This story was written for the Wellsford Library Reimagine Albertland short story writing competition. It took first place in the adult category.
Save our Chip Shop
By Jackie Russell
When Luke became mayor of Albertland – Where the future goes forward, his dogmatic mission was to gain the recognition his techie city rightfully deserved. For years, Auckland was the big smoke, but the Great Pandemic of 2020 generated a boom for outliers and Albertland’s population grew like a virus on Viagra.
The city’s eminent leader was only a little kid during the historic lockdowns, when many parents were home all day, every day. Luke’s dad was a complete bastard and when he lost his job, he was either catatonic on the couch or cuffing Luke’s ears with the back of his hand. Luke and his terrified little sister, Aurora stayed out of the house and out of their dad’s reach. When they asked about their mum, their father mumbled ‘the silly bitch’ and they did not ask again.
When the months of isolation finally ended, the old man took his fragile kids to the local chip shop for a feed. He seemed happy, and Luke and his sister felt safe in the company of others.
Luke’s only good boyhood memories were in that old chip shop, where he celebrated birthdays, took his first date and hassled the newcomers with his mates. As time went on fish became more difficult to catch, prices went up and eventually, the owner resorted to snapper substitute which was completely shite. As Albertland grew the newbies preferred the glitzy Planet Plant-Based franchise, and the chip shop closed.
Anything that could be recycled or reused was stripped from the building and all that remained was a stark concrete pad and gravel. Luke regularly visited his vacant lot and gave it a good spraying to kill off weeds and the pesky self-seeded mānuka that constantly invaded from nearby re-generating bush. For years he kept the last of the crumbling concrete slab under control.
Now the 22nd century loomed, and developers bought some land down by the old wharf. When they applied for consent to build a microplastics processing plant, Luke gave his mayoral support for another win for Albertland. The plant would help clean up the mess in the ocean and provide another high-tech income stream for his city. He was about to rubber stamp the proposal when the interfering Purpilites demanded the developers restore an environmentally significant block of land. Luke despised the eco-layabout Purpilites, whose sole purpose was to slow down progress and hug trees.
However, the laws of the land supported the Purpilites and the developers were bound to restore the designated land – the vacant lot where Albertland’s legendary chip shop had once thrived. Luke’s treasured concrete pad would be smashed to allow an extension to the sanctuary where the last few kauri could grow, free from the terminal die-back fungus.
Luke’s outrage boiled like a scoop of chips being dropped into a deep fryer. He promptly founded the Save Our Chip Shop Society and campaigned to block the preposterous kauri sanctuary. His rough slab of concrete was a nod to a once prosperous fishing industry, a place to remember the Friday night family feed and a tribute to the culinary art of deep frying. There was no way Luke would let it be swallowed up by a few bloody native trees. He successfully stalled the project for a year and tonight, at the grand finale hearing he aimed to shut down the whole stupid idea.
On his way to the Collective Centre, the city’s award-winning meeting venue, Luke spotted his protest gang. They looked bored with their task, and they gazed at the ads on the corners of their My-Is, the personalised eyewear that captivated everyone in the most advanced societies. Luke had spent the last week generating content for digital displays and now his mob was lolling about gawping at commercial claptrap.
Tonight, was his last chance to save the chip shop and he wanted the opposition to know the people of Albertland were on his side. The chip shop stays, no matter what and this public protest was imperative.
When Luke silently hovered beside his protestors, one of the more astute non-waving, placard wavers realised he was now in the company of Albertland’s omnipotent mayor. Luke’s rant and a threat to dock their pay shocked the group into action and with fake enthusiasm, they emitted their signs and chants out into the vacant ether. Their fierce leader knew his supporters and opposers would pass by soon and they must be saturated with his messages.
“One, two, three, four – Albertland loves its chip shop floor.” “What do we want? The chip shop. When do we want it? Fryever.”
Luke was quite chuffed about his signs: Fry The Chip Shop Haters, Less Hui – More History and Our Chip Off The Old Block Must Stay.
As he left the protestors, Luke saw Aurora striding along in her upcycled polar fleece coat. When his younger sister wore that humiliating ragbag made from fabric that refused to rot, he sizzled like a potato fritter. Didn’t she know that every time she washed her plastic patchwork, she flushed a load of micro-junk into her precious ocean? She wasn’t such a holier-than-thou-planet-protecting- Purpilite, after all.
The siblings ignored one another as they entered the Collective Centre. Luke sat on the right side of the hall and Aurora wandered to the left. There were more than two hundred supporters here, on his side of the concrete pad debate and he gave the crowd a confident eyebrow flick. Throughout the years he’d helped many of his go-getter Albertlanders with a few subtle policy tweaks here and there, to quietly aid their wheeling and dealing. Tonight, they were here to help him taste victory.
He avoided looking at his sister who sat there with her few Purpilite comrades, but their persistent chatter and convivial laughter had him hooked. Judging by their lovey-dovey hugging, they had probably all double-dosed on their medicinal marijuana.
The hubbub dissipated with the arrival of the Greenliness Minister, the Minister of Bigger and Better, followed by the Minister for Really Important Old Stuff.
The three big-wigs had probably already decided the fate of the chip shop but they invited those for and against to present their final arguments. Luke didn’t hold back and he proclaimed the importance of retaining the few pieces of the region’s history. He promised that if the concrete pad stayed, he would personally cover the cost of seating and signage where visitors could soak up the atmosphere of the old hotspot that made Albertlanders what they are today. “Fat and full of carcinogenic waste,” shouted a commie Purpilite.
Next, Aurora stood to present her argument, gently expressing her concern that the last few kauri had so few places left where they would survive. The Purpilites had propagated and nurtured the strongest seedlings and part of the history of Papatūānuku would be lost forever if Albertlanders didn’t provide space for the giant tree of Aotearoa. Luke bellowed, “shut up you silly bitch,” and Aurora flinched but she remained staunch while a barrage of jeers spewed from the Save Our Chip Shop Society. “Use your trees to build a bloody boat and bugger off to hipsterville ya weirdoes.” Rapturous applause and loud laughter endorsed the heckler, and Aurora was forced to return to her seat.
The three ministers called the crowd to order and simultaneously announced that they had reviewed each and every one of the submissions, counted the votes, considered the implications and any unintended consequences. Blah, blah, blah, and on they went rambling in tedious gobbledegook. Luke wanted them to cut the waffle and announce the outcome. Would the historic significance of the chip shop floor win or would the nation’s leaders support a few trees that were no use to anyone?
Luke zoned out and reminisced about the good old days – hot fish burning the roof of his mouth, licking salt from his fingers and watching his dad noisily scoff a kiwi classic, hotdog on a stick. Funny, that Aurora wasn’t in many of those memories – maybe because the old bastard always left her at home when she whined and bawled about something pathetic.
He tuned back into the meeting when his mates slapped him on his back, cheered and shook clenched fists in the air. The ministers voted in favour of retaining the concrete pad that represented the history of Albertland. As a compromise, they assigned a group of expert consultants to conduct further research to investigate the potential for creating a narrow kauri corridor alongside the vacant chip shop lot. More blah, blah, blah. Luke didn’t give a toss because it would never happen. The Purpilites never put their money where their mouth was. He turned to his crowd.
“There you have it, people. The power of the democratic process in action.”
The Purpilites consoled one another, and Aurora approached her big brother. She gave him a real hug – not one of those socially safe shoulder taps, and he felt her calm humility and the warmth of her hideous upcycled coat. She pulled away from her big brother, her lips flickered with a little half smile, and she locked eyes with him.
“Congratulations Luke. Dad would be proud of you.”
Luke’s shoulders tensed and pulled up to his neck as his sister left the Collective Centre with her commie friends.