Happiness and Gloom or how I handled the lockdown.

Short Stories

Copywrite Peter l. Barnes April 10th 2020

“Fred, what are you doing?”

“Clearing the garage like we agreed,” said Fred.

“Still. You’ve been doing that for days,” said the voice from the kitchen. “What’s taking so long?”

“Clearing out thirty years of storing my stuff in the garage will probably need more than one day,”

“Hoarding you mean,” came Mabel’s voice, grating on Fred’s ears like a rusty file on sprung steel.

“The same as your sewing boxes and cloth scraps.”

“Whatever, I’ve left your breakfast on the steps.”

Fred took the plate, which in theory, mimicked the delicious breakfasts they’d had in Sydney Harbour. Of course, Mabel always bought the wrong type of avocado, so instead of lovely lumpy green and tasteful delight, what was on the plate was a flat mush of nothing, making the limp toast, more soggy than usual.

Fred gazed around the garage wondering where to start, looking up at the cobwebs where spiders had been self-isolating for decades.  I wonder what they get to eat, hopefully the annoying mosquitos or maybe each other. Do spiders get stuck in their friends’ webs, he wondered.

Not wanting to be disturbed again, Fred tried to get the old analogue radio to work, hoping to drown out the sound of his wife’s voice. But the old radio no longer tuned in, probably a cracked ferrite rod unable to pick up signals. Fred had tried the new-fangled digital radios but had never found a station. More attempts to tune into Radio Four only brought more crackling noises, made worse by the worn-out speakers.

Talking of flying insects, one wasp seemed intent on getting into the garage and disturb him, if not sting him. Fred took an old sandal and threw it across the garage, completely missing the offending wasp but luckily hitting the door, slamming it shut, effectively barring its intrusion, as well, thankfully, his wife’s moaning.

“I’ll start with the childrens’ toys,” he said to the pile in the corner.

An old bus, which had been used to help the toddlers walk, now rusted and forlorn sat on the top shelf.

“Maybe somebody would be able to restore that and make it useful again,” said Fred, dusting it down and replacing it on the shelf. “Wow, the old castle I built for the boys, now long gone to warmer climes. That definitely can go to the charity shop, once they reopen.”

A box held old teddies, worn and stained from years of hugs and tea parties, but still with the buttons in their ears.  “They could definitely go to the auction room,” declared Fred. The toy car collection, still in their original boxes could bring enough money for a holiday, he didn’t watch ‘Flog It!’ for nothing.

“Gosh is this still here. I thought I’d thrown it out long ago,” said Fred, dragging out a beautiful coffee table. Hand made by himself, as requested by Mable. Crafted wooden legs and struts, varnished instead of French polished, after an attempt to follow YouTube videos, failed to live up to expectation.

A wooden model sailboat, painstakingly put together to try and demonstrate that he did have the patience, not of a saint perhaps, to complete such a complex work. Finished and proudly presented to Mable, but not allowed to be displayed on the mantlepiece, dismissed as a dust trap.

A cot and high chair saved for any grandchildren that might come along but now that his sons and daughter were spread across the globe, unlikely to be needed, but bringing back fond memories of crying and food spread across the kitchen floor and of course, nappies. Well maybe not such fond memories, reflected Fred.

A box in one corner held the treasures of holidays long forgotten, a batik from South Africa; a boomerang from Australia; a flag from America and posters of trips including a memorable poster of him swimming with dolphins, which despite the claims on the poster, did nothing for his wellbeing. Maybe swimming with a mermaid might have been more his style, assuming he was a merman.

One memorable trip was on a cruise ship to the Mediterranean, where Mable had been taken down with a food bug and confined to the medical suite, allowing him to enjoy the pleasures of relaxing by the pool, watching the nubile ladies diving into the water and generally lying about in the sunshine.

He started ticking off all the power tools and separating them into two piles. One for those he used frequently and those he would probably never need. But on reflection he put them all into one pile for ’keep at all costs’. This clearing out was not going well so far. Moving onto all the spare wood he kept from whittling, to offcuts allowed him at last to find things to throw away, although it was still quite a small pile.

A big box in one corner was his old parts for cars and bikes. There were several parts that could definitely thrown out as they applied to vehicles sold many years hence. But getting to the bottom he pulled out a long cable.

“There you are,” he said to the cable. “How did you get in here?”

Now he was talking to inanimate objects, whatever next thought Fred. But this cable was special, it was bought for the bike he was storing for 20 years and after years of searching he had found the cable on the internet but had been distracted when it arrived by Mable struck down by a mysterious bug. Fred was sure she would get these bugs whenever she thought Fred was drifting away and enabled her to demand his full-time care.

He had thrown it into the box in frustration and it had obviously slipped to the bottom, never to be found again, ‘til today. “Why didn’t I clear out the garage earlier.”

He went over to the back of the garage and slowly hauled a tarpaulin off the object in the corner.

“Silver, how are you?” He wheeled out the huge gleaming motorbike out of the corner admiring its gleaming chrome and silver paint job. Still as wonderful today as the first time he had bought it. Actually better, many years of stripping, polishing and painting had turned it into a gleaming monster. The battery was still on trickle charge for which he thanked his foresight, that maybe one day he would get out on it again.

He took the object out of its protecting plastic and opening his tool box and connected the clutch cable from handle bars to the lever, carefully threading it though the channels. A quick pull showed that the cable was still free and capable of allowing him to change gear.

“Now, where’s my box of biking equipment?” he said, searching for his collection of biking gear. Leather and helmet donned and boots pulled tight. He was almost ready. He opened up the door, “Just off to the dump, dear.”

The sun was low on the far horizon, as a whirr of a motor lifted the garage door. Shafts of light swept around the garage as the sunshine reflected off the chrome. A click of the key and a rumble as an engine burbled into life. A clunk, as first gear engaged. The wonderous almost forgotten smell of oil and fumes swirled around the garage and drifted out into the street.

A scream from the kitchen door, as Mable realised what was happening.

“Right,” said Fred. And with a twist and a roar and a shout of “Hi Ho Silver.” And with thoughts of William Tell, Fred and bike disappeared into the fading sunlight.