Category: ‘Seven Ways’ Short Story Collection
About the ‘Seven Ways’ series.
I decided to write these pieces after my brother’s best friend committed suicide. He was missing for ten days only to be found drowned in the Yarra River. His car was located nearby plastered with parking tickets. Although I did not know Shiva intimately, we did play in different grades at the same sporting club. He always had a smile on his face and appeared to be a confident and talented young man. He was an ‘A’ grade student and progressing well at university.
For numerous weeks after his death I struggled to comprehend why Shiva had chosen this path and thought something sinister had happened to him until the autopsy concluded that there were no suspicious circumstances. Up til that point in my life I had been lead to believe that suicide was only for pop singers or desperate people who had no other way out. He listened to Nirvana but so did everyone else in the MTV generation and most of us are still alive. There has to be an answer somewhere I believed, so I started writing stories about suicide in the hope that something would reveal itself and it did. Nothing can be done to prevent the thought of suicide.
In memory of Shiva Pillai (1977 – 2001). We try our hardest to understand but never will.
Photo by Phil Ostroff
Jeremy had always abided by the law of the Australian land and lived his life guided by a perception of fairness and common sense. He drank his first beer on his eighteenth birthday, kept his virginity till his wedding night and routinely declared his income to the tax office. His wife of forty years, Kay, was of the same ilk except she had one little secret – a secret she had long forgotten. When she was seventeen, she sipped a glass of champagne at her mother’s fortieth birthday party when no one was looking; seemed so trivial then and even more so as each day passed since. In a rare moment of peaceful abnormality, Jeremy and Kay decided that their turn had come; to let common sense override any law and to set precedence for the creation of a new law.
Jeremy sat on the edge of Kay’s bed where her quadriplegic body lay motionless. Mid morning sunlight was almost a pleasure as it painted thin rectangles of hope in the shadows cast by the dusty venetian blinds. Jeremy had taken half an hour to feed Kay bacon and eggs – the same meal that had welcomed them to their honeymoon in May, 1971. They had both licked their plates back then but today Kay didn’t manage half a ration of bacon let alone the yolk of an egg.
‘Well, my love, we better begin as arranged.’ Bill smiled the best he could.
‘Go right ahead.’ Kay managed to stay focused.
Keith and Bev began their dinner which Bev had prepared after work. The meal had varied little during twenty years of their marriage. Grilled lamb loin chops, mashed potatoes and boiled peas. Keith always smothered his meal with tomato sauce.
‘Brian,’ Keith screamed in between mouthfuls of potato, his patience running thin. ‘Get out here and eat your dinner. It’s getting cold.’ Keith looked to Bev. ‘I’ve had enough of this. You prepare a meal and that boy has no respect. I’ll go and fetch him.’
‘Don’t worry, love.’ Bev tried to calm Keith a little. ‘They’re teenagers, you know how they are.’
It didn’t take Keith long to polish off his meal and begin walking down the hall towards music he had never heard before. As he reached Brian’s room, West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys became too loud for his liking. What is this crap he kept thinking until he opened Brian’s bedroom door. Brain lay naked on his bed with David on top of him just as naked.
‘What in God’s name is going on here?’ Keith’s jaw dropped for a moment as he tried to comprehend. ‘You can’t be a faggot Brian, you’re my son. It’s your influence David, isn’t it. Get the fuck out of my house before I strangle you.’
David froze, too scared to move.
‘Now!’ Keith reminded him as he stared intently at the young couple in disbelief. He couldn’t hold the stare forever and lowered his head in disgust. Keith’s heart uncontrollable started to sink to the bottom of the ocean as he began to foresee the depths of despair. He thought of slamming the door but was trapped in slow motion. Instead, he gently closed the door and walked back towards the kitchen.
‘What’s up?’ Bev said with anticipation. ‘Is he coming to eat?’
Keith didn’t respond, he didn’t even look at Bev.
‘What’s got into you?’ Bev searched for a response but Keith silently walked through the kitchen and went outside to his work shed.
Photo by Sylvia
Ivan knew he could be boiled down no further; playing background music over dinner. He played Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies, over and over for the ungrateful guests at the Eternity Hotel, a very respectable hotel in all its five star splendour. Ivan had no real choice but to play. Quite simply, he needed the money to eat, pay his rent, and to buy the odd indulgence; otherwise he’d be somewhere well away from here, where all the keys are black. He entertained the thought of giving free piano lessons to poor but talented students as a debt he owed for his art, the art which had once given him his opportunity, instead he pessimistically crushed this thought in order to spare someone else the trauma of his experience.
Each night, as he played the same set pieces to the occasional clap he remembered the thrill of the symphony orchestra and how he was the centre of attention playing his favourite piano concerto. The uplifting personal exhilaration when bowing to thunderous applause on completion of Rachmaninov’s famous piano concerto number two, lingered among his everyday reminiscences. He never questioned touring Europe and America being totally devoted to his art and how he had sacrificed family and friends in the pursuit of perfection. One series of events though, clearly stood above everything else at the forefront of his mind; that one horrid week when he had been bed stricken with influenza; how Beatrice, the French viola player, had convinced him to rest and that everything would be back to normal when he was well again.
It was three weeks ago now but I remember every detail. We had been driving for about half an hour when we finally passed Frankston, the last bastion of Melbourne’s suburban south. The family conversation in the car had lulled and was gently overtaken by sleep provoking music drifting from the only useful component a car has, the radio. Three down, one to go, no not me, I was the chosen one, chosen to guide my family safely to Rosebud as they all slept. Half an hour to go I calculated as we passed some gently reassuring road signs ‘Stay Awake, Stay Alive’ and ‘Beware Drowsy Drivers Die’.