It’s My Job To Hold The Umbrella.

araneus1:

Some people can make an occupation out of anything……. like this bloke. Not a bad way to spend your working day.

Originally posted on araneus1:

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I answered the ad and they stuck an umbrella in my hands and said, “Hold it for anyone who asks, particularly women.”

They didn’t need to say it twice, I like women.

I like being close to the water. I like the smell of salt in the air and I like to eat so I needed a job.

To be honest, I was more used to handling an umbrella in the winter; rain falling down, that sort of thing.

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Women don’t like to get too much sun which is wise in a country where the sun will peel the skin right off you in a very short space of time.

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I was a bit hesitant at first but I soon got the hang of it. “Excuse me madam, would you like to be ‘umbrellaed’?” Mostly they looked at me a bit funny at first but usually they said yes.

My…

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By the Banks of a Creek.

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There was a time when he only thought of home; now his thoughts were far away.

Another week had come and gone.

Sunday service was, as it had always been, more social occasion than worship.

Dressed in his best he had shed his coat and walked quietly down to the creek. He needed time to think and this was the most peaceful place he knew.

Walter was tall and handsome, with dark hair and an athletic build. He was strong and resourceful, and he had flourished in his hometown.

It was a warm spring day and the season was as new as his country. Amazingly, the leaders of this young land had managed to get together and agree on Federation, something that would rarely happen again from that day till this. There was an air of excitement and pride among its citizens, and that pride would, in a few short years, draw them into a deadly combat, and radical change would follow.

As Walter approached the creek he felt the solitude wash over him.

It was only a few metres from the little wooden church, but it was well hidden. His parents and sisters were probably deep in conversation; the ladies in their finest and the men strutting like peacocks.

Walter had hung his coat on a twig before walking the final few steps to the water’s edge. He squatted on the bank because he wanted to be as close to the water as possible. He hoped that the sound of it rushing by might help him to decide.

He loved his family and he loved his life in this town. His business was growing and while living with his parents he had saved enough money to build his own home. He had the land picked out, not far from the house he grew up in, but far enough away to be sure of some privacy. A big block on a hill on the outskirts of town. An excellent view and a small creek, which led into the one behind the church. The little creek ran dry during drought years, but most of the time it gurgled along quite happily.

Walter was unmarried and old enough for people to talk.

“He’s getting on a bit. When do you think he will settle down? His cousins are all married with children at their feet.”

His father fielded the question calmly. “Plenty of time for all that. He is working hard to build his business. He doesn’t want a family to slow him down. He’ll get around to it; in his own time.” These words were delivered with confidence, but his father’s confidence was only skin deep. Privately he worried that his son might have missed his chance with the cream of the local girls, most of whom had been married off and ‘with child’ at a tender age.

Many of the local girls hoped that Walter would turn his eye towards them.

People were attracted to Walter.

Women wanted him and men wanted to be him.

For his part, Walter was oblivious to all this attention.

On that sunny Sunday afternoon, Walter’s heart was many miles away.

From time to time, his business took him to Melbourne, a journey of several hours by train. Melbourne was another world; a big city. Not as big as the cities in Europe, but big enough to make a man from the country feel small.

Walter reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a tiny photograph of a pretty young woman. She was older than Walter by only a couple of years, and her ‘advanced’ age had caused her family to despair.

“She’ll never find a man at this rate. She’s too finicky. She thinks way too much of herself. She’s been ‘proposed to’ dozens of times and she always turns them down. What is she waiting for, Prince Charming? She reads way too many books; way too many grand ideas. You mark my words, nothing good will come of this.”

The photograph that Walter held was tiny and as he held it he felt close to her. He knew the smell of her hair and the touch of her hand. He loved the way she walked and the swish of her hair as she would turn to him and speak.

She frightened him a little.

She was well read and interested in everything. She was his equal in every way possible. She was ‘the one’. He knew it, but as life so often is, it wasn’t as simple as that.

This peaceful place and the sound of the water would help Walter decide; stay here where it was safe, where family reside, where business is good and a piece of land cries out for a home, or leave forever and follow his heart.

Walter’s brief time by the banks of the creek took him to the one he loved.

They had only one son and Walter died young, but they had time together.

Their son grew to be a prominent citizen in Melbourne. Not one of those shallow people who shine only on the outside, but a whole person who made his world a better place.

Walter’s beloved Mary lived long enough to see her son become a success before joining Walter in the next life.

His decision kept Walter away from his home town, but in death he sits by that creek with Mary at his side and watches the water flow by.

No more decisions to make; a life well spent.

Thrifty.

araneus1:

This story will disappear from this site very soon because it will be a part of my new book….Short Story Anthology Book 3. I wanted you to read it one last time. I like the characters and the story, and I hope you do as well. Terry.

Originally posted on araneus1:

 

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“What do you do with yourself all day Jennifer?”

Now, there’s a question I’ve heard a few times over the last couple of years.

“Oh, you know. Keeping busy.”

The conversation continued as my friend tightened her grip on her husband.

 

Being a widow is a bit like being young and single. 

The other females either pity you, feel sorry for you or think you have designs on their man. 

Being single you appeared to be footloose and fancy free.

I’m a bit beyond my prime so I don’t think that the ‘cling tightly to my husband’ reaction had anything to do with that.

To some people, being a widow is seen as a type of disease. 

It might be catching; so better to keep your distance.

Of course this only exacerbates the loneliness.

“I’ve been helping out at the local Thrift Shop. Sorting through donations, that sort…

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Friends With Great Women.

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“There is not much future in men being friends with great women”

Ernest Hemingway.

I tried once; it didn’t end well.

My fault.

I was young and thought that the world would embrace my passion, or move out of the way, whichever was needed.

She was the first truly powerful female I had come across, and despite my mild misogyny, she liked me; what were the chances?

It was lucky that my skills were in demand otherwise I doubt that she would have put up with me. We worked well together and she went out of her way to make my job easier.

After a couple of years, circumstances necessitated that I work on the other side of town. She took my departure personally and I was too young to understand that I had walked away from an amazing opportunity. I learned a lesson and vowed that if I was ever lucky enough to find myself in a similar situation I would make the most of it and live each day as if it were likely to end at any moment.

Friendship is hard work at the best of times.

Friendships with women are, at best, a tightrope walk over Niagra Falls. Add the word ‘great’ to the beginning of the description and the odds go through the roof.

Despite the astronomical odds, it is worth the gamble.

Great people do not come into your life every day, but when they do, you should grasp the opportunity with both hands.

Better still, you be that ‘great’ person, and let others worry about the details.

‘Loyal and True’ Pre Orders.

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Pre-orders for LOYAL AND TRUE will be available tomorrow on Smashwords and Amazon……… and in a couple of days on iBooks.

Price will be $3.99 US and the official release date will be May 18th 2015.

If you think I’m excited, you would be right.

This is the second in a series of anthologies and it contains some of my very favourite stories.

A Suitcase and a Fan.

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It’s not much to go on.

No name and no crime to speak of, but Sam had the sinking feeling that usually preceded a particularly messy case.

It started out as a routine ‘find this bloke and tell me where he lives’. Not glamorous, but then again neither was a ham sandwich, and if Sam’s fortunes didn’t change very soon he was going to be eating them on a regular basis, without mustard, and on stale bread to boot.

The ‘bloke’s’ abode was easy enough to find but said ‘bloke’ was long gone, and all that was left was a fan and a mostly empty suitcase. The place had been cleaned to within an inch of its life and Sam wondered why it didn’t fall down now that all the accumulated grime had been scrapped away. Most little houses in this suburb would have fallen over years ago except that the junk stored inside them held them up in one last act of defiance. A final ‘fuck you’ to the urban planning gods who had decided that this particular suburb should no longer be in favour. A hundred years ago maybe, but not now.

The fan was old enough to be almost valuable and the suitcase had once been a very fashionable one.

It’s not easy to trace the former owners of an antique Westinghouse fan, but Sam did it. Sam knew a lot of people and some of them had strange hobbies and for ‘a case of this’, or ‘a bottle of that’, they could be persuaded to part with their knowledge.

The entire history of the fan was asking a bit much, but its recent history revealed itself through a police report of stolen goods from a house in Toorak. The heist took place about two months ago and the perpetrators were well known and both of them were in custody on an unrelated matter, but neither of them could shed much light on the life of the fan after they sold it to a local ‘fence’. The light-fingered gentlemen were more than a bit peeved to find out that both items were ‘collectable’. They had parted with them along with a whole bunch of other stuff that was probably worth a lot more than they got for it. These blokes were not very bright, but they were friendly enough. Sam gave them the name of a good barrister. It was his way of saying thank you. His mentor told him never to underestimate anyone and never to leave a trail of angry or disappointed people in your wake. You never knew when you might need a favour. Your life might depend on some lowlife who has the exact piece of information you need. “Being tough is not the same as being an arsehole”.

Nelly Touraville was a wise and good friend and Sam missed him every day.

Being the good citizen that he was, Sam handed over the fan and the suitcase to the police. They then proceeded to lift fingerprints which linked the bloke that Sam was sent to find to a particularly nasty murder.

The ‘bloke’ in question had called in a firm of cleaners, ‘Maids on the Run’, who specialise in ‘squeaky clean’ makeovers for dubious crime scenes. The missing bloke was a bit forgetful and left the fan and the small suitcase sitting where he had put them during his final preparations to ‘disappear like smoke up a chimney’, as he so eloquently put it to his mates at the pub on the corner.

He knew he was a bit forgetful so he made lists, just like his dad taught him when he was a little tacker. Unfortunately, the list was titled ‘Preparations for moving permanently to Wollongong to escape being caught for the murder of William Fisk.’

It was also unfortunate that this ‘missing bloke’ chose to leave the list with its illuminating title inside the small suitcase, which he forgot to take with him.

Just to add a little icing to the story, the police didn’t know that William Fisk had been murdered. They didn’t think he was even missing. Mrs Fisk had not said a word, but she did manage to cash his unemployment checks.

As with most things in life, this case looked straightforward enough but it ended up with a few twists and a smile. The blokes at the corner pub thought it was typical of their friend and they decided not to attend his trial; unless he pleaded guilty, which would not eat into their drinking time.

Sam eventually got paid, but he had to ask three times because his client didn’t feel as though he got value for money. Sam pointed out that he was hired to find the ‘missing bloke’, which he did, and tell his client where he was, which he did. It wasn’t Sam’s fault if the ‘missing bloke’ was in jail where Sam’s client couldn’t get at him.

His fee kept Sam in Ham sandwiches for many a week, and not long after, business improved enough so that Sam did not have to accept ‘find this bloke’ assignments. But, it did make an interesting chapter in Sam’s second crime novel.

Between The Pages.

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My grandfather loved books and I think he loved me almost as much.

I know I loved him.

I can still remember the feeling of squashing down next to him in that comfortable ancient armchair.

No one sat in that chair except my grandfather. It wasn’t because we were scared of him or anything like that, it was just that it was his chair and to sit there without him in it, didn’t seem right.

I was working overseas when my grandparents died; one after the other with only days between them.

It wasn’t the kind of job that I could up and leave, so by the time I was back in the country there wasn’t a physical sign that they had ever been here on this Earth. Their ashes had been scattered and their house emptied and sold.

Indecent haste was how I phrased it.

“Where the fuck were you while all the work was being done?” was their reply. I guess I pissed my father off because he wouldn’t tell me what had happened to my grandparents furniture. It was the armchair that I was really interested in, but I guess it was landfill or in some op-shop warehouse somewhere. I hoped that it had been purchased by a house full of uni students. I could see a nineteen-year-old female English Literature student curled up with a tattered old copy of something by Somerset Maugham. Possibly, ‘The Razor’s Edge’. Yes, that would be good.

My grandfather introduced me to the delights of Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stephenson in equal measure. He didn’t treat me like a little girl, he saw only a curious, young person who had fallen in love with the worlds that existed between the pages of a book.

He had the most wonderful husky voice, and sitting close to him was like sitting in an old dusty closet. He was warm even in winter and I got the feeling that it was because of some kind of internal glow caused by his love of books.

He always read me books that were a bit above my understanding and I think that was on purpose. He would smile when I asked him what a particular word meant and he would sometimes get me to run my finger over the word as he explained its meaning.

I collect bookmarks because he did.

I give books as presents because he said it was a wise thing to do.

His heroes were authors and mine are too.

He thought that reading was as important as writing and so do I.

We will meet again someday but for now I have to be the person he wanted me to be, and I need to find a comfortable old armchair so I can sit and read and remember.

Not Much Else To Do.

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It’s not that easy to lose a secretary, but Dr Doug managed it.

Now, he expected me to find her.

I won’t bore you with all the details, but I reluctantly took the case and with the help of a little old lady I gained entry to the missing secretaries’ apartment and had a look around.

The little old lady noticed it first; an advertisement in the local newspaper. ‘Antique board-game for sale. Intact. Very rare.’

Someone had circled the advertisement with red ink.

Red ink; always dramatic.

The game is said to have predated ‘Cluedo’ by about thirty years, but the little printing company that made it could not compete.

The game worked best if there were at least eight participants, and even better if there were more.

Basically, you were supposed to slip various clues into the pockets of the other players. The clues would ultimately reveal the murderer.

I’m not sure how people got on when they played this game at a cocktail party. Where did the women hide their clues? My imagination dwelled on this point for a few moments.

“She seemed very eager to have a complete game. She told us that her game had a lot of clues missing. We told her who had purchased the game and gave her his address. We never heard from her again. We are sorry to hear that something has happened to her.”

“I don’t know that it has. She’s just missing at this stage, but thank you for all your help.” The couple selling the game seemed harmless enough.

They’d inherited it from an uncle who, as family legend had it, spent time in prison. His incarceration had something to do with the game. Someone died. They couldn’t pin the murder on him, but they got him for perjury, which in my experience is very unusual. The cops often threaten people with perjury, but they rarely ever follow through.

Someone really hated this bloke.

While he was in gaol his house was broken in to. There was damage, but nothing appeared to have been taken.

The uncle died in a hit-and-run accident not long after getting out of prison and the nephew got the job of winding up his estate.

Most of the uncle’s stuff went to charity.

“They were not very grateful either. They acted like it was a nuisance. They left a lot of stuff behind. ‘Too much trouble for us’. Even charities are lazy these days.”

The nephew kept the ‘Who Dunnit’ game and a few bits and pieces.

“I almost missed the game when I was cleaning out the house. There were a few loose floor boards in my uncle’s bedroom, and I didn’t notice them until we moved the bed. The game was wrapped in waterproof paper and stored under the floorboards. We thought it must be valuable, so we decided to sell it. I put a ridiculous price on it and I had a series of phone calls not long after the paper came out. I should have asked for more I guess.”

“Never mind dear, you weren’t to know.” This blokes wife was quiet, still attractive, and probably cooked excellent scones, but I didn’t have time to find out.

I was tired, so I headed for home. The hunt for the missing secretary could wait until tomorrow.

Scarlett had dinner in the oven when I got home and I told her about my adventure. She’s difficult to impress, but even she was intrigued by the mystery of the missing secretary.

I had a couple of calls to make the next morning but once they were taken care of I drove over to the address I had been given.

The place was deserted.

Little cream brick houses are bad enough when people are living in them, but they are positively depressing when they are deserted.

This one hadn’t been deserted for long.

“A bloody great truck turned up yesterday afternoon, and couple of bozos filled it up and they were gone by dinner time. Made it bloody near impossible for me to get in and out of my driveway. I asked them to move and they told me to get stuffed. I considered getting in a little golf practice with my nine iron, but I’m getting on a bit and there were three of them.”

“Probably a wise decision.”

This whole thing was getting weirder by the minute.

“Did you know the bloke who lived there?” I asked.

“I knew the people who owned it before he moved in. They retired somewhere up north and had the house rented out. The bloke you’re interested in was quiet, always wore a brown suit and never had any visitors, at least not that I noticed. He also had a lot of stuff delivered to his house. He asked me to sign for stuff from time to time. Mowed my lawn occasionally by way of thanks. He had a cat too if I remember rightly.”

“You didn’t miss much.”

“When you get old there isn’t much to do except spy on your neighbours.”

I drank the old blokes cup of tea and I ate his biscuits but eventually I had to go.

“Don’t you want to know where the truck was going?” He was stalling, but he had a point.

“How do you know where it was going?” This old bloke was full of surprises.

“I’m a nosey old bastard, but you’ve probably figured that out by now.”

“The thought had crossed my mind.” I smiled and he smiled back.

“I looked in the truck’s cabin and the clipboard had the load’s destination typed on it.”

“And you remember it?”

“Like I said, not much else to do when you get old.”

The address the old bloke had gotten from the truck took me to the outer suburbs. Which was a break in itself because I had a horrible feeling that this bloke had gone interstate, and that would have made things very difficult.

The address was easy enough to find, but all it turned up was a house full of furniture, none of which had been unpacked. His stuff was here, but he was somewhere else, probably selling the game to a well-heeled collector. But, he had to come home at some stage, so I made plans to sit on this address until he showed up.

Experience told me that this bloke knew where Dr Doug’s missing secretary was, and now there was nothing to do but wait.

Recent Visitor.

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I didn’t encourage him, I guess he was curious.

We had that in common.

My world had been reduced to these four wall about four months ago. I listened to the medical mumbo-jumbo. “Stay quiet, take it easy or meet your maker.” He didn’t actually say the last bit, but it is what he meant. I was sick and tired of living, but I was still curious, so I did what they said.

Naturally, the family came to visit, at least for the first few weeks. Then, they slowly drifted away. I didn’t help much; they get on my nerves, and I guess I don’t hide it well.

The little bird turned up about a week ago.

The weather has been improving so I’m allowed to have the window open.

My grandson said he thought that my window was like a big TV screen.

Him, I like.

He’s funny and he doesn’t set out to be. He doesn’t expect anything from me, he just likes to hang out and tell me stuff. He’s more like a dog than a kid. I guess his mother told him not to wear me out and this is him dialled down to one. He must be something when he dials it up to ten.

The little bird came when he was here and I was sure that he would frighten it away, but he just sat quietly and watched the bird. The bird watched him also. “It’s a little bird, granddad,” he said in the tiniest of whispers. “We have to be very quiet, or he will fly away.” Where did this kid get all that wisdom? He sure didn’t get it from my side of the family, most of my decedents are jerks.

My grandson has taken to smuggling in a crust of bread when he comes to visit. I’m not sure if it is me or the bird that keeps him coming back, but I don’t care, I like both of them.

“If I leave the crust on the window sill, the birdy will have a reason to come back.”

“If you leave the crust there, your mum will know that you did it because I can’t get out of bed.” I wanted him to know that his kindness might get him into trouble. I was curious to see what he would do.

“She might sound a bit mad, but she won’t be, not really.”

This kid’s got spunk.

Maybe I will get better.

I’m curious to see how this kid turns out.

Lost and Found.

photo-by-henry-clarke-1955-model-in-patou-coat-and-dress-with-mercedes-conde-nastNot something you see too often; a handbag separated from its owner.

Tram stop number eighteen on 112 route. Bright sunny day and I’m on my way home.

My head was in the clouds as I sat in the tram shelter next to the black handbag. It took a few minutes before I noticed it, and when I did I looked around to see if its owner was nearby. It was early enough in the afternoon for it to belong to a classy office worker, but in reality most office workers would be back at their desks by that time.

That tram stop has a good view, for many metres, in all directions and as far as I could see there were no females in sight. I stared at it for a few moments before I picked it up and the thought occurred to me that I was getting my fingerprints all over it; I watch way too much television for my own good.

The bag felt good in my hands and I knew enough about fine leather to know that this bag was well made. The clasp was gold. Despite its obvious quality, it was an older bag which had been well-loved. The leather had recently been treated. I could smell the cream that had been used to preserve the leather. I use the same cream on my old leather jacket.

Bags are designed to hold stuff, so maybe some of that stuff would give a hint as to where I could find its owner.

The gold clasp clicked open with a satisfying sound.

On first glance, the bag contained all the things that you would expect. Keys, linen handkerchief and a compact with initials embossed on the lid. I couldn’t find a purse, but there were loose items in the bottom of the bag. Eucalyptus lollies; maybe she’d caught a cold recently, or maybe she liked lollies. There was a short length of red string, a single blue button and a pebble. All fascinating items but none of them were getting me any closer to the identity of the owner.

The bag had two zipped internal pockets, one on each side. The zips were also gold-plated and I opened the one on the right and found a letter. From the look of the envelope, it had been read many times. The letter was from someone named Tony and it started off quite informally but before too long it became obvious that this Tony was writing a ‘Dear John’ letter, or should that be a ‘Dear Jane’ letter. I didn’t like the man who wrote that letter, but I would say that the bag’s owner had once loved this bloke. Why else would you keep a letter that was written so long ago? Reading the letter left me with the feeling that I had been peering through someone’s bedroom window. I felt vaguely guilty as I refolded the letter and put it back in its place. The other zippered pocket held a  telegram, neatly folded and still in its original envelope. It occurred to me that Australia Post had stopped sending telegrams a number of years ago. These days, wedding receptions have to put up with emails or fake telegrams, and the best man reads them badly and fluffs up all the punch lines; somethings never change. 

I unfolded the telegram and a chill went up my spine because I noticed the black corner on the envelope. During both World Wars, the Post Office would send out death notices in black-edged envelopes. 

The telegram was dated late in 1942; I checked, just to be sure and it was today’s date, different year of course, but the same date. It informed the reader that an Australian soldier had died in action in New Guinea; on the Kokoda Trail. The telegram offered its condolences. It was addressed to a female with the same name as the dead soldier; sister or wife? 

I needed a moment after reading that.

I sat and looked at the unnamed fountain in the small park, Gordon Reserve, across the road. I was remembering back to the last long drought where all the fountains in Melbourne were turned off for several years. We take so much in life for granted, like water coming out of a fountain. 

I was now more determined than ever to find the bag’s owner. 

Another rummage around inside it returned a couple of bills with a name and an address. When I got home that night, I packaged up the bag as carefully as I could and I posted it off on my way to work the next day. 

Life went on and I forgot all about my adventure with the exception of telling my mates the story of me on the tram with a black leather handbag and no girlfriend to be seen. It got a laugh ever time I told it, and even though it brought my masculinity into question, I enjoyed being able to tell a story that consistently raised laughter. 

About a year later, I received a letter. Not an email but an actual letter; handwritten address.

I loved getting letters when I was a kid, but these days all I get through the mail are bills, so I opened it with a small tinge of excitement.

The letter was handwritten on expensive paper…………. “Dear Mr. Williams, Please accept my apology for taking so long to write, but life got in the way, as it tends to do. I received your package containing my mother’s handbag. Thank you for taking the trouble to post it back to us. We were very surprised when it arrived, and pleasantly so. The bag had been missing for so long that none of us ever expected to see it again. I had heard stories, of course, we all had. Mum left that bag at a tram stop near the Windsor Hotel the day she received that telegram. She was distraught, so it was not unusual that she would be forgetful.

I have to ask, where did you find the bag? It was lost so long ago. We are amazed that it is in such good condition. Mum died a number of years ago, but I know that if she was here now she would be very pleased, especially considering how important the contents was to her. Her husband, my dad, was awarded the DCM for saving the lives of his mates. I know it sounds terrible, but I wish he had not been so brave.

I have included the cost of the postage and I hope you accept it with all our thanks.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Caroline Wilson [Nee McKenzie]”

There was a couple of five dollar notes included with the letter, way more than was necessary.

I thought long and hard about writing back to this kind lady, but I didn’t have any answers for her. I have no idea how that handbag came to be at the same tram stop where it was lost all those years ago and on the same date.

It strikes me that there are some things that we are not supposed to know. Somethings are best left alone.

The owner of the bag and the subject of the telegram are reunited once more and what happens down here is probably only of passing interest to them.

I travel past that tram stop twice a day and I think about those two and wonder what other stories that old tram stop has yet to tell.

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