And so last night, Lisa and I finished our Twelve Planets collection for Twelfth Planet Press, and sent it off. The collection-formerly-known-as-Baggage is now called The Female Factory, after the final tale (which is a novella).
And as a teaser:
‘You packed the white push-up Effy ordered,’ Orlando asked for the dozenth time since they’d left that morning. ‘And the lace negligée? The satin knickers?’
Robyn yawned and continued to stare out the car’s tinted window. ‘Yep.’
‘Yes, Mr Orlando,’ he corrected. ‘But no garters, right? No Gs? Anderson’s old-fashioned, old money. He’s a man of refined tastes.’
Arching a perfectly-groomed brow, Robyn swallowed a retort. The journey had made Mr Orlando rather more communicative than usual, like his tongue couldn’t resist flapping in the breeze of their windfall. After the first twenty minutes or so, Robyn realised he didn’t even care if she paid attention, so she’d spent much of the last two hours watching the eucalypt-punctuated landscape as it spun by, the flat green-brown fields crossed with barbed wire fences, three or four strands high, scrubby bushes, and dirt tracks breaking off from the bitumen, stretching away under gorgeous, eye shadow-blue skies. The partition between driver and passengers was raised, had been since they’d left Melbourne, and Robyn started to feel they were hermetically sealed in a moving tomb. Flushed and suddenly woozy, she rested her hands on her stomach, then hoped Orlando had missed the movement lest he wax lyrical yet again about the miracle that she was. She was lucky in this at least.
All the Other Revivals
Baron settled into his usual spot in the little hide formed by a cluster of tree trunks and exposed roots. There was the distant rumble of a big block engine some way off, but it didn’t bother him. He had a tartan picnic blanket, pilfered from Adela’s pantry, and spread it out in the little space that sheltered him from eyes and elements. The view was perfect: of the billabong, of what went on down there, beside it and in it, when the season was right. Squinting through the split trunk of the biggest tree, Baron watched ripples snaking across the murky surface, the lazy breeze the only thing that really swam down there anymore. Cheek roughed against the bark, he peered at the water as long as he could without blinking. At the toppled barrels half-hidden in the scrub, their once-vibrant paint now camouflaged with rust. The light froth of algae scumming the shoreline, puke yellow, sour cream. An old rubber sandal, pink plastic straps nearly bleached white, flipped upside down and half-caked in dried mud. A noisy miner bird beaking the ground for bugs. Shifting quietly, he saw everything through the tall screen of brown grass that always kept the other teens — when they were about — from seeing him.
They didn’t talk to him; didn’t have that much in common, he supposed. They wasted their days at different schools — Farren had shipped Baron off to board in Sydney soon as Adela died, and only let him home for holidays — and they spent the breaks playing cricket or footy or just hanging out at the fish ‘n’ chip shop, the drive-in, the races. All of them mates, paired with their girls or clustered in teams that were chosen while Baron was away.
Kate often spoke to grains of rice, flakes of cereal, pistachios waiting to be shelled. She talked to grapes and cherries. Sunflower seeds. M&Ms. Sometimes she’d whisper before she ate them, often she wouldn’t. Most days, she simply thought conversations at them and imagined their mute responses. They never replied using words, only emotions. She felt their personalities as a fluttering in her belly. A sensation of warmth beneath her ribs.
This morning, sitting in the waiting room outside Dr Goodman’s office, she was muttering to the last pink Tic Tac stuck on the bottom of its plastic case.
‘All your friends are already inside me,’ she said. The packet had been new — she’d bought it at the convenience store across the road on the way in — but her mouth had been so dry… She’d been here, stomach churning, for almost an hour. The mints hadn’t stood a chance. ‘Don’t you want to join them? Won’t they miss you if you don’t?’
The Female Factory
The isolation cell had fallen into disuse since Mrs Avice Welles, purported widow, had become Matron of the Bridewell Female Factory in Van Diemen’s Land. It wasn’t that her reign was any gentler or kinder at the small facility, but she had other methods of punishment and rehabilitation upon which she preferred to rely. Indeed, some of the inmates, grownup and child alike, had come to think fondly of the old lockup, its two by three dirt floor, cool stone walls (a mere five feet high so few adults could stand straight, a foot thick to muffle sound), and rough iron gate that let the breeze in if one was lucky. As with most nostalgia, it conveniently forgot that there was nowhere for the breeze to go and the space soon became stuffy, that in winter snow and sleet came through the bars like an unwelcome guest, that the rations served to prisoners being thus punished were less in both quantity and quality and liable to contain more weevils and maggots.
And it was also conveniently forgotten that the isolation cell was a place of lost hope, but not in the way previous Matrons or Superintendents had ever intended.