Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Spring 2011 Results




I Think the Is Have It

Copyright © Dean Briggs 2011


Pam milled amongst the other coffee beings on the footpath, in contemplation. She mentally patted down her protective vest, drew a rhetorical epee and momentarily considered a hasty retreat. Whilst entering the fray her shoulder bag snagged on a lengthy blue and white scarf, which trailed behind its owner like Halley’s Comet. She apologised profusely for almost garroting the space traveller but he seemed not to notice.

Inside was chaos. There had been mention of ‘seats out the back’, so she edged towards a set of arching double doors framed by palms. Beyond the fronds lay an uneven clinker courtyard with trestles and large umbrellas. In the far corner she spotted her leonine quarry.

Lyndall was a formidable cubic woman, with her head currently screaming a blond tipped Grace Jones haircut. She was often misdiagnosed as gay because of her strong jaw line, a preference for waistcoats and trousers, and a blokey demeanour.

Pam approached warily, girding for a prickly greeting. She was never sure why the pair still ‘did lunch’. It was always such a battle.

The Sunday paper spread across the table like a layer of mulch.

“Hi stranger.”

Lyndall looked up from her ‘no-dig’ garden.

“Spam, glad you could make it. Pull up a pew, you haggard old witch. Christ, you look like five kinds of crap, is single life not agreeing with you?”

“Nobody’s agreeing with me.”

“Include me in that.”

“I’ve just aged about ten years breast-stroking against a rip of trendy-somethings.”

“Yes it’s certainly boob to boob in there isn’t it? Just as well I brought my sturdy cup set.”

“Where’s Craig, I was looking forward to finally meeting your Internotional Man of Mystery.”

Lyndall searched through the papers desperately, then sniffed about and peered under the table. She possessed a wicked wit and a love of sarcasm.

“Jesus, isn’t he here? ‘Vague’ must have drifted up into the ether again. I’ll check deep space and lost grown-ups tent later on.”

Lyndall and Craig were widely considered the Hunter’s most unlikely couple. She was the blunt and bossy pride leader and he was reputedly off with the gazelles most of the time. Many people also thought he was gay because he was softly spoken and considerate, so the coupling had half of Newcastle mystified and the rest baffled. Lyndall was a bright spark, and had finished her PhD in English literature but once made a crack that when Craig was wound up to full throttle she had no idea what he was talking about. She claimed that if the subject was String Theory or the existence of a thirteenth dimension then he was in a class of his own, but if it was something pertaining to the real world he was in deep shite.

“Isn’t his stuff sort of real?” Pam had once asked.

“In an alternate reality sort of way, I suppose. I’m referring to the nittius gritius here on planet earth; things like: tracking car keys, pairing socks, composing shopping lists, donning spectacles etcetera. In the faculty of general living skills, he is a chronic under-achiever,” Lyndall observed with a wince.

When Lyndall lined up a ‘coffee and flat chat morning’, there was an unwritten guarantee of a freshly percolated yarn. She inevitably dined out on her husband’s amusing and entertaining escapades. Pam had always wanted to meet him.

“What’s Craig working on at the moment?”

“There you go. See it is grammatically incontinent to put my husband’s name and a doing word in the same sentence. There are many things that occur around Craig but he is rarely the instigator.”

“Okay then, what’s been happening to him lately?”

“I must tell you about his coaching career.”

Pam rubbed her metaphorical hands so briskly that she suffered a theoretical first-degree burn.

“Hang on a tick. I’ll just sort out a latte and a ‘bread of the day’."

Lyndall folded the paper up with swift whooshing moves that reminded Pam of a shirt-folding machine she had once seen on talk back radio. She excused herself to place an order, whilst her fencing partner resumed a pointed attack on the ‘cryptic’.

Ten minutes later, they were poised.

“You know that I have pretty much given up on ever getting Craig organized. Well, a few months back I had the idea that if he was forced to take charge of someone else, then by osmosis, weight transference, electro-magnetic forces or spillage, some of that might rub off on him.”

Pam nodded, which was all she would be required to do for some time. In the beginning, she had experimented with active listening sounds such as uhuh, oh, mmm, tsk etcetera, and gestures like tilting her head, nodding, or driving her index finger deep into the point of her chin, but found them either painful, tiring or just plain superfluous. After Lyndall put the juggernaut in first gear, there was no turning back.

“I was gasbagging with some mums at the canteen and they lamented a deficiency in soccer coaches for the upcoming season. I volunteered Craig’s services for the under six SCYC Cobras. Now, I know what you’re thinking…”

It had also become clear to Pam over the course of a dozen raconteur moments that Lyndall was quite happy to take charge of the audience’s thoughts and possible interjections to ensure the narrative ran with the unctuous ease of a coal tanker down a slipway.

“…That he doesn’t know the first thing about association football. Guess what; he didn’t even know what a five year old was. I had to take him along to a school and show him some. You know what he said… ‘Gosh they’re little aren’t they?’ I explained how they operated, on what sort of cognitive level they functioned and stressed that the game was all about the development of hand eye co-ordination, muscle memory and related physiological phenomena. He seemed to understand some of that but I had more difficulty with the rules. Fortunately they don’t worry about offside, which I actually understand now because somebody explained it to me using the analogy of bargain tables at a Spotlight sale… Anyway I’ll clarify that with you another time…”

There were never any ‘questions arising’. Lyndall endeavored to address everything as it arose without actually becoming distracted. It was like watching a snowball in motion.

“… So I had him teed up to take the kids on Wednesday afternoons for about an hour. The first day I helped him get set up… you know just showed him which end of the ball to kick and explained how the actual goalposts worked. Initially he thought goals were something that the team, as a whole, were expected to strive to reach. I asked him what he thought the timber frames at either end of the field might be for. He hadn’t noticed them. So I said ‘the big white things with nets’. Initially he believed they were some sort of symbol and then further postulated that they could somehow be for catching the children. I led him through the concept of the halfway line… he enjoyed the notion of hemispheres and polarity. Then I set him free and told him to eke out some fun. I wandered over to sit with a few parents who were ecstatic to have a proper coach for the team. I had explained that Craig wasn’t a parent, so they assumed he was some sort of experienced trainer. After about ten minutes, the kicking stopped and Craig had the kindies sitting in a circle… he was walking back and forth gesticulating like Alex Ferguson so I hurried back across to see what was happening. He was discussing free will and determinism with them in relation to the skills involved, the parameters of the game and the strictures imposed by the sidelines… The poor little sods were trying really hard to understand what he said because they thought it was important but I could see they didn’t have a clue… To be fair, neither did he… I whispered in his ear… ‘Just let them kick the bloody ball around’ and then re-joined the parents.”

What Pam did next was not technically a fidget. She simply re-aligned all her major limbs, swapped buttocks and performed a facial callisthenic, so that her concentration remained peaked but conversely her relaxation levels were maximised.

“…It was about six weeks before I could leave him on his own. By that time he clearly had a better grasp of the whole soccer concept than any of his team and he was beginning to enjoy the experience. When the kids got their shirts, he was in seventh heaven because suddenly there was algebra… He began reading all sorts of strange trends and configurations as he tracked various integers across the green number field. He had struggled because there were two Nathans, three Jacks and two girls in the team but when they were allocated a number all those problems fell away… Unfortunately he assigned numerals to the parents as well and began saying things like ‘hello Mr. and Mrs. Eight’, or ‘I’ll just have a word with Three’s Mum’… so we needed to work on that. Craig made a good fist of it all in the end after the children and the grownups realised he was eccentric. He has a way with people, you know. Probably because he harbours no expectations and is therefore never disappointed when people are arseholes or slackos… He just doesn’t notice that sort of thing.”

Now to the untrained ear, what people had just heard was a wife bemoaning her spouse’s deficiencies but Pam noticed the brief italic compliment. For her it stood out like a ponytail at a neo Nazi rally. She understood as she dissociated two parts of her brain (listening and thinking) that despite Lyndall’s bravado and constant wordy denigration of Craig it was obvious that she loved and respected him. She was one of the ‘people’ he had disarmed.

“… He just shrugs. It’s something about him that really gives me the runs. Anyway, the season started and everyone loved the geeky, nerdy way it was all going. They weren’t functioning at a high level, but Craig didn’t care… He’s a Chaos Theory man so the kids ran amok on the training days while he sat on the sideline pondering imponderables.

They somehow won a couple of games and everyone was so impressed with his efforts that they presented him with a card, a hand knitted beanie and a scarf Doctor Who would kill for."

Lyndall let a few smaller sniggers out for a run around under her feet and then there was a minute’s silence.

“I wonder where the stuff he is,” she growled.

“Are you expecting him?”

“Yes, It was my little surprise. He promised me faithlessly he would turn up half an hour ago… to meet you.”

“What does he look like?”

“Let’s see… enigmatic, tallish, slender, ten o’clock shadow, corduroy trousers, Clark Kent glasses.”

“And a long scarf?"

“Possibly.”

“He’s out the front. I almost strangled him.”

“Hey, that’s my job, but I know the feeling. Lost out the front with Al Fresco and Arlo Carte. Would you be a darling?”

As an acknowledged Queen Bee, Lyndall often delegated drones to fetch and carry. Pam dodged back out through the busy maze doing a special dance usually reserved for giving directions to nectar rich blossoms.

The woolly blue python remained attached to its handler. Pam addressed the pair.

“Hello, are you Craig?”

“Er yes. Who are you?”

“I’m Pam. Arkala’s cub-like emissary.”

“Oh God. Where is she?”

“Out in the back courtyard.”

“Yes there was something about rears and fronts but I wasn’t sure where to stand whilst considering them. I thought I must have been late or early.”

“No… on time I think. That’s a spectacular scarf; I have just been hearing how you came upon it.”

“The valiant Cobras.”

“Yes indeed.”

“I am sure you are conversant with the fable that has been knitted into its fabric?”

Pam felt a hummingbird fanning her flushed cheeks.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss secret women’s business.”

Craig’s eye’s grinned with affable ease.

“Wouldn’t dream of breaching raconteur/confidante privilege. It’s all true I’m afraid, and I’m sure it makes compelling listening in the hands of the fair Aesop. So everyone’s a winner really and we are all wiser at its end.”

“Except for you.”

“Au contraire…the football experience was thoroughly enjoyable and the retelling of disparaging anecdotes helps to keep my wife’s in good spirits. To misquote Dr. Phil, ‘If momma’s happy we’re all happy’. She is prone to bouts of insecurity, and has lingered far too often in the depressed lowlands, even dangling her toes in the murky waters of Lake Serotonin from time to time.”

“Really.”

“I tell you that in the strictest confidence.”

“Of course.”

“The regular stacking of other people’s foibles sures up the Great Wall, and holds the Mongols at bay. Have you noticed how often she uses the word I, the big one, denoted by a capital letter?”

“Now that you mention it, yes.”

Craig’s gaze seemed to hover just above the skyline and grew intense, as if extracting something out of the deep azure font.

“Existing just behind that, is a softer, less obvious, lower case version. Are you familiar with complex numbers?”

“I think I may have a number complex.”

“Very droll, I can see why Lyndall likes you. Thanks for being a friend.”

‘Likes… friend, WTF is he talking about!’ Pam wondered, not out loud.

“To solve some devilish equations mathematicians like Bombelli began to use an imaginary number designated simply by a small ‘i’.”

“Not sure I follow.”

“I believe that Lyndall and I exist as a type of quadratic equation. A possible solution can only lie in a unique combination of the real and imagined components that we possess.”

“I’d love to say: you had me at hello, but you lost me just after the Mongols arrived. Should we head inside?”

“Sound thinking.”

Pam, the serpent and Craig congaed their way in to Lyndall and for the next couple of hours they all chatted and quipped.

The mood was elevated but Lyndall maintained a firm grip, like an on-site project manager, ordering Craig’s food, meting out a stream of instructions and checking his ‘obs’ every five minutes. At one point, she became extremely agitated and angry, causing her husband’s fingers to drift down and play on her wrist with the lightness of photons. Instantly she relaxed and they exchanged a brief smile.

Pam noticed a flash of vulnerable softness hidden beyond Lyndall’s rampaging rapier and clanking armour and suddenly felt among friends.

They parted like the Three Musketeers with an agreement to meet up again, for a ‘mill, chill and spill’.

Pam strongly suspected she might have heard the last of Lyndall’s acerbic monologues and looked forward to arriving for the next get-together unarmed.

----------------------------------------------------
Bio:
Dean lives in Newcastle, where he works as a gardener and baby boomer. He began by writing vignettes for a local paper about family life on a small farm outside Orange. Later he self-published some of these in a book called ‘The Slow Lanes’. After attending a course in 2003 he also began writing both serious and humorous short stories and entering competitions. At this stage he has no plans to give up his day job.