Arriving late wasn’t so hard as it was for the boss when he saw me coming through the gate. Well, what excuse could I use?
I slept in or the bloody alarm hadn’t gone off. Perhaps I had a cardiac arrest while changing a tyre and the jack failed and landed on my foot. That was after running out of fuel.
A car load of women, they were a basketball team stopped and pushed my car off the road. That was a relief because my girlfriend was giving birth in the back seat while an angry mob of tree surgeons helped me deliver our first child. He screamed all the way to work and then the boss saw my new kid with his scrawny arms and that red welt of a birthmark covering half his face.
The boss was livid, “You took the morning off for this! Okay if it was a normal or even a cute looking kid but not for this monster. We’ll have to dock your pay and you can make up the hours by doing overtime.”
I worked and extra six hours that afternoon hauling logs up a steep hill until my arms were throbbing and numb and my shoulders cracked under the strain. I love my work sometimes but I’d never trade in sleeping time when I can lay on the lounge or paint my toenails any shade of green that I choose. Sometimes I get sparkly nail polish. The type young teenage girls like to use and instead of cotton-wool to spread my toes apart, I stick tissue there. It’s even more fun removing the stuff.
You can get high on the smell of acetone and when your head spins you can run fast and crash into a wall. Talk about going off the rails.
The best thing about the murder was the blood flowing around her head like a halo over the pavement. She had the face of an angel smiling and it was a beautiful corpse.
At the moment of dying she saw how loved she had been and the futility of her disappointments. She was unable to embrace the truth of it as she plummeted towards the pavement. There simply wasn’t time. She was going to crash and that was all she had left. It was too late for regret as she watched, in slow motion, the concrete getting closer.
The reflections in her blood showed the faces circling. The people who watched weren’t shocked by the murder, but by the body laying there, in public. It didn’t belong on their street but somewhere else, unseen or on another street, mentioned in a paper and gossiped about.
What would you think in those seconds if you knew you were about to die? As the seconds stretched and time slowed giving you time to reflect on your life in the blink of an eye.
I put on my best shirt quietly and studied the marks on her translucent skin from the underwear and the crush of the sheets. A wisp of brown hair stuck to her lip and lifted with each breath. A shiny camisole lay dormant on an old backless chair beside the mattress. Her drunken flung shoes were somewhere. She struck softly at an assailant in a dream and moaned her husband’s name.
I wanted her for a while. She didn’t want an affair and I agreed but I never imagined she would be so lovely. A trite memory told me that the day was breaking soon. I wanted to hold her once more but not wake her but lust got in the way and she stirred, tussled and yawning and reached out.
‘You look like you’re going somewhere. Why don’t you stay?’ she said.
‘You’r twisting my arm but I need to work.’
Outside, the only light came from a single street lamp flickering insanely. A woman in a short skirt stood there, smoking. She rubbed her bare thighs with a free hand to keep warm and when she saw me looking, she waved as she got into a car.
A red neon sign in a window illuminated the dew like blood on the pavement. A newspaper blew along dancing in the light-show. and as far as I knew it was only me now watching the small silent things. Rejoicing in the clarity of my life, I guessed she didn’t love the guy.
He woke again in a panic as if he was being attacked but it wasn’t a nightmare that woke him in the cold darkness. It was a memory that pulled him out of sleep. A memory that lurked below the surface and a day never went by that it didn’t show.
He stood naked in the cold and wiped a circle in the mist on the window and peered at the street. It was dark but for the streetlights and a hint of ultramarine in the sky with the stars beginning to fade. He could hear the hum of distant traffic, of people going to work so he knew the sun would soon rise.
He went to the bathroom and held himself steady against the wall while he peed. He was drowsy but it was too early for coffee and his work day was hours away. He wanted to return to bed but he knew that he would not sleep and that he would be tired during the day.
He dressed in thick socks and pants and a heavy dressing gown and went out and lit a smoke. He watched a man walking briskly along the street, with his hands tucked into his pockets and a bag slung over a shoulder. He heard the screech of a train braking and the crunch of tyres turning on gravel. He heard the footfalls of someone running and the low rumble of a car warming up under the building. He listened to the magpies calling and greeting the morning.
If only he could live in the moment like the birds, he thought and live each day as it came or plan for the future but the past clung to him like a worn shirt. Each day was an extension of the last and every day before that going back to the time when he had made the big mistake.
He had betrayed the one he loved and he hadn’t dealt with it and the guilt and remorse held him firmly in the past. He prayed that he would wake one day to find that it had never happened. If only he could forget but as memories faded, the remorse had not. It had grown stronger like a tumour. Unnoticed at first until it took hold and in time had become a part of the small movements of his days.
He returned to his bed but sleep eluded him as it always did. So he put on the coffee as he always did and dressed.
For the man with no friends his isolation is complete. How did he get here? Was it a moment of madness or did this happen over time? Was he was too caught up with things to notice?
It wasn’ t his fault. His friends disappeared when he was too busy to make an effort. He was blamed and he wasn’t ready for the desertions. He waits for the day when he will be free because the isolation is bad for the man and desperation sets in. He knows that when he is free, he will be outside but still alone yet even strangers passing by are better than none.
When he worked his job came first and the guys at the office were good guys. They had a few laughs but in the end the joke was on him. If only he had a real friend.
Depressed. He’s losing hope. Finding it hard to breath. His panic rising. Hope dying. Lying to himself. Worrying. Can’t cope. Can’t defend himself. Will there be a tomorrow? When will he get out? Who will help him? Who will help him? Who will help him?
Depression doesn’t make sense to the man and it doesn’t go away. Like an unwelcome guest who takes over his space and won’t leave. Like a dark pit that he can’t climb out of. He wants to stop breathing. No-one matters. Nothing matters. His isolation is complete because no-one can reach him. He looks out to the park and all he sees is the tree. He just needs is a rope and it’s all over. He needs to get it done because the burden of his life is heavy,
Now there’s a virus going around and all that he has are four walls and a TV.
The night was hot and the sweat ran down to the small of her back. She reached the pedestrian street where people jostled each other. The smart, the young, deformed, old and eccentric. Close to the city only a few convenience shops were still open with immigrants working the twilight hours.
Her dog pulled and became tangled with a passer-by. It would be tethered behind the gate where she knocked lightly and it opened ajar. Her lover stood half naked at the bottom of the stair and took her hand. Pulling her up to his room with no words said, and the sex was urgent.
The room was spartan and she looked up at the bare yellow bulb. The bed smelled of old sweat and her lover. There was no one to help clean and fetch and choose eye catching decor. There was a laundry basket overflowing and a stained sink. She washed herself and remembered how her lovers had been. When they could stay in a room for days, only leaving for food or for wine and cigarettes. Before time was short and dreams had turned to shadows.
She was tempted to stay, to help out, to call her husband and call it all off but she left. The children still needed her and what could she do? No job, no income, no ideas. Directionless. She left alone with her dog to hide at a cafe, enjoying some wine, avoiding her gossiping friends. Her fellow inmates, trapped, obsessed with their dogs and their lovers.
She counted the days since she saw her lover and she counted the years of her marriage to the stranger she had loved.
She didn’t care for her lover and he didn’t ask for her help or anything. He didn’t know her fears or her loves, but only her sex and its wants because that was all she was willing to give.
The stranger took his toll. He expected food and someone to care for the children. They rarely said more that a few words and she wondered if he suspected and she doubted he would care. He seemed content in not knowing.
She caught him watching porn once and was surprised that he still had an interest. They fucked occasionally but she was alone while he rode on top, crushing her, grunting then rolled away and went back to his television. She read books, about distant places and dreamed but doubted she would ever leave.
Her lover asked if she would go with him to Melbourne for a weekend and she wondered how. She didn’t wish to push her luck, yet she yearned to go. It would be exiting and her sister could take care of the children. But she couldn’t invent a convincing lie so she declined and went back to the stranger.
The tracks shake loose in the cracked cement as he leaves the train and the old majestic homes crumble while the flash men walk drunken, lusting, singing ditties with whisky voices from the docks in the old town.
It wasn’t as if he couldn’t remember where he belonged. It was that he didn’t want to live there anymore, so he stood for a while fumbling with his keys. The old place was falling down from decades of neglect but it was clean and straight inside and smelled of fish broth and bread from the kitchen.
The daughter hangs clothes on a line out of the window and watching her father, hoping he isn’t drunk so early. She would not be shocked or surprised. He hasn’t been the same since the company shut down the docks.
He falls and the daughter helps him to his comfortable chair and fetches a cigar. He bites a tip and she lights it and he bangs on the arm when she doesn’t do it right. The acrid smoke fills the room so she opens the shutters despite the rain.
The people used to say he was brave man, a fighter. Now they say he is broken and ignored but for the daughter who picks up the pieces of his life. He has no purpose now and drinks more than before, driving the mother crazy. They argue and then make peace.
Drink, argue and make peace. It is the pattern of the days.
He stepped over a crack in the threshold she waited wanting him to stay but hating herself for her weakness. They made love, she needed it filled an empty space that needed filling, for him it wasn’t the love that he needed but to hold on to life, to stop it from slipping away, but of course it already had.
He felt owned not by this beauty who needed him but by his wife, his family, his kids, his boss, society, they all took pieces and it was difficult to find himself divided and plastered over so many walls. Sheila held him between her thighs mightily and he wanted to stay. He felt whole for a brief moment. He owned this stolen secret moment and he was himself for this time but not completely. His conscience wouldn’t let him own it. Sheila treated him like a man he hoped to be, Something not real because the real man was splintered and owned by many others. Its why he ran in the brief time he was alone without possessions, without an overseer. Sheila gave him that and not more.
She walked home in red heels wobbling on the cobbles. A silent tram in a far bend between the terraces. Her husband working late in his bar with his mates with another sheila. If he was home already, he didn’t ask. A forced acknowledgement. He just thought who his Shiela was. If he was jealous she would feel something but he barely noticed her. He had his wine in a dark room, the tele lighting up the walls. She went to bed, she washed the smell of her lover away.
Dark thoughts under a broken floor hiding away from malevolent eyes.The stranger waits at dawn in the diminished darkness of the waking house.
The first sounds are the crack of a broken stair tread and patter of paws. A small boy creeps sleepily down holding the handrail all of the way with his trusty mutt following.
He reaches for cereal and milk and a cracked bowl on a brown table. Too bad for the forgotten brother watching up through the dusty floor. The dog knows and sniffs the floor and holds one eye to the gap. The stranger holds up a hand for the dog to sniff but the wood gets in the way.
It’s not long and the teenagers are up and fighting over the single bathroom. The girl loses and complains while holding her pee.
The stranger still watches the small boy spilling milk and crumbs on the floor and the dog cleans it up. The chaos and thumping of feet are not noticed by the boy. They are the usual sounds of early morning.
The stranger waits until the parents arrive to prepare lunches while refereeing quarrels. Saying “no” and “maybe” and sending the children out to the bus and school. The parents then talk quietly and dress and drink coffee and make their way to jobs and the door closes.
The stranger pushes up the boards and pats the small dog. It’s time to rest after the haunting of the night. The old leather sofa is a welcome sight and the stranger lays and sleeps with the small dog and the cat to snuggle up and keep them warm.