On the Boat

Shopping sounds fun. Shopping with your newly-corporeal and more-annoying-than-you-realised best friend? Not so much.

I lean on a railing to watch Bertie stamp around, barefoot on the deck, testing her balance. The ferry rides the swell with experience. Bertie, however, does not.

My best friend’s enthusiasm for the physical realm springs from the fact she was an illusion only yesterday—or so my doctors always said. Then a couple days’ ago we were messing around at the old well. I tossed in a dollar and a wish… and Bertie disappeared.

Last night she reappeared on our doorstep: the urchin I’d always imagined. She said, “I’ve come to live with you.” And that was that.

Everyone was shocked; even Theo had naught to say. Of course, I hadn’t believed the wish would work. But after several pokes, prods and “Ow!”s, Mum had to admit Bertie was real. So off we trooped this morning to catch a ferry to the city. On the agenda: registration and shopping.

I may be regretting some of Bertie’s personality choices.

For one, she just can’t sit still. I used to love her constant dancing, but after her fifth collision with another passenger, I’ve had enough. The prim folks are giving us ‘the look’. Plus, Mum has to pretend Bertie is going to a fancy dress party to explain the ripped-up, tomboy clothes.

“She’s getting into character,” I tell one old lady. The disapproving face harrumphs beneath her straw hat and she switches seats towards the back of the boat. Bertie sticks her tongue out at the woman. Theo, laughing, joins in.

“Stop that,” I hiss. They giggle again and turn their tongue wagging to me. I march outside. Bertie follows.

“What’s wrong?” My best friend hops onto the railing, tilting her curly-haired head like a bird.

I pull her down. “Be careful!”

Bertie continues her confused routine.

“You’re real now,” I say, tightening my hand on hers. “You could fall, be sliced up in the propeller…” Shudders ripple through me.

“Ew.” Theo’s black hair blows in the wind as he sidles up. He leans over the railing. “Your guts would be sprinkled all over the side.”

Then he beams at us. “Hey, I wonder if you’d turn back into a ghost?”

“She wasn’t a ghost,” I say, but Bertie begins a ‘ghost dance’ on deck, complete with “Woo” noises. I crack a smile. Bertie is still Bertie.

She hops past. “Stop being a stick-in-the-mud,” she says. I blow my own raspberry at her.

“Alison,” says Mum from behind me.

I jump half a mile, then wince. “Sorry, Mum.”

“I’ve been on the phone.” She stands there, watching Bertie and Theo. “Once Bertie’s sorted with Child Services, and in some decent clothes”—she glances at me, half-smiling, half-accusatory—“School’s agreed to take her on. Depending on scores, of course.”

“Oh Mum. Thanks!” I hug her.

“Is it group hug time?” Bertie appears. Dives in. Theo joins too.

My anxiety retreats. Maybe this will be fun, after all.

This story was inspired by the Australian Writers’ Centre: Furious Fiction competition from September 2020. In 500 words or less, entrants were required to submit a short story written within 55 hours from announcement, using the following prompts:

Each story had to be INSPIRED by the picture below.
Each story’s first word had to begin with the letters SHO.
Each story had to include the following words: SCORE, SLICE, SPRINKLE, STAMP and SWITCH (s/ed variations were allowed)

In posting this story, I switched it to present tense and played around a little, but did not really edit a great deal. It’s not one of my best, I know. But I’m still proud of having a go. One day I will look back with writer’s hindsight to pinpoint the issues with the piece. For now, I’m keeping myself accountable by sharing with you all another wee story. Hope you enjoyed it somewhat, at leas! And do check out the winner and shortlisted entrants – they were fantastic. 🙂

Prompt image from Furious Fiction of a boat railing, life ring, blue sky, water, land, and sun.

Will you join me next month (6th November) for Furious Fiction? The competition is open internationally and you could win AUD$500! See the AWC website for all the details.

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