Terry had been working the night shift at the Tasty Pig Cafe for the past two years. It wasn’t what he had dreamed of doing for the rest of his life but the pay was reasonable and he got the room above the shop for half rent as long as he worked at the Caf’. Terry didn’t much like daytime people. Nighttime people weren’t much better, but at least there were fewer of them. He’d been discharged from the army after surviving the entire war. He had seen and done things he didn’t want to remember and the monotonous routine of the corner cafe kept him from thinking too much about what had gone before. He had a library card, a small dog and all he could eat, which was more than most people had. Terry was practising gratefulness — it was a slow process. Years of staying alive in a world where most people wanted to kill you had taught Terry to quickly assess people, and this well-dressed lady sitting in his front window staring across the street was not up to any good.
I saw her most days.
Just sitting and staring out the window.
Her house was on my regular route.
I say regular, but that depends on my mistress.
She doesn’t like me ‘wandering around’ as she calls it, so I only get to sneak out when she is busy. She sits at her desk and writes on most days but sometimes she gets wrapped up in her work and she even forgets to stop and eat. On these days I know I can go for a long walk and most likely I won’t be missed.
The lady in the window is Mrs Norris. I guess there must have been a Mr Norris, but I never saw him.
She seemed sad to me, and I know what sad looks like, but it was more than the way she appeared it was the way she looked, as though she was waiting for someone.
She rarely went outside and on the few occasions that I saw her, she barely noticed me, which is unusual. People want to pat me all the time. They say things like, ‘Aren’t you cute, and who’s a good dog then?” I’m not sure if I’m supposed to answer or not so mostly I just wag my tail.
Old ladies are the worst.
They come out of nowhere and start patting me before I know what is happening.
I’ve got a friend, a white Maltese named Zed and he tells similar stories.
The difference with Zed is he collects little old ladies. He just stands there and looks cute, and the little old ladies sneak up on him and pat him. He lets them come in but on the way out he gives them a nip.
He keeps count.
So far this year he has cleaned up 17 little old ladies, and it’s not August yet. You might think that he gets into trouble, but he doesn’t. His owner says, “Serves you right for patting the dog without asking permission. He’s wearing a bright red lead that says CAUTION. If you can’t be bothered to read the warning, then it serves you right.”
So far no one has complained to anyone and Zed reckons he can hit 30 by the end of the year, especially if the tourist season is a good one.
I took Zed to visit the lady in the window, but I made him promise that he wouldn’t bite. He said that he only bit little old ladies, it was a matter of principle, so she was safe.
Even with a cute white fluffy friend, the lady in the window did not pay us much attention.
She always smiled at me, but that seemed like as much as she could manage.
Once or twice I sat next to her in her garden. We sat there for ages; not saying anything at all. I think she enjoyed my company. I wanted to make her feel a bit better. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I didn’t make her feel any worse and sometimes that is as much as you can ask for.
I went past her house again today, and there she was, in the window, just looking. I wonder if she will find what she is looking for? I wonder if what she is looking for will find her?
I’m only a dog, so I may never find the answers to those questions, but that does not matter. Today is what matters; right here and right now. I’ll do my best to keep an eye on the lady in the window, but in the end, her happiness is up to her, all I can do is be there.
When my mistress lets me, that is.
When Sam came to it was dark.
He’d been locked in the boot of a car before but this was different.
Modern cars have an internal release mechanism so that people who have been kidnapped and thrown in the boot have a fighting chance of releasing themselves. This brilliant idea came from the Americans who believe that there is a mechanical solution to just about anything.
Sam remembered reading about this automotive development a few years before and at the time he wondered why the kidnappers would not disable the system.
The cramped conditions didn’t make it easy for Sam to feel around for a release lever. He need not have bothered because there wasn’t one.
The bloke driving this car must have been legally blind because it seemed to Sam that he hit everything except the bitumen.
The boot of the car smelt like oil and old boots with a bit of rust and mouldy carpet thrown in.
Sam wished he had not given up smoking because a lighter would have come in handy, but on the other hand, if there was petrol stored in the boot he might have blown himself up.
Sam reasoned that this journey would have to come to an end sooner or later and then he would get his chance. He would pretend to be unconscious and seize his chance when the man [he assumed it was a man] tried to pull him out.
After what seemed like a very long time, the car began to slow down and the crunch of gravel under the tyres told Sam that they had pulled off the road. The driver’s door opened and closed and Sam prepared for his last chance at freedom.
Lying in the darkness does strange things to a man and Sam had an uneasy feeling that if his reflexes were off this might end up being his final resting place. The wound at the back of his head was throbbing and Sam had no way of telling if his vision was off. He grabbed a piece of metal, probably a tyre iron and hid it under his body.
The boot lid did not open and Sam wondered what the driver was doing. The car started to roll forward and Sam heard the driver swear. The car tilted as it rolled and the drivers voice became more frantic. The car gained a bit of speed before rolling on its side and hitting a tree. Now there was screaming instead of swearing. The boot popped open after the impact, but Sam was knocked out for a few moments. When he came to he could feel the cool breeze on his face.
“I think I’ll just lie here for a moment,” he said before realising that he was talking to himself.
Lying still seemed like a good idea. He slowly took stock of his various bits and pieces and when he was satisfied that everything was in working order he scrambled out of the boot still clutching the tyre iron.
He’d been vaguely aware of the screaming but as any good soldier would do, he took stock of his physical condition before taking action.
The car’s headlights were still on so there was some light, which was just as well because they were obviously in the countryside and there were no streetlights.
Standing up proved to be a challenge and not just because of the uneven terrain. Sam’s head was throbbing from the initial blow and the impact of the crash.
The screaming seemed to be coming from the drivers’ side which was now under the car as it lay on that side.
The light wasn’t all that good, but it appeared to Sam that the driver was pinned under the car, which would account for the screaming, but curiously, the driver seemed to be attached to the car door by a rope.
The rope turned out to be a scarf.
“Me mum knitted it,” the driver was to reveal, in what turned out to be a long conversation.
The driver had jammed the scarf in the door when he got out. Being used to driving automatics he had forgotten to pull on the handbrake and gravity set in. The driver stumbled before he could get the door open and the two of them, driver and car, continued down the slope until the car rolled on its side crushing the driver.
The car belonged to his cousin.
“If he owned a bloody automatic this wouldn’t have happened.”
“If you hadn’t hit me on the head, bundled me into the boot and driven me to who knows where, you wouldn’t be in this mess,” Sam succinctly pointed out.
The screaming resumed and went on for quite some time, but there were conversations in between bouts.
Not unsurprisingly, Sam was keen to know what had happened and why this bozo wanted to hurt him.
The cause of the screaming was a severely crushed leg, but more important than that was the gash on his thigh that was pumping blood at a rate that was going to cause a problem.
Sam told the driver to keep pressure on the would and this slowed down the flow rate but Sam had seen enough battlefield casualties to know that this bloke was going to bleed to death if help did not come soon.
It was a bad sign when the screaming stopped and the driver said that he felt sleepy.
“I have to tell you mate that this isn’t good. If someone saw what happened and called for help you might make it if they get here soon, but it is going to have to be real soon.” Sam was telling it straight. “I can go for help, but you have to keep pressure on that wound.”
“Don’t leave me Bennett. I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be alone.”
“I won’t leave you.” Sam had seen men die before, and some of them had been men who had tried to kill him. But in these moments, these things are put to one side. Two men facing death and only one would be alive to tell the tale.
“You seem to know me but for the life of me, I cannot place you. Why would someone I don’t know be trying to kill me?”
“You don’t know me, but I met you once. In court. I told you what I thought of you. You were responsible for putting my brother in prison.”
“I still don’t remember you. What was your brother’s name?”
“Okay, I remember him. A real piece of shit. Got exactly what he deserved. Your brother ruined more lives than reality television. You are not seriously going to tell me that you think I fitted him up?”
“No. I know he was no good. He used to beat the shit out of me for no reason, but he was family. Every one of my family either drank themselves to death or got themselves killed, John was all I had left and you got him put away for life.”
“He got himself put away, and he got himself dead. You don’t pick a fight with a crim who is twice your size. Your brother was a bloody idiot. Seriously, did he have a death wish?”
“Probably, he was never very bright and I think he would rather be dead than locked up for rest of his life.”
Sam was now soaked in this blokes blood.
“What’s your name then?”
“William Willy: your folks had a sense go humour.”
“I don’t know what you mean. I like that name.”
“Fair enough. So I guess it was you in the car that T-boned me a while back?”
“Yes, and I’m pissed that you walked away from it. I planned it for weeks. Just didn’t get up enough speed. Buggered up my knee as well. Got arrested for some shit I pulled months before and I been inside ever since otherwise I would have done for ya before this.”
“Well, neither of us are walking away from this one,” Sam said with just a hint of exhaustion.
Sam was sick of it and now that he knew the pathetic sordid reason for his torment he was, even more, sick of it. “Stupid fucking people living pathetic fucking lives fucking it up for everyone they come in contact with.” These were thoughts, not words said out loud, but either way, it didn’t matter.
Pretty soon this poor excuse for a human being would join his larcenous family in the great hereafter and Sam would go back to piecing his life back together.
If it wasn’t for Scarlett and his dogs he would have been tempted to lie down and drift away with William Willy, the bloke he never knew who had so ineptly tried to kill him.
Sam had to ask, “If you had your life to live over again, would you do it differently?”
“Nah, I’d only fuck it up again.”
The powerful torch lights lit up the bush and it reminded Sam of when he was a kid and they would steal their fathers flashlights and play on the vacant lot in the moonlight. That seemed like a long time ago.
Sam’s head hurt and just for a moment he thought the lights might be aliens.
A big bloke in a uniform was slapping Sam on the side of the face and saying something. “You with us pal?”
“Yes, I am and if you keep hitting me you are going to find out.”
“No need to get pissy.” The ambulance driver had put in a long shift and the drive to the crash scene had taken an hour. Usually, when this happened it was a false alarm and they had to turn around a drive back, but on this occasion they found one unconscious male and one trapped male; deceased. In his report, he stated that although the hand knitted scarf was not the direct cause of death, it had been a contributing factor.
I didn’t encourage him, I guess he was curious.
We had that in common.
My world had been reduced to these four walls about four months ago. I listened to the medical mumbo-jumbo. “Stay quiet, take it easy or meet your maker.” He didn’t actually say the last bit, but it is what he meant. I was sick and tired of living, but I was still curious, so I did what they said.
Naturally, the family came to visit, at least for the first few weeks. Then, they slowly drifted away. I didn’t help much; they get on my nerves, and I guess I don’t hide it well.
The little bird turned up about a week ago.
The weather has been improving, so I’m allowed to have the window open.
My grandson said he thought that my window was like a big TV screen.
Him, I like.
He’s funny, and he doesn’t set out to be. He doesn’t expect anything from me, he just likes to hang out and tell me stuff. He’s more like a dog than a kid. I guess his mother told him not to wear me out and this is him dialled down to one. He must be something when he dials it up to ten.
The little bird came when he was here, and I was sure that he would frighten it away, but he just sat quietly and watched the bird. The bird watched him also. “It’s a little bird, granddad,” he said in the tiniest of whispers. “We have to be silent, or he will fly away.” Where did this kid get all that wisdom? He sure didn’t get it from my side of the family, most of my decedents are jerks.
My grandson has taken to smuggling in a crust of bread when he comes to visit. I’m not sure if it is the bird that keeps him coming back or me, but I don’t care, I like both of them.
“If I leave the crust on the window sill, the birdy will have a reason to come back.”
“If you leave the crust there, your mum will know that you did it because I can’t get out of bed.” I wanted him to know that his kindness might get him into trouble. I was curious to see what he would do.
“She might sound a bit mad, but she won’t be, not really.”
This kid’s got spunk.
Maybe I will get better.
I’m curious to see how this kid turns out.
I don’t necessarily want to be alone, but I do like being left alone.
I find it difficult to understand people who constantly need company.
Every now and then, there appears in the papers a story about some soul who passed away in their own home not to be discovered for several weeks. The community is concerned that such a thing could happen. ‘Who are we becoming?’ shouts the headline. ‘Quiet suburban disgrace,’ bleats another. Full page articles examine the social significance of lonely people. For a week or so countless people discuss the breakdown of society and bemoan our lack of contact with our neighbours.
I, on the other hand, make a mental note of the suburb and add it to a list of likely places to live. I don’t wish anything distasteful should happen to my neighbours but I don’t particularly want to get to know them either. I’m sure that they have enough friends, and I know that I have.
I have a wife who loves me and two teenage children who are bemused by me. They ask for money but rarely listen when I speak, but I don’t blame them because generally speaking, I don’t have much to say that would interest anyone but me.
My wife and children fuss and fret and bang about the house and when it all gets to be too much to bare I announce that I’m going for a walk in the woods to do some painting. No one hears me because no one is listening, so off I go. The painting implements are a ruse; an excuse to do what I need to do; be by myself. The umbrella is heavy to carry but it does come in handy when I feel like dozing off. I also carry a sandwich that I made myself; cheese and pickles, as well as a half bottle of red wine. A ‘door stop’ sandwich and a glass of wine make for a deliciously sleepy state of mind. It doesn’t last; nothing ever does, but that’s okay. I can come back. Either to this spot or to one just like it.
The forest will wait for me, as will the creatures who live here.
In the wider world I have to play a role, but here, I can be me, and I like my company, and I like being left alone.
Living near a creek and being surrounded by neighbours who keep chickens I am no stranger to the sight of rats, I even mowed over the top of one once, but that was way up at the back of the property.
In the thirty-six years, we have been home owners we have never had a rat inside the house………….. until now!
When it happened, I was alone.
It was Easter and Matt was spending time with his geographically impossible lady friend, and Scotty was in Adelaide visiting our granddaughter and the parents of our granddaughter.
My first hint that something was up was at about two o’clock on Good Friday morning. I was half awake half asleep when I thought that I felt one of the dogs walk across my feet. It took a second, but my brain eventually worked out that both of the dogs were curled up next to me. Within a nano second Zed, our part Maltese terrier shot off the bed in hot pursuit without making a sound, which is unusual for Zed as he usually barks if he picks up something unusual. His silence was unnerving, but my fatigue outweighed my curiosity, so I went back to sleep.
During the night I got up to go to the toilet, and for some reason, I decided to close the bathroom door, or at least to pull it almost shut.
The next morning I was sitting up in bed reading when I noticed what shall be known from now on as The Rat when it went bouncing by my bedroom door!
I don’t remember my exact words, but it went something like, “Holy Shit!”
It was obviously too big to be a mouse. Mice are easily caught, but this was a rat!
I tracked it into the lounge room, and I could hear it under the couch munching on something.
I went into Superman mode and picked up the couch. I don’t think I had worked out what I was going to do next as I was pretty much working on instinct at this stage but I could see it’s tail, it’s very long tail.
I tried to move the couch just a little bit more and ‘bang’, my back went out.
Now I’m trapped in a house with a rat and a bad back.
This day was not starting off too well.
At about this point I stopped reacting and started thinking.
In the past when we have had a possum come down the chimney I have simply left the nearest door open, and the frightened animal finds the escape route; problem solved.
The problem this time was that the rat wanted to get back to the bathroom as evidenced by the chew marks on the bottom corner of the almost closed bathroom door. I had inadvertently cut off his escape route.
The ‘leave the door open’ plan still seemed like a good one, but I had to stop the rat doubling back and heading for the bathroom, so I blocked off the doorway (this room does not have an internal door) using a large chipboard backed poster. My hope was that the rat would think that it was a continuation of the wall and would eventually work it’s way around to the open door.
At this point, it had moved from under the couch and was hiding behind the stereo equipment, and I could hear it scratching. A while later it moved across the room and hid behind the DVD shelves, which did not bode well for my plan as it had to walk past the open door to get to its new hiding place!
It stayed in that room all day, and the dogs were very confused and kept looking at me as they had never been stopped from going in there.
Night fell, and still, the scratching continued.
Eventually, it became obvious that I was going to have to make a decision about the whole open door thing.
I figured that as this rat was most active at night, there was a good chance that it might find it’s way out during the night but this meant sleeping with the front door open all night.
My desire to have this rodent out of my house outweighed my discomfort at sleeping with an open door and the added bonus of the house filling up with mosquitoes.
Next morning it was still there scratching away.
I have to admit that my heart sunk, just a little, but I come from hardy stock and bravery in the face of the enemy was a hallmark of my ancestors, so I checked in every hour to see if the noise had stopped and a couple of times I thought that it had only to hear it start-up again.
At about five o’clock on that afternoon I checked again, and the noise was gone never to return which was just as well as the messages I was receiving from Scotty were hinting that she was retreating to a hotel when she arrived back from Adelaide if the rat was not gone!
The first stage of the campaign was complete, but I quickly realised that the war was not over as the rat could still return to the house through the weakness in the bathroom.
Now, it has always been understood in our family that we do not kill creatures when they find their way into our house. We do our best to remove them without harm. We are not always successful, and there has been the occasional fatality, but by and large, we do our best to ‘live and let live’.
This situation, unfortunately, required a different approach.
As the ‘pack leader, ‘ it is my responsibility to see that my ‘pack‘ remains safe and a rat is a very real danger to the dogs and humans who live peacefully here.
I don’t like poison baits as they are indiscriminate killers and can continue to do damage even after the intended target is dead.
Every night for the next several days I put baits down in the bathroom and locked the door.
For the next three day, the baits were gone by morning. Was this a super rat or did he bring his posse with him each night!
On the fourth morning, the baits were untouched and have remained so until now.
The deadly deed appears to have been done.
Whether we like it or not, as males, we are expected to do certain things like dealing with mice and rats and spiders.
Despite my nickname (spider), I have been terrified by them for most of my life, but in recent times my fear has abated as I have actively studied them. It seemed to me that a lot of fear comes from ignorance so if I remove the ignorance the fear should go away. Well, I would not exactly say that it has gone away but it is definitely under control, and I have come to be fascinated by these amazing creatures.
In my family, we have always tackled problems together, and there is strength in numbers, I have been very lucky to have such a strong and supportive family.
Things have settled down since then, and there have been other challenges come along to replace this one, but there is a good chance that 2012 will go down in family history as ‘the year of the rat’.