I could search and search
all my life
and may tumble upon love fickle
but never in this lifetime
would I stumble
giddy and shy
and find another you.
Chad Gilligan sat there in that same old café, at that same old table, further from the entrance, next to the window. Perfectly able to eye every one who drifted in in the mornings from the streets for the hour or so he spent there every day. Vantage point, he liked to think, perfect place to people watch. It was a hobby of his, like digging for gold on the banks of a river, his characters came to him, as people from the streets. Their looks, their faces, their smile, their tone, their attitude, and mostly their gossip. Fodder. Absolute fodder. Gold! And he was here this morning in desperate search for gold.
The front door opened and in walked a gaggle of office workers, letting in a gust of wind that saw napkins fly off from the table ahead of his. A woman, having just entered, smiled sheepishly catching Chad watching. ‘It’s freezing out!’
Chad turned away with a barely-there smile. He wasn’t really in any mood to smile at anyone today, let alone a female. A moment later, he turned back to his laptop screen which had decided to go on a screen-saver mode. He ran his fingers lightly over the mouse-pad, reaching for his coffee mug with the other. To his dismay, he was staring at a blank new page and the bottom of an empty coffee cup.
He watched the cursor blink on the screen, questioning him. He sighed, slamming the whole screen down. Enough with the blinking already. He had been staring at the same screen for the last week, every bloody morning!
He’d come to the café as the doors opened in the morning at 6:30 AM. He had been the very first customer to the place for the last couple of years. He’d come, order his coffee and toasted croissant or two. Then he’d sit at that table by the window corner looking out to St. James station and Hyde Park and churn out words upon words of whichever story he was working on. For the last two years, he had done this exact thing for early hours of everyday. And now, suddenly, just like that, he’d been staring at a blank screen, unable to even type one word. There were no more words. How could that be? It made him uneasy.
His writer’s block only ever lasted an hour or two, never days on end.
“Do you want a refill?” Tylor, the café owner and barista halted, taking a bulging black garbage bag out to the back room, past Chad’s table.
Tylor eyed Chad’s closed laptop. “Everything okay?”
Chad shook his head. “I’m not sure.”
“Working on new material?”
Chad considered the question. “Trying to find new material, actually.”
“Then find some inspiration.” Tylor hurled the bag behind the door and closed it back up. “Isn’t that what you do, watch people?” he smiled warmly.
“I can’t always write about you, now can I, T?”
Tylor laughed, walking back to his station. “Maybe go the old fashioned way for a change. Write. Don’t type!”
Chad smiled, though the smile barely reached his eyes. Write. Don’t type! Maybe Tylor had a point. Remove the technology from it and see. Suddenly, he rushed to his feet, shoved his belonging back in his bag, and left without a word. Just like that, right into the morning rush of foot traffic on Elizabeth Street. He headed down towards the Pitt Street mall, disappearing into the throng of smartly dressed crowd with their avalanches of coffee cups, puffs of smoke, and dizzying array of scents.
It was indeed a cold morning and he pulled his jacket’s collar up around his ears, tucked his chin and carried on his march with a grin on his face.
The next day he was back at the café, back in his corner hunched over the notepad and scribbling away with a pen. Till that too stopped just ten pages in. his phone rang, and it was her. Her!
He stared at the blinking colourful screen of his otherwise trustee gadget. Should he take the call? The ringing stopped and a message binged on the screen. She’d left a voice mail. Why? God, why?
He caught Tylor glance his way and he mouthed, “Another coffee, please.” Tylor nodded and Chad finally plucked courage to listen to the witch’s message.
“Chad!” the unmistakable, angry curt voice of his nearly-fiancé, Setal, cracked the peaceful air between his cell-phone and his ear. “Are you avoiding me?”
Chad nodded to no one in particular.
“You can’t keep avoiding me, you know!” she screamed. “I have spare keys, remember!”
Must change locks! He thought.
“We need to talk! Jo’s saying you’ve taken to the news badly.”
Badly? Badly?! Chad was enraged. Try, I-want-to-rip-your-head-off!
“It’s nothing personal,” the message was continuing.
Nothing personal? Right. He must remember that next time a future girlfriend of his breaks up with him the night he proposes because she 'didn’t feet it with him anymore’. What did that even mean? He thought before he was jolted by the computerised voice asking him whether he wanted to repeat the message, save it, or delete?
Delete. He wanted to delete it. Stat.
Laila, one of the regular morning waitresses brought over Chad’s second coffee for the morning. “Are you okay?” she asked, fairly concerned as Chad sat there viciously tapping down on the number on his keypad that would delete the bloody message.
“Peachy!” he snapped before turning his face up in shame. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”
Laila shrugged. “We all have bad days.”
“As bad as your ex calling you to see if you were handling the break up okay?”
“Oh… that bad, huh?” Chad nodded. “Well, she doesn’t deserve you then.”
“Oh boy, if she didn’t deserve me, I wonder how bad the next one will be.”
Laila laughed. She couldn’t help it. “You’re a celebrity, Chad. Women will flock to be in your life.”
“And flock out!”
“Cheer up,” she picked up the old used cup. “Too much time indoors has fried your brain. Go out.”
“I don’t want to.”
She clicked her tongue. “Not that kind of out you silly goose.” She took his head in her hand gently and turned it to look out the window. “Go out! Out there,” she pointed at the green of Hyde Park. “Maybe you should change up the places you haunt.”
Chad looked back at her as if she’d said the darndest thing.
“What?” Laila shrugged. “The only types of women you’re likely to meet in a coffee shop in the middle of the city are the busy, self-serving, time poor ones career women. Out there, in the park, you might just meet someone different.”
“Someone who likes trees?”
Laila laughed again and nodded. “Someone who likes trees!” With that, she walked away, saying hello to other regulars.
Chad looked out to the park and wondered. Maybe. Maybe he could just try an hour out there, test the waters. He watched for a short while, the types of people who walked into the park. They were an array. An absolute array. What better place to people watch!
With a weak latte in hand, Chad crossed the road with blinking lights telling him to better hurry his ass before traffic flows. It was a chilly late May morning, his jacket’s collar zipped to its max. He shivered, landing on the sidewalk with a longing glance back towards his normal haunt, his seat already occupied by a middle aged gentleman wearing a hard face.
Chad turned back to Hyde Park, hoping against hope that his little forey into the greens would inspire something. For his and his editor’s sake. It had been more than a month since his deadline had passed to hand in at least a seed of an idea for his next novel, and all he’d managed in that time was to return from the fabulous holiday on the shores of Thailand with a broken heart and a $4 thousand dollar engagement ring to torment him with. His proposal plans went down south, and so did his motivation to do anything other than morn the loose of a three year old relationship he thought was ‘it’.
Only yesterday, Terry had called asking him how much longer it was going to be for a rough story.
“No. Two weeks.”
“One to two weeks!”
“Okay, okay. I’ll try and see if I can have something to you by end of the week, all right?”
A quite sigh. “You better.”
A thrilling conversation, Chad had thought blandly. Yet, the point was sticking like glue. If he wanted to keep his payments coming, then he had better deliver.
He wrinkled his nose against the cold and took his first tentative step onto the soft turf. It wasn’t too bad. Not yet anyway. There were plenty of people walking about, crossing the park, some towards the tall city buildings, some towards the spires of beautiful churches and museum lurking behind it.
Chad eyed an empty park bench and approached it with a new lift. He had always wanted to try writing in a more natural setting. Here was his chance. He sat down, dropping his clunky heavy bag down on the wooden seats with enough gusto to send it flying off the bench towards the other end.
Suddenly, someone let out a yelp, and a tall figure in a dirty oversized puff jacket jumped up, flaying their arms as if shooing off a swarm of bees.
“Oh, I’m so sorry…” Chad said in a small voice, unsure whether he should get any closer to the relic of street life.
The homeless street bum went to kick Chad’s bag, breathing life back into him, and he scooped his belongings off the ground. “Whoa! Please don’t kick that. It has…”
“Valuables?!” the voice was gentle, almost feminine.
Chad’s head snapped up. “Yes.” He pretended to dust his bag. “I really didn’t mean to hurt you with my bag.” He looked at her. “What were you doing under there, anyway?”
The woman denoted as street bum by Chad earlier, stared right into his eyes with such fierceness it caused him to look away and suss out his exit strategy.
“Sleeping,” she pulled her grubby scarf up higher over her face, leaving barely her eyes visible between it and the beanie. Eyes which were bright and brown, and young, thought Chad.
“What?” she barked. “Does the ground have your name on it, or the seat? I thought the park belongs to the public, and I’m fucking public!” she almost shouted, then picked up her belongings from under the seat, a simple backpack and a small duffel bag. “Mine, mine, mine,” she walked away, muttering. “Everything’s fucking yours, isn’t it? Why don’t you guys just declare that the bloody oxygen belongs to you lot too already!”
Chad stood there in shock, watching the woman smart away from him further into the park. It took him a moment before he finally sat down on the end of the bench, still boggled by the incident. He fished out his laptop and turned it on, trying to settle his edgy nerves, eyeing down the path to see if at any moment she was about to jump at him again.
He went back to blinking at the cursor on his screen, his mind completely blank. “Oh, for heaven’s sake!” he grumbled, slamming the screen shut, unable to get the homeless woman off his mind. He turned to where she’d headed off, and sipped his coffee, thinking about the woman who’d almost given him a heart attack. He wished she had! At least that way his editor, Terry, couldn’t possibly hold it against him for not delivering another book.
Another book! That was his biggest problem right now. If someone had told him 8 years ago that there would come a time when he’d hit the monstrous wall straight out of Fat Boy movie, he sure would have laughed. Chad Gilligan, or rather the author, Zachery Eve, having a mental breakdown because his girlfriend suddenly broke his heart and walked away without a glance to see if he’d ever manage to gather all the pieces of the broken remnants off the restaurant floor? The kindest thing would have been to hand him a brush and pan set and told the way to the bin.
Chad took another sip of his coffee and almost gagged. It was cold, and cold coffees never agreed with him. So much for foraging into the wild for inspiration, he packed his laptop back into his bag and headed back to the café across the street. Back to hot coffee and staring at people who didn’t yell profanities at him because he couldn’t be a normal guy and sit on the park bench.
Chad woke from an uncomfortable dream. He wasn’t even sure what he had dreamt about, like most of his dreams, except this one had featured the beautiful brown eyes hidden behind scarf and grubby beanie.
He skulked through the dark empty house and ended up in the kitchen at some time past two in the morning, unable to sleep. He put on a pot of coffee and fetched his laptop, and beneath the stark light of his kitchen, he sat on a barstool, staring at his nemesis, the taunting screen. His hands hovered over the keyboard and he typed one word: Homeless.
He stared at the word for a moment, and then deleted it. An hour or so ticked by, and as 4 AM rolled in, he was with a headache that sent him crawling back to bed. The screen still blank atop the kitchen bench-top. He’ll write when he felt like it, he thought, and not because Terry was breathing down his neck like a hungry dragon.
It was late afternoon when the ringing of the cell phone woke him up. Chad felt groggy, like he’d hit a whole bottle or two of really cheap wine the night before, which he hadn’t. He picked up the phone, “Hello.”
“Hello yourself!” Terry spoke with a hint of agitation. “Where are you?”
“You forgot again.”
“Our meeting, Chad. Our meeting.”
Chad remained quiet. He couldn’t recall having set a meeting, and even if he had, it was dangerous ground to admit it.
“You really should get a PA like I keep telling you to.”
Chad turned onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “So that she or he could make me coffee and watch me attempt miserably to write? No thanks!”
Terry sighed. “I’ll be over in half. You and I need to have a heart to heart.”
“Sure. Bring food with you, will you? I’m starving.”
At 3:30 PM in the afternoon, his doorbell rang, forcing him out of the sofa to which he’d migrated to after the chat with Terry. He got up and opened the door to one very unimpressed lady whose striking beauty could have gone somewhere on the fashion catwalk. If only, he thought, then he could have had a terror free afternoon.
“What’s this?” her jaw dropped. “You’re still in your pjs.”
“I was sleeping,” he said, letting her in through the door.
“Well, you look absolutely terrible,” she dropped her handbag on the coffee table and turned to him.
“I feel terrible. Thanks for noticing,” he smirked. “Want coffee?”
“Coffee can wait. First, go take a shower. I can’t talk to you seriously with you in your pyjamas.”
When Chad got back to his semi-bear lounge room because his ex, Setal had brought a moving van and took all her furniture and belongings right in front of him days after ripping his heart out and mincing it with her 3-inch heels. Lucky for him, at least the couch was his, and the coffee table. That’s all he had in his lounge room. Alas, for that moment, it was even missing Terry.
“Terry?” he called out, half hoping she’d changed her mind about having a ‘serious chat’ and taken pity on him and left, but then again, her handbag was still present. His already empty stomach sunk further. It may as well have been on the floor.
“In here!” came her voice from the kitchen. She was lurking at the open fridge door when Chad found her. “You have practically nothing in here!”
“Why do you think I asked you to bring food?”
Terry considered him a moment. “You’ve taken very hard to this, haven’t you?”
“To you, or the looming doom of cancelled advances?”
“Setal leaving, of course.”
“Let’s go grab a bite then,” she slammed the fridge door shut and strode past him. “Bring your stuff. We might be able to brainstorm for you.”
“Great. Can’t wait!” he grumbled, grabbing the laptop off the bench-top before following her out.
They settled for the small cosy café couple of blocks down the street from Chad’s St Peter’s home. Terry drove them there, even though it was in perfectly sane walking distance because her feet ‘deserved better’.
Chad stared at the rough wooden table thinking he felt completely useless in that moment. Terry stared him down as she asked, “So, what’s the story?”
“Yes, Chad. The Story,” and Chad could only do as good as stare back at her as if she’d just spoken in a foreign language he didn’t understand.
“The story you’re supposed to be telling me so that I know what to expect in a year’s time when you hit your deadline and start making excuses, Chad. That story!” and all this she said without taking another breath, leaving Chad thinking she’d have made a great swimmer with those sets of lungs. If only...
“Are you even listening to me?”
Chad stared at the waiter who gave him a sympathetic look and placed their coffees down on the table. Chad wondered if he looked like a fish in a very small bowl of water, because that was pretty much how he was feeling at that moment.
“You don’t have it, do you?” Terry finally breathed in astonishment. “You actually don’t have it this time Chad Gilligan!”
Chad succumbed and put Terry out of her misery. He shook his head.
“Not a single clue?”
He continued to shake his head, which kind of made it tricky to sip his coffee he concluded.
“A theme?” head shook. “A character?” Another headshake. “A place? An image? A piece of dialogue? Nothing?”
“Nothing,” Chad gulped down the last sip of his scalding hot coffee. He liked it that way.
“What are we going to do, Chaddy?”
“Your usual methods aren’t working?” He shook his head again. “Try something new then!”
“I did.” Chad laughed, calling the waiter for another cup of coffee. “Just last week, I went to the park across from my café to see if something would hit me.”
“And nothing did?”
Chad laughed again, shaking his head. “Oh, something almost hit me, but it wasn’t an idea!”
“A homeless girl. At least, I think it was a girl. Damn near gave me a heart attack when she leapt up from behind the bench, all yelling and kicking.”
Terry finally smiled.
Terry’s smile got wider. “When was the last time you wrote anything that truly challenged you, Gilligan?”
“I don’t follow.”
Terry quickly opened up her iPhone, pressed a few tabs, grinned and looked up. “I want you to do something for me, Chad. Will you do it?”
“For you, Terry? Anything.” He mostly said it because in her happiness lay his own.
“I want you to go back to the park and see if you can strike up a conversation with this girl who nearly attacked you.”
“Are you crazy?”
“You just said, Chad, anything!”
Chad narrowed his eyes. “What’s the catch?”
Terry shook her head. “Nothing. I just think you’ve hit a wall and even if I wanted you to, you wouldn’t be able to write even a children’s story. I need that old Chad Gilligan back in his form, Chaddy. Not this new, angst ridden writer who can barely get some shut eye because he chugs coffee like the world is facing a coffee famine, and takes sleeping pills like candy because he wonders why he can’t sleep at night. I don’t want to find you dead in you house, Chad. I want to find you holding a pristinely typed new manuscript out to me with a goofy grin.” She indicated to the waiter to bring the bill around, and turned back to Chad. “So, you’ll go out there and for a month, you’ll do everything that makes you uncomfortable.”
She reached over and laid a hand on his and gave it a barely-there squeeze. “If your mind tells you not to do something, then I want you to do it and see what happens. We need you to find that old carefree Chad, hun. So, can you do that?”
“I don’t think I have a choice,” he said, draining his second cup of coffee.
Terry laughed, rising to her feet. “You have a choice, dear. Everyone has a choice. It’s what you do with it that counts. With you, your choice is either to deliver another Zachary Eve best seller, or watch as they terminate your contract because you couldn’t fulfil your end of the deal.”
Chad rises up, following her out of the café. “Aren’t you being a little harsh, Terry?”
Terry turned around as she unlocked her car from across the street. “Oh, I’m not being harsh, Chad. I’m being honest. My job is to make sure you do yours.”
She patted his arm gently, her look softening. “So, please, Chad. I like you, and I need you to do your job.”
“We’ll meet again in a month,’ she said, starting to cross the road waving a general goodbye in the wind. “And next time, you’ll be doing the talking!”
Chad suddenly had an image rush to mind, where Terry gets ploughed down by an oncoming vehicle. Alas, the image vanished when she reached for her driver’s door, and slipped into safety. She rolled down her window. “You want a lift home?”
“I think I’ll walk,” Chad yelled back. “Because that’s opposite to what my mind’s telling me to do!” he grinned.
Terry laughed, pulling the car out onto the road, and sped away. Within seconds, Chad was standing alone, tired, massively hung-over even though he hadn’t had a drop the previous night, and nursing a throbbing cortex or other in his brain. Completely at the mercy of his legs which felt like they’d suddenly turned to jelly. Great!
Chad fell onto his bed; face first as soon as he got home. It wasn’t till around midnight, he woke up startled to the ringing of his mobile. It was dark, with barely enough moonlight streaming through the window for him to see where he was. He struggled, wriggling up to his night stand and patted it down in search of his phone, but the ringing stopped. He buried his face back into the covers and groaned, his entire body aching. The headache having moved to the back of his head, mild, but annoying, like the ringing of the phone again. This time he patted himself down and found his phone in his jean’s pocket.
“What?” he groaned down the phone, his face, barely out of the covers.
Silence, except for the music he could hear in the back ground like a party going down well.
“Hello,” he said, this time reasonably human like. The phone clicked dead. He stared at the screen and the time was almost midnight, leaving him wondering who the caller was behind the private number.
The house creaked and groaned, and outside, he could hear the soft drizzle of rain starting to fall, but he was far from relaxed. He kicked off his shoes, threw his jacket somewhere on the floor and crawled on all fours to get under the covers, and there he lay, wondering about the caller. Was it Setal? He wondered. But then again, it could just be a stranger. A creepy stranger. He hadn’t had a loony fan problem for a while, not since Cassie Micah who had somehow managed to let herself into his previous home, set up personal effects such as photo-shopped pictures of her with Chad in various occasions, and when he’d finally gotten home after a long day of book signing and crawled into bed, to his shock, found a completely super naked woman crawling over to him in the dark. Let’s just say, it wasn’t his finest moment, having had to call the police while a frantically crazy fan tried to convince him he was married to her, showing proof of their marriage with a fake certificate and photographs.
Chad shivered, looking at his phone, scrawling through the incoming calls, only to spot Setal’s missed calls from previous days. He missed her, as miserable as he was. He missed the woman who broke his heart and wondered whether he was okay. Just as he was about to fall asleep again thinking about how broken his heart was, his phone vibrated in his loose clasp again. He immediately answered, and again the blasting music in the background filled his ear but no one answered.
“Who is this?”
Chad couldn’t help but shut the phone, throw it on the bed and jump out, running around the house, checking that all the doors and windows were shut and there was no deranged woman, whom he had a restraining order against, lurking in the shadows.