Hope

Emergency ward. Time moves in irregular chunks. Suddenly, across the room, there’s a flurry of movement. A machine blips loudly. People rush—a curtain is drawn. And then the scream. Anguish beyond thinking. A mother’s scream. Then nothing. I imagine and I hope. It’s all I can do. I shudder in the reverberations of the hollow, wordless howl.

I look across at Gabe. He’s as pale as milk. Why couldn’t he have kept his mouth shut? Blood seeps from the bandage around his head. A doctor changing shifts mutters about Saturday night  brawlers.

We sit silently in our white purgatory, waiting. I place a kiss on Gabe’s wet forehead. He does not meet my eyes.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Rescued

When she washed up I’d been five years on my own. You’d have thought she’d have been an answer to my prayers, but it wasn’t like that. After a good sleep and a good feed all she wanted to do was talk, but I was out of practice.

And I guess a man who’s lived alone in those conditions has his ways about him.

It took us time to realise. I could show her how to catch fish and make fire. She had other skills that had passed me by. Together we made a comfortable life that by ourselves we’d never have managed. She taught me how to make crude cloth and weave nets. She cleaned me up until I was somewhere closer to the humanity I’d last known as a thin trail of steam as my ship sailed towards the horizon.

In time we made of our circumstance a kind of marriage.

Then the SS Neptune steamed into view, looking to outrun a storm. Now I’m in my berth, bathed and clean-shaven, and she is in hers. When I go down to dinner I do not know whether it will be as her husband any longer. I cannot say if I’ve been rescued or cast adrift again.

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Dream home

It took Geraldine and Dav two years to find their dream house, a brick Victorian with a price to match its dilapidated state. Geraldine blessed it, planting cuttings from her grandmother’s garden. She bought a new broom with which to sweep aside cobwebs. They moved into the one livable room and the restoration began.

While clearing out the basement they found, among the household rubbish of generations of owners, a glass case so dirty its contents were concealled. They put it aside on a stone ledge that had once been foundation for a chimney.

They would have thought nothing more about it had their curiosity not been pricked next day by another find—a parsel of baby clothes—in the same far corner of the basement. The little clothes had been wrapped with care. As Geraldine unfolded them in the light of the backyard she could tell they were special things; a christening gown, tiny shoes, a knitted cap with Elsie on the band.

Dav fetched the case and Geraldine took a cloth to it. As its contents became clearer she turned pale. Inside was a doll, the size of a baby, laid out on a tiny bed. Geraldine clutched her midriff.

Within weeks the For Sale board had gone up again on the couple’s front fence.

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Crazy three times

Crazy was playing on The Hog’s juke box, Patsy Kline dragging emotion from each syllable.

Larry had driven three hundred miles. He blinked in the subterranean dark. There was Lenor at the bar with Kyle. Whispering.

She blew a kiss through the smoke over Kyle’s shoulder. Larry perched in front of a TV playing music videos with the sound off. His first beer tasted bitter-sweet. By three no sweet remained.

Kyle left, patting Larry on the shoulder as he went by. Whatever Kyle thought about all this Larry wanted nothing to do with it. He wanted Lenor again, the way they’d been. Solid. Plain and simple. He wanted to understand.

‘Come on Big-L.’ Lenor sat opposite. ‘Let’s dance.’ She put Crazy on. But he didn’t want to dance. He watched her sway to it. When it was over she kissed him and left.

The sun went down. A new crowd filled The Hog. A pretty girl in a cowboy hat asked Larry if she could join him. She bought him a coke and they started chatting. She leaned across the table and took his hand. ‘The night’s young. We don’t need to waste it here.’

Someone put Crazy on the juke box. Larry shook his head. ‘Another time maybe.’

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Remote control

When Eric’s mum came home with the shopping and found him watching TV she asked why he wasn’t at school. ‘I got sent home,’ he replied. ‘I punched Dale Flemming in the face.’ Neither of those statements was true, and he wasn’t really sure why he’d said them except that the last part was all he’d thought about the whole way home. It was all he’d thought about from the moment Belinda Carter laughed at him and told him she and Dale were an item.

Later, when he heard his mother’s sobbing coming from the laundry he could only think to himself, why’s she crying? He grabbed the remote and upped the volume until the ranting of an American talk show host drowned out the noise of her disappointment.

Why I must learn to love her lateness

I know I’ll be left waiting. Five past comes and goes. Ten past. I start constructing gentle rebukes. But what for? When she gets here I’ll shrug it off. No worries, I’ll say. Anything to show how I trust her. It’s not as if she means it. She’ll have been distracted by an email or something and she’ll dash all the way from the office once she realises the time.

We’ve had so many breathless reunions that way—it’s kind of fun so I shouldn’t complain. She’s always left things to the last minute, or a few minutes after that.

Fifteen minutes. Why can’t I just tell her I wished she’d be on time for once? So I decide—this time I’ll say something. I recheck my watch. Twenty past. A siren rings out in the distance…getting louder…closer…screaming past me…over the hill where her office is. Stopping somewhere out of sight. Twenty one past. I start to run.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Super powers (2): The x-ray specs

Sometimes, when she’s dressing, Jennifer, who in her fifties is still a handsome woman, holds up the shirt she’s about to pull on. ‘Henry,’ she says. ‘How do you explain this.’

 

As a boy I couldn’t imagine any girl ever wanting to share a room with me wearing anything less revealling than Eskimo clothes. To have found, in Jennifer Peterson, one who actually liked spending time with me was earth-shatteringly fantastic enough. I lost a lot of sleep thinking about her.

She came round after school because I’d told her Mum would be out. Now we were in my room. She was asking me about things on my shelves—model planes, my telescope, a signed football—they were all so lame but she seemed genuinely interested.

‘Oh, wow, Henry,’ she exclaimed. ‘Are those what I think they are?’

‘Yep. Genuine X-ray specs. The ad said I’d be able to see girls’ underwear.’

‘Well you don’t need them anymore,’ she said, and before I knew what was happening she was handing me her top.

‘Henry?’ My mother’s voice shattered the moment.

Jennifer squealed. The doorknob turned. Suddenly I was alone. The next moment, with a breeze wafting through the open window, I was joined by Mum, who was eyeing the lace-trimmed shirt in my hand.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Super powers (1): The invisible woman

Marina’s invisibility wasn’t the result of radiation or antimatter. She simply woke one morning to find she apparently wasn’t where she knew she was.

She tip-toed to the lounge room. Craig was on the couch in his Chelsea sleeping bag. She remembered their fight the previous night.

It started when Craig said they’d need to tighten their belts if they were ever going to save a deposit for a house. Then he said maybe they could spend less on clothes, which, considering he only bought jeans from markets and occasional t-shirts, seemed a bit provocative.

So Marina said maybe he didn’t need his member’s ticket or his football collectibles and anyway what did it matter to him if she bought new clothes or got her hair done every few weeks, because he’d stopped noticing her. In fact she thought he wouldn’t even notice if she wasn’t there.

Craig rolled over, scratched his backside, blinked and stumbled past her into the kitchen. He downed a bowl of corn flakes, pulled on the clothes he’d removed the previous night and grabbed his car keys.

He tripped at the bottom of the stairs. Marina slammed the door behind him, leaving his keys inside on the hook with her.

Craig cursed his own clumsiness.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Good money (after bad)

You think you know someone and then suddenly you realise you never did.

Dana rang me one afternoon to say there was no money in the account.

‘That can’t be right,’ I said. ‘I’ll call the bank.’

After mindless minutes of mechanical voices ‘Robin,’ came on the line. She was, ‘happy to help.’ ‘It’s odd,’ she said. ‘There are multiple withdrawals from the same ATM on numerous days. Three hundred on the fifth. Nearly two thousand on the eighteenth.’

‘Two thousand!’

‘Eleven fifty just last Monday.’

Dana’s admissions that night came gradually. Yes, she’d taken money out at the Burton St Mall for shopping. ‘Once.’ ‘Maybe more than once.’ ‘A treat or two—never that much.’ ‘God, Lester what are you suggesting?’

Until finally she told me about a habit she’d been hiding so long lying was now part of what kept us together.

I was fearful for her and for us. I was confused and angry. But more than that. She’d put our mortgage payment into those machines, coin by coin. When the bank threatened foreclosure I wondered how on earth we could extract ourselves.

Then Ned, at work, told me about a sure thing that would be running in a maiden at long odds.

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

White out

You’d only normally attempt the Hinkler Track  in summer. My late mother, an exceptional young woman, did the whole thing in her twenties. Her stories meant the Hinkler was an experience I was determined to have.

It’s nearly winter. Early snowfalls have turned the trail to mush, which suits my mood. After walking for hours I become aware of someone beside me. I don’t notice her arrive. But when I look, she’s there, as if her presence is as natural as the wind.

‘Nice day for it,’ she says sardonically.

‘Beautiful.’ I breathe warmth into my palms. Ominous clouds circle.

‘You’ll never reach the bluff.’

‘Probably not.’ I say

‘Besides, it’s dangerous. If you fall… But you know that.’

I grimace.

‘That thing between Adriana and you,’ she says. ‘It wasn’t your fault.’

The memory is bitter. Her knowledge of it impossible.  ‘Do I know you?’

She doesn’t meet my querying eyes. ‘Weather’s closing in. You should head for Hanrahan’s Hut.’

‘Hanrahan’s,’ I say. ‘My mother sat out a storm there long ago.’

When I turn to see her reaction she’s gone.

Next morning I find my mother’s name on the hut’s chimney. It looks as if it could have been scratched yesterday.  Dawn, after a wild night, is fine. But I do not try for the bluff.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Tying the knot

Silas’s only love had been the sea. He’d left home at 15, scrubbed decks and stoked engines. He liked the loneliness of water all around.

Even in port he never strayed from the waterfront where ships tied up and sailors fought, drank and waited for their next passage.

If he wanted a woman there’d always be a place he could have one—a pleasure that could strip a man of his wages. He did his best to avoid it.

He became a master seaman. His ships became larger. The ports upon which he called took on a machine-like appearance. Day and night they unloaded and loaded. No one cared any more for stories of storms and famous ships.

Silas retired to the town he’d left fifty years before. In his restlessness he wanted company. But the company of city women was hard to find. They didn’t know where to start with a man who’d lived a sea life.

Until Jan recognised him from her school days. He couldn’t believe it after all those years. She loved his stories. He learned to be interested in what she liked too, which was knitting. ‘Knitting’s just knots,’ he said. And he thought about splicing. The strongest way to join two ropes was first to unravel them a way then remake them as one.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

A different place

It wasn’t what Gerald had expected at all, though the dying part went pretty much to plan. He succumbed to pneumonia  the winter after Jean died. Blinding white light radiated around him as he exhaled his last. He felt the weight of years lift. For a moment he looked down upon himself, his children, Alice and Benjamin, each holding one of his hands

That’s where things went awry. He found himself not in the serene cloud place he’d imagined but a chaotic hall teeming with every imaginable variation of humanity. An ethereal voice above the din announced a final call for mortal reincarnation, leaving soon.

Someone tugged his arm. ‘Queue over there for processing.’

Gerald waited for his turn.

‘Hanrahan, Hanrahan, Hanrahan,’ said a monklike gentleman. ‘Here we go. You’re booked on the 5:20 for heaven. Congratulations. We try to get people where they want. It’s all done on merit of course.’

‘Jean will be there?’ he asked.

‘Hanrahan, J. Let’s see.’ The official tapped his parchment and an image  appeared of a field of rabbits. ‘Looks like she got reincarnated.’

‘But—-‘

‘Her choice. Making up for lost time I guess.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Rabbits being rabbits. You’ll like heaven. Very peaceful. Be ready to leave at 5:00.’

‘Or?’

The monk turned his thumb downward and frowned.

Gerald pondered the possibility.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Company men

As soon as Elena opened the Mercedes door an unfamiliar phone rang on the passenger seat. She left it to ring out, but it kept on until she answered. A distant male voice announced her husband’s abduction. ‘Drive to Carlton Bridge. Do not attract attention. We’ll be watching. We’ll call in one hour with instructions.’

‘Arnie,’ she cried.

But the phone went dead.

She looked around.

Everything seemed eerily normal.

Except her husband was being held by criminals. What was she to do? If they wanted money where would she get it? The business was on the skids.

 

Allen Grealy’s phone rang.

‘Dad.’

‘So. Decided to bury the hatchet?’

How clever she and Arnie had thought themselves. Arnie had been his head engineer. When they set up in competition Grealy cut all ties. He’d lost a daughter for his pride.

And she’d lost a father. Perhaps, thought Grealy, Arnie had been worth it. But now he was worth even this—she’d come cap in hand. She was telling him what he’d always longed to hear. Their company was broke. But it didn’t seem important. She told him what she needed and waited. Did she expect scorn?

‘Yes Darling’ he said, choking slightly on the word. ‘And then, after this is over, we might discuss a merger.’

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

Flyer

No word ever appended itself to an individual’s name as completely as the word ‘rogue’ to the name Edgar Connors. ‘That rogue Connors’—it was a term of both endearment and mistrust.

Had Connors not held the rules of society in contempt perhaps his name, without ‘rogue’, would have found its way into today’s history books, because his exploits as an aviator were substantial.

But his methods were unconventional and his claims to a number of intercontinental records had been denied because he’d set out on a whim, with no official observers, no logbooks and  no apparent plans. He navigated uncharted territory rather than hopping between colonial outposts the way other flyers did.

Thus his disappearance rated only a passing mention in the newspapers of the day. Connors was soon forgotten.

Until last May. In one of those unexplored places I met a redheaded tribesman and his mother. The woman, in spite of her age, greeted me heartily. By the time we parted the adventurer’s story had a new ending.  She handed me two mementos; a pair of flying goggles and a spear. Connor’s hadn’t died. He’d lived, and lived well, as husband, father and hunter.

‘Was he a rogue?’ I asked (as best I could in the native language).

The woman’s toothless smile broadened and her eyes rolled high.

 

2011-Richard Holt / small stories about love (smallstoriesaboutlove.wordpress.com)

The portraitist

It took Ilona months to paint each hyper-realist picture using tiny 000 and 0000 brushes. She refused to use photographs, working only with her subject in front of her. If she’d painted rocks or furniture, things she could set up freputation.or a length of time, it would have been easier. But Ilona painted portraits. After winning a major portrait prize she made an adequate income from commissions for clients wealthy enough to sit the long hours she required. But,working the way she did, she’d never had a major exhibition.

Five life-size canvases, much larger than she would normally attempt, hung around the walls f her studio. Each contained an unfinished portrait of an artist who had once been her lover.

The first, Edgar, had been convinced the painting would cement both Ilona’s career and her affections for him. Four others since had posed for the strange and beguiling Ilona hoping to prove themselves equal to the demands she put upon them. The tedium of her meticulous portraits undid them all.

A visiting international curator happened upon her studio. He took one look at the unfinished portraits and wanted them. Ilona proved more fickle than her past lovers imagined.

She and the curator now live in Paris, where her half-finished paintings of lovers—she works from photographs now—command prices unimaginable in her home town.