Short story winner: The Sweet Forbearance in the Streets
Hundreds of you entered our competition to write the final short story in our series about the consequences, public or private, of the end of the boom. This is the winner
Illustration: Seán Hillen
There’s a good chance if she’s nervous she’ll tell This Thursday about the place called Mount Buggery, for she tends to burst out with things like that, things like its being next to a peak called Speculation, and how she found them on a list back in the months when she ate all of Australia off the internet. This Thursday wrote of himself that he loved to travel when he had the wherewithal, and she was impressed by wherewithal, something she’d put in the bucket of notwithstanding and irrespective, words you needed to run up to with a pole over your shoulder. Like Sergei Bubka, the first and only man to vault over 20 feet. She loved him 20 years ago when he said even after clearing 20 feet he had done some things wrong, his run, his hands, even the jump itself, which she had thought of as a lovely pleat of body over bar. She loved Bubka for being so tough on himself.
She’d love to know if This Thursday has pals who egg him on, tell him he’s entitled to a good woman, to perfection even, that he shouldn’t settle until he gets what his voluptuous appetite wants. She knows her own tuttlers want the best for her too, with their approving talk of mid-length haircuts and dermal fillers, how she was finally doing herself more favours now she’d let go of Big Ber. They had despised him for keeping her a living widow, and they brought her to a sea-town hotel, dinner, drinks, a big bedroom with two double beds where they all crash-landed in baubles and finery at three in the morning, two days after the funeral eight years ago. Big Ber is dead, they said at dinner, and she said, Long live Big Ber, and they swore in the struggle with the rubber cork on a Grüner Veltliner, told her she needed more, and would she ever cop on to herself. They were never more appalling than when they called the waiter over to tell him he was a fine young Italian stallion. He said he was from Poland, and they said they’d hardly believe him, with his swarthy looks, but it didn’t matter, for a fine thing was a fine thing and things of that nature crossed all borders.
This Thursday is what she calls them, even though they have their own false names, because she’ll only meet them that day of the week. The kind of day you do things like bank and fish counter and phone bill, but a day that nonetheless softly taps the accelerator to the weekend. There have only been three This Thursdays, over the throw of four months, and the girls are calling for less discrimination and more trawling the plentiful fish. They’re saying even Jesus couldn’t have made the abundance. All the haystacks, the lawkies, the chancers, the semi-solids. They’re calling it the gift of choice. They say she can throw back the pike and tench. They’re loving that she’s doing it and not they. And they tell her Small Ber would be chuffed, entrepreneur that he is, mover and shaker, go-getter and all. Little grasper, she’s tempted to tell them, grasping little nit.
Early on it was both sad and lovely, both lonesome and heartening, Small Ber gone to Australia, not sure how long for, not knowing if there’d be work, all of the unknowns that made it a thrill for the two of them. She told him it would be no shame to come home. She took pride in the first night she slept without the landing light. She sent him money by wire transfer. She Googlemapped his address and was vexed by the wide blowsy tree obscuring the door, the four-wheeled motorbikes with small stout tractor wheels, the feeling that 50 people were living in there. Every blind in the place was down.
He worked in nearly the biggest shopping centre in the country, mobile-phone promotions, glib speak and the sell-sell she heard when he tried to wind down calls with her. They Googlechatted when it was convenient on his end, which meant sitting in a blanket for an hour, more, watching satellites and stars sail across the Velux window until he pinged. Sometimes she drank a second glass of merlot, knowing full well it’d entail a metal clapper in her forehead the next morning, but it was worth it for the dark bouquet, the stiffening of the tails of her nerves.