Never Chase a Pretty Girl

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“I’ve never met another man I’d rather be. And even if that’s a delusion, it’s a lucky one.”

Charles Bukowski

“Never chase a pretty girl or a tram, there will be another one along in a few minutes.”

My mum was trying to make me feel better, and it worked, up to a point. She would not be the last girl who broke my heart, but she was the prettiest.

My mum had a saying for most situations.

Her ancestors were Irish, and the Irish have an interesting slant on most human endeavours.

I’m no philosopher, but it seems that we do most things for love; trying to get some, trying to buy some, or trying to forget.

You cannot have love without money.

I know that about now, some of you are howling: ‘You don’t need to be rich to be happy’.

Bollocks!

“If you are poor, and you are happy you are deluded.”

My mum didn’t say that one.

She was one of those people who believed that money didn’t bring happiness, and therein lies a story.

I grew up in a household where the belief was that people with real money probably did something wrong to get it.

Therefore, people with real wealth were probably very bad people.

Can you see how my logic flowed?

I was just a kid, but I swallowed this thought pattern hook, line and sinker.

None of my friends was wealthy.

No, that’s not true; there was this one kid.

His dad drove a Jaguar, but his wife had died, and that seemed to even things out for me, at least, it did in my young mind.

I grew up thinking that money had a soul, and it was as dark as night.

Naturally, with the passage of time, I worked out that this is a load of old cobblers. It’s the line that poor people feed themselves to make their failure seem noble.

After many years of struggle, we finally had a good year.

We had a bit of ‘spare money’, and it felt good.

We were a long way from ‘well off’ but we were certainly not living ‘paycheque to paycheque’ like we had been for so many years.

I read somewhere that money attracts money, and to feel successful, you needed to carry more money in your pocket.

More than would generally make you feel comfortable.

A hundred dollars seemed like a lot of money to me at the time, and I was sure that there was a neon sign on my back that said, “This bloke is carrying a serious amount of cash. Hit him on the head and take it. He’s a wuss; he won’t put up much of a fight.”

Screw that neon sign.

I stood in line at the bank, and when it became my turn I asked for two hundred dollars, “all in twenties, please”.

My voice sounded funny, but I don’t think that the girl behind the counter noticed. She was cute, and I had seen her around, but I doubt that she ever noticed me; my ‘attractive single male’ neon had been turned off for some time.

“There you go Mr Rainbow. I hope you enjoy your day. Is there anything else I can help you with today.”

“As a matter of fact, there is,”

I smiled at her, partly because she was smiling at me and partly because I did not want her to see how nervous I was.

“Is there a jewellery store nearby?”

This is something that I should have known, but my brain had gone into neutral, and she did ask.

“Yes, Mr Rainbow, just across the road. The White Box has beautiful things. Are you going to use all that money to buy your wife something nice? Birthday? Anniversary? She’s a lucky lady.”

“Probably, but firstly I need a money clip to hold all these notes. I didn’t realise how bulky it would be.”

The lovely young woman smiled at me, but I know that she thought that I must be a bit dim. Had I not held this much money before? Didn’t I know what two hundred dollars felt like? She handled large sums of money all the time. It was nothing to her. It might have been other people’s money, but it was money just the same, and if her plan worked out there would be a large pile of money in the shoebox under her bed, very soon. All she had to do was not get too greedy.

“Have an excellent day, Mr Rainbow, and please say hello to Mrs Rainbow for me.”

I looked at her name badge.

“I will Joyce. You enjoy your day also.”

I jammed the money into my pocket and walked unsteadily out of the bank.

I waited for the lights to change so I could cross the street.

Typically, I would have run across the street, dodging cars and enjoying my strength and speed, but today I had visions of being hit by some bozo in a van.

The people would gather around in horror, “He’s badly hurt”, one woman would say.

“He’s carrying a lot of money”, someone else would say.

“Don’t get too close, he must be a bad man to be carrying all that cash”, a small child would say.

The lights changed.

I noticed that a few other people had joined me in my quest to cross over to safety.

The old bloke with the walking stick was trying to stop the medium sized dog from sniffing his leg.

The dog seemed to like the old bloke, either that or the old timer had stepped into something interesting.

We all made it across safely, and the dog was very disappointed when its owner went the opposite way to the old man.

The old bloke looked back at the dog, and the dog looked longingly at the old bloke.

Maybe they knew each other in a previous life.

As I reached the Jewellery store, I was nearly run down by three small children who were escaping from a frazzled mother.

“Quite a herd you have there,” I said as I deftly avoided being trampled.

“Give me that wad of cash you have in your pocket, and you can have them,” I thought she said.

“Pardon?”

“I said, you can have them. I’m fed up.”

I smiled, but I suspect that I looked like I had swallowed a lemon.

The shop was exactly what you would expect a jewellery store to look like — all twelve-volt lighting and satin cloth.

The lady behind the counter was about twice the age of the girl in the bank.

It occurred to me that the shop owner had employed her because she gave the premises an air of maturity.

He was right, it did.

She was well dressed and had a sparkle in her eye that had nothing to do with the lighting.

“You look like a man who has a great deal of money in his pocket,” I thought she said.

“Pardon?” I said for the second time that day.

“How can I help you, sir?”

The smile that came with the question seemed real. I liked that.

“I need a money clip. Something nice. Something that says I’m not a wanker.”

I wasn’t sure whether I had said that out loud, but the woman didn’t blink. She brought out a small tray.

“We don’t get a lot of call for these. Our customers don’t seem to appreciate such things.”

That sounded vaguely like a compliment to me.

The limited selection was predictable and a bit garish with the single exception of the brushed steel clip with a shiny leaping jaguar. I’d always wanted to own a Jaguar, ever since my mate’s dad had driven us to football practice, all those years ago.

“I’ll take that one, please.”

“Do you have the car to go with it?”

“Not yet, but it’s on the list.”

I removed the wad of twenties from my pocket, and the woman behind the counter reacted as though people did that every day. I peeled off a couple and handed them over. I took my change and slid the notes into the clip and put it into my pocket. I imagined some rich bloke in a good suit, with Martini stains on his tie from the three-hour lunch he just had with the bloke from Mad Men.

The book said that you should treat money as a tool.

It has no magic powers; it’s just a tool.

As I walked back to my car, I noticed a slightly scruffy looking bloke selling The Big Issue. He was standing near the pedestrian lights. I reached into my pocket and got out my money clip. I peeled off a twenty and gave it to him. He gave me a magazine and fumbled for the change.

“Keep the change mate; it’s been a good day for me.”

He looked at me and grunted, but I know that he thought I was a wanker.

Only wankers have a money clip.

I didn’t care.

When I got home that night, the kids were in the backyard playing. Our dogs met me at the door, and they sniffed me all over. There was something different about me, and they were determined to sniff it out. They followed me around for ages, trying to work out what had changed.

I told my wife what I had done, and although she looked a little bit concerned, she was aware of what I was trying to do, and she had always been very supportive of my hare-brained schemes.

“Can I see the money clip?”

I’m pretty sure that it was the wad of money that she really wanted to see, so I handed over the clip and the money.

I tried to look nonchalant as I took it out of my pocket.

She held it for a moment, then removed the money and proceeded to count it.

“Two hundred dollars is a lot of money to be carrying around Brett Rainbow. Weren’t you scared?”

“A bit, but I felt better after I spent a bit of it. I know it sounds funny, but it seemed lighter, and that made me less concerned.”

“How much did you draw out?”

“Two hundred dollars. All in twenties. Just like the book said.”

“You said you spent some?”

“Yep. Bought the money clip and gave this scruffy bloke a twenty for a Big Issue.”

“I’ve counted it twice, and there are exactly two hundred dollars here. Did you have other money in your pocket?”

“No. Just the money I drew out.”

She handed me the clip, and I counted it.

Two hundred dollars.

It didn’t make sense.

“Did you include the twenty that’s on the floor?”

“No, I didn’t.”

It must have fallen off the bed when Betty was counting it the first time.

I pulled out two twenties and threw them on the floor.

I slid the clip over the remaining notes.

I took the clip off and counted again.

Two hundred dollars.

The two twenties lay at my feet.

The book was right.

Money attracts money.

I looked at my amazing wife who had stuck with me through all the bad times.

She had that sparkle in her eyes.

I was pretty sure that there was a neon sign on my back, but it did not say “this bloke is a loser.”

Whatever it said and wherever this was leading us, I was pretty sure that it was not going to be boring.

A Bit of the Other.

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The sun was getting low, and its height exactly matched my mood.

When things get bad, I have strategies.

Top of that list is walking.

It occurred to me that I had not walked this way in a long while and I wondered why. With the sun filtering golden light through the tall pine trees I was instantly transported back to a moment in my childhood — some sort of fete or carnival, pine trees, afternoon sun and a feeling that the world was a remarkable place to be.

The tennis courts were cut deeply into the side of the hill, and I wondered why the soft mountain soil had not washed away over the years. Hard timber benches lined the top of the cutting presumably so that people could sit and watch the games — the games being played some twenty feet below.

This high vantage point gave the activity a surreal quality — more like a movie than real-life.

All of the other players had left for the warmth of their homes and their loved ones. For some, it would be a quick shower and out again to enjoy the nightlife. For others, it would be a quiet night in front of the fire with good conversation or the comfort of a well-chosen book.

The following day meant a return to work with only memories of a long weekend to share with those who would stop and listen.

Work did not beckon me.

My life was on hold and only time would tell which way it would go.

I walked to the last of the three courts which also offered the highest vantage point.

A young couple were playing a listless game, and it seemed to me that the man was very patient with the two females on the opposite side of the net.

I supposed that he was playing both of them at once because he considered himself a superior player, but his demeanour did not support my supposition.

The two females were dressed in the same cute, short tennis clothes — the kind that conveniently reveals frilly knickers whenever they bend over to retrieve a ball.

It was an odd convention that a man was allowed to watch a woman play tennis in a short skirt, but under different circumstances, he would be rebuked for staring.

What odd creatures we humans are.

One of the women seemed a little paler than the other, but apart from that, they could have passed for twin sisters, at least from my elevation.

The paler one appeared to be the superior player, but even so, she got distracted from time to time and often retrieved the ball in the slow dawdling manner of a child.

The male remained patient throughout, and I admired his calmness.

I could remember similar occasions when all I wanted was a decent workout, and all I got was a giggling opponent who couldn’t hit a ball to save herself. We had to abandon that game because my partner was afraid of disgracing herself.

“If we hadn’t stopped I was going to pee myself.”

I was mildly amused, but I hadn’t raised much of a sweat. Her tennis dress was driving me crazy, and I remember asking her to keep it on when we got back to her place. The knickers had to go, but I liked the dress, and I got my workout, but there was not a lot of tennis involved.

If I had behaved in an impatient manner my evening might have turned out quite differently, and I wondered if that was what was motivating the patient young man at the far end of the court, but somehow I doubted it — there was something else going on.

The late afternoon light can cause a person to see things that are not there, but in this case, I thought it was causing me to see something that shouldn’t be there.

From my hardwood perch, high above the ‘brick dust’ courts, it seemed to me that the paler of the two women was in fact slightly transparent.

It seemed that I could see her, but I could also see through her.

Not like a pane of glass, for she had form and substance, but more a sensation that I could see her and beyond her, all at the same time.

There wasn’t anyone nearby to ask, ‘Can you see what I can see?’ And in any case, I doubt that I would have asked the question. My world was strange enough as it was and I guess I didn’t want to believe that I might be ‘loosing it’ completely.

Tingles ran up my spine as I watched the three people gather up their belongings and leave the court.

I was left with my thoughts and the fading light.

A few moments later, after the three people had disappeared from view as they walked close to the cliff and past the courts, one of the women and the patient young man walked up the steep path and passed by my seat.

I’d assumed that they would continue down the hill to the carpark or back towards the town.

The young man walked on a few paces and stopped, but avoided my gaze.

The woman stopped next to me and while staring at her tennis shoes, as though she had not seen them before, said, “You were watching our game. Do you often watch strangers enjoying themselves?”

“I watch people all the time,” I heard myself say.

I answered partly because her presence made me feel light and free of concern. I know that sounds a bit strange, but that is how she made me feel. I’m long past the age where I become speechless around a pretty girl, but I was surprised at how quickly I responded.

“I didn’t mind you watching, but I think you made my friend a bit nervous.”

“Your friend looks a lot like you. So much so that I took her for your sister. A twin possibly?”

“I meant my boyfriend,” she said.

She didn’t say anything else for quite some time.

She seemed a little uneasy, and I was keen to know why her mood had changed so suddenly, but I was not going to break the silence.

“Did you see her? she said, with a slight emphasis on the word ‘her’.

“Of course. It’s hard to miss two beautiful women who look so alike. She’s a better player than you are if you don’t mind me saying?”

As I said this, it occurred to me that I should not have. I was enjoying talking to this person, and I was in no hurry for it to end.

The boyfriend was staring at his shoes as well, but I don’t think he was wondering about them. He was quite keen on his tennis shoes propelling him and his girlfriend away from this conversation, but I also had the feeling that he had seen all of this before — maybe even a number of times.

I didn’t feel threatened by either of these people, and although this may sound strange to you, everyone had made me feel uneasy in recent times, but not these two.

Her reply took me by surprise, “You can see her?”

“Not right now,” I said, and I wasn’t trying to be funny, “but down on the court, I could see her clearly. She’s just as beautiful as you, but she has a more confident gait.”

“She’s more confident than me in most things. You might say that she’s the best of me.”

“Now you’ve got me really intrigued. Is she related to you? If not, why do you dress the same? I know enough about women to know that they don’t enjoy it if another woman is wearing the same outfit.”

“We are very closely related, but I’m more interested in why you can see her clearly.”

“Joan, this conversation is starting to bore me, and I think you should leave it alone. It is time for us to be going. We’re going out, remember?”

Until he spoke these words, I thought that I was not going to hear from him at all, but now that he had I sensed a tiredness in his words as well as the resignation that I had seen down on the court.

“My devilishly handsome boyfriend has a point, but I must say that you are the first person to tell me that you can see her clearly, and I want to know why assuming that you have the time to talk?”

“I do have the time, but I’m worried about you catching a cold.”

It’s true that I was looking at her legs and feeling just a tiny bit cheeky. Her long-suffering boyfriend gave me a look that said he was more than capable of being less than patient if the occasion required and I acknowledged his annoyance by looking away as he placed his white tennis jacket around her shoulders. He then retreated back to his original position on the pathway and continued his visual examination of his tennis shoes.

Her boyfriend’s jacket was way too big for her, but she looked cosy with it wrapped around her.

“She’s been with me for as long as I can remember. She ‘comes out’ whenever I have a specialist job to do. I guess she is that part of me which is good at whatever I’m attempting. When the job is done she becomes a part of me again, and that is why she is not with us now — the game is over. When I was little, I thought that everyone had an ‘other’. I called her ‘other Joan’, and I’m ashamed to say that I blamed her whenever things went wrong. Especially if something got broken — ‘other Joan did it, not me.’ Strangely, my ‘other’ never seemed to care — never seemed upset. She always understood. She was ‘the best of me’. I found her presence comforting, especially on those dark days when I doubted my usefulness to the world. In a funny kind of way, I was my own best example,” she said with a smile.

I found myself smiling as well.

Her situation seemed like a very good one, and I found myself wondering ‘why her and not me?’ Then I remembered I was the only person she had come across who could see her ‘better self’. Maybe that meant I had something special in me — because I could see the ‘special’ in her.

This was all starting to sound like I should rush out and hug a tree, but besides that unlikely image, I was feeling good for the first time in a long time.

As you would expect, our conversation continued for some time.

I half expected her to make an excuse and pull away, but she didn’t. She seemed almost as interested in our conversation as I was. I asked her how long she had lived with this ‘extra person’ in her life. Was it something that came on suddenly or had it always been that way?

“I cannot remember a time when it wasn’t so. I thought that everyone experienced an extra self and I reasoned that most people were shy, so the subject didn’t come up — the same way that best friends don’t talk about all their adventures.

I was amazed at how quickly I became comfortable with the idea.

In the end, her boyfriend became impatient again.

“Joan, we have dinner with Trevor and Jackie tonight. We need to get going?”

Despite his growing impatience, he had an easy-going good humour that told me he’d to come to terms with his girlfriend’s friendly nature very early in the relationship.

They both looked quite young, but their demeanour said otherwise.

My best guess was early 20s. He was about 6 feet tall, and she was about 6 inches shorter. They were athletically built and attractive.

It was the woman’s smile that you noticed first.

I was quite sure she could defuse any volatile situation by simply flashing that smile.

When they finally moved away, bags over their shoulders, I watched them go without any feelings of self-consciousness.

I wanted to see if the young woman would turn and look in my direction one more time.

She did, and I saw her lips move before the words registered.

“Your inquisitive self is showing.”

I thought she was just being cute until I caught a glimpse of the second shadow on the ground very close to mine.

“You ask very good questions.”

“Thank you,” was my startled reply.

It’s a strange thing to be complimented by a slightly transparent version of yourself.

It had been a surreal day and the evening was looking decidedly bizarre as well.

“Where are we going for dinner tonight?” said my slightly transparent self.

“Excellent question,” was my reply.