Things are Crook in Tallarook (contest prize)

May 8, 2008


Jack’s mom, who won the Famous Dead Person’s Blog contest, asked that I write 499 words (so that she could have the last one!) on sleep and dreams. Alyson may recognize her part in the inspiration for the following tale. Enjoy!

Things are Crook in Tallarook

Paddock chicken. Brendan woke with a start. What the heck was a paddock chicken? Come to think of it, what was a paddock? A field, wasn’t it, a meadow? Maybe a paddock chicken was a grouse or something. He glanced at the clock — 1:30 — and studied Martin’s peaceful, slumbering face. Brendan eased out of bed and cozied himself into his ancient terry housecoat and the sheepskin slippers Martin had bought him five years earlier.

In the living room, he gazed south towards the CN Tower and the downtown core. This view had aided his decision to buy the condo. Since the move, though, he had begun waking in the dead of night with odd phrases that sounded English but meant nothing to him, his mind racing from one verbal association to another.

He settled on the couch to channel-surf. “…went into overtime tonight…” Sports. “…for your baby’s…” Family. “…first book of short fiction, Things are Crook in Tallarook. Welcome, Tom!” This looked interesting; some kind of Australian talk show, probably live.

“So tell us about the title, Tom.”

“Well, Peter, I spent a year in Canada, and was fascinated by which Australian expressions were easily grasped, and which weren’t. I got funny looks if I said, “Things are crook in Tallarook”, but Canadians knew its Shakespearean equivalent –” Brendan started mouthing the famous line.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark?” guessed the host.

“Exactly,” replied the author. “On the other hand, no one had trouble understanding me when I’d announce that it was beer o’clock.” Brendan laughed along with the studio audience.

“And now, will you read to us from your new book?”

“Certainly. This story is set in Canada’s largest city, Toronto. It’s called ‘Paddock Chicken.'” Suddenly Brendan was wide awake again. On the other side of the world, Tom whoever-he-was held his book out like a choir member holding a music folder. He began.

Paddock chicken. Brendan woke with a start. What the heck was –” Brendan clicked the power button, but couldn’t move, not even to lower the remote. He switched the TV on again.

“…housecoat and the sheepskin slippers Martin had bought him –” Brendan hit the power button once more before dropping the remote as though it were a live firecracker. His eyes were dry; he forced himself to blink. Then he silently returned to the bedroom, hung up his housecoat and removed his slippers, tucked himself in, and huddled against Martin’s reassuring bulk, trying not to whimper.

The alarm went off. Brendan, forcing open his sleep-sealed lids, found Martin eying him quizzically. “Brendan, you’re good with words: what’s a paddock chicken? I just had the funniest dream.”

“An Australian rabbit. Two shakes, while I go siphon the python.”


Brendan retreated to the bathroom, running from his own voice, locking himself in, determined to take a long, leisurely shower, hoping that by the time he emerged to hear that funny dream, Martin would have forgotten it.