Category C: Highly Commended (2020) Monash Short Story Writing Competition

Author: Tania Conway

Title: Veydah


“My God, Veydah. I swear, if you stored a box of silk worms in your shed, kept chickens, a goldfish or an angry ferret, it would not elicit the response you get when you tell people you are single and have a cat. You may as well tell them you have a communicable disease. It will have the same effect.  I know you adore him but no, you can’t mention the cat. Please. Just don’t bring him up.  

I would rather be living in World War II England and admit to harbouring an enemy soldier in my basement than tell people I live alone and have a cat. They will distance themselves from you at parties. I don’t know what’s wrong with people but that’s just the way it is. Have someone over to your house you are not supposed to and you get an award-winning novel about a potato peel pie. Just mention your cat’s name is Bob and you will win yourself the loveable title of, ‘Crazy Cat Lady.’ So, please Veydah. Don’t mention Bob. Resist the urge to show all your photos. Nobody wants to see them. “

Veydah sat in stunned silence at the truth of this as she recalled the matching apron and tea towel that she was given for Christmas last year with those same dreaded words on them in big bold lettering and a picture of a delusional old woman with a spatula. Personally, she couldn’t see the connection but whatever it was, they now sat shamefully at the bottom of her linen press, never to see the light of day.  Wasn’t it Jenna that gave them to her though? She couldn’t quite recall. 

“And stop telling people you want to be a ninja when you grow up. It was cute when you were four but now there is a big fat zero hanging on the end of that number and you have an actual black belt, it is no longer cute. It’s a little bit scary, intimidating and downright masculine,” said Jenna rolling her eyes. “You don’t want to put them off do you? “ she pressed. 

Veydah visibly deflated like a balloon. 

“I don’t think I can go through with this, Jenna, “ she sighed. “I really don’t think I can. Please don’t make me go. I’m not ready,“ pleaded Veydah.  

“You will be absolutely fine this time, “ soothed Jenna. Trust me, I’m your coach!

At that, as if to test the coach’s hypothesis, Veydah stood up off the bed, turned her head one way looking at herself in the mirror and then the other. She sized herself up as she sucked her stomach in, shifted her weight over from one leg to the other to strike a pose. She tried on a basic model’s stance in an attempt to look less 40- year old Ninja-esque and promptly hung it back on the imaginary hanger and gave up. She plopped herself back down on the bed, slumped her shoulders and looked down at the ground dejectedly as Jenna’s previous words struck home. A butch cat lady stared back at her in the mirror. Could it get any worse? Maybe cancelling would be best after all. She could stay at home, order pizza, open a nice bottle of chateau cliché and watch a good movie with Bob. This sounded way more appealing than Jenna’s plan and she was sorely tempted to call the whole thing off. 

“Why didn’t you get the fake nails I suggested?” Jenna interrogated. She grabbed Veydah’s hands and held them out in front of her for inspection. Looking less than impressed, she returned them to their owner and attempted to push the point home again. 

“Everyone loves a good set of acrylics. It highlights one of a girls’ best features and it’s just for tonight. I know you said they’ll snap off at work but you can’t tell people you work in your father’s market garden and the state of your hands just gives it away. Don’t mention that yet. Wait till later,” offered Jenna.

“Later?” said Veydah. “You don’t think I should tell them what I do? “ she queried Jenna worriedly. “What will I say? You don’t want me to lie do you?” Veydah shifted uncomfortably on the bed.

“Can’t you just tell people you are in sales or something? They don’t have to know it’s in cabbages.” At that, Jenna let out a cheap snort as she amused herself with her own comment, expensive as it was to her friend’s confidence. 

“And you had better park down the road just to be on the safe side in case anyone sees you arrive in that old ute of yours. It’s not the right look or tone you want to be setting. Maybe park around the corner and walk the last few hundred meters. You could do with burning a few calories off anyway so it will do you good, “ suggested Jenna unkindly. 

The sound of the straw breaking the camel’s back is an unmistakable one. Thunder cracked in Veydah’s soul as storm clouds rolled in. 

“So, I have to lie about what I do, what I drive, what I like and who I am. Is that right? And if I stick on some fake fingernails, lose some weight in the last desperate 400-meter dash to a six-minute dating hell, pretend I am someone else until the bell rings, I might just snag a man and be worth something. Is that about the size of it? Is that what you are saying I have to do, Jenna? Well, I give up. The price is just too high for this poker player and I won’t pay it. You can forget about tonight. Please don’t let the door hit your backside on your way out. I know you store some of your best ideas in there.” And with that, Veydah grabbed her gloves, her shin pads, her neatly pressed whites and her unsightly, masculine black belt out of her closet and headed for the door, leaving her friend in her wake. 

So angry was Veydah, she could not even recall the drive over to the Dojo and did not even remember getting into her karate gear. Steam and anger was all that was registering on her own personal Richter scale as she slammed her fists into the punching bag. She punched, jabbed and landed kick after kick on the poor unsuspecting blue bag. It was already loose from years of torture and was not quite staying where it should so she could effectively tell it a thing or two about life, love and friendship. 

Hot gases of anger were rising out of Veydah like a fracking field as scene after scene of various disappointments, betrayals  and let downs played out before her competing for her attention. One by one she saw them, looked each and every one of them in the eye and accepted her own part in it all. No blame. Just the acceptance that comes with finally understanding the truth.

Her stupid ex-husband, his gambling, his women and the shame of falling for all his lies for so long. The choices she made were painful to look at. The choice to stick her head not only in the sand but in a bucket of Kentucky Fried chicken, comfort eating her way through the growing disquiet of mounting evidence and into the void of denial. The only thing worse than failing, is doing nothing at all her father used to say and Veydah, with every choice to stay quiet while her life slowly disappeared into oblivion had aided and abetted in its downfall with pure ignorance. She had dropped the ball. 

As the last of the molten lava and gas oozed its way to the surface, Veydah realised she had somehow squeezed the last of the misery out too and she slowly began to cool. A lightness now returned to her where she hadn’t even realised a darkness had set in and there was finally space. 

It was about this time that a voice repeated itself to her and brought Veydah plummeting back into the present moment. 

“Sorry, what?” asked Veydah. 

“I asked if you needed a hand with that? I’ll hold the punching bag for you while you spar. Then you can hold it for me if that’s ok. That thing is on its last legs anyway. We should shoot it and put it out of its misery. It would be the kindest thing to do,” said the man. 

Veydah cracked a smile and the sun came out. 

“Yes, but then Hirata Sensei will have to use you as the bag instead. Are you sure you want to do that? He brought this out with him from Japan when he first started this school and it means a lot to him. It will be here long after you and I are gone,” professed Veydah. 

“You must be new,” she surmised.

“Yes,” said the man. “I’m Leo. As in the Lion” 

“I’m Veydah, “she returned. “As in Darth”.

Leo smiled and the sun came out.