Vignette: ‘Fist Bump for Germany’

A sentimental vignette that I wrote in 2014.


 

Fist Bump for Germany

 

‘I won’t tell you again,’ snaps Mr Kipfer. ‘Leave your dressing alone.

‘But girls like scars,’ says Wilhem, caressing his chin. ‘Hope I get some. Scars, I mean.’

They turn the corner in silence. The corridor outside the headmistress’s office is lined with plastic chairs. One of them is occupied.

The boys exchange a look. Max gapes at Wilhem’s butterfly-bandaged chin; Wilhem notes the nasty cut on Max’s lip.

‘Wait here,’ says Mr Kipfer. ‘Ms Nadia will call you in soon. Don’t kill each other.’ He raises a finger to punctuate his point then walks away.

When Kipfer is at a safe distance, Max finds his courage. ‘Don’t kill each other,’ he parrots.

A tiny laugh escapes Wilhem. He forces a frown.

Max grounds his chewing gum into a flat bar and tests its resistance against his tongue. ‘I told the nurse you started it.’

Wilhem turns his head. ‘What?’

‘She asked who started it. I think she just likes knowing everyone’s business.’

Wilhem smirks. ‘Probably they all say the other kid started it.’

Max laughs. ‘Yeah, probably.’

A comfortable silence follows. But Wilhem can’t enjoy it – it’s still bugging him.

‘Why’d you hit me?’

Max chews faster. His mouth makes wet, smacking sounds. ‘I don’t know. Cause you’re…’ He drops his gaze to the floor. ‘Cause you’re a Nazi, I guess.’

‘I’m not a Nazi,’ says Wilhem, his voice level.

‘Yeah, you are.’ Max’s words soar out with no regard for the reluctance of their speaker. ‘My pa says all Nazis are scum.’

Wilhem laughs. ‘Do you even know what a Nazi is?’

‘Yeah!’ Max declares. ‘Course I do!’ But his cheeks are hot and his voice has betrayed him. He mashes his wad of gum into the underside of the chair.

‘I’m from Germany,’ Wilhem explains, ‘but I’m not a Nazi. They’re different.’

Max shrugs, looks defiantly to the ceiling. After a moment of silence, he roots around in his pocket and pulls out a crushed carton of cigarettes. He presents it to Wilhem. ‘Want one? I swiped them from my mum.’

Wilhem looks at the door to Ms Nadia’s office. Then he looks down at Max’s hands, studying the distinct gold Benson & Hedges foil. He reaches for a cigarette.

They hear movement from behind the door.

Max thrusts the carton back into his pocket. The boys sit up straight and focus ahead.

Ms Nadia emerges from her office. She looks the two boys over. Her mouth sags with permanent disapproval.

‘Right,’ she says, gesturing to Max. ‘We’ll start with you.’

Max climbs to his feet and looks dejectedly ahead, as if bound for the gallows. On approach to the office, he discretely holds out a clenched fist and presents it to Wilhem.

Wilhem stares in confusion. Then the corners of his mouth curl into a smile. He raises his fist and returns the gesture.

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Short Story: ‘Love under House Arrest’

B&BSome stupid fun. Enjoy!


At first it was a speck at the end of a tunnel. Then Cecilia’s eyes opened and in rushed the ocean of fluorescent light. She blinked at the shadowy figure taking shape.

‘Wh-who are you?’

‘I am the master of this castle.’

The figure stood tall. His shoulders were broad and his body thick with hair. Cecilia stared into his eyes, the whites of which were not white at all, but a grotesque caramel – the colour of pus. ‘But y-you’re a beast!’

The Beast arranged his fangs into a smile. ‘You’re as perceptive as you are beautiful.’ He bowed with a flourish and, with his right arm, gave the grandiose wave of a magician about to unveil an illusion. In his other hand, clutched to his chest, The Beast carried an ornate gold candlestick.

‘W-what’s with that?’ Cecilia asked.

‘This?’ The Beast thrust the candlestick in Cecilia’s face. He cleared his throat, the candle bobbing in his hand, and said, ‘I’m Lumière, from France!

Cecilia was speechless. She stared at this puppeteering creature, trying to establish whether he was lonely or unhinged. ‘How did I get here?’

The Beast lowered his candlestick. ‘Ah, yes. You were travelling through the woods when you got caught in a fierce storm. Distressed, you entered my castle, hoping for shelter.’

And maybe,’ Lumière whispered, ‘love.

‘It’s a good thing you did,’ The Beast continued. ‘You wouldn’t have lasted long out there. I would’ve done the same.’

Cecilia sat up and looked around. This room – a dungeon, she supposed – was cold and draughty. When she realised she was chained to a gurney, her stomach dropped.

What do you want with me?’ she cried.

The Beast frowned. ‘Come now. You must realise you’re my prisoner …’

‘P-prisoner? Why?’

‘You were trespassing.’

‘But it was raining! You said you’d have done the same!’

The candlestick bobbed in The Beast’s hand. ‘It’s true, monsieur. You did. Not thirty seconds ago, actually.

‘Did I? Oh, yes!’ The Beast let out a burst of laughter. He looked at Cecilia, stony-faced. ‘Even so.’

Cecilia sniffed. There was something pungent, like old washing. ‘What is that awful smell?’

The Beast turned for a private consultation with Lumière. ‘I can’t tell her …’

Of course not, monsieur. If she knew …

‘She’d think I was psychotic! Or worse,’ The Beast’s jaw hung low, ‘ignorant!’ He glanced at Cecilia. Then, to Lumière, he whispered, ‘I should’ve read the stipulations; those murders were so … unnecessary!’

Monsieur, it’s not your fault; ze curse should have specified ze need for a female love interest.

The Beast sighed. ‘Sure would’ve spared those awkward courtships.’

Cecilia snapped her fingers. ‘Hellooo? The smell?’

‘It’s … potpourri,’ The Beast said. ‘Don’t you like it?’

‘No!’ Cecilia tugged at her chains. ‘Look, I’m sorry to interrupt … the two of you … but I’m not dangerous! Must I be chained like this?’

The Beast opened his mouth to argue. ‘Ye— No, not really.’

Cecilia’s fear morphed into disbelief. ‘Then would you mind …?’

Sheepishly, The Beast undid her chains.

Cecilia stood up and shook her ankle. ‘What about this?’

‘That stays.’

‘What is it?’

Lumière chimed in. ‘Mademoiselle, zat is your ankle monitor.

Cecilia threw her hands on her hips. ‘My ankle monitor?’ She gestured for The Beast to explain.

‘You, err, weren’t keen on chains, so …’ The Beast averted his gaze. His voice fell to a low murmur. ‘I need to know you won’t, y’know … leave me …’

With his head bowed and his fingers tight around his candlestick, The Beast seemed somehow softer. Cecilia felt the beginnings of a smile.

The Beast threw back his head and roared. ‘I don’t know why you’re smiling! Haven’t you realised? If you try to escape,’ he snarled, ‘you’ll be stunned by a powerful electromagnetic pulse!’

‘A what!

The Beast laughed. ‘EMP, dear! Do you need me to break out in song and explain it to you?’

Cecilia recoiled. ‘You’re insane!’

The Beast nodded emphatically. ‘Oh, yes, dear! Insane like a fox! But you’re not perfect either; you’re rude and conceited! How would you like it if I pointed out all your flaws?’

Cecilia crossed her arms. ‘You just did, you big oaf!’ The Beast raised a finger to interject, but Cecilia cut him off. ‘And if we’re talking character flaws, I think you should remember you’re the one locking innocent girls in castles!’

‘Believe me,’ The Beast said, ‘I’m regretting it more with each minute that passes!’ In a huff, he turned to confer with Lumière. ‘You don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m doing, do you?’

Locking mademoiselle in ze castle and fooling her into falling in love? No, monsieur, it is genius! Very Français.

Cecilia tried to run away, but tripped. She hit the floor with a loud thud. There was no point getting up; attempting escape was futile. Cecilia tugged furiously at her ankle monitor.

The Beast looked pleadingly at Lumière. ‘Look! She hates me, Lumy! What do I do?’

Hmm … Why don’t we perform for her an uplifting musical number at ze dinner table?

‘Brilliant! And maybe I could get Gaston over here for a—’ he covered his mouth and whispered into Lumière’s ear-hole, ‘—climactic roof battle! The old dog still owes me for helping him move.’ In his excitement, The Beast shook Lumière about. ‘Do you think pretending to die would be too much?’

Not at all, monsieur! It, too, is very Français.

Cecilia picked herself up. ‘Fine,’ she said, letting her arms fall to her side. ‘It’s impossible to escape, so … I accept my fate. But you should know something: I hate you! I won’t be looking at you, eating with you, or speaking to you – ever!

The Beast looked at her lovingly and said, with a sigh, ‘Lumière, I have a good feeling about this one.’

Vignette: ‘The Matador and the Bull’

IMG_3628Brittany shoves him once, twice, spits in his direction.

Her boyfriend, Glen, leaps back, stumbles on the lip of the kerb. His arms make sad little windmills. A passerby sidesteps the spectacle and Brittany laughs, first at the passing stranger, then at Glen. She thinks long and hard about ways to hurt him. She compares him to his father, but the words falter against him; he has heard this one too many times. She brings up that fat sheila again, the one he ‘rooted last month’.

Glen’s frustration finally bests him. He bites back, lists – for the fourth time that week – his reasons for the indiscretion. It was, he explains, a knee-jerk reaction, the unfortunate consequence of months of compounding stress. He reminds her that she is far from innocent herself. Her list of follies is lengthy: there was the handjob she gave Marcus, their mutual friend, at the football; the phone abuse she inflicted on Glen’s family (over an innocuous remark Glen’s father had made over dinner); the gross mismanagement of their welfare money; her endless stream of criticisms; the broken taillight she never replaced; the way she refused to find work, despite dire financial straits; and the … the …

He is shaking, has made a scene. The reasons why they shouldn’t stay together cascade over him. The Bundoora-bound 86 pulls up behind them.

Brittany – red-faced and full of piss and vinegar – boards via the front entrance. On the second stair, she stops, turns, a tear trickling down her cheek, and says: ‘Well, you’re a fuckin’ dud root, you are! Stay away from this piece of shit, girls! Never once made me come in two years!’

IMG_3616The doors close and the tram pulls away. From the middle of Smith Street, Glen watches Brittany exit his life. When at last she’s gone, he turns, walks the five paces to Woolworths and relays his story to anyone who’ll listen.

He misses her already.

* Published in INfusion 47.

Update: Publication News + Reflection

My story, ‘The Reunion’, has been accepted for publication in literary journal Page Seventeen. As part of the lead-up to publication, editor Beau Hillier asked each contributing writer to reflect (in 250 words or less) on the process of writing their respective piece.

I fear it won’t make much sense without first reading the story, but it does effectively document the way disparate influences can come together and inspire a piece of fiction.

From the Busybird Publishing website:

Reflections-4

The P17 launch date is fast approaching – not long now until the latest issue of page seventeen is available!

It’s an open invitation to come on down to our launch event and open mic night at the Busybird workshop – 2/118 Para Rd, Montmorency – from 7pm onwards on 19 November.

In the meantime, a couple more of the Issue 11 contributors have offered a little more insight into what went into the latest P17 edition.

*             *             *

Tom O’Connell on ‘The reunion’

My inspirations for ‘The reunion’ are threefold.

Firstly, this story was written in response to the Murakami short ‘All God’s children can dance’, wherein a young man, lied to about his supposed birth by Immaculate Conception, searches for his true biological father. The search culminates on an empty baseball diamond, a final image which has remained with me.

Years ago, I took regular evening walks around the streets of Northcote. On these walks, I often passed sporting grounds where local AFL teams had their weeknight training sessions. During training, the stands and grounds would be empty. The field would be lit, but only coaches and a dozen or so players were present. (I love how this contrasts the bustle of Game Day. Empty sporting grounds are so serene.)

One night, I noticed a hooded figure watching the boys train. The stands were unlit, so he was shrouded in darkness. I passed another night and he was there again. He came regularly. No one paid him any notice. He was probably one of the boys’ fathers, but that didn’t stop me turning over the possibilities. What if he was a spy, or homeless, or generally unhinged? (Amusingly, an earlier draft emphasised this angle.) The idea developed and he became an absentee father.

Finally, I suppose this story was written, in part, to satisfy an innate curiosity about my biological father, whom I have no relationship with. Paternal bonds often figure into my fiction, though never usually this explicitly.

Tom O’Connell is a writer, editor and tea-enthusiast. He is currently studying for a Bachelor of Writing and Publishing and has been published in [untitled], n-SCRIBE, Vine Leaves and Crack the Spine. Follow his writing at artofalmost.wordpress.com.

Short Story: ‘The Wall’

Mandi Kontos has featured my story, ‘The Wall’, which was published late last year by Crack the Spine, as part of her blog’s Sharing Sunday segment. It’s probably the most direct way to read the story (as Crack the Spine is a somewhat fiddly online-only interactive PDF thing). Enjoy!

Flash! Friday Vol. 2–17 Story – ‘Miko Island’

fire-breathers-singaporeThis is my response to Flash! Friday‘s seventeeth prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). The secondary theme which had to be incorporated was ‘Friendship’. I wanted a break from fantasy this week, so have opted for something a little more grounded.

* * *

‘Miko Island’ (160 words)

On Saturday night, Kyle brought me to Miko Island to see the fire breathers. I remember pushing through a sea of half-naked teenagers, wondering if I was the only divorcee in attendance. Could they smell it on me?

We drank in the moonlight, trading non sequiturs with Kyle’s stoner friends. My discomfort metre was peaking.

Kyle led me across the dunes towards a distant bonfire.

‘I don’t know about this …’

My words scattered on the wind, lost in the dissonance of club beats and bongo drumming.

‘I know!’ Kyle shouted. ‘Isn’t it great?’

We emerged, centre stage, and were absorbed by the throbbing mass of skin, sweat and glow sticks. The air was charged. David had never brought me anywhere like this.

The fire breathers, on a raised mound, moved like flowing water. They were the beating heart. Their flames surged, like beacons opening the night.

We cheered, lost in the majesty.

Hands linked, Kyle and I began to dance.

Flash! Friday Vol. 2.7 Story – ‘No Regrets’

court_of_honor_and_grand_basinFlash! Friday is in its second year! This is my response to the seventh prompt (the above picture) since their anniversary. One hundred and fifty words was the limit (with a ten-word leeway). We were also required to incorporate ‘Destiny’ as a theme.

* * *

‘No Regrets’ (158 words)

His sixtieth had arrived, but Charlie was alone, thinking of 1935, of Pearl. He withdrew the framed picture, hidden in a study drawer, and placed it on the mantel. Looking at it, he felt ill. Estranged daughters, three divorces, and a career spent manufacturing soap, yet this regret eclipsed them all.

The statue stood in all its monochromatic glory. Not an especially romantic spot, but it was where Charlie and Pearl had promised to meet following his tour of duty. His reasons for not showing were trivial at best.

Depleted, Charlie touched a hand to the photo. The image rippled at his touch and he flinched. What was this?

Drawing on reserves of courage, he offered a finger, then a hand, then his entire arm. The portal received him like a body of water.

* * *

This world was colourless. Beneath the statue, an incredulous Charlie surveyed his twenty-something body. Pearl was smiling and waiting for him across the way.