Tag Archives: short story

THE STRANGER by Nina Killham


I have no idea how he got in but there he suddenly is, leaning on my kitchen counter, jelly belly sagging over his jeans, a tattoo chaining his neck, lips plump and greasy.

“You right, mate?” he asks.

How did he get in? I do a quick swing of my eyeballs around the room, past the kitchen table piled with school crap and abandoned in muted fury—like I know anything about cosines–the overflowing recycling bin, the empty hand sanitiser that for the life of me I cannot find a replacement for. Did the kids leave the back door open? How many times have I told them? How many times? I sigh. Well, however he got in, the main thing to do now is to get him out again, as quickly as possible. Maybe, if I pretend I don’t see him, he’ll go away. I open the fridge and lean in, looking for my next snack.

“Anything good?” he asks.

I open my mouth to respond but shut it tight–do not engage–and pull out the roast lamb we had last night for dinner. Slice or two of that with some mayo, two slices of rosemary sourdough, some lettuce, and my life will be complete.

I feel the tickle of his fingers on the back of my neck. “I said, Anything good?”

I put the lamb back. I’ve lost my appetite. I squeeze around him and sit down in the living room. I can hear the kids in their rooms, talking to their friends on Skype. Maybe Netflix will keep me company. The missus is in the garage jogging through the alps on the new exorbitant running machine she insisted we buy before she went mad from not being able to go to the gym. After one particularly expressive day on her part, I gave in. So here I am, alone, unloved, except for the goon who has plunked his nasty ass right down next to me.

“What are we watching?” he asks.

Don’t get me wrong, by this time I am desperate for company. A month of lock-down will do that to you. Oh, yeah, you can still go to the shops, but by this time I am terrified of catching anything. I approach stepping out for some milk like a soldier crawling along the Kabul-Kandahar highway. Everyone has become so jumpy, hands snatching back if they came within an inch of each other. People, now having to standing in line just to get into Coles, are getting pissy if you zone out in podcastland and get too close. The look they give you. That Stand back, motherfucker, I’ve got kids to feed!

So I hightail it back to home. Home. Never gave it much thought before. It fed me, kept me company in the evenings and on weekends. When I was there. But a lot of the times I wasn’t. I was busy, very important. Spent my lifetime in meetings, and strange hotels with shame-tingling TV cable channels. My second home was an airport, and a bar. Yeah, a lot of bars where the light was syrupy golden and the drinks were paid for by the company and the company was, if not dazzling, at least convivial. Knew the difference between a concessional and a non-concessional contribution and didn’t yawn like a cheetah when you told them what you did for a living. Superannuation. It’s going to keep you in chocolate biccies, baby, when your teeth are falling out is how I like to put it. Many a conversation has died a gritty death around the words pre-mix strategy and conditions of release. Well, they’ll know when it matters, believe me. If they’re lucky. My Mary, she still doesn’t know the what an allocated pension is. And is proud of it.

I’m the cheetah now, padding around the house, poking my nose into teenage bedrooms and getting an earful for my efforts. I force myself twice a day to walk around the block, dragging the pudgy spaniel who has already been walked by Mary and is in no mood to move. I’m addicted to endless doomsday podcasts, corona this corona fucking that. How many are dead, that is what I always want to know, first thing in the morning, like it’s fucking Christmas and the answer is underneath the tree.

Everybody going on about how it’s time to refuel, recalibrate like we’re fucking tires out of alignment. Read, they urge. Be creative. Ha. I pick through the stack of books that I have put by my bedside in a bout of self-deception and then just stare at the first page for about five minutes before my hand reaches of its own accord and taps that bloody blue bird on my phone. What the hell is going on out there? Help! Save me from myself. Talk to me, somebody. Please.

So yeah, I’m desperate. I flick through the TV choices: House of Cards, season three, what a fucker that lead actor turned out to be, but man he is good. That twitchy thing he does with his cheek when he gets angry, scares the shit out of me, I would have done anything he asked. Love The Americans who, just whenever you are getting too moist about what good guys the two are, murder some innocent bystander with a deadly neck-breaking snap. Mary and I flesh out our entrenched TV habit with a couple of Nordic Noirs with their sick rape/murder/dismemberments.

I glance over at the guy who by now has oozed himself onto the couch next to me and is nodding enthusiastically at one of the Nordic Noirs with its preview of the little blond number all sliced and diced.

“That one,” he says, raising his finger and grinning.

We settle back and watch in silence for bit, but I start feeling like something is missing. Like a beer: cold and soothing. Naturally, I offer him one—I’m not a dick–and he nods, not taking his eyes off the knife slicing through the pale virginal flesh. In the kitchen I rummage in the refrigerator. We have plenty of beer—I practically took a tow truck to Dan Murphy’s so that is no problem. I just had to find it behind all the other food we’ve also stashed up on: smoked salmon, for Christ’s sakes, coming out of our ears. And Mary upped our ice cream stash by several factors just in case the kids go without a sugar rush for two hours. “But they’re bored, darling, we need to do something.”

Mary has taken to starting every evening with a glass or three of champagne like she’s the mistress of some stone manor in the fox-run wilds of England. We keep telling ourselves that we are saving oodles by not going out to cafes and restaurants and movies and whatever else we seem to fill our endless time with. So we can indulge. And no, I haven’t lost my job yet. I’m keeping to myself the rumours. Which I heard last night at Jeff’s place.  I told Mary I was walking the dog but went straight round to his place. He lives alone, no control freaks in his household. And yeah, Matt and Blue were there too and their alibi dogs. And we had a beer. So shoot me. And that’s where I heard the rumours about the lay-offs. Jeff was freaking out, snot and tears everywhere, and so we took turns patting him on the back. We’re not complete assholes.

No need to worry Mary just yet. Let her keep swilling the champers. I might make the cut. You never know. So yeah, I can spare a beer for the mess taking up space on my couch, watching the Swedish murder scene with way too much attention. I hand him a cheeky microbrew I’ve discovered down the Peninsula and a bowl of peanuts too, just to keep him busy.

“You ready,” he asks, his hand like a limp rag as he dips it into the peanuts.

“For what?”

“For the end of the world…”

“Don’t be an idiot.”

“…as you know it.”

Mr. Drama Prince. No. I say. All these people going on about how nice the world is, so quiet you can hear the birds and all the bunnies swimming in the canals, and everyone being matey and pole dancing on balconies, and chatting with friends you haven’t thought about for twenty years (there was a reason, mate). No, I prefer it like it was before. Give me smog you can chew on any day. Give me the sweet sweat of a stranger. The packed nonsensical lives of a teenager. The complete disinterest of your common man. Hand me over consumption and petty squabbles fixed up over a picnic in the park. Give me love with too many people for your own and their good. Tight Coles aisles and the eye rolling and the bad breath. God, what I would give for a bout of someone’s bad breath riling my day. Or fresh food markets with the barking vendors and the crushing crowd and the bright fleshy root vegetables piled high like tarts showing their tits. Give me heaving humanity in all its glory.

The stranger raises his eyebrows. “Too late now, mate. Should have made your predilections clearer.”

“Would it have made a difference?”

He thinks a moment. “Nah, not really.” He raises his empty beer bottle. “Another for the road?”

“Dad?” It’s Tim, finally coming up for air, his face pouched with boredom, his body slack from lounging all day at the computer. His eyes are slits, barely registering the moocher on the couch.

“Your kid?” The stranger says. Master of the obvious. I nod, unease creeping into my guts.

“Get some breakfast and go for a bike ride,” I bark at Tim. His eyes widen at the thought of so much activity. “Now,” I insist. I want him out of the stranger’s eyesight.

“Yeah, yeah, OK.” Tim pulls his face back from the open door and closes it.

“Nice kid,” the stranger murmurs. “Pity.”

I want him out. Now. No more beer. No more savage television. Time to go. I have been welcoming enough.

He nods his head in agreement. “Yes, yes, you have.” He heaves himself up from the couch, patting his pockets. “Got everything? Probably not. Oh well, onward and onward.”

He holds out his hand for a shake. “No hard feelings, mate.”

I ignore the hand and open the front door for him to leave just as Mary appears, the lead attached to the dog in one hand, her iPhone attached to earphones in the other. Who’s that?” she says, eyeing the grease ball disappearing down our path.

“No one,” I say.

She nods then puckers her forehead as she places a hand to my clammy cheek. “Oh, mate,” she says, “I can’t believe you let him in.”




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Mormonism for Women

A couple of years ago when Mormon polygamy marriages were top news I wrote a short story. As the campaigns of presidential candidates heat up, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s in the form of a newspaper article and offers a different take on polygamy called polyandry.

Mormonism for Women


Nina Killham

Newtown-Utah. The real problem about polyandry, says Jennifer Lind, is managing so many husbands. “It’s exhausting. They can get pretty rowdy.” She should know. Lind, 39, has five of them.

On a sunny October day, she sits in the immaculate living room of her ranch house and discusses how her religion, which allows multiple marriages, is misunderstood. “People have this impression that I’m some sort of dominatrix standing over my husbands with a whip or something. It’s not like that at all,” she says, sipping tea handed to her by husband number four, J.J., 23. (His real name is Jeffrey but there already was a Jeffrey, husband number two.)

“We’re a family. Yes, I’m the head of the family but we all participate, we all belong.”

Her men agree. “People ask us about this all the time. They’re fixated,” laughs Kevin, 25, as he socks co-husband, Jeffrey, 28, playfully on the arm. Jeffrey grabs Kevin in a headlock. The two men glance adoringly at their wife who smiles at them then asks for another cup of tea.

Lind lives with her husbands and ten children in a five-bedroom home filled with bunk beds and sports equipment. “Yes, it can get cozy,” she admits. “but good cozy.”

To accommodate the crowd, they share three cars, stagger their bed and rising times, and eat and watch television in shifts. But they pray in one shift, congregating together in the living room and thanking God for her blessing.

Their religion, called Lessingism after their prophet Anna Mae Lessing who set up a commune in the area in the mid-1900’s, preaches that man must submit to woman because she is the source of all sustenance. She is provider of love, of education and, most importantly, of food.

“To be frank, it’s all about breasts,” says Lind. Lessingers believe woman to be the source of all good, a miniature God on earth, and instill in their children a reverence for the power of a woman’s body. Breastfeeding is the pinnacle of achievement.

It’s a distinction that some men in the church are uncomfortable with, suggesting that their orthodoxy is too narrow. “Well, they can fuss all they like,” says Lind “but if they don’t got ‘em, they don’t got ‘em. It’s biology, and you can’t argue with biology.”

As a result, men take a back seat in the leadership of the religion. But not in the donkey work. In 1955, Lessing took on another husband to help her with the care of her children. It was so successful she took on another and decided to write it into the covenant. Lessing died in 1997 at the age of 72, her sixth husband, 25-year-old Brandon Vier, at her side.

Lind turned to the little known religion when she was 26 years old. “I had been searching to find something that gave me a sense of community, that had values that were in keeping with what I thought was an ethical way to live. When I finally found it I had a sense of homecoming. Life suddenly made sense. It’s a belief system I hope to impart to my children.”

Her children, Tanya, 13, Jeff, 11, Jilly, 10, Rachel, 9, Bruce, 7, Billy, 6, Sarah, 5, Karen, 3, Ken 2 and Alicia, 4 months, are the product of her marriage to the five different men. When asked how she can tell who a child’s father is, she explains patiently about DNA testing. Before the tests, she says, husbands just had to take their wives’ word for it. And though technically speaking it’s illegal in this state to marry several men, Lind maintains that she is only exercising her freedom of religion.

“It’s not like we’re hurting anyone,” she says.” It’s all completely consensual.”

Kevin’s parents disagree. They were uncomfortable with their son’s decision to marry Lind and tried several times to talk him out of it. His father has gone as far as to bring a civil suit against Lind. “I think she is a corrupting factor,” Mr. Rogan says. “She gets them young when they don’t know any better.”

But Kevin is staunchly behind his wife. “My parents just don’t understand,” says Kevin who married Lind when he was a 20 year old college sophomore. “They think I’m living in the dark ages or something.” Kevin was a high school buddy of Jeffrey’s and was intrigued by Jeffrey’s marriage. “He just kept hanging around so much I finally decided to make an honest man out of him,” laughs Lind.

She met her last two husbands, J.J. and Richard, through their mothers, also Lessingers, who offered their sons as excellent marriage material. “They see the value of this system and so they brought up their sons to think accordingly.”

Lind marries her men in a private ceremony at home, attended only by close family, the co-husbands and the church’s leader, Mary Ann Garnett. “It’s a happy affair, Garnett says. “We make a big batch of chili and then the boys play tag football. Jennifer and I watch.”

Garnett, 45, who has been an elder in their church for 10 years, believes the polyandry is good for the children. “And that’s what’s important here more than any personal satisfaction.” She believes the practice lessens the burdens and frustration of the nuclear family. “It’s not that we have anything against nuclear families, we just think this is a better way to live.” Garnett herself has only two husbands. “They’re just about all I can handle.”

According to Professor Sarah Standish at City University, polyandry is a humane way to live. “When you think that one of today’s social problems is the rise of marginal men, it’s perfect. The practice incorporates men into strong families and gives them something to do. I think it’s the future of society.”

Lind sets down her cup of tea and readjusts baby Alicia at her breast. Her fifth husband, Richard, 22, is playing in the corner with the three toddlers. An ex-Sunday school teacher, he takes care of Ken, Karen, and Sarah and teaches them simple psalms and songs. Their little minds lap it up, he says smiling. “They really want to know their place in the world.” When asked if the boys are disappointed by their future as one of many husbands, Richard looks puzzled. “No. I certainly don’t teach it that way. And the girls, their sense of responsibility must be instilled as soon as possible.”

Next year Sarah will step up into Grant’s care. Grant, 35, is Lind’s first husband who she married when he was 23 and she was 27. He was a high school teacher at the time but gave up his work when Jeffrey joined the household. He now homeschools the eldest six in the old master bedroom which has been converted into an old fashioned school room complete with desks and white board. Grant teaches the older children the Notebook, which is the word of their prophet. “We are fundamental. We go strictly by the Notebook.”

While Lind feeds the children, her husbands support her by cooking, shopping, cleaning, babysitting and earning money outside the home. “I provide the grub,” she says, “and in turn they do their service.”

J.J. takes away Lind’s cup and retreats to the kitchen where he begins his daily task of cooking a wholesome lunch for sixteen. “Around lunch time things can get pretty hectic what with the kids’ play group schedules and some of the guys’ sports schedules. I try to anticipate any problems.”

He slides on his apron and gives a quick tour of the kitchen, showing off industrial sized pots and pans, a humongous salad bowl and a grill large enough to sear a horse. He is also in charge of the family’s laundry. He proudly shows off his late model washing machine that Lind bought for him last year. He twirls the bottle of bleach around his finger like a pistol. “Mess with my detergent and you’re dead,” he jokes.

Kevin and Jeffrey both work outside the home. Kevin as a computer analyst, Jeffrey as a pilot. As Jeffrey is away from home a lot he tries to make up for his absences by taking extra “marital satisfaction” shifts. “I read up on the latest orgasm techniques. And so far Jennifer seems pretty pleased. I like the lifestyle. I look at men in regular marriages and I think what pressure they have. They have to be on call every day. I get all this free time and yet I know I contribute to the whole. The guys and I have a really good time. And Jennifer, she’s great. Really relaxed, caring. She makes me feel…good about myself. Like I’m a valued member of the team.”

Richard, however, is a bit moody these days. Jennifer has decided to marry again. Her choice is Byron, 21, a male model, who will be joining the household next month.

“I figure we could use the extra income and well, he’ll certainly be easy on the eyes,” grins Jennifer who plans to have Byron continue his career. Richard frowns. Jeffrey nudges him playfully, explaining. “It’s always hardest for the last husband. You take it hard at first but then you lighten up.”

Because in the end, Lind says, their union works. If they didn’t like it, she maintains, her husbands wouldn’t stay.

The men nod philosophically.

“Whatcha gonna do?” says Kevin. “She’s the boss. It’s the way God intended it.”

Jeffrey gives him a high five.

photo by Bob auBuchon (flickr)


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