Authors: Brooke Davis
And so Karl the Touch Typist pushed back the covers. He maneuvered himself to the edge of the bed and kicked off his slippers, one, then the other, kicking them off like a child would upon reaching the homestead after a day at school, no care for where they might land. One slipper went straight up into the air, flipping like a gymnast, and the other clear across the room, landing on the end of a roommate’s bed. No one stirred. He slid off the bed, pulled down his pajama pants and stomped on them, leaving them to cower on the ground. He ripped off his pajama top, the buttons pinging away to different corners of the room, and stood there for a few moments, reveling in the glorious feeling of being mostly naked. He dressed himself by the streetlamp light coming through the window.
He put on his shoes. His skin tingled with decision. He ripped a marker off the clipboard that sat at the end of his bed and wrote,
Karl The Touch Typist Wuz ’Ere
, in shaky letters, hugely, on the wall above his bed. He threw the marker up in the air and it clattered to the ground. After a moment’s reflection, he picked up the marker and pocketed it. He placed his
hat and gloves on the foot of the bed and waved to the four sleeping men. He peeked around the doorway and tiptoed down the hall. He opened the front door and stepped out into the night. And as he walked down the path and out the gate, he thought,
This is the bravest thing I’ve done by far.
arl sits at a desk in the police station, waiting for a police officer to attend to him. The station is not that different from typing school: rows of desks topped with computers, piles of paper and silent phones. There are no criminals being led past him in cuffs, no shots being fired, no dramatic exchanges between the staff. It’s just like any other government office, and Karl can’t help feeling a little disappointed by this.
He drums his hands on the desk.
Go, Millie, go!
he had said, and caused a distraction so she could get away. He is proud of himself for his quick thinking. But where will she go? What will she do? She is just a child and he has sent her off into the suburban wilderness.
He looks out the window. A mother walks past pushing a pram.
I’ll find you
, Karl whispers. The woman turns toward the window.
, he says quickly, feeling his face burn red. He
shakes his head at himself when he realizes she could not have possibly heard. The woman disappears from view.
He looks at the mannequin, whom he has named Manny, and who is propped up against the desk next to him.
We’ll find Millie, won’t we, Manny?
Karl is glad that Manny is here, that he isn’t outnumbered, that he has someone on his side.
Karl straightens Manny’s shirt. He flicks Manny’s pants leg, where his leg should be. He looks down at his own hands. His left index finger and both ring fingers end just above the knuckle. When he types with them now, they just stab at the air, reaching out for something they’ll never find. He has taught himself to type with the stumps, by dipping his wrist to make contact with the keys. He rubs his thumbs over them.
The police officer who brought him here leans over the reception desk in the corner, talking in low tones to the receptionist. Gary is the officer’s name. A full, thick body, movements like a bulldog if it could stand upright. The receptionist is young, beautiful. She has long blond hair, pink nails, and cool blue eyes with heavy black around the rims of them, like she has circled them with black marker the way a teacher might circle an oft-repeated mistake. Gary flexes a bicep for her, pretending he’s not doing it on purpose, but Karl knows he is doing it on purpose. As if he’s bracing himself for an impact, about to be hip-and-shouldered from a running start. She trails her eyes up Gary’s forearm, his bicep, his neck, and then finally to meet his eyes. Gary notices and grins triumphantly, as if he’s won a race, a bet, at life.
Karl turns away from them, pulls a pouch out of his pocket, and empties it on the table. He found it in her bedside table drawer when he worked up the guts to start going through her things. A tag on it;
, it said. Inside the pouch are seven typewriter letters.
She was trying to tell him something, he knows that much. He spends most of his days trying to work out what it is. He pushes the letters around in every configuration he can think of.
Root if G.
Grit of O.
He always ends up here.
Forgot what? Forgot to turn off the stove? Forgot to tell you that I had an affair with a very good-looking footballer once? Forgot that I have a huge gambling debt to pay off? Forgot to tell you I’m not in love with you? Not at all? That I never was?
, Gary says, sitting down behind his desk.
What’s that, then?
Karl sits up straight in his chair and sweeps the keys into his pockets.
, he says.
Gary fiddles with some papers on his desk, gathering them together in piles.
Karl, is it?
, Karl says, his hands in his pockets tapping on his thighs.
Why do you think you’re here, Karl?
I’ve been arrested, sir.
And why have you been arrested, Karl?
I’m not sure. Gary.
I don’t believe that at all, Karl. I think you’re very sure as to why you’ve been arrested.
Gary sits back in his chair.
I think you’d have to be a bloody idiot to be unsure. And I don’t think you’re a bloody idiot.
I wouldn’t be so sure about that, Gary. I’m quite often an idiot.
Look, Karl. Look.
Gary leans forward, resting his elbows on the desk.
There’s been some pretty serious allegations made against you.
Gary stretches forward to look over the desk.
What are you up to down there?
Karl’s hands are still in his pockets, tapping away as he speaks. His fingers move up and down underneath the fabric. Bugger. He knows how this looks. He pulls his hands out of his pockets. Rests them on his thighs. And then thinks better of it, but doesn’t know where to put them. He holds his arms out from his side, like a child mimicking a rocket.
Gary nods toward Manny.
What’s he for, then? He part of it?
. Gary writes something on a sheet of paper that sits atop one of his piles.
We’ll need to swab the doll. And you, too
, he says offhandedly.
, Karl corrects. He checks himself.
I’m sorry. What?
The receptionist approaches the desk with two glasses of water. Gary’s eyes light up.
Perfect timing, sweetheart
, he says as he takes a glass from her and sips from it.
Can you get the swab kit?
The girl plonks the other glass in front of Karl.
Cool, yeah, sure
, she says, giving Gary a brilliant smile, then turning around with a generous flick of her hair against her back. Gary watches her walk away for a good five seconds.
And that’s when Karl sees it, on the wall behind Gary’s desk. A wall filled with posters of faces peering back at him. Some quite obviously their best faces, some quite obviously their worst.
, some of them say.
, others say.
One of them is, unmistakably, his own face.
, he is. Not
. He understands that, and agrees.
Gary holds up a piece of paper in Karl’s line of sight. Karl tries to focus. He feels the drumming of his heart. He wipes his palms on his pants.
What do you know about Warwickvale Aged Care Facility?
Karl recognizes the logo on the sheet of paper and his jaw tightens.
It’s an aged-care facility.
Have you ever been there before, Karl?
I mean yes.
You mean yes?
Well, yes. And no.
Gary puts the piece of paper on the desk between them. He slides his elbows onto the desk and links his hands together.
What the hell are you talking about, Karl?
Karl laughs. It’s a high-pitched laugh. It doesn’t sound like his laugh at all.
. He clears his throat.
I’ve visited there. You get to my age, everyone you know is in there!
The same high-pitched laugh that isn’t his.
Well. Wait here, would you?
Karl nods, smiling, as Gary disappears into another room and closes the door behind him. Karl swivels his chair around and watches him through the window. Gary picks up a phone and dials. He notices Karl watching him. Karl waves and winks. Gary shuts the blinds.
, Karl says under his breath.
The receptionist click-clacks away on the computer.
, Karl calls from across the room.
She looks up.
, she says bluntly. Not friendly. A snarl on her lips.
What would Branson Spike do?
Nice place to work?
She ignores him.
How’s the pay? All right?
She puts headphones in her ears and continues to type.
Plan B, Manny
, Karl says, casting a quick glance at the receptionist to make sure she’s not looking his way. He picks up the glass of water and pours it on the crotch of his pants.
, he says, standing and walking toward her.
she says, jumping out of her chair.
Stop right there! What have you done?
I seem to have had an accident
, he says lifting his arms up so as to draw attention to the wet patch on his crotch.
she says, screwing up her face.
Old people are so gross.
Do you mind if I . . . ?
He points his thumb in the direction of the sign for the restroom.
I’ll swap pants with him
, he says, scooping Manny up under one arm.
I don’t care
, she says, taking deep breaths and sitting back in her chair.
Just get away from me.
I’ll be right back
, Karl says. The sign for the restroom points down the hall to the right. The entrance is to the left. Karl glances back at the receptionist. She has her earphones in and her back turned. He smiles down at Manny, who looks up at Karl appreciatively.
We’re coming, Millie
, Karl whispers. And heads toward the entrance.
: Picks up little girl. Walks to bus station with little girl.
7:53: A teenage boy walks past them on the street. He has braces and pimples and wears his hat sideways.
Probably thinking about masturbating
, she says as they brush shoulders.
he says back to her. He clutches a mobile phone to his ear like a life preserver.
What are you saying on that thing?
What do children have to say to other children?
Fred, I didn’t wet myself last night?”
The boy shakes his head.
You’re crazy, lady
, he says as he turns and keeps walking.
In my day, teenagers didn’t exist!
she announces to his retreating back.
You were a child until you were two and then you were an adult!
She turns to the little girl and confirms,
He’s the crazy one
8:06: Arrives at bus station.
the little girl asks.
It’s what boys do to keep busy!
What about girls?
the little girl says.
What about girls! Boys touch themselves,
girls get themselves ready to be touched by boys. That’s it, that’s life! You should be writing this down!
8:07: Finds pay phone in the station. Little girl rings mum.
Phone’s still off
, she says.
8:09: Purchases bus tickets.
Two to Kalgoorlie!
she says to the lady behind the counter.
That’ll be sixty-four dollars
, the lady says.
, the lady repeats.
Sixty. Four. Dollars
, the lady says.
You’re paying me back
, Agatha says to the little girl.
I don’t have any money
, says the little girl.
You’ll get a job
, Agatha says.
, the little girl says.
My dad died
, the little girl says.
We’ve been through this
, Agatha says.
So did mine.
8:13: Looks around bus depot.
Why are there so many drinks?
she says to the little girl. There are four refrigerators pushed flush against the wall filled with drinks ready to be purchased.
In my day, there was a pint of milk, or two types of SodaStream, yellow or black. Who knew what was in them. Black was a flavor and that was good enough. Why are there fifteen different types of water?
She squints at the fridge.
What on Earth is Vitamin Water?
The little girl shrugs.
In my day, you were lucky to get a glass of water that didn’t have sewage in it!
8:24: A blond boy sits on the other side of Agatha and stares at her.
What are you staring at?
The blond child is unmoved.
Humans don’t like to be stared at. Cats, too. I found that out early. You should really be writing this down. Cats and humans don’t like to be stared at. Get a pen!
8:36: There’s an advertisement on the wall, a photo of a lady holding a sign that reads
Old Can Wait.
Agatha stands in front of it as though they’re facing off in a western. The blond boy is still staring at Agatha.
Old is not a choice!
she yells at him. The boy begins to cry and his mother glares at Agatha.
There’s no point keeping it from him
, Agatha says, and sits down again.
Isn’t that our bus?
the little girl says. Through the window, Agatha can see a line of people filing onto a bus.
, it says on the front.
, Agatha says. She allows herself one deep, dark sigh.