Real Life or Close To It

 I did a writing class that concentrated on family stories. It was supposed to be sort of  ‘how to write one’s memoirs’ and I found myself surrounded by Very Proper Ladies – who turned out to be fantastic women and we shared stories for years afterwards.

CONTENTS:

Title                                          Genre         Written            Added

Cheeky                                      Family          2002                   Feb 2013

The Wallet                                Family       2004                     Feb 2013

Cheeky

Karen Leslie 2002

She arrived on a rainy night, a speck of yellow fluff. Dad had been marshalling a plane into it’s berth and spotted her, alone on the wide tarmac. There must have been a shipment and she had escaped the cage somehow. She certainly continued that trait throughout her brief life.

Cheeky spent the night in a gumboot in the hot water cupboard, we had no thought of her still being alive the next day, but she was, a slightly larger ball of fluff. We made a cardboard box home for her and my brother and I trotted down the hill to school with the proud news that we owned a chicken.

Strathmore Park isn’t known as a poultry area. Not in the early 70’s, not now. Possibly the only claim to fame Strathmore Park had was that Russell Crowe was born there, and we tried to keep that fairly quiet. It was a suburban paradise and it took us years to find out that those noisy people up the road were running a brothel, we tried to keep that fairly quiet too. We were in an ex-state house on Kinghorne street – much better than the Star flats on the other hill that I had been born into. We had moved up in the world – literally, 82 steps up from the road. We weren’t as posh as the people in the flat roads at the bottom of the hill, but they weren’t as posh as the people over the main road in Miramar, or through the tunnel in Seatoun.

No-one else had a chicken though.

Later, one of our neighbours kept a few chooks in a cage and had constant complaints from the man living immediately below her place, which they both seemed to enjoy. We only got one complaint about Cheeky.

She grew out of the cardboard box and we had made her a roost on one level of the back garden. The section was terraced into seven distinct areas, only three of which ran the full width of the section, Dad had held back the largest bank with a bottle wall to stop it encroaching on the drying lawn. Cheeky’s cage was on a small area raised to the side between the drying lawn and the “vege garden”. Originally it had held a garden shed, home of nightmare spiders; bloated red things with stubbly legs that no-one else but me had seen.

Cheeky’s cage became a haven for blowflies, which drove mum mad. Cheeky wasn’t fond of them either and spent most of her time roaming the garden with whoever was there. She would perch on our shoulders, which made hanging out the washing a bit difficult for mum, but I thought it was fantastic. I encouraged my friends to let her perch on them, she was a friendly bird and very obliging. One of my best friends even got a “present” right down the back of her new red waistcoat.

Although she seemed happy enough in her cage most nights, if it rained Cheeky would fly up into the trees above, sitting bedraggled and disgruntled until the weather had passed. This was the time we had the complaint – a typical Wellington northerly blew in, and we had a north facing section. Cheeky must have found the trees too precarious that night and sought better shelter. There was a knock at the door, late in the evening and when Dad answered it our next door neighbour was there. Obviously back from a night at the pub, he swayed and held Cheeky up by her legs. “Ish thish your bird?” he asked in a disapproving tone. Dad admitted that she was and had Cheeky thrust into his arms. The neighbour hiccuped loudly, turned and staggered away without another word. It was they only time he ever spoke to us. There were little tracks worn between the back gardens of most of our neighbours, but we were not a part of the coffee circle. We didn’t do cocktails and were never part of the secret social life in Kinghorne street.

We had a chicken instead.

Cheeky was our forerunner of recycling, she hoovered up every scrap and peeling that came out of the kitchen, she was turning into a big fat chicken that stubbornly refused to lay eggs. As her second summer rolled around the blowflies homed in on her cage with a vengeance. Mum began making noises. They were similar noises to the ones she made about Smokey, our vicious brute of an SPCA moggy, shortly before he was put to sleep. It had taken a fair bit of talking to convince me he wouldn’t wake up again. We protested that Cheeky couldn’t be put to sleep, no suburban vet would handle a chicken!

My Brother and I scoffed dinner that night, how juicy this was, how tasty and succulent. We cleared our plates and asked why Mum and Dad weren’t eating? The best chicken dinner we’d ever had and they hadn’t touched it? Why?

Sitting at the table, with the gnawed bones on our plates, we heard the whole dreadful deed. Planned for our absence, they had worked together to end Cheeky’s life and serve her up. Although they couldn’t face eating her, they couldn’t face throwing out a perfectly good roast dinner either, so had compromised by letting us polish her off. Dad was still traumatised by the chiken’s active protests after he’d broken her neck, and Mum was overcome by guilt. Several weeks later, we kids were still rubbing it in, claiming that the Christmas Bird wasn’t a patch on Cheeky, they should have saved the family pet for another fortnight and slaughtered her while wrapping the presents.

Cheeky’s cage was torn down and replaced with garden furniture, two chairs and a barrel table that Dad had made. The lid of the barrel was the shape of a flower and, when we took the top off, my brother and I would find gekkos and lizards inside. We got new neighbours and started to visit around the place. But Cheeky remained in our memories as they best pet we ever ate.

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The Wallet

 Karen Leslie 2005

I did a good thing the other day. I handed a wallet into the police. It had been lying on the road, just off the footpath, which meant (playing detective) I decided, that it had fallen from the back pocket of a male (it was black with a khaki print), as he got into the passenger side of a vehicle. It didn’t look like an expensive wallet, webbing and velcro. My daughter has a similar one she got from “the pocket money shop”, she gets $2 a week, she’s six. The black wallet looked like it had the same value. Before taking it to the police, I checked for I.D., hoping to find a name to track through the phone book. I’ve done this before, usually there are thanks and relief and I feel like a Good Person.

It used to happen regularly when I worked for the Post Office, I became the ‘go to’ girl, tracking the owners of the various items that were handed in or left behind. I treated it like a game, finding clues, eliminating red herrings and phone numbers from our convenient copy of the white pages. I never got a wallet or handbag that I couldn’t trace eventually. The only surprise was how many people never even said thank you, or those who imperiously demanded one of the staff to deliver their abandoned property home, as though we’d been caught red-handed.

Most often, as a private individual, and not representing the evil Government through the offices of the mail, I got thanked. I had a wallet stolen in Wellington and the money wasn’t the worst thing, It was the hassle, all the vital information no longer at my fingertips. The cards that had to be replaced, names and phone numbers, reminders and photos. The wallet was handed in, less anything financial, so I got a lot of it back, but the hassle had been there for weeks.

Once I saw two young women driving off with a bag of something on the roof of their car. I went after them flashing the lights of my car and tooting the horn, they made obscene gestures (did I mention they’d peeled out of their park right in front of me? They were very young and silly) and drove around a corner much too fast, spilling the bag into the gutter. They were laughing so hard they didn’t notice the bag, or the car swerving to avoid them as they swung into traffic.

I stopped my car, safely and sedately, then picked up the bag, tossed it into my car and carried on round to Mum and Dad’s. It contained a very nice jumper with the tags still on it, a sales slip for more disposable income than I’d had for a month, and a wallet with credit cards, cash, pin numbers and everything needed to wipe out this girl’s credit history for quite some time.

I thought about it. I’m not perfect and those girls were stupid and rude. I could hand a mostly empty wallet into the police and no-one would ever be the wiser. Nice jumper too, wrong size for me, but good enough to flick off to one of the second hand shops where I’d get money for it. With the pin numbers (and, ooh look at this card), her phone banking details, I could do anything I wanted. The thought snuck into my brain, that those girls had no idea who I was, they hadn’t looked at me once. They wouldn’t be able to identify the car, which I’d borrowed at any rate.

They only thing between this girl and financial disaster was my next decision.

I got her on the second phone call. She was surprised, how funny it all was, her forgetting the bag and all, she was amused at how they’d thought I was a nutter, and how they’d been so giggly and funny when I’d only been trying to help. I could drop her things off , she’d be in for at least the next half hour –

“No, I’m not chasing after you any more today. If you want your stuff it’ll be on the doorstep.” This was not how she expected me to behave, but I hadn’t given her the address yet, so perhaps she thought it was wiser to keep her mouth shut. After dinner with my family, we checked the doorstep, the bag had gone, she hadn’t bothered to knock on the door to say thanks.

The wallet I found on the street had no name in it. No papers, or plastic, not even a library card. Nothing but the battered air of a teenage boys’ forgotten property. I waited in the police station for the duty sergeant to finish writing up an accident reported by two girls. Their car had been hit by another car, a remarkable feat as it turned out, since their car was the only one moving. It seemed that their insurance company was getting upset about their ability to attract damage from stationary objects. They needed the policeman to understand that it really wasn’t their fault – the other guy needed to be charged with dangerous parking.

My turn at the counter, I handed over the wallet, and the suddenly less stressed policeman played along with my deductions, as we shared the clues. He wrote up the find and asked if I wanted to keep the cash, if it wasn’t claimed.

Over the next few weeks, I spent that $15 ten times over in my head.

Then I got the phone call. The owner. Well, not the owner of the wallet, the wallet’s owners’ father. The father who had taken the wallet off his son, for safekeeping and then lost it. He was very surprised that the wallet had been handed in. He burbled on for a while, about what untrustworthy scum most people are.

The one-sided conversation stuttered to a halt and I could sense he was waiting for something; “Thanks for calling?” I guessed.

“Oh, that’s quite all right.” he replied, and hung up.

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