Huckleberry Farm

Yesterday, I took to Facebook and Instagram and asked for yet another set of five words for a five word challenge.
This time, I chose the set: hunger, strawberries, pillow, music, shower.
HERE WE GO!

***

Huckleberry Farm

I never intended for my life to turn out this way. I feel like a lot of people say that, but, really, it’s true. When I got this job—strawberry picker at Huckleberry Farm—I thought it would an after school/on the weekends sort of job. Then after school turned into after graduation, and after graduation turned into indefinitely. I didn’t think to find the off switch until it was too late. I was hooked.

When my teachers asked me what I wanted to be, I always said a pharmacist. I know. Though I would always say this, I was never sold on it. I just thought it would get me more money than other jobs, and I thought that I could probably be able to get the qualifications for it. That’s the me that my parents wanted me to turn out like; not like the Farmer Ted I now am.

I love being out in the sun, planting, watering, crouching over the rows, monitoring ripening, and finally plucking each juicy fruit from their leafy green shelter.

Admittedly, the fruit incites hunger that I had never before experienced. Being around enticing food constantly, is difficult when you aren’t allowed to eat it.

‘Declan!’ Harriet’s voice floats from the door of the small shop.

‘Yo!’ I straighten and wipe my forearm across my forehead.

‘Could you check row 240 for snails? I noticed yesterday they were chomping on the leaves. I put bait out, but I haven’t checked to see if it needs more.’

‘Sure thing, Harriet!’ I sigh, placing my bucket of strawberries at my feet and readjusting my hat.

A car rolls down the driveway. The drum beat of the music playing inside it is thumping loudly. I could see a girl about my age nodding her head to the beat. I could almost guarantee she is on an errand for her mother. They always are.

Leaving the bucket there, I head in the direction of row 240 on the back of the farm’s four-wheeled motorbike. We have three hundred of these two hundred metre long rows of strawberry plants. Frank, Harriet’s partner, and I are the only pickers and maintenance men.

They work me to the bone. That’s the way I like it.

That way, I can go home knowing, I have earned every cent of my wage. I can shower and feel cleansed. My head can hit my pillow and I can fall asleep in the same instant. Those are just some of the perks of a job like this.

So, yeah, maybe my life isn’t the way I intended it to turn out.

Maybe it’s better.

***

There you go! I will see you Tuesday!

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The First Date

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

It’s time for another word challenge! I took to Twitter and Instagram asking for five random word, and this is the set I chose: chicken salt, telescope, sea turtle, hammer, and skateboard!

Here we go!

***

When Henry asked me out, I thought he was joking. We’d known each other for years – two decades an a half. Why now?

I remember staring at him dumbfounded with my mouth open for at least a couple of minutes.

‘I’m sorry, what?’ I eventually spat out.

‘I want to take you out. On a date.’

‘Oh. Okay.’ I nodded, not really sure what I was supposed to say in this situation. What do you say when the guy you used to take baths with as a kid asks you out twenty-five years later?

That’s how I found myself in a frustrating predicament – choosing an outfit. My bed was covered in clothes – dresses, jeans, t-shirts, blouses, skirts – and nothing I tried on was right.

‘Who choses a day date as their first date?!’ I mumbled under my breath.

Eventually, I chose a dark green skater skirt and white blouse.

It would do. It’s not like he hadn’t seen me in a sloppy tracksuit with no makeup before.

When he came to pick me up, I was surprised to find butterflies flitting against the walls of my stomach. Though, I was rattled by this, I decided to ignore it and press on. I figured this involuntary response was due to nothing but the nerves of embarking on new territory between Henry and I.

He didn’t look any different when he came to pick me up. He was wearing what he usually wears, and treated me the way he usually treated me. It was like this was a regular occurrence between us. But why was I the one so irrationally nervous about it?

‘Let’s go see some fish,’ he said, linking his arm with mine.

‘Fish?’ I raised an eyebrow at him.

‘We’re going to the aquarium, baby!’ He laughed.

I never thought that going to an aquarium would classify as a ‘great first date’. It seemed a bit kitsch – like an easy way out. But, somehow, Henry transformed my outlook on such a date.

We spent a good three hours wandering around. We gasped with wonder at the sea turtles, laughed about the impracticality and misfortune hammerhead sharks experience due to having a hammer for a head.

‘You’d be the ultimate handy man, though.’ Henry smiled, ‘Your wife wold love having you around to fix all those pesky loose nails and whatnot.’

I laughed, ‘Do hammerhead sharks even have wives?’

‘Dunno. But they should. Their divorce rate would be non-existent.’

Having exhausted our marine-related joke repertoire, we left. At Henry’s suggestion, we found a park to sit in and eat an early dinner as the sun set.

‘What would you like to eat?’ he asked.

‘You’re going to laugh,’ I hid my face from him.

‘Why? What are you going to say?’

‘I’m craving hot chips with chicken salt.’

‘Yessss.’ He laughed, ‘That sounds so good!’

‘Really? You don’t want a proper meal?’

‘Nope. Chips sounds great.’

I frowned at him. I wondered whether he agreed so readily just to please me, or whether he genuinely was on the same wavelength as me. I found myself wishing it was the latter.

With a scorching paper package under Henry’s arm, we searched the park for the best spot in the park. The sky was turning orange, pink and yellow as the sun sank lower in the sky. Sparrows daringly hopped closer and closer to our picnic until we finally passed over one of our chips. They were frenzied in their attempts to get their share of the prize.

Conversation flowed as usual. I found it hard to discern the difference between this and other days we have had together. The one difference, though, I noted, was the potential – the potential for more.

A boy on a skateboard whizzed past us then, ripping me from my reverie. He couldn’t have been more than about fifteen, and he manoeuvred the board as if he were born whilst riding it.

‘How do they do that foot thing?’ I stared after the boy, ‘I can barely stand upright on a skateboard for more than five seconds.’

‘Oh, I know,’ Henry nodded, ‘Remember when you decided that you wanted me to teach you to skate, and thirty seconds later you had broken your arm? I thought your mother was never going to forgive me.’

‘What are you talking about? My mother loves you.’

‘She didn’t that day,’ he murmured, ‘I felt so guilty that I had completely maimed you.’

‘You’re so dramatic,’ I shoved his arm.

‘No, just concerned for your safety,’ he smiled down at me.

I felt the world stop in that instant. The air seemed to still and, somehow, solidify. And I thought, this is it. But instead, he got up and told me he’d back in a minute. I couldn’t believe how anticlimactic it was. He just unstuck everything and dissipated the entire scenario in one extension of his legs. That takes great power. I was in awe.

He came back with a white cylinder balanced on his shoulder. It looked like a rocket launcher, or something technical and science-related.

‘I thought we could have a go at using this,’ he said, setting whatever it was on the ground beside me, ‘It’s a telescope, Beth. Don’t look so scared.’

‘Oh. I thought it was one of those rocket launcher things.’

He frowned, ‘You thought I would just randomly go and get a rocket launcher from my car? You’re deranged.’

‘I am not!’ I insisted, ‘Look, it’s not my fault I’m stupid, okay? Some of us weren’t born with the unnerving ability to understand every single thing.’

‘Or the ability to stay upright on a skateboard.’

‘Alright, enough.’ I shoved him again, ‘We don’t need to point out all of my failings as a person. I am well aware of them.’

‘What failings? I don’t see any failings.’

‘Well, you’re blind, then.’ I could feel myself turning red, the more he gazed at me in earnest.

‘So …’ I cleared my throat, ‘Stars, right?’

***

A bit of a sweet one today … long too!

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A Search for Serenity

Another Tuesday, another five word challenge!

Today’s words are: coconut, poodle, daisy, essay and slide.

***

I pull my hatchback into one of the few spaces at the edge of the park. For some reason this has become my place – the place, of all places, I come to when the stresses of assignments, classes and study get too much. I can’t remember why I chose it.

Ten minutes ago, I was sitting at my desk just about pulling my hair out. I have a literature essay due tomorrow, and I am supposed to write three and a half thousand words about the gothic genre with reference to, and comparison of, Dracula and Wuthering Heights.

I live on campus, and my housemates have decided to start happy hour at eleven in the morning. Don’t ask me why, but they’re drinking a stubby every ten minutes and playing Twister. Their laughter and yelling were making me loopy – I couldn’t concentrate at all- so I came here.

I set up my laptop, and place my notes, on a picnic bench in the shade. The leaves on the branches over head rustle in the gentle breeze travelling throughout the park. Already, this is a much better writing environment.

I begin to type, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula has more literal ties to the gothic genre than Brontë‘s Wuthering Heights because …’ Why does it have more literal ties? What am I even trying to say?

I push my head into my hands and rub at my eyes. Why is this so difficult? Why can’t I focus?

All of a sudden a white poodle strides over to me, apparently intently interested in the smell of jeans.

‘Hey, there fella.’ I smile at her, ‘who do you belong to?’

After a few seconds, a red faced woman clutching a bottle of coconut water jogs over to the dog and me.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she puffs, ‘Khaleesi likes to investigate people. She’s always running off before I can put a lead on her. I’ve been chasing her around the park for the last ten minutes.’

Whilst the woman is talking, Khaleesi trots off again to roll in a patch of daisies a few metres away.

‘Khaleesi, come here!’ she calls after the dog who, sensing impending entrapment, shoots off again.

I shake my head. Obviously Khaleesi is the boss of that relationship.

Alone again, I return my focus to my essay. Gothic literature. Dracula. Wuthering Heights. Kate Bush. No, not Kate Bush. Book. Right. Okay. I crack my knuckles and type a couple of words.

A child on the nearby playground starts to cry. The wailing is one of the most grating and irritating sounds I have ever heard. The boy, who looks to be about three years old, is sitting in the woodchips at the bottom of a bright yellow slide. His mother comes racing over to investigate.

‘It’s okay!’ I hear her console the crying child, ‘Mummy’s here. It’s just a scratch. You’ll be okay. Let me kiss it better.’

The boy does not let up crying and, if anything, gets louder.

‘How about,’ the mother continues, ‘we get you a nice big chocolate ice-cream?’

That shuts the kid up. He nods his head like an aggravated bobble head doll as his mother picks him up and places him on her hip. They set off toward the kiosk on the other side of the park.

Finally surrounded by quiet, I poise my fingers over my laptop keyboard.

That’s when my phone begins to ring.

‘Hi Katy, it’s your mum. How’s uni going?’

***

That’s it! What story would you have come up with if you were given these five words?

See you Saturday!

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The Race

Last year, I created and celebrated ‘Word Challenge Week’.
For those of you that weren’t here then, I dedicated a whole seven days to writing and posting short stories prompted by only five random words. I had to link these words into my prose for each short story.

What happened, though, was that instead of getting seven sets of five random words, I got eight. This, ‘The Race’, is the result of the eighth set. I thought it was time to share it with you.

My words were: tail, chocolate, fragrant, paddock and sport.

Happy reading!

***

Fred’s tail flicks at the multitude of flies surrounding his rump. For some reason, it’s their local hangout spot—a place where they gather and share the latest events to shape their short lives.

This paddock was Fred’s favourite too. His mother told him he wasn’t allowed to have a favourite—especially since they move around so much—but over the last few years, this paddock had stood out from all the rest. It had the sweetest grass and the coolest shade. It had the trough with the least amount of algae of all the troughs on the farm. How could you not like it?

The last couple of days have been a little strange, though. The paddock hasn’t been the same. The humans, Kevin and Ryan, have carted these metal frames into the field and have cut a random loop in the grass near the fence. Fred frowns when he sees them from two paddocks away. How dare they deface his favourite place?

They started putting signs up near the road yesterday.

‘We’re going to revolutionise sport.’ Ryan had said into his little electronic thing-a-majig as he hauled a massive sheet of corrugated iron down the driveway. It had something painted on it in large red letters, or so Fred assumed. All those human symbols were gobbledegook, ‘I’m telling you, Tim. We got a permit, and it’s gonna be awesome!’

Fred stared at Ryan. What was he talking about? What sport?

A couple of birds chatter loudly on the branch above Fred’s head. Briefly, he wondered if it was possible to learn fluent tweet. Maybe they could elucidate Ryan’s comments to Tim; if only Fred could speak their language. But, then again, the birds were practically screaming at each other, so it would have been a miracle if they had heard anything other than themselves.

‘Oi, Kev!’ Ryan yells from the road.

Kevin slowly straightens with a groan and looks in Ryan’s direction. His hands are heavily dusted with dirt, which he promptly wipes on his ripped jeans.

‘Yeah!’ He bellows back.

‘Sign’s up. Looks sweet!’ You can hear the smile in Ryan’s words. Fred rolls his eyes.

‘Come over here and help me mark parking, yeah?’

Three days later, Fred’s favourite paddock is surrounded by humans. They crowd in around the fences, ignoring the concept of personal space completely. There’s a man on the driveway with a bright yellow reflective vest on, directing traffic to the parking area.

‘Ladies and gents,’ Ryan’s voice comes from a small and very loud machine that has been strapped to the branch of a tree, ‘are you ready for the race of the century? Make your way over to trackside to watch it front row! Watch out for those fragrant, chocolate pies, though, eh? Don’t want to stink out the car on the way home. Race starts in five minutes.’

Fred attempts to roll his eyes. It’s not like we can help where we go, he thinks, it just sort of happens!

‘Alright, Freddy boy,’ Kevin says, ruffling up the fur on Fred’s forehead, ‘You ready to run?’

Wait, what?

‘Let’s get you into the starting gates.’

Me? Run? You’ve got to be joking. I find it hard enough moving from one paddock to another at a stroll.

Strapped into some tiny cage thing, Fred begins to panic. His breathing is exaggerated and short, he kicks and makes ghastly groaning noises of agitation. It’s obvious he wants out, but Kevin is ignoring him, taking the noises Fred is making as ones of intense excitement.

‘Get ready, folks. It’s about to start. Watch out for gate four! He’s one of our own! Fred’s his name. Make sure you give him a cheer.’ Ryan’s voice booms again.

The crowd shrieks and woops and generally makes idiots of themselves.

‘Ready Fred?’ Kevin asks again.

No. No I am not.

Without another work, Kevin climbs over the cage and onto Fred’s back. Fred starts bucking frantically, dinting the metal that surrounds him.

‘Racers, ready …’

And then the starting gun fires.

***

For the others I posted in word challenge week:
An Accidental Encounter
Losing Stitches
Decisions
Sorry Affairs
The Hike
Dinner Date
The Crow

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The Crow

Today’s the last day of Word Challenge Week! I’m disappointed that it has come to an end.

 

Today’s last set of words are: inconspicuous, purple, nefarious, lustre and greyhound.

 

The Crow

My nose grazes along the ground as I follow the faint scent of corruption. I know that this method is vain and that the trail will abruptly end, but I have to survey all angles. The trees on the nature strip are rustling as the breeze surges through their leaves.

The scent is slightly bitter—like coffee mixed with straw and walnuts. It zigzags across the pavement. Does the parasite even know how to walk in a straight line? A deep growl erupts from my chest and my snuffling becomes more urgent—the trail is fading.

‘Hey, Grover,’ Mr Falthrop calls from his front garden. He’s watering his petunias. I roll my eyes, ‘What are you doing out and about? You look like you’re on a mission.’

You have no idea.

I’ve been following this guy for a few weeks now. At first I thought it was a one off crime—he got to Billy Cooper’s Frisbee. We heard about it for an entire Saturday. Poor Billy couldn’t understand why he couldn’t play Frisbee with his dog, Filmore.

Now, though, I have branded this beast one of the most nefarious criminals currently at large—especially now that Frances Marks’ diamond brooch was literally taken off her hands.

I saw it all.

She was on her way to a funeral—she was wearing a beautiful black blouse with a knee length skirt. She’d had her hair permed the day before and pearl drops were hanging from her ears. She oozed class.

Her daughter had pulled up in the driveway and had sounded her horn, so Mrs Marks made her way out of her front door, brooch in hand. As she walked from the house to the car, he swooped down and took off with the brooch.

I could hear her gasp from my own front yard across the road.

‘You rascal!’ she screeched at him as he made his speedy retreat to his lair. He was untraceable after he passed over the rooftop of my house. He had struck again.

Since then, I have been trying to scope out the neighbourhood. But I always seem to be interrupted.

Last Thursday, I got as far as Mr Norton’s house two blocks away. I was searching for another of The Crow’s trails—anything that could lead me to his lair. But Cleo came cruising by in her Land Rover, and took me back home.

I ignore Mr Falthrop. He is likely to call Cleo if I stay around here. Instead I keeping scoping out the neighbourhood for any sign of The Crow.

I know I’m not exactly the most inconspicuous detective in the world—wearing a purple winter coat that probably has as much lustre as the Mrs Marks’ brooch. Cleo put me in this coat as soon as the weather got even remotely cold.

Filmore never lets me live it down, despite the fact that two Christmases ago I saw him in a Santa costume. As far as I’m concerned, a Santa costume is a lot worse than wearing a purple parka.

Five blocks from home, I suddenly get a whiff of The Crow. Again, a growl rips up my throat—I can taste him.

‘Yoooohoooo!’ a voice warbles above my head, ‘Señor Greyhound! Are you looking for me?’

‘Crow,’ I snarl.

‘Indeed, Señor. It is I. And you are Grover Greyhound, PI, yes?’

He is looking down at me with immeasurable condescension—I just want to keep biting his face until the smirk is gone. Next to him, his nest is sparkling with his loot. I can see Mrs Marks’ brooch sticking out from between two twigs. The Frisbee has formed the base of the nest.

‘Give the brooch to me, Tweety.’

‘Uh, uh, uh, Señor. The sparkly does not belong to you.’

‘It doesn’t belong to you either!’ I’m barking now.

‘But it does, galgo. Now clear out, amigo. I need my beauty sleeps.’

‘GROVER!’ I can hear Cleo calling in the distance. DAMN.

‘Ohhhh, your Mama. She is calling you,’ he taunts, ‘you better run along. Don’t wanna be late for your sponge bath.’

The tyres of Cleo’s car brush against the curb as she comes to a stop, but I can’t hear it through all the ruckus I am making. She jumps out of her car and starts tugging with all her might on my collar. There is no way I am leaving without that brooch.

‘Come on, Grover! What’s got into you? It’s just a dumb bird!’

‘Yeah, Grover. Listen to your mama!’

Cleo glances up at The Crow in his nest.

‘Wait, is that Frances’ brooch?’

‘No, Señorita, it is my sparkly. Find your own!’ He squawks at her.

She narrows her eyes at him and begins to climb the tree.

‘Stay away! I poop on your hound dog. Don’t think I won’t!’

His threats become a lot more desperate as Cleo encroaches on his branch, until she is so close that she merely waves her arm at him and he is off in a flap.

As soon as Cleo’s fingers close over the brooch, I let out a celebratory howl that I am sure echoes throughout the neighbourhood.

‘Jeez, Grove.’ Cleo sighs as she dismounts the tree, ‘Anyone would think you were tracking that buzzard down!’

If you missed out on the rest of the week, Days 1-7 are here:

An Accidental Encounter

Losing Stitches

Decisions

Sorry Affairs

The Hike

Dinner Date

Dinner Date

It’s the penultimate day of word challenge week and today we are watching in on a dinner date.

Today’s words are: bones, fish, mountains, black, catnip.

 

Dinner Date

The swift melody of a piano undulates through the dimly lit bistro. I consider, briefly, what life would be like for the man who sits behind that piano night after night as his living. Is it one of monotony and unfulfilled dreams, or is it full of joy—a stepping stone to greatness.

My gut flips like a pancake with the memory of why I am here, listening to the pianist’s rendition of Adele’s ‘Skyfall’. The waiters are marching about the room placing food in front of patrons with a smile and a flourish. Nothing seems to bother them, despite the fact that this place is nothing short of packed.

The maître d’ has placed me at a small square table right in the middle of the bistro. I feel like they had a spare table in the cupboard, and just sandwiched it in because all the other tables were taken. It seems booking months ago has not affected the decision to place me in the most cramped area of the dining room.

I would have gone to pick her up from her place, but she said she was probably going to be working a little later than usual. She said she would come here from work. I can’t believe that I let it pan out this way.

I look out the window, across the tabletops of the other couples around me. The sun is setting beautifully, forming an amber halo around the shadows of the mountains. If she’s not careful, she will miss the view.

After sitting on my hands for ten minutes, she trots into the room. Her hair bounces in waves around her face. She’s wearing a baby blue silk dress with a sweetheart neckline. My breath hitches, and I have to cough to exhale properly.

‘Hey!’ She says brightly as she plops into her seat, ‘Sorry, I’m late. Gavin just wouldn’t stop talking. I swear the meeting went for, like, three hours. Nice place! Fancy.’

She leans forward and kisses me quickly.

‘You look beautiful, as always.’

‘Thanks,’ she sighs, ‘getting ready for a date in a work bathroom is legitimately a nightmare. I think I was close to breaking my neck twice trying to manoeuvre into this dress whilst in the toilet cubicle.’

She picks up a leather-bound menu off the table as ‘Skyfall’ comes to an end. A couple of people near the window clap quietly. The pianist’s fingers quickly transition the melody into Ed Sheeran’s ‘I See Fire’. Obviously, it’s movie night.

She hums along with the lilting melody as she flicks through the plastic pocketed pages. I have always liked dark hair—I could swear it is shinier than any other colour of hair. Hers is the darkest I have ever seen. It looks like lightly curled silk, yet as bouncy as elastic.

‘So, babe, how was your day?’ She fixes her pea green eyes on me.

‘It was … busy. Carter is on my ass about the press conference about the opening of the new hospital on Thursday. He has this idea in his mind that things are going to go horribly wrong.’

‘But you are already putting all your effort into preparing for the conference. There’s no way that it can go wrong.’

I nod, ‘Unless they ask us about the endangered population of elephants in Africa, I think we’ll be ok. Carter is just breathing down my neck. It will all be over on Thursday, I suppose.’

A waiter in a blindingly white dress shirt approaches the table, a little touch-screen device in his hands, ‘Good evening, are you ready to place your orders, or do you need another few minutes?’

‘I think we’re ready,’ I smile.

‘Fabulous, what can I get for you, madam?’ he asks her.

‘I’ll have the citrus garlic infused grilled trout, please.’

‘Not a problem, Ma’am. And for you?’ he says, tapping the order into the device.

‘Um, I’ll have the brie and sundried tomato stuffed chicken breast, please.’

‘Wonderful choices. Can I get any drinks for you?’

‘A bottle of crisp chardonnay, thank you.’ she says hurriedly.

‘Of course, Madam.’ He smiles again, takes the menus from our hands and spins on his heel before heading to the bar to collect the bottle and glasses.

After about half an hour, the waiter sets two steaming plates of lavish looking food down in front of us. My mouth instantly starts watering and the pit of my stomach suddenly feels like Santa’s sack on Boxing Day.

I pull the starched napkin out from underneath my cutlery and gently lay it in my lap. She does the same and digs into her fish.

The instant her tongue touches the piece of trout is what I imagine seeing a neon sign in the seventeenth century would have been like. Her entire face relaxes and the smallest of smiles curls at the edges.

‘Holy hell.’ She says through the fish. ‘This. This is what the big man upstairs has for dinner on the regular.’

I scoff and take a bite of my own meal. To my surprise, she isn’t exaggerating. It is fabulous.

‘So why did you choose here to eat, babe? It’s a little bit more upmarket than our usual haunts.’

I’m under no illusions that she is genuinely clueless about why we are here. She’s like a cat circling catnip—she can smell it from a mile off, but has to survey it ten times from every angle before she can make a judgement.

I shrug, ‘I just wanted to be a little fancier tonight.’ The small velvet wrapped box in my pocket suddenly feels like it has caught fire.

Her sly smile on her face drops from her face and she starts coughing. Her cheeks redden and she reaches for her water.

‘Are you alright?’

She shakes her head, ‘Fish,’ she coughs again, ‘Bone.’

The waiter rushes over to our table before I can formulate any semblance of a thought progression. He reaches for the bread basket and proffers a piece to her. She frowns at him, her body still convulsing with coughs.

‘You need to chew it until it’s soft and moist, then swallow. It will dislodge it. Trust me,’ he insists.

My eyes widen. Wouldn’t that make it worse?

Before I can protest, she shoves the bread in her mouth and starts chewing with unbelievable determination. After a minute or so, she swallows, chasing the bread with a mouthful of water.

I am holding my breath, waiting for the coughing to continue. Instead, she looks up at the waiter and smiles.

‘Thank you! How did you know to do that?’

‘I’m a med student. Plus, it’s happened to me before. I’ll leave you to it. Keep an eye out for any other stray fish bones!’

‘That was amazing,’ she sighs as the waiter walks away. She takes another sip of water.

‘Are you sure you are ok?’

‘Yeah, it’s completely gone.’ She picks at her food with her fork, ‘I’m not sure I want to eat this now.’

‘We could swap?’

‘What if you get a bone stuck in your throat too?’

‘Then, we’ll have matching war wounds. Here,’ I give her my plate and take hers, ‘I promise I’ll look for bones.’

I don’t each much of the fish. Though it is delicious, I am too wary and way too nervous. She, on the other hand, finishes every skerrick of the chicken. I can’t help but smile at the resilience she has displayed.

After the waiter has whisked our plates away and asked us how the meal went—post choking hazard—I begin fumbling my way through the speech. It is one of those things that you can never word properly. It’s one of those things that is so sincere that all the words become warped and broken and instead of coming out like the speech that sweeps your loved one off their feet and into your arms, it comes out like a monolingual Englishman trying to read a Japanese instruction manual. The only thing that kept me going were her eyes, sparkling with impending tears.

When I was done and her face was shining with the salty waterfall seeping from her eyes, I produced the small velvet box and presented the black diamond ring that we had always mused would make the perfect engagement ring for us.

‘Would you make me the happiest woman alive by marrying me?’

 

If you missed the rest of the week’s five word challenge stories,

An Accidental Encounter

Losing Stitches

Decisions

Sorry Affairs

The Hike

The Hike

Hey, hey, hey! We’re into the second half of word challenge week!

Today’s words are: Chocolate, Canada, Work, Gym, and Hibernation.

So with those words as a prompt, I came up with…

 

The Hike

It is inadvisable to hike at this time of year. I told Mr and Mrs Wilson that a week ago when they came through the information centre at the foot of the hills. They were still determined to hike, though the remnants of snow were still visible on the ground.

I wouldn’t have let them go, had they not been experienced hikers. They gave me a return date—yesterday—and set off on their merry way.

The woods are glorious at the beginning of spring. The snow preserves everything as if autumn is just ending—it’s just a lot soggier.

When I was younger, I thought I would be a hockey player. I spent hours in the driveway hitting a tennis ball back and forth with my hockey stick. When I reached eight years old my parents finally had enough money for me to get lessons.

From there, I joined our local under 13’s team. One hour a week of formal training, developed into fifteen hours a week around school.

No matter how much my training increased as I grew up, I still spent my free time in the driveway pushing that sad little tennis ball around.

Eventually, though, reality stuck its nose in the door and forced its way into my life. “The journey” became “the dream”, and “practice” became that thing that I could maybe fit in if my treatment finished a little earlier than usual. Even then you probably wouldn’t call it practice … I barely had enough energy to walk from my bed to the bathroom.

I looked down at the paperwork in front of me. There it was: Todd and Rita Wilson due back March 24th—yesterday. Suddenly, I regretted scarfing down a whole block of chocolate last night. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing, but when faced with a hike that could take days, extra weight potential isn’t really what you want.

You might be thinking, “so what? The Wilsons are a day late, maybe they decided to extend their hike a while.” True. They might have. But they also might have been mauled by a grizzly who came across their skinny asses when he surfaced from hibernating for months. You see the dilemma?

‘So, Kane, who are you taking on the recovery?’ Nina, the information centre lady, asked me.

‘It’s just Liam and me.’

‘Is that wise?’

‘What? Liam’s fine.’ I said a little too quickly.

‘Mhmm …’ She popped a piece of gum into her mouth, ‘you keep telling yourself that, sugar. When you’re dangling from that grizzly’s mouth and Liam’s miles away shitting his panties, just keep thinking “Liam’s fine”. I’m sure that will save you.’

‘When did you become such a comedian?’

‘Around about the time you told me that Liam was your backup! Are you nuts?’

Liam was the newbie—the hopeless newbie. Ten points for enthusiasm, negative ten for finesse. He started a few weeks ago. His enthusiasm was so consuming, before I knew it I had printed out the contracts and he was signing on the dotted line. Nina had been giving me shit ever since.

‘He’s gotta learn somehow.’ I muttered, putting the paperwork back in the filing cabinet.

A couple of hours later, Liam and I were in the information centre’s parking lot.

‘Canada in spring is wonderful, isn’t it?’ Liam’s face reminded me of the Cheshire Cat.

‘Yeah, it is.’ I mumbled as I tightened the straps on my pack.

‘I’m so excited to be going on my first official hike!’

‘You got everything you need?’

‘I followed the list you gave me exactly. Not sure what you meant by “personal products”, though …’

Oh, god.

‘I tell you what,’ he went on, ‘I wish I knew about this earlier. I could have gone to the gym a bit more.’

‘You’ll be fine, Liam.’He patted his stomach a little, ‘Should’ve skipped all that candy.’

‘Come on,’ I patted him on the shoulder and took off toward the trail.

After my treatment, and subsequent recovery, these trails were the only thing that comforted me. To be all alone in the quiet wilderness of the woods, yet only a few miles from the civilised world, was one of the greatest feelings.

So instead of hiking on one of my few days off from a desk job, I decided to make hiking part of my work. I applied for the ranger position about six weeks after the doctor gave me the “all clear”.

Six hours into the hike, and there was no sign of the Wilsons. Liam had asked me ten times whether we could stop to have something to eat. Somehow, I convinced him to keep going.

The sun was slowly descending toward the horizon, so I decided to set up camp about twenty metres from the trail.

I hadn’t seen anything as funny as watching Liam trying to pitch his tent. I’m surprised he didn’t accidentally impale himself on a pole; he did peg his shirt to the ground, though.

The next morning, I woke Liam up at dawn and set off down the trail as soon as our packs were ready to go again.

Another six hours in, and I was beginning to give up hope of finding the Wilsons in one piece. I was half expecting a severed arm to be hanging from a tree branch. I stopped and leant against a tree trunk, taking a swig from my water bottle.

‘Kane!’ Liam waddled up to me, out of breath, ‘I think I heard voices over there!’ He pointed west of the trail.

My body suddenly tensed and I made off in that direction. My eyes scanned and surveyed every inch of scrub for any type of creature.

I could hear Liam huffing and stomping behind me.

‘Ranger Kane?’ a woman’s voice pierced through the afternoon air, ‘Is that you?’

‘Ms Wilson?’ I saw her then.

Her hair was all over the place. There were leaves and twigs snagged in it; her face was covered in dirt smudges.

I dropped my pack and raced toward her.

‘Are you okay?’

‘I’m fine.’ She mumbled.

‘Where is your husband? Is he in danger?’

‘Danger?’ she raised her eyebrows and pouted, ‘Goodness, no.’

‘Then why do you look like you have been dragged through the woods by a grizzly?’

Mr Wilson appeared then. His appearance was similar to his wife’s. Ms Wilson’s cheeks darkened.

‘Well, Ranger,’ she leant forward and whispered with a smile, ‘we’re newlyweds, aren’t we?’

 

If you have missed the rest of the week, here they are:

An Accidental Encounter

Losing Stitches

Decisions

Sorry Affairs

Sorry Affairs

It’s Day 4 here at word challenge week and today’s words are: Car, snot, biscuit, rowing and seashell.

 

Sorry Affairs

It was in the kitchen drawer—the place where we keep all the odds and ends and pieces of paper we really should keep but really don’t want to. It was at the top, face up. How stupid could he get?

‘Thanks for the other night. 😉 x D’

There is no mistaking the handwriting. I’d like to give them both the benefit of the doubt, but I know that would be a waste of my energy. How could they do this to me?

Ten years together. Ten. The tears are threatening to boil over the lips of my bottom eyelids and my breathing is shallow, yet heavy. I sniff. I can’t deal with this right now. I have to go!

I grab a stale biscuit from the cookie jar and shove it between my teeth before gathering up my keys, wallet, phone and sunglasses. Nathan is still in bed. He never comes to my meets anymore. He says he’s too tired from a full work week.

Our dark blue Honda Civic is parked in the drive, the drizzle making it sparkle in the morning light. My hands are so full I struggle to locate the car key on my enormous set of keys. The rain starts to get heavier and all of the things in my hands start to jostle and tumble from my hands.

‘Shit,’ I mumble through the cookie as my keys land in the only puddle on the driveway. And without even realising it, the tears begin to fall in torrents down my cheeks.

When I finally get into my car, the tears have coated my chin and my nose is dripping snot by the bucket load. I need to get it together. I can’t do this. Not now!

The shell necklace suddenly feels like it’s choking me. The pendant seems like it weighs ten kilos, and the black cord it hangs on seems shorter.

Nathan, Dana and I went on a holidays to the Whitsundays last year. One afternoon, I came down with a stomach bug and I was on an endless run from toilet to bed and back again. Though, both Nathan and Dana wanted to stay and make sure I was okay, I insisted that they go out and enjoy their holiday.

They spent their time, swimming, sunbaking and checking out the resort’s gift shop. I was so happy that my being sick didn’t impede their fun. Now, in retrospect, I should have made Nathan stay with me … maybe.

Who knows how long that note had been there?

When they came back, and I was lying in bed devoid all energy and nutrition. With anticipatory grins, they presented me with my sea shell necklace. I loved it as soon as I saw it. It was a deep purple with cream flecks and it hung from a plaited black cord. I’ve worn it every day since—I thought it symbolised our harmony, our friendship, combined to make one impenetrable triangular force field.

The car rolls to a stop at the traffic lights in town. As soon as it stops, I roughly pull the necklace from my neck and throw it on the floor on the passenger side. It hurts to breathe.

The light turns green and the car rolls forward as I release the brake and wipe the tears from my face. The clock reads 7.48. The meet starts in 12 minutes. I gently press the accelerator that little bit more.

I reach the river a few minutes later. The water ripples endlessly with the current. It’s going to be a battle today. We’re moving against the flow.

Stepping out of the car and into the air, the sound from the tinny loudspeaker fills my ears.

‘Eight minutes. All registered rowing crews to be in their sweeps at the starting line in eight minutes.’

My team, over by the water, are checking their watches sporadically and ensuring that our sweep is in working order.

‘There she is!’ Dana squeals as I make my way over to them, ‘There’s my bestie!’

She hugs me. I resist the urge to shove her into the river.

‘Hey.’

‘Where’s your necklace?’ She frowns at me.

‘Didn’t feel like wearing it today.’

‘Oh. Are you okay? You seem … sad.’

I stare at her, aware that my expression resembles what teens today call “resting bitch face”.

‘Just … don’t talk to me, Dana.’

‘Alice,’ she begins.

‘No. I’m too tired, okay. Let’s just row, so that I can go home and pass out in bed. Okay?’

‘Can I help?’

‘No, you can’t “help”. You’ve done enough,’ I sneer.

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ She looks like she has just witnessed the murder of a puppy.

We push the sweep into the water and I hop into position next to Dana who is now looking at me like I have sprouted a bonsai from the top of my head. Our teammates are oblivious to our exchange. The boat floats into position as the loudspeaker sounds again.

‘All teams into position!’

Dana is still looking at me with her eyebrows raised.

‘“Thanks for the other night”‘, I wink, ‘” x D”’

I slide my sunglasses onto my nose and grip my oar with ferocity.

‘On your mark,’ the starter bellows from shore. Pointed at the sky, the gun releases a harsh crack across the tranquil sky, and my world goes from an idyllic stroll to a struggle to stay afloat.

 

If you missed out on days 1-3, here they are:

An Accidental Encounter

Losing Stitches

Decisions

Decisions

Day 3! It’s day 3!

How’s the week going so far? I’ve enjoyed sharing what I have made of just five words!

Today’s words are a little different tyo the other sets – not purely nouns. They are: Cat, Word, Sandwich, Yes, and Because.

How would you link those together?

This is how I did:

 

Decisions

Every day is the same, here, at St. Joseph’s high school. Every day there are classes full of children that range from semi-wanting to learn, to flat out could not be bothered to listen to a word the teacher says.

It’s difficult standing up in front of twenty people who look at you like you have leprosy; it’s even worse trying to get those twenty people to learn something when they are looking at you like that.

‘Miss Neville?’ one of the boys, typically, half raises his hand.

‘Yes, Miles?’

‘What does this matter? When are we going to use the symbolism in David Copperfield in real life?’

If I had a dollar …

If I had an answer …

How do you explain to a fifteen-year-old that recognising symbolism in all form of art is a good skill to have? That it rounds your understanding of the world; that it fills in all the little holes? How do I explain that a person’s understanding of symbolism affects the way they view films and read books without that fifteen-year-old scoffing at me and screwing up their nose?

‘Well, Miles … because …’

Sam would laugh at this dilemma. He believes that the teenage brain is like rubber—every ounce of knowledge bounces off it.

‘Why do even try, babe?’ he would say with a smile taunting me from the corners of his mouth.

‘How can you say that?’ I would reply, annoyance diffusing through my voice, ‘I have to try. I’m a teacher!’

I miss those conversations with Sam …

He is staying with his best mate, Joe, for a few days. I just want him back home. Am I ready, though?

I have set the class an independent task of symbol identification and explanation in the text. I can see they are bored with it, and many of them are struggling.

‘Okay, class. Let’s write down some words we can define for the glossary term section of our books …’ a sigh of relief echoes around the room—copying down off the board, half the work is done for you.

I try not to think about Sam and his big, thick, foggy cloud of question. They plague my mind as I let my whiteboard marker glide across the board.

Ten minutes before the lunch bell, and I am dreading solitude and being stationary. I would prefer not to tackle this issue. It’s too difficult. If I ignore it for long enough will Sam just miraculously forget that he asked me the question at all?

It’s not a question that is on par with any other. It’s not as menial as “could you put a load of washing on for me?” But it’s not as debilitating as “Will you agree to a suicide pact with me?” It’s right in the middle, very serious, but not so serious that lives are at stake.

This, too, is about symbolism—two people laying claim to one another. I’m just not sure I am ready to stake my claim.

‘Miss! Can we go to lunch early? There’s only, like, five minutes to go before the bell.’

‘Oh, why not? Yes, alright then. You have worked well today. Go and enjoy your lunch.’

See, that wasn’t so hard, her brain seems to murmur, yes—one teeny little word!

The day outside is glorious. The sky is the type of blue that makes you want to paint landscapes. The sun graces and enhances everything it shines upon; it warms the souls of the most cold-blooded creatures.

I decide to sit out at one of the park benches in the school grounds rather than hide in the staff room and make small talk with my colleagues.

Mabel, I love you so much …

I cut off the memory there, shaking my head in an attempt to dislodge it from the forefront of my mind. My ham and cheese sandwich is hanging from my fingers halfway to my lips.

What do you mean you “have to think about it”? It’s either yes or no! No, Mabel, no! Look, yes or no! Fine! While you “think about it”, I’m going to Joe’s. Call me when you’ve made a decision … Maybe I’ll decide to answer the phone.

I clamp my eyes shut. My breaths are quick and very shallow. I’ve completely botched this. He won’t take me back. What have I done?

A quiet meow comes from behind me, interrupting my panic attack and instantly calming me. He’s a small tortoise shell and had a collar tag that reads “Sam”.

My breath quickens again as I mindlessly pat the cat. I should have said yes when he asked me. Idiot. I’m such a …

My phone begins to chime in my jacket pocket. Before I realise what I am doing, I have pulled it out and have opened the message.

“I miss you …”

Alongside the text, is a ring emoji. It taunts me. Within a second, I have pressed the call button and have the phone up to my ear.

‘Mabel?’ he sounds like he hasn’t slept.

‘Sam,’ I blurt, ‘will you marry me?’

Losing Stitches

One day down, six to go!

Welcome to day 2!

Day 2’s words are: Motivation, Bed, Brain, Dessert and Alpaca

Again, have a think about how you would link them together.

Here we go!

 

Losing Stitches

Helga Harper’s fingers danced above the wool she was weaving. Her creation jostled slightly with the collision of her knitting needles. In the background, a talk show radio host was asking his interviewee whether she thought that the future of book publishing was headed for solely digital bases. This was Helga’s happy place.

When Helga turned seventy-five, she promised herself she would always be in bed by 9.30pm at the latest—she deserved it. But now the digital clock on the oven was blinking 23.19 and Helga was still clacking her needles and watching a grass green sweater slowly take shape beneath her fingertips. She yawned and paused momentarily to rub her eyes. She couldn’t go to bed without George beside her again.

She was finding it difficult to find the motivation to do anything, at the moment. She was in a time loop—breakfast, hospital, either skip lunch or get a cafeteria lunch, go home at about six, have dinner, knit, sleep for a couple of hours. She could feel her brain power diminishing with every sleepless night she endured. It was a torturous cycle she didn’t know whether she was going to get out of.

George was admitted to hospital with a failing kidney—his only one. He gave the other to his and Helga’s daughter, Meg, when she was eleven. Those hospital visits were torture, too. The only thing that would make Meg relax around all the hospital equipment was the purple alpaca wool blanket Helga knitted for Meg when she was born.

This stint in hospital, for George, had been two weeks long already. The doctors, who undoubtedly had been practicing their solemn faces in the mirror, had told him that he needed a new kidney or the stay would become a permanent one.

At this news, Helga burst into wracking sobs and had to hold the back of the hospital chair to keep from crumpling to the floor. Meg lunged toward her mother and assisted in keeping her upright.

‘How long if you can’t find a kidney?’ George ignored his inconsolable wife.The radio host closed his show and wished his listeners a good night. He introduced a string of hits starting with an 80s classic—Simple Minds, or something.

Helga set down her knitting and made her way to the kitchen. Everything in her kitchen was ordered to perfection. All of her plastic containers and glass jars were labelled, and filled and all of her pots and pans were hung above the counter. Her friends always mused that she would injure her back whilst reaching for the pots above her head, but Helga loved them there.

She leant down and pulled out her crockery drawer. Carefully she lifted out a small cake plate. Jenny from next door had hand delivered a choc-mint mud cake this evening after Helga had returned from the hospital. It took all of Helga’s self-control to resist grabbing a fork and eating the entire thing the minute that Jenny had left. Instead, she compromised with herself: a (large) piece after dinner for dessert.

The cake lifter slid easily under the cake and she flopped the piece onto its side on the cake plate and put the rest in the fridge.

‘It’s choc-mint. George’s favourite, right?’

As soon as Helga resumed her position in her arm chair, she began shovelling the cake into her mouth. It was a rate that would induce indigestion and a feeling of sickness even in the sweetest of teeth. She didn’t know why she had to consume it so quickly. She just needed to.

George always said she ate too quickly. It wasn’t uncommon for a dinnertime to result in her plate being empty and George’s still being half-full. Her love of food always outweighed the potential of being thin.

The difference that two weeks can make to someone’s life is staggering. Two weeks ago, Helga had George by her side, healthy (or so she thought). Now he was looking pale, and had very little energy. In two weeks’ time, he could either be on the way to recovering, or … well, that’s what the doctors said, anyway. If only they could find a donor.

Helga couldn’t bear to think of George alone in a stiff hospital bed, with barely any covers over his slowly diminishing frame. No matter how hard the nurses try to make you feel comfortable during your hospital stay, you never actually feel comfortable—no matter your affliction.

Helga yawned as she set her plate aside and once again picked up her knitting. Her body was becoming achy, her eyes kept sliding shut. At some points, it was possible that she was knitting whilst she slept. Yet she still couldn’t bring herself to relent to the pressure of going to bed.

The radio had also given up trying. Every song was back to back. They were all sounding the same to Helga. When the clock on the oven clicked over to 2.57, Helga finally put down her knitting. She slowly shuffled toward her bedroom, flicking lights on and off as she went.

As soon as her head hit her pillow, a sharp ringing cut through her ears. After 30 seconds or so, it promptly desisted and she reluctantly fell into a deep and uninterrupted sleep.