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They'd been lucky.  No rain for the weekend. It'll be our first weekend away, Jill thought. They'd never really been away together since Mark had moved in to her Melbourne flat three months earlier. They were both on the up, rushing to the top, egged on by success, the taste of it thrilling through their veins whenever they landed an account.

"One posh flat for two is enough," Mark had said with a grin. "Don't need two." Jill had seen the sense in that; they'd see more of each other, too.  But as it turned out, they just kept rushing, stream upwards all the time.  Sometimes it felt like they weren't even in the same river.

She pulled up the collar of her Drizabone 3/4 length.  Mark had one too, a long length. She'd got it for him after their first month together; it happened to have been his birthday.  His lanky body in the coat reminded her of Lee Van Cleef in that Sergio Leone Western with the wailing mouth organ. They'd been crazy about the film in Europe and the coats were local Oz!  But Mark refused to wear it.

"It stinks!" he said.

"Only stinks if you don't wear it. It's the oil that keeps it waterproof.  Gotta air it."

That weekend, Jill managed to persuade Mark to air his Drizabone. They were going up to Ballarat to prospect and pan for gold- away from it all. Even if it didn't rain, the oiled coat would keep out the cold.

They got to the old part of town that had been the centre of the gold boom in the mid-1800s: it had become a tourist jaunt, a bit of fun for the weekend. You could rent your pails and shovels and sieves to strain the nuggets - if you believed in finding any - and off you went.

Jill didn't mind the tourist traps. She'd close her eyes and just imagine how things must have been way back then with the jostling of the diggers in their blue and red serge shirts. She saw the shop fronts with their hats from California, leather belts, mining boots and camping blankets. There'd be picks and pots and pans set out on the pavements. She could hear the excited reports on nuggets picked from the sand or just lying around on the ground. She could feel the crush of bodies, smelling as if they'd been cooped up on ships from England, Scotland, Ireland and America, rushing to the gold they hoped to find in Ballarat.

She’d embroider a little here and there until she had things the way she wanted. Sometimes she even lost control and followed the brawny men to their simple tents and bark huts, some with just strips of hung and pegged calico to shield them from the rain and wind. She'd watch them do their chores, some in turn, others with a wife along. They all wore beards, the fashion of a single-minded pursuit of fortune. She'd watch the teams of fours and six as they picked and shovelled and barrowed the earth along to have it cradled until the gold separated out. She could even smell their breakfasts of steak and chops with pots of tea and suggested to Mark they have the same.

Mark didn't always understand how she came up with her ideas. But somehow they seemed to fit in the current stream - a matter of timing.  He worked out his until they sat, iron cast, strong and right. That was what she loved about him, apart from his beard, she thought with a fond smile. He was so straight  -  honest, sometimes painfully so, as if he were barrelled right up to the top with it. Who could resist?

The following day they started digging and panning in their coats that cheated the wind. They squatted for hours sieving the soil.

"I found some - a great big rock," Jill shrieked, holding up a sparkling fist of yellow and grey. "Gold, Mark!  Gold! Must be worth a fortune."

Mark took the rock and turned it over in his hand. He smiled at her: "Iron Pyrites, darling. Fools' Gold. You can chuck it.”

Jill pursed her lips in mock dismay. "Too good to be true.  But it is true," she added with a mischievous grin. "You know what the Aboriginals say - it must be *something* - so it can't be worthless".

"Come on. It's not worth a thing," Mark sighed and went on panning.

Jill sat back in the dust and looked at her fools’ gold fist. It was strong; it was beautiful, the way it caught the light and sent it back to her in sparkles that changed depending on how she looked at it or the way she held it.

"Wow, Jill! A whole pan of nuggets! Tiny ones, but enough of them to be worth a bit."

Mark's face was bright with excitement. Five or six nuggets blocked the holes of the sieve. They were dull, not shiny like her fist, dull yellow blobs.

"It's gold,” he said. “Enough to make something."

Jill looked at the blobs and her hand tightened over the hard stone fist she had slipped into the pocket of her coat. The gold was real, could be formed and would then stay that way. Her rock would stay as it was, but would change for her every time she looked at it. It would be her "something" -  up to her to see in it what she wanted.


Three months later Mark and Jill sat over dinner facing the Southern lights.

"Our own gold," Mark said.  He gently rubbed the band on Jill’s finger as he brought her left hand up to his lips.  Through the frame of Mark's shoulder and neck, the sparkling fist winked at her from the sideboard.

Artwork Jörg Allinger

Sylvia Petter, an Australian based in Vienna, Austria, can also be found all over the place. She writes stories such as those in her collections, The Past Present, Back Burning and Mercury Blobs. A collection of her stories, Schimmer der Verganenheit, will be published in German in 2014. She´s a great friend of a little old lady in the back of her garden who likes to write erotic tales. Sylvia has a website, with stories, poems, articles and pix, but in need of updating. She is currently up to her ears helping to organise a short story conference, and is also composting a series of drafts of her novels, Ambergris and Tillandsia, so work on the website just has to wait.

Fool's Gold


Sylvia Petter

Hundertwasserhaus by Sharon Ratheiser

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