Collection of random fiction from over the years, newest first.
As published in the University of Melbourne’s Women’s magazine, Judy’s Punch. http://umsu.unimelb.edu.au/be-yourself/women/judys-punch/
She hadn’t meant to do it.
That’s what she kept telling herself. These things happen; nobody would find out.
Alice peered into the mirror, her eyes straining through steam, soft fingerprint stains and smudges of flicked toothpaste. She wasn’t focusing her attention on the pimples growing on her forehead – not this time. It was her lips that needed inspection. Alice examined them closely and felt them with her forefinger. They were dry, cracked. The heat today had been bewildering; sweat patches had started under the arms of her school dress and spread so they were hard to conceal. Alice felt a dry flake of skin on her bottom lip and peeled it off. She watched it flutter down into the sink until she could not distinguish it beside the bold whiteness of the basin.
Nobody would find out. Papa would not find out.
Alice wrapped a clean white towel around her naked body, and, in doing so, caught her own eye in the reflection. What she had done was wrong, very wrong, but even Alice could not deny that this was exciting. Such excitement – as long as she was careful that it was kept secret – was warranted. Girls remember these things forever. She exhaled. Nobody would find out.
Alice looked back into the mirror. She made sure, twice sure, that she looked calm and normal and plain. The bathroom was at the end of the hallway. Ma was cooking and listening to the wireless – she could hear it from here, something about King George VI, him dying, or something – and her Papa was having a smoke. Alice peeped out from behind the door before dashing across the floorboards. She did not dare to glance at the door of her parents’ bedroom, slightly ajar, or at the miniature crucifix on the end table. Alice shivered. Droplets of water fell from her hair and trickled down her neck.
Ma always called Alice for dinner at seven o’clock. Routine, Papa said, is essential for achieving grace in life. Alice thought that variety was also important, but a girl knows better than to question her papa. Alice always kept one eye on the clock, the little one that sat beside one-eared Rabbit, and the other on her homework. Sometimes, Papa would poke his head in and say, There’s my good girl.
It was lucky that Papa did not enter Alice’s room that night. She was not studying. She was not a good girl. Alice sat in the stifling heat, hair damp, her schoolbag still zipped up. She should have opened her bedroom window; she was 13, tall enough to reach it now.
At 6:55pm, Alice was writing in her notebook about the softness of Dave’s lips. She couldn’t help thinking about it, all of it. After the kiss, Dave’s smile had been so big.
Alice paused. What about God? You can’t hide anything from Him, even if you want to really badly.
That’s what Papa said. She’d tried to stop him cursing at Ma once. Be careful, because He’s listening. ‘Course He is, Alice! He knows the shithole we’re in. For Christ’s Sake, he knew it when we were in the dugout, I’ll tell you that much. Papa’s eyes were bloodshot. They always were when he talked about Berlin. Alice, give us some fucking space and go to your room.
God would know about Dave, too. He would know that she’d done a bad thing that felt nice, a thing you weren’t supposed to do.
Alice! Papa’s voice bounced off the hallway walls and knocked her backwards. You’re late! Alice deserted the notebook and rushed to the kitchen. Her palms were sweaty. A metal fork clanged against the wooden table. Papa crossed his arms. Weren’t white lies okay? She hadn’t meant to do it, so nobody need find out.
Papa closed his eyes and said Grace. Then: pass the tomato sauce. Alice stared intently at her fork as she lifted it to her mouth. She delivered the potato mash onto her tongue and swallowed. It was thick, lumpy. She reached for the salt grinder, but it wouldn’t turn, it was too tight.
Alice? She nearly spat the sausage from her mouth. Could he know? She had only told one person; Rita was her best friend. Alice, I said, how was your day? Papa lowered his cutlery. Ma stared, too. What if Rita had told her father? What if Rita’s father had seen Papa at the shops? They were mates. They were in the war together. Alice inhaled, summoning herself to be calm and normal and plain. Voice shaking, she said, “Um, it was fine, it was normal, I guess.” Papa lifted his chin. That’s good then.
It was clear to Alice what she must do.
Escaping the kitchen and Papa’s gaze, Alice sat cross-legged in bed. All was black but a round shadow, flickering. She crossed her arms over her chest, her heart, and squeezed her shoulders. Her voice was merely a whisper.
Alice said she was very, very sorry. She said she would never do it again. Never even think of it. She promised Him that she would make her Papa and Ma happy from now on. She promised she would wake up in the morning and be a new person, a good person.
When she had finished, Alice tasted salty tears on her tongue.
* * * * *
“Wake up, Alice dear.” Ma’s voice was calm, but not gentle. Alice felt her mother eyeing her. But when she opened her eyes, Ma was gone.
It took Alice several minutes before she remembered Dave and the kiss and Papa and Him and the unofficial confession. Her lips were dry, cracked. She felt a hard piece of skin on her bottom lip and didn’t peel it off.
Alice sat upright and pulled the white sheet over. A small stain protruded from underneath.
What in God’s name… Alice gaped. It was deep red, nearly brown. She glanced downwards. Spots of the same maroon dotted her nightdress. She felt a strange wet sensation on her thigh, patted it with her forefinger.
Divine Retribution. That’s what it must be. He hadn’t pardoned her, how could she have expected Him to? Alice bit her lip so hard that it hurt. She should face Papa. She should run away.
Alice took one-eared Rabbit off the shelf, pulled him into her arms and squeezed.
The whole journey could be described in the swirl of nausea, deep in the rolling waves of her stomach, in the shaking of sweaty fingers that tap continuously on the cold glass screen of her iPhone. Sweat prickles up her arms, flushes her cheeks hot. Through the graffitied window she sees that white building, the one with the pristine green hedges and shiny windows. Her core drops. I’m nearly there. The tram thrusts forwards and she squeezes the edge of her seat. For a second she’s on an aeroplane that is descending down, down, leaving the lunchtime avocado on toast way up in the air, behind.
Quickly now. She speed-walks along the strip of shops, shoes one size too small pressing on her pinky toe. Sorry, she says. The dawdling elderly couple, holding hands, part. She darts around a circle of boys in skater hats and baggy jeans. Her heart pounds, a small army in her chest pushing her to go faster. What will she say? A man in a red car toots his horn as she runs across the road without looking. Maybe words don’t matter. At last, she reaches the familiar corner of the milkbar and two-dollar shop.
She holds her breath. Would he? A desperateness for him to be there fills her chest –longing – and yet a dozen little knots tie up in her stomach, tighten together. She tip-toes forwards, squints through the tinted window. Ah-ha! – her gut lurches. He’s there, he’s actually there. She bites her lip, curls the tip of her loose hair with her index finger.
He sees her.
In a book she just finished, there is a man who gives “1000X watt smiles”. I know that smile. It’s here. It’s as bright as the sun on a clear summer morning. It’s dawn, when the light rays first stream into the darkness, when they spread a warm glow over the city. Her cheeks redden. She is the pink hues of the sunrise that is his smile, blossoming rose in her cheeks.
She didn’t believe in true love. It was the same fantasy shit as Santa Claus. I gave you the presents, not the magical being I told you was real. Snow White wakes from death with the brush of her loves’ lips – a hoax, and that is all.
His eyes, she could not deny, always sparkle like little stars.
He takes a step closer. In her mouth is ten fluffy cotton wool balls, the ones she uses to wipe make up off at the end of the day. Her peeling lips are sticking together. Do my eyes twinkle? Panic drums her heartbeat faster. She wipes her moist palms on her jeans.
When he hugs her, her whole body is saturated with a warmth unlike she’s ever felt. Her shoulders drop, tightness in her neck slackens; honey oozes slowly off a spoon. He brushes his hands through her frizzy hair, and she sighs, deeply. In her dreams, the tightness of his embrace is her ultimate feeling of safety, love. It’s stepping in front of an open fire, letting the heat penetrate up from her thighs, up, to the hairs on her head.
She blinks. A truck roars past. She’s still standing at the corner.
The conversation is like always. Nice weather. His smile is golden, more precious than the favourite necklace in her jewellery box, than her bank savings. He doesn’t even know her name.
Gather yourself. She opens her mouth to say it, just say it, and then she closes it. Her eyes don’t twinkle – she’s sure.
She takes in his blueish eyes, the slight dimples in his cheeks, tries to memorise the heart-shaped softness of his face. Her hand are buried in her pockets. Be calm, now. She smiles, thin lipped, and says goodbye.
I feel like this poem needs to come with a warning. Not a trigger warning. Just one that says, “hold on right here, this is not going to be a great work of literature, please leave all expectations at the top of the page thank you very much!”
Because, to be honest, it’s not a piece I’m particularly pleased with. I’ve never been that good at poetry, not reading or writing it. Wordpress wouldn’t even let me make it look pretty (the last stanza simply refused to line up with the rest of it!).
But I’ve decided that I owe it to you, and to myself, to take more risks in life, be more open to failure and success, to publish average-ish poems on my blog. Ahem! On with the risks! (I hope you’re proud that I’m taking my New Years resolutions seriously this year).
I wrote this at the beginning of 2013 for my university Creative Writing class. It’s based on a true story. I hope you enjoy.
This short story was growing cobwebs in my laptop’s Documents folder, where its been forgotten for nearly two years. And what good is that for a story, even if it’s not a great one? It is time for Michael and Emily to see the sun of the blog-world. The story still needs a bit of work (maybe writing always needs work?), but here it is. I’m hanging it out to air.
Michael drummed his fingers on his jeans. ‘Wanna meet Friday?’ he’d texted her. How stupid it sounded now. Desperate. She’d replied that afternoon. ‘Coffee after school?’. Of course, Michael didn’t really go to school all that often. And he didn’t like coffee, not one bit. But maybe that could change.
The train began to slow. A cheery voiceover reminded passengers that this station was Sunshine. Michael looked outside. The sky had changed. A heavy blanket of dark grey cloud had closed over the endless blue. At the skate park with Tom that morning there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky.
Michael hadn’t wanted Tom to know about his meeting with Emily Clark. She was different. He didn’t want Tom to think she was like the others. But the question had come.
Tom had stared.
“‘Course I will, but. I’d fuck her any day.” Michael’s words were hard, voice soft.
“Yeah,” Tom said. The unlit cigarette dangled out of his mouth. “Who wouldn’t, right. She’s hot. You’d have to be an idiot.”
Michael didn’t disagree. Emily was hot. That’s what had drawn him in. Her long auburn hair. The way that black dress had hugged her body. Her smile; the small dimples in the corner of her cheeks. He would never admit it – not to Tom, not to anyone – but when Emily’s blue eyes locked with his, her lips upturned in a tight, secretive smile, he wondered whether she’d picked him out especially. Whether just maybe, she could see through him, into him, the way no one ever bothered to. And it made him feel different. It made him feel like he was more than just that gutless Michael everyone knew and nobody wanted to know.
Outside, it had begun to shower, so lightly that Michael had to squint to see it. He hated this type of rain.
Michael preferred hail – at least there was force to it. Drizzling rain was piss-weak, half-hearted.
Sunshine station. The doors bleeped and opened. Michael looked up. A small boy was giggling as his dad swung him over the gap between the platform and the train. Stumbling forwards, the toddler approached Michael’s four-seater with a shy smile. Michael greased him off.
The party had only been last Saturday night. A
house shindig, for some friend of Tom’s. It was nothing special. A fridge stacked with Corona. Carpet that, by the end of the night, smelled of puke and beer. Wild adventures in dark corners, on the parents’ bed upstairs. Tom had had a few. He’d hooked up with nearly every girl there, and more. Or so he’d said.
Michael had gone on Tom’s word – booze, a few hooks, maybe some girls willing to go down on him. He’d never expected to come out with a phone number and his first real crush.
“Fucking hell,” he’d yelled over the thumping music to Tom sometime after midnight. “I need another drink!”
The girl with auburn hair had answered him. “Nah.” Their eyes locked. “Come dance first.” She’d swayed her hips rhythmically and boys around them wolf-whistled.
“I’m Emily,” the girl said. There wasn’t something about her, Micheal didn’t know what it was, that was different.
“So. Tell me about yourself, Michael. Impress me.”
“Uh,” Michael had paused and looked around the dim room. Tom was making out with a blonde chick. Drunken teenagers were dancing madly, out of rhythm.
Michael looked back to Emily.He had to shout over the music. “Um. I skateboard alright, I guess. You should come down sometime.”
“Bet you’re actually really good.” Michael tried not to be dazzled by her gaze. She tilted her head to the side. “Okay, yeah. I will.”
Michael grinned. “I’ll hold you to that.”
“Won’t let you down.” She shook her hair back, and then motioned to the crowd of bodies and thumping music. “Wanna dance?”
West Footscray station was quiet for a Friday afternoon. A man was sitting at a bench having a smoke. Pigeons at the rubbish bin pulled on a Maccas paper bag.
Michael wonderedwhether people had seen the dark clouds and changed their Friday plans. Which was stupid, he knew, becauseit wasn’t going to rain. The dark clouds were only pretending.
Michael jogged quickly up the stairs. Two schoolgirls in short checkered dresses were stepping down. The sickly sweet scent of their perfume caught in the breeze and Michael’s stomach lurched suddenly. Emily. He was really, finally, meeting her.
As the schoolgirls’ passed Michael their words burned in his ears. Hobo, bogan. He felt his face flush bright red.
Of course, Michael didn’t actually care what those girls thought about him. He didn’t care what anyone thought. Michael spat on the ground. He didn’t care what anyone thought. Except, perhaps, for Emily Clark.
Emily didn’t think he was a loser, he assured himself. She could see that he was worth it. He was worth it. She could see it. She would hug him, maybe even kiss him, and they would spend the rest of the afternoon talking and laughing.
He crossed the road.
Michael’s father had growled under his breath. It was heavy with the smell of beer. Michael crinkled his nose. He hated beer. Of course, he drank it too. You had to as a guy.
“Gotta fuck itup don’t you Michael?”
He never met his dad’s bloodshot eyes. He thought, fuck off.
“Gutless! Fucking gutless!”
But he didn’t say anything.
His dad cracked his knuckles, a sharp, chilling snap of the bones. Michael stared at them. He knew from experience that this knuckle cracking was not just part of an empty threat. His mum knew this, too. Michael sometimes wondered why she didn’t defend him. Maybe he really did deserve it. Their weak, good-for-nothing son.
A lost seagull was gliding aimlessly above the closing cafés and empty shops. Thunder threatened the quiet street with a deep, foreboding crack. The seagull wavered in the darkening sky. Maybe it would rain.
Michael was nearly there now. He’d passed the flashing neon sign for coin laundry, ‘now open’, the spicy smells of the Curry Bar takeaway, the graffitied sign pointing towards the Woolies carpark. She would be just around this next corner. His palms were sweaty.
Michael walked faster and faster, like everything depended on this next moment, the moment where he would see her and realise that he was in love and everything in the world, his world, would finally be worth something. He would go to school, he would stand up to his dad, to Tom, have a future. Because with her, Michael wasn’t a gutless no-hoper, he was Michael Carter, a courageous, promising young man, and he would prove it to the world.
Michael came to a sudden halt.
Emily was standing outside the café as they’d arranged. She looked peaceful, calm. Her auburn hair was gathered to one side. She wore a green school dress, nearly long to the knees, and short white socks. Though a matching green ribbon in her hair was falling out of its bow, she looked flawless. Not exactly what Michael was expecting – better.
Emily looked around. Before she could turn to see him, Michael took several steps backwards and then he left.
Winner of the Slade Literary Award, 2010.
The Big Game
The big game is tonight. Melbourne versus Collingwood, 7:10pm at the MCG. I memorised it, just so Dad doesn’t forget. He’s a forgetful person, my dad. Once he forgot to pick me up from school, and I waited for him until Mrs Rodgers found me and called him up. Then there he was, his big green truck roaring down the street, promising I could choose a take-away for dinner. But no way would he forget the game. He loves football. We’re real footy blokes, Dad and me.
Mum doesn’t live with us anymore. She left when I was five. Sometimes, I wish she was still with us. Maybe she’ll come back one day. Dad would be happy again, and I’d have a mum. And, Daniel wouldn’t tease me no more. He knows about Mum leaving me. Last week he said I couldn’t play footy with them at lunch. I didn’t cry, I just walked away, and he yelled after me.
“Why don’t you go and tell your Mummy? Oh, I forgot — you don’t have a mum!” I kept walking. Like Dad says to me, every night before I get into bed, “you’re such a tough kid, aren’t you mate?” So I am.
I practiced my football playing with Charlie out the back last night. We had a real good contest, too. Charlie’s my dog. He’s a Labrador and he’s good at footy, but not very good at sharing. After I kicked a goal – through the rusty paint tins – Charlie barked madly, grabbed bouncing Sherrin and ran around the backyard. I chased him all the way too, and tackled him right down into the dirt, pulling the ball as hard as I could away. Mum named him Charlie.
Before the big game, I have my own footy for inter-school sport. It’s Claremont Valley Primary versus Claremont East, and we’re big rivals. Daniel’s captain. I heard him tell Ben on the bus there that I sucked at football, just like my Dees, but I didn’t care. I’m tough, just like Dad says I am. Mr Thomas sat next to me. He’s our PE teacher. He said how good it was to have some nice company and asked if I was nervous. I told him no, Charlie and I had practised every night this week. He smiled. I think he was impressed.
Aunty Mai came over last night while Dad was out. I was surprised to see her; she normally just comes to do our washing because Dad forgets. But it was good. She made me pasta for dinner and asked about footy and everything, Dad never talks so much! Dad and her had a fight when he got back. I think she saw his bottles piling up big in the bin. It was hard not to listen. I could hear them screaming, Aunty Mai telling him he was a bad father, that just because Susan had left didn’t mean he should throw away his life and forget about me. He
told her to butt out of our lives because we didn’t need her trying to tell us what to do, so she said that he needed to grow up then and start taking responsibility as a father.
Guess what? I forgot to bring my runners to the inter-school football game. Mr Thomas said I wasn’t allowed to play. He said he was sorry, it was too dangerous without proper shoes, and he couldn’t let me off just because I’d been practising really hard. Daniel was pretty happy. He told everybody that “four-eyes is so poor he can’t even afford shoes!” and laughed. I wanted to cry, but I didn’t. I just went down and sat by myself. It’s hard being tough all the time.
A girl, Sarah from Claremont East sat with me when I was watching the game. She was nice. She said, don’t listen to that mean boy; next time, I should go up and ‘Barry Hall’ him. I think we might be friends.
The bus trip back to school went badly. The boys threw a photo of Mum out the window and a truck ran over it. I was only looking at it because of what Sarah said about Mum. She’d said that Mum had pretty eyes. Then, the next thing, Ben had snatched it away. I had to try really to hard only think about Dad and me going to the football. I had to be tough.
“I’m going soon,” Dad said when I got home. But aren’t I coming too? But he’d forgotten. He was watching it with his mates at the pub instead. He said next time, we would definitely go. But I don’t think it’s true. Then he asked, how was your game? I told him it was great.
I have a special box under my bed. It’s got 7 photos in it – now. There’s ones of Mum and Dad and me, as a toddler, when I didn’t have glasses. Dad looks different too. His looks happier and he didn’t have stubble. I tip all the photos out and lay them on my bed. My favourite one is at the beach. Mum is holding me, with her pretty eyes, and I’m laughing. Dad’s got his arm around Mum.
Dad knocked on my door, and came inside before I could hide the photos. He stared at them for a while. I didn’t move. Then he came over and picked one up. Eventually Dad looked up at me and I braced myself for the usual yelling and screaming, but nothing happened. Then a tear fell from his eye, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My Dad was crying. He leaned forward and put his arms around me, then pulled back and smiled.
“Get your jumper. We’re going to the footy tonight.” Without wiping his tears, he winked.
We’re really going. And I don’t need to be tough. I might even cry if we win. The big game is tonight.