Short Fiction

What Difference Does it Make?

By Ross Brighton

He doesn’t know what to do.

����� Sitting on the porch on a grubby couch, Robert leans back and watches the sky scud overhead. (over the clouds slide) He is wearing an old brown jersey worn thin (thinly) at the elbows, which he pulls tighter around his body. It is late afternoon and he swigs his beer, pulls on a cigarette, and sighs. (oh, and the smoke) It is late afternoon, and today is a day like any other day.

����� The garden is untended and wild, an expanse (wide wilder) of onion-weed, dandelions and thistles. The paint on the house’s weatherboards is cracked and peeling, everything seems on the edge of falling apart. (at all, over)� In the distance there’s the low sound of traffic, constant and monotonous, washing over everything.

����� He stands and stretches, then walks inside to cook dinner, stopping to stub out his cigarette in a saucer by the door.

����� The inside of the house is cavernous, and dust dances in the shafts (look) of light that pour down from the old windows. Furniture lurks in corners, and there is an ancient TV set. Through the door to a vacant bedroom there is a series of empty bookcases, and some boxes stacked out of the way. He walks past and quickly and into the kitchen, opening some cans and emptying them into a saucepan.�

����� Through the window birds sing, and daylight is dying.

����� spilling across�� this part, of meeting� slow crawl

����� around the tree a vine, here friend� inside walls

����� He cannot sleep, but this is not unusual.� (shit shit shit shit shit shit shit)

����� He has been tossing and turning, and the sheets tangled round his body stink of sweat. He gives up (too much now) and stumbles out of bed.� Pulling (one leg two leg) on a pair of jeans and old����� T-shirt,�� he yawns, then walks into the kitchen.�

He puts on the kettle for tea, but turns it off quickly���

����������������������� in favour of whiskey.

����� Outside to smoke, and it’s overcast,����� all cast over���� over glow the city lights

haze in the clouds, reflecting,� the air hanging heavy with the smell of imminent rain.�

����������������� He pulls out a packet of cigarettes, lights one.��

����������������� He sits, and stands again.

����������������� He paces the deck. Fuck it.

����������������������������������� FUCK

����� Grabbing a jacket from the hall, he walks��� through the gate and down the darkened streets, feeling the ground move beneath his feet.

He turns up his collar against the wind.

������������� The streetlights throw muddy pools on the pavement, stirred and turned grotesque by tree-branches�� waving and clawing at the sky. He walks into the park and stands,� still now breathe�������� staring past the swings and the slide,���� across the dark purple playing fields, washed an occasional orange by light�� from houses and security lamps.���� He shivers,��� and the tip of his cigarette glows against the darkness. In the back of his mind he wonders why he never sees any children here,

why it’s always so empty and still.

����� The clouds and trees move, and he sinks deeper�

into his jacket.����������������� Home, then bed, to try again in vain to sleep. If that doesn’t work there’s always the rest of that bottle of Old Crow.

����� crow song falling light new tonight this Oneiros��

����� this diagnosis���� this cutting


“Right, so. Mr Gardener? Come on in, take a seat. So. How are we today?”

����� “Alright, I guess”.�

Last night I dreamed I was with Sarah again – or we were still together.

����������� Oh God. We were – you know; –

����� “I’ve been thinking, about Sarah…� and I’ve been drinking”.

����� “Well Robert, I’m sorry. I have to say that’s disappointing; A step in the wrong direction. You need to keep your mind off these things, use some of the strategies we’ve talked about.

����� “Yeah. I suppose.”

����� “How long has it been?”

����� Talk. All this talk, on and –

����� It’s jargon.�� I don’t care.

����� He’s not really listening; he’s� staring at the pot plant in the corner

����� of the office,� admiring its waxy leaves, the light, the shining off of white�� no green

����� and trying to work out whether it’s real or made of plastic.

����� “I Know, I know. I just…”� his voice trails off.� “I just don’t know”.

����� What doesn’t he know? a lot of things, probably.� you too, buddy –

����� A door opens somewhere, there are voices, and some shitty pop music wafts in from the waiting room.

Air supply, Celine Dion, he can’t tell.�

“I’m sorry Robert, but I’ve got another client waiting. See you next time, ok?”

����� “Ok”. shit. He needs a drink.

����� fall further� to think, (this, mine)

����� this has come to this� runneth over

He returns home unable to think, then;

����������������������������� and misses his bus-stop because of some woman because of some her cataloguing of the tragedies of her life loudly some into his ear.

����� air� the sonics the vibrations beating on the drum, signs of:

������ Suicides, lost loves, family feuds.� Yes it’s all here.

It sounds like TV.�

����� “Shit, that was my stop! Sorry – driver! Damn it”.�� All, all.

����� Trudging down the rain-soaked street he is, he trails a tail of smoke and ashes. Inside, and the house is cold, the chill night air� has come inside;

so he puts on a heater and grabs a beer from the fridge.� the chill the night air

����� Slumped in front of the TV, some cop show

����� with brightly coloured people killing each other,�� how to follow this, but its outside of him;�� fuck it, fuck it all, fuck all of it.

����� He drifts in and out of the world,

����������������������������������� in and out of worlds, and finally sleeps.


����� dream dream�� dream a little dream dream a dream of me� oh

It’s ringing.

����� “Hello? What… Robert, is that you? It’s four in the morning for Christ’s sake.”

����� “Oh, shit.� Is it?�� Sorry. I mean…”

����� “Robert, you can’t keep doing this. And you’re drunk. I know, I can tell. Please?”

����� “Sarah, I’m sorry;� [sorry sorry sorry] I just wanted to–”�

����� “Well you can’t, she’s asleep. And you’ve been drinking – you just can’t. I’m sorry but there’s no way in hell.”

����� “I’m…�� Ok, I know. You’re right.� I’m sorry.”� sorry

����� “Don’t.”

����� “Sarah,� I still –”

����� “Don’t. Please, just fucking don’t. Don’t ever. And don’t call again. Please.”

There’s silence and breathing.� stop “Goodbye.”

����� “Goodbye Robert.”

����� “I’m sorry…” but� he’s talking to a dead line. Be-beep, be-beep.�

����������������������������� Fuck.

He falls asleep, curled� in darkness that opens and closes� around him. The�

bedclothes smell of liquor,� and sweat,� and nothing else.


He ground out the butt of his cigarette with his heel, and walked out of the fine, inhospitable drizzle through the automatic doors of the hospital. The fluorescent lights shone bleakly down onto the clean lino and carefully arranged potted palms. Up the lift buzzing through to the ward, and down corridors, all white and smelling of bleach, tang sharp the coloured lines on the floor giving directions to Paediatrics, this way, Oncology, Gerontology; this is Intensive Care.�

����� He found a waiting room, and family. His sister was pacing anxiously, then looked up to see him fidgeting and standing in the doorway. He gave a half-hearted smile, and she hugged him. His hands stayed limp at his sides, he didn’t know what to do.

����� “Shit. Oh Robert, I was hoping you’d come”.

����� “Yeah, you asked me to – it sounded bad. I dunno.”

����� “He regained consciousness for a bit, and was asking for you. That was last night. Now, well – nobody can say.” She sniffed, trying not to sob. He looked around, saw his brother praying silently, hoping something somewhere was bigger than himself, bigger than this; His mother was nursing a cup of tea. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days.

����� A door opened, and a doctor appeared, carrying a clipboard. He cleared his throat. There was something about his heart, years of smoking. His body simply couldn’t take the strain.

����� The trauma. The sharp shock.

They went through the door, and into the father’s room. There were machines, making mechanical sounds, and his father was lying there, grey faced and still. There was a red mark on his neck, and the room smelt of bodies and cleanliness. It was too late, and nothing could be done. Robert reached out, and touched the cold hand stretched across the stiff pressed sheets. The skin was dry and clean, like delicate paper. Then there was nothing, and his father’s empty eyes continued to stare at the ceiling.

It was before the funeral, at his parents’ for dinner. Robert was late, and trudged up the driveway past the maliciously cut roses, hacked back against the winter chill. Inside everyone was already gathered, his siblings, mother, and others he didn’t recognise. They sat down around the table, and Robert’s brother, a lawyer, insisted on saying grace.

����� “For what we are about to receive…”

The roast was over-cooked, and Robert was sweating. People were talking about the weather. Someone offered him wine, and he took it gratefully. He could smell himself.

����� Gossip about someone’s daughter, he didn’t care. Another wine.

����� “Robert, pass the potatoes, could you?”

As he did so he knocked the bottle, and Pinot Noir spread across the white tablecloth. He looked down in disbelief at his arm, and the beads of wine disappearing into the wool of his stretched jersey, then around at the mute faces waiting for him to say something.

����� “Sorry”. Then silence.

����� Finally Robert stood, and left the table quietly. He opened the kitchen door, and stepped out onto the porch, pulling a packet of cigarettes from his pocket. Breathing deep he lit one, blowing smoke up into the night sky. The light of the city cast a strange glow across the clouds, and the feeble moonlight fell across the immense, well-tended garden, all curled up against the winter, and the impeccably manicured lawn.


����� “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to farewell Bruce Gardener, a beloved father and devoted husband. We are not here to mourn, but to celebrate a life well lived in the presence of our saviour and his eternal mercy, to whom we entrust our brother in the hope of life eternal, that we may one day join him. Let us now bow our heads, and join in the prayer of our lord.

����� “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.

����� Thy kingdom...”
����� Come come� come…

����� Home again, and it was snowing, a light, disinterested fall. Inside and the vast darkness of the cold rooms. Robert could feel the house’s dislike for him, he felt like an uninvited guest.�

����� Retreating, he walked down to the park; the snow had dusted the playing fields. he lit a cigarette, feeling the flakes landing on his hair, his face his hands, the cold burrowing into and stealing from the warm aura of his body heat. The birds were out, a black congregation alighting on the white ground.

����� He stood still and silent, and watched.


He cannot sleep.

The thin light is coming� (going gone the night time) through the curtains, and outside birds are waking. He rolls over and looks at the clock; it’s six in the morning. His head is heavy, weight weighing down and out of and his hangover is beating at his temples. Feeling queasy he gets dressed, and walks through into the kitchen. He makes a cup of tea and sits down at the formica table, but he can feel the presence of the boxes in the spare room, staring through the walls,� taunting him. Come. Boxes of books from his father. Images come unasked for, (oh, oh this)

of other boxes: of fighting, of things said unsaid regretted.� (this deepness the vast)

The regrets float around the house, flooding the empty rooms, casting their detritus over everything, the silence accumulating in dark corners.

����� He shivers. Something must be done.

����������������� Slowly and with grave consideration

����������������� he opens one box,

����������������� then another,

����������������� hauling out the books and stacking them

����������������� one by one in haphazard piles.

����������������� He is digging,

����������������� he is looking for something.

����������������� He knocks over the pile at his elbow

����������������� as he empties one box,

����������������� starting on the next.

����������������� He feels strange, like his head

����������������� is full of cotton wool.

����������������� There must be something, somewhere.

����������� head noise to find the light� the light switch

����������� the pages, counting� out the plant

����������� to forage through this foliage



It has to be tonight.

The rain is beating on the roof and Robert is drunk,� standing in the doorway of the spare room. The books are still there, strewn across the floor or stacked in crazy piles, sorted by colour, texture, or some other instinctual grouping. What to do? There’s a sense of gravity. Weight, piles pull down on the air. (down in the downy) He stubs out his cigarette, and pulls on the bridge of his nose.

It’s a tic he’s developed lately.

He surveys the room, then walks forward nervously. (this this is it) There’s something wrong. He fidgets then starts, throwing himself into the job, (just do it do it) picking up the books and shoving them into the empty shelves. He kicks the empty boxes out of the way with a sense of almost-palpable joy, giving out a little cry.

����������� It feels good.

����������� He hollers out against the sound of the rain.

(Get it over, get it done.��� Done with.)

Then there’s one box left in the corner.

����� He kneels down to look inside, and there’s one book left. He pulls it out and hefts it, feeling the weight of the paper and of the old hard-backed binding. The title is on the cover in authoritative print. It’s a guide to the art of rose gardening.�

����� He carries it through to lounge and pours himself a drink.

����� He starts to read.

����� Digging by moonlight and the smell of wet earth is intoxicating.

He can feel the weight of the shovel, the way his muscles pull and contract at his command, the rain running over his bare skin. The blade of the shovel slides easily into the wet ground, and the sod comes away, just as he intends. He grabs a bush from the row leaning against the house, and carefully loosens the roots, placing it in the centre of the hole.��

����� This is good.

����� This is right.

����� He returns the dirt and pats it down carefully around the bud junction, then repeats the process with the next, and then the next. The garden is growing. He feels ecstatic, the rain reminding his body of its boundaries. He lets it wash over his face, and feels it as it washes the earth.


He hasn’t called in a long time. She should be happy, free from this, but she’s not. It sits in the back of her mind, and itches. but what about Robert? She wonders around doing what is necessary, the shopping, the pharmacy, taking Rosa to school and picking her up again. everything goes, and its OK, like clockwork. The grey buildings slide past, then greenery, then houses.

����� “Mummy mummy mummy! Rosa comes running down the school driveway. “Mummy I love you mummy!”

����� “I know, I love you too”. Sarah scoops up her daughter in her arms, swinging her round in a circle. I love you too. yet something is slipping. She can’t put her finger on it, its like a fog, mercury, or cotton wool. Away.

����� Something’s gone.

driving down the streets, then she pulls up the driveway and goes into the house, her bundle of joy racing ahead of her, circling around, then in parked in front of the TV. Cartoon sounds, advertising, and I weather report. Tomorrow will be fine, like today. yes. yes it will, and the day after…

It has been weeks, and she still hasn’t heard. She goes about her days filled with dread. Something is wrong, something has happened. The TV noise is filtering into the kitchen, and finally she gives up, enough is enough. She needs peace of mind. She calls him.

����� “Hello?” He sounds strange, distant.

����� “Robert? I hadn’t heard… are you OK?

����� “Yeah… yeah I’m fine. It’s all coming along.”

����� “What is? What’s happened?” There is something else.� Her gut sinks.

����� “Nothing. I’m … I’m busy is all. Can you call back later?”

����� “Um… I suppose so. I’m just worried is all.”

����� “Don’t be. OK. Later.”

Sarah cooks dinner in a daze. Oh Robert… what have you done? She gives Rosa her bath, then it’s bed time, then lying awake staring upward, into nothing.

����� She knocks on the front door. “Robert! Robert? Are you there?”

����� Nothing. She tries the handle, and it’s open. She pushes through, and the house is silent. There is dust, empty bottles, and a smell of stale cigarettes.

����� She goes around the back, and the roses stretch massive across the yard. She stops and stares. On the porch birds are picking at the upholstery of an old couch, one caws, tearing at an old T-shirt.�

����� She stands, not saying a word. The roses nod their heads silent in the breeze, as if they’re agreeing with something.

Featured Story

What Difference Does it Make? was published on 24th April, 2009.

About the Author

Ross Brighton Biography »