A man, p.1
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       A Man, p.1

           Holden Sheppard
 
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A Man


  A Man

  Holden Sheppard

  Copyright 2009 Holden Sheppard

  Originally published in Indigo Journal, Volume 3 (March 2009)

  Acknowledgements

  Should a short story even have an acknowledgements page? Am I breaking some kind of unwritten rule of publishing here? Very quickly, then, before some publisher snipes me – I’d like to acknowledge the super cool people who helped bring this short story into the world.

  I wrote A Man as a writing assignment in my second year of uni and as far as I was concerned, that was as far as it would go. Luckily, my lecturer encouraged me to submit the story to journals, which I did. A Man was published a year later in Volume 3 of Indigo Journal – a fantastic journal which showcased Western Australia’s literary talent.

  I’d like to acknowledge Dr Marcella Polain, who encouraged me to take a chance on this story, Richard Rossiter, the editor who saw its potential, and Donna Ward, Managing Editor of Indigo Journal who helped me whip it into publication-ready status.

  A Man

  Three forty-four. The phone screams. Who? Why? At this time? I throw my hand onto the bedside table. Nope, that’s the wallet. Bit more to the right. Nope. Sunnies. Nope. Keys to the shed. Nope. Photo of Nat and me at Christmas. Ah. Smooth plastic. The phone. Hello? Missus who? No, I don’t remember putting your leach drains in four months ago. What? Well, how is that my fault? It’s the middle of the bloody night, ring back at seven. Then call them if they’re better at it! I don’t care. Let me fucking sleep!

  5:16. Disentangle myself from Nat’s warm body. No, honey, everything’s fine. No, I just need to take a leak. Throw off the Egyptian cotton sheets she made me buy her. Cold. Cold. Cold air. Cold bathroom tiles. Clumsy path to the dunny. It takes a while to piss cause I’ve got the usual morning boner. I half lapse into sleep again while I stand over the bowl. I yawn, grunt, wash my hands, stub my toe on the edge of the doorframe and fall back into bed.

  Half five. Alarm spews breakfast radio shit at me. Wrestles me out of bed. No, babe, nothing’s wrong. Just gotta get up for work. Work. Fucking work. I pull on my boxers and stumble through the dark house. Dark passage, dark kitchen. Dark laundry. My work clothes, still on the floor where I left them last night. I forgot Nat wants me to wash them myself now. Shit. I hold up the fluorescent yellow shirt. Sniff sniff. Yesterday’s sweat. Yesterday’s acrid grease. The blue pants are no better. Grease. Sand. Sweat.

  Quarter to. A trail of sand follows me from the laundry to the kitchen. I reek, but there’s nothing else for it. The other pair of work clothes is still on the line. I cover three Weet-Bix with 99% fat free milk. Haven’t had full cream since Nat moved in.

  Dawn. The truck won’t start. It’s a cold morning. I glow it again. It gives a weak cough and splutters out. On the fourth go the engine roars and we’re off. Past the half-acre lots with cream-brick houses. Down Barrett Street, to the industrial estate. Stop at old Barney’s Deli. How’s it goin Barney. See the Eagles got flogged last night? Bet ya a carton youse don’t make the eight now. Haha. Yeah, just the West and an iced coffee. Cheers, mate. Seeya s’arvo.

  Ten past six. Third best part of the day. I’m always first to the yard. I throw the padlocks off the old metal gates and charge up the gravel driveway in third gear. I park the truck behind the big shed. The sun’s in my eyes but not too much. I sit, turn the radio up a fraction. Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution. Sweet iced coffee. Sport section. Fraser’s still out with a shoulder injury. Wood’s been suspended so he’s out of the ruck too. Fuck.

  Work. John’s ute rolls up in a cloud of gravel dust. Reckon he takes the driveway in fifth ay. Gives me a nod and goes to open the shed. Last drop of cold coffee. Chuck it to the floor of the truck. Jump out. Fifteen steps over the metal dust. Into the shed. How’s it goin John. Want the West? Righto. OK. Right in town? No worries. I’ll bring the truck. Seeya there.

  Seven. Fucked if I can find anywhere big enough to park the truck in the main street. Ah, that spot in front of the bakery looks alright. Should squeeze in OK … Shit. Kerbage. Sounded rough. Ah well. She’ll be right.

  7:01. Hello? Hey babe. What’s wrong? What? Mrs Bailey? Oh yeah, I told her to call back. Her leach drains? I don’t remember ay. There’s a file in that big cardboard box in the wardrobe, it’s got all my paperwork in it. Can ya just have a look through it and see if you can find the job I did for her then? Mm. Yeah, I know you’ve gotta get ready for work but – OK – OK – thanks. Thanks babe. You’re a legend.

  Twenty past. Witch’s hats surround me. It’s not gonna be a long job, probably just today. Just gotta dig a shortish trench. Chuck in a coupla conduits to link together the two pipes we laid last week. Some new thing for the council. CCTV or some shit. John’s still on his way. He had to call past the depot and run something past the foreman. Spose I’ll just wait.

  Half seven. Fuck this is boring.

  7:35. Bakery smells good. Sausage rolls straight out of the oven. Warm jam donuts. Sugary apple slices with piles of fresh cream on em. Pretty blonde behind the counter. Looks about twenty. Nice rack. How’s it goin. Nah, I already had brekkie, cheers. Youse got a dunny I could use?

  Dunny. Iced coffee goes straight through me.

  Ten to eight. John rocks up in his truck. He parks it on the other side of the road. Brakes screech. Runs the kerb more than I did. Front wheels are completely up on the footpath. Mad cunt.

  Cutting. Sparks fly out from the blade of the road cutter. I hold the ten-litre watering can closer and cool the blade. The orange sparks die, but smoke and dust are still rushing up into the air. The roar is almost unbearable. You’re meant to wear earplugs when you’re this close to the saw but we don’t have any. Don’t think it makes a difference anyway. John swivels the cutter around and starts the next cut through the bitumen.

  Half eight. I’m greasing up John’s mini-excavator when a car horn blasts right next to me. I’m about to pull the finger at whoever the prick is when I see it’s Nat. She’s pulled up in her green Excel on the other side of the road, next to the truck. Waving me over. She’s got a bit of paper in her hand. John gives me a nod. I put the grease gun on the excavator tracks and run over to Nat, dodging traffic. Hey babe. What? Oh, you’re a legend. So I did do her leach drains then. Cheers for that. Yeah, I know you’re in a rush. K. Have a good day at the branch, babe. Love you too.

  Work. John scratches the gravel underneath the bitumen with the big metal teeth on the excavator’s bucket. I stand back and lean on my shovel. If there’s a rock or a dead pipe, I’ll need to have a dig around. But there isn’t.

  Smoko. About time. The smell from the bakery’s only been getting stronger over the last half an hour. Pretty blonde’s still behind the counter. Hows it goin. Yeah, just a sausage roll thanks. Yeah, one of the plain ones on the top rack. (Top rack alright.) And sauce and a coke. No worries. Smells good. Tastes even better. Beef. Fuck being a vegetarian. Wash it down with coke. Quick piss in the bushes on the empty block behind the bakery. Back to work.

  10:04. Dig. John’s run into a heap of old copper pipes crossing the trench. All dead, but we gotta dig around em. Or, I do. Sweat’s stinging my eyes. Arms are cooking and darkening. Hair’s wet under the old Akubra. Shovel, shovel. Mute smell of damp sand. Clang. Dead pipe. Tsunk. Clean sand. Clang. Tsunk.

  11:27. More pipes. Dig. Clang. Tsunk.

  Lunch. Nat’s branch isn’t that far from the job. Figure I’ll say g’day to her at least. Have lunch. The main street’s busy. It’s Fridey. Even the bank looks packed. I step into the aircon. Shit. There’s a fair queue. Ah, there’s Nat. She looks real professional in her red top and black jacket. Might give her a wave. Hey babe. Hm. She looks busy. Might have to wait in line then.

  12:06. And wait.
r />   12:10. And wait. Oh, nah, you can serve someone else, I’m just here to see Nat. No worries.

  12:11. Hey babe. What, how was that embarrassing? Mm. Just came to see if ya wanted to get some lunch, cause I’m just down the road today. Not till one thirty? That’s a pretty late lunch. Mm. Fair enough, yeah. Righto. Seeya tonight then, babe.

  Quarter past. Hows it goin. Yeah, back again. Yeah it was good. Might get a pie this time though. Beef
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