Pen

The Best of Times Short Story Competition


Autumn 2013 Results




Boxing Day Blues

Copyright © Catherine Brown 2013


I don’t give a shit about the fact that my cousin Bob hasn’t come back from his morning walk, but I am concerned about the safety of the dog that he took with him. This general sentiment appears to be shared by the rest of the search party, as calls of Trigger and not Bob are echoing around the bush.

Of course the moron has to get lost on Boxing Day, the one day in the year that I’ll be sporting a massive hangover due to the trauma of spending time with Bob and my other three remaining family members. I’m not sure why we continue to assemble at my Grandfather’s farm every Christmas. I guess it’s because we don’t have anywhere better to be.

It’s late afternoon now, and we’ll have to pack it in before nightfall. We’ve split up into pairs and are doing something my Grandfather calls ‘walking the grid.’ I don’t have a bloody clue how it works and am channeling my focus into avoiding goanna turds.

I hate that I’m stuck with Pop. I wanted to go with my cousin Pete, who is a priest. I’m not at all religious, but given the dangers of the bush I figured it would be safe to hedge my bets with a man of the cloth. Unfortunately Pete had already teamed with his father Dapper Dave, nicknamed such due to his penchant for adorning himself in fripperies paid for by lonely widows of considerable fortune.

Pop is really in his element in the bush and it’s almost unseemly how much he’s enjoying himself. He’s never been the same since he was forced to retire from droving, and even though he likes cattle far more than any of us, he’s milking playing the boss for all its worth.

I’m surprised that he even wanted to pair with me considering how frosty our relationship has been since I penned my autobiographical best seller The Drover’s Albatross. He’s unhappy with his portrayal, which is unfair because I made a concerted effort to emphasis in the novel that our disinterest in each other has always been mutual. He says it looks worse for him because he was my caregiver, but I generally consider my semi childhood neglect a blessing. I have a friend whose parents smothered her with affection and constantly worried about her safety and she’s a paranoid hypochondriac. They use to tell her not to play out in the front yard by herself or she might get kidnapped! Is it any wonder that she has anxiety? I was allowed to play anywhere I pleased and would get into trouble if I came home before dark.

I’ve never found my life particularly interesting, but when I was required to write a short memoir as part of a University assignment, my lecturer told me that my upbringing was better than fiction and compared it to a Dickensian tragedy. I remain baffled by the Dickens reference since nothing about my personal history challenges the social mores of our era, nor have I ever found myself entangled in a complex conspiracy or coerced into a gang of pickpockets. But who am I to judge? I suppose it’s always calmer in the eye of the hurricane and if other people are intrigued by what they perceive to be my unfathomable adversity, I really see no problem with exploiting that for monetary gain.

My Mother was quite simply a nutcase. I suppose the fact that she named me Wheeler, not the most common girl’s name, should have been an early indicator but for the majority of my childhood I never realized her proclivity towards the bizarre, always happily assuming that it was normal for a parent to speak to inanimate objects and communicate to Elvis through plastic cups. Even when I became aware that perhaps not all of her notions were sound, I never really cared because I always felt loved. Besides, I would have taken my Mum any day over some of the other parents I saw at school. I challenge anyone to provide a sensible explanation for a pottery party.

All of my basic needs were well met, so luckily we were always able to avoid child services. Unfortunately, Mum left when I was ten because she got it in her head that the local grocer was attempting to frame her for terrorist activity. I was sad at the time, but feel no anger about it. I just sincerely hope that wherever she is she’s happy and preferably on medication.

I had no father to go to because no one knew who he was. Mum once told me that he was J.R. Ewing, but I never entertained this possibility for obvious reasons. I don’t have any hang ups about my mystery paternity and certainly have never had the major identity crisis that soap operas and teen dramas led me to believe was imminent. The only interest I would have in my father should he ever appear, would be if he were an obscenely wealthy philanthropist who wanted to leave me all of his money.

After Mum did her dash, Pop came and got me and took me to live on his farm. I think he secretly fears that his frequent absences during my Mother’s formative years were to blame for her condition. I personally don’t accept that a parental void can cause paranoid schizophrenia and am baffled that doesn’t spend more time ruminating on how his other progeny, Dapper Dave, turned out.

It’s quite amazing that a salt of the earth, hard working Aussie battler like Pop ended up with such an extraordinarily indolent son whose very existence is devoted to self-gratification. Dapper Dave was blessed with extraordinary good looks and I attribute much of his behavior to him receiving far too much positive reinforcement as a child. He’s never held the kind of job you could list on a tax return, which is unfortunate for the Government because Dave has made an obscene amount of money from being a professional boyfriend. I find Dave to be somewhat of a conundrum, because on the one hand he’s a joyously affable sort of chap and yet he lives a lifestyle that only a special kind of douchebag could find not only acceptable, but also entitled to. His two boys, Pete and Bob, from different Mothers of course, are like chalk and cheese.

Pete is an interesting case. He’s not the most obvious choice for a priest in that he’s a bit of an alcoholic and bloody hopeless at keeping his vows of chastity. He does possess the most devout love for God imaginable, however, and actually enjoys helping out the sympathy mongers that leech onto his goodwill. I really admire him for that because quite frankly the human race gives me the shits. I even quit all forms of social media because I got so fed up with attention seekers using it to communicate to dead relatives and pets. I mean, say a prayer or something! If there is an afterlife, I’m sure there’s better shit for the dearly departed to do than sit around looking for status updates about their demise.

Pete is trying to teach me to have more tolerance for others, which I am fully on board for because living life in a state perpetual annoyance is exhausting and adversely affects my sinus passages. Progress has been slow and incredibly painful but reforming sinners is Pete’s calling. He’s such a good egg. I don’t often think about God, but I hope that the fact that Pete has slept with more women during his tenure in the Priesthood than most normal men would in their lifetime, won’t cancel out all of his good deeds when it comes to judgment day.

His brother Bob, however, is that particular brand of schmuck whose very presence in a room has the power to not only ruin your day but also make you question your faith in humanity. Bob thinks he’s God’s gift because he’s some kind of big shot spy at ASIS. This is quite terrifying to me because Bob can’t even foil Pete and I from booby-trapping his room, so I’d hate to surmise his competence at protecting Australia from international espionage.

“We found him! We found Trigger,” Dave’s voice calls jubilantly from amidst the foliage.

“Oh shit a brick!” Pop spits angrily. “How the hell did a powder puff and a priest find that mutt before we did?”

“We’ll never hear the bloody end of it now,” I agree.

“We’re over here you bastards,” Pop calls out bitterly.

Dave emerges from the shrubbery cradling a smug looking Trigger like a baby. A ridiculous sight given that he’s a German Shepherd.

“He was sunbaking on some rocks. He must have heard us calling but was too comfortable to move,” he explains thoughtfully, always one to relate to selfish inclinations.

“Where’s Pete?” I ask.

“Shit, I thought he was right behind me,” sputters Dave.

“Oh for the love of God,” growls Pop. “Do I need to make us all hold hands?”

“I’d rather get lost,” I reply.

“Put the dog down and take us back in the direction you came from,” orders Pop.

“What if he runs off again?” Dave enquires.

“He won’t, Trigger worships me. The only reason why he pulls hijinks with you lot is because the less he respects a person, the worse his behavior is,” Pop explains.

“Shit, we’ll probably find Bob disemboweled then,” I muse, not at all adverse at the thought.

Dave places Trigger on the ground and the mutt trots over and positions himself stoically by Pop’s side. We begin to head in the direction from whence Dave came and it isn’t long before we hear Pete’s cries of distress.

“Can someone help me please? My foot’s stuck in a fallen tree log,” he calls.

“You know it never ceases to amaze me how this family keeps finding new ways to be embarrassing,” Pop scoffs.

“You’re not exactly Fonzie yourself old man,” I retort bitterly.

“Will you both shut up! I’ve had a really stressful day. A bird took a shit on my Tommy Hilfiger scarf,” wails Dave.

“Two of your sons have also gone missing in the bush you self absorbed schmuck,” roars Pop.

“Wait, it’s ok I got free! Keep bickering like a bunch of old women so I can follow the sound of your voices,” Pete yells from off yonder.

“That’s it, I’ve had it! Let’s leave him. I hear he’s on good terms with God; he can see him home.”

“Too late,” says Pete good-naturedly as he springs into view.

We all yell in horror as we take in the sight of Pete bloody leg, which has a large piece of tree trunk protruding from it.

“I take it that I should be concerned about this then?” he asks slurring his words.

“Don’t worry, I’ll get it out,” Pop assures him as he reaches down the back of his pants and brandishes a sinister looking hunting knife.

“Stay away from him you freak. He needs to go to a hospital, look how deep that thing is in,” I admonish.

“What about Bob?” Asks Pete.

“Shit, I forgot we were looking for him too,” grumbles Pop.

“Who cares about Bob? He’s a spy for ASIS. If he can’t even find his way out of the bloody bush then we’re doing Australia a favor by letting him stay lost,” I propose.

Everyone mumbles in agreement.

“Are you in pain, Pete?” I enquire.

“I probably would be if I wasn’t so drunk,” he answers matter of factly.

“Dave, help me support him,” I order.

“But what if he bleeds on my new Levis?” Dave whines.

“I’ll try not to, Dad,” Pete assures kindly

“I never thought I’d be pleased to see you lot!”

We all scream as Bob appears from behind a tree with a knife sticking out of his shoulder blade.

“Bob! Why are you always so selfish? You nearly gave me a heart attack,” Dave complains petulantly.

“Good grief! What the hell has happened to you?” Pop screeches, pointing in disbelief at the hideous wound.

“I was out walking Trigger when I got attacked by a Russian spy!“

There’s shocked silence all around.

“I don’t any of us were expecting that explanation,” I offer dumbfoundedly.

“Russia’s still a threat?” Dave questions.

“Never mind that numbnuts. Where the bloody hell is this spy now?” Pop says hurriedly as his eyes dart frantically around us.

“I decapitated him,” Bob explains lazily as he pulls a severed head out of his knapsack.

We all cry out in horror yet again.

“Why is this family so weird? Is one normal bloody gathering too much to ask?” Pop roars.

“More to the point, why have you been gone so long? Does it take all ASIS spies eight hours to kill assailants?” I question Bob tersely.

“No, you trumped up little shit. When I got stabbed I passed out and have only just woken up.”

Damn! That was a pretty good excuse.

“I’m actually still feeling a bit faint,” Bob utters queasily whilst attempting to steady himself against a tree.

“Well I hope you can walk yourself back, because Pete’s injured too and if it’s a choice between him and you there’s no contest,” I berate.

“Whatever, you sociopath!” Bob scoffs as he saunters off whilst nonchalantly swinging the severed head by its hair.

“Put that god damn thing away before someone sees. Everyone in town already thinks we’re all insane. They’ll assume we’re out here committing cult killings,” Pop chides.

“Like they don’t already,” I retort.

“I need a drink. Who’s up for the pub after the hospital?” Pete proposes jovially.

For the first time that day, the decision was unanimous.