Tag Archives: slice of life

Things To Do While Sitting With Grief

Things To Do While Sitting With Grief

tie your shoelaces with the perfect tightness you like. send a text to your best friend asking how he’s doing at the moment because you haven’t spoken in a while. and send one to your sister for the same reason.

write out a shopping list of what you will need for the week and include a treat for yourself. count the drops of rain falling and see if you can make it to one thousand.

read a book; the one you said you always would but never get around to.

respond to your best friend’s text and invite him over for dinner and ask him what his favourite food is and plan to make it. add the ingredients to the shopping list you started earlier.

turn your phone off. listen at the window. make a mental note of what you see in the colour of the sky and shape of the clouds. remember your first kiss and why it stays in your memory and not the last kiss you gave or received. wait for the echo.

paint your fingernails and toenails even if no one will see them. later, put on your favourite socks, the comfy ones you wear around the house with slippers.

measure the distance the shadow travels as it pushes in like the rising tide. tomorrow, time how long it takes.

draw the flowers in the vase and capture their fragility; a daguerreotype of death. next week, draw them when they have wilted. preserve it.

listen to the sound of your breathing, through your mouth, through your nose. clench your fists breathing in. release them breathing out.

Mount Pleasant – Prologue

As you will now no doubt be reminded that Solkyri’s new album, Mount Pleasant, launches on March 6, 2020, and I am in the process of writing a piece of flash fiction for each track. Grab it, have a listen.

You can read Holding Pattern, and Pendock and Progress, the first two pieces.

The band is hosting an album launch on March 28, 2020 (if you’re in Sydney, Australia).

I am launching one more piece, a prologue to the album. After this I am setting out to write six more pieces for the other tracks and will launch the collection as a chapbook later in the year, probably before June (to allow for typesetting, set up, ordering copies and the like – stay tuned).

The prologue sets the scene for the thematic focus of the album: deception, decait and false facades. The stories are based on the inspiration behind each track, and interpreted in my own way, and my response to the music.

Mount Pleasant

Prologue

Four boys pulled up on their BMX bikes at the sign declaring the name of their suburb, dismounted and dropped their bikes just off the footpath in the unmown grass and collected rocks from the broken edging of the bitumen where it crumbled and exposed the road base.

The white reflective background of the sign mimicked a rainbow from the right angle as the boys took aim at the black and faded capital letters. This invisible line of demarcation creating a boundary of narrowed expectations as thin and carcinogenic as a cigarette. Scratched and pockmarked with its own acne.

The boys threw their rocks with no other intention than to score a hit, celebrating the ping as each rock struck. One of them drifted away, found a length of stick and started swinging through the heads of grass and weeds. He flung the stick towards his mates, skittering it along the footpath as it twisted and jumped, hitting one of them in the back of the legs. It was thrown back with greater force, catching him across the shins.

“Shithead.”

“Arsehole.” A smirk at having drawn spots of blood.

The honk of a horn and the rattle of ute pulling over onto the crumbled verge, tyres coughing through the gravel, passing the boys and pulling up just beyond the sign. Two council workers hopped out and began setting up tools at the base of the sign. The boys watched, ignored by the council workers. One of them pulled a packet of Burger Rings from under his t-shirt, filched from the servo where they’d pumped up their bike tyres. Another one passed around a packet of chewie.

A piece of gravel taken from the footpath and chucked it at the sign. It pinged and the council workers flinched and retorted, “Piss off!”

“What ya doing? Having smoko?”

“Changing the sign; what does it bloody look like?”

“Why?”

“Suburb’s getting a name change.”

“What for?”

“Because of hooligans like you, that’s what’s for.”

The four stood around as the council workers set up two step ladders behind the sign, climbed up and began loosening nuts. The spanner slipped from the hand of one of the workers and clattered in the gravel and dirt. The boys raised a mocking chorus of approval. They watched the name of their suburb come down, thrown into the back of the ute tray before the new sign was pulled from a cardboard sheath.

Within a few minutes the new sign was in place instantly changing the name of the suburb. The new sign gleamed pristine and fresh.

“Dad reckons changing the name of the suburb is like wearing a suit to the pub.”

“Yeah but your dad’s full of shit, too.”

Beyond the sign the suburb looked exactly the same, unaware of the name change and probably wouldn’t have cared for it anyway.

One of boys picked up another piece of gravel and chucked it at the sign, the ping ricocheting into the traffic noise.

“Different name. Same shithole.”

They spat their chewing gum at the sign, picked up their bikes, rode under the sign and headed home.

Pendock and Progress – A Short Story

“Pendock and Progress” is the second track released from Solkyri’s forthcoming album, Mount Pleasant.

Pendock and Progress (Track 3)

Circling Pendock Close with a bloodied nose. Dripping on to his t-shirt and caking above his lip. Pedalling hard to take the sting out of the pain. Up to the end of the street to the intersection and hanging a left. Barrelling down the footpath to the next intersection, turning around, and coming back. Looping through the cul-de-sac and up the other side, hanging a right and repeating the pattern.

He wiped his nose tentatively with the back of his hand and it came away with claret. Still. Caught stealing ciggies from his dad to give to older mates at school in exchange for pieces of silver and gold. Canteen money for a packet of Twisties. His dad clipped him with a backhander. Shouted how hard he had worked for something he enjoyed and the little bastard was depriving him of that pleasure.

He cleaned his hand on the back of his shorts. Kept riding laps of the cul-de-sac. The bike was a pick-up from the local hard rubbish clean up. Driving home after the nightshift his dad spotted it and lobbed it into the back of the car after giving it the once over and deciding he could get it up and running. Dad lapped the neighbourhood looking for other bikes for the parts he needed. It was one thing he was proud of. A labourer’s hands that fixed something. Made something good. Most of the time it was fabricating houses for posh fucks to inhabit. Other times it was demolishing houses for posh fucks to build another, larger house.

“Here you go, have a ride.” That’s all he said. It was mismatched, given a once over with spray paint to cover the rusted parts but fully functional and solid. His dad had made it. Respect born out of initiative.

But initiative that didn’t know how to move beyond the curvature of the street. The boy understood when a labourer’s hands became idle from a lack of work, they became hands of construction and deconstruction of the family and its relationships. Casual labour and seasonal work, packing shelves or running registers. An array of King Gee, flannies and singlets on the washing line in each neighbouring yard. A system that violently protected itself by keeping people on minimum wage. Keeping the idea of education at the forefront of their minds but at the back end of budgeting.

The blast of a car horn and a wave from an old man at the wheel turning into the cul-de-sac. The boy waved back and watched as the car pulled into his driveway. He rode down the street and pulled up as Grandad stepped out. A firm and static handshake exchanged. Grandad was a bastard of a brute. Nanna had died when he was little. Probably to escape Grandad. Nanna was orange cordial and Scotch Finger biscuits. Grandad was Reader’s Digest condensed books and talkback radio.

“Where’s your dad?”

“Inside.”

“Your mum home?”

“At work.”

“Your nose,” he pointed.

The boy shamefully wiped at the dried blood.

“My dad gave it to me worse.” A declarative comparison indicating the softening of generations.

The car door closed, and Grandad’s shadow lengthened towards the house.

Even though Grandad no longer struck his father, the boy could see how the generations measured up. Toughness was measured in how close you could get to the line of confrontation, prodding, goading, pricking, without copping a smack in the mouth from a backhanded swing. But that line was movable. He could stand his ground. Fight for what he wanted, even if it was only to piss the old man off. But always knowing who had the upper hand.

A genealogy of violence so circuitous and labyrinthine the boy wondered if he was the Minotaur at its centre, or simply the progeny of what was monstrous lusting after flesh and attacking people the way his Grandad had attacked his father, who attacked him and his mum and siblings. The fact a penis swung between your legs meant power and authority through the erect salute made between the pages of Penthouse magazine, and the flaccid outcome of making a mess in your own hands and wiping it away with wads of toilet paper.

The boy kneeled down at the front tap next to the letterbox and turned it on, letting the water run through his hand until it became cool. Splashing his face to clean the blood off, watching the red stain fade through his fingers. Slurping at the water cupped at his chin and feeling it run off the end of his nose, like blood. His hand shot up to check. Finding it clean he wiped his hand across his face. He looked down and began rubbing the spots of blood between his fingers. His mum would be angry he had stained his clothes but if he kept out of her way, he thought he could avoid the sideways glances. On his bike he could avoid the sideways glances of his dad and grandad.

The boy picked up his bike from the footpath and took off up the street. Each house he passed was a photocopied mimicry of an original that once had purpose. Untamed lawn edges or attempted front yard gardens of roses or murraya hedges. Kids’ plastic trikes next to Ford Lasers and Mitsubishi Colts. Fibro walls were good for fuck-all. Fabrication of pretence and a façade of neighbourliness as dog shit was tossed over the nearest backyard fence.

On his next lap around the cul-de-sac his younger brother came out the front door, probably told to piss off outside, and sat on the concrete verandah with a fistful of Hot Wheels cars. Lined them up along the top step and took turns pushing them off, one by one, down the three steps. The clatter of metal on concrete.

The boy felt the distance between himself and his brother, between himself and his father. Absence and ignorance stung like a father’s fist and blossomed into plum-coloured bruises. When they were visible, he learned to use mum’s concealer to hide them. Like she does.

He remembered lining up with his classmates, dressed in the category of ‘normal’ in their uniforms. On the surface it looked the same: blue shirt, grey shorts, white socks and sneakers. Or leather shoes if they could be afforded. But it was the idiosyncratic differences of how someone wore their shirt tucked out, longer socks or all the buttons done up to the very top he noticed as normal, too. Normal was having the shit kicked out of you at regular intervals by your father and turning up to school in the same uniform as everyone else thinking they too had the shit kicked out of them by their fathers on a regular basis. It was never said but always understood, as if bruises had their own telepathy to communicate with other bruises and share the pain as a salve of solidarity as the colours faded like the clouds of a summer storm.

He felt an underlying prickliness in his stomach when he looked at someone and they knew, too. Pendock Close had many faces, poverty being the most obvious. Yet poverty of affection, poverty of acknowledgement, poverty of awareness meant the boy let the prickliness tumble through his stomach, pass some of it out like runny shit to alleviate the stabbing for a brief time. But it was always there.

The desire to be seen, and noticed, not as a meat bag, a human sausage to be pricked and tossed; the fragile skin casing threatening to burst at the impact of a pellet spray of words shot from an arse.

And the boy continued on for another lap of Pendock Close.

* * * * *

The song is based on systematic violence and cycles of poverty named after two streets where the band grew up. I took inspiration from the accompanying artwork to develop the concept of the cul-de-sac, a closed road, a dead end, a place of going nowhere as a sustained metaphor throughout the piece. 

The plan is to have a collection of flash pieces written, one for each track on the album, by the middle of the year after the album is released in March as a download. Stay tuned for details.

You can read the first story, “Holding Pattern.”

 

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.

Three Words for the New Year

In the light of celebrating the changing of the Gregorian calendar into 2018, let’s acknowledge Greg’s dating nomenclature: Happy Greg’s Day!

But, another three words to define this changing of the calendar on the wall, the diary on the desk, the scraps of paper used as notes and the back of my hand useful for the writing of lists, is to refocus the directions, habits and purposes of what you wish to achieve.

These are my three words for 2018: Patience, Fortitude, Tenacity

They are defined by my theological outlook and perspective, and have connections to events and situations that have impacted, are impacting, and will impact me. The changing of a calendar date doesn’t mean that all the craptacular events that happened last year haven’t continued on this year; I still have to deal with them. They impact myself, my family, my creativity. 

To be honest, 2017 was a year of continuation of years of crapness that feels like someone having handed me a never-ending roll of toilet paper. It helps clean up the mess but the mess keeps on coming. I didn’t, and haven’t, dealt with some of it well and the effect compounds into multiple areas but especially my creativity. 

No new stories written. Nothing published. Ideas planted, germinated, rising about the soil and scorched by the sun. It’s been a barren few years in terms of creative output. 

So how do these words help me refocus for the coming year? It’s about forming positive habits and achievable steps, looking at the long term destination rather than short term gains or (potential) rewards. 

Patience – like that of a saint. The ability to weather the storms and circumstances, and to travel when the conditions are good. To me, it’s having a longer perspective, a focus on the horizon and not simply the step immediately in front of me.
It’s a cultivated habit, a fruit of character and personality. To keep doing the work, not seeing the reward, while others around you are blessed and keep on going with nary a care in the world. I will have my reward in this life, or the next. Not to be distracted by the success of others (applaud them, support them, champion them) because they have done the work that is required. 

Fortitude – defined as courage in pain or adversity. Basically, above all, to stand.
So much has sucked away the creative impetus and momentum over the last few years and it has taken up a significant amount of emotional and mental energy. Often it’s painful and demoralising. Especially when it’s not happening to me specifically but to close family members who you take care of. It’s hard to see someone you love in pain and there is not much you can do except hold a space for them, and yourself.
Sometimes I feel like an anchor point for those around me but I’m afraid I’ll lose my grounding. But, digging in and digging deeper. 

Tenacity – keeping on when all you want to do is give up. And I’ve been feeling like giving up a lot lately. Had a rough gig on the weekend; it wasn’t a train wreck in terms of my drumming but for whatever reason it felt awkward and crap and at the end of the gig I wanted to break my drumsticks, sell my gear and quit playing drums. 
But that is one gig. I will have other bad gigs, I am sure. I’ve also had great gigs. Each day is a chance to refocus, start afresh and be thankful for mercy and grace. I’ll be looking at the next gig this weekend not through the lens of the past gig but at the possibility of what awesomeness it could be. Back to the practice pad.

Im summary, three words are meaningless without a plan to make them a habit so I’ll keep making notes, keep reading, keep writing. 

What would your three words for the year be?

Handwritten Pages #27 Origami Heart

We knew him as the boy who flew a kite from the classroom window on a very windy day. He said it was made from pages of the local newspaper pilfered off a random driveway on the way to school, straws from the canteen, and half-dried scraps of sticky tape. A loose thread pulled from the strap of his backpack anchored his flight of fancy. It gained altitude and we added our own strings to let it fly higher.
We asked him why he did it.
He said he had an origami heart.
The next day the wind was still and he did not return. At an assembly we found out he took his life.
The day after, we made kites. Some flew, however briefly; others smashed into the ground. I don’t think we truly understood why there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in an object.

Handwritten Pages #23 Return to Sender

Return to Sender

As the mail dwindled to bills and junk mail, so did his supply of scrap paper for shopping lists, reminders, numbers to call for appointments and snippets of love letters he wrote to his wife, dead now for three years; and the secrets he told to the person he imagined at the end of the address marked, “Return to Sender.”

Handwritten Pages #22 Storytelling

While you and I loitered outside the 7-Eleven after school, sucking down one dollar Slurpees, I saw a tangle of sneakers hanging like a cluster of grapes from the power lines.

I said we could harvest them, make bootleg memories that won’t mature until we’re twenty years into the future when we’re telling our stories to our children.

It made you laugh and you dribbled onto your uniform and I could see the colour of your bra. You asked what if it tasted like a ragged doormat. I shrugged. We walked on past the high-hanging fruit for ours is the now. But I looked back and wondered, if in the future, we’d buy from the Bottle-O because it’s convenient, rather than labour for the truth of our storytelling.

This piece was inspired by a line from Omar Musa’s TEDxSydney talk in 2013,  Slam Poetry of the Streets. You can view it HERE.
I hope he doesn’t mind the appropriation of his lyric.

 

Handwritten Pages #17

 

Standing inside the phone booth, its panes of glass crumbled to hail stones on the concrete floor, with the receiver cradled against my ear, I pretend to put coins in the slot while listening to the dial tone. The static drone a soundtrack to the anonymity of pain. Stabbing the numbers in a sequence I have never forgotten, hoping to call the ghosts of the future to tell them not to wait up for me.