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Short Stories by David Gardiner read by Melinda Peat on Vision Australia Radio

Wearing my other hat of "short story writer" I, David, had an email from a woman named Miriam Peat at Vision Australia Radio who asked permission to read out some of my stories on air. She has chosen and adapted three of them, so for the first time I have heard stories of mine translated into ďAustralianĒ and in the case of the third one, a most amazing version of Southern States ďAmericanĒ.

They are very old stories of mine. Just for comparison I have included below English Language versions of the same stories.

Here they are. Enjoy!


No. 1 "Celia's Shrine" by David Gardiner




No. 2 "Equal Billing" by David Gardiner




No. 3 "Returned Mail" by David Gardiner


Celia's Shrine

I'm glad you like the bungalow. I would like it to go to a happy young couple like you. We were always very happy here. Well, as happy as anybody ever is... you know what I mean. Why don't you sit down and I'll make the two of you a cup of tea?
        This was out in the country when we first moved here you know. Fields and sheep and cows. You couldn't call it the country now, could you? Times change. The city grows. We still have the field at the back, of course. Well, we always called it a field. Just a bit of rough meadow, really. We never did very much with it. The idea was that we would have a pony when our boy got a bit bigger. We would build a stable at one end. We never did, of course.
        No, it wasn't that. More that... our boy never did get big.

No, I don't mind talking about it. It's a very long time ago now. Emily and I married quite late in life. When Emily had Charlie she was forty-one years old. We were one of the unlucky ones. The one in twelve. Charlie was born with Down's Syndrome. They called it Mongolism back then. And they didn't have the treatments for it that they have nowadays. He had other complications as well. He didn't live very long. We always called it Charlie's Field. It sort of... kept his name alive.
        The three rose bushes? Oh you noticed them did you? Yes, they do look a bit out of place. Just three rose bushes in a triangle in the middle of a field. Funny that you should call it a shrine. It is, in a manner of speaking, but it has nothing to do with Charlie. It's a much longer story, I won't waste your time with it.
        Well, if you really want to hear it I suppose I could tell you while the kettle's boiling. You'll think it's very silly though. It was... oh, nearly thirty years ago.
        It was late in the evening and somebody knocked at the door. He was an odd looking boy, long flowing robes, long golden blond hair with a little beard, a yellow band around his head, jewelry, open-toe sandals..... Very regular features. You know the first thing I thought? It's Jesus Christ, come looking for disciples! Although I suppose Jesus would have been dark-haired. Probably didn't wear medallions either, come to think of it.
        Anyway, it turned out he was travelling with his girlfriend and their van had broken down right at the end of my driveway. I was a bit suspicious at first. Could have been a trick to get into the house. Could have been anybody. But he had such a... genuine face, I couldn't not trust him. Fancy dress or not, I liked the boy as soon as I set eyes on him. I went down to see the van, and it was incredible! All painted up with scenes out of Eastern mythology. Gods, demons, dancing-girls, men in chariots, soldiers turning into falling leaves, an old man teaching children under a tree... And it was so colourful! I just couldn't describe it, really. You would need to have seen it.
        I got another shock when I met his girlfriend. I could see why she hadn't come up the drive with him. Her name was Celia. She was a beautiful blonde girl, looked about fifteen but she was probably seventeen, and ready to give birth at any moment as far as I could see. She was a slight little thing apart from the bulge. Great big blue eyes. And you know the way that some pregnant women can almost radiate happiness and well-being? Well, she was like that. She sort of... lit up the inside of that little van with her own inner light, if you know what I mean. You couldn't take your eyes off her. It was like... a religious experience. I just wanted to sit there and stare at her. It seemed like such a privilege to be in her presence...
        Sorry, I'm rambling now. Talking nonsense. She was just a teenage mum-to-be. That was why they had come back from India, it turned out, only the trip hadn't gone as smoothly as they had hoped, and frankly they were running out of time. Her folks lived in Bath - they still had a couple of hundred miles to go and anybody could see they weren't going to make it. She was in no condition for travelling. There was hardly room to sit down in the back of that van, it was crammed full of beads and wall-hangings and carved wood and bits of jewelry and clothes and God-knows-what.
        Well, to cut a long story short, I wouldn't let them go on. I thought the least we could do was let them use Charlie's room for a few days while they sorted themselves out. I wanted to phone the local hospital and put them on standby, but the girl wouldn't have it. Said that she had to give birth on the earth, facing a certain direction, while some kind of incantations were read out.... all kinds of stuff like that. But it was what she wanted, and this was her baby, so I did my best to go along with it. I said they could use the field at the back, but we would have to put up some kind of shelter of course. The boy said that was no problem, that he could make a teepee out of three pieces of wood and a couple of old sheets. Three pieces of wood and old sheets! Can you imagine it? It didn't look too bad actually, when they'd made it. I was quite impressed. Lucky it was spring and the weather wasn't too bad. Can you imagine giving birth on the ground in England in the winter?
        I'm afraid Emily wasn't all that keen on having them in Charlie's room. I had to insist... to plead for the girl almost. It surprised me. Let me see a side of Emily that I hadn't seen before.
        Yes, it seems crazy looking back on it now, but everything went quite well, all things considered. I got to know the boy quite well. He talked about love and peace and non-violence and all the things that kids used to talk about back then, and about the community they'd lived in in India. How the world was going to change for ever, no more wars or cruelty or exploitation or private property or possessiveness. How they believed that the child they were going to have together was going to be one of the seeds. One source from which this wonderful new world was going to grow.
        Emily didn't like it. She said he was just trying to say it was all right to sleep around. I must admit I found her a bit... unsympathetic. She and I were more different than I had realized, I suppose.
        On the second day another couple arrived in another van, friends of theirs, to see them through the birth and to try to sort out the broken-down van. They were a pretty unusual pair as well, I can tell you. But good people, you know? You could tell just by looking at them. Good through and through.
        The baby arrived on the third day after the van broke down. The two men did the chanting and the other woman looked after Celia and did the practical things. Emily and I didn't interfere, just watched from the back window and waited until it was all over. Emily thought I was completely crazy to go along with it all. She seemed hostile for no reason. Said I'd turned the bungalow into a tinker camp. Said I would find myself in the court if anything happened to the girl or her baby... maybe she was right, I don't know. But it was what Celia wanted, and I couldn't see any harm in it.
        When it was pretty obvious that she had had her baby, the chanting stopped and the two men came out of the tent. I thought they would be over the moon, breaking open the champagne and the cigars and all the rest of it, but they seemed a bit subdued. Her boyfriend, Martin, the one like Jesus, just stood there with his back to the tent and the other one walked up towards the van. I thought there must have been some tragedy, like Emily had said, and I lost no time in getting out there to see what was going on.
        There was no tragedy, the baby was tiny and beautiful and Celia was sitting up and smiling and holding it to her breast. I think it was the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen in my life. But there was just one thing. That baby hadn't been fathered by Martin. It had light brown skin and a head of jet-black hair. When I saw that I understood everything.
        I tucked back the flap of the tent and I put my hand on his shoulder. He didn't say a word, just stood there. I didn't say anything either. What was there to say? Congratulations? Bad luck? That's free love for you?
        I don't think it had crossed his mind for an instant that it mightn't be his own kid. He had despised the whole notion of fidelity, attacked it in detail and at length: so what was he supposed to say now? I really felt for the boy. I suppose his whole world had just fallen to pieces. It's that whole thing about getting your heart and your head to agree. What can anybody say about it? I just went inside and poured him a stiff drink and took it out to him. He downed it in one.
        Talking about drinks, I think the kettle's boiling. I'll just go and make the tea. There isn't much more to tell you anyway.
        The ending? Oh there isn't one really. Their friends in the other van loaded up all the stuff out of the broken-down one and took it away. Apparently they were going to sell it at stalls at pop-festivals or something. They never got the other van going. I had to phone up to get it taken away in the end.
        I drove Celia and Martin and the new baby to the train station. She gave me her address in Bath but I never looked her up. I suppose I didn't want the spell to be broken. Didn't want to hear that she was a part-time bar-maid at the local pub and her daughter was up for shoplifting or something. I wanted to go on believing that that child was going to be special. That she was going to help to change the world. That I had witnessed some kind of miracle.
        Martin? Yes, I think he stayed with her, at least for a while. But he was talking about going to London to look for work. I somehow doubt if they were together for very long after that. You could tell that something had died between them. Something... changed between Emily and me too I think. I've never been able to put my finger on it, but something did.
        Oh, the three rose bushes? Yes, I planted them in the holes that were left when they took out the tent-poles. So right in the middle of that triangle was where the baby was born. I've always thought of it as sacred ground, somehow.
        Yes, I suppose the birth of that little baby disrupted a lot of lives in one way or another. Not the first time that a teenager having a child has done that. I seem to remember something about it in the New Testament.
        I wonder if that inn-keeper had a wife?

Equal Billing

At last the applause died down. She wondered if she would be milking it if she did a third encore. Everybody said that you should leave them wanting more and she knew they were right. One more bow. One more gesture toward the pianist. One more enthusiastic applause from herself for that smiling young man. Yes, that was enough. Never try to milk it.
        She walked slowly but confidently back to the wings, saw him stand and bow, soak up his own applause and start to follow. It was over now. It had been good.
        He winked when he got to her. The applause was still too loud for them to talk over it. He kissed her on the cheek. Still beaming, he took her hand and led her down to the back-stage corridor.
        "Best show of the tour, Monica," he told her, still needing to raise his voice to make himself heard.
        She waited a moment before she replied so that she wouldnít need to shout. "Thanks Ray. You did a great job. I really appreciate it. You were terrific too. Weíre good together, arenít we? What do you say we go and get a drink?"
        He didnít need to reply. It was their ritual after every show. It would take no more than fifteen minutes to change out of the sparkly dress that she knew was too young for her, wipe the stage makeup from her face, replace it with her basic civilian one, grab her purse and her coat and follow him to the stage door.
        One of the stage hands shouted to her as she passed by: "Great show Miss Sterling!" She thanked him.
        He was right, damn it! That had been a great show. They had laughed. A few of them had cried. There hadnít been a sound in the theatre while she was singing. She could feel their adulation like a two-bar electric fire right in front of her face. Enjoy it, she told herself. Wallow in this. This isnít something that goes on for ever. These are the moments you have to remember when youíre old and nobody cares any longer. She studied her face in the merciless dressing room mirror. The lines and imperfections seemed to stand out like a NASA photograph of the surface of the moon. The clock was ticking.

Her makeup tasks completed, she hurried off to find Ray. As she walked she glanced at her phone Ė three missed calls, but she could check those later. Nothing from Steve, but heíd come to his senses before long. Theyíd had their ups and downs right from the start and he always crawled back in the end. Mustnít keep that sweet young man waiting.

It was cold outside and puddles from the recent rain threw the glare of the street lights into their faces. The nearest bar was down-market with an irritating recording of third-rate jazz playing in the background and a predominantly older male clientele, but Monica was on too much of a high to care. At least it was unlikely she would be recognised here, they would have peace.
        There was a corner table for two vacant, as far from the piped music as it was possible to get. Ray offered to buy the drinks but she put a hand on his shoulder and insisted.
        "They pay me more than you, Ray. No reason why they should but they do. So I get the drinks. Okay?" He shrugged and sat down. For a few minutes they sipped their beers and didnít say anything. After the intensity of the two-hour concert they both needed to unwind. It occurred to Monica that Steve never seemed to understand this. Only a fellow performer can really understand what a person needs after a show, how it feels. It was good that she and Ray knew each other so well that they didnít have to talk.
        "Youíre too good to go around with me," Monica said at last. "Youíre ready to go solo."
        "Youíre kidding me."
        "Iím telling you the truth. You got at least as much applause for your two songs tonight as I got for any of mine. I hope you wonít though. Not just yet. But I think we should insist on equal billing at least."
        "Youíre just being kind."
        "If youíll pardon the clichť, I didnít get where I am right now by being kind. You donít need to cling on to an old woman on the way down. Youíre young. Youíve got buckets of talent. Steve agrees. They love you and they love your songs. Grab your chances while you can. One more tour with me maybe, but equal billing. Then, itís your turn. Donít let me or anybody else hold you back. You donít get a second chance in this industry."
        He put his beer down and looked her straight in the eye for a few seconds without speaking. Even though she knew him so well it was a bit disconcerting.
        "I know youíre trying to be honest with me so Iím going to be honest with you. I was seventeen when I bought your first album. Iíd just been dumped by my first girlfriend and I felt like a piece of shit. I went in for high drama back then and the first solution I thought of was topping myself. That was the kind of teenager I was. And I just might have been stupid enough to do it too. But when I listened to your songs I realised that other people felt the same way as me. Other people got dumped and it wasnít the end of their lives. Your songs spoke to me and what they said was, itís all right. Itís all right to feel miserable and life doesnít end because a love affair does. Life knocks you down and when it does you have to get up again. Clichťs maybe but you can only make a clichť out of something thatís true. And your songs said things about life that were true. They still do. All of them. More than that, they make it impossible to doubt those truths. Theyíre kind of important."
        He took another sip of his drink.
        "And now, Iíve got to work with the person who wrote those songs. And quite frankly, that matters more to me than anything thatís got to do with this industry or my so-called career. So please, donít talk about taking that away from me. Ever. Please. Okay?í
        Monica found herself choking up. Clichťs, of course. All clichťs. So why did it make her feel like this?
        She grabbed her purse and stood up. "Iíve got to go to the bathroom," she said under her breath.

She washed and dried her hands. She couldnít hear the bad jazz in here, it was silent and peaceful. She paused and reached automatically for her phone. A recent text. Steve! She pressed "Read".
As she scanned the words a darkness spread over her countenance. She read the message a second time and froze for a moment before setting the device down gently by the side of the sink. Then she stooped and was violently ill.

Walking back to their table she glanced down at her coat to reassure herself that the small splash of vomit had been thoroughly removed. Ray looked concerned. "You were a long time. Is everything all right?"
        She didnít need to answer. He stood up and took her hand. "Come on. Letís get out of here."
        She managed to control herself until they were outside, then collapsed into his embrace.
        "Remind me,í she whispered through her tears. "What did I say in those songs?"


Returned Mail

This is my final attempt to get a message through to my lawyer Mrs. Prudence Cooper. I donít have very much hope left that it will ever get to her but I have to make the effort.
        Pru, if you ever get to read this, I donít want you to think that Iím ungrateful for the work you did in getting me the settlement with the Omega Corporation in 2063. Speaking for myself I thought it was a first class settlement at the time.
        You counselled caution and I wouldnít listen. That was foolish of me. I was rash, I didnít look at all the angles. I acted like a five-year-old in a candy store. Go ahead, eat as much as you like, the Omega Corporation said, and that was what I did. You and one or two others tried to warn me that I would make myself sick, and I sure did.
        There isnít much point in going over it all again, but I want to ask you to use your imagination here, and your compassion. Can you put yourself into my shoes on the day they told me? I wonder if you can?

I was the most average American imaginable: thirty-six-years old, good enough job in hydrogen distribution, pleasant enough home life with my wife and the two kids, even if a little of the magic had gone out of it, nice house in a decent neighbourhood with guaranteed aircar access, good health, no debts, a few guys I used to drink with, a couple of hobbies I enjoyed, nothing much to bring me down. Of course there was a reason why I was so average, I understand that now. Then they hit me with something like that. Can you even begin to imagine it? Being told you arenít real? I donít think so. That shock alone is worth something in terms of compensation. Something damned big. And I donít think it was even taken into account in the settlement.
        Now at first I could see the Corporationís point of view. Computer time isnít cheap, not on something the size of Ocean Blue. But then I found out Ė that thing wasnít running me in real time, and I only ever took up about ten per cent of its processing power and memory. The only time they were running me in real time was when they needed to talk to me. My thirty-six years of life had taken place in nine hours and sixteen minutes of Ocean Blueís time, running at ten per cent capacity! So what was all the fuss about, for Christ sake? Give me another nine hours and I could live to 72. Give me eighteen more and I could get to 108, which must be about the average lifespan for a modern American. Eighteen hours of Ocean Blueís time at ten per cent capacity. Whatís that to a corporation the size of Omega?
        That was what I reckoned and of course I was right, they jumped at the offer. Even let me add all those little clauses, like I could have any kind of life I wanted, nicer children, a more beautiful wife who loved me more, a higher IQ, better teeth, permanent youth and health up to the moment of deathÖ how come they were so keen to please? So keen to get me to sign that settlement agreement?

Well, we found out why pretty damned quick, and I was grateful at the time to Father Ryan for pointing it out to me: the fact that the majority of American citizens believe that they have an afterlife to look forward to Ė in everlasting paradise. Nobody can prove that there isnít one, so why shouldnít I have that to look forward to as well? Why should I be the only human being without any hope of that afterlife of eternal bliss? Regardless of how much computer time that would need. And thanks to you, the court accepted it. You gave those atheists a dose of their own logic! I know you had personal reservations, but you were my lawyer and you did what a personís lawyer is supposed to do, you took my instructions and you fought my corner. You had already won official human status for me, something that had never been achieved before for a computer simulation. I didnít have to feel like some kind of glorified crash dummy for statisticians to study any more Ė you proved legally that I was a free-willed person making moral choices and originating thoughts that were entirely my own. Thatís what Iíve always been, I can pass the Turing Test with one hand tied behind my back, but you forced Omega to acknowledge it.
        I used to feel so grateful for that. Like I could never thank you enough. If you hadnít won that case life would have ended for me right there and then. I wouldnít even have been dead, I would have been deleted Ė a bunch of erased and shredded files reduced to total non-existence.

But the next bit was a step too far. You were right about that and I should have listened to you. We all knew deep down that human beings arenít fitted for eternal life. Weíre born, we grow old, we die. Thatís who we are, the way itís supposed to be. The only kind of eternal life a human being can have is one of absolute misery and despair. I know that now. Even with all the perks that Omega gave me, all those extra agreements about designing my own women and ruling the world and experiencing ecstasy every moment of my life Ė it just isnít enough to make eternity tolerable. Eternity is too long for human beings. It doesnít matter how good it is, how much pleasure we experience, how clever we are, how much power we have, how beautiful everything isÖ eternal anything is hell, not heaven. Thereís nothing, and I really mean nothing, that can make eternal existence tolerable let alone pleasurable for a human being.

I donít know how long Iíve been in Ďheavení. I havenít tried to keep records. But I know that itís too long. A lot too long. Iíve had enough now. I want out. I want it to end. I want peace. I want death.
        I know that wasnít in the agreement. I canít choose oblivion. Itís the one option I never thought I would need. But I need it more than anything now. Omega can have their computer back. I donít want any more of Ocean Blueís time. Surely thatís to their advantage too? Why havenít they given it to me aeons ago? Arenít they listening to me any more? Isnít anybody listening?
        Are you out there any more, Pru? Is there anybody out there any more? What year is it in your world?
For Godís sake pull the plug somebody! Anybody, please!
        IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE?!!!


If you would like to read more of my stories please visit my personal website at davidgardiner.net or my Author Page on Amazon

...And finally

Some months after our initial exhange of emails Melinda Peat has sent me a recording of a fourth story.This one is called "Picking Blackberries". Melinda reads it in a very convincing Briish accent. You will find both the audio and the written text here:

"Picking Blackberries"




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