Tag Archives: short story

Holding Pattern – A Short Story

Solkyri are a Sydney-based post-rock band, and their fourth album, Mount Pleasant, is due for release February 7, 2020.

They’ve dropped the cover art and the first track to the album, “Holding Pattern,” and while I was listening I had an idea for a piece of flash fiction.

Using the track title as the inspiration for the story, as well as the liner notes that the record was inspired by the theme of deception, deceit and false facades, this piece came to be.

Having a look at the track listing, I have further ideas for other pieces of flash fiction. Something you could read while listening to the album.

I hope you enjoy the story. Click on the link below (Track 1) to listen while you read

Holding Pattern (Track 1)

She sped along the first-floor landing, her eyes focused on the stairwell at the other end hoping no one was coming up. The rubbery slap of her thongs on the concrete her measure of time. Shorten the stride to take the corner. Grab the handrail for balance. Every step touched. She didn’t see him seated at the bottom. Launched from the third last step and catapulted beyond him onto the grass. Pulled up short, losing her thongs. Turned around, picked them up and walked back to him.

“You made me lose my time,” she said.

“Sorry.”

He was new to the building. They were both twelve.

“Saw you move in. You staying here long?” she asked, sitting beside him on the step of the bottom flight of stairs. She and her mum had been there a while. Seen some residents stay a month. Others for years.

“Dunno. Mum reckons it’ll be short. Til we can find something better.”

“What number are you?”

“2B. Like the pencil.”

“Or Hamlet.”

“I get that a lot.”

She shrugged.

“I’ve seen you walking up and down.”

Another shrug.

“How long does it take?”

“Four minutes and thirty-three seconds,” she said. “When I walk.”

Three storeys. Three circuits. Three orbits of the planets as she described it to him. She directed with her hands the path of her movement: starting at the bottom, along the ground floor, up the first flight of stairs, back along the first landing to the next flight of stairs at the opposite end, up again to the second landing and along to the other end and back down to the start.

He imagined an old-fashioned game of Donkey Kong and looked at each landing as a runway for barrels.

When she ran the circular orbit, she had her rules, and failure to uphold them meant an automatic disqualification and the time was null: each step on the stairs must be touched up and down; if someone exited their door or interrupted the run by coming up the stairs; if you knocked something over. She ran wide at the corners to maintain speed.

“Like a holding pattern for planes. What’s your record?”

“One minute, seventeen seconds. Only once.”

A woman’s voice called his name. He stood and walked up the stairs behind her. She rose from the bottom step and walked away from the building, counting her steps in long strides equal to the number of stairs. Turning back, she saw him crest the horizon of the stairwell and trot along. He waved. She waved back before he was eclipsed by his door.

The rubber of her thongs was worn thin and a stone pushed up into her right foot. She let the pressure build until she could no longer ignore it. Looking out for bindis she sat down and pulled the thong off her foot and dug the random nugget of asphalt from the sole. She flicked it towards the apartment block. Tugged at blades of grass that itched her legs.

From her vantage point she pictured herself walking past each door; that she was the sun passing the planets. Isolated entities existing behind each frame. Each had their own individual orbits within their sphere. Born of collisions and random traditions where the building came to be less of a systematic community and more of an isolated block of cells where individuals charted a pilgrim life of searching for the uncertain for a sedentary (or was it sedimentary? She often confused them.) life of uncertainty.

A uniformed mother walked along the footpath, fishing in her large handbag.

“Hi, Mum.”

“Hi, sweetheart.”

Her mother was a cleaner at a large hotel down the road. She once spoke of the room she had to clean after a person took their own life on the queen-sized bed. And then another person stayed there the next night and didn’t know. Their own block of flats was probably the same. Layers of people; some who left their shoes outside the door in little boxes; some who had a pot plant by the front door; some without door mats; some with fly screens.

The old woman who lived next door once said to her that she lived frugally.

“It means she has little money,” her mother explained.

The girl liked the way frugal sounded in her mouth. It was pleasant. The mouth to taste; to let fill with saliva and dry out when there was nothing. To speak hungry words although they had no taste. To speak words as prayers or wishes or curses.

She found out more words to do with money. She elongated spendthrift and emphasised the “ffft” at the end. P-words. With emphasis. Prodigal was said contemptuously with a Sunday school cadence. Profligate. Pecuniary.

Week in and week out, the money ran in, and the money ran out.

Beer bottles and pizza boxes.

Match boxes and cigarette packets.

Cereal packets and milk bottles.

All running to something. From something. Or someone. Running to stand still. The viciousness of hope was a powerful drug. The vivacity of hopelessness was even stronger.

A week later she was drawing on the footpath using chalk she had taken from her classroom without the teacher knowing. Circles within circles within an elongated ellipsis that stretched as far as her hand could reach.

“It’s just gonna wash away when it rains,” the boy said.

“Then I’ll draw something else.”

She started to fill in sections of the overlapping circles in different colours.

“Mum said we might be here longer than she thought.”

The girl kept filling in circles.

“Can I colour some in, too?” he asked.

She shrugged.

Sharing the coloured sticks they filled in the shapes into a kaleidoscope of muted pastels.

“Can I run with you one day?”

“Only if you can keep up.”

“What if you’re standing still?”

“Then you’ll never be able to catch up.”

 

Listen HERE

Here is the track listing for Mount Pleasant.

  1. Holding Pattern
  2. Potemkin
  3. Pendock and Progress
  4. Meet Me In The Meadow
  5. Shambles
  6. Time Away
  7. Summer Sun
  8. Well, Go Well
  9. Gueules cassees

I Am The King

I’m riding past the fibro houses linked like rosary beads, counting them as you would Hail Marys because only Mary understands housing commission. And everyone knows at least one teenage mum. I stole the bike from someone’s front yard but told mum I found it in a hard rubbish clean up. Gave it a coat of paint from a spray can. Maybe one day I’ll drop it back where it came from. Right now, I am king and priest.

Handwritten Pages #21 Read Me

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Fumbling in the darkness you believe you can read the lovers’ braille of gooseflesh on my arms. Except you stutter like a toddler, stuck sucking simple words found in my nipples; repetitively mouthing without nuance or inflection, nor grasping the meaning of what you read. I hold the shaft of the pen you want to write our history with, squeeze the ink dry. You’ll read my note on the table in the morning.

Handwritten Pages #14

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     It is the rhythmic rasp of the sandpaper she likes best. A counterpoint, and companion, voice to her grandfather’s asthmatic wheeze as he makes furniture and occasionally toys. Punctuated by the cough of the match head on the striking paper to light his hand rolled cigarettes.
     She can discern by ear the coarseness of the grit against the grain. Jarrah, pine, mahogany. He gives her the cork block and a sheet of sandpaper. Converses with her through each stroke.
     She knows, one day, this conversation will cease.

Handwritten Pages #12

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The boy said, “Daddy, you’re crying. Are you hurt?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Where? I can’t see it.”
“In my heart and in my head.”
“Why?”
“Because Grandpa, my father, died and I miss him.”
For the first time the boy knew a pain beyond the physical scrape of a grazed knee, the sting of Dettol and the salve of attention.
In the awkwardness of facing human pain he saw the wounded soul seeping out from behind an imaginary Band-Aid; a too small covering for a gaping wound.
He leaned forward and kissed his father’s forehead.

The Heart Is An Echo Chamber Release Date

It has taken a little while but on August 10th I will have a new story coming out in Jodi Cleghorn’s collection, The Heart is An Echo Chamber.

My story, “Untethering” is a response story to “Squeezebox” from No Need to Reply.

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Follow the link below to get your hands on one or both of the books.

The Heart Is An Echo Chamber

Handwritten Pages #8

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She watched the rain fall in light sheets, imagining a giant cloth wiping away the crumbs of a broken day.
Yet in the morning when the rain had ceased and the dampness dissipated a thin film of dirt remained. The skerricks of an eraser left after rubbing out the pencil marks on a sheet of paper. To make the new day fresh required more work than she expected.

 

SIDE NOTE: When I was writing this, transcribing it from my notebook where I first scribbled the idea, I asked myself why I ascribed the feminine pronoun to the character of the narrative. It was arbitrary, without conscious assignation.

I then reread the paragraph replacing ‘she’ with ‘he’ and saw a different reading. As a personal reflection, I think I tend to write more from a female perspective than a male one. For purely unscientific research I did a gender breakdown on the Handwritten Pages.

  1. “I” (indeterminate)
  2. Couple (male/female)
  3. Female (2 sisters)
  4. Female 
  5. “I” (indeterminate)
  6. He
  7. Male (2 brothers)
  8. Female

In examining the content of each piece, the seemingly arbitrary allocation of gender pronouns was determined by its focus. The third Handwritten Page was inspired by a friend’s recollection of her childhood with her sisters so it was a natural response to use the feminine. 

In last week’s Handwritten Page I ascribed masculine pronouns, except to the “I” persona. In reality it could easily be the sibling rivalry between a brother and sister yet in my head it was between brothers; we tend to pair brothers with brothers and sisters with sisters in terms of sibling rivalry and not a brother/sister combination.

It also made me think about how the content of a narrative influences the reader’s understanding of gender. Does it affirm or subvert paradigms? Why or why not? Just asking.

But the distinction of female or male POV in a narrative made me think about how I read gender in a story (being male) and how others would read the piece above (male or female). I know men and women will read the paragraph differently based on their own gender, and their reading of gender. 

Try reading today’s piece replacing ‘she’ with ‘he’. Does it make a difference in your reading? What nuances or differences are borne out of a different reading? Does it matter? I’m interested in your ideas.