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Sam van Zweden

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short story

Friday Flash: Mr Hughes

Mr Hughes sits dead in his chair, a glass of whisky in his hand, while a low crackle spews from the wireless.
Sasha has been laying at his feet since he died, at 5.54 this morning. It is now near lunch time.
Mr Hughes had decided to die, and so he did. His beloved wife had departed a week earlier, and Mr Hughes set his mind to giving up.
For a week as he shuffled toward death, he put his affairs in order. There weren’t many affairs to be ordered, but he left his estate to his dog Sasha, and left her in the care of the state, with the condition that she remained in the house until she died.
He had some trouble, did Mr Hughes. He thought of all the ways a man can die, but none of them took his fancy. They were too messy, or too expensive, or too illegal.
And so last night he sat down with Sasha, poured himself a whisky, and concentrated on the white noise the wireless had to offer. He sat as still as a statue, and stared out his window.
The rose garden stared back at him from the dew-touched morning lawn. How his wife had adored and tended to those roses! Her hands were bitten by thorns and calloused from secateurs, but the flowers nodded at Mr Hughes then as if in apology for his loss. In the week that Mrs Hughes had been gone, weeds had already started to take over the rose beds. Every time Mr Hughes looked at his wife’s secateurs he felt wrong to fix the situation.
Now he resembles a frozen tree, bluish and brittle, haunting yet beautiful. All Sasha can do is wait for someone to come and knock on the door to find her master’s body.

Hit Me

Hit Me

Tom sits heavy at the table, so heavy that his bum muscles start going numb.

“Hit me,” he says.

Perfectly tuned machines ping around him, he cannot see outside, and pretty soon his arse will lose feeling altogether. Tom sits even heavier.

He says, “Hit me.”

A clock flies across the room, “YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT FUCKING TIME IT IS,” Anna screams, and Tom quickly shuts the door behind him, falling on unsteady feet toward his wife.

He sees his kids sitting in their pyjamas at the kitchen table. Their faces are filled with sleep and they both hold teddy bears.

“Oh, hey guys!” The kids don’t smile. One of them starts crying.

Anna’s picking up her car keys, saying “I’ve had enough of this, Tom. I’m done with this shit.”

She’s picking up already-packed bags and moving towards the door, telling the kids to follow her. Tom steps into the doorway ahead of Anna.

“Put the bags down, sweetness,” to Anna.
“Go back to bed, guys” to the kids, with a confident smile. They stay where they are.
“You’re not going fuckin’ anywhere,” to Anna.

She looks into his eyes with a hard expression, none of the softness she had when Tom married her. The clock’s still ticking, but the second hand’s shuddering in the one place, like time stands still.

“I was out with the boys,” Tom tells his wife, “Time got away from us. No matter. Let’s go to bed, my love.”

Anna shakes her head, glances quickly towards the kids.

“I told you to choose, Tom. We’ll lose the house. There’s no savings. It’s all gone! I can’t stick around for this.”

She moves toward the door again but Tom grabs her by the arm, hard.

“And take my fuckin’ children, woman? No no,” he shoves her back against the fridge, his hands around her throat before he realises what he’s doing.

As Anna’s whole body strains against Tom’s strength, he comes to himself and lets go. He falls back across the room, hits the wall, and slides to the floor. There are tears.

“You piece of shit,” chokes Anna, grabbing their children by the wrists and pulling them behind her to the door.

“Hit me,” begs Tom, “I’m done. I’m sorry. I won’t go back, just don’t leave. You can’t leave! Go on, hit me!”

She’s out the door, and Tom moves after her. The car engine starts, and Tom watches the headlights grow smaller into the night, away from the house.

He screams into the night.

“HIT ME!”

He can’t go home. There’s nothing there, just piles of microwave food baked onto plates from three weeks ago, and bills shoved under the door, spilling across the kitchen floor. There’s no dial tone anymore, and even if there was he wouldn’t know where to call. They’ve disappeared. Pretty soon the house will go too.

“Eighteen,” says the dealer.

Tom nods slowly.

“Hit me.”

“Twenty-five,” says the dealer, scooping up the cards, “Bust.”

“Hit me,” says Tom.

The dealer just stares.

Tom says, “Hit me.”

This piece appeared in Ex Calamus ezine, issue number seven, which can be downloaded here. Support local emerging writers, read Ex Calamus!

House.

On the weekend I went with some friends up to a very cool very abandoned house… when I got back I got to scribbling. And this is what came of it.

 

It was white once, but that was a long time ago.  There are leaves everywhere. Not just on the path and in the back yard, but in the hallways and staircases too. One whole side is surrounded by a massive balcony, which looks like it’s missing some flappers and cocktails.

It’s not locked. We walk around the back and go straight in, like coming home to this dilapidated old mansion.

Tara thinks it was once a part of Kew Cottages. We all picture disabled kids being tied up and pushed down stairs.

We crunch around on the lino for a while, drifting in and out of rooms. Chandeliers have been stolen and cords hang empty from the ceiling. There are NO SMOKING signs on every bedroom door.

The place is huge. At least 12 bedrooms, two big kitchens, three bathrooms. Hidden walk-in bits – cellars, pantries, something that looks like a jail cell.
“Where they were put when they were naughty,” says Tara. Words that could be a joke, but she’s absolutely serious.

There’s a little door at the end of a living room down stairs, which leads to a cold cement landing. More stairs, into a pointless cold room with a bizarre crevice hidden behind another wall.

The downstairs kitchen reminds me of the way RSLs were before they were replaced by the bright shiny things that flash and swallow pensions, telling us about the brave men who fought hard to give us this life.

In this old demented castle there’s little type-written placards stuck around the place.
“ROOM 12- 3 BEDS”
They must have dormed people in these bedrooms.

There’s something written in an Asian script above a heap of switches, which Ollie flicks a bunch of. They do nothing, of course – electricity left this house years ago.

We wander around downstairs, a weird sort of basement with too many rooms and hidden things nd not many windows.

“Maybe it was a student share house.”
“Wonder what the rent on a place like this would be?”
“That room wasn’t that colour last time I was here. It’s been painted. Maybe someone’s doing it up.”
“But its unlocked”

Something hits the floor upstairs. We all stop talking. I’ve heard that kind of noise few times as we’ve been walking around, but I put it down to wind. I was avoiding creeping myself out.

Tara looks at me, wide-eyed and excited, like she wants some hellish crazy thing to happen and scare the shit out of us all.

We had passed a cop car when we were walking down here.
“That’s always comforting when you’re going to break into a house,” Danny had said.

Maybe it’s the cops, one of the neighbours made a call.

Maybe it’s a squatter.

A Bird?

Wind.

Ollie creeps up the stairs super-slow, making it lookke a farce, but nobody says a word.

“We should probably go soon,” I mumble, and everyone falls over their agreement as we slide out th nearest door and find an open gate.

When we’re safely back on the road we explode into adrenaline-fuelled rants of how cool and creepy that all was. We feel manly and brave.

That night I dream about it though, about a mean Neanderthal-looking man dragging himself around that dirty art-deco villa with its missing chandeliers a awkward rooms.

When we get home I look the place up. It was an aged-care facility, assisted housing. This makes the place both more and less scary.

Part of me wants to go back there, to chill out in its ancient emptiness. But the rest of me thinks of that Neanderthal dude that my mind invented and I’m just too scared.

Flash Fiction

I have a nipple piercing. I’ve had it for about a year, and it’s still the most painful thing I’ve ever done – for a week, it felt like I had a tiny tiny kitten hanging from my nipple by its teeth. That is, it was the most painful thing I’ve done, up until this morning, when my barbell got caught on a towel and ripped my nipple. Yes, ripped.

There was blood, and swearing, and panic. I explained my problem to a chemist, who got very nervous and gave me some butterfly strips to hold it all together. When my piercer opened I rang them, and they told me I’d done the right thing. With a bit of diligent care and some luck, the blessed thing will heal and not migrate.

This was a dramatic start to my day. Enough to make me curl up and sulk a little, and settle into checking out some fantastic writing.

So, to continue from my “Simplicity” post yesterday, I’d like to introduce Flash Fiction.

“Flash fiction” is the actual name for what I was talking about yesterday – very very short fiction. This is done in many different ways…
Some publications ask for a maximum of 140 characters.
Some want six sentances.
Others simply want something
under 1000 words.

Point is, they’re rather short happenings. And this works for me, with my short attention span and plot-retardation.  This also works for readers like me, I like being paid for my investment promptly.

Almost everything I write fits into the “Flash Fiction” category, given the above definitions.

So here is mine for today, with more to come in future:

“She takes ugly photos of her lips, just to see if people are paying attention. Twelve hits in five days. So she takes photos of her pretty feet, to see if people are paying attention.”

Noone Waiting (first draft)

There’s no one waiting.

“There’s nothing so broken I can’t fix it,” that’s what he had told her. Sara crumpled, and they wrapped themselves up in lamplight and each other. They didn’t surface for a week.

*

Christian’s boots flup, flup against the footpath, size-12 leather alligators chomping up cement. Nobody is waiting for him, but he steps with force and purpose. He peers over his belly and watches the footpath disappear beneath him, with the strange feeling of not walking at all, but the world being one big conveyor belt.

Beer and cat food, that’s all he needs.

His feet are large, his hands are large, his Greatful Dead t-shirt works hard to hold in his back fat. It’s warm, but he wears a tartan jacket and heavy Dickies workpants. Pushing himself down Glenferrie Road takes some effort. While there’s nobody here that interests him, there’s nobody at home either. Just empty beer bottles full of ash and an overflowing bowl of cat food on the back porch. Christian hasn’t seen the cat since Sara left.

*

She was tiny. So tiny that Christian could wrap one of his hands around both of hers. Her hands had a way of their own – at nights she would groan and her hands became wild, flying things protecting her from whatever unspeakable harm had crept into her head that night. When Christian asked her what she had dreamed about she never remembered.

Other nights her arm came over his shoulder and she pulled him closer; the way he imagined she’d have held boyfriends in public in the past.

There was the holding too tight, like she needed him. Like if Christian were to get up out of that bed and leave, it may just be the end for her.

Some nights when Sara was asleep on her back Christian would curl into and put his arm around her. Some nights she’d push it away, like swatting a fly.

His favorite nights were when her hands welcomed his, she wrapped around him too and she held his hand in a familiar way.

Her hands were strong but gentle. They just were, and when she touched Christian, he liked to pretend that was just what they were for.

His hands were for catching her as she splintered, and put her back together piece by piece.  He had to, he’d promised.

When he was five, his hero was The Rainbow Fish. He liked how the fish gave all his scales away. That was what Christian felt like, giving the world all his best parts. He’d have amputated his limbs to give Sara the glue she needed to hold together.

*

One night the rain just wouldn’t stop. It poured down from the gutters and pulled sheets of itself over the windows, so that everything outside swam. It had done this every second night for about 3 weeks, and Christian told Sara, “Just stay,” and they retired to tangle in bed sheets and electric warmth.

For the first few nights they sat naked next to each other and stared. They fell into each other, question-mark curled into the night. Sara’s dream-sweat woke Christian up sticking to her, and he’d peel himself away before re-attaching at a different angle and holding her again, and whispering to her, “Nothing so broken…” while she slept.

After about a week Sara didn’t bounce around the house as much. She slept less. She sat naked but in a chair at the end of the bed, with the cat in her lap, watching Christian doze. Only when he woke up would she crawl back to bed.

“Sara, Sara, whatever made you wanna change your mind?” he sang to her, frowning and closing his eyes tight in his best Bob Dylan. She sighed a sigh from the bottoms of her feet, and pushed her face into Christian’s chest. She looked out at the world of rain, before turning to look him in the eyes.

“Let’s eat liquorice until our teeth are black,” she said.

He giggled and smelled her hair.

“Alright,” he said. “That’ll fix it.”

*

Christian piles five microwave meals into the freezer, and cracks bottles of Coopers from their packs, laying them side by side along the fridge shelves. On the top shelf is a jar of hollandaise, a loaf of bread, and the kettle.

He takes the kettle out and puts it back on its stand, wondering how long it had been in there.

He takes a Coopers and a box of dry cat food from on top of the fridge and walks through the house to the back step.

As he passes the bedroom he looks in for a minute. Sara’s shape it still in the sheets, pieces of her hair on the pillow. A crumpled tissue next to the bed, and her lipstick sits on the window seal. A half-empty bag of liquorice is on the chair at the end of the bed.

Christian sits on the step and shakes the box of cat food from side to side with one hand, holding his beer in the other. He stares at the fence and thinks about what he should do with the lipstick in the bedroom.

*

They never slept at the right hours. They rose at 8pm, cooking eggs and spinach and hollandaise on muffins for dinner, which was breakfast.

The Friday before Sara left, Christian was sitting in front of Letterman talking to Obama, but not really listening, when Sara walked in with a laksa bowl full to the brim with cereal.

Obama was flashing his best PR face at Letterman’s cameramen, Letterman’s bright green tie glared from the opening of his jacket, Christian’s toes were cold, and Sara shovelled cereal into her mouth.

“What’s the longest relationship you’ve been in?” he asked her.

She paused with the spoon half way to her mouth. She stared at the milk in the laksa bowl for a bit.

“We don’t talk about it,” she said.

And that’s how it was – the more questions he asked her, the more she shut up.

*

Christian can’t quite figure it out. For most couples it’s just dumb fights. But for Christian and Sara it was nothing. It was so much of nothing that one day she just wasn’t there. Now all that’s left is Sara’s lipstick and half a bag of liquorice.

He takes the last sip of beer, and regrets not rolling the bottle before opening it. Pieces of sediment stick to his teeth. He stands up and gives the cat food box another quick shake before turning to go back inside.

As he steps through the door Christian almost trips over the cat, who is trying to squeeze in before him. Something’s foot is kicking from the corner of the cat’s mouth.

Christian grabs the cat by the collar and gives it a quick welcome-back pat, then shakes it so hard that it drops the struggling thing. The cat looks at Christian before launching back through the yard and over the fence.

A tiny dusty bird lays covered in the cat’s saliva on the door mat. Christian pokes it, and its legs move. It’s alive.

Picking up the bird, Christian wipes the goo from its tiny body with his sleeve.

“Don’t worry, fella,” he says. “There’s nothing so broken I can’t fix it.”

**

 

Asking questions

No post for the last few days as I’ve been away, and nothing too impressive today as I’m in the middle of working on a short story for a comp, which I’d like to post here but only once I’ve got a first draft together.

I realised today though, one of the reasons I’m having so much trouble writing this current story is because I dont know my characters well enough. I can sit there asking, “What does he do next?”…but he should be “what WOULD he do next?”. I need to sit with these characters for a while and discover their logic…

SARA: She’s broken. She’s tiny. She finds animals agreeable, but generally men don’t stay in her life long, they find her too complicated. She never asked Christian to fix her. Her background is blurry, not just for those around her but for Sara too. She doesn’t understand how she came to be confused and confusing, she doesn’t remember. She’s sure she wasn’t always this way.

CHRISTIAN: He’s fat and awkward and nerdy. He’s likeable, gets along with most people… He has a super-man kind of ethos. He’s kind, he can love in such huge amounts. Sara fits in his arms perfectly. He knows she’s broken, and he can fix her, he knows it. They’re both quiet but they find a silent kind of happiness in each other.

It’s where Christian came from that I get stuck on. Why is he so quiet? And why Sara?

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