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"You've Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad" is now available on Amazon. Childhood angst, marathon swimming, international exploitation and the threat of impending pinniped intimacy. on 2014-08-13
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Have a look at my page on Amazon. Still plenty of summer left for challenging literature. on 2014-08-13
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Check out my Amazon Kindle page. 'The Baby Who Killed People for Money' is now available. An utterly charming child with a unique and lucrative skill. A father with no defence against his daughter's impulses. Would you take your little girl around Europe for a spot of murder tourism? Of course you would. on 2014-06-30
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My story on the Tate gallery website on 2013-11-11
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First news item

A Thousand Natural Shocks An anthology that includes two of my stories. Available now at Amazon. on 2013-11-11
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October 2021
« Jul    

“You’ve got to sleep with your Mum and Dad.” Vanessa brought her head down with a single, emphatic nod.

Julie did not think of disbelieving the older girl. Vanessa had been the first person she met at her new school. She knew everything. She knew the best place to sit in the class. She knew what to say. She had deflated a big boy making fun of Julie. The miracle of transformation from grinning threat to retreat. I’ve seen your willy. It’s stupid. Julie would never dare say this. She wouldn’t even think of it. But Vanessa had known the secret. She could do anything.

“Every night,” she added. Julie nodded with her. This must be so. Vanessa had spoken. “If you don’t, they won’t love you any more.”

Julie was startled. This was inconceivable. Vanessa conceived things that Julie had never realised it was possible to conceive. She learned far more from Vanessa than from Miss Grant. Miss Grant was full of 225 divided by 5 and how many kilometres from Adelaide to Sydney but she never told Julie anything she could actually use.

Vanessa dispensed important information. She knew the weak points of everyone in the class, how to cheat from Mary Hartshorne and not get caught, how to get Miss Grant to let them out early for lunch. She was a goddess and she had to be worshipped.

Jeff surveyed his realm. The sea stretched in lazy swells to infinity. The sky was an unbroken tribute to the serenity of his new existence.

This was Jeff’s dream. He had endured five years in the Musgrave Ranges near the Northern Territory border in order to get here.

The sand was firm and cool. A wavelet rinsed Jeff’s feet and retreated with a pleasant, fizzing sound. The morning sun evaporated a faint tightness from his upper back. There was a smell, a composite of salt, seaweed and old fish, that somehow gave him a freshness, made him as free as he had been when he was eight years old and collecting frogs and yabbies in the creek.

He ran, for no reason, and turned three cartwheels. A brown lump on the beach moved and grunted. Female 73:05. Jeff hardly had to look to recognise the individual animals now. He called this one Cecily.

He had visited the sea lion colony on Kangaroo Island when he was a boy and had been fascinated by the way the shapeless sloths on the beach became streamlined quicksilver in the water. There was one particular memory of a big bull surfing ashore and rearing up, shaking his shaggy head and roaring his dominance. This impression had propelled Jeff through school and into a Park Ranger course. Then he had to do his time of remote endurance until this post became available.

Now he was here. A sleek torpedo arrowed out of a wave and bounded up to inspect his feet. Jeff peered at it. 82:01. The first pup born this year.

Julie didn’t ask why. She just needed to know how. Vanessa took her to a corner of the schoolyard.

“You listen for when they get into bed.” Julie nodded. “Count exactly ten minutes on your clock.” Julie visualised the big hand moving across two spaces. “You make yourself start crying. Can you do that?” Julie just had to think of Mum and Dad not loving her any more. “Then you go into their room. To your Dad’s side of the bed.”

“Dad?” Julie’s Dad was frightening. He wore big boots and grew spiky bristles out of his face. He was quiet but Julie remembered him shouting. This had been in the old house in the place where it was always too hot. He had shouted when Mum said things to him. Julie had stood, unable to move, tears ploughing from her eyes to her open mouth.

“Always your Dad.” Vanessa pronounced incontrovertibles – as authoritative as the manual for the generator. When it went dark or the pump stopped working, out came the manual. Her Dad would spend the day in the shed with the book. When the ceremony was complete, the generator would clatter into life and there would be light and water. Julie did not understand the manual but Vanessa’s instructions were clear. “You go to his side of the bed and cry.”

“But I don’t make a noise when I cry.”

“Even better.” Vanessa made a satisfied face. “You don’t want him to think you’re trying to wake him up.”

“What if he doesn’t wake up?”

“Good. Then you go down to the end of the bed and get under the covers. Get between your Mum and Dad.” Vanessa’s hands made a simple-as-that movement.

Three pups flopped around Jeff’s feet, gambolling in and out of the water. They gathered in front of him and stretched their necks, gazing up with huge, black eyes.

Jeff smiled. The pups were his family now. Susie loved the sea lions and when she produced a son, Julie and her new brother would grow up in the wild, thinking of the big creatures as a natural part of their lives.

Jeff imagined his son playing on the beach with the sea lions. They treated adult humans and children differently. Sometimes the males would react to men, flapping along the beach after them with surprising speed and menace. The tourists didn’t disturb the animals much. If anyone came too close, the sea lions would make open-mouthed lunges towards them. There were signs warning of bites going septic. The threat of death by infection kept people away.

But the sea lions didn’t mind children. The males might show aggression towards human males but they would almost disregard women. Children were different. The sea lions seemed protective of them. Jeff had once seen some females shepherd a little boy out of the sea when he was getting in too deep. Perhaps he was mistaken. But he would trust the sea lions with his children.

All he needed was the son with which to interest them.

Julie lay in bed, listening furiously, as if she could amplify the sounds made by her parents if she sent out waves of attentiveness. She followed her Mum and Dad through the rooms of her mind. Dad was cleaning his teeth. Mum was still clattering knives and forks in the kitchen.

Julie reviewed Vanessa’s instructions. Wait until they’re almost asleep. Then they won’t have the energy to get out of bed and take you back to your room. Cry. This would be difficult. She couldn’t cry when she was tense. She just froze.

Julie could hear the thick stream of falling liquid that Dad produced before leaving the bathroom and going to bed. Mum was clinking plates and shutting cupboard doors. Eighteen minutes past ten.

Julie tried to cry. She thought about how she felt when she had left her friends in Indulkana and when Billy, her brown cattle dog, died. It didn’t work. Nothing moved her monumental task from the front of her mind. Getting into bed with her parents would take all of her concentration. She might have to do without crying.

Her father was now in the bedroom, making grunting noises and yawning. Mum had moved into the bathroom. Julie could hear the movement of bottles and jars, could see in her mind how Mum would select containers and rub liquids and creams on her face, neck, eyelids. Sometimes Mum rubbed something from one of the bottles onto Julie. Then she would smell like Mum.

Dad was settled. Julie could hear the dry crackle of the newspaper he had taken to bed. Mum was finishing in the bathroom. The taps went off. The hook hanging from the top of the bathroom door clicked as Mum took her face towel from it. It was nearly time.

What if something went wrong? What if Dad shouted at her for being out of bed after bedtime? What if Mum put on her disappointed face? Julie recalled Vanessa’s awful words: If you don’t, they won’t love you any more. Julie wished she didn’t have to do this. But she did. The consequences of not doing it were terrible.

Mum’s footsteps creaked up the passageway to the room next to Julie’s. There was the familiar sound of Mum’s voice and shorter, bass notes from Dad. Julie could not hear what they said. She had never wanted to. Now she knew that they might be talking about not loving her. Julie listened. A rhythm of gentle murmur from Mum. A deeper note from Dad. Rattle of newspaper. Another short exchange. Julie could understand nothing. What did parents talk about when they didn’t love their children any more? Maybe she should listen outside the door. What if they caught her?

The bed protested as Mum sat on the edge. Julie knew the sound. Mum would take her slippers off and swing into bed beside Dad. The familiar strum of the bedsprings. The sounds of the bed broadcast Mum and Dad’s movements. Julie checked her clock again. Still just after twenty past ten.

Jeff stretched up at the sun. He loved getting up early here. He hadn’t really minded the desert. It had its beauty and he was glad that he had spent time in the arid north. He had never felt comfortable there. The Aboriginals watched him all the time. He was foreign and different and irritating. Jeff’s job had nothing to do with the indigenous population of Indulkana but they always saw him as one of the meddlers from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs.

Why wouldn’t they? He looked the same. He drove around in a government Land Cruiser doing things that seemed useless. Jeff had dreaded the times when a deputation of women would approach him to sort out some kind of problem. Never the men. The men were the problem. Jeff never had any idea what to do. He would nod, shrug, shake his head, be useless. The women would go away. Jeff would feel an unworthy relief.

Kangaroo Island was different. This was what he had been trained for, where he wanted to be. It bothered him sometimes that he had a greater affinity for sea lions than for his fellow humans.

Except Susie, of course. She was almost a yogi. This was what the other students at Uni had called Jeff and the others on the Park Ranger course. Susie was doing a teaching course at the same college as Jeff. They had married in Adelaide and got the post at Indulkana, the only one available in the same place for two people. A married couple had left just at the right time.

Susie was pregnant before they arrived at Indulkana. They hadn’t planned it that way but Jeff and Susie had felt good about it. Their daughter would have an unusual upbringing, growing up in the real Australia, knowing and understanding the Aboriginal people.

It hadn’t been like that. Julie was introverted. She had shied away from the other children. Perhaps it was the way Jeff and Susie had brought her up. He wondered if he had been frightened of Julie becoming part of the community, of her not wanting to leave.

He had never belonged. He always had his mind on being somewhere else. Now he was here. Seal Bay was his personal paradise. He ambled along the beach in just a pair of shorts, doing his morning check on the sea lions. They lay prone on the sand, soaking up warmth and digesting fish.

There was a splashing from the sea. A gleaming cylinder of muscle launched itself from a wave. It surfed up the wet sand and came to rest a couple of metres from Jeff. Sally, 78:08. The sea lion turned liquid eyes on Jeff then undulated up the beach. At an apparently random place, she flopped into the sand, a lump distinguished from the others by her dark wetness.

Jeff walked among the motionless sea lions like a governess in a room of sleeping babes. He had a protective feeling that had never shown in his response to his own child. The sea lions lay there, prone and trusting. Jeff felt a warmth known to mothers and kings.

Jeff sat down near Sally. She rolled over in the warm sand, wiping her bristly whiskers with a flipper. She lay on her back with one of those smiles that sea lions have, lightening from streamlined smoothness into shaggy brown.

Jeff gazed out to sea. The horizon stretched out like an unachievable future. He wondered whether he would ever have a son. He couldn’t work out why he wanted a son. Susie didn’t seem to be getting pregnant. Maybe Julie would be their only child. She was a fretful girl, afraid of so many things, Jeff included. He had never made the connection with his child the way he had expected to. He would get on better with a son.

“I don’t like them, Dad.”

This did not seem possible. “Don’t like what, Julie?”

“Them.” Julie sulked her hand at the beach, at the sea lions. “I don’t like them.” Her foot rubbed against her calf. She twisted with the need to express an unpalatable truth.

Jeff looked for a possibility that would not be what he did not want it to be. “The waves?” Julie’s head was shaking. “The seaweed?”

“Dad…” Julie was forced into candid betrayal. “The seals.”

“Sea lions.” This slid out between the bars of his concern.

“Dad.” Julie’s wail of ceaseless torment.

“I’m sorry.”

“You always do that.”

He did. Jeff went through his struggle mentally. Why couldn’t she understand that seals were different, inferior? Sea lions were beautiful. Jeff concentrated on the beach. Sally 78:05 flopped over onto her back. She looked straight at Jeff for a moment. Her eyes were huge. Jeff saw another life.

Julie was waiting. Her eyes were screwed up. Her pale skin had reddened. Jeff tried to love her. The contrast was too much.

“I’m sorry, Julie.” Jeff tried to see the part of himself in his daughter – the half of him reincarnated in that alien temper. Julie wanted something from him that he could not identify or did not want to give. She gazed at him and snuffled. Jeff looked back at 78:05. Sally. Dark, lustrous, confident.


Julie checked her clock. Not even twenty-five past ten. She didn’t want to get into bed with her parents but she knew that she had to. The waiting was unbearable. She needed to do something while she waited.

Onetwothreefofisiseneighnintelentwel… If she counted to a hundred, that would have to be more than a minute. …sixynisevenysenyone… Nearly there. …nineyeighninyninehunned. Julie turned to the clock. Still not quite twenty-five past ten.

Jeff’s twice-daily counts were no longer a simple roll call. He recognised each member of the community – saw relationships. He celebrated births and mourned deaths and disappearances.

Jeff stopped near the boulder that was Samson. Samson was the largest male, the one whose behaviour could change the feeling of the colony. He had seen the bull in mating frenzy, bouncing over the sand like a grizzly bear, a locomotive, a tornado made flesh, scattering suitors and claiming mates. The other males would not challenge him. Their rearing and snorting were nothing more than gestures of submission to the mighty Samson.

Jeff sat a cautious distance from the slow-breathing mountain. Samson sneezed and shuddered, turning his head slowly. His black eye met Jeff’s. Jeff’s head ducked meekly, reflexively. Samson grunted. It felt like a benediction.

Julie tensed forward in her bed. She could hear nothing. She willed her eardrums to pick up the vibrations of her parents. Dad had told her that her ears were so sensitive that they could hear bats. She had a plan. If her ears could hear better than old people, all she needed to do was make no sounds that she herself could hear. Then her parents had no chance of hearing her.

Julie shifted her weight and lowered her legs to the floor. Her bed twanged. She stopped and listened. If she had heard her parents’ movements, surely they could have heard hers. You’ve got to sleep with your Mum and Dad. She had to go on. She bent forward to transfer her weight to her feet. No sound. She stood, arms clasped around her chest. Waiting. Until there was no possible reason for delaying.

She moved her weight bit by bit to one foot and lifted the other. She moved this foot to the front, pointed her toe and brought it down until she felt the floor. She shifted her centre of gravity forward and transferred her mass a little towards the light. Julie’s door was ajar. She always slept with it slightly open so her room was never completely dark.

Julie stood in the shaft of light that projected into her room from the passageway. She craned her head around to see outside her room. Her foot moved slightly and the floor creaked. She froze. No noise from next door. If you don’t, they won’t love you any more.

Julie rotated her foot to fit squarely on the strip of metal that separated the floor of her room from the passage. It did not creak. She lifted the other foot and put all of her weight on the metal. This was the one thing she could do in gym classes. Balance. She swivelled and extended her other foot.

The dark promise of her parents’ bedroom doorway was three steps away. Now she stood at the entrance. The door was slightly open. It usually was when Mum was last to bed. Sometimes Dad was less tired than usual and came to bed after Mum, closing the door decisively behind him. She heard their voices on those nights.

Not tonight. Julie could hear even breathing from the bed. This was the hard part. Julie moved her foot onto the separator at the threshold. She opened her eyes wide to try and see inside. The breathing went on. If she turned sideways, she might not have to move the door. Julie pushed a leg into the darkness. She shifted on her supporting leg and let the exploring foot touch the floor. Her body began to glide into the darkness as she let the front foot take more of her weight. There was a slight groan from the floorboards. She stopped. She hadn’t heard any noise from the floor when she tried this in the daytime. The breathing was still slow and rhythmic.

Julie lifted her back foot and took another step. She squinted towards the bed. Too dark. Julie closed her eyes to get them used to seeing in the dark. She counted to twenty and opened them. Now she could differentiate the darkness of her parents’ forms from the lighter wall. They were motionless.

Julie took the next two steps more quickly. Her legs touched the eiderdown bedcover. She stood over her sleeping Mum and Dad. She felt tall. This must be how they felt when they watched over her. She could see a gap between them. Both Mum and Dad faced to the outside of the bed, leaving a Julie-sized channel between them. Her plan fell into place.

Julie sank to her knees and gripped the bedcover. She lifted it slightly and put it over her head. She could see nothing now. She reached into the gap. It was snug and secure. Vanessa was right. If she could get between her parents, everything would be all right. She moved her hand to see how much space there was. She touched warm flesh. It twitched. Julie froze. The body shifted. Something brushed Julie’s hand. Dad’s arm. His breathing was uneven. Julie waited.

He was still now. The movements of air were back to a measured pattern. Time to move on. Julie slipped her other arm under the covers. She lifted from her knees onto her toes and put more weight onto her elbows. Pushing with her feet, she slid herself into the cocoon in the middle of the bed. She could feel the mattress sag under her. She stopped. The breathing either side of her was reassuring. She felt the twin rhythms through the bedclothes.

She pushed as far as she could with her feet and lifted one knee onto the bed. Almost in. She brought the other knee up to join the first. She felt as if she was praying. She slowly straightened her legs so that for the first time she would be lying down between her parents. As the bed took her whole weight, the sagging increased. Mum and Dad felt closer now. She was moving them towards each other.

There was another movement from Dad’s side. His arm snaked across her, smoothing her hair and tracing the line of her back. The hand moved beyond her body and in the direction of Mum.

“Was that you, Susie?” It was Dad whispering. Julie pushed herself into the bed, willing Dad not to notice her.

“Are you awake?” No answer from Mum. The hand returned. Julie could feel it move from Mum to her. It crept up her back to her hair. It paused.

“WHAT’S THAT?” The bed erupted into an explosion of movement and noise. The cover was wrenched off. Julie stayed face down, eyes scrunched tight. The redness from her eyelids told her that the light was on.

“Jeff! What are you doing?” Mum’s sleepy voice.

“Julie!” Dad’s angry voice. The one that said that he didn’t love her.

“Is that you, Julie?” Mum sounded wide awake now.

“Julie! Sit up. What are you doing here?” Julie was unable to move. She felt rough hands on either side of her body. She was rising into the air. The hands hurt. She gave an involuntary cry and opened her eyes. Dad’s face was terrible.

“Don’t ever come into our bed! You’re a bad girl.”

Julie felt a piece of her core cease to exist. Her heart tightened around the vacuum.

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One Response to “Sleep with your Mum and Dad”

  1. Enormousfish | You’ve Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad | Adam Kaya Heskith | Author and Writer | Enormousfish Says:
    October 18th, 2014 at 4:38 am

    […] Read the first section of You’ve Got to Sleep With Your Mum and Dad. […]


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