The broken clock

She felt ill as she watched the second hand ticked forward twice then back once, then forward twice then back once, forward twice then back once, and then continue its loop of the clock face. She knew it was just the battery going flat, but it felt so unnatural and wrong.

She looked around the room for the real time. The alarm clock was too far away, and she couldn’t remember where her mobile phone was. She opened her door and shouted out.

“What time is it?”

‘Time for you to get a watch!”

Stace grit her teeth. Her stupid housemate couldn’t be helpful – just this once? She shut the door and threw on some mostly clean clothes. She grabbed her resume from a pile of papers and looked for a manila folder to put it in. Nothing. She could get one at the newsagent.

She went out to the kitchen where Rick sat at the table eating Nutri Grain.

“Ooooh! Fancy! You look almost respectable. What’s up?”

“I’ve got that job interview. At the uni library.”

“I thought that was at ten?”

Stace’s stomach dropped. “It is. What time is it?”

“Ah, it’s almost three.”

“What?”

“In the afternoon. Although you probably figured that out – sun and all…”

“Three! Shit.” She sat. She stared into space and spotted a clock on the wall. “Three?”

“To be fair, I did call you at nine.”

“I know. I woke up. Then I looked at my clock. Then I got dressed. Just then. It was never…” she counted on her fingers. “…six hours. How is that even possible?”

Rick shrugged his shoulders, grabbed the empty bowl and threw it in the sink and flicked on the electrical jug. “Tea? Coffee?”

“Tea. Hang on. You’re lying to me. It’s not really three. You’re playing me. You’re only just having breakfast at three?”

He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “Don’t be stupid. When I woke you at nine, I was coming home, not getting up. And much as I hate to prove the Beastie Boys wrong, sometimes you need sleep before Brooklyn.”

Stace walked to the phone, picked it up and dialed 1223.

“The talking clock.” She said into the phone. She listened for a moment, hung up and dialed another number. Her defiant look faded as she realised that it really was mid-afternoon.

She went back to the table and slumped. Rick filled the two mugs with boiling water. He placed one in front of Stace. She watched the tea slowly ooze its way out of the bag.

“I think I’m hypnotised. Or I was.”

Rick turned his face to her interested.

“The clock in my bedroom needs a new battery I think. The hand is all kooky. I think it hypnotised me for six hours.”
“You’re insane.”

Stace took a deep breath in. “Maybe I’m insane.”

The phone rang. Both stared at it with a sense of intense importance. Rick answered it. “Hello?”

Stace stared at him, trying to figure out who it was. Hoping it wasn’t the library.

“Stace? No, I’m afraid she’s not here. She was taken ill this morning with a nasty bout of gastro.”

Her eyes widened.

“Yeah, she’s there now, although she didn’t have an appointment, so she may be sometime. Can I leave her a message?” Rick looked at her and winked. “She can call back tomorrow to reschedule her interview? Oh, she’ll be so happy, thanks. I will. Bye.”

He hung up the phone. Stace just sat there, stunned.

“You’re welcome.” Rick patted her on the head, flung the tea bag in the sink and sauntered to the lounge room. She still sat there, stunned. His voice came down the hall. “Oooh, get here, Ricky Lake’s on. Old eps. It’s an awesome one – ‘Hey, Mom, keep yo dirty mitts off my toy boy.’ Come on, Stace!”

Stace snapped out of it and went to her room. She grabbed the clock off the wall and threw it out the window.

 

Sleep

She lives her life in the moments between her sleep; breakfast and the paper before the first nap, morning tea and perhaps a phone call before the second nap and sometimes lunch becomes dinner and she is back in bed for the night.

It is amazing how much she is able to disconnect from the world with no reaction. Her parents are long gone and she cannot remember when she last had contact with the extended family. She used to get letters from her son in Japan, but that was before she insulted his wife. Now she was alone. She cannot see the point – she never enjoyed work, but had to pay the mortgage and keep herself fed. She retired as soon as she could and her co-workers had asked if she would travel, perhaps visit her son. The thought of her sycophantic response made her angry even now, many years later. She wishes she’d told them the truth – that she’d sooner visit her ex-husband than that selfish sod, but she couldn’t remember visiting days at Pentridge. That would have caused a ripple.

She tries to snap the Valium with a bread knife with no luck and so pops the whole thing in her mouth. No dinner tonight – she’d sleep through. Happy Birthday, Poppy. 

 

Fish

The second fish they caught was nowhere near big enough to win the prize. But, they decided to improvise. By taking their third, fourth fifth and sixth fish, carefully removing the skin, sewing it together with tiny invisible stitches and stuffing it with the remainder of their bait and a bit of sawdust, they created the largest fish of the competition. Unfortunately, they were only successful until the first judge picked it up, and three excess worms split the stitches, covering the judge in the innards. They were banned from future contests but they did make the front of Fishing Cheats Bi-monthly and got a weekly spot on local breakfast radio.

 

Agoraphobia

Mars made a second attempt to leave the house, but didn’t even get the door closed behind her before she started to panic. She grabbed her keys from her handbag, realised the door was still open and ran inside, dropping the keys on the ground outside. She slammed the door and fell to the floor, her heart pumping.

She lay there until her pulse slowed and the sweat in her fringe had gone tacky. Pulling herself into a sitting position, she knocked her bag over and the letter, the reason for her attempt to leave, fell out. She stared at it. It had to be in the mail today, but she did not see how that would be possible. Mum wasn’t coming part until after dinner, and so it would miss the mail.

Mars cursed her mother’s drink driving charge. If she still had her licence, she’d be coming over alone and Mars would be able to convince her to drive and hand deliver it to the gym and the membership would be cancelled and everything would be fixed. She was so frustrated – it was her mother who had convinced her to join, telling her that it would force her to get out of the house. That was before things got this bad. Now she was stuck with a membership that, if she didn’t get this letter in the mail today, would cost her another month’s charges.

Since her mum had lost her licence, she was driven everywhere by the new boyfriend, James. James had a new model BMW, James had retired at 28 and was now spending his time between the home in Double Bay, the home in Toorak and the shack in Lorne. James was ten years younger than her mother, James didn’t believe Mars had a problem, and James would not drive the ten minutes to the gym to help Mars out, even if they did get there in time.

Mars stuffed the letter into her back pocket and stood. Tea was what she needed. She put the chain on the front door and went to the kitchen. As she made the tea, she made a plan. Whilst she was unable to go out the front door, she had no problem with hanging out the upstairs window. She decided that she’d go upstairs and hang out the window until someone came past. She was sure she’d read a study that a normal person would post a letter if they found it, stamped and addressed, on the footpath, but she wouldn’t take that big a risk. Instead, she decided she’d hang out until she saw someone that looked trustworthy, and then ask them to help. And if they asked why… well, they’d only see her from the waist down, she’d say she broke her leg.

As she climbed the stairs, she tried to think about what she’d say if they asked her how she got upstairs. One of those old people lifts? Carried by her very strong husband who would be back any minute? (That would ward off perverts, although it did leave them wondering why she didn’t leave the letter for her husband to deliver… because it was to her lover. No, not that would bring the perverts back in flocks. Because… he would be too busy ravishing her. Don’t be ridiculous. I mean the post box was just across the road. It makes no sense at all that he wouldn’t run across the road before ravishing her. If he even existed. Which he doesn’t.) Perhaps she could just tell them to bugger off. Provided they didn’t already have the letter. And if they did… she could just giggle like a bimbo. Would that work? That works for some girls. It probably wouldn’t work for her.

She struggled to push the window open, then pulled a chair over and balanced the mug of tea on the inside of the sill. She pulled out the letter and settled in to watch for passers by. From her position, she could see people on this side of the street as they approached, but she would have to talk them into crossing the road for her. She saw a couple of teenage boys walk up, no chance. Too chummy, too likely to throw it down the drain or rip it up or something. Several sips followed by a moment of panic at the thought that no other contender would come past and her plan would be thwarted. Then an older lady appeared. Perhaps in her eighties. She wore a nylon frock with a cardigan over the top and ankle-high ugg boots. Pushing one of those shopping trolley carts. She’d wait until she came closer, just in case she was hard of hearing. The lady walked along, slowly. Mars leaned down to put her mug on the floor so that she didn’t accidently drop it over the edge and kill her. Then she’d never get her letter posted. When she looked back, the trolley was standing on its own, but the woman was gone. Mars gasped a little, then leaned out the woman. The woman was at her door. She was on her knees, at her door, grabbing something. What was it? Now she was standing again. Then Mars heard her keys in the front door. Her keys!

He took a second to think back to her earlier panic attack – yes, she had left her keys outside. How ridiculous! She couldn’t believe it – she was usually so careful, especially in this area, and with the pub three doors down and the door going straight out onto the footpath. She heard the door open and catch on the chain. She felt some relief, and called down to the woman.

“Hello! Can you hear me?”

The woman looked up and shaded her eyes to spot Mars. “Is this your house?”

“Yes! I must have left my keys outside. Could you please throw them in the door and pull it shut?”

“Which car is yours?”

“What?”

“There is a car key on here. Which one is yours?”

Mars was surprised at the question, but responded honestly.

“I don’t have a car. Not anymore. It got pinched.”
“Shit.” The old woman looked around, looked at the keys, then looked back at Mars. “Give me fifty bucks.”

“What?”

“Give me fifty bucks or I take these keys and come back with bolt cutters.”

Mars looked up and down the street in desperation. She saw the teenagers round the corner again with Big Ms. She got ready to shout at them.

“Look, lady, I don’t have fifty bucks. Oi! Oi, you!” The teenagers looked over. “That lady’s got my keys. She’s trying to break in!”

They looked at her, then at the old lady, then spotted the trolley stand on its own. One muttered to the other, they sculled their drinks, threw the cartons into the gutter and ran to it. The old lady saw what they were doing and tried to beat them to the trolley. One kid pushed the lady who fell, dropping the keys. She screamed out with pain. The first kid grabbed the trolley and ran off down the street. The second kid, the one who’d pushed her, ran back, ripped the gold necklace from her and ran off. The woman screamed again. Mars looked stunned. She grabbed her mobile, called the ambulance with an anonymous request for assistance. She ran down to the front door, which was still opened as far as the chain would let it. She paused a moment, listening to the old woman calling for help then slammed the door shut and ran back upstairs.

“I’ve called the ambulance.”

“Come down and help me, you stupid bitch!”

“Well, that’s no way to talk to me, and anyhow, I can’t, I have a broken leg.”

“Argh!” the woman shrieked with pain again. “Bullshit.”

“Language, please!” Mars smiled, her pleasure over having the upper hand on this woman overtaking the panic that the woman knew she was lying about her leg. “I do have a broken leg, as it happens.”

“How did you shut the front door, then, smartarse?”

Mars stopped for a second. “Wind. It was the wind.”

“Sure. Wind. And I’m Mother Theresa.”

“Well, clearly you’re not, because Mother Theresa wouldn’t have been trying to break into anyone’s house or steal anyone’s car.”

“I wasn’t trying to… I was returning your keys. Please help me!”

“What about the fifty bucks?”

“What? Did you… I wasn’t serious! Come on, you’ve got no sense of humour.”

Mars heard a siren approaching. “Look, they’re almost here. Just relax.”

“You relax, you stupid…” the old lady’s abuse was drowned out by the siren echoing through the buildings. Mars watched as the ambulance men got out, talked to the old woman, rolled her onto a gurney and lifted the gurney to its full height. She had spotted her keys close to the gutter, and her eyes flitted between the keys and the action. Just as the gurney reached the back of the ambulance, the old lady stopped them and pointed out the keys. One of the men grabbed them and gave them to her. She looked up at Mars and stuck her middle finger up at her. Mars was shocked. She watched the ambulance drive away. She went downstairs and picked up her mobile.

“Mum? I want to move.”

 

 

 

 

Headstone

The second headstone had the spelling errors corrected, but the anger would not go away. Mollie said that it didn’t matter that the funeral home had arranged the replacement at no charge; they could still sue for emotional distress. Peter told Mollie to get over herself and let their mother rest in peace. Besides, she wouldn’t be so keen on suing if she bothered to earn some money rather than lying around with cucumbers on her eyes. Mollie said that chronic fatigue syndrome was to be taken seriously and before she could explain that cucumbers had been used by the Ancient Romans to raise energy levels he told her that chronic fatigue was serious in people who actually had it and she should just do something with her life.

At this point, the slamming of the door ended their argument. They gave each other looks of blame as they ran out after their father. He was striding quickly down the street to the shops.

“Where you going, Dad.”

“Go home. Both of you.”

“No, we’re here to support you, Dad.”

William snorted and rounded the corner. Mollie and Peter struggled to keep up.

“Look, at least let me cook you some tea.”

“I’m fine. I’ve got enough food for a lifetime in the freezer thanks to the ladies from the church.”

“I just don’t know that you should be alone.”

William stopped. He turned to his children. “I want to be alone. I crave to be alone. I’ve missed being alone for thirty-nine years. Please. Go away.” Their faces dropped. He shook his head. “I didn’t mean it like that. Just… I’ll see you on the weekend.”

Each of them awkwardly hugged their father and headed off. William could here their bickering as they went back to their cars. He rounded anther corner, entered the milk bar and stood behind the woman being served. He looked at the cigarettes behind the counter, matching brands with prices. Jesus, almost fifteen dollars for a packet. He hadn’t smoked since Mollie was born, but he craved it almost every day. He’d promised himself that when he lived alone he’d take it up again. But he hadn’t counted on this. He did some maths in his head. If he had a couple a day, let’s say three. If he got a packet of twenty-five, that was about a week. Fifteen bucks a week. By fifty-two weeks in a year, that’s almost eight hundred dollars per year. He reckoned he had another five or six good years left. Say seven. That’s about five and a half thousand dollars.

The woman in front of him had now paid and gathered up her bags, and the shopkeeper looked at him expectantly.

“Just the Age, thanks mate.”

 

Economy

Just as the plane reached cruising speed, Carol hit her second wind. She sat in the tiny economy seat, her eyes bright and open and looked around. Amazingly, it was not a full flight, and so she was not seated next to anyone. She looked around and counted eight empty seats. Well, the ones in front of her might not be empty, but may have been occupied by someone too short for her to see their head.

Her leg started to jiggle. She looked at it. It stopped. She wondered if she’d done it using the power of her mind and felt powerful until she realised that using the power of your mind to stop part of your own body moving was not really impressive… unless it was your heart or lungs, and there’s not really much point to that.

Carol didn’t like having things in her ears, and so didn’t want to watch movies or whatever was offer on the tiny screen in the back of the seat. She angled the screen so she could kind of see herself in the matt screen. It was blurry and lacking in detail, but that didn’t matter to her. She started to pull faces to herself, giving herself little challenges. Monkey. Easy. Giraffe. Harder. Klingon. She didn’t really know what they looked like, so gave herself a good mark for that one. Turtle. She saw a flick in the corner of her eye, and saw a teenage girl staring at her from across the aisle. She smiled, the girl rolled her eyes and looked away. She pulled an asp face at her and turned back.

She couldn’t understand why she was so lively. She’d had two sleeping tablets and a large whiskey before she got on the plane, but it was clearly not working. She decided to take a walk. 

She walked up to the toilet, went in. Played with any levers or buttons or drawers. Flushed it twice. Left. On the way back to her seat, she spotted Nicky Flowers, a member of the highly successful boy band M8tes. He was pulling a face at his monitor, his leg jumping. She stopped.

“Are you Nicky Flowers?” He turned to her holding his latest face. “Nice badger. Although I prefer to do this.” She stuck her teeth out, blew out her cheeks and squinted. He returned his face to normal.

“Huh. I would have thought that was more of a beaver. But, I think it works really well for you. Nice. Yes, I am Nicky. Who are you?”

“Carol.”

“So, why aren’t you watching one of those little screens or asleep?”

“I don’t wanna.” Carol was crap at flirting. She generally just berated the other person into sleeping with her. Or, often, not. “Why aren’t you in first class?”

“Overbooked. And me being a man of the people volunteered to come back here.”

“You missed ‘shotgun’, didn’t you?”

“Yup.”

Carol looked down the plane. The only passengers she could see were asleep or glued to their TV. Nicky moved his jumper from the seat next to him.

“You wanna sit?”

Carol blinked a slow and uncoordinated blink and took a moment to focus on him. “Yup.”

She sat, put on her seatbelt and put the seat back a little. He turned from her to fumble in his bag for a moment, but when he turned around, her head was back and she was snoring gently. He gave her a hammerhead shark face, then went back to his bag for his sleeping pills.

 

Not a real blog entry. Just something that happened this afternoon in Parkdale.

This isn’t a fictional story and so doesn’t really belong in this blog, but I’m putting it in.

I was walking from Parkdale Station to the library this afternoon when a woman approached me. She was probably in her fifties, almost shoulder-length blond/grey hair and wore three-quarter pants, runners and a t-shirt. She clutched a green bag. She walked toward me with some kind of intent in her eye. I headed to one side of her to pass, but she also headed this way. It was clear she was going to talk to me so I paused my iPod and took out the earphones.

“I’ve just had one of those moments… this woman stopped me… she was one of those women… excuse me, I hope you don’t mind, I needed to tell someone.”

She wasn’t breathless, but seemed to change sentence as she breathed. She was not aggressive, but had an insistence in her face. I spent much of the conversation trying to figure out if she thought she knew me. Or if I knew her and had forgotten.

“She was one of those women, you know what I mean?”

She stopped, waiting for an answer.

“No, I don’t know what you mean,” I replied.

“One of those women… thinks she’s better than anyone…” I missed a bit here as she mumbled. “You know what I mean?”

“No. I don’t really.” I wondered if I should just agree to appease her, but didn’t.

“One of those women who… when they have sons… their son is the best at everything… nose in the air… you know?”

“Oh, yes, I get it. Yeah, I know.”

“Anyhow she came up to me… I thought I saw it behind me… then it came up to me…” At this point, the woman she was talking about went from ‘she’ to ‘it’ for the rest of the conversation. “I couldn’t believe it… I couldn’t believe what I saw… I looked again and there was it…” The wind blew her hair into her face. “I’m getting this all off tomorrow… you know?”

“Oh, yes, ok.”

“So it said to me… and I looked down… and I don’t mean to be… but it had on its feet… I’m getting this off… it’s constantly getting in my way… it had bare feet and… an apron… you know what I mean?”

“Ok. Sure. Yeah.” I was getting confused and wondering if it was me or her. At this point, I really just wanted to go.

“She was nasty… said the things… they’re often like that… like this one behind me…” I looked over her shoulder. Not a single person in sight.

“She was that age… you know… about… seventy… or so…”

“Ok.”

“Anyway, thanks for listening… I just needed to tell someone… I’m getting this cut tomorrow… I had it done at a place at it cost the bull’s fortune….” I can’t guarantee this is what she said, but it made about as much sense. We both moved past each other.

“Sometimes you’ve just got to vent!” I said as an attempted cheerful goodbye.

“What? Yes… thanks… yes…” and she walked away.

I take back ever thinking that all the crazies were in Fitzroy or St Kilda or the Yarraville Gardens.

 

Awakenings

She awoke with a gasp and sat up in bed for the second time that night. The room was dark. She sat still, opening and closing her eyes, trying to figure reality from the dream she’d had. She couldn’t remember much of the dream, just a feeling of terror; of being chased perhaps, or of being hurt.

She looked for the red light of the numbers of her clock radio, but the doona she’d flung off during the dream had covered it. She leant over to move the doona and her hand touched the electric flex of the bedside lamp. She gasped and drew back, then realised what it was and chuckled out loud.

The chuckle was met by another laugh, and she shivered then froze. She felt cold creeping up the back of her neck, and her eyes swept the room in the hope that she’d be able to see something out of the darkness. She heard footsteps outside and heard a conversation start up in the close distance. The laugh repeated. She breathed three times, then turn the light on. The room was empty.

It was not the room she’d expected, then room she’d grown up in. It was the first night that she’d slept in her new place, and she was only just starting to get used to the location. It was noisier than her last room. This room was at the front of the house, and was just off Smith St, so there were plenty of people walking past, day and night. She got up, pulled on her dressing gown and went to the bathroom.

She stared at herself in the mirror, and her wide eyes scared her. She looked at the sink – there was dirt in the grouting on the tiles and the drain looked disgusting. She reached under the sink for her new cleaning products, grabbed some bleach and an unused toothbrush and started scrubbing.

A few hours later, the bathroom was transformed. It still looked old and used, but a lot cleaner and nicer. She smiled, washed her hands and went back to bed. She pulled the doona across her and settled in to sleep. The alarm went off. She got up and went back to the bathroom.

 

The last train

The second time he woke, he realised he’d past his stop. The train was pulling out of Kananook, so he decided to keep going to Frankston and he’d get out at Mentone on the way back into town. The third time he woke, he was again in Kananook again heading to Frankston. The fourth time he woke, the driver was coming through the carriage at Frankston.

“Get off. Last stop.”

He pulled himself together and exited the train. He heard the driver call him a scumbag junkie behind his back and he didn’t have the energy or interest in correcting him.

He looked at the clock. 12:53. No more trains. No money for a taxi. He found a phone and called reverse charges. He would be collected. He went to the bus stop and fell asleep on the bench.

 

The cigarette

He lit a second cigarette and took a drag.

“I don’t think that there is any way that I could care less about that job. I mean, they just treat us like…” he slurred, then stopped, shut his eyes, repressed a burp and tried to remember what he was talking about. Steve winked at Natasha and joined in.

“Robots?”

“Yeah. Yeah, robots, you know what I mean.”

“Nah, monkeys.” Natasha giggled.

“Yeah, yeah,” Rob opened his eyes, took a drag from his cigarette, pointed his other hand at Natasha, and noticed a lit, half-smoked cigarette in his hand. He held both his hands out, looked at the two cigarettes, measured them up, shrugged and put the shorter one out in the ashtray. “Like monkeys. And robots.”

“Robot monkeys?” Natasha choked a laugh into her beer. Steve gave her a nod.

“Robot monkeys. They treat us like robot monkeys, just counting dealing with scum and all they give us is bananas.”

“Do robot monkeys even eat bananas?”
“Yes! Yes, we do, because it’s all we have.” Rob shook his head, and the weight of the thought seemed to drag him over to one side in his seat. “Bananas. With microchips. That control our minds.”

He reached for his beer, knocked it over and the glass smashed on the ground. Steve stood and started to help Rob to his feet.

“Ok, mate, that’s probably enough for you now. Let’s get you home.” Rob allowed himself to be picked up. Natasha helped him with him jacket, which was especially hard as Rob seemed to have lost all of the joints in his arms.

“I’m going to tell them tomorrow. That I don’t want their chicken feed anymore.”

Natasha made a mock-confused face.

“Robot monkeys eat chicken feed?”

Rob started to respond, but neither heard it because he was muttering into his shirtfront. Natasha and Steve took an arm each and walked Rob out the door and to his house, three doors down from the pub.

Natasha looked over the slumped body to Steve as they walked. “Do you think we celebrated his promotion enough?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps I’ll drop past with some bananas tomorrow.”