Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Clearing Books

This is a Three Word Wednesday (CCLXV) contribution, using the words fragrant, jostle and remnant.

He watched the big men, small old women and fussing mothers in the crowd jostle for position in front of the huge glass doors. Above the door, a banner advertised the Mega Book Clearance Sale with a start time that was now twelve minutes ago. He shrugged, and sat down on a bench, well back from the crazy people, and returned to the last chapter of a Thomas Keneally novel he’d picked up the day before at a suburban thrift shop.

Eventually the doors were opened. Four bulky, obese men in pseudo-official-looking white shirts that featured plastic badges tried to look intimidating.

After ten minutes, he’d finished the book. He put it back in his bag and sighed deeply, satisfied, as if he’d finished a great meal. He walked past the guards, who now looked bored, and into the warehouse. A small remnant of the piles of books he’d seen before remained. The air was fragrant with a thousand rifled and hastily-purchased paperbacks. He smiled. The pulp had been removed. He moved slowly through the aisles, and selected four books that he knew he wanted to read. The total was $12.50, including GST.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


He swore as the light turned to orange a hundred metres ahead of him, and then red. He fumed as he waited, staring at the lights, wishing them green, even as cars streamed across the intersection. His thumbs drummed the steering wheel, until even that sound annoyed him. He hit the top of the steering wheel hard with his open palm and swore again. The world was full of people that were just trying to stop him from getting to where he wanted to get.

Stress, stress, always stress; but this was worse than normal. A train would arrive at site in less than an hour to be loaded. It was the last train needed to fill a ship that had apparently been ordered by a very important customer. And now the train load-out wouldn't work because one lousy electrical contactor had failed. And then after SAP said there was one in the store, the shelf said there wasn't.

The light went green, and he chirped the tyres as he accelerated.

A bright-spark planner had found the part in town, at an electrical wholesaler. Lucky, really. Now it all rested on his shoulders. He needed to get the part, and get to site. His chance to be the hero, for once.

He decided to skip the next lights by taking some back-streets, and then cut back onto Clermont Street again later.

On the way through the back-streets, he cursed a jogger, and an old man, and some fool crawling along the street at only 50 kilometres an hour. He made it to Clermont Street. He was close now. He checked his watch: 4:54. Another problem, to add to his day full of problems: he needed to get there by five.

Cars streamed by, evenly spaced – just close enough together that he couldn't get in. He nudged out a little into the street, but it only seemed to slow them down. He backed up again, and the driver of a car that had come up behind him leaned on the horn. He felt like crying now; he was almost shaking with rage, and frustration. It was a conspiracy: the slow cars were actually speeding up to close the gaps in front of them, and the fast cars were slowing down, to close the gaps behind them.

Then, he spotted the gap. A car had turned left at the last moment, without indicating, (Damn you!) and left a gap (Thank you!) He floored it, into the gap, and kept his foot flat to the floor. The car he'd cut in front of leaned on the horn, so he gave him the finger in the mirror.

He looked ahead, and then time froze.

There was a man, standing right in the middle of the street. He'd been running actually, running across the street, before time stopped him, and dangled him right there, in the way.

Instinctively, he moved his foot over to the brake, and pushed down with all his weight.

He stared at the man, and the man stared back. They both knew, so clearly, what was happening, as it happened. The both knew how this was going to end, even though they were both putting everything they had into avoiding it.

And then time slipped loose again, and his car was stopped, slightly crooked in the street. The smoke that had billowed up from his tyres and around the car drifted forward with the breeze, revealing the man, dead in the street.

He sat and stared at the man that he had killed. He wasn't thinking; he couldn't think. He sat, alone, and the world was empty.

This story was first published in Shift Miner Magazine.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Irish Coffee

“G'day,” said Jack to the short waitress standing behind the counter. “I'd like a coffee, thanks.”

The waitress looked up and said in an Irish accent, “Is that a collared shirt?”

Jack blinked. Talk about lost in translation. He'd thought he'd give the new Irish pub and coffee shop and whatever else was in this joint a try, but was already regretting it. “No,” he said, slower, more clearly. “I'd like a coffee, thank you. Black, no sugar.”

“Is that a collared shirt you're wearing under your coat?”

Jack looked down at his coat, which was zipped up to the top against the cold. “Why do you want to know?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“We have a dress code,” the girl said, still making no move to write down his order. “You need a collared shirt after six pm.”

Jack blinked again. “But you can't see my shirt.”

“I know, sir.” She seemed to be losing patience now. Waitresses were supposed to be more patient than this, he thought. Perhaps it as an Irish thing. “That's why I'm asking you now, if it's got a collar.”

“But it's like this,” said Jack. “A dress code can only logically apply to clothing that is visible. You can't mandate clothing that you can't see. Otherwise you might have a dress code that insists on brief-type jocks and not boxers.”

The girl looked puzzled.

“I hate boxers. I promise I'm not wearing them.”

She placed the order pad carefully down on the bench and sighed. Jack didn't think waitresses were supposed to sigh like that. Very unproffessional. “After six pm, you must wear a collared shirt. Even a t-shirt with a collar is fine.”

“Even if you can't actually see the shirt?”

“Yes sir.”

Jack looked intently at her. “I'm willing to open up my jacket and check, if you're willing to admit that your dress code makes no sense.” He looked around about him. It was a pub. A clean pub, granted, but still just a pub. “I mean, it's not even such a nice place.”

“I don't rightly care if it makes sense,” said the waitress. “I just have to check for shoes and collared shirts.”

Jack looked down and checked his feet. “Well, I do have shoes on,” he said.

“I know.” Her voice was icy now. Pity; she hadn't looked half bad before she'd got cranky.

Jack unzipped his jacket, grabbed the top of his shirt near his neck and had a look. “I'm afraid you're out of luck,” he said to her. “No collar.”

“I'm very sorry, sir.” she said. “But I'll have to ask you to leave.”

“When will you have to do that?”


Jack shrugged. “I guess you can all do what you like, whether it makes sense or not,” said Jack, zipping his jacket back up. “You'll just have to do it with somebody else's money.”

As he left, he saw that the bouncers on the front door had t-shirts on without collars. Perhaps that's why they have to stay outside, he thought.

This story was first published in Shift Miner Magazine.