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: Broken Dreams

In this hugely entertaining short story by Ern Carne a thoughtful wife gets more than she bargained for at a closing down sale.

‘For God’s sake, Harry, give me some credit. I’m quite able to decide how to spend our money.’

We were driving through town when I saw a large ‘We’re Closing Down Sale’ banner hanging out the front of a sports store. I wanted to stop but my husband snapped, ‘It’s all overpriced junk. If they had any good stuff they wouldn’t be going out of business.’

‘I could find something for the grandkids for Christmas,’ I grumbled. ‘This could be a good time to get a terrific deal,when they’re about to go belly-up. You like boats and fishing and all that kind of stuff. You’ve had that boat picture stuck on the back of the ‘loo door for years. You just might enjoy a look around.’

‘Don’t be mad, Sarah.’ His eyes just glazed over. ‘The boat I want is going to be custom-built just for me. It’ll be the best boat on the Bay with a place to store my rods, a seat with a swivel and a motor big enough to out-run any squall out there. That mob wouldn’t have anything like that. I’ve only got to save about another 8000 bucks for my custom baby and then watch me make waves!’

‘You’re so damned negative and boring, Harry. Why don’t you just have a look? You don’t have to spend anything.’

‘I’ll let you out here but you’re not getting me into that crowd of mugs.’

‘Well, I want to check it out. You go and have a cup of coffee and I’ll meet you back here in half an hour. I promise I won’t buy anything if that’ll make you happy.’

‘Where have I heard that before? He chuckled to himself in that self-satisfied “I’ll believe it when I see it” way he knows always makes me mad.’

‘You’ll come out of there with a half a dozen bags of rubbish. You always do.’

I got really mad. How dare he suggest I waste money? I reckon I’m a pretty thrifty shopper. I’ve got a good nose for a bargain. I make our pension stretch until it starts to squeal. He’d made me really mad this time. I’ll show him I can spend half an hour at a sale and not buy a darn thing, no matter what. Mr smart-arse won’t be able to gloat this time and say ‘ I knew they’d rip it off you.’

I squared my shoulders and pushed my way into the crowded store. Every aisle was jam-packed with golf clubs, basketballs, hockey equipment, fishing gear, and muscle building exercise equipment. Everything had a whopping banner attached. CLOSING DOWN SALE. Up to 80% OFF. TODAY AND TOMORROW.

I just love the excitement and being part of the crowd at a sale. I strode down one aisle after another, picking things up, looking at their price tickets and dumping them back a again. It was then I saw it, right at the back of the store. The gleaming white hull of the runabout in my husband’s favourite picture. It was loaded with life jackets, oars, fishing gear, a swivel seat and a small Aussie flag flying from a miniature flagpole on top of the half-cabin.

I swallowed hard and blinked three times. Sure enough. It was still there. Identical to the picture in our ‘loo. I couldn’t believe it. My heart began to race. I ripped through the crowd like Barassi after a loose ball. I darned near broke a leg trying to find the price tag.

Behind all the “MUST GO. MAKE AN OFFER. GREAT PRICE TO CLEAR” ballyhoo, I found it. A bit knocked about but it was still clear enough to shock me. The recommended price of $8750 was crossed out and written in with a biro was the sign ‘TO CLEAR $2750 AS IS .NO RETURN’ This has got to be a mistake. Just in case, though, I hid the price tag under the coiled mooring rope and spun around looking for a salesman. How come you can never find one when you want him? I saw a youth about sixteen, wearing a tag saying, ‘Hi, I’m Kenny. Ask me Anything.’

Kenny was demonstrating to a group of young boys how to cast a lure. It seemed to be as big a mystery to Kenny as it was to his audience. I clutched his shirt. ‘Kenny, tell me about that white runabout. What’s wrong with it? Why is it only $2750?’

‘There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s brand new, never been in the water. We’re having a closing down sale, that’s all. And I think you get all the life jackets and paddles and trailer, too. I’ll go and check with my dad.’

A few minutes later he came back and said, ‘I’m sorry, madam. Someone made a mistake on the sale tag. It’s supposed to be $4750 for the whole package. My dad is in charge of the sale and he said the right price is more than $8000 so it is only about half price. Dad says it’s a terrific deal.’

I felt tears sting my eyes.

‘I knew it was too good to be true. My husband has a picture of a dreamboat and that’s it exactly. I started to dream myself when I saw that price tag. It’s his 66 birthday on Friday. He had to retire because his health was not good. It’s been a struggle on the pension since then, but ya know, the stubborn old fool has been saving $10 a week to buy one just like this. He’s just an old man with a silly dream. Always said he wanted to spend his retirement on the Bay chasing snapper in his dreamboat.'

A lump came up in my throat as my voice trailed off and I turned away. I pushed my way towards the entrance when Kenny caught up with me. ‘Do you have $750 and a bit more for the tax, madam?’

My heart leaped. ‘Yes. Yes. I can find that much but that’s all.’ I knew I had saved about $800 towards my cataract operation.

‘Well madam, you get your husband sitting out on the front veranda on Friday morning about 10 o’clock and dad and I will arrive to deliver the boat. We’ll even put a big bow on it for his birthday.’

The stinging tears I felt earlier now began to flow. I wiped the back of my hand across my face and with a shaking hand signed the cheque. Kenny had a sad look and I noticed his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallowed hard.

As he took the cheque Kenny said, ‘Madam, I want to tell you why we are doing this. You should know. This store was my Grandad’s. He ran it for more than 30 years. He was always promising to retire and go fishing in that special runabout. He ordered it, custom built just last year but. Well, he never would take the time off to go fishing.’

Kenny swallowed hard again. My Grandad died suddenly just last week. He was only 68 years old. Dad and I both think he’d be mighty happy that your husband gets this boat. Just make sure he uses it a lot, OK? Promise?’

I could see Kenny was now like me. He needed a tissue. We stood there together, lost in our thoughts and blowing our noses.

‘I promise,’ I said as I dashed off to find dear old grumpy Harry.

On Friday morning Harry thought I had flipped when I insisted we have morning tea on the veranda. ‘It’s a bloody cold wind out there Sarah.’

I wasn’t prepared for what happened when Kenny and his dad pulled up out front with a blast on the car horn, a big blue satin bow wrapped around the boat.

‘It’s for your birthday, darling,’ I said.

Harry turned towards me with tears in his red eyes. ‘Sarah, how could you do this? You have destroyed my dream. I never wanted a boat. I only wanted to dream about having one!


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