THE ROWING MACHINE • by Derek McMillan

“I’m not using it to tow penguins to the moon,” was all Dave ever said about the contraption he was making in the shed. He was not a talkative chap, Dave.

He worked as a surly shop-assistant in McTavish’s fish shop. Old man McTavish liked his shop-assistants surly. “Folk come here to buy fish, not to pass the time of day. And you wouldn’t want to pass the time of day with those half-wits anyway,” was his considered opinion on the matter.

So time went by and Dave got on with constructing his contraption. People noticed parts arriving at the cottage, electronic parts, metal parts and most intriguing specialist latex parts. He was buying the best, it was assumed in the village, that a surly shop-assistant’s salary could buy.

Dave had lived in Homely Cottage ever since his parents had died. I remember asking old Phil, who was acknowledged to be the village expert on everything, about Dave’s parents.

“Well, they married for love, as people do. Then they settled down to forty-seven years of rowing with each other. Neighbours couldn’t help hearing their rows. Now, as you know, village folk are fond of knowing everybody’s business at the best of times but people passing in the street could pick up Dave’s dad’s opinion of Dave’s mum and vice versa.

“I always assumed that Dave is so good at the surliness because of his upbringing but he’s become significantly surlier since he has been in Homely Cottage all on his own.”

After the completion and installation of the contraption in Homely Cottage, Dave became marginally less surly. I must emphasise the “marginally” because Dave still seemed the surliest man in the village.

Dave had a great habit of talking to himself which was fortunate because nobody else was interested in talking to him. The fifteenth time he met you with abuse or a stony silence you tended to get the message. People didn’t think anything about the voices coming from Homely Cottage although they did notice that they seemed to be raised in anger more often of late.

Some joker had the wheeze of putting a cuddly toy penguin outside Dave’s door. This caused some hilarity because his denial of any penguin involvement in his contraption was well-known. Unfortunately Dave tripped over the little plaything and turned the street blue with his invective against the person or persons unknown who deposited the penguin…

I don’t know if this would be a good time to admit that I was the culprit. No, perhaps not.

The upshot of this was that his Aunt Edith came to stay with Dave because his broken ankle was preventing him from his accustomed activities.

While she was there, she accidentally — well, perhaps not all that accidentally — turned on Dave’s contraption.

“That was a bloody stupid thing to do,” said a voice from the contraption.

“You’re a fine one to talk. If I had a pound for every stupid thing you’ve done I would be rich,” said a different voice.

The exchange became more and more heated and it became apparent that parts of the contraption were capable of landing blows on other parts of it, which then apparently cried out with pain when it did so.

So at last we found out the secret of Dave’s machine. Missing his parents, he had constructed a rowing machine.

Derek McMillan is the author of Salt Wars which was published on Kindle in December 2013. It is a fantasy inspired by Salzburg and its Prince-Archbishop Wolf-Dietrich von Raitenau. It is also available in German and French. You can “try before you buy” on Kindle so why not have a look? Derek is a retired teacher and his editor is his wife, Angela McMillan.

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