Tag Archives: suburban realism

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.


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

Your Life In Centimetres

You stood beside me as the workmen gutted the kitchen, stripping the carcass to its constituent framework. Twenty-eight years of old Formica and lino, wonky hanging doors, spilled food stains and enough crockery broken through accident and anger.

“Hey Dad, I’m Jonah trapped inside the belly of the whale,” you said waving your hands beneath the exposed timber beams.

You winced as a crowbar jammed into the doorframe leading into the dining room and levered the old timber.

“Please be careful,” you said. Almost an invocation and the workman stopped. You walked over to the bending wood and ran your hand over the names and numbers. My hand followed yours down the lists like a medieval scribe interpreting the sacred texts and pictograms.

I remember when it started, when you were a wobbly one year old, unsteady on her feet. Against the doorframe between the kitchen and the dining room I measured your life in centimetres.

On the evening of each birthday you stood with your feet flat on the floor and I placed a ruler on your head and scratched at the mark with a pencil. You slipped out from under the ruler at the first instance to compare it against last year’s mark. I reached for the permanent marker and fixed your height against the wall like the rising marker of a flood level.

When you were smaller you bounced on the balls of your feet, pigtails dancing in unison, the tape measure in your hand. You wanted to hold the end of the tape measure flat to the floor, looking up it extended towards the ceiling. Scrambling up, you watched me scribe your height onto the wall, writing the secret code shared between us on the wall.

“How high am I now, Daddy?”

“How tall are you now.”

“How tall am I now, Daddy?”

“One hundred and twenty one centimetres.”

Sometimes I would catch you measuring yourself against the wall in-between birthdays.

“Measure me today Dad because I’m taller.”

“It’s not your birthday.”

“I can’t wait that long.”

“You’ll have to.”

A resigned smile followed by a mental calculation of how many days remained until your birthday.

Against the markers the extended family was subjected to a heightist conspiracy: uncles, aunts, cousins, friends. And Gary Brown remains the tallest person you know and measured against the wall, even taller than your younger brothers.

Your mother refused to be measured after a certain age, convinced she was shrinking. Especially after you celebrated the day your line passed your mother’s. You even tried to stand on your tiptoes to prove you were taller than me when you maxxed out at nineteen.

You charted and graphed the growth of you and your brothers for a maths assignment, logging the differences in height from year to year; the growth spurts and the gradual slowing down.

And when I thought you were too old to care about measuring your height, when your friends became more important, you sidled up to me as I was sitting in my chair working on the computer. In your hand was a ruler, pencil and permanent marker. You kissed my forehead, took my hand and pulled me towards the doorframe and said, “You have to measure me, Dad. It’s my birthday.”

Now the wall is flaking and peeling in a thousand layers of sunburnt skin. Or pulled up by the Batlow Red Delicious apple stickers (your favourite) applied around the doorframe. A trail of two hundred and twenty six minute green stepping stones traversing the frame beginning at the floor, following the markers of your height and extending beyond until it came back down the other side of the frame. It annoyed your mother but she relented.            

“At least she’s eating fruit,” she said.

This is your life, measured in increments, dated and catalogued until you were taller no more. This is my photo album, my filing system of memories.

At each evening meal you sat on my left hand side to see the television better but I watched your face and matched it to the lines on the wall.

And then there’s the photo on your wedding day, crouched beside the doorframe pointing at your first height marker. The freckles are still there, I know they are, hidden beneath the layer of makeup. You played dot-to-dot on your nose with a purple texta when you were seven. You scrubbed your face until it was red and raw. Going to school the next day you were so embarrassed about faint lines evident on your face.

Taking your hand from the wood the workmen continued and you waited for the delivery of the totem.

You cradled the wrenched wood as you would a child. Moving out of the noise of the renovations I followed you outside where you leaned it against the wall near the back door.

“It won’t be the same without the old height marker there,” I said.

“It would be nice if you started a new one,” you said. “For the grandchildren.”

You circled your stomach with your hand, looked at me and smiled.