‘Greenwood’- By Paul J. Laverty

She parked in the driveway. She didn’t open the car door, just sat there. The house looked different. Bright red gutters replaced the old, peeling green ones. There was a new beige garage door. Yet the garden, the street and the suburb surrounding it was much the same.

She tried to think of the last time she’d been here. Boxing Day. Four years ago. After that Danny didn’t want to. Especially when his real habit crept in.

She remembered their last year of high school. She used to spend most nights here. In his room, drinking homebrew, smoking cones, watching Wes Craven movies, listening to Queens of the Stone Age. Making love. That was fifteen years ago, but it felt like a lifetime.

Mummy, when are we going in?” her six-year-old, Hunter, asked from the backseat.

Mikhaila lit a cigarette. She immediately regretted it as Val would smell it on her and add that to her shit list. She was already wearing a black sleeveless top that couldn’t hide the love heart tattoo which Val had never disguised her disdain for. The one her son had designed.

In a minute, hon.”

She reclined the seat slightly and took a drag. She might as well finish it now it was lit.

Back in high school she was seen as a good influence. Their Daniel had never got anything but D-grades. All he wanted to do was skate. And then she came along. Pianist. President of the student council. Plans to study medicine. Singer in an up-and-coming local band. Danny’s marks moved up to a C. His parents liked her. For a little while, she felt, anyway.

Mummy, I’m thirsty,” her four-year-old, Courtney, whined.

Her band got signed. Got on the U.S. festival circuit. She didn’t want him to come. It was work, after all. But he did. And with a lot of time and a little money on his hands, the soft drugs became hard.

Then quick as it began the band ended. Artistic differences, youthful arrogance. Their visas expired. She and Danny returned home. Settled down. Somehow their relationship rolled on. They had one kid, then another.

She wanted to get married, she wanted to take his name. She knew this would make them happy. She saw how they treated Lauren, Danny’s older brother’s wife, once they’d married. She couldn’t even have kids. But Lauren was a respectable primary school teacher, not a former frontwoman of a failed synth-pop band who flashed her legs (and occasionally her tits).

Danny always had an excuse ready and loaded about not conforming. She even got the blame for not baptising the kids Catholic even though Danny said he’d take care of it. She wasn’t even Catholic but she wanted to. She knew how it would make his parents happy and her life easier.

I’m hungry,” said Hunter.

I’m bored,” said Courtney.

They moved down south. She got a job in a clothes shop. His tattoo venture didn’t get off the ground, and he couldn’t cope with the normality of just existing. Of being a partner. A husband. A son. His addiction took hold and knowing he was failing at all that mattered he chose to take his own life on the one night she’d come back up to the city to have dinner with her remaining friends.

Mummy, can you hear us?”

Last month in the Family Court it all came out. Val claimed it was Mikhaila who had turned her son onto the pipe. That she was unstable, she was an unfit mother. Val even alluded to how it was Mikhaila’s fault that her son had ended it all with a leather belt tied around his neck.

Val didn’t mention how Mikhaila had never touched serious drugs. How Danny had lost them the home she paid for, her car, her job. And left her a bereaved single mother at age 31.

The judge gave the grandparents one weekend of visiting rights a month.

The front door opened. Mikhaila stiffened, quickly put out her cigarette and opened the window. But it wasn’t Val. She saw the dark greying features. The strong jaw. The dignified gait. It was Brian, Danny’s dad. Almost exactly how Danny would have looked if he made it to 60.

Hello, love.”

Grandad!” the children squealed racing out the car to throw themselves at him.

Hello, Brian.”

She’d always liked Danny’s dad. He wasn’t a strong man, but he was a nice, quiet man who, in his own way, and faced with great adversity, had tried to stick up for her. Mikhaila saw the curtains twitch and spotted Val’s stern features gazing through the glass. Her eyes bore right through Mikhaila and then softened when they settled on her grandchildren.

You doing okay?” Brian asked.

We’re getting there.”

He reached into the back and lifted Hunter and Courtney’s backpacks. “We’ll drop them back Sunday night.”

Thanks.”

I know it’s hard, but it’s important we do this. For the children.”

The kids waved and disappeared through the door. Mikhaila reversed down the driveway. Drove down the quiet street, parallel to the street she grew up on, and made it out of the suburb. The narrow-minded suburb where nothing ever happened, which she’d tried her whole life to escape, but never could.

It wasn’t until she hit the freeway that she realised she had nowhere to go.

 


Photo by Ryan Graybill on Unsplash

Words by Paul J. Laverty

Paul J. Laverty is a Scottish-Australian writer. Emerging from University of Melbourne with a Graduate of Diploma of Arts, he was shortlisted for Overland’s 2018 ‘Fair Australia Prize’, and his work has been featured in publications such as Underground Writers and Better Read Than Dead.

 

‘Harold Can’t Sleep’ – By Louis Dickins

Harold, thirty-five years old, lies awake in his one-bedroom St. Kilda apartment with messy hair, wearing a defeated expression. His cheap alarm clock reads 4:31AM in red numbers. Tomorrow, he has an eight-hour shift at his mind-numbing post office job, but he hasn’t had any sleep. His mind is turning, overwhelmed by too many thoughts.

At its best Harold finds sleep beautiful; a welcome relief from work and family, deadlines and pressure. As a kid he was a brilliant sleeper. He had wonderful, actionpacked dreams where he fought off prison guards and drove sport cars. But not anymore. He sighs and turns his pillow over. Harold isn’t even tired. It’s his relationships that are keeping him awake; regrets and mistakes playing over in his mind.

His ex-girlfriend, Julia. The memory of the initial thrill and then the ultimate demise of their six-year relationship. Truthfully, they just didn’t understand each other. An abstract artist with talent, her paintings were compelling in their passion and complexity. But they could also be demanding and confronting. She’d show Harold her completed canvases expecting a detailed analysis of their meaning and aesthetic quality. Instead, he would get confused and tongue-tied trying to explain what he thought and she would interpret it as indifference. But really, Harold had cared about her more than anything.

Why were they together? Did she ever love him? They had terrible fights which Harold always lost. She had a habit of throwing lamps when she was upset, usually at him. His passivity annoyed her, she thought he was capable of so much more, not only in his career, but to be more outgoing socially. She’d drag him to sophisticated, art-crowd dinner parties which he despised. Sitting there silently, he’d get quietly and terribly drunk, then pass out under the table. Harold embarrassed her and his unassuming nature lost its charm.

Harold’s mind wanders further. He remembers the last time he saw his old friend Rachel. When they were at school together, they shared everything. They could talk for hours. They’d skip school and smoke darts and play street fighter in the city. She was his best friend. They would look into each other’s eyes and feel completely comfortable and understood. Now, something has changed. She had stood before him despondently, with vacant eyes, asking him why he hadn’t called her back. It just wasn’t the same anymore. Once she got married and started having kids they started to drift into separate worlds.

Harold’s thoughts turn to his postal supervisor at work, like all serious pedantic assholes his name is Terry. He talks time management, enthusiasm indicators and routine entrustment diagrams with such condescending intensity, it often makes Harold want to scream. He knows exactly how much Harold despises him. He was terrible at hiding it. Harold had had it there, surrounded by mail, sometimes left to feel like he was turning into a living, breathing envelope.

All this thinking has given Harold a headache. He falls out of bed and stumbles in the dark toward the medicine cabinet. He pushes two heavy-duty painkillers out of their packet and downs them both with a glass of tap water. He looks at his reflection in the mirror. A flash catches his attention; he turns quickly to look out his window and sees a bolt of lightning, followed by a tremendous crash of thunder. And then a drenching, heavy rain begins to fall from the night sky. He opens his window to see the gutters already overflowing.

Something about this sudden downpour has energised and thrilled Harold in a way he can’t quite explain. He puts on his jeans and runs out the door, down the steps of his apartment and out into the street. It’s still dark, the streetlights guide him down the road and onto the esplanade. He’s never run this fast in his life. Almost slipping on the wet concrete, he continues, undeterred. Through parks and puddles, his heart beating, not sure where he’s going but in love with movement. His pent-up frustration and sadness is being exorcised with every step. He crosses the street, dodging early morning motorists. Trams and buses whizz by, the passengers watching a man running at full tilt.

As the sun rises, the most fantastic epiphany dawns on Harold: today, he’s going to quit the post office. He’s going to find something better.

Suitably soaked and out of breath, Harold finds himself in Fitzroy. In the distance he sees a bakery, just opening for the day. He goes inside to catch his breath and gazes at the freshly baked loaves and croissants on display. A friendly voice greets him.

Harold looks up to see the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen smiling back at him. Her brown eyes make his knees buckle. He stands there completely shocked and in awe of the chain of events that have led him out of his bed and to this moment. It seems as if an eternity has passed before he opens his mouth in order to speak but when he does, he starts coughing uncontrollably. She laughs. Eventually, he composes himself and says:

Hi, I’m Harold’.


Words by Louis Dickins

Louis Dickins is a 23-year-old writer who has had short stories published in both X-Ray literary magazine and Sleaze Mag.

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

‘The Silent Door’- By Dan Cardoza

After grandmother passed away, grandfather, a very stern and dignified gentleman, would routinely join us for our late afternoon supper. Mother would make sure he was not disappointed. The last meal I recall was a braised rabbit, fresh from the butcher shop, complete with a special wine sauce, fennel seed, and a sprig of rosemary, followed by a memorable dessert.

Rarely was there an occasion that demanded the use of the massive brass lion’s head door knocker ––a piece of classic Art Deco elegance. Most guests at our home simply knocked in a staccato, contemporary fashion, more suited for twenty-first-century knuckles. Grandfather, who would not have it any other way, cherished any event that he thought demanded a grand entrance. His hallmark knock became almost legendary.

Every Sunday around 1:00 P.M., we would fox our ears in anticipation of his two heavy-handed thwacks. His knocks upon the lacquered chestnut entrance door resonated in the woody bellow and melody of a stately gavel, complete with a formal Sound Block. We fancied our home in Lombard, a Chicago suburban castle.

We loved his company, his long visits. He was a fascinating man. He would hide envelopes in the family room, while mother and I did dishes in the cramped kitchen. Behind mother’s needlepoint pillows, under the large armed comfy sofa, behind the ornate Vienna Stuchy clock set atop the chunky redwood mantle, just about anywhere, and everywhere. Of course, mother and I never acknowledged that we were aware of his secret gifts until granddad left following super. As soon as the front door closed behind him, I would search for the envelopes as if they were painted spring surprises. The gifts of kindness frequently included fifty dollars, one hundred, it varied. Mother would religiously call him once he returned home to thank him for his graciousness, with her best surprised-daughter voice, and sincere appreciation. The following Sunday would always relent to another troupe encore. But this time, there would be no following, Sunday.

Three, maybe four years after grandmother passed, we noticed that the deep knocker tone faltered. We imagined the sound more abrupt, maybe a little harsh. Mother and I found humor in the transformation, saying grandfather was just impatient to enjoy his pre-dinner coffee and cognac.

Following super, grandfather would begin to shoot questions toward mother, an easy target. This evening would be no different.

The questions I found hurtful, even the ones that seemed to miss the mark. Have you heard from Jim? Maybe there is a reason he left? Why don’t you move closer to the city for improved work opportunities? Mother never answered quickly, sometimes not at all.

During the times of our frequent visits, grandfather invariably picked up dessert, which he would serve himself, usually after finishing his after-dinner coffee concoction. Dessert would be the evening’s crowning event. The last one would be no different. Grandfather’s choices varied. On any occasion, he might present a freshly made key-lime pie, with a hint of bitterness. Once he even brought blood orange grapefruit serving it with a ghost of sugar, never sweet enough for our taste. Following the last shared meal, grandfather brought a sour cream peach pie. He was the only one to savor an extra slice.

It’s been some time since grandfather passed. Mother misses him sometimes.

I will never forget one late winter evening. In the grip an infamous Chicago snowstorm, mother asked if I would do her a favour. Put on my warm parka, go outside and rap the lion’s head knocker, two times in succession, and if I would please do this intermittently for a short while. I never thought to question her.

I enjoyed the snow, under any circumstance, but after a while, my arm grew tired. It was then that I slowly opened the door, and peeked through the glowing crack. Mother’s face was shining brightly in a wash of yellow light thrown by the tall family room lamp. She was fast asleep in her favorite corduroy high back chair, wearing a shallow smile.


Words by Dan Cardoza

Photo by Dương Trần Quốc on Unsplash

‘The Ripple Effect’- By Ash Leonard

 

I think we need a new start.’

The words were spoken so quietly Liana thought she may have dreamt them. Her body was screaming for sleep, her eyes gritty, but she made herself roll over, so she could see her husband.

Darkness rested below his eyes, almost like bruises, but Liana knew he was as tired as she was. It was only when the last of the light had vanished from the sky that they had decided to call it a day. Stinking of lanolin and stagnant mud, they’d trekked back to the homestead for a simple dinner of cheese toasties, eaten on the veranda in the coolness of the night air. Once, she would have seen the romance in that, but not tonight. She was too damn tired.

‘What do you mean?’ she asked, turning her face into her pillow to stifle a yawn.

‘I don’t know how to make this work.’ Matt’s voice was a half whisper in the darkness.

‘Yes, you do. Your father wouldn’t have left this place to you if he didn’t think you could keep up with it.’

Liana rested a hand on his chest, taking a moment to feel his heart thumping beneath her palm, the smoothness of his skin against hers.

‘It’s just going to take a bit of time.’

Matt gently pushed her hand off his chest, and rolled over, so his back was facing her.

‘Goodnight, Liana,’ he muttered.

She couldn’t quite pinpoint where she’d gone wrong, but she was used to his withdrawal now. Pulling the cotton sheet over her shoulder, she rolled to her other side, staring at the neon numbers on her digital alarm clock until the heaviness in her body took over.

*

Liana waved a six pack of beer towards Matt in what she hoped was an inviting way. She was dressed in a pristine white sundress, foundation hiding the ever-multiplying freckles across the bridge of her nose.

‘You’re sure you won’t come?’

She’d hoped he would take the beer and grab her hand to lead her towards the car. They could forget about sheep, drought and dust. Dull the memory with a six pack. Maybe a glass or two of wine.

Instead, half an hour later, Liana was fumbling with the keys to the ute as she grasped a homemade hummingbird cake in one hand and tried to lock the ute door with the other. The heat was already making the icing slide from the cake in great globs, running onto the glass plate.

Beth stomped out onto the porch, waving a bottle of wine in her left hand.

‘Come on, Li, the barbie’s fired up already, love!’ she called.

Despite the dust that was swirling in the afternoon heat, Beth’s ranch style house still looked immaculate, the windows sparkling in the sunlight. Beth lived on the same long, winding road as Liana did. Technically, they were neighbours, even though they were twenty minutes apart. Beth pulled Liana close and dropped a kiss on her cheek, before ushering her along the side of the house to the back veranda.

Coarse chatter filled the air, punctuated now and then by bursts of laughter. Beth pushed a glass of wine into Liana’s hand and gestured for her to take a seat as she started to busy herself with the barbecue, flipping sausages and steaks.

‘Look, I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do with the thing. My daughter dropped it off, said to feed it twice a day and she’ll pick it up when she’s got herself settled in the city. Well it’s been living with me for two months now. I don’t think she’s coming back!’

‘Oh, come on, Col, it’s just a little dog! How hard can it be to look after it?’ laughed Beth, shaking her head.

‘Mate, she dropped it off with a bow in its hair,’ Col replied, emphasising the last four words with a sneer. ‘It’s useless, and I can’t get rid of the bloody thing! It follows me around like a bad smell, into the cattle yards, the dairy, you name it.’

‘That means she likes you!’

‘You don’t want a dog, do you Liana?’ Col asked gruffly, raising his beer bottle towards her. ‘Not much good with cattle, might be alright for chasing after sheep. Less chance of getting trampled on. Not that I’ve tried to stop the thing from getting squashed.’

‘Nope, all yours, I’m afraid,’ Liana smiled.

‘Maybe I’ll be able to convince Matty. Where is he, anyway?’

Liana stiffened and took a quick sip from her glass. When she’d started dating Matt, he had been in his element amongst his friends and neighbours. Confident. Sure of his place in their community. He was the one who first introduced her to Beth. It had been ages since he’d last met with anyone, even just for a beer. Still, Col always asked where he was without fail.

‘There’s a fence down in the side paddock, so he was working on that today.’

She was careful to keep her smile frozen in place but tried to make it obvious she wasn’t going to enter into a discussion about this. Col didn’t get the hint.

‘We could have given a hand with that after lunch!’

Liana eyed the three empty beer bottles that were sitting on the ground beside his chair doubtfully.

‘It’s okay, better to get it done sooner than later.’

‘I heard those sheep are giving you a bit of grief, Liana,’ said Jason, one of the younger farmers sitting next to Col.

An urge to smack him in his open, friendly face took Liana by surprise. He’s just making conversation, she reminded herself. He doesn’t know.

He hadn’t seen the rift between her and Matt growing, leaving an absence of love where there once had been abundance. They barely talked anymore. She’d tried ignoring Matt until their house filled, room by room, with stale, suffocating silence and she couldn’t handle it any longer. She’d tried talking to him, pulling him aside after he’d finished working and sitting him down with a cup of coffee, explaining it was okay to talk about his feelings, like she was some sort of counsellor. She’d taken off, got in the beaten-up sedan she owned and driven until dirt roads turned to asphalt, and she was on her way to the city. Far away from worries about droughts and the mortality rate of livestock. Liana had been twenty kilometres away from the CBD, not intending to come back, when she realised her wallet was still on the kitchen table. If Matt had noticed she was gone, he didn’t mention anything. She sunk back into their predictable rhythm, waiting for a change in him, pushing aside the feelings of frustration that made her want to run.

Things started turning to shit when some of the sheep started showing signs of fly-strike, after a hard winter of blistering cold where many lambs died. Seemed to Liana the only thing sheep were good at doing was dying. Small misfortunes they once could have easily dealt with led to bigger issues, continuously expanding like ripples on a pond. Maybe they were cursed.

‘I can duck around if you like? Give him a hand?’

They were staring at her, waiting for an answer. She shook her head, telling Col to concentrate on the mutt that seemed to have an attachment to him. It did the trick. The eyes were off her, the knowing glances stopped being exchanged between her neighbours and they went back to laying into Col, who was doing his best to pretend he hated the attention.

*

She got home later than she meant to. The air was still warm, and the sky was fading to a dusky blue, with pink streaks of cloud spread across. She turned into the carport and turned the ute off, listening to the engine ticking as it cooled.

As she opened the door, a crack echoed, bouncing off the tin roof of the carport and the brick walls of the house, surrounding her, closing her in. Liana pulled the key out of the ignition slowly and stepped out, feet unsteady as they hit the gravel. She frantically glanced at her mobile phone on the passenger seat. She could ring Beth, ask her to bring the spare key. She would try to keep the shake from her voice and insist her house key must have fallen off the keyring at some point. She couldn’t go in by herself. Liana would let Beth go into the house first.

Another gunshot sounded, and a mix of relief and embarrassment flooded through her. She was just tired and strung out. She was sick of fielding questions all afternoon by herself, trying to gloss over the worst. Most of all, she was desperate for a cup of tea, and maybe some water. Beth had definitely been too generous with the red wine.

Matt met her at the front door, rifle in his hands. He gave her a perfunctory kiss, but neither asked the other how their day had been. They didn’t do that anymore.

‘I dealt with the sheep. It had to be done,’ he said, his voice quivering slightly as he scrubbed at a spot on the rifle.

‘What?’

‘It’s done. Could use the meat for the dogs, I suppose. Col might want some.’

‘Matt, you can’t be serious. Don’t we have contracts? We’ll be stuffed!’

‘Couldn’t do it anyway. Not with sick sheep.’

‘The vet might have…’

‘Liana, it’s done.’

Matt squeezed her arm and headed inside. Liana followed him into the silent house, wiping the beads of sweat from her upper lip. She answered Matt’s small talk, as if it were just a normal night, but she couldn’t stop eyeing the rifle. She kept the keys for the ute tightly gripped in her hand, steeling herself for the next ripple.


Words by Ash Leonard

Ash Leonard is a writer and editor from Bannockburn, Victoria. She holds a degree in Professional and Creative Writing from Deakin University, and has been published in various journals and blogs, including WORDLY magazine, Backstory Journal and two anthologies produced by the Ballarat Writers Association. You can find her on Instagram: @sundrenchedpage, or at her blog: www.sundrenchedpage.com.

Photo by Bin Thiều on Unsplash