Wandering Hands, by Matthew Denniss

There’s a cake for me but I don’t want to eat it. I want to throw it.

We all stand around the office kitchen and nobody knows what to say so they start singing happy birthday. My birthday was in June and this is my farewell party. When they look at me expectantly I brush the hair out of my face and pretend to blow out the invisible candles. ‘Just need to duck to the ladies,’ I’m saying as I squeeze through the small crowd of co-workers who I’ll never see again.

‘We’ll save you the biggest slice, Elle,’ someone calls after me but there’s no way I’m going back for it. I pick up my bag, look at the box of all my junk that I’m not even going to bother to take, and leave the building through the back door.

My day began with an alarm clock and realisation that I can sleep in tomorrow even though it’s a Wednesday. If you sexually harass someone on a Monday your last day is usually Tuesday. And I was happy to go quietly.

My year began with me setting three goals. Some obnoxious person always comes up and says in a slurred and champagne soaked breathe, ‘What’s your resolution, darling?’ This is what I made up on the spot but what I later decided was pretty much what I would have said if I had meditated on it for an hour on a mountain top.

One: Shoot a gun.

Two: Get a pay rise.

Three: Find a soul mate.

I think that’s pretty representative of what most girls like me are thinking, though maybe not in that order of priority. And yeah, there are other things I would love to happen this year, like get a new car or have an orgasm but I’m a realistic person.

Well, gun ranges are hard to find so I would have to make a trip out of town. And to do that I would need funding, which put the pay rise at the top of my ‘to do’ list. I thought about jumping online to find a soul mate but thought I could kill two birds with one stone because my supervisor has really nice eyes and a laugh that I could imagine being the soundtrack to the rest of my life. And even though he has a wife and a little girl, I heard that he once groped our accountant at a work party.

‘I need something from you, Richard,’ I said to him, Monday afternoon. ‘I need you to sponsor me for a promotion.’

He didn’t take his eyes of the screen of his computer as he said, ‘Elle, you’re doing a great job here, but I really don’t think you’re at that level yet.’

Okay, I expected that. So that’s when I got creative.

‘Would it be the end of the world if my hands wandered across the top of this desk, dropped down onto your trousers, trailed up your thigh and settled on the zipper at your crotch?’

His eyes came unstuck from the screen and he laughed a laugh that soon faded into puzzlement as he searched my face in hope of humour.  His playful brown eyes turn into those of a cold old man, that of a protective and proud father.

‘What? Jesus, Elle. You can’t say that.’

Am I not attractive to a guy twice my age? I knew I was never going to grace the catwalk, or sit in the first few aisles, but I guess I’ve really overestimated myself here.

‘That is completely inappropriate,’ he says with panic in his voice like he was the one who said it.

‘There are no laws against having two exclusive worlds to keep you happy.’

‘Oh…wow. What sort of guy do you think I am?’

‘Ah, let’s see. You’re the sort of guy who feels up a colleague at a work party.’ This is supposed to be encouragement but it comes out as an insult.

‘You know she’s my cousin, right? That’s how I got the job here. And my wife was standing right next to me…laughing.’

‘Oh…’ I stammer. Fuck. His cousin? ‘Well, I wasn’t there so….People should inform new employees of this sort of thing when they start. I would have like to know that you’re cousins. That’s vital information.’

‘This is highly inappropriate, Elle. I think I have to report this.’

‘Really?’

‘Um. Yeah.’

‘Is there anything I can do to stop you?’ I say, leaning towards him in a final but half-hearted attempt.

He shakes his head in disbelief and leaves the office, and I’m left sitting there with a photo of his wife. She is twice my age and twice as good looking. And I bet she is twice a better person too.

I just wanted a soul mate and a pay rise and he was my buy one get one free coupon. The whole weekend it seemed like a good idea but come Monday afternoon I was thinking that I haven’t been that far out of my mind since the time I got online and signed-up to donate my eggs.

And that’s why when they told me later that day that they would like to talk about the ‘incident’ I just said let’s not waste anybody’s time. I’d resign, more out of embarrassment than principle. That didn’t mean I didn’t have to sit through counselling so the company could record positive action being taken as an outcome of the ‘incident.’

‘See every loss as a victory. Spin the negatives into a positive.’ This is what the company counsellor told me later that afternoon. They called it a resolution session, and her name was Barbara. She had heavy eyelids and a heavier body type. And this is what she was saying to me: ‘Turn your frown upside down.’ More or less. So I said to her, ‘How can I make being a sexual predator a good thing?’

She said I was missing the point.

‘Tell me about your father, Elle.’

Why do sex and girls and their fathers always meet at this crossroad? I realise that nobody except for my mother really knows me.

‘He loved VB. It was his favourite beer, not just because it was the cheapest. And he had a beard.’

‘You say that in the past tense.’

‘Yeah. He’s dead, as of…let me think…May. This May.’

Barbara’s heavy eyelids become much lighter.

‘But don’t worry, I didn’t care heaps. About as much as a neighbour’s dog who you hear barking occasionally. It’s there, and when it dies you feel like, oh shoot, that old dog died, but it’s not like, oh my god, my life has no meaning without him. Nowhere near that actually.’

‘Okay… ’ Barbara said hesitantly, ‘I’m not actually qualified to discuss this sort of thing.’ She then closed her pad and walked out of the room leaving me alone. I waited for fifteen minutes and finished her coffee, but Barbara wasn’t coming back.

So this is the story of my Dad and probably the last time anyone will ever talk about him.

After work, my father would stomp into his local, kick the mud off his steel cap boots and drink with his mates. When they all went home after one schooner to have dinner with the missus, he’d eat wedges with sweet chilli sauce and sour cream at the bar watching the news. Then he’d march home in a stupor and bang on the front door.

One night he lost his way home and ended up stranded at the bus terminal. My father told the driver he wanted to go somewhere warm and sunny with palm trees. The driver shook his head, decided he’d had enough drunk people on board for one night and gave my Dad the finger. The doors closed with an automated wheeze as the bus took off. This was like the time my mother told him she was pregnant, and that maybe they shouldn’t spend his Christmas bonus on a dirt bike. So, Dad screamed that he didn’t have the money to blow on a taxi all the way to Queensland, and then chased the bus down the street. The bus was going to Canberra.

They say he ran more than one hundred metres. This fact surprises me more than any other thing about my father’s actions that night. How his belly didn’t throw him off balance and into the gutter like an out of control remote control car I’ll never know. But I wish it did, because next thing my Dad does is cut the bend and ends up bursting through the front windscreen of an oncoming car. Yeah, it killed him then and there. It was a fucking learner driver getting his night time hours up, no less. Not that I have anything against learner drivers, and neither did my Dad. But that didn’t mean he didn’t write of that Suzuki Swift with one big belly splash across its bonnet.

People felt sorry for me but my heart goes out to that poor kid who was driving. He had braces for god sake. His car was ruined, his nose was broken, and the two pizzas’ he had just picked up were deformed worse than the car or my Dad. God, imagine having braces and a broken nose. I’d die

And you know he’ll need a whole team of Barbara’s to get him back behind the wheel after the image of my bouncing, naked father in his headlights repeats on him. Sometimes I think about the genes I must have inherited. It’s kinda like knowing you might have a sun spot but trying not to think about it.

If I was my mum, I wouldn’t marry again. Because she knows she can’t pick a decent guy. So I say, ‘Hey Mah, you got two choices if you want to be happy and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. You go dike or go solo.’

Now I have no living father to walk me down the aisle, which is okay I guess because I have no soul mate. I have no job either, and I’m no closer to firing a gun.

I consider my woes as I turn around and say a farewell to my office block, wondering if I’ll ever have reason to come to this part of town again. I hope not.

Because I left my last day of work early I have to wait forty five minutes for my train, so I decide to walk around town. I head for the part where I know the homeless people and teenagers with dyed black hair and Pantera shirts congregate. Days like today I need little self-esteem boosters. Even though we’ve all been told ‘don’t feed the animals’ I throw down some change to a toothless woman and wonder how she can be so overweight if she can’t afford to eat. My hope is that karma will come back to me immediately and I will turn the corner and there will be a brand new shooting range opened up in the middle of town.

The corner comes closer and closer and I hold my breath as I follow the footpath around the sandstone blocks of the bank. I look at the new street revealed to me and I see two things. The first thing I see is the glaring absence of a shooting range, which would leave me in heartbroken bewilderment if not for the second thing I see; my soul mate, walking towards me. ‘Oh fuck, its him,’ I think, and as I do he looks up at me, frowns, then turns his head to see what I could possibly be staring at in the distance behind him. My reaction is to put my eyes to the footpath and make a sharp turn in the opposite direction towards the intersection, waiting at the lights to cross the road. And what if he walks past, what if he leaves me here on this hot pavement waiting to cross a noisy and busy road with no destination in mind? I miss him already. What if I’ve just turned my shoulder to the rest of my life like a teenager shrugs of the warning label of the cough syrup and thinks it will be the perfect habit to compliment his rebellion and new Nike’s. But I see his shadow on the concrete and can feel him behind me like the moon can feel the earth.

I glance at him just quickly and when our eyes meet the inside of my head is raging with telepathic urge ‘save me, save me, save me.’ I face away but hope he is still watching me, looking at the back of my head, looking at the clothes I’m wearing, looking at my new watch I bought with my Dad’s insurance money, looking at my shoes and the bag on my shoulder and liking it all, just how I like everything about him.

We wait for the pedestrian light to go green. The cars pull up as the light changes but I notice a bicycle rider with no shirt on and an eyebrow ring peddle harder to make the light. I step out in front of the waiting group of pedestrians and into the path of cyclist. There’s a moment when I pause in the trajectory of the cyclist and look him right in the eye and try to convey an apology, but then my shoulder is reefed backwards and I collapse on the hot concrete.

When I stepped out onto the road I took a gamble. I could have been hit, or I could have been saved by one of four people within close enough reach. And that’s why I give homeless people change.

‘Dumb bitch,’ the rider spits as he rides past.

I look up at my saviour and he offers me his hand. He helps me up and across the traffic, then we stand at the other side of the road smiling at each other like one of us had told a great joke.

‘You saved my life, the least I can do is buy you a cup of coffee or some flowers or a book.’

‘I don’t think you would have died,’ he laughs.

‘Are you kidding? If not for you I’d be a corpse.’

‘Well, not really. But I think your determined enough to thank me so yeah, I can take half an hour off work and sit down with you.’

We go to a café called Box and sit in a close booth and I’m thanking god my supervisor loves his wife so much.

I tell my soul mate the story of my day. He’s going to find out sooner or later, right? I decide to be myself as much as I can because I can’t be bothered making shit up, posing, chewing with my mouth all the way shut or trying to be knowledgeable or witty because I’m neither. And I’m glad that’s the way I play it, because he tells me he was once disciplined for workplace harassment as well. Something about getting drunk and nude and cuddly at a work party. How fantastic.

His hand wanders over to mine and we laugh about sexual harassment. I did it Barbs, I found my positive.

And if you cut it here that’s a happy ending.

***

Matt’s stories are what would happen if Bruce Springsteen and Lena Dunham had a magic night on the rocket fuel together. His work can be found inRegime MagazineWord RiotVibewireFlash Fiction Offensive, Zinewest, The Dying Goose and the 2013 Best of Vine Leaves Anthology. For his freshest work be sure to check out the upcoming editions of Regime Magazine, The Milo Review, Gold Dust MagazineThe Tincture Journal, and The Lizard Skin Press 2013 Anthology.

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