Serendipity

“You just have to have faith.”

“Faith in what?”

“Destiny.”

Beth spoke along with the characters on the screen. She couldn’t count how many times she’d watched Serendipity. It was her favourite movie and she threw in the DVD whenever she needed a pick me up. Like tonight.

It was New Year’s Eve and Beth was sulking on her couch as the rest of the world celebrated. “At least I have John Cusack,” she thought, smiling at his face on the TV. With his dreamy eyes and floppy hair. He had been her favourite actor ever since she was a teenager, swooning while she watched him shotgun beer in The Sure Thing.

“Can you keep a secret,” she whispered to her dog, Cassiopeia. The staffy’s tail wagged, thumping against the cushions. “I lost my virginity after shotgunning beer, with a guy named Greg, in the back of his van at the caravan park my parents used to take us to for the school holidays.” She laughed at the memory. She had never told anyone that. Not even her best mate Sharon. She always said her first time was with her first real boyfriend, when she was twenty. But it was at fifteen, with Greg, with his dreamy eyes and floppy hair.

Suddenly Beth had a brilliant idea. She peeled herself off the couch and padded barefoot across the tiled floor; Cassiopeia’s nails tapping behind her. Searching through a kitchen draw, she pulled out a biro pen. She opened the fridge, grabbed an Asahi beer and gripped it tightly in her hand. Raising the pen above her head, she swooped it down dramatically punching a hole in the side of the can. She quickly sealed her lips around the hole and pulled on the can’s open tab. Frothy liquid rushed down her throat, spilling from her mouth, and dribbling off her chin. When she finished, she wiped her palm across her face and let out a loud belch. “I still got it,” she said, grinning at the dog by her feet. Hesitating for a split second, she shrugged and pulled another beer from the fridge. It was New Year’s Eve, if she wanted to shotgun ten beers she would. But it turned out her limit was three.

Back on the couch feeling tipsy and a little bloated, Beth checked the time on her phone. It was almost midnight, so she stopped the movie and turned on the ABC. Charlie Pickering was already counting down to the fireworks, “Six, five, four…” When the clock struck twelve and the fireworks exploded, Beth leapt into the air, the dog excitedly joining in. The pair bounced around the room, Beth whooping “Happy New Year,” as Cassiopeia barked. Until breathless and sweaty, Beth dropped back on the couch in a heap. John.” She sighed wistfully and pressed play.

 “When did you get to be so unabashedly romantic?” Beth said, as she spoke along with the characters on the screen.

© Amy Hutton 2020

Freedom Ride

The glow of the moon peeked through a small, rust hole in the corner of the trunk of the car. It was the only light The Boy could see. A tiny ray of hope in the darkness. The air was full of dirt and gasoline, their fetid odour mixing with his own sweet and pungent stench. Tiny droplets of sweat trickled off his hair, stinging the corners of his eyes. His jeans were wet from urinating where he lay. In that trunk. That trunk to freedom.

This Younger Man said that he was there to help. Told The Boy he would get him out. Help him escape from the cage The Boy had lived in since the Older Man took him all those months ago. The Boy didn’t know exactly how long it had been. He had stopped counting after a while.

This Younger Man had come to fix the generator, the one that lit The Boy’s dank cell. He told The Boy to hide in the trunk of his car; to lay silently on the cold and greasy metal. He told him he would take The Boy to the cops. That everything would be okay. That the next town was only an hour away. But now it was night time and The Boy was starting to wonder if he’d made another stupid mistake.

The Boy should never have got into the Older Man’s car all those months ago. Should never have been so trusting. But he was desperate. Desperate to escape a father who turned his fist to his son, once his wife was no longer alive to beat on. He’d seemed nice, the Older Man. He wore a crisp, white shirt, with a pen poking out of an ink-stained pocket. “Damn pen,” the he had said. “I’m just going to drop by my place to change, then we’ll be on our way.”

The Boy had sat on a scratched and weather-worn sofa on the Older Man’s porch, sipping lemonade. He was on a farm. Land spreading out as far as he could see. The Boy had never been on a farm. Never been out of the city. He was enjoying the warmth of the sun, the cool liquid running down his throat.

Then, he awoke in that cage.

The Older Man never touched him. Never spoke even spoke to him. Not even when The Boy screamed and cried and beat his head against the bars until he bled. He kept The Boy fed. Even gave him a TV. The Boy asked why he was there. He begged to be set free. But the Older Man only ever smiled. The same smile The Boy had trusted the day he got into that car all those months ago.

“Not long now,” The Boy heard whispered through the steel above him. Then the thud of footsteps, followed by the metallic slam of the door. As the engine came to life with a shrill squeal followed by a roar, fumes seeped through the small, rust hole that had given The Boy such hope. Then the car started to move again. But towards what, The Boy didn’t know.

© Amy Hutton 2019

The Family Business

Longlisted for Australian Writers’ Centre July 2019 Furious Fiction competition


 

Based on a true story – sort of…

Harry pressed his nose to the glass and squinted through the window as the train pulled away. “That’s my bag,” he said, turning to face the other passengers. “My bag got left on the platform!”

They regarded him with vague disdain; the loud American pointing wildly and yelling in English.

 

He rushed down the aisle towards the doors and attempted to pry them apart. They didn’t shift. Not an inch. Not even one.

“They won’t open when the train is moving?” a woman said from behind him.

He spun around. “My bag. It’s on the platform!”

“You can get off at the next stop and return for it.”

“But everything is in that bag. My clothes, my computer, my,” his shoulders sagged. “My passport. Dammit! I put my passport in my jacket, then shoved my jacket in my bag so I wouldn’t have to lug it around!”

“That was stupid,” the woman said, and shrugged as she walked away.

 

Harry raced back to his seat. “What should I do. What should I do?” he muttered to himself.

“Press the emergency button?” a man beside him said.

Harry looked at the guy with the brilliant idea. “Is that allowed?”

“Is it an emergency?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I guess it’s allowed.”

 

He dashed back through the carriage. Everyone was watching him; the loud American with sweat dripping down his neck. The emergency button was covered in glass, so he pulled his shirt sleeve over his knuckles and punched as hard as he could, slamming his fist through the cover, into the button. The train jolted to a violent stop, propelling Harry into the wall.

 

Harry woke up to someone slapping his face.

“Put this on your hand,” the man said.

A frozen gel pack dropped into Harry’s lap. He held the cold compress to his bloodied knuckles. “What happened?” he said, “Did I stop the train or something?”

“No sir, you stopped ALL the trains.”

Harry looked up, still slightly groggy. “I did what?” he said, and peered around the man in front of him. Fifty angry faces were staring back at him; their luggage spilled across the floor.

“When you stop one train in Europe sir, you stop ALL the trains.”

“I stopped all the trains?” Harry said.

“In Europe,” the man repeated, “Which is a 575€ fine.” He handed Harry a slip of paper and helped him to his feet.

 

Harry got off at the next station, pulled his phone from his pocket and dialled.

“It’s true Bobby,” he said. “Every train in Europe. Just one button. Yep, stop ‘em all in the right place, and they’re easy pickins.” He hung up and went to the ticket booth, “I gotta go back for my bag,” he said to the woman at the counter. “Left it behind like an idiot.” he flashed her a smile.

Soon the front pages would belong to Bobby and Harry. It was a train robbery like the world had never seen. Across the whole of Europe. The press would dub the duo a modern day Butch and Sundance.

If only everyone knew the truth to that name.

Bobby and Harry’s great-great uncles would have been so proud…

 

© Amy Hutton 2019

Anaphylaxis

The dining room was laid out perfectly. The knives and forks evenly spaced, the elegant plates emerald green with a splash of red around the edges, the napkins folded neatly in the glasses. A giant bowl of salad sat in the middle of the table like the star of the show, a small pot of oily dressing beside it. By the window was a vase of bright yellow daisies, their petals turning joyfully towards the sun. Everywhere was colour, echoing the brightness of the day.

When the man arrived, he happily looked around, oblivious to the trap that had been laid. He was sweating of course and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. His thin, black hair plastered around the sides of his puffy face. He smiled and took the chair opposite mine as he thanked me for the kind invitation. I smiled back, making sure he felt welcome. As he sat, I noticed a button was missing from his shirt. I could glimpse his hairy gut oozing through the gap in the thin, cheap material. I could see the stains under his armpits. I shuddered as I remembered his stench.

Outside the sky was clear and the kind of deep blue that accompanies a steamy day. The air was heavy with the scent of jasmine and the promise of the afternoon offered no relief from the oppressive heat of the summer sun. People spoke of the cool change that must be coming, as cicadas chirped merrily – their ever-present drone laying the background to season.

I could hear the family next door laughing, living their normal, happy lives, as the children ran about the lawn, their giggles floating towards me on the warm breeze. How I envied them in that moment. How I envied their innocence.

At first it sounded like he was clearing his throat; a small noise that no-one noticed but me. I calmly placed another fork full of food in my mouth. He reached for his glass as he began to cough violently. He tried to drink, but the water spilled out over his lips, splashing down his shirt and on to his trousers. As he gasped and clawed at his throat, people rushed to his side, loosening his tie, and slapping his back. His face changed colour like a confused chameleon. First white, then pink, then red, now purple. I was waiting for blue.

He was on the floor now, his eyes bulging and bloodshot, his doughy face finally the colour I’d been waiting for. Someone with a phone was shouting, asking if the man had any allergies. I feigned panic, and in a fabricated display of terror worthy of an Oscar, I shook my head “no,” while thinking, peanuts, he’s allergic to peanuts.

The ambulance was coming now, I could hear its siren’s song. But it would be too late.

As I took a sip of my wine and quietly enjoyed the chaos swirling around me, I thought about how peanut oil made such an excellent addition to salad dressing.

© Amy Hutton 2019

Reflections in Salt Water

I watched the Willy Wagtail bounce across the path with the singular purpose of a tiny bird in search of breakfast. Children giggle as they stumbled over the grass, their mother laughing as she tries to gather them in her arms. A golden retriever shares a breakfast burger with his owner, both delighted by the delicious ooze dribbling down their chins. The day is cool and overcast, a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat of the summer, and the world seems a little lighter because of it.

I stood leaning against the railing along the dunes, inhaling the clean air in deep, fulfilling gulps. It had rained last night. The kind of rain that wakes you from your sleep, crashing against the windows. The kind of rain that creates deep, muddy puddles for dogs to charge through with joyous abandon. The kind of rain that makes the ocean ferocious and wild, pounding against the sand with no remorse. The sound of waves fill my ears, the salt so heavy on the wind I can taste it on my lips. Beach closed signs pepper the sand from headland to headland, but that doesn’t stop two intrepid searchers battle against the surging swell to reach clear water, the froth engulfing them as they paddle on determinedly.

I love the sea, the expanse of it, the power of it. The way it cleanses. The way it washes away the sweat of a hot day. It can make us feel small and alone, or part of something bigger than we dare to  fathom.

I wander along the footpath towards the boardwalk, my ever-present furry companion trotting to heel beside me, sitting patiently as I stop every so often to try to catch an image of sea-spray bursting into the sky, where it hangs briefly like a sparkling curtain beneath the inky clouds. The seagulls sit glued to the sand daring not to fly in case they’re swept off on a gust wind, and the rock pools churn with water, causing me to wonder if the tiny creatures who live there are hanging on for dear life, or if they’ve been flushed away, only to struggle through the tide over and over to reclaim their homes. There’s a man wearing nothing more than a towel and tattoos, gently strumming a ukulele while sitting in the back of his van. I try to hear the song he plays, but it drifts away on the breeze before I can catch it.

I don’t know why I love the ocean so much. It’s not the pleasure of going to the beach on a sweltering summer’s day, a melanoma scare and the sunscreen, sun shirts and sun-proof tents taking the joy out of a day at the beach. Maybe it’s because my father was a Captain in the Merchant Navy. He spent most of his life on the sea. From voyages on enormous ships around the world, to the wild waters of the Bass Strait and navigating the Sydney to Hobart race on more than one occasion. When I was young, he built a yacht in our backyard. Not a small yacht. Not the kind that goes on a trailer behind the car for a Sunday afternoon sail. It was a bloody great big thing, looming high above my child sized height, ladders propped at either end, which I walked under daily hoping the superstitions were just that. I remember the day she was lifted by a giant crane over the back fence and taken to her new birth at The Spit. All our neighbours coming out to marvelling at this wondrous thing making her way down the street, floating in mid-air.

As the wooden path winds around the cliff face, I look at the familiar rocks below, rugged and broken; small yellow daisies struggling to survive in tiny patches of dirt. It feels like I have scrambled over each and every one of those rocks in my youth, before I cared about the dangers of such activities. I remember poking my fingers into unfortunate anemones, their feathery tendrils grabbing on to me, thinking I was a meal. I’ve always lived only minutes from the beach, and sometimes only seconds. From Freshwater, to Curl Curl, to Collaroy, to Manly, to Dee Why, as my life moved, the ocean was always my constant.

I’ve swum in the Ionian Sea, the Balearic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, but nothing compares to my bold, and beautiful Pacific. Standing on the shores of Venice Beach in California, I’ve looked out to the horizon, thinking, “Just over there is my home.” It’s my Pacific, and whether or not I’m a long way from family and friends, her waves will always connect us.

I walk down the path and around the point to a seat dedicated to a man whose name I didn’t know, but who I do know was loved. I gaze over Freshwater, remembering my childhood adventures on its warm sands. The paddle pops and sausage rolls from the tuck-shop under the surf club, the colour and excitement of the swimming carnivals and the lazy days we hung onto the chain rails around the pool, letting the waves crash over us. I remember when I was caught in a rip, not realising until I was far past the other swimmers that I was in trouble. I fought my way back to shore, practicing my lessons learned a school, of swimming across the tide not against it, pulling myself exhausted but proud into the shallows. I remember the bluebottle stinger that went down the front of my cossie, and the embarrassment I felt when the lifesavers came to my aid.

As the dark sky begins to drizzle rain down upon us, and another storm rumbles threateningly above, my dog and I start our trek home, stopping to say hello to a scruffy Jack Russel along the way. He reminds me of my first dog, Harry and I reminisce over our final moments together. The beach was our special place, and on his last day on this earth I took him there for one final visit. He was old, and sick, and blind, but as he sat curled in my lap, he slowly lifted his snout in the air and sniffed the familiar scents of that happy place. The breeze gently ruffled his fur, the smell of the salt making his clown nose twitch. I gazed down at him, my precious boy and looked around at that perfect place and knew that tiny, bitter sweet point in time, like so many others spent by these waters, would live in my heart forever.

I sometimes wonder who I would have become if, so long ago, my family had not chosen Australia as our new home, if we hadn’t settled on the breathtaking Northern Beaches. Would I still be me? Would I still feel the draw of the majesty of the brine? Would I still love to look out across its enormity? Would it still silence my mind at the end of a chaotic day? Would it still call to me, no matter where in the world I am?

So many perfect and imperfect memories, all bound by the power of the ocean.

Who would I have become if I hadn’t grow-up with saltwater kissing my skin?

© Amy Hutton 2019