If you read my article about the fact that you’ve got to be in it to win it, you may have heard of the Furious Fiction writing competition that is hosted by the Australian Writers’ Centre. I submitted an entry in October and we had to pick six words from a list of twenty. Moreover, the story had to be set in a book shop or library. The words I chose included: music, grubby, twelve, pungent, cupid and train. I didn’t win, but as I have always maintained, the joy of writing is its own reward.
Twelve words stared back at her. Malleable, yet firm. Blood and sweat, yet not of this world. Pavlova.
What did a gooey dessert have to do with blood and sweat? Perhaps her sociology professor, who’d written the cryptic note whisked his egg whites by hand. He’d instructed her to come to the antiquarian book shop on Elm street and the pungent odour of must assailed her as the door jangled open.
‘Can I help you, dear?’ said the lady at the counter as she straightened a paperweight sporting a potbellied cupid.
‘Oh, no, I’m just browsing,’ Jasmine replied, hoping the woman couldn’t detect the slight tremble in her voice. Dust motes whirled in a stream of light and an armchair stood in the corner, lonely and sombre. She was in her last year of a psychology degree and had taken a sociology subject for a bit of light relief. Nonetheless, she’d kicked herself when she’d been asked to resubmit her essay on recidivism.
‘You can do better than this, Jasmine,’ Richard had said, smiling magnanimously. Was this some kind of joke? Surely there had been a mistake.
‘It resembles scribblings on the back of an envelope. You’re capable of more, so I’m getting you to do it again.’
‘But I’ve been so busy…I had two pages of references.’
‘Which you barely used. I check these things, you know. Now, go and revise it and come back with something you can be proud of.’
Jasmine had hurriedly rewritten it and the distinction he gave her only added to her stellar transcript. Reopening the note, Jasmine tried to make sense of the arcane clues. Classical music wafted in-between Ali Baba and the forty thieves and a vintage train set perched on a grubby square of velvet. Pavlova. She couldn’t stand the stuff, especially when it was covered in kiwifruit and strawberries. Trailing her fingers along a rosewood bookcase, she came upon a decoupaged box. Sitting atop it was a pair of pointe shoes which had been signed by Anna Pavlova, the Russian prima ballerina.
Malleable, yet firm. Blood and sweat, yet not of this world. Of course! Why hadn’t she thought of it before? Pointe shoes were hard, yet bent to a dancer’s arch and the blisters she’d developed from dancing on her toes as a teenager had stained many a pair of stockings. Jasmine glanced inside one of the shoes and retrieved a gold skeleton key. Slipping it into her pocket, she continued down the aisle until she tripped on an uneven floorboard.
As she bent down, Jasmine realised it was a trapdoor. She turned the key in the lock and gasped when it sprang open. A ladder beckoned and she carefully descended before she was met with a curious group of people. There was a well-known politician, a famous scientist, an athlete, a criminal lawyer, a mathematician and her magnanimous professor.
‘What is this?’
‘We solve crimes, Jasmine. Welcome to the club,’ Richard said before making an elaborate bow.