‘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 Bus Stop of Innumerable Displeasures’- By Piri Eddy

Crust Bucket sits on the bus stop bench under a 10cents sky

fat with impending rain

as wind whips warm with hints of bin juice.

Some kids have knocked over the trash receptacle

nearby.

Crust Bucket pegs his nose with dirt caked fingers

to avoid the stench.

Miss Down on Her Luck clops like a plastic horse.

Late again,

but so is the bus.

Deep sigh of relief, of exhaustion.

Life =\= the picture books.

A flash

as her mirror

catches the dull light of morning.

Lipstick squiggled across pursed lips.

It’s gone off-road.

Scrub here, rub there.

Perfect.

Miss Down on Her Luck clicks away

her face and spots Crust Bucket

looking like a crumpled bin bag left out in a hurricane.

Crust Bucket scrapes across the seat

to make room.

What. Ah. Gentleman.

Miss Down on Her Luck would rather not,

sorry.

Another gust of hot stink.

Banana peel? Mouldy sandwich?

Disillusionment?

Council workers don’t get up before 9am.

Obviously.

Shaggy Dog emerges from the bushes.

Bristled fur smeared with excrement.

Trots like it’s his birthday

to the upturned bin.

Hang Dog, slighter of frame and bow-legged,

scurries close behind.

The pair stick wet noses into wet,

sloppy trash and their hurried gnashing seems

perverse on that dour morning.

Crust Bucket grins that baby grand mouth,

missing a D# and an F.

Miss Down on Her Luck busies herself with an errant thread

on the cuff of her shirt.

To block it all out.

The bus is still

MIA.

A triumphant woof!

Shaggy Dog has something.

A rat hangs limp from the mutt’s mouth like

a tired, old sock-puppet.

Crust Bucket hoots.

Hang Dog

nips at the loose end of the rat

and then both dogs have it.

Stretch and twist.

Twist and stretch.

Miss Down on Her Luck forgets her errant thread

and watches the scene:

the dogs as they grunt and growl,

Crust Bucket slapping his knee with pleasure,

the upturned bin.

It begins to rain.

And then:

The sock puppet reaches

the absolute limits of stretchability –

tears in two –

squirts blood and guts and stinking juices,

like fat toes through punctured fabric.

A gleeful Crust Bucket.

The dogs lose much of the good stuff.

If they were anything other than dogs,

they might have been more

diplomatic.

Miss Down on Her Luck watches those

dogs eating their measly fill.

Legs cock to mark the bin as:

Property of Dog”

before trundling off into the bushes.

Miss Down on Her Luck peers down.

A red splattering of rat on the end of her boot.

Face sags.

Today is

a bad day.

The hot morning rain falls like

piss off a balcony.

Miss Down on Her Luck waits

for a bus that might never come

as Crust Bucket rolls a cigarette

and smokes it to the nub.

 


Words by Piri Eddy

Photo by David Clarke on Unsplash