Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2012 Results




This Goes With That

Copyright © Dean Briggs 2012


‘Walk a mile in my shoes’ was the new editor’s catchcry. He had a drone in his bonnet about the staff ‘pullulating’, and so deliberately mis-assigned each reporter once a week. He hoped the fresh challenges would inform his workers about their hive, their colleagues and themselves. Some thought he had a queen bee complex, others, simply a foot fetish.

Louise failed to notice when her left field mission arrived because she was still swooning over a yummy pair of just-purchased, sea-green cut-off boots. She thought her latest gig would be an interview with the ‘Thatchers’, which was quite a scoop, considering they were both supposed to be dead.

She skipped out of the office after completing a brief frisson of anticipation and a customary Vogue ‘DRABC’ wardrobe check. Half an hour later stood in resolute bewilderment. The driver had delivered her to the back entrance of a large building reeking of primordial soup and populated by strange bumpkin folk. The appointed rendezvous lay on the edge of an open field, surrounded by cow pats.

She muttered an unedited curse as she noticed damp blades of grass sullying her spanking clogs.

Her spirits rose as an elderly couple bearing vaguely familiar gaits and physiognomies appeared on the horizon, but nearer home her trendy block heels had begun to sink into the turf like two Brett Ogle chip shots. The approaching woman had her halls bedecked with a flickering red power slacksuit and matching alpha handbag, accompanied by a harpsichord’s worth of teeth and a halo of big hair surrounding her head like a posse. The man strode tall and elegant beside, greying at the temples (and also when not at church), tucked in behind black rimmed spectacles and Terry Thomas gap in his dentition worthy of its own flyscreen. Louise shook their hands uncertainly, for on close inspection all was not quite as it should have been; it was a Madame Tussaud’s moment and she waxed circumspect. What left her lungs as an exclamation, lost impetus in the larynx and limped across her tongue as a question.

“Are you the Thatchers.”

“I am indeed one, but the lower case version,” responded the gentleman toffily. He shifted weight back and forth as if on the cusp of a pee. The couple exchanged a bored expression and waited in a pause long enough to tie up a full bale of hay and stack it in the shed. “Well, aren’t you going to pass a comment?”

“About what?”

“The Prime minister and her husband.”

“Julia’s not married.”

“The ex-British one.”

“You’re not Dennis and Margaret are you?”

“Well spotted.”

“You certainly are doppelgangers though.”

“Brits actually.”

“And the reason I am meeting you is?”

“Because your wise and benevolent chief, who is a fellow apron wearer, wants a piece for your noble weekly rag on my craft.”

“I loved that at school? We did basket weaving, macramé and crocheting those little snake things on cotton reels. What are you making at the moment?”

“I am a craftsman, an artisan.”

“What kind of paintings do you do?”

“You haven’t a clue what thatching is, do you?”

“It sounds like something a schoolgirl with a speech impediment might whip up for a CWA project.”

The pair exchanged another worldly glance; their eyes rolling slowly up the to the ridge cap of a nearby steep pitched gable, and down again. The man adjusted his dress and re-aligned his glasses.

“I make rooves out of straw.”

“Roofs you mean.”

“No, it’s the original plural form, such as with hoof and hooves.”

“Is it related to shoeing horses?”

“I am loath to wander down this linguistic, rural side track but the red herring you’re referring to is shodding, and before you ask another of your rather slippery questions, may I ask how long you have been the Gazette’s rural correspondent.”

“About twenty minutes.”

“That explains a lot. What do you usually cover?”

“Fashion.”

“That’s obviously the reason for the taffeta cape, frills, wide lapels, the milliners epiphany attached to your head, and the terribly inappropriate footwear,” tut-tutted the woman.

“They are ‘Napoleons’ by ‘Django and Juilette’.”

“Wellingtons would have been a better option.”

Louise glanced down at the hideous black rubber things adorning the quadruped before her. The only adjective that occurred was one she never had cause to use, ‘practical’; a shiver of repulsion arced across her shoulders.

“As Denzel Washington said in ‘Philadelphia’, explain it all to me like I’m a four year old. I plead ignorance rather than stupidity.”

“You are indeed a strange person in a strange land; do you feel uncomfortable out here on the common.”

“I’m not used to all this climate.”

“Would you prefer to adjourn to one of our quaint, rustic bench seats, out of the elements?”

“Is that what they are?” Louise flexed her calves (calfs?) surreptitiously and conducted experimental wiggles with her declining ankles; her deep seated heels squelched a resistant response. “I will manage here, thank you.”

“Shall I pop over to the marquise’s marquee and pour us a settling cuppa whilst you two talk shop,” chirped the woman. “How do you take your tea?”

“Usually by the handle.”

“Good oh, I’ll be back in a trice.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s a small three wheeled cart, invented by a chum of mine, for the twelfth man to transport ‘the drinks’ out into the middle.”

“What happened to the first eleven?”

“It’s cricket. Women never seem to understand,” the gentleman added wistfully as they watched his wife sashay towards the pavilion like Colin Cowdrey after a ‘good knock’. He turned to face Louise again, his top lip teeter-tottering as its moustache took a moment to settle. “I’m so sorry we have not been properly introduced, my name is Hayes Stook, and you are?”

“Louise Lane.”

It was Louise’s turn to wait expectantly, in a pause long enough to cut several yards of linen and overlock a rather stylish throw, for the usual run of cartoon, television, movie, and comic book jibes.

“As in Perry Mason?”

“Sorry.”

“No, I’m thinking of Della Street. I knew it had something to do with roads.”

“Not sure that I follow.”

“How about I just explain to you what it is that I do.”

“I would be most grateful.”

“Are you familiar with a program called Escape to the Country? Often they feature heritage cottages with straw rooves, instead of the usual tiles, shingles or corrugated iron.”

“You’re on the telly. How marvellous. That is such a dreamy show.”

“No, I’m the bloke who puts the straw on top of the houses.”

“All of them?”

“Could we just backtrack a moment? The essence of my work is to place sheaves (or sheafs) of dried materials onto a roof, and pack it down in such a way that it becomes a waterproof surface, which also has excellent insulating properties. It is a technique that has been utilised for thousands of years and examples of it exist on many continents and island nations.”

“So you’re not in television?”

“Not on purpose, though I was spotted in the background of an ad for chicken pellets once. My apprenticeship was with a stern old bugger down near south Wales, where I worked for many years before heading south and ending up down here.”

“Don’t you mean north?”

“What?”

“Queensland is north of New South Wales.”

“I meant the proper, old, South Wales, which is a long way north, and thus to get here one must travel south.”

“North South Wales?

Their geographical turmoil was interrupted by a soft ceramic clanking, and the series of gentle sibilant curses. They turned to greet the wife returning, pushing a most ungainly contraption, which appeared to be a re-worked old nannies pram, sporting steaming beakers of tea, which slurped about like three small Jacuzzis.

“Saved by the belle,” Hayes joked but Lois was in no position to laugh because she was not aware of the ironic spelling. “Thank you my deer,” he added, whimsically using his wife’s pet name, but Louise failed to pick that up as well, for a similar reason. It was an occasion where closed captions would have been beneficial and certainly may have helped lighten the mood.

Louise hoped that they did not notice that she appeared to be shrinking. The sods had worked their way up to just below her ankles and she knew, without looking down, and therefore bringing it to anyone else’s attention, that her cute little boots had been completely enveloped.

The trio cupped hands around their warm, earthenware companions, each greeting it with a tilt and a watery peck. After honouring a minute, sipped in silence, Hayes performed a small startle.

“Sorry, how rude of me; Louise Lane, may I formally introduce my wife Bambi.”

“That is an unusual name.”

As was her habit, Bambi batted her large brown eyes and waited; in a pause long enough for ‘Thumper’ to play the entire drum solo from InA-Gadda-Da-Vida, for the outbreak of anticipated jibes.

“It is a family appellation.”

“A term of endeerment,” Hayes joked.

“We know many people, who have hunting corpuscles in their blood, and I have endured a plethora of Disney, venison and reindeer jibes over the years.” Louise corralled a most unladylike whinny. “And yours, is it a homage to the ‘Man of Steel’?”

“Lang Hancock?” Hayes offered.

“No Hay, I mean the reporter from the Lonely Planet.”

“Close enough,” said Louise, “now, down to brass tacks.”

“I think that might be upholstery.”

“I was just trying to be folksy and agricultural. My uncle used to say it all the time.”

Hayes adjusted his belt, patted down his pockets and did something with his nose.

“My apologies, I too, was attempting to inject some levity into proceedings. Now, where were we?”

“On a ladder in South South Wales I think?”

“Yes, my cadetship. It takes five to ten years of hard graft before one is really competent.”

“Sorry to interject Hayes, I just need a moment of clarification. Bambi may I just ask where you two met.”

“It was out the front of a brand new, south Wales bank actually. I was withdrawing as he was depositing, if I recall correctly.”

“A New South Wales bank?”

“No, a new bank in south Wales,” Hayes corrected.

“It was the first branch in the west of south east Wales actually.”

“Shit. I am completely confused.”

“About what.”

“Have you ever lived in New South Wales?”

“South of the border, good heavens no.”

“So what was the name of the town that you met in?”

“Wallis.”

“And where is it situated.”

“South Wales.”

“In Great Britain?”

“Last time I looked.”

“So your accent is Welsh, I just thought you were from the north, up Townsville way.”

“Kachee,” Hayes muttered.

“There’s no need for bucolic language,” Bambi grinned.

Hayes assembled another major fidget.

“Sorry, I really need to pop these mugs back to the auditorium and check on preparations for my demonstration on packing yealms and overcoating.”

“That sounds more my style,” Louise cheeped… “I adore overcoats.”

“Can I leave you two ladies to natter for a bit; I’ll come back for you after I have set up.”

Hayes bustled off like a chaff cutter on a windy day, all elbows, knees and flapping.

“I’m sorry about that,” Bambi cooed, “he gets a bit tense and impatient.”

“Does he ever relax?”

“He lets his hair down on weekends.”

“Has he got it up in a bun or something?”

“I mean he grabs his chaps and heads out for a cross country ride.”

“What do the chaps do?

“Protect his legs.”

“Like body guards. Are they valuable?”

“The chaps?”

“No, his legs.”

“Not particularly but he doesn’t want to get scratched going over jumps and through shrubbery.”

At that moment there was a soft whoopee cushion explosion between Louise’s feet and her height dropped alarmingly, startling them both. Bambi noted that her companion’s legs were now buried up to the bottom of her shins and that she was beginning to subtend a strange vaudevillian angle, tilting slightly forward like ‘Bip’ in the wind. After a prolonged period of acute subtending, Louise expressed concerns.

“Wait there, I’ll fetch Hay, I think you might have found one of our mini peat bogs.”

“Pete Boggs, sounds like one of my old boyfriends. Thanks, I don’t think staying put will be a problem.”

Six minutes later Bambi appeared at the near end of the pavilion, now in emergency mode, waving her arms like a semaphore and performing exaggerated points towards the buildings far end. Louise’s mood plunged (in simpatico with her almost covered lower legs) as she noted Hayes exit through a large opening, on board a horrid, smoking, roaring machine. She was spared the indignity of knowing it was called a fork lift. The vehicle moved ponderously in Bambi’s SES wake like an obedient ‘Transformer’. Louise thought their alarm smacked of overkill until she noted, with horror that Bambi’s generous bosom was now at eye level. She was down to her knees.

“What’s the tractor thingy for?”

“Extraction.”

“You’re pulling my leg.”

“Legs,” corrected Bambi, without a smile.

Soon the contraption was in position and Louise rested her elbows on the two blades. Hayes applied the hydraulics and the rear of the machine bucked a response, causing upward pressure on her humerus and the downward pressure on her tibias. Then there was a loud slurping noise, like the simultaneous birth of two calves (the baby cow sort), and she was free; dangling like a marionette with long graphite coloured socks.

Louise was whisked inside, and plonked on a special chair where Bambi washed her feet with papal deference. From her elevated throne she watched Hayes’s lecture in an embarrassed funk; unable to understand any of his gobbledy-gook as he thrashed about with reeds and hickory. She wanted a quick, quiet exit but her feet had been rammed into a borrowed pair of Barbie-pink rubber waders.

At the end of the demonstration, a small flannelette and moleskin boy, reeking of old fridge, handed her a plastic bag containing what appeared to be a pair of dead mullets basted in grey mud.

“We dug up ya clodhoppers.”

She held the smelly gift at arm’s length and turned for the exit.

Through muttered goodbyes the editor’s motto reverberated like an old ‘Joe South’s 45’ with a scratch. Louise had no idea how far a mile was but having to hobble like a geisha out to the cab was surely enough empathy for anyone to endure.

She handed the bag to Bambi.

“Take these, in a spirit of sharing, ‘bye.”

The taxi zoomed off.

Soon, the candy coloured hobbledy-hoys were hurtling, like reluctant lemmings, into a culvert and Louise’s liberated toes wriggled in anticipation as her favourite retail outlet appeared on the laptop. Her boss was right; the experience had taught her something critically important.

‘Never go anywhere without backup footwear.’

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Bio:
Dean Briggs lives in Newcastle and works as a gardener. He has always enjoyed making people laugh and over the last few years has been trying to be funny on the page, which is quite a challenge. He writes vignettes about his family life, fictional short stories and keeps a travel blog at franklorndale.wordpress.com when travelling overseas.