October 21st, 2005
I stepped out, closed the front door and walked briskly around the corner to the little shop for my “Age” and Anzac cookie. Emerging moments later, I turned into Abbotsford and looked down the hill where the headlights of the 57 were visible in the distance. I increased my pace to the nearby stop and got there before the tram shuddered to a halt 3 minutes later; the doors opened and I climbed aboard and sat halfway up the front section, by the window. It was just 07:03 and there were plenty of seats. I validated my ticket, stashed it in the top pocket of my jacket and turned to the paper.
The front page headline was a typically over-reactive piece of sensationalism about the possibility of a bird-flu pandemic and how an outbreak may have been covered up in Indonesia: it took pride of place over the Murdoch murder trial up in Darwin. The potentially devastating impact of Hurricane Wilma in the Caribbean dominated the “World” section and the Kashmiri earthquake disaster had finally faded from coverage after being milked for more than a week.
On the home front, there was a speculative piece about Australia’s potential future water crisis … we were all going to die of thirst in 11 years if global climate changes matched the worst case scenario. Pavarotti was in Melbourne on his final world tour, someone was getting excited because the poor were missing out on the chance to buy houses (surprise, surprise) and the Sports pages were full of the impending Cox plate and Melbourne Cup.
I turned to the Mind Games page, folded the paper in half and then quarters. The 9-letter Target word jumped out at me and I wrote it down quickly and began my usual systematic extraction. It took me just 4 minutes to get the 15 words required for ‘Good’ and by then we had rounded the corner into Errol and squealed to a halt at the intersection with Victoria.
A woman took the seat facing me. It wasn’t so much her scent that made me look up but the sudden, slow hiss of nylon on nylon as she crossed her legs: it’s one of the great sounds; sensual, intensely erotic and quintessentially female.
I looked up from my paper at her legs first then her eyes. She caught my gaze, held it for a few seconds then looked away, dismissively. She was thirtyish and looked like she might have had a nice smile if she ever used it. Two minutes later I had ‘Very Good’, which was 22 words and we were rumbling down past Victoria Market and nearing the right turn to Elizabeth Street. I had 27 words by the time we reached Collins, which was my stop: 30 was ‘Excellent’, but I was happy with 27.
It was only a couple of blocks to the travel agency where I worked and I got there and opened up: I’m the first arrival and have the key. I powered up my computer and went to make tea while the boot sequence executed and presented my desktop layout. When I returned the sequence had completed, so I keyed in my id and password and logged on to the system. I brought up my emails while I took a bite of my cookie and a sip of tea.
I like to be in first and really enjoy that first forty minutes before the others show up. It doesn’t take me long to get organized and to read and respond to any emails and then I relax for 25 minutes, finish my tea and my Anzac and do the Quick crossword. Sometimes, but not Fridays when DA sets the Cryptic, I can get both crosswords done in the 25 minutes and I usually save the SuDoku for later.
* * *
The others started to roll up after 08:00 starting with Suzie the Assistant Manager: Suzie and I are not close for 2 reasons. The first is that I’ve refused invitations for drinks after work on 3 occasions … Hell, she’s married with 2 kids under 10 … and the second is because I like Rodriguez. Rodriguez was the next to arrive this morning and I got a big smile and a cheery ‘Good morning’: she is Burmese or Thai and she has the most exquisite mouth; it may just be the most beautiful mouth I ever saw but I’m not chasing it; she’s only 24 and has a nice young guy she lives with.
Barrington and Mrs. Higgins arrived almost together at 08:20. Barrington is the Manager and a pretentious asshole who annoys all the girls all of the time with his sarcasm and constant railroading. He wears a nice pinstripe and a little rose in his lapel each day but he’s not completely stupid because he doesn’t harass me … I’m way too clever for him to compete with in verbal sparring and way too muscular for him to intimidate, though he’s just 32 and thinks he’s fit and athletic. I stick up for the girls if he gets out of line: except for Suzie, who’d eat him for breakfast and he knows it.
Mrs. Higgins is a veteran who brings in the over-50’s customers. Janelle was last, a few minutes late as usual, just because that’s when her bus gets into town. Barrington is always saying she should get an earlier bus meaning she’d have to leave home a half-hour sooner for the sake of 5 minutes. She is overweight and very self-conscious about it, so easy prey for Barrington.
It was an uneventful day and I had a few satisfied customers and some others who couldn’t make up their mind about a holiday destination. But that’s life, some people are organized and have a game plan and some just bounce off the walls. I checked out at 17:00 … I open up the place and Barrington closes it usually.
It was still sunny out so I decided to walk up Elizabeth for a few blocks and check out the music shops for a couple of CD’s … it’s something I do every few weeks. Twenty minutes later I caught the 57 and rode up to Errol St and went into the IGA for some peanut butter and then to the bakery for some sourdough rolls. I got home in time to switch on the TV for the 6 o’clock news. I don’t watch the first 15 minutes of the news it’s all doom and gloom stuff, I change into T-shirt and shorts and make some tea and my evening meal. I had some ham left over from yesterday so I cut two of the rolls in half, laid on the ham and sliced a tomato on top. I sat down with my rolls and tea in time for the weather and sports.
I always stay home on Friday nights because that’s when most of the human race goes out to play and it’s all too bright, crowded, hot and noisy for me to endure for long. So I stay in, watch TV if there’s a movie and if there isn’t, I go to bed early and listen to the radio. And I don’t ever go out for drinks on Friday, my preferred time is late Saturday afternoon, around 4:30 pm and then I have a few drinks and dinner at the Swan Hotel usually.
* * *
This Friday I was very restless, much more so than usual. It happens every other month or so and, I’ve noticed (without wanting to probe deeper), that it usually coincides with the full moon. I felt a powerful need to think about where I was going; felt I needed some direction, some purpose. After I ate, washed up and did my chores I would take stock of things … starting tonight, I’d spend this weekend making a plan for the rest of the year, something that would position me for bigger and better things in January. That’s what I’d do. I went to the kitchen washed my plate and stacked it in the rack on the draining board and then I made a second cup of tea and took it into the living room. I sat at the table, sipping and thinking.
I’m 41, but still in good shape: 176 cms and 91 kg and I do have some muscles. The waist is thicker than it used to be and the short hair thinner but I have a few good years left.
I live in a small, rented and partly furnished apartment in a 6-unit block with an under-balcony car bay in the driveway. The rent is low, there isn’t much furniture and what there is, isn’t mine. Everything I own I can cram into 2 biggish sports bags and load into the trunk of my aging Statesman. It’s like me, past the prime of youth but still fully functional … a few battle scars but the engine is good and it’s as solid as a rock.
“I need some cash,” I said aloud, “a new start in a new place.” I’ve been divorced 10 years; I married late after some wild years and we could only keep it together for 4. She met somebody who had a house and wanted kids and took off and I wasn’t too distressed: it certainly wasn’t worth fighting for.
My job brings me in about 80 thou a year but, being a single guy with no dependents, I get slaughtered for tax. I don’t owe a cent and the Statesman is paid for but I have only 23-24 thou in the bank plus the Super of course … another 80 there. I live frugally and the only extravagance is that I travel overseas a couple of times a year and love it. There have been a few nice girls over the last 10 years and I’m generous at those times with flowers and dinners and so on, but there isn’t a lady right now.
As usual at these restless times, I go through all my possessions; checking through my 2 bags, itemizing everything. I have a list on my laptop, so I pulled up the spreadsheet and updated it. The whole process took me an hour-and-a-half and at the end I had a complete inventory. Still it was just an exercise, it wasn’t really necessary; I already knew everything I had. And in truth I had all that I needed, although I would have been more financially secure with another hundred thousand dollars in the bank. It was the one thing I worried about now and then.
I knew what I really wanted was a new life … a new place, a new job, a new woman maybe. A big adventure or a big romance … just something to break the pattern of middle class urban mediocrity that my life had become.
I stood up. This was bullshit and getting me nowhere. I looked at the digital clock readout on my laptop screen: 8:30 pm. I made another cup of tea, rooibos this time, sat down at the table and shut down the laptop. I turned on the lamp and grabbed the paper and started the SuDoku which is always ‘tough’ or ‘diabolical’ on Friday so I know it will keep me busy for 30 minutes or so.
It was after 9:00 when I finished it and there was nothing worth watching on TV as usual, so I undressed and went to bed but I couldn’t sleep. I needed some more cash if I was going to do something new. I’d been thinking about a writing career and I’d written a factual account of every fight for the World Heavyweight title under Marquis of Queensberry rules … from John L. Sullivan right up to the early 90’s. I had sent it to 2 publishers in 1992 and got 2 rejections and it would have to be updated if I was going to resurrect it.
But I was more interested in writing novels and realistic enough to acknowledge that it would be a frugal existence if that was my only source of income … unless I had a best seller … yeah sure!
I slipped my headphones on and turned on the radio and in less than 20 minutes I was fast asleep.
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