The cold

The scratching in her throat was worse when she woke. She groaned and rolled out of bed. Her head throbbed and she squinted as much as possible to keep the light out. As she padded to the bathroom, she felt her nose run; a small trickle tickled her upper lip and she brushed it away with her hand. She wanted to call in sick, but had no sick leave left. One more sick day and she would be fired. That was all that was left.

‘If you make us all sick, I will be really pissed off.’

So much for sympathy from her colleagues. She placed her take-away coffee on the small desk in her cubicle and sat heavily in her chair. Wondering if she had ever had a dream, she flicked on the computer and stared as the screen lit up.

Tim and Jenny 11

‘Oh, go on!’

‘No.’

‘Please?’

‘No!’

‘I’d do it for you.’

‘No. If you’re sick, Tim, call in yourself.’

‘Fine.’

Jenny flicked the electric kettle on and started making her tea. Tim gave her a dirty look and went to the phone. He dialled, staring at her all the time. She gave him a smug look as she put the tea bag in a mug.

‘Hi, it’s Tim. I’m really crook, I’m sorry.’

There was a pause as he listened to the response. Suddenly, he grimaced.

‘Yeah, I know it’s double-time. But, I’m sick.’

Jenny started to giggle as she went to the fridge for the milk.

‘Well, I hope I’ll be ok for tomorrow. Yeah, bye.’

He hung up the phone.

‘Double-time? Oh, you must be sick to miss that.’

‘Double-time? Why the hell is it double-time?

‘It’s Easter, you nong.’

‘Shit.’

‘Tea?’

Tim gave Jenny a dirty look. ‘Yeah.’

 

Tim and Jenny 10

Tim sat at the kitchen table, his head throbbing. A glass of water sat in front of him, untouched. He breathed through his mouth and tried to figure out if he was going to throw up.

The doorbell rang and he heard Jenny pad out from her bedroom to answer it. He had no idea who would be coming past on a Sunday at this time – it wasn’t before eleven. None of his friends would be up yet. The cheerful voices rang through from the front and got louder as the visitors came in through the house.

‘Cup of tea?’ Jenny shrugged at Tim as she led the way into the kitchen. Behind her were her parents in cycling Lycra. Tim could barely focus, and struggled to ensure his eyes stayed aimed toward appropriate areas.

‘Mr and Mrs Jonson! How… are you?’

‘Good, Tim, what are you doing inside on a day like today? It’s God’s weather out there, and you’re young, you should be out there, living.’

Tim nodded to himself and attempted a sip of the water. It felt ok, so he had another.

‘Bugger. No milk,’ Jenny muttered.

‘Language!’ Jenny’s mother gave a disapproving shake of her head.

‘I’ll go!’ Tim jumped up and headed to the door. Jenny pushed past her father.

‘Oh, no, Tim, I’m sure I had the end of it, I’ll go.’

‘No, no, I insist.’ Tim raced to the front door, grabbing his wallet on the way. He was unconcerned that he was in the clothes from the previous night. Jenny grabbed his arm.

‘Look, you can’t leave me here. I can’t entertain them. I am so hung over!’

‘Ha! Too bad! I am not staying in a room with that much Lycra. Good luck!’

Tim raced out the door, chuckling. Jenny’s shoulders slumped and she trudged back to the kitchen.

Tim and Jenny 9

‘I need to pee,’ Jenny said to Tim’s rear end as he cleaned behind the toilet. She stood at the door, looking desperate. ‘Come on, get out!’

‘Nah, I’m almost done. Just wait.’

‘I can’t!’

‘I’m almost done.’ He poured some Domestos on the toothbrush and scrubbed furiously at the grouting around the base. ‘Just hang on.’

‘I’ve been hanging on since Mordialloc!’

‘Why didn’t you go at Parliament?’

Jenny snorted. ‘And get stabbed by a junkie? Look, just go out for one second. In fact, I’ll finish it, if you want.’

‘Yup. I let you finish and I’m staring at filth for weeks.’

‘I promise, I’ll do a good job.’

‘Nope. Five minutes.’

‘Tim!’

‘Nope.’

‘Argh!’ Jenny ran out the back and looked around for somewhere to go. There was the shed – there was a space down the side with grass.  She raced out and squatted. As she shut her eyes in relief, she heard a giggle. She finished her weeing and looked up to see her neighbours son looking over the fence.

‘Piss off!’ She shouted. The kid stuck out his tongue and jumped back into his own yard. Jenny groaned.

Tim and Jenny 8

The pile of dead vines piled up at Jenny’s feet. She grit her teeth and ripped another vine down off the fence.  The winter sun was not that strong, but the unaccustomed activity sent sweat down her face.

Tim appeared at the back door and lit a cigarette. He leaned against the doorjamb.

‘You’ve made a mess.’

Jenny stood and wiped her brow with the back of her hand.

‘Doesn’t it look better?’

‘I suppose.’ Tim took a long drag then gesticulated to the pile of garden rubbish with the cigarette. ‘What you doing with all that crap?’

Jenny shrugged.

‘Green bin?’

‘We don’t have a green bin.’

‘Normal bin then?’

‘As if. It’s chockas every week.’

Jenny shrugged.

‘I don’t know then.’ She looked over the fence and chuckled. ‘You know, they haven’t started renovating yet.’

‘So?’

‘So.’ Jenny threw a handful of vines over the fence.

Tim took the final drag of his cigarette and butt it out in an overflowing ashtray.

‘You’re really going to do that?’

Jenny grabbed an armful of vines.

‘Yup.’

‘Really?’ He shook his head and went back inside.

Working well together

‘It’s not my job to tell you what to do.’ I took great pleasure inside in seeing a fleeting look of shock cross her face. I didn’t let that pleasure spread to my face, though. I am a professional.

‘I just wanted to get an idea of what you would expect me to work towards.’ She was floundering now. She expected to walk into this job and have everything handed to her on a platter? Not likely. I’ve not spent years building up this program to just hand it over to some moron; some friend of the boss.

‘That’s up to you to work out. It’s just not my job. I am very busy.’ If this wasn’t clear to her, she was more of a moron than I thought. To my surprise, she nodded and looked me in the eye.

‘Not a problem. I’ll work something out.’ She took a sip of her cold coffee. I stood. ‘After all, I am here to support you.’

‘I’ll talk to you later.’ I had to stop myself from hitting her, but wondered if she really believed she could support me. As if I needed support. Still, she hadn’t got the last word in.

‘Thanks.’ 

Damn.

Tim and Jenny 7

After she’d finished mopping, she’d opened the window to let the floors air dry and went to the supermarket. When she got home, she was pleasantly surprised. Jenny looked around the kitchen. Well, it doesn’t sparkle, she thought, ‘but if it could, it would.’

She put the plastic shopping bags on the table and unloaded the groceries into the cupboards and fridge and grabbed the bags to ball and shove into the bag cupboard. Unbeknownst to her, a small jar of pesto was in the bottom of one bag, and as she grabbed the bag, the jaw flew across the room, smashed on the fridge and somehow the contents almost covered her floor. She stood in shock.

The sound of the crash brought Tim out of his bedroom. He stood behind her.

‘I cleaned,’ Jenny said.

Tim and Jenny 6

‘Popcorn?’

‘Check.’

‘Beer?’

‘Check.’

‘Pajamas?’

‘Check.’

‘Right, let’s do this.’

Tim and Jenny settled into their usual positions on the couch and pulled the doona over their legs. Jenny flicked on the television.

‘Still the end of Big Brother.’

‘Oh, for crying out loud. It could be another half an hour.’

The latest contestant to be kicked out of the house made their way down the walkway to the screams and cheers of the live audience. Gretel stood by her seat with a grin plastered to her face. Eventually, the cheers subsided and the post-eviction interview began. Jenny flicked the mute button.

‘I hated her.’

Tim looked at her with disdain.

‘You watch this?’

‘Nah!’ Jenny got defensive. ‘But, you know, it’s on all the time and everyone at work talks about it.’

‘Yeah, right.’

‘No, honest. Apparently she’s a total bitch, and she slept most of the time, and no-one in the house liked her.’

Tim rolled his eyes. Jenny’s tone became defensive.

‘I mean, it’s an interesting concept, don’t you think?’

‘What, sticking people in a house with cameras?’

‘Yeah. Different people from different backgrounds.’

‘Whatever.’

‘Oh, you have no interest?’ Jenny flung a piece of popcorn at Tim’s head. ‘You’ve not had a single discussion about it?’

‘No. Because I have a life.’

‘Ha!’

‘What?’ Tim sat up and looked at her. ‘What?’

‘You have a life?’

‘Yeah!’

‘This weekend?’

It was Tim’s turn to get defensive.

‘Hey, Baz got the first release of…’

‘Blah blah blah…’

‘No, it’s a great game…’

‘Blah blah, computer games blah…’

‘It was great!’

‘A weekend sitting at your mate’s PC in his parent’s lounge room is “a life”, you reckon? Dream on.’

Tim muttered something under his breath.

‘What was that?’ Jenny inquired, quietly.

‘Nothing. Just, well, what did you do this weekend?’

‘Hey! I never claimed to have a life. Besides, Mum likes it when I go to the dog shows with her. And we got two ribbons.’

Jenny turned the volume back on. In silence, they watched two sets of ads and more inane interviews.

‘What time is it?’

Jenny looked at her phone.

‘Almost nine.’

‘This is bullshit.’

‘Yup.’

‘I mean, do we expect too much from television?’ Tim asked, outraged. Jenny looked at their carefully made preparations.

‘Probably.’

Tim followed her eyes.

‘Right.’

They returned to silence as the credits rolled over the screaming crowd and it cut to the ratings warning. Jenny cheered.

‘Yay! Goran!’

Tim rolled his eyes, but smiled quietly.

Tim and Jenny 5

Tim sat on the couch. The cricket wasn’t holding his attention. He used the remote to bring up the time on the television screen. Twenty-four minutes late. The key sounded in the door, and he tried to relax into the couch, but he was too mad.

Jenny’s high heels clicked on the floorboards, then she giggled as she slipped slightly. Tim sighed. She’d been for lunch with her sister, and she was clearly drunk. Jenny kicked her shoes off, came into the room and dropped onto the couch next to Tim. She pulled a can off a six-pack and placed it next to him.

‘Beer?’

‘You said you’d be here at two.’

‘What?’ Jenny looked at him. ‘You were serious? You want a house meeting? There’s only two of us living here!’

Tim knew he had already lost any high ground. He started to deflate and snatched the open beer Jenny held out.

‘I’m just so frustrated with you.’

Jenny spun around to sit cross-legged on the couch and face him. The age and wear of the pillows that caused her to lean in to the back and she opened a beer for herself. She forced a serious look onto her face.

‘What is the problem, Tim?’

He sighed.

‘You never clean up after yourself in the kitchen or replace anything you use – like milk – and the bills.’ He took a sip to calm himself. ‘You told me you were working and could pay. I can’t pay for you.’

‘Oh,’ said Jenny quietly. ‘Sorry. I didn’t realise I was such a pain.’

Tim stopped himself for contradicting her. She was a pain. He took another drink and stared at the television.

‘Do you want me to move out?’

Tim shrugged. Jenny’s face dropped. She had been in four share houses in the last six months and was sick of freaks and losers and being stolen from and all that crap. Tim seemed different.

‘Shit, no. Really? You want me to move out.’ Jenny turned back to sit on the couch properly. They sat in silence, drinking their beer.

After the next over, Tim muted the game.

‘No, I don’t want you to move out.’ Jen threw herself at him, her arms around his neck. His beer spilt on her jeans. ‘But…’

‘Anything.’

‘The bills?’

‘I’ll get cash in the morning. I’m too pissed now.’

‘Milk?’

Jenny gave a look of guilt.

‘I’ll try to get better at replacing stuff.’

‘How about the kitchen?’

Jenny nodded. ‘Tomorrow?’

Tim smiled. ‘Better be.’

He clicked the volume on and they sat back, satisfied.

‘Tim?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Can you change a couple of things, too?’

‘I can try.’

‘Well, can you shut both the screen door and the front door? And can you empty the ashtray out the back once in a while? And can you not cut your nails in the lounge room, or at least put them in the bin? And can you flush twice if you need to?’

‘I don’t cut my nails in the…’ Tim tried to protest, but Jenny pointed to a neat pile next to the Green Guide. ‘Oh. Ok.’

 

Tim and Jenny 4

Jenny padded down the hall and into the bathroom. Tim sat in the lounge room and waited for the sound of the shower to start. He counted to fifteen, and then moved into the kitchen, and put his hand on the hot tap, and then he paused for a moment. Looking around the room, he saw two empty milk cartons, the residue of rice water which Jenny had not cleaned up from her terrible cooking three days ago and the electricity bill he had left for her with a note in red asking for her portion and a large circle around the words ‘final notice’ and he turned the tap. It took a few seconds to run hot, and he let it run for several moments. Then off. He listened to see if there was any reaction from the bathroom. Nothing. Tim turned the tap on again for a little longer, then off. He listened to the quiet. He repeated the action one more time, then shouted back into the house.

‘Pay the bill, replace the water and for crying out loud, clean up your freaking mess!’

Tim grabbed his keys and headed off to work, smugly satisfied he had made some kind of point. It didn’t matter that she wouldn’t have heard him or that she probably didn’t realise he’d been the cause of the sudden temperature changes in the shower.