The bargain

The story is told of a nobleman’s daughter who demanded precious gifts from her many suitors.

Her greedy reputation spread. The number of suitors dwindled. She longed for more of the fine things they had brought.

A merchant visited with samples of silks of unimaginable beauty. ‘Do you have more?’ she asked.

‘For a fair price. I know a place where these things may be found.’

Her eyes lit up. ‘Take me there.’

They sailed over several months to a town in the tropics. Throughout the voyage the woman resisted the young merchant’s tender advances, her thoughts only of the riches she would find.

In the shacks of that place poor families toiled, growing, dyeing spinning and weaving. ‘You may have what you please,’ he told her, ‘for a fair price.’

‘I don’t know what that price is,’ she said.

‘I’ll show you in the morning.’

She woke the next day to find him gone.

A year passed before the merchant. The nobleman’s daughter was now wedded to a weaver, working long hours in return for the meager roof he provided. ‘Take me away,’ she pleaded.

‘For a fair price,’ the merchant replied.

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

The new life

I’m sitting with her again. If she could see me what would she think?

You’ve let yourself go. You could do with a holiday. She’d tell me to look after myself.

But she can’t say it. The doctors say she sees nothing.

We wait for a miracle.

We wait as we have for the past two years.

But tonight I will say goodbye.

I will let this stop.

Bernadette.

I will turn off the light.

I will shut the door.

I hold her cool crepe-paper hand.

A twitch.

Her eyes flicker.

Her head lolls towards me.

She smiles.

I remove my hand and kiss her forehead.

I think of Therese waiting for me in the carpark, our bags packed.

Our new life.

I stop at the nurse’s station. ‘Look in on her for me before…’

The duty nurse rounds the corner of her counter to embrace me.

Tears fall between us.

The lift bell rings. In a moment I’ll be travelling down.

Travelling away.

45rpm

We’d had years on the circuit, playing rodeos and country shows, town halls and festivals. Years of fighting and getting back together. Always the song. I told him he could sing anything else to anyone else but that song would always be just for me. It had been a big hit when he needed one. It saved him in many ways, and it still got the biggest response from fans. Even tonight it sounded as good as when I first heard him sing it. Because when he sings it I almost forget to breathe.

The record company had called me in. That song you sent us. We want Clem to have it. Sure I said. Then they shoved a contract in front of me and next thing he’s got it all right. By the time the record came out—words and music: Clem Mullins—we were together and that song was never going to let us be apart for long.

Tonight I’m alone in our trailer while a sweet country girl with fame in her eyes shares his bottle. I drop the needle on the crackling track.

holding you close to my heart until morning

 

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

Romantic like

I keep the yard good. I clean up after m’self. So the business about not bein’ romantic comes as a bit of a shock.

That’s why I send ’er out for a day’s shoppin’. When she’s gone I start cleanin’. The house looks like magazine photos, it’s so tidy.

I set the good table with the good plates, then get the oven on. I’ve got ‘cordon bleu’, heat an’ eat from the deli.

About five she’s back. Had a good day at the shops, an’ when she sees the house an’ me all fresh shaved she says, ‘Gordon, what a surprise.’

I pour ’er champagne an’ we eat an’ she’s sayin’ how nice ev’rythin’ is.

After coffee she says we oughtta maybe not watch telly tonight. So I bring out the box.

She unties it, looks in, then laughs. ‘Red!’ she says.

‘Pretty fancy,’

But she just walks to the wardrobe an’ I reckon I’ve blown it. Then she gets a different box—the one from our weddin’—an’ she says, ‘maybe these instead, eh?’

She puts ’em on an, blimey she looks good.

An’ she says, ‘Come ’ere Gordon, ya duffer. You’re all the romance I’ll ever need.’

 

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

Miss Lina’s Book

Rainday;

Miss Lina told 3F.

Groans all round

as the weather closed in,

grey all over.

She thought again of the book.

Set them all a task.

That night she shuffled

their 9 year-old dreams,

Prakash, who loved soccer and ice cream.

Lindy who loved cats.

Little Ken,

the rough and tumble kid from the big family,

who loved his sister.

They all loved hearts—

the curls of them decorated unfilled corners of every page.

Miss Lina added this year’s pages to her book.

Six grades in all now.

She pulled on her coat,

took her umbrella and,

with a fluff of her hair,

headed for Manny’s

and the stool at the dark end of the bar.

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

The Olympians

In the afternoon the ouzo comes out. Christos, who owns the place, pours. And then, because he’s a storyteller, he tells the story of the judgement of Paris. The men laugh and say they’d choose the same. Paris got it right. The love goddess wins every time.

Then Christos says, ‘That Hera, Queen of the gods, she’d be too much a…’ and he gestures. Ball-breaker. ‘And who’d choose brains when you could have…’ he rubs his trousers like a pop star. They are young bucks again. They laugh, slap each other, down their drinks and call for more. And they are kings in their smoke-stained castle. And they know everything about love.

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

The attic

The typed letters were in a box in the roof, all in order—Dad back from the war, wooing her with sweet stories when his mind had been full of darkness. It made me wish I’d known him. But he’d ‘had his accident’, as the family said, when I was five. Selfish, they said. These weren’t selfish words.

Heather popped her head up. ‘What’s going on?’

‘I found these letters from Dad to Mum.’

‘Dredge it up later,’ she said. ‘I could do with a hand.’

So I took them home.

It was different for Heather. She’d had more years with Dad.

As I read, I felt Dad and I had been given extra moments together. Some were gentle, some sad, some desperate. Some beautiful and tender. In the middle were a small bunch written by hand—so intimate I felt heat rise on my neck as I read. They were dated in the months before he died. He’d signed these, Your Darling Forever, T.

They were my secret until, months later, Heather asked. So I told her.

‘You idiot,’ she said. ‘He couldn’t write. Too shaky. He typed everything.’

‘Everything?’

‘Clickety, clickety. Drove us half mad.’

 

(this is an edited version of the story In my mother’s attic, published on this day, 2010. See about small stories about love)

Tumbling (something new)

I’ve been unwell the last week so the blog has taken a back seat. I thought I’d jump back in with something different. Following is the piece, Mourning, written one year ago, but now reworked as verse…

 

Tumbling

Denise cried in public.

In the queue to buy groceries,

one moment composed,

the next shedding quiet,

rolling

tears,

like spring rain.

She told no one.

Only checkout attendants knew,

commuters on the Belgrave Line,

passers-by.

A mum from school found her hunched near the flexiteller.

Denise told a story of her sick father.

Said she’d be fine.

Thanks.

The crying became her new secret.

It replaced John in those parts of her day-to-day, alone.

Pete knew nothing about either.

All he knew was she’d moved into the guest room.

She saved her sobbing for outside the house

where the being-by-herself was greatest.

She no longer understood

the nature of her tears.

Her trepidation

Connie kissed him at the door. She said, ‘Love you, Babe,’ thinly, like she didn’t want him to resent it. As his taxi drew away she turned. A four-day conference. Patricia would be there, the woman Tom had spent months working closely with on the Solaris-6 project.

‘You’ll love her,’ Tom had told Connie, and yet somehow he’d never got around to introducing them. That didn’t stop it being Patricia-this and Patricia-that each night after work.

It was when he mentioned Patricia’s influential family that Connie recalled Trish McAllister, the bane of her third year ethics class. Trish with her silver spoon and her excuses, scrambling into her masters on the back of a string of special considerations while Connie had been told that the bad back she’d got working night shift shouldn’t stop her sitting exams. There were two sets of rules. Connie just didn’t know how far they reached.

 

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

Two redrafted horror stories

Following are two stories from my year of microfiction with similar themes. I’ve tweaked them both…

 

Thicker than water (redraft)

I had swum to the far side of the swimming hole when the storm broke and by the time I’d gathered my wet things I was alone. Warm drops fell from the darkening sky. Night came quickly. The forest closed in, dense and unyielding. Lightning silhouetted claw-like branches.

I saw her in a flash like a shadow. Nearby a branch fell with a clatter.

Lightning again and there she was. In front of me, beckoning me forward. As beautiful as the flower of the Bella Donna. I couldn’t run: her eyes held me. Her arms like ice wrapped around me. The body she pressed against me was as perfect and desirable as it was cold. She craned her head. I looked into her hungry mouth. Enough to break the spell. But too late. Her teeth pierced my neck. The warmth returned and with it the desire to feed her and feed with her. Again and again.

She spirited me away—took me under her wing. Our union consecrated next evening in the churchyard where she brought our prey. A pretty couple. A boy for her. For me a maiden—the first of many. The taste of immortality.

 

Predator (redraft)

Cordelia’s MG was parked near the lake. Strange; with the sun about to set it wasn’t the place to be. The paths there were dangerous, the terrain unpredictable.

I called but there was no reply. Then I heard crackling undergrowth some distance away. I followed until brambles blocked my path. The last rays of sun streaked the tops of the overhanging trees yellow, amber, red, then faded through indigo. I found a gap and pushed through, thorns dragging at my skin. Framed by barbed and twisted stems I watched the moon rise on her. She had undressed. On her marble skin fresh cuts showed clearly. I heard panting, saw her twitch. Begin to alter.

Cordelia sniffed the air and turned. I glimpsed the face I knew for an instant—a look of pain and despair as she saw me in the moonlight. Then the change overtook her. It rippled through her and when she rose again she was the beast and I was helpless against her speed. Her power. The passion of her strike.

Now I go with her to the clearing when the moon is full. Never again shall we spend those nights apart.

A temporary solution

After we built the house of our dreams it was all downhill. Arguing became our way of life. Jan left and came back more times than I care to remember.

Divorce came as a blessed relief. The truce that went with it didn’t extend to the house. So we cut it in two. The wall I built to bisect it was an uncomfortable but necessary solution.

We grew older and wiser—started talking again. Eventually Jan said, ‘let’s just tear the bloody thing down.’

Faded boards either side showed where the wall between us had been. Jan took one look at the uneven halves. ‘You bastard, Harry. Your sides nearly a foot wider. Well you can put it straight back up. In the right spot this time…no wait…’ She indicated a line with her foot. It compensated for the space I’d cribbed and threw a little extra in for good measure.

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