The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2019 Results

Mending Fences

Copyright © Heather MacKenzie 2019

“The Council says we’re up the effing creek if we don’t come up with $2000 to fix the effing fence.” Sid slammed the Council’s letter down on the community garden’s kitchen table and scratched his balls vigorously.

“Is it at all possible for you to not single out an otherwise inoffensive letter of the alphabet as a swear word,” his wife huffed back at him. “And leave your testicles alone, do you have that itch back again?”

Sid regarded his wife with horror. “Em, not here in front of everyone!”

Sid glanced around at the ten other Community Garden Club members gathered around the old wooden table on which an urn puffed and wheezed away for their morning teas. None would see seventy again.

“What, Sidney, you’re worried about me using the “i” word for the reason for your rearrangements of the contents of your underpants but you don’t mind subjecting us to the sight of your ball juggling act?”

Emily banged her empty mug on the table as though bringing a meeting of a group of high-powered executives rather than a group of old age pensioners to order.

“Hear, hear,” Patrick O’Shea, the oldest, deafest and most dishevelled member of the group yelled. “You tell him Emily.” In an aside to Mr Carmichael sitting next to him he loudly whispered “Sid must have the Clap. Probably been visiting prozzies these last fifty years since he lifted Emily’s veil at the wedding and realized what he’d let himself in for.”

Emily glared at Patrick but as he’d lost his glasses somewhere in his cabbage bed again it was a waste of a good glare. Mr Carmichael, a shy man who rarely said a word, blushed beetroot red and choked on his tea. Patrick whacked him on the back in an attempt to help causing Mr Carmichael’s overly large false teeth to shoot from his mouth and score a hole in one in Grace Bentick’s mug of tea.

Grace, though advanced in years, was the best of the gardeners at the community garden despite or perhaps because of topping up her cups of tea from the water bottle she filled each morning with cheap whiskey.

Not being one to waste good or even bad whiskey she fished out the offending dentalware, gave it a quick suck and handed it back over the table to the clearly horrified Mr Carmichael. He hissed a polite “Sank oo.” before shoving them into his vest pocket.

Emily banged her mug on the table again. “Can the meeting please come to order at once?” she barked.

“But Em, we haven’t called a meeting yet,” said Sid.

“Nonsense, of course we have, you just weren’t paying attention. As usual. Everyone is aware I’ve called this meeting to discuss the Council’s letter, aren’t you?”

Emily swept her eyes around the assembled members all of whom muttered “Oh, yes of course, Emily.” Or nodded their heads in a resigned fashion. No one cared to get into an argument with Emily.

“But, Em, The Postie only just delivered the letter to us five minutes ago. How could you’ve called a meeting about it already?”

Sid looked around the table at his fellow gardeners for support. Everyone failed to meet his eyes, pretending sudden interest in the contents of their mugs of tea.

“Sidney,” Emily roared, frightening a flock of parrots out of a nearby grevillea tree.

“Oh, sorry, dear, yes of course. The meeting, what was I thinking of?”

Taking this as a rhetorical question Emily smoothed the letter from the Council out in front of her. She donned what she liked to think of as her Boadicea Face. She was, as she was always happy to tell anyone she encountered, a knowledgeable student of the history of the British Isles. Whether people standing in a checkout queue in her local supermarket were actually interested in this talent was not something about which Emily troubled herself. A captive audience was a captive audience after all. She used “the Face” with great success on Parking Inspectors, rude children and people who objected to her queue jumping on the basis of seniority and a lethally waving cane. She was rather proud of “the Face”.

“Look out,” whispered Patrick to the general assembly as though shouting into a gale force wind. “Dial-a-Dragon’s here. Get the buckets ready to put out the flames.”

“As I was saying…”

“What?” the ever ready to stumble, where others feared to tread, Sid piped up.

“What, do you mean ‘what’?”

“Well, I mean, I’m not sure what you said.”


“Well, whenever you said it, I suppose.”

Even Sid was becoming aware that he was approaching deep and troubled waters without a lifejacket. His fingers drummed nervously on the table, then his hand reached under the table seeking comfort.

“Leave them ALONE!”

“Yes, dear.”

“Amazing he’s still got any gonads at all. Wouldn’t be surprised if she’d cut them off and pickled them in formaldehyde years ago,” sniggered Patrick only to be greeted with a chorus of nervous shushes.

“Now, as you all know, we have to raise the sum of $2000 by the end of the month. The Council is now threatening to shut the community garden down if the fence at the back isn’t fixed up for some silly safety reasons. It seems my very well composed letters of complaint have fallen on stony ground. I cannot think why.”

“The letters are probably the reason the Council is being so high handed about it, don’t you think?” bellowed Patrick.

“As I was saying, they have quotes for $4000 and will pay one half but apparently, due to some sort of agreement signed when the garden was set up some years ago,” she treated Patrick, who was one of the founding members, to a particularly warlike glare “we must come up with the other half. Now Mrs Bentinck, how much money would the Community Garden Bank Account have in it at the moment? Mrs Bentinck, Mrs Bentinck. Will someone please wake Mrs Bentinck up, she’s been at her water bottle again.”

“Grace. Wakey, wakey,” roared Patrick.

“Uhh…what?,,,I’m not asleep. Jus’ resting me eyes.”

“Mrs Bentinck, how much do we have in the kitty?”

“Kitties? I swear I haven’t been feedin’ them stray cats again. Although they’re lovely, ain’t they? Specially that one with the funny sticky up yellow ruff around his head. I calls him Donald after that American guy, Trump. He’s a determined old tomcat that one. Even though he’s so old. He really needs to be taken to the vet to have his knackers off. The cat I mean, not the Yank.”

“Why is everyone obsessed with body parts today?” Emily moaned.

“I was jus’ saying, Emily, I don’ know where those catfood cans come from.”

“Not cats, Mrs Bentinck, the 'Kitty'. I’m asking how much we have in the Bank? Really I’m not sure why you put your hand up to be Treasurer.”

“Well, I didn’t acturally. I was jus’ stretching, bit of cramp in me elbow, and no other buggar put their hand up. So, it was an accident like.”

“Fine, next year we’ll ensure to ignore any hand raising on your part at Committee meetings. But…just…. how…much…do…we…have…in…the…Bank…. Account?!?”

“Ninety three pounds.”

“Mrs Bentinck, we have been using decimal currency in this country since 1976.”

“1966, Em. You remember they had a song on the telly about it, now how did that go?”

“Be quiet, Sidney. Mrs Bentinck, would you care to step into the twenty-first century with us?”

“Dollars then. Ninety three dollars.”

“That’s all?”

“And fifty seven cents.”

“Right, well that should make all the difference, I’m sure. Can you at least enlighten us as to why we only have a miniscule ninety three dollars in the account?”

“The chickens. Their food and new nesting boxes and them fancy feed ‘n water contrapshuns.”

“Chickens? I never understood why we got those scrawny looking things. Eating us out of house and home.”

“Eskew. Eskew suckens.”

“Mr Carmichael, put your teeth back in please if you are going to address this meeting.”

Mr Carmichael pulled his teeth from his pocket, polished them quickly on his hanky and popped them back in his mouth. After a couple of experimental clacks to check they were in place he tried again, “Rescue chickens. They were rescue chickens and we’re all quite fond of them, Emily. They are worth every dollar we spend on them. We are after all about recycling and sustainability, aren’t we?””

A round of nervous applause from his fellow gardeners, which quickly faded away, greeted this unexpected outburst from the normally self-effacing Mr Carmichael.

“You go old man, give it to her both barrels,” chortled Patrick.

“Sustainability, sustainability? What are we a group of hippy layabouts?” Emily raised her hands as though beseeching some ancient Celtic deity to save her from the barbaric hordes surrounding her.

“Well, maybe that’s a good idea, Emily. Hippies.” Mrs Bentinck was nodding away to herself.

“What on earth do you mean?”

“Dope, Emily.”

“How rude. I will have you know my IQ is such that I could very well apply to be admitted to MENSA.”

“Really? I woulda thought you’d be well pas’ the menopause. Have ya tried Red Clover tea?”


“No need to shout Emily, I heard ya. Been there, done that. I used to sweat so much at night I had to sleep in the nuddie meself. Scared the living daylights outta some young bloke who broke in one night looking for something to thieve. They all want ya when you’re a double D when you’re twenty but when everything starts going south in your sixties it’s another story altogether, let me tell you. No, Emily I meant why don’ we sell some nice sustainably grown marijuana. Just for oldies. Great product for rheumatism. Well, so they tells me. I wouldn’ know about that personally, you understand.”

“Drugs? You want us to become Drug Lords? That is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard and anyway where are we supposed to get this “sustainable” product I’d like to know. Oh. Oh no. Please tell me you’re not growing it here?”

Emily leaped to her feet, her face a most interesting mask of horror. As much as a face could that had been somewhat tucked and re-arranged by what Emily referred to as her Dermatologist.

“Don’ get upset Emily, it’s jus’ a few plants at the back of the chook shed. Hardly Drug Lords are we? An’ everyone here knows that it’s there. Kinda my joke if I say I’m off to do a bit of 'weeding'. Get it?”

“Everyone here? EVERYone here knows? Sidney, Sidney did you know about this, this insane criminal activity? Please tell me….”

“Oh, Em. It’s not like we’re cheating on taxes or defrauding Centrelink or anything. But anyway, Mrs B, I don’t think you’ve had a look at the patch today. I think the goat next door has broken out of her pen and helped herself to it all. But don’t worry, I think she’s fine, I put her back in her pen and she’s having a nice snooze. But I’m afraid the crop’s gone until next season so that’s not a go-er of an idea. Nice thinking though.”

Emily made a choking sound and fell back into her chair muttering, “Next season, NEXT season, he says.”

“What about jam?” someone suggested. “Or a concert?” said Mrs B. “I used to be able to do an amazing dance number with nothing but a fan and a large python. The punters loved it.”

“Look, yeah, that’s a good idea too,” said Sid. Sid liked to keep everyone happy. “But remember your arthritic knees Mrs B and well you’re a bit older now and, ah, maybe you’d drop the snake and it might end up in the audience. Not really a good look is it if we frighten kiddies? The jam’s a great idea but well at $2000 and us selling the jam at $5 a pop, that’s um…um.”

“400 jars,” Mr Carmichael said coming to Sid’s rescue. “Sadly, we only have 10 jars of jam left and all of the rosellas and oranges have been used this year already.”

“Well, what about a whip around? Everyone put on the table whatever you’ve got in your pocket and we’ll pool it. We can add it to the $93 we have already,” said Sid.

“And 57 cents,” Mrs B said.

There was a general standing up and fumbling in pockets and rootling around in handbags. At the end of the fumbling and rootling a small pile of notes and loose change sat in the middle of the table. Patrick began to count it out, notes in one pile and teetering piles of coins.

“Here! Someone’s put in a two cent coin. We don’t even have them anymore, talk about deep pockets and short hands.”

“Be quiet Patrick, how much do we have now?” barked Emily.

“With the $93.57? We have a total of $143.62. Here, I notice you didn’t put your hand in your handbag. It’s still under the table. Sid, you’re closest, fish it up for her, let’s see if we can add to our total.”

“No, no,” Emily cried out. “I’ve got nothing at all in my handbag.”

“Sure, you have, Em,” said Sid. “Don’t you remember you went to the Bank on the way here. You said you had to get some money out. Here’s your purse, I’ll just check for you….oh.” Sid’s face went quite blank as he pulled out a handful of $100 notes. “Em? What’s all this money for?”

“That’s my money for my next, um, dermatology appointment.”

“You mean facelift doncha?” chortled Mrs B. “More of that toad poison you get injected into your face.”

“Em, why would you need to get your face lifted? You’re so beautiful anyway. Just like the day we got hitched.” Sid looked like he was about to cry.

“You think I still look beautiful, Sid?” Emily was blushing and patting at her hair.

“Oh, Em, you’re the most beautiful thing in the world. You’re just perfect the way you are. I love you just the way you are, perfect.”

“Well, they do say love is blind,” Patrick whispered loudly to no one in particular.

“So, how much do ya have there, Em?” asked Mrs B.

Emily sighed. A deep, mournful sound.

“$1950. Go on, take it. Why not? It’s better than being arrested for selling drugs or being arrested for running a geriatric striptease show.”

“Who you callin’ geriatric? I can still fling ‘em around with the best of ‘em. Hang on, look we’ve raised more than the $2000 we needs for the fence. How ‘bout we ditch this manky tea and go down the pub and have a proper counter lunch with the extra? It’s two for one Tuesday and you get a free pud as well. Hey, you lot, wait for me. Don’t forget me arthritic knees!”