Short Stories | Aussie Author | Literature

Exclusive extract from A S Patrić’s The Butcherbird Stories, “H.B.”

Today we are celebrating the release of

Miles Franklin award-winning author A S Patrić’s new book

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

The Butcherbird Stories

with exclusive rights to publish (below) one of the eleven short stories within the collection.

The Butcherbird Stories - Hardback

H.B.

The two women were speaking half-turned towards each other on the couch while the boy sat at their feet on the carpet. He had a clean sheet of paper and a greylead pencil, just sharpened for him by the woman wearing black. He had followed her into the kitchen and watched her sharpen the pencil over the sink with a butcher’s knife. The pencil pierced the unruled piece of paper on the carpet.

She’d been wearing black for years because leukaemia killed her son. Living alone now. He wondered how old the boy had been. The first time he and his mother visited had been brief. An exchange of books. This time the two women settled in to talk about writing. Both had been writers in another language and in another country. She wasn’t old—the boy had seen crones before who always wore black. No wrinkles on the backs of her hands and her fingernails were perfect and clear. He’d noticed when she gave him the greylead in the kitchen. When she patted his hands. His mother’s fingernails broke easily, one or another cut to the quick, and they were always painted red.

There was a pillow nearby, so he crawled over to it and lay his head down. Let the women murmur as he drifted away, waiting for it to be time to go home. There were pictures of the son around the house in frames—one of him in a karate uniform like the boy himself wore every Tuesday afternoon.

The boy held onto the pencil and had a dream about drawing on the white cloth of the woman’s pillow as though it were a sheet of paper. This time the sharp HB didn’t push through because he’d worked out that all he needed to do was wet the tip with his tongue before drawing. He’d seen that done in a film but it didn’t make sense when he was fully conscious again. This pencil would pierce the soft pillow, of course, just as it had the paper on the thick carpet.

He walked down the two steps beyond the door and waited as the two women said a few final words inside. The flat looked smaller from the outside. A living room that was also the woman’s bedroom. And there was nothing more except for a tiny bathroom and kitchen.

No garden or trees outside her windows. Communal concrete extended down to the bitumen of the road. There wasn’t even a fence.

The woman didn’t wave to the boy or his mother from her doorway. She stepped down instead and gave the boy the pencil to take home with him. Patting his hands again in the way she’d done in the kitchen. “For your art,” she said, with a twisted smile that acknowledged it was a very meagre gift. Her English wasn’t good. It sounded to the boy as though she had given him the pencil she’d sharpened with a butcher’s knife and told him it was for his heart.

Extract from The Butcherbird Stories by A.S. Patrić (Transit Lounge $29.99), now available at all good bookstores and online at www.transitlounge.com.au

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Read our review of this moving and impactful collection of stories.

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The Butcherbird Stories ReviewThe Butcherbird Stories Synopsis:

Eleven stories. Each like a matchstick struck to illuminate the darkness. Evocations of place ranging from a Bangla jungle to the deep, blue Danube to a winter beach in Melbourne excite and seduce. But what truly draws the reader in are the unexpected landscapes of people’s lives, explored with rare sensitivity, grace and a fearless truthfulness.

A lonely St Kilda chef invites a beautiful busker to use his spare room. A father sings a lullaby to comfort his young daughter who has woken from a nightmare. A taxi driver picks up an old-world gentleman who is reluctant to disclose his destination. A young immigrant boy growing up in the western suburbs of Melbourne daydreams of infinite possibility.

Death, loneliness, passion and belief: Patrić takes on the big questions in life and writes about the small people of the world with stylistic verve and deep humanity.

This collection of stories reveals the author, best known for his award-winning novels, as a true master of the short story form.

(Transit Lounge, November 2018)

Get your copy of The Butcherbird Stories from:

Booktopia

About the Author, A S Patrić

A. S. Patrić is a bookseller and teacher of creative writing. He is the author of two short story collections, Las Vegas for Vegans and The Rattler & other stories, and a novella called Bruno Kramzer. His debut novel Black Rock White City was published to critical acclaim in 2015 and won the Miles Franklin Award in 2016. His second novel Atlantic Black was published in November 2017 and a new collection of stories The Butcherbird Stories in 2018. Alec lives in bayside Melbourne with his wife and two daughters.