Being a Kid
He told me about the night he crept out of bed when he was supposed to be asleep and found his dad making sprinkle toast in the kitchen. His mum was watching TV, so he and his dad had a secret sprinkle toast feast before he went back to bed. He said if there’s ever a war and the soldiers come to raid his house, he’s going to get an axe, make a hole in the floor and hide out underneath his house, eating sprinkle sandwiches while he waits to come out. That’s how simple things are when you’re nine years old.
As Simple as That
All he wanted was just to see her again. Was it really so much to ask? Every day he woke up in a luxurious white bed with the sun streaming through his window and pooling on the carpet, and the coffee was there on his table, white wisps rising from the surface, and he wondered how the butler managed to bring it hot right before he woke up. He stepped out of bed and went to the window and the fragrance of the garden greeted him kindly. He drank the coffee and read the paper like any ordinary man and they came and took his cup silently, bowed heads. He had tried to converse with them, but he just didn’t know how. He didn’t know how to talk to anyone except her.
He opened the wardrobe doors wide and looked at the endless row of coats and jackets and suits and ties and trousers, all white and black and grey with no colour to them at all, and he dressed in one outfit and felt small inside it, like a little imposter with no right to be there at all. All his life he’d been too short, his hands too big and clumsy and scratched, his smile too awkward and his face too unsure to fit into a man’s suit. He didn’t feel like a man anymore. They’d taken that away from him when they gave him soft pillows and smart leather shoes. When he was with her, that was when he felt strong, not like a little frightened boy. And he wanted that back. He wanted to know that he had a purpose, someone to protect, to love. The coffee didn’t taste good to him. The bed was too soft and the garden so big he got lost in it just the way he got lost in the rows of suits. He didn’t like the abstract paintings they’d hung up on his wall or the way they moved around the house silently as if they were mourning his death while he was very plainly alive. He didn’t want it. He didn’t want any of it.
He just wanted her.
And the Earth is Silent
There's a weatherbeaten cross standing in the middle of Old Joe's cornfield. It's been there since before his grandfather bought the land, and he leaves a space around it out of the little respect and superstition he has but continues to plough and sow in that field because the land belongs to him and he doesn't intend to let it go to waste. They buried her there. The little girl with black curls who heard a secret she wasn't supposed to. But he doesn't know that.
July 5th, 2015
There used to be a young man who would sit in the pew ahead of me in the church. He didn't say much. I think he just smiled a lot. I can't remember ever speaking a word to him, but I'd see him most Sundays, dark black hair, a handsome suit, quiet and focused and different, different because he was good, and not many young men are good anymore. Sometimes he'd serve at Mass even when he lost his arm to the cancer that was rapidly destroying his body. I thought that after the amputation he would get better just like that.
He died seven years ago today. I don't suppose many people remember him. He was just so quiet. Humble men keep to themselves because they don't need validation or awards. I would like to have the copy of the letter he wrote, addressed to every member of the church; I was nine years old last I read it. But every year I remember the day he died. I remember the pride I felt to sit in the pew behind him. And I hope that I will have some of that goodness one day, the goodness that strikes a little girl, even from a distance, so that she can never forget the beauty of being different.
There’s a nobody kid at the end of the street
And he smiles at the sight of me coming
I hope someone loves him the whole of his life
Learns to sing to the tune that he’s humming.
There’s a nobody kid and he’s tough as can be
But he cries just like anyone would
And if only he knew that I’ll always be here
'Cause I’d give him the world if I could.
There’s a nobody kid and he’s restless and wild
He'll grow up, leave this place, and be free
But wherever he wanders, whatever he does
He'll always be someone to me.
Little green glowing worms.
Hidden away in the rocks near a waterfall.
I watched them in awe before my dad carried me back to our camp in the dark. We toasted marshmallows on sticks and roasted eel, but I only wanted the marshmallows back then. Looking into the depths of the forest, my mind began to play, afraid of what could be lurking there. My bogey man had a hooked nose and mean little eyes, shoes with big heels (that way you could hear them clicking as he came for you), a striped purple jacket and top hat; but I sat near the lantern and I was safe. My brother stayed up with the men and they sent me to bed, angry for lack of sufficient marshmallows. I lay alone in the darkness, but if I rolled over on one side I could see the flames flickering against the wall of the tent, dancing, for me. The anger boiled away and my firelight, warm and safe, sent me to sleep.
They found him at the train station on a Friday after the work rush, watching with grey eyes, dangling little black boots over the edge, above the tracks. He didn't speak. Just came with them when they asked and let them look after him. They always wondered if he remembered whom he'd been waiting for.
Through The Wood
Sunlight sifted through the patches of leaves and made patterns here and there on the dark carpet of green that lay beneath. Somewhere overhead the day had begun, but the wood was still and quiet save for the creaking of the old trees and the whispers of wind that passed through on their way to somewhere beyond.
Sofia stood at the edge. She took a deep breath, squeezed her hands together, and left the warmth of the outside, stepping forward into the shadows.
One moment there stood Sofia; and then the dark wood had enveloped her, and she was gone.
Short Story in Progress
Timothy McFarlane drowned on a Saturday. It was down at the creek where he and Kenny Stacc liked fishing on weekends, and Kenny was there when it happened but he didn’t want to speak about it; just pursed his lips and shook his head and stared with those great blue eyes of his until people murmured that it was better to leave a poor kid alone. He lost his best friend, after all. Bluey and Brownie, they called them, because their eyes were so striking - Tim’s bright and full of life, curious, fun; Kenny’s innocent and wide and frightened. They were even more frightened after the accident. He trembled, too, when he got nervous. Didn’t used to happen. You couldn’t blame him, though.
They’d had an argument a couple of days before. Something about a stray dog they found and both wanted to keep. Turned out the dog wasn’t stray after all - someone picked it up, resolving their questions, but still the boys seemed kind of bitter about it. In the end it didn’t even seem to be about that dog anymore, but rather a stubborn refusal to give in. Tim’s mother was sorry for Kenny, thought it was a shame the boys had been on poor terms so soon before Tim died, and she had him over for dinner after school most weeks because he reminded her of her own boy and she had a weighty feeling of obligation she couldn’t ignore. Now and then the blue eyes seemed too intense over the table. They bored right through her till she hated their innocence. She hated that he’d been there when it had happened and yet been unable to do anything. She hated the depth of their colour, their lack of soul and mischief that her son’s had possessed. But she had to have him there, because Tim had been her baby, and Kenny was all she had left of him.
The Freedom of Fantasy (Short Story)
It’s easy to believe in God when you’re looking at the stars. Reach up and your fingertips brush eternity. Lie back against the sand with your eyes straining into that deep sky, the sky that teaches of miracles, and you can imagine that the waves are lapping at the shore for you to hear, the stars are displayed for your pleasure, the pulse of your heart is telling you how alive you are, and everyone who ever was seems to be gone. In the silence you are alone with He who possesses the world.
Her voice, though distant, pierced his reverie. He had been so quiet, so still … so happy … if only she’d waited a minute more before calling him so he could continue to forget she even existed. He wanted to lie there forever - he didn’t really think he’d mind that so much - but, rousing himself stiffly, he climbed the sand dune that sloped down directly behind his house and pushed through the grey shrubs hiding the porch from view. What had once been a cheery beach shack was now a dilapidated one room home with a few musty mattresses serving as beds and a foldout table Mum liked to use for meals, to feel a bit dignified. The stripes of yellow paint on the outer walls had been bright originally, David could remember that, but they had faded and begun to crack long ago and nobody had thought to buy new colour for them. One of the window panes had shattered last year when Dad lost a bet and came home raging (Mum said he was “just upset”; said it in that soothing way that almost made David believe her). He’d sent Mum’s mantel clock through the glass and next day mumbled he was sorry and patched it up with some wooden boards, but the draughts still made their way in; draughts are like that, they’ll find any kind of entry point no matter how well you fix things. David reckoned Mum should’ve sold the clock years before anyway, might have gotten a decent bargain, but she’d been too precious about it and now it was gone, without anything to pay for it but a few old boards nailed to what used to be the kitchen window.
Jeannie was making dinner and Mum was waiting for David at the door. Wherever Dad had gotten to, he wouldn’t be back till late. The old kelpie dog sitting on the steps licked David’s feet in greeting, watching him pleadingly until he knelt and stroked its coarse black flanks, a pang passing through him at the feel of its protruding ribs. There was nothing to feed it but his own meals, and the butcher didn’t bother giving scraps away, but although it was never chained anymore and could wander where it wished, it chose to stay. “Because he loves you more than his life,” Jeannie said. David wasn’t sure a dog could love, but all the same he hugged it before he went inside, burying his cold nose in the hair of its warm neck.
“David,” Mum began, her voice tired and thin, “Why are you always going out somewhere? Why can’t you make yourself useful?”
“He’s just a kid, Mum,” Jeannie excused him from over by the sink. “Let him be.”
“He’s fourteen,” Mum argued bitterly, “And no one’ll take him for work. Word gets around small towns. Everyone knows about the butcher incident.”
David sat on his mattress and sunk his hands deep in his pockets. Full of sand. Mum hated sand on the floor. She kept on talking but he’d gotten into the habit of not quite listening, and besides, he’d just rediscovered a golden two dollar coin amongst the sand, and with two dollars he could easily buy maybe four yellow paged books from the opportunity shop in town. As a rule he hated to live off other people’s thoughtfulness and have them feel sorry for him, preferred to survive on his own so he could feel he’d made something of himself, but in the case of books he knew no other way. He’d choose them carefully off the shelf, cheap paperbacks with taped up spines and someone else’s name written in pencil just inside the cover, read them, a chapter here and there when time allowed, keep them hidden, and after he was done he’d simply drop them back in the charity bin and no one would ever know he’d owned them. Dad hated books more than Mum hated sand. Said they were a waste of time and money, same as most things David took a fancy to. But Jeannie had taught him to read, and now and then she slipped him a couple of coins and told him to find himself a book or two for amusement, because she understood that stars and stories were that boy’s greatest allies. She worked in the milk bar in town because Dad said a girl of seventeen ought to be earning something for her parents. David had earned once, too, till they caught him pinching from the cash register. They hadn’t paid him enough. Thought they could get away with cheating a kid. But Jeannie made him promise to manage without being a thief and since then he had taken nothing, because somehow she always knew, and he couldn’t bear to see the sadness in her eyes.
Mum still couldn’t forget what he had done.
She continued to talk, exhausting herself. David felt sorry for her, sorry she wasn’t as well cared for as ordinary mothers who had everything they could wish for and yet continued to find room for more. He was sorry for Jeannie, too. So sorry it hurt. Jeannie passed him his plate and he ate dinner mechanically while his mind raced, going over the plans he had thought on for so long, wrestling back and forth with indecision. In his stories there seemed to always be a winner, someone who worked harder than everyone else and achieved higher despite what the rest expected from him; sometimes it just seemed too wonderful to believe, too impossible and simple, but David still tucked himself away in a corner and read the book through and loved it because he could almost convince himself it was true. And then other times he would read a story and feel almost that the boy who told it was himself. A nobody without any fantastic dreams, just a desire to be cared for and wanted. A longing for change. For freedom.
Hours after the dim lights had been switched off he turned the two dollars over and over in his fingers. It was all he had. If he’d asked Jeannie for more, she would have given it to him without asking any questions. But he loved her too much. One day he was going to give her everything she’d ever dreamed of, take her away from the lonely little sea shack and the grimy milk bar and Dad’s drunken temper and never come back; didn’t matter what happened after, so long as they were far from here and together. One day. He promised. As he lay there he could hear heavy boots stamping the planks of the porch, the door whining as it was pushed open, allowing the cold salt air to sweep across the floor, and the grunts of his father making his way around the mattresses to the cupboard. There was a little flask of whiskey somewhere behind the cereal boxes that Mum said was a good remedy for illness, and Dad seemed able to sense alcohol whether anyone told him it was there or not. The sudden interruption had woken them all, but Mum soon turned to the wall and slept again, used to Dad’s fumbling and noise. Jeannie’s eyes followed David through the open door. She said nothing, because there was nothing to be said. Sitting up and peering out the one unbroken window she watched the dark figure of her brother hurrying up the hill, followed by the old kelpie dog who would run alongside him until it had no strength left in its body, and silently mused that it was those precious stories that had given him confidence and brought him to plan his escape. She knew about the clothes and tinned food he concealed in a burned out tree somewhere no one’d think to go. But she’d told herself he wouldn’t do it. He’d be afraid to.
And David ran through the long grass, barefoot, not knowing where he would go or who he would become. Suddenly it didn’t matter if they came for him, if Dad caught him and brought him back. He’d run away again. He’d do it as often as he had to, until he knew for certain he was free. He’d watch the stars without being afraid. He’d find a home for Jeannie. And at this very moment he would begin to live.