‘Erin Gough’s In Case of Emergency, about ecowarriors gatecrashing a property developer’s fancy party, has a pleasing thrillerish edge to it: suave tough Reg makes for an appealing heroine, deserving a novel of her own.’ Sydney Morning Herald reviews ‘In Case of Emergency, Break Glass‘ published in Kindred: 12 Queer #LoveOzYA Stories
‘There are stories here that budge the reader. One is Erin Gough’s Benny Wins Powerball, a delightful tale of suburban revenge in which the least likely member of a family wins an impossible sum of money, triggering jealousy in an unpleasant brother and sister. Gough deals with them with whimsical malice.’ Sydney Morning Herald reviews ‘Benny Wins Powerball’ published in Best Australian Stories 2012
‘The Promise tells of a boy’s promise to his dying father…[Gough] presents a deceptively simple narrative that ends up in a powerful observation of human relationships…The story is acutely observed and the author creates a tremendous sense of warmth and empathy through her writing.’ The Age reviews ‘The Promise’
‘”Like a fever breaking. Like being shaken awake. It’s the moment of whiplash in a car crash …” Gough is describing the experience of jumping from a bridge at night. In one of the most original stories in the collection, she tells of a friendship — if it could be called that — based on risk, transgression and compulsive attachment to danger. This is a scary story, brilliantly realised, and one of almost allegorical power.’ Gail Jones reviews ‘Jump’
‘[Gough] has a natural talent for story-telling and for creating suspense.’ Amanda Lohrey reviews ‘Night Trip’
‘Instant mashed potato is used to fine effect in this story.’ joanne burns reviews ‘William Shatner vows to save the Great Basin Pocket Mouse’ published in Small Wonder
EXCERPT FROM ‘BENNY WINS POWERBALL’
Benny Wins Powerball, the entire jackpot.
It’s a Saturday night. In Gran Donna’s lounge room the heater’s on and they’re watching the draw on Channel Seven. All three of them crowded in front of the screen, eyeing the coloured balls as they whizz down the plastic tubes and plop into place.
There’s Big Dave, shouting out the numbers as they land – twenty-three! thirty-seven! fifty-five! There’s Jube, marking them off on each of their tickets with a texta. And there’s Benny, gazing from his sister to his brother and back again; at the way the colours on the television – the blues, yellows and pinks – dance across their hopeful eyes like New Year’s fireworks.
Out on the street, everything is closed and dark: the chicken shop, the surf shop, the bank. Even the pub, which overflows in January, is shut tonight for lack of customers. It’s a dead little town, especially at this time of year, when the sea is cold and the colour of a five cent piece. But the sky is clear and the stars are out, thousands of them.
Not that Benny, or Big Dave, or even Jube who goes nuts for stars, who lives by her daily horoscope, would know it. It was hours ago that they drew Gran Donna’s curtains across the window. Hauling the rings along the rod as her sherry glasses – round-middled and short-stemmed, just like Gran Donna – chattered on the sideboard; before settling down onto Gran Donna’s couch, three in a row.
The stars are up there all the same, though, even if no one’s looking: stars like diamonds, like winking eyes. Stars like the stars on the cover of Gran Donna’s Star Wars Trilogy box set.
Gran Donna herself is not in the room. She hasn’t joined them for the weekly draw since Big Dave decreed the front half of the house a no-smoking zone. No matter that it’s her house – if he catches her in the lounge room he goes wild.
“Either quit your filthy habit or stay out,” he’d bellowed the last time she’d stuck her head through the door, waving his fists at her.
So while the rest of them watch for their numbers, she sits in the kitchen sucking at her tobacco pipe and blowing smoke into the fireplace.
The Powerball music tings; it’s the sound of coins falling onto other coins. “Sixty-five!” shouts Big Dave as the last ball tumbles into place. Jube lines up the tickets and runs her finger across them, her french-polished nail with its painted white moon whispering over the little squares of paper.
“Well?” Big Dave asks, leaning over her.
Jube furrows her brow, and double-checks the numbers on the television. Her eyes widen. “I don’t believe it,” she says, and it comes out more like breath than words.
“What is it?” Big Dave bellows.
All three of them stare at the ticket.
“Benny’s?” says Big Dave, grabbing the slip of paper.
On the screen, the studio lights glare off the row of coloured balls. Big Dave stares hard at them and then down at the ticket, mouthing the numbers to himself. When he looks up, his eyes are as wide as his sister’s.
Benny looks at Jube. He looks at Big Dave. Could the numbers really be his? He waits for the room, and the coloured ball growing large inside him, to burst.
But nothing bursts. For a drawn-out moment, nothing happens at all. Nobody screams out, or cheers; nobody says a word. The heater hisses. The sherry glasses, with their cut-crystal sides like Gran Donna’s argyle jumper, gaze emptily. Only the television sings, and now that the draw is over, its song is about flat-bottomed tacos.
Then Big Dave clears his throat.
“Benny has never won a thing in his life,” he says. “Not a raffle. Not a spelling bee. Not even a game of Connect Four.”
“It’s true. He’s a born loser,” says Jube, and the way she says it it’s as if he’s out of the room – in the bathroom, maybe, or getting a glass of water – not sitting next to her with a warm bit of his thigh against hers.
“He’s actually unlucky,” says Big Dave. “Remember the holiday we had at the snow? When Benny was caught in an avalanche, and broke both his legs?”
Jube and Big Dave laugh.
When they have stopped laughing, the room falls quiet again. Quieter than it did last week after nobody won.
Jube grabs Benny’s hand and slaps the winning ticket into it like she’s never been so disappointed with him in all her life. Like he’s back in high school and she’s his teacher, not his younger sister, and the ticket is a detention slip for failing his exams. Like the windfall, which was descending so quickly a moment ago, so heavily that the air’s seams strained to hold it, hasn’t landed in his hands at all but whistled through his parted fingers.
Benny takes the ticket off his palm. His skin stings from where Jube slapped it. He turns the ticket over, stares at the blank white square of paper. He turns it back and brings it up close, an inch from his nose, to read the single sentence written in tiny font beneath the numbers. He has never noticed it before, so faint and small are the letters.
You could be a winner, it says.
Full story published in Sonya Hartnett (ed), Best Australian Stories 2012, Black Inc; Going Down Swinging No.32, September 2011
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