The Writing Quarter December Competition WinnerPosted 2 years ago under Uncategorised,
Photo by Clare Hawley
All this Movement
by Caroline Reid
Writer/Poet/Performer, Caroline Reid wrote her first commissioned work for theatre twenty years ago. Her plays, stories and poetry have been widely performed, broadcast and published. In 2016 she discovered the thrill of performing her own poetry and has been hard at it, qualifying as one of the Top 5 poets in the Australian Poetry Slam Final 2018. Her work can be read on-line at Blue Pepper, Cordite, Verity La and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She is currently writing her first novel under the mentorship of Toni Jordan. For updates on Caroline’s performances and publications visit www.carolinereidwrites.
On our retirement trip around Australia it worked out that Nola did most of the driving and to my amazement she was really good at it. She drove for hours without a break. And when I woke from those hot desert dreams she always gave me a tally of hitchhikers, road kill, and near misses with road trains. She never picked up hitchhikers because you never know what you’re going to get, she said.
Just outside Tennant Creek we’d parked up at a rest stop opposite a green panel van. I was outside doing dishes when I heard a scream then saw a young girl climbing awkwardly out of the back of the panel van swearing blue murder. She marched off to the highway, the setting sun turning her skin a coppery colour like a living ornament. I must’ve looked a right dill stood there in my yellow gloves and slippers watching the tilt of her narrow hips, her short denim skirt flapping in the breeze, her thumb hooked out to the highway. Cheeky she was. Like a dare. Music blared out of the panel van. Oh here we go, I thought. No sleep for us tonight. Then blow me down. Like the music was a call to arms, a half-dozen other vans skidded into the rest stop full of young blokes with too much time on their hands. Nola and her notebook appeared at the door of the Winnebago.
‘It’s going to be booze and bother all night, love,’ I said, coughing from the dust.
‘Let’s move on then,’ she said.
‘You sure?’ I knew full well my wife hated driving past sunset. She thought we’d crash into a roo and that would be the end of the trip. Truth be told I wouldn’t have minded. After three months on the road I was sick of all the movement but I couldn’t tell Nola that. The road trip was her dream. I had wanted to go to Egypt to see the pyramids but she had no interest in that.
‘That poor little girl could use a lift,’ she said.
‘A hitchhiker?’ Nola surprises the pants off me sometimes.
‘Just this once.’
‘Whatever you say, love,’ I said.
We packed up real quick and pulled up alongside the girl. She told us she was headed to the Threeways Roadhouse. Just up the road, so we offered her a lift.
‘Deadly,’ she goes, and got in beside me.
Chrissie, that was her name. She was a bit on the nose but when she talked her face was the liveliest little thing, those dark eyes sucking you right in, her arms going everywhere like tree branches on a windy day. She was only with us twenty minutes but we got her life story. She lived with her family in Tennant, had two sisters to look after, worked at the Roadhouse, saving up to get to Sydney to try out for one of them singing talent shows, just had an argument with her boyfriend, and her favourite game was Monopoly.
‘Same as me,’ I said. ‘How about that, love?’
Nola doesn’t like playing games so I always play Monopoly by myself. Nola likes reading and writing. Always scribbling away of an evening in that notebook of hers. Don’t ask me what she’s got to write about. She doesn’t show me anything.
‘If we’d had more time we could have had a game,’ Chrissie said. ‘Have youse thought about staying at Threeways for the night? They got a big campsite, restaurant and all that.’
‘A powered site would be good,’ said Nola, hunched over the wheel, rubbing her temples. ‘And dinner in a restaurant would be lovely. I’ve got a splitting headache.’
‘That’s settled then,’ I said and grinned at Chrissie. What a nice kid.
At the Threeways Roadhouse Nola went in to get cold drinks and pay for the campsite while I filled up the Winnebago. Iron-coloured clouds seeped out of the evening sky like sweat on a man’s shirt. Chrissie was fixing her lipstick in the side-mirror when a willy-willy come out of nowhere and lifted up her skirt. Well, you could’ve knocked me down with a feather. That little girl had no underwear on, just a strip of hair like a black magic landing strip. Hell. But I pretended I never seen a thing, just said see ya later when she went in to do her shift.
Once me and Nola parked up at the campsite, I skedaddled off to the shower block. There’s nothing like a wash, a clean head of hairs and a splash of Old Spice to invigorate you. I was all done while Nola was still sat outside slapping mozzies and scrawling away in that bloody notebook.
‘How much longer you going to be, love?’ I said.
‘Who’s in a hurry then?’ She give me a look like I was hiding something.
‘How about I have a coldie while you tidy yourself up? Meet me at the restaurant when you’re done?’
She shook her head. ‘You’re an old fool,’ she said, and went back to her scribbling.
The air conditioner blasted out an arctic wind that I was grateful for after the heat of the day. Chrissie looked nice in her black and white uniform. Her cheap perfume was a bit overpowering, but it was better than what she smelt like in the van.
‘Oh cool, you brung it!’ she said when I showed her the Monopoly box.
I got the board out and set things up the way I like them.
‘Beer?’ she said, handing me a menu.
I ordered an Export.
She picked out a token. The boot.
I chose the racing car.
She blew on the dice and rolled. Six to start.
‘Lucky,’ I said.
I could tell she wasn’t experienced. She had no strategy. Bought up Whitechapel and Old Kent Road, the cheap sites. I went for utilities and stations. Had houses on Parklane and Mayfair in no time.
‘Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. Fuck that,’ she said. ‘I’m not doing that.’
‘Have another go.’ I took the card from her and put it under the pile at Community Chest. She blew on the dice and threw a four. The boot landed on Mayfair for the third time. It cost her fourteen hundred bucks and sent her broke.
‘Bad luck,’ I said. ‘Another game?’
‘Aren’t you going to order dinner?’ Chrissie grumbled. She got out her tatty notebook and pencil stub.
I straightened up the money in the bank. ‘You asking me or telling me?’
She shrugged, gazed out the big window down the highway. ‘If you’re going to sit here you should buy something to eat. I might get in trouble if you don’t. Kitchen’s closing in half an hour.’
I didn’t want her throwing in the towel so I bought her a drink and ordered some hot chips while I waited on Nola. I was setting up for the second game when the green panel van pulled in to the roadhouse. I saw straight away her boyfriend was on something. It took him ten minutes to work out how to open the glass door before scuttling across the tiles like a cockroach and falling into the chair opposite me. His hair was long and greasy, his t-shirt ripped, same as his jeans, both of them stained. Before I could stop him he grabbed my Export, took a gulp and burped in my face so close I could see the spots of decay on his teeth. Take it easy Daryl, I said to myself, this one’s obviously not right in the head. I smiled. ‘You want a drink?’
‘Nah, I’m right.’ He held my can of beer against his cheek. His eyes were dark like Chrissie’s, but hazy and jumping sideways, his pupils big as caves. Suddenly, he snatched up my racing car. ‘Vroom vroom,’ he goes, driving it through the air like an idiot. ‘Vroom vroom.’
‘Careful with that,’ I said, trying to grab it off him.
But he was too fast. Into his mouth it went, washed down with gulps of Export. After it disappeared he crushed the can and belched again.
I took a deep breath. ‘I’ve had that Monopoly board twenty-two years,’ I said evenly. ‘And in all that time I’ve never lost a token. Ever.’ I rose up out of my chair.
He stood too, his legs wobbling. ‘Listen, old man. I got something in my pocket that will blow your fucken head off if you don’t sit the fuck down and give me all your fucken money.’ He made his fingers into a gun.
‘That’s a lot of fucking, son,’ I said. ‘You don’t look old enough.’
His stupid little finger gun trembled in my face. ‘You think I’m playing games?’
Pots clattered in the kitchen and a knife screeched across a plate.
‘Let me make this easy for both of us,’ I said, and slid the Monopoly bank across the table.
‘Take it,’ I said.
He eyed me suspiciously.
‘I mean it. Take it all. You can have all of my money.’
The kid paused before jumping across the table, grabbing fistfuls of Monopoly money.
Chrissie arrived with my hot chips. ‘What are you doing?’ she said.
He ignored her and kept shovelling the money.
‘I was playing that. Leave it alone!’ She chucked the basket of chips on the table.
‘We’re gunna be rich,’ he said.
It was all I could to stop myself from cracking up.
Chrissie rolled her eyes. ‘It’s not real, you dick. Give it back.’
He hesitated, before doing as he was told. No apology, mind. He got all sulky, wiping snot from the back of his hand onto his jeans. Chrissie slapped his hand away when he started tucking into my chips. He pulled out the finger gun again, this time waving it at Chrissie. ‘You’re not going to Sydney, slut. I’ll fucken kill you first!’ He spat greasy chips in her face and clocked her on the side of the head with his fist.
‘Take it easy, mate,’ I said. And that’s when I pushed him. I swear it was only a little shove. But the cockroach went over like a dodgy fence post, his head clipping the corner of the table before hitting the floor with an almighty crack.
Chrissie turned on me. ‘What the hell did you do that for?’ she yelled.
When she rolled him over I saw the gash on his temple like a raw open mouth. He was groaning and carrying on. Chrissy fussed over him, telling him how much she loved him and all that nonsense. I couldn’t understand it. Not after the way he’d just treated her. She toddled off to the kitchen to get the first aid kit. I wiped grease off the Monopoly board, uncreased the money and put the game away. The cockroach had sat up and was groaning even louder, holding his head in his hands like he’d just taken a bullet. Mountains out of mole-hills, that’s what I reckon. There was hardly any blood. Kids these days got no backbone. I was about to head off when I remembered there was still the issue of the missing token.
‘You got something that belongs to me. Time to cough up, mate,’ I said, my voice quiet as a prayer.
The Winnebago smelt of toast and tea. Nola whimpered when I flicked on the apricot light.
‘Sorry, love,’ I said.
She was curled up in her lilac nightie like a pale shell on top of the blankets, her notebook closed beside her, a half-drunk glass of water and empty blister pack of Panadeine Forte on the sink.
‘How’d the game go? Did you win?’ Her voice was hoarse.
I dropped the racing car token into the glass of water on the sink and swished it around. Patsy Cline’s Three Cigarettes in an Ashtray played soft on the radio. I gave up smoking thirty-four years ago but sometimes the urge still hits me like a ton of bricks.
‘She was a nice kid. I let her win,’ I said.
Nola laughed but it turned into a cough.
The silver token spun around on the surface of the water.
‘I was going to come but this has turned into a migraine. We’ll have to stay on a few days.’
I sat on the bed, put her feet in my lap and rubbed them gently. ‘We’ll take off early tomorrow,’ I said. ‘Let’s book into a motel in town until you feel better. I’ll drive.’