruding from his anxious grip.

Yet, breaking free from shackles of presumptuous doubt, his adult years were not so bleak. Behind an impregnable wall of cultural dissonance, he mended the strings of his fickle heart, finding meaning in the shadow cast. Within the dim lit alleys and neglected back streets of moral society, he became a man true to his fibres, to the seams of his spirit. He melted into those likeminded, vibrant with the rush of first love. Like a seasons bloom, he sprung forth from a dull winter’s bud to glorious spring flora. No longer a prisoner to the masters of ignorant narrow-mindedness.

And on the day after his honeymoon, the brimming heart of Francis Jacobsen beat out of its chest. For he stood motionless before the letterbox, engrossed by an unlikely correspondence. Unfamiliar tears gushed beneath gracious eyes. Forever altered by the sincere message penned.

Dear Francis,

Congratulations on your big day. I expect it was as boisterous and flamboyant as your former days in school. Best wishes for your future endeavours with Brandon by your side. I pray God blesses your marriage immensely.

More importantly, I wish to offer you an apology. I am profoundly sorry for making your life miserable and I’ll always regret breaking our promise about your Dad’s secret. If possible I’d like to grab a drink together sometime and reminisce over the good ol’ days in the schoolyard.

Yours sincerely,

Patrick.

As the sun’s departure set the sky aflame in lofty blotches of impure light, he sat upon his porch and flicked through dog-eared pages. He squinted toward an orderly flock, sailing silently across the horizon, blocking the sting of the sun’s glare momentarily. He pondered the brave decision he presently faced, and as the last trailing Ibis began to keel over the horizon he drew a line through a painful name. With that he breathed easy and soared upon their fading wings of freedom. He closed the black book which bore an etched title.

People who must die.

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An Unglamorous Mask

Mask

Antidepressants had never looked so appealing, gliding across his palms in delayed unison. They caught the light in a different way when grouped together somehow, and each of those ten or eleven capsules screamed a solution to the pain. An end to it all. Sweat, pouring from the glands of his trembling hands, began to ease the course of the rolling pills and he knew they could ease the pain forever. His focus shifts from the alluring medication and onto a dusty picture frame. The gorgeous, innocent, smiling eyes of his sister stare back at him, cutting into his soul with the hot knife of guilt. Compelled, he reaches for his phone and calls for her voice of reason. The understanding voice of big sis.

Inadequacy streaks, pauses, then crawls, slower this time, down the contours of her cheeks. Carrying remnants of an unglamorous mask, the tears darken slightly, before being swiped away. Swiped away, like the phone call she disregarded only a minute ago. Swipe after swipe gradually peels the layers off, and for a brief moment of rare scrutiny, her bare skin absorbs the natural light penetrating the window of her dingy one bedroom flat. But this moment fails to deliver nourishment. Instead, it brings vicious pain. The pain of being average. The pain of being flawed, worthless, unable, addicted. And the inadequacy begins to roll, once again, in excited spasms over her ‘chubby’ cheeks. But the pain is temporary. The pain can be hidden.

Plump lines of deceitfulness are layered onto her ‘thin’ lips. Generous strokes of elusiveness are smeared beneath her ‘lifeless’ eyes. Thick swabs of lies cover up the scars of her past life, sprawled across her ‘flabby’ arms. And the inadequacy ceases momentarily as she takes one last disapproving glance in the mirror, satisfied with her attempt at meeting expectations of beauty. Once again, the unglamorous mask of miserable self-pity, cracked and imperfect, deprives the world of a precious gift, a truly beautiful woman.

She shuffles tiredly to the kitchen and opens the fridge. Its door, covered in failed diet plans, hasn’t been opened in three days. Grabbing half a lemon and chilled water, she pours herself a meal. With glass in hand, she stumbles to the couch and reaches for her phone. She glides through endless items of designer clothing wrapped around perfect figures. ‘You’re not good enough’. Still swiping numbly, a mindless limb gropes frantically for the television remote. ‘ISIL claim responsibility for yet another car bomb attack in Iraq, which killed six civilians including children’. The news reporter’s drone agitates her attention. If not for a second, before the alluring pull of online shopping reclaims its grip. ‘You’re not good enough’. After several attempts, she heaves herself off the sofa and onto her feet. An excruciating two minutes follows, as she nudges delicately into Prada heels without bumping her blisters, before one last disappointing check in the mirror signals her departure for work.

The commute to her office each day is typically uneventful. A short stroll to the bus shelter, where she receives enviable glares from the ladies, and familiar compliments from the gents, supersedes a half-hour ride into town. Upon arrival, a throng of the homeless and destitute throw their hats into the ring. The suits are invariably glued to their phones, ignoring the impoverished crowd, who now wait expectantly for route 55A. ‘How dare they’. ‘Low lives’. This is followed by more tweeting, tagging, liking and ‘go to shopping carting’, as the suits wait on their espressos and spill packet sugars. A final sip, swipe and skip down the block and she arrives at the formidable doors of the largest economic firm in the city. Better known as a dense jungle, overgrowing with pretence, rivalry, lust and spite. All of which are highly venomous when taken in large doses.

‘Have you been hitting the gym? You look great’. ‘Wow, you’re glowing today’. ‘Say, wanna’ go grab a coffee later?’ The usual remarks haunt the glistening corridors of the workplace, as the girls take note of attire, and the fellas take second glances. She hangs a sharp right-hand turn into the ladies, finds a vacant mirror and adjusts the hair, bra and collar. ‘You’re dumb’. Reapplies the lipstick and double checks the textbook smile. ‘You’re ugly’. Straightens the back and pushes the breasts forward. ‘You’re not good enough’. Brimming with dutiful confidence, she struts to her office, passing those of higher esteem. ‘You’ll never make it like they did’. She opens the door, collapses at her desk, tears off the Prada heels and begins swiping through the morning’s trove of emails. Five missed calls from little bro. ‘For fucks sake! How many times must I tell him? Not while I’m working’. All five calls swiped into forgetfulness. ‘Think of white beaches and margaritas. I can get through this, again’. And with that thought, she enslaves herself to the unforgiving master of consumerism once more.

The workday ends and routine takes over. She bleeds into her heels, limps to the lift, fakes smiles to the door, ignores admiration down the stairs, zones out at the bus shelter and neglects her… ‘Ben’s in hospital again. Why aren’t you picking up?’ For that instant, it was just her and that text message, erupting from the phone and shattering the world she knew into a million embers of black ash. No longer could she evade her mother’s constant communication and swipe back to her shopping cart. She has been forced to play her hand, feel past her own skin, sacrifice the walls of secure affirmation, risk exposing her true feelings, face her demons. She must face ‘her true self’. Now the inadequacy begins to run thick and fast, tearing down the unglamorous mask in great clumps, before being swiped away. Swiped away by one of the homeless men. He continues to wipe away the endless tears and wraps his filthy arm around her spotless blazer. ‘There, there sweetheart. It’s gonna be alright, eh,’ he mumbles between great spluttering coughs of poor health. Her entire body shakes in terror before draping itself over the desperate stranger. She clings to him like a child after a bad dream and sobs her fear into the seams of his tattered coat.

Route 43C rolls up and spews more suits onto the pavement. Glued to their phones, they ignore the hopeless faces reaching out in desperation from the shelter. ‘This is me,’ she manages to utter as she jerks back from his clutches and attempts to gather her dignity. The homeless man stares in wonder as she drags away the final tears and reapplies her lippy. Finally, for the first time, she manages to lift her head and look him in the eye. She winces at the humanity that strikes suddenly at the marrow of her bones. In reaction, she reaches into her Prada bag. ‘Please, take this’. She reveals four fifty-dollar notes and lets them hang loosely before his piercing gaze. ‘No thank you,’ he smiles as he points to his chest. ‘I have more than enough in here, eh’. The master lingers in the air for a few seconds longer, and then returns to the pocket of its slave. Ashamed, she stands abruptly and leaps onto 43C. The doors shut and she drags her way to the very back seat beneath the idolising gaze of the suits. ‘Thank you,’ she whispers, as the bus accelerates past the ghosts of the street and into the evening’s glorious sunlight.

It had been many years since her reflection didn’t deceive her. Too long since it revealed itself in natural glory, unblemished by an unglamorous mask. But on this morning, a week after her brother’s suicide attempt, she faced herself. She wore the scars of her past drug addiction with pride and let her dazzling eyes bring life to those around her. Her hair tumbled down onto her fragile shoulders and she wore an easy smile. It was time to reveal her heart in unassuming vulnerability and show the world the true Melanie.

With a confident flick of her hair, Melanie left the mirror unmasked, bid farewell to the Iraqi sponsor child on her fridge door and left her dingy one bedroom flat full of the contentment she so desperately longed for. Hogging the fresh air in great gulps, Melanie sprung to her car and sung the entire way to her brother’s flat at the top of her lungs. Together, they traded stories of childhood, past lovers and living with the dark cloud of depression. They connected on those daily road trips to the rehab clinic, as two siblings, laying their hearts bare in total transparency. Revealing each other’s flaws and building up their strengths. They grew into something wonderful. A tree bearing honesty, self-worth and genuine love. And they watered it each day on route to rehab, and each day Melanie’s glamorous face shone in brilliant shades of adequacy.

Carina & Ben

My girl blogs about her flower art. Check it, yo!

gypsy and the gang

Be still my beating heart. This is an actual wedding, with real people. The gypsy bride and the wide-grinned groom.  The U L T I M A T E summer wedding including teepees, bright florals, pineapples, and pony rides! The ceremony and reception were located on the shores of Currarong, a sleepy seaside village where I have spent most of my summer childhood. What a pleasure it was to create these pieces for their wedding day. Congratulations Carina and Ben… match made in the heavens!

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The Storm

This just struck me this morning. Thought provoking stuff, dude.

People, Things, and Life

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All the time I feel the air.
Breezing by, everywhere.
Can it feel me? Does it notice me?
Does anyone, anywhere really care to see?
Everywhere I go, there’s no feeling of space.
Free from the toxins that impale this place.
Gone are the times of solitude and innocence.
Here is the now, the age of dissonance.
I walk among the reckless and the recluse.
Just those who are already stuck in the noose.
Kindly floating by, observing society.
Listening to the lack of sincere propriety.
Missing their voice, which got caught in the wind.
Nothing’s right, we’re trying too hard to blend.
Only to discover it’s us who are the plague- blurring among the faces, all too vague.
People who fall to greed and lust,
Quiver so slightly in the air like dust.
Rising through the storm are the few.
Sickness has settled on us all like dew.
Trying…

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