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You're not a smart bee

He’d better not do it again.

Her eyes flicked across to him, and back out the window. If he did it just one more time, Gosha knew she’d lean over the paper and snarl at him. It’s not enough he had to sit with his legs wide apart, taking up most of the tram seat, but did he have to spread his newspaper so wide as well?

Right in her god damn face.

He cleared his throat. The sound spiralled into a coughing fit, the paper jerking with each spasm. He made no move to cover his mouth, and Gosha felt her grimace darken into a scowl.

She was just about to lose her temper when the car hit them.

They slammed into the seat in front of them. The paper soared into the air, a shout merging with the sickening crunch of metal on metal. She sprawled on the floor, the tram bell clanging so loudly her first instinct was to cover her ears. She looked through the fluttering pages to see the man next to her, his mouth hanging open in a perfect O of shock.

For some reason this annoyed her more than the coughing.

She groaned, and slowly climbed onto her hands and knees on the tram floor. A hot slice of pain shot through her left ankle, making her yelp.

What a shitty little day this was turning out to be.

A child howled at the back of the tram. People were starting to stand up, testing their limbs and shaking their heads at each other in exaggerated amazement. An elderly man was being led to a seat, a trickle of blood working its way down the liver spots on his forehead. A shopping bag had vomited up its contents, oranges rolling against each other amongst a crystalline carpet of spilled salt.

Gosha climbed to her feet. Her ankle was tender, but she could still put weight on it. She reached inside her bag to check everything was where it should be, and looked around.

The newspaper man was unsteady on his feet. She watched him for a moment, cars honking as they veered around the tram.

‘You ok?’

He nodded slowly, as though his head might fall off his shoulders.

‘I think so….you?’

She shrugged. ‘Yeah, I’m fine. I could do with getting off this thing though.’

He rolled his eyes in agreement as they moved towards the doorway. When he spoke, she could hear the cough building in his voice.

‘I guess we’re pretty lucky, hey?’

They stepped onto Collins Street as he erupted in a phlegm fit. Gosha felt the scorn flash across her face and wondered if he’d caught it. Lucky. If that were true, it’d be the first time she could remember.

A police car had been parked nearby, and an officer was already standing next to the twisted car, black boots in a sea of broken glass. Gosha automatically turned away, and started to limp in the other direction. She barely got two steps before a policewoman ducked into view.

‘Excuse me, were you on the tram? I just need to get your details.’

Gosha felt her jaw tighten. The very colour of the uniform made her pulse quicken. The accident had nothing to do with her, but she couldn’t shake the possibility she would still be blamed for it somehow.

The policewoman held her pen up.


Her first instinct was to lie. She was flicking through the names of girls she went to high school with when she thought of her grandfather, making that awful whistle of disapproval. God, between him and her social worker, it was a wonder she could get out of bed in the morning.

‘Malgorzata Wieczorek.’

The policewoman winced.

‘How do you spell that?’

She could have just given the diminutive version, but where would the fun be in that? She dictated every tricky consonant, and gave her grandfather’s address. She hoped there’d be no reason to contact him; another call from the police would be the last thing he’d need.

She thought of him the last time, picking her up from the police station with his braces sagging and his head low. How he’d driven her home without a sound, without a word, until they reached the driveway. He’d taken the key out of the ignition and sighed, tobacco breath souring the air between them.

‘Malgorzata, let me tell you something.’

His Polish accent always grew thicker when he was upset. She’d looked out the window and pulled her bottom lip between her teeth.

‘A smart bee would rather make honey than sting a man.’

He’d reached over and tapped her head with a surprisingly strong finger.

‘And you, dziewczynka…you are not a smart bee.’

She limped down Collins Street, the sound of car horns trailing her. She turned down Chancery Lane and into an alleyway behind a Chinese restaurant. Leaning against a dumpster, she drew the wallet out of her pocket.

The newspaper man stared up at her from a square of plastic, mouth closed this time. Joseph Pearce. It was a solid name, the name of a man with a gold pass gym membership and a loyalty card for a veterinarian’s office on the bay. She wondered if he had a cat or a dog, if he treated them well.

It was also the name of a man with $213 in his wallet. She folded the notes around his credit card, and dropped the wallet into the dumpster.

She could smell ginger, and maybe star anise through the kitchen windows. She stood in the alleyway, shifting her weight from foot to foot, feeling the pain pulse and retreat.

It was a clean pain, white and sharp like a sliver of ice in her shoe. She stretched her toes, and felt it snake down the length of her foot.

She pushed her weight off the dumpster and realised the pain felt pure, clear, and not entirely undeserved.

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At the last Melbourne writers’ meeting, we set ourselves a challenge: we were each given a name in another language, and the words salt, secret, bee and truth, We’ve had one month to weave our stories, which had to include all the above, just in time for this weekend’s meeting.

Funny the things that fall out of your pen, hey?


bellmusker, bee, salt, secret, truth, polish

I love the words that fall between the cracks; where I have to roll my sleeve up, jam my arm down into the darkness, and yank the stories up by their hair.

I write with black coffee, and bare feet.

Both seem to help.

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  • A boy called Star
    A boy called Starabout 2 years ago

    This is fantastic. I hope we get more words this sunday.

  • I can promise more words this Sunday! Will be so good to have you there again :-)

    – bellmusker

  • Matt Penfold
    Matt Penfoldabout 2 years ago

    And what a fabulous thought provoking and image filled story you’ve woven, Bell. I found it inspirational in the way your character seemed to duck and weave and draw me into the narrative, leaving me wanting to know more. A great read :)

  • Thanks, Matt…it was somewhat strange to create a character that could be seen as unsympathetic. But you know, I quite enjoyed it :-)

    – bellmusker

  • Mel Brackstone
    Mel Brackstoneabout 2 years ago

    Oooo, nice sting in the tale! You really do know how to keep me on the edge of my seat.

  • Hehe, glad to hear it! Now I get to read it out at Sunday’s meeting, with a hot glass of spiced wine, and the lovely Lisa by my side :-)

    – bellmusker

  • JaneRoberts
    JaneRobertsabout 2 years ago

    Great read Bell. I was thinking that she had grounds for the road accident fund but that changed towards the end. There’s a powerful lesson in this. xx

  • Thanks Jane – I don’t usually put a sting in the tail of my tales, but Gosha drew it out of me :-)

    – bellmusker

  • Emraldae
    Emraldaeabout 2 years ago

    It’s so strange what a few words and unusual names can inspire… I can’t wait to read what everyone else came up with! I have to say though… The man on the tram made me cringe too as I read…

  • Thanks sweetheart…looking forward to what comes out of your pen for the next challenge x

    – bellmusker

  • AmandaWitt
    AmandaWittabout 2 years ago

    Looking forward to hearing the rest of them! I’ve done my Spanish story.

  • We’re still waiting for some (looking at Lisa in particular)….

    – bellmusker

  • LindaR
    LindaRabout 2 years ago

    Bravo ~ you’ve done your words well ~ what a wonderful exercise ~ I loved the unraveling to the moment of truth of her ~ a treat for my day xxx

  • Thanks Linda, so glad you took the time to read…my treat for the day x x

    – bellmusker

  • Cosimo Piro
    Cosimo Piroabout 2 years ago

    another great read from your pen, Bell… loved the way the story unravelled to give a glimpse of the characters involved… what a shame I can’t be there to hear you read it… enjoy your hot spiced wine and hope to catch up before you leave. xoxo

  • Cos, I think we’re seeing you tonight, am I correct? Let’s clink rum glasses and warm our hands round the open fire x x

    – bellmusker

  • Duncan Waldron
    Duncan Waldronabout 2 years ago

    What an amazing flow this has. It’s like a slow avalanche, moving relentlessly forwards, then suddenly branching off down a side valley (or rather, alley). Isn’t it marvellous how a set of disparate words can be turned into something as rich as this?

  • Thanks so much, Duncan…you know your thoughts on my writing are important to me. I’m off to Louisiana in a few days, so promise to bring you back some southern stories!

    – bellmusker

  • Lisa  Jewell
    Lisa Jewellabout 2 years ago

    oh I love the way you grow a story…i too was on the edge of my seat, the ending felt right if that makes sense. you are a marvel the way you imbue a story within a story. I look forward to listening to you read this on Sunday X

  • I can’t wait to shake our pens together as we train through the Mississippi countryside x x x

    – bellmusker

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