Monday, March 29, 2010

Legend in His Own Lunchbox

After a break, I have started writing for Shift Miner Magazine again. My latest contribution appears on page 19 of Issue 83, and is called Legend in His Own Lunchbox.

I wrote this story in response to a challenge from Tristan, who wrote:
Bernard, this question has been asked of me in the past and my answer has never been an easy decision. Try using it as a challenge for a story:

"Do you want to be a big part of something small, or a small part of something big?"
I hope that my story is up to the challenge. This story is also less technical in nature than some of the previous ones; I hope that those of you not in the mining industry can enjoy it.

Your comments are appreciated. Unless you're posting spam links; in which case please go away.

Update: The full text of this story is posted here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

High School 50 Years Ago

I've just tried out a blog called The One-Minute Writer. They give you a prompt, and you have just one minute to write about it. Believe me, it's not long. It was kind of fun though; I may try it again some time.

The prompt (from here), is:
Do you think high school is easier or harder today, than it was 50 years ago? Why?

My Response: High School 50 Years Ago
There's no doubt that high school was a lot harder fifty years ago. Just ask my grandfather. He had to walk five miles to school, sometimes in the snow. He was caned for frowning or not doing his homework. At the end of a gruelling day, he had to walk seven miles home again, in the blistering heat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Sue and I

Her name was Sue. I got this from her name badge. She was about forty, and I thought she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. Her fingers showed no sign of a wedding ring, though of course I hadn't had the courage to ask about that.

I'd first seen Sue at the Hertz desk when I arrived in town after a business trip on a late flight from Brisbane. Now I found myself approaching the desk to rent a car for no other purpose than to see her, and to talk to her again, and hopefully to find the courage to ask her out.

I'd picked a time late in the day. The airport was almost empty, and there were no other customers. I approached the desk quietly; too quietly. Sue was concentrating on cutting out some labels. I coughed politely to get her attention, and gave her such a fright she swore and cut her finger with the scissors. She seemed more embarrassed than hurt, though it did draw blood.

"Sorry," she squeaked as she hurried out the back, "I'll be right back." She returned in a few minutes, with a bandaid on her finger. "I'm so sorry," she said. Her face was still just a little flushed, though her silvering blonde hair still sat perfectly on her shoulders. I wanted to tell her she was beautiful, but that wouldn't have been proper. Instead I said, "Do you have any cars free at the moment?"

"You don't have a reservation?" Her tone was professional.

I shook my head. "Not at all," I said, and shrugged, trying to pull off nonchalant. "It's just a spur-of-the-moment thing."

Sue started to go red again. "I'm sorry, but we do only bring a limited number of cars here into the airport office, over and above those required to meet reservations. It's late in the day, and they've all been taken. I could call the downtown office, if you like." She reached for the phone with her hand that didn't have a bandaid, or a wedding ring, on it.

"No, don't do that. It doesn't matter." I turned to go, took a few steps then turned around again. She was still looking at me. "Thank you anyway," I said, "Thank you." Again I turned away, took a few steps and turned to face her. She hadn't stopped watching me, but she looked more amused than anything now. I shuffled back to the desk. "And sorry about that," I said. It was my turn to blush now, as I pointed to her injured finger. She had such elegant fingers.

"It wasn't your fault," she said. Her voice was softer now, less businesslike and efficient. It had huskiness to it.

I wanted to lean over the counter and kiss her softly on the lips, but that wouldn't be right at all. I cleared the thought from my mind, and turned again.

This time Sue's voice made me turn back to her. "Not that it's my business," she said, her voice still gentle, but firm, "but this must be the third time you've come out to get a car on a whim."

I said nothing, but I was conscious of the heat in my face. It must have been glowing.

"Is there anything else you'd like, that I could help you with?"

I didn't want to kiss her any more; I wanted to turn and run. I forced myself to stay, look into her eyes and nod.

Sue looked at her watch. "I close up here in twenty minutes. Would you like to hang around till then, and we can go get a late dinner?"

The relief made me feel a little dizzy. I hung onto the counter for balance, and nodded again. I coughed, to clear my throat. "Yes Sue," I said. "I'd like that. I'd like that very much."

Edit: typos as per Matt's comments.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Motivator

This story was originally published in the 5 minute fiction column of Issue 76 of Shift Miner Magazine. I previously blogged about this story here.

This is a deviation from my usual stories and has a sadder theme. I got some varied feedback on this story. This included a someone telling me that they felt that I was judging people who chose to do fly-in-fly-out type of work. He seemed to take it personally; perhaps I hit a nerve.

What do you think?

The Motivator
Trent left the job he loved to chase the pay packets that the coal mines were offering. He found a job as a boilermaker for a contracting company; though, he didn't like the work at all. He loathed the early morning starts, getting up in the dark. Welding, cutting and gouging steel in the Central Queensland heat sapped his strength and his will. In a way, the work was always changing: a dragline bucket, a stacker-reclaimer, a construction job. Really though, the work never changed.

From the very start, Trent's only reason for working in the mines was to give his family the financial security and opportunities they deserved. He kept himself going through the weeks, months and years because this motivation was so close to his heart, literally. In his left shirt pocket, Trent kept his first payslip, with a photo of his wife Alison, and their two little girls, Caitlin and Emily, glued to the back. He called it his Motivator. He had plasticised his Motivator with a laminator to protect it from the dirt, sweat and coal dust. Over time it had become covered in creases and folds, and the plastic was peeling apart at the corners. During crib times, or the lonely nights in the camp, Trent would take out his motivator to remind himself of the reasons he was sweating in the heat and the dust, and to muster the strength to get up and get back to work.

He'd done all this for them; they knew that. They must know that. Their new life had its costs, of course. Trent hadn't been there when Caitlin lost her first tooth. He was on site when Emily fell down the stairs and cut her head open. He'd offered to come home on the next plane, but no, she said, we managed okay. She didn't add, “without you”, but he'd felt it.

They'd talked about it, after he'd finished that tour: if he should leave the mines and come back. It wouldn't work, she said, with the mortgage on the home, and the car repayments, and the private school fees. He said fine, and that he was only doing it for them anyway; he was willing to pay the price.

They seemed to manage okay, on the whole; but Trent was rarely around for the little things. He could book leave and twist his boss's arm to make time for the big occasions, but the little things slipped by; one at a time, over the years.

One day he arrived home for his days off, exhausted, to an empty house. “We've grown apart,” she said when he found her, eventually, at her mother's place. “You're not the same person any more, and neither am I.”

“I did all this for you,” said Trent.

“I know, I know; but it's not going to work. Don't worry about us, we'll manage okay.”

There were a lot of things Trent wanted to say then, but he didn't. He couldn't find the words, so he stood there like an idiot, with his mouth open. He thought of things he could have said, later.

Trent keeps working in the mines on the roster he still hates. He still does it for the girls, the two little ones mostly. He hopes that one day soon they won't despise him like they do now; that they'll grow out of it. He hopes that Alison will come back to him. A stupid hope, he knows, but it's still his hope. He can forget the pain and the past with the hard work and the hot sun and the scorching steel. He can forget until crib time, when he pulls out his motivator, and clenches his jaw to hold back the tears.