Brief story: Cannot You be Severe, Jack?, by Vivienne Lingard


“Kathleen and I beloved each rattling factor about one another”: an sad love story


There was an odd odor haunting the foyer, like left over lamb’s fry or blood sausage, and a draught. A door slammed. Ah! – the butcher’s store backing the alley. I tugged the tweed hat just a little decrease down my brow and scrawled my title and handle throughout the lodge register.

“Kathleen,” I mentioned, groping for the receptionist’s hand, which she yanked from my grasp. She tossed her near-black curls and glued me with these brooding eyes.

“Visitors, Jack. In case you hadn’t observed.” I hadn’t. “The important thing,” she mentioned, sliding it throughout the desk so quick it landed on the ground.

I made for the steps, pausing on the touchdown to look again at my spouse. Kathleen was stooped over a two-bar heater rubbing her fingers like loopy. Her bottom regarded spherical and welcoming in that blue-flecked wool skirt pulled taut. I lifted my fingers to whistle, however thought higher of it. She was chilly sufficient already.

Fifteen years we have been married Kathleen and me. Fifteen years for crying out loud. Fifteen years of sharing a mattress and he or she acts like she will be able to’t stand the sight of me. It was a gag, that’s all; thought she’d search for on listening to my voice and in opposition to her higher judgment, tilt again her head, toss these curls and giggle. I’d smile, attain for her hand and inform her I missed her like mad. Inform her we’d work one thing out.

What the hell was I going to do now? I questioned, as I turned the important thing to room 108. I loosened my tie walked over to the lopsided mirror and shoved my face on the glass. Wanted a shave already. God – my hair! It regarded like I’d shoved a fork in a light-weight socket; no surprise they name me Rooster. Kathleen used to stroke my ginger mop, saying she thought it beautiful, and that it gave me character. Character. I ask you? Nonetheless, I obtained used to it over time, like my nickname, or a wart.

I plopped down on the slender mattress and surveyed the modest room with its pyjama-striped partitions and the once-yellow candlewick bedspread.

“Mary mentioned Robert was having one among his spells. They’re getting worse, Jack,” Kathleen had confused, after coming off the telephone three weeks in the past. “He’s going to Dunedin for an prolonged break, and I’ve instructed Mary I’ll go down and assist her out.” A breakdown extra prefer it: as if I did not have a clue how her brother was. As if I didn’t know the household’s euphemisms for each damned factor, like our ears had been too tender for the reality. As if we had been the youngsters they couldn’t have.

“What if I don’t need you to?” I had requested, receiving that imperious look she may accomplish that nicely.

As soon as, Kathleen and I couldn’t bear to be parted. Beloved each rattling factor about one another we did.

There was a scuffling outdoors my room. I tiptoed over, slowly turned the deal with and pulled the door ajar to search out – Kathleen, with an envelope in her hand. “I forgot to present you this,” she mentioned.

“We’re married,” I mentioned. “Nobody’s going to suppose you’re a tart when you step inside.”

“I can’t. Mary and I are off to see Robert tonight.”

“What concerning the lodge?”

“I’ve defined within the word,” she mentioned, handing over the envelope, earlier than turning her stately again.

I plopped again on the bedspread and ripped the bloody factor open. We have to discuss. Mary and I can be in Dunedin tomorrow. Kathy Jamieson, a cousin of Mary’s, is right here to take care of issues till we get again. We must be dwelling by 5. My suggestion is, that we go someplace for dinner. Kathleen.

No ‘love’, no nothing. And he or she hadn’t mentioned a factor about our youngsters who I’d farmed off to my mom.

It was uncanny the day Kathleen left Christchurch for Oamaru. She was on the prepare, her hand a glint in opposition to the glass, her face already a blur, when a type of déjà vu moments dropped in on me. I used to be in military uniform, days from deployment, eradicating the lemon squeezer and bowing low amongst the catcalling cluster of lookalikes on the windswept platform. And dark-haired Kathleen together with her dimpled grin, waving, waving, like her hand would fall off, till the carriage lurched from view.

At the very least I got here again, Kathleen, no less than I got here again. I did my job. Served my nation. Loads of my mates by no means made it. God, don’t get me began on the struggle.

Kathleen stopped educating as quickly as she grew to become pregnant with Janice, and with every succeeding beginning (there was James, Colin and Beverly), she gave extra of her life away, particularly the relaxed and pleasing facet of her nature. She was such a fairly one again then, a trainee instructor once I first noticed her, final seat within the carriage, ft on the wall, utilizing her knee as a e-book tray. What a coup, that dropped pen, and my hand snatching it up, identical to that. “Excuse me, madam,” I mentioned, grinning like a clown at an A & P present. When she smiled and people little dimples pinged in every cheek – I used to be finished for. Nonetheless am.

 “Can’t you ever be severe, Jack?” she’d say once I instructed a cracker. Severe. She may have written a bible on Severe. She’d certain picked that up from her mom. That, and the ‘Robert may have been a health care provider or lawyer if it weren’t for the struggle’ expression they tossed at each alternative.

“And what do you do,  Jack?”, Mrs Broughton requested the primary time Kathleen launched me.

“I run a library service,” I mentioned, attempting the grin once more. “I’ve my very own van.”

“A travelling library?” she enquired, eyes widening into great o’s. “With a kiwi painted on the facet?”

“Yep, that is the one alright. Painted by yours really.” Impressed Kathleen that did, and the books, she loves books one thing loopy. I smiled generously in Mrs Broughton’s course, and turned my head to obtain Kathleen’s acknowledgement of my largesse, however discovered her semaphoring madly to her mom from the lounge room doorway.

“I’ve made tea, if you would like to return by way of to the eating room,” my sweetheart mentioned, because the stocking-seamed legs of Mrs Broughton scissored forward of me. After which Bobby boy strolled in, in his whites, straight from cricket observe. “Robert is a pure at most sports activities, and has a very tremendous tenor voice,” his mom relayed, whereas he chomped on sandwiches as cool because the cucumbers inside them.


Within the morning, I used to be like a child heading for exams as I slunk down the steps. “Gidday,” I muttered to a grey-suited man scurrying previous. Now he was hogging reception. However I may see Mary’s cousin was a little bit of all proper. Simply stroll casually previous, that is the ticket. Increase my hand, pleasant like. I believe I’ll take myself off to the gardens. Give me time to sharpen my mind and put the seduction plan into motion. “Oof,” I muttered, forcing the doorways that had caught each winter since Robert and Mary took the place over. “Simply shave the wooden a sliver”, I’d inform them, however you simply can’t assist some individuals.

The fog was a foot off the bottom; the sky and city zipped collectively like a sheet of metallic. Garbage bins banged and rolled alongside the asphalt. At Eden Avenue intersection the milk vans breasted by way of the fog. I watched their taillights, my breath sitting on the air, and gathered my wits plus my bearings. Maybe I’d step it out a bit, benefit from the train whereas I may. Ah, the bakery’s lights had been on. “Appears like a flip within the climate,” I mentioned, smiling to the hair-netted lady behind the counter. She didn’t return the smile. However no less than the sky had lightened by the point my Boston Bun was down the hatch. I unbuttoned my coat, shoved my scarf in a pocket and turned west of city. It was good on the rise, very nice gazing out to the ocean: the fog rolling again just like the lid of a sardine tin, the ocean all a-shimmer. I made it to the gardens and shared a inexperienced bench seat with a slope-shouldered mom and her child – a thin little factor with black gumboots sizes too massive.

My youngsters are 13, 12, 10, and 9; all sturdy and lovely. Or was Beverly eight?

It was solely 3:30 once I obtained again to the lodge, however I scooted up these stairs to room 108. Give me loads of time for titivating.

After my bathe, I relaxed on the mattress in a inexperienced tartan robe, with Kathleen on my thoughts. For ages now, it felt like Kathleen was punishing me: when she would not let herself have amusing, and, derided my makes an attempt to be amusing. After which there was the contempt. It began with tennis. I beloved tennis, we each did early on, however as soon as the youngsters got here … “Do not let me cease you going,” she’d yell to the van’s receding bonnet. And I’d reverse onto the highway, brakes screeching, and drive to the membership feeling like crap. We shouldn’t have had youngsters. It killed our relationship; I’m satisfied of that. However how did you cease them coming? Cease having intercourse? When the federal government was urging us to ‘rebuild the nation’, like we had been concrete blocks or bits of 4”x2”, and handing out financial incentives for every child? Get a grip. She was worn out with all of it, that’s the reality of it. And as for intercourse, that completed with the final beginning.


I nearly forgot the time. “Good night, Madam,” I mentioned, as I approached reception, protecting the smirk from my voice.

“Hullo, Jack. Guessed you is perhaps early.”

“Sure, nicely, wouldn’t need to maintain a fairly lady ready.” I mentioned, attempting for the half-smile.

“It’s been an extended day,” she mentioned. To me, or the temp, I couldn’t inform. “Chances are you’ll as nicely go for dinner.” She continued, “Mary can be down shortly.”

Kathleen waited till the cousin had gone. “I’ll get my coat,” she mentioned. I avoided reaching out for her as we negotiated the stiff doorways and stumbled out to the road. A brisk wind coming off the ocean made me flip up my collar and return my hat to my head. Then, simply half a step behind, on a close to empty footpath, I adopted my spouse, recalling her considering our hometown frigid. She was now taking a blue scarf from her purse and fastening it round her head. I watched the lengthy ends flap behind her like a ship’s ensign. I so wished to tug at that scarf, to unfurl the lengthy mushy curls with scarcely a touch of gray and rub my face in her fragrance. She may have been a mannequin she held herself so proud. A snooty look, a stranger might need mentioned. However I instructed her, “You could possibly have been a mannequin, Kathleen”. We walked a block or so, steps nearly in unison previous kitchenware retailers blinking uninteresting greetings, till we got here to a small cafeteria, horribly ablaze below fluorescent tubing.

“What about right here,” she mentioned. “Nothing fancy, however the meals’s okay.” I glanced briefly on the chipped Formica tables, the 2 scarf-wrapped patrons and again to Kathleen. “So long as you’re glad,” I mentioned, pushing open the door.

I sat reverse my spouse, threading questions between mouthfuls of oxtail soup and buttered white bread. She regarded up from her spoon with a glance I discovered arduous to interpret and dipped it again within the bowl once more. Solely after her bowl was empty did she converse to me.


“Sure.” I mentioned, leaning nearer, attempting to make her take a look at me.

“You aren’t going to love what I’ve to say.” And when she checked out me, I needed she hadn’t. I glanced across the hideous room. I dabbed my mouth with a serviette.

“I believe it’s best to go dwelling,” she continued. “Leaving the kids together with your mom like that.”

“However I’ve solely simply arrived.” This wasn’t going nicely. “Kathleen, sweetheart …”

“I don’t need you right here.”

“I’m sorry. I ought to have referred to as. I can see that.”

The chair legs scraped the linoleum as Kathleen stood. “Let’s stroll,” she mentioned, “we are able to discuss then.”

I dumped the cash for the invoice on a plate and ran out after Kathleen. “Please decelerate,” I mentioned, extending a hand to clasp her elbow.

“Sorry,” she mentioned, but her heels nonetheless hammered the pavement.

“I really like you,” I mentioned. And after we had been between two avenue lamps the place the sunshine waned, I drew Kathleen to me and kissed her passionately.

“I want you hadn’t finished that, Jack,” she mentioned, as she pulled away. “As a result of. As a result of I won’t need this marriage any longer.”

“You must Kathleen.” I mentioned, my phrases a bleat within the bitter wind. We had been nearly at Eden Avenue; the lodge seconds away. A ache shot by way of my chest. I couldn’t catch my breath. All I may suppose was: I’m too younger to die.

“Are you alright?” Kathleen requested.

“I really feel actually bizarre,” I mentioned, rubbing the spot with my free hand. Did she simply say “Christ”?

“Let’s get you inside,” she whispered as we approached the lodge’s rear entrance.

She laid me on the mattress like I’d already reached the undertakers. “You higher not be having me on, Jack McPhee,” Kathleen mentioned.

“Scouts’ honour,” I replied, sipping on the water she’d handed me. “There’s some whiskey within the drawer when you don’t thoughts fetching it.”

“Shouldn’t I be fetching a health care provider as a substitute?”

I sat up then, shoving a pillow behind my again, and held the empty glass out whereas she poured a wee dram. “What about your self?” I requested. “You all the time used to love one.” I watched her return with the opposite glass and I may really feel the wire round my coronary heart launch.

And that’s how she ended up in mattress with me.

“Jack,” Kathleen murmured, a lot later that night time, her proper arm draped softly throughout my again, her sweet-whiskey breath brushing my pores and skin. I shifted onto my facet and went to carry her She wrenched free, and sat up, reaching for the bra and slip she’d earlier flung to the tip of the mattress. “I’m sorry, Jack. Actually, actually, sorry. I shouldn’t have let this occur.”

Kathleen’s face fell, ever so barely, that you simply would possibly suppose it a trick of the sunshine, a quaver on the nook of her mouth. I may really feel my very own lips transferring, and wished desperately to sing her favorite track, which I generally did when issues had been lovey-dovey. She touched my face fleetingly earlier than hauling up her stockings. I touched her arm. “Look, I’ve to get going,” she mentioned, and shuffled throughout to the hard-backed chair. I switched on the bedside lamp.

“Do not rise up, Jack. No sense the each of us freezing, now could be there?” she mentioned. I couldn’t discover the reply for that one. I watched my spouse pull on her blue wool gown and overcoat, choose up her sneakers and tread calmly to the door. Her lengthy pale fingers had been reaching for the deal with when she hesitated and turned, her face flushed like our infants was upon waking.

“Your mom instructed me you had been coming, by the best way. She’s very anxious about all the pieces.”

I leapt off the bed and yanked Kathleen away from the door. “What’s my mom been saying about me?”

Kathleen shoved the tartan robe at me. “It’s all the time about you, isn’t it, Jack?”

“What’s she been happening about then?”

“Us. The household.” Kathleen clutched at my arms. It damage. “For crying out loud, Jack – did you actually count on me to disregard your carrying-on once more?”

“However I really like you and the youngsters. You realize that. It’s all …”

“What?” she mentioned. I didn’t like her face all screwed up like that.

“I’ll change, Kathleen. Folks can, you realize.”

“You mentioned that final time. After, who was it? Irene, Sandra?”

“I wasn’t considering straight.”

“Actually.” She snorted.

“I’m severe.”

“You, severe?” she mentioned. “I’m going now.”

“I want you,” I mentioned, grabbing at her sleeve. “Don’t you perceive that? I’ll go discuss to somebody; the physician, the parish priest. I’ll present you ways severe I’m.”

“Not this time, Jack.”

The door clicked shut and I dropped on the mattress.

Taken with permission of the writer in her new quick story assortment Pocket Cash & Different Tales by Vivienne Lingard (Artistry Publishing, $37), out there in bookstores nationwide, and reviewed within the Otago Each day Instances as “excellent”.

Subsequent week’s quick story is taken from the gathering Return to Harikoa Bay by Owen Marshall (Classic, $37), out there in bookstores nationwide.

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