• Time to read 7 minutes

An ever-increasing lack of dexterity had Patricia still tying her dressing gown as she shuffled into the kitchen, a task she used to be able to complete before the end of the hallway, and before then the bedroom door. 

A clock radio above the microwave flashed the time, which Patricia mentally adjusted, knowing it was around three hours behind, following a blackout in the last of the summer storms. She’d have probably corrected the clock by now if it wasn’t hidden away in the kitchen, it being the most east-facing room in the house, and the house being west of her favourite station’s transmitter. This was best for the always fiddly AM reception, which had only weakened further in recent months as a block of new apartments started going up down the road, much to Patricia’s and – as he assured her numerous times – her local councillor’s chagrin. Maybe she should get one of those new digital radios, Patricia thought. Maybe that would help. She’d have to remember to ask her son-in-law about it at Christmas. He worked in technology or did something with computers. Patricia wasn’t sure exactly. 

The sun began peeking over the construction site as she twisted the volume dial, filling the house with sound in place of warmth. Patricia was a loyal listener to The John Malone Morning Show, had been for years, ever since the local radio station began syndicating his show following decades of success in his home market. The man could talk all day, which was one of the reasons Patricia loved him, as did his millions of other loyal listeners. Quietly, Patricia wondered if they loved him so much – were so loyal – that they hadn’t noticed the beginnings of what would become his slow slide into dementia, but maybe they just didn’t recognise the signs as she did.

The man could talk all day, which was one of the reasons Patricia loved him

This morning, John was talking about foreign investment, sparked by a report on the television the night before.

“It’s not xenophobic to say there is a difference between investment and ownership. The Chinese don’t want to invest in us, they want to own us.”

“Absolutely John,” Patricia agreed as she turned on the kettle, which was made in China. “Correct.”

“Exactly John,” the caller who’d rung in about the report said, aiding John’s building rant.

“You try and buy a property in China,” John continued. “They won’t let you. You cannot buy a chair in China. Yet our government is letting them buy us up willy-nilly. And where do all the profits go?” He paused for long enough that anyone would ordinarily hazard an answer, though this caller clearly knew better, or had perhaps been muted. “China,” John revealed. “Good on you Stephen, thanks for calling.”

“Thank you John, love the show,” Stephen said, feeling the twilight of his time in the shade of the man having his in the sun. “And hey, go Wallabies.”

This was something people often said to John, desperate to show they had something in common – a mutual support of the national rugby union team. Patricia didn’t get it; she had never really understood sports, at least not the ones where they ran into each other. She liked tennis. Though now she thought about it she might have a few rugby jerseys somewhere – old ones certainly. Maybe even still unwashed. Maybe they’d been moved into storage. Maybe the kids had taken them. Patricia wasn’t sure exactly.

“Go Wallabies indeed, Stephen, god knows they need all the support they can get right now. Five to nine.” 

An ad played as the kettle boiled. Maybe she’d call in today. She never had before, but maybe today. Stirring her tea, she glared out the window at the burgeoning apartment block, which she suspected was being built by a Chinese developer. 

Patricia moved her tea to the table, grabbing a pair of scissors to cut a recipe out of the weekend’s newspaper. Arthritis forced her to cut a wide berth of her target; no longer was she nimble enough to trim neatly around the edges. The corner captured an excerpt of a depressing court case (a new mother, a family history, a boat ramp), but Patricia managed to avoid these details, not wanting to detract from what looked like a beautiful twist on the traditional pumpkin soup. Patricia would make it one day, she thought, shuffling over to the fridge and sticking it over the other recipes she’d cut from newspapers. She’d make them one day too.

John’s voice returned, only staying long enough for a station ID before throwing to the news, leaving Patricia to consider a walk to the local newsagent. She’d found it hard to get out of bed that morning, no longer able to rely on the sun’s penetrative glare to wake her up, and so she’d missed the part of the show where John normally read the news for her. Patricia would be sure to get the National Broadsheet Newspaper and not the raggy State Tabloid Newspaper. Hopefully, they had some left today, not like on the weekend when she was forced into purchasing a paper she didn’t even recognise brought in by the new owner. Some white-paged pamphlet trying to appeal to inner-city elites, desperate to attract the youth by taking every possible step to differentiate itself from the news Patricia knew and trusted. A waste of time, she thought. Young people didn’t read the newspaper. They preferred to sarcastically mock those who came before them rather than try and surpass them. Those weren’t the Traditional Australian Values Patricia grew up with. She’d give that particular paper her pity next time instead of her money. 

Though the soup did look nice. 

Patricia thought that if she made it down to the newsagency she might ask the new owner why he’d started stocking this lefty dross, which would probably be a waste of time anyway as she could never understand what he was bloody saying. She’d still given him a five dollar note the other day and let him keep the change, but only because she didn’t want it. She’d remember to take her coin purse today if she made it down, but the further she dwelled on it the further she came from acting, and so she remained at the table, sipping her tea. Looking at the young men on the construction site, standing shirtless in the sun, smoking. Swearing. They were going to get cancer, she thought.

She didn’t want to embarrass herself in front of John. 

Patricia decided she would call. She prepared another tea, got herself settled in a chair. She wondered what she should say, thought about writing it down first so she didn’t forget anything. She didn’t want to embarrass herself in front of John. 

Finally, she picked up the phone and dialled. It rang. It rang again. It rang a third time, and as the doubt began creeping in, the fourth ring was interrupted by a woman’s voice. 

“John Malone Morning Show, hold the line.”

“Hello, I’d like to talk –” it took Patricia a second to realise she was talking to no one. 

She listened to the showdown the phone line, having already turned off the radio, knowing that would be John’s first comment if she hadn’t.

He took another break and an ad began to play. A woman worried her children “couldn’t keep up in maths and science” and might not get in to the elite private school she’d picked out for them. She’d have to hire a private tutor from TUTORS-2-U by dialling 1300 TU- she was interrupted.

“John Malone Morning Show,” the woman’s voice said. 

Patricia stayed silent to give the woman time to continue, only responding once she didn’t.

“Oh hello, my name’s Patricia –” 

“Where are you calling from, Patricia?”

“Sorry?”

“What suburb are you calling from?”

“From Windsor, dear.” Patricia worried over the “dear”. She was trying to be polite but now she thought she just sounded old. 

“Okay, Patricia. And what do you want to talk about?”

“I want to talk about the new apartment block in my street. I’ve lived in this street for forty years. House was one of the first on this block, in fact. Now some foreign developer has come along and put up this big apartment building. My sun is gone, and it interferes with my radio reception. The construction noise is very loud, and I don’t like going past on my morning walk because the boys who work there play obscene music and all the dust and the smoke makes me cough – I have asthma and you know, I’m not a young woman anymore,” Patricia took a break to catch her breath and when she wasn’t interrupted, continued. “I raised a family on this street. I used to know everybody here and they were people like me, just good Aussies who wanted a quiet neighbourhood. Now it’s being ruined.”

“Okay Patricia, thank you. We’ve got a few callers ahead of you, can I get you to hold on the line?”

“Alright, I want –”

“Thanks, hold the line.” 

Patricia was back on hold, though thankfully John had returned and was now talking to a man from a sports betting agency. Discussing the weekend’s Wallabies game and which way the money was flowing as if that would have an impact on how the game was played. The Gambling Man ended his piece with a purportedly impassioned plea that listeners gamble responsibly. It might have been possible he really meant this, but he sounded like a tobacco executive imploring people not to smoke. Patricia thought he cared more about the first word of his plea than the last one, making it sound more like an instruction. She was glad to hear the last of him. 

John threw to more ads. Patricia listened to the voices switching topics and services at a frenetic pace and thought about what she would say when the host returned. A young mother with a plumbing emergency praised the manageable repayments of a same-day service while Patricia tried remembering her opening sentence, eyeing the notepad she’d left at the kitchen table but not trusting herself to get off the phone long enough to grab it. 

Golden year retirees could relax on a special seniors-only cruise over the Pacific. 

Should she tell him what a big fan she was? Long time listener, first time caller? Such a cliché – she could do better than that. She wanted something personal. What if she congratulated him on so many years at the top of the ratings? 

The Outer Suburb RSL were offering 12 dollar lunches for members and their guests. 

No, too sycophantic. Patricia didn’t want to seem like a boot-licker. 

Hurt or injured in a road traffic incident where you weren’t at fault? We fight for the little guy. No win, no fee.

Eventually, Patricia decided not to say anything. She’d go straight to the point. John always liked people who went straight to the point.

An eccentric man had as many tiles as your truck, tray or trailer could carry.

Patricia planned to get straight to the point.

An old disco song she saw herself dancing to in her memory faded away as John returned to the airwaves.

“That’s the John Malone Morning Show for today thank you all for joining me right across Australia and wherever you are I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

The woman’s voice returned.

“Are you there, Patricia?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Thanks so much for waiting, but we’ve run out of time.”

Share this and help promote amazing Aussie writing.

About the author:

Jack Gramenz

Profile picture for user jackgramenz
Jack Gramenz is a "comedian and satirist". His six-part podcast The Lucas Warmtake Half Hour, other writing, photography, and tour dates can be found at http://jackgramenz.com/.

Popular on Brain drip

Writer's Block

Profile picture for user samanthaljames12

She had good days and bad days, and from the moment she opened her eyes that morning she knew it was going to be a struggle. She was tired, as always, but there was something deeper, a heavy feeling in her stomach, a whisper of some indescribable sense that she recognised as the cloud returning. Her vision was narrow, and no matter how slow and deep she inhaled, she couldn’t seem to get enough air.

Closer In

Profile picture for user caitlin_prince_1

You show up in Parnawarratji and try to arrange the single loop of sealed road, the vacant red dirt lots and the dotted housing with massive metal cages on the front, into a ‘community’ in your mind. It isn’t what you were expecting, but then, you didn’t know what to expect. Certainly not so much sky, arcing over the horizon, the line blurred by a hazy fringe of spinifex grass.