stumbled out of his apartment and if he was whistling a tune it would be from
one of those happy musicals, and if there was a thought in his head it would be
to get the first coffee for the day past his tonsils.
stood in his lift lobby. His shirt was open for the other two apartments on the
floor were vacant and no-one would see him, he thought. He pushed the lift
button, tucked his shirt into his trousers, when from the side came the click of
a handle. The door to the western apartment opened and there appeared a girlish
woman in a short dress.
stared at him, turned her back, closed the door, and then made sure it was
locked. She checked it again and then she shook the handle to satisfy herself it
watched and wondered. He heard the ding to announce the arrival of the lift
further-most to him, and closest to the girl, so he walked to the open door and
got there at the same moment as she, and he allowed her to enter. She pushed a
button on the lift console and he assumed she was going to the street level,
like him. He glanced at her as men do when a young woman of child-bearing age
with dark silky skin and a slim figure has suddenly entered the same orbit.
the lift descended the girl was so jumpy she could have been going to meet the
Queen. They exchanged glances, and it seemed from the girl’s expression that
she wished he wasn’t there, but as he was, he should finish dressing. He did
so. By the time he’d buttoned his shirt, and had run his fingers through his
hair to get the rumpled look favoured by modern-day actors, the lift stopped in
made no move to get out, expecting Sam to get out first, and he stood there. A
kangaroo in the headlights of a car was the general impression.
meant to go to the ground,” he finally explained.
was distracted,” he added.
left the lift without saying a word, and he returned to the ground. He was
pleased she was a stranger and probably an interior decorator or the like doing
a quotation for work in the apartment, for in her hand were brochures about
curtains and samples of material. So he thought he wouldn’t see her again, nor
would whispers spread throughout the building about the silly incident. It
didn’t enter his head that as her car was in the basement, it was more likely
that she was his new neighbour.
the ground floor he went out to the plaza and sat beneath the sculpture. It was
a huge swirly thing that if it has a virtue, it is that it tests the imagination
to discern its meaning and purpose. It was an enigma to Sam, it pointed to the
north as if that was the way to the future, but it wasn’t a mystery to the
skateboarders who used the base as launching pad to go skywards. They were noisy
buggers and he grumbled about them, but wished he could do what they were doing.
He felt his stomach. It was thicker these days and Sam at fifty needed more
exercise to keep slim.
met a few residents as he went on to the café. One woman asked about the
hijinks around the place and Sam told her to get onto the committee. Another
resident was with a house guest, and both would quickly learn from the
experience, Sam thought. He passed a married couple who, freed from the chores
of suburban living, worked in the small garden and repaired the outdoor
furniture. He waved to the man who cleaned all his windows inside and out before
he went to the gymnasium for a workout.
sat in the café and looked up at the building, which was named Excalibur. It
soared high on the western side of the Southport Broadwater, a shallow stretch
of water where the
developers had misled the residents about the completion date of Excalibur.
“It will be finished soon” they’d said when the tower cranes were still at
work. When the cranes were dismantled they’d said “Get ready to settle”
even though the timber hoarding was still around the site. Then they forced him
to pay up when the site still teemed with workmen.
a clever coot from one of the upper floors organized a meeting of residents and
he got great credit for it although all he had done was put a sign in the lifts
inviting people to the Lounge and to bring their drinks and peanuts. The purpose
was for people to air their grumbles about the developers, and although the sign
didn’t exactly say that, everyone knew it to be so. Hence the meeting was
queued to get name tags. That was when Sam saw the girl again. She arrived and
stood at the door as if she wanted someone to meet her, or more probably to make
a speedy exit if the party got rowdy. She looked small, and it seemed she had
some mixed blood, and whilst the other men had eyes in her direction, none were
bold enough to welcome her. Not so Sam. The moment was right to get chummy for
he was now smartly dressed, cleanly shaven, with after-shave and all that, and
he had pride to restore, so he went to her to greet her.
extended his hand and she grasped it. By the time he had studied her face, and
noticed the fullness of her lips and the redness of her lipstick and wondered if
it tasted as good as it looked, and she had observed he was fully dressed with
his shirt in his trousers, the queue had depleted.
led her to the table with the name tags. He
said his name was Sam and with a blue felt pen he printed it on a blank tag and
then he separated the front of the tag from the backing.
took it from him and then she asked “which side” to which he replied “left
side” and she placed the tag on his left breast and gently pressed it to his
shirt. Then he asked her name.
a sweet name.”
you start, Sam.”
dad has a sugar farm,” she said.
said nothing and boldly printed her name on a tag then removed the backing with
the intention to put it on whichever bosom she preferred to wear it. However she
took it from his hand and did so herself.
saw that other residents had written their apartment numbers on their tags. He
resisted the temptation to remove her tag from her breast, and she did it
herself and wrote her apartment number on it. They were indeed neighbours.
this time the inevitable had happened. The other men had seen how relaxed she
was with Sam, and reckoned that they could do like-wise, and he found himself
completing with them, especially the man who had organized the party. He elbowed
Sam to the side, so Sam retired to a sofa and watched them. They scurried around
her like rabbits around a water hole. It was pathetic and once she looked in his
direction as if she thought so too. Neither of them stayed long.
is how he got to know Sugar.
few days later a strong southerly blew, and Sugar’s front door was ajar, and
he thought that the wind may have opened it. There had been examples of poorly
fitting door latches. He went to investigate and peeped through the spy hole in
the door, saw no-one, then opened the door wider, put his head through the gap,
again saw no-one and was about to pull the door shut when he heard a voice say
stepped around a large cardboard carton at the entrance and over paper wrapping
that was strewn everywhere, and he had crossed the entry tiles when from behind
someone called his name. He turned around, and up a step-ladder, and it is
remarkable that one tends not to see these things, there was Sugar. She was
placing objects on the shelves above the built-in desk in the passageway.
asked Sam to hold the ladder steady, as she felt unsafe. In one hand she had a
brass ornament and in the other hand she held a cloth.
wedding present,” she said as she wiped the object and then held up a duck. He
saw that neither her left hand nor her right hand had rings of any sort. She
placed the duck on the top shelf, and then asked Sam to go to the cardboard
carton and lift out another item, and then hold the ladder.
didn’t mind. It was a simple thing to do and it would save her getting up and
down. Service with a smile was his motto. He picked up another item, removed the
wrapping, and uncovered a boy on a motorbike. Sugar quietly said that it was a
special wedding present, so he gently handed it up to her and she lovingly
polished it and placed it in the centre of the middle shelf.
went to the carton again, and un-wrapped a pottery ashtray.
made that, Sam.”
as good as any I’ve ever seen.”
I don’t smoke,” she said and added that everyone in her class at college had
to make one, so he turned it over and saw it was inscribed with her name
and then he handed it to her and she put it on the top shelf.
next item was a carved wooden cat. He lifted it out and gave it a pat. Sugar
said she would love to have a pet for company, especially a dog, and how there
were always dogs around the farm when she was little. Sam said that the By-laws
were strict and she would need the permission of the Body Corporate. She replied
that she knew all that, but what stopped her was that she could not spare the
time to exercise a dog, and it would be unfair to keep one couped up all day.
passed the wooden cat to her and she placed it on a shelf so that one paw
protruded over the edge, and the cat peered down to the floor as though it was
watching a quarry.
were at the bottom of the carton, two about women’s health and one about
thought she would want him to leave, but no, she said, a man was useful at the
foot of a ladder. She took the ladder to the lounge and placed it under the
centre light. On the floor was a box of new low-energy light globes. Sugar
scaled the ladder, removed the shade, shook out a few dead insects, and passed
it down to Sam. She unscrewed the existing globe, a cheap one, gave it to him,
he handed up a new one and she screwed it into place. Sam pushed down the
switch, on came the light, up went the shade, and there, the job was done.
lights should have been put in first, that’s true, isn’t it?” she said as
though Sam was an expert, so he nodded in approval.
give better light and economy,” he said and they took the ladder to below all
the lights in the empty apartment and replaced every globe.
smart doing this now, Sugar.”
easier now because the ladder can go directly under the central light, as there
is no furniture.”
added that people should wait before buying furniture, because no matter how
wonderful furniture was in an existing home, it was rarely suitable in a
newly-built apartment. If the furniture was old, it should be scrapped, he said
and if it was large, it wouldn’t fit in. People should see the finished
apartment to understand the size of the rooms, where the aircon ducts are, how
the doors swing, what is the best view and how furniture should be arranged. He
lectured for some time, and then drew breath.
smart too, Sam.”
you happy with your power points, Sugar, because the builder puts them where it
suits him, not you, so before the furniture is delivered, you should get them
are extra smart, Sam.”
thought she was teasing and said so, and she smiled as if to confirm it.
too decided to install new low-energy globes and sought help to do it, so the
next Saturday he knocked on her door and asked to use her ladder. She was
surprised that he didn’t have one, but quickly offered to help. They followed
the same procedure, the lithe Sugar stood up the ladder and he passed the globes
to her, except that in the bedroom she took off her shoes and stood on his bed.
another woman had been standing on his bed, how easy it would have been to bump
her, and she would have had difficulty keeping her balance, and she would have
toppled and there she would be, lying on his bed. But nothing like that
happened. There was a job to be done, and they did it with purpose, he on the
floor passing the globes up to her, and Sugar inserting them, and as each light
was done he switched it on to see that it glowed.
they had finished he took the old globes to the basement to his storage locker
where residents stored numerous things that might be useful at a later time, not
realizing that any cardboard got musty, all steel went rusty, plastic faded,
timber warped and paint discoloured.
builders returned many times to correct faults. This happened to all the
apartments including Sugar’s, and when the builders were there Sam would sneak
in to see what they were doing.
his amazement she had the carpet removed. It was bland and thin like the one in
his apartment but he had decided to retain his for a few years until it showed
signs of wear. After the men had stripped out her carpet, they hammered
incessantly for three days as they laid a timber floor on top of the concrete
apartment received the late afternoon sun, so it got hot, and one day Sam saw
through the open front door heavy drapes being installed. Another time a large
new television arrived, and Sugar returned from work to supervise the
installation and Sam heard her say to the installer the tuning was poor. The man
said the antenna on the roof was faulty.
eventually moved into Excalibur. He didn’t see the carriers arrive, or see her
furniture being carried into her apartment, so it must have been well-organized
as normally people took up one of the lifts for half the day.
times he tried to see her for a neighbourly moment together, however she left
for work about eight-thirty when he liked to be in the coffee shop, and she
worked a long day and returned after eight at night but never at a set time. So
it was pointless to hover around the place to feign a meeting with her.
a few days delivery vans arrived from various stores with more furniture. During
this time he did not have a chance to talk with her, only the occasional wave
and a few fleeting salutations as they passed in the street or on the common
often went to see if her car was in the basement, always being careful to have
an excuse to tell any other resident who caught him, such as saying he was
checking if water had seeped through the retaining walls. The person would nod
and reply that was exactly the sort of thing Sam would do. When her car was not
there he’d wonder where she was, but if her car was parked he would return to
his place with a sense of comfort that she was safely home in the apartment
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