Short Stories

The characters, workplaces and the organisations they represent are in no way related to-or drawn from the elements of Port Fairy. Well at least not from the elements I know of and understand. And I understand very little, only that it’s a pleasant village on the coast forged by colonialists. The only qualities from the narrative that should remain real is the endearing amiability of the townsfolk and their willingness to invest effort into their yearly flower and music festivals-as well as maintaining the neatness of their physical community. The services such as the efficient audiologist and their nefarious ‘Fish and Chippery’ are favoured far and wide by members of the immediate region. What I am expecting in the outcome of this story is a particular criticism regarding the language use specific to a young character. It is so because of me being witness to a younger child using far more ‘vulgar’ words than those portrayed to you in the story. Hopefully you can piece together the messages about modelling and growing into adulthood with ideas endorsed by close family. The concepts are not universal, the story identifies a category of experiences without exploring the whole box. American readers who do not understand the schedule of important days of the year in Australia would need to do research on the implications put forward by the details of the plot, well I imagine so. I also expect judgement on grammatical mistakes, even if they were minimised as much as possible. The short story is assembled from a collection that is a work in progress. Please enjoy.

Port Fairy

September 2011

‘Thanks mate’.                                                                                                                                                                              I smiled at the seven or eight year old-looking boy, whose twangy tone of voice was obviously modelled after the sound of his father’s voice along with his lexicon of words. ‘No problem trouble maker.’ The wink I put to the dad causes him to nod and smirk-a face that say’s; Yep, you aint lyin. The father and son start digging into their beer battered smoked salmon and chips, crumbed silver-side strips, calamari and little zucchini sticks immersed in crushed crotons with olive oil. It’s easy to tell that the idea of eating at the ‘Fish and Chippery’ raises excitement between them. Like a memory they want to revive again and again, the taste reminding them of old days. The parents must be divorced, poor tyke. The song that repeats ‘tonight’s going to be a good night’ finishes which means the whole CD with my carefully selected compilation of indie rock and other songs are finished. I am about to change the CD for the second one before something happens. ‘Excuse me mate?’ ‘Yes?’ The father was staring at my bum when I turned around to answer him. ‘Can we have more chicken and some of that sauce?’ ‘It’s cool mate, but you’ll have to pay an extra ninety cents for both’. In my customer friendly and plastic way of speaking, I have convinced the father that I am not offended by his leering. If we were at the bar I would have told the wanker to cut it out. Considering the sunny vibe of today, I’m not in the mood to quarrel. The son speaks up this time in the chatter. ‘That’s cheaper than the blimmin toothpick chicken nuggets from the General Store, Crikey!’ Everyone in the takeaway restaurant laughs with me at the boy’s direct observations and it takes my train of thought away from the torridness of what might be have been going through the father’s head. I bet the father is now thinking about what a cheeky witty bugger his son will be one day. The owner of the general store that was just mocked is Mike Rentopa, and he charges two dollars and seventy-five cents per one and a half centimeter by centimeter sized crappy chicken nugget. Seriously, if you have one-you would think that he buys packets of them from Aldi and just microwaves them when he needs to top up his hot food compartment. And we aren’t laughing at the boy. We are actually cracking ourselves with the father because Mike is eating his lunch on the deck outside the shop. He turns around at the boy’s remark and gives him a glare that is mixed with contempt and embarrassment. Shit he actually looks upset. I walk outside to him among the other tables of customers-some whom are not trying to stifle their chuckles because they are tourists. ‘The bugger’s right y’ know, but don’t get sulky over that.’ I smile at him genuinely. The sixty year old looks at me with disbelief at how his business was just made a permanent laughing-stock by a ‘lil shit’ as he would whisper behind the boy’s back. ‘Why not lower it one dollars fifty, nobody would have anything bad to poke at then don’t you think?’ He also doesn’t look happy at my attempt at being uplifting for him. ‘More salt Mike?’ ‘Go away’.

Ron is cleaning up the kitchen with Sannie when we close the doors. We turn off everything and wipe down the tables, chairs, counter and kitchen equipment. One hour later we are done with this dragging task and we meet in the club room out the back of the restaurant. The sun is going down and outside, the river is navy blue against a similar looking sky, the landscape black in between. We sit at a circular table with twelve chairs and count today’s float. There is not much light save for the ones in the ceiling which are failing for a second occasionally.                                                                     ‘Okay, here you guys go. Better than last week, pay is a hundred dollars more than before. Let’s hope it stays busy.’ Ron counts his share himself and Sannie puts the money in her wallet. ‘I gotta go Bonnie.’ ‘Okay see ya Sannie, don’t forget to remind Fraya that she starts at nine tomorrow.’ ‘I will see ya.’ Ron helps me do an inspection check of everything and putting the left over money back in the money tills for tomorrow’s change. ‘See ya.’ ‘Yeah, see ya Thursday mate. We still going crabbing on Friday?’ ‘Yeah, my niece is coming down here for half the week, I’m sure she would like to do that.’ Ron nodded. ‘If the weather’s not indecisive as it usually is, we could probably go cray-fishing on my trawler or my father’s boat. Anyway we’ll see.’ ‘Sounds great. Have a nice night.’ ‘You too. Be careful driving.’ The street lamps are helpful in finding my car. My phone rings when I am driving to Koroit which is downhill out of the plain between Tower hill and Warrnambool. When I think of Tower Hill I think of a city for nature and it causes me to give further thought to Warrnambool as a city of humans and I always ask the question; which has more worth? It’s stupid and wasteful but not much goes on here except looking at sunsets, dawns and the environment. I turn left off the highway onto the main road as I read a message on my phone. Then the emphatic sound of colliding pierces my focus.

It takes me too long to slow the car, the phone jumped out of my hand at the shuddering jolt and the sound of a mechanic squeal is audible as I finally slam my foot into the brake.  Too late. Too fucking late.                                                               ‘…what the fuck’.                                                                                                                                                                           I begin to look left and right, knowing that I should look into my mirrors instead to know what just happened, I am too scared to though. Breathing heavily, I repeat it again.                                                                                                          ‘What the fuck.’                                                                                                                                                                          I just sit there shaking, verging on convulsing-and beginning to gasp.                                                                                     What have I done? Oh my god…no, nononono, this can’t be happening. This cannot be happening…oh fuck, shit I’m fucked. ‘…Oi-Aa!-fucktard, you nearly ran me over you noggin.’ Wait. Hold on. ‘-You hear me dickhead!?’ Shit, that sounds like the boy who mocked Mike today. I was just about to cry. I open the door and shine the torch of my phone back behind the car and on the road. ‘I’m, over here you fucking fuck.’ He swears like a trooper for a child. Like Jason Statham when he has no reason to. Wonder where he inherited that from. I finally ablazed him with the brilliant light from the very thing that just nearly shredded up my life. My car hit him so hard that he flew like a tossed rag doll into a ditch on the side of the road. ‘I am so sorry!’ ‘Oh my god I am so sorry, do you want to go to the hospital?’ Christ sake what a retarded question is that? I shine the light directly on the little form in the dent in the ground. There are blueberry bushes under and around him, when he crashed into them, their burst of berry juice covered him in that purple liquid which made him look like a gooey and goblin monster under the white shimmer. His hair is plastered to his forehead with juice, sweat and…shit…blood dripping down his leg and his arms. A dark read graze on his forehead. ‘I’m busted up but fine you idiot, my fucking ankle hurts bastard-I think it’s broken…’ ‘Okay…shit…Seriously I think I should take-‘. ‘Wait…where’s your father?’ ‘Dunno, drinking still probably’. Okay, okay then. ‘…Okay, um, let me carry you to onto the road and lay you down.’ I climb into the ditch with the phone in my jittery mouth and pick up the boy and I carry him precariously back up the slippery small hill and lay him down on the road. I take off my jacket and put it under the dirty and gritty boy’s body. ‘Lie down or something, what’s your dad’s phone number?’ He was barefoot, a twig in an airy singlet and loose baggy shorts that were fastened to his sharp waist with an expensive looking Quicksilver belt his size. The belt must belong to the boy because it was bought by the mother. Considering the state of the other baggy components of his attire: the rest was safe to be assumed that they belonged to the father. Prejudiced I understand, but I do that sort of thing nearly all the time. ‘Dunno, cunt’s probably too poor to buy a phone. Fuck!-Ow!-Dickhead! You got some spikes in me mister, you owe me some dickhead.’ My mother would have deprived me of food for a whole day if I expelled foul language like that. There are needle like thorns in the sides of his torso, neck, head and legs from the bushes. The boy began to scratch some of these pricked areas. ‘Damn you itched me mate.’ ‘Okay, ah, look…I will call an ambulance. Just-just wait okay.’                                                                                   The boy flares at me. ‘Takes you five seconds to say that you want to do something for me for breaking my fuckin bone, fuckin hell if I was in your shoes I would have it decided as soon as I made the mistake, not blabberin about like a bloody quack.’ This boy has really taken on a startling set of vocabulary. During my course of Art History at university, I stroked the wrong way on my recreation of the Father and Son and the unfocused mistake caused a piece of wood to stick into the clammy arms of Jesus’s son. It was worth 50 marks of the second trimester of ‘constructs and values’ which made me simmer at my artistic clumsiness. In the lounge with my girlfriends, Claire told me that I would have felt better straight afterwards if I just loudly used profanity. ‘Releases Twenty percent of the pain.’ I looked at her back and said: ‘And increases the anger by forty.’                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         ‘Ah shitty Christ! Ah…Hey…Hey you’re a mother yeah?’                                                                                                       ‘Huh?’ I am trying rewardlessly to get reception. ‘Wait here.’ The boy curses at me vulgarly again as I walk away and turn on the headlights in my car. I wish somebody would drive along by and help. I can’t not take responsibility for this though. The pair of suns at the front of my car illuminate my rectangular view of the foreground. As I walk back to him I ask; ‘What’s your name?’                                                                                                                                                                              ‘Callum. Mum calls me Cal.’ I nearly forgot the name after introducing myself to him, I discuss elaborately what needs to happen. ‘No arguing Callum, we are going to the hospital.’                                                                                                        We drive past homes and fields that look like pleasant yet Gothic structures under the moonlight. Their cream coloured weather boards are a dark oceanic aqua under the rays of the sun reserved for the night. My Highlander probably looks like a submarine in a big tank full of mystic water, the type you read about in encyclopedias where it’s almost pitch black in cavernous sea trenches. The surface is too far away and submerged in blackness to see. ‘Twenty minutes to Warrnambool, then we can sort out your injury.’ During my childhood in Yambuk, my brother would drive through Koroit before dropping me off at Warrnambool where I lived part-time with my grandparents. Randomly choosing any farm or craggy paddock stop, he would park the car and say ‘two hours before Warrnambool’.  We would take out a keg of coke, squash or lemonade and sit on the bonnet of his car and not say a word. Just look at the big sparkling sky. Sometimes he would drive with a couple of sausages wrapped in tin foil. Lodged into the steaming spaces in the engine so they were super hot and we often wrapped them in flimsy banana bread. It sounds a little strange I know. But they tasted pretty damn good with the bread. Sometimes if there was no traffic on the main highway, we could feel the undisturbed force of the waves at the beach a couple of kilometers south, crashing uproariously on the abundance of sandstone above the soft sand. Sometimes you could even smell the salt, like flavoured candles or the air fresheners in the shapes of leaves for cars. A slowly occurring sound that had different stages in it, millions of droplets in an uncoordinated choir. ‘Never forget what’s around you Bonnie’. Those words for some irrelevant reason swept like a moving mass into my consciousness. ‘My dad doesn’t even know how old I am.’ Callum, the mouthy lad, said this as casually as kids his age say ‘pretty good’ after being asked how their day was at school. Maybe my brother gave me half of the advice that I needed. The sky isn’t glistening and dazzling as it was years ago, but isn’t the quietness and unpolluted moon beautiful against the powdery world above? I thought of my grandparents, the father I never met. The pragmatic and cheerful brother that helped raise me. Coming from a bleak start in life to owning a takeaway shop notorious for its culinary doings. I was trying to conjure a clear and accessible solution for him, the pitiful boy next to me, something easy for him to understand that would ease him. This must suck for him.

‘Your father often drinks like a log when you’re down here?’ ‘Sometimes, when he doesn’t-he just sleeps on the couch and watches TV. It’s not bad though, I get to hang out with some of the kids from the Big Four camp. Never get to see em again. Still it aint bad.’ ‘’Just Sleeps’’. ‘Yeah. He actually has chronic fatigue.’ ‘Huh.’…‘Hey you’re a mum?’                           ‘…No. But I have an affinity for ignored people-if that’s what you’re getting at.’                                                                       ‘…So like…well…I was just asking because, like-you could chat to him about how to be a good father or something.’     What does it take for a boy to ask someone to give advice to his father?                                                                       ‘What’s a affinity?’                                                                                                                                                             ‘What, an affinity? Ahh…um-it’s when you naturally like a type of person you know, a constant positive attitude towards something.’ ‘Mate I don’t know as much words as you, speak with me, not at me.’

It was a couple of minutes down that explicative conversation I think when I reported Callum to the emergency room. It was getting towards eleven now and I wanted to go back home. I made a mistake though. So I need to stay for the boy. It is the best I can do. To have stopped complaining on the way here under the pain, toughen up and just ride it out, he’s a tough kid. Even if he talks like an annoying little shit sometimes. He must have started crying when I was honestly re-counting what happened to Callum to the Receptionist. The skeptical and totally judgmental creases about her middle-aged gaze were fair I guess.                                                                                                                                                                     ‘So you don’t know the father?’                                                                                                                                             ‘Not at all. Just served him at my restaurant today. It’s a mystery how the boy just left.’                                                        ‘Anything can happen anywhere, even if it’s small as a thumb tack in the corner of the world. Fucking people.’                   Christ what was that supposed to mean?                                                                                                                                   ‘You didn’t ask him?’                                                                                                                                                                   ‘I did, all he would tell me was that his father was drinking. He didn’t explain anything beyond that detail.’                                ‘…Alright. Look you’re going to have to give a statement to the police. I don’t care if you got plans tonight honey. We have kids here who are as high as the devil and we are understaffed. Got too many people to take care of right now.’               Great. ‘Okay?’                                                                                                                                                                     ‘Yeah sure…look I’m not going to go to court right. I mean a fine is deserving-I understand that…But this, why I crashed into the boy, it’s not going-.’                                                                                                                                                       ‘Sit down and quit yakking or you’ll pay the bill’                                                                                                                         It was her grumpy and agitated voice that made me stop. When I turned around, Callum was looking at me with pipes of tears tracing its way down his cheeks. He looked more of a mess than my cousin on his twenty-first. The silly duck thought it would be attractive to consume alcohol in a method that is particularly unconventional to the physical health of the lower abdomen and organs. Then it happens, the light-bulb moment. The Epiphany The thought. That attainable piece of advice. It’s going to come across like crap but I don’t want to ignore him and pretend he isn’t there.                                                                                                                                                                                                    So I squat in front of him and just tell him what I know. Because maybe that is all it takes.                                                       ‘Never forget your father.’                                                                                                                                                            ‘Wh-What, what do you mean?’                                                                                                                                                 ‘He’s maybe forgotten you, but you haven’t forgotten him. He’s treated you like a sack of shit, you can grow up disliking him…you can grow up hating him and not wanting to see him Callum. You have a right to. At least you can hold that against him if you talk with him later when your older kid, gain some power back and bring up some comfort in your own personal security or whatever. But after he’s done with his hangover, he is going to realise his mistake-no doubt it isn’t the first time. But you have the choice, the freedom to choose how your relationship goes from here on out. It is all up to you. No one will decide that for you.’ ‘Just-…ah’. I sigh frustratingly at how much of an unhelpful psychologist. Callum meanwhile is craning his head to the double door entrance of the room, out there are two cars. Mine is the two seated REVA NXG. Like a polished white tooth on wheels, gleaming under the lamplight. The other car is rolling out of the flat grey grid right now, a car that has more seats than mine. I can’t see who is inside but I have a pretty good idea of what’s flying through Callum’s mind. The once joyous and happy things that used to be together will not be together in the future. We just look at others and they remind us through the most implicit indicators of unity. He hasn’t complained for a while about his broken ankle. I owe him for at least not screaming about the physical pain I caused. Condemningly voicing it yes, but not throwing an unnecessary tantrum. I traced his focus again back to the red car that is at the end of the exit lane right now, its lights and flashing blinkers like a group of red and yellow electric units flickering energetically together in the darkness. He started to shake, like his body was under its own seismic earthquake. He didn’t watch who climbed into the car either but the thought of it was enough. Enough to really make that ambiguous damage. I started by hugging him tightly and patting his back. Trying to comfort him. Trying to soothe him. I wish his mother was here, or someone who knew what his feelings were-inside out. But it’s only me. A selfish stranger. In the end I had to call for help from the nurses behind the glass barrier at the reception just to attempt at controlling his panic attack and his convulsing body. ‘He said it was shit. That it was a useless present.’ ‘He…He…threw…bottles-’ at this moment, the nurse wasn’t listening to Callum as she injected a sedative, cutting off any more revelation. Any further understanding as to what really caused some of the shallow but openly bleeding cuts in his skin. Moments later, the boy fell to sleep.

It was one hour later when the police were just satisfied with my statement and with no more words about the tumultuous night-I left. Put the night behind me and find me a warm bed with a TV remote in front of a panoramic screen. Netflix wouldn’t be so bad right now. Pasta and pie. I remembered the unread message that was sent to my phone seconds before the collision with Callum. When I press the button to listen to it, I have to pull over on the side of the invisible road and breathe before the oncoming wave of emotion sweeps over me and around me in this small space. It makes me feel suffocated, like someone in a coffin with their last breaths of un-carbonised air.

‘’Hey Bonnie, it’s your grandfather here. Something terrible and devastating has happened…I am driving to Port Fairy right now. I guess I’ll just come out with it…This is hard’. ‘I am so. Oh my god Bonny. Okay. Okay. Jack’s dead Bonny. He was driving home and he crashed. We don’t know why or what. Look I am coming to you right now. We need to drive to Ballarat now to go to the morgue. I am so, so sorry this happened. Your brother, Jack he-I feel sick Bonny-please you have to call me back.  I love you Bonny.’’

‘Press one to reply.’ ‘Press 2 to delete the message.’ ‘Press 3 to save the message.’

I just open the door to my car and vomit. I think I sit there in that seat crying for a long un-static moment. My hands are trembling-too hard to drive. Ears ringing like an amplifier that has been turned up over its decibel limit. Yet the audacity of the silence right now is low. Nothing moves except my raging heart and the water pouring profusely off the tip of my chin. I even register the drag of the momentum in the waves colliding with the cliffs and rocky beaches. Faint and distinctive. I am shaking too. Not as sensitive and noticeably as Callum, but enough to let me know that it’s real. The staggering weight of it, the pressure it’s compressing on my heart. It is more than I can take to know without any thought that what is happening is real. What makes me feel like dying is that I forgot it was father’s day. I now know what Callum meant. A stranger’s words poured more weight on my heart than the resonant advice from family.

The Moyne River of Port Fairy.

The Moyne River of Port Fairy.

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