Cross your fingers: a short story

The sound of the radio wakes
me.  Saturday morning and the
announcer calls out the details of the horses that will be running in the
various race meetings of the day.

I turn over and his pillow is
empty.  A typical Saturday.  I find my man in the kitchen, toast
crumbs on his plate, the newspaper folded to a manageable size. He holds a red
biro in his hand and with it circles the details of each horse and race to
establish where he will put his money. 
His preoccupation with the form guide borders on insult but I do not
take offence.
I
start the day by loading whites into the washing machine, whites and lights
first, followed by the darks.  When
the basket is full to overflowing I take the clothes out behind the apartment
block and hang out as many as the line can hold.  I try to keep the excess washing to a minimum forcing
clothes together as closely as possible and sharing pegs.  I know it will not speed up the process
of drying but to me there is a certain satisfaction in a full washing line
without a chink of light between the clothes.  Recently there has been an underwear thief in our
neighbourhood.  I do not relish the
thought of some stranger stealing my knickers, worn and un-sexy as they may
be.  I will hang our underwear on
the small clotheshorse that stands on the balcony of our apartment.
My
man  comes out to say goodbye as I
clip his shirts in order of colour to the washing line.  ‘Wish me luck,’ he says.  I wish him luck and any niggling
feeling of dissatisfaction I tuck away inside the peg bag.  My man provides for me while I am a
student and have very little money of my own.  If my man wins today we might go out to a flash restaurant
and if he loses they may yet turn off our electricity next week because the
bill is still unpaid and long overdue. 
Ours is a tempestuous life but I tell myself I like that.  I thrive on the uncertainty.  Never a dull moment I think as I hang
out the last of the white handkerchiefs.
The
day goes by quickly enough, floors to mop, the toilet and sink to go over with Ajax.  I do
not dust the surfaces in the bedroom as there is too little furniture in there
beyond the bed to warrant it, but I dust everywhere else and in the kitchen I
wipe down the bench tops and scrub the stove clean with a hard scrubbing
brush.  I drag the vacuum cleaner
from the bedroom to the lounge until my back aches with the effort.  Bend and straighten. This is good exercise
I reason and the rewards are great. 
Soon I will have a house that is spick and span, my man will come home,
and we will be able to relax in the comfort of a clean home.  I cross my fingers and hope for a win.
My
man has devised a system whereby he can maximise his returns.  He is ruthless.  He does not become emotionally involved
with the horses. They generate an income that is all.  Twilight and I hear the clip of his heels in the stair
well.  The door rattles open.  The look on his face tells all.  We do not say a word but crawl into bed
for a coupling that offers comfort to both.  He for his day on the job and me for my domesticity.  Afterwards we will decide what to do
for dinner. 

25 thoughts on “Cross your fingers: a short story”

  1. That reminds me, I must do some housework. I can't believe how messy a house becomes when a recuperating husband is left to his own devices.
    Physical nearness can be a panacea, tho.
    Karen C

  2. Wooh. Not bad.

    I see Helen Garner in the Ajax.

    Well I'm governed by the concept of a celebration naughty, but how's this:

    The look on his face tells all. We do not say a word but crawl into bed for a coupling that offers comfort to both. Then he reaches for his trousers, pulls out a wad of money. "I won," he says.

  3. An interesting piece. Unlike others I don’t see the ending as a happy one. It’s all to do with phraseology. That final sentence is vague enough that it could be read either way. For me the key word is ‘comfort’. This is not a celebratory coupling. He doesn’t throw her on the bed, toss handfuls of dollar bills over her and then exercise his husbandly rights in the middle of all that cash. No, they comfort each other. That’s the one thing that even the poorest cannot have taken away from them. The fact that their electricity is going to be cut of feels a bit clichéd and predictable. Why not ‘repossess the car’ or something along those lines? I don’t like the word ‘tempestuous’ because this is the calmest story I think I’ve ever read. Where is the tempest in their lives? I might be tempted to use ‘vagarious’ because chance dictates whether they will live in comfort or in fear but it’s a mouthful. I’m not saying she’s not intelligent enough to use a word like that but it still feels wrong. I might have said: “Ours is a life left (abandoned?) to chance,” and leave it at that. The lack of contractions bothers me a bit too. This is just an ordinary woman talking here and yet, because she doesn’t use normal contractions, we get the feeling as if she’s considered every sentence. More 18th century England than suburban Melbourne. Other than that I would have a look at using some different synonyms to see if you can milk a little more meaning out of the story. It’s like the opening sentence—‘wakes’ is perfectly fine but what about ‘jars’ instead? Unless she wakes gently. It’s not a big deal but in a 600-word story you need to make every one count. Flash is like poetry in that way. On the whole I liked this. It reminded me of the opening chapter to The Body Artist which describes a very ordinary breakfast in the same careful and considered way.

  4. I need to get to my own vacuuming, the dust bunnies are bold enough to start rolling around the floor now.
    My dad used to spend a lot of time betting on the horses, always looking for the get rich quick race. Once he did win big, he put his last ten shillings on a long shot and came home with 400 pounds. A huge amount of money in the sixties. It didn't last long.

  5. I liked the story. I also took the ending to mean the husband or boyfriend lost at the racetrack.

    Since she's a student, I'm guessing she's in her 20s. Yes, you can go to school at any age, but a woman who decided to do that at mid-life wouldn't take up with a gambler. If she had already been with this gambler for a long time, and enjoyed the "tempestuous" lifestyle, why return to school? It only makes sense, to me, if she's young and can't quite decide between a romantic (life with a gambler) or realistic (getting a good education) view toward life. My guess is realism will win out. Either way, the clothes still need to be washed and dried.

  6. "My man" seems to put distance between the two of you and I'm left with the feeling that there was nothing permanent about the arrangement. The uncertain finances would seem to verify that. Not much future there!

  7. Nice way to damn a thing Jim, by calling it "interesting".
    She didn't give it a happy ending, I did. A lot of what you say is inaccurate. Maybe you should read it again.
    I've had my electricity cut off and it wasn't a cliche, it was a fact. And would you know much about suburban Melbourne, really?

    She's writing outside her experience but has done it pretty well. I've definitely known pie-in-the-sky blokes like this.

    The detail here reminds me of a Chekov story about a carriage of travellers pausing at a remote homestead for refreshments. They're waited upon by a nice looking daughter (I can imagine). As she dashes about she's watched admiringly by one of the young travellers (a male of course). In the end nothing has really happened, it's all detail, domestic chore, and the travellers go on their way. Meanwhile there's a strange little fact; an annoyance to me: no matter how close you feel to another person they have their own business, there's always distance.

    And so Elisabeth's effort. Is it a good story, that's the point.

    Yes, it is.

  8. She has become dubious about the relationship. 'Her man', repeatedy – a bit old-fashioned to call one's partner that. It does not seem as if they are married. I can't help but wonder at the comment of Jim Murdoch, 'exercising … husbandly rights'. It fits an old fashioned way of how couples functioned, married or not.
    The stereotype of a gambling man is not apparent. At least he did not come home and beat her up because he didn't win. At least he came home and sober enough to want to seek comfort with his woman.
    I agree that if the female is at college, she must be quite young. It sounds as if it is an older woman speaking though.
    Her man is 'ruthless', he doesn't become emotionally involved with the horses. No horse gambler does. He was also 'ruthless' to her in the morning, but emotional enough to want to seek comfort when he didn't win.
    I found that the story didn't quite hang together. I've read a few blogs by Elisabeth and this story has too many gaps.

  9. It strikes me, Karen, we all need to find ways of comforting ourselves at times, whether with housework or physical closeness or any of the myriad other ways we humans find to soothe our troubled souls.

    Thanks, Karen.

  10. Great suggestions, Jim. It's funny how much a few words an make all the difference. I suppose I was trying to capture an experience, a time and I prefer not to use contractions in my writing generally unless I'm using dialogue. It seems more story-like to me, at least for my stories but I can understand others might prefer the contraction for the reasons you suggest.

    One day we might try out a writing workshop on line, though it could be tricky, the written word is open to interpretation and feelings could get hurt.

    As for the ways we comfort one another, I agree they can be simple, as simple as a brush of fingers across a hand.

    Thanks, Jim.

  11. It's rare for the proceeds from gambling to last long, River, at least in my experience it is. So many lives are ruined by it when it could be a harmless pastime, if kept in check.

    As for those dust bunnies, best of luck getting them under control.

    Thanks, River

  12. You're right, Kirk, even in the most romantic of scenarios, the clothes still need to be washed and dried.

    As for my protagonist, I expect she's young, and as you say, had she been older she's more unlikely to take up with a gambler.

    But a student's life can be a tough one, survival wise, especially these days. Though this story is set in the past, at least it is from my perspective.

    Thanks, Kirk.

  13. Not much future in this relationship at all, Ms Sparrow. I had toyed with calling my man, my lover, but it didn't sound right. Nor did I want to give my man a name, that too did not seem right. Besides 'my man' has a wonderful possessive quality.

    Thanks Ms Sparrow.

  14. Thanks again, Robert. Comparisons to Chekov are welcome, though I won;t let myself run away with it. Not everyone reckons this story works, though the business of reading is so subjective. What works for one fails miserably for another.

  15. I'm sorry the story didn't hang together for you Pviljoen. I had intended it to be somewhat 'old-fashioned' in the sense that relationships like these are less likely today, at least I hope they are.

    Thanks for your critique, Pviljoen.

  16. It's Chekov and it's Katherine Mansfield, and there's loads of washing on lines all over Melbourne in homes where spouses are murdered, with prints on the walls from happier times. Relationships like you've described are not less likely today, relationships took a hit in the 1960s and have never recovered.

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