The Climb

Sightseeing and claustrophobia are not friends.

The ancient walls of the Duomo were cool beneath her hands, littered with graffiti that spanned decades. The steps were close and tight, curling up and up into the side of the enormous historical building, and together they marched doggedly up the steps.

Amy stared at the steps before her and tried not to think about the size of the staircase. Or the ancient bones of the building arched above her, just waiting to topple. Her legs burned and she shed her jacket the further they climbed; what was good in the icy temperatures outside was decidedly less so in the confines of the famous Florentine landmark.

“How much further? I’m dying here,” she panted, still putting one foot in front of the other, determined.

“Not much further – I see light,” said Jim above her. “Oh no, wait – it’s just the dome interior. Half way.”

Half way? Amy thought incredulously. That’s still another two hundred goddamn steps!

They spilled out onto the narrow walkway, impelled silent by the sign by the door as they came out into the Duomo interior. Still breathing a bit heavily, Amy nevertheless stared in awed silence at the intricate artwork adorning the ceiling, lit by the dim golden light spilling in from above.

Snapping a few photos between them, they edged along the walkway to the opposite side, ducking through the doorway and continuing upwards over the interior dome.

Up and up they climbed, slower now as they tired, reaching three hundred steps, then four hundred. Finally, they reached the apex of the the interior dome, the exterior scant centimetres above their heads.

“You’ve got to be kidding me. A ladder? Now?” Amy said, taking a swig from her water bottle as they waited for the people ahead of them to disappear through the gap into the open air.

Clinging to the metal rungs of the ladder and accepting a hand out onto the rain-slick marble roof of the Duomo, Amy shuffled away from the ladder and stared out across the misty Tuscan landscape, Florence a yellow stucco and terracotta tile marvel even in the impending drizzle.

Okay, I take it back. four hundred and sixty three steps is definitely doable – and worth it, for a view like this.

Peering over the curved edge of the dome across the city, Amy felt the claustrophobia of the climb drop away, replaced by the adrenaline of being so high above the city.

Peering down, she frowned. Damn, climbing down is gonna suck. She slid slightly on the wet marble, heart in her mouth as she gripped the railing. Assuming I don’t accidentally take the short cut over the side to the pavement…

Jump

The air screamed in her ears, and even warmly bundled against the cold, the freezing bite of Swiss winter tore through Emily’s layers.

Clouds high and grey above her, she leant into the weight of her jump instructor, grinning madly as they fell from 12,000 feet, the helicopter diminishing rapidly above them.

An exhilarated scream burst from Emily’s lips, completely unbidden. “This is so fucking awesome!” she yelled, glancing up as her jump instructor chuckled even as he caught the moment on his camera. The sound of her delight was quickly swallowed by the rushing air.

The parachute released and together they were jerked abruptly upwards, and finally Emily got a chance to stare around her, awestruck at the white mountainous landscape of the Alps. Far below, she could see the low wooden buildings of their accommodation, the church spire of the tiny town of Lauterbrunnen, and the train weaving its way across the frozen countryside.

Soon enough, the snowy field beside their cabins was coming up very quickly.

Oh right, jumping was one thing – now I have to land. Emily resisted the urge to close her eyes as the snowdrift loomed closer and closer.

Last Moments

Smoke curled and eddied about him in the darkness, dissipating just as he blew another stream of acrid cigar smoke into the stillness of the early morning. Dusty boots resting on the clean white modular, he sipped scotch from the expensive cut crystal glass he’d found in a cabinet, and looked out across the ocean from his ‘borrowed’ perch atop a cliff.

The rich bastards that’d lived here had obviously bought their way onto a rescue vessel, long departed from Earth’s airspace. Burt didn’t see any reason not to avail himself of some pilfered comforts in their absence.

Not like they’ll be ‘ere to object to boots on their snotty leather couch. Might as well go out in style.

Visible from the enormous windows before him, the asteroid was just beginning to burn in the atmosphere. Here goes…

Burt blew out another mouthful of cigar smoke, and abandoned his glass of scotch for the bottle, swigging from the Macallan like it was $20 a bottle and not closer to $10,000.

As the ground began to rumble with the radiating impact, Burt swigged from the bottle again, thinking shoulda hit the missus up for one last round of nasty hate sex, just for old times sake. Too late now.

He didn’t know it, but his ex-wife was thinking much the same thing.

It was the last thought Burt had.

Louder Than Words

“Bet I can beat you!”

“Bet you can’t!”

Matching grins and a fierce playground competition, and friendship was born.

Pretty soon, Hannah and James were rarely seen apart; where one was, the other was soon to follow, and together they left mischief in their wake.

Years passed and soon it wasn’t just just Hannah’n’James, but Hannah’n’Warren, James’n’Erica, Hannah’n’That-Douche-That-Cheated, James’n’Crazy-Blonde-Cow, and, memorably, Hannah’n’Isobel. They remained the best of friends, separated now by partners, study schedules and life in general.

One day, one ordinary day, they sat quietly in each other’s company, her feet in his lap as they watched television and snacked, relishing a rare opportunity to catch up.

James accepted the bowl of popcorn from Hannah, glancing at her as she watched the television. A faint smile lingered on her lips, and James couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she looked, how her eyes crinkled in amusement, and the curve of her collarbone that he suddenly wanted to outline with his tongue.

Hannah turned, eyes questioning as she caught his staring. “You okay?”

James swallowed. His whole world had turned on a pivot, what did you say when that happened? What could he say? “Hann, I – fuck it.”

He leaned forward, heedless of her legs in his lap, and pressed his lips to hers.

Judging from the soft, surprised look she gave him when they broke apart, panting and wide-eyed – she didn’t mind in the slightest.

The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency – A ‘Reading List’ Review

Book: The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith

Reading List No: 13

A delightfully light and engaging beginning to a series spanning fifteen novels, Alexander McCall Smith’s The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency tells the story of Precious Ramotswe, newly divorced and taking control of her life through her work as Botswana’s number one (read: only) lady detective. A woman of ‘traditional build’, Precious Ramotswe’s personality is as big as her heart, as she deals with many minor crimes and indiscretions, with the help of her secretary, Grace Makutsi. Eventually she stumbles across something much, much bigger than anything she has encountered previously, though the tone of the novel never suffers for the more serious turn of events.

By intertwining traditional African values with more modern views, McCall Smith creates a bright, modern Africa, still steeped in traditional values with a healthy respect for the dangerous wildlife that only adds another element to this slice of Africa. A good combination of engaging plot and charming character, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a crime novel with a lot of heart. Its cast of characters, recently brought to life by the HBO series by the same name, are vividly portrayed in McCall Smith’s simple prose, and Africa itself is richly described through Precious Ramotswe’s eyes.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

***

To see the rest of the list, and to read more reviews, click here.

ANFO

Even standing at a safe distance, the sound of the explosion was deafening, kicking up a cloud of dirt and wood splinters that billowed out towards them. As the cloud dissipated, a huge crater was revealed; a hole a few metres wide and one deep, in the middle of the paddock.

It was not, as they say, ideal.

But the stump was gone, so there was that.

***

I really can’t stress this enough – don’t play with ANFO (ammonium nitrate fuel oil) at home. Though it is pretty good for removing tree stumps…

Morning Fog

Fog clung to the ground as Catelyn pushed the cemetery gate aside, the only visitor in the early morning sunshine.

Despite the weak sunlight, the fog swirling about her feet leant an eerie silence to the cemetery, the only sound that of her feet crunching on the small white pebbles littering the paths between graves.

Dew dripped from the tips of angel’s wings, beading on drying bouquets and on the blades of grass covering many of the newer graves at Catelyn meandered through the headstones, names and dedications occasionally leaping out at her between the swirls of fog.

Finally, tucked away in an intimate corner of the cemetery, she reached her destination.

Crouching by the headstone of her husband, Catelyn stared aghast at the mess of his final resting place. The headstone was askew, the grass torn and disturbed, her last bunch of sunflowers missing. What did this? she wondered. Animals?

Movement behind her caught her attention, muffled by the fog and the close press of headstones.

Before she could turn, something was flung at her feet; the desiccated remains of the sunflowers in their cellophane packaging. Confused, she froze as something touched her shoulder.

Turning her head jerkily, she whimpered in horror at what she saw; a scaled, rotten hand clutched at her.

Her screams were drowned in the fog, and when it had lifted…

She was gone.

Graduation

Preparation is key.

The day begins with a shower; hair washed and deep conditioned, legs and armpits shaved, face scrubbed and body exfoliated.

She dips herself in moisturiser, plucks her eyebrows, cleans her cuticles and paints her nails, careful not to smudge silver polish on her skin.

Dressed simply in a sleeveless shirt and shorts, she hustles out the door to her hair and makeup appointment, mere hours before the event. Time passes as she is primped and polished, hair curled, pinned and sprayed with product. Pimples and oily skin disappear behind foundation and bronzer, wide green eyes enhanced with powders and mascara. A slick of gloss completes her transformation.

Forbidden now from eating anything that doesn’t fit through a straw, she goes home to perch on the couch.

Finally, it’s time to dress. Lace underwear first, then shapewear. No bra, just chicken fillets taped under nipples. Glancing at herself in the mirror, she takes in her bizarre appearance before unhooking the delicate lace and silk dress from its hanger and sliding it over her head. Twisting awkwardly, she zips it up and readjusts herself, tying the ribbon under her bust into a bow. Finally, it sits perfectly, navy silk pooling at her feet slightly until she can slip her shoes on.

She balances her hand on her mother’s shoulder as she is assisted into her silver heels, sighing in relief as she finally stands tall, fully dressed and ready.

Soon, the limo will be here, ready to whisk her and her friends off for their final night as high school students.

It’s time to graduate.

***

My baby sister is graduating high school tonight – it promises to be an interesting evening :D

Break-in

Andy landed on the grass with a soft whump of his soft-soled shoes. Pausing to listen, he crept along the moonlit length of the house, checking windows and doors as he went. All locked but one; a cracked bathroom window with flimsy fly wire. Perfect.

Wriggling the frame, Andy fist-pumped silently when it came away with a sharp crack and a shower of musty smelling dust. Pausing again to listen, and reassured when no lights came on, he leant the fly wire against the brick and hoisted himself through the small window.

Gaining his feet inside the shadowed bathroom, he made to creep out into the hallway when the light flickered on.

“What the fuck?! Andy, is that you?”

Andy took in the scene before him; his girlfriend stood with one hand on the light switch the other holding her marble rolling pin defensively, Batman undies and matching singlet on full display. He rubbed his neck nervously. “Uh…I forgot my keys?”

Not surprisingly, she didn’t look very impressed.

Five Times Five

When I was five, my cat walked me to the bus stop. Half way along our enormous drive way, she appeared from a garden bed to curl between my legs in affection, and then plodded along behind my mother and I until we reached the gate.

A kiss from mum, and an affectionate face rub from Meggie, and I hoisted my school bag and crossed the road to the bus stop. Both stood at the gate until the bus pulled up, and as I settled into the seat beside my best friend, I looked back and spotted the cat still waiting patiently for me to go. As the bus pulled away, I watched as Meggie turned tail and disappeared into the garden beds at the front of our property.

It was at this time I realised my cat was more special than I knew.

***

When I was ten, I discovered Harry Potter. Already well advanced with my reading, I borrowed a book from a friend for a bit of light reading, and my love was born. A few short months later, I opened my Christmas gifts to discover the first two novels in paperback.

Christmas Day was spent in a cosy house surrounded by trees, sitting by the fire as I devoured the story of a young wizard and his two best friends. By twilight that evening, I had closed the last page of Philosopher’s Stone, and picked up Chamber of Secrets.

This habit of binge reading, and my love of Harry Potter remains to this day.

***

When I was fifteen, I became a goth. Far from being depressed or Satanic or any other stereotypes, I embraced the style of a friend and found a world in which I could wear costumes in public. I discovered my latent femininity, and the tiny glimmer of theatricality lurking inside my quiet, timid soul. I learned that I didn’t care what others thought of me.

I also learned that sometimes, friendships turn sour. That abusive behaviour doesn’t have to be blatant, or bruising, to damage you. I learnt that I was strong, and that I had friends who loved me for me, and not for the person I was trying to be.

Black lace and purple lipstick was a phase; the lessons I learnt during it were not.

***

When I was twenty, I dragged myself out from underneath my crippling anxiety and made a change. I educated myself, got help, and tried not to hide behind my anxiety. Once I knew what was happening, I owned my anxiety so that it would never have an opportunity to own me ever again.

I got a full time job, and booked an overseas trip. By myself.

I slip sometimes, but I’ve never forgotten what anxiety does to me if I let it marinate. I don’t let it dictate my life. Much.

***

Now that I’m twenty-five, so much has changed, and yet nothing is different.

My wonderful feline companion is gone, but so are the poisonous people I once called friends. My love of Harry Potter remains, complimented now by more than a decade of books, movies and interactive experiences. I’ve learnt lessons and discovered myself, discovered the strength that defines my weakness and the constant battle between them.

Friends have come and gone, and the ones I have now accept me for the Harry Potter loving, dessert making, sarcastic, anxious, solo-traveling cat lady that I am.

As far as birthdays go, twenty-five seems a bit of a non-event – but I hope that in another twenty-five years I’ll be able to look back and know that I learnt something.

For now, cake and wine are calling.

****

In case you missed it, today I turned 25. It’s also my 150th post, which means I’m nearly half way to my daily blogging goal :D