A slightly different story this week, as the headline probably gives away.
Week 10 of my short story challenge rolls along. I’d originally thought I might do this one as a poem, but it’s been seemingly too long since I seriously tried my hand at poetry. I tried, really I did, but I couldn’t quite get it into a form I was happy with.
So instead, I opted to write it as dialogue, something I also find quite hard to balance properly. Keen to hear reader thoughts on this one.
But before I start, this being week 10 means that there’s 9 other short stories you could also check out:
And if you like those (and I hope that you do, although all constructive criticism is also welcome), I should point out that this isn’t my first attempt at an all-year-short-story-writing-challenge.
The last time I did this, I ended up with enough short stories to fill an eBook. An eBook called Fifty Two, to be precise:
And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:
It’s also beholden on me, given the topic matter at hand to point out that there are resources out there to assist just about everyone with mental health issues.
Here in Australia, the government maintains a solid list of resources and people you can reach out to at its list of Mental Health helplines at this link.
If you do need help, please seek it.
I was sitting in the pub with Barry, having a few drinks after work on a Friday.
You know, as you do. It had been a hot, hard week, and we felt like we’d really earned a cold one or two. Or three in Barry’s case, but then he always was one of those drinkers who never knew when to slow down.
Anyway, in comes Malcolm. I’d not seen Malc for weeks, and he looked kind of glum.
“Hey, Malc! Come grab a seat, mate!”
“Be right with you — just going to grab a beer.”
Malcolm headed up to the bar, while Barry headed off to the bathroom. One of the perils of being a fast drinker is that it does tend to go through you at a faster pace.
Bladder of iron, Barry, but every man has his breaking point.
As my old Dad used to say, you can’t ignore the dam when the leaks want to burst forth.
I’d busted my phone, so all I could do was sit and stare out the window at the darkening skies while I waited. Looked like a storm was coming in.
Malcolm came over, beer in hand, and sat down, sullen.
“You look down, mate. Everything alright?”
Malcolm stared straight as his beer for a few seconds and slowly blinked.
“Hey… Malc… are you OK, mate?”
“No, mate, I’m not. Not by a long shot.”
“Sorry to hear that, mate. Where have you been, anyway? Feels like ages since I last saw you…”
“Been seeing some doctors. Problems, you know? Depression.”
Just then, Barry returned from the bathroom, and sat down, fresh drink in hand.
“Ah” I said. “The black dog.”
“I hate that” said Malcolm.
“Depression? Don’t blame you.”
“No, not that, you goon. The whole ‘oh, it’s the Black Dog’ bit. It’s so unfair.”
“Unfair?” said Barry.
“Yeah, unfair” said Malcolm. “Unfair to dogs, isn’t it?”
“Is it?” I asked.
“Definitely. Dogs are friendly. Dogs are loyal. Dogs will try their damned best to cheer you up the moment you get home, even if the stupid buggers have torn up the sofa or ripped open the kitchen bin. Depression doesn’t do that.”
“Isn’t it to do with biting you?” said Barry.
“Lots of animals can bite you though” said Malcolm. “Don’t even get me started on the whole ‘black’ part either. That’s pretty clearly a big problem too. Still, I hate it that the wrong animal gets blamed for depression. Even Elvis had a go.”
“Elvis?” I said.
“Yeah, you know, ‘you ain’t nuthin’ but a hound dog, crying all the time’. No dog, ever, howled all the time. Really, even when they do howl, it’s for a bloody reason. Not like being depressed.”
“So” said Barry “If depression isn’t a dog, what is it then? A cat?”
“Sounds good to me” I said.
“Nah” said Malcolm. “I see what you’re thinking, though. Cats are sneaky, devious little shits. Come sneaking up on you at night, winding around your legs when you’re going for a slash trying to trip you up.”
“Exactly” I said.
“NO!” said Malcolm emphatically. “Not a cat. Cats are devious, but they’re also beautiful, and no-one ever had a beautiful depression. I do know what animal depression is, and it’s not a cat.”
Maybe it was the beer, but I got the feeling that Malcolm wasn’t going to let this one go. I’d known him maybe ten years, and he always was the persistent type.
“So… a sloth, then?” Barry suggested.
“Why a sloth?” asked Malcolm.
“They’re lazy animals, basically doing nothing but hanging around. My auntie Sharon suffered from the black… OK, not dog… from the sloths, you know, something terrible, and she just laid around on her sofa all day, watching soapies and eating biscuits. Just like a sloth.”
“Sloths eat biscuits?” asked Malcolm.
“What? No, I guess they don’t. But the lazy, mate, the lazy bit. That’s what I meant”
“Oh, I see” said Malcolm. “Maybe that’s true for some folks, like your Aunt, but not everyone. Sometimes it does kill your energy, but other times it’s fizzing around in my head like it’s full of electricity, refusing to slow down.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad” I said “You could get a lot done with that energy”.
“At 3am?” said Malcolm.
“Alright, maybe not.”
“How about… a cheetah” said Barry.
“A cheetah?” I said
“Yeah, a cheetah” said Barry. “See, Cheetahs have that whole energy thing going for them. Fastest animal on the planet, the Cheetah, just like that electricity you was just talking about.”
“But then, I’ve seen this on those nature programs on the telly, they spent ages just lying around in Africa doin’ nothin. Depression is like a Cheetah, was that what you was thinkin, Malc?”
“No” said Malcolm.
“Cheetah is a good guess, but they’re very efficient animals, aren’t they? Big cat hunters, the Cheetahs. Every movement is all about maximum efficiency.”
“Do you think I’d have spent the past couple of weeks seeing so many specialists if my depression was efficient? Only efficient thing it’s done is rob my bank balance.”
“Hmm” said Barry. I could see he was deep in thought. Or deep in thought by Barry’s standards, which often involves him draining his glass and ordering another.
Which is exactly what he did, downing one and heading to the bar to grab another beer.
I was trying to get a read on Malcolm without making it obvious. I’ve known him a long time, been through a few jobs together. A good bloke, I’d say, but I’d never quite seen him like this. Still, the talk seemed to be engaging him. I just couldn’t picture which animal he was thinking of.
“An Emu!” said Barry excitedly, returning with his fresh drink.
“What the…?” said Malcolm.
“OK, forget I said Emu. How about… a crocodile?”
“Why a crocodile” I asked.
“They bite, they have lazy times, they play with their food… that sounds about right to me” said Barry.
“Interesting” said Malcolm. “But still, no. Crocs have been around forever. Right back to the dinosaurs, right? Do you think Tyrannosaurus Rex ever laid on a couch, telling some Dino shrink about how he felt inadequate due to those tiny arms?”
“Did they have couches back then?” I asked.
“No, I guess not. Still, Rex didn’t bother with that, wouldn’t have needed a sofa anyway. Rex just got on with biting off heads of all the plant eating dinosaurs, that’s what Rex did. And the crocodiles learned from that. They just eat and bite and bite and eat.”
“Alright then, smartarse” said Barry. “If it’s not a cat, and it’s not a sloth, and it’s not an emu, and it’s not a bloody crocodile, then what is it?”
“Oh, you want to know?” said Malcolm angrily.
I’d seen both Malcolm and Barry get into fights, but never with each other. I pulled my chair back just a little, just in case.
“Yeah, I do!” said Barry, daring Malcolm to throw the first punch. Not verbally, you understand. Sometimes these things just happen, no words needed.
But not this time. Malcolm looked at me, then he looked at Barry, and then he got to his feet, schooner in hand.
“Gentlemen, depression is complex.
It’s draining and can leave you unwilling to move, or ready to pounce at the slightest thing.
It can rob you of hope if you let it, or even take your life.
It can encompass everything, or simply relate to the smallest, stupidest, tiny thing.
There’s only one animal that fits that description.
One animal that depression is really like” said Malcolm.
“OK, then, what is it?” asked Barry.
Finishing off his schooner in a gulp, Malcolm wiped the froth from his beard and simply said.
“Depression is like a human being.
That’s what it’s like, and that’s why it’s such a bugger of a thing to have.”