This story is now my second to make the long-list for the Australian Writers’ Centre’s ‘Furious Fiction’ comp! Along with the usual conditions of 500 words in 55 hours, the September challenge required the following: include at least one element from the periodic table; include something that buzzes; contain the words traffic, jowls and hidden; and the first and last words must begin with s.
Hope you enjoy my take on this below. Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter @debhannagan
To read this month’s amazing winner and shortlisted entries, check out https://www.writerscentre.com.au/blog/furious-fiction-september-2019-winner-and-shortlist/
Nitrogen and Phosphorous
‘Stop that racket, Percival,’ came a voice in that high-pitched cackle old ladies get.
The barking ceased. After a grunt of effort, the gate swung open. A white-haired woman and a stroppy-looking pug emerged.
‘Daisy Martin?’ I held up my badge. ‘Officer Peter Riley. I’m here to ask some questions about your neighbour, Jack Parker.’
‘Cup of tea?’ she smiled.
I inwardly cringed. Maitland had sent me out here to cross his t’s and dot his i’s. This lonely old dear would try to keep me talking all day. I pasted on a smile as she lead me inside.
The place was dark and had that smell old-people’s houses get. Mothballs, talcum powder and lard. I was glad when she suggested we take our tea in the backyard.
‘Beautiful garden… So peaceful out here. No traffic.’ I looked at her. ‘And you live on your own.’
‘I’ve got Percival.’
The dog puffed out its chest in affirmation.
‘It’s two months since Jack Parker went missing.’
‘Yes, terrible business, that.’
‘Can’t make you feel too safe out here. A woman of your age.’
She sipped her tea.
‘I do alright.’ Taking the lid off a ceramic jar, she proffered it. ‘Biscuit?’
I leant in with a grateful grin and nabbed a Scotch Finger while Percival enviously licked his jowls. I flipped open my notebook.
‘Did you notice anything unusual on the day Jack disappeared?’
Her brow wrinkled.
‘Not that I recall. It was a pleasant day. There was a nice breeze. Perhaps he decided to go for a walk by the river as he often did.’
‘Did you get along well with Jack?’
‘As well as any neighbour.’
Sucking tea from the shortbread, I scanned the notes.
‘Another neighbour mentioned you and Jack had a dispute over a tree.’
‘Yes.’ She gestured towards the fence line. ‘That beautiful gumtree. Jack complained it dropped leaves into his yard. Can you imagine? Why live out here if you don’t enjoy nature?’
‘True… He also complained about your dog barking?’
‘Yes,’ Daisy smiled. ‘Jack liked to complain. But then, we all have our vices, don’t we?’
She gave me a wink and I fought the urge to laugh. What did this old biddy know about vices?
On the way out, I spotted a massive, sprawling vegetable patch, buzzing with bees. A quaint wicker basket sat beside it, full of produce – giant zucchinis, vivid kale and fat blood-red tomatoes.
‘Wow! Those look amazing. What’s your secret?’
‘Nitrogen and phosphorous,’ she smiled. ‘Please, take some. There’s more than Percival and I can eat.’
As I jumped in the car, a grocery-bag loaded with vegies on the passenger seat, I laughed – it hadn’t been a fruitless exercise after all.
I was glad I’d resisted the urge to spike that presumptuous young officer’s tea with oleander. Did my back last time. Gathering up the basket, I eyed the mound of vegetables surging from their hidden nutrient-source.
‘Shh,’ I whispered to Percival. ‘It’s our little secret.’