• Time to read 8 minutes

I got drunk one night and hit someone outside a pub. I broke his jaw and he fell and smashed his teeth on the concrete curb, knocked him out. CCTV footage got it. Police rustled me up around 3am. I did some time. When I got out I called Sharon but she didn’t want to know me. I called Pete but he was too busy and we’d catch up. Yeah.

Now, I live about five hundred metres from the pub where I hit the guy. A boarding house on High St, Prahran. I went to private school but left at sixteen. I don’t get along with my father. I talk to my mum but the old man wants nothing to do with me. I borrow money from mum sometimes but I pay her back. I can’t go back to the house where I grew up.

Seven people live here, sharing one lounge room (most of us have TV’s in our rooms), one kitchen, two toilets and one bathroom. I don’t work. My rhythm is to go to bed at 10pm and get up at 4am. I hardly see the other people. Don’t know all their names. The landlord knocks on my door every fortnight on a Tuesday. Dole day. I’m in the habit of walking to Chapel St most mornings at 5am. I don’t do it on Saturday and Sunday morning because the night-clubbers ruin the vibe I want.

I go to Orange Café and mostly it’s the same girl who serves me every day. I can tell she’s a private school girl or was. I’m twenty-five. It’s her hair, mostly; it’s like a sanitised version of that UK singer who died, um, Amy Winehouse. She’s beautiful. She smiles at me and I’m starting to flirt a little. A couple of guys in suits usually turn up around 6am and I leave after watching her and drinking two strong lattes and smoking for an hour. 

I break my rule and go to Orange Café on Saturday morning and there’s no-one about and I feel in an up mood. The girl with the hair is there and I can tell she uses fake tan and her teeth are like pearls and she has a beautiful smile and I take a risk.

The girl with the hair is there and I can tell she uses fake tan and her teeth are like pearls and she has a beautiful smile and I take a risk.

‘What’s your name?’ I ask her. 

‘Rebecca.’

‘Rebecca, may I have a latte?’

‘I’ll bring it over,’ she says. Normally I wait at the counter. I think that it’s the first time in over three months that a girl did something nice for me. I sit and wait.

I hear some yelling from across the road. I look up and two guys are crossing the road. Loud and drunk and my guess is they’re also high. They cackle and push and shove each other. One of them comes up to me and says, ‘Hello young man, pretty young man waiting for your coffee, we’ve been out to Revolver.’ I don’t know which emotion I should show to get out of this. Rebecca comes out and the guy turns and says to her,

‘Hello baby, coffee for me and my friend.’ I feel weird. I can’t afford to do anything here, there’s a lot at stake for me. 

‘You need to order at the counter.’ Rebecca says and his face changes.

‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ he snarls at her. 

‘Hey, it’s alright, mate,’ I say. ‘Tell me what you want and I’ll...’

‘Shut the fuck up pretty-boy-dipshit.’ He says and glares at me. They’re dressed almost identically. Skinny black jeans and T-shirts, one black, one blue and pointy black shoes.

I take out my mobile and say, ‘Any trouble, I’ll call the cops right now.’ He grabs my phone and throws it to the ground and that’s it. I get up and hit him in the face. No-one expects to be punched in the face. It gets him flush on the tip of his nose and he starts tearing up and his mate doesn’t want any of it and they walk off and Rebecca looks at me and I say,

‘That’s why I never come on a weekend. Drunken idiots and...’

‘Hey relax,’ she says, ‘and thank you, you saved me.’

I sit back down and she says, ‘How come you turn up so early and nearly every day? Do you work around here?’

‘No, just force of habit. I like to get up early. It’s just something I do.’

‘What’s your name?’

‘Billy.’

‘Well Billy,’ she says, ‘I’m glad you woke up early today.’ 

I watch her walk back in and drink my coffee and leave. 

Monday morning, I finish my latte at 5.30am. I’m still the only one at the café and I bring the empty cup back to the counter and Rebecca comes out from the kitchen and she asks, ‘What now? What do you do after you leave here?’ 

‘I have today off, so maybe I’ll go see a film. You should come.’ 

It's taken me nearly three months to get to this point but the words came out easily and she smiles and says, ‘Yes, alright. I finish at eleven. How about a 2pm session or sometime close to that?’

‘Give me your mobile number. I’ll check what’s on. Maybe you can choose a film and we’ll just go and maybe, um. Yeah, give me your mobile number.’ 

She does and I don’t know how to say goodbye and she smiles again and says, ‘I have to go back to work.’ I take the hint and leave. I pick up The Age so that I have the film times when I call her. I don’t have a computer. One of the many reasons for my goal of getting back to work. That last three years on my resumé doesn’t look so great though. I sit in my room and smoke and think too much and lose confidence about meeting her because I’m nobody who does nothing who got out of jail four months ago and if she finds out she’ll run. I know she will.

I call Rebecca at 11.30am.

‘I have to work until one,’ she says. ‘Why don’t you come by and we’ll leave from here?’

‘Alright, one. I’ll just wait out the front.’

‘Don’t be late. I’m dying to get out of here.’ 

‘I won’t.’ 

 

***

 

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is on at 2pm at the Jam Factory.’ 

‘How about we go to my place? I have some DVDs. It’s, ah, I just want be at home. We can drink tea and smoke cigarettes and watch, um, I have The Bourne movies. Tough guy like you should like those movies.’

 

***

 

She lives alone in this small unit just off Swan St, Richmond. There are only four units in the block. It’s not what I expected. Everything looks like it came from a share house, there’s nothing too personal about it. No family photos or anything. The TV is big and bright and new and the DVD machine looks new too.

‘You haven’t been here long.’

‘No, why did you say that?’

‘No photos or…’

‘I have photos in my room,’ she says and I look away.

‘I’m going to make a huge pot of tea and then we can watch the movie or both movies.’ 

We settle on the couch but she doesn’t put the movie into the DVD player, yet. She changed into track pants and a T-shirt. She’s wearing white socks and she asks me,

‘What do you do mystery man who turns up at 5am every day?’ 

This is it.

‘I moved here three months ago from, er, Darwin and I’m just taking my time. Want to get the right job. Do things properly, um, you went to private school, right?’

‘How did you know?’ 

I tell her about the hair thing.

‘Because of my hair?’

‘Yeah, and I went to a private school in Kew before I moved to Darwin and we mixed with girls like you. I can just tell. The way you talk and even just the way you move; your mannerisms.’

‘And how long were you in Darwin?’

‘Four years.’

‘Doing what?’

‘I managed a backpacker’s hostel.’

‘Oh right, so you chatted up all the foreign girls and showed them around, huh?’

‘A little, yeah but Melbourne girls are the best girls in the world.’

‘Keep talking like that. I like to hear you talking. You don’t say boo at the café. I was starting to worry about you.’

‘Why the café? Do you study or…’

‘I go to Melbourne Uni, Arts. I’m going to put the movie on.’

She curls up but stretches her feet out. Those white socks are snuggled under my legs. 

Those white socks are snuggled under my legs.

***

 

I kiss her goodbye and my body aches for her. She hugs me in close and in reply I squeeze her too tightly and she laughs and backs away a little,

‘Wow, you nearly squashed me,’ she says and I get embarrassed.

‘I have tomorrow off,’ she says, ‘Did you say you had today off? I thought you weren’t working?’

‘Figure of speech. You want to do something, together?’

‘Um, yeah. Call me in the morning. Not early, say ten or eleven, alright. We can go out this time, maybe coffee or lunch.’

 

***

 

Rebecca and I have a very cool day together. I called her up and thank God, it was dole day because I was broke and we went into the city and had coffee at this café in Centre Lane and we just clicked. I’m a fanatical reader. Anything and everything from Ray Bradbury (that’s the sci-fi man) to Henry James and I’m a big fan of Australian writer, Andrew McGahan and so is she. Films were agreed and disagreed about. We saw this new movie called, Hereafter with Matt Damon and it was about this psychic guy and, yeah, nice. We walked back to her place in Richmond via the Fitzroy Gardens and past the MCG. The whole day was like this perfect cliché of the best first date. But I still look out for guys who were in jail with me, always will. It haunts me. I hung around at her place and we kissed but that’s all, nothing more. I didn’t squeeze her too hard when I left.

I’m back at the café the next morning, and there’s a girl talking to her at the counter and she introduces me to her, her name is Monica

‘Billy, this is my friend. Monica.’ I look at her and she puts her hand out and I shake her hand and say hi and then she leaves just after that.

 Back at home, I realise I know Monica from somewhere and it bugs me because I don’t know where. I sit around not doing much, which isn’t good for me, another reason to get back to work, somehow. Sometimes I dream I’m back in jail and it feels so real that I’m shaking when I wake up. I look around and find familiar objects in the room that remind me of where I am. That I’m free. That I live in this dump of a room but I’m free.

I start to make a list of what I want to do. Give up smoking. Keep exercising. Borrow enough money from my mother to buy some trainers so I can start running a few K’s every day. Positive must keep positive. I think of Rebecca. She always wears these black tights at work and a black cashmere sweater (another reason I thought she was private school) and these little black boots. My mobile rings and it’s her.

‘Hey, Billy.’

‘Hi, what’re doing?’

‘Um, nothing much. My friend, Monica, the girl you met this morning.’

‘Yeah.’

‘She works at the job-centre you go to.’

‘Oh, so she told you, huh?’

‘What’d you do, Billy?’

‘Really want to know about that,’ I say and I can feel my blood beginning to boil. ‘It’s, um, nothing bad, an accident.  Something I did when I was drunk.’

‘She said you nearly killed a guy; that you beat someone up really badly. The other morning, that guy...’

‘Your friend doesn’t have access to what I did, OK! It was an accident!’

‘Hey, don’t yell at me. I, I really like you, Billy but this changes everything. I have to think about this.’

‘Alright, you think about it and I’ll just wait. I’m not a bad person. You saw the other morning. I told the guy I was going to call the police, he threw my phone away. I...’

‘I have to go, so, um, I just some time to think, alright.’

The next morning is a Wednesday. I get out of bed at 4am. I know she’s working today. I smoke a cigarette and shower and make a cup of tea. I’m going to make a huge pot of tea she said. It’s the beginning of winter. They have those outdoor heaters at Orange Café. I wonder if they’ll turn them on today. They should. I’m the weird guy who turns up every morning at 5am and now she knows. I walk out the front door, down the little path, open the gate and turn left and walk down towards Chapel St hoping.

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About the author:

Sean O'Leary

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Sean O'Leary has published two short story collections, 'Walking' and 'My Town'. His novella 'Drifting' was the winner of 'The Great Novella Search' and published in 2017. He has twice been shortlisted for the Booranga Prize and his crime fiction interviews are published in UK Magazine Crime Time.