Tag Archives: Melbourne

Lost and Found 3: The Solo Rapture

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When the Rapture came, only Henry Smithfield noticed. Everyone else was rather too busy just living their flawed lives.

Henry, a paragon of virtue in a tarnished world, heard trumpets and looked to the sky as he walked past the Federal Court of Australia on La Trobe Street. To his left was the court building, all imposing glass and concrete with its brightly coloured entryway, and the rather less glamorous concrete fountain. Over the road, to the right, was Flagstaff Gardens, filled with morning joggers, tai chi classes, city dwellers taking their city dogs for a run on the green.

To tell the truth, Henry was a little bit smug that he was the only one to hear the trumpets, to notice the call of the angelic host. He thought it more than a little ironic, too, that the call had come while he was part way between the halls of justice on one side and a former cemetery on the other. The final judgement was coming at just the right time and place.

Henry stopped in the street, stood on the edge of the non-functioning fountain (nobody seemed to have cared enough to turn it back on again after the easing of a decade of water restrictions) and held his hands to the sky. Waiting.

The heavenly host played a few more notes and then paused, allowing stragglers to catch up. But no-one else heard. No-one else stopped to look towards the heavens. Well, one or two people, but they were mainly checking for potential rainclouds. This was Melbourne. You could never entirely trust the forecast.

A few people paused to cast a curious glance at Henry, but he wasn’t hurting anyone and besides, the daft bugger in his jeans and hoodie and dark sneakers looked beatific more than dangerous. Perhaps his case had been found in his favour, they thought. One jogger gave him two thumbs up and a congratulatory grin on the way past.

The heavenly host gave a little sigh, looked at their sole audience member, shrugged and figured that maybe Facebook hadn’t really been the best way to send invitations to this particular party. Still, there was no need to blame Henry the Pure for being the only one with manners enough to notice the call.

With a beat of their wings, the host created one hell of a downdraft, which collected Henry and then drew him up. It was a bit startling at first, and Henry kicked his feet, trying instinctively to stand on solid ground. His shoes fell into the puddle of water lying on the base of the defunct fountain. He waggled his socked feet a little, then decided it was quite pleasant, this flying business. Grinning, he let himself be lifted.

Nobody noticed.

So, Henry got to heaven and found himself the sole occupant of a rather more dull than expected paradise.

The remaining inhabitants of the earth mainly didn’t notice that Judgement Day had been and gone, and went on being the embodiment of good and evil, heaven and hell, god and the devil, in their own personal way, sometimes in the very same person, as they’d done ever since they’d been given the gift of choice.

Only one person ever missed Henry, and that was his sister, who had loved her brother but frankly found him so impossibly perfect that she rarely saw him. His perfection made her feel inadequate, whereas most of the time she felt she wasn’t such a bad old stick, really. She was kind to animals and the elderly and bought the Big Issue and tried to be supportive and to be a good friend. As human beings go, she really was a lovely person. Not perfect by any means, but she made an effort. If heaven had been a little less rigid in its spiritual dress code, she might have heard the call.

But rigid it was, and most people are flawed, and really, the vagaries of heaven and hell had never really had that much impact on daily life on earth, the in-between place where devils and angels were part of the same clay that made everyone else.

In the end, the heavenly host withdrew entirely from earthly affairs, and valiantly tried to hide their disappointment from Henry that Judgement Day had been such a fizzer. Words were definitely going to be had with the marketing people.

And the world? It went on, being good, bad and indifferent, depending on the predelictions of its individual inhabitants, as it always did.

Lost and Found is and irregular series of posts about random items I find abandoned on the streets. Sometimes I’ll make up stories about them.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Review: Cyanide and Poppies by Carolyn Morwood (AWW Challenge 2013 #6)

cyanide-and-poppies-an-eleanor-jones-mysteryI read Carolyn Morwood’s Death and the Spanish Lady last year (and Gary the vampire and his librarian friend Lissa reviewed it), being a sucker for books set in my hometown, especially historical crime novels. That book was set in 1919, just after the Great War and during the devastating period of the Spanish flu epidemic. This story, set five years later, occurs on the eve of the police strike of 1923, which saw rioting in the Melbourne’s main streets.

The maxim that you should start in the midst of the action is taken to heart in Cyanide and Poppies, with the heroine, former nurse Eleanor Jones, kneeling by the body of a dead man in the offices of The Argus newspaper, where she is now a journalist, while waiting for the police to arrive. It’s perhaps a mite too abrupt as a beginning, but it certainly throws the reader into the midst of the business, both with Edward Bain’s murder and the difficulties of a police investigation while a strike is in place.

It also catches us up with Eleanor very quickly, including her change of profession and the ways in which her experiences in the war still haunt her. Her shell-shocked brother Andrew is still struggling with the return to life and Eleanor herself is still determined to deny and kill off her feelings for her unfortunately married friend Nicholas.

Much of the plot unfolds in a strangely muted fashion, reflecting Eleanor’s (and Andrew’s) own disconnectedness from things. The rest of the world intrudes on them, of course – sometimes in immediate and violent ways – but there is a sense of them both viewing the event around them at arm’s length.

But the mystery gathers momentum, including Andrew’s relationship with the vivacious but scandalous medium, Nadine Carrides, and Eleanor’s concerns and doubts about Carrides as well as her colleagues at The Argus. As it does so, there is a sense that the siblings’ lives are also gaining in momentum and purpose, and light begins to break on both the crime and their own relationships and engagement with their post-war world.

The book is elegantly written, with well-crafted characters and a wonderful capacity to evoke the Melbourne of the era. It’s always a pleasure to recognise parts of my town in a book, and even moreso to get a feel for those places in other times and atmospheres.

Cyanide and Poppies has a slow build to a satisfying finale that cracks open light and air on lives as well as mysteries, and that’s a pretty fine thing.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.