SHORT STORY: Kind of Cruel

SHORT STORY: Kind of Cruel

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We were riding bikes in the country and it was a sunny day out. Sally and I had been together for a few years. We both had good jobs. We owned a house and a car and a cat (Mousey, grey). We were riding these new bike paths the council opened up on the disused railway lines, once the life blood of the state, now a weekend in the open country for cyclists.  

Sally stopped. She said, ‘That field’s on my map. There should be a shower block just through those trees.’ 

‘You done?’ 

It was still plenty light out. 

‘Close enough. I don’t feel like rushing it,’ she said.  

We set up camp and built a fire to boil tea. We laid out in the meadow on our camping foams and read. For hours there was nothing. On dusk, another cyclist came past, a retiree, still fit enough to put in a day’s ride. We stood over by the path, watching the sunset. As the retiree came past, he gave us a nod and for an instant, there in his wraparound sunglasses, was the reflection of Sally and I holding hands. 


We were in the tent.

‘What do you think we’ll be like when we’re older?’ said Sally. We had a small thermos of wine, we were both a little lightheaded, a little dehydrated and drunk.

‘I don’t know,’ I said.

‘Do you think we’ll be like that old guy?’


‘Except he was on his own. Do you think his wife died?’

Sally could be like this. 

‘No,’ I said. ‘She probably just hates camping.’

‘You’re right.’

She stayed quiet for a few seconds. 

Then she said, ‘What do you think is the saddest thing you’ve ever seen?’


‘No, I mean, on TV or at the movies?’

‘So the saddest video?’


‘I don’t know. What would you say is the saddest thing you’ve ever seen?’

She thought about it. ‘I hate the part in Breaking The Waves where the children throw rocks at her.’

‘Yeah that is fucked up.’

‘It’s so fucked,’ she said. ‘You know, the first time I watched it I had to re-watch it with the director’s commentary, just to lessen the blow somehow. I was spooked for days.’

I laughed and thought about my answer. 

I said, ‘Have you seen that youtube of Courtney Love singing at the fashion party?’ 

‘No. Is that really your worst ever?’

‘It’s just…I saw Hole once, in the nineties and it was so great. So much better than some of those other bands. She was rolling around on the stage. It was for Live Through This. You know-’

’No, I just can’t…’

‘It’s great, I still like it.’ This was quite an admission. I can be a bit of a snob about music these days.  

‘So what’s so especially wrong with this Courtney video?’ she said. 

‘I don’t know, it’s just…they’re making fun of her. It’s kind of cruel. They’re all these fashion douche bags and to them she’s just…nothing. They don’t even know who she is. She’s lived about ten of their lives and yet she’s somehow now desperate enough to submit to this dog and pony show. And it’s just…weird. You’d have to be brain damaged to shrug it off.’

‘Sounds pretty horrible,’ says Sally. ‘Okay, what’s the best thing you’ve ever seen on the internet?’

‘That’s impossible,’ I said and reached down for my water bottle. 


‘The internet isn’t about good things.’  


The path took us to a mountain and the highlight of the trip: a five hundred metre stretch of tunnel. It was carefully sign-posted and safe. We’d be warned in the guidebook. We had night lights on our bikes and the path inside was smooth concrete. It was a weird feeling standing at the mouth of the tunnel. It felt like a train line again. It felt wrong. 

I went first, and we took it slow. For the first fifty metres there was daylight from the opening, but after that we entered icy darkness. Sally hollered out, ‘We’re in a mountain!’ And I yelled something back, but I can’t remember what because I was preoccupied with what was coming. I suddenly had dark visions: men standing in a row, a dead body, fishing line at head height, tumbling rocks, a black chasm. At the centre, deep in there, I broke into a cold sweat. I was so sure we’d reach the other side before we entered, but now I cycled and cycled and couldn’t get to the round white circle ahead of us fast enough.  



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