Thursday’s rain

HI, this is a short story I wrote for a competition. Happy for feedback if you would like to send me some.

2420 Words

Subjective, Tom thought, it’s all subjective. The work is not so bad. The greasy lane behind the café would begin to stink in heavy rain. The drains would fill, and the cold would eat through his fingers until they ached. Tom finished cleaning out the bins. He had hosed them out into the gutters. The fat that came out didn’t run down the drains; it congealed on the cement and formed a fatty coating. The path here was now slippery and dangerous. It had been raining for four days, and Tom worked as a handyman for a few shops on Dean Street. Today he had cleaned the café and stocked the fridges. He worked from 5 to 10 every morning. The job allowed him the rest of the day to work on his other projects and look after Hannah. He wanted to start a business, but it was hard with Hannah being so unwell. 

At ten past ten, Tom walked down Dean Street, stopping in the newsagent to buy a lottery ticket. He could buy the ticket on his phone, but he preferred to walk into the shop. The newsagent was empty. The smell of newspapers and magazines struck him, and he stood a moment to smell the print. An old man stood behind the counter. Tom searched his pockets. He noticed as he stood in the heat of the shop that his clothes were wet to his skin. A scrunched-up piece of paper came out of his right pocket with something written on it. These were the numbers Hannah had given him last night. Tom squinted at the numbers, some of them had become smudged, but he could make them out. 

Tom took his ticket form to the desk and handed it to the man.

“Twelve dollars fifty,” the man said.

Tom handed the exact change. 

A ticket was spat out of a machine, and the old man placed it on the desk.

Tom stood back from the counter, found his wallet and carefully folded the ticket into the space where cash should have been kept. He looked at the old man one more time and then stepped out onto the street. The rain was heavy, and the gutters were filling up. Tom headed towards the Botanic Gardens, crossed a flooded culvert, and ducked across the road into a brick house with an overgrown garden.

The house was quiet and dark. Tom took his boots off and pulled off his thick black socks. His feet were cold and black from the wool. He took off his belt, wallet and keys and set them on a hat stand, then stripped naked and put his clothes in the laundry. 

“Tom?” a voice called. 

“Yes, Hannah, it’s me,” he answered. “I just need a shower.”

Hannah was lying in bed, propped up with three fat pillows. Her black hair clung to her pale face. Her dark eyes smiled when she saw Tom come into the bedroom. Tom had been dating Hannah for four years. They had once spoken of getting married, but Hannah had become so unwell in the last twelve months that they had stopped discussing that plan.

“How was your morning?” she asked.

“Wet. But I got all the work done on time. Did the doctor call?”
“Not yet.”
“Do you need me to get any medicine?”
“Yes, I’ll need you to go to the pharmacy later if you can.”
“How are you feeling?”
“The headache is still there. It’s bad today.”
Hannah had been diagnosed with a brain tumour. The doctors had cut it out, but it had returned. She refused further surgery, and chemotherapy had made her very sick. Tom looked at her pretty face.

Hannah patted the bed, and Tom sat next to her. 

“Do you remember our holiday to Perth?” she asked him. “I wish we were there now. I’d shout you lunch on Cottesloe Beach.”

“That was a nice day. I preferred Freo, though.”

“Then we had that nice trip down to Margaret River,” Hannah turned her head and looked out the window. “That culvert looks like it will flood over if this rain doesn’t stop.”

Hannah had won the lottery a few years ago, and it had been enough to buy the house and have a holiday in Perth.

They had been homeless before that.

“My mum called this morning,” Hannah said, turning back to look at him. “Did you buy that lottery ticket?”

“Yes.”
“Did you use the numbers I gave you?”
“Yes, of course.”

“More numbers have come to me. Run, get a piece of paper.”
Tom jumped off the bed and brought back a pencil and a notebook.

Hannah pushed her head back into the pillows, and her eyes rolled up into her head. Tom watched silently. 

“I heard the voice again this morning. It gave me the numbers five, seven, eighteen, twenty-four, thirty-three, and forty. Record those numbers. Then twelve, one, twenty-two, thirty, thirty-eight, nineteen….” Hannah went on until she had given him twelve sets of six numbers. She coughed and then sat up straight. She couldn’t lie down to sleep any more; she could not breathe well unless she was propped up. 

“Make sure you buy that ticket.”

“Which draw?”
“Today’s.”
“I just bought a ticket for today’s draw.”
“Buy a second one, just for this week. These numbers have come to me so clearly; they must be right. The voice is so clear.”

“OK.”
“My mum called this morning. She is going well. She’s living in Campbelltown with her partner now. They moved into a new house out there. They were lucky to find a place to rent.”

“How is Russel treating your mum?”
“Better now. He hasn’t done anything since the cops were called. They’ve moved to start afresh; their old house brought back too many bad memories.”

“It was easier on the streets than the time we spent living with them.”
Hannah smiled, “He was just going through a bad time. Mum says he’s improved. My prescription is in my side drawer. If you could grab that today when you go into town.”
“Yep.”
“Have you been thinking about your business?” 

“I have. I saw some perfect empty shops up near the cinema.”

“Good area. Busy.”
“Expensive. High rents.”
“But I know you like it up near the railway station.”
“I think it’s a good part of Dean Street.”
“Are you still thinking about opening a cake shop?”
“Yeah. Cakes and bread.” 

She nodded and then winced as a pain shook through her head. 

The prescription was a bottle of tablets. The chemist held it up and asked Tom if he had used these before. Tom nodded. They were strong. 

“You only need one a day,” the chemist said. 

Tom nodded. The smell of the chemist was a strong sour smell—a smell of medicine and syrup. Tom put the medication in his pocket, paid, and then slipped out a side door. He stood in the parking lot behind the newsagent. He didn’t have any money to buy another lottery ticket. He looked at the numbers Hannah had given him. He just couldn’t afford it. He put the numbers back in his pocket. 

Tom walked up to the railway station and sat on the platform for an hour to think. The rain fell across the tracks and poured off the verandah in streams. A passenger train came and stopped. People rushed onto the platform and boarded, but only a handful exited the train—some young people with backpacks and a few older people with suitcases. One or two sat on the platform and watched the train leave. 

Then, with surprising speed, the grey clouds parted, the rain stopped, and the sun came out. Suddenly, the day was bright. Tom saw this as a sign. He stood up, felt the medicine in his pocket, and headed home. 

Hannah was in bed still when Tom arrived. She was asleep. She was propped up on pillows with her chin forward on her chest. He knew this would be a painful way to sleep. He thought about moving her head, but he had done this before and woken her. She needed the rest, so he left her alone. He put the medicine on the table next to her bed and watched her for a moment longer. 

It was evening when she woke. He heard her cry out in pain. Tom put his book on the kitchen table and went to see her. She was holding her neck. 

“Are you ok?” he asked. 

“My neck,” she said. “I must have hurt it while I slept.”

“I picked up your medicine.”
“Thanks. Did you get that lottery ticket?”

“No, I didn’t have the money.”

She looked at him. Her eyes were red but now took on a furious look. “You should have bought that ticket! What time is it?” Hannah looked at her clock radio, and it was nearly six. “It’s Thursday. The newsagent should still be open. Run up there and get that ticket. Those numbers came to me as clear as your voice.” Hannah, wincing with pain, leaned to her bedside table, opened the drawer and took out a twenty-dollar note and beckoned Tom with it. He came across to the bed.

“I can’t,” he said.

“Don’t be stupid. Those are the winning numbers. Take it.”
“Do you want anything else? A magazine?”
“No, I don’t need anything. I have a lot of books I’ll never get through. When I bought all those books, I thought I had a lot of time; it feels funny to hold a book and know you’ll never get the time to read it even if you started now. Go and get that ticket. I want it. The lottery is drawn at eight; you have to hurry.”

Tom stepped out of the house and stood for a moment in the cold air. There was no more rain. The sky was clear. A bright red colour fell across the town as the sun went down. He walked to the newsagent. It was open until 7:30. The ticket was spat out of the machine, and the old man handed it to Tom. It was warm from being freshly printed. It felt nice. He put it in his wallet next to the other one. 

It was a beautiful evening, but it had turned dark now. The street lights came on, people filled the restaurants, and music played from a pub across the road.

Hannah was sitting on the side of her bed when Tom came in. She was wearing a white nighty with blue flowers. She looked frail and thin. Her bones stuck out of her pale skin. Her skin was white like delicate china. She turned and looked at him. Her spine came through her back in a line of little lumps. 

“Did you get the numbers?” she asked. 

“Yes, I got them.”
“Good.” She seemed heavily relieved. “What time is it?” she asked.

“It’s seven-thirty.”

Hannah moved slowly; her head seemed too heavy for her to hold it still, so she nodded constantly. Her words were slurred. It gave all the signs of a bad night of pain ahead.

“Not long to go,” she said. “Then we can have a life change. I won the lottery before. Did you know that?”
“Yes,” he said. “We went to Perth.”

She smiled as she remembered. “Yes, that was a nice trip. I won that money on a scratch ticket.”

“Yes.”
“We had nowhere to live before that, did we?”
“No. We stayed a while at your mum’s and then in your friend’s house.”
“Yes. He was my ex-boyfriend. Did you know that?”
“No,” Tom answered. 

Hannah stared off into the distance. 

“Tom, I’ve left this house to my mother in my will.”

“You have?”
“Yes. I made that will years ago. I never changed it.”

Tom said nothing. They had bought the house when they were first together. He had never thought she saw it as hers alone. 

“Can you help me back into bed? I want to lie down.”
Tom came around and helped her back into bed. She was bird-light. He put her carefully back on the pillows and pulled the covers up as if she were a sick child. He noticed the bottle of pills he had bought her. The lid was off, and the bottle was empty. 

“Quick, put the TeeVee on for the lottery draw.”
Tom turned the television on and ensured it was on the correct channel. 

“Write the numbers down, Tom.”

The draw came on. Coloured balls flew about a plastic sphere. Tom took the numbers down. He glanced at Hannah, and she had her eyes half-closed, and she was smiling at him. 

The six numbers and two supplementary were flashed across the screen. Hannah read the numbers aloud and nodded as if they were all familiar. 

Tom stood up and went to the writing desk, and turned on the lamp. He took the two tickets out of his wallet, and then with a pencil, he circled the winning numbers when he found them. When he was finished, there were quite a few on the tickets, but no more than two or three in any line. Only one line was different. One line had four numbers circled out of the six. He looked at it for a moment. 

“That’s quite the win,” Hannah said quietly. “Twenty million. What will you do with that money?” 

“We can go back to Perth.”
“No, Tasmania this time,” Hannah said.

“OK.” Tom looked at the ticket again.

“Well, show me!”

Tom took his pencil and circled the last remaining numbers on the line with four winners. He circled the numbers in such a way that the original numbers could not be read anymore. 

“Yes, here’s the winner,” he said and handed her the ticket. 

“I knew it. I knew it,” Hannah repeated and held the ticket carefully. “You’ll never run out of money with this.”

They both sat in the room quietly while a movie came on the screen. 

Hannah asked for a drink of water and if he could turn the heater on. Tom went to the kitchen to fetch a glass. He came back in and put the water on Hannah’s table. He turned the heater on in the corner of the room.

Then he came back to give Hannah the drink. She was asleep. He touched her. She was dead.

He gave her two hours’ head-start and then called the ambulance. 

Salamanca Bay

Eyeing the water

Sitting on timber boards

Drinking in the dark

We watched the boats in the bay

I wondered how the people get to the boats from the shore.

We sat there until late in the night

Moonlight played on the white boats

One name stood out, Penelope.

An old man sat on the bow

Scrubbing the side of the boat with a brush.

Later, I walked home beside the blue-white quay

And saw the little rowboats that must have been the answer.

I turned from the harbour and wandered up into the city

Passing the 19th-century sandstone buildings

The night was full of ghosts.

The night has a demon

A dark, dangerous spirit that travels at midnight.

2 and 3 am are the most dangerous times

When breathing is difficult and panic sets in

Eyes open, looking out windows at a city bathed in black

And yellow street lights.

The demon is there

Dragging its feet by your bedroom window

Possessing you with a madness to fly out of bed

To run out into the street

To clutch at your throat to get a breath

Silence, blindness, terror

 it is the night hour of death and lunacy

Of loneliness 

Of the fear of death

Waiting for morning

And the yellow-gold light

To chase the monster away.

Summer Swimming

We would go swimming on summer afternoons
We were so thin and fit
Walking on those baked sidewalks of cement and red dirt
We would cut through the city streets carrying our towels.

The Saturday afternoons were ours alone
We had a special key and could enter the closed pool
We would swim and watch the sunset
The magpies, at peace, in the huge trees by the fence.

She would swim and dive in the cool blue water
I would grunt and struggle to complete my twenty laps
We would walk home in the evening redness
She would sing softly a tune about summer

That one summer, I wanted it to last forever
The Weekend evenings
We would also, sometimes, go at five am on weekdays
The water unbelievably cold, and we unbelievably tired.

It ended. We parted
As Autumn came, I would go bike riding and running
She preferred the gym and yoga
The swimming was something we would do again, but alone.

A visit in 2007

Hello, dear,” my mother called through my intercom. “We’re here.”

In 2007, I had been gone from their house for five years. I had graduated from Sydney University Law and I was working in a legal practice in a country town a few hours from Sydney. My father was Vietnamese. He had fought against the communists. He came to Australia in the ’70s and worked in an RSL club as a cook. He was a quiet man and had great patience for things. We grew up with him working nights and sleeping during the day. He could do a back flip from standing still and would sometimes do it for us wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. Usually, it was summer and near Christmas like a tradition. My mother was Chinese Malaysian, and she also worked nights at the RSL. I buzzed them up to my apartment. The apartment had amazing views of the town. You could see the river, the cathedral, and a park from one side and the town’s Main Street from the other. I had offered the landlord a higher rent than he was asking to get the place. 

“Hi, mum, hi, dad,” I greeted them when they arrived.

“How are you, dear? How is work?” my mother asked as she entered my door.

“Great. It’s going well. I’m getting a lot of work in criminal law. It’s always busy.”

Dad came in and stood in a corner, and looked around. He looked unchanged since I was a young girl. He was thin and dark. Mum had changed to look at though. 

“It’s good to see you,” she said.

“Do you like the apartment? Let me show you around.”

“It looks great,” mum said. 

I showed them the bedrooms, the bathroom, and the dining room. I pointed out the view to them.

We grew up in a suburban house with no views, nothing remarkable about it. It was in a street like hundreds of others. It was a comfortable three-bedroom house. It was only a short drive to the RSL. We used to catch the bus to school. Mum would pay a tutor to teach us after school, and my brothers would also play basketball. I played the flute. 

“Your brother says hello,” mum said. 

“How is he?” I asked.

“Good. Going well.”

I have two brothers. Yang and Tim. Mum was talking about Yang. He is a surgeon in Sydney. Tim doesn’t get much of a mention. The last I had heard from him, he was selling ice creams. I like catching up with Tim, but he is hard to contact.

“Would you like to go to lunch?” I asked.

“Sure. We are happy to do whatever you want to do. We can have lunch here or go out.”

“I don’t have any food in, really. Let’s go out.”

I left them in the lounge room while I went to get changed. 

When I came back, mum was looking at my bookcase. She was holding two books. One was “On the Road”; the other was “The Ethical Slut”.

“Mary, why do you have this book?” she asked.

I saw her hold up The Ethical Slut. I looked at it for a moment—my mind racing. I glanced at dad. He looked back at me. I could never tell what he understood and what he didn’t.

“It was here when I rented the place,” I shrugged. 

The truth was that I was experimenting with multiple partners. I would use Tinder, I would pick men up in pubs and bars and I would sleep with them as I pleased. 

One of the friction points between my mother and me was that I didn’t want children. 

“When are you going to have children?” she would ask.     

“I don’t want children,” I would respond. 

We had been over this ground in many conversations, and she would always turn and look at me as if I were breaking her heart. In the early days, there was a slight smile, a look that said Just you wait, you’ll change. But now, the look was darker and less hopeful. 

“Who will look after you in your old age?” would be her typical response.

I would always launch into that there was no guarantee a child will look after the parents, and it’s not a reason to put yourself through childbirth and that I can look after myself and when I can’t I’ll have the money to buy care, and this would send my mother into a darker funk. 

I’m sure she suspected my lifestyle; she knew the book was mine.

Cutting room floor snippets

The rain falls off the leaves
Creating puddles
For the frogs

I take out the garbage
It is dark
A man stands on my roof

Sitting in the café
I hold my shopping
And look out at the city

Glancing up at the moon
I think of the people
Who fell in the water

Reading by a tiny light
The train jerks
And I lose my page

Her lovers send her gifts
While she
Busy, puts on perfume

The man holds the door
While he dreams
Of the movies he could make

Her blonde hair
Shone like beams of light
a sun show

Mornings

I am always the second to wake in the morning
The room dark
I hear the footsteps in the hall
And half awake, I hope it’s not six a.m.
But it is always six a.m.

The house is cold.
I find the button for the gas heater in the still-dark hall and
Pressing it, instantly hot air pours forth from vents in the ceiling.
When I was a boy, there was no heat in the mornings before school
No one had time to light the fire.
So, I would linger in bed, hoping to be forgotten.

Later, when I was a little older, we had a black and white TV in the kitchen
Where I could watch a cartoon as I ate breakfast
And wish away these days of school and rising early.

At nights, bus riding and walking in wet streets of stinging cold
I would light the fire if I were first home.
There I would fall asleep beside it.
Once, a spark caught my school jacket and burned a hole in it.

There is little in that now
But my father grew up in a house without a bathroom
His father was without electricity.
What would a child know of these things now?
And yet, happy moments were found.

Harbour Street

Where I used to live
In a room in the corner of an old brick building
The streets would stretch out in all directions
Some winding down beside the river, some disappearing through horse lanes
One stopped at a rock cliff
The last one ending at the harbour.

A man lived in a building opposite, and he would dress up each day
Winter or summer, In a thick coat
And head down to the water to fish
His wife would wait for him
She would clean the house
Talk to the neighbours
Go out sometimes on her own.

They had lived in that house for fifty-eight years.
She had a stroke one winter afternoon
The man would only fish once a week, then
He had to stay home and look after her
He grew thinner
I never saw her again

One night, at midnight,
There was a funny smell like toast being burned and burned
Then the street filled with smoke
And there were sirens and fire trucks stuffed into that old street
So nothing could move; even the hoses had a hard time getting out
An electric blanket had smouldered into flame and killed them both