Published 9 December 202213 December 2022 · Fiction / Friday Fiction Fiction | Quitting Matthew Sini A week after Tom left, Gus was yawning through a morning piss when the patter on the roof intensified to a rattle. Before he could shake the last few dribbles into the toilet bowl, the rattle swelled into a roar. Gus fanged it downstairs—no time to flush or wash hands—kicking open the back door to assess the damage. Not too bad so far: a couple of broken bamboo trellises, but the vine with the most promising bundle of unripe fruit was sinking into wet soil. Should’ve used wire. He sucked in a breath and charged out. Bits of ice thudded on his back and pinged off his head. A stray hailstone brushed past his balls. Should’ve put shorts on. He pulled the big sunshade across the deck. Before he could open it to cover the garden bed, the hail smashed another trellis. He scooped up the vines that had fallen into the sodden earth, rethreading them onto the flimsy bamboo stakes. As he moved the earth, he exposed a freshly buried cigarette butt. Tom was supposed to have quit months ago. Could it be someone else’s? How long did it take for ciggies to decompose? Gus tossed the butt behind him and kept working. Later, when he looked down at the squashed cigarette butt next to his foot, the back of his throat itched like it had that day in front of the State Library, when Tom lit up in the middle of that rainbow crowd, when rainbow flags flapped in the wind on swinging poles and rainbow people pushed past, looking for their friends or lovers or their friends and lovers. Tom had pulled him to a muddy spot under a tree. Faggy music doofed and thrummed through the ground. A pair of twinks wearing crop tops that said ‘love is love’ shuffled past. Same shirt, same shoes, same hair. One had said, Do you think they’ve announced it yet? And the other had pointed to the screens set up in front of the library and said, No, not yet. There’s nothing up there. The officials haven’t come out yet. Why’re you so short with me? I’m not, I answered your question. Yeah, but your tone… Tom rolled his eyes and said those two sounded like they were already married. They can make it official soon, Gus said. You’ve got more faith in this country than I do. Tom took another drag of his cigarette. Then Gus decided to make it interesting, said that if the country voted yes, Tom would have to quit smoking. Tom looked at him. Gus took a deep breath and added that if the tally was over fifty percent, they would finally get engaged. Sure. Would have to quit ciggies to afford a wedding anyway. Tom winked at him and Gus scoffed. You’re so romantic, babe. A bald guy with a grey beard hung off the Redmond Barry statue, waving a giant rainbow flag and Gus could still remember the old fella’s desperate eyes when the pulsing dance music cut out. Everyone had watched as the head of the government agency counting the votes walked onto the big screen in front of the library. Tom had clasped his hands under his chin and bit his lip and Gus put his arm around him, squeezed his shoulder. After droning on about the survey and what his department did, the government guy finally provided the result: YES responses tallied seven million eight hundred and seventeen thousand and two hundred and forty-seven, representing a 61.6% majority. The roar bloomed around them. More coloured smoke and confetti shot into the sky. Gus spotted the two twinks in the crop tops jumping up and down, chanting, We won! We won! Tom buried his face into Gus’s chest, and Gus said, I guess we’re engaged. The clear brightness of that day had made victory all the sweeter, but today, the hail was still clattering down. He caught his reflection in the window. No longer a hard body. Tom had asked Gus to cancel his gym membership because Gus made a habit of cruising the showers after his workouts. That was one of their last arguments. What’s the point of being in an open relationship, Gus had said, if you can’t fuck around? Tom liked the arrangement but only until Gus told him about all the gym rats he’d scored. So Gus had let himself go, growing tomatoes instead of muscles. Dadbods were in now anyway. Gus picked up the ciggie butt and peered up into those domineering clouds, before defiantly popping it into his mouth. He rolled it between his teeth, gagged at the grit beneath his tongue. He tried to extract a familiar taste. Got nothing but woodiness and blood and bone. As he masticated the little piece of spongy plastic, he turned to see one of the bamboo trellises drop into the soil again, taking a small offshoot with it. He turned away from that tiny disaster and scoffed at the absurd view in the window: a middle-aged man, alone and nude, clinging to an oversized umbrella. Moving closer to his reflection, Gus dragged the sunshade with him. The hail slammed down into the garden bed and he could feel mud spattering his heels. Despite his chewing, the filter wouldn’t disintegrate. So he swallowed it. He bared his teeth in the rain-speckled glass to ensure he’d gotten rid of all the dirt. Then he turned around, watched the flimsy bamboo snap and the tomatoes sink into the mud. Matthew Sini Matthew Sini is a writer currently based in Melbourne. He has published essays, plays, screenplays and fiction in both Australia and overseas. More by Matthew Sini Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places. If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate. 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