Category: Short Fiction

Short fiction by Danielle Spinks

Zen & the Art of Washing Dishes

They say life is a series of imperfect facts with many things we can’t control.

But the sequence of washing dishes is not one of them.

Glassware first. Continue reading

Panic Hour

 

It’s eight in the morning. An escalator pulls me down from the street into the intestinal darkness. Streaks of lightning blue rush past my left shoulder, Photoshop motion-blur. Same in orange on the opposite wall, like this is an immersive internet advertisement. This tunnel is the cable. We are the particles. A unitary quantum system with a single wave function. I adjust the weight of my satchel and start plodding into the dim crowd.

On a violin, a G is stroked and resonates through the space. There’s a young man like me with a stub of a ponytail. I want to listen but a brush at my back reminds me to keep moving. You cannot be still in the tunnel unless you’re begging or performing. I keep pace along the dirty tiles. A synclinal gutter lines the edges like a blood or beer swill recess, metal grates every few metres. The ceiling is low. A line of fluorescent tubes casts an icteric glow. Every fifth one is orange. Is the place mildly radioactive? Is it a warning to proceed with caution? Like cows in an abattoir, docile but hyper-aware, we follow the path laid out.

A teenage girl sits against the orange wall. Her legs are bent; knees up. Her freshly-washed brown hair cascades down her side, pink tips dip-dyed at the ends. A square LP-sized cardboard sign rests against her. There’s writing on it — in the ubiquitous black uppercase Beggarscript. It’s too small to read. She reminds me of Alex.

*

Alex was performing when I first saw her. I did the poster design and got a free ticket. She had thick black-rimmed glasses and silky raven hair that captured pools of blue from the theatre lights. She could have been a movie star or the queen of the underworld. During the instrumental, we locked eyes. Her thrumming bass and the keel of her hips were a conversation between the two of us.

I tried to say hello in the after-party. I kept failing. She was magnetic and out of my league. Eventually I gave up and realised I was kidding myself. I drank at the bar alone, chatted with whoever would avail themselves. Then about two in the morning she sidled up to me. Her elbow rested behind her on the bar, a green tumbler in her hand.

“Saw you in the audience.” She had a honey gravel voice. She signalled the bar tender for a drink. He poured liquid. I poured compliments. The band was great; she was divine. I didn’t feel embarrassed, just honest.

Her eyebrow made a tiny arch, and her hazel rings sharpened. She smiled from a corner of her lip. “Flattery will get you everywhere.”

*

I’m wearing a nice suit for my sentencing. It’s high quality and a good fit. I got lucky that day at Vinnies. Any money I once had is long gone. In daylight, the suit is dark green. Down here—treading along the underground cracks of ground-in dirt, like unexpurgated sin—it’s black.

There’s a photomontage of train tracks and sandstone arches. I hear a jingling rattle from further down the tunnel. Small bells. Shaking rice-filled maraccas and hand drums. Multiple voices. Hare Hare. Hare Rama. Rama Rama. Hare Rama.

Four young women in pastel silk are sitting on a green and scarlet cloth laid out over the dirty floor. They sing and sway in unison, oblivious and euphoric with the accompanying sub-bass drone of an harmonium.

Alex and I went to Govinda’s once—a big vegetarian Krishna restaurant and movie house. We were both veg at the time. We did kirtan—the improvised, enduring chant and bell ringing. It wasn’t exactly transcendental, but nice, kind of. It was a scene I considered becoming more a part of. Like my design scene, the band scene, and then the natural therapy scene. I remember watching the people in their hemp clothes and long hair, fully-fledged identities. Authentic in every way. On the path.

My heart stops racing. I step out of the main flow, nodding my head with the rhythm, feeling it resonate. I lodge my thumbs under the strap of my satchel; sunglasses bob on the top of my head. It’s transportive.

If I abscond, I could stay in the tunnel. I could join this group. Or not. I am the etherised patient on the table. The cow moving to the slicer. Dare I continue to the courthouse? Dare I abscond? Could I shave my head and join them? Turn a remnant of my long hair into a single plaited cord? Disappear into another dimension of joy and praise?

I step away and then turn back. My eyes say Thank you. But they don’t engage. They are far away. A paper sign that says ‘Street Kirtan’ is taped above them on the pointillist panorama of a freight train.

I walk past the China man. I’ve seen him before in Pitt Street. Is he for real? I could be like china man one day. Grow long hair, wear thick coke bottle glasses, play a quivering one-string instrument. Get a cheap ukulele. Regularly change my disguise. Escape up to the platforms for snatches of sunlight and sushi. Live on vending machine orange juice and cashews.

*

Alex and I fell in love. In autumn we went to an ashram in the mountains. We had our own ceremonies of love and peace. In winter we moved in together. We had a tiny apartment with a rooftop garden. In spring, Alex started studied herbalism. She had more that she wanted to do in life than play bass in a rock band. She inspired me. I thought about setting up my own graphic design business. We could have gone into partnership and been ‘Herbal by Design’. Ridiculous. She kept tinctures and started treating our friends. Bruises got arnica; a dead pet meant rescue remedy; shyness meant bushflower essences.

In summer, we hit a series of wild concerts. We did festivals. We took acid, ecstasy, speed, cocaine. We basked in dappled sun at Victoria park. We swam in the ocean. We looked after a stray black cat and called him Vladimir. We bought acid for our friends. Alex had a contact.

“Come in for a second,” Alex poked her head around the front door. She knew the contact, I didn’t. I was waiting on the veranda. There was trash in the yard. I stepped inside and padded down the dark hall. At the end of the corridor, a small window bled diffuse light, framed by old French lace curtain with nicotine stains around the edges. A table stood beneath, covered with detritus. A pubic mound of tobacco exploded out of a pouch. There were bent spoons. Cigarette lighters. A red-and-green tartan dressing gown belt. Large sheets of patterned paper.

“They’re only five dollars each.” Alex pointed to some black-and-white chequered cardboard. “How many do you want?”

I was wide-eyed, transfixed by the pattern, computing the profits.

“We would never sell that many.”

*

A tall blonde ponytail sashays past. White cords hang from her ears. Her hips and hair swish from side-to-side. I inhale the confidence. I can do this. Behind her, a woman walks just as fast. She’s shorter, teetering on plastic heels. She wears a hot pink jacket with a sharp V cut out of the back — contemporary throwaway fashion. I can’t do this.

A guy stands in the torrent of commuters. He wears a black T-shirt with white text, one of the new fonts.

“Good morning.” I hate this. “Good morning.” Sound happy. “Good morning.” This sucks. “Good morning” Take it! “Good morning.” TAKE IT! On the tiles around him is an arc of dropped cards.

The wall is covered in diamond-shaped tiles. The pattern is like little flames that leap from a fiery orange bottom to a fast-food yellow sky.

*

Alex had burst through the door in a black singlet. She wore heavy mascara and the lashes swept up like cattails, tiny balls at their ends. “He’s coming.” She put a plastic satchel on the table.

“Since that girl died, nobody wants these.”

My eyes were like saucers. I’d hardly sold that batch. Her arms were stiff at her sides, fingers splayed. “It’s too hot for me. I’m out.”

I took rings, my camera, anything I owned of value and the satchels in my backpack. I pushed into Scotty’s on King and set off the croaking door frog. The unshaven, malodorous storeman gave me a wary eye. He looked as suspicious as any of the customers. I hated it, every second of that experience. It was all wrong, and at the same time, completely necessary.

“Pawning these?”

“Selling. “

“Okay. What have we got?”

I laid out my motley collection. A few old things he picked up and pushed aside – worthless.

He trawled slowly through the rest and finally said, “You got some ID?” I gave him my licence.

“I’ll just go out back and prepare you a quote.”

He disappeared through the wood veneer door. Five minutes went by. Then seven. I looked at an ugly white clock above a shelf of dead televisions. Something was wrong. He was still out back with my licence. The frog croaked again. And then there were two plainly clothes detectives in their fifties asking to see inside my backpack please.

*

Billowing steamer emerges from a sepia-tinted wall of the tunnel, with an old handwritten letter blended from a separate layer. Next to it, the gaussian blur of a speeding electric red train. The glorious future. The regrettable past.

A silent and serious-looking woman stands in front of the mural. She wears a long blue cardigan. Her booklet says Watchtower; her resigned eyes say, You will be judged. I know I will. In about twenty minutes.

I’m nearly at the end. Gradually, sounds float my way. A man is standing at an electronic keyboard. Earnest. Asian. His hair is short. He is concentrating on his playing. Soft flutters of precision. I know this one. Philip Glass. I walk towards the music, close my eyes, move through the soundscape. Beautiful shards of breaking glass fall aurally around me. Clear tears roll along both sides of my face.

The light changes as the ceiling opens out. A counter-surge of suits appears. They weave into the throng. Ahead of me is a temple of stairs and escalators. A steep ascent, splashes of light and moving shadows are thrown over them. People move up and down. At the top, cars bleet, traffic lights pulse and skeletal tree branches stretch across the white sky.

(c) Published in Tincture Journal, September 2015.

The Benley Acquisition

I’m at the bar, chugging orange juice with my mates, and we’re laughing at each other’s pov jokes. Nuns Frightened by Change. That’s the name of Friday night’s band at the Landula Criterion. Our band, as it happens. It’s our first gig. ‘The Nuns’ are two mates in my year and me. I’m called the percussionist. That means I play drums and, occasionally, I whack a thong on a bongo.

Next week we start work experience. That means no school for two weeks. I was one of the lucky ones who found a placement. Gareth had to go to the meat packers and so did Kev. So it’s kind of a celebration gig. For me, anyway. Without the alcohol.

We’re up next, straight after Gordon Finney. He’s the Mayor. He’s having an Extraordinary General Meeting.

The mike squeals. “Hiya!” Donny says. He is our resident monobrow.

“Top to see ya all. Tonight’s gunna be a great night. We’ve got The Nuns Frightened By Change, a local act, all Landula boys, born and bred, barely outta their nappies…” He looks over at Gareth who likes to wear his jeans low. I don’t get why he likes to flash the top of his Y fronts. He’s a mate, but he ain’t no Justin Bieber or anything.

“No, maybe not quite out of the nappies…” Blah blah blah. Donny’s a dickhead.

Here comes Mr Finney. He looks like he wears women’s foundation of the orange kind—the stuff seen on Days of Our Lives.

“Ladies and gentlemen of Landula.” He’s got a new microphone ring. A great big chunky one that flashes out to the crowd. It flashes into my eye. Geez, Finney. Ya bling could blind a man.

“I told the wife this evening to shut the bloody door. ‘Why?’ she says. ‘Coz I caught five flies in here already this evening. Three of them were male and two were female’, I say. ‘How the bloody hell d’ya know that?’ she says. I say, ‘Coz three of them were on the beer and two of them were on the phone.’”

I’ve heard him tell that one three times now. And I don’t even make it a habit of listening to his speeches. If anything I try to avoid them. But they’re unavoidable. He pops up everywhere. Someone opens a cake shop—there’s Finney to cut the ribbon. A new house gets started, there he is with his gleaming shovel. The town donates ten bucks to the midgets of Miffaworfoo, there he’ll be with the big fake cheque.

A few guffaws from the audience, and an especially loud one from Shirley Mason. Fiona Cassidy is up the back. She looks like she’s smelled something foul. She’s wearing a hot pink business suit with black edges around the lapels. ‘The Nuns’ have our own secret awards. We call them ‘The Landies’. Even though she’s really pretty, Fiona wins the Landie for ‘Filthiest Fashion Sense’. Finney ties with Farmer Kelly for ‘Ugliest Man’. Shirley Mason? If you saw her you wouldn’t be asking. ‘Most inaccurate lipstick applier? / Most gargantuan blonde in the over 50s category?’ She’s be a contender for both.

“Ladies and gentlemen, now Let’s Get Serious!” Finney thrusts out two open hands either side of the mike. Open hands. Sign of sincerity.

“Landula is facing a crisis. This year, Landula Primary School has held a fete, half a dozen chook raffles, a cake stall, and a dance contest.”

There’s a round of applause. So many fond memories, I guess.

“But why, people? Why?” Finney’s an ace public speaker. He lets the tension build up when no one answers. It’s an awesome technique. Makes tingles go over you. It’s like advertising. It’s all Sell Sell Sell.

“What? For the tuck shop? For gucci new sports equipment? Well, where are they? Bring it on!”

People are ordering beers but other than that, it’s quiet. “I’ll tell you why then. I’ll tell you why they’re expending so much energy and time on these kinds of events. I’ll tell you why, people. They’re having to fundraise for their most basic expenses: Chalk. Paper. Wages.”

He’ll just let that land for a minute.

“Landula Public Library. Same situation. It’s bought no new books for nearly eight months. No new books! What’s a library without books! The only new books have come from personal donations and bequests, and if it keeps going like this and any more Fletcher sisters fall off the perch it’ll be all Mills’n Boon and no natural history.”

A greater silence. Until Shirley Mason knocks over a beer at her table.

“Why? Because the State Government doesn’t care about little places like Landula. It’d rather see us disappear.”

“Benley Shire’s got it worse than us,” Roger McElroy calls out from the bar. Ever seen Star Wars? Remember Jabba the Hut? I’ll say no more.

“They do. But you know what they’ve done about it? They’re expanding their copper mine.”

“Well good luck to ‘em!” Roger says into his beer. “Yeah.” Finney takes off his spectacles and looks at them as if he’s deciding whether he wants them or not.

“Yeah, good luck to ‘em.” They’re brown transition lenses. With the spotlight on him, they’re practically sunglasses. He starts wiping them on his tie.

“Do you know what will happen a year or two from now? When Benley is pulsing with change and new growth and Landula continues to slowly starve on its paltry funding?”

He puts his glasses back on, hands on hips. “It’s goodnight Alice! Landula will be subsumed by Benley.”

It takes a few moments for this to sink in, because the beers are doing that. Then people charge to their feet and beers are knocked over left, right and centre. There’s disbelief. Shock. Indignation. That’s because Landula people hate Benley people. It’s nothing personal. No one throws eggs or anything. It’s just a Shire thing. And as far as we know, Benley people feel the same way. So the idea of having Landula become a part of Benley is pretty bad to us.

“So here’s what we’re gonna do.” Finney interrupts the racket, both hands jutting out as if he’s measuring the one that got away. “We’re gonna do our own acquisition. We’re gonna make a PR pitch so effective that even Benley people will vote for it. Benley Shire will become Landula Shire. And I’ve hired our very own, very impressive Entice Events to do it for us.”

Fiona Cassidy stands up and starts applauding. Oh God. Suddenly my glass feels very heavy.

That’s the firm I’m doing work experience with.

Monday 8.50am

Fiona is at work first. Then me.

Mum made me arrive at 8.45, not 9.00, in order to make a positive impression.

It’s a two-room office with mushroom pink walls. It’s a bit on the crappy side.

“It’s a dump, isn’t it.” Fiona is jiggling a tea bag for me in the little kitchenette. I’m close enough to pash her. My face is red and, because my hair is on the reddish side, it isn’t a good look.

“No. Not really.”

“Used to be a massage parlour.”

“Did it?” She steps on the bin’s foot pedal and dumps the sodden tea bag in, then hands me a mug which reads Entice Events and with a drawing of a swoosh and a shooting star on it.

“Thanks.” I take the mug.

“Did you work here then?” She lifts a nostril at me, an open gesture of hostility. Why did I say that?

My cheeks are burning so I go to the dunny to check them in the little mirror. I’m a beacon.

9.20am

German Karl arrives. Then Boyd, the league player. He’s the manager. He’s wearing a nice suit, but with basketball shoes. No jacket. Mental note – trainers are okay.

10.00am

We have a meeting at the wooden conference table. We all bring our teas. Fiona brings the bikkies.

“How are we gonna convince Benley people that they want to be Landula people?” Boyd.

“We’ve got to make them want to.” Karl.

“Oh, DER!” Fiona opens her notebook.

“Let’s make a mind map of options. We’ll have a brainstorm.” In the centre of the page she writes ‘Landula Job’. Boyd leans over and draws a circle around it.

“Okay, brainstorm,” he says. “The floor is open. Pump ‘em out.”

I feel like I’m the new boy on the stock exchange floor and I’m supposed to jump up and down yelling out prices. But I’m embarrassed. And I don’t know what any of the prices are.

“Make Benley jealous of Landula,” I submit.

“Tarnish the town’s reputation so that they’d rather not be associated with Benley anymore.” Boyd.

“I’m not puttin’ that down.”

“It’s a brainstorm. You’re supposed to put everything down!”

Fiona, in capital letters, writes ‘EMBARRASS – THE SHIT – OUT OF BENLEY’.

Boyd leans over and draws a star around it.

Fiona’s fringe is shaped like a flower.

“What else?” she looks at me. Her skin is tanned from years of holidaying in Bali and Surfer’s Paradise. “One suggestion isn’t a brainstorm.”

Her suit today is yellow and covered in large magnolias.

“Haven’t heard from you yet, Karl.” Boyd picks up an iced vo-vo.

“Make them fear not merging with us,” I put in. “We’ll become a big town and they’ll be the little backwater.”

Boyd clicks his fingers at me. “Good one, Jace. Write that down, Fi.”

“I’m writin’ it!” “Except that, really, they’ll become the big town and we’ll become the backwash.”

“Stuff ‘em. They don’t know that.” Boyd, licking the pink crap of his bikkie.

“Everyone knows that.” Fiona throws a bit of paper at him. “Stop that. It’s disgusting.”

Boyd reclines all the way back in his chair. “Let’s just have a public boxing match between the two mayors. Gordon Finney versus Gerald Whittaker. Winner gets both shires.”

“May I ask, why do we need to join the shires anyway?” asks Karl. “Coz if we don’t one of us is going under. Weren’t you at the meeting, Karl?”

Karl shakes his head. “I don’t like rock music.”

“We could dig up some dirt on Whittaker and get him to convince his people. Maybe he’s a homo or something.” Boyd. I think he’s serious.

“Wait a second,” Fiona drops her pen. “Before we go any further, we need some research. Otherwise we’re just gonna go round in circles. We need to know who our target is, how they think and what it’ll take to make ’em vote for it.”

“Well Benley Shire is our target, ya fool.”

“Well when we find the rest out, that’ll determine our approach.”

Boyd crosses his feet on the table. “That’s a good point, Fi” He sucks on his pencil. Not just the end of it. A good inch or so.

“We should get a person from Benley on board. Someone who knows them, trusts them.” Karl.

“Like who?”

“Monica Metherin. The Natural Therapist.” It’s Gordon Finney, standing in the doorway, a half-eaten hamburger in his hands.

“Monica’d be perfect. She knows the place, she’s lived there all her life, and she’s short of cash.”

“Great idea, Mr Finney.” Boyd jumps to his feet, shakes Finney’s hand and starts circling the table.

“How about a television ad?” Finney throws in.

“Do we have the budget for that?” Karl.

Finney looks like he’s about to toss us his hamburger to us like he’s feeding pigeons. “Sure.”

“We’ve never had the budget for a television ad before,” Karl again.

“If Mr Finney wants a television ad we’ll give ‘im a good quality one,” Fiona.

“I don’t want to tell you guys how to suck eggs, it’s your show. But if ya ask me I reckon Monica is just the ticket.”

1.20pm

Fiona phones Monica, gets her in and we start discussing the script.

“People need a spiritual underpinning for their decisions. They have to agree with the acquisition.”

It’s not what Fiona wants to hear.

Monica quickly proves to be another pain in the arse. And she’s a large woman. Very large. Elephantine, really. She’s the Shirley Mason of Benley but with redder, straighter hair and without the beer burps.

“Jase!”

“Yeah?”

“Whadda you think?”

“I think…” I think her knockers must reach her knees when they’re not all bunched up like that. Loose pandas.

“I think we need to just find one thing that’s good about it. Then talk about that. So… I think the acquisition is the right thing because we can share resources and it’ll be, you know, less stressful.”

“Good point, Jason, I’d like to flag that,” Monica. “Benley people, like Landula people, want simplicity and grace back in their lives. The merging of the two shires will be a mechanism, a catalyst, for that return to spirit.”

“God, Ms Metherin, we’re not killing anyone,” Boyd.

“Exterminate Benley. There’s another option,” Karl.

“Would you guys shut up!” Fiona unscrews the lid of her water bottle.

“How do we link acquiring the shire with, you know, being spiritual?”

“Well, it’s like a brotherhood, isn’t it, darling?” Monica’s words are like warm caramel off a spoon. They’re long and syrupy and they land on you.

“For so long there has been this sibling rivalry. Now it’s become unhealthy. It’s time to put our pitchforks down and come together – arm in arm.”

“That’ll look good,” chortles Boyd. “Imagine Farmer Kelly and Big Ross.” “Errr.” Even Monica can’t help but quiver. She’s grossed out to the max. It makes me laugh. She recovers herself.

“But symbolically, darling. Symbolically.”

“Maybe we need a bush dance.” Time for me to make another suggestion. “You know, we give away a few lucky door prizes, get everyone dancin’ with each other, everyone gets pissed.”

“Not bad, mate. Not bad.” Boyd. But he’s not into it.

“I could get The Nuns to play.” Struggling now. The Nuns doing Strip The Willow. That’ll be the day.

“If you need a fiddler, Mary Allan is wonderful. Wonderful.” Monica.

Mary Allan is a 55-year-old depressive.

“Oh. No thanks.”

“A bush dance, yeah. Not a bad idea.” Fiona likes it!

“We’ll have to write a speech for Gordie.”

4.10pm

Meeting’s over. Finally.

Monica makes the ‘closing ceremony’ remarks. “I think we’ve come together beautifully today and now we will simply massage the differences.”

The calendar falls off the wall.

Wednesday 5.30pm

We’re filming the ad. Monica’s doing the voice-over, on location, at Farmer Kelly’s.

“For a hundred years, Benley and Landula Shires have co-existed, side by side, through drought, flood and war.”

Long shot. Late afternoon. Two farmers are hoeing in their neighbouring paddocks.

A chalk line on the tarmac between them symbolises their separation.

“And not always without some sibling rivalry.”

Farmer Benley throws something at Farmer Landula. Landula picks it up. It’s a dirty apple core. Focus pull to Farmer Benley pretending not to notice.

“But now, the state coffers have tightened the purse strings and there’s no relief in sight. And it’s likely that one, or both of our shires, will disappear. Our small, close-knit community will be split, with many of our members travelling to the city for work that leaves us unsatisfied and homesick.”

The music, an austere banjo, crescendos, and a drum-kit kicks in, played by none other than yours truly.

“So, now more than ever before, it’s time to extend the hand of friendship and unity.”

Long shot. Farmer Landula throws something at Benley who catches it. It’s a shiny green apple. Benley lifts it in acknowledgment of his neighbour, smiles and takes a bite.

They drop their hoes and each walk to the road between them. The divisive chalk mark is inadvertently scuffed by their boots, and begins to disappear.

Monica steps into the medium long shot. She’s wearing beads and an orange and purple caftan thing, like Mama Cass.

“Let’s save our precious shires, our lifestyle, our community. Join with us by voting for Gordon Finney’s ‘Union of Neighbours’”.

Camera pulls back. Sun melts into the horizon.

The waning sun shoots a star-shaped flash from the corner paddock. Beauty. End of ad.

The bit about the new shire being called Landula Shire and the fact that Landula was acquiring Benley to keep itself afloat, not to save both of them, well, we all agreed that was better in the ‘round file’.

Friday 4.20pm

“I’m lovin’ it. I’m lovin’ it!” Finney’s pours himself a whiskey in the dark.

The curtains are closed. We’ve wheeled the telly into the office for the sneak preview screening.

Tuesday 9.16am

I’m at Landula Railway Station.

We have a big mediation meeting in Sydney. Evidently, I’m two hours early for my Sydney train. Stupid Landula phone service. They’ve given me the Saturday timetable.

Tuesday 3pm

At another big conference table, but this office is swish. I mean, fully swish.

Gerald Whittaker, Mayor of Benley, is here. He isn’t happy about out proposal. Or the ad, which aired over the weekend.

“Now hold on Gerry. You’re getting ahead of yourself!” Finney—always the height of diplomacy.

“You haven’t even secured my consent yet alone that of the State Government or the Australian Electoral Commission. What on earth are you trying to achieve?”

“Now settle down Gerry.”

“I beg your pardon!”

“Just take a breath. Look, I understand there’s nothing in concrete. We are just keeping on top of things, okay. We simply want to send out a feeler, if you will, gauge the vibe of the kind folks of Benley.”

“Are you suggesting that television ad is a piece of legitimate market research?”

Finney looks like he has tasted something sour while he thinks it over.

“It’s a bloody propaganda piece!” Whittaker snaps. He pushes his swivel chair back from the table.

“I’ll be obtaining advice on this matter, Mr Finney. But I’d imagine you’re too intelligent to do the same.”

Fiona makes an ‘oooh’ face as Mr Whittaker storms out.

Boyd slaps a hand down on the glass table.

“Well.”

“Well indeed,” says Finney.

He turns to us with disgust. “See the shoes that guy was wearing? Got to be worth two hundred quid. Now who’s ripping off the people of Benley? Is it really us or him?”

“Mr Finney, when Mr Whittaker said you were too intelligent to get advice, I think he was doing some reverse psychology.”

“You don’t say.”

“So that’s why we’re here.” She looks around at all of us. “We are here for you.”

No one is saying anything. I look back at Fiona. “Do we have a legal advisor?”

“He’s our legal advice man,” says Boyd and slaps Karl on the back.

That doesn’t quite make sense to me so I look back at Karl. “I thought you left Landula High in Year 10.”

Karl is a beacon but Fiona snaps, “Karl is very knowledgeable about the law. Aren’t ya, Karl.”

Karl’s all hunched forward. He only lifts his eyes.

“Yes.”

“Well,” with my point won, I raise a single eyebrow. I’ve been practising in the bathroom mirror and have pretty much nailed it. “Aren’t we lucky.”

Tuesday 4.15pm

Despite Karl’s fantastic legal background and obvious skill and knowledge, Finney makes the surprising decision to see a solicitor.

“You can organise an election to ‘merge’ the shires if your constituents so choose, but you cannot ‘take over’ a shire. Benley is not a ‘fish-and-chip shop’, if you will,” says the suit. His jowels are bobbing over his too-tight white tie. He does the finger thing for inverted commas, which I personally hate.

“I’m not suggesting Benley’s a bloody fish-and-chip shop.”

“Analogously, you are.”

“No I’m not.”

“I’m sorry, sir. It’s unworkable.”

“How bloody ridiculous. It’s a vote, not a massive drama. Unity of Neighbours. Shirley’s designing the voting form right now. It’ll be letterbox dropped tomorrow.”

“I don’t think I’d recommend proceeding.”

“Oh, well. That’s your opinion, isn’t it.”

“Yes, sir. Yes it is.” Mr Finney stands up and walks over to the window.

We can all feel he’s out of his league. Legal advice. Electoral commission. Gees. It’s more complicated than any of us thought. He stares ahead, back to all of us.

“What’s the objective of what you’re trying to achieve?” ask the suit. He pulls his jacket sleeves and discreetly checks the time, but I catch him.

“Things are going under, mate. Things are going under.”

“The hospital had additional funding this year, did it not? The school. It had a new teacher. The government noted it in its rural and regional economic impact report. It was a case study, was it not? Things are going relatively well, aren’t they?”

“No. No they’re not.” Finney sounds like a broken man. Or a broken record. Not going well. Not going well.

“Well what’s not going well? Essential services are in the clear, are they not?”

“Oh, bloody essential—“ Finney waves a hand behind him as if swatting some imaginary fly pestering his back.

“Well what’s not going well?” Finney’s staring intently at the grassy area below. A dog squats down and a turd arcs out of its behind.

“It’s the bowlo.”

“It’s the what?”

“It’s the bowlo. The bowlo’s not doing well.”

“The bowlo’s not going well.”

“It’s not just any Bowlo.” He’s annoyed. “It’s the centerpiece of our community. It’s the linchpin. It’s the whole town. It’s the meeting place, the espirit de corps. It’s everything to Landula. Everything.”

“Right.”

Mr Finney turns back to us. “That Bowlo goes under, we go under.”

“I see.” The solicitor shuffles papers and closes a manila folder.

He clasps his hands together. Nobody moves so he stands up and puts the file in the filing cabinet. Then he closes it resolutely.

He faces us and lifts his eyebrows like it’s our move now. Our time to move. To move out of his office. We don’t.

“May I suggest a fundraiser, then. A cake stall. No, they don’t do that anymore, I know. You’re right. Something else. A table tennis tournament? No. You probably know what will work best in your town. Why don’t you think about it.”

Wednesday 8.30am

“Why didn’t you bloody suggest that in the first place? What do ya think I’m paying you for?” Finney is jiggling his tea bag like a madman and throws the sodden wad into the bin. The white flap doesn’t open to receive it though, so it just slides down and onto the floor. I get up and put it in, wiping my hands on the tea towel afterwards.

“With all due respect Mr Finney,” says Fiona. She’s wearing a black suit today. Stylish. Except for the white polka dots all over it. “We’ve spent two thousand dollars filming a TV commercial, another $500 screening it, had legal advice, designed a flyer, got it printed. And you’re suggesting we should have organised a cake stall.”

“Well it makes sense, doesn’t it. Who doesn’t like a bit of cake?”

“A diabetic?” says Karl. God, he’s a nonger. Hasn’t he heard of saccharine. Or carcinogenic aspartame, everyone’s favourite for diet battery acid soft drinks.

I suddenly realise the intricate design over his tie is little batmen.

Finney scrapes a chair out fromk the table and plonks into it.

“Food allergies aside, it’d bring us all together, wouldn’t it.”

Boyd throws his pen onto the table and swivels his beer bulk to one side. “Great idea, Mr Finney! Simplicity. It’s a great place to start. How much money are we looking at raising? What’s the damage?”

“Fifty thousand, at least.”

“Fifty thousand from a cake stall?” Fiona does that I’ve-smelt-a-fart look.

“It’s a start!”

“Why kind of cakes would people buy for fifty thousand dollars?”

“Perhaps ones with illicit substances,” says Karl, deadpan.

My eyes roll involuntarily at Karl. No wonder he was a high school drop out. He’s just an idiot.

Finney’s lip twitches. He pouts. He blinks. The man’s face is a sea bed of moving parts.

“Well… one wouldn’t… make it… obvious.” When his face moves like that, it must mean that he’s thinking.

“What did ya say the name of that band’o yours was young Jason?”

“Um. It’s the Nuns Frightened By Change, sir.”

“Nuns Frightened By Change, huh? He.” He almost chuckles. More like a smile with a hiccup at the same time. Finally. Someone almost chuckles at the name of our band. Especially neat coming from a person high up in the government. Gareth’ll be stoked.

Finney gets up and walks to the door. His slow and his eyes look like they’re in deep focus.

“Organise me a cake stall, people. You know what to do. The targets fifty gees.” Finney turns back to look at me. “Get that band’o yours on board son.” He winks at me. I feel a bit slimed, to tell the truth. A bit like an odd uncle has said something… odd to me.

Finney leaves and closes the door. Boyd swivels back around, intent on the surface of the table with all its splashes of Lipton and red pen marks.

“Well,” he slaps his hand lightly on it. “You heard the man. Who are we gonna get for a big stash of pot. Anyone know?”

It was silent. No one was prepared to say anyone’s name. Not for a second anyway.

Then, “Monica.” Karl.

I have to second him, but feel bad. “Monica.”

Fiona is just nodding. She pushes her teeth together and kind of smiles in a grimacing sort of way.

“I think that’s where Stevie gets his from.” Stevie’s her boyfriend.

“Monica it is then.” A smile and one more Boyd-slap for luck. Then he chuckles and rubs his hands together.

As always after victory, the basketball bullfrog trainers shovel their way on top of the table. They stink.

3pm

“Only because…” she sighs. A long drawn-out sigh and no one cares to hear the answer. We just want to get inside and have a look.

“Mr Finney has been very good to me. Pivotal, really. Pivotal. Life changing. And I would require a small commission to cover basic costs.”

“Monica,” Fiona steps closer and whispers, “It’s okay. You’re amongst friends. We just need to raise fifty grand. Can we have a look see?”

Monica nods, turns and from the massive chain of keys around her neck and caftan, inserts one into the padlock and opens up the double garage doors at her property.

“Wait a moment, while I get the light.” Then she switches the lights on—a whole shopping mall of them.

The garage is like a cross between a nursery and DJs. It’s one memory I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

This is not good, is all I remember Boyd saying as he walks between the aisles of the greenery and the fountains and the lights. His face is almost horrified. But kind of titillated as well.

This is not good. But after a minute he must have changed his tune. He swings toward Monica, grabs both of her shoulders and kisses her fair and square on the lips. A pash, really. Joy and repulsion in one.

“It’s PERFECT!”

Friday a week later – 6pm

People have started arriving and the hot cakes are selling like, well, hot cakes.

“They sell themselves,” says Finney, stuffing another $15 muffin between his fat cheeks, hands flapping around.

“I’m lovin’ it.” Finney walks off. “Lovin’ it!”

Gareth and Kev and I start up our set. We play covers. We start with Stairway. It’s a classic. People love it, people hate it. But it makes them laugh, cry, dance. Most importantly, open their wallets.

In the corner is the black-and-white photo from 1973. Finney’s in it, holding the trophy. Best Team. Best under twenties footy team in the shire. Benley came second that year. But half of Benley’s here so they don’t notice enough to care. When they found out Monica was catering and it was a cake stall with a twist, thanks to Shirley’s nice little flyer, they came in droves.

And it appears they are stocking up the larder for later. At nine, the charity muggers come out in droves as well. All the buckets get passed around, full as a goog. The chuggers don’t have to harass for it even. The coin is still getting spilled by the volunteers from the TAFE hospitality department into the Save Landula glass box. It’s piled pretty high. So is everyone else.

At eleven, Finney takes the stage. He’s got a new microphone ring. Right now I like it a lot. It’s one of the most beautiful pieces of bling I’ve seen.

“Ladies and gentlemen of Landula and Benley. Tonight we’ve come togther. We’re saving our shires by uniting. We are uniting in fun, friendship, and food. Thanks so much to Monica.”

I roll the drums; Kev smashes the cymbal.

“Thanks to gorgeous Monica Metherin and the Whole Damn Collective Shire that we are. We may live in different towns, but we live as one. A name just isn’t a difference. This Bowlo, thanks to your generosity of spirit and willingness to have a good time for a good cause, isn’t gonna go away. It’ll live on. Just like the photos on the wall. Age shall not weary them. And when you think we’ve lost, think again. We haven’t lost. We’ve won. We’ve won the lot, the loot, the whole shebang! We’ve won it, ‘cause we’ve stuck together!”

Then we play another couple of tracks. It’s like the Hordern Pavilion, right here. We play, we joke on mike, we stuff around. It’s great for our confidence.

Gareth’s getting over his Hep C. He’s shaking in a good way now. We’re all just shaking together. Doing what we know. Doing what we can. And, thank God, work experience is over. What a high note to leave on. What a ride. Can’t wait for school on Monday. The autograph pen is ready. And the success ring, gold and chunky and totally deserved. I am a legend. A red faced, ginger noggin legend.

Published by Regime Books, Perth, July 2014

Shortlisted for Southerly Literary Journal, August 2014

 

 

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