Copyright 2009 Holden Sheppard
Published by Holden Sheppard at Shakespir
Originally published in Indigo Journal, Volume 3 (March 2009)
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Should a short story even have an acknowledgements page? Am I breaking some kind of unwritten rule of publishing here? Very quickly, then, before some publisher snipers me – I’d like to acknowledge the super cool people who helped bring this short story into the world.
I wrote A Man as a writing assignment in my second year of uni and as far as I was concerned, that was as far as it would go. Luckily, my lecturer encouraged me to submit the story to journals, which I did. A Man was published a year later in Volume 3 of Indigo Journal – a fantastic journal which showcased Western Australia’s literary talent.
I’d like to acknowledge Dr Marcella Polain, who encouraged me to take a chance on this story, Richard Rossiter, the editor who saw its potential, and Donna Ward, Managing Editor of Indigo Journal who helped me whip it into publication-ready status.
Three forty-four. The phone screams. Who? Why? At this time? I throw my hand onto the bedside table. Nope, that’s the wallet. Bit more to the right. Nope. Sunnies. Nope. Keys to the shed. Nope. Photo of Nat and me at Christmas. Ah. Smooth plastic. The phone. Hello? Missus who? No, I don’t remember putting your leach drains in four months ago. What? Well, how is that my fault? It’s the middle of the bloody night, ring back at seven. Then call t hem if they’re better at it! I don’t care. Let me fucking sleep!
5:16. Disentangle myself from Nat’s warm body. No, honey, everything’s fine. No, I just need to take a leak. Throw off the Egyptian cotton sheets she made me buy her. Cold. Cold. Cold air. Cold bathroom tiles. Clumsy path to the dunny. It takes a while to piss cause I’ve got the usual morning boner. I half lapse into sleep again while I stand over the bowl. I yawn, grunt, wash my hands, stub my toe on the edge of the doorframe and fall back into bed.
Half five. Alarm spews breakfast radio shit at me. Wrestles me out of bed. No, babe, nothing’s wrong. Just gotta get up for work. Work. Fucking work. I pull on my boxers and stumble through the dark house. Dark passage, dark kitchen. Dark laundry. My work clothes, still on the floor where I left them last night. I forgot Nat wants me to wash them myself now. Shit. I hold up the fluorescent yellow shirt. Sniff sniff. Yesterday’s sweat. Yesterday’s acrid grease. The blue pants are no better. Grease. Sand. Sweat.
Quarter to. A trail of sand follows me from the laundry to the kitchen. I reek, but there’s nothing else for it. The other pair of work clothes is still on the line. I cover three Weet-Bix with 99% fat free milk. Haven’t had full cream since Nat moved in.
Dawn. The truck won’t start. It’s a cold morning. I glow it again. It gives a weak cough and splutters out. On the fourth go the engine roars and we’re off. Past the half-acre lots with cream-brick houses. Down Barrett Street, to the industrial estate. Stop at old Barney’s Deli. How’s it goin Barney. See the Eagles got flogged last night? Bet ya a carton youse don’t make the eight now. Haha. Yeah, just the West and an iced coffee. Cheers, mate. Seeya s’arvo.
Ten past six. Third best part of the day. I’m always first to the yard. I throw the padlocks off the old metal gates and charge up the gravel driveway in third gear. I park the truck behind the big shed. The sun’s in my eyes but not too much. I sit, turn the radio up a fraction. Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution. Sweet iced coffee. Sport section. Fraser’s still out with a shoulder injury. Wood’s been suspended so he’s out of the ruck too. Fuck.
Work. John’s ute rolls up in a cloud of gravel dust. Reckon he takes the driveway in fifth ay.
Gives me a nod and goes to open the shed. Last drop of cold coffee.
Chuck it to the floor of the truck. Jump out. Fifteen steps over
the metal dust. Into the shed. How’s it goin John. Want the
West? Righto. OK. Right in town? No worries. I’ll bring the truck. Seeya there.
Seven. Fucked if I can find anywhere big enough to park the truck in the main street. Ah, that spot in front of the bakery looks alright. Should squeeze in OK … Shit. Kerbage. Sounded rough. Ah well. She’ll be right.
7:01. Hello? Hey babe. What’s wrong? What? Mrs Bailey? Oh yeah, I told her to call back. Her leach drains? I don’t remember ay. There’s a file in that big cardboard box in the wardrobe, it’s got all my paperwork in it. Can ya just have a look through it and see if you can find the job I did for her then? Mm. Yeah, I know you’ve gotta get ready for work but – OK – OK – thanks. Thanks babe. You’re a legend.
Twenty past. Witch’s hats surround me. It’s not gonna be a long job, probably just today. Just gotta dig a shortish trench. Chuck in a coupla conduits to link together the two pipes we laid last week. Some new thing for the council. CCTV or some shit. John’s still on his way. He had to call past the depot and run something past the foreman. Spose I’ll just wait.
Half seven. Fuck this is boring.
7:35. Bakery smells good. Sausage rolls straight out of the oven. Warm jam donuts. Sugary apple slices with piles of fresh cream on em. Pretty blonde behind the counter. Looks about twenty. Nice rack. How’s it goin. Nah, I already had brekkie, cheers. Youse got a dunny I could use?
Dunny. Iced coffee goes straight through me.
Ten to eight. John rocks up in his truck. He parks it on the other side of the road. Brakes screech. Runs the kerb more than I did. Front wheels are completely up on the footpath. Mad cunt.
Cutting. Sparks fly out from the blade of the road cutter. I hold the ten-litre watering can closer and cool the blade. The orange sparks die, but smoke and dust are still rushing up into the air. The roar is almost unbearable. You’re meant to wear earplugs when you’re this close to the saw but we don’t have any. Don’t think it makes a difference anyway. John swivels the cutter around and starts the next cut through the bitumen.
Half eight. I’m greasing up John’s mini-excavator when a car horn blasts right next to me. I’m about to pull the finger at whoever the prick is when I see it’s Nat. She’s pulled up in her green Excel on the other side of the road, next to the truck. Waving me over. She’s got a bit of paper in her hand. John gives me a nod. I put the grease gun on the excavator tracks and run over to Nat, dodging traffic. Hey babe. What? Oh, you’re a legend. So I did do her leach drains then. Cheers for that. Yeah, I know you’re in a rush. K. Have a good day at the branch, babe. Love you too.
Work. John scratches the gravel underneath the bitumen with the big metal teeth on the excavator’s bucket. I stand back and lean on my shovel. If there’s a rock or a dead pipe, I’ll need to have a dig around. But there isn’t.
Smoko. About time. The smell from the bakery’s only been getting stronger over the last half an hour. Pretty blonde’s still behind the counter. Hows it goin. Yeah, just a sausage roll thanks. Yeah, one of the plain ones on the top rack. (Top rack alright.) And sauce and a coke. No worries. Smells good. Tastes even better. Beef. Fuck being a vegetarian. Wash it down with coke. Quick piss in the bushes on the empty block behind the bakery. Back to work.
10:04. Dig. John’s run into a heap of old copper pipes crossing the trench. All dead, but we gotta dig around em. Or, I do. Sweat’s stinging my eyes. Arms are cooking and darkening. Hair’s wet under the old Akubra. Shovel, shovel. Mute smell of damp sand. Clang. Dead pipe. Tsunk. Clean sand. Clang. Tsunk.
11:27. More pipes. Dig. Clang. Tsunk.
Lunch. Nat’s branch isn’t that far from the job. Figure I’ll say g’day to her at least. Have lunch. The main street’s busy. It’s Fridey. Even the bank looks packed. I step into the aircon. Shit. There’s a fair queue. Ah, there’s Nat. She looks real professional in her red top and black jacket. Might give her a wave. Hey babe. Hm. She looks busy. Might have to wait in line then.
12:06. And wait.
12:10. And wait. Oh, nah, you can serve someone else, I’m just here to see Nat. No worries.
12:11. Hey babe. What, how was that embarrassing? Mm. Just came to see if ya wanted to get some lunch, cause I’m just down the road today. Not till one thirty? That’s a pretty late lunch. Mm. Fair enough, yeah. Righto. Seeya tonight then, babe.
Quarter past. Hows it goin. Yeah, back again. Yeah it was good. Might get a pie this time though. Beef thanks. No sauce. Yeah, another coke. Ha! Reckon it’s warm in here? How bout we trade jobs then? Haha. Righto. Catchya later. I step outside the bakery. John’s sittin on a milk crate on the footpath, just inside the witch’s hats. Good sausage rolls here ay John? Haha. Yeah, she’s got a fucken big rack ay? Fucken oath. So we just gotta lay them last two pipes, glue em in, fill the trench and we’re done. Gravel or metal dust? Right. I’ll get a load from the yard later and bring it back here.
Half twelve. Jump back into the trench. John puts the conduits on the edge. I take the orange one and put it on the bottom of the trench. Make sure there’s no sand inside the rim. Right. Chuck us the glue, John. Cheers. Fuck that reeks. Just about gettin high off it already. I brush a smear of blue glue around the ends of the conduits and shove em together. Right. Chuck us the other pipe.
Ten to one. Dig. I sink the shovel into the pile of cleanish sand. Gotta cover the pipes well before we chuck the gravel on. Fucken hot now. Sweat’s stinging my eyes. Arms are cooking and darkening. Hair’s wet under the old Akubra. Shovel, shovel. Mute smell of damp sand. Tsunk. Clean sand. Tsunk. Clean sand. Tsunk.
One o’clock. Tsunk.
Wacker. My bones vibrate as I push the wacker packer over the trench, compacting the sand. One, two, three, four times.
1:34. Nat’ll be on lunch now. Wonder if she’ll come past and say g’day.
Quarter to. I glow the truck. Get him on the first go. Clunk. Off the kerb. Crank the radio. Khe Sanh. Chug down the main street, windows down. Off to the yard for a load of gravel.
2:35. The excavator bucket scrapes against the truck’s metal tray. Worse than nails on a blackboard. John scoops up a bucketful of gravel and swings the boom around one-eighty. I stand back. He shakes the orange gravel into the nearly full trench. I walk over the loose gravel in my shoes. Compact it down a bit.
2:36. John scoops up a bucketful of gravel and swings the boom around one-eighty. I stand back. He shakes the orange gravel into the nearly full trench. I walk over the loose gravel in my shoes. Compact it down a bit.
Twenty to three. I lug the wacker back over the trench. Bones vibrate. One, two, three, four times over.
Sweep. John loads the machine up onto his truck. I grab the big broom and sweep the gravel dust and shit off the road, back into the trench. Day over.
Half three. I pull the truck into the yard. Park it beside John’s. Wipe my forehead. Fucken hot one today. Woulda got to forty easy. Wouldn’t mind a few stubbies. It’s Fridey anyway. I jump outta the truck. Fifteen steps over the metal dust. Into the shed. Grab a six-pack of Draught from the old fridge. Fuck it. I grab another one. Catchya Mondey, John.
Twenty to. Chuggin down Barrett Street. Stop at old Barney’s deli. How’s it goin Barney. Yeah, not bad ay. Just a little job for the council. Nah, we’ll still flog ‘em. Chuck young Richards in the ruck and we’ll be right I reckon. Yeah, just the milk. Cheers, mate. Seeya Mondey.
Four o’clock. Second best part of the day. I sit down on the concrete porch. Take me boots off. Crack open the first stubby.
Beer. Cold. Cold beer. Cold and crisp and bitter. Perfect end to a hot day. Perfect end to the week. I rest my forearms on my knees and look around the front yard. The palms are dying. Have been for ages. Should probably water them, but it never makes any difference. The land’s too dry for them here anyway. Still, they hold on pretty well. Still a bit of green at the centre of some of the leaves. I sit and watch the other people in the street coming home from work. The sheila across the road rocks up in her silver Camry and gives us a wave. Forgotten her name but I wave back. Grab another stubby. Ah. Even if it’s a bit warmer, it’s still beer. I chug it back. It’s a good drop, Draught. I look over at my red ute. Fuck, it’s needin a wash already. Should do that this weekend. Should keep it in good order. Might need to sell it soon. Shit. Shit shit shit. I sink the stubby and grab a third. Fourth. Fifth. Sixth. Second six-pack. Warm beer. It’s not so bad once you get used to it, I spose. Mm. Just takes getting used to, that’s all. The metal dust crackles as Nat’s green Excel rolls up beside my ute. She looks upset. Her face is red. Hey babe. How was your – never mind. She steps over me on the porch, opens the door and goes inside without a word. I wait a second and decide to follow. Fuck. Didn’t feel them beers till I got up.
Dusk. I drop my daks and shirt in the laundry and walk down to the bathroom in my jocks. The water’s running. I don’t need to knock. Warm air. Wet air. The fan’s whirring loud. Hey baby. I know she won’t say anything back. Her face is already streaked with blue mascara as she looks at her reflection. Like every other night. I move in behind her. Put my head on her shoulder. Kiss her ear. I rub the belly. It’s getting big now. Only three months to go. Hey. It’ll be alright, babe. Hey. It’ll be alright. It’s gonna be so good.
Best part of the day. Hot water on her lips.
Tea. Steak and vegies. Cauliflower, carrot, peas and mashed potatoes. Bottled tap water for her. Eighth stubby for me. Nat puts on some Fleetwood Mac in the background while we eat. During Tusk she looks at me and nearly smiles.
8:49. Mobile vibrates in my pocket. Dave and them blokes are goin to the pub to watch the footy again. I text back some shit about copping a root off the missus. Nat shifts on my lap and turns the volume up on Miss Congeniality.
Nine. Hello? Who? Mrs Bailey? Yeah. Yeah I got your message. Mm, but it’s nine o’clock on a Fridey night! Yeah I know I did your leach drains four months ago. Mm. OK. Look, give us a call first thing Mondey mornin, orright? Yeah, I’ll sort it out. I will. Cheers. Bye.
9.15. Fuck. I’m buggered ay.
Half ten. “Babe. Wake up. The movie’s over. Come on. Let’s go to bed,” says Nat.
Ten forty-four. Haven’t pissed yet. Shit. Off the couch. Nat must’ve gone to bed already. Drunken path to the dunny. Half lapse into sleep again while I stand over the bowl. I yawn, grunt, wash my hands and stub my toe on the edge of the doorframe. Nail on my big toe looks like it cracked but there’s no pain. Ten stubbies. I fall into bed beside Nat, head swirling. Fuck. I’m gonna feel this tomorrow.
About the Author
Holden Sheppard is a Perth-based fiction writer originally from Geraldton, Western Australia. His short stories have been published in Indigo Journal and page seventeen. He has also written for the ABC’s The Drum, DNA Magazine and FasterLouder.
A graduate of Edith Cowan University’s Creative Writing program, in 2015 Holden received an ArtStart grant from the Australia Council for the Arts. During 2016, he undertook an Australian Society of Authors mentorship to develop his first novel.
Holden spends his spare time reading, listening to rock music, working out, playing video games and watching (or quoting) sitcoms. He may be the only writer in history to switch to decaf and live to tell the tale, and he’s quit smoking more times than he cares to admit.
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You've walked past them on a street corner before: a mob of men in high-vis gear digging trenches, operating machinery and shit-talking. But what's going on inside the heads of these blue-collar working men? In a male-dominated and taciturn environment, where talking is restricted to instructional communication (required to get the job done) and shooting the breeze about sport, cars, women and dirty jokes, emotion is often off-limits. What happens to these men's innermost thoughts, feelings and fears? A Man is a short story presented as a series of vignettes in stream-of-consciousness form, documenting the thoughts of one Aussie labourer during a single work day.