Longlisted short story written for Australian Writers Centre 500-word Furious Fiction competition.
Smithy drags a cobwebbed canvas chair under the patio and sits listening to the sporadic ticking of the tin roof. Sweat drips. Out on the baked flattened lawn, Collie lays gnawing at a mutton bone she’s dug up from a month-old grave. Smithy figures it’s been nicely marinated by the dirt and bacteria, like a beef steak hung to age.
Collie looks up, ears pricked. A ute pulls into the driveway outside the wire gate.
“Dad,” Matthew calls, closing the driver’s door with a careful press.
He’s always been a bit soft like that, Smithy thinks. As if a good, solid bang might rattle his bones, shake his skeleton loose. And he’s all bones these days; marathons will do that to a bloke, apparently. Smithy looks at his own soft gut, a little mound of pudge under his checked shirt, not as generous as it was with Marta’s sturdy cooking. Bless her soul. Stout in mind, body and lack of humour. He’d never minded. He’d take a bellyful over a belly laugh any day.
The swinging creak of rusted hinges. Matthew approaches, a collar and lead in his hand. Smithy rubs his neck, as if sensing his own collar – an invisible one, with codes to remember for unfamiliar doors and strangers shuffling in hallways, white sauce on indecipherable, overcooked vegetables. “It’s not like that, Dad. It’s modern, bright. They have a library, garden, musicians who visit.”
Musicians. It’s all bloody swearing, yelling and yo, yo motherfucker these days. Will they let him bring his album collection?
He grunts, wipes his suddenly runny nose with a crumpled hanky. There’s a lump the size of a tractor in his throat. Bloody animals.
“So … this farm. Is it far?”
Matthew squints, looks at his feet. “Not too far.”
“Can I visit her?”
“I … uh … guess I can drive you there. Sometimes.”
Smithy looks off to his rockery garden. “Suppose this place will go to shit.”
“We’re selling it. Remember, Dad? To help pay for your accommodation.”
“You never told me that.”
Matthew takes a breath. “Yes, we did, Dad. You’re forgetting.”
“I’m not bloody forgetting.”
Matthew shoves a hand in his pocket, kicks dust with his foot. “Well, I’ll take Collie now. Sooner we get it done, the better. Less painful.”
Smithy hawks up spit, coughs to cover his rising panic. “For you maybe. And you won’t need that.” He points to the lead. “She’s a good girl. Fourteen years. You’d know that if you were ’round more often.”
Matthew pats a leg, clicks his fingers as he calls to Collie. “Come, girl.”
She bounds towards them, places her head in Smithy’s lap. Smithy buries his face in her fur, smothering his sob. “Sorry, girl. Sorry, sorry, sorry. It’s this or you join Marta.”
Collies lives up to her reputation, obediently following Matthew to the car, jumping in the passenger side. Smithy stands, leans against a verandah post, hoping for a last glimpse as the ute backs out.