Short Fiction


By Michael Botur

Work's been burgled. You fiddle with your shoulderpads as you record the damage. At least they didn't nick the Garfield cartoons pinned to your corkboard. You're used to Tony taking your things, so it doesn't sting as much as it might. You dare anything to penetrate your numbness. It's like being punched 'til you get a dead arm - you only speak out about the first punch. And that requires someone to speak to.

It's stink timing since you were keen to come in an hour late, let Tina cover for you, you had last night's Survivor to watch while you ate your muesli. Boss was supposed to be at a training course today - you were looking forward to a day without being publicly contradicted. She only does it 'cause she knows you can hack it, she says. You hunch your shoulders, you had this jacket before Tony, it survived him. Your shoulderpads contribute to your shell. You change the password on your computer. It still doesn't feel safe, you change it again.

You ask yourself, What if the Boss set up the burglary for insurance moneys? This is because you're wondering if you can chuck your laptop on the asset register and claim the cash for it. You're trying to get ahead - no, not ahead - even. No, ahead. Tony used to tell you you could be even if you'd harden up. Even is a platform for other people to stand on. It's only 'cause you can hack it. And put some makeup on, he said, You wanna stand out or not? Not too much eyeshadow though - makes you look easy.

Tina works front of house. You order her to add your laptop onto the asset register. She won't. Fine, then. You clocked her for a nark ages ago anyway, she's too uptight. Her and her mind games... You could take her out. She wouldn't last a day on the Survivor island. But she's still here and you tell her Okay stuff it, we call the burg in as it actually happened. You even pretend to speed-dial the boss, humming, tapping your feet, reading the Garfield cartoon. The lazy cat is saying, 'When you're flat on your back the only way to look is up.' Dad used to read you Garfield cartoons. The popular cat taught you never to accept responsibility for nothin'.

You squirm for a minute before you drop the phone. Whatever, you say, I was just joking anyways. You'll get even with that nark soon enough. You stand by Tina's desk waiting for your print-outs, punch her in the shoulder a few times. She says Ow with every punch, not in a Help Me voice, more of a I Don't Have To Take This voice. You pretend not to hear. Her arm doesn't go dead. You're disappointed she can't suffer the punches. If you admit something like that, then you're not a survivor.

You tell Tina to hold the fort, and sort your car out at lunch. She's got the nerve to ask how you can afford to kit your car out. You hope she didn't see you tipping the snack box upside down for coins. There's a Tony-voice telling you your ride would be even if only it had better sounds. Let Tony drive, let Tony drive. You can't remember if it's something he actually said, or something he would say. That voice has been behind all your worst decisions, but shutting it up's uncomfortable.

At Repco, the guy looks a bit like Tony, all guys with granite jaws do. You can't prove they're ripping you off with the cost of the audio set-up but if you were in their boots, you'd rip yourself off. If you're thinking it, then they must be thinking it. Life's too short to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. Their boots are heavy, they're a drag, but you feel the weight of responsibility. It'd be anarchy if people could just do what they please.

You think about the episode of Survivor you taped last night, and picture the Repco boys in Hawaiian shirts, with leis. You could take them out. You can outwit, outlast. You're outsider, outthinker, outsmarter. You can take a punch. You can take many, actually. But you go ahead and pay whatever the Tony lookalike says, you don't even check the invoice. They need to know it's no big deal, that you can hack it. Credit card's got room. Well, okay, that card's got no room. You've got other cards in your purse. A couple of them even have your name on them.

You've gotta leave room to buy a new swimsuit though, one that covers you up. Not that you'd expose yourself at the beach, you'd get a smack for that. It's just an annual thing, new swimsuit for the island. Armour-plated, if they've got it.

You stay awake at night so you can hear if anyone breaks into your ride. It's that red flashing light on the head unit, the Tonyalike reckoned it tells crooks that your sounds are alarmed but that's bullcrap, the light attracts the crooks, he's the crook. You stuff pillows under Tony's side of the bed and put a cap on his pillow, in case you get home-invaded. His side of the bed is closest to the door. You hear cats and what you think is a spraycan, but could be a cat hissing. Takes you thirty minutes to decide that it's probably a cat. Could be taggers, though. You cut eyeholes in your sleeping mask so you can see whoever's sneaking up on you. You put your glasses on your head to fool them. You consider sleeping in your daughter's room, might as well do something with it, it's just filling up with Thighmasters and Ab Kings now, all abandoned. People started asking too many questions, Why do you bother sis, If you have kids again you'll just chuck the weight back on. Maybe you oughta do free weights to bulk your shoulders up, stop your head from slumping.

Head on your desk at work. You wonder what your parents are doing for New Year's. The thought comes round often, even though New Year's is half a year away. Reminds you of the New Years when Tony punched you in the shoulder in front of Mum and she said something about the oven and left the room, and Dad didn't look up. Since then, you haven't looked up at him either. You're bummed out that you ever thought he would look up at you. Probably would've just told you to get thicker shoulderpads, like a gridiron player or something. What would they use on The Island, coconut shells?

You tell yourself to buy coconuts on the way home.

Every day's a tribal council meeting 'round the bonfire.� Your boss sits you down and makes you a coffee. She suggests you start wearing makeup again. You weren't aware she even cared. She asks What's up and you study the legs on your chair, tell her she got your coffee wrong, you don't take sugar. Sugar makes you fat. It's not a long chat after that, she uses the words Disagreeable and Obstreperous and when you don't respond with indignation, she tells you to go look the words up in the dictionary. You fiddle with your shoulderpads.

Tina says to you, 'Who'd you get your car lowered for?'

You tell her to mind her own business, you're busy sorting this laptop crap out. Tina says, 'You look like a boy racer.'

The laptop used to back up your hard drive. You don't trust it now, it's probably got a virus and turned against you, you'd be better off without it, 'though you still change your password several times a day, in case they're after you. Let the computers crash, you're already living in wreckage. Maybe you could sell your laptop for scrap. Dad gave it to you 'cause he said you needed it more than him, to get through your diploma, but the laptop's six years old and you can't afford the excess if you report it stolen. And you're sure he'll want it back now that he knows you're weak.

Whenever you look at Tina, she doesn't look up at you. That means she's against you. She's off the island, you're gonna take her out, she ain't got nothing.

Your shoulderpads even things up. Tina's a big girl, but you can play her game, you'll burn your own fat for heat while everyone else withers and dies.

You send some fake documentation about your laptop to the printer. You're angry with the laptop because it stopped backing you up. You wait for your print-outs beside Tina's desk. She doesn't look up at you. You rub your arm where Tony thumped you. It never healed properly.

You get your arse sacked. The boss's words drive you from her office. You don't know why she bothered to tell you to have a seat if she was just going to chase you out of there. Anyway, you had your hands crooked on the arms of the chair, ready to bolt. You're the one who got up and started backing away. She had to chase you. Nature abhors a vacuum. Tony said something similar once, he said 'In nature, whores vacuum.' He laughed his arse off at that.

The boss needs time to herself, she says. You pace up and down the hallway. You feel like you've had your heart defibrillated, there is something reassuring about this. You check your Garfield cartoon. Garfield's so wise. Now that you've had a cry, your nostrils have got a fresh layer of mucus, your lungs have had a good shake-up. You've splashed cold water on your face and thanked God for nothing.

The boss emerges with a phone sticking halfway out of her ear. She doesn't look at you. She goes up to the front desk and Tina rears her back.

'For Christ's sakes Tina!' the boss says, 'Take her home.' The boss offers you her hand. You're not sure if you're meant to shake it or cling to it.

'Which way's home?'

Tina drives a Mazda 3. The seats are firm and you sink deep into the passenger seat, then freak out and yell at Tina to unlock the doors. She's reluctant, but says Fine. She drives past Greenlane Hospital and starts indicating. You read the signs, scary-arse language like PATIENT, HEALTH, CLINIC. EMERGENCY.

'You're not taking me to no clinic Tina!'

You scrabble at the wheel, chip Tina's skin off. Her blood is red on the inside. You're surprised, you thought she was a robot. She's everything you're not calm enough to be.

The tears work. She invites you to cry as much as you like. You withdraw your head into your jacket and get texting, organise your ride. You tell Tina to take you back. She's doesn't resist you, there's no squeal of brakes or flare-up of engine revs. She performs an expert U-turn and you takes you back to the office. Her safe driving fucks you off.

Your ride's there like he promised. He still has his own key to your wheels. Eye of the Tiger shaking the speakers - Tony never changes his tunes. Of course he's driving.

'Aw, hon, no,' Tina tries to tell you, 'Don't go with Tony.'

You suck snot back up your nostrils and spit out the phlegm that's blocking your breathing. 'At least he knows where I'm GOIN!'

Tina speaks in that cold robot way, without a smile or a frown or anything. 'Catch you later then,' she says.

'Nah, you won't,' you say, getting in and slamming Tony's door shut, your door shut, opening the buttons on your cardy.

Tina says, 'Yeah I will.'

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Survivor was published on 5th June, 2009.

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Michael Botur Biography »