The Best of Times Short Story Competition

Spring 2011 Results

Stiff Luck

Copyright © Paul Sterling 2011

It is hard to explain why bad luck seems to pursue Brian Stevenson. There is a motto that says that every day is a new day in a man's life. In Brian's case, every new day is a new disaster.

He was not a popular man. His wife hated him, his colleagues laughed at him and his boss was always hinting that he could find better pastures elsewhere. These pastures were not necessarily greener, but they were better because far, far away from his employer. In Mongolia or Peru, for example. Every morning, when he gazed at that questionably handsome but obviously unlucky man staring back at him from the shaving mirror, he knew that things were going to get worse. Well, worse than yesterday, and probably better than tomorrow.

To fight ill fate, he had stuck a popular saying above his shaving mirror: it told him that today he was reborn, it was the first day of his new life. His wife had written underneath, in crimson lipstick ‘then go back to your mother and enjoy it!’ He had been tempted, but within five minutes he realised that the task was beyond his means. He could hardly tell his mother that she had been right all along and that his marriage had been the disaster she had forecast.

Clementine, his wife, was not a happy woman, either. She told everyone, even those who did not want to know, that her husband was a failure: at work, at home, in the kitchen and in the tool shed. Moreover, when she mentioned the phrase ‘tool shed’, she accompanied it with a very unladylike gesture that explained exactly what she was implying. Many of the men of her generation, who had known her in her youthful, lustful years, could confirm that Clementine was not the kind of lady who liked lengthy diplomatic discourse and amorous promises. Clementine Lamoutarde, now Clementine Stephenson, had always been a woman of action. When Clementine went to Captain Snooze to choose a new bed and bounced up and down on the mattress, the salesman knew what was on her mind.

For Brian, this morning was just another Monday morning. The coffee was tepid, the eggs congealed, the toast burnt and the news was bad: Australia had been demolished by Sri Lanka in the World Cup, Kylie Minogue had twisted her ankle during a concert in Liverpool and the Reserve Bank had put up interest rates. And if that wasn’t enough to ruin a bloke’s day, he read that the Hawks’ new star player had had his face banged a few times against the bonnet of his new Lexus by a jealous husband.

“The bastard will probably get a suspended sentence,” Brian muttered through the Age to a wife who was deeply engrossed in a story concerning the latest scandalous love affair of a female federal senator. She didn’t reply, and he lowered the paper very slowly to make sure she was there.

She was, munching seaweed biscuits and reading trash, hiding her irresistible beauty behind a thick layer of miraculous rejuvenating cream made in Paris and based on zebra testicles and grated papaya. She had covered her head with purple curlers, and the overall look was that of an OVNI that had just landed in a plate of cottage cheese.

He sighed.

Twenty-eight years of marriage had provided nothing but frustrations. Two kids at University with unsustainable financial needs, a holiday home in Sorrento they never used, a Volvo V60 with a cracked windscreen, a depleted libido and a sex-hungry wife having an affair with a plumber.

He sometimes wondered how he, once an ambitious and charming man, could have screwed up his life. Marriage had been a disaster (yes, mother!), but he had been too young and too innocent to envisage sex without marriage. Once married to the female volcano, he had quickly discovered that her sexual hunger was insatiable. Philosophically, Brian described himself as a matrimonial pacifist. More spitefully, his mates called him a wimp.

Clementine, the snob, loved a little vulgarity in her life. She had a passionate hunger for tradesmen in stained overalls, touting a voluminous tool kit, who could provide a 24 hour service. To even remotely satisfy her demands, Brian would have had to race home every day to tear off her clothes, to throw her on to the king-size bed with surrounding mirrors and to ravage her frantically for a couple of hours.

Brian was not that kind of guy.

After work, he usually had a few quiet beers with his mates in the pub. Then he would go home, stick his feet under the table and ask what was for tea. He was not adverse to a little nooky on a Saturday night, but everything he did he undertook gently, carefully, without breaking into a sweat. Brian intended to lead a long, tranquil and healthy life.

Clementine was a determined woman. She firmly believed that a husband should be encouraged to perform his contractual obligations, while painters, plumbers, gas fitters and turf maintenance experts provided enjoyable and sometimes exciting substitutes.

One Tuesday morning, Brian received a curious mail in his office. It arrived in the hands of a cocky young secretary with a mini skirt hardly covering her bottom who put it on his desk, opened of course, and with a very suggestive giggle. Ten minutes later, he could hear the roars of laughter in the outer office and he was told by a close friend, that afternoon, that the Manager of Corporate Communications had been obliged to temporarily suspend a seminar to allow the attendees to withdraw to the footpath to cackle hysterically.

The envelope had contained several pieces of paper. The first was an A3 leaflet declaring that New Life Adhesive Wonders were ten times more powerful than any other impotency medication guaranteeing ‘rock hard results whenever needed’! Shocked, but interested, he shoved the rest of the information into his pocket and fought his way past an office full of people obviously sharing a good joke to lock himself into a toilet cubicle where he would be able to read in peace.

He discovered that the miracle product consisted of two adhesive strips containing secret medicines inherited from the Incas. All the patient had to do was to stick them to his temples. This magic potion delivered stimulating incentives that reached the brain within five minutes, and the patient would achieve almost immediately 'lift-off' for an unwavering period of 24 hours.

He read on.

The promoters of this miraculous product claimed that it eliminated fatigue and indifference or the need to invent a migraine. Clients boasted their new-found youth. Richard’s wife found it so good that she ordered a box for her boss. After using Adhesive Wonders, Len is now invited every Saturday evening to key-ring swapping parties right across the Eastern suburbs. Rob boasts that his girlfriend, like Oliver Twist, keeps coming back for more.

He stuck the reply-paid envelope and the application for a free thirty-day trial into his trouser pocket. Back in the office, he tossed the rest of the ‘offending’ material on to his secretary's desk and told her to throw it away, unless she knew anybody on the staff who might be incapacitated. Her wicked grin told him that she did and was staring at him right now. Clementine's comments at the last office Christmas Party had not been forgotten.

That evening, he posted his order, giving the local pub as his postal address, because the owner was a good friend. Firstly, he did not want his wife, the plumber, other service providers and his colleagues to know that he was going to test the product. Secondly, he had read that the product could also work on some women, and he knew that if Clementine opened the parcel before he got home, it could mean sudden death for most of the tradesmen on her call list.

An anonymous small parcel wrapped in brown paper and addressed to him arrived in the pub on Thursday. The hotelier winked as he handed it to him. Brian spent a restless night, tossing and turning, wondering about the new, virile life that would begin at dawn. Heart galloping at high speed, he stuck two of those wonderfully rejuvenating strips to his temples the following morning, while he was shaving. Five minutes later, he had to step back to avoid having an inappropriate relationship with the washbasin. He took another three steps backwards and could not believe what he saw in the mirror.

He raced down the stairs, shaving cream still covering part of his face to confront his wife with the stark evidence.

“Clementine!” he shouted as he burst into the kitchen.

He had forgotten that the plumber was supposed to call in early that morning, once again to fix a leaking tap, and he and Clementine turned to stare at him.

“Don’t worry, George,” Clementine told the plumber, patting his arm affectionately. “It only happens once a year.”

Then turning back to her husband, she added spitefully.

“I’m busy Brian. Go away!”

The contempt he detected in her voice and the way she let her hand stay on the plumber’s arm, would, normally, have deflated the ambitions of any ordinary husband. But not today. Not Brian with the adhesive wonders stuck to his temples.

“Come upstairs immediately,” he shouted. “Call the office to say I won’t be in this morning.”

He spun around, forgetting his new anatomical dimensions, and banged himself painfully against the kitchen door. Upstairs, he stretched out on his back on the bed, ambitions pointing firmly towards the ceiling, and waited. Half an hour later, he heard the plumber’s van pull out of the drive. Another half hour passed and he heard the garage door lift and Clementine’s Renault Clio back down the driveway.

Furious, he leapt from the bed and raced downstairs, seriously hurting himself once again at the bend in the staircase. He burst out into the front garden, desperately trying to catch his wife, but it was too late. The neighbour’s daughter, who was just hopping into her Getz, saw him and screamed, pulling the car door closed and pushing down the safety button.

He went back into the house and within ten minutes discovered two things: first of all, there was no way he was going to fit inside a pair of business trousers and go to work; secondly, he would probably not be able to drive the Volvo without causing himself grievous bodily harm with the steering wheel on the first corner.

He called the office to explain that he was too sick to come to work and decided to take a long, cold shower, despite the water restrictions. It had some effect but he still caught himself painfully in the fridge door when he was looking for strawberry yoghurt.

Furious, he grabbed the package containing the remaining Adhesive Wonders and flushed them down the toilet. He was watching Sky News, standing up, when he heard an enormous explosion upstairs. He raced up to the bathroom and saw with amazement that the Wonder Strips had enjoyed one last conversion.

The U-bend behind the toilet was now straight, the seat itself had been torn from its base, and there was water everywhere.

In sheer desperation, he called the plumber.

Since retirement in 1998, the author has been feverishly writing novels and short stories, often seeking inspiration from past professional failures. Oddly, some of them have been published. He has lived and worked in several overseas countries, with few notable successes and uses writing as a form of vengeance. He uses the pen name of Paul Sterling to avoid his critics and also writes rude letters to daily newspapers.