Particularly Complicated When The Snakes Show Up

Background:

 This Story was submitted to the Oct 2018 round of the Bath Flash Fiction Prize. 

The story was highly commended and was printed in the 2018 Bath Flash Fiction Anthology – ‘things left and found by the side of the road’ available via Ad Hoc Press.

Judges Comments by Nuala O'Connor:

This flash uses the colloquial in a pitch perfect way, the reader understands very quickly that we’re in the Antipodes and that there is violence and danger all around. Brilliant verbs too. Beautifully done.

Story:

The mice slow them down.

During dry spells, I never spot the tiger or brown snakes as they slide away, slaloming through the sinewy grass of the paddock, keen to see the back of me.

Give us heavy spring rains, like this year, and the mice arrive in torrents, a scratching, squeaking, stinking tsunami. For the snakes, a bumper crop mercilessly devoured into increasingly torpid, bulging sheaths.

“Watch yourself.” Mum warns.

Dad finishes the arvo shift at three, gets home by quarter-past, a handful of workmates in disorderly tow.

At five, Benny, who is slurring the least, lights the barbie.

“Red-headed idiot using a Redhead match.” Dad says, and everyone laughs like they hadn’t heard it yesterday.

I’m on the shuttle run, beer fridge to back-yard, so I keep my boots on, the ground littered with discarded bottle tops, serrated edges that bite into your feet like fangs.

The charcoal infused choke of recently incinerated meat slides away on the breeze along with their mood. They sit in silence, half-drunk stubbies gripped in coal mine calloused hands, Dad with his head down so you can’t see the scales slide across his eyes, the flick of his tongue.

The brooding lingers until they call it a day and drift home.

Cleaning up means I don’t have to go inside, not be around when it kicks off. If mum says nothing the bruises won’t show and she can walk us to school tomorrow. My sister hides in her room, fearing: the knock, the cruelly gentle first touch, the venom that hardens her heart.

I load the empties into the bin and the clatter almost drowns out the first slap.

Still only dusk, so I jump the fence and head for the paddock, not caring where I put my feet.