Life on the Edge

This piece was inspired by two items. Last week’s Simply 6 Minutes photo prompt (photo below) and the criteria for AWC October Furious Fiction – which were ‘500 words, set in a court of some kind, with a character who measures something, and include the words balloon, rock and umbrella.’ I didn’t submit to either – but kept thinking about life on the edge, of a pin. A little more than 500 words. 

*****

Court, on the head of a nail, said the colourful old man.

Seems a stretch. Somebody’s having a lend!

I gazed around what appeared to be the set of a French arthouse movie. Sumptuous furnishings, gold everywhere, fussy hairpieces and much braying laughter. Overdressed people. Bosoms bled over the top of gowns.

I couldn’t imagine one of my mates setting this up. Hooded and dumped into the trunk of a car and dragged into a strip club, was more their style. This was a step up.

“Are you okay, sir,” asked the man.

“You’re the court jester? That’s why you’re dressed so … flamboyantly,” I said. “Those balloon pants, that loud … harlequin style.”

“The knock to the head addled your brains worse than I thought,” he said. “I am the surgeon, sir. You took a bad fall. And … landed here.”

“And here is?”

“The court of King Joseph of the land of technicoloured haberdashery.”

“The land of … on the head of a nail,” I stifled a laugh. He was quite earnest. Who’d hit their head?

“Or pin. Some others describe it so. We are relaxed about the exact determination and description of our home. We are one of the peoples that inhabit the heads of tacks, pins, and nails.

Oh sir, it is quite the precarious way of life. At the mercy of man and his humours. Pin quakes are common here, as we are often nudged or moved indiscriminately. And of course, we get a lot of drop off. It comes with the territory.”

“That old furphy, falling off the edge of the world. This rock is round, a globe. Scientifically proven.”

We are not the world, sir. Only of the world. A microcosm, the edge of which is unprotected and therefore perilous to the unwary.”

I am a grown man. We are atop a nail,” I said, smirking. “How does that work?”

“A magic I cannot explain. If a man stumbles in exactly the right manner, instead of being impaled he lands atop,” the doctor said. “It is not a reciprocal magic. We are not protected the other way. We believe that our lost have splattered on impact, been trampled underfoot or eaten.”

“What science do you have? Machines, perhaps the power of flight?”

“We understand the sense of these things, but not the devices.” Then smiling, added “we can fly!”

“No bull,” I said.

“We have established contact and sometimes trade with other pin communities. We’ve captured flying insects over which we assert some control. Dandelions are useful too. Beautiful, but fragile and whimsical. Used mainly by the more adventurous type and prone to disaster.”

“Have you tried flight by umbrella?” I offered “Using updrafts and thermals?” The doctor shook his head. “They could be kept at the ready at the edge of your … nail. A last second grab and someone could land safely on the earth.”

“An intriguing idea,” he said. “We have tried lowering brave citizens to the ground via bucket. It is, however, fraught with danger. We run out of rope before achieving success. The distance seems immeasurable and the winds daunting.”

“And telescopes? If you could look more closely at mankind …” I said.

“I gather you mean a device that allows us to distinguish detail, like the zoom glass used for tiny stitches,” he said.

“I guess so.”

“The outside world is so large and so immediate that all is a blur. To stand at the edge of a nail or pin and gaze outward is to witness a kaleidoscope of murky colour, with no clear lines. It causes severe nausea in most,” he said. “I believe that disorientation contributes to the numbers lost.”

“So, what now?” I asked. “Can I return home?”

“Definitely, sir. When you are ready, we shall farewell His Majesty and then shove you off the nearest edge,” he said. He looked quite cheerful at this, with his thumbs hooked into his belt, bouncing on his toes.

“Hang on!”

“Oh, don’t you mind. It will be nothing to you. Once you step off, you’ll immediately regain your usual earthly parameters.”

“I’m ready,” I cried.

After shaking the hand of the indolent king, the doctor led me through the courtyard to a sign that read No further, on pain of death. Ominous.

“Farewell, young man. Just one step and you will be home.”

“Thank you, sir,” I said as we shook hands.

With confidence I placed one foot over the edge. And as my second foot began to lift, panic hit. Stepping blindly, I landed on solid ground.

“Phew,” I exhaled.

One more step and I stumbled over a piece of wood. Arms wind milling for balance, I settled heavily onto a large nail.

“Bollocks,” I whispered. [791 words]

Animal mosaic

Weight it out

“You never shut the …”

“What are you on about?” I scream.

I have had enough. The never-ending struggle. Surrounded, on duty, twenty four seven.

I ride a horror wave of despair that undulates, heaves, thrusts, leaving me nauseous. In this two bed flat I’m one of five, but I’m alone. I wear the weighted hat of responsibility. It pummels me to stagnation. Disciplinarian, toastmaster, cheer squad. Lover.

It doesn’t stop, as I paint with the kids. Background noise, a constant. Fuggy air, it never clears. Mid-winter, in a flat.

“You didn’t close the …”

“Shut the EFF up,” I tell him. Master of the house. Head honcho at work. Now, at home. All the time.

My three jobs down to the one I can do from home. I can barely deal.

One shared computer. Me trying to work, himself sorting rosters and options for takeaway, or home deliveries, or some other way to bring in income. The office space now a war zone.

I need to escape. Spiders in my brain climb walls, thread-like fingers invade crevices, electrify neurons, send me psycho. I’m pushed from the inside out.

I retreat to the only room that locks. The loo. I perch. Feel walls press. Hands to my ears, I block external sound, and free my soul to scream.

A banshee cry bounces, echoes inside my skull. A giant squats on my chest.

Another panic attack. Second one this week. The shift toward insanity, the slippery slide.

Knock, knock.

“Fiona.”

“Leave me alone,” I whisper.

“Mummy, mummy. I need poo-poo,” cries Clara.

I squeeze my head between vices masquerading as hands, to minimal effect. I want to pulverise, obliterate.

“Mummy.”

“Fiona, you need to …”

I breathe deeply. And again. Force oxygen past gritted teeth. And again. Air wheezes through lungs, empties into stomach. And again. Chest relaxes, arms loosen. Again. Eyes open. I can do this.

Stand. Pull hair back.

“Mummy. Gotta go now.”

I open the door. Clara rushes past, undies half off.

I feel Simon’s concern.

“You left the browser open,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Red Balloon. I saw. Oh babe, to think of me in the midst of this …”

I shrug.

“I’ve always wanted to drive a V8.”

“Sorry babe. We can’t afford it. Next year, maybe?” I disappoint.

“Sure. Sure. No worries. Coffee?”

“That’d be good.”

What I can’t say. I bought that gift six months ago. Today I requested a refund.

Four laps at Bathurst vs survival. [412 words]

Shit wife of the year award

Life in Lockdown

“Seriously Pete,” I say, staring down the webcam. “I can’t handle another day of this. Patty is doing my head in!”

“What, team Terry and Patty in trouble? Pete scoffs. “Hard to believe, mate.”

“I agree, normally. But mate, she’s being very hard,” Holding up a lumpy looking sandwich, I ask, “What the fuck is this? Vegan or something.”

“It’s healthy, mate. Lots of people doing Vegan these days.” Pete tries to console me.

“She thinks I’m fat! Last night, I was poking around in the fridge looking for something exotic to eat, and she starts into me.”

‘You’ve had enough,’ she says. ‘You’ve eaten your dinner, my leftovers, all the bread rolls and licked both plates. You’re at the fridge And, you’re getting pudgy.’

“You said that’s just posture.”

‘Well, that doesn’t help.’ She grinned, continuing. ‘You eat too fast, and your brain doesn’t know you’re full. Stop looking in the fridge!’

My cheeks are red, and I’m breathing hard as Pete begins to laugh.

“She’s a shit wife!” I shout.

The door opens and Patty comes in with coffee.

“Hello darling. Thought you could do with one. Is that Pete? Hi, Pete! How are you?” She waves wildly at the laptop. “Don’t mind the PJs.”

“You’re a vision, boss.” Pete laughs. “You know, Terry is not happy.”

“Oh, gossiping, again?” Patty asks, calmly. She turns to me. “Is this a work meeting? Or a drinks night with your boyfriend, moaning about his tiny thing, like a dizzy blonde.”

Then she gets stuck into Pete.

“Have you called Dave?” Pete’s smile slips. “It is a priority. Clients come first. Remember your budget …”

And on and on she goes. Her voice seems to fade, as my ears begin to bleed.

Then, I deep hawk into my throat and Patty literally growls!

“That’s disgusting! Blow into a tissue.You’re always doing that. Even in the shower.”

I’m mortified and feel even worse when I see Pete smirking and shooting hand pistols.

“Blowing does nothing. Anyway, it’s okay in the shower.”

“It’s still disgusting.” She’s smirking too.

“You’re a shit wife, Patty. You could win Shit Wife of the Year. I should post that on Facebook!”

“You should!” Patty cries. “I’d love it.”

“Really?” Why was I surprised? “You’re twisted, you know?”

Patty hugs and kisses me, and I notice Pete chuckling.

“We’re a great team,” she says, leaving the room. “What would you do without me?”

She might be a shit wife, I think. But she’s my shit wife.

As I turn back to Pete, he says “You have been in a premium paddock, bro!”

Swearing under my breath, I try getting back to business.

 “About tomorrow’s meeting.”

This short story was written for Australian Writers’ Centre Furious Fiction competition for August 2020. Word length, 500 words or less. Each month, certain criteria are set and for this month the criteria was:

  • Your story must contain HUMOUR/COMEDY
  • Your story must include the following five words: DIZZY, EXOTIC, LUMPY, TINY, TWISTED.
  • Your story must include a sandwich

You can read the winning entry and long-listed stories here.

Re-Creation Story

This very tongue in cheek story came out of me asking friends for some ‘What if’ prompts. My friend Bobbie suggested ‘What if … the beginning’. My first effort was along the evolutionary lines. Then for my cousin Kevin, I wrote a cheeky version of Creation. Apologies for any offense caused. 

God was stoked. He felt very jolly.

But also knackered.

Fair to say, He had a very tough week, having undertaken the heaviest workload in like, forever!

He’s looked around, checked things out and is feeling good!

“Everybody will love it!” He exclaimed. “I mean, one day everybody will love it. When there is an everybody. Well,” God conceded. “I guess I am ALL. And so, I am everybody and I love it!”

God took a moment to review his work. Ticked off achievements on his mental ‘to do’ list. Boy was he proud of the something out of nothing he’d pulled off – in one week!

  • Planet out of the void. Great illumination. Check.
  • Liveable, with an atmosphere, water of life, and so forth. Check.
  • Trees and plants, grasses, the Garden – beautiful! Check and check.

God thought the planet seemed a little lonely, hanging there in a void and so He came up with some very cool ideas:

  • The Sun and Moon; because when He became busy elsewhere, the planet needed the ability to phase out of light and dark, day and night, and evolve with growth cycles. Ah, very scientific thinking, thought God.
  • Adding more planets was a point of interest! God hadn’t really thought ahead too much about purpose. But by gosh, that sky sure looked pretty.

Then God thought LIFE! And brought forward creatures (big and small, and slithery!). Sea creatures, and birds. He’d had a marvellous time letting his imagination rip!

Amid all this activity, God found the need for words to describe all he had created. God became history’s first Lexicographer. Even before there were Lexicons and even before there were beings to care about words.

“One day,” God thought “there will be people to use language. I’ll need to drop some clues around at various points in the planet’s future.”

“People,” thought God. “Animals, birds, trees, sky, stars, oceans, water! Ooh, such words. Man, oh man!”

Then God created Adam. Man, in His own image. Well, as God imagined Himself, if He took form.

“I could take form. I shall take form. Sometime when this planet has evolved along its natural path, I might just pop in from time to time. See how they’re all going,” God told himself, as he watched Adam and his woman playing in the Garden.

His final trick, creating the woman Eve out of Adam’s rib. Ouch, that must have hurt.

“I guess I created pain then too,” thought God. “Downright nasty of me, that one. Why did I do that? Oh well. Don’t want to give them false hope of everything being too rosy. A being needs challenges.”

“Look at me!” God cried to the great unknown. “I could just lounge around in my heavenly abode, tossing grapes, creating angelic beings to play soothing music on golden harps. But no! I’m out there, challenging myself!”

God looked around, smiling. And felt good. Tired, but good.

Then boredom hit and He wandered off to find other entertainments. He’d need to remember to come back and see how Adam and Eve fared; in a millennium or two.

Might be some smiting to do [524 words].

Friday Fictioneers – Cancelled

Photo prompt @ Jeff Arnold

Somewhere over that rainbow, a better life awaits.

Something to look forward to. Something to hope for.

In my country (a lucky country) we’ve moved through several heartaches

Drought

Widespread bush fires

Months of unbreathable, smoke-filled air

Floods

Covid-19

We were looking for the light at the end of a tunnel, the gold at the end of the rainbow

And we got Corona Virus. Isolation. Quarantine. Lock down.

Families separated. Dying abandoned. Easter, and weddings, and funerals cancelled.

As time stands still. Lives put on hold. These boats are waiting.

All heading out to sea, is what I see!

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here.

Cowboy Blues – Devolution

I dislike visiting the library in St Augustine Street. Rundown and grubby, the pungent air announces mouldy age; furniture is beige and unloved; the nameless staff appear tired and broken.

As a repository of excellence and knowledge, it is not what I expect in a modern world.

Need alone forced me, twice weekly, through the door. Armed with coffee and dreams, game face on, I’d sit in a smelly booth, staring at my untouched notebook.

This mausoleum of misery was still a refuge from the cowboy boyfriend, and his nasty put downs.

When I met Toby at our theatre group, he was a brilliant light in a fog of disillusionment. The group, once a haven of joy in a bleak world, lost first our enthusiastic director, then several inspiring actors; leading to a gloomy and disheartened ensemble. Toby was my reason for staying.

I was slow to realise that Toby was bad news. Praise turned to taunts, encouragement to disparagement. Toby was toxic and I was in trouble.

I’d joined the group not as an actor, but aspiring writer. The creative process between the writer and director was exhilarating; the pleasure of hearing your words spoken by such talented people, shared with an appreciative audience, was uplifting.

Toby was a star from the start. My male characters began to emulate Toby and fit him like a glove. Which came first; Toby the person or Toby the protagonist? Was art imitating life? I was no longer sure. Then life began to blight the page and I turned away from the star.

My friends knew first, as usually seems the case. I fought what was obvious. Clichéd, and so blind. It took the closing down of our group, now left alone with Toby, to illuminate the danger I was in.

Writing had been both solace and enchantment; it now became a weapon. Cutting words and phrases; bloody intention and madness. Words to defend, to deflect; to destroy.

Each evening I return home to see what new damage has been inflicted on the once glorious love. Fresh wounds; old scars; a man subdued and diminishing.

In the dingy cubicle, I clench my pen, bend to the page and scratch out my revenge.

Australia Day 2017: A Dreaming

So, Australia Day 2017 presents with an expected peak maximum temperature of 35 °C. Typical. What’s new? Perhaps, an increased awareness of the heartache and anger of our Indigenous population and a willingness to engage in the conversation. Perhaps.

I don’t often participate in Australia Day celebrations – not due to any sensitivity I hold for our Indigenous Australians, hurt and damaged over the tragic history they’ve experienced since the arrival of the British Empire; no. It is more to do with my own laziness and it is always hot and I don’t enjoy the heat. Also, my idea of a ‘lucky’ day off is to ‘be’ and not ‘do’, ‘retreat from’ and not ’embrace’ people and to ‘disappear’ between the pages of a good book.

On this day, however, I choose to at least attend the Citizenship Ceremony; a dry event (I know from personal experience) but a chance to welcome, in solidarity, our newest ‘Australians’.

Our town celebrations are being held in a local park only a short walk from my home and despite the promised horrible peak temperature, I decide to walk instead of drive. I leave home dressed in a light long-sleeved ‘cheesecloth’ shirt, hat and sunnies and carrying a shady umbrella. ALL bare patches of skin have been lathered in both Factor 30 sunscreen and Mozzie Repellant. I smell chemically divine.

I arrive at a bustling park, with too many cars and too many people. The local brass band plays, competing with the sound of hundreds of chatting people, many screaming and laughing children and the background noise of food truck motors – as there are a number of vendors selling such things as egg and bacon burgers, lamb and gravy rolls, cold drinks and barista-style coffee.

In those first few moments, I stand apart glancing around and I notice a group of Indigenous Australians gathered in the part-shade/part-sun of a small stand of trees.

They are a mix of the old and young, well dressed and scruffy, quiet and rowdy; some sit, but most stand – holding up posters and waving the Aboriginal flag of black, yellow and red. Colours representing the ‘Aboriginal people of Australia, the Sun and the red earth, the red ochre used in ceremonies and Aboriginal peoples’ spiritual relation to the land’. (taken from Wikipedia)

They talk among themselves, occasionally someone shouts out – it is difficult to make out what they are saying – but their signs and posters say it all.

“Invasion Day 2017” “Forgotten people” “We were here first” “Justice Day” and “Change the Date” to name a few.

Nobody in this group of people is smiling.

For 10 minutes I stand hidden behind my shady tree, attention switching from this group of unhappy Australians – not a standard Australian flag among them – to the noisy and laughing crowd.

Sporting crazy hats, t-shirts and thongs; waving little hand-held Australian flags, holding their cold drinks in stubby holders with “We Australia” “Proud to be an Aussie” and “100% Aussie”. With their t-shirts covered in slogans such as “My ancestors were First Fleet” or “Proud to come from Convicts” and invariably their clobber and accessories either in the well-recognised Aussie Green and  Gold colours or (more likely) emblazoned with the insignia of British Imperialism. The Australian flag with stars representing our Southern Cross, and the British’s ‘Union Jack’.

These people are having a great day!

This white conservative, middle-aged and ‘naturalised’ Australian woman (born in Ireland) strolls to the nearest drink vendor, joins the queue and then asks “How much for a bottle of water?”

“$2,” answers the vendor.

“I’ll take 20 bottles, thanks!”

“Sorry, how many?” asks the startled teenager.

“20 bottles of water, please,” I repeat.

“Okay, that’s $40. Thank you,” she says as I hand her two $20 notes. She then starts handing down to me, the cold bottles.

I haven’t thought this through clearly, I think. I don’t have a bag and I’m suddenly juggling 20 icy cold bottles and my umbrella. People nearby help to load me up and I smile gratefully.

A mass of black and buzzing flies have taken just this moment to harass me – targeting my face and head. Or were they already there, but now that my hands aren’t free to perform the laconic ( or is that ‘iconic’) ‘Aussie Salute’ and swat them away, they seem to have proliferated?

Sort of stagger-walking, I head toward that group of Aboriginals – one eye on the ground looking to avoid trip hazards and the other nervously eyeing off the people standing at the front of the group. I realise now, that they have begun to ‘eye off’ this crazy white woman, who seems to be zigzagging her way toward them.

I stop and say “Hello. Water?” and try to make eye contact with anybody, over the stack of bottled water.

Only those at the very front have heard me and they look at each other, shrugging their shoulders. Nobody makes eye contact with me. I’m wondering if that’s a cultural thing, when suddenly four or five kids streak forward and grab some bottles, running off with large ‘white’ grins on their faces and laughing loudly.

“Cheeky buggers,” I murmur.

“What the fuck do you want?” yells an aggressive-looking man, perhaps about 30 years old. He moves closer to my personal space, his whole body radiating anger.

A couple of the nicely dressed young women of about his age, glare at him in rebuke. One puts a hand on his arm.

“Easy, Jimmy,” she whispers. Then she steps forward, nods and smiles at me and takes a couple of bottles and starts passing them back into her group.

As the load in my arms quickly reduces, I see that the group appears to be relaxing. There are more smiles and occasionally someone will raise their water bottle towards me, before taking a sip.

“Thank you,” says the same girl who stepped in to calm Jimmy.

“You’re very welcome,” I say, smiling around at the group. “I’m new in this town. I’m from WA and we have Yamatji and Noongar around where I’m from. I’m sorry, I’m not educated in Indigenous culture; but, I do know that Ernie Dingo is Yamatji, from the Murchison mob,” I exclaim.

I’m sure I hear someone in the group mumbling something about that ‘white fella, Dingo.” So, I guess there’s discrimination and racism within the tribes too.

“I worked with a group of Aboriginals when I was a girl, at a convention. They were Nana …. Naana …,” I stumbled over the name, my memory letting me down.

“Ngaanyatjarra?” the girl asked, frowning and elbowing her friend, who was listening closely.

“That’s it, yeah,” I laughed. “Not a tribe, I think, but representing some of the tribes in Western Australia. I think.” Smiling at them, I then ask “What’s the name of your tribe, in this area?

“Wiradjuri,” a few of them call out together. I laugh again. Clearly, I have more of an audience now.

We stand together, looking around us and sipping cool water in a companionable silence.

Then I say, “It must be hard for you today, to be here and watching these people enjoy themselves; celebrating a history that denies you place and (for you) begins a time of genocide of your people. A lot of hurt.”

“Yes,” said the girl. Many nod their heads at this. “And we stand excluded even more today, because we also want to remind them of that displacement and damage and at this particular time, they don’t want to remember.”

I drain the last of my water and ask the girl, “What’s your name?”

“Bethany,” she answers.

“I’m Trish, Bethany. Nice to meet you,” and I hold my hands out to her. “Tell me,” I ask as we shake hands, enthusiastically. “In Wiradjuri, how do you say ‘friend’?”

Bethany looks surprised, but answers “Mudyi.”

“Mudyi,” I repeat.

“And, ‘welcome’?” I ask.

“Gawaaymbanha,” she responds, grinning.

“And I wonder, how do the Wiradjuri people say “peace”.”

Bethany’s expression sobers suddenly, as she replies “Gwandalan.”

I nod and say “Gwandalan, Bethany,” as I walk away from her people and towards the space set up for the Citizenship Ceremony.

*** *** ***

Note: This is a work of fiction. If I was a braver person, this could be a conversation I would have, but for now it only happens in my ‘scenario-planning’ imagination.

I use words from the Wiradjuri language hesitantly. I ‘google’ researched (again) and these were the closest descriptions for the words friend, welcome and peace that I could find. Hopefully, no offence caused. And if anyone does know the correct words, I’m happy to be told.

(http://www.wiradjuri.dalang.com.au/plugin_wiki/wordlist) (http://www.housenameheritage.com/hnh_wsc_aboriginal.asp)

Murder & Mayhem – Australian Writers’ Centre

The Australian Writers’ Centre is having a Murder & Mayhem month and are running a Crime and Thriller short story competition.

It is a small competition – prize is a bundle of books – but it is all practice! 🙂

The guidelines are:

  • Word count of 149 or fewer
  • Include the words birthday, softly and umbrella
  • Feature your character having committed a crime

But it doesn’t have to be a dark or scary theme – or seriously nasty crime – could be jaywalking!

So following are the two stories I’ve entered! Enjoy 😀

Chloe

It was Chloe’s birthday and a sunny winter’s day had darkened as the world was blacked out by a wall of rain.

Grabbing her favourite dome umbrella – the clear one with blue nightingales and a metal handle – Chloe stepped softly around the bleeding body splayed awkwardly, at the bottom of the stairs.

Bending slightly toward the body, she reached out tentatively as though to awaken him, but pulled back. What should she do?  He couldn’t be dead. She could check for his pulse. Call for help.

Chewing her lip and twisting a strand of hair, Chloe stood poised to leave. She was a good person, but the surrounding floor was very wet and that could mean she was already in serious trouble – no sense planting DNA evidence.

Chloe was responsible for the “wet floor” signs; and with the excitement of the day had forgotten to put them out!

Surprise!

“What do we know?” asked the lead Detective.

The Senior Constable consulted his notes.

“Deceased male is Owen Scale, well-known in the building although he hasn’t been seen around for a while. His girlfriend Katrina Byrne lives here in 21 and he had a key.

She’s distraught and currently sitting with her neighbour and a constable, next door.

She hasn’t seen Clive for a month or so; didn’t know where he’d been and he apparently surprised her by walking too softly into the kitchen. She reacted with a butcher’s knife to the chest!”

“As you do,” replied the detective. “Guess she doesn’t like surprises in general, then” he stated, grinning.

They turned to the body lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor of Apartment 21 – and the parcel wrapped in birthday paper and impaled with a bright pink umbrella!

Hope you enjoyed them – Trish 😀