Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Christmas

Chris wasn't sure what had gone wrong with his Christmas.

He'd made all the right preparations, sparing no expense. There was plenty of grog, and he was into it at a very reasonable pace. There'd been lots of good food: ham, chicken and prawns, and all kinds of salads. He was still feeding himself as much White Christmas and nuts as he could handle without making himself sick. There'd been presents for everyone under the tree; he'd made sure everyone got what they wanted.

Now, with the presents opened and the Christmas lunch consumed, Chris sat back with his rum and coke, trying to make himself feel happy. He knew he should; and he couldn't rightly think of anything else that he wanted, that he could have or get, that might be missing.

His son Jack was playing with his new iPhone, in his room. He'd seemed happy with it.

Chris got up, and went to the kitchen where his wife was trying to work out how to use the whiz-bang fully automatic coffee machine he'd bought her. He shook his head; a thousand bucks for a machine, when a teaspoon did the same job, quicker. But, it was what she wanted. She'd seemed happy enough, when she'd unwrapped it, though not very surprised. Now her head looked like it was shaking, as she turned from looking at the manual to the machine, back and forward.

Seeing the machine made Chris think he'd like a cup of coffee, so he put the kettle on.

"Are you right?" Helen snapped at him.

Chris got such a fright he almost spilled his drink. He looked at her slightly dazed, confused. "What?"

"Don't you think I can get this to work?"

Chris thought about that for a moment; he knew a trick question when he heard one. Actually, almost all of Helen's questions were trick questions. She didn't often ask him for his opinion or his advice. "Of course you will," he said.

"Well wait five minutes and you can have a real coffee."

Chris shrugged, and turned off the kettle. As he left the kitchen the machine started to make a terrible high-pitched grinding noise.

Well, in any case, thought Chris, if he couldn't feel happy on Christmas Day, he could certainly get drunk. He made himself another rum and coke, going very easy on the coke. He used only as much as was absolutely necessary to make the concoction look black.

He went and sat on the back steps, wishing he wasn't already looking forward to his next tour. Over the fence, his neighbour was playing frisbee with one of his boys, who was about ten. They really did look like they were having a lot of fun, and for a minute he envied them, which was ridiculous. That man didn't earn half what he did: he drove a piece of junk, and their house was tiny – especially for the four or five kids they had. They might be happy for a few minutes, but it couldn't last.

The neighbour's kid laughed as he jumped to catch the frisbee. He called out, "Thanks for the frisbee dad, its fantastic."

Chris sipped his drink and frowned, and tried to think. Had Jack actually said thanks when he'd got his phone? He'd certainly said, "Cool." That didn't mean thanks though, did it?

Chris went inside to Jack's room and knocked on the door. No answer. He opened the door. Jack wasn't there. The iPhone box and manuals and cables were on his bed.

He went into the kitchen. "Helen," he said. "Jack's not in his room."

Helen handed him a cup of coffee. "He went out with his friends. I said he could go. It's not a happy Christmas if you can't have fun, is it?"

"No, I suppose not." He sipped at the coffee. It wasn't hot enough, and it tasted like dirt. He smiled. "Lovely. Happy Christmas." He took a long sip of his rum and coke.

This story was originally published in Issue 102 of Shift Miner Magazine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Promise to Fish

They fished in silence for an hour, standing close together on the beach. The sun set over the sea, flooding the sky with an orange glow. David looked up and down the coast in the fading light. They had the beach to themselves.

"You get any bites?"

Sam shook his head. "No, not yet."

In twenty minutes the sun had gone, and David and watched the white foam on the tops of the small waves shining in the moonlight as they came into the shore. He felt cold. "I'm going to make a fire," he said.

He reeled in his line and walked to their fishing bags and put down his rod. He went up to the high water mark, just below the dunes, to gather driftwood. He prepared a pile of wood on the sand to start a fire, but had nothing to light it with. He shivered, and walked back to Sam.

"Any bites?" he asked.

"I think I got one," said Sam, "just a minute ago."

"Maybe he stole your bait."


"Hey, you got a light?" said David. "I don't have anything to start a fire." He knew Sam smoked, though he tried to keep it a secret from their mother. That meant he tried to hide it from David too.

"Yeah, I do. I thought we might want to make a fire."

David smiled. Sure you did.

Sam started winding in his line. "I'll come with you," he said. "I'm sick of standing here, catching nothing."

When he'd reeled his line in, he showed David the bare hook.

David nodded. They walked together to their fishing bags. Sam put his rod beside David's, and they walked over to the pile of driftwood nearby. Sam lit the dried-out seaweed and grass David had stuffed amongst the smaller pieces of wood. In a few minutes the fire was burning well. They sat as close as they could to the fire without burning the hairs on their legs. Neither of them spoke as they stared into the flames. The fire snapped and crackled. The waves dropping on the shoreline made a constant, beating sound.

Sam spoke first. "Do you have a problem?"

David smiled. Sam was always blunt; never the diplomat. "No, I'm just cold; and, I don't actually like fishing all that much."

Sam shrugged. "Me neither."

"I never fish, actually, except on these trips with you."

Sam nodded. "We used to love fishing, when we were boys, when Dad would take us. We had a lot of fun then, didn't we?"

David laughed at the memory. "Yeah."

Sam reached behind him for a piece of wood and placed it on the fire. Bright sparks jumped up into the smoke and then fizzled out high in the air. "I guess it was Dad who really liked to fish," he said.

"You really think so?" said David. He turned from the fire to study his younger brother's face. "Did you know he never went fishing by himself, after we'd both left home?"

Sam turned and looked David in the eye. "You sure? He used to talk about it."

"He talked a lot," said David, "but he never went. I asked Mum. She said he only ever fished with us. He never even went fishing before we were born. He only bought the gear when I was four or five."

"That's weird. Dad did do some weird things, didn't he?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Hey," said Sam, "how old's your little boy now?"

"Frank? He'll be five in a few months."

"You gonna take him fishing, like Dad took us?"

David thought for a moment, staring into the fire. "Yes," he said, turning back to Sam. "I think I will."

"That's good. If I had a kid, I'd take him fishing."

David didn't reply to that.

Sam spoke again. "Do you want to keep doing this; our once-a-year fishing trip?"

"We promised Dad."

"I know," said Sam. "Why did he make us promise, anyway? We don't even like fishing. We haven't caught a thing in years."

"Yeah, but we promised."

"You're right." Sam poked at the fire with a stick. "We'll keep doing it, then."

They drifted into silence again. They stared into the flames, poking at it with sticks, and throwing things into it. David said, "You wanna pack it in?"

"Sure, it's getting real cold now."

They put out the fire with sea water, fetched with the buckets that were meant to hold their catch. They walked slowly together up the beach to their cars. They packed away their gear, then shook hands. David reached forward and hugged his brother, awkwardly. "See you next year," he said.

"Yeah, sure; next year. Look, I'll try to call you, more often."

"Sure, that'd be great. Me too."

This story was first published in Issue 100 of Shift Miner Magazine.