I have a heap of short stories that I’ve written over the years. Here are some excerpts of those.
The Piano and the Glacier
Caring went out into the world. He got up against evil and apathy and decided to take back his place, his future and the dreams that belong to everyone. He rode a platform into the ocean and played his music across the ice. He furrowed, frowned and cast a shadow across all of them, all of us, but still it did nothing to stop the swathe.
Caring was never enough. Playing pianos to buy gifts of inspiration and the ignition of guilt was never going to end deceit. Deceit was a tough monkey because he’d grown faster than Caring. He had to because his brothers were so tough on him. He learnt to stand his ground right from the start and he was never interested in looking back nor did he know how to look forward.
What is it of pianos? A cruel juxtapose? An irony? What? Caring couldn’t tell. It was about feeding egos and showing how one man is smarter than the next because he understands how a pianist’s mind works. Why does that matter? What do ice and pianos have in common? Neither of them have humanity.
Caring can’t win. He can’t because he’s alone. We all have our own Caring, but it’s applied the wrong way and to wrong things. We Care about this, about that, about what they think, but we don’t, nay can’t, Care about what happens next. Ten years is too far and twenty years further. None of it, none of it can mean anything to us now.
Pianos and ice, and the sound of cracking ice. What can Caring do with that? What? There seems such a pointless movement if you watch what Caring does so closely. No shadows, not night, only day. He waits because he knows not what else to do. He’s alone. He’s alone. He’s always been alone because that’s the way all living things die.
It took around 6 months for total uptake of the human chip. People were enamoured by the convenience. I don’t need to carry my wallet anymore, all my medical records kept in one place, no more car keys, my Facebook status gets automatically updated, I love it. We were astounded by our brilliance and experts forecast a future where the chip could offer even greater conveniences than the ones we currently enjoyed because carrying a wallet had been such a burdensome affair and availing us of the need to do so left us with so much more spare time to live a meaningful life.
I had to stop shopping at the big supermarkets. They would no longer accept cash. They became RFID only, so did service stations. A year in and there was pretty much nowhere to go if you were anti-chip. There was no way to pay bills and there was no way to even get a job. I was fired when I refused to become “integrated” as it was called.
I moved to the hills where I built a little shanty from scavenged timber and iron. I’d always been good with a slingshot, so I was able to shoot down birds and rabbits and I had a little garden with sweet potatoes and herbs. I only went to the edge of town to keep an eye on things. To watch what was happening , to see if there was any changes, any reversion to the old way of doing things. Two years in and it was just as it was when I left it.
It was on one of these trips that I met Jonas. He only had one arm.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“Oh, you know, I was de-chipped,” he said with a wry smile. “Sometimes they’ll gouge your chip, but if they’re in a hurry, they’ll just cut off your arm or your hand. Thieves that is. The ones who don’t have RFID scanners. They want your money and your ID, so they want your chip and if they don’t have their own scanner, then that means cutting off an arm or hand. Guess I’m lucky the government decided not to embed chips in peoples’ foreheads like was originally planned. I suppose the outcome wouldn’t have been quite so positive for me if things had gone that way. I can still get by without my arm, but life without a head is a little difficult,” he said.
“Jesus, fuck!” I exclaimed.
“Yeah. Jesus, fuck,” he said back. “What are you doing on the periphery anyway? Shit! You’re not an agent are you?”
“What? No, an agent, no, what’s that?”
“You know, one of them. Making sure everyone is integrated. I’m not anymore see, didn’t want to go back to that. They’ve got these roving agents now, walking around with scanners, making sure everyone is integrated. Nearly everywhere now is within range of a high gain antenna, making it easy to track all the integrated and single out anyone who isn’t. The high gain is being built out there on Hammock Hill. Probably won’t be finished for another 6 months, but still, I had to get out before then. Word is, something’s up.”
“Something’s up? What do you mean?”
“Word is that some researchers in America have found a way to access everyone’s DNA through the chips.”
“What would be the point of that?”
“Genocide. Ethnic cleansing. White power. Call it what you like. No one wants to believe it though. It’s too hard to go back to carrying a wallet, keys, having to turn your car on with a set of keys. No one wants that, so they just pretend like everything is OK, even though they’ve just been scanned by five different agents at four different check-points on their way home from the office.”
A bird flew down from the top of the neighbouring building. I watched it alight on the grubby awning. It’s wings drew around it’s body and it gave a shudder as it settled into the smut. The city was unbecoming and ugly. This was nothing new of course. I’d always found it thus. It couldn’t move me the way trees, grass and mountain sides could. I was never at home here.
Oip! Tim’s sharp cry alerted the bird and it took flight. I watched as an errant feather glided down from the space above me. I wondered if it would miss its home too. I didn’t have time to dwell on that because Tim was at my side, shoving me sideways and poking me hard in the ribs. He didn’t mean it, well, at least I don’t think he did. He smiled at me in his oily fashion and I smiled back, not entirely pleased to have my observation of the bird interrupted.
“What now eh? He asked.
“Dunno”, I said. I really hoped he didn’t press me. I felt my shoulders bunch and I tried to prevent my jaw from doing the same. Sometimes I can be too obvious and it gets me in the shit.
“Aw, come on Sel, let’s have it then. You wanna see what the beach is like today don’ cha?” Tim said.
I really didn’t, but I nodded passively and started walking in the direction of my unit.
“Yeah, I knew you’d be in it!” He said, punching me on the arm. It was meant to be friendly punch, but it didn’t feel that way. My mood wouldn’t let it. I had to refrain from punching him back because I knew if I did he wouldn’t get one on the arm. I didn’t like to think what would follow.
I’d been hanging around Tim now for six months. It had been the worst six months of my life. It started when my uncle died. I never knew the guy, but for some reason, he’d left me all of his money. There was a lot of it and that’s where the problems started.
Tim was part of a crew of new wave extortionists. His breed scouring death and probate notices, taking notice of who was who in society circles and worming their way into a target’s circle of confidence. I had been his target because my uncle had been a famous and ridiculously wealthy man. I never realised it before my uncle died, but there are some things that money just can’t buy
I guess that’s not entirely correct. Tim was too stupid on his own to extort anything from anyone. He was what his crew would call The Main Player. He was the guy on the street, the guy in the bar, the guy offering up a parking space. He was the guy always there. He was there so much that in the end, I never even noticed him, taking him for part of the furniture.
We met on a flight to Sydney. Straight off I felt like I knew him from somewhere, but I just couldn’t place it. I told him so and he nodded at me, smiling. We shared a cab to the city and after that he was just there. There all the time.
At first I didn’t mind. I’d never really had a lot of mates, so having someone who was so damn interested in every little thing I did or said was kind of nice. Made me feel important. Made it feel like I mattered.
That was why I didn’t balk when Tim asked me for a loan. Sure I’d said, how much.? He only wanted a thousand. Something wrong with his car he claimed. Funny, I thought ,I’d never seen him drive nor had I even stopped to think about how he got around. I pushed it aside and withdrew the money from my account. He was grateful and I was happy that I was able to help him out. After all, he was my mate.
Things got weird after that. Tim started showing up with another guy. He said it was his cousin, but I didn’t believe him. Right from the start I could tell there was something amiss about the new guy. He had a moustache and it set me on edge. The angle of it was wrong, tilted like I felt the situation was becoming. The cousin, Ram, started hanging out with us all the time. I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was watching me, evaluating everything I did. It was more than just the moustache.
Still all the World
Henry watched the sun float through the kitchen window. It sat in his daughter’s hair and seemed a moment to merge with her, making her like itself; intangible and free. She looked up at him from her blocks and smiled a grin filled with little-person teeth. He smiled back and felt his heart nestle down into his chest as though all of the good things in the world had come to live inside him. He loved the world in that moment and never believed another bad thing could happen.
Sarah was born in May. It was cold then. Too cold for May. Early frosts had already eaten the front garden and Henry was aware of the path slippery with melted ice as he carried Sarah towards the house for the first time. “Careful.” Henry said to Sarah’s mother, Nella as she navigated her way through the ruined flowers. “Yes, Henry. You worry too much,” Nella responded.
As it turned out, Henry didn’t worry too much, because as he mounted the steps and went about inserting the key in the door, Nella slipped on a patch of ice yet untouched by the sun. A small noise escaped her lips as she died on the ground.
An autopsy revealed an aneurysm; burst when Nella’s head struck the concrete path or perhaps moments earlier, causing her to lose her footing on the ice. The doctors couldn’t say for certain, but it made no difference to Henry; he knew better. I t was his impatience that had killed Nella.
Why didn’t I hold her arm? Why didn’t we put Sarah in the pram? Why didn’t I wait until the afternoon to pick them up? I shouldn’t have been in such a rush. I should have known. I should have known! If I could just get her back, I’d make everything different. He wanted to bargain with God, but God wasn’t listening and thoughts like these chased Henry through the years. He hated himself for what had happened to Nella, but he hated God too. The image of Nella at the bottom of the stairs hung in his mind’s eye like a tarpaulin covering his world. But if he forced his mind to focus on Sarah he could feel the tarpaulin lifting and he was able to glimpse the edge of happiness once more.
Sarah, blocks and the sun were what mattered now. Henry watched her and his spirit continued to lift until it felt as though he was the ceiling looking down on all things below. He could feel himself rise even further , above the roof and tree tops until he hung over the neighbourhood with the entire street in his view. Sarah below was carved out in beautiful relief and as he hung on the wind he continued to watch her play with the blocks. As always she favoured the blue ones over the rest. She was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen and he wanted to touch her face and smell her hair, so he reached out and found himself at once back in the kitchen surrounded by his everyday things.
As Sarah grew Henry found that he could watch her from above, even when he was not physically near her. He could see her working on her sums at her desk in school. He could see her eating her lunch and he one day he watched her push Jayjay Keely over in the mud. He laughed then, but when he saw how upset Jayjay was at the state of his pants, he wished he could take this laughter back.
“No, Sarah, you stupid! Not my school pants, not my school pants!” Jayjay yelled, wiping at his backside in big panicky motions. Fat tears rolled down his cheeks and in that moment Henry glimpsed a wavy, refracted image of a kitchen he didn’t recognise. Angry faces leered forward and he saw Jayjay pressed into a tiny space between cabinets. His hands covered his face. Henry could almost taste Jayjay’s fear. No! Henry wanted to shout, but he found he could say nothing.
Henry couldn’t bring himself to watch Sarah the next day. He was too afraid of what he’d seen in the refracted kitchen. What did it mean? He thought, but he put it aside because he had things to deal with. There were clients coming to the house later and Henry had to tidy his office to make way for their presence. Greif counselling seemed to tether him to reality in the same way that watching Sarah from above was able to.
In the years since Nella’s death Henry had attempted to make peace with himself through the study of grief. He strove for personal forgiveness in his pursuit of understanding. He needed to know how grief came to rest in him like a physical weight that he could not shift, all the while crushing him, driving the spirit from his body more each minute, hour, day year. He had to know how a non-physical condition could become so physical in its effects on the body.
Through four years of harrowing university study Henry began to shift the weight of grief, piece by piece. Afterwards, he almost felt free again, as though every breath he took was laced with a promise of tomorrow. He got nearly all the way to forgiveness, only of himself, but not of God. None of his clients knew this of course. This he kept only to himself.
As Henry watched the last client walk down the path he was struck by a wavering image of Nella. He recognised it as the day he’d brought Nella and Sarah home from hospital. “Nella!” he yelled. But, Nella didn’t notice him in the present, only in the past and she said, “Yes Henry. You worry too much.”
“Nella!” he yelled again.
“Dad?” Sarah asked in a small voice. She was at the gate, school bag slung over one shoulder. “What’s wrong?”
“Sarah! Oh, love, it’s you.” He exclaimed as he rushed down the step to meet her. He picked her up and hugged her and the school bag tightly. He could smell old vegemite sandwiches in her squashed bag and a few strands of her hair brushed against his cheek.
“Dad, put me down. It’s embarrassing when you do this. I’m in grade five now you know. Other kids in my class think I’m weird when you pick me up and hug me like this.”
“Sorry, my sweet. It’s just so good to see you,” he said and he meant it.
“What were you doing anyway?” she asked
“Oh, nothing. Just waiting for you to come home.”
“The cops came to school today, Dad.” Sarah said
“Oh really, what for?”
“They came to our class. Asked us about Jayjay.”
“What about him?”
“He’s gone. Didn’t come to school last week and now no one knows where he is, even his mum and dad.”