For Luck

A man has the right to expect certain things. He has a right not to have his work put at risk by the equipment he uses. That’s my belief. I take a pride. I’m up with the latest literature. Before each job I check and recheck everything. I do the calculations three times over. I leave nothing to chance. So why is it that now, with the moment so close at hand, the governor proudly shows me the new rope he’s got up for me.

It’s four strands, I says.

Is it, he says.

Aye.

Rope’s rope, he says.

Three strand’s what I need, I says.

One more for luck, he says.

Don’t tell me about luck, I says.

There but for the grace of God, he says, and he orders me to attention, and while I wait, footsteps ringing slow on the galley iron, I do the sums in my head and then I says to the fella as he passes, sorry, which I hoped I’d never have to say. And when he drops I turn away.

The lover

Twin sisters shared their girlhood home in a way. One occupied the rooms in front, back to the kitchen, which was in the middle of the house. The other took everything to the rear. A schedule, pinned to the kitchen door, limited their need for further contact.

They were seen coming and going occasionally, but never together. Over time the occupants of nearby houses changed and the knowledge of the family that once lived at the house was lost. In its place a single woman, pleasant but reclusive, emerged, though no one knew her name. Beyond Luskin Rd, in the files of the country’s corporations and agencies the women disappeared as well. Surviving frugally, as their father had, taking only what they needed of the savings he had hidden in shoe boxes beneath the pantry floor, they left none of the usual evidence of their existence.

When the fire broke out – old wiring in the roof space – it spread unseen above them before bursting through old ducting into rooms at either end of the house. It converged towards the middle, the kitchen, where two charred bodies, embracing in death, were to be discovered by fire-fighters dousing the embers.

So it was that a mystery woman, an unknown lover perhaps, became the talk of the people of Luskin Rd in the days after the fire. Only the old cat, who had been with them all its years, knew the women’s real story, but it took that secret with it days later when starvation overcame it.

 

Rip

Peter had taken up body-surfing in his forties and now chased waves every weekend. He’d met Clarissa in July, at the water’s edge looking out on huge sets coming through onto Slippers, one of the south coast’s legendary breaks. He’d decided the swell was too big but Clarissa, ten years younger and full of energy, urged him to join her. It was something he’d never forget, the sheer power, the speed of tonnes of water rushing forward and the exhileration of riding those steep, glassy faces.

She lived in the next suburb. Peter started calling for her on Saturday mornings after he’d dropped Gina and the kids at his mother’s. Clarissa always knew the best breaks, secret places away from the holiday crowds. In gravel carparks at the end of obscure sidetracks he’d help her prepare, zipping her into her wetsuit’s sculptural neoprene curves.

One afternoon they drove to Cluster Cove, Clarissa tucked tight beside him in the middle seat he only usually used to carry one of the kids when the car was full. An enormous swell was rolling in. Clarissa couldn’t wait to tackle it. Peter hesitated momentarily. But the sight of her easing the tight suit over her bikini bottoms was enough to convince him.

They each caught good waves in the first set. But the next was twice the size, crashing in under a darkening sky. It scared them both. Clarissa called time. ‘I’m taking the next one into shore,’ she yelled above the surf’s constant roar. ‘This is getting risky.’

Peter nodded.

They took off together on a huge wave, Peter next to her but closer to the lip. Partway in the breaking wave caught his ankle and flipped him. The last he saw of Clarissa before he went under, she was racing towards land.

The wave held him under for so many long seconds that his lungs burned with the need to breathe and the random colours of semiconsciousness obscured his perceptions. When he finally got his head above the foam and recovered his bearings he’d been swept hundreds of metres down the beach. A funneling rip took hold of him. He was too exhausted to fight it. Within moments he’d been swept way past the headland and only the very top of the lighthouse was visible over the towering seas.

The cutting room floor

It seemed the perfect final year project. They’d be able to do it unscripted, which suited both Blaine and Ethan. And it fitted the fascination with all things seedy that had brought them together. An afternoon trawling the internet identified the sordid side of dating. Suburban sleaze. Perfect. They could infiltrate the scene, shoot the footage hand-held and pull it together in the editing suite.

They signed up to a ‘discrete adult parties’ website. To christen the project they took a camera to the mall and bought new disco outfits. Back at their flat they celebrated with wine, snuggles and Teen Zombie Killer 3.

The first party was in a warehouse. They arrived separately, in character, circulated until the early hours, then thanked their host, Arlene, a large woman in culottes.

‘You two seem to have had a good time,’ she said

‘I never expected to meet another film-maker,’ said Blaine.

‘Perhaps we could film your parties for you?’ Ethan added

An email arrived. We love your film idea. Let’s talk.

They agreed to put jealousies aside and the project progressed well. After the fifth party they had the footage they needed. Blaine booked an editing suite for Friday night.

‘But there’s a party Friday,’ said Ethan.

‘You’re not serious?’

‘Blaine,’ he said, ‘I think we need to talk.’

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

The overtaking lane

Trees whip past in walls of blur. Leslie turns up the CD.

Last time she travelled this road she was hitching. There was no rush. She stopped in a town near the border. Got a job picking fruit. That’s where she met Jason.

The towns all get bypassed now. This new highway’s made for speed.

A slow moving truck looms as she flies over a rise. Pretty soon she’s on the brakes, stuck behind half a house on a prime mover. She changes down. Settles back, tapping the wheel—half to the music and half in frustration. The trees no longer blur. They wave to her passing. She wants nothing more than to be back in overdrive on a clear road.

She remembers Jason’s skin smooth and sunbrown. The strength of his embrace, solid as if he meant her to understand him by it. He made no small talk. When he unbuttoned her, he uncovered feelings in her that had been dormant in the arms of every other boy.

Round a bend the road opens up. The lane divides. Leslie plants her foot, takes the truck in a moment. She’ll be in Melbourne by sundown. Her thoughts turn from past love to tomorrow’s presentation. The trees blur again around her.

 

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

The lighthouse keeper’s bride

It was said she’d come from a large family. Dark secrets and her father’s cruelty made her long for a secluded life. So, when William Staker, who’d been considered, before that time, wedded to the sea, posted his notice, she replied.

They married, then set sail for the northern-most point of the county, a windswept spit with a knob of land big enough for the lighthouse, a cottage, a kitchen garden and a pen for goats and chickens.

Boats that took supplies brought back stories of the wild sailor and his pretty bride, happy in their isolation. It was said she kept the peninsular immaculate and, under her hand, it became almost cheerful. She ordered whitewash for the fences, and planted bulbs filling the ground with colour each spring.

The wounds of many storms caught up with William Staker. He could no longer look after the light. The night before a new lighthouse keeper was to arrive the sailor’s wife disappeared. Unwilling to be taken from the island without her, the sailor dove into a raging sea and was crushed upon the rocks. The lady was never seen again, except by passing ships who reported a woman, her bonnet and dress shaking in the wind, on the edge of the rocks looking out to the stormy horizon.

 

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

Spinning wheels

Rod’s favourite boyhood toy was a train. Turn the key, set it on the tracks and watch it go round. Simple. It’s still working and our son, Josh, loves it like he did. They’re so alike.

It’s Rod’s first visit back to the house. Josh has the train set out, making choo-choo noises and giving rides to toys.

We sit, uncomfortably, either side of the table bought by Rod in anticipation of a big family. ‘You OK?’ I ask. Stupid question.

His chin quivers. ‘Am I allowed to say I miss you?’

‘God, Rod. Say what you like. We’ve got to be honest.’

‘I suppose I’ll be alright.’

‘That’s not what I asked.’

‘I’m OK.’ His voice cracks.

‘Bullshit, Rod. You’re nearly in tears just thinking about it.’

There’s a squawk from Josh. Rod jumps to help. ‘What’s wrong, Darling.’

‘It’s not working.’

Though the wheels are turning the train’s not going anywhere. Rod picks it up to check. But I can see, from where I am, it’s not the train. There’s a kink in the track. I wonder if he’ll figure it out. He wants so much for things to be reliable. To stay the same.

Josh looks up at him expectantly. ‘Fix it, Daddy. Please.’

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

Rescued

Search crews found him on a rock ledge trying to sing. It was something else he’d forgotten. That and his past—growing up, old girlfriends and all the years with me—wiped clean.

At first it was a tragicomic farce. ‘Robert, you say?’

I’d nod

‘I don’t remember.’

‘I know darling,’ I’d say. ‘I know.’

Later, when he understood, he’d get annoyed if he thought I was trying to feed him memories—old songs, photos, anything. So I banished them. The house became blank in their absence.

Until, on my way home one evening, I detoured via the shops. I tried on shoes, bought new stockings and sampled perfume offered by a girl with a rock-hard smile.

When I walked into the house he sat up. I’d taken to pecking him on the cheek as if he remembered. As I did he breathed long and hard, smelling the new scent. Suddenly memories began cascading from him.

They weren’t of me.

I took them, regardless.

Aphrodite’s sons

They come every day to the club, which is nothing but an empty shop with laminex tables and split vinyl chairs, travel posters on the walls and a coffee machine in the corner. Out the back there’s a fridge, a sink, a microwave and the cupboard where they keep the cards. They sit for hours dealing winning hands and loosing hands and sage advice, because here they are kings. They could be under olive trees in dappled light and it would be no better.

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. And they 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.

In my mother’s 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 ‘done it’ as the family said, when I was five. Selfish, they said. These weren’t selfish words.

An hour passed before Heather popped her head up. ‘What’s going on?’

‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I found these. Mum’s letters. From Dad.’

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

So I boxed them again and took them home.

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

As I read the letters, I felt as if we’d been given extra moments together. Some were gentle, some sad, some desperate. Some beautiful and tender. And in the middle a small bunch written by hand—so intimate I felt heat rise on my neck as I read. He’d signed these, Your Darling Forever, T.

It was 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.’

Bringing shame

We waited until ten before taking the ute up the back lane. Mum would be home in two hours but Dad would be gone all day and the boys rarely came back home before evening.

Lee and I threw boxes and bags from the balcony—clothes, books, CDs, keepsakes. While Johnny finished packing we went back for the stereo and computer. We were putting them under the tarp when I remembered the soft-toys under my bed. Lee raced up to get them.

The dull suburban drone was broken by Robbo’s Falcon pulling in. I screamed for Lee. The car door slammed shut. Footsteps up to the front door. A key in the lock.

Lee looked over the balcony. Robbo shouting. Running up the stairs. Next thing Lee just vaulted. Landed with a whack next to me. I heard his ankle bones shattering. As Robbo roared from my window we hobbled to the car—Johnny had the engine going. I’d been so distracted I hadn’t noticed what Lee was carrying. He handed me Scruffy, my first bear, kissed me and said maybe we’d better swing past emergency on our way out of town.

Mourning

Denise started crying in public. It could happen to her any time that she was out by herself. One moment she’d be in the queue to buy groceries. The next she’d be shedding quiet rolling tears like spring rain.

She told no one. The only people who knew were checkout attendants and fellow commuters and passers-by. One of the mums from school saw her hunched over near the flexiteller one day but Denise made up a story about her sick father. Said she’d be fine. Thanks

Eventually the crying became her new secret. It replaced John in those parts of her day-to-day life where that’s what he had been.

Pete knew nothing about either. All he knew was she’d started sleeping in the guest room.

She saved her tears for outside the house where the loneliness was greatest. But she couldn’t tell if hers were tears of grief. Did she cry for John or for herself?

Made for each other

On the face of it they were the perfect romantic-comedy couple. Erin was intelligent, somewhat bookish, attractive and wounded by lousy luck in love. She worked in a gallery. Felix, handsome in a nerdy way, was emerging from his boy-o years with his dignity intact. He was a junior partner at a midtown firm (not far from Erin’s gallery as luck would have it) and, of course, he’d been wounded by lousy luck in love. The gang had spent years engineering their proximity.

The time came almost by accident. You know the scene. ‘My dinnner-date had to cancel. I’d hate to pass up a booking at Henri’s. Would you care to join me.’

And of course it got off to a rocky start. Felix said the grain-fed beef sounded nice. Erin said cattle should eat grass. They overcame the embarrassment. Small talk between stolen glances.

But in the end it wasn’t enough. She thought he needed to grow up a bit. He thought she ought to lighten up. The pecks on their cheeks at the end of the night were perfunctory.

There would be no scripted last minute realisations.

The coppice garden

After Keith died I bought an old farmhouse and moved to the country. At first I hadn’t been able to identify what it was that had fascinated me about the place. But after a month or so I realised that the trees that gave it its shaded aspect were consistently odd. Their multiple trunks and low canopies created an otherworldly feel.

I asked around. No one seemed to know what gave the trees their unique form. So I called the old farmer who’d had the place before me. ‘Bloody trees,’ he muttered. ‘She planted them all when I brought her here, and she watched ’em grow until they was big an’ tall. An’ then she left me with ’em. Went off with him. So I took a chainsaw to ’em. An’ after I lopped ’em all I somehow didn’ have the heart to take ’em out. For a long time they was just rows of stumps. But one by one they sprouted. Now look at it.’

I smiled and thanked him and knew, at last, why I felt so drawn to my indomitable garden.