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Short Story SURPRISE!


Monica looked out the lounge room window and called to her brother, “Max, they’re here.” She ran to the front door, “Hi Andy, hi guys, will you be back at 8.30?”

Andy nodded. “Yes. Is everything ready?”

“It will be.”

Max appeared putting on his coat and they left.

Monica went to the breakfast room where her brother Joshua was sitting at the breakfast table with their parents Laurie and Diane. “They’ve gone. Let’s recap.”

Laurie pressed a forefinger into Josh’s arm, “Listening?” Josh grimaced and pulled away.

 “Andy, Skye and Greg have taken Max to a Thai restaurant and will have him back by 8.30. We need to get busy, put up decorations, lay out glasses and finger food, put drinks and ice in the plastic rubbish bins. I have invited twenty-two of Max’s friends and they are all coming except Laura and Peter who are camping in Pemberton.”

Diana leaned forward. “Do we have enough of everything dear?”

Monica thrust out her chin. “Mum, I have been over this with you. We have catered for about fifty: twenty of Max’s friends, eight neighbours, ten aunts, uncles and cousins, and Granny Phillips. We’ve over catered; there is enough food and drink for a hundred people.”

“Good girl,” said Laurie.

Monica continued, “Guests are invited for 7.30 and the DJ will be here at 7.45.”

Monica and her family went about their jobs. Guests steadily trickled in.

Josh escaped to chill out on the front veranda. A bus pulled up bearing a banner,

PUFF DOGS Perth University Football Club (Australian Rules)

The captain of the Second Eighteen team stood next to the driver and addressed the passengers. “This is the last stop in our pub crawl, although as you can see it is not a pub, it’s the home of PUFFS President, Mack Dawson.”

The bus driver said, “No it’s not. This is 100 Jones Street not 100 James Street.” The team captain made no response. The driver shrugged.

“It is also Mack’s birthday party and there will be other guests so behave. The bus will return to the Clubhouse at 10.30. I’ll see you in February for pre-season.”

In the dim, Josh from the veranda, saw figures alighting from the bus and approaching. He shouted into the house, “Mum, there’s a crowd of nurses getting off a bus and coming this way.” Diane emerged and peered out. As the crowd came within the halo of the veranda light she said, “They are men dressed as nurses.”

The football players, in white nurses’ dresses with white hats pinned to the back of their heads, crowded onto the veranda. Diana said, “Hello, I’m Max’s mum, are you friends of Max?”

The team captain said, “Mack’s friends, that’s right.

Diana said, “This is not a fancy-dress party.”

“That’s okay, we have a silly footy club tradition: on the evening of the last game of the season we dress up in women’s clothes and do a pub crawl in a bus. Tonight we are nurses. How do we look?”

Diana nodded slowly, “Very smart.”

She looked at a wide-eyed Josh and opened the fly wire door. “Well come in. Drinks are in plastic buckets outside the back door. Max is due at 8:30.”

One of the football players asked the team captain, “What did she say?”

“She said Mack’s due at 8:30. I guess he is chairing a club board meeting; team captains don’t have to attend.”

The football players jammed the doorways on their way to the drink bins then separated and mingled.

Granny Phillips, on a low red felt antique sofa, marvelled at the crowd: neighbours and relatives, Max’s friends, and a lot of men dressed as nurses. The sofa swayed and groaned as two football players joined her for a chat.

Three of Max’s friends, bearing gifts, looked in from the doorway of the living room. One said, “Is Max gay?”

They added their gifts to the pile on the piano stool. A football player asked them, “Who are the presents for?”


Another player said, “What did he say?”


“We didn’t bring any presents. Awkward.”

Josh returned to the veranda and checked his phone to see whether the girl he liked from the library was coming. He looked up to see a car leading five other cars onto the front lawn. The last was a dual cab utility with a sign on the door, “Rosalie Lawn Bowls Club Inc, Service Vehicle.”

Couples in crisp white lawn bowls outfits got out of the cars and stood on the lawn around the driver of the first car, the bowling club’s social director. He said, “Bit of shush please. Well done for following me, I thought we might have got separated at the last big roundabout. Now as I said at the Clubhouse, this is Tim and Judy Quick’s house, and we are having this week’s post-game drinks and eats here; but also celebrating the 65th birthday of Honorary Life Member, John Gorman. John, don’t feign ignorance.”

The social director’s wife whispered to him, “This is the wrong place. This is 110 Jones Street not 11 Jones Street.

He turned and called up to Josh on the veranda. “Is this the birthday party?”

Josh nodded slowly and said yes.

“There you go.”

Ladies smoothed down their pleated dresses and men tucked shirts into pants. The social director led them past Josh into the house. He stopped at the double doorway of the lounge room. In the living room the guests and football players stopped talking.

“We’re looking for Tim and Judy,” he said.

People shrugged or shook their heads. The lawn bowlers merged into the crowd. The social director turned to his wife, “There’s no one here from the bowling club other than the members that came in convoy with us.”

“They may be other friends of John Gorman,” she said, adding with her hand to the side of her mouth, “if this is the right place.”

David Peterson, the semi-retired accountant from next door was in the dining room working the room.

“Are you a nurse?”

“No a football player.”

“Are you a poof?”

“No, a PUFF, I play for Perth University Football Club, PUFF.

David moved on.

“Are you a nurse?”

“No, I play lawn bowls.”

He moved on again.

“Are you a football player?”

“Am I dressed in a nurse’s outfit?”


“There’s your answer. I’m a friend of Max.”

David went off to look for his wife.

It was 8.10pm. Monica was out the front waiting for the DJ.

A flat top truck screeched to a halt in the middle of the road. The cage along the side of the platform bore a campaign banner showing a man’s face and the words “Vote Laurie Halbert 1”. People were standing on the truck platform leaning against the mesh, wearing tee-shirts bearing the same picture and words.

Laurie Halbert dropped from the passenger side of the cabin and looked at the house. He saw a crowd through every window. “Damn, we’re late. I should have been on time for my own campaign launch.”

The driver leaned across the bench seat and shouted through the open passenger’s door, “Laurie, this is Jones Street not Jones Place.”

“What? No. See for yourself, it’s the launch, it’s started.”

A woman dressed wearing the campaign tee-shirt said to Halbert, “We should have conducted the campaign launch in a public place, it seems elitist to do it in a private home. As campaign manager I should have had the final say.”

Halbert hissed at her, “What is the point of going into that now?”

The campaign workers jumped off the truck and entered the house with posters, placards and banners and got busy displaying them. Two campaign workers stood in the living room holding a long Laurie Halbert banner and looked at the wall.

“How do we put this up?” said one.

“Feed the rope through the top grommets and tie it to the hooks on the picture rails.”

As the banner rose the room fell silent. Someone said, “Who’s Laurie Halbert?” Someone else raised a glass. “To Laurie, may he win the election. Whatever it is.” They held up their drinks, “To Laurie.”

Halbert walked in. “It’s him,” shouted someone. Everybody laughed.

Halbert walked outside with his campaign manager. “I don’t recognise anyone except the people from our truck.”

“They must have been sent by Party Headquarters; HQ often recruits party members from other Divisions for these events.”

Monica was just inside the front door marvelling at proceedings. A man tapped her shoulder, “Monica? I’m the DJ.”

“You’re late. I’ll show you where to set up.”

DJ Al Packa set up in a corner of the dining room and put on a hip hop song.

A lawn bowler said to another, “What’s that sound?”

“That doof doof sound? It’s music.”

The young ones danced. The principal feature of the dance was that they separated their fingers and waved their hands as if putting out a match.

The lawn bowlers stood with backs to the wall. A lawn bowler struggled forward to the DJ. “Do you have any music we can do line dancing to?”

“Sure. I’ve got several songs; they are hip hop, but you can line dance to them. I’ve seen it on YouTube.”

The DJ put on a song sung by a hip hop singer with contributions in the chorus from a veteran country music singer. The lawn bowlers cheered; they formed lines and began line dancing. They waved the hip hoppers into the lines. A lady bowler stood at the front demonstrating moves. The dancers quickly mastered the “Cowboy,” the “Boogie” and the “Hoedown”, but some struggled with the “Butterfly” and joined the observers against the wall. A hip-hop dancer stood alongside the bowls lady demonstrating hip hop moves which the bowlers incorporated.

Monica and her parents looked on from the hallway. Monica looked at her watch. “Max will be here in a few minutes, Mum you need to get everyone ready.”

Diane went up to the DJ and who gave her a microphone and stopped the music. The dancers groaned. Diane waved the mic around like a baton, “Max and his friends are due in five minutes. Everyone come into this room. When the lights go out, crouch down and when Max walks in, jump up and shout ‘Happy Birthday Max’.”

Someone absently hummed the last song. Diane said, “Who is that? Be quiet.”

Andy’s car pulled into the driveway. Max walked onto the road, “Look at the cars, there must be a party in the street. It’s not my house, everyone is out, or our fuses have blown.”

Skye said, “Max, are you going to invite us in for coffee?”

Max said, “Oh sure.”

Max opened the front door and stepped into the living room. The crouching crowd got up: “Happy birthday Max!”

Max recognised his friends and neighbours and relatives but not the old people wearing white outfits or the men wearing nurses’ dresses or the people wearing campaign tee-shirts.

He stood silent.

A football player whispered to another, “That’s not Mack.” A lawn bowler whispered to another, “I thought the birthday boy was John Gorman.” A campaign worker said to the campaign manager, “What sort of launch is this?” Someone near the front said shush.

Monica approached Max, “Are there people here you don’t know?”

“Most of them.”

Monica tapped her glass with a fork. “Welcome everyone to Max’s 18th. It’s great to see so many relatives and neighbours, and his friends old and new. ‘To Max’.”

After the toast, Max’s friends came forward and high-fived and embraced him. One said, “Mate we didn’t know you had such a wide circle of friends.” The others sniggered.

Laurie Halbert turned to his campaign manager, “This isn’t a campaign launch, it’s a private function.”

“Yes, but it’s a good crowd. Let’s launch the campaign and be done with it.” She took the microphone from Monica, “I am pleased to announce the launch of Laurie Halbert’s election campaign. Will you toast Laurie?”

Someone said, “We already have,” and people laughed.

The football team captain took the microphone from the campaign manager. “Hi friends, I’m team captain of the PUFFS Second Eighteen team and this is the end of footy season. We’ll sing the Club anthem.” The players sang lustily and the others mimed.

The bowlers’ social director took the microphone. “As social director of the Rosalie Lawn Bowls we thank our hosts and look forward to meeting them. We offer our best wishes to our new friend Max. Hey Max, we have a vacancy for Captain of Juniors, think it over. While we’re here, a toast drink to our Honorary Life Member, John Gorman on his 65th birthday”. All toasted John Gorman.

Max took the microphone. “I should make a thank you speech, but I am overcome with emotion, so I’ll just say thanks to everyone, whoever you are and whatever you’ve come for.”

Max turned back and looked at Monica.

She raised her glass, “Surprise.”



Copyright Dan Abbott 2024


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