Loathing

After ten years even a strong marriage can become strained. That was no excuse. I found myself interstate on business, staying in that part of town where women can be bought on street corners. She seemed a little lost among the hard-bitten, the brazen and the desperate.

She told me where to drive. By the time we got there her words were slurring, she was having trouble focusing. It’s nothing, she said. I let myself believe her.

Later I offered to drive her to hospital. She didn’t want to go. I took her instead to a flat at the back of a rundown block, opened the door with her key, laid her on the couch and left. I told myself I didn’t want to get mixed up. Besides, I’d offered. Hadn’t I?

Next morning the radio reported an attack. A young victim. A man being sought. I had no courage for admissions. I could have helped. I could have told police what I knew. But I flew home instead.

Before I could knock, my wife had the front door open. She was clasping Rebeccah tight to her. ‘What have you done, Leigh?’ she said. ‘What have you done?’

Helpin

There was nothing Col liked more than a good situation. Something he could throw himself into. Make a difference. Like this mum here. She’s got a kid screamin in the back and she’s totally boxed in by 4×4’s parked close either side. Col props his bike on its stand and wanders across, waving in the woman’s direction. He walks to the back corner and indicates how much space she has to work with, which isn’t much. He brings his hands together as she edges back. Just before she touches the big car’s bull bar he whistles. Holds his palm out like a traffic cop.

As he walks to the front corner he makes a face at the littly. It turns the kid’s screams to gigglin. All in a day’s work. He repeats the hand gestures first at the front then again at the rear. Almost done. He flashes a thumb’s up and positions himself again for the final maneuver. You’re right. Slowly now. Keep it comin. Keep it comin. You’re good.

Metal and plastic splinter. The passenger mirror shears clean off. Col smiles toothlessly as he recovers his bike. Bloody genius. Nothin’s as sweet as a good situation.

A new site worth getting to know

I’ve just launched a new site focusing in more detail on microfiction. I hope that regular smallstoriesaboutlove readers will take a look. I’ll continue to publish stories here and use this site as the experimental writing space it has become. But I want to delve a little further into the theory and practice of microfiction as well as creating a more engaging on-line presence for my own broader practice, hence the new site.

The new site is called Big Story Small. It can be viewed at bigstorysmall.com.

I’d love to get some feedback and please, if you’re interested in very short fiction, consider following bigstorysmall – I guarantee there’ll be plenty of great posts, news and information for writers and readers alike.

You can also now follow me on Twitter, where I’ll be posting Twitter-sized stories, some new and others rewritten and edited to suit that format. My first Twitter story has just been published at @bigstorysmall.

I hope smallstoriesaboutlove readers enjoy these new sites.

What you wish for

Dad and Liz, which is what I call Mum ‘coz she hates ‘Mum’, like it makes her sound old, as if she isn’t, but that’s her problem, are having another big fight downstairs. Liz is on about money again. About why other women in our street have got this and that and why they go places on holidays. ‘Actual places,’ she says, ‘on planes,’ like that ‘ll hurt him big time which is what she wants. But he just goes, ‘Planes. Really?’ Then there’s a crash and another plate hits the wall. And I sneak into their room which is where I’ve always gone when they’re like this and I start going through their drawers. I don’t know why but it makes me feel better looking at grown up things to remind me they’re more grown up than me and so far they haven’t actually messed me up too bad. And even Mum seems like someone soft you could like when you’re looking at her creams and her frilly things and I can block out the racket they’re making.

After I look through Mum’s stuff for anything new, but it’s just the usual goo for skin and corns, which is hard bits on your feet, and bras and pills to stop babies and stuff like that I go round Dad’s side of the bed and there’s a big envelope on his table and it’s been opened and I think wouldn’t it be good if it said, Dear Mr Harrison, you got that divorce you wanted and you can take Ryan but he’ll have to see his mum on weekends, something like that ‘coz that would be the best thing I reckon. But I know about letters and I know it’s not right so I don’t touch it and I look through his drawers instead and there’s the ciggies he’s not supposed to smoke and a whole lot of loose change and old watches and rubbers to stop babies and downstairs in the kitchen there’s another crash and shouting and my eyes keep going back to the envelope and it gets so as I have to look what’s there ‘coz it might be something like that about starting new just Dad and me so I pull the paper out and it’s addressed to him and it’s from some laboratory and I think maybe he’s sick. Maybe he’s real sick. And it’s hard to read ‘coz I don’t know all the words but half-way I realise it’s about me which it calls ‘the child in question’ and it’s saying something about why he’s not really my dad.

Downstairs goes quiet. There’s footsteps coming up. Usually that’s when I’d run out, fast.

Real cars

There was a time, Don remembered, when V8s ruled the highways. Proper cars. Valiants and Falcons. Chargers. Now the streets were clogged to a standstill with putt-putts. That’s what he called them. And what good had they done. Bugger all for all he could tell. The summers were hotter than Hades. Winter was cold but dry. The whole city drank recycled piss for God’s sake. And if a fella like him wanted to, if he hadn’t had his licence taken from him years ago, he couldn’t drive a decent car.

Lenny arrived. The kid was a disappointment. He worked for the government for a start, some sort of scientist. It was Lenny and that Clara who’d put him in this place.

Against my will, Don grumbled as Lenny straightened the photos on his dresser. What sort of family…

You been taking your pills? said Lenny.

Those pills ‘ll kill me, said Don.

You wanna live like this? said Lenny.

Whadda you think. You tell me.

Take the pills Dad, said Lenny. They’ll either kill you or make you feel better. You can’t lose.

Bugger you, said Don. He knew the score. He’d been at the home longer than anyone. He’d watched the others arrive like him, defeated. He’d seen them come over all smiles for a while. He’d watched them getting taken out.

Happy, happy, happy, die, he said.

You’re making it up, Dad, said Lenny.

Am I? said Don. And you with your government job. Don’t talk to me about making things up.

He closed his eyes. His head filled with the scream of a big donk hauling steel from nought to a hundred in the time it took to smell rubber burning on tarmac. All the good things were gone now. Outside the last of the dying pine trees was being taken out. They’d planted cactuses.

Beyond this

Today is the final day of my Old Melbourne Gaol residency.

gaol1

Beyond this

The sun is not as I’ve been remembering, but hangs forlorn, choked brown by plumes from smokestacks that have gone up all around. I’d imagined it, at least, would greet me like an old friend. But it is wary. By noon it has taken itself off behind low clouds, and them behind the smoke. The streets I knew have turned to walls themselves and this world seems but a different grey. People hunch. Birds do not sing. I know a place where men and women and creatures swagger beneath skies that are rarely anything but blue. It will cost me a pretty penny to get back there. So it is I spend the afternoon of my release planning my escape.

Cobbles and dust

If they flogged me it would be no worse, but I’m a woman so they won’t. They haven’t the guts. Instead, they give me the shirts from the men’s wing and they tell me to wash away the blood and salt and the fluid like custard that seeps from the wounds. And when I can’t clean them, ‘cos there aint nothing can clean that stain, they take away what they call my privileges. Ha. And they march me between the cells, slowly, because they think the words will sting. They strip me and spit on me and throw me in the confinement cell. For my own good, they say. But what’s the use, they say, because no good ever came to a baby farmer like you. Lower than a dog. Shows what they know. Those children was marked before they was ever brought to me. Most before they was born, I reckon. The guards think they’ll break me. But bluestone blocks for dirty lanes or prison walls is all the same. Cobbles and dust; all I’ve ever known.

The pay off

She changed the spelling of her name so it was hardly a name at all. X-oe; how the hell did anyone pronounce that. Drawing on her loyal art school friends she developed signature projects; animations, improvisations she performed at clubs and parties, spoken word rants, flash installations and endless images. Then she hit social media hard. She established a profile; X-oe, anti-art assassin, whatever that was, because it was just a bit of spin she concocted one morning in the midst of a vodka and pills hangover.

The art-suckers bought it. She traded in her old friends for a more influential bunch. Momentum built around her, a reputation that needed form, because anti-art had become more art than art and it was time to cash in. She created a single non-art work, an unlimited edition of unsigned solid cubes that could be recreated endlessly in whatever size, colour or material the non-art collector desired. Business boomed.

X-oe incorporated, skimming an executive salary while finding others to fill the orders of art fans keen to get onboard her non-art wagon. They outdid themselves on size and materials. She went viral. She went global.

The Guggenheim called. The Guggenheim! It was enough to crack even X-oe’s non-art cool. Her time had come.

Transfer it to the office, she called. She took a long breath before lifting the receiver. Yes…Speaking.

We’re acting, a severe voice replied, on behalf of the estate of…

X-oe recalled—but the memory was vague because she’d spent so many hours trolling the internet for exploitable ideas—a manifesto written by some post-dada, beatnik hack.

Chances

The way I figure it I’ll have, if luck is with me, five chances. Tomorrow will be like today and all the days since my capture so my reckoning is sound. My first opportunity will come early, in the crossing. Sometimes my guards are too eager. If I slow they come onto the bridge to jab at me with bayonets. They are vulnerable above the drop.

The second comes when our work party is given its implements for the day. A hoe would be little use but a spade, hammer or pickaxe; only circumstance makes them tools rather than weapons.

The next chance comes at lunchtime. The broth is little more than peelings and salt but at least this new cook brings it to the boil. Sometimes he adds an onion or two or a yam from the forest. He is better than the other, who served it safely tepid. No matter.

Another, of course, is the crossing back to the camp, when the guards are tired from the labour of watching.

But it will be the last chance I take again, when the candles have been snuffed and stiff limbs stretch on stiff bunk boards. That’s when I will act. Dream it again; the brief pleasure of another’s death scream.

The Hercules train

When he reached the edge of the world Hercules looked out at the heavens with a heavy heart for this, his greatest quest, was over and it was the pursuit of it he had cherished most. The edge was like a beach, oblivion lapping onto it in wavelets. He had an urge to see what was beneath, so he lay flat on the sand. Carefully he leaned over to see. That part of him that extended beyond the world stopped being. The sensation was of weight and mass and energy reaching only to those parts of his body that stayed on the sand. Beyond these, where his head and his fingertips had been there was a blind consciousness, which Hercules told himself must be the state of his soul. He had endured many hardships in his life and the Gods had taunted him with endless trials for the body they’d made him. The sensation of nothing that could be seen or touched, excited him. Only beyond the world could he be freed of his need to be and become, instead, only the notions he held true of justice and honour. Without a thought the hero edged forward, neck then shoulders gone, then chest. He found a purchase on the sand and pushed towards where zero and infinity were indistinguishable, where now was all of time and peace as absolute as its absence. He let himself slide into it. At the last moment as the hero struck out beyond his embodiment the buckle on his sandal caught on a length of vine. But, as his physical consciousness had been all but extinguished, he had no idea, as he drifted out, of the calamity he had set in train, as first the vine, then its roots and the things it had ensnared slipped towards nothing and the world he’d honoured with his bravery began slowly dragging itself, each small part so connected, piece by piece into a void beyond.

Ambush

After trouble in town the boys take to the hills for a licking of wounds and a bit o blarney besides that for theres always stories from exploits and the hills is the best place for em. Up in the hills stories grow big like alehouse yarns and therell be whiskey to be had and good times and thats what a band o fellows wants most. More even than company with lasses I reckon true enough a fellow wants a yarn and whiskey and up in the hills is always plenty enough of both and Eddys brother Danny will most likely do a song and a jig and the world will be great like it should be. Like the Lord intended itll be with the sun shining bright on his making. So when Stevie Boy sends a message down I think sure that’s for me and I drops me shears and leaves with Cuttler cursing cause his sheeps half sheared and I take his pony too on a loan for wages and goes up there at a fair clip cause I’d not be missing the fun of it thats for sure. And the boys are there havin a fair old time and soon enough I has a bottle and a full pipe and I’s leaning back with em. The sun is warm and it makes the whiskey smooth and sure nough the airs soon filling with singing ballads and the crows joining in and theres nothing in the world as good as that and nothings going to spoil it cept thats when theres a shot – bang – in the bushes and next moment theres all hell and the clearings got troopers and dogs in it that have crept up on us and us only drinking and singing of lasses and things and Joe takes a pellet but hes up and all the rest are up quick smart and their rifles loaded too. Ready like they been waiting and next moment its shots exploding near me head and Dannys rifle smoking and the two big coppers go down before they can reload. And as quick as it started the other one is high tailing and Eddy grabs me arm and we give the dog chase and we calls to the others to clean the mess and they ought head off north where weve got another place and we get to our horses just as the yellow cowards mounting his and we’re on after him in a flash. And he aint got no chance hes getting off not with Eddy chasing whos the best horseman round and sure a match for any fat Scotsmen. At the bottom of the spur Eddys got him bailed up. When I gets alongside hes got his pistol drawn and the copper is near going to shit and Eddy just looks at first staring at him then he spits like hes got a bad taste and he cocks his pistol. The Scot hes pleading like a girl to a fellow and he says if hes shot theres others will come and Eddy says I aint never shot a dog wasn’t lame and needed putting down and the Scot looks worried then when Eddy aims at his leg but instead o shooting he says you tell them others and you tell them good it was me that shot them two up there dyou understand. And the dog nods and Eddy says true and that in defence of life and limb it was too and as God is witness that’s the truth and you tell it good. Then he takes the scoundrels gun and his horse and kicks his arse down the hill and we turn and head off north. And Eddy says to me its bad times coming.

Empress

Cleopatra turned up in first-year Classics,

as spectacular as her royal namesake.

I imagined myself her Mark Antony

but I was merely Cleopatra’s pearl.

She held me out, dropped me

and watched as I dissolved away.