This week’s short story is not, it should be pointed out, named for a George Michael song. Or at least, I don’t think it is.
Once more unto the fiction writing chores I dive, and we’re nearly at the halfway mark. If this is your first time here, I’ve challenged myself to write a short story — any short story — once a week for a year.
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Blatant plugs out of the way, and it’s now time to get on with the fiction. I’ve discovered I rather like writing dialogue. I don’t know that I’m any good at it, but it’s fun seeing where conversations go. I didn’t quite know where this one was going as it was happening…
It was another long, hot summer day, with more dust blowing through the store than Sam was truly happy with.
Sam glanced across at the clock, noting that it was only five minutes since he’d last looked, even though it felt like hours must have passed.
11:35, it told him.
It was always like this, Sam thought, when the summer days were long and the customers few and far between.
The usual breakfast rush of truckers getting fuel, coffee and something to eat had passed in its usual blur.
Times had changed since Dad ran the store. Sam could still fry up some eggs, bacon and thick cut toast for a classic breakfast on demand. These days, most of the truckers of them headed straight to the shelves to grab a protein bar or to the fridge for a breakfast shake or energy drink instead.
Breakfast had been hours ago, though, and Sam didn’t fancy doing yet another sweep for dust that would blow in on the next windstorm or passing car yet again.
There was always the accounts work to do, but that would mean facing up to the pile of angry red inked emails from the bank, if the Internet connection felt like working today.
That’s when the sensor bell went off.
Odd, thought Sam. He hadn’t heard the sound of an approaching truck, or even a car. Maybe it was just another roo jumping through the forecourt and triggering the sensor again.
Sam went back to his thoughts, such as they were.
Then the door swung open, the bells that Mum had nailed in place jangling as it did. In the doorway stood a tall, thin man with a shock of greyish red hair drooping over his shoulders. . A similarly white-streaked beard obscured much of his face, with the rest mostly hidden by a wide-brimmed hat.
“Morning” said Sam. “What can I get you, mate?”
“Sign outside says you’ve got rooms to rent. Any vacancy?”
“Huh! Yeah, pretty much all the time to be honest. Most of the truckers sleep in their cabs these days. Don’t know that they’ve been cleaned up in a while – got time to wait while I run a vacuum across them and make the bed?”
“Do I look like I’m that fussy?”
“Fair call mate, fair call. You can never tell, you know? Should be fairly good in there, though you might want to leave the main door open to let it air a bit. $100 a night OK with you?”
“That’s fine. Here’s my card.”
The stranger passed over a shiny black credit card to Sam. To Sam’s surprise, it read “PLATINUM LIFETIME EXPRESS” on the front, as well as the name K Murphy.
“Mr Murphy, is it? Let me just check this on the machine. We might need a little patience, the link to the bank online isn’t that quick. Did you hitchhike here? Only I didn’t hear a truck or car…?”
“Nope. I walked.”
“You… wait, what? You… walked? Here? We’re 450 kilometres outside Yulara. You walked all that way?”
“Has that card checked out? Let me grab a bit of rest and a shower and I’ll let you know”
“OK, just came up approved, so you’re good to go. Here’s the key, it’s room 1. Nobody in room 2, so you should be sweet. Just drop in here if you need anything.”
Sam was just clearing up the grill when the door clanged again. The walker… Mr… oh yes, Mr Murphy stood there, considerably changed with the beard gone and a square chin beneath it showing redness from a recent rough shave.
“Ah, Mr Murphy! I was just finishing up. How was your kip?”
“Good. Slept like a baby. I don’t suppose there’s time left to order up some food?”
“Can do – I was just cleaning up the grill, but I could make you most of the stuff from the menu, ‘cept for the fish. Haven’t had the truck through with the fish for weeks now.”
“Steak sandwich and a coffee?”
“Can do, can do. How do you take your coffee?”
“Long black, thanks.”
“I’m on it, Mr Murphy.”
“Kevin. My name’s Kevin, you may as well use it. I only ever used Mr Murphy in the office.”
“You’re an interesting one, Kevin. You’re an office worker… who’s walking through the desert? How did you get here… and why? If you don’t mind me asking, that is?”
“Ah… well… yeah. So, it started… what today’s date?”
“OK, so… I guess that makes it six months now. Huh.
It started back six months ago. I used to work in Perth, in the head office of one of the big mining firms, managing the accounts. Been there twenty years, rising up the ranks and doing pretty well for myself, all things considered.”
“Must pay pretty well, I’d think.”
“Yeah. I was pretty well off for money, no real obligations, house all paid off and a couple of investment places bringing in even more. But one day, I found myself angry.”
“Yeah. Really just angry. Not just irritable like I’d slept badly, but downright angry with everyone and everything. I shouted at my driver, I shouted at my secretary, I shouted at everyone.
Got through the day, got home, cracked open a 12 year old bottle of Yamazaki and drained the entire thing.
Woke up… well, it wasn’t the next day. Might have been a couple of days, but I woke up knowing I couldn’t go back to that office. It was all… too much, you know? The suits, the ties, the endless fucking meetings that went nowhere…”
“Not really what I do mate, but I think I follow you.”
“Yeah, that’s fair. Anyway, I stayed home for about a week, downing the contents of my drinks cabinet and thinking about what I wanted to do next. Cleaners came in and polished up everything, cleaned up the vomit and broken bottles as though nothing was amiss, and I got even angrier.
I couldn’t even destroy things without it being shined up as though nothing was happening and nothing was wrong. But it felt like everything, everything was wrong. Wrong with the world, and wrong with me.
That’s when I decided. Is that coffee ready yet?”
“Yeah mate, here you go. You… decided?”
“Yeah. Ah, that’s the stuff. Been weeks since I’ve had a proper caffeine hit. Does a body good. Anyway, I decided that I had to get out of there.
Only how, and where? I went down to the garage, sat in the car for a while thinking about where I could go.
There was the holiday place down at Margaret River, but that felt like it would just be swapping one shiny prison in the city for one down near the sea.
I could fly out – I did briefly consider Milan. Ever been to Milan?”
“No… can’t say that I have.”
“Lovely this time of year. You should go. But no, because I needed time away from people. People like me. Or people like I figured I was, anyway, and the prospect of being stuck in a plane for that long made me want to jump back into one of those bottles.”
“So what did you do?”
“I went back up to the apartment, grabbed a backpack and a few things and just walked out the door.”
“Just like that?”
“Yeah. No family left to worry about, no real partner to inform and work had cut my contract after I’d stopped turning up. So I just grabbed a few things, locked up and got to walking.”
“I really didn’t know why at first. I just wanted to not be there, not be drinking so much, not be in that world, I think. But after the first day of walking, I realised two things.”
“Well, firstly that I liked the freedom. The freedom of just walking, taking in the world one step at a time. And secondly, that $600 dress shoes are fucking uncomfortable to walk in for any length of time. Dumped them in a bin and got myself some boots that day, and off I went.”
“So where are you headed?”
“Don’t know. Been going east for a while. Might try north for a bit. See where the freedom takes me.”