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Drastic Measures

This is not good. Not even remotely. I will kill Lloyd, and it will be enjoyable.

This morning I found a small package in my letterbox. Inside was a CD and a note.

The note read:

“Dear Artie,

You haven’t guessed my name yet. You’ve already had two whole weeks and you haven’t guessed it. Is there something wrong here? Why can’t you guess my name? I’ll tell you why. Because you’ll never be able to guess it. And that’s a shame, Artie. A real shame.”

It was unsigned, of course. On the CD was a photo file (criminal waste of a disc if you ask me):

Now tell me, is this not the work of a madman? How on earth does he know where I live?

More importantly, what am I going to do?

I went for a walk in the park to shake off my irritation. Surely, I thought, surely this is a ridiculous situation. What on earth can I do that doesn’t seem equally as childish and ludicrous? Again I ran the options through my mind.

  1. Confront Lloyd. Not likely to work out too well – it’s difficult to reason with someone so completely illogical.
  2. Request help from Joanie. Seems so petulant, doesn’t it? Over something so small? Well, I mean, the iPod set me back a hundred and fifty dollars, but is it really worth troubling her? Abi’s still bafflingly ill, Joanie’s not looking so crash hot herself – what kind of selfish idiot would I have to be to trouble her at a time like this?
  3. Hurt Lloyd until he returns the damn thing. Unfortunately, as puerile as Lloyd is, having me arrested for assault would not be beyond him.
  4. Call the police myself. “Excuse me, officer, but I want to report a theft. An iPod. At my place of work. No, I know who took it. He just won’t give it back. What? No, this isn’t a joke. No, I’m not trying to waste your – yes, I know wasting police time is a criminal – no, officer. Yes, officer. Sorry, officer. Goodbye.”

I kicked around on the grass until I found a spot that looked nice, under a tree, where I huffily threw myself down and crossed my arms. That bastard.

Nearby, a picnic was underway – three or four families with young children, all shrieking happily and running around, except for two. A small girl, probably about six, and a boy of four or five. The girl was playing on her own, throwing a small ball into the air and catching it, down near the pond. The boy stood a little apart from the larger group of kids, torn between wanting to join in and watching the girl. His face and clothes were smudged with dirt – it looked as though he’d probably been pushed to the ground a few times during the course of the game.

Eventually the inevitable happened – the little rubber ball ended up in the water, and the girl ended up in tears. I looked over to see if the parents had noticed, but they were busy chatting and taking lazy sips from a bottle of white wine. When I looked back, the boy had gone over to the girl and was patting her on the shoulder. She pushed him away and pointed to where her ball was floating, bobbing lazily on the pond’s surface. The boy fetched a long stick and started carefully manoeuvring the forked end to pull the ball back across the water. Once or twice I nearly jumped up, sure he would fall in (though the pond was not so deep), but after a lengthy struggle he was proudly able to present the dripping ball to the girl, a grin all over his face. Yet she merely snatched her toy from his hands and ran back to the picnic blanket. Despondent, he sat down by the edge of the pond, and poked moodily at the floating leaves. Poor kid.

I stood up, and brushed the excess grass from my clothes, ready to head home. I was just checking my pockets to make sure I hadn’t dropped my phone, when I caught sight of the little girl again. She had turned back, ambling sheepishly towards the boy’s hunched figure. She touched his shoulder, lightly, and when he looked up, offered her hand to him, the ball sitting snugly in her palm. She tossed it to him, and he caught it with both hands, looked at it a second, then threw it back. The girl caught it and laughed. I trudged away from the happily playing pair, feeling better.

Missing Pieces

It’s always a bit disorienting when the bus people forget to change their advertisements for time-specific events. I know the WYD posters were still trundling around the city long after it was (finally) over.

Yesterday it was the ones for Missing Persons Week, on my way to the Fox and Raven. Actually I only saw one, and I didn’t see many when it actually was Missing Persons Week, about a month ago.

I’ve never actually known anyone who’s gone missing. I mean, it’s possible that someone I once knew has, in the interim, disappeared without a trace, but I’ve never experienced that. It sounds horrible, anyway – and look at the repercussions, especially when it’s a child that goes missing. It becomes this worldwide phenomenon, I mean the Azaria Chamberlain case became this integral icon of Australian identity, and the furore regarding Madeleine McCann’s disappearance continues to be heard, and loudly, to this day.

Anyway all of this was churning around in my head by the time I got to work yesterday afternoon. I was discussing the whole thing with Katie, a Sunday regular. Neither of us has kids, but Katie has a twelve year old niece, and of course I was thinking of Jamie.

Katie pointed out that age really changes the nature of the disappearance and how it’s treated. “I mean,” she said, “that with the Chamberlain case it’s not as though the baby could have just wandered off; with a ten week old baby, you know it’s an external influence causing the disappearance. But you get to that poor McCann girl, and, well, it’s not particularly likely that she would have left the babies alone, but it’s a possibility. And as for my niece Sammy, if a twelve year old goes missing you’re torn between the ideas of abduction and teenage rebellion, aren’t you?”

The idea of Jamie going missing was like a throbbing ache in my head. I couldn’t imagine what it would do to Lily, or to me. I pictured the police scouring the harbour and the beaches, questioning neighbours, compiling a list of suspects, at the top of which would probably be Lily. Or, more likely, Josh.

I picked up another polishing cloth, throwing the old one into the tub and choosing a new glass from the rack. “I don’t understand how anyone’s life could go on after something like that,” I mused, flicking suds off the glass. “There’s just absolutely no closure. It’d be enough to literally drive you insane.”

There was a crash from the end of the bar. James had fumbled a tray, smashing three glasses and slicing his finger open. I grabbed the first aid kit and went over.

“What happened?” I asked, as I examined his wound for any remaining shards of glass.

“Nothing,” he muttered, “Sorry. I slipped. And. Must’ve just, uh, lost it.”

I glanced up at his face. He was pale, and his hand shook just the tiniest bit as I fished out one remaining sliver with the tweezers. He’s pretty young, only just 18, and keeps mostly to himself. I thought about asking him again, but he wrapped the band-aid firmly around his finger and went to grab the dustpan and broom. I shrugged.

After work, though, when we were grabbing our stuff from the staffroom, he started to talk. It was almost as though he was thinking out loud, not really talking to me.

“My sister and I left. We didn’t tell them why, didn’t leave a note. Didn’t need to. Don’t think they ever looked for us.”

I felt almost like I was eavesdropping.

“Eventually though, we were picked up off the streets. Pretty young then, y’know. Went into foster homes. All the usual stuff. This one woman, she seemed so great at first, nice house, treated us well, but really all she wanted was company, and then help with the housework. Used to make my sister wash every bloody window in the house before breakfast. Didn’t let us join any of the clubs at school, we always had to come straight home. In the end…”

He paused, hefted his backpack onto one shoulder and turned to look at me. “In the end, she stopped us even going to school one day, locked the doors and windows, wouldn’t let us out. My sister barricaded her in the bathroom with the lounge furniture, and then broke the locks on the front door. She’s so clever, Hannah. Then we left, again. When they found us the next time, they got a home for Hannah straight away. Sweet little thing, fifteen, smart. Not so easy with me, but I was almost 18, so I could strike out on my own. Get a job.” He gestured vaguely at our surroundings.

Then he turned away. “But the next time Hannah disappeared, she didn’t come to me.”

“Why not?”

James shrugged. “Who knows. I don’t. I don’t know how to find her, either. I tried, for a long time. Either she can’t get to me, nor I to her, or she doesn’t want to be found.”

“I’m so sorry. I really am. It must have been hard to hear Katie and I talking tonight.”

Another shrug. “Yeah. I guess so.”

We walked out onto the street together. It seemed pointless to tell him that it was going to be okay, or that he’d find her eventually, when the words were so obviously hollow and meaningless. Tonight he wandered through the park with me, though he usually goes along King Street. The duck in the lake yelped sleepily at us. The trees rustled softly in the windless night.

We reached the road.

“‘Night Arthur. See you next week.”

“G’night James.” I watched him walk away up the street, cars streaking past in ribbons of light, just a shadow on the buildings. The duck squawked again, and I told it amiably to go stuff its beak in the pondweed, and headed in the other direction.

Sunday, Sunday

I called Lily earlier today.

“Hey Lily, it’s me.”

“Hi. Arthur. What’s wrong?”

Only women do that. Seriously. You look at them strangely and they immediately assume something’s wrong. Either that or it’s just this instinctive reaction. I once caught a girl I was going out with doing it, and she just shrugged and said she didn’t even really think about it. It was like saying “What’s up?”. I tried to point out the vast linguistic differences between asking “what’s up?” and asking “what’s wrong?” but she just laughed it off. But it’s frustrating – even if there ISN’T anything wrong, somehow asking “what’s wrong?” creates a problem.

“Nothing. Why would anything be wrong?”

“I was just asking.”

“I mean, I did have this really weird week, but – no, that’s not why I was calling.”

“I expect to hear about this week anyway, you realise.”

My sister is almost certainly the most interrogative person I have ever met in my life. I don’t know why I don’t just carry a video camera around with me to save me the time of recounting every detail of my life to her. I could just mail the footage to her periodically and save the phone calls for actual news and such

It took me over half an hour to explain the whole Eva incident, and Abigail’s illness still not being diagnosed, and even the old man in the waiting room. By the time I’d finished I’d almost completely forgotten why I called in the first place.

“So I assume you were originally calling about next week?”

That was it. Jamie’s play.

“Yeah. I was wondering which day would be best for you guys. Obviously Thursday or Wednesday would be better, but I can ask Joanie or the night off work if Friday suits.”

“Thursday is fine. Jamie will be glad to see you, he’s been absolutely thrilled about this performance. I swear though, I will be glad when I never have to hear another rendition of You Give a Little Love.” Jamie’s playing the title role in Bugsy Malone. “And it sounds as though you could use a rest from the city anyway.”

I could certainly use some space to clear my head of Lloyd. He was as bad as ever on Friday night, still on with that ridiculous name game. You’d think he was about four years old.

“Artie. Artie. You haven’t guessed yet.”

I resisted the urge to find out whether watching someone choke on a bottle lid would really be so unbearable. “Lloyd. My name is not Artie.”

“And my name’s not Lloyd. Guess what it is, Artie.”

“I am not going to play a guessing game with you.”

“Gonna keep calling you Artie until you guess my name, Aaaartiiiiie.”

I sighed. “Caliban. Trinculo.”

“Nope and nope.”

“Frank. Dave. Bob. Jerry.”

“You’re not even trying now, Artie.”

“Lloyd… LLOYD, watch what you’re doing!” Distracted in his irritation, Lloyd had managed to pour 30mls of lemonade into 180mls of vodka, and was in the process of handing it over the counter. I decided that what he needed was a refresher course in measures for standard drinks and proceeded to deliver it in withering tones.

As usual, he simply bounced back. “Artie, I think you should know, I’m not giving back your iPod until you guess my name.”

I nearly exploded. “WHAT!?” I glanced around the bar sheepishly, hoping not too many people had heard me. I lowered my voice to a glowering hiss. “What the fuck have you done, Lloyd?”

“Well, I knew you weren’t going to take this seriously, as you really should, Artie, so I’m keeping your iPod until you guess my name.”

“How the hell did you get into my locker?” I could not believe this.

In answer, Lloyd held up a twisted bobby pin. Who the hell picks locks these days? I considered going to Joanie, but realised she probably didn’t need this at the moment. Then I considered throttling him. Again, Joanie probably didn’t really need the stress of simultaneously losing two of her workers, one to death and the other to imprisonment for homicide.

What I would like to do to Lloyd

Punch; verb: What I would like to do to Lloyd

Not to be confused with this delicious beverage

Not to be confused with this delicious beverage

I rubbed the bridge of my nose. “Lloyd. Give it back, or I will cause you serious bodily harm.” It was a hollow threat; the pub was its usual bustling Friday night self.

Calling the police seemed ridiculously irrational at this point. It felt more like a squabble. I resolved just to play along until I could figure out a better way of getting it back.

My teeth gritted. “Sebastian. Thaddeus. Jareth. Jasper.”

“No-ee Artie, keep guessing.”

Like I said, people like Lloyd are sent to try us. By whom, I’m not sure, but I’d sure like to have a serious talk to them.

Reflections

Truly this phone camera is a wondrous thing. This is taken from Cockle Bay pedestrian bridge looking back towards the city. Posting this photo, however, reminded me of a chore I needed to complete today; thus it was that I went out to purchase a new mirror for my bedroom wall.

There’s a place that sells them on Parramatta Rd, reasonably close to where I live. I don’t think I’ve ever actually been to a bona fide mirror store before, but it was really quite interesting. I discovered one towards the back of the store that seemed to have one of those strange optical illusions, where it catches an obscure reflection and casts it back at you. I kept catching a reflection out of the corner of my eye that looked like a face – just you know, sort of floating there – but every time I looked back it was gone. Strange the way the mind tricks you. I really considered buying it for a while, for novelty value, but it looked quite heavy with such an ornate frame, and I don’t think my walls are really durable enough to support it. Something did seem to be telling me to buy it though.

In the end I opted for a full-length mirror with a plain wooden frame. It’ll do the job it’s made for, which is all that really matters.

I did go and see the Girl yesterday. She was awake when I got there, and looking a good deal better than the last time I’d seen her, though still very pale and wan, and the cuts over her eyes healing into scars. When I asked her name, she told me to call her Eva. I suspect it may not be her real name. I explained how I’d found her – she didn’t remember it, unsurprisingly – and asked whether she had any family or people the hospital had contacted. She looked at me intently for a few moments, then shook her head.

“None that would come,” she said.

I was starting to feel rather strange, standing in a hospital ward talking to this girl I didn’t know. I wondered whether I’d been an idiot to come. And decided in the affirmative.

But Eva seemed to take my pause as an expectation of elaboration. “I have a couple of sisters, but one’s high as a kite most of the time and the other doesn’t speak to us any more. She married some rich guy, yeah? She’s a bitch anyway.” Pause. “My Mum always used to say she was no better than she should be. Slut.”

This last sentence was uttered with such venom that I was unsure if she was referring to her mother or her sister. I decided I had probably stayed too long in an case, and half-heartedly offered her my phone number, which she took. I told her I hoped she’d be better soon, and she said she did too. With a definite tinge of bitterness.

As I turned to go, she spoke again.

“Hey, um… thank you. Y’know.” She appeared to be addressing the hospital blanket draped over her lap. Her injured foot formed a bandaged bulge at the end of the bed.

“Any time,” I replied.

Seeing Anew

I’ve always thought that the hardest sense to lose would be sight. It’s such a difficult thing to imagine, living in a world of darkness. I love music, and not to be able to hear would be awful, but somehow loss of sight seems so much more terrifying.

I remember researching for a project in high school on “great” people in Australian history, and deciding that the work of Fred Hollows was simply incredible. It’s funny, because I’ve just started seeing all those advertisements around on the bus shelters and billboards in the city, the ones where Fred Hollows is holding this kid’s head back to show the camera where the disease has stuffed up his eyesight. I try and imagine how it must have felt to be that kid, hearing the sound of cameras and people and maybe not having a clue what was going on.

Anyway. I digress. That picture at the start of my post is one I took with my phone camera – I swear it seems to be better quality than my actual digital camera – on my way through Sydney Uni to get to the RPA. The hospital had called to say that The Girl (whose name I still don’t know, and neither do the hospital) had had extensive surgery on her foot, and they had hopes that she would recover with time and physiotherapy. I was sort of acting on a whim, feeling some sort of obligation to go and see her, though not with any real purpose in mind.

I took a seat in the waiting room while a nurse conferred with several doctors about whether I should be allowed in to see her. It seemed that something had changed since they had called me. Sitting next to me was an elderly man, wearing very dark glasses and carrying a cane. I didn’t really know what to do with myself – usually I would give a sort of friendly smile to someone I was sitting next to, but that would obviously be a useless gesture in this situation. Not to say anything seemed unfriendly or detached, but then to go out of my way to actually speak seemed a little presumptuous – we didn’t even know each other – and even condescending. With these thoughts rushing through my mind, I shifted a little in my chair, and the man turned to me.

“Who are you waiting for?” he asked.

Phenomenally relieved that the tension had been broken so easily, I responded eagerly. “A girl. Actually I don’t know her very well, but she was hurt and I brought her here on Sunday.”

He nodded. “A girl, eh. Of course. Is she beautiful?”

“Well, yes, I suppose. Probably not when you see her face for the first – ” I faltered, cursing my stupidity.

But the man only chuckled. “Ah yes, but it is not the face which is important. The girl I once loved,” he murmured confidingly, leaning towards me, “had the most exquisite voice in the world. So pure and light, it was almost like a bird – no, a butterfly, a white butterfly winging through your soul. I remember when I first heard it, I thought I had eavesdropped on an angel.” He sighed.

“How old were you?” I asked. I was entranced by his story.

“Much, much younger. Young and stupid, probably like you. I thought I was invincible, that no goal was too far for me to reach. That’s what got me into this mess.” He gestured towards his sunglasses. “She was always far too high up for me, but we loved each other. Let me tell you something, never love a girl whose parents are rich enough to cause ‘accidents’, hmm? Especially do not get her pregnant with twins. You’ll end up like this, wandering in the night desert. Sometimes those high walls are there for a reason.” He shook his head wistfully. I had no words left to speak.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, until the nurse came back to tell me I could come back tomorrow instead, but that the Girl (“your friend”) was in no state to have visitors at the moment, which I assumed meant she was still coming down off whatever she was on.

I wanted to say something to the old man before I left, but I found it too difficult to form my thoughts into speech. Instead I muttered something halfway between “thankyou” and “goodbye”, and walked away.

A strange and turbulent night. I’m still trying to get my head around it.

Sunday is always quiet. I could probably handle the bar on my own on Sundays, but Joanie always rosters James on as well. Actually, James is very quiet himself. It’s difficult to carry on a conversation with him, so mostly we work in a companionable silence. Last night the television was an easy distraction to break the silence – the Closing Ceremony provided plenty of noise and colour. It’s funny, but I’ve missed almost the entire Olympics – I don’t think I’ve seen a single whole event.

Anyway, I was in my usual not-quite-all-there Sunday frame of mind on my way home. Somewhere, a church bell struck twelve. Heading through Victoria Park, I was just contemplating a nice hot drink and a good night’s sleep when a figure lurched out from behind one of the benches.

Now, I know it sounds awful, but homeless people tend to freak me out. I find it unnerving when I realise someone is staring at me, and for some reason I tend to get stared at by the homeless quite frequently. It’s too piercing. Too exposing.

This girl, however, was not staring at me. If anything, she was staring around me, but to be honest I don’t think she was seeing a single thing. Her lips moved slightly as she lurched down the path towards the place where I was standing, uncertain whether to walk away or… or to wait. She was limping very badly, and as she came under a streetlight I noticed the blood. Quite a lot of blood. I don’t think she was feeling the pain, as such. Certainly if she was she wouldn’t have been able to walk. I was just staring at the mess of her right foot as she tripped, stumbled and fell against me, clutching at my shirt. I caught a whisper of the words she was mumbling, something like “prince” or “dance”. Carefully, slowly, I lowered her onto the nearest seat, and tried to look at her face. Again I had the strange feeling that she was not seeing me at all, and her eyes were bruised, with a cut running over each eyebrow. I forced myself to look down at her foot again. It seemed that in her semi-conscious state she’d stepped right into a broken glass bottle, slicing off a large chunk of her heel. Even worse, the bottle’s fragments had stuck into her sole, almost like some horrible kind of shoe. And she was losing too much blood. I hailed down the nearest taxi – even on a Sunday there are plenty heading along Parramatta Road, and it was still, I reckoned, quicker than calling an ambulance – and carried the girl to the back seat.

“RPA Hospital, please, quickly,” I gasped to the driver.

“You kidding? It’s just the other side of the University.” He moved out into the middle lane.

“Too far for her to walk like this.” I gestured to the foot, the blood. He glanced into the rearview mirror.

“… the fuck… She’s bleeding all over the fucking seat!” the driver yelled.

“Just get us there, please. I’ll give you an extra twenty bucks.”

I couldn’t wrap her foot in anything or even apply pressure to stop the bleeding, because I didn’t want to push the glass any further into her flesh. It really was only a short drive, and I thrust two tens and a five dollar note at the driver and pulled the girl out as best as I could without hurting her. She was almost unconscious at this point.

As I carried her into the emergency room – she barely weighed a thing, mostly skeleton and filthy clothes – I realised I’d been an idiot. Cases called in by ambulance were rushing through, and the room was crowded with people waiting to be seen. Wouldn’t have cost me twenty five bucks, either. I caught the attention of one of the nurses and she helped me settle the girl into one of those horrible chairs while she took a look at her foot.

“I’ll get her bumped right up the list,” the nurse told me. “She may have severed some pretty important blood vessels there. Is she a relative, a friend?”

“No,” I said, “I just found her in the park, in Victoria Park.”

“And you didn’t call an ambulance?” asked the nurse incredulously.

I shrugged, and the nurse shook her head but didn’t say anything more. It only took five minutes for them to rush the girl away, while the same nurse pulled me aside to sign a few forms. She told me it might be a while before they could remove all the glass, as it was a delicate injury. I wrote down my phone number, and asked them to call me when they knew how she was going to be.

What a tense weekend, I thought, as I made my way back home. First Joanie, now this – nothing remotely like that has ever happened to me before. It’ll go down in my own history as The Night I Took A Complete Stranger to the Hospital. I don’t think I can bear to wonder how that girl got into such a state.

I got to work yesterday afternoon to discover a post-it on my locker.

Damn it, Lloyd.

However it was a reasonably uneventful night – most of our regulars come in on Fridays, along with the crowds, but Saturdays are more relaxed. Not too quiet, enough to keep you busy, but not enough customers to be a serious hassle.

Joanie was working, too, which always seems to make the night go more smoothly. She’s been running the place for thirteen years, and no-one messes with her. Not that she’s some hulking threat – it’s more that no-one could possibly argue with her. She exudes an air of such calm, regal sensibility that she can diffuse a situation in the time it takes for her to look at you and clasp her hands together in front of her.

Tonight, though, she was distracted. It wasn’t that she was clumsy or that she made mistakes. It’s hard to imagine Joanie ever messing up an order. No, she just seemed out of sorts, and her eyes never quite seemed to see what she was looking at. When things had quieted down, and we had slowed to one or two new customers every hour, I asked her what was wrong.

“Oh, it’s… oh, you know, just things on my mind.” Her hands polished glasses with practised ease, slipping tumblers smoothly into their racks.

“What things?”

“Oh, it’s just, well, Abigail had to go in for some more tests, and they still don’t know what’s wrong with her, really.”

Abigail is Joanie’s fifteen year old daughter. Her birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and Joanie and her husband Mark threw her a party. Apparently at some point Abi and a couple of the girls went missing for about half an hour, and when Mark went to look for them he found Abi’s friends struggling to carry her unconscious form out of the garden and back to the house. The girls swore blind they weren’t doing drugs or anything, just gossiping out of earshot of the other kids, when Abigail had suddenly fainted into the rose bush. And it’s been happening fairly regularly, once or twice a day, ever since. The doctors suspect it may be some condition similar to narcolepsy, but of course the results have been inconclusive.

“And you know, the funny thing is, I used to have a very dear friend who was a specialist in these kinds of diseases.” Joanie leant back against the bench, stretching her spine. “But we haven’t spoken since Abigail was born.”

“Why not?” I asked. God, she looks tired, I thought. Probably hasn’t slept properly since the birthday party.

“Oh, well you know, it was a difficult situation. I’d known Margaret for years, we lived together at University – she was studying medicine, I was doing arts literature – and we were very close. But when Abi was born, I named my sister as her godmother. It’s kind of a family tradition. Margie was very upset. My sister had been out of the country for four years, she argued, what kind of influence could she possibly have on Abigail’s life? I tried to explain, but she was so hurt, she’d been expecting and looking forward to being a godmother. I told her she could still be a part of Abi’s life without the title, but it seemed to mean so much to her. She came over to the house a week after we got back from the hospital, and told me she never wanted to speak to me again. It was bizarre. Mark had to pull her from the house, she was hysterical and yelling gibberish and gesturing to the crib. I’d never known she had it in her.” Joanie closed her eyes for a second, dark circles emphasising her frail lids. She suddenly looked too old for forty two.

“Joanie,” I said, “why don’t you go home for the night. Get some rest. I can close up, it’ll be quiet from now on.”

She thanked me, and left her set of keys. I wiped down the bench, thinking how strange life’s twists and turns can be, and hoping they’d figure out what was wrong with Abigail soon. She’s a sweet girl, after all.