Raising Grey: Chapter 79—Tassie Trauma

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

Oh, song lyrics in here, too. So, for those who don’t like song lyrics, you might want to skip that part, too.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 79—Tassie Trauma

ANASTASIA

The guide tells us that locals claim that there has been some sort of paranormal activity in all the areas of Port Arthur for over 100 years. Christian frowns.

“What is it?” I ask.

“In the C block,” he says, “I could swear I heard a man coughing in one of those rooms.” I twist my lips.

“There are a lot of people on the tour. They were all around the prison. You may have heard an echo…”

“No,” he says firmly. “It wasn’t an echo. I heard a man cough in one of those rooms.”

I just look at him. I won’t debate whether or not he actually heard someone coughing in the criminally insane area. This place is already giving me the creeps, so the last thing I want to think about right now is ghosts.

And speaking of ghosts…

The tour guides talk about a ghost tour held on the grounds at night. We’ll be at sea headed to Melbourne by then, but they tell us about it anyway, since not everyone on our tour is from the cruise and may want to partake. During the tour, guides would explain the different types of ghost who haunt Port Arthur.

First, there are the ones you hear. They may be close by, they may be off in the distance somewhere—a noise or footsteps, like the cough that Christian claims he heard.

Then, there are the ones that just leave you with a horrible, bone-chilling feeling that someone’s standing right behind you.

Finally, there are the worst ones, the supposedly physical ghosts. They pinch you or shove you, or they throw you to the ground. According to the guides, all of these encounters have happened on the ghost tour.

They do creepy things like move suddenly and tell you not to look into windows, make loud noises, send someone ahead with a lantern to see if the coast is clear, shit like that to make the tour exciting

When I’ve had enough of the heebie-jeebies, we head back to the visitors center, but not before we visit one more important site.

Across from the Port Arthur Historical Site is the Memorial Garden—another open-air building. This building is the shell of the Broad Arrow Café where the worst massacre in Tasmanian history occurred in 1996.

On this final leg of our tour, the guide gives us the background and the condensed version of what happened that fateful day in April, 18 years ago…

A man named Martin Bryant devised a plan to shoot two people—David and Noelene Martin—whom he felt conspired to secure property that Bryant’s father was planning to purchase, leading to his father’s depression and ultimate suicide. After killing the Martins at that very same property, he locked up, drove to a second site claiming to want to purchase some cattle, then headed to Port Arthur.

After a back-and-forth of sorts about parking, he parked at the Broad Arrow Café—the shell of the building we’re standing in now. He took a duffle bag and a video camera from his car and ordered some food. Eating on the outside deck, he tried to make conversation with the people outside. After finishing his meal, he took his tray back inside, pulled out an AR-15 automatic rifle, and began his shooting spree. In the café were…

A group of people on an outing, taking a break from caring for sick family members with cancer…

Workers, cooks, and other staff of Port Arthur…

Families having a simple lunch in a café…

Bryant’s wake inside the café resulted in 20 people killed and 12 injured in 90 seconds.

Moving to the parking lot, he opened fire on people trying to hide in and around two buses outside. People running to the historical site and down the road and along the shore tried to escape. By the time the shooter got in his car and left the parking lot, his toll was 26 dead and 18 injured.

Although the recount of the massacre is horrifying and unsettling, the most heinous and sickening portion of the tale involves that of Alannah, Madeline, and Nanette Mikac. Fleeing the parking lot on foot, Nanette was carrying her three-year-old daughter Madeline with six-year-old Alannah just in front of her. Bryant caught up with them, made Nanette kneel and shot her in the temple and killed her while she was begging for the lives of her children. He then shot Madeline twice—in the shoulder and chest—and then chased Alannah into the woods and shot her in the neck, killing both children.

I immediately get a picture in my head of a three-year-old Minnie, falling at the hands of a brutal, heartless killer and his bullet with no name on it. I fight not to swoon right then and there at the horrendous mental image, but the helpless feeling only lasts a moment. What kind of monster chases down and murders helpless children? As the killer’s face forms in my mind’s eye coming for my babies, all I can think of is, “Not if I see you first, motherfucker!”

At the toll booth ahead, he shot four more people and injured one, then carjacked the BMW of his victims. At a service station further up the road, he kidnapped a man and shoved him in the trunk of his car, shooting and killing his girlfriend in their Toyota Corolla. The toll is now 34 dead and 19 injured.

Bryant returned to the scene of the original crime with his hostage. When he arrived, he began shooting into passing cars, injuring four more people, two of which stopped at a nearby establishment and called the police. After an 18-hour standoff where he killed his hostage and set the building on fire where he was holed-up, he was arrested and hospitalized for his injuries.

His family says that Bryant was distressed by his father’s suicide—that he felt the Martins purchased a guest house at Seascape that his father was trying to purchase, causing some hardship for the killer’s family, and setting the rampage into motion as he killed the Martins first and ended up back at that location at the end of the situation where he was arrested. Apparently, the events that set him off were well before Bryant’s inheritance, as he was apparently very well off. All accounts say that his father died three years prior… three years, he held this grudge then went on a shooting spree.

The final toll on April 28, 1996—35 people killed, 23 wounded.

There are still varying judgments about Bryant’s mental state and capacity, including one that he has no recollection of the events of the massacre. However, this horrible event was the catalyst for the gun laws in place in Australia today.

Having had enough of death, brutality, psychological torment, and murder, I’m only too thrilled to leave Port Arthur and board the shuttle to the Tasman National Park. I sit in deep contemplation of the stories that I heard today—men being driven out of their minds in solitary confinement; harsh and brutal punishments meant to break the bodies and souls of even the most hardened criminals; serial killers chasing down and murdering little girls…

There was a boys prison somewhere in the area, too—a boys prison! What could a young boy have possibly done to be shipped from England to here in the 19th Century—a trip that normally takes eight months? And at the end of the harbor, there’s a little island full of nothing but dead people, said to house the marked and unmarked graves of 800-1100 people. That’s a lot of damn dead bodies!

With all this beauty, manicured lawns, memorials, and historical importance, all I gathered from this place is death and suffering. I could feel the helplessness of the prisoners in the separate prison and the longing of those who watch the water through the bars of the main penitentiary. And now, I’m not so convinced that Christian didn’t hear one of the previous occupants coughing in one of the cells. I’m not even sure how people can live here now…

“You alright?”

I don’t know what my face is saying, but my husband is prompted to inquire about my state of mind. I look at him, then at Laura and Jaxon, and back out the window, shaking my head slightly.

“Right now, I’m having a TMI overload,” I say.

“Ah, Poht Ahthuh can do thaht to ya,” Jaxon says with a nod.

“Why do people come to hear these stories?” I ask, turning on him for answers, frantic and a bit angry. “There’s nothing here but tales of heartache and misery, death and murder. I know there’s history here and I’m supposed to see the historical value, but I’m sorry, I don’t see it. I just see despair and death with a beautiful garden that’s grown over and a memorial where dozens of people were killed for no good reason at all—there was no statement trying to be made, no protest, nothing. Just an idiot who claims that he doesn’t remember what happened. I’m not saying that it’s okay to kill somebody for those other reasons, but…” I trail off, too angry and unable to finish my point.

“TMI,” I repeat. “I could’ve gone my whole life not hearing the story about those two little girls being chased down by that murderer. We paid for this?” I say to Christian.

“OI know this is a hahd playce foh someone to swallow,” Jaxon begins, “but in tha wayke of the tragedy, Australia has some o’ tha strictest gun lahs in the wohld. Amehrica could lehn from thaht considehring the tragedies we always see on tha news.”

“You’re only partially correct, there, Jaxon,” I argue. “With the mass and school shootings, there does need to be some kind of gun control. Unfortunately, at this point, Australia’s example isn’t going to work for the United States.” Jaxon frowns.

“Whoi not?” he asks nonplussed.

“America’s too far gone, dear,” Laura interjects. “Australia had the right idea. As soon as they saw a problem, they zoomed in on it. America waited too long.” Jaxon looks from his wife to me and I nod.

“If America tried to do the sweeping gun laws that Australia has now, law-abiding citizens would turn in their guns and the criminals and gang members would still have theirs,” I say. Jaxon turns to Christian.

“Australia nipped the problem before it became an epidemic,” Christian tells him. “As harsh as this sounds, the best way I can describe it is to compare it to a person inflicted with a fatal disease, like cancer. Australia caught it and stopped it at the initial tumor. America’s in stage four. Can something be done about it? A lot of people seem to think so, but in the meantime, people still want to protect themselves.”

Jaxon looks from face to face as if he can’t believe what he’s hearing, which he probably can’t.

“OI don think OI could live loike thaht,” Jaxon says. “OI’d be in constant feah of tha Puhge!”

“A lot of people are, Jax,” Laura says for me. “A lot of people are.”

I’m able to decompress a bit during the hour or so that we spend at the National Park. We start at Pirate’s Bay, where there is a rugged coastline and rocky formations known as tessellated Pavement. This unusual and rare feature appears in flat sedimented rock formations on ocean shores. The rock has fractured into rectangular squares that look like tiles called tessellations. This is one of the natural wonders in Tasmania said to be caused by the salt water settling on the rocks and causing both concave and convex tessellations.

We then spend some time at the famed Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen, two of Tasmania’s famous natural phenomena. Watching the beautiful water and studying the stratification of the rocks helped to calm my uneasiness from the tour we took earlier this morning. The nature walks also contributed to bringing me back from the edge.

Jaxon tells us about real Tasmanian devils which, by the way, look nothing like the cartoon. I’m dying to know where they got that concept from because besides the fact that Tasmanian devils are scavengers, they don’t destroy everything they touch. We don’t actually get to see any because they are in preserves in the north, but Jaxon seems to know a lot about them.

I get the idea about the incoherent noise, because when they find a carcass, they let loose this scream that attracts other devils—like a dinner bell. They have to do this because even though their jaws are strong and their teeth are sharp, they’re so small that they can’t tear a carcass apart on their own. However, with the help of a few friends, they’ll leave absolutely nothing behind.

There are a lot of “devil” preserves, but not many Tasmanian devils in the wild. The ones in the wild are dying off because they’re infected or diseased with a form of face cancer. They pass it among each other by biting each other in the face when they’re trying to tear apart a carcass. As a result, a lot of Tasmanian devils in the wild have died, and preserves are waiting for the rest of them to die off before they release the healthy ones into the wild to rejuvenate the population.

Believe it or not, I can’t wait to end this excursion and get back onto the ship. The trek through the Tasman National Park was beautiful with its nature walks and natural geological wonders, but this part of Tasmania has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m ready to go. I opt to forego the late lunch on the island and get back on the early water shuttle back to the ship. I tell the rest of my party that they are free to stay, but this place is really messing with me and I need to get away from it.

“Guys, why don’t you go and… do guy things? I’d like to talk to Ana for a while,” Laura says once we get back to the ship. Christian looks at me, then at Jason.

“Ben can come with me if you like,” I say, noting the concern in Christian’s face.

“Um, sir, you should be okay on the ship… remember?” Jason says.

“I… would feel better if Lawrence were with her…” because you’re not with me. “No offense, Laura…”

“None taken,” Laura says, waving him off. “I’ve seen him be invisible. I just want to have a little chat with Ana.” Christian still looks uneasy.

“I promise, I won’t run off and join any convents or rock bands,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “C’mon, Ben.”

Laura and I leave Jason and Jaxon to tend to Christian and she and I head to a blues spot called Maderno’s for a late lunch, with Ben close behind.

“You and Christian are opposites,” she says. “Same… but different.”

“You’re right,” I say, examining the menu.

“You’ve got a big monster in your closet.” My head jerks up from my menu and I glare at her. “And I’m right about that, too.”

How could she possibly know that?

“Our monsters are strange things, Ana,” she continues. “They follow us everywhere and they manifest themselves in different forms. They pop up when we least expect them and when we least want them, and they scare the shit out of us.”

Suddenly, my guard is down. I’m immediately open and raw and I want to cry.

“It’s okay,” she says. “I consider us friends and I hope you do, too, even if we never see each other again.” I clear my throat uncomfortably.

“I consider us friends,” I choke, barely able to get my words out.

“Good,” she says. “Waiter?” She waves one of the servers over. “We’re going to need two hurricanes, the smoked mozzarella ravioli in lobster cream sauce and the New England Clam chowder.” He nods and he’s off. I didn’t even order and that sounds really good, except…

“What’s a hurricane?” I ask.

“Some delicious fruit juices, and a lot of rum,” she says. I look over at Ben, who nods at me.

“Sounds like my kind of drink,” I reply.

Two hurricanes and two appetizers later, I’m tearing into the breaded flounder fillet while Laura is chomping on shrimp and mushroom Alfredo. The hurricanes were to burn the Tassie experience out of me and help me loosen up about my monsters.

“My monsters don’t seem so big lately,” I confess. “At first, it seemed all encompassing, but over the last few weeks or so, not so much.”

“What’s been going on over the last few weeks?” she asks, taking a healthy forkful of her Alfredo.

“Well, for one thing, I’ve been focusing on everybody else’s problems but my own,” I say.

“Okay, that could mean a couple of things. What else?”

“I haven’t seen my shrink,” I confess. “He kicked me out of his office a few weeks ago and he cancelled my last two appointments.”

“How have you been dealing with the monsters since then?”

“Journaling,” I reply. “Meditating… when I get the chance. So much has happened that I don’t get the chance to meditate and my journal entries are mainly about other people.”

“Well, that concerns me,” she says. “Your monsters don’t just go away, and as soon as you’re rid of all these distractions, they’ll be back. You’re not dealing with them, Ana, you’re avoiding them.”

“How did you know I had monsters in the first place?” I ask. We’ve talked about some things, but nothing in grand detail.

“The way you reacted to Port Arthur,” she replies. “I told you I’m a spirit guide. You weren’t simply dismayed by the stories you heard and the vibes you got from that place. You were offended. You were offended for the convicts. You were offended for the children in the boys’ prison. You were offended for all those bodies on the Isle of the Dead. You were offended for all those people who were killed at the Broad Arrow Café. The dead spoke to you—they gave you their outrage and you carried it, because you have a like monster. Now, you’re drinking spirits and chasing the other spirits away. It doesn’t always work, but it doesn’t stop people from trying to make it work. That’s how alcoholics become alcoholics.”

“If you know this, why did you give me alcohol?” I ask.

“Because you needed to chase the other monsters away, and now there’s nothing left but yours. Tell me about them.”

I furrow my brow. Do I want to tell her this?

“You haven’t spoken to your shrink in weeks. Tell me about them. I don’t need to know what brought them on, I just need to know what they are.” I sigh and roll my eyes.

“I had something really bad happen to me as a kid,” I say.

“Yes, I remember the reference to the tattoo.” I finish my hurricane.

“It wasn’t until I became an adult that the monsters really came out. Things started happening—crazy shit, regular life shit, just shit. Now, I’m just afraid that the monsters are all going to eat me up.”

“Which monsters are going to eat you?” she asks. I shrug.

“The monsters that are coming to get me,” I say, and I sound like a toddler to myself. Her brow furrows and she ponders my statement for a moment.

“Oh,” she says in sudden realization. “So, you’re not afraid of present monsters. You’re afraid of the monsters that are coming.”

“Yes!” I say, my voice sounding like “Eureka!”

“So, what are you going to tell Minnie?” she asks. I frown.

“What?” I’m confused.

“What are you going to tell Minnie?” she repeats. “You’re her mother. You’re her first line of defense; her female role model. What are you going to tell her when her monsters come—to be afraid of them before they even get there? What do you tell the people seeking sanctuary at the help center? They’ve got some real monsters. What would you tell your patients? Why is any of this stuff that you would say to them—to your daughter—not good enough for you?

“Yesterday, you sat on a bus… or somewhere… and declared that you were tired of women hating on you because you’re beautiful and your husband is beautiful. You’re willing to take control of a bunch of catty bitches that you may never see again—who’ll only have an effect on you for the moment, but you can’t conquer impending monsters? The monsters are in your head. What sense does that make?

“Knowing and fearing that the monsters are coming is a very natural thing, but knowing that they’re coming gives you plenty of time to prepare for them. You don’t fall prey to them, Ana. You get ready for them and then you battle them. You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, but they. Won’t. Kill you. And guess what? That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.

“We’re all going to die one day,” she says, finishing her second hurricane. “One day, a hundred years from now, we’re not going to be here anymore. Are we going to sit right now in fear of that day? That’s the ultimate monster, when everything that we know in this life on this side ends. So, we’re going to sit every day and wait for it to end? Fear death’s arrival every day?

“I’m not! I’m going to live. I’m going to eat well, exercise, and do what I can to fend off this monster as long as possible. I’m going to live right, make good decisions, and when I see the monster coming—in dangerous situations, in bad habits, in illegal activities, in toxic people—then I’m going to avoid those things. And I’m going to do that for every monster that crosses my path. I’m going to analyze the situation, come up with a solution, then I’m going to implement a plan. If the monster gets the best of me, then I’ll implement another one. No monster—no monster—is bigger than me, but they’re always going to come. And what am I going to do… hide from them? Be afraid of them? Might as well send the big monster now if that’s what I’m going to do.

“You can’t pretend the monsters aren’t there, and you can’t run from them, but you know what? They don’t have to run your life. You grab those sons of bitches by the throat and you show them who’s boss. Only one of you can dominate the present—you or the monster. So, which one of you is it going to be? He has to go and find something else to do, someone else to terrorize, or die completely while you’re dominating the present. And what are you doing while he’s dominating the present—cowering in a corner? Crying and praying and hoping that he’ll go away? Living your entire life in fear when there’s nothing in front of you but opportunity?

“Here’s the thing, Ana,” she says, turning to face me, “you’re a spiritual being. We’re all spiritual beings, but yours is on display. It’s on your sleeve. I can see it… I can feel it. When you went to Port Arthur, you’re one of those people who connected with the troubled spirits there. At the risk of sounding hokey, do you remember the movie Ghost?”

“Who doesn’t?” Patrick Swayze at his hottest… except maybe for Dirty Dancing… What were we talking about again?

“You remember Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Oda Mae?” I look at her and twist my lips. “Okay, you know who I’m talking about. Do you remember every ghost in the city came to her house because they found out that she could hear them?”

“Yes?” I answer skeptically. Where is she going with this?

“It’s the same concept. You showed up and you caused a ripple in the continuum and all those spirits were drawn to you. You were bombarded by the spirits, and you were overwhelmed by all the death of all those people who died on that island. Whether they died in the prisons, at work in the fields, or from one of the bullets from Bryant’s gun, those spirits were drawn to you. We’re not talking about those people who lived there and lived out their long, happy lives and died with their family members surrounding them. Those people are at peace. We’re talking about the ones who died in turmoil—the souls who were tormented beings while they were alive or untimely ripped from their bodies during that massacre.

“You showed up and you picked that burden up at the prison. Then you went to the café and you picked up a few more. You carried it through the park and all the way back on the shuttle ride to the starting point. By the time you got back to the starting point, you were so angry at death—just another monster—that your day was over. Port Arthur held nothing more for you and you wanted to get as far away from it as possible. So, we came back to the boat. The problem is that the spirits are still in a state of unrest, and it’s all over you.

“But here’s the thing—that’s nothing any different than what happens to any other spiritual being. Having control over that spirituality is what makes one able to overcome those feelings. They’re able to conquer it and let it go, not live in it. They use their inner strength, their chakra, their chi—whatever it is you draw on—to overcome the anger or the overwhelming anguish, and you couldn’t. You have so many things holding onto your spirit that these spirits latched on, too. If you’re walking along with trash in your hand and you see a pile of garbage, your mind would say, ‘I need to find a garbage can,’ but human nature will throw it on the top of that pile.”

I kind of hate to admit that she’s right.

“That’s the same concept with all these spirits jumping on you,” she continues. “You’ve got the one friend who lost her mother, the other friend who just had an abortion, the other friend who was ambushed by her grandmother, and whatever else you have on your plate, and these restless spirits see this and they’re like ‘Hey, let’s hitch a ride!’ That’s why I was able to pinpoint your spirituality. Spirits know spirits, girl.

“So, here’s my question. We’re going to leave Port Arthur, and those spirits stuck here are not going to be an issue for you anymore. You’re not the first person who has had that kind of reaction to this place, and you won’t be the last. Then you’re going to go back to Washington and one way or another, all those problems and issues and monsters and spirits are all going to work themselves out, too. So, what are you going to do when theirs are gone and you’re face-to-face with your own monsters again?

“You’re in a constant state of Armageddon and you can’t survive that way—you’ll go crazy. Bad things happen. They’re going to happen again. They make us fight to overcome so that we can return to and appreciate the good times. So, are you going to let them run your life? If you do, you’re already dead. The entire concept behind living, being alive and being able to survive the bad is the reality of knowing that you can defeat the monsters. Even if you have to defeat them repeatedly, you can still beat ‘em! People can be fatally ill—they can have a death sentence and somehow come back. It’s the will to live, the will to fight, the will to win. How do you think people beat cancer?”

Cancer…
Jesus—Valerie! Shit!
The will to live, the will to fight…

I was constantly afraid of things that go bump in the night. Was afraid? Fuck, am afraid…

Suddenly, I’m seeing myself in everything that she’s saying.

He did a background check on me and I immediately went spiraling down the vortex of oh-my-God-they’re-after-me.

He came back home after a bit of soul-searching and suggested that we maybe postpone the wedding. I saw the death of all my future happiness and ran off to Montana.

The moment I found out that I was pregnant, I was afraid for the embryos to face the world.

I was frozen with fear when Christian was facing off with Robin Myrick and the hackers to the degree that I basically threatened Brian to keep him safe.

Granted, him running off to Madrid shook everything I knew, but even after he came back, I couldn’t see any horizon—nothing but gloom and fear and unhappiness, waiting for the next shoe to drop or the next boulder to fall.

And then, there’s Val… fighting that tumor and not even knowing if any of her friends would be there when she awoke… if she awoke. She named her monster, her unwelcome intruder. She named it Meg, a harmless little name for something that she planned to fight with every fiber of her being.

And she did.

She fought through surgery, through radiation and chemotherapy, through getting her head shaved and losing all of her hair, even through Kate fucking Kavanaugh tripping her at a garden party… and that ugly yellow house that she loves so much.

Meg… she calls it Meg.

What do I call mine—Boogeyman. Why? Because the Boogeyman is usually something you can’t beat. He’s the all-knowing, all-seeing manifestation of all things scary; the opposite of Santa Claus and worse than the devil; the scary blob of nothing that makes children behave for fear that he’ll “come and get me.”

I made it real. I gave it life. It may have started as a Meg, but I gave it life. I gave it the omnipotence of the Boogeyman.

Jesus.

I had the answer to my monsters all along and I’ve been sitting here… what? Hiding? Cowering? Shrinking? What? I can’t believe it was this simple all this time.

Accept the monsters. They’re going to come. It’s a part of life.
Be prepared for the monsters, but don’t live in them. Don’t sit there and let them run your life.
Do what you must to build up your armor so that you can fight when they come…

But you can’t let Meg live while you die.

Isn’t that what everybody was telling you all along?
They might have been, but I couldn’t hear them. They weren’t saying it in a way I could understand.

“I see the light,” Laura says. “I see it in your eyes. Let’s go to the spa and cleanse before it gets away…”

I’m lying on a hot thermal bench after a shampoo, condition, and scalp massage with some kind of homeopathic sacs on my eyes to help with the swelling from my crying. When did I cry? Right after a session of acupuncture. I cried like a damn baby. I felt like those tiny little needles were antennae drawing the weight of the world out of my body through those tiny holes… and through my tears. Waterlogged from my Sob-Fest, I followed the spa technicians as they guided me through a rainwater therapy shower-like hallway where seven different settings helped to release tension, wash away toxins, and aid in regaining my composure.

After a luxury facial that leaves my face as smooth as a baby’s bottom and a foot massage that pops nearly every joint in my feet, I take to an amber quartz crystal bed for the final soothing massage to release what’s left of my tension—a gentle rubdown with eucalyptus and juniper oil…

Eucalyptus…

… on the heated quartz crystal table. It’s magnificent and I totally forget where I am.

Now, I’m left to finish my cleansing on the heated thermal bench—it feels like sitting in a dry hot tub—and ponder all things Boogeyman. Why does my mind immediately go to the worst things that could possibly happen? If I were shrinking myself, what would I say about this…? What would I tell Minnie…?

“Mrs. G, you’re suffering from the worst type of phobia there is—phobophobia, the fear of fear. You’re afraid of being afraid… so afraid in fact that it has you paralyzed. You’re unable to make any solid decisions about your life or the future, afraid to step left or right because the unknown may come and gobble you up… may come. You almost stepped your drunk ass off a cliff three months ago, and what could have happened to you doesn’t scare you as much as what could happen, what’s waiting around the corner. Never mind the very clear and present danger of falling your ass off a cliff… No, you’re more concerned about the fact that Mr. G left you all alone and even though he’s back, you still can’t deal with the uncertainty. Uncertainty… there’s the worst phobia of all. You know what it’s called? Being human.”

I wasn’t always like this, at least I don’t remember always being like this. Even after Green Valley, when I came back to Seattle and slowly began to find my way, I remember finding some modicum of peace. What happened? What changed?

“Minnie, it’s a scary world out there, I know. Sometimes, it seems like things are all coming to get you at once, but I promise that it won’t always be that way. There’ll be good times and fun times, things to make you happy. When the bad times come, my little princess, you have to be strong. You have to believe in yourself and know that the bad times won’t last. You have to know that sometimes, you may have to endure some things—to wait them out—but other times, you can conquer those things. You can be your very own superhero and defeat the monsters. It won’t be easy, Minnie Mouse, but it’ll be worth it. And you won’t be alone. Even though there are some monsters that you may have to fight by yourself, there are a lot of people who love you very much, and they will never leave you alone. Remember, baby girl, you’re strong. You come from good stock, and you can conquer anything that comes your way. I love you.”

I’d like to say that I’m all better—I’m not, but at least I have a clearer and more productive perspective of what I’m dealing with… and it only took an island full of dead people, two hurricanes, and a spirit guide.


CHRISTIAN

Butterfly had a hard time with the Port Arthur tour. I’ll admit it was pretty creepy, especially that coughing that I know I heard in that cell, but she had a particularly rough time with it. I don’t think I’ve seen anything affect her quite like that. She wasn’t just affected; she was angry.

And I could almost feel the souls at that café crying for justice. That maniac that shot all those people is living and getting fat in jail. He’s not being punished for his crimes because whether he was or is mentally unstable or he doesn’t remember what happened, he couldn’t possibly care about jail if he killed all those people. The most feeling he had was running out of that burning room right before he was captured.

I’ve had enough of chewing the fat and sitting in the humidor with Jaxon. As he enjoys his cigar, he and Jason talk a bit about soccer… oh, I’m sorry… football. I’m not a smoker and while I don’t mind cigar smoke that much, we’ve been in here for the entire cigar, and it’s starting to irritate my eyes.

Cigar smoke doesn’t bother me as such. At the risk of sounding like the snob that I am, it has a more distinguished aroma than cigarette smoke—the good ones, anyway. Besides, cigarette smoke reminds me of… him.

Jaxon accommodates me once I’ve had enough of the humidor and we go in search of our women. Jason confirms with Lawrence that they’re in the spa. Good. That’s exactly what she needed. We enter the luxury spa—even grander than Miana’s—and I spot Lawrence sitting in the lounge with a magazine.

“Sir,” he says, standing and acknowledging my presence.

“Where’s my wife?” I ask.

“Inside, sir,” he says.

“Why are you out here?” I say, somewhat demanding.

“This is as far as I go, sir,” he replies. “I couldn’t very well watch them get their treatments.”

Duh!

“Of course,” I say, a bit more contrite. “How did she seem?” He twists his lips.

“Uneasy,” he says honestly. “She and the lady had an extensive conversation to which I was not privy, an impressive lunch, and two hurricanes… each.”

“Whoa,” Jaxon replies. I look over at him.

“Something I should know?” I ask. He raises his brow.

“D’ya knoh whaht a Huhricayne is?” he asks. I shake my head.

“No. Should I?” He chuckles a bit and Jason flexes his jaw and rubs his neck.

“In laymen’s tuhms,” Jaxon says, “a Huhricayne is one paht rum, one paht fruit juice, anothah paht rum, and anothah paht rum.” Jason hides his snicker at Jaxon’s description.

“So, basically, my wife is pickled… again,” I reply.

“Well, once she comes out of there, she probably won’t be,” Jason says gesturing to the spa. Jaxon nods.

“We’re fine from here, gentlemen,” I say to my security staff. I assure Jason that we won’t be needing them for the rest of the night and that I won’t let Butterfly out of my sight before dismissing him and Lawrence to try to have a little fun on our last evening on the ship. Jaxon and I enter the spa and go in search of our wives. We don’t have to look far before we see Laura sitting in a section of floating chairs over what looks like sand sipping tea and eating mango and cantaloupe slices.

“Thehre’s my possum,” Jaxon says upon seeing Laura, who raises her gaze and smiles at him.

Possum? Ew.

“Hello, pet,” she coos when she sees him.

Oh, dear God, if you only knew. That’s even worse. I look just past where she’s seated and I can see a woman in a room laying prostrate on a table with some kind of sacks over her eyes… like tea bags. Even with her hair wrapped, I know that’s my Butterfly. I’d know that body anywhere, even though she’s not moving, barely breathing. She looks serene… too serene.

“You look concerned,” Laura says, drawing my attention to her and away from Butterfly. I don’t respond. I don’t really know what to say.

“It was a rough day,” she adds, and I turn back to Butterfly. I watch her silently for a moment…

“We had a long talk.”

Laura’s voice draws my gaze back to her and I realize that it must have been more than a moment that I was gazing at Butterfly, because Jaxon is gone, and I didn’t even notice he left.

“She’s carrying a lot of demons,” Laura continues, gesturing to one of the floating chairs. I feel strange having this conversation with her. Is she about to betray a confidence by telling me the content of their conversation? Should I decline her invitation and wait for Butterfly to reveal these things to me?

Then again, how many opportunities present themselves to get an objective insight into your girl’s mind? I reluctantly, and anxiously, take a seat next to her.

Wow, these floating chairs are really comfortable.

“She’s a strange bird,” Laura says. “She’s an anomaly to most ‘regular’ folks, but I come across people like her all the time.”

People like her?” I ask. Laura nods.

“She’s intuitive. She’s more spiritual than natural, empathetic almost to a fault. She’s in the right profession—therapy and emotionally helping people who need it, but she’s got to learn to leave their demons at the door.”

I can’t argue with that.

“She’s loyal—faithful even if it’s to her own detriment. She’ll need you to guide her through that, to ground her…”

“How am I supposed to do that?” I interrupt. Hell, she grounds me. I’m the unstable one in this relationship… aren’t I?

“You are the hand that holds her, that keeps her aligned and steady. She guides the world, but you guide her.” I shake my head.

“I think you’ve got that backwards,” I confess. I’m the one with control of the world. I’m the Master of the Universe. She’s the one that keeps me in place—helps me to remember that I’m only human.

“Do I?” she asks, swinging one foot casually in the chair.

I think so,” I reinforce.

“Did you fall apart when you left?” she asks. I’m taken aback. This conversation has gone much deeper than I thought.

“So,” I begin, “she told you about our very temporary split.” Laura raises a surprised brow at me.

“Yes, but… she didn’t call it that,” she reveals. “Have you ever put a name to what happened?”

You mean like Liamgate? Liam… asshole.

“No, not really.”

“That could be one of the reasons that she’s having such a hard time with it,” she continues. “Was it a break-up or a break? How likely is it to happen again? You talked about the effects, but did you name the situation—actually tag what it really was?”

“We talked about it extensively,” I defend, “to nearly everyone that would listen—family, friends, her shrink, my shrink, she journals, we meditate… we’ve beat this horse about as much as it can be beaten…”

“And yet it lives,” Laura says.

Good grief, is this woman licensed?

“She’s already very spiritual, but she’s still an open wound,” she continues. “She’s like Velcro, and the demons and the spirits and the needy all flock to her. She’s a welcome mat and a door mat at the same time, and that’s why she was so overwhelmed by Port Arthur. It’s still open and it still leaves her vulnerable, and you may not have named it, but she did. She gave it a name. She calls it the Boogeyman.” I frown.

“I think you may have misunderstood,” I say. “The Boogeyman is her constant fear that something bad is going to happen.”

“I didn’t misunderstand,” she replies. “She’s had all kinds of bad things happen in her lifetime, and she may have retroactively related this fear to things that have happened to her before, but the Boogeyman didn’t show up until you went to Madrid.”

I fall silent, unable to dispute that most recent point of fact.

“The Boogeyman is not her fear of bad things happening—that’s just how she relates it. She felt safe and comfortable and confident and that security was unexpectedly ripped from her. All she was left with was uncertainty, complete and total uncertainty—nothing in front of her but a black hole. Nothing escapes from a black hole, Christian, not even light. And you wonder why when she slipped into hopelessness, she couldn’t get out.

“Fear is a very powerful thing, but fear doesn’t just happen. Something brings it on. She didn’t just wake up and decide the Apocalypse was around the corner. Something ripped her from her happy place, threw her into the abyss, and she’s been trying to climb out of it all this time. All of the clinical diagnoses and the opinions and points of others may have been correct—even helpful—but none of them turned that spotlight onto that darkness that’s inside her devouring her from the inside out. Then again, none of them could. Only she can do that.

“The Boogeyman is the manifestation of the fact that everything that she thought was, wasn’t. It’s the tangible reality that the security she thought she had could be ripped from her at any moment, because it was. We can try to put it into a different compartment all we want, but it is what it is.”

“We’ve taken breaks from each other before,” I protest. “It was hard, but the bottom didn’t fall out from under our lives. She took the time that she needed, then she came back, and we put our lives back together again. Why does this have to be different?”

I don’t know what I’m looking for. Maybe I’m looking for an escape from this responsibility—some other answer besides the fact that in leaving the way that I did, I totally broke my wife. She seemed to be dealing with things pretty well with the passing of time and her coping techniques, but it looks like that fucking trip to Port Arthur set her all the way back to the beginning.

“Are you talking about her trip to Montana?” Reluctantly, I nod. “Here’s the big difference between her escape to Montana and your escape to Madrid. Contrary to your belief that it lies in the commitment that you have now versus what you had then, that’s not true. It lies in what you’re not seeing and the message that each of you got when the other left.

“When Ana left, nobody but her assistant knew that she was gone, and even she didn’t know where Ana had gone. No one knew—her family, her friends, you, no one. Unless she was going to close up her practice and start a whole new life somewhere, you knew that she was coming back. You didn’t know what the circumstances would be when she returned, but you knew she was coming back.

“When you left, you took what you needed with you—you had your money and took Jason. As far as she could tell, you didn’t need to come back. You didn’t need her; you didn’t need your children; you could run your empire from anywhere, and you did. You left her the man that you were when you met her—cold, distant, a total loner—you and your security, and neither of you were forthcoming with information. All she was left with was ‘What do I do now?’

“You guys have talked about it and you hashed out your feelings, but you never made it an isolated incident. It’s a manifestation of everything bad that can happen. The bottom line, it’s the Boogeyman.”

Jesus, how long were we in that damn humidor?

“Well, then, what we really need to do is just isolate this thing, right?” She shakes her head.

“It’s too late for that,” she replies. “She has to battle that monster now, and you can’t battle it for her. She’s a strong woman, and you know that, but she’s delicate and sensitive, too. When it comes to you, you give her credit for her strength because she’s your anchor… but you don’t recognize her emotional weaknesses until she breaks down, and by then, the damage is already done. I understand that she’s your pillar, and I can see how and why, but you’re hers, too. You need each other, and when one is left with the uncertainty of not being able to have the other, the world falls apart.”

God, she’s so right. Nothing left me feeling more like a half a man than those twelve days that Butterfly was in a coma… not knowing if she would come back to me, not being able to see past the sixty days that I definitely had with her before I had to decide to unplug her or keep her alive as an incubator. I physically shiver at the thought.

“I can see that you have a story, too,” Laura says, “but we don’t have the time to hash it out. Besides, I’m all out of hurricanes.”

I chuckle.

“You would need a lifetime to hear my story,” I confess.

“No, not a lifetime, just a couple of hours and the right bits. How do you think Ana and I got so far?”

“I was just wondering that.” We both look back to the room where Butterfly is lounging just beyond the glass door.

“We’re all connected in some way, Christian,” she says. “It’s a matter of being able to let your guard down and let someone else in. She can do that easily. You, not so much.” She’s got that right.

“Where did Jaxon get off to?” I ask, feeling a bit too vulnerable. She smiles.

“The barber shop,” she says. “Through the lounge and to your right.” I rise from the chair.

“Thanks… for the talk,” I say. She nods once.

“Anytime…”

“Woild hohrses wouldn’t pull you away from thaht dohr,” Jaxson says when I ask why he didn’t invite me to the barber shop with him. “OI thought OI’d get meself a shayve n’ bockeh.” I frown and look at the barber.

“Shave and a haircut, two bits,” he says, singing the old jingle. I mouth an “oh” and nod.

“I think I’ll have the same,” I say. I had no idea what I was in for when I said that.

Sometime later, I emerge from the “barber shop” having a love/hate relationship with the staff there. My hair has been cut shorter than it ever has been before. My beard is trimmed to such precision that it almost looks drawn on my face. My nose hairs and eyebrows have been waxed… waxed! After that torture session, I was treated to an exfoliating facial scrub and steam, a five-minute jaw massage along with a neck and shoulder massage with a Sandlewood fragrance oil accompanied by a shot of fine whiskey to help ease the sting of having my skin ripped off! Jesus, women do this regularly?

I’m not so pissed when I look in the mirror and see the results. Shit. I don’t think I was this sharp on my wedding day.

When I get back to the spa, Laura and Butterfly are already gone, so Jaxon and I head back to our staterooms. Butterfly isn’t there either, but there’s a note on the table as soon as I enter the room.

Gone to Laura’s room to change for the evening. Tonight is semi-formal, so dress appropriately. We’ll meet you at Cagney’s Theater at seven.

Before I have a chance to wonder where Jaxon is changing since Butterfly has gone to their stateroom, he’s knocking at the door of my cabin with a garment bag in his hand. I can’t help but laugh when I let him in.

*-*

“So, tonight is our last night on board,” I tell Jaxon.

“Yeh. Lahrie told me. She’s feelin’ a bit bummed about it. Sez she nevah had a friend she could relayte to loike Ahnah. We’ll prob’ly nevah get tha two o’ them off the ‘Book.”

“The Book?” I ask, bemused.

“Faycebook,” Jaxon laughs. “Yoh a bit sheltahed thehre, Chris?”

“No,” I chuckle, “not at all. It’s just not feasible for me or my wife to be on social media.”

“OI’ll give it a week,” he taunts. “Get ready, Chris!”

We get to deck seven where the theater is, and I question Jaxon about what show we’re going to see. I’m certain that I hear nothing he’s saying, because as we bend the corner, I see a crowd of about five young men and in the center of them are our wives. Laura speaks to one of them while Butterfly stands demurely holding her clutch.

As usual, she’s fucking exquisite.

My heart actually begins to race when I see her. She’s wearing a beautifully modest black full-length sheath halter dress. The top looks like embroidered lace with a choker collar in the front—no splits this time, but she doesn’t need one to still look absolutely stunning. Her sunkissed skin is glowing and radiant, her mahogany mane full and shiny, cascading over her shoulders.

I know why women dislike her so. They want what she has—and I don’t mean money or even me. They want that class, sophistication, and ethereal natural beauty that she possesses… and they become angry with her because they don’t have it. Women often try to imitate her charm and elegance, but they fail miserably. They either come off overdressed, overdone, or skanky, but not my wife. Her beauty, grace, and sex appeal are effortless. No wonder men can’t control themselves around her. She’s a goddess. She leaves them powerless to behave themselves, poor suckers… and she’s mine, all mine.

My feet are frozen in their spot and I can’t stop staring at her. I’m struck dumb like the very first time I saw her. I’m afraid if I try to go to her, I might trip over my own feet and face-plant in the middle of the floor. She laughs sweetly, then her eyes lock with mine.

I’m captured.

I don’t know how the space closes between us, but in a moment, she’s standing in front of me.

“You’re beautiful,” I say.

“So are you,” she breathes. I cup her face and place a gentle kiss on her lips.

“Of couhse,” I hear someone lament. “Wy too hoht to beh hehr alone. C’mon, boys.”

Yes, run along, boys.

I admire my wife for a few moments more before I take her hand and we enter the theater.

I try to pay attention to the show—a Broadway review of hit songs from various shows. It’s actually very good, but I can’t help staring at my Butterfly. She’s glowing, like she’s shed the weight of the world and aged backwards five years or so. I just want to hold her and watch the moonlight dance off her skin. Luckily, the stage lighting has the same effect as it shines into the audience. As a result, I see more of my wife than I do of the show.

When the show is over, we’re trying to decide which restaurant we’ll visit for our last night on board. Laura and Jaxon will finish the cruise back to Sydney, but Butterfly and I will debark in Melbourne to fly to Adelaide and spend the weekend in the Barossa Valley. As we’re passing the Grand Plaza, I take note of the martini bar we visited—still open—and the fact that no one is at the piano. I stop walking and my wife looks at me strangely. I pull her over to the white baby grand and take a seat on the bench. When she takes the seat next to me, I think of the shortest song that I can play and sing for her that has the least chance of being interrupted…

She may be the face I can’t forget
A trace of pleasure or regret
Maybe my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that summer sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day.

Jaxon and Laura join us and stand next to the piano while various patrons of the piano bar or people just sitting in the lounge turn their attention to tonight’s impromptu entertainment.

She may be the beauty or the beast
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a heaven or a hell.
She may be the mirror of my dreams
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell…

I don’t know why I picked this song to sing. It just seems right and it’s short, but as I belt the song out in as mellow a voice as I can, I realize the words are perfect for the moment and for how I feel about her, especially in light of the conversation that I had with Laura this afternoon. Can I be that pillar that she needs to find her way back to the invincible Butterfly that she once was?

She who always seems so happy in a crowd
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry…
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows of the past
That I’ll remember till the day I die…

Jesus, that’s a bit depressing. Time to bring this back around.

She may be the reason I survive
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough and rainy years…

Me, I’ll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes, I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is She.
Sheeeeeeeeee, oh, She…

My wife turns her beautiful, smiling blue eyes to me and my heart is quickly filled with love. I kiss her gently, and again before I rub my nose against hers.

“I love you so much,” I whisper.

“I know,” she replies. “I love you, too.”

I cup her neck and place my forehead on hers. Do you have any idea how much I love you? That I would do anything, give anything, just to see you happy?

If that’s true, why are you so hell bent on hurting her all the time?


A/N: The song that Christian sings to Ana is She by Elvis Costello.

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Luxury Cruise Ship” and “Port Arthur” sections.

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

You can join my mailing list on the “Contact Me” page. Just click the link and it will lead you to a form to join the list.

~~love and handcuffs

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Raising Grey: Chapter 78—Traipsing to Tasmania    

I’m assuming that anyone reading my fanfic has read the entire FSOG trilogy and most likely seen all the movies. By now, I’m certain that you are fully aware that BDSM is an entire lifestyle practiced by an ENORMOUS community of people. To that end, if you do not agree with the lifestyle, I’m pretty certain that you knew that you didn’t agree with it by the time you finished reading the original trilogy. As such, why would you continue to read FSOG fanfiction knowing that it’s based on the trilogy and that the trilogy is based on a BDSM relationship if you don’t agree with the lifestyle? 

This is nearly the end of book four—BOOK FOUR! You didn’t know when you read that conversation between Christian and Ana in BOOK ONE, PAGING DR. STEELE, that this story would be about BDSM?

If you don’t agree with the practice of BDSM (not you, Falala, I know that you’re still trying to grasp it), that’s your prerogative and that’s okay, but don’t use my forum to slam it. First of all, you knew what you were reading when you started reading an FSOG fanfic and second, it’s not my responsibility to defend an entire lifestyle that was being practiced EONS before our great-grandparents were even a sperm in their great-grandparents’ DNA.

I’m certain that there are plenty of forums out there that share in your point of view about how inappropriate BDSM is in any relationship—marriage, casual, sexual, or otherwise. I Googled it came up with ten pages of forums that will welcome your anti-BDSM comments. This AIN’T one of those forums, and your comment has been deleted—no disrespect intended. Please post your anti-BDSM comments elsewhere. This is a REQUEST, not an ATTACK. Thank you. 

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 78—Traipsing to Tasmania    

ANASTASIA

Hobart is a beautiful city in Tasmania, built on rolling hills with Mount Wellington as its backdrop. Even though we’re on a ferry, it’s easy to see the beautiful 19th Century architecture throughout the city. The ferry driver is spouting several statistics about the location—second oldest capital after Sydney, mostly Anglo-Celtic despite the increase in immigrants from other countries, home port for Australian Antarctic operations, blah, blah, blah.

Should this interest me? I guess it should as a tourist, but sadly, it doesn’t. I’m not really sure what I should be interested in, but I know I don’t want to hear a bunch of stats.

“Some people compare the colonization of Hobart to the colonization of America,” Laura says to me when she sees that I’m completely uninterested in our tour guide’s stats and figures. “There are differing points of view concerning what wiped out Tasmania’s original inhabitants, the Aboriginal Tasmanians. Some schools of thought blame disease brought by the English when they built the convict settlement here. Others point to warfare and violence while there are still others that say that many died in what we would consider concentration camps.”

She looks out at the water for a moment.

“Being the spirit soul that I am, I tend to look at things a little differently than others.” She scoffs a laugh. “Who am I fooling? I look at things a lot differently. My ancestors are largely English. I have some Polish and a spot of German, but mostly English. Yet, I could never wrap my head around the European concept of manifest destiny. I realize the words were ‘born’ in America, but the concept was the same everywhere. No matter how they tried to explain it, what it basically meant was that the whole world was theirs and nobody else mattered. If that meant going across the land on several different continents and wiping out the natives, then so be it. Genocide was and is still justified as long as they got their piece of the land.” She turns around and leans on the railing.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get all philosophical,” she says. “I’m only one opinion. What does it mean? It just irritates me to hear someone spouting off about the depth of the harbor at the Hobart pier when there’s so much history here—so many untold stories. I can’t imagine that these people have traveled from so many different parts of the world to hear that the mountain there is 1300 meters tall. Is that why you’re here?”

“Certainly not,” I concur.

“There are barely any native Aboriginals left—Palawa, they’re called. I’m not sure that there’s any left of purely Aboriginal descent. And yet, here we are skating across the hillside like ‘This land is your land, this land is my land…’”

She seems very passionate about this and I wonder why she’s taking it so personally.

“Again, I’m just one person,” she sighs. “There’s one other heritage that I didn’t give you. I’m largely English, and some Polish, and some German… and I’m quite a bit Native American.”

My eyes widen and I purse my lips. Hence, the reason for taking things so personally.

“My ancestors know of being forced from their land, and their descendants—my grandparents and great-grandparents—talk about it a lot. They never let you forget. I’m of the Sac and Fox Nation. We were a merged tribe of the Sac and Meskwaki peoples. It didn’t help, though. We lost our land—most of it—and they tried to assimilate us completely in the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Some of us survived, though—I’m still here to tell the story.

“I didn’t mean to give you an ‘American’ history lesson. I just feel like a tourist attraction like this would be better served by hearing the history of the land—maybe even as told by one of the true natives—instead of this whole ‘Look at us, look at what we did’ spouting of statistics that I’m hearing from this guy.”

I’m not so sure that the entire gory details of colonization would be story material for tourists. However, I have to agree that a bit of true history would be a lot better than hearing about how deep the water is in the harbor.

I’m relieved when this leg of the trip has ended, and we arrive at the MONA—an underground lair full of art dug into sandstone cliffs a short ferry ride from Hobart. The ferry ride that trip sent Laura down a very morose road and I’m hoping she doesn’t travel down it again. Of course, she would empathize with the Aboriginals given her heritage, but for some reason, I get a feeling that it’s more than that.

We order a breakfast of champions at the restaurant there and Christian and I tell Jaxon and Laura about our eventful night. We leave out the buck-wild spanking-and-sex-session that resulted in all the love bites, and I conveniently skip the encounter with that horrible couple at the pub who thought it was perfectly normal and natural to ask if we wanted to wife-swap. I don’t know or care what kind of “free love” vibe we’re emitting, but I’m absolutely certain that we’re not sending out signals that we want to share.

While I recount the events of the previous night to Laura and Jaxon, Christian keeps looking at his phone, occasionally typing on the screen. I want to ask him if we’re interrupting his work, but I don’t bother. It goes with him everywhere and I’ve long since gotten used to it, except right now, I kind of feel like he should be more engaged with current company than concerned about his organization back in Seattle.

“So,” I say to Laura and Jaxon, “I wasn’t with you when you planned the excursions, so what’s on the agenda today?”

“Well,” Jaxon begins, “fuhrst, we’ll trip around tha ol’ MONA hehre for an houh or so, then we’ll tayke a droive bahk down ta Kettering an’ catch tha fehry across tha wattah. Through Nohth Bruny we go, down ta Advencha By, an’ hop tha Bruny Oiland Cruise. Thehre’s plenty ta see on an’ around the oiland behfoh we hedd bahk to the big boat. Then we’ll staht ovah in tha mornin’ on Port Ahthuh. We’ll only have a few houhs but we’ll get a lot done.”

“It should be a scenic drive,” Laura says. “It’s sounds like about two hours if the shuttle is driving slowly, which I wouldn’t count on.”

I nod and finish my coffee, trying to ignore Christian and his tap-tap-tapping on his phone.

“Great. Well, let’s get going. I’d like to see what there is to see.” I wipe my mouth and stand without looking to my husband. If he wants to sit here and work, he can. I’m going to go look at the art of the MONA.

The MONA is located on the Moorilla Estate, which is a winery and brewery on the Berriedale peninsula of Hobart. I should really say that the MONA is located under the estate, as the museum itself is a labyrinth of displays that burrow three levels into the side of the cliff. There’s a small and unassuming building on the main level that you enter to get to the good stuff. The front is totally mirrored, and the entrance makes you feel like you’re walking into a vortex. After we’ve had our breakfast, it’s now time to see the meat of things.

Upon entering the museum, we’re given these iPods called “The O.” If you want to know what the pieces are that are on display, you follow them on “The O” as there are no wall texts in the museum. “The O” offers lots of information and the ability to interact more through information, interviews, and music without affecting the aesthetics of the museum experience. Basically, as you get close to the artwork, you get content on the piece, and two people standing next to each other can get different content on the same piece. If you have an iPhone, you can download the app to your phone without having to borrow one of MONA’s iPads, and you can save and retrieve your trip at any time on either device or even when you leave the MONA.

I particularly like the feature that allows you to get your information in detailed scholarly language, lovingly referred to as “curator’s wank,” or in simpler text that speaks more to your emotional, creative side. I chose the latter. I’m always in some kind of scholarly, intellectual situation—I don’t want that shit today. I’m intrigued to see what this little device will offer, although I’m not necessarily thrilled with the idea of looking down at a mobile device the entire time, considering the fact that I’m still harboring a little resentment for Christian being buried in his blackberry during a portion of our breakfast. Nonetheless, I take my little device and head into the museum as does Jaxon. Laura and Christian decide against the iPod. I can’t help but think it’s because he wants to be able to look at his phone instead of admiring David Walsh’s multi-million-dollar art collection.

Ben and Jason appear equally as “interested.”

It’s a bit underwhelming when you get inside. You have to descend this long and winding flight of stairs to the lower level of the museum and work your way back up through the art and exhibitions—or there’s a cylindrical glass elevator to take you back up, but there’s only the stairs down.

“Great,” Christian murmurs. “More stairs.” I groan inwardly.

“They help to work off all the food we’re eating during the trip, like that magnanimous breakfast we just had.” He spent a good portion of breakfast on his phone, so even though it would be uncharacteristic of him, I don’t even know if he finished it. I’m not sure if he catches the sarcasm, but I begin my trek down the stairs without a concern for it.

It looks very ominous once you get to the bottom. The architecture is very organic, nothing like the traditional art galleries I’ve seen—a far cry from the pristine displays in Greece.

I was yet to discover just how far.

You don’t really have any idea of which direction you should go as nothing is really labelled. There are no specific sections for “expressionist art” or “abstract art.” You just have to find your way based on desire or instinct. I decide that this is going to be one of those experiences like when I go to the aquarium… or when I used to go to the aquarium—just me and the fishies.

As I begin to work my way around the museum, the GPS inside The O gives me brief descriptions of the masterpieces. I explore the mobile device and find that I can listen to interviews, Walsh’s opinions and stories about a particular piece, music, poetry, or even differing ideas to spark conversation—all in context of what I’m viewing.

Jaxon and I talk a lot about what we’re seeing since we both have The O. He explains to me the significance of a giant mural on one of the floors called Snake by Sidney Nolan. It’s a Rainbow Serpent consisting of over 1,600 individual paintings. The Rainbow Serpent has significant meaning in the various Aboriginal cultures—all largely religious. I’m just amazed by the level of dedication it took to create a work comprised of so many paintings. I discover that the museum was specifically designed around this and other pieces, like an iron bookshelf with large glass shards called Sternenfall housed in its own zinc cube back up on the surface and an illuminated sarcophagus called Mummy and Coffin of Pausiris—one of the older pieces.

I’m particularly—and morosely—drawn to a piece called Cloaca by Wim Delvoye, an artist who seems to have a lot of pieces in the museum. In simplified medical terms, the cloaca is the combined intestinal, urinary, and reproductive organ in various species, including humans. In laymen’s terms, it’s the part of the body that produces shit.

That’s what this piece does—literally! It produces shit.

It’s a contraption made of eight distinct pieces. Seven of those pieces are tanks and hoses and such attached to a steel frame hanging from the ceiling. The last piece is the “asshole,” the shit-producing apparatus. Someone stands at a table situated at the head of the machine, prepares food, and “feeds” it to this device. The food proceeds through the machine where the different tanks remove the nutrients and fluids, mimicking different stages of the digestive process and at the final stage, it produces turds. Real fucking turds! It’s fascinating and disgusting at the same time.

Who the fuck thought this was art??

I wander past another piece called Formations of Silence: Freudian Flowers and read that the work is about life and death by an artist who was fascinated by the human body. Each piece of the art could either represent a flower or a human organ.

More bodily functions… for Christ’s sake.

And yet another body metaphor—Artifact, a giant head that displays a light show inside to simulates your consciousness at work. I have to admit, that piece looks kind of cool, though.

I stop and get a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Void Bar inside the museum and continue on my expedition, invariably thinking about the “shit machine,” of all things, while I’m drinking it.

Partially through the exhibits, I ask Laura why she opted not to get The O. She explains that she likes for art to grab her. She often visits museums without looking at the wall plaques. According to her, they take away from the art. That’s most likely what Walsh had in mind when he set up the MONA—no windows, just you in this artistic dungeon of sorts being forced to commune with each piece. I look around for Christian, wondering if he’s still communing with someone at GEH or something in his email, and I can’t find him. I look around and see Jason trailing me…

Odd.

That must mean that Ben is with Christian. Since I can’t visually locate Christian immediately, I look for Ben. I find him standing outside the narrow doorway of a room, so I walk in his direction. Just inside the doorway, I spot my husband… communing.

He’s standing there gazing at a mural of… drawers, I think. He’s entranced, like he’s reading one of his spreadsheets and trying to find the pattern or the formula for his next merger.

Not a bit bitter, are we?
Well, you picked a fine time to show up.
Stop acting like a ‘tosser” and go over there and communicate with your husband. He’s “communing” with the art.

Why must this fucking cow be fucking right all the fucking time?

I begrudgingly walk over to my husband who still hasn’t taken his eyes off the piece. He’s totally transfixed. His head doesn’t move, but his gray eyes dart from one drawer to the next. The pictures on each drawer are illuminated. They’re black and white circles that look like cyclones. In the middle of each cyclone is a face… in color.

The drawers open like drawers of a morgue, and of course, the piece is invariably about sex and death. The sex part, I don’t get, unless it has to do with the wall of records on the opposite wall in the narrow room behind us—actual vinyl records that appear to be breathing. We just had a conversation about how much death we’ve been confronted with and now we’re in a museum looking at various pieces that cause introspection about what? Death.

He opens one of the drawers and it says, “I love you” in a young boy’s voice. I open another one and the same sentiment is heard in a woman’s voice. It’s one of the creepiest things that I’ve ever experienced… or so I thought.

“What do you think she felt?” he asks. I frown.

“Who?” I ask.

“Her,” he says. “The crack whore—what do you think she felt? When she slept with strange men, prostituted herself for her next fix… When she got that fix… When she let that monster burn and beat me… Do you think she ever loved me? Even once? Why didn’t she just abort me if she didn’t want me? Why didn’t she just take me to the hospital or the police station and just leave me there? She couldn’t take care of me, so why did she make me stay?”

I don’t even know how to answer his questions. Anything I say right now could set him off, and I can’t afford to let that happen in a public place—much less in the middle of the MONA.

He opens another drawer and yet another voice says, “I love you.”

“She killed herself,” he says. “She didn’t have enough money to feed me, to clothe me, to find a fucking baby sitter while she turned her tricks, but she had enough drugs to overdose. How is that possible?”

I move in closer and just stand next to him, looking at the faces staring back at us and wondering what they mean. Were each of these people in a drawer at one point—in the morgue? Are these random faces or are these people close to David Hall who passed away? Who are the voices saying, “I love you” and why?

“What do you think she felt as she was dying?” he asks as he closes a drawer. “Did she feel any pain? Did she see anything? Was there even the slightest moment of clarity… or regret… before she kicked over?”

I don’t examine the work anymore. I don’t need to know what it means. I only need to know that Christian is spiraling down each one of these little black-and-white cyclone holes with these little faces thinking about death…

And the crack whore.

It’s time to bring him back to the here and now.

I slowly slide my hand then my arm into the bend of his elbow. I then hug his arm with both of mine and wait for him to emerge from that dingy place of squalor in Detroit and come back to me… to our children.

He looks down and over at me and I give him a soft smile. It doesn’t matter what she felt. She’s not here anymore and she doesn’t have any answers for you. Stop torturing yourself.

“That little boy… he wants to know. He’s got questions that nobody can answer because she’s dead… but he still fucking wants to know.”

Yeah, you’re torturing yourself.

He sighs and looks down at me, coming back to the here and now for a moment. He moves the arm that I’m hugging, and I release it. He wraps it around my body and pulls me closer to him.

“What’s this piece called?” he asks. I touch the thumbnail on The O and pull up the information.

Well, that explains it.

“’When My Heart Stops Beating’ by Patrick Hall,” I inform him. He scoffs.

“Well, that explains it,” he says, repeating my sentiment. He turns us both to the door and we leave the tiny room.

We walk around the museum, arm in arm, hand in hand, or with me tucked under Christian’s arm—whichever makes him feel more comfortable. He confesses to me that he got a little baby time before I woke up this morning. I confessed that I, too, had some baby time yesterday while checking my emails, so we’re even. We agree to make sure that we talk to them together later if it’s not too late.

We happen upon a water piece, words made out of falling drops of water illuminated by tract lighting—a lot of work in this museum seems to be illuminated—called bit.fall by Julius Popp. We stand there in silence for several minutes reading random words as they fall and listening to the water splash at the bottom of the installation. It’s very comforting.

There are several more pieces to marvel at—or question—the room full of white books with no titles and blank pages, the bike on the rack that spews dirt on the wall, the exquisite sculptures hand-carved out of tires. But the one that invariably catches our attention was a seemingly harmless piece consisting of three white—probably plaster—casts on a black background. My mouth falls open and Christian’s head tilts to the side like he’s not completely sure he’s seeing what he’s really seeing.

Pussies. Yep, that’s what I said—pussies.

Appropriately labelled Cunts… and other conversations, the piece is three perfectly cast snatches—one in full bush, one in the typical pussy-mohawk with hair at the top and clean lips, and the one in the middle is completely Brazilian… clearly not all the same coochie.

“Are those…?” Jason begins.

“Yep, yes, that’s what they are,” Christian says, cutting him off before he finishes the question. My mind immediately goes to the Pussy DJ… and we paid to see these. I can’t help but see the humor in the irony of the situation, and I choke out a snorting laugh. Christian rolls his eyes and tries to stifle his own smirk, and thus, some much-needed levity is added to a pretty tense situation.

When we emerge from the MONA into the “bright light” once again, I take a moment to reflect on the hours we just spent in the cave. I had no idea this place was so macabre. It’s strange and awful and wonderful and fascinating all at the same time. It’s a contradiction in and of itself because it has subtle spiritual undertones and disturbingly anti-religious themes. Walsh describes the Amarna by James Turrell as “what God would do if he wanted to build a gazebo,” yet he declares himself a rabid atheist. How does one reconcile that—a reference to God mixed with a blaring belief that God does not exist?

Not to mention the parking space reserved for “GOD.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know who parks there as there’s a second one reserved for “GOD’S MISTRESS,” so… what’s the thrust here?

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This entire experience and all this crazy, beautiful, nonsensical art has revealed one fact to me. It’s not a small world. It’s a big world, a very big world, and there’s a lot of it that I haven’t seen. Tucked on this little island on the other side of the world is this museum that’s so unconventional that it truly shows you just how much of a speck you are in the universe.

Who crashed that damn car between those two walls?

What man records every single day that he spends in his studio until his death? And did he do it specifically for it to be displayed that way in that bunker?

What kind of mind thinks to burrow into the ground—deep into the ground—to build a museum that holds priceless, existential works simply to maintain the integrity of two existing structures on the land, in effect making them a part of the art exhibit?

I saw a sculpture of a dead horse; illuminated drawers of a morgue that speak when you open them; and one piece of art made from 1600… 1600!

And all this after experiencing the splendor that is the Sydney Opera House.

I am nothing!

We take some time to view the art pieces that are outside the MONA before we must take the 45-minute ride to Kettering to catch the Bruny Island Cruise. I guess living in Australia, particularly in Tasmania—you should probably get used to water travel.

There are beautiful—and strange—sculptures and pieces to see outside just like there are inside. Wim Delvoye is apparently a pretty popular “bloke” in these parts as his pieces are all over the place, but I’m extremely impressed with his Gothic Temple that sits on the grounds near the water with a backdrop of Hobart and his Flatbed Truck, Trailer and Cement Truck, which defies words and you simply must see it to believe it.

There’s an adult-sized trampoline, a tennis court, and the aforementioned car wedged between two walls with “sex, death, & bogans?” carved or written on the trunk, and I’m having another one of those “was this trip really necessary?” moments.

And a lovely platform and with a roof called the Amarna sits prominently on the ground, providing a lovely colored light show over the course of time. I’m told that the Amarna is quite beautiful and best viewed at sunrise or sunset. First, it is quite beautiful. Second, I wasn’t here at sunrise. Third, I won’t be here at sunset. So, I guess I’ll just have to take their word for it.

I truly think I’ve had about all the “art” I can take today, not to mention Christian’s brief trip down Hell Street, and I’m more than prepared to bid adieu to the MONA. It was an enlightening experience, but I’ve had enough. Jaxon and Laura were enthralled by the place and keep sharing their perspectives of the various pieces of art. I interject an opinion every now and then on the pieces I found interesting, and the rest of the boys just kind of listen until our excursion shuttle arrives. It doesn’t take long before our ride to Kettering is pulling up outside of the Moorilla Estate and we board to head to our next destination.

And Christian pulls out his phone again.

“May I ask why you keep pulling out your phone?” I ask, attempting to hide my ire. He looks over at me and raises a brow.

“Yes, you may,” he says matter-of-factly, “and there are a couple of reasons. First, it keeps vibrating and I keep getting messages from Holstein, the warden at the women’s prison who wouldn’t take or return my calls?” My turn to raise a brow. “He keeps leaving me messages apologizing for not returning my calls and asking me to call him back. He’s called me about five times in the last 12 hours. So, I can’t help but wonder what has set him off.”

“Ooookay,” I reply.

“Subsequently, Josh went up to the prison to do an interview with Lincoln to try to get some footing on the progress, purpose, and the actual author of this book. He’s gotten some solid information and he’s been corresponding with me on his findings. I’m wondering if Holstein has put two and two together, although I don’t see how since there’s no way to tie Josh to me.”

“He works for you,” I say with an unsolicited yawn. Where did that come from?

“To maintain his autonomy as well as his anonymity as a freelance journalist, he works for me under an alias. Only certain people inside the company know who he really is.” I nod, take off my glasses, and rub my tired eyes. I had to wear my glasses because they were a bit irritated from sweat running into them last night probably mixed with a little mousse.

“You’re sitting,” he says. I nod. I know what he’s referring to. I didn’t sit down on the ferry ride to MONA because my butt was still tender from the spanking and the water was a slight bit choppy. I was careful with my sitting at breakfast and didn’t sit down again after that until now.

“How do you feel?” he asks.

“I’m okay,” I say, softly.

“You brought eucalyptus lotion with you,” he points out. “Did you think something like this might happen?” I shake my head and lean over on his arm.

“I didn’t want to risk working out or swimming too vigorously and ruining my vacation,” I say with a yawn, resting my tired eyes. He lifts the arm that I’m leaning on and puts it around me. I nuzzle into his chest and absently listen to the conversations going on around me.

“Butterfly?”

My husband’s voice drifts through the fog of my brain. I open my eyes and realize that I fell asleep during our ride.

“Hmm?” I say, trying to pull myself out of the extreme comfort I feel snuggled here in his arms.

“We’re almost there, baby. You might want to get the sleepy dust out of your eyes.”

I stretch my arms over my head. Gosh, that was a really good nap, even though I missed the scenery. My eyes even feel better. I stretch both arms over the other side of my body, then bend down between my legs to stretch my back. I hear what sounds like the normal chatter of various conversations on the shuttle, so I sit up and continue my stretches.

“Mmm,” I hear someone say sitting across from me, “OI guess Americahns don know how ta keep thehr bedrooms in thehr bedrooms.”

I don’t react, but I’m sure she’s talking about me. I let her have her little comment and put my hands on Christian’s shoulders to get a good twist and stretch my lower back.

“Huh, look, moh on tha bahk,” she points out. “OI guess this koind a’thing is on display in tha Staytes.”

Geez, what a stupid cunt. Christian is looking at me and waiting for me to react, and I don’t, but when I turn around, she’s glaring at me with distaste. My eyes immediately go to Laura, who’s also sitting across from me next to the verbose bitch.

“Part of your new attitude?” Laura asks. I scoff.

“She doesn’t bother me,” I say, loud enough for the woman and the people around her—whomever she was talking to—to hear, “because the fact that I have a ginormous tattoo on most of my back to hide the brutal scars from a vicious act committed upon me as a teenager doesn’t offend or affect her or prompt her to speak on the origin of the art, but these hickeys give her cause for pause. I think she needs to get her priorities straight.” I quickly locate my Jackie-O’s and put them on, never making eye-contact with the object of my current displeasure. Say something, bitch. I will shred you.

“Butterfly,” Christian says, taking my hand.

“I’m not naked,” I say firmly without yelling. “I’m not indecently dressed and what’s more, I’m not ashamed of the fact that I’m a beautiful woman and you love my body. A good portion of my back is covered in woodland creatures and goth letters and all she saw was the hickeys?

“I’m not going to wear a turtleneck in 80-degree weather—that’s about 27 Celsius to my metric listeners—because someone who doesn’t understand the concept of passion might be a little sensitive. We just left the MONA where we saw a sculpture on the wall of three bare anatomically-correct pussies, and this offends her?” I say, pointing to myself and now turning my gaze to the woman who was glaring at me a moment ago, who’s now staring gape-mouth at me. Laura doesn’t make the situation any better. She leans over and says something to the woman that nearly makes me lose my composure.

“Close your mouth, dear. You might catch a fly.”

The woman gasps and quickly closes her mouth, turning her gaze away from us and out the window. I conspicuously hold my hand up to Laura, who victoriously gives me a high-five.


CHRISTIAN

Even on the other side of the world, we can’t seem to catch a break. They despise us for being rich and then they despise us for acting like normal people. Once the shuttle arrives on Bruny Island, I take my beautiful wife’s hand and walk away from the twat that was talking shit about her. We have a quick lunch of fish, chips, and slaw at the Bruny Island Cruises Seafood Restaurant before we head into the Adventure Bay Visitor Center to get ready for our cruise.

“’Hehr, Chris,” Jaxon says, handing me two red jackets with hoods, two beanies, and two pairs of gloves. The jackets are a nice weight and have a yellow patch that says “Bruny & Tasman Island Cruises.”

“It moight get a little chilly on tha boat. It would have been a buhden carrying jackets ‘round the MONA.”

Well, he’s right about that, but I don’t intend to wear this beanie unless I have to. I grab two more jackets and hand the lot to Jason. Butterfly’s looking at the digital cameras.

“Are you looking at those for the cruise?” I ask, she nods. “No need. I picked up a couple at the gift shop on board yesterday when I found out where we would be going today. Jason has them.” She smiles.

“You think of everything,” she says. “And when’s the last time you gave that man a raise? You would be completely helpless without him.”

That’s a good question. He lives with me. I’ve always paid for Sophia’s schooling. I’ve never thought about giving him a raise and it hasn’t come up… at least not for the last few years.

“I’ll talk to him about it,” I say, seriously. “It may be time to do that.” We pay for the jackets, leave the visitor center, and prepare to board the boat for the cruise. It has already gotten cooler, so Butterfly puts her new red jacket over her sweater. She actually likes the beanie a puts it on over her braided hair, shoving the gloves in her pocket. She turns around to model for Laura, who is donning her own red jacket when I catch a glimpse of the woman who made the comments to her on the shuttle and pray that Butterfly doesn’t see her.

Too late.

“Is this better?” Butterfly says, holding her arms out for the woman to see. “You can’t see my hickeys now. Is this less offensive for you?”

The woman does this gasping thing and walks away from us, no doubt looking for her friends. Her best bet is to stay out of our way, because Butterfly is not going to let up.

A few minutes later and it’s onto the boat we go for the Bruny Island Cruise, away from Adventure Bay and around the southeastern side of Bruny Island. There really is so much to see on this cruise. It’s not really a cruise, though. It’s actually more exciting. We’re on an open boat skimming across the water like a speedboat around the large dolerite cliffs—a stone tougher than granite.

Where the Tasman Sea meets the South Pacific Ocean, our small boat rides the swells of the water and dolphins leap out of and back into the water alongside us. Some swim and dive separately while others swim in groups of three, four, or even five leaping out of the water all at the same time. It’s a synchronized dance between them—like they’re trained to do this, although you know they’re not because they’re free. It’s like something straight out of National Geographic, and it reminds me of swimming with the dolphins in Anguilla.

Next, the tour guide informs us that we’ll be seeing what is known as The Monument. What he really meant was that we would be skating over the water at top speed through a seemingly narrow passage between a gigantic dolerite formation on the right and the ominous dolerite cliffs on the left. Now, I did mention that dolerite is tougher than granite, so had our boat hit either the cliff or the formation, it would have been smashed to smithereens. I trust no one like I trust myself to guide a boat—except the captain of the cruise ship, of course—so I’m sitting on the edge of my seat the entire five seconds it takes to get around the cliff.

I must admit, however, that the photo ops of this trip are endless. These majestic cliffs carved out of these beautiful rocks are simply awe-inspiring, and I’m not easily awed. We see this phenomenon called The Blowhole. It’s not really a phenomenon—it’s really very simple. There’s a hole in the base of one of the dolerite cliffs. As the water rises and falls—as it always does, the pressure builds inside the hole, forcefully pushing the air and water out so that it flies high up into the air like a whale’s blowhole. But the water also flies out across the surface, so we have to keep our distance to prevent being sprayed.

We discover that we really need our jackets because some parts of the cruise are colder than others. There are some parts where we could just open our jackets and let the wind blow in our faces. There were other parts where we needed our beanies and gloves and actually should have purchased scarves as well. My wife teases me incessantly as she knew that I had no intention of putting that beanie on my head… until that cold air hit me.

Watching the fur seals play was an interesting event, and there are a lot of them! Many of them were just lounging along the rocks—natural beds along the cliffs that appears to be made just for them—while others took dips in the cool water. If we get too close to the cliffs, we have to let the boat coast a bit to keep from hitting them. One seal follows us around the cliff, leaping from rock to rock to keep up with the slowly cruising boat until a wave reaches up and douses his most-recent landing pad, pulling him into the water. He emerges a few moments later and abandons the idea of keeping up with the boat.

On another cliff, we see a gaggle of nests, each occupied by an albatross or two. Watching them fly reminds me a lot of soaring… and the fact that I haven’t been in a glider in years. Shit, I’m going to lose my wings if I don’t get in the air soon.

There were a few times when the cruise slowed to a crawl to travel through natural tunnels in the cliffs, allowing for the aforementioned photo ops. The entire trip is extremely majestic, and I find myself feeling slightly more spiritual than I’m accustomed to being.

I look over at my wife, laughing and enjoying the trip with our new friends and even with our security detail, and I realize why she was crying when we left the docks in Sydney, even though I knew it then. We’re so lucky—not because we’re rich, but we have each other and this beautiful family, and opportunities, and an entire world to explore. I’m sitting here mulling over my past and the crack whore when I’ve got my entire life ahead of me and nothing but opportunities—to live, to grow, to help other people… to have experiences besides those that money affords.

I need to put some things in motion when I get back to Seattle—besides dealing with the Pedophile and her impending book, and the warden who appears to be running scared now. My mother took me from hell and from squalor and even though I remember the terror and it’s had a lifelong effect on me, I spent most of my life in a bubble and I’m still in that bubble now. It’s time for some changes.

The cruise takes us from the north end of Bruny Island from Adventure Bay and back up the coast the way that we came. We enjoy a repeat of the sites and our group is treated to the migration of a few humpback whales. The tour guide informs us that humpback whales travel north up the coast through May and June. However, they migrate back down towards Antarctica from September through December, and we were just so lucky to witness the southern trek.

We get back to Adventure Bay mid-afternoon and take the shuttle again to Inala, a conservation property, that holds nature tours, where we learn about the endangered birds and wildlife on the island. From Inala, the shuttle takes us to the Hotel Bruny Bistro, a pub where we have dinner and talk about the day. Most of the ingredients used in Tasmanian dining are grown or harvested locally. We discover that their specialties are chocolates, cheese, and wine.

Looking around both here and Sydney, I realize that I didn’t really need to book a separate trip to “Wine Country.” The whole damn continent is “Wine Country” in one way or another. Nonetheless, I’m hoping we can capture the same magic in the Barossa Valley that we did in Napa.

We start dinner with an assortment of oysters from nude to grilled with bacon and Worcestershire sauce to beer battered with lemon accompanied by pitchers of Coopers Pale Ale. For our main course, Butterfly has chicken Parma with smoked leg ham, Bruny Island cheese and house Napoli sauce, with a salad and fries… or chips, I should say. I have the Tassie beef Scotch Fillet steak with vegetables and honey brown mushroom sauce.

Once we finish dinner, our last stop is to the Bruny Island Neck Lookout for the penguin walk. Just on the other side of the Bruny Island Neck, which is the narrow isthmus that joins North Bruny Island and South Bruny Island, is the penguin lookout. There are viewing and observation platforms that can be reached by—what else—a fucking lot of steps. Butterfly looks over at me as we step off the shuttle when she sees the stairs.

“There must not be an obese person on this entire continent,” I say before she speaks. “I sure haven’t seen any, and if they are here, they’re few and far between. I haven’t visited anywhere that hasn’t been an exercise in stair-climbing.”

“There were no stairs at the Tower Eye,” Butterfly disputes, “or in our hotel, or at Big Poppa’s. Okay, there were a few at Big Poppa’s, but it wasn’t an ‘exercise in stair-climbing.’”

“There were stairs in Sydney,” I correct her, counting off on my fingers, “there were stairs in Hobart at the MONA, and now there are stairs here on Bruny.” She folds her arms.

“Would you rather wait here at the bottom for us, old man?” she teases. What the fuck? I’m not that much older than she is.

“If you can do it, I can do it, girly,” I retort. She puts her hands on her hips.

“You know I can do it, Grey,” she challenges, popping her neck from side to side.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” I taunt. “Less talking, more climbing—chop, chop!” I gesture to the stairs. She shakes her head and scoffs at me.

“Stop whining, you little crybaby, and get your ass up the stairs,” she says before turning around and beginning her climb. Part of me wishes that she had worn her heels so that she wouldn’t be talking so much shit after all the walking and climbing we’ve done. The other part of me is thanking the fates that she didn’t, because I’d have to carry her down these steps. I pause for a second at the foot of the stairs and watch her climb. She turns around to find me and stops.

“Well, these stairs won’t climb themselves, Grey,” she chastises. “You throwin’ in the towel?”

“Nope,” I say calmly. “Just enjoying the view.” She raises her brow and purses her lips.

“Get your ass up here…”

Once we get to the top of Mount Everest, the guide there gives us some instructions and information about the march of the fairy penguins, as Butterfly calls it. Fully grown, they’re only two pounds and measure about one foot long. They’re nocturnal and during the nesting season, they make their way inland to the nesting grounds and their burrows just beyond the beach after dark to protect themselves from predators.

“Finally!” Butterfly exclaims softly, “Something that I want to see at sunset or dusk that I get to see!”

In order to see the penguins, we have to use flashlights covered in red cellophane and stay on the boardwalk or the stairs. If there are any people on the beach, the penguins won’t come ashore. Once again, I’m reminded of Anguilla and the night the turtles hatch and made a mad dash to the sea. It scared the shit out of my wife, who wasn’t my wife at the time. She later told me that she had flashbacks of the movie The Mummy, where the scarabs all swarmed out of his burial site. She swore that the world was ending, and the Mummy was coming up from the great beyond to claim our souls!

The wild sex on the beach that followed calmed her nerves enough to not be concerned, however.

The march of the penguins isn’t quite the same, though. There are several of them, granted, but it’s not a swarm of them. Though they’re small, they’re much larger than the turtles we observed running to the water. They clearly don’t like the light during this trek, and an idiot or three opted to shine bright lights on one or two of them, causing them to flee to dark places under the bridge and steps, and prompting heavy chastising from the rangers and guides.

Assholes.

Our little group is able to see several of the little critters make it to their burrows with our cellophane-covered flashlights, and Butterfly is even able to get a picture or three of the journey.

The time has come to make the trip back down the stairs and, as usual, Butterfly gravitates towards Laura to discuss their adventure. She doesn’t hang out with her female friends as much since we got married. I mean, Valerie is around often enough, but she used to have Food and Libations with her friends every weekend. Then they all—we all—got married and started having kids and… it just hasn’t happened nearly as much.

I take this opportunity to have a little chat with my head of security.

“Jason, do I pay you enough?” I blurt out where only he can hear me. His brow furrows. “I mean, have you gotten a raise recently.” Now, his brow rises.

“Sir, I get a cost of living raise every year,” he says.

“Oh,” I say. “I didn’t know. Is it sufficient? Did you get a raise when…?” I trail off. I’m hoping he knows what I’m asking without me actually having to say it. Even in the dark, I can see his face soften.

“I don’t live an extravagant lifestyle, sir,” he says. “I don’t even have to pay child support anymore. You pay me quite handsomely. If there were a problem, I definitely would have let you know by now. And no, I didn’t get a raise when the blonde bimbo shot me. I got hazard pay, which is more than a raise—not to mention I got to lay up in your penthouse, eat your food, and be treated like a king without lifting a finger.” I chuckle.

“This is true, you freeloader,” I say with mirth. I’m suddenly a bit overwhelmed with emotion thinking about the day that Jason was shot. That bitch truly did almost take everything from me, including my best friend.

“Thanks, Jason,” I say, controlling my voice, “for everything.” He examines me for a moment before he answers.

“You’re welcome, Boss.”

As we’re riding in the shuttle back to Hobart, I look over at the woman who made the comments about my wife earlier. She has moved her seat and she’s not sitting across from us anymore, but she’s still facing us. I honestly attempt to decipher what her home life must be like.

Is there any passion in her marriage?
Is she even married?
Does she have a significant other at all or just this friend she’s sitting next to?

Laura is leaning on Jaxon catching a nap over what will be a nearly two-hour ride and I look over at Butterfly. She’s looking down at the digital camera, reviewing the pictures that she took throughout our day trip.

“Hey,” I say, quietly enough for only her to hear. She looks up at me and I jerk my head and add a soft, “C’mere.”

Her brow furrows at first until I jerk my neck in that “come hither” fashion again. She puts her camera in her coat pocket and zips it shut. I help her crawl into my lap, wrap my arms around her, and kiss her softly.

“Did you enjoy yourself today?” I ask softly.

“It had its moments,” she admits, “but overall, yes, I had a really good time.”

“What do you say we piss off some of our more sensitive shuttle-mates?” I ask. She smiles coyly.

“What did you have in mind?” she asks

“PG only,” I confess, “but I can’t guarantee that I won’t cop a feel or two.”

“Carry on, Mr. Grey,” she says suggestively, and I cover her lips with mine.

*-*

“Sir…”

This time, I had to be roused from sleep. The shuttle has arrived at the dock and it’s time for us to re-board the ship. I feasted on Butterfly’s lips until we had both had our fill and then… we fell asleep. She’s still asleep on my lap when Jason wakes me, and I have to rouse this angelic creature from sleep.

“Butterfly?” I say, softly giving her a shake.

“Hmm?” she responds, pulling herself from a deep sleep.

“We’re back at the ship, baby,” I say. I look across the seats and see Jaxon having the same problem with Laura. He cups her face gently and says something in her ear. She rouses a bit, but is having as much difficulty coming out of her fog as my wife. Butterfly uncurls in that way that makes me want to eat her alive, but I swear, I’m totally exhausted and can think of nothing but getting this woman to bed… to sleep! That’s odd.

When we finally wake our wives and get them to the platform to board the ship, Jason and Lawrence stay close in case either of them looks as if they may faceplant and we negotiate the gangplank. We make it safely back onto the ship and check-in before heading to the elevators. I push the button for our deck while Jaxon pushes the button for theirs. We ride in silence with two half-conscious wives unable to keep their eyes open and barely able to walk. We get to Jaxon and Laura’s deck first and he puts his arm firmly around his wife.

“Shall I walk them to their cabin, sir?” Lawrence asks, clearly concerned about Laura’s ability to walk. I’m about to answer when Jaxon speaks up.

“Thaynks, mate, but don’t trouble yaself,” he says cheerfully and sleepily at the same time. “I’ll nevah let ma Lahrie fall.”

“If you’re sure…” Lawrence presses. Jaxon smiles.

“Yoh a good egg, but no, I got ‘er,” he says. “See ya at brekky, Chris?” he adds.

“Brekky,” I say before the door closes. Jason turns to me.

Brekky?” he asks.

“Breakfast,” I tell him. “I only learned this morning—from context clues and process of elimination,” I add with a yawn.

“Oh,” he says and flattens his lip. When we get to our deck, the door opens, and I begin to walk. Butterfly doesn’t. Her feet stay right where they are, and she nearly goes down.

I’m not that damn sleepy. I’ll nevah let ma Buttahfly fall, eithah! I bend down and effortlessly scoop her up in my arms.

“I can walk,” she protests sleepily, never opening her eyes.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” I say as I carry her to our stateroom…

Butterfly is awake bright and early on Thursday morning. She didn’t pump after we left the ship yesterday, so she was pretty swollen when she got out of bed. God knows I wanted to partake, but we don’t have the time.

Similar—but in contrast—to what she wore yesterday, today she wears a hot pair of black skinny jeans and a black and white halter tops identical to the yellow one that she wore yesterday, with all black sneakers and another black sweater tied around her waist. She has taken her hair down and put it in two pigtails, the waves from my braid cascading down her breasts.

Dear God in heaven, why is she tempting me?

Dressed similarly in black jeans, a black T, and black hiking boots, I take my wife’s hand and we head to brekky to meet Jaxon and Laura.

Like yesterday—when Butterfly thought I wasn’t listening—Jaxon informs her of what we’ll be doing. Since we don’t have nearly as much time as we did in Hobart, we’re going to do a quick tour of Port Arthur, then catch a shuttle to the Tasman National Park. We have to be back on the ship early this afternoon to sail to Melbourne, so today’s port of call will begin early and end early.

Our breakfast this morning is quite sweet and starchy. Aside from the poached eggs and “bangers,” we had waffles made to order with assorted toppings, mango French toast, and apple sticky buns. Butterfly has some kind of gourmet roast frappa-latte or something with her sweet, starchy brekky.

As Butterfly loads her fork with a slice of banger and some poached eggs, I notice that same woman walks pass our table that antagonized her on the shuttle yesterday. Butterfly is looking down and doesn’t notice her. She has joined some friends already sitting at a table near ours and unless she’s just getting an early start on her day, she’s taking an excursion, too, and I can only hope it’s not ours.

Her friends are not being discreet at all by pointing out that Butterfly’s the one with the hickeys that let the woman have it yesterday. I can tell that my wife can hear them.

“Butterfly,” I warn gently.

“Yes?” she says, loading her fork again, this time with waffles and French toast.

“Don’t let it get to you,” I reply.

“What?” Laura asks, blissfully ignorant of what’s happening.

“Same shit from yesterday,” Butterfly says before stuffing her mouth with food. Laura looks around and spots the group and the woman.

“She’s glaring over here again,” Laura says. Well, damn, way to fan the fire, Laura.

“I haven’t heard her say anything and I better fucking not,” Butterfly says with a mouth full of food. “I’ll stab her with this goddamn butter knife.”

“Butterfly!” I exclaim at the same time that Laura and Jaxon exclaim, “Ana!”

“Didn’t we come on this trip to decompress?” Butterfly says, raising her voice slightly. Oh, shit.

“Yes, dear,” I reply.

“Well, on that note,” she says in the same tone, “I’m not going to let some jealous, stuck-up, insecure, puritanical, unhappy bitch ruin my trip. So, like I said, she better not say anything to or around me today, because I’m not in the fucking mood. If she wants to say anything about me today, she’d better say it outside of my earshot, because I won’t be responsible for my actions and we’ve got bail money!”

Whoa! Butterfly doesn’t bother looking at her, but I do, and she swiftly buries her face in her plate, paying attention to her brekky like it’s the most interesting thing she’s ever seen. Her friends are clearly asking if Butterfly is talking about her, but the woman doesn’t acknowledge their questions.

“Won’t that ruin your trip?” I ask my wife once she swallows her poached eggs.

“It’ll be worth it,” Butterfly says before sipping her coffee.

“Ya got a little spitfoire on ya hands thehr, Chris.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“That I do,” I reply, “and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

*-*

Apparently, the ladies must have had other plans, because they don’t debark with us nor go on our excursion. Our ship doesn’t actually dock at Port Arthur, just inside the harbor near the island. There’s this platform call the Magic Carpet that rises up and down on the outside of the ship between decks 2 and 16. It serves as a restaurant and bar hovering over the water when it’s not in use for debarkation and embarkation for various excursions if the ship doesn’t actually dock, which is what we’re doing now.

The excursion boat actually takes us to the historic site. We debark at the ferry dock and begin our tour with a guide from the visitor’s center—a young guy with a hard and heavy Aussie accent like Jaxon’s, who’s a little too friendly with the younger women in the group, my wife included. He doesn’t do anything overtly disrespectful, so he gets to keep his life.

As we walk among beautiful English trees and lush manicured gardens, the guide gives us background concerning what we’re about to see. Port Arthur is a convict settlement. It started as a timber station in 1830 and went through a transformation or three until it closed in 1877. For the most part, it’s now an open-air museum. Much of the settlement still survives. Some of it has been restored. However, most of the buildings are roofless ruins of the Port Arthur penal colony.

Although it opened in 1830 as a timber station, there were so many convicts cutting the trees down that they made it into a prison in 1833. Our first official stop is the Penitentiary building. There’s a huge gravel yard in front of the building and many of the windows still boast the iron bars that prevented prisoners from escaping. The building looks large and looming from the outside, but once you get inside, they are large scaffoldings and landings that make it appear much smaller. Though I can’t imagine what it looked like in the mid-19th century, it looks pretty gloomy right now, even with the absence of a roof and all the sunshine shining in.

According to our guide, the first two stories were maximum security and the upper level was minimum security. I guess it makes sense, because if you have less supervision on minimum security, it may be easier to escape. However, to get out of the building, you have to get through the maximum-security floors first.

The trip from England was eight months by sea for convicts. Convicts also came from Ireland and North America, but most prisoners were English. As the Alcatraz of Australia, Port Arthur was virtually an island. So even if you did escape, there was nowhere to go. Most English prisoners at the time couldn’t swim.

Political and gentlemen prisoners were housed here as well, but it was simply like exile for them as they lived in cottages somewhere in the 30+ buildings that made up the settlement.

In the first part of its existence, Port Arthur’s convicts were not only involved in timber, but also in brick making, ship building, smithing, and shoe making. Later, there was a flour mill and a granary. A hospital soon followed, and as I listened, I couldn’t help but wonder what they did with the sick before the hospital was built.

We visit several ruins, including the shells of the aforementioned hospital, a large church, officer’s quarters, the guard tower, and an insane asylum, all constructed by convict labor except the insane asylum. The hospital has a plaque inside that says, “There is not the space required for the health of inmates.”

Ironically, the insane asylum has been converted into a museum, study center and coffee shop. Not so ironically, the “separate” prison is right next door to what used to be the asylum.

The “separate” prison was started in 1848 and opened in 1853—built for the worst and most violent prisoners who were housed in the A and B wing, and the C-Wing was for the criminally insane. The criminals were all deprived of human contact.

Initially, punishments were physical—horrible corporal punishments consisting of leg irons, cat o’ nine tails, that sort of thing. The year 1849 brought the psychological punishments and the Quaker concept of solitary confinement called “separate treatment.” The idea is based on the premise that a man with no distractions would become closer to God.

To that end, prisoners in the separate prison were locked in a cell for 23 hours of the day in total silence and only released for one hour for exercise. They were taken separately to separate yards, but every so often, there were two prisoners being transported at the same time. If this happened, one of the prisoners was forced to face the wall until the other prisoner passed. To further make sure that they didn’t recognize each other, they were required to wear special uniforms with hoods and masks. In addition, the guards spoke to each other in sign language to maintain the silence of the punishment and to keep the prisoners from hearing the sound of another human voice.

It makes me think of Elena.

Solitary wasn’t harsh enough for her to keep her mouth shut and leave us the fuck alone. Neither was a few weeks with Big Bertha or whatever the hell her name was. When I get back to Seattle and get the information from Josh, I have a few ideas for her and the not-so-loyal Warden Holstein. Couldn’t accept your bird in the hand, huh, gov’na? You had to go after the two in the bush. Have it your way.

Inside the separate prison was the punishment cell. The punishment cell or the dark cell was a room with one door and no windows. Men were placed in the cell for undetermined amounts of time and were literally driven out of their minds due to the darkness. Even the most hardened criminals were broken after a few months in the separate prison and even less in the punishment cell

Between the A and B wings of the separate prisons, a staircase led to the chapel, which contained tall, upright cubicles. Prisoners were led in one by one and placed literally in a box where they could sing the hymns and look at the preacher, but they couldn’t look at each other because the box was confining and the walls between them were too tall.

“It almost seems cruel that such a beautiful place could be so brutal,” Butterfly says. “Do you think it was this beautiful when it was a prison?”

“I can’t really say,” I reply. “Even with some of the buildings restored and the shells that remain, clearly some of the buildings that were here at the time are gone, so this wasn’t all rolling green hills like it is now.”

Even without the rolling green hills, the convicts in the main penitentiary got to see the water that would never again take them home and the poor unlucky souls in the separate prison saw the sky—and only the sky—for one hour out of a 24-hour day.

And in one of the cells in the C wing, I could swear I could faintly hear a man coughing…


A/N: Part II of the Port Arthur excursion will be in the next chapter

Although all the pieces that I describe were on display at some point at the MONA, I didn’t bother trying to find out which pieces were on display at the time that Ana and Christian visited. I found myself falling down too many rabbit holes as I was trying to put the storyline together, so I’ve used creative license for this trip, too.

Ana talked about preserving two buildings on the property. There are two Roy Grounds buildings on the estate, and the entire estate and museum were built in a fashion to connect and preserve these two buildings, located on opposite sides of the peninsula.

Ana references a guy who has his whole life recorded. Christian Boltanski made a deal with David Walsh to record every day of his life as he works in his Paris studio and have it live-streamed to a bunker on the grounds of the MONA.

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. Be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Hobart,” “Bruny Island,” and “port Arthur” sections.

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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~~love and handcuffs