12+ "Are we there yet?" Milly whines from the back seat.
"I'm bored," adds Tyler.
"Oh, for goodness sake!" I snap, eyeballing the pair in the rear vision mirror. "It's only been two hours."
Kids nowadays! The drive has been smooth and fast compared to the narrow, windy roads of my childhood family holidays, crawling bumper-to-bumper through cruddy little towns, now thankfully bypassed. And the kids have devices with games and movies to entertain them. When I was their age, sandwiched between my big brothers in the back, I only had the passing scenery to gaze at or a comic book to read.
"Darling, why don't we take a break at Berry," Jasmine suggests, laying a calming hand on my arm. "I've heard they've got a new playground."
"Yes, Mum, playground, please, Dad!" chorus Milly and Tyler, outnumbering me. I need some fresh air, too, as thoughts of the back seat of the old family wagon have resurfaced memories of childhood car sickness.
Berry was one of those little towns we crawled through in the wagon, with Dad cursing the traffic. But to be fair, it wasn't cruddy, and like Jasmine, Mum would suggest we take a break for something warm and tasty-smelling from the bakery.
And then we'd have a treasure hunt in a junk shop. Or search for a match for the wagon among the shiny hubcaps, cladding the walls of the bottle shop next to the hotel with the wide wrap-around veranda. And we'd end our break at Apex Park on the edge of town, with its lush lawns and gardens, old-world rotunda, and playground
Turning off the highway before the Berry bypass, we follow the satnav directions for the Boongaree Rotary Nature Play Park. I look for Apex Park but can't see it through a thick screen of trees and bushes.
"THERE'S THE PLAYGROUND!" scream Milly and Tyler, pointing excitedly ahead.
"Okay, kids, settle down," I urge in vain and park the car. Doors fly open, and Milly and Tyler run toward the playground's arched entrance. I shake my head in amazement at the flying fox, climbing nets and bridges, slides and swings, sand and water play areas, and a cubby house.
"This doesn't look like the old Apex Park playground," I comment to Jasmine.
She offers to stay with the kids while I stretch my legs. It could also help quell my car sickness, so I walk two blocks to the town centre.
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Thanks to the bypass, there's little traffic on the main street today, and Dad would be pleased. The hotel's wide veranda is still impressive, but the hub cups are gone from the bottle shop walls, and I feel disappointed.
I'm not in the mood for browsing junk shops, and I fear further disappointment at the Apex Park playground. But then I catch a warm and tasty-smelling childhood memory wafting from nearby, and I break into a broad smile.
Are we there yet? I open the bakery door and walk inside. Yes!
© 2022 Robert Fairhead
I wrote "Are We There Yet?" in September 2022 for a Flash Fiction Competition hosted by the South Coast Writers Centre and Berry Writers Festival.
The brief for the competition was that the short piece of fiction must be under 500 words (my story is 498 words). And writers should include the theme or word "berry" but "interpret the theme in a broad and creative way".
My interpretation, however, was literal, about the town of Berry, on the NSW south coast, two hours south of Sydney. And it was inspired by a conversation with my twenty-year-old son.
My son is currently working in Berry. But he has a long association with the town because we used to stop there for a break on the drive to our old south coast holiday house. And one of his favourite places as a young boy was Apex Park, running about its lush lawns, playing chasey around the rotunda and, of course, playing in the playground.
He mentioned the new Boongaree Rotary Nature Play Park and said if the playground had existed when we used to stop there, we would never have got him out of it!
I haven't been to Berry since we sold our holiday house in 2016. But talking to my son about the new playground and his memories of the old one had me reflecting on our family holidays. And while I didn't win or get short-listed for the Flash Fiction competition, I'm happy I wrote this short homage to Berry.
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 his first twelve short stories for the Furious Fiction writing competition, Twelve Furious Months. And in 2022, his second collection of Furious Fictions, Twelve More Furious Months.
Besides writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.