Short story

Fishing from the boardwalk

Simon Ferris stood on the boardwalk and leaned over the edge, looking at a large timber pallet that floated in the salt water below. The timber was covered in shells and black worms. He stood a long time and wondered what the things on the pallet were. After a while, he pulled back and staggered down the boardwalk. The timber was uneven and hurt his legs which were twisted and weak. He had refused to take a wheelchair today; he wanted to walk.

Halfway down, back toward the street that led up into the city, he stopped and watched a pretty girl who sat on a bench in the shade near Shraff’s Amusement hall. She wore a tight red top, and her blonde hair was tied back with a blue ribbon. Next to her was a baby carriage. She leaned over occasionally to look inside. Each time she leaned over, she smiled. Her red lips pulled back showing her smooth white teeth.

Suddenly a great tiredness overtook Simon and his legs gave way under him. He toppled sideways, off the boardwalk, into the water below. An old man watching nearby, tapped a young man who stood next to him.

“A man just jumped off the boardwalk,” the old man said.

“Are you sure?” the young man answered. He looked over his shoulder. The young man held a fishing line and was reluctant to let it go.

Bronze lions

The lights of the street flickered in yellow and red, Maisie pulled her jumper down over her hands and looked at the red lights above the buildings. She always felt relaxed and sleepy when she saw a red light; she remembered the rooms she used to stay in when the streets were too cold. A bar heater would be turned on, and it would glow on the wall. It stayed red all night. The girls would struggle to get a bunk nearer to that heater. Tracy came and sat beside her, and they both spent a moment looking at the bronze lions that flanked the steps of the library.

“Tony told me that if he could flog those lions, they’d be worth a mint,” Tracy said. “Do ya have a smoke?”

A smokes worth a dollar, but I have one for you,” Maisie answered, pulling two cigarettes out of a wrapper that once held a hamburger. A little bit of red sauce stained the paper of one of the smokes and Maisie saw this. She wondered if it would burn ok or if it’d taste different. She held the stained one back for herself and gave Tracy the other. “Smoking,” Maisie said as she handed the girl the cigarette, “Kills 480,000 people in the US each year.”

“God, I hope I’m one,” Tracy laughed.

“So when’s Tony gonna do it?”
“Do what?”
“Steal them lions?”
“They weigh too much to carry off.”
Maisie lit her cigarette and then lit the other. They both took a deep breath of the smoke.

A working man coming past stopped and looked at Maisie. “How old are you?”
“Old enough,” she answered.

“You should be in school.”

“I’ve graduated with a degree in minding.”
“Minding what?”
“Minding my own fucking business.” The girls began to
laugh; the man said a few more things before walking off, but they ignored him. Just as he was speaking the morning sun came over the copper roof of the library and lit the square. The street lights, still aglow, would soon be off.

“I love this time of the morning,” Maisie whispered.

“I hate it; all the creeps are out. Early morning is the worst time.”

“Where’d you sleep last night?”

“I worked, I did a few jobs. I’ve not slept yet. Where’d you?”
“I stayed at Carla’s place.”
“Was her boyfriend home?”
“No, I wouldn’t be there if he was.”
They sat silently for a moment as a flock of pigeons gathered by the statue of T. S. Eliot.

“What are you doing today?” Tracy asked, dropping some ash from the end of her cigarette.
“I’m working at Ericson’s. They’re putting me on the register today.”
“It
don’t pay much, why don’t you come with me? I made twelve ‘undred dollars last night. Here look.” Tracy opened a cloth bag studded with red and blue sequins. Greenish blue looking notes were shoved in so that they were all screwed up, there were a lot of them.

“Give us a twenty?” Maisie asked.

“Sure,” Tracy pulled a twenty dollar note out, smooth it between her fingers and passed it to the thin blonde girl. Tracy was chubby, with a beautiful face, but she would, in a few years, become fat like her mother. Deep down she was jealous of Maisie; Maisie was thin and sharp like she had been cut from stone.

Maisie put it in her pocket. “I gotta start work now,” she stood up and lifted her jumper to show her supermarket uniform underneath. Her thin legs showed prettily under her dress. She let her jumper down and then dropped her cigarette and stamped it out.

“See ya; I’ll be here tonight at five if you want to get some dinner.”

“OK, I’ll meet you here.”

Maisie smiled and climbed down the wet steps that seemed to slope back too far so that each one held a puddle of water. Maisie then skipped from a patch of sunlight to another. She looked up and noticed the lamps were all off now and the early morning sun danced in the leaves of the Kurrajong Trees. She turned back to looked at Tracy and stopped. Tony held Tracy by her arm and was violently tearing her purse away from her. Maisie felt the twenty-dollar bill in her pocket.

You don’t own anything

I lost my sunglasses the other day

I’m not sure exactly when,

But they were good ones

Expensive ones.

I think about them occasionally

I wake early, and I wonder where they are

That empty feeling enters my guts

And I feel sad

I tell myself it doesn’t matter.

But it does matter, a little.

I wonder if other people lose things

And if it worries them.

A three a.m. worry, when it is dark outside, and you are missing something

And you look at the other side of the bed

And it’s empty.

I lost her too,

She left me

That feeling when you know you will never see her again,

you remember following her out of the apartment,

seeing her leave through the front door of the building

Into the cold misty morning

knowing that you will never see her again.

And I woke up thinking about my glasses.

Yesterday, while I walked the city streets…

I found a café in a back lane in the city,

it looked like a nice old place, so I went inside

ordered a cup of tea and some toast.

An old woman, dark, with long grey hair brought me my order

and she stood before me a moment and said I looked like a man she used to know,

only I am a little fatter.

 

This man used to live on a farm,

she said,

he would take her for walks along lonely dirt tracks

they would light a fire and make love when the night fell

all in the open,

under the trees.

One day they were married

and he took her to the city.

She held up her hands and showed me the rings she wore,

this one, she said, pointing to a golden ring

is her wedding ring.

Three weeks into the marriage he started to beat her,

and he would beat her at least once a week.

It was the city that made him crazy,

she said.

But he is dead now

his heart stopped.

I’m glad the beatings have stopped.

She stood beside my table for a few more minutes

looking past me out the window.

The lane shone in the weak light,

its narrow spaces made the city seems taller,

but inside the café it seemed like a country town.

I’ve worked here for forty years; she said finally,

quietly

and moved away, leaving me behind in silence

leaving me with her memory.

 

 

Advice on life

Listen, the cop said to me, the thing that really gets you

Is when you’re standing there and their goddamn phone starts ringing.

I mean she’s been dead for an hour or two and her phone is ringing

And it’s on her.

You actually think you should answer it,

But what are you gonna say?

 

Listen, the cardiologist said to me, the thing is

These people have heart attacks

And then we fix ‘em and get them in for exercise

And the goddamn idiots

Actually complain about how hard it is to exercise

And all we ask them to do is walk a bit and maybe ride an exercise bike

And they don’t want to.

I tell ‘em not to eat cheese because cheese blocks up the arteries

I explain to them that they have to watch their diet

And they say

No doctor I really like cheese.

 

It’s riding two abreast,

The paramedic tells me

The cyclists shouldn’t ride two abreast,

I saw this just last week.

One guy knocked into the other

And they both went under the rear wheels of a truck.

It’s safer to ride single; I tell everyone.

 

I gave up cheese and riding two abreast, and I keep my phone on silent

But still, there’s a lot wrong with the world.

People get hard, and then they get crazy.

 

My first job

The job was as a crew member with the most famous fast food store.

I was told to meet the truck, unpack it

And load the cool room and freezer with every goddamned box in the universe.

I was a school kid, frightened by everything

and the managers were either 20-year-old stoners

or 20-year-old assholes.

I began to load the boxes; it was easy at first, they went on the shelves

then the shelves filled

and I started to load them on the floor,

piling them on top of each other like bricks.

But they weren’t bricks and as they became taller than me

The corner of some low down box would crumble, then they’d fall.

I remember standing in that cold room, half frozen, laughing at the boxes of

French fries and hamburgers collapsing.

I watched my white breath disappear into the spinning fans

The noise killing me.

Then something snapped within me, and I began to push the boxes into each other, forcing them onto each other, throwing them in

The place piled up with boxes in no order,

Crushed

Some split

open with the inside bags spilling out.

I didn’t care.

Someone had ordered too much

I went out and collected the trolley, to bring in the last boxes.

The trolley caught my corduroy jacket and tore it.

I had bought that jacket in California.

When I was finished, the cool room looked like a massacre, and I could hardly close the door.

 

The next day I came back to work

This nice guy named Duc, one of my best friends

Told me the stoner assistant manager we all liked had been yelled at

By the asshole boss and I felt bad.

I hated the place and I wanted to be fired

But I also felt bad.

I spent two hours fixing that cool room up.

 

The junk seller

Martin Blake cut through the city using back lanes and empty streets. He was rushing from his apartment on the east side of the city to his office. He crossed down a dirty alley where water ran down the center in a thin gutter. A woman sat leaning against a building watching the man as he rushed by.

“Excuse me sir, would you like to have a look at my goods and see if you would like to buy anything?”
“I haven’t got time, and it looks like you’re selling a load of rubbish.”
“Some of it is good, look at this…” the woman picked up a brown box and rattled it. It sounded like there were coins inside.

“What is it?” Martin stopped, intrigued by the box, forgetting for the moment that he was late.

“It is a box that has an endless supply of coins. Simply turn it upside down and every time you shake it, a coin will come out.”

The woman shook the coin and some silver came out, she shook it again and a gold coin fell out.

“Let me see it,” Martin demanded and snatched it from the woman. He crouched down and shook it until a small pile of silver and gold lay at his feet. He scooped the coins up and put them in his pocket. He looked at the woman. “How much?”

“I only want two hundred dollars, you’ll soon make it back.”
“Why would you want to sell it?”
The old woman was silent.

Instead of waiting for the answer, Martin turned and ran, carrying the box with him.

Martin laughed to himself as he walked into his building. It was busy and people were all rushing to work. He was not too late. He tucked the box under his arm and headed for the elevators. As he waited alongside half a dozen other people an elevator door slid open and Martin rushed in, pressing the button for the twentieth floor. Hew looked about. None of the other people waiting with him came on board. They must not have noticed. Martin laughed again and pressed the door close button. Slowly the elevator ascended and then, with a grinding of steel, it stopped moving.

“Fuck this,” Martin swore and pressed the buttons. Nothing worked to move the machine. He pressed the emergency button but it did not work.

The man sat in corner and looked at the box. “It’ll get going soon,” he said to himself. He gave the box a shake. A dozen coins fell out, each one beautifully designed and each of pure gold. Martin yelled out in joy and shook the box again. This time hundreds of coins came pouring our, sliding into piles all around him. The coins spread all over the floor and glinted beautifully in the electric light. Martin tipped the box up right but the coins kept coming, spurting out of the box like water from a fountain. The coins became deep, pushing up the walls of the elevator. Martin stood up, the coins covering his feet. He grabbed the box and tried to stop the hole on top with his fingers but nothing would stop them pouring forth. A fortune was building up on all sides of him. The elevator groaned, the coins continued, then with a terrific snap, the cables broke and the roof of the elevator tore away, and Martin fell down the shaft and was dashed on the ground below.

When the rescue services found him, he was alone in the elevator, crushed under machine and building debris. What had caused the elevator to malfunction was never discovered.

SHORT STORY

The New Weapon.

Simon Baker was born to a young woman before the great war began. His mother Simone became pregnant to a man one summer evening in a sleeper carriage on a train heading out from the city. She lived on a farm in dairy country where heavy rains fall all year around. She was responsible for the washing and cooking for all the men working there.

“Why would you call your son Simon?” the woman who owned a share of the farm asked when the boy was a few years old. “It’s so close to your own name.”
“I have conducted myself well for the last few years, have I not ma’am?” Simone asked in return.
“Yes you have.”
“And I have minded my own business?”
“Yes…” the woman saw where the conversation was going and left her alone.

The boy grew up happily on the farm but very lonely. He spent many hours on his own exploring the nearby forests and rivers.

It was a clear sunny day, a few days after the boy’s seventh birthday when he ran in to see his mother who had just finished making the lunches.
“Mom,” he called as he ran into the huge common kitchen. “Come down to the river with me for a walk.”
His mother looked up and wiped her hands on her apron. “OK, I’ll come for a walk,“ she smiled at her thin blonde child.
They walked out across the yellow fields, being watched by the lazy big eyed cows until they entered the green forests and were hidden by the thick vegetation. They past into a clearing that the boy knew well and they rested by the river.
The sun reflected off the clear waters and fish darted about in the cool depths below them.
“Your father used to love to fish,” Simone lied. “He would spend hours by rivers just like this one while I would sit under a tree and read.”
Simon looked at the tall heavy trees sitting around the banks. He imagined his father fishing.
“Those were the days,” his mother smiled and patted the boy gently on the head.
“I would like to fish,” the boy announced.
Suddenly a deep growl filled the air. The noise was loud and soon even the river could not be heard. The sound was deep and threatening like a typhoon.
“What is that?” Simon asked, looking about in fear.
“It’s all right,” Simone said looking up into the clear sky. “It’s an airplane.”
Simon had never seen one before but he knew of them. He looked up seeing a white air plane, flying low coming toward them.
“I don’t like the noise,” the boy cried and covered his ears.
“It’s OK, it’s OK,” Simone reassured him gently, putting her arm around the boy.
“No!” the boy shouted and stood up. He could see the white plane glinting in the sun. He pointed at it. “I wish it would stop!” he cried.

The planes engines fell silent. The plane cut through the air without a sound, continued over the forest and then just as it was past the trees it fell out of the sky. An explosion sounded, a fire ball and black smoke erupted over the green pine trees.
“Oh my God!” Simone yelled and held the boy to her.

They left for the city in September. Simone told no one about what happened. The plane crash had been a big event on the farm but no one knew why the engines had stopped.

They moved to a small apartment in the city where Simone worked shifts at a laundry and Simon went to a nearby school.
“Simon I want you to promise me something,” his mother said kneeling in front of him.
“Yes, mom?”
“This is our new start. This city we get to begin afresh. Never ever do what you did to that air plane again.”
“I don’t know what I did mom.”
“You stopped the engines, you pointed at it and it fell.”
“I’m sorry, I did not mean to kill the people.”
“I know,” she hugged him. “Just never do it again.”

Years past and Simon grew into a quiet, shy boy. He never forgot the day he pointed at the plane and silenced the engines. He continued to play back the memory, he had flung his arm toward the plane and a feeling like an electric shock ran through his arm and the plane fell from the sky. His arm ached for hours afterwards. The noise of the explosion would feature in his dreams occasionally and awaken him, screaming.

The war began on a cool dark day. The enemy in the beginning were much more powerful than we were. Their air force was ten times larger and their planes the cutting edge of technology. By day the missiles would rain upon the cities and by night the bombers would flood the sky and drop fire.
As night approached Simon and Simone sat in their apartment and tried to keep warm but nothing was working properly and the heat was very weak. A siren began to scream.
“Mom, we have to get to the shelter,” Simon said.
“No,” she replied. “Come with me.”
“Where?”
“I cannot stand the shelter, it feels like a coffin. Come to the roof with me, please.”
His mother stood up and beckoned him to follow. He was frightened and did not want to go, but he trusted her and followed.
The night was pitch black and there were no lights on in the huge city. The only movement were the massive search lights that swept the sky. They looked out to sea.
“There they come,” Simon said. He pointed out to sea. “The black dots, the planes are coming. Can you see them mom?”
“No, not too well… I think I can make them out. Tell me Simon, are any of them our planes?”
“No,” Simon said. “They are all enemy. I can see the red tails in the searchlights.” Simon had a good knowledge of aviation and he could pick the enemy by their red markings.
“Simon I want you to stop them.”
“What?”
“Remember how you stopped the plane when you were a little boy, I want you to stop these before they destroy our city.”
“I can’t.”
“Please, it is our last chance.”
The planes were close now, the engines hummed like angry bees. The vibration of their approach rattled the windows all around. They were huge jets flying low, death would soon come. The sound changed from a hum to a scream.
Simon stood up straight and his eyes narrowed. The sound was tearing him apart. His ears hurt.
“I want them to stop!” he screamed and flung his arm forward.
Silence followed. The city was suddenly silent, the planes came closer for a moment, then they fell from the air like lead weights, crashing into the sea.