Short Stories Series 3

Flat Capped 01/04/16

The flat-capped man had become a regular instalment outside the Adelaide Central Markets. He’d appeared suddenly and never left. He must have lived nearby, because he was ready and waiting when the hour was such to start making noise, every market morning. His brilliant green electric guitar drew many gazes and photographs when he drew it from its case each day. He would set up his little speaker box and sit down next to it on a milk crate, the guitar case open at his feet. Teenagers would gather, expecting to hear something heavy and cool, but the flat-capped man didn’t play rock. Instead, out of the electric green machine came an endless library of traditional melodies, tunes with origins in Ireland, Greece and Wales. Passers-by would watch his hands as he held the neck of the guitar, his thumb reaching over to fret bass notes while his fingers picked out the melodies.

The flat-capped man wouldn’t tell you how he knew traditional tunes from so many places, or why or when he’d come here, to Adelaide. Because he couldn’t remember this information himself. He knew the music, and he knew where each of the tunes were from, sometimes telling wonderful tales about the origins of a piece to those who asked. But all he remembered was being here, in Adelaide, playing outside the markets by day and staying in a little city flat. Where he came from and how he came to be here he didn’t know. He often worried about it, the not knowing, but he tried not to let it trouble him, and the music absorbed his attention entirely whenever he played.

It was Thursday morning and the market traders were pulling in with their wares, the smelly fish and the piles of vegetables; caterers coming in with their freshly cooked food. The place rang with the shouts of the people pulling crates off vehicles and wheeling things around on their sack trucks.
‘Morning Jim!’ Called Immanuel the fishmonger. They all called him Jim, presumably because of the number of his tunes that sounded Irish, and he’d accepted the name.
‘Hello Immanuel!’ Jim started setting up his spot, spreading out his picnic rug that he liked to have underfoot and plonking down his milk crate. Suzie from the cheese stall came up to him, smiling.
‘Hey Jim! I reckon I’ve worked out where you might have come from aye!’ Jim frowned at her.
‘How would you find out something like that Suzie?’ He sat down on his milk crate and began tuning his guitar, trying not to look interested. Suzie probably didn’t understand the nerve she was touching.
‘Come for drinks after closing and I’ll tell ya.’ Suzie replied, grinning and tossing her head as she lifted a box of cheeses out of the truck and turned on her heel to head for her stall.

After closing Jim put his guitar in its backpack bag instead of the hard case and packed his other things onto his bike, which he chained up under a tarp. Then he followed the crowd of laughing, tired-looking market workers to the local pub. Suzie hooked her arm through his and led the way inside. Setting up on the stage were a bunch of guys who all had brilliant, blinding coloured electric guitars. Suzie pointed and laughed.
‘April fools!’ She giggled. Jim was disappointed, but he had to laugh at all these people with guitars just as vibrant as his. He would go and talk to them later. They could be a sort of guitar family, which was the next best thing to relatives.

Not Together 02/04/16

Martin and Ross were not a couple. They shared a house in town because neither could afford to rent on their own, and they had known each other since primary school. Martin was a graduate accountant, a Caucasian chap in his thirties who liked to play the drums in his spare time. Ross was the IT guy at the accounting firm where Martin worked, another Caucasian man of thirty-one, who liked to play computer games. They both played soccer and liked to listen to rock music. Their friendship had always been largely based on Martin’s failures with technology, which Ross fixed and Martin tried to get around in strange ways. One time this occurred when Ross was already trying to help Martin to fix the touchpad on his laptop. Ross was at work, fixing a problem with the local server, and Martin had rung him there because he was trying to work from home. Martin was unable to get the mouse to move on the screen, so Ross suggested a keyboard shortcut to reactivate the touchpad. Martin tried to press the correct combination of keys, but somehow he pressed something else, and the whole screen view turned side on. When Martin described what had occurred there was a stunned silence on the other end of the line, followed by some incredulous swearing. Then Ross said
‘Just Google it! I don’t have time to fix your computer illiteracy!’

When Ross got home that evening, Martin had rigged up an arrangement of pillows and chairs that allowed him to lie side-on at the coffee table and use his laptop screen without working out how to turn the view back up the right way.

Martin was a back-seat cook. By that I mean that when Ross was home before him and cooking a meal, Martin would text every half hour so with questions and instructions about the cooking.
‘Is the meat in the oven yet? Check the temperature.’
‘Have you put the garlic in? Don’t put it in till last.’ Ross didn’t mind, but he also didn’t read the texts.

Tonight Martin and Ross were going to the same party, a thirtieth birthday for a girl they knew from high school named Jo. As teenagers they used to fight about Jo, and the situation had been resolved by neither of them being allowed to ask her on a date. So on the way to the party Martin and Ross argued about whether Jo was single now and what their agreed etiquette was for asking her out. It was agreed that whoever Jo spoke to first could have first shot, and if Jo declined, then the other would be free to ask her. Ross had made some cupcakes to bring, which Martin had heavily supervised.

Old school friends waved when Martin and Ross came in, and said things like
‘Heeeeey! It’s Martin and Ross!’ As they came over to slap backs or hug or shake hands. It was weird the way they said their names, sort of run-in together like ‘Martin n’ Ross’.
‘We’re not together!’ Martin found himself telling people. He supposed that was what you got for hanging out together all through school and then sharing a house. People made assumptions.

In the end Jo surprisingly did agree to go on a date with Ross. This was surprising to Ross because at school Jo had been one of those intimidating sort of people who you were sure would laugh at you. He and Jo went and got fish and chips the following Saturday and walked along the beach afterwards. It was a very pleasant evening and afterwards they went back to Martin and Ross’s house and made pancakes. Martin was practising drums loudly, but when they asked him to stop for a while, he was quick to be on their case with the cooking.
‘Did you use one egg or two? You should put a bit of self-raising flour in so they’re fluffy. Why don’t you add those bananas that are getting old, that way they’ll be fruity!’ Jo looked at him funny and told him to shut up. The pancakes weren’t for him, she said.

After Jo went home Ross told Martin off for back-seat cooking when Jo was there.
‘I don’t think she’ll come back now! Why can’t you stay out of it when I have girls around?’ He said. Martin looked cross.
‘She was using the wrong proportions! Your pancakes were going to fall apart.’ He complained. Ross grumpily shoved past into the kitchen living area to clean up. On the counter was his laptop which Jo had been looking at for a recipe for pancakes with fruit in them. The screen display was turned side on. Martin really tried not to laugh, but it was very satisfying somehow.

Plotters 03/04/16

Cody had begun renting a garden plot in the urban garden allotment when he saw the gardeners at the local market. His high school had made them all go to the market for a maths project, and at first Cody had not been very interested in the produce, but then he’d seen the girl with the long black plait. Sammy grew greens, berries and flowers for the florist’s stall in her plot on the allotment. She loved the plants and she loved the banter of the markets. When the high school group visited, Sammy was allowed to have a day off school herself to go to the Tuesday market, because the other stall holders reported how she drew customers with her enthusiasm. There was just something about sharing the products of the soil that she had planted and watered and taken care of herself. Sometimes, she thought she inspired others to grow things too, and that was special. Cody was one of those people who seemed to be fascinated after she told him about the allotment. Next thing, he had a plot too. He said he wanted to grow beans, but he needed lots of help. He hadn’t the first clue about fertiliser or irrigation or anything like that.

Two years later, Cody was much better at growing beans, and he had started root vegetables as well. He had a stall next to Sammy at the weekend markets, and they both went on Tuesdays when they could around part time work and study. Sammy was doing horticulture at TAFE and had all kinds of new heirloom vegetables in her plot as well as the berries and greens and flowers. She had plans to buy a small farm one day. Cody was studying a Bachelor of Science at University, but his heart wasn’t in it. He just wanted to be in the garden with Sammy all the time. Her passion for the work was contagious, and her company addictive. So Cody learnt everything there was to learn about plants from her. Even though he could grow beans well now, he kept laying plans to grow new things that he wouldn’t know so well, so that Sammy could help.

But on Cody’s twenty-first birthday, Sammy was offered an opportunity as a farmhand out in the country, and no matter how he schemed and suggested, none of Cody’s new garden plans could distract her from her intention to go. Sammy went to live far out in the countryside in another county. She wrote Cody postcards, telling of how much she was learning, and how she might take over the farm one day. And Cody took over Sammy’s garden plot, and worked it along with his own. He quickly became a successful market gardener, running a bigger stall with all the things he and Sammy had sold combined. He never wrote back to a single postcard. The garden was all consuming. Little by little, the postcards petered out. Cody became known at the market for his enthusiasm which drew in customers and new gardeners. And sometimes he wondered if he’d imagined Sammy. Perhaps, like her, he’d just been interested in plants all along.


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