Category Archives: short story

New life

From beneath the charred black soil, green shoots had begun to burst through. The fire had not broken them, it had given them life, a new start. Tom recognised the snow peas flowering and small tomato bushes taking over what used to be his garden patch. He smiled, knowing the birds would have a field day. It would be good to hear their chatter in the still valley again. What everyone forgot, he mused, was that the animals suffered too. Apart from that koala survivor on the news, there had been so few of them survive.

The day was as vivid in his mind as if it had been yesterday and not two years on. One eye had been warily watching the valley since morning as the horizons darkened with distant smoke. A simple phone call to a local SES member had given him the final drive to move along. The car had been already packed, wife and baby strapped in, before he took off. Everywhere they turned, roads were blocked. They were about to return down the same roads when the radio announced their valley had gone up. White faced, his wife was thin lipped and trembling beside him, and he had no words or time to comfort her.

They came across a pub, filled with other escapees. There was nowhere to go. Tacitly, the two of them agreed to stay. They parked near enough to protect the car, but far enough to avoid injury if it exploded. His wife settled in with the baby, and had her giggling playing with an old abacus. Tom joined able bodied men on the roof, wetting down the walls and roof until it was sodden. Old shirts became masks as they fought to breathe through the ash. The roaring intensified and the heat seared the flesh like an oven. It started to cross the oval at a nearby school, and the men scurried down under the showering embers. Inside, they gathered under the strongest part of the roof. Men were armed with water, aiming to wet the walls for as long as the pump lasted. His baby cried hard, coughing, spluttering, as his wife tried to stop her crying and protect her from the poisonous inhalations. The walls began steaming, and many cried out. The undercurrent of hurried prayers could almost be heard thrilling beneath the angry hissing of the walls.

It began to quieten, and looks of hope had begun appearing in the group. A shrill scream sounded, and Tom turned away from wetting the walls to see his wife wailing. Their baby lay limp in her arms. A school nurse rushed to her side and began CPR. There was someone radioing the emergency services, and all Tom could see was the little jerks made in his daughter as the nurse did compressions. She was so pale, and so still. Shock had him rooted to the spot. Tears were running down his face, and he turned to his wife, to see the exact expression mirrored in her face.

Their daughter had been buried 3 days later, because his wife had refused cremation. Her words, ‘Hasn’t the fire already taken enough?’, haunted his waking moments. Together, they had limped on for a time. In therapy, she’d said he’d never understood her and that he didn’t understand, marvelling at how he survived without their little girl, venom in every word. He knew then that they’d never get past it – he would always be to blame. And he could only take on all his own guilt, not anyone else’s. So he sat with her, and told her he was leaving, because there was no way out of this darkness together, and he was not here to light her way out. Quietly, she had understood, and known it was too late to fix. They parted, each hoping that one day there could be forgiveness and redemption for them both. And not having to be strong any more, he sobbed for weeks.

He broke down to his humblest parts. He ran away. Parts of his world he’d wanted to show her, the world he’d always wanted to see, he went to. And at the end of that time, he wanted to come home, to be close to her memory. So he did.

One day, in a city park in the middle of autumn, with all the leaves raining about like embers, a girl with kind eyes asked him why his eyes were full of echoes and grief. Without meaning to, he spilled his soul out to her. Every hurt was aired, every tear re-shed. It happened the time after, and the time after that. One night in their friendship, she took him to her arms and suddenly he felt light again. The goodness that girl turned upon him healed him inside out.

He knew he had found the woman that was his new life. And he knew he’d had to send off the old, before the new would be free. So on the anniversary of the fire, with her had on his arm, he had called his ex-wife, and asked her to come out and let it go. She accepted. And here he stood, waiting for redemption. Waiting to be free.

Wanderer

I had left to wander the world, as I had always said that I would. Each footstep over tranquil water, sliding beneath beautiful old bridges reminded me of you. Every moment with you was peace, you held me up and kept me safe.

For a while, I had hidden myself, tucked into my hardened shell, carrying the weight of my world. My world and the heaviest heart. I lazed on tropical beaches, basking in soothing sunlight and all I could feel was you by my side.

As I threw myself off a cliff, parachuting into the steamy, aromatic jungle, I saw your wide eyes filling with tears. It ripped the air from my lungs. In the silence over the leafy stillness, I can still hear your voice, it’s sad quietude, asking me to wait for you. But to do so would have destroyed us both. Time will heal it all.

I gave up the exotic, the strange, for places steeped in history. I climbed mountains to temples, prayed, but what I always prayed for was you. This was not what I intended.

Glumly, I reached Venice. I had planned to drink in the romance, but the buildings were dank, lacklustre, needing tenderness and care. Absorbed, I looked at the carnival masks, but their colours had leeched of brilliance.

I hiked to the Fountain di Trevi, to marvel in its brilliance. From this distance, there appeared a supplicant at its foot. Covered in a summer dress, their hair even looked like yours, twisting in a breeze.

You looked up, smiled and the sunshine came out.

You were here.

The End of a Tail

Here is my contribution to #WeekendWriter…

When you have a child in your house that is autistic, everything revolves around them. Forget the other children, they can manage on their own. I was 16 and I had been bitter about it, but what can you do?

Apparently what you can do is almost cause a meltdown of seismic proportions.

Today, this afternoon, I killed my sister Amy’s fish. It was an accident, but it doesn’t matter. Feeding her fish is part of her routine, the thing she does when she comes home from the specialist on Saturday afternoon. What would happen is Amy, who by the way is 10 but acts a lot younger, would open her eyes wide and have a tantrum. Apparently she doesn’t care what devastation it causes. Still, someone has to hold her and sing her that stupid rubber tree song, High Hopes or whatever it’s called. Wish no one had ever sung her that song. But its words will be burnt into my brain forever. But the damage will be done. She’ll be practically catatonic for a month.

So I was having a dialogue with my mother, as it was my dad taking Amy to the doctor this week. It was my best friend Jo’s birthday party and there were going to be boys there. And for once in my frigging life, Mum took an interest. And by interest I mean stand. And by stand I mean delivered an ultimatum. I couldn’t go if there were boys. End of story. Because her parents were going to be in the house. I mean seriously. I wasn’t 14. We’d all been pashing boys for years. As for anything else, that was way too huge a step to take with all your friends listening.

I argued of course. And Mum refused to budge, then went to hang out the washing. I threw the flashlight I had been twirling in my hands at the bench, where it bounced… Right into the fish tank. CRAP!

There was a short fizzing sound and then there was the fish, belly-up. DOUBLE CRAP! I quickly removed the evidence. I yelled out to my Mum that I was cleaning the tank, to which she told me sucking up was not going to help. I barely contained my eyeroll. Tyrant.

Rushing up to my room, I picked up the learner plates we’d just bought so I could go driving. I contemplated “borrowing” the car, but knew if I got caught, I would be grounded from now through to all of eternity. I looked at my watch. I had to get to the petshop, find an identical fish, then get back in 45 minutes? Do-able, right?

I was down and out the door, savings in pocket, before Mum could notice. I practically squealed the tires on my bike in my haste. All I can say is, given some very near misses and some loud swear words, I barely made it to the petshop.

And the guy behind the counter was Max, my crush from school. Seriously. FML. I was going to be a laughing stock. Some sacrifices need to be made but.

I flopped the fish on the counter, saying, “I need a fish identical to this one.”

Max raised an eyebrow at me and took a look at the fish. “The same? Why not another one?”

“Because my sister is a freak and will lose it if this fish is not back in his bowl by the time I get home?”

Max was silent. He moved over to the siamese fighting fish display tanks. Together we looked hard, looked at them all. He turned over the lifeless fish in his hand.

“I don’t know if we have one the same.”

I just about cried. I was going to be the bad guy, all over a stupid thing I did. I hung my head, tears blurring my eyes when I saw him. A little black and blue guy in the back.

I jumped on the spot. “That one, that one!”

Matt got him into a little container for me and told me the price. 20 bucks. That was pretty much all I had. For the next 2 weeks. Ah well, small price to pay for a little peace. He even helped me tie him to the back of my bike. I hugged him, and then regretted it, because he looked stunned. I rode off, my face burning with shame.

I was back in the door with 5 minutes to spare. At least, I thought I was. I could hear the abacus Amy always played with clacking upstairs. I ran out to the laundry, where I’d left the tank. Quickly, I poured the new little guy in, topped up his water and returned him to hollow in our wall when Amy and Mum came down the stairs.

“What did I tell you?” Mum said, leaning down to Amy. “Your big sister was looking after him for you.”

Amy smiled widely and clapped her hands. I wasn’t expecting a hug, though it would have been nice. It wasn’t like that. She got the food and fed him at her appointed time.

My Mum was in the kitchen. I grabbed a glass of water and flopped on the bench. I heard my Mum’s voice in my ear.

“I know what you did Sare-bear. I know you spent all your pocket money to make sure your sister was happy. I’m proud of you- for solving a problem on your own, and caring enough to fix it. You’re growing up so fast and I’m just missing it.”

She hugged me tight, like she often forgot to do nowdays. But what she whispered in my ear was the best.

“My big girl can go to Jo’s party.”