HEBE FLEES THE SCENE

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It’s 4.30 am. Hebe ushers her aging Jack Russell, Tom, onto the footpath. Sunrise is not far

away and a cool breeze plays through the blossom-laden murraya hedge causing it to release a

heady perfume.

With Tom leading the way, they set off down Lower Bowen Terrace towards Sydney Street, and

from there, over Brunswick into New Farm Park. Hebe loves it here at this time of day, before

it becomes crowded with joggers, walkers, the noisy exponents of bootcamp and other dog

owners.

The river is as still as a millpond, its water possessing a treacle like viscosity, so thick you almost

believe you could walk on it. Hebe unleashes Tom who immediately races off in joyous pursuit

of a foraging river rat. A curlew calls a warning to its chicks. The eerie cry echoes through the

shadows of giant moreton bay figs and is finally lost in the diaphanous mist rising from the river.

Not wanting to cause the family of curlews any further alarm, Hebe quickly brings Tom to heel.

Together, they make their way away from the rivers edge, up the embankment and towards the

rose gardens.

It was as they were crossing the ring road that Hebe first noticed the vehicle with the Brisbane

City Council logo emblazoned on its cabin door. She knew immediately it was a dreaded Dog

Ranger’s truck.

Who would have thought they would be out and about at this time of day! Hebe had always

exercised the fond and erroneous belief that these people would be the nine to five sort, and

unlikely to be seen so early in the day.

Hebe quickly secures Tom to his lead, hoping the ranger hadn’t noticed her disobeying council

law and tries to make good their escape by disappearing behind the Rotunda. But that hope is

soon dashed when, through the stillness of the dawn a voice calls out, “Hey! You there. Stop!”

Hebe curses under her breath. Desperately she thinks how best to handle the situation, shall I

employ charm or defiance? I’m an attractive woman, surely charm will win the day. Arranging

her face in a pleasing manner Hebe turns to face the Ranger.

“Oh hello!” she says smiling. “A beautiful morning.”

Ignoring her greeting the Ranger cuts right to the chase. “Lady you had your dog off it’s lead.

That’s a serious and fineable offence!”

Hebe’s smile quickly dissolves and metamorphoses into a rictus of bared teeth. She is

dismayed by the man’s aggressive and unfriendly demeanour . He is, she suspects impervious

to charm, hers or anyone elses for that matter.

A more singularly unattractive and mean spirited individual she has never had the misfortune to

meet. Pale blue eyes blaze accusingly at her from a thin ashen face. The eyes of a true zealot,

Hebe thinks. There will be no swaying this man from his purpose.

The dirty blonde hair is cut painfully close to his pointed skull. His lips are chapped and in an

effort to keep them moist, he darts his tongue continually across their dry flaking surface. Hebe

is, disconcertingly so, suddenly reminded of a reptile.

Abandoning all thoughts of seduction, Hebe quickly goes on the offensive, “It’s not going to

happen! I’m not accepting a fine. You can read me a lecture on exercising my responsibilities as

a law-abiding citizen and the necessity of dogs being kept on leads but I am not taking a fine.”

The pale blue eyes blink at the temerity of this statement. The Ranger has been caught off

guard, disconcerted by this brazen challenge to council law. A small bubble of anger begins to

swell within his narrow chest. The one thing he won’t tolerate is civil disobedience.

“I’m responding to complaints about dogs being off the lead and your dog was off it’s lead. Lady,

you’re gonna be fined.” says the ranger with awful emphasis. He leans down towards Tom

intending to read the registration tags that hang from his collar. “You touch that dog and all hell

will break loose!” says Hebe forcefully.

The ranger steps back his face infused with blood. Hebe can see he is very angry. She begins

to feel a little apprehensive. They’re alone in the park and this man clearly doesn’t like to be

challenged.

“Are you threatening me?” says the man with quiet menace. “Do I have to call the police?”

Hebe rallies and throws down the gauntlet, “Yes call them. I’m sure the local constabulary will

be only too pleased to come down here and sort out this trifling matter, especially when all their

resources are busy with a small thing called the G20 summit.”

A flicker of doubt breaks his basilisk stare, the man’s eyes glance away. With that nano-second

of hesitation, Hebe realizes she has gained a small advantage. He is unsure how to proceed.

He can’t physically manhandle her and she won’t be bullied into revealing her details. They are,

as the French would say, at an impasse.

The advantage is all Hebe’s and she is eager to take charge of it. Gathering up Tom, Hebe

quickly takes her leave. And as she weaves her way through the rose gardens away from her

nemesis, she can feel his cold blue eyes boring into the back of her skull. His voice thick with

frustrated anger calls to her retreating back, “Lady you haven’t heard the last of this!”

Hebe’s main concern now, was, how to get Tom home without him following her.

“And did he follow you?” I ask. We sit on Hebe’s verandah with a jug of Pimm’s and a wheel

of Brie set on the table before us. The sun sits low in the sky. It’s late afternoon and Hebe is

recounting her early morning skirmish with the city council ranger.

“Oh yes! in his truck.” laughs Hebe, spreading brie over a water cracker. “He followed me

through back streets, main streets and laneways all over New Farm until we finally reached

Merthyr Village. I went down into the underground car park, feeling confident I would lose him

by exiting the car park via those stairs that lead to Merthyr Road. But alas no. He was waiting

for me as I emerged. The triumph in those cold blue eyes almost undid me.”

I take a deep drink of Pimms. “How did he know you would exit the car park at Merthyr Road?”

Hebe shrugs. “I don’t know Darling. Perhaps he has a sixth sense but I suspect it was just sheer

luck. I was getting desperate by now – and tired. Tom was buggered and beginning to protest at

this relentless and – for him at least – pointless march around New Farm.”

“So, how did you get give him the slip?” I ask. Hebe smiles wickedly. “I was heading up

Brunswick street and as I neared the Arch’s house I suddenly saw a brilliant opportunity!”

“Who is Arch? Do I know him?” I ask confused.

“Not Arch Darling. It’s the Arch, the Archbishop. I went into to the Archbishop’s house!” says

Hebe triumphantly.

Choking on my cracker I splutter,”You went into Wynberg House?”

“Yes, well, into the grounds Darling. It was most fortuitous that the front gate was open.

Normally it’s closed tighter than a drum. Anyway I walked in and hid behind some shrubs in the

garden.”

“Sure enough, my pursuer pulls up in his truck and waits out the front for me to leave. It was at

this point I hear the front door of the house open and to my horror, four priests step out onto the

drive. I had in my agitated state failed to notice a car parked at the door. Obviously it was there,

waiting to transport the priests somewhere! That was why the main gate was open.”

“Oh my God! Hebe no! What did you do?” I enquire anxiously.

“The only thing one can do in these awkward situations Darling. You act as if everything is as it

should be. I smiled and graciously wished them a good morning and then with as much dignity

as I could muster, beat a hasty retreat around the side of the house.”

“Didn’t they challenge you? Ask why you were there? Oh Hebe, this is unbelievable.

“I think they were too surprised to say anything. It’s not every day you exit your house and find a

wild eyed woman with her bedraggled canine hiding behind the azalea shrubs.”

Hebe takes a sip of her drink and continues.

“I was banking on my pursuer not knowing there is a laneway at the side of the Arch’s place that

leads circuitously to Browne Street. It wasn’t an easy escape, there were some obstacles in my

path like locked gates and fences. I destroyed a pair of designer jeans climbing over them but

I did manage to get to Browne Street and flag down a taxi. At first the driver baulked at taking

Tom but a fifty dollar note soon fixed that small problem and we were delivered safely home.”

I’m impressed with Hebe’s resourcefulness and her sans-souci approach at becoming an

outlaw. “Good-on-you Hebe. I would never had the courage to defy a City Council ranger. No

matter how resentful I may feel about some of our by-laws.”

Hebe leans back in her chair smiling, as she raises her glass. “Cheers Darling!” Our glasses

clink and she then says pensively, “I do hope they don’t send the fine to the Arch. They won’t be

silly enough to do that would they?”

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WHAT MAY APPEAR TO BE FRENCH, IS NOT ALWAYS FRENCH.

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It’s cold. The sun, a spent force, has disappeared over the horizon and in its wake a few sullen grey clouds edged in magenta are left scudding before the encroaching indigo of night. A mean-spirited breeze inserts icy fingers under collars and in between the gaps of tightly buttoned jackets.

Merthyr village is bustling with people purchasing last minute items for dinner. All are anxious for the warmth of heathside and home. In front of the New Farm Deli, vehicles circle like carrion-eaters in search of vacant car space. The impatient toot of car horns rend the cold night air.

Making our way past the optometrists, Beau and I are suddenly waylaid by two conspicuously soignee young men. Their manner of dress, even by New Farm standards, could only be described as astonishingly exotic.

Both are encased in buttoned up, full length velvet coats. The taller of the two in vermillion, while the shorter man is breathtakingly adorned in rich cobalt blue. These splendid jackets, bedizened with gold braid and buttons fall in graceful folds over skinny black jeans. On their feet they wear matching gold sneakers. Reluctantly dragging my eyes from the wonder of their aureate high-tops, I am next transfixed by the arrangement of their hair.

The men’s tonsorial affectations are so acute in execution it’s enough to cause one’s eyes to water. Hair the colour of a raven’s wing rise from pale foreheads in identical vertiginous quiffs while the sides and back are clipped so close, naked scalp is painfully visible.

“Oh look more French,” exclaims the shorter of the two in accents so fruity it sounds as if he may have swallowed an entire orchard of plums.

“We just saw a Renault and now we come across a French Poodle!” he cries excitedly and waves a languid hand in the direction of Beau. Beau, normally insouciant in the face of admiration, is suddenly shy and darts behind my legs.

Turning to me the taller man fixes me with an assessing eye and says, “You’re French also.”

It’s more a statement than an enquiry.

“No I’m Australian,” I feel compelled to correct.

“But you were wearing a trench coat this morning at Chouquette.”

“Yes, that’s correct.”

“So you are French!  At least your parents are French?” interjects my relentless inquisitor.

“No, my father is English and my mother was four generations Australian,” I say, growing more than a little bemused at the Dadaesque direction this conversation was taking.

“Oh really! You’re really quite ordinary then?” says the shorter one looking unbelievably disappointed, his countenance an exercise in peevishness.

Feeling by now, slightly prosaic, if not resentful and put upon, I respond: “Well, I’m more than ordinary. I rather see myself as extra-ordinary.” The play on words and my feeble attempt at hauteur are met with the most crushing disdain.

“Extraordinary?“ they bleat in unison. Their carefully manicured brows form perfect exclamation marks, a reaction to the temerity of my over-confident observation.  “We certainly don’t think so!”  they sniff dismissively and then with a theatrical flourish of their velvet coats they are gone, leaving behind them the distinct waft of Christian Dior’s Poison and a faintly disturbing miasma of ill will.

Later that evening, at dinner, I tell Hebe about my bruising encounter with the two sartorialists. She is quick to explain, “Darling, obviously not New Farmers. They must be some dreadful tourists from the outer suburbs!”

“Oh?” I say perplexedly. “Why do you say that?”

“People from New Farm would know that Poodles are German, not French!” says Hebe with annihilating certitude.

I do adore Hebe. So clever for her to see immediately it was all about Beau and nothing to do with me whatsoever. I really must stop thinking that it is always about me!

MAN’S BEST FRIEND

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I awoke to find the room filled with a strange luminosity.
Through the shutters an unearthly glow so bright I could almost read by it.
A full moon as large as a fifty cent coin sits low in an indigo sky.
A sense of disquiet, a vague feeling of being bereft but why?
Then I remember I’m sans my hound.
He is enjoying a brief sojourn at the beach with my dad.
I never loose sight of Beau being a canine. I don’t see him as surrogate child or myself as a parent.
With genuine perplexity the unenlightened will ask, “How can you invest all that emotion in a pooch. He just a dog?”
“It is because of that very reason, he is a dog!
A gloriously funny, loyal, intelligent, sometimes willful, at times stubborn but always loving entity.
In short a wonderful companion.
An amazing reality for me is, I have derived more comfort and succor in times of high stress from this small canine than I have from a loving and supportive family, wonderful friends or indeed any partner … So, go get yourself a little dog or a big one for that matter!
It’s the path to salvation.

NO DISTANCING ONESELF FROM THE FAMILIAR ODOUR OF GUILT

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It’s six am and Hebe lies quietly, willing herself back to sleep, a sleeping mask fixed firmly over her eyes. She had been woken by loud cries from the children next door and their mother’s pleas for quietude. Finally the slam of car doors and the sound of a vehicle reversing down the drive bring merciful restoration of silence. Unfortunately, it comes to late. The ruckus has woken Hebe’s aging Jack Russell terrier, Tom.

She could hear his urgent scratching at the bedroom door, signaling a need to be let out. It’s time to attend to his morning ablutions. The day has begun.

Twenty minutes later, Hebe is seated on the her verandah reading a newspaper. The table is set with a pot of green tea, strawberry conserve and toast. She is engrossed in a rather grisly account of murder most foul – a man murdered his wife, then posts the poor women’s earthly remains, piece by piece, back to her family in Croatia – Hebe ignores Tom’s insistent barking. Only when he loses patience and places a damp soft weight in her lap does she finally takes notice.

There are some moments before Hebe’s brain can compute the shocking reality of Tom’s offering. She shrieks in revulsion and stands abruptly, causing the breakfast paraphernalia to rattle violently.

Tom seek seeks refuge under the table; confused and frightened by Hebe’s reaction. The object is now on the floor. Hebe nudges it gingerly with her foot. Her worst fears are realized, as is the awfulness of their consequences.

“Tom, you’ve murdered Calypso,” cries Hebe in horrified accents. Calypso, the angora guinea pig and much loved pet of the children next door, is indeed dead. It’s once lustrous, golden coat now matted with earth, grass and saliva; a victim of an awful and violent death.

Tom backs further under the table as if to distance from the accusing hysteria.

Stifling her revulsion, Hebe quickly examines the body. Thankfully, it’s all in one piece: no limbs severed or gaping wounds.

An idea born of desperation – and a desire to spare Tom a possible death sentence – suddenly presents itself. She hurriedly makes her way to the bathroom.

Hebe fills the hand basin with warm water, lowers the still pliable body of Calypso into it. She works a few drops of shampoo into the matted coat, a lather forms and is quickly rinsed off taking with it the evidence of the horrific crime. Then, after blow-drying the now clean coat to it’s former glossy fluffiness, she sprays Chanel No. 5 – an insurance against the cloying odour of mortification.

Urgency is paramount. The family may return home at any moment. Clutching the newly marcelled Calypso under her arm, Hebe sprints across the garden and climbs the fence into her neighbour’s yard. No mean feat when you consider she’s wearing six inch Louboutin stilettos.

Calypso’s  cage sits upended, further proof of Tom’s determination to commit a dastardly deed. Hebe glances around for prying eyes. The coast clear, she quickly arranges the dead guinea pig in a manner that suggests a peaceful exit from the mortal coil instead of the brutal one she most fears.

Back on the verandah, fortified by a stiff brandy and tea, Hebe waits. It’s not long before the family returns. With shaking hand, Hebe sprays Chanel No. 5 on her handkerchief and begins to mop her perspiring brow. The suspense is dreadful. Hebe fights the urge to confess all to the family. Tom needs her to remain firm – his life may depend on it.

Almost at breaking point, Hebe suddenly hears one of the children: “Mummy come quick. It’s Calypso.” What follows is pandemonium.

There’s a cacophony of raised voices – children and parents – all fighting to be heard. Finally, silence.

Moments later Shirley, the children’s mother appears at the fence and calls for Hebe to join her.

“The most perplexing and upsetting thing has happened,” says the visibly distressed Shirley. Hebe says nothing her face a careful study of concern.

The woman continues: ” The children’s guinea pig died last night and we buried it under the camellia tree this morning. We’ve just returned from taking the children out for a drive to serve  as a distraction from the sad event, only to discover Calypso has, while we were away, been miraculously resurrected from her grave and is now restored to her cage.”

“Oh dear, how extraordinary.” says Hebe, feigning ignorance, wishing herself anywhere but there confronted by Shirley. The young mother fixes Hebe with a gimlet eye. “The other interesting thing is her body positively reeks of Chanel No. 5.”

Hebe, not liking the turn the conversation was taking, decides  it’s best to put an end to it at once: “Chanel No. 5 doesn’t reek Darling. It’s the most aristocratic of perfumes.”

With that, Hebe turns and makes her way back towards the Verandah, the Louboutin high heels making hard work of it as they gouge deep holes in the lawn.

“Oh, one other thing,” calls Shirley, determined not to be distracted by Hebe’s deliberate red – herring: “All around the cage are these deep holes as if someone had been wearing high heels.”

Hebe realizing the dreadful finger of suspicion is being leveled at her, smiles, if a rictus of bared teeth  could be considered a smile: “Darling. You are a regular Miss Marple. Let’s put it down to divine intervention shall we, and leave it that.”

Head helf high she is gone, with Tom – innocence restored – following at her heels