Woozy Bankers.

‘Coming, Tim?’

I logged off and followed my colleagues out of the office; attending company social events inadvertently influenced our bonuses. The downstairs function room of the nearby pub reeked of beer and despair; like a fallen tree, its scratched tables could be aged by the rings staining their surfaces. The only person happy to be there was Greg, our self-designated quizmaster. Wearing a tie covered in question marks, he resembled a white-collar variant of the Riddler.

‘Don’t forget, the winning team shares a dinner for two at Vue de Monde,’ he beamed, repeating the sales pitch he’d carpet-bombed our inboxes with for the past month. ‘This will be our best quiz night yet.’

Greg’s pledge was immediately broken when I was paired with Darren Jenkins, a lumbering investment banker with ruddy cheeks and cufflinks inscribed with ‘JFDI’.

‘It’s because my approach to making deals is like Nike’s,’ he’d explain to anyone who’d ever asked him about the acronym. ‘Just F’ing do it.’

People submitted their team names, most choosing cringey puns from Google. Darren proudly christened us the Woozy Bankers. I looked wistfully across the room to Hannah, the girl from Accounting with whom I traded witty emails at the end of each financial quarter. Why couldn’t we be teammates?

Round 1 was a disaster, with Darren fog-horning most of our answers to neighbouring tables. At the end of the round, we swapped our sheets with adjacent tables, and Greg read the answers aloud; the crowd whooped and groaned as if watching a Christmas pantomime. When we received our sheet back, Let’s Get Fiscal had penalised us half a mark for forgetting the squiggly line in São Paulo.

‘Details matter, Timothy,’ said Judy, shaking her head with genuine disappointment. I didn’t press the point; nobody ever won an argument against the Audit team.

We fared better in Rounds 2 and 3, mainly because Darren was busy flinging himself at waiters carrying trays of beers or satay skewers, allowing me to focus. The night nearly ground to a halt over Greg’s adjudication that Crowded House was an Australian band, not a Kiwi one. When the final scores were eventually tallied, the Woozy Bankers and the EXCEL-erators were tied in first place. A member of each was invited up to answer a tie-breaker question. With Darren wrestling someone for the final pork slider, I rose to face my opponent, Hannah. We shared an embarrassed smile. The question was the distance between Earth and Saturn. Hannah’s guess was half a galaxy nearer the truth than mine, and Greg proudly awarded her the voucher like a novelty cheque at a golf tournament.

‘Congratulations,’ I said, awkwardly offering her a Covid-Safe elbow bump. ‘The food is supposed to be terrific.’

‘Nigel has already been,’ said Hannah, nodding to her teammate at their table, who was yawning and checking his watch. ‘Perhaps you and I could go together?’

It was the easiest question of the night.


© Matthew S. Wilson, July 2021

This piece was originally written for July’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre.

Storm Damage.

As I arrived back at the house, the radio reported the cyclone had made landfall. I fought through the sheets of rain and wrestled the door open. Molly appeared, dressed in pyjamas.

‘Daddy!’

Her battle-cry summoned her younger sister, Hannah, who was followed down the hall by their mother.

‘What are you doing here?’ asked Trish.

‘The storm’s hit the entire coast; they evacuated the rig yesterday.’

I helped finish boarding up the windows with whatever plywood was left in the garage while Trish blew up the air mattresses in the hallway for the girls.

‘These are for camping, Mummy,’ said Hannah.

‘Tonight we’re camping inside, Ok?’

We lost the power at 9. The girls lay on their mattresses with our iPads and headphones, distracted from the storm by Disney and apple juice. Trish and I watched our daughters from the far end of the hallway. The cyclone whipped around us like a wild animal circling a tent. I poured two tumblers of bourbon.

‘How’ve the girls been, anyway?’ I asked.

‘Fine.’

Somewhere, the metallic screech of a torn gutter cried out. Trish didn’t look up from her glass when she spoke.

‘You didn’t call.’

‘There wasn’t time; I had to beat the storm.’

She scoffed. ‘You haven’t called in two bloody weeks. You didn’t even ring to see how Hannah’s recital went.’

‘I’m working; it’s not easy being away.’

‘And sometimes it’s not easy having you back.’

A barrage of rain smashed down upon the old tin roof above us. I tried to decipher Trish’s face in the dull glow of the camping lantern. ‘What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying, if you want to be here – you need to be here. You can’t just sit on the fence anymore; it’s not fair.’

‘You really want to talk about this now?’

The ceiling groaned.

‘When do we ever talk about anything anymore, Darren?’

‘Fine’. I threw back my drink. ‘Looks like we’re stuck here anyway.’

We fought for an hour, trading bourbon-laced accusations and insults. The storm blew, and both of us thundered; our little weatherboard shook on its precarious foundations. We might have fought until dawn had the girl’s iPads not finally drained of power.

‘Why are you shouting?’ asked Molly, her panicked face illuminated beneath her headtorch.

‘We’re not, sweetie.’ Trish pulled the girl into her arms. ‘I was just telling Daddy how much we miss him, that’s all.’

‘Yeah, we miss you, Daddy,’ said Hannah, crawling onto my lap. ‘Lots.’

The four of us huddled together on the floor, entwined. The girls shook each time some part of the neighbourhood crashed against our house, but Trish and I squeezed our daughters tightly and promised them they were safe. After a few hours, the rain relented, and the wind softened. Trish waited for the girls to fall asleep before nodding off on my shoulder.

In the morning, I went outside and inspected the house. The damage was extensive but with some work – fixable.


© Matthew S. Wilson, May 2021

This piece was originally written for May’s Furious Fiction writing challenge, ran by the Australian Writers Centre.

Flash.

Last month, I participated in Writing Victoria’s Flash Fiction. The premise of the competition is simple: Every day for thirty days, writers are given a different prompt to create a 30-word story. The theme for 2021 was ‘unfold’.

Last year was my first time participating, and it was the perfect tonic for dealing with Melbourne’s lockdown. Given I’ve been toiling away on my novel for 18 months solid (more on this later), it was a welcome pleasure to write bite-sized stories with new characters, genres and themes. Some worked – others bombed – but the next day always brought a new word and chance to try something different.

More than that, the competition introduced me to a whole raft of new writers (Hmm, not sure this is the correct collective; a coffee-shop of writers?). The clever arrangement of their words and the authenticity of their voices inspired me greatly; their stories made me want to elevate my own writing. As a result, I was lucky enough to be adjudged as one of the competition’s three runners-up with my Day 9 entry for ‘open’.

Thanks again to Writers Victoria for facilitating the competition and well done to the other runners-up, and everyone who participated. A special congratulations to @IncognitoKorps for his brilliant winning entry for the word ‘display’.

With micro-fiction temporarily done for now, I’ve returned to my novel. It’s at that stage where I’ve sliced 30% of its words away, and am seeing how it reads on my iPad as an end-to-end story (some parts were fine, while others I hated with the intensity of a thousand suns). Overall, I’m excited to share it with beta-readers and an editor soon.

I hope everyone is keeping well.

Matt

PS: My full list of entries for #WVFlashFic21 is below.


My entries for Writing Victoria’s Flash Fiction 2021

He stepped from the train. The war had swallowed the boy from the creek she’d remembered; his copper-colored muscles now replaced by a ghost in a creased uniform.

April 1st 2021, #creased

Cleaning out her wardrobe, he found their old camera. He drove into town for the chemist to develop the film but the kid behind the counter only laughed.

April 2nd 2021, #develop

He studied the gaunt faces in the beds near his. He’d spent a career crafting marketplace segmentation strategies targeting these people’s savings.

There’d been a mistake; this wasn’t his ward.

April 3rd 2021, #segmentation

She followed the dancing blossoms of the cherry trees down the Philosopher’s Path. Her katana felt light on her shoulder, the blade singing its sweet ballad of vengeance.

April 4th 2021, #blossom

Our jobs evaporated with the lake; minutes dragged on for years. Daddy says the Devil makes work for idle hands. If that’s true – the Devil became this old town’s mayor.

April 5th 2021, #hands

A corpse hung nailed to a post at the camp’s entrance. Its young face, robbed of eyes and illuminated under a ghostly moon, served as warning: the treaty was broken.

April 6th 2021, #illuminate

The first shot missed, smacking into an ironbark.

Idiot.

He squeezed the trigger like gramps had shown him. A whip’s crack and the roo crumpled; the boy’s dreams poisoned evermore.

April 7th 2021, #crumple

My family’s reaction to the divorce was predictable: Gail dichotomised my fuck-ups, Dad talked footy. Mum baked an unprecedented volume of cheesecake, forcing me to renew my gym membership.

April 8th 2021, #renew

We scratched and scraped our memories from the walls, hiding the darkest under lavender-coloured paint. The auctioneer opened the bidding low, though. A garden overgrown by weeds and rumours.

April 9th 2021, #open

Donna entered the stage.

The crowd howled at the sight of a pop-star contestant twice their age. She found Casey.

Her daughter mouthed the words she needed: “Go Mum”.

April 10th 2021, #pop

Amid the Botox and Moët, one might forget this was a heist. Granted, the Met Gala was more elaborate than a bank – but missteps led to the same cell.

April 11th 2021, #elaborate

After the morning sex, her bliss unravelled.

Now free of tequila and pent-up need, Olivia inspected his apartment: a museum of lava lamps and bobbleheads. How treatable was this?

April 12th 2021, #unravel

They’d vowed to keep proceedings civil, “respectful”. What manifested was neither.

As Tracey drove home from the court, Jacob played with a toy.

“Did you win the custard, Mummy?”

Christ.

April 13th 2021, #manifest

Another full recycling bin.

Sifting through the scrunched-up lives of the victims had broken him, numbed him. The burn of whiskey, the sole reminder he wasn’t dead too.

April 14th 2021, #scrunch

She finished reading the chapter and the old man turned to her.

“Sarah?”

Her eyes glistened; these precious flickers of consciousness always made her teary.

“Yeah, Dad – it’s me.”

April 15th 2021, #consciousness

The Audi revved its annoyance, but Mitali stood firm. She waits for the last child and blows her whistle; the car bursts forward.

Sirens immediately follow, then her smirk.

“Dickhead”.

April 16th 2021, #bursts

They moved into a dilapidated terrace that shook with each passing train. She learned his foibles – pineapple in pasta, Manilow’s entire discography – yet inexplicably, she stayed.

Love was perverse.

April 17th 2021, #learn

They lay in bed, breathless. Her fingers explored the scars covering his back.

“Diplomatic work looks dangerous.”

He pulled her against him, kissing her neck.

“Perilous”.

The champagne fizzed, untouched.

April 18th 2021, #explore

They were beautiful – orange gerberas this time – and she replaced the lilies in the vase. Her husband fondly mocked her tears, oblivious to the guilt his flowers revealed.

April 19th 2021, #reveal

“Press down.”

The boy’s folds were uncertain.

“Don’t think origami; feel it.”

As a girl, she’d only ever endured her grandfather’s lessons. Now, passed to her children, they were precious.

April 20th 2021, #origami

The police expanded the search. Local volunteers called Tommy’s name and fought through tangled knots of blackberry thorns. They found the body at dusk; his arms, the following day.

April 21st 2021, #expand

We smouldered for weeks; charred gums stabbed into the earth like expelled matchsticks. People drove past our turn-off, tutting our name. But in the spring, green emerges: resilient and hopeful.

April 22nd 2021, #emerge

She liked Chris, not just his job or dimples. She felt safe unfurling herself to him.

‘What do you look like?’ he eventually asked.

She uploaded a photo from Bali.

April 23rd 2021, #unfurl

“Are you courting with anyone?”

Gran’s generation had been foxtrots and love letters; less about grinding and nudes.

“Not really.”

“Have you tried the tinder?”

I blushed into my chamomile.

April 24th 2021, #letter

The flame’s light danced on Mick’s medals, unwrapped and pinned to his granddaughter’s lapel.

Later, as she wheeled my chair down Swanston, my fallen mate was still somehow helping me.

April 25th 2021, #unwrap

Blake stared at the display. After all, his sacrifices for acceptance into the program – he’d failed.

The sous vide was too warm, his trout ruined.

But first – an ad break.

April 26th 2021, #display

I lock the toilet door and curse my eyes: each hot tear, a stinging betrayal.

‘You deserve to be in that meeting.’

Breathe.

I wipe the weakness from my cheeks.

April 27th 2021, #betray

Mr Jiggles’ plan unfolded purr-fectly.

Humans pawed past their freedoms and downloaded his app. Overnight, their phone’s cameras had become his eyes; the microphones, his ears.

Cat-atonic™ assured feline ascendance.

April 28th 2021, #become

Folks said O’Dowd’s confession gave the town “closure”. Six years later, the victim’s faces still haunted Maggie’s dreams.

She re-opened the case, knowing the darkest truths were discovered – not volunteered.

April 29th 2021, #discover

Paul unfolded the new shirt; he somehow missed his orange ones. The halfway house was ok: no bars on the windows, but an 8pm curfew. Released, but still not free.

April 3oth 2021, #unfold