Short Story Competition 2016 – Second Place

Leeanne O'Brien

Leeanne O’Brien lives on top of a hill in Wellington.  During working hours, she writes legislation for the government of the day.

“Think about how a sentence, a paragraph, a page in a book can just floor you. In my wildest dreams, I hope to write something that has that effect on a reader one day.”


Family Likenesses

She kept her notebook in an old reading bag of her son’s. A nasty pink thing with his name in large letters on the flap. The notebook was frank. Confessional. Heedless of the reactions of any person disposing of her possessions should she step in front of a bus while looking the wrong way.

It told of fucking a married man. Of him leaving his wife, taking her far away from her thin life spread with worry and poverty – not poverty, not really, but certainly not much room for new clothes or a holiday somewhere, other than a trip north to her parents or further north to the other man – the man she had been seeing for the last four years. The man she had moved cities in order to leave. The man who had now come to visit.

He had been there three days when she came home and saw the reading bag on top of the pile of books, clippings, school notes, children’s art, and old New Yorkers from Sally that were pushed to the back of the kitchen table. The pile so unruly it no longer fitted under the lip of the window ledge. She casually moved the bag. She thought she casually moved it.

Two days went by. She began to think that she had avoided a storm. Once or twice, daring the consequences of discovery to float through her head, the fear pitched her sideways. After all, the man had never shown any interest in her children’s education. Was unlikely to have looked inside and found not a school reader but her book, her story. Another day went by. Then Friday, and the school holidays arrived.

The children went north to eager grandparents, warmer weather, and long hours in front of a television. She was glad to see them go. Guilt at her inadequacies was a constant needle pressed into the base of her spine. Knowing they would be royally treated for the next ten days allowed a small respite from the self-flagellation.

At the man’s insistence, she took a long weekend and they drove through the city, over the hills and out to the coast. He was funny, attentive, keen to fuck. She let her guard down. Lay back into the warmth where, for once, hope and reality seemed to form a feather bed. He drank little, smoked no weed. They went fishing.

She watched him from high up on the shingle, sifting pebbles through her fingers. An expert sorter, feeling for the perfect ovals to add to her collection. Few could see the beauty in mere grey stone rolled and rounded to the size of a black robin’s egg. But it was their loss. She felt no urge to explain. She drifted off. Took her eye inward.

He shouted. She looked up. He had another one. Its body heaving as it lay on the wet sand. Its eyes shocked. He flipped it onto a wooden board, then stuck a knife through its head. Held it pinned, while it thrashed about. Tended his line as the thrashing faded. Cut more bait. Rolled a cigarette. Stowed the fish into a wet sack. Covered it with a towel and took up his rod. Winked and waded back into the surf. Cast again.

But that was it for the day. Tantalising jerks of the rod. Bait nibbled, but nothing more. He didn’t seem so bothered though. One very decent and two not so shabby-sized local favourites. Enough for sashimi with a beer, dinner, and breakfast – at least. He packed up his gear, she her rocks. Headed back to the house.

She lay down on the bed in the late sun and closed her eyes. She waited. Still. Alert. He didn’t disappoint. Outside the door she heard his buckle hit the floor. The pull of his shirt over his head. The creak of his knee as he knelt at the end of the bed and began a slow walk with his fingers up the inside of her calves towards her thighs and the soft space above.

She was momentarily flustered. He rarely started this way. With her pleasure in mind. Unless he was contrite. Or amped up on speed and girl-on-girl porn. But the feel of his thumb pushing against her clit melted the worry away. And then his tongue lapping at her obliterated all thought. She curled her fingers around his stubbled skull and pushed it between her legs and began to rub. She couldn’t get enough. Back and forth. The oldest rhythm. The only one that ever mattered. She started to come. It was too soon. Too soon. So she pulled him up and over her. His cock was purpled, the veins extreme. It excited her to see him so hard. He entered her to the hilt. Rammed her. Again and again. She was so wet. It was afternoon fucking. The sun was on their bodies. He even briefly opened his eyes to look at her. Coaxing her to let go. So she did. The flood of the release almost unbearable. He climaxed shortly after then lay heavily on her. She didn’t mind. Welcomed his heaviness. His breathing slowed and slowed some more.

She thought about the time around when they met. When, like any new lovers, they hadn’t been able to keep their hands off each other. Fucked anywhere and everywhere, which was no small feat given the five children between them. In his laundry, under the stairs, where there was just enough time to haul on her knickers if they came looking. Halfway up the other staircase, where she could ride him senseless yet still listen with one ear out for a green-eyed child waking in the night. On the couch, the moment the last brown-eyed baby had gone to bed. Every morning. Every night. She thought about the time when he had come quickly but then almost immediately became hard again – without even slipping out of her. God, how many times had she revisited that episode in her head. She began to drift off. And then he spoke.

“Does he make you moan like that?”

And that was it.

*

Ten years later her eldest son calls her. “I’ve fallen off my bike. I’m on Meipara Road.” He fails to provide any further information.

She rushes out the door, down the hill. She imagines the worst. Not five minutes away, she finds him slumped in the gutter, his face awash with blood. It’s the most gorgeous rich colour, she thinks. No-one ever describes its beauty. The way it slides effortlessly across any surface. As captivating as beads of mercury rolling in a petri dish.

His shirt is torn. His back shredded. She thinks she is going to be sick. People stop. Help her with the mangled bike. Help her with the mangled boy. They drive to the doctor’s surgery. Small city advantage – no traffic lights. No traffic. She helps him into the waiting room, blood still flowing freely from so many places. His face has started to swell and his eyes blacken. The receptionist, without looking up, but sensing their arrival, asks how she may help. Only then does she look up. Her face a picture.

Suddenly, the time that has slowed – that has allowed her to pluck and pester at words to exactly describe the colour of his blood, that has allowed her to look at her son and wonder how the hell he got so tall and thin and aloof when he had only ever been clingy and chubby – accelerates. Or at least returns to real beats. Two nurses and a doctor lead him away. The doctor rumpled, her lipstick a token gesture, her concern genuine. She begins to give orders as she walks around him assessing the damage. He starts to shake. They lie him down. Cut his clothes off. This bothers him greatly. A favourite T-shirt scissored. He has many, but only the same few cycle through the washing basket. She points out that it is beyond saving anyway and shows him the back where the gravel has rent the fabric.

It takes ninety minutes to clean him up enough to take him to the hospital. The doctor is concerned about his facial bones – eye socket, jaw – how to fill the hole in his chin. Wonders whether to remove all the gravel from his buttocks and his back, or just let it work its own way out. They drive off, paperwork crushed into the door well. Neither speaks. He is seen immediately when they get there.

Later, at home, they sit on the couch, the brown dog in the middle, the black dog on the floor with her chin on his feet. He can’t get comfortable. He looks like a cartoon mummy. And so many stitches in his face. She glances up and sees them reflected in the window. She thinks over the conversation with the hospital doctor as they had left the emergency department.

“He’s young. His body will be quick to heal. I can almost guarantee that his scars won’t be like yours in five years’ time, even less, hopefully. Certainly not the facial ones. They won’t be nearly as prominent.”

And then his professional facade momentarily slips and his hand, as if belonging to someone else with permission to do so, reaches over and touches her ruined face. “Car accident?” he asks. She gives him a wry look. “Romantic weekend away,” she says.

She looks at their reflections again. She hopes that one day her lovely boy can turn his crash into a story that makes everyone laugh and wince at the same time, while looking closely at his face as if trying to name constellations in a clear sky. She hopes they will be able to declare that he must have been exaggerating. Surely a smudging of his left eyelid, some scar tissue on his chin, his cheek, his back, and his left hand wasn’t all he had to show for such a spectacular fall.

 

First published takahe 87
August 2016