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Posts Tagged ‘fox and raven’

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.

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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.

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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.

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