Sunday Radio

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Just a reminder that if, like me, you weren’t able to tune into this week’s Cover To Cover from Vision Australia Radio on Friday evening, there’ll be another chance to catch the program this afternoon at 1:30PM (AEST). Join the team as they read stories by writers from all over the world, including The House In The Sky by me.

As usual, you can listen on the radio in Australia, or online from anywhere in the world. Details and streaming links here: https://radio.visionaustralia.org/

And if you miss this opportunity to listen, a podcast of the program will be available shortly.

Cover To Cover is produced and presented by Tim McQueen in the studios of Vision Australia Radio in Melbourne.

Happy listening!

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The Birthday | a short story on Vision Australia Radio

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“Next to the milk carton is the cake he bought last night from Patrick’s Patisserie. He went in last thing, twenty minutes before closing. The cakes are cheaper at the end of the day. The man that works there, who he’s always imagined may well be Patrick himself, was reading the newspaper, a crinkled morning edition that he was probably only just getting an opportunity to peruse. The man watched him from over the paper as decisions were made at the cake cabinet.”

My short story The Birthday will be broadcast on Cover To Cover on Vision Australia Radio this week. The program can be heard on analogue and digital radio in Australia, or streamed live online from any device anywhere in the world via the VAR website.

Broadcast times vary depending on how and where you’re listening. In Melbourne, tune your wireless to 1179 AM at 8 o’clock Friday evening (tomorrow), or catch the repeat on Sunday afternoon at 1.30, or hear the live stream at those times from the ‘Listen live in Melbourne‘ link on the website. You don’t have to be in Melbourne if you have an Internet connection!

A podcast will be available from the middle of next week (details to follow).

Cover To Cover is produced and presented weekly by Tim McQueen for Vision Australia Radio.

Mrs Morelli

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Mrs Morelli came into the living room while Martin was waiting for Yvonne to get ready. Yvonne had left the door open on the way upstairs, but her mother closed it over. She went to the fireplace and lowered the gas fire. A packet of Embassy Number 1 was in its usual place on the top of the mantelpiece, and she lit one with the chunky green lighter. Clamping the cigarette in her mouth, she fixed her hair in the mirror, squinting an eye against the smoke and pulling pins out then placing them back in the same places but tighter. Martin watched discreetly, without turning his head, fascinated by the intricacies of the process, wondering if Mrs Morelli had noticed him sitting there. When she’d finished, she gave the hair a few satisfied pats and then took the cigarette from her lips. She smiled at him in the mirror so that he almost jumped.

The television was already turned down low, but she switched it off and sat on the arm of the sofa, right next to Martin. Her nylons whispered as she crossed her legs. She balanced a clear cut-glass ashtray on her knee.

She suggested that Martin take off his coat. He shook his head. They’d be going out again just as soon as Yvonne was ready. But Mrs Morelli insisted. Yvonne would take ages getting dolled up, as usual. Heaven knew why it took her such a long time. And she said it was unsettling when people wore coats indoors. It had an air of waiting for bad news.

So Martin shrugged out of his parka. His elbow became caught in one of the arms, and it was a struggle to get free. She took the coat from him and fingered the fur around the hood, making a comment about its softness. The fur would carry her perfume when he wore the coat later. She draped the parka gently over the other arm of the sofa.

She asked him how school had been that day. She was close by, above and side-on, and the angles were awkward. Citrus hints hung sharp and fresh, and tobacco fizzed and burned as she dragged deep and slow on her cigarette. In the palaver with his coat, Martin’s underwear had twisted and his vest had come untucked beneath his shirt. Everything was awry, but he couldn’t consider adjusting himself with her sitting next to him so composed. He looked to the television for comfort and familiarity. If only she hadn’t turned it off, he might have made some easy remark about the afternoon show.

Mrs Morelli smiled, eyes large and dark and hooded with makeup. He’d always thought she had a sad faraway look, even when she smiled, and even when she was laughing. It was as if she were always looking beyond. She said that maybe it hadn’t been a very stimulating day at school, and she placed a hand onto his knee. He’d been jigging his leg up and down without realising. He felt the dry coolness of her stilling touch through the fabric of his trousers. Her hands were always cool and always gentle and dry. When he was much younger, she would touch the sides of his face as she bent to talk to him, and he used to wince at the sudden chill of her fingers at his cheeks. It used to amuse her. She told him one day that there were benefits, that cold hands meant a warm heart, and were the perfect tools for crafting delicate pastry.

She said she’d tell him about her day instead. That afternoon she thought she might go and watch a film at the Odeon. She was standing in the foyer looking at the listings, but nothing was taking her fancy. It was quiet in there. She’d noticed another customer standing at the cashier’s desk. He was about her age, perhaps a little younger. Neat hair, classic black shoes. Quite an appealing get-up. He clearly took care with his appearance. He put her in mind of one of the Italian film directors.

The man appeared to be buying a ticket for a film, but there was some issue with the transaction. Although she was intrigued, the voices of the man and the ticket seller were low and too murmurous to follow what was happening. Suddenly the man turned and loudly asked if Mrs Morelli had any change she might be able to spare. He was a little short of funds for his ticket. She asked him how much he needed. It was a small amount, but she was certain that she had no coins in her purse. She’d spent her change on a coffee at the train station on the way into town, and left the remaining coins on the table for the waiter. She didn’t mention the coffee to the man at the cinema.

The man asked her to check. She didn’t know what to say. She looked inside her purse. There was no loose change. She apologised, told him she had no money. There was a five pound note in there, but she didn’t tell him this as she wasn’t thinking in terms of notes. The man turned back to the cashier, and they continued to converse. The cashier glanced over a couple of times. And then the man left the cinema. Mrs Morelli considered approaching the cashier, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to ask him.

She left the cinema and searched for the man outside. But he must have walked away quickly. She’d lost her appetite for seeing a movie, and so she went and bought another coffee, this time at the place opposite the cinema. She paid with the five pound note. From her table at the front of the café she was able to watch for the man. She had a feeling that she’d see him again, that he’d merely gone to get hold of some cash.

By now she’d finished most of her cigarette, although much of it had burned down of its own accord. She ground out the stub, delicately, slowly, holding it into the base of the ashtray for much longer than was necessary. And then she stood and replaced the ashtray on the mantelpiece. She came back and sat down again. That soft whisper once more. Martin waited. He wasn’t sure if she’d arrived at the end of the story about the man at the Odeon. His neck ached from turning to look at her.

She coughed softly, and asked him if he’d like anything to drink while he was waiting for Yvonne to finish getting ready. But he was fine. She made a low affirming sound, and then said it was time to get back to the baking. She was making a plain sponge. A simple recipe, but it was surprisingly difficult to make a decently textured cake.

She patted his knee lightly and left the room. She left the door open, and the smell of baking came into the room. Martin adjusted his clothing. He was suddenly hungry and listless. He stared at the distorted shapes and muted colours of reflections in the blank television screen.

Swimmer

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‘He stopped swimming, and floated. Just held himself there, in the middle of the pool. His body was very long. I watched him closely, just a long thin line of body in the middle of the pool, broken by the blue of his bathers. Then I imagined the bathers gone. It was easy, really, but almost unbearable. And then he started to swim again, towards me, then tumbled over at the end, and started up the other way. And he kept on and on. It was good to watch. Mesmerising. But it was just that. Over and over. I became a little bored. Maybe not bored, but it wasn’t going anywhere, so I went inside and ordered a beer, and a sandwich. I took it back out to the pool, to where I’d been sitting. The same place. But it had all changed. The water was flat and still. Empty. He was gone, the swimmer. Finished up and left. In the small time it’d taken to go inside and order some food and a beer, he’d gone, and I’d missed him. He’d climbed out of the pool, and pulled his goggles back to the top of his head, maybe. Standing there dripping, looking around.  He must have grabbed his towel from one of the loungers, and gone back inside, into his room, to sleep or to masturbate, or just listen to music, or read. And if I hadn’t been at the bar, ordering the beer and the sandwich, I could have started talking to him, telling him what a great swimmer he was. What a great swimmer he is. It’s a good reason to start talking to someone. He’s a terrific swimmer. Who wouldn’t want to hear something like that? But, I don’t know. I missed him. I watched him all that time, then I just go to get something to quench my thirst, and… nothing. Well, that’s the way it goes. Still, it puzzles me, sometimes. I don’t always get it, the way life works out. It must be meant to be. That’s the consolation. It’s meant to be. Designed. It’s not much, though.’

© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2014.

Ernie

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‘In here,’ he said, grabbing my hand, and leading me up a dark flight of stairs, then another, and another, until we’d climbed so high I could feel the building sway. He unlocked a big metal door and pulled me into the room and said, ‘This is Ernie.’ It was an ugly thing, squat and grey, and it hummed and clattered, and wires spewed from its centre into various consoles around the edges of the room. ‘You mean all the beautiful books I’ve been reading were written by this?’ I said. ‘Not only can she create,’ he said, ‘but she can read and improve any book you’d care to write, so it’s not even worth trying to compete.’ We both looked at the hideous machine in awe-like silence. And then he began to laugh, lightly at first, but once he’d started he couldn’t stop himself. I tried to draw away but he was still holding onto my hand. He was as mad as a box of frogs. I realised with horror that Ernie would probably express it much more lyrically. I shot down the stairs, not once looking back. Manic cackles echoed from the room at the top, and when I was out in the street, I ran, on and on, leaving behind those things I didn’t understand, and I knew that no one would believe a word of what I’d just seen.

© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2013.