Eight Short Stories
Set in a Tasmanian Apple Orchard
A small coffin questions God's mercy
Pick’n Season is an exploration of style. After writing the novel, Dance me, I was puffed with all the ‘she saids’, ‘he pondered’, ‘she exclaimed’. I wanted to try to write a story where there was none of that and little guide as to who was saying what except the context.
I hope you enjoy my experiment.
Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something – Thoreau
Ray a drop of golden sun
Me a name I call myself
Far, it’s too bloody far to drive.
Stop that Saul, the girls were singing beautifully.
Ohhh, but it is mum! Saul looked mischievous, then in a childlike voice chanted, when are we going to get there, when are we going to get there.
Oh, shut up Saul, we want to sing, come on Mum.
Let’s start at the very beginning …………………
OK kids, we’re into the last hour, how about a bit of shush.
Your father’s right, lets spend the last hour in silence, and you needn’t look so pleased with yourself Saul.
The trip down from Launceston was not far by Australian standards, about a 2 hour drive, but it was enough to test the patience of a young family.
I’m not looking forward to this. I don’t know what to say, it’s so devastating. Who would have thought, my own nephew, dead like that. Poor Avner.
Angelika sat in silence, there was nothing really to say. David had turned onto auto-pilot after receiving the phone call. She could tell that he was holding all his emotions in check. The kids sensed something, but their antennas were dulled by the long journey and now they sat in silence. Angelika did not know what she would say to her sister-in-law. What could you say? The loss of a child is unfathomable to those who have not experienced it. Angelika was determined not to say she understood, when clearly she did not.
David’s mind was blank, it refused to take in the enormity of what had happened to his sister. Instead he focused on the present and the myriad things that make up living from one moment to the next. I may be there a while, so I will let work know. You and the kids may as well come back after the funeral, no need for them to miss too much school. Make sure you pack my parker, it’s cold down there. I’ll go to the garage and check the car out before we go. Hurry up, I want to get down as soon as possible. Do you think I should fly straight down?.... OK, well hurry.
Angelika felt he had shut off from her, but she understood and was patient.
All the way down she had mulled over the last six months. They seemed like a surreal dream now. She couldn’t really say why she had the affair with Peter. Boredom, a bone-crushing attraction, a mid-life crisis? Who knows, but an affair she had, and now, at some time she would have to confess to David. Why confess, unburden my soul and burden his? God knows! But, for some reason she was compelled to. Was it to test his compassion, his forgiveness, his love for her. Well, that will have to be put off for now.
Mum. I’m scared there will be snakes.
Don’t be dear. Uncle Abraham said it was a freak accident. Just make sure you don’t go into any tall grass.
Mum. I don’t know what to say.
Just give everyone a hug, and say your sorry.
I think I’ll cry.
I think we will all cry. We should cry.
David seemed more and more pensive the closer they got to the orchard.
It makes our squabble seem insignificant now, doesn’t it.
So that’s it.
David, Avner is not one to hold a grudge, she will have put it behind her.
Yes, your right, my sister is they archetypal earth mother. She did not deserve this.
Tears started to roll down David’s cheeks. Angelika reached over and wiped them away with her hanky.
It’ll be alright David, we’re all here.
Laura and Sasha should be there by now. Sasha said he was catching the first flight from Sydney. That’s my brother, drop everything and rally round.
You sound bitter David, there’s no need to be. You don’t have to play the little brother in the shadow any more.
I know, habit I suppose. I really am looking forward to seeing them both.
I wonder if they bought Chloe and Rachael with them.
I’m sure they would. Kids, you will be able to catch up with your cousins.
What did that mean, Erin?
Oh, they’re always going on about the private school they go to, and all their snooty friends, and what cars they drive, and the holidays and the clothes. It’s a real pain mum.
Well, now is not the time to think about all that. Just be yourself.
Oh, I’ll be myself alright, the trouble is, so will they.
Here’s the drive. I’m not looking forward to this.
David pulled the Subaru in beside the rented BMW. Abraham opened the front door and strode out to meet them.
Avner, David and Angelika are here!
Angelika got out of the car first and went up to Abraham and enveloped him in her arms.
I’m so sorry Abe, so sorry.
David walked around the car and stood waiting for the embrace to finish, then he hugged Abraham and simply stood there, trying to say something but just standing, mute.
I understand, mate. Thanks for coming so soon. Come in and see Avner, she’s a mess. A dose of brotherly love will do her the world of good.
The children got out of the car and stood around awkwardly.
Come and give your uncle Abe a hug.
All three children ran over to heir uncle and the girls were soon crying. Saul held out for a while, then tears started to fall down his cheeks.
Thank’s kids, thanks for coming. Sarah will be glad to see you, she’s very upset. I bet your looking forward to seeing your cousins from Sydney.
Yes, uncle Abe, was the unenthusiastic response, un-noticed by Abe, who turned around and with his arm around Angelika walked to the front door to where Avner was standing.
David reached her first and embraced his sister tightly, while Angelika, Abraham and the three children stood by silently waiting to greet the distraught mother who seemed to exude calm, even in this intense circumstance. Like her brother, she was concentrating on the present, doing the everyday things that make up living. Get up, wash my face, clean my teeth, go to the toilet, damm need more toilet paper and Abe never puts the seat down, get dressed, one piece of clothing at a time. Stop. Pause to catch my emotional reath before going out into the living room where the family will be waiting. I really need the time to myself, their kindness is stifling. OH GOD, I AM SO SAD!
Sasha arrived last night with that stuck up bitch of a wife, both exuding sympathy. God I hate it. I know they mean well, but I just wish they’d fuck off. And those snooty kids of theirs. If they screw with Sarah I’ll claw their fucking eyes out.
Breathe deeply, I’m not like this, relax. They all mean well, smile...... no, I can’t smile.
It’s fine, Laura, I’ll make breakfast, what do you all want. No, please, I have to do something. Scrambled eggs, our eggs, fresh laid from free range chooks. A fox got three just last week, but Abe won’t hear of shooting them. The foxes that is, ha, ha. Bacon from Mick the butcher, the best in Tasmania. Wholegrain toast, butter. Coffee? .... Oh, that’s right, you have a special herb tea, don’t you Laura? Where did I put it last night? Oh, here it is. Coffee for you Sasha I’m sure, you used to love your coffee. Oh, your into the herb tea now, OK. And girls, what would you like? Herb tea, should have known. Herb teas all round. Well, I’m having strong black coffee!
Why don’t you all go over and see Rita and Solomon, they’ll be looking forward to seeing you and catching up on all your news. No, it’s alright, I could do with some time to myself, I’ll do the dishes while your away. No, it’s fine Laura, really.
Abe, my darling, everyone is so kind, and all I want to do is crawl into a small hole and die.
I think I heard a car pull up, I’ll go outside and see.
Avner and Angelika had a special bond between them. They recognised kindred spirits from the first time they met. Avner had just married Abe and Angelika had just begun to go out with David. Angelka detached herself gently from Abe and hugged her sister-in-law, gently rocking her to and fro. No words were spoken, there was no need, both women understood. The rest of the family stood patiently by, the children awkwardly, David and Abe standing silent. Then David impulsively walked over and embraced the two women. Avner smiled pensively at him, acknowledging his presence, a shadow fleetingly crossing over her face, dismissed instantly.
Come in, come in, it’s so good to see you all. Hello kids, come and give your aunty a hug.
Once inside Avner busied herself making coffee and getting softdrinks for the children.
The other children are in Sarah’s bedroom, I think. Why don’t you go and see her. She has been looking forward to you coming.
The children smiled politely and walked down the corridor to Sarah’s room. They knocked and then tentatively opened the door. Sarah was alone in her room.
Where are the others?
They wanted to go for a walk down to the creek. I didn’t want to go.
Saul, Misha and Erin then gathered around Sarah and gave her a group hug.
Were so sorry, Sarah, so sorry.
Do you know that Isaac’s gone to heaven, Dad said so.
Yes, we know.
In the lounge, the adults sat were sipping the strong coffee. Avner always made the coffee strong and treacly. The others poured in plenty of milk to dilute the caffeine.
There was an awkward silence for several minutes, as if the one topic on everyone’s mind was taboo, not to be spoken of. Eventually David looked directly at Avner.
How are you sis, really?
I’m shit, David, shit. I just want to die.
David nodded, slowly.
Avner gripped her coffee mug so hard her hands started to shake and hot coffee spilt onto her hands. She put the mug down with a start and licked the coffee off, sucking her hand where it had been scalded. All the while staring into eternity.
Do you need any help with the arrangements?
No, it has all been taken care of. Solomon has been a tower of strength. Rabbi Meir is staying with them and is helping. It’s funny how you cling to your religion in times like these. Father Harry came around. He is a good man, he came to offer his help and told us that many members of his congregation sent their condolences and offered there help. The Blackwood’s and the Crowley’s have made sure the grapes and apples are being harvested; I don’t know what we would have done without them.
When is the funeral?
The day after tomorrow, in the morning. We have permission to bury him on our land, we are going to put aside a small plot for the family. Rabbi Meir will conduct the service. We are making it just the family. Father Harry gently suggested that the community would like to have a memorial service. I’m not up to that, I couldn’t, I just couldn’t.
It’s all-right Avner, I’m sure everyone will understand.
My poor sweet boy, why, why ………….
Silence settled in the room, disturbed only by the sound of Avner crying and the soft voices of the children talking in Sarah’s room. Then the harsh intrusion of voices laughing and yelling out to each other.
Abraham looked annoyed.
I know their only kids, but ……..
The animated talking stopped just outside the house.
Shhhhhh, we had better be quiet.
The three children walked into the room.
Hello Aunty Angelkia, uncle David.
Due hugs and kisses were exchanged.
I didn’t see you leave, didn’t Sarah want to go with you?
No, Aunty Avner, she just wanted to lie down in her room.
Well, Saul, Misha and Erin are with her if you want to go in.
The three girls gave a false demure smile and walked dutifully down the corridor.
The adults exchanged knowing glances.
Is Ethan coming back from Israel, Abe?
Yes, he should be here tomorrow. Leah will be coming, but they left the children behind. I'm looking forward to seeing my brother after all these years. He is doing very well at the University.
Yes, I heard, Professor of Hebrew Literature no less.
What about some lunch? Laura and Sash should be back soon, I told them to bring Rita and Solomon for lunch. Could you give me a hand Angelika? Abe, why don’t you take David and go for a short walk.
I can take a hint, come on David, we are superfluous to requirements.
The two men left the house and started to walk towards the vineyard, Abe pointed out something of interest and David cupped his hands over his eyes, looking in the direction Abe’s hand was pointing.
Would you like a glass of wine?
I have a scrumptious moselle in the fridge. It’s by one of our local winemakers, they grow bio-organic grapes.
The two women cut, sliced and mixed while chatting amiably, at ease in each other’s company. It was what Avner desperately needed, a soul-mate to share the emotional burden. Abraham was her male soul-mate, her life-long lover, but that was not what she needed at this time. She also needed the feminine. The talk was of general things in each woman’s life, the small things of life. Angelika allowed Avner to choose the topics and the mood, she sensed that Avner was fragile and just needed some sense of normalcy to counteract the gaping wound left in her life.
Have you told David yet?
Angelika stopped tossing the green salad her hands buried deep within the leaves coated in olive oil and lemon juice. She stood silent for a few moments, collecting her thoughts.
No, now is not the time.
Again, silence, with the soft chatter of the children, the sound of a sorting motor in the distance and the tinkle of wind chimes from the verandah.
No, I suppose not. It’s none of my business, I’m sorry I asked.
I can’t complain, after all, I was the one who blurted it out to you, gave you a secret to keep from your brother. It wasn’t fair of me.
I love you both, you know that, and I’ll keep my counsel. Now, let me top that wine up, the others should be here any minute.
Oh, what a fabulous spread! Angelika it’s so good to see you after all this time, you look well, here, put that wine down and let me give you a hug.
Sasha was more restrained than his wife, after trying to seduce Angelika the last time they were together at the family Christmas. He was drunk and Laura was giving him hell, so his long smoldering passion for his sister-in-law erupted in a clumsy attempt at a pass. Angelika had been shocked at first, and then she had a fit of the giggles. That had hurt more than the rejection. Not to be taken seriously. Sasha was used to being taken seriously.
Hello, Sasha, here let me give you a hug, you look lost and forlorn.
Solomon will be along in a minute Avner.
Avner had just finished pouring wine into everyone’s glasses when David wheeled Rita in. Solomon following talking to Abraham.
Children, come out for lunch.
The conversation was amicable, with no more than the average number of barbs and cruelties present at any family gathering. The children helped themselves to food and then went to sit outside under the trellis.
I thought Rabbi Meir was staying with you.
He is in town, making arrangements. He has been very kind.
It was a stark reminder of why they were all together.
I think I’d like to have a rest, it’s been a hectic two days, I’ll leave you in the capable hands of Angelika and David. Coming Sasha?
Sasha hesitated, clearly he wanted to stay, but equally clearly he knew the consequences if he did.
Yes, that is a good idea. I’ll see you all in an hour or so. I believe you are sleeping over at the other house. Solomon was busy getting the spare bedrooms ready for you this morning. It’ll give you time to unpack and have a rest after your journey.
Laura led Sasha down the corridor that led to their bedroom.
Did you see that, she wouldn’t let me help her, but there she was all chatty with Angelika. I’ve tried to be considerate, but she just refuses all help. Poor, Abraham, it must add enormously to the strain of it all. We will just have to be firm, that's all. Oh, and go into the girls and remind them not to go anywhere near the creek or any long grass. This place must be crawling with snakes. I don’t know what they must have been thinking, letting him play outside unattended. It’s all very well for Avner to be the earth mother and fey and all that, but as a parent you do have a responsibility. I think we should fly home straight after funeral, or as soon as we decently can.
I’d like to stay a day or so.
Well, you stay if you want to. I had to cancel some important social engagements to come down. I’ll be able to make some calls in the bedroom, you can read a book or something.
Laura walked around the room with her mobile held in the air. She then stood on a chair and waved it about.
Damm, you wouldn’t believe it, no reception. Is this place still in the dark ages.
Abe said they were in the shadow of the hill. They’ve spoken about it and been promised another relay station, but I don’t think that he cares much either way. It’s rather good to not have a phone constantly ringing for inane reasons. Sasha laughed. The girls will be distraught. No wonder they were in a foul mood at lunch. I thought it was meeting all their cousins again. Come and lie down with me.
Oh, I suppose I may as well. You know we were working on some important matters when I was dragged away. I will have to ring on the landline this afternoon to check how it is going. Graeme Hennessy it one of our most important clients, he took us all out to lunch last week, at Edna’s Table, it must have cost a packet.
You didn’t mention it.
Didn’t I, I’m sure I did.
That must have been the day you came home tight.
I wasn’t tight, I had a headache, that’s all. You try working all afternoon after a couple of glasses of wine.
Why did you drink, you know it gives you a headache.
I couldn’t be unsociable, Graeme insisted, and the wines were exceptional.
I stopped drinking at lunch ages ago, getting old I suppose, I just can’t get any work done after if I do. What matter are you working on at the moment with Hennessy?
Oh, he’s taking the Penrith Council to the Land and Environment Court, deemed refusal. And he is challenging a refusal of a subdivision on the central coast. Oh, and he’s taking an action for libel against the Sun. What a hoot that is. We will collect a squillion in settlement, they won’t want to take it to court.
When isn’t that guy in court?
Don’t complain dear, the fees are enormous, it’s what keeps us in the luxury we are accustomed too, and helps pay those ruinous school fees. Speaking of which, have you spoken to the headmistress. I am not satisfied with Susan’s grades, we pay big money for our children to achieve the highest grades. Tell her so, don’t let her bully you.
I’ll speak to her, but I think that maybe your daughter could do a little more work. She seems to spend far too much time socializing or watching TV or playing sport.
She’s just being a typical young teenage daughter, you wouldn’t understand, being bought up out here in the middle of nowhere.
I just observed that the school can only do so much, it’s then up to Susan.
Nonsense, that’s why we pay the fees. If you won’t tell her I will. I wonder when it will be decent to go back out and face the ravening rel’s. I want to make that call.
I’m sure your office will have it all in control. Frank’s the partner in charge of his file while your away, isn’t he?
Well, he’s an excellent solicitor, he won’t fumble the ball, you worry too much.
He’s my client, and if you don’t watch out one of your nice ‘blokes’ will pinch him from me. You don’t know what it is like being the only woman partner. Gentlemen they are not. A girl has to use all her wiles to survive.
And what wiles do you use on Graeme?
Don’t be silly, none of course, what do you think I’d do, sleep with him. For goodness sake. I’m going out now.
I think I’ll read for a bit then come out. They will still be settling in over at the house and I think Avner needs some time with Abe.
Well, she can go for a walk with him, there must be something on this farm that need attending to.
Sasha picked up his book and began to read.
Put your things in this room, and the children can have the other room. I’m afraid they’ll all have to bunk in together. Rabbi Meir has the other room.
It’s O.K. dad, Saul can look after himself.
Solomon laughed, I’m sure he can.
I’m glad that the girls can look after Sarah, did you see the way they were mothering her.
Yes, it made quite a contrast to Sasha’s little triumvirate of little Laura’s……… sorry, I must be feeling the strain.
That’s understandable. I must say I noticed it too. Still, what can we expect. They're only children, they don’t see each other that often, and they obviously lead completely different lives. Then we expect them all to get on famously just because they're related.
Are you talking about the big children or the little children?
Now, now, Solomon, you are tired. That’s not like you at all, always the conciliator, the peacemaker. I remember last Christmas when we were all at each other’s throats, and you called a family conference and made it clear that you weren’t putting up with any nonsense and anyone who didn’t want to abide by your rules could leave.
Yes, yes, I know what I say. Still, I am only human, and, you must admit, these are inhuman circumstances.
Yes, you are right, we must not forget why we are all here. After all, whatever we may think of Laura and the girls, they are here.
Sash does appear to be a bit brow beaten though, did you see the way he was meekly led to the bedroom.
What can we do to help, is there anything that need doing on the farm?
No, it’s all in hand, as I told you, Adam and Jack have things well in hand. They insisted that we just concentrate on the family for the next few days. They are exceptional neighbours. We will have them over the day after the funeral and you can all catch up on old times.
I’ll go and unpack. Why don’t you have a cup of tea with Rita and I’ll be out in a while.
I think tea and chats will be the order of the day for the next while.
Rabbi Meir arrived back just as Angelika came into the kitchen where Rita, Solomon and David were sitting around the table in conversation.
Angelika, David, it is good to see you both. It was a good journey?
Yes Rabbi Meir, the highway makes it easy nowadays.
I am glad, I am glad.
A cup of tea?
Yes, please, I'm thirsty after so much talk. But everything is settled and you have permission to bury young Isaac on this land, just were you wanted. Everyone was very helpful, the council officers could not do enough. It is a small community and they feel the loss of the boy keenly. I know you need time to grieve and be with family, but you will need to allow the community to find closure.
Yes, we know, but Avner cannot face another thing at the moment. She is only just holding on. I wish David and Angelika were with her, still that is the way it goes.
Ross Vilismas will bring the boy out tomorrow at ten in the morning as you requested. I spent time with him today, he has done an excellent job.
Do you mean the Ross Vilismas I grew up with, is he the undertaker now?
Yes, he inherited it from his father-in-law, old Frank Brown. This area is growing, I think young Ross is a shrewd businessman, I suppose it runs in the family, after all his family own most of the shops in town. Remember when we used to go to the Austral Café just after it opened in the ‘50s. Strawberry milkshakes in those aluminum containers and those tall glasses to drink it from.
And my favourite, the passionfruit icecream soda. Those were gentler times, when we would sit for hours talking over a milkshake or a cup of tea. What has happened to them, why is everything so fast, why do the children have to drink and take drugs?
Mobile phones, text messages, the internet, sex education at primary school. Children aren’t given any time to be children. It should be a slow, agonizingly slow, a time full of adventure that comes from the mind, not from a television or a computer. Still, I know I am being an old fuddy duddy.
Oh, I don’t know. We haven’t let our children have a mobile phone and we strictly monitor their access to the computer and the television. But, mum, they are a fact of life and we can’t ignore it. What do you think Rabbi Meir?
It is, as you say, a fact of life. However, I come across too many young people who are confused with the choices our society offers them. Being confused they flit from one temptation to the next without settling. Soon, they themselves become incapable of the sustained effort needed to achieve anything worthwhile. They then turn to drugs and alcohol as a substitute. But this is not the counsel of despair. I also come across many splendid young people who are achieving all, and more, that can be expected of them. They will be worthy leaders of the next generation. I suppose the change of each generation leaves some people behind.
Ethan and Leah should be here tomorrow. It will be first time all the family has been together for years. You must be looking forward to it. Oh, I am sorry, how stupid of me. How can you be looking forward to anything.
It is all right my dear. It will be a comfort having the family around us. It will be a comfort for Avner and Abe. Now, I need a rest before the rigors of the evening meal, if you will all excuse me. Solomon, will you take me in please.
Shalom, shalom ………… it saddens me to see you under such circumstances my brother, and my beloved sister.
Ethan enveloped his brother in a bear hug that lasted for several minutes. He then strode over to Avner and kissed her forehead, before lightly brushing her hair back.
Shalom my dear, may you find peace in the bosom of your family.
Thank you Ethan, thank you Leah. Thank you so much for coming, we need family at a time like this.
The men have cleaned out the old worker’s cottage for you. It's spotless. You will have to have your shower over here though, and use the toilet at the shed. We thought it was better than having anyone sleeping in a living room.
That will be fine, fine. I’ll take the bags over. Leah, you stay here and chat. I’m sure you could do with a cup of tea.
I’d like to have a long shower first. Do you mind Avner?
Of course not, I’ll show you where the towels are. After you have both freshened up, come over and we will have a huge family feast. It will be in honour of my little boy. A celebration of his life and a farewell. Tomorrow we will bury him, but it will not be with sadness, for he bought so much joy into the world and the world owes him joy as he leaves us.