Hardy slows in traffic. Tree seedlings sit pert beside him, inside his second-hand EV. He feels like a foster father; a forest father. He’s ferrying them off to a working-bee, for replanting after storm damage. Then his lane jams. For ages. He chafes. He feels a dread loop kick in. So much looms: retirement’s empty stretch; his daughter’s divorce; the nag of how his grandkids will ever … Hardy, get a grip. Quit stewing. You’re doing your piece. He whistles up a decoy tune. 

Light’s still red. 

He fidgets, scans the street. He double-rubbernecks. A man is trying to carry a bride in white over the threshold of a dry cleaner. What? That’s no place to live! And the groom looks … so serious. Oh. Maybe they’re heading into business together? She’s just signed the deed: Bride of the Franchise Line, as well as Mrs Love Thang. Hang on another sec. The woman is tango-dip limp. Passion swoon? Yikes! She might have fainted. Crash diet? Some brides do go screwy round food; want waistlines pinched as salt. Or maybe the opposite is true. She’s gluttonised on wedding buffet: pinot noir, steak marinade, berry coulis all slopped down her sateen. Quickest fix: sweep her off her feet and into Speed Queen’s Dry Clean. 

Hardy peers harder, sees – he needs new glasses. She’s no bride. She’s a king-sized counterpane, with matching slips and sheets, and awkward as a collapsed marquee, when it comes to narrow doorways. Hardy creases up. The seedlings quiver too as if they’re bottling silent laughter. 

Why is this sight – some guy hoisting mounds of meringue-white bedclothes, frothed up like well-beaten cream such a scream? 

 Hardy’s frowsty, pill-worn heart flips, lifts and fills. No brainer, he thinks. It’s a sign. Believe in clean sweeps

The light goes green. Like fresh linen on the line, a spinnaker in the breeze, Hardy sails free.

Emma Neale is a Dunedin/Ōtepoti-based writer and freelance editor. In 2020, she received The Lauris Edmond Memorial Award for a Distinguished Contribution to New Zealand Poetry. Her most recent publication, The Pink Jumpsuit: short fictions, tall truths (Quentin Wilson Publishing, 2021), was long-listed for the Acorn Prize in the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2022. 

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