Blind Date - word count 1,811

At only nine in the morning the sky already burned painfully blue. Hot air stirred in the yard, churning the oily fragrance of the eucalyptus trees that towered over me. Six years of drought and not a cloud on the horizon. Jack, the magpie, peered at me from the vegetable garden. He weaved and bobbed among the lettuces. Every so often he stopped and fixed his one good eye on me and I stood there mesmerized, watching him while the freshly-hung laundry baked on the line beside me.

As I twisted a rough, wet towel in my hands, the thought of reconciliation dawned. Then I contemplated what the weather would be like when we landed in Vancouver. And that’s how it started. Anticipating and remembering…

December in the Pacific Northwest: wet, dark, and cold. I longed for Christmas in a city besieged by winter rain. I wanted to see brightly-lit houses defying the darkness of winter, promising bonhomie behind decorated doors. My family had agreed to the trip readily. Greg and our two teenagers said, in tones of false martyrdom, that they would sacrifice the traditional Christmas morning on the beach for the lush snowfields of B.C.

Greg looked forward to Whistler, a kid or two in tow, and my younger sister Polly to share the driving. The two of them would provide each other with the energetic companionship denied by their less adventurous spouses. From there, my mind hopped to Polly’s gregarious husband, Claude, an associate professor at UBC.

Claude brought the old campus to mind. I could almost smell the cafeteria, the bookshop, the dry corridors of the Law School. In my mind’s eye who stands at the end of the corridor? Hugh. Hugh Matheson, charismatic teacher. An entertaining and humorous lecturer. Articulate, funny, well-dressed, lady-killer Hugh.

We met when I enrolled in his night school class. I swam into his fishing grounds, ignorant of its dangers. Shark, blue-ringed octopus, and stinging jellyfish all rolled into one, he turned on the empathy of a kindred spirit and made me believe I was the only woman on earth.

What dizzying days he orchestrated! The ballet. Football. Faculty parties. St. Honoré cake at a café on a cold autumn afternoon. Sunday drives out to the Fraser Valley. Making love in his two-seater sports car parked on the shore of an icy black lake. He gave good head; he listened when I talked. He laughed at my jokes. He called first thing in the morning to just to say hello. Then he lost his focus like a hound in heat. After six weeks of showering me with daily attention he disappeared, no longer returned my calls.

Two months later he sent me a card and said he’d been caught up in work, too busy to call but oh, how he’d missed me! Could I forgive him? Would I give him a second chance? My joy at hearing from him shamed me but I swallowed my pride and dealt myself back into his game.

He came into my life the second time and we fell into a pattern of fortnightly dates. He didn’t want to crowd me he said. When we weren’t together, friends reported seeing him at the football game with a short blonde or at the Aquatic Center with a redhead.

His generic terms of endearment – ‘pretty lady’, ‘love’, ‘sweet girl’ – should have told me all I needed to know. He rarely used my name. Tales of his dalliances, coupled with Saturday nights alone, eventually dulled the shine of his currency.

Then I met some of The Others. Hugh’s women were more like rides from his car collection than friends or companions. Some were practical economy models. Others were for show. A lean Lamborghini lived in the West End. An earthy 4x4 worked in the office next to mine. A hybrid belonged to my gym. Without exception every one I met was an intelligent, vivacious woman. Some of them knew other Others, like members of a secret society.

We compared notes. Our latter day Casanova loved the female sex but did not particularly like its individuals. What had I been thinking to buy into his manipulative nonsense? Wait. I remember! My brain didn’t make that decision; my hormones had staged a coup.

Polly, my greatest ally, stood by my side during my time with Hugh. When I finally rallied the strength to tell him good-bye, she encouraged me. When I wrote him a note and told him that I wanted more than a casual friend, that I wanted commitment, some of the words came from her mouth. I hoped he would deny all others and pledge monogamy to me. He didn’t, of course. Deep down I knew that he never would.

Eventually Polly helped me heal. She said if I ever rang the bastard, she’d throw all my stuff out on to the street and change the locks. Yep, Polly supported me through my twelve-step, love-gone-wrong recovery program.

Shortly after Hugh and I went our separate ways for the last and final time, Polly took the position of Faculty Pension Plan Administrator at UBC. When she found herself in a place where she could watch him from afar, she kept her finger on the pulse. She repeated the rumours that his career had stalled at the senior instructor rank because he hadn’t published to a satisfactory level. She told me when he married.


A year after Hugh and I parted company, just as I was reconciled to my single state, Greg came into my life. We found trust and joy with each other, and he proposed. Within a few months, I quit my job and followed him to Australia. After that, Hugh was consigned to history, just a phase of bad judgment. A practice guy.

Suddenly I wanted to know: how bad had my judgment been?


Jack’s long trilling song dragged me back to the present and I pegged out the last towel before heading into the cool house. I found Hugh on the university website and e-mailed him, asking if he would he like to catch up when I visited Vancouver. I hit send and tried to forget about him again. But the moment I returned from my appointment, I rushed to check my mail. Hugh had answered.

“What a blast from the past!” he wrote. “I’ve thought about you many times.  I even remembered that one of your sisters was a vet in Langley. One day I sat and phoned them all, asking for Dr. Johnson. I couldn’t remember her first name and I never found her. Do you know there are two women vets called Johnson in Langley and none of them have a sister called Debbie?”

“Lunch or dinner? With or without partners? Yep. I finally did it.  I got the old life sentence, no time off for good behaviour. I was married five years ago.”

The rest of his e-mail read vaguely boastful, talking about his fabulous new holiday house on Galiano, his minimal working hours, his vacation in Costa Rica. Still I was curious. And I wanted to show off a bit: my family, my career, my happiness.

We agreed to meet at the Teahouse in Stanley Park. Reservations with such short notice, so close to Christmas, might be difficult but Hugh assured me that he’d manage. One thing about him hadn’t changed: he liked people to think he had contacts everywhere, friends who smoothed his life into an endless series of effortless days. Yikes, I had forgotten that trait. Or maybe I thought he would have grown out of it by now? Did I really want to do this?



Two days after we landed in Vancouver, Hugh and I met for lunch. At noon I caught a taxi to the park. The sun broke through the clouds and people emerged from their homes and blinked like moles against the unaccustomed brightness. On the sea wall and on the paths rollerbladers, cyclists, family groups, mounted police and solitary walkers jostled for position.

I arrived early and spoke with the maître d’. Hugh walked in only fifteen minutes late. I was flattered. If I were someone unimportant, he would have been at least another half-hour. I folded my magazine and put it under my handbag. As he approached the first thing I noticed was his gunfighter entrance. He scanned the room for faces he recognized, for people who might recognize him.

He was stouter than I remembered. His hairline receded slightly and a peppery cloud floated over his forehead. The once boyish grin had hardened to a smirk and remained as mirthless as ever, exuding leering narcissism, not the rakish charm he used to trade on. His finely-fitted sports jacket and well-cut trousers said he still used a good tailor.

We exchanged air kisses and sat, both a bit nervous. He ordered escargot, followed by New York steak. I could have ordered for him! In nineteen years the man’s palate had not changed. I selected the Famous Teahouse Mushrooms as an appetiser. To Hugh’s horror, I ordered potato-crusted Coho salmon for main. He flinched at my appetite but I couldn’t tell whether he was afraid he’d be paying for it or because he was in the mood for a dainty lady. It didn’t matter. The maître d’ had my credit card. I wouldn’t be obligated to Hugh for anything.

Hugh made perfunctory inquiries into my life, barely listening to the answers, before he recounted the victories of his. After we ordered coffee Hugh ran out of glory tales. I let silence creep up between us. Outside the window a raven strutted cross the frosty lawn.

As we waited, a young woman arrived and worked her way through the crowded foyer. The maître d’ discretely pointed to where Hugh and I sat.  She slipped off her gray woollen cape and revealed a lovely figure accented by a red crepe dress. Chestnut hair raced down her back and her smile eclipsed the winter sun. I felt a terrible pang of envy at her poise and youth, and an even stronger one of loving admiration. Hugh sat a little taller and licked his lips.

She reached our table and kissed me. We held hands for a brief second and her fingers felt cool and soft in mine. The maître d’ brought another chair and the waiter delivered coffee and withdrew, trying not to look at us too overtly. I turned to Hugh. 

“Hugh Matheson, I’d like you to meet Joanne Johnson, my daughter. Joanne will be starting at UBC next September.”

Hugh grinned. His eyes had not left her since she sat down.

She laughed self-consciously and I squeezed her hand. The two of us had talked about this moment for a long time.

“Joanne,” I said with a smile. “I’d like you to meet your biological father.”


© Maggie Bolitho

Photos from Wikimedia Commons: 

1. Australian Magpie (Gymnorhina tibicen ) Samsonvale Cemetery, SE Queensland, Australia by Aviceda

2. Common Raven (Corvus corax ), Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Canada by D. Gordon E. Robertson

Constant Cravings - word count 1,308

The hunger is on her and Mem knows she should get up right away and eat something. If she ignores her appetite then in no time at all it will be a clawing, insatiable beast and her puny attempts at self-control will not contain it. Having caught her reflection in the mirror that morning, she doesn’t want to eat. Never has she been so fat.

No food. No food. No food. She repeats the mantra. Her brain hears: food food food.

The tidy kitchen sparkles; the café press is been hidden on a top shelf to guide her away from eating. The plan is for a bowl of coleslaw with apple sliced through it for lunch, maybe a rye biscuit too, if the urge for carbohydrates is too overwhelming. The fat woman in the mirror told her she must not eat. All society’s woes come from obesity and she is the worst offender.

No food. No food.

Food. Food.

Easing herself into a chair Mem scrunches her face against the gnawing in her gut. Maybe if she allows herself a dream about eating it will be enough.

Closing her eyes, she conjures her favourites like old lovers: by smell, by touch, by sound, by the feeling in her mouth. In her fantasy world the sandwich maker is heating. Cheese, avocado, finely chopped onion, and tomato are stacked high on soft white bread and a bottomless bowl of hot chips beckons from beside it. She snacks on the salty fries as the sandwich toasts, cheese sizzling on the hot grill. Even as she summons the smell of hot smoked cheddar she wishes that lessons about nutrition would have stuck better, would have permeated her psyche instead of retreating to the part of her brain where she stores useless but un-acted upon information, like how often to wash and starch curtains.

Some people grow up with a sense of what is good and bad to eat. Those people are intolerant of her weakness, of her thick waist and rounded belly. They damn her with their eyes.

Dreaming never hurt anyone so she ventures further into her fantasy world. Now she is eating fresh fat prawns which burst as her teeth sink into them. She pours herself a large glass of merlot and pulls the sizzling steak a little closer. It is almost buried by fried onions and buttery mushrooms.

Mem didn’t learn nutrition at all as a child. Her mother didn’t know the word, all she knew was staying alive, surviving. When you live hand-to-mouth any fleeting, sensual opportunity that blows in on the wind, relieving the grind of daily drudgery is embraced.  Mem can see her mother collecting the eggs and churning the butter she would sell to keep their home together. She took in laundry and laboured over a vast vegetable patch. Once a week she slaughtered her own chooks for meat. When the eggs were plentiful and milk rich, Mem’s mother fed her children well. But such times were few. Mem’s life has been one of ease in comparison, but the poverty of her childhood burns bright.

Sinking further into her chair, Mem closes the door on her mother’s ghost. Instead she remembers making shortbread for the Christmas market, the luxurious sensation of the raw, buttery dough melting on her tongue. She recalls the sweet walnuts from her uncle’s trees and the smell of macadamias roasting in the oven. On rare occasions a block of chocolate would be divided between the children, and she would savour the pleasure, crushing the squares against the roof of her mouth and letting it ooze slowly down her throat.

Chocolate chocolate chocolate. She must not think of chocolate.

Before Mem realises it, she is in the kitchen tearing open the cupboards, scooping ice cream on top of tinned pudding. She opens the jar of artichokes that her niece left and loads them onto crackers that come from faraway Timboon, like the feta cheese she balances on top. Is it true that some people have a ‘full’ button? Where is hers? What does it feel like to know when the body has had enough?

She shovels in mouthful after mouthful. She prises the top off a jar of maraschino cherries and sucks them from her fingers. She pours chocolate sauce from the bottle right into her mouth.

Only when it feels like her stomach will burst does she stop and stagger out to the lounge room. Turning on the TV she falls back into her armchair, her full belly aching and expelling wind to accommodate the gluttonous feed.


“Mem?” A voice breaks the silence of the noon’s golden hush. “Auntie Mem, are you here?”

Alice calls from the porch. The TV is on but the door is locked. She tries the back door, also locked. She looks down at her little-Red-Riding-Hood basket and thinks about her father’s warning.

“If she doesn’t start looking after herself better then I’ll have no choice. I’ll have to find her a place in assisted-care living. Like it or not, the old bat is anorexic.”

Alice doesn’t believe him. Ever since Mem’s husband, the Lieutenant Colonel, died her great aunt has been a bit, well, distracted. Yes, she has lost a lot of weight, dropped four dress sizes in fact. Her octogenarian skin hangs off her like droopy wallpaper. Mem won’t discuss it. She only wants to talk about the love of her life, the man who for over sixty years called her ‘my vital spark’.

Mem still thinks she is fat and somehow has twisted things in her brain that maybe if she had been trimmer ‘the Colonel’ wouldn’t have died. The reasoning flummoxes Alice. The Colonel died from a massive coronary and, yeah, he was no string bean himself but how Mem’s former stoutness figures into his death isn’t clear to Alice. Rather than distress Mem with logic she regularly brings her assorted delicacies, homemade cakes, fragrant white bread and pots of pate. If she sits and visits for a while, her great-aunt will eat something, out of manners.

Collecting the spare key from the chook shed, she notices the birds are languid and thin. Their water trough is dusty dry and when she fills it, they come to life, flapping, squawking, and quarrelling for position. Alice lets herself into the laundry and, ignoring the foul smell permeating the house, grabs a sack of pellets and scatters feed around the now-raucous hens. Maybe the farm with its dozen birds is getting too much for Mem?

Alice frowns. Has it really been a month since she visited? It’s a two hour drive each way but still, she spoke to Mem only last week. Mem was vague but not unusually so.

What is that smell? Alice looks around the kitchen. As always, the counter tops are gleaming. In the fridge she finds sour milk, tainted cream and rotting fruit and vegetables, untouched and becoming more toxic by the moment.

Are those the same socks drying over the Aga?

What is that smell?


Satisfying herself that the only rotten thing in the kitchen is the contents of the refrigerator, Alice pokes her head into the living room where Mem is frozen in front of the TV. Her head has fallen to one side, looking away from Alice. A drool stain marks the front of her old cardigan.

Asleep. Alice walks over and puts a loving arm around the emaciated old lady before the horror hits her. She snatches her hand away.

Mem is icy cold, her dreams of eating and drinking having rendered her incapable of doing either. Having finally slipped out of her uremic coma, the fantasies of her stuporous state have eased her to the other side.  The once tall, voluptuous woman is now a skeletal corpse, her face locked in a grinning death mask

© Maggie Bolitho

Photo from Wikimedia Commons: The Aga, by Wehha

A Matter of Choice - word count 2,700

In the early morning light, a dark shadow scales the side of the towering tallow-wood. At one hundred feet above the ground she finds an L-shaped spot in the tree’s dense canopy and slips off her backpack. With her spine braced against the thick trunk and her left foot hanging over a broad branch, she lays her right foot across her knee for support. She pulls her grandmother’s old rifle out of her pack and smiles as she remembers Old Ma striding across the boggy back quarter of her property, intent on keeping the rabbit and fox population at bay.

Another bunny will be picked off today, she thinks, screwing the silencer on the end of the barrel of the two-twenty-two. "Silence the muzzle blast," Old Ma whispers into her ear. "Then you don’t scare off the rest of the family."

Lifting the butt to her shoulder, the assassin fixes her scope on a window, two hundred feet away, in a small cottage that squats amid rose and plumbago bushes on the fringe of the forest. An elderly woman shuffles around the counter on the far side of the kitchen, too obscured by café curtains for a clear shot.

The assassin sits back and inhales the waxy scent of eucalyptus microcorys. "Valuable timber," she murmurs, resting the rifle on her lap while stroking the fibrous, soft bark with her gloved hand.

She perches, sharp-eyed and alert, until the faltering figure in the kitchen has made her way to the table that is pushed against the window. Through her high-powered binoculars the assassin sees that the target is shaking, using two hands to carry a cup of coffee.

Despite the effort, the cup still bounces and brown liquid spills down the front of the old woman’s robe. With visible exertion she sits down, pauses to collect herself and then lifts the drink to her lips. The assassin picks up the rifle, centres the crosshairs and cocks the bolt. She holds fire while the woman sips. When the bent, grey-haired figure finally pushes the mug away with a trembling hand, the assassin pulls the trigger. As the old woman’s head slumps down to the table in front of her, her mind registers how silent the bullet was—just the sound of cracking glass. Sliding into darkness, she wonders how long it will be before someone finds her body.


THEIR LIVES edited by Janie Chaing.

Fearless Crusader Loved Life – Dr. Olena “Olly” Semeniuk - 1917-[…]

When Olena Semeniuk arrived in Sydney in 1922 she spoke English fluently.  She had learnt the language on the ship that brought her to Australia from Kirovograd in the Ukraine.

With a thirst for knowledge and determination that would serve her through many challenges in the years to come, the little girl entered the Australian school system with language and arithmetic skills far ahead of her classmates.

Like many migrant children, Olena found that the bigoted taunts of her schoolmates fuelled her desire to succeed. In year twelve, she won scholarships to Sydney University and graduated with honours in Medicine in 1939.

While she eventually overcame the prejudice against her ethnicity, she soon encountered a more pervasive discrimination based on gender.  She worked many years at no more than 80% of the rate for a male obstetrics and gynaecology practitioner.

‘I didn’t select this specialty for the pay," She commented when interviewed by Contempo magazine in 1971. "I chose it because I care about women’s health and their ability to manage their lives."’

Early in her career she saw many deaths from infection and haemorrhage following illegal abortions. These cases were particularly rampant during the latter part of World War II when troopships flooded Sydney with charming men whose visits were short and passionate. Around this time she demanded to know why her peers were not advising young, vulnerable women about contraception.  She was rebuffed with the opinion that "we are here to deliver babies, not prevent them." 

This statement was to become a life-long challenge for the woman known as Olly to colleagues and friends. Long before it was socially sanctioned, she advocated giving women access to information about contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

She campaigned tirelessly for the rights of women to access safe termination of unwanted pregnancies. She argued, "Criminalising abortions does not save babies, it just endangers the lives of desperate women."

The slogan ‘every pregnancy a wanted pregnancy, every baby a wanted baby’ became her rallying cry as she led the campaign for family planning clinics. She encouraged women to educate themselves and make informed decisions about their reproductive lives.

In 1950 she married Dr. Stephen Jones, a biologist. Dr. Jones died in 1999. Dr. Semeniuk is survived by her two daughters, Dr. Vasilika (Lakki) Jones and Dr. Deborah Semeniuk.

Her crusade for improving women’s health led her to set up the King’s Cross Women’s Health Centre in 1960.

For her work with the oppressed and underprivileged women of the streets, Dr. Semeniuk made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1990.

Not everyone agreed with her efforts and several times her clinic was fire-bombed by Pro-Life activists.  She worked on, declaring that she was not going to be intimidated by bullies and cowards.

Her granddaughter, Dr. Judy Semeniuk, has vowed to continue Olena’s work with the poorer and disenfranchised members of the Australian population. She founded the Olena Semeniuk Travelling Women’s Health Clinic, which takes her to Aboriginal communities in the Outback in the four-seater airplane that her grandmother gave her as a graduation present.

Olena had read the synopsis of her life several times. The editor of the obituary section of the paper had given it to her. Only it wasn’t called the obituary section any longer, it had been more cheerfully renamed Their Lives

Dead is dead no matter how you dress it up, Olena thought. May as well try to get the facts right.

Olena had made small changes in the details. She corrected the spelling of Vasilika’s name and deleted the part about the attack on her when she was pregnant with Deborah. She had never mentioned the incident, which had left her hospitalised for the last month of her term. It was in her diaries and she preferred her children learn of it in her words. She added the part about her granddaughter, not knowing it if would be included. It would be nice to end her brief history on a positive note.

She read it one last time and then e-mailed it back to the editor, a woman who had been a patient many years before.

Olena had found Janie Chaing sleeping on the doorstep of the clinic when she arrived early one winter morning. Janie’s tiny body had been knotted into a foetal shape.  Her fatigue was so deep that she did not stir when Olena reached over her and unlocked the front door. When Olena pulled her to her feet, Janie barely woke. Olena found her some warm clothes from the charity box and served her tea and biscuits until she stopped shivering and was able to talk

Janie had disgraced her family by becoming pregnant. Not just an ordinary out-of-wedlock pregnancy but pregnancy by her white boyfriend. When he found out she was carrying his baby, he denied paternity and said he never wanted to see her again.

With nowhere else to go, Janie had turned to her parents. Her father had taken his belt to her while declaring that this whore was no member of his family. When his anger was spent, he announced that he had no daughter. He then pushed her out of the house wearing only a thin t-shirt and patched jeans. Over her mother’s crying he shouted at her to go away. The lights were turned off and Janie stood on the footpath outside, smelling the early jasmine in the air, straining to hear sounds of the life she had just left behind. She stood, fixed to the spot, tears running down her cheeks, until the house was as silent as it was dark. Nauseated and close to exhaustion she spent hours walking around city streets until she met a hooker who was having a slow night. The working girl told her that Dr. Olly would fix her up.

Olena listened to the familiar story before treating the broken skin on Janie’s legs and back. By the time she was finished, her healing skills were mending more than Janie’s abused body.

That same day she helped Janie find a reliable, although still illegal, abortion. She gave her a small amount of cash and keys to the family’s holiday home in the Blue Mountains, a refuge she offered to special patients. Janie lived there for six months before moving to Melbourne and starting university. For a few years afterwards, Christmas cards arrived with bright notes about her studies, a job she had been offered with The Age and a life far away from the misery of those dark days of 1969.

Like many of the girls Olena helped, eventually Janie wanted to forget the mistakes of her young life along with the people who had known her in a moment of need. The cards stopped coming and it was years before Olena heard of her again.

It was only when reading Stephen’s obituary that Olena saw Janie’s name at the top of the page.

When it came time to tidy the last details of her life, Olena rang and asked Janie if she might proofread her own obituary. Janie was as surprised by the unorthodox request as she was delighted at hearing from Olena. She was happy to finally repay a debt to the woman who had helped her recover her life. She was finally confident enough in her successes to no longer be threatened by her past.

She drove out to Olena’s home in Roseville to personally deliver a floppy disk, even though Olena had asked her to e-mail the piece. Janie wanted to thank the old woman and tell her, face to face, what her kindness had meant. It was Olena’s turn to seek anonymity. She wanted the memory of herself as a young, fit doctor who could almost lift a small woman with one hand, to live in Janie’s memory. So Olena stood behind her lace curtains, watching Janie wander around her front garden after she had given up ringing the doorbell.

When Olena returned the document she attached a note apologising for not being home when Janie had called. She said she must have confused the date but perhaps they might get together soon for a cup of tea? It was the sort of invitation extended to people she met on holidays but never expected to see again.

When Parkinson’s disease had first been diagnosed, Olena had been philosophical that at over eighty years of age something was bound to give. For a long time, she managed the condition with drugs. But, as the muscular tremors worsened and her limbs began to stiffen, she knew it was time to act before her loving but pragmatic daughters would want to move her into one of their houses or, worse still, a nursing home.

Since she was five years old and had first buttonholed the ship’s steward and asked him to teach her English, Olena had been looking after herself and others. When her family had arrived in Australia it was Olena who acted as interpreter and liaison to the foreign culture. The role forced Olena to be independent from a very early age. The idea of an accelerating reliance on others was unthinkable.

So she had donned her best navy shirtwaist dress and shoehorned on her matching navy pumps. She caught a taxi to King’s Cross, barely recognising the main drag now that the real estate had become valuable and street people were being pushed into lower visibility by an aggressive police presence. The clinic was still there in a back lane but it wasn’t as busy as in the old days. The middle-aged doctor who was holding the baby of a waiting patient saw Olena shuffle in and her face radiated joy. “Olly! Omigawd, Olly! Why didn’t you say you were dropping by? I’m here alone today or we might have gone for lunch!”

Olena smiled back at her, the depression that had settled into her bones with the advance of the shaking palsy, suddenly lifting.

“It’s you I want to talk to, love, and I don’t need much time.” She looked into the kindly face of Dr. Bennett, still seeing the young idealist who had rolled into the clinic in its early days, determined to make a difference in the world.

Wanda handed the baby back to his mother and hugged Olena, feeling the older woman’s bird-like bones in the embrace. Olena closed her eyes, smelling the same fragrance that Wanda had worn since her twenties, Nina Ricci, L’Air du Temps. Suddenly she was thirty years younger and Wanda was a newly graduated doctor with strong ideals and the stamina of a mule.

When she opened her eyes again she saw three patients waiting, flipping through copies of old magazines with deliberately averted their eyes; things hadn’t changed all that much. Sure the surface was different with facial piercings and rainbow-coloured locks replacing the long straight hair of the hippies. The fearful, defiant look was the same. Olena gazed at them and wondered if any of them would find hope, maybe a second chance, in the counselling offered. Or would they take the contraceptive pills and condoms and disappear into the underworld again? She broke from Wanda’s embrace and asked, “Do you think these good women might let us just have a minute or two before you look after them?”

Without a second look at the queue of patients, Wanda stood aside and waved Olena through to the office, the room that had once been Olena’s command post. Olena put her hand with its paper-thin skin into Wanda’s. She made her way to the back room in short, uncertain steps.

Surely Wanda Bennett would know a gun for hire.


The assassin pauses for a moment, enjoying the smell of the warm gun oil. She pulls the gun apart and packs it into her rucksack. Abseiling down the tree like a silent phantom she startles a feeding party of finches and pardalotes and they blow out of the she-oak. The gunwoman peals off her camouflage jacket and trousers and stuffs them into the backpack with her climbing gear. She trades her spiked climbing shoes for hiking boots and slips on a baseball cap and dark glasses. Packing a water bottle, carrying a bird book and wearing binoculars around her neck, she looks like dozens of other walkers who explore Garigal National Park every day. She heads down the track back to her rented car, a bounce in her step.


At first, the assassin thought Olena was deranged when they met in the seedy hamburger joint. But beneath the shaking and fragile exterior was a resolute intelligence. Olena had explained that she had access to drugs but somehow couldn’t bring herself to take that way out. She didn’t want to know when death was coming, she just wanted it to be soon and she wanted it to be clean. She pushed an envelope containing twenty thousand dollars towards the hired gun. Without looking at the cash, the assassin had slid it into her purse. Details were exchanged and a time frame set.

Olena specified a rifle, even though the assassin didn’t normally like to resort to firearms. Olena wanted it to be quick and definitive. She also wanted it to vaguely implicate the thugs who had resorted to violent methods when she was most vulnerable.  She wanted a touch of melodrama and mystery to her death, to leave people guessing after a life that had been lived so much in the public domain.

The assassin wasn’t normally sentimental about her targets but the old woman’s calm dignity made her hesitate that morning. So she had waited, letting the mark finish her drink. If the assassin could choose her final moment she would ask for a last cup of coffee.

 © Maggie Bolitho

 Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Remington rifle cartridge SP bullet. Manufacturer: Sellier & Bellot. Photo by Malis