Monday, 1 October 2007

Three By Three

This story was written to meet Erin Palette’s challenge to create something inspired by the sentence Witch children fallow the elder's footsteps which is just all sorts of awesome all by itself.

Just to clear up any confusion, in Australia biscuits can mean 'crackers' or 'cookies' and has nothing to do with those bready things Americans are talking about when they say 'biscuits and gravy'. Don't tell me it's confusing. How do you tell the difference between gas for the car and gas for the oven? Well there you go.


Three has always been a number of power; from the pagan religions and cults through to today's modern incarnations, even the larger more orthodox 'cults'.
The three aspects of the goddess: maiden, mother and crone.
The three faces of God: Yaweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
The neat way that 1 + 2 = 3, which is also the number that follows 2... Not quite as dogmatically significant but still kinda neat...

When the three women fell pregnant around the same time, no one thought very much about it.
There were a few jokes about the friskifying powers of spring and the good old fashioned tradition of 'making your own entertainment' but nothing was thought to be out of the ordinary.

When they began to swell at a surprising rate - pale haired Meg, dark skinned Sarah and fiery Janet - there was some comment but usually to the tune of badly judged jokes by their spouses which led to some fairly heated verbal smackdown but little else until the ultrasounds showed that one of... two of... all three of the women were carrying triplets.
Then talk began to flow.

"Just seems a little odd, doesn't it?"
"Not really. The government is putting fertility drugs in the water supplies,"
"Oh don't be silly,"
"They are! Birth rates have been dropping for years and this is the easiest way to make sure we replenish our own population without actually paying people to have more babies, which would just encourage the wrong sort anyway,"
"Are you going to get onto your damn immigration conspiracy theories again?"
"They're not conspiracy theories!"
"Oh for the love of God!"

Everyone liked to think of themselves as living in a small town - despite the fact that in a few years the edges of the city would reach out to gather them up and make them into an outlying suburb - and Father Mark was happy to play the part of the small town priest.
He rode a bicycle because people liked to see him wobbling along on it with his neatly ironed shirt and slacks and the somehow incongruous safety helmet.
He kept a neat front garden and a vegie patch out the back and spent a lot of time pottering around in them so that people could stop and have a chat over the fence.
He could even drop by and pay visits to parishioners and non-church goers alike for a chat and a cup of tea without ever making anyone feel as if he was sizing them up or trying to save their soul against their will.
He was a gentleman of the old school, he was of an older school than he seemed.
Meg, Sarah and Janet were all grateful for his pragmatic, measured words and the simple, bachelor-grade biscuits he would bring round as a gift. The recipe was basic but by virtue of many years of experimentation, Father Mark said, he had hit upon a mixture that was tasty nonetheless. He was right, it was.

When all three women went into labour on the same night, there was talk again but no one could really work themselves up into much of a tizzy about it. Sitting in front of the TV, passing comment on the event, it felt too Twilight Zone to think of it as anything other than a strange coincidence.
It wasn't as if it was the third day of the third month of a third year. It was the 14th of August. Not an especially portentous day as far as anyone could tell.
"Psychosomatic," said Belinda Chapman, who had taken one unit of Psychology in her first year of university and who was eager to show the breadth and depth of her knowledge to Sam Nicolls. Luckily for her, Sam was much more interested in the breadth and depth of other parts of Belinda.

In the early hours of the morning, in the maternity wards of the same city hospital, each woman gave birth to three small but healthy children.
Two girls and one boy to Sarah.
Two boys and one girl to Meg.
Two girls and one boy to Janet.
There was to be a story on the local news about multiple birth families and a film crew popped around a few days later to take some footage of the three new mothers and their children. But when the story was aired their time was cut to a few cutesy shots of the tired mothers cradling their babies to make way for more time watching the two sets of identical twins of a nearby town run around their school yard.

As the children grew and the new mothers became more adept at juggling the needs of three children apiece and herding them about, the locals became used to the sight of ridiculous multi-seat strollers, then small overactive children on those odd 'kiddie leads' and then just to the different women wandering about, each with an orbiting collection of kids; sometimes just their own, sometimes a mixture.
Given the situation it would have been stupid not to pool their resources and often Meg and Sarah would mind the brood whilst Janet braved the supermarket on their behalf or Sarah and Janet would sit and chat whilst Meg grabbed a few hours sleep and so on and so forth.
And always Father Mark would pop around for a chat and a cuppa and to leave a tin of his biscuits, which the children were always trying to get their hands on.
"You've got to tell me what you put in these, Mark," Sarah said one day when they were all sitting in the yard watching the four year olds run around and scream at shadows and pretend that the dog was a great bear.
"Oh no, you've got to let an old man have some secrets. I've precious little of the housekeeping arts mastered but I know how to make a batch of biscuits."
"Can you at least give me a hint?" Sarah persisted.
"It might be a touch of herbs or spices,"
"Like what?" Meg asked.
"Oh, mostly marijuana,"
He roared with laughter as Janet spluttered her tea and wiped tears from his face as the children looked around to see what was going on and then got on with their games.

The only primary school in town was Catholic but apart from the usual association with plaid this entailed, it didn't make a big deal of the fact. So when time came for the kids to all be sent out of the house and into their education that was where they all went.
And next door to the school Father Mark tended his garden and baked his biscuits and would nod to the children as they ran past his gate in a jumble, laughing and shouting on their way to school.

There was none of that 'mystical twin business', no knowing when another was in pain when they weren't there or reading each other's minds; but it was inevitable that the children would feel a bond. They had grown up together, spent so much time together that each felt themselves to be one of nine rather of one of three.
It was handy to have so many willing participants in re-enactments of favourite movies, in pitched battles to the death between pirates and whatever they decided was fighting the pirates today, and to play make-believe down the back of Meg's garden.
There was a hollow under a cluster of bushes where they could all fit, sitting cross-legged in a circle and murmuring to each other in the solemn, serious way of children everywhere engaged in rebuilding the mysteries of life from scratch and assigning themselves important duties in this new world order.
Father Mark would hear them chanting and stifling giggles as he wandered up the driveway to see their parents and he would smile to himself and laugh a little with them.

When Meg started making noises about finally clearing out the bottom of the yard the kids were up in arms and told her that she couldn't, that they were going to make their own garden, that Father Mark would show them how and that no one was allowed to wreck it!
When Meg raised an eyebrow and asked whether anyone had actually asked Father Mark about this the kids all just shrugged.
Father Mark said he'd be happy to give the kids some pointers and make sure that they didn't try to plant any giant's beanstalks. And he came around with some tools, some fertiliser and a tin of biscuits for the busy gardeners who were busy carefully setting up a small fence around their new garden, in front of the old bushes.

They grew some simple vegetables in rows with little herb plants dotted amongst and around them, some for the kitchen and some just for scent and flowers. For the girls mostly, Father Mark explained, because what little girl wouldn't like a bit of colour and life in a garden.
And he taught them how to tell when the vegetables were ripe so that they could proudly carry in baskets of fresh produce to their appropriately admiring parents.
And he taught them when to plant and when to pick from the smaller plants, some of the uses that herbs could be put to in the kitchen and home and the old names by which they had once been known.
And shooing Meg and Sarah out of the kitchen one day with a conspiratorial grin, he extracted double-pinky promises from each of the children and he taught them how to make his biscuits.
And periodically after that the children would take over one kitchen or another and the scent of baking never completely faded from any of the homes.

When the children were ten and the 'shake and bake' planned communities creeping out from the city were within plain eyesight, it was announced that a new freeway was to be built to help connect the city and it's ever spreading fiefdoms.
It was to cut through the last of the countryside between the city and the town and whilst the suspiciously enthusiastic local member of government assured them that it would bring fresh money to the economy and fresh opportunities to the community, the image in most people's minds was that of great semi-trailers belching black smoke and riding their airbrakes on their way past.

The surveyors turned up and had a few patches of bad luck. It rained for three weeks for the first time in over fifty years. The ground became boggy and impossible to negotiate.
One man set up a tripod and stepped back to get a bit of a feel for the angle it was on and watched it disappear into a forgotten mine shaft which had opened up just as he was back on firm land.
Small marsupials and rare birds thought to have left the area decades ago were found nesting, foraging and breeding all the way across the bushlands that the freeway was to cut through.
Protestors from the city hired buses and drove out to campaign against the freeway, bringing their signs and their chants. And Father Mark would set up a table in the school yard where the groups would gather before their marches and he dispensed cups of tea whilst the children trotted around with plates of biscuits, bright-faced and helpful. Janet, Meg and Sarah watched with indulgent smiles as their self-proclaimed little 'Greenies' did their bit to save the environment.

Under the pressure of mass public opinion, conservation laws and the eye of the Nation, the Premier announced the scrapping of the freeway plan and the unveiling of the new plan to resurface the existing highway and add two more lanes, which would barely impact on the current environmental conditions at all whilst still providing the increase in services that he had promised to the people he was proud to serve.

When it came time for the kids to start high school in the next town over, Meg, Sarah and Janet fussed a little, bought them their new uniforms and sent them off on the bus. And when Father Mark went by on his bike, he stopped a moment at each house to share their wonder at how quickly children grow up and to reassure them that the kids would be just fine with this new phase in their lives.

There was a bit of a to do some time later when Brian Marsden, an unimaginative but persistent jerk-butt - as one of the girls put it - from the new school managed to fall down a flight of stairs all by himself in full view of the playground and in the process broke a leg, an arm and gathered himself a concussion.
Meg, Sarah and Janet tried tactfully to make sure that the kids weren't upset by this turn of events and independently tried to start one of those 'talks' that adults give to children when they're not quite sure what point they're trying to make but they're sure that one should be made.
The kids said that they were fine, Brian Marsden was a jerk-butt and no one minded that he had fallen down the stairs. And Meg's daughter didn't come home with red eyes or blotchy cheeks any more.
Father Mark dropped around and had a quiet word on how they were all God's children and should care for each other and not be glad or indifferent to hear of someone else's suffering, even if they were a jerk-butt.
No one else fell down any stairs after that but Brian Marsden kept his distance all the same.

And the town rolled on as the children grew and the city crept no closer as there was now a National park between it and the town. The small local businesses did well enough for themselves that people could stay and raise their families and not have to commute or move for work. And Father Mark wobbled around on his bicycle and worked in his front garden and every now and then one of the girls would pop around and bring him a tin of biscuits and he would laugh and thank them.

All too soon the kids were getting their Learner's Permits and taking it in turns to pester their parents for driving practice around the streets of the town and out onto the carefully maintained highway, making plans for what they would do when they got out of school, talking of travel, of study.
And Father Mark knew that it wouldn't be long until the kids scattered, went out into the world as young adults and started to find their own way. But it had been a good sixteen years and he had at least another two before the twin spirits of 'progress' and 'change' would begin to creep back in to this little corner of the world which he had cosseted and protected.
And wherever the children went they would carry a little of his knowledge with them and one day, when each of them found a place to settle down, they could plant a little garden, even just a few pots of a few different herbs and they could teach their children to make biscuits.

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