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Authors: Paddy O'Reilly

Peripheral Vision

BOOK: Peripheral Vision
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Paddy O'Reilly is the author of three novels, a collection of award-winning short stories, and a novella. Her novels have been shortlisted for major awards, and her stories have been widely published, anthologised and broadcast in Australia and overseas.

Praise for
The End of the World

‘
The End of the World
is an excellent collection: formally adventurous, sharp-witted and beautifully crafted. Even the minor pieces are written with polish and aplomb.'
Australian Literary Review

‘Each O'Reilly story winks and coruscates with flashes of intelligence and humour, insight and empathy …
The End of the World
is fresh on every page, adventurous,
enlightening, nicely restrained yet vivid and often moving.'
Australian

‘Read one beside the other, [the stories] mark out the emotional and imaginative landscape of a writer of real flair.'
Sydney Morning Herald

‘These are exceptional stories, full of imaginative and evocative portraits of all sorts of people.'
Adelaide Review

Also by Paddy O'Reilly

Novels

The Wonders

The Fine Colour of Rust
(as P.A. O'Reilly)

The Factory

Short Stories

The End of the World

Novella

Deep Water
(in
Love & Desire
, ed. Cate Kennedy)

Non-Fiction

It Happened in a Holden
(editor)

The Salesman

Marly sat on the front verandah, waiting. Shaun and Azza had been working on Azza's car all day, driving the ute to the wrecker's for parts, taking Azza's black V8 for spins around the streets, steering the big car back through the hole in the fence to bury their heads under the bonnet like stupid long-legged emus. It was past six o'clock, though you wouldn't know from the heat. The house was cooked. Even the fridge was moaning. Marly was desperate for a beer.

She leaned back in the verandah armchair and wiped the sweat from her face. Chances were that the boys had stopped in at the pub on their way home from Supercheap. They'd be standing at the bar, promising each other just one beer before they headed back. And that meant she was stuck. Shaun had insisted they rent this crappy house, miles from anything except other crappy houses, because it had a ready-made hoist and pit in the yard and he'd be able to make a few extra dollars fixing mates' cars. Six months later and all anyone had ever paid was a slab. A half-empty slab by the time the guy had driven off.

She pulled her phone from her pocket and played with the buttons. No credit. No one had texted or called. Out in the front yard the dog yawned and stretched out in the patch of dust he had claimed as his own when Shaun brought him back from the swap meet a couple of months ago. Marly didn't get the idea of a dog. They didn't do anything for you. They didn't do anything at all except eat and sleep and shit. Cable had chosen one corner of the yard for shitting, and it happened to be on the way to the letterbox. The rest of the yard was littered with things Shaun had been going to fix but had never got around to. They'd all ended up in front of the house, waiting for the big day when he'd load up the ute and head off to the tip. Except Marly knew from experience that a trip to the tip meant a trip to the tip shop. The amount of rubbish around the house stayed the same – it only changed in shape and degree of uselessness.

‘Excuse me, madam, am I speaking to the mistress of the house?'

Marly shaded her eyes and squinted at the dark-skinned man standing beyond the fence. ‘Whatever you're selling, we don't want it.'

The man was short and slender, with small hands holding a blue clipboard, and feet in shiny black shoes tied with neat bows. He shook his head.

‘I am not a salesman, madam. I am not here to sell you a single thing.' His face was perfectly proportioned, like a doll's. His skin was a rich toffee colour. He had the eyes of a girl, runny brown with thick lashes and an upward tilt on the outside. He was as beautiful as a girl. Maybe he was a girl. Marly had seen plenty of sex-change people on TV shows. He might once have been a girl and now he had turned into a beautiful man pumped full of hormones with a prick made of sewn-up bits of skin and flesh.

‘Madam, I wonder if I might have a glass of water. I'm very tired, and thankfully this is my last street for the day, but I still have to walk through the reserve to get back to my car. It's very hot. Very hot indeed.'

She could see the sweat glistening on his upper lip. His white business shirt was stuck to his chest. What would be the harm?

‘You can come and wait on the verandah in the shade and I'll get you some water. But don't you come near me,' Marly said, certain that this honey-dark man with his girl eyes would bewitch her somehow into kissing him. ‘You sit on the steps there. My husband will be home any minute.'

As if he had heard her, Shaun's tune rang out from the mobile.

‘Azza's shouting us pizza for tea. You want capricciosa?'

He was slack in plenty of ways, but no other boyfriend had been as attentive as Shaun. She would never do better than this – a man who thought about what she might want, who asked, who had not once in eleven months raised a hand to her.

‘With double cheese and, hon, don't hang up – I've got no credit. There's a guy here, he wants to sell us …' She paused. What did the Paki want to sell them? He was sitting on the verandah steps in the shade, elbows on his knees, shirtsleeves rolled up and hands hanging to his ankles. The blue clipboard and a canvas shoulder bag she hadn't noticed before lay behind him on the peeling floorboards. ‘Yeah, anyway, bring home some beer, will you? And don't take long.'

The dirt from the verandah would ruin Pran's grey cotton pants but he was too exhausted to stay on his feet. The streets in this neighbourhood were desolate and confusing in their sameness. On his map the courts and crescents wound around each other like snakes. Spindly wilted gum trees stuck out from bald nature strips, and house after house had nothing but broken toys and rubbish in the yard. No shade anywhere. In some yards the carcasses of dry weeds stood higher than Pran's head.

About every third house his footsteps would detonate an explosion of barking. Mongrels, most of them, but occasionally a rottweiler or a pit bull would push its brutish head through a gate and stare at Pran as he passed. A few streets ago he had seen a weatherboard Church of Christ, surrounded by gravel and dumped cars. The windows of the church were boarded up.

Yet despite the dusty quiet of the hot streets and the empty yards, everyone was home. That morning in the office the team leader had said the area rated seventy per cent unemployment, so he told Pran and James not to turn up their noses like that. ‘This is where the sales are. You won't do any good in Toorak. They've got everything they need. This is where you'll make some money.'

The team leader had been right. Pran had overtaken his personal-best daily sales figure by eleven o'clock, and doubled it in the afternoon. He'd been about to take a short cut through this street and cross the reserve to his car when he saw the blonde on the verandah. She wore a faded yellow singlet and blue satin boxing shorts, and sat on an old stuffed armchair. Strapped to the stub of her leg under the left knee was a metal prosthesis with a running shoe fitted over a rubber foot. Her right foot was bare.

Pran knew he'd make a sale here.

It took a while for the cold tap to run cold water. Marly used to catch the warm water in a basin, then pour it later on the two-dollar punnet of pansies she'd planted in the square of dirt outside the back door, but they died so she didn't bother anymore. She waited with her hand in the stream of water, enjoying the sensation of the water cooling down. She thought about the pipes running underground, and wished there was some way they could use them to cool the whole house. On days like this, when the mercury rose above thirty, the flat roof sucked in the heat and it was five degrees hotter inside than outside, according to the thermometer Shaun kept on the kitchen wall.

‘It's only out of the tap.' She handed the glass to the man, who was mopping his brow with a white handkerchief.

‘Thank you very much.'

‘You're not here about God, are you? Or Jesus? I'm not religious.'

‘No, madam. I am Hindu. Our gods are many and we do not proselytise.'

In rehab, when she was learning to use her new metal leg after the accident, the man working with the other physio in the room had said he thought his disability was a message from the Lord Jesus. ‘He made me this way and I don't dispute it,' he'd proclaimed, waving around his stumpy arm with its fused fingers. ‘I see it as extra rungs on the ladder to heaven, given to me free and clear as compensation for this damn flipper and the bits that I haven't got.' The physio strapped a harness to the man's torso and helped him to ease into the contraption that took the place of his missing legs. ‘I just hope,' the man said, ‘that this fancy new equipment doesn't deduct from my extra allocation of grace.'

The Paki man drained the last of the water and placed the glass carefully beside the verandah post. Cable had finally stood up and shaken the loose dirt from his bristly brown coat. He wandered across the yard to sniff the feet of the new visitor.

‘What kind of dog is this?' The man leaned backward, away from Cable – who, she had to admit, stank.

‘It's a bitser. You know, bitser this and bitser that.'

The man tilted his head to the side. From this angle he was even more beautiful. Marly thought he should be a model or a TV star, not some loser walking around the suburbs trying to sell stuff.

‘What is it you want to sell, anyway?'

‘I tell you, madam, I am not here to sell you anything. I am here to give you something for nothing. I know it sounds unbelievable, but it is true.'

‘Yeah, sure it is. And will you stop calling me madam? My name is Marly.'

‘Pleased to meet you, Marly. My name is Pran.'

He held out his hand and she brushed her fingers against it, expecting to find the skin moist with sweat, but it was dry and cool.

He nodded at her leg. ‘I am very sorry to see you have a disability. It must be hard to get out and about.'

‘It's not so bad. When I put on jeans you hardly know it's there.' She thought again about the man whose flipper and missing limbs pushed him up the rungs of heaven. Her leg would hardly count for a single rung. When it first happened, she thought the men would run when they saw it, but she'd found the opposite. She used to say to her girlfriends that having half a leg had ended up being a bloke magnet, in a weird way. All of them falling over themselves to prove they were cool about it. ‘Because it's discreet,' one of them had said. ‘If you've got to have something wrong with you, it's good that it's discreet.' Marly knew what he meant, but it was more than that. Hep C was discreet. Having a bra stuffed with padding because of cancer was discreet. This was something else. And at that point it was better to stop thinking about it because it started to feel creepy.

‘How long have you been in Australia?'

‘Strange that you should ask. In fact, today is the anniversary of my arrival, seven years ago. I came as an undergraduate student at Monash University, then I completed an MBA. Now I am looking for employment in my field.'

‘You must be pretty smart, then.' Marly's sister always talked about wanting to do an MBA. Marly was going to heap shit on her now. Get an MBA and you can walk the streets selling door to door.

‘So Pran, let's cut the crap. What are you selling?' Marly collapsed back into the lounge chair at the other end of the verandah. It had been two years since the accident but she still leaned to her good side when she stood too long, and the aching would start in her hip and shoulder. ‘I told you my husband was coming home soon, right? He's got a mate with him too.'

Sometimes she thought she and Shaun had a psychic bond. Like before, when she was playing with her phone wishing she had credit and then a few minutes later he'd called. Now he and Azza turned the corner into the street, the ute so polished and bright that its red gleam reflected off the fibro walls of the houses either side.

‘See? Here he is.' In a movie she would leap off the verandah and run in slow motion toward the ute, her hair streaming behind, white dress fluttering in the breeze. But these days all she could do was stump around. The rubber foot connected with the ground at an odd angle, and she could feel it jar through her body with every step.

The boys pulled in to the yard and eased themselves up out of the ute that Shaun had lowered so far it almost dragged along the ground. They stood staring at Pran for a moment. Azza snickered. He turned his head so only Shaun and Marly could see his face and mouthed the word
Paki
.

‘Shit,' Shaun said loudly. ‘A fuckin' curry-muncher.'

‘Good evening.' Pran stood and extended his hand, grateful that this would be his last sticky, grimy handshake of the day. The first thing he did when he got home each night was to take a long cool shower with antibacterial soap. Too bad if there was a water shortage. He needed to get clean after walking streets like these.

Neither of the men offered a hand in return. The tall one with the shaved head turned to the woman on the verandah.

‘What's he selling?'

She shrugged. ‘Did you bring the beer?'

‘Here, gimme the slab, Azza. I'll put it in the fridge.'

Pran watched the bald man heft the slab into his muscular arms and cradle it like a baby as he leaped onto the verandah and opened the screen door with his foot. It slammed behind him. The other man lifted two large pizza boxes from the cab of the ute and walked up the steps past Pran, the thick smell of the pizza following him, and the dog drifting along behind, nose held high as if it was riding the aroma. At the door, the man paused. He balanced the pizza boxes on one bulky arm and with his free hand brushed his thick black hair back from his forehead.

‘Why is it always Pakis knocking on the door? Don't they hire Australians anymore?'

Pran laughed. ‘Please, take my job. I earn seven dollars an hour.' It was a lie. He was a natural salesman. He made a good living from these people. ‘But actually, I am not Pakistani. I am from Delhi, the capital of India.'

‘Right. That makes all the difference.' The man laughed and passed through the door, dog following, leaving the screen door jammed open against a buckled floorboard.

‘Shut the frigging door, Azza! The flies get in.' The woman hauled herself out of the armchair and thumped along the verandah.

‘Sorry,' she said to Pran, stepping into the house and pulling the screen door shut behind her.

He listened to the uneven thud of her walking down the hallway. He would have liked one more glass of water, although when he looked again at the glass it was dirty. Still, he lifted it, tilted it high and waited for the single drop from the bottom to roll the length of the glass and fall onto his parched tongue. He put the glass back on the boards and gazed down the street to where the reserve began. Only a ten-minute walk to his car. The reserve was a patch of bushland that seemed to have been forgotten by the council or whoever created it. Even from here, Pran could see that the wooden barrier at the entrance had been torn out and cars had been driven in. A mattress was propped against the fence of a house adjoining the reserve and further inside, under the trees, was the glint of broken glass.

BOOK: Peripheral Vision
11.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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