Short Friction

Writing to entertain and to stimulate thought


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Each day when Sandra got home she emptied out all the annoying silver coins that made her purse weigh a ton into a small bucket. Her plan was to use the collected money to shout herself to something extra-special when she filled the bucket.

Now, the bucket was close to full and she couldn’t think of a good way to exchange so many coins for cash. Her best idea was to slowly “evolve” the collection into larger currency units. She figured, for example, that each day she could replace each gold coin in her purse with the equivalent in silver coins. Then, she could use these whenever she purchased something at a vending machine or the like.

Today she needed to buy a weekly train ticket on her way to work. At nine dollars ninety, she figured it was the perfect way to get rid of forty-two twenty-cent coins and three fifty-cent coins. She dropped a ten-dollar note in the change bucket, and took out a hefty total of forty-six coins. Too bulky to fit in her purse, she dropped the handful in the side pocket of her handbag.

At the train station, a billboard asked in bold white letters: “Want to know what makes women tick?” Somebody, thoughtful enough to carry a can of spray-paint with them wherever they went, had scrawled the reply, “it’s their pacemakers.”

Sandra considered the implications of this as she continued feeding coins into the ticket machine. She felt she was lucky to be able to use the machine at all. It wasn’t uncommon for her to arrive at the station in need of a new ticket, only to find the machine a scorched and molten mess. She figured the elderly passengers who frequent this line must have a particularly strong objection to the new machines. Sandra grinned at her mental image of a disgruntled old lady and her husband petrol-bombing a ticket machine.

The cumulative counter seemed to be taking forever to get to the target value.

$7.70… $7.90… $8.10… $8.30… clunk.

Something that Sandra felt didn’t make sense was that, suddenly, her coins wouldn’t go through the slot. She grunted her dissatisfaction at this turn of events as she jiggled and shoved a coin in a vain effort to get it to make its passage into the machine. Behind her, someone had arrived and was waiting for an opportunity to use the machine.

The counter disappeared to be replaced by the message, “Please wait: your money is being returned.” The machine jangled its cache of coins menacingly. Behind Sandra, the person sighed significantly.

Suddenly, and with great violence, the machine spat thirty-seven coins from its return slot. Coins danced and spun on the bitumen, and found their way into obscure crevices.

Sandra cursed the machine, and gave it a kick to let it know precisely how she felt. It simply responded with, “Please select a ticket.”

The person waiting for the machine stepped aside to watch as Sandra stooped to retrieve her coins. In the distance, Sandra heard the sound of a train whistle. So did the person waiting for the machine, stepping on Sandra’s hand in the rush to get to it and buy a ticket before it was too late. Already the crossing gates next to the station were sounding their warning bells and coming down to protect the intersecting traffic.

By the time Sandra collected all her coins, the train was long gone. She decided to abandon the train idea for the day, and instead purchase her ticket at the local shop and catch a tram. The shop attendant didn’t appear to appreciate the mountain of coins Sandra dumped on his counter, but obliged with a ticket, nevertheless.

The tram trip was not uneventful. Sandra lived in a town where the once majority white, male oppressor had allowed himself to become overrun by ethnic “minorities”. Sandra, with her blond hair, blue eyes and pale skin liked the feeling of being the odd one out when she rode the tram. Of course, not being male, she couldn’t completely fulfil the category of the oppressor. But you can’t have it all. On this occasion there was, in fact, only one individual on the tram who was truly qualified to fill the role of oppressor. He was not happy with his position, either, it seemed.

When Sandra first got on, she took a seat across from a scruffy looking gentleman who was sitting bent double. She spent a moment feeling sorry for his apparently debilitating condition – until she realised he was just having a very difficult time picking up a cigarette someone had dropped. After several minutes of bending and reaching, the man finally reached the treasure and straightened up. Things proceeded in a relatively normal fashion for a full two minutes before he decided to break the ice with his fellow passengers.

“Speak English!”

Up and down the tram, backs straightened and faces tensed… but overall, the man was ignored. Across from Sandra, an earnest conversation in Turkish was interrupted just briefly enough to allow a sideways glance at Another One of Them.

The man waited only a short time to see if anyone had paid any attention before repeating his demand. “Speak English! You’re in Australia now, so speak English!” This time the pair speaking Turkish stopped completely to glare at the man.

“Surely if there is a language we must speak in this country it would be Australian, hmm?”

The logic was lost on the man. He knew a response was expected of him, so he decided to stick to what he was familiar with. Nodding emphatically he assured them, “Speak English! You are in Australia now!”

Around the man, argument erupted. People were happy to contradict each other in order to prove to this man that he was Silly. He was told (and Sandra thought it was a very good point) that it was interesting that of all the people on the tram he was the least fluent in the language he was so greatly in support of. He was dropping his ‘g’s. He was fond of double-negatives. He was losing an argument. One man versus an entire tram. People began to really enjoy their trip. New friendships formed up and down the tram. People sided with strangers. Years later, perhaps, they would remember this day over a cup of coffee together.

“Conflict is a strong uniting force,” Sandra’s brain told her as her stop approached. She didn’t want to get off. She wanted to make friends with a grinning, debating stranger, too. She disembarked reluctantly. Duty called.

Once off the tram, Sandra ran the short distance from the stop to where she worked. She managed to arrive only two minutes late. The girl whose shift she was relieving gave her a look of immense relief as she came through the doors at a sprint.

Sandra often wondered to herself if getting the supermarket job was really worth it, even if there weren’t any alternatives. It was okay when she was working at the checkout – no one noticed her problem then – but when she was stacking shelves or pricing products, she was in full view of the customers. Some of them even stopped what they were doing to watch her. Admittedly she was a strange sight – doing her peculiar dance across the tiled floor on her tip-toes. But today it looked like Sandra was going to get a break from being stared out. For once it was her turn to stare.

There was a young gentleman looking distraught in aisle four – the one which contained the shampoos, toothpastes, hairsprays and deodorants. This man seemed particularly preoccupied with the hairsprays and deodorants. He wasn’t just taking forever while he calculated relative value for money on each item – Sandra had seen that often enough – rather, he appeared to be handling every single item on the shelves. He systematically took a can, shook it, replaced it, and grabbed the next. Sandra watched, fascinated.

There was a lapse in customers, and Sandra’s checkout ceased to be in demand. Intent on finding out what the gentleman was doing, she put up the “checkout closed” sign and headed for aisle four.

“Can I help you, sir?”

The man jumped at the sound of Sandra’s voice, his hand stopping mid-reach. He pulled his arm slowly back to his side, still holding a can of “Impulse” deodorant, and turned to face the person who had startled him. He found himself looking at a supermarket attendant – an attractive young lady around his own age, possibly a little older. She had short dark hair, tied back simply and economically. She was slender, and had a sweet smile. Her name tag identified her as “William”. Nevertheless, he was fairly confident she was actually a girl. He found himself quite instantly attracted to her, which he figured was typical. He always met the most promising people in the most embarrassing situations. He sought an explanation for his behaviour that might not sound entirely lame. He couldn’t find one, so he went for second-best.

“I was… just… testing products. I am looking to branch out and try new things in the deodorant and hairspray department.” It would have been a fine excuse, he felt, if only she hadn’t happened along while he was in the ladies’ section, holding a can of undeniably feminine deodorant. “Vanilla Kisses,” he read, holding it up for her inspection. “I know it isn’t every man’s choice, but I am finding myself in a deep rut when it comes to hygiene products.” He tried to grin, but only managed a lopsided twitch which, he felt, must have compounded his appearance as Severely Disturbed.

But Sandra responded with an even sweeter smile. “While I think you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by its lovely aroma, I think there may be something here more suitable for you.” She took the can from his hand and returned it to the shelf, then moved along, beckoning him to follow, to the male deodorant section. She picked up an obscure looking can from the far end of the shelf, and took his hand to spray some on his palm. He pulled his hand back in alarm.

“No! No, it’s okay… I’ll just… take your word for it.”

She looked slightly disappointed, but handed him the can, which he held awkwardly: he didn’t have a shopping basket. He hadn’t even come here to shop – he’d just happened to think of all those unshaken cans as he was walking past, and couldn’t help himself. But she couldn’t find that out. Sandra saw his discomfort and offered to go get a basket for him. He smiled thank you.

Wayne began to feel agitated while he waited for her. He moved away from the aerosols, but it didn’t help. He felt a tremendous need to finish shaking them all, but knew that if he shook even another one there would be no talking his way out of it. He decided all that could be done was to buy a few items and leave as quickly as he possibly could.

As she returned with the basket, Wayne noticed for the first time that something wasn’t quite right about the way Sandra walked. She took very deliberate, light steps… mostly on her toes. She looked like she was dancing to some bizarre beat that only she could hear. The thought of this supermarket attendant hearing hallucinatory music in her head cheered Wayne up considerably – maybe he wouldn’t have to worry about seeming like a weirdo after all.

“Thank you, um… William,” he said as she handed him the basket.

“It’s Sandra,” she replied, “Obviously Tommo has decided to play the name tag swap prank again today. I should have remembered to check – he has a repertoire of around three pranks that he systematically cycles through each week.” She laughed infectiously. “It’s actually so old now that I find it hilariously funny every time. You know – a bit like when you repeat a word so many times it starts to sound funny?”

“Yes,” said Wayne, who didn’t know, but felt admitting it would somehow brand him as ignorant. There was an uncomfortable pause, during which Wayne experienced a chaotic stream of conflicting thoughts and urges out of which an impulse unexpectedly manifested in action and he found himself speaking again.

“Well, ah… I’m going to just wander around and buy some things but … when do you? Well, I mean, if you aren’t busy after you … you seem very interesting and I would enjoy talking to you some more if you’d like to catch up some time. Maybe … ?”


Written by shortfriction

19/11/2009 at 17:30

One Response

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  1. […] was picked up by police with a female friend vandalising the wall of a Brunswick business. At the police station Wayne was observed to be […]

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