Congratulations to Greg Hall who came second in the NorthWrite 2018 Short Story Competition. Here is his story. The winner’s story is available here and the third place getter will be published next week. Judges’ comments can be found here.
by Greg Hall
A wise man told me that everyone carries a pig on their shoulder. The pig chatters in your ear, seeding doubt, trying to destroy you. I made friends with my pig long ago.
Danny comes to the window and peers out. His morning breath clouds the window and bounces off the glass. I have to back away. Then I point.
‘That’s a truck, Dad.’
‘I can see it’s a truck, Danny. I heard it last night, or was it sometime this morning?’
‘Whatever, Daddy-o, it’s still a truck.’
‘And it’s still there, Danny.’
‘Yeah, it’s still there because it’s mine. I brought it yesterday.’
The pig wakes up.
‘Bought it – you bought it yesterday.’
‘Why, Danny? Why did you buy a truck and – when you’ve answered that – how…? How did you buy a truck? You don’t have any money.’
‘Okay, fair enough, Daddy-o – two questions. Here’s the answer to the first question. I BROUGHT the truck because me and Tim and Nigel are starting a band and the answer to the second question is – hire purchase. I put five hundred down from the money you gave me and I’m paying it off.’
The pig says, ‘Oh dear.’
Option one is where I call him stupid, ask what the hell he was thinking and remind him again that he and I have an agreement – HAD an agreement – that he would not, under any circumstances, ever, just go off and do something on a whim. He will call me a control freak, say that if I was so shit hot how come I’ve been fired from the bank, how come I’ve broken up with his mother and then – really, Dad, you’re just a fuckin’ failure and now you’re trying to turn me into one too. I tell him I was not ‘fired’ by the bank, I was made redundant and he says ‘whatever’. Then he storms out and gets drunk for the next three days and I have to go pick up the pieces wherever they land, which might be the police station or my ex-wife’s place or somewhere far away. Once I had to drive to Palmerston North.
So I stop and think about the other way.
The pig is disappointed.
‘Danny, I have a suggestion.’
‘How about you have a shower and put on some fresh clothes and I’ll make breakfast.’
‘Scrambled eggs with toast, ham and coffee?’ he says.
‘And then we’ll talk,’ I say.
‘Whatever,’ Danny says.
He appears as I’m spooning out the eggs onto the hot toast. The coffee is done. Two cups side by side, flat whites – along with DNA the only thing my son and I have in common.
‘Looks great, Dad.’
We eat, and drink coffee then we push the plates away. I get up and put them in the dishwasher.
‘Can you do another coffee?’ he says.
‘Let’s talk a bit first.’
‘Oh, okay, your rules, Daddy-o.’
I let that slide. ‘So, Danny, can we just unpick this situation a little.’
‘Uh-oh, a situation,’ he says. ‘Go on, Mr Tailor, unpick away, James – James Taylor – Tailor, get it?’ Danny laughs and sits back on his chair, arms behind his head, big grin on his face, waiting. I take a deep breath.
‘Before we get to the truck, let’s talk about this band.’
‘What band?’ Danny says.
‘Danny, come on.’
The pig whispers, ‘Take option one.’ I ignore it.
‘Which one – out of you, Tim and Nigel – plays an instrument? I’ve never heard you talk about playing music, so I’m just wondering about this band.’
‘Dad, we won’t get anywhere if all you do is dump on my ideas. Okay, so right now we may not be a band but after we’ve practised and had lessons and stuff, who knows?’
‘I’m not dumping on your ideas, Danny. If you and the others want to put a band together, then all power to you. What about instruments; where are you getting them, who’s playing what?’
‘We got, like, two guitars and a set of drums with the truck and we’re gunna experiment…See who’s best at what.’
‘How do you mean, “With the truck”?’
‘Well, the truck was two grand and the dealer said he would throw in the instruments and, by the way, Dad, quite a lot of other stuff.’
‘Throw it in?’
‘Yeah, well, for another two grand. It’s good gear.’
‘So, you owe four thousand?’
‘Nah, like three and a half because…’
‘Oh right, I forgot about the five hundred. So you and Nigel and Tim owe three thousand five hundred. About twelve hundred each, right?’
‘Well, right now it’s all in my name, so theoretically, I suppose, I owe it all and Tim and Nigel owe me.’
‘Danny, what about paying off the computer, like we agreed, and the course that you said you always wanted to do, at tech.’
Danny sits there, arms folded and looks at his feet. I lean forward on my chair. He pushes himself further back and stretches his legs.
‘What happened to Mum’s five hundred?’ I say.
‘Jesus Christ, Dad. You want a chat and it always turns into a fuckin’ interrogation, doesn’t it?’
‘Where’s the other five hundred, Danny?’
‘Look, it’s just, like, gone, okay? After we spent it and I realised that, yes, once again, in your eyes, I’ve totally fucked up, I thought, like, I’d better do something about this and that’s when we found the truck and the instruments…And that’s the plan, Dad. We’re gunna be a band and we’re going to, like, earn money and I’m going to pay you and Mum back because that’s what you want, isn’t it – money? You’re obsessed by it.’
I look down at my knuckles. Pure white and shaking despite the grip on the chair.
The pig whispers to me. I nod.
There’s a knock on the door.
‘Saved by the bell, Daddy-o.’ Danny laughs and throws his hands up.
I get up to answer it. There’s a man at the door wearing a cheap suit and carrying a briefcase. ‘Mr Martin?’ he asks.
‘I’m Mike Mackenzie from Mackenzie’s, the second-hand traders.’
‘Can I come in? I’ve got these guarantee papers for you to sign, you know, for the loan on the truck and the instruments.’
‘I’m not signing any guarantee.’
‘Oh, okay, well that’s no problem. I’ll just collect three and a half grand, plus an early repayment fee of five hundred, Mr Martin.’
The pig tells me to smash Mackenzie’s smug face in.
I take a deep breath. ‘Look, why don’t you just take the truck and the gear? It’s all out front.’
‘I saw that, yeah, but listen, we don’t have any interest in the truck. Your son owns it. He just owes us the money. Look, Mr Martin, seriously – this is what happens, right. You walk away. Your son owes four grand. It soon becomes five. You don’t make the payments, we take him to court. We get judgement and then what? It’s now six grand and he can’t rent a house, he can’t hire a car or get a power account, and he can’t buy a telly or a washing machine. No one wants to know him. He’s stuffed. Look at the guarantee, think about it. I’ll come back in a couple of hours.’
He hands me the papers. I stand very still then ask him to come in. He looks happy. We walk into the kitchen. Danny stands up. I tell him to sit down. I ask Mr Mackenzie to sit down. He does. He hands me a ballpoint pen and opens the document to the signature page and indicates where I should sign.
The pig whispers to me.
I look at Danny and smile at the memories of the last twenty years. I take the ballpoint pen and, holding it in both hands, break it in half and hand the pieces to Mr Mackenzie.
‘Mr Mackenzie,’ I say. ‘Mike. I’ve always thought that I had only two options when dealing with my son. The first and most used has been anger and abuse. The second, reason, discussion and tranquillity. Neither approach has worked, Mike. Now you’ve come into our lives and I see another way, one that I had never before now considered and I want to thank you. You see, Mike, you’ve made me realise that this is not, in fact, my problem. You’ve lent him a great deal of money in the expectation, both yours and his, that I would sign your guarantee and that the two of you would be protected. He from any responsibility and you from a bad debt. That’s the third option – right?
Well, here’s the fourth option. Mike, and it’s perfect. You shove your guarantee up your arse, and Danny, get your stuff – I’ll help you pack the truck.’
‘Now wait a minute,’ Mike says.
‘Dad, you’re not serious,’ Danny says.
‘Oh, yes he is,’ says the pig.