More Than a View
I had two minutes to get to work on time. I opened the front door of my apartment to be greeted by the smiling face of my neighbour, Harry. Not noticing my harassed expression, Harry launched into a detailed story of his upset stomach, brought on by an Indian feast last night.
I smiled, mumbled responses and squeezed past him to the stairwell. Mrs Knightly, from three floors up, was on her way down the stairs. She was carrying a beach chair in one hand and a fluorescent green umbrella in the other, therefore consuming all space on either side.
“Can I help you with those Mrs Knightly?” I said and put my arms out, ready to grab the stuff and hurl it down the stairs.
“No, no dear, I’m quite alright thank you,” she replied.
“Can I just squeeze past you there? I’m in a bit of a hurry to get to work.”
“I’ll just be a minute dear,” she said and stopped dead in her tracks to turn around and smile at me.
Finally escaping outside, I took a quick, envious look at the glittering ocean and headed for the car park. Soapsuds were flying around in every direction and at least three cars were covered in white foam. Mine was one of them.
“Morning Katie love! I noticed your little car was in need of a good wash, won’t be a minute,” said Jack, the on site manager. So I sat, for ten minutes, watching him wash my car. For the fourth time in a week, I was very late for work.
That afternoon I stumbled in, feet hurting and head aching, ready to give myself up to a frozen dinner and the couch. Sitting huddled at my doorway, sobbing loudly and eating salt and vinegar chips was my good friend from number thirteen, Zoe. We spent the night eating, drinking and talking about her latest horrible boyfriend.
She left well after midnight and I resolved to look in the paper the very next morning for a new place to live. Life at number six, Beach View Apartments, was getting ridiculous. At least the weekend was upon me, I thought before trying to sleep with the sounds of loud classical music vibrating through the ceiling.
The early morning sun filtering through my curtains brought my unsettled sleep to an end; either that or the lawn mower Jack insisted on starting every Saturday morning before eight o’clock. I made coffee, stared at the expanse of blue ocean that was my view and wondered if I’d be able to afford the rent at another beachfront apartment. At the moment, I couldn’t even afford petrol in my
car. My chances were slim indeed.
The pool was blissfully free of people as I sank under the cool water and sat on the tiled floor. My arms floated up of there own accord and I watched the tiny bubbles rise to the surface. A distorted face was smiling at me from above, a face I was very happy to see.
Damien Barret. An extremely good looking English man who lived on the floor above me. We’d had mindless conversations in passing and I knew that he studied law on an exchange program from London, worked at a bar down the road by night and had a fondness for very loud classical music.
I broke the surface of the water and, in my mind, emerged flashing my brightest smile, long hair sleek and glistening with sexy droplets of water cascading down my bronzed face. I noticed first that he was laughing, rather then smiling. Standing up in the cool breeze alerted me to the fact that my bikini top was sitting around my waist.
I turned around, frantically grabbing at my top and saw Mrs Knightly, waving at me from her fourth floor balcony. Her white hair glowed in the morning light and I concentrated on that image rather then think of an intelligent, witty or even stupid comment to say to the only person in the building I wanted to impress.
“Lucky Mrs Knightly can’t see this far without her glasses,” Damien said as he winked at me and walked away.
I closed my eyes and drifted back under the water for a moment of silence to ponder my embarrassment. I repeated my mantra of the
week - must find somewhere else to live - ten times and jumped out to dry off and buy the newspaper.
Harry was in the shop across the road, staring with great concentration at the only two apples on the fruit shelf. He had a mop of curly, grey-white hair that fell over his face, reminding me of a sheep dog.
“Hi Harry, fruit shopping today?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said and smiled at me, “It’s my wife’s birthday today and she loved apples, so I’m trying to find the nicest one.”
“I bought a heap from the grocery store a couple of days ago, how about I give you one of those?” I asked and tried to keep the sympathy I felt from showing on my face.
“Really? Thanks Katie, I can’t get around as well as I used to,” he said.
I bought the paper and walked back across the road with Harry, promising to bring him some apples before lunch. His wife’s death four years ago played on my mind as I watched him stumble up the step to the entrance. He was going partially blind and I stifled the sharp pang of pity I felt for him.
The pool area was still deserted so I sat on a wooden bench in the shade and searched through the rentals section of the paper. My options amounted to tiny units in the depths of suburbia or pricey penthouses in luxurious resorts.
Jack and his wife, Sonia, came strolling past on their way back from the beach. I glanced over at them and suppressed a twinge of jealousy at their tightly entwined hands. They were well into their forties, married for twenty years and exuded such an aura of romantic bliss you could practically hear violins playing when they were near. They waved and mentioned the rent was due. I decided to go and try my luck at the real estate office.
I walked down the road and stopped by at a café on the corner. Delicious smells of garlic bread mixed with coffee greeted me as I stepped inside to order a salad sandwich for lunch. I glanced around at the familiar blue walls crowded with Greek paraphernalia until my eyes came to rest on an attractive couple sitting in the corner.
Zoe’s thick, dark hair fell over her face as she scanned a menu. She looked up briefly at her companion and touched his hand before looking down again and giggling. The man turned slightly as if to see if anyone was watching, then leant over the table to kiss her gently on the check. It was then that I recognised Damien’s handsome face. I turned and walked out of the café.
Moving to another country was starting to seem like a good option. The walls of my tiny world were closing in by the minute. I walked home and spent the rest of the afternoon and the following day shut up in my apartment watching old movies, ignoring the phone and the knocks at my door. It wasn’t until the next morning that I remembered Harry’s apples.
I opened the door to leave for work and felt momentary unease at the emptiness of the hallway. Not quite daring to hope I’d escape without incident, on time for once, I rushed to the stairwell and out to the car. I laughed with sheer relief at my easy departure as I drove away.
Congratulating myself as I walked into work on time, I happily greeted everyone that walked by and made my way to the office. I felt my dour mood of the weekend melt away at the prospect of seeing different people and being away from the claustrophobic confines of my apartment block. No one here would steal my prospective boyfriends or hassle me for rent or bother me with updates of their bodily functions.
My boss walked in and I immediately launched into a brilliant idea I’d come up with for a new marketing strategy we’d been working on. I noticed her face becoming red and asked if she was feeling ill.
“Katie, I don’t know how to say this so I’ll get straight to the point.” My heart dropped into my stomach as she spoke.
“I’m sorry, but you only have yourself to blame really. Last week you were late by more than half an hour every day, I just can’t let that happen and it’s not like you haven’t received warnings before. You’ll receive two weeks pay,” she said and turned and left, just like that.
The image of Harry standing at my doorway flashed though my mind. Mrs Knightly walking painstakingly down the stairs, refusing to move for me. Jack, bailing me up in the morning to discuss times for the window cleaners to come. Surely he only washed my car because he didn’t want it looking dirty and unkempt out the front of his precious high-rise.
I momentarily thought about explaining this to my now ex-boss. But hadn’t I done that every morning I was late? If I’d gotten up earlier every morning would it have made a difference? I doubted it. My neighbours instinctively knew when I was late and deliberately set out to sabotage my job and my livelihood and my sanity.
Just twenty minutes after I’d left for work, I walked back into the apartment block and straight into Mrs Knightly.
“Hello dear, I’m having a roast for dinner tonight, would you like to join me?”
I glared daggers at her and, without saying a word, continued on my way towards the stairs. I heard her call out to me twice and her voice was shaking a little the second time. I didn’t turn around to catch the hurt and bewildered expression I knew would be on her face.
Harry was standing at my door and his eyes looked red and swollen.
“Do you still have those apples Katie? When you didn’t bring them yesterday I went back to the shop but they were gone by then. I figure my wife wouldn’t have minded if I got them a day late,” he said.
“Look, Harry, I just lost my job ok? Go find your bloody apples somewhere else.” With that I stormed off inside and slammed the door.
My answering machine was flashing and I angrily pressed the button in anticipation of more bad news. It was my boss, apologising for her hasty actions and asking ever so nicely if I could come back to work immediately to sort things out. Waves of relief washed over me as I grabbed my bag and ran back out the door.
I heard a soft thud on the carpet in the hallway and turned to see my phone had fallen out of my bag, but, not wanting to wait an instant, I left it and bolted down the stairs. I waited impatiently with the car running while a young couple, blocking my path, said their loving goodbyes to each other. They moved and I accelerated with an impatient jerk. My bag flew off the seat and I bent for a second to retrieve it.
I looked back up and saw Harry, directly in front of the car. The screech of the brakes didn’t hide the sickening sound of his body slamming into the bonnet. He looked at me for a single moment with wide, fearful eyes before dropping to the ground. My legs gave way as I opened the car door, so I crawled to him, lying on the ground with my phone clenched in his hand.
The ambulance came and took him away. They said it would be touch and go but they’d call with any news. They asked if he had any relatives nearby and I said no. For some reason, that simple question and consequent answer seemed worse than the actual accident.
Mrs Knightly had draped a blanket around my shoulders and was walking me towards my room. Zoe was inside ready and waiting with tissues and
Panadol and a sympathetic expression. She explained that my boss had called again and withdrawn her offer as she’d been waiting for over two hours for me to return. She wasn’t interested in hearing Zoe’s explanation for my absence. It didn’t matter now.
After two days of staying in bed, curtains drawn and windows closed, I ventured out to the lounge room. A note had been slipped under the door and I saw Jack and Sonia’s letterhead at the top. Slowly, I bent down to pick up the eviction notice I’d been waiting for.
Sonia’s scrawled handwriting expressed sorrow for my unfortunate accident. She went on to explain that they’d also heard of my job loss and would like to offer me the apartment, rent free, for the next month. It would be possible to do this from donations made by certain residents wishing to help me through my rough patch. The main contributor was Harry, recovering nicely in hospital.
My eyes nearly fell out of my head in surprise and I sank to the ground, overwhelmed with guilt, gratefulness and bittersweet joy. I sat there shaking my head for a long time, trying to fathom the enormity of the week gone. Then I began to think of the week ahead.
Three days later and I had ten minutes to get to a job interview. I ran to the stairwell to encounter Jack perched on the top step, painting the walls and surrounded by sheets and paint cans. He lifted his brush in greeting and sprayed my black pants with flecks of white paint. I ran back to the elevator. Mrs Knightly was inside with all her usual beach furniture.
“Could you wait for the next one dear? I do get claustrophobic when the lift is full.”
“Sure,” I replied through gritted teeth. When I finally made it outside, I saw an ambulance and a man being carried out and put into a wheel chair.
“Hi Harry, shall I bring some apples home for lunch?” I asked and fought to suppress the lump forming in my throat. He smiled in reply and turned his face towards the ocean, sparkling in the morning light. I walked towards the car, relinquishing the guilt and making a promise to myself to leave an hour early, every morning, from now on.
A Rainbow Stretches over the Queensland Coast
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