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The closing date, p.1
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       The Closing Date, p.1

The Closing Date
The Closing Date

  A short fictional story by Libby O’Neill

  Copyright 2015 Libby O’Neill

  Another writing competition. My pulse races as I consider all the possibilities that swim before my eyes. Fame. Fortune. A following of adoring fans. Sigh. My fingers itch. I dust off my trusty keyboard and my mind begins to wander, thinking of all the short stories I’ve cobbled together over the years. So many stories, so many thoughts so little time. When is the closing date? Can I tweak, fine-tune and polish off a suitable piece in time? Will I enter? Should I both to enter? What will I enter? What’s the theme? What’s the word count?

  I visit my imaginary filing cabinet, laying my palm on the cool, flat metal surface of the top drawer. Gripping the handle firmly, I slide out the heavy metal drawer, jam-packed full of cream coloured manila folders. Each folder contains a few sheets of paper with a short story printed in black ink on the crisp white pages. I remove pieces of paper, reading the headings of several short stories. Moving to the main body of one story, I consider its worth. In a dreamlike state, I toss hypothetical pages aside and they float to the floor like a tumble of autumn leaves.

  What are the rules of the competition? Fiction or non-fiction? It’s optional. Here’s a non-fiction piece. It speaks from the heart, doesn’t it? If I remember correctly, it deals with the angst and frustration of parenting. No. It’s too sugary and now I look more carefully, quite flimsy, like that finely spun, fluffy, sugared concoction that accompanies some desserts these days. It’s all promise and too little body. That was from my melancholic days when I was missing the children as they left home one by one. That was until they started crumpling their cars and demanding we fix their vehicles or replace them with another - immediately! That was before the kids started getting into real trouble. There was a period when one of them was on a first-name basis with the police and I don’t mean in a friendly way. There were long exasperated talks about responsibility and paying back money that was lent to them, all to no avail it seemed. Not to mention a large blue stain on our living room carpet that appeared while we were away one weekend. It can’t be removed. They never would tell me what that was. No, that one’s definitely out. Another sheaf of papers drifts to the ground.

  What about this piece? A little girl awaiting the birth of a new sibling? Her grandmother looks after her while her parents make the trip to the hospital. No, not that one, it’s over the top. Besides, it was based on that infuriating niece of mine, who was quite nice as a wee small thing but turned out to be a lying, thieving tear-away. She stole money from her mother and later managed to hood-wink the poor woman into believing she had to pay for her tutorials at university in cash, every single week! Her poor mother nearly had a nervous breakdown. Of course, there were no tutorials at university needing to be paid for on a weekly basis, it was drinking and partying money. But her parents couldn’t be told otherwise. They chose to believe their child no matter what was suggested. Come to think of it, they were quite naive. Thankfully, there never was any eagerly awaited sibling in that particular family.

  Of course, there’s the agony of worrying if it’s worth entering a writing competition. There are sure to be hundreds, possibly thousands of entries. I’m not the only one interested in writing. Surely there are others more talented than me. What chance do I have? Don’t be so defeatist. That’s not the point. If no-one enters there’s no competition, is there? People have to enter. It’s the nature of the thing, the spirit of the thing. Of course it’s worth entering. And anyway, if you didn’t like writing, you wouldn’t be thinking about entering a writing competition, so come on and get on with it. Talking of agonising, what about that story I tried my hand at, about the anxious teenager? Mm...? Who was that based on? The grunting answers and the interminable comment “whatever”. Oh no, that’s just too much like going backwards in time to those awkward years of rearing teenage boys. Who wants to hear about that? Perish the thought. That’s out.

  What will the judge want to read? What will they be looking for? That’s the question. What will the judge like? How the hell would I know? That’s like asking if our daughter will ever find a partner with a brain cell capable of thinking of something other than the television remote control and the invention of the ring-pull for the beer can. What about the country themed story? About the blended family that have a rough time of it, conquering bankruptcy and a cancer threat and then living happily ever after. What was I thinking? No. Perhaps the historical story based loosely on my husband’s family history? No, that’s been done and dusted and never, ever got anywhere. Even our children said they didn’t quite understand the storyline.

  What about the story about the young woman trying to recover from a broken heart and vowing never, ever to have another relationship. No, it wouldn’t seem right. That was based on the experiences of my cousin’s son’s failed relationship. How we loved that girl and he just tossed her aside like yesterday’s newspaper. Sigh. But it is sort of non-fiction. But to make it true non-fiction I’d have to be more realistic with the plot and then I’d be in trouble with my cousin, not to mention my cousin’s son. If I tweaked it a bit more and made it fiction and then won a prize, my cousin would still read between the lines and it would be on for young and old. No, that’s out.

  What about that crazy story I wrote about a man who signed up to do house-sitting for people in the Adelaide Hills and got himself into trouble when the owner’s daughter called by unannounced and found him trying on her mother’s clothes. He was a cross-dresser. That’s right. I’d forgotten about that one. Yes, not bad. But hang on a minute. I let my husband read that story and he got quite irate with me. He accused me of writing a tongue-in-cheek, yet slanderous story about his brother. Does that make it fiction or non-fiction? Well his brother isn’t a house-sitter, is he? Surely that fits the bill for the fiction section? Better not. My husband accidentally broke a two hundred dollar bottle of red wine that he’d been cellaring for four years after we argued about that one.

  There’s always death. Yes, what about a nice case of mysterious death? There’s the story of the nasty son that arrived at his mother’s house and got into a huge argument with her. It brought on a massive stroke in his mother and she hit her head on the kitchen table as she fell to the ground. He didn’t kill her, but he didn’t help her either. He waited and had quite a few cups of coffee and watched the television until she died. He was keen to inherit his mother’s house and cash up big. The nosey neighbour pointed out afterwards that something didn’t seem right, even though she couldn’t prove it. She’d heard them arguing soon after he arrived and then all went quite. He’d forgotten about the nosey neighbour. He thought she was dead. She was ninety two years old, a curtain twitcher and didn’t miss a trick. Yes, she’d noticed him drive his car up the driveway and stash it in the garage up the back, she hadn’t missed that. She’d also noticed it was another four hours later that a police car and an ambulance arrived at the house. She’d never liked her neighbour’s son, always thought he was a bad egg. That story was all right except I couldn’t settle on a title. What about The Curtain Twitcher or Through The Lace Curtain? Silent Observer? It wasn’t really a murder story, not exciting enough.

  I did start to write a murder story. I wrote it after visiting a caravan park in Victoria, about an intensely jealous husband and a harassed wife. In the story, the couple argue and he hits her and then strangles her, right in the middle of the caravan park laundry. In a panic he scoops up his wife’s body and shoves it in one of the giant industrial sized clothes dryers. I liked it, except I couldn’t figure out how he could hook up his van and make a run for it without out
getting caught in a hurry. I made him go back and put a sign up on the door saying ‘out of order’ to stall any snoopers. I still couldn’t figure out where he’d go next and I was sure the cops would catch him before he could board a plane to Thailand. There was never a couple arguing in the laundry, but the dryers were real. I’d never seen such huge industrial sized clothes dryers in my life.

  What have I got that I haven’t entered before? What are the terms and conditions? My hand hovers over a slim manila folder. I can’t put that piece forward again. I’m bored with it myself. It’s about a man with a prize vegetable garden, who insists on polishing his giant zucchini and showing them off to his female neighbours. He enters them in competitions. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Yes, it does have a slight sexual ring to it, doesn’t it? Perhaps I should have gone down that road. Smut Street and Dirty Talk Avenue. Apparently it’s the rave at the moment. People don’t seem to be able to get enough of it. Gagging for it they reckon. I should have listened more to my sister’s drunken conversations late at night, instead of putting in the earphones and turning up the music. I might have got a few decent tips. I’ve tried to think of a new take on the 50 Shades theme. Fifty Shades of Blue Moon - Vampire and Werewolf Romps. No. Fifty Shades of Green Fields - Love in the Outdoors. Nope. Sigh.

  Here’s something different. I pluck yet another cream manila folder from the depths of the drawer. What about this story called Coffees in New York? That was a silly remark made by one of my friends. She was joking of course, but I wrote it down as a possible name for a story. But after about four thousand words it just sounded like someone building themselves up for a trip to Weight Watchers because of all the non-stop eating and visits to cafes and restaurants. As if I could ever afford to go to New York. But my friend did have an amazing time there. I could put forward a non-fiction travel account of her holiday and perhaps add that hilarious tale about the woman who sat next to her on the plane and got drunk. She got drunker and drunker and then topped it all off with a couple of sleeping pills until she flopped in her seat with such a thump that my friend thought the woman had had a coronary. My non-fiction travel articles don’t seem quite lively enough. I could fictionalise the story about the drunken woman on the plane. Would that woman ever read the story? Would she ever find out? If she read the story would she recognise that it had been written about her? That’s a difficult one, but worth thinking about. I’ll put that one aside and think about it later.

  More coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Oh, what about the story about the middle-aged woman who was having a hard time with menopause. She developed a stealing habit. She visited as many coffee shops and cafes as she possibly could over a six month period and stole a teaspoon from every single one of them. Her sister knew about her strange teaspoon collection. She knew what her sister was up to and was embarrassed for her and decided to become an amateur detective, following her, creeping around corners and up laneways, turning up when least expected and moving the crockery and condiments around on the shiny tabletops in an effort to distract her sister. No, it just didn’t come out quite right, did it? That one can go. And another sheaf of papers drifts to the ground. I sigh in despair. Better get a wriggle on.

  What about the plight of the immigrant? The refugee? That’s very popular these days. The language difficulties. The job insecurity. Not to mention the racism that gets flung around and the verbal abuse on public transport. Oh, hang on a minute, that’s just the evening news bulletin I can see out of the corner of my eye. I haven’t actually written anything about that particular social issue. Worth considering. Must concentrate. Get back on track. What about global warming? The environment? That’s very in. Yes. Now we’re on to something.

  Here I am, two weeks later. Where does the time get to? I’ve swept up leaves, composted, mulched the roses and pruned the apple tree. I’ve found a fantastic weeder solution that you mix with water and spray directly onto the weeds in between the pavers. Its working wonders in the courtyard and I got myself a new pair of gardening gloves from the specials bin at Bunnings to replace my old tattered ones. I’ve written a jolly marvellous three-page Bushfire Survival Plan, should I ever be asked to enter one of those into a competition. Yes, procrastination, anything to put off writing that prize-winning piece. Oh, damn, look at that, I’ve missed the bloody closing date.


  Thank you for reading this story, I hope you enjoyed it.

  You are welcome to visit my website:

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