Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

Archive for June 2015

Savage Writing: Elephants and Mice

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This week’s topic was “Make me laugh.”


Just as his hands brushed the safe – click.

Light beamed on him from his right. Tommy span on his heels.

A second click.

‘Stay where you are.’

Sweat dripped down the back of his neck. Slowly, he turned, raising his hand to ward off the glare from the lamp.

A woman sat on the reading chair, hand holding the lampshade at an angle, directing its full force to him. In her other hand she held a revolver. She was in her thirties, curled brown hair, long-sleeved burgundy shirt cinched in by a wide tan belt, knee-length green skirt (her colouring fit right in with the rest of the study). Pencilled eyebrows. An amused smile on her lips.

Maggie. The lady of the house.

She let go of the lamp and it swung, back and forth, wobbled, settled. Still the eye of her revolver stared at him, black and merciless.

‘Good evening, Tommy,’ she said. ‘Fancy meeting you here.’

Tommy didn’t raise his hands. He’d do that when he had to. Part of him doubted Maggie had the guts to pull the trigger, but the bigger part of him remembered when her horse broke its leg last fall. He remembered the grim determination she had held as she strode through the crowd – past the veterinarian, past her injured daughter – and put a bullet right in the old thing’s head.

‘You gonna call the cops, ma’am?’

‘Perhaps I will,’ she said, still smirking. ‘Or perhaps I’ll let you off easy. Lord knows you’ve done a good turn or two here.’

He ordered the burst of hope in him to pipe down. No point trusting her.

‘All depends on whether you can do what I ask you,’ she continued.

‘And what’s that, ma’am?’

She flicked the edge of the lamp, and sent its halo of light circling, hula-ing around its base.

‘Make me laugh.’

A cold chill ran down him.


‘Make me laugh. Go on, a good joke, a fine tale, make me laugh and I might think twice about getting those nice boys down here.’

I’m a goner, Tommy thought. He remembered the days at school, sitting with Pete Mason as he heckled everyone going by. He had never hoped to match that kind of wit so he’d protected himself by laughing with him instead. He thought of his lame lines on girls, their confusion, their withering looks as they walked away, how loudly they would mock him as they linked arms with their girl friends. He couldn’t make anyone laugh at even the best of times – how was he to do it now, with a gun winking at him?

‘Go on,’ Maggie said. ‘I’m waiting.’

‘Ah – uh – uh – wh – what d’you call a, um, uh – wh – what, say, does a, uh, elephant have in common with, a, uh, mouse?’

He didn’t know what an elephant had in common with a mouse. The words had juttered out of his mouth before he could stop them.

Maggie raised an eyebrow.

‘I have no idea. Tell me.’

Tommy cursed in his head and wondered which was worse: jail, or having to endure her eyes on him as he ransacked his mind for possible answers. Everything he seemed to light upon vanished the second he grasped it.

‘Well, go on.’

No, it was gone, all gone, hopeless. Would she shoot him if he turned and ran now? Probably. Her smiled faded and her lips pulled down into a scowl.


She raised the revolver a half-inch. Tommy jumped and blurted:

‘They don’t talk!’

‘…excuse me?’

Tommy felt his face burning. Light-fingered Tommy, best long-con there was, never a safe he couldn’t crack – now blushing with his eyes down like a five-year-old.

‘They don’t talk. Elephants and mice. They…don’t talk.’

He winced and closed his eyes, half-expecting her to shoot him in disgust.

Maggie burst out laughing.

‘They don’t – they don’t talk! They don’t talk! Well, damn if you’re not right, Tommy – they sure don’t talk!’

She continued to cackle. Tommy looked up. She was leaning forward, gun dangling to the floor, elbows on knees, laughing as if he’d told the best joke in the world.

‘They don’t talk,’ she said, as if to herself. ‘Hoo-ee.’

She stood up from her chair and walked towards him. As she approached the safe, she waved the gun at him, gesturing for him to stand aside.

‘You win, Tommy. Now, I’m going to show you something that always makes me laugh. My best joke.’

She turned the safe combination. Tommy watched her, instinctively memorising it, wondering what she was going to do.

The door swung open. Again she waved the gun, gesturing him closer to her. He stepped around the safe door, and looked inside.

It was empty.

‘The Hodgeson fortune,’ Maggie said. ‘Prettiest gold in the world, don’t you think? Never seen so many rubies in my life. Ha! Oh, you should’ve seen Abe’s face when I asked him to put a safe in here. “We’ll have every thief in the state trying to work here and sneak a way in.” “All the better that it’s empty, then” I said. Nice little mousetrap, isn’t it?’

Tommy didn’t speak.

‘It’s a shame, Robert – do you mind if I call you by your real name? – a real shame. A man with your history really could’ve made something, with the amount we pretend is in here. Maybe you could’ve gotten away from your past entirely.’

She shut the safe door and turned to him, the revolver an intermediary between them.

Tommy’s dreams fluttered away like startled doves. The solid heat of humiliation was all that remained.

‘You gonna call the cops, ma’am?’ he asked.

‘We made a bargain, didn’t we?’ Maggie said. The smirk grew on her lips. ‘And besides, I think it’s time that Houseman Thomas went back to his bed. He has a lot of work to do tomorrow, I wager, and after that, and the day after that, if he’s a good boy. And maybe,’ – and here her smile grew – ‘he should think a little about his favourite joke. Fine animals, elephants and mice. Elephants don’t forget. Elephants crush mice. But neither of them…’

She paused, and rolled the word around her tongue.



Written by G.J.

25/06/2015 at 7:42 am