Friday, 31 May 2013

The Australian Literature Review short story competition entry May 2013

theme: Small Town Setting New to town. A small male spider sets his thin leg on the first strand of the sticky web. It is vital he negotiate the exact path. One misstep and he will awaken the killer instinct of the female at the heart and he will never leave the web alive. “Primary School 802, Lisa speaking.” “Oh good morning, this is Elizabeth Benton, I just moved to town with my children and I was wondering if you knew who I could contact about the local gymnastics club.” “Welcome to Stell Mrs. Benton. I think Anne Wilson knows, give me your number and I will call you back.” “Thank you, it’s Ms. Benton not Mrs.” “Yes well. Let me just make a call for you. Ms. Benton.” “Hi Anne, it’s me, Lisa from 802. You know that new family, just moved here into the old Clancy house. She’s a Ms. No hubby obviously. Got three kids at school. Probably got the money for the Clancy place in the divorce, anyway she wants to know who’s running gymnastics. Told her I would call her back. Stan runs it? Oh okay I’ll give Bernice a call. How’s yer Dad Anne? Is he through the chemo? Oh that’s good. See you on Sat’dy at the footy.” “Hi Bernice, Lisa from 802, Annie tells me your Stan runs Gymnastics? I’m finding out for that new family. Benton is the name, not related to the ‘Voca Benton’s I shouldn’t think, they are new to town. She won’t get far telling everyone she’s a ms not a Mrs. These city girls have no sense of propriety. She’s sending them to the catholic school you say. Oh my goodness the priest won’t like the whole ms thing. It’s a right scandal. I’ll call her back and let her know your Stan runs gymnastics. I’ll give her your number. See you at church on Sunday.” “Hello Margeurite, Bernice calling, are you making your delightful scones on Sunday for morning tea at Church dear? We should be having that new family, the Benton’s. Her name is Elizabeth and the children will be attending St. Peters. She is sending them to Gymnsatics with my Stan. The boy should join the junior football club, I shall suggest it to her after Church. Shall we see you at the football this weekend? Your Maurice is playing isn’t he? Oh there is no Mr. Benton by the way. Maybe she is a widow?” “Tina, it’s me Marguerite. Footy at the lake oval this weekend. Mousetown verses Lesser Western. Deano and Cowingberg are out for blood, it’s a grudge match. I know Tina, it should be a fab match and I can’t wait to drool over that gorgeous hunk of manliness from the Western. Oh if only he would look at one of us. I would have his shoes under my bed any day. Hey are you coming to the pub tonight? The boys will be there and maybe he will come. They have karaoke tonight. You can screech with me then I won’t sound so bad. Hey did you hear about the new family in the Clancy place? She’s a widow. Got heaps of dosh from him dying and the insurance and stuff. She’ll be on the crawl for one of our blokes, just you wait and see. The kids are going to the Mick school. Yep. See ya tonight.” “Lucy, that new chick is going out with one of the local blokes. Her old man died apparently and left her a huge amount of money. How old are the kids, maybe we could go visit with our kids and say hello. I would love to see inside that house, see what she has done to it. She would have to have a heap of money, that place would cost a fortune to do up. Nah I’m not going to the footy but I will be at Church. See you then.” “Mum, I was just talking to Tina. Looks like that new family has finally moved into the Clancy place. A city woman, three or four kids. Might have a local bloke already. Her hubby is dead apparently. Those city girls move fast don’t they. Anyway I thought I might go with Tina and introduce her kids to them, get a gander at the old house at the same time. Yes Mum I am sticky beaking but she is new to town and it is only neighbourly to go and say hello. Do you want to come? We could go after church on Sunday. Okay bring some of your orange and poppy seed cake, that always works a treat to make people feel good. I love you too Mum.” “Hello Darlene, has business picked up at the Raunchy Duck since the new manager took over? I was just talking with my Lucy about her. Take away twice in a weekend, doesn’t she cook? Poor children will have malnutrition. Mary tells me she took the little one to the library for story time and offered to read sometime. They all had new library cards issued and she seems interested in the family tree group. I know, it seems odd behaviour for a woman who doesn’t cook. Well she did lose her husband poor dear so it isn’t surprising, still grieving I should think. You give my regards to your mother Darlene. See you at Church.” “Hi Ros, it’s me Darlene. That new woman in your writing class, is that the same one who bought the Clancy place? Oh I hear she’s a widow and has four kids. Tina’s mum says she is grieving but she’s getting involved with things around town. Oh really the theatre club too, wow when is she going to have time for her kids if she is out all the time. Your cousin Tina and my sister Lucy are going to go visit after church on Sunday. Rumour has it she already has a local fella on a string so she can’t be too grieving. Which local would be dumb enough to date an out of towner? Nothing good ever comes of that. Okay Ros, will we see you at the footy? Oh typical you, chaining yourself to a street tree. That scraggly old thing needs to go. You are so eccentric Ros.” “Go in peace.” The priest made a sign of the cross and the congregation began to file out to the supper room for a shared morning tea. Dozens of parishioners had gathered, more than the usual. It wasn’t every week a new family came to fuel the threads of gossip and conjecture. Elizabeth gathered her neatly turned out offspring and led them to the supper room. The almost teenage boy looked uncomfortable in his suit. His sisters were the perfect pictures of innocence with their hair gleaming and their faces bright and smiling. The youngest, a pre schooler clung fiercely to his mother’s hand. The priest greeted them all and introduced them to a few of the leading families in the district. Several older ladies in starched blouses and exactly coifed hair, offered scones and tea; Elizabeth smiled sweetly and encouraged her children to politely accept the cordial and biscuits available to children. “Well they don’t look malnourished Darlene.” “No Shirley and she is still wearing her wedding ring.” “That boy looks like trouble brewing. City boys, you can dress them up but they just don’t fit.” “The girls are sweet.” “Sweet now! Very competitive at gymnastics though. My Stan says they have a mean streak in the pair of them I tell you.” “Now Bernice, I said they…” “Hush Stan. Marguerite your scones are divine as usual. How do you get them so light?” Elizabeth herded her little brood out to their car, smiling and nodding to the various greetings. She looked strained and a little tired. The children looked relieved to be putting on their seat belts. She waved her hand and drove off. “Well that shiny new thing won’t last long on country roads.” “Who does she think she is waving like that? The Queen? Bit posh and up herself I say.” “Come on Tina, leave your kids with their dad and let’s go, Mum did you bring your cake?” Shirley signalled she had her Tupperware cake box and the three climbed into Lucy’s car. They drove out to the old Clancy place. It was a magnificent old federation era mansion built of sturdy sandstone with bullnose verandas and lattice ironwork. The trees were at least 8o years old and shaded a neatly clipped expanse of green lawn. The house had not had a Clancy family in it for fifty years but it was always the Clancy house to the locals. The neglect of recent decades had completely disappeared and the care of its restoration was evident in the carefully chosen colours of the paint, the gleaming metal work, the orchestration of the garden beds and the lush growth of green lawn in stark contrast to the vast background of yellow brown paddocks. “What a waste of water, that is disgusting in this drought.” Tina gasped in shock as a bend in the road revealed the lawn to them. “Twelve years of stage four restrictions and they flaunt that kind of decadence. I don’t like this woman one bit.” Shirley was outraged. Lucy just stared and drove the car around the semi circular drive to the foot of the stairs. All three woman climbed out of the car and stood at the foot of the three wides stairs, hesitant to move forward. The oldest boy looked out of the bay window to the left of the stairs, turned his head and yelled. “Mum, three of the ladies from the Church are here.” And pulled his head back behind the curtain. The curtain moved a little as two more faces peered at them through the antique lace. Then he appeared in the doorway. The football hero, last year’s best and fairest and the coach of the junior team. The man in the fantasy of every local unattached female over 16 and several attached and even that fella who worked the checkout at the local supermarket. Six foot three and shoulders wide as a door, narrow waist, rippling muscles and gleaming hair. A voice that did strange things to abdominal muscles in hormonal women. “Mrs Drake, Tina, Lucy” He nodded to each woman, “What brings you here on this lovely Sunday? I thought you would be fixing those roses of yours Mrs Drake.” Steven raised his eyebrow enquiringly. “You know we are on restrictions don’t you?” Lucy finally expressed her shock at the green lawn. “We are having a fundraising concert in summer ladies. ‘Music on the green’. The whole place will be green before the drought ends. We pump it up from underground” Steven looked at his lawn proudly. “Oh.” Was all the Lucy could manage between ogling the football player and the green expanse. Elizabeth appeared in the doorway behind him. “Honey” he wrapped an arm around Elizabeth’s waist and drew her to his side. “This is Shirley and Lucy Drake and Tina Winchester. Ladies this is my wife Elizabeth.” “Come in and I shall put on the kettle.” Elizabeth invited them with a sweet and genuine smile. She gave Steven a quick hug and turned aside to lead the speechless women into her home. “You’re married!,” Lucy finally sputtered. “Yes Lucy, since my University years. This is my son, Michael, my daughters Violet and Rose and my little lad Tristan. Come kids say hello to the ladies.” They all murmured polite but shy greetings. “So you’re not a widow then?” Shirley rudely blurted out unable to control her tongue. Elizabeth put down the tray she had been carrying and shooed the children out to play. “I should hope not but I always worry with Steven’s work at the mine.” She smiled and poured tea for the ladies from a beautiful china teapot. It looked expensive and totally right for the room and their hostess. “He worried just as much about me and the children though, in all my travels with my work.” She smiled lovingly at her husband and stepped neatly over his outstretched legs to offer the ladies some home baked biscuits and precisely cut slices of Shirley’s orange cake. “Fold those great things up before someone trips over them.” She playfully slapped his thigh and they smiled at each other in a way that totally closed out the other three. Lucy and Tina blushed and decided then and there they hated Elizabeth Benton. Shirley’s tongue got the better of her again and asked in a self righteous tone “Why do you call yourself Ms Benton then if you are married to Steven?” Elizabeth looked straight at the gathered women in her living room, she delayed her answer long enough to make them squirm. “So it is true what they say about small towns then.” “And what would that be?” Tina wrinkled her nose in a defensive sneer. “If I don’t know my own business, not to worry the rest of the town will?” Elizabeth smiled but there was steel beneath the sweetness. Steven laughed a deep rolling laugh that startled the visitors. “That’s mind, love, mind your own business” he uncoiled his long lean body from the deep leather arm chair and indicated the women should precede him down the hall. “Thank you for coming ladies, I will show you to the door. Don’t forget your plastic.” Shirley grabbed her precious cake container from his hands and walked briskly down the hall. The others were already at the car. The sticky threads of the intricate web hummed. wc 2284 Note to self: the short list winners all wrote sentimental pieces. Firemen being brave, memories and ghosts in old houses, homeless wanderers, a spaghetti western and a sci fi. Some good pieces of writing.

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