Rollin’

Three and five. Hansy scooped the dice just as Dee came in. Evens, he thought. So I’m leaving. Evens I go, odds I stay. He turned the ivory-cold cubes around his palm. Ran his thumb along the rounded edges.

‘Careful with those things.’ Dee laughed.

‘No worries, Love. just mucking around.’ That’s what he’d said when he lost the house. He still didn’t know how she’d had the courage to stay. He was just mucking around. He wouldn’t be going anywhere in a hurry.

Best out of three he thought, sending the dice tumbling across the coffee table.

 

(this is an edited version of the story Against the odds, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

The home front

It got so their partings seemed to no avail. Every time Lonnie’s battalion prepared to sail a new problem arose—dysentery in the barracks, a storm at sea, a change to battle plans. Four times she saw him off—kissed him among the steam and clatter of the locomotive, held him until the guard’s whistle, until the train’s slack carriages clanked taut and slowly moved away. Only to have him returned to her

On the fifth occasion they laughed about it. ‘What’ll it be this time? Maybe snow on the tracks—not likely in this heat?’ The guard called all aboard, the train whistle sounded and Lonnie pecked her cheek and leapt aboard. As he disappeared in the steam and smoke, Alice had the odd sensation of not having properly said goodbye this time. And all at once she knew. She knew.

(this is an edited version of the story Soldier boy, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

The outsiders

Dr Cheryl allowed Carlos to sit in on classes. ‘I don’t care what Immigration say. You’ve got a right to learn,’ she told him.

He used his mother’s family name—Rodriguez. He was just one of the class. Here Lisa Hartigan was the outsider. She was from the Department. Carlos admired her, the way she stood up for herself, argued the case against the ones she called do-gooders. At the end of semester he got paired with her for a group exercise. His heart skipped just a little until he remembered she could have him on a plane tomorrow if she really knew who he was.

(this is an edited version of the story By another name, published 26 October, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Classic

I was in love the moment she moved next door. I admired its curves across the fence; its chrome trim, its white-wall tyres.

She saw me desiring it. ‘All original inside,’ she said. ‘I’m going down the coast tomorrow. ‘D’you want to join me?’

The trim inside was star-specked vinyl. The bench seat was three wide. She stretched her arm across it as she backed out of the drive.

The suspension slopped like warm treacle. The gearbox popped out of second and crunched into third. The old motor spluttered like an emphysemic grandfather. As we threaded through the last of the suburbs she tuned the radio to a country station, a cowgirl song I half knew. At the chorus she came in, her sweet twang filling the cabin.

Pulling into her driveway at the end of the day I was still in love. But not with her car. No, not with her car.

(this is an edited version of the story Two tone and chrome, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Green

The Lester St place had been a share-house. Daniella bought it in spring. By mid-summer, when she moved in, vegetables were flourishing in the back yard and nectarines hung, plump and enticing from the tree in the corner. The tomatoes and beans she ate wouldn’t have been planted when she bought the place—she remembered the freshly tilled soil.

Pinned to the noticeboard in the pantry she found a hand-written planting guide—meticulous notes added over the years with rotations for each bed and each season. The tomatoes came out in February. She dug in manure, planting silverbeet after a couple of weeks. Her first harvest was in late March. She rang the Agent who’d handled the property. “I’ve got mail for them, do you have a forwarding address?”

Before she finished parking she spotted him. He was lanky and handled his spade with ease. His eyes flashed at her as she approached him. They were as deep green and seductive as the leaves in her basket.

 

(this is an edited version of the story The Garden, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

The Count

Boris was the life of the party but as thin as paint when it mattered. Like when Felicia fell ill. He lasted two weeks after the diagnosis, trying to work out what it was he should be doing for her, then he went on a bender. He finished up at a mates place in another city. It was the sort of thing he did all the time. But this time when he got back there was no one waiting to hear his stories. No one to laugh with him and slap his back.

He took flowers to the hospital. Her sister took them from him. “You can’t see her. I’ll let her know you’re OK.”

That night he counted back the girlfriends, good women many of them, who’d wasted their time on him. Felicia had been one of the best. Suddenly forty seemed far too late to start growing up.

(this is an edited version of the story Bender, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Landing

By the time Alice read her brother-in-law, Cam’s, text about the accident Tyler was in intensive care. She sold her camera to an American student and bought the cheapest ticket home. There was supposed to be a connection in Singapore but they told her she should have read the small print and bumped her onto a later flight. So Alice cried until they found her a seat, running all the way to the gate to make boarding.

Thick cloud-cover obscured her old hometown. Descending through it she imagined Cam looking annoyed—cursing her for not getting a ‘normal’ ticket on a ‘normal’ flight. But when she came through customs she saw he was wearing a different expression—one she’d never seen on him before. One she’d never forget.

 

(this is an edited version of the story Descent, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

 

Best layed plans

Marylou had it all worked out. She’d split the couples, but not too far because couples always talked to each other across the table. Enzo and Sonja had been invited as the conversation starters. Harriet and Phillip were the brainiacs—good for dispute resolution. Lexie and Shona were comic relief. Bill and Paul evened up the numbers—they’d do their urbane routine until they were druink then they’d fire up. Which left the singles. Pamela was studying law after three years on an aid project in Nigeria. Sean was a producer of documentaries. Perfect!

But the flu was going round and both Sean and Harriet phoned to apologise. Pamela ended up next to Phillip. They talked about African politics and when the party unwound, in the early hours, they arranged to meet at a cafe near the university. Six months later Harriet still hadn’t forgiven her host who, for her part, seemed to spend half her life avoiding Phillip and Pamela as they floated around the cafe’s of their suburb with new love in their eyes.

(this is an edited version of the story Dinner, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Post

There was a note on the door when Eric got home. Dinner’s in the fridge. Don’t wait up. It’s over. It wasn’t much of a goodbye. He unpinned it and put it in the draw where he kept love letters and mementos. He found the meal—sausages and mash—then sat alone on the couch to eat. When his favourite TV show finished he went to bed, lying as usual on the side near the window, listening until sleep took him.

Next morning during breakfast he put pen to paper. Darling, Forgive me. We can work things out. He slipped the note into an envelope. On his way to work he dropped it into his letterbox, where it would be waiting for him at the end of the day.

(this is an edited version of the story published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Again

If I hold your head you’ll stay awake, won’t you? You’ll keep your eyes on mine until they come. You’ll hiss through your drool that you’re sorry. You’ll try to smile but your smile will be filled with demons. You’ll squeeze my arm weakly. You’ll smell of vomit and plead for forgiveness. For what? It’s you after all. You’ll keep afloat in this world until they come to jab you back…if I hold your head in my hands again.

Her bedside

When she was first diagnosed Shelley’s friends came every day. But in time their visits dwindled. Her prognosis worsened. Only Lenny kept coming. Every second day he’d pop in on his way to work. Sit with her a while. They’d talk about what was happening at uni. Sometimes he’d bring in a new track he’d mixed and they’d share his headphones. He’d always seemed like just one of the crowd. But now he was everything she’d imagined about leaving school and leaving home and finding her way in the world. She’d always been the one with attitude—the one with the weird hair and a knack for staying just the right side of trouble. But when Lenny said, ‘Hurry up and get better, there are things you and me oughtta be doing,’ she smiled so much the nurses thought he might have slipped her something, or perhaps she’d had some sort of turn.

(this is an edited version of the story Lifer published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Dream girl

Though Elle was the one the boys talked about she had a way of flicking her hair, sharpening her eyes and laughing that kept them at bay. The day she asked Marco if he’d take her to the dance he thought he might be dreaming. He said yes before he’d remembered Polly. They were just friends really. She’d understand.

The night of the dance they arrived late, Elle having made a point of re-doing her immaculate hair. All eyes followed them—followed her—up the stairs until a scream ahead drew their attention away. Unused to her heels Loni Hendricks had taken a nasty fall. Marco stooped to help her. He felt a tug on his arm. ‘Leave her.’

As Elle and Marco passed their fallen classmate Polly, a qualified first aider, glanced up then refocused on Loni’s ankle. ‘Nothing’s broken,’ she said, but she wasn’t so sure.

 

(this is an edited version of the story published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

The Test

The first date had been a success. ‘We ought to do it again some time, said Shelley.

‘Dinner?’

‘That’d be lovely.’

‘Greek?’

‘My favourite.’

It all seemed too easy. Syd met her after work and they walked to a place they both knew. They shared the mixed platter and lingered over baklava and inky coffee. He hoped Goldy would like her as much as he did.

After another film he invited her back to his flat, around the corner. It was a homely place, well lived in. Shelley settled on the couch while Al boiled the kettle. Everything, seemed to be going nicely. No time like the present, then. He scooped up Goldy and started towards the lounge room. Before he reached the door he heard her scramble through her handbag then sneeze like a cannon blast. Shelley, sounding like her mouth was full of porridge, mumbled, ‘you should have told me you had a cat.’

(this is an edited version of the story published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Pulse

The way Allan told it—and he liked to tell it—they had Peter’s unusual last name and a management directive to thank for being together. The hospital had been retraining old nurses to fill a shortfall. Some preferred the formality of earlier days. Their name badges—just the first name—became an issue. So management acquiesced. That’s how Peter had himself rebadged, throwing away the plain old Peter badge he’d worn since he’d started as a student nurse. He walked into the ward, athletic and confident and introduced himself with a grin. ‘You’re new,’ he said, pointing to the shiny new badge. ‘I’m Nurse Jane. I need to take your pulse.’

(this is an edited version of the story published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Covered

The walls of Skeeter’s room are smokey yellow. Next to his mattress there’s a bottle of pills, cheap whiskey and a radio. No one visits. No one would know if he got up the next morning or not. He unscrews the cap of the whiskey.
A song crackles onto his old transistor. He knows the chords. He wrote them decades ago in the glimmer of fleeting fame. Top ten for a couple of weeks.

Ronnie Madison yelps when she hears the chorus drifting from her daughter’s room. ‘Turn it up. ‘
Out of habit the volume drops.
‘I said up.’ Ronnie opens Rebbekah’s door. ‘I know this song.’
‘Yeah, Hangin’ on his Words. It’s Cyrus Blake. It’s huge.’
‘It’s a cover. It’s The Metronomes. I knew them.’

Skeeter’s thinking about her now. The song he wrote when the world was at their feet.

‘You OK Mum?’
Ronnie laughs. ‘I wonder whatever happened to him.’
‘Who, Mum?’
There’s no answer.
‘This is about you, isn’t it?’

The song slips into a minor key.