Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 4.

Chapter 4

Days passed by one after the other, and Ralph was still waking up at 4am. Yarrow and Edie needed a change. A change of plan and a change of scene. They grabbed some towels, grabbed their parents, and wandered down to their favourite swimming spot at the river. It was beautiful. The water was crystal clear and colourful birds flew between tall trees thick with rich green foliage.

As soon as they jumped into the refreshing water they felt better and the ideas started flowing.

“Does Ralph know how to count?” asked Yarrow. “If he can’t count, he can’t tell the time, so maybe we need to teach him.”

“Yes, or we could paint pictures of the sun and hang them up in his enclosure, to remind him to wait for the sun,” said Edie. Yarrow thought that was also a good idea, and immediately came up with some more, like teaching Ralph how to whisper, or teaching him how to hold his breath.

Edie thought the last idea was a bit crazy, but before she could say so, Yarrow’s head disappeared beneath the water and all anyone could see were little ripples on the surface. He stayed underwater for a long time.

After swimming and brainstorming for a little longer, the two tired children climbed up onto the smooth warm rocks to dry off. On the rocks, they were supposed to plan how they would try out all of their brilliant new ideas in the coming days, but something happened. Something not entirely unpleasant, and something not entirely unexpected; they fell asleep.

Mum and Dad had to piggy-back them all the way home.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 3.

Chapter 3

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

What?

Again?

Aaaaarggh, this is so frustrating!

“Your secret language didn’t work,” Edie said to Yarrow at the breakfast table.

“And your clock didn’t work,” Yarrow said to Edie.

“I’m so tired, what are we going to do?”

They started thinking of new ideas, but then they fell asleep. This was a big problem, because they woke up very late. Too late to catch the bus, and too late to get to school on time. That meant Yarrow couldn’t play handball, or do his favourite maths puzzles, or hear Mr Gresford read another story. And it meant Edie couldn’t learn about photosy…phostyso…photisyonpasenthelis…Worse still, she couldn’t apologise to Marcela for destroying her birthday cake.

Plus, Mum and Dad would not be happy when they got home from work.

Uh Oh!

Many hours later, Yarrow and Edie woke up again. They were really hungry, so it must have been after lunch time. They found themselves some food, and made their lunch. It didn’t taste as good as Mum and Dad’s sandwiches.

While they were eating, they did a brainstorm, to think of ways to make Ralph wake up after 4am. They decided they could try to make Ralph tired. Make him as tired as they felt; more tired than they felt. If they could do that, he would definitely go to sleep.

So, they walked into his enclosure and turned on some music. Then they started swaying from side to side. Then they started moving a bit faster. Ralph looked at them and he was shocked. They danced even faster and soon they were jumping and leaping and spinning around all over the enclosure. They turned up the music and danced wildly, and soon Ralph joined in. He didn’t have many dance moves, well, not as many as Edie and Yarrow, but he liked to walk round pushing his neck back and forward. He walked around the enclosure pushing his neck back and forward in time with the music, and Edie and Yarrow thought it was so funny that they copied him. They were having so much fun that they didn’t hear the car pull up.

EDIE, YARROW! Mum yelled. She was home from work and she was not happy.

That night, dinner was brussels sprouts, broccoli, raw carrot, plain rice and no sauce. Then they went straight to bed. Today was not a good day.

Image: Arib Neko

Ralph The Rowdy Rooster. Chapter 1.

Chapter 1

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Edie woke up. She rolled over and looked at the clock:

4am.

“Nooooo, why does Ralph have to wake up so early every day?” she sighed.

Edie rolled over and tried to get back to sleep, but it was impossible. She thought about having some breakfast, but it was too early. She thought about reading a book, but she was too tired. So, she tossed and turned and thought about how to stop Ralph The Rowdy Rooster from waking her up at 4am every morning.

While she was thinking about this, she heard a strange noise. She heard little pieces of plastic smashing together in the next room. Her little brother Yarrow was recreating a battle scene with his toy soldiers. He couldn’t sleep either.

Eventually Edie smelled coffee. Her parents were wide awake and they were making her breakfast. How come Ralph didn’t wake them up? It’s not fair, Edie thought.

She shuffled out of her room like a zombie. Yarrow shuffled out of his room like a zombie.

“Good morning,” said their parents.

“Good mor…” Edie started to say, but her greeting was swallowed by a big, long, heavy yawn.

Munch, munch, munch, she chewed through her cereal, still half asleep.

Munch, munch, munch, Yarrow chewed through his cereal, also half asleep. Edie looked at Yarrow and thought,

Do I look as bad as him?

Yes, she did.

That day at school, Edie couldn’t stay awake. She tried and tried, but she kept falling asleep. When she got home, she kept falling asleep while she was trying to make a birthday card for her friend Marcela. That’s it, she thought, I must find a way to stop Ralph from waking up so early. She walked over to the TV and turned off Yarrow’s cartoons.

“Hey, I was watching that,” he protested.

“Not anymore, we’re going to talk to Ralph.”

Yarrow followed her and did what he was told because he didn’t like waking up at 4am, and because he knew Edie could be very determined. Not bossy, just determined.

Edie and Yarrow entered Ralph’s enclosure. They scattered food scraps on the ground to get his attention.

“Ralph,” said Edie firmly, “you must stop waking up at 4am every day!”

Ralph looked up for a moment, then kept pecking at his food. Yarrow picked up a piece of apple and offered it to the rooster.

“We want to sleep for longer in the morning, can you wake up later please?” he asked.

Ralph finished eating the piece of apple, then looked at them both attentively.

“I fell asleep today when Mr Gresford was reading the book and I don’t know what happened at the end of the story,” Yarrow said sadly.

“And I fell asleep during Science,” said Edie, “so now I don’t understand photosy…phostyso…photisyonpasenthelis…oh, I don’t know what it is.”

Ralph looked at Yarrow, then at Edie.

“Ralph, see those hills over there…” and Ralph’s eyes followed Edie’s finger as she pointed to the hills beside the family’s property.

“…you must not wake up until the sun comes over the top of those trees, ok?”

Ralph kept looking at Edie. She was sure he understood what she was saying.

“Or, you can wake up when you smell the coffee,” said Yarrow, and Ralph pushed his little beak up into the air like he was trying to smell something.

Yarrow and Edie were certain Ralph was listening, and that he understood what they told him. They were quite happy. They walked out of Ralph’s enclosure, closed the gate and walked back into the house with big smiles on their faces.

“We’re going to get a good night’s sleep tonight,” Edie assured Yarrow.

Image: Arib Neko

Mr Now!

Mr Now heard a strange noise.

Groowwwlll…

He heard it again. This time it was louder.

Grooowwwlll

Was it a bear?

Was it a tiger or a lion?

No, it was his tummy. Mr Now was very hungry.

He walked into the kitchen.

“Good morning Daddy,” he said.

“Good morning,” replied Daddy.

“I’m starving, I want some breakfast.”

“Starving? OK. I’ll get you breakfast in a moment,” Daddy said.

“No, I want breakfast now!”

Mr Now ate up all of his breakfast. Yummy.

Now it was time to play, but first Mr Now needed a box. He searched and searched the whole house and he found a box.

Why did he need a box?

Let’s find out.

In the box he put his joggers, helmet, gloves and sunglasses. Then he put his water bottle in the box.

But he couldn’t put everything inside the box.

Mr Now found Mummy, who was working on her computer.

“Mummy, let’s go for a bike ride,” he said.

“We’ll go for a ride later, when Daddy gets home,” Mummy said.

“No Mummy, let’s go now!”

Mr Now couldn’t go bike riding, so what could he do?

He sat on the lounge and started thinking.

A little while later, Mummy walked into the lounge room. She was shocked.

Can you guess why?

Mummy laughed at Mr Now.

“We can go swimming when Tim wakes up,” she said.

But Mr Now didn’t want to wait for his baby brother to wake up from his nap.

“No Mummy, let’s go now!”

When Tim woke up, they went swimming.

Mr Now loves swimming. He tried to run all the way to the lake, but he couldn’t run very fast. He couldn’t even walk very fast.

Mr Now had a great time at the lake.

When he got home, he thought to himself, what can I do now?

“Mummy, I want to paint,” he said.

“Sure, let’s paint after lunch,” said Mummy, and she went into the kitchen to make sandwiches.

“Mummy, I want to paint now!”

Mr Now started thinking.

What do I need for painting?

He found some paint and some brushes. He put some water in a jar.

“What else do I need Tim?” he asked his baby brother.

Tim pointed at the special painting apron.

“That’s right,” said Mr Now, and he put on the apron.

“Nooooooo,” Mummy called when she came back into the room.

What did Mummy see?

“What have you done?” said Mummy. She was not happy.

She put Tim into the bath to clean the paint off.

After lunch, Mummy made Mr Now clean the bathtub. It was not fun.

Later, Mr Now had an idea.

It was a good idea. Actually, it was a great idea.

He went to his bedroom. He put on a T-shirt and a long-sleeve shirt. He put on his ski pants and a jumper. Then he put on his ski jacket. It was very colourful.

What else does Mr Now need to wear to go skiing?

That’s right, he needs warm socks, gloves and a beanie.

“Daddy, where are my ski boots?” he asked.

“We can’t go skiing today, son. We’ll go another day,” Daddy replied.

“Let’s go skiing now!”

Do you know why Mr Now couldn’t go skiing?

Because it was summer. There’s no snow in summer.

Mr Now didn’t go skiing, but he did go swimming.

He didn’t paint a picture, but he did paint his baby brother.

He did go for a bike ride with Mummy, Daddy and Tim. They rode through the trees, beside the river and up and down the hills.

Mr now even found some jumps.

At the end of such a long day, Mr Now was tired.

Then he heard a strange noise.

Growwwlll.

Was it a bear?

Was it a tiger or a lion?

What was it?

After a tasty dinner, Mr Now had a bath, put on his pyjamas and brushed his teeth.

Then he took two books from the bookshelf. His two favourite books.

Daddy read one book to him, and Mummy read the second book. Mr Now loved reading books, so he raced to the bookshelf and grabbed more books. Many more books.

“We’ve finished reading. Nigh night beautiful boy,” said Mummy.

“Time to go to sleep now.”

“No Mummy, not now.”

Image: Garrett Jackson

Schooled

Three years it had been since Maiko made her vow.

“I’m going. I’m leaving. No more waiting, no more excuses.”

Three years.

Maiko had convinced herself she’d outgrown her school, and outgrown the monotonous routine which swept her from one place to another with such relentless regularity that it had become organic.

Maiko’s cynicism belied her age, and it is why she rejected the flowery sentiments of her elders as they extolled the virtues of the school:

Unity

Safety

Belonging

Growth

Learning

“Spare me…what about Conformity?”

She had decided to finally break free. She would do it this time.

She hadn’t revealed her intentions of course. The school was famously suspicious of non-conformity and of those labelled ‘Free Thinkers’. Kai was a ‘Free Thinker’. He was sceptical, outspoken, uncouth and rebellious. He was accused of ‘swimming against the tide’. Kai was gone.

The mysterious object which regularly appeared glinting in the distance was her salvation, and lunchtime was the perfect opportunity to escape. While the rest of the school descended en-masse to engorge themselves on their daily sustenance, Maiko quietly slipped away and was soon separated from her peers. Her absence would be noted, but not until she had put sufficient distance between herself and the school.

A magnetic force lured Maiko to the mystical object and she floated towards it involuntarily. The temptation and promise of liberation drew her further and further from the school, and feelings of freedom overwhelmed her. She let herself drown in the intoxication of heightened alertness and unparalleled awareness, and thoughts of safety and belonging washed joyously from her consciousness.

The intriguing entity loomed larger and Maiko was able to make out some of its finer details. She drank in its kaleidoscopic facade and the sensual wondrous beauty which so captivated her that its very existence justified her bold escape.

Maiko was also very afraid. She knew intuitively that once she made contact with this object she could never go back; could never return to the school. This is what she wanted, what she’d dreamt of and longed for. But it had taken her three years to seize this moment.

Maiko drowned her fears and approached the enchanting object with a heady mixture of terror and excitement. She marvelled at the clash of colours which enveloped its shape, as well as its provocative swaying.

Just at the moment of contact, a wild thrashing of pulsating, animalistic energy rushed past Maiko and launched itself at the wondrous object with such force that the apparition was entirely unidentifiable. Maiko reeled in shock and remained transfixed as the frenzied being latched onto her prize and wrestled it savagely.

“Nooooooooo,” cried Maiko in utter despair. “My salvation???????????”

The thrashing subsided. Slowly the body fell limp. The being revealed itself.

Kai?

A look of unbridled fear shot from Kai’s eyes and speared into Maiko’s soul. Kai disappeared skywards. He was gone: forever.

Hungry, chastised and humbled, Maiko swam back to the school.

Image: Element5Digital

Gift for life.

Gift arrive today.

What gift arrives today? replied Gwen, who recognised Wilson’s number but not the content of the message from the jovial and effusive charity liaison.

Arrive Gift today, make you happy forever.

Eternal happiness was not the first grand claim Wilson had made, but the transactions between Gwen and the children’s charity usually flowed in the opposite direction. Appreciation letters were common, especially approaching Christmas, but never before a gift. Thabani’s letter had impressed Gwen and Dara immensely, for its linguistic competence and the cute drawing of a tropical palm tree, despite the children’s home lying in the heart of southern Zimbabwe’s arid region.

He’s clever, Gwen had told Wilson.

No, is not Clever, is Thabani, he’d replied.

“You should give Wilson some lessons in grammar, and tactful language,” quipped Dara light-heartedly. The grammar lessons did not eventuate, nor did the sponsorship the couple had initially requested. They’d been matched with 3-year-old Rose and had been quite content. But they soon discovered that Rose would not be receiving their benevolence. When they contacted Wilson, he informed them Rose had never existed. Maybe they were thinking of Primrose, or her identical sisters Prudence and Privilege.

Sensing their disappointment, and determined to find a child to benefit from the couple’s goodwill, Wilson had messaged soon after,

You want Charity?

Us, charity? This wasn’t making any sense. Gwen understood the difficulty of communicating in a second language, her students faced it every day, but now Wilson seemed to be offering them charity. What is happening?

To be honest, Wilson, we’ve almost lost hope, they’d confessed after hearing the news of Rose and failing to secure another sponsor child.

No, not lose Hope, Hope and Faith I see today with my very own eyes, this I am sure.

Gwen was buoyed by Wilson’s irrepressible optimism and his continued dedication in undeniably challenging circumstances, and she and Dara were determined to provide an impoverished child with a better life. But even after endless trials and tribulations with their charitable efforts, they still had no idea why they would now be the recipients of a gift.

“Maybe it’s a thank you for the water pump we funded, suggested Dara. “or the equipment for the sewing and carpentry workshops. Wilson did say the sewing machines were ‘great for Blessing’ though I’m sure he meant to say ‘a grateful blessing’.”

“Perhaps, but why send us a gift, and how can Wilson be sure it’ll arrive today? Nothing sent between here and Zimbabwe has ever arrived on time.”

Then the couple heard a noise. A noise that would change their lives forever, just as Wilson had promised.

Ding, dong!

Gwen opened the door. Standing in front of her was not a harried delivery driver demanding a signature. At their door stood a shy young African boy gazing up at her with big, brown eyes.

“Hello, how are you?” he whispered.

“My name is Gift Matebe.”

Image: Jess Bailey

Argenta and Gold.

It’s time to act, decided Bethany, as she reflected on the preponderance of silver which cast a gloomy pall over her bursting trophy cabinet.

She summoned the detective.

“It’s impossible,” declared detective inspector Gordon G. Wilson, before offering an explanation.

“The problem is Sapphire’s collar. It has heat, fingerprint, voice and retina activation. What’s more, the replacement collar would have to avoid detection from Sapphire’s first groomer, psychologist, stylist, brand manager, second groomer, nutritionist, physical trainer, photographer, massage therapist and third groomer before the dogs even enter the arena.”

Bethany was unmoved.

“You fail to understand detective, that this is my last chance to beat Lady Hamilton. There are strong rumours of ill health at Hamilton Manor.”

“It simply can’t be done,” Wilson reiterated.

The hand that had been lovingly stroking Argenta now reached for a photograph. Bethany slid the single polaroid across the lavish suite’s ornately finished table.

“I’m sure you’ll find a way detective,” she stated, fixing him with a cold unflinching stare.

Wilson sunk in the chair. The colour could be seen draining from his face even in the faint light of the flickering fire. He excused himself and set to work. He would need 12 months and all of his police smarts to accomplish this task.

Bethany was bursting with nerves and excitement. She clasped her clammy hands as she positioned herself behind the judges in the hotel’s elaborate auditorium. Her heart pounded as the parade of pampered Bichon Frises elicited gasps of adoration from the audience.

“Sapphire!” beamed the announcer, and the audience burst into rapturous applause. Bethany’s stomach churned with familiar disgust until she remembered her clever ruse. Her beloved pet was wowing the audience and the judges.

“Argenta!” strutted in to the arena and Bethany’s conflicting emotions resurfaced. Her breath shortened and her mouth dried.

‘Argenta’ paraded brilliantly and camera flashes lit up the auditorium.

Then something happened. Something almost imperceptible. Sapphire lacked her customary rhythm, her famous je ne sais quoi.

Had the judges felt it?

Had Bethany felt it, or was she simply intoxicated with the overwhelming emotions of this daring subterfuge?

The wait for the judge’s decision was torturous.

“The winner of the gold medal, category Bichon Frise, 2020, is…”

Bethany couldn’t breathe.

“Sapphire!”

Wilson now found himself in the same chair, in front of the same fire. The detective’s eyes settled on the photograph sitting next to another silver medal on the ornate oak table.

The detective pleaded his case.

“The switch was made. The task was completed, as per your orders.”

“Then where is my gold medal?” demanded Bethany, who had banished Argenta to the pound.

“It confounded us too,” testified Wilson, “until we swapped the collars back after the competition and discovered that the rumours of ill health were well founded,” outlined Wilson.

“But how? Lady Hamilton was alive and well and gloating pompously on the dais yet again,” protested Bethany.

“The Lady was always healthy,” Wilson paused,

“but Sapphire wasn’t.”

Image: Gabriel Crismariu

Sunday in Suburbia.

“So, what brings you on this auspicious journey?” asked the woman seated opposite Steve.

“Apart form the opportunity to become one of the world’s last true pioneers?” he chuckled in reference to the promotional material.

“I’m Dita, by the way, and this is my partner Norah”

Polite and stilted conversations had begun after the captain informed passengers they could remove phase one of their elaborate safety apparatus. They slid band 1 out of clip A before lowering band 2 in order to reach clip B which upon release gave access to clip C…

“It started one sunny Sunday,” began Steve, and Dita certainly didn’t object to a longwinded story on this seemingly interminable journey.

“Varna kicked it off, her Huskie barking his lungs out at 6am and that was the end of the sleep in.”

“Any idea why he was barking?”

“Probably protesting about the tropical heat and humidity.”

“We won’t be meeting a huskie or Varna where we’re going,” said Dita confidently.

“Then Victor fired up his lawnmower for a few hours. He loves cutting grass.”

“At least he was cutting his own grass this time,” added Steve’s wife Patty.

“That’s not fair,” Steve chided her politely, “you don’t know that for sure.”

“Oh yes I do, I caught the pretty young thing scurrying down the side passage with a guilty grin on her face on more than one occasion.”

“Did you tell the wife?” asked Norah

“Absolutely not,” declared Patty,” I don’t like to be nosy.”

“Plus, not our concern anymore. Not where we’re going.”

“Very true – but is that the only reason? I mean, it was an arduous application process,” to which the new friends rolled their eyes in sync.

“What about that one question – Can you list 10 delicious and nutritious recipes featuring potato, silverbeet and cabbage?” and they laughed concomitantly.

“But actually, there were more reasons”

“Mack owns the weekender across the road and spends his weekends working on D I Y projects with his Mackita.

“Mackita?” enquired Dita.

“Mrs Mack,” explained Patty. “One of Steve’s hilarious jokes I’m afraid.”

“Well she is Mexican – he’s Mack so she’s Mackita,” he stated proudly.

“Meanwhile, Marcel went to war with his garden and that chainsaw left horrific wounds on every living organism in sight – I bet he’s STILL going.”

“At the same time, Ozito launched into another renovation. I guess he has to justify that garage full of tools and add-ons”

Patty was required to explain again.

“More champagne comedy,” she said sarcastically. “Ozito is our patriotic nextdoor neighbour. Raises and lowers the Aussie flag every morning and evening without fail.

“So, I guess you can say we’ve come all this way for some peace and quiet,” surmised Steve.

As the journey entered its final hour, passengers were ordered to begin strapping themselves back into their safety apparatus. The vessel shook and shuddered in anger.

Finally, the captain uttered the words they had waited so long to hear.

“Welcome to the moon.”

Image: Greg Evans

Show Me.

“Show me”

No, sorry Dad, I can’t. Not now, Sophia wanted to say, but she knew even one word would release a torrent of emotion. The brisk winter morning and the flecks of salt water whipped into the air had already moistened her eyes and loosened her tear ducts.

“Show me” he cajoled, but to no avail.

Sophia’s parents and her eldest sister were the only people permitted to see her off from the terminal. Friends, family and colleagues had farewelled her at the dinner two nights earlier where her mother had told the large crowd,

“Sophia’s work brings joy and hope, plus opportunity to so many people. We wish that for once she would focus more on herself and find…

but before her mother went there, Sophia shot her a look which said ‘not now mum, not now’ at which her mother changed tack,

…or at least that she could do this work closer to home.”

“You’ll do great things” is all her father could manage, lest he cry endlessly in front of his friends and family. That was not the done thing for an ex boxing and wrestling champion.

His little girl was departing, again, but this time there was no scheduled return date and a much greater risk which no one wanted to acknowledge verbally.

As Sophia felt the familiar warmth of her mother’s embrace, she found herself contemplating which melancholic musical score would best accompany this moment. The girl who eschewed modernity, who chose sailing over flying, paperbacks over kindles and letter writing over messaging, thumbed mentally through her vintage record collection searching for an appropriate title, until she switched her attention to her big sister.

The longest hug was reserved for her father. She was the baby of the family, and even when her work thrust her into battles with world leaders, corporate heavyweights and, on one occasion, a feared local warlord, she was still Daddy’s little girl.

The ship hauled itself from the dock, and once Sophia had finished waving, she slid her chilly hands into her coat pockets. There she felt a piece of paper. Unfolding the paper, she saw a stamp pasted in its centre. The stamp featured a koala, and it was the stamp which had sat proudly on the first letter she had sent to her father, all the way from her nextdoor neighbour’s house where she had embarked with boastful pride on her first epic adventure – a sleep over.

Her father had even sprinkled glitter on his letter in honour of Sophia’s insistence upon decorating her letters well into adulthood. She imagined her burly father hunched over his work bench surrounded by power tools and trophies, adding glitter ever so delicately to her parting gift.

The letter comprised of four words. Four words which always elicited a smile from Sophia, even in her darkest days. Four words her father had used to slice through her despair and sadness, her anguish and tantrums.

“Show me your teeth.”

Carrie’s Cafe Crawl.

Receptacles at the ready, the competitors in Carrie’s Café Crawl sized up their opposition.

A great challenge lay ahead.

Seven cafes.

One ingredient acquired secretly from each café.

One sandwich combining these ingredients.

Detection equals disqualification.

The casual weekly competition had morphed into a serious battle, and this week a heavy tension hung in the air. The source of the tension was abundantly clear, but no one would let it distract them from tantalising the taste buds of their own children who served as judges. Sandwiches would be judged on taste, presentation and one exotic ingredient. As to what qualified as ‘exotic’, Ambitious Annie was still impatiently seeking clarification.

Stealth was imperative. Stingy Steve thanked his equally-stingy parents for inculcating him into the practice of hoarding breakfast pastry and fruit at holiday resorts.

“That’s your lunch,” they would say, as his deft hands slid a muffin into his lap.

Dizzy Dave broke the tension temporarily when he asked;

“Who’s having coffee here?”

Dave had consumed a short black at every café on his first crawl, and had buzzed at dizzying heights for days.

Steve and Roddy ordered coffee, as Kylie arrived with adorable baby Ned and a stroller bursting with baby accoutrements. She also bought the Earl’s Pearls, which glistened in the tropical sun and hung proudly from her neck to signify her victory in last week’s competition.

Upon sitting, Kylie noticed the source of the tension. Ambitious Annie wore a pair of pearl earrings, in subtle protest at Kylie’s victory. Kylie’s own son had awarded 10/10 to the anonymous sandwich and its side of ice cream. Even an eight-year-old knew that Kylie was the only competitor equipped to transport a cooler box large enough to preserve a scoop of ice cream for hours in the tropical heat. Annie called the decision nepotism. Kylie called it her Baby Bonus.

Competitors performed their weekly Snack ‘n Slide at one café after another, while the judges worked up an appetite at tutoring college. The Saturday morning tutoring gifted the parents four hours of serenity and adult company, and now only Ambitious Annie expected any academic improvement from the extra classes.

At the fifth café, disaster struck.

Bev broke out in violent, lumpy welts, spreading rapidly from her neck. She was rushed to hospital for fear she had been bitten by one of the tiny, deadly bugs which inhabit these lands. The café crawlers dreaded the news from medical staff.

When doctor and patient emerged, all were relieved except Bev. Dijon mustard and tropical heat had caused the rash. The same Dijon Bev had smuggled from home in her top pocket.

“The Condiment Conundrum,” she offered as a paltry excuse. Condiments were the hardest ingredients to pilfer, but could make or break a sandwich. The sachets had burst when baby Ned writhed and twisted in her arms. The competitors thanked the doctors. Kylie thanked her Baby Bonus.

The Dijon Debacle had thus nullified this week’s competition.

What of the Earl’s Pearls?

Image: Van Thanh