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Breaking up can be so hard to do...



Nigel Stones



He had to be simple, not to get it by now. She had tried to leave him once before, but she knew now that couldn't work.

"Didn't he feed you, Precious?"

She tapped a canister of fish food and coloured flakes rained onto the plane that separated her world from that of her rather unusual looking goldfish. Dan had once called it a fried egg, and looking at its white body with that single goldfish-coloured spot, grudgingly she admitted to herself the similarity. It seemed content with its surroundings. The exotic glass bowl she had picked could have easily have passed as abstract sculpture.

Last time she had made the move to leave, but this time Dan would have to make the decision.

"Don't worry. It won't be for much longer."

The fish sucked at the surface.

She picked up the glass and walked towards the sound of running water.

Entering the bathroom, she watched Dan in the shower, surveyed his body. He was still in pretty good shape after their twelve years, but it had always been more about the chemistry than the physical.

She could still recall the scent of him in the earlier years. The scent hadn't changed. He hadn't changed. But that was the problem:  She had. What had been a scent was now to her an odour and a persistent reminder of his clinging sameness.

She spotted a single pubic hair on the tiled floor and glared at it with resentment.


Dan caught himself grinding his teeth. It was late for someone to be calling. He stood just outside the bedroom door trying to catch Malena's side of the conversation.

"I tried that," she said. "Fights, tears, phone calls in the middle of the night, stalking, you name it".

Dan could hear nothing of the voice on the other end of the phone. Perhaps he could use the extension in his den to listen in. But what might be said while he was on his way there.

"He started showing up at work. What else could I do?  No... I can't just leave, It won't work...No."

Anxiety, which had slept within his chest since she had first tried to leave him, woke and probed with its fingers for a familiar grip on his insides.

"No, but I'm going to fix it for good... It's best that I don't say. Okay, 'night."

He waited there in the hallway, first to bring the pattern of his breathing under control and then for Malena to turn the light out.

When he slipped between the covers and wriggled close to her, she rolled her back to him and brushed his arm away, just as she always did.


"...let's cross to Jerry Clarke our Brisbane correspondent."

"I'm standing here with Malena Flint, the Chief Engineer of telenanonics for Genison, who earlier today announced the successful teleportation of the first human being. Dr Flint, many members of the scientific community are labelling this the most significant breakthrough since Man first discovered fire, do you think this is true?"

"Since humans discovered fire... Yes, that's probably true, but to hear this described as a breakthrough is a little strange for me. Today's announcement comes after years of work. With the ban on the use of animals for lab testing, we've been trialing with cadavers for a couple of years now to ensure the technology is safe."

"And I understand you were the first living person to be teleported using the device?"

"Yes, despite all the testing, I wanted to be sure the device worked without even the slightest chance of risk to another."

"And are you able to tell us how the machine works?"

"Um, well, for those of your viewers that have used a fax machine, think of a fax machine that automatically shreds the original."

"So the machine actually creates a new you and then destroys the old one?"

"Yes that's right; it first renders a copy and then de-renders the orig..."

With a noise like the static crackle of one of her jumpers, Malena's image was replaced by the empty black rectangle of the TV screen.

Dan knocked the side of the goldfish bowl with the remote. "She smiles for the friggin' camera and she smiles for you."

He took another swig of scotch and stared again at the blinking cursor of his notebook. It begged him for the rest of the sentence.

"She'll be home soon." 

The fish was unresponsive. Of course -- it was her bloody fish.

Her arrival would be as it always was. She wouldn't comment about his drinking or the lack of progress on the novel. She wouldn't raise her voice. She would greet him with a mechanical kiss and then start preparing the meal he had been too busy writing to attend to.

His vision blurred as he fought against crying.

She was going to leave him again. He knew it.

Stupid fish. It swam, oblivious to its prison. The memory of the last time she left dragged him back to the precipice at his centre. His ache felt like a wave of vertigo and black gravity. Shit. There was nothing he could do. Her fish spat out a chip of gravel. Her fish, her apartment, her money. He thought of her fish flapping and gulping on her polished timber floor. He would never do it -- She would leave him. But something about the possibility of choice -- of control -- made him feel a little less pathetic.


Staring at his toes, he fiddled absently with the toilet roll holder. There was no way he could go on like this. Take charge. That's what he needed to do. That's it. Today was a new start -- a blank page. He winced at the thought of the blank page. A New Start. He probably couldn't do anything about the writer's block but he could try to save his marriage.


Dan glared with venom at the bottle of chlorine neutraliser. He was positive it was the one she said to use.


The dishes were washed up; dinner was in the oven; the chaos of papers, magazine clippings and snack food wrappers in the study had been tidied; the water in the aquarium was now crystal clear; he had the mother of all hangovers; she would be home any second and the fish had shuffled off its little fishy mortal coil and was floating on the top of the crystal clear water.

"Just perfect."

He unscrewed the cap off the scotch.


"You're angry?" he said to her. It sounded more like a statement than a question

Malena's reply was instant. "You're using that observational prowess that you writers all have?"

Dan sighed heavily and put his hand on her shoulder. "Look, I'm sorry about the fish, okay!

"You're sorry about the fish?"

He softened his voice, trying to sound conciliatory. "Yes, I'm sorry. I don't know what happened."

She shrugged his hand away and turned her back. For a moment she just stood there, then she rounded on him. "What about 'I'm sorry I haven't tided up'--"

"But, I did tidy up.  I --"

"One day, Dan.  What about all the other days when I never heard 'I'm sorry I didn't bother to cook a meal for you to come home to' or 'I'm sorry I didn't get the washing done'? Or...or even 'look, I'm sorry I didn't do any of those things, but I did get some work done on my novel today'? That is your excuse for not doing any work around here isn't it?"

Words spilled out of him automatically. "Oh I forgot, that's right, being a scientist is much more important than being a writer."

Malena was practically screaming at him now.

"A writer writes, Dan. You haven't finished anything in years, let alone published anything. My job pays the bills. It puts the roof over our heads."

And that was it. He had wasted his time trying. He knew how the argument would play out from here. They were back on the well worn track. He'd skip to the end and save them both some time. "You're going to leave me aren't you?"

She clenched her fists so hard that her knuckles stood out like almonds below her skin and she yelled her frustration through gritted teeth. "I tried that," she said to him. "Remember the phone calls, Dan, the stalking?"

"So you do want to leave?"

"If I did, you wouldn't even know. I'm Miss Cleverknickers Fucking Scientist, remember:  I can just go to work, disable the derenderer on the teleporter and create a duplicate of myself to leave behind. You would never know."

He looked at her in horror.

"But, then why would I bother, Dan. Most of the time you're either so drunk or wrapped up in your 'I'm a writer' fantasy that the only way you'd notice was if dinner wasn't on the table."


Malena was packing.

"But it's my birthday."  Even to himself, he sounded like a whining child.

She slammed the clothes backwards and forwards along the rail, searching for particular garments. Impervious to the screech of steel on steel, she rough-handled them off their hangars and onto one arm.

He stood, staring at the floor, groping for the words that would make a difference.

"The seminar was booked weeks ago. We agreed."

How could he ask her to stay without admitting he was scared of her going? "I know, but --"

"I'm still going," said Malena.

That was it: End of discussion. None of her usual neatness showed in the way she jammed clothes into the suitcase on the bed. At least they weren't having the leaving argument again.

He bent down to pick up a jacket that had fallen from its hanger. It was the one she wore for the news report. He found its empty hanger and put it back on the rail, next to an identical jacket. He examined more closely the two jackets.  In each, the label was frayed leaving an identical fringe of white threads.  He checked in the inside pocket of one of them and found a receipt.  The receipt he found in the pocket of the other jacket was a perfect copy.  When he looked at the other clothes hanging there, apart from an armful of items, each item had a twin.


Seven hours, or thereabouts and she hadn't phoned to let him know she'd arrived safely. He ran his finger along the torn edge of the scrap of paper she'd left him with the number of the resort on and then put it back on the table. Halfway to the pantry, he turned back and made the call.

"No. I'm sorry sir; as I told you before, I am not able to divulge information on our guests. But if your wife is here, she will have received the messages you have left."

He hung up.

He paced around the apartment for an hour or so and then -- having lost count of the number of times he had opened the fridge door, but taken nothing from it -- he had an idea.




Dan assumed that the guard at Genison had recognised him from the last Christmas Party, because he'd greeted him as Mr Flint and then waved him through. He suppressed the reflex to tell him that it was Mr Farlane and drove on to the unimpressive building that served as Malena's lab and office.

Cupping his hands to the window, he peered down onto her desk. He had hoped for a memo, post-it note, something, that would have a direct number to the conference. The desk was barren. It was the same obsessive tidiness that she persisted with at home.

He peered deeper past the reflection of his own eye to a bookshelf on the back wall of the office and there he saw, in a large beaker of water, a fish identical to the one she'd had at home.


It took Dan a while to get to the door. He had dozed off and his head was thick with scotch. By the time he got there, Malena had opened it and carried her luggage in.

"You're back," he said.

She smiled. "I'm back. Did you miss me?"

For a moment he was at a loss. It must have been six years since he'd heard her use the expression. "Um... yeah... of course I've missed you. I couldn't contact you. I was worried... I..."

As he spoke, she crossed the few paces between them and began playing with his collar. She inserted her fingernail behind his top button and into the buttonhole and with a flick it was undone. The other buttons were handled with haste, rather than finesse. He stood there silent while she teased his chest hair with her fingers, then she led him to the bedroom.

Only after his body had had its say, did he start to really think about what had happened. Why had Malena suddenly changed?  Even in their early days together, she had never been this ardent. He ran his hand over the winkles in the sheet on her side of the bed and felt there the warmth of where they had been.

She returned to the room with a glass of scotch for him. His vague uneasiness snapped to sharp realisation.

"You're not Malena!"

She frowned and he smacked the glass from her hand with such force that it shattered against a skirting board.

"You're not her. Where is she?"

"Dan, I don't know what you mean. You're scaring me."

He swung out of bed and began to dress. She rushed to where he was standing and clung to him. He tried to tell himself that this was Malena, how he'd always wanted her to be: devoted; attentive; loving; wanting him; valuing him; respecting him. He tried, but if it wasn't her -- the real her and not some sort of copy -- then none of that could count. He pushed her away.

He walked to the door and grabbed his coat from the hat stand.

"Where are you going?"

"I'm leaving," he said, opening the door.

"What do you mean?  When will you be back?"

"I mean I'm leaving."  He shut the door behind him.


Malena watched him pull the door closed. When she heard the lock click, she opened one of her suitcases and retrieved a steel thermos. She unscrewed the thermos and carefully poured the contents into the glass fish bowl.

She smiled at the little white goldfish with the orange spot. "Simple," she said. "I told you it wouldn't be too much longer."

A cat and her sorcerer, a beautiful dream weaver, an evil voodoo priest, a bunch of man-sized rats, an army of really big bugs, a crazed randy rabbit, some dwarves, dragons and angry three-toed sloths, New York City, the woods of Maine, the sands of Arabia and the mythic lands of Avalon all come together for the wildest most epic adventure you’ve ever read!!!!

The Sorcerer's Song and The Cat's Meow is an author's triumph and a reader's delight... What a wonderful, free-falling storytelling ride to get to the end of a fantasy that's about as close to purrfect as you can get.

M. Wayne Cunningham - ForeWord CLARION Reviews

A well-plotted story with vivid and riveting description of characters and settings, as well as an intense page turning battle, the book is a delight to read.

Tracy Roberts - Write Field Services

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