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A Few Short Words

Dense Not Thick

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Stray Fictions

Cocktails

I’m bored of being pretty. I tell Cleo I’m going to start a girl fight club. She smiles at me over her vodka cranberry, (sourdough bitch), and tells me I’m not supposed to talk about it. I can see the ovation in her eyes. I want to scrape the smugness off her with the painter’s trowel she used to put on all that makeup. You should try exfoliating, I tell her, if you want to get rid of that snaky complexion. She’s already not paying attention, her face buried in the fluorescence of her phone.

Mother superior of a digital mass, Cleo needs to check on her parishioners every few minutes in case their devotion starts to wane. I tell her if she checks me in I’ll eat her first born child. She laughs by pushing air out of her nose and tells me I’ll have to ask the clinic if they still have it. I ask Cleo if she ever gets bored of being apathetic and she shrugs out her response. My phone vibrates in my pocket but I leave it where it is. I’m not hungry enough to follow through on my threats.

Jessie and Dylan show up dressed like yacht club DJ’s, sock-less feet in seasonal shoes, rolled up khaki’s and V-neck cotton affectations. Cleo turns each cheek to receive their thin lipped tributes. I listen to them tweeting their intentions at her in sentences without character. They chart the night out for us by way of invitation. Seismic Collapse are playing a secret set, they say, in a warehouse in West End. Dylan winks at me through his bangs and asks, would I like to come? I can feel my vagina drying up like a salted slug. From underneath the table I text Cleo, no, with seven exclamations. I hope she’ll get the message, but telling Cleo what you don’t want is like chumming in the ocean.

Feeding Flamingos

Ugh, I had coffee with Jamie today. She’s such a bitch (you know it’s true, Jamie). We went to that Flamingo place in the Valley that takes too long to give you your shit. I kind of hate it there because everybody is either beautiful or oppressively different but it’s kind of cool in an uncomfortable secondhand way. Everybody’s big into that at the moment, which I really hate. I overheard somebody say that apathy is coming back. They could have meant a band.

Jamie told me she was thinking about breaking up with Dylan and I told her I thought he was cool, but if she isn’t into it then just fucking do it. (You have to now, bitch). Anyway, I think they’d be better people without each other. I listened to her shoot holes in her relationship with small calibre bullet point frustrations for fully half an hour. As far as I knew the barista was still out the back growing my fucking mocha beans.

Everybody’s either breaking up or getting pregnant at the moment. I feel like this should make me feel something but it doesn’t, not what I think it should. My ex keeps texting that he’s been dreaming about me lately. It means he’s single again. I don’t go back though. It never works out because it didn’t work out. Also, The last time I saw him he’d gotten kind of fat.

My friend Sharon keeps telling me to watch that movie Feed. It’s about guys who get off by feeding chicks until they become fucked up obese. Like, some of these chicks can’t even move and I think maybe some of them die and maybe there’s some weird sex kink in that too. How do people switch off that voice in your head that says you look like shit? I can’t eat a thing once I’ve got the taste of guilt in my mouth.

The Jenkins Contract – 1

It was raining halfheartedly and Julie stood there feeling appropriately soggy. The body of her husband inert and unreachable under the ground at her feet, while the constant drizzle turned the freshly filled plot into sludge. It was a miserable day, cold, damp, uncomfortable and seemed about right to Julie. It feels like its been raining all my life, she thought, why should it be any different now that he’s dead?

There was a hand on her shoulder.

‘Mrs. Jenkins?’ the hand said.

‘If you’ve come to say you’re sorry then don’t. I’m not sorry and I don’t care if you are.’ She turned to face the hand. There was a handsome looking man attached to it. She looked at him through tired eyes. ‘I thought you were someone else.’

‘That’s quite all right, Mrs. Jenkins,’ the man said, offering his hand.

It had been an exhausting week, arranging the burial of her husband. Julie never understood before how much work it took disposing of the dead. Her husband’s complicated life had extended itself into the grave, leaving her alone with two kids, streams of paperwork, a slew of family and friends and their unrelenting condolences. She found it hard to raise the energy for formality.

‘People just call me JJ,’

The man smiled delicately, with only the corners of his mouth. He was somewhere in his late thirties judging by the slight wrinkles around his eyes. There was a certain lonely look to him, but his voice was soft and kind as it tried on her name.

‘JJ, then. Please, call me Hemingway,’

Julie took the man’s hand and shook it briefly. ‘You knew my husband?’

‘Yes, in a way. Though I only met him twice. I worked for him in a small capacity for a good many years.’

Julie turned back to look at the muddied plot. ‘He never mentioned you.’

‘I can’t imagine he would have.’

The truth was that Carter had never talked to Julie about anything. He was as much of a mystery now as he had been in the beginning. She had loved that at first, there was something so reassuring about a man who acted without need for conversation or deliberation. Carter was a stone wall that she had built her life around.

Julie sighed over her dead husband. ‘It’s too late for him to say anything now.’

‘I’m sorry, JJ.’

‘So am I, but not for him.’

They stood together in the hush and patter of rain, coming to terms with their own thoughts. Hemingway spoke first, his voice, softened in the falling water. ‘JJ, there’s something I have to tell you that may not want to hear.’

Julie spun sharply and stumbled, her heel sinking into the damp soil. As she fell forward Hemingway stepped in, bracing her by the elbows. He steadied her on her feet, smiling apologetically as though for his own clumsiness. She looked at the man with a mixture of embarrassment and anger, silently daring him to speak.

Hemingway stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat and let his eyes drop. ‘I need to tell you about the work I did for your husband.’

It was getting cold and Julie was soaked through. She ran a hand through her hair, leaving tracks in the wet blonde mess. It was done for now and so was she, he was in the ground. All she wanted now was to shower and sleep. She didn’t want to do this today but the man in front of her meant to say his piece. Better to get it over with.

‘If you want to tell me why you killed him,’ she said, ‘then I think we should go somewhere dry.’

Samantha

She moves so softly I don’t know she’s there until she slips her hand into mine. ‘Come on,’ she says, and leads me towards the cab rank. I let myself go with her. I don’t want to be alone and I don’t want to be around people. There’s something empty about her that makes this feel like getting both. It’s wrong, but it’s easy.

In the back of the cab she takes my hand again. She’s telling me about her night and all her friend’s problems. I listen dutifully, detached. The way she talks about them I can tell she thinks we’re perfect.  It feels like her hand is getting tighter the longer she talks, like cranking a vice. There’s no air in the cab. I wind down the window and press my face into the breeze.

Of course we sleep together, but I can’t switch off. I don’t feel anything, my thoughts override my senses. Afterwards she slides across the gap between us and lays her head against my chest. ‘How long have we been doing this?’ She asks.

Fucking? I say.

She slaps my thigh playfully. ‘I mean all of this.’

I’ve been doing this my whole life, but I know that’s not what she means, so I grunt. She goes quiet. I can hear her breathing in and out in a sharp little staccato that punctures the silence around us.

I tell her I know, trying to stop her saying what she wants to.

She lifts her head up, startled, and raises an inquisitive eyebrow at me. ‘How do you know what I want to say, huh?’

I tell her that she’s most transparent person I know, that I can read it on her.

She throws her head back down on my chest with a little huff. ‘Well, I want to say it,’ she says. ‘I need-’

I tell her she doesn’t.

I push her away and slide to the edge of the bed. She looks so small, when I look back at her, lying crumpled in the sheets, wearing only a look of sad resilience. She catches my eye snorts defiantly. ‘I don’t care. I love you and I want to say it.’

I tell her she shouldn’t be in love with me, that it was never what I wanted. I don’t realize I’m shouting until I see the look on her face. She’s fragile, but somehow I’m the one who starts crying.

I shouldn’t, but I stay the night. I have strange dreams.

When the morning light pries my eyes open I try to sneak out, but she stirs as I’m halfway through the door.

‘I want to talk about this,’ she whispers.

I know you do, I say, closing the door.

Brosie

Ambrose lay outside the door, waiting quietly to be let in. He had no idea how long had he been there but it felt like forever. It was so cold outside. The rain was strumming its first few chords against the chill pavement while the wind blew its vicious beats against the windows of the house. There was something coming for him, he could sense it. It made his shoulders tense and the hair on the back of his neck stand up. A lifetime of instinct told him to flee, to hide, to get as far away as possible before it found him. I should run he thought. Something made him stay.

This is a safe place Ambrose thought, I’ll be safe inside. He looked around him at the familiar surroundings. The deck and the banister of the old Queenslander home, the faded couch he’d spent so many summer afternoons on, passing the time in the sun. It all looked so foreign in the dark. He snorted defiantly and tucked his head against his chest.

A flash of lighting over the horizon made him shiver. It wouldn’t be safe out here much longer. He had to get inside. Ambrose knocked gently against the door. Nothing was stirring on the other side. The house was silent. Whimpering softly Ambrose lowered his head again and closed his eyes. It was useless, he wasn’t coming. Ambrose had spent his whole life with the man inside and now here he was, alone in the dark.

Thunder boomed in the distance and Ambrose let loose another whimper. He had to try again, he couldn’t give up now. He rapped again at the door, his limbs shaking with fear and urgency. Desperately, he scratched at the door, forcing himself against it with all his strength. He was almost screaming now, a hopeless howl torn loose from his throat and lost to the wind. The door stood strong against his attack as the thunder clapped mockingly at his efforts. His body shook and his throat ran hoarse with his guttural shouts.

From the depths of the house a light flickered into life. Ambrose ceased his assault and listened hopefully to the soft patter of feet approaching the door. Despite his fear Ambrose could feel a lightness enter him. This was it, any moment now and he would be safe.

Andrew was dreaming of the ocean when the noise woke him. All that banging and bustle on the porch, it had to be Ambrose. He pulled a loose cotton robe around his shoulders and started towards the front door.

‘Every time,’ Andrew muttered to himself. ‘It’s just a damned storm, Brosie. Nothing to be scared of.’ He pushed open the door and looked down at the silhouette of his dog huddled on the porch. ‘Come on, get inside you big wuss,’ he said.

Ambrose unfolded himself slowly from the ground and looked up sheepishly. He trotted past the man and into the hall, his tail wagging happily.

Andrew shut the door behind them. ‘Go on then,’ he said. ‘You can sleep in my room.’

Sand

She sits on the sand letting the wind play with her hair, waiting for meaning to wash in on the tide. The dusky sun shines its half hearted rays around her feet, too concerned with keeping its head above the horizon to worry about others. Its light has no bite. She digs a soft, slender fingered hand into the sand and imagines its future. Glass, a vase, tall and slim, filled with tulips arranged with delicate precision. She pulls her hand free from the silt. Tiny grains cling to the moisture on her skin like a sandpaper glove. This is what it feels like to be alive she thinks.

As the sun relents, a silver sheen overtakes the waves and coats the beach. A chill sneaks quietly across the sand like the breath of the moon, asking the girl to pull her shawl tighter around her shoulders. It’s getting late she thinks, I should be getting home. I should be doing something. With a sigh, a perfect pitch to match the moon, she slumps her shoulders and falls back into the sand.

‘No,’ she sighs, ‘I won’t go.’

There’s no need. I make my own rules. My own choices, life. I make my own life.

‘I make my own damn it.’

The moon settles in its arc and looks down passively at the girl. The wind has stopped playing with her hair, finding fancy building banks of sand against her skin instead. Like a shipwrecked relic, the elements do their best to reshape her. Rivulets of sand trickle across her torso and form islands in the folds of her clothes. Grain after grain it marches and mounds against her body. She digs her fingers into the sand and grasps at its embrace.

‘You know me,’ she whispers, ‘because I’m part of you.’

Spoilt Mangos

I remember watching Ikky sink and thinking I should do something, that I should be able to help, to stop it, to save her. I was never able to save her. I used to watch her playing with Dash in the orchards in summer. They’d come out for the harvests when the mangos were ripe, we all came out. It was tradition. Ikky would lift Dash onto her shoulders and he would pass the mangos down to her to fill their baskets. Every now and again Ikky would lower Dash to the ground and they’d spread themselves in the shade for a break. I remember how she used to look at those times. She always wore her hair in a high braid, the kind that wraps around the back of a girls head. I remember one year she wore a dress made of pure cotton, white and red. I thought she looked like an angel, the light playing around her braid like a halo of gold. It was unbearable to look at her sometimes, and even worse not to. Mother would curse a streak at me for my share of dropped mangos, unusually high when Ikky was about.

I don’t think Ikky ever knew I was watching her, not how I was watching her, but occasionally she would see me looking, staring like an idiot, and smile. My heart would skip like a rogue butterfly and I’d let loose another mango from my hands. She was so beautiful and so far away. Maybe it was better that way, maybe she was better that way. I used to think that if I touched her, if my hands, these callused dirty paws on the ends of my wrists, if my hands ever touched her skin she would spoil. I thought I was unworthy. I knew I was beneath her. But how badly I had wanted her, any and all of her.

When I heard Ikky was to be married I could hardly move. I remember Mother took me as sick and sent me to bed, my supper cold and untouched at the table. I lay there unable to close my eyes, breathing only out of stubborn habit. My body wouldn’t let me die as much as I had wanted it to.  My angel, my untouchable angel was to be given body and soul to another man, and worse, infinitely worse, she had wanted to be his.

Carlos was a brute. He had always been a brute. When we were young Carlos and I would play with the other children in the fields behind the tar pits. The simple games of childhood, imaginary and safe, though Carlos was never content with safety. I think to myself now that Carlos was simply never content. I remember one day while we were playing he got it into his mind to dare poor Vim to brave the tar. Vim was the youngest of us, the runt we used to say, always biting at our ankles. The older children, myself included, would take turns walking into the tar, as far as we could manage and back again before we were stuck. We never let Vim take a turn, he was too little, too scared, too likely to panic. To Carlos, this just made him sport. He taunted Vim, jeering at him, calling him names. We all joined him, none of us wanted to lose favour with the brute who could so easily torment.

I remember the knots in my stomach as Vim took his first step out onto the tar, his arms raised from his sides to balance his weight. I wished for him to make it out, and more to make it back. If he cried now or backed out Carlos would never let him forget it. Vim took his first step and faltered, I could see he was scared, we all could. It didn’t stop Carlos though, his taunts just grew to match Vim’s hesitation. I think now that Vim kept walking simply to escape Carlos and his jeers.

Vim was too far out before I knew something was wrong. His steps were coming too far apart, taking too long. I could see his feet. The tar clung to his soles too readily, too greedily. I yelled for him to come back, to turn around. I remember thinking he was too far out to hear me, that the tar ate my words as easily as Vim’s footsteps. The other Children were silent, even Carlos. I told them to run back to the village and get help. They fled, happy to be away from the sight of Vim and his sinking determination. I remember standing there beside Carlos, unable to move, unable to help. I remember looking at Carlos as the tar ate what little remained of Vim’s innocence. His face was like stone, cold and passive. I had expected there to be horror there, or shame, or regret. I had expected something to be there, but there was nothing. I saw the same look on Carlos’ face on the day he and Ikky were married.

I turned my eyes from the brute and sent them out over the pit. There was nothing to see now. Nothing to hear but the faint bubble and grumble as the tar settled its stomach. The heat coming towards us from the middle of the pit did little to warm the chill that had taken hold of my body. By the time the adults arrived it was too late. Vim was gone and so was Carlos’ humanity.

I remember watching Ikky sink and thinking of Vim, thinking that I should be able to help now where I could not back then. I remember thinking that she was right. Ikky did what she had to do to escape, just as Vim had.

Sand Dunes and Weathermen

The hourglass exhausts itself and I turn it on its head. I watch the sand rerun, the grains tumbling over each other, erratically uniform, building a mountain out of moments from the past.

I can hear music.

Supine, Marion tells me, it’s supposed to be hot.

I watch the time drain away.

She lifts her arm into the air, palm up as though cupping a ball. ‘We should go to the beach,’ she says.

I tell her the salt sticks to my skin, that I feel granular.

Insular on the couch, Marion is silent, flexing her fingers around the ball.

I count the grains a second at a time.

‘Only, when it’s hot,’ she offers, ‘you should be somewhere that feels hot.’

I tell her that it should feel hot in hell, that she’ll be comfortable there, and watch the ball explode between her fingers.

How many grains in an hour, I say

Marion drops her arm over the back of the couch and pulls herself up. There’s a crease running down the side of her face from the way she was lying. I don’t say anything. She looks at me and scowls, the crease unyielding.

‘Science,’ she says, as though that were the end of it. The scowl slides away and she fits a smile in its place. ‘Take me out.’

Like a hitman, I say, and the smile doesn’t fit anymore.

She disconnects her arm and lets herself fall back. I hear her sigh float up to the ceiling. ‘Are you bored?’ she asks me.

I tell her no, I can’t think of a better way to pass time.

A stale piece of popcorn launches itself over the couch’s fabric ramparts. It misses me and lands on the table. I look from the popcorn to the hourglass. Grains.

‘I want to see the sun,’ the couch tells me. ‘I want to lie in the sun.’

We’ll never get you out, I say.

‘If you don’t take me,’ she says with the cadence of a threat but none of the potency, ‘I’ll take myself.’

I get up and stand behind the couch, looking down at Marion.

Why don’t you move?

Quit it

Kate had her serious face on. The one she gets when she thinks she has something important to say. It’s funny actually, I can always see it coming. First she goes very quiet, then her lips set themselves together while she works out exactly how to say it. When she’s ready she’ll tilt her head down and look over the top of her glasses in just the right way. I always thought she should have been a librarian.

‘You should quit smoking,’ Kate said.

We were sitting in my bedroom. Well, the room where all my stuff was living anyway. Technically I’d been there for a year, but I hadn’t been able to settle. It was my parents’ house, and I just couldn’t make it mine. I was sitting on the edge of the bed in front of the computer, rolling a cigarette. When we first started seeing each other I was so nervous about smoking in front of her, she doesn’t smoke and she always knows exactly what her opinions are. Apparently smoking is bad for you. We both got more used to the idea though. I started smoking less and she told me I was dying less.

‘But I like it so much’ I said and pushed my bottom lip out in a mock pout

‘Yeah and it’s killing you’ she said.

‘Slowly though, I’ve still got plenty of time left.’

‘You have all the time in the world until it runs out.’

‘Runs out where?’

‘Out of time, dickhead.’

‘I’m not going to run out. I bought in bulk,’ I said, exercising my perverse sense of humour. I always enjoyed arguing with her.

‘Don’t be a smart ass, I’m really worried. You’ve been smoking so much lately.’

‘Yeah but I haven’t been drinking as much,’ I said. It was true, I hadn’t been drinking as much, but only because I hadn’t been able to afford it. So far the cigarettes were winning.

‘Well, that’s good because you drink like an idiot.’

‘I’d like to think I drink more like an alcoholic fish.’

‘You think you’re funny don’t you.’

‘Somebody has to, otherwise all my jokes would go to waste.’

‘You’re going to waste.’ Kate sighs, ‘How much do you weigh these days?’

‘What’s that got to do with my drinking?’ I said. I always hated when she brought up my weight and she knew that.

‘Nothing. It has to do with your body not being able to run off cigarettes and sandwiches.’

‘Not even tasty grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato and stuff?’ I said trying to get her off the track.

‘Nope, not even the tastiest of sandwiches.’

‘What about all the yeast in beer?’ I offer. ‘Do you know how many calories alcohol actually has?’

‘Not enough to live off obviously,’ She moves a lock of hair away from her glasses and tucks it behind her ear, ‘and cigarettes are sugar free.’

‘So there shouldn’t be a problem with me smoking then.’

‘At this point sugar would be good for you.’

‘Awesome, cause I’ve been eating a heap of candy lately.’

‘And that’s why your teeth are going to hell. You need to put something more substantial in you,’ Kate said, fixing me with her quiet in the library face.

‘Do you want me to put something substantial in you?’

‘Like the sense of satisfaction I’d get from convincing you to be healthy and treat your body better?’

‘Nah, I was thinking more like my-’

‘I know what you were thinking,’ she said sharply, ‘and I don’t know how you even have the energy.’

‘Milo,’ I said plainly, ‘is slow burning energy you know.’

Kate grunted, ‘Do you know how frustrating you are?’

I looked at her calmly, I could tell she wasn’t really angry, there was a smile hiding at the corners of her mouth. ‘Is it anything like trying to get the lid of a jar of pickles or something, but the lid just won’t come off, so you get a tea towel and wrap that around it, trying to get a better grip, but that doesn’t work so finally you just pry at it with a knife until the knife breaks and you decide to eat something else? Is it anything like that?’

I could tell I had won when she smiled.

‘Kind of,’ she said. ‘Except that I can’t eat anything else, I’ve already chosen my meal and I have to stick with it’

‘Is it pancakes? Cause they’re really tasty you know. I like mine with lemon juice and sugar’

Kate groaned into her palm.

‘What’s the matter babe? Are you a syrup girl?’

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