I’m in town, sitting in a cafe, in a window seat, staring out at the nothing that’s happening in front of me, when a woman I have never seen before sits down next to me and says -‘Do you mind if I take that newspaper?’
And I tell her no, and push the newspaper that is in front of me toward her.
And she says thank you.
I tell her she’s welcome and she says ‘lovely, thank you’, and opens the paper and begins to look at it.
I’m still looking out of the window at the nothing out there, eating my creamy latte froth with a spoon when the woman says- ‘Disgusting’.
I turn to my right to look at the woman, who has a blond bob hairstyle, a black sweater on and a large gold necklace that looks like draped lace around her neck.
‘Did you see this?’ she asks me, ‘Drunk Driving Kills 4,’
I tell her no, that I have not seen it because I didn’t really read the newspaper.
‘I drink,’ she says turning and looking right into my eyes, ‘and I probably drink too much. But I don’t drive drunk,’
And then she laughs and says-‘In fact I can barely even walk drunk,’
I laugh at this and then again start eating the cooling froth in my cup.
Then she tells me that her and her husband had spent 12 months traveling the country in a caravan, and that they had virtually drank their way around Australia.
‘You’d arrive somewhere, you know, after all day in the car pulling the bloody caravan, and the first bloody thing you’d want is a glass of Moselle,’
‘I can imagine that,’ I say, looking over at her as she goes quiet and turns the pages of the paper and I make patterns with my spoon in the froth in my cup.
And then, after a few moments the woman starts talking again.
‘We all drink too bloody much sometimes,’ she says, ‘but we don’t all get in cars and smash people to bits,’
‘I don’t,’ I say turning to look at her again, ‘I don’t mean I don’t smash people up, I just don’t drink at all,’
‘Well,’ says the woman, ‘you’re an unusual one,’
And then she laughs.
Yes, I say, and then I explain to her that I can’t drink safely, that I can’t predict what will happen when I do.
‘It’s safer for all concerned that I abstain because I have been known to appear naked on a bar after several Southern Comforts,’ I tell her, and I laugh, and so does she.
And then I ask her if she would like to drink less.
‘Of course I bloody do,’ she says, frowning at me, ‘I drink way too much,’
I ask her how much.
‘A bottle a night,’ she tells me, ‘a bottle of Moselle a night,’
I look over at her and frown.
‘Goodness,’ I say, ‘that can’t be good for your….anything,’
Then I tell her my mum died of cancer and so did my aunt and I think it was lungs and pancreas and liver.
‘I think if you start putting that stuff in you when you’re young, you’re body goes mad. It’s like putting kerosene on jellyfish or something,’ I say, ‘it must just shrivel your organs up,’
Absentmindedly turning the pages of the newspaper she tells me she doesn’t like drugs and I tell her that I do but I don’t take those either.
‘Then she leans closer to me and whispers – ‘While I’m being all confessional I’ll tell you that my ex husband went to jail for 18 months for growing marijuana,’
‘Good on him for trying,’ I say, ‘but it’s a shame he got caught,’
‘They tried to get me as an accessory,’ she tells me, ‘but they couldn’t pin it on me, so I got off,’
I don’t know what to say to this so I just keep scooping what’s left of my froth and eating it until it’s all gone and then I stand up, ready to leave.
‘It’s been really nice speaking to you,’ I say, looking down to the woman.
‘I hope I haven’t shocked you, dear,’ she says, looking up, smiling at me and taking my left hand between hers and squeezing it.
‘It takes a lot more than what you have just told me to shock me,’ I say, gently touching the shoulder of this woman who was once just a stranger who sat down next to me in a cafe and asked me for a newspaper.
I’m sitting on a double wooden rocking chair on the porch, smoking my e-cigarette and listening to a hungry cat that’s crying at my feet, when Linda comes out and we start a conversation on marriage.
‘He was an addict. Meth,’ she tells me, when describing her husband who just a few days previously has become ex, ‘and in a fit of rage he did $25,000 damage to my house. Totally destroyed it,’
‘Shit a brick,’ I say, ‘what happened to him?’
‘Oh, he’s in prison now,’ she tells me, ‘and he sends me letters asking me to get back together with him,’
‘Woah,’ I say, not knowing what else to say.
‘Yeh,’ she says, ‘He was my next door neighbour, I knew him from when he was a little bitty sweet boy next door,’
‘Wait,’ she says, ‘I’ll show you something,’
Linda gets a folder of photographs from her car.
‘Here’s what he did,’ she says, handing me the folder.
In the folder, which looks like it might have been compiled for evidence, are about 25 A4 size prints of photographs featuring what the former husband has done to the former marital home. It looks as if there has been a hurricane go through it.
It is like a shot of a scene of a natural disaster from the front page of a newspaper.
‘The kitchen cabinet doors were all over the front lawn,’ Linda says.
I go through the whole book saying ‘fuck’ again and again, shocked that one person could do so much damage in one run through. In one of the photos Linda’s mother stands in a doorway, looking out across the damage, her mouth slightly opened, her eyes frightened.
There are broken tables, broken beds, broken pictures and frames, clothing thrown about the floor, broken bicycles, the refrigerator doors hang open and it has been dragged across the kitchen floor.
Almost everything is broken and almost nothing looks like it has been left where it belongs, except for a row of tidy high-heeled shoes on a shelf in the bedroom, and an undamaged lettuce on the kitchen counter.
‘That was my only contribution to the mess. I had thrown that at him earlier in the day during an argument,’ she says, ‘And then later, in the evening, I came home to this.’