I am an Australian who is a factory worker by day and a writer by night. My partner and I have been caring for foster children for seven years. My articles on foster care have been published on the websites Parenting Express, Next Family and CafeLit.
The beverage I have chosen for my short story is: banana smoothie
Okay, I confess: I am a twenty-two year old male devoted to computer games. Indulging myself in this passion brands me as a ‘Nerd’ or ‘Geek,’ particularly by those whose idea of a quality lifestyle is being out in the midst of a sunny day involved in some sports or other. Although my high self-esteem shields me from such insults, it does little to prevent me from getting annoyed whenever I am told to ‘get a life.’
Get a life, indeed! I am attracted to computer games because they divert my mind from life. And, believe me, I need the diversion. Each day is filled with complications. Joy, sadness, anger, in fact every emotion available to humans is incited by the many situations I find myself- leaving me in a heightened state of aliveness. So it's no wonder I use computer games to distract my mind from daily dilemmas and stimuli.
Last Saturday morning is a great example to demonstrate how really intense my life is. My mate Kovka and I were linking our computers together so we could network a computer game. My mate Kovka is a portly giant, measuring over two meters tall. With Kovka one gets the feeling one is in the presence of a cheerful, talkative Goliath. However, I’m not impressed by his dress sense. He always wears faded army pants and a stretched, moth-eaten woolen jumper.
While we connected the computers on the dining table of my flat, we discussed the hassles we each endure with our jobs. I’m a representative for a shop that sells automotive paints, and Kovka is employed as a security guard for the city's entertainment center. Exhausted by another frenetic week at work, we were both eager to plunge our minds into the pixilated sci-fi horror of Doom, a game painstakingly built by computer programmers for our enjoyment.
But before we can begin the game, Kovka wants to go and buy bags of chips and a bottle or two of soft drink. Our sessions on the computer are long, sometimes up to six hours, so Kovka likes to keep food and drink close to his computer.
We’ll have to visit the service station to get the provisions, and once the computers were set up, we got into my car to begin our mission.
At the service station, I pass the time by browsing through magazines while Kovka selects bags of chips and pulled bottles of lemonade from the fridge. Can you see any problems emerging from this mundane task? Of course not. Thousands of people do it every day with minimum fuss. So, what I want to know is this: if it's so basic for everybody else, then why does it have to become an ordeal for Kovka and me? I wish I had stayed in my flat and told Kovka to forget about the food, just play the damn computer game.
Our predicament presented itself in the shape of a distressed bride. No point in describing the bride as they are all the same, stunning in a flowing white dress. Although, I guess the young lady's clear blue eyes and her dark hair falling in tight ringlets down the sides of her face are worth a mention, as I found them attractive. Accompanying the bride was an exasperated woman in a wheelchair wearing a leather vest. Her bare arms- biceps bulging from having to wheel herself about- were decorated with Celtic style tattoos.
Hope vanquished the lines of anxiety on the bride's face when she saw the pay phone next to the freezer. Her relief was killed by disappointment when she noticed the piece of paper taped to the phone with OUT OF ORDER printed on it.
The attendant, standing behind the counter waving Kovka's choice of chip packets through the scanner, apologized for the inconvenience that only a dead telephone could provide.
"I have to phone NRMA," said the bride, "my bridal car has a flat tire.”
The attendant whistled. "Talk about unlucky. Is your car outside?"
"Nope, it's sitting on the side of a road three blocks away. Lucy and I have spent ten minutes searching the streets for a phone booth. We didn't see one but we found this service station- not that an out-of-order phone will do me any good."
"Typical," the attendant said, "if it wasn't an emergency you can bet the phone would be operating."
The bride put her hands on her hips and began to pace. "And to think I was running on time too. If my bridal car hadn’t had a flat tire it would’ve been the first wedding where the bride was punctual."
"Why can't the driver change a flat tire?" asked Kovka, leaning against the counter. He was intrigued by the bride's plight.
The woman in the wheel chair glared at him. "I'm the driver. Do I look like I can change a tire?"
"Point taken," Kovka muttered, deciding to shut-up.
"I'd change the tire myself," the bride said, "but you can imagine how obvious dirt streaks are on a white dress, plus the effects sweat has on make-up? It's taken me two hours to transform myself into a bride, so I'll only change the tire as a last resort. Not even my father can change the tire. He's recovering from a stroke."
It was a tragic story, and I reckon that if the bridal car was parked outside, the attendant would have jumped the counter and changed the tire for the bride. All he could do to assist her was to offer her his phone behind the counter. The bride picked up the offered phone and dialed, waiting for a response.
"Hello, I'm ringing for a road service . . . the bridal car that’s taking me to the church has a flat tire and none of us can change it . . . bad luck, tell me about it . . . what's that? You want the number on the membership card?" She pressed the phone against her chest and spoke to the woman in the wheelchair.
"Lucy, quick, what's your NRMA number?"
The paraplegic was more composed than the distraught bride. Already she had her wallet in her lap, slipping the plastic card out. She read the number out to the bride.
"The number is LC44 2789," the bride repeated into the phone.
While Kovka placed his change in his wallet and picked up the plastic bags, I continued to eavesdrop on the bride's conversation over the phone.
"It'll take an hour for a road service to reach the car? That's no good to me; the wedding ceremony was supposed to start ten minutes ago. . . this is urgent, I need assistance right now. . . isn't there any mechanic available?. . . There's no one! Well then, your service is no good to me!"
I watched the bride slam the phone on the receiver and cover her mouth with her hand. Seeing her inflicted by trepidation, it became obvious to me that she was considering changing the tire herself. The thought of her walking down the aisle with dirt and grease on her hands and dress appalled me- I would not allow it. As I opened my mouth to speak, Kovka sensed the compassion I was feeling toward the bride and nudged me in the ribs. He shook his head, pleading silently for me to be indifferent, to not get involved in the bride's predicament and go back to my flat to play Doom.
"Excuse me," I said to the bride, ignoring Kovka, "If you want, my friend and I can give you a ride to your car and fix the flat tire."
There, I have spoken; I have committed myself to her problem. The bride was at first suspicious, studying Kovka and me until she registered my concern. She and the paraplegic looked at each other, then, realizing my charity was genuine, gave me their consent to aid them with a nod of their heads. The bride became excited, treating Kovka and I as if we were a godsend. And so, the two women in the backseat, the food and drinks in the luggage compartment with the wheelchair, we exited the service station in my station wagon.
While I drove Kovka frowned at me, making it clear he was frustrated. He didn't have to frown; I knew how he felt because the feeling was mutual. Life had, once again, refused to let us escape its grasp by delving into a computer game.
As we drove, determination to prevail over this difficulty was a strong emotion felt by all of us. It seemed wrong to share this potent feeling as strangers and so we used talk to unite us as friends. It didn't matter how trivial the talk was, as long as it gave us some sort of bond.
"I can't thank you two enough," said the bride, "my name is Sonja, and this is Lucy. She’s the owner of the car that was hired to take me to the church."
"Hey," grunted Lucy. In the short time I had spent with her she was in a foul mood. Considering her car decided to have a flat tire on Sonja's most special day, who could blame her?
"I'm Todd," I said, "and this is my mate Kovka."
"That's an odd name," Lucy said, her tone of voice implying it was a statement rather than a question.
"I was born in Russia," explained Kovka. "My family moved to Australia when I was about five."
"Russia?" Sonja gasped, "You’re the first Russian I've ever met. What's it like living over there? Do you remember much?"
"No, not really. The only thing I can recall is the color white. Everything is white from snow-and cold too. Each morning my mother used to dress me in big heavy coats. I'm glad I don't have to wear such thick clothing in Australia."
"What sort of car did you hire for the wedding?" I asked. I was curious to know; judging Lucy by her 'born to be wild' image, I doubted she drove a BMW.
"A Monaro," answered Lucy. "Sonja and her fiancé approached the Monaro Club that I'm a member of and offered a fee for the use of one of the cars."
"My fiancé is a Monaro fanatic," said Sonja, "He was so enthralled by Lucy's beastly machine that he pleaded with her to drive me to the church."
"I was honored to do it," grumbled Lucy, "it would be the first time my Monaro had ever been used for a wedding. But now I'm fucking humiliated because my car decides to be an inconvenient bitch."
Speaking of the Monaro, there it was in Rowan Street, parked on the side of the road. Looking at it, I had to agree with Sonja that it was indeed a magnificent vehicle. With its long, solid body and sleek contours, it appeared to be moving rapidly despite it being stationary. Its panels were as smooth as glass, its black paint work polished to a high sheen that reflected everything surrounding it.
As I parked my station wagon behind the splendor that was the Monaro, I could see a man's face peer out of the Monaro's back window. The left-hand, rear door opened and Sonja's father stepped onto the side walk. His face was haggard and his posture weak, but I guess a stroke has that effect on a person. Sonja hurried out of my car, lifting her dress up with both hands as she ran to her father, embracing him.
"Dad, these two men have offered to fix the tire."
"Couldn't you get in touch with the NRMA?" asked her father in a deep, croaking voice.
"Oh, I rang them, but it would’ve taken them an hour to arrive."
While Kovka and I held Lucy's wheelchair next to my station wagon so she could lower herself into it, Sonja's father greeted us with a nod of his head.
"Thank you," is all he said. I could see that he wanted desperately to be the one to assist his daughter, but could not because of his weakened state. His shoulders slumped forward to take the strain of the heavy weight of inadequacy he was feeling. Sympathy towards this dejected father was the next emotion to engulf me- in my opinion, sympathy is the worst sensation one can experience. I was now emotionally synchronized with him, sharing his shame and broken pride.
"Hey Todd!” Kovka said at me, he already had the Monaro’s boot open and was dragging out the spare tire, "grab the wheel brace and start loosening the wheel nuts."
Removing the flat tire, I had a sensation of being someone of great significance. Only through my decision to make the Monaro drivable was Sonja's wedding directed away from disaster. I radiated pleasure with the knowledge that because of my kindness and my willingness to help, I had turned a crisis into a minor setback.
The spare tire attached, I unwound the jack so Kovka could put his weight behind the wheel brace as he tightened the nuts. On the opposite side of the car, Lucy sat in the driver's seat then folded up her wheelchair. At the flick of a switch a chrome rack, bolted to the roof above the driver, folded outward and swung down on motorized arms. Lucy strapped the wheelchair to the rack and it ascended back on to the roof.
The job completed, Kovka and I studied the dirt and grease that stained us, grinning with amusement. Oh well, better us being soiled, than the bride.
Once the flat tire was placed in the boot of the car we received gratitude in abundance from Sonja. 'Thank you' after 'thank you' was verbally placed upon us like gifts. Even as Sonja's father said goodbye, shook our hands then sat himself in the back seat of the car, his daughter still continued to express her gratefulness.
"You'd better get going Sonja, you're husband-to-be must be getting worried," I reminded her.
The mental image my words put in Sonja's head forced her into action.
"Oh that's right, poor Steve, he'll be so concerned. He's probably standing at the alter thinking I stood him up. Have to run, thanks again," Sonja kissed me on the cheek then did the same to Kovka who had to bend his neck so that she could reach his face.
She paused, as if recalling something. Then she hiked her wedding dress up to her thighs, slipping her garter off. She placed the lace circlet in my hand.
"Look, I want you both to have this as a token of my appreciation."
Kovka and I gaped at her, eyes bulging and our jaws wide open. I'm sure if we could see ourselves we would have been embarrassed by the blatant look of shock on our faces.
"Yeah, I know it's ridiculous but it's all I have," explained Sonja. "Please except this garter, I will only end up throwing it at a group of single men at the reception. I would rather you two keep it."
My body suddenly felt as if it was filled with helium as ecstasy overwhelmed me. Receiving Sonja's gift- ludicrous as it was -plus her gratitude had put me on a high. I was elated, thrilled . . .
I've got to disconnect myself from all this stimuli before it gives me mental fatigue. If only I had the imagination to give myself instant relief from the stimuli through daydreaming instead of relying on computer games. Is it becoming clear why I spend my spare time gazing at a monitor instead of being outdoors? It has nothing to do with me being unsociable or disinterested in life.
You see, I have this theory that each individual’s response to life can be measured on a scale of one to ten. At the lowest point on the scale you will find all those reckless, adrenalin junkies who embrace slogans such as 'no fear' or 'live life to the max.’
This kind of person is unresponsive to life, very little stirs their emotions. They consider their lives boring and crave the stimulation their low response to life denies them. The only way they can overcome their stoical handicap and invigorate all their dull senses is by participating in dangerous, furious activities that raise the adrenalin. Bungee jumping, skydiving, abseiling, jet skiing- you get my point.
At the highest point of the scale you have poor bastards like Kovka and me. We're so sensitive to life, that even a simple thing like searching around the house for misplaced car keys, or the joy expressed by a school kid when buying one of their fund raising chocolate bars is enough to incite us. Just an hour of living and everything happening around us has invoked every emotion possible. No wonder Kovka and I need to retreat into a computer game where reality's assault on our minds cannot reach us.
Kovka and I waved goodbye as the Monaro pulled away from the gutter then sped off down the road, the V-8 engine under its polished bonnet screaming. The beautiful bride and the Monaro were, at last, on their way to a church. In unison we sighed, long and deep, glad the complication was corrected.
"Quick Todd, get into the car before a little girl wants us to get her cat out of a tree or something worse."
"I agree Kovka."
We got into my car and drove back to my flat, secure in the knowledge that a computer game was waiting for us to delve into it.
About the author
Glenn is Australian who is a factory worker by day and a writer by night. He and his partner have been caring for foster children for seven years. His articles on foster care have been published on the websites Parenting Express, Next Family and CafeLit.