Monday, 1 October 2018

Seeking Paradise

© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2016

“‘I could not wish for that which I have not yet experienced,” he said.’ Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov

It was, and still is, quite understandable that when June came back from death, and the ensuing Paradise, she should have a dominating fervour to return to this Paradise she had so lightly touched. After coming back from this death, and Paradise, she slowly blinked a few times and shook her head.
     ‘It’s okay, miss,’ said a young and pleasant female. ‘You’re in an ambulance. We’re going to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. You were hit by a car.’
     June closed her eyes, and remembered the accident.
     The accident, unexpectedly, though, had led to the entrance into Heaven for her, and this was the only thing she could focus on, feeling blessed. She thus soon came to view each day as a possible path back to this Paradise, Its actual presence being the justification for her sentience. She could, of course, suicide, and attempt Heaven that way, but her instincts told her she would just return forever to the moment of her suicide.
     Then she began to consider living rough, just leaving everything, all the modern clutter, to better find some semblance of Heaven here on Earth, hidden somewhere in the wild, or to enter It once more. The prospect seemed exciting. She could have a real adventure where she would both be on Earth, and either close to Heaven in the urban wilderness, or once more having found her way back There. She also jokingly considered taking up some illicit drugs while she was on the streets, and so making her search for Paradise even easier. And when she arrived There she’d be able to celebrate in such sweet, fine style, hopefully with enough drugs to share. Indeed, maybe actually something seriously to consider.
     When she did decide to ‘go homeless’, three weeks after dying, she also decided she must do so instantly. She also had to literally burn all of her bridges behind her; she had to enter the jungle virtually naked, the more ready to robe herself in the vestments of Heaven.
     So she burned her house down. The one that she had inherited from her mother. The one where she had lived very quietly and very well, without needing to work for all of her twenty-one years, another legacy of her mother’s.
     She left her old life, to seek an eternal life, when all of the curtains in the front living room were ablaze. She was not there when a crowd began to form and she was not there when the fire brigade eventually arrived. And none could ever trace her.

*

June didn’t know it at the time but she had terrific luck in finding squats around the inner city suburbs of Sydney. Counterpoint to that luck, however, was the fact that the squats always had tenants already, which tenants would not let her move in. They, without differing, all said that she ‘looked like a cop.’
     In fact, her ill luck became so bad that she soon had no choice but to sleep in parks. She tried a few, and had bought a sleeping bag for the occasion. She was looking for a park that seemed to have the quickest path back to Paradise. She eventually came to choose Royal Prince Alfred Park, Redferne, to sleep in. The park had a massive fig tree at the entrance, an obvious, massive hint for the searching June.
     Sleeping in the park was initially the great adventure that it promised to be to June. It was a month or so after the start of a very hot spring, 2015, and she went to sleep each night easily, after staring at the stars for a little while, wondering which of them held Paradise. She was warm atop her sleeping bag every night, and seeing that her only expense was food, she was saving most of her trust monies.
     Sleeping in the park, however, also soon became unbearable. It was the rain. She had been camping there a week or so, contentedly, very contentedly, feeling Paradise’s sure pull, when suddenly the heavens heavily rained upon her sleep. She was drenched, awaking in a panic, feeling attacked and abandoned.
     The shock also made her realise that there was one squat that she could live in: the burned wreck of her home. She didn’t know how badly her former home was burned but it seemed a surer thing than remaining here to get thoroughly more drenched and maybe catch pneumonia.
     Luckily she was within walking distance of her former abode and soon enough returned. It was not too bad. For a squat. The roof had partially caved in and the place was now basically just a charred box, littered with ashes.
     She moved under the safety tape fence and entered her childhood home.
     A lot of the things survived the fire, a clear call that they expected her to return. There was one sofa that was usable, all of the plates were fine, blackened, but washable, the large, glass and metal dining table was similarly blackened but washable. There were also a lot of other useable things. All a clear sign that her journey must begin here.
     She was so comfortable in her home that she was not surprised when she was gently shaken awake on the first morning after her return. She awoke expecting an angel.
     ‘Hey,’ said a gruff, bearded, and unkempt man with a gruff voice, ‘who are you?’
     ‘June.’
     ‘June what?’
     ‘Spalding.’
     ‘What are you doing here?’
     ‘This is my home.’
     ‘No, it’s not. Me and Stewey live here. You’re pretty obviously a cop.’
     ‘I’m not a cop. I get that a lot.’
     ‘Well, cop or not, you’re leaving. Now. Cop.’
     ‘Look, this is really my home. And I’m really not a cop.’
     ‘Then why do you want to find out where Stewey and I get our heroin?’
     ‘Can I somehow prove I’m not a cop?’
     ‘By getting out. Especially since Stewey’s less mild tempered than me.’
     She really had no choice. She quickly packed and left, rudderless.
     While she continued idly wandering though laneways and streets in Redferne she was thinking of heroin, prompted by the squatter who had evicted her. Maybe it was time to try some drugs to better reach Nirvana? Indeed, they seemed like the only answer left that would fulfil her desire. Going back to Royal Prince Alfred Park with a very nice friend in her system, and taking the chance of being awoken again by the rain, seemed to her like a sure way to attain Paradise. Indeed, the only way.
     She didn’t know where to get any heroin but she did know that one could get marijuana, maybe, from a pub. Pot may be the only drug she could get, at least for now. She was willing to try as many pubs as it took, also asking if she could get maybe some heroin whilst also getting the pot. She had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
     She got her pot at the first pub she tried, and with the first guy she asked. He had long blond hair and a fulsome, waxed, and curled moustache, a dark leather jacket and dark jeans, altogether of the bohemian set, nursing a schooner of dark ale. She had no idea how to smoke it and, after handing over the requested twenty dollars, explained her situation to the guy, the fact that she was trying pot for the first time. He was obliging, telling her to get a hash pipe from a tobacconist and then to chop up the pot finely into a bowl. He recommended she only have a third of a pipe to begin with.
     So she went back to the park, after buying scissors, a small bowl, and a hash pipe, and followed his instructions. It was the worst experience that she’d ever had. The pot came on soon after she drew it in, and she felt nothing but anxiety. The pot made her feel horrible, fleeing Paradise and its fundamental meaning instead of reaching It.
     She felt so terrible that she had to be taken to Rozella Psychiatric Hospital. She rang an ambulance, after throwing the pot away, explaining what she had just done. The Hospital discharged her after the second day, the hospital not realising the address she had given as her residence was a husk.
     She didn’t leave the hospital altogether though for she saw potential in the many nooks and crannies of the hospital’s extensive, natural grounds. She could live easily in one of those crannies, sheltered from the inevitable rain.
     She had spent six weeks there, never once discovered, and eventually met a patient that could introduce her to someone who sold heroin. She still felt that drugs could easily take her back to Paradise, or very close. She easily learned to inject herself, after the patient was paid with a shot to show her how, and never had any problems with getting clean needles from chemists. The heroin was the closest she ever did get back to Paradise and she was eventually found overdosed, the needle sticking out of her left arm, by a hospital domestic. She was located by the stink of her decay.


~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick has also had a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing, available on Amazon.

Saturday, 1 September 2018

For Old Times' Sake


© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2016

By far the best pot that I’ve ever smoked was from Sydney University. It was the most amazing, Universe launching, pot that I’ve ever had. The buds had a good bit of purple in them, were hairy, and you could actually see the crystals on them. Yeah, definitely the best smoke I’ve ever had.
     It was sold by an education student, Nicole, and she sold this dynamite smoke just to pay the rent. She soon mentioned while we were initially getting to know each other that she had a casual checkout job at the local Quinnswerth, in Redferne, and so, along with dealing pot, she had her finances under reasonably good control. She didn’t smoke at all herself, didn’t even drink except at someone’s birthday party, and then only enough to be sociable.
     Nicole and I weren’t really close but we often came to have a good talk together. I was doing a creative writing degree and bought the pot to help me come up with weird ideas for stories. I showed her some of my writing, which she liked, and she also pointed out the obvious flaws in them. Well, obvious to me.
     And since we weren’t really close I was thus surprised when she confided in me one day, soon after I began buying from her, telling me a secret that seemed very ironic but which could also cause a wee nastiness to the university. She had, not an hour ago, sold a twenty dollar deal of pot to a new psychology lecturer, there in the Manning student bar. Not only that, he had got it on credit. How he knew to ask her, Nicole had not the foggiest idea. His asking for credit she also could not believe, but all of her clients were thoroughly earnest and noble young ladies and gentlemen so Nicole felt confident in trusting him as well.
     Nicole though had a reason for telling me this, however. She would like to keep this guy, Ward Devans, in unlimited supply in return for his passing her in her required psychology units. Should she broach the topic, and risk alienating him, and possibly earning consequently poor marks thereby, or should she go for the big prize, all high marks in psychology without the need to study? She’ll spend the resultant free time reading novels; perfect!
     Well, it seemed clear to me. Since she had this guy in her debt already with his illegal purchase it was but a short step to more devilry. Ward would probably accede to Nicole’s request. I knew I would with the prospect of an endless supply of her unique, potent pot. Basically, I told her to go for the easy marks, that she should have no trouble winning her wish.
     Nicole thanked me and we talked about the best novels she should read instead of having to study her psychology. Soon after that I drifted away from the Manning bar scene as I was drinking too much. It had stopped being fun. I still smoked pot, though, but I got it elsewhere, from my housemate’s guy. Not as good smoke but potent nonetheless. Still, I never went back to Nicole and soon drifted from her.

*

I met Nicole again for the first time yesterday, several days before the start of what promises to be a mild spring, 2016. She still looked and dressed the same. She also still sold pot, for she invited me over for a smoke. I accepted and after Nicole had bought the bread she stepped out for we were back at her share house around the corner, near Redferne train station.
     And would you believe it, she still had that good smoke, just as hairy, just as purple and green, and with even maybe more crystals visible on the buds. Naturally, the smoko being the same got us to talking of old times and she told me that Ward had been a big mistake. Getting into a romance with him had been a bigger mistake. He was a nice guy all right, intelligent, always polite and well groomed, but he was also a bastard. He was a bastard when he fled after learning that she had fallen pregnant by him. He fled the same day that he learned the news, probably being so skunkish as to flee within an hour of hearing the news. Within half an hour.
     ‘Now,’ she said after putting the bong away after I had three cones, ‘Ward is back.’
     ‘How is he back? Is he here to cause trouble?’
     ‘Not from his point of view, he just wants to see his five year old daughter. Wants to be a “real father.” Says he has a right to, and that he’s thought about his “wife and child” every day for the past six years.’
     ‘How did he find you?’
     ‘He hired a private detective.’
     ‘They’re not cheap. He must be making good money. Maybe your daughter could do with that?’
     ‘Ward is not at all trustworthy. He’s shown that. Besides, I told him that I was married.’
     It was then that Nicole revealed the real reason for inviting me in for some of that good smoko. She wanted me to play the part of this fictional husband, whom she named Lesley, for the sake of the good old times. She said that she had no male friends that she could ask, all being married (and whose wives undoubtedly would have to be asked for permission, probably instantly denying the charade.) She also didn’t want to unduly distress her child, Jessie, who had always been high strung and wasn’t adjusting to the new routine of school as well as one would hope. She needed me to play the part because Ward kept calling over, not believing that she was married and wanted the fact confirmed or otherwise. She was in a real fix. Could I help? Was I already married?
     No, I wasn’t married, hadn’t even had a girlfriend for a few years. I had no difficulties in assisting this distressed damsel, and when I replied positively to the request she offered to give me a fifty of smoko, three grams, for the trouble.
     ‘No need for that, Nicole. I’m just doing it for old times sake.’
     ‘Thanks, Vince, but if you pay peanuts then you get monkeys. So you have to take the fifty, which then should make you act well the role of the adoring spouse, because I really don’t want Ward around. I want it just to be me and Jessie. We’ve done great so far.’
     We quickly agreed that I should move in with Nicole temporarily to properly look the part of the husband. It would most probably be only for a short while, for Ward had called over four times in the past three days, so he’d probably call over again soon.
     ‘I hope he’s shocked when he sees you answer the door. And deflated,’ she said.
     We invented a whole story for Lesley’s courting of her but we just remembered the broad points of the story, to bring up in front of Ward. Jessie was over at a friend’s place, Nicole wanting to keep her as far as possible from a daddy with no backbone. When Jessie did come home for the night, the whole house went promptly to bed soon afterwards, avoiding having to let Ward in if he called late. Nicole and I lay in bed together, reading. Neither of us had any idea of going further than that.
*

     Eventually Ward once more showed up, on a school day, two days after my newfound matrimony. I knew instantly it was Ward when I opened the door to him, for he had a certain sheepish air to him. He didn’t react to my telling him that I was Nicole’s husband, and I politely invited him in.
     I made some coffees and when it was ready we sat around talking about university. It was while Ward was about halfway through his cup that he asked me,
     ‘How come you don’t wear a wedding band, Lesley?’ It was an obvious oversight.
     ‘That’s a simple story,’ I replied, making up a story as I went. Good thing I’ve been trained in story making.  ‘I was at the beach just last month and, as usual, I took off all my jewellery before going for a swim. I know there’s no real need to, except for your watch, but it’s just a habit I’ve got into since my late teens. Anyway, I left my neckchain, wedding band, and watch just under my towel. When I got back, about twenty minutes later, they were gone. I asked around but no-one saw anything.’
     ‘I don’t wear one either,’ chimed in Nicole, obviously thinking on the spot too, ‘out of sympathy for Les.’
     The conversation continued pleasantly until Ward became high handed. He didn’t wish to disturb our peaceful family but he was still Jessie’s real father, and as such he had certain rights, least of all the right to meet his progeny. He was willing to go to a lawyer to secure those rights, but if Nicole and I co-operated we could all get along well, save the costs of a legal battle, and Jessie would be bound to be pleased to get to know her natural father. Had we told her that I was just her stepfather? Nicole reluctantly confirmed such.
     Nicole, also reluctantly, assented to what Ward was asking for and promised him he would meet his daughter the next night. I then let Ward out and returned quizzically to Nicole.
     ‘There’s no way I’m letting him see Jessie. She wouldn’t take it.’
     ‘So what’ll you do?’
     ‘We’ll go to the other side of Aus, to Western Aus. He won’t find me or Jessie if I change my name.’
     ‘He probably will, Nicole.’ Nicole looked glum, knowing I was mostly right, if not wholly.
     ‘Well, he’s not going near Jessie. We’re still going to WA tomorrow.’
     ‘Why not write him a letter explaining everything. I’ll see him here tomorrow night and can give it to him. I’ll do my best to talk him out of following you.’
     It seemed like the only solution.
     ‘Ok,’ she said. ‘Meet me at Central Station tomorrow morning at eight and I’ll give you the letter. Meet me at the Devonshire Street entrance. I’ll also give you your fifty then.’
     She gave me the letter and the fifty the next morning and when I saw Ward that night (after waiting all day at Nicole’s house in case Ward turned up early) he was not happy after having read it, also asking me to confirm that I wasn’t really married to her, that last night had been a sham to misdirect him. But I talked to him man to man and made him see that a gentleman never hounds a lady whom is wary of that gentleman. That if she wants nothing to do with him, and has clearly said as much, then he, as a gentleman, should simply walk away and learn to recall only the fond times with the lady. Nicole’s letter obviously said she wanted no part of him, that he had had his chance, and it was now time for him to move on. Some mistakes simply can’t be corrected.
     I let him out of the house an hour after he had arrived, and he clearly saw the path a gentleman must walk. He swore to me that he’d forget her, chalking the whole thing up to experience. He looked crestfallen, but resolved to make the best of it.
     When he was gone I shut up the house and returned home with the fifty Nicole had given me. She had actually given me four grams (or so it looked) instead of three and I decided to savour it for as long as possible. There’s probably no way I’ll ever get such good smoko again.

~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing on September 01, 2018. You can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Every Begging Night


© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2016

Begging every night had always been very easy for Yvette Angelique Temps, but tonight she had worked up absolutely nothing, not even five cents. She had been at it for around an hour, by which time she should have had around twenty dollars. She had a very simple and productive system for begging up money, simply approaching passers-by and asking them for a dollar for train fare. Most of them said no but Yvette always managed to raise twenty dollars quickly enough. She raised it in the evenings and then had enough for a good dinner and a good breakfast to look forward to. She had become homeless a few years before after a former boyfriend, high on ice, went at her with a knife. This was the third boyfriend in a row that had done such, but she again escaped safely. She spent that night in a local abandoned house, Redferne, Sydney, and had come to love the house’s character. The then twenty year old Yvette was fascinated by the fact that the now derelict house had probably once raised many families, families that were happy and normal, the opposite of her love life and current destitution. She felt obligated to keep those happy family memories alive, a necessary counterpoint to the messes all of her romances ended in. Besides, maybe a radical change would radically change her dreadful love life? It was certainly worth the try. She then took to moving from squat to squat, and found the squatting life was also moderately easier, with all of her time her own, as well as more exciting than the shelf packing job at the Redferne Quinnswerth. She never really had had her heart in that job.
     Tonight was the first night that she had been so unsuccessful with her begging and after fruitlessly trying for another hour, she gave up. She did receive welfare but had only about five dollars of that left and she wasn’t due to be paid for another five days. She was in Newtown, inner city Sydney, and decided to call it a night and walk back to her squat in nearby Standmore. She walked home dejectedly, her head down, wondering if it wasn’t time to get off of the streets. It was with her head down that she saw the twenty dollar note, lying casually in the gutter at the corner of Enmore Road and King Street. Well, why leave the streets when they were throwing money at her! She approached the money and picked it up. Yep, it was real.
      Now, what was the absolutely best way to spend it? After all, she had enough with her begging. She’d just wait an hour or two and try again. She was bound to raise her nightly twenty dollars. She always had before. She’d think best what to do with the extra money when she got home.
     By the time she got home fifteen minutes later she had a plan. In the morning she would open an interest bearing account at a bank and add one hundred dollars to it each week, at twenty dollars per day. Pretty soon she’d be wealthy and her squatting life would be even better, more so with her additional regulation daily twenty and her unemployment welfare. It was perhaps because she was now bright with enthusiasm and anticipation of her rich future that she eventually, and soon, raised her twenty dollars that night, in under half the time than usual. Yep, things were again looking rosy.

*

Not only did the bright enthusiasm last until the next day, when she decided to get up early to beg her savings, but over the ensuing weeks. Eight weeks in fact. With such success that by the end of that time she had a little over a thousand dollars in her account. She also had her daily ration of twenty dollars, plus the dole, which was quite sufficient for her.
     But by the time her balance reached three thousand dollars it also became problematic. Had she, Yvette asked herself, in fact become a miser? Was her choice of the homeless life nothing more than her expression of greed, wanting to become rich without having to do anything serious to get the money? She probably was indeed becoming a miser since she went to sleep every night with the printout of that day’s bank balance in her hand. And it was the first thing she looked at when she awoke the next day.
     Yep, it certainly looked like she was heading down the miser’s path so the best thing to do would be to spend that three thousand dollars. She would spend all of it on herself though. But seeing as she really didn’t need anything, what could she buy? She didn’t need the money for movies, or clothes, so what could she spend it on?
     She decided to buy a car and travel the great Aus. She would probably need around another two thousand but that would be easy to get. Things were just getting better and better.

*

After she bought the car she still had five hundred dollars left over. It was an old Holden (the model of which she didn’t have a clue) and after filling up the tank she more or less headed out of Sydney straight away. She planned to drive all through Aus, begging her way across the country. She’d always have a place to sleep in her car, without fear of being moved on by the place, so, after collecting her few clothes into her duffel bag, she headed off north, up to Queensland.
     She picked up Gerard about twenty kilometres from the Queensland border. He was a talkative guy who was also travelling around Aus, doing odd jobs on the way.
     ‘I’m begging my way around,’ Yvette informed him.
     ‘Oh yeah? Isn’t that hard?’
     ‘Nah, I’ve never had any trouble with it. Except once and even then I made some good money.’
     ‘I couldn’t beg. I’d feel so ashamed.’
     ‘I’m used to it by now. What sort of odd jobs do you do?’
     ‘Pretty much anything. I’m a jack of all trades and master of none.’
     ‘You know, we should team up?’
     Gerard looked quizzical.
     ‘Well, we’d halve our costs if we worked together and bought things in bulk. We might even increase our profits,’ pointed out Yvette.
     ‘And we’d always have someone to talk with.’
     ‘Yeah, true, it does get lonely sometimes on your own.’
     So they soon agreed to team up and travel Aus in style. They parked near the Roma Street Railway station and agreed to meet there again at six that night, to pool their day’s income. Yvette went about her work with an enthusiasm that was starting to become endemic and the money seemed to be literally flowing into her begging hands. After three hours work she had a little over eighty dollars and decided to visit the University of Queensland and see what it was she had missed out on in a university education. She bought two shepherd’s pies from the cafeteria and spent the time until about five pm in reading the complete Sherlock Holmes. She was expecting even greater things when she headed back to the car.
     She was not expecting to see her duffel bag in place of the car, its few clothes spilling over its side. She looked desperately around. Yep, the car had been stolen. Gerard, the bastard, was not such a nice guy after all. Mind you, someone else may have stolen it but then why wasn’t Gerard here to meet her? She looked around again, feeling the notes in her pocket while she walked briefly up and down to make sure she wasn’t losing her mind. Yes indeed, the car had been stolen.
     She went back to the university formulating a plan after waiting a half hour for Gerard’s possible return, which didn’t happen. She used the internet in their library to find instructions on how to hot wire a car. Finding the information was easy, as was the actual hot wiring. Then she made her way across the university grounds looking for a car that she could safely steal. She found one easily enough, another old Holden, and headed off next door to the Northern Territory. Gerard once mentioned during their brief relationship that the NT was a great place to live. The people were even more relaxed than the average Aussie and finding work was easy. It was warm all year round so sleeping under the stars was usually never a problem, and was in fact an experience that the average Aussie simply ought not to miss.
     Halfway to the NT she was picked up by the Highway Patrol. The bastard of an owner must have quickly found his/her car stolen and reported it. Yvette’s luck might well now be on the downswing. With this seriously in mind Yvette faked having a mental illness while talking to the officer, intermittently talking to an imaginary ‘Agatha.’ The officer suspected she may be shamming it but had to do his duty nonetheless. He took her back to Brisbane and involuntarily admitted her into the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital for suspected schizophrenia.
     Yvette had no choice now, she had to keep up this schizophrenia sham. But not knowing any of the symptoms she was in a bit of a tricky position. No matter, she realised while getting into the hospital pyjamas, there’s probably some pamphlets around about schizophrenia, she’d learn from them.
     She learned well and when she came before the mental health tribunal she was committed to the hospital involuntarily for six weeks. Yvette was pleased with the outcome as it was nice having everything put on for her, food, clothing, shelter, companionship, without having to work for it. The police would also no doubt forget about her, neglecting to take her before the court again once she had ‘recovered’ from her psychotic episode.
     The police did not forget, however, and exactly six weeks after her committal the same police officer turned up at the hospital to have her once again committed, but to remand, until she had her day in court. She had her day of such and was fined two thousand dollars for the car theft and a conviction recorded. No problem, she thought on the way out of court, she’d beg the money very quickly. She headed into the Brisbane CBD with that in mind, planning to pay off the fine in a few weeks. She paid it off in four and a half weeks, and after again quickly begging up for another car, headed back to the NT. She would not pick up any hitchhikers this time.

~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing on September 01, 2018. You can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com
    
    

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Unknowns


© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2016

Rose-Anne and I first met years upon decades ago, at work, in the Surrey Hills, inner city Sydney, Quinnswerth delicatessen. Working there in the deli was always fun, staffed by a young crew who all enjoyed having a good time. The staff in Quinnswerth’s other departments all looked up to us deli members somewhat. In hindsight, I really don’t know why this was so obviously the case, but we were the best of friends with everyone else in the store. Maybe it was the singular, eclectic mix of people, artists, and university students.
     Rose started there soon after I did. She normally worked in bakery and had been randomly chosen to fill someone’s Saturday shift in the deli after that person had called in sick. I had recently transferred across from the groceries department. To be honest, I transferred because of the deli uniform - a studded front, white, short sleeve coat that made work more pleasurable, being well dressed.
     Rose was a second year Arts/Dip. Ed. student whereas I was a third year Arts student. I was at AuCU, Aus Central University, and Rose was at Macquarie. We also had similar subjects, though different Majors, and enjoyed talking about them with each other.
     Exactly how, from such a firm foundation, Rose and I developed an intense love-hate relationship over the next eight months or so is still beyond me. Maybe it was my untrusting, sarcastic streak that caused it, a leftover survival tactic from high school. Maybe I was subconsciously venting the fact that she did not appear to be the slightest bit interested in me romantically. Even though I was nineteen years of age at this time, I still had never had a girlfriend. Or maybe I was just childishly trying to allure her, like the young boy perpetually pulling the ponytail of a particular girl’s hair. Whatever the reason, we both learned to relish our mutual company, and to revile it. And we also both seemed content to let things lay the way they did between us, neither needing to justify our mutual joyous viciousness. Maybe, after all, it was just one of those things.
     Thus, I was very surprised when, one night at a birthday party of a Quinnie worker about eight months later, she confided, under the most complete strictures against revealing her secret, that she was a month pregnant. She knew of only two guys whom could be the father, but Rose didn’t fancy having either of them as a spouse to raise the child. In fact the guys were the opposite of reliable and level headed. That was why she unhesitatingly slept with them, over and over. Though fun in the sack they were definitely not father material, and Rose was in no manner going to let them know of the possibility.
     And if I still don’t know why Rose and I developed such an intense love-hate relationship, neither do I know why I said, once she had briefly told me of her straits,
     ‘Don’t worry, Rose, I’ll look after you. I’d love to marry you. Maybe the wedding will stops us biting each other.’
     ‘You can’t marry me, Tim. That’s absurd. Even if it would maybe end our constant bickering.’
     ‘C’mon, Rosey. Weigh up the pros and cons. You’ll find marrying me will be just what the doctor ordered.’
     ‘I’m not marrying you, Tim.’
     ‘How can you finish uni and raise a child too? I’ll have my degree fairly soon, by which time you’ll have your first daughter or son. I can look after the tyke while you finish off your degree.’
     Rose didn’t rejoinder, but just looked downwards, thoughtfully, chewing the right inside of the corner of her lips. She was still looking down when she said,
     ‘I think you have a point. It’s my biggest worry, never finishing uni, ending up very run-of-the-mill. I don’t want to hate the child for making me miss out on greater opportunities.’
     ‘And you need someone’s serious help fast if you really want to finish your studies. And only I can do that. Is there someone else that can step in?’
     She looked up,
     ‘Ok then, ask me.’
     ‘Will you marry me?’
     ‘Yes.’

*

Rose-Anne and I made a great pair, and our marriage - a de-facto marriage - on the whole was very peaceful. We never had any other children (bearing our only child, Jennifer-Anne, had almost proved too much for Rosey) and Jenny was told on the night of her sixteenth birthday that I was not her biological father, but her father nonetheless. We told her the truth out of simple courtesy to her, but she was not in any way upset by the news. She neither spoke of it in any form after she learned the truth, nor asked any questions. She just accepted the fact.
     That is, until she had returned home from her first day at university. She was attending AuCU in Strathfield, doing a Bachelor of Primary Education. She came home in raptures that day, all replete with the fact that she was now an adult, learning adult things. But the adult nature of her new environs had also backfired, the noble and genuine atmosphere of the university making her think of her biological father, of how very dishonourable he was. When she got off the train that day after her first lecture she decided to track him down, to make him explain his dereliction of duty. Uni could wait, but she felt she deserved her biological father’s apology as soon as possible. In fact, the noble beauty of university was only possible when after she had been in converse with the most important man in her life, whom had created her, and unwillingly shaped her.
     What could we do? Rosey and I tried to talk her out of the search, to go back to her textbooks and laptop, but she was adamant. So, Rosey told Jenny the full names of the two possible men, one of whom created her.
     She eventually found the two men, after looking in the electoral role. They easily agreed to have samples of their hair follicles tested for paternity of her. Now that Jennifer was obviously a grown woman, the men must have felt that she would not be in any way a drain upon them. And, besides, it’d probably be nice to know if they were a father, especially if it involved little to no work.
     The results were unwelcome. Her progenitor was Dimitri Maximich Gorky, the one she hoped did not prove to be her father. He was a hopeless pothead. All through Jennifer’s brief interview with him while collecting the hair sample, he had had a bong in his hand, occasionally filling it and smoking. He spoke very quietly, and looked to be half asleep. He was obviously never fully awake enough to properly look after his flat for the floor was littered with sundry food wrappers, stains, and debris. He was a mess, and dressed like a mess too. And he was her father.
     But he was a father she could reject, which she unwaveringly did, telling him that he was simply not worth troubling over, that she now knew she had a real father in me. Jenny said that Dimitri didn’t appear dejected at the news. Probably too stoned to fully know what was going on.
     Now you’d think that Jenny, having such a profligate for a father, would avoid a similar fate. But, indirectly, it lead to the same history repeating itself. Jenny took to white wine after leaving Dimitri to his fate, ostensibly to celebrate avoiding Dimitri’s stoned fatherhood. I never knew she was drinking, mostly in a local park, with some neighbours that she would invite. I only found out when she told me she was pregnant, father again unknown, and again one of a possible two, and both again nothing more than booze hounds.
     Luckily Jenny had a good boyfriend, Marcus Broadlee. H simply had to be told the truth, I told her. She didn’t want to, but she quickly saw that she would soon have no choice when she began showing. Abortion was not an option with her. Her mother and I felt that way as well.
     Marcus took the news better than expected, asking Jenny to marry him, swearing to raise the child completely as his own. He had a good, steady job with the New South Wales government and they spent a week in outlining a plan to bring the new baby into the world. You can imagine all of our surprise then when one day Marcus was not able to be found. It was his mother, in fact, who let us know that he had gone missing, not having come home the night before, and Marcus always careful to tell her when he came and went. Jenny and I tried all of Marcus’ friends to find out where he was now, even some of his work colleagues, but he had completely vanished. None of his belongings were taken from his home.
     Of course we duly notified the police who, to all of our surprise, located Marcus several days later in Western Australia. He gave Jenny a message through his searchers that he was not coming back to Sydney and that she was not welcome in WA. Marcus, having tried as hard as he could, was not in the slightest willing to become her infant’s father. Anyway, he would probably do a lousy job. No, by far and away the best thing to be done was to find another man for the job, a man far less selfish that Marcus admitted to being.
     So, not long after my forty-seventh birthday, it looks like I’ll be raising another child not at all of my own blood. The offspring of another child that I had similarly raised. If I was superstitious I’d say that I’ll also probably be a great grandfather in the same way. The fates are all obviously having a big lend of me. But that’s okay, I enjoyed raising Jenny and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved with her. She plans to resume university as soon as she can and we have assured her that she can still study well while we take the best of care with her child. She’ll be a qualified teacher sooner than she’ll realise and then she can afford to be more indulgent with her child.
     And whether or not it was due to my very willingly taking on my granddaughter’s upraising, as well as sharing Rosey’s initial burden, yesterday Rose-Anne asked me to marry her, to solemnise the vows that I have ‘already proven’ to her. Even to the point of taking on my surname, Finnegan. It would be nice, she told me, to proclaim me as a staunch husband for my efforts, and that required staunch, serious vows. She wanted a church wedding, which we had a month after she asked me to wed her. Jenny is back at university and I expect my wife’s and my slowly approaching senior years to be nothing but joyfulness, maintaining our youth through Jenny’s child. I’m looking forward to the challenge. Again.

~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing on September 01, 2018. You can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com
    
    
    

    

Friday, 1 June 2018

An Unseemly Business


© Denis Fitzpatrick, 2016

Johnathon Thomes-Speare had just been labelled a ‘merchant of death’, because of his well-seasoned free choice to pander in the many forms of tobacco, a substance which, really, is quite harmless if taken in moderation. However, detracting from the scathing invective, mildly delivered upon Johnathon, was the fact that it was declaimed by some filthy tweenie, whose malodour was an utter original in just how offensive some odours can be. Especially if left to rot on one’s shabby rags.
     ‘You stink, mate,’ replied John to this lad. ‘Take a bloody shower.’
     ‘If I can get a pack on tick I’ll find somewhere to wash straight away. I’ll smoke the first one on the way to the shower.’ The fact that this filthbag seemed assured that he could get some cigarettes on credit after having thus roundly abused Johnathon’s choice of trade is explained by the fact that this filthbag was obviously in a psychotic state. Not wildly grinning psychotic, but a very glazed appearance that says there really is no such thing as unambiguous meaning.
     ‘I don’t know you, mate. No, you can’t get tick.’
     ‘Aw, c’mon, man. I can give you collateral.’
     ‘Go beg up a few bucks and then come back.’
     ‘Ok, man.’ Then the tweenie loped off, thinking he was in for some discounted tobacco. The tweenie, though, also allured Johnathon, despite the lad’s desperate situation, and because of the freedom in the lad’s desperate situation. Sure, other deros had asked him for credit, complete strangers, but this one was so utterly putrid and rotten smelling, yet also looked so completely innocent. Unable to fend for himself. He was obviously living the only life available to his feeble mind, living utterly a wild life, accountable only to his simple self. This soon made the youth’s accusation - of Johnathon being merely a merchant of death, a pedlar in poison - sink deeper than expected. The lad, after all, spoke the truth as the lad was at the naked centre of everything, his wild seclusion close to untamed Nature probably able to show him all of our secret and hidden centres.
     Yes, indeed, the lad, after all, spoke the truth.
     In fact, this dark nature of his business had, he now realised, largely been at the bottom of his mind over the past few years, seeming to mock him, questioning his very reason for existence. Johnathon was also now distressingly aware that around fifty percent of his customers will die because of his wares. Morally, at least, Johnathon - usually while swimming awake - knew that he was a murderer. Johnathon, he further felt, needed to be very seriously disciplined. It was at this point that Johnathon became suddenly and fully awake, forgetting consciously that he was a paid murderer.
     He wasn’t far now from retiring from the workforce, two and a half years, so maybe he should get clean of this filthy business now, before he retired, bringing no trace of any poison filth into a calm retirement. Easy enough. In fact, it was all boon from Johnathon’s point of view. Yes, certainly, he had to indeed rid himself of this disgusting trade. If only for his own self esteem.
     But at the crucial moment of Johnathon selling his whole business, and in a meeting with an already primed, regular, long-standing customer, he only offered her a half ownership of his steady, safe business. He suddenly thought it might be best to keep a little of his assets, just in case. You never know.  The customer, Vera Louk, only agreed to the altered purchase when she was told that she would get the other half from his last will and testament. Vera was on the lookout for something quick to feather her retirement’s nest egg, without having to work very hard. She would, though, need to take out a business loan, but in fifteen or so years, according to her calculations, she should be able to travel throughout the world in fairly comfortable style. Both parties seemed glad to have signed the final contract.
     Vera and John worked well together, although Vera was a silent partner. She also pointed out, after Johnathon told her of that tweenie’s accusation, that the world, like it or not, is a kill-or-be-killed place. It’s simply an unpleasant truth. In fact, Vera further averred, her and Johnathon were simply doing the only sensible thing - maintaining the status quo, maintaining peace and order. They were, in fact, pillars of society. Johnathon practically adored Vera after this declaration.
     Johnathon was enjoying his work so much now, having someone to share it with, that he began idly to consider trying one of his cigarettes. Or maybe a cigar. Or a pipe. Either way he had always thought it looked so sophisticated to have a smouldering fire dangling from one’s fingers. It said so much about a person, about their style, their chic; it alone really could be used to judge someone’s character.
     He began talking to Vera about considering taking up the smoke, like her, at one of their weekly meetings.
     ‘Well, yeah,’ she said, ‘you gotta try one. It’s the only way you can really find out what it is we’re selling. And the more we know, the more we can sell.’
     ‘And I can get the packets wholesale.’
     ‘And the lighters.’
     ‘Which do you recommend, the tailor mades or the rollies?’
     ‘Personally I’m partial to the rollies but I smoke the tailors ‘cause they’re the more convenient.’
     ‘Can you spare a tailor, mate?’
     ‘Sure. Now or never, eh, Johnathon?’
     ‘Now or never, mate.’ And he lit up.
     And he loved it, despite the initial coughing. All of Reality seemed to align itself when he was smoking, everything made sense and he could clearly see its progression along a sure, certain, and safe path forward. And it was an impression that lasted even after he finished the smoke. It was simply too deep to be forgotten.
     Johnathon’s joy with smoking eventually began to subside, however, losing that ability to see life as moving along in a planned way. The joy that a plan for life did actually exist, however, and that there was a meaning to it, did get him out of bed early each morning. He invariably smiled broadly throughout the first cigarette of the day.
     He also smiled during the last cigarette of the day, in his pyjamas in bed, cross-legged, and reading. He, of course, knew, having seen the TV ads back in the seventies, that smoking in bed is very dangerous. What was worse, Johnathon sometimes dozed off with the burning cigarette in his hand, awaking when it had burned down to the filter and scorched his fingers. But, hey, his life was still good and getting better, so the normal rules can be relaxed a little.
     This was also how he died, being found burned to a crisp.
     Johnathon lived above the shop and the entire place was gutted. Vera found out the next day, on the way there to buy a pack of smokes. Vera rang the insurance company straight away upon seeing the remaining carnage. They would send an assessor out the next day.
     She was eventually allowed in to view the damage, when she showed her business card saying she was indeed the owner of the shop, but was attended by an accompanying fireperson. The firey said the fire didn’t look suspicious, but that was what surprised Vera. It all looked like an act of Nature, Nature gone wrong, but Its will nonetheless.
     Nothing was salvageable. She left quickly, unreasonably and dejectedly lacking confidence that the insurance company could help her. She would have to get another job now, if she meant to get by every day as well as pay off her bank loan. She had never defaulted on a debt, had always paid her bills on time, and she was not going to break that champion situation now.
     Her unreasoning confidence in being failed by the insurance company did indeed prove to be correct, for they weren’t long in denying her claim for any compensation monies. The fire was caused by an unattended cigarette, and was thus the fault of at least one of the policy holders. It was time to look for another job again. The bank had to have its burnt offering and that was the only way she could offer her sacrifice.
     She spent longer than she guessed she would in finding a second job, and then only as a pizza delivery staffer, four hours a night, six nights a week. She was passing the pizzeria, on the way home after an interview, and one of the staff had just put the job advertisement in the window. Sure, it was only a delivery person, but, mate, from little things big things grow. She lied about her age, as she learned to do, and only got the job because they needed someone immediately. The other driver was in a car crash.
     It was an easy job, and Vera liked how the familiar places, to where she delivered, often changed aspect from visit to visit. And thankfully her new job let the bank be willing to accommodate Vera’s reduced ability to pay the loan for the shop.
     Vera no longer thought losing the tobacconist to be a veritable tragedy after she had her first heart attack. Luckily she was not driving at the time, having instead just entered her car and sat down to start the night’s deliveries. She wasn’t entirely sure that it was a heart attack, but took herself to the nearest hospital - Westmead, western Sydney - just to check. They quickly confirmed a mild heart attack after she arrived there.
     Vera now knew, without being told by her doctors (which they did) that she would have to give up smoking. It was quite possible that the next cigarette might be her last, causing a larger heart attack, and she would choke on her own smoke.
     Naturally, she gave up the smokes.
     For four weeks. Exactly.
     She blamed God for leading her back to the smokes, and indeed everyone else in Paradise was liable too. On the night of her exactly fourth week of successful abstinence, her dreams led her into Heaven, but a Paradise that had long ago condoned and welcomed those imbibers of all manner of poisons and potions. Vera discovered that in Heaven you can smoke if you want to. You could be a chain smoker and things will only still continue to get better thereby in Paradise. Here, have a cigarette.
    Vera then sprang awake, about to light the smoke. She had a very strong tobacco craving. Very Strong. Undeniable.
     Her next cigarette didn’t strike her heart, paralysing her. It struck her eyes, blinding her. On her bluer days she recalls watching her vision film over as the last of the cigarette’s smoke curled up into clouds. She’s still glad that she was never a big reader and has in fact now become somewhat of an audiophile, finding that her hearing has compensatingly improved. Vera also now easily understands why God permits cigarettes, and other drugs, into Paradise. They are obviously there to show us that we can safely indulge in vice, that vice and virtue are interdependent, and the highs we get from these drugs is a hint of Paradise, a boon borne of bane. And she now smokes a pipe, its sweeter scent reflecting her own dearly won wisdom.

~~~

If you have been enjoying Fitzpatrick's stories here you may also enjoy his short story collections, and other books, available online as both Kindle books and paperbacks (go to http://amzn.to/1NfodtN). Other ebook and paperback options are available at  http://bit.ly/1UsyvKD Fitzpatrick is also having a collection of short stories, Aberrant Selected, published by Waldorf Publishing on September 01, 2018. You can follow its journey at www.aberrantselected.blogspot.com