Search this blog

Tuesday 17 March 2020

☀ The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist's Solution - Lisa de Nikolits

Thank you for joining us on the Virtual Book Tour for The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist's Solution, a Suspense Thriller by (, Inanna Poetry & Fiction Series, 302 pages).

Don't miss our Guest Post, a self-interview by author Lisa de Nikolits.

PREVIEW: Check out the book's synopsis and the extended excerpt below.

Author Lisa de Nikolits will be awarding a $15 Amazon gift card to two randomly drawn winners via Rafflecopter during the tour.  

Please do take part: comment on our post and follow the tour where you will be able to read other excerpts (☀), interviews (ℚ), reviews (✍) and guest blog posts (✉).

|| Synopsis || Teaser: Excerpt ||  Guest Post: A Self-Interview! || About the Author || Giveaway & Tour Stops ||


The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution is about a couple experiencing a crisis. The husband, Lyndon, loses his job as editor of a financial magazine. Neither are happy with aging. Lyndon has gotten by with charm and frozen emotions. The wife, Margaux, has no idea how angry she is with him for his detachment. It is her idea to sell the house and just travel. But he is not coping well with retirement, so he simply walks off a ferry in Australia and leaves her. He steals a cat (well, he steals an expensive SUV that happens to have a cat onboard) and he flees Sydney, ending up in Apollo Bay, a few hours south-west of Melbourne, where he falls in with a group of anarchists and punk rockers in a tattoo parlour, planning revolution.

Meanwhile, Margaux sits tight in Sydney with no idea of where her husband might be or what happened. She moves into the red-light Kings Cross area, befriending the owner of the hostel, a seventy-year-old ex-cop drag queen from Saint John, New Brunswick, and waits to hear from her husband.

When she learns that her husband is fine, she is consumed by wrath and she invokes the angry spirit of an evil nurse, a key player in the terrible Chelmsworth sleep therapy in which many patients died (historical fact). While Lyndon gets in touch with his original career ambition to become an artist and wrestles with anarchism versus capitalism, Margaux learns to deal with her rage.

A serio-comedic thriller about a couple who embark on an unintentionally life-changing around-the-world adventure, The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution is about the meaning of life, healing from old wounds, romantic love at all ages, and how love and passion can make a difference, at any age.

Teaser: Excerpt


“MY HUSBAND HAS FALLEN OVERBOARD.” I kept repeating that to anyone to who would listen, but everyone looked at me as though I were deranged. I was certain he had fallen into the black sea of the Sydney Harbour. Panic stopped my breath as if a cork had been shoved down my throat. I ran from one side of the ferry to the other and back, but, just like the last time I checked, he was not there.
      It was close to midnight and the Sydney Harbour was a tar pit of roiling waves, churning and chopping. I leaned over the railing, trying to see him in the water, searching for an outstretched arm, but the ferry was moving too quickly. Half a dozen people onboard looked at me curiously, and I could see them thinking, Nuts, she’s nuts, don’t make eye contact. I started panting like a dog, making horrible sounds.
      I grabbed the deckhand by the arm. I tried to form words but I could hardly talk. All I could say was, “Husband. Gone. Must have fallen overboard.” I pointed to the water, thick like molasses.
      The deckhand was kind. He didn’t call me a raving lunatic. He helped me check the ferry from stern to bow, starboard to port, not once but twice. He asked for my husband’s cellphone number, and he dialled it on speaker. It went straight to voicemail. I had already tried, with the same response. Hiya. Lyndon here. Do the necessary or forever hold your peace.
      “He’s fallen overboard,” I said. “We have to find him.”


I SIDLED AROUND THE CAR, opened the door, and shot into the driver’s seat, quickly pulling the door closed. The air con was an arctic blast, and I was chilled in seconds. Where was the off switch? But more importantly, I had to get the hell out of Dodge.
      I pulled out into the traffic, bracing for sirens, flashing lights, and my imminent arrest, but there was just the usual Sydney gridlock. I threaded in-between the cars, glancing in the rear-view mirror, and looking for a furious blonde in hot pursuit, shaking her fist and probably dialling 0-0-0 to call the cops, but there was no sign of her. What kind of idiot left a brand-new Jeep running while she went to get a coffee? I was standing there, about to sip my skinny flat white, when this rich suburban ditz came along, parked right in front of me, leapt out, and rushed into the coffee shop. It wasn’t like I was looking for a car to steal. Of course not.
      I fumbled with the car’s buttons and levers, driving with one hand, and I managed to turn the air con off. I opened my window and let the warm summer wind blast into the car, washing it clean of the cold, burnt air.
      But where was I going? A quick decision was necessary. I called up a map of Australia in my mind. While I’d had no interest in the adventure Margaux was so excited about, I’d studied a map of Australia for hours, losing myself in the tongue-twisting Aboriginal names like Woollabra, Woolloomooloo, and Wollongong, wishing I didn’t have to go at all. But here I was, and I had to make a choice. I could go northeast or southwest. But the Gold Coast to the north sounded cheap and nasty, so Melbourne won the mental coin toss.
      I was about to take the turnoff for the Hume Highway when I realized that highways might have cameras, whereas the smaller roads would not, so I decided to navigate by the compass on the dashboard and stay off the radar as much as possible. I had the sudden worry that the car might have a tracker, but I figured that if it did, there wasn’t much I could do about it. I felt strangely free and yet resigned at the same time.
      I checked the gas tank. Full. I didn’t have to worry about that. In fact, for the first time in ages, I didn’t have to worry about anything at all. I was free. Free from all the societal and familial shackles and manacles. I pounded the steering wheel with my fist and I grinned a Jack Nicholson crazy-man smile—yes, I was doing the Jack-man proud! I had been bowed and beaten and nearly broken but not for one second longer! I had finally taken control.
      I released all the windows in the car to get the full volume of the sweet-scented, hot Australian summer, and I leaned back in my luxurious seat to savour my moment of triumph. I hadn’t let the bastards grind me down!
      I reached for my skinny flat white and took a satisfying gulp. As I took another slug, thinking it was possible that the Australians made the greatest coffee in the world, a scream pierced my eardrums and my scrotum clenched so far back in my body I was convinced I’d lost my balls for life. I choked down the mouthful of coffee and shoved the cup into the holder.
      Another ungodly ear-piercing howl filled the air, and I nearly swerved off the road. I white-knuckled the car into submission and tried to steady my heart, which was pounding so hard my eyeballs popped like a cartoon character given a wedgie. What in God’s name was that? Was there a demon in the car? Was it a baby? Please don’t tell me it was a baby. I had stolen a car with a baby in it, hadn’t I? I glanced into the back, fully expecting to see an infant staring at me with accusing eyes. It was one thing to be a car thief—which, I’ll have you know I am not—but a kidnapper? My insides sloshed back and forth as if I’d swallowed a litre of the green mush that Margaux made me eat in lieu of breakfast, hoping to help me shed my unwanted pounds. I had that same bitter taste in my mouth now as I prepared to meet the gaze of the stolen baby strapped into its car seat, pursing its little Chucky-doll monster mouth and winding up its batting arm to let loose another Stephen King-inspired scream. But there was no baby. There was no car seat. No Chucky. Relief washed over me and my balls ungripped a millimetre. At least I was not a child thief. I breathed again. Thank God. There was, however, a large grey box on the back seat. A cat box.
      I took my eyes off the road for a moment and swung around to look at the box. I had kidnapped a cat. I had catnapped. I was a sixty-year-old cat-thieving felon. One did not steal cats. Top of the range Jeeps, yes, that was somewhat acceptable, although of course, I was not a car thief by profession or nature. Deep down, though, I supposed I must be one since I appropriated the car with such ease. But I was not, nor would ever be, a cat thief.
      Thoughts filled my mind like dust devils, and I forced my eyes back to the road. I needed to focus. Self-recriminations and internal philosophical debates were of little use to me at that point. But another eardrum-destroying howl filled the car, as if a hundred geese were being mauled by a pack of wild dogs. It was all I could do to keep the car moving in a straight line. My hands were shaking and sweat poured off me, and I was stuck to the leather seat I had been admiring only moments before. What in the blazers was in that box? Was a cat even capable of making sounds like that? I needed to pull over and dump the box. Nothing in the world should make a noise like that, not even Lizzie Borden’s family as they succumbed to her axe-wielding little hand. And why was the cat suddenly so distraught when it had been utterly silent when I took the car? Why was it howling now, a good half an hour later?
      I scrambled for solutions, which was pretty hard to do when devilish sounds were turning the mushy insides of my bowels to ice despite the summer heat flooding the car. I remembered the air con—how the car had been like a butcher’s storage locker when I took it—and it struck me. Could it be that the creature wanted the air conditioning back on?
      Another yowl filled the cabin, and again I wanted to pull over and ditch the box at the side of the road, but I was flanked by cars and couldn’t stop. Where had all this traffic come from? Stopping was not an option.
      I fumbled with the buttons on the steering wheel and managed to close the windows. I punched the air con up to the max, full blast. The cat was still squealing and hissing, and I pounded the steering wheel with my fist.
      “Shut up, shut up, shut up, cat,” I shouted into the back of the car. I gave a low growling moan, trying to quell the beast into submission. I couldn’t count the years since I’d raised my voice. I’d never raised my voice to my children, or my wife, and certainly not to my staff. But now I did. “Shut up! Shut up!”
      I increased the volume of my chant, and my growl turned into a scream that sounded rusty at first, a bit squeaky, but I was certainly no match for the cat who was still putting me to shame. “Shut up! Stop it, eyyyyyyy yayyyyy!” I put some force behind it, and soon I was reaching down into my lungs and my gut, and it felt fantastic. I was screaming like a toddler having a tantrum and grinning like maniacal Jack. It took me a while to notice that the cat had gone quiet and the only sound in the car was coming from me. Feeling remarkably stupid, I stopped shouting and all I could hear was the frigid air blasting into the confines of the vehicle. I was covered in goosebumps, teeth nearly chattering, but the cat was silent. My detecting skills had proven sound. The cat loved the air con.
      I cleared my throat and readjusted my body in the seat and tried to reorganize my thoughts and myself after my unexpectedly exhilarating screamfest. I wondered if I should carry on screaming just for the fun of it but I had lost momentum.
      The car was as cold as a mortuary’s freezer. That was why the woman had left the car running when she went to get her coffee. To keep the cat happy. That must be some cat.
      I knew I would need to address the cat situation at some point, but I decided not to think about it right at that moment. That was how I’d managed to navigate most of my life, by not thinking about things for the moment, and generally things had worked out fine. Well, up to a certain point, I supposed.
      But I was so fricking cold. I poked around with the controls, trying to see if I could get the air con to blow into the back of the car and not the front, but it didn’t seem to work. I finally settled for turning on my seat warmer. The back of my thighs and my back got blissfully warm, but my hands were like icicle claws in rigor mortis on the steering wheel.
      I wondered what kind of search was taking place for me. Margaux would have been freaked out by my sudden absence—to put it mildly— and I wondered what she would make of my disappearance. But I couldn’t think about that either right then. I did wonder if there was an alert out for the car and I turned on the radio, trying to find a news channel. But I couldn’t find anything about me or the car and every station seemed to be playing that scourge of the earth, Taylor Swift, singing her vapid songs, and I flicked the radio off.
      I had turned my cellphone off the moment I stepped off the ferry, so there was no way Margaux could find me via that. I patted my jacket pocket. Yes, the phone was still there.
      Thoughts of Margaux refused to leave my mind, so I turned my attention to the cat. Anything rather than think about Margaux. The cat needed water. I needed water. I would think about these things, not about my wife of thirty-five years who I unceremoniously ditched in the middle of the night on the edge of the Sydney Harbour. She would be hysterical with fear and worry. The cat needed water. I needed water.
      I had been driving for just over an hour and the signs for Wollongong were becoming insistent so I decided to stop there. The scenery was spectacular, with the aqua Pacific Ocean on my left and rugged bluffs to my right, but it was hard to think about how pretty it all was when I was waiting for sirens and policemen to jump out at me and arrest me.
      I wondered if I could change the license plates of the Jeep with a set from another car, but I figured that was something people only did in movies. It would hardly look inconspicuous to be kneeling down in broad daylight, unscrewing someone’s license. No, when it came to license plates, I would have to hope for the best.
      And what about the cat? Would it start howling as soon as the car was turned off and normal air temperatures resumed? I would have to be speedy if I left the car. Perhaps I shouldn’t stop at all and let the thing die of thirst. But what about me? I didn’t want to die of thirst. I knew that a few hours without water was hardly life-threatening, and I had polished off half that skinny flat white. I was being overly dramatic. But I was hungry too. I hadn’t had breakfast, and my stomach was a growling echoing cavern.
      I pulled into a parking lot with a gas station and turned around to talk to the cat I had yet to see.
      “Listen to me, you little beast,” I said, although the box opening was facing the car doors and not me, and I had no idea who or what I was really talking to. “Shut up, do you hear me? Do not whine or yowl or scream, do you hear me?”
      There was silence. “I am not telling you again,” I said firmly although there was a quaver to my voice. “One squeak out of you and you’re toast on the side of the road.”
      I turned off the engine with a flourish of bravado I did not feel and slipped out of the car, eying it uneasily. I wished I had a baseball cap to hide my head just in case there was some kind of alert out for me. I hailed from Canada where we watched shows like The First 48 and CSI and Forensic Files, and there were cameras spying at you from every angle, able to identify everybody. I had no idea how realistic those things were in Australia, but I was sure that Big Brother was at the ready a lot more than we cared to know.
      I checked the time and was startled to find that it was only a quarter to nine in the morning. I felt as if I’d been up for days, escaping, a fugitive from justice, cat in tow.
      I did some calculations and I figured I must have taken the cat and the car around seven-thirty a.m.
      Many of the stores in the strip mall weren’t open and the parking lot was empty for the most part. I glanced back at the Jeep, which I had parked in the furthermost corner. There were acres separating it from the next car, a rusty old sedan that looked as if it had been abandoned some years back.
      There was a dollar store, the Hot Dollar, and I ducked inside, telling myself that walking like a criminal was not what I should be doing. I needed to be casual and cavalier. I straightened up and grabbed a basket. I loaded it up with chips and pop and chocolates and a few bottles of water. I stood in the pet aisle and I was about to buy a cat bowl when I realized this might look suspicious. A cat had gone missing in Sydney and some guy was seen buying a bowl in Wollongong? I told myself I was overthinking but I took a dog’s bowl instead, along with a few dog toys and a tiny dog’s leash. I was fairly certain, without ever having met this cat, that it would need restraining when I let it out of the box.
      The baseball cap selection was pitiful. They all had “Wollongong” on them or the Australian flag, which would hardly be worn by a native, so I settled on an ivy-green floppy fishing hat. I was going to buy a pair of sunglasses, but I tallied my purchases and told myself to be circumspect. I returned the dog toys to their shelf.
      The cashier was on the phone when she rang up my lot. She was arguing with her mother about her lout of a boyfriend who was camping out, uninvited, at the mother’s homestead. I thought the conversation was great—she wasn’t concentrating on me at all. I took my bag and left the store bracing myself for a Bonnie and Clyde showdown, fully expecting the police to be outside en masse, guns held high, lights flashing, and bravado shouts of, “Hands up! On the ground, NOW!’
      But the parking lot was empty, and the Jeep was stationed in silence. I approached it cautiously and unlocked the car. I opened the back door, pushed the cat box to the left, slid in, and shut the door.
      I took a deep breath. It was time to face the demon feline. I leaned down and peered into the cat box, and the next thing I knew, I fell in love.
      “Oh my God,” I said, breathless. “You beauty you.”
      The cat stared at me impassively. It was a Maine Coon and one of the finest specimens I had ever seen. I am a cat fan, but my daughter and Margaux are both allergic, so my cat dreams had gone unrealized for all of my married life.
      “Oh baby,” I said, in awe. The cat blinked at me like, Open my door, fool.
      So I did. The cat walked out and settled down on my lap. I stroked it, or him, or her, and it made happy little chirping noises, like a bird or a cricket. Such beautiful melodic sounds. And, then, like the screaming episode, I did something I hadn’t done in a century. I cried.


“HE’S OVERBOARD,” I REPEATED. “We have to send a rescue party. He can swim but a boat might hit him on the head, and he’s out of shape. He hasn’t exercised in years. There are waves and yachts and boats and ferries. He’ll get hit on the head and he’ll drown.”
      “We’ll find him,” the ferry captain told me. “We’ll find him.”
      It was midnight and we were heading back to our hotel after dinner with Anita, an old friend of mine, a dinner that I knew Lyndon had found tedious and I had felt bad for having made him go. I hadn’t seen Anita in years, and yes, admittedly, she was tiring to be with even for the shortest periods of time. But still, when we bumped into her at Circular Quay, she had squealed with delight. How could I have come to Sydney without having gotten in touch? I did know about Facebook, surely? Cowed, I had said yes, dinner would be lovely, and I made Lyndon come with me, and then of course, he had hated the whole evening. My already frazzled nerves were splayed like the frayed edges of an electrical cord as I waited for the flying sparks to erupt into a raging fire. But they didn’t, which was only a partial relief. The tension crackled in the air and I felt as if I was trying to spark a flame off an old Bic lighter, while all I was doing was shaving off the top layer of my thumb.
      In fact, my whole body had felt as if it had been trying to spark a fire off an old lighter. I was raw and scraped, such was the evening. And I was angry with Lyndon. It was only one night of our whole trip. Just one objectionable night. Why couldn’t he have been nicer? At least, nicer to me. Why couldn’t he have been a conspiratorial ally about Anita’s loud, challenging hospitality? He could have exchanged looks with me, made me feel like we were on the same side, but instead, he ignored me and made snippy comments at her, which wasn’t like him either. Although really, he hadn’t been himself in ages. Perhaps I’d hoped the dinner would be a catalyst to help him snap out of his malaise, but, like all my other solutions and ideas and remedies, it hadn’t done a darn thing except make him act like a sullen schoolboy while I felt like his aging mother, which was hardly sexy or fun.
      I had finally slipped a Xanax under my tongue when neither of them was looking, and I kept the wine flowing, and by the time Lyndon and I were waiting on the ferry at Neutral Bay, I was numb to the whole night. All I wanted to do was have a lovely hot bath, add a sleeping pill to the chemistry in my blood, climb between the freshly-laundered crisp hotel sheets, and forget about the dinner, my husband, my life, and this awful trip which had been my ill-advised idea in the first place.
      But my hot bath hadn’t happened because Lyndon had vanished.
      “When last did you see him, Mrs. Blaine?”
      “Hmm?” I tried to rally my thoughts. The captain was asking me a question. It was true that fear and adrenalin had stripped me of my cosy Xanax and wine comforter, but it was still hard to think straight.
      When had I last seen Lyndon? Good question. I had ignored him on the ferry, taking a seat inside when I knew he liked to be outside, enjoying the waves and fresh air. Although “enjoying” would be a strong term since I hadn’t actually seen Lyndon “enjoy” anything in decades. So, I had stared pointedly away from him, pretending to look at the sparkling lights that lined the harbour. But I was really watching the reflection of my face on the window and all I could see was a tired old woman with deep, harsh lines cutting into the sides of her mouth. Her skin had become saggy and dimpled, soft, like cheesecake past its best-before date. While a part of me didn’t want to admit it, I knew that woman was me. She was disappointed and hurt and tired, and I wanted to comfort her, but I was angry with her for being disappointed and hurt and tired, and worse, for looking inescapably old, so I turned away. I studied my feet, or the other people on the ferry, and then when I finally looked around for Lyndon, he wasn’t there.
      Just like him, my first thought shouted. It’s always all about Lyndon. It’s only ever about Lyndon.
      A part of me wanted to scream, So be theatrical then! Vanish and do whatever you want to, you challenging, tiring man. You overgrown child. Just leave me alone. Leave me to have some kind of peace. I’m tired of cosseting and cocooning you from the disappointments and hurts of your life. I have my own problems to deal with. Don’t you ever think of that?
      But then a worm of worry crawled through my belly. Seriously, where was he? I stood up, telling myself that he’d be around the corner, leaning against the side of the ferry, waiting for me to come and find him and apologize for making him suffer through such a tedious evening.
      But I hadn’t found him, so I ran back and forth calling for help, and my Xanax and wine fog only made it harder to look, and I felt my mascara running down my face in salty black trails.
      We finally docked at Circular Quay, and it took a lifetime of bumping and nudging the ferry and throwing ropes this way and that—all of which had seemed so romantic to me when we first arrived in Sydney. But at that moment, it was torturous, and took forever.
      The captain ushered me through the small crowd waiting to board. They looked at me curiously but without any real compassion or interest. My face was streaked with makeup, my hair was wild, and none of my clothes were sitting as they should. Everything was twisted.
      I was led into the main terminal where we waited for an elevator. I wanted us to run to wherever it was we are going. Why weren’t we running? Why was everything taking so long? I stared at the captain and the deckhand, but they were pointedly ignoring me and conferring in quiet tones. I wanted to ask why helicopters weren’t searching the black waters of the Sydney Harbour—Lyndon would surely have died from hypothermia by now or been hit by a yacht or another ferry.
      “Why aren’t you out looking for him?” I asked, and the two men exchanged a look.
      “It’s okay, ma’am,” the deckhand said. “We’ll find him. Please don’t worry. We have protocols in place for these kinds of things.”
      The captain didn’t say anything.
      Protocols in place. I wiped my face with a shaking hand. The elevator arrived and we rode up several floors. I was then led by the captain into a room filled with computer monitors, and he sat me down in front of one of them.
      “Now,” he said, and I hated him, his gingery hair, his weak chin, and his self-righteous manner. “Where exactly did you get on?”
      “At Neutral Bay,” I told him. “At eleven-thirty. I can’t remember exactly when I last saw Lyndon. When we got on, he stayed outside, and I went inside. I don’t like the wind, not even in summer. But he wanted to be outside, and I thought he must have walked out of my line of sight, so I didn’t worry. Why would I? But then, all of a sudden, I did worry. I knew something was wrong. I searched everywhere and Jerry helped me.” Jerry was the deckhand.
      “We’re going to go through the camera footage that shows people getting off the ferries,” the captain said. He told me his name was Brian.
      Jerry brought me a cup of hot tea while Brian fiddled with the computer.
      “Here’s the first stop after Neutral Bay,” he said. “Kurraba Point.” I peered at the people getting off. The footage was clear, not like British CCTV cameras in films, where you couldn’t recognize anyone.
      “No, he’s not there,” I said, but they made me watch it three times to make sure.
      “I am sure,” I told them. “Let’s try the next one.”
      The next stop was Kirribilli. That was when I saw Lyndon stroll off the ferry. I couldn’t believe it.
      “Wait, stop,” I said. “Make it go back.”
      They took it back to the beginning again, and there, unmistakably, was my husband, getting off the ferry.
      “That’s him,” I said. “But why would he get off there? It’s on the north shore. He knew we had to come back to Circular Quay. Why would he get off there?”
      Brian shrugged. “That I can’t tell you, but at least I can tell you that he isn’t dead, which is very good news.”
      I was speechless. Yes, it was very good news, but what on earth was going on? There was nothing for Lyndon to see in North Sydney, no tourist attractions or nightlife. So, if he wanted to go for a walk by himself, why not tell me? Why didn’t he tell me? He just left me.
      “Can I see it again?” I asked. They showed me how to rewind the recording and I repeatedly watched Lyndon getting off the ferry, while my brain scrambled to find a solution, which was not forthcoming.
      At one point, Lyndon turned and glanced back at the boat. I tried desperately to decipher that quick look. Had he been looking for me? Was he trying to tell me something? What was going on at that moment? And why had he turned off his phone? Where was he going? Had he planned this all along?
      “Can we file a missing person’s report?” I asked.
      Brian shook his head. “He’s not missing. We can all see him, large as life. Probably wanted to find a pub, have a rum and Coke, some time alone. Blokes need time to themselves. It’s not unusual. Look, we’ll take you back to your hotel, all right? I am sure he just wandered off for a bit, and he’ll be home in a couple of hours. It will be all sorted out.”
      I understood what he was trying to tell me. This wasn’t his problem. Lyndon was alive. Lyndon was behaving strangely, that much was true, but Brian had done his job and it was time for me to take the issue of my problematic husband and my flawed marriage and leave.
      I asked Brian if I could watch the recording a few more times and he told me I could. I didn’t want to miss anything, in case Lyndon had been trying to send me a message. I watched it for half an hour, and I studied every nuance of Lyndon’s movements, but there wasn’t anything that gave me a clue as to why he had done what he did.
      I decided that Brian was probably right. Lyndon simply needed a bit of time to himself. I decided to go back to our hotel and have my nice hot bath and no doubt Lyndon would stroll in and say he’d needed some air or something or other, and that would be that.
      I had to admit to myself that Lyndon hadn’t been behaving normally for a while now, and this trip, which I had thought would be a cure for him having lost his job, had only seemed to trigger in him a mid-life crisis and plummeting self-esteem.
      “Thank you for all your help and patience,” I told Brian who patted me on the shoulder.
      “We men can be strange fellas at times,” he said, and I tried to smile. He seemed less hateful than before or maybe I had run out of steam.
      Jerry drove me back to my hotel, and I thanked him for his help and took my leave. I tried to walk casually through the lobby as if I was simply returning from an evening’s dinner after a day of fun-filled sightseeing. Nothing to see here; just a tourist after a long day.
      But when I got up to the room, I closed the door, sank down onto the bed and buried my face in my hands. Everything was wrong. Yes, Lyndon was alive, but everything was wrong.
      I forced myself to run a bath, but I couldn’t luxuriate like I usually do. I scrubbed my body and washed my hair vigorously as if I were in a hurry because I needed to be ready and vigilant. And if I could get clean, my whole life would sort itself out. I just had to get myself moisturized and into my pyjamas and everything would be fine.
      But then I was clean, and moisturized, and in my pyjamas, and things were not fine. I sat motionless in the wingback chair that overlooked the harbour, my hands folded in my lap, and watched the blackness of night fade, pushed away by the coming light of day. The sun rose and my phone did not ring and there were no messages from Lyndon, no texts. There was nothing in reply to the messages and calls that I had sent him.
      But he is alive, I kept telling myself. He will come back. Please let him come back.
      He’d never done anything like this before in thirty-five years of marriage—just wander off without telling me. He’d never even taken too long at the store. And his phone was always on and I could always reach him.
      I was fifty-eight years old. I was a part-time archivist at McMaster University, but mostly I was a wife and a mother, and I thought I was pretty good at both of those things. A niggle of doubt told me that no one was perfect, of course not, but I had tried my best. Tried my best. Such a stupid saying. My best obviously wasn’t good enough if my husband walked away from me without so much as a goodbye. It wasn’t as if he’d ceased to find me attractive. He still jumped my bones two or three times a week and I happily anticipated our encounters. I’d never been beautiful. I was pretty in the girl-next-door kind of way, with a narrow nose that had a little upturned tip—Lyndon called it my “princess nose.” He said I was like a Disney princess, but I said Snow White’s nose was much more of a button nose than mine. He agreed and commented that perhaps it was the elegant narrow ovals of my nostrils that bewitched him. Only Lyndon could say something that asinine and sound sincere. He also said I had the most perfect philtrum he had ever seen. When I looked blank, he explained that that was the term for the indentation above my lip. A Greek word, he said, meaning “love.” A term for the two folds of flesh that, during embryonic development, grew and met in the front of the head. The philtrum was the last bit of the “seam” where the two halves of our face are fused together. All of which kind of grossed me out. I twitched my princess nose and my philtrum in distaste, and we both collapsed with laughter, while he poured me more wine.
      I was five-foot-six and slender, except when I bore my children. They had both gone out of their way to double my size, but I soon bounced back to my boyish figure for which I was grateful. I kept my reddish hair short and feathered, coloured in recent years. I never worried about my freckles or the fact that my one eyebrow arched way higher than the other. The ordinary shape of my mouth was counterbalanced by the striking colour of my eyes. I had gotten lucky there. Hazel eyes could be boring, but mine had a starburst of red-brown around the pupils, in the shape of a sunflower, all of which was framed by thick, long eyelashes.
      I was a white-capri kinda gal in spring, and in summer, I wore a uniform of white jeans and soft cashmere sweaters. I also favoured colourful blouses with jewellery accents to match. I took care with my appearance, but I was never vain. I didn’t have anything to be vain about. I wasn’t sexy or curvaceous or sultry. Was that why Lyndon had left me? Did he have a sudden urge for a big-breasted sultry diva?
      Meanwhile, Lyndon had always reminded me of Ted Bundy. He had that same patrician look and similar features. I thought that the first night I met him and later, when we hooked up, I joked about it. He told me that I wasn’t the first person to make the observation, and he seemed hurt and dejected by the comment, so I dropped the subject and never mentioned it again. But now, I couldn’t help but be reminded that Ted Bundy escaped from prison by jumping out of the law library, and now Lyndon had run off a ferry into the Australian night.
      These crazy thoughts and others swirled through my head throughout the night as I sat there watching the blackness become day.
      I forced myself to get up and turn on the television. I needed to watch the morning news. I didn’t expect to find anything about Lyndon, and I was hoping not to. Please, don’t let there be any stories about tourists knifed in Kings Cross or somewhere unsavoury. But Lyndon wouldn’t walk around unsafe neighbourhoods, would he? But he was a tourist, and he wouldn’t know the safe from the unsafe. I clicked on the news and watched a traffic report and a weather report, which said it was going to be another glorious day in Sydney. It was the end of April, and hotter than usual. The day would reach a perfect 27 degrees without a cloud in the sky. Lovely, really but who the hell cared?
      I pulled the chair closer to the television and watched the international news roll out, followed by local news. Nothing of note. But then, an announcement. Breaking news: A man had stolen a Jeep from outside a coffee shop in Kirribilli, and what was more, the Jeep had an expensive cat in the back and the distraught owner was about to be interviewed.
      Lyndon got off at Kirribilli. It was him, I knew it was. I leaned forward and turned up the sound.
      A thirty-something blonde was sobbing into the camera. She had left her car for a moment to go and get a flat white, and the next thing she knew, her car was gone!
      What kind of idiot leaves a car running? I asked myself and the interviewer must have thought the same thing because she asked the question of the woman.
      “But why did you leave it running?”
      “For MooshooBear,” the woman wailed. “I was going to drop her off at daycare. I always stop there. Right there. And I go and get my coffee. She hates it when the car is hot. She likes the AC, so I always leave it on when she’s in the car. There’s never been a problem till now.”
      “Who is MooshooBear?”
      “My cat, of course,” the woman wailed. “My Maine Coon. She’s only four. She worth thousands of dollars but I don’t care about that. She’s my baby and someone stole her. I don’t care about my car, just give me back my cat.”
      The blonde turned to the camera and looked imploringly at me. “Please,” she said, her makeup as much of a mess as mine had been the night before, “please, just give me my cuddle-wuddle back. Keep the car, I don’t care. But please, give me my baby. Wait, here’s a picture of her.”
      She flipped through pictures on her phone and pointed it at the camera. I agreed; the cat was magnificent.
      “Please,” the blonde wept. “Please, just give her back to me.”
      The reporter made a signal and someone led the woman away. “If anyone has any information about the Jeep, registration number A, C, 75, W, G, with a cat box in the back, please call the number on your screen. All community help is welcome. Let’s help this woman get her cat back!”
      The news returned to bombings in Baghdad, so I muted it. I sat there in the wingback chair, all clean and moisturized, in my pyjamas, with my world in ruins. Lyndon had stolen that car. And Lyndon had stolen that cat. I just knew it.


I FINALLY GOT MYSELF under control and stopped crying. I examined the cat, prodding her this way and that, and she didn’t seem to mind. She was a she and she was huge. She weighted at least fifteen pounds. She let me pet her and roll her over, and her fur was soft and silky. She had a ruff around her neck, like a lion’s mane. She appeared to be in good health, and I wondered why she was in the cat box. Was she on her way to the vet? She didn’t have any obvious injuries and she seemed happy on my lap. She made little trilling noises, and my eyes welled up again, but I choked down the tears. For God’s sake, what was wrong with me? Well, in answer to that question: I had abandoned my wife, stolen a car, and was now sitting crying over a cat. I guess you could categorically say that there was a lot wrong with me.
      I stroked the cat’s hair, admiring all her colours. She was a tabby with red and gold in her fur, and she was utterly magnificent.
      “Wow,” I told her. “Wow. Are you okay, baby? Are you sick?” Two minutes into our meeting and I was talking to her like she’s a newborn, in a way I never spoke to my own kids, not even when they were tiny. I crooned and chatted to her, and I wondered what my son and daughter would say if they could hearme now.
      “Do you actually ever feel anything at all?” my son, Adam, had asked me in one of our last conversations. I had tried to answer him, I did, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. There were no words. He had looked at me for a while, waiting, and then he got up and left.
      Maybe he had been looking for more of a response to the news that he was gay, but it hadn’t really been news to me. I wasn’t shocked or surprised, and the worst truth I guess, was that I didn’t really care one way or the other.
      He had chosen our Around-The-World-For-However-Long-We-Want party to make the announcement. The party—and the trip—had been Margaux’s idea, not mine and perhaps it was Adam’s fault for choosing that time to tell me. But no, it wasn’t that. I would have reacted in the same way, which was, no reaction at all. And it wasn’t his fault, that was just me. Besides, at thirty-five, he didn’t, or shouldn’t, need approval from anyone, certainly not his parents.
      I considered myself to be a nice guy, but then, if you have to tell yourself that, you’re probably trying to appease the knot of guilt in your gut. Except that there was no knot and there was no guilt. If I were a nice guy, there would be a knot, wouldn’t there? Why didn’t I feel guilt? Why didn’t I feel anything?
      I had never been one for introspection. I simply never thought about things much. That was my way—just don’t think about it. I had often said to Margaux, “Don’t think about it, honey,” and she had often snapped back that she couldn’t help but think about things. Whereas me, I couldn’t think about things if I tried. Obviously, I thought about a lot of things, but they were practical things, like taking out the right garbage on the right day, and putting all the correct things into the recycling and not chucking things in willy-nilly. I was meticulous about that. I thought about recycling a lot and how we were filling the world with garbage, how the level of junk was rising daily, all that packaging and glossy cardboard that couldn’t be recycled. I thought about carbon emissions and gas pipelines, about oil and pollution and global warming. So it wasn’t like I didn’t think about things at all, I just didn’t think about emotions or the meaning of life, or why we were here, or where we were going, or where we had come from, or why one’s children never seemed to stop needing to be looked after even when they were supposed to be adults.
      I was savvy with repartee, and in fact, I was considered to be quite the wit. You could always rely on Lyndon at a party, I’d heard countless people say. I had a dry wit, a cutting wit, and I loved to see people laughing and at a loss with their response. Sometimes people looked a bit alarmed, as if they were worried I would turn my rapier wit on them, but I was never cruel. There was, however, a certain satisfaction that came from being the most clever person in the room, and I had worked hard to achieve and maintain that status. I read the newspapers at breakfast, preparing my commentary for the day, should anyone ask for my opinion, which they invariably did. I had been, until recently, the editor of a business magazine, a post I had held for a very long and yet a very short, thirty-three years of my life.
      I was twenty-seven when they made me the editor-in-chief, the youngest hotshot ever. I was already married to Margaux and we had our Adam; he was two years old and our daughter, Helen was on the way. My whole cookie-cutter life had been laid out in front of me, and all I had to do was show up at meetings, say clever, funny things, strategically guide the magazine through its various advertising crises and technological developments, and generally keep the ship afloat.
      All of which I did extremely well, primarily by not thinking too much at all. Yes, the physical state of the world distressed me, and I did what I could to save the planet by separating our garbage and taking my own mug to the coffee shop, thereby playing my part in fending off the impending disaster of the death of our planet. I did as much as I could, anyway.
      I sat there stroking the cat, and I didn’t want to think about my life, but the cat was wonderful on my lap, a heavy, warm comfort, and I didn’t want to disturb her—or me. So, I carried on doing that uncharacteristic thing, thinking. Thinking about the unthinking life I had led.
      My life had been a blessed one by all accounts. I was born of suburban parents who were acknowledged to be nice people—good people—although my father had been quick with his fists whenever I behaved in a manner, or offered an opinion, that he did not like. He never punched me—that would have been far too crass—but many times he smacked me across the back of the head in a pseudo joking way, a way that brought fireworks of light spinning across my vision and the sting of tears to my eyes. I often wondered if I had suffered from a constant concussion when I was growing up because I didn’t feel right a lot of the time. I suffered from headaches, wooziness, and a flulike malaise that my father called my “‘Linnie’s vapours.” “Poor little fragile flower,” he would say, “suffering from the vapours like a Victorian heroine.” But I never questioned him or his methods of parenting. I had been brought up to believe that my father was a good man, that he merely wanted what was best for me, and I tried to trust that was true. I did try to tell him, as I grew older, that being hit on the back on the head wasn’t conducive to facilitating me seeing his point sooner rather than later, that all he had to do was simply say what he wanted to say, and that he could keep his hands to himself. He hadn’t appreciated my insight and issued a couple of blows with increased force as if to punctuate for emphasis.
      I left home for university and never went back. I phoned my mother regularly, and she and I kept in touch, but she never asked me if she could come and visit, and I never offered.
      I did not invite my parents to the wedding.
      “Dad will hit me,” I told my mother, and she was immediately silent. I was trespassing on forbidden ground, discussing that which should never be mentioned. When Margaux had told me she was pregnant, I spoke to her about my father. It was the only time we ever discussed him, and she was supportive of a clean amputation of the relationship. Certainly, she did not want him around our children.
      My mother died of cancer when I was in my mid-thirties. Adam was ten and Helen, eight. They had never met her. We told the children that they died in a car accident, years before they had been born. I attended the funeral alone. I walked up to my father and stared at him in a way that warned him not to touch me, but he was too grief-stricken to even notice I was there.
      I skipped the reception and didn’t hear from my father until days before my sixtieth birthday when, out of the blue, I got a text message from him. Decades of silence and then a text message for God’s sake? “Got Alzheimer’s. Wanted to say goodbye while I still could. Hope you made something of your little life. Don’t reply, there’s no point.” I hadn’t shown Margaux.
      A less-than-happy, rather shrill meow interrupted my musing and I realized I had been kneading the cat as if she was a stress ball, and she looked up at me with an annoyed expression.
      I picked her up, nose to nose. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “You’re quite right. Please accept my apologies. So, what shall I call you? You need a regal name. A queenly name. Queenie. Yes, that’s you.” I poured some water into the dog’s bowl and she lapped up a tiny amount with an adorable tongue, leaving a drop of water on her chin.
      “I’ll get you some food soon,” I said. “I wonder if you need to go to the toilet?” I looked at my watch. A good half an hour had passed, with me just sitting there, talking to myself and Queenie. I needed to get moving, I would be noticed soon, a guy sitting in the back seat of a Jeep, talking to himself. I looked around. Yes, the parking lot was filling up. I couldn’t dally. I put Queenie back into her box. “Just for now,” I told her. “We’ll stop in the next town and get you some food. Okay?”
      I got into the driver’s seat, turned on the air con and the seat warmer, and we hit the road, heading for Melbourne.
      The trouble with thinking was that once you started, you couldn’t stop. I was hit by a flash flood of memories and the car was filled with ghosts of old, and they were all talking at the same time. Blowing open this hive of wasps wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I abandoned Margaux. In fact, I had been seeking the opposite. My past had been chasing me and I turned and fled unknowingly right into its waiting arms.
      I flicked on the radio station, but there wasn’t anything I felt like listening to, so I returned to the annoying barrage of memories and unwelcome thoughts.
      I had wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I had worked with ink and watercolour but I was also proficient in graphic illustration and I was convinced I would be able to earn a living in an agency, making the time to work on my personal projects at night. But my father had told me in no uncertain terms that my idea was rubbish. However, he said, there was a future in journalism and if I was intent on picking one of the airy-fairy ways to make a living, then at least I’d be assured of a job as a writer.
      “Newspapers will always be around,” he’d said. “You don’t really want to be a starving artist, trust me.”
      It wasn’t that was I was so under his sway that I couldn’t fight back, but I heard the logic his argument offered and I had no counter-defense.
      I ditched my little sketches and studied the ins and outs of editing and writing, and it all came so easily to me. As did Margaux. I met her when I was twenty-four, we got married when I was twenty-five and she was twenty-three, and we immediately started a family. Back in those days, it wasn’t as unusual as it is now, to marry that young and have kids. I had a family. I wanted the warmth and comfort that I had never been afforded and, with Margaux, I set about making that happen as quickly as I could. We had our two kids, we saw the seasons come and go, we put up and took down the appropriate decorations, and I mowed the lawn and shovelled the snow, and I never thought about anything in any greater context than that.
      But now, here I was, driving a stolen Jeep, a top-of-the-range stolen Jeep and what was more, there was a cat in the back, a cat that was worth a bunch of money, and I had stolen her and I wasn’t sorry, not one little bit.
      How had it come to this? I’d like to say it was Margaux’s fault, but that was not strictly fair. Things had started to unravel in earnest when I turned sixty and I lost my job, the latter preceding the former, by mere days. You would think they would have had more tact than to fire me a week before such a terrible birthday, but corporations didn’t really give a hoot about tact or life-changing birthdays, did they? I wasn’t overly surprised, but I was horrified nonetheless. It was like one of those things that you see coming, and you think you are prepared, but you aren’t, because you simply can’t be.
      Like losing your hair. Mine suddenly thinned out—wasn’t it supposed to happen sooner or with more fanfare? Mine had waited until I was complacent, certain that I wasn’t going to go bald in my later years. But days after my fiftieth birthday, the great recession started. The epicentre was the invisible bull’s eye target at the top of my head, which I only knew it was there because of a picture Adam had taken—the first of many pictures in which I simply didn’t recognize that man who had once been me. Who was that ordinary-looking middle-aged white guy? He looked so average, so generic, so old. Oh my God, that man was me, and he had a balding crop circle on the back of his head that spread outwards daily like the ripples of a pond. And where had the bags under my eyes come from? I had always pitied people with bags under their eyes. Get more sleep, look more chipper, do something about it, I silently urged them. And my chin…. My jawline had softened into a second tier; meanwhile sharp lines cut a parenthesis on either side of my mouth. And I had been a handsome man. Something I hadn’t realized I’d needed to be grateful for. I inwardly panicked when I realized that what I had always thought would be there was going, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it.
      I had told myself I should start working out. I could get a membership at the gym at work. Andy, my associate editor, kept telling me how all the higher-ups went to the gym, that it was a great place for networking. I wanted to tell him that I was way past the need to network, but when he was given my job and I was shown the door, I was glad I’d held my tongue.
      Wait until you’re sixty, I had wanted to snarl at him, but I consoled myself with the thought that by the time he was sixty, magazines would be long-dead and he’d most likely end up working in a McDonald’s or a big-box hardware store. I did wonder if networking at the gym would have saved me, but in all likelihood, not.
I had listened to the woman from human resources explain the unfortunate situation, as she put it, and had nodded agreeably. These were tough times.
      “It must be pretty awful, having your job,” I told her. She was new. The human resources people I had known had been axed several weeks earlier, and I should have taken that as a sign that my days were numbered. But, with the passage of time, one became arrogant and numb to the idea that all things end for you. I took my severance package—it was a good one—and shook the woman’s hand.
      I went home to our paid-off, empty nest of a detached Victorian-styled house, and I waited for Margaux to come home from wherever she was, so I could break the news to her. She responded by telling me that we should have a party. A huge, Around-The-World-For-However-Long-We-Want party. It was clear that Margaux, unlike me, had been expecting and preparing for this moment for quite some time.
      She had it all mapped out. We had options, we had money, and we were young and healthy. Nothing was tying us down. It was time to live and explore and have fun.
      I agreed to everything she said. I couldn’t think of a rebuttal, not even to myself, so I went along with all of it.
      Adam and Helen thought it was great. We were so bold! Such adventurers! Our friends had also joined the clamour, wistfully saying they wished they too could do such a thing. But they hadn’t invested as well as we had; too, they had debt and obligations and responsibilities.
      “How long will you be gone for?” was the foremost question and Margaux’s answer was always the same. We had no idea; we were travelling lightly and freely, and we would play it by ear.
      Margaux threw an enormous going-away bash at Casa Loma, with Adam and Helen’s help. Adam had it catered by some famous chef, and he footed the fill. He was such a foodie, my son, I never really understood it. Food was function for the body: eat, nourish, maintain. That was all. But not so for Adam. Even when the kids were young, we’d go on holiday and all he’d see was the food: breakfast, lunch and supper. I was happy with a can of pop and a sandwich or something pedestrian that would do the job, but Adam was into fine dining, from the time he was a toddler. As he grew older, wine began to factor into the occasion. He was a wine master or something; I never really paid much attention. On the odd occasion, when he would insist on taking us out, Adam would list, with unwavering attention to the very last detail, all the things he loved or hated about each dish and the accompanying libation. I tried to pretend to be interested, but I just didn’t care. It was hard to pretend otherwise.
      When it came to the world’s biggest bon voyage party, Margaux and Adam and Helen had invited the whole world. I was astounded by all the people who were there. They had been told not to bring presents, since we didn’t have a house to put them in anymore; so they were just to bring themselves and their good wishes. I wandered around like a castrated rooster in a crowded barnyard, trying to escape the hordes who wanted to tell me how much they loved this bold, free idea, and how they wished they were me. Perhaps I would write a book, many of them commented. Didn’t most editors secretly want to be authors? No, I said, that may be the assumption, but it wasn’t true. Not for me, anyway. But I could see them, playing out their own dreams in their heads. They wanted to be authors. None of it was about me. People’s conversations were always only about themselves, even when they pretended to be talking about you or world politics or religion or love.
      I got mildly drunk, and then Adam found me and took me aside and told me he had fallen in love with a man, and that it was the first time in his life that he’d really been in love, and he hoped he wasn’t shocking me or disappointing me, but he wanted to tell me. He needed, he said, to finally come out. Those were his words. He added that he was happier than he had ever been in his life. Happy and free.
      “Okay,” I said. “Sure, that’s fine.”
      Such a response sounded feeble, even to me, but I hadn’t known what else to say. I had been too tired to think of what it was I was supposed to say in this situation. In the past, I had always known what I was supposed to say, but that certain knowledge had vanished. Perhaps it was in the ether, along with my lost hair and firm jawline. My son had realized he was gay, and I had realized I was exhausted.
      I had no idea how I was going to survive this marvellous around-the-world adventure. I hadn’t even known how depleted I was until I looked at Adam’s face, at his earnest, still-handsome face, and I dug inside myself to try to say something, anything, but really, I didn’t care one way or the other if he was gay or not.
      A part of me knew that this was a great opportunity for Adam and me to bond and hug each other and maybe even cry a bit. But I just stood there, thinking about how my feet were hurting from all the standing and how was I going to manage exploring the whole world when my feet hurt like this?
      “Do you want to meet Rick?” Adam asked and I nodded, thinking he meant in the future, in some distant future, but he told me to stay where I was and that he’d be right back.
      But I couldn’t stay where I was. I escaped into a small alcove, thankfully furnished with a chair. I sat down and untied the laces of my shoes and leaned back and closed my eyes. I only meant to stay there for a moment or two, but I must have fallen asleep—that’s my excuse anyway—because when Helen finally found me, the party was over and my family was clearly unhappy with the manner in which I had conducted myself.
      “Sorry,” I said to Adam, and I patted his shoulder. “Next time. I’ll meet him next time.” What next time? What did that even mean?
      “Sure, Dad,” he said, but he didn’t look at me.
      “Thank you for the wine and food, Adam,” I said, clumsily trying to make amends. “And to you, Helen and Margaux, thank you all, it was a great send-off.”
      “Well, we had fun,” Helen said pointedly, and we drove home in silence—home being a pullout sofa bed in Helen’s condo, with our suitcases on guard, ready for the flight the next day.
      I had lain on the sofa bed, listening to Margaux sleeping. So what if Adam was gay? It was hardly news these days. Come out, stay in, do whatever you wanted to do; honestly, the whole thing was tedious. Would I have preferred it if Adam weren’t gay? Yes, simply because I couldn’t be bothered to listen to the saga of self-discovery that saw him summit his Everest. I had steered him through adolescence and into adulthood. I had made sure he got an education and found gainful employment. I had done what I was supposed to do, so I could check successful parenting off the list. Wasn’t that the unspoken agreement? That Adam could, should, and would handle things from there? I’d had a tough and nasty old son of a gun for a father, but I had dealt with it, moved on, and taken charge of my life.
      I turned over on the sofa bed and studied Margaux’s face in the never-quite-dark city glow. She was so lovely. Aged yes, but lovely. Where were the bags under her eyes? Her face had a slightly creased look to it, like a paper bag gripped too tightly then released, but her beauty was still evident. At least I thought so.
      I turned and rolled onto my other side. I called up a picture of my son’s face and he gazed at me, his expression unchanged. He was earnest, anxious, eager for my approval, and pathetic with need. If there was anything I disliked in this world, it was a whiny adult with Daddy issues. How had he not dealt with that yet? And why was it my problem? And if he hadn’t dealt with it, then at least he should man up and shut up because the world was not interested in his diaper dilemmas.
      My anger had startled me, and I wanted to turn on the light and make a cup of tea and change the direction of my focus. But I hadn’t wanted to wake Margaux, not right before the start of our big adventure. So, I stayed awake all night, shadowboxing with furious arguments that led to nowhere.


“YOUR FATHER HAS STOLEN a car with a cat in it,” I told my children. I had gathered them on Skype. It was nine a.m. my time, seven p.m. the previous day their time.
      “What?” They were incredulous.
      “It’s true. He ran off a ferry and left me. He turned off his phone. I haven’t heard from him all night. We went and had dinner at Anita’s and you know how much he hates her. He was furious with me for that. But he’s been behaving weirdly the whole time we’ve been gone.”
      “Slow down, Mom,” Adam said. “You aren’t making any sense. I thought you guys were having a great time.”
      “I just told you that so you wouldn’t worry. Your father has been behaving very strangely, even for him. He wouldn’t do anything with me in Vancouver. He said he needed to walk and think, and so I went and shopped and did my own sightseeing, and then he asked me why I was buying things since we didn’t have a house anymore, and I told him I was sending the stuff to you, Helen, because one day we would have a new home. And then he got drunk, and the next morning he said we had to leave Vancouver because it was making him feel trapped. So, we went to Hong Kong and that was even worse. He wouldn’t leave the tiny room that was about the size of our pantry at home. He said he had flu, but I think he was depressed. I couldn’t get him out of bed.”
      “But you loved Hong Kong,” Helen said.
      I nodded. “I did. But your father didn’t even see it. I brought him back all kinds of food, but he would only eat bread and chocolate, and drink Coke. Then he watched TV he couldn’t understand for hours on end. ”
      “Why didn’t you tell us?” Adam asked again.
      “Because of course I was hoping that things would get better. So I said let’s move on to Sydney and things did improve for a few days. We had a lovely, long walk along the coastline from Coogee to Bondi, which was amazing. I thought your father seemed happy. But then we had dinner with Anita, and it all went wrong from there.”
      “Anita. She’s like a Mac truck hitting you in a dark tunnel a hundred miles an hour,” Adam commented.
      Anita had come to stay with us a few years back when her marriage was in trouble, and she’d brought a whirlwind of anger and discontent with her. The vortex of her fury had been so intense that Adam and Helen had refused to visit us during her stay, and Lyndon started leaving for work at seven a.m. and coming home at midnight, just to avoid her. After she left, the family made me promise to never let her stay with us again. Her visit hadn’t been easy on me either, and I happily agreed that there would be no return stays, but I hadn’t thought that one dinner could have such disastrous consequences.
      “I thought why not? It was a single dinner, one evening,” I told the children. “I thought maybe Anita might snap him out of his funk. But it worked the opposite way, which makes all of this my fault. Everything is my fault.”
      “No, Mom, it’s not,” Helen said. “Dad was ready to snap. We were just trying to help, coming up with this idea. What else could we have done? We couldn’t let him rot in his study. We had to do something. The trip made sense.”
      “Wait, back up,” Adam said. “You said he ran off a ferry at some random stop and left you?”
      “Yes. Exactly. And then he turned off his phone. I’ve no idea where he is.”
      “But why do you think he stole a cat and a car?”
      “Because that was where he got off. In Kirribilli. How coincidental is that? He goes missing and next thing someone takes off with a car that has a cat in it?”
      “He probably had no idea the cat was there,” Adam said. “If it even was him. I mean, who knows? Maybe it wasn’t him? You’re making a big assumption here. Did he hot-wire the car? I can’t see Dad knowing how to hot-wire a car.”
      “I think Dad has many skills we don’t know about,” Helen commented.
      “The car was running when he took it,” I explained impatiently. “The cat was on its way to daycare and it likes the air conditioning on full. The woman stopped to get a coffee. She was hysterical.”
      “Hysterically ridiculous, if you ask me, to bow to a cat’s demands like that,” Helen said. “Well, good luck to Dad if he stole such a high maintenance pet. It will be hilarious when he realizes what he’s done.”
      “MooshooBear,” I sighed. “That’s the cat’s name. It’s a very beautiful cat. Worth thousands, the woman said.”
      “Does she have a chip in the cat?” Helen asked. “A cat like that, you’d think she would have a chip in it. Or the car, can’t it be tracked?”
      “Obviously not, or she would have said,” I replied, tired of the conversation. “They put the number of the license plate on the news.”
      “Did you fill out a missing persons’ report?” Adam asked.
      “I can’t because he’s not missing. He got off the boat. You can see it on the video. I watched it about a hundred times. And he wasn’t deranged or in any distress. He was fine, absolutely fine. He looked normal.”
      “Did you tell the police you think he took the car and the cat?” Adam asked.
      “Of course not. I don’t want to incriminate him. And anyway, there’s no proof except that it makes sense to me. Oh God, what if he gets arrested for stealing a car with a cat in it?”
      “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Adam said, in an effort to calm me down. “We don’t even know for sure that he took the car and the cat.”
      “What are you going to do?” Helen, always practical, asked.
      “I have no idea. Wait, I suppose. Wait for him to contact me.”
      “Do you like Sydney at least?” Helen asked.
      “I suppose I do but I can’t very well go sightseeing. I can hardly concentrate.”
      There was silence for a while.
      “Yes,” Adam agreed. “It’s not easy to know what to do. He makes me so angry. Once again, here we are, talking about Dad and how to make our lives work around him. I am so tired of his passive-aggressive drama.”
      “He lost his job after thirty-three years,” Helen argued. “It meant everything to him. It was his whole identity.”
      “He was going to write a memoir. He knew he would have to retire soon,” Adam argued back. “What did he think? That he could stay there forever, captain of his empire, until the end of time? The writing had been on the wall for years, he was lucky to have stayed for as long as he did, and he knew it. I kept telling him, Dad, you need a Plan B but no, he just thought he would carry on forever, the life and soul of the dinner party, the guy everybody wanted to be.”
      “Kids,” I said, “please, let’s not argue now.” And I must have sounded tired and sad because they didn’t admonish me for calling them “kids” like they usually do.
      “Sorry, Mom,” they both chorused.
      Then Helen said, “I just worry.”
      And, at the same time, Adam said, “he makes me so mad.”
      And then we sat for a while with none of us saying anything.
      “I wish you weren’t so far away.” Helen was close to tears.
      “Don’t worry honey,” I told her. “I’m okay. You guys go and get on with your night. I’ll let you know if I hear anything.”
      “But what are you going to do?” Helen asked.
      “I’m going to keep my phone on me and wait to hear from him.” I was suddenly confident. “Your father will contact me soon. I’m going to go on that walk again, along the coast. It was lovely. And I’m sure he will be in touch. Okay? Let’s not worry.”
      They agreed to let me go, but I could sense they didn’t share my assurances that Lyndon would be in touch soon, or that the famous world trip would get back on the rails and continue on its way.
      We said our goodbyes and as soon as I closed the laptop, all my doubts returned. My brief rush of cheer had been based solely on the fact that husbands don’t just abandon their wives in the middle of a trip, in the middle of nowhere, although Sydney wasn’t exactly the middle of nowhere. But it was the middle of nowhere for me, and Lyndon knew that.
      I didn’t go for a walk. I didn’t go anywhere. I sat in the room in my pyjamas and waited for my phone to buzz or chirp or ring but it did none of those things. Soon it was nightfall and I was still alone, watching the Sydney Harbour blaze into beauty, while normal people went about their normal lives.


QUEENIE NEEDED SOME FOOD. I had been driving for four hours, depleting the dollar store stash of junk food. It was mid-afternoon when I decided to pull into Batemans Bay and get a motel for the night. But the cheapest motel was well over a hundred and fifty Canadian dollars, so I told Queenie we couldn’t do it. I felt bad for her. She must have needed to pee by now so I drove until I found a small park. I put the tiny dog’s leash on her, which fit perfectly, and turned my head away to give her some privacy.
      It was peaceful, and I would have liked to stay longer, but I needed to buy Queenie her dinner. We got back into the car and I drove until I found another ubiquitous big-box strip mall with a Petbarn where I bought her a variety of Purina Fancy Feast cans with handy pull-tabs. I got a Double Big Mac and fries, and together, Queenie and I munched on our respective feasts. She even helped me finish off the burger. She loved melted cheese and lettuce on a bun. I was sleepy and wished I could take a nap. I had spent the previous night on a park bench and I’d hardly managed any shut-eye at all. My back certainly hadn’t appreciated roughing it.
      I returned to McDonald’s for an extra-large black coffee. I hoped the caffeine would kick in and help me continue with my journey because I was compelled to keep driving. I would have welcomed a night in a motel but, since I had to watch the cash, I had no choice but to carry on and reach my destination. Which was where? Melbourne? It was a vague idea at best, and I had no plan as to what I would do when I got there. I was sure that my time was running out with the car. Sooner, rather than later, we’d be spotted.
      “The only way out is through,” I remarked over my shoulder to Queenie who was back in her box. “I can’t remember where I heard that but it’s true.”
      She didn’t answer me.
      I drove for another four hours until we got to Bairnsdale. By that time, I was blinded with exhaustion. The radio was on, with Justin Bieber and Drake, Canada’s homeboys, screaming at me. The seat warmer was off and the air con was blasting full force, helping me stay awake. I stopped to fill up on gas and visit the washroom but other than that, we powered through.
      Sleeping in the car overnight was not an option. We’d arrived in Australia less than a week prior, but it was long enough for me to realize that these descendants of prison wardens—and prisoners—took the rules seriously, and one did not want to get caught breaking them. This was a bit rich coming from a car thief and catnapper, but, dollars to doughnuts, they’d catch me for unlawfully spending a night in a car before my more serious transgressions.
      It was only eight p.m., but it felt like midnight to me. I’d changed my tune and was willing to pay anything for a room. I needed to crash.
      I drove around Bairnsdale for a bit and found a motel on the edge of town. It was eighty dollars and I didn’t tell the guy I had a cat. I paid cash and prayed he wouldn’t ask me for my license or registration number and he didn’t. He didn’t seem to focus on much of anything and he handed me a proper, old-fashioned, real key, and I hustled out of the office as quickly as I could.
      I parked the car in the shadows of a laneway that ran alongside the motel, and I scurried Queenie into the room. The neighbourhood looked pretty dubious, and I hoped the Jeep would make it through the night. The Jeep was the only thing I had, apart from Queenie and while I knew that neither of them were mine, they had quickly become my world.
      I locked the motel door and sat down on the bed which sagged like a half-filled air mattress. The bed tried to swallow me, like a tongue taking a pill. There was a foul smell to the place, as if the unwashed bed linen and sweat-soaked towels and pillows had absorbed too much lost, greasy hair. I reflected upon the place’s shortcomings, and then I acknowledged, with some horror, that the fog of body odour was coming from me. I sniffed my armpits. Yep. It was bad. This was the second night that I would have to sleep in these clothes. I knew I would have to do something about this predicament, but not right now.
      I fed Queenie and gave her some water and then I found it hard to make myself do anything. I lay on the bed and turned on the TV. To my surprise, there was nothing on the news about Queenie or me or the stolen Jeep.
      “I guess I am overestimating both of our importance,” I said to Queenie. She had jumped up onto the bed with me and was trilling like a little budgie. I stroked her head. “What will become of us?” I asked her and she butted my hand with her tiny pug nose and my heart broke.
      I fell into a doze, woken by the nightmare that someone was shining a flashlight directly into my eyes. I struggled to sit up on that marshmallow swamp of a bed. I couldn’t get upright, so I rolled and landed on the floor with a thud. The carpet was crunchy under my cheek and when I sat up, my face was crusty. The light wasn’t a dream. It was shining through the window, swinging back and forth.
      “Oy!” I shouted. “What are you doing?” The light swung in the direction of my voice and then disappeared.
      I jumped up, making sure that Queenie was nowhere near the door, and I went outside. I held the door closed behind me, so it didn’t lock, and I stared this way and that, but the flashlight and whoever was holding it was nowhere to be seen. Great. I went back and got the car keys and I moved the Jeep so I could see it from my window.
      Goodnight to any further semblance of sleep. I pulled up a chair and kept a vigilant eye on the car that I had stolen, fully aware of the irony. I told myself to get as much rest as I could in the chair since there was no point in leaving while it was still dark. It was hard enough to find my way around during the day.
      In the morning, I finally took a shower, telling the devil I’d sell my soul for a pair of flip-flops to protect my feet from the poor-man’s-motel foot fungus. I could practically see it growing like grey moss on the tiles. The devil ignored me, and I scrubbed my body with a small cake of soap that smelled faintly like dish detergent and which refused to lather. Then I sandpapered my body with a towel that had never brushed shoulders with fabric softener in its life. But I was cleaner than before, and that was a step in the right direction. I fed Queenie and waited while she ate. I had laid down some newspaper in the night, which she had obligingly used for her toilet.
      “Such a good girl,” I crooned, scratching her behind her ears. “You’re Daddy’s good, good girl. Who’s Daddy’s favourite little princess?”
Where had the real me gone? Where was Lyndon Blaine? Good girl, good cat, bad me. When had I, Lyndon, ever talked like that? Lyndon. And who called their kid Lyndon? What was wrong with a simple name like Henry or David? But no, I was Lyndon and here I was with Queenie, both of us running away from home. Not that Queenie had any choice in the matter.
      I loaded her into the Jeep and we continued our journey southwest to Melbourne. I gradually weaned Queenie off the air conditioner, decreasing it in slow doses, and soon, all the windows were open and there was nary a howl from her. I told myself that this was a sign that she was happy to be with me.
      We hit Melbourne after lunch, but I wasn’t ready to stop. I felt compelled to carry on driving. My gut would tell me when to stop. “Who knows?” I said to Queenie. “Maybe we’ll drive all the way to Perth or around the perimeter of Australia!” I wondered how long that would take. But I didn’t have enough money, so I pushed that thought out of my mind along with my thoughts of Margaux or Helen or Adam.
      We turned into the town of Apollo Bay, population 1,598. I pulled up at a small park on the edge of Cape Otway. I gleaned this information from a plaque that said that the Henty brothers had founded the whaling station in the area around 1840, and that the bay had gotten its moniker from a Captain Loutit, who grounded his boat there, the Apollo, during a terrible storm in 1845. Much like me. Seeking shelter from the storm of my life. I attached the lead to Queenie and let her do her business. Then I picked her up and sat at a table, looking out at the sunset. The clouds were on fire.
      “Tasmania’s over there,” a voice said. Startled, I jumped and clutched Queenie to me.
      I hadn’t noticed the man sitting under the tree, next to the picnic table.
      “You can’t see it,” the man said, folding his arms behind his head and leaning back in his chair. It was a vintage lawn chair, with blue-and-white criss-crossed interlocking plastic strips on the seat and back. The rickety aluminum frame creaked, and I wondered how the thing didn’t collapse under his weight. He was a big fellow, I could tell that, even with him sitting down.
      I nodded but didn’t say anything. I didn’t want my Canadian accent to sound any alarm bells. The man was British, with a thick cockney accent. He was about my age but in much better shape than me. He had the quiet energy of a bare-knuckle cage fighter and he was adorned with tattoos.
      I drew Queenie closer to me for comfort. Even the man’s scalp was a cap of tattoos. I sat up straighter, trying to ignore the flabby belly spilling over my belt. I was easy prey for this guy. I knew the best course of action was to leave, so I was about to stand up when his words sat me right back down.
      “That’s the stolen cat from Sydney,” he said casually. I made a strange noise, an admission of guilt, and immediately wished I could suck the sound back into my throat.
      “And,” the man said, turning around in his chair, “that’s the stolen Jeep. Nice model. Fancy. It’s got all the shiny bits and pieces.”
      He nodded, turned back to the sunset, and rocked in his chair. I was frozen in place, clutching Queenie and I didn’t know what to do.
      “What are you going to do?” the man asked, and I felt like I was talking to Michael Caine in Get Carter. A film that did not end well for anyone.
      “I don’t know,” I managed to sputter. “What are you going to do?”
      The man laughed. “You mean, am I going to report you?”
      “Yes. Exactly. Report me.”
      “Not me, sunshine. But if you like, I can help you.”
      “Help me how?”
      “Help you off-load that expensive and very flashy motor vehicle you’ve got there.”
      “Why would you do that?”
      The man looked surprised. “Because you, sonny, are very clearly in need of help. Your clothes are a bit ripe, to put it mildly. You’re hugging a stolen cat, and you’re in the unenviable position of being far too close to a hot car. The egg timer’s about to blow.”
      “But why help me?”
      “Why not?” the man replied, and he got up and folded his chair neatly. “Don’t be so suspicious. Come on, sunshine, let’s get you sorted. We’ve still got time.”
      “Do we?” I had no idea what he meant.
      “Yeah. Footy’s on in an hour. In an hour, you’ve lost me. But until then, I can help you. Throw us the keys.”
      “Throw us the car keys,” the man repeated slowly as if he was talking to an idiot which, from his perspective, he probably was.
      I looked at him, my expression guarded.
      “Okay,” he said. “Fine. Get into the car. You drive, and I’ll show you where to go.”
      I loaded Queenie gently into her box, taking care not to turn my back on the man, but he wasn’t even looking at me. He was gazing out into the setting sun.
      “Never gets old,” he said, and he gave a sigh of pleasure. “Thirty years of living here and I never get tired of the sunsets.”
      Surely the lover of sunsets can’t be too evil? I reassured myself with the thought.
      My hands were shaking as I drove, and I followed his instructions to a garage on the outskirts of town.
      “Pull around the back,” he said, and I drove the car down a narrow lane to the rear of the garage. A bunch of men were standing around a Harley Davidson, talking and smoking, and my armpits flooded with hot shameful sweat. The Hells Angels. I had unwittingly delivered myself and an innocent cat to the Hells Angels.
      “Relax, sunshine,” the man said. “Everything’s copacetic. I’m Jason, by the way.”
      “Lyndon,” I managed to say, and I parked where he told me to.
      “Wait in the car for me,” he said, and I got in the rear with Queenie, leaving the back door open as if flabby old me could outrun these fit gangsters with an unwieldy cat box in my arms. I realized that I had never previously even vaguely understood the concept of terror. I hoped my heart wouldn’t give out. It could. It was doing a weird thing, as if a rat was having a panic attack in my chest.
      Jason returned with one of the men, and I hung onto Queenie’s box like a life raft. I wondered if my scrotum would ever recover from this ordeal. I faced the facts. This was the end of my life. I had nothing with which to defend myself, nothing. My wit and repartee were of no use to me now. Nothing and no one could save me.
      “Five k.,” the man said to me. I stared at him, speechless.
      “Colin is kindly offering you five thousand dollars cash for your stolen car,” Jason helpfully translated, and I nodded as quickly as I could.
      “O-o-okay.” I stuttered. “I mean, great. Yes, thank you.”
      The man shrugged, and he and Jason strolled off.
      “I don’t know about you,” I whispered to Queenie, “but that just about killed me.”
      Jason and the man returned and, this time, the man handed me a bulging manila envelope. “It’s there,” he said, and I knew better than to insult him by counting.
      “Thanks,” I said, hauling Queenie’s box out of the vehicle.
      “I’ll take the cat too,” Colin said, eyeing her. “My kid wants a pet.”
      I clutched the box to my chest and hoped he couldn’t see how badly my legs were shaking.
      “No, she’s mine,” I said, and a tremor ran through my voice. When Colin smiled, I thought, hockey-player teeth. He took a step closer to me and I wondered if my bladder would hold.
      “We’ve no problem with that, do we, Colin?” Jason said, and he put his hand on my shoulder. “The cat’s yours, sunshine. Colin, can you give us a ride back into town?”
      “Yeah,” Colin replied, grumpy at not having scored Queenie. He gestured to a rusty old panel van, and I climbed wordlessly into the windowless back with Queenie. We sat on the floor among the tires and greasy mechanical junk and listened to them shoot the breeze.
      I didn’t breathe until Colin dropped us off at the park and drove away.
      I sank down onto the bench and gasped. “I can honestly say I’ve never done anything like that in my life. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.”
      “Yeah, man, you do look unsteady. Listen, come on in and have a cuppa with me.”
      I nodded and followed Jason to a row of stores across from the park. He led us into The Anarchist’s Tattoo Parlour and Barber Shop and my balls, which had started to unclench a fraction, shot back up into themselves. At least I still had my cat.


I COULDN’T SLEEP. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t do anything. I scoured my computer for updates of stolen cars and cats, but there was nothing. There was no word from Lyndon. I walked around the Rocks, watching people come and go from the large cruise ship docked in the harbour. I sat on the grass outside the Museum of Contemporary Art while acid sloshed around my belly. I couldn’t sit still for long. The didgeridoo player’s music felt like an assault on my splintered nerves and I had to leave. I paced the streets, wandering into stores, picking things up and putting them down. I could see shop assistants talking to me, but I couldn’t hear a word they were saying.
      How could he do this to me after thirty-five years of marriage and two kids? How could he just up and leave?
      Granted, a part of Lyndon had always been inaccessible to me, but he was a good husband: funny, good looking, and a good provider. We’d met when we were both so young. But I had never regretted our youthful marriage or the decision to have children early on. A family was the only thing in life I had ever wanted. And I knew Lyndon wanted that too.
      I had always known that his job meant a great deal to him and that he was terrified by the chasm of change into which he’d been flung. And I also knew, which the children did not, that aging felt increasingly like a road race run on spavined feet and the words “weight-bearing exercise,” simply meant making the effort to stand up. This was why I had suggested the trip. And yet it hadn’t only been for Lyndon’s sake but for mine as well. Did Lyndon think getting old was easy for me? Wait, Lyndon’s motto was, Don’t think about it, remember? Just don’t think about it. Like that would fix everything. But I was a thinker. I thought about everything and I’d thought that this trip would be good for Lyndon and me. It would shake us out of our little Oakville lives and kick-start us into a new future together.
      All I had wanted was to feel the optimism of having something to look forward to. To know that there were new adventures in the world that would push bone density scans, middle-age hearing loss, and weakening vision to the back of my mind. I had wanted to feel alive, not decrepit. And now Lyndon had thrown me into a terrible limbo where time and place lost all meaning.
      I picked up a paperweight at an outdoor market stall in Paddington. A blue peony lay unfurled in the round, solid clear glass. Somehow the weight of thing in my hand reassured me. It was a ridiculous purchase, this irrelevant heavy glass ball, but I needed it. The weight made me feel grounded. As long as I held onto it, the fragments of my mind wouldn’t scatter into the wind like so many dandelions gone to seed.
      I clutched the ball in both hands and held it against my belly as I walked. A semblance of calm replaced the floaty restless fever of my confused railings at Lyndon and cleared the way for a quiet, white-hot, seething fury.

Want the rest of the story?
Check out the purchasing options below!

The Occult Persuasion
and the Anarchist's Solution

Available NOW!

purchase from purchase from purchase from Barnes & Noble purchase from Kobo UK purchase from iTunes UK find on Goodreads

About the Author

Lisa de Nikolits is the internationally-acclaimed, award-winning author of nine novels: The Hungry Mirror, West of Wawa, A Glittering Chaos, The Witchdoctor’s Bones, Between The Cracks She Fell, The Nearly Girl, No Fury Like That, Rotten Peaches and The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist’s Solution (all Inanna).

No Fury Like That was published in Italian in 2019 by Edizione Le Assassine under the title Una furia dell’altro mondo.  Her short fiction and poetry have also been published in various anthologies and journals across the country.

She is a member of the Mesdames of Mayhem, the Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and the International Thriller Writers.

Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits came to Canada in 2000.  She lives and writes in Toronto.

Follow Lisa de Nikolits:

Visit the author's blog Visit the author's website Visit the author on Facebook Visit the author on Twitter Visit the author on LinkedIn Visit the author on their Amazon page Visit the author on GoodReads Visit the author on Instagram Visit the author on Pinterest Visit the author on BookBub Visit the author on YouTube

Giveaway and Tour Stops

Enter to win one of two $15 Amazon GC – a Rafflecopter giveaway
Remember to comment to win!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow The Occult Persuasion and the Anarchist's Solution's tour at:

1 comment:

Lisa de Nikolits said...

Thank you very much for having me as a guest today!
I really hope your readers will like the sound of the book!
Have a great (and safe!) day!