Mt. Erebus - a short story

A little something different today, a (very) short story I wrote recently...hope you like it.

She says, “Come on, dad. Let’s look at some books”. And he follows, little shuffle, almost like he’s naughty – toddling behind, roles have been reversed. But it’s warm, the way she speaks to him. Encouraging. She points out the books and he picks them up and has a leaf through like it’s a colouring in book or word-find, well, they’re all word-finds now.

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He is looking at a bunch of books about NZ travel and adventure and then he picks up the biggest one and it’s about the Erebus disaster. And dutiful daughter says, “dad has just about every book about Mt. Erebus”. And you can’t quite tell if she’s talking to you – or him. And you settle on it being information for both of you. So you jump in with some enthusiasm. And she cuts you off, but in a pleasant tone, she has more information you see.

“Dad was a QC – and he worked on the Erebus case. Fought hard for a lot of money for the families of some of the victims”. And then she strokes her father’s hand, reminding him that it’s a very special case and that he did very special work. He nods, looks at his feet, is apparently pleased that both shoes are still where he last put them. And then he shuffles over to a new stack and finds a brand new book about Jack Lovelock.

More skimming of pages. More back-story arrives from his daughter. “Dad was a big reader. He’s got a huge collection of books. All the law books which we might one day donate – when that day comes of course. And then lots of other books. I guess, growing up in a house full of books, I just took it for granted. My kids all have Kobos and laptops and phones and I want them to discover books. We were so lucky”. And then she turns back to him, “weren’t we dad? We were so lucky. Thank you dad!”

She smiles. And is actually upbeat. She buys some books. And then her dad asks if he can borrow some money to buy the book he’s holding. It’s pantomime. Copy the action you see. Attempt the old normal because if by rote you don’t succeed, try and try again. She tells him that she’s bought some books already and he can read one of those. She doesn’t put air-quotes around the word ‘read’ – but if she was writing the story there’d be air-quotes around the world ‘read’.

And then the old boy is totally lost. He has no idea where the book should go. A tear rolls down his cheek. He shuffles his feet but doesn’t move anywhere at all this time. Panic is setting in. It’s not just the place for the book he’s worried about. What is this place? How did he end up here? Oh, and where does the book go? Where does the bloody book go?

So you tell him to leave it with you. And he speaks for the first time really, he says, “sorry. So sorry. I’m sorry”. And you say that there’s nothing to be sorry about and that he’s been a pleasure to serve and that he’s the best customer of the day. And he grins. It’s a little-boy grin. A schoolkid. He picks up his heels as the feet shuffle this time. Out the door with a smile and into that huge world that is ever-narrowing.

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A while back I shared my interview with Ben Elton I have since made the audio of that available as the latest episode of my podcast. So if you’d prefer to listen to it - or want to revisit the interview and hear the quotes I used as they happen see the link below for a 20-minute chat with the comedy legend.

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