Christmas Special

chapbook cover

Read as a PDF styled mini book.

PMPR Chapbook 2021


This is no busking performance outside the fish’n’chip shop, cranking out tunes to buy hot chips. Tonight is different. A real gig.

Yeah, it’s only the Surf Club Christmas party, shuffled between DJ sets, but it’s our gig—the two of us. The club president asked us through Dad. Ella-Louise reckons Dad asked on our behalf.

Rummaging through my backpack for a pen I come across the set list, tuner, strap, picks, spare strings and charts. Ella-Louise’s present; dodgiest wrapping attempt ever.

She insisted we make our Christmas presents. I suck at making stuff. I spent hours recording and splicing a mix tape.

Hope it doesn’t get mangled in my backpack. I can’t put it in my guitar case because she might see it and guess instantly what it is. She’ll guess anyway, but I still want to surprise her.

It leads off with The Waterboys’ The Whole of the Moon. It was one of the first songs we saw on Rage that we both agreed, and disagreed, on. Still can’t decide if Bowie is singing back ups. Wish I could re-record U2’s With or Without You because the bloody tape ran out on Side 2.

There’s a buzz in the room, a festive spirit. Squinting through the glare of the blue and red spotlights I can see Mum and Helen on the opposite side to the bar near the balcony doors. Dad’s talking to someone near the entrance; I can’t quite make out who it is.

Adrian brings my Coke over to the side of the tiny stage. I take a gulp and the belt of Southern Comfort makes me cough.

“Adrian, you berk,” I spit at him.

“Thought you needed some confidence,” he says, patting the pocket of his jeans where I can just make out the shape of a small bottle. “Good luck.”

All I can focus on now is Ella-Louise. She’s here beside me with an unassuming confidence I wish I had. She says she’s not natural behind the guitar, fingers fumble like cocktail frankfurts, but there’s a gracefulness in the way she sings. Her voice is rich caramel against mine; the equivalent of gravel rash when you stack your skateboard.

Under lights, feeling a little exposed, propped up on stools because Ella-Louise’s guitar doesn’t have a strap, we double check our tuning. Plucking at the G-string two notes sound and I’m a semi- tone sharp. A quick adjustment but I find the rest of my strings are a little out.

Finally we’re in tune.

Putting the pick in my mouth I shuffle the charts on the music stand, a reference point if we forget the words or chords. Ella-Louise grabs the set list we wrote on a page torn from my Biology exercise book and gaffs it to the lip of the stand.

Looking up and down the list I can see the simple crowd pleasurers: The Beatles, Elvis, bit of Acca Dacca, Bob Dylan and couple of Beach Boy tunes Dad asked us to throw in. Then there’s the songs we want to sing: Crowded House, Hoodoo Gurus, Jenny Morris, Vio- lent Femmes, Hunters and Collectors. Ella-Louise insisted we sing Hey Jude.

Pulling one microphone closer to the guitar and the other closer to my mouth I look over to Ella-Louise. She moistens her lips, her nervousness as palpable as mine. She winks and smiles broadly before looking down to her fret board to form the first chord.

“Good evening Piper’s Reach Surf Club.”


I choke down the white wine. Ignore Helen’s chattering.

Once a letch, always a letch, my mother said.

My stomach twists.

“It was one summer. She needed me. We weren’t even married back then, Marion,” Bill said. “I chose you. How many more times do I have to say it, to convince you?”

“Did you choose me over her, or the baby over her?” I snapped.

“Stop it, Marion. Please, let it go.”

“You did it once, you will do it again.”

“You sound like your bloody Mother.”

“Who’s Dad talking to?”

The question snaps me out of memories I thought I laid to rest years ago. Questions silenced by promises and placating.

I remember the whining: “Why won’t you trust me, Marion?”

This is why…on show, with her, in front of everyone we know. My mother never lied.

I gulp down the rest of the riesling. The chill burns my throat. “Another Fanta?” I ask Helen without looking at her.

“What about a wine?”

“I’ll bring one back,” I say, eyes never leaving Bill and the woman in the corner.

“They’re not bad,” Bob says from behind the bar, nodding to the stage in the opposite corner.

Jude and Ella-Louise are huddled side of the stage, their first set over. Heads close enough that from a different angle you’d swear they were kissing. My heart seizes and I look back to Bill, afraid to find a mirror image lurking there.

Bob unscrews the bottle of Black Forest. “So, they together or what?”

“Together,” I spit, a knee jerk I immediately want to take back. My hand goes for my throat, the gold cross warm and sweaty.

Bob stops pouring as though he’s considering the merits of serving me more wine. Wouldn’t he just love to see me drunk: Bill Smith’s wife losing it. In public.

“No one seems to know and none of the blokes are game to ask Bill. You know how he is about Jude.”

“We’re not calling him Jude,” Bill bellowed, loud enough for all the other women in the ward to hear. “No bloody way, Marion.”

“I’ve made up my mind,” she said, pulling the blue bundle to her aching breasts. The chaos would settle. Now they were a family.

“You are not cursing him with a girl’s name.”

“I am blessing him with a saint’s name,” she snapped. “St Jude, Patron Saint of Lost Causes.” The barb hit its mark.

Ed Kenny, club secretary, sidles up beside me, stinking of beer and sweat, fuschia lipstick on his cheek. “Ella-Louise’s Mumsabitfalookah, woulddayasay?”

“If trash is your thing!” The wine spills over my hand in my hurry to get away from the bar.

I force myself to look back into the corner through the manic kaleidoscope of Christmas hats, tinsel boughs and flashing fairy lights. For a moment I’m not sure whom I’m watching: Jude with Ella-Louise or Bill with Ginny Laine’s look-a-like.

The apple never falls far from the tree.

All I can see is the awe lighting Jude’s face. The way he listens as though Ella-Louise is the only voice in the world to him. His body moving in time with her. How the rest of us are unimportant. Invisible in her presence.

The way his father only ever was with her. With Ginny-Bloody-Laine.

I turn to the other corner and see Bill touch Carol’s shoulder. She shakes her head and looks away. I’m not the only one crying.


“That’s bullshit.”

Carol wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and mumbles,“Thanks, Bill.”

I reach for her shoulder as a parting gesture of comfort, her arms protectively wrapped around her midriff, her eyes shifting across the scuffed lino floor. Without looking up she slips out the front door.

Turning back toward the room I catch Marion’s stare, something to rival the cutting power of diamonds, before she breaks eye contact and stalks off in a huff toward the balcony.

Where’s her charity? If she took the time to understand Carol, to talk to her, would she feel the same?

Can’t she see her and Carol are not that different. Marion is waiting for Ella-Louise to lead Jude astray, Carol’s waiting for Jude to destroy Ella-Louise. They’re creating drama that doesn’t exist. Doesn’t need to exist.

I wish Jude would muster the guts to ask her out. Would do both of them the world of good. But something makes them hesitate and pause. Dunno if it’s fear or uncertainty. What have they got to lose? Jude: the patron saint of lost causes. If he never asks that girl out he will be a martyr.

He is still such a boy, sitting on the cusp of manhood but somehow waiting for an invitation to make it happen.

They’re turning in a good rendition of Throw Your Arms Around Me. I don’t think Jude has any idea of the irony of what he’s singing with Ella-Louise.

I’ve watched their friendship grow; they orbit each other in tandem, neither the primary focus. A synchronous movement paralleled; never coming closer, never moving apart.

The final chord of the song hangs for a moment before applause breaks out.

“Thank you,” says Jude and moves away from the mic, to defer the spotlight to Ella-Louise.

I watch him lose himself in the music. He’s found the thing that makes him feel free. I imagine he feels like I do when I’m out surfing; complete freedom to challenge the rawness of life and find a way of being one with it. It’s not something you ever control; it lets you participate and become part of it, but you never own it.

“Love is a battlefield,” Ella-Louise sings and I remember the song. Heard it on the radio on my last trip to Crescent Heads.

I wonder how Ginny’s getting on? Night’s like this I can’t help but think of her.

I look back out at the balcony and the lighthouse winks at me as if it knows my heart and can illuminate what’s inside for the briefest of moments.

“Bill, your hand’s empty. Have another.”

“Thanks, Jack.”

“Jude and Ella-Louise are a big hit. Thanks for suggesting them.”

“No problems.”

“I remember when he was born,” Jack says. “Marion almost made you sell your board.”

“And the ute.”

“Now look at him and his girlfriend. Remind you of someone else?”

The crowd breaks into applause saving me from answering. I catch Jude looking in my direction. I raise my glass in salute and he breaks into a wide grin, the pick stuck between his teeth.

May you always be free, my son.

SCARAB – Carol

Locals only tonight, folks. See you tomorrow, Jack Kirby—PRSLC President says the handwritten sign. I let the door slam behind me.

Christmas beetles scuttle across the concrete. Echoes of withdrawal shimmer in their metallic shells, the light catching the colour like oil on water. I feel them under my skin, in my veins, calling me back. Killing the burrowing, itching, agony of withdrawal kept me using long after the heroin gave me an escape.

Numb. I want to be numb tonight.

God, how easy it would be. How good it would feel.

“What are you doing out here, Mum?” Ella-Louise holds the door open and the DJ’s music blasts out into the false calm of the night. “Did someone say something to you? Or do something?”

“It’s nothing,” I say and force away thoughts of shooting up. “It’s so loud. And all the drunks.”

A beetle launches itself—noisy and clumsy—toward the light. The music fades into the background and all I hear is tap-tap-tap of the beetle’s insane addiction to the light.


Let me in John. I bet you’re using my Colgate gel.


Open the door, Carol. Carol, honey.


I blink and see a woman-child in cut-off shorts, her top falling off one shoulder. She doesn’t know if she needs to be a daughter, a mother, a best friend or something else. All Ella-Louise does know is I have no idea how to be any of them for her.

I’m sinking. The more I try to connect with her, the greater the divide widens between us. The more I care, the more I worry. The more she resists.

I want her to stay away from that boy. Jude is bad for her.

He’s all doe-eyed now, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth, but in his mind he’s doing what he wants to do with his hands. With his dick. He will undo her, just as surely as he’ll undress and fuck her and walk away when she’s knocked up.

And it’s only a matter of time before he gets to her. Destroys my beautiful Ella-Louise.

My redemption.

The internal monologue cranks up, louder than ever: You don’t understand Ella-Louise, how he’ll let you go, like your Dad let us go. It’s left to us to look back. To remember. To break with the heartache. And you’ll understand then…why I’ve done everything possible to deaden the pain. Why I am trying to save you from it.

“Come back in,” Ella-Louise says, gently. “They’re not so bad. I’ll introduce you around.”

“I don’t want to talk to any of the women in there. And the men just leer at me.”

“Please, Mum. It’s just one more set.”

“Ella-Louise,” I say, in the deep voice I use to stop words wobbling out my mouth. “I’ll come back in if you promise me, after tonight, you won’t see Jude.”

“You’re making me choose?” She glares at me, her eyes alight with her father’s resentment. “No! I won’t do it.”

“Don’t turn this into an argument.”

Me turn it into an argument. You’re such a bitch!”


“Fuck off. Just go home,” she yells and storms inside the surf club.

I walk down the stairs, beetles crunching under my thongs, and remember Ella-Louise’s first Christmas. Her sausage fingers grabbing at the terracotta pavers alive with iridescent yellow-green bugs. One pierced her soft, baby flesh and she howled.

I just stood there and watched her scream.

BONFIRE – Adrian

Sitting by the unlit bonfire something skitters across my forearm and I jump a little. Beer splashes over my arm when I swipe the beetle away with the can in my hand. Perhaps not the best idea. Another culprit bangs into my forehead.

“Shitty beetles.”

A door slams over near the surf club. Standing up I, see Ella- Louise’s Mum. Two blokes wander up to the surf club and stop right in front of her. She looks kinda awkward before barging her way between them and they laugh and wolf whistle.

Wedging the beer into the sand I get up to build the last of the stack. Stuart helped this arvo to make a good pile of driftwood and Uncle John dropped a trailer load of off cuts from the lumberyard.

The DJ must have finished his set because guitars replace the thumping subs; Jude and EL’s final set. It still sounds good from out here. EL’s voice floats over the beach, better than the raucous sound of seagulls.

They aren’t half bad. But two sets of them giving each other sappy looks was enough.

Besides, the bonfire needed me.

There’s the sound of a can opening followed by, “Watcha doin’?”

“That’s my beer, Beth.”

“Snooze you lose.”

“Give it here.” I snatch it out of her hand.

“If Bill catches you with a beer he’ll chuck a fit.”

“Bill was a wild man. I don’t reckon he’d give a toss.” I take a long swig. “Did you catch what EL and her Mum were fighting about?”

“No. She’s a strange one. I keep hearing stuff about her.”

“Me too.”

“Bet none of it’s true though.” She sticks her hands in her pockets. “Jude and Ella-Louise look so good up there together.”

“Yeah, they’re all right.”

“All right? They’re better than all right.”

“Hold this,” I say shoving the beer in her hand and disappear into the dunes.

I return with a new plan for the night and a jerrycan, requisitioned from the boat shed. Just better make sure I replace it. “Check this out.”

“Are you mad? That’s petrol.”

“There’s only one way to make a lighthouse on the beach. Better move back.”

I step back a little. Even I’m not stupid enough try to light it too close.

The smell of petrol overpowers the salt smell blowing off the waves and I reckon the lighthouse up on The Point is giving me the evil eye for what I am about to do.

Shaking the box of matches I pull one out, strike it and the flame sputters before taking a hold. I toss it and it dies before it reaches the fuel-soaked wood. As does the second, third, fourth and fifth matches.

“Here,” Beth says and hands over a piece of cardboard torn from the beer carton, “you ning nong.”

Igniting the cardboard, I shield the flame as it runs along the torn edge. Leaning in closer than I like, but not too close, I drop it onto the edge of the wood. The flame withers and almost dies. Then the fuel ignites and the bonfire explodes to life, a wave of hot air slamming into us.

I leap back. Beth falls down in the sand, pissing herself laughing. Plonking down beside her we watch the fire eat away at the stack. It draws a crowd from the beach and inside the surf club.

Time for the real action.

Reaching into the plastic bag next to the beers, I pull out crazy jacks and bungers. We light the first fuse and I chuck it sky high. The sparking embers of the wick blend in with the sparks sent up by the bonfire. The sky explodes: purple, red, green.

Beth’s cheeks are flushed and her eyes sparkle. “My turn!”


We’re close enough to feel the warmth of the bonfire, but far enough away to horde these last precious minutes alone. Two weeks always feels like two years without him, even if Nan whispered down the phone tonight that there was already a letter from him in Sydney.

“Next year we ditch the olds and have Christmas together, some- where we want,” Jude says, pulling stuff from his backpack. I’ve seen his Mum’s handbag—the bag thing is, like, genetic.

Jude’s present sits in my lap like a snake coiled in Santa paper.

“Found it!” he says finally, holding it up. “You first,” and he hands me a small, rectangular present. The paper is wrinkled and softened around the edges. The firelight dances in the sheen of gold ribbon and the loops feel like Jude’s earlobe when I rub them.

One rattle and I know exactly what it is. I tear the paper and turn toward the fire to read the track listings. The flickering light eats the looping handwritten song titles. It doesn’t matter. I have all of Sydney to decipher the deeper meaning. Everyone knows a mix tape is a secret way of saying all the things you can’t actually say to the person.

And I know what I’ve been waiting for Jude to say.

“Your turn,” I say and hand over my present.

He shakes it then he squeezes it. His face creases into a puzzled expression. I laugh.

“You’ll never guess,” I say, running my finger over the sharp edge of the cassette cover.

Jude picks the sticky tape off one end, opens it enough to peep in and the creases in his face deepen.

“Just take it out, you drongo,” I say and he pulls out one handful followed by another and another, until it’s all disgorged into his lap.

“You got your Nan to knit me a scarf.”

“Ay-hhh,” I say in my best Sketzi’s voice, incensed he thinks I would break my own rule about making presents. “Ay-hhh knitted you the scarf.”

But I dispense with the stupid impersonation, because that’s not how I played it out in my head when I was knitting the damn thing. “It’s to replace the one you gave me.” I say it so quietly I don’t know if he hears me. “It can be your…new favourite.”

I take a section of scarf and he ducks so I can loop it over his head. I tug on the scarf and pull him toward me to cross it over and wind it back around his neck. But my hands pause mid air and we’re there, staring at each other, inside the skin of the scarf with just the thick, salty air and the sting of smoke between us. Jude leans closer. My heart thunders with the surf.

It would take nothing to know the feel of his lips against mine.

“Awgawd,” Adrian groans and collapses next to Jude, letting rip a huge burp. “You replaced the fugly scarf, EL!”

“It’s not fugly, you moron.” Jude jerks away from me and as he does, the scarf feeds out through my fingers and falls into the sand.

“Merry Christmas, Adrian,” I say and stand up. He looks at me all dopey. As usual he’s too dumb, or too drunk, to realise I’m pissed off with him.

The heat of the bonfire turns my anger to ashes. The UDL, I picked up so my hands had something to do, washes away the last traces. Jude’s knuckles brush gently over the back of my hand. Despite the hot night, he’s wearing the scarf. The wrong part of me is wrapped around him. Each stitch against his neck is a kiss I wish my lips were making.

You can find Jude’s Christmas Mix Tape on Spotify


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: